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Glazed Cruller in Space by Kenny Scharf
In my post My Evolving Home Practice ) in April of this year I described some of the main things I had been focusing on in my home practice. Although it has not been a full year since my last check in with you all, there are two different ways of practicing I’ve been experimenting with that I felt warranted an update.

Making Space in Joints 

One of the most common complaints I hear from my students is that they have pain around the joints. The technique of creating more space in affected joints is one that I have found helpful for this problem both personally and for my students. For example, when my knees are feeling cranky and sore, I will actively lift my thighbones away from my shinbones in standing poses to create more space between the boney surfaces of the knee joints. For me, this results in more muscular engagement around the joints and usually lessens any pain that was there before. I apply this way of working to just about any movable joint in the body when any of these joints are troubling for my students or me.

What has shifted recently is the idea of sequentially involving as many joints as I can in a pose. For example, in Mountain pose, I start by feeling grounded evenly in the feet, then lift the shins away from the feet, the thighs away from the shins, the pelvis away from the thighs, and the individual spinal bones up off one another, all the way up to lifting the skull away from the cervical spine. When used in the static version of poses, this technique establishes a clear lift away from gravity, engages the muscles around many joints, and feels very strengthening and quite good on the joints. It is also a great way to focus the mind on remaining in the body for longer holds. As I have been getting familiar with this expanded way of making space in joints in many poses, I have started to share it with my classes lately with good feedback from my students. I hope to share more specifics via my YouTube videos in the coming months. Stay tuned by subscribing to my YouTube channel.

Slow Motion/Outer Space Yoga 

Here at YFHA, we have often discussed how to use yoga poses to build strength, via different ways of contracting muscles (see Strength Building: How Long to Hold Poses). But recently I’ve learned about some new research that gave me some new ideas. In addition to reading blogs about yoga-related research and practice, I also follow the blog The S&C Research Reviewof Chris Beardsley, a British athletic trainer and writer, who focuses on evaluating the research on weight training and strength building. He recently pointed out that multiple studies are showing that eccentric muscle contraction is as or more effective in building strong muscles as static holds and concentric muscle contractions. 

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, eccentric contraction (which I discussed in my post Strength Building: How Long to Hold Poses is when a muscle is still contracting while slowly lengthening. What?? You might be saying to yourself, “That does not seem to make any sense!” Let me give you an example of how it works: as you slowly lift your arms out to the sides and up from Mountain pose up into Arms Overhead pose, the muscle at the tops of the shoulders, the deltoids, are contracting and shortening on the way up (this is known as concentric contraction). However, if you slowly lower the arms back down, that same muscle is continuing to contract, but it is lengthening, to allow for a smooth even descent of your arms. 

This is eccentric contraction. Several of the studies on resistance weight training to build muscle used eccentric muscle contractions of 3-4 seconds (for instance, taking 3-4 seconds to lower the arms to the sides as described above). If you want to read more on this topic, see here.

In those studies, subjects are using weights of some sort. In yoga asanas, we use our own body weight instead, but that’s still “lifting weights”. So, with all that in mind, I have been taking dynamic versions of poses and my mini-vinyasas and slowing the time in and out of poses (4 to 6 seconds for each specific movement) while keeping the breath relaxed. That might mean you take two full breaths to make the move instead of just one inhalation or exhalation. When you practice this way, it looks like you are moving in slow motion and even has that look of weightless movement you see with astronauts on space shuttle missions, ergo the name. But it feels like you are working in a very different, stronger way than when moving in and out of a pose on just the inhalation or exhalation. The slower movement also requires more concentrated focus, which I consider an added benefit. I’d love to see a future yoga study on strength improvements comparing dynamic poses (moving in on and inhalation and out on an exhalation) with static poses and this slow-motion version to see which is more effective in building strength. It is also my intention to create some videos on this style of practice to share with you in the near future. Stay tuned by subscribing to my YouTube channel.


Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by  ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.

Follow Baxter Bell, MD on YouTubeFacebook, and Instagram. For upcoming workshops and retreats see Baxter's Workshops and for info on Baxter see baxterbell.com.  
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YOGA FOR HEALTHY AGING by Nina Zolotow - 2d ago
by Ram
The Wave by Edvard Munch
Neurons communicate through electrochemical signals that are the basis for motor functions, thoughts, emotions, and behavior. These electrochemical signals—also called brainwaves—can be detected by placing sensitive sensors on the head/scalp. Brainwaves are functionally characterized as bandwidths and range from slow to fast, loud to subtle and simple to complex. Thus, our brainwaves change according to our behavior and the emotions that we display. Slower brainwave patterns indicate that the individual is tired, fatigued, sluggish, slow, or dreamy. Fast brainwave patterns are seen when an individual is alert, fast paced and generally in a hyper-moody behavior. While these are broad descriptions, there are brainwaves that are far more complex and reflecting various aspects of individuality. The list of brainwaves includes:

Delta Waves. These brainwaves are low frequency, high amplitude, deeply penetrating, slow brainwaves that are generated during deep meditation and dreamless sleep. The presence of delta waves indicates that the individual is no longer influenced by external impressions. Researchers note that people with health issues do better in this state, indicating the importance of deep sleep to the healing process. Delta wave activity is highest in infants and is the predominant brain wave in infants. Delta waves have been shown to decrease across the lifespan and especially in the older adults by which time deep sleep and delta waves may be entirely absent.

