texting shoulders

Improve your posture with yoga

Texting Shoulders, iPosture,  iHunch … just some of the names assigned to the posture we fold into it when we use our mobile devices.

It’s pretty obvious that this kind of body positioning can create a lot of stress on the neck. The weight of the head is usually about 10-12 pounds, but the more you lean your head forward, the heavier will the load become. For example, if you lean your head forward 60 degrees (which is quite common), the load on your neck will be about 60 pounds, which equals 5 gallons of paint or 4 bowling balls. In addition to that, your upper back can become frozen in the forward curve and much less mobile, which can lead to a stooped posture.

Interestingly, latest research shows that this kind of posture is not just problematic for the body alignment, but has a great impact on your mental state as well. This recent article from the New York Times emphasizes that “posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them.” Studies show that the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear; they were more likely to be more negative when they talk, and recall more negative experiences. They also became less assertive. “In fact, there appears to be a linear relationship between the size of your device and the extent to which it affects you: the smaller the device, the more you must contract your body to use it, and the more shrunken and inward your posture, the more submissive you are likely to become.”

Think of the common expression “He walks with his head held high,” which projects confidence and self-assurance. When we droop our heads down we feel the opposite.

Since our electronic devices are not going anywhere, all we can do is be mindful about our body positioning when we use them. We can also try to counteract the iHunch by strengthening the muscles that support the body in the upright position, relieve neck tension and realign the spinal curves to improve the posture.

Here are four simple poses, courtesy of Yoga Journal, to help combat poor posture resulting from device addiction.

Article credit: Olga Kabel on Sequence Wiz   article link 

5 points of yoga etiquette; the philosophy

1. Where you place yourself in the yoga room

When you arrive at yoga class, there is an etiquette to where you place yourself in the room … and challenging yourself to break out of your comfort zone can also enhance your practice, Brown says. “I think it turns to in front, back, or middle … where do you want to place yourself in the room, and what’s your motivation for being at a certain location? The motivation/desire behind the action gives us direction on where the work is,” she explains. “Are you attached to that spot because that’s where you always go? Then, you should practice non-attachment (vairagya). If you see other students come in and you spread out and stack your blocks so that nobody takes the spot next to you (so you won’t feel crowded), you should practice non-greed (aparigraha). If you want to be up front to see the teacher and you don’t want to be distracted by anyone behind you, that goes along with [improving] your drishti, or focus.

Your Ayurvedic dosha also may play a role in where your comfort zone is in the yoga studio, Brown adds. “If you’re in the front to show off and ‘prove your moves,’ in Ayurveda we would describe that as an overactive pitta, type-A kind of thing. Pitta is great and helps us stay driven/motivated, but when it’s out of balance, it shows up in negative qualities of competitiveness, showmanship, or overactive ego (ahamkara). The lesson here is to go in the back or the middle to work on that. I also often cue these students to place their drishti downward — some of us need our gaze upward with the intent of enhancing self-esteem, but those with overactive pitta may need to look down to look inward.

Conversely, if you always place yourself in the back of the room, you may need to step forward to stop hiding and being afraid, Brown explains. “You know what you’re doing [in class], and you need to stop comparing yourself to others. By moving up, you move into self-study, witnessing yourself instead of turning away and hiding. Some of these students may have the heavier qualities of kapha in not wanting to be more dynamic. Kaphas like to be comfortable. They need to challenge themselves and own it a little more. The aim of yoga and what we practice in asana is to be on the edge of discomfort, so you can soothe that edge and know how to do that in real time in the real world.”

2. Taking modifications

Taking modifications of a pose is totally fine — except when it’s not, Brown says. “I encourage students to find their own enhancement or modification of a pose. It’s also OK to take creative yogic license, for example, to replace Upward-Facing Dog with Cobra. That does NOT mean going to Handstand or taking a seated twist while we’re in Warrior II,” she explains. “It’s poor etiquette — yoga is a collective and dynamic practice, and you’re an individual within the collective. Your vibration and actions have an impact on the people around you, and you have to be responsible for your how your energy impacts the space. It requires tapas(self-discipline) to be responsible for your actions within your environment — another tool to be practiced on the mat and taken with you out into the world. This also applies when you have to leave class early — be sure to let the teacher know, and position yourself near the back of the room. It’s about being respectful of the environment, the teacher, and the people around you.”

