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Yoga, Intuition, and the Anatomy of Whole Body Living: An Interview with Tom Myers

Tom Myers is the author of Anatomy Trains, a book that reimagines our anatomy as an interconnected, holistic system instead of a series of independent parts. In this interview he talks about how the Anatomy Trains concept can help yoga teachers and yoga practitioners get a deeper understanding of what happens in yoga postures and how to make progress in our practice.

YogaUOnline: Tom, you are famous in bodywork circles for your development of the Anatomy Trains concept.  This model is often referred to as “the anatomy of connection.” Tell us what is meant by this, and how you developed this concept?

Tom Myers: Well, the anatomy that we’ve been working with for the last four hundred years is the anatomy of isolation or the anatomy of parts. When you try to apply that to yoga, it really doesn’t translate very well. For example, when you go into a Downward Dog, it doesn’t make so much sense to think in terms of whether you are stretching the hamstrings or the plantar flexors or the fascia that goes over the sacrum, because you’re stretching all three. And importantly, how deeply you go into that pose and where the pose fails or could be improved is not going depend just on this structure or that structure, but the relationship among the structures.

So it’s not that Anatomy Trains is that new or that different. But it applies so much more easily to yoga, where you are putting a stretch, a stress or a strain into large sections of the body at once.

YogaUOnline: How did you come up with this concept?

Tom Myers: I was trying to teach anatomy to students at the Rolfing school. We started making a game, because there was nothing connected about any of the anatomy books then. So I started making a game of saying, “Well, can you go from this muscle to this muscle in a straight line? And then can you go from this muscle to this muscle in a straight line.” And I called it the Anatomy Trains because it literally was a game for my students. But then, I began to get more serious about it and turned it into a system.

YogaUOnline: Very interesting. In terms of understanding how this relates movement in the body, give us an example. You made reference to the spiral lines. And of course, the equivalent movement in yoga anatomy, or rather yoga functional anatomy, would be rotation/twisting postures.

Tom Myers: Exactly.

YogaUOnline: So, if a person is having limitations in range of motion, in twisting postures, in tradition Western anatomy, we would look at some of the muscles involved in, for example, trunk rotation. Tell us how you would be looking at that from the standpoint of Anatomy Trains and what implications that has for our yoga practice.

Tom Myers: Well, it’s particularly useful for yoga teachers to know these things, because they’ll be able to see more of what’s going on as their students go through different postures. If you watch someone doing the Triangle Pose, for example —which puts one upper spiral line into a twist and requires engagement of all the muscles along the other spiral line—there could be a fault in the ability of the muscle or a fascial fabric to elongate enough to get into the pose. Or there might be a lack of strength in an opposing muscle that couldn’t support the ribcage or support the neck so that the spiral is clean, so to speak….

It’s important for yoga teachers to be able to see when their students are doing it differently on one side and the other and then take steps to either strengthen or lengthen, depending on what’s needed.

But the brain needs to have that concept in mind to be able to see these things. So practice, practice, practice. Just keep looking for what’s not lengthening as you watch your students.  Knowing the Anatomy Trains lines, knowing what anatomy is involved in each of the myofascial meridians, is very helpful in being able to see what is going on in a pose. Once you see what’s going on, you can cue students so that the pose becomes more even.

What we’re looking for in the Anatomy Trains vision is an even tone across the whole line and even tone along the lines and a good relationship among the lines. Injury occurs where there’s no give. And so, the idea of yoga, and the idea of the kind of bodywork that I do, is to even out the tone and make it possible for that little bit of give to happen, no matter what functional movement you’re doing. But we use the yoga poses as models of functional movement to see that.

YogaUOnline: When we think in terms of movement, in traditional anatomy, it is described in terms of ropes and pulleys. But you’re saying movement works in a very different way in the body. Is that correct?

