Samskara

We are all schizophrenic. Inside each of us are many different personalities that are triggered by specific situations. Inside me is the Scholar, the Employee of the month, the Artist, the Chef, the Loner and the Liar. This is a shortened version of all the personalities that live inside me, but it’s a pretty good start. These personalities show up unconsciously when a situation arises that they specialize in. My true self steps back and the alternate personality steps in and handles it. These personalities follow deeply entrenched patterns in our psyche. According to Stephen Cope, “in order to remain present we would have to deconstruct these unconscious patterns” (114).

To destroy these patterns we have to really look at ourselves and recognize our triggers and out patterns of behavior. We also have to understand how these patterns were created. This can be a difficult and even painful experience. Many of our alternate personalities were created to protect our feelings. They can be created from actions based on craving or aversion that leave deep impressions on our minds. These impressions are called Samskara. Samskara literally translates to “subliminal activators”. These are the triggers that send us down the deep patterns in our subconscious.

“Samskara is universal; it’s one of the elements that define the human condition. We are, undeniably, creatures of habit, and the physical, mental, and emotional places we often gravitate toward are the well-navigated galaxies of negative samskara.” (http://www.yogajournal.com/article/balance/stuck-rut/). The good news is that we can change our samskaras, we can dig ourselves out of that rut.

Bo Forbes of Yoga Journal defines seven steps for changing our samskaras.

Step one: Sankalpa, Intention

Settingintentions can be one of the most helpful techniques for change. Taking the time to set an intention allows you to acknowledge what you need in your life. Setting an intention make it far more likely that you will achieve your goals.

Step two: Tapas, Intensity

Tapas literally translates to fiery discipline. Tapas is the intensity you apply to the discipline of changing your patterns of behavior and adhering to your intentions. Tapas is the fire that fuels our actions

Step three: Shani, Slowing

To explain shani, Forbes compares it to a world class athlete watching a performance in slow motion. Without slowing down our reactions and behaviors it is very easy to slip back into old patterns. By slowing down our thoughts and scrutinizing our reactions we are able to see where we make our missteps. Shani can also help us identify the triggers that activate our samskaras.

Step four: Vidya, Awareness

The fourth step, vidya allows us to change our perspective on our behaviors. Together, shani and vidya encourage us to ask “what does my pattern of behavior tell me” instead of asking “why is this happening to me”.

Step five: Abhaya, Fearlessness

Fearlessness is the step I personally struggle with the most. Change is scary, even if that change will improve your life and overall being. Samsakara, as destructive as they may truly be are comfortable and easy. To change, you must be brave. You must be fearless.

Step six: Darshana, Vision

We must envision what will come once our old behavior is gone. Darshana is the practice of visualizing what we and our lives will look like once our behavior changes. Forbes recommends practicing this visualization during meditation or savasana. Forbes encourages us to focus on the details. What things will look, sound, feel, smell and even taste like. The more real our visions are in our minds, the more real they will become.

Step seven: Abhyasa, Practice

When we are developing any new skill, practice is key. The same can be said for creating new behavior patterns. Knowing our triggers can help us strengthen our new behaviors and avoid slipping back into old patterns of behaviors.

Improving our samskara can cause dramatic shifts in our overall being. We can shed negative behaviors and thoughts and bring us closer to our true nature.

Why I Yoga

I have practiced yoga passively for a long time. I went to yoga classes with my mom in high school and taught myself sun salutations in my 20’s. I would practice at home once or twice a week. I would occasionally go to classes at my gym (Shapes) but they were usually a combination of yoga and cardio so my practice never really expanded much. I knew the superficial benefits of yoga, flexibility, core strength and balance but I didn’t have any idea about the deeper benefits of yoga.

In 2011 I was in a car accident. A “lucky to be alive” car accident. I don’t remember much of it. I have dreams about the impact though. I was in and out of consciousness for about a day. I would wake up for a few seconds here and there. I remember unlatching the sunroof so my passenger could get out (he walked away with barely a scratch). I remember the EMTs ripping off the car door so they could get me out of the car. I remember screaming from the pain when they pulled me out. I remember flashes of being in the ambulance. The EMTs talking to me and working on me. I woke up in an MRI. I woke up with a cop screaming at me. I woke up when my “Uncle” Joe showed up. My folks were across the state and it wasn’t until the next day that made it to the hospital.

At the end of everything, I had a bad concussion. I broke my pelvis in three places. I broke my tailbone. I had a ton of nerve damage in my legs. I ended up in the trauma ward. There’s not much you can do for a broken pelvis. You can’t put a cast on it. Sometimes they can put pins in them or screws or plates but I was lucky enough to not need anything like that. Or maybe I was unlucky. Hard to say. They had me walking and starting physical therapy after about 4 days. I was still really weak and in a ton of pain. On day 6 I finally had a blood transfusion which significantly helped. After 8 days I got to go home.

I spent the next 8 months in bed. I was able to shower and eat and walk around with a walker. I was never able to get comfortable. I was bored and in pain. I went to a chiropractor three times a week and had an hour long massage every week (that part wasn’t so bad) and went to physical therapy. My physical therapist taught me a few basic yoga postures. I started practicing those poses and others I learned through YouTube.

After about a year I was walking relatively well and able to exercise regularly. I was practicing sun salutations every morning. This was pretty much the extent of my yoga practice until a year ago. I heard about a yoga studio that had opened near me and I decided to check it out. I hadn’t gone to a formal yoga class in years. My first class at Koa was with Jenna Anticola. I was hooked. I signed up for an unlimited membership and started going to every class I could. My practice improved significantly and I started to reap the deeper benefits of yoga. I’ve been practicing at Koa for over a year now. When I can I go to anywhere between 3 and 8 classes.

