Yoga Routine for High Blood Pressure

Yoga for High Blood Pressure

By Marla Apt
September 10, 2018

Yoga Routine for High Blood Pressure

Keeping high blood pressure in check

Chances are at least one person in your life – a family member, someone you work with, or a good friend – has high blood pressure and takes one or more pills a day to bring it under control. Why so likely? Because high blood pressure – what doctors call hypertension – affects one in three adults in the United States. Elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease, is often described as a “silent killer.” Recognizable symptoms do exist – fatigue, nosebleeds, nervous tension, ringing in the ears, dizziness, bursts of anger, headaches – but not generally until blood pressure is dangerously high.

 

Stress as the culprit

Blood pressure – the force blood exerts against the walls of your arteries as it travels through the circulatory system – fluctuates during the day, increasing during exertion or stress and decreasing when the body is at rest. Most doctors agree that a blood pressure reading of less than 120/80 is ideal for adults, and diagnose hypertension when those numbers reach 140/90. The top number (the systolic pressure) refers to the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or contracts. The bottom number measures the diastolic pressure, or how much pressure remains in the arteries between beats, when the heart is relaxed.

Although several conditions can cause secondary high blood pressure (kidney disease, hormone abnormalities, type 2 diabetes), more often than not a high-stress lifestyle can lead to what doctors call “essential” hypertension, where there is no disease-specific cause.

 

The benefits of yoga and pranayama

Yoga, when performed mindfully, can reduce this type of stress-induced hypertension, while addressing its underlying causes. It pacifies the sympathetic nervous system and slows down the heart, while teaching the muscles and mind to relax deeply.

 

Pranayama can also be extremely beneficial. Research studies demonstrate that conscious breathing quickly lowers blood pressure. Practicing pranayama while lying down encourages the breath to arise smoothly from a relaxed state, without any force. If you do choose to sit, keep your spine straight and lift your chest, while keeping your head down in jalandhara bandha, so that there is no strain on the heart.

 

A few notes on poses

While a general yoga practice has a pacifying effect and can bring the nervous system into balance, some asanas work better than others for actually lowering blood pressure – and simple modifications make others more beneficial. For example, do cooling poses, such as forward bends where the head is supported – to bring a sense of calm to the head, neck, face, and diaphragm. Modify any standing poses in which the arms are normally extended overhead (like virabhadrasana I) by placing your hands on your hips. In trikonasana (triangle pose), look down toward the floor instead of up at the ceiling to keep blood pressure from rising. Steer clear of poses that compress the front of the diaphragm, such as dhanurasana (bow pose) and mayurasana (peacock pose), which can drive blood pressure up.

 

Anyone with untreated high blood pressure should avoid unsupported inversions, such as shirshasana (headstand pose) or adho mukha vrikshasana (handstand pose) – or any other pose in which they can feel pressure in the throat or temples, or that cause respiration to become heavy or difficult.

Practicing a modified halasana (plow pose) is a good way to experience the benefits of inversions without the potentially harmful effects, because you can learn to bear weight on the upper body and lengthen the sides of the neck without any strain. So if your blood pressure reads on the high side, stick to the modified version below.

 

Forward bends and other introverted asanas teach us how to quiet the brain and lengthen and soften the neck along the path of the carotid artery. When doing these poses to lower blood pressure, support the head, which has a cooling, calming effect on the whole body.

 

A yoga routine for high blood pressure

The following sequence is designed to prepare you to work toward the practice of inversions safely and without raising your blood pressure. At no time should you feel agitated or uncomfortable in any of these poses. If you feel flushed, hot, or dizzy while practicing, come out of the pose and rest in balasana (child’s pose) until you feel normal again.

 

End your practice with at least five minutes of shavasana, using a blanket, if necessary, to support the back of your neck so it stays long and your face can completely relax toward your chest.

 

Supported Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

 

Begin on your hands and knees and place two or three blankets (folded lengthwise) underneath your chest. Press the weight evenly through the hands as you straighten your arms and lift up through the inner edges of the arms. Release your shoulder blades away from your neck toward your hips, straighten the legs, and lift your pelvis up into adho mukha shvanasana (downward-facing dog pose). Separate your feet wider than hip-width apart.

 

Lift the pelvis away from the wrists and, keeping the legs firm, press the fronts of the thighs away from the torso toward the backs of the legs and lengthen your calves down toward your heels. Extend the inner arms from the wrists toward the shoulders as you move the shoulder blades away from the neck toward the pelvis.

Let the back of your neck release down so that your head (somewhere between the top of your forehead and the crown of the head) can rest on the support. If your head doesn’t comfortably reach your support, add another blanket. You shouldn’t have to bend the elbows in order to reach the blankets. If your neck feels compressed or your head jams into the blankets, lower your support.

 

When you can balance the dynamic action in the limbs and torso with the rest and relaxation in the head and neck, you’ll be able to hold the pose for a few minutes without feeling strain. When you come down, separate and bend your knees, sit on your heels, and release your head to the floor in balasana.

 

Supported Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose)

Separate the feet as wide apart as the narrow side of a yoga mat. Align the outer heels and little toes on the edges of the mat, and place a block at its tallest height between your feet and in line with your big toes. Depending on your proportions and the flexibility of your hamstrings, you may need more or less support. Stack a couple of blocks, if necessary, or put the blocks or a folded blanket on the seat of a chair to rest your head.

 

Bend forward, straighten your legs, and place the crown of your head on your support. Hold the ankles and spread the elbows apart from each other. Move your shoulder blades away from your neck, but let the back of your head descend toward the floor. Even though your head is resting on your support, keep the majority of your weight in your feet, balancing the weight evenly between the front, back, inside, and outside edges of the feet. Lift your thighs firmly and press the thighbones toward the backs of the legs without disturbing your head. The back of the neck should feel long and the chest broad. Breathe normally and stay in the pose for as long as you like, up to three minutes. Place your hands on your hips, inhale, and come up.

 

Supported Pashchimottanasana (Posterior Stretch Pose)

Sit on two folded blankets and extend your legs straight in front of you in dandasana (seated staff pose), feet hip-width apart. Place a bolster lengthwise on top of your legs, with a folded blanket on the bolster closer to your feet. Lift the sides of your torso up. If you find that you’re slumping backward, sit on more support. Extend forward and hold the outside edges of your feet with your hands. Lengthen your abdomen over the bolster and rest your forehead on the blanket.

 

If you can’t reach your feet, hold a belt around the feet; if your head doesn’t reach the blanket, rest it on a chair instead, padded with at least one blanket. Straighten your legs and press the thighbones toward the floor as much as you can without allowing your heels to lift. Relax the forehead and spread your elbows as you release the shoulders apart and away from your neck.

 

Extend through the backs of the heels and move your back ribs toward your front ribs down onto the bolster. Keep the back of the neck long and soft and relax your facial features. Hold for two minutes and then return to dandasana.

 

Supported Halasana (Plow Pose)

Experiment with this pose using blankets, a bolster, and a chair for support. If you feel any discomfort, simply come out of the pose and rest in shavasana. Stack three folded blankets at the end of your mat. The smooth, folded edges of the blankets should be in line with the edge of your mat. Open another blanket on the floor in front of your mat for the back of your head, place a bolster on the mat behind your blankets for your pelvis to rest on, and position a chair on the floor in front of your mat and folded blankets. Lie down with your shoulders, upper back, and base of your neck on the stacked blankets, your head on the blanket on the floor, and your pelvis resting on the bolster.

