Thursday, August 27, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
"Yoga, a Sanskrit (language of the Hindu religion) word meaning "to yoke" or "to unite" is an ancient practice that originated in India thousands of years ago. Ancient Yogis believed that in order to live in harmony the body, mind and spirit had to be "united" and balanced. They developed a way to achieve and maintain this balance through exercise, breathing and meditation.
Yoga is actually composed of eight limbs, all of which are given equal importance and value in the traditional yoga path to fulfillment and enlightenment. (Click here for more on the eight limbs of yoga.)
In the west, however, we are most familiar with the physical practice of Hatha Yoga. By aligning the spine and stacking the vertebrae we can safely begin to move the body in a variety of flowing movements called asanas. (Sanskrit word for "seat" since originally, the asanas were intended to help practitioners stabilize the body in a seated position for prolonged periods of meditation. ). Most Practitioners of Hatha Yoga understand that yoga helps improve mobility in the joints as well as increase flexibility and strength in the muscles and connective tissues. Less understood, however is that yoga can have a profound effect on our internal systems by massaging organs and eliminating toxins from our digestive, lymphatic, cardiovascular, and pulmonary systems. A well-rounded practice will include twists, foreword bends, back bands and inversions, and this can help bring the nervous and endocrine systems into balance. By increasing blood flow, oxygenated nourishment is delivered to every cell in the body.
What distinguishes yoga from other activities or practices is the mindful awareness on the breath and integration of the movement of the body with the breath. The Yogis developed breathing techniques based on the concept that breath is the life force or pranayama that flows within the body and it is the pranayama that helps us achieve balance between mind, body and spirit. For more on breathing click here.
At the end of a practice, most people say they feel more mobile, less achy, calmer, more peaceful, and less stressed. Why?
Most of us experience stress because we obsess about something that has already happened or we worry about something that might happen. By bringing mindfulness to our practice, we learn to focus on the present moment. We learn to use the breath to help us find the balance between pushing and yielding into a pose. We learn to listen and respond to the subtle and not so subtle messages of our bodies by tuning in to the feelings, sounds, sensations, and, yes, aches and pains that guide us through our practice.
When there is conflict between the mind and the body (the body is in one place, but the mind in another), the body and the mind will experience this as an obstruction or constriction in the natural flow of energy that should flow freely through the body. There is no limit to the creatively unhealthy ways our bodies will find to express these obstructions, including areas of tightness, backaches, neck and shoulder pain, headaches or migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, or just an overall feeling of stiffness and discomfort. When our minds suffer from this restricted flow of healthy energy we experience the pain on an emotional and psychological level as stress, depression, anxiety, panic,or an overall sense of emotional discomfort.
The process of yoga is intended to help us open these areas of obstruction, allowing for the energy to flow freely and restore our bodies and minds to a natural state of equilibrium. In order to help us find this place of equilibrium, we must turn inward as we practice our yoga, leave our egos, expectations, judgments and comparisons off the mat, and move our bodies from within, letting the breath guide and connect us to our mind, body and spirit.
I am absolutely convinced that yoga will improve your physical and mental well-being and that nearly every body of any age can benefit from yoga. (If you have special medical conditions you should always consult your physician before starting any practice). There is a common misperception that you need to be flexible to practice yoga. This is not true and how flexible or how strong you are is not important. What is important is bringing mindfulness to your practice and recognizing that yoga is just another part of your journey of exploration and finding healthier ways of moving, breathing and being. Everyone just starts wherever there bodies are on a particular day. Each practice is unique as is your body at any given moment in any given day. It is frequently said that the most advanced yogis are not those who can twist their legs into a pretzel while standing on their heads, but rather those who come to their mats with a beginner’s mind. It is important to allow yourself to tune into what your body is experiencing at any given moment of your practice and bring your breath and awareness to each and every movement. If you start from a place of an open awareness of your body, breath, mind and spirit, and stay with a consistent practice, you cannot help but be rewarded with a healthier body and healthier mind.
