Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Yoga & Sex: Article Round-Up October 14, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:28 pm
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In the course of my research for my presentation, I’ve found a lot of articles about how yoga can benefit your sex life. Many of these articles lean towards the prurient (“The 10 Poses That Will Make Him Ooh!” sort of thing), but despite that most of them have some really good content. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

Improve Your Sex Life with Yoga, on Gaiam’s website, by Kate Hanley:

A nice overview of how yoga can improve your sex life, discussing many of the specific benefits (sensuality, confidence, energy, intimacy, better orgasms), and describing two specific yoga poses that help boost sexual enjoyment.

Yoga Positions for Better Sex, in Prevention, by Nora Isaacs:

This article starts off by criticizing ancient yogis for practicing abstinence, which really turned me off. There’s no need to start the article by belittling another culture’s spiritual practice. I don’t think anyone should ever belittle anyone else’s spiritual practice, there’s just no excuse for that. However, once Isaacs got past being a shallow Westerner, she got into some of the important physical benefits of doing yoga: increased flexibility (particularly in the hips), strengthening the pelvic floor/root lock, getting in good physical shape just in general, recharging and relieving stress, and yoga breathing. She describes each benefit and then gives instructions for a pose that provides that benefit. Isaacs uses quotes from a yoga studio owner in California and from Jacquie Noelle Greaux, the author of Better Sex Through Yoga, so she’s consulted some experts. The article ends with the assertion that doing yoga with your partner will deepen your intimacy, get your energy flowing, and spark your creativity in the bedroom. (See, good content! Why’d she have to start off with that nonsense?)

Want Better Sex? Do Yoga, in Psychology Today, by Michael Castleman:

A good discussion of why yoga is good for sex, suggesting that yoga may help to treat sex problems where Western medicine (such as psychological counseling, sex therapy, and medication) falls short. Castleman focuses on relaxation, anxiety/stress relief, and improved blood flow, citing studies that have shown yoga to help in these areas. Recommended for Castleman’s more scientific approach to the subject.

Yoga for Better Sex: 9 Yoga Moves to Put Your Mind and Body in the Mood, in Prevention, no author listed:

Despite the silly title, there’s actually some good content in this one. The writer cites Ellen Barrett (author of Sexy Yoga) repeatedly, but as we’ve already seen, Barrett knows her stuff. This article lists the promised nine poses, with photos and descriptions for each detailing why each pose helps in the bedroom. I particularly like that the last pose listed is savasana!



Hip-centric Sequence October 13, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:40 pm
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One of the students in my little yoga class has tight hips despite a lot of flexibility elsewhere, so I came up with this sequence to challenge that student a bit. (And then, of course, he got stuck at work and couldn’t make it to class, but we went ahead and did the sequence anyway last night, and I liked it well enough that I’ll pull it out again later!)

  • child’s pose
  • cat/cow and curving side stretches
  • down dog
  • down dog twist
  • 5 half salutes
  • 2 full sun salutations (first time, regular high/low lunge; second time with lunge twist)
  • standing sequence:
    • warrior 1
    • warrior 2
    • radiant warrior
    • triangle pose
    • half moon
    • wide-legged standing forward bend
    • goddess pose
  • standing sequence other side
  • tree pose
  • seated poses:
    • squat
    • cradle
    • cobbler
    • forward bend
    • seated twist
    • pigeon
  • bridge pose
  • savasana

I particularly loved doing goddess pose last night. It was fun to teach, and it just feels empowering to do. I think I’ll be pulling this out more often!


Yoga and Emotions: Anger October 12, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:03 pm
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This month we were going to talk about yoga and how it can help us deal with strong emotion. Let’s start off with anger, since it’s a biggie! Anger, and its companions frustration and annoyance, come up often in daily life. Maybe there’s someone at work that you always seem to clash with; maybe you had a fight with your partner, or your child accidentally broke a keepsake you treasured; maybe there’s a lot of traffic on the highway or you got pulled over for speeding. There are so many little moments in our lives that can lead to anger! And as we all know, when you’re angry, the person who suffers the most from that anger is you. When we carry anger around with us all day, it can have effects both physical (tight shoulders, tense neck, upset stomach) and behavioral (inability to concentrate, likeliness of lashing out at others, decreased enjoyment of activities). When we feel angry, it upsets the calmness we’re trying to cultivate in the mind by practicing yoga. So how can we deal with our anger in a healthy way?

First, don’t pretend you’re not angry. In order to deal with the strong emotion, you first have to acknowledge that you’re experiencing it. Then, keep yourself from responding instantly. When we’re angry, we want to act right away, maybe yell at the other person for what they’ve done wrong, but yelling isn’t going to do anything to correct the problem – it’ll probably just make things worse, upsetting the other person and only prolonging the anger in you, working you up further! So start trying to rein in that impulse to take action right away. If you can do this, that will give you a chance to decide if the instinctive action is the best one.

A little breathing can do wonders to calm the mind. When you feel yourself getting angry, try taking a long deep breath, then another one. Maybe try some pranayama: diaphragmatic or three-part breathing can be incredibly calming. When your mind gets angry, that signals your body to produce adrenaline, getting your whole system worked up. Slow deep breaths have the opposite effect, calming the body, which in turn soothes the mind.

Now that we feel a little calmer, how do we deal with the anger that’s still lingering? As Patanjali says, when negative thoughts arise, positive ones should be thought of instead. So what’s the opposite of anger? Kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. When you feel angry, direct your thoughts towards an image that always makes you feel tender and loving – maybe it’s a flower, your mother, or your baby. Refocus your angry thought on something positive.

Combat the anger by developing compassion. Remember that, while you are suffering in this situation, the other person is suffering too. Try to see the situation from his perspective or imagine what she might be feeling. Compassion reminds us that we’re all alike, every single person: all seeking a way to be happy and safe. If you can look at the problem from the other person’s point of view, you may be able to respond not out of a place of anger, but from a place of compassion. That will help everyone to have a better experience and a happier day!


Four Primitive Urges October 11, 2011

Filed under: yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:25 pm
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Many yogis, including Swami Rama, talk about the four primitive urges, also known as the four fountains. Every animal experiences these urges, and humans aren’t exempt! These are the basic needs that every creature wants to have fulfilled. Almost any problem you may experience can be related back to one of the four primitive urges at the root level.

  • Food

Who doesn’t need food? The desire for food naturally occurs in the body when we become hungry, but sometimes the urge to eat can begin in the mind, when we use food for more than just physical nourishment. Food can be comforting, calming, soothing; it can help us procrastinate, it can get us excited, or even make us sick. The next time you reach for a candy bar, consider whether you’re truly hungry or whether you’re trying to fill some other emotional need. As a yogi, one’s food intake shouldn’t be more or less than what the body needs for fuel, so both overeating and starving yourself should be, well, off the table. Also, your diet shouldn’t pollute your body or agitate or your nervous system (hello, coffee!). We’re all guilty of indulging now and then, but in general, following the guidelines for a sattvic diet will help to keep the primitive urge for food in check.

  • Sex

Although the need for sex is a physical need, the desire for sex typically begins in the mind and travels to the body. For example, you might be in a perfectly normal mood but then happen to see a sexy scene in a movie, which stimulates the mind and which in turn arouses the body. The body was just fine; it was the mind that got you worked up. As yogis, we try to keep a balanced state of mind in relation to sex, following the yamas and niyamas to use sexuality appropriately and enjoy it in a healthy way.

  • Sleep

Every living creature needs sleep, but we can definitely get too much of a good thing! Laziness is said to be the greatest of the sins that undermine progress, not just in yoga, but in whatever you do in life. Laziness is covered under the yamas and niyamas, as well as in the nine obstacles to mental clarity, the Gunas (as tamas), and is mentioned often in the Bhagavad Gita as an obstacle to performing your duty or dharma, which of course is a major part of yogic philosophy, so laziness is clearly a major issue! The Bhagavad Gita also says that yoga is not for those who sleep too much or sleep too little – in yoga, we seek to find a balance, not depriving ourselves of the sleep we need to do our work and function in the world, but not giving in to laziness and lethargy either.

  • Self-Preservation

The instinct for self-preservation is where our “fight or flight” response comes from. In essence, this urge is rooted in fear: at the base level, fear of death, which is included among the kleshas as an obstacle to achieving enlightenment. On a figurative level, self-preservation includes fear of losing something we have, and fear that we won’t get what we want or need. Among the many things we try to preserve are our physical body, attractiveness, social standing – anything that contributes to our mental concept of ourselves and how we want others to perceive us. Trying to preserve these things is a natural instinct, but in yoga we work to remove our attachment to the things of the physical world, because only the inner true Self stays unchanging.

We need the four primitive urges to survive, but as we seek spiritually, we must recognize how they influence us and keep the urges working in appropriate ways, not limiting us or holding us back, but only pushing us forward to achieve our potential.


Yoga and the Pelvic Floor October 10, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:10 pm
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I keep seeing the pelvic floor muscles come up throughout my research on yoga and sex. We rarely think about these muscles, and don’t use them often (although they sure come in handy on an emergency run to the bathroom). However, the pelvic floor muscles are incredibly important for sex, for childbirth, and just in general for keeping our internal organs where they’re supposed to be.

The pelvic floor is just that: the muscles at the bottom of the torso, supporting the internal organs and the spine. These muscles control the passage of waste matter out of the body; they also include the muscles lining the vagina, so having a healthy pelvic floor can increase pleasure during sex for both partners. A healthy, strong, flexible pelvic floor can also really help a woman during childbirth. As women age and enter menopause, the hormone balance in the body changes, which can cause the pelvic floor to thin and weaken, which is why June Allyson sells Depends. This is why it’s important to keep the pelvic floor healthy throughout your lifetime!

The best plan is to keep the pelvic floor muscles in good shape, so you don’t ever have to worry about incontinence or the health problems that could occur if these muscles are weakened or torn. This means not just toning and strengthening, but making sure the muscles are flexible. However,the pelvic floor can be stretched out, weakened, or torn during childbirth; it could also be affected by a variety of other issues like obesity, hysterectomy, or even just constant straining on the toilet. Whether your pelvic floor is healthy or not, exercise can really help to get it in shape or keep it that way.

Most of us have heard of Kegel exercises. Named for Dr. Arnold Kegel, these are simple exercises in which you squeeze and relax your pelvic floor muscles. You can read more about Kegel exercises here or here. An even simpler exercise to work your pelvic floor is just squatting. The action of squatting is great for these muscles.

Of course yoga and pilates both include exercises and stretches that really help the pelvic floor. In yoga, the mula bandha or root lock can be employed to strengthen and stretch the pelvic floor. In a pose like Goddess or Chair, for example, if you’re doing the pose properly you’ll probably be activating your mula bandha, and it can be used in many other poses. To learn more about mula bandha, this book is a pretty exhaustive review of the topic, covering the benefits of employing mula bandha along with several techniques for doing so.

One simple pose that’s good for the pelvic floor is Cobbler or Bound Angle pose. Sitting on the floor, bend your knees, bring the soles of your feet together, and cup your hands around your feet. Just sitting like that is good, or you can bend forward. This pose stretches the hips and soothes menstrual or urinary problems, and helps with anxiety and fatigue too.

For more information on the pelvic floor, check out the wikipedia article or this really informative article written by a midwife. Or check out this excellent post on finding and moving your pelvic floor, complete with a video, over at anytimeyoga.


Veg Adventures: BBQin’ October 7, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:19 pm

We had a Labor Day party a few weeks ago, and of course we made sure to have plenty of vegetarian options for the grill. We discovered that Trader Joe’s veggie burgers are not grill-appropriate (those things fell apart!), but Morningstar’s Grillers work well. We’re really liking SmartDogs – they grill well, have appropriately hot-doggish structural integrity, and have pretty good flavor. Our favorite is the chorizo-style dog: it’s delicious with guacamole and cheese! (Plus with the chorizo seasoning you don’t notice that it doesn’t taste the same as an all-beef dog). My dad brought portobello mushrooms too, so we had grilled portobello sandwiches, and we also had a bunch of nice fresh veggies that we grilled in a basket.

What we learned from our Labor Day party is that veggie options are not all that popular at family cookouts. We ate the leftover grilled veggies for a good week, and we still have tons of veggie burgers in the freezer (along with tons of beef and turkey burgers too – we overbought everything). We’re slowly working our way through it all, and the Trader Joe’s burgers we’ll save to cook up when it’s too cold to grill outside anymore.

The week after our party, I got to try seitan for the first time. We drove out to Pittsburgh to go to F’s sister’s wedding celebration. Megan is a chef and a vegetarian (you’ve met her before, I posted about her visit back in August). She planned all the food for her party, and so of course she had plenty of vegetarian options. I had a portobello sandwich that was delicious, and I also got to try the seitan, which I put on hot dog buns, sloppy joe style, and covered with barbecue sauce (since Meg had a barbecue sauce bar at the party). I thought it was delicious, but then I also really liked the sauce, which is a rarity for me since I’ve never really liked regular barbecue. I would definitely eat seitan again, but from what I hear it’s kind of a pain in the tail to cook, so I’m not sure it’d be worth it to try to make it myself if I’m just going to slather it with sauce. There are lots of other things I can slather with sauce, after all.

We also had a bit of a debate over how to pronounce the word “seitan”. Just looking at it, I’d say sye-TAN, but I’m not at all attached to that. Megan usually says it SEE-t’n, which has the advantage of being faster to say in a busy kitchen. Anyone have the last word on this?


Books: Sexy Yoga: 40 Poses for Mind-Blowing Sex & Greater Intimacy, by Ellen Barrett October 6, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:31 pm
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Sexy Yoga, by Ellen BarrettIn this book, Ellen Barrett uses yoga to help couples access the poses of the Kama Sutra. Both yoga and the Kama Sutra originated in ancient India, and Barrett relates each to the other to show how, with yoga practice, the difficult sexual poses of the Kama Sutra can be achievable (and pleasurable!). The book contains over 100 black and white photographs, illustrating both the yoga asanas and the Kama Sutra poses.

Barrett begins the book with an introduction describing the origins of both yoga and the Kama Sutra and how they relate. She covers yoga breathing, the chakras, and auras. The second section, “Glowing Solo”, is a guide to the yoga poses Barrett feels will be most helpful in opening the body for enhanced sexual pleasure. For each pose, Barrett provides instructions on how to get into the pose, how long to stay there, the benefits of the pose, ways to modify it, a meditation to consider while practicing the pose, and a photograph of what the pose looks like.

In the third section, “Divine Duets”, Barrett provides a guide to yoga asanas for couples – using yoga poses to mimic their counterparts from the Kama Sutra to give couples a workout and a good stretch before heading to the bedroom in section 4, “Sacred Sex”. In this last section, the models in the photographs take off their clothes to demonstrate the Kama Sutra poses hands-on.

Sexy Yoga would be a great book to keep in the bedroom for quick reference or inspiration at bedtime. However, with its large photographs, Sexy Yoga is not a book you can read on the train. Even throughout the introduction, photographs of bare nipples and buttocks abound – great for a bedroom guide but not for reading in a public place. Overall it’s not the sort of book that people will use by reading it cover to cover; readers will likely want to flip through looking at the photos to get ideas, only reading more deeply when something catches the eye.

Where Better Sex Through Yoga is in essence a yoga book with sex in it, Sexy Yoga is ultimately a Kama Sutra sex manual with some yoga in it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The combination of yoga and the Kama Sutra does make sense: for example, a man doing camel pose and a woman doing cow tilt combine to create the Kama Sutra’s congress of the cow. By practicing yoga asanas, one can build the strength and flexibility to be better able to utilize the Kama Sutra pose and get more enjoyment out of it in the bedroom. However, readers should note that this book is by no means a complete guide to yoga, as Barrett really only gives coverage of 20 solo yoga asanas, and recommends that the asanas be practiced in the order she presents them. Better Sex Through Yoga gives a wider variety both of poses and of routines/sequences. However, the poses discussed in Sexy Yoga are covered thoroughly and well, including modifications for those with physical limitations. This feature makes the book more accessible than BSTY, which generally assumes its reader to be physically fit. Barrett’s sections on pose benefits are more in-depth than those in BSTY, and the meditations for each pose are a nice touch. Barrett does give attention to the spiritual and emotional aspects of yoga, and acknowledges the Kama Sutra as a sacred text.

One downside of Sexy Yoga is the fact that the author seems to scrimp on some of the yogic content, leading to inaccuracies. For example, Barrett describes hatha yoga as having three parts: asana, pranayama, and pratyahara, which she mistranslates as “meditation”. It wouldn’t have taken too much more effort to list the eight parts of classical hatha yoga correctly and then say that she’d focus on three of them. Also, Barrett conflates several pranayama techniques together into one, which she calls ujjayi breathing. I just don’t see a need for presenting this material inaccurately. In BSTY, the authors leave a lot out, but the material they do present is given accurately and correctly. Still, while Barrett’s omissions may annoy experienced yoga practitioners, they won’t hurt a beginner.

On the whole, Barrett’s Sexy Yoga is a fun and frisky guide for couples who want to bring some Kama Sutra adventure and yoga strength and flexibility to the bedroom.


Meditation Update October 4, 2011

Filed under: books,meditation — R. H. Ward @ 3:46 pm

I’m still meditating almost every morning. I generally do some pranayama breathing first, usually alternate nostril breathing, which I’ve really grown to love (to my surprise). Then I do a little meditation. On a busy morning, I’ll take just a few minutes and do a counting meditation; when I have more time, I’ll do passage meditation, or a meditation on sound that I learned from a book. I’m still trying to move forward with meditation reading, although that’s hard to do with all my other yoga work, but the book I’m reading now is The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk. I’ve been reading it at bedtime since probably February (which gives you an idea of how sleepy I am when I go to bed, I’m making very little progress!). Rinpoche has a very kind writing style, and I like his ideas about meditation.

Rinpoche writes, “If you’ve ever flown in an airplane, you’ve probably witnessed that above any clouds, mist, or rain, the sky is always open and clear. It looks so ordinary. In the same way, Buddha nature is always open and clear even when thoughts and emotions obscure it” (139). By “Buddha nature”, he means your true Self, your spirit. It remains unchanging, no matter what stormy emotions drift by. Once you get past all the clouds, you see the same peaceful Self that was there all along.

But there’s no use feeling guilty about all those emotional stormclouds. Rinpoche tells us, “It’s impossible to keep your mind from generating thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Thinking is the mind’s dominant function, just as it’s the natural function of the sun to produce light and warmth…. We can’t stop our thoughts any more than we can stop waves in the ocean” (131). I like that idea, that our thoughts are like waves in the ocean. We can’t stop the waves, but maybe we can change their intensity: the difference between a hurricane and the calm after the storm.

About meditation, Rinpoche tells us not to criticize ourselves when we find ourselves getting distracted. It’s easy to berate ourselves – I was supposed to be meditating, but I’m sitting here worrying over the grocery list! – but that condemnation isn’t necessary or helpful. The fact that you caught yourself wandering off is enough to bring you back to your meditation in the present moment. As Rinpoche says, “Your intention to meditate as you engage in practice is the crucial factor” (141). I like this kind, gentle perspective on meditation. Reading these lines has helped me and I hope has helped you too! Next time I’ll share the listening meditation technique I learned from this book.