Yoga in the News: The African Yoga Project

(Re-posted from YogaDork)

Kenyan Yoga Boom Ignites Job Growth, Breaks Down Barriers

Bernard Gitonga teaching yoga at Eastleigh orphanage. Photo: Jason Patinkin for the Guardian

Bernard Gitonga teaching yoga at Eastleigh orphanage. Photo: Jason Patinkin for the Guardian

Meanwhile, in Kenya, thousands of women, men and children participate in 350 free weekly yoga classes as part of the growing boom of yoga in Africa. The Africa Yoga Project, founded by Paige Elenson in 2007 started small, but has now expanded to over 80 trained yoga teachers from local areas providing classes to the people, in mostly slum areas, and extra income for those employed by the organization.

This article from the Guardian highlights the growth of yoga as a popular activity and viable occupation in Kenya. Each of the 71 yoga teachers now working with AYP give free classes to children and adults and earn 10,000 Kenyan shillings, roughly $116 a month and some teachers can earn up to 26,000 shillings, or approx. $302 a month teaching private lessons, the Guardian reports.

[Bernard] Gitonga, who teaches 150 students a week at the Eastleigh orphanage, said yoga allows him to support his parents and afford his own flat. For the orphans at Eastleigh, yoga is the most popular activity after football.

It doesn’t seem to be slowing and it may even be helping to break down social and class barriers.

On the other side of Nairobi, the project is expanding into an 8,000 sq ft centre with heated studios and will train 40 more teachers this year. Francis Mburu, 25, an instructor from the Kangemi slum, said the practice was helping to break down barriers in the city. “I’m from the slum, but I go to teach in someone’s mansion,” he said. “They start seeing you in a different way.”

While there was some initial resistance from the Christian groups – “To us, this was devil worship or someone trying to convert us,” said AYP’s development director Billy Sadia – the spiritual side of the practice is toned down for more of the physical benefits to shine through. Founder Elenson is quick to clear up any confusion.

“What we’re not is yoga missionaries,” said Elenson. “We’re not trying to save people through yoga.”

Still, the practice is life changing for locals like Mburu who told the paper, “I used to be violent because of using drugs. What yoga did was give me a choice.”

What’s maybe more, is it’s letting them know they have one to make.


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Inner Light: Yoga for Weight Loss

17902-weightloss_226_01r1I know I know… Yoga for Weight Loss, really? As if we don’t have enough bombardment in our culture to change our bodies to a standard that is unrealistic and frankly unhealthy. The reason I am bringing this to light, is the point of view Yoga Journal expressed about our “American” culture’s approach to dieting, exercising, and weight loss. I am very often focused on my weight and less about the awareness of my inner self and outer self. This mindset puts me in the perfect position to be manipulated by all the billboards, commercials, tv shows, advertisements, and overall attitude people express about weight. It pushes me into a position to consistently feel bad about the way I look even if I am living a healthy lifestyle, which is why I bring up this article. I found this article on Yoga Journal that has a statement under the title of Inner Light, ” For a radically different approach to weight loss, start not with diet and exercise, but with connecting to yourself.” This intrigued me further so I continued reading. What I found was an amazing approach that one can take around this notion of weight loss. Take a look at what this particular woman learned through her journey and how becoming better connected with yourself can be an amazing feeling.

(Re-posted from Yoga Journal)

weightloss_226_03Gina Kornrumpf had struggled with her weight all her life. The results of her on-again, off-again dieting were discouraging, and only served to fuel her preoccupation with the numbers on her scale. She led an active life—traveling, bike riding, and exercising—but that didn’t seem to help her shed the extra pounds or get her higher-than-normal blood pressure under control. By the time she topped 207 pounds in 2008, she realized she needed a new plan. “A friend of mine is passionate about yoga, and encouraged me to at least consider trying it,” Kornrumpf says. So she registered at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health’s Integrative Weight Loss program, a residential immersion program that incorporates multiple aspects of healthy living in an integrative approach to weight management.

Yoga may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re formulating a weight loss plan, but recent studies linking yoga with mindful eating and weight loss suggest that maybe it should be. The combined effects of the self-acceptance, increased body awareness, and inward reflection that are natural byproducts of a regular yoga practice can increase your ability to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and can have a positive impact, whether you’re significantly overweight, just wanting to lose a few pounds, or struggling with a body-image problem despite being at a healthy weight.

“Yoga may not be a glamorous, quick fix to weight loss, but it creates fundamental shifts that lead to lasting change,” says Ashley Turner, a yoga teacher and psychotherapist in Los Angeles and New York and the creator of the Element DVD Yoga for Weight Loss. Turner says that yoga’s emphasis on self-acceptance is the key to creating such transformation. Unlike traditional methods such as diets and exercise boot camps, yoga philosophy teaches students to approach the body with compassion, understanding, and friendship.

weightloss_226_04r1Turner, whose approach combines asana with nutritional and psychological counseling, notices that her clients and students are bombarded with media messages about what a beautiful body looks like, messages that tell us to look outside ourselves for validation and acceptance. But trying to live up to an ideal that is unrealistic and often unhealthy is likely to backfire, Turner says, especially when used as a motivator for weight loss. John Bagnulo, PhD, nutritionist for Kripalu’s weight loss program agrees, adding that people often develop a false sense of what their body should look like, and yoga can help them work through that. “Western diets encourage people to ask the ‘should’ questions. How long should I work out? How many calories should I eat every day?” he says. Yoga, on the other hand, suggests kinder and ultimately more transformative questions like, How do I feel in my body right now? What choices can I make that are healthier for my whole being?

Liz Dunn, a massage therapist in Cheshire, Connecticut, lost 125 pounds over a year and a half and says that the self-acceptance she learned through yoga was a crucial part of her weight loss journey. “When you’re that size, your thoughts are dominated by things like ‘I can’t sit in that chair,’ and ‘I can’t do this or that.’ But yoga taught me that I’m OK where I am today. Yoga was like a warm, welcoming embrace saying, ‘Let’s find you and take time to just be here, now.'” This, Dunn says, is what enabled her to get past the plateaus that invariably accompany significant weight loss over a long period of time. “I never set weight loss goals; I just integrated yoga into my view of how I was physically in the world,” she says. “That made it OK when I hit those plateaus and wouldn’t lose any weight for weeks, which is when a lot of people give up.”

Turner finds that self-acceptance gives students the courage to inquire within about what is at the root of their struggle with weight, and identify the underlying thoughts or emotional stirrings that cause them discomfort and contribute to actions that aren’t serving their weight loss goals.

When you feel the urge to overeat, Turner suggets asking yourself questions like “What am I really hungry for?” and “What is truly causing me stress, and what do I really need in this moment?” Maybe it’s a walk around the block, or a phone call with a friend. The ability to observe your feelings without judgment becomes a tool that helps you figure out what you need from moment to moment, says Turner. Then, instead of automatically reacting to a stressful situation with established patterns like reaching for comfort food, you can learn to recognize the moment of choice. “We can simply notice that we can choose to eat more or not. Either way, there is no judgment,” she says.

Click here for the rest of the article on Yoga Journal.

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Can Yoga Change the World?

Being a graduate with a BA in Peace Studies, I won’t hesitate to tell you that international development and global issues are some of my biggest passions. With that in mind, I am always looking into possibilities of social change that I can partake in every day. I saw this amazing video on about a documentary coming out. Take a quick look at what some people are doing to better the world and let me know your thoughts? Do you think yoga can have a real and lasting impact in this region of the world?

(Look what I found on Yoga Dork)

‘Township Yogi’ Documentary Aims to Change the Lives of HIV/Aids Sufferers in South Africa

d77b41_24db8e6f132bec7b27d9999d9e9815f0.jpg_srz_320_430_75_22_0.50_1.20_0If you ask us, yoga has the power to positively affect everyone. But when it comes to grand scale, to mass poverty and disease-ridden communities, what difference can yoga make? This is what a team of documentary filmmakers and yogis are asking for this new project‘Township Yogi.’ Can people use yoga to help the townships of South Africa where the effects of crime, poverty, sexual violence, unemployment and HIV/AIDS run high? They’re going to try.

South African screenwriter/producer Elle Matthews is also a yoga practitioner and decided to do her own research on the benefits and effects of yoga on health, especially diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, in small townships like KwaZulu Natal and Inanda. Sadly, a staggeringly high level of Aids, in fact the highest in the world, is found in South Africa, and almost 40% of the HIV/AIDS population live in townships in KwaZulu Natal.

It’s not the miracle cure, but in her studies, Elle found how the practice of yoga can help boost immune system function, reduce stress, improve muscle tone and maybe even slow the progression of the disease. And so Elle and her team are setting up yoga studios and classes in the heart of Inanda, training yoga teachers from within the community. They’re hoping the documentary will raise awareness and eventually raise some funds to support sustaining the project and growing it into other townships in South Africa.

They are asking for your help. Here’s a link to their indiegogo campaign video.

More info on the ‘Township Yogi’ documentary:

The documentary focuses n the setup of grassroots yoga studios in Inanda – where most people have never heard of yoga – and looks at how yoga can be used as a practice of transformation for HIV sufferers and those loving in poor township areas.

‘Township Yogi’ follows five township youths whose lives are transformed through the power of yoga, and explores what repercussions and effects this has in the poverty-stricken, HIV and crime-ridden communities in which they live.

We thank you for your interest in our project. We truly believe yoga has the power to change the lives of individual people in the townships, and to affect their entire communities in a positive way.

Visit their indiegogo campaign page here.

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Yoga and Creative Expression

Over the past two weeks I’ve been intrigued about the idea of incorporating creative expression with my yoga practice. Obviously yoga in itself is a practice of creative expression, but I wanted to delve into it deeper and allow my personal practice to inspire me to do something creative in my life. I wasn’t sure how this would manifest itself initially, but it ended up coming out in the form of paintings and drawings. I am sure you can imagine what this process looked like, but I’ll lay it out for you any way, in case you are feeling the itch of creativity. IMG_7600Essentially, almost every night over the past few days I would lay out my yoga mat in my living room, put on a record I was feeling in that moment and did whatever poses I felt called to do. I usually started with a traditional corpse pose to get centered and then varied with a sequence of floor poses, standing poses, etc. What was so wonderful about this exercise was its ability to use my present moment desire to influence what I wanted to feel in my body and mind. IMG_7598Afterwards I ended my practice with some sort of creative activity, which almost always presented itself as either painting or drawing. Here are some of the art pieces that I created over the past two weeks and were induced by the yoga practices I experienced before them.

In this moment of mixed desire and stepping outside of the box, I wanted to share a recipe of a salad dressing that used to be a guilty pleasure of mine, ranch dressing. As my stomach cannot handle dairy anymore I have missed this once comforting condiment. In doing some solid research I found an amazing vegan ranch dressing. Here it is to share with you wonderful people. If you ever missed this in your diet, no need to worry there’s a delicious alternative right here.

(Re-posted from Fo Reals Life Blog)


Plant Strong Vegan Ranch Dressing (or Dip)​

makes about 2 & 1/4 cup

  • ​1 box Mori-nu Lite Firm Silken Tofu (Or Mori-nu Firm Silken Tofu)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy milk (or your favorite milk alternative)​
  • 1 large clove garlic or two smaller clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons minced chive
  • 3 Tablespoons finely minced parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon minced dill ​

Blend everything but the chives, parsley and dill together in a blender or with your immersion blender until very smooth. Stir in your chopped herbs. Store in an airtight container in your fridge for about a week – I’m being conservative here for safety’s sake but I’ve kept it a few days past that. (You can half the recipe if you don’t think you’ll go through very much of it.) ​

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My Path Back to Health: The Story of a Smiling Dog Yogi

121130_Smiling Dog_334 
Hello, I am a Yogi.

My path back to health began twenty years ago, at a point when I was abandoning it.

I used to be in good shape. I was a former long distance runner, with a handsome athletic build and I regularly practiced aerobics. But my daily work became increasingly demanding and stressful, to the point where I was no longer working to live, but living to work.

I became responsible for managing large teams of people, as well as having to complete my own share of the work and interact with clients who did not care how difficult the work was. The clients with almost no exception, demanded more than what was possible or else they threatened to take the work elsewhere. Concerned for my people, many of whom had families they needed to support, I was working past midnight every day. Eighty to a hundred hour work weeks on average. With increasing frequency I ate convenient fast food meals at my desk. I stopped exercising. I drank more and more coffee to keep my energy level artificially high. Within a few years I was completely addicted to coffee, double bacon cheeseburgers became my comfort food, and sitting at a computer desk became my daily ritual. I was becoming less healthy, and gaining weight.

I moved to Canada for a few years, and had the incredible good fortune and honor of practicing Yoga at the Iyengar Yoga School of Toronto. At this point I had my eyes and mind opened wide. I studied under a remarkable instructor, a direct student of B.K.S. Iyengar himself. She revealed to me countless profound insights into the practice of Yoga that had never before occurred to me. Yes, Yoga can be fun, but that is not what it is for. Yoga is here to save my life.

I moved back to Central Coast California. I became too busy again to do anything but work, and put everything else aside including my health. I continued my slide. I ate more fast food than ever before, drank more coffee than ever before; I became more physically unhealthy than I had ever been. Then concern, I began to get serious about countering the slide.

While continuing to work and live stressfully, I spent years experimenting with cutting out different food groups and food types, attempting to discover some magic ingredient that might be responsible for any of the various health issues I was experiencing. Remarkably, I made several discoveries on my own, and by merely changing my diet I discovered that I could completely eliminate nearly all of my health issues. By pure chance, I contracted and recovered from a bad cold, which after two weeks carried me past my caffeine withdrawal symptoms. I was now free of my addiction to coffee which I soon discovered was directly responsible for causing several debilitating health effects.

121120_Smiling Dog_044 

I personally conquered all of my health issues except one, the weight gain. I tried to eat a more healthy variety of food, and cut down on the fast food. But all that managed to achieve was to slow down the weight gain. It did not stop or reverse it. For a while I tried to ignore the issue, accepting weight gain as an inevitable process of modern living and aging. . .

But then one day, I step on a scale, and I see a number that I cannot believe. It puts frustration and anger into me, *the scale cannot possibly be working right, can it?* I reset the scale and try again and again– the number is real. I am not just overweight, I could be considered obese. For me, this is the last straw. I am now going to embark on a journey, something that I never thought I would attempt in my life. There is only one food group I have not experimented with nor removed, it being the core comfort food of my life– eating meat. On that day I switch cold-turkey (pun intended), to becoming one hundred percent vegan.

After only three days of being vegan, remarkable things began to happen. That drowsy, groggy feeling I had waking up in the morning, and had always had since childhood– is missing. Gone. This was a large part of why I had been drinking coffee in the first place. I was stunned that the experience of being groggy in the morning was a symptom of diet– NOT a normal process of being alive. Furthermore, my perception began to get clearer, and my concentration more focused I was enjoying being a vegan far more than I thought I would. For the first time in twenty years, my weight gain had stopped. Over time, I went from obese, to less obese, to very overweight. . . And still didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. But success I discovered was possible, and the sacrifice to achieve it was not even that bothersome.

Now I set three weight/fitness goals for myself. Two achievable goals, and the last one an impossible goal– to get back to the weight I had twenty years ago when I was a much younger and handsome lad. “Two out of three would not be bad”, I mused to myself. If I could achieve my Goal#1, then I would be happy. If I could achieve my Goal#2, then I would be amazing. And as a fleeting notion, I mused that If I could achieve my Goal#3, then I could achieve absolutely anything in life.

After six months of being vegan and enjoying it thoroughly, the weight loss slowed to a crawl, then to a stop. I had lost twenty pounds, and my weight was just hovering above the Goal#1 number– unable to cross it. Apparently for myself, there was some other missing element to my path to a healthy life. The missing element revealed itself to me.

For five years of living on Central Coast, I had occasionally driven by a beautiful Yoga studio, nestled into a corner of San Luis Obispo, California. I fell in love with it instantly, since on its sign was a picture of a dog which looked exactly like my own beloved dog. And on the sign the canine was whimsically painted performing a “downward dog” yoga pose, exactly as my own dog performs for treats. But the Yoga studio was located far from my house, and there were other Yoga studios much closer to my location. Yet each year I would return to the Smiling Dog, visit and speak with the owner at the time. Somehow she remembered my name each year, which in itself was a remarkable sign to me. Something in the back of my mind would tell me each year that the time was “not yet right”. That something came back at the very end of 2012– “the time is NOW.”

Jonathan, an instructor at Smiling Dog Yoga Studio

Jonathan, an instructor at Smiling Dog Yoga Studio

I began to attend Yoga classes at the Smiling Dog Yoga Studio in San Luis Obispo, California. The Smiling Dog Studio offers a wide variety of Yoga styles, with many instructors. I took the brochure and checked off each one as I began to attend classes, trying them all. Each class and instructor offered a unique insight, a fresh approach. A new perspective.

My body began changing again. Within a couple weeks, I got on a scale, and finally got across my first milestone. Goal#1 achieved done, complete. I was so happy, encouraged and grateful. But it took so much effort to finally get here, I wondered if Goal#2 was even possible?

No more taking Yoga casually once a week. I signed up for an unlimited pass. I charted my classes from the brochure, and started to practice Yoga every day with a couple days left open for rest. It felt good. After a while I attempted two Yoga classes back to back in the same day– this felt profoundly different. Vinyasa followed by Yin. At first I could barely manage it, and was exhausted afterward. In time, I got stronger, my cardio improved, and I began to power through them. I no longer needed rest days. My physical strength began to shoot upward, and my weight began to peel off.

A short time later, I was approaching Goal#2. Touching Goal#2. Crushing Goal#2, and not stopping. No time to linger and celebrate. I was now in a cruise mode. I was on the attack. About two months of wonderful, intense, blissful, focused Yoga practice at Smiling Dog Yoga Studio, I had peeled off thirty pounds. Fifty in total from the beginning of my vegan journey. I took a photo of the number on my scale. After twenty years, I was ME again. The impossible Goal#3 achieved.

Another sunny, glorious day at Smiling Dog. Took a class. Was dressing afterward in the change room. . . In the mirror, I had trouble cinching on my pants. After a while I thought, “What the heck is wrong with my belt?”. I look down. There is no hole in the belt where it needs to go. A new frontier. Today is a good day.


Fellow yogi friend

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Later this month, day and night will be of equal length once again. Though this moment is only fleeting, it reminds us that after every time of imbalance, there is a period of balance. As we seek to bring our own lives into balance, this month, we challenge ourselves with a daily focus on vrksasana, or tree pose. As we build our endurance and our focus over the course of this month, we can experience the host of benefits that accompany that singular attention to finding balance. Barbara Kaplan Herring notes, “Vrksasana strengthens and tones the legs and feet, opens the hips, groins, and chest, and fortifies your Muladhara (first or “root”) Chakra. Through the practice of balance, you develop poise, concentration, and coordination-as well as steady and calm your mind. Practicing Tree Pose brings you back into your body, connects you to the earth, and helps you experience safety and stillness.” To read more of Kaplan Herring’s thoughts on vrksasana, click here

Do come back to the blog throughout the month and keep us posted on how you are doing with vrksasana. And if you find that as the month progresses, you’d like a more challenging balance sequence, click here for more.

paired tree

Thanks to Yoga Journal for the following step-by-step instructions:

Stand in Tadasana/Mountain Pose. Shift your weight slightly onto the left foot, keeping the inner foot firm to the floor, and bend your right knee. Reach down with your right hand and clasp your right ankle.

Draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh; if possible, press the right heel into the inner left groin, toes pointing toward the floor. The center of your pelvis should be directly over the left foot.

Rest your hands on the top rim of your pelvis. Make sure the pelvis is in a neutral position, with the top rim parallel to the floor.

Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Firmly press the right foot sole against the inner thigh and resist with the outer left leg. Press your hands together in anjali mudra. Gaze softly at a fixed point in front of you on the floor about 4 or 5 feet away. (For a more challenging variation, you can raise your arms above your head, and/or close your eyes.)

Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Step back to Tadasana/Mountain Pose with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed.

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Equilibrium and Equanimity for the Equinox

As day and night come into balance, we too feel the pull to re-align and re-commit to finding balance in our lives. In that spirit, this month, we’d like to share two recent pieces from Yoga Journal online. The first, written by Roger Cole, for beginners and advanced practitioners alike, explores how to still the wobbling and create a sense of fluid stability in one-legged poses. The second article draws on the Anusara Yoga tradition and includes a challenging balance sequence from Desiree Rumbaugh for intermediate and advanced practitioners.

Plumb Perfect by Roger Cole

“When we balance, we align our body’s center of gravity with the earth’s gravitational field. Quite literally, we place ourselves in physical equilibrium with a fundamental force of nature. But we can’t achieve this harmony by remaining absolutely still. Instead, we must refresh our balance moment after moment. The sustained effort to center and recenter, when successful, brings not only our flesh and bones into balance but also our nerve impulses, thoughts, emotions, and very consciousness. Hence, we feel calm. Equilibrium brings equanimity.

jonathan dancerLack of equilibrium brings just the opposite. There is something uniquely frustrating about losing our balance in one-legged postures. It goes beyond the instinctive fear of falling and strikes directly at the ego. After all, we rarely tumble to the ground and hurt ourselves; we simply put our other foot down. Yet that simple act can be maddening.

If we fall out of Vrksasana when practicing alone, we often hear an internal critic saying, “What’s wrong with you? You should be able to do this!” If we’re in a class, the same fall can bring a sense of humiliation that’s greatly disproportionate to the physical event. We feel out of control when we lose our balance, and the ego hates to lose control—especially when other people are around to see it.

kendra tree

Despite the frustration, one-legged balancing asanas offer so many benefits that it’s well worth the trouble to practice them. In addition to promoting concentration and calm, these poses strengthen our muscles and build our coordination and balance, improving our ways of standing and walking as well as how we perform many other everyday activities. And these benefits might actually prolong our lives, helping us avoid the falls that often lead to injuries and death among the elderly.

The three essential elements of balance are alignment, strength, and attention. Alignment of the body with gravity is crucial; it makes balance physically possible. Strength gives us the power to create, hold, and adjust alignment. And attention continually monitors alignment so we know how to correct it from one moment to the next.”

To read the rest of Cole’s article, which expands on these three essential elements of balance, click here.


A Fine Balance by Desiree Rumbaugh
“Students of Anusara yoga often have beautiful, awe-inspiring backbends. With their fingers spread wide and their hearts soaring, they convey immense freedom and joy-even in “baby backbends” like Cobra or Locust.

That’s because Anusara founder John Friend teaches that it’s not just the shape of a pose that can make it magnificent or therapeutic, but the energy and intention behind it, as well. So in addition to learning alignment, Anusara students also learn about Muscular Energy (hugging the muscles to the bones) and Organic Energy (extending energy out).

jonathan side plank balance

This sequence eases you gracefully and playfully into Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose), a pose that combines an arm balance with a backbend. It also enables you to work with the two types of energy. “By first engaging your muscles and drawing your energy in, you’ll be strong in the outward expression, reaching far beyond your perceived boundaries or limitations,” says Desiree Rumbaugh, an Anusara teacher based in Scottsdale, Arizona, who created this sequence. “Even if you can’t get into the full pose today, the variation allows you to taste the richness and freedom that happen when you infuse an asana with your energy.”

Click here for Rumbaugh’s full 10-pose balance sequence, including photographs and detailed instructions for each pose.

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Yoga in the News: Veterans Benefit from Yoga

I have been thinking lately about what role yoga has played in my life since being introduced to it many years ago. My journey has evolved from taking a yoga course in college and gaining a student perspective, to using yoga as an exercise to loose weight and improve my health, to using its restorative properties to support a sense of balance in my stressful life, to what it is now a fun creative approach to trying different classes and seeing how they benefit my life. What role does yoga play in your life? With that in mind, I found this interesting article about the role yoga plays in some lives who hold heavy burdens of physical and emotional stress. Take a look at yoga in the news.

USARIEM(Reposted from Yoga Journal)

Veterans Benefit from Yoga Nidra Technique

Over the past few years, more and more veterans have been practicing yoga to heal both physical and emotional woundsfrom war.  Trainers in iRest, a yoga nidra technique developed by psychologist and yoga scholar Richard Miller, hope that this protocol will soon be part of Veteran’s Health Administration programs as a complementary healing modality for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, insomnia and substance abuse.

Yoga nidra, a guided meditation practice done lying down, is often called yogic sleep. The iRest technique further puts special emphasis on helping to resolve pain and suffering through intention-setting, breath and energy awareness, neutralization of negative beliefs and emotions, and guidance to experience peace and well-being.

Last week, Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) visited the first test site of the iRest program, at the Sepulveda VA hospital in Los Angeles, where the second of two eight-week runs of the protocol are just finishing up. Organizers hope to earn government funding to expand the program beyond California.

“This practice is proving to be a powerful healing experience,” says Nikki T. Baker, Associate Chief, Public and Congressional Relations of the VA Greater Los Angeles. “The veterans have communicated how much they enjoy the practice, and that they are using it in their daily lives.”

Kelly Boys, who administered the iRest training to staff at the Sepulveda VA, says that the practice takes people into a deep state of relaxation in which they feel more connected to themselves, and experience feelings of peace and love. From there, healing from trauma can begin.

“We’re delivering meditative teachings of yoga, but we’re doing it in a way that is easily accessible and focuses on veterans’ first-hand experiences,” she explains.  “We help them find a place within themselves of inner resource and wholeness, from which they can address their addictions, anxiety and other troubles.”

Baker says the Sepulveda VA is already planning to add more iRest courses for veterans, and is considering new ways to apply the practice, such as working with newly returning veterans in the primary care clinics.

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What’s Your Yoga Fantasy?

I’ve been talking a lot with fellow students at Smiling Dog about the dreams of yoga retreats, or for some just enough time to fit in a daily yoga routine into their busy schedule. This article speaks to your inner yoga fantasy, whether it be big or small.

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(Re-posted from Yoga Journal)

My yoga fantasy once looked a lot like this: I’d go to India for a few months to completely immerse myself in the practice. I’d be up at dawn to meditate, salute the sun, and practice for several hours. Then, I’d sit at the feet of an amazing teacher (Mr. Iyengar, I think) and hear about the philosophy and methodology straight from the source. I’d eat a healthy, vegan lunch and have some free time to work on theseva chore I’d been assigned, something gross like cleaning floors or toilets. In the evening, there would be more practice. I would get a spiritual name, and I’d start to see visions in my meditations. My kundalini would awaken, and I’d be able to come back to my life and share the story. I would be a real yogi.

It was a nice fantasy. But I knew it was just that—an unrealistic fantasy. Even years ago when I was single and had no obligations outside of my 9 to 5 job, I didn’t have the time, money, or courage for such a trip. And, let’s be honest, as nice as it sounds I probably would not last very long in an ashram in India. I like modern conveniences. I struggle with my 10-minutes-a-day meditation practice. And I’m not a fan of cleaning even my own floors.

121130_Smiling Dog_195Of course, I’ve also fantasized about going on a yoga retreat in a tropical setting with plenty of time for hiking to waterfalls and lounging by the beach with a fruity drink in my hand (preferably with one of those cute paper umbrellas). Who hasn’t?

Now that I’m a mom with lots of responsibilities, both fantasies seem pretty out of reach—if not downright comical. It might happen one day, but right now it seems like such a distant dream I’ve decided to focus on a very different yoga fantasy.

I just want to wake up an hour before my daughter and my husband start to stir, unroll my mat in my living room floor, and have an hour of uninterrupted practice. It’s definitely not as exciting as my former fantasies, but the realization that it’s within my grasp makes it even more appealing. (I just have to wait for that magical night when my 9-month-old sleeps all night long in her crib—it has to been soon, right?) I know it’s going to happen. And when it does, it’s going to feel as luxurious as a trip to Costa Rica and as enlightening as a month in an Indian ashram.

What’s your yoga fantasy?

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Your Brain on Yoga.

121130_Smiling+Dog_240-2252297854-OOn rainy days like this one, I can’t help but try to incorporate reading in my day in some way. Recently, I’ve picked up a new release from Britain, How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry. This wonderful book has changed my perspective on yoga and meditation and how it relates to our brain development. Have you ever wondered what your brain is like on yoga??

Here is a quote from the book, (page 35, on my ipad edition)

“Studies have shown that the brains of those who regularly meditate or practise similar behaviours show permanent, beneficial changes. New neural pathways and connections proliferate. The pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain associated with concentration, measurably thickens. The insula, the part of the brain that tracks the interior state of the body, as well as the emotional states of other people, also grows…”

121130_Smiling+Dog_130-2252268232-OCan you believe this? Our brain actually thickens and grows! This area of the brain they are speaking of has all kinds of benefits if utilized.

“…Thus the practice of focusing attention for the purpose of self-observation literally strengthens and grows the brain. That in turn makes us more self-aware and thus better able to soothe ourselves, and it also means that we are able to empathize better with others. Practising self-observation helps to keep our brains flexible. Using it, we can become more aware of mental processes, without repressing or denying our feelings.”

I am sure all of us who have practiced yoga even for a day have experienced at least one benefit it has had on your life, but to see how neurologically speaking it actually increases your ability to empathize with others and soother ourselves amazes me. To read more about this there is a wonderful article about the book and its relationship to yoga. Click here for more.

If you are really feeling this brain stuff, and into the amazing world of neural pathways and growing insulas, then try out this beautiful brain smoothie recipe. It will help that noggin get all of its delicious nutrients to or from your yoga practice.

brain boosting smoothie_1The Brain-Beautiful Smoothie
  • 1 + 1/2 cup mixed berries (I used blueberry, blackberry and raspberry)
  • 1/2 banana
  • 2 cups kale leaves, hand torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp honey or agave nectar
This recipe will make two large smoothies with refills.

For the full recipe click here.

(Reposted from Inspired Edibles)

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