Just Breathe

According to Swami Vidyananda of Integral Yoga, your breath is your most powerful form of stress-management. A deep, mindful breath sends a message to your brain via the vagus nerve that you are safe. In turn, your brain sends a message back to your body to release calming, settling hormones. So it is physiologically impossible to experience a stress response while taking long, smooth breaths. Your breath really is a super-power!
Plus, deep breaths are your body’s way of cleaning out your lungs. Think of your lungs as a swimming pool. The shallow breathing that you do most of the time works to simply skim the surface of your lung-pools. The walls and bottom stay filmy, or even covered in algae. It takes deep, diaphragmatic breathing to clean out the depths of the lungs.
Not sure if you are taking long, deep, belly breaths? Try this. Sit up tall and place your hands near your waist, feeling your lowest ribs under your fingers. Now try to take a breath that fills that lowest part of your lungs (it may feel like you are filling your belly). Your hands will feel your lungs expand front to back, left to right, and top to bottom. Only after you fill the bottom of your lungs do you continue to inhale to fill all the way up to your collarbones. Pause at the top and let your lung tissue stretch. Then smoothly and slowly exhale through your nose from the top of the lungs to the bottom, so the space under your hands is the last to release. Your exhale should be so slow that you wouldn’t blow out a birthday candle with the air being released from your nose. Try that breath at least two more times. And then set an alarm to take three deep, mindful breaths every hour. It’s good for your mental health AND for your physical health, too.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.  
See you in the studio!

Yoga and the Lymphatic System

YOGA TO THE RESCUE!
During cold and flu season (and all year round), your lymphatic system is working overtime to keep you healthy. Lymph is a transparent fluid filled with pathogen-fighting white blood cells and proteins. It moves around the body taking waste and toxins toward the chest where it dumps into the circulatory system through veins right under the collarbones. There are lymph channels drawing fluids from deep within the torso, around every organ, and even near the surface of the skin. On its way to the circulatory system, the fluid moves through filtering stations called lymph nodes. This is where white blood cells can destroy bacteria and viruses that have been collected by the lymph fluid.
There is no “pump” for the lymphatic system. The circulatory’s pump is the heart which pushes blood through the arteries. Lymph depends almost entirely on movements of large muscles to wring out the tissues and force fluids into the lymph channels. Any kind of muscle contraction can move lymph, but YOGA is particularly effective. Between inversions reversing the effects of gravity, twists and forward bends moving lymph between the core organs of the body, and conscious breathing directing lymph toward the collarbones, yoga is a powerful immune-boosting practice.
You might also consider adding regular massages to your self-care routine to stimulate the flow of lymph. Explore skin brushing (also called dry brushing) to promote lymph flow from the feet and hands up toward the collarbones. Staying hydrated is critical to keep the digestive tract healthy so toxins are washed out through the lymph rather than stagnating in nearby lymph channels.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Add Spice (and Health) to Your Life!

Have you been cooking at home more? Start with using more herbs and spices to bump up the taste and the health benefits of your favorite foods! Here are some delicious and healing ways to incorporate herbs and spices into your diet (from Baycare):
Cinnamon
Besides being delicious in everything from baked goods to tea to meat rubs, cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Turmeric
Known for providing the yellow color to curry dishes, turmeric reduces inflammation, which may help to:
  • Reduce arthritis pain
  • Increase joint mobility
  • Slow cognitive decline
  • Reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Ease depression symptoms
  • According to one high-profile study, turmeric may even help fight cancer!
Basil
Basil contains flavonoids—a type of phytonutrient that helps protect cells and DNA from damage. It’s also shown antibacterial properties and may help fight antibiotic-resistant infections.
Cayenne and chili peppers
The “heat” in hot peppers comes from a plant compound called capsaicin. Because of the way your brain responds to capsaicin, it can actually lessen the pain you feel from other sources like arthritis or diabetic nerve pain. Another benefit is that, despite our fears of an upset stomach from spicy foods, capsaicin kills off the bacteria that cause ulcers.
Ginger
Delicious ginger is widely known for treating and preventing nausea from pregnancy, motion sickness and chemotherapy. It also soothes upset stomachs, treats diarrhea, suppresses the appetite, prevents gas and eases menstrual cramps!
Garlic
A powerhouse among spices, garlic has been researched extensively. Some of its top benefits are:
  • Prevents hardening of the arteries
  • Reduces cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Provides immune system support as an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal
  • Acts as a potent anti-inflammatory
  • Lowers blood pressure
Oregano
Oregano is one of the best sources of antioxidants among herbs and spices. It has powerful antiseptic properties and has even been shown to prevent food-borne illness when eaten with contaminated food.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio and virtual classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Creating Your Own Mandala

The pattern of creation

The word "mandala" is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. Loosely translated to mean "circle," a mandala is far more than a simple shape. It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself–a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.

