From ancient wisdom, to modern science, join us on a journey through yoga. Watch ‘The Science Behind Yoga’, featuring Bruce Lipton Ph.D, Sat Bir Khalsa Ph.D, Dr. Mithu Storoni, and many other experts on the scientific research behind the benefits of yoga.
If you’re into wellness and spirituality and moving your body, then becoming a yoga teacher is a great idea, right?
I call bullshit.
If you want to be a yoga teacher to show off your back-bend or tight core, don’t.
If you want to be a yoga teacher to wear tight leggings and to become a clothing ambassador, don’t.
If you want to be a yoga teacher to meet yogalebrities and travel to fabulous beaches in Hawaii and Mexico and Bali to host an expensive retreat, don’t.
If you want to be a yoga teacher because you have a crush on the owner or you see sexy Instagram posts of yoga asanas, don’t.
Please honor this ancient tradition of yoga in a respectful way.
Please teach classes only after you’ve studied this science for a long time with someone you trust who has been teaching for a very long time.
Please don’t injure your students by not fully understanding the language you use.
Please don’t pretend to be a mental health expert just because you are a yoga teacher.
Please don’t pretend to have deep knowledge of the human body just because you have read a few anatomy text books.
Please don’t pretend to use yoga as a social justice initiative unless you’re doing more than teaching wealthy students during their lunch break.
As much as I want to love how popular yoga has become in today’s world, I find myself hoping for smaller classes with my teacher - a teacher who has deeply and vastly devoted her life to this practice.
I want to be delighted by all the many yoga studios I see everywhere. Instead, I have started to doubt their purpose. I have started to wonder who they are serving and more importantly, why? I wonder how many studios are birthed as a result of an egoic drive.
The next time you’re in a yoga class, don’t be afraid to be critical.
If something feels off, it probably is.
If you don’t feel supported, listen to that.
Listen to the language present in class. Listen to the subtle messages. If the teacher cues an advanced asana, look for modifications. I have taken classes where teachers have instructed students to find a headstand in an unsafe way. I have watched teachers show-off in class and have witnessed teachers be distracted and even check their phones.
I’ve watched students fall down in dangerous ways in yoga classes. I have felt uncomfortable when a male teacher placed his hands on my back for a little too long while I was resting in balasana. I’ve also received aggressive adjustments that hurt.
If you are teaching yoga, I am hoping you will pause and ponder what and why you are teaching. Are your classes open to all shapes and sizes and to all walks of life? (Not just to those who wear Lululemon and who are straight, white and middle class). Are your classes teaching more than movement? Are you taking the art and science of yoga seriously? Are you respecting your students and honoring their time and choice and payment to learn from you?
Please also think about the language in your marketing materials. If you advertise “changing your body,” stop immediately. I’ve started to cringe when I read about various forms of manufactured yoga, such as:
“Core power yoga roots an intensely physical workout in the mindfulness of yoga, helping students change their bodies and their lives.”
Yoga is not intended to be morphed into a consumerist workout. And yoga is definitely not supposed to be body shaming. (why do we need to change our bodies? Our bodies are wonderful just as they are).
I’ve also become dubious about classes that are specifically geared for curvier yogis. Are we not allowed in regular classes? First they move pregnant ladies out of classes, next are curvier folks not welcome? I also have seen advertisements for ‘Mens’ Yoga’ and ‘Trauma-informed Yoga.’ I hope men and people who’ve experienced trauma are welcome in all yoga studios and classes.
Yoga has been a part of my life for a long time and it has helped me heal and inhabit my body in more positive ways. It has humbled me and also brought me friends and community. It has been a therapeutic tool as I navigate new motherhood. I am very thankful for this practice and for those who have illuminated my yogic path. I hope yoga has been and will be a positive vehicle in your life and I remain hopeful that the pop culture of yoga will fade as those who teach its essence will continue to shine brightly.
In the realm of social media today we are weighing our worth through the "likes" we receive and the number of followers we collect. There are numerous studies about the affect on our brain, our psychology and our place in society and community.
What does it really mean? Are we a collection of "likes" and followers? And how does this impact our real life relationships?
I grew up in the country, on a long dirt road with a shared party line for our telephone. This sounds more exciting than it actually was. We shared a line with 3 other households. We had a small black and white television with un-trustworthy bunny ears for reception. On a good day we got 3 channels with a snow storm of static. Times have changed immensely.
Now I have a smart phone, lap top, and a flat screen television. I question my involvement with these devices all of the time. Do they serve me? Or do I serve them?
We are in a rampant cult of Narcissism. People leave their house and take a selfie (or several hundred to be edited) and play the reward game all day as the approval ratings roll in, and we get a small hit of dopamine every time we get a "like".
Is our involvement and dependency on our social media changing our real life relationships and interactions? Would we offer the same endorsement for an image or a company/business with our words (energy) in an actual conversation with other human beings?
Thousands of filtered selfies give the vain game away for the obviously afflicted.
Natural Awakenings Magazine: Interview with Piper Abbott
Although media coverage of yoga often highlights advanced yoga poses, the practice is not reserved solely for super-flexible folks. Benefits are available to everyone of any age or physical type.
“Many people assume that yoga requires the ability to be a contortionist. Yoga is an internal process and can meet us wherever we are,” says yoga therapist Kimberly Carson, of Mindful Yoga Works, in Portland, Oregon. Springing from the theory that half of our capacity to become more flexible lies less in the muscles than in the nervous system, this calming practice helps the body release tension and achieve a suppler state.
Why it Works"Yoga poses don’t need to be intense to have a significant effect. Gentle, regular practice can improve range of motion, increase muscle strength and promote circulation of the synovial fluid surrounding joints that supplies oxygen and nutrients to cartilage.
'Basic yoga' is just as beneficial as more advanced ideas of yoga, especially in terms of body awareness,” says Piper Abbott, an integrative yoga therapist and teacher who owns Burlington Yoga, in Burlington, Vermont. “Where our attention goes, energy flows. When we’re holding a posture and directing this focused awareness into the sensation of a stretch, we’re learning to read our body.”
Agility is usually associated with muscles and joints, but underlying flexibility goes deep to further enhance wellness. Stiff muscles often go hand-in-hand with stiff arteries, for example, but appropriate exercise can have a positive effect there, too.
According to studies by physical therapist Miriam Cortez-Cooper, Ph.D., and her colleagues during her tenure at the University of Texas at Austin, stretching exercises performed for 11 weeks improved flexibility of the carotid artery—the main vessel that transports blood to the brain—by 23 percent. Such an increase did not result from aerobic exercise or strength training.
Every Body Can Benefit“Yoga is truly for any and every body. Flexibility or a lack thereof can be found in anatomies of any shape. Many options for poses exist to help you find the version that works best for you. Yoga props such as blocks and straps can provide support to encourage experimenting while ensuring a safe approach,” says Anna Guest-Jelley, CEO of Curvy Yoga, in Portland, Oregon. She loves sharing the value of yoga with people of all sizes. “What’s important is working wherever you are within your current range of motion, so your body can open to new movements appropriately.”
Maintaining a regular practice offers an opportunity for individuals living with chronic pain or undergoing cancer treatment to feel more at ease. “Even in cases of severe fibromyalgia, some movement is better than none, and can foster better sleep. Restorative sleep can help to heal microtears in muscles, which can be common. Non-goal-oriented yoga also offers layers of benefits for cancer patients, both supporting physical function, as well as offering a way to practice kindness towards the body/mind during tough times,” says Carson.
For seniors, yoga is an excellent way to foster better flexibility, even in the presence of osteoarthritis. Studies conducted by Dr. Sharon Kolasinski, of the University of Pennsylvania, found that Iyengar yoga reduced joint stiffness and pain reduction during an eight-week period in people with knee osteoarthritis. Chair yoga, though popular with seniors, can introduce unnecessary risk if not tailored appropriately for those with osteoporosis, Carson cautions. “It’s important for older adults to find classes taught by appropriately trained instructors. Inappropriate chair sitting itself can compromise bone health, so teachers trained in spinal health and planes of action are recommended.”
