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Happy International Day of Yoga!

As the summer solstice ushers in this new holiday, try this sequence developed by Geeta Iyengar. She starts the sequence with the invocation to Patanjali.

Tadasana

Namaskarasana

Urdvha Hastasana

Uttanasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Uttanasana

Tadasana

Utthita Trikonasana

Utthita Parsvakonasana

Virabhadrasana I

Parivrtta Trikonasana

Parsvottanasana

Prasarita Padottanasana

Dandasana

Janu Sirsasana

Adho Mukha Upavistha Konasana

Virasana/Parvatasana

Swastikasana/Parvatasana

Parsva Dandasana

Bhradvajasana I

Marichyasana III

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Dhanurasana

Ustrasana

Adho Mukha Svanasna

Sirsasana

Sarvangasana

Halasana

Chatuse Padasana

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Savasana

Sit in Dhyana for meditation afterwards

Many blessings on this auspicious day!

 

 

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I completed Yale’s “Science of Well-Being” course. Here’s what I learned:

About a month ago, Yale University offered a free online six week course open to the public that studies factors in happiness. As a mental health practitioner, this course taught by professor Laurie Santos was a boon not only to myself and my colleagues, but also helps in approaching people who have psychiatric symptoms in finding outside the box solutions for combating anxiety and depression.

Misconceptions about what make us happy. As she addressed the Yale freshmen class, Professor Santos asked what kind of job would make them happy. Most said that a high paying job would make them happiest. She dispelled this misconception with the statistic that after a household has an annual income of about $75,000, there is no more increase of happiness related to income. Albeit many out there may be far from attaining this figure, it shows that after a certain point money does not equate to happiness.

Also, for those who want what Santos calls “awesome stuff” like a new sports car or house, research shows that while people have a spike in happiness after acquiring these, shortly they return to their baseline level of happiness. That is because of hedonic adaptation, or getting used to something you are happy about. To counter the effect of hedonic adaptation, Santos suggest we need to seek experiences, rather than things, as experiences are terminating, so we never get “used” to being on vacation, or going to a special restaurant, or special yoga event.

There is overwhelming evidence that social media makes us unhappy. Citing numerous studies, Santos delineates that social comparison is a destroyer of self esteem. Often times on Facebook we see our friends and relatives on some exotic vacation or landing some great high paying job. Even though we may have just taken our own vacation, or are happy with our current job, this makes us compare. Even if you perceive your vacation or jobs as better, it still creates disconnection. There is a famous study about olympic medal winners where the gold medalist is the happiest about their achievement, the bronze medalist is almost as happy as the gold medalist, but the silver medalist is much less happy than the other two. This is a result of social comparison.

Kindness, gratitude, and social connection pay huge dividends. One of the studies that stuck out in my mind is a researcher gave someone either $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or someone else if they agreed to follow up with how happy the purchase made them. A large majority just bought themselves a Starbucks and didn’t have much fluctuation in their happiness. However, those who spent the money on others bumped up their feeling of well being by a large percentage. The study was replicated in an underdeveloped country where both of those amounts of money are worth far more. Same results happened which suggests that giving has the same effect cross culturally. People who are socially connected and feel gratitude are also far less susceptible to premature death and psychiatric symptoms.

Meditation works. Sage Patanjali defines yoga as: yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ” or yoga is the cessation of fluctuation of the consciousness. As it turns out, science backs the fact that a wandering mind is a unhappy mind. Professor Santos points out that humans have  the unique ability to think about the future and the past, but thinking too much about the future and the past shows that it makes us less happy according to studies. She cited numerous studies that show that mindful activity helps to offset mind wandering even after the subject was completed with the meditation exercise.

Set yourself up for success. Lastly, Santos taught that people who are trying to achieve a goal should visual attaining the goal and having realistic expectations that if he they don’t meet the goal, then have a secondary plan. She cited a study where people who wanted to lose weight had much more success if they put fruit on the table instead of cookies. Having cereal on the table correlated to the worst outcome as far as weight loss. This show that if we adapt our environment to our goals, they become easier to achieve according to to study.

Some very simple coping and mental wellness tips

Hi all! In the wake of horrific national and world events of late, I’d thought could share some wisdom from my years of a mental health professional. These are a few tips that have helped me cope and my clients cope with ill feelings. Some work better than others depending on the person.

One: remember nothing is permanent. This is a staple of Buddhist teaching, but applies just as well to everyone. No matter how bad things are, they will change. The flip side of course is that if things are going well they will change too. The important lesson is to not be too attached to whether things are good or bad and just see them for what they are.

