The Yoga Place Blog

Raising Global Consciousness

How to turn the word NO into a positive

Our Intention at The Yoga Place is to look for the positive and good in life and encourage you to do the same.

Let me start this with a question. Which word sounds more positive and life affirming to you - YES or NO?

If someone asked me this question and I hadn't thought about it deeply or studied the principles of yoga I would go with YES. And even after thinking deeply and studying yoga philosophy, and more importantly actually practising yoga I would go with YES.

But with this choice of YES as more life affirming and positive I would make the qualification that an YES that was not preceded by a NO would potentially be less life affirming.

Why is this so?

How do we find out who we are? I suggest that we experiment either consciously or unconsciously. And the way we experiment is that we take action - we try out something. If we don't try something how will we ever "know" if it is something that is something that works for us or not?

So we try something and we get results or fruits from that action. Maybe we try it for a while to see if the results are consistent. At some point we make an assessment about whether it is something that works for us - is it something that fits who we are and makes life better or does it make life worse? If it is good we keep doing it (and hopefully give it up if it turns out negative down the track) and if it is negative we discard it. In the act of discarding it we are saying NO.

In yoga this process is called Neti-Neti. In translation it means "not this - not that". It implies that we discover who we are by finding out and discarding who we are not. This means saying NO but is a NO that is based on first saying YES and trying things out.

When we "kNOW" who we are by saying NO to who we are NOT we form a boundary that allows us to contain our energy and direct it, saying YES for who we are.

And if we don't learn to say NO we will find our energy dispersed in all directions, pulled by what ever either holds our attraction or we are fearful of in the moment.

The capacity to be fully open to all possibilities in the moment is the basis of creativity and is the primal YES of life and the source of all growth. In yoga we start each new posture by assuming this position of openness to all possibilities. This pause before you initiate action provides you with the opportunity to arrive where you already are - in the present moment. It allows you to accept where you are and relax into this reality. It allows you to connect to the pulse of your breath and feel the energy of your breath move your body from the inside. Finally it allows you to re-establish your Attitude and Intention in your practice.

From this position of intention you bring your awareness to your foundation and your focal point and engage integrative muscle energy. You contract your muscles from your periphery to the mid-lines of the posture and into your focal point. This connects all the different parts of your body and aligns then into a single unified point. It also creates an outer boundary to contain the energy of your breath. This is the essential NO that allows to focus your energy back outwards as a positive and aligned expression of your integrated inner self.

As your draw your energy and breath inwards from your periphery to your focal point, and hug into the mid-line of the posture, your muscles create spiral movements in your limbs which expand the back of your body. Your inhalation expands your body from the inside and the constraint your created, that defines your boundaries and connects to your centre, allows you to feel the energy of your breath as expansive inner support in the back of your body.

From this position of inner support and integration you engage outer spiral as you extend your energy and awareness organically from your focal point, back to your periphery and foundation. This movement from your focal point outwards is an act of Self expression, a way of saying Yes that expresses your intention from the inside out. It is an act of differentiation where each part of you gets the space to express its own individual uniqueness while remaining connected and integrated to the centre.

When the integrative supporting action of muscle energy, which moves inwards from your periphery to your core, is balanced with the outward moving, differentiating, self expressive organic energy, which flows from your core back to your periphery, the two opposing steams become one. This collapse of dualism and expansion into oneness is called asmita or samadhi and it is accompanied by a radical feeling of ananda, or bliss. This feeling of bliss and expansion is the same bliss and sense of expansion that you experience in true love when you collapse your individual ago boundary and merge it with another.

This is Yoga from the heart. This is action that is aligned and balanced to your own internal Nature and also aligned with the larger Nature of the Universe. It is the balance of action and the energy that supports that action - the balance of space/freedom and stability. At a purely mechanical level it is the balance of flexibility and strength. This is meditation in action. When the asana is practised with a heart based feeling we become one with this feeling. In Neuroscience the saying is that “what fires together wires together”. This is brain plasticity in action. By practising yoga with the 3 A’s of Attitude, Alignment and Action you can slowly transform your life for the positive.

YES and NO are really only two sides of the same single coin. This is the power of yoga to transcend dualism and opposites. This creates freedom and expansion. The opposites of SUCCESS and FAILURE are transcended by turning life into an EXPERIMENT that only has RESULTS. This is living at the edge of chaos - the transformation point between stasis and chaos or muscle energy/stability and organic energy/change. This is the point of maximum “fitness” in complex adaptive systems theory. The leading edge of science is finally catching up to yoga.

Divide and Conquer: How the Essence of Mindfulness Parallels the Nuts and Bolts of Science

If you have an hour to spare and want to learn how mindfulness meditation and yoga work from both a generic level and scientific basis then I highly recommend this talk given by Shinzen at Google earlier this year.

I am trained as a Chemical Engineer and have a natural affinity to the scientific method and the concepts of energy and transforming things. And this effects the way I see the world and teach yoga.

The key points that Shinzen brings up are.