I’m still recovering. Every day I try to help my body heal. This past year has been difficult because I’ve had a few surgeries on my left leg. I developed a lipoma from the impact of the crash on my left thigh. It was unusually large so I had to have it removed and then I had to have a couple follow up surgeries. My most recent surgery was December 14th so I’m still in recovery now. I’ve only made it to one class since then but I have been practicing at home. This has been a difficult time for me. I haven’t been feeling well and I’ve been in quite a bit of pain.  

Yoga has improved many aspects of my health and wellbeing. My flexibility, core strength and balance have significantly improved. My ability to calm my mind and my ability to concentrate have improved. My breathing has improved and as a result my cardio endurance has increased. My overall fitness level has improved. I’ve also seen improvement in my mental health. I am able to relax and meditate more easily and more deeply. My sleep has even improved. Every time I come to the mat I reap the benefits. That’s why I yoga. 

New Years Resolutions

New Years is traditionally a time of evaluation. Instead of reflecting on all the ways in which we are blessed we tend to search out all of our faults and all the things we don’t like about our lives. We make crazy lists of all the things that are wrong with our looks, our jobs, our habits and our living situation. We then make even crazier lists of how we plan on changing every aspect of our lives. Huge drastic changes at that! 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions but only 8% achieve their goals! (statisticbrain.com) This can be attributed to the fact that we are great at setting goals but terrible at making plans on how to achieve them.

I will lose 20 pounds. I will spend more time with my family. I will make more money. Sound familiar? This is usually the beginning and the end of our resolutions. But there are a few key components missing. We’ve got the what part down, but we are missing the how, when, where, who and most importantly the why parts. Goal writing is not as simple as writing down the desired result. The acronym SMART is a commonly used tool for goal writing. It defines a well written goal as one that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. This means that our resolution of “I will lose 20 pounds” would sound more like “I will lose 20 pounds by July 1st” when sent through the SMART filter.

 

SMART is a great tool to help write better goals. It adds details to your goals and makes you spend a little more time thinking about them. But SMART is just the beginning. Adding more information and details to your goals can help make working towards your goals even easier. Specifically adding information about how you are going to achieve them increases the likelihood that you will keep them. So “I will lose 20 pounds by July 1st” becomes “I will lose 20 pounds by July 1st by exercising 20 minutes a day 3 times a week”. Now you’ve got a goal that tells you something.

When I am setting goals I also like to look at why I want to achieve specific goals. Why do I want to lose 20 pounds? Is it for appearance or health or some other reason? Sometimes evaluating the reason for wanting to achieve a goal can help us find motivation for working towards them or may help us see that we need to rewrite our goals to reflect the true changes we want to see in ourselves. My example of losing 20 pounds is a very simple example but goals regarding family, relationships, fulfillment or happiness are much more complicated and can have very different underlying motivators.

Once our goals are set and implemented a key factor in achieving them is constant monitoring of progress. Even if we just have a simple frequent reminder that we have goals helps tons. In yoga, we often set an intention at the beginning of practice. This can be a great time to remind ourselves of our goals. Of course the intention of every practice can’t be “I will lose 20 pounds” but our intention can be to stay motivated and committed to our goals. Furthermore we use our motivators as subjects of focus and meditation. If the underlying motivation for us wanting to lose weight is to give us more confidence than we can meditate on welcoming confidence and strength into ourselves.

So for 2017 spend some time writing your resolutions and then throughout the year spend time working on them and checking on your progress as time goes by. Reflect on your motivation and meditate upon the changes you’d like to see within yourself. Have a safe and happy 2017!!

 

 

Book Review: Dharma Delight

Buddhism, zen, yoga and other philosophies are so heavily intertwined that it's difficult to learn about one without learning about others. I have a superficial knowledge of Buddhism. Superficial may not be the correct word. I essentially have a basic understanding of the 4 noble truths and the eight fold path and so on. 

I checked out Dharma Delight: a Visionary Post Pop Comic Guide to Buddhism and Zen by Rodney Greenblat at my pubic library. First of all it is visually stunning. It really is so much fun to look at. Secondly, it is totally confusing. Greenblat translates the basic tenants of Buddhism into pop art with a modern interpretation. While some of the interpretations were easy to understand others were so far out there that they lost all meaning for me. It was interesting to see the concepts that I already understood interpreted in a new way and illustrated so whimsically. The concepts that I am struggling to understand became more confusing with references to space ships and strange introductions to the different bodhisattvas.

For the most part I enjoyed studying the pictures. They are full of symbolism and meaning. I also looked up some of the topics online to get a better grasp of Greenblat's interpretations which was a little frustrating. If you are brand new to Buddhism or Zen this may not be the book for you. If you are well versed in the philosophies you may enjoy Greenblat's modern interpretations. If you have the gift of sight you will at the very least enjoy the illustrations which are fantastic. 

Malasana: A pose I love that everyone else hates

By Jessica

Okay, so maybe not everyone hates it. However, I certainly haven’t heard too many sighs of excitement when malasana is introduced into practice.

Just to bring you up to speed malasana is also known as the yogi’s squat. It’s an easy pose to get into. Start with your feet a bit wider than hips width apart. Toes should point out towards the corners of your mat. Then you just slowly lower your hips down as low as you comfortably can while keeping your head up and your heart shining forward. Your heels may or may not lift a little. My favorite thing to do with my hands is to press them together in prayer and push my elbows into my knees to help spread them further apart. There’s a ton of different modifications and ways you can use props to help make this pose more accessible to you.

