Season's Greetings

If we are going to make a change in this world, we need to start with ourselves.

Yoga Sutra 2:46 Sthira Sukha Asanam

This sutra is most commonly translated as:

Stable and Comfortable Posture

Sthira: Stable

Sukham: Comfortable

Asanam: Posture

 

The ability to find this stable and comfortable space in our body-mind helps us to abide in a good space and is only possible when our prana is healthy. Prana is our life force, the power or shakti that enlivens the body, the mind and the soul. Cultivating healthy prana is a process that reaches far beyond our yoga mats and into every aspect of our lives. We start with our relationships, diet and lifestyle as we begin the process of creating balance in our own lives.

Our fast-paced lives and the prevalence for stress related illness seems to come from our constant over-stimulation. We work long hours and juggle many demands; all of this depletes and destabilizes our nervous system and life force or prana. Most look for a quick fix for this. Creating balance takes time and we must show up every day.

Making a change a in the world starts with creating balance (Sthira and Sukham) in our own body-mind first. Breathing practices, asana and meditation help us to create balance. However, stepping on our yoga mat is only a part of this process. Nourishing the body with healthy food and the mind with a healthy lifestyle are just as important. How we move through the world matters.

I am not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions because they always make us feel as if we failed when we veer away and we do veer away! However, if we make a conscious effort to make small changes and continue to find our way back to them, we find a way to treat ourselves with kindness. If we can treat ourselves with kindness, we can learn to treat others the same way.

And this is how the shift begins…..

xo Suzanne

Ch Ch Ch Changes...

David Bowie - Changes 115908378I still don't know what I was waiting for And my time was running wild A million dead-end streets Every time I thought I'd got it made It seemed the taste was not so sweet So I turned myself to face me But I've never caught a glimpse Of how the others must see the faker I'm much too fast to take that test

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange) Turn and face the strain Ch-ch-Changes

At the most basic level...Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is a natural response to an unnatural event. Of course from this point...there are many jumping off points we can explore which would further define what PTS is. It is safe to say that after a traumatic event, your body and mind...change. The opening lyrics of David Bowie's "Changes," seem so fitting when it comes to describing the changes warriors with PTS go through. For me...I could easily change the lyric: "...and my time was running wild," and replace it with "...and my mind was running wild!" Bowie continues with the lyric, "turn and face the strange." This could very well be the first step in post traumatic growth! In yoga terms we might call this santosha. Santosha has a direct translation to contentment, however, I like to translate it as acceptance. It is often very difficult for those struggling with PTS to feel...to feel comfortable being themselves...to face the stranger that is now them.  - Chris Eder | MYT Director of Communication

Mindful Yoga Therapy strives to provide the appropriate tools to help those who suffer from PTS. Additionally, our 15 and 100-hour training programs strive to provide a teaching protocol that will help cultivate not regulate a daily practice for these warriors. Perhaps...even leading to some amazing life changes.

These changes often extend to the yoga teacher as well.

We asked our Outreach Coordinator for Veterans, Anthony Scaletta how the 100-hour MYT training changed him! Here is his answer:

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The Mindful Yoga Therapy (MYT) training pretty much changed everything about my practice. I feel that it took my understanding of yoga much deeper than the physical and into the layers of the subtle, mental and emotional bodies through our in-depth exploration of the nervous system. MYT training asked me to both learn about and then directly experience how the various tools of yoga affect the nervous system. For example, MYT taught me how to use yogic tools such as the breath in relatively simple ways that can have profound results on the practitioner. For those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD,) we are perpetually stuck in the fight/flight response with our ‘foot on the gas pedal’ and in MYT we learn how to ‘pump the breaks’ and balance out the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic or relaxation response via the yoga practices in the MYT toolkit. As someone with PTSD, I find using the tools of MYT in my yoga practice to be very supportive and grounding. I have found a lot of healing in a regular practice of Yoga Nidra, which MYT training helped me to explore. Perhaps, the most significant change to come from undertaking the MYT training was that it laid the foundation for my formal seated meditation practice. Prior to MYT training I had dabbled with many different forms of meditation but never settled into a formal daily practice. That all changed when MYT Founder and Director, Suzanne Manafort, challenged us to commit to sitting for 40 days straight during our 100 Hour Training Program. If we missed a day, we would simply start again and continue until we strung together 40 consecutive days with a seated meditation. I had a few slips before I completed the challenge but it was highly effective in teaching me the benefits of a daily mediation practice. I have not missed a single day since I completed the challenge and that was over a year ago. Hands down the greatest change in my life and my practice to come out of MYT training has come from the meditation practice that I learned. It has been a total game changer.

