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  • Burn Bright, Not Out
    was in desperate need of advice When I called Doug he had just taught a 9 00 a m class followed by two private lessons then a few hours at work followed by two evening clasess He teaches at Ananda Sangha of the Redwoods Given that this was not an utterly unusual day for Doug I knew that either he would be a great source of advice on this topic or else he was in desperate need of advice In fact it was the former Gyandev Have you ever been burned out as a yoga teacher Doug Not from yoga but certainly from the sheer crunch of everything in my life put together In fact the yoga teaching has been a real blessing for me However as I began to teach more and more classes I realized that burnout can also come in the form of becoming mechanical flat stale where you re not feeling what you re doing so you re simply repeating words that you ve said before Not good for the teacher or the students Gyandev What do you do to prevent that Doug One thing that has really helped me is to teach a variety of levels of classes Teaching lots of different levels requires that you not be saying the same thing in every class You not only teach different poses but you teach the same pose in different ways to different groups That means you have to stay awake and when you re awake everything is more fun and interesting Also giving private classes has been real important for me because it makes you focus on a single person with perhaps a complex set of needs You have to address his her needs and limitations in a very specific way that you d just never do in a regular class because it s far too detailed It requires that you ask questions explore the situation almost become that person to a certain extent Gyandev What about your personal practice the important thing is to focus on a particular ray of the Divine so you can zoom in on its uplifting vibrations I think that many teachers miss this point Doug Maintaining my own yoga practice has been crucial My main emphasis is always on Kriya Yoga but of course I also do postures I ve found that the more I cultivate my attunement with Yogananda the less chance there is of being burned out because it s not me doing the teaching rather it s him teaching through me Certainly the same thing could be true for others who are not disciples of Yogananda because the important thing is to focus on a particular ray of the Divine so you can zoom in on its uplifting vibrations I think that many teachers miss this point Gyandev Do yoga classes put a squeeze on your personal practice Doug They certainly can but I ve made it a priority because I realize it s so important Sometimes that takes creativity For example we now offer early morning commuter classes Many locals commute to Santa Cruz or Silicon Valley It takes six months to build a successful class so I wasn t surprised that the initial turnout was low Still it was impacting my sadhana and I wondered whether it was worth it It certainly wasn t worth it financially not yet anyway So I turned it into a sadhana class with Energization postures chant and at least a 15 minute meditation Now there s no struggle it s not pulling away so much from my own sadhana After the class I did the rest of my meditation Now there s no struggle it s not pulling away so much from my own sadhana And if no one shows up well I m doing exactly what I d be doing anyway So until the class grows and evolves into something else it s sadhana which is great I could get carried away and turn this into just my own sadhana neglecting the students so I have to be careful there but so far it s working Another example One of my classes has people who have been with me for a long time It s more a mutual exploration of asanas than me teaching them We work on developing the strength flexibility or awareness to do new poses That gives me a chance to do yoga myself and to expand my own practice as well as my teaching Sometimes we don t give ourselves the time to develop new things in our own practice because it s so hard just to find time for what we already know This can make for a stale practice Of course I can t get lost in my own practice in this class I still need to be there primarily for the students Gyandev What else do you do to stay fresh Doug You can t let inertia get you You need to continue to study yoga philosophy even if your life is getting crunched time wise It deepens your practice and opens up new dimensions of understanding And of course the occasional or better still regular retreat experience is absolutely vital The weakest area of most yoga teachers is philosophy but if we take the time to explore that more it gives us a broader base of knowledge so that if other people come with past exposure to other yoga traditions we will know where they re coming from and how help them come to an understanding of what Ananda Yoga is all about And isn t that what we re here for Being open to new directions is also a big one For me the thrill these days comes primarily from walking people through the path itself with meditation as the emphasis Hatha Yoga is more a means of drawing people into that and for me it s tremendously rewarding when the light bulb comes on and they begin

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  • Getting the Point
    of whether it pleases God This is merchant consciousness Here we come to that central principle of karma yoga nishkam karma action without desire for its fruits As much as we want to experience divine bliss eternal love fathom less peace and all that other good stuff they are none of our business Why Because they are the fruits of spiritual practice and the fruits of all action are God s business not ours As Sri Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita You have no right to the fruits of your actions Your only right is to action itself In other words our business is what goes into our practices not what comes out of them I used to hate this idea Why act at all if I can t influence the outcome Confessions of a control freak Now however I find this idea very freeing It s the reverse idea the fruits of our practice are up to us that s painful because then when we compare bliss love etc with what we actually experience it can be utterly discouraging I can never do that Now that s pain Greater minds than ours have had the same thought In the Gita after Krishna gave Arjuna the teachings of yoga and told him of its sublime qualities complete mental tranquility sense transcendent bliss immunity to every sorrow Arjuna s responded But Krishna I do not experience those high states My mind is so restless chaotic powerful obstinate it s like trying to master the wind Who among us cannot relate to that Krishna s response was True that s the nature of the mind But you can master it by sadhana and by dispassion Dispassion in part toward the results of your own sadhana Why worry about something that s none of your business in the first place Let s think instead Yes I never can do that because it s not my job My job is only to make a quality effort the results are up to God What a relief So when I m dissatisfied with my practice ask myself not What am I not getting but What am I not giving It s usually quite easy to find an answer and to make a helpful correction such as Be more fully present Letting the mind roam among all my projects obligations and fantasies is not a spiritual practice A quality effort begins with staying engaged with what I m there to do Be enthusiastic Do I look forward to my practice or has it become dull routine Let me make each asana breath or kriya an experience to savor rather than simply counting down until the practice finally ends Practice with gratitude Here I am practicing techniques that can set me free Might I not practice with gratitude to God the source of those techniques Be self giving The lover seeks to please the beloved not himself What a beautiful attitude for sadhana How can it

