Making Space for Emotion

November 8, 2019 | Yoga

Ever feel like you’re moving at high speed through life, running to keep up with the endless demand of information, social commitments, family, work, text messages, emails (like this one – ha)? Everything we look at seems to have an extra ad, a personalized distraction to pull our focus in a different direction. Some stress is useful, helps us get out of bed or achieve personal goals. Daily levels of negative stress creates a constant state of movement. There is no time to be still, to let what we are feeling or thinking come into focus. Yoga has teachings about how to use movement, breath, and mental focus to make space for what is happening within our minds and emotions. The simple practice of slowing the momentum, taking an hour to pay attention to the body and the breath can help us shift gears to get out of the stress loop. But … Continued

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More Self-Compassion, Less Stress

August 3, 2019 | Yoga

I was a corporate burnout. I was working long hours, chained to my desk, fueled by caffeine, fear, and anxiety. For almost fifteen years, I soldiered on until I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. I catastrophized at 2 a.m. every morning, certain I would fail. I binged on sweets. Then I finally took a step to save myself. I went to my first yoga class. I knew I’d found something special. I began to find peace in the combination of movement and breath with yoga. I focused on being mindful, paying attention to my breath and body, on purpose, without judgment. This mindfulness brought focus, calm, and clarity in the moment. Yoga was slowly quieting my “fight or flight” nervous system and boosting my “rest and digest” nervous system.Yoga and Stress ReliefI studied the yoga philosophy of self-compassion. The word for this idea in Sanskrit is ahimsa, or … Continued

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When I Say Yoga, I Mean…

March 21, 2019 | Yoga

Yoga is commonly known in the US as a form of exercise that includes some relaxing side effects. There are yoga studios everywhere with different hooks for pulling in students – hot yoga, goat yoga, even rage yoga (yes that’s a thing now). Some yoga classes might be very physical (like ashtanga yoga) or physically form specific (like Iyengar yoga).  Other classes may focus on physical restoration or work with a specific group, like prenatal yoga. While the physical exercises of yoga (or asana) are a part of the yoga tradition, there is much more to the practice. Traditional yoga is based on changing the mind more than the body. In this way, reducing suffering and increasing one’s capacity for joy is the fundamental goal of yoga practice. Traditional Yoga Traditional yoga philosophy from Patajali’s Yoga Sutra describes yoga as the process of eliminating the mind’s habit patterns (samskara) and connecting … Continued

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Expect Obstacles!

October 4, 2018 | Yoga Philosophy

Yoga philosophy is based on the idea of evolution toward mental clarity and reduced suffering. Patanjali described in the Yoga Sutras methods for achieving this goal. Three consecutive sutras (1.30-1.32) describe potential obstacles along the path and how to overcome them.1.30 vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayahDistractions arise (disease; dullness; doubt; carelessness; laziness; craving; distorted perspective; inability to know the true meaning and purpose of one’s practice; and inability to remain grounded) as obstacles naturally encountered on the path of evolution and self-awareness.1.31 duhkha daurmanasya angam-ejayatva shvasa prashvasah vikshepa sahabhuvaAs a result of encountering the obstacles listed in the previous sutra, four consequences arise: 1) duhkha = mental or physical pain, 2) daumanasya = sadness or dejection, 3) angam-ejayatva = shakiness or restlessness, and 4) shvasa/prashvasah = irregularities in the inhalation/exhalation.1.32 tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasahTo prevent or deal with these nine … Continued

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Sthira & Sukha: Stability & Ease

August 31, 2018 | Yoga

In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, sutra 2.46 is “sthira-sukham asanam”. This sutra is commonly understood as “yoga postures should be stable, and the body be at ease.”This Yoga Sutra focuses the practice of yoga postures and movements.  Aiming for steadiness and ease when practicing yoga movement is a valuable concept, but there is a deeper meaning of yoga practice.Patanjali used the sutras to describe a path toward developing samadhi, cultivating mental focus and clarity. In this perspective, this sutra would referr to the quality of a practitioner’s meditation pose or seated posture. The practice of asana leads to an ease in the body and allows for extended time in physical stillness to shift the practice to concerns of the mind.Yoga postures should be stable, and the body be at ease – sutra 2.46A more literal translation of the sutra could be “in yoga, we should resolutely abide in a … Continued