Tom Myers: Yes, that takes us to the concept of tensegrity, which tells us that the bones are not a solid structure on which the muscles hang. Rather, it is much more that the bones float within a balanced tension of the muscles and the fascia. So when you go into yoga poses, when you go into the extreme of a movement and then extend your extreme by stretching, you are increasing the amount of resilience in your tissues so that all the tissues give a little.  

But Anatomy Trains is not a theory of movement. Movement is a mystery, how we move is a mystery. Scientists like to tell you that they think they know a lot about it, but I don’t think we really have sorted out how movement works in the body yet. The idea that nerves make muscles move is a basic concept. But there are other feedback loops that we have not really explored yet, scientifically, or that we can’t even really articulate that well at this point.

We are at a breaking point in research, where the mechanics that we’ve been happy with for the last 350 years are going to give way to a new kind of biomechanics that’s based on more interconnected concepts, like the Anatomy Trains and the idea of tensegrity. My prediction is that we will begin to look at the nervous system more as a kind of cloud computing than the kind of computing we’ve been doing until now.

YogaUOnline: Yoga postures are unique in that they generally involve movement of the spine, which we don’t get that much of otherwise. I’ve often wondered if this kind of movement creates a stimulation of the nerves that might be, in part, responsible for some of the benefits people are experiencing from yoga practice?

Tom Myers: Well, I’d say that it’s more out at the ends of the nerves that the benefit is happening. Yes, there’s some benefit to those nerves sliding through the holes in the spine. But I’d say that the effects come more from the stretching in the limbs or in the trunk, wherever the nerves end.  Those little nerve endings are listening to the fascia and the muscles, so to speak, and when we stimulate them, it goes right back into the spinal cord and stimulates the part of the brain associated with those nerve endings.

That’s the wonderful thing about yoga. If you’re allowing your practice to deepen, you’re constantly coming across new areas in your body that were forgotten. And you’re bringing them back into your body image or your body awareness.

YogaUOnline: Interesting.

Tom Myers: I would almost say that it is a moral person who makes decisions, feeling their whole body. In the West today, we have so many places in our body that we have forgotten and that we don’t use in our day-to-day lives. So we have to be broader in our movement range, using yoga or some other form of union to feel our body as a complete thing again.

YogaUOnline: Many people believe that intuition is very much tied into feeling that somatic reality, is that your understanding as well?

Tom Myers: Yes, hunches are a physical process. Intuition is a physical process. It’s a process of tuning into your body and thinking of the body as an antenna. I don’t mean to sound New Age-y, but scientifically, your fascia is a liquid crystal. It is arranged in crystalline form. So it could be considered to be a kind of antenna. If you are tuned to it, if you are inhabiting all of it, I think you will make better decisions, than if you are only inhabiting small pieces of it.

That is a part of your mind. Your mind extends all the way down to your feet, all the way down to your hands, all the way into your back. And if you’re only paying attention to your hands and your face and your eyes on the computer screen and you’re otherwise sitting most of the time, you lose access to those kinds of intuitive feelings.

This Q&A is an excerpt from Tom Myer’s interview on Yoga, Somatic Awareness & the Growth of Intuition.To download the full recorded interview, go here.

Making Yoga Safer: 5 tips on What We Should Do in Asana ( A response to Matthew Remski)

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Preventing yoga injuries

By Chrys Kub, P.T., yoga therapist - 

Author, blogger and Ayurvedic practitioner Matthew Remski has recently started a project called WAWADIA (What are We Actually Doing in Asana?) which is creating lots of discussion in the yoga community. As a physical therapist and biokinesiologist, this question has been loudly blaring in my mind since I have started my yoga practice over 14 years ago. In the beginning, I assumed it was because I did not know enough about the practice, so I would just follow my teachers when they would confidently say things such as "this is the pure posture as taught to me by Swami What’sHisName when I was studying with him for the last 15 years, so just do it!" As time passed and I deepened my knowledge of the practice, doing the requisite 500 Hour Teacher Training and eventually studying yoga therapy, I realized the dirty little secret that Matthew so astutely reveals…we don’t really know What We are Actually Doing in Asana! And neither did Swami What’sHisName.

