Tag Archives: Yoga Journal

breathing in yoga

inhale_exhale

The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

Many accomplished yogis will tell you that minding the breath is central to the practice of yoga. But take a tour of a dozen yoga classes in the West and you’re likely to discover just as many approaches to pranayama. You may be taught complex techniques with daunting names like Kapalabhati (Skull Shining) and Deergha Swasam (Three-Part Deep Breathing) before you even strike your first pose. You may find breathing practices intermingled with the practice of the postures. Or you may be told that pranayama is so advanced and subtle that you shouldn’t bother with it until you’re well versed in the intricacies of inversions and forward bends.

So what’s a yogi to do? Breathe deep into the belly or high up into the chest? Make a sound so loud the walls shake or keep the breath as quiet as a whisper? Practice breathing techniques on your own or weave them throughout your existing asana practice? Dive into pranayama from the get-go or wait until you can touch your toes? To help answer these questions and sample the range of yogic breathing, we asked experts from six yoga traditions to share their approaches to pranayama.

read more…

Excerpts of Yoga Journal article, Six Views on Breathing in Yoga, by Claudia Cummins

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hip stability

Shift your focus from hip openness to hip stability.

In yoga, there is a tendency to assume that we can stretch our way through perceived problems. Consider the ever-elusive “hip opening.” We aspire to use our hip-opening practice as a panacea for all our aches and 
woes. We imagine that open hips will allow 
us to wrap our legs into fancy postures like Padmasana (Lotus Pose). But it’s possible that at a certain point, the coveted range of motion begins to work against us.

Hypermobility of the Hip Joint

Enter hypermobility, a general term that refers to an excessive range of motion in a joint, with a lack of stability to support that mobility. It can be something we are born with or something we develop through regular stretching. In the hip joint, it can also stem from weak hip stabilizers—the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and other muscles—from prolonged sitting or decreased activity. Hip hypermobility is something anyone can develop, especially in the yoga world where we focus so much on long, deep stretches to get that feel-good release.

hip anatomy stabilizers gluteus medius

Consider a classic hip opener like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). It can seem more like a resting pose for some people, so they continue to seek a deeper stretch in variations or harder modifications. Yet stretching those areas that are already flexible makes the hypermobility more pronounced. This might not seem like a problem initially—deeper stretching feels good, and you get the release you crave—but the surrounding cartilage and ligaments also take on the impact of your movements, which can overtax and reduce their strength and 
stability, diminishing the support that is so key to the integrity of the hip joint.

So, instead of pushing deeper into flexible areas, notice spots where you are tight or weak. Then, look instead for poses to challenge the strength of the hips, thus shifting your focus from hip opening to hip stability. You don’t need to over-analyze this; the only thing required is mindfulness to honor what you feel.

hip joint anatomy

The Five Layers of the Hip Joint

To comprehend the effects of hypermobility on the hip joint, we need a basic understanding of its five main layers, moving from deep to superficial. First, the boney structure of the joint is found where the ball-shaped head of the femur fits into the socket, called the pelvic 
acetabulum. It is surrounded by articular cartilage and a labrum, or lip, made of fibrocartilage and dense connective tissue, to help hold the ball in the socket. The joint capsule is a thin, fluid-filled sac surrounding the joint, held by ligaments, those tough but flexible fibers that connect bone to bone. Finally, atop these structures are the many tendons and muscles that effect movements.

Each of the deeper structures of the hip plays an important role in stability. The labrum deepens the socket and makes it more difficult for the head of the femur to slip out. It also plays a vital role in decreasing contact stress on the joint, 
and in ensuring lubrication between the femoral head and its socket.

The joint capsule adds another layer 
of stability, plus secretes a lubricating substance that reduces friction. Meanwhile, the ligaments that surround the hip limit how much the joint can move, preventing dislocation and wear to the deeper layers 
of cartilage—the ligaments hold the bones together. However, ligaments aren’t elastic, so once they have been overstretched, they remain that way, and their ability to support the joint is compromised.

