healing

Using Yoga and Meditation to Cope with Addiction

Addiction is a brain disease, but the repercussions of addiction affect much more than just the brain. Biologically it affects your brain, it affects your body physically, and it affects your soul emotionally. For those who are recovering from addiction and working to remain sober, it’s important to be hyper-aware of your body and mind in order to get healthy. Overcoming substance abuse is a marathon, not a sprint, and requires constant inventory of emotions, feelings, and your body. Utilizing yoga and meditation can be a great tool in this endeavor since these activities also affect the mind, body, and soul and keep a full body and mind inventory in the process.  

For the Mind

Ultimately, addiction starts in the mind. There are many factors that come into play when dealing with addiction such as environment, biology, and brain development. A person’s environment and social surroundings has a lot to do with the beginning of substance abuse. Living in a home with substance abuse or in an area where substance abuse is common increases the chances of addictive behaviors. Some addicts are also predisposed to addiction due to having a history of addiction in their family or if they were young when they began using. Not only does substance abuse become a natural behavior if they start using early, but since the brain isn’t quite developed yet, the chemical compounds of the drugs being used and their role in the brain alter its development.

Yoga increases both serotonin and dopamine, which is also what happens while using drugs. They affect the reward centers and mood, which is why using substances make you feel good and are difficult to quit using. When dealing with addiction recovery, yoga can be used in place of this craving. Once the brain connects serotonin and dopamine release with yoga instead of drug use, it’ll really help the brain to recover more effectively.

Using Yoga and Meditation to Cope with Addiction - Yoga Travel Tree
Using Yoga and Meditation to Cope with Addiction - Yoga Travel Tree

For the Body

Addiction is also a very physical disease and it can have a negative effect on almost every system in the body. Addiction can have an effect on body weight, muscle mass, strength, and stamina. Tooth loss, gum disease, lung disease, heart disease, liver damage, kidney damage, stroke, convulsions, and infection are all physical risks that can stem from substance abuse.

In recovery, it’s important to focus on both physical and mental health. Yoga might not be able to help many of the more serious ailments caused by addiction, but it can help with overall health and wellness. In terms of obtaining a healthy body weight, regaining muscle mass, and increasing strength, and stamina, yoga improves these aspects of health that may have been negatively affected by substance use.

Whereas a more intense cardio or strength workout might be more difficult for those recovering from addiction, yoga is a great low impact exercise that focuses on strengthening the body as well as the mind. You’ll build muscle mass and flexibility while increasing heart rate and lung capacity. The physical damage done by substance abuse may not be able to be repaired, but focusing on relaxing and adaptable exercise like yoga can help to work towards a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t involve substance abuse at all.

For the Soul

Addiction affects the soul. There are many aspects to addiction that involve emotions and self-worth that are incredibly difficult to heal from. Not only is the brain recovering from addiction, but so is the body, and the soul. The brain recovers biologically and learns to rewire its communication and reward centers. The body recovers by detoxing and flushing out toxins and rebuilding physical health. The soul recovers by being held accountable for actions, asking for forgiveness, and forgiving yourself.

Many things happen in the brain when recovering from addiction, and some of the things that can be the most difficult to recover from are the shameful aspects of addiction. Recovering addicts tend to suffer from anxiety and depression stemming from guilt associated with using. Coping skills are extremely important to obtain in addiction recovery and yoga and meditation can be a vital aspect to this part of recovery.

Yoga offers so much more than just the physical perks of exercise. Unlike many workouts, it offers a mental piece of mind as well. Meditation can be a major aspect to yoga and many classes focus on clearing the mind and focusing on positivity. Those practicing yoga will focus on understanding the things their body can do and watch the progress being made, which can be incredibly empowering to those battling addiction. Seeing positive change that you’ve created is really rewarding for those working hard to change the mistakes they may have made while using or questioned their ability to stay clean.

Yoga is an exercise for both the body and the mind which are two things that are in a sensitive state during recovery for many addicts. Yoga and meditation keeps you healthy while focusing on living a healthy and positive life. While maintaining sobriety, it’s essential to focus on these positive aspects of recovery that may help the negative side of recovery. Utilizing yoga as a coping mechanism during this time will offer another tool towards recovery for the mind, the body, and the soul.

Author Bio
Author Bio

Author bio: Chelsy Ranard is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree in 2012 from the University of Montana. She enjoys yoga, talk radio, and cold coffee. Follow her on Twitter!

Ayurveda 101: How to Easily Reduce Inflammation and Stop Bloating

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to fight infection. However when inflammation gets beyond control and starts causing pain it needs to be controlled. Pain is often accompanied by swelling. Ayurveda defines pain as an excess of  vata or air in the body. Where there is swelling and pain there is excess vata. Increased Vata moves freely between the joints causing pain and inflammation and at times blocking the normal functioning of the body.
To reduce this inflammation ayurveda prescribes a reduction in air within the body. Air is considered as drying, rough, cooling so eating foods that are the opposite of these qualities will reduce the free movement of air in the body. So instead of dry foods opt for oily foods like ghee, butter and milk. Favour cooked foods over raw foods as raw foods are considered rough and increase the vata element. You can go back to raw foods once the vata is balanced i.e the inflammation goes away. Eat freshly cooked food and avoid kept food even if the food is reheated, it is considered cold.

