Category Archives: Yoga in Real Life
Yoga for Complete Healing
With Anna Ferguson
April 27th, 2:30-5 p.m.
Mountain Yoga, Johnson City, TN
Learn how yoga can help you break through 5 myths that can prevent your healing from any emotional wound or physical illness. Therapeutic yoga, meditation and breath practice will be included to help you learn about these ideas and break through the boundaries that these myths can create. Suitable for all levels.
If you sign up through my web site, you can receive a recording of the class for only $5.99! Just email me and mention this blog post.
Thyroid symptoms can be challenging to manage in your day to day life, but yoga can help. As a thyroid sufferer myself, I have experimented over the years with different techniques and poses and these are the ones that help me out the most. Some are asana, some are other things, but they all have helped me heal and become a healthy yogi!
Plow Pose: Halasana. This pose balances the thyroid and parathyroid glands, providing compression to re-balance the chakra. Whether you are hyper- or hypothryoid, this pose can help with insomnia, anxiety and nervousness related to this gland.
Wheel Pose: Urdva Dharunasana. This pose is stimulating to the adrenals, which work in very close relationship with the thyroid and the whole endocrine system. It is also a wonderful opener for the front of the throat, letting energy flow more easily through the chakra. Done a few hours before bed, it can help you normalize cortisol levels so that you can sleep. An easier preparatory pose for Wheel Pose is Bridge Pose, or Setu Bhanda. This is a gentle version that both gets you in an inversion (key for nervous system regeneration and support) and compresses the thyroid gland.
Inversions: It is important to get the heart above the head for hormonal problems. You can do this gently or more vigorously. Bridge Pose, as mentioned above, is a great one to start with. Handstands and headstands, however, are great for putting pressure on the pituitary gland, the master remote control for all of your endocrine organs. Rabbit Pose or Sasangasana is a great one for the beginner, however and can be done by most with limited experience in
yoga. It’s not a good idea for those with disc problems in the cervical spine, however. You can modify this pose by decreasing the angle on the neck and placing your hands next to your head so there is only gentle pressure on the very top of the head.
Relaxation is so important for the thyroid sufferer – so the next few poses listed are restorative poses. The first one, Viparita Karani, or Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose, is a pose perfect for grounding the energy of the thyroid. Take a pillow and place it about six inches from the wall (you can also do this pose in bed). Sit on the pillow, with your legs parallel to the wall. Swing your legs up the wall and lay back, so that the pillow is gently supporting your lower back and your hips are on the floor. Slide yourself away from the wall to account for tight hamstrings. A yummy addition to this pose is an eye pillow and fuzzy blanket to keep you warm. Once you are in the pose, you can do some relaxing breathwork.
Another great thyroid balancing pose is Child’s pose, or Balasana. This allows the feminine, yin energy that resides on the back of the body to wash over you. Stay in this pose, focusing only on your breath, for 3-5 minutes. A great modification of this pose is to take your knees apart, big toes together. Then put a big pillow or two underneath your chest so that your head, heart and belly are supported. Then just rest.
Scream. Laugh. Sing. Babble. Whatever you do, don’t stifle something you need to say. If it’s hard to express your feelings, scream them out in the car when you are by yourself. Yes, it may sound crazy, but it allows me to get out any energy that may be inappropriate or cause me to say something I don’t mean. Then when the opportunity to have a conversation with the person in question comes along, I am much more clear and positive about what I need.
Journal. Often there is a lot of junk and gunk that gets stuck in our brains. Try this exercise to get down to the nitty gritty of what you are really looking for in life. Every morning, when you first get up, write out 3 pages of whatever – on a college-ruled notebook. It will take you about 30 minutes most days. This may sound daunting or even repugnant to you right now, but I promise you, if you can throw up your gunk onto the written page, the true you can come out and express yourself. This is all throat chakra stuff! It’s about expressing yourself, creativity, will, determination, discipline – in short, listening to your inner compass.
