Category Archives: Therapy & Benefits

Tibetan Medicine: Eastern Sages Seek Root Causes for Dis-ease

The Benefits of Tibetan Medicine

I am a yoga therapist because I don’t believe in band-aid medicine. Why take a pain killer to mask a problem? I’d rather address what’s causing the pain. My yoga therapy is rooted in eastern medicine. Seeking to find balance in body, mind and spirit. Hence, I attended a Tibetan Medicine workshop last month in Costa Rica. 

The Tibetan Medicine course was led by Dr. Rodolfo Paz. Dr. Paz is a medical practitioner who combines east with west. Research-oriented, he values clinical trials while respecting the ancient sages’ learnings.  

He describes allopathic medicine as symptomatic. It requires large teams and modern technology. Plus, strong synthetic drugs with side effects. Tibetan Medicine, along with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, are based on subtle, energetic and physical anatomy. The ancient life sciences attack the root issue. Eastern Medicine may be low tech. However, rich with thousands of years of case studies, and thousands of plant-based remedies that have no negative side effects.

He says dating back to the seventh century, the Tibetans were studying the human body. Not only externally or energetically, but examining cadavers as part of funeral rites. They recognized humans were comprised of 360 bones, 28 primary joints and 210 secondary ones, plus 35 million pores and 21,000 hairs. 

“It’s absurd that people take pills for their entire lives,” Dr. Paz said. As an example, he recalled his own childhood. He had severe migraines. His doctor prescribed heavy doses of meds from the time he was 12. Of course he was on a vicious cycle. Migraines and meds. Forever. Until he went East. Through Tibetan Medicine, they identified the imbalances…the root of his problems. Since he tried Tibetan Medicine, he hasn’t had another migraine.

Another Tibetan Medicine anecdote he share related to his girlfriend. Constipated for two weeks, she went to a large modern hospital in Dharmasala (the most Tibetan of Indian cities).  The doctor didn’t palpate her belly or order imaging. Rather, he checked her pulse. His diagnosis: liver imbalances. He treated her liver, and her digestion was back on track. 

Similarities between Ayurveda, TCM and Tibetan Medicine

Tibetan Medicine emerged as a fusion between TCM, Ayurveda, Greek Persian and its own widely practiced Tibetan Bon practices. 

Similarities between the Tibetan Medicine approach, and TCM and Ayurveda begin with the approach. They seek to identify imbalances and energetic centers, and identify root problems to achieve well being. Tibetan Medicine asserts that there are four four causes of illness. 1. Weather 2. Food 3. Behavior and 4. Subtle influences. Likewise, TCM and Ayurveda adopt approaches based on the above.

TCM talks of meridians. Ayurveda calls them nadis. In English, we may say channels whereby the prana, qi or life force circulate. Tibetan Medicine acknowledges 72,000 channels which include the veins, arteries, nervous systems and meridians which they call rtsa that transport tsog-lung (prana)

“The body without its life breath or tsong-lung, is nothing more than a cadaver or empty vessel,” Dr. Paz says. 

Three main channels, according to Tibetan Medicine are Uma, Roma and Rkyan Ma. Ayurveda recognizes three main nadis called Ida, Pingala and Shushumna. In Tibetan Medicine, one equates to solar, and the other lunar, which is the TCM yin/yang concept.  

Beyond the channels, there are both differences and similarities to what Ayurveda calls the doshas. Tibetan Medicine talks of three nyepas. Loong (air) travels along the 72,000 channels. In Ayurveda, vata equates toair plus ether. The other two Tibetan nyepas are mKrispa (fire) like the Ayurvedia pitta and BadKan is water and earth. Ayurveda also combines water and earth for kapha. Moreover, just as in TCM and Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine focuses on balance. Dr. Paz explains that the three nyepas are vital forces that impregnate the subtle body and must be in balance for optimum wellbeing. 

Based on one’s dosha, one should follow certain diets. Just as in Ayurveda, there are six Tibetan “flavors” and a combination of those is recommended to help balance the doshas. For example, Loong should eat sweet, acidic and salty foods, along with more fats and proteins, whereas BadKa are encouraged to eat spicy, astringent and acidic foods, devoid of fats and mKrispa are the only ones better off with raw foods. Additionally, as in TCM and Ayurveda, rarely are people 100 percent one element.  To underscore that point, Dr. Paz says that there can be 106 different loong pulse readings.

Beyond the Doshas

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Eastern medicine is complex.  You can’t just solve your life-long problems with a dosha reading.  For example, both Ayurveda and Tibetan Medicine recognize five vayus (winds) that regulate the way energy and elements in the body move. This is actually why women on their cycle should not do inversions in yoga classes. Because it negatively affects the movement of bodily fluids and energy, according to Ayurveda.

The five Loongs, or vayus differ energetically from Ayurveda. 

  1. According to Dr. Paz, the first wind is life sustaining and is associated with the head, sense organs and thorax. This vital wind is responsible for breathing, swallowing and even mental clarity. 
  2. The second wind is an ascending one that circulates through the nose and mouth. It affects speech, memory and physical vigor. 
  3. Next is the wind that permeates or circulates through the blood and nervous system. Therefore, it’s responsible for growth, movement of the extremities and even subtle thoughts. 
  4. The fourth wind accompanies the “fire.” In Ayurveda, fire is responsible for digestion and assimilation of nutrients. The same is true for this Tibetan wind.
  5. The last is a downward wind, which is very important in Ayurveda. In Tibetan medicine, likewise, it helps to remove toxins or waste in the form of urine, feces and male or female fluids. 

Additionally, the eastern life medical practitioners identify five types of mKrispa (fire), and five types of BadKan (earth/water) in their patients. Dr. Paz explains that in Tibetan Medicine, the balance between these 15 aspects is what leads to mental and physical well being.  

“The cause of illness is ego. When the body is separated from its entorno or environment. That can lead to 84,000 psycho-emotional diseases.”

Energy and Electrical Impulses

Most yoga practitioners are aware of the chakras. Tibetan Medicine refers to tantric energetic hubs which coincide with the chakras. The ancients considered these more important than the nervous or vascular systems. What’s fascinating is that modern medicine aligns the chakras with the endocrine, adrenal, thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands. 

Dr. Paz says the Tibetans were way ahead of western medical practitioners. “They understood there were subtle energies. Electric energies and magnetic fields chakras that were more important than the veins or muscular systems.”

Unique to Tibetan Medicine is the recognition of the nyepas as types of electrical energy in the body, influenced by the moon. Tibetan Medicine practitioners spend seven years at the university studying electrical energies and breath. Through Tibetan pulse readings, doctors can detect not only tumors, but the growth of cancerous cells. 

With simple exercises we can bring electrical charges to the fibers and ions, Dr. Paz explains. For example, Kapalabhati (breath of fire) brings electrical charges to the liver. Additionally, the Tibetan Medicine system taps into TCM practices of acupressure points, cupping, moxibustion, needles and drainage (blood letting). However, the points are not identical to those in TCM.

Nanotechnology

Today, people want everything. All the time. Eastern medicine believes there’s a time and place for everything. Eat in season. Choose local. Additionally, Tibetan Medicine says you should only harvest when it’s time. Year-round crops don’t allow plants to regain their energy and nutrients. These practices date back to 600 Century BC. Today, modern medicine recommends some people avoid night shades. Tibetans always recognized the importance of where and when something was growing in relationship to the four coordinates.

