Flow w/Fred – 8.21.14 (YFD – The Breath as Metaphor)

I originally started teaching at Yoga Mindset on Thursday nights.  My original vision for the class was to focus on how Yoga can help with depression.  It affects all of us in some way.  If it doesn’t affect you directly, then someone in your life is dealing with it.  Your words and actions have such a profound impact on those you encounter.  We will never what the ripples our words and actions will have on the world around us.  So why not breathe?  Why not breathe as deeply as you possibly can?

As a baby, infant, child … our breathing is so deep and full.  We want to take in the world around us.  We want to survive.  We want to experience.  We want to live each moment to its fullest possible extent.  So why is life so damn hard now?  I truly believe it is because we have forgotten how to breathe.  I easily forget to breathe with my full body.  I instead feel that I have nothing to give the world around me and it ultimately leads me to take sips at this earth.  We all battle with these frustrating thoughts.  So I grasp on to the moment and take a deep breath.  Do I have any idea what it brings with it … nope.  But I exhale and continue to move forward in that moment.  

So how do you breathe?  Are you gasping for air and hoping you won’t disturb this earth because you don’t feel deserving? Take a deep breath and realize that in the moment … you deserve it.  I am allowed to experience decay, fear, sadness, anger and all of other possible emotional states.  But I’m not going to let them keep me from taking a deep breath and remembering that in this moment … I am alive.

The Breath as Metaphor

When we were born, we breathed with our entire bodies.  Each breath was like a wave that brought a wake of movement along the spine, down to the tailbone.  But as we grew older, fear, sadness, anger and other emotional states changed the way we breathed.  We began to restrict the breath in response to the darker emotions, and little by little we forgot the most natural way to breathe.  Our respiratory system continued to function mechanically, drawing in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide from the constricted arena of our lungs.  But as our capacity to breathe fully diminished, so did our ability to experience the enthusiasms and joys of childhood.

The way in which you breathe is a metaphor for the way in which you are living your life.  Are you taking little sips of breath as though you don’t have permission to take up much space on the planet?

Learning to control your breath won’t solve all your problems, but it can help you cope with them better.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 8.14.14 (YFD – Naturally High)

I’m rushing out of the house this morning to get to my YogaFit – Yoga for Kids training in Raleigh :).  Enjoy and we’d love to have you in a class soon!  Come as you are … not as you think you need to be :).

Naturally High

When we clear away the obstacles to the free flow of thought and feeling through regular Yoga and pranayama breathing practice, we can revitalize our prana.

When we restrict the breath, we are diminishing the spirit.  When we relearn to breathe fully and deeply, we are enlarging the spirit and reconnecting with the Self.  When we are breathing consciously, we remember who we are.

Pranayama means the “control of life breath.”  The ancient Yogis understood that when you can consciously regulate the breath, you can manage your feelings and moods by accelerating your energy or by putting on the brakes.  Harnessing prana through pranayama breathing exercises gives you tremendous power at your abdominals.  It’s like revving up your engine, moving from six horsepower to sixty!

The author states – “As I worked with my breath – experimenting with pranayama – and my thoughts – using affirmations and cognitive therapy exercises to counteract my negative thinking – I was able to accept the scared little girl inside, the suddenly sluggish middle-aged woman, and my body that would not always be trim and fit and healthy, my body that is continuing to change as I grow older.”

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 8.7.14 (YFD – Prana)

When you step onto your mat, it presents an opportunity for you to connect with your mind and body in that present moment.  There are no distractions.  There is no judgment.  There is no competition.  The moment is capable of righting all wrongs, loving unconditionally and rejuvenating our relationship with ourselves.  In our class last Thursday, we discussed prana (the energy in the atmosphere through oxygen-rich air).  I am guilty of the draw that movies, hockey and social media can have on my interaction with the natural world.  In moderation, these areas make my life fuller.  When I allow these avenues of my life to consume my time, they lead me to a life starving of prana.  In the present moment, there is the opportunity to become full.  Last night I sat on my backyard swing during the drizzling rain.  Even during the overcast days, there are opportunities to connect back with the world and increase your prana.  Have a great one and thanks for reading! 

Prana – I will feed my body and become full.

Prana (small p) refers to the energy in the atmosphere – oxygen-rich air.  Modern yogis have become health conscious and more often live lives not of withdrawal but of community.  We are more interested in positive mental health than in liberation.  And so we take ourselves out to nature to be inspired and to breathe the prana-rich air.

