Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mealtime Prayers



As I sit an pause to look at the bounty before me, whether it be a single scrambled egg or a Christmas feast, my mind wanders to the origin of this food.


The chicken scrambling about the yard and laying an egg while the farmer slept. How this new life is given up to provide protein and life for my family. Thank you.



The wheat fields shimmering in the sunlight as a gentle breeze helps them to dance and sway. The soil providing a foundation for the tall stalks and the rain giving life. Hundreds of tiny grains milled and brought together with yeast and water to bring the slice of bread now on my plate. Thank you.


The list goes on and on. There is no doubt that I am connected intimately with the earth. Each bite that enters this mouth and is broken down by these teeth is a reminder of the gifts that the earth offers. I have no choice but to offer back. Thank you.



Just before that first piece of sustenance enters this physical form, I silently whisper, "May this food provide this body with health, vitality, strength, flexibility, and balance. Thank you." This is not a rote ritual, but rather a conscious consideration and appreciation.



Then the first few bites are savored with closed eyes and all focus goes to the taste buds, the sounds of transition, and the marvelous texture of this gift. Taste explosion. Even the simplest of foods take on new flavors as I simply notice. Just notice and say thank you, really thank you.



Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reaching Out


Story of this unexpected couple at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-481601/The-abandoned-monkey-love-pigeon.html.

Reach out and touch someone in need.


Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Acceptance

Being a summer bunny at the start of what is predicted to be the snowiest winter yet, I find myself reflecting on acceptance. That much overlooked and yet vital element to true happiness. Acceptance cannot exist in the state of complaining which keeps us stuck (ironically) where we don't want to be. When we fight with Life, it's a never ending battle--well almost.

Nicole Kidman was on Oprah the other day for her new movie, Australia. At one point she voiced her desire "to live life fully. I want to look on my life and know, really know, that I lived. I want to embrace it all: the happy times and the painful times." This is the only way to live completely--to take it all in, not just select pieces.

Accept was is.

Make space for reality.

Allow emotions to be felt.

Surrender to the moment.

Become aware of what is.

Positive change only comes from seeing things as they really are.



Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Coping With Holiday Stress

Here are some ideas provided mostly by students on how to enjoy this potentially busy time of year.



1. Focus on the giving part of the holidays. Gather old books and take them to the local shelter or get the family together and bring no longer used goods to a non-profit organization. It's fun to get together with the intention to give.



2. Shop early!!



3. Instead of cramming a number of celebrations into a day or two, spread out the festivities through January and February. You can get gifts after the official holiday when they all go on sale and have more time to spend with loved ones.


4. Avoid the malls as much as possible. If you're fed up with the commercialism and Christmas music before Halloween, then stay out of the mainstream stores for a month or two. You just might find more meaning and peace during the season.



5. Take a hatha yoga or meditation class!



6. Spend time to meditate and follow the breath even if just for a few minutes.



7. Take Vitamin D3. For more information on this vital supplement check out

http://mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-d/AN01558 and

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA358211.



8. Shorten your gift or card giving by omitting folks that you are no longer close with. A guideline for determining this is to ask, "If I was nearby this person, would we get together for lunch?"



9. Shop online. Here are a few places to consider:

http://cdbaby.com/cd/kriskramer

http://store.gxonlinestore.org/

http://www.worldgoodsgb.com/

http://www.gaiam.com/?gcid=S18376x028&keyword=giam

http://www.amazon.com/



10. If you enjoy spending time baking cookies, go for it! If you're feeling like it's "one more thing to do", purchase home baked goods from retirees or non-profit groups. You'll help someone out, enjoy fresh treats, and have a lovely gift to offer a friend.




11. Take a bath scented with lavender.

12. And finally, DRINK MORE WINE!





Have a blessed holiday season,


Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Am I Enough ....


As I ate breakfast this morning and felt the sun shining through the window and warming my skin, I felt grateful: Grateful to be able to live such a peaceful life. Here it was, 9 a.m. and I was enjoying hot eggs with homemade whole wheat biscuits and an orange directly from Florida. In the quiet of my home, I could choose to sit in the sun light and watch the birds flocking about the freshly filled feeders. The snow, albeit too early in the year for my taste, was stunning; the sun's rays sparkled like the finest diamond on the snowflake covered tree branches. What a sight!
Again, I was filled with gratitude. Not so much for the snow, but for the ability to just sit and enjoy what many only have on the weekends--a peaceful and lazy breakfast.
Does this make me a bad person? Shouldn't I be contributing more profoundly to the world? What gives me the right to just enjoy and not give?
These questions began to bother me and distracted my mind from the beauty all around.
Doesn't it make sense to offer more? Is teaching a handful of yoga classes a week enough? Couldn't I do more? Shouldn't I do more?
My sense of worth faltered a bit as I questioned my lifestyle. I began to picture other people taking on the morning traffic, having a boss to please, and giving their time and energy to accomplish something. While here I sit, feeling the sun and watching the gem-like reflections on the snow.
To be honest every moment is not as bliss-filled, and there are activities that I "have" to do for work and home. But is it enough?
Am I enough?
That's the real question. Am I enough? Do I do enough, offer enough, live enough? What determines who's worthy and who's not?
Eckhart Tolle spent two years of nirvana living is poverty and homeless spending most days sitting on a park bench watching the birds and absorbing nature. Now he's a best selling author and an internationally known spiritual teacher.
Was that wasted time? Millions of his fans would say, "No." From Tolle's books, such as the Power of Now, it seems that he never questioned his worth while sitting on that park bench.
Is it better to be in a situation or job that you dislike or be in an environment doing things that you really enjoy? Sounds like a no-brainer to me: Enjoy life!
But what if you enjoy sitting on the couch and watching TV all day long? The question may be, "Do you enjoy it because it's an escape from reality or because you feel peaceful, thankful, and more connected to the world around you?" If it's an escape from life, then that's not truly enjoying life.
I wonder:
Can the trick to a happy and "worthy" life be to simply do whatever fills you with gratitude and peace at any given moment?
Is that possible? Sounds a bit pollyanna; but consider having lunch with someone that is depressed and miserable. Are you left feeling upbeat or drained? Now imagine sitting across the table from a person filled with gratitude and joy. Notice how his or her happiness can fill a room and bring a smile even to a stranger?
Perhaps this is the greatest gift we can give.
Perhaps our greatest contribution to the world is to be happy and share that happiness with others.
Maybe relishing in the peace offered by the glistening sun on a snow-filled day is exactly and precisely the best place to be.
Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Day With A Master




This was written a few months ago after working with Aadil Palkhivala:

The two hour drive from Milwaukee to Chicago took closer to three hours on a Tuesday morning in September. Fortunately I had left early with the idea of getting to Aadil Palkhivala’s workshop with plenty of time to set up my mat and release any tension from the city traffic. I envisioned calmly entering the room and creating a sacred place with my mat while slowly transitioning my mind from stop-and-go traveling to gaining a deeper understanding of yoga. Instead I stumbled in with literally two minutes to pee, toss down a mat, and grab a pencil for note taking. But this article is not about me, it’s about Aadil.