Describing both material and non-material realities, the mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community.

"The integrated view of the world represented by the mandala, while long embraced by some Eastern religions, has now begun to emerge in Western religious and secular cultures. Awareness of the mandala may have the potential of changing how we see ourselves, our planet, and perhaps even our own life purpose."
(From Mandala: Journey to the Center, by Bailey Cunningham)

The above information comes from:
http://www.mandalaproject.org/What/Index.html

Mandala (Sanskrit "circle", "completion")[1] is a term used to refer to various objects. It is of Hindu origin, but is also used in other Dharmic religions, such as Buddhism. In the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, they have been developed into sandpainting. In practice, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the Universe from the human perspective.

In various spiritual traditions, mandala may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space and as an aid to meditation and trance induction. Its symbolic nature can help one "to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises." [2] The psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the mandala as "a representation of the unconscious self,"[3] and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality. [4]

  1. For a Wiktionary definition refer: Mandala.
  2. See David Fontana: "Meditating with Mandalas", p. 10
  3. http://www.crystalinks.com/mandala.html Note: I do not know this website personally. It is cited on Wikipedia.
  4. See C G Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp.186-197

The Healing Effects of Massage Mind

By Karrie Osborn

I used to sit at the edge of the ocean to find my rhythm. When planning my annual vacations, it was the water that called me–not so much to be in it, but to be by it. Maternal and soothing, the comings and goings of the tide was my "reset" button–you know, the one that allows you to deal calmly again with the world. Along came twins, and my exotic vacations were replaced with ventures closer to home. Being in a land-locked state, sitting by the ocean was no longer an option. How was I going to hit my reset button now? The answer was right in front of me–massage.

The Stillness
As a massage enthusiast, I have learned about and tried a great variety of techniques over the years, but some of my most profound and restorative experiences on the massage table have come in the "stillness" of the moment.

Massage therapist Bruce Hopkins calls this stillness “massage mind,” something understood by those who’ve experienced it, but difficult to explain to those who have not. The easiest analogy for massage mind might be the quiet state the mind enters into the moments before sleep, or the place of stillness one reaches during meditation. "Massage mind is immediately recognized by clients who are experienced meditators," says Hopkins, who works exclusively with cancer patients in his Portland, Maine, massage practice. "It is the same mind-state that is accessed in deep meditation. And, as in meditation, practice makes getting there easier."

For Hopkins, helping his clients reach massage mind is paramount to his work. "When I am working, I am coaxing the mind to go deeper and deeper," he says. "The music I choose reinforces the work: no melody, no loud passages, always changing, no repetition, interesting, but ultimately boring." The massage itself mimics the music criteria, all with the intent of lulling the mind. Any deep-tissue work or range-of-motion tests, for example, would interfere with that sedative space, he says. "I want it all to be seamless and mindless. I don’t want anything to cause the mind to stop and say, ‘What is that?’"

But what can reaching the quiet stillness of massage mind actually do for clients? Plenty. "When the brain is in this meditative state, it is able to sort through the clutter and focus on any areas that need it, allowing healing to occur at the cellular level," says Pat Crozier, a massage educator and therapist in Chandler, Arizona. "I honestly believe that in those quiet, restorative moments, the brain has ‘all power’ and can hugely impact the massage experience. The meditative mind is a wonderful place to hang out. It’s calming, strengthening, restorative, and clearing."

Quieting The Mind
In Buddhist tradition, the phrase "monkey mind" refers to the chatter that often goes on in the personal dialog we undertake with ourselves every day, every moment. Like a monkey jumping from limb to limb, monkey mind is the process of jumping from thought to thought without a singular focus. When our busy mind can do nothing but be chaotic, stressed, and scattered, it is in the throes of monkey mind. Calming the monkey mind, and realizing instead the massage mind, can have profound effects.

