Healing with Yoga from the Inside

Yoga’s Unique Approach

Why is Yoga different from other forms of exercise and how does it facilitate healing? Why do students leave Yoga feeling energized yet calm? The goal of Yoga is beyond stretching hamstrings, losing weight or building muscle mass. The sister sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda function together as an integrated wellness system. The blending of asana, pranayama and meditation creates an efficacious practice, regardless of age or physical limitations. The ancient texts teach us the three main purposes of Hatha Yoga:

  1. To purify the body
  2. To balance physical, mental and energetic aspects
  3. To engage in physical practices that lead to higher consciousness

Health Benefits of Yoga

As Yoga becomes more ubiquitous throughout the world, doctors and scientists are researching the physiological and psychological effects of Yoga. Acknowledged health benefits include:

  • Improves posture, balance and eye-hand coordination.
  • Tones the body, stretches and strengthens muscles, creating more flexibility and agility.
  • Reduces bone-thinning and the risks of osteoporosis.
  • Lubricates joints and improves range of motion.
  • Reduces stiffness, aches and pains related to inactivity.
  • Calms mind and body; promotes relaxation and regulates sleep cycles.
  • Improves concentration and focus.
  • Encourages mindful eating and a sattvic lifestyle.
  • Improves body systems, including respiration, circulation and digestion.
  • May lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
  • Balances energy, hormones and boosts endurance and immunities.
  • Improves a sense of well-being and cultivates gratitude.

Asanas and their Effects

Seated meditation prepares the body for movement, balances breath and energy and focuses the mind inward and into the present moment.

Moving in and out of poses stretches the muscles, while staying in a pose is strengthening. Standing poses with longer holds build bone and muscle mass.

Spinal twists aid in release of toxins and create more flexibility in the spine.

Seated and standing forward bends and Apanasana, massage abdominal area and aid in digestion.

Back bends (chest openers) aid in respiration.

Grounding, restorative poses calm the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Yoga is a moving meditation regulated by the breath.

Yoga teachings describe the physical, subtle and causal bodies (shariras) and five sheaths (koshas) bound together by wheels of energy (chakras). The subtle body is composed of energy, mind and intellect. Prana (breath, life force) flows through energy channels (nadi). Pranayama controls breath and energy and opens the nadi to access healing throughout the body.

Moving faster between asanas builds more heat and energy (brahmana), while slower transitions lead to a gentler, more mindful practice (langhana). Body and breath awareness increase with persistent practice and each Yogi/ni learns to adjust for time of day, vitality and other considerations.

Finding Balance

According to Ayurveda and Yoga, wellness is defined as the balanced and dynamic integration between environment, body, mind and spirit. All matter is composed of five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space). The elements combine into three basic energies (doshas) – vata, pitta and kapha. Each person has a unique constitution (prakriti) composed of the doshas.

One primary goal of an Ayurvedic Yoga practice is to balance the doshas. To maintain balance and find wellness use the principle of opposites. For example, on a cool damp day, practice with more movement and standing postures to increase energy and heat. Conversely during the heat of summer, practice in the morning or evening with more grounding, restorative poses. People with a Vata constitution may benefit from a langhana practice, while those with a Kapha constitution may benefit from a brahmana practice.

The Eightfold Path

Many students come to Yoga to stretch or reduce stress, then discover the deeper teachings, including the ashtanga (eightfold) path of Yoga. Healing and transformation are experienced through a full practice embracing all eight limbs of Yoga.

  1. Yama – worldly restraints and ethical standards
    • Ahimsa – nonviolence
    • Satya – truthfulness
    • Asteya – non-stealing
    • Brahmacharya – pure way of life
    • Aparighaga – non-possessiveness
  2. Niyama – personal restraints
    • Shauca – purity, cleanliness
    • Santosha – contentment
    • Tapas – self-control, self-discipline
    • Svadhyaya – study of the scriptures, deeper meanings, philosophy
    • Ishavara pranidhana – surrender to a higher force; pure seeing
  3. Asana – physical postures; mastering the body to prepare for meditation
  4. Pranayama – control of the vital force (breath)
  5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana – concentration
  7. Dhyana – meditation or contemplation
  8. Samadhi – absorption in the object of meditation; complete realization

When the body is cleansed, the mind purified and the senses controlled, joyful awareness, needed to realize the inner self, also comes. 

~ Yoga Sutras


This post was written as part of a collaboration with Chinmay Yoga. Learn more about this non-profit Yoga school in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India on their website and Facebook page. Their blog has both educational and inspirational articles about Yoga.

Ayurveda and Herbs

Ayurveda includes a vast body of knowledge about herbs, plant medicines and preparations. Early Vedic texts describe the energies within plants and their use as medicine. Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, the two classic Ayurvedic texts classified all medicinal substances into three groups: vegetable, animal and mineral origin. The Ayurveda material medica are articulated in Astanga Hrdaya and Astanga Samgraha

Dravya is an herb, preparation, drug or substance taken internally or externally to maintain health, ease pain or treat disease. Herbal substances are uniquely administered to help restore or maintain balance using a thorough understanding of prakriti (constitution) and the doshas. For example, a person with a vata constitution may exhibit the same or similar symptoms as a person with a pitta dosha. However, they should not necessarily be given identical treatments. An Ayurvedic approach to herbology treats the whole person, not the symptom.

