Relaxation is one of the single most important activities you can partake in to optimize pelvic floor health. Relaxation allows you to tap into interoception-that ability to sense and feel what is happening in your body.
So, what is happening in your body when you breath? The anatomy and function of your pelvic diaphragm is directly linked to the anatomy and function of your respiratory diaphragm. When you inhale, as your lungs fill with air, your respiratory diaphragm descends and presses down onto your abdominal cavity which, in turn, presses onto your pelvic diaphragm. When you exhale, the two diaphragms return to their neutral upward position.
Diaphragmatic breathing not only activates the parasympathetic nervous system and the relaxation response, but it creates this movement naturally.
Diaphragmatic Breathing=A Healthy Pelvic Floor
Let’s Try It!
• Lying in on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, place one hand on your belly (just below your ribcage) and one hand on your chest. Begin to take long, slow, breaths which cause your belly to rise. However, your chest should remain still.
• You can start with equal breaths-for example, a count of 4 on the inhale and a count of 4 on the exhale. When you are comfortable, you can begin to lengthen the inhales and exhales.
• As you exhale, gently tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position. You’ll notice the subtle sensation as the pelvic floor contracts (not as intense as contracting to holding in urine).
Keep your pelvic floor healthy! Try to incorporate a little Diaphragmatic Breathing into your daily yoga practice.
"May your jeans, pelvic floor, thoughts, and days off be relaxed."-Pelvic Guru
According to Donna Farhi, “Countertransference refers to the way a student, client or patient may evoke repressed feelings on the part of the teacher, therapist or doctor”. By being aware of the countertransference, it enables the yoga therapist to create and maintain better boundaries as well as develop tools to contain feelings so not to destabilize the client-therapist relationship. Trust me-this is easier said than done. I am always working on this aspect of the client/therapist relationship.
I openly admit, I struggle with perfectionism making the most prominent feeling a client can evoke in me--accountability. In my professional and personal life, I am always prepared and hold myself to a high standard especially if I commit to do something for another person. I equate this trait to respect for and towards others. So, when a client lacks what I would call accountability or respect, it makes me soooo angry. I’m also greatly disappointed in and saddened by someone I thought was reliable and trustworthy as if I really know that client on a personal level.
I have to remind myself-I’m the yoga therapist and I don’t know anything more about the client than what he/she/they tell me. The client/therapist relationship is not personal. So, I endeavor to remain professional at all times and try diligently not put my moral/value/ethical system on others or cling to expectations of others that I have no control over. Like I said…easier said than done!! You don’t have to be a yoga therapist to know how hard this is—we experience this same clinging to expectations in everyday life.
Do you hold on a little too tightly to certain aspects of yourself, your life or others? Is it possible to let go of expectations?
How Do I Work on Letting Go Expectations?
I go back to the Yoga Sutras and, in particular, the last Yama …Aparigraha (non-attachment). This enables me to let go of my expectations of others since it only creates suffering for me. Here’s are some ways to cultivate Aparigraha:
What tools can you put in place to steady yourself when attachment and clinging raise their ugly head?
Farhi, D. (2006). Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship. Rodmell Press.
Swami Satchidananda was once asked by a student, “There are times when I feel very deep loneliness that no friend, family member or lover can seem to satisfy. Do you ever get lonely like that?”
Satchidananda replied, “If you depend on anything or anybody outside you to be a companion, it is impossible to have that companion always with you. Even if another person wants to be with you always, he or she cannot. We come alone, and we go alone. Don’t depend on outside company. Even as you are coming and going, there is always another there—your own spirit, your own Self or the God within you.”
When we rely on things, people, or experiences outside of ourselves to make us happy, we are seting ourselves up for failure. True equanimity comes from being independent of the comings and goings of the outside world. The minute we cling to something or someone we create little mind fluctuations that cause suffering. The key to gaining control over those fluctuations is to understand what lies underneath those thoughts.
Our thoughts may be pure, positive, and virtuous, and move us toward enlightenment.
Or, as is the case for most of us mere mortals, our thoughts can impede our path toward enlightenment by creating a mental field of suffering caused by the Kleshas (obstacles or afflictions of the mind).
So What Are The Kleshas?
The five Kleshas are:
Some of the Kleshas afflict us on a daily basis at a subtle level and others can be overwhelming and cause great suffering. The Kleshas stop us from fully enjoying life, from being truly present in the now, and from having a sense of freedom. Unlike pain—an uncomfortable physical, mental, or emotional experience—suffering is the state of being caught up in your situation and identifying with it as an aspect of your being. Therefore, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
All of human suffering can be attributed to one of the five Kleshas. All causes of suffering are contained within the first Klesha (Avidya). When you remember your true identity as pure spirit (and not as the physical body):
How Do We Overcome the Kleshas?
This is where meditation comes in. In meditation, the mind can be fixed on one thought. That concentration on one thought or one point literally transforms the mind by allowing it to flow undisturbed from thought to thought. Once the mechanism that produces the detrimental, harmful or damaging activities of the mind is eliminated, your thoughts are no longer afflicted. The underlying obstacles, the Kleshas, are removed and we realize our true nature.
To transcend the first Klesha and, thus, the remaining four, the Yoga Sutras give this guidance.
Sutra 2.10 states, “In their subtle form, these obstacles can be destroyed by resolving them back into their original cause.” This means if we eradicate the first Klesha (Avidya) we can become self-realized/liberated. Through yoga the Kleshas become less and less active until they reach the subtle form. However, remember even the subtle form can be triggered back to the active state-think about all the fallen gurus in recent memory whose Kleshas came back roaring.
