The Practice: 7 Reasons to Go to a Yoga Festival

July 17, 2017
Photo by Tony Felgueiras at the 2015 Hanuman Festival

At the Art of Living Retreat Center, we know the power of immersion. Setting aside a time to actively focus on loving and nurturing yourself, whether it’s through rest, silence, meditation, an Ayurvedic cleanse, or yoga, is an intensely healing and empowering practice. Yoga festivals are one of many ways to make time for yourself and your practice.

With two outstanding yoga festivals coming up in close proximity to the Retreat Center, the Asheville Yoga Festival (July 25-27), and the Floyd Yoga Jam over Labour Day weekend, we asked yoga teacher and writer Sarah Dittmore to share her thoughts on why these festivals are so fabulous.

TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , beginning yoga , festivals , healthy lifestyle , yoga , yoga practice , yoga retreat

The Practice: 8 Simple Yoga Positions for Back Pain

By Sophie Addison
April 6, 2017

If you suffer from chronic back pain, then yoga could help you find relief. A systematic review published in the Journal of Orthopedics & Rheumatology concluded that yoga was a safe and effective back pain remedy. This ancient practice, which combines gentle stretching with deep breathing and meditation, can help address back pain from multiple angles. And while the perfect yoga sequence will combine different postures to help stretch every major muscle, you probably want to keep your focus on your achy back for now.  Here are 8 easy-to-do yoga poses known to mitigate back pain.


Cat/Cow Pose

Yoga for Back Pain
This gentle stretching exercise is the perfect way to warm up for more challenging poses. To start the cat-cow stretch, first, you need to get on all fours. Make sure that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are aligned, and your knees are set below your hips. At an inhale, life your tailbone and chest upwards while your belly moves towards the floor. Slowly exhale, rounding your spine towards the ceiling while keeping your knees and palms firmly on the floor. Repeat ten times.


Triangle Pose

Yoga for Back Pain
Because one of the main focuses of yoga is balance, it’s a good idea to balance out the previous posture with spine stretching in the opposite directions. Triangle pose will help you do just that, by allowing you to stretch your lower spine from side to side gently. Start the pose by standing straight, then place your left foot out. Turn your chest towards your left side, stretching your left arm towards the ground and your right arm towards the ceiling. Keep your knees straight during each movement. If you feel comfortable enough, look up towards your right and and hold the position for 5-15 seconds. At an exhale, return to the initial position and repeat on the other side.


Upward-Facing Dog

Yoga for Back Pain
Lie prone, with the tops of your feet on the floor. Now, bend your elbows so that your palms are placed beside your waist. Inhale and press your palms on the floor to straighten your arms while lifting your torso as well as your hips just a few inches from the floor. Do not tighten your buttocks or push your ribs forward, as this only strains the lower back. This pose is very effective for back pain relief, as well as improved flexibility, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 


Child’s Pose

Yoga for Back Pain
This pose helps ease upper and lower back pain while also providing stress relief. To get into this pose, kneel on the floor and sit on your heels. Separate your knees wide apart, and at an exhale, lay your torso towards the floor with your hands above your head. Gently stretch your arms forward as much as you can, and hold this position for up to 15 seconds. This is essentially considered a resting pose, and is perfect to use between more difficult postures. However, this pose may not be suitable if you are pregnant.


Supine Twist

Yoga for Back Pain
Another relaxing pose that will help release your lower back and improve overall spinal mobility. Lay on your back, and place your knees on your chest. Gently turn your knees to your right side with one leg resting on the floor and the other laying on top of it. Turn your head to the opposite direction, and spread your arms wide apart at a 90-degree angle. Remain still as long as you like, and repeat on the other side. This relaxing pose is perfect for those with lower back pain, as well as neck stiffness and shoulder pain.


Downward-Facing Dog

Yoga for Back Pain
Downward-facing dog stretches all major muscle groups while also gently extending the spine. The pose is also said to open the chest and help build upper body strength. Start the pose by placing yourself on all fours but with your hands slightly in front of you. Start lifting your knees and tailbone towards the ceiling. Push your upper body towards the floor the stretch the upper back and hold the position for up to a minute, breathing deeply. The pose is considered safe, but you may want to skip it if you suffer from arthritis, due to the added pressure on the hand and ankle joints.


Locust Pose

Yoga for Back Pain

The locust pose will provide you with a deep stretch in your back, while also firming your buttocks. This is also the only posture in this sequence to involve a back bend. Start by lying flat on your stomach with your forehead pressed against the floor. Place your hands behind you and at an inhale, lift your head, torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. Stay in this position for as long as you feel comfortable, and unlock at an exhale.


