There seems to be a lot of controversy about NFL players "taking a knee" during the playing of the National Anthem. As an act of peaceful protest against the unequal treatment of black men (who are shot, injured, arrested, incarcerated) in disproportionately large numbers to the white population, kneeling instead of standing is a powerful visual meant to be disruptive but ultimately meant to cause some soul searching in the audience. But kneeling has also been used as an act of bowing to authority, of showing contrition, of demonstrating a prayerful attitude, and as part of a marriage proposal. Kneeling was never considered an act of disrespect until now.
There is a powerful pull for individuals to conform to actions performed in a group; standing to recite a loyalty oath with hand over heart, as in the Pledge of Allegiance, allows individuals to blend in, to demonstrate that they are part of the group. When one person declines to remain part of the group they are often ostracized, as Colin Kaepernick has been. If others in the group join the one person and their numbers grow, those who sympathize with the original protest but who were previously afraid to fully express themselves can feel more courageous in their new group. This can result in dramatic positive change, as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired massive peaceful protests against segregation (and violent backlashes by authorities), or in equally dramatic displays of assumed racial supremacy as with the recent marches by neo Nazis and white supremacists (which usually resulted in violent clashes with anti fascists).
As practitioners of yoga we are part of a group striving to create peace and balance within ourselves, hoping that this will spread to the larger community. Some work very hard to project "love and light" at all times while denying the shadow within themselves (unless you are a saint and have no shadows). Others work very hard to deny the light and embrace the shadows of race hatred, extreme nationalism and xenophobia. Most are somewhere in between, trying to make the world a better place but still on occasion lapsing into reflexive expressions of patriotism, or concerns about violence in "those neighborhoods". It has been said that when we are truly peaceful within our own hearts that expressions of violence will cease.
We can strive all we want to practice the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali but perfect Ahimsa (non violence, the first Yama) is impossible. We must kill to nourish ourselves (plants are sentient beings too), we commit violence in some form (mild or otherwise) every day in speech, thought, and sometimes in deed. The deeper work lies in cultivating equanimity as in the Bhagavad Gita - gaining the strength to do the things we must do while remaining unattached to the results. This should not result in doing nothing in the face of injustice; even small gestures can begin the transformation in someone else.
As we are seeing in the #TakeTheKnee movement.
Can you feel if you tend to put more of your weight onto one foot or to one side of the foot? Can you feel the effects of your habitual standing posture on your back? Do you know how to adjust your foot positioning while walking or running, can you feel the effects of that positioning on your knees? Have you ever worked out your feet the way you work out your arms, chest, shoulders, back, abs or legs?
The next time you are outdoors in a natural (and safe) setting, take off your shoes and allow your feet to luxuriate in the feel of the grass. Wiggle your toes, walk slowly across the ground while paying attention to how you can roll from heel to toe in slow motion; feel for all the bumps and irregularities in your path. Can you also notice how this slow mindful walking meditation feels in your legs, torso, and mind?
It's okay if you don't notice anything, keep practicing anyway and see if anything shifts in your awareness. Contrast how you feel when walking outdoors with how you feel barefoot in your home, the difference between carpet, rug, wood floor, stone.
Now see if you can coordinate your breathing with each step; choose a rhythm you can maintain and make your inhale and exhale relatively even in length (or make the exhale a little longer) and as smooth as possible (try not to suck the air in quickly or forcefully push the air out). For example, if you choose to try a 4 second inhale and 4 second exhale, take the entire 4 seconds to breathe in, and the entire 4 seconds to breathe out (and remember you can breathe out for longer). Once you have your breath rhythm it's time to try your mindful walking with the breath.
Can you take the entire 4 seconds it takes to breathe in to take one step? Can you do the same with your exhale? Can you sustain this practice for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or longer? Or do you have the time to forget about time and just practice until it feels like the right time to end it?
When finished, sit quietly for a few minutes and notice the effects whatever they might be. Smile to yourself, fold your hands in prayer and bow your head, or find another formal way of ending your practice if you wish. See if you can maintain the feeling of the practice while moving on the next part of your day.