Finally, closest to the surface, the many tendons and muscles create all the motions of the hip and stabilize the joint when they are balanced in terms of strength and flexibility.

These five layers work together. When any one layer is not functioning, the rest have to work harder to pick up the slack. 
If your ligaments are overly stretched, the muscles must labor to stabilize the joint. 
And if your muscles are weak or not firing properly, the deeper layers of the ligaments or the labrum must compensate by absorbing the impact of your movements.

The trouble is, you can’t always tell when one layer is falling down on the job. The cartilage and ligaments have less sensation and deteriorate over longer periods, meaning you may not feel pain or notice any problems until the damage has already happened. As you get more flexible or “open” in the hips, it becomes even more important to create strength in the hip muscles to help stabilize that mobility.

A good way to practice is by focusing 
on your standing leg in balancing poses. Gluteus medius and minimus are critical 
for hip stability any time you are standing upright. These muscles help to position the femoral head in the hip socket, to keep you from sinking into and wearing down the labrum, cartilage, and ligaments. A pose like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III) is a challenging opportunity to practice using gluteus medius and minimus to stabilize 
the hip of the standing leg, and strengthen those muscles so that they support you in 
all of your standing poses.

How to Activate the Hip Stabilizers

Here are three easy steps to activate the hip-stabilizing muscles—the gluteus medius and minimus—to prepare for a balancing pose like Warrior III. The key to each step is to keep the movement subtle rather than aim for large contractions. When we stabilize the joint, we simply need a gentle engagement rather than a huge action that can create tension.

1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). First, imagine hugging your outer hips into the sockets by drawing them toward the midline of your body. Though the movement is subtle, you will feel the outer-hip muscles gently turn on to support the joint.

2. Next, visualize riding higher in the hip socket rather than sinking in the joint. This creates the integrity of those muscles that support the joint, to help protect the deeper structures.

3. Finally, gently engage the lower abdominals, to help support the hip joint with your core.

Once you achieve all three steps, slowly lean forward at the hip crease of the standing leg to come into Warrior III without losing that support, as you raise the lifted leg straight behind you. The arms can extend forward, come to your heart, or reach backward. 
If you get tired, come out by returning to Mountain Pose.


Excerpts from Yoga Journal article Anatomy 101: Understand Your Hips to Build Stability byTiffany Cruikshank. For more info, go to yogamedicine.com.


pasasana

pasasana

You can be sure that when you fold your legs like a grasshopper, bend your ankles into a superlow squat, twist in half, and hold hands with yourself behind your back, a variety of sensations and emotions will arise. Although examining those feelings is an important part of the yogic process, beware of sensation hunting. Notice whether you instinctively push and pull on yourself until the grasping noose of your arms becomes like a scary vice that inhibits your breathing. Struggling in your asana practice like this leads to injury, and it can dull your natural sensitivity to the point where you don’t feel anything at all without extreme effort. The whole idea of yoga is to tune in to yourself so that you can create more sensitivity to subtlety—not less.

At the same time, Pasasana is a pose that requires some perseverance. If you are too passive as you practice, you will miss the vibrant aspect of juicy exertion that strengthens your muscles and bones and increases your ability to stay focused. Put simply: If you don’t put enough oomph into it, you’ll never touch your hands behind your back.

The solution then, is to look for the middle path, the place where you walk the line between too much effort and complete passivity. You tap into the middle path by listening to your body, moving with sensitivity, and engaging with what’s happening. You often hear the phrase “being present to the moment.” What this really means is being part of the moment. This happens through the middle path of commitment, patience, and listening.

The Buddha offered insight into this process. The story goes that a musician asked the Buddha how he should meditate. The Buddha replied, “How do you tune your instrument?” The musician said, “Not too tight, not too loose.” The Buddha said, “Exactly like that.” If you learn to apply this to Pasasana, your noose will evolve into a warm feeling of being held and supported by yourself and by your healthy, wakeful, engaged practice.

