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Click on the link below to find a list with the most popular and useful articles on this blog to learn or expand your yoga practice.
Click on the link below to find a list with the most popular and useful articles on this blog to learn or expand your yoga practice.
Yoga, when practiced with integrity, guides us on a journey towards increasing clarity and ease. Along the way, as we gradually fine-tune our sensitivity, questions emerge, especially questions such as, how can i know if what i am doing is right or wrong? If we are fortunate, we can seek the assistance and advice of a trustworthy source, somebody with knowledge and first hand experience of this process, our teacher or teachers. In the Yoga tradition, the Guru, or teacher, is that knowledgeable guide assisting the student in moving from a state of darkness, limitation or restriction to greater clarity, freedom and ease.
If we are fortunate enough to have access to a good teacher, we will probably find that the teacher will suggest a technique or practice to help uncover some misconception or limitation. Then, once the restriction is identified, we may gain more clarity towards life affirming choices. We will probably notice that the teacher will not make a decision for us, so we are still in charge of making our own choices.
So, how can we know if we can trust ourselves? Very often we hear instructions in yoga classes directing us to listen to the inner teacher, inner wisdom or inner guidance. Yet, as we pay attention to what is happening inside, we often find a never ending monologue with varying opinions on what we are doing as well as on many other unrelated things. Which of the voices/opinions is our inner teacher? Is it the voice that is saying to try harder? Is it the one that is comparing what i am doing with what the person next to me is doing? Or, is it the part that is thinking about my to do list or what i should have for dinner? For most of us, it seems like we are having to make decisions constantly, and the inner chatter is more often an obstacle than a guide.
My suggestion is that the majority of us, if not all people, are equipped with an internal compass offering us subtle guidance on a regular basis. One of the characteristics of this inner guidance is that it is gentle and not forceful. Consequently, external noise and distractions combined with our internal chatter may distract us, thus, making it less likely for us to notice and even less listen to that inner guidance. To verify that you have access to that inner compass, take a few moments to think about a recent decision you made (it doesn’t have to be a big decision) where, after you decided and acted according to your choice you went: “I knew this was not a good idea” or “I knew I shouldn’t have done that.” That knowing offering a light tap or inner nudge is our inner compass.
When you have to make a decision, you may get a gentle nudge, a feeling that prompts you to lean in a certain direction or to take a specific choice. It doesn’t usually come with words, that is why some people call it the silent whisper of the heart. This gentle guidance, just suggests or points without forcing or struggle. It feels like a gentle offer. It is a suggestion and not an order, so we can always make whatever choice we want, even if that means ignoring the whisper of the heart. Frequently, we might notice that if we have an expectation or if we are attached to one of the options we have, the suggestion we receive will probably be met with resistance on our part. In those cases, we will start coming up with arguments, explanations and justifications for taking a different path of action from the one suggested. I often think about a silly example to illustrate how this works: You are having dinner with friends at one of your favorite restaurants and you notice something inside of you indicating that you may have already eaten enough. However, you have not had dessert yet and this place serves one of your all-time favorite desserts. Even though you have noticed the inner signal that you have eaten enough, you may hear yourself coming up with justifications, some like: this week i have really worked very hard and i deserve a reward, or today i walked longer than usual, or i had a very small lunch today. You may even ask your friends for their suggestions or opinion. So, you convince yourself to override the internal advice. You get your dessert and eat it. By the time you get home or the next morning you will probably notice the effects of overeating the night before and you may hear yourself saying: “i knew i shouldn’t have eaten that much”. To clarify, the inner teacher offers an option, we can listen or ignore, and in the end we always have to make a decision. No matter what decision we make, we will have to deal with the consequences of our action.
You may be asking, so, how do i learn to trust my inner guidance? Think about the many times you have felt that gentle nudge telling you to do something. Now, notice how many times you have chosen to ignore that nudge and you have ended up saying, “I knew this was not such a good idea!”. Probably, every single time. In contrast, think about how many times you have chosen to listen to that internal suggestion and have been glad you did. Most likely, every single time. Moreover, consider if the suggestions you receive ever work against you and the evidence from your own life will show you that the inner guidance you receive always works to your own benefit –even if you do not understand the logic behind it at the time. If your inner guidance offers you options to your own benefit every single time, why not give its suggestions a fair a chance the next time? Most likely you will not regret it.
