Monthly Archives: February 2015

Fresh Testimony Rolling In

parrish02

Maxfield Parrish

20 February, 2015

Brooke,

I am so pleased to have been introduced to you and your fine restorative teaching skills.  I have been doing yoga for a good part of the past 17 years, and your class takes me on such a deep, inner journey.  I so appreciate your skills and wanted to personally thank you and express my gratitude.

-C.S.

Yoga Teacher Trainee

The Latest: Testimony and Promise

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Credit unknown

I received an email yesterday from a Restorative Yoga group-class student. She survives bipolar disorder and trauma and is in recovery for addiction disorder. She is in her 50’s.

“I recently (in the last few weeks) experienced a panic attack in the middle of the night and woke up with my heart pounding and shallow breathing. For the first few minutes it was very scary and disorienting but for the first time in my life I didn’t reach for medication. I sat up with my legs crossed and tried breathing. It took I don’t know how long but eventually I was able to calm myself down and then go back to sleep. My awareness of what I was experiencing and the little bit of yoga I know about really saved me! I’m a total believer!

” – J.
Out of curiosity, I checked her record of visits on the studio website. She has practiced 36 times total in six months: 29 times with me (ninety minute sessions) and seven times with other teachers (seventy-five minute sessions) since August… on average, six times per month, less than twice per week.

The Importance of Whistling

When you whistle, you breathe out slowly. This calms the nervous system.

Breathing out is soothing and cooling. It is detoxifying and creates space for more oxygen to enter the lungs on the next inhalation. Activating the diaphragm by controlling the breath stimulates the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system- the parachute that will gently deliver anyone from an anxious descent.

Mantra, or repetition of seed syllables like OM, HUM, RAM, etc, is also soothing to the nervous system for the same reason. Humming, the vibration and control of the breath, gives the mind and nerves something to refer to when they are jangled, something steady and comfortable.

From the Sutras:

Sthiram sukham asanam: Asana is a steady and comfortable pose. Pranayama: breath control.

Both of these, in this order, lead to meditation, relaxed stillness, focus and ananda, samadhi, satchitananda: ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.

These – meditation, relaxed stillness, focus – are things missing from a hypo-manic episode. It feels pretty good, blissful, even, sometimes, and even revelatory to be so open hearted. Combined with sleeplessness, lack of appetite, moodiness, consistent multi-tasking and forgetfulness, however, this adrenaline-based side dish of bliss isn’t sustainable.

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FullMoon Balance, TwoStars; photo credit Brooke West

Whistling provides an accessible alternative to the classic, more esoteric Yogic breathing techniques. Sometimes taking a breath is the key to slowing hypo-mania in manic-depression. I notice that when I am amped up, I am simultaneously and repeatedly holding my breath and breathing very shallowly, just into my collarbones and not my belly. By brain is thirsty, literally, for oxygen. My central nervous system would eventually kill for breath.

Hypo-mania

dictionary.search.yahoo.com
n. noun
  1. A mood disorder that is milder than mania and marked by symptoms of elevated or agitated mood, especially as a component of bipolar disorder.

This morning I was whistling along to Victoria Williams. Her album, Loose, is a fave. My mood is elevated. It’s spring and, like Victoria sings on “Waterfalls,” I like all of the seasons but springtime is best.

It’s even better when I whistle.

“But in the end, yoga must be personally experienced to be understood.”

Yoga is Confusing

Written by Doug Andrews, E-RYT 500. He is the founder and director of Ananda Scotts Valley in California.

doug-readingIn the exchange of personal information that characterizes first encounters between humans, one of the usual first questions is, “What do you do for a living?” My short answer is that I am a teacher. If the person asking is interested she might pursue my answer to the next level and say, “What do you teach?” At that point I must calculate in the moment whether I am feeling predominantly a science teacher or a yoga teacher? In fact I play both roles. Science is simple, everyone knows what science is. Yoga however is a bit more problematic because most people, even if they’ve never taken a yoga class, have an impression of yoga that is by and large off the mark or, at best, incomplete. And for those who have taken a yoga class the chances are pretty good that they did so in a gym where the only focus was on stretching.

In the beginning…at least for most folks I’ve met…yoga is simple enough. They join a gym, walk the treadmill, take a Zumba class and decide to stay for what is called yoga. After all, stretching is good, right? And so they stretch. Walk, Zumba, Stretch. Repeat regularly until their schedule changes or their will power wanes and they are are left with a memory of feeling good and a recurring whispered thought, “Shouldn’t I get back to the gym?” Maybe even the thought, “I really liked how I felt after the yoga class.” But is stretching all there is to yoga? The short answer to that question is, “Stretching is good but it alone is not yoga.” At least it is not very much of yoga. So if stretching is not yoga then it is easy to become confused. What is yoga?

