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Ana Forrest on Clearing Psychic Smog: Learning to Walk in Beauty

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Ana Forrest - Walk in Beauty

In this interview, Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Yoga U Online, speaks with Ana Forrest, an internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing about how to tap into the deep heart and spirit yearning inside to heal the body and ignite the spirit within.

Ana Forrest is the author of Fierce Medicine—Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit, as well as the creator of Forrest Yoga—a unique fusion of traditional yoga, new poses and sequences created by the author, Eastern wisdom, and Native American medicine.

Q. In your book, you show us how, indeed, life sometimes serves up some fierce medicine! But ultimately your book—and your path in life—seems to be about teaching others to reconnect with our bodies, cultivate greater balance and start living in harmony with our spirit. That’s a wonderful message! Of course, spirit means different things to different people. Talk a little about what, to you, is soul or spirit.

Ana Forrest. I consider spirit to be the sacred essence within each person. And yet, there are people who have lost contact with their spirit.

Forrest Yoga ultimately is about trying to teach people how to embody their spirit. This is crucially different than most of our religious teachings. What I teach is how to get back to a visceral feeling sense, a visceral sense of embodying your spirit.

What does it feel like when your spirit is in your body? And how do you spread it through your whole body? Through your fingertips, down into your genitals, up into your brain. Your brain absolutely needs to have spirit in there because it’s a little bit like the insane dictator up in its ivory tower. It must connect with the rest of you so it’s not so nutty.

Q. How did this focus of cultivating your connection with spirit become a central theme for you?

Ana Forrest. When I first started yoga, I had no clue how to connect with my spirit. And as I actually began to think about that, I couldn’t find my spirit anywhere in my body because it wasn’t in my body. It had fled. It took a whole lot of work to generate enough care for myself to do this work.

I had to learn to be aware of when I would be doing things or thinking in a way that would drive my spirit out. When I would be thinking in a way that I was spewing smog internally, in my own internal wilderness, my spirit would leave. And I didn’t know that.

I didn’t have anybody really teaching me about spirit. I didn’t know that once I connected to my spirit, it wasn’t permanent. Just like any other relationship, it’s one that needs attention and love and cultivation, and study. If you attract someone to you in a loving way, if you then ignore them, you lose them. It’s the same in building relationship with your spirit. It’s a part of you to interact with every day. It will make every aspect of your life so much richer. Will it solve all of your problems? No. But going through your problems, embodying spirit, and having that brilliance and that wisdom and that sacred energy is part of your resources for solving the challenges in your life. That makes a huge difference.

I had to do the work to clear the backlog of painful past experiences, at least somewhat, to make some room for my spirit. I needed to put out a really deep heartfelt call over and over again. It’s almost like putting out a light to guide your spirit home.

Q. And in your experience what drives away that sense of connection with spirit?

Ana Forrest. You have to be really be mindful of not creating filth internally which would drive my spirit back out. So each time, I would have to catch it, like, “Wait, I’ve lost touch with my spirit and all I’m doing is I’ve been raging for days and days and days.” I’m very comfortable in rage because at least that makes me feel strong which is much better than feeling a victim. I would much rather default to rage than feeling my pain or helplessness. But what I noticed is that when I have that sort of diversionary tactic going on, if I indulge that for too long, I lose touch with my spirit.

You also have to make a warriors choice. As soon as I can recognize that I’m doing that, to go, “Whoa, let me take a breath and reset. This is stuff so important to me that I will let it drive my spirit out in order to indulge it,” because I’m basically having a tantrum inside.

I had this experience once, where I basically realized that I was creating psychic smog all around me. This happened at a time when I had my yoga center in California, on Montana Avenue. I was walking from my yoga center down to the health food store to go get something to eat. And I’m walking down this sunny, pretty street. Inside, I’m totally raging. And I’m having a fight with my business manager. I’ve concluded that fight to my satisfaction. Of course, I won because it was inside of my own head! And then I just went right on to the next person I was pissed with, basically shooting everybody I was annoyed with.

As I was doing this, this really amazing thing happened. I was having a vision in the middle of this whole crazy thing. And there’s a part of me that stepped about forty-five feet back from this woman in boots and yoga clothes stomping down the street.

I could see myself walking down the street but I could see the energy that I was generating. And it was absolutely filthy.

It was very shocking to see because it’s like, my spirit pledge is everything to me. I had made this pledge to bring mending to the hoop of the people. But instead, what I see myself actually giving to the world at that moment is filth!

That’s when I realized, “This is something I can responsible for right now. I can stop spewing this filth into the world.” Instead of beating myself up about it, which perpetuated the anguish, I finally just recognized it, and stopped it.

Ultimately, you hurt yourself the most, because when I am doing my psychic smog thing, I am running filth through my blood stream. I am hurting my organs by the way that I think.

Does that mean, if you get angry once in a while, that you’re hurting yourself? No. But if you are a perpetually raging, then yes. If you’re always in fear, yes. You are hurting yourself because you are running your adrenal glands into exhaustion. We’re sending all this other stuff into your brain and into the way you respond to your world.

So it’s very important to begin to honor that the way that you think and the patterns that you think, it’s worth hunting them. And I call that tracking and hunting. It’s worth really studying them because it’s fascinating. What we do and how we use our thinking are filters for perceiving the truth in the world because our thinking is seldom connected to the truth. But it is very much connected to our life experiences and our decisions we made about them. And so, to choose to perceive more of the truth, even when we are triggered, is quite a warrior stance.

Q. You have this beautiful principle, which is almost the opposite of creating psychic smog: Learning to “walk in beauty.” How can we learn to “walk in beauty?”

Ana Forrest. I learned to “walk in beauty” from the Navajo people, and it comes from a ceremony called the “Beauty Way.” It helps the person that’s in the ceremony to re-establish the balance in their life when they’re ill or depleted or sad.

It doesn’t negate that there is tragedy, unfairness, illness, sadness and there is craziness. But to walk in beauty is connecting to your breath and then finding something during your day to connect to that beauty. You deliberately allow it to dance in your heart. So it could be playing with kittens. It could be doing your yoga in a way that your heart dances. It could be choosing to have an interaction with a friend.Ana Forrest, Forrest Yoga

One of the assignments I give to my teacher trainees is to gather beauty reports. In other words, as you go out and do whatever you’re doing in life, look for beauty. When you go to Whole Foods to buy lunch, can you have something that you connect to in a beauty way?

It could be tasting freshly-squeezed carrot juice, like having that fresh, wonderful, nutritious flavors that’s exploding on your tongue and feeling how your cells just go, “Ooh, that’s really good. I really need that.” That could be your experience.

Or to see a flower and drop your feeling and your numbness and your blasé attitude in the face of the wonder that flower truly is. Or to maybe look in the mirror and actually see the person that you are, to see the truth of all of who you are, if only for three seconds.

Creating beauty is the exact opposite of the spiritual smog experience. And ultimately, it’s a wonderful way to connect with spirit

This is an excerpt from a longer talk Ana gave as part of Yoga U Online's Sadhana Sundays Series. For more information and to register to join Ana for a free Q&A as part of Sadhana Sunday on March 30, see here:

Sadhana Sundays Registration

 

Ana T. Forrest is an internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing. The creator of Forrest Yoga—a unique fusion of traditional yoga, new poses and sequences created by the author, Eastern wisdom, and Native American medicine. Ana teaches worldwide at yoga conferences, workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings. 

 

Changing the Energetic Experience of the Body-- A Yogic Approach to Healing Chronic Pain

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Can changing our perception of the energetic dimension of the body help relieve chronic pain conditions?

In this interview, yoga therapist and physical therapist Marlysa Sullivan discusses the interface between new discoveries into the neuroplasticity of pain, and the ancient science of Tantra Hatha Yoga. The focus of Tantra Hatha Yoga lies in creating change and transformation by changing the energetics of the body. Marlysa shows how teaching students to interact with, rather than react to, the flow of energy and sensation in the body can open the gateway to greater freedom and relief from pain.

Q. Marlysa, you are trained as a physical therapist, but have now dedicated yourself 100 percent to working as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist. What inspired that journey?

Marlysa Sullivan: Well, as a physical therapist, I was always really interested in more complicated patients, particularly those with chronic pain, like chronic lower back pain, headaches or fibromyalgia. But even though I took a lot of physical therapy continuing education and was trained by a lot of wonderful physical therapists, I always felt like I was really missing a significant piece of the puzzle to be able to really help this group of people.

So I started to explore yoga, but it wasn’t until I met Yoganand (Michael Carroll), of Pranakriya Yoga that I felt I had found what I had been missing. Through studying with him,I learned the psychological and emotional energetics of what happens to us in pain. When we can understand this multidimensional approach to who we are, we can have more of a transformational healing.

That was my inspiration. I began to experience and understand that there was a level of change that we could access from somewhere else deep inside. I learned that there was a connection between the mind and the body, but also in the energy underneath. He talks a lot about creating change by changing the energy. This is an internal experience of change which then allows for a change in our thoughts, our emotions, and our whole physical being. And it was really an integrative, meditative practice of asana and Pranayama.

Q. Yoganand comes from the Kripalu Yoga tradition. But he has created his own system of yoga.

Marlysa SullivanYes, he calls his style of teaching Pranakriya yoga, which is based on his interpretation and experiences of Swami Kripalu’s work and teaching.He really emphasizes that we have to create a strong discipline, a strong witness, a strong container. Once we’ve created a strong enough container in the mind and body, then we can dive in and understand our experiences and let them change. When you watch what arises inside, then you can allow whatever arises to arise. I can change the way I’m re-acting, so that I can change the way I’m interacting with physical, mental, emotional stimulus.

Q. Since you have integrated this this into your work, are you still practicing as a physical therapist, or you completely focused on yoga therapy?

Marlysa SullivanOne hundred percent yoga therapy now. At the same time, one of my really strong passions is integrating this into more current biomedical work and sciences. So when we look at the field of chronic pain, we’re looking at what happens in the body and the nervous system. We integrate with what is being done with psychology and trauma, Tantra Hatha Yoga is this amazing model that we can use to treat more chronic conditions. We can use the language of the nervous system together with the language of psychology to help people understand what the ancient yogis were teaching us.”

Q. You talk about the integration of Tantra, Hatha Yoga, and the previous scientific findings about chronic pain. So how do we create that bridge, at least for Western minds, between the gap of Tantra Hatha Yoga and chronic pain?

Marlysa SullivanIf we look at the field of physical therapy and pain science, there are changes that happen in the nervous system in chronic pain. And they create common patterns of musculoskeletal imbalances. So we can look at the language of the nervous system as far as the sensitization that happens in chronic pain and the creation of musculoskeletal imbalances.

Then, we can also use the language of psychology, talking about understanding what happens in trauma, what happens to the nervous system, looking at the windows of tolerance to sensations, nervous system variability and resilience. If we tie those two fields together, the philosophy of Tantra Hatha Yoga helps to really integrate those two. We can use practices in Tantra Hatha Yoga to focus more on that physical aspect of sensitization through asana. We can use practices of meditation and Pranayama to focus more on the psychological aspect. But then, we can also look at this underlying dimension of energy, and how that plays a role in what we feel and how we perceive bodily sensations.

Q. As I understand it, there’s a changing understanding in the medical field of chronic pain and what causes it. In particular, there’s some interesting work being done on the nature of pain as it relates to neuroplasticity. Could you tell us about that?

Marlysa Sullivan: Yes, it’s very interesting. Researchers are finding that the nervous system gets sensitized in chronic pain, which means that the nerves and pathways are activated more easily. There’s less inhibition of information, so people perceive more pain and they experience more pain.

Over time, there’s even changes in our perception and our ability to be aware of parts of our body, to know where they are in space. There’s actual changes that happen in chronic pain in the brain and nervous system, which result in greater nervous system sensitization, and lower tolerance to sensation, so people get more easily overloaded.

So part of what we do through asana and pranayama is begin to work with increasing the windows to tolerance to sensation, which is going to change that sensitization of the nervous system. And because Tantra Hatha Yoga focuses on helping people develop more of a witness awareness in how they perceive and react to physical and emotional sensations, it can be a very powerful tool for people with chronic pain.

Q. Are you applying this in working with people with a wide range of pain conditions?

Marlysa Sullivan: Yes, I see patients with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, chronic lower back pain, disc herniation, migraines and chronic neck pain. Usually, the people I see have those conditions and they also have some anxiety or depression that they’re working with.

Q. Could you give an example of how you’d use this approach to teaching yoga to work with someone with back pain?

Marlysa Sullivan:Thephysical, the musculoskeletal assessment and the physical piece of their lower back pain of course is always the place to start. That really determines and drives which asana I have them do. But then, the way that I have them do the asana and Pranayama techniques and meditation techniques is more directed towards the energetics. So for example, I might want a person to do a bridge pose. But depending on what their underlying energy is, you can have them do different variations of bridge posture: you can have them do a rolling bridge or you could have them hold bridge pose with a lot of stability. Or you could have them stay in bridge pose with a focus on the breath. For example, if you have someone who tends to tighten too much and guard in response to strengthening, instead of focusing on muscular engagement, you can have them focus on the breath and learning to let go and release.

Q: Interesting. So do you just watch your students to see what is needed as they go through the practice? Or do you have a dialogue going to see what’s happening with them?

Marlysa Sullivan:  I usually have a dialogue, because there’s only so much that you can tell from looking at someone. To understand the internal experience of the person and how they’re reacting and responding makes a big difference. So I ask simple questions like “what are you noticing,” “how are you noticing that,” “can you be with that?” This helps create a meditation around it the sensations in the body, and you can then go the next step and ask people, “can you be with whatever sensation you’re feeling and add breath?” or “can you add a visualization, a word, an image?”… So you’re adding a lot of the meditative and pranayama techniques within the asana to change the energetic experience of the asana.

Q. What are some of the results that you are observing?

Marlysa Sullivan: With my patients with lower back pain and neck pain and headaches, I’ve definitely seen progress. I’ve seen people who were very scared of doing even standing postures really get in tuned to their strength to the point where they’re able to go vacations and do a lot of things in their life that they couldn’t do before.

I’ve also seen people begin to really develop more of a witness to the sensations in their mind and body and learn to control their anxiety through that. Many people also begin to recognize how their musculoskeletal imbalances are perpetrated by their thoughts. So they notice, “Oh, every time I’m at work and this happens, I feel this in my psoas,” or, “I feel this in my jaw,” or, “I feel this here.” And once they reach that realization, they can begin to change the mental-emotional patterns that’s causing the physical tightness and pain.

Marlysa Sullivan, P.T. runs a private yoga therapy practice in Atlanta, GA. Her works as a yoga therapist is guided by her strong passion for bringing together the deeper aspects of yoga and anatomy and integrating that with scientific teachings about body and mind. She directs the Pranakriya Yoga Therapy program with Yoganand Michael Carroll and teaches this program at studios across the country. Sullivan also teaches the integration of yoga into physical therapy at Mercer University and Georgia State University as well as the psychology of yoga at the graduate level at West Georgia University.

Q & A With Doug Keller: Just Breathe: Cultivating Healthy Breathing Patterns


Breathing seems simple—you breathe in and you breathe out. But there are patterns to our breathing that are of our own creation. These patterns are often artificial strategies for dealing with events in our lives. Many people coming to yoga classes have limited, or even unhealthy breathing patterns, and need basic breath training before moving on to more advanced yogic breathing practices.

In this interview, Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Yoga U Online speaks with yoga therapist Doug Keller to explore the basics of healthy breathing. He shares best practices for helping students develop more healthy breathing patterns and how to deepen the breath in a natural, non-forced way.

Q. We all know how important the breath is to our health and well-being, especially since we can live without water or food for some time. But when it comes to the breath, we maybe have three to five minutes before we die from lack of oxygen. What impact does breathing – properly and not - have on our well-being?

A. A broad spectrum of health problems are connected to problems with how we breathe. Many diseases, like asthma, are often tied to bad breathing habits. Hyperventilation is one of those breathing problems that impacts six to 10 percent of the population and is a disorder that leads to a lot of diseases.

Simple Pranayama practices can play a significant role in correcting breathing problems. These simple breathing techniques that tend to extend the exhalation and also create comfort with pauses in the breath or small Kumbhakas, are proven by the scientific community to help and can be beneficial for a wide range of health problems.

I have been practicing and teaching Pranayama as a way to recalibrate people’s breath. The healthier, deeper and longer breath helps people to overcome a lot of problems, including both emotional and mental stresses, as well as physical diseases and symptoms of physical diseases. Pranayama both retrains the breath to make the breath more appropriate to the activity that you’re doing  and, at the same time, it puts you in much more conscious contact with exactly how you’re breathing. This helps you catch yourself in the moments in which your breath doesn’t really fit what you’re doing.

Q. Are you saying that a lot of people come to yoga with preexisting breathing imbalances?

A. It’s basically a pattern people develop. As I mentioned one of the most common problems is hyperventilation (over breathing), which has become a habit for many people. This typically happens when you’re doing something active like jogging or doing asana practice. Your breathing rate and depth is going to be different from when you’re doing something else like sitting and meditating or doing a quieter activity.

Stress patterns and habits like sitting at the computer also create improper breathing patterns and we get disconnected from our breath. We don’t realize how much stress we cause for the body and even how many problems we cause for the mind in terms of dizziness or foggy brain syndrome, asthmatic breathing patterns.

Q. What are the challenges of teaching Pranayama breathing?

A. Pranayama is meant to bring people back in touch with their breath and then start to remove the limitations upon the breath that come from that habit. The idea is not to impose new limitations on the breath and force people to do that because the first reaction you get is you don’t feel relaxed. You don’t feel centered. And that’s usually a sign that there’s something going wrong in terms of what you’re doing.  Instructors need to and you need to find a way to introduce this kind of breathing in a way that makes the breath more productive, centering and relaxing.

The challenge with Pranayama breathing in yoga is basically people try too hard.  One of the translations you can give of Pranayama actually means expansion of the experience of the breath. Ayama means to expand or extend or to widen. And so, the purpose of Pranayama is not so much to control the breath but rather to expand your experience of it.

Q. One of the first things we do when teaching a new student is to try to introduce diaphragmatic breathing or three-part yogic breath. How do you work with that when you teach your students?

A. I think Pranayama always starts with first an element of kind relaxation where you move from an active mind to a receptive or perceptive mind.  The difference is in an asana class, you’re following instructions. You’re very active and telling the body to do thing. The mind is in of a command mode. The shift to Pranayama is to move from that command mode to a receptive mode. Instead of trying to tell people what to do with the breath from the start, which often gets in the way, you have them start to feel exactly how they’re experiencing the breath as it is without putting any conditions on it or directions or rules.

Once they start to tune in to that experience, you can  bring people’s attention to the diaphragm, what it feels like to breathe into that part, what you feel happening in the body.

Q. What effect does breath have on our sleep?

A. I find it kind of humorous question that I get more often than anything else is form people on how to sleep well or what kind of pillow to use. Working with the breath practice particularly before going to sleep at night does more than anything else to help you have a deep and restful sleep and to get to sleep quickly. So there are a lot of benefits to doing it.

Q. Can you give us an overview of what you will be covering in “The Art of Yogic Breathing?”

A. It will cover the basics of the breath and a step-by-step guide through natural and diaphragmatic breath in three parts: 1) Improving breath patterns. 2) Tips for calming down and going to sleep. 3) Centering yourself emotionally. 


For more information on Doug's course, see here:
Yoga, Breath, and Health—An Introduction to Yogic Breathing

 

 

The Adductors and Alignment in Yoga Postures: Interview with Julie Gudmestad

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Most yoga teachers are aware of the alignment issues that tight hamstrings cause in yoga postures. However, the adductors of the inner thighs create their own problems, if they are either too tight or too weak, says Iyengar yoga teacher Julie Gudmestad. In this interview, she highlights some of the critical points all yoga teachers need to know about this important, but much overlooked, muscle group.

Q: The adductors don’t often get mentioned in presentations on yoga anatomy. But you say we should be paying more attention to this muscle group?

Julie Gudmestad: Yes, the muscles of the inner thighs are important stabilizers. If they’re tight, they limit our ability to do many of the standing poses and forward bends. In fact, they are important in a large variety of different yoga poses, including inversions, arm balances, and many of the standing poses. For best results in our yoga practice, the adductors need to be both strong and flexible.

Q: Can you give an example of a standing pose that would be limited by tight adductors?

Julie Gudmestad: Trikonasana is the one that I think of first because it’s an often-taught and often-practiced pose. Tight adductors can contribute to people not being able to open the pose up, so they end up with their chest – their front body – facing the floor. When they try to turn their head to look up, they feel a lot of strain in their neck. Tight adductors will cause people to face the floor instead of being able to roll the pose open.

Q: How would tightness in the inner thighs limit the ability for the torso to roll open and contribute to neck strain?

Julie Gudmestad: It is kind of counterintuitive. What happens is the tight adductors limit your ability to open the pelvis. So your pelvis, navel, and pubic bone want to face the floor rather than the wall in front of you. If you can’t get the back of the pelvis to open, then you limit how much you can rotate through your spine and torso to face the wall in front of you.

Q: Many older students over fifty are often unable to actually open their legs into what a wide stance.

Julie Gudmestad: That, of course, is due in large part to the adductors and maybe other muscles that are part of the equation. Think about how people use their bodies in normal American living – we stand, we walk, we sit in chairs. We rarely do things where we take our feet wide apart.

If you don’t take those wide-legged stances, then you lose the flexibility to go there. Not only does that impact our yoga poses but it can also impact, as we get older, our ability to balance in a variety of positions that we might use in activities of daily living. If you can’t separate your feet apart, then sometimes you might put more stress on your back when you’re trying to move something or lift something. Sometimes you might fall because you get into an awkward position and you can’t separate your feet. The mobility of the adductors is important both in yoga and in daily living.

Q: The average American sedentary person, for the most part, has lost the ability to balance. I presume a sedentary lifestyle is bad news for the adductors, too?

Julie Gudmestad: Yes, and it’s having the same impact on all the leg and hip muscles. While there has been a lot of discussion about a sedentary lifestyle weakening the core, it’s also bad for the hips and legs. Some therapists and rehab specialists now feel that the core muscle strength might actually be less important than the strength in the muscles in your legs and hips. I’m inclined to think that it’s not one or the other; I think we need both core strength and hip and leg strength.

Q: Clearly, the adductors are important for standing postures and balancing postures. Do they also play a significant role in other groups of yoga postures?

Julie Gudmestad: Arm balances where you have to squeeze your legs onto your arms and inversions where we hold the legs together rather than letting them go apart. Weak adductors make it hard to stay in an inversion because people can’t hold their legs together for a long time. The adductors start getting tired. 

Those are the main yoga poses where strength is an issue. But the adductors also play a role in many of the forward bends where you spread your legs apart, whether the feet are together or the feet are apart.

Q: How can yoga teachers help students with tight or weak adductors make progress?

Julie Gudmestad: It’s important to know the anatomy of the muscles, where they are, what they do when they contract, why are they important, how do they stretch, what position to put them in to get them to stretch, and how to strengthen them.

With whatever muscle group we’re talking about (in this case, the adductors), the muscles need to be both strong and flexible. We have problems if a muscle is strong but it’s lost its mobility and we also have problems if the muscle is very flexible but not strong. Sometimes that’s the problem with long-time yoga practitioners who have done a lot of stretching. They have fabulous flexibility, but the muscle is not strong. Then it’s vulnerable to tearing and gives instability around the joints that it works on. In this case, that’s the sacroiliac joint, the low back, and the knees. Those are the joints that could be impacted by hypermobile, weak adductors.

Q: In your own teaching experience, how realistic is it to have students make progress to a degree where they can actually participate in a standard yoga class without major alignment issues, even if they first come to class with tight or weak adductors?

Julie Gudmestad: Unfortunately, once a week, it’s hard to make progress with either strengthening or stretching. So the person has to be willing to work at it hopefully two or three times a week. If somebody has really tight adductors, a little bit of stretching may not counterbalance the amount of strength work that they’ve done.

But having said that, I’ve seen some amazing things that people have done, if they’re willing to put in the time. The human body has an amazing ability to evolve, even in the later years of a lifetime. There have been a lot of studies that have shown that people can get stronger and more flexible, no matter what their age.

For information on Julie's course on the adductors, see here:
Romancing the Cinderella Muscles: The Adductors and Keys to Proper Alignment in Yoga Postures

Julie Gudmestad is the founder of Gudmestad Yoga in Portland, Oregon. For almost a decade, she wrote the Anatomy of a Yogi column for Yoga Journal. Julie is widely regarded for her unique insights into anatomy as it relates to alignment in yoga postures, and for her ability to share this knowledge in an interesting way. She has been teaching yoga since 1970 and became a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher in 1988. In addition to teaching yoga, Julie is also a practicing licensed physical therapist specializing in orthopedic problems, chronic pain issues, and stress-related problems.

Dr. Timothy McCall: The Best Way to Prevent Yoga Injuries

By Dr. Timothy McCall - 

In my own experience, perhaps the most important way to prevent yoga injuries—besides such obvious things as keeping the joints well-aligned—is to pay close attention to the breath, trying to keep it as smooth, even and regular as possible.

In most instances, before a problem occurs the breath has become ragged or strained. Slow, even breathing tends to keep the nervous system calm, even when you're doing practices that are intense. If you find it impossible to keep the breath smooth, I believe you need to back off in the pose, reducing your effort or how deeply you've gone in, or simply come out. Your body is giving you a message with the breath, and you ignore it at your own peril.

Pay particular attention to the breath as you transition in and out of poses, as this is a time when many injuries occur. For those who have trouble remaining mindful of the breath, I suggest employing a light ujjayi breath, loud enough that you hear and can use as a meditative focus, but which someone on the next mat might not be able to hear. 

Of course, you also want to avoid any poses and breathing practices that are contraindicated for any medical conditions you have, for example, skipping headstand and shoulderstand if you have neck problems or retinal disease. I've written extensively on contraindications in my book Yoga as Medicine, and in many articles archived on my web site, and I also recommend Loren Fishman's work in this regard.

 But often, people have medical conditions that have not yet been diagnosed (or which they don't mention to the teacher). It's my belief that even in these instances the breath will usually indicate whether it's safe to proceed.

Also see Dr. McCall's article on yoga and safety, particularly as it applies to practicing headstand. 

Missed the Telesummit on Yoga Injuries: Facts and Fiction with great, prominent yoga teachers Dr. Timothy McCall, Judith Hanson Lasater, Roger Cole, Dr. Loren Fishman, Ellen Saltonstall, Julie Gudmestad and Peggy Cappy? There is still time to upgrade to a permanent access pass and enjoy all the session recordings as well as transcripts. More details below. For more information about Dr. Timothy McCall and his national and international yoga workshops, see DrMcCall.com.

More information on Telesummit on Yoga Injuries: Facts and Fiction

 

Cleansing for Health: User-Friendly Yoga Techniques for Detoxification

In this interview, Kristine Kaoverii Weber, founder of Subtle yoga and author of Self-Healing Massage, discusses the yogic approach to detoxification and ways to open the subtle channels in the body to facilittate the flow of Prana, or life force.

YogaUOnline:
Many of us think detoxification as something you do when you’re sick and you may go on a lengthy fast. But you seem to have a different idea of what detoxification is and why it’s necessary. Could you talk a bit about that?

Kaoverii Weber: Well, yoga, as well as the numerous Ayurvedic cleansing practices, focus on cleansing the Nadis, or rather, removing the sediments and toxins from the Nadis. The Nadis is the Sanskrit term for all the channels that run through our body. This includes all the well-known passage ways of the body – the intestines, the veins, the arteries and nerves. But it also includes all the subtle energy flows in the body.

Cleansing is considered important in the yogic tradition, because the ancient yogis understood that if the body is toxic, it’s difficult to meditate, it’s difficult to do deep practices, it’s difficult to achieve self-realization. So, cleansing and detoxification sometimes precedes some of the deeper meditation practices. But it’s an important step for everybody.

In the West, when we think of yoga and detoxification, we tend to think of a hot, sweaty, power Vinyasa practice. And yes, anything that makes you sweat, without a doubt, is useful for detoxifying. However, the yoga tradition has also provided us with very specific practices that help to detoxify the digestive organs and to cleanse and stimulate the organs of digestion in many, many other ways. There are other practices you can do that are really helpful, and which are not so time-consuming.

It’s also important to distinguish between cleansing and detoxification. Longer fasting detoxification practices are very powerful and very useful, when you’re dealing with a specific illness or you’re dealing with a long history of inappropriate eating, or even substance abuse. But there are many practices that are more applicable for all of us in daily life, which facilitates daily cleansing, without the hardship of long fasts and more intense detoxification. Such daily cleansing practices are important, because they can keep us feeling well, feeling healthy, and able to live with greater energy, more happiness, and a greater feeling of aliveness.

YogaUOnline: Most of us think of detoxification as something that’s needed because in modern society, we’re exposed to so many environmental toxins. However, that was not the case for the ancient yogis. Why would the ancient yogis think that including cleansing procedures as part of your daily routine was important?

Kaoverii Weber: Well, the body is aging. As we age, the system starts to break down, and we increasingly need practices that help us to retain some of our vitality, so that we can age gracefully, retain energy, and still enjoy life!

According to the ancient yogis, if impurities or sediments are allowed to accumulate in the Nadis, our health gradually deteriorates. And it’s not just about cleansing on the level of the body.  Even if we only ate high quality, nutritious, organic food, if the mind has any kind of heaviness or stress, our mental state also produces toxins.

That is often overlooked in our Western culture. We think, “If we can only find that magic bullet, if we can only find that perfect food, then we would be completely healthy. But you can eat completely healthy foods and still be toxic, because the mind is converting the foods and anything else in your experience into toxicity.

So this is a really important piece. How do we shift what’s going on in the mind, so that whatever we take in is converted into nourishment as opposed to into toxicity?  Eating healthy foods is not enough, we need to also take time to self-nurture, do meditation practices, the things that help that food then to be converted into essence, into vital nutrition as opposed to into toxicity.

YogaUOnline: Yes. It sounds like what you’re talking about is the Ayurvedic concept of Ama. Ayurveda describes Ama as a sticky, metabolic residue, and it doesn’t just result from the digestion of foods, but from mental and emotional stress or, for lack of a better term,  ‘stuck-ness.

Kaoverii Weber: Yes, exactly. If we’re not vigilant about our state of mind, it doesn’t matter how many wonderful vitamins and nutrients we take in. The mind is going to convert that stuff into toxicity. That piece has offered me so much solace over the years, just the understanding that I don’t have to be perfect. My diet doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be good and it should be good. But what’s just as important is my state of mind.

If we are hyper-focused on what we eat and drink, we’re not necessarily looking in the right direction. The yogic model tells us to look up into who you are instead of just looking down to the ground for your answers, that it’s not just about nutrition, vitamins and minerals. Instead, the yoga tradition prompts you to look up into who you are and find your source of strength from that direction. Then your life will not necessarily have to be so measured out and so careful.

Ultimately, all the yogic cleaning practices are important and useful, but the most important way to cleanse the body, from a yoga perspective, is to look into our spiritual source, look to what fills us with light, what fills us with happiness, what fills us with contentment and peacefulness. Then what we take into our body is much more likely to be converted into healthful nutrition, as opposed to toxins.

YogaUOnline: What are some of the symptoms of toxicity that might indicate that you have too much Ama, too many toxins in your body—whether it be mental toxins or just metabolic residue of incomplete digestion?

Kaoverii Weber: Well, fatigue, lack of energy or zest for live is one typical sign. Incomplete digestion is another big sign that something isn’t right, either constipation, loose stools, or undigested food or mucus in the stool. Also, skin issues are a sign that detoxification would be a good idea. Headaches often are another indication.

These are early warning signs that the body’s internal balance is disturbed. But before it gets to the point of disease, we can work with cleansing practices that can help us bring the body back to balance. And with this, there are things we can do that are very manageable and gentle, and don’t involve intense detoxification.

But it’s important to pay attention to the signs we’re getting from our bodies, and to work with the cleansing practices a little more strongly, if we need to in order to help prevent later stages of disease.

YogaUOnline: When we think of cleansing and detoxification, we think about preventing disease and pave the way for healthy aging. However, for the ancient yogis, keeping the Nadis open and clear was really a matter of facilitating the flow of vital energy, or Prana. So, from that perspective, cleansing practices are really a preparation for spiritual deepening and spiritual experience. Could you talk about the Nadi system and how that relates to spiritual efforts? I think, according to the Indian tradition, there is said to be seventy-two thousand Nadis in the body.

Kaoverii Weber: Yes, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? When we in the West think about detoxification, we think about the gross organs, the liver, the kidneys, the digestive tract. But clearly, there is a flow through the entire body, and that gets stuck on other levels as well.

Certainly, that’s how acupuncture works, the idea is to release blocks in the subtle energy flow. That principle is common in all the oriental, the Asian medicines: If  we can unblock the flow of energy in the subtle body, it will affect the gross body in a deeper way, than if we were to go in the other direction.

This is exactly what I was talking about with toxicity, or mental and emotional ama, being on the level of both the mind and the body. There are the deep Samskara patterns that all of us have and all of us need to work with. If we can release energy from the blockages of the mind, it can then flow into the gross body. And the gross body will benefit greatly from shifts that we make in the way that we think.

So it’s a two-way street. The body fixes the mind, the mind fixes the body. In our culture, we tend to overemphasize the body. We tend to think that if we fix everything with the body, everything else will be alright, the mind will be alright. That comes from a materialistic reductionist worldview that we have long embraced in the West.

The yogic system gives us a much bigger picture and offers a different perspective on how we can influence the body and the mind. It offers a bigger perspective, that there are other ways we can do this.

Also check out Kaoverii's course on Yoga U Online:
Yoga Detox Practices for Long -Term Health

Kristine Kaoverii Weber is is the director of the Subtle Yoga Teacher Training and Personal Transformation Program, which offers a 200-hr. teacher training for social workers. She is also the author of Self-Healing Massage. Kaoverii has been teaching yoga since 1996, and has a background in Viniyoga, Iyengar, and Anusara Yoga. In her yoga teaching, her focus is to assist students in discovering optimal alignment and flow of Prana in their practice as well as to help students experience their yoga practice as a vehicle for self-transformation.