New clinical trials are indicating that nanotechnology of propolis, for example, kills cancer cells. Likewise, nanotechnology of shilajit combats Alzheimer’s. Tibetan Medicine has followed nanotechnology concepts since the 13th century. The premise is that nano particles can enter and stimulate cells from within.

Not only did the ancients understand what is now called nanotechnology, or nanomedicine, but the Tibetans based medical principles on what we call quantum physics. There must be balance. And, matter is energy.

“The great fountain of youth is alive and well,” said Dr. Paz. 

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico

El Masaje Ayurvédico para Protejer tus Huesos

La Salud Ósea y el Masaje Ayurvédico

El cuidado de los huesos, y prevención de la osteoporosis no sólo se trata de levantar pesas u otros ejercicios en los que se carga el peso del cuerpo.  Hay un método ayurvédico que es sencillo, y una forma de mimarse o cuidarte de ti mismo. Se lo puede llamar champi, sneha o abhyanga. Son costumbres tradicionales de masaje a la cabeza, articulaciones o todo el cuerpo. Próximamente, impartiré un taller con una práctica del auto masaje ayurvédico, abhyanga.  Se llevará a cabo a las 13h el 24 de noviembre en Sueños de Maya, San José, Costa Rica.

Tres formas de masaje ayurvédico

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico con aceitesNo importa la palabra, champi, sneha o abhyanga, cada uno es un tratamiento de la medicina tradicional de la India.

  • La palabra champi significa frote o fricción. El libro “Masaje Champi” explica que “este masaje ha evolucionado a partir de las costumbres ancestrales que forman parte de los rituales del cuidado integral en la vida familiar de la India, siendo una de las tradiciones más arraigadas dentro de esta cultura.” Si la palabra sánscrito champi  te suena, es por que la referencia al masaje a la cabeza dio paso a la palabra champú. 
  • Sneha, significa ambos aceite, y amor, en sánscrito. Laura Plumb, autora de un libro de cocina ayurvédica, y anfitriona de un programa de televisión acerca de los vedas explica, “después de los años 40, es oleación, oleación y oleación.” 
  • Abhyanga refiere al auto masaje al cuerpo, especialmente a las articulaciones. La práctica de abhyanga normalmente utiliza aceite de coco o ajonjolí, a menos que tu constitución (dosha) indica un masaje con pólvora como trífala.  Según Laura Plumb, el ajonjolí es alto en antioxidantes y es un anti-inflamatorio. También es recomendable para los de la dosha vata, o en el invierno.

La relación entre el masaje ayurvédico y los huesos

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico para la salud ósea“Masaje Champi” nota que el masaje limpia el sistema linfático para así deshacerse de las toxinas presentes en nuestro organismo. Además:

  • “Estimula el sistema parasimpático: facilitando el descanso corporal e incentivando la relajación y el sueño. 
  • Aumenta el flujo sanguíneo de la cabeza, el cuello y los hombros: favoreciendo la nutrición de los tejidos y la oxigenación a través de la circulación arterial, y contribuyendo a la eliminación de toxinas por vía venosa.
  • Libera los espasmos y las adhesiones en las fibras musculares: calmando las molestias y mejorando la capacidad de movilidad articular.
  • Disminuye la inflamación de los tejidos: aliviando el dolor y reduciendo la sobrecarga en huesos y articulaciones.”

Hay otro beneficio del champi. 

La terapia que yo ejerzo combina mucho la medicina tradicional china y el Ayurveda. Conociendo los puntos claves de la acupresión (estilo chino) se puede hacer un roce o presión suave con los dígitos o las yemas en los puntos apropiados para estimular los meridianos (canales energéticos o nadis en sánscrito) y sus órganos conectados. Por ejemplo, en mi estilo de yin yoga, miramos a los meridianos del riñón y la vesícula para tratar desequilibrios que puedan contribuir a la artritis o la ciática, entre otras enfermedades.   

Contrarrestando la vejez—empezando con los huesos

abhyanga: auto masaje ayurvedico El reconocido médico Deepak Chopra, en su libro “Grow Younger, Live Longer,” hace énfasis de lo dañino de las toxinas ambientales. “Puedes revertir tu edad biológica eliminando las toxinas de tu vida.”

Chopra, quien aprecia ambos la medicina alopática como el Ayurveda, informa: “Cada impulso de la vida se puede considerar en términos de si trae alimento o toxicidad. Los científicos ahora entienden que el daño tóxico a las células y tejidos es la consecuencia de los radicales libres que se forman cada vez que se metaboliza el oxígeno. Estos químicos hambrientos son indiscriminados sobre cómo reemplazan su electrón de misión, y eliminarán uno de cualquier fuente cercana, incluidas las proteínas, las grasas o las moléculas de ADN.

Explica Chopra que entre las enfermedades más comunes que se puede atribuir, en alguna parte, a las toxinas radicales libres son: el cáncer, enfermedades cardíacas, la diabetes, la artritis y la osteoporosis. Para minimizar el contacto con los radicales libres y así proteger los huesos y articulaciones, hay que evitar el tabaco, alcohol, comidas fermentadas o los productos añejos, las carnes ahumadas o cocinadas al carbón, demasiados aceites saturados o hidrogenados, y el estrés. Otras toxinas fuertes, dice Chopra, son la quimioterapia y la radiación. 

De igual manera, se puede hacer una limpiecita de las toxinas agregando antioxidantes a tu dieta. Por ejemplo: comidas con alto contenido de las vitaminas A, C y E, mas frutas y legumbres frescos, granos, legumes y nueces. Además, como se sugiere la medicina Ayurveda, hay que agregar muchas especias a su comida. Las que contienen más antioxidantes son la menta, jengibre, ajo, eneldo, semillas de cilantro, el tomillo, hinojo y la hierba salvia. Finalmente, Chopra recomienda la meditación pare reducir el estrés, y se entiende que el masaje brinde el mismo efecto. 

Algunas técnicas del masaje ayurvédico

kidney massageConsta que hay diferentes formas del masaje ayurvédico. En la mía, fijamos mucha atención a las articulaciones.  El libro “Masaje Champi” detalla algunas técnicas para los hombros y escapulares en particular.

  • Fricción palmar circular en los hombros: hazlo vigorosamente y con ritmo, ejerciendo una presión suave
  • Presión dígito-pulgar en los brazos: En cada una de las presiones, suelta el aire y libera la tensión; mantén cada una de las presiones entre 5-10 segundos
  • Fricción palmar en los brazos
  • Presión dígito-pulgar en los hombros
  • Roce palmar desde hombros hacia las manos
  • Fricción palmar desde hombros hacia los codos
  • Presión con antebrazos en los hombros
  • Presión con pulgares en los hombros
  • Percusión cubital sobre la cima de los trapecios
  • Presión con pulgares sobre los puntos sensibles en el trapecio
  • Deslizamiento palmo-digital en el trapecio
  • Presión con pulgar en el reborde inter-escapular
  • Presión con canto de la mano inter-escapular 
  • Deslizamiento palmo-digital inter-escapular, y en la escápula: 10 veces, subiendo y bajando, o en moción horizontal

Lee acerca del yoga y la artritis. Para participar en el próximo taller, o para concertar uno en tu comunidad, comunícate con The Namaste Counsel.   