3. Cleanliness

When you you come to yoga class, you want to be as clean as possible to show respect for the practice and for your fellow students, Brown reminds us. “The Sanskrit word saucha refers to purity and cleanliness. Here, it applies to the simple act of washing your feet before getting on the mat, being mindful of body odors and excess perfume as well as excess sweat. We’re supposed to sweat in yoga, but just like when you sneeze you cover your mouth, you don’t want to spray sweat all over the room. Try placing a towel over your mat and using another towel for your face and hands,” she recommends.

4. Loud breathing

If you sound like you need to “get a room,” you might be breathing just a little too loudly in class, Brown says. “I cue people to unhinge their jaw a lot, because of all the tension we hold in the jaw, and to exhale through the mouth, but some people sound like they are getting hot and heavy or should ‘get a room,’ which is distracting,” she explains. “I encourage students to express themselves, but with awareness of others. This is about respecting the collective sangha, or community.” Same rule also applies when you unroll your mat (no need to make a lot of noise like you’re flipping a sheet). “When you unroll your mat and it has a dramatic snap to it, think of brahmacharya, which is usually thought of as celibacy, but in a bigger sense in means to not waste your energy on non-important thoughts/actions. In other words, it means don’t drain your energy and deplete yourself by being loud and overly active.”

5. Cell phones

It seems like an obvious “don’t,” but some students do check their cell phones during yoga class, Brown says. “Some students will prop their cell phones up next to their mat. Others will record the class without asking, which is stealing (asteya). It’s OK to tell a teacher you’re on call at work if you need your phone next to you, but sometimes it’s about breaking a samskara, or a habit, and simply unplugging. If you’re Shazaming the song the teacher is playing, you’re not totally present, you’re not practicing mindfulness, and you’re hijacking your own practice. Take a little tech fast.”

author credit: Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman on Yoga Journal  article link


10 myths about yoga injuries

Who wouldn’t want a magic formula to ward off injury on the mat or protect our yoga students from harm? That wish for safety, however, may have given rise to a host of misconceptions about yoga injuries. For instance, we may believe we can avoid injury if only we’re sufficiently mindful. Or that if we just move slowly enough, or do a pose perfectly enough, we will never be hurt.

But the factors underlying injury are complex and varied, which limits our ability to make generalizations about injury prevention that will hold true in all cases. Bill Reif, a physical therapist based in Atlanta with forty years’ experience, and the author of The Back Pain Secret, weighs in below on ten common myths about yoga injuries—myths that I wish were true.

Myth 1: Yoga is 100 percent safe, 100 percent of the time.

Yoga is physical activity that challenges our bodies and moves them in non-habitual ways. While these aspects of practice are largely beneficial, they may at times lead to injuries. By some tallies (such as this study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine in 2016), the rate of yoga injuries (many of them strains, sprains, and fractures) is on the rise.

Some injuries in which yoga may play a role aren’t easily tallied, however. Reif says that a lot of his yogi patients aren’t sure how they got injured. “Although a sudden injury can occur in yoga class, many injuries are more nebulous. A lot of them are cumulative: They occur over time. Injuries arising from joint instability may only arise after years of hyperextending joints. Common neck or lower back problems (such as a bulging or herniated disc) often occur over a period of months and sometimes years before they cause symptoms of pain and numbness.”

Because many injuries occur so gradually, the line between what is and is not a “yoga injury” is blurry. Some injuries that first make themselves felt in yoga may have arisen from a movement pattern off the mat (that pain I feel in chaturanga may have something to do with my habit of carrying a heavy bag over my malpositioned left shoulder). Conversely, some injuries that make themselves felt in daily life may have arisen from a movement pattern on the mat (that pain I feel when I throw a heavy bag over my left shoulder might have something to do with all those chaturangas I’ve been doing with my shoulders rolling forward). And just as repeatedly lifting heavy boxes with your lower back rounded might contribute to your back pain in yoga class, some of yoga’s more extreme movements may contribute to spinal problems, which you might not notice till you bend over to pick up the laundry basket. “Deep flexion (forward folding) can cause wear on the discs, deep extension (backbending) can cause wear on the facet joints. Both can wear out the ligaments supporting the spine over many years,” says Reif.