 

Squats are somewhat foreign in our western culture. In most of the rest of the world people squat constantly. They squat to cook, clean, socialize, eat, read and for all kinds of other things. We rarely squat outside of the gym or unless absolutely necessary. It’s really a shame because squatting is a very effective way to work all of the muscles of the lower body. Malasana easily activates and strengthens uddiyana bandha and mula bandha increasing core strength and lower back strength.

 

I have hip problems so I’m always surprised at how comfortable malasana is for me. I could squat forever. Okay, maybe not forever but at least for a good 15 long breaths. Outside of the studio I like to do basic breathing meditations in malasana. All poses have their own energetic qualities and according to Yoga Journal, malasana has a grounding quality that taps into apana vayu or downward flowing energy. This grounding property makes malasana a great pose for anytime you are feeling stressed.

 

In yoga there are five vayus. The vayus are the subdivision of prana (life force energy or breath). Each of the five vayus have different properties including the directions of the flow of breath (vayu translates to wind). Apana vayu is considered one of the most important. Its flow is downward and its energy is situated in the pelvic floor and lower abdomen. Apana vayu (with help from mula bandha) helps our bodies eliminate all physical toxic substances and helps our minds eliminate all emotional or psychic toxins.

Before I start a meditation session, I like to do a few sun salutations. I welcome ocean breath into my practice and I lengthen my breath to an inhale of about 4 or 5 and a longer exhale of about 6 or 7. I have a vocal performance background so lengthening my breath this long feels comfortable and natural for me. If you can’t breathe in and out that long don’t worry about it.

Once I’m feeling awake I slowly drop into malasana. I really focus on keeping my back straight and my shoulders rolled down my back. I keep my chest open and my heart shining forward. I lengthen my breath as long as possible, about 8 counts in and anywhere from 10 to 12 counts out. I usually stay like this anywhere from 5 to 10 breaths. I typically just focus on my breath and the feeling of my breath bringing energy throughout my body but also grounding me to the earth. I imagine breathing out all the negative crap in my body and mind. I will sometimes visualize the breath coming into my body and down through the earth as shiny and gold and the breath that is leaving my body as stormy and grey. I’ll take some time in a future blog to write about some meditation tips and tricks for those of you who are just getting started.

My body tends to let me know when it is time to stop, either I’ll start to notice some discomfort or sometimes my tummy will start rumbling (I wasn’t kidding about this being a detoxifying pose!). Other times I won’t be able to tame my monkey mind enough to take benefit from the meditation. I get out of malasana by tipping forward and slowly straightening my legs into a full forward fold. A few deep urdhava hastasana (sweeping arms overhead in mountain pose and then bringing them to prayer) and I am ready to go for the day.

Malasana really helps me find my center and grounds me to the earth. It brings me a sense of calm and reduces any stress I am feeling. I have always thought that the poses I like the least are the poses I need the most so if you dislike malasana squat it is probably the one you should be practicing the most!  Don’t be afraid to use props or any other modifications to make it more accessible to you. 

Introduction to Yoga Body Locks Part 2

by Jessica

If you’ve taken any classes at Koa I’m sure you’ve had a basic introduction to Mula Bandha and Uddiyanan Banda. These are the body locks we activate during practice. If you’ve heard the words once or twice in class but aren’t really sure what the heck is being talked about I’d recommend you read ‘Introduction to Body Locks Part 1’ first. I cover more general information about the body locks. I also look more deeply at the root lock, Mula Bandha. In this segment, I will be focusing on the abdominal lock, Uddiyana Bandha.

Uddiyana Bandha means ‘upward flying lock’. Uddiyana Bandha is located in the abdomen and is associated with the third chakra, Manipura. Manipura represents the power of the body and being able to honor and express the body’s power without fear.  Activating Uddiyana Bandha builds strength in the core and adds heat to the fire within the body.

 

While Mula Bandha is a more subtle internal activation, Uddiyana Bandha can be both an internal and external activation. Uddiyana Bandha engages all the abdominal muscles and skeletal muscles, lifts the heart and pulls energy up and into the body. Learning to activate Uddiyana Bandha will come a little more naturally for most of it. At its very basest form it’s the same contraction we do when we are sucking in our gut for a picture or to squeeze into a too tight pair of pants. However there are some important differences. I had been practicing Uddiyana Bandha for a few months before I really understood what, where and how I should be contracting my muscles. In an early morning Rocket class, Imani introduced a different technique that really helped me understand what it should feel like.

 

To begin, stand with your feet wide apart, toes pointing out to the corners of the mat. Bend slightly into your knees and bend forward at the waist. This isn’t really a squat or a forward fold. If you were to extend one arm to the floor you would look like a football player lining up for a play. You can rest your hands on your knees with bent elbows. The important thing is to get into a position where you can feel gravity pulling your belly towards the floor. Breathe naturally as you learn to activate the lock. As you exhale, pull your belly button back and up into your abdomen. Think about pressing your belly button against your spine. You can also think about tightening up all of the muscles of your abdomen. Use your muscles to hold your core strong. Release the lock as you inhale and fill your abdomen up with breath. 

 

Pulling Uddiyana Bandha back firmly towards your spine will help protect and strengthen your lower back. It will also help detoxify and massage the organs of the torso and help increase liver function. It will also improve digestion and increase the circulation of blood, oxygen and energy throughout the body.

