Yoga for Children – Now Proven Effective!

Experience of yoga meets experimentation of the West at SYTAR.
By Mira Binzen

In The Yoga Tradition, Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D., describes the ancient sages as “seers (rishi) who ‘saw’ the truth, who perceived with the inner eye the hidden reality behind the smoke screen of manifest existence.” Today’s discerning Westerner wants a little more proof. We have been taught to rely on empirical evidence, clinical trials and statistically significant results. This “proof,” along with those ancient texts written by the rishis, is available to us now.

SYTAR, the first Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research, was held in Los Angeles in January to further define the field of yoga therapy, share research results and discuss methods for further inquiry.

My interest in being there was to learn about current research on the benefits of yoga for children. Experience has shown me that yoga is an excellent system for promoting healthy development and can be an incredibly effective means of facilitating wellness in children.

It is noninvasive and its “side effects,” including improved self-esteem, emotional equilibrium, more energy and the ability to self-calm, are completely benign if not totally beneficial. Nearly a quarter of the abstracts submitted for the symposium focused on children and adolescents. The very same benefits subjectively seen in my experience have now been measured and reported.

Children who practice yoga may not only be better able to regulate their emotions, manage stress and calm themselves, studies now show that they may also choose better foods to eat and engage in more physical activity than children who do not.

Whether over- or underweight, body image issues and poor eating habits plague our children today. Studies shared at SYTAR suggest yoga may help.

One study examined the benefits of yoga for adolescents with eating disorders. These teens attended yoga classes as part of their psychiatric day treatment program. Typically suffering from a lack of self-esteem, nearly 75% reported an increase in well-being. They used the words “relaxed,” “calm,” “energized” and “more awake” to describe how they felt after class. (M.J Fury, MA, RYT, and L.C. Kaley-Isley, PhD, RYT)

A case study on anorexic adolescents found that “focused breathing (pranayama), movement sequences (asana), meditation (dhyana), and alert relaxation (yoga nidra)…reduced starvation-induced stress, safely reintroduced physical activity for a weakened body, minimized fatigue and… corrected distorted self-perceptions.” (Susana A. Galle, PhD, ND, CCN, CCH, and Tomas E. Silber, MD)

Other studies on children and adolescents included at SYTAR looked at anxiety, depression, trauma, mood regulation, sense of well-being, self-esteem and “increased wellness.”

R. Fridholm concluded from a small sample study that a systematic use of breathing exercises, yoga postures and guided relaxation “provided useful strategies for emotional regulation for children with autism spectrum disorders.” Subjective outcomes included “improved focus, strength, flexibility, and balance; improved sense of self-awareness and pride; and improved ability to calm themselves.”

Girls ages 14 to 17 who had suffered traumatic abuse attended a yoga class twice a week and showed “significant decreases in depression, anxiety, dissociation, and intrusive/avoidant symptoms.” It was further reported that “the girls overwhelmingly noted that they felt happier, more relaxed, less stressed, and more at ease in their bodies on the days they practiced yoga than on the days they did not.” (A. Bortz, PsyD, RYT and K. Cradock, LCSW, RYT)

Perhaps one of the more interesting studies, submitted by Molly Kenny, MS-CCC of The Samarya Center in Seattle, Washington, suggested that the physical act of balancing might improve self-esteem in teens. The positive effects of “balance training” on the subjects’ concentration and attention were “immediately observable,” and she proposed that the effects on self-esteem might become more apparent over time.

The scientific community recognizes measurement tools used in these studies. Research in the field of yoga therapy, however, is largely exploratory at this time and warrants further investigation. Many findings were inconclusive. Yet this first symposium is a landmark. It will likely contribute to the widespread acceptance of yoga as a viable system for preventive health as well as the treatment of specific health conditions. More evidence is now available to support what many of us know to be true from our own practice. This may convince those who have yet to experience its benefits to give it a try.

It seems simple. Children are suffering from a lack of connection to their own bodies, their environment and the food they eat. Yoga facilitates connection. It’s easy, low cost, accessible and anyone can do it. And now it’s being proven effective.

More and more teachers and other interested adults are sharing yoga with children. Kids have a natural tendency to share what they are learning when they get home, so this is an easy way to get the whole family involved. Parents may be practicing yoga themselves, and kids are always interested in what their parents are up to.

Another way is for children’s yoga teachers to invite parents in for a first and/or last class of a yoga session. A child’s aunt sitting in on a kids class said to me, “They are doing real yoga poses! That is great.” I’m not sure what she thought, but now she knows what she can practice at home with her niece. Family classes are another great way to help everyone feel an increased sense of well-being while learning a practice they can enjoy at home. With wide age ranges and levels of ability, family classes can be challenging to teach but also especially rewarding.

Adenia Linker, Hyde Park mother of nine-year-old twins and longtime children’s yoga teacher, involves the parents of her yoga students by sending home a newsletter every few weeks. It’s a simple one-page letter with a picture and description of a pose learned that week and an inspiring quote along with a new children’s yoga book, a Web site or some other resource that may interest parents.

The more parents, teachers, doctors and other professionals working with children understand the practice of yoga and its benefits, the more likely it is to be seriously considered as a therapy.

In an era of children acquiring conditions and diseases previously unknown in childhood, proper breathing, exercise and deep relaxation may be the powerful healing force needed. Yoga resonates with children. ”They love the practice, and they love how they feel afterwards. With all of the research and “proof” now available, it may well be just what the doctor orders.

Mira Binzen is a certified yoga teacher, yoga therapist and co-founder of Global Family Yoga.

For more information visit, www.globalfamilyyoga.org

Why Yoga At An Early Age

Why Yoga At An Early Age
By Marsha Wenig

Yoga for Kids

Yoga for Kids

When presented in a child’s language, yoga can help counter the stress experienced by young people living in a hurry-up world.

Our children live in a hurry-up world of busy parents, school pressures, incessant lessons, video games, malls, and competitive sports. We usually don’t think of these influences as stressful for our kids, but often they are. The bustling pace of our children’s lives can have a profound effect on their innate joy—and usually not for the better.

I have found that yoga can help counter these pressures. When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease. Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and body awareness with a physical activity that’s noncompetitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion—instead of opposition—is a great gift to give our children.

Children derive enormous benefits from yoga. Physically, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. In addition, their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improves. Doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with the inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them. Yoga brings that marvelous inner light that all children have to the surface.

When yogis developed the asanas many thousands of years ago, they still lived close to the natural world and used animals and plants for inspiration—the sting of a scorpion, the grace of a swan, the grounded stature of a tree. When children imitate the movements and sounds of nature, they have a chance to get inside another being and imagine taking on its qualities.

When they assume the pose of the lion (Simhasana) for example, they experience not only the power and behavior of the lion, but also their own sense of power: when to be aggressive, when to retreat. The physical movements introduce kids to yoga’s true meaning: union, expression, and honor for oneself and one’s part in the delicate web of life.

A Child’s Way

Yoga with children offers many possibilities to exchange wisdom, share good times, and lay the foundation for a lifelong practice that will continue to deepen. All that’s needed is a little flexibility on the adult’s part because, as I quickly found out when I first started teaching the practice to preschoolers, yoga for children is quite different than yoga for adults.

Six years ago, I had my first experience teaching yoga to kids at a local Montessori school. I looked forward to the opportunity with confidence—after all, I’d been teaching yoga to adults for quite a while, had two young children of my own, and had taught creative writing for several years in various Los Angeles schools. But after two classes with a group of 3- to 6-year-olds, I had to seriously reevaluate my approach. I needed to learn to let go (the very practice I had been preaching for years) of my agenda and my expectations of what yoga is and is not.

When I began to honor the children’s innate intelligence and tune in to how they were instructing me to instruct them, we began to co-create our classes. We used the yoga asanas as a springboard for exploration of many other areas—animal adaptations and behavior, music and playing instruments, storytelling, drawing—and our time together became a truly interdisciplinary approach to learning. Together we wove stories with our bodies and minds in a flow that could only happen in child’s play.

The kids began to call me Mrs. Yoga, and I called them Yoga Kids. We continued to work and play together until our creations bloomed into a program and video called YogaKids. The program combines yogic techniques designed especially for children using Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Gardner, an author and professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, describes eight intelligences innate in all of us—linguistic, logical, visual, musical, kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal—and emphasizes that children should be given the opportunity to develop and embody as many of these as possible.

In keeping with this theory, YogaKids integrates storytelling, games, music, language, and other arts into a complete curriculum that engages the “whole child.” We employ ecology, anatomy, nutrition, and life lessons that echo yogic principles of interdependence, oneness, and fun. Most of all, our program engages the entire mind, body, and spirit in a way that honors all the ways children learn.