Eat brazil nuts, coconut oil, seaweed and healthy fats (think fish oil and avocado). Yes, yoga includes nutrition! Important things for the thyroid are selenium, minerals and healthy doses of potassium and iodine (among other things!). A favorite drink of mine is a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in water first thing in the morning. This allows my liver to wake up, gives my thyroid some healthy minerals and makes my body more alkaline. Stay away from sugars, processed foods and unhealthy types of preparations (think fried and overcooked foods). Eat a rainbow – see you can get red, yellow, orange, green and purple on your plate once a day. Also pay attention to your allergies – a big thing that helped me was to stop eating wheat and wheat gluten.
All of these techniques in yoga are really just to give you a better sense of yourself – a better attunement to your inner compass. As you practice, you will become more and more true to yourself, leading you to make better decisions, healther choices and live in health and happiness more and more.
“Practice and all is coming.” ~ Sri Patthabi Jois.
Achoo! It’s flu season. It’s hard to stay moving when you are dealing with fever, aches, chills and respiratory problems. Here are a couple of sequences you can do together or separately to keep your lymph fluid moving a little to facilitate a quicker recovery. All of these poses can be done in bed! Keep the tissues handy to catch drippy noses.
YIN SECTION: noticing breath, non-judgment. With each breath, try to send energy to those parts that are complaining the most – nose, eyes, skin, belly, whatever.
* Downward Facing -Frog ~ 3-5 minutes
* Child’s ~ 1 minute
* Side Twist – 3 minutes each side (Laying on Back, Knees Rotating Together to one Side)
* Deer ~3 minutes each side
* Anahatasana Melting Heart ~ 3 minutes
* Child’s ~ 1 minute
* Caterpillar – 5 minutes
* Sphinx ~ 5 minutes
* Saddle ~ 3 minutes
Happy Baby, 1 minute of free movement. Anything that needs to move. A few reps of Cat/Cow are great too.
* Dandasana – Seated Staff Pose – 10 breaths
* Reverse Tabletop – 3 repetitions of 3 breaths each
* Janu Sirsasana – Forward Fold for 10 breaths on each side
* Baradvajrasana – Gentle Twist of your choice, keeping a relaxed neck
* Bridge – Skip this one if you have respiratory issues that prevent comfortable breathing
* Legs Up Wall – Stay in this one as long as it feels good
* Child’s Pose with Bolster
* Foot Rub – Use your favorite lotion or a warm towel with scented oils.
* Recline to Svasana, Inhale through nose, exhale through mouth 3-5 times, lions breath
* Svasana – 10 minutes
Happy Healing! Don’t forget lots of fluids, warm lightly cooked foods and rest rest rest!
So if we are what we eat, do we eat what we are? Do I really turn into the human equivalent of a jelly donut if I eat one? It’s an interesting question, and one that yogis frequently address on their journey to greater awareness. Just like not every type of asana practice fits every body, no one approach to eating is right for everyone. Some people are vegetarians, some are not. Some people can do well on all raw foods, some don’t. It’s a highly personal journey and one fraught with challenge at times, particularly for those of us who’ve grown up with typical American eating habits. On the funny side, it’s an amusing moment when you realize that the only reason you thought a particular food was good for you was because the TV told you so!
Listen to Your Gut
On the yogi’s journey towards finding a solution for their own particular constitution, intuition and balance are the keys to finding out what the map of your digestive needs looks like. Foods that might be ok in the morning can leave you too stimulated for sleep, and grounding foods might feel too heavy in the early hours of the day. As you progress on your yogic journey, you can find yourself sensitive to foods that you thought were fine before. A good way to get a guidelines for what might work for you is to find out your dosha. Dosha is a term in Ayurvedic medicine, that describes one of three types of energy types (kapha, pitta or vata) which combine in various proportions to determine individual constitution.
To Fast or Not To Fast
So most of us heard this before – something to the tune of “Don’t eat two hours before class!” Some people also experiment with other types of fasting as well. Just like food choices, fasting can be something highly personal. Pitta types can be really physically challenged by fasting – they do better when eating every three to four hours. As I Pitta type myself, I try to avoid large meals before classes (and particularly mexican foods!) – but that is just me. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any large or heavy meals before your practice, for the same reason your mom told you not to swim for 30 minutes after eating lunch. You’ve got to give your body time and peace to digest your food to get the maximum nutritional benefit. A good compromise is eating lightly at least 30 minutes before class – maybe a handful or two of nuts or something with protein, like a hard boiled egg. One thing never to skimp on is the water – drink drink drink!
