Category Archives: Therapy & Benefits

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.

dhyana mudra tibetan meditation mudra

Yoga Is Everywhere, or Is It? What Is yoga?

Yoga Is everywhere — Yet Hardly Anywhere At All

yoga is an ancient wisdom. image of buddha.Yoga has spread so wide, that it is now very shallow.  In Hong Kong, for example, between 20,000 and 30,000 people say they practice yoga every day.  Crowded into large buildings, what they’re doing is not really yoga, says Aadil Palkhivala. So, what is yoga?

Aadil Palkhivala know what is yoga. For sure. He was “born a yogi, inside his mothers womb.” By age of seven, he was a “full-time yogi” under the guidance of BKS Iyengar.  He is considered one of the finest yoga teachers. Aadil has his own institute, but he travels all over the world teaching, and speaking, to share his knowledge. He’s author of three yoga teacher training manuals, and a book called Fire of Love. Additionally, he contributes to Yoga Journal and Prevention magazines. 

Interestingly, after 51 years of dedication to yoga, he has found balance to obtain degrees in physics and math, and jurisprudence.

What Is Yoga

What follows, are some of Aadil’s thoughts about what is yoga. His remarks are based on workshops and lectures for Yoga Therapists that I attended in California. 

Yoga Is Tried and True

First, consider yoga’s astonishing lineage. It has been practiced for approximately 16,000 years. Hence, it has to be respected. The deeper we dive into it, and conduct clinical studies, the more we vindicate its authenticity.

Yoga Isn’t Just Asana 

yoga isn't about poses: mindfulness. image of buddha with mala.Of course the poses have their benefits. But, Aadil likens them to being a temporary band-aid.  

Voltaire said, “The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient in a good mood, while nature does the healing.” 

Only after realizing the underlying issues can the healing take place. That’s also the foundation for Ayurveda and TCM and how I try to work with my clients. 

Rein In the Monkey Mind

Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah. The second sutra teaches us the importance of calming our mind.  Yoga is the control of our wandering mind. Calming the consciousness. 

We Are Part of the Universe

We are not just bodies. Actually, we are standing on earth, breathing in air, bathing in water, and connecting with the sun and the moon. We are part of the entire universe and its elements. Likewise, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, both of which are foundations of my yoga therapy, are rooted in the balance of elements. 

Physical Issues Aren’t Always Physical Issues 

The masters understood that physical problems don’t begin in the physical body. Rather, they manifest there. Again, this is part of Ayurvedic teachings, and Ayurveda is considered the sister to yoga.

Honor Your Spirit Soul

what is yoga? cessation of the monkey mind.Part and parcel of the physical body is your spirit soul, your emotions and your thoughts. Problems start when connections with the spirit and the rest are broken. Yoga, of course, is the connection (yoke) between those. “If it weren’t for your soul, you’d be gone. Poof, says Aadil. ”When there’s a disconnection between the spirit and the rest of you, you get a reminder from the universe. Her reminder is pain. The great master, and my teacher, Sri Aurobindo, said ‘pain is the signature of the ignorance. Attesting the secret god denied by life.’”

Real therapy is making that connection with your spirit. Until then it’s a band-aid. It’s “allopathic yoga.” The spirit is very very direct. If you don’t like to be told what to do, forget spirituality. 

Listen to Your Heart

You have an innate knowledge. Just as people talk about a “gut reaction,” it’s really the heart that is guiding them. But, most don’t honor or recognize that.  Aadil asks, “If you have a home, why do you spend your lives in other peoples’ homes? The point is, that we have a home in our heart, not in our head. Healing happens at home. Your inner awareness is far greater than you can fathom.” 

We Are Beings of Light

what is yoga? enlightenment.Your mind plays a very big role in the effect on your body. Massive. 