Move it on Out

Opt for Yoga asanas that stretch the body and reduce swelling. Go at a slower pace. Slower paced yoga will move fluids like lymph and blood at the right pace. Movement is important otherwise there will be water retention. Water retention tends to put additional pressure on the capillaries. Practice the asanas in a cool room - not heated or cold. Some postures or asanas help increase strength and flexibility of the joints. These are:
Half spinal twist (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This pose opens the pelvis, belly, chest, and throat. By supporting the legs, circulation and blood flow within the pelvic region. This  increases flexibility and improves digestion. This is also an excellent pose to get relief from migraines.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Tadasana stretches the entire leg muscle and provides a gentle stretch to the arms and shoulders. It helps with inflammation of the feet due to bad footwear, long periods of standing, general wear and tear, bunions or even sorenes. By stretching the arches you provide relief to the feet. Tadasana separates the toes creating room for circulation and stretches the arches.
Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana)
This pose is fantastic for the knees as the stretch relieves chronic knee pain due to inflammatory or degenerative bone disorders. Since the ankle is neutral, there is no stress on either the toes or arches. This pose strengths the arches. It also opens the shoulders so if there is inflammation due to a frozen shoulder, this pose helps.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
In the trikonasana the front ankle is extended which helps to ground the foot as well as the big toe. Great if swelling is in the big toe as to reach the ankle you have to keep the mound of the toe grounded.
Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
The tree pose is a gentle way to stretch the arms. It also increases circulation around the knees, ankle and elbows. Increased circulation results in lessening pf inflammation.
Bridge Posture (SetuBandhasana)
Great for the knees as most of the pressure is taken by the shoulders and back

Breathe Freely

Follow up the yoga asanas with pranayama to cool the body and bring balance. Pranayama calms inflammation and soothes the body. By bringing cooling breath and oxygen to the body, you also calm the mind.

Fuel the Solution

Add a few ingredients from the kitchen shelf to restore balance to the body and reduce inflammation. If Sinus inflammation has got you down then drink plenty of water flavored with spices, to cleanse the sinuses of toxins and to allow the toxic waste that has built up to flow out. A drink made from boiling herbs like mint (8 leaves), lemongrass (one shoot), peppercorns (2-3), basil (4 leaves), ginger (2-3 thin slices) will soothe the inflamed areas and bring relief from pain. Boil the ingredients with a glass of water till the water reduces to half. Sip this warm tea three times a day for a couple of days. Other spices that warm the body and reduce inflammation are spices like Ginger, garlic, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin and cardamom. Try incorporating these in your diet and see the inflammation reduce over a couple of days.
Make changes in eating habits. Eliminate saturated oils completely  from your diet. Omega-6 fatty acids found in corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils increase inflammation in the body. Trans fats commonly found in baked goods like shortening and margarine should also be avoided. Instead opt for omega-3 fatty acids naturally available in fish. Keep refined carbohydrates and refined sugar at a distance as these increase the blood sugar which may result in more inflammation.

Sabinder Singh is a Yoga enthusiast, Reiki Master and freelance writer. She has been healing with reiki through distance reiki healing showers and believes that yoga is important to bring about a balance in the body, mind and spirit. You can read more of her articles  at: http://www.onboardthereikibus.com/ 

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Feature image via: Sonny Abesamis

A Brief History Of Yoga

Image Credit:  Hendrik Terbeck


 

Yoga has been around a long time.  Like, a really, really long time.  Try about 5000+ years.  Originating in India, this practice has changed dramatically in the years since its birth.  Rather than go into an explanation of the early stages of yoga and it’s four extensive, broad categories (Vedic Yoga, Preclassical Yoga, Classical Yoga and Postclassical Yoga), I want to get straight to the question.  Can we still find examples of traditional yoga today in Western Society?  What changes have been made to this practice that brought us to where we are now?

OK.  I lied.  In order to truly see the changes yoga has gone through, you need a brief history lesson on the subject:

Vedic Yoga

Sometimes referred to as "Archaic Yoga", this practice was directly connected with the ritual life of the ancient Indians.  Their idea of yoga was to embrace sacrifice as a way to connect the material world with the spiritual world through focusing their minds for extensive periods of time.  This ability to cultivate inner focus is the root of all yoga.  A successful Vedic yogi or yogini was fortunate if they were able to experience a vision in their practice, for which they could now become a “seer”.  This was the ultimate goal of the Vedic practice.

Preclassical Yoga

Moving right along, this period is considered the time when many different schools of yoga began to develop.  The teachings from these schools can be located in two of India’s greatest yogic scripts:  the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.  You might be familiar with the Bahgavad-Gita, which is embedded throughout these works.  Essentially, these schools began developing many different techniques for creating deep meditation in order to lead yogis and yogini’s in going beyond their mind and discovering their true nature.

Classical Yoga

As we begin to move forward, you might recognize some familiar territory you’ve heard about in a modern day yoga class.  This period of yoga refers to the eight-fold yoga teachings by Patanjali in the Yoga-Sutra.  Most yoga students begin identifying with many of these teachings as they dig deeper into their practice.  The teachings of this period are meant to further explore the separation between the physical body and the mental mind.  The goal?  Formless but conscious existence in day to day life.