  1. The skills that we learn in Yoga / mindfulness meditation are generic and Foundational - this means that they are skills that can be used in all areas of life and are key leverage skills.
  2. The three skills that Shinzen mentions that are built in meditation are concentration, clarity and equanimity
  3. Shinzen’s definition of concentration is the same as the definition of the state of yoga - it is the capacity to focus the mind exclusively on any object or subject and sustain this focus for as long as you like without getting distracted by anything. It is Shinzen’s experience that meditation can raise base line concentration - the level of concentration available in daily life - by 200% to 300% . With this level of increased baseline concentration it is possible to increase your life by 50 years. What he means by this is that the amount of extra stuff you will be able to get done with a 3 fold increase in base line concentration is the amount of stuff that would take you 50 years to achieve without the increase. Using the metaphor of a TV, concentration is the capacity to dial into a specific station/channel and stay there.
  4. Clarity is the capacity to see subtle detail. Staying with the television metaphor, think of how much more detail you can see on a wide screen TV with high definitional digital than on a 13 inch TV with normal reception. Clarity allows us to see the subtle relationships that exist between things in life and in our minds that are “invisible” with normal baseline clarity.
  5. Equanimity is the capacity to choose to remain un - reactive to what comes to us in life. Without mindfulness and clarity we mostly respond to life unconsciously without even realising this. As we get more skilful in meditation we gain the clarity to see and feel this normally unconscious process on a moment by moment basis. This gives us the choice to choose how we react. Life is lived with less internal and external resistance and conflict.
  6. How much time will you need to invest in practice to get these skills - Shinzen says 30 minutes every day with one 4 hour session each month. Not much for an extra 50 years!

Divide and Conquer: How the Essence of Mindfulness Parallels the Nuts and Bolts of Science

What are you taking for granted today that you would only realise that you really value if you lost it?

What are you taking for granted today that you would only realise that you really value if you lost it?

Anyone who has lost an important relationship, or part of their lives that gives them meaning. knows the effect can be devastating.

Why is it that we often don’t appreciate how important something is to us until we loose it?

Are we condemned to have to loose things in order to value them or are there things we can do prevent it?

I will explain how this phenomenon of “taking for granted of what is important to us in the long term” is a natural consequence of the way we and our brains evolved.

This raises the question - if this is true then how was it that our long term relationships survived this “taking for granted condition” in the past? What has changed to increase the rate of relationship breakdown?

One answer is that the social structure and our day to day behaviours in these social structures generated the reminders and the behaviours required to nourish our long term sources of meaning and important relationships. Social cohesion was built into the fabric of society by the way we lived and related on a day to day basis. However, the pressures of modernity, globalisation and rapid change are rapidly breaking down the “institutionalised” ways of living that provided this structure and support. This is leading to an unprecedented rate of relationship breakdowns, a sense of loss of meaning in life and depression.

All is not lost. If we understand the underlying processes we can build in practices and rituals to our lives that allow us to refocus and reconnect to the value and gratitude we have for what gives us meaning, connection and support in our lives. One way to do this is to integrate rituals and practices into your daily yoga practice that do this.

I will address the issue of practice and rituals later. Let us first understand why we have this evolutionary tendency to take what we value for granted - to do this we need to understand the underlying neuroscience and neurobiology of our bodies and how this has been structured by our evolutionary past. Read More...

Improve your brain function and risk of mental disease with exercise ... and preferably with yoga that is structured a specific way

I realised that in my last blog I had made the statement that exercise was one of the best known ways of reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease without giving any evidence. ( I correct this with charts below)

Yet exercise provides more than just a reduction is aged related mental diseases - it produces a whole host of improvements in brain function .... as long as it is creating increased blood flow that contains growth hormones to your brain. So not all exercise is equal for all functional outcomes.

If you have limited time to exercise, in my opinion, you would be hard pressed to find something that delivers more than a "breath" and "mindfulness" centric yoga practice that combines dynamic strengthening physical work that specifically generates growth hormones in a class where a large proportion of the class is "inverted" so that the increased blood flow and hormones are driven to your brain.

These two criteria eliminate a lot of what has now been come to be called yoga. I will deal with the "inversion logic" in this post and the "breathing" and "mindfulness" in a following post.

To give you an example, I have calculated that on average students spend 47% of the first 300 breaths of the asana part of the class in an inverted position. In the equivalent part of of an Iyengar or Bikram class this would be zero.

Yoga and Ayurveda, as opposed to manufactured functional foods, are the gateway to health

Health is the product of the harmonic coherence between our own individual environment/nature and the larger environmet/Nature. This is a dynamic process. It is not something that is fixed. Therefore it is not something that is amenable to mass marketing and "one size fits all" manufactured solutions based on reductionist thinking like functional foods. Read More...

Is the gym contributing to the unhappiness epidemic? RX - Yoga

I was reading a news story in the New York Times yesterday about the latest research findings on happiness. It was titled "What happy people don't do". In a nutshell the discovery was that happy people spend a lot of time socialising, going to church and reading newspapers — but they don’t spend a lot of time watching television.

