10 Things Yoga Fans Understand

Posted on


by Rachel Brathen

What you discover when you first start practicing yoga, and what you realize over time….


 1. This is much harder than I thought.

2. It also feels much better than I thought.

3. My body and my mind sometimes—or most of the time—completely disagree with each other, and the two sides of my body are very different.

4. How did I live my whole life without knowing how to breathe properly?

5. I want to do more of this.



6. The clothes I wear have little to no effect on how well I perform on my yoga mat.

7. My body is connected to my emotions. My emotions are connected to my thoughts. My thoughts are connected to my ability to stay present. And my ability to stay present is connected to my body.

8. The poses we practice are not the destination, but the path.

9. The more I advance in my practice, the more I realize I have not advanced at all.

10. I want more of this.


Learn the Eight Limbs of Yoga

Posted on



By Mara Carrico

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.

1. Yama
The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The five yamas are:

Ahimsa: nonviolence

Satya: truthfulness

Asteya: nonstealing

Brahmacharya: continence

Aparigraha: noncovetousness

2. Niyama
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.

The five niyamas are:

Saucha: cleanliness

Samtosa: contentment

Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities

Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self

Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God

3. Asana
Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.

4. Pranayama
Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, “life force extension,” yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.

These first four stages of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.

5. Pratyahara
Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.

6. Dharana
As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.

7. Dhyana
Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. But don’t give up. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. Even though we may not attain the “picture perfect” pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress.

8. Samadhi
Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the “peace that passeth all understanding”; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe. On the surface, this may seem to be a rather lofty, “holier than thou” kind of goal. However, if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, would not joy, fulfillment, and freedom somehow find their way onto our list of hopes, wishes, and desires? What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.

How to Get in Touch with our Open Hearts: Healing Poses

Posted on

All healing traditions recognize the crucial role of the heart in sustaining life and energizing the body.

We cannot survive long without a properly functioning heart. Cardiovascular health is a key area contributing to overall vitality in many ways.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S. and many other developed countries. Fortunately, there are many powerful lifestyle and prevention-focused approaches that can help protect and rejuvenate our heart health.

From a Western medical perspective, lifestyle choices including avoiding tobacco products, maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week, eating a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods and produce, limiting alcohol consumption, getting adequate rest and relaxation and managing stress all contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system.

The heart is a crucial energy center in the body where many physical and energetic pathways intersect and interact. This confluence of influences makes the heart impacted by and capable of affecting many other aspects of the body and health. As you look within and take time for self-observation, energize your heart center and connect with your creativity, self-expression and compassion.

One way to get in touch with and open your heart is through stretching and yoga. Stretch your spine and open your heart with some opening yoga poses like Wheel Pose (urdhva dhanurasana), Bridge Pose (setu bandha sarvangasana) and Reverse Warrior (viparita virabhadrasana).

Reverse Warrior (viparita virabhadrasana):

Reverse Warrior is a standing pose that opens the chest and heart area while increasing blood flow and circulation throughout the body. This can help reduce fatigue and calm the mind.

Other benefits of Reverse Warrior Pose include:

>>> strengthens the hip and oblique muscles

>>> opens the chest and shoulders

>>> strengthens the quads, arms and neck

>>> increases self-esteem

>>> enhances compassion for self and others

Bridge Pose (setu bandha sarvangasana):

This pose can be modified in many ways to work for different people. It opens the whole front body and helps to calm the mind and ease depression. As you open the heart in Bridge Pose, notice if you feel energized, relaxed, rejuvenated and/or open and loving.

You can try a more restorative variation of Bridge Pose which can allow you to rest longer in this opening by sliding a block or bolster under the sacrum and resting the pelvis on this prop for support. Take care to avoid stressing the neck.

Other benefits of Bridge Pose include:

>>> strengthens the back

>>> lengthens the hamstrings

>>> improves circulation

>>> promotes relaxation

>>> opens the lungs and chest cavity

>>> strengthens the core muscles

Wheel Pose (urdhva dhanurasana):

Wheel or Upward Bow Pose is a great way to fully open the front body and increase energy. As you strengthen the arms, wrists, legs and buttocks you simultaneously stretch the chest and open the lungs. This can helps balance hormones, relax breathing and assist with infertility.

As you extend the front body, draw the inner thighs towards one another and keep the feet and elbows parallel. Use caution if you have low back, shoulder or wrist issues or if you have heart or blood pressure problems.

Other benefits of Upward Bow Pose of Full Wheel Pose include:

>>> expands the chest and shoulders

>>> stretches the wrist flexor muscles

>>> strengthens the back and gluteus muscles

>>> opens the lungs and eases breathing

>>> stimulates the thyroid and pituitary glands

>>> uplifts the mood

As you literally open your heart through your yoga practice, consider ways in which you can practice heart opening in the rest of your life as well. As you come into conflict, relationship challenges and disagreements, take a moment to visualize opening your heart and stepping into compassion or ahimsa. Notice how your relationships shift as you approach them with a kind compassionate and open heart!


