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Calmness of Mind, Restful Sleep and More With Regular Yoga Practice

Swami Words of Wisdom

By Swami Sivanananda Saraswati

You can have calmness of mind at all times by the practice of yoga.

You can have restful sleep.
You can have increased energy,
vigor, vitality, longevity, and
a high standard of health.
You can turn out efficient work
within a short period of time.
You can have success
in every walk of life.

Asana, Pranayama, Meditation

Medical research is beginning to catch up to what the ancient yogis have known for years: the mind and body are connected. Once thought of as separate entities, it is becoming increasing apparent that when the health of one is down, the other is affected.

How many of us have not experienced a bad cold during a time when we were under a tremendous amount of mental stress?  Or heard a story of recovery against all odds linked to a positive outlook?  The connection may be intellectually easy to understand, but the cause and effect in our personal experience is usually where the “disconnect” occurs. Unfortunately, it is only after we are suffering the physical effects of chronic stress and anxiety such as hypertension, digestive issues or respiratory disorders that we begin to wonder “how did I get here?”

Yoga masters like Swami Sivananada believe, however, that through a regular yoga practice that the mind and body can be synchronized. Yoga provides the tools and platform to promote and develop the mind/body connection and the result is a balanced and creative life, full of good health and happiness.

   5 Ways Yoga Can Facilitate the Mind/Body Connection

1.    Stress Reduction – Yoga poses bring us into our body by bring awareness to the posture, relaxing or stretching the muscles and connecting us to our breath which inducing a variety of stress releasing benefits.  Lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved digestive function are just a few stress-reducing benefits of a regular yoga practice.

2.    More Energy - When we move our body through various yoga postures we stimulate blood flow, increase respiration, and release energy blockages in the body, thus improving our energy level.  An object in motion likes to stay in motion and yoga can stimulate our physical energy levels long after class is over.

3.    Induces Sleep – It may seem counterintuitive given the previous entry, but a regular yoga practice can actually improve sleep. While certain practices like Sun Salutation are inherently energizing, Child’s Pose, Standing Forward Bend, Plow Pose and Shavasana, coupled with slow deep breathing, can relax the body and turn the mind inward, setting the tone for a blissful night’s rest.

4.    Alters Mood – Feeling sad or a little depressed?  Need to focus before a big test or presentation?  There is a yoga posture for that!  Backward bending postures and extensions are stimulating as they usually open both the chest and heart and increase our receptivity to others, as well as our communication skills.  On the flip side, forward bending postures tend to be more introverting, bringing us inward and quieting the mind.  Balance postures, like tree pose, not only improve our physical balance, but can balance our energy as well. So if you are feeling “off balance,” get back in balance with a few yoga postures.

5.  Increases both Physical & Mental Flexibility – Every mental tension has a corresponding physical tension. The physical manifestation of mental or emotional stress can show up as a disturbance in sleep patterns, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, muscular aches or pains among other disorders.  The initial object of yoga postures therefore is to release these tensions.  Yoga postures act to release mental tensions on a somatic or physical level. Depending on the physical symptoms, a well-chosen set of yoga postures can help to lessen the effects of mental stress and strain eliminating the physical manifestation of the mental stressor, at least temporarily. As the body relaxes, so does the mind.

With hundreds of yoga postures and movements, breathing practices and meditations to choose from there is something for EVERY BODY.  Give the power of yoga a chance to be the conduit between your mind and body. A more calm, rested, energized you is all you have to lose.

 
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Quick Tips For A Great Skate!

A few years ago I wrote the following tips for the  Rollerblade International website.  With the latest update to their site I can’t seem to find it.  As we move into outdoor skating weather here in the northern hemisphere I  thought it worth reposting here with a few changes and additions.

KrisBench2

Quick Tips For A Great Skate

The following is some basic information about the benefits of inline skating and a few quick tips to help you make the most of your skating experience:

Skating to Get Fit or Stay Fit    Skating for fitness is the reason why many people choose to skate.  Which, by the way, is a really great reason!  Skating is a full-body, easy-on-the-joints workout that can improve cardiovascular respiratory function, muscle strength and endurance and body composition. Skating takes us out of the fitness center and allows us to move freely into beautiful (think parks) or exciting (think city/urban) outdoor settings.