No matter the level of an individual’s agility, improved flexibility is a boon, especially when it goes beyond the physical to embrace mental and spiritual aspects. Abbott remarks, “Yoga has taught me not only how to move and relate to my body, but how to gracefully adjust to change and the challenges of life.”
Marlaina Donato is a freelance writer and authors books related to the fields of alternative health and spirituality. Connect at MarlainaDonato.com.
By Lee Albert NMT
A recent NY Times article (How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body) is warning us about the dangers of yoga. There are a number of good points in the article about inversions and stretching too deeply into postures. The article goes on to describe various injuries many people suffer while practicing yoga. This even includes some quite accomplished yogis. The article concludes that the vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether.
While I agree with much of what is said in the article, I have come to a much different conclusion. I believe yoga to be safe and beneficial for most people. What is needed is a little bit more knowledge and a smaller ego.
As a Neuromuscular Therapist and a yoga teacher, I know that muscles work best in their mid range and not their end range. It is most beneficial to stretch those muscles in the mid range. This means not going too deep into a posture. The typical instruction in a yoga class is to “go a little deeper” or “feel the edge”. When I teach a yoga class I tell my students to keep at least 25% in the tank. In other words, do not go to the edge and do not push too deeply.
Ironically by lessening the stretch you will usually get a better result and avoid a lot of injuries. This will lengthen the muscle in the mid range and the muscle will respond more readily. Muscles want to be invited to open not forced.
This is often difficult for people to do especially in this country, because we are taught more is better. Now I do believe this is true of chocolate but not stretching. People are usually trying to stretch deeper, and this is typically just ego. People have told me, they want to look like the teacher, they want to bend over and touch the floor without bending their knees or they want to be able to perform a particular pose. The list goes on.
I studied yoga under Swami Satchidananda in the early 90‘s, and I remember his wise words even to this day. He said the only reason to practice the postures is to bring the body into balance. Bringing the body into balance eliminates a lot of pain and thus you could sit comfortably in meditation and find God. He said it is very difficult to meditate if you are in pain. He also said there is very little chance you can find God by standing on your head.
In my opinion, this brings us then to the main reason why so many people are
getting hurt in yoga. They are stretching the wrong muscles. I tell my students that every yoga posture has some value but not every posture will be beneficial for your condition. Some postures will make your condition worse, and some will make it better. The trick is to
know which ones are best for you.
Let’s take a little trip together. The place is India. The time is 3,000 years ago. You wake up on sunny, hot morning and you have a sore back and a stiff neck. You make a visit to the Ayurvedic doctor and tell him your complaints. The doctor looks you over and tells you to go home and do three postures. He did not tell you to go home and do yoga. There are way too many postures, and you will probably pick the wrong ones and potentially make yourself worse. So you see each posture that the doctor told you to do was a prescription for your particular condition. Doing just what the doctor told you would probably make
your pain go away. Then of course, you could get back to that all important task of meditating and finding God.
So now you ask how can I figure out which postures are suitable for me and which ones will harm me. Fortunately the answer to that is fairly straightforward. I have practiced as a Neuromuscular therapist for 25 years, and whether the pain is in your foot, your head or anywhere in between the common element that causes that pain is muscle imbalances. This simply means that some of your muscles are too short and tight and are pulling you
out of alignment, and some of your muscles are too long and tight (like an over stretched rubber band) and are pulling you out of alignment.
90% of the time that I have treated someone for a yoga injury it is because they were stretching a muscle that was too long already. Almost everybody makes the same mistake in yoga. They assume that if a muscle is tight it must be too short. Many muscles work in pairs which means that if one is too short the opposite muscle must be too long. For example, a very common muscle imbalance is that many people have their shoulders rounded forward and a little hump in their upper back. This condition means that the muscles in the chest are too short and tight, pulling the shoulders forward and the muscles in the upper back are too long and tight often causing a sensation of tightness or pain.
The tricky part is that the muscles that are too long often times feel tighter than the muscles that are too short. Because they feel so tight, people will try to stretch that area in the upper back. When they do so it will feel good at the time because they are bringing more blood and oxygen to the area, but in the long run, it will make their shoulders round forward even more and make their muscles in the upper back even longer and tighter (think of that overstretched rubber band again).
