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Archive for December, 2010

Happy New Year!

Salvador Dali & A Brave Yogini

Have a happy, healthy 2011! May next year, and your yoga practice, be filled with strength, grace, light, balance, and … creativity!

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courtesy of time magazine

In the December 23, 2010, issue of Time Magazine, reporter Maia Szalavitz profiles a fascinating new study on meditation and longevity.  It is well worth the read and I’ve posted it all here:

The image of the ancient but youthful-looking sage meditating on a mountaintop might be closer to reality than you think, according to a new study that found that after a three-month stay at a meditation retreat, people showed higher levels of an enzyme associated with longevity.

The study is preliminary and didn’t show that meditation actually extends life, but the findings suggest a possible means by which it could.

Researchers led by Tonya Jacobs of the University of California-Davis compared 30 participants at a meditation retreat held at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado with matched controls on a waiting list for the retreat. Participants meditated six hours per day for three months. Their meditation centered on mindfulness — for instance, focusing solely on breathing, in the moment — and on lovingkindness and enhancing compassion towards others.

After the three-month intervention, researchers found that the meditators had on average about 30% more activity of the enzyme telomerase than the controls did. Telomerase is responsible for repairing telomeres, the structures located on the ends chromosomes, which, like the plastic aglets at the tips of shoelaces, prevent the chromosome from unraveling. Each time a cell reproduces, its telomeres become shorter and less effective at protecting the chromosome — this, researchers believe, is a cause of aging. As the chromosome becomes more and more vulnerable, cell copying becomes sloppier and eventually stops when the telomeres disintegrate completely. Telomerase can mitigate — and possibly stop — cell aging.

“Something about being on a retreat for three months changed the [amount of] telomerase in the retreat group,” says Elizabeth Blackburn, a study author who has won a Nobel Prize for her previous work on telomerase. “We didn’t prove that it was meditation [that caused the change]. A lot of things happened during the retreat. But the interesting thing was that the changes we saw tracked quantifiably with the change in people’s psychological well-being and outlook.”

In other words, people with higher levels of telomerase also showed more increases in psychological improvement. In retreat participants who showed no psychological change, telomerase levels were not any higher than in controls. (Researchers were unable to compare telomerase levels in the groups both before and after the retreat for logistical reasons.)

“It’s a very good study with interesting results in terms of health implications,” says Alan Marlatt, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington who has studied meditation for decades but was not associated with this research.

Of course, the relationship between health and telomerase is complex. In a recent study in mice by Harvard researchers, they found that boosting levels of telomerase reversed signs of aging, restoring graying fur and fertility, increasing brain size and sharpening scent perception. Too much telomerase activity can also be a problem, however. A cell that reproduces endlessly sounds like a good thing at first — that cell would be immortal. But this is exactly what happens with cancer cells — infinite replication. “If telomerase levels go too far up, that’s [associated with] cancer,” says Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the University of California-Davis Center for Mind and Brain and a co-author of the new paper.  He notes, however, that the difference is one that is orders of magnitude higher—so that meditation could not possibly cause cancer.

So how does meditation affect the machinery of cellular reproduction? Probably by reducing stress, research suggests. Severe psychological stress — particularly early in life and in the absence of social support — has been linked with poorer health, increasing risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers. This is likely due to the negative effects of high levels of stress hormones on the brain and body. By reducing stress hormones, perhaps meditation contributes to healthier telomeres.

In a study published a few years ago in Lancet Oncology, researchers compared 30 men before and after adopting lifestyle changes following a diagnosis of low-risk prostate cancer. The patients started meditating, switched to a healthy plant-based diet, exercised and attended a support group. Like the new study, the Lancet Oncology paper found increases in telomerase linked with reduced psychological distress.

“The mind has a big influence on the body. If you get anxious, your heart beats faster and your stomach churns,” says Blackburn. “But we don’t know yet [if meditation is linked to] a reduction in stress hormones. The physiology is very complex.”

Recent evidence supports a connection: a study published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that mindfulness meditation can reduce relapse in patients who recovered from depression just as well as antidepressants.

