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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

Celebrate Love this St. Valentines's Day!

Lisa Kanne

3 Ways to Celebrate Self-Love This Valentine’s Day

Adults tend to think of Valentine’s Day as a time to revel in romantic love, but what if instead you used this day to simply celebrate another kind?


FEB 8, 2018

Adults tend to think of Valentine’s Day as a time to revel in romantic love, but when things aren’t ideal in that area of your life, the holiday can become downright depressing. It can put a magnifying glass on an iffy relationship, remind you of trouble within a long-term partnership, or enhance your longing for one. What if instead you used this day to simply celebrate love—the most real kind there is?


1. Recognize love as something you always have.

“If you go underneath your habits and underneath your immediate experience, you will find the capacity for growth, for change, for wisdom, for love that’s never, ever destroyed,” says Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and author of Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, in her Untangle podcast interview with Meditation Studio last year. “It may be covered over—it usually is. It may be hard to find, and it certainly may be hard to trust, but it’s there. There’s nothing that we can go through that will make that not be true.” Instead of seeing love as a thing your family, friends, and romantic partner give you, truly embrace the knowledge that it is something you have within you at all times.

2. Love thyself often.



In her Falling in Love with Yourself meditation on the Meditation Studio App, yogi and meditation teacher Coby Kozlowski recommends a powerful self-love exercise: Think of your top three qualities, look in the mirror, and with each quality say, “One thing I love about myself is…” This is not a narcissistic practice, but rather a reminder to celebrate what you love in yourself. It’s a better pick-me-up than your daily dose of caffeine.

3. Open your heart to others.

Feeling good about yourself has benefits for others too. In relationships it can eliminate the tendency to cling to or control your partner’s love, allowing for a truer, deeper connection. You can open your heart more freely to others when you feel love for yourself from within. “Recognizing that no one else can complete us actually enhances our capacity to love and receive the love of others,” Salzberg writes in Real Love. “It’s in that process of really listening, really looking at somebody, really being there, that the possibility of genuine connection, and then real love, can grow.” Listen to the full interview with Sharon Salzberg on Untangle.



4 Ayurvedic Self-Care Practices for Spring Renewal

Lisa Kanne

4 Ayurvedic Self-Care Practices for Spring Renewal

Turn to Ayurvedic self-care practices to regenerate your body and your mind to feel fresh and healthy this Spring.

Turn to Ayurvedic self-care practices to regenerate your body and your mind to feel fresh and healthy this Spring.

As signs of springtime—renewal, warmth, and expansion—emerge, you may still feel stuck in the cold and heaviness of winter, fighting sleepiness and possibly extra weight from the holidays and being holed up. Or, you may feel worn out from battling budding allergies, rather than energized and ready for the new season. But adopting these simple time-­tested Ayurvedic self-­care practices for balancing, purifying, and rejuvenating the body and mind can help you fully prepare for and enjoy the dynamism of spring.

See also The Ayurvedic Diet For You

1. Add Turmeric

This common kitchen herb has potent healing properties. A 2014 meta­study in the journal Biotechology Advances tallied more than 6,000 articles about its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and anticancer activities. Make a cup of morning tea using 1⁄4 tsp each of ginger and turmeric powder to wake up your digestive system and soothe aches and pains. Turmeric is also effective at drying mucus and soothing irritation associated with allergies and colds. To tackle the sniffles, take 1⁄2 tsp of turmeric powder with equal parts raw honey, used to help clear phlegm, three times a day.

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See also Eat Your Way to Happy: The Mood-Boosting Benefits of Food

2. Rinse your Sinuses

Using a neti pot, a teapot of sorts that helps you pour saline solution through your nasal and sinus cavities, can clear cold­ and allergy-­related sinus issues. The saline solution, prepared with 8 ounces distilled water and 1⁄2 tsp non-iodized mineral or sea salt, helps tiny hair­-like structures called cilia sweep out dust, germs, allergens, and mucus. Fill the pot with solution, and stand over a sink. Place the spout in one nostril, and tip your head back and slightly to the side until the solution starts to drain out your other nostril. If you are really congested, gently drain the saline solution out the same nostril into which you poured it.

See also 7 Tricks to Nip Allergies in the Bud

3. Eat your Greens

The spring harvest includes important foods for promoting a healthy liver, colon, and lymphatic and immune systems, all of which can become stagnant when you spend a lot of time indoors. Dandelions start popping up this season, and both the leaf and root are excellent for purifying digestive organs. The Italians make an excellent dish by sautéing garlic and dandelion greens in olive oil. If you find the taste too bitter, substitute with kale or spinach, which also pack in fiber, minerals, and antioxidants that promote elimination.

See also 7 Ways to Renew Yourself from the Inside Out for Spring

4. Practice Peace, Love, and Understanding

One of the most powerful ways to feel in sync with the change of seasons is to work on lingering issues in your relationships. In winter, we go inside ourselves, but spring encourages us to open up again, and that includes opening up to new possibilities in our relationships. Make a list of loved ones with whom you would like to clear the air or just reconnect,and reach out to them. Forgiveness, peacemaking, and understanding will help lift emotional heaviness and ensure a joyful spring!

See also 10-Minute Guided Meditation for Self-Compassion

Scott Blossom is a traditional Chinese medical practitioner, Shadow Yoga teacher, and Ayurvedic consultant. Learn more at


Natural ways to cope with Flu and Colds

Lisa Kanne

Natural Ways to Cope with Winter Colds and Flu



It’s the dead of winter and you’ve got a miserable cold or the flu—again. Why is it so hard to escape this season without sneezing, coughing, aching, or running a fever?

Because winter is a kapha-dominant season, we begin to feel increasingly cold, heavy, wet, dense, and inert.

We often invite these ailments in unwittingly. As the temperature drops and twilight falls earlier and earlier, we’d rather slouch on a couch and eat pizza in front of the TV than take a brisk walk or head to the gym. Throw in a few festive holidays and we’ve got an overburdened, underexercised body brimming with ama (toxic buildup). And because winter is a kapha-dominant season, we begin to feel increasingly cold, heavy, wet, dense, and inert. As kapha rises and ama builds, the body becomes congested.

In its wisdom, the body attempts to slough off this toxic buildup before it causes bigger problems (according to ayurveda, ama is the fertilizer for all the seeds of illness). A cold or the flu can be the mechanism for a little “spring cleaning,” however unpleasant.

So while it’s tempting to raid the medicine cabinet for cough suppressants, decongestants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-nausea medications, ayurveda encourages us to support our body’s cleansing mission, even if it means toughing out uncomfortable symptoms. Here are some natural ways to cope with colds and flus.

At the first sign of sickness…

Support your body’s cleansing efforts and boost your immune system with the following items:

Vitamin A (20,000 IU once a day for 5 days at your heaviest meal. Contraindicated in pregnancy.)

Zinc lozenges (25 mg up to 3 times per day, best with food to prevent stomach upset.)

Echinacea extract (30 drops in an ounce of hot water, 4 to 8 times per day. Best absorbed on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before meals or 2 hours afterward.)

Vitamin C (500 mg 4 to 8 times per day on an empty stomach.)

Sip hot water throughout the day. It will counteract dry indoor environments by hydrating you and liquefying toxins so that they’re easier to move out of the body.

If you have a sore throat…

Take a Ceanothus compound extract (30 drops, 3 to 4 times per day in an ounce of hot water). It helps soothe a sore throat by releasing lymphatic congestion.

Gargle with warm salt water up to every two hours.

If you’re congested…

Rinse your nose with a neti pot 4 to 5 times a day until your congestion dissipates. After filling the neti pot with warm saline water, tilt your head and let the liquid pass from one nostril to the other and out. Then repeat on the other side. The nasal wash carries away airborne particles—dust, bacteria, viruses, and fungi—and flushes out excess mucus. Neti pots are available online and at many health-food stores.

Put a few drops of eucalyptus oil into a pot of steaming water. Drape a towel over your head, lean over the pot, and breathe in the steam for several minutes up to 5 times a day. Eucalyptus is an anti-kapha aroma that will energize you while increasing the circulation and drainage of mucus.

If you have a fever…

Wait it out. Recent medical studies show that people tend to stay sick longer when they suppress fevers with medication. A fever is your body’s way of destroying an invader, so many ayurvedic practitioners do not treat a fever unless it’s over 102°. Instead, they recommend dressing warmly and using cold compresses or taking tepid baths to alleviate the fever’s discomforts. (And, of course, resting!)

If you’re nauseous…

Don’t suppress the urge to vomit. This purging activity is so kapha-diminishing that ayurvedic physicians use it as a form of therapy for people with sluggish, overburdened systems. Nausea is a sign that your body is unable to digest whatever you’ve eaten. Vomiting relieves the body of that burden.

If your body is strong and the disease is weak…

Follow a modified kapha-pacifying diet for 2 to 4 days. Eat plenty of fruit and hydrate yourself with vegetable juices, broth, and herbal tea. This gentle fast will stave off hunger while freeing up digestive energy that can be used to fight off disease instead.

Yoga movement to help prevent cognitive decline

Lisa Kanne

Twice-weekly workouts may be best medicine for cognitive decline

Cheryl Platzman Weinstock

(Reuters Health) - - There’s little evidence that medications improve mild cognitive decline associated with aging, according to a new review of research, but doctors can recommend exercise with confidence. 

A man exercises in downtown Los Angeles, California, March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Researchers reviewed 11,530 studies of so-called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), to see how many older people are affected and which interventions and lifestyle changes have been shown to improve symptoms. 

MCI becomes increasingly common at older ages and is characterized by mild problems with thinking and memory that usually don’t interfere with daily life or independent function. People diagnosed with MCI are more likely, however, to go on to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias than people without it. 


Until now, said Ronald Petersen, the lead author of the new study and American Academy of Neurology (AAN) treatment guidelines, “Clinicians didn’t know what to do with these people. Now that we know that it’s a burgeoning condition we need to pay attention when folks come in and complain.” 

Petersen, who directs the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, and his coauthors found that between ages 60 and 64, 6.7 percent of people have MCI. In the 65-69 age group, that rises to 8.4 percent, and about 10 percent at ages 70-74, nearly 15 percent at 75-79 and just over 25 percent at ages 80 to 84. 

When they looked at the use of drugs, such as cholinesterase inhibitors, they found “no high-quality evidence” that the medications work, according to the report in the journal Neurology. 

Their analysis of studies looking at the effects of physical exercise on cognition did find a benefit, though. In one study involving 86 women with MCI, 70 to 80 years old, researchers found that twice-weekly resistance training for 26 weeks was more effective than aerobic training over the same time period at increasing what’s known as executive functioning. After completing the exercise regimen, the women were better able to plan, manage and organize their thoughts. 

Based on their review, the authors updated a practice guideline for MCI to include, for the first time, a recommendation that people with the syndrome should exercise regularly as part of an overall approach to managing their symptoms. 

“This is a rich area of study. I don’t think you can say that if you exercise 150 minutes a week you can push back cognitive decline a certain number of years,” Petersen said in a telephone interview. “We don’t know that for sure, but . . . physical exercise might be beneficial in slowing down the rate of cognitive decline since it has been shown to cause some stabilization or improvement of cognition.” 

He thinks a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training is likely best for MCI patients, but the data about its long-term effectiveness remains “scant.” He recommends that patients with MCI try to work up a sweat by walking briskly for 50 minutes, three times a week, because it might improve blood flow to the brain or induce enzymes to break down proteins that can build up into brain plaques. 

Neurology researchers are hoping to develop more specific evidence-based guidelines on how much exercise and what kind is needed to potentially delay or prevent cognitive decline based on ongoing clinical trials, he noted. 

The new AAN guideline, which is endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association, also urges clinicians to discuss with their MCI patients the diagnosis, prognosis, long-term planning and the lack of evidence that drugs and dietary options, such as vitamins E and C, homocysteine-lowering B vitamins and flavonoid-containing drinks, are at all effective. 

Petersen and his colleagues also analyzed five studies of brain-training interventions and found “insufficient evidence to support or refute the use of any individual cognitive intervention strategy.” Nevertheless, they conclude that doctors may recommend this approach because it might improve specific cognitive skills. 

“Continuing to be cognitively and physically active is paramount for overall brain health,” noted Dr. Neelum T. Aggarwal of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, who wasn’t involved in the review or guidelines. 

Some cases of MCI are associated with reversible causes of cognitive impairment, including medication side effects, sleep apnea, depression and other medical conditions, so it’s important for patients to visit their healthcare provider at the first sign of memory problems, he said in a phone interview.

Letting go

Lisa Kanne

Why It's Time to Replace "Letting Go" with "Letting Things Be"—& How to Start

In this excerpt from her new book Deep Listening, Jillian Pransky offers a practice for creating space to let yourself be just as you are.


NOV 7, 2017



When I was growing up, my father was not an easy person to be around. He was the guy who’d drive 100 miles per hour on Main Street, cutting people off. He would walk into the house after work holding a gum wrapper he’d found on our driveway, and my brothers and I would brace ourselves for his fury—and our punishment. My father controlled everything in our house, from the thermostat to the emotional climate. I learned early on how important it was to yield to him.

The conversations I had in my mind about my father took up a lot of my thinking time. This dialogue felt urgent and true, but more important, it became “me.” My “story” developed—the one where I must not be good enough, and to get my father to pay me the kind of loving attention I wanted, I had to be better. I pushed myself daily—in sports, in school, at my job. I spent all my time achieving, and these achievements became who I was in the world.

We’re often not consciously aware of these old foundational conversations that live inside us—how they define us, and how they often control us. I certainly wasn’t. It wasn’t until I started the practice of Deep Listening that I learned how to respond differently to the story in my head; for the first time, I learned how to truly relax and just listen to my body.

Deep Listening is the process of truly connecting to ourselves and our lives. It isn’t so much a specific technique as it is an approach to how we receive and respond to ourselves and others.

Over the past 25 years, Deep Listening has helped me recover from injuries, illness, and grief. It has helped me better understand my challenging relationships and become closer to the people who are important to me—including my father. Through teaching this practice, I’ve discovered a number of things. Namely:

  • Most of us are used to living life as a series of reactions to what’s going on around us.

  • Most of us feel stressed and overwhelmed much of the time.

  • Most of us live with tension in our body that is wreaking havoc on our health.

  • Most of us suffer from anxiety and don’t know why it arises.

  • Most of us carry around powerful emotional narratives—the “stories” we tell ourselves about our undigested pain—and we’re not sure how to heal those hurts from the past.

  • Most of us don’t understand how to change the habits that keep us stuck.

  • And most of us don’t know how to be gentle, kind, and compassionate with ourselves—the conditions that allow us to evolve.

But the truth is, stress is not really the problem. The problem is that we need to respond differently—not only to stress but to anything that makes us uncomfortable. We need to make space so we can respond differently. And most of us have no idea how to do that.

See also Why Restorative Yoga Is the ‘Most Advanced Practice’ Plus, 4 of Its Biggest Benefits

Making Space Versus “Letting Go”

Creating space is different from “letting things go.” I once believed I needed to let go of certain things, because I thought the stuff I was holding on to must be “bad” parts of me. That perspective reinforced the idea that I had to get rid of something or I wouldn’t be okay. It felt like a little war was going on inside me.

I am no longer fond of the concept of letting things go because it implies that we need to eliminate something from our life, and that idea can create more tension. The truth is, we are all a walking summary of our life experiences—everything we’ve taken in, good and bad.

So instead of trying to “let things go,” I invite students to “let things be.” This is the attitude from which we can make space. Rather than pushing parts of us away, we are instead creating an environment that allows us to simply loosen our grip. We don’t have to fix anything. All we’re doing is bringing tender, nonjudgmental attention to our body and making room for whatever is living there. This is how the process of sustainable change begins.

Nothing ever goes away

until it teaches us

what we need to know.

—Pema Chödrön

Study with Jillian Pransky in Yoga Journal's Restorative Yoga 101 online course

Try This Practice for Making Space

Take a moment to gather yourself here.

Let your body land on the ground.

Let your breath arrive in your body.

Let your mind rest on your breath in your body.

Here, now.

Welcome the breath with a receptive belly.

Your breath will gently unravel the tension it meets.

Your breath will tenderly expand you inside.

Allow your breath to unwind you,

unfurl you.

Let yourself be opened by your breath.

Allow your breath to rise and fall.

Let it flow in and out of you,

on its own,

softening everything in its path.

Expanding you.

You’re bigger than you think you are.

Adapted from the book, Deep Listening, by Jillian Pransky. Reprinted with permission from Rodale.

Ten Ways to be Fearless in the Face of Grief and Loss

Lisa Kanne

10 Ways to be Fearless in the Face of Grief and Loss

Fearlessness is about having the courage to show up to your reality, to face your real emotions, and to be brave enough to continue moving forward with your life.

LEAH GUY - Ocotber 30th, 2017

Natural disasters, public or personal tragedies, and general feelings of unsafety in the world are giving many people reason to feel extreme stress, fear, grief, confusion, and loss. Learning to healthily move through these emotions will help you avoid stagnation in your pain and suffering. Being so close to your deepest feelings can make you feel very vulnerable, but that is where you learn to trust and transform. Fearlessness isn’t about mindlessly bulldozing through life like a daredevil, it’s about having the courage to show up to your reality, to face your real emotions, and to be brave enough to continue moving forward with your life. Here are 10 tools you can use to process difficult emotions so you can continue to function as optimally as possible through times of bereavement.

10 Ways to Be Fearless Through Grief and Loss

1. Practice present-moment mindfulness.

You can call it meditation or mindfulness but essentially it is the practice of acute awareness of self and your surroundings to help you stay grounded in the present moment. Notice how you feel, the smell of the air, what you hear. These very simple but powerful exercises of mindfulness can help heal your heart and mind.

2. Give yourself a grieving schedule.

Often grief can feel all consuming and emotions can feel out of control. Setting aside time on your schedule to grieve will give you structure with attentiveness to the reality of your suffering. If grief starts to overtake you, tell it you will attend to it at your next designated time and focus on the current tasks at hand. This practice will allow you to continue healing for as long as you need without causing total emotional depletion.

3. Allow and accept your authentic feelings.

It’s natural to want to run away from deep emotions out of fear. As you learn to sit and trust the moment, you can learn to trust yourself and take emotions as they come. Allowing emotions means not judging them but accepting what is real.

4. Express your emotions.

It’s important that you not only accept the feeling but that you find ways to express the feelings. Painful emotions can feel overwhelming but the more you healthily express your feelings, the more trust you build in yourself. The danger arises when you deny your emotions. Years of suppressed feelings can grow within you and cause ill health.

See also Emotions in Motion

5. Stay connected to others.

It’s easy to isolate during difficult periods. Although it is important to spend some time alone to process grief, it is vital to stay connected with others in your community and who care. As you are brave enough to accept your emotions, you can allow others to be present in your life to share experiences.

6. Keep a journal.

Writing can be a very helpful tool to help express emotions and track the flow of healing. Let your thoughts and feelings pour out onto the paper and try not to judge or filter what is said. Keep this journal private. It is where you can safely share and express your feelings.

7. Be of service.

Helping others is a wonderful way to stay connected and to keep your heart open. When you serve others, your community benefits and so do you.

8. Get extra rest.

Grief and loss can cause intense stress and it takes a toll. It’s important to honor yourself by allowing extra time for rest. Don’t expect to perform at your highest level during this time and don’t push yourself. Get plenty of sleep and rest. Emotional processing can cause energy depletion.

9. Optimize nutrition.

Excess stress requires enhanced nutrition. Nourish your adrenal glands with extra vitamin c and enough proteins and healthy fats to feel more grounded and safe. Include plenty of superfoods and micronutrients to support your overall health. Reducing sugar and processed foods will not only make you feel better physically but will help stabilize your mood and your mind.

10. Create a memorial.

Create a special art piece, plant a tree, or craft a memory book. Place a special plaque on your favorite area or name a new recipe. Imprinting your emotions onto a memorial is a beautiful way to treasure and stay connected to your loving memories.

5 Things I Learned When I Took My Yoga Practice Way Off the Mat

Lisa Kanne

5 Things I Learned When I Took My Yoga Practice Way Off the Matt



An American yoga instructor shares lessons from her experience in Kenya.


By Maria Chatman, Contributor |Oct. 18, 2017

"In every country, all over the world, our yoga mats are a place to cultivate a deeper sense of compassion for ourselves and for one another." (Getty Images)

Yoga is growing in America by leaps and bounds. A practice once thought of to be reserved for flower children or patchouli oil-wearing vegans is now attracting carnivores, CrossFitters and executives worried about being unable to touch their toes.

All of this can seem contrived and elicit the occasional eye roll – especially from longtime practitioners who shame commercialization and the recent proliferation of nontraditional yoga classes. But I love the fact that more people are finding their way onto a mat and doing it in their own style. Because more important than whether you take your yoga hotor room temperature, in English or Sanskrit, fast or relaxed, is how you translate your practice off the mat.

For example, presence, acceptance, equanimity and non-judgment are words we lean on in our classes, but how are we yogis walking our talk once we leave the studio? Where do the hashtags end and the real impact begin? How can we use yoga as a tool for change?

These are questions I asked myself when I became an ambassador for Africa Yoga Project, a program that trains unemployed youth from marginalized communities to earn a self-sustaining income as community yoga teachers. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, AYP has trained more than 200 yoga teachers who provide free yoga classes in 80 locations across Africa to those who wouldn't otherwise have access. As an AYP ambassador, I spent 14 days in Kenya working with schools, informal settlements and prisons to get a firsthand look at the impact yoga is having on these communities.

Here are the top five things I learned from taking my yoga off the mat:

1. Community is our lifeline.

Many people I spent time with in Kenya live in poverty, do not have access to clean water and have lost parents and loved ones to illness or violence at young ages. In dealing with tragedy and heartbreak, their yoga community became their lifeline; their method for dealing with and overcoming extreme hardships.

In an increasingly digitized world, we are witnessing more and more people flocking to yoga studios seeking real connection. My suggestion is to pull your mat a little closer to the person next to you, make eye contact with your teacher and open yourself up to the like-minded individuals with whom you are fortunate to share your practice.

[See: 9 Surprising Things That Happen When You Go on a Digital Detox.]

2. Limits are self-imposed.

During my first week in Nairobi, I accompanied AYP teachers to community classes, often in the slums, usually followed by lunch in their homes. Seeing firsthand the environmental challenges these instructors overcome while having tremendous impact on their communities by teaching yoga was by far one of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced. In a place with no yoga mats – let alone fancy gear – these yogis were transforming lives.

It became clear that any limits we place on ourselves are self-imposed and that much of what holds us back from seizing opportunities is our own self-doubt. Setting an intention at the beginning of your yoga practice is an invitation to reframe your thoughts, let go of resistance and work toward your highest potential.

3. Authenticity is the key to great leadership.

The most effective instructors and practitioners I encountered in Nairobi were not necessarily the most credentialed or anatomically knowledgeable, but were those who spoke with openness and led with their hearts. In fact, some of the most powerful leaders didn't speak at all: One class I attended included participants and instructors who were deaf. They led with such passion that no words were needed to express themselves.

[See: 9 Misconceptions About Yoga.]

This is not to discount the value of solid training, experience and continuing education, but when looking for a yoga teacher, both physical and spiritual alignment should be considered. In addition to finding an instructor who challenges you physically, seek out someone whose ethos inspires you to make conscious choices, take action and have a positive impact on your community.

4. Being teachable is the foundation of personal growth.

My second week in Nairobi, I gave a presentation I had prepared for for weeks before my arrival. But after spending seven days in the city, I realized that most of what I planned to share did not translate meaningfully to what these teachers were experiencing daily. I had to ask questions and listen intently to what challenges they faced and – together – discuss ways to enhance their teachings.

It was a reminder that to be teachable means being consistently open to learning from anyone at any time in any environment – especially if it's one that's unfamiliar. By letting go of control and being open – whether it's to an unexpected substitute teacher or a challenging new flow – we learn to be truly present and grow as individuals and yogis.

5. Human suffering is universal.

After a particularly emotional day spent visiting outreach programs, I discussed how difficult it is to witness this degree of human suffering with the co-founder of AYP. Being face to face with such extreme poverty and inequality that we know exists but almost never see caused me to question a lot about my perception of the world. It was then that she reminded me that all suffering is universal – regardless of age, race or income level.

In that moment, I truly understood that while we all live differently, we are all connected as a global community. While our individual challenges may be unique, we all experience pain, joy, fear and love. In every country, all over the world, our yoga mats are a place to cultivate a deeper sense of compassion for ourselves and for one another. Compassion, like yoga, is a daily practice that we must commit to and choose to come back to over and over again.