Pasasana (Noose Pose)

Extend your legs into Dandasana, and send some refreshing breaths into your ankles, knees, and hips. Bring your knees into your chest, rolling back on your exhalation and forward on your inhalation. The last time you rock forward, come up onto your feet into a low squat.

Start by doing a variation of the pose. Squat with a block or a wall about one foot behind you. Organize your legs and feet just as you did in Utkatasana, heels and toes touching. If your heels do not touch the ground in this position, slip a folded blanket underneath them.

Exhale and twist to the right. Place the outside of your left shoulder between your legs. Internally rotate your left arm and wrap it around your left leg. Reach your right arm behind you and place it on the block or touch the wall. After a few breaths, untwist and try the other side. Continue to work this way until you feel an opening to go farther.

To develop the full pose, use your abdominals to twist to the right again, but this time place your left shoulder on the outside of the right thigh. Strongly activate the inner thighs and cinch your legs together. Internally rotate both arms and reach around behind your back to bind. Use a strap if you can’t reach. Eventually, you will hold your right wrist with your left hand. Try to find a way to hold hands with yourself so the noose can be more a garland of flowers. After a few breaths, release the pose and do the other side.

As you work on Pasasana, take time with every step of the process. Listen to your muscles, bones, connective tissue, breath, and mind. They will all have valuable suggestions for when you should engage more effort, let go a bit, or perhaps just stay where you are, waiting to see what unfolds. Eventually your experience of physical feelings in your asana practice will evolve into an evenness of sensation throughout your entire body.

Often when you feel intensity in one particular area, it draws all your attention there. The entire mind becomes occupied by the little drama of the right shoulder, and you may forget you even have a whole body. Doesn’t that sound similar to how we sometimes live life, getting stuck in the small stuff and missing the big picture? When we do that, we have a harder time keeping things in perspective and making smart choices.

Rather than going for extremes, see if you can discover subtle shifts that might begin to even out your various sensations as well as your responses to sensations. Find balance by letting your awareness spread through your whole body. Observe what happens with your breath and your mind as your body finds balance and creates a container—not too tight and not too loose—of equanimity.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article and Sequence Find Freedom in the Noose By Cyndi Lee


explore yoga styles

types-of-yoga

Ashtanga Yoga

What to Expect: The inspiration for many vinyasa-style yoga classes, Ashtanga Yoga is an athletic and demanding practice. Traditionally, Ashtanga is taught “Mysore style”: Students learn a series of poses and practice at their own pace while a teacher moves around the room giving adjustments and personalized suggestions.

What It’s About: The practice is smooth and uninterrupted, so the practitioner learns to observe whatever arises without holding on to it or rejecting it. With continued practice, this skill of attentive nonattachment spills over into all aspects of life. This is one important meaning of K. Pattabhi Jois’s famous saying, “Practice, and all is coming.”

Teachers and Centers: Founded by K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), this system is taught around the world. Jois’s grandson R. Sharath now leads the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. There are teachers everywhere around the globe.

Find out more at kpjayi.org and ashtanga.com

 

Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga

What to Expect: This is a physically challenging, flowing practice that will get your heart pumping while also encouraging you to find your authentic personal power in life. Classes feature a vigorous 90-minute sequence, performed in a heated room and designed to condition the whole body.

What It’s About: The aim of Baptiste Yoga is to create freedom, peace of mind, and the ability to live more powerfully and authentically right now. The physically challenging practice is a training ground for facing emotional and philosophical challenges that arise in your life.

Teachers and Centers: Baron Baptiste, son of yoga pioneers Walt and Magana Baptiste (who opened San Francisco’s first yoga center in 1955), began practicing as a child and studied with many Indian yoga masters. The Baptiste Power Yoga Institute is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are more than 40 affiliated studios.

Find out more at baronbaptiste.com

 

Bikram Yoga

What to Expect: Rooms are heated to 105 degrees, and classes consist of 45 minutes of standing poses and 45 minutes of floor postures. You do the same series of two breathing exercises and 26 poses in each class.