Preparations and Dosage

Herbalists learn preparations, including a knowledge of the parts of the plant used most effectively: roots, bark, trunk, gum, stems, juice, leaves, salt, pulp, fruit, flowers, ash, oil, spikes, rhizomes, seeds or in some cases, the entire plant. Flowers and leaves lend themselves to infusions in hot water, like the tulsi tea I am sipping. Medicines within roots and barks are released by boiling until most of the water has evaporated. This is known as a decoction. Other preparations include fresh juice, herbal pastes and powders, and medicated oils.

When choosing the right dosage, Ayurveda considers:

  • Strength, metabolism, age and other conditions of the patient
  • Strength and duration of the disease
  • Season of the year
  • Potency, energy, essence of the herb – known as virya
    • Is it cooling – containing the energy of water?
    • Is it heating – containing the energy of fire?
  • Special potency or prahbava of the herb

The time of day dravya is administered also influences its efficacy. For example, most people should not ingest medicines on an empty stomach in the morning. Exceptions may include healthy people with a strong, kapha constitution. Dravya may be taken before a meal to increase the digestive fire and tone intestinal muscles.

Energy vibrations

Energetics, doshas, tastes and more 

Ayurveda texts describe a set of specific plants, alone or in combination as rasayana (nourishing the essence of life). Each herb embodies energy vibrations that match an energy vibration in the human body. Nature uses the same materials when creating plants, minerals, and human bodies. According to the Vedic sages, the building blocks of nature (subtle vibrations) are universal. Due to this belief in the likeness within all of nature, herbs, sounds, gemstones, colors, aromas, and foods all act as medicine when used properly.

The taste or rasa of an herb is an indication of its properties. When we eat according to our constitution and by taste, we feel healthy and vital. Each taste is composed of two elements and effect doshas as follows:

  • Sweet (earth and water) – increases kapha; decreases vata and pitta
  • Sour (earth and fire) – increases kapha and pitta; decreases vata
  • Salty (water and fire) – increases kapha and pitta; decreases vata
  • Pungent (fire and air) – decreases kapha; increases vata and pitta
  • Bitter (air and ether) – decreases kapha and pitta; increases vata
  • Astringent (air and earth) – decreases kapha and pitta; increases vata

In addition to the taste we sense in our mouths, food and herbs are transformed by the digestive process. The first phase of digestion (kapha) is in the mouth and stomach and is dominated by a sweet taste. The second phase (pitta) occurs in the stomach and small intestine and is dominated by a sour taste. The final phase (vata) occurs in the colon and is predominately pungent. The post-digestive effect, known as vipaka relates to the process of absorption and elimination. Herbs tend to aggravate the dosha whose vipaka they possess. There are three categories: sweet and salty possess a sweet vipaka; sour has a sour vipaka; bitter, astringent and pungent all possess pungent vipaka.

There are qualities (gunas) inherent in every plant, animal and mineral. Each quality has an opposite quality. Ayurveda teaches us how to find our way back to balance by treating with opposites. For example, herbs with a light, sharp quality can treat heaviness and lethargy.

  • Heavy/Light
  • Cold/Hot
  • Oily/Dry
  • Dull/Sharp
  • Smooth/Rough
  • Dense/Liquid
  • Soft/Hard
  • Stable/Mobile
  • Gross/Subtle
  • Cloudy/Clear

Some of the qualities are easy to determine whereas other qualities are more nuanced. For example, food full of chili peppers is obviously hot. Mashed potatoes and gravy are heavy. Water with lemon and ginger is a relatively clear drink, whereas a milk shake is very cloudy. An example of a rough herb is guggul. This resin scrapes toxins from our body!

Body Systems, Tissues and Therapeutic Actions

Muscle tissue

Western medicine categorizes herbs and medicines based upon their effect on a specific body system. Ayurveda also considers the effect of dravya upon our tissues or dhatus. The dhatus are:

  • Rasa – plasma, lymphatic fluid
  • Rakta – blood
  • Mamsa – muscle
  • Meda – fat
  • Asthi – bone
  • Majja – bone marrow
  • Shakra – reproductive fluids
  • Ojas – the essence of all dhatus

Herbs can be categorized by their therapeutic actions upon body systems and tissues.