Picture a tall, large, and bald man, with a voice that can fill the room with tone, depth, and grandeur all at once. He always manages to maintain a sweet odor about him even when he sweats. As Aadil took his place at the teacher’s seat, the room of approximately fifty yogis grew respectfully quiet. As he sat on a foam block in virasana, his eyes closed and his breath steady and expansive. An energy lingered in the room that told me, this was not for show. He was going within to speak from a more meaningful place than the mind. He spoke from the heart.

We began with warming up our breath and joining the energy of the mind and pelvis to the heart center. The Gayatri mantra set the tone for higher truth to be a focal point of the practice.

Throughout this two hour workshop and then a three hour class several days later, Aadil did a fine job of intermixing lecture and asana. The first class included the use of the five vayus in standing poses. What amazed me was that we only did four standing postures and yet I felt the work in my legs and core for two or three days. It was not the quantity or difficulty of the poses that made this experience so unique. The poses were quite basic: trikonasana, parsvakonasana, virabhadrasana I, and virabhadrasana II. It was the quality and awareness that he skillfully guided the students to realize.
The vayus, or subsets of Prana, are directly related to the five elements: earth, air, ether, water, and fire. As Aadil encourages us to connect our bones to the earth with solidity and to lift from the arches through the perineum with fire, my body came alive and brought a new energy to the entire pose, which by the way I’ve been doing for almost a decade now. He showed how water gave the spreading action in parsvakonasana and virabhdrasana II contained all elements at once.
With a booming tone and zeal in his eyes as he curled his fingers and commanded, “Feel the fire!” My energy blazed and the connection of the body and environment was readily apparent.

Unlike dozens of other teachers I have worked with, Mr. Palkhivala does not just give lip service to the steps he outlines for asanas: mindful awareness, breath, and light. Plenty of yogis say something similar, but then focus mainly on taking the postures deeper and deeper with no real focus on what the mind or spirit are doing. As Aadil shared during our third, or so, time into a pose, “If you do not intend come into this asana with joy, you have no business doing it!” How very true and how frequently overlooked. One of the fundamental principles provided to us by Pantanjali is that of non-violence. If you cannot come into a pose with joy, violence comes all too easily. With joy, there is no violence.

Although these workshops provided a wonderful and articulate way of experiencing energy, breath, and life in the body, the real gem of working with Aadil is his life wisdom. Pearls of truth were released all throughout the class; constantly reminding the students of how asana is only a small part of yoga. “Yoga must use asana—if at all—to uncover and then live dharma. Otherwise asana is at best an exercise and at worst a means off your path.” All too often, I have seen popular yoga teachers lost in their own egos claiming that if we chant om a few times, their classes are spiritual.

Classes with this unique man include a reminder that asana is only a small part of yoga. Perhaps in an attempt to balance an asana-loving nation, I felt he downplayed the postures to the point that one might wonder why do them at all. (This is something I question with frequency in my own practice.) As if he read the question in my mind, during the opening of the second class, he shared, Asana is done to connect to the energy all around us…. The purpose of asana is not to do more and more asana. It’s to do more and more life!” His voice rose with emphasis on the word life and I could feel a zest to be more, to live more fully growing inside of me.

Finally, Aadil quoted Mikhail Gorbachev as he prompted us all to discover and live our life’s purpose now, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”



Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Individual Career Planning - What Am I Good At



I've always thought someone's strengths were something they were good at--even if they hated doing it. That's why I get stuck cleaning the bathroom every week. It's definitely not a love affair with the bathroom--remember that's with the kitchen floor. I just do a more thorough job than anyone else in the family.



This view may not be a big deal when it comes to divying up household chores, but when selecting a career this view is a great way to really mess things up!



Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work and presenter on Oprah and a PBS special on strengths, has a different take on the definition of a personal strength:



"A strength is an activity that makes you feel strong."



Not necessarily something that you're good at. To help us realize what our strengths are Marcus has some suggestions: Keep a notebook with you at all times and write down things that make you feel strong. Don't do this at the end of the day. In order to maintain the details and a vivid description, write it down right away. When you do this the underlying likes and dislikes become more evident than just a generic quick description at the end of the day. For example, "talking on the phone with Mary" is not anywhere near as insighful as "calling Mary to discuss the school policies and brainstorming on ideas of how we can get them to consider the needs of the students more." For more details on this, check out Marcus's work (via book or videos).

In your stength notebook, create two columns: "I loved it" and "I loathed it". Things that made you feel empowered go in the loved it list and ones that left you disempowered go on the loathed it side. There are some rules to follow (again I'm just overviewing here, but Marcus's work with Oprah and PBS--and I imagine his book--provide more thorough suggestions). One "rule" is to only write down events that you did--not something that someone did to you. For example, being complimented by your mom might feel nice, but you didn't do it. However, helping out your family and giving your time may make you feel wonderful inside. Only the latter of these two scenarios would go on the list.

Here are the four SIGNs to help you determine if something is worthy of the loved it list. Look for all four before adding to the loved it side.

S - Success. If you think you’re good (being effective and in control) at it, then you’re a success at it.

I – Instinct. This includes things you look forward to doing; you can’t help but to do them.

G – Growth. Time stands still and you’re completely focused on the activity; if you’re distracted easily then it goes in the loathed column.

N – Needs. It fulfills a need. You feel fulfilled by it.

When I did this for a week, what I thought were my strengths originally were not always empowering for me and things I used to classify as not important enough to spend time on left me feeling wonderful inside. This has shifted how I make decisions on where to put my time and energy every day.

Once you've identified your strengths, Mr. Buckingham suggests starting every day with the question:

"How can I volunteer my strengths today?"

Focusing and devoting more time to my real strengths has brought more joy and meaning to every day of my life. I truly believe that this exercise has helped me to give more and contribute more of what I was meant to in this world.

Thank you, Mr. Buckingham!


Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, November 14, 2008

What is Prayer?


I used to think meditation was listening and prayer was talking to some higher force. As a child, prayer was a part of my evening ritual; I had even made up a bedtime prayer to use along with the Lord's Prayer. This "home made" one had more meaning to me as the church's version of the Lord's Prayer was not very relatable for a 7 year old.


As time passed, I came to realize that the prayers felt completely empty and void of any meaning. I could recite them backwards, forwards, and sideways while not actually paying any attention to the words. By high school, the ritual had become worthless; so I stopped.