If you want to get the maximum benefit out of your yoga practice and not injure yourself, it is imperative that you only stretch the muscles that are too short. In order to do that, we need to know which muscles those are. When your muscles come back into balance then you can add in the other postures.
Fortunately most people have the same muscle, imbalances (too long & too short) because we all do similar things like sit in a car or at a computer. In general muscles on the front of the body are too short and muscles on the back of the body are too long. Remember that those muscles that are too long most often feel much tighter than the short ones.
I have been practicing yoga for 20 years and I have observed that most yoga classes emphasize front folds and hip openers. In general, front folds stretch muscles on the back side of the body and hip openers stretch muscles on the inside of the thigh. I believe this is so common because these muscles often are palpably tight. As I mentioned before these muscles are usually too long in most people. It will often feel good when they are being stretched, but in the long run this can lead to the muscle being even more over stretched and tighter. This can lead to possible injury.
To sum up, I believe yoga to be not only safe but particularly beneficial when
practiced with a few basic guidelines:
• Warm up the muscles before stretching.
• Park your ego at the door and practice with a more mindful intention.
• Do not stretch more than 75% of what you think you are capable of stretching.
• Do not struggle in a posture. Yoga should not be painful. Make appropriate use
of props to support yourself.
• Limit front folds and groin openers until your muscles come back into balance.
• Add a few more back bends and twists, which often target the muscles that are too short.
• Use your breath to ease into the posture.
• Hold each posture at least a minute.
The transformative power of yoga is undeniable. When integrated into your lifestyle, it opens your mind, relaxes your body, and frees your soul; and the more frequently we practice it, the more it becomes second-nature. So if you want to incorporate yoga into your daily routine and really give it the providence to improve your way of life, it's important to be able to access a yoga space outside of the studio. The universal beauty of yoga is that it can be practiced anywhere. As long as you have your yoga mat, you don't need to wait for your weekly class to practice it. You can take it outdoors into nature or into your own home haven. Having a personal yoga space is empowering; it gives you both the freedom to practice whenever it suits you, and the private space for a much more individualistic meditation and spiritual experience.
Make A Zen Environment
Space and airiness are the most important aspects of any meditative space. Make sure there is lots of natural light, and the room has a bright and clean color palette with few distractions on your walls; the space you occupy should be clear and open, just like your state of mind during yoga. It is also important to make sure the natural world has a presence in your space. Opening windows and doorways to the outside allows for the spiritual elements of nature to enhance your practice. One day a gentle breeze may come through, another day you might have the refreshing sound of the rain; no matter the conditions, it is important to let nature have its healing, soothing and restorative effects on you.
Set The Meditative Mood
As this is your private yoga sanctuary, you get to choose your preferences on setting the mood for a meditative and spiritual experience. Lighting candles is a simple yet effective way of setting the tone for your yoga practice as they give off a stress-relieving aroma, warmth, and are entrancing to watch. The multi-sensory experience of candles means every personal space should utilize them, even during daytime practice. It is imperative, though, to avoid paraffin wax candles at all costs. Paraffin is the most common type of candle as it's cheap and petroleum-based, however actually emit dangerous toxins into the air when burned. Vegetable-based wax are the clear alternative; the health benefits of soy candles, in particular, make them the best choice as they are non-toxic, organic, renewable and biodegradable. Particularly when practicing the sacred art of yoga, the space must be clear of all negative energies and toxins, so it's important to make this switch. If you enjoy burning incense sticks, make sure you do so near a window to avoid any toxins permeating your air.
Once you've created the space using these tips, you can then personalize it with meaningful decorations and spiritual objects, and make it your kind of zen. Once you begin to use it, you'll soon see the effects on your spiritual wellness; the empowerment of having a personal meditative yoga space is life-changing. It allows you to commit to the practice much more frequently and ritualistically, and really see the benefits of turning yoga from a weekly hobby into a lifestyle choice.