Taking the Practice Home

If you’re planning to teach yoga to kids, there are a few general things to know that will enhance your experience. The greatest challenge with children is to hold their attention long enough to teach them the benefits of yoga: stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health, and well-being. Luckily, most children love to talk, and they love to move—both of which can happen in yoga.

Children will jump at the chance to assume the role of animals, trees, flowers, warriors. Your role is to step back and allow them to bark in the dog pose, hiss in the cobra, and meow in cat stretch. They can also recite the ABCs or 123s as they are holding poses. Sound is a great release for children and adds an auditory dimension to the physical experience of yoga.

Children need to discover the world on their own. Telling them to think harder, do it better, or be a certain way because it’s good for them is not the optimal way. Instead, provide a loving, responsive, creative environment for them to uncover their own truths. As they perform the various animal and nature asanas, engage their minds to deepen their awareness.

When they’re snakes (Bhujangasana), invite them to really imagine that they’re just a long spine with no arms and legs. Could you still run or climb a tree? In Tree Pose (Vrksasana), ask them to imagine being a giant oak, with roots growing out of the bottoms of their feet. Could you stay in the same position for 100 years? If you were to be chopped down, would that be OK? Would it hurt?

When they stretch like a dog, balance like a flamingo, breathe like a bunny, or stand strong and tall like a tree, they are making a connection between the macrocosm of their environment and the microcosm of their bodies. The importance of reverence for all life and the principle of interdependence becomes apparent. Children begin to understand that we are all made of the same “stuff.” We’re just in different forms.

Think of yourself as a facilitator—the term we use in the YogaKids program—rather than a teacher. Guide your children while simultaneously opening your heart and letting them guide you. They’ll no doubt invite you into a boundless world of wonder and exploration. If you choose to join them, the teaching/learning process will be continually reciprocal and provide an opportunity for everyone to create, express themselves, and grow together.

Marsha Wenig is the creator of the YogaKids video and educational curriculum. Her YogaKids Facilitator Certification Program trains teachers to share their yogic wisdom with children.

For more information visit, www.yogakids.com

Black History Month Yoga Kids Story

Black History Month Yoga Kids Story
By Haris Lender

Featured Poses: Dolphin/Cat/Table/Boat/Plow/Mountain/Chair/Warrior/Butterfly/Bee/Flying/TV

Keisha the Dolphin and Olivia CAT were sitting at the park at a TABLE doing their homework.

Keisha the DOLPHIN said she was studying about Black history month. Olivia the CAT was doing her math and asked her to tell her about what she was writing.

She started out by saying that African people came to America on BOATS to become slaves. They were treated very poorly even though they farmed the land and PLOWED the fields to make America beautiful.

Olivia the CAT asked her to share some of the stories of the people she was writing about.

Keisha the DOLPHIN told her about the first woman astronaut named Dr. Jemison. She FLEW into orbit around the world. She told her about Martin Luther King who said we should let freedom ring from one MOUNTAIN TOP to another all over America. She told her about Rosa Parks who refused to sit in a CHAIR in the back of the bus.

She told her about a famous boxer who would not become a WARRIOR in the army but was the greatest boxer ever and he said: I float like a BUTTERFLY and sting like a BEE and my name is Muhamed Ali.

And of course our first African American president who used to live in Hawaii but FLEW on an AIRPLANE to come here and lead our great country.

Olivia had learned about some of these people on TV…but was very excited to learn more. She offered to teach Keisha about the exciting fractions she was studying but they both agreed it had been a long day so they both decided to lay down and take a nap at the park…Deep Relaxation!

For more information visit, www.kiddingaroundyoga.com

Glenn Black – Response To – How Yoga Wrecks Your Body

How Yoga Wrecks Your Body – Yogi Glenn Black Responds to controversy over
New York Times Article on Yoga

The recent New York Times magazine article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” (William Broad, Jan. 5, 2012) has stoked an international controversy, shaken the yoga world and focused the spotlight on my previously anonymous, reclusive yoga teacher, Glenn Black, who is liberally quoted within. A longtime, highly-regarded faculty member at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, Glenn is known for his gruff and demanding, yet deeply caring and precise teaching style. Joking, he told me that, among hundreds of emails, he was receiving death threats — the Times article doesn’t fully illuminate his uniquely wry sense of humor.

It is important to acknowledge the true damage on all levels that yoga can do when ego surpasses awareness and wisdom, when asana and goals trump deeply listening to the body, when yoga styles and methods are uncompromising, and when inexperienced or misguided yoga teachers lead bodies living modern lifestyles into places they are not prepared to go.

The Times piece cites numerous articles from medical journals detailing yoga injuries ranging from joint degeneration and disc injuries to peripheral neuropathy and stroke. I have observed in my own gynecological practice that classical or contemporary yoga can contribute to symptoms of chronic vulvar pain and sexual dysfunction via painful ligamentous instability, hip injuries or herniated discs, overstimulation of already-stressed sympathetic nervous systems, and pelvic floor muscle spasms.

Upon deeper inspection, however, the physical practice of yoga and the injuries that arise from it do not seem to be the point. As the recent HuffPost entry (Jan. 10, 2012) illuminates, true yoga emphasizes spiritual exercises, discussing the eight limbs of yoga: yama (restraints), niyama (observances), asana (posture), pranayama (mastery of breath), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (higher levels of meditation).

Although Glenn has been barraged with interview requests and was just offered a book contract, he was kind enough to indulge me with some time to ask him questions of my own, punctuated in the background by soundbites from his Jan. 11, 2012 NBC News interview, in which an orthopedic surgeon detailed the hundreds of yoga injuries she sees in her practice alone. I recorded Glenn’s candid responses, which seem poised to generate yet more controversy and upheaval, as we wonder: What is yoga? And why are we doing it?

EF: What kind of injuries have you seen in the yoga practitioners who come to you for bodywork?

GGB: Pinched nerves in their neck, low back tightness, injuries to hips and knees. People often come to yoga classes with injuries that get accentuated, too.

EF: What about shoulder injuries?

GGB: Chaturangas are the worst things for shoulder problems and create repetitive use syndrome. Putting weight on a joint, one side is always stronger than the other, one side will eventually pay a price, one will compress more, one will stay open, some ligaments will tighten up, others will loosen.

EF: What is the best way to overcome injuries from yoga?

GGB: Remedial exercises that overcome the source of the injuries. And people need to get bodywork. Not just any bodywork. They need to look for people who work on really moving the joints and connective tissues.

EF: What yoga poses should people generally avoid?

GGB: Deep knee flexion with weight is not so good for anybody, especially Americans who don’t use their knees correctly. To put a knee in a rotational situation puts strain on ligaments and tendons. Sitting poses are hard on hips, where external rotation is limited. Tissues don’t want to do it. Never do headstand, shoulder stand, or plow.

EF: The New York Times article talked about neurological damage and strokes resulting from compression of the head and neck in those poses. What about arm balances?

GGB: With arm balances, lifting the head up is a problem and restricts blood flow. You should really hang the head, but most people lift it up, as a counterweight, I suppose. You have to be careful with the lower back and cervical spine. Any time you do flexion, extension, even rotation will deform those nerve plexuses. Even one nerve can have impingement and cause a problem.

EF: You now have a spinal fusion and screws in your lower lumbar spine to stabilize herniated discs and spondylolisthesis. How did your own yoga injuries come about?

GGB: Extreme backbends, and twisting coming up from my hands on my ankles. I overstretched my ligaments and destabilized my spine.

EF: What is your advice to the modern yoga student seeking to avoid injuries?

GGB: If a student is a total neophyte or even has some experience, the instruction is to be careful and listen to yourself.

EF: What do you think about the backlash that is coming from the statements you make in the New York Times article? It’s all over blogs, Facebook and the news. A lot of yoga teachers are saying now that they do in fact teach in a way that avoids injuries, and others are clearly feeling threatened that their livelihoods are in jeopardy, that it will discourage new students from trying yoga.

GGB: They are not teaching yoga. They are teaching physical exercise. They can do it in any gym. Yoga is an art and a science, and if you take just one small aspect, you never get to the higher end of it. Yoga is not taught correctly by many people.

EF: Your classes are known as rigorous and demanding on all levels, and you have often said that you demand your students to practice in a way that is not “mediocre.” What do you mean?

GGB: Most people have a limited view of yoga and approach it as a physical discipline, that’s what can make it mediocre. Awareness and consciousness are no longer emphasized, and yoga somehow became relegated to physical exercise. You need to do in-depth, serious practice in pranayama and yoga nidra, and hope for higher stages of yoga to happen. Now, everybody takes what they want, but it really gets back to the yamas and the niyamas. If someone’s an asshole, it doesn’t matter how he does the pose, he’s still gonna be an asshole.