In a recent podcast,The Liberated Body hosted by Brooke Thomas, Matthew mentions that in addition to this question, he would like to ask "what can we do in asana to make it a safer, more efficient practice biomechanically for the body?” This response is to offer some suggestions, based on my 25 years in the field of physical therapy, the last 10 which have been working with persons on an individual basis using yoga asana as one of the tools to help them heal structural injuries, not just a few of which have been "because” of yoga. These are things you can do now, until the time comes when the majority of yoga instructors begin to understand that the in depth knowledge of how the body moves can only enhance their teaching and help their students keep coming back, without injury. 

Just to be clear, I love the practice of yoga. It has helped me become healthier and happier and I have seen this occur in the many clients who I have worked with who have embraced the practice. My livelihood is dedicated to spreading the practice of yoga to others, and helping them learn how to use it as a tool to help them in their lives, but it is only one tool. I am not condemning anyone who teaches asana practices, but instead challenging them to perhaps dig a little deeper, not to accept and teach practices that they don’t fully understand and to get in on the discussion and conversation that Matthew started.

We all know that asana is only one small part of yoga, but let’s face it, it is the biggest part that modern society is now practicing, and it’s the part that is causing the physical injuries that William Broad discussed in his now infamous article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body in the NY Times. This article got national exposure, and scared (maybe appropriately?) many people away from yoga practice. Below are some tips to address some of the things we can start today, things which on the cutting edge of modern research I might add, to help us prevent injury from the practice of yoga, as well as use it to maintain structural health and possibly heal a structural injury.

1. Stop practicing yoga to stretch tight muscles, it doesn’t work!

This radical thought will probably rock the yoga world. When the general yoga population is polled as to why they practice yoga, the majority state it is to gain flexibility. Unfortunately, the latest research is showing that stretching does not really change your flexibility and that flexibility probably does not help improve function or performance. Any changes you are seeing in flexibility are due to the changes in the nervous system, not how hard you pull on your hamstings or how deep you go into a backbend. For a deeper discussion on this particular issue, read a few blogs by my wonderful colleague Jules Mitchell, who spent the past two years investigating the research on stretching and yoga. She describes what stretching is and what is isn’t, and what we really need to do in asana to actually increase muscle stiffness to improve efficiency.

2. Get a one on one assessment of your body’s structure and weak links by a qualified yoga teacher, personal trainer, physical therapist or yoga therapist trained in structural assessment. This is probably the most important tip. You may think that I am just promoting my profession (which is true), but I have good reason. It is virtually impossible for your yoga teacher to know what your individual body’s’ needs are and address them adequately in a group yoga class. We all have our body’s history of lifestyle and trauma; emotional, physical and mental. This is held in our body and manifested through dysfunctional movement. When we practice yoga, we are moving the body biomechanically, with various levels of force and contraction through movement patterns. These movement patterns are affected by our individual alignments, weaknesses and strengths. In order to make your practice fit your body, you must know where you might be compensating, where your muscles might be overworking and learn to use the asana practice to create more efficiency and balance in your movement patterns.

3. Individualize your practice to address your needs.You may think that getting an individual assessment means you have to practice alone, and not attend a group class. But to the contrary, having this knowledge will transform your practice to one that is specific to your needs and instead of getting hurt, you will stay healthy or even begin to heal. Attend the group class after you learn from your yoga assessment session how to adjust the postures to meet your goals. Yes, they probably will tell you to do a short 15 minute home practice a few days a week to target certain areas more intensely, but you can take that knowledge into your practice, be it Bikram, Ashtanga, general vinyasa or restorative, and make that practice your own.

