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15761 W Dodge Road
Omaha, NE, 68118


Est. 2013

Head yoga instructor, Lisa Kanne has been teaching yoga for over 10 years.

New studio with familiar faces.

Teacher Blog

Fall is here and your skin may be telling you so, if you feel drier, itchy or otherwise off it is time for an Ayurvedic Facial. 

Vata Season is settling in and our natural response to this is dryness - both internally and externally, it is vitally important to lubricate through our diets adding good oils, ghee (clarified butter) and cooked foods that are comforting and nourishing and massaging good quality oils into our skin. One tip I share with my Ayurvedic clients is to shut the shower off and immediately massage oil into the skin before toweling off, less oil is required and the skin benefits greatly from being warm, the oil able to absorb deeper into the tissue. They say self massage invokes the inner pharmacy and is anti-aging, I say it is well worth the small amount of time this might take to add to your daily routine.

Gaby Van Houten

Ayurvedic Health Practitioner

Pancha Karma Specialist

Licensed Esthetician

Book your Ayurvedic Facial now and claim your Free 1oz massage oil while supplies last. Your skin will thank you. Call 402-614-2244 or

Yoga and Energy

Lisa Kanne

Yoga and Energy



To a physicist, energy is the capacity for work. Work is mathematically defined as the distance an object can travel because of a given force.

That seems a very boring definition. Far more interesting is how energy works in yoga. What is it used for and how do we get it to do its thing?


Well, here is a simple way to understand energy from a yogic perspective: Just remember “Energy 2-3-4.”

Two Things We Do to Energy in Our Yoga Practice

The benefits we obtain from our yoga practice physiologically can be traced to two things we do energetically:

  1. We turn on the tap, and

  2. We remove blockages to the flow.

A good analogy for this is a garden hose. Imagine you went off for a year’s retreat studying yoga and meditation at an ashram in a beautiful forest. When you came back home, your back yard was totally overgrown. After mindfully harvesting the hay, you go to water your lawn with your hose, which had been left out all year in the yard: You turn on the tap, but no water flows. Your hose has become blocked with mud and insects. So, you do some yoga on your hose: You twist and bend it until the blockages are loosened and the water flows.

To be useful, energy must be channeled. The hose channels the flow of water, as do the banks of a river. Wires channel the flow of electricity. And in our body, we also have many channels. There are nerves for electrical energy and blood vessels for chemical energy, but there are also more subtle pathways (called nadis by Indian yogis, or meridians by Daoists). If those channels are blocked, we need to open them up.

That is what we do in yoga: We turn on the tap, which stimulates energy to flow, and then we remove any blockages or impediments to the flow of energy. These blockages have a particular name in Sanskrit: They are called granthis (pronounced “gruntees”). You can tell from the sound of that word, you don’t want gruntees in your body! Fortunately, yoga destroys gruntees.

That is what we do in yoga: We turn on the tap, which stimulates energy to flow, and then we remove any blockages or impediments to the flow of energy.

Three Things We Use Energy For

In our yoga practice we use energy to do three kinds of work. These are:

  • Transportation

  • Transformation

  • Communication

Materials need to get from one place to another in the body: That is the transportation function of energy. From food being ingested and its remnants being ejected, to moving nutrients from the gut into the bloodstream (and from there to all the cells), to moving the limbs of the body—transportation requires a significant amount of energy.

Equally expensive in energetic terms is the work done via transformation: The body needs to transform the raw materials of food and air into glucose for fuel, as well as into a variety of tissues. Each cell is a miniature factory transforming nutrients into proteins, enzymes, and messenger molecules, which are then transported to where they are needed.

These messenger molecules are part of the physical communication system in the body. There are, however, more refined ways that messages are passed along—such as electrical signals. And the energy used for communication is far less than that used for transportation or transformation. In fact, it is so much less that we can call this use of energy “subtle”!


It is pretty easy to measure how much energy the body uses for transportation and transformation, as these are the basic energies of metabolism. Heat is a common byproduct of these energy expenditures and we can easily measure how much the body heats up—just use a thermometer. The degree of energy expended on communication, however, is quite a bit less, and thus harder to detect.

It is no wonder that an understanding of the varied communication systems within the body developed only after the other energy uses were mapped out. A whole new branch of medicine is devoted to just one aspect of this, called “cellular signaling.” The study of how physical stresses and pressures on our tissues create communication is called “mechanobiology.” Another branch is called “energy medicine.” These branches of medicine are discovering that cells communicate with each other through a variety of technologies: electricity, chemicals, PH levels, pressure, touch, sound, and even light and electromagnetic fields.

Four Ways to Turn on the Tap (i.e., Stimulate Energy)

Through the movement and stresses we generate in our yoga asana practice, we both stimulate energy flow and reduce or remove blockages to that flow.

Movement and stress can create tiny electrical currents and magnetic fields in the body (through a process called piezoelectricity). Additionally, through a process called mechanotransduction, the physical stresses applied through our fascia to the cells embedded within the fascia create signals that stimulate the cells. Within the fascia, growth factors and enzymes are activated to help heal and nourish tissues, or to dissolve away scar tissue and adhesions.

Eastern maps of the body identify four ways we can turn on the tap and stimulate energy flow. These are:

  1. Acupuncture

  2. Acupressure

  3. Directing awareness

  4. Breathwork

I learned about these four methods through Sarah Powers. Unfortunately, neither Sarah nor I are licensed to stick students with sharp needles, and the acupuncture method is not used in yoga. The other three methods definitely are. Stress and pressure are forms of communication. As we practice, we are creating either tensile or compressive stresses to our tissues. This form of acupressure is another signal that our cells are responsive to. This is another reason for saying, “If you are feeling it, you are doing it!”

Directing awareness, a practice of mindfulness meditation often coupled with our yoga practice, also has measurable effects on the body. You can do a little experiment on your own: For one minute, direct your awareness to the tip of your thumb. After the minute, your thumb will be measurably warmer. Awareness will help dilate blood vessels, allowing more energy to flow to the attended area.

Breath, of course, is life—without it you die fairly quickly! Breath in many ancient languages meant both life and air: Spiritus in Latin is your spirit and your breath; prana has a similar connotation—it is life force as well as breath. Our breath not only brings oxygen into our system (which our cells use to burn their fuels and release energy), but the very act of breathing can also be stimulating. If we combine a slow, steady breath with an awareness of what that breath feels like in a targeted area, we can also enhance the flow of energy to that region. Of course, we don’t have lungs all over our body, but we do possess a body-wide fascial network. Each breath stresses that network, and if we are very attentive, we can feel this stress in the targeted area of each posture.

So, there you have it: the two ways yoga affects energy (turning on the tap and removing blockages); the three forms of energy we use in our body (transportation, transformation, and communication); and the four ways we can turn on the tap and stimulate energy to flow (acupuncture, acupressure, directed awareness, and the breath). An easy way to remember this? Just think: Energy 2-3-4.


1. The drawing of the cell is from Dr. James Oschman’s book Energy Medicine, which is recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about how yoga and other practices affect us energetically.

2. See Demarzo MM et al “Mindfulness may both moderate and mediate the effect of physical fitness on cardiovascular responses to stress: a speculative hypothesis” in Front Physiol

Improve your Kyphotic Curve

Lisa Kanne

Thoracic kyphosis is the rounding of the middle and upper spine. While it is normal for the thoracic spine to have a slight kyphotic (outward) curve compared to the lordotic (inward) curve of the lumbar spine, this rounding can sometimes become exaggerated. When thoracic kyphosis is particularly extreme, the spine (seen from the side) resembles the letter “C.” An abnormal curvature of this degree is commonly called a “dowager’s hump” or “hunchback.”

“If the spine is ideally aligned, you could drop a weighted string from the ear through the shoulder, and on down through the hips and the heels,” says Bill Reif, a physical therapist in Atlanta and author of The Back Pain Secret: The Real Cause of Women’s Back Pain and How to Treat It“But for many of those with excessive thoracic kyphosis, that plumb line falls somewhere in front of the chest.”

We'll never share your info. Spam just isn't yogic.


If the spine is ideally aligned, you could drop a weighted string from the ear through the shoulder, and on down through the hips and the heels.


Excessive thoracic kyphosis (from here on, simply “kyphosis”) is a common postural misalignment in many yoga students, though particularly in more mature students. It is worth understanding, as it has implications for not only the poses we practice, but also for the way we practice them.

Causes, Consequences, and Cautions

According to Reif, while diseases like osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and (in younger adults) Scheuermann’s Disease can cause kyphosis, the way we move, sit, and stand is often a major factor in the degeneration of the spine. “Imperfect body mechanics while we lift and carry can cause the wear and tear on the spine, leading to ‘degenerative kyphosis.’ Poor prolonged sitting posture results in muscular imbalances known as “upper and lower crossed syndrome,” says Reif. He adds, “If these imbalances are not addressed, the result can be ‘postural kyphosis’ for students of any age.”

The consequences of kyphosis, according to Reif, are a loss of spinal height and flexibility, as well as reduced range of motion (particularly in the neck and shoulders). “Many people with kyphosis are unable to turn the head fully, due to the loss of length in the cervical spine,” Reif says. “Since the shoulder blades protract [move away from each other] and the shoulders internally rotate as the upper back rounds, those with kyphosis may be unable to reach overhead and/or behind the back. This shoulder position can also cause an impingement or ‘pinching’ of the glenohumeral joint, which, if unchecked, can lead to several common diagnoses including biceps tendinitis, rotator cuff tears and strains, and bursitis.” 

Reif’s primary goal when working with patients with kyphosis is to create length in the spine, or to keep the length that still exists. The extent to which the “C” may be straightened depends upon the degree to which the spinal changes have advanced. Reif explains that “shortened muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the spine cause a flexible abnormal curve, whereas vertebral changes due to degeneration of the bone surface may cause permanent curvature of the spine. If caught early enough, when the changes have not yet solidified, the kyphosis can often be reversed. But for the older student, who may have undergone irreversible bony changes, the primary goal would be to prevent any further increase of the curvature.”

Practice Guidelines for Kyphosis
Reif recommends yoga to his patients with kyphosis. At the same time, because of the vulnerability of their spines and shoulders, he advises that they be cautious with certain movements (and skip some entirely). For example, he does not recommend that yoga students with kyphosis do poses that flex (round) the spine, which would reinforce their undesirable postural habits and may even lead to more fractures for those whose kyphosis is caused by osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. “For those with a fragile, kyphotic spine stemming from one of these diseases, even the spinal flexion that comes from hugging the knees to the chest while lying down could cause vertebral collapse,” he explains.

Additionally, poses in which the hands and arms are asked to bear weight—like plank, chaturanga, and arm balances—are poses yoga students with kyphosis should steer clear of initially (and perhaps forever). “Because thoracic kyphosis is associated with shoulders that are protracted and internally rotated, students are at a mechanical disadvantage and especially vulnerable to shoulder injuries,” says Reif. “It’s important to mobilize and strengthen the shoulders before asking them to bear weight.” First, the shoulders must be brought back and the shoulder blades pulled toward each other (as shown in the image below). Once the shoulders can hold this healthy position while bearing no weight at all (in a pose like mountain), and then keep this position while supporting a modest amount of weight (in poses like tabletop and sphinx), students can gradually increase the load on the shoulders (with plank and chaturanga). Reif cautions, “Some students with an extreme hunch may never get to a place where their arms can support the full weight of their upper body without injury.”




Reaching the arms overhead, as in upward reaching mountain or downward facing dog, can be risky as well. Reif says, “Moving too far or too fast into an overhead reach can aggravate both shoulder pinch and upper back pain.” Instead of reaching up quickly, aiming to bring their arms in line with their ears, students with kyphosis should lift the arms up slowly, with control, bringing them only as high as they comfortably can, focusing on keeping the shoulders back, and the shoulder blades pulled toward each other.

Inversions like headstand, handstand, and shoulderstand are inadvisable for those with kyphosis, not only because of the demands they place on imperfectly positioned shoulders, but also because the thoracic spine is not properly aligned to channel weight. In headstand and shoulderstand, Reif says, “Going vertical increases pressure on the cervical spine, and injury may occur. A student whose cervical disc space has narrowed from decades of wear and tear due to rounded posture will never be able to tolerate the stress of going into headstand or shoulderstand.” 

Reif recommends that students with kyphosis focus on spinal lengthening and shoulder placement in neutral-spine poses and in gentle backbends, sidebends, and twists. Eleven of the poses and movements Reif finds most helpful in treating kyphosis are below. For some of those, he recommends, you will need a wall, doorway, and support (such as a block, book, folded blanket, or towel) to place underneath your head. These poses could be practiced in this sequence, interspersed throughout a yoga practice, or used at different times during the day.


Reif recommends that students with kyphosis focus on spinal lengthening and shoulder placement in neutral-spine poses and in gentle backbends, sidebends, and twists.


Reif encourages his patients to check their posture throughout the day while standing, walking, and even while driving, since the greater one’s postural awareness throughout daily life, the greater the opportunity for improvement. Reif encourages, “Notice if your head moved away from the headrest. If it has, look out: You’re moving back into that ‘C.’”

Therapeutic Poses For Kyphosis

1. Mountain Pose
Stand up straight with your back against a wall. In this mountain pose, and whenever you’re standing in your daily life, imagine a plumb line dropping from your ears down through your shoulders, hips, and heels. Check your alignment with the help of the wall: With your buttocks against the wall, can you bring the back of your head to the wall as well? Don’t force your head to the wall by tipping your chin up and shortening the back of the neck; instead, bring the back of the head as close as you can to the wall while keeping the back of the neck long.




After years of slumping, our spines may have "forgotten" what to do. Reif helps his patients reclaim an upright standing posture by encouraging them to envision a marionette string pulling them up by the crown of the head. Because thoracic kyphosis often brings the gaze (and the head) forward and down, Reif likes the instruction, “Look straight ahead as you imagine being pulled up by this marionette string.”

Throughout practice, students with thoracic kyphosis can benefit from finding as much length as possible in neutral-spine poses such as high lunges; in warrior poses (lifting the arms only as high as they comfortably can, or keeping them down at their sides); and in seated poses like staff (in which they can lean back and press their hands into the floor to help them lift and broaden the chest).

2. Shoulder Rolls and Scapular Retraction
While standing in mountain pose or seated up straight, roll your shoulders forward, up, and back several times. Then practice “pinching” your shoulder blades together on your back. Aim to keep your shoulders in this position through as many of your yoga poses, and as much of your life, as possible.

“Those with kyphosis exhibit a rounding between the shoulder blades, and the knobby spinous processes of the thoracic spine visibly protrude,” says Reif. “When the shoulders are in the ‘right place,’ there is a crease between the shoulder blades, and the thoracic spine is flat rather than protruding.”

When students with kyphosis begin bearing weight on their hands in poses like tabletop and sphinx, they should lower the chest close enough to the floor that they create this crease between the shoulder blades. (It is easy to drop the head while finding this shoulder alignment. In both of these poses, students should attempt to line up the ears with the shoulders while keeping the back of the neck long.) It is important that a student with kyphosis be able to create and maintain this healthy shoulder alignment in tabletop and sphinx before adding to the shoulder load with poses like plank, chaturanga, and arm balances.

3. Chest and Shoulder Stretch, with Doorway
Standing on one side of a doorway, bring your palms to the wall on either side of the door frame at shoulder height or slightly higher, elbows bent. Then step one foot forward through the doorway, pressing both hands into the wall, and leaning forward slightly (as if beginning to fall); hold here for several deep breaths. Step back, and then repeat, this time taking your hands up the wall just above your head (elbows bent at shoulder-height). Again, hold for several breaths. Step back, and repeat one more time. This time, climb your hands up the wall as high as you comfortably can, and then lean forward again. Hold for several breaths. (Alternate which foot steps forward when you practice this stretch to ensure that you're working both sides of the body evenly.)

Reif values this pose for anyone whose shoulders have rounded forward. “It is a stretch for the deltoids, pectorals (major and minor). and biceps (long and short heads),” Reif says. “As you take your hands up higher, the latissimus dorsi will also lengthen.”




4. Chin Tucks
While standing or seated upright, look straight ahead, chin level with the earth. As you exhale, tuck the chin slightly toward the chest as if you are nodding slowly. On the inhale, lift the chin again. Repeat several times.


“This movement encourages the neck to lengthen by stretching the scalenes, omohyoid, and sternocleidomastoid, muscles that are often tight for those with thoracic kyphosis,” says Reif.

5. Hands-and-Knees Flow
Start on hands and knees in tabletop pose, aiming to create a neutral spine, with the head and hips in one line. Inhale here. Then create a slight arch as you exhale, moving toward cow pose. On your next inhale, move back to your neutral tabletop position. On your next exhale, rock back toward child’s pose as far as you comfortably can while keeping your arms outstretched and palms rooted in front of you on the mat. With your next inhale, move back to all fours, re-creating a neutral spine. Repeat the cycle several times.


‘This movement encourages full use and flexibility of the spine,” says Reif. “As your mobility increases, gradually move from neutral toward both extremes—bringing the hips closer toward the heels when you go back from tabletop, and lifting into an upward facing dog as you come forward from tabletop.”

6. Cobra and Sphinx
Lying on your belly, come up onto your hands (cobra) or forearms (sphinx), lifting your chest while moving the shoulders up and back, and bringing your shoulder blades toward each other on your back. Reach up through the crown of your head, allowing the back of your neck to lengthen.







Reif explains: “Backbends strengthen the erector spinae, multifidus, latissimus, longissimus, and iliocostalis muscles. Especially when they’re done on the belly, small backbends are particularly valuable to help reverse the "C" (due to the help you get from gravity). Your belly and trunk can ease toward the floor as you maintain the support of your hands and forearms.”

All of us, but especially those with osteoporosis, should avoid any pain when moving into gentle backbends like these.

7. Bird Dog
From all fours, create a neutral spine, lengthening as much as possible from the crown of the head to the tailbone, and lowering the chest until you can pull the shoulder blades together on the back. With as little swaying as possible, on an exhale, slowly reach the right arm forward and the left leg back—bringing both as close to parallel with the earth as you comfortably can. Hold for several breaths, and then lower with control. Repeat on the other side. Alternate sides several times.




Reif recommends this pose for students with kyphosis to "increase multifidi and paraspinal strength and create spinal stability.”

8. Supported Fish Pose
Recline, placing a rolled-up towel, blanket, or foam roller (for a bigger stretch) across the back, just underneath the bottom tips of the shoulder blades. Take your arms out to the sides, elbows comfortably bent, palms up. (Support the backs of your hands with blankets or towels if they do not touch the floor.) Be sure to keep your shoulders and arms above the towel or blanket roll in order to encourage your shoulders to drop. In this pose, and whenever you lie on your back, place a support (such as a block, book, folded towel, or blanket) underneath the head (not the neck), at the lowest height that allows the back of your neck to lengthen comfortably. You can straighten your legs out in front of you, or bend your knees up toward the ceiling (with feet on the floor). Hold here for a few minutes, taking deep, easy breaths.

Reif recommends this pose to gently encourage spinal extension.




9. Snow Angels
Lie on your back, with a block, folded blanket, or towel under your head (not your neck), at the lowest height comfortable for your neck. Start with your hands alongside your hips, palms up. As you exhale, slowly glide your straight arms up overhead, grazing the floor with the backs of your hands. As you inhale, bring your arms back down alongside you. Repeat this movement several times.


Reif recommends “making snow angels” for posture restoration. “This movement slowly and gently stretches the pectorals and biceps, which can become tightened during daily activities,” says Reif. “As you improve, you can make snow angels while standing up, with your back against a wall.”

10. Head Press
Lie down with support, such as a block, underneath the head (not the neck), at the lowest height at which you feel no strain in your neck. As you inhale deeply, gently press your head into the block and hold this pressure for several seconds. As you exhale thoroughly, slowly stop applying this pressure and focus on length, reaching the crown of the head back and the tailbone forward. Repeat this action several times.

“This will lengthen your neck in much the way traction does,” says Reif. “Over time, you’ll be able to lower the support, using a smaller book or blanket under your head.” Your goal is to eventually be able to comfortably rest your head on the floor with no strain in the neck.




11. Savasana
Lie down on your back, again with the minimal support under the head necessary for neck comfort. Take deep, easy breaths, imagining that each breath is increasing the space between the vertebrae, allowing the bottom tip of the tailbone and the crown of the head to drift away from each other.




#asana solutionsPhotography: Andrea Killam


Amber Burke lives in Coyote, New Mexico, and teaches alignment-based and restorative yoga at Body in Santa Fe. In her classes, she aspires to a precision of language and detail that will not only create sustainable poses but also guide students inward, toward an ever-deepening self-awareness. She is a graduate of Yale, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MFA Program, and two yoga teacher trainings through Yogaworks in Los Angeles, and has been registered with the Yoga Alliance at the 500-hour... Read more>>

Thoracic kyphosis is the rounding of the middle and upper spine. While it is normal for the thoracic spine to have a slight kyphotic (outward) curve compared to the lordotic (inward) curve of the lumbar spine, this rounding can sometimes become exaggerated. When thoracic kyphosis is particularly extreme, the spine (seen from the side) resembles the letter “C.” An abnormal curvature of this degree is commonly called a “dowager’s hump” or “hunchback.”

“If the spine is ideally aligned, you could drop a weighted string from the ear through the shoulder, and on down through the hips and the heels,” says Bill Reif, a physical therapist in Atlanta and author of The Back Pain Secret: The Real Cause of Women’s Back Pain and How to Treat It“But for many of those with excessive thoracic kyphosis, that plumb line falls somewhere in front of the chest.”


Comfortable in my own skin!

Lisa Kanne

This week I wanted to share a few articles about Self Acceptance and Appreciation and finding home within yourself. I hope that this sharing of knowledge can also share and create empathy within everyone as  reader to act with compassion. As always be kind to yourself and be kind to others :)


“I’m a Trans Man with AIDS and Yoga Made Me Feel at Home”

“If you had told me as a child or young adult that I would someday feel at home in my own skin, I wouldn’t have believed you.”


APR 28, 2017

Thank you to Patagonia for your support of our editorial coverage of yoga for every body.

When I was five years old, I told my grandfather—an Italian machinist—that when I grew up, I wanted to be a jockey. In my little-kid logic, I knew you had to be a boy in order to be a jockey. My grandfather was a wiseass and told me to sleep curled up in a little ball, because in order to be a jockey, I couldn’t get any bigger. So I did just that: Each night, I fell asleep curled up in the tiniest position that I could muster, until my mom caught me one night and told me not to believe a word my Grandpa said. I think about this now and realize that even back then, I was trying to heal a profound disconnect with my body.

I was raised a girl, but I always knew something about that wasn’t true. For 35 years, I was at war with my body. In fact, I spent my adolescenceand young adulthood trying to die in all kinds of active and passive ways—from drinking to drag racing to being actively suicidal. When you’re battling your own body, everything becomes a desperate attempt to not feel, to flee, to ultimately not exist. So it’s no wonder that when HIV crossed my path, I had no ability or will to think about long-term consequences; the choices I made simply got me through my day. At the age of 28, I tested positive.


It took the threat of dying young from AIDS for me to find the courage to transition from female to male. When nothing was more frightening than dying, I could risk everything to live authentically. And at age 40, five years after starting transition, I found my way to a yoga mat.

Living the way I had been was pretty much the opposite of being embodied, so the idea of doing yoga and being more physically present in my body was like being asked to move into a war zone. My childhood home had been full of violence, chaos, and addiction. My physical self never felt like a safe place. Why would I ever seek out a practice that was inviting me to come “home” to my body?

And yet there I was, flopping around in flannel pajama pants in my living room, trying to follow along to a yoga DVD. It was a disaster. Soon after, I found a studio and a kind, accepting teacher who talked about her own limitations and who created space for me and my fellow practitioners to talk about our bodies and where we struggled. She talked about ways of navigating it all from a matter-of-fact place, rather than treating our bodily limitations as something to overcome. And I learned that yoga is a ritualized process of allowing yourself, in good time and with intention, to show up. As I learned in 12-step recovery programs, “It’s simple, but not easy.” And I believe this is true when it comes to yoga.To this day, every time I step onto my mat, I’m terrified I’m going to let the practice down. I’m afraid I won’t be able to show up. Despite all of this, I’ve developed an ability to trust the practice outside of my ability to understand it. And I try to show up, despite my fears.

Yoga helps me breathe deeply, where I couldn’t before. It allows me to move my body with an open heart. I probably don’t look very graceful when I practice, and if you had told me as a child or young adult—when I was so actively at war with myself and living in a culture that was at war with me—that I would someday feel at home in my own skin, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I can tell you now; there is something about the magnitude of grace that happens when my body, soul, and breath are aligned. That is what yoga offers me: an inexplicable gift and invitation to experience that grace. 

About Our Writer

Teo Drake is a spiritual activist, educator, writer, and artisan. As a blue-collar, queer-identified trans man living with AIDS, he helps spiritual spaces become more welcoming and inclusive of queer and transgender people, and he helps queer and trans folks find authentic spiritual paths. Drake also teaches martial arts, yoga, and woodworking to children.

5 Benefits of Sunshine

Lisa Kanne


Sundays across cultures has always been thought of as a day of rest. However, in today’s society how often are we really putting aside our errands and stresses of work to give ourselves time and room to breath? How often do we practice radical self care and radical hospitality to the ones we love?  Below are two articles that have been beautiful reminders to me, I hope and believe that can be for you as well.

Namaste, Camile Elizabeth Messerley

5 Benefits of Sunshine


“Just think of the illimitable abundance and the marvelous loveliness of light...”

—St. Augustine City of God


The sun has gotten a bad rap; granted, too much of it can cause sunburn and trigger those early signs of aging (wrinkles, sunspots, and sagging of the skin), but in its essence, the sun and the light (and heat) that it gives off are central to our existence—and to our health. Sunlight can improve mood.

There’s no doubt about it, a little bit of sunshine can make a world of difference in our mood. When it’s dreary and dark, we can feel depressed and lethargic; when it’s a beautiful sunlit day, we’re happier and more energetic. This mood change isn’t only in our imagination. When light enters the eye, it stimulates neurons in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that influences mood. These nerve impulses travel to the pineal gland, which regulates serotonin, the so-called feel-good hormone that’s linked to mood. On the other hand, when it’s dark, the pineal gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep patterns by causing drowsiness.


There’s no doubt about it, a little bit of sunshine can make a world of difference in our mood.


Sunshine may prevent us from eating too much.

The same part of the brain responsible for mood is also responsible for appetite. A recent study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences showed that eag in a dimly lit or dark environment may trigger us to eat more. “Darkness provides a high- risk environment for binge-eating for certain people,” says study author Joseph Kasof, who adds that those people who eat in a darkened room may find they lose their inhibitions against eating. The bottom line: Eat in a well-lit environment and avoid eating late at night.


Sunlight helps stimulate the body’s production of vitamin D.

When the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, a cholesterol compound in the skin is transformed into a precursor of vitamin D. This fat-soluble vitamin is required for the absorption of calcium by the body. It’s also necessary for growth and protects against muscle weakness. But that doesn’t mean you should sit out in the sun all day; exposing your face and arms to the sun for fifteen minutes, three days a week is an effective way to ensure adequate amounts of vitamin D in the body.


Sun can help clear up skin conditions like psoriasis.

The itchy, scaly, raised patches of skin that characterize psoriasis can be cleared up by ultraviolet light—that’s why, in general, exposing the skin to sunlight for about thirty minutes a day is recommended for those with psoriasis. (This treatment is effective for about eighty percent of people with this skin condition, who typically notice improvement within three to six weeks of starting sunlight therapy.)

Sunshine may help maintain the efficiency of the human eye. According to R. S. Agarwal, author of Yoga of Perfect Sight, “The human eye needs light in order to maintain its efficiency. Sunlight is as necessary to the normal eye as are rest and relaxation.” Agarwal’s suggestion: Start the day by exposing the eyes to the sun for just a few minutes with this treatment: sit comfortably facing the sun (morning or evening when the sun isn’t as strong) with closed eyes, and sway the body from side to side gently. Continue for five to ten minutes. Then come into the shade and wash the eyes with cold water.


Don’t get overheated.


“During the summer, the strong sun evaporates the moisture of the earth,” explain authors Gopi Warrier and Deepika Gunawant, M.D.,

in The Complete Illustrated Guide to Ayurveda (Element Books, 1997). That’s why sweet, cold liquids and foods are important. Avoid excessive outdoor physical exercise, hot and dehydrating foods, and foods with pungent, acid tastes (particularly if you’re a pitta type). And drink plenty of water (at least nine eight-ounce glasses daily).


Treat a burn.

If you get too much sun, try these cooling suggestions from herbal beauty expert Stephanie Tourles, author of The Herbal Body

Book (Storey Communications, 1994): Add two cups of apple cider vinegar to cool bathwater and soak for ten to twenty minutes; apply cold aloe vera gel directly to a sunburn several times per day or apply cold, strong, black tea directly to sunburn with soaked cotton pads several times per day. Ayurvedic beauty expert Monica Bharadwaj, author of Beauty Secrets from India (Ulysses Press, 2000), suggests this easy recipe: Mix one cup of mashed cucumber with one teaspoon of glycerine (available from any healthfood store) and refrigerate until chilled. Apply to affected areas, and rinse off after half an hour.


#ayurveda (

Yoga Etiquette

Lisa Kanne

Remember the studio classrooms are a place of quiet. Most of us have hectic lives and this is oftentimes our only peaceful space.  You can talk in the lobby all you want!

Have a favorite spot in the classroom to practice? Come to class 15 minutes early to get your spot so you don't have to disrupt anyone else. Then you will have time to contemplate Aparighara (grasping) and begin to let go:) 

Leave your shoes and your excuses in the lobby. You feet will thank you!

We have studio mats you may use if you don't have one. Just hang it on the bar and we will clean it later. We also sell mats that are of better quality than one from a big box store. 



Ayurvedic Support for Sleep and Anxiety

Lisa Kanne



Can’t get to sleep because too much stuff is rolling around in your head? You’re not alone. Sleep anxiety is a common experience, but ayurveda has a few secrets to help you out. Learn about a variety of relaxation techniques, such as abhyanga(body oiling, with calming essential oils, if desired), rasayanas (relaxing bedtime drinks), and more that will help you let go of the day and anything that might be causing you anxiety or keeping you awake. Nighty-night!

(video at link)

Kathryn Templeton, MA, RDT/MT, E-RYT 500, is an Ayurvedic practitioner who has devoted her life to the health of others. A psychotherapist for more than 30 years, Kathryn is a master teacher in the field of Drama Therapy and continues to work both clinically and as an educator specializing in the treatment of individuals with complex trauma.

Article No.2

Two Simple Practices to Help You Fall Asleep



You’re lying in bed, a bit frazzled after a hectic day and grateful that it’s over. But instead of slowing down and drifting off to sleep, your mind is resolutely picking up speed—chewing on that glitch in your Visa bill, reliving a dispute at work, planning next week’s menu and compiling the shopping list and how are you going to find time to get to the farmers' market and still get your kid to her softball game and the car needs to go to the shop or maybe it’s time to think about replacing it and—you’re off: rocketing away from sleep into full-blown, saucer-eyed wakefulness.

You could get up and heat a cup of milk, or make some chamomile tea, or draw yourself a warm bath. You could rummage around in your cupboard and find the valerian, or if you are in a homeopathic mood you could take a dose of Coffea, the standard remedy for an over-stressed mind. Or you could stay comfortably tucked in bed and resort to the yogic solution: use your mind to calm your mind.

The trick is to coax the mind out of the eyebrow center, where it lodges in the waking state, and entice it into the heart center—its home in the sleeping state. Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes, bring your attention to the heart, and think “one.” Bring your attention to your left shoulder and think “two”; left thigh, “three”; the navel center, “four”; the right thigh, “five”; the right shoulder, “six”; back to heart, “one”; and so on. . . 2 3 4 5 6, moving with relaxed attention at a comfortable pace. Let the mind busy itself moving in this pattern and it will soon tire and come to rest at the heart center, its sleeping abode.

As you begin to drift off, break the pattern by relaxing into your mantra or turning over—whatever it takes to disconnect from the practice before sinking into sleep.

High Anxiety?

Feeling too anxious to coax your mind into running the numbers? Preface the practice with Dr. Vasant Lad’s elegant little technique for calming anxiety.

Make a fist with your left hand, so that the fingers rest in the middle of the palm. Locate the point where the middle finger ends, in the “heart” of the palm. Then, with the thumb of your right hand, press firmly on this point in the center of your left hand. Press for one minute.

—The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies

Yoga for Migrane Headaches from Karma Yoga Omaha

Lisa Kanne


The head is the center of the body, if not physically, then certainly psychologically. (Indian mythology and folklore abound with stories of identity conundrums involving the head. In one, a woman’s husband and her brother both behead themselves as offerings to the goddess. The distraught wife/sister prays to Mahadevi to restore their lives. The goddess grants her prayer, instructing her to reattach the heads, but in her haste, she transposes them. Now, which one is her husband and which is her brother? The body with her husband’s head is her husband because “the head is the most important part of the body, and the rest of the body is identified by the head.”) The head houses our brain, which is the driving force of the central nervous system. A pain in the head affects the entire person, particularly if that pain is from a migraine. Harriet Beecher Stowe (yes, that Harriet Beecher Stowe), writing in 1871, described it well: "Lillie went to bed with a sick headache, and lay two days after it, during which she cried and lamented incessantly."

The defining characteristic of a migraine is an intense pain that may be related to dilation of blood vessels in the head. Symptoms include visual blurring, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. A migraine, as distinct from a stress headache, is usually one-sided and typically lasts for two or three days.

I  was diagnosed with migraines in my early twenties. Over the years I was prescribed medications: One, ergot-derived, did little for the pain and made me throw up; another helped the pain somewhat but wiped me out. Even with medication my headaches lasted for three days, occasionally longer, and by the time I was in my mid-twenties and in a graduate program at Harvard Divinity School, I could expect to have at least two in any given month. When one hit, about all I could do was lie in a darkened room with my eyes covered, not unlike poor Lillie—hardly a winning strategy for academic success.

I visited the student health service and received a trial dose of something. I took it at the onset of the next headache, and the pain quickly vanished. “What was that? I want a prescription!" I told them.

“Oh no,” they said, “that was morphine. We can't prescribe morphine for you. We just wanted to see what would happen.” They refilled my prescription for Fiorinol (the one that helped a little but spaced me out) and advised me to reduce stress in my life.

This was good advice. Migraine triggers include stress and hormonal changes. Many women are more prone to migraines before or during their menstrual periods. For some people, certain foods, alcohol, or caffeine can bring on a migraine. In Yoga As Medicine, Timothy McCall identifies stress and muscle tension in the head, neck, and back as possible triggers for migraines; many people find relief through a back-centered practice when their headaches are not active.

After I was advised to reduce my stress level, a friend told me she had started taking Iyengar yoga classes and invited me to join her. I had practiced yoga in my early teens, before I had migraines. I hadn't done any regular practice for several years and couldn’t envision how it would help, but I was willing to try anything, and the idea of doing yoga again appealed to me. I went to class.


I kept going to class, and gradually my headaches became less frequent and less severe.


That first class put me in touch with muscles I had forgotten I had. The pose that stands out from that class is supta padangusthasana III, with its intense (for me) stretch of the glutes and piriformis; I still remember how amazing it felt. (That and pigeon pose have become my lifelong friends—not necessarily to help my headaches but as part of my ongoing practice.) I kept going to class, and gradually my headaches became less frequent and less severe. After a while, although they still lasted three days, I could manage the pain with over-the-counter meds, selected "yoga hacks," and certain lifestyle strategies. Many years later, I realized one day that the headaches had vanished, but in the meantime these strategies helped me function.

Hacks to Help Your Headache

1. Wrap your head in an elastic bandage and lie in supported savasana.
First set up your props. You'll want a bolster or blanket roll under your knees and a blanket or cushion to support your head. Place a blanket on your mat, or use a carpeted floor. (You can also do this in or on your bed, if you wish; I often have. You may also enjoy having an extra blanket as a cover.)

Sit up to put your headwrap in place. In India, the ideal bandages are sold as "varicose vein bandages," but any elastic bandage about 4" wide will be fine. Start with it rolled up, holding the loose end toward your face. Stretch the bandage so it will be somewhat tight when in place but not so tight that it makes your eyes feel constricted. Place the loose end over your ear (left ear, for me, since I'm right handed) and hold it there. Unroll it across your eyes (not your nose!), making sure it doesn't create an unpleasant sense of pressure on the eyes. Bring it around your head, still at ear level. You can remove the hand that was holding the bandage as you catch the loose end with the next layer. Bring this layer up over your forehead and down across the base of the skull. Keep covering your eyes, ears, forehead, and occiput till the bandage runs out; then tuck the edge in. To avoid the "princess and the pea" effect, tuck it someplace so that you won't be lying on it.




Now, lie down with the bolster or blanket roll under your knees and a blanket, towel, or pillow under your head so that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin. This position helps to relax the muscles of your back and neck, while the bandage provides a welcome counter-pressure to the engorged blood vessels in your head. I found that, if I did this early enough, and if I could go to sleep in this position, when I woke up, my headache would be far less severe or even gone.




2. Warm your hands.
You could hold hot water bottles or heated eye pillows in each palm, or if that's too complicated when you feel so awful, just visualize your palms growing warmer. Evoke the body memory of wrapping your hands around a warm, smooth cup of some comforting hot liquid; let the warmth penetrate the palms and hands and steal gradually up the arms to the shoulders. This simple exercise can help to relax the arms and shoulders, evoke a sense of comfort and well-being, and seems to relieve some of the tension contributing to the pain. I'm sure it would work to visualize your feet getting warm, too, but I tend to carry tension in my hands so they became my go-to body part for relaxation exercises.

These two simple yoga-based relaxation techniques can go a long way toward relieving the pain of an existing headache. However, the Yoga Sutra tells us, “Heyam dukham anagatam”—pain that has not yet come can be avoided. Here are some ways you might try to avoid the pain of future migraines.

‌• My friend Beth, a yogini and fellow migraine sufferer, swears that a gentle kapalabhati practice has helped her stave off headaches if she begins the practice the instant she senses the headache approaching.

‌• Discover the circumstances in which your pain arises, and learn the subtle pre-symptoms that signal its onset. Avoid everything that brings you toward that pain. Don't be overly concerned about inconveniencing other people; put self-care first. Maybe you're exhausted by too much activity, by multitasking, by excessive heat or cold, or by too much talking and social interaction. Learn your ayurvedic constitution and follow the recommendations for a healthy diet and lifestyle for you, remembering that what a kapha type finds pleasantly stimulating may send a vata type diving under the covers with a sick headache.

‌• Get enough rest. If you even suspect that you are heading for a migraine attack, don't exert yourself physically. Substitute a restorative sequence for your active asana practice. Spend time in supported poses such as legs up the wall, supported reclining bound angle pose, shoulderstand in a chair, and forward bends with your head supported. Practice a few of these with your head wrapped.

‌• Reassess your relationship with caffeine, and drink enough water to stay hydrated.

‌• Develop or re-commit to a meditation practice. Learn to redirect your attention from the pain to your chosen devotional object.

‌• Do your best to develop a non-adversarial relationship with your pain. Migraine headaches are not your enemy; they are signals that something is out of balance, that something needs loving attention. Trying to conquer your migraines or override their influence with strong medications may allow you to push through a deadline, but it will not reduce the stress in your life or lessen your long-term suffering. Your body is very intelligent; it wants to be whole and in balance, and chronic illnesses like migraines may be one way it tries to communicate its needs.

I was disappointed, to put it mildly, when the health service refused to give me morphine, but today I'm grateful. If they had, I would have used it to override my pain, and it probably would have taken me much longer to return to yoga. Yoga taught me to observe my body and mind compassionately and objectively, to align my energies with my body's natural healing forces, and to stop pushing myself so hard. Slowly, over time, with regular restorative and pranayama practices, my chronic migraines have gone away.

I wish I could publish a set of asanas guaranteed to cure your migraine, but I am pretty sure there is no one-size-fits-all practice. While there are medications that can help override symptoms (thank goodness), real healing involves the kind of transformation that comes from a long-term, dedicated, kind personal practice.