I might add, that you can combine the approach suggested in the previous article about not trying to predict the future with trusting inner guidance.They work quite nicely together.
As always, I hope you find this useful.
Yoga can be understood as both the state and the tools to meet ourselves right when and where we are. However, for most of us, any time we attempt to meet ourselves where we are, we find that it is quite difficult for us to be fully present because our mind is usually preoccupied with never-ending thoughts, ideas, plans, memories, regrets, fears, etc. In other words, it is difficult for us to be fully engaged with the moment we are in because our mind is already filled with other, seemingly more important or pressing, matters. For instance, every time we try to practice some aspect of yoga, we may notice how it takes some time for us to overcome the tendency of our mind to continue moving in the direction it was moving. It is important to note that this is absolutely normal, particularly when we consider that we have been training our mind to keep running tabs on an ever expanding list of things.
Of course, every time that we notice our mind’s pattern we can choose to feel frustrated by our lack of mind control. Instead, the yogic way could be to try to notice what is it that we are choosing to give our attention and energy to. Once we identify this tendency or pattern, we can determine if it is helpful or not. If the activity helps us feel more balanced, vibrant and integrated, we can choose to keep the pattern. On the other hand, if the pattern is not helpful we can try to notice it and to drop it.
One fascinating pattern i have noticed in my own way of thinking and acting is the habit to predict what will happen. Upon noticing how prevalent this pattern was in me, i decided to be curious about it and to explore the pattern itself to establish, through direct experience, if this tendency to predict contributes or not to enhance the quality of my participation in my own life. What i have found, is that i have NEVER EVER been accurate in predicting the future. Even when running a simple test, like trying to predict what will happen in a few hours, i am just not good at it at all. When i look back, i am keenly aware that i would have never been able to predict my life and how it has unfolded.
In addition, the tendency to want to predict how things will go has less than desirable side effects. First, it generates expectations, also known as switching into “should” mode. Once, i have made up my mind about what i think will happen, i notice that my mind starts generating statements about what should happen. This is would be a logical development, and it would be useful, if only i were good at predicting. But, mind you, i am not good at predicting at all! Second, each prediction very easily generates an assumption that, “since i think i know what will happen, i do not need to pay attention.” Thus, the prediction also becomes a recipe to not being present, which contributes to not paying attention and to not noticing the connections between my actions and their effects.
Upon considering this simple idea: i have a tendency to predict what will happen, I learned that i am not good at it. Furthermore, i learned that my predictions generate expectations and their related frustrations as well as a tendency to not be present. This is clearly a pattern, indeed a habit, that is certainly not useful, and, honestly, a waste of my energy. So, i have been in the process of turning this pattern around, first by paying attention and noticing every time that i try to predict the future. Then, i pause and take a breath and i remember that it makes no sense to do something that has never worked.
So far, it seems to be working, and the energy that i don’t waste on predicting and frustration is available to me to be more present in whatever i am doing. Of course, as with any other habit cultivated over a long period of time, there is a tendency to switch into prediction mode, especially when we are distracted or tired. At those times, it is helpful to persist with patience and kindness towards ourselves.
Upon further reflection, I have come to realize that accepting and embracing that i am not good at predicting is actually essential to witnessing the newness and uniqueness of life as it blooms right in front of our eyes at every single moment. What an amazing gift! I am very happy that I am not good at predicting.
I am curious, are you good at predicting?
In yoga, we are interested in observing accurately, that is withholding judgment, and just trying to be clear on what is actually happening. However, often we get so involved in the minutiae of our daily lives that we may lose perspective. For instance, sometimes an email message at work can generate a lot of reactivity inside of us, including worries, fears, anger, anxiety, etc. This is where yoga can be helpful, as soon as we notice some reactivity, we lengthen our spine and then we focus on our breath making our exhalations softer and longer. Then we may ask ourselves, how important will this message be in 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 1 decade? By doing this we are offering ourselves a pause to zoom out so that by changing perspective we can notice if the pattern of thought we are engaging in may be helpful and balancing or not.
One of the obstacles that we may find when implementing this technique is that we may have an expectation that the shift from the previous way of thinking and feeling to the new approach of zooming out, should happen easily and quickly. If we examine this assumption, we can understand that it is not based on reality. Any pattern we have adopted has probably been part of our way of doing things for a while. This means, that we have used the pattern many times and that we may not even be aware of the pattern itself. In that case, the first step is to recognize that the pattern is there. The next step is to have the attitude of a curious observer just trying to find out if the new way of doing has any effects. The key is to try the new approach with gentle persistence. The more consistently we use the new pattern the more aware we become about this new and more helpful option. Gradually, the new pattern is more easily available than the old one, until the old one is not an option any more. It is really helpful to remember that it will take some time and not to give ourselves a hard time about slipping into the well-rehearsed way of doing.
The other potential obstacle is that we may become frustrated when we notice how deeply entrenched the old way of thinking, feeling and being is. Keep in mind that every time we notice that we are using the old pattern, we are actually becoming aware of the pattern. Since we may not have been aware of the old pattern before, being aware of the pattern is a positive change in itself, it is movement in the right direction! Again, gentle persistence over time will help us turn the pattern around.
When we change our perspective we can see many things that we may have ignored before. We may also notice if we are blowing things out of proportion. Creating this space of awareness in our daily lives provides a door to explore other alternatives. As we implement this simple technique we can try to pay attention to its effects. Consequently, we will be able to determine if this change is an intelligent change or not.
I invite you to try this application of the yoga Sutras (2.33 Pratipaksha Bhavanam) and let me know what you find. I hope this technique is useful to you.
When we approach something new, we often just try to grasp the general idea of the activity. As our knowledge and experience on the topic grow, the more we focus on details and subtleties. However, it can happen that deepening our focus may result in losing a wider perspective. For instance, as we first start practicing yoga postures, it is difficult, for most of us, to understand the detailed instructions that we receive. For instance, it may feel that we are barely capable of staying in the posture without holding our breath, so it seems truly impossible to try to internally rotate this or that while stretching the sole of the foot lengthwise without losing the tone of the inner arch of the back foot. As we make our practice more consistent over time, we may get so immersed in the minute details of the posture that we may forget to have a detached attitude and a soft gaze.
As i observe people around me, i notice a seemingly general tendency in the place where i live, where many people, in spite of enjoying many comforts, such as having a choice on what to eat and a warm space to shelter themselves from the rain and cold weather, seem to find it difficult to keep a gentle smile on their faces. I find that for many of us, our daily obligations and our jobs often become all consuming turning into a source of tension and stress.
As humans it is normal to develop patterns in our ways of moving, breathing, feeling and thinking. We are fortunate to be able to use some of these patterns in response to the stress of challenging and difficult situations with a general sense of alertness to help us focus on the task-at-hand, our survival. Of course, since the body has limited energy, it has to be intelligent in its allocation of resources. So, when we feel threatened, non-essential systems are made into a low priority. For instance, resting, restoring, maintenance and digestion are put on hold for a more convenient time. However, if that more convenient time does not come, the useful skill of alertness and reaction, can get out of control and deplete our energy.
One of the most common requests i hear in yoga class is a request for practices conducive to relaxation. I know that deep relaxation is a necessary and well-deserved reward to counteract our existing circumstances and bring us closer to balance. However, it is not surprising that our tendency to overdo, has become so entrenched, that it carries over into our yoga practice. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how good it feels to get a good workout and to feel the intensity of exploring the limits of what we can do. However, it is not uncommon for people who feel overworked, overextended, stressed out and sleep deprived, to come into the practice of yoga and to continue pushing themselves into more tension and stress. Sometimes this intensity can be the result of getting too caught up in the details of the practice and forgetting that balance is a fundamental aspect of yoga.
