How to Turn Habits Around (pratipaksha bhavanam)

PacificNorthwestCoast

 

 

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.

Dealing with Expectations

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.

Dealing with Frustration

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.
Namaste.

rubén

 

 

Yoga: Am I doing enough?

RoadInForest

 

 

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:

  • am i doing too much or too little?
  • can i do more without forcing?
  • would it be helpful to do less?
  • can i savor this moment?
  • can i be relaxed and alert?

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,
Namaste

rubén

 

 

Free Video Easy Meditation for Beginners

 

 

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.

Some suggestions:

  • Give yourself permission to take a short break–recognize that the world will be able to survive without you for a few minutes 🙂
  • Sit comfortably with spine erect and relaxed
  • Let go of tension
  • Breathe comfortably, without forcing and without interruptions
  • Let whatever distractions emerge come and go without having to have an opinion about them and without making them into a problem
  • Just observe everything that is happening
  • Enjoy this moment of stillness, that is, enjoy your own company
  • 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

    Namaste,

    rubén

    Simple guided meditation with Rubén

     

     

Learning to Breathe efficiently

SeagullsBeach

 

 

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:

  • Breathing keeps us alive
  • Breathing can help us focus
  • Breathing can help us release stress
  • Breathing can be energizing
  • Breathing can be relaxing
  • Breathing can help relieve pain
  • Breathing can help us be present
  • Breathing massages your organs
  • Breathing can enhance your mood
  • Breathing can strengthen the heart and lungs

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:

  • Is your breath continuous?
  • Is your breath steady?
  • Do your exhalations empty your lungs fully?
  • Is your breath smooth?

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:
http://www.yogaetcstudio.com/schedule-classes/workshops/
Yoga Etc, 727-644-4554, 3338 Tyrone Blvd. St Petersburg, FL 33710

Namaste,

rubén

 

 

4 Easy ways to keep your lower back free of pain with Yoga

 

 

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.

1: Reduce 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):

2: Restore Balance

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)

3: Maintaining Healthy Posture

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)

4: Relax

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:

  • Reduce extra body weight.
  • Move. The human body does not do well staying in the same position for many hours. Changing your position, getting up, walking, stretching can help.
  • Stay hydrated. Sip good quality water throughout the day.
  • Relax. Take time to let go of tension and stress. Many people experience back pain as a result of stress.

As always, I hope that your yoga practice helps you live a vibrant, joyful and meaningful life.

Namaste.

 

 

Relaxing Yoga Posture for Back, Chest and Shoulders

At the beginning of my classes I usually ask students to share what they need from their practice. The 3 most frequent requests are de-stressing/relaxation, releasing tension from shoulders and low back pain relief. I tailor each class to address what is needed so that yoga helps students feel better and more balanced.

Hearing these requests on a daily basis motivated me to upload videos to YouTube so that my students and other people could benefit from living with less pain, less stress and more clarity.

I am humbled to see the wonderfully positive reception that the videos for low back pain relief have had in YouTube. It makes my day to know that many people are using them to feel better. Thank you!

Here is a simple yoga posture to relax the back, shouders and chest. This posture is an excellent complement for the sequence for low back pain and for the sequence to release shoulder tension.

When you need to relax your back and rest you can try this simple and easy posture to help you release tension along your back as well as to help relieve tension from your shoulders and chest. What I like the most about this posture is that it is easy and simple and can be done by most people.

You will need one or two towels.

  • Roll up the towel(s) along the long side into a smooth roll with no folds.
  • Place the roll on a padded surface on the floor.
  • Sit on the roll aligning the center of your back pelvis (sacrum) on the roll. Start with your knees bent.
  • Recline your spine along the roll until your head rests comfortably on the roll.
  • Let your arms slide to the sides at a comfortable angle with the palms of the hands facing up.
  • You may keep your knees bent or you can rest the legs on the floor at an angle that helps you feel balanced. Try both options and choose the one that feels better to you.
  • Close your eyes and maybe point your chin towards your chest.
  • Focus on expanding your breath in a satisfying way.
  • Relax.
  • Stay for a few minutes and then remove the roll and lying down on your back noticing the effects in your body and mind.