EF: People have reacted very strongly to what you say in the New York Times article. They call you “angry” and an “asshole.”

GGB: I am not the most personable person on the planet, but I’m looking out for every person in that class.

EF: I have heard you speak about the “myth of asana.” What does that mean?

GGB: It is a myth that it’s safe to do asana without awareness and consciousness.

EF: I have long felt that doing more asana, like Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), is not an effective way to get better at doing asana, and wonder if asana is even the point.

GGB: You don’t need to do specific poses to achieve awareness and consciousness. Elevating your consciousness comes from awareness and developing the ability to relax. This does not mean just having a drink and watching the news. It takes dedicated practice, such as pranayama and yoga nidra. You can use asana in a way, but it is not the best way. If one is an athlete and physically conditioned, physical practice could initiate some of that, and then the practitioner can feel the difference in savasana. But if you are in pain, you can’t do the practice, your mind will just focus on the pain.

EF: How does the ego get in the way of the safe practice of yoga?

GGB: Ego is the main obstacle to obtaining what I’ll call superconsciousness. Ego is a good thing because it gets you through life, but it also gets in the way of reaching perspectives we normally don’t have that were directly experienced by the yogis. The old sages had the capacity to reach these different perspectives. They noticed the unity rather than the separateness of everything. Things like technology and stressors that inundate us make it harder to attain this perspective in modern life and make it harder to access.

Yamas and niyamas come before everything, but if they are even mentioned nowadays, it’s a cursory intellectual thing about how to treat animals well and not pollute the earth. It comes down to your basic psychology, it comes down to the depth of training. I was asked if going one or two times a week to yoga class, is that okay? Yes, but it is not the goal of the eightfold path to keep yoga only as a physical exercise, and you still need to be careful and cautious.

EF: The New York Times article mentions B.K.S. Iyengar, and his classic book, “Light on Yoga.” Would you talk about your time studying in India with Mr. Iyengar?

GGB: I went to Pune in 1987. He had a way of doing things. He was brought up in the British education system and had a hard, mean, certain way of doing poses and people thought it was way it was supposed to be done. Once a girl came up to Mr. Iyengar saying she was having trouble in headstand. He gave her instructions in how she should do it, and it was overheard by some of his students, then before you know it, everyone in the world was doing headstand like this poor woman.

EF: Do you have any credentials for teaching yoga or doing bodywork, or is it all based on experience?

GGB: I have no credentials at all. I didn’t get certified in Iyengar yoga, because I wanted to be able to do human movement and animal movement and have it be fun.

EF: What do you think of all the yoga teacher trainings and licensing that’s going on now? There are so many 200 hour teacher trainings churning out yoga teachers. You once made an analogy to “locusts.”

GGB: Those certificates they get even for 500 hours are worthless, because like in bodywork, unless somebody has a gift or innate understanding or depth of experience, they will just regurgitate what they have learned and apply it to the situations they are presented with. True ability comes from actually doing the practice.

EF: It seems that many inexperienced yoga teachers spend a lot of time updating their websites to attract students, rather than spending the time gaining the experience they really need. There are even workshops and private coaching designed specifically to help yoga teachers market themselves.

GGB: Updating websites will not help you gain consciousness. Yoga is no longer taught as a direct experience that originated the whole process. There are myriad amounts of people teaching asana in myriad different ways. They are very dogmatic in their approach, in the way they want the pose to look and be done, and if a big name or Madonna came to their class, then they become so large that they turn it over to their assistants to do all the work, who don’t have the skill or genius. As yoga teachers, they don’t hear about the injuries because they are up on the pedestal. Yoga is said to be the end all, but how many people can even take a deep breath without a problem? Most pranayama lasts for 30 seconds, a small part of class. It is rare to see pranayama done for an entire hour and a half.

EF: Are there any great yoga teachers that you know of?

GGB: Kofi Busia is one of best asana teachers around. Whether his students get hurt, I have no idea. But he is holding headstands for a long time, and people don’t say anything.

EF: What is your opinion about trademarking yoga?

GGB: I think that trademarking is an abomination.

EF: How do you deal with it when your students trademark the material you teach?

GGB: I don’t deal with it.

EF: Many yoga teachers present what they teach as having come from ancient lineages that are hundreds if not thousands of years old, before trademarking it, of course. What do you think about that?

GGB: Asana was only developed 80 or 90 years ago. Patanjali (author of the ancient yoga sutras) was talking about sitting poses. Headstands weren’t done when Patanjali was alive. Asana came from Indian military exercises. Indians are small people next to the British, and they developed a series of calisthenics to make them strong. They were already flexible, and they also wanted to do sitting poses. They named it Ashtanga due to the eight limbs of yoga, and asana is one of them, but just why somebody called it that, who knows why? Those sequences have nothing to do with real Ashtanga yoga, the eight limbs of yoga.

EF: Do you believe that, as many texts and teachers say, that vegetarianism is an important aspect of the practice of yoga?

GGB: Vegetarianism being essential to doing yoga is a myth. Tibetan yogis are heavy meat eaters.

EF: What about veganism? For example, I understand that the more recently certified Jivamukti Yoga teachers are required to sign an agreement pledging to maintain a vegan diet. This is something that has long been emphasized to Jivamukti yoga students, including in prenatal yoga classes.

GGB: Some bodies can do it, like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III), some can’t do it, and shouldn’t or they’ll hurt themselves. Some people need concentrated protein, others don’t. If a serious practitioner dictates to themselves that it is totally immoral to eat an animal, I say, more power to you.

EF: What about in cases of illness?

GGB: Hatha yogis view the body as a vehicle for spirituality. You can’t do higher practices if you are ill, you must take care of the body first.

EF: What is the goal of yoga?

GGB: We have limited intellect, we have no idea what Samadhi is and if it’s same for everybody. To become more conscious and more aware and more able to deal with the stress that is constantly inundating us, I think that’s the best we can hope for in this day and age. The ancient sages had experiences beyond what the senses and the mind can contemplate. They realized that the body and mind are obstacles to awareness and spent a lot of time exploring that. It’s probably the basis of religion. But nowadays, after a yoga class, within seconds the students are looking in their pockets for their cell phones, so how long does it really last?

YogaBound Deb’s point of view. Glen Black knows the true meaning of yoga. Everything he is saying is right on. And this is the way we approach our yoga practice and our teachings. It is a path that has great wisdom. However, to do it doesn’t require rigidity. It must be appropriate for each individual. Thank you Glenn Black for your insight, understanding and realization that each of us are individuals.

Pregnancy, Bodily Changes & Yoga

Pregnancy and Bodily Changes

During pregnancy hormones increase. Primarily Progesterone, and Estrogen, causing a variety of physiological changes, which become increasingly more prominent as pregnancy continues.

Water Retention and Venous (veins) Dilation:

One of the early changes is that of water retention, and venous dilation. The body, in preparation for the need of extra blood volume to the growing uterus, begins to retain water, and make more red cells. The general water retention leads to breast tenderness, and dilations of all veins.

Some patients can develop significant discomfort from the dilated veins in the lower half of the body, interfering with exercise, and even normal daily activity. These women may benefit significantly from hydrotherapy.

Swimming, and gentle exercises in a swimming pool helps reduce the side effects of vein dilation by pushing fluids back into the body’s trunk, and core. Many patients will notice dramatic improvement in the swelling of the feet, legs, and perineal areas after even short periods of pool therapy.

Drop in blood pressure and increase in basal heart rate:

Women whose baseline pulse may be 70-80 when not pregnant may find themselves with a pulse of over 100 when at rest during pregnancy. Again, the drop in vascular resistance caused by progesterone leads to an increase in pulse, and decrease in blood pressure.

A woman now becomes increasingly more sensitive to dehydration, and lack of proper fluid replacement can lead to dizziness, and fainting. These feelings of “light headedness” can be further aggravated by dropping blood sugars. Carrying around a supply of water, and quick snacks during the hot summer months is a good habit for the pregnant woman.

As the pregnancy continues, blood pressures continue to drop until weeks 32-34. At this gestational age the blood pressure reaches its lowest point, then pressures typically begin to rise slowly until delivery.

Anemia: 

A common condition in the pregnant woman is anemia. Although the body will attempt to fill the new, and dilated vessels with blood, the maternal bone marrow can never generate enough red cells to meet the needs of the increasing blood volume required.

As a result, there is a normal “physiologic anemia” which all pregnant women experience. The body is able to “fill the blood vessels” with fluid, but can not quite meet the demands for red cell generation. This results in a dilutional effect with blood tests in pregnancy always showing an “anemia” when compared to non-pregnant values.

