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Be the Witness to Change

Published on January 10, 2017 by in Uncategorized

Change Chinese Characher

This is the time of the year for “grand proclamations” of change.

The reality, however, is that there is no need to wait until the New Year. While is does provide a somewhat ceremonious starting point, we can make a change in every moment, every second of our lives.  The opportunity to change the way we think, speak and act lies in our ability to be the “witness”, the “observer”.  The “witness” is the part of us that “knows we know”. It is awareness and our best teacher. It is the ability to “watch” our actions, reactions and  personality manifest in relation to the world around us.

Examples of opportunities to develop the “witness”:

  • When saying “I told you so” to a loved one or friend when they didn’t follow our advice, is replaced by either a heart felt condolence or by saying nothing at all.
  • Noticing the space between hearing the voice inside remind us that we do not “need” that 3rd piece of pizza, no matter how tasty, and NOT taking that third piece.
  • It is the ability to let go of a repetitive, unserving thought that causes depression or anxiety, and choosing to replace it with one that is neutral or maybe even joyful.
  • Being “cut off” by a car on a highway and instead of condemning the driver, bless them and wish for their safe arrival wherever they may be going.

Change Sign

 

Changing patterns of thoughts and behavior through developing the ability to witness takes vigilance and continual practice.   According to the teachings of Swami Satyananda in the Bihar School of Yoga, it is believed that one of the best ways to develop the ability to “witness” is through Karma Yoga.  In  ”Yoga Vision” on the Bihar School of Yoga website, Karma Yoga is referred to as  ”a system which develops immunity to the reactive and negative components of an action. “Swami Niranjanananda has said  that “Through karma yoga we are able to understand our own life, improve the quality of life and transcend life.”

Karma Yoga is the yoga of action and is often referred to as “selfless service.”  While all work we do, and actions that we perform, can potentially be labeled as Karma Yoga, it is easiest to begin with duties in which we literally and figuratively have little or no attachment.  Karma Yoga  is then working without worrying about the “fruits of the labor” or even completing the task.  In Karma Yoga it is actually okay “not” to finish what you are working and to allow your effort and whatever outcome or consequences to be “good enough.”  The idea is to notice the thoughts, etc. that arise before, during or after the experience.

Karma Yoga provides a wonderful platform to change hard-wired patterns of thoughts and behaviors, positively altering our personality, relationships and lives over a period of time.  So if you have made your grand proclamation for change in 2017 don’t forget to leave space for the “witness”.  In the words of Michael Jackson:

“If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change”

~Man in the Mirror

 

seasons_people_change_autumn

 

 
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Depression and Anxiety Decline after Participation in a Semester Long Yoga Class

Breath Awareness in Crocodile

The following was published August 30th, 2016 in the Psychology and Education Journal.

Depression and Anxiety Decline after Participation in a Semester Long Yoga Class

Jeremy E. C. Genovese & Kristine Fondran

Cleveland State University

      Students at large Midwestern University completed the short form of the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS 21) at the beginning and end of a semester long yoga class. The class was taught by an experienced yoga instructor and included physical postures (asana), breathing practice (pranayama), and meditation (including yoga nidra). The classes met twice a week over a 16 week semester and each class lasted for 50 minutes. The participants showed statistically significant declines in depression, and anxiety. Stress also decreased, but the results were not statistically significant.

 

We originally intended this study as a comparative test of the effects of yoga practice on depression, anxiety, and stress. We had hoped to compare students in yoga classes with wait list controls and other, non-yoga, exercise classes. Unfortunately, we only received one response from the course wait list and only eight responses from students in non-yoga exercise classes. Fully recognizing the limitations of the remaining data, we felt these exploratory results were sufficiently interesting to report to the research community. It is our hope that these findings will encourage others to study the psychological benefits of yoga.

Methods

Participants

Sixty one students, enrolled in three sections of an elective yoga class offered by a large urban university, participated in this study. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 67. Fifty of the participants were female and eleven were male. In this sample, 47 participants identified as White, 5 as Hispanic or Latino, 4 as Black or African American, 3 as Asian or Asian American 1 as Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and 1 as American Indian or Alaska Native. Thirty one of the participants had no previous yoga experience, 4 did not respond to the question, while 26 had yoga experience ranging from 6 months to 12 years.

Instrument

Students were asked to provide demographic information and to complete the short form of the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS 21) on the first day of class, prior to any instruction, and again during the last week of class. The DASS 21 is a widely used 21 item self-report instrument that measures depression, anxiety, and stress. The DASS 21 has shown good psychometric properties and can be used for both clinical and non-clinical populations (Antony, et al., 1998). The DASS 21 asks participants to reference their answers to the previous week, thus, it is useful for tracking change over time.

Class

All yoga classes were taught by the same experienced teacher, trained in the Bihar School of yoga. The yoga classes included physical postures (asana), breathing practice (pranayama), and meditation (including yoga nidra). The classes met twice a week over a 16 week semester and each class lasted for 50 minutes. Students were encouraged to practice outside of class.

Analysis                                                                                     

The data were analyzed using Simstat. Because of the limitations of the data, we chose to use a more conservative nonparametric approach. Pre-class and post-class scores on the three scales of the DASS 21 were compared using the Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed test.

Results

Levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, as measured by the DASS 21, fell after one semester of yoga, however only two of these declines (depression and anxiety) were statistically significant (see Table 1).

Table 1.

Summary of Reported Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Before and After a 16 Week Yoga Class

 

Before Yoga Class

After Yoga Class

Variable

Mean

SD

α

Mean

SD

α

p

Depression

2.77

3.17

.84

1.30

1.50

.64

.00

Anxiety

4.07

4.21

.47

2.55

2.91

.75

.02

Stress

6.17

4.48

.85

4.73

3.89

.84

.08

Note: α = Cronbach’s α. Wilcoxon matched-pairs test.

Discussion

The results reported here are limited because of the lack of a control group. The declines in depression, anxiety, and stress might be explained by some factor other than yoga. However, for university students, depression, anxiety, and stress are known to increase over the course of semester (Andrews, & Wilding, 2004; Jemmott, & Magloire, 1988), and it is noteworthy that participants in this study experienced decreases. At minimum, these results suggest that yoga is promising area for future research.

 

 

References

Andrews, B., & Wilding, J. M. (2004). The relation of depression and anxiety to life‐stress and achievement in students. British Journal of Psychology, 95(4), 509-521.

Antony, M. M., Bieling, P. J., Cox, B. J., Enns, M. W., & Swinson, R. P. (1998). Psychometric properties of the 42-item and 21-item versions of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales in clinical groups and a community sample. Psychological assessment, 10(2), 176 -181.

Jemmott, J. B., & Magloire, K. (1988). Academic stress, social support, and secretory immunoglobulin A. Journal of personality and social psychology, 55(5), 803 – 810.

Author Note: 

Jeremy E.C. Genovese is Associated Professor of Human Development, Department of Curriculum and Foundations, College of Education and Human Services, Cleveland State University.

Kristine M. Fondran is a part-time lecturer, Department of Health and Human Performance, College of Education and Human Services, Cleveland State University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jeremy Genovese, JH 367, Department of Curriculum and Foundations, Cleveland State University, College of Education and Human Services, 2121 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 44122.

Email: j.genovese@csuohio.edu

Yoga Nidra-Just about everyone's favorite!

 

 
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Frequency vs. Duration

Bharmari Pranayama

Another semester has started at Cleveland State University and once again I am blessed with the opportunity to teach yoga to students, faculty and staff. This may well be my most prolific semester yet, as I will be teaching four yoga courses and an additional two staff and faculty yoga sessions.  By the the end of the semester I will have played a part in lowering the physical, mental and emotional stress of more than 120 students, faculty and staff, theoretically making the university a more peaceful and happy place to be. Good  karma for all!

At the beginning of every semester I encourage the student to practice as much as possible outside of class, but I remind them that  it doesn’t mean, “as long as possible.” When it comes to taking on home yoga practice or any kind of physical practice or exercise, it is best to aim for frequency over duration.

How many times have you started out an exercise program with the intent to workout 5 days a week for 1-2 hours at a time? Sure, an hour on the elliptical, followed by 45 minutes of lifting and 15 minutes of core work sounds good on January 2, but is it sustainable? Most of us have already experienced something similar and know that it certainly is not. It always amazes me how I can be so motivated and committed in the beginning, just to completely get thwarted shortly thereafter!

My yoga teacher, Swami Atmarupa Saraswati, tells a story about a student of hers who was frustrated on not being able to practice regularly and develop a “home practice” outside of class. After finding out what a busy and full life her student lead my teacher told her to choose the same time each day and practice 10 repetitions of “toe bending.”Toe Bending Anyone reading this who is familiar with this style of yoga knows that we often start with this simple practice as it is a part of the Pawanmuktasana (anti-rhuematics/joint mobility) movements in the Bihar School of Yoga.

As you can probably guess by the name as well as the picture above, the practice is quite easy to execute.

Upon hearing this the  student immediately said “Toe bending, that’s it? I can do more than that.”

But my teacher told her, “No, just practice 10 repetitions of toe bending every day.”

Not quite convinced this simple directive was the answer, but willing to give it a try, the student rolled up her mat and went on her way.

A few weeks later, the student was back at the yoga studio for class. Before the start of class the student came up to my teacher with a big smile on her face. My teacher asked ”So, how did the “toe bending” go for you?”

The student, continuing to smile, said something like this:

“I decided to practice yoga before bed. The first day I did toe bending like you said and then got into bed to read a book.

The second day, I practiced toe bending again, but this time I figured since I am sitting here on my mat that I might as well throw in a few repetitions of ankle bending. By the end of the second week I was up to 15-20 minutes almost everyday!

What I realized is that by setting the bar relatively low in relation to what I thought I “should” do for a yoga practice I wasn’t overwhelmed with how much time it would take and was able to be consistent.  Which is exactly what I hoped to accomplish.”The moral of the story is threefold; frequency is more important than duration when trying to establish a routine, getting start is often half the battle, and it is quite possible that you just might surprise yourself by reaching your goal.So if you are thinking that you would like to get some kind of exercise routine or home yoga practice going set yourself up for success.  Start by picking a time of day when you know you will be at the same place at the same time. Immediately after waking or before bed are generally good suggestions for most people.

Depending on your individual goal consider beginning with a short walk around the neighborhood, maybe three rounds of sun salutation, 10 push-ups, one round of toe bending, 20 sit ups, etc.   Be honest with yourself from the very beginning. While you most likely CAN do more of this, that, or the other, doesn’t mean you WILL be able to keep it up.

Next week is the starts of the third week of Fall semester.  Knowing that I have to hold the energy of the multiple classes full of beginner students, it is important for me to keep up with my own practice to be authentic in my teaching and to facilitate a positive experience.  So far, a 20-minute practice upon waking seems to be working with a bonus meditation in the evening if the stars align. Setting myself up for success by keeping it simple.

After all these years it is really sinking in that frequency is really more important than duration when it comes to yoga.

Of course, until I am thwarted….

Thunderbolt Lake

 

 
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