What It’s About: This practice is designed to work your body and requires full mental concentration. The overall objective is to create a fit body and mind, allowing the physical self to unify with the spiritual self.

Teachers and Centers: Bikram Choudhury was born in Calcutta and introduced his system in the United States in 1971. His main teacher was Bishnu Ghosh (1903-1970). The Bikram Yoga College of India in Los Angeles serves as headquarters. There are now more than 5,000 certified Bikram teachers throughout the United States.

Find out more at bikramyoga.com

 

Forrest Yoga

What to expect: A strong, hot practice designed to help you release physical and emotional tension and pain, and celebrate the strength of your own body.

What It’s About: Working with the premise that clearing stored emotions makes room for your spirit to come home, the practice combines physically challenging sequences with deep emotional exploration.

Teachers and Centers: Ana Forrest began teaching Forrest Yoga in 1982. She studied various systems of yoga, healing, and native ceremony but credits her own pain and suffering, her students, the elements, and “the great mysterious” as her primary teachers.

Find out more forrestyoga.com

 

Integral Yoga

What to Expect: A gentle practice based on chanting, postures, deep relaxation, breathing practices, and meditation.

What It’s About: Integral Yoga focuses on returning us to our “natural condition,” which includes health and strength, a clear and calm mind, a heart full of love, a strong yet pliable will, and a life filled with supreme joy.

Teachers and Centers: Founded by Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), a student of Swami Sivananda, Integral Yoga is taught at the Satchidananda Ashram (Yogaville) in Virginia and the Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan as well as at smaller centers and in studios.

Find out more at iyiny.orgyogaville.org, and iyta.org

 

Ishta Yoga

What to Expect: Classes include alignment-based vinyasa sequences, with meditation, Pranayama (breathwork), and kriyas (cleansing techniques) to create specific energetic effects.

What It’s About: ISHTA stands for the Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda, and its aim is to balance the human organism to create a strong and stable platform for spiritual growth.

Teachers and Centers: Alan Finger laid the foundations for Ishta Yoga with his father, Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger (a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Venkatesananda) in South Africa in the 1960s. The Ishta Yoga School in Manhattan was opened in 2008.

Find out more at ishtayoga.com

 

Iyengar Yoga

What to Expect: Often, you’ll do only a few poses while exploring the subtle actions required to master proper alignment. Poses can be modified with props, making the practice accessible to all.

What It’s About: For beginners, the primary objective is to understand the alignment and basic structure of the poses, and to gain greater physical awareness, strength, and flexibility.

Teachers and Centers: B.K.S. Iyengar (a student of T. Krishnamacharya) founded the style. His children Gita and Prashant Iyengar teach in Pune, India, and around the world. There are four Iyengar institutes in the United States: in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Find out more at bksiyengar.com and iynaus.org

 

Jivamukti Yoga

What to Expect: A physically vigorous and intellectually stimulating practice with a focus on spiritual development. Expect to encounter flowing asana sequences along with Sanskrit chanting, references to scriptural texts, eclectic music (from the Beatles to Moby), yogic breathing practices, and meditation.

What It’s About: One of the predominant principles of Jivamukti Yoga isahimsa (nonharming), and classes often explore the link between yoga and animal rights, veganism, and activism.

Teachers and Centers: Jivamukti means “liberation while living.” Sharon Gannon and David Life founded Jivamukti Yoga in 1984, choosing the name as a reminder that the ultimate aim is enlightenment. Find centers in New York, Toronto, Munich, London, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Find out more at jivamuktiyoga.com

 

Kripalu Yoga

What to Expect: Through asana, pranayama, meditation, and relaxation techniques, you’ll learn to observe the sensations in the body and mind, and thereby discover how well a pose, or a life decision, is serving you. Classes can be physically demanding or extremely gentle, such as chair yoga.

What It’s About: The primary objective is to awaken the flow of prana—the natural life force that will enable you to thrive in all aspects of life.

Teachers and Centers: Swami Kripalu (1913-1981) was a Kundalini Yoga master who taught that all the world’s wisdom traditions stem from a single universal truth, which each of us can experience directly. The main center is the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Find out more at kripalu.org

 

Kundalini Yoga

What to Expect: A 90-minute class typically begins with chanting and ends with singing, and in between features asana, pranayama, and meditation designed to create a specific outcome. Expect to encounter challenging breathing exercises, including the rapid pranayama known as Breath of Fire, mini-meditations, mantras, mudras (sealing gestures), and vigorous movement-oriented postures, often repeated for minutes, that will push you to your limit—and beyond.

What It’s About: Kundalini Yoga is sometimes called the Yoga of Awareness. The primary goal is to awaken kundalini energy, the psychoenergetic force that leads to spiritual elevation, and kick-start the process of transformation.

Teachers and Centers: Kundalini Yoga was founded in the United States in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan. There are more than 5,000 certified Kundalini Yoga teachers in the United States.

Find out more at kriteachings.org3ho.orgyogibhajan.com, and kundaliniyoga.com

 

OM Yoga

What to Expect: Medium-paced vinyasa sequences combined with alignment instruction and Tibetan Buddhist concepts like mindfulness and compassion.

What It’s About: The aim is to cultivate strength, stability, and clarity and integrate mindfulness and compassion into your whole life.

Teachers and Centers: OM founder Cyndi Lee has practiced yoga since 1971 and Tibetan Buddhism since 1987. The OM Yoga Center is in New York City.

Find out more at omyoga.com

 

ParaYoga

What to Expect: Combining Tantric philosophy with dynamic practice, classes include challenging asanas with an emphasis on the practices of pranayama, meditation, mudras, and bandhas (locks).

What It’s About: Rooted in ancient texts and modern life, this practice reveals how asana affects and transforms energy. Its aim is to manifest spiritual and worldly success through increased Self-awareness and the refinement of prana.

Teachers and Centers: Rod Stryker, a student of Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, founded ParaYoga in 1995.

Find out more at parayoga.com

 

Prana Flow Yoga

What to Expect: “Challenging” and “empowering” are touchstone words for this active, fluid form of vinyasa yoga. After the opening Om, the class is an exercise in near-continuous motion. Sequences are creative, often incorporating elements of dance and moving meditation, and accompanied by music.

What It’s About: The practice is a vehicle to connect with prana.

Teachers and Centers: With a background in dance, yoga, Ayurveda, and Indian martial arts, Shiva Rea founded Prana Flow Yoga in 2005.

Find out more at shivarea.com

 

Purna Yoga

What to Expect: Classes are asana focused, with adherence to the alignment principles of Iyengar Yoga and incorporation of yogic philosophy. Short meditations begin and end class to connect students with the heart center.

What It’s About: The emphasis is on uniting the body and mind with the spirit. There are four limbs to Purna Yoga: meditation, asana and pranayama, applied philosophy, and nutrition and lifestyle.

Teachers and Centers: Inspired by the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Purna Yoga was officially founded by Aadil and Mirra Palkhivala in 2003. The main center is in Bellevue, Washington.

Find out more at yogacenters.com and aadilandmirra.com

 

Sivananda Yoga

What to Expect: Based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda, this yoga style is more spiritual practice than exercise. Each 90-minute class focuses on 12 core poses and Sanskrit chanting, pranayama practices, meditation, and relaxation.

What It’s About: Designed to transform and elevate human consciousness, Sivananda Yoga focuses on five fundamental points of yoga: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation (Corpse Pose), proper diet (vegetarianism), and positive thinking and meditation.

Teachers and Centers: Sivananda Yoga was founded in 1957 by Swami Vishnu-devananda (1927-1993), a primary student of Swami Sivananda (1887-1963). Large teaching centers can be found in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto.

Find out more at sivananda.org

 

Svaroopa Yoga

What to Expect: Classes include a lot of floor work with ample propping and hands-on adjustments. Classes begin and end in Savasana (Corpse Pose) and focus on releasing tension.