Shift in center of balance, backache, and tension:

As the weight of the fetus increases, the woman’s center of balance will be dramatically changed. The weight increasing in the front of the spine causes muscles along the lateral borders of the spine to contract to compensate, often leading to back pain, and back tension.

A gentle program of stretching of the back muscles (pre-natal yoga), and massage therapy can often help alleviate this discomfort. Activities that rely heavily on balance often must be decreased, or abandoned. This makes sports like tennis extremely difficult for pregnant women approaching the third trimester (6-9 months).

Vena Cava-sleeping and Yoga:

As the fetus grows, laying on the back for prolonged periods may compress the vena cava. As a Yoga Instructor, we must consider Vena Cava when putting pregnant women into Yoga. As a woman enters the last half (4-5-9 months) of her pregnancy, she will begin to feel increasingly more uncomfortable when laying on her back, or reclined without turning to the side.

The Vena Cava is the main vein that drains the entire lower half of the body. Anatomically, it lies just to the right of the midline….just on the right side of your spine. As the baby gets bigger the heavier uterus, lying flat on the Vena Cava, will obstruct flow up towards the heart.

The drainage of the lower half of the body becomes sluggish, which not only increases swelling of your ankles, feet, and legs, but will also impact on hemorrhoids as well. And decreased return of blood flow to the heart will cause hypotension (lowered blood pressure) down the line, and result in diminished arterial blood flow to the uterus, placenta, and baby.

Sometimes this hypotension is evident when a woman has an ultrasound, during which she lies flat. One of the symptoms of hypotension is nausea that will accompany the light-headedness. Laying on the back is the worst possible position in the third trimester (6-9 months). Laying on the right side is better than laying on your back, but laying on your left side is the best of all, because this is the position which will have the least amount of weight upon the Vena Cava.

Complications:

There are many pregnancy complications that can dramatically effect the wisdom of certain activities during your pregnancy. Consult a physician before proceeding with any exertion if any of the following are present:

Vaginal bleeding
Pre-term contractions
Multiple gestations
History of multiple pregnancy losses
History of incompetent cervix, or cerclage placement
History of small for gestational age babies
Hypertension
Diabetes

Pregnant women are advised to be careful during the first three months. Yoga asanas are good for increasing circulation, toning the pelvic region, and strengthening the spine, however, jumping around, and over exerting, is not advisable during these months, as there is a chance of miscarriage due to muscular weakness, and improper function of the placenta. During weeks 11-13 it is recommended to avoid any heat forming postures, or strenuous exercise.

Exercise:

Exercise enough to maintain your “well being”, but not so much so as to detract from normal fetal growth. The exact amount of activity tolerated by each maternal-fetal couple will vary tremendously.

An increase in estrogens during pregnancy help loosen the ligaments of the body. Women may find their ‘game’ or yoga practice significantly enhanced due to looseness, and increased flexibility. Be mindful during your practice to prevent injury.

Another good article “Fertility and Fish Oil“.

How to Avoid Getting Hurt in a Yoga Class

How to Avoid How to Avoid Getting Hurt in a Yoga Class
By Kelly Moore

The New York Times Sunday The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a story called “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” The article is woefully one-sided, all but guaranteeing physical distress to anyone who dares to set foot on a yoga mat. Nevertheless, bringing yoga-related injuries out of the closet is a welcome (if not long overdue) contribution toward shaping a more honest, less myth-driven, conversation about yoga.

Despite the doom and gloom scenario painted by theTimes, the average Jane or Joe can practice yoga without having back surgery, popping a hamstring or making a trip to the emergency room (or even the drugstore) simply by following two simple guidelines.

I am speaking from experience. I first began practicing yoga some 10 years ago on the recommendation of a physician as a way to rehabilitate a hip flexor I injured running in post-war Bosnia. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am now a yoga teacher and author of Secrets of An Accidental Yogi: Yoga Wisdom for Better Health, Less Stress & Great Sex.)

In the beginning, I left almost every yoga class nursing a sore lower back and a strained neck. I shrugged off the discomfort, chalking it up to the inevitable soreness that accompanies the pursuit of any new “sport,” whether it be running, weight training, kickboxing or swimming. I thought, Why should yoga be any different?

Well, as I now know, yoga is different because it isn’t a sport. It’s not calisthenics, aerobics, exercise or a workout. Nor is it modeling or a game of Simon Says.

Sure, you can use yoga as a way to sculpt buns of steel and burn off all of the Christmas cookies and eggnog you consumed. But when you (or the teacher) treat yoga as a sport or an exhibition, then you shouldn’t be surprised to suffer the same kinds of sports-related injuries weekend warriors endure just because you’re hip to Om Shanti.

At its core, yoga is a practice of cultivating awareness of your inner and outer worlds. The poses are one way to help you do that. Unfortunately, this concept is getting lost amid a flurry of sun salutations, lousy yoga instruction and $90 yoga pants (on sale).

Whether you’re a teacher or a student, if you approach yoga with the same aggressive determination normally reserved for a Christian Louboutin sample sale, then you’re not even doing yoga, no matter how beautiful you may look in Dancer pose.

In other words, yoga injuries happen not because of any deficiency in the yoga poses (or yoga’s teachings), but mainly because of the particular way some teachers teach and many students practice.

If you want to reap the benefits of yoga without suffering the aches and pains then there are two principles you must honor.

One, select your teacher wisely. A teacher does not have to be registered with the Yoga Alliance, the self-appointed industry cop of yoga training. The organization charges high yearly fees (up to $245 per teacher and $700 per studio), but provides questionable quality control. Certification is a mail-order business — literally. Provide YA a curriculum attesting to a certain number of hours of teacher training in specific subjects, such as history and anatomy, and voila! Certification.

Training and experience are important, of course, but in my opinion, the most important quality a teacher can possess is respect. For you, your body, your emotions, your life story. Avoid teachers who use language that encourages you to shove yourself into a camera-ready pose. A teacher who bullies everyone into the exact same cookie-cutter pose is a teacher who is probably going to get someone hurt (and who doesn’t even understand what yoga is really all about).

Instead, look for teachers who emphasize acceptance, patience and using the basic shapes of the poses to explore, rather than achieve. Maybe you just had a fight with your husband and don’t have the energy to hold the pose for six breaths today. Maybe looking up in triangle pose irritates your neck (like me). Maybe you need to lay down and be still for a few breaths.

The right teacher will make you feel comfortable discovering and respecting where you’re at right now, even if that looks different than what everyone else is doing. Even if it looks different than what you did last week.

Two, leave your ego at home. The desire to look the best, to conquer a pose or hold it the longest, is what pushes most students beyond their limits and risks injury.

I tell my students all the time, don’t worry if your Half Moon pose is the prettiest. It’s not like you’ll win a date with Derek Jeter if it is. (Besides, if that was the prize I would kick everyone’s butt.)

Seriously though, don’t worry if you can “do” the pose the way it looks in the magazines or even on the next mat. Yoga classes may be a group activity but what happens on your yoga mat belongs to you. Don’t you have enough people in your life who hassle you without adding your own name to the list? Do what you reasonably can without letting your ego push you from controlled, aware, peaceful effort into struggle, strain and pain.

Yoga isn’t supposed to make you sore or stiff, let alone lead to injury. Start by finding the right teacher, leave your ego behind and yoga can transform your health, reduce stress, increase your mobility, help heal and prevent injury and lead to better balance and greater focus, on and off the mat.

Namaste.

For more by Kelly Moore, click here.

Tame Your Stress with Yoga

Tame your Stress with Yoga

Tame your Stress with Yoga

Tame Your Stress with Yoga
By Kelly McGonigal

Do you respond to stress with a fiery growl or a cold shoulder? Yoga can transform your reactions, improve your health, and help you embody grace under pressure.

Meet Mark: When something stressful happens, he feels energized. His heart races, his senses heighten—he even feels as though his thoughts speed up. Mark prides himself on his ability to face problems head-on, but he admits that it’s becoming difficult to turn this intensity off. Lately he’s been feeling more on edge than on top of his game. He’s developed headaches and insomnia, and he’s beginning to wonder if they’re related to stress. He’d like to feel better, but he can’t imagine himself changing his full-throttle approach to life. Without stress, how would he ever get anything done?

Mark’s wife, Sue, doesn’t feel energized by stress—it exhausts her. She feels so depleted by stress that she’s begun to cut back on the things that generate the most stress, such as planning big family gatherings. To maintain her composure, she tries to walk away when conflicts arise. She’s even considering leaving her challenging job to find something less intense. Sue proudly sees in herself the ability to “just let things go,” which she’s been cultivating through her yoga practice.

