Can my body survive?: The Sri Sri Yoga Teacher Training Course

By Laurie Bishop
June 15, 2018

 

While taking a three-week course in the mountains of Boone, I spent the first week battling doubt in my abilities. The second week brought many other hurdles. My mind was willing, but could my 50-something-year-old body handle the course?

 

Luckily, sensing the exhaustion of the class, Krishan Verma, the Yogi Master, adjusted the start time from 5:30 am to 6:00 am. Thirty extra minutes. Only thirty extra minutes. I really could have used four extra hours…

 

The weekly pattern

The classes each week followed a similar pattern. We had early morning yoga, the full sequence (40+ poses) followed by breathing exercises and meditation. Then, we would walk to the dining hall for breakfast and seva. After, we would go back to the classroom for more yoga poses and strength training until lunch. Following lunch, we would do seva before walking to the classroom building.

 

The afternoon consisted of lessons on anatomy, physiology, and the endocrine system, more yoga poses, and meditation before dinner. After dinner, we did seva then walked back to Veda II (the classroom building) for satsang. The day ended with yoga theory, and study sessions/homework before hopefully falling asleep before midnight.

 

That’s a demanding schedule for someone like me. Before my car accident, I was training to run a marathon. I was a little more used to a physically disciplined life then, but that was two years ago. By week two, I wasn’t just tired; I was exhausted.

 

Weathering the weather

Not only was the course challenging, but Boone in October brought constant weather changes. There would be eighty-degree days followed by twenty-degree days. The retreat center experienced flooding and sunshine, gale-force winds and gentle breezes, beautiful fall foliage and snow. Part of the physical challenge of the course became figuring out what to wear each day: flip flops or winter boots, t-shirts or thick fuzzy sweaters.

 

However drastic the change in weather might be, the retreat center maintained its awe-inspiring beauty. After the flooding, a double rainbow painted the sky. A bright full moon warmed the frigid night. There was beauty everywhere I looked. It seemed the weather was in celebration of our course.

 

A week of celebrations

The weather wasn’t the only thing celebrating. We also celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Our class dressed for the occasion and held a celebration after dinner. I was unprepared for the Diwali celebration – I didn’t pack a dress. Sensing my feeling of inadequacy, my class buddy, Sunita, invited me to her room, reached in her suitcase and generously gave me a beautiful dress to wear. Her generosity humbled me.

 

The celebrations continued with two birthdays. Celebrating our Yogi Master’s birthday, we danced, sang and ate cake. For Halloween, we celebrated yet another birthday. We laughed and danced with Jennifer (one of our yoga instructors) and even pranked her by dressing up our anatomy class skeleton with some of her clothes and placing the skeleton on her yoga mat. The nights ended with singing around a campfire eating candy from our Sanskrit teacher.

 

We worked hard each day, but we also celebrated with great joy.

 

A varied team of instructors

We had seven instructors who taught us every aspect of yoga. Andrew, a Sanskrit scholar, demonstrated how to pronounce Sanskrit words correctly. Medha, an expert on Ayurveda, lectured on the importance of diet. Bharti, a medical doctor, guided us through anatomy, physiology, and the endocrine system. Neha, Jennifer, and Neelam taught the morning yoga classes and were always on hand to help. There was so much to the course that I hadn’t anticipated. I knew there would be a Yogi Master, but to have six additional instructors guiding us was fantastic. It increased the intensity of the course because it heightened our growth potential.

 

The course was so much more than learning yoga poses. We were learning to be healthier, happier people from the inside out.

 

Deep cleansing… literally

 

During week two, we literally moved our insides…out. One day we learned how to use the infamous Neti pot. Our entire class, together, cleaned out our sinuses using salt water while hanging our heads over the railing of the dining hall veranda. The saline cleared away the gunk and carried it down the hill to mix with the fallen leaves. On the terrace once more, we learned the practice of Sutra Neti, or nasal flossing, which I was not a big fan of; I’ll leave it at that.

 

Another class exercise was Shankhaprakshalana: a salt water colon cleanse. This time IN the dining hall, our entire class drank salt water, performed eight yoga poses, and ran to the nearby bathroom as the concoction began to work. Then we would grab another cup of the colon cleansing elixir, return to our yoga mats and continue the poses until it was time for another mad dash for the toilets. In a way, it was a lot like the prep for the colonoscopy I had last year except for the classmates and the yoga. I have to add that it didn’t taste as awful as the colonoscopy prep. The Neti pot experience may have brought our class closer, but the Shankhaprakshalana took our bonding to a whole new level.

 

At first, I thought: I will never do this again, but the cleanse left me feeling lighter. I made a mental note to repeat the practice every six months. We were getting rid of trapped physical and emotional waste. Who needs to hold on to all that garbage anyway?

 

The emergency cookies

Two weeks of focusing on yoga created a visible change in me. My clothes hung more loosely, and I was breathing more freely (and not just because of the Neti pot).

 

There was a bag of emergency cookies in my room – Pepperidge Farm Milano. I unpacked the cookies the first day and carefully placed them on the desk. I used to eat 4 or 5 every night. Maybe it was because I thought it gave me control over my day, or possibly just because? After the first week, I found that number being knocked down to one and not every night. Just one cookie every now and then. The entire yoga process was creating a calmer Laurie, a happier me that didn’t really need a cookie before bed.

 

Looseness in the body

Falling asleep at night was no problem at all. In the past, I would have to take Motrin PM to fall asleep, but with the disciplined work came a tired body and a clear mind that had no problem sleeping. Waking up at 5 am became easier and easier. When the weather was good, I loved walking to class alone but for the stars brilliant against the dark sky.

 

With all of the mountain walks combined with endless hours of yoga, I was amazed that I had no soreness. My neck and back are often sore from the car accident I had two years ago. While I was taking the yoga course, I had no stiffness or soreness.

 

An emotional detox

The Yogi Master certainly knew what he was doing. All those poses we were holding were not only strengthening but also detoxing our bodies and emotions. There were times during class when I would notice tears streaming down my face. I wasn’t sad or hurt, yet the tears came, freeing me from trapped emotions. I wasn’t the only person experiencing tears in class. We became experts at knowing where the tissue box was and gently passing it to the person in need. That wasn’t the only release. There were times when bursts of laughter would erupt from the room.

 

During the second week, I began to concentrate on my body’s alignment, and not just during the hours of yoga sessions. While walking, I was more aware of my posture. Did I suck in my stomach? Were my shoulders pulled down and away from my ears? While I sat, was my spine straight?
The stronger my body became, the more I cared about my body alignment, and the less I cared about my flexibility.

 

My mind and body became stronger, allowing my spirit to take center stage. The total immersion into yoga allowed a safe place for me to grow.

 

Mind, body, and spirit

During the second week, our minds were challenged to memorize the sequence of poses, Sanskrit terms, ancient yoga knowledge, anatomy, physiology, and the endocrine system. Our bodies worked to perform the correct alignment for the poses while learning counter poses. Our bodies also had to build up from the cleanses while maintaining a tight daily schedule. Eventually, our spirits were challenged as locked-in emotions were set free allowing for growth.

 

My fear of not being able to complete the course physically was unfounded. The second week taught me that when led in the right direction, my body can keep up just fine. It even had energy left over to celebrate happy events. I began to feel thinner, stronger, and more comfortable in my skin. I felt my spirit grow as week two ended and week three started.

 

Two weeks down and one to go. Easy, right? Not really. The class as a whole was stronger and happier, but that didn’t make week three easier. No, it wasn’t easy at all. While the hours spent in class had become more routine, and the poses an enjoyable challenge, week three brought with it challenges that made me question if my spirit was going to be strong enough to help me pass the course.

 

To Be Continued…

 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: art of living retreat center , Ayurveda , experiences , seva , yoga , yoga teacher training
A Mountaintop retreat in Boone, NC

An Unlikely Candidate: The Sri Sri Yoga Teacher Training Course

By Laurie Bishop
June 12, 2018

A Mountaintop retreat in Boone, NC

Last summer, a friend of mine, Sejal, suggested I take a three-week course in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina to become a yoga instructor. At first, of course, I said no.

 

I’m in my 50’s and not very bendy. Except for taking Sejal’s yoga class at the Art of Living Retreat Center, the only yoga I had taken was a class here and there at the YMCA and a few other fitness centers. Those classes were more feats of calisthenics than true yoga, and left me sore and feeling inadequate.

 

Sejal persisted, which made me wonder, “Why?” Why should a woman in her fifties with minimal experience in yoga become a yoga teacher?

 

“You don’t have to be bendy,” Sejal insisted. She went on to say that this is about a lifestyle, a chance to make life better.

 

Suddenly, and surprisingly to me, my “Why should I?” turned into “Why not?,” and I headed to the mountains of Boone with my car packed full of clothes and emergency cookies.

 

Arriving at the Center

Upon reaching the Art of Living Retreat Center, I immediately felt a sense of calm, as though I was home. I checked into my dormitory-styled room, heaving my overstuffed luggage up the stairs. My room consisted of a bed, a nightstand, a desk, and a chair. I opened the windows and let the fresh mountain air fill the room before walking to class.

 

The view from the front of the building was gorgeous as I stopped by the benches placed for people to sit and breathe in the mountain view. It was October 14th, and the leaves were changing color.

 

I walked up the hill to one of the buildings below the main ashram. The crisp air, the view of the rolling mountains, and the overall stillness of retreat center made life feel simpler as I walked towards Veda II, the building I would be taking classes in for the next three weeks.

 

The first class

The building was intimate, yet had plenty of room for our class of 24 to spread out. I sat in the front row facing a small stage. On a yoga mat next to me sat Sunita, who soon became my buddy. She is 72. Yes, 72. It wasn’t long before she told me about her double knee replacement surgeries and how yoga helped in her recovery. Here I was worried about not being very bendy and in my 50’s…

 

While sitting on our yoga mats, the class had a short introductory session before we broke for dinner. It’s a steep hill up to the dining hall, one we would walk up and down many times over the three-week course.

 

Nourishing food and community

The dining hall for the Art of Living Retreat Center is entirely vegan, and meals are served buffet-style. There were so many choices of food that I found my plate piled high each meal because I wanted to try everything. Chef Mel was fabulous at providing unique meals and only repeating dishes when asked – his tomato and pepper bisque was a welcome repeat.

 

Windows lined the dining hall wall and displayed a view of the rolling mountains painted with the changing fall leaves. That first night, I sat and ate dinner amongst strangers not fully aware that after three weeks these people would become my family.

 

Serene mornings

The first full day set the tone for how physically and mentally demanding the course would be. I set out for the day at 5:05 am, meeting Sunita and Daisy (another classmate) for the 15-minute walk up the hill to class.

 

At 5:05 am, the stars shone very brightly in the night sky. The brisk morning air stung my cheeks. I planned on bringing with me to Boone a mini Keurig so I could continue having my morning coffee, but my teenage daughter would not allow me to bring one. “Mom,” she said with great exasperation, “It’s like bringing beer to rehab. You are not bringing a coffee machine to learn yoga.” She was right, and the coffee-free brisk morning walk helped to wake me up for the 5:30 am class.

 

The early morning class began with yoga, breathing exercises including Sudarshan Kriya (rhythmic breathing developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), and Sahaj Samadhi meditation until 8:30 am. Then it was time for breakfast.

   

The hidden blessing of seva

One of the essential aspects of Sri Sri Yoga is seva (selfless service). We were all assigned a seva, and my seva was working in the kitchen after each meal.

 

Usually, I would not be excited about working in a kitchen. Truth-be-known, I am never enthusiastic about working in my kitchen at home. It made a huge difference that this kitchen was not my kitchen. It was a commercial kitchen filled with happy people whose intent was to help others. I would dry dishes and put them out on the counter, or stack dirty dishes bound for the large industrial dishwasher. This dishwasher had a conveyor belt system. Every time I pushed a tray into the machine, it reminded me of how people get on rides at Disney.

 

I scrubbed pots and pans, and I wrapped fruit. Whichever task I did, I did with contentment. It’s amazing how being around like-minded happy people can make even the most menial tasks enjoyable.

 

Jim managed the kitchen. This job was his retirement job, and he always had a pep in his step and a sparkle in his eyes.

 

Other classmates worked in the kitchen with me. We would talk about our families and lives back home as we dried dishes, or whatever chore we were doing. Seva was a very grounding and comforting experience.

 

Sinking into yoga

After breakfast, it was back to Veda for more yoga. The Yogi Master, Krishan Verma, would have us hold specific yoga poses or asanas, and I would think, “Wow, I am awful at this,” or “I’m not going to be able to stand up and walk again after holding this pose for so long.” After a session, I would stand up and walk just fine without any pain. Yes, I would be exhausted, but I would not feel pain, which amazed me.

 

There were many times that first week when I kept looking into Krishan and his wife Bharti’s eyes thinking they were going to shake their heads at me with an awkward look of annoyance and point towards the door saying, “This really isn’t working. It’s time for you to leave.” Of course, that never happened – it was just doubt overwhelming my mind.

 

I doubted whether I would be able to do all the poses. My body is still recovering from a car accident I was in two years ago. It was a significant accident. I had neck problems and mild traumatic brain injury from the wreck that affected my speech and short-term memory. I would think about that as I was sitting crossed legged listening to Krishan teach the class. Maybe Sejal was wrong? Maybe I wouldn’t be able to do this.

 

So much doubt!

 

Working through mental and physical blocks

Several years before the car accident, I blew out my Achilles tendon while training for a marathon and had to learn to walk again after having a new tendon created. Maybe I just couldn’t do yoga because of that, never mind the car accident…

 

I kept doing all the poses to the best of my ability, taking the meditations seriously, committing to the breathing exercises, arriving to class early, and listening to what the teachers were instructing. At some point during the first week the doubt I was carrying became unimportant. It was still there. At times, it would wash over me in waves, but I found it best to acknowledge it and move on.

 

Maybe it was the fact that I was constantly busy? Perhaps the yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditations were giving me the strength I needed to ignore the persistent nagging doubt? Maybe I was just too exhausted? I don’t know, but I stopped listening to that voice in my head that said, “You can’t do this because of…” I began to concentrate on one step at a time.

 

We would break for lunch between 1 and 1:30, walk up the steep hill, eat lunch, and I would work in the kitchen again. That first week, as I got to know my classmates better, I began to notice that we all had voices of doubt to overcome. Life is difficult for everyone. It doesn’t matter what kind of doubt someone carries. Doubt is doubt, and for every individual, it can stop progress.

