This may get you HIGH! Got Endorphins?
by Kiyomi Takahashi
…It’s not a promotion for a new kind of drug, alcohol, or food. I am talking about something that will make you feel good without taking something, which is free of addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Who does not want to increase euphoric feelings, a feeling of well-being, confidence, joy, and happiness without depleting their energy? Numerous studies have shown that happy feelings are one of the key factors in improving one’s overall health and longevity, and being the better version of ourselves. So what causes a natural high? Endorphins.
They are natural opium-like hormones that are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus of our body. It affect us like codeine or morphine do, but without the addiction. They create a sense of pleasure, making you feel empowered and good about yourself. Why do we have Endorphins? We have them so that we can be less sensitive to pain and stress. Besides stress and pain, there are a number of things that can help you optimize your endorphin level. Here is how…
You’ve probably heard of the term “Runner’s High.” It is the euphoric feelings we sometimes get when we exercise. But not all the exercises stimulate the production of endorphin in the same way. Studies have shown that anaerobic exertion, “out of breath” exercise is more effective in producing endorphin. Sprinting, swimming, heavy weight lifting, and vinyasa yoga, some kundalini yoga exercises can all be great to induce the high dosage of endorphin, but any exercise that raises the heart rate is helpful to enhance your mood.
Scientific studies have found that meditation is effective not only to calm our nervous systems and reduce blood pressure, it also stimulates endorphin release. It gives us the sense of overall well-being. Meditation acts against the “fight or flight” hormones, and this triggers the hypothalamus to produce and secrete “beta-endorphins.”
3. Deep Breathing
Just a few rounds of long and deep breathing can alter our brain’s chemical balance enough for us to feel the great sense of peace. Studies have shown that long and deep breathing can stimulate the brain stem, and it enhances the production and release of mood-modulating brain chemicals like endorphins and neuropeptides.
4. Singing and chanting
Many studies are dedicated to proving the health benefits of singing, and the evidence is overwhelming — singing is good for you! Studies show that singing releases endorphins in the body, and it is a growing movement to use singing as a therapy for relaxation, overcoming depression and anxiety, and even treating clinically serious mental-health problems. It’s hard to deny the feeling of high after singing and chanting out loud especially in a group setting. If you have never tried Kirtan, Bhakti yoga, Kundalini yoga which all use the technologies of sound and singing, experience it for yourself to feel the endorphin high!
Which one of the above are you going to try today?
Share this with your friend and family!
Kiyomi teaches weekly group classes and is lead trainer of Yoga Daya’s 200 hour and 300 hour Teacher Training Programs.
Heart Openers for Courage
By Tulsi Laher
At Yoga Daya we are seeing increasing number of students coming in order to cope with current affairs. We have to work and maintain our families in the midst of the climate of discord and uncertainty in our time. I have students who come to me for improving their posture, back pain and inflexibility. Heart openers can help reverse the effects of poor posture that causes back pain so that you can feel better and look better. Good posture is a simple practice for preventative health.
That said opening the heart, whether in a yoga class, or otherwise makes us feel vulnerable. There is fear that comes with bending backwards in a backbend. Stiff shoulders make broadening across the collarbones and bringing the shoulder blades in towards the chest a great challenge. Through practicing yoga, we can overcome these fears and develop courage. Courage to improve our posture creating new habits of body carriage. Courage to understand the important things in life like having faith, love and forbearance. In these times more than ever we need a support system and yoga gives that to come together and uplift ourselves and each other positively. Here are three poses that can help provide better posture and open the heart.
Śalabhāsana / Locust Pose
Time: 15 – 20 seconds
Cues: While in the pose, lift the sternum chest, raise the upper arms and extend the arms back towards the feet. Lift the inner thighs upward and extend the mounds of the toes back. Breathe normally, while lengthening the back of the neck. Repeat 3x.
Hints and Cautions: Keep the lower spine lengthened towards the feet by bringing the tailbone slightly down. Place a blanket underneath your front abdomen to help lengthen the lower spine.
‘The wings and tail are required to fly’
Dhanurāsana / Bow Pose
Time: 15 – 20 seconds
Cues: While in the pose, lift the sternum chest, lift the inner thighs upward and extend up from the inner knees to the mounds of the big toes. Now, bring the shins further back and up. Breathe normally, while lengthening the back of the neck. Repeat 3x.
Hints and Cautions: Keep the lower spine lengthened toward the heels by bringing the tailbone slightly down. Place a blanket underneath your front abdomen to help lengthen the lower spine. If you cannot reach the ankles hold the ankles with a belt.
‘The legs are like the bow, arms like the string: aim well’
Setu Bandha/ Bridge Pose
Time: 15 – 30 seconds
Cues: While in the pose, press the outer tips of the shoulders downward as you lift the sternum chest. Lengthen the lower spine toward the backs of the knees and tuck the tailbone slightly upward, keeping the thighs parallel. Breathe normally, and repeat 3x.
Hints and Cautions: Keep the back of the neck lengthened toward the crown of the head, and gazing toward the chest soften the throat. If there is grip in the throat, place a blanket underneath shoulders so that the shoulders are lifted.
‘Strong support beams and a flexible suspension make for a lasting bridge’
by Tammy Minton Gitter
This is always such a special time of year as the Earth makes a perceptible turn and the days begin to get longer again. We leave the dark part of the year behind and are presented with the opportunity to take pause, reflect and see what wants to be brought to light. Awakening from the darkness, a beautiful place of nurturing, where our dreams, desires and goals have been gestating and incubating over the past several weeks, we are ignited and receive an invitation by the Sun to act and manifest those hidden dreams, desires and goals.
In our culture, this invitation to act is marked by the New Year and the resolution that usually accompanies it. Oftentimes, our course of action is determined by what we believe to be lacking in our lives, what needs to change, or be improved and is usually influenced by some outside source. But by connecting to what is authentic for ourselves and our life, and feeling worthy and deserving of our dreams and desires, helps us to reach our goals. Instead of giving up too soon, not having reached our believed potential and being left feeling disappointed, disillusioned, and defeated, we move towards our hearts’ desire. We take the reins and act with a tremendous amount of courage. Leaving our comfort zone is a requirement.
Seasonal in nature, our asana practice changes, flows and cycles back around. Our asana practice is comparable to Fall and the dark time of the year in that it is a process of gestating and incubating. It is something that is cared for and nurtured and slowly develops over time. It is the consistent molding and melding and attending to what is, not what we think we want. Taking one posture and step at a time teaches us how to progress without judgement. It challenges us and pushes us out of our comfort zone. It asks us to find peace with what is and give every moment and breath our all. It cultivates awareness and an aptitude for play as it shapes and heals the body and mind. Feeling worthy of this radical self-care, and it is radical, requires courage and action. Equipped with a fit body and steady mind, we are ready to answer the internal call and manifest our dreams and goals.
And just like the New Year and the return of the Sun, every asana practice and posture is an opportunity to begin again. Each side, not only a new beginning, but an opportunity to find balance and to experience wholeness, completeness and unity. Beginning to think of our asana practice as a retreat makes all the difference. It becomes something we live, not something we feel we should do. It seeps into the other 23 hours of our day. Steadiness of mind and ease in the body allows us to continuously go deep inside, no matter where we are, or what season we are in, and see what wants to be brought forth.
As a gift, I offer this poem to each of you for the New Year:
For A New Beginning
By John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety,
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear,
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning,
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
I will be honored for you to join me in the New Year for Daya Wake Up! on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 7am where we will continue to expand and grow. Shedding more light and developing more awareness on how to incorporate the teachings of asana into our lives on and off the mat. Happy New Year and Namaste!