Almost 20 years later, I became interested in meditation. After struggling all day to control everything around me, this practice of letting go was just what I needed. Prayer felt like one more attempt at controlling and meditation was being quiet and allowing things to be.


Now after a relatively consistent meditation practice for 5-10 years, I'm ready to check out this prayer-thing once again.


Just as there are many definitions or viewpoint of what meditation is, there are different mindsets regarding prayer. Gary Kraftsow lists prayer as one of the important elements of yoga. When I asked him how prayer was differed from meditation, he said, "It's a subset of meditation."


After doing a little research, I'm beginning to see what he meant.


In his book, Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das describes prayer as "sacred speech." "In non-theistic Buddhism, as we pray, we are not petitioning for something so much as we are reaffirming our intentions and asserting our vows," (page 183).


One of the most useful ideas was uncovered in The Energy of Prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh. He points out that "in prayer there has to be mindfulness, concentration, insight, loving kindness, and compassion," (page 40). This points to the uselessness of "worry prayers." You know when you bargain with the divine while in a state of panic to have things go a certain way. Thich goes on to suggest the two most important elements in "effective prayer." "The first is to establish a relationship between ourselves and the one we are praying to. It is the equivalent of connecting the electrical wire when we want to communicate by telephone.... When we meditate on [the connection between ourself and the one we are praying for], communication is realized.... The second element we need for prayer is energy. We have connected the telephone wire, now we need to send an electric current through it. In prayer, the electric current is love, mindfulness, and right concentration," (page 41-43).


Finally, I would be remiss to talk about prayer without mentioning Dr. Larry Dossey. His books, Healing Words and Prayer is Good Medicine, can be used as a foundation to understanding and inspiring a regular practice of prayer.


I pray you are well and filled with love, compassion, and peace.


Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Self Awareness - - Forward bends and How do you view the world?


Last week, a friend and I were having coffee when she shared her dismay at couples shopping together. "The men are so controlling. I watch them walk around the market dominating their wives and pushing them around."



Now this is interesting to me; I tend to have a great time grocery shopping with or without my partner/husband. A matter of fact, when Mike and I go together we operate like a well-oiled machine cutting the time spent gathering goods in half (or almost half), and it's nice to chat about upcoming dinners and "plan as we go." Other couples in the store appear to get along just fine. If anything, the women tend to run the show with lists in hands--which is exactly what happens in our family.



So how can two women shopping notice such different couples? I really doubt they differ that much from store to store. The hint lies in the fact that my friend is in the midst of serious marital troubles: her husband is very controlling and is attempting to manipulate her so that it stays that way.



Since I currently see relationships as comfortable and overall agreeable, that's what I experience while out and about. In my friends present situation, she sees men as controlling and bossy; this is what is brought out when she is shopping.



Our present state of mind determines what we notice. If you see the world as basically good and peaceful, you'll pay more attention to what is good and peaceful. On the other hand, if you believe the world is a scary and gloomy place, then that's what you'll find around every corner.



Don't believe me? Take a look around your room and just observe what's there. Now pause and close your eyes. Think of the color brown. Look around again. Now think white and check out your environment. Odds are what stands out is based on the thought you just had. It's like when you get married, get pregnant, or get a dog. Suddenly it seems like everyone is getting married, having babies, or hanging out with their dogs!



When we do forward bends in yoga, from an emotional standpoint, we are looking within. If your intention is to learn more about yourself and thought patterns--which is a huge part of yoga--then you can take advantage of the surrendering and pensive nature of forward bends to understand and witness what comes up for you in times of silence and drawing inward.



This is all well and fine, but knowing how to bend forward in a safe and effective manner is important as well. Here are some tips according to the Viniyoga tradition:



1-Prior to bending forward, inhale and lift the chest away from the belly. This prevents the chest from collapsing over the belly.



2-Align the head so the ears are over the shoulders and the chin is slightly down to omit any additional tension in the shoulder and neck region.



3-As you begin to bend on an exhale, you need to know something about your hips. If they are tight (see clues for this below*), then emphasize tilting the pelvic bowl forward and lifting the sit bones away from the legs. If the hips are flexible, then start all forward bends by engaging the insertion of the rectus abdominis --which is located at the pubic bone. This will align the lumbar (low) back area.



4-As you continue to come forward, tone the low belly from the pubis to the navel keeping the low back long and supported.



5-Come out of the pose on an inhale by lifting the chest and keeping some tone in the low belly. This supports the back and prevents over-rounding in the upper back.



*To test for hip flexibility, sit against a wall with the sacrum and upper back touching the wall. Straighten the legs our in front of you into staff (dandasana). It's easy to "cheat" and let the sacrum slide away from the wall. If you need to keep the knees bent (even a little) in order to maintain the sacrum and upper back at the wall, then follow the guidelines for tight hips in step 3 above. Otherwise go for the flexible hip directions.



Once you develop enough openness in the low back to come into deeper forward bends, the inward journey deepens. This is not the only path to self-reflection, but it's a mobilizing and enjoyable one for many people.



Best of luck and love much,


Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Viniyoga - One size does NOT fit all

Nadine Fawell recently wrote a fantastic post regarding injuries and yoga. This has been a subject of great interest to me for four years now--since injuring my back through various means and then going downhill from there. I am a devoted yoga practitioner and yet have experienced back pain, neck tension, joint inflammation, insomnia, constipation, and knee difficulties. Oh yeah, there was foot pain as well. I even wrote an article about this topic that the International Association of Yoga Therapist was kind enough to publish.


For the longest time I thought I was alone; as Nadine alluded to some teachers may not be admitting their aches and pains. But when Gary Kraftsow shared at a workshop in Indiana this year that, "All the well-known yoga teachers in the US have had injuries and most have had surgery" I suddenly felt that I wasn't alone in this "dilemma." I don't know how much truth there was to that statement, but Gary struck me as a honest guy and that was his assessment after 30 years involvement with yoga.



The question is: How many injuries are due to the asanas, ego, or being a teacher? I think it depends on the person. In my own case I think a lot of my injuries are related to "experimenting" with various alignments in order to be a better teacher, demonstrating in classes, and from some personal challenges this body was born with.


Regardless of the cause, the sense of integration and peace yoga brings keeps me coming back. Over time my focus has shifted more heavily towards pranayama, meditation, and way of life. Asana is still there, but with a different emphasis.


There are so many styles of asanas--hundreds--and theories on alignment and sequencing; the one thing I know for sure is that no one really knows the right way. Perhaps this is because yoga is not a "one-size-fits-all" methodology. Maybe it's because yoga is meant to grow with you--not to keep you the same. So when you mature, so does the practice.


