Author: wellieperrie

Riddled with Wonder: How to Incorporate Koan Meditation into Your Practice and Your Life

By Dr. Kaiya Ansorge

What is a koan?

A koan is a phrase or word that is used in meditation to train the mind. Usually, the koan is somewhat puzzling in order to invite the mind to open in unusual ways. In fact, the term is often translated as “riddle.”

Koan literature involves enigmatic sayings or questions that, when meditated upon continuously, are meant to resolve in specific ways that indicate the path of insight for the initiate. On the other hand, other traditions assert that koans are not meant to be resolved but are instead ways to open us to a contemplative relationship with ephemera in the mind—rather than rational, problem-solving approaches.

The history and development of koan meditation is complex and reaches back to ancient China. However, this form of meditation can be modified to help those of us who are not planning to become Buddhist monks or scholars. We can use koans in their original formulations, or we can develop forms inspired by that practice but that are applicable and relevant to modern life, such as video meditations.

Why practice koan meditation?

The main reason to practice koan meditation is because we all practice it every day without awareness that we are doing so. All of us have thoughts—even if we think in images. These thoughts function in much the same way as a koan. Whether we consciously choose our thoughts or we unconsciously do so, we are in a continual process of training our minds. The stories and thoughts that we tell ourselves are the ones that we increasingly believe. Koan meditation brings our awareness to this process and invites us to explore further. Koan meditation slowly teaches us how to choose, question, and transform our perception of the world. However, this is not hypnosis: rather than putting us to sleep, koan practice wakes us up to a larger, more beautiful reality.

Some traditions assign a lifelong koan. The cognate of this for non-monastics is that each of us is “assigned” a specific dilemma or approach to life at birth or through early trauma/socialization. Most of us will have more than one koan that has arrived and situated itself in our preconscious mind. These range from “you are not good enough,” “you are too much,” even “I hate you,” or “you shouldn’t have been born” all the way to “freedom,” “love,” “joy,” or “you are made of love.” These voices within our mind can be explored and dismantled if they are detrimental and then replaced by ones that are natural to the divine nature within each of us. The degrading messages are always from an early hurt. The messages that feel freeing—or like a peaceful home—are the ones that are true to our nature.

How can you incorporate koan meditation into your practice?

Steps for koan meditation

1. Choose how you would like to practice. Would you like to do a seated, lying down, or walking meditation? You may even choose a non-traditionally Buddhist practice such as swimming or writing meditation. Many Buddhists use koans as a continual contemplation throughout their regular daily activities.

2. Choose a koan. You may use a traditional koan such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Or you may want to try koans you discover via a source such as Moti Media’s video series on koan meditation. Or you may choose a poem or a phrase that you want to move from your mind to your entire being. Affirmations and prayers are potent with this practice.

Here is a list of koan sources and ideas:

– Traditional sources are the “Blue Cliff Record” (Pi-yen lu) and “The Gateless Gate” (Wu-men kuan).

– Poems by Mary Oliver are especially helpful for those who practice in nature.

– Choose prayers from your religious background or, even better, from another religion in order to expand your consciousness and challenge it in a way that mystify you and open you to new vistas.

– A new way to engage koan meditation is through short exploratory videos such as “What’s There?” “Pursuit of Heavens,” and “Cycle.”

3. Gently rest your mind on your chosen koan as you meditate.

4. When you notice your mind drifting from the koan, you may follow the thoughts but with awareness, or you may return your thoughts gently to the koan. I find it helpful to mix these two approaches: as my mind explores the trajectories of the koan I watch, but if I find myself wandering off-topic or toward judgmental trajectories, I acknowledge the stray thoughts, thank them, and return to the koan.

5. As you watch your thoughts around the koan, allow yourself to notice those thoughts while cultivating interest and releasing judgment. Rhythmic, gentle breathing helps us transition our judgmental or anxious thoughts into a pattern of calming embrace and release.

6. As you close your session, offer gratitude or love to the koan, to your mind, and finally to your body for this session.

Life is made of koans. These koans come to us in the form of personal, interpersonal, and cultural tensions and puzzles. By learning how to work with koans in meditation, we begin to translate our approach to the challenges of our own lives through this lens. Koan practice also trains our minds to be flexible and creative, thus imparting flexibility and creativity towards our lives as challenges arise. This type of mindfulness-training delivers us into an unexpected curiosity, freedom, and joy in the midst of life’s dilemmas and challenges: in other words, we become riddled with wonder.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dr. Kaiya Ansorge. Kaiya is academically trained in psychology, philosophical theology, and religion. She teaches at the University of South Dakota. Because Kaiya loves to explore the spirituality of place, she has lived, studied, written, and traveled her way through 24 countries, spread across 5 continents. Her previous works include The Nature of Miracle, The Relationship between the Word and the Thing, “How to Use the 7 Chakras to Get in Touch with Personal Vitality,” and “Ascension: a Different Kind of Gravity.” Kaiya has appeared in Theology Today, Daily Cup of Yoga, Your Motivational High 5, and on Sunny 93.3, South Dakota Public Radio, and KELO-TV. You can find her through her website or through Facebook.

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2021/09/09/riddled-with-wonder-how-to-incorporate-koan-meditation-into-your-practice-and-your-life/

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light: How My Military Transition Helped My Yoga Practice in the Pandemic

By Alicia Dill

Starting in 2013, I’ve been practicing regularly at the same hot yoga studio two to three times per week. Hot yoga gives me intensity, focus, mindfulness, and dripping heat you feel in your bones even in the dead of winter. While holding a complicated pose well past your comfort zone, you start to comprehend all those buzzwords you’ve heard tossed around. The point where you are working mind, body, and soul. Where you forget your own name and everything else that led you to the class because if you waver, you might fall down in a puddle of sweat. It’s a glorious way to exercise the warrior that needs to push to the edge and just flow. So my confession of the pandemic…I haven’t stepped foot inside a yoga studio since March 2020. That’s crazy talk!

Just writing about it, I’m aching to be back. But the other part of me says, I’m not ready. And I’m giving myself the space to be ready. To be clear, I’m all about the yoga, and the heat, but I’m not ready to practice with other people again. Because throughout the past year and some months, I’ve been in my room, exploring different yoga routines remotely, sometimes cold, never breaking a sweat or remembering to breathe deeply. A very different sort of yoga than my group sessions. And as a former soldier, it reminded me of another time in my life, transitioning out of the military into the civilian world. Here are a few ways I used my military experience to keep me motivated on my mat:

It’s a Group Thing Until It’s Not

Group exercise is common in the military. It’s part of the success as our drill sergeants build us up into the fine specimens we all are. From the very beginning of our basic training, we learn to do things together and follow instructions. Running with a cadence helped me shave five whole minutes off my two-mile run, as I was filled with the baritone of the “Hard work, work,” echoed by a band of high-speed, low-drag trainees. In yoga, that energy builds throughout the class and even when I wanted to give up, I feel the collective will of others helping me through. “Lion’s breath,” anyone? I observe others manipulate their bodies into impossible beauty, and I find a way.

When it’s just me, I’m using a pre-recorded class to try and build that energy. It’s harder to go it alone, whether running or practicing yoga. Once I started, I could keep going and I could increase the intensity if that was the right thing for me. This was the Starbucks of Yoga, where I could customize exactly what I had in me to do that day. And I did. To be clear, I had to use every ounce of what I learned with technique from my other teachers to avoid injuries at home and overdoing it. But overdoing it wasn’t usually my issue―it was half-hearted under-doing it.

