Archive for the ‘Asana’ Category

Obesity is now considered to be a medical condition. A huge population in the US is obese or overweight according to the June 2013 issue of the National Institute Health newsletter–more than two-third of adults and a third of the children. A scientific survey was done on the effectiveness and dangers of various complementary treatments.

Yoga and Meditation

Possibly helpful are yoga and mindful meditation and there are no side effects.

According to a 2013 review of the current evidence base of yoga for weight loss, overall, therapeutic yoga programs can be frequently effective in promoting weight loss and are a potentially successful intervention for weight maintenance and prevention of obesity.

The programs are therapeutic, require regular practice over an extended period of time, have a yoga diet component, as well as residential program component with an understanding of yoga.

Therapeutic yoga was also considered a possible tool for those at high risk for diabetes 2. Yoga also looks promising for the reduction of “cardiometabolic risk factors”.

Meditation is generally considered safe. However, there may be some risk to people with psychiatric issues.

Dietary Supplements

Acai berry, bitter orange,  and ephedra indicate no scientific evidence of weight loss. In fact, studies indicate they can be quite harmful.

Green tea is safe but there is no statistical proof of weight loss.

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In a recent study “A pilot study of yoga as self-care for arthritis in minority communities” published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, April 2, 2013, arthritis is cited as the most common cause of disability in US.  Fifty million people are diagnosed with arthritis.  The point of this government-funded study is to measure how acceptable and feasible yoga is in urban, minority populations with arthritis.

Even though the affliction is more widespread in the white population than the Hispanic and African-American minorities, the impact is worse on these minorities. The study states:  “Published analysis of racial/ethnic differences from the NHIS [National Health Interview Survey] shows the prevalence of activity limitation, work limitation and severe joint pain are significantly higher among blacks, Hispanics, and multi-racial or ‘other’ respondents than among whites.”

In this ongoing pilot study, 20 minority adults diagnosed with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis go through  an 8-week program of yoga classes. While the results are not yet out, here is what the study aims to do:

It is believed that by attending yoga classes designed for patients with arthritis, with racially concordant instructors; acceptability of yoga as an adjunct to standard arthritis treatment and self-care will be enhanced. Self-care is defined as adopting behaviors that improve physical and mental well-being. This concept is quantified through collecting patient-reported outcome measures related to spiritual growth, health responsibility, interpersonal relations, and stress management. Additional measures collected during this study include: physical function, anxiety/depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, social roles, and pain; as well as baseline demographic and clinical data.

Moving the body, exercising, helps relieve stiffness and pain but because of the existing pain, there is a reluctance to move. Yoga helps mood, sleep, and quality of life.

Here is what the pilot study includes in its yoga classes  (headstands and handstands are associated with high risk of injury and are not included):

Table 1

Overview of yoga poses

Description Yoga poses
Laying foundation:

Classes 1-2


Upper body stretches, staff with leg lifts

Sun Salutations (one side):

Forward fold, mountain (two sides for class 2)

Standing poses:

Tree, warrior II

Sitting poses:

Head to knee, spinal twist, yogic seal


Sivasana, tense and release, progressive body scan


Side lying, cross-legged

Class 3

Discussion of balance poses

Tree, king dancer

Classes 4-5

Arm balancing and reclining poses

Inverted plank, (lying) extended leg pose, (lying) spinal twist

Classes 6-7

Arm/leg extensions and hip openers

Table and cat/cow-extend arm & opposite leg, downward facing dog-extending one leg, bridge with leg extension, butterfly

Classes 8-9

Intro to gentle back bends

Sphinx, locust, bow, camel

Classes 9-10

Stamina building

Four sun salutations

Class 11

Poses for sciatica

Class 12

Pose modifications using the wall

Class 13

Restorative poses

Classes 14-16 Review, practice, wrap up

According to the American College of Rheumatology, both range-of-motion (ROM) and stretching exercises help to maintain or improve the flexibility in affected joints and surrounding muscles. This contributes to better posture, reduced risk of injuries and improved function. They recommend activities such as yoga because it incorporates both ROM and stretching movements.