Sutra 2.11 states, “In the active state, they can be destroyed by meditation.” Think of it this way-Sutra 2.10 is for the already “advanced” meditating yogi and Sutra 2.11 is for the rest of us-the yogis that are embarking on the path to liberation. Meditation is moving away from a life of suffering and is the key that unlocks this prison by returning you to the state of knowledge of who you are.
Everything in the physical world is impermanent and ever changing. Friends are not permanent. Our physical body isn’t permanent. A job isn’t permanent. Money isn’t permanent…and the list goes on.
What is permanent…your True Self.
Swami Satchidananda. The Golden Present. 1987. Integral Yoga Publications.
In Steven Hayes' Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, he writes about the concept of the “Mind Train”. The “Mind Train” is when we start to buy into our thoughts. He recommends cultivating other skills to deal with the internal mental processes that cause us so much suffering.
We can do this by learning how to watch your thoughts:
Hayes created the “Watching the Mind-Train” Meditation to help.
Finally, write down what you noticed when standing on the bridge watching the three trains.
Hayes, S.C and Smith, S. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Satchidananda, S. S. (2012). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Buckingham, VA. Integral Yoga Publications.
Everyone in yoga talks about the importance of breathing. How we don't breathe properly. How we don't use the full capacity of our lungs. How the breath can either calm us or excite us. Yada Yada Yada
But do you know how many parts of the body are actually involved in breathing and why? Probably not! Most of us don't since we just take breathing for grated.
Here's the breakdown:
1. Thoracic Cavity: It houses the heart, diaphragm, lungs and pleura. The Thoracic Cage is the rib cage (consisting of 80 joints), 12 vertebrae, and sternum.
2. Trachea: The semi-rigid passageway extends from the larynx to the primary bronchi. It is adaptable to allow movement, eating and breathing.
3. Lungs: They are where blood and air meet. Carbon oxide rich blood passes into the right of the heart and into the lungs where it interacts with the alveoli to become enriched with oxygenated blood.
4. Ribs: They are flat, deformable and elastic, most connect to sternum, 11 and 12 are floating ribs not connecting to the coastal cartilage in the front.
5. Intercostal Muscles: They are muscles of inspiration and expiration. They occupy the spaces between adjacent ribs and are arranged in two crisscrossing layers. They move the ribs closer and further apart and allow them to glide over each other.
6. Heart: It pumps the carbon dioxide rich blood to the lungs and receives the oxygenated blood from the lungs to distribute through the body. It also rests on the central tendon the diaphragm. The heart’s pericardium adheres to the diaphragm.
7. Diaphragm: It is the primary muscle of inspiration acting like a pump at the base of the lungs. It separates and connects the thorax and the abdomen.
8. Alveoli: The bronchioles subdivide into alveoli that manufacture mucus. It is where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. They crisscross the capillaries to create this exchange.
9. Bronchioles: The two bronchi divide and continue to subdivide until they are smaller bronchioles. They do not have cartilage. They contain mucus and cilia to help maintain the lungs of obstructions, which could result in Bronchitis.
Which Lead Us to the Importance of the Diaphragm Muscle
The diaphragm is the principal muscle for breathing. According to Leslie Kaminoff, “The diaphragm is the principle muscle that causes three-dimensional shape change in the thoracic and abdominal cavities." Not only is it the prime mover of the thoracic and abdominal cavities, the diaphragm anchors multiple structures including the pleura, the pericardium, and peritoneum. Thus, effecting the movement of the organs as well.
When the diaphragm moves, all the organs above and below are massaged. The organs are bathed in new blood and oxygen. On the inhale, the diaphragm lowers and on the exhale, the diaphragm relaxes. The atmospheric pressure is greater than the pressure in the lungs when an individual takes an inhale. Air will then flow into the lungs to balance the pressure. In order for the air to move in and out of the lungs freely, the diaphragm must be able to expand without restrictions.
Try this Yoga Practice to Bring Some Awareness to that Diaphragm!!
Did you notice any changes in how you breath?
Calais-Germain, B. (2006). Anatomy of Breathing. Eastland Press, Inc.: Seattle, WA.
Farhi, D. (1996). The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work. St. Martin’s Griffin: New York, NY
Kaminoff, L. and A. Matthews. (2012). Yoga Anatomy. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL.
As many of you know, I’m a big Yama-s and Niyama-s fan. They totally ROCK!! I personally think that if more people practiced them, the world would be a better place for it.
So here is my brief take on them.
Once upon a time, in land far away Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras. They are 196 aphorisms or “threads” that form the foundation of Raja Yoga. According to the Yoga Sutras, the end goal of yoga is the liberation from all worldly suffering, habitual conditionings and the cycle of birth and death. Liberation occurs by removing the clouds of spiritual ignorance by cultivating practices that bring contentment and non-attachment. Through this process, the individual comes to know the pure consciousness of his/her/their being.
It’s in the second book of the Yoga Sutras (Sadhana Pada) that Patanjali lays out all the details on how to actually do this whole attaining Liberation thing. It’s called YOGA and there are two forms.
It’s Ashtanga Yoga that most of us mere mortals practice. Since most of us can’t jump right into Kriya Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga is the step-by-step method. Think of Kriya Yoga as a marathon and Ashtanga Yoga as one of the those “Learn to Run” apps. Baby steps!!
The first two limbs of Ashtanga are the Yama-s and Niyama-s.
So, what is a Yama?
These are the codes of conduct or moral restraint. They are the attitudes towards your environment. They are oriented toward public behavior and allow us to exist harmoniously with others. They are the principles outlining how you treat others and the world around you…and there are 5 of these principles.
A. Ahimsa (non-harming). To apply Ahimsa to daily life is to practice non-harming of any creature in feelings, thoughts, words or deeds/actions. According to T.K.V. Desikachar, Ahimsa is “consideration for all living things, especially those who are innocent, in difficulty, or worse off than we are”.
