Monthly Archives: February 2015

jumping back with paige warthen

Ashtanga Yoga: Mind + Body Episode 9. Ashtanga Yoga practitioner Paige Warthen demonstrates and talks about picking up and jumping back, a movement for connecting seated postures, from the Ashtanga Yoga method.

Ashtanga Yoga: Mind + Body Episode 11. Ashtanga Yoga practitioner and teacher Paige Warthen follows up Episode 9 with more details and a demonstration of how she broke down the Ashtanga Yoga pick up and jump back movement.


chakra balancing

chakra_balancing_mudras


values and beliefs

Belief

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know; it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

-Mark Twain

 

Knowing yourself requires a careful examination of your own values and beliefs.

What are your values and beliefs?

How did they originate?

How do your beliefs align with your values?

How have they evolved over your lifetime?

How do they help you live a gratifying life?

 

Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your character. Your character becomes your destiny.

-Mahatma Gandhi


shoulderstand

Although the word sarvangasana translates as “all limbs pose,” the posture is commonly referred to as Shoulderstand because your body weight rests on the top outer edges (the bony parts) of your shoulders. Blankets for the shoulders make it possible for the neck to be free to lengthen and get a mild stretch, while the rest of the body lifts straight up in one line. The blankets also prevent you from putting pressure on the delicate vertebrae in your neck. Without this propping, the pressure can, over time, flatten the neck’s natural curve.

Start with three stacked blankets. If, while in the pose, you find that you stand on the backside of your shoulders and upper back or on the inner edges of your shoulders, try adding another blanket or two to the stack. It’s important to center yourself on the blankets, not turn your head, and look gently toward your chest to avoid injuring your neck. Directing your eyes toward your chest also keeps the pose calm and your neck soft.

shoulderstand v1

The first variation at a wall builds a foundation that begins with the proper placement of the shoulders and upper back, and an opening of the chest. Here, you can also work on outwardly rotating your upper arms and bringing your outer shoulders closer to each other while lifting the upper back, sides of the chest, and tailbone away from the floor.

One challenge of Shoulderstand is entering the pose. It’s easiest to position your shoulders, arms, and back for Shoulderstand while in Halasana (Plow Pose), so the second variation at a wall uses a Plow Pose modification to prepare you for going up into the final pose in the middle of the room.

shoulderstand v2

If you find the wall variations challenging, continue to work on them until you feel stable and strong. You can also try using the variations to enter full Sarvangasana. In the beginning, you may be able to hold the variations and final pose for a minute or two. You can gradually build up to 5 minutes, and eventually to 10 to 20 minutes. For those who already practice Sarvangasana, these variations will refine your understanding and skill, and may boost your ability to stay longer in the pose. After practicing any of the variations of Sarvangasana, rest on your back for a few moments before you sit up.

shoulderstand final

Bring your mat and stack of blankets to the middle of the room. Lie down on the blankets and place your hands beside your hips on the floor. Bend your knees and take your legs into Halasana so your feet touch the floor behind you. If your feet don’t reach the floor, use the wall or a chair to support them. Adjust your arms and shoulders, then take your hands to your back. Come into the pose one leg at a time to maintain the lift of your rib cage. (If you lift both legs at once, you might harm your shoulders and neck.) When you lift your right leg, straighten your knee and extend your leg strongly toward the ceiling to pull your torso up. Raise your left leg. Lift the fronts of your thighs straight up and away from your pelvis.

When you’re up, continue adjusting your hands by walking them up your back toward the floor to prevent your upper back from sinking and to lift the sides of your chest. Broaden the chest as you roll your outer shoulders down and pull the elbows in toward each other. If they splay apart, try looping a strap around your upper arms, just above your elbows.

Raise your buttocks toward your heels as you lengthen your inner thighs and reach up through the balls of your big toes. Breathe normally and coordinate the actions of the pose so that you grow from the base at your arms and shoulders up through your legs to your toes.

To open your chest, move your back ribs forward. Some weight will be on your head, and you might feel as though you want to push the back of your head into the floor. Instead, allow the back of your neck to lengthen as you lift your spine up away from the floor. Relax your jaw and throat and look toward your chest.

Practice coming down into Halasana. Through regular practice, you can stay in the pose longer without strain. After Sarvangasana, you should feel calm and quiet, as if all of the systems of your body are awakened and now able to rest.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article A Beginner-Friendly Inversion: Shoulderstand by Marla Apt


yoga for parkinson’s disease

Yoga-and-Parkinsons-Disease-by-Peggy-van-Hulsteyn

Whatever the early symptoms, PD is a degenerative disease characterized by a loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the substantia nigra region of the brain. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for coordinating muscles and quick, smooth movements. For reasons that aren’t clearly understood, a person with Parkinson’s loses these cells and produces insufficient amounts of dopamine for normal motor control. An estimated 1.5 million Americans have PD, and about 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. Unfortunately, by the time a problem is noticed, most people are producing only about 20 percent of the dopamine they normally would.