Theta Waves. These brainwaves are seen most often in dream sleep and also appear together with the delta waves in deep meditation. Theta waves appear during learning, memory acquisition, intuition, nightmares, and during emotional display. A person who daydreams presents a theta brainwave state. A person who is driving after a heavy meal or on a quiet freeway realizes that he/she is unable to recall the last five miles. This is theta wave in action. Individuals who ideate a lot can blame it on the theta waves. Theta waves are predominant on all those tasks that are done in an auto mode. 

Alpha Waves. Being here and now or being in the present state marks the appearance of alpha brainwaves. They predominantly appear during the resting state and their appearance signals non-arousal, calmness, mind/body integration, and learning. A person who has completed a task and sits down to rest, takes time out to reflect, or takes a break from a meeting and walks in silence is often in an alpha state. 

Beta Waves. These brainwaves are fast acting and dominate during the waking state and when we are alert, attentive, and engaged in mental activity. When the brain is stimulated or aroused, it generates beta waves that are characteristics of a mind that is engaged. Thus, an orator, a debater, a teacher, or a talk show host would all present beta waves in their brain when they are engaged in this form of activity. 

These four brainwave states are common to the entire human species. Individuals of all ages experience these same brainwaves, which are consistent across race, cultures, countries, and boundaries. Thus, when we put the book down or switch off the TV, turn off the lights and close our eyes, our brainwaves shift from beta, to alpha, to theta and finally, when we fall into deep sleep, to delta. 

But researchers have shown that even though one specific brainwave may predominate at any given time, depending on an individual’s activity, the remaining brainwaves will continue to be present albeit at low levels at all times. All the four brainwaves work in tandem and in sync with each other to determine an individual’s state of activity. However, as we age, the synchronicity with which these brainwaves function is lost. Sleep is also compromised in adulthood, which further aggravates the random behavior of the brainwaves, which partly explains why older adults are so forgetful. According to latest research studies, both delta and theta waves are out of sync in older people, which interrupt communication between the hippocampus-prefrontal cortex areas of our brains that are responsible for short and long-term memories.

Yoga for healthy aging advocates physical tools for the body, mental tools for the brain, stress management tools, and equanimity tools, all of which will help to avoid or reduce the chances of acquiring one or more of the age-associated diseases and to better manage and minimize the impact when they occur (How to Foster Brain Health with Yoga). These tools—including asana, pranayama, meditation, and yoga philosophy—are exactly what you will use daily as your yoga practice. Previous research has shown the vast mental and physical health benefits associated with yoga practice. When considering brain waves from the perspective of stillness, attention, focus, concentration, and relaxation, there is an interesting relationship between yoga practices, brain waves, and positive brain states. Studies have shown the following: 
  • A considerable increase in alpha and theta activity was found in most regions of the brain after Kriya Yoga meditation, indicating that the brain is deeply calm, still, and relaxed (see Mapping the brains activity after Kriya Yoga). 
  • Depressed, introvert people have more alpha brainwaves in the left temporal lobe, while chirpy, gregarious people have more alpha waves in the right side. Thus, yoga-associated increase of alpha brainwave in the right temporal lobe provides a natural setting to counteract stress and depression. 
  • Increased alpha and beta wave activation were observed after two rounds of alternate nostril pranayama practice, which indicated relaxation with an underlying alertness. The authors also noted a balancing effect on the functional activity of the left and right hemisphere (see EEG changes during forced alternate nostril breathing). 
  • Increase in beta waves, which is linked to improved task performance, was found to be associated with fast paced breathing practices including Sudarshan Kriya and Kapalabhati pranayama (see Electrophysiologic evaluation of Sudarshan Kriya: an EEG, BAER, P300 study). 
  • Both asana and pranayama practices were associated with increased delta and theta brainwaves, which may explain why participants experienced reduction in anxiety and increased attention and focus. 
Thus, a combination of breathing practices, meditation, and asanas is sufficient to shift the brainwave pattern to a physical and mental state involving reduction in stress, anxiety, mood disturbances, and depression and improvements in mood, focus, alertness, and an over-all sense of well-being. Sustaining good health and wellness and improvement in well-being is universally favored by people, so here is another compelling reason for you implement yoga as a daily practice.


Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by  ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.
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by Steffany Moonaz
For those who don’t know me, I’m a research scientist and a yoga therapist. I serve as the Director of Research at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, which offers the only Masters of Science in Yoga Therapy, and my research is exclusively focused on yoga and yoga therapy, especially as it applies to people living with arthritis, rheumatic diseases, and chronic pain. As a yoga therapist grand-parented through IAYT, I have explored this area as a clinician as well as a scientist for many years. In fact, it was the topic of my doctoral dissertation at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and has subsequently become the basis for my life’s work. 

This work is a dharma that found me without me knowing quite how or why at the time. In retrospect, I knew as a kid that there was a lot of suffering in the world and that feeling connected would help reduce suffering. I believe that the work I do now does help people to feel connected in many ways and thereby does reduce suffering. 

Doing this work, I have been honored to share in the journeys of people whose lives have been absolutely transformed by the teachings and practices of yoga. Sometimes this happens gradually over time and sometimes it happens in a single moment via a specific pose or a sudden epiphany. I decided to write my book, Yoga Therapy for Arthritis: A Whole Person Approach to Movement and Lifestyle, to share some of those stories and hopefully provide information to foster even more of those stories. I wrote it for people with any form of arthritis at any age, for yoga professionals, and for healthcare providers who serve them. Within it, each should find something useful. It is my sincere hope that this book, through its science, practices, stories, and suggestions, somehow makes a small difference in the lives of those who read it and those they touch. 

The book will come out December 21, 2018 and Nina invited me to share an excerpt from it on the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog. So today I’m excited to share two excerpts. The first is from the beginning of the book where common understanding and myths about arthritis are discussed. The second is a sample practice from later in the book that uses a chair as a prop. The book proceeds along the koshas, from the physical body to the subtle bodies, and explores the role of arthritis at every level, as well as the role of yoga in addressing the challenges common to life with arthritis. It is appropriate for people with arthritis, yoga professionals, and healthcare providers. If you’re interested in buying the book, you can pre-order it now on Amazon, on my website, or directly from the publisher

Here's the first extract:


© 2018 Singing Dragon, singingdragon.com/usa/yoga-therapy-for-arthritis, $35.00, Reprinted with permission.

Here's the second extract:


© 2018 Singing Dragon, singingdragon.com/usa/yoga-therapy-for-arthritis, $35.00, Reprinted with permission.


Dr. Steffany Moonaz is a yoga therapist and researcher, currently serving as Director of Clinical and Academic Research at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, which offers the nation’s only M.S. in Yoga Therapy. She is the founder of Yoga for Arthritis, an organization bringing evidence-based yoga programs to people with arthritis nationwide, as well as educating yoga professionals to work safely and effectively with this population. Dr. Moonaz collaborates on multiple interdisciplinary research teams and mentors emerging integrative health researchers.


Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by  ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.
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This new variation of Dynamic Warrior 1 adds a strap between the hands under side-to-side tension to bring more upper body and arm strengthening to the other benefits of Dynamic Warrior 1. As you practice the pose, focus on maintaining the side-to-side tension on the strap throughout.


Baxter Bell Yoga: Mini Vinyasa 96: Dynamic Warrior 1 with Bird Wings and a Strap - YouTube



Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by  ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.

Follow Baxter Bell, MD on YouTubeFacebook, and Instagram. For upcoming workshops and retreats see Baxter's Workshops and for info on Baxter see baxterbell.com.  


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Q: Hi Baxter! Would you please enlighten me on the Vira 2 and Trikonasana foot position? Front heel to arch of back foot or front heel to heel of back foot? 

A: Early on in my yoga life, most of my teachers were trained in the Iyengar tradition. I recall in my teacher training hearing the instructions to step your feet wide apart, 4 to 4 1/2 feet for Warrior 2 (Virabradrasana 2) and 3 to 3 1/2 feet apart for Triangle pose (Trikonasana). Then, came the instructions to turn the right leg and foot out 90 degrees and turn the back foot forward slightly to the right, lining your right foot with the arch of your back foot. However, our blog and in our book Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being—although we don’t directly state it—our foot position instructions should result in the front heel to back heel alignment. 

Interestingly, when I checked my copy of Light on Yoga just now, it mentions the width to step the feet apart, but not specifically how to line the left and right foot up with one another. My curiosity piqued and knowing that different traditions have different ways of practicing these poses, I took a look in my copy of The Viniyoga of Yoga, by TKV Desikachar, on Triangle pose (interestingly, Warrior 2 is not included in this text). Not only is there no specific written instructions on the alignment of the feet in the pose, the photos seem to show the feet no wider than 3 feet apart, maybe a bit less, and although the heels of both feet seem to be aligned, the front foot only turns out about 45 degrees, and the back foot turns out instead of in. Fascinating! 

And even among teachers in the Iyengar tradition, the emphasis on one particular foot alignment has changed with time. You may recall that our guest writer Sandra Razelli wrote a post Tricky Trikonasana about her challenges with Triangle over the years. There is telling advice she received from her (and my) faculty teacher Mary Paffard: 

“She warned us about how following rigid instructions and pushing oneself into the pose could cause harm. She debunked the then common instruction to line up the heel (of the front foot) with the arch (of the back foot) and encouraged her students to keep the pelvis free instead of keeping the hip points in the same plane.” 

