Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yoga Helps Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Great article from Psychology Today on how yoga can help us to overcome stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Yoga: The Strongest Stretch

An ancient tradition, yoga gains modern muscle.


After the tsunami ripped through Southeast Asia in 2004 came a tidal wave of psychic devastation. The depression and posttraumatic stress that ravaged many residents of coastal villages from India to Indonesia provided a living laboratory for testing the most powerful cures available. What wound up providing the best help to some of the most afflicted refugees? Yoga.

Yoga is an age-old practice with roots in India—bas-reliefs depicting yoga asanas, or poses, have been found on 5,000-year-old archeological artifacts—but yoga as most Americans know it is only part of the picture. The hatha yoga popular here emphasizes the exercise element. There are many forms of yoga and all share an attempt to create a state of blissful enlightenment, called ananda. En route, specific forms of breathing and exercises encourage physical purification.

As a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College who studies the effects of yoga on posttraumatic stress, Patricia Gerbarg seized the opportunity to test whether it could help tsunami survivors in India. To one group of 60 victims she gave a four-day yoga breathing course. Another group of 60 survivors was given the yoga course along with psychological counseling. A third group served as controls.

All the yoga users experienced a huge drop in scores for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression after just four days. And the effect was so persistent that Gerbarg and her team introduced yoga to those in the control group too. Counseling provided no added benefits over the yoga training alone.

While some forms of yoga have long been shown to reduce hypertension, cholesterol levels, and other signs of physiological stress, the effects of the ancient practice on psychological stress have been less studied. But a slew of research published in peer-reviewed journals in the U.S., Europe, and India is documenting the ability of yoga to decrease mood disturbance, reduce psychic stress and anxiety, and reduce PTSD symptoms. Effects have been seen within days of initiating instruction, and have been documented up to six months after a course of yoga training.

You don't have to weather a natural disaster or receive a clinical diagnosis to benefit from yoga, says Lorenzo Cohen, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Calling it "the quintessential mind-body practice," Cohen predicts that yoga "can and will be shown to be helpful for managing the stress and mild anxiety we all experience in daily living."

A group of healthy senior citizens in Oregon embodies Cohen's claims. They experienced improved energy and a greater sense of well-being after six months of yoga training. The study was particularly valuable because it compared the yoga group with seniors engaging in walking exercise classes. The non-yoga exercisers reported no such benefit.

In her yoga course, Gerbarg trains trauma sufferers in four types of yogic breathing that range from focusing on slow, complete exhalation to taking 30 breaths a minute. She and her husband, psychopharmacologist P.L. Brown of Columbia University, have found that yogic breathing physiologically affects the nervous system to produce profound changes in emotional states.

It acts via the vagus nerve—the "rest and digest," or calming, pathway of the autonomic nervous system extending from brain stem to abdomen; when activated, it slows down breathing and heart rate and increases intestinal activity. It not only carries signals from brain to body but ferries signals from the body back to the brain. "Your breathing pattern changes with emotional reactions to things," Gerbarg says. "Well, it goes both ways: If you change your breathing pattern, you can change your emotions."

Lynn Waelde, a psychologist at Stanford University and a yoga teacher, explains yoga's mind-body benefits in more metaphorical terms. "When we teach yoga, we teach people to let go of physical tensions," she says. "When you sit them in a chair in meditation, they get it. It's an easy step to see how you can breathe and focus on emotional or mental tension and let it go."

Could yoga save the world? It improves fitness, it doesn't cost anything, it has minimal side effects, it acts quickly, and the benefits endure. The advantages are especially important when applied on a large scale to impoverished people. Gerbarg and Cohen believe the value of yoga is just beginning to be documented. "We're in the early phases of something very exciting, and there's a lot more to learn about it," Gerbarg says. "This is not something you need to religiously incorporate into your daily life and do for years before you start to feel the benefits."

By Paul Tullis
Last Reviewed: 29 May 2007

Psychology Today © Copyright 1991 - 2008

Enhanced by Zemanta

Celebrating the Winter Solstice this Sunday, December 21.

This Sunday is the Winter Solstice, and a great opportunity to go inside, evaluate what has passed this year, and set intentions for our lives in the year to come. Take some time this Sunday, December 21, to "find your seat" in meditation and reflect on your life.