  • Alterative herbs cleanse and purify the blood.
  • Antiparasitic herbs kill and remove worms.
  • Astringent herbs are drying and firming and help avoid excessive discharges.
  • Bitter herbs are detoxifying, deplete tissues, suppress or sedate organic bodily functions
  • Carminative herbs relieve intestinal gas, pain and distention; they help promote peristalsis.
  •  Diaphoretic herbs induce perspiration; restore circulation, lower fever and eliminate toxins from the surface of the body.
  • Diuretic herbs increase urination and promote kidney and bladder function.
  • Emmenagogues help promote and regulate menstruation; help with PMS, uterine infections.
  • Expectorant and demulcent herbs promote the discharge of phlegm and mucus.
  • Laxative and purgative herbs promote bowel movements and help eliminate food accumulations and toxic build-up (ama) from the intestines.
  • Nervine and antispasmodic herbs strengthen the function activity of the nervous system. Include stimulants and sedatives.
  • Stimulant and digestive herbs stimulate digestion resulting in an increase in all organic functions.
  • Aphrodisiacs reinvigorate the sexual organs.
  • Tonics nurture the tissues of the body – rejuvenating tonics (rasayanas) promote physical strength, boost cognitive function and prevent disease.
Fennel

My story

When I began my studies in Ayurveda in 2009, I had acid indigestion, heartburn, pain and distension in my stomach. On my teachers’ recommendations, I stopped drinking orange juice, eating hot peppers (bowls of salsa with chips) and fruit with my yogurt. And I naturally stopped drinking wine. I traded cayenne and chili powder for cardamom and ajwain. And I learned the benefits of cumin, coriander and fennel tea. I also began taking triphala. My digestive problems were gone within a few months and have not returned. When I stray for a day or two – I still love a bowl of chili on a cold winter night – I notice the difference immediately. Simple changes can create a dramatic shift.


Earth, sky, worlds above, quarters and their halves;
Fire, air, sun, moon, and stars; water, herbs, trees,
Space, and entity are the elements.
Eye, ear, mind, tongue, and touch; skin, flesh, muscle,
Marrow, and skeleton; and the five
Vital forces constitute the body.
The sage, contemplating these sets of five,
Discovered that everything is holy.
Man can complete the inner with the outer.

From the Upanishads ~ Translated by Eknath Eawwaran

My herb garden, summer 2019

Sources:

Chopra, Deepak. 2001. Perfect health. London: Bantam.

Frawley, David, and Vasant Lad. 2016. The yoga of herbs: an Ayurvedic guide to herbal medicine.

Relax and Restore

A bed of lotus

Yoga – a holistic wellness practice

Many people are drawn to Yoga to gain strength and flexibility, or simply to get a “good stretch”. The subtler gifts of Yoga reveal themselves with persistent practice; yogis/yoginis feel energized yet relaxed, calm yet focused, strong yet flexible. What differentiates Yoga from other forms of exercise? Yoga is a holistic wellness practice. A well-balanced Yoga practice includes proper sequencing (vinyasa), poses (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation and relaxation. Ideally, Yoga classes are designed according to the time of day, season of the year, age and physical condition of the practitioners. A morning practice in the winter is more energizing than a practice designed for a summer evening. Classes designed to build strength and stamina differ from gentle, restorative classes intended to rejuvenate stressed out practitioners at the end of a demanding work week.

Yoga sequences follow a pattern, choreographed from beginning to end, known as sequencing (vinyasa).  Most classes begin in seated meditation. Attention gradually shifts from the external world inward and onto the mat, known as withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara).  As a teacher, I que my students to observe body, mind, energy and breath, feel gratitude for the present moment, then set an intention for practice. The active phase of practice is what most people associate with Yoga – seated, kneeling, standing, prone and supine postures.

Learning to be still is as important as learning to move.

Classes wind down with a set of supine restorative poses, culminating in five to ten minutes in Corpse Pose (Savasana). Poses become progressively slower with longer pauses. Exhales lengthen, releasing tension with each successive round of breath. Coming full circle, class ends where it began – in seated mediation. Before parting, students pause to feel the full effects of their Yoga practice and leave feeling rejuvenated. From an Ayurvedic perspective, restorative poses balance Vata (air and ether) energy in the body.

Reclined Butterfly in a field of dreams with Mandy

Supine restorative poses include:

  • Gentle hamstring stretch (Suptapadaangusta)
    • Extend legs up towards the ceiling with torso rests on the mat; support legs with hands behind legs or with a strap.
  • Outer hip stretch or eye of the needle (Sucirandhrasana)
    • Releases tension in outer hip.
  • Reclined Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)
    • Relaxes and stretches thigh and groin.
  • Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
    • Stretches the inner thighs, groin and hamstring.
    • Releases the spine and sacrum and SI (sacroiliac) joint.
Happy Baby Courtesy of CM-G
  • Knees to chest (Apanasana)
    • Brings body back into symmetry.
    • Gently massages abdomen and organs of digestion.
    • Releases tension in lower back.
  • Legs up the wall (Vipariti karani)
    • Releases tension in the legs, pelvic floor and lower back & aids in circulation.
    • Aids in a peaceful night’s sleep.
  • Corpse pose (Savasana)
    • Pose of repose; Savasana is a state of rest without sleeping at the end of practice.