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Anthony will be teaching at the White Lotus Wellness Center in College Park Maryland March 10-12. You can register here for this training.

MYT Guiding Principle | Mindfulness (Part 1)

MadMimi Banner_Mindfulness-01Mindfulness is a major buzzword in today's fast-paced, I want it now world we live in. Slowing down for some seems so far fetched...and perhaps even unachievable. Mindfulness in its simplest form breaks down like this: paying attention, on purpose, in this moment, and without judgment. The mindfulness aspect of Mindful Yoga Therapy consists of two primary components:

Suzanne Manafort, founder and director, Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans

1. Paying attention to the present moment 2. Maintaining an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment

Today, I want to talk about how we can pay attention to the present moment in Part 1 of Mindfulness. Present Moment Awareness The cultivation of mindfulness can be very challenging, but it is an important piece of any yoga therapy practice for veterans with PTS. Often they live outside of the present moment, avoiding painful reminders of trauma or actively re-experiencing traumatic events. At other times, people who suffer from PTS are in the present moment, but are there with a great deal of fear and anxiety because they experience elements of their current situation as threatening and unsafe. Avoidance and hyper-vigilance are primary symptoms of PTS. The meaning a person gives to internal physical sensations has enormous implications for physical and psychological health. Often, individuals with PTS interpret internal sensations as abnormal or frightening. As a yoga therapist, you can help your students minimize symptoms by normalizing the sensations experienced, reframing their meaning, and reducing the tendency to catastrophize. In Mindful Yoga Therapy, we are invited to intentionally focus on the sensations in their yoga practice, both to find comfort and to learn to be present and non-reactive to sensations of discomfort. The comfortable sensations then become a source of support, and the uncomfortable sensations become dissociated from fear and anxiety.

Peace & Love,

Suzanne

How do we practice yoga?

from the Enhancing Your Yoga Practice series by Suzanne Manafort- Yoga Practice in Life When we begin a yoga practice, our focus is on learning the asana. As our practice begins to mature, we learn that the yoga practice makes it way into our whole life. The practices teach us to stay present and to grow into a whole, healthy, and sensitive person.

One of my teachers, Beryl Bender Birch, taught me that there are no mistakes. All things happen for a reason. We should stay present and connect to the lessons in all of our life experiences. As Beryl always says, “Pay attention."

I live on a lake, and every year the geese come home to the lake in the spring and mate. We have a bunch of new babies each year. I feed our geese and have created a relationship with them, even though most people feel that they are a nuisance. This year the babies hatched on Mothers Day. The parent geese brought them over to dock on Mothers Day to meet us. It was such a great Mothers Day gift.

The day that they are all hatched their parents get them in the water. My husband tells me that they are safer in the water than on land, and I am quite sure he is right.

Geese on the lake

This year began with 11 babies.  Now there are 8.  Other animals that live around the lake are their predators. It is so difficult to see them show up in the morning missing family members.

It is particularly beautiful to me to watch them grow from what looks like yellow rubber ducks to geese. They start with fuzzy yellow feathers, they grow tails, then wings and finally their neck and head turn black as their body color also changes.

At the beginning of June one day, as I was enjoying their company out by dock, one of the babies came dragging over to me making a sound I had never heard a goose make before. He got rather close to me and I was horrified to see that he had a huge hole in his neck and another in his chest. The bones in his chest looked as if they were showing and his neck was wide open. I sat with him for a long time and talked to him. I kept telling him he was going to be okay. He listened to me closely. I tried to remember carefully that he is a wild animal and that he is food for coyotes, but I saw him as a living suffering being that has consciousness the same as I do.