Nina suggested I mention two other important facts regarding this issue. The first is the fact that these alignment cues were originally created by and taught by men, without considering the differences between male and female anatomical structure. In particular, women have a very different pelvic structure than men have—which causes their hip joints to be wider apart than men’s—and this can influence which foot position is best for them. Secondly, these alignment options do not take into account people with larger bodies. These people often struggle with alignment cues that most of us take for granted so they, too, may need to modify their foot positions.

So, given all of that, how do you decide how to align the feet in these two poses?

Really, your choice can depend on several factors. Does your foot alignment allow for: 1) balance and stability, 2) avoiding pain or strain in ankles, knees, hips, SI joints, or lower back, 3) your ability to easily move into whatever variation of the poses you are working on, maintain the pose, and exit, pain and strain free and balanced and stable, 4) the form to achieve the function of the pose, and 5) ease of breath? 

In regard to balance and stability, it may be that neither of the options, which are front heel to arch of back foot or front heel to heel of back foot, work for everyone, and, in fact for those with poor balance, I often recommend the front foot be offset from the back a few inches for greater stability. 

With respect to function over form, does your chosen foot alignment in Triangle fulfill your intentions for practicing the pose. For Triangle pose, a helpful intension could be: “This energizing pose strengthens and stretches your upper and lower body and strengthens the core muscles at the sides of your torso.” For Warrior 2, a helpful intension could be: “This grounding pose strengthens your lower and upper body while stretching your hips, legs and chest and challenging your balance.” This process of evaluating your choices in alignment fits nicely with the concepts of inquiry and agency that Carey Sims wrote about last week in his post The Importance of Inquiry and Agency in the Asana Practice).

My personal preference between these two particular options, front heel to arch of back foot or front heel to heel of back foot, is the later. The way I get into the starting position for both poses (for me the foot alignment is the same for both) ends up in that relationship. Here’s how I do it: 

1. Starting in Mountain pose, step the feet wide apart (how far apart will vary dramatically from person to person, but could range from 3-4.5 feet, depending on your height and the length of your legs and your physical ability), keeping your heels lined up with one another.

2. Pivoting on the heel pad of your front foot, turn your front leg and foot out 90 degrees, setting the ball of your foot down. 

3. To position your back foot, lift your back heel slightly up and, pivoting on the ball of the back foot, move your back heel back about 2 inches or so before setting it down. 

This results in your back foot being at about a 10 degree turn toward your front foot, and your front foot aligned with the heel of your back foot. From my experience the transition of my feet into this alignment feels stable and easy on the balance and I find most of my students find that to be true as well. From there, mindfully getting into and out of the pose will let you assess if your aligned feet successfully fulfill the five factors above. Enjoy the process! 

—Baxter


Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by  ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.

Follow Baxter Bell, MD on YouTubeFacebook, and Instagram. For upcoming workshops and retreats see Baxter's Workshops and for info on Baxter see baxterbell.com.  
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by Ram
Last week Nina presented an insightful article about sexual abuse in Yogaland and provided some great suggestions about ways to avoid sexual predators (Speaking Truth to Power About Sexual Abuse). An anonymous reader had several objections to that article and strongly suggested that YFHA should stop publishing articles regarding sexual abuse. Nina wrote a rejoinder post after dissecting the reader’s question into subparts and providing positive comments and reasons for each of the sub-questions (Re: Your Request that I Stop Writing About Sexual Abuse). There was truth and kindness in Nina’s response for each question and I personally admired the style with which Nina handled this sensitive query. Meanwhile Nina also approached me and asked me to address this issue particularly: “Westerners being fascinated by sex and sexual culture and YFHA is proving this true with so many articles devoted to this topic”. Because I’m an Indian and a male from a “Brahmin” family, Nina asked if I could add in my perspective about sexual abuse in the yoga arena. I was not sure if I could write on this issue truly from my heart. I meditated on this topic and as my heart opened up with the truth I began writing unabashedly. 

Let me begin by saying that India is a land of contradictions. At least that was how the country was when I was growing up until I left the country in 1992. Since then, I try to visit India each year and though people remark that India in the course of aping the West is now fully Westernized, I don’t buy it as I continue to see contradictions in many facets of life. Growing up in an extended family of Sanskrit teachers and Vedic priests, my brothers and I were taught the four goals or aims of a human life, also known as Purushartha (goals of human pursuit). We were told to lead a life filled with righteousness and morals (Dharma), prosperity (Artha), pleasure & love (Kama), and spirituality (Moksha).

