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New Medical Yoga Symposium at Smithsonian Highlights Growing Interest in Yoga Therapy

yoga therapy, Dean Ornish

While the profession of yoga therapy is still in its early birthing phase, the interest in the medical therapeutic applications of yoga is rapidly growing.

With new research studies on the therapeutic benefits of yoga coming out almost daily, it is no surprise that the medical field is starting to pay attention. Now, the venerable Smithsonian in Washington, DC will be co-hosting, with George Washington University, the first annual Medical Yoga Symposium, January 11th and 12th, 2014.

The Medical Yoga Symposium brings together some of the leading medical professionals spearheading research into the therapeutic applications of yoga in both theory and practice. The event is sponsored by the Smithsonian, in conjunction with the ongoing exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation, and features an illustrious group of speakers and presenters distinguished for their visionary work and leadership in the therapeutic applications of yoga.

“This is a landmark event for the realm of therapeutic yoga, and a groundbreaking collaboration between the museums and the emerging fields of integrative medicine,” says director Linda Lang, who also founded Therapeutic Yoga of Greater Washington. “For the first time on a national stage, we are bringing together multi-disciplinary practitioners and researchers to present a symposium on evidence-based integrative medicine, yoga therapy practice and research, and the science of transformation.”

The Medical Yoga Symposium is a testimony to the emerging collaboration between the medical field and practitioners working with the therapeutic applications of yoga, and it speaks to the future potential of the field. Two days of programming will cover the fine art and science of yoga, yoga practice in modern society, yoga as a therapeutic intervention, transformations in modern medicine, and scientific research on yoga.

Dean Ornish, MD, will open the event with a keynote address. The founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute is best known for his studies showing that heart disease can be reversed through yoga, meditation, and diet. He’s a former physician consultant to President Bill Clinton and has written five best-selling books.

Speakers include leaders of modern yoga in medical, academic and military settings such as Timothy McCall, Larry Payne, Sat Bhir Khalsa of Harvard University, Dilip Sarkar of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Richard Miller from the Integrative Restoration Institute, and retired Lieut. General Eric Schoomaker.

Programming on both days will feature presentations, master classes (one-hour breakout sessions) and three-hour intensive workshops. Lunch hour at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Gallery includes 12 roundtable discussion groups covering subjects such as yoga and cancer treatment; Tibetan yoga and cancer research; research on yoga in the workplace; ashram life; yoga and addiction; therapeutic teacher training; yoga therapy degree programs; yoga in underserved communities; and yoga in pediatrics.

“The potential for the applications of yoga as therapy is huge,” says Lang, “but the reality is even more impressive. I envision more courses in colleges, post-grad programs and trainings for medical professionals, from doctors and nurses to respiratory therapists. I see an increase of yoga in academic settings, undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Look, also, at the impact of yoga and meditation within military settings, where it is being used extensively in mental health programs as an intervention for chronic pain and palliative care.”

The Smithsonian exhibition ends on January 26, but the relationships within the community and the university have no end date. While the symposium has goals of fostering new relationships between institutions, the relationships between practitioners carry just as much weight. The master classes and three-hour intensives on the program are discussion-based and highly experiential, designed to engage and connect people.

“I want people to have a sense of belonging and connection,” says Lang. “Yoga teachers often feel a sense of isolation. The work we do is by and large very lonely. Part of what I want people to notice is that they can find support around them. Even in situations where they might not know anyone, to have an opportunity to explore what they do with their isolation and their unanswered questions.”

The relationship with the museum gives this symposium a unique air, but also significant is the relationship that Washington’s therapeutic yoga community has developed with the other event host, George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Services. The medical school’s involvement is a direct response to student innovation, increasing yoga’s presence within the curriculum. Yoga is proving itself to be a fundamental aspect of prevention, intervention and treatment, as well as a path towards physician wellness and enhanced patient care.

To register for the Medical Yoga Symposium, visit:


Surviving the Holiday Feasts: A Yogi’s Guide to Mindful Eating

mindful eating over the holidays

By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D. - 

Had Ben Franklin lived today, he would likely have added a third item to his list of life’s inescapable certainties: January’s barrage of weight loss articles and dieting advice surely is as certain as death and taxes. Just as certain is that we then will savor these with vigor, prodded by tight clothing that reminds us of December’s excesses.

This year, why not stay ahead of the curves—so to speak? You can avoid putting on those extra pounds and still enjoy the holidays. Start before the pressure is on to drop excess pounds, and simply have fun and explore new ways of eating. In the process, you might learn some valuable things about yourself and your body. To help you keep weight in check in the weeks ahead, try these five tips for mindful eating.