In India, there are Doctors of Ayurveda who see patients in Ayurvedic Hospitals and local clinics. Vaidyas, the Ayurvedic Doctors, who move to the US are not allowed to practice to their full capacity here unless they are also MDs but many have spoken of the apparent miracles they saw in their practices in India.
Here in the US, many people come to Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine after they have exhausted all the treatments that westernized "conventional" medicine has to offer with little or no relief. At this point where a serious disease has already manifested even Ayurveda may not cure the disease but only help one manage it. According to Ayurveda, there are six stages of the disease formation process and disease can be prevented or cured if changes are made in diet and lifestyle in the first four stages. By attacking the root of the potential disease one can prevent the disease.
In cases where the disease is rooted in exposure to toxins one must also either remove the toxin from the area of exposure or remove oneself from the area of exposure before then taking the diet and lifestyle steps to help clear the toxin from the tissues (this might require a specialized process called "Panchakarma", a protocol used for thousands of years to help detoxify the body). The exposed person must then remain vigilant and continue to support the body's health and learn to understand how small seemingly trivial symptoms such as intestinal gas formation, acid reflux, headaches, or fatigue could point to the accumulation of the "Doshas" (the arrangements of the Five Elements that make up the body's structure and govern its functions), the aggravation of the "Doshas" in their normal sites of accumulation, the overflow of the "Doshas" into neighboring sites, and deposition of the "Doshas" into sites of weakness that then will become the first manifestations of the disease.
Once the initial symptoms of the emerging disease become apparent, westernized "conventional" medicine can begin to treat but some diseases are easily cured while others are not. At this stage and beyond Ayurveda and TCM can still provide supportive care, improving and maintaining the strength of the patient while s/he is undergoing standardized treatments.
Below is a link to a brief article about the possibilities of using Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine to support patients with mesothelioma, a disease resulting from exposure to asbestos. If you know someone with this disease or simply wish to learn as much as you can feel free to explore the rest of the site for information about symptoms, standard treatments, the different ways the disease can manifest, as well as resources for veterans and others.
What is freedom?
Is it the "freedom" to do whatever we want whenever we want? To eat things we like, wear things that make us look a certain way, to say whatever is on our minds?
Is it the freedom to willingly suffer the consequences of our own bad decisions or do we really think freedom is avoiding consequences at all?
What if true freedom requires a bit of discipline and a lot of education and practice?
What if freedom evolves out of deep self-knowledge and long experience of what works for us and what doesn't work as well?
Then we can be free of serious disease even in the face of discomforts because our healthier dietary choices have improved our immunity. We can be free of suffering in the face of pain and loss because we have done the hard work of cultivating emotional resilience. We can be free of dependence on pharmaceuticals and surgeries to repair physical damage to our bodies because of our ability to observe how our exercise habits not only build strength and endurance but balance.
None of us are immune to aging, decline, or death but we can keep working to live the best lives possible. It's not the years in our lives but the life in our years that counts.
Have a wonderful day, and may the Fourth be with you!
I had spend a wonderful weekend with my colleagues, mentors, and MUIH cohort at the Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research, emerging to find myself immersed into a local yoga festival right outside my hotel. The weather was perfect, I felt calm and focused, ready to rededicate myself to helping my clients feel the same energy I cultivate every time I set my feet firmly into my personal practice.
The first thing I heard when I turned on my car radio was the sad news about the Orlando shooting. One more deranged, mentally ill, fearful, hateful man somehow able to buy weapons and slaughter dozens of people just wanting to have a fun night on the town with friends. We can agonize (and have) for years over how often this happens in our "civilized" nation, about how to keep guns away from those who should not have them, hear endless commentary attempting to make sense of the killer's state of mind and whether those who knew him (and it always seems to be a "him") noticed anything alarming without ever wondering what we can do for ourselves; how can WE change ourselves to help build a better, saner, safer community?
I've been reading (finally) the groundbreaking book "The Body Keeps the Score" by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk that lays out in clear language how trauma affects the brain, how the conscious mind may not be able to make sense of traumatic events while the tissues of the body record the memories in every cell. Those at the Pulse may not remember what happened but their bodies will. It is my sincere wish that they all find some way to process this horrific event - talk therapy, somatic therapy, gentle massage, yoga - so they can find some measure of peace.