What It’s About: Svaroopa means “the bliss of your own Being.” It refers to the Tantric view of the body as a form of consciousness. The goal is to create “core opening” to remove energetic impediments to inner transformation.

Teachers and Centers: Svaroopa was founded in 1992 by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati, a longtime student of Swami Muktananda (1908-1982), who has been ordained into the order of Saraswati monks.

Find out more at svaroopayoga.org

 

TriYoga

What to Expect: A flowing asana practice, pranayama, mudras, dharana (concentration) practice, and meditation.

What It’s About: The wavelike spinal movements and synchronized breathing are designed to awaken prana.

Teachers and Centers: TriYoga was created by yogini Kali Ray, in 1980. Ray had experienced a kundalini awakening and created the practice in the manner of kundalini-inspired hatha yoga. The main TriYoga Center is located in Los Angeles; other centers are in Santa Cruz, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and around the world.

Find out more at triyoga.com

 

Viniyoga

What to Expect: Tailored to individual needs, classes vary greatly and may include asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation, prayer, and ritual. All classes emphasize mobilizing the spine and coordinating movement with breath.

What It’s About: Viniyoga is a useful therapeutic tool for the body, but it also aims to develop the breath, voice, memory, intellect, character, and heart. The practice views yoga as a means to cultivate the positive, reduce the negative, and help each practitioner achieve discriminative awareness—the key to any process of self-transformation.

Teachers and Centers: Gary Kraftsow founded the American Viniyoga Institute in 1999. His main teacher was T.K.V. Desikachar. Gary Kraftsow and Mirka Scalco Kraftsow are the senior Viniyoga teachers.

Find out more at viniyoga.com

 

Yoga in the Tradition of Krishnamacharya

What to Expect: Classes are taught one-on-one or in very small groups, with a great deal of individualization. In the asana practice, each movement is coordinated with a particular breath (an inhalation, an exhalation, or a hold), and the effects are often felt in the body and breath, but also in the emotions.

What It’s About: Students like to say they practice not to be better yogis for the hour that they are on their mat, but to live more fully and with more ease the other 23 hours of the day.

Teachers and Centers: Sri T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) is known as the father of modern yoga. At the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India, his son, T.K.V. Desikachar, and grandson, Kausthub Desikachar, continue his tradition of making ancient teachings relevant for the modern world.

Find out more at kym.org and khyf.net

 

From Yoga Journal Article What’s Your Style? Explore the Types of Yoga by Yoga Journal Editors

 

See Also Yoga Style Definitions: An Expanded Glossary of traditional and modern yoga styles, yoga schools and yogic traditions


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


insight for sore eyes

openeye

The late physician swami Sivananda considered sight the most abused of our five senses. The first chapter in his treatise, Yoga Asanas, describes an extensive series of eye exercises. As with any yogic practice, the purpose of these exercises isn’t just health. According to Swami Sitaramananda, director of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center of San Francisco, “The fastest way to bring the mind into concentration is through the eyes.”

Though it may seem fanciful, this correlation between eyes and mind has a profound physiological basis. Vision occupies about 40 percent of the brain’s capacity; that’s why we close our eyes to relax and fall asleep. And four of our 12 cranial nerves are dedicated exclusively to vision, while two other nerves are vision-related. Contrast this with the cardiac and digestive functions, which require just one cranial nerve to control both.

The first exercise begins with the eyelids open, the head and neck still, and the entire body relaxed. Picture a clock face in front of you, and raise your eyeballs up to 12 o’clock. Hold them there for a second, then lower the eyeballs to six o’clock. Hold them there again. Continue moving the eyeballs up and down 10 times, without blinking if possible. Your gaze should be steady and relaxed. Once you finish these 10 movements, rub your palms together to generate heat and gently cup them over your eyes, without pressing. Allow the eyes to relax in complete darkness. Concentrate on your breathing, feel the warm prana emanating from your palms, and enjoy the momentary stillness.