4. Consider adding foam rolling for myofascial release into your asana practice. Since we now know we don’t really stretch our muscles (i.e. change their length), we can use the foam roller to help improve mobility of the muscles and connective tissues to allow the nervous system to more efficiently activate your muscles. Research into foam rolling has found some wonderful benefits which will help you learn to release overactive muscles and activate those that need to awaken in order to improve efficiency and alignment. As described in the review by Chris Beardsley entitled Does Research Support Foam Rolling, foam rolling is beneficial pre exercise to reduce muscle fatigue and possibly improve exercise performance. It will improve the joint range of motion without decreasing performance. Post exercise, foam rolling can help decrease muscle soreness, possibly improving your ability to train again sooner and with less discomfort. Foam rolling is not utilized in order to improve flexibility, but to decrease the neural activation of the resting tone in the prime movers (which are usually the muscles you think are "tight”) Once you reset that neural tone of the tissue, the muscle is better able to release and relax, thus allowing an increased range of motion of the joint. This results in more efficient movement of the joint and allows one to begin to activate those muscles which may have been "lazy” and not doing their job. Those lazy muscles are what caused the brain to tell the compensating muscles to "tighten up” in the first place in order to perform the movement or protect you from injury. To learn how to incorporate myofascial release into your yoga practice, check out Yoga TuneUP and Rollasana.

5.  Finally, move through your practice with BAMA (Breath, Alignment, Mostility and Awareness)
a. Breath: the foundation of the asana practice. We all know it, it’s undeniable, yet I have been to many a yoga practice where I did not hear the students breathing or the instructor really cuing the breath. All I can say is please include this as the foundation of your practice.

b. Alignment: if your body is out of alignment, your movement is inefficient and you will create overuse injuries from repetitive stress. This is well established in the literature. Shirley Sahrmann, PT, PhD, FAPTA was a ground breaking physical therapist in the area of movement dysfunction. Her philosophy, if we move with poor initial alignment, we are setting ourselves up for failure and possible pain. If you are a kinesiology geek, her text, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes is a must read. If you aren’t, just trust me, alignment is important.

c. Mostility: Mobility and Stability are the keys to efficient movement. Since one is codependent on the other, I came up with a new term, Mostility. If you have decreased mobility of a joint, it is usually due not to a tight muscle, but to a combination of fascial restrictions and connective tissue from an injury or repetitive movement dysfunction coupled with poor activation of the prime movers as well as some muscles compensating for that poor activation with over activation. A prime example, the hamstrings in someone who is active in athletics tend to get what they perceive as tight. This tightness is actually increased contraction of the hamstrings to compensate for relative inactivity of the gluteus maximus, which is the primary hip extensor. Once the athlete learns to turn on the gluts as the prime mover instead of the hamstrings, his tightness miraculously decreases. This athlete could practice this in an asana practice by paying attention in poses like Shalambasana as to how he turns on his hip extension, activating the gluts before the hamstrings. This is just one example of how knowing what to activate and how can change your movement patterns.

d. Awareness: One word, Feldenkrais. What is it? The Feldenkrais Method is experiential, providing tools for self-observation through movement enquiry. It is used to improve movement patterns rather than to treat specific injuries or illnesses. Feldenkrais taught that increasing a person's kinesthetic and proprioceptive self-awareness of functional movement could lead to increased function, reduced pain, and greater ease and pleasure of movement. Wow, that sounds like yoga with awareness to me.

So what is the conclusion? What We Are Doing in Asana is still being debated and investigated. It is only through the work of those who are brave enough to bring this issue to our attention that we can begin to address the impact of this practice in creating injuries. Purists may balk that this is taking the yoga out of the yoga practice. But to the contrary, what could be more in line with the practice of yoga than practicing ahimsa in our asana practice? That is…do no harm.

