The university environment can be one of the most stressful settings and the Art of Living Foundation has had a long-standing program for students.
Art of Living UT promotes yoga to relieve stress among students: “While the 2 a.m. Wendy’s run for french fries and a Frosty is a frequent and tempting stress-management method for many UT students during finals, there is a healthier way to cope with the strain the ensuing weeks will inevitably bring: yoga. Art of Living UT, an organization based on the global Art of Living Foundation, offers stress management workshops and conducts service initiatives around the world. Its mission is to help individuals get rid of stress and find inner peace. Art of Living UT promotes these same teachings at UT through free yoga and meditation classes for all students throughout the semester. The UT organization will hold its final yoga session of the semester Monday, giving students the perfect study break before finals officially begin.”
The trick is for each person to find the pose, sequences or practices that allow the release of tension. It can take more trial-and-error than just taking a pill.
I have to admit something. Most of my visitors don’t come here to read about my yoga practice and other jottings.
They come to check out my pages on the Art of Living Foundation, sudarshan kriya and sahaj samadhi. I get a huge amount of traffic from google.in. Sometimes, they will ask questions about the practice or where to find a teacher or whatever. I am not very qualified to talk about AoL practices. I am not one of their trained and certified instructors. I haven’t been to the maja kriya (group practice) in at least four years, even though the Washington DC National Chapter has great facilities for classes and yoga (Meridian Yoga Studio) on 15th Street, NW. For a long time, I let my kriya practice lapse as I concentrated on hatha yoga. But this summer, I started to return more regularly to my breathing practice, and now I try to fit it in everyday, but it’s closer to five days a week.
In many ways, I’ve become less methodical with my kriya now. I don’t freak out if I don’t get the exact number of repetitions of pranayama that are prescribed. I’ve also softened my approach: I used to be a Type-A breather who tried to get the biggest volume of air in and out of my lungs as fast as possible. Ever since Howard Rontal liberated my diaphragm, I’ve become more mellow in my breathing practice because the same volume of air seems to flow without as much effort. I pay more attention to the quality of my breath.
I’ve also added my personal touch to the kriya practice. In between each exercise, I fit in yogic stretches for my arms and shoulders so that I open up my rib cage and broaden my shoulders as much as possible. I also need to stretch my legs if I am seated on the floor; otherwise, my legs will be numb by the end of the session.
I fit my routine in whenever I can. If I have 15 minutes to spare before going to work, I do it before going to the Metro station. At work, I may look for a vacant meeting room during lunch or on a break. Otherwise, I practice in the evening after dinner or my yoga class. On the weekends, it’s a nice boost of energy in the afternoon because I am usually dragging after yoga class in the morning.
Now that I am writing about the AoL kriya practice, it reminds me that I really should go to a maha kriya. There is nothing like 10-20 people breathing in unison to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s high-pitched voice chanting the pace of the breath.
I have to apologize for how I left my previous entry hanging ominously on the diagnosis of having idiopathic peripheral neuropathy and my doctors’ seeming inability to determine the cause or prescript a treatment that could relieve my pain. I already knew that I had more options for treatment and even the prospect of a happy ending.
After I meet with my neurologist, I had already lined up an appointment with Howard Rontal who practices myofascial release therapy. He is a certified Hellerwork practitioner, a Certified Myoskeletal Therapist, a Certified Structural Integrator SM, and am licensed as a massage therapist by the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, State of Maryland. More importantly, he’s been at this vocation for more than 20 years, and currently teaches around the country.
I had contacted Howard because I wanted to work with an experienced bodyworker who is aware of yoga, comes out of the currents of structural integrators that include Ida Rolf, Joseph Heller, Moshe Feldenkrais, Tom Myers and others. It’s safe to say that Howard is not just a massage therapist. I told him that I had multiple problems that included plantar fasciitis, peripheral neuropathy and assorted body tightness. Howard was very honest up front and said that he could not guarantee anything in terms of the neuropathy, but he could certainly help my plantar fasciitis. Another reason that I picked Howard is that he is located about 15 minutes from my house and could treat me in the morning.
I’ve now had six sessions of bodywork, one hour each, with Howard, and the results have been jaw-dropping. As just an initial example, the first two sessions focused exclusively on my feet, ankles and calves. Howard does intense stretches of the plantar ligaments (soles of the feet) that are sheer torture. In the first session, I could just barely tolerate the pain on my right foot; I could not feel anything on my left foot. It was as if a local anesthetic had been applied to my left foot. On the second day, I could actually feel the ligaments on my left foot being stretched. By the end of the session, the sensation of relief in my lower legs was overwhelming, but was even more surprising was that it seemed to ripple up my whole body. I could tell that I was in the right hands and was on track to managing the pain and even healing my body.
Over the next four sessions, I found that even working on another part of my body (say, shoulders and neck) could end up relieving the tension in my lower limbs. The pin pricks that had been keeping me from sleep at night are much less intense, and only distract me at times. Other symptoms, like numbness or blunted feeling, do tend to come back gradually between sessions, but each time with less intensity. It might even be a case of new circuits of sensation that I am feeling and interpreting as being symptoms, but are actually a new phenomenon.
The bodywork has also changed my yoga practice as I find that my body is pulsing with more sensory feedback and awareness in muscles that I had not been able to access fully. In one session, Howard dramatically freed up my diaphragm and made my breathing smoother and fuller. The experience has made clear to me that any mature adult (45 or older) who starts doing yoga should also seriously considering using a structural integrator because there are so many issues that have been “baked into the muscles” (bad posture, trauma) over the decades. In the past, I’ve frequently felt as if I’ve been fighting against myself, and now I know I have been struggling against some real resistance.