Many massage therapists say that some of the most therapeutic work that happens on the massage table is when the mind "gets out of the way." Hopkins says that’s exactly his goal when working with the cancer patients who come to him for massage. "The mind has a profound effect on all physiological processes," he says. In fact, when you can get the mind to quiet itself, Hopkins says the body will heal faster on its own. His clients affirm that notion every day. "I have cancer patients coming from extreme stress who have broken down in tears of joy after the massage is done. They may remember it for a long time as the day life changed dramatically."

Hopkins has had many of his clients report the life-changing effects they found after an hour on his table: "Because of massage, I’ve come to be at peace with my mastectomy," "I’m not quite sure where I was, but I didn’t want to come back," "It’s a vacation from cancer," "I felt an overwhelming sense of peace," "The euphoria of the mind during my sessions transcended the quiet horror of cancer."

Now, after seven years working with cancer patients, Hopkins says to heal the body, ideally you want the mind going in the same direction that the body goes, if that’s not working, then it’s time to turn the mind off. He offers this bit of advice for clients who have a hard time getting there: "If the client is not letting go, I encourage them to focus on my hands. My hands become their mantra. I tell them that when their mind grabs something and tries to run with it, focus instead on my hands, where they are, and what they are doing at the moment."

This "between-the-ears" massage, as Hopkins calls it, is simply a traditional Swedish massage sequence of strokes that offers non-intrusive, gentle therapy. "It’s a vehicle to lull the mind to go where I want it to go," he says, adding that most types of relaxation massage provide a framework within which clients can reach this quiet state. "Unwind the mind and the body unwinds on its own."

Emotional Release
Sometimes, by reaching the stillness of massage mind during your session, you might venture to a place you’ve never been before. If you’ve long ago buried emotional issues or traumatic experiences (whether it’s the physiological impact of a car crash or the psychological turmoil of a parent’s dying days), they might decide to rear up in these quiet moments. It’s OK, and it’s normal. Don’t be afraid to venture along the path and address these challenges head-on.

During the process, if you find yourself unexplainably in tears while on the massage table, don’t fret. Tears have been spilled there before and certainly will be spilled there again. Even if you don’t feel like you’re carrying emotional baggage, massage can sometimes unleash buried obstacles and ask you to address them if you’re ready. "It is [the massage therapist’s] job to get the body into a parasympathetic state to allow calm and clarity of mind," Crozier says. This is where massage mind lives. Once there, the healing begins on so many other levels. "Some clients will experience emotional release–being able to let go of baggage that is cluttering the mind and that they are sometimes not even aware of–and feel ‘many pounds lighter’ after the experience." Crozier says it’s important to note that an emotional release will never happen without permission from the mind first. As the obstacles/traumas relinquish their hold, the body finds a clearer path toward wholeness and health.

It’s Good For You
If you have already found your path to massage mind, then I’m preaching to the choir, but if not, ask your therapist to help you get there next time. Even if you see it as nothing more than giving your mind a one-hour vacation from the chaos of your day, or putting your worries aside for a few moments, accessing this place of therapeutic stillness is good for you.

Massage can be a journey in many ways and it can take you along a restorative path, both physically and mentally. That hour, when the sounds of the world surrender to the breath of client and therapist and the music lulls you into a meditative state, see if you can access your massage mind. In finding that place of therapeutic stillness, you too can reclaim your own rhythm, and hit "reset" without needing to find an ocean to do so.

Karrie Osborn is contributing editor for Body Sense magazine and Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. Contact her at karrie@abmp.com

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring 2011. Copyright © 2011. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Why Try Meditation

By Judy Kovatch, eRYT, Certified Hypnotist

What is convenient, cost-effective, has no side effects and helps prevent heart disease? Many physicians now prescribe a daily dose of meditation. A growing body of scientific evidence confirms this ancient practice is good for the heart as well as the mind. Mainstream American medical journals have even published articles stating meditation can reduce the risk factors of heart disease.

Some people think meditation is an exotic, eccentric activity. In fact, meditation is completely normal. It is the mindful quality present in everything we do. Meditation is looking inward, looking at what we really have and discovering the richness that already exists.