Of course, the increases in telomerase seen in the current study could be due to some other unknown factor that separates the meditators from the controls. That’s another reason why it’s too early to suggest that stress-reducing mind-body interventions like meditation be prescribed as a treatment for any diseases or disorders. The study also did not show that meditation actually extends life, only that it may increase the activity of an enzyme that is associated with longevity.

Still, research on meditation is expanding dramatically, with studies finding it helpful for pain, depression, addiction and many other conditions. “There’s a very exciting dialogue going on,” Marlatt says of the research. “It works for many different kinds of clinical problems. It’s very promising.”

That noise you hear in the background? Millions of new meditators chanting, “Om.”

This study is really interesting.  I wonder if we would see the same results if the subjects began a daily meditation practice, or if the increase in telomerase was the result of the 3-month immersion like?  Regardless, study after study shows that meditation is an amazing practice to cure what ails you.  Studies like these make me wonder why more yoga studios don’t offer meditation classes.

Does your local yoga studio have a meditation class? Tell me about it! Know of a good one in the Los Angeles area?

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This week’s edition of Yoga Tattuesday comes from “Svasti”, an Australian yogini, yoga teacher, and blogger. Several years ago, Svasti was in Thailand on a yoga retreat, and after the retreat headed to the outskirts of Bangkok to receive a traditional Thai tattoo. Here’s a photo of Svasti’s tattoo:

Traditional Thai tattoos are also called Sak Yants, and many believe that these tattoos have incredibly protective powers. You can read more about the art of the Sak Yant in a November 2007 story for National Public Radio (NPR) by Scott Carney.

Here’s what Svasti said about her decision to get her tattoo, and her experience:

My tattoo was done by well-known Thai tattooist Ajarn Tong (“Ajarn” meaning master). These tattoos are not just for looks: they come with a mantra that must be repeated three times a day. The Ajarn himself comes from a long line of tattoo masters, and photos of previous masters as well as various gods and goddesses adorn his altar. The giving AND the recieving of this kind of tattoo is a spiritual practice, and those who choose to be tattooed are mostly sadhakas – spiritual seekers.

In fact, Ajarn Tong does his tattooing work in some kind of spiritual trance. Before he begins, much puja (ceremony) happens, and those coming to be tattooed are asked to pray and make offerings. Then, Ajarn takes snuff and settles into his trance. If you’ve never experienced a trance state or seen someone in a trance, this can be quite confronting. He appeared to be in two worlds, as though he was channeling.

That said, I was also of two worlds that day, having just come out of a four week retreat. I was very sensitive to the extrodinary amount of energy generated in the room and found the entire experience of being tattooed in that small, humid and dusty altar room to be incredibly uplifting.

Having this tattoo in the middle of my back means I don’t often see it, but I do feel it. Once the tattoo was finished, Ajarn Tong then does a form of energy work that empowers the tattoo, and let me tell you that over two years later it still has a zing to it!

You can read her more about her incredible experience getting the tattoo in a post she wrote for her blog.  It is an amazing story.

Thank you, Svasti, for sharing your experience with us!

If you, or someone you love, has a yoga-inspired tattoo and would like to share it with the whole wide world, please follow the instructions below:

How to participate:

1) Please email me photo of your tattoo: My email address is: yogabird03@gmail.com.

2) Along with the photo, please also include your name, where you’re from, what you do, etc. Be sure to include your blog, your website, etc. (if you have one), so that I can link to it in the post.

3) Please also include any information about how you started practicing yoga.

4) And most importantly, tell me why you chose your yoga-inspired tattoo!

I look forward to hearing from you and to seeing your ink!

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Swedish Yoga Baby Ad

I always find it interesting to see yoga trickle into mainstream media. Apparently, it isn’t just happening in the United States.  Here’s a television commercial for Libero diapers, a Swedish diaper manufacturer, which is pretty great.

Have a wonderful weekend, and a Merry Christmas to all who will be celebrating this weekend.

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A Yogi Faux Pas?  VOTE BELOW!!

Yesterday, I posted this little news item on Elephant Journal, and it got a huge response.  So I thought I’d share it here:

Picture yourself traveling home for the holidays.