A Good Pair of Skates  To start your training you will need a good pair of skates. When it comes to skates, for the most part, “you get what you pay for” and it is best to find a pair that fit properly and are of high quality. For just starting out I suggest the Rollerblade Macroblade or Zetrablade for adults and Spitfire Cube for kids.

Mastering the Basics  The success of any fitness routine is based on one’s ability to carry it out. So where do you start?  Mastering some of the basics of moving, stopping, and turning will give you the confidence to take your skating to the parks and streets where you can skate for longer periods of time improving your level of fitness.

Slowly building your confidence in negotiating your surroundings while on skates will help ensure that your time on skates is safe and enjoyable. 

Basic Forward Skating   Are you doing the “moon walk” when trying to skate? If so, to keep all eight wheels in contact with the skating surface, push down on the inside edges and through to the heels of the skates. The added pressure will help keep the wheels on the ground throughout the stroke and allow for a more powerful push.

Also remember, “Knee bend is your friend.” Soft knees are more forgiving then locked knees while skating.  For better balance, power and maneuverability keep the knees slightly bent while skating. Striding Stage 1, Striding Stage 2

Improve Skating Technique   Are you already comfortable on your skates but just aren’t feeling the rhythm and flow that you see in other more accomplished skaters?  You can attain that look of effortlessness that you are envying, you really can!  It is just about proper skating technique and more time on your skates.

Looking like a “pro” will take some time, but you can make some immediate changes to your technique that will improve your efficiency, rhythm and overall flow.  The following are just a few basic suggestions:

  • Too increase the power of stroke and the length of your stride lower your skating stance.  The deeper the knee bend the more power in the push.  Increasing knee bend will result in a more powerful stroke, which in turn, will increase the length and efficiency of the stride.
  • Are you pushing equally with both legs?  Most people don’t and even the most proficient skating athlete can tell you his or her “weak” side.   Try the simple drill below to improve skating posture and stride technique for a more powerful stroke and more balanced stride
1 Leg Drill

1 Leg Squat Push

One leg Squat Push

Purpose:  Improves strength, balance and stride technique

  1. Begin with the skates together and the hands on one knee in a low squat position.
  2. Push one skate out to the side until fully extended
  3. Lift the leg off the ground and regroup the skates under the body.
  4. Repeat a minimum of 10 times on each side.

Added Balance Challenge:  Hold the toe to the heel for a count of 1-3 before the next stroke.

Learn to Control Your Speed   The importance of knowing how to control your speed, avoiding dangerous situations, and being able to come to a complete and controlled stop cannot be emphasized enough.  Through the years I have heard many unfortunate stories of people’s “first and last time” skating.  While the story settings change they always seem to end the same, “if I only knew how to stop.”

Brake vs. No Brake  If you are a beginner to intermediate level skater it is highly suggested that your skates have a brake attached-at least in the beginning.   If they do not (look in the box, it should be there), you may want to see if you can get one for your skates. Personally, I am most comfortable skating with a brake attached to my skate- especially when skating in an urban, or unfamiliar setting.   But of course, this choice is ultimately up to you.

Using Your Brake  Most new skates come with the brake already attached to the right  skate.  If you feel uncomfortable performing the Heel Brake Stop with your right leg remember that the brake can be switched to the left skate by using an Allen Wrench. Please be aware, however, that some older models skates have a brake that cannot be changed to the left side.

If you are uncertain if you should switch your brake to the left skate try answering the following questions:  Do you feel that you would naturally put out your left skate?  Would you kick a soccer ball into score a goal using your left foot?  If you stood in front of a step, would you use your left foot first to go up?  If you answered yes to anyone of these, you might want to try changing the brake.

For better balance as a beginner skater, it is best to keep your arms still and hands comfortably in front of the body.  This will help keep your upper body “quiet” as you focus on what needs to be done by the lower body to stop.  To master the mechanics of the stop be sure to practice all steps from a stationary position, and then repeatedly, while moving.

Grass or Emergency Stop  If you do encounter a situation that you think is “unskatable,” such as a very steep decline, remember you can always leave the skating surface by performing a Grass Stop.  A “grass stop” or “emergency stop” is done by scissoring forward the skate that is nearest to the grass, and shifting the weight to the back leg once the front leg crosses comes in contact with the new surface.