But even though she’s simplified her life, she’s been feeling depressed. She has a nagging feeling that her attempts to be stress free are getting in the way of fully living her life. Mark and Sue are characters based on real people, and are designed to represent two real responses to stress—one or both of which may seem familiar to you.

As Mark and Sue are discovering, stress is inescapable, but it is also paradoxical: While excess stress can take a toll on you, the very things that cause it are often the same things that make life rewarding and full. Take a moment to think about the pressures in your life: family, work, having too much to do. Now imagine a life without those things. Sound ideal? Not likely. Most people don’t want an empty life; they want to possess the skills to handle a busy and, yes, even complicated life.

The good news is that you can develop ways to navigate through stress so that it isn’t troubling and traumatic at every turn. When a stressor arises, you don’t have to go to extremes the way Mark and Sue do. You can learn to respond with just the right blend of inner fire and inner calm. I call this the “challenge response,” and you can develop it through your yoga practice.

In fact, recent studies suggest that yoga may condition the nervous system to bring you into balance whether you need more calm, like Mark, or more fire, like Sue. Add to that yoga’s ability to change your mental perception of stress, and you can transform your entire experience of the dreaded “s” word. Imagine feeling capable of handling whatever life throws at you, without having to panic, overreact, or plan your exit strategy.

Stress Lessons

To begin changing the way you react to stress, you’ll need to understand how it typically affects the body. If your mind interprets a stressful event as an emergency threat, it triggers an immediate response in the autonomic nervous system. Your stress response kicks in and activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Your body is flooded with hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine, which heighten the senses, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and focus the brain’s activity.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for physical relaxation and emotional calm, becomes overwhelmed by this sympathetic response. With the sympathetic nervous system in charge and the parasympathetic overwhelmed, you are primed to respond with energy and focus, but also with anger, anxiety, and aggression.

Humans developed this primal reaction, known as fight-or-flight, so they could effectively fight off or flee from life-threatening danger. This important survival mechanism is useful when you need to slam on the brakes to prevent a car accident or run away from an attacker. But it’s overkill for most of the conflicts and challenges we face day to day.

While it’s easy to view life’s hassles as a threat to your expectations, sense of control, or ideals, it’s better for your health to temper that perception and instead see each stressor as a challenge you can handle. Even if an emergency exists entirely in your imagination, or if the threat is only to your feelings, it can still trigger the fight-or-flight stress cycle. Over time chronic stress takes a toll on the body and brain, leading to all kinds of health problems, including insomnia, depression, chronic pain, and cardiovascular disease.

Running Hot and Cold

The alternative to a knock-down, drag-out, fight-or-flight stress response is the challenge response. The challenge response allows you to meet a stressful mo–ment with exactly what is needed: first, the ability to see a situation clearly, and second, the skills to respond without becoming overwhelmed. If Mark could do this, he wouldn’t suffer from stress-related headaches or insomnia. And if Sue could do this, she wouldn’t feel the need to hide when things get hairy.

When stress strikes and you engage the challenge response, your nervous system will respond differently. To understand how, imagine that the autonomic nervous system is like a faucet. The knob that controls the hot water represents the sympathetic nervous system, and the cold knob represents the parasympathetic. When you go into fight-or-flight mode, it’s as though you crank up the scalding-hot water and turn the cold water down to a mere trickle.

If you develop the challenge response, the hot water continues to run as it normally would, and you turn down the cold water just a little bit. In other words, you have just enough heat to face the stressor, but you haven’t completely removed the cooling influence. Once the challenge is successfully met, the parasympathetic nervous system reasserts itself (that is, the cold water increases), bringing you back to your everyday state of balance.

Bradley Appelhans, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine who studies how the body responds to stress, underscores the importance of the parasympathetic nervous system in guiding the challenge response. “When we aren’t stressed, the PNS acts as a brake on our physiological arousal. In times of challenge, we rely on our PNS to quickly remove the brake, so that we can achieve the state of increased emotional and physiological arousal needed to deal with stress. But we also rely on the PNS to keep that arousal under control, and not let the fight-or-flight response manifest in full force.”

In other words, if you generally handle stress well, your parasympathetic nervous system, not your sympathetic, is in charge of increasing arousal and readying you to face your stressor. That may sound like a trivial detail, but the consequences for the mind and body are significant. It’s like the difference between a dog walker extending the leash of her dog to allow for more freedom and the dog breaking free from the leash and running amok.

When the PNS pulls back, allowing for just enough SNS engagement to sufficiently cope with the challenge, you have the ability to act without an exaggerated, unhealthy fight-or-flight response. The mind focuses, but it also stays open enough to see alternative solutions and opportunities.

The Heart of the Challenge

There is a method for measuring how well one’s autonomic nervous system responds to everyday, nonemergency stress. It’s called heart-rate variability, and it reveals whether the SNS or the PNS is in charge of how a person responds to stress.

Scientists have long known that with every inhalation, the nervous system shifts a bit toward sympathetic activation, and the heart beats faster. With every exhalation, it shifts toward parasympathetic -activation, and the heart beats more slowly. People whose heart rate differs widely between inhalation and exhalation are said to have high heart-rate -variability—which is a good thing. It means that the nervous system has the flexibility to go from an engaged or aroused state to a relaxed state quickly, and that the SNS does not have unhealthy control over the body. High heart-rate variability—both at rest and in the face of stress—is considered an indicator of a person’s physical and emotional resilience. Low heart-rate variability is associated with an increased risk of stress-related disorders such as cardiovascular disease and depression.

Mark is a classic example of someone who has low heart-rate variability. He is stuck in a state of chronic sympathetic activation in his everyday life, which reduces the flexibility of his heart rate. When he experiences stress, his SNS goes even further into overdrive, in part because it is unbalanced and unchecked by the PNS. For someone like Mark, building the challenge response will mean retraining his mind and body to let the parasympathetic system be in charge while he’s at rest, and eventually when he responds to stress, too.

Sue is able to relax—but only if she disengages from life’s stressors. She needs to develop the ability to get fired up enough to meet a challenge without feeling completely overwhelmed by it. A growing body of research on heart-rate variability and yoga provides evidence that the practice can help people like Mark and Sue in their quest for healthier stress responses.

One of the first studies was conducted at Newcastle University in England and published in 1997 in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation. Researchers found that six weeks of practicing hatha yoga increased the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming side) without decreasing the influence of the sympathetic (the arousing side). Researchers took 26 healthy but sedentary adults and randomly split them into two groups. One group was given an aerobic exercise program, the other a yoga regimen that included two 90-minute sessions per week with breathing, poses, and relaxation. In the week following the six-week intervention, the yoga participants were reported to have higher heart-rate variability (and a lower resting heart rate, another indicator of well-being) after the study than before. The aerobics group showed no significant changes.

A second study, done by researchers at the University of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany and published in 2007 in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, suggests that even a single session of yoga practice can encourage the nervous system to find flexibility and balance. Researchers hooked up 11 healthy yoga practitioners to instruments that recorded their heart-rate variability over 24 hours. During that time, participants did 60 minutes of active Iyengar Yoga poses and 30 minutes of restorative poses. Heart-rate variability increased during the yoga session, and—as in the previous study—this change was driven by the increased influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, not by changes to the sympathetic system.

In other words, after yoga practice, participants weren’t just more relaxed; they were in a state of autonomic balance and flexibility driven by the parasympathetic—which is exactly the type of balance and flexibility that predicts greater resilience to stress. This study provides promising evidence that a yoga practice can prepare you to meet life’s challenges, not just recover from them.

Tapping into Calm

How do we explain why participants in the aerobics group didn’t derive the same benefit as the participants who learned yoga? Better yet, how do we explain the results from the study that was based on a single session of Iyengar Yoga?

Kerstin Khattab, MD, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and one of the researchers in the Schleswig-Holstein study, believes that the key is yoga’s dual demands on body and mind. “Some of the poses in our study, such as Dhanurasana [Bow Pose] or Sirsasana [Headstand], are likely to cause a strong sympathetic nervous system reaction. But as you learn to hold these poses with a calm mind, focusing on the breath, the poses become a training in how to remain calm in stressful situations.”

In other words, the physical challenge of a pose becomes the equivalent of a stressor. If you do aerobics, which has no direct breathing or mindfulness component, the physical challenge can trigger a full-fledged stress response in the body. But when physical demands are met with mindfulness and steady breathing, as they are in yoga, the nervous system responds differently: It maintains activation while keeping an underlying sense of calm. It remains skillfully engaged but without going into full-fledged fight-or-flight mode.

The great sage and codifier of yoga, Patanjali, must have been aware of the power of asana when he wrote sutra 2:46, Sthira sukham asanam: Postures should embody steadiness and ease. If you can find both elements in the midst of a stressful arm balance, you’re not just training your mind. You’re enabling your autonomic nervous system to imprint that response and therefore allow you to return to it during everyday stress.

At first, you will need to very consciously tap into this response during your yoga practice by focusing on your breathing and thoughts. But with enough conscious practice, the rehearsed challenge response can become an ingrained automatic response—on and off the mat.

Yoga also trains the nervous system to return to balance quickly after a challenge response. By alternating strenuous poses with gentler ones, yoga conditions you to move easily between states of challenge and rest. Letting go of all effort in Savasana (Corpse Pose), for example, seals in this flexibility, because the pose teaches the nervous system to let go once the challenges of your practice have been met.

Leave your Comfort Zone

Just showing up to any yoga class is not enough. If your stress style tends toward fight-or-flight, and you huff and puff your way through Power Yoga classes and leave before Savasana, you probably won’t transform your stress response. Practicing that way just makes yoga another arena where you engage in your usual stress-response style. For people who move through life in full emergency mode, the starting place to learn balance is typically Savasana. This pose teaches you how to put the usually suppressed parasympathetic nervous system in charge and give the hypercharged sympathetic nervous system a rest.

When one of my students, Monica Hanson, first came to yoga, she was a self-described type-A executive in her early 30s. The idea of relaxation was terrifying, and she could not imagine how relaxing could possibly help her handle real-world stress. “I was afraid that if I let go of the tension, I would fall apart,” she says. “Tension was the glue that held me together.”

Her first experience in Savasana was anything but relaxing. Her emergency response fought to stay in control. “I was sweating and shaking. My heart was racing. I wanted to run away,” she says. But underneath the anxiety was a sense of being fully alive and yet calm—something that Hanson had never felt before. This taste of how her mind and body could hold such opposites was the beginning of her stress transformation.

After seven years of consistent yoga practice, Hanson says tension is no longer what holds her together in stressful situations. Instead, she can feel the calm beneath the storm even if she still she gets the urge to fight or run. “Yoga has taught me a whole new way of being. In stressful situations, I have literally heard my teacher’s voice in my head say, “Be present. Breathe into the tension. And I do.”

Stay in your Experience

For someone like Sue, who easily finds bliss in relaxation but avoids stress, developing the ability to stay present in the midst of difficult situations—but without trying to fight against or escape from them—is key. Rather than trying to hide from challenges, Sue has to learn to believe she can handle them. As Amy Weintraub, founder of LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute and the author of Yoga for Depression, puts it, “Sometimes it’s important to not simply remove ourselves from the stressful situation, but to feel it in our bodies. Acknowledge stress. Meet it. We can stay present without being controlled by it.”

For one of my students, Julie Good, a 38-year-old physician and mother of two young girls, the great teacher was Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). When she first started yoga, it was her least favorite pose. “My strategy was to grit my teeth and tolerate it, tense my whole body, and try to hold myself up off the floor.” Although her resistance was an attempt to avoid the intense sensation in her hip, the effect was quite different. “It was agonizing.”

One day, when Good explained why she hated Pigeon Pose, I encouraged her to stop fighting it. Good says, “I had been trying to protect myself by resisting. I thought, ‘If I let go, it’s going to get worse.’ But I let go, and it got better. When I wasn’t resisting, I learned to breathe into the discomfort.” By staying with the pose, she learned that she could choose to stay in a difficult situation and the discomfort would dissipate.

Find Your Fire

To feel empowered to deal with stress head-on, Sue also needs backup from her nervous system. She needs more participation from the sympathetic nervous system; she needs the energy and drive that the arousing side provides. A new pilot study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that yoga may help facilitate this type of response.

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that a regular yoga practice decreased the dominance of the parasympathetic system for some people. But there was an important difference in this study: The 17 adult participants were all clinically depressed. The participants practiced Iyengar Yoga three times a week for eight weeks. At the end of the study, 11 participants were in remission from depression. The 6 others did not fully recover.

When researchers compared the participants’ heart-rate variability before and after the eight-week intervention, those who had recovered showed a small increase in sympathetic activation and a decrease in parasympathetic influence. Researchers believe it’s possible that yoga practice helped the participants shift from a withdrawal from life to active engagement. This shift was reflected in—and may have been caused by—the change in the nervous system’s balance.

The point of all of these studies? According to David Shapiro, a professor of psychology at UCLA, “Yoga helps balance the two systems as needed by each individual.” That means that if you go through life in emergency mode, yoga will actually awaken your relaxation system. But if you have a tendency to become paralyzed in the face of challenges, yoga can work to shift your body and mind toward active engagement.

Study Yourself

Keep in mind that no matter how well you condition your nervous system, you also need to change the way you perceive stress. You can start this process by practicing svadhyaya, or self-observation. “There is a connection between how you experience a forward bend and how you react to the world,” says Elissa Cobb, a Phoenix Rising Yoga practitioner and the author of The Forgotten Body. Take Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), a pose that can produce strong sensations in even the most flexible practitioners.

One common response is to ignore sensations and force yourself forward, fighting against your tight hamstrings. Another is to come out of the pose to avoid the challenge entirely. Both strategies are variations on the same theme: fight-or-flight. In all likelihood, they create tense muscles and rapid or held breathing—not to mention a total lack of joy.

Paying attention to how your body and mind react to the “stress” of Paschimottanasana or any pose offers clues about how you typically react to stress in your life. By training yourself to actively observe while staying calm in poses, you’ll be able to do the same thing when difficult sensations, thoughts, or emotions arise in the face of stress. Instead of going into your habitual reaction mode, you’ll notice what’s happening while staying present enough to choose an appropriate response.

When it comes to transforming your own response to stress, it’s tempting to search for that one pose or breathing exercise that will work its magic. But there isn’t one magic pose. The process is a gradual exploration rather than an easy solution. “If you’re practicing yoga every day, you’re preparing for what life brings. You don’t have to have a strategy for what yoga technique you’ll use in a difficult situation.” According to Weintraub, when challenges arrive, they will begin to flow through you but not overwhelm you. “When life hits, it doesn’t explode or roll over us. We’re not so caught up in the stress of it, but we’re present for it.”

This is the real story of how yoga can help you manage stress. It doesn’t just provide ways to burn through stress or escape from it. It doesn’t only offer stress-reduction techniques for anxious moments. It goes deeper, transforming how the mind and body intuitively respond to stress. Just as the body can learn a new standing posture that eventually becomes ingrained, so the mind can learn new thought patterns, and the nervous system can learn new ways of reacting to stress. The result: When you roll up your mat and walk out the door, you can more skillfully take on whatever life brings.

Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist and yoga teacher at Stanford University. She is the editor in chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. For more information visit, www.kellymcgonigal.com.

The “Master Cleanse” 10 day Lemon Juice Fast

The “Master Cleanse” – 10 Day Lemon Juice Fast
By Deb Bobier (YogaBoundDeb)

Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree

There are basic natural lifestyle habits which, once incorporated into your daily life, can make a tremendously positive difference to your health. Drinking lemon water is certainly one of them.

It’s the New Year and I have just started my annual fast. There are many ways to fast and reasons for undergoing the ritual. Many religions have traditional fasting periods and rules – Lent, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc. And there are a host of largely positive medical reasons to do occasional light fasting. I do it simply to give my body a break from eating, to detoxify, and to experience other beneficial aspects for my body, and mind.

There are also many different ways to fast. Fasting can be dry fasting (no food, no water), liquid fasting (water, juices, etc.) and everything around that from skipping a meal to omitting certain foods from your diet for a period of time. Certain fasts are obviously more difficult than others and some care must be used in choosing the appropriate fast for your overall consitution and lifestyle.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, fasting is best done with relatively healthy individuals who regularly consume excess amounts of foods in their diets (i.e. many western people). People who eat well on a regular basis, are not overweight, not overly toxic from poor quality foods, alcohol, etc. will not require as much fasting (if any) and it could be potentially weakening to them. Fasts should also be avoided by anyone who is underweight, cold and/or weak, recovering from significant illness, pregnant, and people with heart conditions, colitis, epilepsy, and diabetes. These are general rules, however, and certain types of fasting will be safer than others.

Though I have a pretty healthy diet, over the Holidays I know I over indulge and eat things I that aren’t part of my regular healthy diet. I end up feeling sluggish and I can see and feel the added weight. So what better time than the New Year to get myself back on track for the coming year. The one I like doing at home is called the 10 day Master Cleanse by Stanley Burroughs. This cleanse has been used by many people around the world as a safe and relatively easy way to strongly cleanse our digestive and elimination systems. But don’t feel you have to go the entire 10 days. I am starting with five days. And may or may not continue.

