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Yoga Therapy: A Living Healing Tradition Part 2

Posted on March 13th, 2017 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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The City Dweller and the Nine Cities

By Gary Kraftsow

As the ancients recognized, human experience plays out on a vast multidimensional field characterized by change. These dimensions—thought, mood, behavior, the body’s physiology, the physical body itself, family, society, the physical environment, and the surrounding cosmos—can be thought of as “cities” and represented as spheres that overlap and interpenetrate one another. This nine-city model is my extrapolation and synthesis of teachings implicit in Upanishadic and Western models of the human system. Each sphere carries the potential to affect and be affected by each of the other spheres. The innermost essence of who we are—purusha, or pure undifferentiated awareness—dwells within and pervades each of these nine cities.

The first three overlapping cities constitute svabhava, our basic human character or personality, our sense of self. The ancients devised methods and a practice-based process, sadhana, to help us break our identification with changing experience, see things clearly as they are, and therefore gain the insight that leads to freedom. As our sadhana advances, svabhava becomes progressively purified and transparent until it becomes emptied, revealing svarupa, our true nature, the power of pure awareness.

Until then, our self-identity and our self-image is this interface, svabhava, formed by three interpenetrating aspects of our mind: thought, mood, and behavior. When an event triggers a reaction in one dimension, it can drive activity in another. This is understood clearly in Western psychotherapy.

Looking at each dimension separately, the thought sphere represents our self-concept, our values, our priorities, and all of our cognition about the world in which we live, including our relationship with those ideas. Our goal in yoga practice is to attain clarity of thought, which requires wisdom and discrimination. Traditional yogic methods of cultivating wisdom and the ability to discriminate include vichara (inquiry), svadhyaya (self-reflection), and the study of sacred texts.

The mood sphere represents our changing emotional responses in relation to internal and external changes. Our moods are also profoundly influenced by our conscious memories and, even more significantly, by our unconscious conditioning. This sphere of our emotions is further influenced by our changing thoughts and behavior and can, in turn, influence each of these spheres as well. Traditional yogic methods of working within the mood sphere include meditation, chanting, mantra japa (repetition of mantra) with an emphasis on artha (meaning) and bhava (feeling or attitude), and prayer; sangha (right relationships); and satsanga (association with what is ultimately true). These methods help cultivate prema (love) and ananda (bliss).

The behavior sphere represents all of our habitual addictive patterns as well as intentional activity. As with the other spheres, our behavior is profoundly influenced by our conscious memories and unconscious conditioning. It is also influenced by our changing thoughts and moods and, in turn, influences our experience in each of these spheres. Intention and strength of will underlie behavior. Sankalpa, determination, implies the ability to strengthen our will and to set and activate an intention. Sankalpa is the foundation of all yogic practice. Determination is what helps us overcome our habits and develop our capacity for impulse control. Traditional methods of activating intention and strengthening the will involve practices that are done consciously through sustained effort with an emphasis on tapas (discipline) and self-restraint. This could involve, for example, giving something up that we are habituated to, such as a particular type of food. These methods may also include mantra japa and ritual.

One of the fundamental goals in yoga and yoga therapy is to become free from the twisted journey of our thoughts, feelings, desires, conflicts, distractions, and habitual and dysfunctional behavioral patterns, all of which dissipate our energy.

All three of these spheres interpenetrate and influence each other and each is profoundly affected and even driven by our conscious memories and unconscious conditioning. One of the fundamental goals in yoga and yoga therapy is to become free from the twisted journey of our thoughts, feelings, desires, conflicts, distractions, and habitual and dysfunctional behavioral patterns, all of which dissipate our energy. Toward this end, yoga places a great deal of importance on purifying our memory and elevating our unconscious conditioning to the level of the conscious mind. Making these unconscious impressions and impulses conscious is the first step toward freeing us from their influence. The integrated practice of linking breath, sound, meaning, and feeling through pranayama, meditation, and mantra japa powerfully helps us harness and direct the totality of our undissipated energy toward this deep transformation.

The dynamic interplay among the three internal spheres (thought, mood, behavior) influences and is influenced by the next sphere: physiology. The physiological sphere represents the various bodily systems, including, and of particular importance to yoga, the sympathetic/parasympathetic function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS, along with the endocrine system, regulates the other physiological functions of the body, such as digestion, respiration, and cardiovascular rhythms. The sympathetic function is the “fight or flight” response, activated when we perceive danger. The parasympathetic function is the “rest and repose” response activated when we are at rest. The yogic insight about the mind-body relationship coincides with the modern field of psychoneuroimmunology and shows how our ANS responds profoundly to the inner spheres, which represent our changing thoughts, emotions, and behavior, as well as the outer spheres beyond our physiology.

The most potent traditional methods of working with the physiological sphere are controlled breath in asana and pranayama, and forms of relaxation, including yoga nidra. In the dimension of physiology, breath work can, among other things, help to increase respiratory fitness, balance cardiovascular rhythm, stimulate immune function, and promote sympathetic/parasympathetic regulation. In addition, there are teachings and practices about the conscious use of dietary restrictions, as well as the use of cleansing techniques and herbal preparations.