B. Satya (Truthfulness). You can demonstrate Satya through right communication-telling no lies and be truthful in your feelings, thoughts, words and deeds.
C. Asteya (Non-stealing). You should not covet what others possess. Most of us perceive the universe as lacking abundance, which causes desire for things that are not ours.
D. Brahmacharya (Continence). We can apply Brahmacharya by having moderation in all actions. Through moderation, you can live your life’s purpose instead of endlessly pursuing fleeting pleasures.
E. Aparigraha (Non-accumulation). Aparigraha is the ability to accept only what is appropriate. It is freedom from “collecting” rooted in jealousy of others.
And that leads us to the Niyama-s…and there are 5 of them as well.
These are the internal commitments, responsibilities and disciplines we make to ourselves. The Niyama-s outline how we treat ourselves.
A. Saucha (Cleaniness). To apply Saucha, you must practice the five yama-s which clear away negative physical and mental states of being and protect the purity and sanctity of the energy around you.
B. Santosha (Contentment). You can cultivate Santosha by finding happiness with what you have and who you are, seeking happiness in the moment, taking responsibility for where you are and choose to grow from there.
C. Tapas (Self-Discipline). Tapas is the removal of impurities that allows your body to function more efficiently.
D. Svadhyaya (Study). Education changes your outlook on life and facilities healthy thoughts that enable you to understand your weaknesses and strengths.
E. Ishvarapranidhana (Surrender to cosmic intelligence). Ishvarapranidhana is manifesting a desire to be less self-centered by aiming at higher goals.
So how do I apply these to my life?
Professionally as a yoga therapist, the Yama-s and Niyama-s play a central role in my scope of practice. I frame all my yoga therapy sessions with compassion for my client because everything else flows from the first one on the list-Ahimsa. I also often have discussions with clients on how to incorporate the Yama-s and Niyama-s into their daily lives in order to help achieve their goals. For example, I may ask a client to journal on how to find and maintain the balance of effort (Tapas) and contentment (Santosha). We’ve all been here-you try to force things (not content with the progress) and end up doing harm (causing an injury or pain).
How do you cultivate the Yama-s and Niyama-s is your personal and professional life?
Desikachar, T.K.V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Inner Traditions International: Vermont.
Sri Swami Satchidananda. (2012). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Integral Yoga Publications: Buckingham, VA.
Swami Karunananada. (2016). Swami Satchidananda-Yogaville Ashram Raja Teacher Training Manual [Lecture Notes and manual].
The simple act of smiling has a powerful effect on your life. As you face life's challenges, make smiling your secret ingredient for maintaining a happy life and a positive mindset.
It turns out that smiling and happiness are intertwined. When you feel happy, your brain releases serotonin (regulates mood), dopamine (regulates pleasure), and endorphins (relieves stress and pain) which then transmit a signal to your face to trigger a smile. When these chemicals circulate through your system, they help to lower stress and anxiety, they help to regulate heart rate and blood pressure, and they take your nervous system out of fight and flight mode.
Now here’s the fun part… when your facial muscles contract into a smile, a signal is fired back to the brain creating a feedback loop of HAPPINESS!
You have a happiness controller in your hands! You can turn a bad mood around by simply smiling. You can cheat the system and make your brain release feelings of happiness.
So, be mischievous and smile that devilish grin! Make people wonder what you’ve been up to.
“A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”-Phyllis Diller
Have you ever tried the yogic breathing technique (Pranayama) called Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana? This form of Pranayama helps to balance both hemispheres of the brain bringing both effectiveness and calmness. Breathing through the left nostril is calming while breathing through the right nostril is energizing.·
Nadi Shodhana is excellent at helping you relax before an important event and can be practiced daily to reduce anxiety. It calms, purifies, and strengthens the nervous system and deepens self-awareness making it an excellent preparation for meditation.
Here's how you do it!!
Try incorporating Nadi Shodhana into your daily yoga practice. It will become one of the most relaxing and centering techniques in your practice. Your nervous system will be calmed, and your mind will become steadied for concentration and meditation.
"Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite" D. Antoinette Foy
Have you ever heard of Compassion Training?
Compassion Training alters the activation of certain regions of the brain associated with emotional regulation. Studies suggest that compassion can be developed by activating the parts of the brain that cultivate understanding the suffering of others, utilize executive and emotional control, and engage in reward processing. Through these reciprocal connections in the brain, healthy and productive reactive responses to stimuli are created. Compassion Training creates more altruistic behavior-empathy
What is Empathy?
Empathy is defined as a phenomenon, which can only be understood within the dyadic relationship, an interactive experience or state of separateness and sharing. Empathy is the ability to recognize “the other” as similar to the self and makes possible the common experience of an action or emotion. Empathy serves as a healing force within relationships as it reduces aggression and antisocial behavior, and correlates to forgiveness.
Ultimately, an empathic person creates a sense of safety. Safety is a prerequisite to establishing helpful strong social bonds. By being present-centered (using eye contact, softening your voice, having warmth in your voice, being emotionally attuned and using in-the-moment engagement) you enable people to shut down their defenses, which is itself healing.
How can you use Compassion Training to cultivate more empathy towards others?
Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z., Olson, M. C., Rogers, G. M., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological science, 24(7), 1171–1180. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612469537
I was once hired at a recreation center for a class called “All Levels Hatha Yoga”. The core group had been taking this class for a year. I soon realized they had never been taught alignment, pranayama...well, let's just say, they pretty much hadn't really been taught anything "yoga" in the course of the year. They were also all over 60 years old. Not surprisingly, I had to teach with a lot of modifications and props.