If we accept that yoga does occasionally cause or play a role in injuries (which may show up in class, or much later), we can take steps to protect both ourselves and our students during practice. However, because our movements throughout daily life can also play a role in the injuries we experience in class, our awareness and caution off the mat may be valuable in staving off yoga injuries, too.

Myth 2: A careful, experienced yoga teacher will never cause injury.

While careless and inexperienced teachers are certainly more likely to harm their students, even experienced yoga teachers can teach a pose or make an adjustment that leads to injury.

“No teacher can avoid all injuries,” says Reif. “All instructors can do is lower the odds of injury.”

Reif tells us that teachers can help lower the odds of injury by asking about and accommodating a student’s limitations, and “reminding them often that this yoga practice is their journey, and no two bodies share the same musculoskeletal history.” Demonstrating with props and offering the less extreme version of a pose as the rule rather than the exception can help keep students safe. Just as important is to offer adjustments with extreme care, and to instruct transitions slowly and carefully.

As for students, Reif encourages us to inform our instructors of any pre-existing musculoskeletal conditions, and to always remember: “You’re responsible for your body. Honor it, and back off when you feel that something isn’t right.”

Myth 3: Mindful, experienced students don’t get hurt.

While ambitious, inexperienced students may be more likely to get injured, experienced practitioners can also get hurt, as many of us undoubtedly know.

“As with any conditioned athlete, the chance of injury for a more experienced practitioner is greatly reduced as compared with a newbie,” says Reif. But he also emphasizes that even the most experienced practitioners may find that their bodies become new to them, and newly vulnerable, as they change in various ways.

For example, “During pregnancy, an experienced student or teacher may be unaware that as her tissues and ligaments become lax due to hormonal changes, laying off asymmetric strain to the sacroiliac joint might be advisable.” Muscular fatigue from an intense month of yoga training can also make an experienced yoga practitioner susceptible to injury, according to Reif.

Despite experience, the effects of aging can also make us vulnerable to injury. In that 2016 study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, those over 65 had triple the overall injury rate. Were all of the injured new to yoga and overly ambitious, or were some of them experienced practitioners whose bodies responded differently to familiar poses? Reif says: “An older student with osteoporosis who’s practiced for decades may not be aware that the increasing brittleness of her bones means she should lay off poses that require extreme ranges of motion, like forward folds and deep backbends.” He adds that loss of muscle mass as we age can also make experienced practitioners more susceptible to injury, as can the increased likelihood of pre-existing injuries or conditions (see myth five for more on this).

Reif recommends that students remain continually aware of the changes happening in their own bodies, even the smaller day-to-day changes, and that teachers encourage this awareness: “Your practice must be a dynamic experience, meaning one day—or one year—you might do the more challenging version of the pose, and another you won’t. Each time you come to the mat your experience may vary. Give your body permission to say ‘maybe next time’ or ‘this is enough.’”

Myth 4: If we listen to our bodies, we won’t get hurt. And all injuries are preceded by warning signals we can perceive if we’re paying attention.

While listening closely to signals from our own body is an excellent idea, Reif points out that warning signs aren’t always easily interpretable, especially for beginners. “New students don’t always know if the sensation they are feeling is a ‘normal’ feeling. It’s not immediately clear if that pull on the hamstrings, tingle in the toes, or ‘pop’ in the hip signals a good release or an injury-in-the making.” According to Reif, these sensations and sounds sometimes signal the latter.

While listening closely to signals from our own body is an excellent idea, Reif points out that warning signs aren’t always easily interpretable, especially for beginners.