Obviously, there is less prana available in the artificial atmosphere of an office building than in the broad sweep of the beach.  If you are someone who lives in a high-rise, works in an office building, and commutes for long periods of time, your depression may be magnified by the reduction in atmospheric prana.  How often do your feet actually touch the earth?

For most of us who use computers and cell phones and watch television, the environment in which we work and play can contribute not only to a disturbance in our bioenergetic field, but to a kind of prana starvation.  We often don’t realize the extent to which our systems are deprived of prana.  What we do, what we eat, what we breathe – is contributing to a rise in depression and hopelessness.  (Particularly among young people.)

“We may not be able to move to the mountains or to the beach, but we can use our asanas, pranayama techniques and our community to enrich our prana.”

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 7.31.14 (YFD – Language)

Words leave such a lasting impression.  In a rush to make sure that everyone is safe physically through alignment and positioning, I love being reminded that the words spoken during a Yoga class are so significant.  As an instructor, I often never know what my words mean or do for someone in that moment.  On the occasions where I do get feedback from a student, it is hugely appreciated.  I am pretty confident on how to take people safely through poses, but find myself much more focused on the transformational language and meditation scripts.  I believe that both are equally important.  When I am guiding a class, I know that some folks are needing the physical benefits while others are allowing my words to aid their mind.  I will admit that it is beautiful to watch these two play out during a class.  There is a natural beauty in watching someone connect physically or emotionally in the present moment during a class.  

“Some teachers talk about the physical body in a Yoga class – the placement of the feet, the alignment of the spine, and so on.  That may suit you fine, and as long as you are breathing consciously and the sequence of poses is complete with forward and back bends, side stretches, twists, and inversions, you will begin to feel better.  But your recovery may be hastened by language in your Yoga class that speaks to the unconscious.  Many teachers feel that the language used in class can have a direct effect on their students’ experience of releasing and going deeper in a pose.

Metaphors can speak directly to the physical and emotional bodies, circumventing the analytical mind.  What would it be like to ease into a posture and, as international Yoga teacher Angela Farmer describes, to slither like a serpent, letting the inner body – the belly, the kidneys, the vital organs – initiate the movement?  Or as Farmer’s partner, Victor Van Kooten, says, to “move like a snail emerging from its shell, carrying the outer body along”?  Julia Mines, a Kripalu Yoga teacher, watches her students’ response to her language while they are holding a posture.  “I observed that as students lengthened or twisted to ‘this body is a good one, this body is worthy of your love,’ they responded the way a flower turns toward the sunlight for sustenance.”  These instructors and others believe that visual metaphors transcend the conscious mind and speak directly to the body.

I open my heart to explore the divinity inherent within my body,

I recognize that my body is the temple of the divine,

and I am not just this body but the embodied spirit itself.

During this sadhana time, my intention is to be present

in my body and in the light of consciousness.

Your body, mind and spirit will come into balance through the everyday practice of Yoga, including pranayama breathing and meditation, and your depression will lift.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 7.24.14 (YFD – Accentuate the Positive)

  During one of my YogaFit trainings, the instructor (Renee!) gave us an opportunity to do something most of already do.  We try to say something positive to ourselves.  The problem often encountered here is that we say the positive, the positive does not get reinforced, and then the positive turns and compounds the negative.  It is a very scary cycle.  

  So before one of our Master Class sessions, we were asked to think about a negative thought.  It was open to anything that might have crept up, been stuck in, or been embedded in our minds.  We were given the opportunity to re-frame that thought into a positive statement.  Oh the many uses of PostIt Notes :).  So you’ve probably all done that part before.  Where the change came, was that we left that note at the top of our mat throughout the entire practice.  Every time we found ourselves going down to the mat, each person saw a beautiful note written by a beautiful person.  As we’d lower from our plank during Sun A, the note would be there.  As we’d move from upward facing dog to downward facing dog, the would be there.  

  Just as the movie Inception thoroughly discusses how the body perceives thoughts and dreams, the body needs to feel that it is a part of the process.  A thought is easily dismissed when it is not reinforced in some capacity.  Each student was given the opportunity to take their thought and connect it to their pranayama (breath), asanas (movement), and soul.  It was beautiful to watch.