1. Make a New Friend. Many of us end up pudgy or overweight because over time, we lose touch with the body’s natural signals of satiety. This season, try to pay attention to your body and watch its reactions. Be mindful of the experience of eating and the effects you feel afterwards.  Observe how the body tells you what it needs—and what it doesn’t need. Also notice how and when your mind overrules the body.

Pay attention to how other factors affect your relationship to food: How much sleep you get, your stress level, your mood, and lack of exercise also affect your eating habits, making you more liable to overeat.

Don’t judge yourself and don’t try to force change.  As you establish greater awareness of your digestive processes and the body’s signals, you will gradually strengthen its self-regulating mechanisms. Over the long term, this will help you keep your weight in balance more than anything else.

2. Play with Your Food. Yes, we know what Mama told you, but we’re not talking about turning mashed potatoes into mountains. Finding ways to play with your food can help you develop greater awareness of your food and restructure mindless eating habits. For starters, try these exercises:

  • Divide Fractions. To avoid overeating at holiday meals, experiment with taking smaller and smaller bites of what’s on your plate. Sink your teeth into the first couple of bites, and then take increasingly smaller pieces. Give each morsel your full attention; explore ways to savor each bite as much as you would a full mouthful.
  • Have Your Cake and Eat It Too. If you really crave it, don’t deny yourself that extra serving of pie. Instead, take half as much as you normally would, and focus on enjoying it twice as much. Relish the taste; savor the ecstasy of the flavors unfolding in your mouth.
  • Wheeler-Dealer. Make trade-offs. If you eat too much at one meal, eat less at the next or cut out something else you would normally consume.

3. Try Tricks for Treats. There are many reasons why we eat more than we need. For many of us, overeating is linked to our emotions—affording a way to cheer us up or dull the pain of unresolved issues.

If cravings are an issue for you, explore constructive ways to channel them. Eat healthy, low-calorie snacks: an apple, a handful of raw carrots with raisins, or a couple of graham crackers are delicious snacks that won’t make you put on weight. A cup of warm, delicious chai at the end of a meal can help curb the craving for a second helping.

Try not to eat between meals, it disturbs your digestion and messes up the body’s appetite-regulating mechanisms. But if you have to, indulge in healthy, easy-to-digest snacks like the ones listed above.

4. Stay Close to Earth. If we eat food that isn’t very nourishing, our body will continue to signal that it needs food, no matter how much we eat. To reduce cravings and overeating, make sure you get the nutrition you need.

The closer your food is to the earth, the more nutritious, energizing, and nourishing it is. Favor whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are the most beneficial not only for regulating weight, but for enhancing your overall health and wellness as well.

There are a great variety of whole foods. Educate yourself about what is available, and experiment with adding more and more whole foods to your diet.

5. Bring Lots of Band-Aids. Approach your journey into changing your eating habits with an attitude of curiosity and adventure. And bring lots of Band-Aids for the trip! Inevitably you will fall; but each time, simply get right back at it.

Lasting change grows from the inside out, gradually, over time. Avoid setting yourself up for the impossible; set realistic and sustainable goals. Attempts at change made with awareness, self-compassion, and patience will yield results over time. 

The Masks We Wear and Who We Truly Are

the masks we wear and who we truly are

by Alan Finger -

We all have different personalities. All day we put on the various masks we’ve learned to develop since when we were babies. The more we put on these masks, the more they become who we think we are. So, how do we integrate these different personalities? One of the most amazing experiences in yoga that helps us achieve this is Pratyahara, or drawing the senses inward. We want to bring ourselves to a neutral place so we can focus our senses in, but this is one of the hardest lessons in yoga. The difficulty is most evident when we look at our emotions, our personalities. Heightened emotions happen in life, and it’s hard to say, “Oh, I’m just being silly. Let it go.” Instead, the ego wants to come out.

The ego is responsible for forming the different personalities you put on: “smart,” “stupid,” “yogi,” “professional,” “father,” etc. The truth is that none of these things are really you. You are just pure consciousness in the middle. You must move your consciousness to a place that enables you to sit still and feel the essence of who you are. Who are you without all the things you’ve learned in life, everything you’ve felt, and all of the labels you’ve developed that make you who you think you are? If I tried to meditate and sat there thinking, “I am Alan, yogiraj, and master of yoga,” I couldn’t meditate. I have to be nothing to meditate! I have to be able to let go of the ego to feel my own essence.