Planning your skate   If you are a new to skating outdoors it is best to bike or walk a potential route prior to skating it.  Being aware of challenging surfaces such as hills, gravel, bricks, rough surfaces etc. will allow you to adjust your skating technique or change your route altogether.

Avoiding Obstacles  The scissor stance with the weight on the back leg, which was covered in “Grass Stop” above, will generally work with most road obstacles that cannot be avoided such as water, oil, gravel and twigs.  Just remember that if going through water it is best not to push, as your wheels will slide. If you are lucky enough to be skating at the beach and you need to “bail out” in the sand, remember that your wheels will not roll through sand so it is best to pick up your feet and run to a stop.

If your skates have come into contact with water, oil or sand, please take the time to clean your wheels and bearings before your next skate to ensure that they do not rust and remain in good working order.

Getting Out There-Where to Skate   Your wheels were made to roll so provided you are familiar with the basics let’s get moving!  Skating can be done in a variety of locations.  A park trail or path along side the beach can provide a safe, smooth and predicable course that will allow you to concentrate on your technique while taking in the beautiful surroundings.  But if that kind of skate isn’t available to you, why not skate where you are?

Singapore Night Skate

Singapore Night Skate

City or Urban Skate One reason runners love to run is because it is easy. Just put on the running shoes and out the door you go! Minimal prep and travel time and maximal satisfaction knowing that your workout is a door step away. Skating can also be that simple.  It really can be.  Provided you are comfortable with the controlling your speed and stopping city or urban skating is a great way to explore your surroundings.

Anticipation  After skating forward and stopping, “anticipation” is a skill that needs to be practiced and mastered for a safe and enjoyable city skate. Unlike skating on a trail, the course and terrain is anything but predictable. Negotiating rough patches of sidewalk, around pedestrians, hopping up and down street curbs, navigating around parked and   moving cars and over bumps, takes some skill.

Avoid Possible Hazardous Situations   First, avoid possible hazardous situations by learning to anticipate them.  Pay attention to what is going on in front of you.  Scan the area for pedestrians stepping off curbs or cares making a turn in front of you.  Most hazardous situations on a city skate can be avoided if you stay alert and predict the likelihood of their occurrence.

Use “Timing” to Avoid Braking.  Instead of skating at a steady pace, the pace is adjusted to accommodate the environment. For example; Instead of traveling up to a target to be passed and applying a brake, look ahead as far as a few hundred yards. Anticipating the optimal point of passing, you can adjust your speed to improve your timing.

Big City Skating Some of the best skating experiences of my life were smack dab in the middle of a big city.  New York, Paris, Miami, Singapore, Munich, etc. present an amazing backdrop and an exhilarating ride!

Skating on sidewalks and where safe and legal, in the street, allows you to interact with the city in a way that walking, running and driving just doesn’t. I can honestly say that when I have started to skate from the doorstep of my house, or if on vacation from my hotel, I have rarely, if ever, been disappointed. If you are visiting a city for the first time or want to see your own from a new perspective, an urban or city skate is the way to go.  A unique and satisfying experience is right outside your door.

Quick Tip Recap   Skating is a full-body, easy-on-the-joints workout that can improve cardiovascular respiratory function, muscle strength and endurance and body composition. Take the time to become familiar with the basics of moving and controlling your speed and you will be amazed by how much fun a great workout can be!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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University Yoga Students “Anecdotal” Experiences-Fall 2015

Breath Awareness in Crocodile

Breath Awareness in Crocodile

As I am gearing up for Spring semester at Cleveland State University, I realized that I didn’t reflect (aka post something here)  about Fall semester.  Looking back (and forward!) I realize what a blessing it is for me to have this platform to bring a comprehensive yoga experience to college students, faculty and staff.

Yoga classes meet twice per week for 50 minutes and consist of asana (postures), pranayama (breathing) and/or a meditation practices.

The follow are some of the responses received from a few of the “reflection type questions” that were part of  and open book (Asana, Pranayama, Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyaananda Saraswati)  ”final exam”.

Yoga Nidra-Just about everyone's favorite!

Yoga Nidra-Just about everyone’s favorite!

“My favorite part about yoga class is the importance of consciousness. Everything in yoga is deliberate and thoughtful. This has brought a renewed thoughtfulness and consciousness to other things I do.”

“I liked everything about yoga. It showed me so much about my life and made me think a little about the things I do that make me stressed out. It also showed me ways I can get rid of stress and ways to fall asleep at night. I would recommend yoga to any college student and many other people.”

“I learned the benefits of meditation. I had always heard that meditation was beneficial but had never given a meditation practice a fair try. I now frequently perform a brief meditation practice in preparation for sleep in my daily routine. I also am now aware of the comprehensive nature of yoga practice. I have already begun to apply many of these principles with my regular personal training clients.”

My favorite part of yoga class has been getting the opportunity to escape the stress and work load from all my other classes, and just focus on me and learning how to do something new. Personally, I liked learning yoga nidra, but I enjoyed the physical movements more because yoga nidra would put me to sleep. I particularly liked the anti-rheumatic movements because Itend to have sore muscles and joints, and these exercises relieved a lot of that pain. 

“ I learned is that learning new ways of thinking is really possible. My mother had tried for years to get me to “try yoga” as a way to ease my anxiety and depression. And I really didn’t think it was possible. But practicing yoga has helped me to learn some tools that help me to stem the chaos of my thoughts – my anxieties – if only for a little while. The meditation practices (especially yoga nidra) have been invaluable.

Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation)

Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation)

“My favorite part of the yoga class has been the yoga nidra. I have spoken very highly of it in many of my yoga journals. I have found it to be a great way to relax after a long day. I also enjoyed how involved you were with us in class. It’s obvious that you love yoga, and it is nice to see a teacher care about their students as much as you did.”

I’ve learned that it is incredibly hard to quiet my mind, but when I can, my body and mind benefit dramatically. I can also feel my soul healing. I came into this class with much more spiritual pain than I realized, but now I can tell I’ve gotten much better. Now, if I start to feel that spiritual pain again, I know what I can do to help it.”

“My favorite part of yoga class has been talking with other classmates about their experiences with the poses and practice and how it has affected their daily school life. A lot of people expressed a more relaxed and focused mindset after class. The overall atmosphere of the class was very helpful to me. I never felt pushed or out of place when doing poses. I felt I could at my own pace and explore yoga as I thought myself capable.

“I have learned throughout this class that I hold a lot of tension in my face, whenever it is mentioned I immediately realize my facial muscles are tensed. I also realized that I can utilize the basic practices such as breath awareness throughout the day to help with anxiety. The breath awareness such as abdominal breathing can also help greatly when my mind is hectic and I cannot sleep. I find myself to be much more focused and calm after practicing yoga and it is undeniable that it benefits physical and mental health greatly.”

 

Simple Forward Bend

Sun Salutation-Simple Forward Bend/Hand to Toe Posse

“My favorite part of yoga class has been the extra energy and positivity I have after. On days when I do directly to work after yoga I am much more awake and lively, and ready to work. I also like that I can utilize the skills learned on my own to help when I am low-energy, cannot sleep, or in a bad mood. It is amazing how many benefits there are to yoga.”

My favorite part of the yoga class was getting to really meditate. It has been something that I have learned about for quite some time, but have not really been able to achieve it just yet.  Now, I approach it differently and learn to easily quiet my mind.”

“Before taking this class I did not realize how much of a workout yoga really is. The meditation is very soothing and relaxing, but many of the poses require some sort of strength and flexibility to achieve and the sequences can really get your heart rate up! I have also learned that it is actually quite difficult to concentrate on nothing or keep my mind from wandering. This is something I would like to continue working on after class this semester because I think it is really important to be able to clear our minds allowing us to think more clearly and concentrate on the task at hand.”

Sun Salutation-Equestrian Pose

Sun Salutation-Equestrian Pose

“My favorite part of yoga class has been pushing myself. I am not really a person who likes doing things I am not sure I am good at, but I’ve always wanted to try yoga and I’m glad that I did. I used to be a dancer but that was at least eight years ago, so it was nice to see what my body could still do with a little practice and feeling the stretch was always nice!”

