Thought for the week

In thinking about the presence of stress in our lives, B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that a certain amount of tension and stress is required for moving and living and that we must differentiate unhealthy levels and negative stress from requisite stress. He explains that the main causes of negative stress are anger, fear, speed, greed, unhealthy ambition and competition, which produce a deleterious effect on the body and mind. “When one does good work with out selfish motives, though there is the stress of work, it is positive, and does not cause the far greater stress that comes from grasping and greed. The practice of asana, (the yoga poses) and pranayama, (the breathing exercises), not only de-stress you, but energize and invigorate the nerves and the mind in order to handle the stress that comes from the caprices of life.” He offers this analogy, “When it rains heavily, the water does not necessarily penetrate the earth. If the surface is dry and hard, the rain water floods the surface and runs off. But if it rains gradually, for many days continuously and the ground is moist, then the water seeps deep into the earth which is good for cultivation and for life. Similarly in ourselves, we must moisten our muscles and nerves through the expansion and extension of the various asana. In this way, the stress that saturates the brain is diffused throughout the rest of the body, so the brain is rested and released from strain and body releases its stress and strain through movement.”

-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

Combat Stress

As we get older, our bodies are less able to handle the wear and tear caused by stress. The body, especially the brain, has built-in mechanisms to keep stress hormones at the proper levels but as we age, these internal stress-hormone reducing mechanisms gradually become less effective. What to do? Learn and practice strategies to create and maintain an inner calm. Learn how to keep the body’s stress levels stable. They are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which works like a computer to keep the body running automatically. There are two components of the (ANS) which compliment one another, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The (SNS) revs up the nervous system as a protective mechanism referred to as the “flight or fight response.” In balance the (PNS) calms down the nervous system promoting relaxation, rest and sleep. This system is the target of stress reduction techniques. The more we can reduce our bodies undue stress and the more effective we become in instructing the adrenal glands to stop pumping cortisol and other stress hormones through our body, the better we combat accelerated aging. The stress researcher Dr. Hans Selye reports that “After every stressful situation, we become a little older.” Therefore, the older we get, the calmer we need to be.

Excess stress shrinks the brain, ages the heart, weakens the bones, prevents or disturbs quality sleep, makes us sick, inhibits a healthy gut, increases belly fat, and can lead to diabetes. And that’s the condensed list! Chronic, unresolved stress prematurely ages every vital organ.
Stress management is a key health component of centenarians and people who prefer an enjoyable life. Here are a few simple stress striking tips:

*Practice letting go. In yogic terms this is referred to as non-attachment. Choose not to focus on aspects of your life you can’t change. We can’t always control situations, only our responses to them. Know the difference between helpful reflection and destructive rumination. Let go of what has passed.

*Focus on solutions, not problems. Problems inevitably arise. Teach and train yourself to greet them as a learning opportunity. They really are. Humans seldom learn from ease and comfort.

*Keep the mini-stressores small. Having to wait in line for a latte or several slow traffic lights is regular life stuff. Stop behaving as if it’s a surprise or of consequence. Let the occasional, real, big issues warrant your concern.

*Redirect negative thoughts. Pre-load your mental/emotional/visceral library with a few vivid memories of relaxing and calming past experiences. Program your mind to reflexively recall these memories in response to stress stimuli, effectively filling your mind “tank” with premium thoughts, preventing negative thoughts from taking hold.

*Breathe… Immediately following a stressor, remind yourself to breathe. Close your eyes if possible, and take several natural, relaxed breaths. Notice the instant calming effects as your (PNS) is increased, allowing more air into the lungs, increased muscle relaxation getting more oxygen into your system. Make a habit of taking a “breath break” 8-10 times per day. It only takes a moment to create such a different and positive physiological effect!

Balance

” In every posture, the body, the mind, action and motion, as well as each breath of the physical, physiological, mental, and intellectual sheaths, have to be evenly balanced.”

                                                                                         -B.K.S. Iyengar from Yoga Wisdom and Practice

 

Quote for the day

“Most people ask only from their body that it does not trouble them. Most people feel that they are healthy if they are not suffering from illness or pain, not aware of the imbalances that exist in their bodies and minds that ultimately will lead to disease. A yogi never forgets that health must begin with the body. Your body is the child of the soul. You must nourish and train your child. Physical health is not a commodity to be bargained for. Nor can it be swallowed in the form of drugs and pills. It has to be earned through sweat. It is something that we must build up. You have to create within yourself the experience of beauty, liberation and infinity. This is health. Healthy plants and trees yield abundant flowers and fruits. Similarly, from a healthy person, smiles and happiness shine forth like the rays of the sun.”

