Archive for March, 2012


“Yoga Nidra: A Healing Practice for People Living With Cancer” (http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2008/dapr08/yn.shtml is an eloquent article by Julie Friedeberger in the April 2008 issue of Yoga Magazine.

For anyone who has an interest in Yoga Nidra, whether suffering from any illness/trauma or not, this particular article is surely worth reading. Satyananda Yoga Nidra is by far the most popular yoga practice I have taught.

Julie, a Satyananda Yoga teacher, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. Yoga Nidra was a “key factor” in her recovery and long-term healing. Some parts of the article are very similar to what Anahita expressed in her experience with breast cancer (Healing From The Heart With Breast Cancer).

However, healing does not have to be triggered by cancer or a life-threatening illness, although it can be a strong trigger that rips through illusions. Intense emotional pain and trauma can also be equally strong triggers that change the trajectory of life.

First of all, there is a definite expectation that those who teach and practice yoga may (or should) somehow be immune to diseases such as cancer. Of course, this is wrong. No one is immune from life. Julie explains:

But the reality is that all bodies, even the bodies of yogis and yoga teachers wear out and break down. The great spiritual masters have not been exempt: Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi died of cancer, so did Sri Ramakrishna, among others. Ultimately, the reality is that we are all going to have to let go of life itself, and realizing it now helps prepare for the eventuality. The rotation of awareness in yoga nidra gives us practice in letting go, gently prying us loose from our illusions, and possibly easing our journey towards death.

Every stage in Yoga Nidra is important. The author goes on to explain the specific relevance and healing qualities of the individual components of the Satyananda Yoga Nidra: relaxation, sankalapa (positive affirmation), rotation of consciousness, pairs of opposites, visualization.

Every part of the practice of yoga nidra works to free blocked energy. Most significantly, practising yoga nidra can help us to acknowledge and accept the reality of our situation, however unwelcome, difficult, or scary it is; and can help us to acknowledge, accept, and release the powerful emotions it brings up. These emotions are understandably often bottled up and repressed, but once they have been brought into consciousness the energy that has been trapped in repressing them is freed, for more useful, more creative purposes.

The shock of our mortality can have the ability to incisively tear apart (painful) the old ways of thinking that avoided what the mind deemed to be unpleasant. It can be an opportunity to accept reality with a new grace–a way for healing deeply from within and for spiritual transformation. Yoga Nidra is an important tool in an intensive healing process.

Julie writes:

It is a great privilege to pass on the wonderful practice of yoga nidra, and all the other transformative tools of yoga, to people who are in such real and deep need of them. The reward for the teacher is that each of them, in his or her own way, wholeheartedly takes up the tools and uses them on the journey towards wholeness and healing.

This blog shares Julie’s feelings, and that view from over 30 years ago has been the motivation and force behind this blog and www.mahasriyoga.com where you can find several free Yoga Nidra audio downloads  (www.mahasriyoga.com/meditation).  It is rewarding that some cancer institutes are now recommending the website and this blog to their members and patients.

The healing power of Yoga Nidra has been seen over and over again: from a parent mourning the loss of a child, to a person dying with cancer, to someone living with impossibly difficult relationships, to coping with job loss, and test or exam-related stress.

For the most authentic writing by the author who brought the tantra-based practice out into contemporary times, see the review for the book Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda. In the book, Swami Satyananda  writes, “Yoga Nidra, by maximizing the patient’s conscious efforts to become healthy and whole, is an effective form of cancer therapy.”

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It is that time of the year again! With the emergence of crocuses and daffodils in the West, life renews itself from the dormancy of winter (tamas in yoga and kapha in ayurveda). The joyful colors of Spring abound everywhere as seen in this painted haveli (old-style mansion) from the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

We are coming up to the Spring Equinox–equal day and night. It is the time of perfect balance in nature and the rhythms of our own bodies. The inner rhythmic balance is a joyful state.

With Spring we balance the inner and outer lives as we observe the projection of our inner consciousness (inner space) reflected in our daily lives (outer space). All major religious traditions celebrate with holidays at this time of the year. We are reminded to connect with the essence of who we are–spiritual beings undergoing the human experience.

It is the perfect time for several rounds of sun salutations (surya namaskar) for balance in the body and mind. Many have been able to achieve hormonal balance through the practice of sun salutations.  See the blog posts on surya namaskar and Q&A: How To Practice Surya Namaskar.

Full yogic breath or diaphragm breathing is a gentle and effective way to detoxify and clean the respiratory system and flush out lungs. Bumble bee or buzzing bee breath (bhramari) is another gentle method to detoxify and increase lung/breathing capacity. Skull shining (kapalbhati) and bellows breath (bhastrika) can be helpful for seasonal allergies along with neti. They can be help strengthen the respiratory and circulatory systems and are stronger methods for lung detoxification. Balanced breath (sama vritti) and alternate nostril breath (nadi shodhan) are perfect balancing breaths. Adding the mantra so ham or aum can make the pranayama a more meditative practice.