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  • Engineered for Upliftment
    many Ananda Yoga Teacher Training graduates who have had similar concerns and some therefore haven t taught these two central aspects of Ananda Yoga And of course some haven t made these techniques a part of their own practice so certainly they shouldn t teach what they don t practice The blessing for me was that I had to teach these techniques because I was teaching at an Ananda Center No choice there Having to just do it helped me begin to realize two important points First affirmations and Energization are indeed not commonplace in yoga classes and that s good It gives you what advertising experts call a USP Unique Selling Proposition Very few other yoga teachers can offer these techniques to their students Not that I m encouraging you to be commercial or feel a sense of competition with other yoga teachers Rather I m simply pointing out that you have something unique and valuable to offer So don t hold back Second reflecting that I liked affirmations and Energization in my own practice and that I was fairly normal I reasoned that other people would probably like it too Indeed over the years I ve found that most students do like them sometimes more than the asanas If anything it s usually just the teachers who are the hesitant ones Remember this simple truth Students want to feel good and more than that they want to feel uplifted If we re tentative in our teaching holding back it s neither magnetic nor uplifting But if we teach with a magnetic inward focus students will be uplifted And if we offer techniques that are designed to uplift consciousness the effect is even greater Students don t really care what s familiar or trendy they care what works They may not know that they re looking for upliftment but when they experience it they know that s exactly what they wanted all along You have the training and tools including affirmations and Energization to help them feel that You Might Even Have a Revelation It s inspiring to hear of the results that so many of you are getting Nearly every week one of you sends me an inspiring report about how much students enjoy Energization or how they love the affirmations or how they feel better themselves as a result of your teaching Recently I heard from one teacher who had been very hesitant to teach Energization thinking that her students would never go for anything remotely spiritual But charged up by learning to teach Energization in February s Advanced Pranayama and the Subtle Body she decided to go for it when she got home she taught all 39 exercises at a health club no less and even led a meditation at the end of the class Guess what Her students loved it Reflecting on her longtime concern that they would balk she marvelled It was all in my head By the way you need not describe Energization

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  • Engage Your Core
    imagine that you feel them or put your hands there and feel deep inside but the awareness does come I don t go into a lot of detail with individual muscles in teaching asanas though because I want people to get the feeling of the movements not just intellectual information Still the deeper muscles of the trunk e g the multifidus are very important because that s where our refined movement comes from The larger more familiar muscles e g the latissimus dorsi are the heavy lifters but some of the deeper muscles provide us with the endurance to have postural control throughout the day Muscles of the Pelvic Floor Gyandev Do the deep pelvic muscles the perineal muscles or pelvic sling a complex of short muscles that criss cross the floor of the pelvis play a role in the core Barbara Energetically yes If you re in Warrior Pose and you re sagging into it those pelvic floor muscles may be sagging as well We emphasize in Ananda Yoga lifting ourselves energetically and physically in our asana When you level the pelvis and lift through the top of the head then everything can draw up even though you re not trying to engage the pelvic muscles it can happen naturally because of what we re doing with our energy I think that having appropriate tone in the pelvic floor has a physical and energetic benefit but I rarely teach students to engage the pelvic floor except as an exercise in itself Adding a contraction of the pelvic floor during asana might be confusing for a lot of people and adversely affect attempts to breathe softly or work on alignment in other areas Of course some people simply cannot feel anything down inside the pelvis and they might need to consciously lift the pelvic floor a bit to become more aware of those muscles and develop energy awareness In time the energy focus will help that physical lift to happen automatically But for most people doing it consciously is confusing or unnecessary or both I should add that for all women especially in menopause and aging students toning the muscles of the pelvic floor is very important for maintaining urinary status and a sense of vitality in that area You want all areas of your body healthy and vital regardless of your reproductive status The pelvic floor provides support for the pelvic organs So I have taught pelvic floor exercises as a health measure but I don t emphasis it in asana practice Gyandev So if one can keep the spine neutral does one even need to emphasize the core at all Barbara Although the core is very important most students won t need to be all that aware of its component parts Rather they will benefit from awareness of the trunk as a unit in itself and the value of having that awareness to protect the spine and help draw the energy inward by feeling more centered in their body Helping Students Develop Stability Gyandev If you see someone wobbling in class as soon as she brings her arms overhead what s your first course of action Perhaps give her a gentle touch to bring her awareness to stability or to straightness Often that s sufficient Some times a verbal cue will do it Gyandev And if that s not enough Barbara Then perhaps she needs to build stability by increasing awareness and strength You can do that in a step by step manner starting with simple warm ups For example making sure the shoulder joints have adequate flexibility We can begin to explore spinal awareness in Tadasana or sitting