Category Archives: TEACHER TRAINING

Discovering Your Dharma (your true life path)

 

Discovering Your Dharma

Dharma Wheel

Probably one of the most commonly asked questions in life is “why am I here?” This line of questioning originates from our True Self and leads us to look beyond the world of ordinary appearances. It provides us with the opportunity to discover the divinity that lies within.

There isn’t an exact or accurate single English translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, but it can be paraphrased as “right (or righteous) living”. Dharma is the path we are meant to travel, the life we are meant to live; in general as a human being, but also as an individual with a particular set of lessons to learn, experiences to have, and gifts to share. In a nutshell, our dharma is also our mission in life.

The physical/mental/emotional vehicle we manifest is unique to each of us and is meant to fulfill a purpose only we can accomplish, this is our dharma. Discovering our dharma can be a bit of a laborious task, but once we learn to adapt and live in our dharma’s harmonious flow we become aware of our awesome potentiality. Discovering and living our dharma enables us to create a destiny that includes as much joy and happiness as we want because we remain aligned with our spiritual domain. Here we may discover a different dimension of reality, the unlimited source of all creation and manifestation.

The discovery or realization of our dharma takes some effort in the beginning and for some this can be a time of struggle. But underneath all our worldly aspirations we will eventually find that there has always been something calling deep inside. This becomes clearer as it becomes obvious that our dharma is what “upholds” and “sustains” us as individuals. Each of us is destined to serve a certain need in the universal scheme of things. The significance of an artist is just as important as that of the president. Each and every path has an equal value because they all serve a unique purpose. Whether our purpose is to be an entrepreneur, an artist, an activist, a yogi, a spiritual leader, a parent etc. we must believe in that purpose and not get sidetracked. Additionally, we also need to accept that our purpose is fluid and can change over the course of our life or even the course of a day. Spending time in deep reflection or meditation is helpful in tuning out the “noise” and listening to the call of our personal dharma.

Discovering, accepting, and finally enjoying your own personal path is a not only a great achievement, it’s also a wonderful blessing. When guided by the spiritual wisdom of our dharmic path, we are granted the privilege of stepping into a higher vision of our life, seeing it as an expression of divine universal creative spirit.

From this superior viewpoint, we can look at ourselves with a more objectivity. We can even observe our faults, mistakes and shortcomings without beating ourselves up over it. Knowing our inherent greatness trumps the “ego/self” and increases our self-respect while setting a solid foundation for exploring, refining, and weeding out any aspects of our earthly expressions that are not in harmony with our True or Higher Self.

Take a few moments and say the following words: “I am great exactly as I am.” Say this phrase a few times out loud and then repeat the words mentally with each in-breath and each out-breath for a few minutes. It’s a great place to start.

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Yoga Should Be Fun Too!

Yoga Should Be Fun Too!

Lighten up your practice

Most people tend to be little too serious about their yoga asana practice, but adding some fun to their routine (or sequences) helps them to relax and lighten up.  All across the US, yoga teachers and their studios are now recognizing that a bit of humor can help a yoga businesses thrive, not only by attracting new students but also by keeping them coming back. Students and teachers both to laugh and they soon realize that it helps them relax their muscles, surrender to their practice, and take themselves, and their practice less serious.

There are even scientific studies that show that laughter has the very similar effects as asana practice. They have both proven to lower blood pressure, reduce the production of stress hormones, boost immunity, and reduce pain, plus the actual physical act of laughter can be easily be looked upon as a form of spontaneous Pranayama (yogic breathing).

So, just how can you use humor improve your yoga asana practice? The Sanskrit word for play is leela and when we infuse leela into our yoga sessions we get more creative and broaden our possibilities.  Humor helps us laugh off those poses we can’t seem to get right and helps us to take delight in them when we finally do get them right; it also helps us brave asanas that we’ve never approached before.

Whenever we’re laughing, we are present with the moment and leela can also help us achieve one of the core purposes of yoga which is to stay focused on the here and now.

Successful yoga teachers like to spice up their business with an occasional laugh or two and here are some tips that you can use to help your students “enlighten up.”