I used to think that asana involved mastering (or at least moving towards) more and more challenging postures. It wasn't an ego thing, it was an honest presumption that this would mean a deeper release of blocks, a strength of discipline, and a focused mind. This may be true, but does it make sense to even ask the body to become stronger and more flexible in your 40's, 50's, 60's, etc compared to the 20's and 30's?


Viniyoga has a strong foundation in respecting (and accepting) what stage of life one is in. Traditionally this style of yoga suggested a more intense and challenging asana practice for folks up to about age 25--the sunrise of life. Then from 25 to 70 or so, the midday of life, asanas were really to service pranayama, or the breathing practices. Finally comes sunset after 70 years old. This focused mainly on meditation. With that said all three stages may include all three elements: postures, breathing, and meditation. However the drive that is so frequently seen in western yoga classes to do the "next pose" and push further each time was (and is) definitely not what yoga was meant to be.

I admit to thinking in the past that if I was a "good" yogini I must be able to do more and more complex postures or I must be failing somehow. How ironic is that? To feel like a failure in a modality that is all about accepting who you are!

It's all a journey and the key is to "do better, when you know better." In my desire to "do better", I've been reading Yoga for Transformation by Kraftsow and here are just a couple of quotes that lead me to believe he's on to something and my practice is going to change again:

"...the transformational potential of practice is furthered by progressively adding other elements --such as pranayama, chanting, meditation, prayer, and ritual--to do the same or similar core postures, without having to master progressively more complex or difficult postures." (page xxi)
"And just as our bodies change through time, the ancients suggested that the purpose and methods of asana practice must also change." (page 5)
"...if we are the high-paced, hyperactive type, we might be drawn toward a very active practice--one that makes us sweat and that generates lots of heat--whereas what we may really need is a more soothing and calming practice. Or, if we are the slow-moving, sluggish type, we might be drawn to a very gentle and relaxing practice, whereas what we may really need is a more active and stimulating one." (page 26)

Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stress Reduction - Slow Down!


This past weekend I had the honor of attending a workshop with Gary Kraftsow at City Yoga in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gary is the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute with a strong therapeutic approach to Yoga.
"Increasing breath threshold is something that can benefit almost everyone, aside from someone on a respirator," Gary commented. I have to agree with this whole-heartily. Time and again I see people push themselves into down dog even though they have carpel tunnel or take a deep twist with back troubles. (I've been guilty of this last one....)
As wonderful as asana can be, the breath is the doorway to real change and greater health. No doubt about it.
Back to Gary's comment regarding "breath threshold": Breath threshold is the capacity that you have to slow your breath. Another way of putting it is 'to slow your breath without strain is one of the healthiest simplest actions you can take.'
The average person breaths 15 times per minute--that's 15 inhales and 15 exhales in 60 seconds. A healthier person may be down at 8 breaths. A trained yogi may be 4.
The idea is to practice slowing your rate once or twice a day for 10-12 breaths. Then breathe normally throughout the day. Over time your "natural/normal" breath rate will slow down. Right now my breath rate (without controlling or intentionally altering it) is 8/min. Usually it's 6, but I had some dried fruit at breakfast and sugars tend to quicken my rate. You can see how the breath rate is impacted by your environment, diet, thoughts, and actions. Being in a state of fear may cause the breath to be held; this is a natural reaction, but for positive health we're talking about the continuation of inhale and exhale at a slow, deep, and even pace.
Slower breathing means: Lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, regulation of hormones, calmer mind, improved digestion, and increased immunity.
Swami Jnaneshvara offers an easy method for lengthening the breath while maintain dirgha(steadiness):
"Imagine that you are driving a car, and that you quickly accelerate by firmly pressing the gas pedal with your foot. Imagine that when you want to slow down, you sharply press your foot on the brake pedal. In both cases there is a firm pressure being exerted. Now, imagine that you very gently press the gas pedal to accelerate, and that you very gently press the brake pedal to slow down. You are using less force in both accelerating and decelerating. That backing off, or slowing of the amount of force is what is done with the exertion towards exhalation and inhalation (vichchhedah). Through that slowing process, there is an expansion of awareness of the entire field of prana, which is called pranayama." ~ http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-24953.htm
Thank you, Swamij!


Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tao Te Ching - Mindfulness Exercises


When you look at this bird, what do you think? If you paused to explore the colors, poise, uniqueness and wonder of this creature than you have a knack for being mindful and connecting with everything around you. On the other hand, if you do what I've done countless times in my life, and said, "Oh, there's a robin." Then you have some work to do. Or shall I say "undo."

As a young child, you may have looked upon robins with wonder and curiosity. Perhaps you even tried to flap your arms like wings to see if you could fly. I remember watching intently after a spring rain, as robins hopped about the lawn munching on worms and other grub. I was fascinated.

Then our parents or teachers inform us that the name of this unique creature is "robin." With this label some of the wonderment disappears. Did you ever walk in the woods in different part of the world and notice how interesting the unknown foliage and critters are? When we name things, there's the underlying notion that we have it "all figured out" and some of the interest may diminish. Of course, the use of words are vital to our current form of communication, but the question is "how can we stay connected and still use words?"

When we label a group of people we separate ourselves from one another, unless they are part of "our group." When a doctor labels the patient with a condition or disease, frequently the symptoms worsen and panic sets in. Labels have the very strong ability to limit us in how we perceive things, people, and ourselves.

Did you ever notice how judgements about a person are really labels that we've put on someone? Are we limiting those relationships with this naming? When we determine a child is smart or not, are we setting boundaries for their own performance?

Do we need language? Yes. Do we need to attach ourselves to it? No. A matter-of-fact, I would propose being very careful not to. As Eckhart Tolle suggests, go into nature and see it, smell it, hear it, feel it, taste it, but do not name it. When you do this, a mystery unfolds and connection begins to return.

Consider the opening lines in the Tao Te Ching (The Way of Life--tao translates to the way or path):

"The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real."
Namaste,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Muscle Strain - Finding Happy Muscles


As much as I'd like to say that practicing yoga has only left my body feeling joyous, strong, and fluid, this is not always the case. A matter of fact, there have been times that I've pulled or strained a muscle so severely that the pain lasts for days and, if I'm not careful, weeks!
Here's a remedy that has proven useful. Hopefully you'll find relief with it as well:
~2 cups of Epsom Salts
~5 drops Lavender essential oil
~5 drops Rosemary essential oil
~5 drops Peppermint essential oil
Mix the above ingredients in a warm bath and soak for at least 10 minutes. I tend to stay for 20 along with candlelight and music or a good book.
Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Compassion - Can You Care Too Much?