The next sphere comprises our anatomy and represents our physical structure, encompassing the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems. This includes the somatic nervous system, also called the voluntary nervous system, which enables us to react consciously to environmental changes. As with the physiological sphere, the condition of our anatomical sphere is profoundly influenced by all of the inner spheres as well as the outer spheres beyond our anatomy.

Asana is the traditional primary yogic method of working with the anatomical sphere. Among other benefits, asana can help improve structural or skeletal alignment, increase structural stability, release chronic muscular contractions, strengthen what’s weak, and develop functional movement patterns.

The remaining four spheres represent increasingly external dimensions of human experience. These include:

  • our most intimate family relationships;
  • our social circle, including colleagues at work and political and economic cultures;
  • the natural world, including the environment, climate, and changes in the weather; and
  • the larger cosmos, encompassing the influence of the stars and planets.

Whereas the primary work in the inner spheres includes asana, pranayama, meditation, and mantra japa, work on the outer spheres includes:

  • forms of svadhyaya, self-reflection, that help us understand svadharma, our deeper purpose in life;
  • sanga, our right relationship to the people in our family and intimate society, as well as our relationship to the physical environment in which we live;
  • study and contemplation that helps us set a direction for our future;
  • personal and collective rituals to support our individual and collective intentions; and
  • study of our relationship to the greater cosmic environment through the science of Jyotish and the use of gems, mantra, and ritual to support benefic planetary influences and reduce malefic planetary influences.

There is an ocean of teachings that come from Vedic sources that address the outer cities. However, the full elaboration of these methods is far beyond the scope of this article.

For most of us, the influences from these various spheres are all mixed together (sankirna), and we don’t realize their mutual influence on each other or how to separate them. The yoga tradition offers methods for helping us recognize and separate them, and understand and apply appropriate methods to influence the direction of change in each dimension.

To learn more about Gary Kraftsow, check out his DVDs including Yoga for Anxiety and Depression on Yoga of Low and Upper Back here at Pranamaya.

This article was originally posted on Yoga International.

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.

 

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Simple Abdominal Twist- Yoga for Digestion

Posted on March 6th, 2017 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

Jathara Paravritti: Abdominal Twist

Under pressure because of looming deadlines? Feeling stressed because your to-do list is daunting you and seems to be growing by the minute? It happens. Life is filled with ups and downs which is why we have our yoga practice to keep us balanced, soulfully serene and vibrantly connected to our inner-self. While we cannot control what happens outside of us, we CAN and DO control how we react to such circumstances. A wonderful twisting asana that thrives to destress is jathara paravritti: abdominal twists.

Jathara Parivritti stretches the lower lumbar spinal muscles while simultaneously stretching and strengthening the hip abductors to keep you mobile. The emphasis here is to gently twist and compress belly, reducing and effectively relieving back pain caused by every modern living while also progressively increasing the number of breaths while surrendering into posture. Asanas involving twists are mentally and emotionally uplifting as they help one deal with anxiety. Poses that involve stretching and lengthening the mobility of the spinal column in a twist open the chest, shoulders and back which help to decrease sensation of emotional unsteadiness and anxiousness. Such emotional baggage is stored in the hips, thus, as with jathara paravritti the hip abductors are opened, strengthened and stretched which releases stored up emotional tension and results in a positive state of mind. Maintaining that the function comes before the form of the asana, when twisting slowly, methodically and guided solely by the breath, the benefits of such twists are felt even deeper and stronger through the physical, emotional and mental bodies.

Twists offer a physical detox as well; therefore, aiding in digestive function. And we all want to have our digestion working in optimal form! As you twist, the blood supply to your digestive organs is hauled and then upon releasing the twist and placing your back into neutral position, fresh blood is re-introduced to your abdominal organs which overall, helps to cleanse the cells of any built up waste.

To go into jathara paravritti, begin by lying on your back and with your inhale, lift and bend your knees towards your chest while extending your arms out from the shoulders in a T-shape with the palms facing down onto the floor. On your exhalation, slowly lower your knees to the floor on your right side, twisting through the abdomen and not the thoracic spine as you simultaneously turn your neck to the left. If this rotation in the cervical spine discomforts your, feel free to maintain neutrality in the neck as you look upwards with your chin gently tucking in towards your chest. On your inhalation breath, lift and return your bent knees to center towards the chest and if your head was turned to the left, return the neck and gaze back to center. Again, use the entire duration of the exhalation breath to lower the bent knees over to the left side while glancing over your right shoulder with a soft dristi beyond your right fingertips.

Founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, Gary Kraftsow introduces you to the sensational benefits of jathara paravritti in his Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety practice.

 

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Apanasana- Calming and Grounding Yoga Pose

Posted on November 11th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

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Apanasana: Knees-to-Chest Pose

“Let it go.” It is a phrase we often hear as encouragement to free our grasp onto sentiments, experiences, feelings, thoughts and distractions that no longer serve our wellbeing. Easier said than done right? While the journey to free our hearts and souls from the burdens of negative or rather disheartening self-talk is a continuous travel inwards taking steady and much dedication, yoga and in particular viniyoga is here to remind us to focus on intention and the natural calming wave-like rhythm of the breath. In particular, apanasana or knees-to-chest pose is an energy freeing pose that focuses on the downward and outward energy flow also referred to as the apana vayus.