Aadil explains that according to physics, there are two types of particles. Bosons and fermions. So far, science has always believed they were independent of each other. Yet, they, like so many things, are interconnected and interrelated. Bosons are the glue that holds fermions together. “You can, with your mind, create a boson.” Since photons are related to bosons, that essential means that we are able to create light. “We are amazingly powerful human beings. We waste our potential.”

Continuing from his scientific mind, he notes a DNA Phantom Effect study in Moscow. Researchers found that when a laser was beamed into a tube containing DNA, the DNA absorbed the light. More notably, after removing the laser light, it retained that light for 30 days. 

Likewise, he alludes, whenever the body heals, you are activating a strand of the DNA.  Strands are only activated when DNA is unwound. Through yoga, we smoothen that inner ladder.

Purity In the Heart and Soul

purity in the heart and soul: mindfulness. image of buddha with mala.In closing, I’d like to give a translation of the gayatryi mantra. Like the DNA configuration, it is said that the benefits of chanting the gayatri spiral out from the chanter, into the universe. Some consider it a peace prayer. Peace within and peace outside. Others, a calling for divine wisdom.  Consequently, some repeat this mantra, nightly, at bedtime. Or, upon rising. Aadil equates the meaning of this mantra to be the foundation of yoga. 

There are so many translations for this beautiful heart-opening mantra. The following is from my Chant and Be Happy workshop, tweaked by Aadil’s words. 


Om Bhur Bhu-va Sva-ha. Tat Sa-vi-tur Va-re-nyam. Bhar-go De-va-sya Dhi-ma-hi. Dhi-yo Yo Na Pra-cho-da-yat.

On the absolute reality and its planes, On that finest spiritual light, represented by the sun, We meditate, as remover of obstacles. Come fill our consciousness. That it may inspire and enlighten us with effulgence. 

 

yoga and meditation for creating health and balance

Yoga Therapy for Creating Health

It’s easy to draw a line between yoga and flexibility, calm and a focused mind. Now that pencil points to yoga therapy for creating health.

Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa has been a yoga practitioner for four decades.  Aside from his personal practice, he’s director of research for the Kundalini Research Institute, research director of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Grounded in data, he had a dream. His vision was to see a conference dedicated to yoga research. 

Now, it’s a reality.  In fact, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) holds two conventions every year. One, the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), is a general membership conference. SYTAR sheds light on research advances, among other things, relevant to yoga therapy schools and therapists. The second, the Symposium on Yoga Research (SYR) is solely about research. SYR disseminates recent research findings, with a focus on opportunities for collaboration and interaction between yoga researchers.

The Stage is Set for Creating Health with Yoga Therapy

yoga and meditation for creating health and balanceToday, there are more than 5,000 IAYT members in 53 countries. I attended the ninth annual SYTAR gathering last month in Newport Beach.  Member practitioners from Australia, the U.K., Japan, China, Denmark, Colombia, India and Puerto Rico attended. Plus, there were hundreds of North Americans, and a large contingency from California.

“We are on the cusp of change,” said Dr. Khalsa. “37 million Americans are practicing yoga. It’s an exponential curve. We are seeing a major transition of yoga into the schools, workplace and health care. Yoga is in 80 hospitals in Sweden.” 

These institutions require evidence-based research, explained Dr. Khalsa. Fortunately, yoga researchers have the facts to prove the benefits of yoga. There is data related to a myriad of conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s prevention to scoliosis to PTSD. 

“Yoga therapy research is exploding. We’re going up in quality and quantity.” When you review the evidence-based data, it’s a no-brainer.

“Application of yoga therapy is always beneficial as an adjunct therapy as it can improve stress, mood and quality of life in patients.  In some disorders such as insomnia, it may be reasonably considered as an efficacious first-line treatment,” suggested Dr. Khalsa. Not surprisingly, “Twice as many yoga practitioners claim they have better health (than non-yoga followers), and yogis use less meds —and cigarettes, and exercise more.”

