Yoga Therapy – Considerations on Milking the Next ”Cash Cow”

Monday, June 29th, 2015

about the future of yoga therapyBy James Hall

Yoga Therapy and its therapeutic applications are beginning to gain popularity within the Western spheres of Health care. At its helm are Key Decision influencers from varied scientific and health backgrounds with a strong interest to encourage this branch of Yoga.

As the jury is still out, and opinions differ on what is, and constitutes Yoga Therapy and its therapeutic applications, the following questions may have to be asked and debated.

Can we categorically define YT and its therapeutic intention?

It could be the utilisation of the various tools of Yoga and Ayurveda to achieve specific wellness outcomes on a 1:1 basis according to the needs of the individual? However how do we define measurable outcomes? , either singularly or as part of the larger Allopathic picture and programme. Indeed will YT ever be truly accepted by the mainstream institutions, Health care professionals or clients who do not have or share a personal interest in Yoga or YT? I am in no doubt that individuals with no knowledge and interest will be referred, but this will probably be secondary to an established Pharmacological protocol or surgical intervention? And how do we measure and define the success of a single course of action? In addition to a current appreciative audience this limitation may place YT in the same well-meaning brackets as other modalities i.e. Reiki and Reflexology etc.

Another question can relate to how much YT should be legislated and if any government influence is required?

Some legislation has already been considered State side to categorise Yoga from a taxable view point, which is currently the source of refute and debate. We are however discussing the role of YT in the legislative therapeutic environment of healthcare. All these professions have strict codes of professional conduct and accountability guidelines. Some YT bodies have developed frameworks and guidelines but these are not legislated and if anything no more than a voluntary code. In essence a trained YT, (remember schools can train differently, “there are no current or binding national training protocols”) are certified by their school and can then join the national body. Indeed some organisations like the AAYT are now suggesting that a registered YT programme vetted by themselves will provide a higher degree of Yoga Therapist.

However is this enough? Will YT be accepted or will it be consigned to work from only the sidelines of the allopathic model? Remember there may be indemnity but very little accountability, and the possibility of a Yoga Therapist with additional experience limited to a year of YT training and a basic understanding of how a modern health care system operates. YT professionals may run the risk of being marginalised by other allied health professionals who do not recognise their qualifications, and how they may liaise with the other MDT members.

Would YT be best learnt at university with mandated curriculums and frameworks already common in the health care sector? This of course would rule out the Yoga schools who would no doubt wish to keep the training in house and make very good returns on a year’s additional study for experienced Yogi’s.

Remember to a lot of people the money is in the training and not the finished product, this is even sadly true in Modern academic centres where there can be too many professionals to fill current vacancies.

Can a year’s additional training be enough compared to current Health Professional standards?

When recommending a specific YT intervention, a comprehensive knowledge of modern disease pathologies, allopathic interventions and side effects of treatment is a must before planning and subsequent evaluation. This is incorporated into modern YT training but with a strong emphasis on time, and the content may be less or contain shorter time intervals to digest than required. Remember for many health professionals the understanding of these processes takes years to digest, first as part of a degree programme and then on the coal face. If planning does not come from a sound theoretical and practical knowledge base, then planned interventions may prove fruitless.

An example of this could be a YT response to GORD. The medical model would consider that historically that reflux is causing Oesophageal erosion of the outer layers of the mucosa and treat with PPI’s and in some cases A/B therapy. But if the anatomical problem was not GORD and say NERD then we are not dealing with a localised issue and may be an Auto immune inflammatory issue with a different set of parameters and YT interventions. Remember this is but one of many examples.

Remember that with Yoga the positive side effects of the practice are an increase in wellness and health. The promotion of the practice and movement encourages the movement of energy which affects the balance of the Gunas and the subsequent Doshic responses.

Some healthcare insurers are now even re classing Yoga away from a claimable health benefit extra, which may affect how it is viewed within the healthcare sector.

Do all Yogic practices sit well within the health sector and current allopathic interventions?

A possible YT curriculum example may support the inclusion of the Yamas/ Niyamas in the training programme. Yes a Yogi would realise the importance but would the public care? , would these have any positive therapeutic outcome on wellness initiatives undertaken. So long as professional standards are maintained they may become defunct to therapeutic practice. After all the predominant driving force in modern health care are Pharmacological interventions and profit has already been shown to deeply erode the Hippocratic Oath.

When wellness initiatives are undertaken how do we measure outcomes?

Do we offer Biomechanical feedback or blood tests? Should we have specifically trained YT courses for differing health models i.e. Physical and Mental? , or possibly sub specialised YT’s. This could vary from an in-depth understanding of Psychotropic interventions and Tamasic Body – Tamasic mind for mental wellness or even dementia, which may prove advantageous, through to physical outcomes? Physical outcomes may include, autonomic nervous system balance, reduced adrenal fatigue, revitalised joints, or the mental outcomes i.e. reduced mental anguish and anxiety.