The Definite Baddies
There are some pretty solid rules about food out there that don’t depend on your dosha. It’s fact that refined foods, sugars and fried foods play havoc with your health and should be minimized if not eliminated from your diet. What you might not expect is that some of these foods can hide out in products that you wouldn’t expect, like high fructose corn syrup in your crackers, for example. When I started paying attention to my diet, I became a label reader. That has given me the power to discern whether that healthy looking box of whatever is actually really healthy for me, because marketing and labeling can be really tricky sometimes. Another empowering trick is to find out what some ingredients like MSG can masquerade as; some alternative (and perfectly legal) names for MSG are glutamate, yeast extract and autolyzed yeast extract, just to name a few. (If you want to know more, visit www.truthinlabeling.org or www.msgmyth.com).
The Awesome Goodies
The good news is that there is so much local, organic and yummy food out there so you never have to feel deprived after kicking the foods out of your diet that aren’t serving you well. One thing I found after I eliminated gluten and wheat from my diet is that I kicked an 18 year old acne problem overnight! A lot of yogis who find out what is working for them and stick to it find immense benefits and the ability to be well. So the food story is not all deprivation and finger-wagging – immense freedom can come from finding out what really doesn’t work with your body. Once you find the right balance for you, the rewards can be more than you ever imagined. Plus, you might discover new foods you might never have tried before you brought more awareness to your eating habits.
There are some great foods for this time of year to help you get through the end of winter, support your kidneys (one of the organs that can get especially stressed at this time of year) and be well. Some of my favorites are below:
- Soaked almonds. A nutritional powerhouse. Soaking the almonds makes them more digestible.
- Royal Jelly. A substance made from young nurse bees as larvae food. Thought by acupuncturists to be deeply nourishing to the kidneys and adrenal glands.
- Seaweed. There are many kinds, dulse and kelp being just two available. For those with thyroid problems, it can deliver necessary and supportive iodine to facilitate hormone production. You can also get your seaweed by eating sushi!
- Turmeric. A spice used in a lot of Indian food. It has nutritional and immune system benefits like decreasing inflammation and boosting your immunity towards some types of cancers.
So, my advice: Set out on your food journey with a high sense of anticipation, an appetite for change and an openness to trying something new! Your reward for feeding your body well will be beyond whatever you can imagine (and isn’t that cool?).
Lots of us suffer from one type of sleep deprivation or another in our lifetimes. Kids, work, stress or illness can keep us up well past a healthy bed time. What to do when you wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep? Here are some great techniques for calming your energy down and avoiding that frustrating feeling.
Move. Once you are sure that you aren’t falling back to sleep, change your surroundings. Often frustration can build while you lie there, just staring at the ceiling or tossing back and forth. Find a quiet corner of the house, even if it is the bathroom!
Support your body. There are a few great yoga poses to support your endocrine system and nervous system, the two systems that are often put under duress when you are dealing with insomnia. The thyroid and the adrenals are put under pressure (or may be the reason for your insomnia in the first place) and they can be supported through Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) or Setu Bhanda (Bridge Pose).
Viparita Karani. Take a pillow and place it about six inches from the wall (you can also do this pose in bed). Sit on the pillow, with your legs parallel to the wall. Swing your legs up the wall and lay back, so that the pillow is gently supporting your lower back and your hips are on the floor. Slide yourself away from the wall to account for tight hamstrings. A yummy addition to this pose is an eye pillow and fuzzy blanket to keep you warm. Once you are in the pose, you can do some relaxing breathwork.
Viloma Pranayama. This breath work is a great way to active your parasympathetic nervous system. Take a gentle breath in, focusing on inflating your low belly. Take a tiny pause, then keep inhaling into your chest. Take another tiny pause, and fill your lungs to absolute fullness. Then slowly and gently exhale through the mouth. Do this as many times as you need to feel relaxed. For me, it usually only takes 5 or 6 rounds to feel some stress relief.
