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How to Bring Loving-Kindness into Your Day

Posted on December 3rd, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Sarah & Ty Powers

The word in Sanskrit for that quality of love that permeates our natural being is Maitri, translated as loving-kindness.

  • Make the aspiration today to bring Maitri more into the foreground in body, speech and mind.
  • Take loving care of yourself by pausing to breathe consciously right now, wherever you are, in a relaxed way, for 5 minutes.
  • As you move through your day, let go of any rushing in your activities, eat especially healthy, doing some yoga or taking a walk, in general being relaxed and self loving all day.
  • In speech, emphasize words today that are kind and beneficial, and fill your mind over and over with gratitude for this precious, mysterious life!
  • Enjoy a day filled with loving kindness toward yourself.

At the end of the day, laying in bed, reflect on the simple moments today where you felt soft and receptive, remembering how you experienced yourself, committing to be your own best friend and protector tomorrow, and the following days as well.

To learn more about Sarah Powers, visit her website at www.sarahpowers.com, and check out her DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

This article was originally posted on Sarah’s Blog.

powers

 An internationally acclaimed master teacher, Sarah Powers weaves the insights and practices of yoga and Buddhist meditation in an integrated practice that seeks to enliven the body, heart, and mind. Her yoga style blends a yin sequence of long-held poses to enhance the meridian and organ systems, with a yang or flow practice influenced by Viniyoga, Ashtanga, and alignment-based vinyasa teachings. – Read more HERE.

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Sukhasana

Posted on November 7th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

 

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Sukhasana: Seated Easy Pose

Whether it’s been a long day or week filled with joyous times or a few more bumps along the path than preferred, we could all use more moment of serene peace, reflection and gratitude. An ideal asana for meditation, Sukhasana or seated easy pose supports your journey of surrendering and becoming the witness to such an emotional, mental and physical release.

To come into a comfortable and cross-legged seated meditative pose, feel free to sit on a chair or a bolster to alleviate any sense of discomfort in the hips, lower pack or tailbone region. To create a sense of effortless ease, preparing your mind, body and soul to release all worries and outside influences, place blankets under the knees making it easier and more comfortable to sit in Sukasnana for longer periods of time. Bring your attention to your intention for the practice and present moment of stillness. Notice your thoughts, habits of thoughts, and if you feel distracted just notice it, but do not allow such distractions to overwhelm you and bring your attention to alignment: the long extension of your spine, neutrality in the back of your neck as your crown reaches up towards to the sky.

The asana’s relative ease on the knees allows your hips to open without discomfort. You are welcome to sit in this pose for any length of time, but if you practice Sukhasana on a regular basis, be mindful in alternating the crossing of the legs. Physically, the benefits of Sukhasana include strengthening the upper back, knees and ankles. Emotionally and mentally, Sukahasana when practiced with diligent and gentle pranayama work, calms the mind and nervous system achieving a sense of internal peace.

To help you safely strengthen and stabilize your thoracic and cervical spine, Gary Kraftsow guides you through an intentional and progression-based sequence in his Viniyoga Therapy for Upper Back, Neck and Shoulders DVD.

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What is Prānāyāma?

Posted on December 10th, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Gary Kraftsow

According to theories in neuroscience, the evolutionary origin of the limbic system is linked to the sense of smell and can be traced to that part of the limbic brain known as the olfactory lobe. It is primarily through the sense of smell that animals identify danger, food, or sexual partners; and it was from the olfactory lobe, in its most primitive form, that reflexive messages were sent to the rest of the nervous system, initiating appropriate behavioral responses. The limbic system still forms the “emotional core” of our own vastly more complex brains and, as we have seen, still has the capacity to powerfully influence and even override the   rationality of the cerebral cortex.

The ancient masters specifically developed the practice of prānāyāma (regulation of the breath) to balance the emotions, clarify the mental processes, and ultimately to integrate them into one effectively functioning whole. In light of what we now know about the close connections between the various structures of the limbic brain and the prefrontal lobes of the cerebral cortex, it is interesting to speculate about exactly what the ancients actually did understand concerning the power of prānāyāma.