Savasana – More than a Nap

Savasana provides an opportunity to synthesize and absorb Yoga practice, mentally, emotionally and physically. Focus returns inward. The rhythm of the heartbeat and breath slow to an almost imperceptible resting rhythm. Muscles relax and soften, bones feel heavy and the entire body yields to gravity and the healing, grounding energy of relaxation. Savasana stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the sympathetic nervous system. Practioners enter a transitional, liminal space, betwixt and between the conscious and unconscious realms – a place where healing, self-awareness and change can occur.

Coming into Savasana

  • Extend your legs with arms by your side and palms facing up
    • Alternative – bend your knees with feet on the floor (for back issues).
  • Dress to stay warm but not overheated.
    • Add cushions for the most comfortable pose.
  • Observe, then relax each part of your body.
    • Envision softness and openness in previously tight mental, emotional, and physical places.
    • Allow your body to “sink” into the mat.
  • Notice your emotional and mental state.
  • Count slower and slower rounds of breath to aid in relaxation.
  • Close your eyes; use an eye pillow.

According to Lilias Folan in Yoga Gets Better with Age, there are four aspects of relaxation:

  1. Focus your attention on each part of our body.
  2. Suggest – use your inner voice rather than letting it use you with mental chatter.
  3. Pause – wait and allow the experience to unfold. This is a moment to sharpen your inner awareness.
  4. Feel – the sensations within your body. Do not think or judge.

Relaxation thrives with repetition. The components – focus, suggest, pause and feel remain consistent but the results change with each practice.

Benefits of Savasana

  • Calms the mind & improves focus and concentration
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and tension
  • Balances energy & improves sleep
  • Relaxes muscles
  • Aids in digestion

Just for Now

Just for now, without asking how, let yourself sink into stillness. Just for now, lay down the weight you so patiently bear upon your shoulders. Feel the earth receive you, and the infinite expanse of the sky grow even wider as your awareness reaches up to meet it. Just for now, allow a wave of breath to enliven your experience. Breathe out whatever blocks you from the truth. Just for now, be boundless, free, with awakened energy tingling in your hands and feet. Drink in the possibility of being who and what you really are – so fully alive that the world looks different, newly born and vibrant, just for now.

~ Danna Faulds

Want to read more about the energetics of Yoga? Read my article in Seattle Yoga News.

Healing with Sound

Living in accordance with Ayurveda and Yoga, we strive to live in harmony with our environment.  Part of living a balanced life and maintaining wellness, includes the balanced use of our senses. Each sense corresponds to an element, a sense organ and an organ of action.

Element Sense Organ Sense Organ of Action
Ether (Akash) Ear Sound Vocal Cords
Air (Vayu) Skin Touch Hands
Fire (Teja) Eyes Sight Feet
Water (Aap) Tongue Taste Genito-Urinary Tract
Earth (Prithvi) Nose Smell Anus

The 5 senses are pathways to healing:

  • Sound healing includes mantras, chants, music, calming sounds of nature or simply silence.
  • Healing touch includes massage, an embrace from a loved one, acupuncture and acupressure, and the application of ointments, salves and medicated oils.
  • Healing can occur through visual art, gazing at the soft glow of a candle, beautiful and peaceful settings in nature and the face of a loved one.
  • Eating a balanced diet, including all six tastes helps us maintain health, vitality and vibrancy. A nutritious meal shared with loved ones in a pleasant setting leaves us feeling nourished and satisfied.
  • Aromatherapy, pleasant smells or even the memory of a smell are all healing.

Sound Within and All Around

According to ancient Vedic teachings, the cosmos and everything in it consists of sound vibrations or nada.   There are two types of nada: ahata – external sound perceived by the body/mind, and anahata – internal sound perceived by the heart chakra.

All living beings as well as water, earth, rocks, stars vibrate to a unique frequency.  Our prakriti (constitution) and vikriti (current condition) determine the rhythm of our heartbeat, breath and energy. An Ayurvedic tool to discover our internal rhythm is through pulse diagnosis. Oxygenated blood circulates through our arteries to nourish each cell of our physical body. The rhythm of our heartbeat not only depends upon our constitution, but also upon our state of health, age, time of day, season and other considerations.

  • People with a Vata constitution have a fast, thin and irregular pulse that can disappear with pressure. It is most evident using the index finger.
  • People with a Pitta constitution have a strong and forceful pulse most evident in the middle finger.
  • People with a Kapha constitution have a deep, slow and wavy pulse most evident in the ring finger.

In and Out of Sync

Have you “pulled an all-nighter” or travelled long distances through various time zones? Living outside of our normal frequency is fine now and then, but over extended periods of time, can leave us feeling weak and depleted. Our internal clock no longer lets us know the right time to eat or sleep. Our digestion and other metabolic systems may also fall “out of sync”. Our unique frequency is greatly influenced by external rhythms, pulses and beats. Modern society is full of overlapping, conflicting sounds, including traffic, computers, microwaves, industrial sounds and my favorite – multiple TV’s in restaurants! Have you noticed your heartbeat accelerate when you attend a loud concert or while driving in fast traffic? When our natural rhythm is out of sync for a prolonged period of time, we become imbalanced and eventually may become ill. 