It may be a good idea to practice this posture at the end of your day, after exercising, or after doing one of the sequences to relief back pain or to relax the shoulders and neck.

As usual, there is never forcing or pain in yoga. The idea is just to do what we can do at this moment. Remember that yoga benefits result from practicing with patient persistence.

I hope you enjoy this posture and its effects.

Namaste.

 

 

Release neck and shoulder pain

As a result of engaging in activities that require our arms to move forward, there is a general tendency for the shoulders to become tighter at the front. This tightness at the front of the shoulders generally limits mobility of the shoulder joint that contributes to create further tension and tightness in the shoulders and neck area. In addition, limitation in the shoulders requires elbows and wrists to compensate through over-movement. Furthermore, tightness at the front of the shoulders is often associated with rounding of the upper back and moving the head forward out of alignment. A combination of some or all of these factors tends to generate tension and pain in the neck and shoulders, an unhealthy posture as well as restricted breathing.

The general approach in yoga is to notice a tendency and to observe its effects. If the tendency does not contribute to optimal flow of life energy and deeper peace of mind and heart, we try to find ways to counteract the existing tendency until there is greater balance.

The video below offers a short sequence of yoga movements focused on creating greater shoulder mobility to release tension and stress in shoulders and neck, to improve posture and to help with deeper breathing. As usual, there is never forcing or pain in yoga. The idea is just to do what we can do at this moment. Remember that yoga benefits result from practicing with patient persistence.

I hope you find this practice helpful.

Namaste.

 

 

3 minute simple meditation

tree branches - ramas de árbol

Very often we hear reports about the benefits of meditation at the mental, emotional and physical levels. These benefits include better stress management, lowered anxiety and negative emotions, improved sleep patterns and pain relief.

However, for many of us trying to meditate may seem like an exercise in frustration, especially if we see meditation as stopping all thoughts.

A simple approach to meditation that helped me get started was to see meditation as being with what is. In other words, meditation is cultivating the ability to accept what is happening and to observe it clearly and, to the extent that it is possible for us, without judgment.

Some of the challenges that we face when we try to practice meditation may include:

  • Our the expectations that we should be able to stop all thoughts
  • A tendency to try too hard
  • Disappointment in ourselves when we get distracted

I thought that this simple 3 minute meditation video could be helpful in getting to practice meditation. It is pretty simple, so when you try it, keep it simple.

All you do is keep your eyes open, watch the clouds and listen to the bells. If you get distracted, that is OK, most of us will get distracted. When you notice that you got distracted just return your attention to the clouds and the sounds. That’s all.

Do notice if there is any difference in the way you feel after this practice. If you feel better try it again at another time. Maybe even for a few days in a row, but without letting expectations get in the way. Remember, just observe as clearly as possible what is happening.

I hope you enjoy this practice.
Namaste.

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

 

The easiest way to start practicing yoga at home.

Movement / Movimiento

It seems that maintaining consistency is a challenge for most, if not all, of us. I would like to suggest a simple and VERY EASY and quite enjoyable way to start practicing yoga at home with more regularity.

Unfortunately many people think that yoga is only a set of postures to make our bodies capable of complex contortions. Authentic yoga is a complete system of practices to help us feel harmoniously integrated and to help us live a more conscious, deliberate, wholehearted life that is aligned with our true purpose.

Every day when as I ask students in my classes to tell me what they need from the practice, without fault the most frequent answers are: relaxation, quieting the mind, serenity. This is not at all surprising. Just look around and it seems that most of us are in a constant process of training our bodies and minds to do more things, to get more things accomplished and to process more and more stimuli. There is a lot of doing and processing, but it doesn’t seem like we are balancing all of our doing with not doing, with surrendering and allowing. No wonder we end up feeling exhausted by the end of the day (and sometimes even after we wake up in the morning)!

In yoga we want to meet ourselves where we are. In other words, we choose the technique or practice that will bring us into a feeling of completeness and clarity. To balance too much doing, it is good to practice not doing. Remember that a yoga posture (asana) is defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (ca. 3100 B.C.E.) as steadiness (sthira= firm, stable, strong) and ease (sukha=pleasant, delight, joy). From this perspective, I want to invite you to try this simple, effective and enjoyable practice.

Cultivating the Skills of Observation and Surrender

Give yourself 1 to 10 minutes to do this — whatever amount of time you can afford.

In the morning, while still in bed, once you notice that you are awake but before opening your eyes and getting up, give yourself permission to not do or process. Allow your to-do list to drift away just for the next few minutes. Focus your attention fully on noticing the sensations in your body starting at the tips of your toes and gradually moving up throughout your whole body. It helps when you are interested in really feeling what is happening in your body. You don’t even need to try to describe or explain, just feel. Give yourself time to scan the whole body and notice what happens, notice just how you feel. When you finish scanning you body, think of something that brings peace, inspiration, love or compassion to your heart and mind, immersing fuly in this experience. (Notice that we are integrating body, mind and heart through awareness )

That’s it. Pretty simple.

Try this exercise once a day, if possible, for 1 or 2 weeks and notice what effect it has in the way you feel during your day and on your general outlook.

One more suggestion, try this exercise also at the end of the day, once you are in bed as a gentle transition out of “doing mode” and into “complete relaxation” mode.

You might be asking: How is that going to help me when I have some many things to do? I cannot afford to do nothing!

When you engage in this practice you can receive the following benefits:

  • Most likely this practice will enable you to lower your levels of stress which might be helping your immune system. Sttress has been found to contribute to “digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system.
  • You are developing skills to improve your ‘other’ way of practicing yoga because you are learning to discern more clearly what ease feels like, thus making it easier for you to balance your steadiness with ease the next time you get into a yoga posture.
  • You are cultivating the foundational skills for more advanced yoga practices: pranayama (life energy expansion), pratyahara (inward gaze), concentration and meditation.
  • You are expanding your modes of operation so that you can access the mode that is needed when it is needed.
  • Deeper relaxation allows your body to recover, repair and heal.
  • You will enjoy this practice and its results. Hence, you are more likely to incorporate it into your daily routine.

I hope that this practice contributes to your well-being.
Namaste,
rubén

 

Sitting

There are many reasons that lead us to spend a good amount of time sitting everyday. Our bodies are so adaptable that if we stay in the same position for long periods of time different parts of our bodies will adjust in a number of ways, for instance, some muscles will shorten while others may lengthen or loose their tone. Adopting a posture regularly will cause consistent and sustained changes in soft tissue over time.

Ideally, the postures we practice will be anatomically sound and will contribute to a greater sense of clarity in body, breath and mind. But even when we sit in an anatomically correct and appropriate posture it is essential to take frequent breaks so that we allow for the muscles that are contracting to release and those that are lengthening to contract. If we are sitting just standing up for one minute will be helpful.

It is not difficult to notice how people’s bodies adapt over time to sitting for extended periods of time. Some of the common patterns include a rounded spine where the natural concavity at the back of the neck and at the lumbar spine tends to disappear. This convexity of the whole back body tends to tighten muscles in the front of the torso, shoulders and hip joints resulting in limited mobility in shoulders and hips. In addition, this posture tends to constraint the full expansion of the lungs thus limiting our breating capacity including the full oxygenation of our system through the inhalations as well as the release of toxins through complete exhalations.

Keeping in mind that it is best to change positions frequently, these are some suggestions for a healthy sitting position:

  • Ground through your feet aligning knees above ankles
  • Ground through the sitting bones
  • Center the torso between leaning forward and back as well as between left and right
  • Bring the navel slightly in
  • Lift the ribcage and crown of the head up
  • Breath with long smooth inhalations and exhalations
  • Remain aligned with a clear and luminous intention in your mind and heart

Enjoy this brief video with tips on improving your sitting posture:

As usual please be aware that your own body, breath and mind offer you continuous feedback on your activities. If the feedback shows you more agitation, strain, or pain you can choose to use this information as guidance to create changes towards feeling healthier, more lucid and more vibrantly alive. Please remember that taking breaks often is a simple, inexpensive and healthful way to prevent future pain, limitation and restrictions.

I hope you find these suggestions for sitting helpful during your day.

Namaste,
rubén