Postclassical Yoga

This period of yoga evolves with a new focus in mind, the ultimate unity of everything.  In contrast to previous periods of yoga focusing only on the mind and how to separate ones physical self from their mental state, many teachers in the postclassical yoga period began to take a turn and discover the hidden potential of the physical body.  New systems of practice began focusing on prolonging ones life, and rejuvenating the mind through this physical practice.  Born around this time, Hatha-Yoga is an excellent example of a style that is practiced today due to the priority of wanting to energize the body.

Modern Yoga

Yoga has evolved in many different ways.  Although many of it’s roots are still apparent in modern day classes, there has been a significant shift in how yoga is viewed in modern society.  Previously, Yoga referred to realizing the entire mind, body and spirit as one object, with a goal of separation between these aspects.  Yoga was seen ultimately as a spiritual practice; a pathway to discover ones true inner self.  In modern times, this view has shifted to focus on the postures of yoga.  Don’t believe me?  Open up Instagram and search #yoga, and you’ll be flooded with pictures of yogis in graceful, challenging, or inspiring postures.  Of course, this is neither a good or bad change, but one can easily notice the shift Yoga has gone through.  In addition, Yoga is also seen today as a mere means to achieving physical fitness.  Many studios pride themselves on creating an environment to tone, strengthen, and loosen the muscles.  While this is definitely a positive aspect of Yoga, it strays away from Yoga’s original purpose.

Changes?

One obvious, yet overlooked change has been made in the past few decades.  The idea of a “Yoga mat”, a device used to assist in achieving various postures to the highest degree.  This object has been significant in creating today’s “Yoga industry”, which also includes “Yoga” clothing, jewelry, props, accessories, etc.  Since the Yoga mat is a device used primarily to help achieve postures, it has helped modern day yogis and yoginis to stray away from Yoga’s original intent.  Another result of this introduction of a yoga mat is the creation of yoga "on" and "off" the mat.  In the past, there was only Yoga, and with the addition of a mat we are brought another complex world of viewpoints and opinions on what Yoga is truly meant for.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not to buy into the hype that is modern day Yoga.  You can decide for yourself whether to walk into a Yoga class focusing on its mental and spiritual aspect, or solely for it’s physical practice.  Don’t get me wrong, Yoga is an excellent way to ease stress, focus on your inner spirit, alleviate tension in your body, and strengthen your muscles.  But there is so much more to what you might experience in a modern day Vinyasa or Hot Yoga class.  To truly develop an understanding, and to practice Yoga to it’s fullest degree, start looking beyond the physical practice.  You’re mind, body and spirit will thank you in the long run.

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The Importance of Self-Love, No Matter What

Let’s talk about Self-Love and loving yourself no matter what. It’s a super important concept that most people completely ignore - and yet it can be the single most important step to getting what you want in life. Whether it’s about your next level in fitness, health, or career - without self-love, you’ll be stuck.

As a mom, I have always felt that if the oxygen masks came down on a plane, there is no way I could put mine on before my kids. It just felt all wrong to me to even entertain that idea.

Women especially put everything (partners, employers, careers, kids, friends, family, chores) before themselves. And when you are a "people pleaser," you end up feeling burnt out, "letting yourself go," maybe depressed (or bouts of depression), and you are harder on yourself than anyone else.

All people - women, men, kids - need to truly learn to love themselves before they can truly care for and deeply love others. 

I know you may not agree with me as you are reading this - so I want you to read this book: "Love Yourself: Your Life Depends On It”, by Kamal Ravikant. It will take you 30 minutes to read the entire thing, but it is crucial to understanding this concept of self-love.

After reading this book, I do believe I would put my own mask on first. Because if I can’t breathe, I can’t save them. I am a firm believer in self-care and self-love. Having gratitude and appreciation for where you are right now, AND where you want to go. What you did or did not do today - have gratitude. When we focus on the good feelings, more good happens. In addition to reading the book, try this super simple exercise I learned from Carmen Marshall, one of my mentors:

Before your feet hit the floor in the morning, count 5 -10 things you love about yourself and/or are grateful for.

..and before you fall asleep, do the same thing.

It will change how your days, weeks, months, etc unfold; you will wake up excited for the day; and amazing things will happen in life.

One more quick story: 

Darren Hardy told this story when I heard him speak a couple of years ago and I want to share it with you.

He was annoyed with his wife of many years. They had kids, busy lives, and he felt like she had changed and become very annoying, high maintenance, and he was feeling like maybe he didn't love her anymore....

So he decided to try something.

He's a smart guy, and realized maybe he needed to change HIS perceptions. So every day for a year, he wrote down 1 thing he was grateful for about his wife or 1 thing he loved or appreciated about her.

In a couple of weeks, he noticed his wife had changed! She wasn't so annoying and he was feeling more in love with her.

He kept doing this and gave the journal to her for her birthday. I'm sure you can imagine how much she loved it.

In doing this, he realized, she didn't magically change. SHE had no idea he was focusing on appreciating her more. BUT in the practice of appreciation, he focused on the GOOD and the good expanded.