I remember my instructors from my studio classes saying “Leave it all on the floor.” I was used to a puddle. Now without it, on those cold winter days, I had to remind myself of what exactly I left on the mat and I didn’t have to pick it up. In the height of the pandemic, a lot of nervous anxiety and not knowing what was next. Thank you, yoga! Just like in the transition from the Army, we may be going it alone at times, but the lessons we learned together can still carry us through. Just showing up was the hardest step for me.

Adapt to New Surroundings

Swearing in to the Army, I learned the mantra “hurry up and wait.” Closely followed by, “embrace the suck.” I did both during this past year. I specifically used the ability to adjust to my work-from-home job and maintain a daily activity schedule. This wasn’t my first rodeo working out solo with apps. Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot for work and used various apps for whatever workout I was going to do. Yoga is the perfect post-flight activity in a hotel room. I already paid for a subscription to multiple platforms because I get bored easily. But in quarantine, working out remotely every day made this much harder. I signed into studios I attended in multiple states. I did guided meditations. I worked out outside a lot.

Yoga HIIT/ Sculpt meant tiring out quickly then laying down with 15-minute savasana staring up at blue skies and the puffiest of clouds. My favorite location was the abandoned Gaga ball pit I dubbed the “Octagon” at a nearby school with a softer pad for my knees.

Yin yoga became a way to relieve the pressure on joints from my stand-up desk and the new arrangement working from home. I bought a cushion to ensure it was a studio-like experience and I could fully relax into the dull pain.

Yoga Nidra was me finding that safe place I can go to in my mind at any time with guided meditation. For those who need the mental health benefits more than anything else, this was pure rejuvenation—and I do not write that word lightly. It was beautiful restoration.

Community is Real – Virtual or Not

I wrote about how difficult it was going solo in my practice, but I wasn’t completely alone. Part of the way through the pandemic, I realized that I could start to follow some of my favorite yoga instructors on Instagram the same way I connected to my favorite veteran authors or creators. My community of yogis just opened up in the exact same way as my veteran community. As I started connecting with all their projects and free classes and meditations, I asked myself, Why hadn’t I thought of this before? My isolation in practice was an important step in understanding my own strength. But so was hearing how others were dealing with something similar when I finally connected to other yogis.

My yoga practice is a sacred thing where I connect to a very deep part of myself. Connecting to remote instructors outside of my local yoga community wasn’t something I thought of doing every day before the pandemic. With the success of connecting to other veterans, I needed this boost to grow with other virtual yoga community members―and why not with my veteran yoga community all at once? Now that’s synergy (the last buzzword, I promise!).

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Alicia Dill, an award-winning author, Army veteran, journalist, and yoga enthusiast. Originally from Missouri, Dill joined the Iowa Army National Guard at the age of 17, right before 9/11, and flew her first mission inside a Chinook helicopter as a journalist to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, the weekend after the Twin Towers fell. Dill then received a degree in journalism and international studies at the University of Iowa and a masters from the University of Dubuque, and served as a public affairs specialist for the Iowa Army National Guard and then a journalist for multiple Iowa newspapers. As an author, she writes thrillers that draw from her military experience and speak to the strong bonds between sisters in uniform. Her first book, Squared Away, was a 2020 International Next Generation Indie Book Award winner and a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award, and her second, Beyond Sacrifice, will be published September 7, 2021 from Circuit Breaker Books. For more, see www.aliciadill.com.

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2021/09/01/out-of-the-darkness-and-into-the-light-how-my-military-transition-helped-my-yoga-practice-in-the-pandemic/

Lessons in Love: Practical Advice from the Yoga Mat

By Melissa Bryan

Lead With Love

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.

May all beings be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.

Valentine’s Day 2021 recently passed, and as I sit on the opposite side of that holiday having just taught my high school students to create heart maps to identify the parts of their lives that fill their hearts, and having just finished Romeo & Juliet with some and Great Expectations with others, I find myself reflecting a lot on love and how it works in the universe. Literature helps us question the larger, and perhaps fated, direction of our future existence; story syntax offers us that predictive power.

What, however, helps us live those universal governing concepts? How do we practice transcendent and deep love in our present? Yoga teaches us that.

These words, “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” remind us that love radiates out from us; it is the hope for everyone to have happiness and be free, and the best way to receive love ourselves is through contributing to the happiness and freedom of others.

In preparing for my class on Elie Wiesel’s Night this week, I read an excerpt from another Holocaust survival memoir, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning . The imprisoned Frankl says of love while wondering if his wife is still alive, “I knew only one thing- which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.” Frankl’s expression of love is one that, I think, yogis are after when they chant the line, “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.” For him, love is something rooted within oneself, but that simultaneously emits outward, too. It is not another person, it is not formed by the external environment, it is not performative nor dependent, and it is not possible for another to dismantle it; love goes very far from oneself and very far within oneself.

Through a yogic lens, love is happiness and freedom, but it is actually more the quiet , persistent way in which we contribute to those experiences for all beings everywhere.

If yoga is a state of mind after all, and not an action alone, then one way we might define a yogic transcendence and its necessary counterpart, drawing-inward, is as a practice of love. In fact, the practice of love is so tethered to the yogic state of mind that we are often reminded by our teachers to “lead with love” or “shine our hearts out” as in a great physical effort to manifest that which we chant on the mat and hope to contribute to the world beyond our mats.

Much like love, a wildly complicated and muddy emotion, yoga also embraces ambiguity. It is only after many years that one can understand that giving love (happiness and freedom to others) begets love in return, right? Experienced lovers know that love does not rest on another person, nor rely on what others think or feel for them. It doesn’t exist or cease to exist with the comings and goings of people or places, and I think the same is true of yoga. Now, rounding out 20 years of yoga practice, I can finally “sense how all the parts…are involved with each other,” to recall the MoMA’s definition of painting.

I might not be sure of love’s every stroke or be able to articulate in words how yoga interweaves body and mind or know how a painting is birthed, but I “sense the parts” and can see the image clearly. Fortunately, over time, we accrue proprietorship over what we see (art), how we practice (yoga), and the way we live (in love).

Last night, as I lay in my bed, head under my pillow, blocking out remnants of stray light, I uncovered what seems so special about yoga. It’s the way yoga practically instructs all actions – those actions that are very far from the mat, are duty-bound to the mat. And as I endeavor to “lead with love” on the mat, I find I am able to “shine my heart” toward others at home, at work, on the street, and in every meandering quotidian moment of my day. In darkness, I did indeed sense how the parts of my existence are all “involved” with each other, and then I knew I live a yogic life.

A beautiful thought about one’s own selfhood and interrelatedness to the universe to be sure, but what pragmatic tasks allow for an unquestioning acceptance of the cloudy connections between body and mind, love and yoga, mat and street relationships?

I might say that the yoga within me, the practice I purposefully cultivate in the studio, has helped me to recognize the thoughts and feelings I want to explore (and let go of the ones I don’t want to caress or nurture any longer) in my mind, in my heart, and certainly on the page. To paraphrase a yogi scholar whose class I weekly frequent: those ideas that come to you on the mat will come back to you; if they are in you, they will be there when you leave. In other words, those unconsciously spawned insights that spontaneously emerge from the diaphragmatic breathing and the kinesthetic asanas on the mat do not desert you when you sit listlessly on your couch at home. The tender, supple intuitions that gather and calm you on the mat begin to permeate every interaction off of the mat.

