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Inner and Outer Balance: Ayurveda as a Practice of Economic Justice

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By Matthew Remski -

Who is Ayurveda for?

I was recently facilitating a seminar on the subject of Ayurvedic dinacharya – often translated as “daily routine”, but which literally means “to follow the sun”. I presented the math for determining solar noon, at which digestive power is said to peak. I carefully built the old argument for the benefits of regularity in waking, cleansing, eating, working, exercising, resting, and sleeping. I lauded the sweetness of brahma muhurta – the two hours before dawn said to be ideal for contemplation. I said that an extended midday mealtime is excellent for digestion. I said that digestive fire is a reflection of well-timed food and the robustness of appetite is inseparable from steadily progressing towards self-actualization.

A woman sitting quietly at the edge of the room finally had enough. (I later found out she works as a welfare counselor.) She raised her hand and vocalized the questions that have been nagging me for years and informing the subtext of each Ayurvedic consultation I perform. “Who can do this for themselves?” she asked. “Who has this kind of time? How can a person on minimum wage or doing shift work possibly follow this advice? Who exactly is this stuff for?”

Indeed. The real benefits of Ayurvedic therapy only unfold under the blessing of time. And time, as they say, is money. Looking back over the past eight years, it’s clear that my clients who have had the hardest go at implementing my suggestions have often been those who have been battling the stresses of poverty. Single mothers, students, artists and writers, adjunct professors on term-to-term contracts, the unemployed – none of whom would have been able to afford an uncovered health care expenditure like Ayurvedic consultation if I didn’t offer a sliding scale.

A sliding scale is the absolute least we can do. To practice Ayurveda with integrity, we also have to be activists for economic justice. We have to work to equally distribute the most precious resource we have when it comes to the quiet contemplation at the root of preventative health: time.

It used to take several appointments with a client for me to begin to see how their finances were impacting their capacity to change their care choices. Even though I’m just old enough to have been brought up with a pre-Reaganite sense of class-consciousness, I started out pretty shy about letting this influence my practice. I certainly wasn’t trained to ask after the client’s income, dependents, and housing expenses to scan the stresses of each against their constitutional vulnerabilities. But now it’s standard procedure for me. As I examine hands and tongue and eyes, listen to the pulse, ask about menstrual cycles, libido, bowel habits and sleep hygiene, I also slip in questions about whether they are self-supporting, how much money they make, how much debt they carry, what percentage of it they spend upon necessities, and how they feel about the whole thing.

Many are taken aback, which is understandable. After all, they didn’t come to apply for a loan. So the gears grind a bit to accommodate the thought that these questions are not simply intrusive, but may reveal a hidden imbalance. To the general question “How are you doing economically?”, there’s often a shrug and the mumbling of “Well, you know, I don’t know, things are okay” This is usually a red flag. So I’ll press the question by suggesting that Ayurveda is about learning to negotiate environmental stress and its relation to internal balance, and the economy is a core aspect of our environment. After all, what’s the difference between how a person metabolizes food and exchanges carbon with the natural world and how they metabolize work and exchange labour for value within their society? How can we ignore the obvious health connection between how a person works and is valued in the world, and how they feel themselves to be?

Kapha, pitta, and vata as capital, labour, and value?

Do economies and bodies mirror each other? Could it be that the logic and pressures of an economy are expressed within the bodies of those who participate in it, willfully or otherwise?

In both the body and the body politic, vitality and value circulate, ideally seeking a rhythmic equilibrium. In the body, this equilibrium consists of the harmonious blending of the energies of resistance (kapha), compulsion (pitta), and creativity (vata). In the body politic, it consists of the equitable exchange of capital (kapha), labour (pitta), and value (vata). A pooling or stagnation of energies in any one place leads to both macro and micro illness.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, we could say that capitalism embodies a kind of congestion-pathology in favouring wealth accumulation over resource distribution. Capitalism stockpiles profits to leverage ever-greater strategies of extraction. This perverts the natural wish of the bodies of those it entraps to circulate the fruit of labour (ojas) for the equal benefit of all tissues. Wherever the energy of natural distribution has been siphoned towards the accumulation of profit, privation or wasting (vata-ama) appears in the siphoned regions. General immunity is degraded.

