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.

Yoga and Arthritis

Understanding joints

The adult human body contains 206 bones and approximately 300 joints, where two bones meet. Joints provide structural and mechanical support. Most joints are synovial joints, including knees and knuckles. Synovial joints allow for movement and are susceptible to arthritis.

Examples of synovial joints

  • Gliding joints, including those between the eight wrist carpals. They are found where bones meet as flat surfaces and allow bones to glide past one another in any direction.
  • Hinge joints, including the elbow and knee. They limit movement in one direction so the angle between bones can increase or decrease at the joint. This limited motion at hinge joints provides strength and reinforcement from the bones, muscles, and ligaments that make up the joint.
  • Ball and socket joints have the fullest range of motion and allow the joints to move in a full circle and rotate around their axis. They are found only in the hip and shoulder. This free range of motion make them more susceptible to dislocation.
  • Saddle joints, such as the one found in the thumb. Saddle joints allow a more limited circular movement than ball and socket joints.
Morning desert stretch

Soft and connective tissues

  • Cartilage covers the surface of a bone at a joint. Cartilage reduces friction and serves as a shock absorber.
  • Synovial membrane creates a capsule at the joint and secretes a lubricant – synovial fluid. A healthy knee has less than one teaspoon!
  • Ligaments connect bones; they are tough, elastic bands surrounding the joint to give support and limit the joint’s movement.
  • Tendons connect muscles to bones and control movement.
  • Bursas are fluid-filled sacs between bones, ligaments, or other nearby structures and help cushion friction in a joint.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition causing joint pain or joint disease, often leading to stiffness, numbness, tingling, inflammation, and motor loss in the affected joints. Causes may include loss of cartilage, lack of fluid, autoimmunity, inflammation, infection or a combination of issues. Arthritis is one of the most common joint disorders affecting more than 54 million U.S. adults, including 50% of adults over 65.

There are many types of arthritis. Common types include:

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease, most often associated with aging. Excess weight can result in OA in knees, ankles and feet. An injury to a joint is another risk factor. Knees are the most affected joints. OA is also common in hands, feet, spine and hips.

Arthritis “hot spots”
Illustration by Laura Kraft

Cartilage relies upon synovial fluid to transport nutrients and waste in and out of the area. The more joints bend and move, the more fluid circulates through them, increasing the ability for even greater movement. As people move less with age and/or injury, joints lose synovial fluid circulation. This has a “snowball effect” in deterioration at the joint. As cartilage loses its elasticity and becomes stiff, it is easier to damage. Damaged cartilage leads to damaged tendons and ligaments. As a result, bones rub together and cause inflammation resulting in pain, swelling and stiffness.

Common symptoms

•Joint Pain
• Stiffness
• Restricted movements in the joints
• Swelling or inflammation
• Warmth or redness of the skin over the joint

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. It is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the joints. It is considered chronic and inflammatory. This can lead to substantial loss of mobility due to pain and joint destruction. The body starts attacking its own parts unknowingly.

Gout Arthritis

Gout Arthritis (GA) is caused suddenly as a severe attack, usually either in the big toe or any joint. This is a metabolic disorder that results from crystals of uric acid depositing in joint tissues, causing attacks of inflammation.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic Arthritis (PA) affects some people who have psoriasis — a condition that features red patches of skin topped with silvery scales. Most people develop psoriasis first and are later diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, but the joint problems can sometimes begin before skin patches appear.

Learn more about arthritis on the Arthritis Association web site.

Benefits of Practicing Yoga

Many people suffering from arthritis begin to limit movement, yet most arthritic joints benefit from regular, low-impact exercise. Yoga practiced with pranayama and meditation is an excellent option. Yoga is gentle and enjoyable enough to practice regularly, even for those with chronic pain. Yoga builds muscle strength, joint flexibility and balance. Range of motion improves. Yoga also helps manage pain, balance energy and improve physical, mental and emotional well-being. Recent studies have supported the benefits of a regular Yoga practice to ease the pain of arthritis and increase movement. Arthritis restricts movement; Yoga increases range of motion.

Yoga for Arthritis

  • Focus on your breath.
  • Warm up joints at the beginning and end of each practice (dasha chalana or ten churnings). These can be practiced seated or standing:
    • Neck
    • Shoulders
    • Wrists and fingers
    • Hips
    • Ankles and toes
  • Stay longer in poses, giving yourself ample time to fully experience the pose without going too far – never to the point of pain.
  • Find what works for you. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center suggested poses include:
    • Mountain
    • Cobra
    • Side Angle Pose
    • Stork
    • Gentle Seated Twist
  • Viniyoga is an excellent option for practioners with arthritis. This style of Yoga allows students to practice at their own rate, moving with their breath. Adaptations are offered by the teacher to ensure a safe practice for each student.
  • Include a period of rest. Savasana not only supports joints but calms the mind and deepens the breath at the close of practice.
Side Angle Pose

Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives.