 

Chrys Kub is an integrative physical therapist who incorporates therapeutic yoga as a tool in her practice. She is also an educator in therapeutic yoga through teacher trainings and the yoga therapy program with Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute. She provides continuing education in yoga therapy online through YogaUOnline, HomeCEUConnection.com and PTCourses.com. She also travels throughout the United States presenting yoga therapy at conferences and to health practitioners to help spread the benefits of yoga to all who are willing to learn. You can contact Chrys at chryskub@yogaclub.us

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.

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.

Improving Heart Health Helps Stave Off Dementia and Alzheimer’s

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For most people, perhaps the most troubling aspect of growing old is the fear of living out the last stage of life afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s, unable to recognize and interact with loved ones.  A staggering one in three people are predicted to develop dementia in the last part of their life.

Well, according to a new study by researchers at Cambridge University, about one third of all Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide could be reduced through simple lifestyle changes that promote heart health.

What is good for the heart is good for the brain, according to the new study. The same simple lifestyle changes that can promote heart health, i.e. exercise, quitting smoking and a healthy diet, also play a significant role in boosting brain power and staving off problems with memory and thinking attributable to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in The Lancet Neurology.

The findings are significant because they are the first to quantify the combined impact of lifestyle factors influencing dementia and identify exercise as the most significant protection against the condition. This is important news for the 33% of people who are predicted to develop dementia in their lifetime.  (Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of those cases).

The landmark study suggests that the best thing you can do to beat the odds is to exercise regularly. Just one hour of exercise a week can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half. The researchers identified seven modifiable lifestyle risk factors that lead to rising levels of dementia. They include: diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, physical inactivity, depression, smoking, and low educational attainment.

The results were calculated using a decade of data obtained from the Health Survey for England 2006. Of those studied, participants who did not achieve three 20-minute bursts of vigorous exercise per week, such as jogging or football, or five 30-minute sessions of moderate activity, such as walking, were 82 percent more likely to go on to develop dementia. A previous YogaUOnline story shows that yoga and meditation also can slow the progression of dementia.

“Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages,” lead author Professor Brayne, from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, said in an article in the UK Telegraph. “We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.”

The study’s author added that: “Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as a healthier old age in general – it’s a win-win situation.”

Though increasing physical activity and taking steps to decrease blood pressure, quitting smoking and eating healthy can prevent dementia and cases of Alzheimer’s in many cases, Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in the Telegraph article, that further research is needed to “understand the mechanisms behind how these factors are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages,” lead author Professor Brayne, from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, said in an article in the UK Telegraph. “We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.”

The study’s author added that: “Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as a healthier old age in general – it’s a win-win situation.”

Though increasing physical activity and taking steps to decrease blood pressure, quitting smoking and eating healthy can prevent dementia and cases of Alzheimer’s in many cases, Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in the Telegraph article, that further research is needed to “understand the mechanisms behind how these factors are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s.”

New Online Master of Science in Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine Launched

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“Only a holistic approach that takes into consideration all aspects of mind and body together can be successful in handling health.” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Last year saw the launch of a Masters programs in Yoga and Yoga Therapy at universities across the country, and so it was only a matter of time before a Masters programs in Ayurveda would follow.

Marrying the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda with the most advanced developments in Western medicine, Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IA just launched an accredited graduate-level Masters of Science program that is one of the first if its kind in the nation. What’s more, a large part of the program will be available for students to study online.

With the 5,000-year-old medical tradition of Ayurveda (“the science of life") gaining popularity in the United States, the faculty at the Fairfield, Iowa-based university hope to bring this holistic healthcare approach to the masses. The new Master of Science in Maharishi Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine is designed to meet the need for skillful practitioners trained and accredited in the traditional Hindu medicine of India and able to practice in modern medicine in the United States, according to Keith Wallace, Founding President, Maharishi University.

“Right now modern medicine is changing and there is a direction back to natural and lifestyle medicine that is personalized for each person,” said Dr.Wallace. “For thousands of years, Ayurvedic medicine has been focused on this natural system of healing, but it has not been embraced in the West.”