Using the tools of Tantra and Kriya yoga, you can draw your senses in to feel your fragmented masks merging back into one being. You can feel yourself as who you truly are. When your consciousness moves into the center of the brain, you feel whole — in complete homeostasis — and balance and harmony fill your body. It is from this place of oneness that you can heal. The most amazing things happen when you become one: duality disappears, ego disappears, and you’re able to expand into Samadhi, the state of yoga. You’re able to move beyond your thought — beyond what you think you should be — and simply feel oneness with the intelligence of the universe.

Realize that we are born from a universal intelligence, and that we are less than stardust. There is a whole universe of billions of galaxies, filled with billions upon billions of stars. We live near one little star, and you are one little speck on a planet that orbits that little star. With the ego in play, it’s ridiculous what we make ourselves out to be. What a big deal we are making of ourselves!

Stop for a moment and feel how you are born from the universe, how you are just part of it, and how the universal intelligence is available to you. Just tune to it. It doesn’t come from an Ivy League degree, from material things, or anything having to do with the ego. The intelligence from which we are born is huge, much bigger than our little brains. We can tap into it when we are able to bring the senses inward, to integrate ourselves, and to sit still and meditate. We become inspired when we can tap into the intelligence that is beyond our minds, when we are in that state of experiencing all things at once. When we tune into that state of oneness and then bring that intelligence back into life, it is magic. Having this knowledge and experience creates miracles in life.

For more information on Alan's course on YogaUOnline:
Introduction to Tantra Cosmology



What Tantra Is and Is Not


Yoga, tantric or otherwise, is a set of practices that help us expand our consciousness to connect with the universal intelligence and then to bring that experience into life so that we live in the world in a liberated state. While all yoga draws on the same sources, each school or lineage has its own set of practices and interpretations handed down from teacher to student in a very specific way, making it almost impossible for the modern yogi or scholar to tweeze out all of the influences let alone the specific provenance of the various practices.

Some contemporary schools have been interested in creating yoga as an institution that can be branded, replicated globally, and sold for profit. But yoga, the real living practice, has always been more like an organism that grows organically and can only survive if it is grounded in the kind of relationship between teacher and student that fosters the direct transmission of what we call the shakti, or living energy, of this ancient wisdom tradition.

The Origins of Tantra

There is archaeological evidence that yoga has existed for at least 4,000 to 5,000 years. Tantra is considered to have developed within the various schools of yoga in the early medieval period as a reaction to the conservatism of the Brahmins, or priests, who advocated celibacy and retreat from worldly life in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, and as a way to allow householders to practice yoga.

The word tantra is a combination of the Sanskrit words tanoti, or expansion, and trayati, or liberation. Together they mean that through tantra we expand our consciousness to connect with the intelligence that governs our universe and then we weave that experience back into our everyday living. Tantra, like all yoga, embraces transcendence, or that experience of oneness.

But tantra also puts an emphasis on living in this world and applying the experience of connection that you get from your practice to dealing with your karma on this plane of existence. Householder schools have existed side by side with the tradition of yogic monks for centuries if not millennia, and there is always this debate about whether we can practice yoga and still live in the world as a human with all our imperfections.

The tantric answer to this question of being embodied on this plane of existence as a human is to embrace the fact that we are perfect in our imperfections. These so-called imperfections are what we’re becoming aware of through our practice, and by becoming aware of them it allows us to grow beyond them. Sometimes, in our rush to transcend our human urges and desires, we may push them deeper into the unconscious, where they are bound to do the most damage.

Our egos are built on unconscious belief patterns that in Sanskrit are called avidya, and part of the practice of yoga is to loosen the hold our belief patterns have on us. In tantra, rather than use strict discipline to avoid our weaknesses, we use training and discrimination in dealing with our human tendencies as the basis of our practice. If we have trouble being moderate in our eating, we practice eating one potato chip rather than banning potato chips from our diet.

The more intense the urge or tendency, the more challenging it is to bring it to consciousness. So working with the sexual energy may be a part of the practice for some advanced yogis. But that is far from saying that it is always part of the practice, or that hatha yoga began as a sex cult. Hatha yoga does sensitize us to the physical body, and it can generate physical energy, including the sexual energy – but it is not about whipping the libido into a frenzy. It is about moving energy that may be stuck and at the same time calming energy that may be aggravated to create balance.

Demystifying Tantra in the Modern Era

I’m not sure when or how tantra became conflated with sexual practices, but I guess sex sells in any culture and in all eras. I worry that some of current misunderstandings about what tantra is and is not might discredit yoga. Tantra is a subject that is very close to my heart. My father was initiated as Kavi Yogiraj into a tantric lineage when I was a child, and my extended family consisted of tantric masters that visited our ashram in South Africa to live and to teach. As the yogiraj of ISHTA Yoga, a thriving lineage that draws heavily on the teachings of tantra that I grew up with, and having taught these practices for over 50 years, I feel a responsibility to talk about tantra from this grounded perspective.

We need to understand that the tantric practices are about understanding and mastering our own energy and that 99.99% of these practices have nothing to do with sex. Because all of this is so difficult to actually do, we need to apply steady and prolonged practice, beginning with practices like lengthening and controlling the breath, or visualizing energy in the spine as we do in the ISHTA diksha.

From the perspective of a tantric yoga practice, the sexual energy is important because it is part of human nature, and all humans have it because we need to procreate and evolve like anything else on this earth. Add to this that the act of sex requires that we let go our egos, even if only for a moment, so it can be useful as a tool in a practice that values making the unconscious conscious. But because it is so primal, it is also a place where our unconscious patterns manifest.

Sexual relationships are not bad in themselves. They are inevitable because we are human, and they contribute to our growth. When we attempt to ban sex from our lives because we think it will make us more spiritual or enlightened, the sexual energy still has to express itself, and in the hands of someone that is less than a master, it can become covert. Then the problems come about when abusive patterns show up in relationships, especially where there are imbalances of power and status.

Power Balance: Dispelling Darkness & Welcoming Light

There is a big difference between a swami and a guru or yogiraj. A swami is like a priest who has taken a public vow of celibacy. A guru, or teacher, is someone who has been initiated into a yogic lineage. All swamis are gurus, but not all gurus are swamis. Swamis having sex with devotees is never okay, not because sex is bad, but because it is a transgression of a vow and violates the trust of the devotee. Teachers having sex with students is not okay unless and until that relationship has been consensually transformed from a teacher-student relationship into a partnership relationship. The abuse of power by any authority figure should never be condoned in any circumstances.

It is so important to remember that releasing belief patterns is a delicate process that varies so much from person to person depending on their karma. Whether it involves sexual energy, eating patterns, emotional difficulties, illness, or any other area of human experience, it requires the help and supervision of a trusted mentor or guide.

In Sanskrit, guru means “dispeller of darkness” or the one who helps us to become more conscious. Sisya means “disciple” or a student who brings to the relationship respect, commitment, and devotion. There needs to be an organic growth and a transparency to the development of the guru-sisya relationship because without such a strong foundation, the student cannot develop the trust and steadiness needed to master the subtleties of the practice, and the guru’s mastery may get stuck in ego. I hope that teachers and students of yoga will be able to keep coming back to this foundation so that the incredible light of yoga can continue to shine.

For more information on Alan's course on YogaUOnline see here:
Introduction to Tantra Cosmology

Reprinted with permission from the ISHTA Yoga blog

How Your Breath Affects Your Nervous System

how the breath affects the nervous system

by Dr. Baxter Bell - 

When I read the posts of my fellow Yoga for Healghy Aging bloggers, I often learn new perspectives that might differ from my own as well as new information that I was previously unaware of. Reading the posts also highlights occasions where I could have been clearer or given better information on a particular topic. As an example, I have written about breath techniques and their effect on the autonomic nervous system, as did Timothy in his awesome follow-up post on the buzzing bee breath, Bhramari Pranayama with Mudras. And we often mention that extending or lengthening the exhalation triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, the Rest and Digest part of our nervous system’s balancing program. This made me realize that I could add a bit more detail to explain how that actually happens.

It turns out the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) that connects brain to body is a two-way street. If I am anxious and nervous or stressed out by events in my life or simply the thoughts about those events, my brain, via the nerves of the ANS, will likely turn on the Sympathetic part of that system (the Fight or Flight response), which could result in faster heart and breathing rates, and increases in blood pressure, to mention just two of the most obvious physiological changes.

But the cool thing is that the lungs and heart can feed back to the brain and essentially convince the brain that things are calm and peaceful, even when there are still stressful circumstances. One neat way this happens involves the relationship of the heart and lungs and the nerves between them. In each round of breath, during your inhalation, your heart gets stimulated to beat a little faster. Then during the exhalation that follows, your heart gets told to slow down a tad. The overall effect is very little change in the heart rate from minute to minute. But when you make one part of the breath cycle, either the inhale or the exhale, longer than the other, and you do this for several minutes, the accumulated effect is that you will either slow the heart rate down or speed it up from where you started. When you make the inhales longer than the exhales, for example, by using a two-second inhale and a one-second exhale, and you keep this up for several minutes, the heart rate will go a bit faster. This will send a feedback message to the brain that things need to activate more in the brain and body for whatever work there is to be done, stimulating the Sympathetic portion of the ANS.