Time for some surprising news. While many of the yogic philosophies are around 5000 years old, the physical practice of yoga is relatively recent. Possibly no older than 200 years actually! However, this is by no means a sign that yoga is not a complete, gentle and holistic body of exercise that should be ignored. Yoga is a powerful and healing practice that promotes overall well-being. There are 6 types of yoga, and yoga is an excellent way to build lean muscle, burn calories, and most importantly, create a highly-effective mind-body balance. It’s the ultimate total workout. If you thought that yoga was easy, think again. While beginner yoga is designed to help you stretch, it also helps you to slowly and safely build muscle and balance from the beginning. In addition, yoga teaches you about the importance of breath in everything you do. Yoga really is a non-jarring, full body workout. If you are looking to lose weight, here's how yoga will help you achieve your fitness goals.
Lean And Mean Yoga Machine
Remember that yoga is an exercise. It is one that slowly builds lean muscle, and muscle burns more fat every day than fat does. In fact, you can expect to burn about 250% more fat per pound of muscle you have, than per pound of fat. So muscle building exercises are something you should be doing in order to have sustained fat burning in your body, even when you are at rest.
However, yoga is an advantageous exercise for muscle building in that it is oriented towards building lean muscle. You won’t look like Tarzan after practicing for a few years, but you will probably have a killer body. There are many asanas (poses) that build muscle in your core and other areas, which you will do the more you progress in your yoga practice. Its as simple as strength building yoga exercise builds muscle, and this helps to burn fat, even in a resting state.
Covert Calorie Attack
There are ways that yoga increases your metabolism that are slightly more surprising. First,
stress increases the hormone cortisol in your body, which slows down metabolism. Yoga, especially the meditation, is great for stress management, thus lowering your stress levels and lessening fat-building cortisol levels.
Yoga also emphasizes breathing techniques which can be surprisingly taxing. Pranayama, which is what the study of controlled breathing is called, increase blood flow, oxygen levels in the blood system, and metabolic rate. This will increase your rate of calorific burning, even when you are just relaxing and practicing breathing.
Wakes Up Your Thyroid Function
Another important aspect of yoga is that it improves thyroid function. Some people suffer from hypothyroidism, which is a highly underactive thyroid and leads to slow metabolism. However, even if your thyroid is only mildly underactive, many yoga poses such as the Camel will stimulate it to release important hormones that will boost your body’s metabolic function and burn more fat.
Yoga is an excellent exercise that can be practiced at any age and fitness level. More importantly, it boosts metabolic function in several ways and is effective at helping you to burn fat and lose weight.
In Ayurveda, the actions in a healthy daily routine—dinacaryā—are heavily weighted towards the morning and, among other things, involve giving attention to each of the five sense organs—the nostrils, the tongue, the eyes, the ears and the skin.
There are mysterious and terribly interesting reasons why these things are so. For starters, from a certain perspective, what we perceive through our senses adds up to what we know. Therefore, it behooves us to both cleanse our sense organs and refine our abilities to sense.
When we consider refining the sense of vision, for example, we can consider improving the health of the eyes with Ayurvedic drops, washes, salves and with certain exercises. All those remedies can be very useful—but we can also consider how to refine our subtle ability to see, in interesting ways. And we can see that how we see influences the effects we have on others, including people, plants, animals, the world in general.
A few years ago, I was in Costa Rica. Here are just a few of many possible examples of refined visual ability—at least in that neighborhood of the world:
• If you want to find bats, don’t look for bats. Look for bits of big tropical leaves that have been bent down in a certain configuration. The bats bend the leaves to create their hidden house. If you look for bats, you wont find them. If you look for the de(re?)formed leaf structures, you will. Or you will be more likely to.
• If you want to find monkeys, don’t look for monkeys. Look for falling leaves or listen for rustling leaves and branches in the tree canopy. If you look for monkeys you may not find them. If you look for falling leaves and listen for rustling branches, you will probably have better success.
• If you want to find ants, look for acacia trees, etc. etc. etc.