Lemon Juice for Fasting

Master Cleanse - Lemon Juice Fast

There are three main parts to the fast:

1. The Lemon Drink

2. Salt Water Drink

3. Herbal/Laxative Teas (There are a variety in your local grocery store, ones with senna work well.)

The main recipes for the fast are as follows:

Lemon Drink:

1. 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed organic lemon or lime juice (approx. 1/2 lemon).

2. 2 tablespoons organic maple syrup (Grade B).

3. 1/10 teaspoon (a small pinch, by preference) cayenne pepper.

4. 12-16oz pure spring water (room temperature).

For more portability, you can use the following measurements to fill a gallon jug (5 Lemons/Limes, 1.25 cups of maple syrup, 1 teaspoon cayenne, fill to the top with spring water).

Drink 6-12 glasses of the mixture a day for 10 days. You should also drink plain water throughout the day if you find yourself thirsty.

Salt Water Drink:

1. 2 teaspoons of natural sea salt

2. 1 quart of lukewarm water

Drink the entire quart quickly in one sitting first thing in the morning. You should need to eliminate in 1-3 hours, possibly a few times. (Now this didn’t happen to me. And I am not sure why. But I don’t think it is anything to be concerned about.)

Why the Lemon Juice Fast:

Lemons are Good!

Lemons are Good!

Drinking water-diluted lemon juice on a daily basis has amazing health benefits! In his classic 1939 book “Back to Eden”, Jethro Kloss, the father of herbalists points out: “Lemon is a wonderful stimulant to the liver and is a dissolvent of uric acid and other poisons, liquefies the bile, and is very good in cases of malaria. Sufferers of chronic rheumatism and gout will benefit by taking lemon juice, also those who have a tendency to bleed, uterine hemorrhages, etc.” He goes on to add: “… Lemon is an antiseptic, or is an agent that prevents sepsis [the presence of pathogenic bacteria] or putrefaction [decomposition of tissue]. It is also anti-scorbutic, a term meaning a remedy which will prevent disease and assist in cleansing the system of impurities.”

Lemon is not only a vitamin C rich citrus fruit and an immune system booster, it also acts as blood purifier and improves the body’s ability to get rid of toxins. When taken regularly it acts as a tonic to the liver and stimulates it to fulfil its daily digestive and cleansing functions. Lemon is also believed to help dissolve gallstones and is a superior body alkalizer.

What To Do While You Are Fasting:

Your period of fasting is an excellent time to really relax yourself. You will likely have more energy than you might have thought you would, but strenuous activities are best avoided during this time. This is a good time to relax, read books you’ve been wanting to read, watch movies, and have simple engagements with friends and family. Activity-wise walking is good, exercises such as Yoga and Tai Chi are also good. I walk. Work on my website like posting this. And being a yoga teacher I start with my regular sequence staying aware of when I need to modify postures or my practice based on my energy level at that moment. Movement will help energize you when you need it and stave off cravings. This is also a good time to perform some simple meditation techniques.

I use different meditations. My meditation when walking is simply staying aware of your breath entering and leaving your body, staying present in your body, observing what is happening within you. And staying aware of your surroundings. If anything stressful enters your mind, just let it go and refocus on your breath and the present moment. And cultivating feelings of peace and being at one with the Universe.

I love meditating in my garden, or while gardening. Doing the same things I mentioned above. When I am doing my yoga, I do the same thing. In a sitting meditation again, many of the same things adding in intentions, positive thoughts, etc.

Breaking the Fast:

Breaking a fast properly is really important. What and how much you begin putting back into your body must be strategic and thoughtfully considered. At the end of the fast you need to ease your body back into digesting food, so initially some juices, then soups, then steamed vegetables, and finally whole foods.

Start with having approximately 4 ounces of orange or grapefruit juice mixed with the same amount of water and drink a few times during the day. In the evening you should have a vegetable soup (vegetable broth) made from seasonal leafy and root vegetables such as kale, beets, carrots, celery, potatoes, some cayenne, some salt, etc. Focus on drinking the broth, not eating the vegetables – although you may have some.

On the second day increase the amount of orange juice to 8 ounces, still mixed with water and have more of the soup.

On the third day have the juice in the morning. Then start eating normally, possibly restricting meat, fish, eggs, bread, tea, milk, and/or coffee for another 1-3 days. I try to stick with fresh fruits and veggies then add in steamed, broiled or baked fish or chicken.

And every day, try to drink at least 8-10 glasses of good water with a splash of lemon juice for continued benefits. Don’t buy bottled water. It is expensive and isn’t always pure. Get a reverse osmosis system set up at your house and be sure it is the one that puts the good stuff back into the water.

Now that you are done:

So if you decide to do the fast, let me know how it worked for you. Fasting can be a great stepping stone to a healthier diet and lifestyle. The truth is that there are no secrets to good health and fitness other than simple moderation, eating a wide range of quality foods, and activity or movement of any kind. Many people wait for the ideal set of circumstances to do their workout program, their diet, etc. In reality these things are unnecessary. I believe in a simple diet based largely on whole foods, give Quinoa (keen wah) a try with lots of fresh veggies. Avoid snacking unless it is something fresh and healthy. Drink lots of lemon infused water, and set up your life so that you walk (every step counts). Or ride your bike as often as possible. Good luck! And stay moving!

Why It Is Wise to Worship a Woman

Why it is Wise To Worship a Woman
By Arjuna Ardagh

Women's Wisdom

Women's Wisdom

A few days ago, after a particularly exquisite evening with my wife Chameli, I put this post up on Facebook before going to bed:

“I have had many, many great teachers in my life. A super abundance. No one and nothing comes close to the woman who is now asleep in the bedroom. My marriage has become the guru, the salvation, the muse, the crack through which the divine shines through.”

When I woke up the next morning, there were the usual offerings of people who liked the post as well as comments. One man had the vulnerability and courage to post this on facebook:

“Thank you Arjuna for this sharing, I feel like [I’m] in front of a choice which is between feeling envious of what you have and I don’t, or instead to decide that ‘I want that too,’ and, as you show, it is possible…”

I was touched.

Over the next days, I got several more messages like this from men: vulnerable men, honest men, rare and courageous men. They came in as private messages on Facebook or through our website, and they all said basically the same thing:

“I read your Facebook post. I want what you have. Show me how to get it.”

So, friends, here it is. The short guide on how to worship a woman, and why it’s the wisest thing that a man can do. First of all, lets pop a few very understandable doubts that you might have. I’m familiar with all of them.

1. “I’m wounded and damaged in my relationships to the feminine.”

So am I, dear brother, so am I. My parents divorced in a messy way when I was four. I grew up alone with my mother. She did her very best to provide for me, but she was unhappy and insecure. By the time I started to have relationships with women myself in my early teens, I discovered that I had a mountain of resentments, fears, and separation in my relation to the feminine. The conscious practice of worship can become a part of healing the wounds.

2. “Arjuna, you’re lucky. You’ve got an incredible partner. I’m together with a woman who’s not like Chameli.”

I really don’t have the ultimate answer to that doubt or question. It certainly could seem to be the case that I’ve been lucky in finding a great woman, but here’s how it happened for me. I’ve had a lot of less lucky connections in my life. I’ve experienced my share of the manipulative side of the feminine: the victim, the rageful, the vengeful. And I have seen the ugly side of the masculine psyche in myself. A few weeks prior to meeting Chameli, my wife, something deep and profound shifted in me, which I believe can shift for anyone in the same way.

3. “I don’t have a partner at all, and I sometimes doubt if I’ll ever meet anybody.”

Being with a partner where worship is not flowing, or not being with a partner at all, are basically two aspects of the same situation: you’ve had an intuition or a glimpse of the possibilities of a deeper love, and you want more of it. The solutions are the same.

4. “I feel my heart is closed down. I live in my head a lot, and I wouldn’t even know what worship was if it broke into my house at 2 o’clock in the morning and held me at gunpoint.”

That’s where the whole thing starts for all of us, when we realize that we don’t yet know how to love. And that’s that the big question that you have to consider: “Is that okay with me?” Never mind how much money you make, or how many friends you have on Facebook, no matter how nice a house you live in, or no matter how big a car you drive, no matter how impressive your partner’s bust size, or how much you meditate and become spiritual… have you loved for real, in a total and undefended way? If not, and here’s where you have to be honest with yourself, is that OK with you? Is it OK to die one day without the heart’s gift having been fully given?

Eight or nine years ago, I came to that question in myself, exactly that, and I discovered that the answer was, if I was was raw and vulnerable and uncomplicated, that it was actually not OK. If I died one day without having fully loved, it would not have truly been a life well lived.