After nine months, a director (a non-yoga instructor) takes my class (they develop a performance assessment based on one class) for my yearly appraisal. A week later, we have my performance discussion.
Director: You do this weird breathing thing that I’ve never seen.
Me: You mean pranayama? No other yoga teacher here does pranayama? So, I then explained what pranayama was and why I have the class do it.
Director: We advertise this as a Hatha Yoga class. Why are you not linking breath to movement?
Me: Do you know what Hatha Yoga means? So I explained Hatha, Vinyasa, etc. and the differences between styles.
Director: Why don’t you use modifications like other instructors?
Me: The poses are already "modified" to the level of the students. I don’t show them the hardest version and then modify down-that’s demoralizing.
Director: You need to make the class harder, so more students come.
Me: So, the students you have are not important and you would rather I drive them out of the recreation center in order to increase numbers. It sounds like you want young students and don’t value your older students. You also understand that if I make it harder-your current students will get hurt, right?
And so the discussion went….which leads me lead this crazzzy concept called ETHICS!
There are certain values that informed my decision-making in this particular situation. They include:
What Where My Options:
So What Did I Do?
Based on my professional and personal ethics which are ultimately framed and defined by the yama-s and niyama-s, I could not stay in a place with that type of moral and ethical compass. I gave notice and I quit.
I use the yama-s and niyama-s daily in my professional and personal life. They guide me in developing classes and therapeutic offerings that are non-harming, truthful, honest and informed. I always put the student or client first and meet him/her/them where they are on the yoga journey. This has always included making my services adaptable and accessible both physically and financially.
How do the yama-s and niyama-s frame your daily life?
What ethics or values do you hold dear? Personally or Professionally?
How do you handle a situation when someone crosses those boundaries?
Albert Camus: "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world."
Over the years, I have noticed there are certain wardrobe faux pas that yoga students (including myself) commit on a regular basis. So as the self-ordained yoga Blackwell (a long dead super famous fashion critic for those born in the 2000s), I will list them and their remedies.
Booty shorts: Don't not wear booty shorts to class. When half the poses I put you in require some variation of spread eagle, I do not want to see your lady bits and know the frequency of your wax appointments.
Remedy: Wear shorts/pants at least to the middle thigh. This ain’t amateur porn hour; it’s a yoga class.
Baggy Shorts: Likewise, do not wear baggy shorts and no underwear. I do not need to see your manly bits nor do I need to know that you have never manscaped in your entire life.
Remedy: Wear some flipping underpants, please!!! Preferably the boxer-brief stye so nothing down there can break free.
The Demi Pushup Bra: Whaaaaa!!!???? Keep control of the girls! Demi bras and, I don’t know, INVERSIONS do not mix well. Another possible test to use--If they pop out when you raise your arms in Warrior I, you are NOT wearing the appropriate bra for said activity.
Remedy: There’s this new fangled invention called a sports bra. Try it; you’ll like it.
Fabio Hair (another pre-2000 reference-Damn, I'm getting old!): It looks really pretty but I have a hard time teaching Cousin It. I will break out into “Dah-dah-dah-DUM" and start snapping my fingers.
Remedy: Pull it back, cut it off or let it dread. Trust me-I'm guilty of this one on a regular basis so I started carrying a supply of hair ties in my mat bag along with extra deodorant (another faux pas we wouldn't cover here but please for the LOVE OF GOD wear some!)
Makeup: Did you really think Harry Stiles (WOOHOO! A 2021 reference for ya!-we think he is cute, right?) was going to be in class today or something?
Or is the full makeup (complete with lipstick and false eye lashes) just for me! The average yoga student’s face touches their mat a few times during class--so does a yoga student's feet...and sweaty hands...and plumber’s butt. Now combine all that bacteria with all that makeup...YUM!
Remedy: Buy some makeup wipes. Your fresh clean zit free face will thank you.
The Mala: These are beautiful strings of beads to help a practitioner keep count when chanting and meditating. You may have noticed, I said...Meditating. Not practicing asana. By the time I have untangled you from your long strand of Mala beads, you will be unconscious. That’s not samadhi; that’s brain death.
Remedy: Leave the Mala at home. A self induced hallucinogenic bliss can be achieved on your own time--assuming your health insurance covers it.
And last but not least--I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!--the Poker Dealer Visor. You know the kind--the one your grandma wears to BINGO. How will get your forehead to the mat? AND....What harsh firehouse bingo hall light are you shielding your eyes from?
Remedy: Yeeeaahhhh-just don’t wear those to yoga class. Unless you enjoy the completely perplexed look on my face when I see you wearing one, then by all means go forth and deal me in....after all, I do love a good round of Blackjack.
Comment below with your own yoga class snafus!
Sadhana (Spiritual Practice) means "methodical discipline to attain desired knowledge". Sadhana encourages the practitioner, known as the sadhaka, to use self-discipline in order to achieve power over the ego (to find relief from suffering). Sadhana enables the practitioner to attain peace and maintain a connection with universal oneness. In other words, Sadhana is our personal, daily yoga practice.
With a personal, daily yoga practice, we continually realign the inner self, slowly progressing toward Samadhi. Although Sadhana is centered around a spiritual "goal" (Samadhi), achieving Samadhi is not the intent. Sadhana is used to cultivate discipline and non-attachment. If we focus on the end goal, we bring the ego into the practice which creates suffering--What, I didn't achieve Samadhi? WTF?
Instead the key way to control a restless mind/ego and reduce suffering is to do the right action (Sadhana) for the pure sake of doing the right action. Sadhana is practiced for the sake of maintaining a practice.