Dr. Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MB

Yoga Newbie? How to Prep for Your First Class.

Posted on


Via Tiffani Shipman

One of the things I hear most often from people when I suggest that they should try a yoga class is, “I am not flexible enough for yoga.”

The second most common response I get from people is, “I will when I get better” or, “I am scared! I need more practice first.”

Sound familiar?

If it does, know that you are not alone! As a yoga instructor, I want to take you all by the hand and gently lead you to your mat and remind you that your practice starts there no matter if you are at home, or in a studio.

Here is a short list of things you need to know and understand that will help you take that first step:

1. Research and Review. Google yoga studios near you and look at the reviews, as they indicate what kind of experience other people have had. Don’t be afraid to ask around for recommended teachers, studios and classes. Word of mouth is a powerful thing and will give you a starting point in finding the right studio fit for you.

Finding the right studio is important! If you are in a class that just doesn’t jive well with you, don’t let it turn you off of yoga altogether. Try another studio or another instructor before calling it quits, but doing a little asking around first may help point you in the right direction of where to begin.

2. You’ve got to begin somewhere. You do not need to have an advanced practice to take a class. You don’t even need an ounce of experience at all! What you need is the will to walk through the door.

Whether you have no experience whatsoever, or have a basic skill level from a home practice and want to transition into a live studio class, I do suggest starting with a Intro Level class. Chances are, no matter your yoga experience if it is your first time to attend a class, you may feel lost. Don’t fret! You will get used to the pace and verbiage and begin to find your way, I promise. Intro classes are generally slower paced and can give you a strong foundation for what lies ahead, so start there and keep progressing.

When you feel comfortable, then branch out and perhaps try a higher level class. Keep in mind that even in more advanced classes, instructors usually give modifications so that no matter where you are at in your practice, you have options, so don’t be afraid.

There are always options! And if nothing else, if you find yourself in child’s pose the entire class, it is still yoga.

3. Keep it simple. You do not need fancy clothes or equipment. This is a tough one because it helps to feel confident when trying new things, and sometimes a new outfit gives us that boost of courage. And, hey, if that is what you need, then go for it! It is important to remember though, that it is not necessary.

No one is going to look down on you if you don’t have the latest and greatest labels. The people next to you on the mat are on their own journey. Forget judgments and forget the fear of being judged. You may be mesmerized by the gorgeous yoga wear in the lobby of the studio, but, inherently, it is not the reason for you being there. Focus on yourself and your practice and splurge on the yoga pants later down the road if you wish.

Remember first why you are at yoga class to begin with. It is to feel better, deepen your practice and extend the journey within. Which brings me to the next point.

4. Get emotional. Expect (at some point) your emotions to overflow. Yoga can be extremely powerful not only within our muscles and bodies, but within our hearts and minds as well. I can attest that the physical manifestations of yoga can bring out incredibly intense emotions. I have seen tears fall many a time during savasana, and have cried tears on my own mat as well.

It sort of sneaks up on you, and when you least expect it, catharsis happens. Sometimes a teacher can lead you into a series of movements and guide you with a series of thoughts and questions to ponder and suddenly you find yourself acutely aware that you are getting more than just a workout within the safe confines of a yoga class. It is a little like therapy for the body and soul at the same time!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.. but look forward to it. Letting go of old stuff feels, in a word—liberating.

5. Say hello! Before class starts, make sure to introduce yourself and tell the instructor you are new and also make them aware of any issues or injuries you have, old and new. Neck or back issues? Let them know before class! That way, they are prepared if they need to give specific modifications to you for anything planned in class, and they are sensitive to any issues if they perform adjustments.

Also, know your limits. If something feels wrong, don’t do it! Listen to modifications given and hear what your body tells you to avoid injuring yourself.

6. Relax! Be prepared to have fun! Yes, you will have to look around during class at others to figure out which pose you are supposed to be doing, and yes, you will find yourself lost sometimes, and yes, you very well may fall on your face, or into your neighbor while attempting a pose! But hey, we have all been there!

You are not the first new person who has ever walked into the door, and you won’t be the last. Take comfort in knowing no matter where you are in your journey, there will be people in the room who were at your exact place at some point in time.

7. Bring a friend! Sometimes, things are easier in twos. And it also makes it a little less awkward feeling when the neighbor you fall into is your friend…

8. Smile! Enjoy the journey! Seriously.

Now get to class. You will love it!

Namaste, friends.

So what does “Namaste” mean??

