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Portugal Impressions: Chaos & Creation

Portugal Impressions: Every time I come to Portugal, especially the north, I am always cradled and calmed by the sweet serene stillness and the tranquila tristeza that permeates the rocks, the whoosh of the wind and the wary rhythm of the ocean waves.

Portugal Impressions: Chaos & Creation - Goodyoga

There is a gentleness and sweetness in the people here that is not found in Spain. It is English propriety softened by latin warmth and tampered by a sweet silent melancholy.

As I walked along the coast and in between streets and in and out of shops, I felt my entire nervous system take a deep breath and cleansing exhale. This sweet sadness that the portugués are so famous for is found in their folk music of Fado and the gentle attachment to the past. A attachment on display amongst old worn buildings made of unoffending pastel tiles of greens, pinks and blues, nothing too obnoxious or ostentatious-a stark contrast to the many bright and bold palates of Spain with its intricate and gothic facades.

Portugal Impressions: Chaos & Creation - Goodyoga

There is almost a shyness to the way the buildings are constructed. Old and worn yet still enchanting and alluring, a timeless spirit etched not only on the buildings and streets, but also on the faces of both old fishermen and young timid men. There is a mystery to Portugal and it´s subtle expression of existence I believe is what gives it´s mystery. Even the coffee goes down smooth, in contrast to the bitter punch in the face and racing heart beat you get with your morning coffee in a Spanish café.

The wind is relentless, strong and cool-but there is a communication with Mother Nature here that touches my heart and calms my soul. I see it in the faces of the residents, the way the paths are built along natural curves rather through them with places to stop off for contemplation or rest. As I sat on one of these rest posts looking out over the sea I pondered how her location between that of the Anglo-Saxon islands of England and Ireland and that of Latin Europe, France, Spain and Itlay, along with the constant and consistent winds of the Atlantic has forced and caressed Portugal to expose and lay bare an ego that would be challenged by constant trade and interaction as well as exposure to the indominable elements of La Mar.

Portugal Impressions: Chaos & Creation - Goodyoga

And so I sit here on this coast, nearing what was once believed, to be the end of world, contemplating my return after a five year absence, back home. In opening myself to the possabilities across the ocean and the chill of the Atlantic ocean,  I find myself tasting just a bit of what the ancient Hindu tradition described as Kali-Ma. An energy form that is responsible for both destruction and liberation. I breathe deep and relish the scent of rock and salt and marvel and give gratitude to feel my own ego disappearing, dispersing-carried away by the ocean wind and transformed into something new and mysterious amidst Her Waters, the waters of chaos and creation.

Portugal Impressions: Chaos & Creation - Goodyoga

Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it

Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it - Goodyoga

Last week I had the privilege and honor to officiate the wedding of one of my Yoga students. When she asked me if I could officiate her wedding,  I started to cry just from sheer emotion, but then reality sunk in and I spent a week starting than stopping, wringing my hands, and flipping ideas back and forth on how I was going to start and lead the ceremony, I mean this was a first for me…officiating weddings was never in any of my trainings. I had never in my life even contemplated acting as an officiate in anything, especially in a wedding.

Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it - GoodyogaNonetheless, eventually, after lots of hand wringing about how to start this multi-cultural, bi-lingual, interfaith, no-faith wedding, Yoga gave me the answer. One morning, as I started my personal practice just a few weeks before the wedding, the most obvious answer came to mind- I needed to start the ceremony with that ancient and powerful chant, the Aum (OM).

In India it is customary to start all sorts of ceremonies with the repetition of the Aum (OM). I always start and end my classes in this way. There is an art to its repetition and there are countless theories and interpretations on what exactly the vibrating sound of Aum (when chanted sounds like OM) means and what its origins are. Below is a brief description of the most common:

There is agreement that it is an ancient sound that is said to represent the beginning/birth (A) the middle/life (U) and end/death (M) of creation as well as all the spoken sounds and aspects of language. Is it said to represent the very basis of the universe, and its continuous becoming. It is symbolic of the divine triad of Parvati, Lakshmi and Shakti as well as their masculine aspects of Bhrama, Vishnu and Siva.

Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it - Goodyoga

The silence at the end of the Om is symbolic of Ishvara, a divine concept that exerts that pure divine existence resides in complete stillness and silence, beyond language and consciousness, over which masculine and feminine energies unite in equal parts to manifest as creation. For this reason it is connected with the vibration of the 7th chakra (wheel of energy) that exists above the head, more or less where the soft spot is on a baby´s skull, outside of the body, placed in-between the point of material and non-material existence.

Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it - Goodyoga

Furthermore, at 432 HZ it is believed to be the base vibration of all material existence and supposedly if you listen to the recordings of NASA and their recordings of the earth, a low hum that sounds strikingly like Aum (OM) can be heard.  You can listen to it here:

When one chants the OM one should try to not only hear and listen to the hum and vibration but also feel it throughout the skull, the brain, the chest and entire body.

Finally, according to the ancient Yogic texts of the Upanishad the Aum (Om) is the union of breath and sound and together they mate to produce song. With this clarified, it not only seemed ideal, but necessary to start the wedding with this chant. So as an invocation, I asked all those in attendance to participant in the honoring of the joining of these two humans by chanting the Aum (Om) 3x and to maintain a small still silence at the end.Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it - Goodyoga

I was a little uncertain about asking all of the wedding attendees to participate in this chant, but despite there being very few Yogi´s in the wedding with people from all over the world who came from different backgrounds, faiths, ages and beliefs everyone came together in one vibration.

In the silence afterwards, and between the stone walls that had witnessed over 400 years of history, I felt a deep sense of calm that confirmed and clarified the reason why so many of the ceremonies in India start and end with this ancient chant.

Science has shown that in the end we are all just vibration spinning at different speeds and I would argue that the practices of Yoga, be it Hatha Yoga asana practica, Kirtan mantra chanting, and/or Kundalini breathwork we have the power to influence and raise that vibration so that we can life more fully and with more joy in THIS, the present moment, within ourselves and with others, this wonderful experience called life.

Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it - Goodyoga

 

OM
Aum (OM): What is it and why do we chant it - Goodyoga

Pranayama : Breath Nutrition

Breath = Life

Pranayama : Breath Nutrition - Goodyoga

A person can go for days without eating food a day or two without water and only a few minutes without breath. The breath is the foundation of life and without it, you die and when it is restricted, your life energy is also restricted. This is why all of the practices of Yoga center around creating more space for the breath. Asana works with posture so that can happen and Pranayama teaches us how to control the energy breath provides when there is correct posture.

Pranayama is composed of two different Sanskrit words. Prana, commonly interpreted as energy but has a more direct translation of nutrition and/or food, and Ama, meaning breath. Therefore, one might define Pranayma as ´breath nutrition´. Therefore, by practicing Pranayama one is practicing how to give proper oxygen nutrition the both the brain and body.

In addition to proper oxygen nutrition, Pranayma is also the practice of controlling the breath to still the mind. The quiet mind is found when the breath ceases, which this ceasing of breath is called, retention. So any pranayama must include retention. This retention is the difference between breathing Kriyas and Pranyama. Furthermore, controlling of the rhythm of the breath also calms the Chitta (mindstuff) and activates the para-sympathetic nervous system, especially when extending the exhale. This is why the extension of the exhale is used during various relaxation practices, the most obvious being the Lamaze birthing breath.

Pranayama, when correctly practiced, has a plethora of mental and physical benefits. These benefits include, but are not limited to, improved posture, digestion, respiratory and metabolic functions (due to the Bohr effect) which of course translate into improved sleep, physical fitness, mood, energy levels, complexion of skin and concentration.

Basics of Pranayama practice:

In theory practicing Pranayama is simple and straight forward. The problem is that many of us have deeply integrated, incorrect breathing and posture habits that prevent us from understanding how to practice correctly. It is recommended to find a qualified teacher who can correct and observe you in your practice before practicing on your own.