Eagle Pose

Yoga for Back Pain
You need strength and balance to tackle back problems completely. This is why we’ve included the eagle pose here, but also because this pose helps stretch the shoulders and upper back. Stand straight up, bend your knees slightly and lift your left foot, placing it behind your knee and keeping your balance on your right foot. Place your arms right in front of you, your upper arms parallel to the floor, and your forearms wrapped around each other.

Back pain is the most common type of pain, accounting for the majority of doctor’s visits. Taking pain medication can help ease back pain, but you will experience some side effects. This is why it is a good idea to take a more natural approach to treating back pain, such as with regular yoga practice. The postures listed here provide gentle stretching to the back muscles, helping improve posture and reducing the stress caused by back pain.


Sophie Addison is a blogger and skincare expert, and is passionate about sharing her knowledge. She has written about everything from wrinkles to joint pain treatment, weight loss, and fitness news. She loves to garden and listen to music. Contact Sophie on Facebook or Pinterest.


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

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TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , back pain , beginning yoga , healthy lifestyle , yoga , yoga practice
Yoga retreat center participants.

Grateful State of Mind: Adriana’s Story

February 6, 2017

When I first stepped on a yoga mat I had gone through a heartbreak like we all often do. I went to my first yoga class with a friend and it was more of a physical exercise, but somewhere along the line I was able to connect it to my life. I found that it was the only way I could let go of the things that had happened, so that I could move forward and make choices to be happy and grateful.

I became a registered yoga teacher because I really enjoyed yoga and wanted to know more and explore it more. When practicing I always learn something new within myself like how to find happiness, or how to live in a connected way with the mindset that life is bigger than me.

people_lotus-pond_april2016_blog_yoga-teacher-training 1

Even the tough experiences can compost into knowledge, skill, and gratitude when you have that space to reflect.

Happiness means finding a place of peace and contentment regardless of the debs and flows that you may be going through. It is important to find that comfortable space in your mind to enjoy the experiences that we are given while we are on this planet. Finding happiness is an everyday exploration and by waking up and making that choice to be in that mind-space where you can take it all in you make steps towards that exploration. Even the tough experiences can compost into knowledge, skill, and gratitude when you have that space to reflect. The ability to get quiet, take time for self care, and participating in activities helps keep me grounded. We all have that internal intuition that gets us to that space to find that energy.


Yoga helps me find that space too, but sometimes getting on my mat or sitting in meditation is a challenge. It is very similar to what goes on in our everyday lives. The thought patterns that arise as you go through the ups and downs of life just like you go through the tough postures, poses, or your mind being all over the place as you sit. Yoga is my time to get quiet, focus, pray, and find that place inside me of happiness. I like that I can always come back to yoga no matter wherever I’m at or what is going on. All you need is yourself, which is actually a lot, but you can always come back to it. You go through ups and downs with your practice. Maybe your practicing more or less, or it changes, but it always guides you back to that spirit.


Explore your own happiness through the Art of Living Retreat Center’s yogameditation, and spa retreats.

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


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TAGS: beginning yoga , meditation , wellness , yoga , yoga practice , yoga retreat

Yoga and Anxiety, Part 2

By Sejal Shah
December 5, 2015
Riding the wave.

This article continues from last week’s Yoga and Anxiety, Part 1.  Regular yoga practice can help you stay calm and relaxed in daily life. Yoga also gives you the the strength to face events as they come, without losing your center. Yoga practice ideally includes the complete package of:

  • Asanas (body postures)
  • Pranayamas (breathing techniques)
  • Meditation
  • Ancient yoga philosophy

All have helped persons with anxiety recover and face life with new positivity and strength. The following yoga techniques can help calm an unsettled mind.


1. Practice asanas (yoga postures)
These yoga postures can help you achieve a happy and healthy mind and body. Asanas help release tension and negativity from the system. Particularly useful are:
◦ Bow Pose
◦ Fish Pose
◦ One-Legged Forward Bend
◦ Bridge Pose
◦ Cat Stretch
◦ Two-Legged Forward Bend
◦ Standing Forward Bend
◦ Downward Facing Dog
◦ Headstand
◦ Corpse Pose

Note: At the end of the yoga posture session, lay down in corpse pose to give your mind and body a few minutes of thorough relaxation. The technique is helpful in flushing out body toxins, a primary cause of stress, from the system. I use the CD by Art of Living, in which Sri Sri Ravi Shankar guides us into Yoga Nidra in his soothing voice and prayerful chants.

