yoga

Class Recordings, March 20 and 22, 2018

This week I taught students the chant "oṃ śāntīḥ" for our meditation. The yoga practice emphasized forward bending postures and exhale technique for a lightening, relaxing effect. The classes were similar, with the evening option being a little more relaxing to prepare students for winding down at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 10:30 am, 3/20/2018

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 3/22/2018

These recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can find many free class recordings, as well as full video routines and tutorials. I hope you find them useful!

Class Recordings, January 11, 2018

Please enjoy these recordings from my regular weekly yoga classes on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Both classes emphasize building upper back strength in forward bending and backward bending poses, with the goal of preparing for twisting poses and the seated forward-bend, janu sirsasana. The yoga poses, breathing and meditation were also designed to give a "cleansing" effect, which is useful at the beginning of the year, after the excesses and disruption of the holidays.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 1/11/18

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 1/11/18

Live class recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you'll find many recordings and videos, all for free! 

Class Recordings: January 4, 2017

Today was all about connecting with the breath to create space and to bring more freedom and focus to our movements. We are still working on twisting poses in class, as well as some asymmetrical forward bending postures to lengthen the sides of the body (especially the spine and hips). Both classes include pause-after-exhale breathing and a meditation on water.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 1/4/2017

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 1/4/2017

The links above take you to the audio files hosted on my Patreon page where you can listen completely free. Enjoy!

How to Find Lasting Peace

Non-attachment is the mastery of consciousness,

wherein one is free from craving objects of enjoyment,

whether they have been perceived

or imagined from promises in scriptures.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1.15

In the opening scene of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, greatest warrior among men, looks across the battlefield before the great war of the Mahabharata.

The Kuru and Pandava clans both hold claim to the highest kingdom on earth; they are cousins, and have gathered men from all corners of the kingdom to fight in this epic war.  Arjuna is preparing to fight men who have been friends and family–he knows many are virtuous, courageous and wise, and he struggles with his duty as a warrior to fight them.  Arjuna asks himself how there can be glory in sacrificing his kin for the sake of his family’s reinstatement to the throne.

Krishna, the embodiment of God, speaks to Arjuna of his duty (dharma), telling him that the soul is immortal and that attachment to one’s own state of living, or to another’s, is selfish and fruitless as the attachment to material objects.  And if that attachment causes man to ignore his dharma, he cannot find honor, because he has lost the path of righteousness; and he cannot find peace, because all earthly matter is transient and will eventually fade or change.

“Prepare for war with peace in thy soul.  Be in peace in pleasure or pain, in gain and in loss, in victory or in the loss of a battle.  In this peace there is no sin.  This is the wisdom of Sankhya, the vision of the Eternal.”

Non-attachment is a practice that begins with distinguishing between that part of us which is eternal, and those things which are extraneous and transitory.  Recognition of this difference then allows us to avoid a feeling of personal loss or pain when things change or don’t go as planned.  We see that the true Self remains whole and untouched, and we can find peace in its permanence.

Yoga teaches us non-attachment through its various practices.  In asana practice, we are encouraged to work at a level appropriate to our personal ability, and not to push or strain ourselves past that level.  We also learn in challenging poses to disassociate ourselves from physical discomfort so that we remain relaxed.  In pranayama and meditation we relinquish attachment to the active thoughts, the worries or preoccupations we usually face, in order to maintain stillness in the mind.  We learn to become disinterested in the final results, to momentarily let go of future goals and obligations and limit our awareness to the present moment.

Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or failure. Yoga is evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same.

Bhagavad Gita, 2.48

The Bhagavad Gita teaches that we have the right to our actions, but not to the fruit of those actions.  Since we cannot control the activity of other beings or matter in the world, we cannot control whether our actions will prove successful.  To form expectations, or to become attached to an outcome, is a futile and often disheartening exercise.

“Set thy heart upon thy work,” Krishna tells Arjuna, “but never on its reward.  Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work.”

Although the concept of acting without the promise of any return for our labor can be hard to accept, non-attachment is crucial to finding peace in life.  We  cannot escape work and action, and if we let our happiness be subject to the potential results of our work, we risk disappointment.

When I contemplate the philosophy of non-attachment, I’m reminded of R.K. Narayan’s novel, The Vendor of Sweets.  The story centers around Jagan, owner of a sweet shop in India, a pious, conservative, hard-working man.  His son Mali has disappointed him by leaving for America, wasting his money, and returning a few years later with an American wife.  Mali returns to ask Jagan to invest his savings in an unethical business venture.  When Jagan refuses, the rift between him and his son widens, and Mali becomes untrustworthy, stealing money from the sweet shop, and disrespectful.  Jagan is deeply troubled by his son’s actions and choices, and his worry leads to depression.  Eventually, he learns that his unhappiness was caused not by Mali, but by his own attachments to Mali’s behavior and prosperity.  Jagan chooses to retire to a temple, breaking all ties with his former life.  Having renounced his attachments, Jagan finds true peace at last.