Firm Base:

Pranayama : Breath Nutrition - Goodyoga

The traditional form of practicing pranayama involves sitting with a firm base. This entails the sitbones being placed on a firm surface with a 30 degree angle between lumbar spine and pelvic floor. Sitting like this helps to maintain the natural curvature of the spine. However, if hip flexibility is reduced and sitting in such a pose hurts, it is better to find comfort (Sukha) and stability (Sthira) by sitting in a chair or in supported Virasana (Hero´s Pose) with a block between the feet and under the sit bones. Avoid sitting on a soft surface as this will cause the spine to collapse and restrict breath movement.

Open Chest, Strong core:

Pranayama : Breath Nutrition - Goodyoga

Slightly lifting the rib cage and activating the intercostal muscles of around the rib cage and under the armpits creates more space for the lungs to move in and out in 360 degrees as well as the diaphragm to move down towards the pubic bone, thereby creating greater space for greater breath and intake of oxygen. The most helpful que I have received for becoming aware of these muscles around the ribcage is pressing the shoulder blades back in towards each other, move them down away from the ears, and then maintain that space around the clavicle bones and then push the shoulder blades out and way from each other without collapsing forward.

Pranayama : Breath Nutrition - GoodyogaIn combination with the open chest, it is also important to keep the bottom abdominal muscles engaged to support the lumbar spine. The breath in Pranayama is not the same breath practiced in Savasana (Corpse Pose) where the belly is completely relaxed. The belly still expands in Pranayama but with practice one will notice how the active rib cage and active abdominals increase the internal pressure of the torso and help to expand and maintain voluntary control over the breath.

Ratio of Breath:

In the beginning it is advised that the practitioner aims for a ratio of 1:1. Inhale (Puraka) equal to exhale (Rechaka). Slowly this can increase until the exhale is twice as long as the inhale. Than retention (Kumbhaka) and eventual Bandhas can be included for a ratio of 1 (Puraka): 4 (Kumbhaka): 2 (Rechaka).  Move gradually. Yoga is not a discipline of force and it according to Yoga sutra it can take up to 12 years of consistent practice for one to perfect the practice of pranayama. But don´t let that discourage you from starting and experiencing the benefits of this discipline. Most practitioners notice the benefits within 3 months.

According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika these are the basic forms of Pranayama:

Surya Bedi: Inhale via right nostril and exhale via left. Associated with the sun. Left Brain. Heating breath.

Chandra Bhedana: Inhale via left nostril and exhale via right. Associated with the moon. Right Brain. Cooling breath.

Ujjayi: Slight tightening of the Glottis in the throat. That tensionPranayama : Breath Nutrition - Goodyoga will create a sound as you inhale and exhale via the nose. It also automatically activates the deep core muscles and is the only pranayama that can be performed doing other activities such as walking, standing or practicing asana, which is done in Ashtanga Yoga. Breath should remain smooth and unforced.

Sitkari: Cooling breath (Great for Sevilla!!!). Spread tongue against the bottom front teeth. Open the mouth and keep teeth slightly parted, like you were smiling a big Cheshire cat grin, and breath in via the mouth and exhale via the nose.

Shitali: Similar to Sitkari. Also a cooling breath but the tongue is rolled up on both sides and breath is taken in via the small space between both sides of the tongue.

Bastrika with retention: This means ´Bellows Breath´. Like the bellows used to feed the fire of a silver smith, this breath also increases the fire within the mind and body and cleanses it of impurities. Both the exhale and inhale are active, deliberate and complete. It is different from hyperventilation since hyper ventilation involves shorter quicker breaths that are not complete and do not fill the torso cavity. At the end of each round inhale via the right nostril, retain the breath, than exhale via the left. See Kriyas about possible counter indications for this breath.

Pranayama : Breath Nutrition - GoodyogaBhramari: Bumble bee breath. This is a great breath for bring attention and focus inside and improving the immunity system. A sound like a bumble bee is made from inside of the throat (that sound you make at the end of the question, ¨eh?¨is what you want to aim for) and there is an option of closing the ears with the thumbs and placing the fingers on top of the head to increase the effect.

Murcha: Advanced practice. Retention of breath to an almost unconscious state.

Plavani: Advanced practice. Filling the stomach and lungs completely full of air to reach the visceral borders of both. Supposedly allows one to float on water…

Nadi Shoni with retention:

Pranayama : Breath Nutrition - Goodyoga

There is confusion between what is Nadi Shoni and Anulom Vilom. From my own studies and questions I have come to understand Nadi Shoni to be name of the breath and Anulom Vilom the technique. Nadi Shoni is a Kriya unless retention is added. When retention is added the practices goes like this:

Inhale left nostril, hold and close both nostrils, exhale through the right, than inhale through the right, retain the breath and exhale through the left than inhale through the right, retain the breath and exhale through the left. Continue the breath with the same constant rhythm/count in both nostrils and finishing by exhaling through the left. Eventually the goal is to reach a ratio of 1 (inhale):4 (retention):2 (exhale).

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga

Recently I saw the opera Othello in the beautiful Plaza de España and I felt inspired to write the following concerning the difference between love and fear. I have seen opera once before in my life and this was the confirmation that I am not the opera type. It was good. By all means the acting and voices were amazing but my bum was numb after the first act, my leg started to twitch in the second and I was reminded again why I am such a bad movie date. But I digress.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

I am currently living the philosophy (among others) that there are two motivating factors in life: Love and Fear. Everything else is just a shade and coloring of these two.

The question I now ask myself every day and with every decision I make, is which of these are driving my life decisions and actions. To help with this, it is important to know the difference between love and possession. Often times the two get confused thanks to a cultural education that paints obsessive and co-dependent relations as the idealized definition of love.

For example, Othello, a great and admired warrior and captain, lost it all because he allowed it to be planted into his head that Desmonde, his beloved and new wife, had a pre-wedding fling with his right hand man Cassidy. Jealousy consumed and eventually killed him and his innocent wife. It goes without saying that this whole story reeks of issues of domestic violence and abuse, but again, what is abuse but the lack of love? Othello confused his love for Desmonde with possession.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

If he had truly loved her as a human being and not some entity to be possessed, than the jealousy never would have taken root, for jealousy is just the fear of losing someone or something to another.

Love is never lost and therefore can never be jealous.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - GoodyogaI would venture to say that the desire to possess another is rooted in the fear of being alone. This is why so many unhealthy relationships continue on without ending or resolving. There is a fear of being alone of losing the other to another and this fear attracts more of the same fear. The result is a combination of repulsion and attraction and a relationship that appears to be somewhat scizophrenic. It is a vicious cycle that repeats itself again and again because energy moves in a circle and is never linear. The circular movement of energy is basic physics (and I am no Einstein…but this I understand). Sooner or later it comes back to the one sending it out.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

The ideal of love might be what drives people to seek out relationships but often it is the emotion of fear that controls the dance. It can be fear that begins the relationship (fear of being alone) and it can be fear that terminates a relationship. For example, when a disagreement or miscommunication arises and ends a relationship. This often happens simply because somewhere in the midst of that argument the possession of some form of identity is being threatened and becomes more important than love and connection.

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Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyogai.e….¨Oh it hurt your feelings that I didn´t call you when you returned home from two months abroad? Well…that is just the way I am. I like my space.´

´Just the way I am´ is a cop out for identifying with and possessing a particular behavior, and refusing to analyze it objectively when confronted about it´s negative effects. That fear kills the opportunity to heal and communicate. (In the same breath, the one hearing this reply is somehow sending out the energy required to recieve it…but that is a different post)

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

Biologically, fear is destructive because it creates tunnel vision whereas love allows for a universal perspective. There is a reason why Yogic Philosophy discusses cultivating a sense of universal love and calm amidst apparent stressful and hateful situations. It is the emotion of love that creates the calm corporeal reactions necessary for a much wider and all inclusive view. A wider view equates to more information and greater understanding. This greater understanding often dispels fear increases love and encourages one to understand and connect more rather than withdraw or fight, which of course, in that desire for connection and communication, increases even more the experience of love.

Do you see how that feedback loop works?

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - GoodyogaFear creates more fear by biologically creating less vision and perspective. This then limits our ability to choose. Limiting options creates more fear as we see our escape options dwindling.

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Love is the opposite. Biologically when love is felt, the ability to take in more information increases. Increasing perspective allows one to see situations and relations from many different perspectives. Multiple perspectives increase ones choice and control over any given situation.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

We have a choice. We can choose positive feedback loops or negative ones.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

How do we know when we are falling into a negative vs. positive feedback loop?

It is really quite simple, check your vitals. Do you feel calm and content or do you feel anxious and distracted?  Scan your body. Your body is always speaking to you and helping you to understand where you are emotionally so you can take action to further the emotion or neutralize it. Your emotions are not you, but they are communicating to you via breath, heartbeat and muscle tone.

This is what Yoga teaches.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

Be the observer so that you can control the observed.

Every pose is a mini laboratory helping us to notice the sensations of fear and the sensations of love. All of this is done by observing alignment of the bone, the tone of the muscle and the rhythm of the breath. As we progress in our practice those skills of observation can be taken off the mat and into real life.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

Applied in real life we can take what we learn on the mat and notice how something as simple as correcting your posture in a meeting makes you feel more awake and maybe even more confident. In an argument you start to notice a clenched jaw and by the mere release of it, you find yourself relaxing into the argument and finding a solution rather than leaning into it with two upraised fists ready to defend an identity that is nothing more than a bunch of fleeting experiences and social conditioning. Noticing your breath as you stand up to speak or perform in front of others helps you to bring it under control and dissipate the fear that otherwise might twist your tongue and cause your words to stutter over each other.

Love is not such a difficult concept to grasp and is even less difficult to feel. Love is universal and always there waiting for us to stop, breathe and observe its existence. She is the most beautiful creature in the universe that is never possessed but always exists in you, in me and every being. Her universal existence and the observation of it leaves no room for fear and its fellow colors of possession and jealousy.

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

Yoga helps us to feel and to understand exactly which of these two concepts are driving our behaviors and it isn´t so hard to know. It just takes a moment, a breath, a simple space of observation to know which emotion is taking control. With that same moment, that same breath and space of observation we are then able to choose the current and end result (remember that feedback loop).

Love, fear, feedback loops and Yoga - Goodyoga

I decide. You decide. We each decide with each observed breath which experience we want coming back to us- Love or Fear.

OM

 

The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth

The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - GoodyogaIn meditation today I was reminded of the Yoga of gratitude and growth. I had such a wonderful sweet and deep experience of gratitude I felt the need to share it with all those whom I have had the privilege to connect with in my life. I will never be able to codify all of the knowledge and wisdom I learned in India, but I can say that the experience has changed my life.

My time in India has changed my perspective, changed the way I move, the way I sit the way I breathe and even more incredible, how I think and how those thoughts affect the way I feel.

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Every morning, as I sit in meditation, I still feel the The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - Goodyogapresence of my teacher walking past. With this memory present, automatically I feel my spine lengthen and my breath deepen. I feel both the apana and prana striking and connecting. As I go into my asana practice I feel his eyes, with one eyebrow cocked, critiquing my laziness and bringing me back into the present and into the awareness of the pose.

The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - Goodyoga.
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One can never underestimate or over-value the worth of a good teacher. I feel so blessed and privileged to have had some very wonderful and incredible teachers in my life. Each one has helped to guide me along my path as I stumbled and fell over branches, rocks and my own two feet.

I am not the same person I was two months ago and I am certainly not the same person I was four years ago. Taking an even bigger jump back, I don´t even know who that scared, angry and uncertain girl was who packed up her backpack so many years ago, left her homeland and never looked back.

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Reviewing the past with impartial, non-judgemental awareness always provides 20/20 vision but I have learned that doing the same in the present also provides 20/20 vision. This realization has flipped my former worldviews on their head and removed yet another covering off the inner light that burns inside. Pantanjali speaks often about how the practice of Yoga removes the layers off the candle flame of the soul. I can now feel that flame.

The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - Goodyoga

I feel it spinning located just below my rib cage, lifting my chest, powering my breath and moving my feet. There is a sense of courage and fearlessness combined with a calm and relaxed awareness that I cannot ever remember feeling so clearly in my life.

As I let this gratitude wash over me, I felt again the deep truth that I had to lose myself to find myself. I have spent many years lost both physically and metaphysically. (I don´t know how I ever travelled without google maps!!)

.The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - Goodyoga

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Fortunately, there were sign posts and guides along the way to point me further up my evolutionary path. I certainly could not have done it alone.

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The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - GoodyogaThanks to teachers that came in the form of Yoga instructors, friends, enemies, lovers, books and travel I was moved along my evolutionary path towards the joy I always knew was supposed to be my existence.

I am still finding myself but with a sense of love and curiosity rather than one of urgency and uncertainty. I find myself speaking my truth more readily with less fear and more humor.

This switch in perspective changes everything. I know I could never have arrived to this little spot of Joy in one jump.

 There were many layers of conditioning and programing I had to face and peel away so that light within could finally shine.

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The process hurt, but I now know it hurt because of my own resistance to it. Whatever we resist truly does persist and in letting go of the resistance, (which as my teacher would say, ´is just the fear of death´…he loved to remind us of this) life can start to truly be lived.

The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - Goodyoga

So I want to say thanks to all of you who have cried, laughed and argued with me, loved me, danced with me, sweated with me (call out to all of my YogPeeth Yogis!!) and even belittled and hated me because without you I would not have kept moving and growing – and as my first teacher knows (my mom!) I am happiest when moving.

Deep love, gratitude love and respect to all.The Yoga of Gratitude and Growth - Goodyoga
Om.

Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes

Kriya = Removing Blockages

Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes - Goodyoga

Hatha Yoga is composed of more than just asanas (postures) although the correct practice of asanas is essential to Hatha Yoga, this is only part of the complete picture. In opening the body and removing both physical and energetic blocks located in corporeal form, asana practice acts as preparation for the practices of Kriya and Pranayama.

Kriya is a word that is used to include various practices that cleanse the body from the inside out so that one can breathe better, digest better and therefore think and exist better. There are many kinds and forms of Kriya but in this entry I am going to focus upon the basics that are appropriate for most all levels.

Please note: I do not want to discourage anyone from participating and enjoying the benefits of these practices, but please find a qualified instructor to guide you through it. The breath is a very powerful mechanism of transformation, but with this power comes great responsibility the possibility of personal harm and/or danger. If too much too soon is practiced than a danger of psychological disassociation, physical fainting or even stroke (if high blood pressure is an issue) could occur.

Breath Kriyas:

Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes - Goodyoga

There is a common misconception that all breathing exercises are forms of Pranayama. This misunderstanding is understandable as Prana is often translated into energy and energy is associated with breath. However, before reaching the level of Pranayama where one is able to truly feel and understand the movement of Prana throughout the body, breathing and non-breathing Kriyas that clean the respiratory and digestive tracts, should be performed and practiced.

Why is this cleaning necessary? Just visualize a pipe. If that that pipe is full of gunk it will be difficult to send air through it. However, if it is clean, than air is able to flow in and out with ease. Two of the great practices that allows this ease of air flow through the body is Asana (that supports and strengthens correct posture) and Kriyas (that clean out the air ducts of the body´s respiratory and digestive mechanism).

The following Kriyas work on the opening of the nasal passage way and the cleansing of the digestive tract so more energy (a TON of energy is dedicated towards digestion and elimination of substances from the body) can be dedicated toward maintaining correct posture and deep controlled breathing. Here is a list of the basics:

Kapal Bhati: Literally translated means ´shining skull´. It is also known as the breath of fire. This is a great practice for achieving clarity of thought and increasing heat within the body. The practice of Kapal Bhati involves an active and forceful exhale through the nose and a passive inhale through the nose. The abdominal muscles are involved and help to expel excess stagnant air so new air can enter. Keep the facial muscles relaxed. The key here is PASSIVE inhalation. Active inhalation is a different Kriya.

