The pursuit of ‘Yoga happiness’…..


“One irony from this pursuit is that any experience
will not be exactly the same next time we reach for it,
once we have been through that ‘first time taste’.
This is the nature of Avidyā and its illusory mimicry,
as lived through its child Rāga.”

“The irony of seeking well being,
is that our being is always well”

“In reality Yoga is about looking inwards at what we fear most,
rather than just looking outwards at what we desire most,
in terms of seeking yet another socially addictive pursuit,
albeit under the guise of bliss, happiness, feeling good, etc.”

Excerpts from a post published by Yoga Studies

It is not possible to give examples of illnesses or ailments that can be improved…..

The following are reflections on some questions commonly asked with regard to Yoga  and what has become labelled as ‘Yoga Therapy’ – complete extract below published by Yoga Studies.

“I was asked in 2011 to provide ‘expert quotes’ in response to three questions for a media article by a freelance journalist on a Yoga related topic. These were my reflections that I am reposting unedited, especially given the surge in these past 7 years in what has become labelled as ‘Yoga Therapy’:

Q1. What are some examples of illnesses or ailments that can improve or be cured with the use of Yoga?

“It is not possible to give examples of illnesses or ailments that can be improved as it all depends on the matrix of the person who may also have certain combinations of problems. A student with cancer may improve or a student with a history of colds may experience little change.

The viewpoint of Yoga is to look at people as individuals and work from there rather than the more usual view of making lists of problems with flash card like answers to a specific problem. e.g. Sciatica, High Blood Pressure, Insomnia, Osteo-arthrosis, Chrohn’s Disease, etc.

“We cannot say that this Āsana or this Prāṇāyāma
can be given for this disease.”
– T Krishnamacharya 1984

According to Yoga we are all individuals who also have from time to time chronic or acute illnesses or ailments. In this view one hallmark is that the practice must be adapted to the individual and their current situation and immediate potential rather than expecting the individual to adapt to the practice.

This means that two individuals with the same symptoms may need very different approaches to practice and lifestyle choices because of their history, mindset and opportunity and intentions for implementing change.

“It appears that Modern Therapeutic Yoga is increasingly angled
at looking at the problems in front of the person
in terms of Yoga for What,
rather than looking at the person behind the problems
in terms of Yoga for Who.”

Yoga also tells us that nothing is destroyed so nothing is ‘cured’. We can perhaps reduce the symptoms to the point where they are dormant. Given the right sun, soil and moisture they can ‘sprout’ again. So cure is not a term that can be applied.

Yoga Psychology says being symptom free also implies that we still have to take care as the seeds can be re-activated given the right stimuli.”

Q2. Is there a certain type of Yoga which is more beneficial, when it comes to health, than other types?

“Any approach to Yoga which facilitates meeting with a student, developing an understanding of their unique background, looking at the opportunities for change which exist for the student in the immediate and near future, being able to propose a personalised practice appropriate to their situation and meeting regularly to both review and progress the practice according to the experiences and feedback from the student is beneficial.

“Yoga Cikitsā is about
treating a person in a problem.
Rather than
treating a problem in a person.”

This is really only realisable through 121 lessons, though not of the type offered by many which are comparable to a group class for one. A more comparable example would be to consulting a homeopath, or acupuncturist, or medical herbalist, or counsellor, where there is time, attention and personalised support and treatment offered.”

Q3. Is there a certain type of Yoga that can prove especially beneficial to those with asthma, and if so, why is this type of Yoga particularly good?

“As the physical basis of asthma is experienced through its effects on the breath, any approach that sees the breath as the canvas on which the pictures of the poses are painted could be helpful. Along with an approach that has the integral and intimate use of the breath in practice as a first priority, the study and application of the principles of Yoga Psychology would be very relevant to working with issues that could well underpin the student’s history of symptoms and personal experiences.”

Published by Yoga Studies.