By Zo Newell from Yoga International

Ayurveda 101: 3 Ways to Cleanse Your Body for Spring (and Burn Fat)

Lisa Kanne

Ayurveda 101: 3 Ways to Cleanse Your Body for Spring (and Burn Fat)

The key to true mind-body balance? Understanding your body’s natural needs—how to eat, cook, cleanse, and heal—through each season. In our new online course Ayurveda 101, Larissa Hall Carlson, former dean of Kripalu’s School of Ayurveda, and John Douillard, founder of and best-selling author, demystify yoga’s elemental sister science. Sign up now!

The first day of spring is still a few weeks away, but it’s already time to start changing your diet for “nature’s new year,” says John Douillard, co-leader of Yoga Journal’s new online course, Ayurveda 101.

“Spring is nature’s new year. As the snow melts and the ground softens a little bit, the deer dig up rhizomes or surface roots of certain plants. These plants clean your liver and scrub the intestinal villi of the residue of the poorly digested heavy food you ate all winter,” Douillard explains.

Eating foods harvested in the spring will also reset the body’s ability to burn fat, Douillard adds. “Spring is a very austere time of year, a naturally occurring very low-fat season, which forces the body to burn fat—this is weight-loss season,” he says. “The toxins stored in your fat cells, this is the time to burn them and get rid of them. People lose weight in the spring, because we naturally eat and crave less, which is why it’s OK to gain weight during the winter, because in the spring we lose it.” Other benefits of detoxing in the spring by eating in accordance with nature include longer lasting, more stable energy; better, more stable mood; better, deeper, more stable sleep; and stable blood sugar, he notes.

Ready to be lighter, more energetic, happier, and better rested this spring? Douillard recommends this 3-step seasonal cleanse.

3-Step Ayurvedic Spring Cleanse

1. Cleanse your liver and boost your digestion with bitter roots.

The first bitter roots of spring—including dandelion root, burdock root, goldenseal, turmeric root, ginger, Oregon grape, goldenseal, and barberry—scrub the intestinal mucosa and help your liver detox. These roots can be brewed into a tea, added to soups and stews, or taken as a supplement to boost your spring root intake. Every spring, the populations of beneficial bacteria in the soil surge around these roots. So by eating these roots in their whole, non-extracted form, you are inoculating your gut with a new stable of seasonal probiotics.

2. Fertilize your microbiome with spring greens.

In springtime, the valleys turn a fluorescent shade of green. These green sprouts are loaded with chlorophyll and sometimes have 400 times more nutrients than a full-grown plant. They also act as fertilizers for the new spring microbes that are trying to become your new spring microbiome. Make an effort to eat more sprouts, microgreens, and spring greens such as lettuces, spinach, chard, dandelions greens, and bok choy.

3. Flush your lymphatic system.

Be sure to eat cherries and berries as soon as they are harvested toward the end of spring. Most foods like berries and cherries that were traditionally used as dyes are natural lymphatic system cleansers. The antioxidants that abound in these foods work through the body’s lymphatic system, which is the body’s baseline delivery system for energy, a detox system, and a carrier for the immune system.

5 Healing Spices

Lisa Kanne

5 Healing Spices from Indian Cuisine to Put into Regular Rotation

Indian cuisine gets its bold, complex flavors from an array of spices, many of which are linked to powerful health benefits. Discover which five belong in your cabinet, plus sample four delicious recipes that will help you enjoy them often.

There’s so much about Indian food that makes it crave-worthy—the sweet fragrance of basmati rice, the creaminess of curries. But above all, it’s the spices. It’s common to find almost a dozen in just one dish, seemingly custom-blended to please your taste buds. In fact, that may not be far from the truth: We may be genetically programmed to love the spices in Indian (and other) dishes because they contain health-promoting compounds like cancer-fighting curcumin in turmeric and heart-protective capsaicin in chili powder, according to an article in the European Molecular Biology Organization’s journal EMBO Reports. Researchers speculate that when our ancestors were sorting safe from poisonous foods, they figured out spices were A-OK; and that spice-lovers were subsequently healthier, lived longer, and had more offspring who also loved spices.

To help you get your flavor fix and support good health, we homed in on five spices common to Indian dishes that are generating excitement among scientists worldwide. Learn each one’s unique healing properties, the ideal amount to consume daily, and a few basic ideas for incorporating it into your repertoire. Then put them on your plate with simple, delicious recipes from Monisha Bharadwaj, author of The Indian Cooking Course.




1. Ginger


Native to China but now grown all over the world, this mouth-tingling root is both sweet and peppery, and a major flavoring in Asian cuisines.

Health Benefits

Ginger has long been used in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic (Indian), and Unani Tibb (ancient Greek, Persian, and Arab) medicine to treat a long list of ailments. Of these, the one with the best backing by modern science is the prevention and treatment of nausea brought on by pregnancy or chemotherapy. Ginger may help food pass more quickly through your GI tract, relieving mild constipation or indigestion, and it may also offer relief from menstrual cramps, according to studies. Plus, test-tube experiments found that the compounds that give ginger its distinctive sharp taste and odor, such as gingerols and shogaols, help kill and prevent the spread of cancer cells.

Daily Goal

About 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger a day, taken in 1/8 teaspoon doses, may help quell nausea, aid digestion, and prevent constipation. Or you can ingest 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh-grated ginger per day, raw or boiled in tea.

Try It

Combined with garlic as an aromatic recipe staple, or as a healing tea:

• Chicken or fish curries

• Fresh herb chutneys

• Spice rubs

• Ginger and honey tea




2. Turmeric


Dried and ground, turmeric has been spicing up food in Asia for at least 2,5oo years. India is a major exporter.

Health Benefits

A staple of Indian and Chinese medicine systems, turmeric is also the latest darling of nutrition researchers, mainly because of curcumin, the compound that imparts the spice’s yellow color. You name the health concern—including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and possibly Alzheimer’s—and it seems like curcumin helps prevent or treat it. “In addition to curcumin, turmeric has more than a hundred other active components, which probably act synergistically to benefit your health,” explains Sahdeo Prasad, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas.

This powerful synergy may explain turmeric’s impressive health creds: It may help heal peptic ulcers, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and zap some of the carcinogens found in cigarettes. Another article in the Indian Journal of Dental Research suggests making a paste—1 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp mustard oil—and rubbing it on your gums twice daily to treat gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (gums receding and forming infected pockets).

Daily Goal

About 1/2 teaspoon per day is enough, although more might be needed for certain medical conditions, says Prasad. Curcumin is fat soluble, so cook turmeric with some oil or coconut milk to enhance absorption. Combining it with black or white pepper also improves bioavailability.

Try It

In a range of savory recipes thanks to its relatively mild taste:

• Beans and chickpea dishes

• Rice dishes

• Red or yellow curries

• Vegetable stir-fries


3. Cloves


Cloves are the flower bud of the clove tree, dried and sold whole or ground. Native to Indonesia, cloves are also cultivated in India and other Asian countries, as well as Tanzania and Brazil. The infamous East India Company introduced cloves to India in 18oo.

Health Benefits

Cloves ranked first in a French study of the 1oo foods highest in polyphenols, a large group of antioxidant compounds found in plants. To put this in perspective, a mere half-teaspoon of ground cloves contains as many antioxidants as a half-cup of blueberries—often touted as a top antioxidant-rich superfood. So far, research on cloves and its polyphenols has been mainly conducted in test tubes or on lab animals. Even so, early results look promising. For example, cloves are a great source of the antioxidant eugenol, which has been shown to suppress the spread of melanoma. They’re also rich in gallic acid, found to boost memory and tamp down brain inflammation that leads to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Daily Goal

Exact levels aren’t yet known, but a dash goes a long way—the menthol-like flavor can take over quickly and burn your mouth if you overdo it!

Try It

Combined with other spices to lend rich flavor to such foods as:

• Coconut-based curries

• Fruit-poaching liquid

• Hot herbal tea

• Rice biryanis


4. Chili Powder

People in what is today called Mexico were eating hot peppers as far back as 8,ooo years ago. It wasn’t until the 15th century, when Christopher Columbus and crew “discovered” the peppers, that they were introduced to Europe. It’s believed that Portuguese traders then brought them to India, where they quickly became a beloved staple. Though hot peppers are grown all over the world, India is now a major producer.

Health Benefits

Hot peppers that are dried and sold whole or ground into chili powder get their heat from healing compounds called capsaicinoids, the most abundant and well-researched being capsaicin. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains, says Krishnapura Srinivasan, PhD, chief scientist at the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, India. Capsaicin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers and protects you on many fronts. For example, it can lower cholesterol, which reduces your risk of heart disease and of cholesterol-related gallstones. (Srinivasan notes that Indians, who eat a lot of chili peppers, have a lower risk of gallstones compared to other cultures.) The spice might also help you maintain a healthy weight by delivering feelings of satiation and a temporary bump in metabolic rate: People took in 74 fewer calories after eating spicy meals or taking a capsaicin supplement with their food, compared to when they ate blander fare or took a placebo, according to a review in the journal Appetite. While this may not sound like much, over a few meals it adds up.

And chili powder may help you get more out of foods: “It enhances the absorption of vitamins by enlarging villi—tiny hairlike structures in the intestine that transport nutrients into the bloodstream,” Srinivasan explains.

Daily Goal

It’s hard to know exactly—animal studies used 5 to 1o times the amounts eaten in hot-pepper-loving parts of India. Srinivasan suggests 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons a day spread out over several meals; this equals about 2 to 4 dried hot peppers, half the average intake of Indians.

Try It

To add heat to savory foods like:

• Asian soups

• Dal/lentils

• Grilled meats

• Tomato-based curries



5. Cinnamon


Made from the inner bark of a cinnamon tree, the spice version of cinnamon is cut, dried, and sold as sticks or ground powder. Most of the cinnamon sold in the United States is “cassia,” from trees grown in China, Burma, Vietnam, and Indonesia. While it’s fine in moderation, regularly eating large amounts (about 1/2 teaspoon or more) can possibly cause liver damage and other ill effects thanks to a naturally occurring toxin called coumarin. Another variety of cinnamon tree, indigenous to Sri Lanka and Southern India, produces “Ceylon” or “true” cinnamon, which has very low levels of the toxin and is found online or in natural grocers.

Health Benefits

The research on cinnamon’s ability to lower blood sugar has been mixed, but a recent review by Western University of Health Sciences, in California, gives it the thumbs up. It showed that people with type 2 diabetes who eat about 1/4 to 2 teaspoons daily can substantially drop their blood sugar—by 25 mg/dL. And if you have pre-diabetes or even normal blood sugar, cinnamon may blunt the rise in blood sugar that results from downing a sugary beverage, according to a few studies.

Daily Goal

In various studies, about 1/4 to 2 teaspoons daily for 4 to 18 weeks were enough to significantly lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. This data is based on studies using cinnamon capsules, but you could also try adding this amount directly to your food.

Try It

In garam masala (a classic Indian spice blend) or in sweet or aromatic foods, including:

• Baked goods like cookies and fruit breads

• Beef curries

• Masala chai

• Rice pudding or ice cream


The Meaning of Sukha

Lisa Kanne

“How Come I’m Not Comfortable?” The Meaning of Sukha




“Find the steady, easy posture,” the yoga instructor tells students, quoting Patanjali’s famous aphorism from verse II.46 of the Yoga Sutra. Fifteen minutes later, you hear, “Now lean into your edge…welcome to the shake zone.” And then, encouragingly, “This pose isn’t easy.” It certainly doesn’t feel easy. It’s a struggle to hold the pose.


The best translation I have ever heard is “a good fit.” When I keep this definition of sukha in mind, I find that many parts of my practice fit together.


So much for sukha meaning “ease.” Maybe “comfort” is a better definition. But then I hear the instructor assure the roomful of quivering yogis, “Focus through the discomfort.” Knowing that you are not suffering alone can be encouraging. But if sukha is neither “easy” nor “comfortable,” then what is it? Whether we are practicing strenuous postures or quietly meditating, we are out of our comfort zone. To say then that sukha means “comfort” or “ease” can be confusing. The best translation I have ever heard is “a good fit.” When I keep this definition of sukha in mind, I find that many parts of my practice fit together.


Breaking the word down into its parts, su means “good” and kha means “hole”—in this case, the hole where a chariot wheel and axle come together. The ancient Indo-Europeans brought their languages and customs to lands as far apart as India and Ireland. What enabled them to travel such distances was the chariot. If the wheelwright and the chariot-maker did a good job, the ride was sukha, and the good fit allowed the wheels and axles to work together smoothly.

Although beginners may often be more confused than instructors realize, most yogis develop a sense of how to harmonize working hard while maintaining what Patanjali calls sthira sukham—translated as “steady, with a good fit.” Whether or not you are breathing is an oft-recommended way to gauge if your practice is sthira and sukha. I won’t argue with the breath test as the quickest way to determine whether what you are doing is yoga or self-asphyxiation, but a look at the Sanskrit language and India’s history also helps us understand what it means to maintain sthira sukham asanam while we are in “the shake zone,” as my favorite power yoga instructor likes to say.

Sukha in sthira sukham asanam suggests that all parts of our bodies should join together in a good fit as we practice yoga. This remains true whether we are finding stillness in savasana, or shaking and sweating while holding a challenging pose. One of the foundational yogic texts, the Bhagavad Gita, uses as its central metaphor the most demanding of all forms of charioteering—chariot warfare. The Gita is a small but vitally important part of the vast epic, the Mahabharata, occurring as a divine revelation upon a field of battle. You can bet that ancient charioteers in such a battle would shake and sweat as they controlled four speeding horses, while a warrior positioned on the chariot performed the extraordinary task of shooting an arrow at a moving target! Controlling a chariot was seen as the consummate test of physical skill and mental concentration. Sukha does not mean “easy” or even “comfortable,” as we normally understand the terms—it means that everything is working together harmoniously.

I have been told that the greatest masters of archery, charioteering, and hatha yoga achieve a state of effortless mastery. But sthira sukham also applies to those of us for whom practice is still a shaky and sweaty affair. In the simplest terms, it means your wheel isn’t wobbling—i.e., that your body isn’t positioned in a way that will cause injury. But there is a lot more to it than that. Hatha yoga is a practical discipline, and on the most basic level, sukha means that the physical body—called the physical “sheath” (annamaya kosha) in yoga philosophy—is aligned in a way that will bring us safely toward strength, suppleness, and health. But the concept also applies to the body’s subtler sheaths—the sheath of energy (pranamaya kosha), the sheath of mind (manomaya kosha), the sheath of knowledge (vijnanamaya kosha), and the sheath of bliss (anandamaya kosha).


Hatha yoga is a practical discipline, and on the most basic level, sukha means that the physical body is aligned in a way that will bring us safely toward strength, suppleness, and health.


Very early in the yoga tradition, the chariot became a metaphor for the human body—being guided by God, the charioteer, while the soul takes aim at its target. And while it is well and good to celebrate what the body can do, let’s remember that yoga is ultimately about the care of the soul. In the Bhagavad Gita, the dialogue between the soul and God is expressed through the metaphor of the archer Arjuna speaking to his charioteer, Krishna. When everything in our practice fits together—the limbs of our body, as well as the deeper parts of our being—and when we take aim from our chariot with care, but without attachment to the outcome, then we nurture ourselves in the most profound way and are in service of a higher purpose. To quote the final verse of the Gita:

When Krishna is the Master of Yoga

And Arjuna is the mighty archer,

Then there will always be prosperity, victory, opulence, and righteousness—

This is my firm conviction.

We are all Arjuna. The arrows are the intentions we offer in our practice and our lives. It must have been quite a practice in letting go for ancient chariot warriors to put all their years of training into shooting an arrow, and then to simply get on with the task at hand (without attachment to the outcome). But that is what we are told to do when the Gita says not to be attached to the fruit of our actions—whether the action is shooting an arrow, going to a job interview, or trying to nail that handstand.

For Krishna to be the Master of Yoga means for our higher self—or atman, the ground of our being—to guide our intentions and our actions. And for Arjuna to be the archer means for us to act with awareness of our purpose in life, and to choose to do right, without attachment to personal gain.

May our wheels never wobble.

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An Ayurvedic Look at Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Lisa Kanne

Jennifer is an accomplished artist who is beginning to make a name for herself. She lives in the country on four acres of forested land and she spends her time painting, preparing for upcoming shows, marketing her prints, and taking care of her house and yard. She has a Siamese cat, but it is her cocker spaniel, Reilly, that is her constant companion. She is 56, single, and has many close friends. Even though her life is going well, Jennifer is anxious. She worries about money and the success of her next show. She frets about what would happen to her pets if anything were to happen to her. She is restless and sleeps lightly.

Jennifer’s time is unscheduled and her days often chaotic. She gets up whenever she feels like it, shops for groceries sporadically (often forgetting there is no food in the house), accidentally bounces checks, sometimes lets bills slide, and spontaneously takes the afternoon off and goes visiting whenever the mood strikes. Although she paints every day and tries to plan for her shows, she is often pushed at deadline time. When she is absorbed in her work, she will paint into the wee hours of the morning, forgetting both food and sleep (she would say these have never been important to her anyway). She doesn’t like to cook, so she eats mostly cold food that requires no preparation. A typical day’s diet is a bowl of cereal for breakfast with a cup of tea, rice cakes with peanut butter and an apple for lunch, fat-free strawberry yogurt for a snack, and grilled fish and a salad for supper.

Jennifer has never been especially athletic. She sometimes takes walks in the woods with her dog but has little motivation to do more. She rationalizes that her work is physical enough and that she goes folk dancing once a week. Her body is slender and agile, but she is beginning to notice that she feels stiff and achy after a long drive.

Her energy at the end of the day varies, especially when her digestive system is acting up, as it has been of late. She has gas, which causes pain, distention, and discomfort (and makes her pants too tight). Her stomach rumbles and grumbles and she feels heavy after eating—as if her food is just sitting in her stomach. Occasionally she has cramping and diarrhea, usually when she is under stress—transporting her paintings to a show, for example, or scurrying to meet a deadline—but more often she is constipated.


Jennifer has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Her doctor also performed a series of diagnostic tests (blood tests, sigmoidoscopy, allergy testing), all of which were negative, although she did have a mild reaction to wheat and dairy products. Her doctor recommended a soluble fiber supplement (Metamusil) for the constipation and prescribed a variety of drugs to help manage her symptoms: an anti-gas medication, a laxative, an anti-diarrhea medication, and a drug that encourages gastric motility. Her doctor has told her that her condition is incurable, an opinion reinforced by the specialist she consulted for a second opinion.

Irritable bowel syndrome is the most common gastrointestinal disease in clinical practice. Approximately 35 million people in the U.S. are affected by IBS, usually young-to-middle-aged adults, and twice as many women as men. Jennifer’s symptoms are typical: constipation alternating with diarrhea, bloating, gas, and general indigestion. Some people have predominantly abdominal pain and constipation, others have diarrhea more frequently. Although it is not a serious health problem in the sense that it doesn’t progress to a more serious condition like colitis or cancer, IBS is uncomfortable and unnerving.

The Western medical approach to this disorder is to rule out a more serious problem with a battery of tests, and then treat the condition symptomatically, as was done in Jennifer’s case. Cure is not expected because the cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown, although it is clear that stress plays a role. Like Jennifer, patients are usually advised to learn to live with it.

The ayurvedic approach is infinitely more hopeful. All illnesses are considered imbalances of the doshas (the three humors of the body), and most are curable with balancing therapies. Jennifer’s variable intestinal symptoms are signs of an imbalance of vata (the dosha associated with air). Vata resides primarily in the colon, and when out of balance it creates erratic symptoms (especially gas and constipation). Like the wind, vatic conditions tend to have the qualities of dryness, coldness, and irregularity. These can manifest as coldness of the body, dryness of skin, eyes, and/or mouth, or dryness in the intestinal tract, which causes constipation (lack of lubrication leads to dry hard stool that doesn’t pass readily). A vata imbalance also manifests as irregularity of symptoms—for example, variable digestive complaints, unpredictable menses, or fluctuating blood sugar.

Those who have a predominance of vata dosha are prone to these imbalances. They tend to have irregular digestion patterns, and irregular energy levels (it comes in “gusts”). Mentally and emotionally, vatic types tend to be creative and intuitive; they are attuned to the beauty in any situation, but are also sensitive to the ugliness (loud noises, bright lights, strong odors, injustice). Their sensitivity often makes them feel that they need more insulation between themselves and the world. They love travel, and are stimulated by change, but this aggravates their already restless minds. They tend to learn quickly and forget just as quickly. Their nature puts them on a roller coaster ride that is exhausting and makes them more prone to feeling unstable and anxious. The goal of ayurvedic therapy is to rebalance vata and thus minimize irregularity and coldness, and maximize routine, warmth, and moisture by way of food, drink, herbs, massage, and exercise.

Jennifer’s journey to self-understanding began when she was introduced to hatha yoga by a friend who didn’t want to go to class alone. They took an eight-week class. Jennifer enjoyed the emphasis on relaxation. She noticed that her bowel symptoms often improved after class and that she slept better those nights. She mentioned this to her instructor, who encouraged her to enroll in a weeklong ayurvedic rejuvenation program at a yoga retreat center to work on healing her intestinal disturbance.


Because wind is changeable and chaotic, routine and consistency are essential in balancing vata. So during her rejuvenation program Jennifer follows a strict schedule of waking and sleep, exercise and rest, meals, snacks, and relaxation sessions. She wakes at 6:00 a.m. and cleanses her body by taking a shower, doing the nasal wash, and drinking a cup of hot water with lemon and honey to facilitate a bowel movement. At 6:45 she goes to a gentle yoga class ending with a guided relaxation. Breakfast is served at 8:00 a.m. Afterward she has a biofeedback session, a yoga therapy session, and a massage. She has a juice break between morning sessions and takes a brisk walk before lunch at 12:30. In the afternoon she attends a cooking class, reads, and practices sandbag breathing. Supper is served at 6:00 p.m., and in the evening Jennifer attends lectures on nutrition, ayurvedic philosophy, and stress reduction. Before bed she practices a systematic relaxation and turns in by 10:00 p.m.


Because wind is changeable and chaotic, routine and consistency are essential in balancing vata.


Stress Reduction

Vatic people tend to get scattered, disorganized, confused, and anxious easily, and this generates considerable stress. They benefit from slowing down and collecting themselves. In Jennifer’s ayurvedic rejuvenation program diaphragmatic breathing is the foundation of stress reduction because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and nervous system and making it easier to focus the mind. Relaxation exercises based on diaphragmatic breathing transform a whirlwind into a calm breeze.

Jennifer is first taught to relax lying on her back in the corpse pose. Once she is breathing effortlessly in that position, she is introduced to sandbag breathing—a specially designed 8-pound to 10-pound sandbag is placed over her abdomen below the rib cage to strengthen the diaphragm muscle, and this in turn helps her breathe deeply, slowly, and evenly.

She also learns a systematic relaxation that guides her through her whole body from head to toes, consciously relaxing each part. Jennifer finds this restorative. She is given a tape to use when she returns home and is reminded to practice diaphragmatic breathing anytime she feels anxious or scattered. She is also advised to breathe diaphragmatically for a few minutes just prior to meals to ensure that she is relaxed and receptive to nourishment.


Oil massages are essential to keep vatic types in balance, especially during the cold, dry months of winter. Warm oil is nourishing to vatic skin, countering dryness while increasing circulation. It is also deeply relaxing. Jennifer finds the daily massages calming and always walks away smiling.


Because of their weak digestion, vatic people benefit from building strength in their solar plexus, and in hatha, the best exercise for this is agni sara. In this practice the base of the body is “locked” by contracting the pelvic floor muscles; and after exhaling upward from the pubic bone to the chest, the chin is also “locked” by bringing it to the sternum. These locks are a way of holding in prana, or energy; agni sara helps create, preserve, and compress energy. Even a brief daily practice strengthens digestive power and builds heat. A more intense practice engenders energy and clarity of mind.

Vatic types are prone to weak, unstable joints, and so need to focus on strengthening poses. Standing poses (lunge, warrior series, triangle, angle, etc.) and balancing poses (tree, king dancer) that help vatas ground down through the feet are especially helpful. Vatic types also need aerobic exercise because it is warming and builds digestive strength. Low-impact forms of exercise, such as swimming, walking, bicycling, dancing, skating, and rollerblading are best.

Jennifer is encouraged to continue folk dancing and to walk more often. During her daily yoga therapy sessions, the therapist works with her on the standing and balancing poses, as well as on poses for preserving flexibility. The therapist emphasizes the importance of moving with awareness of the breath. Jennifer finds this difficult at first, but by midweek she is able to stay focused on her breathing, and has the pleasant sense of really being in her body, rather than just in her head.


Vata is balanced by food that is cooked, warm, moist, moderately spiced, nourishing, and a bit oily. Sweet and salty tastes are especially important. Sweet foods (grains and dairy products, fruits, and natural sweeteners) are nourishing. Salt holds water, countering the tendency to dryness; it also stokes the digestive fire. Because vatic people tend toward weak digestion, herbs that increase digestive fire are useful: ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, clove, bay leaf, and fenugreek. Once digestion is sufficiently strengthened, dairy products can be introduced. Gassy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and most beans are best avoided for obvious reasons. Cold, light, and dry food further imbalance vata: salad and other raw food, puffed grains, carbonated drinks, light crunchy snacks, and even yeast bread (it’s full of air) are best eaten in small quantities.

These principles are explained to Jennifer. During her stay her meals consist of whole grains (rice, oats, spelt, whole wheat), watery and root vegetables (squash, pumpkin, yam, carrot), sweet fruits (oranges, pears, cooked apples), nuts, tofu, and dairy products. Salads, vegetables from the cabbage family, and most beans are not included. At midmorning she drinks a mixture of carrot and apple juice (sweet, nourishing, and cleansing) and every afternoon she is given hot spiced milk with a sweet snack. Despite her mild allergy to dairy products, she finds that cheese, made fresh at the retreat center, and the spiced milk cause no gastric problems.

Jennifer is also coached to be aware of what and how she eats and to taste, chew, and swallow it with awareness. She attends cooking classes to learn to make these dishes herself. She  appreciates the subtle flavors of foods she is being introduced to and is excited about expanding her menu at home.


Generally vatic types need to take herbs that are building, strengthening, and nourishing. A few of the most powerful ayurvedic herbal tonics are ashwagandha, shitavari, and punarnava. All of these herbs have a sweet taste and build immune strength, virility, and energy.

For the intestinal tract, soluble fiber (psyllium-seed husk) is essential, at least until the bowels are in good working order again. Soluble fiber can act either as a laxative or as an anti-diarrheal agent: it absorbs water which helps counter diarrhea, while its mucinous quality and bulk have a laxative effect. Triphala is also a good tonic for strengthening bowel function. Insoluble fiber, such as bran, is dry and acts as a laxative by irritating the bowel wall, and so it should be avoided by anyone tending toward a vata imbalance.

Jennifer takes psyllium-seed husk mixed in a large glass of water or juice every morning, and a cup of triphala tea before bed. She takes a mixture of the strengthening herbs mentioned above in pill form twice a day, along with skullcap, licorice, and schizandra.


When she goes home Jennifer will continue this regimen for at least two months. As her bowel normalizes she will stop taking the psyllium seed, and over a period of three to six months she will gradually stop drinking the triphala tea and taking the other herbs, using them only if symptoms recur.

Jennifer has been coached on how to create a schedule to give her days some structure when she gets home. She is advised to wake, eat, sleep, exercise/stretch, and relax at regular times. Although she knows it will be challenging to curb her free-wheeling ways, she is so encouraged by the marked improvement in her symptoms that she is determined to change her habits.

She leaves the retreat center with some trepidation: will she really be able to implement what she learned? The staff assures her that any changes she makes consistently, no matter how small, will have a positive effect, and that this in turn will motivate her to make other changes. They will be available by phone if she has questions or concerns, and she is encouraged to follow up in six to eight weeks for both assessment and encouragement.


4 Tricks to help fall and stay asleep

Lisa Kanne

These practices will help you fall asleep—and stay asleep—by facilitating mental-emotional cleansing and activating the body’s relaxation response.


1. 2:1 breathing

Make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation. You’ll activate the body’s relaxation response—and pave the way to a better night’s sleep.

Have you ever noticed that when your nervous system is jacked up, your inhalations are longer than your exhalations? Short exhalations make us vulnerable to anxiety and depression, cause toxins to accumulate, and create an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, all of which contribute to insomnia. The antidote? Make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation. You’ll activate the body’s relaxation response—and pave the way to a better night’s sleep.

To begin, lie in shavasana. Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. Tune into your breath. (If your chest is moving, relax your rib cage and focus on breathing solely into your abdomen.) Let the inhalation and exhalation be approximately equal in length.

Gradually deepen the breath and slow it down: On your next exhalation, gently engage your abdominal muscles and push a little extra air out of the lungs. Allow your abdomen to rise slightly higher as you inhale. Then begin to count your in- and out-breaths in even ratios—starting, perhaps, with 3:3, then moving up to 6:6—whatever is within your comfortable capacity.

Let your breath flow quietly and smoothly through the nostrils, and when you are ready, let the next inhalation be a little shorter than the last. Gradually adjust your breathing to achieve a 2:1 ratio, exhaling for four counts and inhaling for two, for example. Focus on creating a smooth transition between your in- and out-breath, and back off a bit if you feel any urge to gasp for air.

If you sustain this breathing pattern for a few minutes, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, and your muscles begin to relax. When practiced correctly, 2:1 breathing eliminates wastes from the lungs while calming and nurturing the nervous system. You can do this practice for as long as it is comfortable.

2. Counting Breaths

If you’d like to take 2:1 breathing a step further, here is another practice you can use as a transition into sleep.

After establishing effortless 2:1 breathing, begin counting breaths. Take:

  • 8 breaths lying on your back

  • 16 breaths lying on your right side

  • 32 breaths lying on your left side.

Very few people complete this exercise. Sweet dreams.

3. Resting at the heart

If 2:1 breathing sounds like too much work, try a yogic solution—use your mind to calm your mind. This exercise coaxes the mind out of the eyebrow center (ajna chakra), where it lodges in the waking state, and entices it into the heart center (anahata chakra)—its home in the sleeping state.

Lying on your back in bed, close your eyes, bring your attention to the heart, and think “one.” Bring your attention to your left shoulder and think “two”; left thigh, “three”; the navel center, “four”; the right thigh, “five”; the right shoulder, “six”; back to the heart, “one”; and so on, moving with relaxed attention at a comfortable pace. Let the mind busy itself moving in this pattern and it will tire and come to rest at the heart center, its sleeping abode. As you begin to drift off, break the counting pattern to avoid straining the mind. If you have a personal mantra, you can settle into mental repetitions, which will bring you to rest at the center of your being. Or you can also simply roll over and sink into sleep.

4. Nasya

If you snore or suffer from nightmares, try nasya, an ayurvedic oiling practice, up to twice daily on an empty stomach and at least an hour before or after showering. Lie on your back, face up, with a pillow under your shoulders and your head tilted back so your nostrils are parallel to the ceiling. Put three to five drops of medicated nasal oil or warm ghee in each nostril. Rest with your head in this position for one minute.

About the Author: Former Yoga International editor-in-chief Shannon Sexton writes about food, travel, yoga, and natural health.

With the weather beginning to fluctuate, spring and daylight savings near, be conscious of our sleep to boost our immune system

Lisa Kanne




Q:  I’m generally exhausted by the end of the day so I fall asleep just fine, but I wake up at 3 or 4 every night and can’t go back to sleep. Do I have insomnia or is something else going on?

A:  Yes, you do have insomnia, but not the movie-scene tossing-and-turning-for-hours-before-you-fall-asleep variety. Science defines insomnia as repeated difficulty with the initiation, duration, maintenance, or quality of sleep that occurs despite adequate time and opportunity for sleep and results in some form of daytime impairment. So your wee-hour wake-ups certainly qualify as insomnia—they’re just a different type. Sleep specialists classify what you’re experiencing as a “sleep maintenance” problem. They consider not being able to fall asleep when you first hit the sack a problem with “sleep latency.” While both types of insomnia can share many of the same causes—too much stimulation before going to bed (from food, drink, or TV), job- or life-related stress or worry, a chaotic or irregular sleep routine—sleep maintenance problems can also stem from a couple of biochemical issues.


The first concerns melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the evening once the sun has set. According to the National Sleep Foundation, melatonin levels normally start rising about 9 p.m. in response to darkness and stay elevated until dawn, when daylight triggers the brain to turn off the flow. If we’re not exposed to bright light during the day or to darkness in the evening (especially in the bedroom), our melatonin levels may stay low, and even though our exhausted body surrenders to sleep initially, an agitated mind can wake it up before it’s completely rested.

Unfortunately, our crazy electronic, lit-up world can convince our brains that it’s always daytime. To counteract that, you may need to invite the night in by turning down the lights and unplugging your gadgets for a bit before going to bed. Or go out for a nighttime stroll—the exercise can also help calm the mind and body. If these suggestions—coupled with a good sleep hygiene program that includes a nightly wind-down routine, avoidance of stimulants, and a regular sleep/wake cycle—don’t do the trick, you can try melatonin supplements. Take 1 to 3 mg about 30 minutes before bedtime for up to two weeks and then increase to 5 to 10 mg, if necessary. I don’t recommend melatonin supplements as a long-term daily treatment, but they’re excellent for short-term (or periodic) sleep support.

Cortisol also rises when we’re under stress (it’s part of the body’s fight-or- flight response), so in many individuals with high-stress jobs or lives, the level of this wake-up chemical stays elevated all the time—even when they’re asleep.

A second cause of sleep maintenance problems involves what’s often called the anti-sleep hormone. When the brain turns the melatonin spigot off for the night, it signals the body to produce another chemical, cortisol, to jump-start our morning. Cortisol levels increase 50 to 160 percent within 30 minutes of first waking up and then gradually fall throughout the day, hitting their lowest levels between 11 p.m. and midnight. Cortisol also rises when we’re under stress (it’s part of the body’s fight-or- flight response), so in many individuals with high-stress jobs or lives, the level of this wake-up chemical stays elevated all the time—even when they’re asleep. Again, although they may fall asleep normally, as soon as the body gets a few hours rest, the cortisol wakes them up.

You can lower your cortisol level throughout the day by finding ways to counteract the stress of work and everyday life. Yoga and meditation can play important roles here, as can aerobic exercise, sanity breaks, pranayama, prayer—anything that will allow the mind and body to relax. But if unremitting stress over a long period of time has thrown the cyclical rise and fall of cortisol seriously out of whack—so that its morning wake-up call occurs at 4 a.m., say—then you’ll need to reset things. Adaptogenic herbs like ginseng, cordyceps, rhodiola, astragalus, and licorice root help our bodies counter stress by nourishing the adrenals and supporting homeostasis. They boost the immune function as well, without creating unwanted side effects. You can try an over-the-counter ginseng or cordyceps formula, but if they don’t work, a naturopath, an herbalist, a doctor of Chinese Medicine, or an ayurvedic practitioner can better determine your body’s needs and how to address them.

Yoga and meditation can play important roles here, as can aerobic exercise, sanity breaks, pranayama, prayer—anything that will allow the mind and body to relax.

And finally, studies have long claimed that sleep maintenance insomnia is a hallmark symptom of depression, although more recent studies suggest that it may be a cause as well—and may in fact signal the near onset or relapse of the condition. The two aren’t inexorably linked, of course, but if other remedies fail, you might look to your overall mental health. Interestingly, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), now a standard treatment for chronic insomnia, also seems to relieve depression. CBT uses psychotherapy and may include journaling and biofeedback to help a patient identify thoughts and behaviors that cause distress and then substitute healthy thoughts and actions in their stead.

But what about a short-term fix to get back to sleep once awakened? If counting sheep or using breath-related relaxation techniques fail to induce sleep within 15 to 20 minutes, most experts suggest you get out of bed and do something relaxing in another room—like your wind-down routine or listening to calming music—and go back to bed only when you feel drowsy.

About the Author: Carrie Demers MD, has practiced integrative medicine for 22 years. After earning her medical degree and becoming board-certified in internal medicine, Dr. Demers went on to study massage, homeopathy, yoga, meditation, nutrition, herbal medicine, and ayurveda. She uses all these modalities to support patients’ inherent ability to heal.




Lisa Kanne

Today I want to focus on a something that can make a huge difference, a healthy digestive system.  When stress levels are high our digestion can be affected, and when our digestive system is affected it’s hard to feel anything but pure yuck.  So to feel better check out these great articles discussing “Ayurvedic Practices for Good Digestion”!

Love Your Belly: Digestion-Boosting Fermented Foods

The key to better digestive health: fostering the right environment for good gut bacteria. Flavorful fermented foods are just the tasty ticket.

If you regularly reach for probiotic-rich drinks and foods like kefir, kombucha, yogurt, and kimchi, you probably do so knowing that each is teeming with “good” bacteria that are beneficial to digestive health. But a healthy, happy gut is just one of the many great things you gain. Experts are now learning that consuming foods that cultivate more of the favorable bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, within your gut microbiota—the colony of bacteria deep within your gastrointestinal system—has multiple, far-reaching health benefits.

“These helpful bacteria directly communicate with our immune systems, our metabolism, and even our central nervous system and brain,” says The Good Gut co-author Erica D. Sonnenburg, PhD, and senior research scientist in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine. How bacteria communicate isn’t yet fully clear, but one known important step is that they release chemicals into the gut which then enter the bloodstream and bind to receptors in our tissues, changing the activity of those cells, says Sonnenburg. The beneficial bugs also nourish the lining of our digestive tract so that it functions optimally, selectively allowing the absorption of vital nutrients while keeping toxins from escaping into other parts of our body. So it should come as no surprise that when the “bad” bacteria, such as C. difficile, outnumber the “good,” the result is an increasing number of health concerns, including inflammation, weakened immune function, depression, diabetes, colon cancer, heart disease, allergies, poor digestive health, and possibly even weight gain.

Unfortunately, the conveniences of modern life make it difficult to keep a good balance of gut bacteria. Our squeaky-clean homes and the antibiotics we take when we’re sick wipe out the good bacteria along with the bad. And the common Western diet of overly processed foods deprives us of the raw nutrients that help healthful bacteria thrive. The result? The diversity of our microbiota is shrinking, leaving us harboring fewer species than our parents and ancestors.

“Optimal health is associated with high diversity of gut bacteria, whereas illness of all types is associated with loss of diversity,” says Leo Galland, MD, co-author of The Allergy Solution.

The good news: You may be able to reverse the trend. Research suggests that eating the right foods—and avoiding the wrong ones—can significantly improve the microbial balance in your gut in as little as one day, according to a 2013 Harvard University study. And considering that bacterial cells in your gut make up more than half the cells in your body, it’s crucial to feed them correctly. To get started, follow our three-pronged plan for cultivating a better bacterial profile. Then try the delicious recipes from Mara King, co-owner of Ozuké, a fermented-foods company in Boulder, Colorado. All four dishes are packed with gut-friendly ingredients to help you feel your best this fall.

“People tend to be scared of fermentation because we’re trained to fear bacteria,” King says. “But I like to think of fermenting as tending to an indoor garden that will keep you happy and healthy.”

Step 1: Fuel up on fermented foods

One of the easiest ways to better your microbial mix is to load up on fermented foods. Fermentation is an age-old practice that uses bacteria or yeast in the preparation of foods and drinks like yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut. In addition to supplying you with more helpful microbes, the process of fermentation actually breaks down food, liberating key nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and antioxidants that your body can then more easily access. The bacteria used to produce fermented foods also crowd out harmful gut microbes and steal their nourishment, so the bad bugs are less likely to thrive. But keep in mind that each strain of probiotic is unique, providing its own distinct health benefits. So, for instance, while Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 might keep your digestive system regular, it won’t help to soothe eczema—but Lactobacillus salivarius LSo1 will. Since research still hasn’t uncovered which strains are contained in each fermented food, your best bet is to eat a wide variety of them, especially those that you prep at home, as the number of microbes in store-bought foods tends to dwindle the longer they sit on store shelves.

Step 2: Feed your good bacteria

Gut bacteria love to feast on prebiotics, a special class of carbohydrates that our bodies can’t fully break down. Because we can’t digest them well, some of these carbs travel intact to the large intestine, where good gut bacteria ferment them and use them for food. This process produces a magical byproduct: tiny nutrients that are known as short-chain fatty acids, or SCFA. These compounds nourish the cells that line your colon, as well as the other favorable bacteria that live there. Prebiotics are like a fertilizer that can help healthy gut bacteria grow and multiply, says Rob Knight, PhD, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego. The hard-working SCFA may also help decrease inflammation and enhance immune health.

Yet, when it comes to prebiotics, we don’t consume nearly enough. So aim to regularly include more naturally rich sources like asparagus, fennel, garlic, leeks, lentils, onions, peas, pomegranates, nectarines, and watermelon. One particularly helpful prebiotic is resistant starch, found in bananas, beans, pasta, potatoes, and rice. In addition to helping you grow more good gut bacteria, resistant starch helps your intestine absorb calcium more efficiently, improves your body’s ability to use glucose, and may help you burn fat more effectively. Like other prebiotics, resistant starch escapes full digestion and travels to the colon where it produces SCFA. Factors such as ripeness, temperature, and cooking methods alter the digestibility of resistant-starch granules. For example, while warm pasta and potatoes contain small amounts of resistant starch, cooling these foods after cooking—as with a cold pasta or potato salad—actually increases resistant starch. A banana’s resistant starch can range anywhere from a third of a gram in a ripe banana to more than six grams in a green one, so it’s better to eat your bananas before they’re fully ripe.

Step 3: Avoid foods that harm good bacteria

Finally, to build a better microbiota, limit foods that sabotage it—namely those high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy processed fats. “These types of meals devastate the diversity of our gut microbes because they’re deficient in the fiber that helps cultivate a diverse microbiome,” says Galland. “Plus, processed fats and sugar act as food for the unfavorable bacteria and encourage their growth.”

Ayurvedic Practices for Good Digestion

The first time yoga made a profound difference in my life was in 1981, when I was 15 years old, 10,000 miles away from home, and doubled over with dysentery. I was a foreign-exchange student in Thailand. A Peace Corps volunteer administered antibiotics, and after the pain subsided, the only thing that gave me the least bit of relief was draping my back off the side of my curved wooden bed. This created a soothing space in my belly and provided giggling amusement to my host “sister.”

I had begun practicing yoga a year earlier, yet I didn’t understand why my recurrent stomach ailments (a by-product of the unfamiliar food) sometimes felt better in forward bends and at other times were only relieved by passive backbends. Little did I know that I was just beginning a long healing journey, as I explored yoga for good digestion.

Several years after my time in Thailand, I contracted dysentery again in both India and Nepal, and giardia in Yosemite. I found myself returning to yoga poses in order to soothe my abdominal distress, experienced as bloating or burning pains in my abdomen. The fact that asanas proved more beneficial than Western antibiotics, which the parasites inside my body eventually began to resist, led me to approach my healing from a new perspective. I began with a three-week detox at the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego. The intense cleanse, daily enemas, huge doses of wheat grass, and my daily yoga practice made me feel much better. Upon my return to the San Francisco Bay Area, I continued to cleanse my system with cooked and raw foods.

Throughout all of this, I was acutely aware that I was dealing with a third-chakra challenge. (As a teenager, I had become fascinated with the chakras and often practiced a meditation in which I channeled colorful lights through the seven energy centers; years later, I now teach workshops on “Yoga and the Chakras.”)

The third chakra is located in the solar plexus and represents solar energy, or inner fire. Fire converts matter to energy in the form of light and heat. Physiologically, this refers to metabolism; psychologically, the transformational nature of fire relates to our expression of vitality, personal power, and will.

In my case, the psychological dimension of this challenge had to do with the fact that I wasn’t feeling all that powerful. I imagine that I was undergoing a passage many of us experience: finding my voice, releasing suppressed anger, and learning to listen to my gut for intuitive answers. I could have freed an enormous amount of solar energy by letting go of some big attachments. Trying to control events around me, as opposed to paying attention to what was true, certainly depleted my power.

During that time, I explored different asanas to help my acidic, burning belly and found that backbends made it feel the best. But I didn’t know why.

During my second trip to India, in 1995, I picked up a book on Ayurveda, the ancient medical science that originated in India thousands of years ago. The foundation of Ayurvedic medicine is one’s constitution, or dosha. The three dosha types are vata, pitta, and kapha; most people are a mixture of dosha characteristics, with one dosha more predominant than another. Each of the dosha types flourishes under a specific diet, exercise plan, and lifestyle. Ayurveda also recognizes “fire in the belly.” It’s called agni, and one’s degree of agni potency reveals one’s digestive health.

I learned that my dosha was pitta-vata, recognizing my pitta self in descriptions like “medium build, doesn’t miss a meal, lives by the clock, and intense.” Pittas’ agni often burns too hot and so requires cooling, both physically and emotionally. In asana terms, the best way to cool the fire is through restorative poses that lift the diaphragm and extend the abdomen. Once I learned this, whenever I experienced bloating or burning I practiced passive, supported backbends, and the discomfort went away every time. Furthermore, the restorative poses encouraged me to spend time following my breath and simply letting go.

Before I integrated an Ayurvedic approach into my yoga practice, I was floundering, not knowing why certain poses seemed to alleviate my gastric problems. Ayurveda gave me a framework to understand how to consciously apply asanas to these problems.

Today I conduct workshops on “Yoga for Good Digestion” twice a year and have worked with scores of students whose digestive issues have been ameliorated by asanas prescribed to fit each dosha’s unique requirement for “fire in the belly.”

Out of all the students I’ve worked with, I chose to write about the following three because they represent dosha prototypes. You might recognize yourself somewhat in one person, or you might find that your personality fits one dosha and your body clearly behaves like another. In any case, I invite you to practice poses from any of the doshas whenever you need them—for instance, whenever you feel cramps, try a vata pose.

Today, after my years of deep cleansing, potent yoga, and lots of inner growth, Eastern and Western doctors have pronounced my digestive system very healthy. Best of all, I feel good—and I have tools to use when I’m off balance. I hope these stories can help you find greater harmony in your health, too.

Vata: The Most Sensitive Dosha

A few years ago, I was the yoga teacher on a one-week sea cruise, teaching morning classes and making myself available for private sessions. Most mornings, Paul (the names of individuals profiled in this article have been changed) arrived a little late to class after his jog around the deck. He was in his late 30s, with hair gently graying and a friendly face and disposition. Although he said his yoga practice was intermittent, I noticed that his tall, thin body had a natural grace and that he learned poses easily. After our second class, Paul booked two sessions with me.

During our first “private” (one-on-one session), he confided that he had a troubling problem. He loved going on adventures with his wife and daughter, yet every time he traveled he got very constipated, bloated, and flatulent. He wondered if yoga could help. It was obvious to me that Paul’s dominant dosha was vata, given his attributes: digestive challenges; slenderness; prominent features, joints, and veins; and cool, dry skin. Vatas are enthusiastic, impulsive, and light and tend to eat and sleep erratically. The most sensitive dosha, they’re prone to anxiety, insomnia, sciatica, arthritis, and PMS.

Vatas are considered to be cold, light, and dry. When they travel, all the speedy movement through space, whether in cars or planes, dries them out even more. Most vatas don’t drink enough water, and dehydration only contributes to their feeling of being bound up.

I asked Paul what he was eating and how he was feeling in general. He said he usually grabbed coffee and a doughnut for breakfast. Sometimes he was so busy watching his 3-year-old at lunch that he didn’t pay much attention to feeding himself well, and dinner was his main meal. He often had bouts of insomnia, and this week he was quite stressed about a project he left at home. Each night, he could feel his stomach get tied in knots as he worried about his deadline and doing a good job.

I explained that vatas tend to get busy with what is expected of them, so they often neglect to eat, drink water, exercise, or treat themselves lovingly. Vatas need to practice slowing down, grounding, and nurturing themselves. When they feel off-balance, coffee and tea dry vatas out, making them less grounded and more easily overstimulated. Warm, cooked foods and hot water help the digestive system. I encouraged Paul to get some oil and fiber in his diet each day to help move things along in his colon. He told me the coffee was nonnegotiable, but he would drink six 8-ounce glasses of water each day, perhaps eventually working up to eight glasses or more.

I believe that just as electrical power comes from the combination of positive and negative poles, our true power comes from a balance of our polarities. For instance, the student whose energy is fiery and active finds wholeness by practicing asanas that are slow and restorative. Paul’s agni was cold and dry, and he needed poses that would give his third chakra warmth and pressure. His feelings of fear (from his imaginative, overactive mind) could be balanced by a practice that fostered steadiness and stability. Vatas often need to build endurance, so working slowly and holding asanas a little longer is wise.

I showed Paul how to lie over a belly roll, which he did for three minutes each time he practiced. He spent about 20 minutes in Child’s Pose. The ship’s crew was able to get us a hot water bottle, and I put that on top of the blankets to bring damp heat to his belly. I also had him practice Eka Pada Pavanamuktasana (One-Legged Wind-Relieving Pose); a supported forward bend in a chair, with a partially rolled towel or blanket in his hip crease (as I discovered in Thailand, it also works to use one’s fists, pressing them into the belly); Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose); and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), the latter two done sitting on the edge of a folded blanket with a rolled towel at the hip crease.

Forward bends increase the space in the abdomen and facilitate the release of entrapped gases. These poses heat the front of the body and cool the back body. For vatas, it is important to stay warm. Since Paul held these poses at least five minutes, I put a soft blanket over his kidney area and encouraged him to wear warm clothes when he practiced them in the future.

To help him ground his energy and release some of his anxiety, we practiced Virasana (Hero Pose), Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and Vrksasana (Tree Pose)—which was quite a feat on a moving ship! For Savasana, I raised Paul’s lower legs onto a chair seat, placed some support under his head, and put a folded washcloth over his eyes. If I had had a sandbag, I would have put that on his abdomen; instead, we used the water bottle. The warm weight encouraged layers of tension to release from his belly. We didn’t practice any inversions, but Headstand and Shoulderstand relieve constipation: The change in gravity helps the bowels move more freely.

During our second meeting two days later, Paul was happy to say that he was doing the asanas, drinking plenty of water, and that his constipation had been relieved. I encouraged him to find time for a massage before the cruise was over and to keep practicing the prescribed asanas whenever his digestive system felt out of balance.

Pitta: Some Like It Hot

Amy is a bundle of radiant energy. She is an active tennis player, a former aerobics instructor, a devoted yogi, and a busy mother of two teenage boys. Quick, intelligent, and a perfectionist, she easily looks 10 years younger than her 45 years.

Amy began attending my classes about seven years ago after having studied with other teachers. She always arrived early, was gracious to people, and had a good understanding of the poses. Yet it often felt painful to watch her do yoga. I could sense the self-imposed pressure burning inside of her to do the poses right. Juxtaposed with other students in the same class who beamed calmness even in Warrior Pose, Amy’s beautiful body seemed tense at the core.

Amy used to resent coming to class and discovering that I was teaching the occasional restorative session. She wanted a more aerobic workout; a slow, nurturing class was way too passive for her. On yoga retreats I got to know her a bit better. She was generous, funny, and always wanted to hear how things were going in my life. She wasn’t shy about sharing her opinions—and she would usually make them known in a slightly angry or urgent tone. While she clearly adored her two sons, she confided in me that when they didn’t perform well in their sports, she became disappointed and critical.

It wasn’t hard to peg Amy as a pitta. Pittas have a medium build, strength and endurance, and are well proportioned. They eat and sleep regularly, digest quickly, and maintain a stable weight. Pittas are warm and loving, orderly and efficient. Their inner fire can burn too hot, and this causes inflammatory conditions such as ulcers, heartburn, acne, rashes, diarrhea, and hemorrhoids. Emotionally, their fieriness can make them critical, impatient, and passionate, with quick, explosive tempers. Most pittas’ inner heat causes their skin to perspire easily, and they’re often thirsty.

Two years ago, Amy began experiencing painful acidity after eating. Any time she ate too much, dined late, or ingested rich or greasy foods, she felt a sharp, burning sensation between her ribs just below the breastbone. The heartburn brought on gas, cramps, and diarrhea. Heartburn is caused by stomach acids backing up into the lower esophagus, the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. Not wanting to rely on Tums or prescription medications, she decided to turn to yoga for help.

Amy’s first step toward self-healing was to bring more mindfulness to her eating. To prevent the acid reflux, she avoided eating late. To avoid setting off digestive fires, she monitored her intake of greasy, pungent, and spicy foods. Since swallowing in big lumps can cause indigestion, she focused on chewing well in order to process food correctly. Amy also watched her intake of red wine and coffee, for those brought on burning pains and diarrhea (as acidic foods and beverages tend to do with pittas). Wine, she said, also dulled her awareness of being full, and she wanted to avoid overeating, a common pitta habit.

When people feel deficient or excessive in the third chakra, they often ingest substances such as sugar or coffee to manipulate their sense of power. The substances give a temporary reprieve, but in the long run render an even greater depletion, as they deprive the body of rest and well-being. Those with overactive third chakras, like Amy, may crave things that sedate, such as alcohol, tranquilizers, or overeating. Such behavior calms the hyperactive nervous system and creates a sense of relaxation—but only superficially, not in a way that promotes genuine health. For that, we’re better off seeking the wisdom of yoga and Ayurveda.

The best poses for pittas with digestive problems are supported backbends on bolsters. Backbends cool the agni by lifting the diaphragm and extending the abdomen. Pittas usually protest that they are too busy to rest and do nothing. Yet cooling the mind and calming the body is what they need most for balance.

The pose Amy found most comfortable and enjoyable was Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), which she held for 20 minutes. She also did Supported Supta Sukhasana (Reclining Easy Cross-Legged Pose) for five minutes, and an upright variation of Parsvottanasana (Side Stretch Pose) facing a wall. With her hands on the wall at about shoulder height, Amy could lift her diaphragm and chest, increasing abdominal blood supply and reducing digestive acidity.

When suffering from acidity, pittas should avoid poses that compress the abdominal area, especially forward bends such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Pressure creates heat, and pittas need to cool their inner fire, not stoke it. Asanas such as Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), Trikonasana (Triangle), and Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle) lift the diaphragm area and extend the esophagus and the top portion of the stomach. This reduces the reflux of gastric contents, cools the solar plexus, and arrests acidity. Standing poses also increase the blood supply to the abdominal organs and help tone them.

Inversions should not be done during the acute phase of acidity, because they can cause headaches and vomiting. However, when the digestive system feels just a little off, it is fine to practice Shoulderstand, for it’s cooling. (Avoid Headstand at such times, however; it’s too warming.) A regular practice of all the inversions during the dormant stage of acidity serves to tone the abdominal organs and promote overall health.

Over the last two years, Amy has worked hard. Her heartburn rarely reappears. She has come to love restorative poses and turns to them when she feels ill or finds her controlling impulse emerging. For instance, she recently told me that not long ago, when she drank a glass of orange juice just before meditating and her stomach began to burn soon after she sat and closed her eyes, she lay over her zafu into a backbend and felt better within minutes. She later realized that in those first few minutes of meditating, she had been diligently planning her day; after her “belly break,” she felt more spacious and calm—and better able to simply follow her breath.

Amy now recognizes how reactive she used to be, especially with her children, and in these two years she has tried to be a more sensitive listener. She understands that she has a “hot” disposition, but she is learning to relax through Pranayama, meditation, and yoga, rather than seeking to control the world around her, as pittas are wont to do. In time, her practice should help her develop a deeper sense of her inner power, the sense that comes from feeling connected to one’s self and to others. Then, instead of an overstoked internal furnace, she will feel a truer, more enduring vitality flowing effortlessly through her, like warmth from the sun.

Kapha: Slow But Steady

The general theme of the kapha body type is relaxed. Kaphas are slow to anger, slow to eat, and slow to act. Their sleep is long and sound. Heavy, solid, and strong, kaphas often have thick, oily, wavy hair and cool, damp skin. Although they are known to procrastinate and be obstinate, they can also be very tolerant, forgiving, and affectionate. With a tendency to be overweight, kaphas have sluggish digestion. They are prone to obesity, high cholesterol, and respiratory problems like allergies, congestion, and sinus disorders.

Carol, 42, is just over five feet tall with pale skin, thick black hair, and a great belly laugh. She struggles with her weight, slow metabolism, and sinus problems. Carol regularly vows to devote more time to her body and begins to exercise and do yoga. Then her work hours become longer, and her physical activity stops. Eventually, she feels like a “heavy little ball,” and the process begins again.

Carol was one of my first yoga students 11 years ago. I gave her weekly privates in her apartment. In retrospect, the private sessions were the best yoga years for Carol. She never canceled a meeting, we went at a pace that was just right for her, and we got to know each other more intimately, joking and sharing about our families and weekend plans. Two years later, when she joined one of my public classes and ended our privates, her attendance became very irregular, and she confided how her self-esteem plummeted when she compared herself to other students whose bodies seemed so capable and slim. I always reassured Carol, for, in fact, she was doing very well. (Many kaphas feel as Carol did—which might explain why most yoga classes are dominated by pittas and vatas. Kaphas often prefer to move at their own tempo and may feel self-conscious about their bodies in group-exercise situations. My kapha students tell me it can easily be more enticing to stay at work or rest at home and read.) A few years ago, Carol called me to begin two months of privates. She wanted weekly help because she was feeling particularly stuck and full in her body, and she was also constipated and bloated.

In Ayurveda, kaphas are considered to be cold, heavy, and wet. Because of low agni, they have very slow digestion. Kaphas need sweaty cardiovascular exercise and abdominal toning to eliminate toxins and dampness throughout the body. The fiery third chakra represents our “get up and go”; a healthy chakra burns up inertia. I gave Carol a yoga practice emphasizing twists, abdominal toning, Sun Salutations, and standing poses, which she practiced almost every day. After a month, she felt toned and less prone to hemorrhoids, and as her metabolism improved, she even dropped a few pounds.

Pat Layton, the director of the San Francisco Iyengar Institute and an Ayurvedic counselor, notes, “The ancient yogis believed, ‘As above, so below.’ Agni was worshipped in the sun, and our portion of the cosmic sun was the third chakra, the fire inside of us. The yogis believed that good digestion is a key to radiant health.” It’s not surprising, then, that the traditional Sun Salutation was composed of 12 positions in which the stomach was alternately expanded or compressed-balanced, rhythmic movement similar to peristalsis. The forward bends (such as Uttanasana and Downward-Facing Dog) create heat, which kaphas need. The backbending positions (Tadasana backbend; lunging and extending the arms up; and Cobra) are cooling. I encouraged Carol to practice the Sun Salute six to 12 times each morning, letting the vinyasa become fast and sweaty. By practicing in the morning, Carol jump-started her metabolism and kicked it into gear for the day.

We also practiced twists, including a chair twist and stomach strengtheners like Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Foot Pose) and a variation of Navasana (Boat Pose). Over time, we practiced all of the standing poses (with perspiring encouraged) and used ropes to move rapidly between Upward-Facing Dog and Downward-Facing Dog. Inversions help kaphas increase their digestive fire. We emphasized Setu Bandha (Bridge), Halasana (Plow), and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), because their chin locks stimulate the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which govern healthy metabolism. In addition, Carol practiced rapid diaphragmatic breathing (kapalabhati), bellows breathing (bhastrika), and an upward abdominal lock (uddiyana bandha)—excellent pranayama techniques that massage the intestines, relieve constipation, and eliminate toxins in the digestive tract. And as an adjunct to her practice, Carol rested on her left side for at least five minutes after eating dinner. According to Pat Layton (who encourages all doshas, but especially kaphas, to do this after meals), “This opens the right nostril, the side of the body that represents heat. The increased fire improves digestion.”

Carol felt most alive when her belly was heated and toned. “My increased stomach strength made me stand taller and feel less round,” she says. “It supported my back and my sense of balance.” She came to realize that rich foods and dairy products not only slowed her digestion, but also affected her thinking and overall ability to function well.

Today, Carol’s job continues to place overwhelming demands on her time, making it difficult for her to keep up her practice. This shouldn’t be surprising, not just for Carol but for anyone: Establishing and maintaining balance—whether in Tree Pose or in one’s digestive system—requires constant attention and commitment. But Carol has made real progress, both in her yoga and in her attitude about herself. “It’s perfectly fine with me that I don’t advance quickly in yoga,” she says. “I’d be much worse off today without it.”

Barbara Kaplan Herring

Meditation brings healing

Lisa Kanne

“In meditation, healing can happen. When the mind is calm, alert and totally contented, then it is like a laser beam – it is very powerful and healing can happen.” - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar 


As the New Year approaches why not set an intention in meditation? It doesn’t have to be a radical change in your life, maybe just a small reminder to breath. Whatever it may be, remember that your life is your own. Below you’ll find articles pulled from Yoga International and Yoga Journal about mindfulness, mindfulness, and the power that rests in these things. You can practice at home, or you can join us at Karma Yoga Omaha for meditation class! 


Happy New Year, 

Camile Messerley 


The chakras have become a popular topic in New Age thinking, alternative medicine, and yoga, as has kundalini, the serpent power which energizes them. But there is a growing gap between how the chakras are viewed today and how they are regarded in traditional yogic literature. Today the chakras are used mainly for physical healing. This is different from, and at best preliminary to, the yogic process of Self-realization, which is concerned with going beyond the body and mind. Opening the chakras requires a radical change in consciousness, which usually occurs only after years of meditation. It is not a simple matter of emotional opening or physical cleansing. 


What has happened with the chakras is analogous to what has happened to yoga itself. Yoga means meditation, defined as “the negation of the dualistic thought processes of the mind” (Yoga Sutra 1.2). But today yoga has come to mean primarily asana (yogic postures), which is only an aid to the attainment of yoga. Chakra (not “shakra” as many people pronounce it) means “wheel,” literally “that which revolves.” In yogic literature it refers to the seven vital centers in the subtle or astral body, the body of life energy underlying the physical body. Their opening allows for the unfoldment of higher states of consciousness leading to the awareness of the Supreme Self. Yet today, the chakras, like yoga, are defined in physical terms, which obscures their real purpose and function. 


Misconceptions About Chakra Healing 

In much New Age thinking, imbalances or blockages of the chakras are regarded as the root of disease, which is then treated by correcting the function of the affected chakra. This misconception has spawned a whole group of practitioners who claim to heal our chakras for us. Others claim to be able to energize our chakras and thereby not only cure what ails us but also give us inner knowledge and experience. Some of these procedures can be very expensive and many are highly speculative. 

Most chakra healing today emphasizes external measures such as gems, herbs, bodywork, sound or color therapy, and vibrational healing; often various machines are used to treat the chakras. In addition, psychic healers claim to work on the chakras directly through their mental or occult powers. Working on the chakras with such methods is supposed to open or awaken them, or to induce higher states of consciousness in the person being treated. 

The yogic approach is aimed at opening the chakras, not for healing purposes or to gain occult powers, but as a part of the process of Self-knowledge. For this yoga employs internal 

practices of mantra, pranayama, and meditation, which we must do for ourselves; external means, such as diet or herbs, are only secondary aids. 

According to the yoga system, in the ordinary human state, which is rarely transcended except by sustained spiritual practice, the chakras are closed; that is, they do not truly function. The result of this is not disease, but ignorance. This ignorance consists of regarding the external world as the true reality and living without awareness of one’s true Self, which is neither body nor mind but thought-free awareness. One’s chakras can be closed and yet one can be healthy, emotionally balanced, mentally creative, and successful in many areas of life. The purpose of opening the chakras is not to improve one’s capacity in the ordinary domains of human life but to go beyond our mortal and transient seeking to the immortal essence. 


Today, the chakras are generally described as force centers within the physical body, with the sushumna nadi or central channel being identified with the spine. The chakras are related to various spinal centers and the physiological processes they govern, such as digestion, respiration, or reproduction. However, traditional yoga views the chakras as influencing physical functions only in a secondary way. 

The current tendency to confuse the chakras with their corresponding functions in the physical body is based on a lack of understanding of the nature and function of the subtle body. The subtle body is the subtle counterpart of the physical body, and has a similar form. Yet it is composed of a finer matter than space in the physical world, and cannot be perceived by the physical senses. It belongs to another plane of existence, which we normally access only in dream states or after death. The subtle body allows the life force to enter into the physical body; without it the body could not even move. The subtle body is always active within the physical body, as the source of its vitality, though its activity is obscured by the veil of physical conditions. 

The chakras are not part of the ordinary functioning of the subtle body. They take on a significant role only in states of heightened awareness or spiritual awakening. They represent the opening up or the mergence of the subtle body with the consciousness beyond it. While we can correlate physical and subtle body components and functions, we should realize that the two are not the same, and the spiritually opened astral or subtle body is something else entirely. 



If the chakras are to come into function, they need another, much higher source of energy than what the physical body can provide. This is the role of the kundalini or serpent power, which lies dormant in the subtle body. Kundalini is not a physical force, nor is it an energy that one can manipulate with personal power. Kundalini is the concentrated energy of awareness or attention. It is not an energy apart from consciousness, but rather the energy that manifests with consciousness when it becomes free from thought. Only if a person has one-pointedness of mind can kundalini truly come into action, because only then does one have the possibility of moving beyond thought. 

The awakening of kundalini requires that prana or life force enter into the sushumna or central channel. This occurs when the prana is withdrawn from its fixation through the thought process on the external world. As long as our life energy is identified with the physical body and its functions, it cannot be withdrawn into the central channel. For this reason, arousing kundalini and opening the chakras involves a state of samadhi in which we leave ordinary consciousness. In the beginning this usually involves a state of trance wherein we become 

unconscious of the physical body. Later it can be done in the waking state, without any impairment of physical action, but at that stage, the physical body is no longer experienced as one’s true identity. 


The Chakras and the Physical Organs 

Because the Sanskrit terms for the chakras are cumbersome, there has been a tendency to name them after their corresponding physical location: crown chakra, brow chakra, throat chakra, heart chakra, navel chakra, sex chakra, and root chakra. While this is convenient, it also heightens the tendency to confuse the chakras with the physical body. A more accurate yet simple way to name the chakras is after the elements they rule: earth for the base of the spine, water for the urino-genital region, fire for the navel, air for the heart, ether for the throat, mind for the third eye, and consciousness for the crown chakra. 

However, it is the cosmic functions of these elements that the opened chakras give access to, not their ordinary roles as components of our personal existence. The opened chakras provide knowledge of the unity of the objective constituents of the universe (elements), along with the instruments of cognition (sense organs) and the instruments of action (organs of action), which are the subjective constituents of the universe. When the chakras are opened we experience the cosmic nature of these elements within our own deeper awareness. 


To bring the subtle centers into function, the gross or physical centers must be put in a state of rest or equilibrium. That is why the practices of yoga develop stillness of body, breath, senses, and mind (asana, pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana). To properly open the water chakra, for example, is different than having a heightened sexual drive. On the contrary, it requires that the physical sexual organ go into a state of latency and that the sexual drive be sublimated. 


Similarly, to open the air chakra is quite different than to be in a heightened, vulnerable, or overly emotional state. To awaken this fourth chakra we must go beyond mere personal emotions and understand the cosmic energy behind all emotional fluctuations. This requires an opening to the universal feelings of compassion and devotion, and contact with the universal life force. 


Strictly speaking, therefore, there is no such chakra as the sex center, or heart center, or any other chakra as a mere physical function. There is a chakra located in the subtle body in an area that corresponds to the region of the sex organs in the physical body and which is its subtle counterpart. However, the properly opened chakra is not concerned with the functions of the physical sexual organs but with the cosmic element of water and its corresponding activities. To call it a sex center invites misinterpretation. 


The signs of opened chakras include a corresponding control over and detachment from the physical elements and organs. As long as one is attached to the physical organs and their functions, the subtle organs cannot come into play. The awakening of the consciousness behind the subtle body involves being able to take off the gross body and its functions like a heavy overcoat which is no longer necessary on a warm summer day. 




Signs of Chakra Opening 

To give a sense of what occurs when the chakras are opened, let us examine the signs of opening, chakra by chakra. Note that these signs are general. Experience is variable, particularly as to phenomena or powers. The main experience is a deepening sense of the unity of the universe with one’s own Self-nature. 


Earth Chakra 

When the first chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic earth element and aware of the underlying unity of all solid states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One comes to experience the qualities of the cosmic earth element—like hardness, roughness, density, and texture—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may perceive various subtle or celestial fragrances. Similarly, one understands all formative acts in the universe as different workings of the cosmic earth energy in its capacity to produce and sustain form. 


Water Chakra 

When the water chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic water element and aware of the underlying unity of all liquid states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One comes to experience the qualities of the water element—like softness, wetness, coolness, and flowing nature—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may perceive various subtle or celestial tastes as an essence (rasa) that emanates from all experiences. Similarly, one understands all purificatory acts in the universe as different workings of the cosmic water energy in its purificatory role. 


Fire Chakra 

When the third chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic fire element and aware of the underlying unity of all radiant states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of the fire element—like light, color, heat, and illumination—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may also experience subtle sights and visions, and perceive the radiance or aura behind things. Similarly, one understands behind all appearances in the universe the workings of the cosmic fire energy in its power of illumination. 


Air Chakra 

When the fourth chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic air element and aware of the underlying unity of all gaseous states of matter as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of the air element—like motion, changeability, subtlety, and penetration—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may also perceive subtle energy contacts, and feel the underlying vibratory energies of the cosmic life-force. Similarly, one understands behind all contacts in the universe the workings of the cosmic air energy in its energizing role. 








Ether Chakra 

When the fifth chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the cosmic ether element and aware of the underlying unity of all space in the universe as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of space—like lightness, subtlety, pervasiveness, and clarity—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One may also perceive subtle sounds, and recognize the underlying spatial structure of the universe. Similarly, one understands behind all vibrations in the universe the working of the cosmic ether element as their matrix. 



Mind Chakra or Third Eye 

When the sixth chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of cosmic mind and aware of the underlying unity of all minds in the universe as a crystallization of the energy of consciousness. One experiences the qualities of mind—like perceptiveness, creativity, discrimination, and detachment—as various vibratory conditions of one’s own consciousness. One gains the ability to integrate all the cosmic elements and their respective organs and functions through the activity of the awakened mind. One gains mastery over the mind and comes to have a continual stream of divine perceptions. One realizes that all we think is a manifestation of the cosmic principle of mind. 


Consciousness Chakra 

When the seventh chakra is opened, one becomes cognizant of the Self or pure consciousness as the sole reality and underlying substance of the universe. One experiences the qualities of consciousness—like infinity, immortality, peace, and bliss—as one’s own nature and the underlying nature of the universe. One gains mastery over consciousness and comes to abide in a state of Self-realization, seeing oneself in all beings and all beings in oneself. One realizes that all things are manifestations of the Supreme Self, which is the sole reality. 

There are also general signs of the awakening of subtle energies and faculties, like the experiencing of subtle sounds, lights, visions of deities, and so on, generally in the region of the third eye. But such experiences may come long before any particular chakra is opened. 


Psychic Experiences and Powers 

Each chakra can give an awareness of corresponding levels of the universe or different worlds beyond the physical. The corresponding sub-planes of the astral universe, which are quite marvelous beyond anything in the physical world, may become available to our experience. We may similarly gain insights into the subtle workings of nature, the senses, the life force, and the process of cosmic creation and powers over them. 


Each chakra can give an awareness of corresponding levels of the universe or different worlds beyond the physical. 


Yet not all yogis choose to explore the worlds or the faculties that relate to the chakras. Many great jnanis, or yogis of the path of knowledge, strive to merge directly into pure unity or the Absolute. In their awakening they may hardly note the distinctions of the chakras and their functions. Ramana Maharshi typifies this view. For him there was only one chakra or center, the Self, from which all the phenomena of the gross and subtle worlds and bodies appeared like the images seen in a mirror or bubbles on the waves of the sea. 

Premature Chakra Opening 

Opening the chakras requires purity of body, heart, and mind. It cannot be done willfully or forcefully, nor can it be done in a state of emotional disturbance. Attempts to awaken kundalini without having first purified the body and mind often lead to side effects in which the mind or the pranic force becomes disturbed, which results in various illusory experiences. For this reason, traditional yogic literature has always stressed right living (like a vegetarian diet and control of sexual energy), and right attitude (such as non-violence, non-possessiveness, and the other observances and restraints embodied in the yamas and niyamas). 

It is possible to have aberrant kundalini or chakra experiences, although most of the experiences labeled as premature kundalini awakening are actually nervous or mental disturbances of a more ordinary nature. If the mind is not purified, there still can be a heightened activity of the lower chakras, which is accompanied by an increase in corresponding physical urges. That is why yoga texts state that beings of asuric or highly egotistical natures can open the chakras up to the navel, but their experiences will be tainted, and the functioning of the chakras will be deranged. 


The Limits of Healers 

Certain healers may be able to affect the physical counterparts of the chakras with external aids or with psychic energies—which may be helpful for treating various physical or emotional imbalances—but the true awakening of the chakras cannot be accomplished for us by an external person. No external person, machine, or object can open your chakras for you on their yogic level of functioning. The use of certain diets, herbs, or gems can be helpful in preparing the way for the opening of the chakras but these are only external supports. They can no more open the chakras than can asanas of themselves produce meditation. A guru, or one in whom the inner consciousness is awakened, can provide guidance or initiatory experience but cannot do the work for us. The real opening of the chakras requires the adept practice of yoga, which may take years, sometimes lifetimes, to accomplish and which stems from deeper yogic practices of pranayama, mantra, and meditation along with a disciplined lifestyle. 


No external person, machine, or object can open your chakras for you on their yogic level of functioning. 


Above all we should understand that opening the chakras is not an end in itself, but part of the process of Self-realization, which occurs primarily either through surrender to the Divine (bhakti or devotion) or inquiry into one’s true nature (jnana or knowledge). The current tendency to focus on the technicalities of the chakras rather than developing devotion or wisdom shows that we have not understood what spiritual practice is really about. It is analogous to being more concerned with the physiology of the stomach than with the quality of the food that we eat. The chakras are maps. They show the road and indicate the side paths where one can go astray. What is important is to connect to that Goal wherein one goes beyond all seeking. 








Yogic literature speaks of various siddhis, or yogic powers, like the power to levitate, or the power to become as large or small as one likes. As the chakras open, these corresponding powers in the subtle body may be experienced. These siddhis relate primarily to the subtle body, which as subtle matter is totally malleable. It is almost impossible to translate these siddhis into the physical body, gross and dense as it is, and in any case, this is not the aim of yogic practices. 


In addition, there are many subtle energies that exist between ordinary physical consciousness and the true awakening of the kundalini and the chakras. We should not regard any extraordinary experience as an enlightenment or a kundalini experience. Visions, out of the body experiences, trances, channeling, mystical dreams, genius, inspiration of various sorts and other such states often originate in other parts of the mind and are not necessarily spiritual experiences. Even when they are legitimate, such spiritual experiences may still fall short of the real awakening of kundalini, and certainly should not be confused with Self-realization, which requires the full development of our awareness, not giving ourselves over to some entity or experience outside ourselves. 



About the author 

Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) D. Litt., Padma Bhushan is a western born teacher or guru in the Vedic tradition. In India, Vamadeva is recognized as a Vedacharya (Vedic teacher), and includes in his scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient Vedic teachings going back to the oldest Rigveda. 

Vamadeva is a rare recipient of the prestigious Padma Bhushan award, one of the highest civilian awards granted by the government of India, “for distinguished service of a higher order to the nation,” honoring his work and writings as a Vedic teacher, which he received in Jan. 2015. 

He has a rare and prestigious D. Litt. (Doctor of Letters), the highest educational title possible in the field of Yoga and Vedic sciences, from SVYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana), the only deemed Yoga university recognized by the Government of India. 


In India, Vamadeva’s translations and interpretations of the ancient Vedic teachings have been acclaimed in both spiritual and scholarly circles. He has worked extensively teaching, writing, lecturing, conducting research and helping establish schools and associations in related Vedic fields over the last more than three decades. 


Vamadeva sees his role as a “Vedic educator” helping to revive Vedic knowledge in an interdisciplinary approach for the planetary age. He regards himself as a translator to help empower people to use Vedic systems to enhance their lives and aid in their greater Self-realization. 


Vamadeva has worked in several different healing and scholarly fields, with some degree of specialization over certain periods of time. Yet he has endeavored to approach each with a degree of specificity, providing both the background philosophy and practical teachings. 

Phillip Goldberg in his popular book American Veda (page 223) recognizes Vamadeva (Dr. David Frawley) as one of the main “acharya”s of Vedanta-Yoga in the West today, as well as noting his influence in India as a Vedacharya. For more information visit 




The next article is about mindful breathing practices to help with tough emotions, try incorporating these into your next meditation session. 


Once you know how to breathe mindfully, you can use the practice to help you through challenging times. It’s not about denying feelings or changing them; it’s accepting them exactly as they are, while opening awareness to the calming quality of our breath. Like many people, I had heard about mindfulness. I knew that it meant paying attention, opening our awareness to what is happening in the present moment, and accepting it without judging or trying to control it. 


I knew also that practising mindfulness has been shown to have many benefits—more peace, energy, self-confidence, less stress, relief from depression and anxiety, fewer aches and pains—and I wanted to experience some of those for myself. However, much as I tried, I struggled with the practice. I found it dreary, dull and boring—all that ‘notice-what-you’re-doing-while-you-clean-your-teeth’—I just couldn’t get to grips with it at all. I know that the experts say that when done correctly mindfulness is never boring, but it was for me. I kept trying, but I just couldn’t sustain it. 

Getting Hooked on Mindfulness 

Then, when I was on the point of giving up altogether, I met a monk—an experience that I have described in my book, I Met A Monk—and he quietly suggested that it is helpful to link mindfulness practice to breathing. This really helped. In fact it helped so much that I decided to do some research on mindfulness. What I discovered nearly took my breath away, if I can say that. It has certainly changed my life. 

I found that, in its original form, mindfulness was in fact actually based on our breathing; the breath was an intrinsic part of it. Mindfulness and breathing go together, and when you practise mindfulness with the breath, what might have been a dull, boring and mechanical practice suddenly comes alive. It is like putting gas in your tank or the wind beneath your sails: mindfulness becomes a really enjoyable experience that just seems to flow. 

Practicing mindfulness using your breath as the starting point and the focus, not only opens your awareness to the present moment, which is what mindfulness is all about, but it can also naturally put you in touch with more peace, joy, strength—and, dare I say it, wisdom—which you may never have known you had. If you wish—and once you get started, you probably will—it can naturally lead into a meditation practice, with all the many health and wellbeing benefits that this is proven to bring. It is truly life changing. Once you know how to breathe mindfully, you can do it anywhere, any time, any place; it’s like flicking on an instant ‘inner peace’ switch. And it certainly is not boring! 



Discovering Mindful Breathing 

So what is mindful breathing? Being mindful of your breath simply means observing and opening your awareness to your breath: to your breathing in and your breathing out, without controlling or judging it in any way: letting it be. That’s it—it’s that easy! 

Once you’ve become practiced at breathing mindfully, you will find that it becomes natural for you and is available any time. Simply combining your breathing with whatever you are doing will help you transition into a mindful state of being. The practice will become a part of you and your daily life. 

However, when you’re learning mindfulness breathing it’s best to do it sitting comfortably in a quiet place with your eyes closed. This is so that you can focus on your breathing without any distractions. It won’t take long to get the feel for it—we’re literally talking 1–2 minutes of practice 2–3 times a day—and soon mindfulness breathing becomes second nature like swimming or riding a bicycle. 

Then you will find that you can take a mindful breath any place, any time, without closing your eyes. It’s as if you just ‘click into’ mindfulness mode and then you can expand your mindfulness to anything that you wish. It’s a wonderful process. 

A Mindful Breathing Practice for Tough Emotions 

When you’re going through a sad or worrying time, it’s natural to think of the hours, days, and even years stretching ahead, and wonder, ‘How can I ever go on like this?’ I caught myself thinking that the other day, and then I suddenly remembered: when we’re ‘in the now’, there is only this moment, this breath; all we have to do is to be mindful of this one breath. Feel the peace and comfort of that—and then take another breath. Peace—and even joy—is only a breath away. 

Let us now close with the Buddha’s breathing exercise in which we use the breath to calm and heal us. We are not denying our feelings, we are not trying to change them; we are accepting them exactly as they are, while we open our awareness to the calming quality of our breath, like putting our arms around a loved one in distress. 

Try it 

So close your eyes, take a mindfulness breath, feeling the air going in through your nostrils, into your body, and out of your nose. 

Breathe in, say, ‘Breathing in, I calm the feelings I am experiencing now.’ Breathe out, say, ‘Breathing out, I calm the feelings I am experiencing now.’ 

Allow yourself to feel the feelings; let them be there. Open your awareness to the breath going in, and the breath going out; only focus on this: breath in, breath out… 

Let the breath take its course, don’t control it in any way; just notice it. 

Let your in-breath and your out-breath fill your mind… that is being mindful of your breath… Keep noticing your in-breath, your out-breath…feel the breath soothing you… comforting you… nurturing you. Feel the peace this brings. 

Now surrender the issue that is concerning you to this inner peace, to your mindfulness: let the problem go. 

Keep breathing, noticing your in-breath and your out-breath… 

When the worry or the feeling comes back into your mind and troubles you, repeat the process, noticing and feeling your in-breath and your out- breath… letting your breath fill your mind. 

Keep gently repeating this process whenever the worry or the feeling comes back, until eventually it fades away. That’s the healing power of mindfulness. 

When you have a problem, be mindful, then surrender the issue to your mindfulness self; you will find that things will work out. You may unexpectedly meet someone, see something, 

get an inspiration; a new direction may come to you out of the blue. Trust your process, trust the healing power of mindfulness. 


Adapted from Every Breath You Take © Rose Elliot 2016, published by Watkins, London 


About the Author 

Rose Elliot, MBE, was brought up in a spiritual environment. Her grandmother, Grace Cooke, was the medium for White Eagle and founded the White Eagle Lodge based on his teachings, which had a strong Buddhist element to them. In later years, Rose became interested in the teachings of a number of New Age writers - Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, and Doreen Virtue in particular. Some years ago, Rose heard a Buddhist monk speak about the Four Noble Truths and that you could write everything you need to know about Buddhism on the back of a postcard... this inspired her meditation practice, her writing, and her love for and interest in Buddhism.

Happy New You! When we go solo...

Lisa Kanne

Good morning and happy New Year! 


Let’s take on 2017 with a fresh and open mind. As the year begins we set intentions of things we can do better, better for ourselves or for others. We can commit to big or small things, below you’ll find two articles, one discussion societal change and how Yoga can change the world. Following this is an article titled How Yoga Fosters Real Community + Relationships in a Digital World, discussing how to build community and specifically one centered on a yogic practice. If you’re trying to make a change in your life whether that be starting or revitalizing your own yoga practice or becoming apart of the community, feel free to reach out to Karma Yoga Omaha. 


Take what you will from the information below and as you move forward, walk with a more open heart. 




Camile Messerley 


Article No. 1 

Proof that Things Can Change 




I’m reminded of the football player who bullied me when I came out as a gay 17-year-old in a small Ohio town in 1996. I’d see his face in my high school hallway and my heart would sink, knowing I was about to be called names, pushed into the wall, and then left to pick up my scattered books and papers. A few years ago, he contacted me on social media and memories of his abuse surfaced. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but something within told me to listen. He told me a beautiful story of how his heart opened after he met a 

girl who’d been faced with homelessness until a gay couple invited her into their home, parenting her through her teenage years. He told me if it weren’t for their generosity, he probably wouldn’t be married to her today. He went on to apologize for how he had treated me in high school and shared that regret still haunted him. His heart had changed. Last month, I wrote my own coming out story for in celebration of LGBT History Month. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever written, it required facing my past trauma and detailing both the positive and brutal aspects of my journey. I hoped my story may help and inspire others to be their authentic selves and know they aren’t alone. 

I learned this past week that through mutual a friend on social media, my story had found its way into the hands of a parent of two—a 7-year-old transgender child and a daughter in high school. The older sister had been working on plans to start a Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school to ensure that when her brother gets there, he is part of a caring and accepting community. Her school administrators, who were initially resistant to the idea, agreed to work with her on the project once they read the article. Their minds changed. 


When I heard this story, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride. My friend added, “Keep doing the wonderful work because the two of you are doing (dare I say it?) God’s work and literally changing the world for the better.” 


4 Ways Yogis Really Can Change the World 

Changing the world for the better—it’s what so many of us as yoga teachers and practitioners yearn to do and are accomplishing whether we realize it or not. During times of chaos and turbulence, we search for ways to make sense of the world and are often left with more questions than answers. In the book, Upside, Jim Rendon shows how the suffering caused by traumatic events can become a force for dramatic life change, moving people to find deeper meaning in their lives and driving them to help themselves and others. If you’re not sure where to start, here are 4 simple steps, we, as yogis, can take every day to change the world. 



1. Approach everyone with the spirit of “Namaste.” 

The day after the Orlando shootings at Pulse Nightclub, my partner and I were faced with teaching yoga at Kaleidoscope Youth Center and offering space for the youth to share what they were thinking and feeling. Some expressed fear and uncertainty, while a few offered hope for change. They reminded us how each of our classes together ends by saying, “Namaste, the light, love, and energy inside of me salutes, honors, and bows down to the light, love, and energy inside of you.” How we can take this off our mats and into the world? The kids simplified the statement by saying, “Just be kind and treat everyone how you want to be treated.” See the beauty in others, see their divine energy, see the life that’s alive in them and connect with it. 


2. Be a peacemaker. 

We can be united or divided. It’s a choice and humanity’s duty to use our intellect in combination with our heart to bring peace. While one gunman can change the lives of thousands of people with evil, one yogi can change the lives of thousands with compassion. This is a powerful truth often forgotten in times of turmoil. But through our actions and 

speech, we can hurt or heal, create suffering or joy, and close or open doors. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” 

3. Be generous with your gifts and talents. 

Change is possible and it starts with you. Know that you maintain within you the power and gifts to start the radical change you want to see in the world. In the words of Buddha, “Teach this simple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” Gandhi invited us to “be the change that [we] wish to see in the world.” You may not see immediate results, but rest assured that everywhere you go, you are planting your own seeds of change by being your own vibrant and authentic self. 

What is your gift and what are you willing to offer of yourself to a world that is hurting? Find what makes you come alive, and then do that. The world needs more people who have come alive and are willing to share their strengths. 


4. Keep using yoga’s tools to stay on this path. 

The breath practices, meditations, and postures of yoga offer benefits that both teachers and students carry with them out of the studio and into the world. The following breath practice, inspired by Jean Hall’s book Breathe: Simple Breathing Techniques for a Calmer, Happier Life, is a prime example. It is gentle and simple but deeply effective to balance the actions from the head and heart. 

A Practice to Unify Breath, Heart, and Mind 

Start by finding a comfortable seat. Softly lengthen up through your spine. Invite the chest to open and the shoulders to relax. Gently close your eyes and allow your facial muscles to soften. 

Place your right hand on your lower belly and become aware of your breath as you feel your belly gently expanding into your palm on each inhale and receding as you exhale. 

Now rest your left hand on your heart. Feel its beat in your palm and listen to its rhythm. Soften your breath and begin to breathe in time with the beat of your heart. Inhale for 5 beats, pause for one beat, exhale for 6 beats, and pause for one beat. 

Remain here for 5–10 minutes, enjoying the synchronicity between your heart and your breath. As you release the practice, begin to think of ways you can change the world. Portions of this piece are adapted from a post originally published on the Yoga on High blog. 

About the author 


Daniel Sernicola teaches yoga in Columbus, Ohio, with his partner, Jake Hays. Both are committed to the empowerment of their students and specialize in creating compassionate, safe, and inclusive yoga environments. 



















Article No. 2 

How Yoga Fosters Real Community + Relationships in a Digital World 




Spending quality time with family, friends, and community—while also staying open to new relationships—is the secret to a happy, healthy life. One of the most powerful ways to forge more vital, lasting connections: yoga. 

Take a walk through any public space, and you’ll spot more than a few people moving about as if they’re in a trance, staring down at their smartphones while weaving through the crowd, or mind-melding with their digital tablets as they shop, dine, or ride the train. All too often, contact with others is taking place over text, Skype, or email—not face-to-face. It’s a dramatic shift from the way things were just a few decades ago. For example, a 1987 University of California, Los Angeles survey found that almost 40 percent of the school’s freshmen spent 16 hours or more per week socializing with others in person; today, just 18 percent of UCLA’s freshmen devote the same amount of time to doing so. Digital communication has, for many, become a default mode, while hanging out “IRL” seems like a throwback—a trend that’s a bit worrisome when you consider that getting together with pals has significant benefits for our health and well-being. 


Strong, broad-based social support (the kind you tend to develop via in-person interactions) increases your odds of living longer by 91 percent, according to a review of 148 studies conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University. Close connections also have a proven impact on survival or quality of life for people facing health issues like cancer, 

stroke, dementia, depression, and diabetes. Being embedded in a community is biologically reassuring, experts theorize; it confers a protective effect that actually seems to boost immunity and fights stress and inflammation. 

“Intimacy is healing,” agrees Dean Ornish, MD, president and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute (PMRI) in Sausalito, California. He adds that there’s “something really powerful” in being able to share your authentic self with others, instead of just a carefully curated Facebook profile or Instagram snapshot. In his work at PMRI, Ornish helps facilitate social intimacy for people with heart disease using “love-based interventions”—sessions that combine support-group meetings and yoga and meditation classes with healthy meals and workouts. He typically has patients practice yoga before they get together in their support groups, which encourages more meaningful conversation during the meetings. “At the end of a yoga and meditation class, you’re feeling more peaceful, which helps you access your feelings and express them without fear of being judged,” Ornish explains. 


Forging significant connections without such guidance can be a little tougher, but it’s absolutely possible. Harvard University’s Study of Adult Development, which tracked the lives of 724 men for up to 76 years, offers insight into what can happen to an individual’s personal habits over time. Encouragingly, the study reveals, it’s never too late to change course. People can and do rewrite their life scripts midstream, intensifying ties with family, friends, and acquaintances—and that can bring physical and emotional rewards. You don’t need a whole village around you to reap the benefits, either: “Any community can be healing, whether it’s one other person or 1oo,” notes Ornish. “It’s really about sharing your experiences with others.” 


For yoga lovers, your mat may be the easiest, most natural place to start. Whether you practice alone or in a group setting, yoga can help you meet and bond with people who share your aspirations, interests, and perspective on life. As you embrace your passion, you also open up to connecting with those in your life, acknowledging your common humanity and intensifying your capacity for joy. Why not use this great tool to create the relationships you crave? Whether you want to begin new friendships, strengthen existing ties with loved ones, or serve strangers through seva (selfless service), yoga can provide an assist. Here, four powerful ways yoga can help us all connect. 


Yoga primes you to make new friends. 

It’s surprising how often we unconsciously prevent ourselves from meeting people who might be important to us. We get caught up in our own personal dramas, memories of past slights, and lingering worries, which clouds our ability to see that others are yearning for connection. Yoga helps clear away the cobwebs of past experience; it opens our eyes to the present and transforms our point of view. “Yoga positively impacts your mood, psychological functioning, and focus,” says Angela Wilson, a faculty member at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, who’s long studied yoga’s salutary effects. “You feel better mentally, more ready to go out into the world and make friends.” 


In 2014, Wilson joined a team of researchers convened by Kripalu to examine exactly how this happens. In the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, they explained that yoga operates on multiple levels—through asana, pranayama, meditation, and philosophy—to keep our minds 

and bodies in peak condition, which can make engaging with those around us easier. Some studies, they added, suggest that yoga further optimizes the workings of the vagus nerve, a bundle of fibers that extends from the top of the spine through the respiratory system and GI tract and that affects your heart rate, breathing, and other physical processes. As your yoga practice grows, you may see improvements in sleep and digestion and find that you’re more adept at regulating stress, controlling emotion, and directing attention. 

“We see self-regulation as really key to social functioning,” says Wilson. “People who feel imbalanced or anxious may deliberately isolate themselves because it’s unpleasant for them to be social; they feel their interactions won’t be as successful. But if you’re able to regulate yourself, you’re more likely to reach out.” 

When stress mounts, taking a moment to breathe and tune in to what you’re feeling, as you would in yoga class, can prevent irritability, stave off conflict, and promote harmony. In fact, mindful breathing may be your best tool in tough situations, since it activates areas in the brain’s frontal lobes that heighten calm and concentration. “It’s like putting on an emotional sling,” offers neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, MD, director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia and co-author of How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain. And practicing yoga and pranayama regularly over time can make you more responsive to your environment and the people in it. You may not only feel more alive and enthusiastic, but also be better able to go with the flow, which will buoy you in social situations. 


Try it 

Scientific studies indicate that to keep your nervous system balanced, short, frequent bursts of yoga are better than longer but less-frequent sessions. To fight anxiety and better connect with others, aim for 10 to 30 minutes per day of yoga, experts suggest. And to put yourself in a more relaxed frame of mind before a first date or any big social event, at least 60 minutes prior try to fit in a restorative yoga class—or any class emphasizing slow, deep, conscious breathing. 


Yoga strengthens your existing ties with friends and family. 

One of the most awe-inspiring aspects of yoga is the way in which it nudges you toward greater discovery—not only by making visible previously hidden aspects of your own character, but also by illuminating areas of your relationships that could be explored and further strengthened. 


Yoga starts by asking you to be fully present, a skill that’s a boon for relationships, says Kate Feldman, co-director of the Conscious Relationships Institute in Hesperus, Colorado. “Most people are so busy that to simply be, to look at each other, to listen carefully, takes focus they don’t normally have,” she says. “We ask our clients to put their phones away, to stretch, to breathe. The natural effect of the practice leads your heart to open and makes you more available to connection.” \ 


Your body also divulges a wisdom when you’re doing yoga, which can come in handy when dealing with challenges later on, says James Murphy, director of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Greater New York. “The next time you’re in a yoga class, consider: What happens when you bend your leg this way, or that? Are you being too aggressive? Are you creating resistance? Are you giving enough?” In your daily life, ask yourself similar questions 

when a conversation becomes difficult or heated. Checking in with yourself like this can help you navigate conflict and reset conversations. It makes you more thoughtful, less reactive. 

Inviting loved ones to practice yoga with you could trigger further breakthroughs. In her counseling work, Feldman asks clients to perform tandem poses. “They always laugh and say: ‘Oh, my knees!’ or, ‘Oh, my hamstrings!’ But their heart rates go down—and afterward they hug on impulse,” she says. 


Try it 

Promote the flow of positive energy in your relationships with this exercise from Elysabeth Williamson, founder of Principle-Based Partner Yoga in Santa Barbara, California. Sit in a quiet place and rub your hands together in front of your heart. Feel the heart energy growing in your hands, and then slowly draw them apart—they should be tingly and magnetic. Tune in to the sensation, basking in its healing power. (To practice as a couple, sit facing each other and turn your warmed palms toward one another.) 


Yoga provides you with an instant community of fellow yogis. 

There’s a beautiful moment that frequently occurs at the heart of a big yoga class, when everyone’s listening to the teacher and transitioning through poses in unison. Sinking into that wonderful group energy amplifies feelings of safety and trust; it seems like you’re in a sacred circle, taking part in a great communion. “There’s a sense of, ‘We’re all here doing this together. I’m not an outlier in this world,’” says Robert Jon Waldinger, MD, director of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development. At yoga festivals, retreats, teacher trainings, and even in local classes, there’s a real bond that spreads among a group of yogis who’ve chosen the same type of experience. Murphy sees it happen all the time in his Iyengar classes: “People forge communities. They become friends for life.” 

You can definitely feel that vibe at Bhakti Fest, a yoga and music festival launched in 2oo9 that hosts massive yoga classes, around-the-clock kirtan chanting sessions, and wisdom workshops daily. “We’re building a spiritual community—thousands of people gathered under the same roof, with one intention,” says founder Sridhar Silberfein. “People come out talking about how many friends they’ve made.” 


University of Oxford researchers have found another reason yoga in a group may help us connect: When we exercise en masse, they suggest, we feel safer and more supported than when we do so alone. As a result, there may be less pain and fatigue—two biological signifiers of a potential threat. In fact, we actually release higher quantities of endorphins and endocannibinoids, nature’s chemical pain relievers and mood enhancers, into our nervous systems. As a result, we feel better, which rewards our cooperation as a group. “Experiencing this ‘social high’ may bring us closer together,” offers Arran Davis, a cognitive and evolutionary anthropologist at Oxford. 


When we engage in a group chant or meditation that induces a feeling of mutual transcendence, the brain literally shrinks its perception of distance between ourselves and others. “In deep spiritual moments, we’ve observed decreased activity in the parietal lobe, which regulates the boundaries between the self and the world,” says neuroscientist Andrew Newberg. “When that activity reduces, people feel a connectedness, an intermingling between their selves and everyone else’s.” 


Try it 

Communities used to form naturally, via the companies at which we worked or the religious institutions we attended, Ornish says. These days, we have to be more purposeful about building them. To find a community of your own, strike out and shake things up: Join a yoga circle in your area, check out Yoga Meetups (, or make this your year to try a new yoga festival or retreat. 


Yoga facilitates exchanges between people of different backgrounds. 

PMRI’s Ornish, who’s studied yoga for 40 years, likes to tell a story about his late friend Sri Swami Satchidananda, the influential founder of Integral Yoga. When Satchidananda opened his New York City studio, the guru asked his students to answer the phone by saying, “Hello—how may I serve you?” “Some of the students said, ‘That sounds so debasing,’” Ornish remembers. “But [Satchidananda] would say, ‘No! When someone gives you the opportunity to serve them, it helps you.’” 


Yoga’s call to seva, or service, can nurture a sense of humility, gratitude, and respect that positively impacts relationships. “When we do the work of seva together, we see that we’re interdependent, interconnected,” says Suzanne Sterling, co-founder of the nonprofit Off the Mat Into the World and director of its Global Seva Challenge. Over the past decade, Sterling has led teams that built birthing centers in Uganda, installed water-filtration systems in Ecuador, and created micro-loan programs in Haiti. “We share rituals; we build communities,” she says. 


As with any good relationship, you must set aside your ego to be effective in seva. “You must forgo making assumptions about other people,” Sterling explains. “Someone who’s poor and living and farming on the side of a field may be happier than a person who’s isolated in a mansion.” 

Acknowledging others’ truth is critical, agrees Angel Lucia, owner of Bindu Yoga Studio in West Palm Beach, Florida, who has worked on seva projects for 18 years. “People just need to be heard.” she says. “You have to interact with them like a friend.” 

In an important way, seva teaches you to trust yourself—your curiosity, your abilities, your innate positivity. “I have seen people blossom through seva,” says Lucia. “First, they grow comfortable with themselves, then they grow comfortable with others who are different from them.” 


Try it 

Identify a cause you feel passionate about, and amass a solid team first; it can include yogis and studios leading similar efforts, or interested friends and family. “You get more done together,” Sterling attests. “When you share power and responsibility, you build real community—and that helps create something sustainable.” Leadership intensives and Yoga in Action groups developed by Off the Mat can connect you with others interested in seva efforts ( 


When to go solo 


So what if you want to be alone on occasion? That’s OK, says Robert Jon Waldinger, MD, director of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development. “Some people need a lot of solitude, and it’s good for them,” he says. “One size does not fit all.” While it’s true that the subjective experience of loneliness hastens cognitive and physical decline as you age, that’s only if you feel the absence of others keenly, rather than take pleasure in solitude. 


“There’s a difference between loneliness and solitude, scientifically speaking,” adds Alan Teo, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University. “If you feel lonely when you’re alone, it’s not healthy. But for people who find it restorative, it can be beneficial.” In a 10-year study of 4,672 adults, Teo and his team discovered that if your interactions with a partner are hurtful or negative, it’s actually better for your mental health to be alone. “It’s the quality of relationships that matters,” he says. 

Teo’s advice? Try to fit some alone time into every day. Even if you like to be around others, there may be diminished benefits to overdoing it. Socializing with any single individual (aside from the ones you live with) more than three times a week isn’t proven to have positive health effects. 


Encourage family members to join you in a home practice. It can be a great way to embrace, laugh, and bond with each other.

2017 Social Change

Lisa Kanne

As we move into 2017, we may or may not have our work cut out for us. Today let while remembering to make time for ourselves, we should also remember and think about how we can share our energy and time with others to make change in our community that can spread to larger groups of people and different communities. So as you practice mindfulness and meditation consider the following in your next several intentions.

Today I’ll be sharing an interview with Marianne Manilov, a community organizer whose focus lies in thebreaking down of the practice of creating sustainable social change as well as an article from Rachel Brathen, who states and shows how you can take your personal challenges and trauma and rather than allow them to obscure the big picture, you have the capability to use it as inspiration to make waves. 

Marianne Manilov: Creating Sustainable Social Change

Info: A community organizerbreaks down the practice of creating sustainable social change. 

This is the ninth in a yearlong series of interviews conducted by guest editor Seane Corn, co-founder with Suzanne Sterling and Hala Khouri of the yoga service organization Off the Mat, Into the World, each featuring a different leader in yoga service and social-justice work. This month, Corn interviews Marianne Manilov, a co-founder of The Engage Network, which helps organizations build and scale networks of leaders in the social-change community. 


Seane Corn: What was your intention in creating The Engage Network? Marianne Manilov: I went through three things within an 18-month period starting in 2oo6: the ending of my partnership, a brain tumor that meant I needed full-time care, and the death of my friend Jeremy Paster, a great organizer with a strong spiritual practice. What saved me was my network of friends who showed up and bathed and fed me. I felt I would lay my body down for any of the people who had cared for me. I thought, “This is what will change the world—how we build deep community.” At the same time, the social-change community had invested in these big email lists—it was the way we were engaging people. While that is important to build breadth, in many places where the social-change community had grown large, we had become transactional. I knew that I wanted to build more love as a form of resistance in a world where so many of us feel isolated and alone because of our economic systems. 

I co-founded The Engage Network in 2oo7 to explore how to do this, and we found that small group networks could be an answer. Around the world, we know how to form groups—such as book groups and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings—but forming social-change groups is a practice we had in some ways lost and needed to find again. The process 

is easier today thanks to the Internet and social media. But we also have to practice coming offline, and being in community with others. Community builds stronger roots in a movement for social change. 

SC: Why are small, in-person groups so important to social-change organizing? MM: You can get information on an organization by email, but people also need to be actively connected on the ground if they are to stay involved for the long-term. For example, a group of moms who do daycare for each other may decide to do social action together one Saturday a month, and they’re more likely to stay together than those who donate via the Internet or share social action on Facebook. See also Tessa Hicks Peterson: Social Justice, Yoga + Awareness of Inequalities 

SC: How does yoga fit into social-change organizing? MM: My organizing over 2o-plus years was often not sustainable until I was introduced to you [Seane Corn]. Before that, I couldn’t inhabit my body and do organizing at the same time. The change happened when you asked me to come to your leadership training in 2oo7. I had only done Ashtanga Yoga a few times before. At the training, the first yoga class I took of yours was three hours long. I thought I was going to die; I remember lying down that night with Bengay on my body and weeping. I went back the next day for six hours of yoga practice. On day five, you pulled me aside and said, “I’ve been watching you, and this is a class of mostly yoga teachers and people who have been doing yoga a long time. I keep thinking you’re going to give up, but you don’t. I know that whoever you are on the mat is who you are off the mat. You can’t rest.” I went back to my room after that conversation, and I cried. Then I learned to do Child’s Pose in life. Now, when I do yoga poses, I rest and feel every inch of my body. You gave me that gift, which has provided me with patience, love, and joy at a level I hadn’t had before in organizing—in every cell of my body. The practices of yoga, dance, meditation, and time off make my work sustainable now. One of the things that happens in organizing, whether it’s around climate change or poverty or gun violence, is this sense of overwhelm and aloneness. There’s so much happening in and around you that you need to ground yourself on your own and through groups of people you feel seen by and connected to. It’s important to allow the body’s adrenaline to come down even if you only have five minutes, to do things where you reground into your body and feel the roots. Also, when you’re working in small teams in organizing, it often brings people into conflict. The idea is to have a practice like yoga to find balance and help the leaders see each other with love. 

SC: How have you helped communities organize? MM: I’ve worked over the last three years with Walmart employees as part of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart. There are more than 4,ooo Walmart stores in the United States, and many Walmart workers have faced difficult conditions. Many of the women who work there have had to do heavy lifting on the job, even when pregnant. Some of them have had miscarriages or pregnancy complications. A group of these moms formed a small group called Respect the Bump, and they were able to change the policy by being brave enough to find each other online and share their stories. That’s the power of the small group. 

Also, I’ve been working with survivors of gun violence: people from mass shootings like Sandy Hook; people who had loved ones taken in domestic-violence shootings; people whose loved ones died by suicide. They are holding onto each other and turning their pain into purpose by building a network of love, community, and change. See also Video: Off the Mat and Into the World 

SC: What is your hope for the yoga community? MM: Yoga can be an embodied practice with a sense of connection to the ground and to other people. But sometimes the yoga community uses the practice as a space to go and separate from life and to feel calm and centered in a very chaotic, very busy, very overwhelming world. And some of the world’s problems, such as inequality and climate change, feel so huge that we wonder what one person can do. Yet when Rosa Parks sat down, a bunch of people joined her on a bus strike and changed history. There is enormous possibility in the yoga community for doing things collectively. My hope for my interaction in the yoga community is that I can be a bridge that people walk across into authentic, grounded change—just as the yoga community was the bridge for me into greater groundedness and love. 

SC: Where can people start in order to act on their passions? MM: Find somebody who’s similar to you and who you think also has a calling to make a difference. Go for tea, or have that fellow mom over to your house while your children nap. Talk about what you can do together. Then, find two more people who feel the same way, and then agree to do one thing for, say, two hours that you feel can make a difference. For instance, four moms could go around their block and ask everyone to change their light bulbs to more efficient ones. This will make a positive impact on climate change—more than just sharing a photo or article on Facebook. To make a difference, you don’t even have to leave your neighborhood, or the yoga studio. You and three friends could meet with the studio manager and ask to host donation classes for teachers who hold classes in prisons or schools, or you can ask that the studio bathrooms be changed to nongendered ones. I think we’ve been taught that we have to reach out to a big organization or go online to find the answer. Instead, organizing is a practice like yoga. You have to break it down so that it’s not overwhelming. You have to be willing to show up and participate, and stay centered with simple poses before you take on changing the whole world. Working for change is part of a compassionate practice. It’s part of yoga. 


Article No. 2 

Yoga Girl’s 5 Tips for Cultivating a World-Changing Spirit Within 

Rachel Brathen says you can let your personal challenges and trauma obscure the big picture or use them as motivation to create change. 

Even Rachel Brathen (aka, “Yoga Girl”), the 27-year-old Instagram star and best-selling author who amassed 1.8 million loyal followers in just a few short years has setbacks. In 2014, Brathen lost her best friend, dog and grandmother, all in a matter of months, which left her rethinking her purpose, she says. “I had an existential crisis. I was questioning everything—the reason for the online world, social media and the point of it all. There was soul searching, and I arrived knowing that the influence and power I’ve attained should be dedicated to creating a better world,” Brathen says. When personal trauma hits, “you can go in one of two directions: It either sparks you to do something bigger and use your pain to 

make a change, or you go in the opposite direction and lose sight of its purpose in the big scheme of things.” To put such defining thoughts in to action, Brathen recently launched, a partially crowd-funded digital wellness platform with a foundation in yoga. Through the subscription-based site, viewers can access video content focused on yoga, meditation, food, and travel, hosted by experts specializing in areas like body image, eating disorders, and psychology. She also co-created, a non-profit foundation dedicated to change-making worldwide through social mission trips and campaigns that target pressing issues, including the environment, female empowerment, world hunger, animal rescue, wildlife conservation, education, the well-being and safety of children, and clean water. 

Slated to lead the organization’s first do-gooder expedition to Nicaragua this April, Brathen and participants will set up a sustainable water system in an area severely lacking this natural resource. Keenly aware of such global disparity and suffering worldwide, Brathen keeps her soul from deflating and stays motivated by allowing herself to internalize the harsh realities she encounters. 

“We run an animal rescue organization and find homes for fifty-plus dogs. I’ve lost dogs in my arms and have been completely overwhelmed,” Brathen says. “I have to take a day or two off to let myself feel sadness. It’s important to bear that pain, as opposed to soldiering on. It’s why you got involved in the first place. It’s why we do what we do. I end up much more empowered.” 

If building a change-making empire like Brathen’s is out of your scope, don’t be discouraged. “We each have the power to change the world,” she says, echoing her non-profit’s tag line. “Find what your true passion is—what makes you angry—and identify an issue to get involved with. Making a change takes a bit of work. Many of us are so content having a comfortable life, but even at your local community level there are people struggling, too.” 

How to Cultivate a World-Changing Spirit 

1. Take care of yourself. 

People worry about their family, work, abundance, money. Knowing that you’re okay and cared for is comforting and will allow you to come to a place where you want to make a positive change in the world around you. 

2. Get outside. 

During very busy days, we sometimes forget about the bigger picture, as we get caught up in our to-do lists or problems and issues at hand. Spending time outside connects us to nature and mother earth and reminds us that we are part of a whole planet; a planet that in many ways needs support and healing that we have the ability to offer. See also 4 Ways Practicing Yoga Outdoors Enhances It 

3. Open your heart. 

Engage with your community. Make connections at a local yoga studio that offers opportunity to do seva (selfless service). Meditations for the heart can also help foster feelings of love and compassion that are greater than on a personal level. 

Try a guided meditation: A Meditation on Giving and Nurturing Deepak Chopra’s 7-Step Meditation to Open Your Heart Deepak Chopra’s 2-Minute Meditation for Love + Forgiveness 10-Minute Guided Meditation for Self-Compassion 

4. Establish a loving intention. 

Whatever you set out to do—whether it’s starting a new business or healing the world—a loving intention should inspire the project. There’s a lot of hard work involved as well; stay on course and don’t forget why you started out in the first place. 

5. Tap in to your inner child. 

As a kid, I wanted to be a Doctor Without Borders and travel the world to make a difference. As a teenager, I traveled to South Africa to visit orphanages for a school project. I have always been drawn to wanting to make a change.

Making Yoga Accessible

Lisa Kanne

Yoga is something in which I’ve found that often times there is a stigma around it that only certain people can do yoga or that you can be bad at yoga.  When the truth of the matter is that Yoga is for people of all ages, all body shapes and sizes, and all social classes.  Yoga is also not an elitist sport, or a sport for that matter.  


While there are a million reasons to practice yoga, one of the main is simply to feel good.  Whether that is to become more flexible, release stress and tension in the body, etc.  Yoga isn’t a sport, and it is not a fashion statement.  It is for everyone. 


Below you’ll find information about the accessibility of yoga.  I hope that you’ll share this and reasons why you love yoga with us, and your loved ones.


Making Yoga Accessible: How to Begin

(pulled from


This is the first in a series of articles that will cover a number of variations on classical yoga practices in the hopes of supporting teachers in finding safe and beneficial ways for all students to participate.

While yoga teaches us that the source of our peace and happiness lies within, it also connects us with others on a similar journey—our yoga friends. In Sanskrit, this community of like-minded spiritual seekers is called sangha, and the ancient yogis spoke of the power of this sacred community.

Sadly, not everyone feels welcome or is able to join the greater yoga sangha. Many classes simply aren’t accessible to students with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and many people don’t feel accepted in the often exclusive yoga world because of race, class, or size. Additionally, many teachers lack the training to make their classes accessible to anyone who walks (or wheels) in the door. Without proper training it can be scary to welcome these students into our classes, but this is the leap we must take if we're to continue expanding our circle and touching more people with the magic of yoga.


Many classes simply aren’t accessible to students with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and many people don’t feel accepted in the often exclusive yoga world because of race, class, or size.


Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance's recent study on Yoga in America estimated that approximately 80 million Americans will try yoga in 2016. That sounds like wonderful news. The sad part is that many of those students will be disappointed, discouraged, and possibly injured by their exploration of yoga.

Unfortunately, we see a lot of harm occurring in the name of yoga—both injuries and abuse. As yoga teachers, each of us has the potential to touch the lives of so many, and the power to cause great harm.

Opening the Circle—Integrated, Accessible Yoga Classes

Teaching yoga sometimes feels like simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your belly—doing two or sometimes three things at once. This often means teaching many variations of a pose at the same time, which is an essential aspect of opening our classes to all students. We can even find ways to incorporate chair yoga and mat practice in the same class. An integrated class often means setting up students separately for each practice, and then selecting instructions that help all students move into the pose.

In order to create a welcoming environment in our classes, we need to set this clear intention and to follow through. This means arriving early, chatting with students as they come into class, and connecting with each student (whether new or experienced)—giving everyone equal attention. Our goal is to see the same divine essence in each student, regardless of their appearance or ability. As Swami Satchidananda explains, “To see the unity in diversity is yoga—to see the same consciousness in everyone.”

Centering: A Microcosm of Yoga

The beginning of a yoga class may be the most important moment of the class. As we lead the class through a centering practice, we allow students to release the previous activity of the day, along with any worry and anxiety about the future. Centering is about being in the present moment, which is the only time we can find happiness.

To make this portion of the class more accessible, you need to consider the cultural background of the students and figure out which practice will feel inviting to them. Sometimes this means not using Sanskrit chanting, or being sure to explain the meaning behind any chants you use.

Here are a variety of centering practices that can be adjusted to almost any setting.

Posture Check

We always want our students to move from an elongated spine, and to keep that length as they move through the asanas. The gift of a posture check is the chance for students to increase their proprioceptive awareness, understanding where their body is in space.

Breath Meditation

Because the breath is always in the present moment, meditation on the breath can be a very effective centering technique. Observing the movement of the breath or experiencing the sensation of breathing is very effective for quieting the mind.


A traditional centering practice of yoga is Sanskrit chanting. These chants, which are usually an invocation of the guru (teacher) or of the teachings themselves, give us an opportunity to transcend the mind through the power of sound vibration. If Sanskrit chanting is not appropriate for the group your teaching, other forms of sound vibration, such as the ones described below, can be effective alternatives.


In order to share the benefits of sound vibration, try singing a folk song like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," or any song that is uplifting and fun for the students. Singing is a form of pranayama—expanding and deepening the breath.


Making other kinds of vocalizations (like saying "aahhhh!") can be very effective in using the power of sound to quiet the mind and turn our awareness inward.

Dissected Om

These days it's normal to hear the chanting of "Om," which is a universal vibration, in yoga classes. But If that's not comfortable for your students, you could try separating out the three syllables of Om into:




Try having students practice this three times each.

Body Scan

Another option is to do a body scan or guided relaxation, noticing sensations in each part of the body, moving from feet to head or head to feet. By connecting with sensations in the body, we shift our awareness away from the busy mind and back into the present moment.

By understanding the nature of yoga practices, we can find variations that work for all students—just as a musician is able to improvise after mastering an instrument. With some effort, our classes then become sanctuaries of inclusion, welcoming everyone to yoga.




The author Jivana Heyman is the founder of the Accessible Yoga Conference

Lisa Kanne

 While we become increasingly busy this holiday season we have to find ways to reduce the stress, we can all do this by practicing mindfulness and a little yoga can’t hurt! 

Our state of mind is both directly and intimately related to our physical well-being. 

 If our minds are relaxed, our bodies will become relaxed. Stress causes a dual positioning of physical and mental tension. 

 Yoga being a form of mind-body medicine developed thousands of years ago has been proven to reduce stress in the body and mind.   

 The relaxation induced by meditation helps to stabilize the autonomic nervous system with a tendency towards parasympathetic dominance. 

 After practicing yoga for even a short period of time, the physiological benefits that follow can help yoga practitioners become more resilient to stressful conditions and reduce a variety of important risk factors for various diseases, especially cardio-respiratory diseases.

 Below you will find 3 Simple and Quick Practices for a Stress-Free Morning, written by Kathryn Templeton for Yoga International.


Yesterday at the grocery store, the cute teenage cashier pointed to my bag on the scale and asked her co-worker, “What do you call these things?”

Her co-worker said, “Oh, I think those are radish things.” With that, I realized the world has changed. How does a young adult not recognize a radish?

I then found that my ATM card was not functioning correctly with the store equipment. I had no cash, and they did not accept my other credit card “brand.” So I was radish-thingy-less and off to the bank—and a bit stressed!

If you believe all the magazines and websites, it seems that stress is responsible for a wide range of health issues. Clinical psychologists tell us that stress can be caused a number of ways, typically occurring in four basic categories of stressors. Sometimes we only experience one type, while at other times we may experience all four!

Environmental stressors: Your environment bombards you with demands too quickly to enable you to adjust to such things as snow storms, traffic, noise, and pollution.

Social stressors: Deadlines, financial problems, job interviews, loss of loved ones, and disagreements all tax your coping skills.

Biological stressors: Changes in our physiology, due to any number of factors—including aging, change in eating habits, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, moving or not moving our bodies, or the onset of adolescence or menopause—require us to adjust to maintain our health.

Mental stressors: Ayurvedic philosophy considers the mind as the place where all disease originates. Whether we practice ayurveda or not, most of us probably recognize that our own thoughts are sometimes our largest source of stress. As our brain takes in information, our past experiences and current stressors from the above categories may cause that new information to turn on our “emergency system” or adrenals, generating a bath of chemicals that create both physiological stress and emotional stress. (For more information, see The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, by Martha Davis, PhD, and Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, MSW.)

Coping with the stress coming from so many sources can seem daunting. What, then, can we do to combat stress and bring our lives back to balance, ease, and steadiness? While there is no simple fix, we can use our daily routines to set ourselves up to stress less when we do come in contact with unexpected stressors (bad weather, a communication gap, technological glitch, a craving for a mocha latte with extra whip). A daily morning routine is a mainstay of ayurvedic medicine, and adding to it a few simple actions can create a buffer that will limit the impact of a stressor.

I like to call my daily routines my “little anchors.” I find they help me navigate the waves of life that can otherwise build up and wipe me out. Ayurvedic daily routines provide gentle cleansing and nourishing in the morning (and the evening too for that matter)—and just knowing my day starts (and ends) with support makes the day ahead seem less daunting!


Ayurvedic daily routines provide gentle cleansing and nourishing in the morning—and the evening too, for that matter—and just knowing my day starts (and ends) with support makes the day ahead seem less daunting!


Here are my three favorite morning anchors to help me tend and befriend myself before going out into the world. You might try the following:

Get up a little earlier to allow for self-care time. Try a morning gratitude prayer or statement, stretch your limbs before your feet hit the ground, or get to the bathroom to scrape your tongue first thing (which rids your system of ama, the undigested goo that can build up over time and—according to ayurvedic tenets—can create a sluggish mind, stiff joints, and irregular digestion).

Take three to five minutes to practice a calming and balancing breathing technique. For example, “belly breathing” helps us stimulate the lower lobes of the lungs to “turn on” the relaxation response where the sympathetic system gives way to the parasympathetic system—replacing the reactive “stress response,” with its shallow and irregular breathing. Once we are aware of how to breathe to help ourselves relax, we can use that technique any time we start to feel the signs of stress.

Eat something warm and moist to start your day. If you want some coffee or tea, wait until you have a little food in your stomach to help absorb the acid in those beverages, and then enjoy your cuppa Joe! In the fall and winter, I like oatmeal with warming spices (cinnamon and clove), salt, clarified butter, and maple syrup. If I anticipate running short on time in the morning, I make it the night before. Then I can just warm it up in a saucepan with a little “Happy Cow Whole Milk” (HCWM) to make it super-yummy. Just a half cup fills me up and helps the acids in my stomach work in a manner that regulates my digestion for the next few hours, and gives me energy to start the day.

There are many great ways to set yourself up for less stress. These are just a few of my favorite “little anchors” that support me in taking care of myself and starting the day with less stress.

Enjoy! And let me know your own favorite navigational tools to build that buffer of support between you and the radish-less world!





Kathryn Templeton, MA, RDT/MT, E-RYT 500, is an Ayurvedic practitioner who has devoted her life to the health of others. A psychotherapist for more than 30 years, Kathryn is a master teacher in the field of Drama Therapy and continues to work both clinically and as an educator specializing in the treatment of individuals with complex trauma




Have a lovely week and stay warm friends!