“Now, that is changing, and that change is being seen in small, but significant ways, such as the way we are embracing yoga,” added Dr. Wallace. “People and the medical community are looking to focus on this consciousness in a scientific way.”

Dr. Wallace said the university is meeting that need by formalizing a graduate degree program so that doctors, scientists and health coaches can assimilate Ayurveda traditions with modern science.

“We are hoping to give health practitioners more thorough knowledge of the protocols used by Maharishi Ayurveda in dealing with different health conditions,” he added.

Beginning this fall, (September 1), the program is being offered online to its first class of doctors, nurses, medical students, health coaches and wellness experts eager to incorporate integrative medicine into their practices.  It is the first graduate-level training to focus specifically on Maharishi Ayurveda, following closely on the heels of Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, which started its Ayurvedic Sciences Masters program in 2013. Maharishi Ayurveda provides tools for the prevention and treatment of disease, and deals holistically with consciousness, physiology, psychology, behavior, and environment.

“With our healthcare system in such a state of crisis, there is a greater need now more than ever for health providers to combine the protocols of Eastern and Western medicine and focus on wellness versus the treatment of disease,” said Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, one of the most academically accomplished, classically trained Ayurvedic physicians in the United States. He is among the roster of distinguished Ayurvedic practitioners and teachers who make up the faculty and will teach via Skype and other digital tools from his California base. 

“Right now there are very few, but excellent physicians trained to practice this cutting-edge and very unique way of treating the mind, body and spirit,” said Dr. Kshirsagar, author of The Hot Belly Diet: A 30-Day Ayurvedic Plan to Reset Your Metabolism, Lose Weight, and Restore Your Body's Natural Balance to Heal Itself.  “Our students will graduate as guides in practicing healthcare that focuses on the simple tools of medicine and enlightenment – yoga, diet, exercise – and the values preventative medicine, and that health is a by-product of caring for the self.”

“We are intentionally trying to keep it small the first year,” he said, “and we have a wide range of students enrolled in the program from physicians and nurses to health coaches. We spent a lot of time reorienting traditional Western medical curriculums with Ayurvedic traditions.”

The faculty are some of the most renowned Ayurvedic practitioners from all over the world, he added. In addition to Dr. Kshirsagar, Hemant Gupta, M.D., Founder and Director of Shree Ma AyurVeda Institute & Wellness Centre Inc. in Ottawa, Canada also is on the faculty.

Courses cover the gamut of healthcare from Maharishi Ayurveda anatomy and physiology in the context of the eight major organ systems, to comprehensive Ayurvedic health assessment techniques, including traditional pulse diagnosis, tongue diagnosis, individualized diet and lifestyle recommendations, health assessments and assessments of mind-body type and therapeutics for mind, body and environment. Students also will learn about the five sense therapies (touch, smell, sight, taste, sound), the principles of Vedic Architecture and participate in an introduction to the clinical applications of traditional Chinese medicine, Homeopathy, Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy, Chiropractic, other natural medical systems and modern integrative medicine.

Once a year, students will attend a week-long intensive clinical training on MUM’s Iowa campus.

Teaching Maharishi Ayurveda for more than 25 years. Maharishi University of Management was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced Transcendental Meditation in the United States in the late 1950s and gained fame in the 1960s as the spiritual guru to the Beatles.

“At the end of the day, what we hope will happen is that our graduates will become guides for others to help them see health as a product of enlightenment and to help them start to and learn to follow this way of living and staying healthy,” said Dr. Kshirsagar.

Is Yoga Our GPS to the Soul?

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By Lynn A. Anderson, Ph.D. - 

Is there such a thing as a global positioning system (GPS) that allows us to locate and identify the soul? Yoga just might be our GPS for the soul. Yoga, the science of physical, mental and spiritual self-transformation is an ancient discipline that seeks union between the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness. If we are to accept that the soul is found within this union, then yoga becomes the mechanism that allows us to locate it.

The practice of yoga changes the physical, mental and spiritual life of the practitioner by releasing the physical, mental, energetic, emotional and psychological blocks that limit our potential. This release helps us to grow and evolve and it is through this evolution that we are able to locate and connect with the soul.

On a physical level, yoga has many concrete benefits. Correcting physical ailments, reversing the aging process, providing strength and balance, unifying and detoxifying the system, toning muscles, regulating internal body functions and calming the nervous system are some of the benefits we can derive from the practice.

But on a deeper level, it allows us to search deeper beyond the surface of the physical and mental world into the realm of the spirit. It does this by teaching us the interrelatedness of all things and the true nature of self, which is that we are a spiritual being here on earth taking on earthy form for the purpose of self-discovery. Even modern theories of physics, such as the Theory of Everything, explain how all things are interconnected by lines of energy known as subatomic particles.

One branch of yoga known as Karma yoga serves as a guidepost assisting the soul through space and time. It is the branch of yoga that chooses the exact space and time for the soul to reincarnate into a physical and mental being for the purpose of self-discovery and correction.

According to karma-yoga, we leave this world with unfinished business and desires. Those desires cannot be fulfilled without the use of the body-mind. The soul leaves this world and goes to wait in what is referred to as the holdover place. It is not the final resting place, but simply a place to reflect. When the time is right and the location (body-mind) has been identified we return to another life in an attempt to fulfill our karma. Our karma is the work we are here to perform in an attempt to remove the obstacles that get in our way and keep us in the perpetual cycle of life and death or reincarnation.

We choose the nature of our birth and the structure of our lives in the most expedient manner so as to learn the lessons of karma. We choose our mother and our father and the circumstances of our life. Our mission is simply to discover the truth, and to choose the best circumstances that provide us with the greatest opportunity to discover this truth. Once here on earth, it is up to us to discover our work and make the changes necessary for evolution. This can only be done once we realize that karma is not about bad or good deeds. It has no judgment. Karma is simply cause and effect. For every action there is a reaction. To overcome the repeated cycle of karma, conscious self-awareness of our actions and how they affect the nature of our life, allows us to connect with the universal consciousness.

We then have the opportunity to locate the soul in time and space, in the present life, and develop the power to change the course of our journey.

Perhaps you are here to learn a difficult lesson. An example would be an unhappy marriage or any situation of struggle and strife. This situation may be present to teach you unselfishness, sharing, respect and truth. If you had learned these lessons prior to a marriage or a difficult situation, the experience of unhappiness would no longer be needed. A space would then open and instead of a karmic experience of difficulty, you would experience one of joy and happiness

Karma yoga teaches us that if the lessons we need to learn have been truly learned, change has been made, a space opens and we then have a greater opportunity to manifest free will and with free will, we become the master of our own destiny. The soul has found its GPS, a system that provides time and location information under any condition here on earth, with an unobstructed view.

This article was originally published on Huffington Post.

 

Doctor Lynn holds a Ph.D. in Natural Health and an ND. She created Kosmos, a continuing education provider for health and fitness professionals. She has written courses and books in the area of mind-body-spirit integration, yoga and natural health, and its application to traditional health and fitness. She produced a weekly talk radio show about anti-aging and alternative medicine and is a published author for an international nutrition company. She is a contributing writer to the Journal of Longevity and an advisory board member and has been a speaker at the Deepak Chopra Center. Dr. Anderson is a faculty member to the American Council on Exercise. She has been featured in Shape, SELF, Red Book, and other major publications and also a contributing writer to the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynn is certified by Yoga Alliance, Spin, ACE and IAYT. She teaches anti-aging/fusion fitness classes. Her latest DVD, Aero*boga™ is a unique workout promoting fitness and health. It comes with a companion book, Spiritual Fitness. From Maine, a mother and grandmother, she now resides in Los Angeles, CA. with her husband Dan

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