 

The overall goal is to use Mula Bandha in conjunction with Uddiyana Bandha and Ujjayi Pranayama (victorious or ocean breath). I described in part one how it works: inhale to activate Mula Bandha and exhale to activate Uddiyana Bandha. This can be done when breathing and practicing at any speed. I find the most difficult part is to alternately activate and release the locks. It’s a lot easier to activate the locks and keep them activated. I’m sure this isn’t exactly cheating… I have found that practicing during a weight circuit at the gym has helped me learn to work them better.

 

I am a member at Planet Fitness in Plant City. They have a 30 minute cardio/weight circuit set up that creates a great environment to hone your yoga skills. The circuit consists of 10 different strength machines and 10 cardio-step stations. It uses a red light green light system. The light turns green and you start working the station. The light turns red you switch to the next station. You alternate between cardio and strength. The green light is on for 60 seconds and the red is on for 30 seconds so at the end you have a quick full body workout. I incorporate Bandha and Prana practice into in by maintaining ujjayi pranayama throughout the 30 minutes. I keep my breath slow and even. On the strength machines I focus on using good yoga postures and I work hard to activate and release the locks. I match my breathing to my movements of the machines using an isometric style of lifting. My focus while doing the circuit is more about combining all the different techniques and not on building huge muscles. I also always try to maintain some of the common details of proper yoga positions. For example, I keep my spine neutral and inline, I pull my shoulders down and away from my ears and pull my shoulder blades together, I keep my hips square and so on. As a result of all this work I have noticed improvement across all areas of my physical fitness.

 

As mentioned above, Uddiyana Bandha is associated with the chakra Manipura. I find the association very poetic especially when looked at it through a primitive lens. In most animals, humans especially, the abdomen is the most vulnerable area of the body. When we feel threatened we tend to collapse in on our belly. Strengthening Uddiyana, ‘flying upward’ encourages us to open ourselves and to develop strength in our core. As we strengthen the physical component of Manipura we strengthen the mental and emotional components. We become more confident, less fearful; we are able to release jealousy and sadness. Most importantly, we become able to recognize and honor the strength within ourselves and therefore one another.

 

“Whenever you feel threatened or afraid, you should place your hands over your third chakra, right in the middle of your stomach, and breathe very deliberately and slowly until you feel calm. In doing so, you will actually begin to feel stronger and more protected. Breath gives us life and it is the source of our power.”

 

                Sonia Choquette

Samvega

By Jessica

I’m currently reading The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living by Stephen Cope. I’m only a chapter or so into it but so far so good. Cope basically explains Patanjoli’s sutras through the experiences of his friends and family. It’s a solid dose of yoga philosophy told through relatable stories.

I made it as far as the first chapter when a concept hit home with me. This was the week before the election and it was something I sensed that I could reach out and touch in everyone around me. The concept was samvega. A Sanskrit term that appears in Buddhist texts and in the Yoga Sutras. I’d like to be clear that the two have somewhat different definitions of the word. In this case Cope was referring to the Buddhist usage of the word.

Gautama Buddha experienced samvega when he encountered the four sights. An old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic. This experience led to his understanding of the noble truth of suffering and the impermanence and ultimate dissatisfaction with a conditioned existence.

The Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikku describes samvega as a feeling that “covers a complex range — at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle”. Some of the results of samvega are a lack of pleasure from formerly pleasurable sources, an increased need for truth and authenticity, increased introversion and reliance primarily on one’s own gut instincts, an increased need to discover and realize one’s own talents, a generally psychological and spiritual sense of disorganization and a need to stop business as usual and get to finding the path that will allow a move out of samvega.

In general, samvega can lead to one of two places: a place of bitterness, cynicism, and depression or it can lead one to seek the Dharma. Although Dharma has many interpretations, I find it easiest to think of Dharma as cosmic law. Buddhist teachings encourage embracing and even celebrating feelings of samvega. If we embrace these feelings we can gain a clear sense of where we need to go or what we need to do to find out way out of it.

Samvega can show you the path out of suffering. Once you have found the path either on your own or through the Dharma, you will experience pasada. Pasada is the joy that arises in the heart when the path out of suffering and stress can be seen. Buddhakaruna said that sadly, most people drown the emotion of samvega when it arises in their heart. Some drown it with distraction. Some drown it with alcohol and end up drowning themselves. One of the greatest and most destructive delusions is that suffering can be dealt with by numbness. Understanding the normalcy of samvega gives it a constructive place in our lives and we no longer need to numb this wise emotion.

Gratitude

By Jessica

I know, I know. It’s way too cliché to write a blog about gratitude for Thanksgiving. We don’t even need to talk about the somewhat shady origins of Thanksgiving and the true meaning behind the celebration. Let’s simplify this whole thing. Currently, Thanksgiving is a day we take to give thanks for what we as Americans have. Freedom, democracy, capitalism, suffrage for all people and so on. We have to take this day to pause just long enough to express our thanks before we delve deeply into the materialistic melee that begins just one day after. Sigh…..

 In my opinion, any day is a good day to be grateful. My partner Nick and I take time every time we sit down to eat dinner to say 3 things we are grateful for. Sounds cheesy, right? We try to focus on specific things that are going on in our own lives and in the world in general. Sometimes it’s difficult because we are so very blessed. We have a roof over our heads, food on our plates, health and enough material trappings to keep us in line with the Jones’. It’s when I struggle to think of things to be grateful for that I realize how selfish and ridiculous  I am.