The Supreme Journey of Life - Quotes by B.K.S. Iyengar

With this blog post, we continue our series of quotes from renowned yoga masters, who have devoted their life to the practice of yoga and meditation. We hope you, as we have, will find inspiration and guidance for your yoga practice and life from their wisdom and insights.

Yogacharya B.K.S.Iyengar is a living legend, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for more than 75 years. He is widely credited as one of the foremost yoga masters in the world, and through his emphasis on the fine details of alignment in yoga asanas, he has helped millions deepen their experience and practice of hatha yoga.

 

"Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it." ~B.K.S.Iyengar

 

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”  ~B.K.S.Iyengar

 

"He who has conquered his mind is a Raja Yogi. . . . .It is generally believed that Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are entirely distinct, different and opposed to each other, that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali deal with Spiritual discipline and that the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Swatmarama deals solely with physical discipline. It is not so, for Hathy Yoga and Raja Yoga complement each other and form a single approach towards Liberation.

As a mountaineer needs ladders, ropes and crampons as well as physical fitness and discipline to climb the icy peaks of the Himalayas, so does the Yoga aspirant need the knowledge and discipline of the Hatha Yoga of Swatmarama to reach the heights of Raja Yoga dealt with by Patanjali."   ~B.K.S. Iyengar -Light on Yoga, p. 23.

 

"The supreme adventure in a man’s life is his journey back to his Creator. To reach the goal he needs well developed and co-ordinated functioning of his body, senses, mind, reason and Self." ~B.K.S. Iyengar -Light on Yoga

 

"It took me whole decades to appreciate the depth and true value of yoga. Sacred texts supported my discoveries, but it was not they that signposted the way. What I learned through yoga, I found out through yoga."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar Light on Life, p. x

 

"Yoga recognizes that the way our bodies and minds work has changed very little over the millennia. The way we function inside our skin is not susceptible to differ either in time or from place to place. In the functioning of our minds, in our way of relating to each other, there are inherent stresses, like geological fault lines that, left unaddressed, will always cause things to go wrong, whether individually or collectively. The whole thrust of yogic philosophical and scientific inquiry has therefore been to examine the nature of being, with a view to learning to respond to the stresses of life without so many tremors and troubles." ~B.K.S.Iyengar -Light on Life, p. xv.

 

"Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

 

"If you take up any noble line and stick to it, you can reach the ultimate. Be inspired, but not proud. Do not aim low; you will miss the mark. Aim high; you will be on the threshold of bliss." ~B.K.S. Iyengar  - Light on Life, p. x.

 

"Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one's being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union -- the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

 

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they're meant to be."  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

 

"In order to find out how to reveal our innermost Being, the sages explored the various sheaths of existence, starting from body and progressing through mind and intelligence, and ultimately to the soul. The yogic journey guides us from our periphery, the body, to the center ofour being, the soul. The aim is to integrate the variouslayers so that the inner divinity shines out as through clear glass." ~B.K.S. Iyengar  –Light on Life

Menopause, Anxiety, and Yoga

yoga for menopause and anxietyBy Cheryl Acheson, RYT

My brain went wacky around 50. I have a loving husband and great kids, yet I was not enjoying my life. Menopause had bestowed on me one of its gifts—anxiety. The hamster on the wheel in my brain began running in overdrive, especially at night. Are my adult kids safe?  Will I have enough money to live on? Why is my dog coughing—do I need to get her to the vet this minute? Did that new sweater hide my back fat?  On and on it goes—and most of it is complete garbage.

The topper for me was trying to get out of a repeat family trip to Hawaii, a place I have always loved.  My brain was not working properly.  Fortunately, my young but wise physician encouraged me to seek assistance rather than go it alone. She encouraged me to continue my steady yoga diet along with guided meditation work to reduce my angst. After six months of consistent practice, I am happier and my relationships are healthier. I sleep better. 

Yoga helps me deal with anxiety.  Not just any yoga.  Not the yoga of a 25-year-old with a Cirque du Soleil body sweating and pretzeling into noodle-like forms.  I am talking about the kind of yoga taught by a knowledgeable teacher who creates an environment for students to stretch their physical, mental, and (perhaps but not a requirement) spiritual selves and relax.  For those overwhelmed by worry, relaxation is perhaps more beneficial than the movement portion.  I also like a class that is fun!  

Here is what yoga gives me: 

1. I have a new community and friends (young and old) whom I would never have met. There is something about being together and stripping away protective barriers that creates an environment where it is all right to share ourselves. Our common bond is we enjoy gathering together, focusing on our individual breathing, and for a multitude of reasons finding peace and sometimes even grace in moving our physical and mental selves out of our comfort zones. We support each other.

2. I am now physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger from yoga.   I have developed confidence that allows me to embrace new challenges. 

3. I  focus on my breath and slow it down.  This allows the body and mind to relax, which is vital to good health.  In short, the hamster in my brain stops running, if only for a few seconds.  Knowing I can stop the hamster is very powerful.  I now have the power to stop the hamster when I am not practicing yoga! 

4. A specific physical benefit for me is strengthening the pelvic floor.  Why is this important?  Leakage—no one wants it.

5. I have a sense of balance—physical and emotional.  I have heard that physical balance is something we lose with age unless we specifically work on it. Who on this earth does not need to enhance emotional balance?

So, if taming the stress response sounds helpful, I encourage you to give yoga a try.  Find a teacher who is nice and with whom you can relate.  Avoid "power" and "heated" classes, as these are code words for an "ass-kicking" class.  You can certainly work up to that if you wish.  Seek out Level 1 or Beginning Yoga.  If your first class does not feel right, find another.   

Hope to see you on the mat!

 

Cheryl Acheson, RYT. Ever the student, Cheryl's training is primarily Iyengar yoga and Anusara yoga based.  She has studied with many yoga instructors, including Darren Rhodes, Max Strom, and Seane Corn.   She has also apprenticed for three years with Tom Abrehamson, one of the Silicon Valley's most dedicated pranayama and hatha yoga instructors.   With well over 500 hours of formal yoga teacher training, Cheryl is always refining her teaching skills and advising her yoga students that through the discipline and devotion of their yoga practice, they are able to calm the mind and dust off the mirror to reveal the true self as the embodiment of the divine.  Cheryl enjoys teaching yoga to beginners of all ages.