When embraced through numerous cycles of a repetitive and constant breath, apanasana releases tensions of the lower digestive systems by detoxifying the entire body. Apanasana also releases back pain and produces a general sense of openness in the body, especially within the hips and internal thigh region. Emotionally and mentally speaking, this detoxifying pose relieves stress, mild depression and anxiety. In his Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety, Gary Kraftsow conscientiously guides you through the calming affects of apanasana.

To go into the pose that opens up the anterior hip muscles and stretches the lumbar vertebrate, begin by laying on your back with the left leg straight and right leg bent at the knee holding onto the right knee with both hands. As you exhale, strength the naval-to-spine connection by pulling the navel inwards, bending the elbows and and pulling the right knee towards the belly. As you inhale, release and repeat this cycle of breath-guider movement four times. Then upon your next exhalation, bend the left knee and release the right leg to repeat the transition onto the opposite side if the body four times. Afterwards, on your next inhaling breath bend both knees so that you gently hold on to each knee with both hands. On an exhalation breath, pull both knees into the belly, tucking the chin slightly down and consciously pushing the sacrum into the mat. If your hips are tight, slightly widening the distance between the knees is not only a great modification but again, eliminates unnecessary strain on the physical body. On an inhalation, release to the starting position.

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Maintain a Healthy Spine Through Yoga

Posted on June 17th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Paul Grilley

Some yoga instructors insist that students avoid curvature of the spine by insisting on tucking the pelvis. But any healthy movement can be overdone. Rather than insist on always having the pelvis tucked encourage your students to utilize the full range of pelvic motion in their practice.

Bad News Ballet?

The idea that a “tucked pelvis” is good for you comes from ballet. Ballerinas are taught to tuck their pelvis so they can spin on a straight axis. It is difficult to spin multiple times if the pelvis is not tucked. Ballerinas are also taught to tuck their pelvis so they can maximize the height and appearance of leg extensions. Many yoga instructors are former dancers and it is habitual for them to remind students to tuck their pelvis.

If ballet is bad for you, why imitate it?

Well, number one: ballet is not bad for you. Much of ballet training is about balance, stretching, and learning to isolate movements. This is good for you. Number two: tucking the pelvis is a natural movement you should learn how to do. It only becomes destructive if you remain stuck in that position.

Is an arched pelvis better than a tucked pelvis?

The last two covers of Yoga Journal magazine feature photos of young women in deep backbends. This is the opposite movement to a tucked pelvis. The poses look beautiful and one can’t help but admire the ease and range of motion of the models. But I doubt if anyone would think it healthy for someone to habitually hold their spine in this deep bend. If anyone attempted to do so, the discs in their back would degenerate painfully.

Then is a neutral position best?

Constantly arching the spine is unhealthy. Constantly tucking the spine is unhealthy. So should we live our lives in a timid neutrality of spine position, neither tucking nor tilting the pelvis? The answer is an emphatic “No!” The neutral spine position is how office workers live their lives, and statistics show that 80 percent of them will suffer serious back problems.

Inhale and exhale, tuck and arch, life is about movement.

To have a healthy spine, we must systematically move it through its full range of motion. This means sometimes we tuck the pelvis to flatten the spine, sometimes we tilt the pelvis to arch the spine, and sometimes we keep the spine neutral. This is the Taoist view of life, a constant alternation from one opposite to another. The contraction and expansion of the heart are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of circulation. The expansion and contraction of the lungs are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of breathing. Tucking and tilting the pelvis have opposite effects on the curve of the spine, but by alternating they are the Tao of posture.

Tuck it and arch it.

When practicing backbends such as the Cobra, don’t try to tuck the pelvis but let the spine arch. When practicing forward bends such as Paschimottanasana, don’t try to tilt the pelvis but let the spine round. These are normal movements for the lumbar spine, and to fight against them is to nullify the effects of the poses. Of course, overstretching an already injured spine could make it worse. But sooner or later, the goal of all physical rehabilitation is to regain the natural range of motion. Yoga practice helps us retain our full range of motion so we can easily alternate from a tucked pelvis with a straight spine to a tilted pelvis with an arched spine. Both these movements are necessary to maintain healthy posture.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at www.paulgrilley.com and check out his DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

Paul Grilley:  A well-known master of yin yoga, Paul brings a thorough grounding in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga as well as anatomy and kinesiology to his teaching, which integrates the Taoist yoga of martial arts master Paulie Zink and the Chinese meridian and acupuncture theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul’s book, Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, explains how yin yoga can teach us to relax, be patient, be quiet, and focus on the skeleton and its joints—a necessary counterpoint to today’s more ubiquitous muscular yoga.

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Living Yoga by Sarah Powers

Posted on May 25th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Answering the Call

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, retreat has been a crucial part of yogic life. All over Asia, whether in mountain caves or lush forests, seekers striving to free their minds recognized the importance of renouncing the worldly life, temporarily or permanently, in order to concentrate more fully on meditative practices.

Although there are still lone ascetics and communities of monastics, today most practitioners of yoga and Buddhism choose to remain in the world. As lay practitioners, we are blending the insights and openings we garner from these paths with the numerous responsibilities of a life that includes business and family. We live in a fast-paced digital era, but there is still no better way for devoted practitioners to encourage spiritual unfolding than to relinquish busy schedules and practical concerns and go on retreat. Whether we go for four days or three months, these periods of uninterrupted practice and quiet reflection allow us to melt away the distraction of compulsive busyness.

On retreat, we give ourselves (and everyone else) the gift of stripping away the mind’s obsessions and revealing what Buddhist sages call our undistracted and compassionate Buddha nature.

In both the Hindu and the Buddhist spiritual traditions, 99 percent of practitioners have a need for retreats. A gifted few, with an abundance of spiritual karma from past lives, realize enlightenment with a minimum of practice and exposure to the teachings. But most wise teachers do not recommend simply wishing and waiting for this; instead, they advise seekers to repeatedly go on retreat to strengthen their understanding and to rest in the spaciousness of uninterrupted practice. The last teaching the great yogi Milarepa gave his chief disciple was to turn and show his student his behind, deeply callused form long years of sitting on the granite of the Himalayas. Milarepa’s wordless message: You have to practice.

Embracing Silence

When I am about to leave on retreat, inevitably someone says, ” Have a good time!” This comment amuses me, for I know that their idea of a good time is mostly not what I will be having. When I simply want to let my mind roam and body relax, I go to a warm sea with my family and friends. But I have gone on enough fun vacations to lose the illusion that feeling content has very much to do with what is going on outside me. When I really want to face and disempower the habits of discontent that continually resurface no matter where I am, I go on retreat. While it is not always easy or fun, I have found that going on meditation retreats and facing myself in silence allows me to see my fears and attachments more clearly, to embrace them with compassion, and to grow in intuition and trust of my true nature.

Going on retreat gives us the opportunity to pay attention to three essential aspects of spiritual practice. First, we learn or revisit the tools of awareness taught within a particular tradition. These are the specifics of asana, pranayama, and meditation appropriate for our level of understanding and application. On retreat, we also have the opportunity to hear the philosophical teachings that underlie these practices. In a traditional class or workshop, there just is not the time to delve into these areas very fully. Second, retreats give us an opportunity to reflect on these ideas and practices. This contemplation often sparks an uncompromising and unsentimental yet more truly compassionate view of ourselves and our lives, which is often a necessary precursor to change. Third, retreats strengthen practice. On retreat, in the absence of the tasks and distractions of our everyday lives, we are encouraged not only to practice more, accelerating our understanding and unfolding, but also to sustain the lens of mindfulness throughout each day.

By going on retreat, we are able to practice living in a way that engenders clarity and compassion.

Once we’ve spent time on retreat, living with awareness day after day, we are more likely to catch ourselves and interrupt the habits of distraction when we return home. Instead of feeling irritated and restless when we get stuck waiting in a long line, for example, we may find it easier to turn inward with meditative awareness, appreciating the unhurried moments. By going on retreat, we get to practice living in a way that engenders clarity and compassion, the inner abodes of the awakened.

Unveiling Wisdom

RETREATS OFFER a theater in which our lives become the backdrop and our misidentification with the ego-self takes center stage. Sages have long spoken about an unchanging internal substratum of being, the true Self that is naturally full of bliss and love. They remind us that freedom is an inner alignment that neither comes into being nor dies, but is simply evoked by our quiet, undistracted, sustained surrender to its inner stream. But from childhood on we have learned to identify with other, less essential aspects of the self . We have been taught to find our sense of worthiness through our actions and the praise or blame heaped upon us by parents, teachers, friends. and mates. We have been trained to acquire knowledge about things but not about our innermost nature. If we are just quiet and still, a barrage of voices questions this strange behavior that does nothing to prove our worth.

So how are we to allow our inner wisdom to become unveiled? When we commit to an awareness discipline that places strong emphasis on watching the mind, like yoga and Buddhist practices, we take a first step. We go to teachers and learn new tools for working with our body, breath, heart, and mind. As time goes by, we practice and continue to receive teachings. Yet eventually we may feel a calling to go deeper, to put aside our practical and personal affairs for a time, to really dive in and see who we are apart from what we do -not just what we do for a living, but what we do as mothers, husbands, friends, and yoga practitioners.

Retreats allow us to see how illusory and impermanent such identities are, how we make and remake ourselves in every moment. Seeing this lack of solidity can be very unsettling at first, but it also provides a life changing liberation.

As our minds loosen their obsession with our practical affairs and everyday identities, we can open to glimpses of the inner peace that underlies our restlessness and discontent. And when the retreat is led well, we are guided further into this inner quietude. Our teachers give us pointers about the roadblocks that inevitably surface and about how to navigate them. When the ramblings of the mind rest in abeyance, we are allowed to peer into our unconditioned, true nature. However imperfect the glimpses may be, we will never again be the same. We now know that although it is often shrouded, within us lies a reservoir of ease, a source of well-being and inner wisdom. We realize that we simply need to learn to return to this wellspring within. And we see that retreats offer a safe vehicle that protects us from distraction on this inner journey.

Identifying Loneliness

FOR ME, RETREATS remain an essential part of spiritual unfolding. On one particular retreat in Burma, I encountered an emotional whirlwind that threatened to spiral me into deep despair and doubt. I had been away for a few weeks and was missing my husband and 8-year-old daughter immensely. I looked around and saw few wedding rings on the other meditators. I tormented myself, imagining I was practically the only one with attachments at home -no doubt the only mother with a young child. I deserved to be having a difficult time, I thought. I had come at the wrong time in my life. My family needed me; I should never have left them for so long. Even more, I felt I needed them.

