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AHIMSA

If you take it upon yourself to look into yoga history, it won't be long before you stumble upon mention of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a renowned text written by the sage Patanjali some time before 400 CE. In this text, Patanjali outlined the various principles and practices for a form of yoga called Raja Yoga.

Yoga students in the West commonly refer to this text for wisdom, inspiration, and guidance. Much is covered in the Yoga Sutras; ethical guidelines, yogic practices, descriptions of states of consciousness, etc.

The keystone ethical principle outlined by Patanjali is that of Ahimsa. Ahimsa translates to non-violence or non-harming. Specifically, Patanjali was referring to not harming humans or animals.

Regardless of whether or not vegetarianism (or pacifism) is pursued, Yoga teachers and practitioners still often attempt to find ways of incorporating what they see as the general principle of Ahimsa in their lives and in their yoga practice. Various questions are pondered: How can I be kinder to other people in my life? How can I be more patient with myself?

When considering the big picture, I think it’s inspiring to consider that a drastically less violent (and thus more peaceful) world could be created in one generation. How? By applying Ahimsa to the raising of children. By means of Peaceful Parenting practices.

Children treated with empathy will grow up to be adults who treat other beings with empathy. Win-Lose interactions (violence and coercion) will be replaced altogether with Win-Win interactions (negotiations and/symbiotic relationships). Gone will be the days of culture and state sanctioned brutality so commonplace in the world today and throughout history. It need not take long to end the thousand-plus-years-cycle of human violence. It need only take one single generation.

Regardless of any moral arguments as to why coercive parenting is a bad idea, on a practical level there are many studies that show how coercive parenting practices regularly backfire. But what is coercive parenting? Coercive parenting practices essentially include anything that relies on the difference in size and strength between parent and child. The exception is the usage of size and strength to protect a child from immediate danger. For example, pulling a child back from road traffic is an example of third-party self-defense, not coercion. 

But initiating force on a child (outside the context of third-party self-defense) only instills the general idea that "might makes right", and that violence is a valid way to solve social problems (the opposite of Ahimsa). Such practices also set the stage for a lifetime of self-attack which leads to addictions, depression, and quite often…attacking others.

Of course the question is...without intimidation or coercion, how can I best protect my child from future suffering and prepare her for a world beset with real-life consequences?

I would say that the degree to which this question seems daunting, is the degree to which parents are worthy of praise. Our culture tends to praise CEOs, Business Tycoons, Pop Stars, etc. All of that is fine and perhaps understandable. But we should make no mistake…there is nothing more demanding of intelligence, creativity, soul-searching, flexibility, strength, and heroism than good parenting.

But again…what parenting practices can be employed so that trust, power, choice, freedom, love, courage, honesty for all parties involved becomes the default? How can Ahimsa be brought to bear daily, at home with the family? Of course, no one has the final answer. The good news is however, that the conversation has begun worldwide, and it has already been fruitful.

If this speaks to you, a great place to begin is to look into the work of Dr Elizabeth Gershoff. She is one of many voices advocating for a more effective way of parenting, and thus advocating for a drastically more peaceful future for human beings in general. Of course, Googling “Peaceful Parenting” is a good place to begin as well.

So much can be gained from this research; high self-esteem (for all), life-long mutually beneficial relationships between parents and children, better relationship choices in adulthood, better negotiation skills for career advancement, and creative non-violent solutions for social problems.

So, could there be a world where Ahimsa is not just a lofty concept, but rather a state of being that is so pervasive, so prevalent and automatic, that it perhaps need not ever be spoken of again? The answer is yes. This bright future is there, waiting…ready to be birthed into manifestation, and not in some distant future…but soon. For those who find resonance with these ideas and choose to dive into the research and practices, just know…future generations are already thanking you :) 

Yours,
Dan Abbott, E-RYT

@observetheobserver

www.KPYoga.com


 

 

Summer Quashie
Meditation 101

Meditation is a simple life transforming skill that can help you to relax, enhance understanding about yourself, and develop your inherent potential. 

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1. Choose a quiet and calm environment. Find a nice, quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for 5 minutes or longer (silence your phone if you are setting a timer). Sit down, relax and rest your hands on your lap. You can sit on the floor cross-legged with the support of a meditation cushion, or on any chair with your feet resting on the ground. Regardless of how you sit, it is important to maintain the natural curve of your spine. No slouching, sit up tall with your shoulders relaxed, reaching up through the crown of your head. People who suffer from back pain and sitting tall is not an option for you, you can explore other mediation positions. 

2. Breathe slowly and deeply. Close your eyes softly. Begin by taking a few slow and DEEP breaths, inhaling with your nose and exhaling from your mouth. Don’t force your breathing let it come naturally. The first few inhalations of air are usually shallow, but as you allow more air into the lungs each time, your breaths will eventually become deeper and fuller. 

3. Be aware. When you are breathing deeply, you will begin to feel calmer and more relaxed. This is good! Now focus your attention on your breathing. Be aware of each breath that you take in through your nose. Be mindful of each breath that you exhale with your mouth. Continue focusing on your breaths for as long as you would like. If you find your attention drifting away from your breaths, gently bring it back. You can also count your breaths to keep your mind focused. It is important to realize that you wandered and to bring it back where it should be. As you develop greater focus power, you will find it easier to concentrate.

4.  Ending the session. When you are ready to the session, open your eyes and stand up slowly. Stretch yourself and extend your increased awareness to your next activities. 

5. Each time you meditate if time allows, increase your session to 1 minute.

Summer Quashie
What is that Darth Vader Breath in Yoga Class?
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The Darth Vader breathing is called Ujjayi Pranayama (ooh-JAH-yee prah-nah-YAH-mah). It is one technique that helps calm the mind and warm the body. When practicing Ujjayi, you completely fill your lungs, while slightly contracting your throat, and breathe through your nose. This breathing technique is used throughout Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga practices.

The sound of Ujjayi is created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. Gently pulling the breath in on inhalation and gently pushing the breath out on exhalation against this resistance creates a well-modulated and soothing sound,  like the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out.

It is important to remember that the key to Ujjayi breathing is relaxation. The action of Ujjayi naturally lengthens the breath. Some small effort is required to produce a pleasing sound, but too much effort creates a grasping quality and an annoying sound especially to your yogi neighbors.

To practice the inhalation, focus on creating a soothing and pleasing sound that is unhurried and unforced. I suggest working on your Ujjayi breathing in a seated, relaxed cross-legged position. Inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. The "ocean sound" is created by moving the glottis (the thin opening between the vocal cords) as air passes in and out. As the throat passage is narrowed so, too, is the airway, the passage of air through which creates a "rushing" sound. The length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm, the strengthening of which is, in part, the purpose of Ujjayi. The inhalations and exhalations are equal in duration, and are controlled in a manner that causes no distress to the practitioner.

Once Ujjayi breathing is mastered in a seated position, the challenge is to maintain the same quality of breathing throughout your asana (the physical practice of yoga) practice.

Throughout your practice, try to maintain the length and smoothness of the breath as much as possible. Once you find a baseline Ujjayi breath in a pose that is not too strenuous (Downward-Facing Dog for example), endeavor to maintain that quality of breath throughout the practice. Some asanas require great effort, and you may begin to strain in your breath.

 

Keely Angel
Introducing the Vagus Nerve

You have probably heard of the sympathetic nervous system and its ability to invoke the fight, flight, or freeze responses. The parasympathetic nervous system is the sweet sister of the sympathetic nervous system. It takes us into the rest and digest mode. This is the path to deep rejuvenation for the body, mind, and soul. Relaxation is the yin to our yang.

Many yoga studios offer restorative yoga, which has proven to be a major ingredient in creating balance in our yoga proactive. The time has come to really take a look at what all this means. Why does relaxation help optimize fitness efforts? When the body goes into a relaxed state, your blood pressure is lower, your immune system functions at a higher level, your heart rate decreases, and you breathe at a slower rate. Sleep patterns improve, digestion function increases, and overall health becomes greater when these relaxation techniques are used.

It is not surprising that people do not incorporate relaxation routines into their lives. We are a workaholic, over-doing, stressed out culture that strongly rewards the type A behavior. There has been little value put into this other side of the fitness world until recently.


Regardless of the system of relaxation and parasympathetic nervous system activation, there is one component common to all of them: the VAGUS nerve. The Latin derivative of the word vagus is “wandering.” This is a characteristic of this nerve within the world of relaxation.  It begins its journey below the base of the brain, runs down the throat along the esophagus, continues its journey near the lungs and heart, and innervates the digestive system.

Vagal nerve function has a strong relationship to the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for rest, digestion, and reproductive functions. It is also the key to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This wandering nerve can help us distress and get healthy. However, most of our lives are spent in the fight or flight modes. When the sympathetic system is active, then stress hormones flood our body, creating a state of dis-ease within. Therefore, it is important we learn how to activate our vagus nerve.

Because of the pathway of the vagus nerve, long deep breathing is the number one key to activation the vagus nerve. Breathing can be involuntary (something the vagus nerve does for us when we aren’t paying attention), but it can also be something we do consciously. By bringing awareness to the breath, lengthening and deepening it, you turn on the vagus nerve, giving your body the opportunity to rejuvenate.

So, let’s stop and breathe with awareness for 5 minutes

 

Keely Angel
10 Stress Relieving Tips

Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to both good and bad experiences that can be beneficial to your health and safety. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones and increasing your heart and breathing rates. Stress can be triggered by the pressures of everyday responsibilities at work and at home. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and can negatively affect your overall health and well-being.

1. Meditate

A few minutes of practice per day can help ease anxiety. “Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress,” says psychologist Robbie Maller Hartman, PhD, a Chicago health and wellness coach.

It's simple. Sit up straight with your legs crossed in front if sitting on the floor, or you can sit in a chair with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on reciting silently a positive mantra or intention such as “I am at peace” or “I am loved.” Place one hand on your belly to sync the mantra with your breaths. Let any distracting thoughts float by like clouds.

2. Breathe Deeply

Take a 5-minute break and focus on your breathing. Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the chest and then the throat. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.

Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure by stimulating the vagus nerve. 

3. Be Present

Slow down. Take 5 minutes and focus on only one behavior with awareness.  Notice how the air feels on your face when you’re walking and how your feet feel hitting the ground. Enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food.

When you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.

4. Reach Out

Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others, preferably in person and face to face, or at least on the phone. Share what's going on. You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connection strong.

5. Tune Into Your Body

Mentally scan your body to get a sense of how stress affects it each day. Lie on your back, or sit with your feet on the floor. Start at your toes and work your way up to your scalp, noticing how your body feels.

Simply be aware of the places in the body that you feel tension without trying to change anything. For 1 to 2 minutes, imagine each deep breath flowing to that body part. Repeat this process as you move your focus up your body, paying close attention to sensations you feel in each body part.

6. Laugh out loud

A good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally. It lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood. Lighten up by tuning in to your favorite sitcom or video, reading the comics, or chatting with someone who makes you smile.

8. Crank Up the Tunes

Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. Create a playlist of songs or nature sounds (the ocean, a bubbling brook, birds chirping), and allow your mind to focus on the different melodies, instruments, or singers in the piece. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to more upbeat tunes or singing in the shower!

9. Get Moving

All forms of exercise, including YOGA and walking, can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs.

10. Be Grateful 

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude on a daily basis can make you happier, lower stress, protect you from depression, help you sleep better, boost your immune system and improve your relationships.

Gratitude is paying attention to what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have. It is finding satisfaction from what is around you and paying attention to the people, situations and things that make your life worthwhile.  

It is as simple as it sounds, everyday think of 3 things you are grateful for in that moment. Or say “thank you” to the people in your life that you are grateful for. Let them know what they mean to you. Not only will you make their day, you will feel uplifted for having shared your gratitude.

Relax. You deserve it, it's good for you, and it takes less time than you think.

 

Written by Yoga Peace Kula teacher Valerie Gregory

Summer Quashie