Use It or Lose It – Yoga, Exercise and the Fountain of Youth

By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., RYT-500

Judith Hanson Lasater, in a recent teleclass on Yoga U Online Trainings commented, “People often ask me if it’s necessary to practice yoga every day. I tell them, no, not at all. Just practice whenever you want to feel good!"

Most of us relish our yoga practice exactly for that simple reason—it makes us feel good! But the long-term benefits of a regular yoga practice go far beyond that—and they are encapsulated, of course, in that worn-out adage: Use it or lose it!

You’ve heard that phrase many times. But to truly appreciate its significance, it's useful to take a look at where it derives from.

One of the early studies that alerted medical researchers to the importance of exercise for physical health was the so-called Dallas bed rest study, performed back in 1966. The researchers took a group of five healthy 20 year-old men, measured their cardiovascular fitness on a series of parameters, and then put them to bed for three weeks. The five 20 year-olds weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom without using a wheel chair!

After three weeks, the men were measured again. At the time, what the researchers found was revolutionary: In just three weeks, all five had experienced a dramatic loss in cardiovascular health and exercise capacity on all parameters measured; the equivalent of about 1% loss of capacity per day of bed rest.

The five men were then put on an intensive aerobic training program, and within an eight-week period were able to regain, and in some cases, exceed, their previous level of physical fitness.

This was one of the original use-it-or-lose-it studies. It alerted medical professionals to the fact that prolonged bed rest might not be the best way to recover from surgery or other illnesses. And, it changed our understanding of the importance of movement and exercise forever.

But that’s not all. After 30 years, the researchers took another look at the aerobic and cardiovascular fitness levels of the original five men in the study, now 50 and 51 years old. What they found was truly astounding.

In terms of cardiovascular fitness and physical work capacity, the men had been more weakened after three weeks of bed rest 30 years earlier than the three decades of aging they had undergone since then! In other words, the completely sedentary lifestyle of bed rest had put them through a time machine, and caused them to age 30 years in terms of key cardiovascular health parameters in just three short weeks.

The men were then put on a six-month endurance training program, including walking, jogging and spinning. The intensity of their workout was gradually increased until they were exercising four or five times a week for a total of about 4-1/2 hours at the end of six months.

As the end of the six months, one hundred percent of the age-related decline in aerobic power among these five middle-aged men occurring over 30 years was reversed.

Obviously, the study has numerous limitations, in particular the fact that it was done one so few subjects. Nonetheless, it speaks volumes about the importance of physical activity to maintain and improve our functional capacity at all ages of life.

The study is a sobering reminder of the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. Even though few people are sedentary to the point of being virtually at bed rest, the general principle holds: Lack of exercise will lead to significant deterioration on numerous markers of health, including cardiovascular fitness.

The good news is that, just as a sedentary lifestyle will make you decades older than you really are, regular exercise can make you look and feel, literally, decades younger. And while the Dallas bed rest study and its follow-up studies focused primarily on cardiovascular health, other studies show similar results on other markers of healty aging, including muscle strength, flexibility, core strength, balance and coordination, and so on.

So the answer to the question: 'How often should I do yoga?" is both about how you want to feel in the short term—and how you want to feel in the long term. The Dallas bed rest study is another reminder that each time you hit your yoga mat, you don't just benefit your mental and emotional well-being in the present. You make a significant investment in your long-term, future health and well-being as well.

For more inspiration for your yoga practice from Judith Hanson Lasater, check out our Yoga U Download Library, which contains numerous wonderful talks in which Judith shares her insights and wisdom about how to deepen your yoga asanas practice and teaching.

 

To Heaven With It!

By Shakta Khalsa -

Two days at home in-between lots of travel, got to truck on up to my retreat in the Shenandoahs. The path on the 20 acres is fairly low on overgrowth now that we are coming into eye-popping fall colors, and that earthy dead leaf smell…..mmmm.  I wonder about that as I walk–good case for vegetarianism, I think.  Do we ever say “love that dead animal smell”?

So the hound is doing his hound thing—nose to the ground, off on his own private adventure that not even the shepherd can follow.  Anyway, she does the shepherd thing–remains loyally close to me, ever watchful, and then reprimands the hound when he returns, by grabbing his ankles in her mouth with a little growl.   He looks at me like, “make her stop.” But I don’t.  That is just the way of the shepherd, the same as his way is to take off for 10 minutes at a time.

He’s onto the trail of something, howling.  Hope he doesn’t go into the road or on the crabby neighbor’s property.  Hope he doesn’t go off for a long time, don’t want to worry about him.  Oh, to hell with it, I think.

Then the thought occurs, ”Well, that isn’t going to help– just dismissing the situation without working through my negativity and worry.  So how about ‘To HEAVEN with it’?”  Yeah, I can get behind that idea.  Give it to Heaven, give it to the Universe.  Let the Universe work it out.  Instant relief.  I’m back on the trail, literally and figuratively speaking. Noticing the lovely smell of the leaves, the colors filling my eyes. And here he comes, happy for the chase, and happy to be back.  And maybe even happy that the shepherd cares enough to bite his ankles.


I am reminded of a quote by Yogi Bhajan: ”Don’t you know that the Divine Intelligence that created this Universe and keeps all planets rotating in their orbits can take care of your routine?
 

Shakta has been practicing and teaching yoga for over three decades, having had the great fortune to study directly with Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga. Yogi Bhajan recognized her as a teacher of children, and for many years had her answer inquiries he received about children’s yoga. Shakta is an IKYTA certified Kundalini Yoga instructor and teacher trainer, an AMS certified Montessori educator, and an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance. For more info about Shakta, click here.


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