Bio-Energetic Yoga & Meditation Workshop
Hosted by Deb Porte Bobier, E-RYT 500 and founder of YogaBound.com
When: Sunday, November 24th and Saturday, November 30th
Where: 1201 Harbor Hills Dr., Largo, Florida
Time: 9am – 1pm
Cost: $65.00 day of. Or, pre-pay now (payment button at the end of this page) and pay just $55.00 Bring a friend and pay $45.00 ea. Sign up for both, $40.00 ea.
This is a perfect time to take some time out for yourself before the Holidays. This workshop is designed for everyone. And ideal for new or experienced teacher’s that are looking for a tune-up. Or, wanting to take their practice to a deeper level.
This is a slow, yet powerful practice that will take you inward, to deeper and deep levels of your being. It is intense and energetic, yet will leave you feeling relaxed and blissed out.
We’ll work with all the Chakra’s (the bodies energy channels of consciousness), Pranayama (breathwork), Meditation, then Yoga Nidra, or final relaxtion. Throughout the practice will be powerful messages from the teachings of the 8 limbs. As well as from the Yoga Sutras.
We’ll begin with Sun Salutations chanting the 12 Vedic names for the Sun. Continue with warm up excercises to connect the mind and the body, by arousing the 5th and 6th chakras. Move into a Hatha Yoga practice designed to awaken, harmonize and develop each of the Chakras. Starting with the first Chakra, and working our way up.
We’ll incorporate several Pranayama techniques to open the Nadi’s. Perform several sound meditations to further activate and harmonize the higher Chakras. Then end with a wonderfully relaxing Yoga Nidra.
I hope you will join me. And look forward to seeing you soon. Deb Porte Bobier
If you have any questions please feel free to zip me an email.
The Three Gunas – Balancing Consciousness
The three gunas are the most subtle qualities of Nature that underlie matter, life and mind. They are the energies through which not only the surface mind, but our deeper consciousness functions. They are the powers of the soul which hold the karmas and desires that propel us from birth to birth. The gunas adhere in Nature herself as her core potentials for diversification.
All objects in the universe consist of various combinations of the three gunas. Cosmic evolution consists of their mutual interaction and transformation. The three gunas are one of the prime themes of Ayurvedic thought. They form a deeper level than the three biological humors and help us understand our mental and spiritual nature and how it functions.
Have you ever had a day when you have been hyperactive, on the go from morning till night, then finding it hard to stop? This is an excess of the energy called rajas, or activity.
Or a day when you can’t rouse yourself from sleep, feel unmotivated and drag yourself through the day? This is an excess of the energy called tamas, or inertia.
What about the day when tranquility prevails, when you feel calm and clear and do no more or less than is perfectly in the flow? This is the balance of the energy called sattva, or harmony.
The ancient scriptures of the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, Samkya Yoga, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, among others, all present these three energies, the gunas, as the basis of the material universe. From the word guna, meaning strand or rope, the three gunas are described as three intertwined strands that bind embodied beings to physical nature or the material world.
The great teacher of classical yoga, Patanjali, says (Yoga Sutras II.18), “The world of objects is composed of the three gunas—the principles of illumination (sattva), activity (rajas) and inertia (tamas). From these the whole universe has evolved, together with the instruments of knowledge—such as the mind, senses, etc.—and the objects perceived—such as the physical elements. The universe exists in order that the experiencer may experience it, and thus become liberated.”
On a spiritual level, understanding the gunas provides opportunities for spiritual inquiry and personal development. On a practical level, the gunas reflect states of mind that manifest as moods and behaviors. Through awareness and discrimination we have the possibility to become a master of their fluctuations.
From the Bhagavad Gita (14.7): “Rajas is marked by passion born of craving and attachment; it binds the embodied Self to never-ending activity.”
As positive energy: Rajas presents such qualities as enthusiasm, excitement, ambition, alertness, accomplishment, passion and an ability to get things done. Vitality encourages work and creativity.
In excess: Too much rajas heightens emotion and develops hyperactivity, anger, anxiety, aggression, agitation, struggle or fear. Thought processes turn off and obsessions arise from desire and an overactive mind and body.
In the physical world: In nature, rajas represents activity. The higher energies of heat and movement are known to be rajasic. Too much movement such as wind or heavy exercise, or higher heat can increase rajas and result in agitation. For example, you may have noticed that you or other people dislike windy days or feel particularly irritable in the heat, whereas others aren’t bothered. It’s helpful to simply notice if the weather affects you on any given day and in what way. If you know you are affected you can then seek balance. In general, calm and temperate weather reduces or helps balance rajas. As you no doubt have experienced, getting outdoors on a beautiful day helps you feel better if you have been agitated.
From the Bhagavad Gita (14.8): “Tamas, ignorance-born, deludes all embodied beings; it binds them by means of dullness, indolence and sleep.”
As positive energy: Tamas presents qualities such as ease, loyalty, patience, stability and being grounded. Shutting down or coming to rest brings forgetfulness and possibility of renewal.
In excess: Too much tamas leads to laziness, apathy, insensitivity, depression, and feelings of darkness, grief, helplessness or loneliness. Sluggishness overcomes the mind and a sense of avoidance prevails.
In the physical world: In nature, tamas represents stillness as well as darkness. Any damp weather, including the full range of light to heavy rain (cold or warm) can increase tamas or the feeling of inertia. You may have noticed that you or others are more bothered by humidity and dislike being in the rain. In general, clear, temperate and sunny weather can reduce or balance tamas. It’s especially healing to get outside in good weather if you are feeling tamasic.
Sattva: Knowledge, Luminosity
From the Bhagavad Gita (14.6): “Of these three, sattva, untainted, luminous, free from sorrow, binds by means of attachment to knowledge and joy.”
As positive energy: Sattva presents qualities such as goodness, clarity, illumination, appropriateness, being in the present and pure consciousness. Virtue brings wisdom and peace.
In excess: One pitfall of sattva is the delusion of the ego, which generates smugness, complacency and self-satisfaction. Another pitfall is attachment. The ancient yogic texts warn against settling into worldly happiness and urge you to wrest yourself away from the material and experience the spiritual nature of the universe.
In the physical world: In nature, light, clear and constant weather is sattvic. But the harmony of sattva can prevail regardless of external conditions.
Basic Characteristics of the Gunas
|Desire, wanting||Acceptance||Not wanting, pushing away, blocked|
|Staying in the same place||Upward||Downward|
Sometimes rajas predominates, sometimes tamas prevails, and sometimes you may enjoy the state of sattva. As in all of life, these energies rise or descend in a wide variety of combinations. The three strands of the gunas intertwine and affect each other. As long as the energies of the gunas stay in relative equilibrium, everyday life remains in balance. If you realize you have become out of balance, you can shift yourself into a more sattvic state of being.