Esther Vexler, San Antonio's Yoga Godmother

Yogaterapia para Huesos Saludables

En una publicación anterior compartí una experiencia personal que me llevó a una exploración sin fin: Yogaterapia para Huesos Saludables y la fuente de la juventud. Mi brújula me apuntó a un sinfín de libros, talleres y charlas. Entonces, ahora les paso mis trucos favoritos a mis estudiantes a través de una serie de talleres de Yogaterapia para Huesos Saludables. Es decir, la osteoporosis, la osteoartritis y la salud ósea en general. Lo llamo Dem Bones (Esos Huesos Saludables). La serie no se basa en las afirmaciones imposibles, sino en la investigación y el conocimiento de muchos terapeutas de yoga, muchos de los cuales son médicos.

Mi primera sesión de Esos Huesos Saludables fue en México, hace unos años. Mi próxima sesión sobre los huesos saludables es el 24 de noviembre en Sueños de Maya en San José, Costa Rica. Para registrarte en la sesión de noviembre, o para reservar sesiones privadas o talleres grupales, conéctate conmigo.

mantenerse joven con el movimiento y el yogaDem Bones (Esos Huesos Saludables)

Tendemos a pensar que es normal que nuestros huesos soporten el impacto del tiempo. Casi todos hemos visto los efectos de los años avanzados en los huesos. Una joroba de viuda. O, el abuelo que ya no es tan alto como solía ser. Dios no lo quiera que una persona mayor resbale y se caiga, ya que las articulaciones frágiles no pueden manejar lo que solían ser choques o golpes normales. Los reemplazos de cadera y rodilla le costaron a Medicare USD$7 mil millones en 2013. Con nuestras poblaciones envejeciendo, una dieta y un estilo de vida pobres, los costos para nuestra sociedad se dispararán si no somos proactivos en la protección de la salud ósea.

Los Huesos Son Preciados

Como una hebra de perlas o cuentas mala conectadas entre sí por hilos finos pero fuertes.

La enfermedad ósea degenerativa no suena tan aterradora como una fractura de cadera. Pero, eche un vistazo a las estadísticas.

  • Los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades de los Estados Unidos informan que entre los estadounidenses de 65 años o más, a la mitad se le ha diagnosticado artritis. Y, dos de cada tres personas que son obesas son propensas a desarrollar artritis en una o ambas rodillas.
  • Según la Fundación Internacional de Osteoporosis, desde 1990 hasta las proyecciones en 2050, el número de fracturas de cadera en mujeres y hombres de 50 a 64 años en América Latina aumentará en un 400%. Para grupos de edad mayores de 65 años, el aumento será de un asombroso 700%. Además, un estudio en Bogotá, Colombia, informó que entre un grupo de mujeres mayores de 50 años, casi la mitad tenía osteopenia (densidad ósea inferior a la normal) en la columna vertebral y la cadera.

“El yoga es útil para abordar los problemas agudos de la hinchazón y el dolor, y los problemas a largo plazo para mejorar la movilidad, la fuerza y la estabilidad de las articulaciones de la rodilla”, dice el Dr. Bell, refiriéndose a la artritis.

Yoga y Envejecimiento Saludable

Bell dirigió un taller sobre Yoga y Envejecimiento Saludable en un simposio al que asistí de la Asociación Internacional de Terapeutas de Yoga (IAYT, por su acrónimo en Inglés). Sin embargo, no es tu médico típico. Renunció a una exitosa práctica médica familiar en Ohio para convertirse en un terapeuta de yoga. Hoy en día, integra las aplicaciones terapéuticas del yoga con la medicina occidental y da conferencias a profesionales de la salud en todo el país.

Bell comparó al yoga como “herramientas para fomentar una vida saludable más larga”, y salud física mejorada. Dijo que el yoga fomenta la ecuanimidad, la agilidad, la coordinación y es ampliamente reconocido que reduce el estrés. El estrés no se puede ignorar, ya que es un disparador importante de las enfermedades del corazón, la presión arterial alta e incluso la artritis.

Cuando somos jóvenes, casi todos nosotros damos por supuesto el hecho de tender cuerpos saludables. Podemos estirarnos para alcanzar un estante alto, o agacharnos para sacar algo de debajo de la cama. Podemos dar vueltas en nuestro auto para revisar a los niños, y no tener problemas para levantar a los bebés y cargarlos a cuestas. No solo podemos pasear al perro, sino jugar con él. En resumen, la mayoría tienen una excelente movilidad.

A medida que envejecemos, si no nos mantenemos al día con estilos de vida saludables, nuestros cuerpos parecen traicionarnos. Nuestros músculos se encogen y pierden masa, lo que afecta la flexibilidad. Nuestros tejidos blandos se secan y se ponen rígidos. Los cojines de cartílago se descomponen dando lugar a articulaciones artríticas. Es como un círculo vicioso. Entonces, perdemos fuerza, flexibilidad, equilibrio y movilidad. Todos estos están interrelacionados.

“Necesitamos fuerza para mantenernos activos”, dice. Da ejemplos de cómo algunos medicamentos administrados habitualmente para pacientes con osteoporosis traen inconvenientes.

Practica Yoga Para Huesos Saludables

yoga para huesos saludables

El programa de Guardia de la Salud de las Mujeres de Harvard informa que existen varios peligros asociados con el uso prolongado de productos farmacéuticos. Recomiendan, “no tome Fosamax a menos que esté seguro de que lo necesita. Continúe con todas las otras medidas que ayudan a proteger y mantener la densidad ósea”, incluidos el calcio, la vitamina D y el ejercicio con pesas.

Presentando, el yoga. Y mi forma favorita, afuera, al sol. Tomando el prana (incluyendo la vitamina D).

Una vez que la galleta se desmorona, es demasiado tarde. Es por eso que el yoga es una excelente medicina preventiva. Baxter Bell, MD, recomienda “una práctica de yoga equilibrada (que) incluye desafíos de estiramiento, fortalecimiento, equilibrio y agilidad, y posturas y prácticas anti estrés.

Bell también habló sobre la sarcopenia, una pérdida gradual de la fuerza muscular que se observa con mayor frecuencia entre las personas mayores de 50 años. Según WebMD, “las personas que están físicamente inactivas pueden perder entre un 3 y un 5 por ciento de su masa muscular por década después de los 30 años de edad ”. Además de que el yoga mantiene tu cuerpo en movimiento, la salud de tus músculos está directamente relacionada con la salud de tus huesos. Bell habla sobre cómo podemos influir en nuestro bienestar futuro mediante la recuperación de la fuerza muscular.

Bell explica por qué el yoga construye los huesos. Durante el yoga, el fortalecimiento de los huesos comienza en solo 10 segundos de mantener una posición. Cuanto más fuertes son los músculos alrededor de las articulaciones, más los protege su cuerpo.