Once again the Yoga Sutras explains it!! Patanjali writes about Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (non-attachment) in Sutras 1.12-16. "These mental modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment (1.12)". More specifically, "Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness (1.14)."
So how do we get to Samadhi? Practice, Practice, Practice!...but with non-attachment. Easy Peasy! Yeah Right!
Ideas For Developing A Personal, Daily Practice
Your personal practice time doesn't need to be long. Start with 15 minutes a day. When and if you have more time, you can practice longer.
You Do You
What type of practice speaks to you? Meditation, asana (postures), malas, chanting, pranayama (breathing techniques), prayer, jnana yoga, guided visualization, Yoga Nidra, etc.
Pick one! Pick them all!
Show up at the same place and the same time every day. If you miss a day, don't fret. Start where you left off and reboot the next day.
Make It Special
Think about where you practice. Will it:
Props and Apps
Have props handy. Everyday is different and our bodies will need different support. One day you may be meditating on a floor cushion and the next day, as Shakira would say, the "hips don't lie"-it's all about meditating in a chair.
You can also check out my Guide on Yoga Props for helpful ideas.
Having an Accountability Buddy may be helpful of using a Meditation App like Insight Timer.
As you age, evolve on the path, and are exposed to different teachings, your practice will likely change. What needs to stay and what needs to change?
As you develop a personal, daily practice consider:
But It Doesn't End There
Because Sadhana is the surrendering of the ego, anything that is practiced with awareness, discipline and the intention of spiritual growth can be considered Sadhana. After we leave the yoga mat, we can continue to do the right action for the sake of doing the right action.
How do we do that? According to the Bhagavad Gita, there are Three Paths of Yoga:
Karma Yoga (hands) Action: Volunteer Time and Money
Bhakti Yoga (heart) Devotion: Attend Kirtans or Pujas
Jnana Yoga (brain) Knowledge: Read or Attend Lectures
What ways to incorporate Karma, Bhakti and Jnana Yoga into your life?
How I Incorporate Sadhana Into My Life
As a yoga instructor, Sadhana is my "walking the walk." Sadhana makes me a better instructor as well as empowers me on my path of self-realization. Currently, most mornings I roll out the ol' yoga mat, and do some pranayama and meditation. I like to keep it simple. Sometimes in the evenings, I might do Yoga Nidra. My goal this year is to incorporate more asana into my Sadhana since in recent years I have strayed away from it (and once again-the ever widening HIPS don't lie!).
I also incorporate other elements into my personal, daily practice. They add stability and grounding to my routine. They include:
Additionally, I volunteer as a yoga teacher for a local church and military base (COVID has put a damper on my Karma Yoga, unfortunately) as well as donate money, resources, and time to various community organizations (a local Montessori school, animal welfare organizations, homeless support organizations, and food banks). These activities are a huge part of my Sadhana because they keep me grounded, and remind me of what is truly important in life. I may not reach Samadhi but at least someone will have a warm meal tonight with their family.
Over time, my Sadhana has evolved and I expect it to continue as I age and as the world around me changes. Showing up for my practice, doing my Sadhana, is showing up for myself and others. Swami Satchidananda said it best, "Spiritual practice is not what you are doing, but what you are thinking. Remember that."
What are some ways you can take Sadhana out into the world and make it a way of life?
Jack Benny-"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice"
Swami Satchidananda The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Integral Yoga Publications 2012
Eknath Easwaran The Bhagavad Gita Nilgiri Press 2007
Shakira, Omar Alfanno, LaTavia Parker, & Vinay Rao "Hips Don't Lie" 2006
In the recent past, I had an extremely difficult supervisor. I couldn't concentrate at work due to the on-going conflict with my supervisor. My stomach stayed in knots. No amount of asana (yoga poses) or pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) ever relieved the stress. My self-worth and confidence suffered.
So I Turned Up The Volume Of My Meditation Practice
Through meditation, I was able to think more clearly, and be less reactive or impulsive when dealing with him. In other words, I didn't quit my job due to my emotions and make myself and my family homeless. I was able to use reason instead of just my gut response.
Meditation enabled me to keep these aspects of my Self in sync-my head and my heart. It empowered me to think clearly, in a non-reactive (meaning destructive) manner, and it motivated me to find a new job by decreasing my negativity and increasing the innate confidence I already had in my abilities.
Obviously, looking for a new job was a reactive response to the on-going situation with my supervisor. However, it is a healthy and productive reactive response as opposed to just quitting my job. The on-going conflict increased my passion (my heart, my gut) to create a strategy (my head) necessary to illicit change in my employment and in my life.
By cultivating a balance between the head and the heart, I was able to develop a healthy response to a life situation.
What Is This Balance Called? Equanimity
There are many definitions of Equanimity. They usually say something like "mental calmness", "composure", or "even temper in difficult situations." I personally define is as "not loses my shit."
With equanimity, we are able to engage with the world around us and see the changing patterns. Equanimity enables us to recognize that difficult thoughts, worries and feelings will change and pass.
Think about the world around us in this past year-COVID, the presidential election, George Floyd, and list goes on. The news cycle was contained with events, people and actions that caused many of us anxiety, worry, fear, and anger. Cultivating equanimity is a resource that can help us navigate all this unpredictability of the world without losing our balance.
How Can We Cultivate Equanimity?
Meditation!! Bring our heart and head in sync with each other. Create a synergy between the rational and the emotional selfs. Meditation lets us dive deeper. It lets us explore how all the parts of our SELF are intertwined. It reduces those fluctuations of mind chatter (yogas chitta vritti nirodha). It reduces attachments to unhelpful emotions...so that you can have an even temper in difficult situations. Meditation gives us the tools to develop stillness...quieting the ruminations, the what ifs, the could have beens, the attachments to identity or self-worth and the attachment to things, people and outcomes you can't change.