 

Reach your arms overhead and hold the feet of the chair. Push the chair away from you until your arms are straight. Bring your arms back by your sides and place your palms on the bolster. Rotate your upper arms outward and open the chest. Pressing your hands into the bolster, bend your knees toward your chest, lift your pelvis off the bolster, and take your feet overhead, toes onto the seat of the chair. Separate your feet as wide apart as the seat of the chair, toes curled under.

 

Clasp your hands behind your back, straighten your arms, and roll onto the outer front edges of your shoulders. Press your wrists into the bolster and lift the sides of your chest away from the floor. Relax your throat and allow the back of the neck to softly lengthen.

 

Pressing your toes down, lift the fronts of your thighs away from your head and straighten your legs. Release the clasp of your hands and rest the backs of your hands on the floor besides your head, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your legs active but your head and neck passive, and your throat and face completely relaxed. To come down, bend your knees and slowly roll your upper, middle, and then lower back to the floor, keeping your head down. Rest on your back for a minute before rolling to your side to sit up.

 

Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Sit on the front end of a bolster and belt the tops of your thighs together. With your knees bent and your feet on the floor, lie back onto the bolster. Using your feet to push against the floor, slide off the bolster just until your shoulders reach the floor and are at the same level as your head. Then extend your legs straight, backs of the heels on the floor.

 

Roll the outer edges of the shoulders underneath you and broaden your chest as you lengthen your arms alongside the bolster. Turn the upper arms out and the palms toward the ceiling. If your lower back aches or feels compressed, elevate your feet on a support and lengthen the sacrum and buttocks toward your heels.

Relax your throat and allow the root of the tongue to descend toward the back of the throat. You can close your eyes and gaze inwardly toward your chest, so that your forehead and cheeks soften and release completely. Relax the area between the eyebrows and around the temples.

 

Stay in this pose for as long as you like – up to 10 minutes; you should feel completely relaxed. On an exhalation, bend your knees, push your feet into the floor and slide off the bolster until your entire back comes to the floor. Rest the backs of your legs on the bolster for a few moments and then roll over to your right side and sit up.

 

After sitting up, you can cross your legs and bend forward to rest your forehead on the bolster. If your head doesn’t reach, elevate the support. Hold for a half a minute and then change the cross of your legs and repeat on the other side before sitting up.

 

Deepen your practice of Iyengar yoga and experience a new level of self-awareness that brings clarity, peace, and strength. Marla Apt hosts the Iyengar Yoga Immersion at the Art of Living Retreat Center from August 1-4, 2019.

 

Marla Apt, a Senior Intermediate Level certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, is based in Los Angeles, where she teaches public classes and conducts teacher training in addition to teaching workshops in the US and internationally.

 

This article was originally published in Yoga International Magazine, and is reposted 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: blood pressure , Marla Apt , yoga , yoga routine

In House: Shakta Khalsa on Yoga with Children

By Shakta Khalsa
September 5, 2018

Growing UP with Yoga - Art of Living Retreat Center

 

Children today are under as much stress as adults. And with the busy, achievement-oriented lives they lead, kids need tools to help them self-nurture, self-adjust, and feel happy. Children are expected to behave in ways that their nervous systems cannot easily manage without physical activity, yet they are increasingly inactive in school and at home. And every day the number of children diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, and other sensory issues grow higher.

 

The good news is that kids can find much balance and support via natural exercise and play—in the form of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. In the formative years of childhood, yoga is purposeful play that brings physical, mental, and emotional fitness. Yoga tools include calming breathing practices, affirmative songs for positive self-talk, and movements/poses to organize the nervous system and strengthen the physical body.

 

Recently I sat down with three young people who did, in fact, grow up with yoga. The first is a young woman who was my yoga student from age three until eight and recently reconnected with me after twenty years. Madeleine told me how yoga impacted her life as a child, and how it has continued to help her grow as an integrated, authentic person.

 

Madeleine: from preschool yoga to yoga teacher

Madeleine holds a special place in my book, Fly Like A Butterfly, and in my heart as well. As an eight-year-old she was one of the child models in my book, and for five years I taught a weekly children’s yoga class at her Montessori school. Beginning at age three, Madeleine was one of the children who took yoga with me for all five of those years.

 

After being out of touch with Madeleine for decades, she found me on social media around two years ago. I am delighted to say that we have been talking back and forth ever since. She is now twenty-five and an accomplished hatha yoga teacher in Santa Barbara, California.

 

A foundation of yoga

Shakta: It is thrilling to reconnect with you, Madeleine. I am wondering what you most remember about your yoga classes with me when you were young?

 

Madeleine: I remember doing the washing machine exercise when I was really little, like three or four. Then candlestick was more fun by the time I was eight. I know it is actually called shoulder stand, but I still like calling it candlestick!

 

Shakta: I am wondering about the years between Montessori school and adulthood. Did you just continue to do yoga on your own?

 

Madeleine: Once I stopped Montessori school, I stopped doing yoga. It was a huge transition when I started public school. For example, in public school we were sitting all the time, not like in the Montessori classroom where we moved around and chose our work. I stopped doing yoga, but it was always there for me—emotionally—when I needed it. Another thing that was really different was that I was expected to do physical fitness in public school. PE was kind of scary to me. Yoga was never scary, I guess because it was only about what you could do. I never enjoyed sports or competitive things, and that’s why PE was scary. I stopped doing yoga, but it was always there for me—emotionally—when I needed it.

 

Returning to yoga

Shakta: So tell me, how did you get back into yoga?

 

Madeleine: When I was fifteen and in boarding school, I remember seeing pictures of people on the internet who were doing yoga. My thought was, “Oh, I remember doing that!” So I got some videos and practiced by myself throughout high school. Then in college I took a class.

 

Shakta: How wonderful! And this lead to you becoming a yoga teacher?

 

Madeleine: Sharing yoga with friends lead to becoming a trained yoga teacher. Back in high school I started teaching my friends…I still called shoulder stand “candlestick” and things like that.

 

Shakta: I always think it is good to lighten up about yoga and help people relax and laugh. Madeleine, I’ve seen you doing some very impressive arm-supported poses. What do you think about the current image that yoga has—for example, the way yoga is portrayed as super-fit people doing poses that are impossible for most people?

 

Madeleine: I guess they want to show what looks good in photos. No one wants to see shavasana (deep relaxation pose) in a picture! When I do some of the more intense poses, people ask me if I was a gymnast, which is ironic because that was always so hard for me—I could never even do a cartwheel! But I look at yoga as playing. It was never something I had to “accomplish.”

 

Yoga is playtime

Shakta: Sounds like you do it because you enjoy it.

 

Madeleine: Exactly. When I go into the yoga studio as a grown-up person, I never go because I have to. It is always playtime—it’s “me time.” I can go to a yoga class anywhere in the world and feel that I am back home. I teach full time, fourteen classes a week. It’s my life now! I feel really lucky because I could never work in an office. And you know, I feel really honored. All these people come into one room together. It is probably the one time of the day that they don’t have their cell phones. They aren’t paying attention to anything else. No technology, just breathing. We are all just breathing together. It feels like home. And I can go to a yoga class anywhere in the world and feel that I am back home.