Los músculos comienzan a construirse después de sólo 90 segundos en muchas posturas de yoga, explica Bell. Toma las poses del guerrero por ejemplo. Mantener la postura durante al menos seis respiraciones largas, puede ser agotador, pero vale la pena, tanto para los músculos como para los huesos. Algunos maestros de yoga alientan a los estudiantes a juntar los muslos con energía, la barriga a la columna, o activar los bandhas. Esos son ejemplos de contracciones isométricas que contribuyen a construir más fuerza y, en última instancia, nutrir los huesos. Sin ellos, perdemos nuestra independencia, y luego nuestro orgullo, alegría e incluso el cuidado personal y la depresión. Es una bola de nieve.

Asanas para Huesos Saludables

viparita karani supported legs up wallBell dice que algunas de las herramientas de salud físicas tanto para el cuerpo como el cerebro son poses de fortalecimiento como el perro para abajo o el guerrero 2. Las prácticas que se enfocan en la flexibilidad como el gomukhasana (cara de vaca) también son esenciales para una fórmula saludable de envejecimiento.

Otra herramienta es una rutina de ejercicios que promuevan la circulación. Acostarse con las piernas sobre la pared es siempre un favorito, y el trabajo de respiración es una adición importante a esa caja de herramientas. Sabemos que a medida que las personas envejecen, tienen más dificultades con el equilibrio, por lo que las posturas como el árbol pueden, en última instancia, ayudar a prevenir caídas que, a su vez, pueden dar lugar a fracturas.

Las fracturas conducen al dolor crónico, pueden ser debilitantes, causar angustia emocional y una mayor degeneración muscular. Finalmente, Bell apunta a estudios de personas que han vivido hasta una edad avanzada que muestran que la comunidad es un factor importante en el envejecimiento saludable. “Practicar yoga juntos ayuda a crear una comunidad”, dice Bell.

Para huesos saludables, recuérdate que al igual que el hueso del tobillo está conectado al hueso de la rodilla, los músculos se conectan a los huesos, a través de la fascia y los ligamentos. La salud de nuestros huesos está relacionada con la salud de nuestros músculos, y también nuestras emociones, el corazón y otros órganos principales.

 

 

Girish and heart rate variability

Heart Rate Variability: Chant From the Heart, For the Heart

Bhakti Fest is considered the ultimate playground for yogis. In particular, for bhaktas (devotional yogis). While Bhakti Fest 2018’s Joshua Tree desert playground may span 385 acres, this year I was attracted to a tiny outdoor classroom next to a small artificial pond. Sitting on the sandy ground, or perched at the rim of the pond, a variety of singers, drummers and musicians shared knowledge and tips about their practices. Of note, chanting improves heart rate variability. in other words, chant from your heart, and you’ll be chanting  FOR your heart, and general well being. 

Bhakti Fest’s Kirtan School spanned only four days, with two two-hour sessions daily. Each class had a different lead teacher for a great potpourri of kirtan key take aways. 

As Gina Salá, one of the teachers said, “So many mantras. So much wisdom.” I’d add, So many artists.  So much devotion. For the culmination of so much sangha (association/unity) of sound. 

Your Divine Voice  

Gina Sala at Bhakti Fest

Gina Sala at Bhakti Fest 2018

In a previous article of mine, Gina Salá spoke about music and devotion. A take away was that every voice is divine. Perfect.

Similiarly, in Girish’s Kirtan Class at Bhakti Fest 2018, he said, “There’s never been another voice like yours. The voice is expressing who we are. Free the voice. Free the person. Your personal growth and evolution is inseparable from your voice.”

To me, Gina and Girish have incredible voices. They hit a sweet spot in my heart. Yet, Girish considers himself a drummer. And, most drummers don’t sing. He focused on chanting during his five years as a monk living in an ashram.  “It’s not about the artistry of music. It doesn’t matter how it sounds.” He emphasized, “It’s your call to your creator.”

Most noteworthy, Girish spoke of the science behind chanting. There is clear data to attest to the benefits of singing kirtan or chanting in groups, in particular. 

Chanting for the Heart: About Heart Rate Variability  

In fact, a recent study completed by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden noted that those who sang together had synchronized heartbeats. The head researcher explained that singing is a form of controlled breathing, not unlike yogic breathwork which leads to many benefits, including lung capacity and heart health.  

Furthermore, Girish said, “When we sing in a group, our brain waves start to sync up. And heart beats too.” He talks about the phenomena called heart brain coherence, which has been investigated by the HeartMath Institute in California, and heart rate variability (HRV).  

Girish at Kirtan Class, Bhakti Fest, speaks on heart rate variability

Girish at Kirtan Class, Bhakti Fest 2018

Harvard Health Blog contributor, Marcelo Campos, MD, explains the importance of heart rate variability. “HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. It is fascinating to see how HRV changes as you incorporate more mindfulness, meditation, sleep, and especially physical activity into your life.”

“We want a more adaptable heart rhythm,” added Girish, “as HRV is a biomarker of human health. One fantastic way to increase our HRV levels — and thus our overall health and resiliency — is to sing. And, in fact, chanting mantras increases HRV levels better than any other types of singing.”  Again, Girish has scientific research to back this up. He explains that when you chant mantras, you follow a particular breathing pattern as referenced in the Swedish study. Clearly, the breathwork associated with Tibetan monks is far from that of acid rock. 

However, Girish pointed to research comparing traditional chants from diverse religions and cultures such as Ave Maria and Om Mani Padme Om.  “All have the same breathing patterns. It’s an amazing effect. These practices activate the parasympathetic system.”

Chanting in Any Language, From the Heart

So, you don’t have to be a bhakta yogi.  As Girish jokingly said, believe it or not, “There are people out there who have never done kirtan … or yoga … or worn Lululemon.  It’s not just the yogis. All the world’s spiritual traditions are doing some kind of mantra.  So that tells me that it works.” 

While there’s plenty of evidence-based insights as to why it works, when you look at a toddler or child singing a nursery rhyme, it’s pretty obvious. Singing, especially repetitive sounds, makes us feel good.

“The primal human instrument is the voice. You don’t have to go to a music school to find out where a middle C is,” said Girish. 

Shiva Rae at Bhakti Fest

Shiva Rae at Bhakti Fest 2018

Shiva Rae, also at Bhakti Fest 2018, told an intimate gathering of women there, “Your first mantra was in your mother’s womb (her hearbeat).” And, in many cultures, the drum represents the heart beat. 

For the Mayapuris, the drum represents the sacred, too. In their Kirtan Class, the close-knit bhaktas from Florida explained the essence of the primal beats and their beloved mridanga. 

“The drum is a manifestation of Balaram (Krishna’s brother). Sound vibration itself represents the lord. When we use our instruments in Kirtan we are dressing (up) the holy name, and the instruments are the decoration to attract us. The more that we offer our love, the more we will feel the syncopation,” they said.  

“Something that runs through every culture is rhythm. Every tradition in every era on every continent has some form of collective singing, because it just pierces so clearly. These instruments are a vehicle.”

Chant the Holy Name

Mayapuris at Bhakti Fest 2018

Mayapuris at Bhakti Fest 2018

However, the Mayapuris aren’t saying you can chant mumbo jumbo. “If you were to repeat Coca Cola or water water it’s not going to quench your thirst. When we repeat the names (of the lord) it’s ever-present. It just gets sweeter and sweeter, and more ecstatic. Kirtan is the absolute platform.”

