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Yoga and Mindfulness in Schools

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after school yoga

image credit: Holistic Life Foundation: hlfinc.org

I’ve often wondered what school would have been like if it prioritized self-knowledge, so that instead of showing up in whatever state you’re in to study math, you first check in with yourself and become aware of what’s going on inside.

I didn’t even know what stress was until I was 16 years old and somebody told me I was stressed. I said “What are you talking about? No, I’m not!”. I wasn’t trying to hide my stress; I simply didn’t know what it was. It took a lot of piecing together to eventually notice the tense discomfort that we experience as stress. Now, decades later, I realize that my youth was chock full of stress, but I was so lacking in self-awareness that I didn’t see it.

Because of growing up with very little attention to what was going on inside me, I think about how crazy it was that school curriculum was entirely based on learning facts with no real importance placed on observing the inner world of all those beings who were doing the learning. Yes, 2 x 2 = 4, but what is the universe like for the consciousness who’s trying to learn this?

Fast forward to the present day and schools are starting to recognize the importance of consciousness to learning. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? I hear more and more these days of mindfulness practices being taught in schools and it’s very exciting!

I was elated to find out about Robert W. Coleman Elementary in West Baltimore, Maryland, that has replaced detention with meditation. Instead of kids being kicked out of school for poor behaviour, they’re sent to practice yoga and meditation to gain self-awareness and to improve their capacity to self-regulate. And it’s not just a “punishment”: yoga and meditation has been integrated into the curriculum and daily activities. Kids start every day with 15 minutes of meditation and yoga, tuning into themselves and their connection to the world around them. Students have access to yoga classes both during and after school. Now this is education!

yoga in elementary school

image credit: CNN

According to this Upworthy article, “Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.” Not only do they meditate and practice yoga, but also talk through their experience of the situation that led them to needing some extra mindfulness.

Not surprisingly, attendance has improved, school suspensions dropped to zero.

The more exciting part is that Coleman is just one school in a growing movement of consciousness in the education system. Holistic Life Foundation serves 10,000 students a week in West Baltimore. They continue to train school staff to bring yoga, meditation and self-care to more and more places. According to their website,

They have taught in a variety of locations including private, physical therapy yoga classes at the Baltimore Center for Wellness and classes at drug treatment centers to help with addiction. Many colleges, government agencies, yoga studios, and corporations have benefited from their vast array of classes.

holistic life foundation landing page

image credit: Holistic Life Foundation: hlfinc.org

Holistic Life Foundation is not alone in its consciousness raising. Doing a little research, I came across an organization called Mindful Schools, which offers online mindfulness courses, including courses for educators wanting to do what Coleman Elementary has done.

There’s also MISP, Mindfulness in Schools Program: mindfulnessinschools.org/about/about-us

A teacher looking overjoyed and empowered

image credit: mindfulnessinschools.org/train/

These initiatives make me feel extremely hopeful for young people today and for the future of education. A generation of young people who understand themselves from the inside out could bring about a level of personal and global well-being the world has never known. We live with a palpable amount of darkness in the air these days, but perhaps this spread of consciousness in the world is a sign of more illuminated days ahead.

Yoga, Meditation, and Aging

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Hi yoga friends,
I’m pleased to have guest writer Harry Cline share his thoughts on how to use yoga and meditation to slow the effects of aging. Hope you enjoy.

How to Use Yoga and Meditation

to Slow the Effects of Aging

Yoga class

Photo Credit: Pexels

Staying active is one of the biggest challenges seniors face. As muscles naturally weaken and retirement encourages an easy excuse to be lazy, it can be difficult to find an exercise you enjoy doing. Practicing yoga is one of the best exercises for seniors. This low-impact exercise is both relaxing and incredibly beneficial in a number of different ways.

Strengthen Your Muscles

It can be hard to come to terms with the fact that your muscles can’t do what you want anymore. But with yoga, your capabilities may surprise you. In a short amount of time, you will be able to see results. Do Yoga With Me lists strengthening muscles and increased mobility and flexibility as some of the many benefits of yoga. These are necessary to keep you independent as you age.