Try using the mantra

Om Mani Padme Hum, the jewel is in the lotus

meaning all that we need, all that is sacred and sustaining, already lies within us.

Natalie Maisel, yoga teacher and ritual guide, of offers this information about this solstice and the time of Yule:

Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, after which the daylight hours begin to grow longer. This time is known as the birth of light. The Anglo-Saxon word for this time is “Yule”. Yule in ancient Celtic terms means “wheel”. This was celebrated as the day that the chief Druid cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. Huge bonfires were lit with Yule logs to welcome the return of the Sun. Yule is a time to leave old regrets behind as the light makes its way back to the Earth and back to you, as well. The old year has completed its cycle, just as some of our habits have completed their cycles. This is a time to shed what no longer is useful in our lives.

This ritual will include a guided meditation to a cozy winter cottage to reflect on the end of the year and what you would like to release and transform, as well as a candle-lighting ceremony to welcome the return of the sun and the igniting of your own inner fire and strength.

Natalie Maisel's guided ritual for Yule is available at, click here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, December 15, 2008

New COEXIST designs in from Blissful Body Yoga Online Store

Check out the new COEXIST t-shirt, hoodie sweatshirt and gift designs at the Blissful Body Yoga Store on Cafe Press...there is even a Coexist Flip MINO HD design....enjoy!

Coexist Jr. Raglan > Coexist > Blissful Body Yoga Online Store

Enhanced by Zemanta

Asanas at the Kitchen Sink

I often hear the lament from my yoga students, "I have so little time for practice!!" Believe me, I understand, I never feel like I have enough time for sadhana; and practice is the most important element of Yoga. We can read a hundred books, go to lots of workshops, but unless we practice every day, progress will not take place.

So, one thing I have done in my own life that I would suggest, is to look for opportunities for practice in the activities of your daily life. The "have tos", like washing the dishes, doing the laundry, picking up a child, sitting at your desk, are all opportunities to bring Yoga's principles of strength, balance and focus into practice in your daily life. Yoga is all about mindfulness, so when we bring awareness into our actions and movements, moment to moment, we are "practicing," and expressing yoga, in the very fullest sense.

Here are some examples from my daily life, that you can bring into yours:

Tadasana at the kitchen sink: while you are standing and doing the dishes, notice your body position. What are your feet doing? How are your shoulders articulated? Where your pelvis? Press your feet firmly into the ground so that you can feel all four sides of your feet making contact with the earth. Take a deep breath as you do this, and feel the rest of your body rise up out of the firm base. Continue to elongate though your crown chakra (top of your head). Notice also your feelings about this activity. Do you feel rushed? Irritated? Acknowledge however you feel, and then, if your feelings are hurried or negative, see if you can bring them in a more positive direction with mindfulness. Just do what you are doing. Just do the dishes. And savor every minute detail of this activity.

Uttanasana and hair dryer:,'ll love this one. Most women (and some men) that dry their hair with a hair dryer lean into a forward bend so their hair will hang down and they can dry underneath. This is a great time for uttanasana (standing forward bend!) Again, begin building your posture from the ground up: press your feet into the ground, feel all four sides of your foot; feel the energy move up from the earth into the legs, and create a circular inward rotation of the thigh bones to make more space in the sacrum. Take care how you move in this posture as you are drying your hair, bend the knees a little or don't come forward so far if the movement and weight of the dryer make this posture awkward and straining for your back. Let your back stay long and light.

Sukhasana wherever you sit: any where you sit, and whether you sit cross-legged, as in the posture sukhasana (easy pose), or with the feet on the floor as you sit in the chair, you still need to employ the same basic postural elements. The next time you are sitting in your chair at work come forward on the seat a bit so that your feet are flat on the floor and you can feel your sitz bones firmly against the seat. In the sitting position your sitz bones are your base, so press them firmly against the seat, as you would push your feet firmly against the floor. Notice how this immediately causes your torso to lengthen, your shoulders to drop and your neck to elongate. This will give you the same open line of energy from the base of your spine, through the crown of your head, and the same openness in the rib cage for breath to move, that we cultivate in all the sitting asanas.