Lisa Kanne


Tapas, Hinduism (Sanskrit: “heat,” or “ardour”), in, ascetic practice voluntarily

carried out to achieve spiritual power or purification. In the Vedas, tapas refers

to the “inner heat” created by the practice of physical austerities and figured in

the creation myths, as a means by which Prajāpati (the main creator god)

brought the world into existence. In later Hinduism the practice of tapas was

especially associated with yogic discipline as a way of purifying the body in

preparation for the more exacting spiritual exercises leading to liberation

(moksha). Among the austerities mentioned in the are fasting, the holding of difficult and often painful bodily postures, vigils kept in the presence of fires or extreme cold, and breath control literature sacred.   (

Okay, okay, that I fully understand the meaning of Tapas, I can

finally define my struggles to achieve it. I get it. Our discipline to experience it

or to achieve it. To define Tapas as being a struggle was what I initially saw

as confusing because I did not view this concept as a struggle. After a bit (a

lot, actually) of exploration of the concept and with myself I realize that the

“struggle” is what keeps us from finding Tapas. Not that Tapas is as struggle.

So, what part of me makes it difficult to practice (or find) Tapas in my life?

Well, as hard as it is to admit, I like to be in control. An enormous side of me is

very open to accepting help.... I like to personally believe anyway. Help in big

or small ways. Whether it be help with daily chores around the house,

understanding certain financing, completing a task or assignment, organizing

an event, calming the chaos, getting the girls ready for school, so on and so

forth. One of two things are bound to occur.... One, I ask for help only to find

myself annoyed with the help I am offered, turning it down, or demanding that

it be done a very complicatedly and precise way. Two, I simply will not ask for

help knowing that the answer might be scary or I simply won’t like the answer.

OIY! What is wrong with me!!!???


Definition of my struggle toward achieving Tapas: unadmitted (but now


admittedly) “help control freak”.

Wow, I never knew that I felt that way about myself until this very instant. I


I am very proud, highly educated, know what I want in my life, I always try to

be openminded and supporting of others even when I don’t feel like it, I am a

positive and influential leader. But I am also sad. I don’t need, or want, people

to know this. As a mother, supporting wife, coach, and friend I don’t feel that I

can be sad or down or anything other than optimistic and “strong”. So, I

replace it with this behavior. “Help Control Freak”. Maybe if I am in “control” of

all help that I need (but won’t necessarily request) I will always come across

strong? I don’t really know, to be completely honest.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not the type to always be right. That is not the

control I am talking about. My struggle is entirely regarding asking and

receiving the help that I need. So maybe control is a crazy term to use. But

really it is about the control. I feel like I need to be in “control” of the result that

I may get from the asking part. The result.... Eeek. The result may, very likely,

be to pliable for me to handle.


wrote that. I said that out loud. That is terrible. I always thought of myself


differently. But, it’s absolutely truth.

I think this is called vulnerability? Whew. Scary stuff. But I am discovering

more about myself EVERY SINGLE DAY! I cry EVERY SINGLE DAY,

because I realize I can be vulnerable. I am finally realizing I don’t have to be in

control of every result. I think I feel that if I can control this one thing, the

potential results, I can maintain face. I will never be caught in a state of

weakness. Because asking for help may expose my weakness.... My

sadness, right? Or so I thought. If the result opens a can of worms.... It’s ok. I

can feel sad and no one will be negatively affected by it. If the result scares

me and someone sees it.... It’s okay. And hey, maybe my exposures will help

someone else in some way. That is what I am here on earth to do anyhow.

Help others. That [helping others] is what I feel my purpose here on Earth is.

So, why the heck am I so padlocked from accepting help from others if I am

so determined to help everyone else? I know that me being sad, a lot, is a big

obstruction and I believe that it stems this need to be in control of the results. I

need to realize that it’s okay. I’m okay. This is another path to help me learn

more so I can teach more. This vulnerability, the need to be in control of the

results, the fear of letting anyone discover that I too can be weak.... It’s ok.

Just ask for help gosh dangit! I will be okay. I did break down and ask you for

help the other day, didn’t I? Wewhooooo! See, I am already beginning to be a

stronger soul. 

Being and Becoming: the Practice of Embracing Change.

Lisa Kanne



Being and Becoming: The Practice of Embracing Change



On August 21, the day of the full solar eclipse, many people living in North America looked up at the sky with protective eyewear. Depending on where they were geographically, they experienced different degrees of dim—perhaps even total darkness. And on this day, like any other, myriad human experiences occurred. In my own case, I turned 30.

Now, three days later, I am flying from the East Coast to the West, where the sun always seems brighter. And I am writing these words to pass the time. There is only so much yoga-in-tiny-spaces that one can do, only so many pages of a book that can be read, and only so many songs that can be listened to when sandwiched for five hours between two strangers. And I am writing to mark the occasion.

In light of turning 30 and experiencing the eclipse, I find myself pondering transitions, shifts, and changes of all kinds. In particular, I wonder why some feel so big and others so small, and why some make us feel more alive than others.

It is often said that when we’re on our mats practicing asana, the way we transition between poses is as important as the poses themselves. It’s suggested that we need to bring presence of mind to the entire journey, rather than just to what we may perceive as joyful stopping points along the way. But off our mats, in daily life, we can easily get so focused on the objective destinations—work, errands, dinner—that we lose all sense of joy in the journey that is our life. Instead of finding it in the present moment, we wait expectantly for the rush of new love, a fantastic vacation, a birthday celebration to light up our life or wake us up.

A teacher of mine says that human beings go to work just to come home and walk between the kitchen, the bathroom, and their bedroom. While this paints a somewhat bleak picture of existence, there is some truth to it. I, too, have succumbed to this Groundhog Day existence of same-old, same-old.

When someone asks me “What’s up?” my response has always been “Not much.” Even after not seeing someone for months, I often catch myself saying, “Oh, nothing’s all that different.”

But as I watched the moon crawl across the sun I felt more engaged with my life. I experienced the rare feeling of the fleetingness of all material things, including myself. An eclipse such as this won’t happen again for another twenty-three years, I thought. So I have to make the most of it.

As the sky grayed, the community of practitioners I live with came together to meditate. And as we sat in the shrine, I could feel change rolling across my skin like a thick fog—a feeling that was also more palpable because my 20s were being eclipsed.

Although my latest birthday came with some agitation—sleepless nights when I wondered, What am I doing with my life?—turning 30 actually felt like the offer of a blank slate. When a zero was tacked onto my age, everything felt new. Exciting even.

This feeling of “wow,” similar to the feeling many of us got as we watched the solar and lunar merge, is also something we work toward in our practices.

I remember listening to Ashtanga yoga teacher Richard Freeman talk about yoga many years ago. He defined it as a moment that can take us by surprise, a moment of “wow.” This feeling of “wow,” similar to the feeling many of us got as we watched the solar and lunar merge, is also something we work toward in our practices.

When a mantra fills our mind, we are led into this secret space that facilitates the “wow.” Our minds become less dogged by their own roaming tendencies and less bogged down by the kleshas (afflictions): ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. When we practice asana, we can also feel this way. We walk off the mat feeling lighter, more spacious, and ready for the newness that each moment presents.

We let go a little bit. Then we do it all again. And even if we do our practice every day, it is never the same—and we are never the same. Realizing this, we can also see that nothing ever has to be the same.

Maybe then, when we walk between the kitchen and the bedroom and the bathroom, we can attend a bit more to the journey, to the transitions from room to room, rather than just hurrying onward to the next destination. We might observe the feeling of each foot as it lands on the carpet or wood or tile, and the temperature or texture of that surface on our bare feet. Perhaps we also notice a small flower on the lawn outside our home and continue to observe it throughout its season. And when that flower dies, we might notice another small, fleeting thing.

And like this, we can turn our whole life—which is ultimately a string of small and big changes and transitions—into a moving meditation on what it means to be, become, and to finally no longer exist in the same way we do now. We won’t have to wait for something big, whether an eclipse of the sun or a total eclipse of the heart, to be amazed. We can keep finding “wow” everyday, we can keep on waking up to being changed.

New Study Finds Yoga Significantly Reduces Depression in Male Veterans

Lisa Kanne


New Study Finds Yoga Significantly Reduces Depression in Male Veterans


OCT 5, 2017


A new study presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association found that male veterans who had elevated depression scores before a twice weekly hatha yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms after the eight-week program.

How Yoga Benefits Veterans with Depression

"Yoga is unique in that it combines several things that empirical research has shown to be very helpful for improving depression and other mental health concerns: exercise, mindfulness, and breathing practices, to name a few," says study information co-investigator Lindsey B. Hopkins, Ph.D., a research fellow at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care Center. "All of these things likely played a role in the benefits that these veterans experienced."

The study, which featured 21 male veterans, also found that improvements in depression were significantly correlated with increases in mindfulness and decreases in experiential avoidance—defined as engaging in a particular behavior in order to change or avoid unwanted negative thoughts, emotions, or sensations, even when doing so produces harm. This is consistent with other research, Hopkins says. The social aspect of yoga may also play a role: in interviews, many of the veterans said they derived a great deal of benefit (in terms of mental health and well-being) from having the opportunity to connect with other veterans, she adds.

The Most Significant Study Finding  

Not only did the veterans see a reduction in their depression symptoms after participating in the hatha yoga program, they also simply enjoyed it. On a 1–10 scale, the veterans gave the yoga classes an average enjoyment rating of 9.4, and all participants said they would recommend the program to other veterans.

"The most unique aspect of our study is that it focused on male veterans with an average age of 61, whereas most other research has focused on younger and predominantly female populations," Hopkins says. "From my view, our most meaningful finding was how much these men—almost all of whom were practicing yoga for the first time—enjoyed the practice, believed it had improved their physical and/or mental health, and viewed it as a promising treatment option, suggesting that yoga could be a highly acceptable complementary approach for male veterans. I think this is important given that people in the U.S. often think of yoga as a woman’s activity ... and, more specifically, a privileged young white woman’s activity. This study lends support that this isn’t the case, given the diversity of these male veterans in terms age, race, and economic status."

More Evidence That Yoga May Help Reduce Symptoms of Depression

While this was a small study, others presented at the APA convention also highlighted the role that yoga may play in reducing symptoms of depression.

  • In one study, co-authored by Hopkins, eight weeks of hot yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared with the control group for 52 women, ages 25–45.

  • Another pilot study of 29 adults showed that eight weeks of at least twice weekly hot yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

  • In another study, 12 patients who had experienced depression for an average of 11 years participated in nine weekly yoga sessions. Scores for depression, anxiety, and stress decreased.

  • And in another study, 74 mildly depressed university students were asked to perform a yoga or relaxation exercise at home for eight days. Two months later, participants in the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety, and stress than the relaxation group.

Yoga Practices for Veterans: Healing "I AM" Mantra

This five-part series explores the insight "American Sniper" offers into the yoga of war, the mind of a veteran, and the practices crucial to finding the next mission.


FEB 6, 2015

In this five-part series, author Bhava Ram explores the insight the film American Sniper offers into the yoga of war, the mind of a veteran, and the practices crucial to finding the next mission.

Follow your breath…

Anchor into the gap between each breath…

The space between each heartbeat…

Single-pointed gaze…

Target in crosshairs…

Finger slowly on the trigger…


Enemy killed.

I was stunned by the yoga of American Sniper. Actor Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, accessing breath practices I do on my mateach morning before sunrise, only with different intentions.

The movie also transported me back to the life I once had as a war correspondent in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. The PTSD that came with a broken back, stage-four cancer, and a lost career. No more peak moments, an identity shattered. The painful inability to integrate back into American life. It all felt drab, tasted like cardboard. And if you came into my emotional crosshairs, I would instantly pull the trigger on my inner rage.

How Yoga Serves Vets Suffering from PTSD

Yoga saved my life. Daily practice slowly healed and transformed me. I found a new mission. Facing PTSD and learning to cultivate resilience takes time and devotion. As I experienced, however, it is possible to experience peak moments deep within ourselves, to bring color and taste back into our lives, and even to find a new mission that calls to us from the depths of our hearts.

Teaching Yoga to Veterans

When working with veterans in yoga classes or private sessions, I always seek to facilitate the transition from the fight-or-flight syndrome of stress to the rest-and-restore state, where true healing begins. Five practices comprise the cornerstones of my teaching. Here’s how I instruct the first of five:

"I AM" Mantra

This is a yoga pose for the mind. It’s much more powerful than physical asanas. It focuses us, brings us into the present moment, melts stress away.

1. Begin cross-legged, eyes softly closed, anchor your attention to the breath.

2. Silently, chant “I” on the inhale, “AM” on the exhale.

3. Sustain the chant throughout the yoga practice, gently returning to it whenever you forget.

The effect? Rough emotional edges get softer, heart rates slow, jagged nerves relax. We learn to let go. In time, peace replaces panic. Healing becomes possible.

