Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

4799904924_9bdfea512e_bThe first tenet of yoga – the foundation on which our yoga practice rests on is ahimsa, which translates as non-harming or non-violence. Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas (the Yamas are the ethical guidelines laid out in Patanjali’s eight-fold path of yoga)

The Sanskrit word ahimsa comes from the root word “hims”, which means to strike. As is common with many Sanskrit words, preceding the root word with the letter “a” turns it into its opposite so hims means violence and ahimsa means non-violence or non-harming. In yoga, ahimsa is synonymous with self-kindness, self-compassion, and self-care.

The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word “yuj”, which means the union of body, mind, and spirit. When we are in yoga we listen deeply to our body’s inner wisdom, and our actions are in alignment with an intra-personal attunement. (more…)

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Patanjali tells us in chapter 1 of the yoga sutra that abhyasa, continuous applied effort, coupled with vairagya, the willingness to observe experience without getting caught in reactivity to it, will lead to freedom from suffering.

Similarly in Buddhism, the fourth of the divine loving abodes, upeksha, translates as equanimity and is derived from the latin word aequanimitus (aequus ‘equal’ + animus ‘mind’). The balanced heart feels pleasure without grasping and clinging, feels the unpleasant without resisting, condemning or hating and it stays open to neutral experience with presence.

Our asana practice offers a good opportunity to recognize where, when and how we get caught in or swept away by reactivity and to observe our attachment to results.


The practice: In Tadasana with arms extended overhead try holding the pose for several minutes and watch what happens. After a few breaths sensations start to build in the upper body including the arms, shoulders, neck and chest. As you focus your attention on what is happening over your whole body, you may notice that you are tensing your jaw, clenching your fists, and tightening your gut. The invitation is to soften to whatever extent is possible each time you notice tension in some area. A moment later you may notice that you have started tensing again in some area and you soften, relax and let go to whatever degree possible. Sometimes we encounter pockets of resistance where relaxation is not possible. Our practice is to accept the sensations of tension and observe them while maintaining a relaxed state of presence. With kindness and gentleness we give them permission to dance their dance, to flow as they wish through our bodies. We intentionally create equanimity by maintaining a continuous relaxed state over the whole body as sensations (pleasant, unpleasant, strong, subtle, physical, emotional) wash through.


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restore_225_03Prior to the middle of the 20th century the word “stress” barely registered in the national vocabulary. Now, 50 years later, there’s a conversation you hear so often, it’s almost a chorus: You ask a friend, “How are you?” and she replies, “I’m OK, but I’m feeling a little stressed.”

According to the American Psychological Association’s 2011 Stress in America survey “year after year Americans report extreme stress (22 percent in 2011) – on an 8, 9 or 10 point scale where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress. And more than half of Americans reported personal health problems (53%) as a source of stress.” (more…)

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flowThe underlying principle to all of yoga is that with the release of obstructions in the subtle body (energy body), there is greater physical, mental and spiritual well being. Yoga is not about trying to get something that we don’t have, rather it is about uncovering and releasing the obstructions that we do have so that the body’s innate intelligence can then reorganize itself in an optimal way. Until we begin the practice of yoga, we may not be aware that these obstructions exist because they operate beneath the level of our consciousness. Through the practice of yoga, these long stored energy patterns rise to the surface of our consciousness facilitating the process of letting go.
A useful analogy is a farmer who has to break a dam in order for the water to flow to his fields. The dam is the obstruction and the water flowing to the fields is the inflow of profound intelligence which like water seeks its own level and will permeate all things. The implication is that there is a certain natural state of being in the system which can arise when everything that’s in its way is taken care of.
In the same way the practice of hatha yoga may feel like a lot of exertion at first. However with regular practice and under the tutelage of an experienced yoga teacher, the body’s natural intelligence transforms and heals. With sustained practice the body reorganizes itself optimally allowing prana, the universal life energy, to flow freely just like water finding the path of least resistance and nourishing everything along its way.