Setu Bhanda or Bridge Pose. This pose is excellent for those with thyroid issues. To begin, start on your back, feet on the floor. Press your feet firmly down into the floor and lift the hips up. You can support underneath your low back with pillows or blankets. The light pressure at the base of the throat can stimulate or calm the thyroid and bring the throat chakra back into balance. Stay here as long as you like, making your exhales longer than your inhales.
Any of these techniques can be really helpful in balancing out your energies and bring you back to sleep land. Give them a try and tell me if you are successful!
One of my favorite ways to start the day is with a smoothie. Here are some of my favorite recipes:
Summer Bliss Smoothie
1 ripe peach, chopped
1/2 mango, chopped
1 cup of unsweetened coconut milk
2 scoops of your choice of protein powder
1 tbsp chia seed
1 tbsp flax seed
Blend and indulge in a sweet but balanced breakfast!
Ok, so I love these rules so much that I had to post a blog about them. Here they are, the Dalai Lama’s 20 rules for living:
1.Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three R’s: - Respect for self, - Respect for others and - Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great relationship.
7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
20. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
Warning: Not your typical yoga article. Need an open and inquiring mind to read further!
From comedy to pharmaceuticals to sutras, sex and yoga have a really complex and dynamic relationship in Western culture. From one end of the spectrum to another, you can run the gamut of emotions, religions, approaches and misunderstandings. You can also see amazing confirmations of the benefits that asana, pranayama and meditation have on a yogi’s most intimate of activities.
As I first grazed through the vast fields of internet information, at first I was met by a plethora of articles offering up what I felt to be a pretty homogenous offering of mostly the same information about how yoga can better your sex life. There were asana prescriptions and testimonials, but I yearned to get more specific. Were there actual studies out there that confirmed what yogis from long ago seemed to already know?
One fascinating study I found was about the problem of premature ejaculations. A group of scientists in India studied the effectiveness of yoga versus the pharmaceutical drug Fluoxetine, published (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118496281/abstract ) in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2007. The results were amazing! A full 100% of participants in the yoga group saw statistically significant improvement in their problem, while 82.3% on the drug Fluoxetine saw improvement.
Intrigued, I dove deeper into the archives of the internet. What other proof could I find that yoga does exactly what I know it does? Next I found a study on yoga for women with what is called the Female Sexual Function Index (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122683087/abstract) conducted by doctors from India but also doctors from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. The FSFI includes desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain. What this study found that with completion of a 12 week program of yoga, all women found that their FSFI score improved significantly in all six areas, with the improvement being more noticeable in older women above the age of 45.
Could there be still more? While it was great to see this confirmation of yogic science, I wanted to know more about what was specifically benefiting the participants in this study – was it asana, pranayama, meditation? As I researched further, it started becoming apparent that mindfulness was a key component. According to this study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18507718) done by the University of British Columbia, the aim of this study was to adapt an existing mindfulness-based education plan for women with sexual problems unrelated to cancer (where the bulk of study has been focused before). Not surprisingly, there again was actual, measurable physiological and mental improvement in problems due to this mindfulness program. Even the participants said that the mindfulness portion of this program was, in their perception, the most effective part of the therapy.
Clearly, these are great examples where science and yoga are in agreement. It seems that yoga has direct application on the quality and effect of our own sexuality as yogis.
So just a few quick thoughts about strength in your yoga practice. Lots of people think yoga is all about stretching. It’s not. It’s about finding strength within you and without, finding the strength to be flexible, both emotionally, physically and mentally. How is the possible, you ask? It’s really quite simple. Find the emotional courage, the mental hardiness and the physical health to be fully and completely present in every moment of your life. Sound hard? Yep. It’s a skill, just like a muscle you build in your body. So how do you do it? Here are 4 simple steps you can take towards this goal RIGHT NOW:
1. Daily practice. This brings CLARITY. If you don’t have one, get one. At first, it doesn’t matter so much what it is other than something that helps you clear your mind. My favorite methods for this are:
A. Morning pages: If you have ever heard of the Artist’s Way, you know of this practice. It’s three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing every morning that helps you dump the garbage out of your brain, so you have space for everything else.