Two: statistical regression toward the mean. Sounds like a crazy geeked out math concept, but in reality things cannot be extreme for very long. The tendency is for nature to regress toward the middle or towards stasis. If things are extremely bad, the tendency is for them to go back towards the center. Again if things are extremely good, the same thing will happen. The “SI (Sports Illustrated) curse” is a good example. If someone is on the cover of SI, then tend to fall from grace as one cannot maintain extreme greatness for an extended period of time according to statistics.

Three: do what needs to be done. Even during extreme grieving, people can still do dishes, take out trash, feed pets. It isn’t as easy as when things are good, but doing what needs to be done can distract us from our ill feelings and still give use a sense of order in our chaotic lives.

Four: lower your expectations. Say like you get some bad news like a medical diagnosis, or lost friendship. Give yourself permission to not be your “best” while you are grieving, going through treatments, or taking care of grim business. By not trying to meet some high standard, you can allow yourself to be human and heal.

Five: take a media fast. When I read that special interests are using Facebook to divide the fabric of our culture, I take that as a clue that this is a toxic medium. In behavioral psychology, the most powerful behavioral schedule is the “intermittent behavioral schedule.” Examples are a slot machine and of course, seeing who “liked” your post on Facebook. It is a highly addictive medium. Studies are showing you have a decreased self esteem the more time you spend on Facebook and other social media. See if you can survive a day without Facebook and you will see what I mean. Try to limit your Facebooking to special interests instead of seeking controversy. Or get rid of it all together.

Lastly: say no. Saying no is perhaps the hardest thing to do for people as we want to please everyone. Saying no to things you don’t want to do frees up a lot of psychic energy. Saying no allows others to plan accordingly as you have given them a direct response.

Bonus: do the obvious. Take the day off. Get the pedicure. See the movie. Cancel the stressful plans. Spend 99% less time on Facebook and social media. And of course, practice your yoga!

Hope this helps some of you.

 

Auspicious Friday: Narasimha Jayanti

Today the birthday of Narasimha is celebrated. He is the fourth incarnation of Vishnu and is depicted as half-lion/half-man who is the destroyer of all evil. He is mentioned numerous times in Iyengar’s writings and even was a source of inspiration for Iyengar when he started to utilize props. As you can see in the statue below, Narasimha is using both blocks and a strap in his seated asana.

narasimha blocks

Devotees of Narasimha are given protection. There was a evil king named Hiranyakashipu who threatened his son Prahlad not to pray to Vishnu. Prahlad did not let his father’s threats deter him and maintained his devotion. Hiranyakashipu attempted to slay his son by throwing him to poisonous snakes, having him trampled by elephants, and putting him in a fire. None of the methods harmed the child. The son told his father that Vishu is everywhere and protects him no matter what. The wicked Hiranyakashipu mocked is son and asked if Vishu was in a nearby pillar. The boy said “yes.” In a fit of rage Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar and Narasimha burst out and destroyed the evil king who had been given powers of invincibility by Indra.

These stories surrounding Istha Devatas remind me that faith and devotion are important in one’s practice, even when conditions are not ideal. Linked here is a video with devotional song to Narasimha. Many blessings to you on this Narasimha Jayanti!

 

 

More Blakeney Notes

Alas! It is sad when a good workshop ends as Laurie Blakeney’s last class was on Sunday. Rather than a bunch of unrelated tips, the main points I have gained from this workshop are: sequence based on effect and feeling versus just a the same clan of poses, and asanas are supposed to draw one more internally no matter how “difficult.”

There was one class where we did closed twists. That is the clan where I have a great amount of difficulty due to my girth. As usual, she had us start with about an hour of seated poses. We did Marichyasana III. She asked me to move my bent knee foot more to the side. I knew the instruction, but noticed that this is a pose I subconsciously avoid due to the discomfort it gives me. That may contribute to my fumbling around in the base. She also had us sit on one blanket when I normally use three. My anxiety even before we got into the pose was overwhelming.

But once we started executing the pose, I felt better. I moved my big belly over and got into the upper back. She used the analogy of a doctor using a stethoscope and putting it on your upper back, asking you to breathe into it. That worked wonders!

She then pointed to a photo on the wall at Guruji in the full pose with the arm wrap. “You see the black and white photo where the light is shining from his skin? Breath into those places where the light is brightest.” A “light” literally went on in my head in how I view the poses.