 

Finding a rhythm

Some days, my classmates and I would talk a lot while doing seva. There were days when we wouldn’t talk at all. Then there were days where we would laugh and sing. It all depended on what we were working through that day. Our struggles might have been different, but our paths were similar.

 

By the end of week one, we had learned all the Sri Sri Yoga poses, and we began learning anatomy and ancient yoga knowledge. Class started at 5:30 am and ended at 10 pm, followed by a daily written homework assignment and studying. After week one, the battle between myself and my mind had quieted. Now I wondered, can my body withstand the course?

 

To Be Continued…

 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: art of living retreat center , experiences , Retreats , seva , teacher training , yoga
Art of Living Retreat Center - Living Yoga

In House: Jurian Hughs on Living Yoga

By Jurian Hughes
June 1, 2018

Art of Living Retreat Center - Living Yoga

 

Thirteen years ago, on a July 4th weekend, I was desperate to get out of New York City, where life was stressful and not heading where I wanted it to. I’d spent most of my life up until that time as a theatre actress (Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theatres around the country, and a little film and TV), but that career felt complete, and I’d fallen into producing corporate events, which didn’t seem to suit me at all. Despite the fact that I was making more money than I’d ever made in my life, I was irritable, depressed, tired, and lost.

 

What even happens at a yoga retreat?

The idea of a yoga retreat center was exotic and strange, and it filled me with more than a little angst: “What did one do there? What did one wear? You mean I can show up on my own and not feel like a freak?”

My angst disappeared quickly. I’d chosen to stay in a simple room for two. I’d been paired with a lovely woman whose name I’m sad to say I can’t recall now, but whose being I remember well otherwise–how welcoming she was; how we sat on our beds and talked at length like old friends; how she made sharing a small room with a stranger feel like the most normal thing in the world.

Figuring out the dining hall etiquette helped set me at ease as well: Sit down and join others without waiting for an invitation, or simply enjoy eating alone without feeling like an outcast. What a novelty.

 

More tears, more laughter, more freedom

With my sleeping and eating concerns taken care of, I threw myself into yoga and dance classes, workshops, hikes, massage. I recall crying that weekend. A lot. And I remember what a great relief it was to be in a place where no one seemed to think me odd for that. And so, I let go more. More tears, more laughter, more of myself free to let go of things I didn’t even know I was holding onto.

The highlight of that visit was a noon Let Your Yoga Dance® class with LYYD founder Megha Nancy Buttenheim. I didn’t know what magic this woman was working, but it made me feel giddy and powerful and childlike and so alive! I couldn’t possibly dream then that this woman would become not only a mentor and colleague, but also, finally, a cherished friend and business partner. I had no idea that this ‘dance of the chakras’ would change my life forever. After that weekend I went home, signed up for the training, somewhere along the way quit my job, and eventually moved to the retreat and never looked back.

 

Living yoga off the mat

The next couple of years were some of the happiest I’ve had. As a  Yoga Intern I worked–and laughed a lot!–alongside amazingly creative and talented teachers; generous and courageous souls who taught me so much about passion and service, the yoga of asana, and — more importantly –the yoga of relationship. I was–and still am–so proud to have joined the long lineage of yoga teachers. Observing, learning from, and ultimately teaching beside my mentors was life-changing.

 

In all of my teachers I saw a dedication to truth, a passion to keep growing, a generosity of spirit that extended to me and to every person that walked in the room, and an intense determination to live yoga off the mat.

 

The yoga of life

This is the yoga that excites me the most now. Though I still love, teach and practice hatha yoga–asana and pranayama–it’s the yoga of life that intrigues me the most now. The yoga that moves off the mat and into the living room, the grocery aisle, behind the wheel of my car. I want the yoga practices of compassion, contentment, truth, surrender to be so ingrained in me that they follow me through every part of my day. I may not do them perfectly–oooo, not by a long shot sometimes!–but I endeavor to
be yoga to the best of my ability at any given moment. I dare say that I like who I am as a human being more because of it. That my livelihood as a teacher of these practices now gives me the opportunity to pass on some of that to someone else is inspiring, sometimes daunting–and never short of amazing.

 

Jurian Hughs, E-RYT 500, MFA, is founder of the Yoga of Voice; co-founder of A Wild Life Sanctuary™; co-creator of The Yoga of Yes; a Let Your Yoga Dance® teacher trainer; voice coach; personal mentor; writer; speaker; and theatre performer known for her passionate, playful, and engaging teaching style. As a senior faculty member of the Kripalu School of Yoga since 2006, Hughes has led thousands of workshops and programs and trained more than 1,000 Kripalu yoga teachers.

 

For more about Jurian, visit jurianhughes.com. Join Jurian for her ten-day Let Your Yoga Dance® Teacher Training at the Art of Living Retreat Center from September 22 – October 2, 2018.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: Jurian Hughs , knowledge , kripalu , Let Your Yoga Dance , living yoga , stories , wisdom , yoga
Niyamas on the Mat - Art of Living Retreat Center

The Practice: Niyamas on the Mat

By Dr. Bharti Verma, MD
May 10, 2018

Niyamas on the Mat - Art of Living Retreat Center

Last month, we delved into how to practice Yamas on the mat. Today, we’ll be looking into Niyamas. The Yamas are a social code of conduct, and the Niyamas are a standard of personal ethics an individual strives to follow on the spiritual sojourn of Yoga.

 

Shaucha (purity)

Cleanliness and tidiness in the outer environment and your own personal cleanliness keeps the mind from becoming cluttered and irritable. On the mat, if your mind becomes disturbed, then your body cannot focus on doing asana, and the whole practice becomes disturbed.

Deeper understanding of Shaucha is to understand that your body and mind influence each other both on the mat and off the mat. Taking care of each is important to achieve a steady and comfortable asana. Balance and symmetry can only be achieved if the mind is calm and the body flows with the breath.

Shaucha on the mat means personal and environmental cleanliness, together with calmness of the mind.

 

Santosha (contentment)

Santosha on the mat means your asana practice is happening with a relaxed attitude of the body and mind.

Accepting the body as it is in that moment without complaint, and having a mindful attitude toward the practice of asana. When the mind and body are both relaxed, then every movement is joyful and becomes an expression of happiness.

 

Santosha on the mat is a tension-free body and a joyful mind, both flowing in harmony with the breath. 

 

Tapas (penance)

Tapas means willingly accepting adverse conditions without complaining, and this extends to your asana practice on the mat being met with a sincere attitude. Having patience and willingness to give the practice your sincere effort. This type of practice will develop endurance and stamina on the mat and build capacity for endurance off the mat.

 

Tapas on the mat is accepting the challenge of practice with a sincere attitude.

 

Swadhyaya (self-study)

Self-study on the mat means observing one’s attitude, balance, symmetry, and sincerity, and from these observations, learning to improve your own practice at your own pace.

Swadhyaya on the mat means learning from Self-reflection.

 

Ishwar pranidhana (surrendering to a higher power)

Ishwar pranidhana is invited to your practice by 100% just letting go of any anxiety on the mat. Once your sincere effort has been given to achieving symmetry and balance on the mat, let the mind and body totally relax.

This attitude drops any feverishness. It allows you to transcend the body into stillness and the mind into a deep silence. This allows the divinity within to prevail.

Or as Patanjali explains, “Prayatna Shaithalya vAnant Samapatti bhyam!”