Bhastrika: This means ´Bellows Breath´. Like the bellows used to feed the fire of a silver smith, this breath also increases the fire within the mind and body and cleanses it of impurities. Both the exhale and inhale are active, deliberate and complete. It is different from hyperventilation since hyper ventilation involves shorter quicker breaths that are not complete and do not fill the torso cavity.

NOTE: After visiting an ayurvedic doctor I was informed that those who have a strong Pitta (fire) or Vata (air) constitution should limit their practice of both Kapal Bhati and Bhastrika as this can irritate these elements and create imbalance. On the other hand it can be very useful for Kapha types who find it hard to get moving.

Nodi Shoni: Without retention, Nadi Shoni is used to train for Pranayama and it is a way to balance both parts of the brain. If you observe your breath and close one nostril or the other, you will notice that it is easier to breathe through one or the other. Depending on the time of time we all have one side that is more dominant. The left nostril is associated with the right brain activity and the right nostril with the left brain activity. First thing in the morning and in cycles throughout the day there are times when we can breathe through both nostrils equally and therefore have equal access to the entire brain, not just one side or the other.Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes - Goodyoga

Practicing Nadi Shoni helps to extend that period of equilibrium between nostrils and the two halves of the brain. It is practiced by closing the right nostril, breathing in through the left, than closing the left and exhaling through the right than inhaling through the right and exhaling through the left. Continue the breath with the same constant rhythm/count in both nostrils and finishing by exhaling through the left.

Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes - GoodyogaUddiyana Bandha: Bandhas are difficult to explain and really need the guidance of a teacher. With Uddiyana Bhandha the practicioner exhales completely so then they activate the deep abdominal muscles suck everything up towards the rib cage from the pelvic floor. Hold for as long as is comfortable, than release. Great all digestive problems as well as increasing lung capacity.

Nauli: Nauli is an extension of Uddiyana Bandha. With Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes - Goodyogahands placed on the knees, either standing or sitting, one performs Uddiyana Bandha then by switching the body weight from one hand to the other, the abdominal wall is pushed out and the movement back and forth provides a massage to the internal organs. For this reason it is great also for digestive problems as well as menstruation issues, though it is not recommended to practice this or Uddiyana during menstruation. I leave that decision to each woman to decide according to her own intuition.

Non Breathing Kriyas:

Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes - Goodyoga

Jala Neti: This Kriya involves using a solution of salt water (consistency of a human tear) and then using a neti pot, pouring it through one nostril and letting it drip out the other. Excess mucus is then removed.

Sutra Neti: This is also known as the gold thread and involved threading either a small rubber string or thread through the nasal passage and then pulling it out via the throat. It is complicated and again, really should be done with supervision.

Kriya: Cleaning the Pipes - Goodyoga

Both the Sutra Neti and the Jala Neti should be done before breathing Kriyas and/or Pranayama as they both work to clean the upper respiratory tract. They also help to increase the sense of smell and taste as well as sensitivity to temperature and pressure changes. They both help with sinus problems, relaxation and increased awareness by increasing the balance and intake of breath through both nostrils.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - GoodyogaThe first time I met her, I didn’t like Mimi. I was deep in a conversation with another yogini in training when she decided to give us her perspective on things by introducing Jesus into the mix. I instantly put my guard up and thought, ´Oh no…not another holy rolling Jesus freak from the bible belt´. It didn´t help that I knew she was from Atlanta, Georgia.

So I avoided Mimi for the first couple days of training despite the big grin she always offered me and others. I was hesitant to accept her help in a pose I was practicing, but she just exuded her positive energy and taught me with such clarity and patience, I felt my guard dropping. It helped that there was no mention of Jesus, Mary or the Holy Ghost.Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

I was then informed by my good Portuguese friend, in her very Posh Buckinghamshire accent that,

´Daaaaarling, you simply MUST speak with Mimi. She has a veeeeery interesting story´

 Somehow anything said in a posh English accent gives anyone a certain level of credibility, so I searched Mimi out at the next meal.

Before I go on, I should give a bit of background about why I went to speak to Mimi, and why my friend recommended that I do. Ever since leaving Meriden Kansas and all those demons associated with it, I have to say that I have had some really great adventures and some really terrible tragedies. Those heartaches have mainly been attributed to those demons that have continued to follow me from one continent to another. They are nasty bedfellows and for years I have been struggling with how to let go of the anger, the betrayal, the disappointment and self-blame associated with them. Yoga has been of great help, and literally, probably saved my life, but I could tell, I needed more. I needed more teachers on and off the mat to help me continue my healing.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

So in steps Mimi. Mimi is a tall strong black woman with a Nigerian father and African-American mother. She walks with a sure step and even at the age of 43 rolls back and forth out of back bends like a monkey swinging through trees. As mentioned, she is all smiles and when she looks at you, she looks you straight in the eye. She is a force to be reckoned with and as she told her tale, I saw this woman transformed from tall into giant.

I searched Mimi out at dinner time and told her frankly that I wanted to know her story. I had it on good authority that it would be an interesting one. She laughed and then started with the line, ´Well, I have 26 brothers and sisters…´.

And that is how the story started….

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

My jaw dropped.

She proceeded to inform me, with that big grin on her face, that she was raised in a polygamous household in a kind of hippie compound. She was homeschooled from an early age and entered public school around 2nd grade. At age 16 she left home to go out on her own and start university.

Did I mention she also has 2 PhD´s?

She informed me that life with 26 siblings was great. There were always adventures and things to see and do. She was raised in New Mexico on a farm with the stars and the cacti and always had someone around with whom she could play…but although clearly dysfunctional to the outside observer, to her young mind, this family arrangement was normal. At the time she didn´t know how peculiar her family arrangement was because she didn´t live in an adult paradigm and this social agreement was the only reality that she knew.

I understood that sentiment and identified with it on a very deep visceral level.

Only later on, after entering the ´real world´ did she start to observe and use the description of dysfunction.  She explained why it was so dysfunctional, mainly pinned the responsibility upon her father. Her father was very seductive but lacking in integrity and was not truthful with her mother and took on other ´wives ´without her mother´s permission. Eventually, due to his constant betrayal, Mimi´s mother left him, Mimi and her siblings…at the airport, when she was 11 years old.  Mimi would follow suit  at age 16 after her father  had entered her room and began to sexually abuse her – only a few days after she had confided in him of getting pregnant following a rape on her college campus.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - GoodyogaThankfully, at that point in her life, Mimi had enough awareness about her to jump out of bed and start kicking the shit out of him…

I looked at Mimi and just shook my head, how, I asked, could she still be so happy and positive with all of that shit in her past? How did she let that anger, that betrayal go? I wanted, I needed to know. I had to know her secret so that I too might be able to dump off my own backpack of rocks and sand.

She got very serious and informed me that first, yes indeed, she had to get that anger out of her system. Then she tilted back her head, lifted up her hand did a little twirl with it and laughed as he told me she was a topless dancer for a while, an actress, a pharmaceutical manager, and a band manager….amongst other things. During all of this, it was anger that fueled her movement. She was angry with the injustice of the world, especially that of men. She did not trust vunerablity at all and she rode that anger like a stallion through two abortions, two marriages (one ex-husband was a Hare Krishna) and finally, it was when she had a partial hysterectomy at age 39, something in her flipped on a light switch and forced her to re-analyze her life and what was going on inside.

I looked at Mimi expectantly. Wide eyed and eager to hear more I asked her again, How the hell, with all of that in her past, how was she so happy now?

She paused. Let out another laugh and she told me about a night that she and her siblings had somehow snuck in a late night viewing of HBO without her parents´ knowledge. I laughed. I knew all too well that scenario. We never had cable, but even watching x-files or the outerlimits on late night tv was a secret that my siblings and I shared when our parents were away.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

In this episode of Faces of Death, she remembers seeing the face of a monkey, and then as the camera panned out, the head of the monkey. The camera panned out further and she saw the head of the monkey in the center of a large, round table with the rest of its body trapped underneath. The monkey was alive. It was trapped with its head above and it´s body below a fancy dining table in a fancy restaurant in Morocco. The camera panned out further to show the monkey and table surrounded by elegantly dressed diners eager for their feast, ready and waiting with their forks and knives. The waiter stood nearby, whacked the monkey on the head with a mallet to daze it, and then with great precision using a small brain saw, he opened the skull cap of the monkey. Still alive and brains exposed, the diners dug into the delicacy of live monkey brain.