I’m quiet at yoga, and I am quiet at home. You are focused in the studio, you are focused at work.

We listen to the teachers while on the mat, we listen to loved ones off of the mat. Continuity is never severed.

In essence, then, the physical practice of asana (as well as the focus on spiritual aspects of the practice and attention to ascending chakras) spurs and affords us a mantra-esque framework on which to attach our habitual lives and through which to evaluate and assess those unpracticed and unmindful words, actions, and thoughts. With a little routine and as an earnest pupil, you can train yourself into “yogic thinking” when away from the practice in order to assess how loving your actions, words, and thoughts really are. But, with ample practice and attendance to the discipline, you can miraculously generate a loving automaticity when engaging with yourself on the mat and with others off of the mat.

While I have come to the mat time and time again over twenty years to hone my physical practice, it is the words and guidance of my teachers that reverberate throughout my days, throughout many months, and throughout the years. Those words and lessons effortlessly follow and flow from me everywhere and everyday, but that isn’t necessarily true of the asana.

Opening Chant

When we open class, very often we chant. One opening chant is “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.” The chants may change, alter, and repeat, but the class will chant together, and that guidance sets us all up for connection. A first act of love. It is not merely a connection with the people in the class, though, because often one’s eyes are closed and your energy is really drawn inward, but the collective voices do what I remember my children’s yoga teacher training said about the purpose of “Om;” namely, Om, like chanting a phrase, is about seeking a universal vibration. While we are within, we are also without. While we seek the depth of our souls or psyches, we are also hoping to channel, I think, somewhat simultaneously, a union with all things in the universe. We are asking together that all beings are happy and free, and we hope our practice will “contribute” love to them. As they say, “That which we manifest….” It is a pretty powerful moment.

As with most openings, the Om or the chant are paired with the setting of one’s intention or dedication. Teachers direct us to practice for another, not for oneself. In my case, while I am on the mat, I tend to have a pretty consistent intention or person to whom I dedicate the practice, but what I realize about intentions, like the practice we have in the physical expressions of asanas, is that they aren’t resolutions nor must they be achieved or won.

There are many days when I am not at my best and when I do not have a “steady gaze and steady breath,” and therefore, I move through the flow without a “steady mind.” Some days, I am just a weak, sluggish blob, but I continue to go, set an intention, sing out with my fellow yogis, and I am secure in the notion that my mat intentions, whether I practice mindfully or not that day, are going far without and within nonetheless. How do I know? I know because, as my teachers have said, “everything is connected;” when we leave yoga we feel better, and we act better, and we simply “sense” that connectedness.

The opening aspects of a class, the chants and dedications, Oms and intentions, I think are like the heart maps I assigned my students this past February. They encompass all of the pieces of our being – the blissful and the broken. I can put them on a page to read or consider them as I move in class; I may not really know how the pieces are involved with one another, but I sense the picture. I know they make up my heart.

All that designs the heart, therefore, is the reason we practice life, just as the intentions we set are why we practice yoga. If we have a bad day or feel blue, we experienced practitioners know that there is no self-damnation, negative narcissism, nor paralytic self-consciousness because our focus was all set for the love of others. There is “no drama, just a lot of rama .” (virtue or chivalry)

To quote my same most sagacious – if at times hilariously cantankerous – yoga master:

Who you are on the mat, is who you are in life.

Practicing Love: Mat Applicability

In top-ten, listicle fashion, below is a smattering of some accrued teacherly “isms” that have a useful impact on the mat and off of the mat. These axiomatic expressions constitute the ways in which we can look at and examine our lives as much as our yoga practice. They reposition us in class, but in life as well. They are, hopefully, the gleaned framework that girds our unattended and unloving thoughts.

1. “Set your drishti”
2. “Make any movements you need to, then settle in”
3. “One breath, one movement”
4. “If you fall out, get back in”
5. “Inhale to lengthen, exhale to deepen”
6. “Your thoughts are not yourself”
7. “If it’s hard to get out of, you are doing it right”
8. “Remove all props”
9. “Without disturbing others, come to sit up”
10. “Shanti, shanti, shanti” – peace, peace, peace

When you think about these lines in the context of a yoga class, all of us practicing yogis understand the power of pranayama, the difficulty of balancing poses, the essentiality of managing your thoughts and distancing yourself healthfully from the obsessive eddies of the mind, the uncomfortable and painful dismounts or exits from splits or backbends, and the time to ready yourself for the unsupported and flaccid corpse-like end of class. The whole practice though, and indeed each line shared here, is an exercise in love (being happy and free). Think about applying some of those very same words to your life outside of the studio and off of the mat.

Take a moment and really think about those very phrases in the context of your relationships. I hope you will sense the same picture that I have; namely, everything is connected and through yoga, it is pretty simple to practice a more loving life.

“Namaste, have a good day.”

Extra Reading
Ode To Psyche


E

ditor’s note: This is a guest post by Melissa Bryan, a Karma Kids-trained children’s yoga teacher, a twenty-year practicing yogi, and a high school English and ESL teacher in New Jersey. She holds an MA in Teaching English, an ESL certification, and she is earning an MA in Creative Writing and Literature. She is also an adjunct professor in Writing and Assessment in ESL, and she is a teacher consultant with the National Writing Project at the Drew Writing Project/Digital Literacies Collaborative in Madison, NJ.

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2021/03/22/lessons-in-love-practical-advice-from-the-yoga-mat/

3 Ways Finding My WHY Helped Me Grow

Yoga can provide you with techniques to teach you how to, at any moment, step into the eye of the storm.

Find Your Why Foundation

Let me ask you something…are you confident enough to step into the eye of the storm?

Probably not.

Let me ask you this…why would you want to step into the eye of the storm?

Because that is where the growth is.

Or how about this – do you know your WHY?

Maybe not.

Or this – why do you practice yoga?

To be flexible? To be strong? To help with anxiety?

Wrong answers! These are not your WHY as to why you bring yourself to your mat or meditation cushion each day. These are the results of practicing yoga. But your WHY is something else.

I didn’t know too much about this until I did my teacher training and we did deep transformational work with a “touch of yoga” thrown in, (which in turn ended up being the transformational work without us evening knowing!) Mind. Blown.

So, here’s my WHY:

‘To be strong and confident…on and off the mat’

Strong and confident on my mat with my asanas (arm balances, inversions, headstands, handstands – you know, all the fun stuff but all the hard stuff!) Strong and confident off my mat in daily life and the challenges it brings (enter Covid-19 and lockdown!)

So, what does my WHY give me?

It gives me ease, strength, confidence and guidance, but ultimately peace and happiness. And through peace and happiness I have grown so much more, without that even being the intention of my WHY.

Here I’d like to share with you 3 ways finding my WHY helped me to grow, and how finding your why, you too can grow:

1) Perseverance – on the mat

Let me ask you this, what is your worst yoga asana?

I have a few, ha! (You wouldn’t think I’m a yoga teacher!)

For me, here are a couple I find challenging:
– Half Moon
– Pincha forearm stand

Because my WHY is to be strong and confident on & off the mat, chanting this to myself whenever I’m faced with a challenging asana has helped wonders with my mind and mental state during a tricky yoga pose.