This treatment has been eye-opening for me, and there are so many lessons in it that I could not possibly give a full account in one sitting. I am going to come back to this facet of my mind-body experience because of its transformative power.
I have been trying to do some personal healing over this extended weekend: pranayama and meditation daily, without fail. I returned to my practice of sudarshan kriya, after having left it dormant for several years. I do my yin yoga practice in the evenings.
This year has been a real grind, and over the past few weeks, I’ve felt as if I had depleted all my reserves. I get home in the evening and have no desire to do anything, much less go to a yoga class or the gym or do any of the necessary chores that crowd my desk and spill over into my workspace. I can’t bring myself to read or I want to pull back from the world. I have refrained from writing about it here because it seems to lend itself to self-referential rumination.
I am not expecting miracles because pranayama and meditation do not suddenly make life sunny and bright. They do not put an end to my mourning for the loss of my parents and this chill of solitude that saps the joy out of life.
I went to Thrive Yoga at 8:00 am today to take the meditation and pranayama session before Susan Bower’s Sunday morning class of yoga. Several friends had told what a great prep, putting them in a mellow state before they started their practice on the mat. I have to confess that it was a real change of pace for me. This time around, the pranayama practice was designed to slow down and calm the mind. I’ve been more accustomed to an energized pranayama practice. We used bolsters with added blankets under our backs, and the position threw me off. It took me a while to realize that the accentuated curvature of my spin was shortening my breath. Finally, we sat for about 20 minutes. Susan’s voice guided us through the process. I am used to silence during my meditation. So, all in all, I was outside my comfort zone.
I had been promising myself to take this Sunday meditation class since it started up about a month ago. But I am not an early bird by nature and Sunday mornings have their rituals that are hard to break. Despite my quibbling about the session and it being my first time, I will definitely go again. It really did help prepare me for a more mindful yoga practice: it usually takes me 20-30 minutes to shake off what I call the “debris of life” (all the to-do lists, internal dialog and white noise that go on in my head) and surrender to my practice; this time around, I eased into almost immediately. Should I have expected anything less?
Two-hour sessions are a delicious experience. Most of my classes are in the 75-90 minute range, though most of my teachers usually go over their time allotment. But when you have a full 120 minutes, it gives you a chance to dig deep into your body and mind. First, Dave had us do several vinyasa sequences and then he asked us to do another couple of rounds at our own speed. Although my teachers have requested me to do just that, in the workshop setting, I just then realized how it can be an opportunity to explore the poses and movement. There was no sense of having to rush through the vinyasa so that I could catch up with the others. The other reward of the 120 minute setting is a long, long, profound savasana at the end of the class. (On Thanksgiving, I have another two-hour class with Neva Ingalls at Thrive so I will be doubly grateful that day.) It’s when you can really dive into the interior space that you created.
Core, core, core and more core. As a 50-something adult, I know that I am not endowed with the same physical attributes as I was as a young man, but this weekend I realized how much I needed to improve the strength of my core muscle, especially between my hips and rib cage. It’s probably the single most important aspect that is holding back my practice. I’ve decided to step up my home practice for those muscles.
Scoring points Dave said that if yoga were a competitive Olympic sport, you would be judged by the quality of your breath, not on the difficulty of the pose or the fluidity of your movements. That confirms a conviction that I have been developing over the past couple of months as I try to balance my breath with the pace of my classes. Sample your breath and you’ll get a glimpse of honesty. I have reconnected with my own pranayama practice, especially the Art of Living kriya.
Presence of a cloud Dave had us start out lying on our mats, still, listening and it built from there. Dave and his music were a constant stream of ideas, sounds and vibrations, but never intrusive or domineering. He had to manage 40-plus participants so he had his hands full, but he never seemed to interfere with the interior process. At the end, I said to myself, “Boy, that was smooth!” the sign of a balanced, subtle teacher.
Rewarding Prior to the Yoga and Chocolate weekend, the two teachers with whom I study most frequently at Thrive, Kim and Anya, had taken a yoga teacher retreat with Shiva Rea at Triangle Yoga in North Carolina. They came back with the idea of shaking up their yoga classes, breaking out of familiar, cozy sequencing of vinyasas and urging us to explore the full experience. It meant that for two weeks I had some challenging classes. It was a perfect prep leading into Dave’s sessions, rewarding the effort of pushing my practice a little further and seeing blessing in unexpected places. For that matter, the chocolate that Dave gave us was a savory morsel of payoff for focusing on the senses — an apt metaphor of the whole experience.
I was breezing through the latest issue of Yoga Journal and came across an ad that promotes the use of a neti pot (and ingredients) to clear up “nasal discomfort” (page 71). SinuCleanse, however, is available in Walgreens or any other drug store. I guess that’s just another sign of alternative healthcare going mainstream.There are two online videos — an instructional one that explains the use of a neti pot (though it’s never called that or its roots in yoga) and a health news report from a Wisconsin affiliate of NBC. Apparently, SinuCleanse has been around for about seven years, but it has only recently gone national. The kit costs $15 and 100-packet volume purchase of refills costs $10.
On the other hand, the Himalaya Institute Press sells a range of products for nasal washes. Neti pots are also sold in a lot of yoga prop distributors.