On Daya Core Movement™
by Stephanie Kang
Like most people I’ve viewed and focused mostly on the aesthetic part of my core. Ever since I can remember no matter how hard I worked out and how skinny I got, if I ate I had a lower belly. I even got a belly button ring to motivate me to work harder on getting that flat belly. But during my first yoga teacher training with Brian Kest, I was awakened to let go of the ego and embrace my body just as is. I even let go of my belly button ring during that training. Then through my practice and more studies of yoga, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of the core support in every pose. Then when I got injured, I got to experience first-hand how much core strengthening helped with lower back support. The deeper I get into learning about the core I gain so much appreciation for the function of the core. How it is involved in everyday activities such as breathing, having good posture while sitting and walking; protecting and supporting the organs that nourish, eliminate, reproduce. Energetically helps to ignite passion, creativity and self-empowerment. I love the yogic way of mindfully moving with the breath as it builds more strength through the muscles of the core. Everything is connected, so when I feel stronger it helps the mind to cultivate self-love and joy that radiate out from within.
My aim with teaching the Daya Core Movement™ is to help students cultivate an awareness and appreciation for the core to lead a healthier and joyful life. Focusing on health and feeling good will motivate to build a consistent practice. Expect to feel stronger and balanced overall to show up as your best self. You’ll also exude confidence and joy that radiate out to all aspects of your life.
One Last Entry
by Alexa Bontrager
I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to study ashtanga yoga in Mysore at KPJAYI. An added bonus was being able to visit friends and travel.
Catching up with old friends in Mumbai was wonderful in itself and also a nice way of easing into being in India. Once in Mysore, I visited not only places within the city but nearby areas as well. And for almost two weeks following my studies in Mysore, a highlight of my stay in India was a trip to Kerala.
Mysore is called the city of palaces, with the most famous being the Mysore Palace. Seeing it lit up on Sunday nights was a must-do. And climbing the thousand plus steps of Chamundi Hill to the temple at the top was one of my favorite sightseeing activities. The temple area was crowded with people, most having been transported there by vehicle. But the steps were much quieter and beautifully decorated with colors that worshippers smudged on them while ascending.
Of course, there were plenty of other temples to see. One of the notable ones I visited with friends was Keshava temple in Somnathpura. Another was the Jain temple in Shravanabelagola with a huge monolith. The Golden Temple at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery at Bylakuppe was yet another. We also made it to Nagarhole National Park, a tiger sanctuary. To our amusement, the park uses minibuses for its standard safaris. Although, sadly, we didn’t catch sight of any tigers, we got to see elephants, boars, wild dogs, and even an endangered sambar deer from our minibus.
On an altogether different excursion, to the hill station Ooty in Tamil Nadu, took us to higher elevations with cool–even cold temperatures. This area was rife with tea plantations, also growing coffee and spices. We also took an old-fashioned steam engine to some lovely mountain views.
I was feeling so tired by the end of my three months at KPJAYI that I considered canceling my tentative plans to Kerala. I’m so glad I didn’t. My time in Kerala was the highlight of my travels. Two days at a quiet, gorgeous beach in Kannur were just what I needed to unwind, and I also had the chance to witness some theyyam rituals characteristic of the region.
To visit the Backwaters (a series of interconnected lakes and canals), I took my first overnight train in India to Kollam. I arrived on the festival day of Maha Shivaratri. With the others in my guesthouse, much to the delight of the locals, we joined in the festivities as the only foreigners. And the next morning, we took a canoe tour of the small canals of Munroe Island.
The next morning, a canal ferry took me to meet a friend in Amritapuri, the ashram of Amma, the hugging mother. I arrived on Amma’s last day there before she left for the north. Finally making it through an hours-long queue (and dozing off many times in the process–I’d become used to going to bed around 7:30), I received darshan (a hug) from her around 11:00. In my sleepy state, all I could do was follow the quite specific directions of her attendants. But I got my hug.
My friend and I then took an overnight houseboat in Allepey, traveling through some major canals but also taking a short canoe ride through a small canal through a village. Being on the water in an area filled with natural beauty and traditional villages was soothing and fascinating.
Our last stop in Kerala was Cochin, a city that had been under colonial rule by the Portuguese, Dutch, and English. This made for a mix of cultural influences, with varied architecture and traditions. We explored the city, and watched demonstrations of traditional dance and martial arts before taking trains back to Bangalore and Mysore. And thus my travels and experience in India came to a close. I flew back to LA the day after returning from Cochin.
It was an amazing four months. And now comes the hard part—integrating myself back into life in the US.
Mysore Practice Wrap-Up
by Alexa Bontrager
My last practice at the shala was last week. I was sad to leave but at the same time looking forward to being in a more laid back practice environment again. Practicing at KPJAYI for three months was an intense experience that provoked a range of emotions, including joy, relief, surprise, frustration, and fear.
Regular classes (Tuesday through Saturday) are for self-paced practice, with students practicing as far into the series (there are six, each with a set sequence), as they’ve been assigned. On Mondays and Saturdays, there are three led classes each morning–at 4:30, 6:00, and 7:30 am. All on Saturday and two on Monday are primary series, and the latest class on Monday is for intermediate series (by “invitation”).
Given the hundreds of students practicing in the shala each month and the self-paced nature of their practices, which vary in length, students are assigned different start times.The earliest time slot at KPJAYI is 4:30 am, and the latest, 10:00 am. This means that our teacher, Sharath, teaches for almost 7 straight hours (most everyone is finished by 11:30) on regular class days.
The month of January consisted mostly about adjusting to the place and practicing in the shala. Students who were studying in Mysore for only a month seemed to all agree that a month was too short a visit–by the time they had become accustomed to being there, it was time for them to leave. Besides the usual jet lag and travel fatigue (and one pretty severe bout of gastrointestinal distress), I had to reluctantly accept the late time slot of 9:45 I’d been given.
The first week of their practice in the shala, all students practice primary series only. Then, as they demonstrate sufficient proficiency, they are assigned further postures. To progress to intermediate series, a student must be able to do drop backs independently. In the practice, three independent drop backs are followed by some assisted ones. In the final back bend, the student walks the hands in to hold onto the heels (or higher!) or at least to get them as close to the feet as possible. “Catching?” Sharath-ji asks the assistants after they have helped a student with this. It seems to be a goal he has for each student.
I’d heard that most new students do not practice beyond primary series in their first month, so I was prepared for that. And I had been having some trouble with my drop backs, having taken a break from all but gentle back bends for over a month before leaving on my trip because I was allowing a rib fracture to heal. Back bends were already difficult for me, and I’d started viewing my practice as only as good as my back bends. Adding them back into my practice after the break, particularly standing up from urdhva dhanurasana, had been tough.
I’ve heard it called Mysore magic–students often are able to practice more deeply in the shala, at least initially. I was pleased on the first day to have been allowed to complete the primary series. Although I’d known I was capable of it, I’d been nervous that somehow I’d fall short. In back bends, my spine felt less stiff than usual. And thankfully, my drop backs went surprisingly well for about two weeks.
As the magic wore off, I struggled on some days to stand up from dropping back. Assistants would come to help me stand up, and I would (sometimes unsuccessfully) try to get them to let me do it on my own. This was important to me. On days when I was unsuccessful, or when I was unable to ward off an assistant, I would become frustrated, sometimes, to my surprise, to the point of tears (It is common for practitioners to have emotional responses to back bends). I felt like Sharath-ji saw me only when I was having trouble, although I know that wasn’t true. One day, for example, when I was having difficulty, he said, “Yesterday you did.” And when helping me with the final drop backs, he commented more than once that my lower back didn’t move (this has been an ongoing challenge for me).