The Mayapuris are Vaishnavas. For them, the names of Krishna and Radhe, among others, are supreme. “In our tradition, we say the name of the Lord until our voice chokes up. Spiritual life starts at the mode of goodness. With that vision, it’s easier to attain that realization. Kirtan is like a shortcut. We’re not worrying about someone’s culture, politics or religion. Kirtan, and in particular collective sangha. You get a little shortcut, like a machete cutting through. And, it’s accessible to everybody.” 

“The first thing the chanting does is dust the mirror of maya (illusion). We just get so consumed and then we’re trapped. The things that get in our way, in our material brains, get pushed aside (with chanting). For this modern age, the scriptures say Kirtan is the dharma.” 

In other words, just as Gina Salá and Girish say that everyone’s voice is divine, the Mayapuris say, “Anyone can take part and start to feel divinity.” 

Austin Free Day of Yoga

Austin FREE DAY OF YOGA Extends To Wimberley

Austin’s Free Day of Yoga: 20th Anniversary

Austin Free Day of Yoga

For the 20th year, yogis are uniting to bring Austin and neighboring communities free yoga on Labor Day, to heighten awareness of the benefits of yoga. Free Day of Yoga is an outstanding opportunity to meet different instructors, and experience different styles of of mind/body practices. I’ve been headed to Austin for many years to get a yoga recharge on Labor Day. Now, I’m inviting people to my new digs and Hill Country hood. 

This year, as part of Austin’s Free Day of Yoga, two of my fellow mind/body practitioners and I  are offering eight different sessions in Wimberley. Wimberley classes run from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday, September 3. Michael Uzuanis and Brenda Bell are fabulous instructors who will each lead two sessions at Balance Academy, as will I. Balance Academy, on Ranch Road 12, is a spacious zen-like incense-infused studio set on five acres. Additionally, I’ve offer therapeutic Gutsy Yoga, twice, at The Namaste Getaway, less than 10 minutes from Balance Academy.

Our Wimberley Free Day of Yoga selections focus on bringing balance to your body and mind. Choose from Korean Ki meditation, Yoga in Motion combining Tai Chi, Xi Gong and Yoga, Yin Yoga and a Slow Flow gentle vinyasa at Balance Academy. As such, the therapeutic sessions focusing on internal balance for better digestion, metabolism and blood sugar levels.   

Try One, or Fill Your Day

Free day of yoga in WimberleyAustin Free Day of Yoga organizer, Mary Esther Middleton, encourages people to sample.  “Because we offer such a wide variety of yoga teachers, styles and classes on Free Day of Yoga, there is a class for everyone – whether you are tall, short, round, thin, physically active or sedentary.” 

Therefore, browse Free Day of Yoga classes Check out our Wimberley area sessions (see flyer).  Or, better yet, call (512) 436-2048 or (210) 381-1846 to reserve your spot. 

Tips:

  • First, reserve your space at balance.academy to ensure your place. Or, arrive 15 minutes early.
  • Second, bring a yoga mat and/or cushions, blocks or bolsters. If you don’t have any, loaners will be available.
  • Third, while in Wimberley, cool off at The Blue Hole or Jacob’s Well (reservations required).
  • Afterwords, enjoy food and drink at The Junction, just past Balance Academy.

About Free Day of Yoga

A non-profit corporation, Free Day of Yoga Austin is dedicated to providing the gift of yoga to the community. The organization helps to educate the community about the health and wellness benefits of yoga through interactive, participatory and educational events in the Austin area.  As such, Free Day of Yoga Austin offers annual events at no charge to those attending. 

 

yoga for body/mind harmony

Yoga’s Mental Health Benefits

Guest Blogger, Meera Watts, shares her list of yoga’s mental health benefits. 

If you think yoga is all about getting fit and toned muscles, it’s probably the right time to get the facts straight. Most people who engage in yoga aren’t really after the physical benefits of the practice. A lot of them are actually looking for a way to reduce their stress, anxiety, depression, and mood. And if you’re still in doubt about that, here’s a list of yoga’s mental health benefits to convince you.

Eight Examples of Yoga’s Mental Health Benefits

yoga helps concentration1. It improves concentration

With each yoga pose you do, you’re improving your brain function by training your mind to focus and concentrate. The practice stimulates both your nervous system and brain so you can process information faster and more efficiently.

2. It makes you more mindful

Yoga is all about what’s happening in the present. It teaches you to be more connected with your body and what it’s currently experiencing. It syncs your emotions so you can have better social relationships and connection with your mind. Once you are able to achieve those things, you’ll be able to focus on the present without being judgemental.

3. It eases depression

Yoga has a unique way of lowering the level of depression in a person. One way it’s able to do that is by increasing the production and release of certain happy hormones in the body while lowering specific stress hormones.

4. It makes you sleep better

Having a hard time falling and staying asleep can be troublesome. It can affect your productivity, mood, appetite, concentration, and problem-solving skills.

By reducing stress and encouraging relaxation, yoga can help address certain sleep disorders such as insomnia. It can make you feel well-rested and energized that you won’t have a hard time powering through your day.

Take note, however, that although yoga can help you get better sleep, you should also consider what you eat, drink, and do before you get to bed. For example, drinking caffeinated drinks and doing really heavy exercises a few minutes or hours before bedtime can make it hard for you to get to sleep. 

yoga helps concentration5. It enhances your decision-making skills

When your mind is cloudy and you’re having a hard time thinking straight, coming up with a good decision won’t be easy. In fact, you can end up making the wrong move if you force yourself.

Yoga strengthens the part of your brain responsible for making decisions. It improves your brain’s clarity so you’ll have a better ability to deal with situations and decide properly.

6. It lessens the effects of traumatic experiences

People who develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorders typically have flashbacks and nightmares that can negatively affect their lives. While there are medications and treatments that can help address such mental health issue, yoga is proven to be as effective and safer in reducing PTSD symptoms. It requires no strong medications that can harm the body eventually.

Yoga’s Mental Health Benefits are Preventative, too

yoga helps concentration

7. It delays the onset of mental health problems

Yoga is seen as an effective approach for enhancing breathing, promoting relaxation and meditation, improving moods, and controlling anger. These things play a huge role in making the mind stronger and more resilient to psychological conditions, particularly among teenagers.

8. It reduces the risk for migraines

Yoga is known for its ability to reduce pain and promote comfort. With specific yoga poses, it can also prevent or alleviate migraine and headaches. Yoga can restore the balance in your autonomic nervous system and circulatory system which can reduce your likelihood of going through another migraine episode.

Summing Up Yoga’s Mental Health Benefits

While effective, yoga doesn’t really work like magic. It won’t give you results overnight.

For you to experience all those mental benefits, you need to be consistent and dedicated to incorporating yoga into your daily routine. You don’t necessarily have to spend hours performing poses after poses. A few minutes each day can be enough to create positive changes in your mental well-being.

About the Author

Meera Watts‘ has written articles on yoga and holistic health for Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s the founder and owner of SiddhiYoga.com, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Additionally, Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India and Indonesia.