Tadasana and adding movements of the arms while focusing on maintaining a stable not rigid spine Then comes the next step standing poses We can first focus on moving just the legs and keeping a neutral or nearly neutral spine and stable trunk Poses like Vrikasana Standing Backward Bend or Utkatasana even Virabhadrasana II can be done with the hands at the heart Then we can gradually increase arm involvement Poses like Trikonasana or Padahastasana can be done concentrating on neutral spine as it moves through space and add arms later As we add arms in Vrikasana or Standing Backward Bend we also have to allow for the possibility that some people will have the hands a bit ahead of the body because they don t have enough shoulder flexibility to bring the hands directly overhead For more experienced students you don t need to break it down to this degree but for beginners or for people who have trouble with stability it can be helpful to work on stability in stages like this Repetition can valuable part of building awareness of and strengthening a neutral spine Do a certain group of postures frequently refine them and listen to them Yes add new ones to your routine from time to time because the body is challenged and strengthened by variety but keep repeating that basic group With repetition you ll become more aware of core muscles as your awareness of yourself and the pose deepens Concluding Thoughts from Barbara Gyandev If you were to encapsulate everything you ve said Barbara Start with an awareness of a lift in the spine in simple moves which is essentially trying to find your good posture For most people this translates into more stability and an engagement of core muscles Add to that an awareness of pelvic stability so you can maintain a neutral spine Then keep the shoulder blades back and down for shoulder girdle stability All our movements from that point on should be done with an awareness of what the spine is doing People have to be honest with themselves in knowing how far they should be moving their shoulders and hips so they don t compromise the stability and neutrality of the spine because that comes first Movement of shoulders and other joints comes after that Especially in a deeper practice you can lose the essence of it if you re spending all your time thinking about engaging different muscles But I think it s necessary to give enough cues to enhance people s awareness of the spine which will enable them to draw the energy up It s really quite simple Watch your spine Don t let it wiggle around Breathe And smile because that brings fluidity and suppleness to your trunk and your entire being About the Author Alan Williams is an osteopathic physician Ananda Yoga teacher and Pilates teacher Originally from England he now lives in Sweden near Stockholm He and his wife publish Inspire magazine Alan on the Role of the Core Gyandev What is the core Alan The core is the entire torso upper body whilst the extremities the upper and lower limbs rely upon the core for stabilization and force production It is not simply the abdomen as the abdomen is continuous with the thorax etc The body is always a whole so the concept of the core is really an arbitrary one It is a means to see and understand part of the whole in a better and clearer light It s problem when the core is treated in separation and isolation from the other parts of the body assuming almost mythical status It is simply part not the whole picture It is a way of describing how the torso functions for ease of understanding and to see how important it is to work this area in a balanced way and integrate its functions with the rest of the body Gyandev Most yoga teachers seem to speak about the core solely in terms of its role in stabilizing the torso or spine How do you see it Alan In my experience many people grab hold of a term and see it in isolation from everything else One structure may have a major role such as stabilization but also another part to play such as in contributing to movement We can isolate whatever body parts we want to theoretically but in reality the parts work together in a very synchronous manner and this involves the intelligence to play more than one role So I think of the core as an action center that has a number of very important functions including Protect the central nervous system and internal organs Support the internal organs and provide gentle mobilization of them through movement Improve circulation and the fluid dynamics flow through the organs Support the circulatory systems by helping to move blood and lymphatic fluid around the body Provide a strong stable foundation for body movement without which the spine and extremities would not function properly which can predispose one to injury If we view the core as having an inner unit and an outer unit each having specific functions to perform then we can see how balance of different layers of muscle groups is important for optimal function Transverse Abdominis This view of the left anterior torso shows the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis TVA the innermost of the flat muscles of the abdomen just beneath the internal oblique muscle The TVA helps to compress the ribs and viscera providing thoracic spinal and pelvic stability It has horizontal i e transverse fibers running from our sides anterior iliac crest inguinal ligament and bottom rib to the front where it merges with the linea alba and internal oblique It also is connected to the diaphragm which helps with inhalation The inner unit is about stability It comprises the deep spinal muscles multifidus pelvic floor muscles the deepest abdominal muscles tranversus abdominis and diaphragm see illustrations here and above The internal obliques and latissimus dorsi also assist the inner unit The inner unit s job is to stabilize the spinal column rib cage and pelvic girdle so that the head arms and legs have a strong stable foundation from which to act Stabilization begins in the inner unit muscles and progresses outward toward the periphery of the body The outer unit is about mobility It consists of the muscles designed to move the body such as rectus abdominis internal and external obliques and erector spinae see illustration above Think of the outer unit muscles being like the powerful engine in your car whereas the inner unit muscles are the suspension system that holds everything together and prevents shock and stress from damaging structures In a balanced body these functions support and supplement each other through coordinated action allowing for smooth efficient effective movement production throughout the entire body Differentiation vs Integration Gyandev So the internal obliques belong to both units That suggests that one cannot strictly differentiate between inner and outer core from the standpoint of which muscles one engages to perform certain activities stabilizing or mobilizing Alan Strict differentiation is useful only for ease of understanding Certainly top athletes and dancers do not know or care about the specific actions of muscles But such knowledge can help a professional discover how to help an individual recover from an injury or change