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Dragon poseMany forms of yoga are very active, very yang like. They stimulate the muscles to make us stronger and more flexible. They also can enhance our hearts and our immune systems. They are warming, energizing postures, which stimulate the metabolism and energize the nervous system.  Poses that increase vitality and build energy in the body promote brmhana.  (more…)

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The practice of ahimsa on the yoga mat

yogi with curled toesAhimsa is derived from the sanskrit word hims which means to strike – himsa is injury or harm. The “a” in ahimsa turns himsa into its opposite therefore ahimsa means non-violence or non-harm.

What does it mean to practice ahimsa on our yoga mats? For many of us it means learning to let go of the competitive ego mind. (more…)

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Clarifying intentions and goals

Recently I have been spending a few moments setting an intention before beginning my daily practice. These are the qualities of the heart that I would like to manifest in my life. Part of setting an intention means listening carefully to what the deepest part of me wants – to the still silent whisper of my heart.

The intention may be to be kind to myself or to open to whatever arises or simply to be more present to the flow of body sensations as they rise and fall from moment to moment.

It is important to distinguish the difference between goals and intentions. Goals are aspirations for the future that I seek to achieve whereas intentions happen in the here and now.

For example I may have the goal to get physically stronger in my yoga practice. Whether or not I achieve my goal is not entirely in my control. For instance, it will depend on the state of my health, how often I practice and a myriad of other factors. On the other hand my intentions are entirely in my control and dictate how I relate to myself in any given moment. For example if my intention is to practice non-harming, then in performing an asana I will not push myself to the limit and potentially hurt myself. I will practice in a way that strengthens the muscles, joints and ligaments without compromising them. Practicing in this way strengthens the values of non-harming, patience and humility and the wisdom factor of not being attached to outcome.

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The meaning of asana

The word asana literally means “to take one’s seat”. The great first century sage, Patanjali, in his famous yoga sutra, the “declaration of independence” for all students of yoga, refers to asana as both the inner and outer posture one takes in seated meditation. At first glance this would seem at odds with our modern interpretation and understanding of asana that we are accustomed to finding in sweaty yoga studios on practically every street corner of urban America. In fact hatha yoga, the yoga of movement, did not come into existence until the beginning of the second millennium approx 1000 years after Patanjali wrote his famous sutra. However the contrast between the ancient and contemporary meaning of asana ends at a superficial level.

One can be in a yoga flow moving from one posture to the next in quick succession while being “in one’s seat” fully present to the ebb and flow of experience from moment to moment. Hatha yoga invites the practitioner to remain still within the movement of life. By that I mean being fully present to sensations of body and breath as they arise and pass away. Practicing in this way over and over again the yogi learns a powerful truth. All things are impermanent. Everything that arises must pass away. All conditioned phenomena are subject to the forces of birth and decay. This is the great lesson of yoga.

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Two prominent institutions are currently undertaking scientific studies to measure the effectiveness of yoga on alleviating post traumatic stress disorder in war veterans.

The Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living in collaboration with Harvard Medical School faculty and research assistants have developed a comprehensive yoga program specifically designed to relieve symptoms of trauma.

There are pre-, mid-, post-, and long-term follow-up treatment measures that include questionnaires and interviews that measure PTSD symptoms, subjective well-being, and mood; electrocardiogram readings to monitor heart-rate variability; and 24-hour urine samples to assay the presence of stress hormones. Three months following the study, subjects will complete a long-term follow-up.

A second study under the direction of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds will apply the tools of neuroscience – including brain imaging to determine what if any effect such contemplative practices have on veterans with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Researchers hope to develop psychological profiles and a kind of tool kit that help them target contemplative practices in ways that are most effective.

There is, at least, anecdotal evidence that contemplative practices are beneficial for veterans. Both Navy veteran Dennis and Jennifer Kannel, who spent a year in Iraq with the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said the breathing exercises and meditation practices improved their sleep and sense of well-being.

Andrew Hendrickson, who leads a yoga-based relaxation series for returning combat troops asks vets in his program to rate their level of distress, on a scale of zero to 100, before and after participating.

“I frequently get people who drop from 80 to 20 or 10,” said Hendrickson, who used yoga to sleep at night while working at a combat hospital in Afghanistan. “One guy with severe depression went from 60 to zero.”

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