Those with a preponderance of sattva are characterised by clarity, knowledge, sensitivity and grace in the material world. Many people are sattvic; they are not limited to the wisdom teachers and yogis. Think about any of your family, friends, co-workers or acquaintances who are conscientious and serve with open-heartedness and love.
You are sattvic when you experience heightened awareness or savor wellbeing. Through discrimination you can teach yourself to notice your moments of contentment so you can move towards them when you feel imbalanced. For example, you may be at an outdoor café with a friend, at a family gathering or seated in the stadium, watching your favourite sport. Now’s the time to take notice of how you feel—all’s right with the world. You feel harmony, connection, expansion, even love. If you can, take a moment to increase your awareness at this time. Make a mental note that this is what it feels like to be totally content and at one with the universe. Then at another time when you feel agitated, place that remembered state in your awareness and consciously move towards it.
Heinrich Zimmer, in his book Philosophies of India, says, “The intellect or wisdom-mind is compounded of the three gunas, but by means of yoga, sattva guna is made to prevail. Yogic training purges the wisdom-mind of its original inheritance of tamas and rajas. With the removal of tamas, darkness is removed and the subtle matter of the wisdom-mind becomes translucent, like the waters of a mountain lake. With the removal of rajas, agitation is removed and the rippling of the restless surface then is stilled, so that the waters, already cleared, become a steady mirror.”
- Overcoming rajas: The next time you feel hyper-busy, take a moment to notice that you have become rajasic. Even if you have many things to do or are in a momentum of getting a lot done, recognize you may have become unbalanced towards rajas. See if you can identify anxiety, irritation or a chattering mind. You only need a moment to become aware of yourself, focus on the centre of your being and become connected to your higher nature, or sattva. You can still continue doing things, but with more awareness.
- Overcoming tamas: It can be harder to pull yourself up from a tamasic low than to slow down from a rajasic high. Paramahansa Yogananda, the great 20th-century yogi, says, “A restless rajasic man bakes himself slowly in the oven of worries about himself and others. But a tamasic man, as though ossified, is not even roused even by the sizzling process of worries. He exists like an inert, lifeless stone.” By identifying that you have become tamasic, you can try to move yourself out of it. Whenever you recognize an imbalance of tamas, force yourself to get up and do something—anything.
- Burn it out: One approach to balance too much rajas or tamas is to move towards the condition. For example, you can burn out hyperactive rajas through sport or play. You can burn out tamas through indulgence, such as spending a day in bed.
- Change your behavior: The other approach is to move away from the condition. You may need to discipline restlessness with imposed stillness or lethargy with activity.
- Become the observer: You can also take a step back to observe your state and say to yourself, “I am under the influence of rajas. Tamas has me under its grip.” By distancing yourself as the observer you already have more power over the condition.
The challenge is to always move yourself towards sattva. Here are some suggestions to balance your energy. Over time you may develop favourites of your own.
To Decrease Rajas (Hyperactivity) or Tamas (Inertia)
|Antidotes to Rajas
||Antidotes to Tamas|
|Physically||Slow down, rest||Get up and do something|
|Mentally||Change your focus from the sensory experiences of the outer world or the chatter of your mind to the inner world of your heart||Look outward into the physical universe and participate in it|
|Emotionally||Stop dwelling on your highly charged emotional state; if you are talkative, be silent||Change your focus from negative emotions to activity|
|Food||Avoid spicy foods||Avoid heavy carbohydrates|
|Yoga postures||Hold yoga postures for a long time; do postures that get you out of your mind and into your body: lionpose, cobra, upward dog/downward dog||Increase energy by yoga sequences such as sun salutations: warrior pose, bow, triangle, also balancing poses, such as the tree|
|Breath||Practice alternate nostril breathing to burn out the excess of energy or take slow, deep breaths until you calm down||Energise yourself with bhastrika, deep quick breathing from the diaphragm; or slow, deep breaths to help you come into your body|
|Environment||Seek serenity, a place with calming music; or get outside into nature||Go anywhere else than your bed, couch or other favourite hideaway; seek the company of others|
|Meditation||Repeat the mantra or listen to recordings of the mantra; if you have an established practice, meditation is a brilliant method to slow down and become centred||Use recordings of guided meditations; if you can concentrate, read yoga philosophy or scriptures; use the mantra to energise your meditation|
In his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Yogananada says, “Though a brilliant fetter, sattva is still a fetter. A gold wire can tie a man to a post just as securely as can a wire of silver or steel. Like tamas (ignorance) and rajas (selfish activity), sattva also binds the soul to the body and to the earth plane.”
He adds, “Just as a man understands that he sees a motion picture through the instrumentality of an electric beam of light and a variegated film, so a perfected yogi comprehends that the phenomenal worlds and their activities are merely a dance of shadows and lights—the relativities or expressions of the three gunas, animated by the Supreme light.”
When you take time to consider the gunas you will notice their binding nature. Human beings are entranced by sensory experiences. Creating, building, accomplishing and flourishing are attractive possibilities. At the end of busy-ness everyone longs for release, rest, sleep and sometimes even a bit of laziness. Sometimes we ride the passion of an excess of rajas; sometimes we’re seduced by the self-pity of tamas; and sometimes we’re attracted to the good feeling of sattva.
Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th-century sage, used the gunas in teaching his disciples about their binding nature. He would tell a story of a man travelling through a forest when three robbers fell upon him and took his possessions. One robber wanted to kill him but another recommended tying him up. The robbers bound his hands and feet and went away. After awhile the third robber returned and apologized. He released him from his bonds and took him to the road that would take him home.
Ramakrishna said, “This world itself is the forest. The three robbers prowling here are sattva, rajas and tamas. It is they that rob a man of the knowledge of truth. Tamas wants to destroy him. Rajas binds him to the world. But sattva rescues him from the clutches of rajas and tamas. Under the protection of sattva, man is rescued from anger, passion and the other effects of tamas. Further, sattva loosens the bonds of the world. But sattva also it a robber. It cannot give him the ultimate knowledge of truth, though it shows him the road leading to the supreme abode of knowledge. Setting him on the path, sattva tells him, look yonder. There is your home.”
Sattva, personified by the third robber, sets you free from the attachment of the other two gunas, excess and lack, but you have to apply additional effort to shake off the attachment of even good living to seek the spiritual nature of the universe.
Transcending the gunas
The great teaching text, the Yoga Vashishta (The Supreme Yoga) says, “They who are of a pure (sattvic) nature and they whose activities (rajas) are based on purity and light (sattva) do not live their life mechanically, but inquire into the origin and the nature of this world-appearance. When such inquiry is conducted with the help of the right study of scriptures and the company of holy ones, there arises a clear understanding within oneself in which the truth is seen, as in the light of a lamp.”
“What is my place in the universe? Who am I? Why am I here?” These are some of the questions of spiritual inquiry that lead to freedom from the binding energies of the gunas.