Image Posted on


My yoga teacher concludes every practice by saying “Namaste”, and I’ve always wanted to know what it really means. 

Answer: Yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala Weighs In

The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.

Definition of Namaste

Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

How to make the Namaste guesture

To perform Namaste, we place the hands together at the heart charka, close the eyes, and bow the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head, and then bringing the hands down to the heart. This is an especially deep form of respect. Although in the West the word “namaste” is usually spoken in conjunction with the gesture, in India, it is understood that the gesture itself signifies Namaste, and therefore, it is unnecessary to say the word while bowing.

We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart. One can do Namaste to oneself as a meditation technique to go deeper inside the heart chakra; when done with someone else, it is also a beautiful, albeit quick, meditation.

For a teacher and student, Namaste allows two individuals to come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego-connection. If it is done with deep feeling in the heart and with the mind surrendered, a deep union of spirits can blossom.

When to incorporate Namaste into your practice

Ideally, Namaste should be done both at the beginning and at the end of class. Usually, it is done at the end of class because the mind is less active and the energy in the room is more peaceful. The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow—the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart.

The Many Benefits of Ujjayi Breathing

Posted on

Via Heidi Rockeon Jun 3, 2014


Ujjayi prana breathe man sit

Yoga teachers are forever reminding us to breathe. But is it really thatimportant?

I mean, when I’m busy trying to gut it out in Warrior 3 or finally push up into full wheel, why is she going on aboutbreathing? I’m already trying to think about all four limbs, my drishti, my bandhas, my balance, my back, my hips, my shoulders… now I gotta breathe too!

In short: yes

Breathing and the act of breathing is the place where the mind and body truly meet. It is the one dictator of our external world that we can actually control. Try this: slouch, constrict your chest cavity, restrict your breathing and stare at the floor. See if your mood doesn’t become gloomy and sad. Now sit up, look up, take several deep breaths and watch as your mood, your perspective and your entire experience of the world around you changes.

The physical practice of asana and the breathing that goes with it has a long and growing list of conditions it has been shown to alleviate.

The integration of the body and mind that the practice requires produces measurable effects in several areas.

Slower, deeper breathing calms the nervous system. According to the Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by D. Coultier, quiet breathing influences the autonomic circuits that slow the heart beat and reduce blood pressure, producing calm and a sense of stability. Abnormal breathing patterns can stimulate autonomic reactions associated with panic attacks, anxiety, and chronic over-stimulation of the sympathetic [fight or flight] nervous system.

In a panic situation, the response is often to take many rapid shallow breaths, an activity that actually delivers lessair to the alveoli (the point of exchange for oxygen and carbon dioxide between the blood and lungs). According to Yoga as Medicine by T. McCall, a 1998 study, published in the Lancet, followed patients with restricted lung capacity due to congestive heart failure. After practicing full (deep) yogic breathing periodically for one month, the average number of breaths taken per minute dropped from 13.4 to 7.6.  Their exercise capacity increased as did their blood oxygen saturation.

Anatomy and Physiology by Thibodeau and Patton states that increased oxygen in the blood coupled with improved circulation brings more oxygenated blood to the extremities. Studies show asana practice measurably increases levels of hemoglobin (the carrier of oxygen in the blood) and red blood cells. The exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide (co2) happens through a delicate balance of pressure gradients between the blood and alveoli or the blood and cells. When the co2-rich blood reaches the lungs, the body’s perpetual quest for balance demands the transfer of co2 for oxygen and respiration is achieved.

If—as during shallow breathing—we lose too much co2, there is less transfer both at the alveoli and at the cells themselves. The blood will retain what oxygen it has to maintain proper blood pH levels, leaving a build-up of metabolic waste at the cells and effectively starving the cells of fresh oxygen.

The magic of an asana practice is found at the union of the mind and body.

The physical expression of that meeting point is the breath. It is the one survival function over which we have voluntary control and to which we have involuntary submission.  It is the expression of our existence and the circumstances under which we perceive that existence. Let your yoga practice be not about the next shape or cool trick, but instead be about extending the consecutive moments in which we can maintain the steady rhythmic breathing that shapes the physical and emotional experience of our world.

From Moksha Yoga Studio’s May 2011 Newsletter (adapted excerpt from full article published in Hippocrates Health Institute Quarterly, January 2008)

The Top 5 Reasons Old People Need Yoga. ~ Niki Saccareccia

Posted on


older woman doing yoga

I recently befriended two people in their 80s that are intelligent and enthusiastic about their lives.

One runs a non-profit for underprivileged children and the other is a gender-equality activist. One is a yoga student of mine, and the other a fellow comrade of personal-empowerment and authentic living. What I am coming to learn from each of them is the importance of a physical discipline that benefits mental faculties.