Undoubtedly the model for YT is heading in the right direct primarily due to the enthusiasm and hard work of KDI and Yoga schools. However whatever the final formula proves to represent and how this is incorporated into the Modern health care system remains to be seen. I would hope that some of the historical avenues pursued in Yoga, including blind alleys and dead ends are not repeated.

Regards James

James Hall is a certified Yoga teacher. He is teaching Yoga classes in the Adelaide, South Australia area.

© Copyright 2015 – James Hall / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Yoga to Reduce Back Pain and Decompress the Spine

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

tiger pose for back painBy Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

How does Yoga decompress the spine? Our backbone is made up of vertebrae and intervertebral disks, which work as cushions between vertebrae. As time passes, and the aging process begins, these disks start to shrink and lose water content or fluid present in them. This is also the reason why people lose their height as they age. These days, the majority of jobs require a long duration of sitting without any change in posture, leading to excess strain and compression of the backbone.

Compression within the backbone is often characterized by too much strain on the intervertebral disks. Engaging oneself in physical activities will help office workers to reduce pain, and possibly overcome this condition, by allowing intervertebral fluid to circulate properly and decompress the spine. In turn, safe physical activity will effectively manage to improve posture and restore decompression of the spine.

The physical practice of holding Yoga postures (asanas) is often referred to as the best for elongating muscles, lengthening the backbone, and strengthening the abdominal region. A regular practice of physical Yoga training and posturing provides a number of noticeable health advantages, along with spinal decompression. For the most part, all Yoga-stretching exercises offer an effective outcome that aids in lengthening of the spine when performed correctly. A regular practice of these exercises will help to increase body balance, coordination, and flexibility.

Aerial styles of Yoga, a new trend, also help to decompress the backbone and improve core strength; it is strictly advised to practice aerial or anti-gravity Yoga under the supervision of a skilled and certified teacher. Here are some specific asanas recommended for decompressing vertebral disks and alleviating symptoms related to this condition.

Folding Forward Bend in One Breath: This posture works as a perfect stretch for elongating the back muscles and reducing tension from the spine. It can be performed by placing your arms along side the body and by standing or sitting straight, inhale deeply and bend at the hips with your back straight, moving your head toward the general direction of the feet, stretch the backbone, and exhale. Do not push or force. Remember that the standing variation is an inversion. Therefore, if you have high blood pressure, eye problems, heart problems, a neurological disorder, or are at risk of a stroke, you should consult with your doctor before practicing inversions.

Child Pose: This is a simple resting asana that stretches the back, by elongating the lower part of the back, while the torso is resting on the natural curves of the thigh muscles. From Table Pose, draw your hips back so that you sit on your heels – lowering your whole upper body toward the floor, take a few deep breaths and place the hands beside the legs. Another variation is to extend the arms and hands forward and away from head. If you want to breathe deeply into this asana, bring your knees wide and let your abdomen sink toward the floor.

Half Forward Bend: This is a personal favorite because I have seen it help many people over the years, and this is not an inversion. From a standing position, you can fold forward at the hips, exhaling, bringing the spine parallel to the floor, until the side view of the body take the shape of an inverted L. Hold this asana for 3 to 5 full breaths.

Cat and Cow Stretch: This two-posture sequence combines the benefits of stretching and contracting muscle groups in opposite directions, and it helps to decrease compression on all of the vertebral disks. Position the body, by resting on the knees and hands in Table Pose. With your head facing forward on the floor, exhale deeply, gradually draw your chin toward your collarbone, and raise the backbone while drawing your stomach in, and tighten the abdominal muscles. Now, inhale, while bringing your head upward, bring your spine into a gentle back bend, and find your natural upward limit, while strengthening your back muscles.

Reclining Twist Pose: There are many variations of this therapeutic asana. This twisting stretch creates decompression in the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae.

Upward and Downward Facing Dog: This two-posture sequence offers a complete stretch to all body parts and creates decompression along the whole backbone. However, if you have rotator cuff problems, this exercise may put too much stress in that area.

Legs-up-the-Wall Pose: This posture provides mild adjustment, alignment, and decompression throughout the spine. This is a wonderful stretching asana for the back of your legs and with the support of props.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Resources:

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a884 (Published 19 August 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a884

Spine: 1 September 2010 – Volume 35 – Issue 19 – pp E981-E987

doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181c46fb4

Clinical Case Series

American Family Physician: June 15, 2009, Volume 79, Number 12

Spine: 1 December 2007 – Volume 32 – Issue 25 – pp 2885-2890

doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31815b7596

Diagnostics

Bone Joint J July 2010 ; 92-B:980-983

Spine: 01 May 2012 – Volume 37 – Issue 10 – p E609–E616

doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e318240d57d

Literature Review

Spine: 1 January 2008 – Volume 33 – Issue 1 – pp 90-94

doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31815e3a10

Health Services Research

N Engl J Med 2008; 358:794-810 February 21, 2008 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0707136

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Courage and Teaching Yoga: Sharing your Story

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

challenges of teaching yogaBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

One of the most powerful experiences in life for many of us is when we share our life experiences with each other. Although we may feel at times that our challenges, aspirations and dreams are uniquely our own, often others around us are struggling to overcome similar challenges, in order to manifest and sustain their own dreams. These dreams could be as varied as having children, learning Mandarin, teaching Yoga, or climbing Mt. Everest.