Source:  doi:  10.1186/1477-7525-11-55

PMCID: PMC3637098

In the senior classes I teach, the population is almost exclusively white and female. We have a seasonal routine and many of the simple and highly effective positions that are taught are also available to the readers of this blog at:




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  Irises by Vincent van Gogh

 Source: Google Images

It is that time of the year! Time to renew and refresh the body and mind and reset both. Clearing them both out creates space for the birth of positive, virtuous cycles as we discard negative ones.

There are many ways to do this and readers are referred to the detailed past posts.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: Digestive System

This post gives specific ways for gentle and moderate cleansing of the digestive system. Accompanied by a moderate reduction (15 to 20 percent) of calories for a week, if medically suitable, may help the body feel lighter, more energetic, and put a bounce in your step.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: Respiratory System

An efficient and healthy respiratory system helps create vitality in the body and mind. Lethargy is removed and the body also feels light and free. Gentle pranayamas described here will help flush out the respiratory system.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Mind

Having a clean digestive system and an efficiently flushed respiratory system helps clean out the mind. In this post readers are lead to specific, detailed practices to reset the mind.

Happy Spring!

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Historically, there is a long religious tradition of periodic reduction of calorie intake. In yoga many practices require a reduction of calories, avoidance of certain foods, or fasting. Research studies on calorie reduction (CR) and intermittent fasting (IF) suggest that there are numerous benefits to these traditions, particularly in reducing oxidative damage and aging of the brain.

However, readers must be cautioned that before undertaking anything it is imperative to seek professional medical advice. The studies indicate promise in animals but sufficient data has not been compiled for humans.

  • What is a fast? 

Growing up in India, fasting was something almost all adults did. The word has different meanings and people made their own variations. The Hindu fast allows tea, coffee, milk, or juice once or twice a day. Some fruit maybe fine perhaps as a meal, or tapioca, or potatoes. Some do a salt-free, grain-free fast. A dinner is permissible. And some fast on Mondays, some Tuesdays, some Saturdays. There is the Muslim Ramadan when no food or water is allowed from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. The Jain fast permits no food for about 36 hours, nothing but water. Those who cannot do that, especially during the eight days of Paryushan, may eat just one simple meal, usually lunch, and only water is allowed during the day–no fruit, tea, coffee, milk, juice. During Lent, many give up a favorite food item and on Fridays they may not eat meat.

  • What is calorie restriction?

Calorie restriction is defined as undernutrition without malnutrition. In experimental studies, this means reducing animal diets by a certain percent of calories as compared to ad libitum but keeping the diet approximately unchanged in total protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Source: Nutritional Modulation of Aging: Effect of Caloric Restriction

Some studies state calorie restriction to be a reduction of 25 to 30 percent.

  • What is intermittent fasting?

Generally, this means fasting for 24 hours–water and low-calorie fluids are allowed–followed by normal eating for the next 24 hours. This is alternate day fasting. There are some suggestions that this type of fasting has the same effect as calorie restriction.

  • Nongenetic Calorie Restriction Increases Lifespan

Age-related accumulation of cellular damage and death has been linked to oxidative stress. Calorie restriction (CR) is the most robust, nongenetic intervention that increases lifespan and reduces the rate of aging in a variety of species. Mechanisms responsible for the antiaging effects of CR remain uncertain, but reduction of oxidative stress within mitochondria remains a major focus of research.

Source: Caloric restriction induces mitochondrial biogenesis and bioenergetic efficiency 

  • Calorie Reduction Effect on Blood Pressure, Stroke, and Insulin

Intermittent fasting Intermittent fasting (IF; reduced meal frequency) and caloric restriction (CR) extend lifespan and increase resistance to age-related diseases in rodents and monkeys and improve the health of overweight humans. Both IF and CR enhance cardiovascular and brain functions and improve several risk factors for coronary artery disease and stroke including a reduction in blood pressure and increased insulin sensitivity.