Conversely, our heartbeat and breath become calmer during meditation, Yoga, massage, gazing at the ocean or walking in a forest.

Sound Healing

Sound healing can return our vibratory patterns to their natural state.  The use of sound as a healing therapy has existed for centuries all around the world.  Nada Yoga, meaning “union through sound” is the ancient Vedic science of inner transformation through sound vibrations, tone and resonance. It helps raise one’s awareness of the chakras and energizes them.

Each chakra is associated with a mantra and a keynote. A mantra is a word or sound (seed or bija) repeated silently to aid in meditation and promote healing. Used during Yoga, mantra focuses the mind and sets an intention for practice. Om, the mantra associated with the crown chakra is often chanted at the close of Yoga practice.

Music, mantra, chants, kirtan, singing bowls and sound baths are sound healing options to explore at Yoga studios and wellness centers. 

Music for your Dosha

Music affects moods and our health. The ragas of Indian classical music are attuned to different times of the day or different seasons to harmonize the listener with the rhythms of nature. The Ayurvedic healing principle of opposites can be applied to our choice in music. In her book, Absolute Beauty, Pratima Raichur describes music to balance each dosha:

  • People with a Vata constitution find balance with calm, slow, soft music with low tones and easy rhythms.
  • People with a Pitta constitution find balance with soothing, mellow music with medium tones and a moderate tempo.
  • People with a Kapha constitution find balance with high energy music with a fast beat and higher tones.

What type of music do you enjoy? Does a certain type of music make you uncomfortable?

Kirtan

Kirtan is a group recitation of chants led by a wallah and accompanied by musicians, usually including a harmonium player.  There is no obligation to sing and participants need not be concerned about their ability to carry a tune. Attending a Kirtan is different than passively listening to music, even if you choose not to actively participate.  Singing together creates a sense of community and joy. The room vibrates with energy. Kirtan has become so popular that well-known leaders travel the country and fill large halls. I attended one Kirtan with an audience of nearly 1,000, while smaller studios may include 15 – 25 people. In more intimate venues, people may stretch or move with the music. After attending Kirtan, I feel energized and uplifted.

Tibetan Singing Bowls

Singing Bowls and Sound Baths

Tibetan singing bowls are metal bowls, usually made of combinations of bronze, copper, gold, nickel, silver zinc, tin and iron.  Crystal singing bowls are made of quartz crystal, making them highly resonant. Both types of bowls produce tones by striking a mallet either on the side of the bowl or rubbing the mallet around the outside of the bowl. Bowls are tuned to the notes of the chakra and may be played one at a time.  Played together, the bowls vibrate with one another to create a sound like no other. The vibrations are not only heard, but are felt throughout the body. Sound Bath aids in meditation, harmonizing chakras, balancing the nervous system and can activate self-healing.

Sound Bath – illustration by Laura Kraft

I have attended four Sound Baths – each with their own unique and profound experience. I was very exhausted at my first Sound Bath, so it served primarily as a deep relaxation. My second Sound Bath was at dawn on New Year’s Day in a church. I meditated and set my intention for the year.

Last January I attended a Sound Bath and Yin Yoga practice at a wellness center. I lost track of time and space. In Yin Yoga, poses are held longer than in a typical practice. The Sound Bath took my mind off the time spent in the poses. I have had reoccurring pain in my left knee over the years. I left that night feeling no pain in my knee. And my knee has felt fine ever since!

This is my birthday month, so I treated myself to two wellness events – another Sound Bath and a Yoga practice with Tibetan Singing Bowls during a long savasana.  At the Sound Bath, I settled onto my mat at the back of the room with a bolster and a blanket. At first, I simply relaxed. Then in a flash, I experienced a tragic and painful personal event from 40 years ago. One that I had tucked deep into the recesses of my body and memory. Although I felt a wave of emotional pain at first, this time I released what I had been holding. I walked away, realizing I had been through a truly healing experience.

Last night, I attended a very mindful and gentle Yoga practice followed by Tibetan Singing Bowls. I felt each bowl resonate throughout my body, but they felt lighter and subtler than the crystal bowls. I plan to continue attending Sound Baths this year. Sound healing is the good path to follow at this point in my life.


Bathe deeply in the ocean of sound

     Vibrating within you, now as always,

Resonating softly,

Permeating the space of the heart.

The ear that is tuned by rapt listening

Learns to hear the song of creation.

First like a hand bell,

Then subtler, like a flute,

Subtler still as a stringed instrument,

Eventually as the buzz of a bee.

Entering this current of sound,

The Listening One

Forgets the external world, becomes

Absorbed into internal sound,

Then absorbed in vastness,

Like the song of the stars as they shine.