As a school student, however, spirituality was a distant land, righteousness was a far-fetched practice, and prosperity was left to the head of the household and the earning member. In contrast, we found ourselves deeply exploring the world of senses and sensory pleasure and Kama to us meant cheap sexual pleasure. Though Kama actually signifies the ultimate aspect of love that did not violate the laws of Dharma (moral responsibility), Artha (material prosperity) and Moksha (spiritual liberation), as teenagers we looked upon Kama as desire, passion, and emotions with sexual connotations. This, despite the fact that sex in India and in majority of the homes was considered taboo. Topics about sex and sexual discussions were considered indecent, especially with family members. Even in schools, sex education was not taught as it faced a lot of opposition from parents and teachers dared not teach the subject. Sex was considered a very personal thing and something that could not be discussed among parents, teachers or elders. 

And if you are a woman, you are at a complete loss. Girls were not provided with any education about menstrual hygiene and sexual health. I remember the fear and anxiety surrounding my cousins when they experienced their first menstrual period. They were strictly warned about discussing it with anyone. Topics pertaining to menstruation, sexual intercourse, sexual organs, gender identity, feelings of attraction for another person, child sexual abuse, and self-exploration among others were off limits and totally discouraged. Sexual information only percolated through hearsay from senior kids or movie scenes that depicted anything close to sex, including sexual abuse or rape scenes. 

Herein lies some contradictions. While schools disregarded subjects dealing with sex education and adults firmly pushed such topics into the dark closet, this is the same country that produced the world-famous treatise Kamasutra and this is the same land where majority of the temple facades sported intricately carved sex sculptures. Kissing and sex scenes in movies were censored by the Indian film censor board, but rape scenes and sexual abuse were allowed. And yet the subject of sex was always sidelined and considered morally disgraceful to be discussed openly. Kissing, pecking, or holding a significant other/spouse’s hands in a public place were all considered offensive and any kind of love or affection was confined to just the bedroom and not to be displayed publicly. A convenient reason given is that any talk or discussion about sex would disrupt the “social order, family values and the Indian culture” that has been “pure” since time immemorial. I am still trying to understand the “Indian” social order and the culture. Since our parents did not receive sexuality education themselves and did not discuss their own sexuality issues with others, they did not recognize the need for their children to have a formal, comprehensive education on sex and sexuality. Furthermore, since it was considered taboo, children too felt uncomfortable talking about sex or having conversations in public. This created a major obstacle, for if a child or teenager was sexually abused, the incident was never discussed within the family. And even if parents were aware they did not seek any help, the entire matter was hushed up, and the perpetrator could walk scot free and commit similar abuses on other teenagers. Time and again parents kept insisting that girls/women wear clothes without revealing any part of their body—skimpy clothing was a ticket to sexual abuse or rape. The same practice was true in professional life. Women were teased, abused, or molested at work or other places, but the incidents were rarely brought to light for fear of repercussions. 

Now, imagine the consequence of having a girl/women in a room with a well-known male doctor, practitioner, teacher, instructor, coach, tutor, trainer or mentor. Or imagine a class with a well-known male personality and all the students vying for his attention? Loose-minded and morally despicable people are spread out in the world and India is no exception. Whoever declared that a yoga guru or a swami from the Himalayas or a world-renowned philosopher could never be a sexual predator is totally mistaken. Such personalities may be delivering an authentic message, but they are not true messengers. If the messenger happens to be a Yoga teacher, the eight limbs of the yoga philosophy gets taught to the students, but the same messenger is not walking the talk. Unable to overcome their temptations, they endanger a student’s life by providing an unsafe environment. Thus, we have heard and are hearing about such gurus and their shenanigans. Time and again, the ego (Ahamkara) of such personalities has always tested these individuals and many have succumbed to material or sensual desires. The myth that there is cultural misunderstanding and sexual abuse is only confined to the West is incorrect. This has happened in the West, it has happened in the East, and India again is no exception. 

Sexual abuse is not a normal or acceptable behavior, it is a crime. The difference is that in India due to the taboo, sexual abuse is not easily brought to light. So, while the West highlights an abuse case and keeps the story alive through repeated media exposure, Indians in general shy away from writing, reading, or discussing such cases. It may seem an act of hypocrisy, but it is what it is. In the process, the likes of Jois, Bikram, and others may have got dethroned in the west, but in India, and particularly among the yoga community, the public is either muted or neutral (their reaction, “we don’t discuss such cases in public”). So now where does that leave me? Let me confess, when Nina asked me for my comments, initially the “Indian taboo culture” overtook me and I hesitated. As I sat to meditate, I reflected on my own Ayurveda and Yoga classes. The first topic in an Ayurveda student’s journey is Indian Philosophy and one of the six philosophies (Shad darshana) taught is yoga philosophy. 