But what about the shooter? He died at the scene and so cannot tell us why he felt such hatred for gay people. Was he a victim of early trauma that perhaps he did not consciously remember? Was he gay and unable to accept himself as he was? As details emerge about his often violent relationships with others we could perhaps speculate that in the past he must have been abused in some fashion by someone he trusted.
This book also notes that mindful movement like yoga and tai chi can help a traumatized person process their experiences without having to relive them, that their brains gradually rewire themselves away from the fight/flight/freeze center towards the rest/digest/restore areas. While adults need to make the effort to heal it is increasingly possible to offer generalized yoga classes to children in their schools, to at-risk children in specially designed classes with trained teachers, and specialty classes in trauma-sensitive yoga for those who know they need help but haven't had much success with medication or other therapies.
We must do all we can to prevent acts of violence by helping create conditions that nurture and provide safety. The first step is cultivating peace in ourselves.
As we age we show the effects of our bad habits over the years; slouching posture, too much sitting, carrying things over the same shoulder all cause the body to change form to follow the function we've come to inhabit. Illnesses and injuries take their toll and add to the ill effects of our unconscious habits....
Read the rest here:
Once again we are confronted with horrific news of violence against innocents. Guns, bombs, slaughter and emotional trauma abound. As individuals we feel powerless against the machinations of evil doers but we are not in fact powerless. While we may not be able to prevent someone else from acting out in violent ways we CAN prevent ourselves from reacting uncontrollably to their actions.
We don't need to wait until we are personally confronted with personal loss or injury or the face of Death; practice NOW how to breathe in deeply and fully, practice releasing the breath slowly and with control to access our physical body's ability to stay calm in the face of chaos. Practice NOW how to move, stretch, and stand with conviction and inner strength so the body knows how to react in an instant to flee, fight, or stay in place not from a place of fear but with full awareness of our surroundings and confidence that we will act correctly.
We don't need to wait to teach our children, our patients, our clients, friends, and colleagues these same skills. If we wish to find peace in the world we first must find it in ourselves. If we wish to bring peace to others we must then learn to model peaceful behavior. We need to practice thinking peace, speaking peace, living peace as much as we can knowing that we are not perfect and will make mistakes, but practice is required for the theory to become obvious. Keep practicing and all is coming as the Ashtanga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was fond of saying.
OM Shanti, shanti, shanti (peace, peace, peace).
Ayurveda teaches us that we are all made up of the same Five Great Elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air/Wind, and Space. All of Creation is made up of infinitely variable combinations of these Elements, including Time, and each aspect of Creation interacts with other aspects to create even more combinations and effects. Some of these effects are beneficial but others are not; do we have the knowledge to adjust our diet, lifestyle, and exercise routines to balance these deleterious effects?
If you know you tend to gain weight over the winter months, Fall season is a good time prepare so you can avoid the sugar cravings and even the depression that can grow in the dark of Winter. Focus on eating as much fresh produce as you can, cooking lightly and using flavorful spices like turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, black pepper, ginger, and any other herbs and spices you like (the more variety in your spices, the more subtle the flavors, so play with your food!). Use a little ghee, sesame oil, or coconut oil to help bind the flavors together and to help give your body the ability to hold onto moisture.
Remember that healthy fats are not your enemy and they won't make you fat, they make your food taste good and help you feel fuller sooner as well as provide LOTS of slow burning fuel that will keep your blood sugar from spiking and then falling (the way lots of sugar does). If you do use some sugar in your food favor raw unprocessed sugars over highly refined (and nutrient depleted) white sugar, or add a little raw honey sparingly. You can try using blackstrap molasses as a sweetener for your morning oatmeal for its trace minerals.
For more information about how Ayurveda can help you manage your weight go to this link: http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/health-guides/weight-management-guide
If you feel you need individualized personal attention request an appointment and we will together design a program that will fit you like a well designed glove!