But some warning signs might be hard for even experienced practitioners to parse. While some wobbling in a single-leg balance pose is fine and part of the process of gaining strength and control, according to Reif, drastic wobbling could be a warning sign of torsion (twisting) to the ankle or knee, and injuries to the patella (kneecap), meniscus (knee cartilage), or the ligaments of knee and ankle—or it may even warn of an impending fall. “If your standing-leg knee or ankle starts to wobble severely, this would be equivalent to a dashboard warning light in your car—in other words, ‘pull over.’ If you can’t stop or minimize the wobble by focusing on a drishti (a focal point), it’s a good idea to return both feet to the ground.”

Furthermore, Reif tells us, “Not all injuries are instantly perceptible. Often lower back pain is delayed minutes to hours after the movement that caused it, and some diagnoses like cervical and lumbosacral pain are cumulative and not noted at the time of the strain.” In other words, it’s possible not only that we don’t feel pain in the moments preceding an injury, but also that we don’t immediately feel the injury itself.

Reif recommends that students back out of a pose when they feel pain, but also when they feel any numbness or tingling. It’s important that teachers give students permission to come out of a pose whenever needed.

Myth 5: If I’m doing the pose properly—in optimal alignment—I can’t get injured.

Certainly we should strive to practice every pose in optimal alignment. Yet “Injuries don’t always mean a student did something improperly,” Reif says.

He elaborates: “A minority of injuries happen because of a misalignment in a single pose in a yoga class. It’s far more common that someone has a prior injury or unknown underlying problem, such as a mild disc bulge in the neck or back, that led to the pain that happens to show up in that pose.” According to Reif, that pain may show up even if the student is doing the pose “right.”

A mild injury may not make itself felt, or may be felt only as a distant ache or pain, until “physiologic capacity is breached,” says Reif, or until that vulnerable tissue or bone is pushed to its limit.

“If a yogi had a rotator cuff tear he didn’t know about”—a distinct possibility, particularly for older students, as up to 50 percent of the general population over 50 (and 80 percent of the general population over 80!) have asymptomatic rotator cuff tears—“he might not notice this until he performs thread the needle [threading one arm under the opposite shoulder from a hands-and-knees position] for the first time.” That does not mean he is doing the pose improperly—he’s simply putting pressure on a vulnerable place in his body, making the preexisting injury perceptible for the first time.

Sudden pain in yoga class may also indicate the “last straw,” where a pose damages an already-vulnerable tissue or bone, notwithstanding the good alignment of the student. “If you are dealing with a shoulder issue like a rotator cuff strain or minor tear, a posture like thread the needle can escalate the damage even if a student is doing it ‘right,’” says Reif. “Or if a student has osteoporosis”—not unlikely, since 55 percent of those over 50 in the U.S. are estimated to have either osteoporosis or low bone mass—“a ‘sudden’—collapse of a bone may come about if she bends the torso too far, no matter how good her alignment is as she folds.”

To avoid exacerbating an underlying injury or condition in yoga class (regardless of excellence in execution), Reif recommends that students get persistent low-grade aches checked out before they develop into serious problems. “Addressing minor injuries early means less healing time and prevents the cumulative breakdown to irreversible damage,” says Reif. He suggests that we seek diagnoses for incipient conditions—for instance, that older women have their bone density checked, since osteoporosis may necessitate changes in their practice.

Myth 6: If a teacher is making a hands-on adjustment, she will detect resistance from the student’s body that alerts her if the adjustment is pushing the student into unsafe territory.

This was a view propounded in my teacher training, and one I could easily add to this list of things I mis-learned in yoga school.

Reif points out two flaws in this reasoning: Resistance isn’t always a signal of trouble, nor is non-resistance a clear signal that all is well. In fact, pressing on or manipulating that extremely flexible student who doesn’t resist at all may be more dangerous than pressing the student who is on the stiffer side. “Added pressure in a hypermobile student may cause her joints to exceed the physiologically normal range of mobility, causing instability and pain,” Reif says.

Reif uses pulling a student’s hips back and up in downward facing dog as an example. “Resistance here would be expected in a less flexible, larger man who lacks an anterior (forward) pelvic tilt and a lordotic (inward) lumbar curve, and might help lengthen his rounded lower back, as well as give him a clue as to which direction his pelvis should move.” It’s in fact the student who doesn’t resist who shouldn’t be receiving this pressure, which may increase the mobility of joints that are already hypermobile. “In an extremely flexible student there won’t be any resistance to this well-intended assist. In this case, the pressure would not be appropriate. It might exaggerate the student’s forward tilt, and create excessive lumbar lordosis.”

