I’m loving this roundup of information from HuffPo on how yoga improves health and well-being. Click on the infographic for more information!
How Yoga Changes Your Body October 31, 2013
Yoga and Sex Scandals March 2, 2012
Did anyone see this recent New York Times article about yoga and sex scandals? On one hand, it’s interesting to see collected in one place a listing of yogis who’ve been involved with such scandals – I’d heard about Swami Rama, but not Satchidananda, and I hadn’t heard about John Friend yet. (I guess I was more interested in reading their works on yoga and spirituality than in what they might have done behind closed doors – which is the perspective that I think most educated yogis will have – although I cannot imagine being part of a close-knit spiritual community when such a horrid act is suspected of someone so admired and trusted.)
On the other hand, sexual scandals can occur when any individual is put up on a pedestal. Tiger Woods, anyone? Too much power can go to anyone’s head. Of course such a thing is only compounded when it occurs in a spiritual community. I’ve read about Tibetan monks who let themselves get out of hand, even giving up their vows to get married, and typically we think of them as above that sort of thing. There are also countless stories of Christian preachers who took advantage where none should have been taken, and we won’t even discuss Catholic priests. William J. Broad, the NYT author, makes sex scandal out to be something unique to yoga, and in no way is that true.
Broad also suggests that, in addition to sex scandal being a yoga thing, it’s due to yoga’s roots in tantric theology. He really manages to dumb down (or sex up) tantra and the theories behind it. Having written an entire book about yoga, one would assume that Broad has read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and hopefully the Bhagavad Gita, which are the books that I was taught are the foundation of yoga. I’ve read them too, and read two different translations of each, and I found no kinky sex stuff. And believe me, if there is kinky sex stuff to be found, I’m somebody who will notice it (see my review of Moola Bandha: The Master Key, a review which I know I wrote but somehow seems to have been infiltrated by a 13-year-old boy there at the end). There ain’t no kinky stuff in the Yoga Sutras, so I must make one of the following conclusions: (1) Broad is mistaken that tantra is the founding system that produced yoga, and yoga arose out of just plain ol’ Hinduism, or (2) tantra is a much wider system, encompassing much more than the sex Broad so readily brings up. Either way, he’s doing his readers, and the NYT readers, a disservice.
On a related subject, wait a sec, wasn’t William J. Broad the same guy who wrote the inflammatory article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body“? Why is the New York Times accepting multiple articles from this biased author? Because controversy sells, I guess? (And apparently because he’s won some Pulitzers? 🙂 ) It’s not selling to me, I can tell you that; I won’t be buying Broad’s book and one would think I’d be in his target audience. I heard an interview with him on NPR not long ago and was struck by how different he seemed “in person” over the radio than he did in the body-wrecking article; he talked candidly and thoughtfully about how an injury made him rethink and restructure his yoga practice, but these articles make him seem like an anti-yoga crusader. That sucks because based on the NPR interview I have the feeling I’d have some good conversations with Broad in person (I tuned in mid-way through and was frankly surprised at the end when they announced his name – “Wait, that‘s the yoga-will-wreck-your-body guy?!”), but if these articles are examples of the sort of writing in his book, I feel offended and will never read it. Here’s a summary of the NPR interview and a link to listen to it – I’m struck by how different Broad’s tone is in these quotations compared with his own writing in the NYT. Anyway, if Broad’s a science writer, why is he writing articles about yoga and sex scandal anyway? Writing one book about yoga and science doesn’t make one an expert in all aspects of yoga, especially not in yoga spirituality. If you’re looking for a semi-to-non-expert, you might as well hire me, New York Times. (Psst, I’m available.)
Here’s another response to the sex scandal article (the punctuation and grammar are less than stellar, but the writer is clearly coming from a passionate interest in yoga and spirituality, and I happen to think (although it hurts me to do so) that the finer nuances of apostrophes are not an essential component of a yoga education). Anyway, just another set of thoughts from someone who appears to know a little more about tantra than I do. (Believe me, I’ve got some tantra books on my reading list for this year!)
Pose of the Month: Goddess Pose February 28, 2012
Sanskrit Name: Utkata Konasana (Fierce Angle Pose)
- Begin in a wide-legged stance, with feet about three feet apart, or roughly the length of one of your legs. Angle your feet so your toes point out and heels point in, about a 45 degree angle.
- Exhale and bend both knees deeply. Don’t allow the knees to swing out to the front – keep knees right over the ankles. Also, be sure to keep your knees and your toes pointing at the same angle – if needed, adjust the angle of your feet a bit. Tuck your tailbone under.
- Keeping your back straight, raise your arms up to shoulder height. Bend the elbows so your fingertips point toward the ceiling. Palms face forward or in, and fingers are active and extended. Drop the shoulders down and back, and press the chest forward.
- Look straight ahead and breathe. (Ujjayi breath is great to use here.)
- To come out, exhale and release the arms down, then inhale and slowly straighten the legs.
Goddess pose offers many of the benefits of a squat: it’s a great hip opener and works to stretch the pelvic floor, and, like a squat, it’s a great pose for improving your sex life and for pregnant women to practice for those reasons. It also offers many of the benefits of the warrior poses: strengthening the arms and legs and building heat and stamina. Goddess pose is also a great heart opening pose, stretching and strengthening the muscles of the chest.
Those with knee injuries should work gently and mindfully in goddess pose. If you have poor balance, you could try practicing the pose with your back against a wall for support.
My Experience with Goddess Pose:
Although I’ve always liked this pose, I didn’t practice it often until just recently. Now that I’m pregnant, I find this pose is a nice alternative to a squat and a great supplement to my warrior series: I really enjoy bringing some strong feminine energy to my standing sequence, since the warrior poses feel so masculine to me. I love this pose because it feels elegant and fierce, strong and grounded.
Pose of the Month: Malasana (Squat) February 23, 2012
Sanskrit Name: Malasana (Garland Pose), Upavesasana (Sitting-Down Pose)
- Begin standing in tadasana (mountain pose): feet hip-width apart, spine nice and straight, hands in prayer at heart center.
- Slowly bending the knees, come down toward the floor in a squat. Try to keep your feet flat on the floor. If you need to, you can widen your stance slightly – toes as far as the outside edge of the mat, heels pointing in.
- If you can, work your elbows inside your knees with your hands in prayer. Try to use the elbows to press the knees back, opening the hips and lengthening the spine. Press your shoulders back – you want to keep the chest open and spine straight. Don’t hunch!
- Work on balancing here. Find your center of gravity and try to find a way to hold the pose comfortably. Feel your pelvic floor muscles relaxing and opening.
- If you need to, you can rest by leaning forward a bit and placing your palms on the floor. You can allow your heels to lift as you do this. When you can, come back into the pose.
- To release, simply sit your tush down on the mat.
Variation Using the Wall:
Begin in mountain pose as described above, but with your back pressed against a wall and heels a little out from the wall (maybe a fist’s width). As you come down into your squat, slide down the wall, then use the wall to support your back in the pose. This will take some pressure off and help you balance, allowing you to focus on opening the hips and relaxing the pelvic floor.
This is a great simple pose for anyone to practice since it stretches the hips, works and relaxes the pelvic floor, and strengthens the legs. Because it works these regions, it’s a good pose for improving your sex life. It’s also a great pose in particular for pregnant women (hence my current interest!).
This pose may be difficult for those with balance issues or knee/ankle problems. If it’s difficult to keep your feet flat on the floor or you feel pressure in your ankles, you could try using some support under your heels (like a blanket folded in half or the folded edge of your mat). Over time, gradually use less support until you can comfortably keep your foot flat. If the whole pose is difficult, you could try it seated on the front edge of a chair: with thighs at right angles to the floor, and heels slightly forward of your knees, lean your chest forward between your thighs.
My experience with this pose:
Right now I am loving squats. They feel great and I know they’re a good preparation for childbirth. I’ve liked squats for a long time, though – one of my yoga teachers in Boston had his students practice squats regularly. As a yoga teacher myself, I like squats for sequencing reasons, because they make a great transition from standing to seated poses, adding more interest and structure to an asana sequence than “OK, let’s all come to the floor now.”
Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), since I’ve been practicing this pose regularly, I’ve been finding myself using it in other parts of my life – like examining items on the bottom shelf at the grocery store, picking up something I’ve dropped, or cleaning up a spill. It’s nice to be able to hang out down there for a while to compare nutrition info on product labels or find that loose change!
For more useful tips on this pose, check out Tori’s post On Squatting.
Pose of the Month: Partner-Assisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold November 7, 2011
Pose Name: Partner-Assisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Sanskrit Name: Upavistha Konasana
- Sit facing your partner. Lift your legs and stretch them out wide on the floor.
- Rest your feet or ankles against your partner’s feet or ankles – this will be different for everyone depending on your and your partner’s leg length and degree of flexibility in the hips and groin.
- Reach out and clasp your partner’s hands or wrists. Clasping hands may be easier if you’re farther apart; clasping wrists will give more stability and will be better if you’re able to be closer together.
- Bend forward with a straight spine, keeping your legs active and engaged. Your partner will lean back, helping to pull you further into the bend.
- If you have difficulty bending forward, you can bend your knees a little bit, and even put a rolled-up blanket under the knees for support, but as you bend, make sure the kneecaps are facing up towards the ceiling.
- Come up gently, then switch – you lean back while your partner bends forward.
- Work dynamically, allowing each partner to move in and out of the forward bend. See if you can bend a little deeper each time.
- On the last round, come up slowly and release your hands and feet.
Those with lower back injuries should take care, sitting on a folded blanket and staying mostly upright. Pregnant students should take care with any forward bend.
My Experience in Wide-Legged Forward Fold:
This is a pretty simple pose that I’ve been practicing for many years, even before I tried practicing yoga. I was really surprised to see how much further I could move into the pose with the help of a partner!
Yoga for Better Sex Sequence November 2, 2011
This sequence of poses will get you moving and warm up all the necessary places for a great time in the bedroom! For each pose, I’ve included a brief explanation of what it does and how it can improve your sex life.
child’s pose relaxing, centering cat/cow tilt
This pose wakes up the spine, stimulating the natural flow of energy through the chakras and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Also, being familiar with the subtle movements of the pelvis will help in the bedroom. downward dog Downward dog stretches and strengthens the entire body! forward fold Forward folds open up the back and massage the internal organs. 5 half-salutes Half-salutes are meditative, promoting focus and awareness of the present moment. 2 full salutations The sun salutation is a series of poses linked together gracefully. Sun salutations serve to limber up the body for yoga practice. The poses in the sun salutation alternately stretch, expand, and contract the entire body, making it great for overall health, fitness, and stamina. goddess pose Standing poses are good for overall fitness, strengthening the entire body, especially the legs, and building heat in the body. These poses really stretch and work the thighs and hips, as well as toning the extended arms, and standing poses help to improve stamina too. warrior 1 warrior 2 triangle side angle half moon Half moon pose opens the hips and includes a balancing element. Repeat standing sequence, other side crane pose Balancing poses encourage a calm, focused mind, improve concentration, and remind us to stay in the present moment. tree pose squat (transition to seated) Squatting is excellent work for the pelvic floor muscles and also opens the hips. cobbler pose This pose increases blood flow to the pelvis and opens the root chakra, which helps to cleanse and energize the sexual organs. The pose opens up and promotes greater flexibility in the hips. boat pose This pose warms up the core and gets blood flowing in the pelvic region. wide-legged forward fold This pose works and stretches the hips, thighs, and groin and opens the root and sacral chakras, and it increases blood flow to these regions. locust pose This pose opens the chest and heart center, and the act of lifting and squeezing the legs stimulates the sexual core. bridge pose This pose stretches and elevates the pelvis, hips, and thighs. It’s also a chest and heart opener. reclining spinal twist Twisting wrings out the toxins from our internal organs, promoting good health. savasana Savasana is the most important yoga pose for healthy sex. In savasana we learn how to relax, how to be in the present moment, and how to be comfortable with the stillness within yourself, which is what will allow you to connect deeply with another person.
Pose of the Month: Double Boat Pose October 31, 2011
Since we’re talking about yoga and sex this month, I’ll be bringing you a few fun poses you can do with a partner!
Pose Name: Double or Partner-Assisted Boat Pose
Sanskrit Name: Navasana
- Sit facing your partner with your knees bent. Reach out and clasp your partner’s hands or wrists (clasping hands will give you a little more room to work with your legs, but clasping wrists gives a little more stability).
- Lift your right foot off the ground while your partner lifts her left foot off the ground. Press the soles of your foot against the sole of your partner’s foot. (It will help if you’re able to keep your right knee inside your arms.) Begin to straighten the right knee.
- Repeat on the other side, lifting your left foot and pressing it against your partner’s right foot.
- Once both feet are up, you can work on straightening the legs. Make sure to use your core muscles to hold you up as you would in regular boat pose.
- Work playfully with the pose, have fun, and don’t forget to breathe.
- Come down slowly, one foot at a time, and release your hands.
Boat pose really strengthens the core muscles and stimulates the abdominal organs. In terms of our ongoing yoga and sex series, boat pose is great because it warms up the core and gets your energy flowing!
Practicing boat pose with a partner can give you added stability and support to straighten the legs while you work the core. Plus it’s fun!
Contraindications for boat pose include asthma, insomnia, diarrhea, heart problems, low blood pressure, and pregnancy. Those with neck problems may want to practice boat pose at the wall (so you can lean your head back and rest it against the wall).
This isn’t a contraindication, but if you’re practicing double boat with a partner, it will be trickier to do if the two of you have different leg lengths (i.e., someone short practicing with someone very tall). See the photo below: my legs are longer than Stacey’s, so my knees are slightly bent. However, I can still move much further into the pose with a partner than I can on my own! If you and your partner are differently proportioned, try the pose anyway and just have fun with it. Be ready to laugh!
My Experience with Boat Pose:
Long have I hated boat pose. It’s one of those poses where I just never seem to improve. My core isn’t strong enough, it’s hard to straighten the legs, and even my arms get sore. So I was excited to find this fun modification of boat that can be practiced with a friend. You still get a core workout, but without all the disappointment. Instead, it’s a great way to share yoga with your partner and get warmed up together!
Thanks to Stacey for helping me model this pose!
Yoga for Great Sex, Part 2 October 27, 2011
Last time, we talked about yoga’s physical benefits for your sex life. Today we’ll talk about the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of yoga and how they can help improve your connection with both your partner and with yourself.
First, yoga opens the heart. Practicing yoga increases our capacity for love and compassion. Having a more open heart allows you to connect more deeply with your partner. It also allows you to be more compassionate with yourself. Many people, especially women, are overly critical of themselves in sexual situations, constantly thinking about their bodies in a negative way, worrying about whether they’re doing it “right”, but developing more compassion can help such people to let go of that negativity and worry and just enjoy themselves.
For many people, yoga leads to increased confidence. You have a healthier, stronger, fitter body, so you feel more confident and more attractive. Yoga also helps us become emotionally stronger and more in touch with our true Selves, leading to an inner confidence that shines forth. And confident people are sexy!
Yoga and meditation teach us about awareness and mindfulness, and help us develop the ability to be present right now. This is a really important skill in the bedroom, too. For the person who has a tendency to worry about how she looks or what she’s doing during sex, focusing on being present right now can help her to set those worries aside and just enjoy the moment. And for the person who is easily distracted (who finds her mind wandering off, thinking about what she needs to get at the store tomorrow), cultivating that mindful awareness can bring her attention back to the present moment where it belongs.
Yoga also reduces stress by helping us to truly relax. Stress is one of the major factors that keeps us from wanting to have sex in the first place, and from fully enjoying it when we do have it. But in yoga, we consciously relax the body and release tension. When we’re able to do this in the bedroom, that enables us to have more fun and build a better connection with our partner.
Later on, I’ll post about some specific yoga poses that have hidden power to benefit our sex lives (I’ve already covered Cobbler Pose), as well as a sample sequence you can do to get warmed up for a fantastic romantic evening. For now, here’s a quick sampling of some common types of yoga poses and what they can do for us:
- Heart-opening poses, like cobra, camel, or bridge, help us to develop compassionate hearts
- Standing poses, like the warriors or triangle, contribute to the overall health of the body and help to build strength, heat, and energy
- Balance poses help us learn to focus on mindfulness and being present
- Poses that involve squatting strengthen the pelvic floor
- Relaxing poses like child’s pose or legs-up-the-wall help us learn to calm our minds and relax
- Savasana, of course, is the most important pose in yoga as well as for improving your sex life, because savasana teaches us how to relax, how to be in the present moment, and how to be comfortable with the stillness within yourself, which is what will allow us to connect deeply with another person
In yoga, we learn that true happiness comes from within. When you’re practicing yoga, you’re in touch with your spirit and able to open your heart and share yourself with another person. Sex then becomes much more than an experience of momentary physical enjoyment, when two people are able to share not just their bodies but their true Selves.
Yoga for Great Sex, Part 1 October 26, 2011
It should come as no surprise to my readers here that yoga can improve your sex life (after all, it improves just about everything else!). But what might be surprising is just how many of yoga’s many benefits do translate to the bedroom. It’s not just about flexibility and physical fitness: there are a myriad of other physical benefits, along with mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. The truth is that all the things in yoga that prepare us for meditation also prepare us for great sex and for connecting deeply with another person. This blog series will discuss the many benefits of yoga for sex and examine how some familiar yoga poses can pay off in the bedroom.
First, let’s look at the physical benefits.
- We all know that yoga improves the body’s strength, flexibility, coordination, muscle control, and overall health and physical fitness. People who are physically healthy, strong, and flexible will be able to perform better and have more stamina in the bedroom.
- In addition to overall fitness, yoga specifically targets core strength and works the muscles of the pelvic floor, which are the muscles used during sex (see my recent post about the pelvic floor to learn more about how these muscles work and why they’re important). Having strong, flexible pelvic floor muscles will lead to a good sexual experience for both partners!
- Doing yoga also gives you more energy. When you’re holding a difficult yoga pose, powering through it even though you’re struggling, you’re using tapas, which builds heat and energy in the body. Also, yoga opens and balances the chakras throughout the body, which leads to a better flow of energy. And more energy equals more passion!
- The flip side of having more energy during the day is getting better sleep at night. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga do sleep better. Getting the sleep your body needs means that you’ll be well-rested and ready to do other things in the bedroom besides sleep.
- Yoga also promotes self-knowledge, including a better knowledge of your own body. There are two consequences of this:
- First, you become more aware of physical sensations in the body, which can lead to just plain enjoying sex more!
- You also develop a better understanding of subtle physical movements. When we learn how to make tiny adjustments in the body in order to perfect our alignment in a yoga posture, we can then use that knowledge to make the same sorts of small movements during sex, which can turn a good sexual experience into a great one!
Next time, we’ll start talking about the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of yoga and how they apply in the bedroom (or, as was suggested to me during my presentation, wherever you might choose to get frisky!).
Pose of the Month: Cobbler Pose October 20, 2011
Pose Name: Cobbler Pose or Bound Angle Pose
Sanskrit Name: Baddha Konasana
- Begin by sitting up straight in a cross-legged position.
- Press the soles of the feet together and bring the heels close to the body.
- Sit up tall on your sitting bones and use your hands to pull any flesh away from the sitting bones.
- Make a basket with your hands and clasp them around your feet.
- Sit up nice and tall. If that’s as far as your hips can work today, that’s okay – just focus on sitting up nice and tall and opening up the hips.
- If your body allows, bend forward over the feet while keeping a flat back. Don’t hunch your back to get your head to your feet – your goal should be to bring the navel towards the feet.
- Engage the mula bandha, the muscles of the pelvic floor, to move deeper into the pose.
- As you inhale, lengthen the spine; as you exhale, bend a little deeper. Walk your hands forward on the ground if you wish.
- Relax and let gravity pull you forward. Take several slow, deep breaths.
- Come up slowly and return to a comfortable cross-legged position.
Cobbler pose opens the hips and promotes greater flexibility in the hips. It increases blood flow to the pelvis and opens the root chakra, which helps to energize and cleanse the sexual organs.
Those with hip problems should work gently in this pose. Pregnant students should take care in any forward bend and modify as needed.
My Experience of Cobbler Pose:
This month, working on my presentation about yoga and sex, I learned a lot about cobbler pose, so I thought I’d feature it as a Pose of the Month. Practicing this pose can really pay off in the bedroom, since it opens the hips and really engages the pelvic floor muscles.
I’ve always liked this pose, and over the years I’ve made a lot of progress with how far I can bend forward. Still, some days I can’t get very far, so this pose always reminds me to work gently with wherever my body is today.