• 10/21/2020 7:19 AM | Anonymous

    The marvelous world of mudras is a mysterious one at first glance. Yet with a bit of guidance and information, the mystery is unraveled and their powerful gifts for health and healing become clear. 

    Mudra (/muˈdrɑː/ [listen]; Sanskrit: मुद्रा, IAST: mudra) is defined as a "seal," "mark," or “gesture" and originated in India. It is used in the ritual of yoga, uniting body, mind, and spirit. This article references the mudras created with one or both hands, yet there are mudras that involve the whole body (asana)

    Let’s see how mudras work and how they can open a path for personal healing. It is my intent that yoga instructors become aware of how mudras support the teachings of yoga asana and meditation.

    To begin, it may help to think of a mudra as a recipe, and as with all recipes, there are ingredients, instructions, and outcomes. The ingredients are elements of matter: earth, water, fire, air, and space. Just as the natural elements are present in mudras, so are the physical elements present in our bodies. For example, earth expresses as bones, muscles, tissues, and organs; water expresses as blood, tears, urine, synovial fluid, and lymphatic fluid; fire is your temperature of 98.6ish, which fuels the process of metabolism; air is the breath; and space … well, it is there in your cells, your joints, and hopefully, on occasion, between your thoughts. 

    Additionally, there is the ingredient of prana, delivered to us through breath as expression and movement of the life force. This movement is known as the prana vayus. Prana’s movement reflects the five directions: north, south, east, west, and center. 

    In any recipe, once you have the ingredients, you must follow the directions, usually in a sequence and with specific times needed to produce the desired outcome. These aspects are as important as the ingredients themselves. Anyone who has attempted to bake a cake from scratch knows that just having the ingredients, even organic ones, doesn’t guarantee that what comes out of the oven will be light, fluffy, and moist. So too with mudras.

    An example: Let’s imagine that you’d like to learn a mudra that could help you digest information, food, and emotion and calm your nervous system at the same time. While that is a tall order, there is a mudra that delivers those outcomes. 


    Achala Agni Mudra: the gesture of steady fire for optimal digestion

    Source: Joseph and Lilian Le Page

    Let’s first look at the ingredients. The natural elements, discussed earlier, need to express in such a way that the fire element is not too high and not too low. Therefore, in order for this to happen, the air and earth elements need to supply the fire with steady and reliable fuel. Water also needs to be on hand to balance this dynamic. Plus, there needs to be space for all this to take place. The Achala Agni Mudra does just that.

    Then there are the instructions: How does the prana need to flow to deliver and support an effective and safe fire? 

    In this mudra, the hands, fingers, spine, and breath work in unison and focus fire, the great metabolizer, providing heat for transformation and purification. It may sound too good and too easy, and yet I am confident that with skillful use and respect, anyone can learn this mudra and produce this outcome.

    So how does this mudra also soothe the nervous system? Well, it’s all in the prana. A safe, effective fire is one that is contained and centered in a designated place, for example, a fire pit or oven. In the human body, fire’s locale is the center of the body, between the rib cage and pelvis. Its heat metabolizes food, its warmth is circulated through the blood, and its light glows upward to the eyes and brain, producing discernment and clarity. Think of it this way: If the elements are not in balance—the air (wind) moves too fast and is undirected (air pushing fire around) and water is deficient causing dryness—then our bodies would align with a fire gone rogue. (Millions of acres and thousands of people are living the devastation of fire uncontrolled.) Yet when fire is contained, we are mesmerized by it and we gather around and relax and settle. Our nervous systems are calmed.

    Mudras are powerful tools for health and healing. While this article hopefully provides a light introduction, mudras require respect. They are not picked up willy-nilly and applied on the run.

    For more about this mudra and several other mudras that can support a life that is responsive, compassionate, and purposeful, please join me for my YTA workshop on November 14. 

  • 06/01/2020 6:48 PM | Anonymous

    Let us will ourselves to live our life, not by empty words, but the radiance of meaning them and believing them. Our smile lights up our body with health.