With the very useful Bhramari breath Timothy expanded on Bhramari Breath with Mudras, we do the opposite. As we hum during the exhalation, the exhales get longer relative to the inhales, as when we do a 1:2 ratio breath practice without the humming. This new respiratory cycle begins to slow down the heart rate, sending a message to the brain that everything is more peaceful and calm than five minutes ago, allowing the brain to support this shift further by activating the Parasympathetic portion of the ANS (the Rest and Digest or Relaxation response) that goes back from brain to body.

Research has shown that the vagus nerve as well as certain chemical neurotransmitters account for these effects of breath patterns on heart rate and subsequently on shifting the balance between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic parts of the ANS. Keep in mind that the ANS is trying to keep all background systems in balance and responding appropriately to ever-changing circumstances of our day.

I’m providing this information for those of you who want to go a bit deeper in your understanding of how breath patterns affect the nervous system balance and either excite the system or quiet it. Our conscious choice of breathing differently can shift us to a more desirable part of the ANS, either by stimulating the active Sympathetic branch or the quieting Parasympathetic branch.  Most of us need more of the latter, but not always!

Originally Published on Yoga for Healthy Aging 

For more information on Yoga U courses with Dr. Baxter Bell and Dr. Timothy McCall see here:

Yoga for Digestive Health with Dr. Baxter Bell

Yoga for High Blood Pressure - Do's and Don'ts for Yoga Teachers with Dr. Timothy McCall

Baxter Bell, MD began his healing work as a Family Physician in 1989, followed by more than 11 years of full time private practice in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Since relocating to the Bay Area in 2000, his work has evolved to incorporate his vision of a more holistic style of healing. He currently maintains a part-time Complementary Medical practice in Oakland, which emphasizes Medical Acupuncture and Therapeutic Yoga. Yoga Asana and Pranayama are therapeutically integrated into treatment plans for many of his patients.

Study: Our Diet in Midlife Will Affect Our Health in Old Age

what we eat in midlife will affect our later years
What does it take to stay healthy and functional well into old age? Well, the diet you eat in your 50s and 60s may be one key factor that impacts how well you age.

According to a study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, eating a primarily plant-based diet with lots of vegetables of fruit and low in red meat in your 50s and 60s, may impact the trajectory of health in people twenty years later. The study was a collaborative effort between Cécilia Samieri, PhD, in Bordeaux, France and a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The team studied 10,670 women, none of whom had any major chronic illnesses. Each woman filled out two diet questionnaires within two years in the late 1980s, and each was scored on how much their eating habits matched a Mediterranean-style diet or a general health eating index. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and red wine in moderation. The diet substitutes butter for health fats, such as olive oil, and limits the intake of red meat to once or twice a month, while emphasizing fish and poultry at least twice a week.

The researchers followed this group of women until 2000 when they were in their mid-70s. Eleven percent of the sample, or 1,171 women, were deemed to be ”healthy agers,” i.e,  they had no major chronic diseases, physical impairment, mental health problems, or difficulties with memory and thinking. These ”healthy agers” tended to not smoke, be less obese, and exercise regularly. Compared to the rest of the women in the study who aged normally, these ”healthy agers” also had fewer issues with high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

One of the features that distinguished the health agers was that they had the highest scores for the diets recorded twenty years earlier, indicating that midlife diet may have a powerful impact on health later in life. This study is not absolutely conclusive, as other factors that may have contributed to healthier aging were not monitored. While this study looked at only women, it can be extrapolated that similar associations between diet in the 50s and 60s and health in the 70s and 80s are also likely to be correlated for men.

With heart disease being the number one killer in the United States, paying attention to how we eat before we hit old age is a small price to pay for living longer and healthier. Ensuring that we eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and appropriate protein while we’re young will make all the difference in our quality of life as we age.With heart disease being the number one killer in the United States, paying attention to how we eat before we hit old age is a small price to pay for living longer and healthier. Ensuring that we eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and appropriate protein while we’re young will make all the difference in our quality of life as we age.


Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, A Practice of Peace

yoga, a practice of peace

By Shakta Kaur Khalsa - 

How can I, as one human being, help our world? Can I create a vibrational frequency of peace within myself that radiates outward and affects our entire world? Is that even possible?

Our world and our mind are made of the same stuff--energy. Yogi Bhajan Master of Kundalini Yoga, talks about how everything is vibrational frequency, or energy, in The Mind: Its Projections and Multiple Facets: ''The total sum of this life and this Earth, of this planet, this cosmos, and this space is nothing but energy. Call it any kind of theory you want, this life is constructed so that the energy of existence is transferred into matter. That matter can also be transferred into energy. Whatever the details of your theory, somehow that essential energy created matter and that matter sustains us through the energy!"