Cancer and Yoga

Lisa Kanne

A year and a half ago, I had no idea that cancer treatments put patients at risk for osteoporosis or that one could do something about it.

After a fall on invisible ice resulted in pelvic fractures, I simply assumed that at 71 I had arrived a tad early in little-old-lady-land. Only medical appointments appeared on my calendar. After lacing my thick-soled shoes and straightening my wig, I got to the hospital by grasping the nearby walker which my stepdaughter had decorated with bling: purple and red plastic streamers.

The oncologist took one look and sent me for a bone density test and then to Dr. Theresa A. Guise, a specialist in bone disease at Indiana University. My bone problem was caused not by my ovarian cancer but by the seven years of medical responses to it, she told me. Radiation, chemotherapy and steroids can render bones brittle, Dr. Guise explained. Before and after I received recurrent infusions of Taxol and carboplatin, I was given the steroid dexamethasone to prevent nausea.

The literature on treatment and bone loss focuses primarily on prostate and breast cancer patients. In men, researchers have found a strong link between androgen-deprivation therapy, often used for prostate cancer, and osteoporosis. In women, an estrogen drop — when aromatase inhibitors or other interventions bring about the early onset of menopause — can compromise the strength of bones.

No, there was no history of osteoporosis in my family, I told Dr. Guise. Yes, I did eat yogurt and cheese, but I did not get out in the sunshine much. Dr. Guise nodded, ordered blood tests, and recommended Prolia, a twice-a-year injection to help fight osteoporosis, instead of the oral drugs available. 

I had heard of the osteoporosis drugs Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva and Reclast, all of which have the potential to cause some deleterious consequences. Prolia’s side effects, though rare, seemed formidable: osteonecrosis of the jaw and fracture of the thigh bone. Since the blood tests showed that I had a vitamin D deficiency that had to be remedied before the injection could be administered, there was time to deliberate.


The vitamin dosing made me realize how often I ignore health issues because they seem trivial compared to the mortal threat of cancer. Stress tests, dental work, cholesterol checks: who cares? Just dealing with cancer had been enough for me. Clearly that had to change.

To avoid another catastrophe, I got the injection. A few months later I managed to jettison the walker by meeting with a physical therapist who is an expert in bone density issues. I wish I had seen her earlier. The youngest member of my cancer support group, Dana, consulted with medical professionals before she suffered a fracture.

By the age of 51, Dana had experienced three of what Dr. Guise calls “skeletal insults”: celiac disease, pelvic radiation and Arimidex (the estrogen suppressant she takes as a maintenance drug). Despite a careful diet and a rigorous workout schedule, Dana has osteopenia in both hips and osteoporosis in her spine. Like me, she was told to supplement weight-bearing exercises with calcium, vitamin D and walking as much as possible.

I used to love to walk; however, I had given it up after cancer. I understood why on the day I caught sight of my reflection in a storefront window. Without the walker, I stooped. The tilting embodied my dread of falling again. Along with neuropathies in my feet (also caused by chemotherapy), osteoporosis intensified my agoraphobia, a fear of going outdoors, as well as my tendency to look down at uneven paths instead of directly out in front of me.

Encouraged by Dana and my physical therapist, I have taken up a type of yoga that may benefit my bones, my posture, and maybe my confidence in walking: chair yoga. To my surprise, one can do many stretches either sitting on a chair or standing and using a chair for balance or ballast. In a nearby studio with women and men generally older than 12 or 20, this exercise feels less like a chore, more like a timeout from all the medical regimens. An added plus: It relieves back and neck pain.

The physical therapist also mentioned a vibrating board that may strengthen bones. So-called vibration therapy was discovered when astronauts needed to regain bone loss after spending time in a space station, or so the legend goes. It sounds intriguing, but I have yet to see such a board and besides, I would probably topple off it.

Though I still wear clunky shoes and a wig, my calendar now includes trips to my university office, the library, concerts and movies. I concentrate on sitting and standing as tall as possible. While cooking, I use the kitchen counter to do modifications of yoga poses like the tree, the plank and the downward-facing dog.

Should the walker be needed again, I will try to take it in stride, for the treatments that hurt my body have kept me alive longer than anyone ever thought possible. If it is possible to sign up not only for chair yoga but also apparently for yoga with cats or even with goats, why not classes with walkers, where — inspired by Mel Brooks’s hilarious production number “Little Old Lady Land” — I might just tap my bling till it swings.


 August 15, 2017

I'm a yoga teacher and osteoporosis "sufferer" as well, age 68. Chair yoga is a wonderful, adaptive and welcoming practice that has so many...


 August 13, 2017

I started doing astanga yoga 30 years ago, I was a runner, marathoner, etc. etc. Some years later I developed osteopenia and took fosamax...

Dr Rick Boulay

 August 13, 2017

Susan,I am so grateful for you and your column. Your experiences and your powerful voice have opened many doors for conversations that may...View More Trending Stories »

working With Difficult Emotions in Yoga!

Lisa Kanne

There’s a lot going on in the world this week, between politics and natural disasters. Working through these things and helping others can be overwhelming, and it can take a toll on our mental and physical capacity to care for ourselves as well. We have to remember that in order to care for others we need to be able to discern our own emotions as well. The articles I’m sharing with you below are from Yoga The subject of each is geared towards spending a piece of your practice to work the emotions you find difficult or may not understand fully. I hope you find something helpful to yourself or that might be helpful for a friend or loved one, and I hope you enjoy!


Working With Difficult Emotions in Yoga



To be human is to experience an array of emotion.

Animals also have feelings, and I am reminded of this each time I leave home and my dog begins to tremble and whine. The human psyche is unique, however, and our highly sensitive and responsive nervous system processes a complex of human emotion that ranges from joy and ecstasy to despair and sorrow.

In the yoga tradition, there tends to be a bias toward states of equanimity and joy (feeling om shanti, or peace). Students come to believe that the true state of yoga is an effusive and expansive love for everyone in all situations. This may be due to the description in classical yoga of the "body of bliss," the most interior layer of the body, called the anandamaya kosha.

This subtle interior of the mind-body is identified as sublime and eternally joyful. In hatha yoga, accessing this semi-divine body is in some ways the summit of the training.

I certainly do not mean to degrade this state of exquisite joy. On a good day in my own meditation, when I drop into the depth of my being and rest in an ocean of calm, I feel a delightful rapture.

However, in yoga practice—both on and off the mat—it is also important to be able to attend to difficult emotions. I would like to explore here the very question of how to navigate them.

Experiencing Our Emotions Directly

Of course, we all would rather not feel grumpy, jealous, antagonistic, or irritable. In fact many of us, myself included, go to great lengths to avoid difficult feelings, and we can be quick to deny their presence when they arise.

So when we hear about the body of bliss and its nectar of sweetness, we may say to ourselves, "I want that!" Because difficult emotions are painful, we hopscotch right over our shadow, ignoring and neglecting how we really feel.

In this way, a yoga practice can become an emotional bypass. The impulse to be equanimous, happy, or enlightened is so strong that we may pretend we are content when we actually feel miserable inside. And the slim waistlines, pretty leggings, fun yoga sequences, and dance-like postures of contemporary yoga culture can contribute to simply glossing over a more messy interior.

It is important to acknowledge that we all experience suffering. Discontent or dissatisfaction is the first of the Four Noble Truths as espoused in the earliest teachings of the Buddha.

One of the primary aims of both yoga and Buddhist practice is to alleviate suffering. Despite our inclination to hightail it away from painful feelings as soon as they arise, it can be advantageous to acknowledge them. In our own quest for truth, we have to touch our heart and our mind pain, the sometimes decades long, intergenerational suffering that we carry.

And who of us is not born into heart-mind pain?

Jalaluddin Rumi once wrote, "The cure for the pain is in the pain."

In order to better understand this, consider the analogy in manual therapy of “unwinding.” When adjusting strain in the body, osteopaths, craniosacral therapists, and Rolfers will at times take the body’s connective tissues—muscles, bone, joint capsules, and ligaments—into the strain pattern (i.e., the pattern of holding).

The body’s sensory-motor system may then respond with, “Oh, that is the pain pattern that has locked me up all these years, and maybe I don’t need to hold on any longer.”

When the future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha, left the cozy confines of his father's palace, he was motivated to see into the suffering of all beings. He knew he had to witness pain firsthand. Ultimately he had to feel the hurt and the wound that was deep in his own heart.

In feeling our own pain, we touch a place inside of us that is tender, empathetic, and kind—and in so doing, we remember our connection to our greatest good.

That direct experience was his "practice." Jesus Christ also experienced the wound, both personal and collective. For Buddha and Christ, as well as other historical spiritual figures, suffering is essential on the path toward the development of higher consciousness.

In feeling our own pain, we touch a place inside of us that is tender, empathetic, and kind—and in so doing, we remember our connection to our greatest good.

In this context, to suffer doesn't mean stubbing your toe, having a stomachache, or experiencing your arm going to sleep. Rather, it suggests a suffering inherent to all beings. One of the tenets of the Buddha’s teaching is that everything is impermanent and life is fragile.

Stepping into Our Greatest Good

There is a saying in Zen that "All things hang by a thread." We realize that our bodies are fragile, threadbare, prone to decay and collapse. Also, mountains of ice and granite are impermanent as they melt and erode. In fact, the very ecosystems that sustain us are fragile, and in this age of global warming, it is possible to sense that the earth itself is in pain.

What is your own experience of fragility or loss?

Perhaps you or someone close to you has recently received a life-threatening diagnosis, your relationship with your spouse or beloved partner is in chaos, or you have a parent in the last stage of life.

Maybe you have felt anguish, outrage, or despair in light of the recent socio-political developments within the United States.

If we override our experience of suffering by denying it or sublimating it—or if we simply try to get it to pass as quickly as possible—we close a window that offers potential for opening us to our greatest good. When the molecules of feeling move freely inside of us, an alchemical shift occurs.

Feeling deeply can help us to move away from a posture of condemnation, defensiveness, and enmity to one that is open, tolerant, and sympathetic.

So if the yoga practice is working well, we welcome difficult and unpleasant feelings. This can be easier said than done, however. Many of us are willing to put our bodies through rigorous yoga postures, but we resist stretching into areas of emotional pain.

Many students of yoga could benefit from not only physical tapas (heat-induced transformational practice) but also emotional tapas. The tapas process is like the age-old practice of churning milk into butter.

Whether stretching the fascia in yoga or sitting with entangled thoughts and feelings in meditation, potentially toxic feelings may surface. Yogis who practice being with difficult emotions allow caustic or bitter feelings to arise.

Without judgment or blame, they allow themselves to feel fear or to acknowledge the shadow of a painful memory.

Three Key Components of Transformation

There are three key components to this transformational process. The first is intention—that is, a willingness to be with feelings of fear, irritation, or desire without succumbing to the impulse to change them, make them better, or resolve them.

The second is acknowledgement. This involves what we call “somatic tracking”—locating sensation in the body and witnessing the raw feeling associated with it. In meditation this recognition is called vipassana, which translates literally as "seeing into."

The third component is non-reactivity—building a capacity to observe painful emotional states without acting on impulse.

By touching our own pain, we develop the ability to work with the wounds of others. As a yoga teacher, this is what enables me to accommodate all kinds of different students from all walks of life. It is through recognition and somatic integration of my own painful feelings that I am able to sense the suffering of others.

Heart pain and mind pain are great teachers, showing us the path to compassionate action. This is the life of the spiritual warrior.

The spiritual warrior is not someone who can plow into handstand or hold warrior pose for hours on end—nor one who remains aloof, fearless, and unaffected by the trials of the world. It is someone who has worked deeply through his or her own wounds. By attending to our pain, we become more accepting, making it possible for feelings of humility, grace, and love to then flow through us.

In working with the emotional body, we typically pass through waves and waves of difficult emotion. In meditation we bring mindfulness to feelings that may be raw, irritating, or deeply frightening. As if approaching an animal in the wild, we need to proceed slowly, carefully, and lovingly. In yoga poses, it is through breathing, sensing the tension in our belly, and moving into the constriction of the hamstrings, or anywhere else in the body, that we transform.

Like in an archeological dig, we move layer by layer, strata by strata, through the history of our feeling body. When we can work through the pain and fear trapped in our bodies, we connect to our deepest sensitivities.

Through deep kindness toward ourselves, we develop a greater capacity for more nuanced feeling and sympathetic resonance with others.

Remaining Open

When I began practicing yoga 20 years ago I didn’t have the capacity to stay with difficult, conflicted feelings. I lacked the sensitivity and the emotional resilience. As my practice matured, I was able to work drop by drop, sensation by sensation, through the confused, distorted soup of my own emotions.