 Kṛtajñā is one of the Sanskrit words for gratitude. I love Sanskrit. I love the sound of the words and I love the meanings of the words. There are often multiple meanings for words that give it a much richer definition. Kṛtajñā means gratitude, thankful, mindful of formal aid or favors, acknowledging past services or benefits, correct in conduct, knowing what is right and dog. I think it’s interesting that dog is one of the meanings because I can think of no creature that has a greater understanding of gratitude than a dog. Putting aside dog, the rest of the meanings give a very full definition of gratitude. Being thankful for people, actions and things in the past, present and the future. Gratitude is not only in the moment, it should carry throughout time and space.

 It’s easy to overlook gratitude and to forget to practice gratitude on a regular basis. Psycholtherapist, writer and poet Ruth Neubauer’s poem, “The Opposite of Gratitude” provides some help for understanding gratitude.

 

The Opposite of Gratitude

is self-absorption.

Which comes in many forms:

guilt

entitlement

manipulating others

never being able to say you’re sorry

inability to let go of anger

rumination

fears

anxiety.

“About me” removes the ability to be grateful.

Gratitude requires an open heart

A clearing of the mind

Space.

Space which Gratitude can fill.

Gratitude requires huge spaciousness.

So this year on Thanksgiving, create space for gratitude by letting go of the things that are holding you down, open your eyes to all that you have been blessed with and open your heart to receive all these blessings. 

 

For a few fantastic mantra you can use to invite gratitude into your heart check out the following.

 

 http://aimhappy.com/sanskrit-mantras-meditation-gratitude/

 

Book Review: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga: A Practical Guide to Healing Body, Mind, and Spirit by Deepak Chopra

by Jessica

I checked this out from Hoopla. If you are not using Hoopla and your library to check out books FOR FREE online you are missing out. I am a member of the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative. Not only can I go in to any library and check out physical books, I can check out eBooks, audiobooks and tons of other materials. I am a huge fan of audiobooks because I’m ADD and I have a really hard time sitting down and just reading. I do most of my reading while I’m at the gym or in waiting rooms. When I am home working, I love having an audiobook to listen to. I think some folks may think of it as a lazy way of reading but I disagree. I interact with the material the same way I would with a physical book. If I miss something I back it up and listen again. If something is referenced that I want to know more about I’m already working from my laptop so the information is right there. When I listen to nonfiction, I tend to take notes. I can’t help it. I’m an eternal student.

One of the great things about using the online resources for books is the accessibility and variety of books available. I wind up reading/listening to books that I might not normally check out. This was the case with The Seven Spiritual Laws. I do read lots of books about Yoga and spirituality and self-help and philosophy and so on and so on. However, I haven’t read much of Deepak Chopra’s work. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great. He’s done a lot to promote healthy physical and emotional living. I think I’ve stayed away because his work is very main stream. His books are very accessible to someone who has no previous knowledge or experience with the subject matter.

The Seven Spiritual Laws, is a great overview of the 7 principles of yoga. It brushes away some of the confusing language of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It’s a great introduction to the spiritual side of yoga. If you are ready to add spirituality to your yoga practice this is a great place to start. Not only are the principles laid out for you simply, but Chopra includes mantras and poses that go with them. Interestingly, as I was researching information for this blog I found out that this book was published for AARP Health. This explains a lot about how it is written. It’s a very very easy read.

 

The best part is there is a fantastic companion piece you can download. It has great pictures of the recommended asana. The audiobook is just under 4 hours so you can get through it in a day easily. Even if you don’t use or follow the suggested vinyasa, the introduction to the spiritual principles is worth the time. I am definitely more interested in learning more about the philosophy of yoga after reading this book.

Here’s some links to help you out:

Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative

http://www.hcplc.org/

Hoopla – movies, music, eBooks, audiobooks and more with your library card

https://www.hoopladigital.com/

The Chopra Center – The 7 Spiritual Laws of Yoga

http://www.chopra.com/articles/the-7-spiritual-laws-of-yoga

Tantor Media – free companion download, use password ‘lotus’ in the protected content box to access

https://tantor.com/the-seven-spiritual-laws-of-yoga-deepak-chopra-md-david-simon-md.htm

Fun at the ER with Yoga Breath

Fun with ER Machines and Yoga Breath

by Jessica

I am spending the day in the ER. One day I’ll write up my story and it will all make sense but for the moment the reason I am here doesn’t really matter.

I am currently waiting for blood test results and x-ray results. I actually haven’t seen a doctor yet. A few intake nurses, a few student paramedics who tore up my arm trying to take my blood and the floor nurse just checking in to make sure everything was good. Other than a serious pizza craving, I’m okay.

I’ve decided to use my time wisely and take advantage of all the machines I am hooked to. I’ve got, pulse, oxygen level and blood pressure all at my disposal. I thought I’d test out the effects different styles of breathing have on all this junk. What else can I do?

My plan is to practice each breathing style for 10 minutes. I will record all my data before and after. I’m going to toss a 10 minute period of natural breath in between just too clear things up. I am not going to be doing any physical activity and I am not going to actively maintain a meditative state. This is all about the effect of the breath on my body.

I am only going to focus on the 3 pranayama we practice most frequently at Koa.

  •  Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious or Ocean breath) – Victorious breath is my absolute go to for breath work. Ujjayi is the breath we practice the most at Koa. During vinyasa style practice the breath is the driving force of the movement. Inhalations and exhalations are times with poses and transitions between poses. Using ujjayi in this manner turns practice into moving meditation. The breath allows the body to deepen the asana and hold the poses longer and stronger.