“I hope to continue practicing yoga at a studio after this semester ends, but I still plan to integrate the tools in my daily life even if not in a class. I will use the breathing exercises to relax and clear my mind so I am better able to focus on the task at hand and relax. Many of the asanas relieved tension and tightness I felt in various parts of my body, but especially my lower back, so I will continue to practice these. I want to continue to exploring my mind, body, and spirit through yoga and pushing myself to see what I am able to achieve and discover.”

“My favorite part of yoga was actually learning yoga. I have gone to my gyms yoga classes and they honestly taught me nothing. Of course I learned poses but we did not use or practice them the way they should have been – I’m sure the noisy environment did not help the situation. I actually liked learning the meaning of poses and their benefits to the body and mental health – in the gym class he just told us what to do then went into the next pose after a little bit. Now I can actually get something out of the yoga that I do in my spare time.”

By practicing yoga I can improve my concentration and determination. Before it was very hard for me to concentrate one particular think and I used to feel restless very easily. But now, I found a new dimension of my life.”

Pranayama-Humming Bee Breath

Pranayama-Humming Bee Breath

“My favorite part of yoga has been learning the impact of various practices on my mind, body, emotions, and stress levels. I especially enjoyed learning about and practices various meditation practices such as yoga nidra and kaya sthairyam. I found kaya sthairyam (body steadiness) to be very challenging at times because of the subtle movements I made without even thinking. This practice caused me to be more aware of my body and its movements.”

“My favorite part of yoga class, besides the meditation, has been the ability to try something new and get out of my comfort zone.  I like trying to get more in tune with my body.  I still have a ways to go but I can say that I was able to obtain valuable information from this class.”

“I plan to integrate the practices I used to gain energy and become more awake. I want to use the breathing practices to sooth myself from reaching breaking points. I want to use practices to slow my world down and become of aware how my body is feeling. To relieve pain and encourage others to try yoga out too.”

“Taking this yoga class has really made me realize that I can just sit and relax and not move for a few minutes.  I took yoga all last year at the CSU recreation center, but that was more of the poses and not so much on the relaxation part.  I never felt like I could just sit there and mediate or relax without fidgeting half of the time.  This year in this class particularly, I think I surprised myself in how still and calm I can be at some points in our crazy lives we all have.”

“This yoga class made me so calm especially coming into it on a Monday morning.  I loved having you as a teacher because even when you were running late or seemed tired or rushed, you always put on a great practice for us to do.  I love seeing everyone smiling and being happy and relaxed in this class and I think that is what I loved most about it.”

“Taking this class taught me that I can become relaxed and calm even when my outside world is chaotic  and stressful. I learned new limits on my body. I also learned easy and helpful ways to calm myself when stressed and to relieve pains. One of the most beneficial thingsi gained was how to probably breathe with stretches and the proper body alignments.”

“My favorite part of class is the relaxing environment it presents. It taught me ways to perceive and cope with stressful times and experience. I like how it made me more awake and energized after each class.”

Walking Meditation

Walking Meditation

“My favorite part of yoga class is a very specific moment – when we state our Sankalpas (personal resolve, goal or affirmation) during yoga nidra. I’ve stuck with one that, if in time I can genuinely embody, will help my life holistically. If nothing else, it brings to mind a goal that without this class I may not think about enough to ever have a shot at reaching. “

“Yoga nidra is probably one of my favorite experiences from this class. I’ve experienced feelings of weightlessness along with being in this dream-like state. The opposites series was really cool too, the heavy one worked well for me. During body stillness I had my hands resting on my lap and by the end of the practice I didn’t even know they were there. I was so relaxed sitting in the chair that I almost didn’t feel anything at all. “

“I learned that I’m more stressed out than I thought I was. It’s difficult to get myself to clear my mind and stop thinking of things during the practice. I have gotten much better though and I learned that I can control my thoughts. I can control what I choose to think about as well as what I don’t want to think about. I also found that yoga nidra greatly improves my energy and just puts me in a great mood every time I do it. I’m going to start incorporating that into my life, because it really does make me feel good.”