He came daily to see me. He would walk over to me and sit with me. I fed him cracked corn to help him build strength to get well. He is now the biggest of the babies in his flock, because of all of the cracked corn that I fed him.

In the beginning it was very hard for him to swim. I asked my friend Beverly, who is a farmer and has domestic geese, to come and take a look at him as he was healing. She thought because his neck was so injured, and because they use their necks to swim and to fly, that he might not fly.

This is how he looks today with healed wounds, but still disfigured:

Injured Goose

As the baby geese begin to mature, their wings grow and get strong and they learn to fly. It is so comical to watch them learn. They flap and flap and flap, get a little air and come crashing into the water. They look like drunken geese, ha-ha!

I imagined that my friend, the injured goose, would eventually be left behind and I was prepared to feed him some cracked corn all winter.  After about a month of loving care, I was incredibly surprised as I watched my goose friend flap his wings and jump off a dock and get a little air.

Recovering goose

He has grown from one of those little babies next to the dock to this magnificent animal despite his injuries. What an incredibly resilient being!  Today he is flying with his flock! They are still building strength and only flying across the lake, but he flies and has stayed with his flock. I am now quite sure that he will fly south this fall.

What have I learned?

Learning to pay attention in every moment is the ultimate yoga practice, whether showering, building a back deck, paying bills or watching geese. This effort to be present allows us to see the great miracles in every moment of this beautiful life we are living, and this leads to a happy, healthy, full life

In the clinical word this has been labeled as Mindfulness--paying attention, on purpose, in this moment, without judgment--but as yogis, we have always known this as part of our practice.

All living creatures have consciousness, and it is possible to coexist and to create a peaceful relationship with any living creature.  How do we teach peace and tolerance to others? By leading by example and showing others what is conceivable.

Virabhadrasana - The Warrior

Virabhadrasana - The Warrior

from the Enhancing Your Yoga Practice series by Suzanne Manafort

The mythical story of The Warrior begins when Shiva learns of the death of his wife Sati. He is first shocked, then saddened, and then enraged. He falls into the deepest and darkest place he can find. He tears off one of his locks, and throws it to the Earth, creating the fiercest of warriors. Shiva names this warrior Virabhadra, from Vira (hero) and Bhadra (friend). The scene is total havoc.

For anyone who’s ever sweated and worked through Virabhadrasana I, 2 or 3, it may come as no surprise that the asanas (postures) were inspired by cosmic chaos and destruction. Many yogis, especially beginners, feel genuinely embattled by their complexity: the persistent tug-of-war between pouring down into the earth and reaching up and out, twist and backbend, and strength and flexibility.

The yoga poses that comprise Virabhadrasana are not at all at odds with the peaceful ahimsa of yoga practice.   Ahimsa is one of the yamas (moral and ethical practices) and means “non-violence”. For in this pose we are not celebrating a warrior who caused a scene of destruction and carnage. Instead, in this posture, we acknowledge our own spiritual warriors who every day does battle with our own egos and avidya (self-ignorance), which is the ultimate source of all our suffering.

We learn to use discernment in our lives or to use Viveka, the faculty of discretion or discernment, which enables us to distinguish between true and false, reality and illusion.

The pose, in other words, is about the resilience of spirit, the true spirit of yoga.

Virabhadrasana I

According to the ancient texts, Virabhadra thrust his way up from deep underground with his sword held over his head in both hands, an essence reproduced in the posture Virabhadrasana I.

Virabhadrasana II

Next, Virabhadra made his presence known by standing with his sword poised and ready to strike. Essentially, the posture Virabhadrasana II embodies this quality.

Virabhadrasana III

Finally, Virabhadra lifts his sword into the air and strikes. You may think of this as the sword of discernment or Viveka.

 

Strength and Clarity

We learn from these postures to use the power of Viveka to differentiate right from wrong and useful from useless,  important aspects of the yogic path.  The next time that you work your way through these postures, think of the spirit of their creation as you work toward strength and clarity in your body and mind.

~Suzanne