To practice Victorious breath you inhale oxygen deeply into the lungs through the nose and exhaling deeply out of the nose. You allow the breath to resonate against the back of the throat creating the rhythmic ocean sound.

The breath is controlled by the diaphragm (the thick layer of muscle that separates the lungs from the abdomen). I went to college on an opera scholarship so I had a little advantage learning this breath. I allow my diaphragm to do all the work with this breath. I pull the muscle down and back towards my spine in a very smooth, controlled action; this allows me to also activate uddiyana bandha (the abdominal lock). Activating this lock with the breath has really helped me build abdominal strength. There’s a lot more to be said about the locks but that’s not what today is about.

I match the speed of my breath with the speed I want to move through my practice. In general, this l tends to be a slow breath for me. In a slow flow class I will inhale through my nose to a count of 3 or 4 and exhale to a count of 4 or 5. In a power flow or rocket class the count is closer to 1 or 2 on the inhale and exhale. If I am using ujjayi during a meditation or when holding a pose for a number of breaths it becomes even deeper and slower. My inhalation can be up to a count of 8 or 9 and my exhalations seem to go on forever.

As I mentioned, victorious breath is my go to. My body is so comfortable with it that I often have a hard time “turning it off”. Of the three that I am discussing today, it is the most energizing, centering and strengthening.

  • Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternating Nostril Breathing) – I don’t have a ton of experience with this breathing technique in a studio environment. So far it has been introduced either at the beginning or at the end of a class. I have tried to incorporate this breathing into my personal practice. I have found that it’s difficult to use during any type of flow but is great to use with yin or restorative yoga. This breath seems to open up areas of the mind more than the body. It’s very calming.

Learning this breath is very straightforward. You sit comfortably with your back straight. This can be in sukhasana but could also be sitting in a chair or car or even standing tall. There’s a variety of different mudras that can be added but I think the most important part is to have your upper body, including your face relaxed. I’m sure there’s a technical way of doing this but the basic idea is to begin by closing one nostril by pressing on it gently with your thumb. You inhale deeply through the open nostril and then switch the position of the hand so that you can now exhale deeply through the other nostril. You then breathe in deeply on that side while keeping the other side closed and alternate sides.

I doubt I could have made that more confusing if I tried. Bottom line is you close one side of your nose, inhale on the open side, then switch sides and exhale. Then you inhale and switch sides again. So its inhale, switch, exhale, inhale, switch, exhale, inhale, switch and so on. I’m really going out of my way to make this sound way more complicated than it is. Ask YouTube. You’ll see how easy it is. This breath is soft and natural. The exhale is a little longer than the inhale, which seems to be the case with most of the yoga breaths.

The benefits of breathing this way are numerous. It definitely brings calm to the mind. Channel Desiree first introduced this breath to me. She mentioned using it in traffic to quell her road rage. It seems to exercise the respiratory system. Not just the lungs but the sinus passages throughout the face and throat. Pushing and pulling air through the sinus passages helps relax the muscles of the face and releases stress. Since you are working each side independently this breath brings balance to the mind and energy channels.

 

  • Dirga Swasam Pranayama (3 part breath) – Although the dirga breath is considered to be the most basic of yoga breaths, I personally struggle with it. This probably means I should practice it a lot more. During the 3 part breath, you completely fill up your lungs expanding first the belly, then the ribcage and then the upper chest with air. Then you exhale completely in the reverse direction. At the end of each breath cycle, the lungs should feel completely empty. It helps to place a hand on the belly and a hand on the chest to help you feel the body expand and deflate with oxygen. This also helps you feel what areas you are filling with breath.

This breath is also considered somewhat meditative. There’s no sound associated with it and it can be practiced in any position. This makes this breath very easy to use in everyday life. I feel that this breath helps me become grounded in the present moment. Yoga Journal says that you can take in up to 700% more oxygen using this breath as you can during natural breathing. As I said before I am still struggling with this breath. More often than not I revert to Ujjayi which is much more comfortable for me. It is highly likely that I am just straight up not doing this breath correctly and that is why I am struggling with it. Keep this in mind while you are checking out the results of my little experiment.

This is in no way scientific and does not reflect the findings of anyone who has seriously studied pranayama. This mostly came about because I was bored and curious. Before each 10 minute round of breath, I allowed myself 10 minutes of natural breath. I noted on the following table what the changes were after the breathing period and after the recovery period. I also noted how I felt both physically and mentally. I have no doubt that performing each of these breathing techniques under different circumstances and for different periods of time will provide very different results.

You should also know that I have absolutely NO MEDICAL TRAINING. I am not qualified at all to interpret what any of this means. This is strictly my personal experiences and commentary. Finally, you should know that my blood pressure tends to be on the low side. I average around 90/60, it runs in my family.

I think the overall result of practicing dirga breath is that I am absolutely terrible at it. This is not the breath for me. I REALLY struggled to maintain it. It increased my pulse 15 beats per minute with no additional physical activity! By the end of the 10 minutes I was totally annoyed with it. I slipped into ujjayi a few times and had to really work to get the breath back. I think going forward I’m just going to stick to ujjayi during practice and only use dirga to begin a class or meditation. The one benefit that I truly felt from dirga was how grounded and present I felt in my body. It was very hard work for me though. When my ten minutes was up I immediately reverted to ujjayi for a few minutes before relaxing into a natural breath. I think that really helped me recover quicker. I am planning on working with one of our instructors more so I can better understand how to use dirga breath.