Though a full treatment of the complex and highly evolved science of prānāyāma is beyond the scope of this work, it is interesting to note that the practice of prānāyāma has a significant impact on the olfactory lobe and, in this way, on the limbic brain. In fact, the ancient masters taught that states of physical and emotional arousal or nonarousal can be regulated via control of the breath at the nostrils. Specifically: inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left (sūrya bhedana) is said to activate or stimulate our system; and inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right (candra bhedana) is said to calm, soothe, and pacify our system. We can also use both inhalation (brahmana) and exhalation (langhana) techniques to stimulate or soothe our systems respectively; and we use different ratios between the various parts of the breathing cycle— i.e., between inhale, retention after inhale, exhale , and suspension of the breath after exhale —to achieve very specific degrees and types of stimulation and pacification.

Excerpt from: Yoga for Wellness: Healing with the Timeless Teachings of Viniyoga by Gary Kraftsow. 

Use the PROMO CODE SACREDCOW FOR 10% OFF any products at www.pranamaya.com

 

KraftsowGary Kraftsow

Gary Kraftsow, the leading proponent of viniyoga therapy in the US, has been a pioneer in the transmission of yoga for health, healing, and personal transformation for 30 years. After studying in India with T.K.V. Desikachar and his father T. Krishnamacharya, Gary received a special diploma from Viniyoga International in Paris. In 1999 he founded the American Viniyoga Institute where he is currently director and senior teacher of the Institute’s teacher and therapist trainings.

To learn more about Gary Kraftsow, check out his DVDs here at Pranamaya.

Image is from a great article on onlymyhealth.com

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Moon Rises- Hip Opener Tutorial with Jill Miller

Posted on September 8th, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Jill Miller shares this dynamic sequence from her Yoga Link: Hip Helpers DVD. This is hip opener a great addition to your practice especially if you have tight hips and psoas muscles. Jill says” the psoas muscle is a cable like muscle that shares attachments with the diaphragm and large intestine. Because it is linked to our physiology and our nervous system in way s that other muscles are not, it is truly a vortex that effects the entire well being of the body. Doing exercises that bring balance to the body help us align our posture  and we can once again became vital.

You can find out more about Jill Miller on Pranamaya and if your hips need a little help, check out the DVD Yoga Link: Hip Helpers

Use the Promo code SACREDCOW for 10% off at checkout.

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What is Yin Yoga?

Posted on July 11th, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Conventional yoga wisdom holds that nothing prepares your body for hours of seated meditation as well as regular asana practice. But when I began to explore more intensive meditation sessions, I discovered to my chagrin that years of sweaty vinyasa and mastery of fairly advanced poses hadn’t made me immune to the creaky knees, sore back, and aching hips that can accompany long hours of sitting practice.

Fortunately, by the time I got serious about meditation, I’d already been introduced to the concepts of Taoist Yoga, which helped me understand my difficulties in sitting. I found that with some simple additions to my yoga practice, I could sit in meditation with ease, free from physical distractions. Taoist Yoga also helped me see that we can combine Western scientific thought with ancient Indian and Chinese energy maps of the body to gain deeper understanding of how and why yoga works.

The Tao of Yoga

Through deep meditation, the ancient spiritual adepts won insight into the energy system of the body. In India, yogis called this energy prana and its pathways nadis; in China, the Taoists called it qi (pronounced chee) and founded the science of acupuncture, which describes the flow of qi through pathways called meridians. The exercises of tai chi chuan and qi gong were developed to harmonize this qi flow; the Indian yogis developed their system of bodily postures to do the same.

Western medicine has been skeptical about the traditional energy maps of acupuncture, tai chi, and yoga, since no one had ever found physical evidence of nadis and meridians. But in recent years researchers, led by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama in Japan and Dr. James Oschman in the United States, have explored the possibility that the connective tissue running throughout the body provides pathways for the energy flows described by the ancients.

Drawing on Motoyama’s research, Taoist Yoga weds the insights gained by thousands of years of acupuncture practice to the wisdom of yoga. To understand this marriage—and to use it to help us sit with more ease in meditation—we must familiarize ourselves with the concepts of yin and yang. Opposing forces in taoist thought, the terms yin and yang can describe any phenomenon. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of things; yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect. Other yin-yang polarities include cold-hot, down-up, calm-excited.

