[Mysore dispatch] Rain down on me

I got some rough news really early this morning before my led primary class. I made it to led primary, made it through breakfast, and, back in my room, as I pulled out my bucket to start washing the day’s clothes, I started crying. This happens to everyone who makes this pilgrimage to study ashtanga in Mysore, right? Some variation of being half-naked in your room with tears flowing — maybe for a particular reason, maybe for no reason.

These tears were for a friend who has just taken his own life. I’m guessing the start of a new, dark year was too much to bear.

It was my second friend in as many months who has decided death is the lesser of two evils. (For the depressed, is there a more searingly brutal time than the holiday season?)

I have so many — so many — people I can lean on here in Gokulam, but I wanted most to talk to my husband, who also knew this friend. But it was the middle of the night in Michigan.

Perhaps then . . . a little Radiohead to soothe the soul. Neither Pandora nor Spotify were available with my Indian IP address. I had a split second of panic and thought of last.fm. Only a Radiohead fan would find it comforting to be in India and able to listen to Thom Yorke’s nasaly voice singing, “Rain down, rain down / Come on rain down on me. / From a great height / From a great height…”

No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

And . . . as I type this, last.fm has just started The Eraser’s (Thom’s side project) “Harrowdown Hill,” about biological warfare expert David Kelly who was either murdered or committed suicide in 2003.

Life is so fucking hard, and both of these friends sought solace in yoga of different stripes. I remember reading Eddie Stern’s bit on human suffering in the Huffington Post a couple years ago:

. . . everyone experiences suffering. Suffering is undiscriminating and it comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga affirms, though, that there is a way to deal with it: by practicing yoga poses, by breathing consciously for a few minutes each day, and by being attentive, thoughtful human beings, we can mitigate the mental torments we all experience.

Yoga helps. In both of these cases, I am convinced yoga helped either prolong their life or lessen the day-to-day pain somewhat. But yoga alone isn’t necessarily enough to set the train of depression on an entirely new course.

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space

When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities

In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup

‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

[BOOK REVIEW] Yoga kills! No, it cures! Kills! Cures! (Can we take a hiatus from reading popular yoga books? Please?)

I was sent a review copy of Yoga Cures, Tara Stiles’ new book ($17.99 softcover; currently No. 3 in Amazon.com’s yoga category). Yes, that Tara Stiles — the former model and “yoga rebel” (as anointed by The New York Times) who counts Deepak Chopra among her students, and the “new face of fitness” (as anointed by Jane Fonda) who has so elevated the yoga discussion with Slim Calm Sexy Yoga. If you missed the release of Slim Calm Sexy Yoga, you can make up for lost time by reading YogaDork’s predictably snarky take on it.

Stiles is hardly the first yogi to go after some of the weight-loss industry market share. To pick one random example, remember Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga for Weight Loss VHS? (I’m not going to lie — I owned one, maybe even two, Bryan Kest videos back in the day.)

But I digress. In yoga, we have poses and counter-poses that balance them out. In that same vein, Yoga Cures reads like the counter-pose to William J. Broad’s The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards (currently No. 8 in Amazon.com’s yoga category). I read the much-discussed excerpt of his book in the New York Times Magazine but have not yet read the book. That said, I also watched this lengthy interview with Slate. Shoulderstand? Plow? Stay away! “It can send you to the emergency room, or it can send you to the morgue,” Broad tells the interviewer (start around 2:30).

Yoga Cures is all lollipops, cupcakes and balloons by comparison:

Yoga can cure your body, settle your mind, and skyrocket your energy back to kindergarten levels! And if you’re lifting an eyebrow and asking ‘Really?’ just keep reading. How about being a ridiculously happy person with a super-healthy body and calm, focused mind? Yoga can cure everything from depression to anxiety; from old sports injuries and back pain to allergies, PMS, and even hangovers. I can’t think of any reason why someone shouldn’t at least try it, considering all of the incredible and practice benefits that come along with its regular practice. And that’s what this book means to encompass: easy, fun cures using yoga in a fresh way to help alleviate or cure common complaints.

Here is what Stiles says in an interview on Blistree:

Helping people heal themselves through yoga shouldn’t be controversial. Critics of mine want yoga to be exclusive, tightly knit, and for a special club reserved for a select few. Of course they feel threatened because I am simply pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. Yoga is inside everyone, attainable by everyone, without a guru.

Of course, yoga should be accessible — to everyone. Really, everyone. David Swenson has stories about watching Pattabhi Jois help paralyzed students practice yoga. But Stiles would no doubt peg me as a purist, elitist yogi because I think Yoga Cures is a breezy book with photos of an attractive woman taking interesting shapes — nothing too complicated, though! It’s all about being easy! She’s unbearably hip in giving you the low-down on “The Chill the *&@# Out Yoga Cure” and “The Saggy Booty Yoga Cure.” In addition to a saggy booty, the book covers ADD/ADHD, broken heart and even diabetes — more than 50 ailments total.

Elsewhere in the book, Stiles talks about the bigger picture — the eight limbs of yoga, for instance. That’s great. And if she wants to put out a book trying to help people temporarily relieve symptoms, go for it. But to promise cures with just a few simple poses crosses the line, in my mind — and by doing so, puts this book in the same category as late-night infomercials that tease the desperate (hey, I’ve been there) with “cures” in the form of juices and pills.

Quick-fixes of every sort are ubiquitous in our society (5-hour energy shots, anyone?), and this book adds to the cacophony of generic inspiration mixed in with over-the-top promises and a “what have you got to lose” attitude.

Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated — it shouldn’t be out of reach. But it does take effort. Doing three poses (specifically, “standing arm reach,” “tree pose,” and “warrior 3”) won’t magically cure someone with clinical depression, as the book would like you to believe. Feeling down one afternoon? Absolutely, do some yoga and you’ll probably be set. But depression? On the topic of “The Depression Yoga Cure,” Stiles writes:

The yoga cure for depression is simply to practice regularly, even when you don’t feel like it. A little bit of yoga is a better than nothing. The more you practice, the better you’ll feel.

Curing depression is just so simple! Get up! Keep a regular practice! Voila! It’s too bad no one else has ever thought to put together these three poses to cure it.

(I’m thumbing through this book again, desperate now for a cure for reading-induced nausea.)

For a more helpful look at how yoga can help alleviate depression and anxiety — and a glimpse into what a long journey it is — see “Yoga for depression and anxiety.”)

Stiles will call me even more of an elitist now, but here’s the yoga book whose publication I am looking forward to:

While there are countless yoga books out there, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice is the first to critically examine yoga as it actually exists in North America today. Written by experienced practitioners who are also teachers, therapists, activists, scholars, studio owners, and/or interfaith ministers, this unique set of essays provides a fresh take on the promise and pitfalls of contemporary yoga, exploring its relevance for issues including feminism, body image, psychology, activism, ethics, and spirituality.

This book is being self-published, and there are still a few days left to donate, if you happen to be so inclined. So put down your copy of The Science of Yoga or Yoga Cures and go here to support the project.

21st Century Yoga won’t help the average Joe shed pounds through yoga, but I’m pretty sure Yoga Cures won’t either — so your saggy booty is yours to keep, even if you return the book!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Yoga for depression and anxiety

I was happy to be able to snag the last available spot for a two-hour workshop called Yoga for Depression and Anxiety, held this afternoon at the beautiful, community-focused Just B Yoga in Lansing. It was taught by a good friend of mine, South London native Kim Lewis.

Just B Yoga website screenshot

Although I won’t try to document the breathing and moving techniques that Kim went through — I believe these types of things are best learned and digested in context — I do want to say it was very moving when Kim started out the workshop by telling her own story. Here is her bio:

I first experienced a yoga class about 20 years ago, but I began to practice consistently in 2002 in my late 30s. I’d never been comfortable doing sport or “physical” activity, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed this unfamiliar form of exercise. Since then, I’ve learned that yoga has much more to offer than simply physical movement.

Before getting more serious about yoga, I was suffering with backaches, headaches, and neck aches – probably all because of stress. I’ve also had trouble with depression and anxiety that has sometimes thrown me completely off balance. Yoga has helped me to build better physical and mental health, so I’m able to function well in my daily life – and really live life.

At 46, I’m in much better physical and emotional shape than I was at 26. The combination of yoga poses, breathing and meditative practices simply makes me feel good. I’m so fortunate that I found yoga and I want to share it with others.

I trained with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I am also certified by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, as a LifeForce Yoga Practitioner.

Kim was diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s, and strongly advises anyone trying to come off medications to do so with the help of a physician — rather than trying to do so on their own. Kim told the group today that she is living proof that while yoga can’t take away all the challenges, it can change someone’s life:

It can change your brain.

Kim told us that yoga gives you the tools to take care of yourself. These tools can be summarized by three words: “Breathe, Move, Watch,” based on breathing techniques (pranayama), physical postures (asana) and looking at how yoga philosophy views the Self.

You can use breathing and movement to:

  • Balance the body and mind
  • Calm the body/mind when anxious
  • Energize the body and mind when depressed — but on this point, Kim emphasized how mindfulness is needed because this can also aggravate anxiety or set off a manic state.

She said everyone needs to cultivate self-awareness and check in with themselves. If you feel lethargic and depressed, start slowly and warm up to a more energetic practice. If you feel jumpy and anxious, start with more active movement and then slow down to a more calming practice.

As a yoga instructor, I appreciated Kim’s pointers for those with depression or anxiety when taking group yoga classes — that you have to cultivate this same self-awareness and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

On this point, I think yoga teachers would be wise to try to learn more about depressed and anxious students. You won’t be able to tell that modifications are needed the way you would if a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy walks into your class, but even being aware of different needs might make you more intuitive about students who may quietly be suffering through major depression and need a different energy from you.

I found these points particularly interesting:

  • For someone with major depression, it may be too much to turn in internally, so don’t allow yourself to go there.
  • For someone with major depression, it might be uncomfortable to close the eyes, so just soften the gaze.

On that point, as an Ashtanga devotee, it made me all the more aware of the importance of dristi — the gaze — of the practice. Dristi is one of the three tools that the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system gives us (together, the three are referred to as the tristana). There’s not a whole lot of eye-closing in Ashtanga — you are always asked to set a soft gaze on one of nine points (tip of nose, hand, to the side, etc.). I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, to keep us present on the mat in a way that allows us to boomerang our awareness inward with true clarity, rather than in a way that allows us either to escape to another place or get sucked into a place we don’t want to go to.

I’m writing about this workshop to, generally, help share the resources that Kim shared. I also noticed that the workshop had sold out at 20 slots — but I only counted about 14 in the room, and wondered if some folks were too anxious to be in a group setting where the focus was on yoga therapy for depression and anxiety.

For anyone with depression or anxiety reading this blog post at home, know that there are people who get it, and that yoga therapy may be able to help. If reaching out seems impossible, maybe make a few clicks to buy some of these resources listed below, to help you get to a point where you can seek out a professional who can work with you on some basic yoga techniques that — while they will hardly fix everything — might be able to help.

Suggested books

Suggested CD

>>Related posts: A different kind of black Friday

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By the way — I know it’s been two weeks since my last blog post, and I have to tell you that it’s killing me that I’ve been too busy to blog. If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or so, you know I fit in blogging whenever I can — so the fact that I haven’t been able to put anything up is a testament to how compressed my schedule has been. I think I literally have about 12 blog posts in my head right now — about the first Bikram class I took about what being a Radiohead concert made me think about injuries, about one excellent tool for home practice and how I lost my voice nearly completely but taught a led class anyway — and on and on. I hope to catch up on some of these. We shall see.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A different kind of black Friday: How yoga therapy can be used to help treat depression

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Enjoying the post-Thanksgiving food high, I’m with my family in San Jose. And I see that the Mercury News ran a story the other day saying that here in Santa Clara county, someone commits suicide on average every three days. Think about that — every 72 hours.

Black Friday officially kicks off the winter holiday season — a time of year designed to be full of family, friends and celebration. For those who live with clinical depression, though, it can be one of the toughest times to go through.

In high school, I worked on a teen hotline where, in theory, anyone contemplating suicide could call (gratefully, I was never on the other end of one of those calls). Depression has profoundly affected the life course of people I care deeply about. If there’s one societal change I have long wanted to contributed to, it is that, in my own way, one conversation at a time, I want people to understand that depression is not simply being sad. Or feeling really, really down. It is chemical. Deeply physiological. You don’t just buck up to get yourself out of depression. You don’t just will yourself out. Would you tell someone living with a heart condition to just get over it? True clinical depression should be considered with the same social regard as other serious threats to health.

Which brings me to yoga, and what yoga can do. The new issue of Yoga International has a wonderful piece by Gary Kraftsow:

Depression tends to hit us on every level of our being, often all at once, which makes yoga the perfect antidote for the physical ramifications, mood swings, thoughts, and behaviors that it engenders. From a physiological perspective, depression affects the entire body, including the digestive, respiratory, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. Yoga therapy’s main impact on our physiology is via the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the ANS. Depression creates a state of sympathetic/parasympathetic disregulation, which further impacts how we feel, what we think about, and how we behave.

The sympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the fight-flight-or-freeze response and is activated when we perceive danger. The parasympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the rest-and-digest or rest-and-repose response and is activated when we are at rest.

Although some types of depression include sympathetic activation (feelings of agitation or anxiety), when people become depressed, they most often experience a state of sympathetic suppression. They may have physiological symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal distress, and/or decreased libido or sense of pleasure.

Practicing asanas with adapted breathing, pranayama techniques, and guided relaxation will help to balance the nervous system. For example, doing standing postures and backbends with an emphasis on movement—during which you progressively lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation and gently hold the breath at the end of the inhalation—will activate the sympathetic response and energize the system.

Even if you don’t know anyone right now with depression, I highly recommend reading the entire article to get a better sense of how yoga can work with depression. Kraftsow also offers a unique practice sequence. And because I’m a writer by trade, I will also say–better even than consuming online, buy the winter 2011-2012 issue of Yoga International and support this kind of quality yoga content (versus so much of the vacuous, fluffy and celebrity-driven stuff you can find these days).

(Photo credit: gogoloopie’s Flickr stream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.