Tag Archives: breathing

Yoga – Is It a Religion? (Part 1)

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga … Swami J.

While Yoga may be found in many religions, the numerous yoga practices involving body, breath and mind, along with their transcendent goal of direct experience, are generally neither characteristic of any particular religion, nor typically practiced by the adherents of any religion.

Yoga means “union.” It is the joining together the aspects of ourselves which were never divided in the first place.

To say that the word yoga itself is a religion makes about as much sense as saying that the words “union” or “holistic” constitute a religion.

Yoga – Is It a Religion?

Keep in mind that there is not universal agreement on these points, or even the definition of yoga for that matter. Although there are many people who feel that yoga is not a religion, there are also those who feel that yoga is a religion.

So this begs the question; what's in religion that’s missing with Yoga? Here are a few things:

  • Yoga has no deity to worship.
  • Yoga has no worship services to attend.
  • Yoga has no rituals to perform.
  • Yoga has no sacred icons.
  • Yoga has no creed or formal statement of religious belief.
  • Yoga has no requirement for a confession of faith.
  • Yoga has no ordained clergy or priests to lead religious services.
  • Yoga has no institutional structure, leader or group of overseers.
  • Yoga has no membership procedure.
  • Yoga has no congregation of members or followers.
  • Yoga has no system of temples or churches.

To point out that Yoga is not religion (or that yoga is in religion, but religion not in yoga), is just stating facts, but these facts are not opposed to religion. Suggestion that one should or should not practice religion is not what is being described here. Religion can be extremely useful, and there are those who would say it’s absolutely essential. Nonetheless anyone can practice yoga, and do so either with or without religion being involved.

Practitioners of yoga tend to be very clear about yoga not conflicting with any religion. However, there are many thousands of denominations and sects within many diverse religions. Some of these groups have religious beliefs that might seem very different to another’s beliefs.

Some say that certain foods should be eaten for example, while others say that the same food item should not be eaten. Some suggest polygamy, while others require monogamy. Some agree with medical treatment, while others say that healing is solely God’s job, and that faith, not modern medical treatment should be employed. Some believe in social freedoms, while others believe more in strict religious discipline.

Then there are those basic practices like calming the autonomic nervous system through diaphragmatic breathing that some consider to be of a different religion, while others see this as a universal human process from which anyone can benefit. Some others consider making the body flexible to be a part of religion, while others see it is physical fitness, while still others see it as a part of systematic, non-sectarian meditation. So while some of the customs of various religions may seem odd to the others, these are the realities of the diversity of humanity.

Emphasizing this diversity in this article is not intended to resolve these issues, or to offer a solution. However, it seems useful to accept that, to some degree, there are people who consider yoga to be religion, even though we may feel certain that it is not. After all, it is always appropriate to respect (and honor) the choice of others.

Coming next, part 2 of "Yoga – Is It a Religion?"

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 12)

Yoga as a spiritual tool – For a student longing for spiritual attainment, the path of traditional, authentic yoga may be a perfect fit, including all of the many aspects that it may encompass. However, when an authentic seeker of spiritual truths starts to explore the landscape of paths, yoga is commonly not pursued as a spiritual tool because "everybody knows" (actually they assume – and incorrectly) that yoga is merely a physical exercise program.

Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 12)

Of course it’s not true that yoga is a merely physical fitness program, although it appears that way to the majority of people who are reminded of the postures (asanas). Because of these erroneous appearances, many sincere seekers are not finding authentic yoga, which embodies some of the highest teachings and practices known to humanity.

Yoga focuses on the spiritual, right from the very beginning.

By following the path of authentic yoga the student/aspirant not only approaches the attainment of spiritual realization, but also benefits from a host of side-effects which might include physical health, the elimination or reduction of some diseases, and/or promotion of a state of health and well-being. The intent of yoga is to focus on the spiritual, right from the very beginning of practice. By engaging such an authentic orientation of yoga, many fruits will come, including the physical benefits.

The sincere student needs to re-affirm the true nature of authentic yoga. This is not a matter of changing the path of those who practice various “adaptations” of yoga, or small, isolated parts of yoga. They have a perfect right to do as they wish. However, by clearly re-affirming the true nature of authentic yoga and making this available to all true seekers, in a wide array of venues, people are more likely to be attracted. It is fortunate that at least a small percentage of teachers are trying to do this.

The journey of yoga to yoga is a Sacred Pilgrimage.

Imagine taking a sacred pilgrimage (Yatra) to a sacred place high in the Himalayas. During your journey you might fly on an airplane, ride in a car, and do lots of walking. The entire journey is one of a pilgrimage as long as you maintain a heartfelt conviction for the destination you are seeking.

The key that makes all the aspects of your journey; the airplane, the car, and the walking a Yatra is the intentionality in your heart for the destination being sought. It is this intentionality for the goal called yoga that makes the process leading there also called yoga, not merely the actions themselves.

The fact that you move your body this way or that, or do some breathing practices, doesn’t unto itself, constitute yoga. Yoga is the journey (Yatra) towards yoga, which is the union being sought.

If you are not working with relationships in the external world, with your personality, with your body, with your breath, or the levels of your mind with this intentionality towards the destination called yoga, then the process along the way is simply not yoga.

It is not hard to find practitioners and workshop leaders who provide breath training for health reasons, and do so without using the word yoga or making any mention of attaining or realizing the higher union that is at the core of yoga. These trainers are to be admired for not calling their work yoga, even though breath training is a part of yoga. This is as it should be.

So we must call into question those others who teach work with body, breath and mind and call their practices yoga, while completely ignoring the goal or destination of authentic yoga?

The destination of yoga is yoga, period. Any other use of the practices is simply not yoga.

Stay tuned, this series will continue – coming up next; “Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 13).” This next blog article will continue this discussion about yoga and its use (and/or abuse) as a spiritual tool.

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

Within Your Inherent Nature, Yoga Is Already Being Established

Remaining aware of your inherent nature will always keep you on your toes. If you're like most of us you may feel like you’re always running toward something or away from something. If we use pleasure as an example we will see that at first pleasure motivates you to run towards it and then it prompts you to run away from it. On the other hand, yoga enables an awareness that helps you stay balanced and stable. Yoga will bring stability to your life.

Within your inherent nature, yoga is already being established

A yogi is someone who strives to be strong and stable in his body, mind and emotions. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. If your emotions keep fluctuating up and down it is most likely because you are running towards something. So if you question what it is that you’re running towards and you’ll find it is pleasure, and once you’ve found it you reach a saturation point and then you feel the need to run away from it.

By remaining aware you can see in your life that it’s not only pleasure, but whatever you run towards, at some point or another, will push you away from it because you can’t (or won’t) handle it anymore. So when you reach that point or time that you feel the need to run away, you should know that it is because you were first enjoying it. So when you are enjoying something, keep in mind that the time will come when you’ll definitely want to run away from it. The solution is for you to change that attitude of your mind from seeking (pleasure, or anything you might desire) and just focus on remaining stable, then nothing becomes overwhelming and you won’t feel the need to run away.

Then it’s possible to realize that you are here to give comfort to others, not to seek comfort for yourself. This one simple attitude change will deter that tendency to feel “Oh, this is too much, I have to run away.” Only by indulging in what you have sought (and found) will cause you to feel, “this is too much, I need to get away.

When through yoga practice you become stable, you’ll always tend to give what you can. You’ll never hear the sun say, “I am shining too much, now I need to run away.” A diamond will never say, “I am glittering too much.” The sun and a diamond are excellent examples of things that are stable in their nature. They have no need to go out of their niche.

Stay tuned, next article will be: “Has Your Mind Made You Its Slave?”

After that, the series “Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga” will continue, resuming with Part 7.

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

How the Benefits of Yoga Transcend Conventional Exercise Regimes

Yoga starts by learning how to develop self-awareness and feel good about the physical body. It shapes and tones the body, helps with flexibility and the development of balance and strength, but it doesn’t end there. Additionally, it helps you become more focused in life and discover your inherent happiness. It slows down your thoughts, and quieting the mind helps the mind and body relax and be at peace.

But, for yoga to be more than a physical work out, you’ll need to skip the trendy yoga classes that are almost entirely focused on weight loss, or looking hot, and commit to a high-quality practice that encompasses more of yoga’s original teachings.

Conventional exercise trends such as Zumba, Tae Bo, Jazzercise, P90X and Insanity may come and go. And sadly, many styles of yoga (especially in the West) fall into this category. They promise a “quick fix” and eliminate the details and the depth of a thorough yoga practice. This “workout” style of yoga can be a popular entry point for students, however, it often leaves them unsatisfied (sometimes injured) and seeking more. Instead of seeking instant gratification and a hasty means to a temporary state of health, try a quality, “full spectrum” yoga for a full, meaningful and safe experience.

“Full-Spectrum” Yoga Practice:

Most serious students, at some point, need depth in their yoga practice to achieve optimal health and wellness along with long-lasting results. If your practice is purely physical, you’ll probably get bored and burn out quickly. Yoga that provides both insight and fitness is a great way to maintain a balanced practice with profound depth. This way you get fit and continuously learn and evolve while having an enjoyable experience. A properly taught and guided yoga practice is designed to provide deep insights on alignment along with techniques that bring your attention to the simplicity of the breath. After such a practice session you feel more grounded in both your body and your mind. It’s this experience of a mind-body connection that often produces those endorphins that makes you feel blissed-out and provide a real depth and richness in your practice.

A good yoga practice accompanied by proper guidance and instruction from an experienced, registered yoga teacher (ERYT) will help you to find (and apply) the value of its teachings in everyday life. Unlike a simple work-out program, yoga classes often have a specific focus or theme (intention) that is interwoven throughout an asana sequence. Themes can take a variety of purposes, such as balance/centering, calming/relaxing, breathing/meditation, healing/therapeutic, etc. When you practice with a vision and intention, it gives you insights and a purpose that goes well beyond the physical poses.

How the Benefits of Yoga Transcend Conventional Exercise Regimes

Remember that your physical body will go through many different evolutions over time as you grow with your yoga practice. Some asanas and techniques you will achieve with relative ease, others you won’t. Keep it fun, and they’ll be a great way to keep your vitality. A strong yoga practice teaches you to cherish life and the things that matter most to you.

There is no limit to the ways you can approach most asanas. The subtle nuances that you can observe will work to advance your practice. Through mindfulness and awareness, you’ll find revelations in your body that are fascinating and keep you longing for more. When you intellectualize the physical postures and your approach to them, you can rethink and rework them, attaining a healthy alignment.

Overall, everyone wants to be healthy, fit and at their best. Working out using conventional methods like those typically found in a gym or fitness center is not a bad thing if done intelligently. In fact, yoga can be a great workout in itself or can be used to supplement and amplify other physical forms of exercise. So, it would be fine to say that fitness is an important part of most modern yoga systems, but it is only one part of a very dynamic process. Yoga practice can become an awesome way to align all the facets of your life so that you feel healthy and whole, while simultaneously exploring and exercising self-awareness and self-control. Yoga enables us to transcend our lower instincts and harness the true power of transformation.

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

Choosing a Qualified Yoga Teacher…

Not at this time and likely not in the near future, will any type of national or international certification program for yoga teachers exist (*see note below for clarification). This is due to the traditional nature of Yoga instruction. Since antiquity, Yoga has been transmitted from teacher to student on a one-to-one basis.  Comparatively recently, and mainly in the West, Yoga has begun to be offered to groups of students in a class format. The more advanced practices of Yoga are still the best when undertaken on a one-to-one basis, and only if you are fortunate enough to find a competent teacher who is willing to instruct you.

Any serious student seeking qualified instruction should avoid any Yoga teacher who views this science as a hobby or someone who reads a few books, takes a couple introductory Yoga courses and then decides to become a Yoga teacher. This can only work if they have spent sufficient time under the constant supervision of their own personal Yoga teacher. This relationship between teacher and student needs to be taken very seriously by both parties and can never be entered into lightly.

There are competent teachers available, but you may just have to search them out. When seeking a competent, qualified Yoga teacher there are certain minimum requirements to look for that they should demand of you as their student. Seven of the most basic ones follow:

1. Daily practice of Yoga asana (postures), breathing, and meditation. To make progress in Yoga a serious commitment to daily practice is necessary. Only when a teacher has this support will they be able to build the solid foundation of experience that is required before they can show others how to achieve that experience. This daily practice is also needed in order to maintain the strength and health necessary for the extraordinary demands of both teaching and learning.

2. Regular and frequent contact with a teacher is necessary simply because it’s impossible for a teacher to work effectively in a vacuum, and no one becomes so advanced in their practice that they do not need the guidance and support of their own teacher.

3. Study of the important Yoga texts; this is one of the five observances that are part of the essential eight "limbs" of Yoga practice (see #4, below). A teacher needs to have an intensive background of study that includes Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita, and other world philosophies that the student must be willing to learn.

4. The practice of ethical behavior which includes the five yamas (meaning "restraints"):

  • Nonviolence
  • Truthfulness
  • Nonstealing
  • Periods of celibacy
  • Nonhoarding

…and the five niyamas (meaning "observances"):

  • Purity
  • Contentment
  • Tolerance
  • Study
  • Remembrance

The yamas and the niyamas are the first two limbs in Patanjali’s system of classical Yoga (called "Ashtanga Yoga"). The remaining six limbs are:

  • Physical exercises (asana)
  • Breathing techniques (pranayama)
  • Withdrawal of the mind from the senses (pratyahara)
  • Concentration (dharana)
  • Meditation (dhyana)
  • Absorption, or ultimate union with the self (samadhi)

*Note: These eight limbs must be developed simultaneously. The ethical guidelines of the yamas and niyamas are a part of Yoga practice not simply for moralistic reasons but because they support and protect the student during the unfolding of personal experience in meditation. A teacher needs this support and protection for the same reasons as well as to help reduce the interference of personal ego in the teaching process. An ethical Yoga teacher conducts classes in a responsible, safe, and aware manner. They will never organize classes that are too large for each student to receive individual attention. They will never push students beyond their limitations. And of grave importance, sexual involvement with students is absolutely prohibited.

5. A healthy vegetarian or vegan (plant-based) diet. Although you do not need to be a vegetarian/vegan to practice Yoga, a Yoga teacher must conform to different and stricter standards. Someone who is taking responsibility for teaching others how to use Yoga meditation techniques must have developed the steadiness and nonviolent attitude that can only be attained through a vegetarian or vegan diet. It goes without saying that a teacher should not smoke or use drugs (other than prescription medication) or misuse alcohol.

6. Training in basic anatomy and the effects of Yoga techniques is very important. A teacher must be able to vary certain techniques according to each student’s ability and know how to coach and advise students with common medical conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, back problems and other disorders. A teacher should also be able to recognize when a student needs professional psychological counseling plus be familiar with community services that are available to help the student.

7. The teacher must have the ability to separate Yoga from religion and to teach their students the same. Yoga is not a religion; it predates Hinduism, as well as all known religious practices, and its techniques have been used throughout the world since before recorded history. Yoga is a systematic science of nonreligious, transcultural techniques which can help the practitioner to develop greater self-knowledge and awareness. The texts of Yoga are not scriptures but rather handbooks (or guidelines) of how to use the techniques safely and what kinds of experiences may possibly be expected.

Hopefully, this article will give you some idea of the qualifications that are generally accepted as important. Get a good solid base in your own practices while under the direction of a qualified teacher, read and study about Yoga practice and philosophy, and build strength, awareness, and health, including the adaption of a vegetarian or vegan diet. If you then would like to advance and become a teacher, remember, teaching is hard work, and if you try to do it without being in top condition physically and mentally, you will do a disservice both to yourself and your students.

*Note on certification: There's a difference between credentialing and certification and although certification has not yet achieved national/international recognition, Rae Indigo runs a highly credited certification school, recognized by the Yoga Alliance among others. Rae teaches 200 & 300 hour Yoga Certification. The focus of her trainings is teaching students to heal using yoga, and to create sequences that are effective for the group or individual being guided.

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500 

Discovering Your Dharma (your true life path)


Discovering Your Dharma

Dharma Wheel

Probably one of the most commonly asked questions in life is “why am I here?” This line of questioning originates from our True Self and leads us to look beyond the world of ordinary appearances. It provides us with the opportunity to discover the divinity that lies within.

There isn’t an exact or accurate single English translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, but it can be paraphrased as “right (or righteous) living”. Dharma is the path we are meant to travel, the life we are meant to live; in general as a human being, but also as an individual with a particular set of lessons to learn, experiences to have, and gifts to share. In a nutshell, our dharma is also our mission in life.

The physical/mental/emotional vehicle we manifest is unique to each of us and is meant to fulfill a purpose only we can accomplish, this is our dharma. Discovering our dharma can be a bit of a laborious task, but once we learn to adapt and live in our dharma’s harmonious flow we become aware of our awesome potentiality. Discovering and living our dharma enables us to create a destiny that includes as much joy and happiness as we want because we remain aligned with our spiritual domain. Here we may discover a different dimension of reality, the unlimited source of all creation and manifestation.

The discovery or realization of our dharma takes some effort in the beginning and for some this can be a time of struggle. But underneath all our worldly aspirations we will eventually find that there has always been something calling deep inside. This becomes clearer as it becomes obvious that our dharma is what “upholds” and “sustains” us as individuals. Each of us is destined to serve a certain need in the universal scheme of things. The significance of an artist is just as important as that of the president. Each and every path has an equal value because they all serve a unique purpose. Whether our purpose is to be an entrepreneur, an artist, an activist, a yogi, a spiritual leader, a parent etc. we must believe in that purpose and not get sidetracked. Additionally, we also need to accept that our purpose is fluid and can change over the course of our life or even the course of a day. Spending time in deep reflection or meditation is helpful in tuning out the “noise” and listening to the call of our personal dharma.

Discovering, accepting, and finally enjoying your own personal path is a not only a great achievement, it’s also a wonderful blessing. When guided by the spiritual wisdom of our dharmic path, we are granted the privilege of stepping into a higher vision of our life, seeing it as an expression of divine universal creative spirit.

From this superior viewpoint, we can look at ourselves with a more objectivity. We can even observe our faults, mistakes and shortcomings without beating ourselves up over it. Knowing our inherent greatness trumps the “ego/self” and increases our self-respect while setting a solid foundation for exploring, refining, and weeding out any aspects of our earthly expressions that are not in harmony with our True or Higher Self.

Take a few moments and say the following words: “I am great exactly as I am.” Say this phrase a few times out loud and then repeat the words mentally with each in-breath and each out-breath for a few minutes. It’s a great place to start.

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Yoga Should Be Fun Too!

Yoga Should Be Fun Too!

Lighten up your practice

Most people tend to be little too serious about their yoga asana practice, but adding some fun to their routine (or sequences) helps them to relax and lighten up.  All across the US, yoga teachers and their studios are now recognizing that a bit of humor can help a yoga businesses thrive, not only by attracting new students but also by keeping them coming back. Students and teachers both to laugh and they soon realize that it helps them relax their muscles, surrender to their practice, and take themselves, and their practice less serious.

There are even scientific studies that show that laughter has the very similar effects as asana practice. They have both proven to lower blood pressure, reduce the production of stress hormones, boost immunity, and reduce pain, plus the actual physical act of laughter can be easily be looked upon as a form of spontaneous Pranayama (yogic breathing).

So, just how can you use humor improve your yoga asana practice? The Sanskrit word for play is leela and when we infuse leela into our yoga sessions we get more creative and broaden our possibilities.  Humor helps us laugh off those poses we can’t seem to get right and helps us to take delight in them when we finally do get them right; it also helps us brave asanas that we’ve never approached before.

Whenever we’re laughing, we are present with the moment and leela can also help us achieve one of the core purposes of yoga which is to stay focused on the here and now.

Successful yoga teachers like to spice up their business with an occasional laugh or two and here are some tips that you can use to help your students “enlighten up.”

  • – When the opportunity presents itself, tell a short joke or relate a funny story, just keep it light easy so doesn’t feel forced.
  • – Facial expressions can often bring an element of silliness to an otherwise awkward situation.
  • – When your students arrive, greet them with cheerful smiles and a friendly hello or welcome.
  • – Add bright and colorful décor to your studio, and watch your students come flocking back for more. Bringing in as much natural light (especially sunshine) as possible makes the space even more cheerful.
  • – If you see someone is having a hard time with a certain pose, tell them to check in the corner of their mouths, there’s probably a smile hiding there.
  • – Have your students introduce themselves to their neighbors before the beginning of class and then encourage them to partner-up, both on and off the mat.
  • – A slight bit of innocent misbehavior and free expression in class often makes practice more fun and playful.
  • – Don’t forget to laugh at yourself, it nurtures joy in yourself and by showing that you are responsible for your own happiness and healing you’ll be able to transmit that message on through your teaching practice.

Yoga asana practice should be a transformational experience, helping students to achieve calm and balanced minds, while they build strong and flexible bodies. But remember to keep your philosophy simple by reminding yourself that yoga should also be fun!

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Choose Peace – Embrace Life


Choose Peace – Embrace LifeAs humans our bodies have preconditioned responses to threats and/or challenges, whether they’re real or perceived, anything from the attack of a tiger to hostile words from a coworker tends to prompt the “fight or flight” reaction. This automatic response triggers the production and release of adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstreams. Unless we are confronted with an actual physical attack (in which case we need to fight or run away), the fight or flight response can itself be physically harmful and literally cause pain and suffering. If this response arises without real situations, we tend to succumb to a series of conditioned or habitual responses. In our relationships with each other, we may see the other person as our enemy and fail to recognize that they may be facing their own set of fears and challenges.

So how can we prevent responding to another as if they were a charging tiger? One way is to consciously choose a peaceful interaction which will defuse an otherwise awkward, unfavorable or even aggressive reaction. By becoming mindful of yourself you expand your awareness and develop your ability to remain calmly present in nearly any situation. You can always choose to focus your attention on your breath and the sensations you feel pulsing through your body, and this will bring you back in touch with the universal needs that we all share as human beings.

Spiritual traditions down through the ages and recent scientific research both agree that focusing on your breath and remaining aware of bodily sensations have huge benefits for us as we relate to others and the world at large. We are then no longer bound to acting out old habitual patterns and we have the opportunity to become aware of the reaction, and remain present with it, enabling us to choose to stay connected with the very source of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, in turn giving us a larger sense of life and keeping us in touch with our basic and collective human needs.

There are many ways to choose peace and embrace life and some of the easiest are…

Be grateful. The more things you can find to be grateful for on a regular basis, the more you will improve your mental, physical and emotional health, along with your overall outlook on life. Gratitude stimulates the production of the hormonal neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for feeling good and influencing human behavior in many positive ways. Keep reminding yourself that a little gratitude goes a long way, and communicating your gratitude in words and actions will greatly increase your personal peace.

Become your own best friend. This promotes a sense of peace that radiates from within. The Buddha has reportedly said “You, yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Loving-kindness and compassion start with you and once you’re able to recognize that they originate within you, you can generate a feeling of warmth and love for others so that they may also get a taste of that peace and know it’s the same peace that resides within them.

Practice becoming empathetic. Empathy and compassion are powerful tools for making peace with others. The active principle of empathy is found through understanding, to “stand under” rather than to judge from above. Seek to become more sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings and you’ll automatically become tolerant and forgiving; essential qualities for establishing peace and embracing life.

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Finding Peace in Today’s World

Finding peace in today’s world can be a challenge for most of us due to our work schedules, hectic lifestyles and daily responsibilities, so here are a few tips based on yoga science and philosophy that may help… First, try getting back in touch with your body. Generally when we’re not feeling peace, it’s because we’re not feeling much at all, instead, we’re thinking. And when we’re engaged in thinking we start believing all our non-peaceful thoughts, plus we’re likely to be feeding them with our energy. A great analogy is an American Indian legend that goes like this…

If we stop feeding the thoughts, and start feeding peaceful feelings instead, the thoughts will fall away by themselves. The most basic feelings originate with physical sensation, so that’s why it’s a great place to begin. Practice some yoga asanas (poses), go for a walk or a hike outdoors, take a hot shower, or simply lie down and consciously breathe into every part of your body. You’ll soon feel peace return and replace the negative thoughts that were preventing it.

Once we are actively feeling our body, going beyond our thoughts becomes quite simple. We shift our focus and become the observer, bringing our awareness to whatever we feel in our body allows us to notice our thoughts without them affecting us. This empowers us to be released from them, and remain as a witness, observing them as an outsider, without involvement. The observer in each of us can watch these thoughts and let them pass, just like clouds in the sky. We’ll then become a victor over thoughts instead of a victim.

Next, don’t be so hard on yourself. If you have a problem concentrating (perhaps you fall asleep) during traditional seated meditation, try a standing, or better yet, a walking meditation. Or learn to chant mantras as part of your meditation, for many who practice meditation they bring an instant feeling of being immersed in peaceful sensations.

Activate the power of positive thinking. Replace thoughts that make you stressed with ones that do the opposite. When you’re back in touch with your body, the observer in you can easily identify a negative or non-peaceful thought and fire-up the power of positive thinking.

Another helpful method of finding peace is to visualize a peace-inducing figure (Buddha, Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Theresa, etc.) and start up a conversation with them whenever you feel stressed or disturbed. Ask them, how would they deal with your present situation? You may be amazed at what you hear!

You can also immerse yourself in the present moment, the “now.” If you do, you’ll find that peace is inherent in each and every moment, especially when you’re able to use any of the mindfulness tools available to help you become totally immersed there. By sharing in the present moment you’ll become saturated with the sensation of peace.

Give yourself permission to go deep into the pursuit of joyful bliss. Bliss is what happens when we go beyond the mind’s active nature. Bliss and joy are the result of entering into the “Self” that exists beyond all thought. It’s the peaceful bliss that nourishes and endures.

And last, but not least, practice acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean giving up (or giving in), or that we have settle for less than we deserve. It means that in any given moment, we can choose peace over resistance and watch how that transforms our experience. Suffering is a choice, and so is peace – which one will you choose.

Of related interest, click on: Locating the Source of Stress & the Way of Yoga

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

The Importance of the Breath in Yoga

Why is proper breathing stressed so much in yoga? Other than the fact that it keeps us alive, why is the link between yoga and breathing so important?

During a typical yoga class, we are instructed to practice pranayama, which means we breathe consciously, remaining connected to our breath, we learn to breathe deeply, retain our breath, etc. How much of an impact does proper breathing have on us, our life, and our yoga practice?

Breathing and longevity – Swami Sivananda is quoted as saying: “A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years.”

I much of traditional Hindu literature it is said that if you breathe 15 times per minute, you will live to be 75 or 80 years old, but if you breathe only 10 times per minute you will live to 100. So the speed at which you breathe will determine the length of your life. The faster you breathe the shorter your life will be. That’s why animals that breath fast (dogs and cats for instance) have relatively short lives.

Breathing Consciously

Breathing consciously is something we are continuously reminded to do when we are in yoga class. Breathing consciously is essential to yoga practice because it assists us in connecting with the subtle energy within. Pranayama enables us to navigate different levels of consciousness. Additionally, by breathing consciously we’ll create a positive biological effect on our mental, emotional, and physical states of being.

Remaining connected with our breath is an ideal method for being in the present moment. When you focus on each aspect of the breathing process, you are present, you let go of the both the past and the future and are concentrated on each moment within each breath. Breathing consciously becomes its own form of meditation. But this is only part of why conscious breathing is so important.

Remaining consciously aware of your breathing activates a different part of our brain than our normal, mechanical (unconscious) breathing, which is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem (the primitive part of the brain). Conscious breathing, on the other hand, comes from a more evolved area of the brain (the cerebral cortex). So by stimulating the cerebral cortex we’re sending impulses from the cortex to other connecting areas that impact emotions. This generally has a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions by controlling which aspects of the mind dominate, in turn prompting our consciousness to rise from the primitive/instinctual level to the more evolved/elevated levels of the brain.

The Breath, Prana and Pranayama

Yoga practice teaches us to control prana, the vital (life) force, through pranayama. The breath is used in pranayama to help us to learn to control prana, but don’t make the mistake of confusing prana with the breath. Prana is the life energy that animates the lungs, but it is NOT the breath itself. Using pranayama (breath control) is the easiest method for regulating the flow of prana and once we are able to control prana through pranayama we are better able to control the movement of prana to other organs and areas throughout the body.

The breath being the mode of practice for pranayama, the focus is in on the three basic stages of respiration:

  1. Inhalation (pooraka)
  2. Retention (kumbhaka)
  3. Exhalation (rechaka)

However, according to ancient and traditional yogic texts, pranayama is retention, and inhalation and exhalation are secondary, being methods for affecting retention.

Kumbhaka (retention of the breath) has a deep physiological effect on the brain. It begins by providing additional opportunity for the brain cells to absorb oxygen, and eliminate more carbon dioxide, producing a calming effect on the mental/emotional body. When the breath is retained, the brain panics because the carbon dioxide levels temporarily increase and the increased carbon dioxide levels stimulate the brain’s capillaries to dilate. When this happens, more capillaries in the brain are opened up improving cerebral circulation, building up an immense amount of energy in the brain, subsequently forcing the creation of new neural pathways, plus the activation of dormant centers. The brain is now activated and awakened!

A good analogy is look at the breath like the oil in a car, prana as the gasoline (fuel), and the mind as the engine. By understanding the relationship of the breath, prana and the mind to one another we will be better prepared to navigate our life, progressing to a higher, more evolved state, and to repair it if it breaks down.

Although full control of the breath may take the student of yoga years to perfect, this perfection is not necessarily the highest form of pranayama. The highest form is to remain completely, consciously aware of the breath.

Of related interest, click on; Yoga Practice for Improved Lung Function

And… Stories the Breath Can Tell

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.