A compressed accumulation of potential energy or capital made meaningless because it is unshared might be a good metaphor for the logic of cancer. A small group of cells hordes nutrition for itself alone, slowly succumbing to the illusion that its vitality is independent of the whole. It parasitizes the body politic – and the body – to death. As above, so below.

The only thing new about my analysis here is the vocabulary. Here’s John McMurtry, in The Cancer Stage of Capitalism (Plume, 1999):

There are seven defining properties of a cancer invasion which medical diagnosis recognizes at the level of the individual organism. These seven properties can now be recognized for the first time at the level of global life-organization as well. And this is the pathological core of our current disease condition.

That is, there is:

1.an uncontrolled and unregulated reproduction and multiplication of an agent in a host body; that

2.is not committed to any life function of its life-host; that

3.aggressively and opportunistically appropriates nutriments and resources from its social and natural hosts in uninhibited growth and reproduction; that

4.is not effectively recognized or responded to by the immune system of its hosts; that

5.possesses the ability to transfer or to metastasize its growth and uncontrolled reproduction to sites across the host body; that

6.progressively infiltrates and invades contiguous and distant sites of its life-hosts until it obstructs, damages and/or destroys successive organs of their life-systems; and that

7.without effective immune-system recognition and response eventually destroys the host bodies it has invaded.

(113-114)

(Of course I do my best to suppress such theoretical digressions when I’m practicing.)

“Do you feel poor?”

Once a non-privileged client has warmed up to the idea of contextualizing their health imbalances within their experience of economy, there’s a better chance that they’ll be willing to free-associate with a very subjective question: “Do you feel poor?” If the answer is yes, I may follow with “How does that feel in your flesh?” Responses range from the melancholic (kapha) to the frustrated (pitta) to the anxious-despondent (vata). Often there’s a mixture of the three. I know that my Ayurvedic counseling must explore ways of addressing these feelings, up to and including changing the conditions that give rise to them. I’m not trained as a career counselor, but I’ve learned over time how to dialogue with clients about the health implications of poverty. And I’ve tried to build some knowledge of local educational resources across a broad spectrum of pursuits: finding a dharma that pays justly often requires a bump in learning. But most of all, I try to foster comradeship with the client, and to depersonalize the isolation and oppression that financial stress brings by contextualizing it within a system within which there might be other modes of participation, and dignity.

It’s the purpose of capitalism to make all but the extremely few feel poor, so positive answers to “Do you feel poor?” express a wide range of interpretation and self-identification. So I need to make distinctions. I have clients who are positioned quite firmly within what we used to call the “middle class” in terms of income and opportunity (even though many of the middle class support structures built by New Deal values have virtually disappeared). When these folks say they feel poor they’re really saying that they are tired of the pressures of consumerism that impoverish self-regard. When many of these folks say they don’t have time to care for themselves in more balanced ways, they’re really saying that their time has been stolen by a paradigm of anxiety. With these folks, a psychotherapeutic approach can be helpful, along with side-helpings of herbs and such.

But when the client is living from paycheck to paycheck, or drilling down further into debt by the month, teas and psychotherapeutics may be unethical consolations, no matter how attractive they are to the client or how adept they make the practitioner feel. Individualist neo-liberalism reaches so deep into the psyche that many non-privileged clients actually blame themselves for their economic struggles, and come looking for strategies of “acceptance” and “self-forgiveness”. It would be easy to instruct these clients in the kinds of mindfulness techniques by which they could spiritually bypass their feelings, but I refuse the bait. I ask them instead to find and respect their anger and dignity and nurture the fires of appetite and justice that emerge. I try to help them find a meaningful place in the struggle for equality, while trying to envision with them the long-term effects, based upon present symptoms and patterns, that continued stress may bring.

Another way of Ayurvedically assessing both the feeling and materiality of poverty might be to invoke the old distinction between artha and dharma: two of four “purposes of life” from Vedic lore (the other two being kama and moksha, very roughly translated as “pleasure” and “freedom”). Artha translates as “wealth” and implies “work you do to secure your survival”. Dharma translates into a thousand idioms, but in this case suggests “contribution” and implies “the work you do to create connection and meaning.”

A common therapeutic axiom in Ayurveda suggests that the closeness of artha to dharma is a predictor of psychological, and then organic health. In this vein, economic wellness is not simply an index of income, but of meaning and fulfillment. Poverty is not just a lack of cash, but the stress of having one’s time stuffed up the hole in our culture, as Leonard Cohen sings. And as Barbara Ehrenreich describes in Nickle-and-Dimed, her late-90s low-wage tour through the heartland of neoliberal “welfare reform”, it’s the worst-paying jobs that can be the most meaningless. (A similarly searing report comes from Mae McLelland in another undercover journalism essay that everyone should read called “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave”.) It’s not that low-wage jobs don’t require intensive skills and high learning curves (and carry higher risks of stress-related injuries), but that the acquired skills and effort can never express the worker’s heart, because they are the instruments of someone else’s dream. Poverty is the state of being robbed of not only money and time, but of meaning. This triple theft is a primary obstacle to the baseline of hopefulness and adequate relaxed time that contemplative self-care requires.

Ayurveda and privilege

While Ayurveda is often presented as a simple and inexpensive preventative naturopathy available to everyone (and certain parts of it surely can be) its current global marketing, which drives sales of exotic herbal compounds and entices affluent consumers to spa retreats, runs on a kind of privilege-blindness that tacitly assumes that everyone has equal portions of leisure and resource. With 22% of human beings (1.2 billion, according to the WHO) living in extreme poverty (earning 1.25 USD per day or less), and as much as one-third living at or below their national poverty lines, this assumption is unconscionable, and Ayurvedic practitioners must not continue to work under its shadow. What we can do is to work as hard as we can to turn that assumption into a reality. This means being as passionate about the most revolutionary blends of progressive policy initiatives as we are about our blends of herbs.

It also means recognizing that the economic inequalities that prevent access to Ayurvedic practice from being universal are an ancient problem within certain streams of the practice itself. I remember being nauseated to realize when wading through Caraka Samhita (one of the root-texts of Ayurveda, circa 400 CE) that the sections describing strategies for building sexual potency – involving the elaborate roasting of particular songbirds in exotic herbs and spices – could only be exploited by those with affluenza. Patients were to be attended by physicians, nurses, masseurs, cooks, and surely needed exclusive access to the produce of rich farmlands and gardens.

The fantasy of the Ayurvedic high-life lives on. If you can scrape it together, you can pay over $4000 dollars (“New Year, New You” special pricing) to luxuriate in Deepak Chopra’s 10-day spa-ritual retreat with the overly-enthusiastic name of “Perfect Health”, plus $2000 for accommodation in the adjacent Omni Resort, plus airfare to San Diego. In subtler ways, exclusive Ayurvedic luxury is also alive in well in the literature of even the most sensitive of Ayurvedic practitioners. Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari (Healing Arts Press, 1995) is an artful compendium of dietary and herbal lore, but following on Caraka’s lead, it features daily regimes attainable only by the Real Housewives of Mumbai, on vacation to rural Goa.

Consider that for an agenda running from 6am to 10pm, Tiwari advises the vata-spectrum person to apply themselves to “activity and work time” consisting of “attending meetings and communicating with others in general”, and “doing chores and errands of the day” from 10am to 2pm, broken up by an hour-long lunch break starting at noon. The rest of the strenuous day features “a warm bath with bath oils”, “massage body gently with sesame oil or natural body lotion”, “perform morning pranayama and gentle yoga asanas”, “rest; enjoy the stillness and pleasant sounds” (presumably of the house help doing their work), “take a nap”, “do gentle yoga stretches”, “meditate or chant”, “garner thoughts in stillness”, “listen to nature’s sounds (rivers, brooks, wind, leaves) or to beautiful music” (provided by the house minstrels). After such busyness, there’s a break for tea, “time to reflect on the day, wind down; plan ahead” (what shall we delegate to the maids tomorrow?), “take a nurturing evening brew”, “wind down” (I know – it’s all too much!), “take gentle after-dinner walks or perform other relaxing activity”, “do evening pranayama”, “meditate or do aromatherapy”, and then, “retire”. (p. 187) Phew! I thought she’d never get a break.

The pitta-spectrum person – not such a delicate flower! – is given a little more work to deal with. She’s advised to work from 9 to 10am, and then from 2 to 4pm, feisty as she is. But when we get to the kapha-spectrum person, a stranger layer of classism seems to emerge. A bucolic line-drawing of a stolid peasant picking apples accompanies instructions that suggests he should work from 9am to 2pm, and then from 3pm to 6pm. What a dependable, hard-working guy! Still – only a third of the population is working an 8-hour day, in a world strangely devoid of landlords, and children.