Degeneration in Parkinson’s patients is usually tracked over five stages. Very often a spouse or a friend will notice that you’re taking smaller steps or you’re having a problem with balance; other clues are a softening of the voice and tremors on one side of the body. By the second stage, symptoms begin to affect both sides, and day-to-day tasks become more difficult. After stage three, people lose the ability to walk straight or to stand. Tremors and severe immobility take over motor control at the fourth stage, when assisted-living care usually becomes necessary. At the final stage, a person may not be able to walk or stand, and one-on-one nursing care is then required.

“We need more studies to determine the most effective type of yoga for people with Parkinson’s and at what dosage,” says Becky Farley, a physical therapist and research assistant professor at the University of Arizona. “However, I’ve seen what happens when people with PD embrace yoga…It [induces] relaxation, which helps control tremors, activates affected muscle groups, and can be a steady reminder of where your body should be and how it should move.”

In her own research, Farley found that certain exercises that target the torso and trunk can help prevent rigidity and maintain normal walking and a sense of balance. Stiffness in the body’s core is one of the most debilitating symptoms of PD because it hampers a person’s ability to walk across a room or simply stand upright. Restorative twists and poses that strengthen the trunk are thought to reduce stiffness and improve mobility.

The instructions a yoga teacher gives in class, of course, build awareness by getting you to concentrate on the details of the poses. But they also focus the mind and therefore bring you to the present. They ask you to tune in to subtle movements of your body. For someone with Parkinson’s, this is particularly helpful. As dopamine levels decrease, it’s also common to become less and less aware of the motor control that you’re losing. But the mind-body awareness that yoga encourages helps [one] self-correct and compensate for these new impairments.

In 2005, a pilot study conducted at Cornell University placed 15 people with Parkinson’s in 10 weeklong yoga programs, after which participants reported less trunk stiffness, better sleep, and a general feeling of well-being. “A surprising side effect was the social support the class provided,” says neurologist Claire Henchcliffe, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Institute at Weill Cornell. “I think a lot hinges on sharing problems that doctors simply don’t have firsthand experience with. At a support group, people get great firsthand information and become proactive.”

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Moving On With Parkinson’s by Peggy van Hulsteyn


breath of the gods


11 yoga documentaries worth your time

  1. Y Yoga: Filmmaker Albert Klein takes up yoga the week of 9/11, falls in love with it, and goes on to make one of the greatest yoga documentaries to date.  This is my personal favorite, and if you only have time for one, this one is it. It’s primarily about the California Yoga scene, but that’s where it all starts anyway.
  2. Enlighten Up!: A skeptic’s journey into the wide world of yoga.  This film is very well put together, and with a lot of colorful characters, like international yoga superstar, Diamond Dallas Page. It is particularly good, I feel, because it raises more questions than it answers. You can watch some of this one on Youtube, and it’s full version is on Netflix.
  3. Yoga Unveiled: This is a great introduction to the deeper dimensions of yoga, especially the history and philosophy of yoga that often gets neglected. It is perfect to watch at the outset of a yoga teacher training program. You have to pay for this one, though you can find some clips on Youtube.
  4. Yoga Woman: Among other things, delves into why yoga is now still primarily practiced by women, even though for most of yoga’s history it was not. I saw this when it premiered on Maui in early 2012. It’s not my favorite, but definitely worth your time.
  5. Shortcut to Nirvana: It’s now been almost 12 years since this film came out, which features the 2013 Kumbha Mela, the  largest religious festival in the world, which happens every year in India. So if you want to get some sense of what it’s all about before it happens, this is a good place to start.
  6. Sita Sings the Blues: This is a brilliant, funny and ironic modern re-telling of the ancient Hindu epic The Ramayana, which relates the possibly tragic story (depending on how you look at it) of Rama & Sita. You can watch this for free online.
  7. Titans of Yoga: This documentary is a good introduction to some of the major figures on the contemporary yoga scene. It is helpful to hear what they have to share with us about the yoga journey.
  8. Yoga Is: This is a very sweet introduction to the world of yoga.  It is one woman’s journey while coming to terms with her mother’s death from cancer.  It is especially good for those new to yoga and is very inspiring.
  9. The Soul of India: This is not a yoga documentary per se, as yoga is only touched upon only briefly, yet it gives some very good insight into Mother India, the birthplace of yoga.  My students have loved this video  Rick Ray also has another great documentary for yoga people called “10 Questions for the Dalai Lama.”
  10. Ayurveda: The Art of Being: Explore Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, as it has been traditionally practiced in India for centuries. Students have found this to be one of the most fascinating films we’ve shown.
  11. Fierce Grace: This is a touching, insightful film about the life and work of Ram Dass, author of the famous book” Be Here Now” and recently featured by Oprah on her online network.

Gaiam TV Article by Alan Lowenschuss


nāda yoga

nadayoga

Nāda yoga (नादयोग) is an ancient Indian metaphysical system. It is both a philosophical system, a medicine, and a form of yoga. The system’s theoretical and practical aspects are based on the premise that the entire cosmos and all that exists in the cosmos, including human beings, consists of sound vibrations, called nāda. This concept holds that it is the sound energy in motion rather than of matter and particles which form the building blocks of the cosmos.

Nāda yoga is also a way to approach with reverence and respond to sound. Sound and music is in this context, something more than just the sensory properties and sources of sensuous pleasure, sound and music is considered also to play the role as a potential medium to achieve a deeper unity with both the outer and the inner cosmos.

Nāda yoga’s use of sound vibrations and resonances are also used to pursue palliative effects on various problematic psychological and spiritual conditions. It is also employed to raise the level of awareness of the postulated energy centers called chakra.

Music has been used by most Indian saints, prophets as an important and powerful tool in the quest for the achievement of nirvana; notable name to be mentioned here include Thyagaraja, Kabir, Meerabai, Namdeo, Purandaradasa and Tukaram.

The Nāda yoga system divides music into two categories: internal music, anahata, and external music, ahata. While the external music is conveyed to consciousness via sensory organs in the form of the ears, in which mechanical energy is converted to electrochemical energy and then transformed in the brain to sensations of sound, it is the anahata chakra, which is considered responsible for the reception of the internal music, but not in the way of a normal sensory organ.

The anahata concept refers to one’s own personal sound vibrations, which is thought to be so closely associated with one’s self and the self that a person can not share their anahata with another human being. In other words, this inner sound is sacred and once reached will open the practitioner’s chakras, which ultimately will unite the body to the divine/cosmos.

With continued sounds, a focused mind and controlled breath, the individual can, according to Nāda yoga, “listen in on” their own anahata, their own “inner sound”, which can take up to nine different forms. Such a process of inner awareness and sensitivity leads to increased self-recollectedness and finally to awakening.

To concentrate on this inner sound as a support for meditation is very helpful to tame the mind, and when it has been clearly recognized, used for self-recollectedness in outer life as well. Eventually, it can be experienced as penetrating all matter and indeed vibrates eternally throughout the Creation.

In Nāda yoga, one of the main breathing sounds is ahaṃ, where each part of the word (a ha ṃ) is focused on and spoken individually. The echoes produced by each of these spoken letters is a time where the yogi should immerse himself and rest. Now, because of imbalances within the human body, Nāda yoga begins by removing the ailments and impurities by “awakening the fire in the body (jāṭhara)” (Timalsina 212) with the use of a sound resembling that of a bee. It is important to note that when the yogin is forming sounds, his/her mind should not wander off to other entities.

One group to incorporate yoga, Nāda yoga specifically, and the practice of sound into the spiritual transformation is the Josmanĩ. The Josmanĩ are identified as a Sant tradition, and they are a blend of Śrī Vaiṣṇava Bhakti tradition with the Nāth Yoga tradition. Yoga is used in “personal and social transformation” (Timalsina 202). The Josmani’s spiritual quest interlinks the practice of Kuṇḍali and Nāda Yoga.

In the West, detailed indications and advices have been given by Edward Salim Michael in his book : the Law of attention, Nada Yoga and the way of inner vigilance. Ajahn Sumedho, from the Thai Forest Tradition teaches also the practice of this inner sound.

Primary literature

Nada Bindu Upanishad

Shurangama Sutra

The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, often spelled Shurangama Sutra or Surangama Sutra in English, is a Mahayana sutra and one of the main texts used in the Chán school in Chinese Buddhism. In the Surangama Sutra, Avalokitesvara says that he attained enlightenment through concentration on the subtle inner sound. The Buddha then praises Avalokitesvara and says that this is the supreme way to go.

From Wikipedia


yoga benefits for cancer patients

yoga benefits for cancer patients

Studies have shown that a structured yoga practice during cancer treatment can radically improve physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue. Additionally, according to a Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, yoga reduces stress and anxiety which in turn reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and eases respiration. What’s more, patients who practiced yoga were also less sensitive to pain than subjects who did not, and therefore better able to tolerate treatment.

Beyond purely the physical, research at Duke University has also shown how yoga, along with meditation, can alleviate depression, anxiety and insomnia to help patients become “emotionally fit.” Medical research is revealing what cancer centers and yogic practitioners have long known, namely that “patients at all stages of health, including cancer survivors, can benefit from yoga. And the benefits are both physical and emotional.”