    ~Tao Porchon-Lynch

    No matter how old you are, let nature be your encyclopedia. Recycle yourself. The same thing will happen to us as we breathe in the breath of life; as with the four seasons, in winter everything looks dead, but the life force is in the midst of reactivating nature and spring returns. Your mind doesn't tire with mental thoughts of what you can't do, but take a break and breathe and the renewal season will respond to it and start a new cycle.

    Know there is no such thing as "age." Tune in to the power of the eternal and feel the beauty of life. Nothing is impossible. You revitalize yourself with every breath you take.

    Don't be submerged with tons of thoughts you never do. When you wake up in the morning, start the day and know it's going to be a good one. Don't get involved with anything negative. 

    Believe the power within you can be felt in the way you think and see life. There is always a positive answer to the way we live. Believe that all the power in the universe is right inside you. Don't procrastinate. Don't live for tomorrow. 

    Tomorrow never comes. One minute after midnight is already today. Don't let fear clog your thoughts or negative thoughts to invade the mind. Know that even in the worst calamity something good will come of it. Don't say I can't do something. The verb can or cannot doesn't exist. There is no such thing as can or cannot, only the verb to be able. Know that all the power in the universe is right inside of you. It is the doer and you are the instrument. So know there is nothing you cannot do. 

    Know that with each day the sun brings the dawn of recycling and renewal into the world. Let nature be your guide, your encyclopedia, and feel the wonder of living as you breathe the breath of life...the breath of the eternal.

    People talk so much about getting older and they allow it to affect them. I don’t think about age at all. There’s not enough time to think about it with all that I accomplish in a day. Live and know that tomorrow never comes. Live for the moment!

    I search within myself for the power of creation and inner energy radiates the eternal life force, and I don’t get tired. 

    Know whatever you put in your mind materializes. Do not think negative thoughts. Stagnant muscles cause stagnant minds. Don’t procrastinate. 

    Know the secret of life dwells within every breath we take. Live, live, live. Don’t waste your life restricting it. As dawn awakens nature and makes the darkness and ignorance of night fade away, let your body feel the freshness of the energy of a new day. There are so many wonderful things to do and so little time to do them!

    Much of the development of my own life has been in experiencing the wonder of nature. Know that it gives us the clues to living. As for my own life, I have used these wonderful laws of nature to recycle my body. Then spring bursts forth and the dawn of new life appears throughout the world, bringing the new fruits of food, life, and energy into our lives. As I listen to my heartbeat, a new journey brings into my life a higher level of consciousness. The joy of living each day. I feel the dance of life. 

    Dawn awakens nature and makes the darkness and ignorance of night fade away. Let your body feel the freshness of the energy of a new day. There are so many wonderful things to do and so little time to do them!

    One feels the life force alive within us and we know everything makes us believe in the renewal force inside of us. Dance, for it will open up the door of freedom from fear and the fun of knowing that we can do things we thought were impossible.

    Reprinted from the June 2016 YTA newsletter

  • 05/31/2020 6:32 PM | Anonymous

    Tao passed away peacefully at the age of 101 on February 21 of this year, surrounded by loving friends. She did not have immediate family or blood relatives, but she had a very large organically grown family that grew from her communities of yoga, ballroom dance, the Wine Society of Westchester, and the Rotary Club of Hartsdale. The Yoga Teachers Association is part of that large family. 

    She did not want a funeral or burial ceremony of any kind. It was painful for all of us, set adrift in a sea of grief and loss with no place to mourn together or celebrate her extraordinary life and contribution to the world. Then COVID-19 came to town shortly after, and we were awash in a blur of incomprehensible circumstances. 

    I feel tremendous gratitude for the YTA in making this tribute to Tao possible. There couldn’t be a better time to gather together to find joy and inspiration. It will be a joyous afternoon honoring her life and also the formation of the YTA a little over 40 years ago, when Tao joined a group of bold pioneering women who galvanized and began this organization. 

    Tao’s life story is astonishing, from the unusual circumstances of her birth and her childhood growing up in Pondicherry, India, accompanying Gandhi in the Salt March, to her aunt’s vineyard in Provence, France, where she participated in helping the Jews escape from the Nazis, to her work with the French Resistance and wartime in London during the Blitz bombings, and finally arriving in Paris after the war to become a couture model. She had not yet reached 25! 

    Her life course from Europe to America, from Hollywood to Hartsdale, to her later years receiving Guinness World Record awards (two!), along with numerous international honors and worldwide acclaim, will be presented in photographs and stories. 

    Tao never sought fame or glory for any of the ways she served in the world. Her simple life as a yoga teacher is equally as impressive as anything she has done in her life for its humility and selflessness. Tao was, above all else, a humanitarian. 

    And so we gather on Saturday, June 13, to honor Tao for her achievements and inspiration and for reminding us that the selfless path we have all chosen as yoga teachers is a prodigious one. 

    Following the audiovisual presentation, we will have a yoga practice following Tao’s methodology and beliefs and highlighted by one of her beautiful meditations from her Reflections recording. 

  • 04/15/2020 6:00 AM | Anonymous
    Do you or your yoga students struggle with tight hamstrings, sore knees, back pain, or hips that won’t open? Is your stress making you sick? Do you feel anxious and find it difficult to relax and be calm? Is there an effective way to deal with these conditions through yoga? There sure is.

    The focus of this class is yoga practice for well-being and pain relief using modern yoga.

    The ancient yogis believed that a regular yoga practice could help with all aspects of one’s being. Since our lifestyles today are quite different from that of the ancient yogis, we will benefit by culling the traditional yoga practices that will most benefit our needs in the twenty-first century. The information I present is suitable for those new to yoga and for those who have been practicing for many years, both students and teachers. This material is for those who want to be able to achieve even better results from their yoga practice and for those who are struggling with certain poses and conditions. It is suitable for all body types.

    In the May workshop hosted by the YTA, we will discuss the powerful benefits of asana (stretching), pranayama (breathing), and meditation, especially as they apply to neuromuscular conditions and the general health of the body, mind, and spirit. These tools of the ancient yogis are making resurgence in our modern world as science is confirming their many benefits.

    In the final analysis, most pain is foundational, resulting from imbalances in the musculoskeletal system. We are in pain because we are misaligned, or “crooked.” We have poor posture as a result. Even if you think you have good posture, you probably don’t, as misalignments are often not obvious to the untrained eye. This class will teach you how to identify the most common misalignments and to develop a quick and simple approach to better posture and muscle balance which will help with many painful conditions in the body.

    By incorporating this information into your practice and teaching, you will be able to more precisely choose the poses best suited for your current body conditions and those of your students. Yoga should not be about performing poses but rather selecting the poses that will most benefit current body conditions. Not all yoga postures are suitable for all individuals. Depending on postural imbalances, one might need to avoid certain poses until the body is back in balance. The information I am presenting will help identify these imbalances, explain how current poses might be causing or contributing to pain, and show you how to develop a yoga practice that can achieve the right balance for yourself or your students. The result will be less pain and more vitality.

    Western medicine has few interventions for the musculoskeletal pain and stress often caused by our modern lifestyles. Typically, doctors prescribe painkillers, muscle relaxers, and anti-anxiety drugs. These can often bring some relief, but they are only treating the symptoms rather than the root problem.

    Selecting the correct asanas (poses) for your particular musculoskeletal condition requires some knowledge of anatomy and muscle imbalances. Knowing how to deal with the stress and anxiety in our daily lives requires some knowledge of the mind and body. These yoga solutions will help you alleviate the root causes of your conditions.

    I have trained thousands of people in my workshops, including MDs, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and lay people. They have all learned how easy it is to reduce or eliminate pain. They all have learned how to achieve a greater sense of well-being when following my protocols.

    This class will take you on a journey so you can discover:

    • the roots of yoga, and how traditional yoga differs from what we practice today 
    • the miraculous mechanics of your musculoskeletal system
    • the cause of most aches and pains
    • how to reduce pain and achieve better results from your practice
    • how to select the correct asanas for your and your students’ conditions 
    • why people get hurt practicing yoga and how to avoid injury
    • how to stretch
    • specific yoga flows for pain relief
    • guidelines for achieving superior results
    • the many benefits of pranayama and meditation  
    • how to quickly reduce or eliminate stress and anxiety
    • how to integrate yoga into everyday life
  • 03/18/2020 6:30 AM | Anonymous

    As we find ourselves following the same patterns of increased social distancing due to COVID-19 that we've watched communities around the world go through, we want to be a source of support for our members and community. 