So that was my little experiment. If nothing else, I really hope that this gets you thinking about how your breath works with your body. It’s easy to let our focus slip from our breath to other things, especially in yoga where there are a billion things to think about. In Sanskrit the word ‘prana’ not only means breath. It also means life force. Numerous times during practice, Imani Woomera, the owner of Koa will remind even her most seasoned students that prana is the practice. If the breath is right the practice will be right. There is no practice without breath. 

 

Introduction to Yoga Body Locks Part 1

by Jessica

Recently at Koa there has been a renewed focus on integrating the use of the body locks in our practice. The body locks, or Bandha’ are contractions of specific muscles in the body during asanas. Activating the bandha’ can provide numerous benefits to not only improve yoga practice but to also improve overall physical and mental health. 

The bandha’, combined with the breath momentarily interrupt the flow of blood to the contracted muscles releasing a fresh flow of blood that will detoxify the body by flushing away old dead cells. Flushing away the toxins allows the organs to strengthen and rejuvenate. The fresh flow of blood helps improve the circulation and pumps blood and oxygen to all areas of the body.

Besides the physical benefits, bandha’ also improve the flow of energy to the brain centers. Energy is purified and breaks down blockages to allow the energy to move freely through the body and mind. Activating the bandha’ can allow the mind to come to rest, alleviate stress and also welcome inner harmony and balance.

There are four body locks in yoga. Although these locks are primarily associated with Hatha Yoga, they can be utilized in all types of yoga, physical activity and anytime throughout your day. The four bandha’ are:

Mula Bandha, contraction of the pelvic floor

Uddiyana Bandha, contraction of the abdomen

Jalandhara, tucking the chin close to the chest

Maha Bandha, activating all three of the bandha’ together

 

Currently I have been focusing primarily on Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. Today I’m going to talk about Mula Bandha and I will address Uddiyana Bandha at another time. Mula Bandha, or the “root lock” is located at the center of the pelvic floor. Contracting the muscle of Mula Bandha creates an energetic seal that locks prana (breath) in the body. Mula Bandha provides a strong foundation for movement and balance. 

Mula Bandha is a contraction and lifting up of the pelvic floor. To put it simply, Mula Bandha is a contraction of the perineum, the area between the anus and scrotum or vagina. Think kegels. The benefits of kegels have long been known to help with incontinence and strengthen support to the womb, bladder and bowels. They can also strengthen the vaginal walls after childbirth. Mula Bandha can do this and more. I have noticed significant changes in my practice and in my body since I started incorporated Mula Bandha into my practice. My balance has improved, my posture both on and off the mat has improved and because Mula Bandha works the lowest part of the torso I have noticed increased strength in my abdomen.

In the beginning, activating mula bandha can be tricky. To practice you can start and stop the flow of urine midflow. This will allow you to feel the perineum contract and release. Practicing in this way will help improve your use of Mula Bandha in your practice. Over time you should be able to relax the anus and the other muscles around the perineum. You will feel the floor of your pelvis lift deep inside your abdomen.

Using Mula Bandha in conjunction with Uddiyana Bandha and Ujjayi Pranayama (victorious or ocean breath) have made my overall practice is stronger. Here’s how it works: On the inhale I activate Mula Bandha and on the exhale I activate Uddiyana Bandha. Working it this way has been difficult for me to master. There’s a ton to think about? Are my feet in the right place? Are my hands in the right place? Are my hips square, my face soft, my muscles activated, my pelvis tilted, my shoulders relaxed and on and on and on. It can be overwhelming! This is the practice. Every time I come to the mat I work to improve and using Mula Bandha has certainly helped!

Mula Bandha is located at the root chakra, Muladhara, from which energy permeates the body and mind. Mula Badha allows you to connect more deeply with this chakra. When this chakra is strong and relaxed, you will create peace and strength in your heart and soul. Focusing on the breath allows you to see your time on the mat as a moving meditation. You will walk away more energized, centered and focused.

"Yoga allows you to find an inner peace that is not ruffled and riled by the endless stresses and struggles of life”

            B.K.S. lyengar

Sound Healing with Alexis Holland

by Jessica

 

Alexis Holland and her crystal bowls joined us at Koa this past Sunday. Through her company, Harmonious Holistics, Alexis offers a number of healing services including yoga, life coaching, holistic nutrition and sound therapy. After the Sunday Serenity class we enjoyed a session of Alexis’ incredible healing music. Sound has been used in almost every culture as a tool for healing or as a way to connect to the divine. All of the major religions use sound in the form of singing, chanting or silence as part of ritual practice. Often focus is placed on the meanings of the words sung or chanted however the frequencies and harmonies intoned may have deeper significance and purpose.  

 

Sound travels in waves, through the air, through our bodies, into our ears and out into the universe. These waves change all they pass through. The frequency of the waves dictates the type of change that takes place and to what degree. On a superficial level, sound can create or change moods. On a deeper level, sound can create physical and energetic change. We witness the physical effects of sound on a daily basis. Some of these effects are as obvious as the rattling of windows when a loud car cruises by while others are far more subtle. Our bodies and minds are not immune to the effects of sound. Sound healers, like Alexis use sound to create positive, healing change in the bodies and the minds of their clients.

 

Using a variety of instruments including crystal bowls, tuning forks, drumming and her voice, Alexis performs sound healing to help with a variety of conditions. Commonly, sound healing is used to treat sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, stress, add and other learning disabilities and pain management.