In Costa Rica, guided nature tours are common affairs. Walk through Manuel Antonio park, for example, and it is common to see groups of people gathered around a guide’s monster telephoto lens—trained on some large or small flora or fauna specimen that nobody but the guide spotted. It could be a tiny insect on a leaf 10 yards away crowded by tropical, gaudy foliage. Or a large sloth a couple stories up, (what else) sleeping. More than once I heard someone exclaim something along the lines of, “How can you see that? I wouldn’t see that in a hundred years!”
How indeed. These guides have spent years learning what to search for and how to find what they want to see. They’ve spent years in this environment. Millennia evolving to pay attention to crawling things. They’ve received tips from elders and guides before them. It has become ordinary for them to see the tiny insect amongst the lush and concealing tropical foliage. But their ordinary is our extraordinary.
We train—consciously or unconsciously—for what we look for and what we see. What we look for and see shapes our experience. If—and I would say this is a truism in Eastern thought—our prana (life force) follows our focus or attention, then we feed what we focus on. We nourish what we see. Or even look for. And so what we look for and see also influences what we look at.
The guides looking for bugs and other natural specimens are feeding them. How? The tourism industry in Costa Rica is booming because people like looking for—and seeing—these specimens. Their appreciation and attention is protecting these specimens. Costa Rica has something like 26% of their land in preservation. We nourish that upon which we focus, whether it is bugs, sloths, fear, goodness, or whatever.
Like the guides with the bugs and sloths, we nourish what we look for in our relationships. If we look for the bad, we feed it. If we look for the good in our patients—or parents, children, partners, friends, colleagues, doctors, acquaintances and enemies for that matter—we feed that good. Alex Haley said, “Find the good and praise it!” When we train our attention on the good, it changes, protects, and nourishes the good, and the host of the good.
This might not be easy. Like it’s not easy to see the tiny insect engulfed in flora. A person’s disease or disposition might be screaming anything but goodness. But it’s got to be in there and it might be for the highest good of all of us, to look for it.
There are many examples and ways that refining our sensory abilities help us see Reality more clearly, improve our health and improve our relationships. It is not an accident that Ayurveda places great emphasis on sensory health in healthy daily routines.
From Feb 9-11: Dr. Claudia Welch & Dr. Robert Svoboda plan to explore ways of refining the five senses, and how this can improve our health in their upcoming seminar at Kripalu--the last scheduled appearance of Drs. Welch and Svoboda together in the US for the foreseeable future.
Being a teen in the modern age is no easy feat. A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found the overall level of teen stress ranked at 5.8 on a 10-point scale, compared with just 5.1 for adults. A major reason behind these high stress levels in teenergers is schoolwork - of which exams are one of the most stressful components. While a little pressure and stress can be a healthy motivation for study, too much of it can take its toll on mental, emotional, and physical health. If your teen is coming up to - or in the middle of - their exam period, why not introduce them to the wonderful world of yoga - an effective stress-reliever for people of all ages and abilities.
The benefits of yoga in relieving exam stress
Let’s start by looking at a study conducted on high school teens concerning yoga and stress relief. Published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, this 10-week study showed that students who took a regular PE yoga class reported having less negative emotions than students who did no yoga.
Additionally, the teens who didn’t take the yoga class scored higher for mood problems and anxiety than the teen yogis. Even better, roughly 75% of the teenagers involved expressed the desire to continue with yoga practice after the study - it is addictive, after all.
Yoga releases endorphins
Ever heard of the “yoga high”? Just like any form of exercise, practicing yoga releases endorphins in the body, feel-good chemicals which ease stress and anxiety. A 2014 study found that yoga reduces the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body. The endorphin rush coupled with the reduction in cortisol accounts for the yoga high you may feel after a particularly good yoga session.
Yoga heals the adrenal glands
As your teen works hard to prepare for exams with practice tests, they may fall into adrenal fatigue, which can occur during prolonged times of stress. Adrenal fatigue essentially means the body struggles to rest and repair itself properly. Yoga is a healing practice that can replenish overworked adrenal glands, and help balance the body, allowing it to rest and restore itself.
During exam time, good stress management techniques are just as important as study and revision. Regular yoga practice will do wonders for your teen’s mental and physical health - and ultimately, give them the clarity of mind needed to successfully prepare for and sit their exams.