This then, is the journey of yoga. We learn to stay mindful of our bodies and minds while on the mat. We then learn to take our practice into the world to help find harmony off the mat so we can live our yoga and our lives breath-to-breath, moment-to-moment and day-by-day. We learn to optimize our physical and emotional health by reconciling the conflicts between mind, body and spirit.
The trick is to make the commitment and start. It is always a good idea to start with a class and a trained instructor, but if that is not practical for some reason, there are lots of resources available on the web, or at your local library or bookstore. Try to practice at least 3 times a week. It doesn’t have to be a long practice and you can alternate between yang yoga and yin yoga (more about this in an upcoming post.) Just like mediation, or mindful breathing, it’s important to practice when you are feeling strong not just when stress and anxiety are hijacking your every thought and heart beat. If you can teach yourself to find physical and emotional relief when the going is good, it will help guide you through a successful practice when the going gets tough.
Look for yoga videos in upcoming posts.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
Ani Pema Chodron
If you are not familiar with Pema Chodron and her work, you are depriving yourself of benefiting from the teachings of one of the most charming and gifted living spiritual teachers of the last 3 decades.
Born in New York City in 1936 as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, today Ani Pema Chodron is an ordained Buddhist Nun and a highly regarded and beloved teacher, speaker and author. She is the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, the first Tibetan Monastery for Westerners, in Nova Scotia, Canada. In the mid 1970's, Pema started down a personal path of discovery which led her to pursue the passion she has embraced and shared with millions of followers around the world, including me. Although her teachings are relevant to anyone seeking personal growth, I find that her age and experiences make her particularly sensitive and instructive to those of us in the baby boom generation as we encounter the fears and anxieties that deepen as we age.
Although Pema's practices and teachings are based on the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, I find her wisdom and insight make her communications highly accessible to anyone who is in need of a travel guide as they explore their own path of mindful awareness into their hearts and souls.
Her warmth, compassion, and humor compliment her intimate understanding of the complicated human psyche. She takes ancient principles and practices and with unparalleled skill uses down to earth illustrations to make her teachings easily accessible to everyone, including those of us in the West, who, until the last few decades, have found eastern teachings difficult to absorb.
Pema helps teach us how to confront and embrace our fears, anxieties, and insecurities through a variety of practices including mindfulness, meditation, compassion, joyfulness and happiness.
She emphasizes that this work is not easy, but with commitment and fortitude we can learn coping skills and find peace.
One of my favorite teaching's by Pema is on Shenpa, a Tibetan word for attachment, although Pema is quick to point out that this translation does not do justice to communicating the true meaning of shenpa. In her book "Getting Unstuck" Pema describes shenpa as the feeling of getting hooked. She uses the vivid analogy of having scabies and the resulting constant urge to scratch even when we know it's not good for us. I have incorporated this concept to help me realize when I am allowing my mind to spiral down a painful and debilitating path of fear, anxiety and panic and realizing that I am doing everything I can to surround myself with unhealthy behaviors to reinforce these unrealized fears. Her teachings, particularly on mindfulness and how to stay in the moment with this uncomfortable itch, have helped teach me and millions of others how to stop the scratching and move on to a better place in our minds and in our lives.
If you are already familiar with Pema, you don't need me to say anything more. If you are not yet acquainted with this warm, compassionate woman and her brilliant and inspiring work, I urge you to explore her website and give yourself the gift of introducing yourself to who she is and how her unique understanding, interpretation and communication of the invaluable teachings of ancient practices can take you on an inspiring journey of your own.
"This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it's with us wherever we go."
(From her book "When Things Fall Apart")
You can order her books or audio downloads from this website by linking to the Amazon website through the search window or clicking on a specific item in the "It's All About Pema" window.
Please join me on this journey. You won't be disappointed!
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
- "fight or flight"
- connective tissue
- Don't Bite The Hook
- eight-limbs of yoga
- hatha yoga
- Joh Kabat-Zinn
- Mindful Music
- muscle tension
- Pema Chodron
- Restorative Yoga
- Stress Free Holidays
- Tibetan Buddhism
- Yang Yoga
- Yin Yoga