The Beatles popularized a style of meditation, Transcendental Meditation, in the 1970’s. In the past 30 years, over 500 studies worldwide have investigated the effect of Transcendental Meditation (TM) on human beings. Conducted by 210 different universities and research institutions in 27 countries the articles have appeared in over 100 scientific journals.

These studies reveal meditation can help increase intelligence, improve memory, reduce chronic pain and promote cardiovascular health.

A study supported by a grant of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute shows that the stress reduction achieved through Transcendental Meditation may reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and the risk of heart attack and stroke. The findings were published in the March 2000 issue of the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

According to the research team from UCLA and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, this is the first controlled study to suggest that stress reduction by itself can reduce the amount of fatty deposits in the arteries without changes in diet and exercise.

"The finding that the disease process in the arteries can be reduced though the TM program may have vast implications for the current management of cardio-vascular disease and health care costs" says Amparo Castillo-Richmond, M.D., lead author of the study.

In 1996 the American Heart Association journal Hypertension published the results of another study, which showed TM was effective in reducing blood pressure in people with high levels of stress and multiple risk factors for high blood pressure.

At the time the article was published, the AHA press release recommended, "People with high blood pressure may want to medicate and meditate." AHA spokesman, cardiologist Dr. Richard Stein adds that people whose blood pressure is just beginning to rise into the danger zone might be able to avoid going on medication by practicing TM. "That’s good news for people who can’t tolerate side effects, like drowsiness that come with some medications. There’s no downside to relaxation techniques."

The National Institute of Health thinks the TM findings are interesting enough to merit a grant of 7.5 million dollars.

What exactly is Meditation?
Based in the desire of discovering who and what we are, meditation practice falls into two basic categories:

1. Transcendental Meditation (TM) is also known as "One-pointed" meditation
In the TM method, attention is focused on one thing. Anything else that comes into the mind is seen as a distraction to be ignored. This practice gives rise to deep states of calmness and control of awareness. The practice of TM requires no adherence to any religious philosophy. It’s simple, requires no special equipment and doesn’t consume a lot of time.

Twice a day TM practitioners find a quiet place, sit comfortably and focus their minds on a single word or mantra (a special sound or phrase repeated silently to yourself). For 15 to 20 minutes, they enter a state of conscious relaxation often described as "restful alertness". An example of a mantra would be repeating the words "I am peace….I am peace….I have always been peace… Peace is all that exists."

Details about the scientific studies and the TM practice can be found at the official TM website www.tm.org.

2. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation, known as contemplation or insight meditation is the other major classification of meditation. Mindfulness begins by using the "one-pointed" approach to cultivate inner calmness and strength. It then moves on to a wider scope of self-examination. When thoughts or feelings come up they’re not ignored or suppressed, nor are they judged or analyzed. You simply note and observe them moment-by-moment.

You sit quietly with eyes fully open, half open or slightly open. Some variations call for a special attention to the breathing process, which helps deepen the concentration.

For more information about this type of meditation, you can read How to Meditate an article by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche available online at www.shambhala.org.

All meditation training will be variations of the two basic categories. Meditation may be taught alone or in conjunction with yoga or martial arts programs. There are many meditation methods and classes available, so it’s best to shop around and seek out the one that’s right for you. For a free online meditation course check out Natural Meditation Initiatives. They present meditation in a culturally neutral format and offer a free self-paced Internet course in meditation. http://natural-meditation.org/

Some points to consider:

  • Meditation is an escape to reality, not from reality. Avoid any guru or group that asks you to deny truth.
  • Avoid complicated philosophies that require strict absolute rules of behavior
  • You don’t need a special diet or fasting or celibacy to meditate properly.
  • Don’t make meditation a competition with yourself or others
  • Don’t limit yourself to just one teacher. Use teachers as a temporary tool based on science and fact, not on myth and tradition.
  • Be patient, persistent and kind to yourself. Meditation takes practice and attention. At first you’ll find it hard to quiet your mind and turn off the inner voice I call "The Babbler".

The author, Judy Kovatch, RYT has 25 years experience with yoga and meditation. Educated in yoga at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox MA, Judy is a certified teacher of Integrative Yoga Therapy, a program that views yoga as means to achieve total wellness of body, mind and spirit.