Here are four ways cancer patients can benefit:

1. Yoga Helps Manage Depression, Fear and Anxiety:
Depression and an acute fear of death can be prevalent in patients suffering through the emotional strain of a cancer diagnosis. Undergoing invasive or rigorous treatments may also heighten anxiety. Research has revealed that “Yogic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to positively affect immune function, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.”

In other words, guided breathing exercises enrich the respiratory system to regulate nerves that can deeply calm both mind and body. Yoga activates this relaxation response and can thus help relieve feelings of anxiety. With the aid of supported inversions to increase circulation and guided meditation/deep breathing to let go of grief, fear, and foreboding, you can actually re-pattern and calm your stress cycles.

2. The “Mood Boost” Effect:
It’s a fact — exercise produces endorphins and endorphins improve your mood. A regular yoga practice, no matter how gentle the movements, allows the body to release endorphins so you can instantly experience a positive boost in mood.

Several studies also suggest that yoga can increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating the nervous system and managing your mood and outlook. In addition, a regular yoga practice can boost self-esteem because you feel better about your appearance, strength, and overall physical condition.

3. Help to Manage Physical Pain:
Beside the well known and painful physiological side effects of cancer treatment, emotional stress can also produce physical pain. Moderate, appropriately modified physical activity aids in managing the physical pain that can be experienced during treatment, and research has shown that women who practice yoga specifically when in recovery report reduced pain and stress.

4. Yoga Community Can Provide Support:
A support system is crucial to coping with the emotional toll of cancer, not only for those suffering from the disease but for their loved ones as well. There is great value in the support of community for those in any stage of remission, meeting and talking with others who understand what you’re going through. Whether it’s a group setting or an online meet-up, engaging with others in a similar situation can provide a sense of normalcy and security.

So, even if you’re not in treatment yourself but have a loved one who is suffering, yoga can serve as a way to help you both deal with your emotional stress. You can take a class together or even practice at home with online videos. Either way, the calming effects of yoga provide a physically and emotionally beneficial activity you can do with each other, allowing you to connect on happy and positive terms.

Excerpts from Huffigton Post Article 4 Ways Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Yoga by Lorna Borenstein


meditation boom

Unplug is a new meditation studio in Los Angeles

Unplug is a new meditation studio in Los Angeles

One hundred fifty people sat in the big meeting room, hands on laps, eyes closed, feet flat on the floor.

“Bring your attention to this moment,” Janice Marturano instructed. “Be open to sensations of warmth or coolness, sensations of fullness from breakfast, or perhaps hunger.” Minutes later, the meditation ended with the traditional strikes of little hand cymbals.

Buddhists? Old hippies? New Agers?

Nope. The room was full of hospital executives and managers in lab coats and scrubs, jeans and sports coats at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. And the teacher was Marturano, once a top executive at General Mills.

The founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, Marturano is about as far from woo-woo as the spectrum allows — and a sign that meditation has snaked its way into every sector of our lives. The hospital employees were learning a practice shared by millions these days: college students, parents and prisoners; soldiers, the overweight and the lovelorn; the Seattle Seahawks, public school kids and members of Congress; Oprah, Chopra and Arianna.

And perhaps you. What? You’re not meditating?

Meditation, primarily a 2,500-year-old form called mindfulness meditation that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment, has gone viral.

The unrelenting siege on our attention can take a good share of the credit; stress has bombarded people from executives on 24/7 schedules to kids who feel the pressure to succeed even before puberty. Meditation has been lauded as a way to reduce stress, ease physical ailments like headaches and increase compassion and productivity.

Religious practitioners have long claimed that, adopted by enough people, meditation could bring us world peace. Now we hear that from Chade-Meng Tan, a Google executive charged with making the company more mindful. You needn’t even put down your phone, with apps like Insight Timer, which has guided meditations and ways to track your stillness.

It has moved from its Asian, monastic roots to become a practice requiring no particular dogma on a path not necessarily toward nirvana but toward a more mindful everyday life. Some serious advocates worry it’s becoming another feel-good commodity.

The practice of mindfulness meditation has become more widespread at a time when the fastest-growing group demographic is made up of people who say they are unaffiliated with a particular denomination, said Varun Soni, the dean of religious life at USC, which has launched a university-wide effort toward mindfulness.

“Every religious tradition changes when it moves to a new place,” Soni said.

In the case of meditation, it’s also moved full force into the academic realm. Aside from the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the UCs in San Diego, Los Angeles and Berkeley are among universities that also have meditation programs. Hundreds of research papers have been published. At Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., students can earn a master’s degree in mindfulness studies.

“It’s mind-blowing,” said Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts and one of the people who brought Buddhist meditation to the United States in the 1970s.

“It fits a lot about the American spirit,” she said. “You don’t have to join anything. It’s very private. It’s a very direct answer to an awful lot of stress and confusion.”

Excerpt from LA Times article Meditation Booms as People Seek a Way to Slow Down by Mary MacVean