Regardless of the goal, desire or dream, the belief in a better future is a common theme that runs through all of these aspirations. If you are teaching Yoga classes, the aspiration of your students to be able to flow seamlessly through a series of challenging postures, or to hold Upward Facing Bow comfortably for five full breaths, is grounded in the basic desire to increase his or her overall level of strength and flexibility.

In other words, the underlying motivating desires of your Yoga students in the microcosm of your class, mirror the same desires to create a fulfilling, happy and dynamic life off the mat. By acknowledging and supporting your students in their ambitions on the mat, you will be supporting them in achieving their dreams and goals off the Yoga mat. Simply showing up for class several times a week takes a degree of commitment and acumen that many people do not exemplify.

If you build on the intrinsic level of motivation, determination and commitment that your students demonstrate in class, you will help them to follow through on their plans and dreams off the Yoga mat. Of course, the aspirations of your students must be tempered with common sense. For instance, if a beginning student insists that he or she is ready to perform Handstand off the wall, and you do not feel similarly, as a professional Yoga teacher you are obliged to gently but firmly find a modified way for that student to practice Handstand without risking injury.

As a Yoga teacher, one of the most powerful ways to ç is to honestly share relevant aspects of your own story with them, including your inner and outer process with developing a Yoga practice. Students often see their teacher’s ability to practice asanas as unobtainable for themselves, particularly if they are beginning students. By sharing your personal trials and tribulations with this ancient method of sustaining overall health and well-being with your students, they will be able to more easily identify with you. As they recognize the similarity of many of the same obstacles, challenges and eventual accomplishments that you have achieved in your own practice, they will feel more able to personally achieve the same goals.

For example, B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the most well-known and beloved Yoga teachers of our time. When he was a young man, his physical difficulties were so profound that he would be considered disabled by American standards today. He literally taught himself a series of therapeutic, modified Yoga postures that eventually healed his physical disabilities. Iyengar has been credited as one of the most prominent teachers for bringing Yoga to the West in the 20th century. He also actively taught Yoga classes well into his golden years and was said to be able to hold Headstand for a full 30 minutes when he was 94!

In the same way, by having the courage to share some of your life story and the delicate interplay between life on and off the mat with your students, they will be more likely to draw inspiration, courage and strength from your accomplishments. Of course, tempering your sense of privacy with the amount and depth of personal information that you share with your students is important. However, the more of your own journey with Yoga that you feel comfortable sharing with your students, the more they will be able to relate their own experiences in class with the universal human experience of setting goals, surmounting obstacles and eventually achieving one’s dreams.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she specializes in writing customized articles that are 100% unique. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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How to Teach Dirgha Pranayama

Friday, May 29th, 2015

three part breathBy Azahar Aguilar

Dirgha Pranayama, or three-part breath, is a helpful tool to calm the mind and focus on the present moment. Your breath travels first from your lower body near your abdomen, to allow your belly to completely fill. The second area is your sternum, which allows your chest and lungs to expand and open. The final space is in your upper chest, to lift and lengthen the area near your collarbone and shoulders.

By the end of this breath energy practice, you will feel relaxed and focused. Your spine will feel tall, lengthened and expanded. You spread oxygen throughout your body for improved blood circulation and clarity of mind, lift shallow breathers, breaks up those with irregular breath patterns, and improves digestion.

Use this practice while lying down or sitting tall in a comfortable seated position. When lying down you have the option to put your hand over your belly to feel it lift and rise, and one hand over the chest to do the same later in the process.