A retreat is a superb opportunity to accelerate the release of conditioned, habitual ways of being.

This story ran obsessively inside me, and I became unable to focus my mind. I lost sight of the intentions that had brought me halfway around the world. I even considered leaving. After a few days of this, realizing I needed some help, I brought up my inner state with my teacher. I knew he too had a spouse far away, so I asked him about missing her. His reply went straight to the heart of my longing.

“Have you ever noticed that in their presence you also sometimes feel this yearning?” he asked. When I nodded, he continued. “In reality it is not them you are missing so much, You are missing you! You are missing being at home inside yourself, and you are displacing the feelings, blaming it on the absence of your family. This disconnected feeling remains with us, whomever we are with and wherever we go, until we are finally willing to stop chasing temporary circumstantial happiness. Once you touch your own inner reservoir of joy and contentment and learn to rest there, it won’t matter so much where you go or whom you are with. When the voices of discontent resurface, you won’t emotionally identify with them, and they will vanish as easily as they came. Only then will you experience true happiness. Of course, you will still have people you are naturally closer to, but the attachment to their presence will subside. You will carry them in your heart with you everywhere, in the place where your own inner radiance already shines.

After our conversation, I returned to my practice aligned again with my initial commitment to awakening, reminded that the retreat was a superb opportunity to accelerate my release of conditioned, habitual ways of being. I felt reassured that it would enable me to be more present and loving, and therefore a more compassionate and mature wife and mother. When I returned home and my husband and daughter sensed the changes in me, they became even more enthusiastic in their support of my retreat time. We had all confirmed that being committed to a spiritual life and being in a worldly life need not be in conflict.

Having had many such experiences of new insight and growth on retreat, I can think of no better way to uproot the weeds of discontent. When we start going on retreats, we can find the glimpses we get into the true Self to be a beautiful blessing and an incredible resource. Through the hours of meditating, we can come to witness our internal warring voices from a place of impartial interest, eventually realizing that no one can dispel the discontented false self except us. Certainly we need compassionate teachers to point the way and redirect us when we get derailed from our intentions but, they cannot do the work for us. Only dedicated use of the tools of practice, again and again, gradually transforms us. Instead of identifying ourselves as bad or wrong, we learn to disidentify from the charade of the ego-self and to begin the slow, gradual process of compassionately metabolizing these patterns into our larger nature, our authentic Self. More than any other practice I know, retreats are the way to make ourselves accident prone to the grace of presence.

First Published by Yoga Journal, April 2002

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.

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 SARAH 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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Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice

Posted on April 13th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Home Yoga

By Sabrina Samedi

For many of us, the time we spend on the mat whether it’s for a sweat-cleansing power flow, a nourishing vinyasa series, a healing yin yoga practice or for meditation, it is considered “me time.” Time to step away from all the hustle and bustle, noise and distractions of everyday life and step into our true self- it’s our dedication to our self: to listen and honor our mind, body, spirit and soul. Hence, self-care is the manifestation of self-love and such compassion should not be jeopardized simply due to the fact that you couldn’t make it to the studio for your meditation or yoga class.

Let’s face it,  we have all been there- starring at the jumbled yoga mat in the corner of our room as it dauntingly seems to whisper- breathe now or forever lose your peace. It takes willpower and commitment to practice yoga whether it’s asana-based, pranayama work or meditation with consistency. Classes at studios can add up and after a steady series of visits it can feel as if our center of zen is in a heated debate with our wallet and our wallet is in the lead as a victor as our zen turns into financial worries. Between work and running errands, time can restrict us to practicing before sunrise or well after sunset; thus, time restrictions are an honest determinant for when we can carve out studio space. It is quite harmonious and healing to share your practice with the gracious breath of community members, but often times it an uplifting challenge to remove and all distractions and simple focus on your breath, your body’s needs, and your strength without any inclination towards judgement nor competition.

Therefore, cultivating a home yoga and/or meditation practice is a great compliment to your community studio-based classes as well as a wonderful tool to utilize when traveling or when time and budget act as bumps along the road to tranquility.

Tips on how to create and maintain a home practice:

1. Hold the Space and Honor Yourself

  • Be kind to yourself as you would in any class. When a teacher suggests a modification and you tune in realizing that since your lower back has been aching lately, you decide it’s best to lower down onto your knees during a Chaturanga Dandasana or bend your knees as you lift into Ardha Uttanasana. Thus, you are listen to your body and are taking the instructor’s suggestion. You are your own guru- listen to the teacher within your soul and treat your body with compassion.

 

2. Strengthen Your Willpower

  • Your manipura or solar plexus is engaged here as you dedicate the same adherence to studio etiquette to your self– show up on time, no texting or taking calls while invested in your practice. The e-mails and pile of laundry can wait- there is no where else you need to be than right here, right now. Be present and flow with your breath.

 

3. Find the Right Flow and Style 

  • Getting a little help from our yogi friends is key here; while listening to your inner teacher you may still need guidance from a yoga instructor and rest assured we’ve got you covered. Invest in yoga DVDs and/or online courses that you’d be able to access from any platform (ie tablet, iPad, iPhone, etc) and find as well as explore the diversity of class styles and duration that pike your interest. For a vast and unique selection of classes and lectures taught by our own master teachers click here. Our collection includes: Yin Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Viniyoga, Vinyasa and Meditation.