The confusion around yoga is widespread. Some years ago I attended a performance of Cirque de Soleil with family and friends. The physical flexibility of the acrobats led one of our group to comment, “ Boy, I’ll bet she’s good at yoga!” I replied, diplomatically I hope, that she might indeed be good at yoga. What I did not add at the time is that physical flexibility has next to nothing to do with being good at yoga. But this mis-impression about the nature of yoga is widespread and deeply ingrained in our culture. I remember an article from the foremost yoga magazine, Yoga Journal, in which a reporter who was investigating yoga for his readers, penned a piece entitled, “How Yoga Kicked My Butt.” The article was amusing in its way but unfortunately, it left the reader with the very distinct impression that yoga is a system of exercises that can be very challenging. So if not a system of exercise then the question remains. What is yoga?

Okay, try this. Yoga is:

· A science and an art.
· Union. Of body, mind, breath and Spirit.
· Breathing exercises to control life-force energy.
· Meditation to still the mind and open the heart.
· Training the mind to be supportive or still as required.
· Devotional Chanting, Prayer and Mantra.
· Selfless service to others.
· An inward experience of Joy, Peace, Love or some other Divine quality.
· An expansion of human consciousness beyond ego and into Universal awareness.
· A system of physical exercise that helps accomplish all of the above.

If this were a conversation between you, the reader, and me, the yoga teacher, I might at this point ask, “Is it clear now what Yoga is?” And you might look me clearly in the eye and say, “No. Not one bit.” Okay, fair enough. But here is one challenging thing about yoga: it needs to be experienced. We can read about yoga and that is a good thing to do. We can go to a yoga class and, depending on the quality and consciousness of the instructor, learn bits and pieces about yoga. And that too is a good thing to do. But in the end, yoga must be personally experienced to be understood. And so, when we bring yoga into our lives on a regular basis we call it a yoga practice. We practice bringing our body, mind, breath and awareness into a single, shared moment of experience.

So perhaps it would helpful to ask, “What do I mean by “yoga?” As my friend, Nayaswami Hriman McGilloway writes, “This is a constant and frustrating issue for those who us share the true yoga. The term refers in the common view to the physical exercises, movements and positions of but one branch of yoga: hatha yoga. One might just as properly use the term “meditation” to describe all of the yoga practices and goal. But in fact, the correct term is “yoga!” And “yoga,” which means “yoke” or “union,” refers to both the practice and the goal of that practice: a state of consciousness that is not limited to confinement and identification with the body and ego. It is akin to the state referred to by such words as enlightenment, liberation, moksha, satori, nirvana, samadhi, salvation, cosmic consciousness, oneness, mystical union and on and on. This state is said to be the true state of Being and the only true reality from which all differentiated objects and states of consciousness derive. It is the underlying, primordial “soup” of God-consciousness that wills into manifestation the cosmos and which sustains, maintains, and dissolves the ceaseless flux of thoughts, emotions, and objects.

The practice of yoga includes a wide range of disciplines from the bodily positions of hatha yoga to the advanced meditation techniques of kriya yoga. It is supported by a lifestyle of high ideals, integrity, moderation, and self-control in the form of simple living and includes, by tradition, the practice of vegetarianism. Codified by the sage Patanjali in the renowned Yoga Sutras, yoga is achieved through eight stages of practice and eights levels of ever expanding consciousness.”

If you have a sense that yoga is something that you need in your life, I encourage you to keep your thinking about yoga bigger that just the postures. At Ananda Scotts Valley we offer many classes each week on the practice of Ananda Yoga. On Thursday evenings we offer free meditation instruction. On Sunday mornings we have group meditations and Sunday services to sharing the common yoga teachings of the East and West. We also regularly offer extended and in-depth classes on the various teachings and practices of yoga. So come and join us. Our complete calendar is available at http://www.anandascottsvalley.org.

Blessings and Joy,

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Yoga Philosophy for Bipolar Disorder 101

Check out my latest original blog for The International Bipolar Foundation!

http://www.ibpf.org/blog/yoga-philosophy-bipolar-disorder-101

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The fist of a series of blogs on the Yamas and Niyamas, the “do’s” and “dont’s” of Yoga philosophy.

This one was read by readers in Brazil, New Zealand, Great Britain, Louisiana USA, France…

Enjoy!