Ishwar Pranidhana on the mat is letting the divinity within be your guide into the practice and allowing the divinity to prevail: It is the journey and the destination!

 

In fact, one needs to follow only one of the Yamas or Niyamas and all other Yamas and Niyamas will start to manifest. Not just on the mat, but also in life. Each Yama or Niyama holds a secret to leading one to the truth, and like all rivers merge in the ocean, each of the Yamas and Niyamas bring one to the depth of True Consciousness.

Asatoma sat gamay…

 

Dr. Bharti Verma, MA, MD, MCFP,  combines an established medical perspective with a seasoned background in yoga. As a senior teacher with the Foundation, Bharti teaches advanced level yoga and meditation programs internationally. She is an avid yoga practitioner and instructor with 500 h E-RYT Yoga Alliance certification. She brings yoga to her clinical practice and provides yoga and meditation instruction to many of her patients on a weekly basis.

 

Join Dr. Verma and some of the most influential and engaging yoga teachers in the south east for the Joyful Yoga Conference from August 10th-12th, 2018 at the Art of Living Retreat Center.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: alignment , niyamas , spirituality , the Practice , yoga
Art of Living Retreat Center - Walking through the Door

In House: Stacey Vann & Pamela Hunter on Walking Through the Door

By Pamela Hunter
April 30, 2018

Art of Living Retreat Center - Walking through the Door

 

“Walk through the door. It’s the step you’ve waited your whole life for. Go ahead and do your work, realize your vision, and find your wroth. We’re walking with you, every step of the way. We will always be with you. You will find your way… follow your heart.” – Wah!

 

Walking through the door

I remember walking through the door to my very first yoga class, and then my first workshop, and finally, not soon enough, my first retreat. The progression of being ready to walk through the door for the different intensities of my yoga journey was all-life giving.

 

What has yoga given you?

Yoga gave me a home to come to within myself and within community. What has yoga given you? How does yoga feel for you? Do you remember when you first walked through the door? Sometimes we need to free ourselves from our typical daily life in order to sit in the rhythms of our soul.

 

The magic of awareness

We invite you to sit for a moment here and now and observe your rhythm. Feel your feet and the earth you touch. Notice the motion of your breath. Follow your heartbeat. Sense what you taste in your mouth. Does the taste match what you are smelling? Allow the noises you hear around you to be included. Envision your essence pulsating from within. Our vibrational rhythms support us as we awaken our awareness to feel our essence where we can embrace our innate wisdom, truth, consciousness, and bliss.

 

An invitation to self-care

Is your heart calling you to interweave your yoga with essential oils, sound, nature, and community? Can you give yourself time and space to walk through the door? Join us for self-care, self-love, and self-reflection at our Awakening Your Essence retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center, from September 21 to 24, 2018.

 
“Come and you will find the inner one you want to. 
Find the inner mind you’ve waited so long to.” — Wah
 

Stacey Vann, E-RYT 500, and Pamela Hunter, E-RYT 500, are the Aloha Sistas. Stacey is a mother of five, Soul-Centered Life Coach, Doula, Reflexologist, and the Founder of the Mahabhuta Yoga Festival and Galactic Child Yoga. Pamela is a mother of two, an Integrated Health Coach, an Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Certified trainer, and the owner of Fun Lovin’ Wellness.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: in house , journey , mindfulness , pamela hunter , stacey vann , wellness , yoga

The Practice: Yamas on the Mat

By Dr. Bharti Verma, MD
April 28, 2018

Yamas and Niyamas on the Mat - Art of Living Retreat Center

 

As per Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, Asana is the third limb, the first limb being Yamas and second limb being Niyamas. It makes sense, then, that the first two limbs must have some relevance to Asana practice. Superficially, there may not be an obvious connection, as the Yamas are a social code of conduct, and the Niyamas are a standard of personal ethics an individual strives to follow on the spiritual sojourn of Yoga.

Patanjali explains how an asana should be practiced: Sthir sukham asanam: An asana, or a pose, should be steady and comfortable. So how can Yamas and Niyamas help bring about an asana practice that is steady and comfortable?

Today, we’ll be looking into Yamas.

 

Ahimsa (non-violence)

In an ordinary sense, we see violence only when it is directed toward others. Rarely does one look at himself or herself through an understanding of non-violence.

On the mat, Ahimsa means that you choose to honour and respect your own body and its ability to practice asanas, so that you will not hurt myself physically or mentally. It means that you make an effort to do what you can on the mat with sincerity, respecting the limits of you body.

This means that you will not over-stretch or strain your body, and at the same time, will do what you are able to with what capability you have. If an asana is done with this attitude, it can be the first step towards being still and steady in body, mind, and spirit, to reaching a place where there is no judgement as to your ability and no comparison with others. Because the body is not strained, and the effort is sincere, the mind is relaxed and the spirit free.

 

Ahimsa on the mat is a sincere effort that honors the body and calms the mind.

 

Satya (truth)

How can an understanding of truth help on the mat? What does truth on the mat look like?

 

Truth remains the same on the mat or off the mat. There is truth in the fact that everything is changing at every moment. There is truth in the fact that one’s body and mind change daily, even from moment to moment! If you allow yourself to be swayed by the changes in the body or changes in your thoughts, feelings, and opinions, then your asana practice cannot possibly remain steady and comfortable.

 

Truth is also found in the thought that though everything changes, there is a part of you that is not changing. Your ability to stretch, lift, flex, and twist may improve as your practice becomes more intense and regular. These abilities of the body may also deteriorate as a result of illness, injury or aging. However, the understanding of a steady and comfortable asana can only continue to improve as you practice, so that you can transcend the body-mind attachment and discover the part of yourself that is unchanging.

 

Satya on the mat is: Body, breath and mind belong to me and change with time and circumstances. Honouring these changes I aspire to rise beyond these changes to that part of me that is unaffected by the change.

 

Asteya (non-stealing)

What can you possibly steal on the mat?

Asteya on the mat comes in the form of losing patience, or attempting advanced asanas on the mat, when you have not sincerely learned the basics of a beginner practice. If you want to practice and look the same as an advanced yoga practitioner without applying sincere effort, that, too, is stealing. You might also practice for shorter periods of time on far fewer days of the week, and still expect to gain the physical and mental benefits of yoga practice.

This insincere attitude is stealing, wanting more than what you have earned. In this type of practice, you cannot possibly reap all the benefits of yoga practice, and may even end up with a physical injury that will prevent you from continuing your practice. If you continue to envy the advanced practitioner, you may be left with a feeling of failure or disappointment.

A strained body and a disturbed mind cannot possibly bring you to a state of a steady and comfortable asana.

Asteya on the mat is being non-judgemental, non-competitive, and measuring your growth only by self-comparison. You are your only competition!

 

Brahmacharya (celibacy or moving in infinity)

How can one practice Brahmacharya on the mat?

Brahmacharya has a more superficial meaning of celibacy, but a deeper meaning of becoming free from desire and abiding in the Brahman. Abiding in the Self.

If by practicing asanas, your intention is to develop a slim, trim, and sexy body, then asana practice will become nothing more than an exercise routine. However, a properly instructed asana practice will bring you to a deeper understanding of the Self.

With full awareness of the body that is properly balanced with a mind that flows effortlessly with the breath, the asana practice itself becomes a meditation.

Brahmacharya on the mat is a body that is balanced, and a mind that flows effortlessly with the breath, so that the spirit is free to soar the vast expanse of the sky.