She also made the analogy of starch sting on a balloon in pranayama. This comes from a kids’ craft project where one dips a string in starch and wraps it around an inflated balloon makes the general shape of the balloon. When the balloon deflates, the string remains in the shape. This is how she said one can visualize the ribcage in pranayama practice.

She emphasized the importance of not skipping savasana after pranayama. She said that she knew of a nurse who would have an intense pranayama practice before work but eschewed her savasana. She said later in the day she would become irritable. Once the nurse started practicing savasana, she said the late day irritation dissipated.

 

Blakeney notes 2018

I’ve been fortunate enough to clear my busy schedule to attend a few classes with Laurie Blakeney who is in Hawai’i. Blakeney is now the IYNAUS assessment chair, and I have been attending her annual workshops for the past few years. What I appreciate about her teachings is she gives simple instructions which produce a maximum amount of effects.

Case in point, on the first day we worked on the concept of keeping both panels of the chest even. The reason why I chose the I-Beam graphic  is because that is the image that she branded in my head when we went through a few simple poses. The lower part of the I-beam I imaged were my hips. The middle the spine. And the top part my shoulder blades.

Right of the bat she taught Bharadvajasana, a typically asymmetrical hip pose and had us study the evenness in the torso even though there is an obvious distortion. The point seemed to be not to get the even torso, but to create an intense awareness of how easily it  gets distorted.

Wrist 5

It seemed like we did Bharadvajasana for 20 minutes. She said that it is best to lose track of which side you are on when doing twists, and just call it “20 minutes of twists.” As I have written before about Bharadvaja, a figure in the Mahabharata, his claim to fame was his ability to meditate and his scholarship. Very fitting title for this pose.

I like how Laurie will teaches about an hour of sitting poses before standing poses. By the time you get to them, you already feel the awareness of the points she is trying to make. She also taught wrists and the scooping in of the upper back. But for this lesson the “I-beam” hit home

In Utthita Hasta Padasana, the pose before Utthita Trikonasana, my hips were uneven and I found it very challenging to even them (probably based on bad habit). And in Parsvottasasna my hips were even more uneven.

utthita parsva hastasana

She gave a wonderful instruction in Parsovattanasana while our hand were on blocks: pull your hips back while extending forward with the chest. As she said this, I kept that I-beam image in my mind an felt great extension of the spine. By pulling the hips back, a lot of other things pulled back too that she did not have to mention. Mainly, the side panels of the chest stayed even like Tadasana.

More to come…

 

 

The treasures of gardening

I haven’t written much about my garden this year, but it has quietly produced about twice the bounty of the previous year. Even the size of the produce has increased and is even more delicious. I have been reflecting much about the readings of Masanobu Fukuoka’s books The One-Straw Revolution, and his general philosophy of farming, or in my case gardening. I sensed that he just like to watch plants grow regardless of what they produced. I am now seeing this two and a half years into my project. There is great joy in watching a pumpkin vine roam and sprawl, as with a bitter melon plant. There is great joy in watching a basil plant get so top heavy that it falls over and needing a trellis as a prop to support it. There is great joy in watching seedings turn to plants, and then bear fruit.

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There are also surprises. Like purple carrots and random bitter melons hanging behind another plant that you didn’t expect to find. I also like that this type of gardening seems to attract nearby wildlife from the marsh. I different types of birds roaming around the lawn feasting on insects.

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Even Fukuoka writes about how wildlife interacts with his farm. He writes, “We had just finished harvesting the rice, and overnight the rice stubble and low-lying grasses had become completely covered with spider webs, as though with silk. Waving and sparkling with the morning mist, it was a magnificent sight…The spectacle is an amazing natural drama. Seeing this, you understand that poets and artists will also have to join in the gathering.” (p.27-28 One-Straw Revolution)

At night I have been hearing the quack of ducks in my yard. That is not so unusual, but the quacking has gotten louder of late. I have even seen ducks roaming around in the garden looking like they were up to some type of no good. Then today when I was cutting down the grass under my trellis with a hand sickle, I caught a glimpse of something…

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My mother-in-law said she sees a duck come out of the thicket once a day for the past four days, and was trying to keep their secret. It seems the nearby marsh ducks are planning to hatch their eggs right in the middle of the garden. My first instinct was to remove the eggs. But I have a feeling that Fukuoka would just let it ride, waiting for the mysteries of nature to reveal something greater. I’m am starting to think more along his lines.