Yoga As A Way of Life

yoga and meditation for creating health and balanceHowever, what many don’t realize is that yoga is a way of life. Hence, yoga therapy, for me, is lifestyle management. 

While I’ve been practicing yoga most my life, I amped up my practice as I got older.

For me, it was about creating health. Today, I’m at my lowest post-adolescent weight. Plus, chronic back pain and digestive disorders are rarely a nuisance. More importantly, as a 60-year-old diabetic, I take zero allopathic meds. As I deepened my yoga practice, I scrubbed up my already healthy yogic (vegetarian, alcohol- and caffeine-free) lifestyle. Goodbye dairy and gluten.  Now, I follow an Ayurvedic dinacharya for creating health. I have work/life balance. Moreover, I’ve found physical, energetic, emotional, and spiritual balance.

Burnout is a major problem in our society. We want more, more, more, and work, work, work. That doesn’t jive with yogic ways.

“We see essentially a rat race,” said Dr. Khalsa. “We need to be able to change our life meaning and purpose. Modern medicine is incapable of doing this.” Our current system is “disease care, not health care,” he asserts. 

Research Supports Benefits of Yoga and Creating Health

sat Bir khalsa-principles-and-practice-of-yoga-in-health-careAs mentioned in his books, “Your Brain on Yoga, A Harvard Medical School Guide,” and “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care,” Khalsa points to compelling scientific evidence. Yoga and meditation can change our brains, and our lives. Yoga is a stress buster and a positive mental attitude booster. 

Research done in conjunction with Austin’s Yoga Yoga confirmed that yoga minimizes stress.  Furthermore, studies of young musicians at Tanglewood found that after just six weeks of a yoga practice, they were more “in the zone” and had increases in mindfulness and the flow state and improvements in mood.  

Mindfulness is a buzz word now. So is organics. Yet, the vast majority of Americans still don’t get with the program. Not surprisingly, non-communicable diseases, many of which are stress-induced or stress-aggravated, are at all at time high. The United States is tops in obesity. 

“Modern medicine does not emphasize self-regulation, self-care, or mind-body awareness (which yoga does). The public expects immediate gratification and that’s a problem. Patients don’t feel they have to do anything. We are spending more, and are less healthy. The only strategies doctors use are fear.” 

Fortunately, the bell tide is starting to turn. Dr. Dean Ornish conducted research in conjunction with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for 16 years. In 2010, Medicare began to reimburse costs for Ornish’s lifestyle-based program. So, in essence, Medicare recognized yoga therapy for heart disease.

Dr. Khalsa is in tune with Dr. Ornish, who wrote the forward to Khalsa’s “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care.” Change must be from the bottom up, both in respect to wellness, and our failing medical system. 

Change Agents Creating Health

yoga and meditation for creating health and balanceLikewise, John Weeks, editor of the Journal of Complementary Medicine lectured at SYTAR. Weeks acknowledged one of the problems with healthcare in our society is that wellness does not incentivize.

That said, he agreed that mainstream medicine is getting the hint. Weeks referred to Donald Berwick, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In fact, Berwick has openly stated we need change agents. The Harvard-trained pediatrician, influenced by Jon Kabat Zinn and Dr. Ornish, has fought relentlessly to improve the state of health care. Consequently, his takeaway is that we must create health. 

Similarly, in The Huffington Post, Weeks mentioned a survey among health care professionals.  Namely, 84 percent agreed that “Complementary and alternative medicine is a tool of our deeper mission of transformation which will only be successful if we help birth in the U.S. a thriving industry of health creation.”

In conclusion, Weeks says, “A huge door to such a transformation is swinging open.” 

Healing Body, Mind and Soul: Yoga for Grief

 

Antonio Sausys is a somatic psychotherapist and a yoga therapist. He specializes in yoga for grief relief. Like many of us, he found his path into yoga, and yoga therapy, as a way to deal with his own grief. 