There is no substitute for cultivating a vigorous, and focused Yoga practice in our lives, but bringing our awareness of how the postural components of Yoga asanas translate into the everyday movements of our lives, can add a whole new dimension to our practice.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bipolar Disorder, Brain Chemistry, and Yoga | Yoga for Bipolar Disorder

David Morgan is a Kripalu Yoga Teacher, and he also has bipolar disorder. His blog Yoga for Bipolar Disorder, just won the 2008 Top Ten Bipolar Blogs Awards from PyschCentral, the oldest and largest mental health resource online. Here is an excerpt from David's "About" page:

As you are well aware if you have sought and found this page, bipolar disorder is a devastating illness that can destroy families and lives.

My name is David Morgan. I have bipolar disorder.

I’m also a yoga teacher. I teach yoga full time.

I can speak from personal experience as someone with bipolar disorder who has stared over the cliffs of despair more than once.

There is hope. Proper medication, nutrition, exercise, and sleep can go a long way in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder. (Let’s start by drinking a glass of water — get one now.)

But that’s just a start.

If you, or someone you love, are struggling with bipolar disorder, please visit David's site, it is a wealth of information, and a window to hope.

The post below is a good place to start to discover the benefits yoga can provide to those managing bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder, Brain Chemistry, and Yoga | Yoga for Bipolar Disorder

If you happen to be in the Knoxville, Tennessee area you can visit David in person, and enjoy one of his wonderful classes, at Yoga with Santosh.

Relaxation and meditation are key components that can drastically decrease the symptoms of bipolar disorder. My audio meditations, Progressive Relaxation Meditation, and Sivasana Meditation, are both excellent resources for calming the nervous system, and creating greater integration between mind, body and spirit.

Jai Bhagwan, and may you be happy, may you be free from all suffering.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Key Principles of Revolved Triangle from Susi Hately Aldous

The following came to me via Susi Hately Aldous' I Love Anatomy: Anatomy and Asana Newsletter. Susi is a yoga teacher, anatomy expert and owner of Functional Synergy.

Susi's book, Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries, is required reading in the Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training, and is one of my favorite anatomy books. It is well-written, clear, and accessible both to the professional, and the student of yoga.

An example of Susi's clear style can be read below in her excellent discription of the proper approach and mechanics neccesary to do revolved triangle pose (parivrtta trikonasana) safetly.


In order for Revolved Triangle to occur safely and smoothly, a few things need to happen.

1. There needs to be balance of the legs on the pelvis. As the twist occurs, the legs and feet can’t collapse on each other. If they do, the twist also collapses, and strain can enter into the neck, shoulder girdle, or back.

2. Although much of the initial twist is meant to occur around the base of the thoracic spine, the muscular engine of the twist is at the obliques. Because of the structure of the facet joints, the lumbar spine doesn’t have much of a bandwidth for twisting. The base of the thoracic spine however, does. The obliques, with their attachments at the ribs and the pelvis, help to gently drive that movement. Allow yourself to feel that oblique movement (or lack thereof).

3. The cervical spine (neck) twists only after the spine below has found its position. As many teachers know, students often move the neck too soon and too far. Feel the rotation in the torso below before moving the neck.

4. The shoulder girdle follows the spinal rotation. Sometimes this happens in reverse and the student gets into over-leveraging (a very easy mistake to make). Let's look at an example with your right leg in front. If your right leg is in front and you are twisting to the right, you may be inclined to have your left hand move to your right leg to . . . jusssst . . . squeeeeze a bit morrrrre . . . twwwist . . . out of the pose. In this example, the left hand and arm are driving the twist as opposed to the spine leading the twist and the shoulder girdle following with the support of the left arm and hand. It is something that I often see in students who really want "to feel SOMETHING" in this pose. Small note: I am not against leverage, but if it happens before the lower thoracic spine has been connected to the obliques and pelvis, then leverage can be downright dangerous.

I think Revolved Triangle can freak people out in a similar way to back bends. You can’t really see where you are going, and you are relying on your legs and your pelvis to be stable while the spine moves.

Nonetheless, Revolved Triangle can be truly remarkable, as many participants in the workshops can attest. If you would like to dig down a bit more, I have a Revolved Triangle teleclass ready to download. In this recording I speak more about the shoulder girdle and hip mechanics as well as the nature of the twist. Just click, here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sword in the Stone: A Mindful Winter Yoga Retreat with Randal Williams

Kripalu yoga teacher, Randal Williams.
Visit him at

When I did my Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training I had the great, good fortune to meet Randal Williams. He is a senior instructor at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA and he is one of the most wonderful, compassionate and knowledgeable teachers I have ever encountered. If you are looking for a winter retreat that will revive you, and bring focus and peace to you life, please consider his upcoming offering below.

He also has a special offering of a free audio meditation (details below). I highly recommend this. Randal's voice and words are soothing beyond description. His CD, Gentle Yoga: Blade of Grass - A mindful yoga experience is one of my favorites.

At this time we are all in the process of a tremendous change. The world today is unlike anything we've ever experienced or been challenged by and if you pay attention you can even sense the collective contraction and breath holding that is finding it's way around the globe.

Now, however, is also an opportunity for personal transformation - as Viktor Frankl stated, 'When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.'

Across cultures throughout the world, the winter solstice is such a celebration that honors change. Set amidst the cosmic dance of change, the solstice also invites us to effectively clarify the depth and direction of our lives. Wherever you find yourself and however you celebrate this particular solstice season I wish you the kindest regards and blessings for you and your family.

Consider also that when you make time for personal retreat you can effectively reflect on, appreciate or simply be with the quality and content of your life, and support a conscious turning point in the direction of your life, personal narrative and path. If you are looking for a supportive experience for solstice retreat then look at the opportunity to come and enjoy some time for yourself through 'a mindfulness retreat' with me and like-minded others at the beautiful and supportive Kripalu Center this December 19-21 - for more information select Solstice Retreat.

In this retreat weekend of communal celebration and exploration, you will

  1. Access the intelligence of life force
  2. Learn to cut through obstacles and meet your needs, discover purpose
  3. Practice mindful walking, yin (restful) and yang (engaging) yoga postures, and meditation.
  4. Come away refreshed and inspired to step into the next chapter of your life
  5. I would also like to use this opportunity to share a link to FREE guided relaxation audio - 20 minutes in length - which you can enjoy - I recommend laying in bed with headphones on to listen to the track after a warm bath.

Peace & Blessings,


Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, December 5, 2008

Seven Ways to Sooth Sore Yoga Muscles

If we are practicing yoga asanas with attention and care, we should be able to avoid most, if not all, injuries. However, some muscle and soft tissue soreness is a normal part of the process of working with the body in this way. As we proceed patiently and intelligently, our body will unfold and blossom, much like the ancient symbol of the lotus flower, so closely associated with yoga.

In the meanwhile, it important that we develop a "gift bag" of sorts. A set of things we know will help to nurture and support the recovery and growth of our body. Here are my Seven Ways to Sooth Sore Yoga Muscles:

1. Take a word from the master, and take it easy.
The yogic sage Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras, Sthira Sukham Asanam (the posture should be strong/steady and light/comfortable.) So, first and foremost, we most always begin by practicing with kindness and ahimsa (non-harming) towards ourselves. As the adage goes, "an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure!"

2. Be
If you suffer an injury the first thing you must do is make room for yourself to heal. This means making time to heal, and this is a hard one for those of us in Western societies to grasp. Our credos tell us, "No Pain, No Gain," and so we are conditioned to push through, thus injuring ourselves further. The human body has miraculous healing abilities, but it needs constructive rest in order to accomplish this, so don't be afraid to take the time to let yourself heal, and learn to rest when you are becoming fatigued, so that you can avoid injuries in the first place.

3.'s not just for dinner anymore.
If you have ever taken a basic first aid course, you know this acronym well: Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate.

R = REST: see number two! Love your body, let it heal.

I = ICE: ice is the MOST amazing healer I have ever come across. You really can't go wrong with ice, and it is especially critical to use it the first 24 hours after an injury. Often we tend to lean towards heat because it seems more soothing, but you can get yourself into a bit of trouble with heat, it can actually add to inflammation. Use ice packs on the injured area, ten minutes on, ten minutes off, for the first 24 hours. After that you can alternate ten minutes of ice, with ten minutes of heat. This alternating technique, and the application of ice alone, both help to reduce swelling and flush the area with new blood which promotes healing.

C = Compress: Compression helps to reduce swelling, pain and provides support. The most common method of compression is to wrap the site lightly in an ACE bandage. If you feel throbbing, or see discoloration, the bandage is inhibiting circulation and needs to be removed and re wrapped more loosely.

E = Elevate: Elevation also helps to reduce swelling. Elevation is most effective if you can raise the area above the heart. You can use pillows or bolsters to aid in elevation.

4. Drink lots of water.
This one is pretty simple. I hydrated body, is a healing body. If your cells and tissues are not well hydrated it makes it very difficult for them to heal. Drink lots of pure filtered water, and seek out pure vegetable and fruit juices (juice them yourself if you can!), as these will add heaps of vital nutrients to your system in an easily digested and assimilated form.

5. Massage and Bodywork
Touch is a great healer. There is a type of body work out there appropriate for every injury. Find an experience chiropractor, massage therapist, Reiki master, Positional Therapist, or other professional in a healing modality NOW, before you are injured. Put the names and numbers of these people in your "gift bag" so you are ready to take care of yourself if you have an injury. It can be challenging to have the energy to seek help, when you need it the most.

6. Create a care bag.
Create a literal "gift bag" of healing tools. Here are a few I keep in mine:

Muscle Treat: this massage lineament from one of my favorite companies, Heritage Products, contains: Light Petroleum Oil, Mineral Oil, Olive Oil, Witch Hazel, Tincture of Benzoin and Sassafras Oil; which come together to provide and oil that goes on smoothly and soaks into the skin quickly. I use it twice a day over an injured site and find it helps significantly reduce pain, swelling and even bruising. Another thing I like about this lineament is that it has very little scent, just the fragrance of the natural oils, and like all of this company's products, all of the oils are of extremely pure and high grade. It is also suppose to be very good for use on varicose and spider veins (pat on gently, don't rub.) Benzoin oil is well known for its ability to strengthen and heal skin.

Microwave Heating Pads: I have several of these in different shapes and sizes and they are terrific for applying heat once the site is ready for that treatment. I also use them after an injury has reached the point where I am ready to slowly move back into practice. I apply the heat packs before my yoga sadhana to warm the soft tissues, making them more pliable and ready for the stretching elements of asana.

Leg Warmers: Don't laugh! I am so serious! I have a couple of pairs of legwarmers and I find them so useful. I put them on toward the end of my practice, or when I am teaching a class, before sivasana so that my legs will retain the heat of practice and the muscles won' be shocked by cold air (especially in the Winter when I am going out to a cold car.) The tighter variety can actually do double duty by providing a little bit of compression and support. Try them out and you will see why dancers swear by them.
Healing Meditations: visualization is one of the most powerful healing tools we have available to us. The healing power of our minds is unlimited when use it to tap into our spirits and the prana which permeates us. Try lying down in a comfortable place with a blanket over you, and an eye pillow or small towel covering your eyes to encourage pratyahara, or sense withdrawal. Visualize your body healing on a gross and subtle level. Imagine it right down to the very cellular structures of your body. See yourself as already well; radiantly health and whole.

If you need help getting started with this sort of meditation, try my Progressive Relaxation Meditation, or my Sivasana Meditation. Both are available as audio downloads, for only $2.95, from

7. Return to activity slowly and with intelligence.
When we return to activity after an injury it is natural to want to jump right back in, and pick up from where we left off. Unfortunately, this is not right mindedness on our part. If you have been laid up with an injury for 6 weeks, it will take at least that length of time to get back to your pre-injury level of practice; it may take double the amount of time you have been on constructive rest, or longer. This is a time for the utmost practice of patience and compassion towards ourselves. Take your time, go slow, remember the words of Sri Patabhi Jois, "Practice, practice, all is coming." You will beyond where you left off in your practice in no time if you proceed in this way.

May your lives be filled with radiant health,
May you honor your body, mind and spirit with lovingkindness and compassion.

Enhanced by Zemanta