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Learning to Breathe

May 11, 2018 | Yoga Philosophy

Pranayama is the yogic practice of breath control. This Sanskrit term is made up of two smaller words; prana and ayama. The term prana refers to the subtle energy that pervades all things. Ayama translated as “to stretch” or to expand. The practice of controlling breath allows us to expand breath capacity and manage subtle energies.Pranayama is also the fourth limb in Patanjali’s 8-Fold path as described in the Yoga Sutras. According to the sutra 2.50 (bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desha kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah):“Pranayama has three aspects of external or outward flow (exhalation), internal or inward flow (inhalation), and the third, which is the absence of both during the transition between them, and is known as fixedness, retention, or suspension. These are regulated by place, time, and number, with breath becoming slow and subtle.” – translation from SwamiJ.comThe mechanics of breath involve the process of pulling in oxygen … Continued

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Yoga & Chronic Illness

March 8, 2018 | Yoga

The Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are widely regarded as the authoritative text on yoga. These “threads” (translates from Sanskrit for sutra) of wisdom offer guidelines for living a meaningful and peaceful life.  Recently Sutra 2.16 has been on my mind:“Pain that has not yet come is avoidable” (in Sanskrit “Heyam Duhkham Anagatam”).  By practicing yoga with meditation, postures, breathing exercises, we are practicing a form of preventive medicine for our minds. I had already been addicted to yoga by the time I discovered this sutra, but if I had not discovered yoga, this sutra would have drawn me to it.  I had this realization that I actually had control over my thoughts, and in this busy world we live in, anything we can do to help calm the mind and prevent future stress, pain, anxiety is worth looking at. Since most chronic illnesses are due to stress, we know that our bodies can … Continued

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Clear Your Mind of Suffering

February 9, 2018 | Yoga Philosophy

Abhyasa/practice and Vairagya/non-attachment (Sutra 1.12-1.16)The practice of yoga includes deep awareness of habit patterns (samskara). These habits of thinking, feeling, and reacting affect our capacity for joy. The unconscious habit patterns create filters over the reality of the present moment, with the potential of creating distress or suffering. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the methods of yoga are described as a pathway to reduce the internal machinations that provoke suffering. Sutra 1.12 suggests that our thought patterns (vrittis) are mastered, regulated, or quieted (nirodhah) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).  The process of persistent, systematic exploration of thought patterns, fears, and false identifications allows for detachment from the filters that enable suffering.  Abhyasa describes the continuous practice necessary to clear the mind. It cannot be accomplished in one sitting. Clearing the mind requires discipline of consistent attention and time to develop the cumulative power of yoga. It is also true that old … Continued

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Inviting New Ways of Thinking through Yoga

February 2, 2018 | Yoga Philosophy

Have you ever been stuck in negative or disturbed thinking? Ever had a time when all looks dark and there seems to be no good in the world? Yoga philosophy offers a suggestion for changing perspective, inviting new ways of thinking.Patanjali’s Yoga Stura 2.33 “VITARKA BADHANE PRATIPASHA BHAVANAM” suggests that when suffering from afflicted thinking, we need to cultivate a different perspective. Patanjali continues to describe how negative thinking is a kind of violence done to ourselves. The practice of yoga is to develop clear thinking and introduce thoughts opposite to the negative.The Western psychology perspective of this idea is cognitive restructuring. This is where the individual works to adjust their attitude, thoughts, and reactions.Cognitive restructuring refers to the process of replacing cognitive distortions with thoughts that are more accurate and useful.  Cognitive restructuring has two basic steps:  (1) Identifying the thoughts or beliefs that are influencing the disturbing emotion;  … Continued

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A Meditation Practice for Creating Conscious Habits

January 8, 2018 | Yoga Philosophy

 At the start of each new year, many of us dust off our good intentions – resolutions to eat better, exercise more, or let go of long time bad habits. Unfortunately, these old habits are strong. We’ve all got unconscious habit patterns that guide our actions rather than our conscious intention. This is nothing new. Thousands of years ago Patajali described unconscious habit patterns of the mind in the Yoga Sutras. Patajali identified the subtle impressions of our past actions, or unconscious thought patterns, as samskara. The word samskara translates from Sanskrit sam means joined together and kara means action or cause. One way to understand samskara is as neural pathways that form deep connections in our brains through repetition. The concept that “neurons that fire together wire together” reflects this idea.Some habitual thinking is useful. Often when the thought pattern is first employed, the purpose is to reduce effort or suffering. The problem comes when … Continued

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