“Before taking this class I did not know I was ever capable of doing yoga. It was always one of those things I knew would benefit me but I never took the time to do it. I didn’t know how difficult it was to sit still until I took this class but I found out how much it helps just by doing a little bit of work on it. Yoga taught me a lot about patience, and doing things to benefit my body that are a little out of my comfort zone at times.”

“I will continue to integrate the tools of yoga in my life by meditating most likely. I find this to be very beneficial for peace of the mind and having better focus on life in general. I would like to better learn how to manage my stresses in life and I think that meditative practices are a great way to make this happen.”

“Before taking this class I did not realize how much of ones self they have to give to the practice. I also did not know that yoga was about so much more than just flexibility but so much awareness needs to be dedicated to the craft and with that awareness a lot of healing, both physical and mental, can be done. “

“I have learned that my body was not as relaxed as I thought it was. I learned that it is very important to take at least 30 minutes out of your day to just relax your mind and body. After taking this class, I have realized that I was pretty stress, but yoga showed ways I can relive the stress. It was a great class.”

Sun Salutation-Various Positions

Sun Salutation-Various Positions

“My favorite part of yoga is meditation. In daily life, I always feel I am pretty busy and don’t have time to stop and clear my mind. And another special thing about meditation is that it helps me control my awareness. Because the awareness might wander after closing eyes, the meditation assists me to have better control of my awareness.”

“One thought I had about yoga, for some odd reason (I blame the media), that yoga was for rather girlish. I meant to enroll in class way before this semester during my time here at CSU. I wish I’d taken it sooner so that I’d have more experience with it by the time I graduate after next semester. All other exercises I’ve done focus on improving techniques, stamina, etc. Yoga seems genuinely about having the practitioner feel at ease. Love it.”

“My favorite part of the yoga class was the different meditation practices we learned. I get extremely stressed because of my classes and my lack of sleep results in my being cranky or angry quite often. The meditation practices help me calm down and relax, while also making me a happier person.”

“My favorite part of yoga class has been learning the different breathing techniques and sun salutation. I enjoy the breathing techniques because they are useful and can be used anywhere and at any time of the day. I enjoy sun salutation because it helps me stay concentrated on the present. I also enjoy it because it incorporates several different yoga poses and afterwards I feel more energized.”

“First, I learned that it is very difficult to tune out thoughts.  Yoga has been able to show me that, and it has helped me to better tune them out.  Second, yoga is more than just stretching.  It is a full body experience, and it is very difficult to achieve without really trying.”

 

Yoga Nidra

“I never knew how much yoga could actually affect me. I took the class because it seemed interesting, but I never realized how profound of an affect the relatively simple postures could have on me. Also, I had no idea how many different breathing techniques there were. I knew that breathing was obviously very important in yoga, but I never really thought much of it besides the simple in and out.”

“I really enjoyed how energetic, yet relaxed I always felt after doing these yoga practices. Especially with class so early in the morning! I always felt refreshed and ready to take on the day.”

“My favorite part about the yoga class was the slow progression and having time to learn every pose and posture properly. In past yoga classes, I felt rushed and unsure of the poses I was doing. In this class, I felt completely aware of the effects each pose had on my energy.”

“A tool that I have taken away from yoga is becoming aware of the breath and knowing that I can use this whenever I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This practice is convenient in that it can be done anywhere, and I have learned that focusing on and counting my breaths is instantly relaxing for me. It is the concentration on breathing that really ties each yoga practice together for me and helped me to realize why it is such an important part of yoga. I have come to enjoy practicing yoga first thing when I wake up in the morning, before bed or when I need a mental break, and the positive mental and emotional results I get from doing so and the physical results that come with continued practice make it even more worth continuing.

“I have learned several things about myself and the practice of yoga since I have taken this class. One thing I have learned is that practicing yoga regularly can greatly improve your general health. Another thing I have learned is how coordinating different poses with different breathing techniques can enhance the effects of the practice. As the semester progressed, I learned that my mood had improved and my stress levels had decreased due to the continued practice of yoga.”

Well there you have it.  More “proof” of the positive effects of practicing yoga.

Spring semester starts soon with about 100 students signed up for yoga classes.  Looking forward to another awesome semester of doing my part in lowering stress levels and increasing happiness of students at Cleveland State University!

 
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