Scoliosis often begins in adolescence but can also occur later in life due to chronic habits that cause a deformation of the spinal column; women who carry their small child on the same hip or their purse on the same shoulder can create a "functional scoliosis" that causes chronic back, shoulder, and neck pain but is easily treatable by first becoming aware of the various causes and then working to balance the posture by lengthening the concave side and strengthening the convex side of the main curvature. A new study by Loren Fishman et al (to be published in September, the abstract is available now)) studied 25 individuals of various ages over a period of time as they practiced a single yoga pose, the side plank, to one side. Those who were best at practicing often and regularly achieved the greatest reduction in their primary curvature but all saw some reduction.
Why does this matter? Previously, the only treatment options were wearing a brace for most of the day, surgery to make the spine straight, or nothing. Bracing is highly effective but can be uncomfortable; best results are seen when specific exercises are practiced with the bracing. Surgery does straighten the spine and keeps it straight but since the underlying cause of the postural imbalance remains unaddressed there can still be pain as full movements of the spine are no longer available. Doing nothing might result in the curvature becoming worse over time; severe curves compress the organs and can cause serious side effects that shorten the lifespan and significantly reduce quality of life.
You don't need an official diagnosis to learn more - if you have noticed that your back has a lateral curve, or you feel pain on one side of your back that you haven't been able to reduce with medication you may benefit by attending my upcoming workshop on Yoga for Scoliosis at Haven on the Lake in Columbia - a two hour introduction to simple breathing techniques and movement tweaks to help you learn to balance your posture:
Oct 10, 2015 from 1:30-3:30pm
Yoga helps stretch muscles that have tightened and strengthen muscles that have become weak from scoliosis. The result for most people is better posture and less pain. This workshop will teach yoga modifications and targeted breathwork that specifically target the challenges of scoliosis and assymmetric low back pain. .
Call Haven on the Lake directly at 410-715-3020 to register.
Isn't yoga for women? For flexible people? For circus freaks? Isn't "gentle yoga" or "restorative yoga" the same as yoga therapy? Why is Ashtanga yoga's Primary Series called "yoga therapy" in Sanskrit when it's so tough?
Yoga Therapy is not the same as commercial yoga classes, although they may share some aspects like the poses (asanas) or breath techniques (pranayamas). Many people (not just women) come to yoga classes as classes are an easy way to be introduced to what was originally a method for transforming oneself from an ordinary human being to one who is "enlightened", perfectly balanced and able to easily to become one with the universe.
The physical postures help with balancing the body - if your hamstrings are tight, your quadriceps may be weak; if you abdominal muscles are weak you may experience back pain. The breath practices help boost your energy levels by increasing your body's ability to bring in and utilize oxygen. Once you have energy and your body is more balanced your mind will naturally be less distracted by aches and pains as well as more able to focus and concentrate. It is impossible to "meditate" unless one can be freed of distractions.
Yoga classes are designed to help as many people as can attend the class and are usually designed to accommodate beginners in easier classes, more experienced practitioners in more vigorous classes, and highly adept yogis in very challenging classes. Yoga Therapy sessions are designed to help a single individual with that person's unique issues whether they are physical, energetic, emotional, or a combination.
The advantage of a class is its cost - many studios offer community based classes that can be quite inexpensive. The disadvantage is that if you have an injury the instructor may not be prepared to assist you or have the knowledge and training necessary to guide you properly while still taking care with students who are not working with pain.
A Yoga Therapist can design a yoga class around specific conditions, such as high blood pressure or knee pain, so that everyone in the class at least shares the same condition. This ensures that everyone will learn something about their condition and how to work with it in a safe way. This can be quite cost effective for those who have more experience with exercise in general or who have high self awareness.
A private Yoga Therapy session is a great way for someone who feels intimidated by group classes and begins with the therapist asking you to talk about your injury; how did you become injured, how is it affecting your daily routine, what is the nature of the pain you experience, what other treatments have you tried, what helps and what doesn't? Knowledge or experience with commercial yoga is not necessary, as your therapist will begin with what brings you into the office and design a home program that will gently and gradually guide you to the self knowledge necessary to practice mindfully so that you find healing even if your condition is chronic.
This sense of finding healing in the face of an uncurable condition is what helps the yogi find peace in every moment, acceptance of what is, and gratitude for the opportunity to grow as a spiritual being in a physical body.
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you find peace!