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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

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.”


Comfortable in my own skin!

Lisa Kanne

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


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

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


APR 28, 2017

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

About Our Writer

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

5 Benefits of Sunshine

Lisa Kanne


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

Namaste, Camile Elizabeth Messerley

5 Benefits of Sunshine


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

—St. Augustine City of God


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

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


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


Sunshine may prevent us from eating too much.

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


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

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


Sun can help clear up skin conditions like psoriasis.

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

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


Don’t get overheated.


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

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


Treat a burn.

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

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


#ayurveda (

Yoga Etiquette

Lisa Kanne

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

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

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

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



Ayurvedic Support for Sleep and Anxiety

Lisa Kanne



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

(video at link)

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

Article No.2

Two Simple Practices to Help You Fall Asleep



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

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

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

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

High Anxiety?

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

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

—The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies

Yoga for Migrane Headaches from Karma Yoga Omaha

Lisa Kanne


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Hacks to Help Your Headache

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

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




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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Zo Newell from Yoga International

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

Lisa Kanne

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

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

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

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

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

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

3-Step Ayurvedic Spring Cleanse

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

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

2. Fertilize your microbiome with spring greens.

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

3. Flush your lymphatic system.

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

5 Healing Spices

Lisa Kanne

5 Healing Spices from Indian Cuisine to Put into Regular Rotation

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

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

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




1. Ginger


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

Health Benefits

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

Daily Goal

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

Try It

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

• Chicken or fish curries

• Fresh herb chutneys

• Spice rubs

• Ginger and honey tea




2. Turmeric


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

Health Benefits

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

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

Daily Goal

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

Try It

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

• Beans and chickpea dishes

• Rice dishes

• Red or yellow curries

• Vegetable stir-fries


3. Cloves


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

Health Benefits

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

Daily Goal

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

Try It

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

• Coconut-based curries

• Fruit-poaching liquid

• Hot herbal tea

• Rice biryanis


4. Chili Powder

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

Health Benefits

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

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

Daily Goal

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

Try It

To add heat to savory foods like:

• Asian soups

• Dal/lentils

• Grilled meats

• Tomato-based curries



5. Cinnamon


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

Health Benefits

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

Daily Goal

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

Try It

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

• Baked goods like cookies and fruit breads

• Beef curries

• Masala chai

• Rice pudding or ice cream


The Meaning of Sukha

Lisa Kanne

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




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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

When Krishna is the Master of Yoga

And Arjuna is the mighty archer,

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

This is my firm conviction.

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

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

May our wheels never wobble.

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An Ayurvedic Look at Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Lisa Kanne

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Stress Reduction

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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