Twists are some of the most versatile—and requested—poses in the yoga-posture canon, and for good reason. There are numerous benefits to twisting, which makes it an integral part of a well-rounded asana practice. “Twists can help us regain a sense of homeostasis, the body’s relaxation response, which allows us to come back to balance from […]
Where Yoga and Shamanism Meet, Bold Directions Unfold
In 2006, Kripalu faculty member Ray Crist was recovering from a debilitating illness. A yoga teacher, martial artist, and Reiki practitioner, Ray had spent four years traveling the world seeking those who could heal him. His quest took him from the Buddhist monasteries on the borders of Cambodia to the clinics of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. But when he ventured into the jungles of Peru to study with Incan shamans, the experience opened new doors of perception—and healing—within himself.
Guided by Don Manuel Portugal, a shaman in Cuzco, Peru, Ray discovered the culture, mythology, and practices of Incan shamanism. “Shamans are the medicine people of their tribe,” Ray says. “Their methods of healing center on the ‘energy body’ and plant medicine.” The deeper he delved into Incan shamanism, the more he began to notice profound similarities with yoga. “Yogis and shamans view the world as a physical world,” he explains. “Traumatic experiences are embedded in the body—near a joint, muscle, meridian, internal organ, or chakra. Yoga and shamanism help us delve into the root of our traumas to find healing on physical and emotional levels.” Ray began incorporating shamanistic principles into his yoga practice, imbuing it with a new richness. “Shamanism brought to my practice a direct awareness of energy moving through my body, a visceral understanding of what each asana offers,” he says.
How does yoga philosophy apply to healthful eating? According to Kripalu Lead Nutritionist, Annie B. Kay, MS, RD, RYT, in her R&R retreat lecture, The Yoga of Nutrition, examining our nutritional choices through a lens of mindfulness can help us become more aware and empowered.
When there’s balance in all areas of our life, Annie says, when we’re eating whole plant-based foods, getting enough physical activity, and managing our stress, we are nurturing our whole beings—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and nourishing our deepest selves.
One of the cornerstones of the yoga of nutrition, Annie points out, is mindful eating—slowing down, paying attention to what’s happening by focusing the sensations occurring while we eat. “Are you a fast eater, or do you savor every bite? Do you zone out and eat in front of the TV?” Annie asks. These questions can lead us into a new understanding of what guides our choices and allows us to examine our cravings.
Is your to-do list a mile high? Having constant challenges with your boss or partner? Oftentimes, the stress we accumulate in our demanding lives seems unruly. But according to Dr. Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads the Kripalu Transforming Stress R&R retreat workshop, the ancient philosophy of yoga holds the key to creating more sustainable, stress-free life.
When things seem completely overwhelming, we often feel powerless and stuck. And when our ego is under stress, it can make us reactive and defensive; resistant to change. Yet as Susan points out, “20 percent of stress is what happens to us; 80 percent is how we deal with it.” So how can we go about transforming stress? Start with being mindful.
Many of us try to figure out life and its intricacies solely with our heads. This, as yoga teaches us, can only take us so far. Through mindfulness practices, which include yoga and meditation, we can step back and examine the bigger picture of our stress-filled situations. This allows us to create the space necessary to connect to all aspects of our being—head, heart, and spirit—during challenging times.
How can we suffer less when faced with tough situations? Think about those times when things don’t go as planned or hoped for—at work, for example, or in a relationship. In these moments, we often wish that things were different: “If only _________.”
But, as Kripalu Senior Life Coach Aruni Nan Futuronsky states in her R&R retreat workshop Riding the Waves, yoga teaches us that we can’t control reality. But, when we allow ourselves to simply be in the present moment, softening our grip and letting go of expectations, we can begin to open our perspectives.
As Aruni says, allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is we’re feeling with any given experience can help us find equanimity with whatever life gives us. From that foundation, we can shift our awareness from struggling to acceptance.
One powerful way to ride the waves of life’s challenges is one of the benchmarks of the Kripalu tradition. It’s a practice called BRFWA, which stands for Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow. Next time you feel anxious or uncertain about a situation you’re facing, try the following techniques and see what happens.