Yoga May Be Good for the Brain

Most of us past the age of 40 are aware that our minds and, in particular, memories begin to sputter as the years pass. Familiar names and words no longer spring readily to mind, and car keys acquire the power to teleport into jacket pockets where we could not possibly have left them.

Senior woman practices yoga.Some weakening in mental function appears to be inevitable as we age. But emerging science suggests that we might be able to slow and mitigate the decline by how we live and, in particular, whether and how we move our bodies. Past studies have found that people who run, weight train, dance, practice tai chi, or regularly garden have a lower risk of developing dementia than people who are not physically active at all.

There also is growing evidence that combining physical activity with meditation might intensify the benefits of both pursuits. In aninteresting study that I wrote about recently, for example, people with depression who meditated before they went for a run showed greater improvements in their mood than people who did either of those activities alone.

But many people do not have the physical capacity or taste for running or other similarly vigorous activities.

So for the new study, which was published in April in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions decided to test whether yoga, a relatively mild, meditative activity, could alter people’s brains and fortify their ability to think.

They began by recruiting 29 middle-aged and older adults from the Los Angeles area who told the researchers that they were anxious about the state of their memories and who, during evaluations at the university, were found to have mild cognitive impairment, a mental condition that can be a precursor to eventual dementia.

The volunteers also underwent a sophisticated type of brain scan that tracks how different parts of the brain communicate with one another.

The volunteers then were divided into two groups. One began a well-established brain-training program that involves an hour a week of classroom time and a series of mental exercises designed to bolster their memory that volunteers were asked to practice at home for about 15 minutes a day.

The others took up yoga. For an hour each week, they visited the U.C.L.A. campus to learn Kundalini yoga, which involves breathing exercises and meditation as well as movement and poses. The researchers chose this form of yoga largely because people who are out of shape or new to yoga generally find it easy to complete the classes.

The yoga group also was taught a type of meditation known as Kirtan Kriya that involves repeating a series of sounds — a mantra — while simultaneously “dancing” with repetitive hand movements. They were asked to meditate in this way for 15 minutes every day, so that the total time commitment was equivalent for both groups.

The volunteers practiced their programs for 12 weeks.

Then they returned to the university’s lab for another round of cognitive tests and a second brain scan.

By this time, all of the men and women were able to perform significantly better on most tests of their thinking.

But only those who had practiced yoga and meditation showed improvements in their moods — they scored lower on an assessment of potential depression than those in the brain-training group — and they performed much better on a test of visuospatial memory, a type of remembering that is important for balance, depth perception and the ability to recognize objects and navigate the world.

The brain scans in both groups displayed more communication now between parts of their brains involved in memory and language skills. Those who had practiced yoga, however, also had developed more communication between parts of the brain that control attention, suggesting a greater ability now to focus and multitask.

salutationIn effect, yoga and meditation had equaled and then topped the benefits of 12 weeks of brain training.

“We were a bit surprised by the magnitude” of the brain effects, said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. who oversaw the study.

How, physiologically, yoga and meditation had uniquely changed the volunteers’ brains is impossible to know from this study, although reductions in stress hormones and anxiety are likely to play a substantial role, she said. “These were all people worried about the state of their minds,” she pointed out.

Movement also increases the levels of various biochemicals in the muscles and brains that are associated with improved brain health, she said.

Whether other forms of yoga and meditation or either activity on its own might likewise bulk up the brain remains a mystery, she said. But there may be something especially potent, she said, about combining yoga with the type of meditation practiced in this study, during which people were not completely still.

The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, which partially funded this study, provides information on its website about how to start meditating in this style, if you would like to try.

Why Practice?

BY RICHARD ROSEN  |  originally posted here in Yoga Journal

Most beginning students will tell you they got into yoga to alleviate back pain, relieve stress, or become more flexible—fairly simple responses. I started my own practice after reading that yoga asanas are the best form of exercise ever devised; that belief kept me going for several years.

But the reasons you practice might not be as straightforward as they seem. It’s entirely possible that after closely examining your innermost motives, you’ll find nothing more than a hankering for looser hamstrings—but don’t bet on it. Yoga is full of surprising twists and turns.

It’s no secret that we often do things for reasons we’re totally unaware of; sometimes our unconscious motives become clear only after a good deal of self-reflection. So it’s important to realize that questioning the intent of our practice inevitably leads us to inquire about the meaning of our life as well. We could just as pertinently ask: Why am I really alive?

At the outset, it’s natural to assume that our practice and our life are totally separate, that we practice for an hour or so a day and then forget about it. But after a while, the two inevitably begin to merge. As Sri Aurobindo, the great 20th-century Indian sage and progenitor of Integral Yoga, reminds us, “All life is yoga.”

In Aurobindo’s view, yoga is threaded through the warp and weft of our very existence, and in effect it chooses us. We practice yoga because we really don’t have any other choice. Of course, we do decide what form our practice takes—we can go off and live alone in a cave and meditate, or we can stay at home, raise a family, and root for the Yankees. Performed with the proper attitude, each of our everyday actions can be an asana, each breath a pranayama, each thought (or space between two successive thoughts) a seed for meditation.

We may have been gifted with the life-enhancing tool of yoga, but for what reason? The clue is in the Sanskrit word yoga itself, which as you no doubt have heard means “union.” For our purposes, though, it might be better to define it as “wholeness,” a word etymologically related to both healthy and holy. So why do we really practice yoga? Because life wants us to be whole in the widest and truest sense of the word.

A Seed for Meditation

Performed with the proper attitude, each of our everyday actions can be an asana, each breath a pranayama, each thought (or space between two successive thoughts) a seed for meditation.

–– Richard Rosen

Ready, Set, Change

BY CHRIS COLIN  | Originally published here on Yoga Journal

When Anna’s boyfriend of five years broke up with her, she was devastated. He had given every indication that he was committed to a shared life, right down to the proposed names for the children they’d planned to have. When he admitted he couldn’t deliver on any of their dreams, Anna (not her real name) did her best to move on. She painted her apartment, recycled her furniture, and swept out every reminder of him in a determined preparation for a new phase of life.

But deep down, she couldn’t accept the change. “I kept hoping a coconut would fall on his head and he’d come to his senses,” she recalls. She raged at the upending of the life she’d envisioned. She sabotaged new relationships by comparing them to life with her ex. For several years she fought the reality of his departure with all she had, and in the process shut herself off from new opportunities, from happiness, from peace. “I was so in the thick of it, I couldn’t see any doors opening. I was just banging into all these closed doors.”

only-i-can-change-my-lifeIt wasn’t until she experienced the equally life-transforming change of a cross-country move—a change she welcomed—that Anna realized the value of taking change in stride. “If you’re willing to accept the good changes,” she says, “you have to be willing to accept the bad, because it’s all part of the same dynamic.”

Erik, it would seem, already knew that. While working a hodgepodge of construction jobs, he had realized he needed a change and started rethinking things. “I was driving by Casper’s Hot Dogs, and all of a sudden it hit me: I wanted to do architecture,” he says. It took months of strategizing, but a major life warp was set in motion. Both Erik and his partner, Melissa, made plans to become grad students. Their house in California would be rented out, the relationship made long distance, as Erik moved to Philadelphia for the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious architecture program. A few months later, Melissa would head to New York’s Pratt School of Art and Design. Erik was thrilled. After a period of professional uncertainty, there was a plan.

And so, after moving east, Erik accepted the impossible hours, the sleep deprivation, and the separation from Melissa with resolve. All told, his big life change was chugging along nicely—right up to the moment a bigger one sneaked up from behind. He’d been gone about six weeks when Melissa called to say she was pregnant.

Erik greeted the news with joy. He didn’t kick and scream about the complete disruption of his life. He simply decided to come back to California, start a family, and leave Philadelphia behind. His hard-earned blueprints had been ripped to shreds—by something wonderful, to be sure—but ripped to shreds all the same. And yet he was OK.

Make Change

So, how is it that when life is spun around by circumstances, benign or otherwise, some people flail, while others sail? Why do some of us wallow in that place where we’re so shocked and unhappy about an unexpected turn of events that we resist reality and find ourselves mired in bitterness or fear or hopelessness? Instead of accepting change with grace, we dig in our heels and suffer through each day of things not being what we think they should be. What’s the secret to riding each new wave gracefully—regardless of whether it deposits you gently on the beach or wallops you down to the seafloor?

“I hear a lot of people say that change is exciting, but they mean a specific kind of change,” says the Frank Jude Boccio, a teacher of yoga and Zen Buddhism in New York. “We all have an aversion to change that we’d rather not have. Certain change is appreciated, and some is not.”

The funny thing is that as a culture, we seem determined to celebrate change. “Change is good,” we tell each other, and, “Everything happens for a reason.” Thoreau himself volunteered, “All change is a miracle to contemplate.” Yes, we praise the virtues of change religiously—until some unwanted, unscripted change occurs. Then, mostly, we long for permanence. For all our professed faith in the benefits of transformation, we are a species that falls to pieces upon learning the salmone fresco is sold out. Generally, we cement where possible and panic where not. The smallest nudging of our routine can send us into a tizzy, while big disruptions send us into therapy.

How can you learn to accept change with equanimity, absorbing each phase in stride and learning from each new experience? The answer may come from dealing with change in three distinct stages.

Loosen Your Grip

When any unscripted change comes down the pike, there’s an overwhelming feeling of losing control, and that’s perfectly normal—and also perfectly delusional, says Herdis Pelle, a teacher at the Berkeley Yoga Center in Berkeley, California. “We’re moving into unknown territory,” she says. “Deep down, we’re never in control.”

Pelle, who came to California by way of Denmark, England, and Scotland, says she bases much of her teaching on the changes she’s experienced in her own life. It’s not that she managed to get a better grip on those changes over the years—it’s that she accepted the impossibility of any real grip in the first place.

As for Anna, it took her three years to let go of the feeling that her preordained future had been wrested away. Eventually she recognized that had she and her ex stayed together, there were no guarantees that life would have unfolded as she’d wished. With or without him, she realized, she didn’t have control over life.

No one does. That moment you fantasize about? When the bills are paid, the roof stops leaking, the phone’s not ringing, and you soak in the caught-up-ness of it all? That’s when the dog runs away. Or the girlfriend gets pregnant. Or the tornado touches down. Life doesn’t give you breathing room, but if you stop grasping for control of the uncontrollable, you can learn to breathe through it all.

Of course, just as you can dread change disproportionately, you can also overly invest in it, betting on a new job, mate, or baby to erase your troubles. Such eagerness for change may look like the flip side of resistance to it, but really it’s another vain attempt to control your circumstances. “You think the change is going to be miraculous and solve all your problems,” says Anna, who has, at last, found that the best way to approach change in her life—wanted or not—is to neither fear it nor think it’s a cure.

Separate Your Feelings

Once you’ve accepted your utter lack of control, it can still take some doing to accept the emotions that often accompany a sudden unraveling of your expectations. Even minor setbacks challenge us. Take Frank Jude Boccio’s experience of returning to his Hudson Valley home after time away; the famous fall colors had just faded. “I was really disappointed,” he says. “I found myself wishing I could change it back, or have come home earlier. And that wasn’t right.”

By that, Boccio doesn’t mean that his disappointment was unjustified—that he should learn to see winter’s colors as just as pretty as autumn’s. His idea is more nuanced: you can be disappointed with certain changes, but you accept that disappointment the same way you’d accept delight.

What does that mean? Surely you can’t be expected to rate disappointment the same as delight. No, says Boccio, but you can separate your feelings from your response to them.

As for Erik, while he’s nervous about impending parenthood, he’s accepting his nervousness instead of worrying about how he’ll pay the bills or getting angry about having to leave his program.

By distinguishing your core emotions from those that pile on afterward, you don’t limit your emotional life; on the contrary, you unclutter it. As Boccio says, it’s the clutter that leads you away from your true experience and into murkier territory.

Mitra Somerville, a teacher at the Integral Yoga Institute of New York in Manhattan, looks at major life changes and their constellations of angst in terms of what is, and isn’t, permanent. Your duty, he says, is to recognize that in the midst of radical transformations, the Self remains stable. If you can come to an understanding of this—through asana, breathwork, meditation—you can soothe the discomfort brought on by external changes. “The yogic thinking is that there’s part of us that’s unchanging—the spiritual part of us that has peace and joy and love,” he says. “The nature of the world, however, is in flux.”

Tap Into Wisdom

Learning to make peace with life’s calamities—lost jobs, romances, dreams—does not mean you have to be passive.

“Sometimes we try to provoke change in our lives,” Boccio says. “Rather than just be with sadness, anxiety, or anger, we want to change it. And that inability to sit with what’s happening isduhkha, suffering.”

But does that always mean choosing inaction? What about when there are wars to resist, house fires to flee? Are you meant to be sanguine about any old change of plans that comes along? “If we listen to our hearts, in that deepest silence we will be guided toward the appropriate action,” says Pelle, who agrees that certain events require out-and-out protest—and that yoga helps you know which ones.

“We practice so that we can be guided from within,” says Somerville. In stilling your thoughts, you free up a more reliable inner wisdom. “The more peaceful your mind is, the clearer and stronger your intuition is, and the better able you are to make the proper decision.”

As Melissa’s due date approached, Erik was clearly at peace with the inevitable maelstrom ahead, despite upending everything in order to go to school, and then tearing that plan up as well. “It’s funny. The more time I had with this newest change—the one that took me away from the original change—the more I came to accept it,” he says. He still intends to pursue an architecture degree, but he’s clearer about that intention. “I came to see that I’ll transfer to another school [near home], or we’ll head back to Philly if we have to, or maybe just that I’ll get to it someday.”

A deeper realization about change had come to him, one that saw a kind of balance of permanence and impermanence in daily life. No matter how much the circumstances of his life turn upside down or sideways, he can be in touch with a core that’s always right side up—the essence of his being. Being in touch with this core, in turn, provides the clarity to navigate life’s loops with calmness.

“It’s good to change things now and then,” Erik says. “Not because change is inherently good, but because changing something about your life makes you realize that other things won’t change.”

balancing actExpect the Unexpected

Prepare for life’s ups and downs with a daily practice. Frank Jude Boccio offers some ideas for a change-friendly inner life.

Accept Impermanence: Every morning, I repeat a gatha (mindfulness verse): “Great is the matter of birth and death; impermanence surrounds us. Be awake each moment; do not waste your life.” Much of my practice has to do with aligning myself with that. Then, ideally, my action comes from the situation, rather than from a false perception of what’s happening.

Practice Mindfulness: Come back to the present moment. The Buddha points out that you can be happy in a pleasant situation, but then it’s all too easy to lose yourself in the pleasure.

Take a Breath: When faced with a change, pleasant or otherwise, I try to tune in to my breath, and how I’m feeling in my body. Tuning into the breath gives me time to respond better to an unpleasant situation.

FREE Learn to Meditate Workshop

Free Learn to Meditate Workshop – April 30th

2-3 p.m., at the TN Valley Unitarian Church, 2931 Kingston Pike!

meditate

Most meditation workshops cost hundreds of dollars. There is no charge, and nothing is sold. For those who wish, I recommend a Donation of time, food or money to Hospitality Pantries. It delivers food daily, to anyone that needs it. The Workshop is my way of giving back!

After graduating from UT in December 1972, I began collecting meditations from hundreds of people, past and present. I collected over 50 journals full of meditations. About 15 years ago, I put some of the best meditations in a book, 800 Stepping Stones to Complete Relaxation. The Learn to Meditate – Workshop helps individuals gather “top of the line” information. Practical tips from over 60 writers: Oprah Book Club, to the ancient writings of Socrates and Pythagoras, to special magazine articles! Author Michael Lee Wright, says, “Anyone can learn to meditate. It’s easy, inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. And, you can practice meditation wherever you are: out walking, riding in a car or bus, watching television, waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in the middle of a difficult business meeting!” There are many benefits: improve your health, increase your happiness, expand your focus & attention, and make you more compassionate & wiser.

Everyone can benefit from Relaxation Meditations. The more you are relaxed the better your memory works, the better your muscles work, the better your brain works, and the better your life works. While a junior at UT, I found three meditations that helped change me from a “C/B” student into a “B/A” student; and from an unfocused kid into a focused adult! I remember when it happened! After a Psychology Class on “The Hill,” I walked down the steps to the main library, to go over “homework” for my next class, across the street in the business building. On this day, I had 30-minutes extra, so I went to the magazine shelves to look for interesting articles. In the table of contents of Psychology

Today, I found an article title that fascinated me, How a Student Can Improve Memory During Class? It has 3-simple techniques:

  1. sit up front & as far to the right as possible,
  2. have your eyes look to the left,
  3. and put your attention on the left side of the medulla oblongata (lowest, back area of the brain).

This stimulated the memory section of the brain, the hippocampus. I tried it in my next class, a very tuff and boring class on Government Economics. I found that my focus became so great that I took the best notes I had ever taken. At the end of the quarter (quarters then, not semesters), I went from a low “B” in the class to an “A.” I used the same technique in other classes, and it improved my grade in every class. A Quarter later, for a History “Term Paper,” I chose Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, I found that Ben practiced 13-meditations that helped change him from an average life into a super life. A few months later, while studying in the main library (Hodges), I decided to take a break. I went into the back room where they kept the old magazines. It was called The Stacks because there were 10-year old issues of magazines stacked on top of each other. At the time, the Summer Olympics were coming up, so I decided to go through old sports magazines. I found an amazing magazine article on Billy Mills, the Olympic 1964 Gold Metal 10,000 meter winner. Billy grew up on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He loved to run as a boy. When he was 10-years, he stopped under a shade tree, trying to catch his breath and second wind. There were three old Indians sitting under the tree. One of the Indians walked up and started telling about running fifty years earlier, as a small boy, when his grandfather gave him a Breathing Chant. Back then, the Indian boys, who did not have horses, had to run & run & run. The magazine article continued, and Billy talked about his last lap in the Olympic 10,000 meter race. He was side by side with Ron Clark (Australian World Record holder), as they were about to lap slower runners. Ron Clark, on the inside, saw this and elbowed Billy. Then, Ron shot ahead, and around the slower runners. Billy was knocked off-stride, and another runner from Ethiopia passed him. Billy talks about using the Indian Breathing Chant. The more he chanted, the more his muscles relaxed, and the faster he went. It was a major Olympic upset, no American before or since, has won the Olympic 10,000 meter race. A movie was made of Billy Mill’s life in 1983, Running Brave (library & youtube.com). American Indian Breathing Chant (30-seconds): Divide your lungs into 3-sections (front, middle & back). Sing or Chant Hu, 6-times (aloud or silently, pronounced hue)! As Chant Hu Hu, visualize the letters in the front area of both lungs; Chant Hu Hu & see the letters in middle area…; Chant Hu Hu & visualize the letters in the back area of your lungs! Your mouth naturally drops open; & you breathe in the mouth & nose at the same time!

Michael says, “He began using this Indian Breathing Meditation while playing basketball on the University of Tennessee basketball courts, and it was amazingly helpful. Also, I used it while climbing the steps, & the long walks to class, because I was always out of breath, I did not seem to be able to think & walk & breathe at the same time.” He recommends using it while walking, bicycling or anytime the mind wonders into negative junk. After over 40-years, almost daily, I still chant or sing Hu. It is like a tuning fork. The more I sing or chant Hu (aloud or silently), the more I tune to the life-beat within me. And, the more relaxed & the more aware I become!”

HOMEWORK: EVERY DAY PRACTICE 3-MEDITATIONS (1-BREATHING, 1-VISUALIZATION, & 1-SOUND).

meditation-leafOne of the most practical & useful meditation is proper breathing. The more oxygen into the body, the more it relaxes, and the less anxiety. In tense situations the jaw tightens & you forget to breathe in the nose & mouth at the same time. 1) Proper Breathing Meditation (3-seconds): Repeat, silently, 3-times: “Relax Jaw…” Your mouth will open slightly and you can feel the cool air on the roof of your mouth! Repeat off & on during the day, especially anytime you catch your mouth closed! 2) Create Your Own Meditation (1-2 minutes): Collect inspiring phases or quotes from songs, books, & movies (google – quotes). Put them in a vase; & every morning pull one out before you leave home. Off & on during the day, repeat the phase 3-times, & wonder: “What does it mean? Why is it interesting? 3) Re-Program Your Brain with Positive Thoughts (8-15 seconds): Example: Silently repeat, “CONTENTMENT” 3-TIMES. Then ADD, “APPRECIATE CONTENTMENT” & repeat 3-TIMES. THEN ADD, “APPRECIATE FEELING CONTENTMENT,” & repeat 3-TIMES! Repeat 4-6 times a day! Type 20-Postive Thoughts (20 font), cut & put in Jar or vase. THEN, Pick a new “Positive Thought every Sunday,” & tape to your refrigerator. In the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Ben meditated on 13-positive thoughts for 13-weeks: cleanliness, chastity, frugality, humility, industry, justice, moderation, silence, sincerity, resolution, order, temperance, & tranquility. Napoleon Hill, Think & Grow Rich, meditations: peace of mind, love & romance, hope & faith, sound health, & financial security.

Plato (ancient Greek) meditations: temperance, prudence, & courage! Aristotle meditations: harmony, ethics, virtue, nature, wisdom, balance, soul, truth, and enlightenment. It takes 8-15 seconds of attention to program the brain! In 12-weeks, the quality of your life will improve. 4) What is the Greatest Visualization that you Can Imagine? (1-2 minutes): Imagine colors, sounds, & feelings – Put Yourself in the Picture! Off & on, during the day, when you need a break, close your eyes, and practice a visualization: imagine your favorite place, a mountain stream, the ocean, a vacation scene, someone you love, doing something you love, a time when you were laughing, etc.

The Workshop will cover many levels & types of meditation: breathing, relaxation, visualizations, projection, sleep & dream, light & sound, chanting, self & soul, & maximizing awareness. Learn the basics: who, what, when, where, why & how? Reduce stress & worry. Reduce anger & fear. Help with sleep issues, weight issues, healing processes & more. Use meditation to control drug & alcohol abuse. Learn to practice contentment & tranquility. For more information or If you cannot attend the workshop, e-mail: mikewright102348@gmail.com – (Handout/Outline).

Thanks,

Mike Wright

Home: (865) 851-9535, cell: 308-8529, email: mikewright102348@gmail.com

patty’s newest yoga student in Macau

While in Macau, China, patty and her traveling companions, Mebbie and Jolee, were entertained by magician Franz Harary. Patty was invited on stage to participate in his stage act after she had instructed Franz in his first yoga class. This video from the CBS morning news is all about Franz and his fabulous act. Enjoy!

Brewed to Perfection

BY JAMES BAILEY, L.AC.  |  Originally posted here in Yoga Journal

Few culinary treasures have made their way to every continent in the world as has the warm, soothing cup of tea. More tea is drunk worldwide than any other beverage except water. The Indian word for tea, chai, came to India from China and also Japan, where tea is known as cha and defined as a simple hot-water infusion of the tea plant Camellia sinensis.

cup of green tea with mintTea is indigenous to China, Indochina, and the northeast provinces of India, particularly the cool, wet mountainous regions of Assam. The Chinese first discovered tea drinking in 2737 b.c.; however, it was the British and the East India Company who first cultivated tea in India in 1836 for export to Europe.

Over time, though, Indians started to add their own spices, most notably cardamom, to the standard British-influenced concoction of black tea, milk, and sugar. Cardamom was used for three reasons: It enhanced the tea flavor; it provided a mild digestive aid traditionally said to warm and stimulate agni, our digestive fire; and lastly, it neutralized the toxic effects of caffeine.

In India’s northern state of Punjab, more elaborate mixtures of culinary spices were added into tea to further enhance its medical effects, creating some of the world’s most flavorful brews. As the Sikh religion native to Punjab arrived in America with Yogi Bhajan in the late 1960s, the heavily spiced tea became known as “yogi tea.” Yogi tea, also called masala tea, is now used as much to warm and stimulate digestion after a meal as to nourish body, mind, and spirit with its light, cleansing qualities.

In America the terms “chai” and “yogi tea” are often used interchangeably. A simple way to distinguish between them is the amount of spice used. Traditional chai is heavy on both milk and sugar and contains only a modest amount of spice, which is usually just cardamom. Yogi tea emphasizes more spice and can be served with or without the black tea, the milk, or the sugar.

Four primary spices are used in yogi tea: cardamom, ginger, long pepper, and cinnamon. Cardamom and ginger are considered sattvic, believed to stimulate spiritual purity. These spices also help to reduce mucus, relieve gas, calm the stomach, stimulate agni, and eliminate ama(toxins). Long pepper (pippali) does all this, as well as reduces pain and rejuvenates tissue. Cinnamon is similar to cardamom and ginger in properties and is also good for the circulation and the heart.

Everyone seems to have a favorite yogi tea recipe, but here is a basic one for beginners —

Bring two quarts of water to a boil and then add the following spices: one-half tablespoon long pepper (whole black peppercorns can be substituted), one heaping tablespoon cardamom seeds, six sticks of cinnamon, and four slices of fresh ginger root, peeled.

Reduce the heat and let the spice mixture simmer for 30 minutes. Add one and one-half teaspoons black tea and then let steep for no longer than 10 minutes. (It becomes too bitter after that.) Strain and add milk, honey, or maple syrup to taste.

Indeed, some yogis may prefer drinking just a simple infusion made from only the base spices, depending on their particular dosha, without the black tea, milk, or sugar. For example, kaphas, who may be burdened by sluggish digestion, gas, or constipation or suffer from dairy sensitivities, obviously should skip milk and sugar. Sensitive vatas and easily agitated pitas should avoid the caffeinated black tea.

Sing out loud

BY KARIN BEUERLEIN |  originally posted here in Yoga Journal

Karen Brabec recalls the story ruefully. She had just won first prize for her skillful boat-decorating for the third year in a row at Chicago’s annual Venetian Night parade. She took great pride in the project and invested long hours in the competition, a nighttime extravaganza held on Lake Michigan featuring a fleet of festively adorned sailboats and a grand fireworks display.

When a local TV station wanted to interview her about her accomplishment, she was thrilled. Inside the studio, cameras rolled and the interviewer asked the first question, but when Brabec tried to respond, all that came out was…a squeak. “It was as if someone was putting his hands around my neck and squeezing,” she says. “There was nothing there. No air.”

She was unable to complete the interview, dissolving in coughs and deferring questions to her husband, who had gone with her. “I was terribly disappointed,” she says. When she left the studio, her voice immediately returned to normal.

Brabec had just discovered something that yogis have been exploring for centuries: The human voice is intimately connected to the inner self; its state can reveal the tides of emotion that surge through you. When a person feels fear, anxiety, or tension—even unconsciously—the speaking voice suffers.

But just as your emotions affect the quality of your voice, you can also use your voice to affect your emotions. You can improve your mood and calm your central nervous system through chanting and yoga postures that promote a healthy vocal technique. More profoundly, paying attention to the quality of your voice will teach you more about your true identity.

“There’s something that science hasn’t defined about the way the voice links to the real heart of who you are,” says Barbara Wilson Arboleda, a speech-language pathologist and voice specialist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For example, she says, many people love to sing, even when their voices aren’t classically beautiful, simply because it touches something deep inside them that they can’t quite name.

Evolution pioneer Charles Darwin theorized that the human voice may have originated when certain chest and throat muscles contracted in excitement or fear; in other words, he believed voice and emotion came from the same impulse. Science hasn’t mapped exactly how it works, but the larynx, or voice box, is thought to be wired directly into the brain’s emotional center, the limbic system. This may be why a lump in the throat is often the first sign of emotional distress.

Brian Hands, a Toronto otolaryngologist whose Vox Cura clinic caters to singers struggling with voice problems, sees this connection in his practice every day. Singers frequently come to him in a panic because they’re missing notes or feeling pain when they sing.

“It’s usually coming from angst,” Hands says. “Once I’ve taken an appropriate history and examined the vocal cords [to rule out disease or injury], I discuss with them what I believe is misplaced or unreleased energy in the body.”

Although he treats his patients with Western medicine when their condition warrants, he also counsels them to investigate their emotions using the concept of chakra energy. This ancient model, which maps energy centers in the body, can help you visualize where you hold unnecessary tension and how that thwarts natural bodily processes, he says.

The larynx, Hands says, is located in the fifth, or communication, chakra, which includes the neck, jaw, shoulders, and ears. His patients tend to have tenderness and pain there because they’re using these muscles, rather than the diaphragm, to power the larynx. But to move vocal production down where it belongs, he believes, they must resolve buried conflicts in the lower chakras, particularly in the fourth, or heart, chakra, which governs relationships. “This is the area where we carry our baggage,” Hands says. “Problems growing up. Mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, colleagues.”

Hands recalls a patient who had lost her voice completely, causing her to be demoted at her job in a law office. “All she could do was whisper,” Hands says. “She’d been to four other specialists, who all said her vocal cords were fine.” After speaking with her, Hands suspected that an old emotional trauma was the culprit, and he began asking about her family history. “Within two sessions, she burst into tears,” he says. “She hadn’t been able to speak to her mother in four years.” Once she allowed herself to acknowledge the negative emotions she’d been feeling—and to call her family—her voice returned in full.

Croaking Frog, Heal Thyself

Although the link between voice and emotion is sometimes a channel for pain, applying positive energy to that same circuitry may help heal body, mind, and spirit.

Silvia Nakkach, a San Francisco Bay Area singer, composer, and teacher, founded the nonprofit Vox Mundi Project (Vox Mundi Project) to educate people about the history and healing power of the voice. According to Nakkach, every spiritual tradition uses sound to facilitate the passage between states of consciousness. “In the shamanic tradition, the voice is considered to be a gatekeeper,” she says. “It’s what opens the door to the realm of the spirit.”

Buddhist and yogic philosophies also embrace teachings about the power of the voice, promoting the chanting of mantras designed to empty the mind and unite the spirit with a divine entity. “The voice lies between the heart and the head,” says Ann Dyer, a vocalist and yoga teacher in Oakland, California, who specializes in nada yoga, or the yoga of sound. “So on a very basic level, the act of chanting brings together your intellectual awareness with your heart awareness.”

In fact, Dyer says, it’s quite common that when people first connect the two, they begin to weep. “People are sometimes startled,” she says. “They say, “I don’t know what’s going on, but every time I chant I start crying.’”

This catharsis is a hallmark of the increasingly popular practice of kirtan—a traditional Hindu practice of chanting the names of God in a call-and-response format as a path to union with the Divine. “At the molecular level, we are vibrating entities,” says Suzanne Sterling, a voice and yoga teacher who leads kirtan sessions in workshops nationwide. Because the voice is vibration, Sterling says, it communicates directly with our core. “There’s a whole energetic world inside us that can be enhanced by sound. When we allow certain tones to run through our bodies, it can bring us back into harmony.”

Western science is a step behind when it comes to recognizing the healing effects of the voice, but that’s changing. Listening to music is now an accepted part of therapy for pain and stress management, but new studies go further, suggesting that active singing may be even better for your health than listening. For example, a German study conducted in 2004 found that singers participating in a choral rehearsal boosted their immune response, while those listening passively to the same rehearsal did not.

In Full Voice

If speaking or singing hurts, or if you’ve never taken the time to explore your voice, it probably isn’t bringing you joy, warmth, or calm—or helping you express those feelings to others.

Yoga is a good way to get acquainted with your voice, as it helps you release unwanted tension, fully access your lungs, and improve your posture. The speech-language pathologist Arboleda, who’s also a yoga practitioner, emphasizes posture in particular—and not only because it smooths the breath. “How you’re positioned affects the shape of the throat and the alignment of the very small pieces of the larynx,” she says. “It’s a complex system, and everything needs to come together symmetrically.” Poor posture, she says, can bend the soft tissues of the throat out of shape, muting your sound.

And yoga, by calming the mind, allows you to focus on the quality of your voice. Listen closely to yourself. Do you use only a narrow range of pitches when you speak? Sterling says that people who speak only in the deepest pitches of their range often inhabit only that part of their emotional selves, eschewing lighter, sweeter feelings. By contrast, those who speak only in the high part of their range may lack gravity. Try broadening your vocal range when you talk, exploring expressive highs and lows. “It’s like moving in the full range of your personality as well as in the full range of your voice,” Sterling says.

A daily chanting practice, whether it’s done alone or with yoga, helps develop and strengthen your voice as well as attune you to its particular qualities, much like observing the breath inpranayama does, Dyer says. The more familiar your voice becomes to you, the more it will begin to reveal your truest self. “Are you getting sick? Are you getting run down? Are you falling in love? Or overwhelmed? Each of these things is reflected in your voice,” Dyer says. “The voice is the barometer of your being.” (See Unchain Your Melody for a guide)

Ayurvedic Healing Foods

BY MIRIAM KASIN HOSPODAR  |  Originally posted here on Yoga Journal

These healing foods enliven your body, stimulate its repair, and rejuvenate.

Lemons are both purifying and nourishing, and they stimulate digestion. For reducing toxins, drink unsweetened lemonade as many times during the day as desired.

Ghee (clarified butter) is among the best rejuvenating and longevity-promoting foods. It aids digestion and calms the nerves. Ghee’s rate of absorption is high, making it an excellent medium for transporting the nutrients of other foods to the tissues.

Dates and Figs are prized as excellent sources of energy. They also help build tissues. Eat one or two every day.

Almonds are nourishing and life-supporting. Ayurveda recommends blanching and peeling almonds because their skins are slightly toxic. Eat several almonds daily to increase strength and energy.

See also Rejuvenate with a 4-Day Ayurvedic Fall Cleanse

Mung Beans are among the best legumes for their supreme digestibility and health-giving qualities. They are beneficial when people are sick or otherwise in need of very light food. Mung beans are particularly nourishing when mixed with rice or other grains.

Ginger is often referred to as “the universal medicine.” It promotes good digestion and helps remove ama. Dried ground ginger is more concentrated in its flavor and its effects. To aid digestion, sprinkle a thin slice of fresh ginger with lemon juice and salt, and eat one-half hour before a meal.

Cumin Seeds serve as a digestive aid and alma-reducer for all doshas. To help remove toxins, start the day by drinking warm water mixed with a pinch of powdered cumin and ginger.

Lassi is a beverage prepared by mixing one part yogurt into two parts water. It is an excellent nutritive digestive aid, taken during or after a meal. You can flavor lassi either with raw sugar or honey and a little ground cardamom, or with toasted ground cumin seeds and salt.

See also 8 Light + Delicious Detoxifying Soup Recipes

Juicy, Seasonal Fruits are both highly nutritive and purifying. Juicy fruits should be completely ripe for maximum healing value.

Green, Leafy Vegetables are both nutritive and purifying. Their bitter flavor stimulates the liver, helps balance blood sugar, and aids skin conditions. Prepare with a little ghee or oil.

Cow’s Milk is considered a vitalizer by Ayurveda and recommended for those emaciated after injury. Ayurveda recommends bringing milk to a full boil to remove the qualities that can cause excess mucus. To further reduce milk’s clogging qualities, add a pinch of ginger and/or black pepper. Also, milk should be imbibed separately from foods with any taste other than sweet.

Water is universally beneficial for everyone, and assists virtually all healing. It promotes digestion and, when imbibed while hot, is particularly effective for removing ama.

See also Ayurvedic Spring Clean Eating Plan