Source: Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems

  • Life-span and health-span extension by caloric restriction and intermittent fasting

Health-span is the time of our lives that are free of disease. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting “are the most effective way of extending the life-span of mammals without genetically altering them.” They also indicate beneficial health effects.

Source: Life-span and health-span extension by caloric restriction and intermittent fasting

  • Caution

The above source, a National Institute of Health study, also makes it clear that this is a complex subject with no clear answers–there is still much to learn about aging. The article states that to date, there are no well-controlled studies to determine the long-term effects of CR and IF on humans. A 30 percent calorie reduction in rhesus monkeys, so far, looks promising.

The most beneficial effects of IF and CR that have been noted have been in overweight or obese animals. Results are unclear for animals with a healthy weight who exercise and also have some form of mental stimulation.

Females in particular must be cautious of excessive loss of body fat which can lead to menstrual irregularities, amenorrhea (absence of periods), bone thinning, and osteoporosis.

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The aching yearning for Spring makes the birdsong sweetly joyful. It seems like the world rejoices in the song of life with the holy week for billions–Passover, Easter, Holi.

The same sun shines over all life without distinction
The water flows with no attempt at prejudice
The earth holds us all without labels
The tree gives fruit and shade without judgement
The breath flows from one to another giving life to all
The sky covers us with the umbrella of infinite space
Rich or poor, dark or light, man or woman
No East, West, North, or South
Seeing no country or religion
Just Being
Why let the mind divide what Nature does not

Happy Holidays and Spring to all!

Here is Richard Blanco‘s gift to all in his inaugural poem “One Today” (January 2013) copied here from NPR:

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, 
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces 
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth 
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies. 
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story 
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors, 
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day: 
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, 
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows 
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, 
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did 
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through, 

the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: 
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, 
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain 
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent 
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light 
breathing color into stained glass windows, 
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth 
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2 
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk 
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat 
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills 
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands 
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands 
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane 
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains 
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it 
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs, 
buses launching down avenues, the symphony 
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways, 
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello

shalom, buon giorno


namaste or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language

spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed 
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked 
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands: 
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report 
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3 
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait, 
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower 
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes 
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather 
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love 
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother 
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father 
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight 
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home, 
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon 
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop 
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars 
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it, 
waiting for us to name it—together

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Working with the seniors in Ridgewood, we try different movements determined by their needs. There are constant adaptations as the limitations and requirements change. Three upper body exercises from our repertoire have been added to www.mahasriyoga.com/asana/upperbody.html. They may be helpful to the readers of this blog and the website. Gentle movements, like these, can be excellent for warm-ups. These exercises could also be good for fibromyalgia.

Shoulder See-Saw

This movement can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. In addition to loosening the stiffness in shoulders, the neck muscles also get a gentle stretch. There is movement in the upper chest and upper back as well. All these areas are connected and pain in one part may cause residual pain in the others. So it is helpful to work gently on the entire area.

Arm Swings

These can be done sitting or standing. The movements continue to work more deeply in the areas of the body detailed above.


This movement is best done sitting down. In addition to working on the entire upper body, it is also helpful to in toning or massaging the abdominal organs and for peristalsis.

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For years we were told that the “core muscle” was the ab and there was a great emphasis on working the muscle for a stronger back as well as a slimmer waistline. School gym teachers praised children who could do the most sit-ups and crunches in a minute. Many kids came home with painful backs. Now those routines are out-of-favor because they are harmful for the back.

The January 3, 2013 issue of Harvard HEALTHbeat, writes:

Sit-ups once ruled as the way to tighter abs and a slimmer waistline, while “planks” were merely flooring. Now planks — exercises in which you assume a position and hold it — are the gold standard for working out your core, while classic sit-ups and crunches have fallen out of favor. Why the shift?