Accentuate the Positive

“When bound by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be cultivated.”

When we feel emotionally wounded, affirmations, along with postures, pranayamas, and visualizations, can speed the healing process.  “Emotions are patterns of energy.  When energy patterns get reinforced, over time they become very strong and difficult to dislodge or even recognize.”

“Tension is a result of blockages in our energy flow caused by emotional reactions to life.”  If suffering is obstructed space, then it makes sense that when you begin to relax and dissolve those obstructions, you are more in the flow of life.

We may be able to temporarily manipulate our mood with our affirmations to create a happy, even blissed-out state of mind, but it is likely to be a premature transcendence.  “Positive thinking can even be a source of depression.  The more you try to force that positive thought, the negative thought goes deep somewhere inside you.”

Poet and Essayist Lucy Grealy could not confront the belief that she was ugly by telling herself she was beautiful.  When she was nine, she had a virulent form of cancer that destroyed her jaw and severely disfigured her face.  Despite numerous operations, the structure of her face was never returned to her.  Lucy believed she had an ugly face.  You could not tell her she was beautiful, because she wasn’t.  Her mind was elegant, her wit was wry, and the beauty of her spirit soared on the written page.  Lucy was only thirty-nine when she died at the end of 2002 of a drug overdose.

“I can’t say whether Yoga might have made a difference in Lucy’s life.  Perhaps it’s some form of hubris on my part to wish that she had been in my class.  I wish I had had the opportunity to ask Lucky to close her eyes and dive beneath her physical body, her emotional body, home to the ground of her being, where she was whole and beautiful.  It might not have saved her life, but I wish I had told her how beautiful she was beneath her ravaged face.  She might have dismissed my compliment if I’d said it in a classroom or over lunch, or even on the dance floor.  But if she were in the flow, mind absorbed, body relaxed, awake to her energy in a Yoga pose, for that moment, on her Yoga mat, she might have believed me.”

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 7.17.14 (YFD – Loving Yourself)

I would say that the hardest part of life is accepting ourselves where we currently are.  Popular culture and society are constantly putting pressures on people to produce the next best thing.  So in doing so, it is extremely easy to throw on a face and walk out the door.  I’m guilty of it a lot of days because it can help you survive through even the hardest of days without letting the world know that you’re normal.  It is completely normal to struggle, to deal with pain, to make mistakes, and to fail.  Does it mean that we don’t continue to strive in the present and enjoy the experience?  Not at all.  I continue to strive daily.  But at the end of the day, you live within your own mind.  The words that you speak softly to yourself and reinforce with your actions allow you to build love for yourself.  It doesn’t happen overnight and I know that I struggle with this.  The practice of Yoga allows for the connection between the body and the mind so that loving yourself becomes the norm.  You can only give something that you have to someone.  Why not give them the love that you have gathered up inside you for yourself?

Loving Yourself
“Every single physical act triggers a change in your brain chemistry so the more we do positive things like practicing Yoga, eating foods that are good for us, listening to inspiring music, reading poetry, seeing inspiring art, the better we feel.”  Every time you step onto your Yoga mat, if your intention is to listen to your body and honor your limitations, you are giving yourself the opportunity to practice self-love.

“You can’t really love somebody else without loving yourself.  You can only extend to others what you have offered yourself.”

The kinds of messages you send to yourself, on and off your Yoga mat, make a difference in how you feel.  When you give self-doubt and criticism free rein in your mind, you are setting yourself up for a felt experience of depression in your body and mind.  Yoga can help you talk to yourself more gently.

For thousands of years, Yoga has addressed our thoughts and how we can reframe them, not only through physical practices that alter our perceptions and through the use of affirmations, but also through acceptance.

This self observation without judgment is the beginning of change.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 7.10.14 (YFD – Dukha/Sukha)

I had always known about the benefits of lengthening the body through my yoga practice.  It was an interesting concept to me to learn of dukha and sukha.  As the body occupies space, it can become congested and blocked.  Yoga allows us to use the asanas, pranayamas and meditation to “open space.”  What physical changes have you noticed in your body through the lengthening of space in your yoga practice?

Opening Your Inner Space:  Dukha and Sukha

The word for suffering Sanskrit is dukha, but it means much more than the English translation.  Literally, it means “obstructed space.”  Whenever there is depression, there is contraction.  Some area of the body or mind is compressed; some area of the emotions is blocked.