As an individual becomes more set in a sattvic life, a broader perspective arises. Sattva as an energy naturally leads upward to a higher state of being or towards knowledge and experience of the divine. Sattvic people tend to question their existence, their relation to the physical world and the spiritual foundation of the universe. The path of the yogi is to experience spirituality as well as serving the material world.
With a nature of stillness, the sattvic person is seated in the third eye, the chakra or energy centre within the body that represents being able to see inwards as well as outwards. By looking inwards, the spiritual context of the universe unfolds. In time even the fetters of goodness dissolve and the yogi experiences ultimate unity.
The philosophy of yoga says the universe exists to be experienced and the goal of human life is to become liberated from bondage. This bondage is the attachment of the gunas; once you can let go of too much, too little and even “just right”, you are well on your pathway home.
(c) copyright 2009 Swami Dayananda
The 7 Natural Laws of the Universe
In Indian religions, dharma is the Law that “upholds, supports or maintains the regulatory order of the universe”. The Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dh?, which has a meaning of “to hold, maintain, keep”, and takes a meaning of “what is established or firm”, and hence “law”. It is derived from an older Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman-, with a literal meaning of “bearer, supporter”, in a religious sense conceived as an aspect of Rta.
The contemporary religions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism all have the concept of dharma at their core. In Buddhism and Hinduism it points to the purification and moral transformation of human beings. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for “phenomena”. The philosophies of Yoga are based on these natural laws as well.
The Law of Attraction is just part of one of the 7 natural laws of the Universe: the Law of Vibration. Of the 7 Laws, it may be the most important in how our everyday lives play out, but all of the laws are in effect whether we are aware of them or not. Knowing what the 7 laws are and how they work can make a significant difference in applying them to create the life you truly desire.
The 7 natural laws are in no particular order, but since the Law of Attraction has been discussed so much in The Secret, we’ll start with it.
The Law of Vibration states that everything vibrates and nothing rests. Vibrations of the same frequency resonate with each other, so like attracts like energy. Everything is energy, including your thoughts. Consistently focusing on a particular thought or idea attracts its vibrational match. How to apply it: Focus on what you want instead of what you don’t want.
The Law of Relativity states that nothing is what it is until you relate it to something. Point of view is determined by what the observer is relating to. The nature, value, or quality of something can only be measured in relation to another object. How to apply it: Practice relating your situation to something worse than yours, and you will feel good about where you are.
The Law of Cause and Effect states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every cause has an effect, and every effect has a cause. Be at cause for what you desire, and you will get the effect. All thought is creative, so be careful what you wish for… you will get it. How to apply it: Consistently think and act on what you desire to be effective at getting it.
The Law of Polarity states that everything has an opposite. Hot-Cold, Light-Dark, Up-Down, Good-Bad. In the absense of that which you are not, that which you are… is not. Polar opposites make existence possible. If what you are not didn’t coexist with what you are, then what you are could not be. Therefore, do not condemn or criticize what you are not or what you don’t want. How to apply it: Look for the good in people and situations. What you focus on, you make bigger in your life.
The Law of Rythym states that everything has a natural cycle. The tides go in and back out, night follows day, and life regenerates itself. We all have good times and bad times, but nothing stays the same. Change is constant. Knowing that “This too shall pass” is great wisdom about life’s ebb and flow. How to apply it: When you are on a down swing, know that things will get better. Think of the good times that are coming.
The Law of Gestation states that everything takes time to manifest. All things have a beginning and grow into form as more energy is added to it. Thoughts are like seeds planted in our fertile minds that bloom into our physical experience if we have nourished them. How to apply it: Stay focused and know that your goals will become reality when the time is right.
The Law of Transmutation states that energy moves in and out of physical form. Your thoughts are creative energy. The more you focus your thinking on what you desire, the more you harness your creative power to move that energy into results in your life. The Universe organizes itself according to your thoughts. How to apply it: Put your energy and effort, your thoughts and actions into attracting what you desire, and you will surely attract the physical manifestation of that energy.
The 7 Natural Laws of the Universe are working with you and for you. Take charge of your life by focusing on what you want, and by law, you will have it.
Yoga Teachers, we must stop flaunting our Ass-ana.
By: Theresa Pauline
There are many, many, amazing yoga teachers out there who—even though they aren’t standing on their little finger on some tropical island—are inspiring in their own quiet ways. If I had a nickel for every time I saw a posted photo of a yoga teacher in handstand, I’d be a millionaire.
There is a fine line between shining your inner spiritual light brightly so that others feel inspired to do the same…and shining the light, a little too bright, blinding the onlookers.
I follow many yoga teachers who I admire on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Lately, while scrolling through my news feed looking for something inspiring to share with my own students, all I see is pictures of these beautiful teachers in challenging postures, in very exotic places.
Fact: I know from my own experience that the fancy stuff gets the most attention (a plethora of “likes”). My question is: in a world where social media unintentionally has an influence on participants’ emotional well being, who are these posts really serving and how?
The Economist reported:
…in February, 584 users of Facebook aged mostly in their 20s were surveyed. They found that the most common emotion aroused by using Facebook is envy. Endlessly comparing themselves with peers….this leaves Facebook’s users more than a little green-eyed. Real-life encounters, by contrast, are more WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)…
Let’s be honest: social media is where many young budding people of the modern world turn to for news updates, inspiration and to stay connected. This is having some serious negative unintended consequences in many realms.
The realm of yoga should be safe, right?
Wrong. It is driving the definition of “yoga” more and more towards fancy postures. With teachers playing to the audience and posting themselves in the most difficult “asana” postures, they draw the most likes, the most attention, and the most number of vulnerable yoga students feeling inadequate and oh so far away from ever being “good at yoga”.
One could go so far as to say that the overuse of the difficult posture posts might even deter some new or inconsistent yogis from diving deeper into their own practice. Leah, a yogi who is looking to get re-started said, “There is a teacher who I really like who does yoga in the park near my house, all of a sudden I started noticing that she was constantly posting all these photos of her in all these crazy poses…it really intimidated me and made me scared to go because I could never do any of that.”
When teachers constantly post photos of themselves in difficult postures, this gives a totally erroneous impression of what yoga is about. Social media gives yoga teachers the perfect opportunity to positively impact the health and minds of their students and instead they all too often increase anxiety levels and feelings of inadequacy.
After starting this article I took a gander at the sites I follow and saw of course, many photos of teachers in advanced handstands and arm balances. Just as I was starting to feel the frustration emerge, I saw this:
This is What a Real Yoga Body Looks Like, an article written from the heart from a real live yoga teacher, Rachel Priest.
This inspired me, it gave me hope and I was reminded that there are many, many, amazing yoga teachers out there who, because they aren’t standing on their little finger on some tropical island, perhaps aren’t as visible. But they are out there inspiring in their own quiet ways.