Rather than armoring or trying to engineer, control, or compensate for a feeling, I can now let it arise within me, allowing it to be what it is without analyzing or judging it.

When we can acutely feel our own pain and the pain of others, we become more open and available in our lives.

We live in a time where mindsets and "heartsets" are becoming ever more divided along lines of good and evil, right and wrong. Attitudes of us versus them prevail. Perhaps more than ever before, we need to cultivate patience, empathy, and sensitivity.

Yoga fosters sensitivity, and it is worth noting that sympathy and receptivity lie at the very root of yoga’s first principle, non-harming. The yoga teachings espouse that profound and lasting change occurs within. That is, when we stay connected to our own suffering and remember the fragility that is inherent to being human, we develop a greater capacity to care for ourselves and others.

It is by moving through the layers of complex feeling inside of us that we become more tender, and find the strength and resilience to remain open in the midst of a rapidly changing world.




Tias’s unique and skillful approach enables students to find greater depth of understanding and awareness in their practice, both on and off the mat. His approach to the practice is interdisciplinary, passionate, intelligent, innovative and full of insight.

Yoga, Meditation along with healthy foods helps Prevent Heart Disease

Lisa Kanne

Inflammation, Not High Cholesterol, May Cause Heart Disease

A combination of yoga, meditation, and a diet rich in good fats and antioxidants can help prevent it.



By and large, yoga practitioners are a heart-healthy group. Yoga provides us with regular exercise for our bodies and stress-reducing techniques for our minds. Few of us smoke or use tobacco, and those of us who imbibe tend to do so moderately. And for the most part, our diets follow Michael Pollan’s straightforward advice in his book In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

So why should we concern ourselves with heart disease? Well, first off, no one is immune from health issues, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Second, we all know at least one person whose annual checkup ended with warnings about high cholesterol and a prescription for statin drugs. And, finally, we need to know that cholesterol might not even be the primary cause of heart disease (that dubious distinction, researchers now say, belongs to inflammation), which means we’ve had our eye on the wrong ball for a long time.

This focus on cholesterol began almost 60 years ago, when the American Heart Association declared that the cause of coronary heart disease was “butter, lard, beef, and eggs.” Mainstream medicine quickly bought into the idea that the high levels of saturated fat in those foods raised cholesterol levels in the blood, and the excess cholesterol clogged the arteries. And now, after half a century of low-fat diets and the staggering proliferation of cholesterol-lowering medications ($35 billion in sales last year), the notion is firmly entrenched in the minds of most health practitioners and consumers.

“Trying to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to cut calories from a McDonald’s supersized meal by removing the pickle.”

Maybe it’s time to reconsider. As nutritionist Jonny Bowden, PhD, coauthor (with Stephen Sinatra, MD) of The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease—and the Statin-Free Plan That Will(Fair Winds Press, 2012) says, “Trying to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol is like trying to cut calories from a McDonald’s supersized meal by removing the pickle.” For men over 65 and for women of any age, cholesterol levels are practically useless in assessing coronary heart disease risk. And, oddly enough, if you step back and look at the big picture, low cholesterol may actually cause more health problems than it prevents.

Getting to Know the Enemy

What doctors rarely admit is that people with high cholesterol actually live longer;and at least six studies found that the lower the cholesterol, the higher the mortality. In fact, if you look at all the causes of death in this country, people with higher levels of cholesterol have less cancer, a lower risk of dying from gastrointestinal and respiratory disease, and fewer automobile accidents and suicides. Surprisingly, the protective role of cholesterol extends even to people with serious heart disease. Studies in the United States and Europe found that heart disease patients with high cholesterol levels live much longer than those with low levels.

Our bodies need cholesterol because, among other things, it plays a critical role in the production of brain cells, and studies have linked too low a level (below 160) to depression, aggression, cerebral hemorrhages, and cognitive problems—all of which may explain those higher death rates from accidents and suicides.

How Cholesterol Got a Bad Rap

Any discussion about cholesterol should begin by acknowledging that the liver makes roughly 800 to 1,000 mg of it a day—all that the body needs to maintain good health.

Any discussion about cholesterol should begin by acknowledging that the liver makes roughly 800 to 1,000 mg of it a day—all that the body needs to maintain good health. But if you get additional cholesterol from the foods you eat (all foods from animal sources contain cholesterol), your body scales back production until it can deal with the surplus. Furthermore, the body needs this soft, waxy sterol to help digest fats, strengthen and repair cell membranes, insulate nerves, manufacture vitamin D, and make hormones, including those that govern our sex lives.

Because it’s a fatlike substance, cholesterol can’t dissolve in our water-based blood and flow directly to the cells. Instead, it has to hitch a ride on special carriers called lipoproteins. By now we’re all probably familiar with two of those: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). The LDLs, scientists discovered, deliver cholesterol to the cells on an as-needed basis, and the heavier HDLs act as scavengers, picking up any excess—even scraping it off artery walls—and transporting it back to the liver for processing and elimination.

Seen in this context, both HDL and LDL can be called “good” cholesterol, because each performs a critical function in the day-to-day operation of the body. In the early rounds of the cholesterol-causes-heart-disease discussion, however, only HDL received that distinction, because it reduced the level of cholesterol in the blood. LDL, on the other hand, was labeled “bad,” because researchers in the Framingham Heart Study deemed it a “marginal risk factor” for heart disease.

It’s hard to imagine that the body would make a mission-critical substance that could also cause death, but that’s what the label “bad” cholesterol implies, and it spawned an all-out medical war on LDL cholesterol, the intention of which is to drive LDL levels as low as possible. This premise not only overlooks the body’s critical need for low-density lipoproteins—without them the cells can’t get the cholesterol they need—it misses an important fact. LDL turns “bad” only when free radicals oxidize it (essentially, destabilize it) by stealing one of its electrons. It can then stick to an artery wall and start an inflammatory cascade that leads to heart-attack-causing blood clots.


Maybe There’s Something Else

Perhaps the most telling disconnect about the high cholesterol theory (called the lipid hypothesis) is the inconvenient truth that fully half of all heart attacks occur in people who have normal cholesterol levels. Most people would look at that number—50 percent—and wonder if something other than cholesterol might account for this apparent contradiction.

It turns out that the lipid hypothesis has seriously oversimplified heart disease, according to numerous studies, and has completely discounted the role that antioxidants play in preventing heart problems. Case in point: The Lyon Diet Heart Study, which occurred during the 1990s, placed one group of heart attack survivors on the low-fat, high-carb, anti-cholesterol diet then endorsed by the American Heart Association, and a second group on what’s called the Mediterranean diet, which consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, and olive oil. At the end of the study, both groups had roughly the same cholesterol levels, but subjects on the Mediterranean diet had a much lower number of second heart attacks and experienced far less chest pain (unstable angina) and heart disease. Why? Researchers believe it had something to do with the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables and the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.

And then there’s the French paradox, the puzzling fact that France has one of the lowest incidences of heart disease in the developed world, even though its citizens eat rich, high-cholesterol foods with seemingly reckless abandon and have an average total cholesterol level that hovers around 250. Researchers studying this paradox also point to the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruit and to the powerful antioxidants in red wine, particularly resveratrol.

So what role do antioxidants play in the body? They reduce inflammation. And those two studies, along with more recent ones, seem to confirm that inflammation plays an important role in the development of heart disease and the onset of heart attacks.

So what role do antioxidants play in the body? They reduce inflammation. And those two studies, along with more recent ones, seem to confirm that inflammation plays an important role in the development of heart disease and the onset of heart attacks. How? Let’s take a look at what happens inside the arteries. Something—high blood pressure, blood sugar spikes from a high-glycemic diet, or toxins from smoking, pollution, or pesticides—injures the endothelium, the delicate one-cell-thick lining of the arteries. LDL cholesterol lodges in the injury—perhaps in an effort to repair the damaged cells—and then becomes oxidized by free radicals in the blood. The immune system rushes in to repair the wound and in the process inflames it further—think of the redness surrounding a cut on your finger. In an effort to contain this growing “infection,” the body covers it with a tough, fibrous cap, creating what’s called arterial plaque. Sometimes the plaque is stable, meaning the inflammation calms down, the cap holds, and the only harm the plaque does is contribute to narrowing the artery. Unstable plaque, on the other hand, can burst and cause blood clots that in turn can block a narrowed artery and cause a heart attack.

To find out if you have inflammation-related heart problems, your doctor relies on a number of blood tests. These inexpensive tests play a critical role in detecting heart disease even before symptoms occur.

So, should you march down to the lab and get tested? Probably not, unless you have a number of heart disease risk factors—especially a high-stress lifestyle, excess body weight, or high blood sugar. In short, any lifestyle choice that promotes inflammation. But you should turn the page to see what you can do and what you can eat to keep your heart healthy.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense—the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Even More Complicated…

If you’re a middle-aged man for whom high cholesterol is a significant risk factor—or if you know your LDLs are high—take note. Recently, researchers have discovered that the “bad” cholesterol comes in two flavors: Pattern A and Pattern B. The light, fluffy, and perfectly fine LDL-A poses no risk for heart disease, but the small, dense B is “nasty stuff,” says heart-health expert Jonny Bowden, PhD. Pattern B is the LDL that lodges in the endothelium, gets oxidized, and leads to arterial plaque. So knowing your A and B counts will help clarify your heart disease risk and may signal a need to reduce your Pattern B LDL. Of course, you’ll still need to minimize the other risk factors that lead to LDL oxidation and feed the inflammation that triggers arterial plaque formation.

What You Can Do

Doctors and researchers may never sort out the complex causes of heart disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking action now to protect your heart. For some that might entail major changes, but most of us just need to add the following to our already healthy lifestyles.

Reduce Your Risk Factors

Like many of the chronic diseases that plague our collective health, heart disease develops because we make poor choices about diet, exercise, and questionable habits like smoking and excessive drinking. Most people will say they know this already, so the first step is to act on this knowledge and make changes in how we eat and cut back on the proven risk factors for heart disease. Then consider taking these less well-known steps to give your heart a fighting chance:

1. Cut your insulin levels. Doctors tell us to do this to prevent diabetes, but high insulin levels also contribute to heart disease by causing a biochemical chain reaction that leads to inflamed arteries. High insulin levels also encourage the formation of abdominal fat (the all-too-prevalent spare tire). To lower insulin levels, limit the sugar you eat—nutritionist Bowden calls it a “far more damaging and inflammatory substance than fat ever was”—and avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, short-grain rice, potatoes, and instant oatmeal.

2. Practice good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing will do more than protect your teeth and sweeten your breath—numerous studies have found a link between unhealthy gums and heart disease. The most serious form of gum disease, periodontitis, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 30 percent.

3. Reduce your stress level. Chronic stress in our bodies causes our adrenal glands to release a steady stream of cortisol as part of our natural fight-or-flight syndrome. This and other related hormones cause arterial constriction, increase blood pressure, speed up our heart rate, and promote clotting in the blood. Studies have shown that meditation, prayer, yoga, biofeedback, and other mind/body techniques can lower stress levels and reduce heart attack risk.

Take Your Supplements

You can counteract the heart-negative inflammatory foods and free-radical-inducing environmental toxins and pollutants by adding antioxidant-rich vitamins and other anti-inflammatory supplements like these to your diet.

  • Vitamins C and E. These powerful antioxidants also reduce arterial stiffness and combat the formation of plaque.

  • CoQ10. A fat-soluble nutrient found in virtually all your cells, Coenzyme Q10 acts as a powerful free radical scavenger and helps prevent LDL oxidation.

  • NAC. Its official name is N-acetyl-L-cysteine. NAC is a well-researched form of cysteine, an amino acid that raises glutathione, one of the body’s most important antioxidants.

  • ALA. Besides being an antioxidant itself, alpha lipoic acid (ALA) helps recycle vitamins C and E and glutathione in the body. ALAs are also found in flax seeds and flax seed oil.

  • Omega-3s. These essential  fatty acids appear to reduce inflammation, prevent blood clots, and even cut down on heart attack fatalities.

  • Keep Practicing Yoga

Studies at Ohio State and Georgia State universities found that yoga reduces levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker for chronic inflammation. Numerous studies have also shown that yoga reduces blood pressure (another risk factor for heart disease) primarily by lowering cortisol and bringing the central nervous system into balance.

Of course, yoga experts believe heart disease is more than just the sum of test results; they see it as a disconnect among our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. And they say that in order to create a healthful environment for the heart, we must weave together all the elements of practice—asana, pranayama, meditation, and selfless service. Here are some ways to do that.

Commit to a consistent practice and include a variety of poses that will put your body through its full range of motion. Backbends open the rib cage to improve heart and lung function; standing poses strengthen your legs and stretch your whole body; forward bends allow you to feel safe and nurtured and help quiet your sympathetic nervous system; and twists massage your internal organs and increase circulation throughout the body.

Examine your emotional and spiritual status. Obviously, your blood pressure didn’t rise by itself. More than 20 years ago, Dean Ornish, MD, and his team of researchers proved to the world that emotional stress, isolation, hostility, and low self-esteem had as much to do with heart disease as high cholesterol, oxidized LDLs, triglyceride levels, and nicotine. And then they surprised the medical profession by demonstrating that lifestyle changes which include yoga, meditation, and group support can reverse the disease.

Incorporate ujjayi (victorious breath) and nadi shodhanam (alternate nostril breathing) pranayamas into your daily routine to reduce anxiety and agitation. If you have high blood pressure, however, do not practice kumbhaka (breath retention).

Practice restorative yoga, chanting, and mantra meditation, all of which contribute to relieving hypertension and calming your heart, both physically and emotionally. (See the sample restorative practice to the right.)

Heart-Healthy Restorative Practice

Include any of these five restorative poses in your daily practice to calm your nerves and restore equilibrium. Avoid headstand or other unsupported inversions if you have high blood pressure. If you have time for only one pose, chooseshavasana (corpse pose) or viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) for maximum benefit.

  1. Support the head in adho mukha shvanasana (downward dog)

  2. Sink into your support in balasana (child’s pose)

  3. Use plenty of props for supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose)

  4. Elevate your sacrum in viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose)

Three Ways to Get Your EFAs

Vegetarians (or people just worried about mercury contamination and sustainability) can get the essential fatty acids they need from plants alone.

  • Hemp and flax seed oils contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which the body converts to the essential fatty acids found in fish oil. Hemp oil tastes better than flaxseed oil, and it contains the ideal ratio of omega-6 EFAs to omega-3s: 3 to 1. A further benefit: hemp seed oil also contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which reduces inflammation and improves the health of the skin. Both oils break down when heated, and they turn rancid quickly, so refrigerate them after opening and consume them in one to three months.

  • In addition to omega-3s, walnuts contain heart-healthy monosaturated fats and an especially heart-friendly, non-wheat version of vitamin E. The skin covering the nut also contains key phenolic acids, tannins, and flavonoids, so eat it too, even though it’s somewhat bitter tasting.

  • Three ways to get your EFAs: Micro-algae contain high levels of DHA and EPA that, along with ALA, make up the three essential fatty acids in omega-3s. The fish eat the algae and store the omega-3s in their fat. Micro-algae, now available in supplement form, have the same heart-healthy benefits as fish oil, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

What You Should Eat

Historically, people in the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Greece, and Italy, and those who live in Asia, particularly China and Japan, have had a fraction of the heart disease found in the United States and northern Europe—and they have some of the longest life expectancies, as well. The reason? Their traditional diets. They differ in details—you won’t find soy in marinara sauce or olive oil in a wok, but both diets have low levels of saturated and hydrogenated fats, high levels of healthy fats, and an emphasis on fish and vegetables. Cardiologists Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, and James C. Roberts, MD, coauthors of Reverse Heart Disease Now(John Wiley & Sons, 2007), propose combining the two in the Pan-Asian Mediterranean (PAM) diet, which contains these basic ingredients.

Antioxident-Rich Fruits and Veggies. These compounds combat the free radicals that oxidize LDL cholesterol molecules and cause inflammation throughout the body. The trick here is to eat your colors.

  • What to eat: Brightly hued fruits like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, red grapes, and strawberries; rich green veggies like kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, and broccoli; and vibrant red veggies like beets and red bell peppers pack the highest concentrations of antioxidants. Onions, too, boast a specific flavonoid, quercetin, which blocks the oxidation of LDL. Looking for an antioxidant beverage? Try red wine in moderation (it contains resveratrol) or green tea, which blocks an enzyme involved in inflammation.

Nuts and Seeds. Rich in good essential fatty acids, protein, and fiber, these staples of our hunter-gatherer past also contain phytosterols (plant fats), which help cut back on the dietary cholesterol we absorb.

  • What to eat: Raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds.

Low-Glycemic Grains. Because these foods contain more fiber than their high-glycemic cousins, they take longer to digest and, therefore, help maintain steady blood sugar levels, reducing the need for dramatic increases in insulin. The added fiber also helps cleanse the digestive system and sops up excess cholesterol. In fact, studies report that a 10 g increase in daily fiber intake produces a 29 percent reduction in heart disease risk.

  • What to eat: Pumpernickel or spelt bread; bulgar; brown or wild rice; pearl barley, steel-cut oats, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Processed food made with corn, safflower, and sunflower oils contains excessive amounts of inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids, and, as a result of our fondness for these products, the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in our bodies is way out of whack. Estimates put it at as much as 20 to 1 instead of a healthier 3 to 1. Avoid omega-6-rich polyunsaturated vegetable oils and processed foods, and ramp up your omega-3s.

  • What to eat: Cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), hemp and flax seeds, soybeans, and sea vegetables.

Little If, Any Beer and Dairy. Despite their central roles in the standard American diet, these two foods contain too much saturated fat for daily consumption. They’re also high in methionine, a precursor to homocysteine, which promotes damage to the arteries.

  • What to eat: Substituting fish gives you lean protein and a dose of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and avoiding animal foods altogether eliminates the problem.

Garlic. Prominent in both Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, garlic has a long medicinal pedigree. Among other phytonutrients, it contains allicin, which boosts good cholesterol levels while lowering LDL. And it lowers blood pressure and reduces blood platelet stickiness.

  • How to use: Cut up raw garlic and let it sit for 15 minutes to release its healthy compounds. You need to eat the equivalent of about five cloves of garlic a day to gain the most benefit.

Lots of Olive Oil. The ancient Greeks thought the olive tree had great healing power, and studies suggest that the monounsaturated oil—high in omega-9 fatty acids—from its fruit can reduce heart attack risk and lower blood pressure.

  • What to use: Opt for extra-virgin olive oil, which is minimally processed, unrefined, and low in acidity.

Soy. In its many shapes and forms, soy helps raise HDL and lower LDL and blood pressure.

  • What to eat: Use whole or fermented soy, such as edamame (soybeans), tempeh, tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), soy milk, and soy-milk yogurt.

Celebrate the Solar Eclipse

Lisa Kanne

Celebrate the Solar Eclipse with This Moon Salutation

Monday, August 21, 2017 marks the day the first total solar eclipse will grace North America in more than 25 years and a powerful day for yoga.


AUG 17, 2017


Mark your calendars now for August 21, the day the first total solar eclipse will grace North America in more than 25 years, and a powerful day for yoga. A few moments of complete darkness during the day reminds us of our place in the cosmos—that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves—one of the primary lessons of mindfulness practices, explains Kate Russo, a clinical psychologist, eclipse chaser, and phenomenological researcher based in Belfast, Ireland.

“An eclipse strips away all your worries, and you suddenly have clarity about what you want to do with your life,” Russo says. “You feel connected to other people—regardless of where they are from or their political views. It transforms you.”

To celebrate the eclipse, Blakesley Burkhart, a trained yoga teacher and astronomy postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, recommends a soothing and well-aligned Moon Salutation to coincide with the sun, moon, and Earth being in perfect alignment.

Celebrate with a Moon Salutation

Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), then inhale and bring your palms together over your head. Exhale and crescent to your right; inhale back to center. Exhale and crescent to your left; inhale back to center. Exhale to Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose), taking a wide stance and lowering into a squat while keeping your knees in line with your ankles. Inhale and straighten your legs as you transition to Extended Utthita Trikonasana(Extended Triangle Pose).

On your next exhale, move your hands to the floor or blocks on either side of your front leg for Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch). From here, bend into your front knee and find a High Lunge. Inhale, turn your back toes out, and shift your hips down and over your front ankle, coming into Skandasana (Side Lunge). Inhale back to Goddess Pose and repeat the same poses on the other side, but in reverse order.

How Gender Justice Enhances your Yoga Practice

Lisa Kanne

When it comes to our understanding of gender in this country, there are three paradigms:

The world as it is.

The world as it should be.

And the 70s.

For many Western yoga practitioners, the 70s represent a massive shift in consciousness—that period saw the rise of yoga in the West, liberation movements for women, gay people, and people of color, and the emergence of sexual freedom. But in many spiritual spaces, understandings of gender have remained stuck in the 70s while they have continued to evolve elsewhere.

The practice of yoga offers conceptions of fluidity and non-duality which can powerfully support our understanding of gender. Spiritual practice provides the space to be fully present with what is, without fixating on illusion, the past, or the future. Isn’t our practice supposed to be the place for our contradictions, questions, and ways of being that can lead to more liberation both personally and collectively?

We live in a world where we gender everything—for no good reason. This does not have to happen in our yoga spaces, however. Do instructors really need to refer to students as ladies and gentlemen? Also, instead of giving instructions that can account for different kinds of bodies, some yoga teachers will make gender-based assumptions about adjustments, suggesting, “Men, do it this way, but women, do it this way.” To be sure, in a culture which hates and demonizes femininity, many yoga practitioners’ desire to re-center the Goddess and Divine Feminine is both radical and important. However, to do this by reinforcing outdated gender norms is damaging to all of us.

We live in a world where we gender everything—for no good reason. This does not have to happen in our yoga spaces, however.

Asserting a narrow view of gender in our yoga practice has the unintended consequence of reinforcing patriarchy, which seeks to rigidly define the actions and behaviors of people of all genders.

Even where I live in the Bay Area—the proverbial end of the rainbow for someone seeking sexual and gender liberation, space to build community with people of color, and acceptance in a spiritual community—I am still asked to fit myself into a gender box that does not work.

I have been in numerous spiritual spaces where I’m consistently mis-gendered: expected to wear a skirt because that’s what women do, referred to as “sister,” and in a host of other ways expected to perform a version of womanhood that does not match the experience of any woman in the room. Not to mention that as a black, genderqueer person my relationship to society’s definition of womanhood, even black womanhood, is much more complicated.

But . . . there’s good news. There are a number of things, both simple and not-so-simple, that can upgrade your understanding of gender, your yoga practice, and your life:

1. Stop gendering people, places, things, and energies. Just stop. NOW! Once you start to notice how often you feel compelled to do this, it will shock you.

2. Don’t make assumptions about people’s gender. A good place to start is by asking folks their pronouns. But this is not enough. Challenging our assumptions around gender means accepting that we live in a world with infinite genders. To avoid mishaps, just stick to gender-inclusive terms.

3. Let go of the binary. Femininity and masculinity are not opposites. Consider other ways that binary, either/or thinking interferes with your practice.

4. Create spiritual communities that center those who are most often excluded from yoga spaces: women of color, including trans women of color, trans or gender non-conforming folks, femmes, queer people, people of size/fat folks, poor people, and people with disabilities. You’d be surprised how the culture of a space can either invite or exclude people from these communities.

Investing in spaces led by social justice yoga practitioners who are marginalized (i.e., people of color, queer and trans people, etc.), as well as promoting the leadership of radical practitioners who are underrepresented, can go a long way to shift culture. But again, this is just the first step. Equity requires a rigorous practice of self-reflection, accountability for your power and privilege, and a commitment to redistributing power and resources.

5. Embrace change. Our consciousness around gender is changing a mile a minute. Educate yourself and don’t resist the new ways people are inhabiting their bodies and experiencing gender. You might learn something.

Because our very presence interrupts the status quo, trans, genderqueer, and non-binary people of color are often pushed out or denied access to spiritual spaces altogether. The worst part of the antiquated understanding of gender in our spiritual communities is that the very people being excluded are the spiritual warriors we need to achieve collective liberation. Those of us who live in these complex intersections have something to say about spiritual justice and about the process of inhabiting what it means to be fully human. We have cultivated these skills out of necessity and survival, but they contain the antidote for all of us.


Yoga and Social Justice

Lisa Kanne


Yoga & Social Justice: Radical Self-Care as Activism

JULY 14, 2017    BY ALLI


The Yoga + Social Justice Collaborative is an organization dedicated to exploring the relationship between spiritual practice and social justice through collaborative gatherings, education, and service. The blog series shares the thoughts and practices of our members and supporters. We invite you to join the conversation!