    We're posting here member studios and teachers who are offering online classes—some free, some free for now, and some paid—as well as other small businesses and organizations that are doing what they can to support their communities during this time. 

    Feel free to post in the comments other service providers and businesses that are supporting customers during this time so that customers can support them in return. We will keep adding to this list as we can.

    In addition to the below, we can try to support our local restaurants, which are still open for takeout or delivery for the time being, and gift certificates can be bought for many items and services. And remember to reach out to neighbors, friends, and family who may need help coping during this time. In addition to the scary health climate, increased social isolation can be tough for some to handle.

    Keep deep breathing and stay well!

    YTA Members offering online classes
    Birchwood Yoga Center
    PranaMoon Yoga
    Willow Tree Yoga
    Yoga Culture

    Business and organizations offering socially distanced services

    • Most libraries have digital offerings that can be checked out remotely; some, like the Ossining Library, are offering tech help by phone or e-mail. (You can also call just to chat.)
    • Feed the Birds is offering delivery service within Croton-on-Hudson for orders over $20, or back-door pickup for others.
    • The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville is offering delivery service for orders over $25 and within 10 miles.
    • Bella Maiya Day Spa in Briarcliff Manor is offering at-home massages. 
  • 03/05/2020 7:33 AM | Anonymous

    Mudras were a mystery, and one I didn’t think I was “allowed” to explore. I thought they were only used by the “Grand Poobah” of yoga and, therefore, I didn’t touch them (pun intended) until … well, I am getting ahead of myself. 

    At my March YTA workshop I hope to save others from the unnecessary delay in discovering the support available in reaching for mudras in daily life. As the saying goes, having a relationship with mudras has made all the difference in my living. So, if you have any curiosity about mudras, I invite you wholeheartedly to join me! (There’s a mudra for wholeheartedness, did you know that?) 

    I first reached for the assistance of mudras as a teacher, not as a student. I was creating a curriculum for an Ayurveda and Yoga Study Group to help yoga teachers and students better understand how these ancient twin sciences can help balance our dosha and access our vital life force. As a health coach, yogi, and Ayurvedic health counselor, it is my job to support clients in creating a personalized approach to meet their individual health goals. Providing accessible and efficient tools are crucial aspects of my work and mudras help my clients and I succeed. 

    Ayurveda is the first whole medical system of our world with lifestyle as a founding principle. The study course I was designing included an assessment process to teach individuals to know their dosha and recognize the signs and symptoms of imbalances. This of course is crucial to avoid the disease process that follows chronic imbalances. Mudras are very useful tools to rebalance the elemental matrix. When we consider that in the palm of our hand we can influence our heart rate; in the tips of your fingers we can adjust our thyroid; or with a snap of our fingers ignite our digestion—the power of the mudras, while not as transformative as the breath, run a close second to the tools we carry with us. 

    No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can almost always assume a mudra to calm our anxiety, secure our boundaries, fortify our immune system, or get energized. As I designed the study course, the mudras were teaching me! I discovered they have a consciousness of their own, and like benevolent spirits guiding, they taught me to reach for them. I don’t like to say use them, because just like a friend, we don’t want to use anyone, but rather I appreciate them and relate to their qualities.

    In my daily living, I balance my dosha, which usually means keeping vata in check with kurma mudra. This reduces vata’s forces of wind so that my systems don’t dry up or whip my thoughts around hither and thither like leaves on a windy day. I also engage samana vayu mudra before every meal to optimize digestion; I reach for pala mudra before a difficult conversation to calm anxiety; and I always seek pruna jnanam for discernment when making important decisions. I have a holy host of powerful forces at the ready to assist me in meeting life with a stable and confident posture. Until of course I can’t, as Dr. Suess says in Oh the places you’ll go, “…you’ll move mountains kid, except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t!” And then there’s a mudra for that—despair and depression can be met with nonjudgmental support and the uplifting qualities of vajraprandama mudra.