Here are my top five reasons why our elders need to practice the physical discipline of hatha yoga:

1. Cognitive Resiliency

Yoga’s process of drawing distinction between body parts, sensations and degrees of effort supports increased self-awareness, proprioception (the mind’s GPS) and balance. By coordinating different and often contrasting regions of the body, both sides of the brain communicate better, which could be linked to improved memory and decision-making skills.

Engaging in new physical routines builds and strengthens brain pathways. This action of neuroplasticity has been shown to ward off Alzheimer’s symptoms and also increase intelligence.

2. Improved Circulation

Breathing practices alone will help to increase movement in the upper back and chest at a time in the aging process where this region is often stiff, dehydrated and compressed. Regular yoga practice can also act as a preventative measure for pneumonia in older populations that are especially vulnerable to this sometimes fatal condition.

When gravity has been pressing down on the sphincters, vessels and cavities of our bodies for decades, the fullness of circulation can deplete and pulmonary issues are more likely. With age and habit, connective tissues harden, leading to discomfort and inflammation.

The dynamic movement sequences in a typical yoga class cause pressure and release for the organs and connective tissues that hold the body together, thought to work like a gentle massage for these areas. Whenever we increase blood flow to an area of the body, that innate healing intelligence activates, improving our odds to fit off stress and its consequences.

3. Sustained Strength and Flexibility

With age, our joints and bones become more vulnerable to fractures and inflammation, but yoga’s signature method of low-impact, resistance training builds muscle tone and strength. Even a gentle practice with just a few weight-bearing poses can help retain strength and stave off issues related to arthritis. That adage about “being set in their ways” isn’t so far off in this case. Habits and a more sedentary lifestyle will atrophy muscle tissue, causing weakness and poor circulation. But, hatha yoga encourages the body to lengthen muscle fibers that are often short and stressed, increasing flexibility and also resiliency.

4. Improved Focus and Willpower

Concentrating is difficult enough in our busy, over-stimulated modern world and the elderly feel the effects, too. When that kapha influence of laying low and keeping cool are the signature influences of this stage of life, willpower and the motivation to exercise or meditate can be daunting (especially if regular exercise and mindfulness work isn’t part of the daily routine). A regular hath yoga practice can quell the stiff inertia of immobility without the over-exertion of more athletic exercise programs.

5. To Maintain Well-being

All my elderly friends and family often share with me how they enjoy being around younger people. Getting into the healthy habit of a regular yoga practice promotes socializing, sharing and community building. Mindfulness, resiliency in the body-mind, and honoring the aging process for what it is, all help to maintain wellness. Living a healthy, active life aids in increasing the feel-good hormones in the brain that elevate mood. Also, having cross-generations mingle together in the supportive environment of a yoga class sets a great model for younger generations who have outdated ideas about what it means to grow older.

Like every wise-elder archetype ever, my friends dole out some pretty wonderful insights about growing up and getting closer to death. They joke about being “old” and how yoga makes them feel young and strong.

If we are really only as young as our spine is healthy, could you imagine what our world would be like if our oldest tribe members were backbending their way to the grave?

Are there physical benefits of mindful awareness?

Posted on




July 16, 2014


Practicing mindfulness is its own reward, since it helps you enjoy life bybeing fully present instead of just going through the motions. But did you know it can actually improve the effectiveness of your flu vaccine? From The Four Virtues.

Awareness practices, such as meditation, have long demonstrated a direct impact on stress, from lowering blood pressure to altering brain wave activity. Practices based simply on noticing or watching our inner sensations rather than resisting or getting lost in them have demonstrable effects on pain management and increase the production of antibody titers to the flu vaccine (meaning simply that the immune system works better as a result of these practices in presence). Neuroimaging even suggests that contemplative practice may not only change how the brain is functioning but over time may also change the very structure of the brain itself, specifically increasing cortical thickness. (Thinning of the cortex is associated with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s.)

Beyond its utility as a natural performance and health enhancer, the ability to focus can also help us open to joy and deep satisfaction. The state described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as flow involves being fully absorbed in the activity at hand, whether working on a math problem, building a chair, or running rapids in a kayak. This state of mind and body is characterized by high concentration on a particular activity, the merging of action and awareness as we lose our sense of self and, along with it, our usual sense of time. This immersion is typically deeply satisfying, and the effort seems almost effortless. We and it are flowing; we’re in “the zone.” The capacity for being absorbed is also associated with deeply satisfying, deeply beautiful experiences, including peak or mystical moments. Attention opens us that deeply. Developing the capacity for focus gives us the power to direct and steady our minds intentionally, and this essentially helps us get out of our own way in order to tap both ourselves and the world at a greater depth. (from Tips on Healthy Living)