2. Practice pranayamas (breathing techniques)
Giving some attention to the breath will work wonders. Taking deeper, slower breaths can help free the mind of the unnecessary clutter of thoughts that breed anxiety. Try the following breathing practices:
◦ Deep Yogic Breaths
◦ Alternate Nostril Breathing (where the exhalation is longer than the inhalation)
◦ Bee Breath (Bhramari)

3. Meditate to enjoy the gift of a relaxed mind
Meditation can be an excellent technique to relax a distracted mind and give you a sense of calm and peace. Meditation also allows you to observe the tendencies of your own mind. Observing how your mind tends to stick to small, petty things gives you freedom from them. Similarly, meditation can help you not worry too much or get anxious about the unknown future.

4. Apply yoga philosophy in your life
Knowing and applying the ancient yoga knowledge in daily life can be the secret to happy and healthy living. Some simple yet profound principles of yoga (yamas and niyamas), directly address anxiety.

For instance, the Santosha principle (niyama) teaches the value of contentment. The Aprigraha principle can help us overcome greed, often a reason for stress and anxiety. Also, the Shaucha principle talks about cleanliness of the mind and body. This rule can particularly help if you tend to get too anxious about your health.

The yamas and niyamas of yoga also help us eat nutritious food and live a healthy lifestyle. Both aide in overcoming anxiety and stress. To understand the yoga philosophy, you may consider listening to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

Finding balance through yoga.

5. Pray, keep faith and smile!
Prayer is the best form of reassurance and support to keep you anxiety-free. Developing habits of daily prayer, chanting ancient mantras, or singing devotional songs fills you with positive energy and helps calm the mind. They also instill a sense of deep faith that all happens for the best and there is a higher power that takes care. Moreover, make a conscious effort to smile more and more. It will instill confidence, calmness and positive vibrations instantaneously. Try it out right now!

6. Engage in some service for others
When we constantly remain stuck in ‘me and mine,’ it makes room for stress and anxiety. We keep worrying about what will happen to us. Rather, if we shift our attention to how we can be of some use to others around us and engage our self with some voluntary activities, we can experience deep satisfaction and immense joy.

7. Know the impermanence of the world
When this realization sets in that everything around us is temporary and changing, we become relaxed and settled from within. A feeling of ‘this too will pass and not remain forever’ arises in us and frees us from anxiety.

8. Remember a similar past situation in which we overcame anxiety
Recall how we have felt this anxiety in so many situations in the past, yet each time you have made it through the situation and became stronger having done so. This fills us with immense courage that we can overcome the current situation. Remember your capacity and know that the universe gives us only those situations or problems that we can handle.

9. Keep positive company around
When we spend more time with positive-minded people, we are influenced by similar thoughts, which reflect in our attitude to life. In the company of a positive person, joy, peace and relaxation arise in our own mind.


It’s important to note that yoga is more than a one-time activity. It is a way of living. While an allopathic doctor helps you understand the type of anxiety disorder you may have, a yoga teacher will guide you to handle your life with a broader perspective.

Although yoga can positively impact one’s health, it is not a substitute for medicine. It is important to learn and practice yoga postures under the supervision of a yoga teacher. In case of any medical condition, practice yoga postures after consulting a doctor and a trained yoga teacher.


If you are interested in trying out #1 today, click the button below.




If you haven’t already, check out Yoga and Anxiety Part 1.


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


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TAGS: anxiety , beginning yoga , natural lifestyle , yoga

12 Tips to Improve Your Yoga Practice

By Sejal Shah
June 23, 2015

Yoga practice is a continual evolution. While it takes just a few classes to learn some asanas, or postures, over years you can gradually improve your yoga practice. Here are some tips to help improve your evolving practice.


1. Start with gentle warm ups. Once your body is sufficiently warmed up, start with asanas. Move slowly, with fluid motion and without straining yourself. Initial muscle aches are a good sign, they mean that your body is changing. However, find your limits and the right balance between effort and ease. It is important to not overexert yourself and burn out on the activity. Allow your body to speak – if you listen it will tell you the difference between pain and a good stretch.


2. Have patience. It takes time to improve flexibility, build strength and to correct imbalances and misalignments.


3. Pay more importance to the correctness of asanas, rather than whether you can touch your toes. For example, it is important to bend less but correctly than to bend more but incorrectly.


4. Do asanas gracefully like a slow rhythmic, sequential dance.


5. When in a pose, make effort without struggling. Notice your breath as well as your facial expression as they will both change when you are pushing yourself beyond your limit.


6. When you have learned a few basic asanas properly, do their variations and continue to build on that education by learning more asanas. This will help improve the quality of your asanas and your overall practice.

Accepting imperfection is key

7. The more the merrier – Practice asanas with another yoga student and correct each other or practice in front of a mirror. While improving is important, don’t get stuck in a perfectionist mindset – though you want to be perfect, accepting imperfection is key.