    As the practice and teaching of yoga evolves, She, our beloved Mother Yoga, remains steadfast and true. Her yamas and niyamas are our anchors while her sister, Ayurveda—the first lifestyle medicine—offers her tridoshic philosophy to guide our daily bread and breath. Yoga teachers are more sophisticated and are exploring beyond the physical stretch of asana and into the subtle body. We are hungry to understand how asana, pranayama, kriya, mantra, mudra, and meditation influence our subtle bodies; and how the subtle doshic forces of prana, tejas, and ojas guide the expression of their physical counterparts of vata, pitta, and kapha. These biological forces govern all life on earth; the wind, the rain, and the fire. Our ability to respect and cooperate with them is a great need. 

    We’ve seen how the forces of vata (wind) blow the fire element to devastating effect, for example, in Australia, California, and Brazil most recently. And we’ve seen how the earth’s instability (150 earthquakes across the globe in 2019) threatens our most fundamental needs of shelter, food, and a sense of belonging. While I can’t guarantee mudras will save the world, I can provide a comprehensive overview of them. Perhaps with this introduction the living gifts of mudra can enter your life, offering their handy access. And while you may not love them as I do, you will certainly come to appreciate them and one day may even find yourself telling a family member, friend, or student, “You know, there is a mudra that could help you.”

    Learn more about Deirdre at deirdrebreen.info

  • 01/20/2020 1:34 PM | Anonymous

    What Exactly Is Yoga Nidra?

    I was first introduced to yoga nidra as a teenager in Mumbai, India, and the stillness it led me into had a profound impact on my practice and my teaching.

    Yoga Nidra is a guided auditory meditation technique practiced lying down in savasana. In Sanskrit, nidra means sleep. Yoga nidra is often referred to as the sleepless sleep because it induces a state between being awake and being asleep known as the hypnogogic state in which the mind and body deeply relax. This powerful state on the threshold of being asleep and being awake can be used for many purposes that include deep relaxation, releasing memories locked in the subconscious and unconscious, and creating an expanded state of consciousness.

    Yoga Nidra’s roots lie in an ancient tantric technique called nyasa in which practitioners held their awareness on different parts of the body and through concentration and the chanting of mantas were able to bring more consciousness to different parts of the body. We use a variation of nyasa in yoga nidra to move our awareness through the body in a particular order and to create a circuit of energy through the brain that allows us to enter the hypnogogic state.

    Yoga nidra is highly adaptable both in length and purpose. It can range from just a few minutes to an hour-long practice depending on the purpose and time available. Most practices are between 15 and 40 minutes.

    Why I Love Restorative

    The impact restorative yoga has had in releasing stress and tension for me is very personal. 

    About fourteen years ago I had a bout of serious asthma attacks that were life-changing. I was continually in and out of the hospital and put on high levels of cortisone for an extended period that created extreme anxiety and panic attacks. 

    I started practicing restorative yoga, which was an integral part of my recovery. Restorative calmed my nervous system, relaxed my body, and released tension from my breath. The effects of this practice released the fear of future attacks. 

    No amount of trying to talk myself out of the situation helped because my whole system was stuck in a heightened state of tension and anxiety. I needed to learn to bypass my mind and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is exactly what restorative yoga does. 

    Why Restorative Is So Powerful 

    Modern life is fast-paced and filled with stressors that contribute to a constant level of low-grade stress that we're often unaware of. This continuous state of sympathetic nervous system arousal has led to many modern-day illnesses such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, and stress disorders.

    Restorative yoga provides the prefect antidote to stress because it creates a supported pause. By completely supporting the body and being still for extended periods, the breath, the mind, and the nervous system begin to calm. 

    Different restorative poses can be used for different purposes, though they all help to calm and quiet the nervous system. There are poses that open the breath and lift our spirits when we're feeling depressed, poses that are supportive and nurturing when we're feeling anxious, and poses that target specific parts of the body where tension accumulates. 

    Restorative yoga releases tensions on physical, mental, and emotional levels. Since our bodies store all our past experiences, when we let go of the holding in the physical body we often have strong emotional releases. The suppressed emotions and past experiences locked in the body bubble up to the surface and are then released. 

    One of the advantages of a restorative practice is that it can be applied universally to everyone. People who aren't physically able to practice asana, such as the elderly and physically challenged can reap the benefits of deep relaxation and energetic rebalancing. 

    Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra

    When I started teaching adults I included yoga nidra at the end of every class. Most students didn’t know what it was at the time but they kept coming back for more. One of my fellow teachers advised me not to include yoga nidra in classes in New York City. My colleague said students would get frustrated and leave because New Yorkers couldn’t slow down, but the opposite happened and people came back for more. It’s exactly what we need in NYC but we often don’t know it. I found that adding yoga nidra at the end of the practice was very powerful because the restorative postures led students into a place of deep stillness which when followed by yoga nidra induced an even deeper state of surrender enabling the release of past experiences locked in the subconscious and unconscious. 

    I’ve now been teaching my restorative/yoga nidra workshops for the past 12 years. I've worked with Alan Finger to develop a nine-step approach to yoga nidra called "Mona Anand's Ishta Yoga Nidra."

    I design yoga nidras for different imbalances such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I also design yoga nidra practices for chakra and dosha imbalances, which I teach in restorative/yoga nidra workshops. I am currently writing a book with Alan Finger on yoga nidra and the chakras. 

    To learn more about Mona, visit monaanandyoga.com.

  • 01/01/2020 6:00 AM | Anonymous

    Here we are, beginning a new year and a new decade, certainly an auspicious time! We look forward with great zeal and optimism, as we rightly should, to how we will manifest, at long last, that which will help us to experience greater fulfillment.

    One thing I learned from the years that have passed is that the promises and resolutions put forth at the time of holiday excitement dismally slow down and dim as the energy stabilizes. In fact, the old habits and patterns that were to be changed for the better might even alter to become more fixed and stuck. 

    I would like to share my personal experiences of the last two years that have enriched and changed my practice of yoga. As we all know, because of our interest and involvement in yoga, with its philosophies and all-encompassing teachings, we have a head start toward those changes we desire. At the first YTA retreat at the Himalayan Institute led by Luke Ketterhagen, one point he made resulted in a major physical shift for me resulting in greater freedom of thought. The refinement of Mula Bhanda by using the image of how an octopus travels toward the surface of the sea changed my existing point of view, thus allowing my mind to be more flexible and my physical body to use the strength of the pelvis more efficiently. 

    At the second YTA retreat at the Himalayan Institute with Todd Norian, another simple teaching resulted in greater stability of the shoulder girdle, with the supported expansion of the rib cage permitting more activity for the breath to enhance the function of the heart and lungs. The teaching of simply moving the head of the humorous bone back brought greater alignment to the shoulder, the rotator cuff, the neck, and in the embodiment of the rib cage over the pelvis.

    At this time I am choosing to embrace these teachings, as well as those that continue to evolve through my practice, to enhance, brighten, and strengthen the "now" which ultimately becomes the future. This is my New Year's resolution. We have within us all the joy and light we seek and through our practice, the means to intuit our path and to be inspired as we integrate these teachings for our own greater good.

    Make sure your "list" includes attending the monthly YTA workshops that are held the second Saturday of each month at Club Fit in Briarcliff. See the exciting lineup of workshops and presenters below and on our website. And keep in mind the third annual YTA retreat!

    Yours in yoga, 
    Paula Renuka Heitzner

  • 12/31/2019 11:43 AM | Anonymous

    Some of us come to yoga in a quest to resolve problems with pain, to reduce stress, or to explore our fascination with the body. Others come as part of a spiritual journey, in a quest for greater meaning and personal transcendence. Still others come to yoga seeking emotional balance, freedom from negative emotions, and liberation from a karmic inheritance. Because yoga is a profound discipline, wherever we begin our journey, we eventually find ourselves addressing all these dimensions of healing: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

