Yoga

Here, find insights, teachings, and explorations into all things yoga.

Posted on August 14th, 2012 by in Yoga

Ancient Wisdom on a New Path

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.

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Posted on August 13th, 2012 by in Ask the Expert, Yoga

Ask the Expert: Movement and Meditation

In this edition of Ask the Expert, Cristie Newhart, yoga advisor for Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs, deconstructs two foundational postures—Triangle and Standing Forward Fold—and explains why meditation doesn’t just have to happen on the cushion.

When I practice Standing Forward Fold, I tend to hyperextend my legs. Any recommendations for practicing this pose safely?

There are many reasons why people hyperextend the knees, and most of the reasons are due to the relationship of hamstrings to the quads. It’s important to practice in such a way that the muscles around the knee protect and stabilize the knee. In most cases, it’s helpful to lift the quadriceps muscles in the front of the leg. Also, remember to lengthen the front of the body as you fold. The top of the pelvis tilts forward as you bend at the hip crease—think of the way an old-fashioned Rolodex flips forward. Don’t be overly concerned with your torso coming to your thighs—instead think in terms of spinal length. Be aware of the support of abdominal muscles below the navel. This support allows for greater flexibility in the lumbar spine. If your arms don’t reach the floor, try resting them on blocks rather than letting them dangle. Pressing the hands into a stable surface can help you find more length in the spine. Please do not be afraid to practice this posture with bent knees until you have strengthened your hamstrings.

I don’t have time to meditate for more than 5 or 10 minutes early in the morning. Is that enough?

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Posted on July 24th, 2012 by in Studies, News, and Trends, Yoga

Hot Yoga: How Hot is Too Hot?

It’s been a record-breaking summer so far, with early-season heat waves pushing temperatures along the typically seasonable Northeast into the upper 90s and past 100. Those of us who are fans of hot yoga— whether we’re talking about mildly heated vinyasa or Bikram, where the room is set to a sweaty 105 degrees F—know that the practice can be a welcome relief in the cold winter months. But what about when temperatures outside the studio are hotter than temperatures in?

Whether induced by vigorous exercise, high heat, or both, sweating is the body’s way of cooling us down, by absorbing heat and releasing it into the atmosphere. The process of evaporation is key to this function; that’s why doctors say to avoid wiping sweat if you can, letting it dissipate on its own instead. (If you’re dripping, however, you might as well wipe; anything that hits the floor won’t get a chance to cool you down.) But when we’re so used to “sweating it out,” how do we know when hot may be getting a little over the top?

It’s a simple matter of self-awareness, says Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga and a fan of hot yoga. “Sweating is detoxifying, while the heat itself can make our bodies more amenable to certain postures,” he says, noting that people with high blood pressure or heart conditions should use extra caution—or, even better, get the okay from a doctor first—when doing yoga in high heat. The downsides, of course, include the risk of dehydration and becoming overly exhausted. “Levels of tolerance are very individual, and can vary day by day,” he says.

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Posted on July 16th, 2012 by in Outside Our Walls, Yoga

Outside Our Walls: Yoga Everywhere

In this series, we hear from recipients of KYTA’s Teaching for Diversity and Rachel Greene Memorial Fund grants, as they change the world one posture at a time.

Melinda Atkins, Guest Blogger

Introducing yoga to a group of middle-school students is an enlightening experience, especially after teaching yoga full-time to high-school students. Middle-school minds are more impressionable, and their bodies more malleable, than those of their older counterparts. Eager to learn discipline, most are still children who want to be grown, and the success the practice rewards them with along the way encourages their self-confidence.

Today’s student typically suffers from poor posture, poor eating habits, and poor self-esteem. For middle schoolers, with an overt awareness of their changing bodies, classroom performance is hindered. With surges and shifts in hormones, along with excessive technological stimuli, students are hard-pressed when it comes to focus. This ultimately causes stress and, for many—especially those struggling to assimilate—failure.

Years of teaching high-school English has instilled in me an empathetic view of the physical, mental, and emotional demands involved in adolescent development. Armed with a master’s degree in Education and an understanding of the impact a pedagogic approach to yoga would have on adolescents, I created a semester-long yoga course and taught it as part of a high-school curriculum.

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Posted on July 13th, 2012 by in Nutrition, Yoga

The Yoga of Nutrition

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.

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Posted on July 12th, 2012 by in Yoga

Celebrate the Day with Sun Salutations

Imagine waking up with the rising sun and experiencing the essence of this most auspicious time of day. The Sun Salutation, traditionally done in the morning, raises one’s consciousness by awakening the mind, body, and senses. The 12 postures in the series effectively stretch, strengthen, and massage all of the joints, muscles, and internal organs […]

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Posted on July 9th, 2012 by in Ask the Expert, Yoga

Ask the Expert: Holding the Pose

In this edition of Ask the Expert, Kripalu Yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist, and senior faculty member Janna Delgado answers your questions about the practice of yoga, exercises for the feet, and yoga-class etiquette.

When coming into Upward Facing Dog, how should I be utilizing my leg and abdominal muscles? Also, can you describe where my shoulders and arms should be in reference to my neck and head?

The leg muscles provide the power for the pose, so they should be engaged and active. The strength of the legs also supports the spine and protects the lower back. The knees are lifted and the toes are pointed, with the tops of the feet pressing firmly down into the floor. Maintain an internal rotation of the upper legs—the outer thighs should roll toward the floor in order to broaden the sacrum and prevent compression of the low back.

Core engagement is the other safeguard for the low back. You want to lift the perineum up, and draw the solar plexus in and up. The sacrum and tailbone lengthen down toward the heels, and the buttocks are soft, not clenched. This helps distribute the arc of the back bend evenly throughout the upper, middle, and lower back.

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Posted on July 7th, 2012 by in Yoga

Big Yoga

Yoga for the People—All 500,000 of them

Yoga is getting bigger—literally. The quarterly conferences run by Yoga Journal have grown considerably over the last decade, with the more popular teachers leading packed classes in giant ballrooms. Now in its third year, yoga and music festival Wanderlust runs four sold-out summer weekends throughout the country, attracting tens of thousands of people to group classes led by Seane Corn, Rodney Yee, and others. A few weeks ago, 500,000 Manhattan yogis gathered to celebrate the summer solstice in the middle of Times Square. And coming up, the GLBL Yoga Project, set for August 16, will turn Central Park into a giant yoga studio, with 15,000 yogis practicing to live music.

There are great advantages to practicing yoga in a large group, says Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga. “A yoga practice is called sangha, which means ‘community coming together,’” he says. “And there’s no doubt that our personal, spiritual, and individual growth is quickened when we have a community of like-minded souls reflecting back to us, with honesty, who we are.” Group experiences, says Devarshi—who recently returned from teaching at the Wanderlust Festival in Stratton, Vermont—can be especially conducive to forming an energy that’s much bigger than what we experience on our own. He points to the musician MC Yogi’s performances at Wanderlust. “His songs brought people together singing, screaming, moving,” he says. “It was so inspiring, I was sobbing.”

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