Reif advises that teachers use extreme caution when adjusting flexible bodies—perhaps giving adjustments to arrest the depth to which they go in a pose, rather than adjustments that aim to take them deep into their end range. Since for these flexible students it’s vital to stabilize joints that are already hypermobile, using verbal cues that encourage strengthening actions in less extreme versions of a posture can be more beneficial than adjustments aimed at increasing flexibility.

Myth 7: Adjustments that facilitate the student’s own efforts—instead of pushing and pulling—are always safe.

Facilitative adjustments that ask a student to “lift” or “press into the teacher’s hand” (often meant to conjure more muscle engagement) are in many cases safer than adjustments that push or pull on a student. “The student perceives the inner effects of the action whereas the instructor cannot,” Reif says. “However, if you facilitate a student who is misaligned, you may be asking them to perform a muscle contraction in a compromised position. Applying force outside of correct alignment can lead to injury,” says Reif.

That injurious force can be external—that is, it can come from the teacher—or it can be internal, coming from the student’s own body. A student can certainly hurt her own shoulder in triangle, for instance, if pressing her top hand into the teacher’s palm while her shoulder is rolled forward.

To bring a student’s bones onto the proper track before you ask her to send force through them, Reif recommends that teachers try verbal cues (for instance, if a student’s shoulders are rolling forward, instruct her to move her shoulders up and back, and press her shoulder blades against her back); offer demonstrations (showing optimal shoulder placement in your own body); and make use of props such as the wall that help a student to perceive where her shoulders are in space (“Bring your shoulder back to the wall”). Then ask the student to push or press.

Myth 8: Teachers always know if someone has been injured in their class.

It would be nice to be able to say with certainty, “No one’s ever gotten hurt in my class,” or even “Only one person has ever been hurt in my class.” But, in truth, a yoga teacher may not be aware of every injury her students experience—for the simple reason that her students don’t tell her.

In my own case, I was silent after having received an injurious adjustment—partly because I didn’t want my teacher to feel bad or in any way criticized (after a class that was excellent in all ways except for that pain in my left buttock). But as Reif points out in myth number four, many injuries don’t make themselves felt immediately, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I was in fact hurt. Though I’d felt a sudden, sharp pain when the teacher pressed my hips in single pigeon, what I felt by the end of class was only a vague heat. Only days later did I understand that I was injured.

Like me, students may be hesitant to voice problems, either to protect a teacher’s feelings or because they’re unsure of their injuries. They may also vote with their feet, and simply not return to that class. In either case, the teacher is left in the dark.

Reif stresses the importance of letting our teachers know about our injuries. “If you report your injury to your teacher you can both explore what happened, and perhaps keep it from recurring,” says Reif. Teachers can keep the channels of communication open by asking students, “How does/did that feel?” They should avoid any implicit defensiveness, or any critique of the student’s performance, making it clear that they want to know if something does not feel right, and meeting any confession of injury with openness. (“Thanks for letting me know. I’m so sorry that happened. Let’s keep a close eye on that.”)

Myth 9: Move slowly and you’ll always be safe.

Reif values gradual movement. “My single biggest complaint in yoga class is when an instructor does not allow enough time for everyone to get into a pose. I cringe, thinking someone is going to get hurt,” he says.

However, Reif admits that in and of itself, moving slowly is no panacea. “If a movement is poorly executed, even moving slowly can do damage,” says Reif. If an injury is caused by the off-track movement of a bone (for instance, if your right knee does not tend to track toward the center right foot), moving slowly does not guarantee that your right knee will automatically track toward the middle of your right foot. What moving slowly does do is offer more time to notice and make a correction to the position of your knee.

Reif recommends that students and teachers move slowly and be continually mindful of alignment through each pose and each transition.

Myth 10: That past injury is a thing of the past! (And I don’t need to worry about it, or tell my teacher about it.)

It may be—minor injuries can heal completely, according to Reif—but it may not be. The place in our bodies that was injured or vulnerable in the past is very likely vulnerable in the present.

“Every active adult, yoga teachers included, typically has an ‘Achilles heel,’ a vulnerable area of their body in which there’s pain, crepitus (noise), or restrictions in mobility, strength, or coordination,” says Reif. “This could be the result of an old fracture, trauma, arthritic history, a childhood or athletic injury.”

For a variety of reasons, that spot may get injured again. First of all, “Scar tissue is not as pliable, so it’s likely to be reinjured,” says Reif. Secondly, even if the injury has healed completely, the disrupted movement pattern or less-than-optimal alignment that played a role in the injury may remain. (Your right knee may have healed, but your right knee may still not be pointing toward the middle of your foot.) Thirdly, you may get less feedback from that place. “It’s common for us to have less proprioceptive awareness in a limb that was previously injured—that is, we might not be able to feel where it is without looking at it,” says Reif. This means that warning signs like pain or tingling might not be as pronounced.

That vulnerable area—whether or not it’s emanating clear warning signs—is one we need to keep paying attention to in every yoga class. “For example, if you sprain the same ankle multiple times, that’s the ‘weak link’ that you’ve got to stay aware of, especially when you are putting weight on your foot in a balance pose, or a one-legged downward facing dog. If you have history of sacroiliac pain or hypermobility, you may always need to be cautious going into asymmetrical poses.”

In addition to maintaining our awareness of our own vulnerable areas, Reif encourages us to let our instructors know about prior injuries (in addition to current injuries), particularly if the past trauma was repeated or severe. That way, teachers can help us look out for that area, or at least avoid placing extra pressure on it, and perhaps also advise us in modifying or even avoiding certain poses.

Navigating the Risks

Many of the suggestions mentioned above—staying aware of abnormal sensations, moving gradually, maintaining awareness of our own alignment as well as our pre-existing conditions and limitations, and clear communication between students and teachers—are invaluable in minimizing risks. However, they are by no means foolproof.

“There’s no magic formula for injury prevention, in yoga class or in life,” concludes Reif. He does not, however, see this as a reason to avoid yoga. After all, “There’s a calculated risk to everything we do.”

Reif often encourages his patients to take yoga class, since studies affirm its power to enhance our strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, addiction recovery, stress reduction, mood, pain relief, and general sense of well-being. He also values its role in recovery from certain kinds of injury: “Rhythmical, symmetrical movement such as yoga flows or poses that are repeated on both sides can help patients relearn a normal pattern. For instance, yoga can help a patient who’s been favoring one leg to walk with even weight distribution,” Reif says.

And if you are injured in yoga class? That RICE acronym you may have learned from your coach or yoga teacher is no myth. According to Reif, RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is still good advice, despite some controversy of late around “rest” and “ice.” “The main change in this philosophy,” he says, “is that we now understand that ‘rest’ doesn’t mean total immobilization for weeks. Depending on the severity of the injury, it means ceasing activity that places demands on that area for somewhere between 24 and 48 hours following the trauma. For example, if your sprained ankle is accompanied by severe pain, swelling, and black-and-blue discoloration, rest it for 48 hours; but if the sprain is mild, you may well resume moving that ankle during the very first day.” Reif explains that the rest period is important to allow clots to form without disruption. As for the ice, while it does not help with healing, Reif clarifies, “It has a numbing effect on pain. Ice should be applied directly to the injury for about ten minutes every four hours for the first day or two after injury.” Additionally, compressive wraps and elevation both work to prevent swelling. “If swelling isn’t prevented,” says Reif, “it can prolong rehabilitation.” After one or two days of RICE, and once the swelling and pain have lessened, he recommends a gradual return to activity. (And of course, seek out medical attention if you are injured. Specific recommendations may vary depending on your injury.)