I must recognize that obviously there are some positive impacts of teachers posting photos of advanced yoga postures. They are beautiful and they are inspiring for mid-level to advanced asana practitioners who already understand the foundational elements of yoga. They understand that their asana practice is a moving meditation using breath work and postures to focus the mind.
“The Study of asana is not about mastering the posture. It’s about using the posture to understand and transform yourself.” ~ Gary Kraftsow
As we progress in our whole practice over time, perhaps a desire will spark to push the boundaries of self, to get rid of old ideas of what we thought was possible for our bodies and then we dive deeper into our asana practice with more advanced postures.
My goal for my 30th birthday coming up in a couple of weeks is…guess what!? After eight years of practicing, getting into handstand! It hasn’t been about the posture itself but about my own belief system and understanding how my practice creates results. It has been about the journey. If it happens, I will share with my students that it happened for me and the reason I share is because, if it is possible for moi to stand on my hands, then so can they…eventually.
No one steps onto their mat for the first time and nails an advanced posture, nor should they try, the posture is not the goal. The first step is to get on the mat and to breath, get the journey started. New students are not going to want to get onto the mat in the first place if they think yoga is about advanced postures, and this is exactly what is happening.
Our job as yoga teachers is to inspire, not to intimidate. Let’s stop flaunting our ass-ana. Once in a while let’s show them handstand, crane, bird of paradise, whatever, but we should make sure they understand it is about the journey.
After growing up in Knoxville, TN, Rachel moved many times with her family and then continued to travel the world globally through the years. After struggling with an 8 year long battle with eating disorders, Rachel Finally found her freedom and self acceptance and love through the practice of yoga and rock climbing. Rachel currently lives in Charleston South Carolina and teaches at various gyms and studios in the area, promoting the idea of self love and acceptance. Beyond Teaching, Rachel is a beach bum at heart and loves the waves and ocean and soaking up the sun.
We’ve all experienced those people and situations that could drive a Saint to lose it. I recently found this perspective and found it extremely insightful on how to approach difficult people, or situations.
For example, compassion without ruthlessness is simply mushy niceness without backbone or boundaries. Ruthlessness without compassion is merely vicious callousness. When combined, however, we get the best of both attributes: the loving-kindness of compassion & the fierceness & no-compromise stance of ruthlessness.
Ruthlessness plus compassion is empowerment without cruelty; compassion plus ruthlessness is love with appropriate limits. When we practice ruthless compassion, we accept the other person, but not necessarily their actions; we understand their behavior but don’t necessarily tolerate it.
Those of us that practice and live a Yogic lifestyle have as our foundation, The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.
The first limb is called the Yamas, and there are 5. The second limb is called the Niyamas. And there are also 5. These are likened to the ten commandments. By observance of these restraints it helps one to attain a healthy mind and body. And to live in this world in harmony with others, everything else on the planet we inhabit, and the planet itself. Asana or Postures, is not at the beginning of the Yogic Journey.
These ethical guidelines, briefly outlined below, are challenging, some more than others. Be they are aspirations. And each person is at a different place on their Yogic path.
- Ahimsa: non-violence (or love)
- Satya: benevolent truth, absence of falsehood
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: spiritual advancement by education and training. Some traditions associate Brahmacharya with celibacy.
- Aparigraha: non-appropriation, absence of avarice
- Shaucha: cleanliness of thought, mind and body – purity.
- Santosha: happy satisfaction; good contentment.
- Tapas: spiritual effort; austerity.
- Svdhyya: self study, study to know more about God and the soul, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within.
- Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to God
To practice ruthless compassion may seem in conflict with these. However, I feel, that as long as genuine kindness and compassion are practiced along side this, then we continue to honor these observaces. Your thoughts?
Inner Oasis of Poise
By: Paramahansa Yogananda
“All of us will have to face circumstances in which we will be sorely tempted. Even Jesus was not free from these great temptations and the Buddha as well. When cravings propel us, when we find ourselves almost helpless before them, the battle is so intense that no victory in worldly life can compare with it.
The soul needs to cut through the stifling cocoon of delusion to emerge as the butterfly of omnipresence. Voracious desire and frustration spring from nature’s activating quality (Rajas), which spawns illimitable variety and enticement, exciting us into unskillful, habit-forming actions.
The soul, having descended into the senses from the sphere of unvaried calm, becomes feverishly active with unskillful desires; anger, and habits arising from these emotions, thereby making us identify with thought and form.
The Self is motionless, unfluctuating joy. But once we wander into the activating attributes, we become the ego, and proceed, sometimes unwillingly, whirling and swirling, blindly awash in a revolving door. The wise learn how to establish and maintain, an inner oasis of poise.”
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Yoga and Spirituality
By: Sri Chinmoy
I found this explanation by Sri Chinmoy and it, like many of the articles on my website, resonated with me.
Spirituality is a vast field. You can regard spirituality as a body. Inside the body is the heart. Yoga is the heart of the spiritual body.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word. It means union with God. This union is a conscious union. We are all united with God but we are not aware of it. When we practice Yoga, we become conscious of our union with God.
Why practice Yoga? There are millions and billions of people who are not practicing Yoga. We want to practice Yoga in order to be satisfied. If we are sincere to ourselves, we know that we have everything except satisfaction. Some seekers feel that everything in life has meaning only when God comes first. They feel that God is the root. When they become one with the root, the source, then everything has meaning and everything is satisfaction. The practice of Yoga can lead us to this goal.
When we enter into the field of Yoga, a few significant questions arise. Is Yoga something normal? Is Yoga something natural? Is Yoga something practical? Is Yoga something attainable? Yoga deals with God. What can be more natural and normal than dealing with God, our very creator? Yoga is something practical. Yoga is inevitable, for God will not allow any human being to remain unrealized forever. We are all seekers. Some of us are at the foot of the tree, some of us are climbing, some have already reached a great height. But we all have to climb up to the Highest, and from there we can bring down the fruit to the world at large. If we eat and do not offer the fruit to others, then God will not be satisfied.
Some seekers want God only for themselves, but this is not the highest attitude. After we have realized God, we have to do something more. We have to reveal God to the world at large. Then God wants us to do something even more significant. He wants us to manifest Him. God realization, God revelation and God-manifestation: these are the three goals that each seeker must eventually reach. Today God realization, tomorrow God-revelation, the day after tomorrow God-manifestation.
Again, God realisation has no end, God-revelation has no end, God manifestation has no end. We are aspiring to realise the highest Absolute, but the Absolute can never be bound by anything. The Absolute Supreme is always transcending His own highest transcendental Height. When we go deep within, we see that He is not satisfied with His transcendental Height. It is in self-transcendence only that He gets real satisfaction. In our case also, it is in self-transcendence that we will achieve satisfaction.
