In this edition of Ask the Expert, Angela Wilson, a senior Kripalu faculty member and Project Leader for the Institute for Extraordinary Living’s Frontline Providers program, answers questions about the health benefits of meditation, the best time to meditate, and more. Does meditation have any actual health benefits? What does meditating do for my parasympathetic [...]
In his book Light on Pranayama, B. K. S. Iyengar writes: “Prana is the breath of life of all beings in the universe.” It’s no surprise, then, that pranayama, or the regulation of breath, is an essential part of yoga practice. In fact, it’s unusual to enter into a yoga class that doesn’t have at [...]
An excerpt from The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Wisdom (Bantam 2006).
In this book, Steven Cope, MSW, investigates the wisdom tradition of yoga from the point of view of six contemporary characters—modern yogis struggling with issues of love, work, addictions, careers, and unfulfilled longings of many varieties. Weaving together narrative story and expository teachings, the book brings alive the rich, and very relevant, applications of yoga’s ancient teachings.
The following piece, “The Spirit of the Strivers,” is taken from the prologue.
In this piece, Stephen Cope, Director of Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, investigates how and why practices like yoga and meditation create a sense of well-being and ease.
Recently, I was talking on the phone with my friend Sandy, who had just gone through an unexpected relationship meltdown. Her partner, Tim, she said, had suddenly developed “intimacy issues” and had fled the relationship “like a rat off a sinking ship.”
For an hour or so, we talked about the difficulties of her situation. She expressed her sense of disorientation and sadness. Toward the end, she said something interesting: “Thank God I have my yoga practice.” I could feel the gratitude in her voice. “It’s a little island of sanity. Like coming home. That hour between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. has become the most important hour of my day.”
Where we look for answers to this question can make all the difference between fantasies and dreams come true.
I’ve been teaching at Kripalu for more than 15 years now—and throughout most of that time, I’ve been Kripalu’s Senior Scholar-in-Residence. Each year, I teach hundreds of people in hatha yoga programs, in yoga philosophy programs, and in personal growth programs. Sometimes I feel like I’ve inadvertently landed on one of the great pilgrimage routes of modern times, seeing—as we do here at Kripalu—a river of more than 32,000 contemporary seekers a year: modern versions, sometimes, of the ribald seekers of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or the more innocent characters of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Each of these contemporary pilgrims brings along his or her own story, of course, and each story is compelling. But over the years I’ve come to see that these stories, unique as they are on the surface, often have one central longing at their core, one insistent question: How can I live fully?
Our seekers phrase this question in so many different ways: How can I live a passionate and authentic human life? How can I discover the full potential of this human mind, body, spirit?
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.
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.
Scientists Offer an Explanation of Why Yoga Increases Well-Being
With the ever-growing amount of scientific studies conducted in the field of yoga research, it’s no surprise that we’re starting to get answers to the question: why, exactly, does yoga work? Research has shown that yoga improves symptoms of a variety of conditions, providing relief from depression and anxiety, diabetes, chronic pain, and even epilepsy. Recently, the National Institutes of Health awarded several large grants to the study of yoga.
One such grant, given to Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, explores the impact of yoga on the health of women with breast cancer. Another grant, awarded to Kripalu-affiliated researcher Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, assistant professor in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, supports a study to investigate whether Kripalu Yoga prevents or diminishes high school students’ use of illicit substances.
Ashley Winseck, Guest Blogger
Kripalu Yoga teacher Debbie Cohen has two passions: yoga and teaching children. So when a Boston public school came to her wanting a yoga program for its inner-city students, Debbie was crushed to have to tell them she couldn’t do it.
“I couldn’t afford to go out there and teach yoga, and I felt so bummed about that,” she recalls.
Because she wasn’t in a position at that point in her career to volunteer her time, the idea of a yoga program in the inner-city schools went onto Debbie’s back burner, for another time.
Debbie has been teaching yoga for 15 years, but it was just three years ago that she was able to combine her passion for yoga and her passion for teaching children when she joined forces with Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL). Working closely with IEL faculty, she helped develop and implement their Yoga in the Schools (YIS) curriculum, testing it at Waltham High School. But she still felt something lacking.
“I always wanted to be in the inner-city schools,” Debbie says, particularly in the Boston public school system, which so desperately wanted—and needed—a yoga program. To make this dream a reality, Debbie created the Susan E. Tift Yoga in Schools Program Fund in honor of the passing of one of her longtime yoga students.
I’m waiting in the yoga classroom of a western Massachusetts high school—the site of one of the Yoga in the Schools projects being developed and scientifically evaluated by Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living. The room is decorated in vibrant student-painted murals and yoga posters, transforming the windowless space, which was once the detention room, into a bright area for mindful movement and self-inquiry. The bell rings and instead of desks and chairs, students filter into a circular arrangement of yoga mats. With upbeat melodies humming in the background, bags and shoes are left at the door. One student, who three weeks earlier came to class with snacks and a cell phone in hand, greets me today with a smile and goes sit on his mat, looking receptive. I assist the instructor by inviting the rest of the group to find a comfortable seat. We’re ready to begin.
It’s no revelation that adolescents today are stressed. Naturally, in a time of physical and psychosocial transformation, teens face the tasks of identity development and belonging—while managing a cascade of hormonal changes. For many, the teenage years can feel like a minefield, finding the precarious balance between standing out and fitting in, trying on values and dealing with the accompanying emotions. The demands of academic and extracurricular achievement, along with decisions about whether and how to get to college, weigh as well. It’s a heavy toll! And that’s assuming there’s stability at home. Knowing that lifelong patterns take root in adolescence, yogic wisdom offers support. Tools to manage life’s challenges and practice self-compassion are at the heart of what’s available.