You owe it to yourself to do the same thing. 

 


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Tara Hantske is a Holistic Health Coach + Wellness Business Mentor, Pure Barre Teacher, and Mom. She helps women all over the world cultivate a healthy lifestyle and business that allows them to live what they love. Connect with Tara on Facebook, Instagram, and her website.

     

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The Power of Positive Thinking

Most of the stresses and insecurities we suffer from are caused by our own thoughts. Have you ever observed your thoughts? How many times a day do you become frustrated? How often do you criticize yourself and self-doubt? I used to experience these negative thoughts daily and I envied the people who seemed to have their life together. What have I done wrong? Why me? I asked myself these questions frequently and never figured out why I was so miserable until I started experiencing the effects of positive affirmations. The more I became aware of my thoughts, the easier it was to ignore them. The problem was my perspective not my existence.

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Negative thinking is a hard habit to break, but I promise you if you genuinely try to change your thought patterns, you will not suffer from the vicious egoistic mind. Negative thinking consumes and distracts you; think about when you’re in a heated argument…your anger grows so strong that you can feel it boiling inside of you and you can’t think or focus on anything else. You may find it hard to start or finish tasks because you think you don’t have the strength, but I am here to tell you that you most certainly do. Here are a few things to incorporate in your daily life to benefit your physical and mental health.

  • Being happy is a matter of choice. It is really that simple. If you notice negative thoughts arising, simply observe what the voice in your head is saying and try to identify the root of this feeling. Do not try to avoid the thought, but instead, immediately take the mind to an elevated place, transform your thoughts into something positive. This can be as simple as changing your thought from, “I cannot do this” to “I can do this.”
  • Be grateful. There is always something to be grateful for, no matter how awful we may feel. Make a daily list of things you are grateful for and how they benefit you, you’ll soon begin to see that everything around you is a gift.
  • Positive affirmations. These are most effective using the “I am” principle, for example: I am strong. I am confident. I am balanced. I am generous and forgiving, etc.
  • Take some time for yourself to do something you love. Make time for silence, slow down, and take a breath. We tend to live very busy, fast paced lives that often deplete our energy. A yoga practice, meditation, reading a book, or any activity that helps you feel relaxed gives us an opportunity to unwind and recharge.

Choose to make these changes today! Practice positive thinking and never

give up. This isn’t something that happens overnight, you need persistence and the willpower to retrain your brain to see the good in all things. Just remember, think well and you will be well. Enjoy life!

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Mindfulness 101: Ten ways to be Mindful (and Happy) in Your Daily Life

  Meditation and yoga are practices that help you to engage in mindfulness . Increasing mindfulness is important for good psychological health. The true transformation from yoga and meditation is when the practice is applied beyond the classroom. It is when the mindfulness is extended towards other areas of life bringing the internal to external situation, where your mind and body tend to be more on "autopilot" and react.

To create change in your life it is important to become aware of the autopilot or “monkey mind” that develops unhealthy habitual thought processes,  so that you can learn to “snap out of it” and change your self.

Mindfulness can help you interact with your life so as to create space to release bad habits and develop a deeper perspective into the functionality of your day-to-day actions.

You can increase the sense of autonomy over your thoughts. When practiced, mindfulness makes opportunity for more love and can generate feelings of bliss, joy and unity within your personal self and your connection with your external environment.

Through journalling, art, therapy, yoga, meditation and travel, I have delivered myself outside of my comfort zone in analysing aspects of my body in movement, my mind in thought, and my existence as a human being within the world. Taking in mantras to train my brain to think differently from my environment, and to release past thoughts that engage me, I have discovered aspects of my life that I generally get cornered into my auto-pilot. From focussing on presence,  I have drawn from the practice of mundane situations, instead of allowing myself to get lost in thought.

When practicing mindfulness, along with yoga and meditation, these tips  can help to remind yourself to “wake-up” from your mental chatter at all times of the day. I have developed this list of moments to help remind us of when to switch up the mental routine so as to create a more relaxed and focussed in experience of life.

1. Wake up with Gratitude

When waking up in the morning, whether it be with an alarm, a pet or a child, we have the ability to attach ourselves to mental patterns right as our consciousness opens up. Whether this be pressing the snooze button or waking up quickly because one is late for work, take the opportunity to presence yourself. Take the time to rejoice in the experience of a new day. One minute of lying awake, but not being quite yet awake, can presence yourself to set up a more calm, mindful and appreciative day.

2. Engage with Food

Most religions discuss the need to give thanks and blessings before eating food. At a psychological level, this act is proven to relax the body, allowing for better digestion and feelings of satiation. This helps to manage your relationship with food, whether it be thinking negative thoughts about your body, helping you not eat your food too quickly, not eat enough, or even to overeat. Developing a positive, more mindful attitude about your food consumption, no matter what your relationship is with it, can bring a sense of gratitude and awareness in the full enjoyment of a meal.

3. Listening

When someone else is speaking, this is your opportunity to be present and to open your ears and actually hear what they are saying. Not only is their information valuable to your experience (whether you agree or disagree), they are teaching you something about yourself.

On another level, while listening to the news, advertisements or music, this is where mindfulness is key. These are great sources for discovery in societal manipulation and can seep into your subconscious if you are not mindfully aware of the words and their influence.

4. Media and Entertainment

When watching a movie or reading a book, you engage with your imagination and project into the reality of an experience that is not entirely your own. This engagement can inspire and uplift us but can also be damaging to self-image, create idolization of celebrities or feelings of comparison within your present life experience. Media is a way to engage with the public in entertaining certain ideals or fantasies about our world. Such as with social media and the virtual reality of identity, mindfulness is important to engage with these entertainment tools healthily and in complete understanding of the truth behind them.

5. Repetitive Patterns

When living in the same place for a long period of time, I notice I develop repetitive mental patterns. Just like travelling to a school I used to attend, feelings and memories of nostalgia combine into my experience. Walking into a certain room triggers mental habits, sitting at the same workspace every day, walking to the store, engaging with friends and family are repetitive patterns that you can wake up to, to find mindfulness in the experience. There are new things happening every day, whether it be the seasons changing, the lighting of the sky, or a freckle on another person’s nose. These discoveries, no matter how small, can change the mundane experience of repetitive patterns in your mind and bring you outside of your accustomed auto-pilot.

6. Standing in Line

The goal of mindfulness is to be present to your thoughts and to your experience. The best spot to practice meditation and mindfulness is while standing in line. How do you interact with the people around you when you are waiting, are you ‘with’ the experience or are you waiting for it to be over?

7. Troubleshooting Technology Problems and Repairs

This is an aspect of life that we all seem to abhor; cancelled plans, flat tires, computer upgrades/crashes, loosing internet connection and troubleshooting device failures can be limiting experiences we all wish to avoid. This is exactly where you can find the opportunity to practice mindfulness, patience and presence to the purpose of which you engage with your technology.

8. Travel

What happens when you are in a traffic jam? What pace do you take when you walk down the street? You travel constantly throughout the day, from one thing to the next, and in these moments your mind can project into the future of where you wish to be. Being mindful of travel is just a way to learn to plant your feet on the ground, look around, breathe and show gratitude to the portions of our lives in which we traverse from one experience to the next.

9. Speaking and Remaining Silent

Taking the time to become aware of the words that you use, helps to create better mantras for your life. Things such as gossip, negativity and complaining can catch up to your psyche and reveal things about yourself that you wouldn’t completely agree with when heard later. Do you ever hear what you’re saying or wish you had said something different? Take in the time to slow your words. Find the space for breathe. Sometimes silence can be the most powerful tool, but also, presence yourself to the moment to direct a greater authenticity in your communication with others and cause for a better use of your words.

10. Experiencing Loss

At many points in life we experience feelings of loss, of losing or misplacing something. This is when the mind can be frantic as it experiences the lack of control in life’s circumstances. In these moments, it is important to focus on the breathe, to relax the mind and allow for time to pass in order to create space for the truth to come up.

Funny thing about the monkey mind is that it is much more trustworthy than we realize, going with the flow and becoming mindful of our autopilot can bring us to a more natural, innate sense of intuition and internal discovery.

 

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Injury: Is it Really Such a Bad Thing? The Answer Might Surprise You

The Power of Injury

 

I invite you to look at injury in a different way: as a form of healing and improving yourself.  

When I injured my lower back two months ago, I never would have thought that I would be grateful for the experience. Now that I am feeling better, I can look back on those times of awful, falling to the floor, pain, and feel better about it. Injury has a silver lining because it can teach you to slow down and respect your body. [wp_ad_camp_1]

  First up, injury teaches us to slow down, allow the body to heal, and allow our minds to quiet. At first your mind will fight the lack of activity, but it will be calmed in time. When I went to the doctor I was simply told to rest and let time heal. This was incredibly frustrating as I am an active person. To hear a medical professional tell you that there is not much to be done but to take it easy, that’s down right irritating! But essential. Slowing down your practice can be tough in such a fast-paced world. Our daily lives are so busy that yoga can sometimes feel hurried as well; just one more thing to fit in. But moving away from a vigorous practice into a slower, restorative practice is sometimes exactly what the body and mind needs. Replace the word injury with healing. This is a healing time.  

Maybe even use this new, relaxed situation as a way to try new things. For example, if you can’t get through your regular Vinyasa class, then try a Yin practice at home, learn about natural remedies, take a bubble bath, meditate more, read, make a home cooked meal every night; draw things more inward. This will help teach you to extend these self-care practices beyond your injury. Embrace this time of healing as a way to recuperate both physically and mentally, and hopefully extend the practices into your daily life.   Injury or healing also provides a beautiful lesson in respecting our bodies. Plain and simple, when we injure our bodies it makes us very aware of what the body can and cannot do, what it could, and now cannot do, whether permanent or temporary. This can be a very trying time for everyone of every age because we like to be in control, but we must learn to listen to our bodies. How many times do you hear people say, “My back hurts today, but I’m going to yoga class anyway because I need to workout”? Yoga is about respecting your body, your temple, being at one with it. But if you fight it, this could lead to more serious problems. Drop the ego and give your body time. We only get one body, so respect the place where your soul resides.

 

Namaste.

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How to Find Your Yin During Busy Holiday Months

As I lay in a long yin pose trying to let go and relax, my teacher's words run through my head; do not let the stress of specific become the stress of general. At the time she was talking about the stress on my stretching hamstrings, and how I should not let it influence the rest of my body. But what I took away from that class was much more profound than that.

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If you experience stress,  do not become it

Maybe you recognize being busy, trying to get a hundred things done at the same time, feeling like you are being pulled into several directions. You have your work to think about, family, relationships, health, and now the approaching holiday season with its own demands. It can be enough to derail even the most balanced of yogis.

When we have additional stress in our lives, it is easy to let that stress take over. Instead of us experiencing temporary stress in one part of our lives, we start to believe we are stressed. There is a big difference in experiencing something, and being something. Instead of just observing the stress, much like we observe a stress of a muscle in yoga, we become it completely. It becomes part of our identity. When we internalize stress or busy-ness like this, it easily takes control of everything we do, and it's far more difficult to shake off.

Stress and calm are not enemies

A drop of softness is all it takes to break the power of stress. The balance of yin and yang is not about excluding each other completely. A little bit of stress can be good thing, it keeps us moving and gives us fuel. 

In yoga when we stress one part of the body, when we stretch it and ask temporarily more from it, it is important to allow the rest of the body to remain relaxed. This goes for your life as well. If one part of your life is stretching, focus on keeping the other parts soft. And breathe!

How to bring more yin into your life

That all sounds great, but how can you actually implement these drops of softness into your days? Here are five tips that can help you with your journey to yin!

1. Focus on how you would like to feel. 

Regardless of how you are feeling at the moment, whatever we give our attention to, strengthens. Without giving more power to the feelings of stress or busy-ness, try to imagine the feeling you would like to feel.

Make this feeling your goal, and focus on it daily. Love it as if it was already here. When you go about your daily business, observe if you are moving closer or farther away from this feeling. Identify what activities are moving you closer, and do more of them! This means that you will have less time for activities that are moving you away from your goal, and your mood improves.  

2. Be aware of the stories you tell.

Especially when we are going through times filled with traditions and rituals, we may take on additional stress regarding how things ought to go. Instead of living in the moment, instead of allowing life to unfold naturally, we want to control it to the last little detail.

Listen to the stories you tell yourself about how things should go. Are you following tradition because you want to, or because you never even thought about doing things any other way? 

In the ideal world, if there would be no disapproval and no disappointing looks from anyone, what would you do? How would you spend the holidays? Instead of large family gatherings, would you rather spend some time alone or go on a tropical holiday? What would make you happy? Be mindful of the resistance you may feel bubbling up, and challenge the things that give you grief.

3. Make a distinction between what you HAVE to do versus what do you WANT to do.

We can often confuse these two. Just for fun, make a list of all the things you feel you HAVE TO do. Then write down per item who is demanding you to perform the task? Do you know for sure you have to do it, or have you just convinced yourself of its necessity?

Finally, ask yourself what would happen if you did not do all those things you feel you have to do? Would the world fall apart and spin out of orbit? Or would you just have a bit more free time to, for example, enjoy the presence of your family a bit more?

4. Is it you, or the perception of you?

Sometimes (or rather, often) we do things just to prove something to others. We want to be seen as the kind of person who has it all together, who has time for it all and who can just naturally fall into perfection and whip up creative holiday dishes without even making a mess. It's odd, because honestly, who really likes Ms. Perfection anyway? Wouldn't you rather eat cake with your hands and laugh about the mess in the kitchen? We tend to bond with each other over our delightful imperfections rather than the togetherness we are trying so hard to keep up.

Be mindful of the façade you (may) want to keep up. Don't beat yourself up about it, just observe with loving attention. Who is it for, and why?

5. Breathe. If nothing else works, if you find yourself in a situation that gives you stress, don't sweat it. Breathe it!

Our breath is connected to our nervous system, and the breath goes hand in hand with our body. If you are feeling particularly tensed, stop for a moment and be aware of your breathing. The more nervous and stressed we are, the more shallow the breath. This in turn tells the body that we are in some kind of danger, and the body gets agitated.

Break the circle and focus on lengthening your breath. As you inhale, count slowly to four, and as you exhale, count slowly to four. Close your eyes, if you can, and observe how your body is moving. Keep on breathing, keep on counting. After few minutes you will notice your body (and mind) relaxing.

Remaining soft and open

So next time you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or too busy, take a moment to breathe. Don't let the stress in one part of your life get the best of you, but let it just be a drop in the sea of yin, and keep the rest soft and open.

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Giving Back: 7 Benefits of Serving the Community

  Those who are seeking personal growth in their lives to find greater meaning in them can find it "purposeful" to do charitable work.  This wonderful wheel of samsara is a great habit to adopt, as it strengthens the bonds of humanity. Here are the personal benefits of charitable work that I have found with my work for various initiatives.

 

1. Useful Form of Self Discovery

Charitable work has been revered by humankind in lifting individuals to greatness. It is a great way to develop your own personal opinions and preferences about stimulating issues that broaden your awareness. Bringing a passion to a charity or a cause that stirs your heart in compassion is where you can first jump in to the greatness within you. This type of soulful work is a great way to connect with others and enjoy your life fully with a feeling of purpose.

 

2. Develop and Nourish Community

Giving back in service helps to connect others to open their hearts and give back as well. When you get behind a cause you are inspiring other people to do the same. Knowledge is powerful and a great way to connect with others in love and compassion in expanding our sense of community. Your interest and your passion for a cause can bring new like-minded people and experiences into your life.

 

3. Empowering Experience

When I made a goal to raise $4000 within 6 months for the Africa Yoga Project, I had no idea how I was going to do it. As I got over my fears and put myself out there to connect with others, I noticed how many people reached out to lift me up as well. Nearing my goal, my eyes and my heart swelled in emotion at the successes and the failures I had encountered along my journey. On the very last donation day, I accomplished my goal which helped me embody the experience of “anything is possible” beyond the yoga mat. It was a very empowering experience.

 

4. Develop Self Knowledge and Communication

Adding to your already busy life and learning to give back to the community can give you a sense of greater meaning to your actions and your engagement with life. Giving back without receiving anything in return can presence you to your own personal strength. When you support something other than yourself, you gain more information and think much more clearly about what is actually important in giving back. You gain confidence in your own personal voice and your overall life priorities.

 

5. Discover Passion

When you discuss the cause that you are supporting, you must tap into your heart's desire to pursuade others to donate. Speaking out about something that you believe in, that you repeatedly discuss with others develops a fire from within, a drive which gives you a passion for something greater than yourself.

 

6. Develop Character

Fundraising gets you out of your comfort zone and into a greater understanding of how the world works. When doing charity work you will have to put yourself out there so you might feel stress in approaching others to support you. You can learn more about your determination while you gain success from the experience. Whether it be from providing a payment for a service you provide, requesting money out of others from the goodness of your heart, or for the gain of a tax return, the experience itself is great for your reputation and your resume. It could almost be considered selfish to raise funds or volunteer your time like this because it can make you feel like you’re a really good person as people perceive you in a much more positive light. Be advised that giving back isn’t always in other people’s nature though and it requires a bit more of a heart than you can realize to get others to support your cause.

 

7. Really Standing Up for What you Believe In

Being connected to a cause can bring only great things into your life. Standing up for something shows a curiosity and an interest beyond personal gain. It allows for more self-inquiry and puts you in charge of your life as you manage selfless work into your daily routine. Giving back in fundraising and helping others in charitable work can be accomplished at any point in your life when needed. It gives a purpose to something greater than yourself. Speaking up and opening to ideas that you believe in can empower you to try new things, take risks and make your life much more nourishing and interesting.

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What is Kundalini Yoga?

The yoga of spirituality, Kundalini Yoga.

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There are a lot of strange new age practices and philosophies out there that you may have heard of, and Kundalini yoga is probably one of them. For a yoga class, this one breaks the mould and gets right into the transcendence part of the yoga practice through meditation, chanting and repetitive, rhythmic movements. If you have heard of Kundalini yoga it is probably in reference to being a little wierd and very spiritual, where the teacher wears a turban and makes you bark like a dog, dance with your eyes closed or even flop like a fish on your yoga mat. You’ve probably also heard of how amazingly transformative this practice can be at developing greater awareness and balance within one’s life. If you haven’t heard of it at all, it is definitely a practice to be considered if you would like to span into the more spiritually focussed and meditative aspects of the yoga lineage.

 

History

Even though this style of yoga has been adopted by a lot of new age spirituals, it is an ancient practice discussed within the ancient scriptures of the Upanishads and alluded to in the Rig-veda. It is an energetic yoga that seeks to access the Kundalini energy within the body. The kundalini is defined as a snake coiled at the base of the spine, or a goddess type of energy which is being adopted more internationally as we grow collectively into the Age of Aquarius. It is a popular style of yoga in Germany, across Europe and South America.

The pioneer of Kundalini yoga for North America is the late Yogi Bhajan who came overseas along with B.K.S. Iyengar, Bikram Choudhury and Sri Patthabi Jois. Yogi Bhajan travelled to the land of opportunity to teach Kundalini yoga. Originally he was invited by the University of Toronto to teach and eventually moved to Los Angeles to cultivate his following. Like his yoga counterparts he had a very ‘tough love’ approach in his teachings. Yogi Bhajan lectured extensively and his works are still being catalogued by the Kundalini Research Institute. You can access his teachings for free online through the Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings. He developed an NGO and named it Healthy Happy Holy Organization, or 3HO, this is  a literal description of what he believed to be the goal for every human being to discover within themselves while alive on this earth. Yogi Bhajan’s work with 3HO on peacefulness has even been reviewed and supported at the United Nations. A proponent of interreligious dialogue, he introduced the International Peace Prayer Day in 1985 which has become quite celebrated annually in New Mexico.

The practice of Kundalini yoga can be described as a combination of all of the yogas but more specifically Raj and Tantra Yoga. As the Hatha yoga language comes from Sanskrit, the classical language of Hinduism; Kundalini yoga language comes from Gurmukhi, the classical language of Sikhism. Both yogas however precede all religion. Kundalini yoga is known to have been practiced over 500 years before religion and has evolved through the teachers and schools of education in Punjab of Pakistan and India. Originally Kundalini yoga was taught in secret, practiced by only elite royals and spirituals. As Sikhism was adopted as a faith beyond the caste system, Kundalini yoga opened up to the public.

What is Kundalini Yoga? - www.YogaTravelTree.com

 

How Kundalini Yoga Works

Using breath, mantra and yogic postures, Kundalini yoga strengthens the nervous and glandular systems. It is told to awaken the energetic body through the chakras and that the energy is accessed through the base of the spine. Each class is taught with a ‘kriya’, which is a set of unique postures and chants to bring about a specific outcome such as increased love, prosperity, flexibility, etc. There are over thousands of kriyas available and each help to access and combine the mind, body and spirit.

Kundalini yoga is for those who wish to seek a deeper experience of themselves. The rhythmic, repetitive movements help one in better understanding of how their mind works. I’d like to call it the yoga of the multitasking mind. It requires so much focus to breath, chant, and perform the postures that there is no availability for the brain to loose itself in thought. Sometimes your eyes need to be closed, looking up into your third eye as you say a mantra accessing your second chakra while you hold a mildly complex mudra with your hands and move your body in and out of a posture for an unknown length of time. This can be maddening to some individuals, but if you keep with the class and let go of your limitations, the self-discovery in perserverance and strength is immediate and effective.

When practiced regularly it gives you the ability to put aside your thoughts and to focus more clearly on the truth of the experience of life. Devinder Kaur, a Kundalini Yoga teacher and owner of Pranashanti Yoga studio in Ottawa, Canada explains

“It has helped me make better, quicker decisions, to think more clearly and also gain more physical stamina and endurance.”

Others have said they feel healthier and more energized, their eyes are clearer and their moods more balanced.

Most of the chanting in Kundalini yoga is in Sanskrit or Gurmukhi and sometimes they are simple sounds to access different areas of the body, chakras, mouth and skull. This sound component helps to create better communication. When practicing in such deep focus, and speaking out loud as you meditate, you are able to become conscious of your own sound. Dr. Sat Bir Singh author of “Your Brain on Yoga” and an avid Kundalini practitioner discusses continuously how beneficial yoga, chanting and meditation is to the body and mind. The mantras in Kundalini yoga help to vibrate the internal body, clearing passageways for greater healing and physical awareness.

 

What to Expect in Class

The classes range in difficulty, some are more dynamic classes and others are more meditative. The teacher is dressed all in white and you are encouraged to do the same. White maintains the internal energy while reflecting external energy. Teachers generally cover their hair or even wear a turban which is believed to maintain meditative focus on the third eye as well as hold energy as the Crown Chakra may become sensitive after prolonged periods of meditation. The turban also relates closely to the Sikh tradition though you do not need to be Sikh to teach Kundalini yoga.

The teachers will most likely hold a spiritual name that seems foreign to the tongue. Names that end in the word ‘Singh’ are male and ‘Kaur’ are female. These spiritual names can be easily obtained through the 3HO website and are hand-picked through the use of numerology by one of Yogi Bhajan’s dedicated followers.

What is Kundalini Yoga? - www.YogaTravelTree.com

Kundalini yoga is a yoga class with intention.There is a physical and energetic explanation to every posture, even if it is simply meant to make you laugh. Sometimes you find yourself doing the most ridiculous things that might even have been created just to get you to loosen up and have some fun. Once I found myself walking around the room with my hands grasping my ankles where I was to pretend that I was a heavy elephant, greeting my friends as we pass each other in the classroom. In absolute hilarity, it gets my spirit excited, it loosens my body and my mind and helps me to centre into meditation more effectively.

The beauty of Kundalini yoga, that makes it stand out from other styles of yoga is the sound vibration that is used within the classes. Interacting with the external environment is stimulating, rather than practicing silently with one teacher speaking, the use of music and sounds help to engage the student to go deeper. Sometimes they sing the mantras with music which helps to keep the pace and more devotion of the students within the class.

It became popular in the 60s to end every Kundalini yoga class with a song by a Scottish group named the Incredible String Band “May the Longtime Sun Shine Upon You” which has now become a world prayer. If you’re lucky your teacher has chimes or even a gong to elevate your experience. There is nothing so incredible than lying, exhausted and peacefully in Savasana as a teacher lightly taps a large gong, getting louder and louder, engulfing your body and the entire room in full vibration.

Finishing a Kundalini yoga class, it is appropriate to say ‘Sat Nam’ instead of ‘Namaste’. It is traditionally repeated three times all together. ‘Sat Nam’ generally means “in truth” and when repeated three times I have heard that the first time, is in truth to yourself, the second time is for truth of your family and your friends, and the third is in truth to the universe and beyond.

 

In Kundalini yoga you can learn to heal yourself physically, mentally and spiritually through meditation and prostration. A higher consciousness and the discovery of the sacred purpose of your life is the overall goal. When relaxing into the rhythmic motions, the chanting and focussed meditation, a deeper level of consciousness is obtained. The resistance and mental blockages in your life dissolve completely into your practice. As you open to Kundalini yoga, you are able to drop away self-limiting ideals and absorb into a space of peace, tranquility and internal strength that shines bright within you throughout your day.

 

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