Yoga is a subject, an inner subject, This subject has to be taught and loved. In this subject, an inner cry is of paramount importance. With our outer cry we try to possess earthly material objects. With our inner cry we try to transcend the earth bound consciousness, and enter into the Heaven free consciousness.
Yoga is a subject that has to be studied. When we study, there is a student and a teacher. There are many sincere seekers who are reluctant to have a teacher. They say that God is inside the heart, so it is not necessary to have a teacher. The Master says, “True, God is inside you. He is inside everything. God is also inside the books that you can read in the library. Why, then, do you go to the university and study under the guidance of a teacher? You study with the help of a teacher because you feel that when you study with him you will learn faster and you will be sure that what you learn is correct, whereas if you study alone, you will go slowly and doubt may assail you and make you think that you are not learning the right thing. In the spiritual life also, a teacher is necessary.
The spiritual teacher is not like an ordinary teacher who gives examinations and passes or fails the student. Rather, he is like a private tutor. The spiritual teacher expedites our journey and increases our thirst for Truth, Light and Bliss. In the spiritual life, the teacher and the student have a relationship founded upon mutual faith and trust. The student feels that the teacher has the capacity to illumine him. The teacher feels that the student is sincere and aspiring.
No human being can be the real Master. The real Master, the real spiritual teacher, the real Guru is not a human being at all. The real Guru is the Absolute Supreme. The human being who is a spiritual teacher is like the elder member of the family. The Father has taught the eldest son a few things about inner height and inner power. The Father has told the eldest son, “I have taught you. Now it is your duty to be of service to Me, to help your younger brothers come to Me so that I can also share with them My infinite Wisdom and Light.” The eldest son listens to the dictates of the Father and takes the younger brothers who are meant to listen to him to their common Father, the real Guru, who is God Himself.
There are sincere teachers and false teachers, just as there are real coins and false coins. How can we recognise a false teacher? If a teacher says he will give God-realization or a spiritual experience in the twinkling of an eye, then rest assured that he is a false teacher. The teacher who says that he will give you God realization if you give him a large amount of money is a false teacher.
Creator and creation. We are fond of the creation but not of the Creator. But inside the creation is the Creator. Again, if we are afraid of the creation and run toward the Creator, that is also a mistake. If we feel that the creation does not have anything to offer, we are making a mistake. Real Yoga will never ask us to renounce the world. We have to accept, transform and divinise the world and bring perfect Perfection onto this earth.
The world has everything except peace of mind. We get peace of mind when we feel that the world can go on without us, but that we cannot go on without the world. We have to know that we are not indispensable; only God is indispensable. When we come to this realization, only then can we have peace of mind. When we have peace of mind, we love humanity, we expand and spread our wings. When we love humanity, we are satisfied because we have satisfied God.
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Understanding Sanatana Dharma
THE PHILOSOPHICAL ROOTS OF YOGA
Yoga, and meditation are terms that the vast majority of us are familiar with. What most people are not quite as familiar with, however, are the ancient, rich and profoundly spiritual dimensions of these terms. Yoga and meditation are infinitely more that just a series of calming and effective physical and mental exercises. Rather, Yoga and meditation are an ancient and rich spiritual tradition, philosophy and lifestyle designed to help human beings realize the highest degree of excellence in all they do, and ultimately to know themselves and God.
Sanatana Dharma is another, lesser known, name for the path of Yoga Spirituality. In fact, it can be truthfully said that the practical techniques of Yoga are nothing less than the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma in practice.
Sanatana Dharma is the world’s most ancient culture and the spiritual path of almost one billion of the earth’s inhabitants. Followers of Sanatana Dharma are known as Dharmis (“followers of Dharma”). Though the majority of followers today are Indian (South Asian), Sanatana Dharma is a global spiritual path that has adherents from almost every nationality, race and ethnic group in the world, including an ever-increasing number of Americans. There are approximately 5 million followers in America, of which roughly a third are from India and the majority (3.5 million) are non-Indian Americans (Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, etc.). Statistics aside, Sanatana Dharma represents much more than just a religion in the normative sense of the term; rather, it provides its followers with an entire way of life and with a coherent and rational view of reality.
Sanatana Dharma is by its very essence a term that is devoid of sectarian leanings, denominational prejudices, or ideological divisions. This is evident by the meaning of the very term itself. The two words, “Sanatana Dharma”, come from the ancient Sanskrit language. “Sanatana” is a Sanskrit word that denotes “that which does not cease to be”, “that which is eternal”.
The word “Dharma”, on the other hand, is a term that is only properly rendered into the English language with a bit of difficulty. This is the case because the word “Dharma” is describing, not an object, but rather a profound philosophical concept. Its approximate meaning is “Natural Law,” or “the Natural Way”, or those principles of reality which are inherent in the very nature and design of the universe itself.
Thus the term “Sanatana Dharma” can be roughly translated to mean “The Eternal Natural Way.”
Dharma – Natural Law – is universal. Dharma is eternal. Dharma is nothing less than God’s laws as they are manifest in the natural world around us. Sanatana Dharma is referring to those natural principles and ways of being that are in concert with the Absolute. Being a direct reflection of God’s will in this world, such principles are therefore axiomatic, or unalterable, laws of the cosmos. The term Sanatana Dharma is not referring to something that is open to alteration, speculation or human manipulation. Neither is Sanatana Dharma referring merely to some denominational faith or sectarian belief system. The principles of Dharma are transcendent and eternal laws, and thus applicable to all people for all time.
Sanatana Dharma – the Eternal Natural Way – is the metaphysical basis of all true spirituality.
To give an example of the eternal and natural origin of Dharma, we can compare it to many of the principles of science. The laws of gravity, mathematics or logic, for example are not open to sectarian debate or relative opinion. They transcend sectarian belief, and are true regardless of our belief or disbelief in them.
Gravity, for example, is an inherent law of nature regardless of whether one believes in the law of gravity or not. It’s not that gravity works for Roman Catholics, but it won’t work from Scottish Presbyterians! Rather, anyone who walks off a roof will end up with the same effect: falling to the ground below. Similarly the subtle, metaphysical laws of God known as Dharma transcend all partisan concerns and sectarian affiliation.
Referring to this eternal concept of Dharma by the term “Tradition”, the great Italian philosopher Julius Evola explains Dharma’s universality and eternal nature in this way: “Tradition, in its essence, is something simultaneously meta-historical and dynamic: it is an overall ordering force, in the service of principles that have the chrism of a superior legitimacy (we may even call them ‘principles from above’). This force acts through the generations, in continuity of spirit and inspiration, through institutions, laws, and social orders that may even display a remarkable variety and diversity.” (Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, pg.115)
Whether known by the terms Dharma, Tradition, Natural Law, or any other term, the essential nature of Dharma is eternal, universal and axiomatic.
