Tag Archives: training

Pranayama Intensive: Sama Vritti

For the past five weeks (concluding last weekend) I was engaged in the Pranayama Intensive online class with Judith Hanson Lasater and Lizzie Lasater. Last summer I was a student in their Experiential Anatomy online class led by the highly talented teaching team of Judith, Lizzie, and Mary Richards. When the opportunity arose to participate in another class with them, I immediately jumped in. The class was intentionally offered at this time, when so many of us are sequestered in our homes as a result of the pandemic, making it for me an auspicious time to study the breath. When breathing is slowed and exhalations become longer, the slower, deeper breath calms the nervous system. 

Judith noted that Pranayama and Breathing are NOT the same thing. Pranayama is intentional control of one’s breath. Prana refers to energy, and yama is restraint. Taken together, pranayama is “working with the physics and energetics of breathing.” Within the yogic umbrella there are several types of controlled breathing patterns; the first one we explored was Sama Vritti.

But before we could practice, we had to set up the yoga mat with props to enhance the sensation of the practice. The photo just below is the suggested setup. I have tried this and did not find it sufficiently conducive to my practice so have made subtle changes. Pranayama ProppingIn place of the stair-stepped stacked blankets I used a soft bolster with a sweatshirt rolled at the front to fill in the space between my low back and the bolster. In place of a rounded bolster under the back of my knees I used a squishy bed pillow. And I prefer a small, soft pillow under my neck and head. Delightedly, the first time I practiced was on a lovely warm, sunny Saturday afternoon when our back deck beckoned. Propped next to my head was my iPad for playing the guided pranayama audio file. my setupSama means same, which appropriately is what the spell checker usually tries to change “sama” to each time the word is typed. Vritti refers to busyness and activity. Sama Vritti Pranayama is a balanced breath pattern, each inhale and each exhale being of equal duration, like a balanced seesaw. In this manner, the breath balances the busy mind. 

I have seen this breath referred to as Box or Square Breathing, though I prefer the Sanskrit flow of the words on my tongue, like the flow of my breath. I enjoyed 22 luscious minutes listening to Judith guide me in to the setup and practice, listening to the quiet as I breathed, listening to the silence in my mind, returning at the sound of the chimes and listening to Judith guide me out of the practice. 

I would like to write that my practice has been in earnest, taking the time every day to practice, be it five minutes or twenty. Alas, that has not been the case. Twice. That’s the total number of times I have practiced. Partially this is because I lead yoga practices online three times a week, and partially because I still have a day job. However, the day job concludes next week and it marks not only the end of a school year but my retirement from the world of school teaching and transitioning more fully to the world of yoga teaching, something for which I have been preparing for the past four years!

Yoga Nidra

WORKSHOP OVERVIEW
This past weekend I was at a 3-hour workshop hosted by the Yoga Teachers Association (YTA) of the Hudson Valley. The workshop, Yoga Nidra & Restorative Yoga, was led by Mona Anand, someone with whom I was already familiar having been introduced to her by a yoga colleague who extolled Mona’s training and online Yoga Nidras. I was eager to learn more and purchased Yoga Nidra to Lift Your Spirits on iTunes; it did not disappoint!

As with her iTunes album, the in-person experience did not disappoint either. During the  first 15 or 20 minutes Mona shared a bit about her background and provided an overview of what the remainder of the workshop would entail. From there she guided us through Restorative yoga followed by a 35-45 minute Yoga Nidra. The final 30 minutes consisted of elaboration and discussion based on a summary handout she provided. For more about Yoga Nidra in her own words, read Mona’s Introduction to Yoga Nidra. Be sure to scroll the page because the section about the Benefits of Yoga Nidra comes after the email slot for subscribing.

WHAT IS YOGA NIDRA?
The quick answer is that it is an experience somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, and you are led into that place by someone who continually speaks as they guide your attention (not your movement) to various parts of the body. This is different from Savasana, which is the final resting pose after any yoga practice and is a quiet practice. At the end of the practice Mona added that Yoga Nidra is designed to release thoughts and feelings, but not to analyze those thoughts or feelings.