Let’s break down forearm stand, the trickier of the two. You need a whole heck of a lot of shoulder strength and core strength to hold this and keep a straight line. The body needs to be stacked with no banana-shaped back. You need to have open hamstrings in order to walk the legs in and stack the hips in order to come up into forearm stand with control, without kicking up.

This is my nemesis. But with these physical challenges comes the mental challenge and perseverance on the mat. ‘To be strong & confident on & off the mat’ – strong in my shoulders and core, strong in my mind (‘I’ve got this, I can totally do this!’), confident in not falling over and if I do, so what? You learn from every fall and it builds you up to grow.

So, what’s your challenging yoga pose(s)?

Have you thought about your WHY to help you with these poses?

2) Can do attitude – off the mat

In life what are your biggest challenges?

Is it raising 3 kids all under the age of 6?

Or perhaps, juggling work and the kids?

Or maybe your dream is to start your own business but you’re worried you are not enough?

For me it was the later. I used to do the whole 9-5 thing, but I was lucky, I loved my job (I designed shoes, and still do part-time.) But I always had a feeling that there was more to life. More to me. More to what I can offer the world and what I wanted to be a part of and create. Finding and connecting to my WHY, has 100% given me the belief in myself that I CAN DO THIS. It’s not there all day every day. But when those negative thoughts creep in (which they will do, we’re only human!) I chant back to myself in my mind my WHY, and faith is restored again in myself.

3) Eye of the storm – life’s biggest challenges

For me, it was when I was 37. My world stopped.

Dealing with grief is such a personal thing, it’s different for everyone. I’ve said goodbye to long-lost family members before as I was growing up. But this was different. This was my mum. My most amazing mum. We lost my mum suddenly to cancer, and my world hasn’t been the same since.

This isn’t a post about grief – or how to deal with it.

But more so, a blog post about how – even in the most challenging, sickening, confusing, upsetting, heart-wrenching times, in the eye of the storm, we can get through to the sunshine. Or at least, get through to a mild day with blue sky and no more storm.

See, life isn’t joyous 100% of the time. Yoga teaches us not to observe life through rose-tinted glasses, yet so often we do.

When life decides to turn your world upside down and rip away your mum, how do you cope? Sure, loved ones, friends & family are always there for you. But my WHY helped me on a much deeper personal level. I don’t talk about it with anyone. I haven’t really shared it with my family. It’s for me and me only.

And unfortunately, life is going to deliver many more storms to come, it’s out of your control, it’s natural. But how you choose to be when faced with the storm is within your control. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you chose to respond. This is where the growth lies. Or, as Baron Baptiste calls it, “the edge”:

The edge is  where we come up right up against ourselves and what we can do and be. It is the boundary between where we are and where we grow, the place of comfortable discomfort, where all the growing and healing happens. The edge is the point in every pose when you are still within your capacities but are challenging yourself to go just a little bit farther. Stepping up to this edge and daring to leap is how you break through and thus break with old ways of being. 

– from Journey Into Power by Baron Baptiste.

Summary:

So, what does my WHY give me? It gives me ease, strength, confidence and guidance, but ultimately peace and happiness. 

I urge you to find your WHY. And if you don’t know what it is – that’s fine. Explore it, dance around it, then connect and nurture it through your yoga practice, through your meditation practice.

Connect to your breath and let your breath guide you. Let the breath connect you–mind and body, body and soul. Let your breath connect your conscious and sub-conscious. Here we will explore and find our WHY.

Your Why Yoga:

If you have any questions or would like to know more about Finding Your Why, I teach Your Why Yoga – you can get in contact here.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Anna from Flamingo Yoga Maya. Anna teaches yoga with a strong emphasis on asking her students to find and connect to their WHY, using it as a driving force to guide them through life. She teaches Vinyasa and Yin, online, and her classes are relaxed and friendly. Anna has also designed a range of yoga tops with built-in towelling to wipe away sweat as you workout – you can shop the collection here.

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2021/02/26/3-ways-finding-my-why-helped-me-grow/

Growing Medical Recognition of Yoga as a Treatment for Anxiety

By Dr. Sat Bir S. Khalsa

Perceived stress and anxiety can be a normal and healthy response to life circumstances. But for some, the fast pace and uncertainty of modern society causes debilitating levels of stress and anxiety. Chronic, unmanaged stress hurts our quality of life and is responsible for an increase in health issues and disorders across the world. It is a psycho-social crisis that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates of anxiety in the U.S. have more than tripled in the second quarter, from 8.1% in 2019 to 25.5% in 2020. [1] The resulting negative emotions are not only traumatic, but also make our immune systems more vulnerable. Managing these draining emotions is difficult but doable. 

Exercise, breathing techniques, relaxation and meditation have all been shown to mitigate anxiety. It is no surprise that traditional yoga — a practice that combines all four techniques — is what more people are relying on to manage their anxiety. However, yoga has not received the same level of attention from medical research. That is beginning to change. Health care professionals and researchers, like myself, are finding consensus around why yoga is such a powerful tool for regulating emotions and reducing anxiety. 

Yoga as a Mind-Body Treatment

If anxiety increases, it may start to interfere with everyday activities and overall well-being and thereby meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Mentally, this includes pervasive day-long exaggerated worry and tension, inability to relax, difficulty concentrating, anticipation of disaster and excessive concern about life issues. Patients are unable to control this even though they realize that their anxiety is more intense than is warranted. However, many anxiety symptoms are actually physical, such as muscle tension, trembling, sweating and insomnia. Such symptoms are due to an activation of the fight or flight stress response, which prepares both the mind and body for real or imagined threats by causing significant changes in the body, mind and emotions.

Conventional medical treatments for anxiety include pharmaceuticals, which do not necessarily address the underlying causes of anxiety. Psychotherapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT; considered a gold standard behavioral GAD treatment), do address underlying mechanisms of anxiety in many patients, but they are not effective for all. Both approaches focus primarily on mental aspects of anxiety. Given the physical symptoms of anxiety, it follows that any successful anxiety treatment would be best if it addresses both the mind and body, which is what makes yoga such an effective option. Yoga can address both the symptoms and causes of anxiety, while strengthening the tools needed for emotional regulation.

Feelings of anxiety can quickly overwhelm us, leading to an automatic reactivity with no gap, filter or interval for response. Through practice, yoga breaks the patterns responsible for this automatic behavior. The meditation practice component of yoga works on improving self-regulation of the attention networks in your brain. As you gain more skill in the interface between your thought processes and emotion control, you simultaneously become more sensitive and less negatively reactive to your own thoughts and life situations. The physical components of yoga practice work effectively on anxiety symptoms in the body while also impacting mental functioning through the mind-body connection. Overall, these skills make it possible to have a degree of control over our emotional state and how we respond to stressful events. It’s what makes the mind-body practice of Yoga so powerful.

Evidence from the Scientific Community

Yoga’s positive impact on anxiety and anxiety disorders is supported by a growing body of research. Recent published meta-analyses (review papers summarizing statistical results from a number of previous clinical trials) of yoga for anxiety have concluded that yoga might be an effective and safe intervention for individuals with anxiety disorders or with elevated levels of anxiety. [2][3]  Other researchers have found evidence to suggest that yoga for children and adolescents may also reduce anxiety — welcome news given that anxiety disorders are prevalent in younger people.[4]

Much of my own research has focused on Kundalini Yoga as a treatment for emotional and physical health. Kundalini Yoga is a traditional yoga practice that incorporates movement, postures, dynamic breathing techniques, deep relaxation, meditation and mantras. It is a yoga style focused on improving physical functioning, self-regulation of mind and body, increased mind-body awareness and enhancement of positive psychological states. These states include feelings of calm, balance, well-being, gratitude, compassion, and ultimately depth of self, transcendence, life purpose and meaning, and spirituality.

I have focused on understanding Kundalini Yoga’s efficacy in improving emotional well-being. That work has contributed to a study that showed positive benefits of a Kundalini Yoga treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[5] I have also researched the potential benefit of enriching CBT with Kundalini Yoga to treat GAD.[6] The results showed statistically significant improvements in state and trait anxiety, depression, panic, sleep and quality of life, demonstrating its potential as a promising treatment for those suffering from GAD.

Following positive results of a preliminary study of Kundalini Yoga alone as a therapy for GAD,[7] our most significant research trial of Kundalini Yoga for GAD was published last August in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry. This large, rigorously conducted randomized controlled trial assigned patients with GAD to participate in a 12-week intervention of either Kundalini Yoga, CBT or a stress education control condition. Participants attended weekly group sessions and engaged in daily 20-minute home practice sessions. The results showed that Kundalini Yoga was a credible treatment. It was more effective than stress education in treating GAD, though not as effective as the CBT gold standard. Given that conventional treatments of GAD are not fully effective or easily accessible for everyone, these results are encouraging for the use of yoga as an additional treatment for anxiety and anxiety disorders. [8]

These findings are important steps toward establishing that traditional yoga (incorporating not just physical exercises but also controlled breathing, relaxation and meditation) is particularly effective at managing stress and emotion.

Practice at Home

While researchers continue to make the case to the medical establishment for yoga as treatment strategy, nothing is stopping you from using yoga as self-care. One of the many beautiful aspects of yoga is that it requires no special equipment — though a yoga mat is helpful — so there’s nothing to stop you from practicing Kundalini Yoga in your living room. Try a Kundalini sequence or meditation at home whenever you feel worried or anxious. It is always best to learn with a qualified Kundalini instructor to ensure that you are practicing properly, but there are plenty of techniques you can easily perform on your own while socially distancing during the pandemic. For a list of practices that beginners can use, visit https://www.3ho.org/kundalini-yoga/kriya/featured-kriyas.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D. Dr. Khalsa is the Director of Research for the Kundalini Research Institute, Research Associate at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. His research on yoga for mental health in public schools, insomnia, anxiety disorders, and chronic stress; his Harvard e-book Your Brain on Yoga; and the medical textbook The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care which he co-edited, have established him as a world-renowned yoga researcher, collaborator, author, and speaker.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/an-epidemic-of-depression-and-anxiety-among-young-adults/2020/08/22/dcc06c34-e43c-11ea-82d8-5e55d47e90ca_story.html

[2] Cramer H, Lauche R, Anheyer D, Pilkington K, de Manincor M, Dobos G, Ward L. Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depress Anxiety. 2018 Sep;35(9):830-843. doi: 10.1002/da.22762. Epub 2018 Apr 26. PMID: 29697885.

[3] Hofmann SG, Andreoli G, Carpenter JK, Curtiss J. Effect of Hatha Yoga on Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Med. 2016;9(3):116-124. doi:10.1111/jebm.12204

[4] Weaver LL, Darragh AR. Systematic Review of Yoga Interventions for Anxiety Reduction Among Children and Adolescents. Am J Occup Ther. 2015 Nov-Dec;69(6):6906180070p1-9. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2015.020115. PMID: 26565100.

[5] Farah Jindani, Nigel Turner, Sat Bir S. Khalsa, “A Yoga Intervention for Posttraumatic Stress: A Preliminary Randomized Control Trial”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 351746, 8 pages, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/351746

[6] Khalsa MK, Greiner-Ferris JM, Hofmann SG, Khalsa SB. Yoga-enhanced cognitive behavioural therapy (Y-CBT) for anxiety management: a pilot study. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2015 Jul-Aug;22(4):364-71. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1902. Epub 2014 May 7. PMID: 24804619; PMCID: PMC4224639.

[7] Gabriel MG, Curtiss J, Hofmann SG, Khalsa SBS. Kundalini Yoga for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: An Exploration of Treatment Efficacy and Possible Mechanisms. Int J Yoga Therap. 2018 Nov;28(1):97-105. doi: 10.17761/2018-00003. Epub 2018 Apr 26. PMID: 29698081.

[8] Simon NM, Hofmann SG, Rosenfield D, et al. Efficacy of Yoga vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Stress Education for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 12, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2496

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2021/01/22/growing-medical-recognition-of-yoga-as-a-treatment-for-anxiety/

How to Build Strength with Your Yoga Practice

By Kyle Shrivastava

When people think about yoga, strength isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. But this doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be a part of your practice!

Traditional asana practices often feature long holds (which build endurance) and passive stretching (which increases passive flexibility). However, as yoga evolves we’re seeing a shift towards building power and increasing active flexibility through dynamic movement. Perhaps the most distinct shift is the strength that yogis are now cultivating. This is partly spearheaded by yogi’s bringing in lessons and knowledge from other athletic disciplines such as dance, martial arts, and calisthenics. 

The physical practice of yoga is actually quite well-suited for strength building for two reasons. The first is that it utilizes repetition. When we repeat a motion, whether it be a Chaturanga or Warrior II, we progressively fatigue our muscles which allows them to grow back stronger. Secondly, each posture in yoga has numerous modifications that allow us to make it easier or more difficult. Therefore, as yogis build strength, it’s easy to find more demanding and difficult progressions that will allow us to continue that growth. By utilizing reputation and adaptation, we’re able to achieve the principal of progressive overhead (i.e. increasing demand on the musculoskeletal system to gain strength, size, and endurance) just as we would in any other athletic discipline.

However, gaining strength in yoga requires us to actually incorporate principles from exercise science into our approach to structuring our yoga practice. So let’s discuss how learnings from gymnastics and strength training can help us create yoga flows that build strength (and allow us to master fun new skills). 

The Science

To very quickly summarize (before we get into what it all actually means) –– to gain strength with yoga, we first need to think about how strength is built. Let’s try and simplify this as much as possible.

Exercise science tells us that strength is equal to neural adaptations –– how our body responds to stimulus, plus cross sectional muscle growth –– the size of our muscles (Lowe, 2016). The former is more influential on our overall strength (Nathaniel et al, 2017). When talking about neural adaptations, we can think in terms of motor units (motor neurons sent by the brain to the muscles), and the type of muscle fibers being activated. The two ends of the motor unit spectrum are Low Threshold Motor Units (LTMUs) and High Threshold Motor Units (HTMUs). LTMUs correspond with slow twitch, endurance focused muscle fibers and take a weaker electrochemical brain signal to activate. HTMUs correspond with strength and power. These innervate fast twitch muscle fibers and are activated by a higher-intensity electrical impulse in the brain. Put simply, this means that if we want to gain strength (and nail that press to handstand), we need enough stress to activate HTMUs and fast twitch muscle fibers. Still with me? Great, let’s get started!

Putting this into practice

First, let’s get this out of the way–-building strength will not make you overly muscular or necessarily decrease your flexibility (unless you’re exclusively tossing barbells overhead in the weight room). So get that powerlifter image out of your head, and think more about the lean and muscular physique of a gymnast or circus performer. 

So how do we do it? And how will this be different than how yoga is usually practiced? Here are a few ideas? 

  1. Begin with a warm-up that doesn’t kill you. 

The idea behind this approach is that part of your strength-based yoga practice is going to be putting a heavier-than-usual stress on the body, which means it’s essential to warm up thoroughly without wasting energy or exhausting yourself. Just warm up until your heart rate is elevated and you’re sweating lightly. This could mean a few Sun Salutations, or short flow like one of these

2) Do some skill-based work first.

Trying to nail Eka Pada Bakasana (one-legged crow) or a freestanding handstand? Do it after your warm-up. This is going to be the time when you have the most energy and focus to work on skill-based movements. In yoga, we often put these challenging positions as peak poses at the end of a practice. While not necessarily harmful, this doesn’t allow us to approach them with our full ability since we’re often already exhausted.

Please note that there are two exceptions to this approach. Firstly, if you’re working on drills to support difficult postures (i.e. handstand holds against the wall, etc.), do that after your skill work. Secondly, if you’re working on positions that mainly require flexibility (as opposed to strength or balance), place these later in practice once you’ve spent more time opening up.

3) Add some strength-based work early on.

After warming up and working skills, now is the time for your strength work. One of the best ways to do this is with a short but challenging (think very challenging) flow that you can repeat 1-3 times. After each repetition of the flow, take a long rest in Childs pose. Make the difficulty of this mini-flow match your (or your students) level, while throwing in one or two “reach” movements or postures. You/they will eventually adapt to the challenge. For an example of a challenging strength-focused flow for intermediate-advanced practitioners, check out a “Super Human” Strength sequence here.

4) Move through the rest of your regular practice after strength work.

After having used your maximum strength in your mini-flow, feel free to move through the rest of your practice as you usually would. This could focus on more dynamic movement, slow endurance-focused postures, breath work, or whatever other priorities you have. 

5) End with additional mobility and flexibility work.

Since you’re putting an extra level of stress on the body during your difficult strength-focused flow, be sure to end by giving those parts of the body a little extra love. If you were hand-balancing, open up the wrist joints. If you were working the core, take some time in Sphinx pose. The extra work means you’ll need a little extra cool down to assure that you’re able to avoid injury and keep up with your practice. 

Yogi’s are able to accomplish some amazing feats. But to do so, we have to be experimental and scientific about our approach to practice. Part of this should be drawing on what we know from other disciplines. Gaining strength in yoga isn’t difficult. However, it does require us to structure our flows so that we explicitly perform strength-focused movement at the right times, while using repetition, and adapting to use progressively harder variations of each posture as we grow.

Hopefully, these quick tips can help you along your journey? Have you tried our (or a similar) approach? Let us know about your experience! 

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References

Low, S. (2016). Part 1. In Overcoming gravity: A systematic approach to gymnastics and bodyweight strength. Houston, TX: Battle Ground Creative. https://stevenlow.org/overcoming-gravity/ 

Nathaniel D. M. Jenkins, Amelia A. Miramonti, Ethan C. Hill, Cory M. Smith, Kristen C. Cochrane-Snyman, Terry J. Housh, Joel T. Cramer. Greater Neural Adaptations following High- vs. Low-Load Resistance Training. Frontiers in Physiology, 2017; https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00331/full 

Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart on Unsplash

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2020/12/21/how-to-build-strength-with-your-yoga-practice/

How Yoga Reshaped the Game of Tennis

When you see the likes of Rafael Nadal battering the ball around a tennis court, it might not be immediately clear how yoga and tennis fit together. However, yoga has been a key ingredient in improved tennis fitness, and it’s changed the way the game is played.

Over the last 15 years, professional tennis has become a much more physical sport. Gone are the days of serve and volley and part time professionals; tennis is now a very demanding full-time job. 

Where a normal person will have the weekend to recover from a long week at work, a professional tennis player must recover from gruelling long matches while travelling and keeping up intense hours of practice.

This means pros need to find a way to effectively and efficiently look after their bodies, engage in active recovery and improve their on-court performance in a time effective manner. If only such a thing existed…

Here’s where yoga has shown to be a vital tool!

The Pros Turning to Yoga

Many professional tennis players have turned to yoga over the past two decades to provide this source of recovery and flexibility that they so desperately need whilst grinding it out on the professional circuit. Although many of the highest paid and top ranked players will travel with physios and physical trainers to help with their recovery, yoga has become an integral part of many players’ routines. 

Even on the shots we take for granted such as the serve, the body is under enormous pressure, and tennis player’s bodies need to be extremely flexible to deal with this. This takes a huge amount of physical training, and yoga is now a fundamental part of this. 

We have seen many players partake in yoga on social media, such as Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey, Kei Nishikori, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson. There is no doubt that the vast majority will now use yoga, Pilates and dynamic stretching to aid in their recovery and advance their flexibility on court. 

Yoga – Taking Djokovic to the Very Top

No player has embraced and embodied the full yoga experience more than Novak Djokovic. One of the main traits that has set Djokovic apart from the rest of the field over the past 15 years has been his physicality. 

Modern day tennis requires a unique combination of strength, rotational power, speed and flexibility, especially in the modern game. Novak has excelled in this area with his exceptional flexibility and strength from fully outstretched positions. 

In many ways, Djokovic has pushed the game on to new physical levels, through his flexibility, agility, and power, and yoga has been a key part of this. His incredible physicality makes the court feel small for an opponent and overwhelms them, forcing them into errors that they would not usually commit. 

Since bursting on the scene in 2008 and winning his first Grand Slam at the Australian open, Djokovic has been heralded as one of the most flexible players on tour. This is fundamentally down to his dedication to yoga which has helped him with breathing difficulties, lower back pain, on court performance and mental clarity. 

Coincidentally (or not,) Djokovic has racked up 17 grand slam titles in that time and has spent an endless number of weeks ranked the number one player in the world. 

The video below is an early example of Djokovic explaining just how beneficial embracing yoga has been for his tennis career: 

A Key Element of Tennis

Following Djokovic’s success in dominating men’s tennis for the best part of 10 years, many other professional and mature players have taken to yoga as a way to improve their tennis. 

It’s now clear to see how yoga has reshaped the game of tennis, bringing extra athleticism, and importantly, allowing players to play at the top level for longer. Yoga has certainly been an instrumental part of making the physicality of the modern game more sustainable, along with shaping new footwork techniques and playing styles that push the game on to new levels. 

How Yoga Improves Your Tennis

Yoga has reshaped how tennis players move on the court and recover and strengthen their bodies off the court. More specifically, it is great at improving a few specific areas related to tennis. 

Improving flexibility

Yoga stretches out your muscles and tendons over an extended period of time, allowing them to relax and become more flexible. This is great for tennis since improved flexibility increases your range of motion. 

This image might be common place in Yoga, but it’s also creating flexibility that’s essential on the tennis court.

Being able to move through a full range of motion allows you to reach balls you otherwise would not be able to, while improving your power generation. With a full range of motion, you can twist fully in your serves, extend through your forehands and backhands, reach down low to volleys and turn defence into attack on a stretching passing shot. 

Injury Prevention

Yoga helps with joint decompression which is a key benefit in tennis. Your back, hips, knees, and shoulders are often overused and muscle imbalances are commonplace in tennis players. These occur when the body is asymmetrical and you use one side a lot more vigorously, which of course happens a lot in tennis. 