The stiffness in my spine and my frustration with back bends continued in January, when my practice time moved up to 7:00. A little way into the month, I began to experience intense pinching in my back. On its worst couple of days, as much out of fear as of pain, I could not get myself to drop back. Sharath-ji said, “It’s ok–one day you rest.” Thankfully, it was a Friday, so I could rest a few more days (we don’t drop back in led primary series classes). Around that time, he also told me to start practicing pasasana, the first pose of the intermediate series. Although I still wasn’t consistent with drop backs (and obviously had work to do on them), I was relieved that he recognized that I was capable of them. Over a few weeks, after trying acupuncture, a painful massage, oil baths, and changes in posture to strengthen my back muscles, the pain lessened.
After the pain and frustration in January, I hoped February, with its 4:30 practice time, would bring stability and improvement to my physical, mental, and emotional practices. And it did in part but also brought with it fatigue. Although I didn’t feel competitive–with myself or others–about how far into the series I was practicing, after almost a month of only pasasana (a pose that is not notably challenging for me) of the intermediate series, I began to wonder if Sharath-ji was seeing me. Alternatively, maybe he wasn’t advancing me because I hadn’t yet been able to catch in my final back bend.
But one day, to my surprise, Sharath-ji showed up in front of me and told me to practice the next three poses. Two of them, back bends, required me to use my legs in a way I hadn’t since before arriving in Mysore. And I could definitely tell. After about two weeks of this, and before I felt my legs had stabilized, he told me to add four more asanas. That was the point to which I had been practicing just before my trip, after I had scaled my practice back to help heal a cracked rib. So while I was elated, I also felt intimidated to be all at once assigned four more asanas requiring quad strength that I hadn’t been using over the previous two months or more.
Around that time, Sharath-ji also started telling assistants that I could catch, even though I hadn’t yet. I viewed that both as a challenge and as his confidence in my ability to do so. And with my spine, walking my hands in enough to catch would require even more leg strength.
At just about that time in the month, with a little under two weeks of my study remaining, I realized that I was tired. Some of my friends had mentioned to me how “knackered” they were, but up until then, I’d felt just fine. Then suddenly, I was exhausted. At that point, I felt ready to return back to the States, with no desire to travel for two weeks in March. I was in survival mode and on the verge of checking to see if I could move my flight up.
Somehow, though, I got my second wind. Maybe it was because I found out that a friend of mine was going to be traveling in the same area as I was planning to, and we’d decided to meet up. My body was still tired, but I wanted to finish my third month with as much strength as I could muster.
March 1 was my last day in the shala. Sharath-ji came over to do my final drop backs with me. In my last attempt to catch this season at KPJAYI, my legs were beyond shaking like crazy. To my disappointment, I still didn’t touch my heels. But Sharath-ji said to me, “Good. You’re staying one more month?” I told him, with a little disappointment, that it was my last day.
In some ways, I did wish that I was staying longer. Though wiped out, I am happy that I stayed for three months.That afternoon, I went to say thank you and goodbye to Sharath-ji. He told me that my back bends had become better. “I think so,” I told him. “Next time, catching.” And indeed, that is my plan.
My Life as a Yoga Student in Mysore
by Alexa Bontrager
All of a sudden, it seems, almost all of my time studying at KPJAYI has passed. It’s been quite an experience that has required a little adjusting. But it’s definitely been worth it. Before revealing what has happened during my stay (in the next post), here’s a little background on what it’s like being here:
The institute is in a section of Mysore called Gokulam. It’s a pretty safe and well-to-do area (I’ve heard Mysore referred to as the Beverly Hills of India, but there are still cows walking about the streets), and the residents have become used to hosting the hundreds of students during yoga season (typically from October through March, give or take). Many buildings and homes have apartments or rooms that yoga students rent, and a bunch of restaurants and shops that cater to yoga students.
Although the main shala in Gokulam is where Sharath teaches (and where I’m practicing), there are other schools too. Sharath’s mother, Saraswati, also teaches as part of KPJAYI, but in a nearby, smaller shala. There are several other teachers as well, for ashtanga and other styles of yoga, both in Gokulam and in other parts of Mysore. As students of KPJAYI, we are required to sign an agreement stating that we will not study at any of the other schools while we are here.
Nonetheless, opportunities for other, non-asana studies abound. At KPJAYI, we have a mandatory chanting class three times a week. The shala also offers Sanskrit classes, which I have been taking. But there are other teachers of these subjects nearby too, often offering deeper study than the shala’s classes. Yoga philosophy courses are also popular with the students here, as are classes in Ayurveda and massage (both Ayurvedic and otherwise)…and the opportunity to be treated with these practices.
So it’s easy to keep a fully loaded schedule if desired. Personally, I’ve opted for doing a few extra things but being sure to not to take on too much. Although this isn’t exactly a vacation, it’s a rare opportunity to be free of some of the obligations and stressors of my usual life. I certainly don’t want to fill my newfound free time with new stressors.
We have class five to six days a week–Monday through Saturday, with the exception of full- and new-moon days. In the main shala, if I remember correctly, there are about 300 students practicing each month, and we’re assigned time slots for our practice. Tuesday through Friday, we have self-paced Mysore-style practice, in which we’re called individually into the room as space opens up for us (the length of practice varies from person to person, so people complete their practice at different times). The earliest time assignment is 4:30 am, and the latest is 10:00 am. This means that Sharath is teaching from 4:30 am until past 11 am.
There are three led classes (4:30, 6:00, and 7:30 am) each on Saturdays and Mondays. Because of this, more people are squeezing into the shala at once than on the other days. It’s a bit of a mad rush to get a spot on those days, with some students arriving an hour and a half (or maybe even more) before class begins to line up for a practice space. Not everyone fits in the main practice area, so people arriving later must practice in the changing rooms or waiting area. And whether class is led or Mysore style, it’s always amazingly hot and sticky in the shala, for better or for worse. And practice each day is almost invariably followed by a refreshing coconut.
So although practice itself accounts for only a small portion of the day (1.5 – 2 hours), the experience is rather intense (I’ve also written a little about my daily activities in my blog. Sometimes, it feels that the rest of my day is planned around meals, and a nap sometime is almost requisite. Some days have classes (chanting and Sanskrit, and I’ve taken some philosophy classes as well). I spend the remaining time mainly trying to rest/think (harder than it might seem!) or sometimes going out and seeing things or doing a few activities.
As far as seeing sights in town and in surrounding areas, I did most of that in December. But it is still sometimes nice or necessary to leave Gokulam. For transportation, many students rent scooters or motorbikes. I do a lot of walking (it’s a nice change from driving in LA). Autorickshaws are also a standard way to get places, although I find it a hassle to negotiate with drivers over fares.
Napping, as mentioned above, seems to be more important now than it was earlier during my stay. In December, my regular practice time was 9:45 am. It was moved up to 7:00 in January, and now, it’s 4:30 (although we must arrive and begin practicing at 4:00. I wake up at 2:30. It’s sometimes challenging to get to sleep early enough (I aim for 7:30 pm), and, now that it’s hotter out, harder to sleep well too. So a snooze during the day can be helpful. Up to now it’s been warm during the day, but with pleasantly cool temperatures in the morning and evening (not unlike LA, though maybe not as dry). By March, it should be considerably hotter, and I can only imagine what it will feel like inside the shala.
Another note on being here–while it is pretty safe, there have for quite awhile been incidents from time time of female yoga students being groped while walking about. Often, the perpetrators have been on motorbikes. It seems that these incidents have increased lately (or at least have been getting more exposure). So we women have been making extra efforts to not walk alone, stay on the main roads, and carry pepper spray (or sticks). Apparently, the police have also stepped up their patrolling efforts. It’s a shame to have to be concerned about this.
Aside from that, even my day-to-day life here, while not particularly exciting, feels meaningful. I’ll go into that a little more in my next piece. For now, suffice it to say that I’m thankful to have this opportunity to study here and will be sad to leave when my time is up.
