Pain Soother…

Promising studies show meditation’s pain-relieving effects…

Next time you have a tension headache or other minor temporary pain, you might want to try meditation instead of over-the-counter pain relievers. In a series of studies, researchers at the University of Montreal found that experienced meditators were less sensitive to pain and less troubled by it than non-meditators. MRI scans of the meditator’s brains showed changes in the regions related to experiencing pain, suggesting that a long-term meditation practice might have cumulative and lasting pain-relieving effects.
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But even if you’re not an experienced meditator, it may be worth trying meditation for moderate short-term pain. In a study published last year in the Journal of Pain, researchers gave a group of college students at the University of North Carolina just three half-hour sessions of meditation training. Meditation reduced subjects’ feelings of pain from electrical shocks during testing and increased their baseline pain tolerance.
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Study author Fadel Zeidan, a research fellow at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, explains that the meditation training taught the students to focus their awareness on their breath and, when distracted, to observe that fact without self-judgement, gently bringing their minds back to the breath. He says this helped them observe painful feelings non reactively, as they would any other distraction (like a noise in the hall or an itchy foot), and calmed their emotional experience of the pain. (Their anxiety levels were measurably lower while meditating.)
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“Pain is a subjective experience,” Ziedan says. “Meditation is a way of changing the context of that experience. In meditation you experience each moment as it rolls by, and you realize there’s no reason to react. You appraise sensory experiences differently.”
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Healing Herbs
If you’re looking for other holistic alternatives to pain medication for minor aches and pains, try these herbal remedies. Herbs can relieve pain without side effects.
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Strained Muscles… When applied as a cream, Capsaicin (a compound in chili peppers) damps down pain messages to the brain.
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Tension Headache… A dab of muscle-relaxing peppermint essential oil rubbed on your temples can calm tension headaches.
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Menstrual Cramps… Anti-inflammatory ginger spice eases cramps when it is applied as a poultice. Dunk a cloth in warm ginger tea, wring it out, and then apply to your abdomen.
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Yogi Tea* brand also makes a wonderful line of teas to help with holistic healing… and some just for the women: Yogi Tea just for Women.
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My favorite website for holistic/Ayurvedic herbs is Banyan Botanicals.
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Reference: Yoga Journal 2011

Mala beads…

With Global Mala soon approaching I thought I would explain exactly what Mala Beads represent…


I found this beautiful article in Tricycle, Winter 06 that offered a lovely explanation of mala beads as it relates to the Buddhist tradition. Yogic philosophy is not that far removed from the Buddhist traditions and my research into both have found more similarities than differences:

“All beads are worry beads – from the Pope’s rosary all the way down to those little wrist malas…’ worn by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. People of every religious tradition will claim that their beads are for praying – for appealing to a higher power, for collecting the spirit or concentrating the mind – and while this is indisputably true, that is not their primary purpose. Beads are for worry. They answer a human need so basic it actually precedes a religious consciousness – and that is to fret over things… The difference between the Buddhist mala and the various Western-style rosaries is simply that it makes this explicit in the symbolism of its beads.”

“The message of the Buddhist mala is ‘Don’t worry about things; worry about the fact that you are so worried all the time, and address the foot of that.”

Usage of your Mala beads…
There are numerous explanations why there are 108 beads, with the number 108 bearing special religious significance in a number of Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

The 109th bead on a mala is called the sumeru, bindu, stupa, or guru bead. Counting should always begin with a bead next to the sumeru. In the Hindu, Vedic tradition, if more than one mala of repetitions is to be done, one changes directions when reaching the sumeru rather than crossing it. The sumeru thus becomes the static point on the mala.

“The larger bead at the end of the mala is the equivalent of the crucifix on a Catholic rosary. It is the teacher – and the teaching – we keep coming back to with every cycle we pray.” (Tricycle, Clark Strand; Winter 2006)

Om Shanti,

Peace of mind…

Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutra teaches that the only person you can change is yourself; your practice is to create change from within by clearing your mind, connecting with your true Self, and acting from a place of wisdom. But the beauty of this seemingly “selfish” practice is that when you do your inner work, others around you, particularly those you are closest to, experience the positive effects of your work firsthand.

Our loved ones are often inspired by the positive changes they see in us to start their own yoga practice. As you continue with your practice, you can inspire others on the path of yoga, creating a community, or sangha, of support and encouragement. What better way to create positive change in the world than through your own quiet but powerful example?

((find the beauty in your day))

We all love the thought of a daily practice but can’t always “make time” for one. I remind you that yoga is not only a physical practice, as long as you take time during your day to find peace of mind, whether you’re far from home or just juggling a hectic day. Take time to use this powerful three minute breathing practice to help feel grounded wherever you are:

Set an intention
Express something specific, such as, “I know this problem can be overcome. I seek insight to see more clearly.”

Find some privacy
If you can’t find a quiet corner anywhere, put on headphones and play a familiar favorite song.

Let go of tension
Take four big breaths. On the inhalation, lift your shoulders to your ears. On the exhalation, release them down your back.

Take 10 breaths
Close your eyes and take 10 slow breaths. Keep your awareness on the sensations of breathing. If you get caught up in a train of thought, start again from breath #1. Keep trying until you’ve taken 10 consecutive breaths without distraction.

Return to your intention
To finish, bring your hands into prayer position in front of your heart, bowing your head to the teacher within. Repeat your intention. Slowly open your eyes.

I love doing this when I’m having a busy day and haven’t felt like I’ve had any “me” time. If you travel a lot, this is a great way to reconnect with yourself and helps you feel grounded wherever you are.

Peace & Love,

Reference: Yoga Journal 2010

The calm within…

A lot of people I know avoid reading the paper first thing in the morning – being confronted with all of the injustices and bad deeds in the world is an unsettling way to start the day. It’s difficult to read about the latest corporate finance scam or the obscenity of human trafficking and keep your peace of mind, and it’s even harder to know how to respond. The conflict feels even more immediate when you witness an unjust act firsthand, or are yourself the recipient of one, whether it’s having your wallet stolen, your car broken into, or any sort of hurtful behavior directed your way. The answer to this problem is upeksha, the fourth of the brahmaviharas.

This state of mind, taught both in yoga and Buddhism, allows us to respond to the non-virtuous deeds of others, and indeed, to all of life’s fluctuations, in such a way that we are, as Buddhist scholar Peter Harvey describes it, the opposite of the way James Bond likes his martini: stirred but not shaken. When we cultivate equanimity, we’re moved by injustice in the world and motivated to make things better, but our deep inner serenity is not disturbed. Sometimes translated by commentators on the Yoga Sutra as “indifference” in the face of the non-virtuous, immoral, or harmful deeds of others, upeksha is better understood as “equanimity”, a state of even-minded openness that allows for a balanced, clear response to all situations, rather than a response born of reactivity or emotion. Upeksha is not indifference to the suffering of others, nor is it a bland state of neutrality. In fact, it means that we care, and care deeply, about all beings evenly!

This understanding of upeksha as equanimity stresses the importance of balance. A balanced heart is not an unfeeling heart. The balanced heart feels pleasure without grasping and clinging at it, it feels pain without condemning or hating, and it stays open to neutral experiences with presence. Insight meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg speaks of equanimity as “spacious stillness of mind,” within which we can remain connected to others and all that happens all around us, while remaining free of our conditioned habit of grasping at the pleasant and pushing away the unpleasant.

Still mind…
One way to experience equanimity is to experiment with mindfulness meditation. Rather than fixing attention on a single object such as breath or mantra, mindfulness meditation involves the moment-to-moment awareness of changing objects of perception. Mindfulness is like a floodlight, shining awareness on the whole field of experience, including sensations, emotions, and thoughts as they arise and pass away in the dynamic, ever-changing flux that characterizes the human experience of body and mind. Mindfulness allows you to see the nature of the unfolding process without getting caught in reactivity, without identifying with your sensations, emotions and thoughts. This insight changes your relationship to the mind-body. The waves keep coming, but you don’t get swept away by them. Or as Swami Satchidananda often said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf!” This ability to remain balanced amidst ever-changing conditions is the balance of equanimity.

There is an old story that illustrates the wisdom of this state of mind: A farmer’s most valuable asset is the one horse he owns. One day it runs away. All the townspeople commiserate with him, “Oh, what terrible luck! You’ve fallen into poverty now, with no way to pull the plow or move your goods!” The farmer merely responds, “I don’t know it it’s unfortunate or not; all I know is that my horse is gone.”

A few days later, the horse returns, and following it are six more horses, both stallions and mares. The townspeople say, “Oh! You have struck it rich! Now you have seven horses to your name!” Again, the farmer says, “I don’t know if I’m fortunate or not; all I can say is that I now have seven horses in my stable.”

A few days later, while the farmer’s son is trying to break in one of the wild stallions, he’s thrown from the horse and breaks his leg and shoulder. All the townspeople bemoan his fate: “Oh, how terrible! Your son has been so badly injured, he’ll not be able to help you with the harvest. What a misfortune!” The farmer responds, “I don’t know if it’s a misfortune or not; what I know is that my son has been injured.”

Less than a week later, the army sweeps through town, conscripting all the young men to fight in a war… all except the farmer’s son, who is unable to fight because of his injury.

The fact is, you can’t know what changes your life will bring or what the ultimate consequences will be. Equanimity allows for the mystery of things: the unknowable, uncontrollable nature of things to be just as they are. In this radical acceptance lies peace and freedom – right there in the midst of whatever pleasant or unpleasant circumstances we find ourselves in. When we open to the truth that there is actually very little we can control other than our own reactions to circumstances, we learn to let go. Cultivating the qualities of kindness, compassion, and joy opens your heart to others. Equanimity balances the giving of your heart’s love with the recognition and acceptance that things are the way they are. However much you may care for someone, however much you may do for others, however much you would like to control things or you wish that they were other than they are, equanimity reminds you that all beings everywhere are responsible for their own action, and for the consequences of their actions.

Without this recognition, it’s easy to fall into compassion fatigue, helper burnout, and even despair. Equanimity allows you to open your heart and offer love, kindness, compassion, and rejoicing, while letting go of your expectations and attachment to results. Equanimity endows the other three brahmaviharas with kshanti: patience, persistence, and forbearance. So, you can keep your heart open, even if the kindness, compassion and appreciative joy you offer others is not returned. And when you are confronted with the non-virtuous deeds of others, equanimity allows you to feel compassion for the suffering that underlies their actions as well as for the suffering their actions cause others. It is equanimity that brings immesurability or boundlessness to the other three brahmaviraras (metta: lovingkindness, karuna: compassion, mudita: joy, upekkha: equanimity).

When you cultivate metta (the friendly quality of kind regard), karuna (the compassionate response to the suffering of others), and mudita (the delight in the happiness and success of others), it is equanimity that ultimately allows you to truly expand your capacity to experience this kind of boundless love for those beyond your immediate circle of friends and family, opening to the infinite capacity of your heart to embrace all beings.

Reference: Yoga Journal 2010

Discovering the Sacredness of Breath and Sound…

Discovering the Sacredness of Breath & Sound with Phil Shiva Jones

A Spiritual Australian Didgeridoo Workshop and Chanting Performance

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 6:30 PM

Birmingham Yoga at First Avenue Rocks

***Visiting Australian interfaith minister and recording artist Phil Jones will present an interactive workshop teaching meditation and simple breathing techniques with the Australian didgeridoo. The didgeridoo is an ancient mesmerizing drone instrument made from a eucalyptus tree and traditionally played in ceremony and healing by the Aboriginal clans of Australia. Playing the didgeridoo creates soothing and resonant harmonics that easily erase the the ‘monkey chatter’ in the mind – enhancing mental clarity and emotional equanimity. The primordial vibration of the didgeridoo and the simple breathing techniques help create a state of relaxation, lower blood pressure, relax the heart, improve digestion, and – as reported by the British Medical Journal – significantly reduce sleep apnea and snoring.

$20 in Advance/ $25 at the door
Register by email: birminghamyoga@gmail.com