Sources:
American Heart Association
Maharishi University of Management Press Release March 3, 2000 regarding the article in the AHA journal Stroke
Official TM website
Stress Reduction Clinic UMMC

Health Secret Doctors Don’t Know

The Health Secret Most Doctor’s Don’t Know About
or
* how to reap the remarkable healing benefits of yoga *
by Timothy McCall, MD, a board-certified internist and medical editor of Yoga Journal.

Yoga is one of the most under-utilized and under-rated medical therapies in the US. It’s extremely rare for American medical doctors to prescribe yoga – most are not knowledgeable about its wide array of health benefits.

What You May Not Know
More than 100 scientific studies show that yoga can improve health problems ranging from heart disease to insomnia…diabetes to arthritis…cancer to bronchitis.

I’m a medical doctor who has practiced yoga for 12 years, and yoga is the most powerful system of health and well-being I have ever seen. By promoting overall health, yoga increases the benefits you may derive from conventional and/or alternative therapies – and may even eliminate your need for medication.

How Yoga Helps
Studies show that virtually all health problems respond positively to yoga. When 2,700 people suffering from a variety of ailments practiced yoga (for at least 2 hours a week for 1 year or longer), it helped 96% of those with back disorders…94% of those with heart disease…90% of those with cancer…90% of those with arthritis…88% of those with bronchitis or asthma…and 86% of those with diabetes.

What’s responsible for these salutary effects? Yoga, which is practiced by children as well as adults well into their 90s, can:

  • Increase Flexibility by strengthening muscles that improve posture and balance
  • Boost Immunity by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increasing the circulation of lymph (a fluid rich in immune cells)
  • Enhance Lung Function with slower, deeper breathing that promotes oxygenation of tissues
  • Strengthen Bones and Joints and nourish the cartilage in spinal discs…improve range of motion and help to deliver nutrients to the bones & cartilage.
  • Condition the Heart & Circulatory System by lowering blood sugars and artery-damaging high blood pressure…and improving levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats).
  • Relieve Pain due arthritis, back problems, fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome, scoliosis, etc. by reducing muscle spasms, improving the alignment of bones in joints and teaching people to separate pain from their emotional response to the pain.
  • Improve Brain Function by increasing neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and activating the left prefrontal cortex in the brain that reduces anxiety and anger.

Getting the Benefits

  • Talk To Your Doctor. Some yoga practices are not recommended for people who suffer from specific conditions (for example, people with damaged retinas from diabetes should avoid upside down poses like shoulder stand because these poses can increase pressure in
    the eyes.)
  • Choose the Right Instructor. Large group yoga classes are great preventa tive medicine for people who are relatively fit and flexible. Those with chronic medical conditions are often better off working with a teacher privately or in a small group. Talk to the teacher before you attend and explain your situation. If the class doesn’t fit your needs, ask for a recommendation for another class/teacher.
  • Find An Experienced Teacher. Some styles of yoga require teachers to undergo 200-500 hours of training to be certified. Warning: Some yoga teachers may have completed only a weekend training course to become “certified”. Before attending a yoga class ask the instructor how long he/she trained. (200-500 hours is standard.)
  • Pay Attention to Your Body. If you experience sharp pain when you do a yoga pose, STOP. If you perform breathing exercises and feel short of breath, STOP. Tell the teacher as soon as possible.
  • Practice Regularly. The key to success is steady practice -once a day is ideal, once a week is better than none at all. Yoga works well as part of an overall fitness program that includes aerobic exercise.
  • Be Patient. Most drugs work fast but the longer you take them the less effective they become. Yoga is not a quick fix. The longer you practice it, the more effective it becomes. Yoga is slow – but strong – medicine. This doesn’t mean you won’t see immediate results. Just a little bit of added flexibility, strength, and balance can make a huge difference in how you function day to day.

Some yoga techniques can help you instantly in stress-provoking situations such as getting stuck in traffic. Example: counting silently, inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds. Repeat breathing smoothly and gently. In a few breaths you’ll feel calmer.

Ayurveda and Asana

By Mark Halpern

Have you ever wondered why some yoga poses seem to leave you calm, centered, and balanced, while others make you agitated, sore, and off center? Or why your best friend flourishes in a rousing “Power Yoga” workout, while you do best on a regimen of slow, gentle, stretching?

