Category: Yoga

Yoga + Meditation = Mindfulness

Do you ever feel like a hamster running on a wheel in a cage? Of course, you do we all are running a fast as we can to do all the things required to make a living, take care of our families, and just survive on this earth. The problem is we are full of anxiety about getting shit done on time and in the end we are just plain tired out. Years ago I started doing yoga, primarily to help me function better physically and to cope with the demand of sitting all day to accomplish my work. Over time I found yoga practice provided much more than just improved flexibility, but also allowed me to relax and approach my day in a more calm state.

More recently I started meditating after my yoga session and I found the combination of the two provided an even higher level of awareness. At first, I found it difficult to meditate, but by performing my yoga practice first, it made it easier to sit for meditation. One of the reasons for doing the yoga first is that it made it easier to sit for meditation because I had stretched my back and hips, which just made the physical part of sitting much easier. The second reason was that the yoga relaxed me, and made it easy to move into an even deeper state of awareness as I began to meditate. When you put them together Yoga + Meditation you have this powerful combination that helps you become more mindful and ultimately jump off the hamster wheel.

This new-found mindfulness allows you to approach each day with a positive mindset no longer filled with anxiety and worry. You now have an opportunity to look at your work more realistically. As you increase your level of mindfulness you begin putting your work and obligations in perspective and they no longer torment you. The increased awareness of the world allows you to look at your work as just one aspect of your life, in effect it becomes less important than your peace of mind.

Change your paradigm and make the investment of an hour or so every morning. Make this a priority and this investment will pay tremendous dividends that will enrich all aspects of your life.

 

Yoga + Meditation = Mindfulness

Namaste

 

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Physical benefits of yoga – Harvard

Check out Tony’s post on the physical benefits of yoga.

One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100

I am a great believer in the benefits of yoga, both physical and mental. You can search yoga in the tags at the right for any of my posts on the subject. Here are two I consider worth seeing: Why should I do yoga? and Are there immediate physical benefits to yoga?

4082f0d86636929ea59679129b75a8eeSorry, I couldn’t resist rerunning this charming little piece of art.

Here is what Harvard Medical School has to say on the subject: Yoga promotes physical health in multiple ways. Some of them derive from better stress management. Others come more directly from the physical movements and postures in yoga, which help promote flexibility and reduce joint pain.

Following are some of the physical benefits of yoga that have a growing body of research behind them. In addition to the conditions listed below, preliminary research also shows that yoga may help with migraines, osteoporosis, balance and mobility issues…

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It’s a choice – Part 2

In “It’s a choice” I discussed the need to make a conscious choice each day. The choice you must make is to choose a positive outlook over potentially negative behavior that is in response to the stimuli around you. Seems pretty simple, but as mentioned in the previous post it isn’t. You need to set the stage for choosing a positive response to life and the challenges you will face on a daily basis. I mentioned that you will need to nourish your mind and your body to prepare yourself for this transformation; failing to do so will leave you susceptible to reacting instead of controlling your behavior. I’m going to make a few suggestions on how you can prepare yourself to begin making those positive choices:

Yoga – practicing yoga can calm your body and your mind. It is more than a form of exercise, and can lead you to discover many things about yourself that few activities can offer. Yoga is also a great prelude to meditation, which I will discuss next.

exercise yoga class

Meditation –  I would recommend that you meditate for at least 10 minutes in the morning, preferably after you have done some form of exercise and before you start your work day. Meditation can help you control your mind by actually quieting it. Over time you will have the ability to center your mind on the present and turn off some of the noise that goes on in your head.

Old zen saying

Affirmations – I was not a big fan on using affirmations until recently. I think they are most effective when they follow your meditation session. You need to come up with a list of 3 to 6 statements that reinforce what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t just read them, say them out loud. Here are the ones I say each day when I’m finished meditating:

  • I am grateful for the opportunity to make today a great day.
  • I am confident in my abilities, and will work with purpose and joy.
  • I will lead by example, being positive, showing appreciation and compassion.
  • I will stay focused on the present, and enjoy each moment.

Affirmations1

This is what I have found effective, but you might find that running is a good substitute for yoga, or taking the dog for a walk, riding a bike, or doing Pilates. The key isn’t so much what you do as long as it is a physical activity that can be a precursor to meditation.

I know you are busy, and don’t have time for a yoga practice and 10 – 20 minutes of meditation, but what if you could make a 30 – 40 minute investment every morning. Maybe you would have to get up a little earlier to fit these things into your day. Remember you are investing in yourself, in your piece of mind.

I’m guessing that in your heart, you know you are worth it.

In “It’s a choice Part 3” I will write about why it is important to understand how your diet influences your ability to make positive choices in your life.

Namaste

 

 

How Yoga & Meditation saved my life

How Yoga & Meditation saved my life

Yes, this title is a bit dramatic, but there is more than a little truth to it. I am also somewhat ashamed that I haven’t posted any of my own writing for some time, and I’m working on getting something posted, once a week.

women doing cobra

After some time off work, I joined a company, and found myself more unhappy than I have ever been at work. It turned out to be a combination of extremely poor leadership at the company and work that I didn’t enjoy. My stress levels were skyrocketing, and I leaned on some familiar ways of coping including a lot of binge drinking, which of course did little to relieve the growing anxiety and displeasure with my situation. When I wasn’t medicating myself, I began delving into other ways to help control my emotions, including reading about Buddhism, adding yoga to my daily routine, and meditating in the morning. I even started to listen to things like The Law of Attraction or classical music on my way into work to prepare me for the mental war that was being waged in my mind while working.

My somewhat sporadic use of yoga and meditation, finally turned into a daily ritual, and then it replaced drinking as a way of coping with my situation. After a couple months I quit drinking all together. The stress at work only increased, but my negative reaction to it began to become less severe and the amount of time I was upset by it started decreasing. There have been other times in my life when stress and anxiety were my close companion, but never to this extent. I can honestly say that my utter dislike for this work situation was probably a blessing in disguise, and led me to making a really sincere effort to cope with it. I really had two choices at the time; quit the job or find a way to deal with the stress. While this job led me to a regular yoga and meditation practice, which allowed me to cope with this situation, it also made me more resolute to do something about it. This led to pursuing other opportunities and I recently landed a new job and resigned eliminating the stressor part of the equation, well at least that one.

The question is why do I credit yoga and meditation for allowing me to cope and even take action. I won’t go into all the physiological reasons why yoga and meditation seem to work so well, as you can Google that yourself, or read some of my earlier posts. What I can say is there is a synergy when combining yoga and meditation. Your yoga practice is the perfect precursor to meditation as it depends upon an awareness of your breath, relieves tension through stretching, and thus sets the stage for sitting in meditation for 10 – 20 minutes. I find it much easier to meditate after my yoga practice, allowing me to reach a calmer state of mind much sooner than without it.

I don’t think that my experience of dealing with stress, anxiety, and other forms of mental anguish is unique. In fact I’m not sure anyone is immune to the stimulus that manifests itself in negative thoughts, sleepless nights, and all the self torture that is often the result of how we decide to cope with it all. Notable exceptions might be monks, young children, and those of you in the 1% category that have your shit together. For the rest of us that might want to consider another way of coping; I can heartily recommend giving yoga, followed by 10 – 20 minutes of meditation a try. Be committed to your practice, and within a couple weeks you begin to the see results. Here a few things you can expect from your yoga and meditation practice:

  • You will be calmer, little things that really pissed you off just don’t anymore
  • Your ability to cope with stress improves
  • Having a new coping mechanism can free you from those habits that were destructive and didn’t really work
  • It is inexpensive or free to pursue a yoga and meditation practice
  • Your ability to think with a greater level of clarity will improve
  • You might even begin to be a little more tolerant of other human beings, act more compasionate, and be more empathetic
  • Last but not least you will be healthier as you do something good for your body and your mind

Namaste

Is Yoga exercise?