The viniyoga of Yoga is about Relationship

“The viniyoga of Yoga is the application of the principles that link together to offer possibilities to enhance your relationship with yourself through your practice. This opens the possibility that a deepening of your practice comes not from adding more difficult postures, but from refining your relationship with what you already have.

Life is already full of pressures to go for the newest model, to bring more in from the outside rather than concentrating on bringing more out from the inside. So we need to take care that we do not become an avid consumer of a new posture or new technique purely for the sake of it.

Yoga is a relationship within which you commit yourself to depth of involvement rather than breadth of involvement. In that sense, Yoga is no different from how any relationship with someone or something we care for and wish to spend time with should be.

From this relationship we can eventually start to experience the fruits that arise from the time, care, effort and attention. Perhaps keeping the following words of a teacher from long ago in our mind as we adapt Yoga to suit our particular needs:

“Only through Yoga Yoga is known,
Only through Yoga Yoga changes.
One who is patient at Yoga,
Enjoys the fruits over a long time”

Reference for this post  by Yoga Studies

Yoga as a Tool

Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool
Part 3 – Yoga as a Tool

Yoga as a tool is more likely to be the starting point for most students these days in that we often choose a style or approach to Yoga as a starting point in our Yoga experience.

There are many, many choices these days, although the common denominator now appears to be based around Yoga teachers rather than Yoga teachings.

For example we  have Anusāra, Aṣṭāṅga, Bikram, Dru, Gītānada, Integral, Iyengar, Jīvamukti, Kripālu, Kuṇḍalinī, Sahaja, Scaravelli, Śivananda, Satyānanda, Viniyoga, etc.

Which is fine in itself. However the question that arises is how much do the various ‘types’ actually apply the Haṭha energetic principles of Practice in order to realize the View of Yoga? My own field of expertise lies within the teachings often referred to as Viniyoga, so I can only speak with experience from this perspective.

The primary principle here is that the Practices of Yoga must be adapted to the starting point, potential and needs of the student. Within this premise is a further question how, or even how much, the tools of Yoga utilize the Practice principles of Haṭha, in order to realise the View of Yoga as presented in what is seen as the primary teaching on the goal of Yoga, the Yoga Sūtra.”

Excerpts from Yoga as a Tool – published by Yoga Studies

Yoga as a Practice

Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool
Part 2 – Yoga as a Practice

A further irony in the emerging role and identity of Yoga in the West today is with regard to the term Haṭha Yoga. The term is mainly used generically these days to identify and group ‘physically’ based Yoga practices.

As a teacher I am often asked in connection with the question what kind of Yoga do you teach, is it Haṭha Yoga?

The irony is that when we look at what Haṭha Yoga really is we find that the physical elements are relatively limited with very few Āsana discussed.

Furthermore within the few discussed, the largest group are concerned with sitting, in preparation for practice elements other than Āsana.

Primarily to facilitate a quality of being able to sit still and as if move beyond the physical body.

Here the primary concern and field of activity for Haṭha Yoga practitioners is with regard to the energetic or ‘Prāṇa’ body and its role in helping to facilitate a quality of energetic ‘clarity’ and energetic ‘stillness’ ultimately as a ladder to support the practitioners exploration of meditational states of being in terms of Raja Yoga or the Yoga of Samādhi.

The role of Haṭha is to help take the student towards the View and to help refine the View.

What is important also is that we understand the various influences that exist in the West today in terms of ‘Yoga’.

What seems to be in danger of being lost in all of this are the ‘energetic principles’ that underpin Haṭha Yoga because people have become very focused on the physicality, or even gymnastic type influences.

It seems that modern Yoga practice is dominated by Āsana and the words Āsana and Yoga appears to have become sadly synonymous.”

Excerpts from Yoga as a Practice – published by Yoga Studies

Yoga as a View

Yoga as a View, Practice and Tool
Part 1 – Yoga as a View

“It is interesting these days that as a Yoga teacher the question I am more likely to be asked is ‘What kind of Yoga do you do?’ rather than ‘What is Yoga?’. It’s either that we think we already know what Yoga is or, more likely, that the view is becoming lost within the myriad of ways in which Yoga is offered.