 

For her performance at Koa we all got comfy in a reclined supported position. With the lights low, Alexis chanted and played. She moved around the room with the bowls to allow each person to be wrapped up in the vibrations from the instruments. I could feel the sound resonate deep inside my chest and mind creating a deep sense of relaxation and calm. Interestingly, I noticed that I was becoming a little sniffly during her performance. Later that evening I had a full on cold. I suppose the vibrations shook it loose. Hopefully it will be gone as quick as it came.

For more information about sound healing check out

http://www.soundhealingcenter.com/

For more information about the types of services Alexis offers contact her through her website

http://www.harmoniousholistics.or

October Women's Circle at Koa (Featuring Essential Oils)

 

October Women’s Circle at Koa by Jessica

October 29th was the introduction to Koa Yoga’s brand new Monthly Women’s Circle! Each month will be hosted by a different instructor and feature guest speakers, activities and topics specifically pertaining to women’s health. For the first workshop, Terry Holden focused on the introduction of the use of essential oils during yoga practice. With special guest, Maria Malec, Terry guided the class through asana designed to work the lymphatic and adrenal systems, improve breast health and balance female hormones.

Maria Malec, wellness instructor and long-time user of essential oils discussed numerous ways essential oils can improve women’s mental and physical health without relying on over the counter or prescription medications.

I’m going to let Maria clarify her recommendations for what essential oils to use during this practice. There were a number we sampled and I know I came out of there very relaxed and smelling great. Some of the oils I specifically remember are lavender, lime, lemon (and other citrus), spearmint, thieves oil, peppermint, cedar, clary sage and rose geranium. She also used a handful of blends designed for specific purposes. Maria has been a representative for Young Living for over 20 years. Young Living is the premier manufacturer of high grade essential oils. It’s important to make sure you use high grade EDIBLE essential oils. There are lots of manufacturer’s that sell products as essential oils that are really chemically produced fragrances and those are not going to do you any good.

The three ways Maria said we can use essential oils are topically (on your skin), ingestion (by eating them in food, water or as a supplement) or by inhalation (as a room spray or in a diffuser). I found that similar to yoga poses, the one you don’t like is the one you need the most! As some of you may know, I make organic, food grade aromatherapy products for use in the home and on the body under the name Down Home Girl. Many of products I make are available for purchase at Koa. I currently have body scrubs, lotions, body butters, balms, face masks, hand sanitizers and body sprays. All of my products are 100% natural and organic. They contain no weird added chemicals or coloring or preservatives.

 

This month’s workshop was similar to Yin Yoga, where poses are held for longer periods of time and are coupled with deep slow breathing. Some of the poses Terry covered included:

·                     Sukasana – Easy Pose (variations: fire logs, half lotus, full lotus)

·                     Balasana – Child’s Pose

·                     Prasarita Padottanasana- Wide Legged Seated Forward Fold

·                     Janu Sirsasana – Seated Head to Knee Forward Bend

·                     Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana – Seated Head to Knee Forward Bend with Spinal Twist

·                     Baddha Konasana – Seated Bound Angle

·                     Bharmanasana – Table

·                     Bitilasana – Cow Pose

·                     Marjaryasana – Cat Pose

·                     Dandayamna Bharmanasana – Extended Table Balance

·                     Uttana Shishosana- Extended Puppy Pose

·                     Balasana – Child’s Pose

·                     Virabhadrasana II –Warrior 2

·                     Utthita Trikonasana - Triangle

·                     Trikonasana – Five Pointed Star

·                     Utkata Konasana – Goddess Squat

·                     Virasana – Hero’s Pose

·                     Ustrasana-Camel

·                     Malasana – Yogi’s Squat

·                     Supta Baddha Konasana – Reclining Bound Angle

·                     Savasana - Corpse Pose or Resting Angel (Terry's new favorite name for it)

I think I got most of them. Terry reminded us to focus on holding mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. Just to remind you, mula bandha is the root lock that is seated in the pelvic floor. Activating mula bandha is especially important for women because it helps maintain reproductive health and can help prevent those nasty hormonal side effects. The abdominal block, uddiyana bandha helps channel energy throughout the body, stimulates blood flow and digestion and help protects the lower back.

For more information about using essential oils for wellness contact Maria Malec at mariamalec@marketingscents.com or (813) 957-0865. You can also check out her available services on her website, www.aromalivingbydesign.com

For more information about Down Home Girl products, you can check out the boutique at Koa Yoga during any class or you can contact me directly at jakleinbaum@gmail.com or (813) 833-2723. I can custom make any products for you using the essential oils Maria recommends.

Join us throughout the month of November for some fantastic workshops:

November 6th 2:00-4:00pm Yoga for Runners with Carolyn Norris

November 12th -13th 9:00-10:00am Adidas Yoga at Brandon Mall with Imani Woomera (Free with giveaways!!)

November 13th 6:00-7:00pm Sound Healing with Alexis Holland

November 19th 10:30-12:30pm Yoga for a Healthy Back with Carolyn Norris and Imani Woomera

Contributor Bio: Jessica

I have been a passive yoga practitioner for the majority of my life. Thanks to my hippie parents I was exposed to a variety of healing practices. Yoga has always been one of my favorite ways of dedicating my time and energy to my body. In the summer of 2015 I joined the Koa Yoga Studio to take my practice to the next level. Although I have improved significantly, I am by no means an expert!

I am an artist, crafter, baker, seamstress, accountant and business consultant .  You can purchase many of my handmade clothing and aromatherapy products in the Koa boutique .  

My personal and spiritual understanding of yoga is ever changing.  I am open to discussion and different perspectives. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you!

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