When he was 19 years old, his mother had a stroke and passed away. She was only 54 years old.  He didn’t allow himself to grieve naturally.

“Every time the grief would come, I’d switch it off,” he says.

One day, he was traveling in the Pampas of Argentina where he was able to reconnect with his grief and ‘stay’ with it.  At the time, he discovered a hard surface in his chest, and he was diagnosed with a bone spur. His doctor insisted that the spur was a result of a physical trauma.   

Yet, “I didn’t have any accident. What I did understand was that my body created this thing to say ‘hey, take care of your heart.’”

Yoga for grief

As a result, he changed the direction of his studies – engaging in Somatic Psychotherapy and began a yoga practice to address his heart.  It was intuitive. To this day, he pulls from that inner wisdom. His approach to yoga for grief relief is very powerful work. He incorporates pranayama (breathwork), movement therapy including pawanmuktasana (joint freeing series) and sankalpas (affirmation/resolve). 

“I knew exactly what I needed. Now I know that yoga is within all of us. It’s not what we practice Mondays at 6:15 pm.” 

However, culture often dictates how we respond to death. Moreover, how we grieve people’s passing.  The traditional response mechanisms can vary significantly from one religion, country or society to another. That said, the grieving process is not always short, or simple. Plus, grieving is far more than just about the loss of a loved one. 

At a recent workshop on yoga for grief, Sausys talked about myths associated with the pain of grieving. Below, are summaries.

Myth #1:  Grief only appears when someone dies. 

Wrong. First, grief can be loss of identity. Or, safety if one had an abusive step father. Actually, the loss doesn’t have to be a loved one. Loss of health, hair, eyesight, job, limb, expectations, hope, innocence, safety, ideals, relationships, dreams, youth, status or independence all can cause grief.

Furthermore, there are primary and secondary losses. Sausys says that the secodary losses can often be more difficult to overcome. It may be easier to grieve and heal from the loss of a parent or spouse. But, the secondary losses, i.e., divorce, home, friends, status, family, are a lot more prevailing in the individual’s life.

“New grief triggers old grief. Other people’s grief triggers our own.” As an example, he says that current events can ramp up a grieving pattern. 

Myth #2: Grief is purely emotional. 

Next, there are many emotions that arise during grieving. “Sadness is not the only feeling. Guilt. Anger. Social isolation,” he explains.  Sometimes, grief leads to the end, or beginning, of a spiritual journey. On a physical level, our bodies respond. For example, one may be hunched over to protect the heart.

“We create body armor,” he says. Grieving is “physical, mental, social, behavioral and spiritual. There are few illnesses that present this many symptoms.”

Myth #3: Grief is the price we pay for love

Thirdly, what causes grief is attachment. Interestingly enough, yoga teaches one to seek detachment. Namely, Asteya. Aparigraha. Santosha.

“We identify our selves with our attachments. Therefore, after an important loss of that which we are attached to, we are no longer who we were. Re-identification is needed via using the self knowledge that grief provides. What better than yoga to find who we really are.”

“For yoga, love is what is left after you’ve let go of everything you love. Anahatha (the heart chakra) has two chords: love and attachment. Positive and negative. In the west, love equals attachment. We are hard neurologically-wired for attachment. Not so in east.”

Myth #4: Grief is short-lived. 

yoga for griefLyn Prashant, Sausys’ teacher and mentor, says we don’t get over grief, we change our relationship to it. Plus, our society doesn’t make it easy to grieve, naturally.

In closing, Sausys says, “Grievers need to be heard. We don’t have outlets to talk about grief. In a way, we are all candidates for grief burnout.”

Note: Sausys is based out of northern California. He has retreats and workshops scheduled for later this year in Canada, Chicago, Massachusetts and the Bahamas –at one of my alma maters, Sivananda.  Learn more about therapeutic yoga for grief, PTSD, or other emotional or physical needs. Visit my Contact page.