It could be argued that one of the essential concepts in yoga philosophy is discernment (in Sanskrit: viveka). Discernment is the capacity to see, feel and sense with increasing clarity the distinction between what is helpful and what is not helpful, what we can and cannot do, what is too much and what is too little. One suggestion that may be useful is to make our practice into a gentle and playful dance to help us explore doing more and then doing less, helping us fine tune our ability to modulate intensity between low and high according to our context, circumstances and to what we need. In this way, we can engage our mind more in our practice and to grow in our ability to sense with clarity and attentiveness the effects of each deliberate choice we make. Consequently, we will notice that our practice is also helping us hone the skills to notice the effects of our approach to working, living our lives and doing everything that we do. In brief, my suggestion is to ask ourselves more often:
We often ask ourselves, how do i know if i am trying too hard or not hard enough?
I would suggest that we find these answers by observing our mind, feeling the emotions in our heart and sensing the general state of our bodies. If your mind is more open, focused and clear, if your body feels supple, resilient and capable of doing what you need it to do and if your heart feels more gratitude and more love, you are probably on the right track.
Receive my sincere wish for vibrant health, peaceful mind and a loving heart,
Meditation is good for us, at many levels. More and more studies indicate that meditation can have beneficial effects on our bodies, minds, emotions and overall health and well-being. It appears that meditation may even contribute to slow the aging process. For me, meditation is coming to meet myself underneath the hustle and bustle of my surface level mind. It feels good to meditate, because it calms the mind, gives us a break from our habitual ways of thinking, moving, breathing and feeling. That’s the reason i practice regularly.
Meditation is simplicity. The video below is a simple and effective meditation session to relax, calm and rest your mind.
In meditation it doesn’t matter how many times we get distracted. We keep returning to our focal point. Gradually our atention and patience grow stronger. After the practice, notice how you feel. If you feel a bit better, consider giving yourself the gift of meditation regularly.
I hope that you enjoy this meditation session with the video filmed in Sunset Beach, Florida, USA
Recently, at a social function i was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised. My wife and i were talking to somebody we had just met and eventually this person mentioned that she liked yoga. I asked her about her practice and could not believe my ears when she said that her favorite aspect of yoga was Pranayama, the breathing awareness practice, and that she practiced her pranayama exercises 6 days a week for an hour each day. I found her response truly inspiring because it is quite unusual for me to meet people with a consistent pranayama practice.
It seems rather obvious that our breath is essential to our life. Some of the benefits from breathing consciously include:
With so many benefits, i would think that more and more people would be interested in tapping into this FREE resource for improving our quality of life, well-being and overall health.
In yoga, in my opinion, the two single most important elements in the practice are awareness and breathing. Yoga without one or the other is robbed of the tools that make yoga powerful and transformational.
Unfortunately, very often i hear from students:&lquot;i really don’t know how to breathe&rquot;. Also, often during class i notice that not everybody is clearly attuned to their own breathing process, and ability. I know that making the breath the keystone of my yoga practice, has had a powerful effect on the quality of my practice and on the quality of my life, attention and energy level.
If you are reading this right now, you are breathing well enough to stay alive. The question is, are you breathing efficiently and to your full capacity?
You can test your breathing awareness pretty easily:
Observe your breath without changing the way you are breathing at this moment notice:
If you answered yes to all the questions, it is likely that you have a good level of what i call Breathing Intelligence.
If you answered no to any or all of the questions, i would submit that you can benefit from simple and easy breathing exercises.
For instance, you can try these simple ideas for a few minutes each:
In a comfortable position, relax your belly and allow your belly to move freely in response to each inhalation and each exhalation. It is important to remain relaxed and to breathe without forcing or agitation.
Keeping your breath relaxed, try to minimize the interruptions or pauses between the inhalation and the exhalation.
After a few minutes of trying the exercises above, notice if your mind got a little bit more relaxed and if you feel calmer and with less tension. I you found these simple ideas helpful, i would like to invite you to give yourself the treat of conscious breathing for a few minutes every day and notice the effect these simple, free exercises have on you, your mood and attitude.