~ Cybele Tomlinson

Yoga for Healthy Bones

Bone basics

Bones are a living tissue, composed of 10 – 20% water and 60 – 70% hydroxyapatite (HA), a naturally occurring form of calcium interspersed in a collagen matrix. Bones also contain trace amounts of proteins and inorganic salts. They are naturally soft, pliable and strong enough to withstand pressure. Collagen allows the bone to expand, contract, and mend without breaking. Bone density is the amount of bone mineral in bone tissue.

There are two types of bone in the human body: cortical and cancellous bone. The cortical bone (outer layer) forms a cylindrical shaft around the marrow in the central part of the bone and accounts for 80% of the body’s bone mass. Cancellous bone (internal bone tissue) is very porous with a honeycomb structure with less mass but more surface area.

Bones contain three types of specialized cells: osteoblasts, osteocytes and osteoclasts. Osteoblasts produce the collagen-rich substance osteoid, which is key in building bone. Osteoblasts transform into osteocytes and migrate below the surface of the bone and maintain its structure. Osteoclasts cells migrate to areas in need of resorption.

Osteoporosis

Bone loss occurs slowly over years – often without any obvious symptoms. As a result, many people do not discover they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. Signs of osteoporosis include forward curvature of the spine (kyphosis) and loss of height. The loss in height is often due to the bones in the spine slowly crushed by gravity. Someone with low bone density in the spine may unknowingly break a bone by performing a routine task, like bending over in the garden, or picking up something that falls on the floor. A simple fall often results in a hip fracture. As we age, it is vital to maintain strength, stability and balance.

Osteoporosis (porous bones) is defined as a bone density of 2.5 standard deviation below that of the average young adult. Osteopenia is midpoint between healthy bones and osteoporosis. Bone density is tested using a DXA machine (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry). Drugs given to patients with osteoporosis suppress the natural process of osteoblast production and inhibit the dissolution of old, diseased bone.

Facts and Figures

  • Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and 80% are women.
  • Approximately half of women over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
  • A woman’s risk of breaking her hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • The reasons why women get osteoporosis at a higher rate than men, particularly in the years following menopause include:
    • Women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men.
    • Estrogen, the hormone that protects women’s bones decreases after menopause, potentially leading to bone loss.
    • Women tend to live longer.

How Yoga can help

You can take care of your bones, no matter your age! Protect your bones with a well-balanced diet, including calcium and vitamin D; get regular exercise; avoid smoking and limit alcohol. Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises build and maintain bone density. Recent studies show that Yoga can strengthen bones and improve bone density.

  • Yoga is low impact, putting less stress on the bones than many other forms of exercise.
  • Longer holds in standing postures are “weight-bearing”.
  • Yoga improves balance and prevent falls. Less falls, means less potential for broken bones.
  • Yoga stretches all muscles, including those that support the joints.
  • The action of working and stretching muscles against the bone helps promote bone growth. And stronger muscles puts less strain on joints.
  • Yoga increases range of motion and brings synovial fluid to the moveable joints.
  • Ease of movement with strength and balance reduces the chance of falling.

Do’s and Don’ts

Practice at a slower pace and hold each pose for at least 3 – 5 breaths.

Avoid putting pressure on the spine with strong core poses (yoga crunches, plank, boat pose).

Avoid forward folding poses with a rounded spine. Keep your spine long and flex at the hip joint to a partial or half-forward bend. Practice child’s pose with a bolster; down dog at the wall or with a chair.

Put one hand on a chair or wall for one-legged balance postures to avoid putting too much pressure on your joints.

Balanced and strong

Strengthen your legs with standing poses, including:

  • Warrior 1
  • Gentle backbends like Star Gazing Pose
  • Crescent Moon
  • Triangle Pose
  • Half Moon
  • Extended Side Angle
  • Mountain Pose – a pose of strength, stability and balance.

Firmly plant your feet into the ground to establish stability.

Extend your arms to add more strength to the pose and length along your spine.

Keep your muscles engaged (flexed) to increase the isometric effect of the posture.

Side bends are great!  A note of caution – do your best to avoid collapsing the lower side of your spine. Both sides of the spine need to stay long.

Seated twist by the labyrinth

Include gentle twisting poses that allow you to keep the length in your spine. Gentle twists apply mild pressure to the bones without harming the vertebrae.

Cultivate the length and suppleness of the spine before extending. Attempting to extend the spine without lengthening creates compression in the facet joints and discs along the spine and could result in back pain.


“Mountain pose teaches us, literally, how to stand on our own two feet…. teaching us to root ourselves into the earth…. Our bodies become a connection between heaven and earth.”

~ Carol Krucoff

 For my sister, Susan on her birthday.

Tai Chi by the Sea

 

 

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

Set your Intention

Along Boulder Creek – photo by Heidi Mair

A New Beginning

The New Year is a great time to reevaluate habits and lifestyle choices, seek renewal and make positive changes for the future. Many people hope to improve their health and well-being by making resolutions and setting goals. Some examples include: I plan to practice Yoga at least 3 times a week. I plan to hike every weekend. I will try that new diet that worked for my friends. Goals and resolutions are fine but may quickly fall by the wayside due to a lack of motivation. This may derive from the fact that New Year’s resolutions are directly related to the ego and will. They rarely arise from one’s true, authentic heart-centered self.

At the beginning of Yoga class, teachers often guide students to set an intention (sankalpa) or dedicate their practice to someone or something. What does it mean to set an intention? And what is the difference between a resolution, an intention and a dedication?

Dedication

Dedication is a conscious decision to send positive thoughts and energy to someone or something. A good place to begin is with someone that you are grateful to know. If your mind wanders, return your thoughts to the object of your dedication. This simple shift takes the attention away from one’s self (worrying about perfect poses) and into a place of compassion. If you are experiencing challenges, illness or loss, dedicate your practice to your own well-being and self-care. Sometimes, I tell a loved one that I have dedicated my practice to them. They do not always understand on an intellectual level, but are touched, nevertheless.

Sankalpa

According to Yogapedia, Sankalpa is a Sanskrit term that refers to a heartfelt desire, a solemn vow, an intention, or a resolve to do something. It is similar to a resolution, except that it comes from a deeper place within and tends to be an affirmation. Sankalpa can be articulated as one word, a quotation, poem, prayer or simply a feeling.

Photo by Heidi Mair.

Yoga cultivates sankalpa for self-realization, while Ayurveda cultivates sankalpa for healing. Self-realization and healing are intertwined like the roots of a grand tree – as we gain self-awareness, we open ourselves to the process of healing.

And as we heal, we become more self-aware. Be kind to yourself. If your mind draws a blank one day, do not worry. The more you practice intention, the easier it will become… just as the Yoga asanas become more familiar with each class. The process of setting an intention increases body, mind and breath awareness and helps the Yoga practioner be fully present in each moment. Ask yourself – Why are you practicing Yoga? Why did you choose to come to class today? As you practice Yoga with intention, think of the poses and their effect. Do you want to move in a slower, more mindful manner or choose to build energy?

Sankalpa also cultivates gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, calmness, openness, strength and peacefulness. Ideally, our Yoga practice connects individual consciousness to the larger world. Setting an intention helps guide us along the journey of self-discovery, live our lives with authenticity and share our true nature with both family and the wider community.

To help my students (and me) feel the relationship between intention and affirmation, I recently shared Louise Hay’s Heart Thought Affirmation cards in several classes. I found this fostered a more powerful experience than simply describing and defining sankalpa. Each student randomly chose a card, then read it aloud to the rest of the class (or chose their own positive word, thought or affirmation to share). Several students came to me after class to share their experience. One student told me it described exactly what she is experiencing in her life. Reading the words and articulating them, helped her see the situation with a fresh perspective.

I selected a card that read, “When I change my consciousness and forgive those I need to forgive, healing miracles occur.” The other side of the card read, “I am a magnet for miracles.” The words resonated within my mind and my heart…. especially cultivating forgiveness. This led to my intention for 2019 – find healing through forgiveness.

In Walla Walla, Washington. Photo by Thomas Mair.

May you live with intention and celebrate the uniqueness of your true, authentic self.


“Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen Hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Laugh.
Choose with no regret.
Appreciate your friends.
Continue to learn.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.”

Mary Anne Radmacher

Finding Wellness with Nature

moist forest
Cool, calming and moist NW forest

Environmental Wellness

In 1979, when Bill Hettler, developed the Six Dimension of Wellness, he defined Environmental Wellness as the ability to recognize our own responsibility for the quality of the air, the water and the land that surrounds us.