  1. Close your eyes, and allow your mind to settle only on your breath. Focus on your inhales and exhales for a few moments. If your mind begins to wander, slowly draw it back to your breath. Feel your spine lift and elongate, and draw your attention to the three areas in your body in this pranayama process – the belly, the sternum and the chest.
  1. Place your attention on your belly. On the next breath, take a big inhale through your nose. Push your belly button slowly out, away from your body, and allow your stomach to completely fill. Press it out, and imagine your belly is a balloon filling with air, slowly growing larger.
  1. Exhale through your nose, and allow the belly to collapse as you draw the air out. Imagine your belly button pulls in towards your spine, pressing every last drop of air out of your stomach.
  1. Make sure your belly is completely empty of air. Repeat this process for five full inhales and exhales.
  1. On your next breath, inhale fully as before, but at the top of the inhale, expand your rib cage and take in another inhale. Feel your breath lift your lungs and heart forward, and imagine this inhale as a two part process.
  1. During the exhale; press the air out of your sternum first. Allow your lungs to deflate, slowly allowing your exhale to move down into your belly. Make sure all the air squeezes out of your belly at the end of the exhale.
  1. Repeat this process for five full inhales and exhales.
  1. On your next breath, inhale fully into your belly as in the first breath pattern. At the top of your full breath, take another and allow your chest to fill, all the way up into your collarbones. Feel your chest lift with this extra inhale and open all the way from shoulder to shoulder.
  1. On the exhale, press the air out of the top of your chest and collar bone area first, then move it down into the sternum, finally to exit out of the belly at the end of the breath. Feel the path of the breath as it travels from the top to the bottom, completely and fully.
  1. Repeat this process for five full inhales and exhales.

It is often easy to forget about breath, and take it for granted. Focus and concentration on the breath in this pranayama process can lead to full appreciation and mindfulness.

Enjoy the Dirgha Pranayama; practice all the way through the three-part process.   Use this breath pattern to calm your mind, or even in preparation for meditation.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Yoga and GERD

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

intensive yoga teacher training programBy Seema Deshpande

Have you ever felt like your stomach has been set on fire? Have you ever experienced a super burning sensation in your chest, which gradually moves up to your throat? If you answered yes, you are most likely witnessing the symptoms of acidity or acid reflux, more commonly known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). GERD is a condition where stomach acid moves up to the esophagus and irritates its sensitive lining. The symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD are as complicated as its name! The symptoms range from burning sensation in stomach, chest, and throat to coughing, hoarseness, sensation of heat in your ears, palms and feet. Some of the common causes of GERD are obesity, taking meals at irregular intervals, consuming junk, spicy, and fatty food, alcohol and cigarettes, excessive tea and coffee, among other things. Stress and an unhealthy lifestyle are also key contributing factors. GERD, if left untreated, can lead to more serious health disorders such as ulcer and cancer.

Medical practitioners commonly treat GERD by prescribing proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), for example, omeprazole, pantoprazole, and rabeprazole to name a few. According to Dr. Carrie Demers, MD and holistic physician who blends modern medicine with traditional approaches to health, the problem with PPIs, however, is that if you consume them on a long term basis, they can be a cause of various other health disorders, for example anemia and osteoporosis. She further states that once you complete a course of PPIs and stop the medication, you are more likely to experience rebound hyperacidity, which further aggravates GERD. PPIs work well in the short term, but they often supress the symptoms and do not treat the underlying cause. Therefore, in this article we will examine whether natural methods, such as yoga, can help treat GERD.

To get rid of acid reflux problem permanently, Indian yoga guru, Swami Ramdev, recommends practising pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) regularly and consistently. According to Swami Ramdev, practising the Kapalbhati and Bhastrika pranayama on a regular basis can cure acidity permanently. He, however, recommends that GERD patients should practise Kapalbhati and Bhastrika pranayama at a slow pace, as practising these breathing exercises by exerting unnecessary pressure and at a fast pace can aggravate the problems.

Further, research studies reveal that pranayama or yogic breathing exercises help to keep stress levels in check. Stress and anxiety are some of the key factors causing acid reflux problems. Breathing exercises such as Sudarshan Kriya and Anuloma-Viloma help to lessen the stress-related or anxiety-related disorders. Furthermore, several yoga poses, such as Tadasana, Uttanasana, help in improving the digestive system, which helps to keep stomach and digestive disorders at bay.

A research article published in 2013 in the International Journal of Yoga concludes that Kapalbhati and Agnisar Kriya in conjunction with medication can help in reducing the symptoms of GERD. Agnisar Kriya is a method of flapping abdominal muscles in and out to improve digestion.

Yoga along with lifestyle changes can help in preventing and treating GERD. While it may be a good plan to include yogic breathing exercises as a part of your lifestyle, it is advisable to discuss your plan with your physician (if you are a GERD patient) before practising any exercise. When practising yoga, practise only under the guidance of a trained and qualified yoga teacher, and let them know that you are suffering from acid reflux problems. Certain yoga exercises, such as inversions, should be avoided by patients suffering from acidity. Therefore, it is utmost important to discuss your symptoms with both your physician and your yoga teacher before proceeding with performing yoga exercises.

References:

Brown, Richard P., and Patricia L. Gerbarg. “Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model.” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 11.1 (2005): 189-201.

Gupta, Pranay Kumar, et al. “Anuloma-Viloma pranayama and anxiety and depression among the aged.” Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology 36.1 (2010): 159-164.

Sengupta, Pallav. “Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review.” International Journal of Preventive Medicine 3.7 (2012): 444–458. Print.

Kaswala, Dharmesh, et al. “Can yoga be used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease?.” International journal of yoga 6.2 (2013): 131.

