Yoga

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


What Yoga Is and Is Not.

Know What you are getting into, it might not be “exercise class”!
YOGA IS NOT:
    ·      A physical exercise class

·      A religion

·      Simple

·      Being a contortionist

·      A sport

·      A quick fix to anything

·      Something you master completely on any given day, there is no finish line.
 
YOGA IS:

·      Moving Meditation. 

·      Focused Concentration and keen awareness of mind and body.

·      Control of the breath, with movement synchronized to the breath: awareness always with the breath.

·      Vinyasa- a flow through a series of movements - One breath to one movement.  An example is sun salutations.  Vinyasa warms the body from inside and increases meditative focus, awareness of the breath.

·      Asanas- (“poses” and the movement into, with-in and out of them) which build to more difficult Asanas, creating greater freedom of mind and body.

·      A process. Each movement towards, with-in and transition out of an Asana is a journey towards mind-body integration, flexibility and strength with-in that asana.

·      Yoga is complex. This is why it is a process! Usually a rather slow process in the beginning.

·      Always a whole being (body-mind-emotions) experience. Expect to change more than your body!

·      Vinyasa and asana are only one of the eight limbs of yoga Philosophy.

·      The goal of yoga is no less than Enlightenment, (knowledge/understanding/insight which brings freedom).

·      The rewards are mastery over the mind and a strong, flexible, yet supple, body.

·       Yoga was originally created so that a person could remain in seated, still in meditation without being distracted by discomfort in the body.

·      It is a philosophy. One branch of Yoga, Devotion, can be devotion in the religious sense, but this is a personal choice.

·      Yoga has been attributed as great tools for religion, or spiritual growth, no matter what faith or philosophy a person believes. The practice of yoga as lifestyle is expanded understanding, compassion, inner peace and peaceful conduct, eventually all of life becomes a moving meditation


Namaste, Christina

Saturday, January 30, 2016

How does our lifestyle affect our mobility?


 
Our mobility, health, physical, mental and emotional well-being are affected by the way we live.

 
Lifestyle can be changed, and with understanding and patience it can evolve to support health of mind, body and spirit.

You may be pleased and surprised at the things you will be able to do with patience and practice. Being aware of daily activities and how to do them in such a way as to support health and well-being can make a huge difference.

 
These are several factors inhibiting mobility which I have seen effect myself and most people I know:

 

Outward focus focus on the job(s) at hand rather than keeping focus on the body doing the job.  In physical education and sports the focus is on the ball, with the team, and the competition. When introspection and body awareness are valued, movement becomes more fluid, safer, and meditative, leading to more useful mobility and reduction of stress.

 

Chairs Think about it - sitting in chairs uses a very limited range of motion in the hips compared with sitting on ground, squatting, or on low cushions several times a day. In olden times and currently in many places, particularly in rural areas, people daily sit or squat on the ground or floors throughout their lifetime, not only when they are young.

  
 








 

Cars – We walk far less than we did historically and compared to rural people. Walking is the most underrated exercise/ activity in modern culture. Many people don’t walk daily or for more than a few steps, many days of our lives, yet daily walking is great for our whole bodies including our posture.  In many large cities  like, New York, NY, people walk as their primary means of transportation. See my earlier post- Walking is the Most Underrated Exercise.

         
 


           

Seat-toilets –Squatting uses a great range of motion in the hips legs ankles and feet Also squatting is the best way for the body to completely eliminate waste. There have been numerous studies showing that the more open position of the colon when squatting leads to easier elimination and fewer problems associated with it.

 

Shallow breathing- Yes, most all of us tend to do this! Deep breathing is essential to mind/body connection, physical performance, and true relaxation. Deep breathing and breath control are essential to progress in any physical practice. When I instruct new students to breathe deeply, more often than not, they do a fast shallow breath and hold it then exhale fast as well. Deep controlled breathing takes much daily practice.

 
“Sit still” - many of us are conditioned from early on to not move. After kindergarten, children in school move-about very little for most of the 7 hour school day. e.g. no longer sitting on the floor, standing, stretching or free play.