An Equanimity Practice
Take a few moments and when you are ready journal about your experience and throughout the day bring some awareness to meeting everything (good and bad) anchored and balanced like a mountain.
Last year before COVID, I wrote a piece in my monthly newsletter about yoga and donuts. Now that a year has passed-I thought I would revisit my love of donuts and dealing with stress.
This time last year, I had just completed my first trimester after I told myself that a degree in Yoga Therapy was "WHAT I HAD TO DO!". I had the winter break off and life was normal again; if just for a brief month or so. Fast forward to now.
My, oh my, how things change!
December 2020 finished a year in which I am now over halfway complete with school, I switched jobs, I telework 100%, my plantar fasciitis kills me from sitting too much, and I eat less but still weigh the same. Sounds stressful right? Now, let's put this in perspective. Just one word is all ya need:
The vaccine is being distributed and my number #1 priority is manhandling my parents to the front of that line.
So when I weigh the importance of getting my parents vaccinated to my supposed stressful "issues", my issues are petty, frivolous and ooze entitlement. That ain't cute!!! It makes me a yucky person so I'm working on fixing that--
Disclaimer: Before anyone blasts me, I also know everyone deals with stress differently. All I'm saying is...don't be a douche.
Here's What I Did To Put Stress Into Perspective
This past summer to combat this insanity (meaning my own self-obsessiveness-not COVID, it's supposed to be self-obsessive...it's a virus, self-obsession is its M.O.), I created a list of important things to remember and I plan to revise/renew it on New Year's Day.
This list is different than a "gratitude" list because you can be grateful for everything you have and still be an ass-wipe...the richest man in the world is grateful he isn't that homeless person he loathes. So scrap that gratitude list for a moment-you can come back to it later.
We like to put the cart before the horse and gratitude lists are easy. The real first step when dealing with stress, for me at least, is not being a self-obsessive shitty person...period.
To put it more eloquently, if you practice what the Yoga Sutras call AHIMSA, it puts everything into perspective. Ahimsa stems from our ability to have compassion and respect for all life. Ahimsa is kindness and empathy.
So...back to my parents and vaccinations-if I didn't practice Ahimsa, would I care if they got COVID or got vaccinated. Now take my parents out of the equation-Would I care if anyone got COVID or got vaccinated? No-the only thing I would worry about, the only thing that would cause me "stress", would be that I can't lose any weight. Woe is me!
It's more than just being grateful-it's getting down there in the mud and muck with people because you "know" how it feels. EMPATHY!! For me, that is where REAL gratitude originates and where real stress reduction starts.
Here's A Snippet Of My List:
...And so my list goes.
(NOTE: If you read enough of my blogs, you may notice I'm list maker...gratitude lists, don't be a shit bird lists, grocery lists, bulleted lists, lists about making lists, etc. Forewarning-I also have an unhealthy obsession with calendars.).
Make Your Own STRESS LESS AND LOVE MORE LIST, then:
Did My List Work?
Did writing my list and taping it to the bathroom mirror help relieve my stress this past year? Did it make me more empathetic? Did it stop my complaints about my plantar fasciitis hurting? Sometimes
Do I still advise (just like a year ago) yoga, self-care, getting rest, going for walks, meditating, reading, etc. when dealing with stress in addition to making lists and checking them twice? Absolutely!
Does eating donuts still make everything better when I fail miserably, and get wrapped up in my trivial stress? ALWAYS!!!! After-all, I am the girl with the Rewards Card for Krispy Kreme
But I'm working on it...baby steps and a few donut holes at a time.
Compassion=Concern for Others' Suffering
Empathy=Feel What the Other Person is Experiencing
Assertive Communication=Speaking Your Truth
Through compassion, empathy, and assertive communication, you can cultivate loving-kindness.
What is loving-kindness? You may have heard of Metta Meditations. Metta is Sanskrit for "loving-kindness". Loving-Kindness is friendliness, amity, and good-will. It is an active interest in others.
Compassion for others infuses assertive communication with warmth and caring while empathy helps to understand an individual’s inner workings. These skills lead to interacting with loving-kindness regardless of your personal suffering and leads to wishing the other person wellness. This amazing combination (compassion, empathy and assertive communication) dissipates the feelings of ill-will that our brain can and does create.
Which leads me to my husband. He is a fixer. A fixer of fixers. The Chief Fixer. A man who thinks he can fix any thing, any one, and any situation. And this is why I married him...I don't mean because he can fix my car or the heat pump or just about anything mechanical. I mean he is helper. He has this ginormous heart and goes out of his way to FIX all the wrongs of the world. He spends hours helping a local school (because the dads don't volunteer-we don't have any kids). He spends weekends rehabbing old cemeteries (the families have forgotten them-we don't know anyone buried in them). He just is a nice guy who wants to take care of everyone.
He is the guy who will give you the shirt off his back-literally!!
So...sometimes people manipulate that kindness. They know if they fain distress, he will come to the rescue, take over and fix everything. Those people don't have to be accountable for their own behavior...because they are users. We all know the type!
I get frustrated with the hubs because he takes on stress and responsibilities that are not his to take on. The very trait I love him for, pisses me off.
...which leads us to arguments. We have all been there, right?
Here's what I try to do...it's hard and I don't always succeed but you might find these steps helpful for cultivating loving-kindness and communicating in a more healthy and helpful way:
1. Check in. For example:
3. Become aware of triggers for ill-will. Don't focus on potential harm to yourself or your family and don't exaggerate the events occurring.
These steps enable me to communicate more openly, be less reactive, and be more supportive of my husband and his really big heart.