 

4. Don’t Forget Savasana

  • Savasana or corpse pose is oftentimes considered the most important asana as this is where our bodies truly integrate all of the emotional, physical and mental benefits of the practice to our subtle and conscious bodies. You’ve exerted quite a bit of effort, energy and time. Thus, give yourself the chance to soak in the benefit and recharge your soul. Give yourself permission to let go and simple be- rejoice in the highest form of self-love: self-care.

 

Namaste! Thank you for sharing your practice with me and inviting me into your home. I hope you find this information insightful.

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Energizing Morning Yoga Practice

Posted on March 5th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Not all of us have time for a leisurely 90 minute yoga practice in the morning even when we pride ourselves for being a morning person and jumping out of bed before the sound of the alarm takes over. Between sleeping, home and work life, it can be difficult to squeeze in time for ourselves. With this quick morning yoga routine, however, all you need is less than 10 minutes and a yoga mat to practice self-care- centering your mind, soothing your soul and energizing your body. Who can have a bad day after such a cathartic experience?

Remember to allow your breath to guide you through the asanas as we marry the breath to movement. With each inhale you are taking in prana- a vital life force, majestic in it’s rejuvenating qualities and with each exhale we release the toxic stale air of experiences, lessons, thoughts and feelings that no longer serve us. This is your “me-time,” the time you devote to your self-care because to care for your well-being is to actively practice self-love. Therefore, make sure to honor your body by not pushing yourself when you feel pain. Breathe through the poses, feel the stretch and tune in to the sensations of your physical body and listen…take note of how you feel- exuding maximum engagement while still at ease: you can challenge yourself to step closer to the edge of your comfort zone to take on a deeper release in your practice, but be mindful to back off when any sensation turns into pain.

 A Quick and Revitalizing Morning Sequence
Child’s Pose (Balasana) Child's Pose

An excellent start to your quick yoga morning routine, Child’s Pose wakes up your body by gently stretching out your hips, thighs, lower back, ankles and knees. This pose also increases circulation to your head and calms the central nervous system, which can reduce headaches and help you manage stress and tension.

Take a deep breath in and from a kneeling position fold your chest onto your thighs and your forehead onto your mat. Lengthen your spine and neck by extending your ribs away from your tailbone and your head away from your shoulders. Your arms can lay palm up by your side or gently protracted in front of you. Remain here for ten deep breaths.

bidalasana

Cat/Cow Pose (Bidalasana)
This second pose will warm up your spine and help release tension in your upper body, particularly if you have a stiff neck from sleeping.

From tabletop position, with your wrists beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips, press your palms into the mat and keep a neutral spine. As you exhale, engage your abs as you round your spine up to the ceiling with your chin tucked towards your chest in a cat-like position. On your inhale, arch your back, letting your stomach relax and lifting your head and tailbone upwards for the cow position. Switch back and forth from Cat to Cow for 10 rounds.

 

Downward Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) 

Downward Dog

The third pose in your quick yoga morning routine will stimulate your muscles and relieve stress in your neck and legs.

Place your hands a little wider than your shoulders, tuck your toes and lift your hips into the air, into an upside down V-shape. Your chest moves towards the thighs and your head remains relaxed. Roll your shoulders down away from your ears and keep your hips high and heels on the ground. Hold for 10 breaths.
Standing Forward Bend Pose (Uttanasana) Standing Forward Bend Pose
For an intense stretch in your upper back and hamstrings, exhale, activate your abs, and fold forward keeping your back straight. Your chin should be tucked towards your chest, your shoulders relaxed, and the top of your head extended towards the floor. Try shifting your weight forward onto your toes so that your legs remain as straight as possible and you release your back. With your hands on the ground, hold for 10 breaths before slowly rolling up, one vertebra at a time.

trikonasanaTriangle Pose (Trikonasana)

Your final pose in this quick yoga morning routine creates balance and stability while stretching out your legs. Widen your leg stance to about a leg-length from the standing position and turn your right foot out to the side. Your heel should align with the arch of your left foot. Move your arms parallel to the ground and stretch to the right, keeping both legs straight. Pivot the arms so they are in one line, moving in opposite directions, keeping your chest and torso long. Take 5 breaths and switch sides.

With just these five simple poses, you can start your day feeling empowered and ready to take on the world.

Pranamaya offers the timeless wisdom of master yoga teachers in a variety of Viniyoga, Yoga Therapy and Mediation practice DVD’s and online courses to enrich your practice and yoga education at your pace and on your schedule. We are here to help support you on your journey. 

Have a fabulous day!

 

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Yoga Therapy Tip of the Day

Posted on March 2nd, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Dwipada Pitham

 

Dwipada Pitham:  Two-footed Bridge Pose

The breath is the soundtrack to your well-being. Let’s allow such a vital and energetic essence to guide us to surrender not simply into an asana, but to release all tension and allow relief to pleasantly overwhelm the body. Throughout our yoga therapy practice, the breath remains constant as the asana changes and even as the body slowly deepens into the sequence or pose through repetition, the breath should always remain the priority: the leading proponent to any movement. As we stay with our breath, we slowly relax into the subtle movements of the pose while embracing and enjoying every second of our yoga practice. Thus, cultivating mindfulness and inner peace.