In other news, the US Congress reduced food stamp benefits to 47 million citizens in November, with the Republicans arguing for $10 billion in deeper cuts to follow. And the welfare counselor who asked me those questions just threw up a little in her mouth.

There’s also this: excessive self-care can be fruitless and exhausting, precisely because it misses a key target of our malaise, which is that we live in a deeply wounded and chaotic world.

Poverty fetish, Luddite fantasies, Impossible Ideals

How does Tiwari’s advice even make it into print? I can think of multiple factors. An apparently independently wealthy writer suffering from acute privilege-blindness tops the list. More subtle is the general sheen of fantasy that surrounds Ayurvedic marketing, in which health is seamlessly intertwined with the exoticism of endless leisure in a place very much unlike home, and in which daily life is conceived of as a kind of holiday from existential fact. Perhaps for the privileged, a fantastical practice of Ayurveda is a way of traveling to India without getting all the shots, where a 4-hour work day would be financed by one’s ability to hire basic house labour at impossibly low rates.

There’s also a Luddite fetish lurking in the background: a wish for life to return to the low-tech and lower population densities of pre-urban and pre-Industrial Revolution eras. It’s a world of unlimited time and expansive nostalgia. Tiwari advises ridding our kitchens of electric stoves and appliances, to which she claims we sacrifice the “cognitive memory” of our ancestors. This is a recurrent and often compelling theme within the book: that manual intimacy with the textures of life will re-awaken the child-like wonder that will be required for us to at least begin to make more ecological choices. My heart-strings are pulled, but the Arctic ice needs more than poetry. And climatologists will be unimpressed with her suggestion that we should all cook with wood. And feminists will notice that the utopian line drawings displaying the sadhanas of “carrying water”, “preparing grain”, “rolling chapatis”, etc., feature women doing all the work. As they always have.

The extremely happy Ayur-folk featured in the drawings of Tiwari’s book haven’t made it out of the 19th century. They’re using hand tools, kneading dough with their feet, washing clothes in the river, and grinding flour by hand, using stones, all within the very relaxed rhythm of their 4-hour work days. This gives an overall impression of romanticizing and aestheticizing poverty while ignoring the actual time and labour dynamics that produce value. Part of me is angry at the blind privilege on display, while another part of me is charmed by the melancholy that desires for the return of something that never existed. Such is the way with many modern Hindutva reconstructions of the Golden Age, filtered through the promises of happy doshas.

Jean Langford notes in Fluent Bodies: Ayurvedic Remedies for Postcolonial Imbalance (Duke 2002), “…the promises of 20th century Ayurveda extend from calming the overexcited dosha to easing the excessiveness of industrial lifestyles and from curing illness to healing modernity itself.” (17) In the Hindutva discourse echoed in Tiwari’s vision, modernity carries the legacy of colonial oppression and cultural amnesia. Tiwari isn’t just fantasizing about restoring the gracious aspects of her Indian-diaspora childhood in Guyana, or ruing the constant white noise of a technologized culture. I think she is also trying to re-invent an untouched motherland, purified of the colonial horrors of the past two hundred years. On top of this, she is trying to re-invent pre-industrial culture. The former is a fight that global practitioners of Ayurveda can understand and honour in their hearts, even if participating in it seems unclear. The latter is an impossible project. In my opinion, the gifts of Ayurveda will not be best served through mythical reconstruction, but through mindful, creative, and progressive adaptation.

On the therapeutic side, perhaps the most debilitating aspect of Tiwari’s suggestions is that they are literally impossible to execute, because they are not about food and herbs and bowel movements and time, but rather about inhabiting a “newly fashioned antiquity” (Langford). Is it only the lonely Trustafarian, so confused, so wracked with guilt, who is able to piously forswear unnecessary employment and time-saving appliances to pursue a life of Ayurvedic pureness? Let her grind her flour with a stone: it may be consoling for while. But for the rest of the population, sweating amidst the concrete and steel, Tiwari’s advice is myopic to the reality of not only time and work, but to where and how people must actually live. It places her adherents in a position, familiar to many lifelong spiritual seekers, of never being good enough, never being in the right place, never living up to the teachings, the teacher, the tradition, the untouchable past. I’m sure this is not her intention, but in Tiwari’s book, an integrated Ayurvedic way of life becomes as unattainable as enlightenment itself. The perfect Ayurvedic practitioner and the enlightened master become as rare and unapproachable as the 1%.

From the privatizations of self and wellness towards a pro-social Ayurveda

As a consumer product in a capitalist marketplace, Ayurveda dovetails with the privatization of the self that unconsciously contributes to global inequality. But it wasn’t always this way.

In Asceticism & Healing in Ancient India: Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery (Motilal Banarsidass, 2010), Kenneth Zysk shows that the roots of Ayurveda are not inextricably linked to the wealth of kings and priests, and not as enmeshed with the individualism we see today. According to Zysk, the earliest recorded textual formulations of Ayurvedic theory emerge in the medical advices of the Pali Canon, and were practiced in a very democratic (and therefore revolutionary) way by wandering Buddhist monks who offered their accumulated herbal and dietary knowledge to villagers in exchange for alms. In this pro-social and pragmatic form, Ayurvedic practice posed a direct challenge to the dominant paradigm of medicine, in which healing power was only accessible through temples, religious bureaucracies, and complex rituals. A naturalistic and empirical approach, honed by nomadic study, focused on a few selected remedies and procedures that common people could easily learn, governed by an ethics that rejected caste: this is the heart of the Buddhist Ayurvedic story. It’s a story that continues to pulse in the quieter streams of non-professionalized Ayur-rooted healing practice in India: the matrilineal whisperings of teas, masalas, stews, salves, and massage oils.

So Ayurveda wasn’t – and isn’t – always so flash. Nor has it always been seamless with the individualism that can become blind to privilege. To this day, many Indian practitioners and clients of Ayurveda are disarmingly unconcerned with the ultimate commodity of the globalized consumer version of the practice: one’s unique constitution. As Langford reports:

“…Westerners want to be predominant in some dosha…they want to be categorized as a particular prakriti. I never observed an Indian patient voicing curiosity, let alone desire [to know] about his or her prakriti. In his remark Dr. Upadhyay [one of Langford’s interlocutors] seemed to be commenting on a specific North American craving for individuality served up in an Ayurvedic recipe.” (57)

The problem is that the genuine Ayurvedic commitment to investigating constitutional uniqueness is easily fetishized by an individualistic wellness-ethos in which health is conceived of as primary a personal quest, an inner journey that can pretend to have little to do with social or political realities, so long as the quester is well-heeled. The search for what is particularly healthful for one’s own constitution can too easily blur with the general consumerist exercise, in which you display both virtue and personality through the refinement of your spa-menu or cookbook purchases. In capitalism, knowing what to uniquely seek out and buy is dependent upon the establishment of consumer selfhood. If Ayurveda blurs itself with this, how different can it be from the Google or Facebook algorithms that gather data about desires and self-perceptions, in order to better market to us?

At root, Ayurveda is about interdependence. Therefore, a consumerist approach constitutes the cruelest irony. The deal is: you are a unique blending of elemental energies that have very subjective physiological and psychic meanings. But those meanings are not privately generated or directed, any more than the unfolding of your genome can be isolated from environmental conditioning. Your constitutional meanings are created in relation to the meanings that evolve from qualities of your relationships. Your blend isn’t an exclusive brand that only you and your boutique therapist can understand and provide for.

In my own practice, I resist letting ideas about constitution crystallize. When asked “Can you tell me my dosha?”, I’ll discuss it a bit, but then try to change the subject to the granular study of what it feels like to be alive from day to day. Instead of sending the client away with a definition that will unlock the Ayurvedic cookbook-code, I want to provide a language for reading the delicate and changing sensations of their appetites and discomforts. Over time and several visits, a very malleable story of constitution begins to emerge – a general way of understanding how the client is and is likely to be in the world. But it’s never fixed. I don’t want to assign distinct constitutions to people, because I’ve never met anyone who needs another identity to shop for.

