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Archive for April, 2014

What is Yoga? A Talk with Paul Grilley

Posted on April 22nd, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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We recently had a chance to ask Paul Grilley a few questions about his understanding of yoga and how that gets expressed in his own practice. We would love to hear how his answers resonate with your practice or teaching.

 What is Yoga? 

Yoga is a collection of techniques that yogis have found effective for calming the physical, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of our existence, what the ancient texts traditionally refer to as the “three bodies” of soul encasement. When we calm the restless activities of these three bodies, the soul can realize its own limitless nature.

How do you weave that definition into your teaching? 

I try to emphasize the functional approach, the why we practice asana and pranayama rather than just the how. If we simply practice something by rote without reflecting on its purpose, we have no way of judging whether our practice is effective or if it should change.

How do you bring this into your own practice?

I constantly compare and contrast different ways of accomplishing a given purpose. I try not to lapse into an unexamined mechanical practice. For example, when should I hold a bandha during breathing practices? Is it useful or distracting? We all have to ask this sort of question many times before reaching an accurate answer because we’re never exactly the same two days in a row. We can’t draw useful conclusions just by trying something once or twice.

How has your understanding of yoga’s true meaning evolved since you began teaching?

I comprehend more clearly that each of our three bodies is a particular combination of energy and consciousness. Some yoga techniques emphasize clarity of awareness and others emphasize energy movement, but, ultimately, the goal is the same.

What is the biggest misconception about yoga that you would like to change?

There is no one-size-fits-all yoga practice, not physically, not emotionally, not energetically, not philosophically. There is no “best type” of yoga either. Different forms of yoga suit people at different levels of their development. We should avoid growing emotionally attached to a particular school of yoga because our needs will change over time. The goal of yoga transcends the varied techniques of yoga, just as the goal of good health transcends the particular medical practices of a given time and place.

 

Use the Spring Promo code RENEWAL to receive $5.00 off your total order at www.pranamaya.com for Paul Grilley DVD’s and online courses expires 4/25/14

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Yoga for Anxiety

Posted on April 14th, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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Hatha yoga (the practice of physical poses [asana] with specific breathing techniques) has reached a level of cultural penetration today that would astonish previous generations. It has truly entered the mainstream and also become a topic for scientific investigation. Western medicine is increasingly yoga as a therapeutic modality for both physical and mental health.

Practicing asana we use our bodies to refine our sensitivity to ourselves and the world outside ourselves. The use of the breath as the primary navigating tool helps the mind to stop identifying with the endless stream of thoughts, perceptions, memories, projections and so on. We are learning to cultivate a deeper sense of abiding presence and equanimity independent of temporary feelings, sensations, thoughts and other mental images (vrittis).

In hatha yoga the body and the breath are the means by which we create balance throughout the entire field of being. Sustained asana practice (and controlled breathing) works on every facet of our selves from the gross physical to the energetic, to the machinations of the mind, our habitual reactions, our inner dialogue, our ability to tolerate discomfort. Gary Kraftsow, the leading pioneer of yoga therapy in the U.S. has cultivated an entire yoga practice (including lecture) to help students and teachers alike learn how to relieve anxiety through his Viniyoga system with his bestselling DVD: Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety.

By cultivating our ability to be with sensation in the physical body we refine our ability to be with difficult feelings and thoughts. This is particularly useful for those who suffer from anxiety and depression. Finding a place of ease in the body and more spacious quiet in the mind are paramount. Yoga helps both.

Anxiety is not just a state of mind. Just like other emotions such as joy and grief, it’s a physiological state with physical symptoms which have specific effects on the body and mind.  Our bodies carry traces of our emotions in the form of memory pathways made of biochemicals that cause changes on the cellular level.  These hormonal changes affect our emotions and our ability to deal with stress.

Yoga is key in dissolving the somatic residues of anxiety because it can replace stress hormones (cortisol) with hormones that make us feel relaxed and happy (serotonin, endorphins). This means that even one yoga practice session can elevate mood and ameliorate the effects of anxiety.

Biochemical changes affect the delicate equilibrium balance between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic), and the immune, respiratory and digestive systems. The complex interaction between these systems affects how we feel and our ability to deal with stress. An easy way to grasp this is to think of how you feel after a long, juicy savasana and then think about how you feel in the middle of a horrible fight with your beloved.

When you are under extreme stress you experience symptoms of ‘fight or flight’ syndrome (FF), the name given to a range of symptoms resulting from activation of the sympathetic nervous system in response to real or perceived danger.  Characteristics of this heightened state include sweaty palms, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, fast, shallow breath and adrenalin surges.

There are definitely times when we need the mobilizing force of FF to spur us into action (imagine running from a potential assailant), but when we can’t bounce back to normal, problems arise. To somewhat oversimplify; activation of the sympathetic nervous system causes elevated levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. If the flow of these hormones doesn’t reduce in a relatively short time, the net effect is an almost constant level of low-grade anxiety.