Science is now beginning to be able to document nonphysical forces. From Gregg Braden's book, The Isaiah Effect Decoding the Lost Science of Prayer and Prophecy comes this experiment: "In a report from the International Society of the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, scientists documented the nonphysical force of emotion actually changing the physical molecule of DNA. ...The study reported that "individuals trained in generating focused feelings of deep love...were able to intentionally cause a change in the conformation [shape] of the DNA."

Many people are waking up from a long sleep because events of cataclysmic proportions are taking place on our planet almost daily. It can easily feel as though we don’t have power to do anything about the way our world is headed, that we can only helplessly stand by and watch the deterioration and destruction of everything we love. But many, many people I meet and speak with are rising to the challenge of these times. I count myself among them as I find myself over and over again coming into a projective state of prayer, but not the kind of prayer that is asking or begging. What I am calling prayer is a practice of consciously creating reality with my vibratory energy. Anytime I forget, I again become aware that I have the power to choose an energy projection of truth and peace prevailing on earth. I’ve noticed how often this uplifted energy is "caught" by others, who perhaps just needed a reminder. I believe that when enough of us are using 100% of our vibratory energy to create at each moment a vibration of peace, changes that we would normally think of as miracles become everyday realities.

Feel free to improvise and adapt this for your personal use. This is very subtle and sensitive work. To stay present, it may be helpful to be aware of your breath, especially at the beginning of the practice.

Moment to Moment Practice of Peace

I let myself relax into a state of feeling for all who are suffering, and that feeling extends out to all of the world. I allow the pain. I sit with it and let it be as it is, in trust, simply because it is part of All That Is. After some time, I find the pain has subtly transformed into something else: a compassionate healing, an accepting of the higher wisdom in this, as all, actions.

I extend my prayer field, my energy field, out in front of me and all around me, envisioning and creating a world in which all conflict is resolved in the highest manner. I don't use my rational mind to think of strategies that would resolve it, but create a space--an emptiness that contains all possibilities--in which the Unknown can fully work

I trust humanity. I visualize us at our best, with full awareness of the consequences of our actions, using this challenge as an opportunity to propel our world into a new way of being. This does not mean that those who have hurt others are not called to account, but I see this happening in the miraculous ways of the Unknown, rather than by ways that creates more suffering and retaliation

I have the courage to go into the mind and heart of someone who hurts others. I feel the pain that can be translated into hatred and inflicting pain on others. I feel it pass through me, and I allow it as part of All That Is. I remember that when I accept what is, it cannot stay the same. My acceptance of it creates a kind of "vibrational hug" around it, and it melts. I have a sense that these beings are brought into the fold of humanity through the transformation that happens through this compassionate act.

I trust that the Unknown, the All That Is, who is sometimes called God, will unfold the events of the future that will match the vibratory frequency that I, and many others together, are holding and projecting--a sacred space where peace and truth prevail. In this deep space of trust and knowing, I feel the ecstasy that is my birthright, and I extend that birthright out to all of humanity.

And now, let's send a blessing to our world by saying three (or more) times:

Peace to All, Life to All, Love to All


As published in Aquarian Times Magazine, 2004

Full Circle: Bringing Yoga to Underserved Populations in Africa and the U.S.


Can yoga transform lives across race, nationality, age, gender, and economic status? Will it be valued if offered without charge? Can people who are struggling to survive be able to transform their ideas of what might be possible through the practice of yoga?

These were some of the hard questions, the founders of the African Yoga Project (AYP) asked themselves back in 2007, before launching their programs in Africa. Since then, the AYP has received the answers to those questions, and much, much more.

Each year since its inception, the Africa Yoga Project has empowered over 250,000 Kenyans through the power of yoga. AYP co-founder Paige Elenson worked with well-known yoga teacher Baron Baptiste to facilitate the first yoga teacher training in Kenya. Fifty-two teachers, trained by Baptiste, offer free classes in prisons, schools, special needs centers, HIV/AIDS support groups, schools for the deaf, and rural villages. They offer yoga lessons, meditation, self-exploration through inquiry, and empowerment through performing arts.

The organization has grown so that today, at 80 locations around Kenya, over 5,000 people are participating in more than 250 community yoga classes every week.

The Africa Yoga Project is more than yoga. The project provides community activism, relationship building, and health education, in addition to facilitating concrete projects such as building schools and funding educational and environmental efforts.

AYP’s extraordinary growth since 2007 has been noticed near and far. In fact, the program has become so successful that American researchers wonder if it could be a model for similar work in the US bringing yoga to underserved populations in the U.S.

In mid-July 2013, a team of researchers from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Buffalo headed to Kenya to study the effects of the AYP’s work. The team of psychologists and yoga instructors went with the intention of starting a similar project in Buffalo, New York.