The Radiance Sutras

~ Lorin Roche, PhD

Moon Salutations

Spring Equinox

As we transition from Winter into Spring, the earth warms, flowers blossom, birds sing, and our energy shifts. We shed a few layers of clothing, feel lighter and move about more freely. We begin spending more time in outdoor activities – walking, hiking, boating, gardening – just to name a few. Ayurveda and Yoga offer ways to make simple changes to stay healthy and vital with each season. To learn tips for staying healthy this Spring, read, Living with the Seasons: Spring.

Lunar Phases

The moon reflects the light of the sun. When we linger in the moonlight, we absorb a softer, subtler energy than we experience in daylight. Last night I awoke to find my dog, Samantha basking in the moonlight. She chose the exact spot on the floor where the moonlight streamed down from our skylight. And she nearly glowed! Much has been written about the moon’s effect upon energy, moods, hormones and our reproductive cycles. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the moon will be full on the first day of Spring on March 20, 2019. And it is the third and final super moon this year. Not only will we experience a nearly equal amount of daylight hours and night time, but the added potency of a supermoon.

Celebrate the Full Moon and Equinox with Moon Salutations

As the days lengthen and our energy rises, now is great time to bring more energy and flow into our Yoga practice. Some traditions practice Yoga Mala (108 Sun Salutations) at each solstice and equinox. If you are seeking a gentler, calmer sequence to celebrate the Spring Equinox and Full Moon, try Moon Salutations.

Moon Salutation (Chandra Namaskar) is a series of poses performed in a sequence to create a cooling flow of movement. There are numerous variations to the sequence. This version is gentle and does not include getting up and down from the mat. Practice one or more rounds of Moon Salutations with your regular routine or alone.

Chandra Namaskara can be practiced any time of day. Try an evening practice with soft lighting – or even better – by moonlight. Embrace this quiet practice and draw your awareness inward. Move between poses slowly and rhythmically and allow your body to settle into each pose. Move calmly with your breath: inhale to extend, and exhale to bend. Imagine each Phase of the Moon as you move from pose to pose. Allow yourself the time to linger in a pose that beckons you.

The Moon Salutation sequence calms the mind and restores vital energy, while stretching, softening and balancing the entire body. The primary focus is on the lower body, particularly the thigh muscles, calves, pelvis, and ankles.

1. Mountain Pose – Tadasana

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your palms together at your heart center. With your feet firmly planted into the mat, feel the strength of your legs and lower body. Feel your breath deepen and your focus turn inward.

2. Wide Legged Full Moon Forward Bend – Prasarita Padottanasana

Widen your legs wide and keep your feet parallel. Create the shape of a Full Moon with your arms and reach up on the inhale and exhale down. Repeat 3 – 4 times then stay at least 5 – 7 breaths. Relax your shoulders, cradling your elbows in your hands. Alow your torso to relax towards the earth, while your legs remain strong and stable.

3. Upward Salute to Crescent Moon Side Stretch (side to side beginning on left side) – Urhva Hastasana

Return to Mountain Pose with your feet a bit wider than hip distance. Inhale and you sweep your arms overhead as if you are cradling the Crescent Moon. Exhale and bend your upper torso to the left. Keep your feet grounded and your legs strong. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale and bend to the right, and then inhale to come back to center. Repeat about 3 – 4 more times each side. Return to Mountain – feel your body side to side and from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet.

4. Goddess Squat – Utkata Konasana

Inhale and step your feet wide apart and turn your toes out slightly with hands to heart center. Exhale as you bend your knees directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder-height with your palms facing forward (goal post). Move in and out of Goddess Pose 4 – 5 times, then stay 5 – 6 breaths.

5. Star Pose

Inhale and straighten both legs, keeping your feet wide apart. Extend your arms at shoulder-height, facing your palms forward. Spread your fingers and reach out through your fingertips. Feel the energy increase with the spaciousness created in your upper body and chest. Stay in Star Pose 5 – 7 breaths.

6. Triangle Pose (left side) – Utthita Trikonasana

Align your front (left) foot so that it points towards the top of the mat and turn your back (right) foot so it is parallel with the back of the mat. Inhale as you reach your left hand towards the front of the mat. Exhale and bend sideways at the hip, lowering your left hand to your leg, a block or the mat and extend your right hand up towards the ceiling. Remain for 5 – 6 breaths.

7. Pyramid Pose – Parsvottanasana (left side)

Turn your upper torso to the left until it aligned with your left leg. Pivot your right leg slightly. Exhale as you fold your torso over your left leg. Rest both hands on your leg, a block or the mat. Ground down through the heel of your back foot. Inhale back up and return to Mountain. Take another moment to feel your body and breath before repeating the sequence on the right side.