To hold the body in one position, at computer, TV, phone, in a car, formed into a chair without some movement (especially of the spine) promotes poor posture and weaker core strength when it is done over days and weeks and years (7 hour school day, 8 hour work-week).







Even infants and toddlers in car-seats and strollers need to move frequently (15+ minutes at a time I believe is a long time to “sit still” unless resting or sleeping, and there should still be room to move as the child intuitively will do).






Those fidgeting children in school may have been doing (or trying to do) the right thing for their body!


Not resting  when we are tired.
                                                                I love this picture! Restorative yoga, farm style! So much of the time people drink coffee or tea to keep going, when really they need a rest. Quality rest is a benefit of an active lifestyle, remember how well you slept as a child after active playing all day?
 

We live in a culture of quick-fixes- We are way too easily discouraged.  We expect instant and fast results, and tend to become discouraged if we don’t do something well within the first few days or weeks. Yet we all know that people don't become masterful at anything without years of study and practice. 

Because of all these trends in modern life, many people experience stiffness (inhibited movement)*, discomfort, and often even pain in the tissues of the body. With this, there is also atrophy of the neural pathways; even your brain needs some re-training! *There are other factors also, such as age, injuries and illnesses that effect people’s mobility worldwide.

 

It is disheartening to realize we how much we may have “lost”.  

The good news is it can be gained back with patience and practice.

No wonder getting started is difficult! Do it anyway!!!  And accept yourself exactly where you are at and enjoy the journey! Find teachers who challenge you and genuinely care.  

All the best, Christina
 

If you stay mindful of some basic ideas it might be easier get started.  If you are interested in yoga, you may want to read this blog to know what you’re getting into What Yoga Is and Is Not.

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Yoga and Bone Health

Sharing this article that a student brought to class.

12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health   
By   JANE E. BRODY     NY Times,  DECEMBER 21, 2015


          Yoga enthusiasts link the practice to a long list of health benefits, including greater flexibility and range of motion, stronger muscles, better posture and balance, reduced emotional and physical stress, and increased self-awareness and self-esteem.

But definitively proving these benefits is challenging, requiring years of costly research. A pharmaceutical company is unlikely to fund a study that doesn’t involve a drug, and in any event, the research requires a large group of volunteers tracked over a very long time.

The subjects must provide health measurements at the outset, learn the proper poses, continue to do them regularly for years and be regularly evaluated.

No one knows these challenges better than Dr. Loren M. Fishman, a physiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in rehabilitative medicine. For years, he has been gathering evidence on yoga and bone health, hoping to determine whether yoga might be an effective therapy for osteoporosis.

The idea is not widely accepted in the medical community, but then, researchers know comparatively little about complementary medicine in general. So in 2005, Dr. Fishman began a small pilot study of yoga moves that turned up some encouraging results. Eleven practitioners had increased bone density in their spine and hips, he reported in 2009, compared with seven controls who did not practice yoga.

Knowing that more than 700,000 spinal fractures and more than 300,000 hip fractures occur annually in the United States, Dr. Fishman hoped that similar findings from a much larger study might convince doctors that this low-cost and less dangerous alternative to bone-loss drugs is worth pursuing.

Those medications can produce adverse side effects like gastrointestinal distress and fractures of the femur. Indeed, a recent study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging found that among 126,188 women found to have osteoporosis, all of whom had Medicare Part D drug coverage, only 28 percent started bone drug therapy within a year of diagnosis.

Many of those who avoided drugs were trying to avoid gastrointestinal problems.

On the other hand, yoga’s “side effects,” Dr. Fishman and colleagues wrote recently, “include better posture, improved balance, enhanced coordination, greater range of motion, higher strength, reduced levels of anxiety and better gait.”

Weight-bearing activity is often recommended to patients with bone loss, and Dr. Fishman argues that certain yoga positions fit the bill.