I gasped and felt an instant reaction of disgust and horror…Mimi laughed…but then grew serious.

She asked, ´Do you know how they catch these monkeys for these kinds of elegant dining affairs?´

I shook my head, a little nervous to know more.

All of a sudden, the paneer I was having for dinner wasn´t as tasty as before.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - GoodyogaShe explained that to catch these monkeys these ´hunters´ would fashion a wooden crate with one small slit, just wide enough for a monkey´s hand to stick through flat, and then fill it with bananas. These monkeys would see the bananas and unwittingly stick their hand in to grab one. Once in, it was impossible to pull it´s hand back out while still holding onto the banana…and the monkeys that were caught and had their brains served as delicacies in these restaurants were the ones that refused to let go of the banana.

Mimi leaned in, looked me straight in the eye and pointed her finger to the sky and stated slowly and deliberately, ´I realized that I needed to let go of the fucking banana´.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

Mic drop!

She went on, ´All of the shit that happened to me, all of the attachment to my anger, was letting these bastards eat my brains. I mean, the feminine reproductive aspect of my body had already been removed…it was just a matter of time before it went to something else. I realized I had to let the banana go.´

I leaned back, crossed my arms and stared in silence at Mimi. I pondered my own life. My own anger and how it was affecting my own mental and physical health. The anger towards a religious institution that created abusive environments and a patriarchal system that continued to relegate women and men to specific and destructive roles. The anger I had towards members of my family and their ignorance of how cruel and harmful their behavior and actions were. Anger towards those whom I saw preying upon the weak and taking advantage of those pure in heart. I pondered how that anger, years ago, had turned into anger towards myself. Anger at my inability to remedy the situation, my helplessness to fix the injustice around me. That anger later resulted in my own knee surgery, major semi-suicidal depression, consequential divorce and a few other unwise decisions and physical discomforts.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

I needed to let the proverbial banana go.

I was identified with my anger though I went on calling it something else because I didn´t think I was still angry. I could explain in a very rational manner everything that had happened to me and my family and how environment influenced the behavior of one and another and that really, who was to blame but generations of religious fanaticism and addiction? Who could be blamed for being tugged along on the generational freight trains of our ancestors and their own issues of abuse, betrayal and tyranny?

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - GoodyogaI got it. From a logical standpoint, we are products of our environment, but something in me screamed against the injustice of letting murderers, child molesters and rapists off the hook because of something that happened in their own past. I was a born warrior, defender of the people, protector of the realm. I was a justice fighting machine. Like Batman, only with vagina and logic and statistics were my weapons of choice. That was my identity. That was my attachment.

It was also this same attachment that was making me sick. I was so identified with the anger I had lost the perspective for why I was expending energy in the first place. My true motivation for everything I have ever done is Joy. I wanted Joy. I wanted joy for myself and for the world around me-but putting out more angry energy was only giving me back what I was offering…which was anger, not Joy.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

Pantajali (1:33) warns against being so caught up in the Chitta (the mind stuff) of various emotions that we can lose ourselves in the feedback loop of that emotion.

Maitreekarunamuditopekshanan sukhaduhkhapunyapunyavishayanan bhavanatash Chittaprasadanam

Friendship, mercy, gladness, indifference being thought of in regard to subjects, happy, unhappy, good and evil respectively, pacify the Chitta (mindstuff).

My banana, the Chitta, was anger. That anger came with many titles: ex-wife, ex-mormon, ex-pat, feminazi, hippie, anti-capitalist, semi-anarchist etc….

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - GoodyogaWhatever label you wanted to give it, the energy behind it, was the same. Yes, I was and still am angry. I am angry that so many women and children are abused and their bodies are treated as nothing more than dresses to be worn and thrown away. I am angry that blacks in America are shot for no reason other than the color of their skin. I am angry at the ignorance this capitalist system breeds by turning human beings into machines of consumption and objects to be consumed rather than beings of consciousness. I am angry at religion for perpetuating this cycle of ignorance with fear and disdain for debate and intelligence.

 

That anger and negative energy might be there…but it isn´t me and it is my choice if I allow myself to control it or it controls me.

 The age old adage of you get what you give follows the simple law of physics that for every action there is an equal or greater reaction…and trying to improve the world around me by fueling my movement with anger was and is totally illogical and counterproductive.

According to the basic law of physics, if my Chitta (mind stuff) is rooted in anger, then it is simply goes against universal law to receive or expect anything else but the same energy in return.

So, we can only change the world around us for better or worse by first being aware of the fuel that is driving each of us.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

That is the power of Yoga.

Finding that silence within is the first step to calming the Chitta (the mind stuff). With a quiet mind, the felt-sense of Joy and hope can be accessed, and this is a far greater power source than anger or hate as the energy behind Joy and hope makes moving forward and living a pleasure.

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

I will end this entry with an verse from the Pantajali Sutra 2:5:

Anityashuchiduhkhanatmasu nityashuchisukhatmakhyatiravidya.

Ignorance is taking that which is non-eternal, impure, painful, and non-Self, for the eternal, pure, happy, Atman (Self).

Drop the Banana: Mimi´s Quickening - Goodyoga

May you all know your REAL nature and feel beyond the conditioned emotion and into LOVE and JOY.

OM

What is Yoga? Why practice?

What is Yoga? Why practice? - GoodyogaWhat is Yoga? Why practice? As a Yoga teacher and a recovering academic, I think it is important to define what I think Yoga is and how I see it as a a more effective path to joy and happiness than any pill or any other passing phase or distraction. Yoga has many different definitions and countless texts with thousands, probably millions of interpretations. I am going to draw upon the classical text the Bhagavadgita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the sutras of Pantjali to elaborate on what I view Yoga to be and how it applies to psychology and our life.

 

Officially Yoga means to Yoke which is why in the Bhagavadgita Yoga is
defined as the

union of the individual atma (soul) with Paramatma (universal self)

What is Yoga? Why practice? - GoodyogaThere is also lots of room for discussion here about uniting feminine and masculine energies as well as the term Hatha, which split apart means, Sun and Moon. So you could almost call Hatha Yoga, SunMoon Yoga. But as mentioned, I am a recovering academic and these aforementioned definitions are not what made me fall in love with Yoga.

What I love about Yoga is that at its core it is a philosophical science in that not only is it theory about how to live a happy and fulfilling life,  it is a theory that that demands observation and experimentation. It is defined as ´philosophy in action´, in practicing it one is promised:

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

clear discernment that will free one from feeling forced into action

In other words, a consistent practice of Yoga offers the practitioner to be a voluntary participant in life rather than a passive participant simply reacting to circumstances.

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

 


Being able to choose ones life choices is essential to happiness. This is shown with the strong correlation between measurements of Locus of Control (LOC) and levels of depression. As mentioned here, Locus of Control is basically defined as how much control one PERCEIVES they have in their life. People who score high on Internal Locus of Control and low on LOC tend to have a more positive outlook on life and are at lower risk for depression whereas those who score low Internal on the Locus of Control scale and high on the external LOC are at risk or may already be experiencing depression.

All kinds of circumstances can affect ones LOC and include things like economics, family circumstances, traumas, job situation…but the root cause is always perception, and that perception comes from thought and thoughts can come from either the pre-frontal cortex or the limbic system/brain stem aka the lower brain. If the thought is coming from the lower brain than reason is not in control and levels of well-being tend to be low.

 

 

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In fact, brain scans have shown that people who suffer from depression tend less active pre-frontal cortex than those who don´t, and less activity means less blood flow which means an eventual desinigration of the affected area.

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

This means that the person suffering from depression is not using the most amazing tool evolution has given us, the cortex, and without using it, they begin to quite literally, lose it. The cortex allows us to see things from a universal perspective and use reason and logic to react accordingly. The lower brain is composed of automatic responses that are essentially learned…either in our past or from the past of our ancestors, and many times, those reactions are outdated or not appropriate to the situation.

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

So when the lower brain is in control our mind is busy busy busy creating interpretations and reactions based upon past experiences to the physical sensations we receive via our 5 senses. This is fine, but if it isn´t checked by the logic and reason of the pre-frontal cortex, than irrational behavior can ensue and symptoms often associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can manifest. This is because, very simply put,  the direction of information and interpretation between the lower brain and cortex move in opposite directions.

Pre-frontal cortex What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga Body      vs.     Body What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga Lower Brain

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga Depending who is in control it will either be the instinctual animal brain dictating behavior or the logical cortex directing action. For example, a soldier on the fourth of July, instead of celebrating her return home with family and friends, she may hide out in a dark and quiet basement to avoid being triggered (by loud booming fireworks) and sent back to the past, to the battlefield and the horrors she saw. Another, less extreme and more common example of the animal mind taking control, might be someone who refuses a date with someone they are really interested in because they are afraid of being hurt or disappointed all over again.
There is a lack of logic here and consequently a loss of quality of life. The soldier will spend the evening away from the healing social ties she so desperately needs to recover, and the broken hearted person will continue to maintain their solitude and lose the chance to spend a great evening, and maybe many more, with someone who might actually offer them great support and friendship.

From the outside, the soldier and the broken heart might claim that they have made the decision to isolate themselves and therefore are in control of their life. But are they really? If fear is controlling the decision, than I would say they are not. Whether it be possible gun to the head or a possible bad date, the decision is based upon the possibility of a negative outcome and the fear of it.What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

So there are two things happening here: Negative thoughts and fear of what will be. I would call these negative and unsubstantiated thoughts, ´mind stuff´ and we all know what that is. ´Mind stuff´ are the bothersome worries and fruitless fantasies that take our imagination everywhere but our being, nowhere…and can you guess which one comes first?

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

If you answered thought…you are correct! Once the body registers that the mind has decided that there is a threat to be avoided, chemicals and muscles patterns are released and action or no-action takes place.

This is why in the Patanjali Sutras it is stated that Yoga is the

´cessation of mind stuff (chitta)´

Once the cessation of ´mind stuff´, or quieting of lower brain is accomplished than there is space and silence for the pre-frontal cortex to take over and offer an objective, logical and reasonable course of action.

WARNING: Do not confuse a quiet and apparently logical mind with dissociation. A quiet and logical Yogi mind is very aware of bodily sensations but does not let them control them, the disassociated individual lives a life of dulled physical and therefore, emotional senses.

This is also why Yoga is a science and not a religion. There is no unwavering faith being asked for in the traditional Hatha Yoga texts. There is constant reference to practicing and experiencing the results of Yoga. Intuited intellect and reason are held up as the highest goal and it is stated in the Bhagavadgita that:

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

´only through the subtle and purified intellect´´ can ´sensuous joy´ be experienced.

Asking the practitioner to experience for themselves the changes Yoga has to offer, the scenerio presented by Milgram and his experiments on obedience and it´s correlation to the horrors of Nazi Germany, is avoided.


By experimentation and observation of the self, the practitioner is empowered to observe and make changes accordingly. The world is full of false gurus who like any other religious leader would seek out followers to follow them in blind faith. Nonetheless, if blind faith is asked, I would argue that they are not practicing Yoga because Yoga at it´s very root calls for experimentation, observation and exercises of reason.

Therefore, the entire science of Yoga is built around helping the individual take control of the lower brain…the limbic and reptilian parts…so that the pre-frontal cortex can be in the driver´s seat and allow the individual to live in the present moment and make decisions based upon a universal, objective perspective rather than an emotional or fearful one.

 

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

In moving brain activity to the pre-frontal cortex, brain damage and unhappiness correlated with depression/anxiety/PTSD etc…can be healed and prevented as internal levels of Locus of Control are increased via breath/digestive practices (Pranayama/Kriyas), corporeal movement (asana) and positive affirmations (I would put mantras into this category as well as Yoga sutras…). All of these practices remove past stress stored in the body/mind complex, strengthen the will and prepare the mind/body for meditation, which is where all that ´mind stuff´ quiets, leaving room for the ´sensuous joy´ of life to be experienced.

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

Now with Yoga defined, I will be writing more about  how each of the practices of Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (breathwork), Kriya (cleansing practices) and Mantras (Vibration) tie into modern day psychology, new discoveries in neuroscience and the science of Yoga, or what I might call, the science of bliss.

What is Yoga? Why practice? - Goodyoga

OM

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the body Part Two

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyoga

As discussed in the previous post Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1  the prevalence of sexual abuse is massive and historically, as seen in literature and artwork, such abuse is nothing new. Nonetheless prevalence of an action doesn´t always make it less traumatic, even if it appears to be socially accepted. As Freud pointed out, it appears to be the ´passivity´ (being acted upon rather than being the actor) of the sexual act that creates the trauma, which follows perfectly the laws of evolution. When an animal is put into an undesired situation, they have the option of fight, flight or freeze. If fight/flight are viewed not as an option, the animal will go into freeze, become immobile and if the symptoms aren´t resolved quickly, than crippling helplessness can ensue.

Animals in the wild, when coming out of this freeze mode will literally shakeBreaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyoga and tremble and use their breath to release the ´frozen´ fight/flight energies. A video of this release can be seen hereAs human beings, thanks to our pre-frontal cortex and social programming, we do not move into this mode automatically. Consequently, this stuck energy, like a corrupted computer program, repeats itself again and again while it remains within the tissue of the body and the programming of cells and neurotransmitters. The results are all kinds of symptoms like:

´Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event, Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event, Inability to experience positive emotions, Feeling emotionally numb, Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, Memory problems, Difficulty maintaining close relationships, Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior, Always being on guard for danger, Overwhelming guilt or shame, Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast, Trouble concentrating, Trouble sleeping, Being easily startled or frightened…´

….all of which fall under the umbrella category of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If the freeze mode goes on long enough, eventually this can lead to another state of a being called helplessness.

Helplessness, as observed by Seligman who built upon the theories of Pavlov, stops a creature from taking action to change painful or harmful circumstances because they have learned that their actions are futile. This work on helplessness underlies much of the cognitive behavior and positive psychology movement and is closely linked to the measurement of Locus of Control and levels of depression.

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyoga

In my opinion, CBT and the concepts and practices around positive psychology are effective and scientifically sound, IF the individual is not stuck in one of the evolutionary functions of fight/flight or freeze (or submit=helplessness).  If the latter is the case, no amount of positive affirmations or journal writing will help a person overcome their symptoms of PTSD, especially complex trauma symptoms that are indicative of sexual abuse. This is because these approaches only address mental patterns located in the pre-frontal cortex and ignore the unconscious corporeal patterns and reactions that are programed into the more primitive parts of the limbic brain and brain stem.

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - GoodyogaDue to the location of these corporeal programs, which are located outside the range of logical thinking patterns, the body must be incorporated into the therapy. The wisdom of the body must be used to ´un-freeze´ the fight/flight/freeze pattern the patient utilized at some point in their life as an instinctual and effective defensive mechanism.

I believe that this is not a new realization, but lost knowledge. In the practice of Yoga and it´s precursor, Tantra, the body is very much integrated into the more mental aspects of conscious awareness and observance. Thanks to the work and research of Peter Levine these same principals have been developed into Somatic Experience, an effective somatic therapeutic approach using the ancient wisdom of the body to release and integrate the experience of trauma.

Defining Somatic Experience and avoiding catharsis in resolving trauma:

Somatic Experience is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Peter Levine that that uses the body as its base for identifying and releasing trauma trapped within the psyche. Through conscious bodily awareness, with the guidance of a trained therapist, the client begins to identify unfulfilled fight or flight responses that remain stuck within the body and brain (which are really one in the same). Via body awareness and gentle ´titulation´ which is psycho-babble for slow and progressive arousal, the client is able to release blocked fight/flight responses via tears, movement and visceral trembling (just to name a few of the symptoms of trauma release I saw in my training).Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyoga

Clients are always brought back to ´safety´ and taught self-regulation so that they understand that their body is their ally, not their enemy. In stark contrast to some other traumatic release approaches, catharsis is avoided. In SE it is taught that catharsis is indicative of a mind/body disassociation and does little to integrate the traumatic experience into the present. Furthermore, from a neuroscience stand point, due to the high arousal paired with the negative memory, catharsis may actually ´re-traumatize´ the individual and further strengthen the pathways between neurons that are wired for traumatized behavior and triggers.