A suitable alternative to sarvangasana or shoulder stand, Dwipada Pitham or two-footed bridge pose, activates the thyroid gland that is responsible for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Begin going into this backbend by laying on your back, your knees bent with the soles of the feet on the mat, feet hip-distance apart with your arms by your sides, palms facing down and chin tucked towards your chest so that the back of the neck is neutral and long. As you take in a deep and gentle inhale, push into the souls of the feet and slowly, mindfully use the entirety of the breath to help lift your pelvis, articulating the spine, lifting one vertebrate at a time off the mat. Upon the exhalation, permit the complete duration of your breath to guide your spine back on the mat vertebrate by vertebrate.

One variation of dwipads pitham is to lift your arms over head as you simultaneously inhale the pelvis and spine up off that mat making sure that the pace of your movement matches the pace of your breath. The connection between the breath and the asana is akin to a dance with the breath leading and the asana consciously following along. We can’t help but feel grateful when engaging in such a breath-focused movement; therefore, increasing our awareness to our body’s needs and sensations while also aligning the physical body to our emotional and spiritual body.

Physically the asana stretches the front body, which opens and expands the chest; moreover, facilitating and improving the breath. Stretching the spine backward not only rejuvenates the spine, but relieves lower back pain while strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.

Viniyoga master teacher Gary Kraftsow guides you through a mindful breath-centric practice in his Viniyoga Therapy for Complete Back Care.

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Embracing Self-Love via Self-Care

Posted on February 24th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

fireheart

To Care For Yourself is to LOVE Yourself

By Sabrina Samedi

The month of love, or rather the month of being visually stimulated with an abundance of oversized heart-shaped and bright pink color-coated candies and balloons in almost every shop you walk into nationwide is coming to an end, but that does not mean you should stop showing yourself true love! Love is always in the air with us. Between modern-life schedules, responsibilities, chores and deadlines we are often putting on our own Cirque de Soleil juggling act; thus, setting aside time for ourselves gets lost in the shuffle. We are here to help you slow down (even if it is for five minutes) and prioritize self-care because to care for yourself, to nourish your mind, body, spirit and soul, is to practice self-love and such a graciously manifested affection cultivates nothing but healing powers.

Have an Appetite for Life.

Yes, sometimes we think of routines as the monotonous and soul-crushing enemy to creativity, but let’s shift our focus away from any preconceived notions and stereotypes and remind ourselves of the importance of balance. The routines act as the skeleton, strong foundation of our days and how we build ourselves up from there is OUR choice. This is where you can tune in, listen to the truth of your heart and even let your inner child play. Perhaps your day is occupied with domestic chores- we all eventually have to attend to such housekeeping responsibilities and it has to get done, so why not make it enjoyable instead of using the presence of such tasks as the fuel to the cranky attitude fire? Play your favorite song while you’re folding the laundry, dance around the house as you put the clothes away or dry the dishes. Let your movements be playful. If you have to be up early for work and are more of a night owl, rather than lament the world for your sleep-deprived state of mind, why don’t wake to song of mother nature-the sound of ocean waves or birds chirping- I promise there is an app for that! Wake up to something that will remind you that you are grateful to be alive. Stuck in traffic? Not a problem, use the time to call a loved one you haven’t heard from in a while (while using a hand-free device of course) or use the time to practice breathing techniques that keep you calm and centered. It’s all about how you look and treat the situation more than the situation itself and once you overcome an obstacle or previously-identified frustration, you gain more appreciation for your demeanor, your character, your learning process and wisdom. Noticing growth and appreciating the learning process is an act of self-love.

Nourish Your Mind, Body and Soul with Goodness.

Let your perspective push you or rather help you stand strong in believing in the beauty of life. Our thoughts have the ability to root us down into our intentions and help us grow or push us down into the light-deprived dungeons of our doubts and fears. Therefore, the direction we go in simply boils down to our sense of gratefulness: start and end your days by reminding yourself of all that you are grateful for. Empower yourself by being grateful for your brilliant mind, compassionate soul, warm heart and strong body. Gratefulness is a game-changer as it shifts our scattered and sometimes rushed movements into feats of mindfulness. In all that we do, let us remember to be mindful- be present in that moment, be cognizant of how such a mental-body awareness in our attitude and our perspective is cultivating an empowering rather than a defeated stance. You are capable of achieving your dreams, living authentically to align yourself with your intentions, but honor yourself by being grateful for your efforts each and every day. While you nourish your mind and soul with compassion, nurture your physical body with the same state of presence. Eat the rainbow, the gardens and all the treats that sustain you; be kind to your body by tuning into how you feel. If you over-indulge in a few too many chocolate chip cookies, then be mindful of the after-affect feelings to prevent such discomforts and forgive yourself. Forgive yourself almost immediately for the bumps along the road to well-being because guilt and shame are not invited to join you on your self-guided self-care retreat. Nurture your spirit by keeping the internal dialogue with yourself kind- you are enough, please remember that. Compassion along with gratitude can not only help you survive the tough days, but such vital essences give you the strength and determination to thrive going forward. Tune in to see what you are craving and why and feed yourself soulfully: consume what feels good and does good for your body.