Teachings of Sanatana Dharma
Followers of Dharma Spirituality (Dharmis) believe in one, all-pervasive and all-loving Supreme Being. Though worshiped in different ways, and by different names, in a variety of ways, there is ultimately only one God. God is not Hindu, Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. Rather, God is the ultimate inspiration of all sects and religions, and this is the case whether any particular religion acknowledges this truth or not.
Sanatana Dharma teaches panentheistic monotheism – the principle that God is both transcendent and immanent in all things. God is omnipresent in all things. There is no where in which God is not present. God is further away than the furthest star, and closer to you than your own soul. God has unlimited divine names and positive attributes, all of which share fully in God’s transcendent nature.
Every living being is a spiritual being in our deepest-most essence. Our true nature is one of pure spirit (atman). Not all beings, however, may be aware of the fact of their true spiritual nature at present. Thus, we find ourselves presently in a state of illusory separation from God. In reality, of course, we can never be truly separated from God. But we can have the illusion of separation. Our reason for being in existence is to spiritually evolve toward the eventual goal of re-union with God. Dharma teaches that God’s desire is that all living beings will ultimately attain liberation, or moksha.
Personal spiritual development occurs through the closely related processes of karma and reincarnation. The individual soul undergoes the cycle of repeated birth and death – this is known as the wheel of samsara. During each earthly manifestation, an individual’s karma (literally ‘work’ or ‘actions’) determines her future psycho-physical state. Every ethically good act performed by someone results, sooner or later, in happiness and spiritual development; whereas ethically evil actions end only in loss and sorrow. Thus, the principle of karma is an idea that celebrates freedom, since at every moment of our lives, we are all free to create our future states of existence through our present actions and states of consciousness. This philosophical world-view encourages Dharmis to live happily, morally, consciously and humbly, following the path of Eternal Natural Way.
The Dharma way of life has many important facets. Sanatana Dharma is a way of life that is deeply rooted in a sense of ethical concern. Among the many other virtues that Sanatana Dharma seeks to instill in its followers is the principle of non-violence (ahimsa) towards all beings, and compassion for all life. This sense of love and compassion is directed toward animals and the Earth, as well as all of our fellow humans beings. As a result of these highly ethical standards, Dharmis are vegetarians and strongly pro-environment. The personal goal of every follower of Dharma Spirituality is to live life in such a way that she harms none and benefits all whom she encounters.
In addition, it is taught by Sanatana Dharma that the spirit of service and selfless work for others (known in Sanskrit as the principle of seva) bring one’s consciousness closer to that of God. Consequently, it is quite common to witness followers of Dharma Spirituality engaging in a myriad of charitable and educational activities.
For Sanatana Dharma, practical importance is also placed on studying the ancient Vedic scriptures (such as the famous Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Yoga Sutras and Narada Bhakti Sutras), temple worship (puja), sacred ritual and personal acts of meaningful spiritual purification.
Yoga and meditation practice are also essential aspects of Sanatana Dharma. The true goal of both being to achieve self-realization and God-consciousness.
The Art of Reason
Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of this ancient spiritual path is its tolerance of other people’s cultures, religions, and views. Dharmis believe that “God is one; though sages call Him by many different names” (Rig Veda). Indeed, Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharyaji (one of the most respected and important Dharma teachers alive today) has said that “Sanatana Dharma is the only religion in the world that doesn’t believe that it is the only religion in the world!”
Within the nurturing framework of this path is a tremendous spiritual freedom that encourages and provokes followers of Dharma to think, learn, explore and look inside themselves for the meaning of Sanatana Dharma and of life itself. Dharma encourages us to use both our heads and our hearts in how we make decisions and how we approach God. We must use both our God-given ability to discern Truth from untruth, in addition to using compassion and love in all important decisions. Sanatana Dharma is a path of reason coupled with compassion. There is no room for fanaticism, fundamentalism, or closed-mindedness anywhere in Sanatana Dharma.
How Can I Become a Follower of Dharma Spirituality?
You may actually be one already…and just don’t know it. There are approximately 5 million followers of Sanatana Dharma currently residing in the United States. About 1.5 million of those are of South Asian (Indian) ethnic heritage. The other 3.5 million are non-Indian Americans who accept and practice the teachings of Sanatana Dharma. While most of these 3.5 million non-Indian Americans follow the practices of Sanatana Dharma, believe in many of the most important teachings of Sanatana Dharma, even have gurus (spiritual teachers) or Sanskrit names, despite all these facts, many do not necessarily consciously identify themselves with Sanatana Dharma. Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya has termed these non-Indian Dharmis the “Hidden Hindus” of America.
Here is a test to know if you are already a follower of Sanatana Dharma, and are possibly just not consciously aware of it:
- Do you practice any form of Yoga?
- Are you a vegetarian?
- Do you read the Bhagavad Gita, or other Vedic literature often?
- Do you practice meditation?
- Do you believe in the process of karma and reincarnation?
If your answers to at least four of the above is “Yes”, then you are already following Sanatana Dharma. You are a Dharmi! Sanatana Dharma welcomes all sincere seekers who wish to adopt Sanatana Dharma as their spiritual path. These are a few things you can do to get started in your practice of a Dharmic lifestyle. By protecting Dharma and supporting your spiritual teacher, you can become a great example for your community.
There is no formal conversion process for becoming a follower of Dharma. After all, how does a person “convert” to the Way of Nature? In order to be welcomed into the Sanatana Dharma community, you simply need to have a well-informed understanding and personal acceptance of the principles of Dharma, and to then declare yourself a Dharmi (follower of Sanatana Dharma). You may want to then deepen your understanding and practice of Dharma by incorporating a serious spiritual practice into your daily life. The following steps will help you with this deepening of your practice.
- Study the philosophy and teachings of Dharma.
- Adopt a healthy spiritual lifestyle, including vegetarianism, and following the ethical principles of Dharma.
- Practice regular spiritual meditation, mantras and puja.
If you would like to to better understand, appreciate, and consciously practice this wonderful spiritual tradition and how you can practice this path more thoroughly and meaningfully, we hope you will join us on for a class, retreats, or workshop. YogaBoundDeb
Military Battle PTSD With Yoga
By: David Wood
(This is a subject close to my heart. Having a father that was a lifer in the Army, I witnessed first hand, the debilitating, and devastating impact of war on those that had to fight it. As well as their families. Thank you to my friend Annie, and all those that are working to make the transition for these amazing men and women more positive, healthy and manageable.)
For a decade, troops returning from war with mental and physical trauma have been dosed with cocktails of numbing drugs and corralled into talk-therapy sessions, often with civilian clinicians who have no experience in combat and its aftereffects.
But alarmingly high suicide rates among veterans, as well as domestic violence, substance abuse and unemployment, suggested to some military doctors, combat commanders and researchers that conventional treatments aren’t always enough.
Now, one proven, effective treatment is gaining wide acceptance within hard-core military circles: yoga.