Yoga is just not about learning to manage the fluctuations of the mind, but also about desires, thought, and emotions. It is about compassion for ourselves and others, and standing for truth. Furthermore, yoga is also about nurturing, healing, and flourishing at all levels. Going by the principles of this philosophy, I would want to keep these discussions alive for the issues to be resolved and for immoral teachers to be exposed for the safety of other students. The world may move on and such teachers may claim “retransformation,” but students need to be careful. These teachers of fame may “reinvent’ themselves, but old habits, especially sensual habits, die hard. But as yogis we are taught to fill ourselves with hope and so we hope that through these forums and discussions, tainted teachers develop awareness, are able to control their desires and impulses, and drastically change their behavior so they are more in tune with their true nature. As for us, we practice their teachings but not their behavior. We can even move a step ahead of them in the journey to inner realization by, when we are ready, forgiving the individuals who injured our mind and upset our emotional balance. The act of forgiveness can free us from a traumatic past, mitigate any past horrible experience, and allow us to move on with those events cleared from our lives. 


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by Victor
If you haven’t yet read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, then I highly recommend you do. After you are done reading this article, do yourself a favor and go to your local library, local bookstore, or online source and pick up a copy. While the novel is an enjoyable existential romp through the galaxy, relevant to this blog it’s no big spoiler to tell you that the message of the book is “Don’t Panic.” This is not just the underlying message of the book, it’s explicitly stated, early and often and is sometimes even included on the front cover! “Don’t Panic” is a pretty good way of describing an approach to upashama, calm, considered one of the yamas of yoga practice. 

For many years I have considered upashama, calm, to be one of the yamas. I originally learned about upashama in Georg Feuerstein’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga (1990): 

“The Siddha-Siddhanta-Paddhati (II.32) speaks of calmness (upashama)…and makes the point that [this has] to be learned gradually.” 

However, when sitting down to write this series on additional yamas and niyamas not found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, I attempted to follow up on Feuerstein’s citation, but could not find this specific reference. If any reader has documentation of the inclusion of upashama in yama practice, I would be interested to follow up on suggestions for further reading. While I would appreciate better documentation of historical reference, I do not doubt that Feuerstein included upashama in his description of yamas in good faith. I have included calm as a yama in my own practice and teaching of yoga for some time, so I can at least attest to its value from my own perspective as student and teacher. 

As a reminder to those who are familiar with and as an introduction for those who are new to my perspective on yama and niyama, I do not view them as states to be achieved, but rather as actions to be practiced. In this regard, upashama, calm, is no different. When they are encouraged to practice being calm, people sometimes assume that calm is a feeling that will be reached after some other action has been engaged. In this view, calm is a destination, something to strive for, an external thing that can be attained, an end. What I am suggesting is that calm, in the context of yoga, is a way of engaging, something to cultivate internally, a practice.

When you sit down to meditate your mind might have a tendency to wander, to perseverate on past problems, and imagine impending issues. Upashama is a practice of being okay with these tendencies of the mind, a practice of staying calm amidst the perceived tumult of consciousness. There is no value in self castigation. There is no value in magnifying the distractions of the mind by giving them more power. Instead, find the value in acceptance of your mind as it is, yourself as you are. Practice being calm, patiently watching the waves of thought arise and fall away. For many, this practice of calm amidst disorder has the effect of dissipating these disruptions, at least partially, if not completely. However, the practice of upashama is truly practiced without the reliance on these end results. You practice being calm even if the uproar in your mind increases rather than decreases. In so doing you are taking a longer-term approach, understanding that while there may be short-term distress, you are building a long-term skill of being able to be calm even when the circumstances are challenging at the deepest levels.

Of course, there are some practical actions you can take to build this skill of calm. Intentional breathing, pranayama, is a clear example and its benefits have been frequently discussed on this blog. Specifically relevant to why practicing breathing is upashama is Nina’s post Why Meditating on Your Breath Works. But there is also a fundamentally simple common experience that most of us have which best illustrates this point. Think of a time when you were just about to do something challenging, scary, nerve racking, potentially life changing, or even just exciting. Maybe you were about to give a public speech, go into an interview, say “I love you” to someone for the first time, or otherwise. What most of us do instinctively just before the action is to take a deep breath. No one had to tell us to do this, we didn’t learn it in school, but maybe we’ve seen others in our lives do it just before they do something that looks challenging. 

What does that deep breath do for you? How does it make you feel? For most of us, in that moment of breathing, everything else drops away. The thing we are about to do, the fear, the anxiety, the contemplation of potential outcome, the desire to run away, all of that fades, at least just for that instant, as we are completely focused on the one breath. Pranayama can simply be a way of extending that experience beyond a single breath and into a series of breaths, a way of practicing calm. 