Keep Up to be Kept Up.

The old adage is true: a body in motion stays in motion and let’s keep our bodies moving and grooving to the best of their abilities. However, let us first ask ourselves what type, style or level of motion is good for us in this present moment (as the day before or the day after your body might feel and move differently; thus do not judge yourself if how you move today is more or less energized than yesterday). If you are suffering from an injury or your mind is cluttered with scattered thoughts about your to-do lists for the next week, then maybe it’s time your movement reflects your needs. Tune in and take note if the voice you are listening to is that of the inner self, the soul or the ego: yes, you’ve identified that you want to move, but are you honestly too drained for a 90-minute sweat fest? If so, then honor your body by stepping away from the ego and move from your heart instead. Clear your head and soak in some vitamin D by taking an energizing walk outside or maybe a stroll in the crisp air and under the moonlight is better served for you to get the creative juices flowing. Cleanse your body of any tightness and stretch or perhaps let go, release and surrender into a Viniyoga practice. Allow the breath to guide you- not just in the physical yoga practices, but as often as possible in daily life. Let such a powerful and vital life force cleanse the toxic stale air out of your lungs and flourish your mental and physical body with rejuvenated energy. To help get you started with your practice, we offer the timeless wisdom of master yoga teachers such as Gary Kraftsow and Paul Grilley via DVDs and online courses to not only enrich your practice, but deepen your yoga education.

Slow Down and Smell the Roses. (I prefer Sunflowers, but you get the gist)

Yes, it might seem counter intuitive to my suggestion to get the body moving, but remember, life is filled with balance. I’ve mentioned tuning in quite a bit, but what is tuning in? Tuning in is self-discovering, it is listening to your inner self, it is trusting your intuition and that ‘gut feeling.’ To begin to deepen the journey of self-discovery and become more familiar with what we truly need and desire, we oftentimes have to slow down, close our lips and open our ears and our minds to receive the energy and intuitive voices from within. Close your eyes, deepen your breath, still your physical body, let go of your thoughts and let your subconscious body guide you in the right direction. Even if it’s for a few minutes every morning before devouring a delicious latte or a few simple moments before slipping away into your dreams, take the time to mediate. Not only does meditation aid in helping you feel more connected to yourself and appreciate life more, but such a mindful practice reduces anxiety caused by stress and makes you happier. We are here to support you on your journey within; thus, we have meditation courses and DVDs available to get your practice started.

 

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Yoga Therapy Tip of the Day

Posted on February 23rd, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Vajrasana

 

Vajrasana: Kneeling or Diamond Pose

By Sabrina Samedi

Advancements in technology are not only coming at us from both left and right field, but are competing for our attention on a daily basis- cue the introduction of the new slew of gizmos, gadgets, smart phones, watches, glasses and TVs that all promise to know what we really need in terms of communication, entertainment, relaxation- you name it and there is an app for that. Hence, there is no wonder that it is often challenging to let go in this modern age and invest in listening to our inner selves, trusting our intuitive truth and unplugging from the tech age by plugging into our soul’s desires and meditating.

Need a little boost to help you slow down, focus on your breath and surrender into a meditative state? Rest assured- there’s an asana for that! Vajrasana or diamond pose is an ideal yoga therapy asana for pranayama and concentration as it helps in stabilizing the mind and body. Vajrasana also serves as a wonderful alternative to sukasana as a meditative pose for those suffering for sciatica and severe lower back problems. While most asanas are recommended to practice on an empty stomach, diamond pose is an exception as it is aids in proper digestion, making it most effective after a meal. Thus, preventing acidity and ulcers. The benefits of this calming pose are limitless; vajrasana modifies the blood flow in the lower pelvic region: the blood flow to the legs is reduced and the blood flow to the digestive organs is then increased.

To practice vajrasana, begin by standing on your knees, as always in viniyoga, the flow of the breath is the primary focus. Therefore, we do not want to sacrifice pranayama to achieve a physical stance nor should one endure pain and discomfort while trying to breath into the releasing qualities of an asana. If standing on your knees is in any way uncomfortable and distracting, please place a blanket or two underneath your knees to ensure comfort and ease. Standing on your knees, on an inhale raise your arms up over your head and as you exhale, starting with a count of 4, use the entirety of the breath to bend forward bringing your belly to the thighs, your forehead to the mat and your arms behind you while your buttocks gentle rests upon your heels in child’s pose. As you inhale, again to a potential count of 4, lift your arms up over your head as you come back to stand on your knees. Continuing within the breath-centric rhythm of this asana flow, exhale the breath for the same duration as you bend forward, releasing your arms behind you, buttocks to heels, belly to thighs and forehead to the mat. Allow the breath to guide you through this subtle yet powerful movement. Upon the fourth cycle of repetition, to really surrender into the asana and open yourself up to the relief from anxiety,  as you exhale, bring your arms out infront of you, palms facing down and forehad to the floor as the belly once again comes to gently rest and let go on the upper thighs as the buttocks come to rest on the heels and remain in this restoring child’s pose for as long as you need.

Master teacher Gary Kraftsow diligently transitions you into this restoring as well as releasing dynamic modification of vajrasana in Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety.

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