You’ve no doubt trudged through horrible weather to get to the airport, and braved the long lines at airport security. You finally settle into your seat and peer out the window to see that a blizzard has arrived.  The pilot gets on the intercom and tells you that, unfortunately, you’ll be stranded on the tarmac for several hours until  conditions clear for take-off.

You wish you could just concentrate on reading your book, but another passenger decides that now would be the perfect time to practice yoga…Now…In the aisles…Of the stranded airplane.

This scenario was not just a figment of my imagination…this was reality for several hundred people aboard Virgin Atlantic from London to New York City this week.

The perpetrator of this bizarre performance?

Madonna.

Yes, the Material Girl decided that there was no better place and no better time for her to get in a little asana practice than on the tarmac, in the blizzard, and in the aisle of that airplane.

The other passengers of the flight were none too thrilled. Said one passenger:  “It was bad enough having to wait, but then she started doing her yoga in the aisles.”

Luckily the unwanted in-flight entertainment ceased when a bus came to collect Madonna and her entourage.  The other passengers? They had to wait an additional 2 hours for a bus to arrive to transport them out of the plane.

The comments so far have run the gamut, but mostly in Madge’s favor.  Here is just an idea of what readers at Elephant have been saying:

Team Madonna!

Linda-Sama: On a 17, 18 or 20 hr flight to India you bet your asana I’m doing yoga. For one thing, it’s dangerous to sit that long without moving around (Deep Vein Thrombosis.) While I’m not doing sun sals in the aisles, I am definitely moving and stretching and doing what is called tadasana vinyasa. Usually I go in the back where the attendants are, where there is more room, and do some lunges, Warr 1s, whatever my body needs. On more than one occasion, the flight attendants have joined in! As for disturbing other passengers, most are passed out asleep, watching a movie, or on their computers…I think yoga in the aisles is far less distracting than a screaming child kicking the back of your seat!

Dawna: Amen, sister, to Linda-Sama; I totally agree that on a long international flight, it is far better for people to feel free to stretch and move than worry about what others think about their asana practice. Not all yogis are as dramatic as Madonna, nor do we have entourages or private transportation. Since we’ve got to stick it out, we better be practicing yoga wherever we can for our health and safety. I had a pulmonary embolism at age 33 and was in the best shape of my life, never smoked and was uber healthy. Or so I thought. So I know first hand that we all must do our best to be compassionate to ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow passengers in these situations, and I support passengers who for their own health and safety are getting into the aisles and doing yoga!

Manohar: Are you serious? Who’s bothered by YOGA? Maybe if she was blocking the way to the bathroom (or booze cart) that would cause a stir, but then surely it wouldn’t matter what she was doing in the aisle but just that she was blocking it!

Kimberley Rome: Birdie, I always do yoga on a long flight. I usually go back into the area where the attendants hang out, but I have done it in the isle if there’s too much congestion back there because of the restroom line. What’s the big deal about moving the lymph, blood, oxygen and muscles around in a cramped, not too healthy environment. Personally, my hit is that if it was such a big deal, it was probably more the fact that it was Madonna, than the fact that she was doing yoga. People love to snipe about celebrity. I’ve never gotten anything but a smile from folks, and it’s way less intrusive than some uncomfortable seat mate slumping asleep into my chair space. Quietly doing yoga, being present, and breathing — sounds like practice to me. Stranded on the tarmac? I think we would have a much happier and more compassionate planet if people whipped out a few asanas in every stressful situation. Think about if those folks complaining had focused on their breath, instead.

Lauren: i always encourage my students to practice yoga on a plane, and i myself practice during flights as well. it’s so important to move and get the circulation going. as long as you aren’t in anyone’s way, i’m 100% on board for yoga on a plane!!!

Tobye: Used to do the 12 hrs from London to Arizona a lot. Defo did yoga in the back of the 747. The laneway between the toilets is just right for squeezing into Prasarita padottanasana…A lot of the exercises they give you in the little handbook on those long-haul flights are all yoga poses…Most yogin would seek a private practice somehow…or at least be discreet. That said, peeps do strange things when they get stressed. Madonna was probably trying to control her anxiety at being delayed…

Kris R: Give me Madonna doing yoga over a screaming, kicking child or obnoxious drunk anyday.