Our emotions directly affect our immunity as well as our body’s ability to deal with stress. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the name of the field of scientific research that is dedicated to deepening our understanding of the complex relationship between psychological processes, the nervous system, and the immune system. Researchers in the field have found that emotional wellbeing is central to overall well-being and is directly correlated with immune function and overall health.  Gary Kraftsow also discusses on his DVD  how yoga and PNI are in agreement when it comes to recognizing the link between our psychic wellbeing, our emotional lives and our physiological health.

Fascinated by developments in the emerging field of PNI, husband and wife team, viral immunologist Ronald Glaser and clinical psychologist Jan Kiecolt-Glaser began collaborating to investigate the effects of trauma and stress on the immune system.  The couple’s research on the effects of stress caused by intra-marital conflict published in 2005 in The Archives of General Psychiatry, yielded fascinating results. It turns out that the stress caused by conflict between spouses reduces immunity and couples in unhappy marriages are more susceptible to illness than happier couples. Using a low-pain blistering technique to make tiny wounds on subjects’ arms, the Glasers then had couples partake in two different conversational scenarios. In the first, the couples were asked to discuss a topic chosen to elicit supportive responses, in the second, the topics were chosen to deliberately invoke dissent. The couples that had exhibited the most hostility while arguing had a slower recovery time than those whose arguments were more amiable. On average, it took two days longer for the wounds of the high hostility couples to heal. (New York Times Magazine, 4/18/10)

So how can yoga help reduce anxiety, deal with stress and thereby boost immunity? Earlier on we noted that yoga alters our biochemistry and therefore our mood. We also noted that effects of symptoms of ‘fight or flight syndrome’ are attributable to stress hormones which wreak havoc as they course throughout our bodies. It turns out that the body has a counter stance to ‘fight or flight,’ namely the ‘relaxation response’ (RR) which is correlated with the parasympathetic nervous system. Effects of the relaxation response include a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, slower breath, and a decline in oxygen consumption because of the decreased need for energy. Brain waves shift from (alert) beta rhythm, to (relaxed) alpha rhythm.  Blood flow to muscles decreases, and is diverted to brain and skin, producing a feeling of warmth and rested mental alertness. It’s exactly how you feel after lovemaking, or savasana, or meditating.

Steady, deep breathing affects a region of the brain that releases chemicals which interact with the parasympathetic nervous system and initiate the RR.  This improves our immunity and benefits us on emotional, physical, psychological, and mental levels – the perfect tool for dissolving anxiety. Gary Kraftsow’s therapeutic approach to reducing anxiety marries insights from PNI (psychoneuroimmunology) with traditional yoga practices to maximize relaxation and parasympathetic response.

Use the Promo code  YOGADUDE365  for 25% off at www.pranamaya.com until June 15, 2015

img_1358088540799Born and raised in Ireland, Dearbhla Kelly M.A. is a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher, writer and neurophilosopher. She began her academic training in Amsterdam and received degrees in philosophy in Dublin and Chicago. She is particularly skillful at marrying the more esoteric teachings of yoga with modern scientific insights and the practicalities of everyday life. Her writing has been published in the Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine. A dedicated ashtanga practitioner, she teaches yoga and neuroscience workshops worldwide. Her lilting Irish accent and Dublin wit make her classes uniquely enjoyable.

To learn more about Dearbhla Kelly visit www.durgayoga.com

 

 

 

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Yin Yoga Revolution

Posted on April 8th, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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Mindful yin yoga is a quietly radical practice that welcomes all bodies types and sizes regardless of injuries or idiosyncrasies. In yin practice we relinquish any idealized notions of how a pose ‘should’ look in favor of exploring yogi’s bodies with their particular limitations and needs. So how a given pose should look becomes a function of how the practitioner’s body gets the best opening in the pose, as opposed to the yogi trying to approximate a picture in a yoga magazine!

Mindful yin yoga celebrates diversity; it’s the punk rock of yoga. Rather, than seeking homogeneity, yin says ‘bring your quirks, your tight hips, your busted left knee, your tweaky neck, your sloping left shoulder. Come to class with an open mind, an interested attitude and a willingness to unwind. No matter if you need the support of two bolsters, blanket and a block, if you are getting a juicy opening, if you start to feel some space open up in your body and mind, you are excelling in the practice.”

Yin for is for everyone: young, old, fat, thin, sporty, sedentary (especially sedentary!), wound up, chilled out and everything in between. If you have a body and you can breathe, you can practice, and benefit from, mindful yin yoga.

Paul Grilley the godfather of Yin yoga describes that Yin practice targets joints, specifically ligaments, the dense connective tissues that wrap around and stabilize joints are exercised by slow deep stretches. Most of us think of exercise as running, or strong asana practice that engages our muscles, like Bikram, vinyasa flow, Asthanga, Iyengar. These types of yang yoga target muscles and work by rhythmic repetition, stretching and contracting to strengthen.  In Grilley’s DVD Yin Yoga- The Foundations of a Quiet Practice, he makes a strong case for the therapeutic effects of mindful yin yoga practice.