    I was introduced to yoga in 1975 when I was a young professor of philosophy, through the renowned philosopher Mircea Eliade’s classic book, written in 1936, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Yoga, as Eliade described it, is the pathway to direct knowledge, or the ability to liberate ourselves from illusion. But if ultimate wisdom and the freedom it brings is the goal of yoga, why and how must we use the body to get there? What is it that we are looking for through bodily exploration, beyond greater strength, stability, focus, and alignment? And why can bodily self-awareness lead us to the truth with a big capital “T”? The challenges I faced in my own life led me to explore those questions. The answers to those questions all revolve around one thing: the body is the seat of what is unconscious ourselves. What lies beyond consciousness includes both our restrictions and limitations (all the forms that ego takes), and our higher self. The path into the body brings what is unconscious to light in order to let go of what binds us and become free.

    My own life took me out of a purely intellectual journey as a philosopher and into intensive somatic self-exploration. In 1976 I began to suffer from severe chronic pain. No amount of hospitalization or conventional medical care helped me. Over the years I came to realize that my dis-ease was the result of a combination of factors: on the physical level, scoliosis and a tight ligamentous structure; on the mental level, a hard-driving, self-critical type A personality; and on the karmic level, buried emotional conflicts dating to infancy and before. I was tied up in knots, and it was my body, not my mind, that was showing me that.

    I spent years studying meditation with an Indian spiritual teacher, all of which helped. Then I discovered the Alexander Technique in the late 1980s and its study opened the door to a complete change in understanding of who we are and how to heal. The Alexander Technique is a specific approach to learning how to identify and release unconscious physiological tension. While this tension is physical, it affects every aspect of our being: our thought processes, emotional reactions, and so on. You can’t change those thought processes or emotional reactions more than marginally through mental analysis or psychotherapy, because ultimately the body rules the mind. FM Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, showed that all of us carry excess physiological tension all the time, and demonstrated that this unconscious tension underlies physical disease, as well as mental and emotional stress. He developed ingenious methods for helping people identify, observe, and release this tension. The consequence of putting your primary attention on noticing, feeling,and releasing physiological tension is that life as a whole becomes increasingly effortless, the mind becomes more peaceful, perception becomes more accurate, health improves, and it becomes easier to stay detached in the face of life’s bumps.Does this sound like yoga? It is. It’s not the same as yoga, but it shares a lot of yoga’s ultimate aims. It just uses different tools, a different terminology, and comes from a different culture.

    The path into the subtle body in yoga is the path into more and more refined sensation and perception. It’s a path toward effortlessness. We move from the grosser to the subtler sensations and perceptions. As we learn to do this, we are increasingly able to release negative karmic issues, tied to heavier and grosser sensations (being more tamasic or rajasic), and move toward lighter, more expansive and sattvic states. This process of refinement can only happen if we make effortlessness—softening and letting go—more important than achieving, being right, or any other ego issue. The deeper we move into refined physiological sensation, the more we let go of outer compulsions and reactions. The commitment to the exploration of lighter and lighter states of being is a very important aspect of higher yogic practice. This is a process of ever subtler physiological awareness.

    The quest for effortlessness, with everything it implies, both mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, has been a guiding force in my understanding, study, and teaching of both the Alexander Technique, craniosacral therapy (which I have practiced and taught internationally since 1994), and yoga. It has also been the focus of my three books on self-healing: The Art of Effortless Living, Effortless Pain Relief, and Fear-Less Now.

    The practice of yoga extends far beyond our workout on the mat, in which most of our attention is on strengthening, stabilizing,and expanding the body. As yogis, we all seek to release our own samskaras (grosser physical, spiritual, and emotional restrictions) and become more attuned to our more refined, sattvic selves. And this is a process that takes place every moment of every day. The conscious pursuit of physiological effortlessness, which is identical with deepening peace, can be a great adjunct to the yogi’s journey, and can help deepen one’s understanding of the core meaning of ancient yogic practices.  

