I recently took a new student workshop for my upcoming PhD program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. They were getting our juices flowing with some creative writing exercises. The hope is the development of creative writing skills ultimately leads to a well written dissertation.
One exercise is particular spoke to me. An exercise in Ekphrasis (“Description” in Greek). An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through narrating and reflecting on the action of a painting or sculpture, the poet can expand the artwork's meaning. Some notable examples you may have read in school are Keats' “Ode on a Grecian Urn” or Carlos' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus".
So as a good workshop participant, I took a stab at it by reflecting on "Abaporu" (The Man That Eats People) painted by Tarsila do Amaral.
Sun glares over cacti
Skies cloudlessly bright
Sits on grassy dryness
Thoughts of consumption
Tastes of emotions, souls, lives
Boundary + Less
How does another's act of "cannibalism" expand your thoughts on cultivating your personal boundaries?
I recently learned that Body Fat (Adipose Tissue) is an endocrine organ and actually has more impact on the body than the thyroid gland. Therefore, too much adipose tissue (obesity) can lead to diabetes. Obesity increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol as well as contributes to the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
So what yoga therapy tools work great for the management of diabetes?
I recommend these 3 yoga therapy tools:
1. After a few rounds of natural breathing, begin Ujjayi breathing. While your breathing, some food for thought-How Tapas (effort) is balanced with Santosha (contentment). Tapas can bring about change like improved health and lower blood sugar levels. While Santosha brings peace in the current circumstances. Always remember the importance listening to the doctor regarding nutrition and monitoring insulin levels. (5-10 minutes)
2. A short series of asanas to develop an exercise habit that can help with obesity, heart issues, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. Also , these practices can help lead to improved mood potentially leading to lifestyle changes and improved quality of life. Always watch for any dizziness with the increased movement. (30 minutes)
• 10 ½ Sun Salutations: The Sun Salutations can be completed as slow as necessary or even use a chair.
• Warrior I: Warrior I (lower body) with goal post arms. Transition to straight legs and Warrior I (straight) arms. Repeat 5 times per side with an extended hold at the end (3 counts/breaths). You can also do this posture in a chair if needed.
• Seated Spinal Twist: Depending on our flexibility, the opposite leg can be bent or straight as well as accomplished with deer legs or from easy pose.
• Seated Forward Fold: Finally, transition to a seated forward fold to begin the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
3. Savasana: Practice a relaxation pose of choice and begin breathing with an extended exhale. You can also use a guided visualization of your peaceful place to continue the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. (10 minutes)
Yoga can be incorporated into your daily life and have positive impacts on glycemic control. Studies suggest that yoga has a direct impact on psychoneuro-endocrine and immune mechanisms as well as contributes to parasympathetic activation and anti-stress mechanisms. This all leads to improvement in overall metabolic and psychological profiles, increases in insulin sensitivity, and improvements in glucose tolerance and lipid metabolism.
In addition to the practices listed above, yoga practices utilized in the management of diabetes often include cleansing exercises, and the use of bandhas, meditation, relaxation, chanting, Yoga Nidra, or mudras. These practices can reduce blood glucose levels as well as contribute to the management of co-morbidities.
What yoga practices will you incorporate in your fight against diabetes?
Raveendran, A. V., Deshpandae, A., & Joshi, S. R. (2018). Therapeutic Role of Yoga in Type 2 Diabetes. Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea), 33(3), 307–317. https://doi.org/10.3803/EnM.2018.33.3.307
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.
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
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.
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.