8. Wide Legged Full Moon Forward Bend – Prasarita Padottanasana (repeat)

9. Upward Salute to Crescent Moon Side Stretch (repeat)

10. Goddess Squat – Utkata Konasana (repeat)

11. Star pose (repeat)

12. Triangle Pose (right side) – Utthita Trikonasana

13. Pyramid Pose – Parsvottanasana (right side)

14. Return to Mountain Pose – close your eyes and reconnect with your body and your breath.

15. Complete your practice with a long relaxation in Savasana. Allow every part of your body to relax into the mat.

Learn more about the phases of the moon: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/understanding-phases-moon-20606

HATHA

sun moon
rising setting
eclipsing
melding one into the other
perfect union.

I stand between the two
and try to feel
the essence
of perfect symmetry
right between the eyes:
heart of fire
quiet mind
one body
one soul
setting
rising
now
and
only
now.

~ Pilar Kimbrell

Thank you, Laura Kraft for the illustrations.

‘Tis the Season to be Compassionate

Our desire to connect, to feel love and compassion often peaks during the holiday season. Many of us struggle with loss, loneliness and remorse. Others are constantly on the go, go, go. I have experienced all of the above. Over the past few years, I reduced both my expectations and social activities. My focus has been on teaching and practicing Yoga, writing this blog, sharing quiet time with my husband and dog, and easing into semi-retirement. I feel great joy in sharing the gifts of Ayurveda and Yoga with my students and you, my reader. My intention to create communities of compassion has been partially realized. Sometimes I desire a lift, a change of pace, reconnection with loved ones, and time to reflect upon the twists and turns of life. Fortunately, I get a two week break after each quarter to re-energize.

At Bodh Gaya

Last spring, I went to India with my brother Denis to visit Margaret at Tarumitra on the outskirts of Patna. About 7 yeas ago, Margaret stayed with us for 10 weeks as an ILeap fellow. A peak experience was our day trip to Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment underneath the Bodhi tree. As I caught two leaves, I was transported back in time and envisioned Buddha meditating for seven weeks. I barely feel capable of meditating for seven minutes!  I lingered, transfixed by the Mahabodhi Temple and people from all around the globe on various pilgrimages, experiencing that moment in time together. I will forever remember the calm feeling in the air and the light rustling of the leaves.

Several weeks ago, I attended Gary Kraftsow’s Tantric Yoga workshop focused on meditation, pranayama and a discussion of the chakras and energetics. I am still absorbing my feelings and experiences, not to mention the many notes I took. During and after the workshop, memories of my week with Seeds of Compassion and the Dalai Lama came flooding back into my consciousness. In 2008, I was a lead volunteer with Seeds of Compassion – an experience that shifted my perspective and the path of my life. Within a month, I began my studies in Ayurveda and Yoga and never turned back. Reading the Dalai Lama again not only reaffirmed my commitment to my path over the past 10 years, but provided a context for my visit to Bodh Gaya and my experiences in the recent workshop.

Collage by Heidi Lynne’ – Bodhi tree leaves & Angor Wat etching by S. Solos

As the Dalai Lama described in The Art of Happiness, positive thoughts and emotions are based upon reality. Human basic consciousness is pure and known as the “mind of Clear Light”. Through meditation and other practices, we can eliminate negative emotions and thoughts based upon ignorance, distortion and delusion.

Pursuing the path of Yoga can liberate us from clouded perceptions. Put simply, Yoga is a journey towards self-awareness and union with our true self. Yogin may use various approaches to pursue the same path. Although there is overlap, they can be categorized as follows:

  • Raja or Classical – meditation; awareness of one’s mind
  • Hatha – physical transformation
  • Jnana – path of knowledge and higher wisdom
  • Karma – action and service
  • Bhakti – devotion
  • Mantra – potent sound
  • Tantra – ritual, visualization and energy work

Negative thought and emotional patterns (samskara) arise from deep conditioning as well as personal experiences. The journey to self-awareness can be long and arduous. When we meditate and practice Yoga, our attention often fluctuates between attention and distraction. With persistent practice, we can train our minds to move from a state of distraction towards sustained attention. Gradually, practioners become more self-aware, learn to read patterns and find clarity.

Do you know that breakthrough moment, when you learn a new skill and reach a state of flow? We can experience those same breakthroughs on our path towards self-awareness.   When we reach a state of total absorption (samadhi), our consciousness is merged with the object of our attention. We may feel a sense of joy and lightness or a passionate commitment. This fosters a sense of homecoming, of living in right relationship to oneself and to our community. A commitment formed by heart and mind leads to a sense of purpose, of an intentionality in one’s life. When we are free and clear, our hearts and minds naturally cultivate compassion.

The Dalai Lama defines compassion “in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, non-harming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.”

It is important to stress the importance of attachment in our relationships. When one loves with attachment, there is always an underlying feeling of control and the need to receive love in return. This type of relationship is inherently unstable. Genuine compassion and love flow naturally without attachment. Human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering. And each person has the natural right to fulfill this fundamental aspiration. Through this awareness, true compassion emerges. Love and compassion are no longer based on personal projection, ego and attachment to outcomes.

