Ever wonder why it’s easy to call forth self-discipline one moment, but difficult in another? Several years ago, researcher Dr. Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida, pondered the same question. To understand why self-discipline can be elusive, Dr. Baumeister and his team ran an experiment: they wanted to know whether or not self-discipline was like a muscle—something that could be weakened with overuse. To test this question, they brought a group of hungry subjects into their lab and had each subject enter into a room with a bowl of cookies and a bowl of radishes on a table. They told half of the group not to eat the cookies, but instead to eat the radishes. The other group could eat whatever they wanted. (They all ate the cookies.) Then, immediately following this experience, the subjects were brought into another room, where they were asked to complete a complex math problem. In actuality, the math problem was insolvable—the researchers were actually measuring how long the subjects persevered in trying to complete it.
Here, find insights, teachings, and explorations into all things yoga.
Bo Forbes, guest blogger
According to clinical psychologist and yoga therapist Bo Forbes, the best tactic for overcoming fear and anxiety is to run toward them rather than away. What do we do once we catch up with our fears? As Bo explains in this month’s feature article, the wisdom of tribal societies can offer a context and container for moving forward.
Have you ever attempted to fight off your fear but, no matter how hard you try, it still defeats you? Have you tried to outrun your fear and thought you’d left it in the dust, only to have it overtake you just as you’re starting a new creative project? Or have you felt so paralyzed by fear that you can’t make the smallest move forward, even toward self-care? If so, you’re not alone.
Fear is a universal human experience. Everyone has it, from the guy next door to your yoga teacher to the Dalai Lama, who wrestled with a fear of flying. We can’t expect to get rid of it; nor would we want to, because fear houses the seeds of our potential. Yet fear causes us great physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. So what’s the alternative to fighting it, fleeing from it, or letting it freeze us in place? How do we uncover its seeds and nourish them?
Do you suffer from anxiety, poor digestion, or lack of focus? When life’s demands overwhelm us, Angela Wilson, Manager of Evidence-Based Yoga Curriculum for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, explains in her R&R retreat lecture Cultivating Inner Strength, our nervous system gets out of balance. Through the practices of yoga meditation, and mindfulness, however, we can build resilience in order to be fully aware of all our experiences.
As Angela explains, there are two main branches of the nervous system. There’s the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight response in reaction to stressful situations. It’s a hot, reactive state, which increases heart rate and primes the body for action. The other branch is the parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated when the body is relaxed. The parasympathetic supports a cooling, restful and state. It soothes the system, aids in digestion, and can be fostered through yoga practice.
That girl isn’t pretty enough to be that annoying.
WHAT? WHAT did you just think? Who ARE you?
Oh, right. I’m me. Hi. My name is Valerie and I have a judgmental brain feed that reads like a cross between Mean Girls,The Hangover, and Heathers. It’s stunning to me. But there it is. Judge, judge, judge, all the livelong day.
Swami Kripalu once said, “Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart.” I’m pretty sure that judging others also breaks our heart. That’s partly because we bear the brunt of the poison that burbles up to form a negative judgment, and partly because we’re all energetically connected. I’m convinced that, on some level,we feel each other’s psychic barbs, especially if we intentionally throw them. They’re also the seeds of violence and war.
Harsh, constant judging creates barriers—which at times can actually be helpful. When judgments protect us from maniacs who cause harm, that’s good (yep, I’m judging!). But we also use judgments to protect our hearts from other scary things, like, you know, love. If I’m judging you, then I don’t have to take you in. I don’t have to need you. I don’t have to be vulnerable to you. I’m tough—I’ve got my barbed wire thoughts and they’re protecting me! (Or not.)
Iona Smith, guest blogger
Like most of us, I would not want to relive my teenage years—unless I could do so knowing what I know now. Even so, I’ve been drawn to working with teenagers in my adult life. As a high school biology teacher back in my twenties and in my current role as a yoga educator in high schools, I’ve been able to pursue my passion for providing teenagers with tools for coping—tools I wish I’d had at their age.
Four years ago, I helped the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL) launch a pilot research study on how yoga affects teenagers. To date, we’ve found that our Yoga in the Schools program does indeed have beneficial effects on students’ resilience and ability to manage anger. As I head into my fifth year teaching yoga in a high school setting, I’m confident that I’m providing students with the wisdom and tools to help them navigate their teenage years in healthier, more skillful ways.
Amy Weintraub, MFA, E-RYT 500, is the author of the books Yoga for Depression and Yoga Skills for Therapists, and creator of the award-winning DVD series LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues. Founder of the LifeForce Yoga® Healing Institute, she offers professional trainings in LifeForce Yoga for Mood Management, and speaks at medical and psychological conferences internationally. www.yogafordepression.com
Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A I inspire others to use yoga practices to remove whatever blocks them from knowing their true nature.
Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.
A I came to my first yoga teacher training at Kripalu in 1992 to deepen my own sadhana. I left with a passion to share with others the practice that had literally saved my life and had slowly helped me live a life free of medication for depression.
Q What do you love about teaching?
Dirt · y [adj.] Appearing as if soiled; dark-colored; dingy; murky.
Pu · ri · fied [verb] 1. To rid of impurities; cleanse. 2. To rid of foreign of objectionable elements. 3. To free from sin, guilt, or other defilement.
Mud surrounded the house where I grew up in a small village in Singapore. I spent many hours walking, playing, and daydreaming along dirt roads. My mom used to make me wash my hands and feet before I could eat or sleep and often yelled when I got myself dirty again. So at a young age, I began to form a judgment about being dirty and clean. Later, in my adult life, that judgment transformed into an invisible quest to be pure, to be good, and to be rid of stains in character.
I was always fascinated with martial arts. Growing up with two brothers and three other cousin-brothers, I watched a lot of kung fu films from Hong Kong where heros and heroines flew through the trees, defeating villains and restoring justice. I loved seeing how the body could quickly assume delicate yet powerful postures and defy gravity with leaps and somersaults. I especially admired the power and beauty that the women possessed. It seemed as though their diligent practices purified their characters—from weakness and doubt to strength and confidence.
When I was 14, I stumbled across a book filled with yoga poses. Fascinated by how flexible the people in the pictures looked, I began imitating them. Fusing martial arts and yoga, I improvised movement flows to demonstrate the sharpness and flexibility of my body. Through the flow, I would relive the feelings that I had when I watched kung fu movies—a sense of accomplishment, transformation, and purification.
Yoga and Ayurveda are two “sister” practices that originated in India thousands of years ago. Now, a lot of us are familiar with yoga, and have experienced firsthand—through postures, breathwork, and self-inquiry—its profound benefits. Yet many of us are not as familiar with Ayurveda. We might have heard about it in conjunction with yoga, but are not quite sure how, exactly. In her R&R retreat workshop Yoga and Ayurveda, Senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Jurian Hughes points out that yoga means union in Sanskrit, and a definition of Ayurveda is the wisdom of life. Explored together, these complementary practices can offer us transformative tools that foster greater health and vitality. And as Jurian also explains, integrating Ayurvedic principles into your yoga practice can create a deeper, richer experience on the mat that you can take with you off the mat as well.
“Ayurveda isn’t a one-size-fits-all philosophy,” Jurian says. “We’re constantly in flux throughout the day: our energy level and our mood, for example, are different first thing in the morning than they are at noon.” Ayurveda, then, is a personalized, intuitive health philosophy. According to Ayurvedic principles, each of us has a unique constitution governed by our physical and emotional makeup, as well as our lifestyle—the foods we eat, what time we go to sleep. These constitutions are called doshas, and they are linked to the elements. The doshas are vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (earth and water).
In this monthly series running through 2012, community members recall milestone moments to commemorate and reflect on Kripalu Yoga.
In 1972, a small residential yoga retreat called Kripalu Center was founded in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania, by Amrit Desai and several of his students from the Philadelphia area. Desai had emigrated to the United States from India, where he was a close disciple of the yoga master Swami Kripalu. Over the next 40 years, Desai’s students integrated Swami Kripalu’s core teachings with psychology, science, and Western approaches to healing and self-development, creating groundbreaking programs and approaches to well-being. Today, Kripalu’s curriculum, professional training, and yoga research continue to be informed by the lineage of Kripalu Yoga. To commemorate the 40-year milestone, we asked several teachers and community members to reflect on what Kripalu Yoga means to them.
As a Kripalu Yoga teacher trainer, there is nothing quite so moving to me as getting to witness yoga-teachers-to-be at the end of their training practicing meditation in motion. At the end of an intensive, life-changing month, I get to witness a room full of souls allowing their sacred yoga prayers to unfold. Each one unique, each one a beautiful gift. In these moments, I have to pinch myself and say, “Really? I get to do this?”
—Jurian Hughes, Kripalu School of Yoga teacher trainer
Goddess Pose, or Deviasana, represents the feminine force that created the universe. Hara is a Japanese martial arts term meaning “center of being,” and it refers to the stomach, or solar plexus, where the body’s vital healing energy is generated. Goddess Pose, in combination with breathing from the hara, is a powerful way to revitalize and renew the body, mind, and spirit. When the body’s hara is clear and open, vital energy can freely move down through the pelvis and legs and into the earth for grounding. However, fear, pain, and anxiety can cause this energy to become blocked. Goddess pose with hara breathing opens up the hips and chest so that power, strength, and energy can circulate freely.
Ready to try it out? Here’s how: