Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Link Round-Up March 12, 2014

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 9:38 pm
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For today, here are some interesting recent links:

  • An Antidote for Mindlessness: I love seeing scientific evidence to support meditation and mindfulness practice – and this one is in the New Yorker!
  • A Happy Life May Not Be a Meaningful Life: This article looks at a recent study comparing people’s perceptions of a happy life with those of a meaningful one. People tend to perceive the expected sorts of things as bringing happiness: good health, a carefree lifestyle, having enough money. However, those things don’t give our lives meaning – things like spending time with loved ones, putting in effort even on mundane tasks, and giving to others make our lives meaningful.
  • Here’s Looking at You: Yoga, Fat & Fitness: I love this writer’s attitude about bodies practicing yoga! I’d love to take a class with her.
  • 20 Ludicrous Things Said by Yoga Teachers: This made me laugh SO HARD. There are some things yoga teachers say that no one else would ever think of. But I love the thighbones as rainbows spiraling outward, and I’m totally stealing “Shine your collarbones”.
  • 7 Things Your Yoga Teacher Wants to Tell You: I love these tips from yoga teacher Kathryn Budig – a fun quick read. My favorite is what she has to say to people who think they need to be flexible to do yoga – I’m totally stealing this response!
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How Yoga Changes Your Body October 31, 2013

I’m loving this roundup of information from HuffPo on how yoga improves health and well-being. Click on the infographic for more information!


yoga infographic

 

Yoga and Brain Stimulation June 27, 2013

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:48 pm
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Here’s the latest yoga news from the science world: A 20-Minute Bout of Yoga Stimulates Brain Function Immediately After. Researchers found that a single 20-minute session (“bout”? who wrote that headline?!) of hatha yoga improved participants’ speed and accuracy on cognitive function tests – basically, it improved their memory and their ability to stay focused on a task and to take in, retain, and use new information. The subjects who did yoga performed better than subjects who walked or jogged on a treadmill, indicating that the results aren’t just a reflection of burning energy to improve focus, or of exercise being good for the mind: it was the yoga itself that improved mental function. Yoga’s breathing and meditative exercises calm the body, allowing the mind to focus, and apparently this effect applies beyond the mat and into activities after the yoga practice is over. The lead author theorized a few possible explanations for the results, including enhanced self-awareness and reduced anxiety and stress. Conclusion: yoga makes you smarter!

 

Meditation: It’s Good for Your Brain February 7, 2013

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 8:23 pm
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A while back (okay, a LONG while back) my husband F sent me a link to this article on ScienceDaily: Is Meditation the Push-Up for the Brain? The article discusses the work of researchers at UCLA, who found that the brains of long-term meditators had stronger connections between brain regions than non-meditators, and their brains showed less age-related atrophy. Stronger connections means that the brain can more quickly and efficiently relay signals from one region to another. Our brains shrink and become less efficient as we age, so meditation could help people to stay sharper longer.

But if you’re not a long-term meditator yet, take heart: another study shows positive effects on brain function for beginning meditators too. This article, Meditation’s Positive Residual Effects, reports research showing that after completing an eight-week meditation class, study participants demonstrated improved emotional regulation, even when not actively meditating. Tested before and after the class, the partcipants’ brains showed a reduction in response to emotional stimuli – perhaps this could translate to an increased ability to stay calm in frustrating situations?

The study also had another finding: participants who studied compassion meditation, as opposed to mindfulness meditation, and who practiced frequently outside of class, showed the decreased response to emotional stimuli overall, but they also showed an increased response to images depicting human suffering. By meditating, these people increased their own capacity to feel compassion for others. And the study showed that those who demonstrated increased compassion also had lower depression scores. It’s scientific evidence supporting what many meditation teachers and spiritual leaders have said all along: that compassion for others makes you happier too.

 

Books: Happiness, by Matthieu Ricard March 15, 2012

As a book on meditation, Mathieu Ricard’s Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill is the best of both worlds, presenting both a spiritual and a scientific perspective. Ricard left a promising career in biology and genetics to become a Buddhist monk, so he uniquely understands both perspectives and is fascinated by the scientific study of the brain and how meditation affects, on a biological level, the way we think. Happiness is at once a guide to how meditation can improve our lives and help us to become happier and a thorough description of why it works, written in language accessible to any reader.

In the first few chapters, Ricard opens the book with discussion of happiness in general: is happiness the purpose of life? What does it mean to be happy, and how do we recognize happiness when we have it? Can we actively cultivate happiness in our lives? Concluding that happiness is possible and that cultivating it is worthwhile, Ricard then considers the problem of suffering. How can we be happy when we suffer; further, how can compassionate beings be truly happy when faced with the suffering of others? Ricard tackles this question, presenting stories of those who have suffered true hardship and examining the root causes of suffering. While we cannot control the events that happen to us, we can always control our responses to those events, and here is the real key to being happy under any circumstance. Over several chapters, Ricard discusses how we can use meditation in order to overcome ego, negative thoughts, and disturbing emotions, the obstacles within ourselves that prevent us from being happy no matter what occurs.

Ricard speaks from his own and his teachers’ experience that when we can lessen the influence of the ego and negative thoughts and emotions, we feel more freedom and happiness in our lives. He then goes on to discuss happiness from the perspective of sociology, psychology, and psychiatry, citing laboratory studies of experienced meditators whose brains have been shown to function differently than ordinary people’s brains. Meditation over long periods literally changes brain chemistry, leading to great benefits in quality of life. Ricard as both a scientist and a talented writer, in these chapters and throughout the book, is able to describe a variety of scientific studies and their results in terms a layman can understand and appreciate.

In the later chapters, Ricard examines positive attributes like altruism, humility, and optimism, and describes how cultivating these attitudes can help us to be happier. He cites evidence that those who are kind, humble, and optimistic tend to be happier than those who are not. By modifying our behavior to act more altruistically in daily life, or by being aware of pessimistic thought patterns as they arise, we can begin to make progress toward increasing happiness.

In the book’s final chapters, Ricard addresses several difficult issues: appreciating versus wasting time, ethics and the dichotomy of good and evil, and how to be happy in the presence of death. Ricard’s wisdom truly shines in these chapters; his advice is inspirational, practical and uplifting. The concluding chapter rounds out the book by describing the challenges and great rewards of following a spiritual path. Ricard promises that with regular practice and dedication, we can each not only live happier lives but become kinder, wiser, and more compassionate. Developing these qualities can lead us, as it led Ricard, to a life of great meaning, freedom, and joy.

 

Avoiding Injuries Through Mindfulness January 12, 2012

A lot of people have read the recent NYT article about how yoga will “wreck your body”. As a brand-new yoga teacher, I obviously disagree with a lot of what the writer says: I mean, I just spent a significant amount of time and money dedicating myself to learning about yoga, which would be kind of a waste if this guy is right. Here are my thoughts.

Of course many people have injured themselves doing yoga. It’s not difficult to do – I’ve done it myself, and so has almost anyone who’s practiced yoga with any dedication over an extended period of time. You can injure yourself hiking or dancing or playing video games or gardening, too, but that doesn’t mean that we stop hiking and dancing and gardening. These are things that feed our spirits, and so is yoga. To single out yoga as an activity that can wreck your body doesn’t make sense, because there are so many other activities that can wreck your body! We humans are equal opportunity wreckers. Accidents can happen no matter what you’re doing.

The key thing, for me, is to keep in mind what the true purpose of yoga is. According to the ancient texts, yoga is a way to get the body healthy so you can then sit in meditation. The point is not to sculpt the body or lose weight or to get a great workout, and people who approach yoga with that attitude (or, with that attitude only) may in the long run be more likely to injure themselves. The point is to be healthy: whatever healthy happens to be for your particular body. And the point of being healthy ultimately isn’t the body at all – we’re working on the body so that we can sit comfortably in meditation. A healthy body won’t be aching and complaining when you sit still for ten minutes. That’s the point we’re trying to get to: improving the body so we can focus on more important things.

Keeping your focus off the body and on the mind can actually help yoga practitioners not to injure themselves. You want to be aware of what’s going on in the body, certainly, and it’s really important to cultivate that awareness of how the body feels and the difference between work and pain. Being mindful of your body is crucial, but it doesn’t do any good to be looking in the mirror or comparing yourself to other students and forcing your body toward something you’re not capable of. And don’t think ahead to what this yoga class is doing for you; keep your mind right in the moment, on your own mat. Stay present and focused on the pose you’re doing right now.

When you take part in any activity, you do your best to be careful and to be mindful of what you’re doing. When you go hiking or ride your bike, you watch where you’re going, but if your mind wanders, your foot can slip or your bike can veer off the path. It’s the same thing in yoga. Staying present and mindful and focused on what you’re doing will help you to avoid inadvertently causing an injury.

Here are a few other responses to the article by nvnehi and anytimeyoga and Michael Taylor. I think it’s interesting to see the very different, thoughtful ways that different yogis have reacted.

 

books: The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche December 20, 2011

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness is an excellent and informative book and a good practical manual for meditation. A wide variety of meditation techniques are discussed, in language that makes them accessible to even the most un-Buddhist of readers. Mingyur (Rinpoche is an honorific given to respected teachers) is a kind and encouraging teacher; his writing style is very natural and conversational, helping you feel as if he’s right there beside you to help along the way.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part One: The Ground begins by describing Mingyur’s early life and training in meditation and his journey toward overcoming anxiety. He’s an engaging storyteller, and it’s comforting to hear that even a monk who grew up meditating from childhood can still struggle with his mind. This section also discusses the connection between the ancient Buddhist practices of meditation and modern advances in neuroscience, physics, and biology. Raised in isolated monasteries, Mingyur is fascinated with Western science and has worked with many scientists to learn about the brain’s workings and the structure of the universe and compare them with the Buddhist understanding of the mind and reality. While interesting, this area was not as strong as other sections – these discussions could have benefited from a scientist coauthor to help refine and make specific Mingyur’s comparisons. However, Mingyur does make a good case for meditation as valuable and needed in the West, and his ideas here are well worth reading.

In Part Two: The Path and Part Three: The Fruit, Mingyur is at his best, carefully walking the reader through the basics of meditation. He provides a firm foundation for beginners, with examples from his own history as guidance. Beyond the basics, he details a variety of different meditation techniques that will appeal to new and experienced students alike. He asserts that it is the intention to meditate that is most important, not the actual time spent on it or whether your mind wanders off in the middle. Mingyur strives to make meditation available to everyone.

I began reading this book back in February 2011 and just finished it this month, but the long reading time is due to my own crazy schedule this year, not any failing of Mingyur’s. I’ve actually posted about this book on several other occasions because as I read I found his words so encouraging and insightful. I highly recommend this book to anyone hoping to begin or deepen a meditation practice.