 

Aparigraha (non-accumulation)

How does one practice non-accumulation on the mat?

 

You are practicing aparigraha when you simply have the confidence that with sincere effort and proper execution of instruction, you will be able to do the asana mindfully. That as your understanding of the asanas increases, even simple asanas will unfold their complexities and value for your wellbeing. Having the confidence and being content with your abilities at any given stage in your practice will open up the path towards higher learning.

 

Aparigraha on the mat is confidence and trust that you shall be given what you need as you continue to do your practice sincerely.

 

Tune in next month for Niyamas on the Mat!

 

Dr. Bharti Verma, MA, MD, MCFP,  combines an established medical perspective with a seasoned background in yoga. As a senior teacher with the Foundation, Bharti teaches advanced level yoga and meditation programs internationally. She is an avid yoga practitioner and instructor with 500 h E-RYT Yoga Alliance certification. She brings yoga to her clinical practice and provides yoga and meditation instruction to many of her patients on a weekly basis.

 

Join Dr. Verma and some of the most influential and engaging yoga teachers in the south east for the Joyful Yoga Conference from August 10th-12th, 2018 at the Art of Living Retreat Center.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: alignment , niyamas , nonviolence , the Practice , yamas , yoga
Kripalu Yoga - Art of Living Retreat Center

The Practice: Me and Kripalu Yoga, An Unexpected Love Story

By Heather Bilotta
April 26, 2018

Kripalu Yoga - Art of Living Retreat Center

I walked into my first yoga class at 19. It was strip mall yoga. I remember being told to relax and breathe while in poses where breath, and relaxation were the last things I imagined possible. “WTF” was muttered under my breath repeatedly as I contorted myself into painful poses I’d never done before. I worked hard and tried to keep up with a flow that felt like it was created by a sadist. When the class was over, I remember feeling really angry and hateful. No bliss. No peace of mind. I walked away from my first experience of asana wondering what the hell my straight-edge, vegan friends getting into yoga and joining the Hari Krishnas were thinking. Nuts. They were nuts.

 

Why I ran from yoga

But like many ultimately great relationships mine with yoga started with distaste and confusion. What the hell was this practice that pushed my buttons so deeply? Why would I want to chaturanga 20 times and then hold down dog while watching my brain spin? Not willing to quit right away I tried out some DVDs by yoga-lebrity teachers and disliked those too. Some were too fitness class like, some too New Agey. And just like the woman who runs from that guy at the party who sips seltzer and challenges her mind with interesting thoughts rather than telling her how hot she is, I ran from yoga.

 

What on earth is Kripalu Yoga? 

Flash forward by 9 years. My back hurt. It hurt bad. I had herniated discs during labor and the road to recovery was filled with intense lightning bolts of pain. Every doctor I had encouraged me to try yoga. “It’s good for a bad back,” they said. “It’ll be relaxing,” they said. With my initial experience of yoga with the sadist and boring DVDs it was hard to believe what I was hearing so I ignored the advice. After a year of limping through physical therapy, cortisone injections, and ever more pain I saw a flyer in my town for free yoga classes… this yoga had a weird name… Kripalu Yoga. Incredulous. Exasperated. I decided that I would try this yoga with the strange name.

 

I walked into the tiny rec center with a stinky carpet and cardio machines jammed against the wall and my tiny chunk of hope shrank even smaller. There were 10 or so people jammed into a room that only 6 people on yoga mats would fit comfortably…I was about to leave when my teacher Laura immediately sprang to help me find a spot. Everyone shifted a little left, a little right, and suddenly there was a place for me…it felt nice. My hope grew a smidge.

 

Coming home

There was gentle chanting playing from a tiny radio. She had a sweet little altar with sacred objects I didn’t recognize and this little chime that she struck right before she began to speak. After the chime sounded everyone stopped stretching and the room fell silent. We were old, young, fit, and fat people all gathered together. Looking around the room I felt a sense of ease. I felt that we each belonged there on that mat, in that place, with each other. I felt myself settle.

 

This is yoga!

When Laura spoke her voice resounded through the small space, sounding like warm honey tastes…nourishing and sweet. She encouraged us to turn our gaze inward and sense our breath and body as it was in the moment. Then for about 10 minutes we breathed and noticed that practice. We began simply, just filling our bellies with breath, then breath moved up a bit higher, all the way to the collarbone. We exhaled generously, squeezing the belly. I felt my self sink deep into my body, felt my busy mind slow way down. I felt the muscles in my body soften a little, felt peace beginning to bubble up from inside. Suddenly my heart and brain screamed from inside of me, THIS IS YOGA!

 

Finding the true potential of yoga 

Though the rest of the practice was challenging and again I found myself in poses I didn’t know that I could do and breathe simultaneously, again I felt angry about my body’s limitations, however there was a big difference between that night and my other experiences. This time I had space for it all. With my teacher’s gentle cues, encouragements, and lots of reminders to notice and accept the thoughts and sensations I was having I made it through the 90 minutes of yoga without letting my frustration sweep me away, off the mat and out of the class.

 

At the end of class I felt a sense of accomplishment, and my body felt better. Tensions were softened. Tissues lengthened. Though the flow was intense I felt like I was learning something beyond exercise for a sore back, I was learning something really important about noticing my experience and not letting it carry me away.

 

The beginning of a mad affair

That was 11 years ago and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been practicing Kripalu Yoga ever since. Not to say that this mad affair has been all wine and roses, true yoga practice isn’t. I’ve cried, sweated, blown apart, come back together, blown apart again and got back on that mat many times. I’ve learned that what I experience on my mat I can take into my life…noticing the hard feelings and not becoming overtaken by them. Bringing acceptance to my limitations, celebrating my growing ability to become conscious of feelings and thoughts.

 

The impact of a good teacher

Over the past decade I’ve had the opportunity to study with a number of yoga teachers, some true masters of Kripalu Yoga but none will ever capture my gratitude and heart like my first teacher, Laura Lin. Thank you Laura, wherever you are now. Your spirit lit the candle in my soul and I will be ever blessed for that. Jai Bhagwan!

 

Heather Bilotta is a passionate believer in the healing power of self-expression and the importance of connection to community. Her Shake Your Soul®, Kripalu YogaDance, Kripalu R&R classes, one-one SomaSoul® and Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra® healing sessions are infused with heart and creativity and are an opportunity to bring light and acceptance to your whole, unfiltered self. She truly provides a supportive no-judgment zone. Heather teaches at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Cranwell Golf Resort, and beyond. She is continuing her studies in Body-Centered, Subtle Energy Healing in the Professional Training Program at Hartford Family Institute.

Join Heather and Sage Brody at the Art of Living Retreat Center from May 18th to May 20th for Gotta Dance!, a joyful and healing exploration of body and movement.

This article first appeared on heatherbe.com. 


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: dance , Heather Bilotta , kripalu , spirituality , the Practice , yoga
Neurogenic Yoga - Art of Living Retreat Center

In House: Maria Alfaro on Neurogenic Yoga

By Paige Reist
April 23, 2018

Neurogenic Yoga - Art of Living Retreat Center

I’ve been practicing yoga since 1986, and teaching it since 1997. I co-created Neurogenic Yoga™ in 2012, in collaboration with my yoga partner, Jennica Mills. Since then, I’ve taught hundreds of workshops in different states in the US, in Canada, in Europe, in Asia, and in the Middle East.