an inappropriate movement pattern Isolation is valuable only as a stepping stone toward integration and it is the integration of muscle action ligament integrity etc that will produce healthy and efficient movement or stability or both I feel that the intention is what s important When we perform or refrain from a movement we don t need to think Well I need to contract the transverse abdominis now and then the multifidus etc In fact we don t even need to know the names of muscles in order for them to do their jobs The body is so intelligent that it knows what to do and how to do it if it is allowed to that is if it is guided by the intention or thought to do it That thought will initiate the correct sequence of movements the correct involvement of body parts The difficulty is when it comes to performing a movement some people do not know what they should be doing they do not understand the desired outcome For example if you say to someone Stay stable now he or she may have no idea how to do it This confused intention can lead to repetition of an incorrect movement Eventually it becomes a deeply ingrained bad habit So getting clear on what to do and how to do it consciously will lead to doing it unconsciously and correctly The Pelvic Floor Gyandev I suspect that most people can grasp the stabilizing role of say the multifidus more easily than that of the pelvic floor muscles Can you explain their role Alan The pelvic floor doesn t attach directly to the spine so it may not immediately be referred to as a spinal stabilizer However in its integrated function along with other muscles it completes a circle that provides stability and support for the organs both when the spine is stationary and when it is mobile Here s how I think of the pelvic floor as one of several trampolines in the body one supports the brain one the lungs one the pelvic organs and one the foot structures They are transverse tension membranes The pelvic floor muscles provide essential everyday support for the pelvic viscera organs e g uterus intestines bladder and maintain the integrity of urinary and anal sphincter function Like any trampoline if the tension in the pelvic floor gets too loose it will not function correctly especially when exertion through exercise or natural bodily functions builds up pressure against the membrane Like everything in the body the pelvic floor doesn t work alone it is part of a system It is part of the inner unit the muscles of which together form a closed framework for all the internal organs By stabilizing the contents of the pelvis the pelvic floor contributes to the overall stability of the larger core not just the spine It s like the foundation of a house take it away and the walls begin to lose structural integrity Then again just having a strong foundation without strong walls is not helpful either This is an example theoretically I suppose but then it becomes very apparent practically to someone who suffers from a weak pelvic floor just how important it is for the body to function as a whole with each part doing its job well The whole is only as strong as the interaction of its parts and the pelvic floor is definitely one of the parts One simple exercise to maintain its integrity is to attempt to stop the flow of urine during micturition passing urine Oddly enough many women are given pelvic floor exercises in the supine position I say odd because the pelvic floor needs to maintain adequate function mostly in the upright position The Core in Asana Practice and in Daily Life Gyandev What role does or should the core play in asana practice Alan Asana practice is an ideal opportunity to focus on not only our physical movement but also our control of that movement Trying to connect our mind and body our thoughts and emotions and experience of a pose gives us a chance to feel what our body including our core is doing Asana practice provides us with all the movements we need for daily living such as bending twisting balancing bearing weight and it challenges our conscious control of those movements Daily life consists of these movements also but are we controlling them Often we are not attentive when lifting bending etc we re thinking about something else which separates body and mind In asana we have the chance to go within and control and experience our movement and become more aware of what we need to do and how our thoughts and emotions affect it It also requires balance the core must have balanced development to play its role effectively In a sense asana practice can take us more into our connection with daily life and activities as it is the ideal preparation for the multitude of activities coming our way It allows us to become unconsciously competent by ingraining movement patterns that are effective and efficient so when we enter back into daily life activities our nervous system has already been challenged and prepared for the task In short because of the many physical movements asanas require the core has to adapt in positive ways if practice is correct in terms of alignment and safety etc to control how well we balance move stretch bend twist etc The core is important in yoga Pilates weight training tennis golf swimming etc just as it is in lifting bending twisting farming carrying the kids carrying the boxes carrying the rubbish out to the dustbin etc It s just that we have more conscious time for ourselves during a yoga session Gyandev You seem to be saying Make the movements of asana consciously and correctly and your core will do what it needs to do to keep you safe not only in asana practice but in daily life That is very different from what one often hears Engage your core so that you can make the movements of asana safely Alan Yes And some people learn best from verbal cues some from visual cues and others from tactile cues But if students who learn best from tactile cues or adjustment never get any but instead see only visual cues i e the visual example of the teacher doing an asana perfectly they may not understand what to do They may think they are doing the same thing but in fact they are doing something else that may not be appropriate So in our classes we have the opportunity to help students make their movements consciously and correctly but only if we understand that they need different modes of instruction Without clear understanding of what the core is Engage your core can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people none of which may be useful at all Gyandev I often hear Engage the core without reference to why or whether some parts of the core should be engaged more and others less For example when a teacher says Engage your core as you move into the forward bend are students being asked to engage everything in the abdominal region and lower back plus perhaps the pelvic floor And how vigorously should they engage in each region There is so much room for misinterpretation which can lead to students fighting against themselves e g virtually strangling the breath and if they engage the rectus abdominis significantly shortening and rounding the spine at a time when it should be kept long and straight Gyandev it is so good