Kirkwood, Graham, et al. “Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 39.12 (2005): 884-891.

Kuttner, Leora, et al. “A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome.” Pain Research & Management: The Journal of the Canadian Pain Society 11.4 (2006): 217.

Kumar, Ravinder. “Care and Cure: Power of Yoga.” International Journal of Science and Research, Volume 3, Issue 2 (2014).

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/cool-the-fire-of-heartburn

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Indigestion and Yoga

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

can yoga help indigestionBy Seema Deshpande

What is the connection between indigestion and yoga? Indigestion or lack of sufficient digestion has become a common problem these days. Our fast-paced lives, faulty eating habits, love for junk food, taking meals at irregular times, and not chewing food adequately are some of the common causes of this problem. Apart from these common triggers, stress has also been a contributing factor. Other serious illnesses can also lead to indigestion, and indigestion in itself can be a cause of various ailments. Therefore, it is very important to treat indigestion. If left untreated, chronic indigestion can lead to several complications and can cause more serious health issues.

While the traditional route of medicines is available to treat most disorders, long term use of medicines often leads to various side effects. In this research article, we will study whether yoga practices can help aid digestion or strengthen the digestive system. Yoga not only benefits the mind and body, but it also helps to connect the mind to the body. A healthy mind and a healthy body can help you lead a healthier life.

A research article published in 2014 in the International Journal of Science and Research states that various yoga postures help in improving the bowel movements, and also improve the digestive function. Furthermore, yoga promotes emotional and psychological well-being, which can help reduce stress—a key contributing factor to various stomach and other health disorders.

Another research study published in 2006 in the Journal of the Canadian Pain Society studied the impact of yoga on adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a recurrent condition in which the patient suffers from abdominal pain accompanied with diarrhoea, gas, and bloating. The results of research study revealed that adolescents with IBS who participated in the research and practised yoga reported lower scores for gastrointestinal symptoms. The participants practised Hatha yoga exercises such as:

  • Adhomukha Baddhakasana or the Seated Bound Ankle pose
  • Balasana or the Child pose
  • Baddha Konasana or the Bound Ankle pose
  • Tadasana or the Mountain pose
  • Tadasana with stretched arms and side bends
  • Uttanasana or the Standing Forward Bend pose
  • Pavanmuktasana (Holding knee to the chest)
  • Badasana or the Bridge pose

The Indian yoga guru, Swami Ramdev, recommends practising pranayama (breathing exercises) to not only eradicate most stomach disorders, but also prevent them. According to Swami Ramdev, Prayanama, specifically the Kapalbhati pranayama, strengthens the digestive system and helps to keep almost all stomach-related disorders at bay. And the good thing about pranayama, among other things, is that it can be practised by anybody regardless of their age or physical stamina. Pranayama is generally considered to be the safest yoga exercise for people belonging to any age group.

The therapeutic aspects of yoga in healing or preventing stomach disorders are being widely researched, and research studies have started to reveal positive aspects of yoga in treating stomach disorders. As a good practice, we recommend you to include yoga as a part of your daily activities. However, when considering yoga to treat any disorder, be it stomach disorder or any other health problem, be sure to consult with your doctor before proceeding with yoga. Discuss your ailment and symptoms thoroughly with your doctor. If the doctor permits you to undertake yoga activities, ensure to see a qualified yoga teacher and learn and practise yoga only under the guidance of trained and qualified yoga instructors.

References:

Kuttner, Leora, et al. “A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome.” Pain Research & Management: The Journal of the Canadian Pain Society 11.4 (2006): 217.

Kumar, Ravinder. “Care and Cure: Power of Yoga.” International Journal of Science and Research, Volume 3, Issue 2 (2014).

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003260.htm

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Chair Yoga Promotes Student Safety: Eagle Pose

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

about teaching chair yogaBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Over the last few decades, the popularity of Yoga has grown by leaps and bounds. Experts now estimate that the number of individuals who practice Yoga regularly is in the millions in the United States, not to mention the rest of the world. As Yoga classes continue to become more and more mainstreamed, new people will continue to discover the life-enhancing benefits of a regular practice of Yoga postures, pranayama exercises and relaxation techniques. Being able to truly relax is one of the most profoundly important skills for maintaining good physical and mental health.

In our task-driven world, which is often fueled by seemingly endless to-do lists, many of us are unable to unwind and truly relax, even for ten or fifteen minutes a day! This inability to relax is a serious impediment to maintaining a strong immune system and good mental health. A well-rounded practice of Yoga poses, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques helps to improve strength, coordination, balance, flexibility, and improves one’s ability to relax deeply. For those of us who are relatively physically fit, practicing a traditional format of Yoga poses is not a problem.