“Jobs are being created,” Catherine Cook-Cottone, associate professor in the Department of Counseling at the University of Buffalo told the UB reporter. “And it is all healthy and has essentially none of the impact on the earth that you might see in other industries. It is an amazing thing, and we want to figure out what the program means to people and how it is changing lives.”

Cottone was particularly intrigued to see the effects of yoga in a part of the world where chronic stress associated with poverty and violence prevails. She believes that yoga is “neurologically integrating,” providing tools to move from “fight, flight, or freeze” to “repair, rest, and restore.”

While Buffalo, New York, is quite different from Nairobi, Kenya, the research team is committed to using social science research techniques to determine how they might be able to bring the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of yoga to underserved communities in Buffalo

The team’s goal is to have instructors from Buffalo’s Ease Side neighborhoods learn how to teach yoga in Nairobi and then return to teach in their schools in New York state. The team will then study the effects of this program.

Twice-weekly yoga classes for East Side children in Buffalo started last summer proving that the AYP’s innovative and successful program has traveled full circle, from the United States to Africa and back again. The healing potential of yoga knows no boundaries or limits.







Changing Patterns: Tom Myers on the Issues In Our Tissues

the role of fascia in yoga practice

Modern science is just catching up to the ancient wisdom of the mind-body connection, and the general public has a growing understanding of how mental patterns (like for example, stress) can impact the body through biochemical pathways.

Fascia, the collagenous-based soft-tissues in the body and the cells that create and maintain that network, plays a key role in releasing these holdings. Anatomy expert Tom Myers has shaken up the fields of bodywork and yoga with the development of the concept of Anatomy Trains, the myofascial meridians of the body.

As Tom explains in this interview, we can release psychological trauma by addressing the issues and chronic holdings in the body. Yoga is a more effective method than exercise to change the pattern of the fascia and impact the emotions which may be holding there.

Tom Myers is a bodyworker, anatomy expert, and author of the bestselling book, Anatomy Trains. As a bodyworker, Tom had the privilege of studying directly with Dr. Ida Rolf and Moshe Feldenkrais, two of the leading somatic visionaries of our time. Tom has continued their work, adding his own insights and developing his approach to holistic integrative anatomy. Tom is also known for his deep insights into the role of fascia as it relates to the structural health of the body and even to our emotional health and well-being.

Eva Norlyk Smith: These days, medical science broadly recognizes that our psychology can impact our health for better and worse. Your mentor Ida Rolf was among the first to address how the body holds unresolved trauma in the tissues. How does this happen?

Tom Myers: If you observe a human being, you can see the emotions written into a person. A happy person has his chest opened up. A sad person has their chest down and in. An angry person has their shoulders back. And a person who feels defenseless may turn their hands out so the palms face forward. All of these things are recognizable patterns in the emotions.

As distress builds up in the brain, it only has two ways out – one is the chemistry, which changes the messenger molecules, or neuropeptides, that are bathing the nervous system, and thus changes your mood. Those chemicals have a variety of effects all over the body, not just the nervous system.

The other way that distress manifests itself is in patterns of tension, which are quite specific. They can be defensive, reactive or retractive, where they retract away from pain.

The trouble with those patterns is they don’t move. Patterns that move are just fine. We get angry. We get un-angry. We get sad. We get un-sad. It’s those things that come along and stay for a long time, like the unresolved anger or the unresolved grief. Those are the things that the brain keeps sending out the same messages to the same muscles and so you take on a postural pattern.

After a while, your mind, muscles, and fascia have fit into that pattern, and that may in itself cause illness or lack of ability to move. It also helps to maintain that whole mood in your body and in your mind.

Eva Norlyk Smith: So that whole pattern gets locked in these tissue fibers or that chronic holding. What is the best way is really to address the issues and those chronic holdings in the body?

Tom Myers: In my own experience, I would say that there are different strokes for different folks. For some people, the body approach really works. For some people, the talk approach really works. And for some, it’s the combination. I’m not very fond of the SSRI drugs, like Zoloft and the Paxil. But honestly, for some people, those drugs work. So there are different approaches that will work for different people. I have prejudiced stories as a bodyworker because that’s my approach – the bodywork approach changes how your body is in space, relative to the problem. The pills change how your chemistry is relative to the problem. The talk therapy changes your point of view towards the problem. Any one of those would be effective. It really depends on the person as to which one is the most effective at any given time.

Eva Norlyk Smith: Now, of course, you are also a specialist in fascia and have often talked about fascia as a shape shifter, being responsible for the shape of our body and particularly lodging our posture patterns. So is fascia more involved than other body tissues in the holding of tension patterns?