One reason is that sit-ups are hard on your back — by pushing your curved spine against the floor and by working your hip flexors, the muscles that run from the thighs to the lumbar spine of the lower back. When hip flexors are too strong or too tight, they tug on the lower spine, which can be a source of lower back discomfort.

Second, planks recruit a better balance of muscles on the front, sides, and back of the body during exercise than sit-ups, which target just a few muscles. Remember, your core goes far beyond your abdominal muscles.

Finally, activities of daily living, as well as sports and recreational activities, call on your muscles to work together, not in isolation. Sit-ups or crunches strengthen just a few muscle groups. Through dynamic patterns of movement, a good core workout helps strengthen the entire set of core muscles — the muscles you rely on for daily activities as well as sports and recreational activities.

This information echoes what Dr. Stuart McGill has been advising for many years. Dr. McGill is a professor of biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Dr. McGill is a highly regarded back-pain expert in the sports world. In an informative New York Times article of June 17, 2009, “Is Your Ab Workout Hurting Your Back” by Gretchen Reynolds, it appears that the isolation of the abs (transversus abdominis) for a core workout began with an Australian study in the 1990s. Reynolds writes:

The lab worked with patients in pain to isolate and strengthen that particular deep muscle, in part by sucking in their guts during exercises. The results, though mixed, showed some promise against sore backs.

Perhaps that is how the trend of working the abs started. Dr. McGill says that this thinking spread to trainers and through them to the public. According to him, the core is not just one muscle but a “corset” of muscles that circle the spine and hold it in place. By working on just one muscle the spine is destabilized and it loses its alignment. All the muscles must be balanced in order for the spine to bear large loads. The analogy used is that of a fishing rod. Think of the spine as a fishing rod that is held in place by muscular wires.

“If you pull the wires closer to the spine,” McGill says, as you do when you pull in your stomach while trying to isolate the transversus abdominis, “what happens?” The rod buckles. So, too, he said, can your spine if you overly focus on the deep abdominal muscles. “In research at our lab,” he went on to say, “the amount of load that the spine can bear without injury was greatly reduced when subjects pulled in their belly buttons” during crunches and other exercises.

Hollowing the belly and pressing the spine against the floor is a bad idea that has made its way into yoga studios and routines as well due to cross-pollination with trainers and fitness routines. Dr. McGill says sit-ups put a “devastating” load on the spinal disks. Instead, he suggests a side plank and a “bird dog” (in yoga it is the tiger pose or vyagharasana).

For more, please read The New York Times article, see the short video Core Values that accompanies the article, and visit Dr. McGill’s website www.backfitpro.com for his articles and more information. Readers may also want to visit a previous blog post Do Yoga Classes Hurt Your Back?

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Happy New Year to Everyone!

Current Issue

Each year we find there is more yoga and meditation content freely available. We begin this year with the first digital issue, Winter 2012,  of Yoga International.  This is an excellent publication from the Himalayan Institute based in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Now anyone with Internet access can read its content.

This issue features a healthy heart guide, breathing techniques to curb emotions, yoga in the Middle East, upward dog and the back, and the story of four women changing the destiny of yoga.

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The War of Lanka by Sahibdin. It depicts the monkey army of the protagonist Rama (top left, blue figure) fighting the demon-king of the king of Lanka, Ravana in order to save Rama’s kidnapped wife Sita. The painting depicts multiple events in the battle against the three-headed demon general Trisiras, in bottom left–Trisiras is beheaded by the monkey-companion of Rama-–Hanuman.

The holiday season has begun for many. The ritual of story telling can be engaging, entertaining, and a very effective learning tool in every culture and religion. The stories may have a clear and practical message for a peaceful mind. Mental turmoil is clearly not just a contemporary affliction!