Calm is also something we often practice in asana. Many of the postures are inherently challenging. They often agitate and intensify in the short term. But when we intentionally practice putting ourselves into challenging circumstances, like in the practice of many yoga postures, then just as intentionally practice calm amidst the challenge, we strengthen this skill. The Navy Seal Jocko Willink once described the way that Navy Seals have incorporated yoga into their training. He explained that often Navy Seals are in circumstances where parts of their nervous system are ringing alarm bells, telling them to fight or flee. However, most often, in order to assure their best chance at not only survival, but also success, the best course of action is the counterintuitive one, to remain calm. He explained that yoga posture practice was one way that he and his team train themselves to be calm at the edges of intensity and learn to watch the intensity ebb. You certainly do not have to be a Navy Seal to recognize the powerful tool that practicing upashama can be. When you practice calm while in the controlled environment of a yoga posture, you are training yourself to be able to better weather the inevitable storms and stresses of life more broadly. 

We are constantly being inundated with the message that we should not be calm. The news media, product pushers, the business world, and even our friends and family would often have us believe that we are and should constantly be in a state of crisis. There are certainly ways in which we might all work toward a more just and robust society and reduce unnecessary suffering in the world, but freaking out is not going to help. Neither will nihilism or gloom and doom. What will help amidst the chaos, so that you can better focus your mind and body on the important work at hand, is to be calm. It is most likely that this ability will manifest because you have been developing this important skill, when you sit, when you breathe, when you move, and when you face the inevitable challenges that confront us all. Find that upashama, like all of the yamas and niyamas is not simply a philosophical notion or imagined ideal, but a practical skill that you can practice and hone.


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by Nina
Nina: Welcome back to Yoga for Healthy Aging, Timothy! While many of our readers know who you are and realize that you used to write for our blog back in the day (see Farewell, Timothy McCall. And Thank You So Much!), there may be some of our newer readers who don’t know much about you. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Timothy: Thank you, Nina! It’s good to be back. My background is in medicine. I practiced as a specialist in internal medicine for about 12 years, before devoting myself 20 years ago to the study, practice, and teaching of yoga therapy. I write books, including my 2007 book Yoga as Medicine, which you helped with, in a few different ways, and which featured Baxter as one of the models. I’ve also been the Medical Editor of Yoga Journal since 2002. Besides writing, the thing that keeps me busiest is teaching yoga therapy workshops. Next month I’ll be leading trainings in Australia and New Zealand, which will be my first time in either country. I’m really excited because I’m planning to teach for 3 weeks and take 3 weeks in between workshops to explore and have fun. I don’t take as many vacations as I should, and I’m really looking forward to this trip!

Nina: And what have you been up to since you left California and stopped writing for our blog?

Timothy: Along with continuing to teach, I spent a couple of years co-editing and contributing to a medical textbook on yoga therapy called The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care. The idea was to collect the scientific research on yoga in one place, and to present that information to health care professionals. Our goal, of course, was to get them to think about incorporating yoga and yoga therapy into the care of their patients. And, as you know, two years ago I got diagnosed with cancer, a stage IVa squamous cell carcinoma on my tonsil that metastasized to three lymph nodes on the opposite side of my neck. So that’s kept me busy….

Nina: We here at Yoga for Healthy Aging, along with most people in your life, had no idea that you were undergoing treatment for cancer until last June when you made an official announcement about both having throat cancer and having written a book about alternative therapies you used to support you through your treatments. Can you tell us something about what motivated you to write your personal story in Saving My Neck, which is a very different kind of book than Yoga as Medicine?

Timothy: When I went got diagnosed just before Thanksgiving 2016, I decided to kept it private. I know I would have received a lot of support from my friends in the yoga world, but I just felt like I needed to just get through the treatments. That still feels like the right decision. I initially had no intention of writing about it, but I learned so much along the way, I felt like I had to. To make the decisions I faced at every step, I did a ton of research, and it took me in some surprising directions that affected what I did. I ended up applying many holistic approaches—including yoga and Ayurveda—to complement the chemotherapy and radiation I got. I’m convinced that what I did made a tremendous difference going through chemoradiation. These tools made the cancer treatment easier to bear, sped my return to normal function—and maybe even increased my odds of getting cured. So really the book, the full title of which is Saving My Neck: A Doctor’s East/West Journey Through Cancer, is the story of how someone with a background in both conventional medicine and holistic healing figured out what to do when faced with a life-threatening disease. It was an amazing learning experience for me – and transformational—and I hope it will be an eye-opener for readers, too. 

Nina: Because our blog focuses on yoga, can you tell us some examples of how yoga supported you during your treatments for cancer?

Timothy: Yoga supported me not just during my treatment but before, as I prepared, and after, as I tried to recover from the ravages of chemotherapy and radiation. During my treatments, the side effects limited what I could do. Some days just standing and lifting my arms over my head felt like too much. Even my go-to restorative pose, Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall pose) with a bolster under my pelvis became impossible after the first couple of weeks. I had so much inflammation in my mouth that after one minute in the pose, phlegm built up in my mouth and I’d start to cough. And coughing by that stage was extremely painful as all the tissues in my mouth and throat had been so badly traumatized.