to hear what you say There are so many well meaning instructions given without even the slightest hint of real understanding of what is being said not only in yoga but in all forms of exercise which is why so many people get injured in exercise classes or gyms In a forward bend contracting the rectus abdominis can indeed be detrimental to performance of the movement So conscious movement is one thing but conscious and correct movement is quite another Concentrating on the movement performance the intention and outcome is far more appealing to me than concentrating on the specific muscles involved in that movement In fact too much concern over specific muscles could create tension instead of ease of movement Concluding Thoughts from Alan Gyandev Any last thoughts you d like to offer Alan To be honest I think the less the term core is used the better unless it is understood Even then just because the teacher understands it doesn t mean he or she can convey the concept to others or even needs to Focusing solely on one thing tends to exaggerate its importance and that can lead to imbalance For example if people do only crunch situps they develop the rectus abdominis to a point of imbalance that negatively affects the lower back The hip flexors work in harmony with the trunk flexors which work in harmony with the neck flexors All these work in reciprocal harmony with the muscles on the opposite side of the body the back muscles and erector spinae There is a natural balance and harmony built into the body which can be damaged through inappropriate practice I remember a tenet I once read It is better to spend years looking for the right teacher than to spend years studying under the wrong teacher So it is with teachings about the core About the Author Julie Bryant is a chiropractor and Ananda Yoga teacher She lives and serves in Bismarck North Dakota Julie on the Role of the Core Gyandev Gyandev What is the core Julie There s a simple way to look at it and a complicated way In simple terms it s what Swami Kriyananda says about sitting in meditation Think of your strength as coming from your spine not from your muscles So the core is that central sensation that lengthens you and gives you a sense of strength not only when sitting in meditation but even as you begin a forward folding movement A more complicated way to think of the core is to think of all the muscles involved the pelvic floor the upper thigh and hip the buttocks all of the abdominal and spinal muscles and even the chest muscles into the neck and throat Gyandev What does engage the core mean to you Julie Engaging the core is in its most basic physical definition to become aware of and use the core muscles of the trunk as opposed to the extremities By using these muscles I mean words like lifting lightly isometrically squeezing them or energizing them to an on or lightly contracted state rather than leaving them limp Gyandev Why engage the core muscles Julie To become aware of it and once we have become consciously aware of it to use it to anatomically align the central part of the body the trunk This makes possible the neutral positioning of the body placing it in a state of balance between contraction and relaxation of the body s muscle groups The three main reasons why this is important are that it Ensures safety in movement and activity for the trunk and especially the extremities Provides for maximized or optimum breathing capacity Strengthens the core muscles and promotes safe strengthening of the extremities as well On a physical level it s important to move the body with strength from a central place because that permits optimum function without injury On a subtle level it promotes body awareness and keeps us rooted in present moment consciousness I often counsel my chiropractic patients to do everything from their core vacuum unload the clothes dryer lift groceries perform sitting activities such as computer work This promotes vitality optimal alignment and muscle use and an optimal breathing experience It also allows for grace and beauty to become part of us physically and mentally and be expressed in our movements Get the feeling vs muscle by muscle Gyandev You re saying Start from your center knowing the feeling you want and draw upon your body wisdom to make it happen rather than a more complex approach First I ll engage this muscle now that one and so on Julie Right That muscle by muscle approach is the worst It s like being in a straightjacket and it s not always understandable either Gyandev Is it realistic to ask the body simply to do whatever it needs to do to keep the spine straight without thinking much about individual muscles Julie Certainly with beginners or people who are weak in certain areas the right body parts might not engage or be strong enough to do the job They ll need instruction perhaps some strength training and meanwhile a modification of the asana so their weaknesses don t create problems And if they re hurting or weak somewhere it s difficult to convey what they re supposed to feel So the question becomes What do I as the teacher have to do to make that happen Gyandev And that would be Julie Begin by teaching people what a neutral spine feels like Until they know that it s just a long list of things they have to do and try to feel in the pose and wonder whether they re doing it right You wrote once in Awake Ready Autumn 2005 about a set of warm ups to teach people to become more aware of their spine doing cat cow in different poses such as wide legged in a chair in a number of different positions even supine before Bridge Pose and asking What does it feel like to do that here What is my spine doing And to teach people about a neutral spine you also wrote about working from Tadasana asking students to imagine the spine to be the trunk of a young birch tree very straight and vibrantly alive but flexible and make small movements with the trunk left right forward back circling always keeping a straight spine and asking students to notice various muscles engaging and disengaging to maintain that straightness This would train them to feel the goal rather than too much focus on individual muscles Getting Clear on Bandhas Gyandev Yes I want students to know why Why are we doing what we re doing tuck here tip there engage here relax there Julie And how would you answer that question Gyandev To put the spine in whatever position you want it to be in straight usually and give it appropriate support in that position Julie Yes and also because then your breathing is going to be open as well If you don t have a straight spine your breathing won t be free and easy I used to confuse the bandhas with keeping a straight spine but now I understand that they re for directing energy To say Engage your lower bandha as a core mechanism is to use the word in the wrong way bandhas aren t about core muscles and a straight spine Gyandev True When bandhas get too physical not nearly as much of the energy aspect will happen Research has proved that the human mind can focus on only one thing at a time so the question is What is that one thing you re going to do If the spine is where you need to take