Depression, viewed this way, is treated by creating more space – sukha – which is exactly what you do when you practice Yoga.  Yoga postures (asanas) and pranayama breathing exercises expand the lungs, decompress areas of tension, and release dammed-up emotions, creating a freer space within the body and mind.  Most scholars translate sukha as “happiness,” but the word literally means “unobstructed” or “open space.”

“Whenever someone comes to me, whether it’s for depression or a breathing difficulty or a back pain, what I’m assuming is that there is some place in the system that is obstructed, that needs more space.  Whether the problem is in her joints, her spine, or with her breathing, there’s a sense of congestion or blockage or obstruction.”

All the practices of Yoga – the asanas, the pranayamas, the chanting, and the meditations – address these blockages and begin to release them.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 7.3.14 (YFD – Ishvara-Pranidhana)

In our three week study of “Pouring the Foundation,” we looked at tapas, svadhyaya and ishvara-pranidhana to burn, introspect and surrender to the present things in our lives.  Of these three, which is the more difficult for you?  Why?

Pouring the Foundation – Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishvara-Pranidhana

Surrender is tricky. Does it mean giving up? Accepting defeat? Being codependent? Letting the universe provide? Surrendering means working with what we’ve got, setting intentions and working toward them, but without attachment to the outcome.
For you, Ishvara-Pranidhana may mean cultivating a state of openness, receptivity, humility and gratitude. It may simply mean the practice of surrendering control over some aspect of your life, and trusting that if you can stay open and receptive, you will receive exactly what you need.
Ishvara-Pranidhana is about accepting that there are certain things in your life that are not within your control. The moment someone takes their first Yoga class, they are being asked to introspect about things that they don’t ordinarily introspect about. The process of introspection allows you to uncover the connections that are already there in your body.

If you cultivate these three principles on the mat – willful practices that burn away the impurities (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya) and surrender (ishvara-pranidhana) – your life will change.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 6.26.14 (YFD – Svadhyaya)

Pouring the Foundation – Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishvara-Pranidhana

In the world of Yoga today, in addition to chanting, there are self-help books, workshops, and a wide variety of Yoga therapies – literally hundreds of ways to know the self.  The way I know best is right on my Yoga mat – through self-observation.  As your practice begins to burn away the impurities, the obstacles to your freedom, you begin to cultivate a listening – to your body, to your mind, to your emotions.  You can cultivate this listening by observing your breath and the sensations in your body as you practice.  This takes intention and attention.  It is easy to practice Yoga as though it were exercise, moving from posture to posture, with little awareness of the sensations in your body or your feeling state.  This is unconscious Yoga, and though you will feel good afterward and will receive many physiological and psychological benefits from your practice, you run the risk of energetically reinforcing old patterns and habits of mind.

When you practice Yoga with awareness of the sensations in your body, your thoughts, and your feelings, you will grow in self-awareness.  And as you grow in self-awareness, you begin to have glimpses of what it means to feel utterly and wholly connected, how your small self is not separate from the Absolute, the Self of the universe.  When you become awake, there will still be pain in your life.  Pain is inevitable, but you will no longer suffer more as a result of your pain.  You will remember that beneath the temporary separation you may be feeling, you are whole.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 6.19.14 (YFD – Tapas)

Pouring the Foundation – Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishvara-Pranidhana

Union in action is daily life lived in a clear and conscious way.  Union in action rests on a sturdy tripod of willful practice (tapas), self-observation (svadhyaya) and surrender (ishvara-pranidhana).

First, we practice.  The very act of stepping onto your mat is an act of tapas – willful practice.  With disciplined practice, we light an inner fire that burns away our impurities.  “Tapas” refers to both the willful practices (also called austerities) and the purifying inner fire that the practices produce.  The foundation is set  as you build that purifying inner fire that begins recovery.

One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is when to let go – of a relationship, a dream, a fantasy, even a depression.  Yet once we learn that we can’t control people, things, and emotions, when we surrender to reality as it is, we are happier.

TAPAS is primarily the process of getting rid of something undesirable in our system – from chronic subliminal muscle contraction, to toxicity in the colon, to deep-rooted emotions and behaviors.  With each session on your mat, you are building the strength to break through old patterns and past conditioning.  With each session, you are strengthening your vital energy, or prana.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab