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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.

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

Yoga U Presenter Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar Releases New Book with Ayurvedic Guidelines for Healthy Eating

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Few things are more frustrating and painful than experiencing an ongoing struggle with weight and overall wellness. Unfortunately, in today's society, the number of Americans who are overweight or obese continue to climb.

With excess weight comes also often numerous other conditions—from poor sleep to depression – which hurt our quality of life and exacerbate weight issues. And unfortunately, for most people, no matter how many of the latest weight loss trends they try out, the results are for the most part disappointing, and often disheartening.

Why are most efforts to normalize weight so frustrating and--for the most part--fruitless? The reason is that we go about it in an entirely wrong way. Instead of focusing on what we eat or don't eat, we simply need to restore the natural balance of our digestive fire.

This is the tenet of a new book released by Ayurvedic physician and YogUOnline.com presenter Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, entitled 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.

What inspired the book? "The complaints I hear in my practice on a daily basis all have a surprising common denominator," says Dr. Kshirsagar. "Whether you're struggling with uncontrollable weight gain, low energy, and poor sleep, chronic headaches, unexplained congestion, or depression – from an Ayurvedic perspective, these are all related to a weak digestive 'fire.'"

It's a simple principle: If we're in touch with the natural process of appetite regulation, the body naturally will regulate how much food we take in. If we need food, we get hungry. If we don't need food, we're don't get hungry. The problem is that in modern society, the natural appetite regulating mechanism often becomes obscure by bad eating habits, poor quality foods, and life style habits that get us out of touch with the natural rhythms of the body.

This starts a vicious cycle: As we lose touch with the body's own appetite-regulating mechanisms, we begin to disturb the digestive fire of the body. From an Ayurvedic perspective, the belly is the center of our being, and when we’re burning food inefficiently, we’re throwing our metabolism out of balance and triggering unpleasant side effects. Weak digestion causes food “sludge" or ama, to accumulate in the body, resulting in lethargy, toxicity, water retention, fat build-up, inflammation, and more.

In this book, Dr. Kshirsagar introduces ancient Ayurvedic practices to show how we can optimize digestive powers to improve our health, vitality, and well-being. He also discusses the number one culprit behind most chronic conditions, including overweight and obesity that can effortlessly be remedied by changing your eating habits. In particular, Dr. Kshirsagar shows how to prepare a complete but easy-to-make meal that helps clear out “digestive sludge” that slows down metabolism, and undermines our wellbeing.

Dr. Mehmet Oz has decried the program in the book as "a simple, but practical plan for your Metabolic Transformation." And hey, if you lose a little weight in the process, what's not to like?

The book is available now at Amazon.com and from bookstores nationwide. Also look out for the upcoming appearance of Dr. Kshirsagar on the Oz Show, where he will be discussing the book and its benefits further.

The End of an Era—Is Yoga at a Crossroad?

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.

"This body is only an instrument of the soul to reach what is within." ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

BKS Iyengar was the last of the living Masters who brought yoga, meditation and yoga philosophy to the West. His passing marks the end of an era, and in more than one way.

In the West, we have developed a weary, love-hate relationship with the Indian concept of guru. Since the 1970s when the Indian guru phenomenon really took hold in the West, gurus purporting to be spiritual Masters have brought us great blessings, and just as equally, great disappointments and disillusion. And more often than not, all of these were embodied in the very same person. Most anyone following a so-called guru has been touched and inspired by his or her unparalleled greatness, and at the same time had their beliefs, dreams and aspirations shattered, when learning that the infallible Master was/is, after all, a very fallible and very human human being.

This conundrum was perfectly exemplified in B.K.S. Iyengar himself. He was a true Master, who developed yoga to the heights of what the human form is capable of, while never losing sight of the essential spiritual aspects of yoga. At the same time, while he notably never was trapped in the stereotypical scandals of the ‘fallen guru,’ he also was known to be demanding, harsh, controlling, and in some cases, even abusive. And, to his credit, he never made a pretense of being perfect.

The concept of the infallible guru has been rightly discredited. Still, what the Indian Masters brought us, which we may never see in quite the same way again, is a true Master Teacher, i.e. someone who dedicated his or her life to the perfection of one single thing, who forged new pathways into what it is possible for human beings to achieve physically, mentally, spiritually.

BKS Iyengar made yoga his art form, and his medium was the body. He spent six years, by his own account, learning how to use yoga postures and techniques to transform his body from a diseased frame that doctors had predicted wouldn’t live past the age of 20, to a strong, vital physiology, which was able to continue a daily yoga practice well into his 90s. And then he made it his mission to bring the knowledge he had gained to the world, to share what he had learned about how yoga asana can be used to heal and transform body, mind and spirit.

And for this reason, with the passing of BKS Iyengar, we face the end of an era. Symbolically speaking, his passing puts us face to face with the fact the yoga is at a crossroad. Yoga has been at a crossroad for many years, of course, but with the passing of one of yoga’s last great masters, the question of where yoga will go in the future becomes even more poignant.

What will shape the shape and form (no pun intended) of yoga going forward? On one hand, we see the growing commercialization of yoga, something that Mr. Iyengar himself viewed with concern. On the other hand, we have a profession whose very success has created immense challenges, which it has few structures in place to address. Let’s discuss each of these individually.

When Yoga Becomes Mainstream, Does Mainstream Become Yoga?

The growing commercialization of yoga, of course, is a trend that has been around ever since yoga became popular. The way yoga has been co-opted, often by people with little in-depth experience with the practice, concerned even BKS himself.

“It does disturb me, because yoga is a science,” he said in a 2007 CNN interview. “Yoga is a science, which makes one to associate the body to the mind, and the mind to the intelligence, and intelligence to the consciousness and consciousness to the Self. When such a noble subject, today, it has become a commercial presentation, it's painful to me. But many people have taken the advantage, learning something and calling different names and attracting people. I don't think that yoga is going to survive.”

That yoga has become mainstream is aptly symbolized by the new Yoga Journal—complete with pics and articles on Hilaria Baldwin and her mom-balance-it-all-techniques, blog posts on Celebrities Becoming Yoga Teachers, designer Trina Turk’s Essential Yoga Gear, and so on. Yoga Journal, of course, should not be singled out as the only media outlet driving this trend, but disappointingly, it is jumping on this YogaLite bandwagon more whole-heartedly than ever.

And of course, that begs the question, when yoga becomes mainstream, does mainstream become yoga? In other words, once what aspects of yoga are covered in  media outlets becomes driven by attention to, ultimately, what sells ads, does what we know about and perceive as yoga eventually become synonymous with the lowest common denominator of current mainstream status quo—including our voyeuristic interest in all things celeb?

A Profession at a Cross Roads

The other major trend unfolding in parallel in the world of yoga has to do with how we handle the growing challenges facing yoga teachers. As yoga becomes mainstream, yoga teachers are increasingly called upon to teach to mainstream bodies—and of course, that means ALL types of bodies, not the young, thin, beautiful and fit that grace magazine covers.

In one of Yoga Journal’s Yoga in America surveys, one out of two (!) respondents said they were interested in trying yoga. That includes the some 77 million baby boomers, who are fast and furiously entering their golden years determined to keep them golden. It includes football players, veterans of war, Wall Street stockbrokers, cancer survivors, victims of domestic violence or other form of trauma, athletes, people who are overweight, people who are too skinny, too out of shape, people who are too something, too anything.

And of course, with the widening audience and greater demand for yoga comes much, much greater teaching challenges. When the teaching of yoga was formalized as a profession, it was okay to ‘just’ be able to teach skinny, moderately fit 20-30+ somethings. But today, most any yoga teacher teaching mixed level classes has had the same experience: In a class of ten people, students do the postures with ten different kinds of improper alignment, and teachers do not have sufficient knowledge of biomechanics to offer effective, individualized suggestions. Because let’s face it, while the traditional modifications and props taught in yoga teacher trainings may work for the 20-30+ year olds fit and skinny somethings, they do not suffice to help the new type of mainstream students with mainstream bodies.

With this, of course, comes also the ongoing debate about yoga injuries. Surya Namaskar, for example, is standard fare in most Vinyasa classes, but the average American body is not really equipped to handle S.N. right from the get go. So something has to give: Either the person gives up trying yoga and concludes it’s not for him/her (as many do), or he or she persists, and unfortunately runs the risk of eventually incurring an injury.

One of the encouraging features of modern postural yoga is the increased focus on understanding and teaching the basics of biomechanics in postures and developing forms of yoga suitable to different types of groups—be they veterans of war, cancer survivors, people who are obese, people suffering from chronic pain. Yoga can be made accessible to everybody, but it requires a specialized level of knowledge and skill. And it’s not the same type of yoga that will work for every type of person.

And this is where yoga is at a crossroads. Few people are as passionate about their craft as full-time long-term yoga teachers, and there are many, many innovators out there doing great, brilliant work. They may not fit our image of the typical Indian guru, but they are in their own right Masters, who have dedicated their life to perfecting one way of teaching yoga to one type of body or one type of challenge.

The issue we are facing is that yoga as a profession does not have a medium for compiling this knowledge and making it more widely available. With the media increasingly chasing celebrity style yoga stories, the 6 Steps to Perfect Happiness and the 12 Minute Downward Dog, they have abdicated their role as a medium for the exploration of the finer points of yoga teaching and practice.

One encouraging trend, of course, is the work of the International Association of Yoga Therapy and the 1,000 hour standards they are developing for yoga therapy as a profession. But while developing the standards for offering yoga as therapy to those struggling with ailments is important, it still doesn’t fill the gap or address the challenges everyday yoga teachers face in teaching the wide range of bodies that come to classes.

And so, we remain at an important crossroad. The debate about yoga injuries is important because it is a reminder that the profession of teaching yoga is still in its infancy and much work needs to be done to bring the teaching of yoga to a level where teachers can serve the much wider range of needs of today’s typical yoga students. But we need to extend that debate to a discussion of how we, as a profession, can do the kind of things a profession does: Develop a shared and growing body of knowledge with effective channels for widely disseminating that knowledge.

This is why the passing of BKS Iyengar marks the end of an era. Yoga as a profession has grown past the point where it can be effectively be distributed via the traditional Master-student relationship. It is up to us to decide what comes next. And if we do not, in the long run, we run the risk of getting stuck with the celeb-gossip style lite yoga that feeds ad sales, and little more than that.

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