Yin and yang are relative terms, not absolutes; any phenomenon can only be yin or yang by comparison with something else. We can’t point to the moon and say, “The moon is yin.” Compared to the sun, the moon is yin: It’s cooler and less bright. But compared to the Earth (at least from our perspective), the moon is yang: brighter, higher, and more mobile. In addition to being relative, a yin-yang comparison of any two objects depends on the trait being compared. For example, when considering location, the heart is yin compared to the breastbone because the heart is more hidden. But when considering substance, the heart is yang compared to the breastbone because the heart is softer, more mobile, more elastic.

Analyzing various yoga techniques from the perspective of yin and yang, the most relevant aspect is the elasticity of the tissues involved. Yang tissues like muscles are more fluid-filled, soft, and elastic; yin tissues like connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, and fascia) and bones are dryer, harder, and stiffer. By extension, exercise that focuses on muscle tissue is yang; exercise that focuses on connective tissue is yin.

It’s certainly true that whenever we move and bend our joints in yoga postures, both muscle and connective tissues are challenged. But from a Taoist perspective, much of the yoga now practiced in the West is yang practice—active practice that primarily focuses on movement and muscular contraction. Many yoga students like to warm up with asanas that infuse the muscles with blood, like standing poses, Sun Salutations, or inversions. This strategy makes sense for stretching and strengthening muscles; much like a sponge, the elasticity of a muscle varies dramatically with its fluid content. If a sponge is dry, it may not stretch at all without tearing, but if a sponge is wet, it can twist and stretch a great deal. Similarly, once the muscles fill with blood, they become much easier to stretch.

Yang yoga provides enormous benefits for physical and emotional health, especially for those living a sedentary modern lifestyle. Taoists would say yang practice removes qi stagnation as it cleanses and strengthens our bodies and our minds. But the practice of yang yoga, by itself, may not adequately prepare the body for a yin activity such as seated meditation. Seated meditation is a yin activity, not just because it is still but because it depends on the flexibility of the connective tissue.

The Joint Stretch

The idea of stretching connective tissue around the joints seems at odds with virtually all the rules of modern exercise. Whether we’re lifting weights, skiing, or doing aerobics or yoga, we’re taught that safety in movement primarily means to move so you don’t strain your joints. And this is sage counsel. If you stretch connective tissue back and forth at the edge of its range of motion or if you suddenly apply a lot of force, sooner or later you will hurt yourself.

So why would Yin Yoga advocate stretching connective tissue? Because the principle of all exercise is to stress tissue so the body will respond by strengthening it. Moderately stressing the joints does not injure them any more than lifting a barbell injures muscles. Both forms of training can be done recklessly, but neither one is innately wrong. We must remember that connective tissue is different from muscle and needs to be exercised differently. Instead of the rhythmiccontraction and release that best stretches muscle, connective tissue responds best to a slow, steady load. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger—which is exactly what you want.

Although connective tissue is found in every bone, muscle, and organ, it’s most concentrated at the joints. In fact, if you don’t use your full range of joint flexibility, the connective tissue will slowly shorten to the minimum length needed to accommodate your activities. If you try to flex your knees or arch your back after years of underuse, you’ll discover that your joints have been “shrink-wrapped” by shortened connective tissue.

When most people are introduced to the ideas of Yin Yoga, they shudder at the thought of stretching connective tissue. That’s no surprise: Most of us have been aware of our connective tissues only when we’ve sprained an ankle, strained our lower backs, or blown out a knee. But yin practice isn’t a call to stretch all connective tissue or strain vulnerable joints. Yin Yoga, for example, would never stretch the knee side to side; it simply isn’t designed to bend that way. Although yin work with the knee would seek full flexion and extension (bending and straightening), it would never aggressively stretch this extremely vulnerable joint. In general, a yin approach works to promote flexibility in areas often perceived as nonmalleable, especially the hips, pelvis, and lower spine.

Of course, you can overdo yin practice, just as you can overdo any exercise. Since yin practice is new to many yogis, the indications of overwork may also be unfamiliar. Because yin practice isn’t muscularly strenuous, it seldom leads to sore muscles. If you’ve really pushed too far, a joint may feel sensitive or even mildly sprained. More subtle signals include muscular gripping or spasm or a sense of soreness or misalignment—in chiropractic terms, being out of adjustment—especially in your neck or sacroiliac joints. If a pose causes symptoms like these, stop practicing it for a while. Or, at the very least, back way out of your maximum stretch and focus on developing sensitivity to much more subtle cues. Proceed cautiously, only gradually extending the depth of poses and the length of time you spend in them.