Holding yoga poses also helps with blood circulation and helps prevent muscle soreness and stiffness. These factors aid in muscle repair and recovery, along with strengthening the associated tendons. 

Balance and Posture

Performing yoga properly requires sound posture and body structure. Therefore, doing yoga regularly helps by realigning your body to its natural and healthy form. This is also great for injury prevention and improving your range of motion.

Many yoga poses also require a great deal of balance to hold for any length of time, so of course this will also be improved in the process! Balance is a key element to playing better tennis, as it allows you to be nimble and change direction more efficiently. 

Mental Clarity

One of the often-overlooked aspects of yoga is the mental calmness it provides. During a yoga session, you will be concentrating solely on the task in hand. Most yoga positions engage almost all muscle groups and different areas of your body, so whilst improving your hand-eye coordination, you’ll also be pretty preoccupied. 

This, along with the endorphins released from the exertion, give a great sense of calmness and mental clarity after a yoga session. This can then be transferred into other areas of life, including onto the tennis court. 

Top Yoga Positions for Tennis Players 

Below are a few of the most beneficial yoga positions for tennis players. These poses will stretch and strengthen the most used muscles in tennis and help you to improve your game. 

Cat and Cow Movement

This position is fantastic for releasing tension in the spine and back muscles, along with improving breath control.

Pigeon Pose

The pigeon pose is essential for stretching out hip flexors and glutes, two fundamental body parts used for tennis. 

Revolved Triangle Pose

This pose is great for stretching the upper body. You will relieve tension from your chest, spine and shoulders by rotating through the pose, along with improving balance. 

Tree Pose

The tree pose helps to stretch and strengthen the hips, whilst predominantly focussing on balance. This is a challenging pose for tennis players.

Conclusion 

Yoga has undoubtedly had a role in shaping professional tennis, but it’s not just in the pro game that it can make a difference. 

Every tennis player wants to continue to enjoy the game well into old age without suffering from the niggling injuries that tennis often involves. Yoga is an amazing way to protect yourself from some of the most common tennis injuries, and there are so many benefits besides this. 

Yoga has changed the game of tennis at the very top, and it can also have a positive impact for you. 

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by William Palmer, a former college tennis player and founder of www.thetennisbros.com. Having suffered from chronic injuries, he has embraced yoga as a way to keep him playing the game he loves.

Photo credits
Photo by Moises Alex on Unsplash
Photo by Zoë Reeve on Unsplash
Photo by flou gaupr on Unsplash
Photo by Rawan Yasser on Unsplash

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2020/11/28/how-yoga-reshaped-the-game-of-tennis/

Find Peace During Pandemic Uncertainty with Kundalini Yoga and Meditation

By Shanti Kaur Khalsa

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the world far more uncertain. It’s impacted our work and finances, our relationships, and of course, our physical and mental health. Finding the sense of surety we all crave is almost impossible, which leads to stress, anxiety, and powerlessness that drains us emotionally. These feelings of helplessness can be traumatic, putting our body and mind in a constant “flight or fight” state. Staying in this tense state for too long not only hurts our quality of life but makes our immune systems more vulnerable. 

It’s important to recognize that this stress is a natural response to what’s happening in the world. After being gentle with ourselves, we also need to find a self-care routine that treats both the body and the mind, helping us to break the cycle of endless “what-ifs” about tomorrow’s challenges. 

There are plenty of ways to cope with anxiety from uncertainty. Exercise, meditation, and breathing techniques have all been proven to mitigate stress. Recently however, health care professionals, researchers, and practitioners are finding consensus around an activity that combines these three techniques into a powerful tool for regulating emotions and managing stress – Kundalini Yoga. 

How Kundalini Yoga Can Help

Kundalini Yoga is an ancient practice that incorporates movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and mantras to channel your body’s energy. While most forms of exercise produce the endorphins that make you feel better, Kundalini Yoga also releases the tension and anxiety that builds up over time in your body’s glands and nerves. It resets your stress response so that you can achieve an internal biochemistry of calm, balance, and depth of self.

This is supported by a growing body of evidence indicating that contemplative practices such as yoga and meditation are effective at treating anxiety. In one recent study, researchers from Harvard Medical School, Boston University and the Sundari Satnam Kundalini Yoga Center compared Kundalini Yoga with common cognitive treatments in reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Those who were treated with yoga had lower relative levels of anxiety and had a decrease in physical symptoms compared to traditional treatments (Visit JAMA Psychiatry to read the study).

Start Your Practice at Home

One of the many beautiful aspects of yoga is that it requires no special equipment – though a yoga mat is helpful — so there’s nothing to stop you from practicing Kundalini Yoga in your living room. Training with a qualified Kundalini instructor will eventually be necessary to learn proper form, but there are plenty of techniques you can easily perform on your own that will help to cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

Try this Kundalini mediation at home whenever you feel worried or anxious. Choose a peaceful surrounding, inside or outside.  You can have soft music playing to enhance your sense of peace.

  1. Sit in Easy Pose.
    • Sit on the floor. You can use a pillow or cushion for comfort.
    • Cross your legs in front of you in a comfortable and relaxed way.
    • If you are uncomfortable sitting on floor you can sit in a chair with your legs uncrossed and your feet flat on the ground.
    • Place your hands on your knees, palms down, close your eyes and observe the sensations of your body and mind.
  2. Place your hands on the center of your chest at heart level. 
    • Begin by resting the back of your left hand in the palm of your right hand. 
    • Gently grab your left hand with your right, so that your right thumb is nestled in your left palm.
    • Cross your left thumb over your right. 
    • Curve the fingers of your right hand around the outside of your left hand and hold it gently with the four fingers of the left hand remaining straight. 
    • Bring your hands to your heart center, resting them against your chest. 
  3. With eyes closed, inhale deeply and relax. Breath slowly for 10–30 minutes. 
    • In daily life we typically breathe 15 times a minute. Try slowing down to 4 breaths per minute by inhaling to the count of 10 and exhaling to the count of 10.  A slow breath will slow your heartbeat, reduce your stress response, and give you a peaceful, secure feeling. 
    • Your mind will begin with a lot of “chatter” and anxiety.  That is normal!  Don’t try to suppress your thoughts, let them come and go until your mind is peaceful.  If you have a particularly persistent thought, try naming it.  Say to yourself, “This is my worry about my son,” for example.  And let it go.
    • It is difficult at first, but if you do this breathing technique regularly you will find that your mind will welcome the silence and will start to relax. Soon, you will build the habit and the capacity to keep your mind calm in challenging environments.

For more ways to reduce stress through Kundalini Yoga, visit: https://www.3ho.org/

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Shanti Kaur Khalsa, a yoga teacher and business consultant who brings spiritual values to every aspect of life.  She is an engaging Sikh teacher and her involvement with Sikh youth has led to mentoring young people around the world. She is a certified Kundalini Yoga teacher who has traveled widely teaching and giving inspirational kirtan and lecture programs.  Shanti is a published historian and regularly contributes articles on both current events and Sikh history.  

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2020/11/13/find-peace-during-pandemic-uncertainty-with-kundalini-yoga-and-meditation/

5 Ways Meditation Makes Us Better at Yoga

Meditation. Yoga. The two go together like Batman & Robin (though with less capes… usually).

As spiritual health practices that have both found popularity in the West over the past 50 years, we tend to lump yoga and meditation together. Whenever we read of one, the other usually isn’t far behind. And when we’re shopping for yoga pants it’s no surprise to see a meditation mala in the vicinity.