A dear friend came to me the other day upset after a visit to the doctor's office. It seems that yet another ailment has reared its head. Her list of serious illnesses continues to grow and even her doc's think stress has a lot to do with it. Lori (not her real name) has difficulties with her family. Lori is a giver. It's that simple. The other day I went to visit her and told her I'd bring lunch--the idea being she'd have to do nothing. I even brought plates and silverware, so she'd have no dishes. By the time I arrived, she had more food already on the table than a small army could finish. Well, maybe not that much, but way more than we could tackle!

Oddly, she knows that all of this giving is bringing on countless health problems. Members of her family flock around her--even her mother--in part, I think, because Lori is just so easy to be around and does so much for others. Like an alcoholic with liver disease who takes another drink, Lori just can't stop giving of herself. She gives and gives until there's nothing left, and then she gives some more.

When I suggested she stop doing so much for others, she voiced concern. "How can I stop doing so much and still be a compassionate person?"

Does compassion imply giving what you no longer have to others? Is it compassionate to injure yourself for another's sake? Are you really helping that other person?

Since her family acts like energy vampires hoovering around her and demanding everything she has, I question if Lori can learn to give less in such an environment. Over the last 40 years, it's only gotten worse, not better. Sort of like a drug addict trying to heal while staying in a drug house.

My suggestion was to separate from these draining relationships until she felt stronger and healthier. Then with awareness of how much to give, slowly re-enter these people into her life. However, it's challenging (if not impossible) to tell your mother, kids, spouse, and sisters that you're taking a break from them all!

I don't claim to have the answer; maybe there's a different answer for each of us. But it does make sense to me that to be compassionate means to honestly look at what is best for all involved--including yourself! Once you have learned what you can about yourself and done what you can for the other person, if the situation remains draining and unhealthy, it's time to end it--maybe not forever, but for now. End it with love and compassion in your heart, but end it. I do believe this is the most caring act -- tough love.


Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Spiritual Growth - The private relationship between you and God


GOD: Now there's a loaded word! If you want to see an argument break loss bring up religion or politics.
My relationship with this label has had its ups and downs over the years, but in the end it's just a word. Stick in any combination of sounds that works for you, be that Universal Consciousness, Higher Self, Jesus, Buddha, etc. What's important is NOT what you call it; rather that you understand that I'm referring to the part of you that is within and beyond--a calm and peaceful place void of ego. This is what I'll call Spiritual Source--I could just as well call it Buga-Buga, but to avoid too much silliness, we'll stick with Spiritual Source.
Dr. Douglas Brooks shared a story about three years ago at a yoga teacher training in Massachusetts saying that his teacher "never shared his spiritual beliefs with his family. Not even his wife." Yet, this master spoke of his private practices with Dr. Brooks. This is because Douglas asked. The Indian culture was set up in such a way that
one's spiritual life was private but not secret.
This concept aligned deeply within me. As soon as one is off yakking about their beliefs to others the ego (or attachment) gets involved, and in a severe case people are attempting to shove their beliefs onto others. Did you ever have someone ring your doorbell over dinner to tell you about "their God?" Oh, pleeeeease! These are total strangers invading someone's home-time to push ideas. Tell me that's not ego driven.
As a teacher of yoga, which is by definition a spiritual practice, it is the teacher's responsibility to guide others spirituality. This is not to be confused with religion--the rituals and traditions. This is about helping others to experience for themselves what Spiritual Source is for them. In a class or in the student-teacher relationship, this is part of the agreement. However, this does not give the yoga teacher license to even attempt to guide those that do not want guidance. It took me almost seven years to understand that when I tried to help my sister with issues by providing my outlook on Life, I only drove her farther away; she hadn't asked for spiritual guidance, she had only wanted a listening ear.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of America's great spiritual leaders today, reminds us again and again to stay private and keep your relationship with Spiritual Source sacred and just within your own heart. I've never quite gotten this, until last Friday. Why not share your profound inspirations with a close loved one? I'm not talking about knocking on doors and telling my neighbors--who quite frankly could care less. I'm talking about expressing the excitement of spiritual growth with your most intimate partner.
Well, I did this last week and awoke the next day in doubt--the thinking mind had stepped in. I believe this is why Dr. Dyer advises so strongly to keep your personal spiritual path just that--personal. No words can accurately describe the spiritual realm. Language can point to it, but not fully explain it. So the simple act of attempting to describe a remarkable spiritual experience, is always lacking. Also, one must consider the reaction of the other person. It's like telling someone the name you've chosen for a baby while still pregnant. If the reaction is hesitant or someone tells you why/how they hate that name, then it mars the joy of using that particular name. When I attempted to describe my spiritual life and shifts in it to my partner, the thinking mind slipped in and took hold. This is in part due to simply using words for something that words can not be truly used for and in part due to a conversation that ensued regarding where inspirations come from and what the results mean. Suddenly the peaceful surrender that I had been experiencing was replaced with worry, doubt, and "trying" to figure it out.
Admittedly, a stronger person may be able to share how the universe works through them and how sometimes the most perfect actions or words just appear, but this was not the case for me. For now I will focus on returning to that place of peace and hold my tongue until the desire to share stems only from knowing it is the right time and not from anxiousness or excitement.
Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Yoga Asanas -- What's the point?


Lately I've been questioning the usefulness of asanas. When a teacher, usually in the Anusara style, says to "open your hamstrings in order to let the divine in" I (sort of) want to puke. (I must disclose here, that I studied Anusara--and received my hatha yoga certification from Todd Norian--for 2-3 years.)


There are plenty of people out there that can forward bend and place their head between their legs and there's nothing divine about them. Let me rephrase; their egos are so huge that their actions and words are far from divine. Yes, we're all divine--I really believe that. But some of us hide it better than others.


These same teachers--that tout being a better person by opening your hips--speak frequently of "taking it to the next level." I'd like to think that means growing closer to self-actualization, but unfortunately they are usually referring to a more difficult pose. Perhaps these folks heard it from their teacher and something was lost in the translation--or maybe the teachers of the teachers have gotten so caught up in the "glamor" of beautiful poses that they themselves have forgotten why we do them at all.


In the west countless people associate yoga with asana, which is almost laughable. There are many types of yoga that don't even consider postures, such as the yoga of devotion, chanting, or self-less actions. Hatha yoga is a subset of yoga as a whole, and this subset includes the use of body movements and positions. Yet, even here the intention is to take the "path of the higher life" (Lectures on Yoga by Swami Rama, pg 12). Let's be honest, that doesn't mean to get your feet behind your head! Really, will that bring you closer to God or a deeper knowing of the authentic self? Admittedly, you might just get those feet back there along the way, but it's NOT THE GOAL. Not only that, from personal experience I can say some of us are not meant to do such challenging poses.


On the other hand, when I began hatha yoga just over 10 years ago, if the teacher had sat us all down and said, "Close your eyes and we'll begin with a 20 minute chant. Focus on the Om sound and simply let your thoughts drift by," I would have been out that door so fast no one would even know I had been there at all. For starters I couldn't sit still for 20 seconds, let alone 20 minutes! Now I enjoy, even relish, in the quiet solitude of meditation; but it's taken a number of years to get to this point. In the silence I commune with God, higher consciousness, or a deeper awareness of what is (whatever you want to label it). This has become a valuable, if not necessary, part of my daily life.
Did asana help me get to this point? Most definitely. I remember the first time a teacher had us lie in savasana for over 5 minutes. I wondered when he was going to finally let us get up. "Antsy-ness" was setting in. It took almost two years of practice until I could remain relaxed in comfort for 10 minutes or more. Perhaps a slow learner, but as mentioned earlier I couldn't even sit still for 20 seconds! So, 10 minutes without moving was pretty amazing stuff.


Upon honest reflection, my beef with asana is not asanas fault. It's a wonderful tool when used correctly. Just as a hammer is great to drive a nail into wood; thus connecting items together. However that same hammer may be used to harm another human being or animal. It's powerful, but how you use that power is more important than the tool itself. Asana may be used to embody your breath and mind, to bring awareness within and quiet all the distractions of everyday life. Used inappropriately it is nothing more than a means to cause more separation from everyone else and to enhance your ego. "Yoga" literally means to yoke or bring together. So you see, anything that separates us from each other is NOT yoga!
Aadil Palkhivala put it beautifully last week in Chicago,
"Yoga must use asana--if at all--to uncover and then live dharma. Otherwise asana is at best an exercise and at worst a means off your path."
So, to asana or not to asana? That is the question. Only you can decide what works for you, but most importantly be willing to change that answer! If the answer never changes, you are not growing. And to live is to grow. And to practice yoga is to live.
Speaking for myself, 3 years ago asana was a big part of my practice. Sometimes to feel fully alive I would do 2-3 hours of asana and 30-45 minutes of pranayama and meditation; I did this 5-7 days a week.
Today is different; I begin and end every day with meditation. Sometimes pranayama finds its way into this set aside "connection" time. Asanas for about 1 hour 3 days a week, and that's mainly because I teach asana I feel a responsibility to keep up with it. More walks outside and tennis with my family. The body thanks me for this. The mind enjoys being on the mat and the energy pulsing through the body is wonderful, but the body complains and some of the ligaments have been compromised over the years. To honer what is, I work more on integration and strength building than opening. This is today. I cannot say what will be tomorrow. Yoga brings awareness, if you let it. So, tomorrow I will listen and hopefully respond to my body, my mind, and my soul with or without asana.

Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's not what you do, it's how you do it that matters.


We've all heard the expression,


It's now what you do, it's how you do it that matters.


Aadil Palkhivala brought this statement to life earlier this week. Aadil is a yoga master and commonly referred to as "the teacher of teachers." He's been practicing yoga with Iyengar since the ripe age of 7 and has taught some the better known teachers today, such as Shiva Rea.


This week he is in Chicago (a mere 2-3 hours depending on traffic from me). So I attended one of his classes/workshops. The title was The Five Vayus in Purna Yoga™ Standing Poses. In this 2 hour standing posture class, there was some lecture, warm up, cool down, and only 4 standing postures. I hadn't noticed how few there were, until later reflection on the class. All of them were done first to the right and then to the left and a couple of them were done twice, but what shocked me was how hard I worked and how my entire body responded. Two days later my butt and legs still feel the effects--which translates as they're sore as hell! Well, the "good" kind of sore. The one that let's you know that you've challenged yourself and grew some muscle tissue.


As I sat on the couch last night I wondered, how after a measly 4 postures (trikonasana/triangle, parsvakonasana/side angle, virabhadrasana I/warrior I, and virabhadrasana II/warrior II) could I feel so much? After all, I do plenty of poses like these--or even these--2 or 3 times a week.


The answer came, "It's not what poses you do, it's how you do them that matters." I'm mindful and breath steady and easfully (like the sutras instruct) through my practice, but what was missing was the "huspa". You know, the oomph! Now I've practiced with plenty of energy in the past, and usually it ends in a lack of awareness and injury. Aadil led us in a different manner.


Here are the two main vayus (winds) that made the biggest difference. First there is apana which relates to the earth element. As you exhale root your legs like rocks heavily connected to the ground. Then inhale with samana vayu. Samana is like fire lifting vibrantly up from the arches in the feet and through the perineum. To keep up with sincerity in awareness of these opposing forces while maintaining a position for about 6 breaths, provides amazing energy and centering to the body. Between postures, pause with the feet together and notice the effects. Notice if your central nadi/channel is humming or more alive than before. Mine sure was.


I can only speak for myself, but using the imagery of earth and fire along with the breath was magical in my body--much more so than simple alignment and mechanical muscular actions.


Best of luck in your practice,


Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Spiritual Seekers

Do you find yourself looking for answers or simply looking? I've been a "seeker" for many years and quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of it. Maybe it's simply a case of sheer laziness, but I like to think it's a glimmer of enlightenment.

People frequently get "stuck" in search mode. It's like googling for the word "house" and the search engine hangs. Being that google never "just keeps going" and gets stuck in the questing of a subject or word, does that make it smarter than us self-proclaimed "seekers?" Now there's a scary thought!

I met a gal, let's call her Mary, at a Yoga class two years ago. Mary was a bit put-off by any advice or spiritual suggestions. "I've been questing for so long, I'm just worn out and need a break," she lamented.

This sounds like progress. No, really, it does. Think about it, when we're constantly looking outside ourselves for answers and meaning with the mind, the heart (the soul) can be easily forgotten. Ironic but true.

Two options exist, as far as I can see:

1. Keep reading and looking for meaning or understanding while allowing your mind to take over and risk getting lost in the search.
2. Pause and listen to your breath. Stop long enough to hear or feel your heart beating and the blood circulating. Observe. Be present. From this place, and only from this place, read and observe new ideas.

Do you see the difference? Option 1, you are driven from a point of lack and trying to find meaning. This is a fine place to start, but over time we must move onto option 2. When you do, the mind is useful, but no longer controls the show. The heart does. A detachment begins to occur and when you run across something that is true for you, you will feel it inside as if a wave of peace has just washed over you.

To seek or not to seek? Tempting to say, "That is the question." Instead let me summarize with a quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer,



Love Much,

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

3d Eye - not the music group

I wonder is the music group, Third Eye Blind, realizes that this is the state that many of us walk around in all the time--with a loss of connection to Higher Awareness.