  • - When the opportunity presents itself, tell a short joke or relate a funny story, just keep it light easy so doesn’t feel forced.
  • - Facial expressions can often bring an element of silliness to an otherwise awkward situation.
  • - When your students arrive, greet them with cheerful smiles and a friendly hello or welcome.
  • - Add bright and colorful décor to your studio, and watch your students come flocking back for more. Bringing in as much natural light (especially sunshine) as possible makes the space even more cheerful.
  • - If you see someone is having a hard time with a certain pose, tell them to check in the corner of their mouths, there’s probably a smile hiding there.
  • - Have your students introduce themselves to their neighbors before the beginning of class and then encourage them to partner-up, both on and off the mat.
  • - A slight bit of innocent misbehavior and free expression in class often makes practice more fun and playful.
  • - Don’t forget to laugh at yourself, it nurtures joy in yourself and by showing that you are responsible for your own happiness and healing you’ll be able to transmit that message on through your teaching practice.

Yoga asana practice should be a transformational experience, helping students to achieve calm and balanced minds, while they build strong and flexible bodies. But remember to keep your philosophy simple by reminding yourself that yoga should also be fun!

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Yoga Counteracts Stress & Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults, (3.1% of the U.S. population), in any given year, with women being twice as likely to be affected; this, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). The exact cause of GAD is elusive but there is plenty of evidence that both biological factors and life experiences, especially the stressful ones, are major contributors. And, GAD is only one of a variety of anxiety-induced diseases and disorders defined by the American Psychological Association, which include “Panic Disorder” & Agoraphobia and an exhaustive list of other phobias such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Anxiety Disorder and common depression. Together these disorders account for many more millions of Americans’ being treated each year placing an untold burden (and expense) on the healthcare system. Fortunately there is a treatment that is found effective for almost every single disorder listed and that is yoga practice.

The human nervous system is responsible for regulating reactions to perceived stress. It can be divided into two parts; the Central Nervous System (composed of the brain and spinal cord nerves), and the Peripheral Nervous System which includes the autonomic nervous system which we can look to specifically for stress regulation. This autonomic nervous system’s job is to run all the involuntary functions of the body (breathing, heart rate, digestion, endocrine (hormonal) release, etc.). We don’t have to think about these things the body just does them. The autonomic nervous system is further broken down into the Sympathetic Nervous System (which initiates the stress response), and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (which induces the relaxation response).

Opposite the relaxation response is the ‘fight or flight’ response (aka, hyper-arousal, or acute stress response). This response is left over from our ancestral past when we had to use huge amounts of adrenaline in times of real danger, like when we were about to be eaten dinosaur. In more modern times, this same response is often activated with any “perceived” threat, either real or imagined. As soon as the brain receives a signal that there is some “perceived” danger, it begins releasing a series of chemicals like a chain reaction. These chemicals can negatively affect every organ and system in the body, especially when they’re not vital to our survival, and subsequently be the cause of many disorders and diseases.

Back to Yoga practice; outlined in many yogic texts are some very simple tools that can be used to counteract these chain reactions, and modern science is beginning to mimic these teachings that were once found only in ancient and esoteric texts. The 1st of these tools is to create a quiet environment, both inside and out. There’s way too much to distract us from what is going on in our bodies these days, from television to video games, traffic, work demands, computers and cell phones and the list goes on and on. When we consciously chose to create an environment of stillness and peace, then we have taken the first step toward combating stress, anxiety and all the resulting disorders. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Raja Yoga), creating this type of environment can be form of meditation in and of itself.

When our attention is taken away from distractions (including thoughts) we are able to focus on one singular thing and integrate “diffused” attention into a calm, steady one-pointedness that helps us find our natural balance. Once the mind has focused on one point (through concentration), the state of meditation can be entered into with ease. Whenever our mental state has become calm, the physiological responses of the body spontaneously follow, and the chain of stressful reactions is broken and we are empowered to choose our response instead of reacting to it unconsciously.

Over the centuries many yoga teachers and gurus have recommended the practice of developing a sort of “objective” state of mind, often referred to as developing a “witness” mentality. As we develop this witnessing self, we can undermine anxiety when it arises, plus we can consciously create a different chain reaction within the body/mind, one that is positive and calming. There are certain brain neurotransmitters (like endorphins) that have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects, and as we consciously build those neural responses to different stimuli, we eventually reach a point where nothing can faze us. Regardless of how insane the world is, we stay balanced. This is the message of all the ancient sages of the yogic tradition.