Once dismissed as mere acrobatics with incense, yoga has been found to help ease the pain, stiffness, anger, night terrors, memory lapses, anxiety and depression that often afflict wounded warriors.
“It’s cleansing — I really feel refreshed,” Marine Sgt. Senio Martz said after finishing a recent yoga session.
A stocky 27-year-old, Martz was leading his nine-man squad on a foot patrol through the lush poppy fields and rock outcroppings of the Kajaki district of southern Afghanistan 20 months ago when a roadside bomb knocked him unconscious and killed or wounded the Marines under his command. The blast put an end to his plans for a career in the Marine Corps. It also left him hyper-vigilant, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, and carrying the joint burdens of guilt and shame: As a squad leader, it had been his responsibility to bring his nine Marines home safe.
“It’s a feeling of regret — failure — that really affects me now,” he said. “I didn’t see the signs that could have alerted me to warn them to get away.” He stared at the floor and then looked up with a tight smile. “I go on living where their lives have ended. I can’t help them now.”
Yoga gives him relief from the acute anxiety that forces him to listen to and sight-sweep everything around him, constantly checking the doors and windows, always on alert, poised for danger, with no break. It is hard for him to let go.
“I gotta push myself to try some of these techniques,” he admitted. “But last night after yoga, I had a good sleep. That’s a place I haven’t been in a long, long time.”
Martz’s experience is backed up by reams of scientific studies, including research funded by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Researchers have demonstrated that trauma-sensitive yoga, which focuses on stretching, breathing techniques and meditation, can help patients regain their inner balance, calming that part of the brain that has become hyper-aroused under severe stress.
Trauma or prolonged stress can cause a malfunction of the parasympathetic nervous system, researchers say. That’s the part of the brain which enables the body to relax, easing pain and even helping unblock digestive systems — often a problem for wounded troops who get high doses of medication and not enough exercise.
In war zones, researchers have found, this parasympathetic nervous system often becomes “frozen” as the body gears up for danger by injecting adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing rapid breathing and pulse and hyper-vigilance — the “fight or flight” response.
That’s good and necessary self-preservation in times of peril that helps keep troops alert and alive. Back home, however, that hyper-vigilance is out of place and can cause insomnia, anxiety and outbursts of anger. Returning warriors with PTSD become dependent on drugs or alcohol “because they have no other way to calm themselves down,” said Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a clinician and researcher who has studied PTSD since the 1970s.
Not all yoga helps. Some forms of yoga are used by special forces, for instance, to build muscle power and flexibility. But yoga teachers working with wounded troops have developed trauma-sensitive forms of yoga, including a technique called iRest. This adaptation uses meditation techniques in a soft and secure setting to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system by drawing the patient’s attention and consciousness inward, rather than focusing on stress and the terrors that dwell outside, said yoga teacher Robin Carnes.
For instance, Carnes has learned that when she is giving a class to troops with hyper-vigilance, like Martz, she should first open all the closet doors and drawers, so that her patients don’t spend all their time fretting about what might be inside.
In 2006 Carnes, a veteran yoga practitioner and teacher, began working with wounded troops at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, now located outside Washington, D.C. There, she was an instructor in a Pentagon-funded program to examine the feasibility of using iRest yoga nidra as an adjunct treatment for PTSD symptoms. After the study was completed, she was hired as the yoga and iRest instructor for a Pentagon-funded multidisciplinary treatment program for patients with acute PTSD and TBI. She later established an organization called Warriors at Ease to train and certify teachers to use the techniques with the military.
Drawing from traditional yoga, trauma-sensitive yoga teaches patients to firmly plant their feet and activate their leg muscles in poses that drain energy and tension from the neck and shoulders, where they naturally gather, causing headaches and neck pain.
“The goal here is to move tension away from where it builds up when you are stressed, and focus it on the ground so you feel more balanced and connected,” Carnes said.
When she started at Walter Reed, she said, she was working with eight wounded troops with physical and mental health injuries. Some hadn’t slept for more than two hours at a time, for years, she said. “They were immediately like, ‘I can’t do this, it won’t work, you have no idea what’s going on in my brain.’ I’d say, ‘Just try it, it’s helped others.’ And probably because they were desperate — nothing else had worked, including drugs — they did try it. And I saw, sometimes within the first day, they started to relax. Snoring! They’d tell me, ‘I don’t know what happened, but I feel better.'”
One of her patients was struggling with outbursts of violent anger, a common effect of PTSD, and had gotten into raging arguments with his wife. Several weeks into regular yoga classes, he went home one day “and his wife lit into him and he could feel a confrontation coming on,” Carnes said. “He told me that he’d taken a deep breath and told his wife he was going upstairs to meditate. And that was the first time he’d been able to do that.”
Practices like iRest and other forms of yoga are so clearly effective that now they are taught and used at dozens of military bases and medical centers — even at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va., home of the Navy SEALs, the branch of commandos who killed Osama bin Laden.
“I knew anecdotally that yoga helped — and now we have clinical proof of its impact on the brain, and on the heart,” said retired Rear Adm. Tom Steffens, a decorated Navy SEAL commander and yoga convert. Within the military services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said, “I see it growing all the time.”
Steffens, an energetic man with a booming voice, first tried yoga to deal with his torn bicep, an injury that surgery and medication hadn’t helped. He quickly became a convert, practicing yoga daily. Visiting with wounded SEALs a decade ago, he noticed that “the type of rehab they were doing was wonderful, but there was no inward focus on themselves — it was all about power as opposed to stretching and breathing.”
Before long, Steffens had helped start a foundation, Exalted Warrior, that holds yoga classes for wounded troops and their families at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia, the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, Fla., and elsewhere.
The military’s embrace of yoga shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, yoga — a Sanskrit word meaning to “join” or “unite” — dates back to 3,000 B.C., and its basic techniques were used in the 12th century when Samurai warriors prepared for battle with Zen meditation. Still, some old-timers are shocked to find combat Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and amputees at James A. Haley VA Medical Center practicing their Downward Dog and deep breathing techniques.
One early skeptic: Thomas S. Jones, a wiry retired Marine major general who likes to mask his love for Marines with a staccato parade-ground bark and a jut-jawed, prove-it approach to life.
Some years ago Jones started inviting wounded Marines to an intense, six-day retreat at a camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania to help them figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, to set goals and start working toward them. He quickly found that the Marines, struggling with physical wounds and PTSD, had trouble focusing. Someone mentioned that yoga might help. “Well, we’ve tried some ideas that didn’t work out and we threw them away,” Jones said dismissively, “but we’ll try it.”
And? “It has helped,” Jones told The Huffington Post in a slightly disbelieving voice. Yoga has since become a centerpiece of the retreat, called Semper Fi Odyssey. “This whole idea of relaxation, there’s a lotta guys who can’t do hardly anything physical, can still do yoga. And there’s a lot of value in meditation.”