Tom Myers: When you hold a postural pattern, especially if you hold that postural pattern in gravity (which most people on earth are), then a certain pattern of tension is going to exist over time on a certain pattern of fascia, to distribute and manage that tension. Fascia is a slow moving tissue. You can think of the fascia as the St. Bernard dog of the body.

Most of these emotions start in your nervous system then are exported to your muscles. The pattern in your muscles is going to determine what the pattern in the fascia is. But by the time your fascia gets stuck in that pattern, the problem is how you are going to get out of it. General exercise won’t get you out of these things. They will not change the pattern of the fascia. One of the most wonderful things about yoga is that because of the sustained stretch, you actually do change the connective tissue. You change the pattern of that fascia and thus you can get down to the emotions

I think that yoga teachers ought to recognize and be able to handle emotional unfolding in the body because it’s going to happen to some of your students. You want to be able to recognize it and see what’s going well and what isn’t going well. Exercise isn’t going to change the fascia. You can definitely say that exercise will change fascial patterns but it’s that sustained stretch that works the most quickly and, I think, the most effectively to change the length of the fascia.

Eva Norlyk Smith: So even though fascia, as you said, is like the last stage in this development of patterns getting lodged in tissues, it’s the first stage that you want to start to address because fascia is a more static holder of postural patterns?

Tom Myers: Absolutely. If you change your mind or you change your nervous system or even if you change your movement patterns, you’re working against this very slow moving, steady tissue of the fascia. But if you change that fascia, then it’s easier to change the nervous system and the circulatory system on top of that. Conversely, if you don’t get in there and make that change, you end up also with what I call the “Woody Allen Syndrome” – you understand more and more and more about why you cannot change. To have a greater understanding about why you can’t change misses the point. The point is to change.

Eva Norlyk Smith: So it sounds like fascia is a good place to start because it’s the final repository for this long chain of reaction in the body. Are there particular yoga styles which help this process?

Tom Myers: What the people who developed yoga recognized was that in order to change the person and the issues in the tissues, you really have to make a deep change in the pattern of your body. That pattern is in the nervous system, the muscular system, the chemistry, and the fascia.

There are different ways in which you can go about doing this. I really don’t want to promote one kind of yoga over another but I do want people to understand the different effects the different kinds of yoga has. In the sustained stretch of the alignment-based practices, such as Iyengar yoga, you go into the pose and you stay there for ninety seconds, two minutes, three minutes. This gives the muscles a chance to calm down.

When you hang out in the pose for a little while, the muscle tension relaxes and then you start stretching the fascia. Up until then, you’ve been holding it in the muscles. We keep talking about muscles relaxing, But the muscles have to relax first, then the fascia starts to stretch.

Eva Norlyk Smith: I can see how yoga styles that hold the poses for long periods of time can be beneficial. What about more dynamic styles?

Tom Myers: Something like Ashtanga Yoga heats the body up. The internal body temperature does make a difference because it heats up the “glue” in your body, the kind of mucus-y stuff that’s all over the place. It could be thick mucus or very thin mucus but in any case, it sticks us together. And like most glues when you heat them up, they become looser. So if you’re doing really strenuous yoga where you are sweating, then you are going to raise your inner body temperature. When you raise the inner body temperature, you melt that glue and your yoga will be that much more effective.

Where is the sweet spot between these two? Both are beneficial. When you heat up the body temperature, you’ll have an easier time with the glue that holds us together. When you hold the pose for a long time, the muscles will get out of the way and you’ll get a change in fascia.



Fascia in Movement - Tom Myers Launches New Webinar Series

the role of fascia in yoga practice

While we mostly think in terms of training muscles when we exercise or practice yoga, it is important to also understand how exercise and yoga asana affect the fascial structure of the body.

Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains, had been a pioneer in understanding the role of fascia, the connective tissue in the body. Some of you will remember Tom from his webinar on YogaUOnline on Fascial Fitness. Tom has developed this concept further, offering a course exploring the role and behavior of Fascia in Movement.

According to the Anatomy Trains website, the course looks at what every personal trainer, yoga teacher, Pilates teacher, athletic coach and hands-on practitioner needs to know about fascia and new biomechanics. No matter what you do for your muscles or cardiovascular, you are also training the fascia – you may as well do it consciously and with knowledge.

For more information, see here:
Tom Myers – Fascia in Movement

Also see here for more on Tom Myers’ course on Fascial Fitness - An Emerging Revolution in Movement Science as it related to yoga practice.

Also be sure to check out Tom Myer’s upcoming course on YogaUOnine entitled
Issues in the Tissues - Releasing Emotional Holdings through Movement and Body Repatterning




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