In yoga, the third eye is referred to frequently in meditation as a means to encourage a connection with the Divine or Higher Awareness. The Bible says,


“When thine eye becomes single, the whole body fills with light.” ~ Matthew 6:22

In the yogic tradition, this "single eye" is the third eye, also known as the sixth chakra. When opened, you may have a deeper sense of knowing what is true--not because you read it or it makes sense, but you simply know in your heart. Inspiration and intuition stem from this energy center of the body. If you struggle with trusting yourself, work with asanas and meditations geared for this area.

Interestingly, balance poses are recommended to tap into the freedom and wisdom of the third eye. To be honest, I am not sure why. My best guess is that you have to be still and centered and trust in yourself in order to stand on one leg.

Be sure to add at least one balancing posture to your day and work with a teacher and great body awareness to level the hips somewhat while following a deep and steady breath. Allow the head to float skyward like a helium balloon. Enjoy the combination of rooting and "flying" at the same time.

Namaste,

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com
www.TotalHealthYogaClasses.Blogspot.com

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lotus Flower Symbol


The beautiful strong, and yet delicate, lotus flower is the perfect analogy for our growth as human beings.

Life begins with the roots growing deep into the mud at the bottom of a pond. There is a density and heaviness, just like our material or physical world.

As we grow and experience life, our thoughts come alive vibrating at a higher frequency than the physical body. This is the water where the stem reaches towards the light above.

Finally, the flower opens above the water's surface basking in the light and freedom of the open air.

This is our spiritual journey. To begin with the physical, mental, and at last enlightenment. Here you come to know ease and spiritual truth--the least dense of these three realms.




Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/
http://www.totalhealthyogaclasses.blogspot.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Yoga Breathing

Have you ever noticed that the quality of your breath, thoughts, and actions are directly related? In times of stress the breath and thoughts quicken and the breath becomes shallow. Actions tend to be rough, and in extreme stress, even shaky. The breath also follows an irregular pattern and feel rugged.

When you are feeling blissful, the body moves with steady grace; thoughts slow and calm. Inhales and exhales are deep and long.

This is one of the miracles of using the breath. Just as our thoughts can impact our breathing or motions, the reverse is also true. The trick is to guide the breath without strain. When there is strain, there is force. Forcing the breath can have negative results. So, check in every 6 or so breaths to see if your experience is one of more calm or increased agitation. If it's the latter, then return to a natural (non-guided) breath.

The Mohan's say in Yoga Therapy, "...there should be steadiness or uniformity (dirgha) and smoothness or fineness (sukshma).... Dirgha and sukshma are interrelated characteristics: Dirgha is long and sukshma is deep." [p132-133]

To reap the benefits of Yoga more fully, begin every hatha practice with checking in with your breath. Is it steady, subtle, long, and deep?

Maintain these qualities throughout your practice. Remember this is a practice! Over time it will be easier to find smooth, quiet, slow, and full breaths throughout the day. Even set aside a few minutes two or three times a day to check in with your breath.

When you guide the breath to flow in this manner, your thoughts and actions will follow suit.

Love Much,

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com
www.TotalHealthYogaClasses.Blogspot.com

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Yoga Diet Food - Olive Oil


Earlier this week, we got to taking about the benefits of fat in our diets. Ayurvedic science advocates ghee (organic clarified butter), and most western nutritionists promote olive oil for good health.

I was under the impression that sauteing with olive oil was harmful due to the low smoking point. So, years ago I began using canola oil (recommended by the Okinawan Program) for medium to high heat. Saving the extra virgin olive oil for no or low heat.

A wonderful student, M.C., questioned this and looked into it further. She forwarded an article: http://www.oliveoilsource.com/cooking_olive_oil.htm touting the ability to heat olive oil to almost 400 degrees.

This caused me to look into it a bit further, and if you're interested here are some additional links to consider when looking at the healthiest fat available:

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02970/OliveOil.html

http://www.realage.com/ct/tips/3184http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA400093

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4469370.stm


Tasty-looking recipes!! -- http://mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-nutrition/NU00203

In summary, Dr Weil is a HUGE proponent of cooking with only olive oil. On the other hand, the Okinawa Program sites canola oil as the healthiest (pg 30). Chopra is a fan of ghee and olive oil.

So, what's best? Consider the smoking point. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=56 describes the importance of not heating an oil to the point of smoke.

In the end, it sounds like the answer lies in what type of oil and how it was processed to determine if it's wise to use with heat. A good rule of thumb could be: If the oil smokes in the pan, it's too hot.

My sister used to save her extra virgin oil for salads and flavoring after cooking. The "regular" olive oil she used when it'd be heated. Her reasoning was cost and flavor. Perhaps, without knowing, it was healthiest too--http://whatscookingamerica.net/OliveOil.htm.

Now time for some fresh whole wheat bread dipped in some herbed extra-virgin olive oil!

Love Much,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/
http://www.totalhealthyogaclasses.blogspot.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pure Essential Oils - Lavender Oil


There's nothing like an eye pillow scented with lavender after a yoga practice to bliss out. In the interest of easy washing, I use wash cloths scented with lavender for students, and today a question came in:

"What do you do to get the lavender scent in those towels? I wanted to do that with my pillow cases and wasn’t sure if you bought special detergent or just put lavender oil in the wash." J.D.

It's as simple as sprinkling a few drops just before bed.

The cool thing about this wondrous plant is that for most people it can be safely applied directly to the skin. A matter-of-fact lavender is a well-known burn remedy. If you have your own eye pillow for savasana (corpse, the final relaxation of most yoga classes), store it in a zip-locked bag and periodically add a few dashes of this essential oil. Avoid getting the oil in your eyes; once it's well soaked into the pillow (baring any skin sensitivity) you may use the pillow as usual.


The aroma produced is a natural relaxer. To take advantage of this when going to sleep at night, simply sprinkle a few drops on the pillow edges before laying down.


NOTE: Lavender perfume or a product that says "lavender" in its title does not mean there is any essential oil in it at all. This is just marketing and perhaps a nice smell. However, only the essential oil of lavender has the biological calming and healing benefits. You can find essential oils at just about any health food store.

Peace,

Kris

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prana - Prana Breathing

Odds are you've heard the word Chi or Prana. From China there is Tai Chi and Qi Gong ('qi' is another spelling for 'chi'). India brings us Yoga which involves removing blocks in order to allow Prana to flow.

Both of these terms, Chi and Prana, translate loosely to life force or energy. There isn't an exact translation into English, but life force or energy are very close.