However, there are many specialized groups of Yoga students who need the support of props and modified postures, in order to engage in a full practice of Yoga poses safely and effectively. Some groups of students who may need specialized instructions, modified postures and an assortment of props, are elderly students, students who are living with chronic health conditions, or students who are healing from an injury that has negatively impacted their balance and coordination. All of these groups of students can benefit greatly from a regular practice of Yoga, by utilizing a chair as a supportive prop during class.

Teaching Chair Yoga classes that are fun, safe and engaging is an art in and of itself.  Chair classes improve student safety by offering students who are prone to fall or whose balance and coordination is impaired in some way, the opportunity to engage in a full Yoga practice with the safety and solidity of a chair to stabilize their balance. There are wide assortments of Yoga postures that can be modified to be practiced with the assistance of a chair, without substantially diminishing the effectiveness of the postures.

For instance, the upper body movements of many challenging standing Yoga poses can be safely and effectively practiced with the use of a chair. A flowing series of standing asanas, such as the Warrior series, Standing Forward Fold and Eagle Pose, all can be modified to be practiced with the support of a chair. Eagle Pose, or Garudasana, is traditionally practiced standing on one foot. This challenging posture improves balance, coordination and strength throughout the legs. It also releases tension throughout the arms, upper back, shoulders, and neck muscles, while promoting the laser-like, focused gaze of an eagle.

By teaching this posture in a modified version while seated in a chair, your Yoga students will still gain the release of tension throughout arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back muscles, in addition to strengthening their ability to focus on a singular point on the horizon. Simply have your students sit comfortably on their chairs with their feet flat on the floor and lead them through the arm movements of Eagle Pose with their breath. As they inhale, instruct them to raise their arms to shoulder height with their palms facing away from their bodies.

With an exhale, have your students wrap their right upper arm underneath their left upper arm and press their palms together, while they keep their upper arms in a straight line with their shoulders. Remind your Yoga students to keep their gaze on a singular point on the horizon, while they hold Modified Eagle Pose for three to five breaths. With their next exhale, instruct your students to release the posture and pause for a moment to feel the expansive energy generated by this pose throughout the upper back, neck, shoulders, and arms. When they are ready, repeat Modified Eagle Pose on the left hand side.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Maintaining Healthy Rituals in Busy Modern Life

Friday, March 27th, 2015

yoga instruction from a mentorBy Kathryn Boland

Yoga practitioners are no strangers to healthy rituals, yoga being a formalized (yet adaptable) practice that one can regularly execute for enhanced well-being. Many yogis and yoginis find a sense of peace and stability in an active morning asana practice (such as with Sun Salutations), a before-bed restorative and/or meditative physical practice – as well as other forms of practice in any other parts of the day in which it might be beneficial for them. Countless modern individuals, however, find it difficult to maintain rituals in the forms of regular wellness practices.

New Years’ Resolutions can be a key example; some begin with the best intentions to maintain a certain healthful daily practice (one within yoga or other wellness modality). Those individuals begin highly motivated and truly enjoy the initial effects of such practices. Then family, work, et cetera obligations – and sometimes all-too-common drops in motivation, from fatigue or other effects – sideline those best intentions. They come upon March and laugh at, or even harshly criticize, themselves for having yet again abandoned their New Years’ best wishes.

I myself am certainly not exempt from that group of those who have found themselves in such a cycle of setting and then leaving behind healthful practices. On a positive note, however, I have found how to incorporate certain practices into my life that work into my busy schedule and that are flexible in the midst of unexpected changes (and, as the saying goes, nothing in life is guaranteed but “death and taxes”).

For instance, I have formed my own personally meaningful mantras and spiritual practices that I perform as settling-to-sleep and waking rituals. Before jumping into bed, I read a short passage from a Roman Catholic prayer book, and as I rest my head I repeat to myself “God loves me, and all is well”. As I awake (after turning off my blaring alarm clock), I repeat to myself “God, let your light shine through me today”. These practices align with my Catholic faith orientation, but are transferable to any faith system. That flexible approach might be an avenue into regular meditative practices for those who might initially resist them because they see the practices as exclusively Buddhist or Hindu practices.

Other practices I perform at these times are similarly available to most anyone of any faith/spiritual belief system and physical ability. As we understand the body and mind are connected in complex and powerful ways, those mental practices would not help me settle into sleep or wake as they do without also attending to my body. After that Catholic-inspired mantra I repeat while settling into sleep, I move into a measured breath practice of four-count inhales and four-count exhales.

In basic pranayama theory, lengthening exhales to be longer than inhales induces relaxation – so such a counted breath practice with longer exhales than inhales could be helpful for those who find falling to sleep difficult (and the same for those mid-night walkers, as perhaps an alternative to counting sheep). I do the same breath practice after my morning mantra, which could be also be adapted for those who have trouble awakening – having longer inhales than exhales to stimulate the body and mind.

When rising to my feet, I release my hands by my sides and perform a gentle (yet firmly aligned) Mountain Posture. I try to sense my feet grounded into the floor and how I am carrying my weight. I then clasp my hands and stretch to each side. This helps me to release tension, “check-in” with my body’s energy on that day, and begin to wake up my sleepy muscles. Such a simple physical ritual can be adapted in numerous ways for different bodies’ capabilities and needs.

For instance, those who are anxious can especially concentrate on grounding and releasing tension with whatever simple yoga (or other somatic therapy) postures/movements. Those who struggle with depression and low energy can conversely gently bring in movement (such as easy shoulder, head, and bent knee rolls) to help bring energy into their bodies. That energy can come into their minds for increased liveliness and vigorous outlooks towards life, all day long. Such rituals can take as little as two minutes, which most anyone can commit to his or her own wellness (yes, we are all busy, but often just a bit of re-prioritizing can open up space for healthy practices). The same rituals can be expanded to take longer, if you might find the time and need for them on certain days of the week (such as weekend mornings, when some people have a bit more time to rest up and recover from busy weeks).

The possibilities are endless for finding rituals that are part of what you normally do every day, and therefore won’t be so easily left behind when life’s inevitable curveballs come your way. For instance, my Clinical Dance/Movement Therapy professor spends a whole day once a week – privately and peacefully – packing her bags for her separate Dance/Movement Therapy groups and dance classes that week. Doing so feels grounding, comforting, and gives her the assured and confident sense that she is ready for the week ahead. Another professor of mine always lights candles as she unwinds at night, a relaxing treat that she knows she can look forward to no matter comes her way in the midst of hectic days.

Whatever your life might hold, it just takes a bit of curious exploration and mindful commitment to find healthful practices that you can regularly maintain. Such rituals can make a world of difference in how you come to approach both consistent and unexpected stressors, as healing and dependable despite any and all of them.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Venturing “Off the Beaten Path” In Yoga

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

about teaching yoga classesBy Kathryn Boland

“I took the road less traveled by, / and it has made all the difference” wrote acclaimed poet Robert Frost. I took in such lines along with my Cheerios and bedtime stories as a child, my father being quite a fan of the poet. Going beyond words on a page, my father has shown me the value of exploring the unknown – through his own life and through how he has guided me to live my own. A recent example of that effect was when visiting him in Florida, he took me to a hidden gem of a gift shop/art gallery. It was accessible only via a windy, dusty road. The closest available bathrooms were in a restaurant about one-hundred yards away, and a wooden sign greeted us as we entered the shop.

Amidst this “quaintness” (as one might describe it), in my humble opinion, were some of the most unique and accomplished works of craftsmanship that I’ve ever had the pleasure to view (and I say that having been a frequent visitor of many Smithsonian Institutions and the National Gallery of Art while I lived in Washington DC, and presently a regular at the Museum of Fine Arts where I live now in Boston, MA). Those works included various types of Florida-native sea life crafted in various media – made to hang from ceiling-tied strings (like piñatas), rest on fire mantel-places, adorn kitchen appliances, and more. Other, perhaps more traditional paintings beautifully depicted scenes of local wildlife and their habitats – with a skilled balance of abstraction and realism. Pleasantly awestruck, I immediately understood my father’s girlfriend’s statement that the store is “incredibly unique, something not to miss”.

I believe that my experience with this little shop has much to inform us as yoga practitioners and instructors, and/or reinforce our core beliefs. Considering traditional yoga theory, Patanjali advised us to remain open to new experiences. Doing so can help us to feel more personally fulfilled, serve others, and ultimately reach our life’s dharma or purpose. The modern age changes how we might do so, however, quite different from what Patanjali might have envisioned in his day.

For instance, 2014’s Western culture offers an immense amount of opportunities to engage in yoga practice (not to mention the mind-blowing amount of more general media, other information, and ways to productively spend one’s time); new yoga studios are opening up all the time, online sources for yoga practice videos and related articles are abundant, and there are countless numbers of books and DVDs that can guide individuals in practice. On the one hand, that diverse availability advantageously offers individuals many different avenues through which to pursue their own personalized yoga practices. On the other, it can all seem like a lot of overwhelming “white noise”, so to speak.

In order to find something to pursue in the midst of what can seem like too many options, some individuals flock to what others are doing. Hence, the phenomenon of trends. Though I fully believe in seeking social support in the form of others’ views of what they’ve tried, I propose a different route. I challenge you, dear readers, to try something “off the beaten path”, as the saying goes. You might just find a hidden gem like that great little shop in Florida. You may come to see that going down that dusty road was well more than worth it!

For instance, as practitioners we can try a new class that might not yet have attracted all that many students. In general, trying classes apart from the ones we’ve frequently found ourselves taking can challenge us to grow and help us to avoid falling into comfortable ruts. In another way of trying out the unexplored, we can give that new studio – tucked behind buildings and down a one-way street – a confident shot.