Sarah Jessica: I routinely do yoga during long flights, but I usually go back by the loo and the emergency exit. Last time, on a flight from London to the US in September, the flight attendant chatted me up the whole time and we compared notes on our respective home studios and practices. I’m pretty sure I didn’t bother anyone. The aisles seem a bit tight to me, but meh, I don’t see why it would be a big deal. If you are stuck on a plane, its much more difficult to listen to a child scream or cry (for the child and the passengers) than to watch (or ignore) a yogi or two.

Beth: Seriously, people pay good money for that kind of show!

Team Birdie:

Allyson B: public masturbation…

yogadarla: def a faux pas! people are already close enough. i really dont want people sweating and exhaling all over. it’s travel. do your yoga in your seat. sheesh! (i am a yoga teacher i LIVE for sweat and breath but if you need to stretch on a plane- walk to the bathroom)

So, what do you guys think? Let’s put it to a vote:

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courtesy of dorothea lange

Yesterday, I discovered this news item from The Associated Press:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The women snuggle into nests of pillows and blankets.

A light breeze, like a mother blowing on a baby’s boo-boo, falls from ceiling fans and tickles their backs. The room is dark, silent, until they crawl out of child’s pose and chant, “Omm.”

This is free yoga for the unemployed: a different kind of jobless benefit where former managers, laid-off limo drivers and others can turn to the grown-up version of nap time to ease the stress of being out of work.

With national unemployment just below 10 percent, $20 yoga classes don’t qualify as necessities for many out-of-work people who’ve pruned luxuries from their budgets. So in a gesture that’s part send-good-vibes-to-the-universe and part community outreach, a handful of yoga studios have decided to cut the unemployed a break.

“We didn’t want them to have to choose, ‘Should I eat today or go take this class?’ We wanted to give them the ability to do both,” said Zack Lynn, a computer techie by day who teaches a free yoga class for people out of work in Columbus.

The Integral Yoga Institute in New York started offering free weekly classes last year when some students lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to pay $17 per course. Now, a dozen or two jobseekers drop in for free sun salutations and other stretches every week.

“It helps to quiet the mind and helps people realize that this is a temporary situation,” said Jo Sgammato, the studio’s general manager.

Yogis say breathing exercises can reduce the stress of job interviews and post-stretching tea time is good for networking.

“You’re not really thinking about other things,” said Quinn Johnson, a 42-year-old former limo driver who started attending Integral Yoga’s free classes earlier this year. “You’re relaxing. You’re stretching.”

Some students have found work and switched to paid classes. But employment experts and yogis alike are quick to point out that yoga shouldn’t get all the credit.

“Yoga’s not getting anybody a job,” said Wendy Enelow, an executive career consultant in Coleman Falls, Va. “What the yoga studios do — and I think kudos to them — is if you physically feel better, your head’s going to feel better and you’re in a better place to manage your job search.”

Practicing yoga is believed to reduce stress and improve concentration. Some studios offer special classes to help veterans work through traumatic experiences and women cope with pregnancies.

Can’t make it to the weekly class? The studio in New York — and others in cities such as Chicago and Berkeley, Calif. — have given unemployed people discounts on other sessions. At Integral, that means paying $10 per class instead of $17.

Yogis follow a granola-crunching code of honor at the free classes in New York and Columbus. (Asking for proof of unemployment seems like a yoga buzzkill.)

“If somebody comes all the way here and tells us they want to take that free class because they’re unemployed, we’re going to believe them,” Sgammato said.

Back in the dark yoga sanctuary in the Columbus studio, called Yoga on High, Lynn leads a group of unemployed — or barely employed — women through relaxing poses.

It’s yoga more shabby than chic. Most of the students are dressed in T-shirts and hoodies rather than the hip hippie garb of Lululemon. They rely on the kinds of blankets you might find in car trunks.

Apparel aside, the class resembles its full-priced counterpart. Students bend into silhouettes of the alphabet — the outline of an A in downward-facing dog, an I as they stretch long, lean, toward the ceiling.