Prana is necessary for the body to function. Yogi Ramacharaka describes the importance of this energy in Science of Breath, "One who has mastered the science of storing away prana, either consciously or unconsciously, often radiates vitality and strength which is felt by those coming in contact with him, and such a person may impart this strength to others, and give them increased vitality and health.... prana [is] carried to all parts of the nervous system, adding strength and vitality.... the supply of prana taken up by the nervous system is exhausted by our thinking, willing, acting, etc., and in consequence constant replenishing is necessary."

How do we replenish our storage of prana? The easiest and most common method is through the simple act of inhaling.

To expand your capacity to bring in air, and thus prana, and thus health and vitality, use lateral stretches to open the small muscles between the ribs. These muscles are called the intercostals.

As an experiment, you may take a tape measure around the rib cage and exhale naturally. Note the measurement. Now inhale comfortably an see how much the rib cage grew. Do this before and after a practice involving side bends--remember to first warm up. Using poses, such as gate (parighasana), held for several breaths is particularly beneficial for increasing your inhales. After your practice, re-measure and see if the inhale can expand further than before the practice. Depending on how intense the asanas and how open you were to begin with will determine the difference you may find.

Love Much,

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com
www.TotalHealthYogaClasses.Blogspot.com

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dealing with Depression - Backbends

Remember the great Beatles' tune, All You Need Is Love? Not knowing Paul or John personally, I don't know for sure, but wouldn't be surprised if they really meant it.

The notion that all we truly need is love is popping up all over. Joe Vitale writes about the importance of love in his book, Zero Secrets, based on a Hawaiian system for health and peace.

Dr. Larry Dossey wrote in his book Prayer is Good Medicine, "In the scores of scientific experiments dealing with prayer and a prayer-like state of consciousness, one of the most crucial qualities appears to be love—compassion, empathy, deep caring. Love implies letting go….” (pg 142).

Psychology Today says, “Love is the best anti-depressant.” Perhaps this why volunteer work is such a wonderful means to pull oneself out of sadness. PT goes on to describe love, “Love is as critical for your mind and body as oxygen. It's not negotiable. The more connected you are, the healthier you will be both physically and emotionally. The less connected you are, the more you are at risk.

I believe love to be a state of consciousness, not to be confused with affection or lust. When we are in a state of love, we are naturally giving, compassionate, peaceful, and well.... loving.

In Hatha Yoga backbends are a wondrous physical motion that opens the fourth chakra and thus our hearts--literally and figuratively. In many ways a backbend puts you in a vulnerable position, the heart is an organ you simply cannot live without. Not only does this put your physical body out in the open, but your emotional self as well. There is a reason we use the term "heart ache." To let go and experience love, we must be willing to go through a state of vulnerability. When you reach your chest high and open the fronts of the shoulders, it's difficult to not release some pent up grudges. Add to that the mental intention of forgiveness and connection with others and you just might feel your heart grow a bit bigger.

Love Much,

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com
www.TotalHealthYogaClasses.Blogspot.com

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What is Yoga


“A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.”

~ Lao Tzu

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with an asana or feel frustrated with your body or life? Heeding the wisdom of Lao Tzu, remember to start with a single step, a single breath. All great feats were accomplished breath-by-breath. One at a time. If a task seems daunting, stop and breathe: three deep abdominal breaths. And then begin, one step at a time.


Our Yoga practice is a wonderful time to practice staying with the journey breath-by-breath. As the second sutra of Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras states,


"Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions." ~trans. TKV Desikachar


How do we do this? With the breath. When each movement flows with a mental and physical tying of motion and breath, it is easier to slip into a Yogic state of being. This state is one of being centered, balanced, accepting, and at peace.


Unless you are fully enlightened, it is a practice!!! So, when the mind drifts or we forget to breath, just get back on the horse -- so-to-speak. No judgement, no analyzing. Just return to the steady rhythm of breath and movement as one. This is Yoga.


Blessings,

Kris
http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/
http://www.totalhealthyogaclasses.blogspot.com/

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Third Chakra - Empowerment

Picture two people walking into a room. One seems to glide across the floor with balance in her center. She bends down to pick a pencil off the floor and maintains excellent posture. As she turns and moves you notice how stable her core remains. The other one comes in dragging her feet slightly. Her shoulders bow forward towards the front body as if she had spent too many years behind a computer. As she stoops down to pick a paper up off the floor, her low back curves demonstrating the lack of core support. As she continues to move about the room, you become aware of a lack of struture or integration--her body seems to flop about haphazardly.

Who do you think feels better about herself? Who is empowered and more likely to be living their own truth? Which lady would you guess stands up for what she believes in and acts from a place of courage?

It's a pretty good bet, that the first woman is the one living with self-integrity and power. Odds are the second one is simply going through the motions as she truges along in life.

Of course, this is not always the case, but think about it. Do you feel better emotionally when your body is slumped and dragging? Or when you are fit and strong? I'd be surprised if you choose the former of the two.

Hatha yoga is directly related to the strength in your body and thus your mind. In Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, David Coulter says, "...concentrate at first... to build strength and to do this from the inside out, starting with the central muscles of the torso...." (page 18).

When you increase core strength, you open the third chakra and grow in personal power. As yogis it is our responsibility to use that power to live our own truth as well as to nourish and inspire others.

Check out these core strengtheners at Yoga Journal.

Namaste,
Love Much,

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com
www.TotalHealthYogaClasses.Blogspot.com

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ujjayi - Yoga Breathing

Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jI-ee) breath is frequently misunderstood. Several years back, I had a teacher that encouraged us to breath very loudly--"the louder you breathe, the more I know you are paying attention to your breath." He viewed it as an "advanced" yogic state.

Then there are others, like a local energy worker that says, "Pranayama [using the breath to extend life force] should feel as graceful and silky smooth as a ballet dancer."

Further still, I had a meditation student that absolutely loved Ujjayi breathing. She took the practice home with her and returned a couple of weeks later to say that her heart rate actually increased during the practice and was wondering why. I watched and listened to her Ujjayi and it was not a toning in the glottis (in the throat area), but rather a tight constriction.

Ujjayi breathing, meaning victorious uprising, is NOT about constricting to the point of raising the heart rate and blood pressure. Quite the opposite. It is a method to automatically slow and steady the breath. It also greatly enhances awareness of the quality of your breath--and thus your energy and mind. As you steady your breathing and motion, the thoughts in the mind follow suit. This is one of the wonderful benefits to practicing pranayama; Ujjayi being one of the many pranayama techniques available and a foundation for many of the more advanced life enhancing exercises.

If you'd like to grasp the details of Ujjayi check out this amazing article by Doug Keller. He explains and understand the true art of this wondrous practice more than any other teacher that I've run across.


Love Much,

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com
www.TotalHealthYogaClasses.Blogspot.com

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!