THE HANDOUT
Mona’s approach to Yoga Nidra consists of nine steps and was developed by her and Alan Finger. The Yoga Nidra that I have experienced in the past has usually consisted only of what is Step 4 in this approach. The steps below, with some commentary by me, are from the handout shared at the conclusion of the workshop, copyrighted by Mona Anand and Alan Finger, 2008-2018.

1. Ekagrata – planting an image on the screen of the mind
Begin lying on the back with any support necessary to provide warmth and comfort. In this step you are guided to check in with your inner state as you draw your senses inward. Mona used the imagery of visualizing a flame at the third eye, that space between the brows.

2. Asana with nyasa – pre-yoga nidra asanas
The physical practice of yoga consists of poses (also called asanas). In looking up the meaning of “nyasa” I learned it is a series of touches on specific locations on the body. In the case of Yoga Nidra, these are not physical touches but visualized touches (more on this in Step 4.) As Mona guided us through asana she moved the flame down the body through the chakras. Typically chakras move from the bottom to the top, but she intentionally guided top-down to help draw us inward. She especially wanted us to focus on places where the body holds tension at the back of the neck and in the hips.

3. Pratyahara (antar mouna) – letting the mind move from sound to sound
Pratyahara refers to the withdrawal of the senses. During this phase Mona first guided us to listen to sounds around the room as we become aware of “antar mouna,” the practice of becoming aware of external sensory perceptions. From there she led us to draw our senses inward, pratyahara.

4. Rotation of Awareness – moving the mind through the body
This is the portion of Yoga Nidra with which I was familiar, having been led through it multiple times over the years. The guided travel through the body is intentional in its sequencing. The rotation is designed to clear the conscious mind, relax the physical body and increase body awareness, neurologically creating a circuit of energy in the brain, thus letting you go to the hypnogogic state. This is the state immediately before falling asleep. I have usually experienced this as a slow flow through the body where my attention was guided first fully to one side of the body, starting with a pinky finger and wending its way to the same side little toe, and then traveling the same route on the other side, leading to deep relaxation. When Mona guided this she “pinged” the body parts, thus pinging the brain, and had us travel from the feet upwards.

5. Nirodha – counting the breath backward
Starting with the number 11, count each breath going backwards. Since self-counting can tend to put people to sleep, Mona’s voice was intentional here in order to help people remain awake. Nirodha deprograms the mind and brings it to the present moment.

6. Pairing of Opposites – creating opposite sensations and emotions
The purpose of this step is to clear the subconscious mind and release emotional tension. The opposites are meant to induce a feeling of heaviness as muscles relax. Mona noted that the pairing of opposites is useful for people with PTSD to help them experience the range of what they miss when blocking out sensations. As she explained, you “cannot feel one side of the coin unless you can feel the other.” Examples of opposites include:

  • hot-cold
  • heavy-light
  • pleasure-pain

7. Rapid Visualization – fast moving images
In this step the unconscious mind is cleared, relaxing it so it can purge itself of painful memories. It is meant to be quick and consists of reference points to release what is in the subconscious so that it can “take out the garbage.” I enjoyed listening to the items but did not retain them and in the discussion that followed was tickled to hear one person list almost all of the items:

  • best childhood friend
  • Tinkerbell
  • hot cocoa
  • rainbow
  • warm sand
  • roses
  • white petals
  • smell of lavender
  • mother’s eyes
  • bonfire

8. Long Visualization – guided imagery
I have been guided through visualizations before and every time, including this one, I get lost somewhere along the line. It’s not that I do not know where I am, rather I simply tune out any speaking and eventually come back “online” usually towards the latter part of the visualization. This portion of Yoga Nidra frees one from being trapped by the boundaries of time and form, which is known as “maya.” It is a safe bubble.

9. Sankalpa – order from the conscious mind to the subconscious 
This is done seated and invites each person to set an intention before leaving. It is more productive to give instructions to the subconscious mind. Mona notes that in more advanced Yoga Nidra a seated meditation may be added between Steps 8 and 9.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
Mona shared a way to think about how our brains deal with negatives and positives. She said negative emotions stick like velcro, whereas positive emotions slide off like teflon because we are wired to remember the one negative event (or comment) rather than the twenty positives. This comes from very early human history, when remembering the location of the one hungry lion (who might want to eat you) was more important than thinking about the twenty smaller animals you killed that day for food.

If you ponder those thoughts, you may perhaps see a similar pattern in yourself, noticing how the single slight can overtake the many positive interactions in a given day. This is likely why practices such as keeping a gratitude journal or doing the “Three Good Things” practice can be so beneficial.

That’s Mona in the left photo, leading the discussion after the experience. The workshop was packed and the room was quite chilly. We had been forewarned about the temperature so I dressed in layers (yellow arrows in second photo are pointing to me). Nothing like a mirrored wall to make the room seem larger and some of us seem to be in two places at once. 😉 I had the delight of sitting next to Paula, one of my three 200-hour Yoga Teacher Trainers (she is in the red top to my left.) Photos are from Mona’s Instagram feed.

 

Advice from a Yogi

Sometime over the summer I took notes on a podcast conversation with a yogi. I am fairly certain that yogi was Judith Hansen Lasater being interviewed by her daughter, Lizzie Lasater, though I did not write down the source. Nonetheless, the advice sounds very much like what I imagine Judith would provide, so I’m going with her as the source (and the podcast that I think this comes from is here.)

There were two items of note that stood out to me – thoughts on language and thoughts on communicating, all related to leading yoga practices. All of the suggestions seem like they should be part and parcel of any yoga training, and being reminded of them simply helps to reinforce ways I want to be as a yoga teacher.

On Language:

  • use words to encourage and support
  • use humor
  • the hardest part of asana is to not be competitive with yourself
  • end with silence; it is “the residue that you take with you”
  • set an intention or suggest one, such as “take it to your gentle edge and then step back” and continue to remind yogis of this throughout practice

On Communication:

  • a belief in what you are saying is felt by others, thus the importance of speaking from your heart
  • it is about what the other person hears, not about what I say
  • use OBSERVATION – look at what students are doing, then revise and restate so students understand

 

Trauma Informed yoga training

In September of 2018 I volunteered at the Westchester Correctional Facility in Valhalla, New York, co-guiding yoga for men living in the mental health ward. It was apparent to

me

me that I would benefit from a training focused specifically on leading yoga in jails and prisons, and that led me to this past weekend’s Liberation Prison Yoga (LPY) training.

In New York a jail is where a person is sent if they cannot afford bail and have not yet been sentenced. Prison is where a person winds up 

once they have been sentenced. Interestingly, we were told that people in prison, particularly maximum security prisons, know the duration of their sentences and therefore are often more accepting of yoga, participation in which is a choice for them.

That’s me on the first day, almost ready to head out the door and meet my friend Stephanie to attend the training together. Usually I attend trainings on my own and it was especially nice to have a friend and colleague with whom to share the experience and debrief.

Understanding Trauma
LPY is a trauma informed yoga training. According to the American Psychological Association “trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” I was disappointed that the training did not include a more comprehensive discussion of trauma (the focus was on sexual trauma), and what happens neurologically as a result of trauma. (The National Institutes of Health provides an in-depth look at traumatic stress: effects on the brain.)

Anneke Lucas, our workshop leader and founder of LPY, shared Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) as a framework for understanding the nature of people and how a person’s system might devolve. Anneke noted that “self-esteem acts as a moral compass” and “in the moment of trauma there is a pause in emotional growth and development.”

Power Dynamics
While there was not as much as I would have like regarding the physiology and neurology of trauma, Anneke did spend time demystifying power dynamics, which I found quite interesting. She explained that abuse is a trauma-based system where the abuser has the power and the abused comes to love the abuser as a matter of survival. The abused feels a lack of self worth and therefore begins to think the abuser must be okay. For those of us wanting to share a trauma-informed yoga practice, the question becomes how do we share healing?

These are the stages of power dynamics:

  • Authority – student projects authority on the teacher, perceiving them as an authority figure in the healing role
  • Placating – student tends to placate the teacher
  • Humility – teacher needs humility to not accept the praise/placating of the student
  • Testing – student moves beyond placating to testing the teacher in their healing role
  • No Judgement – as long as the teacher is physically safe then s/he can be non-judgmental of themselves and of the student by not playing the role of the authority figure
  • Affirmation – the teacher says something positive and real about the student, thereby flipping the power dynamics around

Ultimately, as Anneke said, this work is all about personal empowerment. Thus, those of us interested in being of use should view this work as serving rather than helping or fixing. The distinction being that serving implies a connection and a sense of being equal, whereas helping suggests a relationship of inequality, and fixing focuses on a part that is broken rather than looking at the whole person. These distinctions called to mind a similar conversation regarding healing versus curing that took place in a recent yoga therapy training I took this past November and December.

Trauma-informed Yoga Practice
The second day of the training was especially informative as we broke up into small groups and practiced what a LPY yoga session might be like. We also heard from a LPY teacher who, with grace, heart and humor, shared stories and lessons from her experiences.

The highlights of a trauma-informed yoga practice include:

  • bringing conscious awareness in the form of body awareness, fostering of emotional intelligence, and journaling
  • inviting language with no commands – “I invite you to…,” providing choice, speaking in first person (I am lifting my arms…) or first person plural (we can bend the front knee…), no Sanskrit
  • connecting with the student – mats are in a circle, teacher practices with students and does not walk around, beginning with group discussion, teacher does not present as authority, no sustained silences, teacher checks in often with students, have fun, simple and direct communication
  • creating a safe space
  • self-acceptance via body-positive language and cueing that the student cannot do anything wrong
  • self-care via non-competitiveness, students respect their own limits and choose what to do
  • relaxation via meditation
  • respect for student by teacher being part of the class rather than the authority
  • trust resulting from teacher arriving on time and keeps students informed if s/he will be absent
  • mindfulness of one’s inner experience without judgement
  • meditation that highlights one’s inner light
  • living yoga philosophy by following these guidelines

Privilege
Our first day concluded with an extensive and passionate discussion about privilege. Privilege comes in many forms, among them age, money, race, sex, religion, citizenship, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender, physical attractiveness and where you live. While these were listed on a handout, the bulk of our group discussion revolved around race, sexual orientation and gender, and a relatively few people dominated the conversation.

Perhaps the best summation of the exploration is the quote that concluded the handout.

Recognizing Privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all.)

This quote works two ways, in that those of us in positions of privilege need to work much harder to understand those of us not in positions of privilege.

Resources

Below is our group photo as posted on Instagram.

instagram

 

Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, Module Two

Overview of Jillian Pransky’s Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, Module Two

Knowing full well what to expect in terms of format and my energy levels, this second second weekweek of training was in many ways less intense than the first week. DK, another yoga teacher participating in the training, coined our floor space as “apartments” and this is my apartment, which looked the same day-to-day and week-to-week.

There were close to 40 participants the first week, so imagine my “apartment” with others just like it nestled some 10 inches near by on each side. For this second week our numbers were pared down to 26, permitting a more spacious configuration.

On the first day of Module Two we revisited an overview of our relationship to wellness, stress, pain, and what it is we are trying to accomplish with therapeutic yoga. There was much in this discussion that resonated with me on a personal level. Ultimately, we are teaching out students how to create a safe space inside and to do that we create conditions outside so they can create conditions inside.

To paraphrase Jillian multiple times:

We aim to seek and find the barriers that inhibit energy and love, and when we find them, to love them. We change our perception of and relationship to our conditions (both the physical diagnosis and the emotions around it) which then sets up conditions for self-healing.

Dis-ease happens when the breakdown process happens faster than the healing process. Chronic pain IS chronic stress.

Wellness is an ongoing changing state of balance – the constant ability to adapt to the ever new now. This is the Ayurveda approach.

We also discussed the difference between tightness (muscle fibers contracting based on a load or force, i.e. an activity, that one voluntarily does) and tension (the sympathetic nervous system’s response as part of a self-protective mechanism.) Tension holds pain and limits the chemistry of healing. Both tightness and tension happen together.

This was followed by an in-depth look at fascia, which you can think of as similar to the white portion – the pith – of an orange. Fascia is the “stocking” or the “pith” around our muscles, as well as a communication system and “force transmission system” between muscles.

The remainder of the day included talk about hyper mobility versus flexibility, acute and chronic pain, and kinesthetic awareness.

Our second morning began with an almost two hour self-care session that was also a yoga tune-up ball experiential workshop. Small world – I walked into the room and immediately recognized the teacher as Darcy Bowman, a teacher whose restorative classes I have taken several times at my local yoga studio!

The rest of the morning included lecture on the history of yoga in the United States, and detailed information on how to design a therapeutic yoga session including the interview session that normally precedes any partnership. Before heading to lunch we partnered up for a structural alignment master class, switching partners at the end of the day so each of us had the opportunity to observe and be observed.

In the afternoon Heather Seagraves was our guest lecturer, speaking specifically about spine curvesspinal anatomy, pathology and injury management. I was reminded of the anatomy I already knew, and finally nailed anatomy about the spine that I was somewhat foggy on.

Day three began with extensive discussion about the psoas muscle, which is such a big deal in the body that it has a book dedicated to just it. This was followed by getting information about who each group of twos’ client would be the next day, with time to research and prepare for our session. The day concluded with another guest speaker, Dinneen Viggiano, whose focus for this talk was on shoulder injury and knee injury management.

Our final day of training began with a moving talk by Jenny, a friend of Jillian’s who lived with MS from her early twenties thru her thirties before having it go into full remission for the past 20 years. Jillian concluded the morning with lectures about high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, MS, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue, followed by a lovely and nourishing experiential session on applying touch. If we feel emotionally and physically present and available when providing a therapeutic yoga session, or indeed when leading a yoga class, we can warm up our hands and

  • move the body into alignment by moving structure (bone) with the entire palm and thumb pad,
  • massage to provide a “feel good” sensation using as much surface of the hand as possible,
  • place a solid yet light hands-on touch to promote stillness via cupping any of the joints,
  • simply leave our hands off and just sit with silence.

Our afternoon began as it had the prior week, meeting our clients and working with them, followed by small-group debriefing and then a full group debrief. As our clients headed home, we positioned ourselves in an oval and began an emotionally positive sharing about our eight day journey together with Jillian.

The bulk of additional resources were provided during the first week, in addition to manuals from each week. This week’s additional resources, besides links noted above, were:

Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, Module One

Overview of Jillian Pransky’s Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, Module One

For four days I was immersed in a powerful, tiring, emotional, informative thought-provoking, stimulating and interesting training. My distillation and assimilation of the train stationexperience and information will likely span several weeks, especially as there are only two days off before diving into the four days of Module Two, the second and final portion of the training. (That’s me on the first morning of my 90-minute commute door-to-door.)

The first day covered a deep dive into what happens in the body when it is experiencing normal stress vs chronic stress. This included discussion of “healing” as opposed to “curing”, multiple principles around the sense of wellness, sharing of research about yoga’s impact on health, and a review of the nervous and endocrine systems. Additionally, there was much information about how yoga can be used therapeutically to couple with medicine, counseling and other mind-body approaches.

remem wellnessI’ve written extensively about “remembered wellness” on my Neurons Firing blog. This is a photo of the words we each came up with after doing a guided meditation designed to return our thoughts to a time of remembered wellness.

On the second day we continued the exploration of stress by taking a look at depression and anxiety. We discussed how medical treatment and yoga therapy each have a role and noted what issues are (and could be) treated by each. There was specific discussion of insomnia and circadian rhythms, the phenomenal power of breath, and how using the Koshas (description here) and Ayurveda (The Ayurvedic Institute’s description here) as a lens for working with imbalances in the nervous system.

Day Three focused on dealing with trauma. Deborah Lubetkin was our guest speaker and she spent four hours with us sharing an abundance of information that included leading us through exercises and a practice. She said that when thinking about trauma and clients, we should consider a person as someone with a wound and not as a traumatized person. We need to remove the label “traumatized person” because there is more to someone than their trauma. She also shared a beautiful quote by Rumi: The wound is the place where the light enters. A portion of her talk revolved around the ACEs Study – Adverse Childhood Experiences, as well as Trauma, PTSD, layering PTSD on the Gunas (article about Gunas here), and polyvagal theory (explanation here) and the vagus nerve.

Prior to one of the practices Deborah asked if any of us preferred to not be touched. She mat cardsthen shared the “mat cards” that she uses during her group practices. Mat cards are placed by a person’s mat so that the yoga teacher can unobtrusively see who does and does not want to be touched. An equivalent object in some studios is the use of a coin.

In the afternoon, as we learned about how to craft a one-on-one therapeutic yoga session, we gathered into groups of threes. Each group was given a client intake form that had been previously filled out by an individual willing to volunteer for a private session, and our task was to think about how we might craft a session for that person  knowing full well that our plans could easily change the next day when we actually met our client.

Our final day consisted of three more guest speakers. The first two were Alice and Lou a married couple who both participated in the training; Lou had also volunteered to be a client. Alice spoke first, sharing a bit of her 30 plus years in nursing and then winding up as a hospice volunteer in retirement so she could continue to be of service to people. She talked about end-of-life options and working with people and families of people in hospice. Lou, a practicing psychotherapist, talked about his background experiences that led to his working with people dealing with anxiety, depression and addiction.

Their talks were followed by an intensely moving hour with Scott Chesney, a paraplegic  who wound up in a wheelchair as a teenager. He is a motivational speaker and spoke not just about himself but about the work we all do as people in healing professions, and the power of believing in yourself. He, too, was a client in our afternoon practice.

The afternoon was spent meeting our clients, working with them, debriefing with them in our small groups and then as a whole group. After they left we continued to converse as a full group to talk about the experience, wrap up our four days, and reground ourselves. A large number (about 3/5) are returning next week for the second and final module during which we will focus on specific diseases and, once again, have private clients.

Below are some of the many resources mentioned during lectures and talks.

Books & Publications:

  • Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Zapolsky
  • The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski
  • How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
  • Mudras for Healing and transformation by Joseph & Lilian Le Page
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons and Rachel Kranz
  • The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris and Steven C Hayes
  • The Vital Psoas Muscle by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones
  • Counseling Today – website of the American Counseling Association

Documentaries:

  • HEAL – a documentary about healing and belief
  • Ride the Wave – a documentary about Scott Chesney and surfing

Apps recommended by participants in the training:

The Language of Cueing

I love language, always have. Since the days of high school when we were given essays to write in English class, I have enjoyed putting together words. I like the word play of alliteration and rhymes. And words to songs can be conjured up at a moment’s notice just for the fun of it or as a way of using the lyrics as response to something said in a conversation.

What most impressed me about the Koshas was the understanding that they can be used as a guide for cueing, particularly during restorative yoga. My role in guiding yogis during restorative practice is to assist them with finding deep relaxation. Part of this comes from the atmosphere I set in the room (gentle lighting, warm temperature, safe and pleasant surroundings), part of it comes from how I guide the setup (both the words used to explain how to arrange props and my assisting each person with the best placement of props for them), and part of it comes from how I use language to guide each person in finding their release. Cueing is all about the use of language.

Through my own experience taking restorative classes, I know that language can be a powerful guide to a deeper experience. The Koshas: 5 Layers of Being in Yoga International online offers an exploration for experiencing each of the Koshas. I copied and pasted the exploration into a document which can be read here and will record it so that I may experience the practice as a student.

I have taken numerous trainings with Jillian Pransky and in two of the manuals that she provides for students there are examples of cueing through the Koshas. Keep in mind these are meant as examples of the type of language that could be used for each Kosha.

Annamaya Kosha – the focus is on structural/physical alignment
Let your chest be supported by the bolster.
Feel the block underneath your hips and pelvis as you drop into the block.

Pranamaya Kosha  – the focus is on the breath
Breathe into your lower back.
Feel your breath expand your ribs.

Manomaya Kosha – the focus is on an energetic tension release
Feel the space around your heart soften.
Allow the space within your heart to expand wide like the infinite sky.

Vijnamaya Kosha – the focus is on mental direction and support
Place your mind on your breath.
Follow your breath as it flows in and out.
Allow your thoughts to rise and fall without trying to grasp them.
If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the breath or the body’s sensation.

Anadamaya Kosha – the focus is on using guided imagery
You can read a little more about guided imagery in a prior post.

 

What are the Koshas?

While I likely heard yoga teachers mention the Koshas sometime during my 13 years of practicing yoga, I only first consciously paid any heed a little less than a year ago during Jillian Pransky‘s Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Level 1. Even then, they didn’t resonate with me; I simply took notes and moved on.

Nine months later I was a student in Jillian’s Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Level 2, and there it was again…the Koshas. This time my notes were more detailed and the idea began to take shape of using the Koshas as a guide for cueing. Two days later I was a student in Jillian’s Guiding Students Into Deeper States of Relaxation Teacher Training. It was during this one day training that the Koshas finally resonated. Through experiencing via Jillian’s guiding, and then practicing with two other students, the potential of the Koshas has taken hold of my thoughts for cueing Restorative Yoga.

So what ARE Koshas? The word means “sheet”, “body”, “layer” or “sheath” and yogic philosophy states there are five Koshas, or five layers of the body. I’ve seen two metaphors for the Koshas – one imagines them as Russian nesting dolls, one inside the other, and the other imagines them as layers of an onion. In all cases, the Koshas (or nesting dolls or onion) go from the outside to the inside.

The first Kosha, or outermost layer, is Annamaya Kosha. Anna refers to food or physical matter, and maya means “made of”. In plain English, this is the Gross Body, all the physical parts – skin, organs, muscles, bones, what we are made of.

Second is the Pranamaya Kosha. Prana means “energy or life force”; the breath. This Kosha is the Energy Body, and includes various Asian approaches used for understanding the body – Chakras, Meridians,  and the Subtle Body. (I have sat through lectures about these during my 200-hour teacher training and have yet to give them much thought.)

The Manomaya Kosha is the Emotional Body and consists of the mind, nervous system, emotions, and all autonomic nervous system functions – autonomic being the autopilot of the nervous system that controls essential needs such as breathing, heart rate, and how the amygdala responds when we perceive a threat. Jillian described this Kosha as being like weather patterns, and noted that a thought rises and falls in a 90 second wave.

The Vijnamaya Kosha, or Wisdom Body, is self awareness, understanding, intelligence and intuition. As Jillian explained, it is our witness consciousness, our evolving consciousness of insight and wisdom.

The fifth and final Kosha is Anandamaya Kosha or Bliss Body. Ananda means “spiritual bliss.” Jillian called this the “Namaste Body” where we “set the conditions for us to remember our wholeness and wellness.” She further noted it is the grey matter of the brain, the evolving consciousness that “helps us experience our connection to the universe and all others.”

On one level, these are simply another way to make sense of our way of being human, the interrelationships of our body and mind, the many levels on which we experience life.

On another level, the Koshas provide a path for cueing people into deeper states of relaxation, which I will discuss in the next post.

Guided Imagery

Guiding and Cueing Students into Deeper States of Relaxation is a one-day teacher training with Jillian Pranksy that has been on my list of workshops to take, and last week I made it happen! I found this an immensely empowering training as it tapped into my love of language while giving me a framework within which to put language to use (more on the framework in a subsequent post).

After any training, it is Jillian’s habit to email a lengthy list of additional resources, which is how I wound up at Guided Imagery 101 on the Health Journeys site.

What is Guided Imagery? It is a form of guided meditation that seeks to invoke all the senses. It cues the unconscious part of the brain to come online with “positive, healing, motivating  messages.” This description from the website, which includes some imagery of its own, resonated as much for the picture it painted as for its alliteration: “You might say these positive messages act like a depth charge dropped beneath the surface of the self, where they can reverberate again and again, catalyzing continuous change.”

Guided Imagery consists of Three Principles. The first principle is the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection refers to the ways in which the physical and mental parts of ourselves impact one another. How we feel mentally and emotionally can and does impact our physical body, and how our physical body feels can and does impact our mental and emotional body. It is why your heart may go pitter-patter and your face may smile when you conjure up an image of someone you love, or why you may break out in a sweat or have a run to the bathroom when you think about an upcoming situation you perceive as stressful.

Guided imagery works because of the mind-body connection: what we think about can impact our mood and our physical body, helping to bring the body into a state of relaxation and calm.

The second principle is the altered state. An altered state is when the mind is relaxed enough to let go of conscious, rational thought. “In the altered state, we’re capable of more rapid and intense healing, growth, learning and change.” While sometimes this state can be induced by drugs, it can also be induced in hypnosis, dreams, or during the relaxation portion of yoga, to name a few.

Guided imagery works because the mind is in an altered state: since the mind is not being consciously controlled, the imagery is able to lead the way.

The third principle is the locus of control. The locus of control refers to who is in control or where the control lies. Someone who believes they influence what happens in their life has a strong internal locus of control. “When we have a sense of mastery and control over our own experience, this, in and of itself, is therapeutic, and can help us feel better and do better.”

Guided imagery works because the locus of control is with the individual: making the choice – using the locus of control – to utilize and respond to guided imagery enhances the positive outcome of the imagery.

For a more in-depth explanation please refer to Guided Imagery 101.

Dessert: Anatomy

My #1 goal for the online course Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga is to improve as a yoga teacher. Included in that goal is learning more about my favorite topic, anatomy, as well as becoming more comfortable with understanding how breathing works within our bodies.

THANK YOU STACY! In this week’s lectures Stacy focuses on musculoskeletal wellness and the anatomy of breathing. I am gobbling up every bit of information she shares and integrating it with prior readings and practices. In particular, her sharing is fully resonating with my reading of Leslie Kaminoff’s and Amy Mathews’ book Yoga Anatomy. The first time I ever heard about breathing as shape change was from Patty Holmes, one of my three 200-hour yoga training teachers, who also recommended this book, which she credits, along with in-person studying with the authors, with changing her approach to teaching yoga. More about that in my next post.

Stacy explains musculoskeletal wellness as a balance between mobility and strength. If either one gets out of whack then there is an imbalance somewhere within the skeletal or muscular systems. Mobility is the ability “to move or be moved freely and easily.” This refers to ROM (range of motion) to which I add ADL (activities of daily life). The greater our ROM, the better able we can perform ADL. What limits us in our ROM are our bones; we have no control over factors such as bone length or whether or not bones are symmetrical in size and shape. However, as Stacy points out, we can change the soft tissue, which is composed of our muscles, tendons and ligaments. She further explains that our bodies have ROM set points, which I understand as the place where a muscle and joint settle in as the typical level of motion. If we stretch, strengthen and use the muscle then we can alter its set point. Like the brain, there is a “use it or lose it” relationship.

Strength refers to “functional strength.” Whereas range of motion refers to our mobility, functional strength refers to the strength and ability we have for performing activities in our daily lives. We need a healthy combination of both in order to support musculoskeletal wellness, which is turn supports our activities of daily living. You may by now be thinking this sounds as much like a circular system as it is a balance. One way to support this system is to engage in lots of movements that utilize the full body rather than exercising with a focus on isolated movements and individual body parts.

This dessert is ultra yummy! While this post focused on Stacy’s musculoskeletal talk, the next post will focus on the second dessert, the art of breathing.