 

Shakta: Now you are inspiring me, your original teacher!

 

Yoga for the mind, body, and soul

Madeleine: (Laughing) I love how it helps with everyday life. I had asthma as a child, and yoga and meditation have helped me to breathe better. Yoga has helped me to be more mindful, to pay attention to my body and what’s going on around me. Lately I’m noticing the difference between emotions, how they come and go, compared to things in life that are more permanent.

 

I love how yoga helps you realize that what is going on in the moment is a mirror for how you are feeling in that moment. For example, if I really want to get into a pose and it is not happening, I can be aware of what’s going on in my body, I can recognize it outside of class too. I can recognize that I need to calm down a little. I can work with that same feeling when it is happening in traffic. I can notice it and change it instead of getting overcome by things happening around me. And, Shakta, I am just wondering—how do you do that with children?

 

Shakta: Little children understand these things if you put it in language they can understand. That’s what I do in my Radiant Child Yoga work, and that is what I did with you all those years ago in the Montessori school!

 

Madeleine: I’ll never forget the spaghetti test [see practice below]. I wish I could do it with my adult students to help them experience what it feels like to relax. It’s such good biofeedback! I wonder what will happen with all these children who grew up with yoga? Something great I think!

 

Shakta: Something like what has happened for you, my dear Madeleine!

 

The spaghetti test

Lie down on the floor, face up, arms at your sides. Imagine you are stiff like spaghetti when it is in the box. Inhale and tense your entire body. Exhale and be like cooked spaghetti—soft and relaxed. Do this three times. Have a friend test you to see if you are “cooked” by gently picking up one arm and wiggling it to see if it is relaxed.

 

Make a difference with child yoga

As Madeleine clearly demonstrates, growing up with yoga can be an organic process that has a profound impact. One heart, one mind at a time. Do you feel called to share the joy of yoga with children? Join Shakta for her Radiant Child Yoga Training at the Art of Living Retreat Center from November 7th-11th, 2018, and contribute to the building of a more peaceful world.

 

This article was first published in Yoga International, and is republished with the permission of the author. It is presented in excerpt. Read the full article here.

 

Shakta Khalsa, ERYT-500 and IKYTA certified Kundalini Yoga teacher, is a leading expert on children and yoga.. She is a parent, Montessori educator, and a yoga professional recognized by Yoga Journal magazine as one of the top five Kundalini Yoga teachers in the world. Shakta is the Founder and Director of Radiant Child® Yoga, an internationally-known training program for teaching children yoga and working with/raising children consciously.  In the children’s yoga community, Shakta is considered the “godmother” of the children’s yoga movement.

 

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: child , childhood , in house , shakta khalsa , yoga
Yin Yoga - Art of Living Retreat Center

The Gifts of Yin Yoga: A Balance to an Active Life and Practice

By Brahmani Liebman and Jashoda Edmunds
September 4, 2018

Yin Yoga - Art of Living Retreat Center

The yoga practice of your dreams

What if you could listen to dharma teachings and receive the benefits of being in a yoga posture?

 

What if you could calm the nervous system and enhance your energy at the same time?

 

What if you could practice meditation and yoga simultaneously?

 

What if you could find a practice that was both contemplative and energy enhancing?

 

What if you could nourish the connective tissues, joints, and bones while also accessing the deeper parts of your mind?

 

What if your active practice could be even more fluid?

 

What if you were able to sit with even more comfort and ease in your meditation practice?

 

What if you had a practice that complemented Kripalu Yoga in its invitation to grow in tolerance and go beyond your self-limiting beliefs?

 

Welcome to Yin Yoga!

We first discovered Yin Yoga at a Yoga Journal Conference in Manhattan around the year 2000. That class taught by Sarah Powers inspired each of us. She modeled how to marry our two loves of meditation and yoga practice. We both observed a more open body and quieter mind, as well as a depth experienced through the integration of the dharma (specifically yoga, Buddhism, and psychospiritual inquiry) while holding the postures. We had been students of Vipassana meditation for a number of years, and this gave us each freedom to include and share all that has inspired us in our practices and studies.

 

As we all know, the tendency in the Western culture is to overschedule, keep busy, do more, and go, go, go. We see it happening from early childhood on throughout life. We even see it manifesting in the world of yoga and meditation. Yin Yoga offers the possibility to stop, look, and listen. Yin Yoga asks us to keep being here in this moment, because it is the only place that life is happening. It’s the perfect complement to our active lives and to a more active yoga.

 

What is Yin Yoga?

The three basic teachings or tenets of Yin Yoga are:

  1. Practice appropriate pressure: Come to an edge of sensation that is neither neutral nor alarming.
  2. Remain muscularly passive: Come into the posture while allowing the muscles to be soft and passive, so the prana can move through the body to nourish the connective tissue, joints, and bones.
  3. Stay awhile: Longer holdings of three to five minutes enable you to grow the capacities beyond the mind and the self-limiting concepts of what we think. This steady pressure allows prana to accumulate and flow.

Placing the body in a posture, Yin style, invites an open receptivity to inspiring teachings. This can happen when practicing in a class or on your own, through recordings.

 

As a teacher of Yin Yoga, you have the opportunity to share relevant and meaningful teachings that inform, inspire, and light you up. When you impart teachings during the Yin portion of your classes, you can carry that theme throughout class and into life.

 

How to use Yin Yoga

How and when might you use Yin Yoga? It can be practiced on its own, as well as part of a yin (passive)/yang (active) practice. To receive the greatest benefit to the connective tissues, joints, and bones, it’s best to practice before warming the muscles in an active practice.

 

One of our favorite things about Yin Yoga is that it can be practiced upon waking, right in the comfort of your own bed. Place your body in a Yin pose; set the timer for three to five minutes; breathe long, slow Ujjayi breaths; and allow the pose to prepare the body and mind for sitting meditation. In fact, preparation for meditation is one of the primary benefits of Yin Yoga.

 

Other times to practice might be before bed or in the middle of the night, to allow the nervous system to settle, or anytime an active practice is not appropriate (such as during a healing process).

 

Wide-Knee Child’s Pose, Yin Style

  1. Begin in Table pose, with knees under hips and hands under shoulders.
  2. Spread the knees wide and bring the feet towards each other.
  3. Press the hips back and as close as possible to the feet and meet the appropriate edge.
  4. Come to rest on the elbows and spread them wide, placing one hand on the other and resting the head on your hands. Keep a gentle press into the hands or elbows to keep the weight back in the hips and out of the knees.
  5. Stay in the pose for three to five minutes.
 

To release,

  1. Press into your hands
  2. Bring your buttocks off your heels
  3. Lift one knee at a time and bring it back under the hips
  4. Press back into Child’s pose
  5. Pause and feel the effects.

For a variation on the posture, try either beginning in Child’s pose; extending the arms overhead; or resting the chest on a folded blanket or bolster.

Experiment with this practice and make it your own!