Yoga is also an excellent tool for improving balance. Considering that an adult over the age of 65 falls every 11 seconds, this is a huge incentive to take up yoga. It has also been shown to relieve aches and pains in the joints.

Keep Your Mind Sharp

The mental benefits of yoga are well-documented. Through meditation in conjunction with yoga, you will see a sharp improvement in your mental health. Psychology Today reports that the benefits of yoga include decreased stress and anxiety, increased focus, and improved memory. In seniors, this can counteract the effects of aging.

Mediation has also been shown to help provide a sense of spirituality and can connect you with the outside world. Many people in addiction recovery use meditation as a tool in helping them overcome their addiction. For them, being able to connect to the spiritual side of their self is just as important as addressing the needs of physical self. Seniors can also benefit from this. Yoga and meditation can help ground them and improve their whole selves.

Finding the Right Class

If you are uncomfortable walking into a yoga class of 20- and 30-year-olds, that is okay. Many yoga studios or local rec centers now offer classes specifically for seniors. Chair yoga is growing in popularity among seniors. It is perfect for those that do not want to move on and off the floor quickly. This is perfect for those worried about falling.

If there aren’t any classes designed for seniors in your area but you still want to try it, you have options. There are many different types of yoga for all different skill sets. Do not hesitate to call a studio and talk to them about your physical capabilities. Most will be happy to point you in the right direction and can most likely direct you toward a gentle yoga like gentl Iyengar yoga class.

Use Props and Modify Poses

One of the best things about yoga for the senior crowd is how adaptable it is. Take advantage of using props such as blocks or straps. Do not think of these as a crutch. These exist to make sure you are properly aligned so that you can get the full benefits of the pose.

The poses themselves are also often able to be modified. If you have any physical limitations, whether that means you are recovering from surgery or have a bad ankle, be sure to tell your instructor. They will be able to help modify your pose so that you can still complete it without causing unnecessary strain on your body.

Do it On Your Own

Classes are great, but you probably won’t be able to attend class every day. After you have gotten comfortable with yoga, feel free to do it at home. Sixty and Me encourages beginners to take at least four weeks of classes to get familiar with the poses and process before bringing it home. Make sure you clear out enough space for you to move and keep your props nearby.

Flexibility at Its Finest

The yoga studios may be populated with a young crowd, but it is the ideal exercise for seniors. It will keep your muscles loose and strong as well as keep your mind sharp. Grab your yoga mat and head down to the studio right away.

 

 

Pranayama ~ Relax Into Winter

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Pranayama Workshop

with Siobhan Sloane-Seale

Three people sitting in half lotus.

In this 3 hour workshop we’ll spend the first half doing supported yoga postures to prepare ourselves to focus and relax the body before going deeper into breath work. In the second half of the workshop we’ll focus on supine and seated pranayama breathing exercises.

Pranayama is the fourth branch of yoga. Prana means breath or vital energy. On subtle levels prana represents the energy responsible for life. “Ayama” means control or restraint. We’ll explore the breath’s potential to deepen our capacity for a settled mind.

Sunday, December 10, 2017
2:30-5:30pm
156 East 7th Ave (Just west of Main St.)
Early bird price: $35 (until Dec 3)
Regular price: $40

Spring Yoga Sale

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Spring yoga sale at Yoga on 7th

Four woman in Tree Pose.

This Spring sign up with a friend and you’ll both get 20% off the session.

Sale ends May 7 for the Sunday 12pm class,

and May 10 for the Wednesday 1:30pm class.

Contact me at [email protected] or, call me: 604 500 4168.

Did yoga originate in Africa?

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In researching material for posts in honour of Black History Month, I came across the intriguing idea that the birthplace of yoga was not India, but Africa. The popular understanding is that yoga asana dates back at least 5,000 years and was practiced by ancient Indian ascetics. But some say its earliest documentation is actually 10,000 years ago, depicted on temple walls in Egypt.