care of business then that one thing should be the spine Julie Yes it s the core of the core Yet when you re trying to help people understand their own bodies you have to start with the physical If you say Feel your spine they ll likely think What do you mean I can t do that So I ask them to focus on an activity that they can relate to For example if I want them to engage the perineum I might say Pretend you re holding back your urine You have them think of the spine as the thing that s held up by that pelvic sling when they hold their urine It s a way to bring some of these concepts down to earth Where to Stay Engaged Gyandev Speaking of the pelvic floor where does that fit in your view as a chiropractor Julie Lifting the pelvic floor promotes awareness of the pelvis and its position so you can find a neutral pelvis If you lift the pelvic floor you ll bring the pelvis toward neutral alignment which is a safety payoff Gyandev If a student already has good pelvic alignment is it okay to relax the pelvic floor Julie Even for that student lifting the pelvic floor has a purpose to encourage energy to rise giving you that upward sensation I use that in many poses especially standing poses Ultimately it s an energy direction it s not a physical tighten and hold it So lifting the pelvic floor is a little bit for pelvic position and a lot for getting lift To me there should always be a lifting when you walk or do an asana as opposed to a complete letting go or hanging on your ligaments There s never a total letting go in the asanas Gyandev Other than in Savasana and Balasana you can t totally let go in other poses The question is where would you do well to let go and where shouldn t you let go Most poses require some engagement just to hold the position In addition each pose has an action a direction of unobservable movement such as lifting through the legs and lengthening the spine in Trikonasana or pressing arms shoulders and head into the floor in Sarvangasana while lengthening up through the inner legs In most poses that action is both physical and energetic in Savasana and Balasana however that action is totally energetic Julie In most poses I would also engage the pelvic floor as a means of vitalizing the pose making it a posture instead of just a position Of course many students aren t as interested in these things as I am They just want to do the pose and get on with it But I think it s important to keep the body engaged using the body s muscles around the central core As a chiropractor a lot of my perspective on asana practice centers around safety and it has developed that way in response to our culture s use of asanas A Pilates instructor will have a different view As a yoga teacher and chiropractor I think of the use of the core as an exercise in conscious awareness of the body as a beautifully functioning dynamic whole for safety of all its parts And as you become more aware you use it to explore your postures and become better at them within the bounds of safe posture Sometimes that may mean engaging the entire core For example I often see people flopping their cervical spines I ll tell them to lengthen the spine but I ll also say Engage the lower core strongly and lift through the top of the head It gives them a power point to think about And when they get that I ll say Okay now let go of any tightening or constricting but hold the energy Gyandev And as you develop greater awareness and strength as well as good asana mechanics you ll want to be more selective about what you engage If you have the entire core engaged then right away you cannot breathe fully Julie Yes you ll constrict the breath But from a chiropractic viewpoint I err on the side of constricting just for the sake of safety even for people with healthy spines until they develop biomechanically sound movement Then later I address the issue of freer breathing I think many teachers don t have the depth of this discussion of the core They think in terms of strengthening core muscles like in Pilates which is fine if strengthening is what s needed but it s not the ultimate aim of the practice I think they boil down those concepts and bring them into yoga practice which isn t appropriate The goals of Pilates and yoga are quite different Concluding Thoughts from Julie As a chiropractor and yoga teacher I feel that core training is valuable for postural alignment safety healthy breathing and general strengthening Above all it can increase our awareness of our center our spine or core helping us find and live from that inner place of peaceful strength I also feel that many yoga teachers overuse the phrase engage the core or use it incorrectly or not understandably There are different dimensions of using the core Becoming aware of it Breathing from it Lifting from it Operating from it It s not that we should always fully engage the entire core sometimes it s more in one area less in another depending on the pose and the person I believe it s important that we as teachers know exactly what we re trying to do and convey that clearly to students Perhaps the best beginning concept to teach might start with the intention of bringing students awareness to the center core or spine and to help them imagine this place as their center of movement breath asana and even meditation That s when their practice really becomes aligned with Ananda Yoga s central principle of moving energy inward and upward to promote higher awareness About the Author Nicole DeAvilla a yoga teacher since 1984 with a background in sports medicine chiropractic psyiotherapy and teacher training She teaches Therapeutic Yoga Musculoskeletal Yoga Therapy and Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training at The Expanding Light She also teaches yoga and meditation near her home in Marin County California and leads an Ananda Meditation Group Nicole on the Role of the Core Gyandev What do you see as the core Nicole I see the core as several different things It can refer to particular muscles in the trunk of the body Another way to think about it is as the spine itself since that s our physical center and the starting point of our movements On a more metaphysical level it s the astral energy spine I m careful when I mention the core in class so it s clear what I m talking about The core has become very popular lately People are eager to feel that they are strengthening their core so I use the term more than I used to It helps them open up their minds and feel good about their yoga practice But this doesn t mean that I m teaching differently now I ve always taught Ananda Yoga but I may change my terminology in order to reach people where they are If I have to say Engage your core in order to engage them fine When they start to feel that upward lift I can talk at subtler levels and ask them to imagine they re bringing that energy all the way up into the brain refreshing the brain making it more awake and alive It s just like when I m teaching in a very secular environment I ll change my vocabulary to work with whoever my students are to help them get the deepest experience they possibly can Core strength on a muscular level is very important but it needn t be a focus of the class Certainly someone with weak core muscles may need to put more emphasis on strengthening the core to maintain health They need to have enough core strength to for example get safely up into and down out of Sarvangasana We used to say abdominal muscles or deep pelvic muscles or lower back well now we say the core In past years when teaching Parsvakonasana I might have said Lift up out of your hips and lengthen the spine Now I ll say Make sure you re engaging the core and not sagging into the hip sockets because that works for people today But both approaches achieve the same effect Anyway a good well rounded asana practice will strengthen the core automatically Your core will be engaged if you re careful about posture and alignment Gyandev What about the subtler nonphysical aspects Nicole With Ananda Yoga we want to bring energy up the spine so having the concept of a physical core helps us get in tune with that subtle energy If we re not engaged posturally speaking then our spine is likely to be bent and the energy won t rise as easily So we engage the core and I say Feel as though you re lifting that energy up the spine to the brain For some people

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  • The Art and Science of Happiness
    winnings your friend says Sorry my mistake You didn t win after all The reverse happens your body sags your eyes turn downward and with an exhalation you sigh or curse Here again the sagging sensation is only partially physical it s mainly due to energy pouring downward through your body All this is so familiar that few people bother to take a closer look Most people simply accept it as an obvious fact of life Things that we like lift our spirits and things that we dislike depress us Thus they continue their yoyo existence reacting positively and negatively up and down all day every day The ancient Indian sages however did take a closer look Here s what they discovered If our reactions to life s happy and sad events are always accompanied by upward or downward movements of energy then by learning to control those inner movements of energy we can better control our reactions and thus begin to find the inner joy that doesn t depend on outer circumstances This insight is crucial because our likes and dislikes which give rise to our reactions are far too numerous to correct one by one But they all have one thing in common their link to the inner flow of energy If this flow can be brought under control then we can more easily improve our state of mind Those sages developed a broad spectrum of yoga practices that help us each in its own special way to bring the energy flow under control When done correctly those practices give us the strength and clarity that bring us ever closer to true lasting happiness The Highest Art That phrase done correctly is where the art of yoga comes in For while the mechanics of yoga practice are important mechanics alone can never govern the subtle realm of human consciousness Even in the physical realm of asanas more than mechanics is needed for maximum benefit The highest success in any aspect of yoga requires that we have the feel of the yoga techniques In fact that s how it is in any field the highest success requires more than intellect training willpower or motivation All those are valuable and no doubt many physicists had as much of them as Einstein and many artists had as much as Michelangelo Yet how many could equal those two geniuses Almost none because Einstein and Michelangelo had something more an intuitive understanding of their fields which took them beyond the limits of the intellect How can we gain such an understanding of the art and science of true lasting happiness Yoga teaches that the heart is the key not the physical heart but rather the heart chakra energy center in the middle of the chest This is where we feel love and can receive intuitive insight But the heart can also be agitated by our likes and dislikes which keep us in an up and down existence The ancient sage Patanjali put it

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  • Rewire Your Circuits
    changes Dr Smith has found that strength gains from mental workouts are primarily due to improvements in neural pathways in the brain spinal cord and peripheral nervous system that control the movements involved Yes it takes physical strength training to increase muscle size but mental workouts can rewire us for more efficient application of our muscle power In addition to demonstrating brain plasticity this makes a strong argument for controlling our mental processes Anything we do even mentally is literally reshaping our brains so we can do that better more easily and more naturally whether it leads us to happiness or not So let s not leave our minds unchaperoned A Note on Energization The Energization Exercises EE s take it a step farther they employ both physical exertion and visualization So it seems safe to extrapolate from Dr Smith s research and say that the EE s are an effective strength training regime if and this is a big if they are done correctly with great will power and concentration Anyone who s ever tried the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension System of bodybuilding will concur It s very much like Energization In fact Charles Atlas was a student of Yogananda s teachings Of course strength is not the goal of the EE s And the visualization technique is different instead of visualizing muscles contracting heart pounding sweat dripping etc we visualize sending and withdrawing energy But I ll wager that those elements of Dr Smith s prescription are simply indirect ways to foster concentration and engage the will and feeling capacity In Energization we focus directly on using will and feeling Tense with will relax and feel Seems to me that such a direct focus might produce better results even just at the level of physical strength Maybe this will inspire you in your Energization practice Or maybe and I hope you re looking for more than just strength from the EE s So let s go a bit deeper How about a Plastic Heart Recent research has shown that the heart is not just a specialized muscle Neurocardiologists have found that 60 65 of the heart s cells are neural cells exactly like brain cells with the same types of connections and neurotransmitters That s right your heart is mostly brain and it constantly converses with the emotional brain i e the limbic system and its attendant structures such as the amygdala and hippocampus The emotional brain tells the heart about your experience of the world from a how do I feel about this perspective The heart responds by telling the emotional brain what to do about it e g fight or flee In fact the heart s responses generate a powerful electromagnetic field that influences the entire body and in particular the brain This may be an outward manifestation of an important inner truth that Paramhansa Yogananda often cited Reason follows feeling That is the intellect tends to look for and find ways to justify what we

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  • I am free! I am free! - Yeah right.