  • 11/20/2019 6:37 AM | Anonymous

    From Asana to Samadhi: Exploring the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

    Just as lions, tigers, and elephants are gradually controlled, so prana is controlled through practice. Otherwise the practitioner is destroyed.
    Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:15

    How well-trained is your inner lion-tiger-elephant? This verse from the preeminent hatha yoga text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, suggests that we all have a beastly inclination in need of taming. This is probably not news to you; most of us know our inner lion-tiger-elephant all too well! It’s the part of us that wants what it wants when it wants it, regardless of the consequences. It’s the blind instinct of life: the powerful drives of hunger, fear, sex, and sleep. It’s our inner two-year-old stamping her foot and refusing to share her cookies, eat her peas, or go to bed on time. This untrained lion-tiger-elephant resists any efforts at discipline or restraint. Unregulated, it rampages blindly through life, driven by instinct and habit. From the yogic point of view, we are acting out patterns laid down in the unconscious mind, spinning on the wheel of karma, mindlessly squandering prana, our precious life force, on worldly affairs without making an attempt to realize the purpose of life.

    However, the verse also implies that although we have inherited a beastly side, we have also inherited an inner-wild-animal trainer. In other words, we have the inherent capacity to control prana and regulate the life force that animates our body and mind. This trainer has intelligent self-awareness, and serves as an inner locus of control that is not thoughtlessly driven by unregulated passions, selfish desires, fear, or greed. Our inner trainer has discrimination, intention, and purpose. Our inner trainer has the capacity to train the exuberant pranic force and create a harmonious, enjoyable inner world.

    Now the question becomes: what kind of training, and how do we train ourselves? As for what kind of training, here’s a hint: The verse appears in the chapter about pranayama practice, in a text on the practice of hatha yoga.

    As for how: Prana gradually comes under control with practice. Perhaps that reminds you of what Patanjali tells us right up front in the Yoga Sutra (YS 1:14):  “That [practice] becomes firm only when done for a long period of time, with no interruption, and with reverence.”  He’s explaining abhyasa, the “ardent effort to retain the peaceful flow of the mind free from roaming tendencies.” Bringing prana under control reins in the wild-animal mind, roaming under the spell of its habits and instincts, but mastery is achieved only with sustained, uninterrupted, reverent practice.

    Like instincts, our individual karmic samskaras can be deeply ingrained in our unconscious mind. It takes time and consistency to create positive new habits that are just as strong as our undesirable old habits. This is true of training elephants and tigers, and it is true of training our mind. Patience is required in training wild animals, and that is just what is needed in working with our inner lion-tiger-elephant. Patience means having reasonable expectations, avoiding condemnation, staying the course in the face of setbacks, and cultivating commitment for the long run. It also requires having faith in the practice and in the process of training. Faith, or shraddha, develops from knowledge and understanding, from our own experience, and from confidence in the experience of those who have gone before us—the lineage and tradition of teachers and practitioners who have shared their accomplishments and their methods. Without faith, doubt undermines our dedication and consistency of effort.

    Finally, practice with reverence. Have respect for the inner lion-tiger-elephant and its enormous strength and power. After all, our animal nature is also an expression of the divine, worthy of our respect, and essential for our life here in the phenomenal world. The Sanskrit word sevita, translated in this verse as “practice,” has connotations of protection and preservation, as well as pursuit and practice. We must be firm and consistent in practice, yes, but we must also feed and protect our inner lion-tiger-elephant self. Think of it this way: Love and serve your teeth and claws, and they will love and serve you.

    And now we come to the consequences of not training ourselves. “The sadhaka (practitioner) is destroyed,” reads the last stanza of this verse. At the mercy of haphazard experiences, instinct, social conditioning, and deep-seated distorted perceptions, the untrained mind creates enormous stress in the mind and body, and so we fall victim to distress, sorrow, anger, and disease. Untrained, the pranic force runs amok, exhausting our vitality in the pursuit of worldly and instinctive desires. We suffer; we die in ignorance; the practitioner is destroyed. The great gift and promise of yoga is that we can bring the wild animal to heel. Then our passions, in the service of a greater intelligence, operate joyfully and harmoniously at every level of our being. Our vision begins to clear, and we realize that our life’s beastly inclinations and all—is emanating from the source of divine consciousness, eternally pulsing in the depths of our heart.

    Republished with permission from himalayaninstitute.org

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