My Trip to India – How I Got Here
by Alexa Bontrager
Mysore is the birthplace of ashtanga yoga. So it might be no surprise that ashtanga practitioners come here as part of their respective yogic journeys. The K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI) is the shala of the style’s founder (none other than K. Pattabhi Jois, known to his students as Guruji, and who passed away in 2009). Hundreds of students study here each year. They can attend classes with either Sharath (R. Sharath Jois, Guruji’s grandson, who now officially carries on the ashtanga tradition) or Saraswati, Guruji’s daughter and Sharath’s mother.
Of course, after finding out that Mysore was the place to go to learn ashtanga officially and in as much the traditional way as possible now, I was curious about going. But how realistic was the notion? Still a baby ashtangi, I visited the shala website and felt overwhelmed by what I saw. Must register at least two but no more than three months in advance. Expensive shala fees. The institute recognized only teachers it had authorized to teach (however, there are many teachers who are not authorized and who teach, ranging in quality as in any other style of yoga). And a whole bunch of other information that I didn’t have the context for. I tucked the idea away in my mind.
About a year after trying my first ashtanga class, and only three months or so after starting to practice it regularly (i.e., more than once per week), I began my 200-hour teacher training course. The teacher trainer (not authorized by KPJAYI) practiced a rather untraditional form of ashtanga. He was very alignment oriented and encouraged the use of props, and he didn’t consider it important to study in Mysore. Furthermore, he didn’t see any value in reciting the Sanskrit counts in a led class.
Traditionally, and in what is called a Mysore style class, students practice at their own pace and are taught more of the set sequence as they become proficient and memorize what they have learned already. Led classes are when the teacher leads the students through those sequences in unison, with movement tied to breath that is counted in Sanskrit and English. Ashtanga emphasizes energy and breath more than strict alignment (although a certain degree of alignment is necessary), and props are not a part of the traditional practice. I felt kind of deflated learning my teacher trainer’s views, but I also appreciated and respected what we were learning. So I resigned to adopting his outlook.
About half a year later, as a result of a number of events, I had the fortune of practicing with a teacher who had been originally training in a program similar to mine and had gone on to study multiple times in Mysore. He was sure that the traditional way was the way to go and in fact was authorized by the institute to teach. Practicing with him reminded me that one of the things that had attracted me to the practice was its traditions. He encouraged me to make a trip to Mysore.
That reawakened the idea in my mind. At the time, though, going was not an option. Besides not having the financial means, my life circumstances did not permit it. Even a year down the line seemed infeasible. But maybe in two years. And in two years from then, I’d have turned 40. Seemed like a nice way to celebrate.
A few months after I’d sketched out my plan, I landed a full time job. The pay wasn’t great, but I was earning considerably more than I had been. Going into it, I knew I’d never be passionate about the work, but that seemed to make it a perfect match for what I wanted to do. I’d save up little by little to make the trip happen.
Fast forward to August 2015, reasonably on track and three months before I wanted to start my studies at KPJAYI (Sharath would begin teaching for the season in November). I decided I’d apply for the maximum of three months’ study. And I’d heard that it had become more difficult to be accepted and that prospective students would sit waiting with their completed forms to send them in at the moment the clock turned to the submission date.
The process of submitting my application was nerve wracking, with technical problems on the institute’s end and my having to leave to teach a class before they had been resolved. But I was able to send in my materials after I returned. A little more than two weeks afterward, I was dismayed to learn that I hadn’t been accepted. But I was relieved to see that I would be able to apply again for December (the wording on the website had left me with the impression that I could apply only once per season).
A month later, I again experienced the technical problems of the institute’s website. This time, however, I was a able to keep tabs on it all throughout the day, thankful that I was in a time zone that allowed me to do that at nonabsurd hours. Just two days later, I received notification of my acceptance. Of course, I was thrilled, but I still have no idea how they select candidates for admission.
After booking my flights and receiving my visa (which took longer than expected and also frayed my nerves a bit), I gave notice at my job and for the few classes I was teaching. I’m thankful that everyone was so supportive of my plan.
So now here I am. I feel so fortunate to be here, especially learning how so few first-timers I’ve met are here for three months (it seems most are here for only one, and now, at the end of the month, feel it was too short a stay). It’s been great so far, being in a community of like-minded, passionate, and dedicated people. I’m doing my best to enjoy every minute of the experience and am eager to learn how it will influence my mindset and life after I come out on the other side of it.
Click here to read Alexa’s full blog
Starting Out: Here We Go!
by Alexa Bontrager
My travel adventure really began before I set foot on the plane. Nothing exciting, but some anxieties and last minute panicky packing. My flight was scheduled for 8:30 AM Tuesday, and I filled Monday with things I did and didn’t have time for: a 5 AM departure to practice one last time in Carlsbad with my teacher, Tim Miller, having breakfast with dear friends, getting my auto registration and insurance squared away, packing, and cleaning. That’s not all of it, of course. I had hoped to get in a bare minimum type practice on the morning of my departure, surya namaskara and the three closing postures of the ashtanga practice. But I was too busy stretching out what I needed to do in the time I had (and beyond, though not intentionally) and then freaking out about getting everything packed into my bags while not exceeding the weightlimit. But I pulled it off.
The flights (to Hong Kong and then Mumbai) were long but fine. Probably due to my sleep deprivation, I slept a fair amount. But I still had time to ponder my anxieties a bit even those that I knew were absurd, toilets, that creepy legless guy at the Mumbai airport who climbed into people’s bodies and killed them (see the X Files episode “Badlaa”), the place where I’d be staying in Mysore, and what if I hated practicing in Mysore? The first two issues were addressed pretty quickly (at least for the first couple of toilets). The airport (with its toilets) is quite new, clean, and nice. And needless to say, I was not killed by said creepy dude.
I flew to Mumbai rather than Bengaluru so I could spend time with friends (a couple) I knew from my grad school days. I hadn’t seen them in about 12 years. I’ve stayed with them my entire time here so far and will fly out tomorrow. I feel kind of like a wimp, taking it easy and mostly being accompanied by my friends (who have been taking good care of me) while out. The heat and humidity seem to have made me tire more quickly. But it’s been a good visit. I’ve seen and done a few things. A tiny bit of shopping, a trip to the flower market (crowded and busy but nice), walks to the neighborhood temples, and eating street food, to name a few. Bigger excursions were to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (for an escape from the city, despite being within city limits), Elephanta Island (to see cave templesa UNESCO World Heritage Site), and to Dharavi slum (with a quick stop at Dhobi Ghat). My slum visit was with an organized tour, which didn’t allow photos. Interesting place despite being a slum, it has commerce, including recycling (plastic and aluminum), leather production, and pottery. The residents pay rent, and have electricity, TVs, and smartphones. The Dhobi Ghat is a huge outdoor laundry, where laundry from hotels and hospitals gets washed by hand by its residents.
Tomorrow I head out to Mysore via Bengaluru. I’m a little apprehensive about my practice, and I’ll start my studies at KPJAYI (K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Institute) the day after I arrive. My first practice here in India felt pretty bad, my body stiff from travel. Since then, it’s been better but kind of sluggish, maybe in part because I’ve been on my own in a new place. The heat isn’t the same energizing heat as in a room of dedicated practitioners, and I look forward to the change. And my back bends have been terrible. I had to ease up on them in the month or so before I left LA to help heal a fractured rib. Since then, it’s been much more difficult to do drop backs (which are essential to move beyond the primary series of the practice at KPJAYI). In fact, most days, I haven’t been able to stand up from them, and this bothers me a lot. I worked hard over months, maybe even a year, to be able to do them consistently. My hip flexors feel so tight, and that’s a lot of what’s holding me back. Surprisingly, I’m also experiencing fear. Not of actually dropping back, which would seem to be more frightening, but of trying to stand back up. It’s an interesting lesson (that I’m still learning), both the fear and trying to not be attached to the back bends. I’m sure there must be ego involved. But the second series back bends have changed my life. This might be slightly exaggerated, but they have, notably, eliminated the back pain that I’d experienced since my teenage years. The primary series forward bends, if I pushed hard (and I usually did because I could) sometimes exacerbated the pain. Back bends are hard for me, so any progress I make feels like a substantial achievement. It’s tough to accept this regression, and I really don’t want the pain to return. I’ll find out soon what happens.
Click here to read Alexa’s full blog
Invocation to Patanjali
In “Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” BKS Iyengar translates the invocation as: “Let us bow before the noblest of sages, Patanjali, who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech, and medicine for perfection of health. Let us prostrate before Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa, whose upper body has a human form, whose arms hold a conch and a disc, and who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra.”
Prayer for Peace
The following prayer is a sanskrit slokam for peace. It is a reminder of how yoga helps us connect not only to ourselves through meditation, yet encourages us to develop kindness and compassion toward others so the mind becomes serene and benevolent. Download a printer-friendly version of the prayer.
Tummy Talks: How to Rectify Digestive Imbalances with Ayurveda
by Julie Bernier
October 1, 2015
I spent all too many years battling with an upset tummy: extreme bloating after eating a single almond, days without an appetite, embarrassing gurgling sounds after every meal, and consistently inconsistent poo (pardon my frankness).
But these symptoms weren’t enough to grab the attention of allopathic doctors. They checked me for parasites and called it quits: apparently I was healthy. But I knew that something was very wrong, even if no modern medical test could prove it.
It wasn’t until I came across Ayurveda and was introduced to the concept of agni–the digestive fire–that my symptoms were finally validated. My agni was totally out of whack and I had only been contributing to its demise with food and a lifestyle that were incompatible with my inherent nature. Realizing where I’d gone wrong and how to restore my digestive fire metamorphosed my health.
Rectifying the agni is the answer for anyone who suffers from digestive issues–which happens to be about 74% of Americans. In fact, it’s one of the most important things we can do for our health in general.
Ayurveda teaches that health begins in the gut. Both good health and disease boil down to the state of the digestive fire, as it’s responsible for transformation, assimilation and absorption of food.
The agni resembles a pot of food set over a small fire. If the fire burns brightly, the food will be cooked properly. But if the fire is too low, food won’t cook thoroughly and will eventually putrefy. If the fire is too strong, on the other hand, it will char food.
The same thing happens in the gut. When the agni is balanced, food is transformed into healthy body tissues. When it’s low, food spoils and turns into a putrid, sticky toxic buildup that Ayurveda calls aama. (Aama is at the root of all disease). When the agni is too high, it digests not only food but the body tissues. And when its power is wavering, digestion teeters between all three states.
Impaired agni is primarily a result of improper diet and lifestyle. Common habits like stuffing oneself, eating before the previous meal is digested, eating whatever whenever, and mental unrest like stress, anxiety and anger can also vitiate the agni. Even staying up too late at night, exercising in the middle of the day, and taking naps can disrupt agni; plus many other factors that ayurveda explains in great deal and with perfect logic.
So how do you know if your agni is vitiated? If you feel full after eating a normal amount of food, have smelly burps during or after eating, hear or feel the process of digestion, feel like your food sits in your belly all too long, lack a proper appetite, or if your bowel movements are irregular or anything but formed and floating, then your agni is out of balance.
Even if your agni is balanced, it’s important to eat and live in a way that supports its continued equilibrium. Ayurveda has granted us much wisdom on this topic, and many of its guidelines are easily put into place:
1. You may have already picked up on the recent yogi obsession with hot water and lemon first thing in the morning. Ayurveda’s actually been recommending this practice for thousands of years, so it’s about time that we Western yogis caught on!
Early morning hot water can greatly improve the agni. The digestive fire is naturally low in the morning (which explains why we’re less hungry than at other times of day). Hot water adds fuel to the (digestive) fire; preparing the belly for the food that lies ahead. It also helps to flush out accumulated waste. Lemon increases water’s detoxification action, but it should be avoided by those with excess heat or acidity.
2. Because ginger naturally stimulates the appetite, a little ginger appetizer can greatly improve the agni. And having an appetite is a very good thing. Hunger signifies that the stomach has secreted digestive juices and is ready for food.
To make an agni-boosting ginger appetizer, peel and slice a 3” piece of ginger. Add a few squeezes of lime juice and a pinch of Himalayan salt. Let it marinate for a few hours. Eat a few slices before lunch and dinner, storing the remainder in the fridge.
3. Eating in a quiet and settled atmosphere can truly improve digestion. We often ignore this seemingly obvious principle because our lives are busy and the sacred ritual of eating takes second place to nearly everything else.
But holding space for relaxed mealtimes can really make all the difference in digestion. So put your work aside, turn off the TV, sit down, say a little prayer, and eat with your mind in a peaceful and undistracted state.
4. Ayurveda teaches that overloading the system too soon after a meal is a major cause of disease. It both weakens the agni and causes toxic buildup–aama. Give at least a few hours break between meals or snacks, waiting for the signs of proper digestion before eating again: hunger, thirst, lightness and enthusiasm.
5. We need to strike a balance between overeating and under-eating to maintain a health agni. Overeating not only leads to weight gain, but it impairs the digestive process by overloading the stomach. Under-eating, including excessive fasting, frequent cleanses, and generally skipping meals leads to the depletion of body tissues and overall body weakness.
To understand how much food is right for you, Ayurveda recommends filling your belly
50% with food, 25% with liquids and leaving 25% empty for digestive juices and digestive action.
Ayurveda has so much more to say on digestion than these 5 principles alone, but they’re a perfect starting place to both nurture and rebalance the agni. I’ve personally experienced drastic improvements in my own digestion since implementing these concepts. Just a little bit of ancient, time-tested, and completely logical wisdom goes a long way.
Julie Bernier helps women find wellness from the inside out. She lives and teaches the ancient
sciences of Ayurveda and yoga, and combines the two to help clients naturally restore their
inner balance for lasting wellbeing. Connect with Julie at mahimatawellness.com.
Thrive This Fall Season
September 24, 2015
Yamin Chehin lists which foods to eat, what the qualities of the Fall season
and its natural cycle are, and how to maximize your experience to create balance.
Click here to read full article
Seated Meditation Tutorial
August 26, 2015
Regular practice of meditation helps keep you energized with a fresh mind and fresh intelligence. The breath supports the posture, and good posture improves strength of muscles and flow of circulation. Meditation is a beneficial practice meant to reduce stress and increase focus.
Sit straight and tall with your hands on your thighs, palms face up. Close your eyes, draw your awareness inward. Bring your awareness to your posture. Lengthen the lower spine down toward your seat and lift the front abdomen up towards the sternum.
Maintain the lift of the sternum and relax the tension of your shoulders. Release the shoulders down away from your ears. Soften the facial features, especially the furrow of the brow, and gaze down toward the heart center.
Bring your awareness to your breath. Notice, in particular, the breath in the area between the navel and the sternum chest. Feel how the breath supports your posture. Without strain or force, just noticing the rhythm of your breathing.
Drawing your awareness inward away from the stresses of the day, just noticing the soft smooth breaths, find a sense of calm and quiet within. Stay for 1-3mins breathing normally through the nose. To coming out, slowly raise your head and open the eyes.
Note: If you are uncomfortable meditating while seated, try meditating in a supine posture. If the sinuses are congested, breathe through the mouth rather than the nose.
Sun Salutation Basics
by Nadine Truong
July 29, 2015
“Vinyasa” means linking movement with breath, and is first introduced in forms of Sun Salutations in a typical Vinyasa class. Through the fluidity of the transitions between different poses, light cardio vascular work out as well as mindfulness are created. A Sun Salutation wakes up the mind and body, and uses the different muscle groups with full range of motion. Spiritually, it also mimics a day’s or a life’s full cycle. There are three different kinds of “Surya Namaskar”, with the A Sequence being the first one to be practiced, before moving on to any further variations. It is a popular warm up, but can also be practiced for stand-alone sessions.
1. Start in Mountain Pose: Feet are either hips distance apart, or together. Lift the inner arches of your feet as well as the knee caps, tuck the tail bone under, draw the lower belly in, keep a long spine and neck, extending through the crown of the head. Shoulders are relaxed, palms face forward. Set your intention.
1. INHALE to extend the arms up. Keep the rib cage drawn in to avoid overly arching the back. Palms either face one another, or may touch with the gaze shifted past the thumbs toward the sky.
2. EXHALE to a Forward Fold. Pressing the palms to the floor, and if needed bend the knees. Relax the neck and head down.
3. INHALE to a half lift, flat back, chest rises, draw the belly in to keep the core fully engaged.
4. EXHALE, either jump into a low plank with bended arms, or step one foot at a time through low lunges into an adjusted high plank with the knees on the ground. For this variation, lower yourself slowly into the low plank. Keep the arms close to your body, belly lifted, and the neck in line with the spine.
5. INHALE into the backbend of your choice: A cobra or an Upward Facing Dog. Broaden across the chest, spread the fingers wide and press into the hands as you lift the lower belly in to relieve pressure away from the lumbar area.
6. EXHALE into Downward Facing Dog, drop the heels down to the floor, press into the finger tips as if pressing the mat forward, lift out of the shoulders and rotate the inner arms toward the ears. Tail bone reaches high up toward the sky. Take five full breaths .
7. INHALE to step or jump toward the front of the mat, and EXHALE to a Forward Fold with the palms flattening on the mat or blocks. Bend the knees if necessary.
8. INHALE to stand back up, extend the arms high, palms facing one another or touching, relax the shoulders down the spine, ensuring that the biceps are beside your ears.
9. EXHALE to release the hands back to Mountain Pose, straighten the body, relax the position and observe any sensations in your body.
An avid Yogini, Nadine Truong RYT-500 is also a writer/filmmaker as well as a contributor for LA Yoga Magazine.
Daily Yoga Practice
by Nadine Truong
June 17, 2015
Yoga practice changed my life in so many ways, I can’t even count. It healed many old wounds, both emotionally and physically. Yoga provided me with tools to become a stronger, more confident and thoughtful person. It taught me to be more humble and self-accepting. Most importantly, I learned there was no magic pill to achieve any of the above. All I could do was to get on my mat repeatedly, and let the poses come to me whenever they deemed that I was truly ready. And that would never have happened, had I not committed to a consistent practice.
It can take some courage to wean yourself away from a yoga teacher, but that is part of the process. We are here to guide you for as long as you’ll allow us, but in the end, we don’t want you to be attached to anything or anyone. As a teacher, it is my honor and duty to provide you with the knowledge necessary to keep you safe as you move through your asanas, but my hope – and that of any good teacher – is that you take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply the lessons in your own daily life. Yoga is about conquering your own fears, taking control of your own breath, and connecting with your inner life on a very personal level. It requires solitude of the mind. What better way than to roll out your mat in the privacy of your own home, and having the bravery to reflect on your own destiny without the chatter of a teacher, without the downward dogging neighbor in the corner of your eyes, and without the need to perform a pose for anyone but yourself?
It’s always a good idea to transition aspects you have learned in class to your home practice. Have props or prop substitutes ready: Mat, blocks, straps, chair, bolster, and a towel. Silence your phone. Unplug from the world. Perhaps put on some calming music, or leave a yoga DVD or podcast running low in the background. Often times, carving out a special place in your home that you call your sacred yoga place, can help direct positive energy and establish a ritual that will soon become second nature to you.
Home practice does not need to be as rigorous or as comprehensive as a regular full hour class. You could do just two sun salutations in the morning as you rise and shine. Alternatively, if your practice has taken you to a more advanced level, you could spend a full hour on a particular arm balance you’d like to tackle. Maybe today, you will stick with some restorative minutes, and tomorrow you try a whole sequence. Listen to your body. Let it be your teacher. Let it guide you and let you know what you need and yearn. Over time, you will develop a stronger sense of your true self. In really paying attention, you can keep up a DAILY practice, no matter how small or short each session is. That is a gift you are gifting to yourself.
An avid Yogini, Nadine Truong RYT-500 is also a writer/filmmaker as well as a contributor for LA Yoga Magazine.
Top 5 Pilates Myths Debunked
by Sarah Kim
January 27, 2015
When I tell people that I am a Pilates instructor, I generally get the same questions. What’s the difference between Pilates and yoga? Can men do Pilates? Is doing Pilates good for my weak spine? The reason why there’s so much confusion about Pilates is because it is a newer type of practice. Pilates has only been around since the mid-20th century. Other practices such as yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years. Because of this, there is confusion about what Pilates actually is. The top 5 Pilates myths are listed below:
1.) Pilates and yoga are the same: There are lots of similarities between Pilates and Yoga, but there are also lots of differences. Pilates focuses on every movement from the core extending through the limbs. In yoga, the focus comes from the breath as you deepen through the pose. Pilates is all about using resistance on springs (from machines) or resistance from body weight to build strength and increase flexibility. Movements in Pilates are controlled and methodological and always serve a purpose. In simpler terms, Pilates is a total body workout that emphasizes core strength and spine alignment, whereas, in a yoga class, you will work every muscle in your body equally. Although core strength is an element in yoga, it is not the sole focus. Because of the differences, Pilates and yoga are very complementary. In order to get the best Pilates or yoga practice, it’s best to continue both forms of exercise!
2.) Pilates is only for women: Pilates was actually created by a man named Joseph Pilates. The practice of Pilates is all about building core muscles and creating balance throughout the body. Both women AND men benefit from these controlled and methodological exercises.
3.) Pilates is only for people with a weak spine: Pilates is for everyone! People with a weak spine will greatly benefit from Pilates. Pilates teaches one how to activate and stabilize the “powerhouse,” which is the core. By learning how to correctly use the powerhouse, you are indirectly receiving benefits to the spine. For example, in the Pilates roll-up, you are not only using your powerhouse to roll you up, but you are also using your lower back and spine (both sides of the body) to complete the movement. The practice of Pilates will require you to use underused muscles in order to achieve a more balanced body whether you have a weak spine or are simple trying to maintain strength.
4.) I’m not flexible; I can’t do Pilates: Pilates is a practice. No one is expected to be perfect on the first try. In fact, Pilates will help increase your flexibility. Pilates a great complementary practice for athletes, dancers, and, of course, yoga practitioners.
5.) Pilates is too expensive: Yes, Pilates classes are generally more expensive than the average yoga class. However, you don’t always need to use the machines to do Pilates. In fact, smaller props, such as the magic circle, weighted balls, or roller, are very affordable. Anyone with a floor can do Pilates. Furthermore, here at Yoga Daya, Pilates and yoga classes are the same price!
Through continuous practice, Pilates can help change people’s bodies by sculpting muscles, improving flexibility, and increasing awareness between the mind and the body. Now that you’ve learned the truth of Pilates, come check it out! Yoga Daya offers a special deal for Pilates for $60 for 1-month unlimited!