These days there seems to be little apparent clarity around what Yoga is, or if there is a view, it is not very apparent.”

“If the teacher does not have a ‘view’ to inspire and guide them whilst accommodating the many vagaries of Yoga classes today then we are more likely to be looking at the view dissolving into the many nuances of postural performance.

A Yoga view would be that a group class moves from the starting point of physicality towards some point of stillness, giving students an experience of ‘sitting’ and experiencing the potential of stillness at some point along the way.

The priority in terms of what we are trying to teach is ‘stillness’ or an experience of ‘Cit’. Can I be present within the activities of the mind? The longer I can be present, the more awareness that can emerge.

When people touch that stillness something happens – a wanting to move away from the dominance of the activities of the Citta.

The more that we go back in time with Yoga the more we see the goal was the achievement of the ability to sit and experience stillness. The more forward we move in time with Yoga the more we see the movement towards increased physicality.”

Excerpts from Yoga as a View – published by Yoga Studies

When less Āsana time than you would like…..

“When less Āsana time than you would like,
better to reduce the number of Āsana,
or the number of repetitions,
or the length of the stays,
rather than, reducing the length of the breath.
Or….. even considering lengthening the breath,
thus even fewer Āsana, all with a longer breath than usual.
Here the Bhāvana could be to observe the effect
of a more spacious than usual Āsana breathing
on a more cramped than usual daily mindset.”
Paul Harvey

Binge drinking by teenage girls “raises osteoporosis risk”…..


“Teenage girls who regularly binge drink have weaker bones and are heightening the risk that they will suffer osteoporosis later in life, according to new research today.

Frequent binge drinking is classed as having four or more alcoholic drinks within two hours more than 1.6 times a month, according to the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs in the United States.

Eighty seven college students, who regularly binge drink, were found to have lower spinal bone density than more sober students, even when researchers accounted for other risks such as exercise, nutrition and smoking habits.

The findings suggest poorer bone health can be added to the list of binge drinking risks for young women, said lead researcher Joseph LaBrie, PhD, a professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles.

“This study identifies a potential lifetime consequence of binge drinking in young women,” he said about the research, which investigated the health of the women aged between 18 to 20.

Bone mass should still be accruing in young women during these years. Women generally reach peak spinal bone density between 20 and 25.

The new research expands on previous works linking heavy drinking to lower bone mass and higher fracture risk in older adults, but it goes further in linking late-life problems to heavy drinking in earlier years.

Urging parents to discourage their children from drinking during teenage years, Mr LaBrie said: “We always talk about things like exercise, calcium and vitamin D, and not smoking. We may also need to talk about avoiding binge drinking.”’

Source: The Irish Times

Journal Reference:
Joseph W. Labrie, Sarah Boyle, Andrew Earle, Hawley C. Almstedt. Heavy Episodic Drinking Is Associated With Poorer Bone Health in Adolescent and Young Adult Women. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2018; 79 (3): 391 DOI: 10.15288/jsad.2018.79.391

Meditation and breathing exercises can sharpen your mind…..

“It has long been claimed by Yogis and Buddhists that meditation and ancient breath-focused practices, such as prānāyamā, strengthen our ability to focus on tasks. A new study by researchers at Trinity College Dublin explains for the first time the neurophysiological link between breathing and attention.

Breath-focused meditation and yogic breathing practices have numerous known cognitive benefits, including increased ability to focus, decreased mind wandering, improved arousal levels, more positive emotions, decreased emotional reactivity, along with many others. To date, however, no direct neurophysiological link between respiration and cognition has been suggested.

The research shows for the first time that breathing—a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices—directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

The study, carried out by researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity, found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had greater synchronisation between their breathing patterns and their attention, than those who had poor focus. The authors believe that it may be possible to use breath-control practices to stabilise attention and boost brain health.