 

What is Neurogenic Yoga™?

I often get asked what this type of yoga is about. Well, first of all, Neurogenic Yoga™ is not a new “style” of yoga: it is a new approach to the practice of yoga which combines ANY yoga style that you like to practice (from restorative to very vigorous and everything in between) with the gentle neurophysiological body response called Neurogenic Tremors.

 

Those gentle involuntary tremors are our nervous system’s way to release pent-up tension and contractions caused by traumatic events and the stress of everyday life. Such tremors are natural for the body, and our body actually loves them, but our rational mind tends to repress them because it interprets them as a sign of weakness or disease and it doesn’t feel comfortable with them.

 

How does it work?

And so we start numbing this natural response at a very early age. But you’ve probably experienced it at least a few times in your life: maybe you were nervous about doing a speech, maybe you found yourself in a dangerous situation, maybe you were pulled over by the police or you had an accident or witnessed one. And, suddenly, you felt a vibration somewhere in your body that you immediately repressed.

 

Neurogenic Yoga helps re-activate this natural neurophysiological response in the body in a safe environment, often with great results both at the physical and emotional level. A lot of our problems are caused or worsened by stress and, by diminishing our level of stress and contraction, many aspect of our lives appear to improve. People report experiencing better sleep, less pain, less anxiety, more energy, increased flexibility, and more.

 

An effort towards worldwide healing

Neurogenic Yoga is a sister method of TRE® (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises®), which was created in the 80’s by an American bio-energetic therapist, Dr. David Berceli. Dr. Berceli worked for two decades with traumatized populations in the Middle East and in Africa and taught hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Presently TRE is taught in over 60 countries and I am honored, as a TRE Certification Trainer for almost a decade, to have been instrumental in introducing it to some of these countries, such as Belgium, Holland, Jordan and Palestine.

 

Wherever I go, people seem to appreciate this gentle approach towards a healthier and happier life.

I am very excited about teaching at the Art of Living in June and I look forward to meeting you there.

 

Maria Alfaro
Maria is a senior TRE® (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises®) Certification Trainer and the co-creator of Neurogenic Yoga™, a sister method of TRE®. Maria believes that TRE® and Neurogenic Yoga™ are extraordinary tools for healing ourselves and the planet and that each person can benefit from them in a deep way. You can learn more at NeurogenicYoga.com.

 

Join Maria at the Art of Living Retreat Center from June 8th – 10th, 2018, for her Neurogenic Yoga™ Immersion Workshop. 

 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

 
Meditation & Yoga

In House: Cyndi Lee on The Complete Package of Meditation and Yoga

By Cyndi Lee
April 10, 2018

Meditation & Yoga

 

It came without warning right at the beginning of the day trip down the river. I really don’t like water and I am a weak, underconfident swimmer at best. But people I trusted said it was fun and not scary at all. If you did fall out, you would land on a little rock and immediately be picked up in the next boat.

 

So I went and on the very first bend in the river, I slid out. There was no warning and no big inhale before plunging into icy cold, wildly churning water. And then there I was, trapped under a rubber boat in the whitewater rapids of the Pacuare River in Costa Rica.

 

No breath in my lungs and nobody can see where I am. I thought, “Wow, this is how it happens,” and I visualized a small obit in The New York Times: “Yoga Teacher Drowns Leading Retreat in Costa Rica.” My mind raced and my lungs tightened, but somehow I didn’t panic.

 

I never fully realized it before, but the yoga, breathing and meditation practices I had been doing for years had prepared me for this very moment. Practicing awareness, manipulation and retention of the breath allowed me to know intuitively that I could go without breathing for way longer than was comfortable. My daily twisting and inverting enabled me know what was up and down and to maintain a highly fluid sense of balance. Meditation had trained me to stay focused on the task at hand even while thoughts of my own death ran rampant through my head. I groped my way along the bottom of the boat and popped up into the rapids.

 

A very long minute later, a body-builder/yoga student of mine grabbed me by the collar and plopped me into his boat. My Buddhist teacher, Gelek Rinpoche, had taught me that to meet the dharma in your lifetime is as fortunate and rare as a tortoise’s head popping up into an inner tube in the middle of the ocean. In that moment I felt just like that tortoise. Sitting in the haven of boat #2, my heart hammering, my adrenaline rushing, my lungs gasping, I was as scared as I’ve ever been. But when I was under the boat I had not been scared. I was wide awake, balanced and steady. Mindfulness meditation, yoga asanas and pranayama are each powerful practices that can affect our lives deeply. But there is no doubt in my mind that in this life-threatening moment, it was the combination of the three that saved my life.

 

What do I do with this body and this mind? 

As a yoga teacher, I am passionate about yoga and have been fortunate to share this passion with many students over the past 20 years. I have been a student of Tibetan Buddhism for more than 10 years and it has been a natural evolution for the two lineages to merge in my teaching. Yoga and Buddhism offer insights and experiences that complement each other and together complete a basic homework assignment for human beings: What do I do with this body and this mind?

Back in 1972 I started taking yoga classes for an easy P.E. credit in college. The feeling of being cleansed-like taking a shower from the inside out-was unmatched any other kind of exercise I had experienced. My teachers were inspiring and I was highly motivated. It didn’t take long for me to be able to hold my breath for over a minute or to stand on my head for five minutes. I was hooked.

I got left behind, though, when it came to the “spiritual” part. I just didn’t get it when my teachers quoted Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutra, who wrote, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” They closed their eyes and somehow seemed plugged into a big bliss cloud of happiness. I tried to feel blissful, but then the class was over. Walking down the street, my body was strong, clean, juicy and open, but I felt inadequate and cranky.

 

Yoga is a mirror

It turns out that my experience wasn’t that unusual. While most people do walk out of yoga class in better physical shape than when they walked in, personal awakening may still elude them. Yoga is an unparalleled method of strengthening muscles, enhancing breathing, cleansing toxins and soothing the nervous system, but the sense of harmonious rejuvenation that arises by the end of the class may dissipate once our feet hit the pavement in front of the yoga studio door. A person’s body may change but their mind will still be jumping, their heart still buried under layers of tension and fear.

 

As a teacher I have seen again and again that if you are a Type A personality, you will do your yoga practice with the same aggression and competitiveness that shapes the rest of your life. If you are sloppy, your posture will reflect that. If you are easily frustrated, the challenges of yoga may magnify that tendency. It has been my experience that the physical practice of hatha yoga alone is not strong enough medicine to alter those patterns-particularly in the maelstrom of today’s world.

 

Awakening to Buddhist meditation as a companion for yoga

My dissatisfaction with yoga left me with a longing for something more, a sad empty feeling. Remembering that my dad’s prescription for loneliness or depression was always to do something helpful for someone else, I began to search for a way to take the focus off myself and still be myself. I read about maitri, the loving-kindness aspect of Buddhism, and was drawn to explore that. So when a friend of mine invited me to attend teachings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I signed on for two weeks worth of teachings.

 

The first week was slow going, what with translators explaining to us Westerners the teachings of these great lamas. Some of the teachers wore business suits, some wore elaborate robes and exotic hair-dos. I didn’t have a clue who they were or what they were saying, but I liked being there. The second week His Holiness explained what it meant to be a bodhisattva, and without hesitation I signed on with a bodhisattva vow.