– B.K.S Iyengar

        Paraphrased from Light on Life

On Retreat

I’m headed off to New Hampshire on a four day yoga retreat! I found out about this phenomenal event on social media, which has been buzzing about it for months, spurred on by a promotion conducted by The Marketing Heaven. The focus is “Cultivating a Yogic Mind,” exploring how one can find peace and equanimity during troubled times as well as empowering oneself to become a positive force in the world.

I am so grateful to have the time and opportunity to work with the world class teacher Patricia Walden and fully immerse myself in the study of asana, pranayama and yoga philosophy. I won’t be posting during this time but am looking forward to sharing my experiences when I return!  Namaste.

Present, Patient Practice

I came across an article in this morning’s sports section of the newspaper that highlighted the Tampa Bay Buc’s quarterback Jameis Winston. He is likely the hardest working player in Tampa Bay, up at 5:30 every morning in order to arrive early for practice, with a daily routine that schedules and accounts for almost every minute until day’s end at 9 p.m.. While certainly an admirable work ethic, that’s not exactly what caught my attention.

Winston believes that “progress is made in the little things, the tiny details.” He tracks all aspects of his practice carefully so at the end of each day he can trace whether it was successful, measured by his improvement in processing necessary information. He scrutinizes daily films evaluating areas of progress. He reminds himself that there are 31 other quarterbacks with similar goals and work ethics and asks himself daily what he is doing to make himself better than those other 31.

The main way he ensures that he is, is by resisting the urge to look ahead to the future imagining big games, playoffs or Super Bowl rings. Instead he stays focused on “what’s now.” The current drill, film session, healthy meal, current weight workout etc.. His coach helps reinforce this by instilling the mantra “patience.” As a companion mantra, he also emphasizes “understanding the situation that we’re working with in any moment, what the practice is that particular day and how he has to subtly adjust his game accordingly.” Sounds like yoga to me!

The practice of yoga, most readily accessible in the asanas or poses, is one of being present and accepting of “what is” in the moment. Our body/mind shifts constantly, always subtly and sometimes more dramatically and we must develop the maturity to tolerate the changes. As we become more dedicated and advanced practitioners, our powers of observation and awareness must keep pace. It’s not enough to simply progress to more challenging or impressive poses much like it’s not as helpful for the football players to simply practice play after play, they have to know where they are in the game. We as yogis need to know where we are in our “game”; the game of inhabiting ourselves, fully supported, truly aligned, moving with intelligence and integrity. We have to be honest that perhaps the lumbar flexibility of our present may or may not allow for all the backbending poses of our yesterday but if we are discerning, creative and adaptive in attitude and practice we can always discover alternatives. When we develop the awareness to notice the placement of our right big toe relative to the left, the effects of our habit of engagement for one shoulder blade compared to the other or how by moving the  skin of the hand from the outside edges inward creates a more evenly balanced  dog pose, we are on our way to subtle yet deeply profound change. Our ability and tenacity to integrate the necessary adjustments is what leads to transformation. That requires patience and long, uninterrupted, unceasing practice.

Winston’s coach allows that the player seems to be getting better at this business of patience, characterizing it as “slow and steady progress.” Winston himself says things are slowing down for him, in a good way. “Patience is a way of controlling everything. To be an effective game manager I always need to be calm, cool and collected. Everything can be going fast for others but it has to be slowed down for me. I have to be the person that brings everybody together and puts us on ‘chill mode.'”

This wisdom isn’t the byproduct of age, he’s 23. It comes with putting in the work, the intelligence of that work and the unceasing practice and patience sustained over long periods of time.

B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that there is a great difference between just practicing and sadhana. He says, “Sadhana is the way of accomplishing something. That something is by correct execution, the achievement of the real. What is real must be true and so lead us toward purity and emancipation. This is yoga sadhana and not the mechanical repetition merely of yoga practice. The end of yoga sadhana is wisdom. Here he is translating yoga sadhana as ‘the yoga pilgrimage’ as it is a journey that leads somewhere, not the mere treadmill of thoughtless practice. ” Hmm… words to practice by.  Namaste