 

Connect to your inner wisdom for transformation. Brahmani Liebman and Jashoda Edmunds host Journey Into Yoga: Awakening the Wisdom Within this September 21-23 at the Art of Living Retreat Center.

 

Brahmani Liebman, MSEd, E-RYT 500, has been studying yoga and meditation since the 1970s and has been a yoga teacher since 1988. A member of the Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training faculty, she founded the Rivertown Center for Yoga and Health in Dobbs Ferry, New York. She is cocreator, with Jashoda Edmunds, of Journey into Yoga School of Yoga & Meditation teacher trainings and the CD Journey into Yoga: Awakening the Spirit. Brahmani has additional training as a Phoenix Rising yoga therapist and Transcendental Reiki master/teacher.

 

Jashoda Edmunds, E-RYT 500, has studied yoga since 1971 and began teaching in 1987. With Brahmani Liebman, she is cocreator of Journey into Yoga teacher training and the CD Journey into Yoga: Awakening the Spirit. Jashoda is a founding member of the Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association (now the Kripalu Yoga and Ayurveda Association) and a member of the Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training faculty. She also draws on her study of Buddhism and her training as a Phoenix Rising yoga therapist, shiatsu practitioner, and craniosacral therapist.

 

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 , brahmani liebman , jashoda edmunds , meditation , yin yoga , yoga , yoga practice , yoga retreat
Leap of Faith - Art of Living Retreat Center

A Leap of Faith

By Jurian Hughes
August 20, 2018

Leap of Faith - Art of Living Retreat Center

 

A few years ago, I did a terrifying thing: I took off the entire month. Unpaid. Rather last-minute. With no real plan in place. I called it my Sacred Sabbatical, and it came out of a moment of intense clarity in a women’s restroom at the end of what should have been a stellar Red Letter Day but wasn’t, when I realized in a flash that I was urgently in need of an extreme gesture of radical self-care.

 

As someone who likes to have her ducks in a row and her coffers full, the idea of an unplanned and unbudgeted month off and unplugged was pretty radical. Terrifying, in fact. Now, I think everyone should do it. And regularly.

 

Re-wilding

After two weeks spent decompressing through the joys of manual labor and almost daily sunrises and sunsets over Lake Winnipesaukee, I headed to California for two of the most glorious, magical weeks I’ve ever had: re-wilding in glorious Big Sur, alongside a beloved friend. Those were precious days spent reclaiming life, remembering what makes me happy, experiencing “the new”, the “unfamiliar”, taking risks, and feeling the freedom that comes with that. So, of course, I had to skydive.

 

Learning to leap

My advice about skydiving is this: If you have any inclination to skydive whatsoever, DO IT. It had been on my bucket list decades ago, but somehow it had unceremoniously fallen off – “too old, expensive, unnecessary. “ To step so literally into the unknown, at 13,400 feet, strapped to a human being whom you’ve just met, with nothing to save you but a bit of fabric, is an act of such complete and total faith that it has the power to transform on a cellular level. And that was my prayer as I let my body fall out that open door.

 

Choosing faith

My entire Sabbatical – a word which has its roots in ‘sabbath’, ‘sacred’, ‘shabath’; commonly thought of as a period of rest and rejuvenation granted to professors; was practiced in ancient times, when every seven years the soil was left to rest, and debtors and slaves were released. My entire Sabbatical was a practice of “Letting Go”. Choosing Trust. Choosing Faith.

 

The Universe seemed to keep whispering – or at times shouting – this in my ear over those weeks of adventure. And in that culminating act of jumping from a plane, I experienced the most palpable awe, gratitude, and bliss that I’ve ever known in my life. It felt as if in that literal leap of faith, that surrender and resulting flight, my whole being changed. My cells experienced – and I hope they will remember, always – what it feels like to completely let go, to abandon control, to tell God with every atom of my body, “You do it.”

 

Relishing surrender

How ironic that in total relinquishment there can come a feeling of such tremendous power! But the unwillingness to let fear win is an act of courage. The moment in which we choose not to let fear strangle us is a moment in which we choose Life. Those choices, those moments have the potential to re-wild our souls, to awaken our joy, our imagination, and to let us see our world through fresh, open eyes.

 

Keep letting go

My practice now is to keep letting go, to look for the habits, thoughts, patterns and choices that are keeping me small and safe. I want to live every day with the memory of that palpable awe, gratitude and bliss, which I experienced when I left that safe plane in favor of the open sky. And I endeavor to remember that awe – and gratitude and bliss – is so worth taking a leap of faith for!

Today, may you do one thing that makes you tremble just a little, and that therefore has the power to rekindle your spirit. May you, too, take a leap of faith toward awe, gratitude and bliss.

Join me this Sep 22 – Oct 2 at Art of Living for ten days that promise to rekindle your spirit.  Because if not now, when?

 

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: fear , jurian hughes , mindfulness , trust , yoga

Celebrating Being Through Yoga with Wendy Swanson

By Travis Eliot
August 11, 2018

 

Wendy Swanson, the owner of Be Yoga in Charlotte, is an open-hearted yoga teacher, acupuncturist, healer, and transformational leader who uses a beautiful combination of alternative health care modalities, yoga practice, and personal development work with her students. Along with running her studio, she has been leading retreats around the world for fifteen years. She recently spoke with us about her healing journey, her upcoming retreat, and the powerful awareness yoga brings.

I got involved with yoga about 25 years ago due in part to my first job after graduating from college. I suffered pain from sitting at a desk, which – as many of us know – is not good for the body over an extended period of time.

After discovering yoga through my church, people started noticing that my usually high-strung, Type A personality was less pronounced. I was a little more balanced. For those who study Ayurveda, I’m pretty Vatta, so yoga, breathing, and meditation helped to settle my energy.

From the start I found myself sleeping better and feeling better physically. I was in my body much more rather than getting caught up in my head so often. So, yoga had a huge effect on my whole being and helped me to relax so my true self could be expressed more fully.

But, as I continued on in the same career, I became miserable. I had a sales and marketing job in a very corporate environment. I was practicing yoga but was unhappy in my day to day working life. I knew that I was meant to do something different.

When I received an acupuncture treatment from a close friend, I was blown away by the results. I was also intrigued by the fact that it’s an ancient medicine with thousands of years of history. After I began to study acupuncture rigorously along with my yoga practice, I knew I was on my path.


Practical, Real-life Approaches with Miraculous Results

For so many of us, it’s impossible to give up our desk jobs because it’s the way we make a living. I work on methods for balancing this working lifestyle with numerous patients and students. We often hold ourselves in a scrunched, hunched-over position, sitting rigidly behind a desk or steering wheel.

While yoga asks us to assume shapes that may look kind of odd, these positions help with the six rotations of the spine so that we can feel elongated and free in our bodies. It is so amazing that once we feel good in our bodies, that translates to feeling good in our minds.


I really feel like my life purpose is to help people get out of the fight or flight stress response so that they can return to being present in their bodies. Both yoga and acupuncture help us move out of the sympathetic part of our nervous system which triggers the fight or flight response, and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, in which we can rest, digest, and renew.

Yoga and acupuncture go so well together that I often combine the two. I do a lot of restorative yoga and I’ll actually add in some acupuncture because this combination is extremely effective in calming the nervous system.