Shabbat as part of dinacharya; sunset to sunset

Add Shabbat to Your Dinacharya

For more than three years, I’ve been following an Ayurvedic dinacharya, as prescribed by my Ayurvedic doctor. I try to adhere to my daily routine as closely as possible. Even when I’m traveling around the world, without access to hot water, or other elements that are part of my Rx, I try to maintain my dinacharya.

On my last visit to my Ayurvedic doctor, as was to be expected, he made a few tweaks to my dinacharya. He  simplified some, and then added on more layers to my routine. With just a slight sense of humor, I told my partner, “Now my dinacharya includes Shabbat.”  

Disconnect for a Spiritual Reboot

Shabbat to disconnect and reconnectAs much as I think I disconnect from stressors all around, my doctor  wants me to have a cleaner break. Once a week, I should turn off all devices for 24 hours. 

For many years, I’ve understood the benefits of shutting down a few hours before bedtime. TVs went to Goodwill. Same with the stereo. I cut back considerably on the time spent on my laptop. However, my smart phone is my lifeline. It is my everything. Messenger. Alarm clock. Timer. CD player.  Guided meditation source. Camera. Calculator. Flashlight.  Newsroom. Social network.  And, it’s even a telephone sometimes. 

I totally get the importance of disconnecting. While I have never honored the sabbath, I appreciate the benefits it has on your body, mind, and soul. However, for most of us that have never followed the traditional Jewish rules of sabbath, it can be difficult to adopt, or accept.Shabbat at Jafo beach

Saturdays in Israel often mean beach time, so, who am I to say turn that down. 

Haddassah Mendoza-Elias lived in Jerusalem when she was in her 20s. The Chicago-area resident returns as frequently as she can. She wasn’t raised in a family that turned off electronics and turned in the car keys on sabbath. Haddassah admits it’s very hard to shut down in the States. But, she relishes honoring the day of rest, and her family always had Shabbat meals. 

“I observe (Shabbat) when I’m in Israel because of the peace that I get.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Jewish guide for living, the Torah, has built in recharge time. There is space to relax and almost a societal requirement to participate in Shabbat in one way or another. Keeping Shabbat is helpful for keeping things in perspective, because you have to prioritize things. What can wait for 24 hours, and what cannot?  It’s refreshing to discover that most things can wait.”

Disconnect to Connect your Body and Soul

Estee is a dynamo of a Zumba teacher at the Jerusalem YMCA. She exudes passion and a Type A personality. Just as she moves to the fast beats in Zumba, so does she speak and think at techno dance speed. Estee, like Haddassah, says it’s rare that something can’t wait. The mother of eight, talks about why disconnecting on Sabbath is so beneficial. Even her non-religious adult children respect and relax during Shabbat.  

Shabbat in Tel Aviv“When they walk into my home on Shabbat, everything is turned off. It’s family time. It really makes a giant difference in their lives. Even for the non-religious ones. It’s more than connecting with other people. It’s connecting with yourself. We have to be important to ourselves. Sometimes you need you.” Estee admits that while it may not have been easy to keep the rules going in her household, now, her kids “wouldn’t have it any other way.

Her remarks strike a chord with me. Much of my daily dinacharya is precisely so that I can connect with myself, rather than the fast-paced world around me. In fact, the purpose of breath work, meditation and yoga is about disconnecting from the outside world and re-connecting with the inner being. Many studies have confirmed this. But just maybe, Shabbat can take you further.  After all, the rituals of Shabbat have been going on for about the same time as yoga and meditation. Just like with yoga and Ayurveda, the benefits of these practices have been proven over thousands of years.

Shabbat in Tel Aviv

Estee’s 13-year-old daughter, Ora Leah, speaks like an old yogi. Her words relay her wise soul.  She explains how she is more centered and grounded with the practice of Shabbat. You listen to your body and your soul. “There’s no clock or alarm on Shabbat.  You eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you want. For as long as you want. Also, it’s quality time. It’s a beautiful thing. Even to get together with friends.”   

No wonder I enjoy the peace and quiet of blackouts. The beach to the city. A lack of artificial sounds and sights amplifies the benefits of my daily dinacharya.

Ora Leah recounts an experiment in Asia. In an attempt to increase productivity, they initiated ten day work weeks. Employees were given a day of rest every ten days. However, the “brilliant” theory backfired. Illnesses rose.  “Your body needs to rest,” underscores Ora Leah.

We need to prioritize ourselves. Our bodies. Our minds. Even more importantly, our spirits. Each of which is certainly far more important than any post on Facebook, the urge to get in your car and go shopping, or checking your unending string of emails. Disconnect from the artificial. Connect to the natural.  Add Shabbat to your dinacharya. Sunset to sunset, any day of the week. 

yoga with Deborah Charnes of The Namaste Counsel

Yogi Bhajan: Yoga for a Meditative, Neutral, Intuitive Mind

The meditative mind is the neutral mind that runs your destiny. There are three ways to conduct your destiny. Through the law of karma-action and reaction you can tune into the magnetic field of the Earth and just float with it as a freeloader, or your life can be run by that magnetic, attractive creative, meditative Neutral Mind. That way you do very well. —Yogi Bhajan

paschim namaskarasana reverse prayerGurucharan Singh Khalsa, PhD, rubs elbows with geniuses like Yakir Aharonov. He’s a psychotherapist, and professor at MIT, with a penchant for quantum physics. At the core of all his passions are the teachings of Yogi Bhajan.  He collaborated with the Kundalini spiritual guru on many a publication, thus becoming one of the leading teachers of this form of yoga. So much so that Gurucharan Singh Khalsa was international director of training for Kundalini Yoga for 40 years.  He recently led weekend workshops at Yoga Yoga in Austin. His primary topic was how yoga can build your intuitive senses, something I was taught by one of my first spiritual leaders many years ago.

Your system of intuition is the source of your happiness. It is the source of your victory. It is the source that can make you invincible. —Yogi Bhajan

“Most instincts are pretty useful,” he says. Think running away from a bear, or, dropping a hot plate. The third chakra, is the foundation of instinct, he explains, and it often shows up with somatic feelings of the body.  For example, recall the way you felt the first time you laid eyes on your partner. Conversely, think back to when you spot someone who just doesn’t seem to jive with you.

kapalabhati ego eradicator breath of fire, as taught by Yogi Bhajan“We want to have strong instincts,” he adds. And one of the staples of Kundalini Yoga, breath of fire, is helpful in that area. Interestingly enough, that technique of breathwork, kapalabhati, was part of my twice daily routine where I studied with the swami who suggested intuitive powers are built through a sincere, steady practice. While I’m not running on intuitive overdrive, I recognize that my gut feelings have strengthened significantly since I became a devoted yoga practitioner.  

“Breath of fire is very useful in aligning with instincts,” says Dr. Singh Khalsa.  But, he pointedly differentiates between instincts and intuition. “If you have instinct, intelligence and intuition, you can reduce your errors.”  