Moving forward, Ayurveda needs to be attentive to the ways in which the old values of individualized care and honouring the healing bounty of the simple earth can so easily be confused with individualism and the neoliberal fantasies of limitless “abundance” and equal access. Practitioners have to become as active in their ministry to the social constitution as they are to the individual constitution. They can contemplate the words of MacKenzie Wark, in The Beach Beneath the Street, criticizing another institution of self-care that can become myopic with individualism: “If there is one abiding purpose to psychoanalysis, it is to make bourgeois lives seem fascinating, at least to those who live them.” (Verso, 2012, p.93)

Most of all, and finally, Ayurvedic practitioners must come to grips with a very promising paradox. We as human beings are constitutionally different from each other. But it is only social, political, and economic equality that can give us the time it takes, in a world so short on time, to explore and enjoy the mystery, together, of just how uniquely different we all are.

Originally published on http://matthewremski.com/wordpress

 

Matthew Remski is a writer in the morning, therapist in the day, and teacher in the evening. He writes about yoga, ayurveda, and evolution. He writes books, articles, and poetry. He teaches courses in ayurveda and yoga philosophy based upon the ongoing research of writing, and the ongoing experience of practical therapy. His approach is student-centered, example-focused, and Socratic. He also teaches asana, mostly in a therapeutic context.

 

Finding Your Inner Yoga: From Zero to Infinity

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your inner yoga, Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee

This interview first appeared on the Huffington Post - read the full HuffPost interview here.

The gift of yoga, explain renowned yoga teachers Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee in this interview, is that whatever perceived limits we may hold of ourselves, there's an infinite amount of space to explore within

Yoga is a practice that increases our range motion. However, our range of motion includes not just how we move our limbs through space, but also how we navigate both the external world and our inner world. In the process of exploring something as simple as a joint's range of motion, we may go from zero to infinity, e.g., accessing the infinite nuances of the body's "inner space," which we may not normally pay attention to

It is easy to get caught up in externalized efforts to strike the perfect yoga pose and emphasize outer form over inner experience. Rodney and Colleen offer some welcome advice on how to let go and find ease and space within, rather than muscling our way into postures

Q: I was struck by one of the things Rodney said in a class at a recent Yoga Journal yoga conference: "Yoga is not about range of motion. It's not about getting your foot behind your shoulders. Yoga is about finding inner space, finding freedom in your body." Could you elaborate on what you mean by that.

Rodney Yee: Certainly. A mathematician once told me that there is infinity between zero and infinity, and there's also infinity between zero and one.

How does that apply to yoga? Well, whatever our limits are in range of motion, no matter how small or how big, within that range of motion, there's an infinite amount of space to explore.

We often get caught up in stretching the body and finding greater range of motion. That's great, of course, because it helps us find more ease and a sense of being in our body in different ways. But it's also great just to feel what space is available for you right now, and not always force your limits, but actually stay within your boundaries. Then you can simply focus on just feeling the beautiful movement and coordination and rhythm that's available within these boundaries.

One of the things we always teach is to use the practice to feel what is. Not to become something necessarily, but to focus on the unfolding of the present moment. There's so much joy and so much beauty being offered to us in every moment. We always try to emphasize that the practice should illuminate what is unfolding in the present moment, not just what we desire to unfold.

Q: That's a beautiful point. In your own teaching, you are teaching a wide range of people, from those very athletic to people who are ill or even bedbound. How do you make that work?

Colleen Saidman Yee: Yes, we're trying to demystify yoga so that it is approachable for everybody, and it's not categorized as stretching or flexibility, or only for young healthy people with the physical abilities of a contortionist. Ultimately, yoga is not about mastering difficult poses, but about finding space. We spend so much time living in a congested environment, internally, with bound up emotions, bound up muscles, just being sort of dense and bound up inside - with no clarity, no freedom, no spaciousness.

Rodney Yee: There's no real physical limitation to the practice of yoga. We helped create the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program, and through this work, we're realizing that even when you're on your deathbed, sometimes you can do your most amazing practice. We see people who are incredibly healthy and physically fit and who have amazing range of motion, but they're not actually piercing the essence of yoga, because they're not coordinating the breath, the mind, the body and feeling the present moment unfold. They're striving, in some ways, for something that they only desire for. You could say it's the difference between a practice that touches the essence of yoga, versus something that's hung up in the fad of yoga, which emphasizes the outward form over the inner experience.

Q: What would you recommend to people who feel they may stuck in their yoga practice and want to explore that theme of finding your inner yoga, or connect with the essence of yoga in their practice?