How is this a yoga practice? Glad you asked!
In the Yoga Sutras, the first two limbs of the Eightfold Path are the yama-s and niyama-s. Each contains 5 principles (10 in total) to follow on your path to enlightenment. Three of these are:
What other yama-s and niyama-s can you think of?
Try These Practices to Cultivate Loving-Kindness and Effective Communication:
Rosenberg, S. (Director). (1967). Cool Hand Luke [Film]. Jalem Productions.
Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Let’s discuss a topic near and dear to many yogis’ hearts-Journaling. Being a yoga instructor, I continually hear how my students love to journal, I take yoga trainings and they make me journal, and I constantly read how journaling is great for the soul.
Let’s be frank, I’m not the journaling type but I definitely can see the benefits and I’m working on being more consistent with it. Normally since I have a long commute to and from work, I process my daily life in my head. However, I think journaling may be faster—you remove yourself from the situation at hand and become the witness.
Sometimes, I get bogged down in the day-to-day activities and lose sight of what is truly important to me. Like everyone, I can lose sight of my connection to my dharma, my true identity, etc. and journaling can help bring everything back into focus.
Personally, when I take the time to journal it makes me less reactive towards others. Not necessarily kinder-but less likely to rip someone’s (say…like my husband) head off. Journaling makes me reflect on what I appreciate about others and why they are in my life (good or bad). It also makes me realize how I judge others based on the expectations I set for myself. Everyone is doing the best that they can and I’m learning how to be content with whatever the outcomes are…which is really hard for a control freak like me.
I also think journaling helps me grasp how it is related to Ego and identifying with the Ego. I’m learning to get out of the way of myself and the load of malarkey that I carry as if it were the true me. This creates barriers and walls that I use to protect myself…which impacts my relationships with others.
I realize this by seeing it laid out bare in a journal entry. It is very eye opening.
Journaling helps me process the information I already have (I know this stuff! Those duh! moments) and apply it to access a deeper place. I am a head-y person and analyzing logical information (journal entries) to gain wisdom is something I think I will always be working on.
Ultimately, I take the wisdom gained and apply it to understand the nature of SELF—that is a leap of faith-not only in the process but in myself and my inherent nature; that connection with something greater than myself. Journaling makes me step back and look at how my lifestyle and behaviors impact my true nature.
I hope to continue this process called journaling to make better choices.
NOW LET'S START JOURNALING:
Start easy...Keep it simple!
Journal every day for next two weeks (since i bet, you're cooped up in the house anyway!)
• Write down ONE thing that disturbed your peace
• Write down WHY it disturbed your peace
• Write down HOW you reacted
After two weeks, go back and re-read your entries. Did anything change? Did your reactions change? Did the things that bother you change? There is no right or wrong answer-just notice if anything shifted.
Then keep going...don't stop...keep writing!
I sat down and thought about how I actually started practicing yoga. My standard answer has always been that I hurt my hip hiking and it progressively felt worse. I had heard yoga was good for joints so I tried it and I liked it. Pretty simple, right?
Well, it actually wasn’t quite like that...sit right back and you’ll hear a tell...a tell of a fateful trip!
The journey actually started when I was a little munchkin. I didn’t grow up in a commune but I might as well had. I was surrounded by a huge mishmash of fabulous hippies that all seemed (in my mind as a small kid) to descend upon my grandparents’ property on a regular basis. My “extended” family was made up of neighbors, family friends, family members, various farm animals and other pets. I grew up hating shoes (and at some points in my life clothes as well), riding horses, listening to my uncles play covers of the Eagles and CCR, living in Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke occasionally and wondering who that strange looking man was on the cover of my mom’s meditation book. The book was right beside the psychedelic candle shaped like a turtle (which I still has to this very day-he’s cute!) on the living room bookshelf.
Combine this eclectic upbringing with picking my uncle (from Florida) up at a 1970's airport and my growing fascination with the Hare Krishnas (they have to be nice people; they sell flowers and wear pretty robes!), I was bound to come full circle.
So time went on...now I’m in college. I was dabbling with vegetarianism and was walking around the National Mall in Washington, DC with a friend. And guess who approached me to buy a vegetarian cookbook???...Hare Krishnas, that’s who!!! Even though they did not have the cool clothes and hair of yore, they were totally awesome and super nice to talk to...just like I told my mom they would be when I was little! With cookbook in hand...I set off to learn more. So I took a bunch of Hindu and Buddhist religion classes while at college.
Then I got married and lost my way. So I got divorced and found my way again! (Ultimately, I did found my soul mate-actually I knew him for years. I just wore him down until he relented and married me.)
So that brings me back to trying yoga to help my hip. I realize now the the hip issue was fixed by my practicing one limb of yoga--asanas. I had already been practicing the other limbs of yoga by creating good karma, trying to eat and live in the least harmful way, “just breathing in deep; it will all pass in time” and singing the Guru Mantra along with George Harrison.
But I have a feeling that explaining all this with hands flying around, a goofy smile and far off look in my eye will not fly...
So let’s just say I started yoga because I hurt my hip.
Remember everybody has a different journey. The how and why you do yoga is unique to you. How did you start your journey? Comment below!
I wrote this in 2019 for a dear friend's yoga studio, Soaring Spirit Yoga, webpage. The studio was in Occoquan VA. COVID took its toll on this beloved studio space and Soaring Spirit Yoga now exists as a virtual environment. The little girl that inspired this original story is probably a teenager now. MY OH MY! How time flies!? Long ago, in a land far away and in a time before COVID, this little girl's wisdom is truer now than ever before. Even when you can't physically be with your friends and family, your community is still there (Zoom in; telephone in; FaceTime in; visit through social distancing measures if facilities like retirement homes allow it). Reach out! CONNECT
Little girl: “Someone’s feet stink!”