Wise choices bring about a balance in life, he explains. Yoga, of course, is all about bringing balance to the body, mind and spirit. Furthermore, yogis traditionally adhere to an alcohol- and drug-free lifestyle, and minimize use of prescription drugs. Dr. Singh Khalsa asserts that consuming any kind of drug will alter one’s instincts. As such, drugs can pollute your ability to hone your instincts. In the Ayurvedic world, we talk about leading a pure sattvic life, avoiding what are rajassic or tamassic. Mood alterers, alcohol is very tamassic, whereas caffeine is rajassic. Think uppers and downers. Both bring about problems.  Driving while intoxicated is a perfect example that Dr. Singh Khalsa uses to paint the picture of how substances can alter your mind. In some instances, causing fatalities.

When you are in the state of the neutral mind, the soul is like a chandelier switched on over you. Communication of the soul is just that light; you are lit up by it. —Yogi Bhajan 

dhyana mudra tibetan meditation mudraKundalini, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, represents a capacity for awareness.  Just as the snake represents your kundalini rising, a snake sheds its skin to grow. You’re shedding skin, expanding. Making the infinite more intimate. Bringing about a birth of consciousness at the heart center, he says. However, if you’re purely instinctual, you may shut everything out…and be lonely. Beliefs have their own immune system. A lot of people never believe anything. Additionally, he says “bias is often from self-dialogue.”

Possibly, that’s why one of my favorite yoga practices is chanting, especially group chanting, or sankirtan, which to me is so powerful. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition, mantras are just as much a part of the yoga experience as is breath or body work,. While my yogic foundations are not from Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini lineage, chanting was integral to my yogic formation.   I incorporate chanting, or mantras, in my personal practice at least once, daily. When needed, I’ve called upon mantra meditation for hours at a time. 

Man without intuitive mind is a car without brakes. An intuitive mind cannot be achieved without a meditative mind.The meditative mind is a process to the intuitive mind. —Yogi Bhajan

Finally, Dr. Singh Khalsa notes that nothing is perfect. “We all face decisions, and each has an impact.” Even a “wise decision” can get you in trouble, as it did for Nelson Mandela. Not that the “trouble” didn’t have a positive outcome, in the end. But you have to have self-forgiveness. And above all, patience.

 

the purpose of yoga: awareness

The Purpose of Yoga

the purpose of yogaAs a yoga instructor and yoga therapist, I often hear excuses for people not wanting to try yoga. One of the most common, is “I’m not flexible enough.” Of course, to me, that’s just a self-imposed barrier. People with a wide array of physical impediments can practice yoga. And, just last week, one of my students was 96-years-old. No. He didn’t have the flexibility of a 26-year-old. But that’s not the purpose of yoga. 

I like to think of yoga as generating increased balance, flexibility and strength. But, not just the physical aspects of those characteristics. The purpose of yoga is to unite, or create a balance between one’s mind, body and spirit. Additionally, when our attitudes are inflexible, we tend to have more negative physical outcomes. Finally, in addition to having strong muscles, don’t we all want a stronger mind and spirit? One of my teachers, long ago, said that with continued dedication to yoga, one should have a much higher degree of intuition. Listen to the gut (or heart) rather than being over-analytical. 

Periodically, I ask my students to share what got them into their first yoga class, or, what they like most about yoga. There are always so many different responses which I relish hearing. For some, the purpose of yoga may be a specific physical concern. For example, high blood pressure, stress relief, back problems or chronic pain.

Following are testimonials from two of my students that attest to the physical improvements achieved with yoga. 

The purpose of yoga, first the physical

the purpose of yoga:beyond the physical“I stumbled into yoga. Within three to four months, my chronic hip pain improved, and I feel great. I love it.”

“It was eye opening how out of shape I was. Now, I can’t imagine life without it.”

Those are the common threads in our society. In an age where it is normal to be overstressed, many of us are looking for the fountain of youth. Others may want to fit into skinny jeans. Possibly the lion’s share enter yoga to ease some sort of physical discomfort. Although they may take their first dip with yoga for the physical benefits, the non-physical purpose of yoga shines through after a while. 

Many of us older yogis recognize that the deepest benefits of yoga have nothing to do with mastering a challenging pose.

Several of my students beautiful express the purpose of yoga, for themselves.

The purpose of yoga, next, the mind and soul

the purpose of yoga: awareness“I was going through hard times. I needed to slow down my thoughts. Yoga is so freeing and life changing.”

“The breathing was hard for me when I first started. The more I try, the more I find I use in in my other life challenges.”

“As the mother of four, for 17 years, I always put others first. After my first yoga class, I was hooked.” 

“As an artist, I do yoga because it’s visually very beautiful.”

Those last four statements reflect how one’s spirit —and life— is touched through yoga. To sum it up, the purpose of yoga is to reach and heal the inner self. Interestingly enough, while yoga can be a way to nurture oneself, and an act of self-care, it is also an act of freeing oneself of the ego.

Saul David Raye is a yogi that teaches all over the world. I’ve been fortunate to have attended a few intensives with him. He says, “The whole practice of yoga is to move away from the ego.” 

The purpose of yoga, to set aside the ego

the purpose of yoga: selflessness Yet, he asserts, if he put a sign on the door saying, “ego-releasing class,” chances are the room would be empty.

Raye adds, “We’re good at practice. What we do we become.” However, the examples he gives are not about quieting the mind, but worrying and eating. 

“We play ego games. ‘Oh she’s evil. He’s a jerk.’ The ego wants to take credit for everything.”

“What we do, we become,” says Raye. “We spend most of our waking time at work, so we become — or identify ourselves — as an accountant, or a landscaper, or an engineer.  Rather than looking into our hearts to say, I’m a lover of the color blue, or respectful of all living beings.” 

“Overriding the practice of our life has to be the heart,” says Raye. “It can’t be ego. We’re all trying to get rid of this ‘I’ that’s choking us.”

How to put the ego in its place

  • Beyond the Kundalini “ego eradicator” exercise, there are many ways to keep your ego at bay.
  • Whether you meditate, or just sink in a quieting pose for several minutes a day can help.
  • Surround yourself with positive minded people (sangha).
  • Find teachers who can help you to expand your consciousness.
  • Try chanting or japa (mala beads) meditation. Incorporate breath work in your routine.
  • Focus on breath work first thing in the morning to clear your mind and invigorate you.
  • Likewise, in the evening, avoid what Raye calls the “cable neurotic network” (CNN). Turn off all lights and electronic devices. Just focus on your breath to calm and settle you before you go to sleep. And, hey, counting sheep isn’t too bad, either.
  • Finally, remember the sutras. Read another yogi’s Sutras Simplified here
yoga for healthy sleep patterns; sunrise yoga in Belize

Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

Surya Namaskar: My Ayurvedic Dinacharya in Belize

yoga for healthy sleep patterns; yoga at sunriseI’m in Belize. By 6:30 at night, the sky is pitch black. There are no cars or trucks on my small island. That’s because there are no paved streets, anywhere. Nor, are there bright lights or neon signs hanging from the streets to bring about an unnatural sense of time. In my lifetime, they brought electricity to this island. Nonetheless, there’s no blasting of TVs. Just the occasional  rhythmic beats streaming out from the bars. Other than that, when it’s night, it’s quiet. As it should be, in my book. Here, or at home, I am loyal to my Ayurvedic dinacharya (routine). My prescribed lifestyle is all about optimum wellness, including  yoga and healthy sleep patterns. 