B. Gratitude Journal: When you focus on the positive, the negative stuff that isn’t real or need to be part of your world falls away. Really. When you can reframe your life into what is positive rather than focusing on the negative, your “mental muscle” for noticing the positive really improves and you start to notice the beauty more completely than the ugliness.When you are naturally more happy, this draws more happiness to you without effort.
C. Meditation: This is the super drug of the yoga world, in a really good way. When you meditate, you find yourself more able to deal with the slings and arrows of fortune and more importantly, make the changes that are important for you and your life. It takes courage to sit and be still, to take stock of how you live your life, as it is not always pleasant. (Nobody ever tells you that, but I think it’s important for you to know!) Nevertheless, the benefits quickly begin to outweigh the negatives, and meditation can become like your best friend. Always there for you, allowing you to be just as you are, in any one moment.
2. COMPASSION. This is essential, both for your path of personal growth and for your community. What does compassion really mean? I think the Dalai Lama always says it best: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Compassion for me means the unrelenting commitment to serving others and our community at the expense of our own egos. Our natural ego is a healthy thing, the thing that keeps us identifying with our bodies and keeping them healthy. When the ego gets out of control, as it often does in Western culture, we consider ourselves the most important thing all the time. This can lead to behaviors that are detrimental to not only the health of others, but also to your own emotional, physical or mental health.
Compassion is not always comfortable. In fact, a lot of times it can feel pretty darn uncomfortable. There is a level of intensity that is above the norm when we deal situations that call for compassion. Maybe you are talking to a difficult friend, who for the thousandth time, is complaining about her lack of satisfaction in life. Maybe you are seeing a destructive health pattern happen for the thousandth time in a relative that just won’t own up to the fact that their behavior is causing their suffering. Maybe you are dealing with someone so in pain or suffering in that moment that they literally just can’t process what is happening to them or help themselves. Maybe someone is just causing you pain. Compassion is a blend of patience, grace, love, awareness, vulnerability and strength. It takes the strong, compassionate friend to stick by someone in crisis, putting their needs first over your own. It also is compassionate to put your own needs over others, when the balance tips too far in the other direction. Just this practice can give you strength in many situations in your daily life.
3. Commitment. No one learns how to be strong overnight. When you figure out a practice you are going to commit to every day, make yourself a tracking system. Know, concretely, when you do it and when you don’t. Some easy suggestions for tracking your practice:
A. Write it down. When you figure out what you need to do, write it down. There is something about translating thoughts and feelings from the ether into the written page that can do one of two things: let you let go and crystallize where you want to go. Be as clear as possible with your goals and ideas!
B. Keep a calendar. Maybe it’s something about getting gold stars on my homework and chores chart when I was a kid, but it really helps me to see my commitments as I keep them visually. Something about being real and in front of me that helps a lot in bringing the habits of strength into more and more of a daily practice. Soon, what seemed extraordinary is now ordinary and part of my routine. This helps me quickly gain control of times when I am not successful, and reinforces the adage that “every day is a new opportunity for change.”
4. Accountability: We need people to witness our goals and to hold us accountable for change. If you make empty promises to the empty air – how has that ever got anybody anywhere? Give yourself the following:
A. Small goals. Give yourself something attainable that is not pie-in-the-sky. Don’t promise the moon, either. Pick something reasonable yet still challenging. One great exercise I learned from the Artist’s Way was Ten Tiny Changes. Write down ten tiny changes you can start practicing today that will help you towards your eventual and larger goal. It can be as simple as “I commit to not say this habitual phrase in conversation.” That small trigger you place in your consciousness can help you promote greater awareness in all situations, and even learn a little about what you habitually do that doesn’t serve you.
B. Community: Have someone to hold you accountable. Who is going to tell you when you miss the mark? Find someone you trust to tell you the truth about how you are doing, and create a container for them to do so in a loving and compassionate way. A weekly meeting or check-in at a designated day or time can help you reset the clock if you mess up, and also acknowledge your successes so you can rejoice in your progress.
If you can put all of these things together, they are a very powerful recipe for change. It can also bring you joy in your transformation when you blend in the element of compassion. The formula for change looks just like this:
CLARITY + COMPASSION + DEDICATION (Accountability + Commitment) = JOY & TRANSFORMATION.
Now get out there and give it a try! Come back and tell me how it goes – the community wants to know!