Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yoga, Happiness and Buddhism: Right Effort

warrior 3
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Many Yoga students and teachers begin practicing Yoga in order to increase their level of well-being and happiness, while simultaneously eradicating their suffering. Suffering comes in many different forms. You may find that you are suffering from a sense of isolation or loneliness, or you may find that your are suffering from a torn rotator cuff when you are practicing Seated Spinal Twist! Many people also suffer from a sense of despondency over how they are required to spend their time if they are not able to work in their chosen field or to follow their dreams whole heartedly. 

If you are to be able to spend your time working to create or sustain beauty and goodness in the world by following your dreams, you are truly fortunate. Many Yoga teachers, who choose to pursue a career teaching students about the different facets of a balanced Yoga practice, do so because they wish to offer their talents and skills to others in such a way that the world is uplifted. This intention is quite beautiful. When you help to nurture physical and mental health in your students by teaching a great Yogaclass, there are beneficial ripple effects felt throughout the entire community. 

These positive ripple effects may be as simple as one of your students feeling light-hearted enough to stop and help somebody in the grocery store parking who has dropped a bag of groceries. Or one of your students may find that he or she has a much stronger ability to stay emotionally centered in a seemingly unending traffic jam. Although these positive ripple effects may seem mundane at first, if you multiply these effects by several dozen students a week, you can see how your service of instructing Yoga students with right effort is helping to uplift the world.

The term “right effort” comes from Buddhism. It is one of the of the components of the Eightfold Path as elucidated by the Buddha over 2000 years ago. The Buddha was born a prince in the Shakya republic of the Himalayan Mountains in approximately 500 BCE. As the story goes, when Gautama Buddha left the resplendent protection of his father’s palace, he was shocked and overwhelmed by all of the suffering he saw just outside the palace gates. There were many people who were suffering and dying from physical illness, poverty and old age just outside the protective walls of the palace.  

As a young man, Gautama was deeply disturbed by what he saw, so he left the palace seeking to understand why such suffering existed. Gautama wandered throughout India in search of the existential reason for such suffering and for the deeper understanding of how to live a noble and peaceful life amidst such suffering. Over time, Gautama studied with numerous Yogis and spiritual masters. After many years of traveling throughout India in search of answers, Gautama sat under a large Bodhi tree and fell into a deep mediation that lasted throughout the night. 

In this meditative state, he received the answers he was seeking to life’s greatest mysteries. These answers are encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths and the eight aspects of the Dharma Wheel. Right Effort is one of these aspects. This profound system of understanding about the nature of suffering and how to eradicated suffering in one’s own life was the fruition of all of his years of spiritual searching and practices. In this way, he became the Buddha, the enlightened one.

If a Yogi or Yogini diligently practices the Eightfold Path as laid out by the Buddha, one’s Yoga practice will be deeply rooted in the wisdom of the ancient sages. This depth of understanding and practice will support a Yoga practitioner’s mental and physical health and well-being on many levels. Buddhism deeply addresses the nature of reality, why there is suffering, how we maintain suffering in our own lives and how to remove suffering so that we an live lives filled with peace, serenity and happiness. 

As a sensitive Yoga instructor, modifying the sequence of asanas to fit a specific group of students and what they need in the moment is one of the keys to teaching an uplifting and nourishing class. The underlying wisdom of the Buddha’s precept of right effort can help inform your choice of Yoga poses, breathing exercises and the inclusion of other spiritual practices when you are teaching a Yoga class. This level of sensitivity is one of the hallmarks of a great Yoga teacher. 

© Copyright 2014 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

5 Reasons To Practice Yoga For Chronic Stress

yoga for chronic stress
By Faye Martins

Stress is one of the most common ailments of the modern age. People have busy schedules, lots of responsibilities and a variety of worries in their lives. One of the best ways to relieve stress is to practice yoga. Many studies have confirmed the effectiveness of yoga for chronic stress. Let's look at some of the ways that yoga is beneficial for relaxation and stress management.

1. Promotes Healthy Circulation and Release of Endorphins

Any form of vigorous exercise can be useful for managing stress. Exercise keeps the mind occupied, promotes healthy circulation and causes endorphins to release in the brain. There are many styles of yoga, and each has its own particular benefits. Some people prefer a slower, more meditative type of yoga while others want a more challenging workout. However, practicing any authentic type of yoga on a regular basis is helpful for reducing stress.
2. Promotes Deep Breathing

All forms of yoga require practitioners to pay attention to their breathing. Deep and controlled breathing allows the body to absorb more oxygen. This is not only healthy for the entire body, it promotes calmness and a more balanced state of mind. The breathing techniques learned in yoga class can be applied to everyday life as well. Learning how to breathe deeply in stressful situations is one of the best ways to feel more relaxed quickly.

3. Yoga is a Form of Active Meditation

Certain yoga schools have meditations at the beginning and/or end of the class. Yet all yoga has a meditative quality. Unlike most other forms of exercise, which tend to be performed quickly, yoga poses are held for a certain length of time. As the practitioner holds the pose, he or she is encouraged to relax and breathe deeply. This form of exercise stretches the muscles and ligaments and it also helps the mind to release stress.

4. Helps the Muscles Relax

Tension in the body is transferred to the mind. People who carry a lot of tension in their shoulders, back and muscles tend to feel stressed out. Yoga poses are designed to release tension in these areas. That's why people typically feel both relaxed and invigorated after yoga classes. When the body lets go of tension, the mind and emotions also experience relief.

5. Promotes Restful Sleep

Many people who experience chronic stress have trouble sleeping. Yoga is a form of exercise that can help people sleep more restfully. One of the causes of insomnia is a sedentary lifestyle. Certain times of intense exercise, however, are so stimulating that they can actually make it harder to sleep, especially if they are performed too late in the day. Yoga is a form of exercise that can be practiced at any time of day and still help practitioners have a good night's sleep.

Because many people experience stress nowadays, there is the need to find effective ways to relax. Yoga has the advantage of being a simple, natural and healthy way to reduce stress. In order to gain the maximum benefits of yoga for chronic stress, it's best to practice or take classes at least a few times per week.
Faye Martins, is a Yoga teacher and a graduate of the Yoga teacher training program at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Benefits Of Taking A Yin Yoga Teacher Course

benefits the entire body
By Faye Martins

Yoga has become extremely popular in recent years for a variety of reasons. It's an excellent form of exercise that can be useful for stress reduction and relaxation. Some studies even indicate that it can help people to lose weight. There are many types of yoga, and one style that is currently becoming well known is yin yoga. This is a slow paced form of yoga where poses are held for longer than average periods of time. Some yoga practitioners decide to take their practice to another level and become teachers themselves. For such people, a yin yoga teacher course is something worth considering.

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin yoga, which is also known as Taoist yoga, is a relatively new concept. Its teachings, however, go back to very ancient traditions of both India and China. Yin yoga takes its name from the traditional Taoist concept of yin and yang. While yang is associated with forceful and masculine principles, yin is more receptive and feminine. Thus, yin yoga is a slower, more internal type of yoga compared with styles that are more externally focused. In this way, it has some features in common with Taoist practices such as qi gong and tai chi. The postures, however, are taken from other schools of yoga, with some modifications.

The essence of yin yoga is to relax into each posture as much as possible. This makes the movements a kind of meditation that benefits the entire body. Some of the benefits of this practice include:

Calms the mind.

Reduces stress.

Improves joint mobility.

Promotes greater flexibility.

More energy throughout the body.

Some people practice yin style yoga along with other, more yang types of yoga. Others find that yin yoga alone serves all of their needs.

Reasons to Become a Yin Yoga Teacher

People decide to become yoga teachers for a variety of reasons. Some are mainly looking to deepen their own practice. Others are looking for a part time sideline that allows them to earn extra money while doing something they enjoy. Still others have the goal of opening up their own yoga schools. Students who decide that they like yin yoga enough to become teachers themselves must be ready to devote many hours to their practice. Becoming a teacher not only requires people to perfect their own movements, but to have the patience and perceptiveness to be able to help others learn. A good yin yoga teacher course enables people to work towards these objectives.

Anyone who is thinking of becoming a yin yoga teacher should first make sure they are ready to undertake this responsibility. It takes a certain amount of practice on one's own before one is qualified to teach others. Yet for people who are ready, becoming a yoga teacher can be extremely rewarding. It can also be a good business decision, as yoga is a form of exercise that is spreading very quickly. Yin yoga in particular has a great deal to offer busy people who are looking for a way to slow down and relax.
Faye Martins, is a Yoga teacher and a graduate of the Yoga teacher training program at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Best Poses When Teaching Chair Yoga Classes

best poses
By Faye Martins

Chair yoga is an unconventional and gentler type of yoga that is performed while seated in a chair or standing but using the chair as support. The poses are commonly modifications of Hatha Yoga poses. In most instances, chair yoga students are unable to practice traditional yoga as a result of aging or some form of disability. Those who are teaching chair yoga classes mostly do so at adult daycare centers, retirement facilities or senior fitness centers.Who Can Practice Chair Yoga?

Senior citizens are the target demographic for chair yoga classes. However, those with neurological disorders and the obese are also candidates of the chair method. Also, many office workers take advantage of the adaptations found in the practice by using stretches at work after sitting in front of a computer for many hours at a time.

Why Do Chair Yoga?

There are an endless number of poses that can be conducted using chair yoga which help to break unhealthy patterns and strengthen and tone muscles. Chair yoga poses help to increase the amount of blood that flows to the body. Through a number of breathing exercises, the body become calm, relaxed, energized, focused and rejuvenated while strengthening the circulatory and nervous system. Also part of chair yoga is meditation and visualization which help to remove stress.

5 Best Chair Yoga Poses

Those who are teaching chair yoga classes commonly recommend the following five poses which can be done at home, work or at the gym and are popular in class.

Sitting Mountain

This pose begins by sitting close to the front edge of the chair, feet parallel, hip-wide apart with ankles, knees and hips at right angles and feet pressed against the floor. Lift your head to the ceiling and lengthen your neck and spine while anchoring your behind to the chair. Next, roll your shoulders up, back and relaxing down. Finally, lift your sternum while keeping your chin parallel with the floor and bring your palms together, touching thumbs over your heart.

Full Sitting Mountain

From the Sitting Mountain pose, reach your arms above your head as you inhale so that they are shoulder-width apart while keeping your palms facing one another. Then, relax your shoulders and extend your spine and neck. Finally, arch your back while gazing forward and reaching for the sun.

Flat Back

Start with the Full Sitting Mountain technique then lean forward from the hips and exhale while maintaining a straight, extended neck and spine. Raise your hands toward the floor. If you suffer from hypertension, keep your arms at your knees and you head lifted.


Start by placing your hands on your knees. Then, lift your sternum and shift your shoulders back as you inhale, thus expanding your chest and extending your spine. Slowly slide back your right foot approximately six inches so that it rests on the ball. Finally, slightly lift your chin as you gaze forward.


Begin with the Lunge pose and slide back your left foot around six inches so that it is parallel with your right foot. Place pressure on the balls of your feet and engage the thigh and abdominal muscles. Next, lift your sternum and extend your arms in front of your chest while flexing the hands at the wrists. Slowly exhale as you move forward from your hips and press your hands to an imaginary wall.
Faye Martins, is a Yoga teacher and a graduate of the Yoga teacher training program at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Improving Core Strength with Yoga: Crow Pose crow pose

By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Bakasana, or Crow Pose, is a Yoga arm balance that alleviates Carpel Tunnel Syndrome as it strengthens and stretches out the wrists, forearms and shoulders. This is a wonderful pose to include in your Yoga practice if you spend a lot of time typing on the computer, playing tennis or swinging a golf club. This accessible arm balance also releases tension throughout the thoracic spine in the upper back area, improves balance and greatly increases abdominal strength over time. Crow Pose is optimally practiced after a series of Sun Salutations and standing Yoga asanas. It is traditionally practiced prior to backbends, inversions and seated poses. 

When you are adequately warmed up and are ready to practice Bakasana, you may wish to place a folded blanket or towel a foot or two in front of you on your Yoga mat in case you tip over when you are attempting to lift off your mat in Crow Pose! Most Yoga practitioners find it to be challenging at first to maintain their balance and equilibrium in Crow Pose. If you are just beginning to learn to practice this posture, placing a folded blanket in front of you and a Yoga block horizontally on your mat a foot or so behind you will help you to “lift off” more easily and hopefully with less trepidation! 

* Bakasana or Crow Pose

To begin your practice of Crow Pose, balance on a Yoga block if you are using one, or simply balance on your mat with the inner edges of your feet touching and your heels slightly raised. Keeps your knees comfortably far apart, just wider than the width of your shoulders. Place your hands on the mat several inches in front of your feet. Keep your hands in line with your shoulders. With an inhale, lean forward onto your hands and raise your legs off the mat and rest your shines on the upper backsides of your arms. 

Take a moment and play with the balance. Can you feel when you are tipping too far forward? Likewise, can you feel when you are leaning too far backward and gravity pulls your legs back down to the Yoga mat? As you play with finding the sweet spot that allows you to balance your shins comfortably on your upper arms with your feet raised off the mat, remember to keep a steady gaze point or drishti in front of you on the floor. This steady point of concentration will help to stabilize your balance. 

If you find it difficult to maintain your balance with both of your feet elevated off of the Yoga mat, try lifting just one foot at a time off the mat. This preliminary action will help to teach your body how to balance in the posture as the muscles in your arms, shoulders and abdominal area are strengthened. The primary action in this Yoga pose is one of flexion as your knees bend in towards your abdomen, your back rounds and your shoulders blades move away from the back of your spine and toward your Heart Chakra. 

In order to increase your sense of solidity and balance in Crow Pose, use the energy of opposing forces to enhance your stability by squeezing your legs firmly against your upper arms, while your arms simultaneously apply consistent pressure against your shins. The combination of the movement of pulling your legs in toward the center of your body while holding the weight of your body off of your Yoga mat with your arms is the key sequence of movements in the posture that increases abdominal strength.

Additionally, your balance and strength will improve in this posture if you root down firmly into your Yoga mat with your hands as you simultaneously push the mat away from you with your palms. If you are an intermediate Yoga practitioner and you would like to further increase the abdominal strengthening benefits of Bakasana, you may wish to come out of the pose by jumping directly back into Plank Pose and flowing into the next asana from Plank. Practice Crow Pose three times at your own pace, and then either rest in Child’s Pose or jump back into Plank Pose and continue with your practice of the next Yoga asana. 

© Copyright 2014 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division