When our nervous system has been calmed, we make better decisions in that. We’re able to deal with our loved ones in a more compassionate and loving way, and we’re able to feel better in our bodies.

I have my own chronic pains from accidents and injuries, and yoga and acupuncture help me to stay in balance with that. It’s not about making every ache, pain, and problem disappear, but rather about how to be present with these things and how to lead a life that feels more open, more loving, and more fulfilled.


How to Slow Down Time
The meaning behind the name of my retreat, ‘Celebrate Being Through Yoga’, is acknowledging, honoring, and embodying our true selves. To celebrate being means to practice being authentically ourselves. It means showing up for our families, our friends, our jobs – whatever we may need to show up for – and feeling that we are enough. This is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

For me, showing up means being present in the little moments that make up our days. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of getting in the car, then arriving at your destinations having no idea of how you got there. Many of our day-to-day activities become habits. So showing up also means slowing down.

We still have to accomplish the tasks in our daily routines, but we can savor each moment more fully. We can really taste our coffee and feel it’s warmth when we sip it. We can pause and feel the connection when someone asks how we are.

So, it’s not necessarily about changing anything. It’s simply about noticing. By noticing, it’s possible to expand time. As we get older, time moves more quickly, and sometimes life gets very busy. So this practice allows you to truly enjoy and be there for the moments you get to spend with your child, for example. You may not have hours and hours, but when you can be present in the time you do have, it’s enough.

Yoga teaches us to be present by tuning us in to each and every breath. It teaches us to get in touch with what’s going on in our bodies. We get ourselves into some really odd shapes, and then we notice the sensations along with the breath. Some of these shapes might feel great, and some might not. But when we are present with and experience these uncomfortable feelings in yoga, we are better able to handle life when it doesn’t feel so great.

We remember that we breathed through whatever unpleasant sensations or emotions came up in yoga, and those sensations didn’t last forever. Then, we felt something great in the next pose! When we practice yoga we are practicing being present for the joys and struggles of life.

This practice involves yoga asana, some fairly gentle pranayama or breathing techniques, and meditation. We will also be learning some daily practices for self-care, which in ayurveda is referred to as dinacharya. All in all, we will be giving participants simple tools to celebrate life and celebrate who they are.

Upcoming Family Programs

Nov 07-11
Family & Relationships Featured Presenters Yoga & Teacher Trainings

Radiant Child Yoga Training

Shakta Khalsa

Sharing Yoga & Mindfulness with Children

Learn More
Feb 15-17
Family & Relationships Featured Presenters

‘Make it Work’ – Couples Retreat

Tony Gaskins Jr.

The science behind a healthy relationship

Learn More
TAGS: deep , yoga

Radiant Child Yoga with Shakta Khalsa Copy

By Shakta Khalsa
August 11, 2018

 

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Shakta Khalsa, founder and director of Radiant Child® Yoga, and dive deeper into how she started her program and what to expect from it. She will be joining us for a retreat November 7- 11 to share her internationally-known training program for teaching yoga to children, and interacting with children consciously. There are currently around 25,000 Yoga Alliance approved Radiant Child Yoga teachers worldwide. Shakta is an ERYT-500 and IKYTA certified Kundalini Yoga teacher and is considered the “godmother” of the children’s yoga movement. She is a leading expert on children and yoga, having worked with both since the mid-1970s.

My journey began more than forty years ago when I got involved in Kundalini Yoga and the Kundalini community. Members lived in spiritual communities, or ashrams, and their children lived and practiced yoga alongside them. I learned quickly that I not only really loved spending time and working with the children, but I also really seemed to have a talent for it. Making up songs and animal yoga poses to share with the young ones came very naturally to me. So, that’s where I got my start teaching yoga to children back in the 70s. I’ve been teaching yoga to adults for over 40 years as well.

I worked individually with children at the start of my career before becoming a Montessori teacher. By the 1980s I had my own school in Baltimore, so I was able to do yoga everyday with the students. The benefits of meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques were apparent. And I’m talking about preschoolers aged three to six. My assistant didn’t practice or study yoga, but she would beg me to do yoga with the kids because she could see what a difference it made for them.

In the 1990s I moved to Virginia and became a mother, so I stopped running the Montessori school. I continued my work by teaching at various schools and daycare centers, and within a short time I was teaching five hundred children a week.

Follow The Child

Simply put, children are impacted by yoga, breath, and meditation in much the same way as adults. They are more relaxed, focused, happier, and feel better about themselves.
Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori schools, based her teachings around the motto “follow the child”. When teaching yoga to children (or teens, because I teach a wide range of ages), we observe them to see how much energy they have on a day to day basis and tailor the practice around that. If their energy is high, we match it to help bring them back to a more calm and focused state . If they seem like they need a lift, then we use the yoga practice to provide that.

The root of the motto “follow the child” is really about honoring their needs. In my program, Radiant Child Yoga, we always honor the children. We see them as big souls in little bodies. We don’t just see them as cutesy little kids; we see who’s really there. But of course, we still make it fun for them. We recognize their playfulness but at the same time we make sure to see them as fellow human beings. Children often aren’t used to adults relating to them from that space. Let’s say I’m visiting a school or after-school program to teach a yoga class. Now, the teachers are doing the best they can, and they are with them all day long, so I don’t want to cast judgement. But sometimes whoever is in charge will say things to me like “Watch out for that one and call me if he doesn’t behave. You can just send him back to me.” Immediately they’ve projected a negative image about this child. I don’t want to have an expectation about this child.

I want to meet them as they are. And I’ll always point out what they’re doing well in order to help them shift their self-perspective to a positive one. If authority figures have a negative image of them, it can show quite easily and lead to low self-esteem. When this happens, they think they have to act out more just to get attention because nobody’s giving them any attention for all the things they are doing well. So I give them that, and it really helps. Spending many years working with children means I really understand them. I know how to help them live to their potential.

Little Masters

I was the direct student of Kundalini master Yogi Bhajan during his lifetime. He would always talk about the beautiful, natural radiance of children. This is where I got the name and the mission for my program. We want to help children to stay radiant, healthy, wise, and in touch with their intuition. I started this program because I saw that children are in touch with their own inner guidance, wisdom, and joy, and I wanted to help them to maintain that. Often something happens in their lives that dulls that bright light, that radiance. I do find that children have an easier time accessing that state of original joy and connection to who they are than adults do. In this way I was so motivated and inspired by children, and I wanted to help them maintain their natural abilities and their natural connections to who they are. That’s really how this program began. To me, they’re little masters, especially the young ones. They’re so amazing, so innocent, so connected to who they are. But as life goes by, as it does for us all, children take on many things that aren’t true to who they are. They can become over-socialized, but yoga keeps them in touch with their inner light.