The Yin Difference

There are two principles that differentiate yin practice from more yang approaches to yoga: holding poses for at least several minutes and stretching the connective tissue around a joint. To do the latter, the overlying muscles must be relaxed. If the muscles are tense, the connective tissue won’t receive the proper stress. You can demonstrate this by gently pulling on your right middle finger, first with your right hand tensed and then with the hand relaxed. When the hand is relaxed, you will feel a stretch in the joint where the finger joins the palm; the connective tissue that knits the bones together is stretching. When the hand is tensed, there will be little or no movement across this joint, but you will feel the muscles straining against the pull.

It’s not necessary—or even possible—for all the muscles to be relaxed when you’re doing some Yin Yoga postures. In a seated forward bend, for example, you can gently pull with your arms to increase the stretch on the connective tissues of your spine. But in order for these connective tissues to be affected, you must relax the muscles around the spine itself. Because Yin Yoga requires that the muscles be relaxed around the connective tissue you want to stretch, not all yoga poses can be done effectively—or safely—as yin poses.

Standing poses, arm balances, and inversions—poses that require muscular action to protect the structural integrity of the body—can’t be done as yin poses. Also, although many yin poses are based on classic yoga asanas, the emphasis on releasing muscles rather than on contracting them means that the shape of poses and the techniques employed in them may be slightly different than you’re accustomed to. To help my students keep these distinctions in mind, I usually refer to yin poses by different names than their more familiar yang cousins.

The One Seat

All seated meditation postures aim at one thing: holding the back upright without strain or slouching so that energy can run freely up and down the spine. The fundamental factor that affects this upright posture is the tilt of the sacrum and pelvis. When you sink back in a chair so that the lower spine rounds, the pelvis tilts back. When you “sit up straight,” you are bringing the pelvis to a vertical alignment or a slight forward tilt. This alignment is what you want for seated meditation. The placement of the upper body takes care of itself if the pelvis is properly adjusted.

A basic yin practice to facilitate seated meditation should incorporate forward bends, hip openers, backbends, and twists. Forward bends include not just the basic two-legged seated forward bend but also poses that combine forward bending and hip opening, like Butterfly (a yin version of Baddha Konasana), Half Butterfly (a yin version of Janu Sirsasana), Half Frog Pose (a yin adaptation of Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana), Dragonfly (a yin version of Upavistha Konasana), and Snail (a yin version of Halasana). All of the forward bends stretch the ligaments along the back side of the spine and help decompress the lower spinal discs. The straight-legged forward bends stretch the fascia and muscles along the backs of the legs.

This is the pathway of the bladder meridians in Chinese medicine, which Motoyama has identified with the ida and pingala nadis so important in yogic anatomy. Snail Pose also stretches the whole back body but places more emphasis on the upper spine and neck. Poses like Butterfly, Half Butterfly, Half Frog, and Dragonfly stretch not only the back of the spine but also the groins and the fascia that crosses the ilio-sacral region. Shoelace Pose (a yin forward bend in the Gomukhasana leg position) and Square Pose (a yin forward bend in the Sukhasana leg position) stretch the tensor fascie latae, the thick bands of connective tissue that run up the outer thighs, and Sleeping Swan (a yin forward-bending version of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) stretches all the tissues that can interfere with the external thigh rotation you need for cross-legged sitting postures.

To balance these forward bends, use poses like Seal (a yin Bhujangasana), Dragon (a yin Runner’s Lunge), and Saddle (a yin variation of Supta Vajrasana or Supta Virasana). Saddle Pose is the most effective way I know to realign the sacrum and lower spine, re-establishing the natural lumbar curve that gets lost through years of sitting in chairs. Seal also helps re-establish this curve. Dragon, a somewhat more yang pose, stretches the ilio-psoas muscles of the front hip and thigh and helps prepare you to sit by establishing an easy forward tilt to the pelvis. Before Savasana (Corpse Pose), it’s good to round out your practice with a Cross-Legged Reclining Spinal Twist, a yin version of Jathara Parivartanasana which stretches the ligaments and muscles of the hips and lower spine and provides an effective counterpose for both backbends and forward bends.