 

Through a friend I met the Tibetan teacher Gelek Rinpoche. For at least the first year I studied with him I struggled to follow the teachings, and even to stay awake during his all-day talks. But although I didn’t exactly know what he was talking about, I always felt that he was talking right to me. It seemed like he always knew exactly what was problematic in my life and would frame his talks just to help me. I noticed that I was becoming more grounded, more patient and more conscious of others, and over time, inspired by the kindness of my teacher, I began to share what I learned from him with my yoga students. The teachings and techniques were a natural fit with yoga asana practice.

 

As my Buddhist practice developed I learned to watch my thoughts come and go like watching birds playing in the sky. This mindfulness training began to seep into my yoga practice. Rather than looking for bliss by dropping out, I dropped in, taking notice of my physical sensations and the thoughts that arose in connection to them. I realized I had the same thought every time the teacher said, “Let’s do backbending.” I thought I didn’t like backbends, but my relationship to backbends changed when I recognized that thinking pattern.

 

Applying Buddhist meditation instruction to how I did yoga postures slowed me down enough to feel my breath, my heart and my mind. My sense organs softened and opened, allowing me to experience each individual new backbend. I discovered that my backbends were different all the time and that was interesting to me. In fact, meditation gave me license to just let that happen, instead of trying to stifle my thoughts and become something different than who I am.

 

My Buddhist teachers said mindfulness meditation was “synchronizing body and mind” and I understood that conceptually. But after sitting on the cushion for a whole weekend I thought, “What body?” Didn’t the Buddha ever walk, stand or climb stairs? History tells us that he did engage in extreme yogic practices and ultimately found them unsatisfactory. Finally, after sitting still under the Bodhi tree he became enlightened, and then got up and began to move through the world again.

 

The Eight-Limbed Path

Patanjali is credited with writing the Yoga Sutra about 150 years later. Although yoga is often associated with Hinduism, it is most closely aligned with Sankhya, one of the six classical Indian darsanas, or “ways to see.” Sankhya is an attempt to explain the nature of all existence by dividing it into purusha, that which is unchanging, and prakrti, or matter. It tells us that the separation of these two states is the cause of our suffering and that the path to liberation is through repression of our thoughts, withdrawal of our senses, and denial of our body in order to reconnect with our true Self. This re-union is the state of yoga, from the verb yuj; to yoke or bind.

 

The practices of introverted concentration associated with this state are described in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali as an eight-limbed path: yamas (restraints), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). The limbs begin by refining our behavior in the outer world and then lead us more and more inward until we reach samadhi. Most people doing yoga today are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of immobility.

 

Buddhism begins with the premise that life is suffering but ultimately leads us outward, rather than only inward. We start the Buddhist path by sitting still and stabilizing our mind. From the spaciousness that arises during this practice of calm abiding, we naturally begin to feel our heart. Combining the practice of non-grasping wakefulness with exercises that generate compassion gives us a recipe for how to interact intelligently, soulfully and spontaneously with ourselves, each other, our family and the world.

 

These teachings invite us to open up to who we already are, rather than look elsewhere for connection, because the seed of awakened heart is within all of us already. It’s our heritage as human beings. It’s just that we can’t always feel our beautiful lotus heart blooming because we get stuck on ideas of fear, jealousy, anger, hatred, greed.

 

Remaining in the immediacy of everything

But Buddhist meditation techniques reveal that none of these emotions are solid and with practice we learn how to watch them arise and fade away and still stay steady on our seat or on our feet. We learn how to remain in the immediacy of everything, for example, backbending, rather than what we are thinking about backbending. Then loving-kindness invites us to approach our backbends with at least an inner smile and a little less crabbiness.

 

At OM Yoga Center in New York we practice a form of yoga called vinyasa, which is a series of flowing movement sequences coordinated with rhythmic breathing. We approach the vinyasa style with great attention to detail, especially regarding alignment, to ensure that students do not get injured and get the most benefit from their practice.

 

The other element of OM yoga is meditation in action, which invites the yogi to observe and become familiar with mental and physical habits, to relax the grip of thought activity, and kindly abide in the asana. All this is done while maintaining a sense of vipassana, or clear seeing, which opens the yogi to the world around them and creates a healthy balance to the refined inner vision of yoga practice. The flow, precision and mindfulness of our yoga practice are all supported by Buddhist principles.

 

The flowing form is the physical manifestation of path without a goal: each pose is connected by a transitional movement that has as much value as the pose itself. This approach relates to equanimity, not knowing when our actions will bear fruit, and helps us break through the goal-oriented mentality we know so well and which is so prevalent in our relationship to our bodies.

 

The lessons of a forward bend

This shows up a lot in forward bending. Many people have a desire to be able to bend forward and touch their toes. But guess what-I can do it and can definitely tell you that touching your toes does not make you happier. I do enjoy the lengthened feeling in the back of my legs and the openness in my spine-most of the time. But just like everything else that is transitory and conditional; sometimes it feels stressful or boring. So in our yoga practice we pay attention to how we get into the pose, what happens in our body, mind and breathing while there, and how it is to move out of the pose and on to the next thing.

 

You can try this without even bending over. The next time you decide to go from the couch to the refrigerator, feel yourself moving through space. You can go slow or at an ordinary pace, but feel the floor beneath your feet, look and really see everything along the way, feel the swinging of your arms and what your breathing is like today, right now. If you are going to the kitchen because you are hungry, feel that. If you are going because you’re thirsty, feel that. How many times have you opened the refrigerator door and realized you forgot what you went for? This time feel the coolness when you open the door, and feel the softness of the sofa cushion as you sit back down. We take lots of little journeys like this every day, driving in our car or rolling over in bed. Try to actively participate as you travel through your world, rather than making only about your end point.

 

Cultivating physical precision

Precision is a way to develop clarity of mind at the same time that we develop accuracy in our physical placement. Applying specificity to where you put your hands and feet creates a wakeful mental attitude. You simply can’t think clearly if your alignment is sloppy. For example, what is your posture right now as you are reading this? Try changing your position, or even walking around and see if you feel sleepy or clear.

 

It is also difficult to feel openhearted or uplifted if your chest is sunk and your spine is sagging. Not only are your cardiovascular functions diminished, but your body is a cage. This curling in creates dukha, suffering, which is the opposite of sukha, joy, and can relate to the physical and emotional space created through good posture. Hatha yoga aligns skin, muscles and bones so that each can support each other with more ease than effort. Proper alignment opens energetic blockages which can be caused by diet, stress, illness and emotions, or even tight belts, wristwatches and fabrics wrapped around our bodies. Physical precision extends to your clothing, environment and personal hygiene.

 

We are also attentive to how we arrange our practice space. Each person at OM Yoga has a mat and organizes their yoga props-blankets, blocks, straps-in a neat and orderly fashion, because a jumbled heap of stuff in your line of sight creates an obstacle as well. Everybody who has a messy desk knows this to be true. The spacious discipline of precision gives the yogi a sense of open heart, open mind and open agenda.

 

Opening to Prana

We apply meditation instruction to our yoga practice by using the breath as a reference point for resting the mind. But in yoga we also manipulate the breath in various ways that soothe our nervous system, cleanse our sinuses and oxygenate our entire body. Prana, which means “to bring forth mystical vibration,” exists in sunlight, water, earth and all beings. For human beings, the most direct way to feel this universal life force is through the wave-like nature of our breathing, which reminds us that even though everything is changing all the time we can still feel peaceful as long as we keep in rhythm. Whenever you feel out of sync, take a moment to lengthen and equalize your inhale and exhale, and right away you will feel more balanced.

