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!


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."


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,


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.


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