The din from the street gives way to a yawn-inducing state of silence, the kind of silence that quiets the deepest worrier’s qualms. A sign reminds fellow yogis passing by, “Quiet Please…. Savasana In Progress!”

Lynn adjusts the students’ postures as they ripple through poses. Then he tucks them into forts made of ergonomic pillows for deep relaxation.

“If you are extremely comfortable and want to stay there, that’s fine,” he says. “But I would prefer that you lie on your back for at least a few minutes.”

Bethia Woolf, a 35-year-old who recently started a food-tour company in Columbus, went to her first free class after she lost her job as a rowing coach. She says the class forced her to get out of the house and stay in a routine — something she wouldn’t have been able to afford if she had to shell out $15 per class.

“Even though it has a lot of health and well-being benefits, there’s things you feel guilty about spending money on that aren’t essentials,” Woolf said.

In Los Angeles, there are many yoga studios that are, surprisingly, donation based. And I know of many studios across the country that offer community classes – which are usually much cheaper than regular classes, scheduled at unpopular times (a noon yoga class, anyone?)  and are taught by newer teachers.  But I haven’t heard of any classes that are geared specifically towards the unemployed.  Are there any in your area?

By the way, the photo above was taken by Dorothea Lange. If you’ve never heard or read about her, you can read about her here.

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This week’s edition of Yoga Tattuesday is a first, of sorts.  This post marks the first time an individual was nominated to appear on Yoga Tattuesday by a reader of the blog.  A few days ago, I received an e-mail from reader, Beverly Britton, who nominated her friend, BeAnne Creeger, for this week’s Yoga Tattuesday post.  Here’s a photo collage of BeAnne’s tattoo:

About her yoga-inspired tattoo, and her yoga practice, BeAnne says:

I grew up thinking yoga was for old people, but then I was forced to go to a class with my best friend who had to go with her mom, as punishment for something I can’t even remember now. It’s hilarious to think she used yoga, as punishment, but looking back, it changed my life. My journey began that day sitting next to my best friend with my index finger and thumb pressed together while chanting om in a room that held me like a mother’s womb.
The “journey” is about the human soul opening to the light of the divine and as I got farther in to my practice and began the study of Eastern philosophy, I realized yoga was more than just a physical practice. It was opening me up to something far greater than I ever imagined. It was creating a stillness that was allowing me to be fully aware and conscious for the first time in my life. I always wanted a tattoo, but didn’t know what I wanted permanently sketched in to my body until I learned the deeper meaning behind the lotus flower, which begins its life in the mud at the bottom of a pond. The lotus sprout slowly grows up towards the light until it breaks the water’s surface blossoming in to a radiant flower unstained by the mud and rich in color.

Just like the lotus flower, we need light in order to step out of the dark shadowy self. It is the truth of our radiant being that allows us to be authentic and to find the truth we must sit in the shadow. Spiritual growth is about rising above the challenges and awakening to the intangible essence of life. The lotus tattoo is a symbol of all that is beautiful in life. It represents my journey from ignorance to enlightenment and it reminds me to be free from attachment and to have compassion for the world and the unbounded suffering.

BeAnne is a yoga teacher who hails from Atlanta, Georgia.  She graduated from the Advanced 500 credit hour teacher training program in June 2008 at the Peachtree Yoga Center in Atlanta.  You can learn more about BeAnne on her website.  She also writes a really great blog.

Thank you, BeAnne, for sharing your yoga-inspired tattoo! And thanks to Beverly Britton for the nomination. By the way, the photos of BeAnne above were also taken by Beverly, an incredibly talented artist who specializes in yoga-inspired artwork. Check her out at Align Between.

If you, or someone you love, has a yoga-inspired tattoo that they would like to share on this here little yoga blog, let me know.

How to participate:

1) Please email me photo of your tattoo: My email address is:yogabird03@gmail.com.

2) Along with the photo, please also include your name, where you’re from, what you do, etc. Be sure to include your blog, your website, etc., so that I can link to it in the post.3) Please also include any information about how you started practicing yoga.

4) And most importantly, tell me why you chose your yoga-inspired tattoo!


I look forward to hearing from you and to seeing your ink!

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