I was reading Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar a couple days ago, and historically the actual act of performing an asana is only a fraction of what yoga is all about. Even if you have never studied the origins of yoga one must appreciate there is something different about yoga. It is not like strength training, although strength is an important component of yoga. It is not like Pilates, although core strength is very important. It is not like distance running, although breathing is key to performing an asana. Maybe the difference between yoga and some forms of exercise I have mentioned is in the purpose. One runs to build aerobic capacity, for overall fitness, and to get the runners high. If you perform Pilates you are building stronger core muscles and getting a great workout at the same time. Strength training or bodybuilding is about increasing strength and size of all the muscles in the body.

yogaBigban

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not my intention to disparage any form of exercise, and clearly my list of reasons one engages in a form of exercise is not exhaustive. Maybe all one can do is express things from their own perspective. For me yoga does more than exercise my body, building strength and flexibility. My purpose for practicing yoga includes:

  • opening my body up, removing stress, and calming me
  • a prerequisite to meditation, making it easier to sit
  • brings me into the now
  • makes me want to take better care of myself
  • seems to interconnect with other interests like Buddhism
  • supports an interest in a more ecological existence on earth

Back to the question is yoga exercise? Sure in the sense that it strengthens the body, increases flexibility, enhances blood flow, and aerobic capacity. It is also therapeutic for the mind, in bringing calmness, a sense of accomplishment, and a lifetime of challenge. If you have been practicing yoga and still feel it is just another form of exercise and nothing more, then I challenge you to read a few pages from Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar or The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor to get a little historical perspective.

No more excuses, take your socks off, and get on the mat.

Namaste

 

Early or Late?

women doing cobra

Should you engage in your yoga practice first thing in the morning or later in the day? Many of the experts out there would say first thing in the morning is the best time, and if that’s not possible then later in the day is also acceptable. I used to go on that premise and once I was fully awake I would be on the mat starting with sun salutations. I also tried performing my yoga practice after work and found there are pros and cons to both approaches:

Morning Practice

Pros

  • You get it done first thing in the day, and don’t have to worry about something else coming up.
  • Yoga done first thing in the morning sets the stage for morning meditation by breathing and stretching before sitting.
  • Both the yoga and meditation enhance your frame of mind as you start your day.
  • Early in the morning is usually quieter for both yoga and meditation.

Cons

  • You are the least flexible first thing in the morning.
  • You must make time for it and you may have lots of things to take care of first thing in the morning.

Evening Practice

Pros

  • You are the most flexible later in the day. I found this particularly true for me as I was much more flexible at night versus first thing in the morning.
  • After working all day you may really need some physical activity and yoga is a great way to re-awaken your body, especially if you have a job where you sit all day.
  • It sets the stage for an evening meditation session.

Cons

  • It is more likely that something else may come up and you end up skipping your practice.
  • If you are also performing some other form of exercise you will need to determine how to fit this in. I personally had to move my strength training to the weekend so I could concentrate on yoga during the week nights.

I am currently performing my yoga practice in the evenings as soon as I get home from work, and when I’m done I spend about 20 minutes meditating. I would also note that while I don’t practice yoga in the mornings I do other forms of exercise and about 10 minutes of meditation. My strength training routine had to change as I went from a 6 day split to a 3 day split, with the majority of this being done on Saturday and Sunday.  This leaves me 5 days a week to devote to yoga in the evening. I guess you have to ask yourself, what works best for you and your lifestyle? Can I get up early enough and have the uninterrupted time needed to perform a morning practice or is it more convenient to do it after work? Neither of the approaches is optimal for people with demanding careers, but choose the least objectionable one and make sure you make it a priority.

Namaste

Sitting on the mat

Sitting on the mat

I was sitting on the yoga mat today meditating as is my custom in the morning after my yoga practice, and I had a couple of thoughts. Like so many of you I find myself thinking about my next conquest, role, position, material thing, or maybe just what lies ahead that day. I always try to turn off the noise when I meditate, either by forcing a thought pattern that will override all these future oriented thoughts, or sometimes I just try to sit and listen. I’m getting to be about 75% sucessful at this most days, but it’s not yet perfect. If you cannot just sit and listen to the sounds around you and drown out the chatter in your mind then you might try focusing your mind on the following themes:

  • Now – Think about now just sitting on your mat, tell yourself there is only this moment. You might repeat the phrase “live in the moment, now is all we have” or something like that.
  • Compassion – You may also consider just thinking about compassion. You might say to yourself “I will be compassionate with everyone I encounter today”.  In addition to this you might say to yourself “I will seek to understand and not judge”. Again use your own words, just focus on the theme of compassion and the words will come.
  • Grateful – A third method I use is to just spend some time reciting a running list of what you are grateful for.  This might include your family, spouse or significant other, children, friends, pets, dwelling, your work, your health, or anything else that you are grateful for.

Often I use all three themes during meditation. When it is all working you feel in the moment and you are enjoying just sitting there. You may find that this is one of the most wonderful moments in your day, when you are really present and not working towards something or for someone else. You will also find that sitting on the mat as I call it prepares you for the challenges of the modern world, making it all a bit more easy to be mindful during whatever chaos comes your way.

Namaste

 

Three great yoga balancing poses

Three great yoga balancing poses

Balancing poses are an important part of a yoga practice and have many benefits. One of the primary benefits of a balancing pose is as its name implies it allows you to work on your ability to balance your body weight by improving your coordination and strength. In my daily yoga practice I perform three asanas that I find helpful in maintaining and improving my balance, and that I just enjoy doing.

Let’s start with King Dancer Pose:

Benefits of King Dancer Pose

  • Stretches the shoulders and chest
  • Stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen
  • Strengthens the legs and ankles
  • Improves balance and coordination

How to perform King Dancer Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose. Inhale, shift your weight onto your right foot, and lift your left heel toward your left buttock as you bend the knee. Press the head of your right thigh bone back, deep into the hip joint, and pull the knee cap up to keep the standing leg straight and strong. Then repeat but this time, inhale and shift your weight onto your left foot.

King Dancer (beginner)

simple variation jof king dancer pose

King Dancer (intermediate)

king dancer pose common

Another of my favorite balancing poses is Tree Pose. I’m only going to show what would be considered the intermediate version of Tree Pose or what is the most typical at least from my experience.

Benefits of Tree Pose

  • The position helps improve posture and balance
  • It strengthens calves, ankles and thighs
  • Perform this pose regularly to improve balance and overall well being
  • For me it is very calming, especially when you pick a focus point and relax your hip allowing it to open up

How to perform Tree Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose, draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh; if possible, press the right heel into the inner left groin, toes pointing toward the floor. I like to put my hands together as depicted below, but you can extend your arms over your head either hands touching or apart. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Step back to Mountain Pose with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed.

Tree Pose (intermediate)

Tree Pose Standard

 

The third balancing pose is called Warrior III. This pose is great for building strength and balance. Unlike the first two it gets your back perpedicular to the floor.

Benefits of Warrior III:

  • Strengthens the ankles and legs
  • Strengthens the shoulders and muscles of the back
  • Tones the abdomen

How to perform Warrior III Pose:

With one leg in front of the other bring your weight forward into your front foot and gently kick up your back leg. At the same time, bring the torso forward until it is parallel to the floor. Keep the neck relaxed, as if it’s the natural extension of the spine. You can either bring the arms back along your sides or bring them together in front of you as depicted below.

Warrior III (hands forward)

warrior-III

 

Use these balancing poses to help calm yourself and work on your coordination, balance, and strength. They will help you acquire the strength and balance you need to protect yourself and prevent falls and other mishaps that happen out there in the world. For me they are more calming in nature than most of the other standing poses and provide a nice transition to supine or sitting poses.

Remember the key to maintaining your balance is to pick a focal point in front of you with your eyes and focus on it allowing your body to naturally balance itself.

Namaste