Diving Deeper into Radiant Child Yoga Teacher Training

When participants leave they have all the basic tools they need to teach children all the way from babies to teenagers. We also make sure to include teaching children with sensory integration issues like ADHD and autism. This is all done in the span of a 30 hour training. Another valuable component is the materials. I’ve written a number of books so there is plenty of information to take home, which also includes a manual, CDs and DVDs, and arts and crafts workbooks. We work with these materials during the program so you lean how to make the most of them..
Our teaching includes how to set up a class for different ages, how to use songs in a class, and how to incorporate yoga games. We introduce techniques which may be out of the ordinary, like games and songs, because they help you capture young imaginations and connect with the children. Before you know it you’re having fun, and you’re learning, too. You’re learning how to get in touch with your playful, spontaneous side. We also cover all the elements of yoga very thoroughly. It’s very balanced between teaching concepts behind yoga and letting the children have fun; for example, we add breathing practices to everything we do because I’ve found that’s one of the best ways to keep centered and avoid losing the students’ focus during transitions. It can also be very calming, which is so helpful in a classroom setting.

Children have so much pure energy. I love to be around it; it’s truly inspiring. It can be a challenge, and you have to be on your toes. But in the Radiant Child training you will learn how to be on your toes and still be relaxed. It’s not about having a lesson plan and just checking off steps. You have to exhibit the inner quality of yoga, and part of the program is showing people how to do that. So, if you remember you are the yoga, your energy will emanate from you quite beautifully. A crucial part of Radiant Child Yoga is our self-awareness as adults. That’s where our own practices of yoga and meditation come in. We start our day with a Kundalini practice for adults so that we all connect with our energy, and then we can go on to learn and teach from that place of connection. By tapping into our own inner guidance, we can teach children to do the same.

Upcoming Family Programs

Nov 07-11
Family & Relationships Featured Presenters Yoga & Teacher Trainings

Radiant Child Yoga Training

Shakta Khalsa

Sharing Yoga & Mindfulness with Children

Learn More
Feb 15-17
Family & Relationships Featured Presenters

‘Make it Work’ – Couples Retreat

Tony Gaskins Jr.

The science behind a healthy relationship

Learn More
TAGS: Ayurveda , Ayurvedic Recipes , cilantro , cooling , diet , Recipes , summer

5 Benefits of Using Ujjayi Breath in Your Yoga Practice

By Tommi Howard
August 6, 2018

 

Whether you have just started out on your yoga journey or are an advanced practitioner, the Ujjayi breath is a powerful technique that you can use to transform your practice. Ujjayi is unique in that unlike some other forms of pranayama, or breathing exercises, it can be used during your moving asana practice as well as whilst seated – adding a whole new dimension to your yoga.

Breath of Victory

Ujjayi breath means “breath of victory” as it brings a sense of upliftment, power, and confidence to the practitioner as well as soothing and focusing the mind through its ocean sounding movement – giving this pranayama its other name: the ocean breath.

Integrating Ujjayi pranayama into your practice will deepen your experience both on and off the mat. Here we share the top five benefits of Ujjayi:

 

1. Physical Health

The technique builds internal heat which helps release tight areas of the body thus making the body less prone to injury while stretching. At the same time, by expanding the lungs further than usual, circulation increases and toxins are released from the inner organs. Further benefits include a strengthened immune system, improved sleep, assistance in controlling high blood pressure and thyroid problems, and rejuvenates the nervous system.

 

2. Flow of Energy

The Ujjayi breath allows more prana, our vital life-force, to enter the mind-body system, cleansing the channels (nadis), through which it passes, of stagnant energy which helps the body overcome fatigue, stress and negativity. This pranayama further encourages the movement of energy from the root energy center all the way up to the crown.

3. Relieving Stress

When you’re feeling agitated, anxious, or nervous, the slow, concentrated, rhythmic nature of the Ujjayi breath has been shown to be very effective in calming the nervous system almost immediately. Studies have also shown the breath balances the cardiorespiratory system. Restoring balance to these two systems helps release stress, irritation and frustration and calms the mind and body.

 

4. Focus

The steadiness, sound, and depth of the Ujjayi breath help align the mind, body, and spirit with the present moment. When this happens, mental clarity and focus increase. The flow between asanas is effortless. Stability increases, and it is possible to hold postures for a longer period of time. Maintaining the Ujjayi breath throughout your practice allows you to remain centered, grounded and embodied – keeping thoughts at bay.

 

5. Meditation & Relaxation

The Ujjayi breath promotes calmness in the body and mind. The constriction of the throat causes vibrations in the larynx, stimulating sensory receptors that signal the vagus nerve to relax the mind and body. This contraction also exerts a gentle pressure on the carotid sinuses in the neck, leading to reduced tension. The slow, steady rhythm of the breath also makes it easier to let go during restorative postures and further supports sense withdrawal, helping ease the way into a meditative state.

Ujjayi is a profound pranayama with far-reaching benefits. Introduce Ujjayi into your asana practice and begin experiencing the power of this breath.


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 , breathing , meditation , yoga

Radiant Child Yoga with Shakta Khalsa

By Shakta Khalsa
July 28, 2018

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Shakta Khalsa, founder and director of Radiant Child® Yoga, and dive deeper into how she started her program and what to expect from it. She will be joining us for a retreat November 7- 11 to share her internationally-known training program for teaching yoga to children, and interacting with children consciously. There are currently around 25,000 Yoga Alliance approved Radiant Child Yoga teachers worldwide. Shakta is an ERYT-500 and IKYTA certified Kundalini Yoga teacher and is considered the “godmother” of the children’s yoga movement. She is a leading expert on children and yoga, having worked with both since the mid-1970s.

 

My journey began more than forty years ago when I got involved in Kundalini Yoga and the Kundalini community. Members lived in spiritual communities, or ashrams, and their children lived and practiced yoga alongside them. I learned quickly that I not only really loved spending time and working with the children, but I also had a talent for it. Making up songs and animal yoga poses to share with the young ones came very naturally to me. That’s where I took my first steps teaching yoga to children back in the 70s, and I’ve been teaching yoga to adults for over 40 years as well.

 

I worked individually with children at the start of my career before becoming a Montessori teacher. By the 1980s I had my own school in Baltimore, so I was able to do yoga every day with the students. The benefits of meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques were apparent. And I’m talking about preschoolers aged three to six. My assistant didn’t practice or study yoga, but she would beg me to do yoga with the kids because she could see what a difference it made for them. 

In the 1990s I moved to Virginia and became a mother – so I stopped running the Montessori school. I continued my work by teaching at various schools and daycare centers, and within a short time I was teaching five hundred children a week.

 

Follow The Child

Simply put, children are impacted by yoga, breath, and meditation in much the same way as adults. They are more relaxed, focused, happier, and feel better about themselves.
Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori schools, based her teachings around the motto “follow the child”. When teaching yoga to children (or teens, because I teach a wide range of ages), we observe them to see how much energy they have on a day to day basis and tailor the practice around that. If their energy is high, we match it to help bring them back to a more calm and focused state . If they seem like they need a lift, then we use the yoga practice to provide that.
The root of the motto “follow the child” is really about honoring their needs. In my program, Radiant Child Yoga, we always honor the children. We see them as big souls in little bodies. We don’t just see them as cutesy little kids; we see who’s really there. But of course, we still make it fun for them. We recognize their playfulness but at the same time we make sure to see them as fellow human beings. Children often aren’t used to adults relating to them from that space.