What I found instead was supported prone Bharadvajasana. One of the most feared long-term aftereffects of head and neck radiation is fibrosis, stiffening of the tissues of the mouth and throat. So, this pose—lying my torso over a bolster, with my knees and head turned in the same direction—was not only restorative, but it gave a wonderful stretch to the tissues of my neck. I did it on both sides, and often a few times per day. I’d guess I averaged more than an hour a day in just that one pose!

Nina: You’ve been through so much. How does your practice continue to support you today?

Timothy: My strength and stamina have returned to what they were before I got sick, so I’m back to doing a stronger asana practice. One thing I did as I was recovering (and continue to do), which made a huge difference, was a very slow pranayama practice. I should caution readers that I’ve had a daily pranayama practice for 18 years, and I’ve worked up to long breath-holding very slowly over the years. What I did is not something that should be attempted without the proper preparation—and guidance from a teacher. That said, my daily practice for the last year has been a very slow Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing. Specifically, I inhale through one nostril for 16 seconds, hold my breath for 16 seconds, exhale through the opposite nostril for 16 seconds, and hold the breath out for another 16 seconds. Then I do it on the other side and repeat. So that means I’m breathing less than one breath per minute. I do it for about 20 minutes every morning. I’ve had a lifelong twitchiness of my nervous system and a major vata derangement—both likely due to early life trauma, which I describe in Saving My Neck. This practice, I believe, has had a huge impact on both of these. That and everything else I did to fight the cancer and deal with the treatments—and recover from them both—has left me healthier today (as far as I can tell!) and more balanced than I’ve ever been.

Nina: How would you say your experience with cancer applies to people who have other life-threatening illnesses?

Timothy: One of the central principles of holistic healing is that the treatment is not based on the medical diagnosis per se so much as it’s designed to address whatever imbalances a person has. In yoga therapy, we like to say, we treat people, not conditions. In the therapy work I do, I divide up the territory of mind, body, and spirit into five categories, using an acronym SNAPS. That stands for Structure, Nervous System and Breath, Ayurveda, Psychology, and Spirituality. The way I treated any problem, including the many I faced on this journey through cancer, was to address as many aspects of my being as my time and energy allowed. So, I did yoga practices and bodywork to work on my structure, I chanted and did breath work for my nervous system, I meditated, I worked to balance myself from an Ayurvedic standpoint, and I tried to deal skillfully with the psychological challenges that a cancer diagnosis presents. Once I’d started to recover from treatment, I noticed a growing hunger—more urgency than I’ve felt for years – to do what I feel like I’ve been put on the planet to do. And writing Saving My Neck—which as you mentioned, is a memoir and is very different than anything I’ve written before—was a process of discovery, as I examined every aspect of what I’d been through. This process took me even deeper on the path of yoga.

Nina: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Timothy: I’d just like to thank everyone in the yoga world for all the love and support that I’ve received since I went public with my cancer diagnosis last summer. People have reached out to me to say how much my work has meant to them, in a way I’d never heard before. It all has been incredibly gratifying.

And if I could just say one more thing about Saving My Neck: I’ve decided to publish it myself rather than using a mainstream publisher. This one feels more personal than my other books, and I wanted to be able to control every aspect, from who edited it to the quality of the paper it gets printed on. But indie publishing doesn’t have the marketing and publicity clout of conventional publishing, so I’m reaching out to the yoga world. If you read the book and it speaks to you, please help spread the word. Thank you all!

The Kindle version of Timothy’s book Saving My Neck will be released January 1, 2019, and you can pre-order on Amazon now. You can also read an excerpt of the book on the Yoga Journal website. Yoga Journal has an excerpt of the book on their web site.  The hardcover version of the book will not be released until May 2, 2019. If you want updates on its release, check his website DrMcCall.com or sign up for his email newsletter at drmccall.com/subscribe.html.

Timothy McCall, MD is a board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine, and the author of two books, Examining Your Doctor: A Patient's Guide to Avoiding Harmful Medical Care (Citadel Press) and Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing (Bantam) in addition to his forthcoming book Saving My Neck. He is co-editor of the first medical textbook on yoga therapy, The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care (Handspring Publishing, 2016). He practiced medicine for more than 10 years in the Boston area before devoting himself full-time to investigating and teaching yoga therapy. Certified as a yoga therapist by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, he is the Founder/Director of Yoga As Medicine Seminars and Teacher Trainings and, until 2016, co-directed a yoga therapy center just outside of New York City. 

Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by  ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.

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In this session, Baxter will help you take a look at the pelvic region of the body, focusing on the bony structures of the right and left innominate bones (hip bones) and the sacrum, as well as the joints in the pelvic area.

Baxter Bell Yoga: Anatomy Lesson 8 : Introduction to the Pelvis - YouTube



Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by  ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.

Follow Baxter Bell, MD on YouTubeFacebook, and Instagram. For upcoming workshops and retreats see Baxter's Workshops and for info on Baxter see baxterbell.com.  

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