Yin Yoga and the Art of Letting Go
by Greg Palmerino
January 14, 2015
Yin yoga is all about letting go, such as letting go of your expectations, letting go of your pride, letting go of your past, letting go of your future, and most importantly letting go of your judgments. Yes, there are judgments, and we can’t help it. They flow into our minds as freely as any thought does. However, isn’t that the nature of the mind? Our thoughts are a stream of consciousness that moves us through our lives. Sometimes that voice can be a helpful cheerleader or that little angel on your shoulder. However, we live in a world of duality, and the mind can turn against us and be just the opposite. The mind can be negative, disparaging, or even downright nasty. Sometimes a thought will shove its way into our awareness causing us to think, “Hey, wait a second. I wouldn’t think that. That’s not me!” And you are right. You are not your thoughts, and that realization is the first step in letting go.
In Yin, we go deep into the body. We take out physical exertion and focus on the breath as a vehicle to soften into shapes which target deep openings. We find a pose and then breathe in it. We open our bodies through presence and intention for often 5 minutes before moving to the next shape. When asked to live in a posture for that amount of time, it is only natural for the mind to whirl and for things to come up. It is in these moments that we begin to see just how our mind has been trained to react to challenges or a lack of challenge. In each shape, we must observe our thoughts and tendencies becoming the audience to the mind. We cannot control our thoughts, but we can control how we react. Will you find acceptance in discomfort and challenge? Will you dive into your limitation or shy away from it? Through it all, will you remember to breathe?
Our breath sustains us and propels us forward. It is the breath that lets us go. The very nature of the breath is balance because it equally takes what it gives. Is it any wonder that the breath is our greatest tool both physically and mentally in yoga? It is the vehicle for the union of mind and body that literally is the definition of yoga. In Yin yoga, it is the breath that both opens the musculature and carries negative energy and tension away.
What are you holding on to? Not physically in your hands but in your life. We all hold onto something. It may be an identity of who we once were, such as an old memory or a behavior. Sometimes it’s a habit or an expectation for where we should be or want to be. Memory, emotion, and experience all get stored in our bodies and eventually create that tension. However, when we come to the mat, we put ourselves into these crazy shapes and sit in stillness. In stillness, we dive into the tension and confront it head on. With each exhalation, the tension begins to melt away one at a time.
There are two types of people in this world. The first is the achiever, the pusher, and the DOer. This type dives into the postures, pushing their bodies as deep as they can. They thrive on the thought they must push in order to grow. However, this mentality actually holds them back. The other type is the passive. I fall into this energy if I’m not alert. It is just as counter-intuitive as the first type. True, we do not seek sensation in Yin, but we don’t shy away from it either. In Yin, we seek balance. Balance is the line between doing more and doing less. Allow yourself to find your presence and grow from there. Life is about the journey and so is your yoga. Enjoy the growth because there is no end result. There is always somewhere new to go and something fresh to achieve.
So come onto your mat, and open your bodies and hearts with me. Join me for Yin yoga Fridays (12:00-1:00pm), and confront your limitations, face your present, and leave your tension behind. Let it stay behind you flowing freely from you as easy as an exhalation. Namaste.
Transition to Fall Season and More
by Virginia Weiss
September 23, 2014
The transition to autumn brings not only the physical environmental change of weather but shorter days with less sunlight, leaves fall and flowers cease their bloom. We are affected by transition energetically and mentally in our mood, challenge with sleep, and even perhaps more anxious with anticipation of the year slowly drawing to its close. This transition is individual for each of us, perhaps the anxiety of our New Year goals that are left unreached, pressure for the approach of the holiday season, children return back to school, and perhaps projects at work that become pressured deadlines. Whatever those emotional and mental changes maybe for you, the TRANSITION to fall can mark a confrontational time in our lives. Transition or change is challenging. Every turn becomes an uphill battle, and we realize there is more ahead. Pressure may dissipate and roller coaster, but we cannot stay rooted or secure on two (2) feet. We remain ‘unsteady’. The unsteady and un-ease can leave us energetically depleted, and may often experience moments of utter despair or fear.
My transition came earlier this year and hit me like a freight train. My sweet little dachshund Tank, at 11 years of age, was diagnosed with a herniated subluxation to L7/T13, which in layman terms, translates to a blown disc paralyzing his hind legs. One day he was upright and mobile, and suddenly without any warning, he lost all use of his back legs. I’ve known this injury to be very common for dachshunds, and always limited his movement with stairs, but still my worst nightmare came true on March 31st. I was blindsided on all levels: emotionally, the realization that my pup was aging quickly; my once strong doggie will someday soon leave me; physically, I was affected by caring for a dog that had no movement in the back legs. The 15 lbs that he weighed became the ‘weight’ that my life carried. The surgeon prognosis was hopeful that within a 12-15 week period, he should regain use of his legs; but within that time frame, we strictly had to limit movement. Tank became a caged animal. He had medications of antibiotics and pain medications round the clock. He would never be able to jump up on the couch, or jump into the car, nor walk up or down stairs, and although we were given 95% chance he would walk again, that reality seemed like a miracle. Each day he would be carried 9-10 times a day for bathroom breaks, and stay in crate to limit movement. During Week 1, he developed a complication of a urinary infection due to catheter being placed in during surgery. We feared he wouldn’t be able to bathroom on his own. Every day, more like every hour, my Ego mind turned to places of extreme negativity and vacillated between anger, bitterness, sadness and pity. We would spend hours together crouched in the yard, for what felt like several hours, the negativity began in waves to wash over me. Tears would well in my eyes, and Tank could feel how sad and angry I was. The exhaustion of the hourly care, from the days previous took its toll, and this transition was pushing me…pushing me to limits of testing all patience and understanding…feelings of utter despair.
I realized in the many exhausting hours we sat outside for bathroom, that the transition and change in our lives is: tamasic, depleting, heavy, sadness, negative. I felt that as a yoga teacher, I should know better to control negative thoughts and emotions. But I was attached to this sweet pup, attached to the life we had. My mind floated to memories of the days he was puppy, young and mobile. I recalled my wedding day, where Tank was present, I recalled the times that he was playful and happy, and we walked by the beach for hours and hours. Through my yoga practice, I’ve realized that it wasn’t Tank that was pushing me to those extreme moments of despair and sadness, but my ego mind: ego was attached and wanting, longing, for the life that we had once had. The transition was painful. It was confrontational, and literally in its most humble way, brought me to my knees. Practicing patience was my greatest lesson, and with that patience the grace to let go but still cherish our past and accept our new reality that he may not walk again…
Tank had become my greatest teacher: “that which challenges you the most, becomes your greatest teacher” the saying goes. A pause, an inhale breath, the exhale to let it go, silence, then clarity, and suddenly a moment of regained strength; strength accompanied with the fight to manifest with full determination that my dog WILL walk again. Consistently with every waking free moment I had, I worked earnestly on his physical therapy, exercise and massage. At week 4 into 5 Tank began to stand on his own, and by week 6, he began to take very wobbly steps. At each plateau, I realized that the more I detached from whatever the outcome was, the more my heart softened, and simply felt gratitude for another day with the old pup, the more life eased, the more the transition/change, didn’t seem quite as rough. Now, months post surgery from April 1st, the reality is Tank can walk on all fours using tiny ramps and blocks at the bed and couch to safely and freely move on his own. Our walks are only 10 minutes long, but we enjoy them even more.
The daily earnestness of ‘practicing” without any detachment to what the next day held, is the same as our yoga journey. Can we transition from pose to pose, day to day, without expectation? Can we remember yesterday without attachment to what we had? Can we remain ever present and diligent to accept changes that our daily routine may bring? Can we learn to be patient with others and ourselves through that transition? Can we simply breathe, with grace and ease, through all of our challenges? Can we soften our hearts and minds enough to realize that whatever outcome happens that day, we can be grateful for the moment? Can we practice simply feeling the gratitude that we are here, and we are trying? Let your transition this fall bring you into your place of love and gratitude.
Take Yoga Home
Virginia has two DVDs: Restorative Yoga/Yin Stretch and Senior Yoga and Exercise. Both are tailored for all levels of yoga. “This undertaking has been a true milestone and highlight to my instruction.” These can be purchased at Yoga Daya.
Virginia Weiss teaches Tuesday/Thursday (6:00-7:15pm) Flow at Yoga Daya. To find out more about Virginia Weiss visit www.virginiaweiss.com.
Yoga is NOT Flexibility
by May Che
October 1, 2014
Yoga has rather little to do with whether or not you can touch your toes, wrap your foot around your neck, or bend so far back that your spine resembles a flimsy rubber band. So, why do I constantly encounter people commenting that they don’t do yoga because they cannot touch their toes? You think I’m kidding!
Most yoga classes may seem predominately comprised of stretching poses because stretching has numerous benefits. Supple muscles and joints generally help to promote free-flow circulation of oxygen, blood, nutrients and prana (energy) to the various parts of body, including our organs. Furthermore, mobile joints prevent injuries. Imagine how a dry brittle branch may easily snap, whereas a pliable one can effortlessly return to its normal state. Flexibility also breeds efficiency, allowing us to use less energy to perform the same amount of work. For example, a runner with tight hip flexors will need to exert more energy than his flexible counterpart because each step he/she takes will require more work to overcome the tight muscles that are resisting it. Those are just the physical benefits; there are countless other mental and emotional benefits experienced with a limber body.
If by stretching we obtain those benefits, then sure, ONE aspect of yoga is about flexibility. However, if we really consider the mechanics of the whole body and also yogic philosophies, we do not (and dare I say should not) stretch simply for flexibility’s sake. All bodies are not created equal. What if an individual has the innate tendency to have hypermobile joints? Hypermobility is when a joint is too loose, resulting in instability. If we stretch the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that surround that joint it perpetuates instability. In this case, imagine a home being supported by weak support structures, connectors, etc. In other words, it is very possible to overstretch and many of us unwittingly do it more often than we realize simply because we think flexibility is ‘good’! We have been conditioned to think that more is better, so the more flexible the better, right? That’s simply not the case.
If being more flexible isn’t always better, let’s revisit why we do so much stretching in yoga classes. Perhaps it’s not feasible to survey, but I would be compelled to guess that 99.9999% of people in this world (regardless of your age, race, gender, geographical location, interests, etc.) do and will experience stress in their life. One of the ways our nervous system (specifically our sympathetic nervous system) processes stress is by tightening up muscles to prepare us for flight-or-flight. How do we balance out tense muscles? By stretching and moving them to get oxygen, blood, nutrients, and prana moving. So to some degree, we can deduce that stretching can help relieve stress. However, please note that if we are going to flexible, we better be equally strong (not to be confused with tense) to support our joints. Can’t we make that same argument about our mental and emotional disposition as well? I tend to advise that being really flexible or really strong doesn’t offer us the most benefits. I personally aim for resilience, like that supple branch that is both strong AND flexible.
The key word is balance! It is the more accurate goal in yoga because we are healthiest when we are balanced – balanced between strength and flexibility, the right and left side of the body, the front and back, the inside and the outside. Furthermore, we function at our peak when we are balanced, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, behaviorally, and energetically. To know which direction we need to move to find balance takes a lot of self-observation and contemplation. Here’s our next overused and underappreciated buzz word – awareness. Rather sheepishly, I’ll admit that it took me almost a decade of yoga practice to better understand some of these concepts. In fact, I’m still on this journey of self-exploration. If I’m lucky, may it never end!
Love and Light,
May Che, E-RYT 500, YTRx, POLY, Yoga Therapist & Instructor. For more information about May Che visit www.mayamindbody.com.
Benefits of Yoga Retreats
by Lora Lennon
July 6, 2014
Going on yoga retreats can be a transformative experience. I know because it happened to me! While on a retreat I was journaling and trying to identify ‘what life can you imagine living if money were not a deterrent’ and I had an ‘aha’ moment! I imagined traveling the world, with like-minded groups, doing yoga, helping and generally serving my global community. When I thought of how fabulous this imagined life could be, I got all tingly. So the question I now needed to ask was, ‘How do I go about making that a reality?’
Over the course of the last year I’ve been doing more journaling, taking yoga teacher training classes, became a certified yoga instructor, and gone on many vacations. These have all propelled me to join forces with my dear sister-in-law, Tulsi Laher, to start sharing our life stories, yoga and inspirations!
Why should you come on a yoga retreat to the beautiful hills of Santa Barbara? Duh, it’s lovely California in the fall, with like-minded people, doing yoga and finding your inner inspirations. Count me in!
By coming on this incredible 2-day yoga retreat you can:
• Focus on internal and external healing, in general find your ‘re-set’ button
• Spend more time with yoga friends either old or new, they’re on the same page as you
• Practice more mindful meditation, less distractions from your intentions
• Change your outlook on priorities, “How important is that next cup of Starbucks?” (not at all)
• Get an electronic break, put your cell phones down and unplug from the computer
• Take a break from the hustle and bustle of your daily routine
• Listen to your inner voice speaking to you, your heart knows what you’re looking for
• Spend some quality time with your favorite yoga teacher
• Focus on healthy life-style choices, yoga, meditation, journaling
• Enable yourself to find more joy in your life
Recharge your batteries by getting back to nature surrounded by hiking, fresh water springs, in a peaceful nurturing environment. And that is just to name a few of the possibilities of joining us this November. What you get out this experience will be something you will carry with you for the rest of your life! I guarantee it.
Lora Lennon leads our journal/reflections during Yoga Retreats for Yoga Daya. Hope to see you there!
Finding Contentment in Yoga
by Karen Cooke
June 20, 2014
During our busy lives in Los Angeles, the mind is often focused on the next thing we are “supposed to do.” While driving in our cars (or metal shells disguising the human within) maneuvering through traffic with multitude of other drivers, we are seduced by the billboards offering images of a more fabulous life, a better body, and ways to increase our bank account. With all these distractions, we can forget what is really important.
Among the stresses of our workload and daily schedules, we can find refuge in the increasingly popular yoga practice at studios like Yoga Daya, self-help retreats, juice bars and with the help of new-age gurus. In our search to find some deeper truths, we can look back to where the beginnings of yoga originated.
In the ancient texts of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written around 400 CE by Patanjali, there are a series of principles to live by that help to experience yoga anywhere you are. A main portion of this text elaborates on the Eight Limbs of Yoga, or eight steps to live a meaningful life. The first two limbs are the Yamas, (ethics in the world) and the Niyamas (self-discipline).
The Yamas and Niyamas have five practices each. After looking at these again, one of the Niyamas that spoke to me is a simple de-stress tool I’ve often forgotten about, Santosha. Santosha is contentment, or satisfaction with what ‘we have’.
We are constantly being encouraged to believe that we don’t have enough. That we need the latest model phone, the new car, and the newest fashion. As a result, the mind is caught in the cycle and gets tempted to want more and more. Yet, when we can find a place of stillness and remember what we do have and be grateful, we can lift that veil of ‘desire’ to experience a deeper truth and happiness in contentment.
There have been many studies that show how thoughts and expressions of gratitude can offer physical and mental benefits such as lowering blood pressure, strengthening the immune system, and bringing about a connection with others. In addition to increasing happy hormones while decreasing the stressful ones.
Contentment can be found in things you hold dear; memories from your childhood, or in the simple things, like a beautiful flower you notice and take the time to see.
Take a moment to focus on what you find contentment in, or even throughout each day, and enjoy living more of your yoga!