Chaitra Navaratri is the nine-day Spring festival (March 23 to April 1, 2012), particularly important in many states in northern India. The first three days are devoted to the removal of darkness of tamas (physical and mental inertia and negative qualities) through the worship of Durga. She is the fierce goddess who resolutely destroys the negative aspects. The destruction of undesirable clutter makes space for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. She brings in the wealth that is linked with the cultivation of positive qualities–material and spiritual wealth. She depicts rajas  (activity and movement). Lakshmi is worshiped for the next three days. This prepares the aspirant for the next stage which is the light of wisdom. Wisdom is personified by the goddess Saraswati. She is worshiped for the next three days. At this stage in meditation, divine sounds such as the lute are heard in the inner space. Aum is experienced within. Saraswati is sattwa  (absolute purity).

Our previous posts on spring cleaning also give information regarding Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Mind, Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Digestive System, Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Respiratory System.

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The low-calorie diet that works the best is the one that you can live with long-term, not just for a short time for quick weight loss, according to the February 2012 issue of Healthbeat published by Harvard Medical School.

In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, Harvard researchers compared four different low-calorie diets (high fat, high protein; high fat, average protein; low fat, high protein; and low fat, average protein) in 811 overweight adults. All the participants lost an average of about 13 pounds in the first six months (about 7% of their initial weight). But they started to regain at the one-year mark. After two years, average weight loss was the same in all groups.

According to the newsletter, an earlier study in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that it’s whether you stick with whatever diet you choose that makes the difference. After a year in this separate study, nearly half of the overweight and obese adults assigned to the Atkins diet, the Ornish Diet, Weight Watchers, or the “Zone” diet had dropped out of the study. But those who didn’t lost similar amounts of weight (about 5 to 7 pounds each, on average). People assigned to the Atkins and Ornish diets were more likely to drop out of the study.

The article in Healthbeat notes that diets that are less than 45% carbohydrate or more than 35% protein are hard to follow, and they’re no more effective than other diets. In addition to possibly increasing the risk of heart disease, diets with very low carbohydrate levels may have a negative effect on mood, according to several studies.

People are advised to keep the percentage of their calories from major nutrients within the recommended federal guidelines:

Protein: 10% to 35%
Carbohydrate: 45% to 65%
Fat: 20% to 35%

There have been many trends in diets–low to zero fat, then low to no carbs, no fat and low carb. Now experts believe that some fats are good for the heart. Good fats make the meal more flavorful, appealing, and filling. More people are likely to stick to it for the long-term.

The newsletter states that low-carb diets can produce quick weight loss but there are concerns about their safety in the long-term:

Low-carbohydrate diets tend to cause dehydration. To make up for the lack of carbohydrates in the diet, the body mobilizes its own carbohydrate stores from liver and muscle tissue. In the process, the body also mobilizes water, meaning that the pounds shed are water weight. The result is rapid weight loss, but after a few months, weight loss tends to slow and reverse, just as happens with other diets.

As a long-term diet, The American Heart Association cautions people against the Atkins diet. This diet being too high in saturated fat and protein can be hard on the heart, kidneys, and bones. The lack of fruits and vegetables is undesirable. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables tends to lower the risk of stroke, dementia, and certain cancers. 

Mediterranean diets tend to have a moderate amount of fat, but much of it comes from healthful monounsaturated fats and unsaturated omega-3 fats. It is high in carbohydrates, but most of the carbs come from unrefined, fiber-rich foods. It is also high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish, with only modest amounts of meat and cheese.

Mediterranean-style diets emphasize good fats and good carbs along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. It is a better diet to follow long-term.

Some studies have found that by simply switching from the highly polished white rice that is now increasingly consumed in China and India (leading in diabetes) to brown rice, there is reduction in diabetes. Brown rice is good carb and polished white rice is bad carb.

The trick is to find a diet that works for your body, metabolism, and life style. What works for one person may not work for somebody else.

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In response to my blog post Research Supports Mind-Body Therapy For Cancer, I just received a comment from Candida Abrahamson, PhD. I am happy to share it with all of you. You can also read the comments directly and see the links there.

On her blog, www. candidaabrahamson.wordpress.com, Candida writes about the case in 1978 of Garrett Porter, a 9-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor who visualized himself to health with the help of Dr. Patricia Norris.

Candida writes:

Norris used the alternative and  mind-body techniques at her disposal, and during an art therapy session Garrett, a boy with a vivid imagination, drew his tumor as Planet Meatball. White blood cells in the shape of Pacmans hovered around, ready to devour it.

And thus was his visualization born. Norris taught her patient about guided imagery, and then. . .Every night Garrett relaxed completely using relaxation techniques, and then underwent his own version of radiation: He pictured spaceships zooming in and chipping off pieces of Planet Meatball.

It is worth reading the whole post (link above).

My friend Anahita had mentioned how humor was helpful when she was dealing with breast cancer (imagining the radiation to be Cupid’s arrows). Candida is in full agreement as indicated in her research-based blog post on sense of humor.

For Dr. Patricia Norris and her work on biofeedback, visualization, and guided imagery, see http://drpsychprof.tripod.com/0dbgarrett_porter.htm.

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Diabetes is a growing global epidemic according to the International Diabetes Federation (www.idf.org). The organization’s numbers state that China is the world leader in diabetes with 92 million diabetics, followed by India with 80 million. Almost 9 percent of the US population, about 26 million people, have diabetes. The global cost of diabetes runs in hundreds of billions of dollars.

As more people around the world are integrating complementary and alternative therapies in the management of diabetes, I looked at the yoga therapy details that are being used or recommended. You can see examples of two routines below.

The Art of Living is a popular organization and the website http://www.artofliving.org/yoga-diabetes lists the following recommendation for diabetes. It does state: The following asanas and pranayamas are effective for diabetes. They should be learned with proper guidance, before putting them into practice:

  • Vajrasana
  • Mandukasan (the version with fists in stomach region)
  • Supta Vajrasan
  • Viprit karni – Sarvangasan – Halasan – Sarvangasan
  • Lie down and relax for a minute
  • Chakrasan
  • Natrajasan (both legs on one side)
  • Purna Shalabhasan
  • Triyak Bhujangasan
  • Dhanurasan
  • Upward facing dog (Udharmukh swan asan)
  • Child pose
  • Udiyan Bandh
  • Paschimottanasan
  • Ardhmatsyendrasan
  • Parvatasan-Yog Mudra
  • Kapalbhati Nadisodhan pranayam

The following table was cited in the blog post Yoga Therapy For Peri and Post-Menopausal Diabetes:

Table 1: Sequence and duration of yoga techniques practiced by our subjects

Source: Madanmohan, Bhavanani AB, Dayanidy G, Sanjay Z, Basavaraddi IV. “Effect of yoga therapy on reaction time, biochemical parameters and wellness score of peri and post-menopausal diabetic patients”. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2012 [cited 2012 Feb 27];5:10-5. Available from: http://www.ijoy.org.in/text.asp?2012/5/1/10/91696

Table 1: Sequence and duration of yoga techniques practiced by our subjects

My concern is that these routines can only be used for a limited number of people–those who are quite fit to begin with. Anyone who is overweight, has high blood pressure, kidney problems, eye issues and high retinal pressures, arthritis, osteoporosis, and other medical conditions, simply cannot do most of these asanas and pranayamas. So many of these medical issues go hand-in-hand with diabetes. A knowledgeable and experienced yoga therapist is critical. There are numerous modifications that can be made.

For people with physical limitations, a gentler routine may be more appropriate. I suggest looking at the movements described in detail on www.mahasriyoga.com/asana. The routines described there are for chair yoga and standing yoga. Chair sun salutation is included. The upper and lower body movements are a good way to gently stretch, contract, and relax the abdominal area that includes the pancreas. The movements tone and massage the internal organs for better circulation and possibly improved function (studies are unclear about any yoga asanas effect on specific organ functions). Even though these movements are very gentle and may be effective, it is important to talk to your medical provider before starting any physical activity. For gentle breathing and paranayamas, try www.mahasriyoga.com/pranayama (for abdominal breathing, diaphragm breathing, and more). The website also has several low-carb vegetarian and vegan recipes that may appeal particularly to Indians. See www.mahasriyoga.com/recipes.

For information about diabetes, try:

American Diabetes Association 


The United States Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Library

http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=2&tax_subject=278&topic_id=1382 (wonderful resource for diet, nutrition, food preparation, and much more)

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine


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Cincinnati Art Museum

“Undergrowth With Two Figures,” from 1890, part of the 45 paintings by van Gogh in a show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Source: The New York Times, “In The Eye of His Storms”, By Roberta Smith, February 2, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/03/arts/design/van-gogh-up-close-at-philadelphia-museum-of-art.html?pagewanted=all)

Trataka (steady gaze and focus on an object) is often done on a candle flame as it is a universally accepted symbol and the flame is an easy object of focus (see Candle Flame Trataka). Trataka can be a very effective way to calm an agitated, turbulent, anxious mind. It is also a good way to develop focus and concentration. In fact, any object can be used for trataka although some are better than others.

So when my son, Arjun, sent me this link about Van Gogh, it was fascinating to read how gazing steadily at a blade of grass calmed and centered the artist. He was practicing trataka! As we have practiced trataka together, when he read this article, Arjun was immediately reminded of the meditation.


In the catalog to “Van Gogh Up Close,” a succinct, revelatory exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the art historian Anabelle Kienle notes van Gogh’s repeated references in his letters to “a blade of grass,” “a single blade of grass,” “a dusty blade of grass.” He not only thought that something this small and modest was a worthy subject for art — as demonstrated by the spare works of the Japanese artists he so admired — he also invoked it as a kind of centering technique for regaining concentration. Writing to his sister-in-law, he recommended focusing on a blade of grass as a way to calm down after the tumult of reading Shakespeare.
For more on trataka, here are two more links:
http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2005/cmar05/tratak.shtml (“The Practice of Trataka by Swami Satyananda)
http://swamij.com/trataka.htm (Swami J has a really cool visual for trataka on this link)

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