Many many years ago, I went to Bali for a vacation, on my own. I met up with some other young travelers there and we hired a Jeep to take us on a tour of the island. We drove up right to the highest point of the island, where Tourists don’t usually go. Our guide took us to one of the most sacred temples. It was surrounded by a big brick wall with an ornate entrance. After removing our shoes and wrapping scarves around our heads, we stepped together through this entrance. Inside, there was a short courtyard and then another brick wall with another entrance. After more preparations of lighting incense and giving offerings, we stepped through the second entrance.

We were allowed to go through the opening in one more wall, but that was it. All together there were ten walls around the deity in the middle. Hindus could go beyond the fourth wall. Devotees of that particular deity could go beyond the fifth wall, and so it went on. The only people allowed to approach the deity directly were those who had given their lives completely and totally to its worship. Everyone else could come a little closer, a little closer, to the innermost beauty, but not all the way to the center.

I’m not a big believer of the worship of statues, but there’s a beautiful symbolism to what I saw there, because a woman’s heart is just like that. At the essence of every woman’s heart is the divine feminine. It contains everything that has ever been beautiful, or lovely, or inspiring, in any woman, anywhere, at any time. The very essence of every woman’s heart is the peak of wisdom, the peak of inspiration, the peak of sexual desirability, the peak of soothing, healing love. The peak of everything. But it’s protected, for good reason, by a series of concentric walls. To move inwardly from one wall to the next requires that you intensify your capacity to devotion, and as you do so, you are rewarded with Grace. This is not something you can negotiate verbally with a woman. She doesn’t even know consciously how to open those gates herself. They are opened magically and invisibly by the keys of worship.

If you stand on the outside of the outermost wall, all you have available to you, like many other unfortunate men, is pornography. For $1.99 a minute, you can see her breasts, maybe her vagina, and you can stimulate yourself in a sad longing for deeper love.

Step through another gate, and she will show you her outer gift-wrapping. She’ll look at you with a certain twinkle in her eye. She’ll answer your questions coyly. She’ll give you just the faintest hint that there is more available.

Step through another gate with your commitment, with your attention, with the small seedlings of devotion, and she’ll open her heart to you more. She’ll share with you her insecurities, the way that she’s been hurt, her deepest longings. Some men will back away at this point. They realize that the price they must pay to go deeper is more than they are willing to give. They start to feel a responsibility. But for those few who step though another gate, they come to discover her loyalty, her willingness to stick with you no matter what, her willingness to raise your children, stick up for you in conversation, and, if you are lucky, even pick up your dirty socks now and then. And so it goes on. You’ve got the gist by now.

Somewhere around the second wall from the center, she casts the veils of her personality aside, and shows you that she is both a human being and also a portal into something much greater than that. She shows you a wrath that is not hers, but all women’s. She shows you a patience that is also universal. She shows you her wisdom. At this point you start to experience the archetypes of women, who have been portrayed as goddesses and mythological figures in every tradition.

Then, at the very center, in the innermost temple itself, all the layers of your devotion are flooded with reward all at once. You discover the very essence of the feminine, and in a strange way that is not exactly romantic, but profoundly sacred all the same, you realize that you could have got here with any woman if you had just been willing to pass through all the layers of initiation. Any woman is every woman, and every woman is any woman at the same time. When you love a woman completely, at the very essence of her being, this is the one divine feminine flame. It is what has made every woman in history beautiful. It’s the flame behind the Mona Lisa, and Dante’s Beatrice, and yes, also Penelope Cruz and Heidi Klum. You discover the magic ingredient which has lead every man to fall in love with a woman.

When you learn how to pay attention to the essence of the feminine in this way, you fall to the floor in full body prostration, tears soaking your cheeks and clothes, and you wonder how you could have ever taken Her, in all of Her forms, for granted even for a second.

So just a couple small questions remain. First, do you get what I’m talking about? Does it jive for you? Does it make sense? And second, if yes, how are you going to get from where you are now to being able to the full capacity of your heart to love for real? I’d be glad to share more about this if we get to know each other better, but here’s how you get started.

First, do what I did, and create an altar in your room dedicated to Divine Feminine. Put only symbols of the feminine on it. I have a painting called “Beatrix” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I have a statue of Quan Kin. Populate your altar with anything that reminds you of the feminine, and spend a few minutes of the day in worship. Yes, worship. Adoration. Devotion. Offer up rose petals. Offer poems. Offer everything, and beg Her to reveal Her innermost essence to you. This will work miracles whether you’re single and waiting to meet the right woman or whether you’re already in relationship and long to meet your woman in a deeper way.

The second way to get started: make a practice, a discipline, of telling your woman, or any woman, ten times a day something which you adore about her. “I love the smell of your shampoo.” “I love the way you laugh.” “The color of your eyes is so beautiful.” Of course, you need to keep it appropriate. You can go as far out on a limb as you like if you’re in relationship with a woman, but with anyone else remember the gates. Keep you communication appropriate to the gate number that you find yourself at. Appreciation the curve of a woman’s breast, for example, if she happens to be the cashier at the supermarket, would equate more to harassment than worship.

Words of Wisdom from a Yoga Guru

Bikram’s Last Seminar – Words of Wisdom from a Yoga Guru
By Anita Thompson

PHILADELPHIA — As the economy was tanking, it was good to get away from New York, spending Saturday with Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram’s Yoga College of India. I was not expecting a quiet “ommmm” incense filled seminar. No. Being familiar with the method, I was ready for his tough love, truth telling yoga teaching — “punch in the head enlightenment” practice.

The well known “torture chamber yoga,” that has over 1700 certified schools worldwide and is a known enemy of cottage cheese thighs, flabby stomachs, high blood pressure, and many other human ailments including neurological ticks, depression and “bad backs” is as loved as ever.

His yogic series has been approved by the American Medical Association, and of course his is not the only method that works, but unless you’re an idiot (very harsh word), you start to understand that this Hatha Yoga (means physical practice), when done properly, can integrate your body, mind and spirit.

Earlier in the lecture he explained, well yes, the meaning of life: Truth. “The life journey first needs a good foundation.” He also explained the need for proper training, from caring professionals rather than doting parents. “Parent’s love and compassion destroy children’s lives.” Why? Because they can’t/don’t always tell their children the truth. The culture of India, where one finds a guru (teacher) early in life, is exposed to that guru’s teaching: The truth, even when it hurts.

A parent’s dream is for the child to become a doctor, right? Bikram told us of the time he told an assemblage of American Medical Association doctors that “you guys are nothing but licensed drug dealers. You prescribe pills to people even though you know the side effects of putting people’s immune systems in a coma. Shame on you.”

He treated his good friend and head cardiologist at UCLA medical center for high blood pressure, not with pills, but with a month of yoga that dropped the friend’s pressure below mine.

Bikram isn’t known for keeping his opinions to himself. Midway through the Philadelphia seminar, while some yogis were on stage demonstrating, he asked us, almost as an aside, if we were going to let our treasury be looted again in the last days of the administration, this time for $700 Billion.

Ouch, the truth hurts.

As for the yoga, I can testify that it is true what you’ve heard: It sheds pounds, calms the mind, helps you stretch, strengthen and understand your body. And yes, it hurts.

In India, after treating individuals during his earlier career with the same ailments doctors treat patients for today, he wanted a way to treat many people at once, and in a way to prevent the illnesses from developing in the first place.

And how did he get to the United States? Richard Nixon. Nixon gave him an unexpected green card after curing the famous thrombophelebitis that almost killed him during the infamous Kennedy/Nixon debates. Bikram has gone on to treat other celebs such as such as Indira Gandhi, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Quincy Jones and Shirley McClain, Madonna, and on and on.

His 30+ years in the United States has produced hundreds of thousands of regular Bikram Yogis who take his classes, often like devotees, the Philadelphia seminar attendees were shocked when he announced that, “Oh by the way, this is my last seminar, after Orlando.”

As the audience gasped, one of his handlers reminded him that he will be doing a seminar for 10,000 people in London in October (even though Bikram tried to cancel it). “Oh, that’s right.” He said. “Then I’m done. My teachers are so good now, I can spend more time with my family.”

This is hardly the end, however. His trademarked sequence of 26 postures that he selected and choreographed from Hatha yoga (which developed over thousands of years in India) that stimulate every system in the body, was passed on to other teachers starting in 1994. Now, there are over 5000.

The approach has evolved into a system where teachers receive nine weeks of training and serve a six-month apprenticeship at a Bikram Yoga location, and are recertified every two years. Once teachers launch their own studios, they must adhere to strict standards that keep the brand unified, like a franchise. No cheating.

So no need to worry. Although his seminar days are nearing completion, you can still take his classes in L.A., or visit your nearest Bikram torture chamber to stretch, sweat, and work that body yours into good health — and get a little truth from your local guru, even if it hurts.