What should we do when we feel the world is crumbling around us? When the emotions of our peers are on high alert due to the insidious media consistently reporting fear-inducing news? How do we find our solace in a world where we’re afraid that in any moment, we just may be stepping into WWIII?


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I go to my mat.

That idea of going to the mat may seem—particularly to those who are marginalized, or who are battling deportation issues, police brutality, racism, sexism, gentrification of their communities, and other forms of injustice—naïve, non-impactful, or non-responsive to the constant trauma and fears that folks are feeling.

I’ve personally witnessed that fear plaguing my loved ones, my peers, and myself; therefore, how could “the mat” possibly bring peace to me or anyone else? How can the mat represent groups of marginalized folks who may feel that their lives are at stake and that the system, which has sworn to protect them, doesn’t believe that they are worthy of protection or rights?

The truth is the mat won’t cure them. It doesn’t change the way the systemic inequalities in communities are set up. Privileged folks won’t all of a sudden realize their privilege. And racism will still unfortunately exist.

I’ve heard many activist friends say that yoga and meditation practices can seem indifferent or apathetic to real social justice issues. That unlike other activists who go out in the streets and protest, yogis expect people to just “om it all away” and say things like, “I don’t see color.”

As a Black Queer Femme Woman who comes from an under-resourced community, I faced within myself many times the question of: Am I turning my back on my community because I need to find the space internally where I can be free? Should I give up—because I obviously won’t be able to save the world?

The more I practiced, I began to realize that my own self-care is an act of survival!

I can find my own importance internally without seeking outside approval–but in order to do that I needed to find my own inner strength in the midst of it all. And that meant going to my mat!

If I felt the world was against me—once I left my mat or meditation cushion—I was able to reaffirm myself and understand that I too matter. I knew that I could still take care of myself and resist what society tells me I am not!

I can find my own importance internally without seeking outside approval—but in order to do that I needed to find my own inner strength in the midst of it all. And that meant going to my mat!

One sutra from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali states that we are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others feel more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?

The practice of yoga reminds us that each time that we take a breath, we get another chance to live, to love, and to take care of ourselves a little bit more.

May you continue to find ways that help you connect to your own peace, your own happiness, and your own liberation.

Cultivating the Opposite Thought

Lisa Kanne

Cultivating the Opposite Thought

(The Most Challenging Inversion in Your Practice)



In the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, we find one aphorism that speaks of cultivating the opposite. The Sanskrit term for this is pratipaksha-bhavana. Whenever adverse notions (vikalpa) crowd our mind, Patanjali tells us, we must endeavor to conjure up their opposites. So, instead of thinking harmful thoughts, we ought to cultivate thoughts and feelings of love, kindness, compassion, and so on. In the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, we find one aphorism that speaks of cultivating the opposite.

This idea of cultivating the opposite is in fact a fundamental principle of the yogic enterprise. It can be seen in operation in all eight limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path and also in many practices he does not specifically mention.

First of all, yoga turns conventional life upside down. It puts the supreme value of liberation, or enlightenment, in place of ordinary values revolving around money, food, sex, and power. Liberation (moksha) is in fact freedom from the compulsion of all lesser pursuits. It is total release from the ego-personality, which constructs itself and its life around everything other than liberation.

Once we truly accept liberation as our guiding ideal, all our other ideals, values, or goals pale into relative insignificance. To put it differently, the desire for liberation (mumukshutva) melts down all our other desires and, using their energy, propels us forward on the spiritual path.

The principle of reversal is obvious in the first limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path, namely the moral disciplines (yama) consisting of non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity, and non-grasping (or greedlessness). The purpose of these moral disciplines is to harmonize and economize our interpersonal behavior. Ordinarily, our social relationships are not particularly well organized and often are the source of discord, frustration, and emotional pain. So long as we are not committed to uprooting our false sense of self (ahankara), our interactions with others tend to be governed by self-interest, and this makes our relationships precarious and often quite complicated. Yoga practitioners, however, who hold high the ideal of liberation, are eager to simplify their lives, especially social relationships. This becomes possible by cultivating the five primary moral disciplines.

Instead of harming others in action, speech, and thought, either deliberately or simply through largely unconscious behavior, those who practice yoga endeavor to benefit others. Similarly, instead of succumbing to lies, pretensions, prevarications, distortions, deceptions, and so on, they aspire to truthfulness and integrity in all matters, even if this should prove disadvantageous for them. When understood in a comprehensive way, the moral discipline of non-stealing represents a reversal of our Western pattern of overconsumption, which directly or indirectly affects less privileged segments of our society and other, poorer nations. Chastity, again, runs counter to our Western civilization’s epidemic preoccupation with sex. Greedlessness, which is closely related to the virtue of non-stealing, undermines the widespread behavior of “more is better.”

Instead of harming others in action, speech, and thought, either deliberately or simply through largely unconscious behavior, those who practice yoga endeavor to benefit others.

The second limb of the eightfold path consists of the five disciplines of self-restraint (niyama)—purity, contentment, austerity, study, and dedication to a higher principle—and is similarly based on the principle of reversal. Even if we observe physical hygiene, our mental and verbal behavior often is impure. We think negative thoughts and use foul language. Most people are not content with their lot, always striving for a better position in life and competing against others to get there first. The deliberate practice of contentment reverses common habit patterns. Few have any notion of austerity, which requires great self-control. Instead we like our comfort and complacency. And finally, higher principles play little or no role in our lives, and by and large we orient ourselves according to the lowest common denominator. Our ultimate concern is not the transcendental Reality but some finite substitute, be it our family, job, reputation, money, or car.

Posture (asana), the third limb of the eightfold path, reverses our ordinary tendency to extend our energies via our limbs: to grasp, gesticulate, and fidget with our hands and to walk and run with our legs. As Patanjali notes in his Yoga Sutra, posture must be stable and easeful. This ensures that we can sit still long enough for meditation to unfold. Posture is to the body what concentration is to the mind. It unifies our physical being by making a relatively closed circuit of energy with our folded limbs.

Of all the postures, inversions are a striking external symbol of the yogic process of reversal. According to an esoteric (tantric) explanation of reversal, the ordinary upright position causes wastage of the inner ambrosia. This nectar of immortality is generated at the internal moon in the head and drips down into the internal sun, which is situated at the navel. Inversions are designed to place the internal sun above and the internal moon below, a position that allows the lunar ambrosia to collect without being wasted. At the physiological level, this nectar is our hormone-rich saliva. At the subtle level, it can be experienced as a fine energy that develops the subtle body (sukshma-sharira) and thus contributes to the spiritual quest for perfect inner freedom.

In breath control (pranayama), the fourth limb of the eightfold path, the principle of reversal can be seen in the practice of regulating and expanding the otherwise uneven and narrow flow of life-energy (prana) in the body. The life-force is the link between body and mind, and is therefore of utmost importance in the yogic process. As we harmonize the life-force by regulating the breath (its external aspect), we are able to also harmonize our mind.

Sensory inhibition (pratyahara), the fifth limb, is a classical instance of the principle of reversal. Normally, our senses constantly roam for information in the external environment. The ancient sages likened them to wild horses frolicking in a pasture. In order to make the horses obedient, we must rein them in. Similarly, our senses must be controlled so that the inner work of yoga can succeed. In the yoga scriptures, this practice is often compared to a tortoise withdrawing its limbs into its shell. Sensory inhibition, or sense withdrawal, and control of the mind go hand in hand.

Concentration, the sixth limb, is called dharana in Sanskrit, which literally means “holding.” This practice is intended to hold the mind in place by controlling the mental processes, notably our thoughts. Ordinarily, our mind—pulled by the senses—is very busy with processing information from the outer world. Its movement is naturally centrifugal. Patanjali speaks of the “mind of emergence” (vyutthanachitta), which, powered by the subliminal activators (samskara), is gathering both positive and negative experiences. In yoga, this tendency of being scattered must be overcome by cultivating inward-mindedness (pratyak-chetana) leading to the gradual emptying of the mind. This clearly represents a strong reversal of our habit patterns.

Meditation reverses the typical tendency of our mind to quickly lose interest in things and hunt for new information.

As concentration becomes stronger, meditation (dhyana) occurs. Patanjali explains it as the “single flow” (eka-tanata) of thoughts relating to the same object of meditation. Concentration helps us hold our selected object in place. Through meditation we become ever more familiar with this object until, in the state of ecstasy (samadhi), we merge with it. Meditation reverses the typical tendency of our mind to quickly lose interest in things and hunt for new information. Meditation opens up the inner aspect of our selected object. The difference between concentration and meditation is similar to the difference between looking at a two-dimensional photograph and a lifelike three-dimensional laser projection.

Meditation progressively narrows the space between the meditating subject and the object of meditation. In the state of ecstasy, this space collapses altogether. Subject and object become one. This amounts to a total reversal of the ordinary state of consciousness, which is based on the distinction between consciousness and its contents.

At the highest level of ecstasy, this state of identification becomes still more simplified. Now all conscious activity ceases. The so-called “fluctuations” or “whirls” of the mind (vritti) have been eliminated by means of meditation. But even in the state of samadhi, certain higher forms of conscious activity are likely to occur—insights, intuitions, knowledge. These are known as “wisdom” (prajña). Hence this lower type of ecstasy is known as samprajñata-samadhi, or ecstasy associated with wisdom/insight.

In the condition of asamprajñata-samadhi, or ecstasy transcending even wisdom, there is no further conscious or supraconscious activity in the mind. What remains is the whole network of subliminal activators (samskara), which, given an opportunity, give rise to renewed mental activity. In other words, the unconscious part of the mind is still intact. But as the yogi holds the mind in abeyance in the state of asamprajñata-samadhi, the unconscious is gradually emptied as well. This ecstatic state produces a strong mental tendency that runs counter to all other remaining mental tendencies, and in due course, the unconscious, which harbors all the karmic seeds, is transcended as well.

This high-level process is the peak of the entire yogic program of reversal. With the transcendence of the unconscious, the yogi is liberated from the last shred of the illusion of being a limited body/mind. Upon attaining liberation (or enlightenment), nothing further remains to be done.

Aging Gracefully

Lisa Kanne

Aging Gracefully

Yogic Wisdom for the Third Stage of Life



Five years ago, on a picture-perfect August morning, the life I’d been living ended abruptly. A hole opened in my retina, catapulting me out of my job-centered identity into vanaprastha, the third, or forest-dweller, stage of life. In the yoga texts it sounds inviting—a peaceful, leafy turning away from worldly affairs to focus on moving inward. But I hadn’t given it much thought and certainly didn’t imagine it applied to me—not yet, anyway. I was only 56—too young to think about retirement. And besides, I was busy.

a peaceful, leafy turning away from worldly affairs to focus on moving inward

I don’t mean to imply I thought I was young. I’d been noticing a shift in my energy and preoccupations for some time, little things mostly: late nights left a deeper trail of fatigue than before; a hideous haircut was annoying but not distressing; my knees protested when I skipped asana practice. Little things. Clearly I was passing through late middle age—perhaps had even moved beyond it—but it didn’t seem to matter much. Looking back, I can see I was firmly in the grip of abhinivesha—the ingrained desire for continuity which, to quote the Yoga Sutra, “is firmly established even in the wise.” I was far from wise—and about to prove it.

At the time, I was the Himalayan Institute’s president, as well as Yoga International’s editor when it was a print magazine. In both capacities, I worked closely with Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, the Institute’s leader and my spiritual teacher. From time to time, as I moved into my mid-50s, Panditji told me I was doing too much and suggested I find and train an editor to replace me, but I’d been playing that role for 14 years and was firmly identified with it. With no obvious candidate in view I kept on doing what I’d always done. Actually, I started more of it—adding frequent three-hour commutes to Manhattan to work on a magazine redesign, then staying up late when I got home, and putting in full days on the weekends to make up for lost time.

“It’s time for your focus to shift and your awareness to expand, but you’re resisting.”

Troubled by how anemic my spiritual practice had become (my to-do list was goose-stepping through my head when I tried to meditate), I eventually asked Panditji for help. “You are misdirecting your attention,” he said. “You’re constantly telling yourself, ‘This is what is real. These administrative problems are real. Producing a magazine is my purpose in life.’ Your endless focus on these externals drowns out the subtle dimension.” He looked at me for a long moment, then added, “It’s time for your focus to shift and your awareness to expand, but you’re resisting.”

But then my focus did shift—not because I decided to stop resisting but because I was lucky. A defect in my left eye forced the shift from the external to the internal that is the hallmark of the forest-dweller stage of life. Though this was no leafy stroll in the woods, at least not at first.