Somatic Experience, Tantra, Yoga and resolving Sexual Abuse:


In my training I have seen the SE approach effectively discharge trauma in the body.
Levine also has various case studies supporting the claim that SE is an effective therapy for relieving and releasing the fight/flight response that was inhibited during childhood sexual abuse. As I pondered more and more the connection between Yoga and SEI couldn´t help but also make the connections between the sexual concepts and practices taught in Tantra and the basic concepts of SE. As stated here, I am no Tantra expert, but due to all my studying into Yoga and psychology I have touched upon various practices and concepts associated with Tantra and stories of it being able to heal the wounds of sexual abuse.

The art of OMing

One of these healing Tantra practices I found in the book Slow Sex by Nicole Daedone. In her book Daedone Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyogadoes an EXCELLENT job describing the female psycho/social/sexual world and introduces a specific Tibeten Tantra technique taught to her via a monk. She states that at first, she felt nothing. She had become so desensitized to the sensations of her body and vagina, and addicted to pressure, that despite total focus and gentle stimulation upon the clitoris, she felt almost nothing during the first practice. Nonetheless, over time this changed and slowly, she discusses how this conscious practice healed her wounds and helped her find a new energy and power inherent to human sexuality, especially female sexuality. In Yoga they might call this an awakening of Kundalini. In China they would call it Chi, whatever the label, it would be recognized as released and realized sexual energy. In her videos and books Daedone cites other cases of women and men who have had similar healing experiences and is now dedicated to teaching this technique, she has titled OM (orgasmic meditation), all over the world.

Pondering Daedone´s book in light of the SE training I understand how this practice from a scientific and evolutionary perspective could be so healing. There is first, a safe space that is held and provided by an intimate partner. This safety is punctuated by the fact that the partner keeps his/or her clothes on during the practice. For fifteen minutes the woman is asked to just allow herself to be and to feel. There is no pressure to perform or please the other. She is there only to receive and communicate her needs accordingly. The touch is gentle and subtle and penetration and orgasm are not part of the practice (though orgasm may happen, it is not the goal)

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - GoodyogaLooking at how trauma is treated using SE, this Tantra practice of OM´ing as taught by Daedone, follows the same principals. Catharsis (in the form of orgasm) is not pursued and the OM´ing act is based 100% around increasing both partners awareness of bodily sensations and acceptance of those sensations. They may be pleasurable or they may not be. Like in SE, practitioners of OM have testified to body temperature changes, flashes of memory/images, a need to move various parts of the body and a sense of peace and release at the end of the practice. There is a charge and discharge of sexual energy that is slow and gentle, not rough and quick (like expressed via many a porn site). Furthermore, encouragement to communicate and guide the practice, with affirmative responses, I would argue helps the practitioner to regain a sense of control and autonomy which was lost as the ´passive´participant in the trauma of sexual abuse. This empowerment is also core to SE as the therapist is very sensitive to following the rhythm and desires of the client, without forcing movements or their own concepts or interpretations upon them.  In both approaches, passive victimization and mind/body disconnection is replaced with empowered speech and confident corporeal connection. As a plus, penetrative sex also becomes more enjoyable, which is not at all surprising if trauma blocked sensation to the genitals or caused pain or discomfort.

The healing art of consciously Making Love:

The second book concerning Tantra practices I will reference is Making Love by Barry LBreaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyogaong. Long takes a different approach and limits stimulation to the act of penetration while focusing upon and engaging the five senses to increase and be fully involved in the act of love making. Like OMing, Long states that there must be a specific time and place set aside for love making.  During the act of making love, an on-going dialogue is required between partners as well as open eyes and eye contact. Long argues that this eye contact keeps both parties in the present with each other rather then going off into some other thought or fantasy. Furthermore, it is the woman who guides the rhythm of penetration and the man who accepts the invitation.

Long discusses at length the trauma the female sex has received due to the selfishness and misinformation taught to men concerning female sexuality. He states that the lack of education and communication creates neurosis in women (ie. Hysteria) and impotence and sexual dissatisfaction among men. It is via the slow and conscious practice of love making, Long proposes that these neurosis are dissolved and both female and male sexuality fulfilled.

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - GoodyogaThough different in technique, both Daedone and Long approach sex from a similar basis. The act is conscious, it involves an on-going dialogue of what is being felt and what is needed and in doing so, both participants remain present in the sensations of the moment. Fantasies are prohibited and orgasm is an afterthought, not the goal. Social connection via eye contact and gentle touch is key as well increasing the both partners sense of control via open communication and affirmative responses.

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The basis of the Tantra practices presented by Long and Daedone are the same in Somatic Experience

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyoga

In SE patients are guided by their therapists into their bodily sensations. They are asked to keep describing what they feel via sensation description, not labels or interpretations. In other words, pre-frontal cortex fantasies that may have been developed to explain trauma, are discouraged. Like in the dialogue between partners in Tantra, the therapist works with the dialogue communicated via words and bodily markers to bring a client to a space where they can connect with their body and feel the charge of trauma and then gently release it. Catharsis, like orgasm in Tantra, is not the goal. Just like in Tantra,  pure simple present awareness held and supported in the safe social context of the therapists eye contact and resonance is what enables a client to keep from disassociating and moves them into gently releasing the trauma blocked within the body. As described above, this social connection and support via eye contact and communication is the same that is encouraged between partners in Tantra.

Evolution and Tantra and resolving Sexual Trauma

Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyoga

From the perspective of evolution both Tantra practices and SE makes perfect scientific sense. Eye contact and resonance activates the primal part of us that needs safe human connection. It is what releases oxytocin, the attachment hormone, which is responsible for creating bonds between child and parent, parent and partners. Focusing on body sensations and allowing those sensations to exist, and then release, without interpretation, is fundamental to healing trauma as it allows one to become acquainted with one’s body basic  survival reactions. This awareness gives the patient the ability to self-regulate arousal and release blocked flight/fight responses. In doing so, a sense of self-mastery is gained (pre-frontal cortex activation here) and the debilitating perception of helplessness is replaced with a sense of mastery and even pleasure.

 

In this light and brief synopsis of Somatic Experience and the bit of knowledge I have of Tantric practices, I would argue that the 2% of Tantra that discusses sexual practices, was developed as an ancient answer to an ancient problem. Trauma has always existed and if sexual trauma is so prolific in our day and age of women´s rights as pointed out in my former entry here, imagine the statistics 1000, 2000 or 3000 years ago. It appears that the root to resolving trauma, specifically sexual trauma, is in increasing body awareness, especially around the genital area, while creating safe spaces and assuring a kind and gentle social connection via eye contact, verbal communication and touch. In this way, whether sitting in a chair in a therapists office or in the arms of ones partner, the traumatized individual is taken into and gently out of points of arousal. This gentle, pendulating and titulating between charge and discharge of blocked flight/flight responses is what eventually opens energy blocks and thaws out frozen responses thereby dissolving numbness and debilitating helplessness and its accompanying neurosis.Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the Body P2 - Goodyoga

 

 

Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1

Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy Part 1

Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - Goodyoga

Disclaimer:

In the first part of this entry I am going to give a brief historical and updated overview of the prevalance of sexual abuse and it´s effects upon 1st to 4th generation descendents, mainly so readers can have an idea of just how prolific and destructive sexual abuse is both historically and presently. Awareness of the epidemic is the first key to solving it.

In the second part I mull over what I think about sex, sexuality, sexual abuse and the practices of Yoga, Somatic Experience and various techniques associated with Tantra. I will discuss various insights I have had concering the treatment of sexual abuse in the conext of Tantra and other somatic therapies. I am no expert in Tantra. However, I couldn´t help but make the connection between SE and the Tibeten Tantra practice proposed by Nichole Daedone in her book Slow Sex and Barry Long in his book, Making Love.

The prevalence of sexual abuse:

It breaks my heart to know that the level of childhood sexual abuse in the USA (not to mention other countries) is actually extremely high and statistics are not limited by class, race or nationality…it is however very gender specific. Some statistics state that 1 in every 3 female under the age of 18 is or has been sexually abused vs. 1 one in 20 males. Other statistics give a more ´optimistic´ view of 1 in every 5 females and 1 in 33 males…and these stats continue the trend into adulthood.Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - Goodyoga

When I first read this statistic I thought it was over exaggerated but as I went through a list in my head of friends and family whom I know have been sexually abused/assaulted or raped, my small sample size came pretty close to matching up with the statistics.

History, society and sexuality.

As someone who has worked with rape and child abuse survivors, I would agree with other experts on the subject, that child abuse is not a ´natural and healthy´ expression of ones sexuality. It is an abuse of power of an adult (or even another child/teenager) over another. I would argue that secrecy and traditional patriarchal views of human sexuality serve as the basis and justification that underlies the injustice and epidemic of childhood sexual abuse.

Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - GoodyogaI would define traditional patriarchal views as those views most often supported and preached from the pulpit of almost ALL religions, not just Judeo-Christian. Women are to be seen, not heard. Their part is to be a passive observer not an active participant. Incest, rape, sexual slavery, childhood rape (in the form of child brides) and sex trade (and yes, selling your daughter for a few head of cattle is definitely sex trade) are all practices that are discussed and often conclude with stoning, ostracizing, isolation or in the most merciful cases (I say this with deep and resenting sarcasm) the rapist marrying the woman he raped. In this context, a woman who owns her sexuality is seen as dangerous and manipulative and is labeled as a harlot…a Jezebel. There is a deep and disgusting complex of the whore vs. virgin mentality which puts women into two categories…sexual and sinful, or chaste and innocent.

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Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - GoodyogaWalk into any art museum and, historically speaking, you can see this perception lauded and manifested in the artwork of the day. I will not deny the craft and talent of the artist but that should not stop a dialogue concerning the abusive and patriarchal memes perpetuated via works like the Rape of Persephone and Apolo and Dafne crafted by Bernini. Bernini was a genius, but artists reflect the cultures and values of their day and Bernini took his amazing talent and felt inspired to create a scene of attempted assault (perhaps rape if Dafne hadn´t turned into a tree) and the kidnapping and rape of a young woman, who later on develops Stockholm syndrome.  Such depictions were lauded by the educated upper class AND religious society and to justify church funding, the women in these art works were explained to be representative of the dangeSociety, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - Goodyogar of chasing pleasure and the traps of sexuality.

I would be very interested to know if there exists artwork that represents a MAN as the one being pursued and raped by a woman and then having that scene justified by placing the man as the representation of sin and sensuality. Honestly, if any one knows of such a piece, please send it my way.

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Modern day realities, society and sexuality.

I would also make the assertion that these traditional patriarchal views are also still alive and well today in advertisement and Hollywood…and I would even go so far as to state that our modern day capitalist society encourages child abuse by making the lack of pubic hair (or any hair) and real curves unattractive, especially around the belly (and do NOT give me Beyonce as an example of a curvy woman…she is super fit and most women do not fit into her mold of beauty). Rape is glorified in all kinds of fashion photos and the disregard and abuse of the female body is blatantly made obvious in mainstream films, pornography and video games. These images are the modern day answer to the Rape of Persephone. Public school sexual education mentions little about mutual consent and consequently, society at large continues to puts the responsibility of avoiding rape directly in the hands of women…as seen in the recent case of Brock Allen Turner.

Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - GoodyogaLet´s be clear about one thing, rapists cause rape. To state that a man cannot control himself because of the way a woman is dressed or acts is to downplay a man´s, no wait, a HUMAN´s responsibility and ability to choose. These men are not apes void of a pre-frontal cortex or little boys whose self-control gauge of serotonin is still under cerebral development. Rapists are most often adults who have learned that their sexual urges and fantasies are more important than the mental and physical well-being of their victim. They must believe themselves to be superior, and may even consider that their actions have little to no consequence on the one being abused.

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And what are the consequences of a society full of this kind of mentality and activity?
Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - GoodyogaHistorically speaking, sexual abuse was categorized and observed by Frued as he started to treat the women of rich Venician families. He stated that the neurotic behavior he was witnessing was a result of ´passive sexual experience before puberty´and labeled it Hysteria. It is curious that later Frued changed his theory and replaced his former aetiology of sexual abuse with subconscious motives. Convenient how this change liberated the rich venetian male elite, many who were his fellow scholars and donors,  from any wrong doing. The emphasis of hysteria being a purely female disorder later changed with the advent of WWI. It got a new name, ´shell shock´ but the base was the same. A conflict between fight/flight/freeze responses under extreme stress or shock later created symptoms of ungovernable emotional excess.

Sadly, sexual abuse is never limited to just the victim who experienced the abuse directly. TraumaSociety, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - Goodyoga
never happens in a vacuum and as social creatures, our brain is programed to pick up cues from our fellow human beings of stressors and threats…even if it does not directly affect us. Psychologists call this vicarious conditioning. The was made clear after a study was completed interviewing the therapists treating patients directly affected by the September 11 attacks in New York. Despite never having PTSD symptoms before, from merely listening to the stories day in and day out of the terror of the 9/11 survivors, therapists developed similar symptoms to their patients. Peter Levine discusses vicarious conditioning in more length in his book An Unspoken Voice and even discusses how the neurobiological markers of trauma are passed on via genes in lab rats…up to four generations later on! In other words, Frueds symptoms of hysteria would not be limited to the one venetian woman sitting in his consultation, but would bleed over into her family and pass it via environment AND genetics four generations on.

For example:

Let´s say Sally, 70 years ago, was abused by her father when she was 10 years old. Due to the social construct of life at that time, she was forced to stay silent about the trauma and only told her husband on the day of her wedding night, in tears, confessing that she wasn´t a virgin. From there, Sally has a daughter we will call Mary. Mary is born seeking love but, due to her abuse, Sally never really learned what proper parental love is and seeks validation of her existence via manipulating the actions of her daughter and husband. She is very jealous if her husband or daughter pay each other more attention than they do her. She uses guilt as a way to continue the manipulation and the daughter learns to walk on eggshells around Sally and hide when her mother is seeking to suck the love out of her.

One day Maria escapes this hostile and unhealthy environment the moment she meets a man whom she feels she can marry, unknowingly locking herself into yet another abusive relationship…which is not at all surprising. As humans, we seek out the familiar and this is why it is so hard to break free of destructive habits, even when we KNOW they are bad for us. There is also the reality that once a person has been victimized, they are twice as likely to be victimized again. It is like abusers can smell their potential prey. On a genetic level, using the theories presented by Levine and Kolk, the stress hormones released and neuronal patterns learned during Sally´s abuse were also passed onto Mary via DNA.

This DNA and behavior pattern is then of course is passed onto Maria´s daughter who may or may not be able to begin to break the cycle of abuse. It would be a hard thing to do if she too was raised in an abusive home by an abused mother. Her abuse meme might also be exacerbated by movies watched, books read, the abuse of fellow female friends and family/social creeds that constantly blame the victim and glorify violent aggression…then further exacerbated by romantic partners who seek out such victimized profiles, most often unconsciously, and follow the patriarchal social norms demonstrated in Hollywood films, media and pornography.

Can you understand how sexual abuse is almost never limited to one generation or one person and is easily perpetuated generation upon generation? So the question then is, how do we start to heal a trauma that goes so deep it is passed down generations? This is where the ancient wisdom of the body, as expressed via Tantra and Yoga as well as the more modern practices of Somatic Experience start to come into play…

Breaking the Cycle: Resovling Sexual Trauma Part 2

Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 - Goodyoga