8. Practice asanas with awareness, inwardness and with a feeling of honoring your body. This will bring an increased grace and beauty to your asanas regardless of your level of flexibility. Pay attention to what you are doing with your body and mind and what you are feeling in your body and mind.


9. Coordinate your asanas with your breath – this will increase your awareness and improve your yoga practice. Breathe slowly and deeply with your abdomen, when inhaling, let the abdomen effortlessly push out; when exhaling, let it return gently. Let your awareness and your breathing become a habit and let the breath heal you.


10. Do as much as your body allows you to do. Make a gentle effort to go slightly beyond your limits but do not force yourself into a position. Don’t compare yourself with others and stay with your own experience.


11. You may be learning certain things that may be very new to you. Keeping an open mind during the classes or self-practice will broaden and enhance your experience.


12. Relax for some time after you finish your asanas.


Observing students for many years, I’ve compiled a list of 14 tips for beginning yoga practice. Learn more here: 14 Tips to Start Your Yoga Practice. Happy Practicing!



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


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: beginning yoga , yoga , yoga practice , yoga retreat

5 Common Mistakes When Beginning Yoga

By Sejal Shah
June 2, 2015

There is no doubt that practicing yoga is a great idea—not only for your physical body but also for your mental health and overall vitality.

However, as beginners to this ancient yet currently trendy practice, one tends to make some major mistakes. The key to achieving flexibility, strength, and eventually coming into the “state of yoga” is consistency, practice, and patience.


Beginning Yoga: Common Mistakes to Avoid


1. Comparing yourself with the person on the next mat


One of the most effective ways to injure yourself in yoga class is to look at what the person on the next mat is doing and try to match their stretch or reach. We all have different body types and shapes, which vary because of genetics, age, injuries in the past, the food we eat, and so on. The person on the other mat might be a former ballerina, might have been practicing yoga for years, or is more flexible by birth. But instead of focusing on your own experience and your own body, if you begin to compare and push your body where its not ready to go yet, you will no doubt make this huge mistake.


2. Comparing your body to how it was twenty years ago, four years ago, or even during the last class

Remember yourself when you were six years old? You used to do cartwheel on the grass, perform a full wheel pose effortlessly, or just sit in the full lotus pose for an hour! Yes, that was when you were a child, when your body was not exposed to stress and negative emotions. It was before you sat on desks for hours or gave birth. Maybe you were able to do a certain pose in last week’s class but aren’t able to today. The important issue is not to compare yourself or your body strength and flexibility to times gone by. Say to yourself, “At this moment, this is where I am—with this breath and this body”.


3. Pushing your body too hard without awareness


A common mistake beginners make is when they think “yoga will be a piece of cake. I have been doing exercise / aerobics / playing tennis / horse riding (or any other physical activity) for years. This will be no problem for me”. Although some yoga poses might seem relatively easy and simple from the outside, they work deeper muscles tissues and have to be practiced with awareness and care. Beginners especially want to push themselves at the outset, driven mostly by pride and the need to prove themselves fit. Unfortunately, this leads to soreness the next day. Worse is pushing the body to levels its not yet ready to go to and getting injured. So just carefully listen to the instructions of the teacher and also to your own body and do not force yourself.

Listen to your own body and do not force yourself.

4. Inconsistency in your practice

Usually, one feels so open and relaxed after a yoga class that they can’t wait to tell all their friends about it and come right back the next day. Yet, eventually and inevitably, daily life comes into play and we get distracted by work, family responsibilities, social life, and errands and somehow practicing yoga falls to the bottom of our to-do list. A few days pass and then a few weeks and when we finally do go back to class, we are back to square one. A consistent and steady practice—ideally twice or thrice a week in the beginning—helps the body to gradually open up and move further into the poses.


5. Getting impatient with your body, falling into despair, and eventually quitting

After practicing yoga for a while—perhaps a few weeks, a few months, or even years—we become frustrated. Questions like “why isn’t my body able to perform certain asanas?” and “why can’t I touch my toes yet?” crop up. Eventually, we fall prey to doubt and begin pondering.”Perhaps yoga is not for me”. Yet, the beauty and grace of yoga is very subtle and works on many different levels. When in doubt over the effectiveness of yoga, ask yourself how different is the state of your mind now compared to earlier? Aren’t you more “flexible” in the mind when it comes to stressful situations? Think about how yoga has helped you relax and breathe better and made you more aware of your own body and how it functions?

If you could relate to any of these pointers, you now know what you were probably doing wrong. So, avoid making these mistakes the next time you roll out your yoga mat and observe the difference in your practice!


Observing students for many years, I’ve compiled a list of 14 tips for beginning yoga practice. Learn more here: 14 Tips to Start Your Yoga Practice. Happy Practicing!



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


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: beginning yoga , yoga

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