Michael Melnychuk, Ph.D. candidate at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity, and lead author of the study, explained: “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. In our study we looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline is an all-purpose action system in the brain. When we are stressed we produce too much noradrenaline and we can’t focus. When we feel sluggish, we produce too little and again, we can’t focus. There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer.”

“This study has shown that as you breathe in locus coeruleus activity is increasing slightly, and as you breathe out it decreases. Put simply this means that our attention is influenced by our breath and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration. It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimise your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronised.”

The research provides deeper scientific understanding of the neurophysiological mechanisms which underlie ancient meditation practices. The findings were recently published in a paper entitled ‘Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama’ in the journal Psychophysiology. Further research could help with the development of non-pharmacological therapies for people with attention compromised conditions such as ADHD and traumatic brain injury and in supporting cognition in older people.

There are traditionally two types of breath-focused practices—those that emphasise focus on breathing (mindfulness), and those that require breathing to be controlled (deep breathing practices such as pranayama). In cases when a person’s attention is compromised, practices which emphasise concentration and focus, such as mindfulness, where the individual focuses on feeling the sensations of respiration but make no effort to control them, could possibly be most beneficial. In cases where a person’s level of arousal is the cause of poor attention, for example drowsiness while driving, a pounding heart during an exam, or during a panic attack, it should be possible to alter the level of arousal in the body by controlling breathing. Both of these techniques have been shown to be effective in both the short and the long term.

Ian Robertson, Co-Director of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity and Principal Investigator of the study added: “Yogis and Buddhist practitioners have long considered the breath an especially suitable object for meditation. It is believed that by observing the breath, and regulating it in precise ways—a practice known as pranayama—changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator are realised. Our research finds that there is evidence to support the view that there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind.”

“Our findings could have particular implications for research into brain ageing. Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long term meditators. More ‘youthful’ brains have a reduced risk of dementia and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks. Our research offers one possible reason for this—using our breath to control one of the brain’s natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right ‘dose’ helps the brain grow new connections between cells. This study provides one more reason for everyone to boost the health of their brain using a whole range of activities ranging from aerobic exercise to mindfulness meditation.”

The full paper ‘Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama’ is available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/psyp.13091

Back Pain – 10 key points

Courtesy Irish Independent

Back pain is unique to each person. While it may be a structural issue, stress, mood or poor sleep may all be at the root of the problem. Becoming aware of the various different factors provides a better understanding of the pain and how to address most appropriately.  All of these factors form part of the 121 Yoga process and the appropriate application of Yoga for the individual and their particular needs.

Key related extracts from an article published in the Irish Independent:

Back Pain is common
While back pain can be very painful and worrying, it is very common and rarely dangerous. A total of 84pc of people worldwide will experience back pain during their lifetime. It is equally common across all age groups; from young to old and doesn’t get worse with age. Therefore, it should not be seen as a result of ageing or “wear and tear”. Mostly people recover reasonably quickly, and many recover without the need for treatment. Some people experience repeated episodes of back pain which can be distressing, but again these are rarely dangerous.

Scans for back pain are rarely needed and can be harmful
Most people believe that a scan (for example an X-ray, MRI) will identify the cause of their back pain. However, the scientific research shows that scans are only needed when a serious condition is suspected (cancer, fracture/broken bone, infection). Luckily, these serious conditions are rare and account for approximately 1pc of all back pain worldwide.

The back is NOT that vulnerable to damage
Most people think the spine is something that needs to be protected. This is incorrect and has led to the provision of information and treatments that promote fear, protective guarding, avoidance and disability. Common examples include: “Your joint/pelvis/disc is slipped/out of place.”
People often move differently when in pain, giving the impression that something has gone out of place. However, scientific research has clearly shown that these structures do not go ‘out of place’ or ‘slip’.

The back is designed for bending and lifting
Like other body parts (for example the knee), the back is designed to move and adapt to many activities. It is important to be conditioned to lift; and shown how to lift heavy things correctly and safely. The back is designed to move and adapt to many activities. In the same way that a person can get a sore knee after doing an unaccustomed activity, people can get back pain when they lift something awkwardly or something that they aren’t used to.