The ancient Indian healing system known as Ayurveda can help you answer such questions. According to Ayurveda, different people require very different yoga practices. As a yoga teacher and doctor practicing Ayurvedic medicine, I’ve experienced firsthand how Ayurveda—in addition to the dietary and lifestyle advice that it is best known for—can shed light on the practice of yoga.

Sisters
Yoga and Ayurveda are two paths intertwined in such a close relationship that it is hard to imagine traveling down one of these paths without knowledge of the other. Ayurveda, which means “knowledge of life,” is the ancient art and science of keeping the body and mind balanced and healthy. Yoga is the ancient art and science of preparing the body and mind for the eventual liberation and enlightenment of the soul.

Like hatha yoga, Ayurveda teaches how to keep the physical body healthy, and how this health relates to our spiritual journey. Both yoga and Ayurveda spring from the ancient Sanskrit texts called the Vedas. According to Vedic scholar David Frawley, "Yoga is the practical side of the Vedic teachings, while Ayurveda is the healing side." In practice, both paths overlap.

In fact, Ayurveda and yoga are so closely related that some people argue that Patanjali, the first codifier of yoga, and Caraka, the first codifier of Ayurveda, may have in fact been one and the same person. Philosophically, both yoga and Ayurveda are rooted in Samkhya, one of six schools of classical Indian thought. The foundation of this philosophy can be described as follows:

  1. There exists a fundamental state of pure being that is beyond intellectual understanding and which all life consciously strives for. This is the state of enlightenment or self-liberation.
  2. Suffering is a part of our lives because of our attachment to our ego or self-identity (ahamkara).
  3. The path toward ending suffering is the path of dissolving or transcending the ego. In doing so, all fear, anger, and attachment are eradicated.
  4. To achieve this goal, we must live a purely ethical life. (Ethical guidelines are listed as the yamas and niyamas in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.)
  5. Any disturbance within the mind or body interferes with this path. Ayurveda is the science of keeping the biological forces in balance so that the mind and body may be healthy.

Fundamentals of Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, the universal life force manifests as three different energies, or doshas, known as vata, pitta, and kapha. We are all made up of a unique combination of these three forces. This unique combination, determined at the moment of conception, is our constitution, or prakruti. The three doshas constantly fluctuate according to our environment, which includes our diet, the seasons, the climate, our age, and many more factors. The current state of these three doshas most commonly defines our imbalance, or vikruti. Since we all have a unique constitution and unique imbalances, each person’s path toward health will be unique. In addition, what will keep each of us healthy is also unique. Understanding our prakruti and vikruti offers each of us the potential to make correct choices.

The three doshas are generally described in terms of the five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and ether (the subtle energy that connects all things). Vata is said to be made up of air and ether. Likened to the wind, it is said to be light, drying, cooling, and capable of movement. Pitta is said to be made up of fire and water. Considered to be mostly fire, it is hot, light, and neither too dry nor too moist; it does not move on its own, but it can be easily moved by the wind (vata). Kapha is said to be made up of water and earth, which combine like mud. Kapha is heavy, moist, cool, and stable.

The three doshas fluctuate constantly. As they move out of balance, they affect particular areas of our bodies in characteristic ways. When vata is out of balance—typically in excess—we are prone to diseases of the large intestines, like constipation and gas, along with diseases of the nervous system, immune system, and joints. When pitta is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the small intestines, like diarrhea, along with diseases of the liver, spleen, thyroid, blood, skin, and eyes. When kapha is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the stomach and lungs, most notably mucous conditions, along with diseases of water metabolism, such as swelling.

When working with the doshas, remember these basic principles: Like increases like, and opposites balance each other. In other words, foods, weather, and situations that have similar characteristics as the doshas will increase them; those that have opposite characteristics will decrease them. Knowing this, you can adjust your yoga practice, diet, and other environmental factors to affect these forces in ways that create greater balance and harmony. (For example, vata types—who are dry, light, and airy—should avoid foods with similar qualities, like popcorn, and consume foods with opposite qualities, like warm milk).

The Three Gunas
Another fundamental Ayurvedic principle is the idea of the three gunas, or qualities of nature. The three gunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas—are used to describe emotional and spiritual characteristics.