Of related interest, click on: Managing Anxiety with Pratipaksha Bhavana

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Ayurveda – The Basics

The Sanskrit word Ayurveda comes from two root words which mean life principle and knowledge. It is a tatpurusha word (a compound of two words in the Sanskrit language  “ayus” and “veda”). “Ayus” means life and “Veda” means knowledge or science, so when the two words are combined they translate to, “Knowledge of Life” or “Science of Life.” Ayurvedic medicine is permeated in Indian culture, and its purpose is to care for the body, sense organs, mind and soul. It is the oldest known systematic health care system in the world and dates back to Vedic times. Many of the practices of Ayurveda are incorporated into the science of yoga.

Ayurdeva is based on a healthy lifestyle which believes in taking preventative measures that eliminate the environment that disease needs to spread and be sustained within the body. Only when the body is out of balance can disease take hold. According to Ayurvedic medicine, there are three “humors” which control all bodily processes. Symbols of these three humors can be found in the modern symbol that many Western doctors use to depict their practice. In Ayurvedic medicine and yoga these three humors are called Doshas. A Dosha is an element that generally causes the body to become imbalanced. From the Sanskrit, the word Dosha translates as, “deviation.” The three Doshas are named Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and they can stand by themselves or be combined to cause various states of imbalance (or balance) in the body.

Vata is viewed as a combination of the space and air elements. Pitta is considered the fire element and Kapha represents the water element. When the body is free of disease these three elements are in balance so that none dominates another. However, over time one of the Doshas often begins to rule the personality and this causes the body to become imbalanced. Whichever Dosha is more dominant for a person determines their basic constitution. Nearly every person is believed to be ruled by at least one (or a mixture) of these three Doshas. Ayurveda attempts to bring the Doshas into balance using herbs, yoga and other practices so that disease cannot occur in the body and there are historical references for the use of herbs and herbal cures in all four of the Vedas, especially in the Rig Veda.

Ayurdeva also describes seven Dhatus or “body tissues.” From the yogic standpoint of meditation and contemplation, these seven are encountered, explored, and set aside as not being the Self or Atman, as is done with the other inner aspects. The Dhatus are reffered to as not Self in the Atma Shatakam by Adi Shankara.

The Dhatus are essentially liquids in the body that control different aspects of the body and are developed through metabolic refinement via both the application of herbs and the practice of yoga. Yoga is an essential component to most Ayurvedic treatment.

The Dhatus are as follows:

  1. 1. Rasa: The nutrient fluid (plasma) which forms the base of blood.
  2. 2. Rakta: Oxygenated blood cells which are the foundation of living tissue.
  3. 3. Mamsa: Muscle tissue which provide strength and forms the vital organs.
  4. 4. Meda: Fat that lubricates and insulates the body, especially the joints.
  5. 5. Asthi: Bones and cartilage which act as the body’s frame and support.
  6. 6. Majja: Bone marrow responsible for filling up the bones and supports Ashti Dhatu.
  7. 7. Shukra: Tissues and juices that help reproduction, including sperm and ovum.

These basics of Ayurveda are only a starting place for students of Ayurveda and yoga. Experienced doctors of Ayurvedic medicine can often simply feel the pulse of a patient and know which Dhatus are out of balance. The doctor can also look in a patient’s eyes to determine their predominate Dosha (constitution) and then recommend appropriate changes in their diet and/or lifestyle.

Regardless of its origins, as a result of the ancient science of Ayurveda, innumerable people have been healed. Everyone from cancer sufferers to those afflicted with the common cold can look to this ancient healing technique as an effective alternative to allopathic remedies.

Of related interest, click on: Ayurveda & the Three Doshas

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Finding Peace in Today’s World

Finding peace in today’s world can be a challenge for most of us due to our work schedules, hectic lifestyles and daily responsibilities, so here are a few tips based on yoga science and philosophy that may help… First, try getting back in touch with your body. Generally when we’re not feeling peace, it’s because we’re not feeling much at all, instead, we’re thinking. And when we’re engaged in thinking we start believing all our non-peaceful thoughts, plus we’re likely to be feeding them with our energy. A great analogy is an American Indian legend that goes like this…

If we stop feeding the thoughts, and start feeding peaceful feelings instead, the thoughts will fall away by themselves. The most basic feelings originate with physical sensation, so that’s why it’s a great place to begin. Practice some yoga asanas (poses), go for a walk or a hike outdoors, take a hot shower, or simply lie down and consciously breathe into every part of your body. You’ll soon feel peace return and replace the negative thoughts that were preventing it.

