Archive for November, 2011

Once upon a time, 50 years ago, hatha yoga was not known much in India or the West. So it seems amazing that the first Iyengar-certified teacher was a 40-year old English woman, a housewife who was fed up of cooking and cleaning! Yet, it is not at all surprising that the first “certified teacher” was a Westerner. Certification was a new and alien concept in those days when hardly anyone practiced outside the ashram environment or the direct guidance of a guru. There were no “yoga teachers”, there were only gurus. I am impressed that  the first “certified teacher” was a woman.

We all arrive at yoga in our own ways, if we arrive at all. Other paths can be equally appealing. In this article, A Yogic Pensioner’s Progress, written by Daniel Simpson, 50 years ago Diana Clifton was an anxious and harassed mother of two in north London. She was fatigued and did not know why. She did not want to do housework. Does all this sound familiar? Well, Diana picked up a book, Forever Young, Forever Healthy, her teenage son had borrowed from the library. It seemed better to read the corny sounding book than do the washing.

The book, Forever Young, Forever Healthy, was written by Indra Devi who was Krishnamacharya’s first Western and first woman disciple. Indra Devi was born in 1899 in Latvia to a Swedish father and a Russian mother of nobility. Her guru Krishnamacharya was also B. K. S. Iyengar’s guru and brother-in-law. 

Diana did not see the yoga poses in Indra Devi’s book as “mumbo jumbo” as it was widely viewed at that time. The book started her yoga journey and transformed her life.  B. K. S. Iyengar’s famous, mercurial, temper did not deter her–the students at that time apparently joked that his initials stood for Bang, Kick, Slap.

At 91, Diana Clifton has made yoga work for her. Having outlived two husbands and a stroke, she is a fascinating person and her story is inspiring. Women, as shakti or divine energy, have played a crucial role in yoga!

Iyengar is 92.

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New content has been added to www.mahasriyoga.com.

Book Reviews:

The Art of Living by William Hart gives a detailed background of the 10-day vipassana/insight meditation retreat (as taught by S. N. Goenka) offered by http://www.dhamma.org at numerous locations around the world.

Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda is the most comprehensive and pragmatic book, with class transcripts, by the guru who brought Yoga Nidra to everyone well before it’s relatively recent entry into the mainstream.


Achari Channa Dal makes a flavorful and satisfying vegan, gluten-free, low-carb dish for cooler weather or cold winters.

Hira’s Easy Urad Dal is a mild, versatile, light but substantial recipe, that is easy to make. It is vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, and fat-free!

Hira’s Rich Rice Pudding does wonders with three simple ingredients. It is a wholesome gluten-free dessert.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

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The effect of an integrated yoga routine for osteoarthritis of the knee, conducted by Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation in India was published in the September 27, 2011 issue of the International Journal of Yoga.

The aim of the study was to evaluate the effect of adding integrated yoga to electric and sound therapy to randomly selected outpatients from Dr. John’s Orthopedic Centre in India.

There were 118 participants in the integrated yoga group and 117 in the control group who received physiotherapy exercises. The age range was 35 to 80 years. Both groups underwent their respective therapies after the electric and sound therapies they all underwent. The yoga group received yoga therapy for 40 minutes each day, six days a week, for two weeks. Follow-up was expected for three months after that.

Integrated yoga included the following: asana, pranayama, meditation, and counseling on yoga-based holistic living with life style changes, weight management, and management of psychosocial stress.

The participants did yoga-based loosening exercises for feet, ankles, knees, hips and waist, upper limbs, neck, and a 17-step relaxation. Then they did strengthening asanas for back, thighs, legs, knees, and ankles, followed  by a guided relaxation based on abdominal breathing. They ended with standing asanas, a guided deep relaxation, nadi shodhan (alternate nostril breath) pranayama, and om chants. All these steps with the number of repetitions and time allocations are listed in this highly detailed, well written study.

The results indicated greater improvement in the integrated yoga group than the control physiotherapy group in the following indicators: quality of life, physical function, problems with work and daily activities, emotional problems, energy and fatigue, social functioning, experience of pain, and general health.

The integrated yoga routine is very similar to the program I have for our seniors in Ridgewood, NJ. Some of it is on www.mahasriyoga.com/asana. Breathing and relaxation audio tracks (shorter than meditation tracks on the website) are on www.mahasriyoga.co/pranayama. Based on what the seniors say to me, our results are similar to those in this study.

Source: International Journal of Yoga

Year : 2011 | Volume:  4 | Issue Number:  2 | Page: 55-63

Effect of an integrated approach of yoga therapy on quality of life in osteoarthritis of the knee joint: A randomized control study
Ebnezar John, Nagarathna Raghuram, Bali Yogitha, Nagendra Hongasandra Ramarao
DOI: 10.4103/0973-6131.85486

PMID: 22022123

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In these tough economic times, some of the best resources in yoga and meditation to help with stress happen to be free, online. There is an enormous treasure of knowledge online that is not found on store book shelves. Here are seven websites that cover the philosophy and practice of yoga, pranayama breathing and meditation tracks (including Yoga Nidras), Buddhist philosophy and practice of vipassana or insight meditation, Sufi teachings and practices, and the resources of an Ivy League college. They cost nothing as they are priceless.

1. The Divine Life Society was founded by Swami Sivanananda of Rishikesh in 1936. It is one of the most respected and honored traditional yoga ashram. Three of Swami Sivananda’s disciples went on to start major yoga organizations of their own with collectively enormous global influence–Swami Vishnudevananda founded Sivananda Yoga, Swami Satchitananda founded Integral Yoga, and Swami Satyananda founded The Bihar School of Yoga. Divine Life Society must be the least commercial or monetized yoga ashram and it is hard to imagine how they continue to operate giving away so much for free. On its website, www.dlshq.org, there are numerous free online yoga books by Swami Sivananda and other senior sannyasins. The information, straight from the great guru himself, covers all aspects of yoga. It does not get more authentic than this. The website is a virtual, well-organized encyclopedia.

2. I discovered this website many years ago through my yoga friend Kathryn. Swami Jnaneshvara (SwamiJ) was initiated into the Himalayan order of Swami Rama by Swami Rama (founder of The Himalayan Institute). The breadth and depth of knowledge is extensive as you can see very quickly from SwamiJ’s website. From the experience of my own website, I know the countless hours that go into www.swamij.org. The site is somewhat overwhelming but a little patience will be amply rewarded. The reader will find a passionate, knowledgeable, and experienced yogi. This website is also almost an encyclopedia. I have not met, or had any contact, with SwamiJ.

3. What can I say about my own website?  Unlike the above two reference sites, www.mahasriyoga.com is a pragmatic attempt to make the practice (more than theory) of yoga meditation freely available by offering 20 online audio tracks. They are on introductory pranayama breathing and meditation. Four pranayama tracks are in Gujarati (an Indian language). Two tracks are for children. Check them out for stress, anxiety, pain management, clarity in thinking, focus, and spirituality. In addition, there are objective and in-depth book reviews that I have yet to see in the yoga media. There are stories, articles, and recipes (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low carb) as well. More content is constantly added. A great effort is made to retain the purity and integrity of the teachings. We are told by readers that the site is elegantly attractive and easy to use.

4. It is not always easy to get online practices for insight meditation. So this is a wonderful discovery. Go to http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/mindfulness-meditation-homework/and read or download transcripts and audio tracks of lessons for beginners. There are numerous lectures and articles that can also be read online. The language is clear and the instructions are easy to follow. Especially for those who may be housebound during the winter, the world can easily come to your home. You can meditate with some of the best teachers around and not settle for mediocre teaching.

5. As meditation is such an enormous and growing business, readers will be heartened this holiday season to know about www.dhamma.org. It is the website that gives out information regarding Buddhist vipassana meditation, or insight meditation, as taught by S. N. Goenka. The organization is run by volunteers. They conduct 10-day retreats of silence and meditation, providing the attendants free basic accommodation, food, and teachings. Attendants donate whatever they wish at the end. Friends and family who have attended these retreats in India, US, and Switzerland, have only good things to say.

6. I do not think most of us appreciate the rich fullness of Sufi meditation even though we relish the poems written by Sufis. The breathing practices have so much in common with yoga meditation and Buddhist practices. They add tremendously to our experience of meditation and are as universal, free of religious beliefs, as the yoga and Buddhist practices. In fact, readers may find it hard to distinguish the origin of all the techniques found on the websites listed here, if they were all jumbled up. It is like the peace poetry games we had earlier. I found a wealth of information and practices (theory will not give us the experience of meditation!) on http://sufiorder.org/Prayer_and-Elements.html. Check out the link and discover the breaths on the five elements. There is no religion involved in these breaths. Again, the writing is clear, simple, and instructions are easy to follow.

7. Finally, we have enormous resources available through our outstanding colleges. This is one among many–http://plato.stanford.edu/. Through it readers can access the vast resources on philosophy at Stanford as well as some other universities. Philosophy is the theoretical half and meditation is the practical half.

This should keep everyone amply supplied for a year without any shopping.

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As the holiday season is approaching fast, here are some book suggestions for holiday gifts. They are not mainstream books available in most book stores but the books are available online.

For asana (physical movements/postures) and all aspects of yoga:
Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda is an excellent choice with a comprehensive yoga therapy index. This book gives detailed step-by-step instructions, benefits, and limitations.

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar is a classic on hatha yoga for good reason. It is outstanding for those looking for more physically challenging asana practice. The instructions for each practice are very clear.

Yoga: Mastering the Basics by Sandra Anderson and Rolf Sovik is a gentle introduction to the basic aspects of yoga. It is written in a clear, easy, scientific way.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda is the best commentary on this ancient text on hatha yoga. It explains hatha yoga and its relationship to raja yoga. The reader gets an understanding of hatha yoga and its asanas directly from the source.

Yoga and Psychotherapy by Swami Rama; Rudolph Ballantine, MD; Swami Ajaya, PhD, explains scientifically how the therapeutic aspects of yoga work within the body, mind, and spirit.

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As yoga related injuries are rising, can yoga classes hurt your back is a relevant question to ask. You are invited to share positive and not-so-positive experiences so we can all learn from each other.

In reading about the subject of back pain and injuries, I came across www.alisoneastlandyoga.wordpress.com and her blog posts Are yoga classes bad for your back , Attending a yoga class with a back injury, and Breaking three common myths about back pain. I have certainly learned from her posts.

In one post she writes:

“I have a lumbar disc that bulged in my early twenties and I’ve been along to classes where the first few poses were all quite strong forward bends. Even trying to good-naturedly to go along with the teacher by bending my knees in these asana would still result in quite a lot of pain later….I have learned to ‘do my own thing’ in a class if I believe the sequence is not appropriate for my body, and to even do my own mini-yoga practice to prepare my back immediately before a class with some teachers.”

She addresses and challenges a common belief that it is important to have a flexible lower back and hamstrings, or strong abdominal and lumbar muscles. That may be a cause of many back injuries. Alison states that endurance and coordination my be better than the strength of the lower back to prevent back injuries. She cites the work of Dr. Stuart McGill, a well-known back expert and professor of spine biomechanics in Canada, who remains largely unknown in the yoga world (at least in the US).

There is so much thoughtful, insightful, and well-researched information in these blog posts that I strongly suggest reading them. There is no sense in repeating all the asanas and possible modifications she describes.

Alison’s writing highlights the importance of a knowledgeable instructor, who is willing to learn, and has the time and intellectual curiosity to read/research. Such teachers are rare. Scientific thinking and background is very helpful. It helps distinguish proper yoga from whatever is out there. So spend some time reading the posts carefully as they are not little sound bites.

Our own personal experience with our bodies, and observing those of our students, makes us realize that much that has been synthesized into yoga was problematic to begin with. For example, most people who come to me from Pilates come with incredibly stiff and painful backs that they did not have before Pilates. Now we have Yogalates! It could be that some are practicing incorrectly. It is also clear that many instructors are poorly trained and intellectually not curious, not willing to think independently. They are given a formulaic set of asanas to work with in group settings.

Another example is the integration of some ballet movements. These movements caused injuries in ballet dancers who turned to yoga for treatment. And some schools of yoga absorbed and integrated those ballet movements (the way hips and knees are turned out) that caused injuries!

Sometimes, erroneously, pain and injury are a badge of honor, effort, and commitment to “yoga.” There is also the student’s unrealistic expectation of performing gymnastics as that is the perception of yoga asana. Some teachers measure their own worth by how much they can push the students into performing the most challenging asanas which may be totally inappropriate.

As always, this blog suggests going to the great masters of yoga such as Iyengar and Swami Satyananda who address issues on yoga therapy intelligently. Read their books carefully–Light on Yoga  and Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha.

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I need to clarify that the sequence of 12 movements in surya namaskar is half a round the way we do it. A full round is 24 movements. I will post a chart in a later post when we have our Internet services back after this last storm. For now, I have listed the positions and the names used in Satyananda Yoga as that is my background.

1. Prayer position/pranamasana (normal breath) (heart/anahata chakra)
2. Raised arms/hasta utthanasana (inhale) (throat pit/vishuddhi chakra)
3. Hands-to-feet/pada hastanasana (exhale) (tailbone tip/swadhishthana chakra)
4. Equestrian pose/ashwa sanchalanasana (inhale) (eyebrow center/ajna chakra)
5. Mountain/downward dog/parvatasana (exhale) (throat pit/vishuddhi chakra)
6. Eight point position/ashtangasana (external breath retention) (navel/manipura chakra)
7. Cobra pose/bhujangasana (inhale) (eyebrow center/ajna chakra)
8. Mountain/downward dog/parvatasana (exhale) (throat pit/vishuddhi chakra)

9. Equestrian pose/ashwa sanchalanasana (inhale) (eyebrow center/ajna chakra)

10. Hands-to-feet/pada hastanasana (exhale) (tailbone tip/swadhishthana chakra)

11. Raised arms/hasta utthanasana (inhale) (throat pit/vishuddhi chakra)

12. Prayer position/pranamasana (exhale) (heart/anahata chakra)

It is suggested that beginners start slowly, fully experiencing each position. Become familiar and comfortable with the movements. Then add layers and different dimensions for focus: more movements, breath, chakras, mantras, and so ham along the frontal and spinal passages).

People suffering from scoliosis, sciatica, slipped discs, and other back problems need to consult an experienced yoga therapist as surya namaskar may aggravate the pain.

On the other hand, surya namaskar can be highly therapeutic for weight management, headaches, varicose veins, hormonal imbalances, anxiety, depression, fatigue, loss of appetite, increasing breathing/lung capacity, attention deficit/hyperactivity, and more.

Slow surya namaskars can take six to 60 seconds for each position. Rounds can be gradually added, but supervision is strongly suggested if you intend to practice more than six rounds and/or have health issues.

As mentioned in the previous post, Q&A: How To Practice Surya Namaskar, surya namaskar must be followed by corpse position/shavasasana and preferably a breathing practice.

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