“He whose undertakings are free from anxious desire and fanciful thought, whose work is made pure in the fire of wisdom…in whatever work he does such a man in truth has peace: he expects nothing, he relies on nothing, and ever has fullness of joy.”  Bhagavad Gita, 4.19-20

It makes sense that attachment to material objects which fade with time could be the source of much unhappiness in a lifetime.  It is perhaps more challenging to accept that our peace depends on action without attachment to the results.  What motive have we to act, unless it is to secure a specific outcome?  According to theGita, to fulfill our dharma, or our duty in life, is the only motive for pure, unattached action.  All other action is motivated by self-interest, and will likely lead to unnecessary suffering.

How Yoga Relieves Stress

Transient

Increasingly, research shows that practicing yoga quiets the stress response system by regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).  (Read more on how stress works.)

Studies reveal that yoga practice:

  • decreases levels of salivary cortisol, blood glucose levels, plasma rennin levels and 24-hour urine epinephrine and norepinephrine levels
  • regulates the heart rate and significantly decreases systolic and diastolic blood pressure
  • increases immune system function and decreases markers of inflammation

In addition to these physiological effects, yoga has also been shown to decrease anxiety, relieve symptoms of depression, and increase feelings of emotional, social and spiritual well-being.

So science has confirmed what yogis have known for centuries: yoga reduces stress.  But how does it work?

The eight limbs of stress-relief

The traditional system of hatha yoga, as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is composed of eight limbs of yoga.  These eight limbs are the practices which lead a yogi on his path to enlightenment.

Guidelines for living, the yamas and niyamas, direct a practitioner in his behavior and thought. The yamas include compassion, honesty, non-stealing, self-control, and non-greed.  The niyamas include cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self study, and recognition of a higher power. Living by these guidelines helps avoid the complications that dishonesty and lack of self-control bring about, as well as the negative thought patterns that lead to judgment, discontent and greed.  By adopting an attitude of compassion for ourselves and all beings, we gain balance and peace of mind.

Physical postures, or asanas, promote strength, balance, flexibility, and the optimal functioning of the human body.  Many poses directly calm the sympathetic nervous system.  Forward bending poses which squeeze the abdomen against the thighs momentarily increase perceived blood volume and pressure, and the body responds by dilating blood vessels and decreasing the heart’s pumping volume to lower blood pressure.  Slight prone backbends which put pressure on the abdomen (like bhujangasana, or cobra pose) have a similar affect.  Heart-opening poses that place pressure on the adrenals mildly stimulate them, which can be helpful if chronic overstimulation of the HPA Axis has led to their dysfunction or fatigue.  Other restorative poses, such as savasana (corpse pose) or viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) allow the skeletal muscles to relax completely, releasing physical tension.

Breath control, or pranayama, can stimulate or calm the nervous system in addition to focusing the mind.  While poor or abnormal breathing patterns can chronically overstimulate the autonomic nervous system (leading to anxiety or fatigue), deep and even breaths engage the diaphragm and induce a calming effect.  In particular, inhaling and exhaling at a 1:2 ratio (in which the exhale is twice as long as the inhale), increases oxygen and decreases carbon dioxide in the body—this increase of oxygen is picked up by receptors in the brain stem and the aortic and carotid sinuses and initiates the body’s relaxation response by slowing the heart rate and reducing blood pressure.

Non-attachment, referred to as pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, is the practice of detaching one’s mind from external objects and occurrences.  While practicing non-attachment, we may be aware of the object, but we control the mind’s focus to keep it from engaging with the object.  This prevents us from becoming personally affected by what arises outside and allows us to maintain inner peace.

Meditation comprises the final three limbs: dharana, immovable concentration of the mind; dhyana, meditation on the profound or divine; and finally samadhi, union with the divine, to the degree that the concept of self dissolves as the practitioner becomes one with the universe.  Meditation and deep relaxation practices quiet the mind and body and enhance the practitioner’s awareness of his entire being (corporeal as well as psychological and spiritual).

In a typical group yoga class, students practice postures and breathing, and often meditation.  These three exercises alone can activate the body’s relaxation response and quiet the mind.  The other limbs, especially the guidelines for living (yamas and niyamas) and the practice of non-attachment cultivate a peaceful presence that you can carry into all areas of your life, on and off the yoga mat.  This state of peace is a foundation from which you can respond to situations in a healthful, objective and effective manner, instead of allowing them or their consequences to overwhelm.

 

Resources:

“Blood Pressure Reduction.”  Alternative Medicine and Rehabilitation: A Guide for Practitioners.  Wainapel SF, Fast A, editors.  New York: Demos Medical Publishing; 2003.

McCall, Timothy (2007). Yoga as Medicine: the yogic prescription for health and healing. New York: Bantam Books.

Ross, A., & Thomas, S (2010). “The health benefits of yoga and exercise: A review of comparison studies.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16, 3-12.