Me: “Really! Whose? Maybe mine since they are dirty from walking around the gym.”
Little girl: “Yep, it’s your feet.”
Me: “Ya think so?”
Little girl: “Yep, little feet don’t stink.”
Years ago, I had the weekly joy of teaching an after-school children’s yoga class at a local recreation center. I taught approximately 50 students ranging from 5 to 10-year olds (of course with assistance from their regular caregivers).
When I say “taught”, I really mean…I corralled; I shepherded.
I was a herder. Occasionally, in unison but, mostly, it was a free-form modern dance style of yoga.
They were unfiltered and honest to a fault. They were also natural yogis. You see…children don’t actually have bones until they are 12 years old (totally my observation and not scientifically proven…yet) and as any yogi should, they saw joy in everything we did in class.
No matter how bad my day was going, they made me smile a big, huge, toothy, goofy smile. A real smile. Not the adult-world fake smile…you know the kind I’m talking about. An honest smile.
They made yoga fun! They laughed. They were loud. They raised a raucous! However, their caregivers always wanted them to be quiet (they lost that battle quickly with 50 small children in an echoing gym). After all, it’s yoga…and yoga is quiet or at least the proverbial “they” say yoga is quiet.
Whoever mandated that yoga must be quiet to be beneficial? Maybe it was originally quiet because the ascetics didn’t have any friends to raise some hell with! Maybe they didn’t want to be quiet; maybe they were just lonely.
Children, on the other hand, are never lonely in a yoga class. They are never afraid to touch each other’s feet in a shared boat pose, wrap their arms around each other for a joint tree pose, or lay in a big flower pattern touching heads in Savasana.
There is something to be said for the loud communal nature of children. Where is that point along the way to maturity that we lose that sense of community? When do our brains and hearts shift making isolation the ideal?
According to, the great book of “knowledge”, Wikipedia:
“Yoga is the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali defines yoga as ‘the stilling of the changing states of the mind.’ Yoga has also been popularly defined as ‘union with the divine’ in other contexts and traditions. “
So, if children are loud and rambunctious can their minds be still and are they uniting with the divine? Absolutely!!!
Children do yoga with no preconceived ideas, no biases, and no judgment. They are free in their bodies and free with each other. Children don’t bring the emotional walls and barriers that isolate…that break down community…to the yoga mat.
They are just there in the moment-totally and completely free. That is peace of mind and spirit. That is union with the divine. That is yoga.
Like I said--natural yogis.
My little gurus taught me that permanent peace takes many forms and sometimes it looks more like Burning Man than it does a monastery. Note: Not advocating raging fires for children…but 5 to 10-year olds are definitely into those too.
So, the next time you are in a COVID-era virtual yoga class…be free; be present; smile; laugh. Make some virtual Savasana flowers with your new friends, cheer someone on with encouragement and take notice of your stinky feet.
…And a funny question at that.
I recently read that before you start an official blog, you need to introduce it. The WHY! So a few posts into this process, here's my take on why I started this blog...
What could I say that anyone else would care to read about; be entertained by; laugh at; shake their head in disbelief at; or bother to continue reading week after week? I am not remotely interesting. I'm a regular Washington, DC, area desk jockey...a Federal employee with a side gig teaching yoga.
Boring, square, dorky, and maybe even a little dull, right? Yes, I just described myself as dull...as little thought bubbles of my misspent youth gleefully dance in my head.
I mean, after all, my name is not Miley Cyrus. I'm not a media darling. I don’t have a spray tan (I’ve had them and they are sticky!), a bad 80's haircut (what's up with Miley's hair these days? I get that era is cool again but ppppplease not the hair!) and I definitely don’t know how to twerk (even though she hasn't done that recently, we all know her extraordinary ability at it.).
So since this is a yoga blog and speaking of twerking--like that seque--I substitute instructed for an early morning class once (at the height of the twerking craze). Now combine that with having a head cold...and you can see where this is leading. My abilities to think on my feet were limited and my words mighty jumbled. I actually told a student to correct the alignment of his knee by:
“Since you don’t want to twerk your knee and hurt yourself—I mean tweak”.
Ohhh Nooo-Did I really say that!!???
Thankfully, my one lone student in the class-a man-just smiled and laughed it off. I never received a termination letter from the gym for sexual harassment so I assumed all was well.
Now that we have covered spray tans, tweaked knees, and mind fog, let’s see if I can write an interesting blog about yoga and all the awesome individuals, ideas, and ponderings related to yoga…with a little smattering of my silly musings.
SOOO…step right up and feast your eyes on a most incredible and marvelous wonder that will astound and amaze you with its spectacular feats of peril and mischief!!
WELCOME TO THE BOUNDLESS BLUNDERINGS AND BLISSFUL BANTERINGS OF MY YOGA BLOG!!!
Research has shown gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude is an action!
It is not happiness that brings us gratitude
It is gratitude that brings us happiness
Let's reflect on the many things we have been blessed with this year.
The quarantine has meant more time together as families and has reinforced the importance of human connection and friendship. Remember heroes come from all walks of life and as we enter the season of giving, now more than ever, be grateful for the support of your community.
Gratitude Exercise: Take some time to journal about how this year has brought gratitude into your life. Who might you add to this list (people, pets, things, events)?
Inspired by and adapted from Maryland University of Integrative Health's weekly gratitude email.
I AM Boundless Bliss Yoga. Just me. I'm a one-lady band. I'm a yoga therapist. I didn't start out to be a yoga therapist, I just wanted to learn more and SHAAAZZAMM...here I am.