Yet despite the obvious correlation between yoga and meditation, there are still countless people who do one or the other and not both.

Big mistake. 

Yoga makes you better at meditation because it creates a relaxed body that is conducive to a relaxed mind. Not to mention, it also makes it far easier to get into lotus position without feeling like your legs are going to snap in two.  And meditation makes us better at yoga in five key ways. Let’s take a look.

How meditation makes us better at yoga

1. Meditation helps us focus on asanas

When we’re practicing yoga, we are, of course, exercising the body. But we ought to be exercising the mind at the same time.

Every time we place the body in an asana (pose), we should be focusing on that pose. By focusing the mind on the body while in a pose, we experience the asana in full. Yoga asanas offer many mental health benefits, but in order to glean those benefits, we have to actually focus on what we are doing. 

Sadly, many people don’t leave their thoughts and distractions at the yoga studio door. And so they are not able to focus on the yoga.  

Meditation is well known to improve focus and concentration. And because of this, it makes it easier to focus the mind on the body when we enter a yoga pose. The result is complete mind-body immersion in the asana.

2. Meditation lowers oxygen consumption

One of the lesser-known benefits of meditation is that it changes the way the body uses oxygen.

Scientific research shows that meditation lowers oxygen consumption rate by 10%. This means that we are more able to control the breath during and after meditation. This is a game-changer for anyone who gets short of breath when practicing yoga. If that’s you, try meditating before doing yoga, and during your yoga session, take a few moments here and there to practice mindful breathing. This will help regulate the breath.

Not only does this help us practice yoga for longer, it also gives us more control of pranayama. 

3. Meditation helps you to discover the philosophical aspects of yoga

While most yoga studios these days are more concerned with physical exercise than philosophy, historically yoga has been about both.

If you want to truly embrace the yogic lifestyle, you have to get in touch with the philosophical side. Meditation can help.

The yogic system itself includes many meditations, such as Trataka (Still Gazing), chakra meditations, mantras, and sound meditations (Nada Yoga). Not only do these meditation techniques help train the mind, they also prepare the mind-body for more advanced stages of yoga. After all, it’s hard to truly experience Pungu Mayurasana  (Wounded Peacock Posture) while you’re worrying about that business meeting.

4. Get too sweaty doing hot yoga? Meditation will help

Anyone who practices Bikram (hot yoga) knows what it’s like to sweat a little too much. But meditation can change that.

We get sweaty when our body temperature rises. But meditation reduces heart rate and blood pressure, and this cools down the body and thereby reduces sweating.

So if you’re worried you might be a little hot, sweaty and, yes, smelly when you’re doing hot yoga, try meditating.

5. Meditation improves balance 

Feel a little wobbly in Warrior III? Meditation will change that, at least according to one scientific study. 

Ying Kee, PhD, and his colleagues at the Nanyang Technological University’s National Institute of Education took 32 men and split them into two groups. Kee made both groups stand on one leg while holding a basin of water.   While they were doing this, Kee asked one group to be mindful of their hands, while the other group were allowed to think of anything they liked. Kee then tested the balance of members of both groups.

The results showed that being mindful of the body increases balance, where thinking about something other than what we’re doing will actually lower our balance.

So, if you want to stay in an asana for longer, be mindful of your body while you’re in the pose.

Anyone who is serious about getting better at yoga should embrace both the physical and the mental exercises. And of the latter, meditation is the most important.

By practicing meditation not only do we embrace more of the yogic lifestyle, we also prepare the mind for success in the yoga studio.

The benefits of meditation are significant, and they are invaluable when it comes to improving our yoga practice.

If you’ve been doing the physical side of yoga without practicing meditation, perhaps it’s time for that to change.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Paul Harrison, a meditation teacher based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He has 20 years of experience and has spent more than 2,000 hours meditating. He also works as a freelance journalist.

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2020/05/30/5-ways-meditation-makes-us-better-at-yoga/

How to Support Your Student’s Wellbeing During COVID-19

Approximately 1 in 4 people (in the UK) suffer from a mental health condition. Couple this with recent research suggesting that 300 million people practise yoga worldwide, and it is reasonable to assume that someone in your yoga class has experienced, is experiencing or will experience an episode of poor mental health. Given our current circumstances, this likelihood is significantly higher, as mental health charities have reported an increase in cases of anxiety, OCD and depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet for all this, yoga teachers are not therapists, nor should they be dealt with the responsibility of counselling their students. Mental health is a delicate matter that requires a unique sensitivity and education, knowledge not obtained in a foundation teacher training.

What yoga teachers can do is take steps to ensure their students feel safe and supported in class. Below are some suggestions on how to do so.

“How are you, really?”

Ask your students how they are. It is a simple question, and yet one that is charged with meaning. These four words create an opportunity for your student to open up, to put into words thoughts or feelings that may have felt incommunicable. Contrary to what you may expect, you do not need to provide life-changing advice, the mere act of taking an interest and listening to your students is enough to show your support.

In a yoga class, we often ask students to check in with themselves or pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. For some, this introspection can stimulate an emotional response. While guiding a class through the physical practice, it is important we are sensitive to the emotional reactions. Checking in with your students at the end of a class allows them the space to verbalize their experience, and in doing so, perhaps identify something that needs exploring/greater attention.

Pay Attention

Unlike the stark cast signalling a broken arm, mental health conditions are not so evidently visible. Because of this, it is all the harder to approach/address. In absence of crutches, a shoulder sling or bandage, it is all the more important to pick up on subtle signs: missing a regular yoga class, entering the class late, seeming distracted or leaving a class immediately.

It is well established that physical activity is good for mental health, as is keeping up a regular routine. Of course, you cannot force your students to attend weekly yoga classes, however beneficial it may be to their wellbeing. However, you can make doing so more accessible. Monthly packages encourage a sense of accountability and commitment to showing up each week, even if that is so not to lose out financially!

Create a Community

In lockdown we have a heightened awareness for the importance of connection, but community and social support has always been crucial/fundamental to our sense of wellbeing. As yoga teachers we have the opportunity to connect like-minded individuals, whether that be through weekly “challenges” to build group spirit/solidarity, or separate means of communication through Facebook or WhatsApp groups. Being part of a group can combat feelings of isolation that so often arise in those struggling with their mental health. While we are not able to physically attend classes, virtual groups serve to foster this element of belonging and community.

Direct Them to Resources

As mentioned above, yoga teachers are not counsellors. It is a distinction that is often blurred by those working in the industry, their career choice motivated by a desire to help others. Yet, while it may be tempting to share personal experiences and guidance, such advice can be misconstrued or even damaging by those in a vulnerable position.

It is, therefore, more prudent and helpful to guide your students toward professional support. Here is a list of several organizations your students can turn to:

SANE: http://www.sane.org.uk
Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk
Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org
Mental Health Foundation: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Childline: http://www.childline.org.uk

Understandably, it is not easy to drop the above into a casual conversation. If possible, it is worth posting these helplines on the studio’s notice board or desk so that anyone interested can access help discreetly. Alternatively, you may want to add these as resources to your website or social media page as a signal of the help available.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Melissa Albarran from Yoga Alliance Professionals. She is a practicing yogi, dedicated runner, and avid writer.

from Wellness https://dailycup.yoga/2020/05/25/how-to-support-your-students-wellbeing-during-covid-19/