Bones and connective tissue don’t need rhythm and repetition, they benefit from traction and stillness. By placing a joint in traction, we can target the ligaments and slowly pull them causing them to elongate. Unlike muscles, which are elastic (they can lengthen and subsequently retract), ligaments are plastic; they stretch and stay stretched, just like taffy.

It seems obvious that we want strong muscles to stay fit and go about our daily lives, most of us are less aware of why we need to exercise our joints. In both cases the ‘use it or lose it’ principles applies. Under-used muscles atrophy and weaken; under-used joints lose mobility. Over-stressed joints deteriorate but joints that are not used enough degenerate.  So mindful yin yoga is about creating balance; the middle path.

Joints are places where bones connect, for example elbows, knees, hips, spine, shoulders. Their job is to facilitate movement. Lack of movement means that joints are not subjected to sufficient stress and we experience discomfort or even pain; this is why folks who have a sedentary lifestyle are more susceptible of joint pain.

Eighty per cent of people in the Western world complain of lower back pain at some point in their lives. Many of those people are office workers, confined to sitting in chairs for up to eight hours a day. Sitting in chairs (or driving) compresses the lumbar spine by putting pressure on the discs, compressing them and causing the vertebra to move closer together. As the bones move closer together the ligaments shrink, restricting movement, causing pain and increasing compression.  It’s worth noting that in cultures where people spend less time in chairs and more time squatting and sitting cross-legged on the floor, the incidence of chronic back pain is much lower.

‘Contracture’ is the name given to the process whereby ligaments shrink due to not being stressed enough.  Though beneficial, moving a joint through its’ range of motion doesn’t adequately stretch ligaments, only prolonged, slow traction does that.  Just as sustained meditation practice over time can reduce our reactivity in favor of responsiveness and thereby reduce suffering borne of unmediated actions, sustained traction of joints over time can lengthen ligaments, increase mobility, and decrease pain. Mindful yin yoga has two cardinal rules – (1) stay in a pose long enough for the stretch to be effective (3-10 minutes), (2) put the targeted joint in traction and relax the surrounding muscles. Mindful yin yoga encourages yogis to honor their particular physiological make up with all its foibles and get creative about how to find more comfort and ease while holding a pose, to play with the angle of joints and use as many props as are helpful for creating space.

Many students new to mindful yin yoga find this completely alien. Being used to yang classes where little individual instruction is given and practitioners are asked to make their bodies conform to generic instructions (“line your feet up heel to heel and, hips level, fold over your straightened front leg”), they are frequently astonished that yoga can be practiced in a way that celebrates what can otherwise be thought of as limitations and impediments to practice. This is a radically inclusive practice.

Experientially a mindful yin yoga class is incredibly relaxing. The long holds using props and the art of relaxing muscles allow for a deeper relaxation, an unwinding not just of physical tension, but also of the knots and tight places in the mind and the emotional body.  This deeper releasing allows the prana or chi to flow more easily through the body creating a feeling of expansion and radiance animating the entire field of being.

Longtime yin practitioner and senior teacher, Denise Kaufman, (who leads the yin program at Exhale in Venice, CA and teaches yin at conferences and festivals nationally) was one of the original gangsters of the yin movement in early 1990’s Los Angeles. Denise was one of a small group of students and friends of Paul and Suzee Grilley who would meet at their house to explore mindful yin yoga poses. These yogis were advanced practitioners used to doing intense yang practice. They came together to workshop yin style long holds and experiment on themselves to see the results of yin practice. What they discovered was astounding.

Denise had been practicing yoga since 1968 and had completed in-depth studies with Yogi Bhajan before becoming a Bikram teacher and later and advanced Ashtanga practitioner and teacher. She says that from 1968 to 1992 people knew her as a dedicated practitioner and one who suffered intermittently from severe back pain. Even with her dedicated yang practices, only yin yoga increased her flexibility and eliminated her chronic pain: it has never come back. This is pretty astonishing and ought to make those of us who are yang practitioners interested in our long-term health sit up and take notice.

Or maybe it’s more apt to say it should make us abandon sitting in chairs in favor of getting to the floor, stretching slow and deep embracing taking care of our joints as part of a well-rounded yoga practice. Yin is profoundly relaxing and inherently balancing, an exquisite tool to add to your repertoire of yoga poses.

Photo of Audray Kingsley in Balasana – Laurence Garceau

 

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Born and raised in Ireland, Dearbhla Kelly M.A. is a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher, writer and neurophilosopher. She began her academic training in Amsterdam and received degrees in philosophy in Dublin and Chicago. She is particularly skillful at marrying the more esoteric teachings of yoga with modern scientific insights and the practicalities of everyday life. Her writing has been published in the Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine. A dedicated ashtanga practitioner, she teaches yoga and neuroscience workshops worldwide. Her lilting Irish accent and Dublin wit make her classes uniquely enjoyable.

Learn more about Dearbhla Kelly at www.durgayoga.com

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