Rodney Yee: Well, for example, when you do a really difficult yoga asana, you ask, "Okay, when I'm doing this asana, can I center myself? Can I watch my breath? Can I soften my face and my receptive organs?" No matter what the situation is, even if you're on the beach having an easy moment, you ask the same questions: "How am I responding to this unfolding present moment, no matter what the circumstances?"

Listen deeply. Meditate on that which is arising. Even if it's boredom or difficulty or maybe a feeling of being stuck, that in itself can be the work for your practice.

Colleen Saidman Yee: In some ways, obstacles are a teacher too. If everything is really easy, then you're not going to uncover the depth that's there, and get to the essence. As teachers, sometimes we challenge students, so that they have to come up against their own obstacles and sit with those obstacles. In some ways, that's the only way to move deeper into the practice.

At the same time, though, set goals that are reasonable, so that you don't go into this expectation-disappointment mode. We have enough things that we feel like we're failures about. Our yoga practice doesn't have to be one more way to beat ourselves up! Just to do something that is very reasonable and doable and set that intention.

Q: As you head towards the second half of your own lives, how do you feel your own practice is changing?

Colleen Saidman Yee: I think that it's definitely going more towards Pranayama, meditation, and hopefully more towards service. You know, as our kids start going off to college and we don't need to be out in the world quite that much, I'm hoping that our practice gets much deeper and more subtle, and that we can just become kinder, kinder, kinder human beings. That's my goal. And I think that our goal is to just keep using our practice to be kind.

Rodney Yee: Yeah, I agree with Colleen. I feel like our age and our body is changing also begin to demand really different things. A lot of times, again, our ego wants us to continue on the youth track. And that is, "Oh, you know, I'm going to acquire more poses and I'm going to get deeper in every pose. I'm going to be able to meditate longer and hold my breath longer."

There are a lot of habits that we've created in our own practice. Again, a lot of times, it's a lack of listening to what really is happening. Not that you have to bow to, "Oh, I can't do this and so I'm not gonna try." You're still exploring your limits, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. But again, you're exploring within your limits.

Q: It's not only our practice that changes over time. How do you find that yoga has changed your relationship with yourself and others?

Rodney Yee: Hopefully your practice gets you in touch with your body. The more you're listening to your body, the more skillful your actions within your practice will be. Hopefully, what is really changing is that we develop a greater ability to listen to our body, to tune in to the breath and the absorption of Prana, to concentrate with relaxation, and to see other people more completely and bring them into our hearts more deeply. Isn't that really much more valuable than putting your leg behind your head?

Colleen Saidman Yee: Through yoga, you become very intimate with yourself and your body. With that intimacy comes intuition and right action, because it's just such a visceral feeling when you know something is right and when you know something is wrong. You can't have that visceral feeling unless you're in touch, like literally in touch with your body. The body just gives you so much feedback, so much information and just getting to know that is huge. And again, the personal intimacy that yoga brings... that can be translated and transferred into our relationships as well.

Rodney Yee: What Colleen and I have learned through our yoga practice, is that a lot of times, it's the limitations that become the teachers. In some ways, the teachers become your own body, mind, and breath. The teachers actually become stronger. And if you are willing to listen to the teaching, to the limitation and what the limitation has to teach you about your inner space, then you can have a deep, rich practice to your very dying breath.

Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee are among the most-recognized and renowned yoga teachers in North America. They teach together both nationally and internationally, and their work has appeared in over 30 yoga video titles and audio recordings. Both Rodney and Colleen are involved with Donna Karan's Urban Zen project, which aims to "change the current healthcare paradigm to include integrative medicine and promote patient advocacy." They teach together at the Yoga Shanti studio in Sag Harbor, NY, and lead teacher trainings, workshops, and yoga retreats around the world.

This interview is an excerpt from a longer interview featured as part of the Sadhana Sundays series at YogaUOnline.com, a free series, which explores the transformative aspects of yoga practice featuring monthly interviews with leading yoga teachers. Go here to register for the free series and listen to the full interview with Rodney and Colleen and other leading yoga teachers.

 

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

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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: http://medicalyogasymposium.wordpress.com/

 

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

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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

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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

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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
http://www.ishtayoga.com/what-tantra-is-and-is-not/

How Your Breath Affects Your Nervous System

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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