You can have back pain without back damage or injury
The traditional view is that pain is a sign of injury or damage. While some back pain may be related to a sudden, repeated or heavy-loading event, we now know that the volume switch for back pain can be turned up by many other factors also. These include physical (minding/guarding the back, avoiding movements), psychological (fear of damage/pain or not getting better, low mood/depression, stress), health (being tired and run down, low energy), lifestyle (sleep problems, low levels of physical activity, being overweight), and social (poor relationships at work or home, work satisfaction, stressful life events like a death or illness) factors.

This means that you may feel more pain when you move or try to do something, even though you are not damaging your back. Ever have a headache when you are stressed, sad, tired or run down? Back pain is no different. For many people, back pain can occur from just a minor mechanical trigger, like picking something up from the ground or rolling over. In this situation it is due to the spinal structures being sensitised due to other factors such as sleeping position or stress.

Don’t take back pain lying down and don’t rush for surgery
Since people often think they have done damage when they get back pain, it is common for people to go to bed and rest until all pain is gone. However, there is very strong evidence that keeping active and returning to all usual activities gradually, including work and hobbies, is important in aiding recovery. While you may feel relief from rest initially, prolonged rest is unhelpful, and is associated with higher levels of pain, greater disability, and longer absence from work.
Surgery is rarely an option for back pain. There are some uncommon back conditions where there is pressure on the nerves that supply the leg and the patient gets leg symptoms such as pain, pins and needles or numbness. For these conditions surgery can help the leg symptoms but it is important to understand that surgery is not always required.

Exercise is good for back pain but people are often afraid
Contrary to popular belief, exercise is helpful for back pain….
It is emerging that the amount of exercise you do is more important than the type of exercise. More than 30 minutes per day has the greatest health benefits but any amount you can manage will result in benefit. The benefits of exercise even include reducing the risk of developing back pain.

Strong meds do not have strong benefits for back pain
Many people think strong pain needs a strong painkiller. This is not true. If you have a new episode of back pain, you should start with a simple over-the-counter painkiller and not rush for prescription medications. Scientific research has shown that strong painkillers such as those containing an opioid do not provide greater pain relief over simpler options, and actually have greater potential for harm.

Buyer beware: internet, fads, fashions and bandwagons
Be wary of commercial sites that are selling a product. We hear daily claims about miracle cures and best treatments for back pain in the media and on the internet.

Back pain can be cured
The thinking around the spine is distorted and infused with panic. Of course you can injure the back – but be confident that it will get better. It is common for people to be told that they cannot change their pain and they have to live with it. The evidence doesn’t bear this out. The back can also recover.

Think of it like an ankle sprain. It is incredibly painful at the start but it gets better with graduated activation. Avoiding movement would not help an ankle sprain, and the same goes for a back injury or back pain. The pain experience is unique to you and can involve an interplay of many different factors. It therefore makes sense that all of these factors must be considered in addressing your back pain. This could explain why many different treatments for pain fail in the long term as they only look at one piece of the puzzle.

Link to full article published in the Irish Independent.

Actually, let’s not be in the moment

Braulio Amado - Courtesy NY Times
Braulio Amado – Courtesy NY Times

“Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s actually adding to them. It’s a special circle of self-improvement hell, striving not just for a Pinterest-worthy home, but a Pinterest-worthy mind.”

“The idea that we should be constantly policing our thoughts away from the past, the future, the imagination or the abstract and back to whatever is happening right now has gained traction with spiritual leaders and investment bankers, armchair philosophers and government bureaucrats and human resources departments. Corporate America offers its employees mindfulness training to “streamline their productivity,” and the United States military offers it to the Marine Corps. Americans now spend an estimated $4 billion each year on “mindfulness products.””

“What differentiates humans from animals is exactly this ability to step mentally outside of whatever is happening to us right now, and to assign it context and significance. Our happiness does not come so much from our experiences themselves, but from the stories we tell ourselves that make them matter.”

New York Times for full article