For one, I never eat after 7 p.m. Here, my light evening meal is closer to 5:00 p.m. I take a refreshing cold water shower once the sun is no longer at its peak. Then, I rub my skin with coconut oil laced with lavender and geranium essential oils. Abhyanga (oil massage), with my homemade oil, even helps repel mosquitos. Next, I chant. By 9 p.m., I’m in bed. More often than not, before then. 

So, in the wee hours of the morning, I’m wide awake. I squeeze a lime into my freshly made ginger tea. After I hydrate, I go to the water’s edge to begin my pre-dawn practice. Six breath work exercises followed by a dozen sets of sun salutations. As the sun rises, I lift my heart and head to honor it. No one is around. Except maybe one or two of my dogs. The breeze is cool. The morning sun is gentle. I hear the sounds of nature. Waves. Birds. Insects. Dogs. Occasionally, a bike rider passing near by, or a golf cart picking up the trash. Sometimes, the sound of a motor boat in the wake, filled with fisherman looking for crab, lobster or other catches.

This is my daily routine in Belize. The slogan for my island is appropriate.  “Go Slow.” I feel connected to nature in many ways. Among them, my body’s instinct to slow down when it’s dark, and rev up my brain and body with the sun. 

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

moonlight is the time for sleepThe average American goes to sleep many hours after dark. In many “developed” countries it’s normal to eat dinner as late as 9 p.m. Plus, it’s all too common, in “modern” cultures for people to not get a good night’s sleep. Ayurveda points to many reasons for this, especially the time clock. Therefore, yoga and healthy sleep patterns are inseparable.

Ayurveda teaches us to be in sync with the elements:  earth, water, fire, air and ether. The elements represent your body, and the world in which you live. For me, it’s also about being in sync with nature. Including the sun and the moon. Day and night. Yang versus yin.  

For three decades, I’ve thrived without eight hours of sleep a night.  I don’t need as much zzz’s as others. My body and mind rest through my practice, on and off the mat. My current Ayurvedic routine contributes to releasing tensions and from my body and mind, while ensuring that my energy is flowing at the right times, and in the right ways.

Following are some of my tips for a restful sleep, along with those of Aadil Palkhivala. Aadil has been practicing yoga for 51 years. He has a very hectic world travel schedule, which aggravates the vata, thus, disturbing sleep patterns. What’s more, the man that was initiating into the yoga world at the age of seven, under the direction of B.K.S. Iyengar, has had to overcome “amazing injuries.”

Why We Need to Sleep Like a Baby

yoga for healthy sleep patterns to sleep like a baby

There are many reasons why rest, or sleep are essential for healthy living. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the number one cause for injuries was lack of sleep. And, when you lack just one hour of sleep, it’s similar to when you drink two glasses of wine.

“Sleep is the time when your body can move from its current sympathetic state to a state of healing. Healing ONLY happens in the parasympathetic response. It tells the body it is SAFE now to heal. If I don’t feel safe, I cannot move into the parasympathetic response. Creating a context of safety is crucial for sleep.”

I sometimes override the sleep state, by turning on the parasympathetic response system, directly. For example, when in a plane or other places when I know my sleep will be scant, I practice extended sessions of pranayama. Alternate nostril breathing with kumbhaka (retention and suspension of breath) is a great way to switch on the parasympathetic system.

Aadil says, “When the mind is oscillating, you can’t sleep. A scattered mind prevents you from sleeping.” According to Aadil, there was a very old woman in a hospital. She didn’t sleep for days. Then, someone held her hand. Voila. The comfort of human touch, and sense of carrying, was what she needed to fall asleep. Likewise, with babies. When you rock them, sing to them, touch their bodies or head, they will doze off. Even more apparent, when a baby is nursing, they are in a profound state of relaxation.  

When we are frazzled, we can’t sleep. Spooning may be a way to calm oneself. But, for those sleeping solo, breathwork or meditation are easy chill pills. 

Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

cats-in-bed-restful-sleepA kirtan artist, GuruGanesha Singh, once told me that when he first entered a Kundalini/Sikh community, he was told they started their day at 4. He said no problem, thinking they meant p.m. The former rock musician was rocked out of his comfort zone when he learned the daily practice was at 4 a.m.

Before some have turned off the lights, I may be awake, feeling completely rested. Aadil explains that every hour of sleep before midnight is equivalent to 1.5 hours of rest. Hence, My three or four hours of early sleep are just as good as six hours of someone else’s later night sleep. Furthermore, he says that sleep after 6 a.m. is ineffective. Most yogic traditions, like the Kundalini, encourage morning sadhana (practice) before sunrise.

Pretty much all my life, I’ve been an early riser. Daylight is a trigger for me. My body — and brain — are most alert at dawn. Aadil explains that, “We are not just bodies. We are part of the sun and the moon.”  Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that the daytime sun gives us heat, energy, movement (pitta). Whereas, the evening moon is associated with coolness and stillness. 

Regardless of your dosha, most of us have a vata-induced lifestyle. Just as travel aggravates vata, deadlines, and working or thinking about work 24/7 wreaks havoc on your balance. Typically, vata folks get the least amount of sleep, whereas kaphas love their slumber and even naptimes. 

Good sleep depends on your lifestyle. “It’s the law of cause and effect. It’s that simple. Don’t expect good sleep,” says Aadil, if you don’t have a healthy routine. 

Five Tips for Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

  • hibernating bear--yoga for healthy sleep patternsBlue light hinders sleep states. Hence, I light candles and turn on salt lamps before bedtime. No traditional lights, and most importantly, no TV, computers or smart phones.
  • “Our body is a body of light,” says Aadil. “The body feels claustrophobic in dark colors.” Feng Shui suggests earth and skin tones for bedrooms. Other options are light greens and lavenders, which I chose, as they remind me of a garden.  Similar to Ayurveda, Feng Shui says it’s essential to customize based on your constitution/elements. 
  • Food is energy. It’s not required for sleep, rather for active daytime activities. So, refrain from eating at least several hours before bedtime. Plus, food in the evening should be kapha-promoting. No spicy pitta-inducing foods. However, camomile, mint or other soothing herbs are good. 
  • I repeat mantras before bed to relax my body and mind. Yin yoga, meditation or breath work are other good options. Aadil suggests inhaling for a count of two, exhaling for a count of four (to kick in the parasympathetic system) and suspending the breath for a count of three.
  • Consider body mechanics.  Aadil explains that the area from the occipital ridge on the skull to T2 (about the level of your clavicle) play a big part in the parasympathetic activation. 
    • Therefore, he suggests practicing bridge poses, with deltoids rolled under the body. Or, try a supported yin bridge. Another option is legs up a wall. Whichever you choose, hold as long as possible and focus on your breath. To release, lift the hips up and down nine times to reactivate spine. 
    • Another asana he recommends at bedtime is supta padangustasana as the pull on the Achilles tendon travels all the way to the occipital ridge.
    • Aadil says the spine shrinks with fear. Therefore, he suggests stretching the spine every single night. Consider a restorative downward dog. 

For more on yoga and healthy sleep patterns, read one of my earlier articles. Or, check out Aadil’s site.  ”Born a yogi, inside his mothers womb,” he’s author three Yoga Teacher Training manuals and Fire of Love and contributes to Yoga Journal and Prevention magazine.