 

Try this. Stand with your feet firmly planted on the floor with your arms down by your sides. Close your eyes. Don’t do anything. Just stand there. You will soon begin to notice quite a lot of movement within the stillness of simply standing. You will feel the movement of your body, expanding and contracting as you breathe; you will feel the pulse of your own heartbeat; you will feel your entire body swaying slightly in order to stay balanced on this big round ball we live on. In fact, if you were truly static, the earth’s movement would eventually tip you over. Can you relax and let your body, breath and heart do this dance of balance?

 

Applying Ahimsa

All of these exercises sit on a bed called ahimsa , non-violence, in yoga, or compassion in Buddhism. What’s the good of being awake if you can’t let your heart be like your lungs, giving and receiving with every pulse? Mindfulness helps us recognize when we have habits that are harsh, and creates a gap between an impulse and the action that usually follows. It creates a space for us to dip into our hearts and come back up with a pearl of kindness.

 

Since for most of us a major part of our self-identity is tied to the appearance and health of our physicality, our body is an excellent reflective surface for getting to know our habits and applying ahimsa to what comes up. In the wordless conversation between our body and our mind, everything that happens in all our relationships-frustration, aggression, love, tenderness, boredom-will arise while doing downward facing dog. Yoga and meditation help us recognize our form of effort, whether it is too tight or too loose. Either way, effort is related to goals. So instead, with sensitivity, we apply exactly the right amount of action. Right action is a balance of body, breath and mind using the ingredients of rhythm, movement, direction, energy and intention, but never aggression.

 

Embodying meditation

When you apply this mind/heart training to the process of doing yoga asanas it becomes a way to understand the whole world in the form of you. It provides the means for working with all of those relationships right there on the yoga mat while you become fit at the same time. And for us busy people who are both meditators and yogis it is helpful to be able to combine practices.

 

Yoga helps Buddhists embody their meditation. As the meditator’s body becomes more mobile, strong and functional, it becomes a support for meditation practice rather than the more familiar and painful distraction of creaking knees and whining spines. Similarly, the specific focus of Buddhist mindfulness and compassion helps the yogi’s mind become unbiased, wakeful and connected in whatever physical shape they assume and demonsrates the transient nature of all things, including mastery over body.

 

Sitting cross-legged at the end of yoga class, I feel elemental. My breath is the wind and my mind is a raft floating on the oceanic tide of prana. The fire in my belly radiates out and makes the sweat on my skin feel like rain and earth mixed together. My heart rests in a big, big space.

 

Then I get up off the mat and go back to running the yoga center. Hopefully, today I won’t have a life-threatening experience but still I’m grateful for my practices. Life might not be a bliss cloud, but through the wisdom and compassion of yoga and Buddhism, it has become supremely workable.

 

Join Cyndi Lee on a journey to invite your body and mind back into balance at the Yoga Body, Buddha Mind retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center from May 18th to May 20th.

 

Cyndi Lee is the first female Western yoga teacher to fully integrate yoga asana and Tibetan Buddhism in her practice and teaching. Founder of NYC’s OM yoga Center (1998-2012) she now teaches yoga, meditation and resiliency workshops worldwide. Cyndi is a formally trained Buddhist Chaplain, and has been teaching yoga for 40 years.

 

This article first appeared on lionsroar.com and has been republished with permission from the author.

             

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: ahimsa , balance , Buddhism , cyndi lee , in house , meditation , wisdom , yoga
Healing Osteoporosis with Yoga

In House: Healing Osteoporosis with the Fishman Method

By Loren Fishman
April 9, 2018

Healing Osteoporosis with Yoga

 

When I started doing research into yoga and osteoporosis in 2006, I suspected it might have good results for my patients, many of whom were frightened and searching for holistic ways to improve their bone health. At that time it didn’t occur to me that I would publish startlingly positive results in peer-reviewed medical journals, or that my method could help in significant ways.

 

This work with osteoporosis has been tremendously gratifying for me. I hope it has possibilities for the 55 million people who have osteopenia and osteoporosis in the United states alone, and who are prone to breaking or fracturing bones, putting their lives and mobility in danger.

 

A history of the Fishman Method

My first pilot study of only 20 patients showed that participants gained .76 and .94 points on their T scores for spine and hips, respectively when compared with controls, which was statistically significant.

Those results heartened me, and I embarked on a second, bigger study. There were 741 participants in that study, and they did my 12-pose yoga sequence daily for at least two years. Monthly gains were reported for the spine, the hip and the femur. There were no serious injuries of any kind in over 100,000 hours of practice. More than 80% of these participants had osteoporosis, or bone density verging on osteoporosis – osteopenia.

 

Because of these fantastic results for these men and women who gained bone density and strength, I decided to create a program to teach yoga teachers, yoga therapists and students of yoga my method. That successful program has now been running for two years.

 

Join the healing revolution

Today 118 certified practitioners are qualified to teach my method to strengthen bones, and they are working thirty-five states and eight countries!

Training to become certified (or just to learn how to increase your own bone strength) includes on-line education that provides scientific background about bones, how they are formed, how they lose strength, how they can regain density and strength. We review standard drugs given for osteopenia and osteoporosis – their effects and their side effects.

Once students have this scientific/medical background, it’s time to put it to use. At the beautiful, restful, spiritually satisfying Art of Living Retreat Center, we go into the perfectly appointed, spotlessly clean studio, with its polished wood floors, its wide array of props and its atmosphere of peace and calm. There we practice the yoga poses that lead up to my sequence of yoga asana proven to arrest and reverse bone loss. After that we learn the sequence and how to effectively teach it to others. There are two tests – one on the scientific material (for non-scientists) and a practical test of actually teaching one or two poses. So far, 9 out of 10 people pass these tests. Those who don’t pass can arrange to be retested.

The beauty of this is that once certified, participants can teach others and can join the dose-response study that is continuing. I am working on a second series of poses and plan to continually expand this program to help all those who are at risk for fractures or breaks to protect themselves.

 

Unlike the medicines, the side effects of yoga are better balance, better posture, wider range of motion, greater strength, enhanced coordination and lower anxiety.

 

Testimonials

“I am a 68 year old retired physician who took yoga up seriously about 4 years ago. I made great improvements in my bone densities, pulling back from osteoporosis to osteopenia – my bone density test last year was more like it had been 10 years ago.”  – Judith E.

“Amazing results possible! I went from severe osteoporosis (told to stop weight-bearing exercise) to no osteoporosis in 9 yearswith a daily yoga practice. My increase in bone density over these 9 years? 38.6%.”  – Eric M.

 

If you’re a yoga teacher professional, you’re invited to join Loren Fishman for his upcoming healing and teaching reatreat, Yoga vs. Osteoporosis, from May 30th to June 3rd.

 

Loren Fishman, MD, B. Phil., and author, is one of the few physicians practicing medicine who incorporates yoga into his regular treatment protocols and offers patients individual yoga therapy. He has completed peer-reviewed studies into the efficacy of yoga for medical conditions including osteoporosis, rotator cuff tear, scoliosis, ocular pressure and other conditions.

   

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: bone health , bone strength , Fishman method , in house , osteoporosis