Once we are actively feeling our body, going beyond our thoughts becomes quite simple. We shift our focus and become the observer, bringing our awareness to whatever we feel in our body allows us to notice our thoughts without them affecting us. This empowers us to be released from them, and remain as a witness, observing them as an outsider, without involvement. The observer in each of us can watch these thoughts and let them pass, just like clouds in the sky. We’ll then become a victor over thoughts instead of a victim.

Next, don’t be so hard on yourself. If you have a problem concentrating (perhaps you fall asleep) during traditional seated meditation, try a standing, or better yet, a walking meditation. Or learn to chant mantras as part of your meditation, for many who practice meditation they bring an instant feeling of being immersed in peaceful sensations.

Activate the power of positive thinking. Replace thoughts that make you stressed with ones that do the opposite. When you’re back in touch with your body, the observer in you can easily identify a negative or non-peaceful thought and fire-up the power of positive thinking.

Another helpful method of finding peace is to visualize a peace-inducing figure (Buddha, Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Theresa, etc.) and start up a conversation with them whenever you feel stressed or disturbed. Ask them, how would they deal with your present situation? You may be amazed at what you hear!

You can also immerse yourself in the present moment, the “now.” If you do, you’ll find that peace is inherent in each and every moment, especially when you’re able to use any of the mindfulness tools available to help you become totally immersed there. By sharing in the present moment you’ll become saturated with the sensation of peace.

Give yourself permission to go deep into the pursuit of joyful bliss. Bliss is what happens when we go beyond the mind’s active nature. Bliss and joy are the result of entering into the “Self” that exists beyond all thought. It’s the peaceful bliss that nourishes and endures.

And last, but not least, practice acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean giving up (or giving in), or that we have settle for less than we deserve. It means that in any given moment, we can choose peace over resistance and watch how that transforms our experience. Suffering is a choice, and so is peace – which one will you choose.

Of related interest, click on: Locating the Source of Stress & the Way of Yoga

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

The Importance of the Breath in Yoga

Why is proper breathing stressed so much in yoga? Other than the fact that it keeps us alive, why is the link between yoga and breathing so important?

During a typical yoga class, we are instructed to practice pranayama, which means we breathe consciously, remaining connected to our breath, we learn to breathe deeply, retain our breath, etc. How much of an impact does proper breathing have on us, our life, and our yoga practice?

Breathing and longevity – Swami Sivananda is quoted as saying: “A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years.”

I much of traditional Hindu literature it is said that if you breathe 15 times per minute, you will live to be 75 or 80 years old, but if you breathe only 10 times per minute you will live to 100. So the speed at which you breathe will determine the length of your life. The faster you breathe the shorter your life will be. That’s why animals that breath fast (dogs and cats for instance) have relatively short lives.

Breathing Consciously

Breathing consciously is something we are continuously reminded to do when we are in yoga class. Breathing consciously is essential to yoga practice because it assists us in connecting with the subtle energy within. Pranayama enables us to navigate different levels of consciousness. Additionally, by breathing consciously we’ll create a positive biological effect on our mental, emotional, and physical states of being.

Remaining connected with our breath is an ideal method for being in the present moment. When you focus on each aspect of the breathing process, you are present, you let go of the both the past and the future and are concentrated on each moment within each breath. Breathing consciously becomes its own form of meditation. But this is only part of why conscious breathing is so important.

Remaining consciously aware of your breathing activates a different part of our brain than our normal, mechanical (unconscious) breathing, which is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem (the primitive part of the brain). Conscious breathing, on the other hand, comes from a more evolved area of the brain (the cerebral cortex). So by stimulating the cerebral cortex we’re sending impulses from the cortex to other connecting areas that impact emotions. This generally has a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions by controlling which aspects of the mind dominate, in turn prompting our consciousness to rise from the primitive/instinctual level to the more evolved/elevated levels of the brain.

The Breath, Prana and Pranayama

Yoga practice teaches us to control prana, the vital (life) force, through pranayama. The breath is used in pranayama to help us to learn to control prana, but don’t make the mistake of confusing prana with the breath. Prana is the life energy that animates the lungs, but it is NOT the breath itself. Using pranayama (breath control) is the easiest method for regulating the flow of prana and once we are able to control prana through pranayama we are better able to control the movement of prana to other organs and areas throughout the body.