When practicing or teaching yoga, it is important to remain aware that even with our safeguards, the truth is there will always be some potential for injury. Accepting this requires equanimity in the face of uncertainty, acceptance of the limits of our control over the world, and a brave embrace of the imperfect along with the perfect. Fortunately, these are skills yoga can help us to learn.

author credit: Amber Burke on Yoga International article link

heating up your yoga practice: understanding tapas

Westerners often think of Patanjali as the Father of Yoga, but this title rightly belongs to the solar spirit. Reiterating ancient Vedic teachings, the Bhagavad Gita (4.1) refers to the solar spirit, called Vivasvat, as the primordial teacher of ancient yoga. And since tapas is at the heart of all yogic disciplines, the solar spirit (not to be confused with the physical star we call the sun) was the first teacher of tapas.

Indeed, before the word yoga was used to mean spiritual discipline, the term tapas was used to express that same idea. Over time, however, tapas has acquired the connotation of asceticism or austerity. But its literal meaning, significantly, is heat or glow. Through tapas, the solar spirit shines brightly through its physical body, which is our sun. Also through tapas, spiritual practitioners radiate the energy of wisdom and kindness.

Tapas is any practice that pushes the mind against its own limits; the key ingredient of tapas is endurance. Thus in the ancient Rig Veda (10.136), “the long-haired ascetic (keshin) is said to endure the world, to endure fire, and to endure poison.” The keshin is a type of renouncer, a forerunner of the later yogin. He is a “wind-girt (naked) companion of the wild God Rudra (Howler),” said to ascend the wind in a God-intoxicated state and to fly through space, gazing down upon all things. But the name keshin harbors an even deeper meaning as well, for it can also refer to the sun, whose “long hair is made up of the countless rays that emanate from the solar orb, reach far into the cosmos, and bestow life on Earth.” This is a reminder that the archaic yoga of the Vedas revolved around the solar spirit, who selflessly feeds all beings with his/her/its compassionate warmth.

The early name for the yogin is tapasvin, the practitioner of tapas, or voluntary self-challenge as a means to spiritual growth. Tapasvins always deliberately challenge body and mind, applying formidable willpower to whatever practice they vow to undertake. They may choose to stand stock-still under India’s hot sun for hours on end, surrounded by a wall of heat from four fires lit close by. Or they may resolve to sit naked in solitary meditation on a wind-swept mountain peak in below-zero temperatures. Or they might opt to reduce their food intake to a bare minimum, or to fast for long periods of time. Or they may opt to incessantly chant a divine name, forfeiting sleep for a specified number of days. The possibilities for tapas are endless.

Tapas begins with temporarily or permanently denying ourselves a particular desire—having a satisfying cup of coffee, a piece of chocolate, or casual sex. Instead of instant gratification, we choose postponement. Then, gradually, postponement can be stepped up to become complete renunciation. This kind of challenge to our habit patterns causes a certain degree of frustration in us. We begin to “stew in our own juices,” and this generates psychic energy that can be used to power the process of self-transformation.

So frustration need not be a negative experience. It is bound to feel that way so long as we are blindly attached to the object of whatever desire remains unfulfilled. But if we are able to understand how the mind functions and see the value in going beyond attachment, we can derive great spiritual benefit even from frustration. And as we become increasingly able to gain control over our impulses, we experience the delight that underlies creative self-frustration. We see that we are growing and that self-denial need not necessarily be unrewarding.

The Bhagavad Gita (17.14–16) speaks of three kinds of tapas: austerity of body, speech, and mind. Austerity of the body includes purity, rectitude, chastity, non-harming, and making offerings to higher beings, sages, brahmins (the custodians of Hindu India’s spiritual heritage), and honored teachers. Austerity of speech encompasses speaking kind, truthful, and beneficial words that give no offense, as well as regular recitation of the sacred lore. Austerity of the mind consists of serenity, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and pure emotions. According to the Bhagavad Gita (17.17), a rounded or integral spiritual practice entails all three kinds of tapas, practiced with great faith and without expectation of reward.

Sattva, rajas, and tamas are the three primary constituents of nature (gunas), and all created things, including the human psyche, or mind, are a composite of them. Since tapas depends on the mind of the yoga practitioner, it is colored by these three as they manifest in a particular individual. And depending on the quality of tapas, practitioners will harvest corresponding results.