A tricky-looking arm balance or inversion intriguing you, yet you’re hesitant to try it? Take a deep breath, face your fear, and ask a knowledgeable instructor to guide you through it (granted, that instructor evaluates that you have the physical abilities to safely execute it). Would you like to build a home practice, but you hesitate to practice without the guidance and assurance of an instructor? Lay out your mat in an open and quiet space in your home, take baby steps with postures and flows that you are comfortable practicing alone, and your practice will build. In an even larger cultural scope, we can dare to defy current trends by passing up that packed “Pump it Up Power Vinyasa” class (meaning absolutely no disrespect to such styles, as a fan of them myself!) in favor of a physically gentler Yin or Chair Yoga, or even strictly meditation, class.

For instructors, we can “take the road less traveled by” through challenging ourselves to grow in the same ways – taking classes, visiting studios, consulting sources that ourselves and others might not yet have discovered are indeed valuable. Our teaching styles can also be beneficially unconventional. If we find ourselves always guiding certain advanced students in our classes (because we might – understandably – want to push them even further to their potentials), we can shift our focus to see what other perhaps more novice students can offer. We can also take (healthy and measured, albeit) risks with alternative approaches to guiding students through postures or imparting yoga philosophy, amongst other elements that we offer in our classes. Whatever the case may be, whomever you might be as a practitioner or instructor, venturing away from the conventional can indeed “make all the difference”.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Yoga for Cancer Recovery: Releasing Tension

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

yoga for cancer - extended child poseBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Facing a cancer diagnosis can be shocking and terrifying for many people. A cancer diagnosis can “come out of left field” for many people and cause so much distress and heartache that the person may become immobilized in the face of such a serious health crisis. However, being proactive in the face of a cancer diagnosis and the ensuing treatments has a profound ripple effect on your ability to navigate a challenging situation with as much grace, dignity and ease as possible. There are many different ways to help support your mental and physical health if you are diagnosed with cancer.

One such way is to engage in a regular practice of Yoga for cancer with postures, breathing exercises and stress relief techniques, such as Yoga Nidra. If you are Yoga practitioner and you are struggling with a cancer diagnosis, creating a structured practice that is appropriate for your level of health will help to support you through a very challenging time in your life. If you are undergoing cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments, it may be necessary to adjust the type of Yoga practice that you engage in by subtly shifting the balance of your time on the mat towards a more restorative and stress-relieving practice, instead of a strenuous series of Yoga postures and breathing exercises.

There are many ways to modify your Yoga practice, in order to meet your physical, emotional and spiritual needs when you are facing cancer. One way is to engage in a slower, more restorative flow of postures, which deeply releases tension throughout the body and mind. If you are feeling weak or are still recovering from a surgical procedure or other cancer treatment, practicing simple poses can help to safely and effectively release stress and tension throughout the body. If you are a seasoned Yoga practitioner, it may feel quite frustrating at first to slow down your practice in the face of a cancer diagnosis.

However with time, patience and the willingness to adjust your practice to appropriately match your physical, emotional and spiritual needs on any given day, you will find that your Yoga practice becomes a life raft in the midst of a very turbulent sea. Although many of us may feel that we are only truly practicing Yoga if we flow through a series of very strenuous Ashtanga Yoga postures and fiery breathing exercises, the practice of Yoga traditionally was focused on creating ease and spaciousness in the body and quietude in the mind, so that a Yogi or Yogini was more easily able to sit in meditation for an extended period of time.

* Extended Child’s Pose

Extended Child’s Pose is a very accessible Yoga posture that will help to release tension throughout the front of your torso, heart area, throat, shoulders, neck and upper back. When you are ready to practice Extended Child’s Pose, come to a kneeling position on your Yoga mat. If your knees are sensitive, place a folded blanket underneath you for padding. With your next inhale, raise your arms over your head and gently press your palms together in Prayer Position.

With an exhale; bring your arms back down to your sides and your hands in front of your heart. Repeat this flowing movement two more times with your breath, and then come to rest on your heels. This movement will help to coordinate your breathing with the movement of your body. It will also help to begin to gently release tension throughout your upper torso, arms and shoulders. To move into Extended Child’s Pose, place your cupped hands at the front of your Yoga mat with your arms comfortably stretched out in front of you. Adjust the position of your knees on your Yoga mat if you need more of a stretch.

Sink your chest down towards your Yoga mat, while you “suction cup” your hands into your mat. Focus your gaze at a point on the floor approximately 6-12 inches in front of you. This will help to increase the stretch throughout your heart area and throat. If your neck bothers you, do not look up; keep your neck in a straight line with your spine as you gaze at a comfortable point on the mat between your arms. Hold Extended Child’s Pose for three to five complete, full breaths, and then release the posture and come back to a kneeling position on your Yoga mat.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

See our testimonials to find out what our graduates have to say about our selection of inexpensive hatha yoga instructor training intensives.

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