The Flow of Qi

Even if you only spend a few minutes a couple times a week practicing several of these poses, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how different you feel when you sit to meditate. But that improved ease may not be the only or even the most important benefit of Yin Yoga. If Hiroshi Motoyama and other researchers are right—if the network of connective tissue does correspond with the meridians of acupuncture and the nadis of yoga—strengthening and stretching connective tissue may be critical for your long-term health.

Chinese medical practitioners and yogis have insisted that blocks to the flow of vital energy throughout our body eventually manifest in physical problems that would seem, on the surface, to have nothing to do with weak knees or a stiff back. Much research is still needed to explore the possibility that science can confirm the insights of yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine. But if yoga postures really do help us reach down into the body and gently stimulate the flow of qi and prana through the connective tissue, Yin Yoga serves as a unique tool for helping you get the greatest possible benefit from yoga practice.

Read more about Paul Grilley and his Yin Yoga and Anatomy of Yoga DVD’s and online courses: http://www.pranamaya.com/teachers/paul-grilley
This post was originally posted on yogajournal.com

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What is Yoga? A Talk with Jill Miller

Posted on May 20th, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

 

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Pranamaya had the chance to connect with YogaLink and Yoga Tune Up® creator Jill Miller recently. We asked her about her thoughts on yoga.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a conscious map to bring you in touch with your unconscious drives in motion and stillness. It is a lens into the thoughts that accompany your known and unknown habits. Yoga brings compassionate scrutiny to your life.

How do you weave that definition into your teaching?
In my Yoga Tune Up® approach, I ask my students to connect their mind into their motion, and to let no position or fluctuation of position go un-detected. I ask my students to let awareness be their mentor and to constantly increase their perception of proprioception (body sense) and the opinions, thoughts, and emotions that arise as a result of their activity. The task is to live better in your body; to make constant positive change to minimize and erase pain, move better and find peaceful progress in practice, relationships and profession.

How do you bring it into your own practice?
As a “recovered hypermobile” person, I have had to train myself to be vigilant about not just getting caught up in the “bliss” of a pose, but rather to reap joy in stabilizing myself and my joints in any given configuration. I have traded my love of sanskrit and “poses” for a love of latin, anatomy and physiology in order to restore optimum function to my body and mind. I am very exacting and precise in my own practice. I love the minutae within movement. I use my own biology as a nyasa (one-pointed focus) and flip my concentration from point-to-point in order to encompass a whole body action- no matter what “style” of movement I engage in. This places me into a deep zone of meditation and prevents me from blowing past my end-range or creating further instabilities in my body.

How has your understanding of yoga’s true meaning evolved since you began teaching?
I was introduced to yoga at age 11 while growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each teacher I worked with shared their own unique perspective and path. I consumed yoga books as a teenager and college student and found companionship in the practice with myself. It was my best friend and sanctuary. I carried it with me like a security blanket and felt protected by my practice, but I slowly started to realize that I had also become a fanatic, and was using my hours and hours of practice daily as a shield against the world. Yoga was my safe haven because I felt so unsafe. I was running away from my feelings, my childhood, and my own trauma. I had to wean myself off of the practice and venture into other movement disciplines, bodywork, dance, weight-lifting, somatic therapy and more to start to see that I was not “fixing” myself with yoga, but that my relationship with it had become deeply codependent and unhealthy. I now have tools from many disciplines that I incorporate into my teaching and programming that I feel bring a balanced perspective to myself and my students.
Awareness first, human movement second, poses (if any) third.

What is the biggest misconception about yoga that you would like to change?
Yoga is not a panacea. Yoga is a great tool. Like any tool, it can harm you if used improperly.
and:
Accomplishing the “classical shapes” found in the past 200 or so years does not endow a practitioner with any special gifts. If poses become a goal or continue to be promoted in the greater community as a sign of and “advanced practitioner” we will only continue to see more injuries and self-flagellation amongst practitioners. Poses are not pills that can “fix” you physically or psychically. Connecting with your own process within your practice is a doable, realistic and ever-enriching goal.

Receive a $5.00 off any one of Jill’s  Yoga Link videos with the Promo code CORE108 until June 22nd http://www.pranamaya.com/products/dvds/miller-core.html

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