“The human heart has the extraordinary capacity to hold and transform the sorrows of life into a great stream of compassion….Let yourself feel how the beauty of every being brings you joy and how the suffering of any being makes you weep.”

~ Jack Kornfield

In gratitude to Denis Mair, Edwin Molomoo, Tarumitra, The Dalai Lama and Gary Kraftsow. 

And in memory of Meng Lang, a passionate poet, he arose from the smoldering embers of Tiananmen and gave voice to many. 

Keep Calm with Yoga

calm 3
Movement is medicine.

Recent studies show what Yoga practitioners have experienced for many, many years – Yoga (asanas) practiced with pranayama and meditation calms the mind, increases flexibility, strengthens the body and reduces stress. The result – an overall sense of emotional and physical well-being. How does Yoga help us find calmness and serenity while stretching and strengthening our bodies? How does it differ from other forms of exercise?

Yoga is a moving meditation, regulated by the breath.

The next time you feel anxious or depressed, notice the rhythm of your breath. As part of the body’s natural reaction to fear, breath becomes shallow, constricted and rapid. In turn, the nervous system escalates even more. Through a persistent Yoga practice, you can acquire a calm, steady breath, confidence and ease in movement, and clarity of mind – both on and off of the mat – even when encountering triggers or stressors.

Yoga is a discipline that leads to a deeper sense of self-awareness.

Yoga deepens our understanding of how the mind functions. Using the eight-fold path, Yoga practitioners experience inward focus, breath control, concentration, contemplation, and complete absorption. This unique approach creates a stronger mind/body connection. Establishing a strong mind-body connection is one of the first steps to healing. Yoga teaches us to be kind, gentle and loving with ourselves and others.

With enough practice, Yoga practitioners learn to anticipate and control fluctuations of the mind, emotional state and physical body. Yogin(i) learn to balance breath and energy, and move into and out of asanas while maintaining focus (drishti). Experienced practioners discern the subtle differences between striving too hard, the correct amount of exertion, or becoming lax. During one Yoga session, you may move too fast and become tired, while on another day, the Yoga practice feels effortless – almost as if you are flying through space.

One of the gems of Yoga teachings is the ability to focus on the present moment, rather than regretting the past or feeling anxious about the future. As you hold your body in tree pose while focusing on your breath and balance, you are less likely to fret about burning supper last night!

According to Pantanjali:

Yoga Sutra 1.2 – 1.3    Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam. 

Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions. Then the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent. 

The object of our concentration can be anything – from the pain in our left shoulder, to a book we recently read to current events; and may even include one’s own mind.

Calm 2
From murky waters arise clarity.

The Three Gunas

According to Ayurveda and Yoga, we perceive our world according to the following qualities (gunas):

  • Satva – purity, lightness, clarity, stillness, tranquility, pleasantness
  • Rajas – exciting, passionate, mobile, agitated
  • Tamas – heavy, dull, sleepy, action without reflection

All three gunas are present in every person. Combined together, they form our nature, attitude and potential. Gunas shift throughout daily life – when one becomes more active, the other two are lessened. When we are balanced and well, the appropriate guna elevates at the correct time. For example, during restful periods, tamas is more predominate, while rajas elevates during periods of activity.

Disturbance (dukkha) occurs when the gunas are not in alignment with the rhythm of life. Perhaps you feel fatigued and depleted in the mid-afternoon but must meet a work deadline by the end of the business day. It is too easy and convenient to reach for an energy bar and a cup of coffee to boost your energy. This only causes a further disturbance and creates more imbalances in mind, body and emotional well-being. As unhealthy patterns develop, the imbalances are exacerbated and perpetuated. You may end up feeling scattered, feel out of sorts or become ill.

The Good News

Everything in our world is composed of the five basic elements and contain the three gunas. One can learn to balance the gunas through healthy daily routines, diet and Yoga practice. If you feel agitated and seek calmness, a restorative practice will return you to a state of balance. On the other hand, if you feel sluggish in the morning, select an active and warming practice.

Yoga Poses to Ease Stress

Active asanas stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, whereas calming, restorative poses with longer stays activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The overall effect is healing to an anxious mind and heart.

In a Huffington Post article, Carolyn Gregoire described 10 yoga poses for stress relief. I include all of them in my classes – but not all of them in every class! I divided them into active and restorative poses here.

Active poses include:

  • Eagle pose
  • Dolphin pose
  • Bridge pose
  • Standing forward bend
  • Triangle pose

Restorative poses include:

  • Child’s pose or Puppy pose
  • Cat or cat/cow – in Viniyoga, we often teach students to move from table to child’s pose
  • Legs up the wall
  • Savasana

Calm 1

I Will Leave Yoga Class Rested and Still

I will leave yoga class rested and still,
In touch with my breath,
My heart open,
Thankful I’m alive.
Breathing in,
I am a mountain, a rock, a tree,
Firmly grounded in my inner Essence.

~ John Mundahl (from Soul to Soul)