“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does,” he said in an interview. “By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”

Most experts argue that it’s difficult, perhaps impossible, for adults to gain significant bone mass. Undeterred, Dr. Fishman invested a chunk of his own money and with three collaborators — Yi-Hsueh Lu of The Rockefeller University, Bernard Rosner of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. Gregory Chang of New York University — solicited volunteers worldwide via the Internet for a follow-up to his small pilot study.

Of the 741 people who joined his experiment from 2005 to 2015, 227 (202 of them women) followed through with doing the 12 assigned yoga poses daily or at least every other day. The average age of the 227 participants upon joining the study was 68, and 83 percent had osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia.

The 12 poses, by their English names, were tree, triangle, warrior II, side-angle, twisted triangle, locust, bridge, supine hand-to-foot I, supine hand-to-foot II, straight-legged twist, bent-knee twist and corpse pose. Each pose was held for 30 seconds. The daily regimen, once learned, took 12 minutes to complete.

The researchers collected data at the start of the study on the participants’ bone density measurements, blood and urine chemistry and X-rays of their spines and hips. They were each given a DVD of the 12 yoga poses used in the pilot study and an online program in which to record what they did and how often.

A decade after the start of the study, bone density measurements were again taken and emailed to the researchers; many participants also had repeat X-rays done. The findings, as reported last month in Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation, showed improved bone density in the spine and femur of the 227 participants who were moderately or fully compliant with the assigned yoga exercises.  Improvements were seen in bone density in the hip as well, but they were not statistically significant.

Before the study, the participants had had 109 fractures, reported by them or found on X-rays.  At the time the study was submitted for publication, “with more than 90,000 hours of yoga practiced largely by people with osteoporosis or osteopenia, there have been no reported or X-ray detected fractures or serious injuries of any kind related to the practice of yoga in any of the 741 participants,” Dr. Fishman and his colleagues wrote.

“Yoga looks like it’s safe, even for people who have suffered significant bone loss,” Dr. Fishman said in an interview.

Furthermore, a special study of bone quality done on 18 of the participants showed that they had “better internal support of their bones, which is not measured by a bone density scan but is important to resisting fractures,” Dr. Fishman said.

The study has many limitations, including the use of self-selected volunteers and the lack of a control group. But all told, the team concluded, the results may lend support to Dr. Fishman’s long-held belief that yoga can help reverse bone loss.

Even if bone density did not increase, improvements in posture and balance that can accrue from the practice of yoga can be protective, Dr. Fishman said.

“Spinal fractures can result from poor posture, and there’s no medication for that, but yoga is helpful,” he said.

In addition, “Yoga is good for range of motion, strength, coordination and reduced anxiety,” he said, “all of which contribute to the ability to stay upright and not fall. If you don’t fall, you greatly reduce your risk of a serious fracture.”

Monday, November 9, 2015

I DON’T DO YOGA! I PRACTICE YOGA!

Just as a runner does not do a marathon, he or she spends hours, days, months and years training in order to run (do) marathons. Dancers don’t just wake up one day and perform complex choreography with ease, they practice daily for weeks, months and years.  
This is why, as a yoga teacher, I get weary of hearing “I can’t do that” or “I can’t do yoga”. I am weary because I couldn’t do 98% of what I do now when I started, either! I did not get to where I am now by magic; I wasn’t at all flexible when I started, my posture was poor, and my core and many other muscles were weak. Fortunately, I have had great teachers and attended many helpful workshops and training. I have been to classes ranging from horrible to excellent.  
Mostly, I work hard at it every day with my mind as focused as possible every moment of the practice.  And when I find a good teacher,  I stay with him or her so that they know me and know what is hard for me. (Because I try to avoid what is hard. Yup, I do this too!)
The other reason yoga teachers get tired of hearing “I can’t do that” or “I can’t do yoga” is that we know it is not true.   We see people practice yoga who let nothing stand in their way. Personally, I have practiced yoga with a person missing an arm, another person dealing with multiple sclerosis, and people recovering from cancer treatments and surgeries.
The main reason I am weary of hearing this (and I suppose most other teachers are also) is because it is a self-fulfilling-prophecy.  It keeps you from starting and inhibits progress when you do start.  
If you have ever tried to teach a kid to swim or ride a bike you know exactly what I am talking about. All those attempts when they didn’t believe they could do it didn’t bring success! Yet once they start to believe even slightly “maybe I can do this”, the attempts become successful.   This isn’t just true for kids!!!   It is true for adults as well.  I and my yoga friends often talk about why we struggle with certain poses, for example I was (still am) frightened of arm balances and handstand poses. I know the problem is in my mind – my thinking “I can’t do this” or fear “what if I fall, and get hurt”. Intellectually I know this is ridiculous because I can do these with a spotter or teacher standing next to and supporting me, and I have fallen and not gotten hurt.  It might be ten or one hundred more attempts before I believe I can do it and/ or get past fear enough to actually succeed. 

So keep trying, keep practicing, there is no finish line.



YES!  It is difficult, and yes it does take discipline. It is especially difficult if you are not active, athletic or young.  It is also especially difficult living the modern urban lifestyle.  I wrote a whole blog addressing this *WHY IS YOGA SO DIFFICULT FOR PEOPLE LIVING MODERN, URBAN AND SUBURBAN LIFESTYLES?
 

All the best, Christina

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pure Sound


The Power of Pure Sound.
Chanting, sounding Om, Singing bowls, Gongs, Toning, flutes and Sound Healing. What is this stuff all about? I don’t know the how of it; I know there is something very real and wonderful going on. I am no authority on this subject, but I will share from my own experience. Then you will know why there is chanting and OM as part of  yoga Classes, and sometimes live gongs, singing bowls, flutes or with harmonic sound healing.
We all know the pure joy and satisfaction of listening to, singing playing a favorite song, sometimes over and over. We all know how some songs help us cry when our hearts feel broken. This is emotions for certain, yet perhaps more. There are studies showing the benefit of music for the elderly, for persons with depression and even heart conditions.  I do dance/music exercise with elderly people in assisted living many times as well.  Recently I was fortunate to hear Robert Tree Cody play native flute for these elderly people, we were outside under the New Mexico blue sky. They had done the breathing exercises which we always close class with. When flute music began, the healing effect was obvious, so different than when someone hears a “grand old song” they love. As they listened, a profound peacefulness settled over everyone. I saw their faces become more relaxed and felt something changing. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt it and others there felt it. There were more smiles and eye contact between the elderly people and also with the staff that cares for them.
The experience of pure sound and Harmonic Sound is more than emotional. I know it resonates with-in our whole being, our consciousness.  Yoga includes chanting as part of Kundalini yoga and at Kirtans.  Many cultures have mystic practices involving sound, music singing or chanting.  In Tunisia I heard singing one night, a special singing called “Singing the heart/throat” hearing it from a distance and then up close it had an effect on me I have never been able to explain, I didn’t know the language enough for there to be any understanding of the words, it wasn’t like anything music-wise I normally enjoyed, but I could have listened to it all night, and will never forget it. This was over15 years ago.
 Pure sound began to be very interesting to me,  after my first one hour, silent, group meditation; we did 11 minutes of Om sounding afterward. There was a merging and amplification of everyone’s “energy”; I don’t know what else to call it- it was not simple emotion : there was a palpable raising or shift in everyone, I talked with others who had the same experience, and one person described it as “all the cells of their body were vibrating at a higher frequency”! That described it! We talked about the sound helping raise our consciousness.  
Shortly after that I went to a sound healing event in Santé Fe, (Renee S. Lebeau, http://www.ahkana.com/ who studied with Tom Kenyon, http://tomkenyon.com. (There is a wonderful documentary film about him, I recently saw).  The sound/music was amazing. The next event, I asked Renee if there was space to dance or do yoga in the back of the room.  I wanted to explore movement with this live pure sound. She said we could make that an option. That night she was collaborating with two others, there was a wooden flute. I listened and did yoga breathing and then began to move.  I did a combination of yoga and dance spontaneously, my mind was totally quite – void of thought, I moved in expanded ways and did yoga poses I thought were out-of my-reach and did them with amazing ease.  I experienced direct effect of the sound on my physical body, movement in the fascia and tissue deep within the body.  Whenever the flute was played, I felt as if I had wings and my shoulders became very flexible, again I did poses beyond my usual range with ease.
I was contacted to do Yoga to the sound of Gongs www.thegongtemple.com recently, and said yes! to complete strangers!!!  (Who turned out to be wonderful, kind and true sound healing artists). It was awesome to teach with the gongs, halo, singing bowls and Michelle's voice and share this experience.  I also participated in doing a healing circle, where healers did Reiki, and other types of healing, on massage tables, placed around the gongs. The energy, sound vibrations, harmonies amplified the healing effects. I am so glad to know they are coming back in October. 

The Gong Temple's photo of their gongs, halo and singing bowls....

Please share your thoughts and experiences with sound healing; toning, chanting, singing bowls gongs- I would love to hear more about people’s experiences and practices.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Walking; the most under-rated exercise.

 
 I was fortunate to grow up in a small town where we walked: to friends, to the park to play, ice skate, for concerts or picnics on the grass.  I also walked several blocks to school, a good thing for many reasons, such as; focusing the eyes on sights at various distances, (great for vestibular functioning & eyesight) enjoying nature, trees, the sky,  fresh air, and using systems of muscular integration to propel the body forward and remain balanced.
Humans were meant to walk. Walking is one way our body resets it's natural alignment.  It is weight bearing exercise, and it calms the mind. Walking is natural movement that involves moving all of your muscles and tissue, increasing metabolism, lubricating the joints, increasing blood flow and oxygen to all the cells of the body, nourishing our physical being. It energizes the body, as well as relaxes the mind: walking can even be a meditation Walking can also be calming for the emotions, through appreciating beauty, nature, fresh air, sunshine, rain, seeing the people of your neighborhood; all this can lift your spirits.

Even if you are very “active” if you are not walking regularly, you may not be resetting the body in an important natural way.  


In the past, (and for many people of the world, still today), our bodies were the primary tool of sustenance and survival, we used them with care and awareness.  Sedentary wasn’t an option.  Now, the many conveniences of modern life: cars, furniture, sit-toilets, TV, computers, cell phones, are not helping our health, in fact, they are making people less mobile, less flexible, less connected and less aware.  

It is a challenge to maintain healthy, activity habits in modern western culture. Creating time and following through with exercise, may mean letting some things go, in order to make time to nurture personal health and peace of mind.  Notice how your thoughts, self-talk, beliefs, activity and lifestyle affect starting and continuing your walking regularly. Notice who are your allies for healthy Living. Having work-out/walking buddies/partners increases success; who could be your buddy?   
Most of the people on the planet would be astounded to observe how very little walking a modern person, in many cities in the USA does.  The bits of walking are mostly to and from a car.   In a time and society where poor diets, excess weight, obesity and sedentary lifestyle are creating disease.

 More than once recently I listened to conversations between young people (early-mid 20’s) talking about shockingly numerous ailments, medications ,and procedures, which hadn't brought relief.  More than one said "I wish I was in shape to exercise".  I wondered if they knew a walking program was a possibility.

 I work with older people (70’s up to 102 years old) some who don’t spend any time talking about ailments and medicine; because they are busy living the life they have left and most of them don't have as many "ailments" as these young people!  These elder people have a sense of purpose and commitment to life which is strong: a contributing factor to a healthier life and aging process.

It is with-in your power to change this whole paradigm of sedentary lifestyle for yourself. Starting with a good daily walk, 30-45 minutes; it is sound, healthy, preventative medicine.  It is that simple. (I didn’t say easy- breaking habits, starting new habits isn’t easy) Yet, who knows, after this is a habit, you might find yourself doing yoga, maybe even dance, or taking a long hike, running a marathon, doing a triathlon, but for now, keep it simple.  
Namaste, Christina