That’s what unhappy people do. And data show that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run.

This got me thinking about Television and the gym - could there be unintended consequences of the usual gym workout routine? Could the gym be making people unhappy?

If you go to the modern gym the chances are you will see television screens everywhere. And if you go into the actual gym area you will see most people staring at these television screens while they are working out. Recent research found that 70% of gym members watch TV when they go to the gym and they watch 40 minutes on average per visit.

Why are people watching TV while they are exercising? One reason is that they experience the exercise they are doing is boring. Watching TV keeps them distracted and detached from the boredom. It also keeps them disconnected from their physical experience

Another way to read this is that many people are actually paying money to train themselves to disconnect their minds and their bodies. They are training themselves in mindlessness and distraction. And now the latest research shows that by watching more television they are probably training themselves to be more unhappy too.

Yoga is the antithesis of the gym/TV disconnection gig. Yoga is a training in mindfulness - it is mental, physical and emotional training interconnected and rolled into one. You learn be present, to live in the present moment and connect with the flow of your life. . You learn to connect vs. disconnect. You learn to focus and pay attention vs. training for distraction.

Yoga can be a practice that transforms your life. The purely physical aspects of yoga, like the physical aspects of working out at the gym, will slide away if you stop practising. And many forms of yoga don't really get much past this anyway.

The real long term benefits from yoga come from learning a new way to relate to yourself and to life. We teach you a generic approach and skill that you can apply to the whole of your life. TThe real practice of yoga has nothing to do with "perfecting" certain physical positions in terms of how they look from an external perspective - that approach teaches "conformity and the idea that self value comes from being perfect in the eyes of standards set by an external authority. In our approach we train you to connect to, and express yourself from, an "internal reference point" - to be internally directed rather than externally directed.

Three key qualities we want you to develop are concentration, clarity (discrimination) and equanimity.

Yoga is ultimately about relationships and, as the happiness study shows, it is relational activities that contribute to happiness. One of my teachers, TKV Desikachar, once said to me: " from the perspective of yoga it is more important for your students to fix their relationships with their mothers than to be able to do any yoga postures or breathing exercise"

And a few final thoughts about happiness. Happiness is a relative concept. The state of happiness exists relative to the state of unhappiness. If unhappiness were to disappear then happiness would also disappear. If you doubt this I suggest that you reflect on your own experience. When you are happy do you consciously register the fact? How much of your time do you spend thinking about how happy you are? I imagine very little to none. When we are happy we aren't usually aware of it. But unhappiness is the opposite - when we are unhappy we are aware of it and think about it - but we don't generally think "how do I become happy" - we think "how do I get rid of this unhappiness" .

If we were constantly happy we would become used to it just like we become used to anything that doesn't change - it would be the normal state and life would be become flat. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't aspire to be happy.

Maybe we would be happier if we focused on first avoiding doing the things that made us unhappy rather than trying to work out what makes us happy. But then where would the whole happiness industry be?

I have in front of me right now a brochure for the fourth annual conference on "Happiness and it's Causes - Tools and Techniques for a happier life". Somehow I don't think that "Unhappiness and it's causes - tools and techniques for removing unhappiness" would sell as well. Happiness is now a consumer item - something to buy, something that is acquired, rather than the natural state that exists when unhappiness has been removed. Feel free to go along and get scalped.

As a caveat I should mention that we do have an aspect to yoga practice where we learn to generate positive internal self talk, positive images and positive emotional states. These practices are done with the intention of training consciousness and development of concentration, clarity and equanimity.

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom to save the human Race

His blind faith in the validity of scientific research as indisputable truth is not born out by John Ioannisis's work that has demonstrated that most published research findings are false.

Your prenatal yoga classes are benefiting you baby's heart as well as you new research suggests

Here is some good news if you practising prenatal yoga a couple of times a week - new research presented at the 121st annual meeting of the American Physiological Society on Monday 7th April 2008 reports that "When the mom exercises during pregnancy, the unborn baby gets the same type of training effect that you would see in an adult - so you see the lower heart rate and also improved heart rate variability, which is evidence of improvements in the nervous system of the heart."

Dr. Linda E. May, from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, and her colleagues tested the hypothesis that foetuses exposed to exercise in the womb have better autonomic function compared with that of foetuses not exposed to exercise.
How often and for how long and at what intensity do you need to exercise to see these benefits? Probably more than once a week.
In the pilot study the researchers compared a group of 5 women who performed moderate intensity aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week, with another group of 5 who had no regular exercise regime. They measured the foetal heart rate and heart rate variability between 28 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.
Foetuses exposed to maternal exercise had significantly lower heart rates than foetuses not exposed to exercise. At each stage of pregnancy, the differences between the average foetal heart rates of the two groups were statistically significant. Foetal heart rate variability was also significantly higher in the exercise group than in the non-exercise group.
"Maternal exercise may be the earliest intervention to improve the heart of children and possibly the best," said Dr May.