There are other easy breathing exercises you might enjoy:
To increase your breathing intelligence, you may also be interested in attending the upcoming workshops:
BREATH FOR HEALTH & VITALITY: Introduction to Pranayama 1 & 2
For more information and to sign up:
Yoga Etc, 727-644-4554, 3338 Tyrone Blvd. St Petersburg, FL 33710
Unfortunately shoulder tension is very common nowadays. It seems like there is at least one student in each class asking for yoga sequences to help remove shoulder tension. The shoulder joint is the joint that has the widest range of movement in the human body. However, overusing the shoulders through movement in one direction tends to generate restriction, often characterized by tightness at the front of the shoulder. It makes sense to try to counteract the typical pattern of movement with movements that help us restore the natural range of movement of the shoulder.
Yoga is a path to self discovery that leads us to greater balance at all levels. It is important to remember that yoga is a practice of integration, where we try to bring together all aspects of our being. In other words, we are trying to get body, breath, mind and heart to work in unison, in harmony. Sometimes, when we think about the shoulders we think about the responsibilities we carry with us, such as in the expression “to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.” Or we may think about working hard and making an effort, like when we say “put your shoulder to the wheel.”
In general, i see many people who are working very hard and who carry many responsibilities with them all of the time. I agree that it is important to give our best effort and that we need to be responsible. However, carrying a burden on our shoulders all the time without rest, tends to generate tension and stress.
I am going to suggest that we can give ourselves a break, for a few minutes and that we can let go of worries and expectations so that we can breathe and explore the range of movement in our shoulders through the sequence in the video below. As usual, follow the guidelines in the video, do what you can without struggling and without forcing.
Try this video a few times, keeping a positive attitude and synchronizing your movements with a serene and satisfying breathing rhythm. Notice the effects. If one side is tighter or more restricted than the other consider balancing the sides by performing the movements for a longer period of time on the side that is more limited.
If you notice soreness that lasts longer than 48 hours, you may have tried to hard. Take a couple of days to rest and resume when you feel ready. I hope that you find the sequence enjoyable and that you start noticing that your shoulder flexibility is increasing at a gradual and manageable pace. By restoring our natural range of movement and flexibility in the shoulders we may be better able to participate in our lives with enthusiasm and energy and without unnecessary tension. Thank you for embarking on the journey of yoga.
If you are alive, you are breathing. A remarkable aspect of the respiratory system is that it can work automatically, that is without our conscious intervention; but the breathing system can also be directed by our conscious mind. In yoga we know that the quality of our breath has a powerful influence in the quality of our life, in the way we feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
As a student of yoga I have been exploring a variety of ways of breathing for a number of years and i remember that it was quite confusing to know how i was “supposed” to breathe during the practice of yogic postures. Most of us, are never trained in the art of breathing and thus it is not surprising that we may not be very aware of the wide range of options that we have for breathing. For instance, on a regular basis I notice that some people, in order to calm the mind and feel peaceful, try to take “a deep breath” as a forceful inhalation into the upper chest, and they experience some confusion when they feel that “deep breaths” seem to have the opposite effect to the one they are looking for. The explanation is that breathing intensely into the upper chest tends to generate a response of alarm and, in many people, it can also create a feeling of anxiety.
When exploring breathing techniques, it is common to come across the word diaphragmatic breathing. However, i have learned that the definition of diaphragmatic breathing is different for different people. Some people even argue that all breathing (with very few exceptions) is diaphragmatic because it involves the diaphragm, the main muscle in the breathing process.
The video below offers a, hopefully simple, approach to breathing that guides you into deep and easeful complete breaths in a way that connects you with the complete range of movement of the diaphragm. I find that breathing in this way can help us improve our general health, it can calm our mind and it can be a helpful tool to focus the mind. Please keep in mind that there is no need to struggle, strain or force. This is important! The breath needs to flow without abruptness and without any agitation. Notice towards the end of the video that there is a way to make this exercise even more powerful.
Since many of us have not been practicing this type of breath,it may take several weeks for us to grow in our awareness of the expansion of the torso. So, this way of breathing can also teach us how to be patient. It is worth giving this exercise your time and attention every day. As you do, notice the effect that complete yogic breathing has on you at all levels. I hope that you enjoy breathing this way and I invite to try this way of breathing during the practice of yoga postures and before practicing meditation.
Enjoy the journey of becoming intimate with your breath.
Unfortunately lower back pain is a widespread ailment affecting millions of people. There are multiple factors that contribute to create lower back pain. Yoga offers us an integrated approach to help decrease, dissolve and prevent low back pain.
Restrictions in the natural mobility of the hip joints can result in lower back pain due to the lower back (and often the knees) moving beyond their range of healthy movement to compensating for the lack of mobility in the hips.
The sequence below has been very helpful to reduce chronic tension and pain for a large number of people (12 minutes):
In addition to, and often in combination with, restricted mobility at the hips, many of us tend to favor one side. Over time, this can create an imbalance between the sides, where one side may be stronger/weaker, looser/tighter, etc.
The two videos below offer a short and a longer practice to try to uncover and address imbalances between the two sides:
Shorter video to restore hip and thigh balance (10 minutes):
Longer video to restore hip and thigh balance (17 minutes)
Our regular posture can result also in restrictions in the lower back. Since we “practice” our sitting and standing postures daily over long periods of time. It is a good idea to ensure that we sit and stand in a way that is healthy and comfortable.
Use the Healthy Sitting Posture video below to help you find a sitting posture that support your back health (6 minutes) :
I would also suggest that you try the Basic Standing Posture video (7 minutes)
It is incredible how much stress we carry with us everywhere. With more and more demands on our time, it is not surprising that many of us do not take time to relax. I often suggest to people in my classes to make sure that they take a break every day, for at least a couple of minutes.
The video below can help you relax the back. Although the video is only 2 minutes long, I would recommend taking longer if you can afford to do it. Your body and mind will thank you:
I hope that you find these suggestions useful. Of course, you will only see the benefits if you try them. And if you do, please let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to help if I can.
A few other suggestions that you may want to consider:
As always, I hope that your yoga practice helps you live a vibrant, joyful and meaningful life.
It can be argued that one major goal of yoga postures is to cultivate spinal suppleness. That is, the postures are helping us maintain the natural mobility, strength and flexibility of the vertebral column. Since the spine is attached to the shoulder girdle at the top and the pelvic girdle at the bottom, restrictions at the shoulder and pelvic girdle will affect the range of movement of the spine.
Since many of us spend a good amount of time sitting, our muscles and other tissues will tend to adapt to facilitate sitting for long periods of time. Part of the adaptations that happen include tightness in the muscles in the thighs and lower back. Also, most of us have a tendency to favor one side. We can see this when we sit in a cross legged position and then change the crossing of our legs. One configuration will, for most of us, feel easier.
Here is a complete sequence of yoga postures to help us discover imbalances between the left and right sides of our bodies. This yoga practice will contribute to restore the balance between the two sides. The basic idea is to practice the posture on each side and to repeat the side where we notice more limitation, tightness or restriction. Moreover, as we address the imbalance and release some of the limitations in the hips we may start noticing less restrictions on the healthy range of movement of our spine, thus contributing to facilitate a natural range of movement and also the elongation of our spinal column.
As you practice, remember to just do what takes you to the limit of your capacity, without generating new pain or agitation. Trust that going to the limit of what you can do will help you move beyond your limitations at a pace that you, your body and your breathing can handle.
Also, please be mindful of the knees, always ensuring that your knees are not twisted and that there is NO PAIN IN THE KNEES whatsoever, this is important!
As usual, a sense of curiosity is helpful, especially because one of the challenges that we may face is that it might be difficult to discern between appropriate intensity and pain. This is a key skill to hone for all yogis.
While you practice, please keep in mind:
I hope that you find this video (filmed in Sedona, Arizona) useful.