Let’s say I’m visiting a school or after-school program to teach a yoga class. Now, the teachers are doing the best they can, and they are with them all day long, so I don’t want to cast judgement. But sometimes whoever is in charge will say things to me like “Watch out for that one and call me if he doesn’t behave. You can just send him back to me.” Immediately they’ve projected a negative image about this child. I don’t want to have an expectation about this child. I want to meet them as they are.
And I’ll always point out what they’re doing well in order to help them shift their self-perspective to a positive one. If authority figures have a negative image of them, it can show quite easily and lead to low self-esteem. When this happens, they think they have to act out more just to get attention because nobody’s giving them any attention for all the things they are doing well. So I give them that, and it really helps. Spending many years working with children means I really understand them. I know how to help them live to their potential.

 

 

Little Masters

I was the direct student of Kundalini master Yogi Bhajan during his lifetime. He would always talk about the beautiful, natural radiance of children. This is where I got the name and the mission for my program. We want to help children to stay radiant, healthy, wise, and in touch with their intuition. I started this program because I saw that children are in touch with their own inner guidance, wisdom, and joy, and I wanted to help them to maintain that.
Often something happens in their lives that dulls that bright light, that radiance. I do find that children have an easier time accessing that state of original joy and connection to who they are than adults do. In this way I was so motivated and inspired by children, and I wanted to help them maintain their natural abilities and their natural connections to who they are. That’s really how this program began. To me, they’re little masters, especially the young ones. They’re so amazing, so innocent, so connected to who they are. But as life goes by, as it does for us all, children take on many things that aren’t true to who they are. They can become over-socialized, but yoga keeps them in touch with their inner light.

 

Diving Deeper into Radiant Child Yoga Teacher Training

When participants leave they have all the basic tools they need to teach children all the way from babies to teenagers. We also make sure to include teaching children with sensory integration issues like ADHD and autism. This is all done in the span of a 30 hour training. Another valuable component is the materials. I’ve written a number of books so there is plenty of information to take home, which also includes a manual, CDs and DVDs, and arts and crafts workbooks. We work with these materials during the program so you lean how to make the most of them..

 

Our teaching includes how to set up a class for different ages, how to use songs in a class, and how to incorporate yoga games. We introduce techniques which may be out of the ordinary, like games and songs, because they help you capture young imaginations and connect with the children. Before you know it you’re having fun, and you’re learning, too. You’re learning how to get in touch with your playful, spontaneous side.

 

We also cover all the elements of yoga very thoroughly. It’s very balanced between teaching concepts behind yoga and letting the children have fun; for example, we add breathing practices to everything we do because I’ve found that’s one of the best ways to keep centered and avoid losing the students’ focus during transitions. It can also be very calming, which is so helpful in a classroom setting. 

 

Children have so much pure energy. I love to be around it; it’s truly inspiring. It can be a challenge, and you have to be on your toes. But in the Radiant Child training you will learn how to be on your toes and still be relaxed. It’s not about having a lesson plan and just checking off steps. You have to exhibit the inner quality of yoga, and part of the program is showing people how to do that. So, if you remember you are the yoga, your energy will emanate from you quite beautifully. 

 

A crucial part of Radiant Child Yoga is our self-awareness as adults. That’s where our own practices of yoga and meditation come in. We start our day with a Kundalini practice for adults so that we all connect with our energy, and then we can go on to learn and teach from that place of connection. By tapping into our own inner guidance, we can teach children to do the same.

 

Learn more about Shakta’s upcoming program, Radiant Child Yoga Training.

 

 

 

Shakta Khalsa, ERYT-500 and IKYTA certified Kundalini Yoga teacher, is a leading expert on children and yoga, having worked with both since the mid-1970s. She is a parent, Montessori educator, and a yoga professional recognized by Yoga Journal magazine as one of the top five Kundalini Yoga teachers in the world. Shakta has authored several books: Fly Like a Butterfly: Yoga for Children, The Five Fingered Family, Kundalini Yoga, Keep It Simple Series (KISS) Guide to Yoga, Yoga for Women, and her latest book, The Yoga Way to Radiance: How to Follow your Inner Guidance and Nurture Children to do the Same. She has produced several albums and DVDs, with her Yoga in Motion DVD winning the Mom’s Choice Award.

 

Shakta is the Founder and Director of Radiant Child® Yoga, an internationally-known training program for teaching children yoga and working with/raising children consciously. Radiant Child Yoga offers two Yoga Alliance approved teacher training schools; 95-hour and 200-hour. Through Radiant Child Yoga, Shakta has trained over 10,000 students, and has trained several RCY trainers, bringing the total of trained RCY teachers to around 25,000 worldwide. In the children’s yoga community, Shakta is considered the “godmother” of the children’s yoga movement. She lives in Sterling VA.

 

Upcoming Family Programs

Nov 07-11
Family & Relationships Featured Presenters Yoga & Teacher Trainings

Radiant Child Yoga Training

Shakta Khalsa

Sharing Yoga & Mindfulness with Children

Learn More
Feb 15-17
Family & Relationships Featured Presenters

‘Make it Work’ – Couples Retreat

Tony Gaskins Jr.

The science behind a healthy relationship

Learn More
TAGS: Ayurveda , Ayurvedic Recipes , cilantro , cooling , diet , Recipes , summer
Opening the Heart - Art of Living Retreat Center

The Practice: Opening the Heart with Yoga

By Val Spies
July 23, 2018

Opening the Heart - Art of Living Retreat Center

 

The study of yoga is so vast, with a rich global history dating back thousands of years. But when you look at the history, writing, and teachings covering it, the one thing we can all connect to, regardless of time or place, is the feeling of the heart.

 

When you really get down to it, yoga opens the heart and provides us a pathway leading to connection with the universal self. We all yearn for this, and we find something of this purification in yoga–a purification that moves us away from distractions and cravings and moves us into the openness of the heart. The heart radiates when we are able to reach that space.

 

Uniting the body, mind, and heart

In asana practice, you start to learn about the intelligence of the body, the intelligence of the mind, and the intelligence of the heart. The goal of yoga is to unite these intelligences, because that unification is where we find ease, peacefulness, and balance.

 

For many years of my life, I was a corporate manager. I experienced what we all experience, which is a constant persuasion to shut down around the heart. We’re not asked to make our decisions from the heart. We’re outright prompted to make decisions from greed, to not be honest or truthful. To grasp for things and to always want more than what we have, and to achieve that by any means possible. We follow this greed and unkindness and become distracted and unsatisfied. We start to shut down and close in on the radiance of our hearts.

 

When my students come into my class, I see that wall. But even a simple asana practice opens the heart back up and begins to heal you. That’s what’s so beautiful about yoga, that opening up of the heart, just like a lotus flower blossoming.

 

The lotus of the heart

As the Chandogya Upanishad says, the space within the lotus of the heart is the same as the great infinite space beyond. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, and both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars.

 

Sri Sri also says in his teachings that bliss cannot be understood, and is extremely difficult to achieve. That all we seek is the Divine union with the Source, and that everything else in the world distracts us from that goal. There are so many unexplainable, incomprehensible ways of not coming home.

 

Everything that we do in yoga is preparing us for meditation. Meditation is the ultimate practice that will take you into more peacefulness. The more we practice yoga and meditation, the more it becomes like the background music of our life, and we’re able to tap into it whenever we need it.