Age-Old Paradigm

The leading edge of the baby boom generation turned 55 a decade ago, so I have plenty of company here in this later stage of life. In a sense, it’s brand new territory. As recently as 1900, average life expectancy was 47 and only one of every 25 people born lived to see their 65th birthday. Now one in eight of us do, and with average life expectancy at 78 and rising—exceeding 83 for anyone still around at 65—a new stage is emerging in the years between midlife and full-blown senescence. We aren’t even sure yet what to call it. Late middle-age? Full maturity? Retirement? The silver years? The encore years? Second adulthood?

Part of the reason I didn’t recognize myself as having entered this amorphous phase of life is that I didn’t (and don’t) feel old. If I had, I would have blocked the feeling by any means possible. After all, we’re heirs to an ingrained belief that age-related changes are negative—harbingers of decline, disease, dementia, and various shades of loss. And this isn’t only a modern assumption—it’s been with us for centuries. One of the most quoted Shakespearean passages is the speech about the seven ages of man from As You Like It. Here the world is seen as a stage on which we play many parts, making our entrance as infants, wending our way through school, trying on various roles as adults, diminishing as we age, and finally stumbling off the stage in “second childishness and mere oblivion.” In this depressing portrayal of the trajectory of life, a peak of attainment in middle age is quickly followed by a cascade of loss, reducing us, bit by painful bit, to making our exit “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Only in the past 25 years, as our life spans passed the three-quarter-century mark, has a coherent counterpoint to this painful scenario begun to emerge, one in which we tell ourselves that in the years after 55 or 60 the best is yet to come—this is the time to get another degree, switch careers, start a business, maybe even take up skydiving. Although an improvement over the idea that aging is merely a prolonged slump into senility, this new emphasis on “successful aging” often boils down to an effort to flip the script back a few pages and replay the middle scenes as long as possible.

Four Stages of Life

The yoga tradition offers a completely different script, one rich with possibility. In this version, the play of life unfolds in a graceful arc from birth to death, becoming more nuanced and rewarding as it moves toward the denouement—perfect fulfillment, not “mere oblivion.” Here we play four distinct roles as the drama of life unfolds: student, householder, forest dweller, and renunciate.

The first two are self-explanatory and accord well with our modern view. During the student years—childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood—our primary task is acquiring the knowledge and skills we will need to make our way in the world. We draw on these attainments when we become householders, immersing ourselves in the rush and roar of life as we go about earning a living, raising a family, and doing our civic duty. But here the resemblance ends. In our modern script, the third act—retirement—defines us in terms of what we’ve left behind instead of what lies ahead. Up through our late 50s and into our 60s, our energy has been mainly focused on tangible achievements: earning a degree, building a career, raising children, acquiring property, perhaps making a name for ourselves. Now, as these familiar identities and activities fall away, we find ourselves without a clear, purposeful direction.

In the script written by the yoga tradition the direction is clear. The student and householder phases of life are a prelude to the ultimate achievement—freeing our attention from outward preoccupations and bringing it to rest at the core of our being. Here, in the third stage of life, we have the privilege of stepping away from the external identities that so easily become all-consuming. By the time we’re approaching our 60s, we’ve lived amidst the rush and roar of life long enough to recognize the outer world is, in the words of Alistair Shearer, “a place of limited charm, a realm hedged in by restrictions and forever being eroded by transience.” We have enough experience to realize that name, fame, possessions, and power will never be a source of lasting fulfillment, and as this realization dawns, our attention shifts from what changes to what endures, pulling our focus inward.

In the traditional culture that gave rise to yoga this was called the forest-dweller stage, not because people literally retreated to the woods (although some did), but because, recognizing the transient nature of external achievements, they withdrew from these pursuits to strengthen their connection with the deeper dimensions of their own being. Theirs was a civilization—stretching back beyond 2000 BCE—deeply immersed in the natural world. The full span of life was 100 years. Read the latest studies on the lifestyle that promotes longevity and you’ll understand why. They ate a plant-centered diet of locally grown organic foods. They walked everywhere. Their households were multi-generational and their communities were woven together in a robust web of interdependence. But above all, they had a vibrant sense of the meaning and purpose of life.

They knew that at our core we are immortal, forever untouched by decay, destruction, and death.

They knew that at our core we are immortal, forever untouched by decay, destruction, and death. They valued the body, senses, and mind, but viewed them in the aggregate as a vehicle for making the journey of life. They did not confuse their core being with this vehicle any more than we confuse ourselves with our cars. Like a car, the body is well engineered for a long journey. And the purpose of this journey is not to accumulate possessions or experiences or power or fame, but to gather the tools and means to promote awareness of the luminous field of conscious energy that is the core of our being. They knew that to die without having accomplished this purpose is the greatest loss. And they saw that by the time we have reached the third stage of life, we have all the tools and means necessary to accomplish this goal. When we use these years of choice and opportunity to deepen our awareness of the inner world, the third stage merges into the fourth, climactic stage—spontaneous renunciation of the transitory for an all-encompassing engagement with the eternal.

Science of Aging

This view of human potential as an infinitely expanding capacity unfolding across the full span of life is congruent with the inner sense most of us have as we age. At the time I was pulled up short by an unstable retina, it felt like my capacity and creativity were increasing and my outlook on life was becoming more positive. As it turns out, there’s a solid biological basis for this. While it is true that muscle mass declines, reaction time slows, and short-term memory wavers as we age, in some key areas, our capacities expand rather than erode. As we move through our 60s and 70s and into our 80s, the brain and central nervous system are altered in some surprising and life-affirming ways.

For decades, all of us—scientists and laypeople alike—were convinced the brain stops developing after adolescence, and that further, we are destined to lose 30 to 40 percent of our brain cells as we move into midlife and beyond. But as it happens, the brain constantly reconfigures itself in response to experience, forming new cells throughout life.

To cite one specific example, neuroscientists now tell us that the dendrites in our brains increase in both number and length in the third stage of life. What does this mean in layman’s terms? Gene D. Cohen, MD, a pioneer in the field of geriatric psychiatry and an expert on what happens in the brain as it ages, explained it in a lecture using an analogy in which brain cells are trees, dendrites are branches, and neurotransmitters are squirrels. The more branches trees have, the easier it is for squirrels to leap from one to another. “Likewise,” Dr. Cohen explained, “if adjacent cells have more dendrites they form more points of contact, called synapses. Increasing the number of synapses improves communication between cells.” He added that from our early 50s into our 70s, the buildup and length of dendrites is particularly robust in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved with visual spatial processing, memory formation, and processing new memories for long-term storage.

Barely a week goes by without another scientific study confirming the yoga tradition’s thesis that our capacities have the potential to expand in the later decades of life.

And that’s not all. Barely a week goes by without another scientific study confirming the yoga tradition’s thesis that our capacities have the potential to expand in the later decades of life. For example, studies show that as we move into life’s third stage, we use both hemispheres of the brain more efficiently; our ability to integrate cognitive and emotional intelligence expands, and along with it, our ability to integrate competing issues and solutions; the limbic system (the area of the brain that produces and regulates emotional response) grows calmer; and we pay more attention to positive experiences than we do to negative ones. On the whole, these changes lead to what Dr. Cohen describes as “a maturing synergy of cognition, emotional intelligence, judgment, social skills, life experience, and consciousness” that continues well into our 70s. If we understand that life has a purpose and meaning, we can use this new capacity to find complete fulfillment in the third stage of life.

All of this assumes that our brain—and the rest of us—stays healthy. The dark underside of longevity is the specter of dementia, heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or some other malady stripping away our physical and mental vitality, leaving us to molder in the twilight. On the bright side, we now know there is much we can do to preserve and enhance our vitality, thus greatly increasing the odds that our “health spans” will come close to matching our life spans. We are no longer nearly as prone to thinking of life after 60 as an accelerating downward spiral as we were a few decades ago. There is a wealth of information—much of it based on sound research—on how to prevent disease, maintain a high level of cognitive and physical function, and remain engaged as we move toward the century mark.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this revolution in how we think about aging: in a sense nothing really changed. Rather than recognizing this as a distinct stage of life—one that has its own value and offers its own deep rewards—we seem to have embarked on an elaborate social compact to make 60 the new 40 and 70 the new 50. This is a dispiriting replay of the assumption that aging is all about loss. In its extreme form it leads to “amortality,” a term coined by British writer Catherine Mayer for the trend of living as if age has no meaning, which has been gathering momentum since the baby boom generation began hitting 50. As Mayer explains it, amortals “live the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things…right up until death.”

From a certain perspective, this makes sense. If we see life as a continuous process of change leading only to death, the natural impulse is to do our utmost to ignore the passage of time and cling to the selves we have been for as long as possible. Students familiar with the deeper dimensions of yoga will recognize amortality as a vivid manifestation of abhinivesha, the ingrained desire for continuity Patanjali identifies as one of the fundamental ways we cause ourselves pain. Yet even when we know life has a purpose, this deep-rooted desire to hold on to the familiar poses a formidable obstacle to moving into the forest-dweller stage of life, as I was hell-bent on proving.

The Grand Shift

There’s a saying in India that a dog walking through a cotton field doesn’t come out wearing a suit of clothes. At the time the hole opened in my retina, I had been living in a vibrant yoga community for 14 years. Intellectually I knew what matters and what doesn’t, what is transitory and what is eternal, but I hadn’t woven that knowledge into a systematic plan to accomplish the goal of life. Instead, I had become so galvanized by my identity as an editor and, to a lesser extent, by my sense of duty as an administrator, that my life had come to revolve around these roles.

At first it seemed that the hole in my retina could be patched by simple laser surgery. But within days, a bigger hole opened and I ended up lying facedown for three weeks while my reconstructed eye recovered from a complicated operation. Had I been less outwardly oriented, I would have recognized this as an opportunity to stop acting as a full-time editor and administrator and focus instead on uncovering a deeper, more nourishing identity. Instead I went back to work, tired and a bit unnerved, but fully determined to do what I had come to see as my real job.

I might still be reinforcing that identity today if I hadn’t been lucky: the retina detached, putting me back on the operating table. A month later it detached again, and yet again. Incredibly, stubbornly, I went back to work after each operation, refusing to let go of who I knew how to be—until the retina peeled away a fourth time and I was so depleted I could barely walk across our tiny living room.

The entire ordeal—from the first sign of trouble to total collapse—took three months. The recovery—and the internal shift to the forest-dweller stage—took much longer. With nothing to do but rest, read, contemplate, and recover, I began to see why abhinivesha is so seductive. Our sense of self-identity coalesces around what we know how to be, and we want to go on and on being that familiar self. We know how to be outsiders—how to get things done in the material world—but we don’t know how, as Swami Rama put it, to “seek within and find within.” I knew how to put a quality magazine together and I derived satisfaction from doing it, but I didn’t know how to discover the core of my being or how to derive satisfaction from my attempts to awaken an inner awareness. Besides, deep-seated habits die hard.

As my health returned, I grew increasingly bored and restless, but Panditji resolutely refused to let me return to the office, leaving me no task other than finding my way inside. It took awhile, but as I gradually allowed my focus to shift, my damaged eye showed me how to locate my internal vision. Because I was essentially blind in one eye, I had no depth perception inside of 10 feet. For a while, I bumped into furniture or chopped my fingers instead of the parsley I was aiming at. Then I discovered that if I slowed down, turned off the autopilot, and looked closely at what was in front of me, I could see perfectly. I began to notice this also applied to doing asana and pranayama, reading the Bhagavad Gita, or meditating. When I attended to the practice I was doing while I was doing it, and let go of the habit of trying to get somewhere or accomplish something tangible, I began to sense—however faintly—the presence of an infinitely subtle force, one that breathes without breathing and sees without seeing. And that glimmer sparked an internal shift from householder to forest dweller.

On the surface, my life today is much as it was before. I’m still working for the Himalayan Institute, still walking through that cotton field. The difference is that now—even when I find myself working long hours—my focus is on weaving an ever-deepening inner awareness. In a curious way, I feel younger—more energized—than I did five years ago. This seemed counterintuitive until I came across a snippet from one of Panditji’s lectures.

“As long as we remain inspired to discover why we came to this world, we remain youthful,” he said. “Old age has no power over us when we are accompanied by faith that we have something precious to experience and achieve in this lifetime. This faith sparks a burning desire to know the true nature of the invisible force that lies at the core of our being, and when it wells up, nothing—not the lack of worldly resources, a limited knowledge of philosophy, the absence of a living guide, or even old age—can stand in the way of our inner fulfillment.”

This is the gift waiting for us when we embrace the third stage of life—not mere oblivion and not an encore of our 40s, but fulfillment and perfect freedom.

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.”