The breath being the mode of practice for pranayama, the focus is in on the three basic stages of respiration:

  1. Inhalation (pooraka)
  2. Retention (kumbhaka)
  3. Exhalation (rechaka)

However, according to ancient and traditional yogic texts, pranayama is retention, and inhalation and exhalation are secondary, being methods for affecting retention.

Kumbhaka (retention of the breath) has a deep physiological effect on the brain. It begins by providing additional opportunity for the brain cells to absorb oxygen, and eliminate more carbon dioxide, producing a calming effect on the mental/emotional body. When the breath is retained, the brain panics because the carbon dioxide levels temporarily increase and the increased carbon dioxide levels stimulate the brain’s capillaries to dilate. When this happens, more capillaries in the brain are opened up improving cerebral circulation, building up an immense amount of energy in the brain, subsequently forcing the creation of new neural pathways, plus the activation of dormant centers. The brain is now activated and awakened!

A good analogy is look at the breath like the oil in a car, prana as the gasoline (fuel), and the mind as the engine. By understanding the relationship of the breath, prana and the mind to one another we will be better prepared to navigate our life, progressing to a higher, more evolved state, and to repair it if it breaks down.

Although full control of the breath may take the student of yoga years to perfect, this perfection is not necessarily the highest form of pranayama. The highest form is to remain completely, consciously aware of the breath.

Of related interest, click on; Yoga Practice for Improved Lung Function

And… Stories the Breath Can Tell

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

Listening to Your Heart

If we take a moment and look deeply, most of us will realize that in our heart we feel a desire to be more in harmony with our true nature, to recognize the inherent ability to rest in who and what we really are. Plants don’t feel this desire. They cannot create an image of themselves and therefore aren’t a bit confused about where they came from, or who they really are or how they should be.

On the other hand we humans are thinking beings. Whether we like it or not our minds play a significant role in our existence. This is also why it is so important to direct our minds toward that process of being in more harmony with our true Self. We can “think” from the heart, or as some people would say “live from the heart.” This does not mean that we should be motivated by passions, it means something totally different. Thinking (or living) from the heart means from our center, our core. This will establish a rock solid realization that we are a part of a greater whole, a whole from which nothing and no-one is excluded. And intuitively seeing that everything and everyone exists for this greater whole. Therefore this is our contribution, even if we do not know exactly what it is. Living from the heart, from the center or core, is a state where knowing is not a requirement.

Our True Nature…

We are often preoccupied with this or that and forget that there is an entire natural world that lives like this; in absolute harmony with who and what it really is. This we call “Nature,” and then we experience ourselves as outside observers, disconnected from it, which in turn creates the urge in us to seek “being with Nature.” Sadly, we frequently forget that we are an inseparable part of it, that it is always here, within us, exactly where we are, as close as the nose on our face.

When we consciously connect with our breath as it moves in and out of our body, and we truly feel our body, feeling the warmth, the presence and the “Nature” in our body. And this “Nature” has a voice of its own. According to Zen this is the voice of “no mind.” The body is equipped with an active mind, a thinking (or thought producing) apparatus, but in itself is still “no mind.” It functions from “no mind.” Just like everything in nature; no thought is necessary for a flower to open and release its fragrance for all to smell.

Meditation starts by inviting our mind to calm down, to be still, so that our hearts may open up to the voice of nature once again, to the voice of ‘no mind’. We can feel this voice of nature because it is identical to our center (our core).

And rest assured that this voice has never been lost, nowhere, neither inside of you or outside. Because that is simply just not possible. At most it may be overlooked, obscured, covered up by thoughts and/or emotions. But it is still resonating from deep within, patiently, diligently, knowing that sometime, someday when you take time to listen you will hear, and rediscover what has always been, always is, and always will be.

*Of related interest, click on: The Importance of Meditation to Yoga Practice

And…Mindfulness: Benefits & Cultivation…

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

Yoga Practice for Improved Lung Function

A recent study has shown yoga practice to be beneficial for patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), an incurable, often progressive lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe normally. COPD can include Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema, or a combination of both.

The participants in this study showed improvement in lung function, reduced shortness of breath, and a decrease in inflammation after practicing yoga for 12 weeks; this according to the “GW Center for Integrative Medicine” and a press release from the “American College of Chest Physicians.”

Study presenter Prof. Randeep Guleria, M.D. said: “We found that yoga can be a simple, cost-effective method that can help improve quality of life in patients with COPD,”

For the study, 29 COPD patients practiced yoga twice a week for an hour. Their yoga routine included yoga asanas, pranayama, kriyas (cleansing techniques), and meditation.

COPD, affecting approximately 24 million Americans is most often caused by cigarette smoking, but controlling symptoms and slowing (or stopping) progression of the disease helps improve the quality of life for patients according to researchers.

Yoga practice is an excellent form of exercise for almost anyone with COPD. When done properly it is relatively low impact, and it helps to improve both emotional and physical health.

Yoga is described as a “mind-body practice,” by the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and although yoga’s roots are found in Eastern philosophy, it’s not necessary to hold any particular spiritual or religious beliefs to take part in classes, so it is quite possible to find classes that just focus on yoga as a way to stay fit, flexible, and relaxed.

There are many classes, including those offered for people with diagnosed health conditions, that do not focus primarily on the spiritual aspects of yoga practice. However, for anyone who feels they would benefit from the spiritual elements of yoga, that’s also okay. The main thing is to find a class and/or instructor that works best for your particular needs.

Yoga practiced as a secular exercise is made up of two essential parts. Physical postures, known as asanas, and breathing techniques, known as pranayama.

Yoga asanas are performed to help improve your balance, flexibility, range of motion and general fitness levels. They also work well to raise your energy levels, reduce stress and clear the mind from worry.

Breathing techniques (pranayama) are a vital part of yoga practice. They help you to control your breath and teach you how to use your lungs more efficiently and effectively. Pranayama can be performed while holding the asanas and/or separately as stand-alone Practice.

According to The University of Maryland Medical Center’s web-site, “Yoga improves fitness, lowers blood pressure, promotes relaxation and self-confidence, and reduces stress and anxiety. People who practice yoga tend to have good coordination, posture, flexibility, range of motion, concentration, sleep habits, and digestion. Yoga is a complementary therapy that has been used with conventional medicine to help treat a wide range of health problems.”

Specific Benefits of Yoga Practice for People With COPD

Yoga classes designed specifically for people with COPD generally offer modified forms of yoga, so there’s no need for concern that you’ll be expected to contort your body into complicated poses. They can be tailored to meet the health needs of people with COPD and should provide a gentle, easy and effective way to manage both overall physical health and emotional well-being.

Yoga asana practice can provide a variety of gentle stretching and bending exercises help to improve fitness and flexibility, improve the range of motion in the shoulders and open the chest, thus increasing overall lung capacity, while familiarizing yourself with different breathing techniques (pranayama) will give you the tools to confidently manage any attacks of Dyspnea (breathlessness). These learned techniques should be taught in a way that they’re  easy enough so that they can also be practiced at home.

Of related interest, click on: Stories the Breath Can Tell

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

How Well is Your Head and Heart Aligned?

One of our greatest strengths as humans lies in our unique ability to operate from either our head or our heart. Both our brain (with the ability to think) and our heart (with the ability to feel) are powerful organs that not only sustain life, but they are tools that can help us experience the world in a most profound way. New research has conclusively shown that we can “think” both with our brains and with our hearts and if (and when) we do that, we increase our ability to make better decisions. Aligning our heads and our hearts also greatly helps us to gain clarity, feel more flexible and resilient, plus it works to guide us toward a more balanced and peaceful life.

We experience this whenever we create coherence. Coherence is the state when our heart (along with its feelings/emotions) and our mind (along with its thoughts/logic) are in dynamic alignment and in cooperation with each other. Heart and mind coherence can be defined as the synchronization of our emotional, mental and physical systems, creating a high-energy, optimal state that has the ability to encourage, stimulate and produce positive outcomes whenever its combined force is concentrated.

This heart/mind alignment results in us feeling good, and when we feel good we generally do good. We fully engage life, with less stress and more energy. We have greater power to make better decisions, and all this comes from developing the awesome potential of our heads and hearts working in synchronicity.

Three tips on accomplishing this alignment.