The kind of austerity that has a predominance of the quality of rajas, the principle of dynamism in nature, tends to be practiced with an ulterior motive, such as gaining respect, honor, or reverence, or for the sake of selfish display. It tends to be unstable and of short duration. When the quality of tamas, standing for the principle of inertia, characterizes the practice of austerity, it leads

to foolish self-torture or injury to others. So unless the practice of austerity has a strong ingredient of sattva, which stands for the principles of lucidity in the inner and outer worlds, the results can range from physical pain and anguish to a complete failure of the spiritual process.

For instance, those who practice tapas in order to acquire paranormal abilities (siddhis) that will impress or overpower others consolidate rather than transcend the ego and thus become diverted from the path. Again, those who confuse the balanced self-challenge of genuine tapas with merely painful penance springing from ignorance and a subconscious masochism are bound to reap only pain and suffering that will undermine their physical health and contribute to emotional instability or even mental illness.

Two and a half thousand years ago, Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, learned the important difference between genuine (i.e., self-transcending) tapas and misconceived penance. For six long years he pushed himself until his bodily frame had become emaciated and close to collapse, but still it had not yielded the longed-for spiritual freedom. Finally, Gautama’s inner wisdom led him to take the middle path (madhya-marga) instead of damaging extremes. He abandoned his severe, self-destructive tapas and began to nourish his body properly. His fellow ascetics, who had always looked to him for inspiration, thought he had returned to a worldly life and shunned him. But later, after his spiritual awakening, their paths crossed again, and Gautama’s radiance was so impressive they could not help but bow to him in respect.

Genuine tapas makes us shine like the sun. Then we can be a source of warmth, comfort, and strength for others.

Author credit: Georg Feuerstein PhD on Yoga International  article link  

yoga for grief

When someone is grieving, they need comfort and help dealing with what has happened. They need a way to find peace. Yoga can help.

Far from being a simple exercise to improve flexibility, yoga is an all-encompassing way to heal and improve. This includes meditation and physical, mental, and spiritual therapy. Here are eight ways yoga can help you cope with grief:

1. Clearing your mind helps connect with your lost loved one

Clearing your mind is not the same as forgetting. It’s a way of decluttering and finding a refuge of calm away from worries. It helps you focus on the essential connection with your lost loved one and cope with their passing.

2. Meditation aspect helps you focus energy and thoughts

You can use this to help you become the person and achieve the goals that your loved one wanted for you. You can be proud of yourself and have them be proud of you.

3. Yoga helps you deal with real-world problems

Even when we’re in mourning and trying to cope with a devastating loss, there will still be real-world problems to deal with. Bills, arrangements, your job—the list goes on—will all still be there. Yoga and meditation help us find our center and our strength, which leaves us better prepared to handle everything else.

4. Yoga helps you be at peace spiritually

Yogic meditation can enhance our spiritual connection with the universe. When we feel we are a part of and at peace with all things, we start to realize that death is just another part of nature and our loved ones are still a part of us and the world. We can find comfort in this knowledge and connection.

5. Yoga and meditation are great ways to regulate your body

Grief is not only painful emotionally, it can take a physiological toll as well. You could lose your appetite or have a hard time sleeping. There can be unbearable sadness mixed with anger, fear, or a loss of emotions altogether.

With yoga, we can direct this energy in a more positive way and cope with grief in a way that keeps us healthy and focused on the blessings we’ve received from the time we had with our loved one.

6. It can help you cope with frustration

During mourning, frustration is common. Yoga can help in myriad ways. You can feel productive simply from the physical improvement you get from the asana, but you can also feel your energy flowing in a positive manner. This ties in with your connection and loving memories of your loved one. They would not want to see you suffering.

7. Yoga provides a sense of community

Yoga is healing when you practice it alone, but it’s even more healing when you’re practicing with others. Sharing your experience with someone else who is also grieving can give solace to everyone. You can multiply the therapeutic essence when you share it.

8. Yoga and meditation can provide a ‘soulful goodbye’

Through meditation, you can find the quiet center that transcends all of the earthly cacophony and allows you to completely and soulfully direct all of your thoughts and love and essence to your loved one and tell them goodbye. You can share the peace of all nature with them.

Author credit: Aadil Palkhivala on Mind Body Green article link