That which is sattvic is light, clear, and stable. Sattva is the state of being which comes from purity of mind, and leads to an awareness of our connectedness to God, a state in which we manifest our most virtuous qualities.

That which is rajasic is active, agitated, or turbulent. Rajas arises when we are distracted from our truest essence, and manifests emotions such as fear, worry, anger, jealously, attachment, and depression.

That which is tamasic is heavy, dull, dark, and inert. Tamasic actions include violent or vindictive behavior, along with self-destructive behaviors such as addiction, depression, and suicide.

All movement or activity is by nature rajasic (agitating) and heating to the body. Yet some movements are more agitating and others less so. Generally speaking, the slower the movement, the less rajasic and the less agitating to the body and mind. The faster the movement, the more rajasic and the more heating it will be.

Any movement practiced with great awareness becomes more sattvic. Movements done with distraction or less attentiveness are more rajasic. Thus, one way to enhance our experience of yoga is to practice slowly and with awareness.

No movement can be purely sattvic. The inherent nature of movement is rajasic, as rajas is the principal of energy, and movement requires energy. Hence our sattvic qualities are most nurtured in meditation and in the stillness of holding a pose, where we can find pure awareness.

The rajasic nature of movement does not necessarily make it bad for us. Rajas serves the useful purpose of stimulating our bodies and minds. We could not function in our world without a part of us being rajasic.

What Sort of Yoga is Right for You?
When determining the kind of yoga practice that is right for you, the most important factor is your vikruti, or imbalance. Your vikruti is, in fact, the single most important determinant of your entire regime. Once you have corrected your imbalance, you can stay in good health by choosing a yoga practice that balances your constitution, or prakruti. (It’s sometimes hard for the lay person to distinguish between characteristics that are inborn, or constitutional, and those that result from an imbalance. For best results, consult a trained Ayurvedic physician.)

This article is an excerpt from Yoga Journal .. www.yogajournal.com

Daily Yoga Meditation Shown to Improve Memory

Older participants not only gained better memory but their brains worked better

June 12, 2007 – Your memory getting faulty? Cognitive ability not what it used to be? New research with older people finds stopping other activity for a daily meditation session can improve your thinking and your memory. The leader of the study thinks these daily 12-minute Yoga sessions may even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

"This exciting study confirms what we have been observing in clinical practice for many years, that meditation is one of the most effective tools to address memory loss," said Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, the non-profit organization which sponsored the study.

"While we are planning additional research in this area, we can say today with confidence that daily meditation is recommended as part of an integrated brain longevity strategy to delay, even prevent, cognitive decline," he continued.

Andrew Newberg, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the study’s principal investigator, concurred.

"For the first time, we are seeing scientific evidence that meditation enables the brain to actually strengthen itself, and battle the processes working to weaken it," said Newberg.

"If this kind of meditation is helping patients with memory loss," he continued, "we are encouraged by the prospects that daily practice may even prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s."

Practiced by millions of individuals to reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration, and even lower blood pressure, meditation is among the most commonly used alternative therapies in the world.

Yesterday, at the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C., results from a University of Pennsylvania study were unveiled confirming for the first time that daily practice of meditation can improve cognitive function among individuals with memory complaints.

Researchers began their investigation by conducting a series of neurological and memory tests on each subject, who ranged in age from 52-70, with either a history of memory complaints or a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.

Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans, a brain imaging technique which measures cerebral blood flow, were also conducted on each subject.

Following the initial tests, subjects were taught the techniques of Kirtan Kriya, the most widely practiced meditation in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, and instructed to practice a 12-minute meditation each day for eight weeks. This form of Yog is a repeated chanting of sounds and finger movements designed to help the mind focus and become sharper. (Read more below)

While follow up testing confirmed statistically significant improvements in memory among all of the study’s subjects, the most significant outcome of the study was the stark contrast between the pre and post-training SPECT scans.

Follow up scans showed dramatic increases in blood flow to the posterior cingulate gyrus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory. It is the first region of the brain to decline in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which helps to explain why the blood flow-producing meditation has such a profound impact on cognitive functioning.