  1. 1. Listen your heartbeat while breathing from your heart space. Begin by just slowing down and noticing the miracle that you are. Find a comfortable spot and sit quietly, taking slow, deep breaths and experience your own heartbeat. Be aware of its pulsing. Then try breathing from the heart center. Resist the temptation to force the breath, just breathe normally, but visualize each breath coming in and out of the heart center. This draws you from the head into the heart space and now the two can be engaged and aligned.
  2. 2. Always act with compassion. Compassion is a quality that manifests on a heart level and head level, it involved both thinking and feeling and when balanced it becomes a powerful force for good. You’ll notice it’s a deep feeling, precipitated by thought and understanding, it’s also an excellent way to create coherence. When you act compassionately, mentally visualize that emotion swelling out of your heart until your head and heart find their proper alignment.
  3. 3. Go beyond listening to just your heartbeat and try to hear what the heart has to say. It’s common to hear the inner voices coming from our head. They tend to be in the form of thoughts – analytical, critical and sometimes disparaging. Well, next time these inner voices arise, listen to what the heart has to say, likely these will be kind, compassionate, supportive words. Imagine your heart speaking directly to you and you may realize that in reality it’s sending us these signals continuously.

There are many ways of aligning your head and your heart to create the coherence mentioned above…Try this, next time you feel like you are too much “in-the-head” about something, pause, take a deep breath and merge those thoughts with the feelings arising from your heart center. Visualize these two aligning, creating a cooperative force designed to help ease your stress so that you can create a better thinking/feeling experience, subsequently enriching your life and all your activities.

Of related interest, click on: Meditation on the “Feeling” of Being

And: The Importance of Meditation to Yoga Practice

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

Is Ashtanga Yoga a Religion?

For those who have never practiced Ashtanga Yoga, you may be wondering about this practice since it was the basis of a recent (July 2013) trial about a school yoga program in Encinitas, CA. California Judge Joe Meyer ruled that a public school district can teach yoga, siding with administrators who argued the practice is a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance and rejecting pleas of parents who said the classes are inherently religious and violate the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

Is Ashtanga Yoga religious? Should it be adapted to a public school curriculum? How is Ashtanga different from any other kind of yoga? For the answers to these questions we need to take a comprehensive look at the history, theory, and physical practice of Ashtanga’s Primary Yoga Series.

Some misconceptions about Ashtanga Yoga that need to be cleared up…

Many people are intimated by Ashtanga Yoga’s reputation as a rigorous, traditional practice, but the fact is that the basics of the practice can be broken down and tailored making it accessible to most anyone despite their age. Most people assume that you have to be athletic, or at least really strong and flexible in order to practice Ashtanga Yoga, but if you have a good certified teacher who can adjust for each individual’s fitness level, they will benefit by starting with as little as five practice minutes a day.

Even though Ashtanga Yoga is traditional, coming from a spiritual lineage that traces its roots throughout all of India’s historic path, it is not considered dogmatic. Instead this lineage lives in the hearts of students and their teachers and can be adjusted as needed so that the use of yoga as an effective tool is accessible for nearly everyone.

What can be learned from the practice of Ashtanga Yoga?

The practical essence of the spiritual practice of Ashtanga Yoga is that through the use of postures (asana), breathing (pranayama), and prescribed focus points one can gain a direct experience of the inner Self. The asanas are simply tools that help students tap into the limitless nature of their inner being. Ashtanga Yoga practice has the power to open the mind, heal the body, and transform one’s view of the whole world. With a qualified instructor, beginners will find an introduction into the very basics of the world of yoga which will include moral and ethical guidelines, postures, breath-work, sense withdrawal, concentration, and meditation. Well established students will discover additional tools and techniques to help them go deeper into their practice.

Can Ashtanga Yoga be considered religious?

Ashtanga Yoga is inherently spiritual, but not religious, nor can it be considered a religion. As a philosophy yoga is theistic by its very nature; it adheres to the belief that some type of universal (or Divine) force that is larger than the individual “ego-self” is the the underlying truth of all existence. But yoga never claims that this force has to be represented by any particular deity or religion. In fact, the reason yoga is so transformational is because we are led through a series of scientific methods to directly experience the limitless nature of our innermost selves. Once realized, this higher “Self” can never be limited by (or to) any religion, because its very essence is spiritual. Ashtanga Yoga practice illuminates the human spirit in a way that embodies our inherent greatness and limitlessness in a way that cannot be defined by (or confined to) any dogma.

Of related interest, click on: Yoga as Science

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.