The results, Jones and others have discovered, are indisputable.
A study published earlier this year of 70 active-duty U.S. troops, then-based at Forward Operating Base Warrior, in Kirkuk, Iraq, found that daily yoga helped relieve anxiety, reduced irritability and improved sleep — even amid daily “gunfire and helicopter sounds.”
Progressive relaxation, calming breathing and relaxation techniques “reduce physical, emotional, mental and even subconscious tension that characterizes PTSD,” according to retired Air Force Maj. Nisha N. Money, a physician who recently served as chief of fitness policy for the Air Force.
“Guys with trauma — their center is out there,” said Annie Okerlin, flinging her arm outward. She’s a yoga expert who works with wounded warriors, families and staff therapists at the VA hospital in Tampa, Walter Reed and elsewhere. “What we do is gently and sweetly bring them back to their center, here,” she said, touching her chest.
Much of her work is with amputees. “I always tell the guys, ‘Your brain still thinks your leg is there, so we are going to speak to your brain as if your limb IS still there,”’ she said. “I tell them to flex the foot — spread your toes! — and the brain goes, ahhh, that feels good, I’m stretching — even though that limb is no longer there. It settles the brain down, because it’s doing its job, the blood flow increases, guys can feel their body again, the trauma fades. It’s beautiful!”
Working at Walter Reed, she once came across a double, above-the-knee amputee, who had been wounded by an IED. He was huddled in his hospital bed, his mother perched beside him on the edge of a chair, and for weeks he had refused to move, even for his physical therapy sessions. He admitted he was ashamed to be seen with his stumps twitching. Okerlin sat with him, leading him through some gentle breathing exercises. She could see him relax, and after a few minutes he fell asleep.
The next day he showed up for his physical therapy appointment to begin the healing.
With partially-paralyzed patients, Okerlin often has them lie on their back, put their hands on their rib cage and feel their breathing. One patient told her he was amazed to find he could feel a rush of energy toward his legs even though he still had no sensation in his legs.
Okerlin recently spent several days at a Semper Fi Odyssey retreat, teaching yoga and iRest to Marines with physical wounds, PTSD or traumatic brain injury. She has a warm and engaging style and works to establish a non-threatening environment in her sessions. “People who’ve been traumatized have lost their ability to feel secure,” she said.
As the wounded Marines settled onto floor mats, she told them, “You can close your eyes if that feels comfortable, but I will have my eyes open all the time watching,” emphasizing that they are safe and can relax. “There’s no wrong way to do this,” she said. “Are there any head injuries here?” she asked, and a wiseguy in the class called out, “We’re ALL head injuries!” to general chuckles.
At one point she had them on their backs, knees drawn up and held by their arms, a posture she tells them “massages the descending colon.” “This will help ensure you have that morning constitutional,” she told them cheerfully as they gently rocked back and forth.
Soon she had them focusing all their attention on their breathing, urging them to feel how each inward and outward breath lightly traces their spine. “Now I’m going to turn the lights out,” she said softly, “in three, two … one. If you fall asleep, that’s fine. If you’re snoring too loudly, I will come by and touch you on your right shoulder.”
On the mat next to Sgt. Martz were two Marines. One was Billy Wright, 49, who did two combat tours in Lebanon in 1983 and was later paralyzed from the chest down in a car wreck. He uses yoga breathing exercises to loosen up his muscles and joints that stiffen from long periods in his wheelchair. “Even lying on my back I can feel my hips flex,” he said. “Sitting in the chair, they get real tight and this loosens them up.”
The other was 24-year-old Joshua Boyd from Dry Fork, Va., a Marine lance corporal who did two combat tours in Iraq and came home wounded, with PTSD and mild TBI. He lost a good friend, a fellow Marine, who was killed by an IED. “They had stuck it inside a culvert,” Boyd said. “I had just gotten to Iraq and didn’t have IED training and I didn’t know what to look for. I didn’t look where I should have. It was my fault.”
After the blast, he said, he and his platoon collected the body parts.
At night, Boyd often jackknifes awake, yelling and sweating, dreaming of an intense firefight he experienced in Iraq in 2007. During this recurring dream, his wife is there in the middle of the battle and his buddies have abandoned them both while insurgents are closing in on them. He can feel them sense his weakness.
“I do have trouble sleeping,” he said sheepishly. During the long nights, he is often either deep in his nightmare, or terrified he is about to have it again.
But yoga has helped change the way he sleeps and dreams. “Yesterday I did the iRest session. I fell asleep,” he said. “When I got done, I felt so much more energized. I haven’t felt like that for years.”
Clarification: Language has been added to indicate that Carnes was an instructor in a Pentagon-funded program to study iRest techniques and PTSD.
By: David Wood
David Wood writes about a tool increasingly used to help veterans confront the many challenges waiting for them when they return home from war zones: yoga. There’s a growing consensus among military doctors, researchers, and veterans themselves, that conventional treatments aren’t always enough to help vets navigate the consequences of PTSD — from unemployment and domestic violence to substance abuse, anxiety, and suicide. As Wood puts it, “Once dismissed as mere acrobatics with incense, yoga has been found to help ease the pain, stiffness, anger, night terrors, memory lapses, anxiety and depression that often afflict wounded warriors.”
The embrace of yoga — especially among onetime skeptics in “hard-core military circles” — is a step forward in our efforts to give veterans the care they need and deserve. It’s also in line with the latest research and thinking about the destructive force of stress in our lives. The adrenaline-fueled hyper-vigilance that’s so vital to our soldiers in combat zones becomes, for many, a nightmare of anxiety that makes it difficult to function when they come back home. That was the case for Sgt. Senio Martz, a 27-year-old Marine who was knocked unconscious by a roadside bomb when leading his squad through southern Afghanistan in 2011. Today, yoga relieves him from the need to closely monitor his surroundings during the day — an obsession that was also keeping him up at night. “Last night after yoga, I had a good sleep,” he says. “That’s a place I haven’t been in a long, long time.”
Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs researchers have found that yoga’s stretching, breathing techniques and meditation can help calm the part of the brain that the stresses of war kicks into a state of hyper-arousal. And more and more yoga teachers are bringing these practices to the vets who need them. Robin Carnes, who helped develop a program called iRest, found that meditation helps draw patients’ attention inward, away from outside stresses. She also founded “Warriors at Ease,” which trains and certifies yoga teachers to bring calming yoga practices to even more soldiers in need.
As Wood writes, using yoga to help returning veterans isn’t as surprising as it might seem. “After all, yoga — a Sanskrit word meaning to ‘join’ or ‘unite’ — dates back to 3,000 B.C., and its basic techniques were used in the 12th century when Samurai warriors prepared for battle with Zen meditation.” As more and more skeptics are convinced, and as yoga becomes further ingrained in our military hospitals, that means more veterans will be making deep breathing and Downward Dog part of their recovery regimens.