Over the last 40 years, our relationship with nature has changed dramatically. We have become more urban and by 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will live in an urban setting. Fewer people live on farms or in rural areas. We spend more time indoors – often gazing at a screen and less time outdoors. This – despite all of the runners, boaters, hikers, surfers and skiers we see. Meanwhile, we are witnessing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

Our perception of nature and wild places has also changed. Many people take a family camping trip once or twice a year or visit a park on a sunny, summer day. But how many modern, urban dwellers have cleared a trail, walked in an old growth forest, observed animals in their natural habitat, or harvested their own food? How many children run free with wild abandon?

Humans both yearn for and are afraid of the wild within us and around us. Why do we both romanticize and demonize nature?

Wildness post 2
Mushrooms – some edible, some poisonous

Biophilia

The Biophilia Hypothesis (and my background in anthropology) can help explain human’s innate love and fear of nature. E.O. Wilson defined biophilia as the genetic basis for humans to focus on and affiliate with nature and other forms of life. Keen observation of animal behavior, changes in weather patterns, as well as knowledge of reliable food, shelter and water sources are all key to our survival. The fight/flight response and a fear of predators, storms and unpredictable fluctuations are critical to our viability. We need both social organizations and a knowledge of nature to survive. We need to cooperate with one another and understand the rhythms of  nature… to our marrow.

Throughout history, humans created complex communities while maintaining a close connection to the immediate environment. Around the globe, Homo sapiens became experts in the flora and fauna of each bioregion. We learned to follow the flow of rivers, navigate by the stars, migrate with the animals and transform grasses into “the staff of life”. Within the last hundred years or so, our direct reliance upon nature appeared to diminish as technology advanced. Or so it seemed. Loss of biodiversity, environmental degradation and fluctuations in climate affect all life forms, including humans.

Over the past thirty years the biophilia hypothesis (BET) has not only influenced the fields of conservation and environmentalism, but also architecture, public health and urban planning. Put simply, access to open spaces, parks, trees, lakes, rivers, beaches and thriving ecosystems create happier and healthier communities.


“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

Wildness post 3
Gazing into the canopy

NW Nature and Health Symposium

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”

~ John Muir, Our National Parks

Although, John Muir could have spoken those words last week, he foresaw the 21st century dilemma over 100 years ago. Our relationship to nature is critical to life on planet earth, and to our own wellness. And recent studies support this claim.

This week I attended EarthLab’s Northwest Nature and Health Symposium at the University of Washington to learn what advances are being made in the emerging nature and wellness field.

Speakers presented papers about trauma and war, children’s health, and the role of nature on health and equity. The lunchtime interview was a conversation with Richard Louv, author of several books on biophilia, nature and wellness. We broke into small groups and discussed research needs and implementation in our communities. My small group discussed the needs of the 50+ age-group. There was a biophilic art and design exhibit displaying the proposed lid over I-5 in Seattle, Amazon’s spheres and other buildings designed to bring people closer to nature at home, at work and even in hospitals…. Or should I say, especially in places of healing.

A new program of EarthLab, Nature for Health has been launched, focusing on five sectors: veterans, children, the elderly, healthcare providers and underserved populations. I am excited to see what positive changes are ahead.

Communities are beginning to design more open spaces, neighborhood pocket parks, and plant street trees… and to design communities around nature. Nature is no longer the afterthought. Part of the healing process for the individual is to feel more fully present in one’s life, to be observant and in awe with a childlike wonder.

Bring it on Home!

Here are a few of my own tips to integrate nature into your life:

  • Take a break from TV, computers, phones, etc.
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow.
  • Decorate your home with houseplants.
  • Open your doors and windows and let the breeze in.
  • Go barefoot; wiggle your toes into the earth.
  • Watch the animals that live near you – when do the birds sing? What is feeding time?
  • Take a walk every day, if you can – otherwise sit outside or by an opened door for a few moments.
  • Grow your own food, or buy from a local farm.
  • Eat seasonally – learn what fruits and vegetables are in season in your area.
  • Visit a park, woods, stream, lake, meadow or marsh.
  • Look at the bark of a tree, a flower or a blade of grass, up front and personal.
  • Close your eyes and envision a deep forest, mountain or ocean.
  • Listen to the sounds of nature in your home, yard or outside your window.
  • Use plant medicines (essential oils and herbs) rather than artificial fragrances.
  • Watch the sunrise and sunset; gaze at the night sky.
  • Bathe in a forest!
  • Find out where your drinking water comes from – what is your watershed?
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle.
  • Volunteer for a trail clean-up.
Christmas Cactus
Schlumbergera – beginning to bloom

Photos taken by Heidi Lynne’.