Follow this exercise with horizontal eye movements—from nine o’clock to three o’clock—ending again by “palming” (cupping your hands over your eyes). Then do diagonal movements—two o’clock to seven o’clock, and 11 o’clock to four o’clock—again followed by palming. Conclude the routine with 10 full circles in each direction, as though you are tracing the clock’s rim.

These eyeball movements provide balance for people who do work up close, like students who spend a lot of their time reading or working at computers. According to Robert Abel, author of The Eye Care Revolution, these brief exercises “compensate for overdevelopment of the muscles we use to look at near objects.”

You might be surprised to learn that the palming part of this exercise provides more than a pleasant respite. According to Abel, our photoreceptors break down and are reconstructed every minute. “The eye desperately needs darkness to recover from the constant stress of light,” he says. “And the simplest way to break eye stress is to take a deep breath, cover your eyes, and relax.”

Along with palming, yoga in general benefits the eyes by relieving tension. While the effect of yoga on the eyes has not been scientifically measured, studies have shown that a simple exercise like walking can lower pressure in the eyeball by 20 percent.

Vasanthi Bhat, a yoga teacher in the Sivananda tradition, includes asanas like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), in her video, Yoga for Eyes. “These asanas bring circulation to the face, neck, and shoulders, which need to be energized and relaxed for improved vision,” Bhat explains. So even if you have not been doing asanas specifically for your eyes, your overall yoga practice is helping your vision.

Looking High, Looking Low

Once students have mastered the basic eyeball exercise, Srinivasan introduces an intermediate series of eye exercises which he calls “shifting focus.”

While sitting relaxed and still, pick a point in the distance and focus on it. Extend your arm and put your thumb right underneath the point of concentration. Now begin shifting your focus between the tip of your thumb and the faraway point, alternating rhythmically between near and distance vision. Repeat the exercise 10 times, then relax your eyes with palming and deep breathing. As you practice this exercise, you are training an organ called the ciliary body, which adjusts the lens of the eye. Habitual focus patterns degrade the ciliary body’s natural flexibility. Shifting focal points counteracts this stiffness by exercising the organ through its full range, much as we work complementary muscle groups in asana practice.

The final eye asana taught in the Sivananda series stresses close-range focus. As in the shifting focus exercise, gaze at your thumb with your arm extended. This time move the thumb slowly toward the tip of your nose. Pause there for one second. Then reverse the sequence, following the thumb with your eyes as you extend your arm again. As before, repeat the sequence 10 times, then relax with palming.

By training the eyes to focus on the ajna chakra (the “third eye,” located between and just above the eyebrows) a yogi trains his mind to turn inward. On a more prosaic level, close-range focus exercises can forestall the need for reading glasses.

Perhaps you’ve seen a picture of a yogi staring at a candle flame. If so, you’ve seen trataka, an eye-cleansing exercise described in theUpanishads and mentioned in other yogic texts, including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Trataka can also be found in the texts of ayurveda(traditional Indian medicine), where it is recommended to stimulate the alochaka pitta, the energy center related to sight. But as always with yoga, there’s a connection between physiology and the more subtle aspects of spiritual practice. According to Dr. Marc Halpern, founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda, the practice of trataka decreases mental lethargy and increases buddhi (intellect).

Although traditionally performed with a candle, trataka can use almost any external point of focus, like a dot on the wall. Concentrate your gaze on one object, without blinking, until your eyes begin to tear. Then close your eyes and try to maintain a vivid image of that object for as long as possible. Each time you practice trataka, extend the time you maintain the after-image.

This exercise, traditionally believed to remove any disease from the eyes and to induce clairvoyance, also develops the skill of internal visualization. Yogis develop this skill to keep their minds fixed in meditation on a sacred image—and, by extension, on the divine experience associated with that image. The intricate spiritual mandalas you may have see in Indian and Tibetan holy books are also designed for this purpose. Highly skilled meditators can visualize even the most minute details of these elaborate cosmic representations. By perfectly aligning inner and outer focus, these yogis seek a realization like that of Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth-century Christian mystic who once declared, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Yoga For the Eyes BY FERNANDO PAGÉS RUIZ