The mythical tale of the popular Indian festival of Dussehra also known as Vijaya Dashmi, like other major world holy days, is seen as a metaphor of mental reflection and clarification of our own minds. Swami Satyananda wrote in Yoga Magazine, October 2008:

“In the present day, the demons that we need to deal with are ignorance, corruption and terrorism that are rampant in the entire world. They are the Ravanas of today. Therefore, the destruction of Ravana should not be seen as a mere symbol. Ravana or Mahisasura should not be simply relegated to Puranic tales or history; their annihilation should be real for us. That is the significance of this festival. It denotes that you will remove ignorance and lack of awareness from your mind. That is when you will be truly able to say that Ravana or Mahisasura has died.”

The aim is to get rid of attitudes, thinking, behaviors that become obstructions to a peaceful, harmonious, and joyful life. These are universal concepts and the stories help bring them to life.

There are many stories of Dussehra.  All Indians know the story of Rama and Ravana. For our readers who do not know the story, we give a very brief summary. Rama was the king of Ayodhya who had been sent into exile (accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshman).  Ravana was the king of Lanka who abducts Sita.  Rama is the symbol of light and harmony, or sattwa. Ravana is darkness and disharmony, or tamas. They battle at Lanka when Rama goes to rescue Sita.  Ravana has ten heads and is finally vanquished. The day of conquest is celebrated as Dussehra (destruction of ten heads–dass/ten,  hara/ cut or destroy).

Here is a part of the explanation from Dasara–An Exposition from Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba:

Symbolism Of Ravana

“Ravana is depicted as the king of Raakshasas [demons]. He is said to have ten heads. He was not born with ten heads. Who is this Ravana and what are his ten heads? Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), Maatsyasya (envy), Manas (mind), Buddhi (intellect), Chitta (will) and Ahamkara (the ego) -all these ten constitute the ten heads. Ravana is of all the ten qualities. Each one can decide for himself whether he is a Ravana or Rama according to his qualities.” Sai Baba, SS. SS. 11/91. p. 285

Symbolism Of Rama

“Rama is the destroyer of the bad qualities. When engaged in this act of destruction of bad qualities, He manifests his Rajo-guna [action, motion, energy]. But his Rajasic quality is associated with his Satvic [light, purity, harmony, clearing, sentience] quality. Even in cutting off Ravana’s ten heads, Rama showed his love. This was the only way that Ravana could be redeemed.” Sai Baba, SS, 11/91. p. 285

The redemption suggested in yoga is abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment) as explained by Swami Satyananda in Satsang at Rikhiapeeth, Yoga Magazine, October 2008 issue:

“Vairagya…. is the ability to disconnect the present from the past. Past events disturb one’s present life. All that you ever see or hear accumulates in your mind. Your grandfather may have died five years ago, but you still think of him. The connection of the past with the present needs to be determined by every individual for himself. We are not able to do this, and therefore our minds remain disturbed.”

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Adaptation to seasons, external circumstances, as well as situations is integral to yoga philosophy. As the season changes, this post is a reminder to begin the adaptation phase. Holidays become markers to remind us to clean our house–homes, bodies, minds. Here are some suggestions to start the process.

Shatkarma: These are cleansing kriyas or practices. See the blog post Yoga Spring Cleaning: Digestive System (March 20, 2011). Cleaning the digestive system can be gentle or moderate through varied detoxification methods.  From partial fasts, to high-fiber diets, to shankhprakshalan, there are many ways.

Asana: A gradual switch to more active routines from the relatively passive summer asanas is now appropriate. Active routines counter the slowing winter metabolism and help keep the body warmer.  As the digestive system becomes more sluggish, a practice of surya namaskar/sun salutations can invigorate and improve the digestive process by toning and stimulating peristalsis.

Pranayama: The cooling summer breaths of sitali and sitakari give way to kapalbhati and bhastrika. The active breaths gently pump the belly and stimulate the heat-generating manipura chakra. The abdominal organs get a work-out. The respiratory system is flushed and strengthened.

Meditation: These practices remain steady. A greater inner focus begins.

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