    she said During one period of time I didn t want to use any affirmation because my energy was low my attitude toward life wasn t positive and my old pool of affirmations wasn t helping me change that I didn t feel capable of affirming anything Life looked bleak I knew I had to do something to pick myself up so I chose a chant that I thought might help O God Beautiful I chanted it a lot and it was okay but not much happened Then for some reason I had the idea to try the Bengali version of the chant Hey Hare Sundara I chanted just the first two sentences over and over like a mantra My energy changed immediately so I started doing it on a regular basis Within a week there was a great shift My joy level was rising again and I felt great How does she explain that Again it wasn t about believing or not believing she said It was just about tuning into an energy that would lift me out of the place I was in I realized that sometimes when you re stuck it might be from thinking too much which can block you So you might want to use an affirmation or mantra or chant from a different language to get you out of that mental rut After all we can t think our way to God By taking you beyond thinking that other language chant or affirmation can more easily take you into another vibration where there s nothing but the vibration itself The more you can tune into that vibration the more the vibration can help you change Get a Larger Perspective I next queried Anandi Cornell a senior minister and teacher at The Expanding Light and another affirmation aficionado Her response was just as quick as Diksha s but altogether different You don t believe the affirmation Then choose another one Why on earth would you try to affirm something you don t believe Does that mean that we should just give up Not at all said Anandi Instead find something you can believe body mind and soul something that touches your heart something that lifts your whole outlook toward God rather than leaving it at the level of your rational mind When I asked how she does that she said When something s not working it s usually because we re too close to ourselves too close to our fear our hurt our sense of lack When we re too involved in ourselves we re living small in the ego The solution is to get bigger more impersonal so I look for an affirmation that gives me some distance from my problem so I can get a better perspective For example if I m really worried about something my worrying blocks the flow of energy that could solve the problem Maybe I don t know how to solve it but God does and in the last analysis it s His problem anyway isn t it My real problem is to get out of the way and let God handle it So rather than trying to affirm that the problem isn t even there or that I know how to handle it when in fact it is there and I don t know what to do I hand it over to Him I especially like this one from Yogananada Praecepta Lessons 1934 I relax and cast aside all mental burdens allowing God to express through Me His Perfect Peace Love and Wisdom I immerse myself in the feeling that it s just about getting myself out of the way so God can come in It s very freeing and what s more it s the beginning of the solution Do you ever feel like you re faking it I asked Can you really feel that God is doing something about the problem It s not about trying to convince myself of something or argue myself out of something else she replied And worrying about whether it s working certainly isn t helpful Rather the idea is to get in alignment with something higher more powerful more positive If we can just align ourselves that way that something higher can lift us out of the space we re in If you do this enough you see that it works and you begin to trust it then it gets much easier It s like the story of Yogananda asking Swami one day How are you Swami wasn t feeling well at all and hesitated then began Well Yogananda realized where he was heading and cut him off immediately That s good he said emphatically leaving absolutely no room for Swami to indulge in the attitude of not feeling well Swami got the message and after deciding that he would not give in to the tendency to feel low he realized immediately that he was feeling better It s strong medicine but that s what it takes sometimes We have to get off the level where the problem exists and start to live at the level where the solution exists Only then is there both an opening and the magnetism for the solution to come into our lives So Anandi s approach which at first blush seemed so different from Diksha s is strikingly similar What Would It Feel Like If Finally here s a different approach one with which I ve often had success If I don t believe an affirmation or a chant or a prayer or a mantra I immerse myself in how it would feel if I knew it to be true After all it certainly would feel true to Yogananda or Saint Francis or Saint Teresa of Avila so I try to imagine how s he would experience the affirmation I suspect it would feel very good powerful and true So I try to immerse myself in that feeling as I affirm I discovered

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  • Tadasana, the Standing Mountain Pose
    noted that when we stand or walk with our weight back on our heels it makes our consciousness feel heavy As we shift our weight forward toward the balls of our feet our consciousness becomes lighter Yet if we shift our weight too much onto the balls of the feet tension creeps in physically and psychologically and the lightness diminishes So find that intermediate point that enables you to feel the lightest on all levels This balance centeredness and lightness is the beginning of the pose your foundation for receptivity for cultivating that attitude that is so central to yoga an attitude of intense inner opening and listening to God If some people balk because they see this as an attitude of meekly bowing down to some Cosmic Tyrant that s their problem not God s After all God is our own Self Who would want to resist guidance from his or her own Self It s exactly what we all want Therefore magnetically draw it to you I stand ready to obey Thy least command Affirm it in every limb cell atom and filament of thought and feeling Take it beyond mere verbal affirmation make your body mind and heart into living expressions of this attitude Then you re in tadasana Yes the ego resists this attitude When I mentioned to Swami that I thought this affirmation might raise some hackles students as well as teachers he got right to the point If it raises people s hackles tell them that that s the ego complaining which is just what we want to get out of If not for our ego who would have any objection to this affirmation Tadasana Sets the Tone Tadasana has a very special purpose as the first pose of our routine it sets the tone for all that will follow And as the neutral pose between other standing poses we keep coming back to tadasana over and over Therefore it s an extremely important pose perhaps more important than any other I ve come to understand that tadasana and its affirmation are not merely to be done once or even many times in the routine and then forgotten No together they should establish the bhav spiritual mood vibration of the entire experience This wordless vibration should resound through every aspect of our practice infusing every asana and pranayama with its spirit of alert even hungry receptivity and willingness Then we ll feel the lifeforce more fully in all the asanas we ll experience the upliftment of consciousness more clearly in all the asanas and our meditations will be filled with the magical spirit of receptivity All in all what affirmation could be better for Ananda Yoga Yes But I know that many of you teach in situations where you simply can t say God Perhaps your students aren t ready for it Perhaps you ve chosen to reach out to a special group whom you knew from the start would not be open to

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