Article from: http://www.SeniorJournal.com/NEWS/Alzheimers/2007/7-06-12-DailyYoga.htm

For more about this study and the Kirtain Kriya practice used – http://www.alzheimersprevention.org/research.htm

For more information, please visit the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation – http://www.alzheimersprevention.org/.

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Daily Yoga Helps Prevent Headaches

By Ellen Serber

When it comes to preventing or curing a headache, there is no substitute for a thorough, daily yoga program. The following sequence offers poses that are helpful for opening the chest and stretching and relaxing the upper back and neck. Include them in your regular practice if you are prone to headaches and see if they help bring some relief and new awareness. Breathe deeply and slowly during all the postures and remember to relax the forehead, eyes, jaw, and tongue. The first part of the program is prevention, practiced when you do not have a headache. The second part, beginning with Supta Baddha Konasana, may be helpful in relieving a headache when it first begins. You will have better results if you start stretching and releasing at the first sign of a headache, before the muscles go into spasm.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Discovering alignment and finding the center Standing upright with awareness is one basic way to discover your own unique posture. It is difficult to correct something until you have found out what is really there. Use the wall to identify your alignment, and then practice standing in the center of the room.

Stand with your back to the wall, with your feet together. If that is uncomfortable, separate the feet three or four inches. Plant the feet firmly, feeling the ground with the soles of the feet. Check the distribution of weight between the right foot and the left. Move front, back, and side-to-side on your feet to find the most balanced stance. Make sure that the arch of each foot is lifted, the toes spread apart. The placement of your feet becomes the foundation of your awareness of your whole body. Give yourself enough time to explore and discover how you are actually standing.

When you are ready to move on, firm and straighten the legs. Bring the tailbone and pubic bone towards each other, but do not suck in the abdominals: Lift them. There should be space between the wall and your lower back; do not flatten the lumbar curve. With your "mind’s eye," go into the area below the navel, inside the belly, in front of the sacrum. Locate this "center" point. Extend the side torso up, lift the sternum without sticking out the ribs, and drop the shoulders. Take the tips of the shoulder blades and move them into the torso, opening the chest. Let the back of the head reach up. If the chin is raised, let it drop slightly, without tightening your throat; focus your eyes on the horizon. Make sure that the shoulders and back of the head both touch the wall. Relax any tension in the face and neck. Remember that your "center" resides in the area below the navel and in the belly, not in the neck and head. This exercise may feel very constricted if your head is normally forward of your shoulders. Use the wall to inform you, so that you know the relationship of your head to your shoulders, but try not to create more stress as you adjust your alignment.

On an exhalation, raise the arms up to the ceiling, bringing the elbows back by the ears. Let the arms grow from the shoulder blades. Stretch the little finger side of the hand and connect that stretch all the way down to the little toe and into the ground. Remember to keep the feet grounded, the legs strong, and the center of your pose in the area below the navel. Observe whether the movement of the arms has caused tension in the neck area. As you stretch up with the hands, bring the tips of the shoulder blades more deeply into the torso. Hold for a few breaths and then release on an exhalation.

Parsvottanasana arms: Opening the chest Move a little away from the wall and roll the shoulders back. Clasp your elbows with your hands behind your back. If you have more flexibility you may join your palms behind your back, with the fingers pointing upward. On the exhalation, roll the upper arms back toward the wall, opening the chest between the sternum and shoulder. As you open, keep the ribs relaxed; make sure they don’t jut forward. Remember to stay grounded in your feet and center the movement below the navel. Relax the eyes, jaw, and tongue. Release on the exhalation. Change the arm on top, if you are clasping your elbows, and repeat.

Garudasana arms: Opening between the shoulder blades This pose is helpful for relieving pain between the shoulder blades. It reminds us to keep that area open in the process of stretching the upper back. Wrap your arms around your torso, right arm under the left arm, hugging yourself. Exhale and bring the hands up, the left elbow resting in the right elbow, with the hands rotated palms towards each other. Breathe and feel the stretch; after a few breaths, raise the elbows up higher, to the level of the shoulder. Remain grounded in the feet, centered in the area below the navel. Relax the eyes, jaw, and tongue. Feel the expansion of the inhalation between the shoulder blades and the release on the exhalation. Lower the arms on the exhalation and repeat with the left arm under the right.

http://www.yogajournal.com/health/121