 

Space to explore

Yoga is actually very practical and accessible. There are so many different pathways that are available to everyone. We’re all looking for the same thing. We’re all yearning for that feeling of peacefulness and open heartedness where we’re not afraid to give and receive love, or to be authentic and genuine.

 

It’s important to give yourself space to explore yoga. Sometimes it really does take going up to a beautiful place like the Art of Living Retreat Center to recenter yourself, be present in the moment, and explore your path. To take a break from distractions and technology and spend time in nature. And then when you go home, you have something really beautiful to take with you that you can weave throughout your life. It’s just not the same as struggling to do a meditation for 20 minutes every day. It really gives you a good baseline to build upon.

 

Finding your Dharma

It’s so worth it to step away and move into a space where you can start to seek out your Dharma, your purpose in life. So many of those experiences come to you through nature, which is something we of course have in abundance at the Retreat Center. Nature is one of our most wonderful teachers. Joining the yoga practice at sunrise, and then eating such nourishing food, really everything that is offered at the Center comes together to create a more purified environment for you to really feel the expressions of the heart, to let that space be more radiant for you.

 

Val Spies, E-RYT500, is the owner and director of the Lotus Pond Center for Yoga and Health, originating in 2003. She has been guiding yoga retreats for 12 years and is the lead teacher the Lotus Pond Teacher Training Programs. Together with Melissa Carroll, their expertise is in teaching yoga combined with dynamic, heartfelt sessions on yoga philosophy and creative guidance in retreat immersions.

 

Join Val Spies and Melissa Carroll at the Art of Living Retreat Center from September 28th – October 4th for her retreat, Yoga and Creative Writing. 

 


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: asana , heart , holistic wellness , Val Spies , wisdom , yoga

Becoming a Yoga Instructor: The Sri Sri Yoga Teacher Training Course

By Laurie Bishop
June 22, 2018

 

With week one and week two under our belt, we moved into our final week of the Sri Sri Teacher Training Course in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina. During week three, our schedule remained the same, and our growth continued.

 

Tapping into the joys of childhood

At the beginning of the third week, everyone in class began to look younger. It doesn’t make sense, does it? After two weeks of lengthy yoga sessions, unpredictable weather, and long days, we should have looked haggard.

But, we didn’t.

We all have those memories of the unbounded joys of childhood. Remember those? Our class collectively began to tap into those old memories of happiness, and the contentment of self that young children have before life gets rough. Tapping into those feelings of happiness made us feel and look younger. That lost eye twinkle was back!

What could challenge that renewed youthful spirit? Well, I’ll tell you what…EXAMS!

 

Exam time!

The class instructors were very upfront about the upcoming exams. The exams would be difficult.
Panic rippled through the class. What if we spent three weeks learning anatomy, physiology, the endocrine system, ancient yoga knowledge, Sanskrit, perfected our yoga poses only to be told, “Sorry, honey, you failed. You can’t be a yoga instructor.”

Before I started the course, I didn’t even know I wanted to become a yoga instructor, and now I was panicked I would fail. Other classmates verbalized that same fear as we dried dishes during seva, or walked up the hill to class.

During the third week, we had two practicums where we had to perform poses in front of our class and the teachers. The teachers we had grown to love would have clipboards and stern faces and would grade us as they watched us teach, and they weren’t afraid to give failing grades.

We had the tools we needed, knowledge, proper alignment of poses, but could we teach a class? Did we believe in ourselves enough?

Doubt crept back in, and most of us wondered, “Do I know enough to succeed?”

 

Letting go of doubt

One of our teachers said something remarkable when faced with a barrage of questions from nervous classmates (It wasn’t just me!) about the level of difficulty in the exam and practicum. Instructor Bharti said that if we failed, then she failed as a teacher. It was her job to provide us with everything we needed to pass. We had everything we needed. We just needed to calm down and believe in ourselves.

Intention matters. My intention developed and grew, and I wanted to pass the course. I had to believe that I did indeed have everything I needed. I had to let go of the crutches that kept me from succeeding, the what if’s in life that everyone has. What if I couldn’t remember the information. What if I physically couldn’t perform the poses. What if I fail. What if…

 

With a little help from friends…

Our class would study together as we walked to the dining hall for meals. We would quiz each other while we were drying dishes. When one person felt weak about a particular subject, whether it was the name of bones or muscles or how to pronounce words in Sanskrit, collectively we would help that person. As we worked together as a group, and we became stronger as individuals.

Each classmate at one time or another during that last week reached out to help me with some aspect of the exam. I, in turn, reached out to help whoever needed help. We created a song to go with the Sanskrit words for the personal ethics of yoga while working in the kitchen. One classmate created a Jeopardy game that quizzed us on the endocrine system. A classmate reminded us all that we were only as strong as the weakest student. The individual desire to pass became a collective one fueling us through the week.

 

A desire to help others

When it was time for the practicum, I focused on my intention to teach yoga to the best of my ability. I didn’t worry that I wasn’t the most flexible person in the room or that I was in my 50’s. My focus was on my intention, and my intention had grown from accepting a challenge from a friend to strengthening a desire to help others.

Without the three-week immersion into all things yoga, I might have missed that essential element.
I’m not going to tell you that the written exam was easy because I had all that I needed to pass it. It was tough, really tough. I hadn’t taken a college-level exam in a long time (OK, so I’m talking 30 years.). We had 2 ½ hours to complete the exam (which felt like a college-level exam to me), and it took me the entire time. Yes, I remembered nearly all of the information, but I did get confused on some of the questions (what did the mitral valve do…what did that Sanskrit word mean again…argh!).

 

The results

At the end of the week, we found out as a class what our grades were and that we would be getting our 300-hour Sri Sri Yoga Certificate, which would allow us to apply for a 200-hour Yoga Alliance Certificate as well.

As a class, we did pretty well. There were a few As, a few Bs, many Cs, a few Ds, and a few people failed but were allowed to retake the exam. My grade was a B, and I was content with that.
We spent many hours after we got our scores smiling, hugging, laughing, and talking about how we would visit each other’s yoga studios and guest teach. If we make those visits, the trips will take us all over the United States, to Canada and China.

 

A way to give back

I’ve been home from The Sri Sri Teachers Training Course for several months now, and I find myself pausing when my friends say, “How was your yoga trip? It must have been so relaxing to do yoga for three weeks!”

“No. No, it wasn’t relaxing at all.” I reply to them. “It was transformational.”

My life isn’t perfect since I became a yoga instructor, and I’m certainly not happy all the time. Life is hard for everyone, and there is always something that knocks me off my confidence platform. Yoga, though, is a way for me to pick myself back up when I get knocked down. It’s also a way for me to give back to the well of life from which I drink.

I have taught a few yoga classes since I have been home. The best part about teaching is looking at the faces of students after the yoga session and seeing people who are relaxed and happy. It’s a great feeling to know that I am helping others to find their happy through the practice of yoga.

Recently, I’ve learned there is a 500-hour yoga teacher training course. I’m in my 50’s and not very bendy, but in the near future, I’ll be taking that course.

 

This September, you can experience the Sri Sri Yoga Teacher Training for yourself. Click here to learn more and begin your yoga teaching journey! 

 


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