Plow pose

Adherents often refer to ancient Egypt as Kemet and the practice of yoga in this lineage Kemetic yoga. It’s also known as Smai Tawi.  One of these proponents is yoga teacher and founder of the Afrikan Yoga Foundation, Pablo Imani, who teaches that yoga disseminated from Egypt to India. The Afrikan Yoga website associated with him serves as a virtual hub to the African yoga community and includes videos, teacher profiles, upcoming events, and heaps of other information about Egyptian yoga.
Pablo is not alone in this conviction. I found YogaSkills School of Kemetic Yoga advertising 200-hour teacher training courses in Atlanta, Chicago, Jamaica and South Africa. I also found a blog post by one Sehu Khepera Ankh which offers and insightful explanation of what Kemetic yoga is.
During this year’s Black History Month, McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE) and Montreal’s Alkemy yoga studio presented a workshop “about the African history and roots of yoga.” Alkemy offers three Kemetic yoga classes a week. One testimonal refers to Kemetic yoga as a distinct style of yoga.
During my research, I came across an illuminating post by Amara Miller, who is a yogi and sociologist PhD student at UC Davis. She’s writing her dissertation on the evolution and popularization of modern yoga after WWII in the United States. In her post, she discusses the myth that yoga as we know it was born in India at least 5,000 years ago.
Mark Singleton discusses this myth at length in his book Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, revealing that what many think of as an ancient lineage is a relatively recent phenom consisting of practices heavily influenced by and borrowed from gymnastics and other practices of the last 100 years.
Amara then states that it is just as surely a myth that yoga originated in Ancient Egypt. She says the belief in African yogic origins is based on hieroglyphics and ancient Egyptian art that portray people in poses that are typically seen in modern day yoga classes.
Urdhva Dhanurasana
So that’s it, I thought. The purported African origins of yoga have been soundly rebuked. …Then I read the comments below the article, where Kemetic yoga practitioners and researchers rebutted. Amara had said that this African origin myth was born very recently — in 1994 by Dr. Muata Ashby, who authored several books on the topic. My research indicates that this isn’t true. There was a Kemetic yoga movement afoot at least as far back as the 70s, and commenters pointed out this factual error.
Further discussion in the comments, which Amara participated in, yielded a more insightful conclusion: there may well have been bodily spiritual practices in ancient Egypt that were akin to today’s yoga postures, though no causality may exist.
One respondent suggested it was like martial arts. They exist, and have existed, in many cultures around the world, though there is no single lineage that has given birth to all of them. Spirituality is an almost universal phenomenon. The insights of mind-body union may well have been recognized independently in Egypt and India. There’s no need and probably little possibility of finding a definitive single origin to these practices.
To answer the title question is to wade into the evidence much more deeply. For now, I present a very intriguing subject and I’ll present my findings in a future blog post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!

Yoga For Lazy Days – Part Six

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5) Supported Savasana/Supported Salamba Matsyasana is a lovely pose for days you don’t have the energy for anything. Place a bolster across your mat at the base of your shoulder blades. Alternatively, you can use blocks as in this picture:

Woman in supported Corpse pose.

(Source: cynthiabatesyoga.net/practice/2016/2/4/yoga-for-your-heart-savasana)

The head support is a good idea, if you’re stiff in your upper back. You can go deeper by gradually lessening the height. If you’re more open in your back and chest, you can work towards no height under your head, and even deepening the pose by raising the height of the support under your thoracic.

Benefits: This pose does wonders for mood, breathing and opening the upper chest and spine. It also alleviates stress, migraines, insomnia and fatigue, and enhances recovery from serious and chronic illnesses.

So now you have 5 wonderful poses that are easy to do, take very little time, and make a huge difference in how you feel. Next time you find yourself feeling too tired to do yoga, you know that there are still a number of poses you can do that fit your energy level.

***Remember to breathe***

Yoga For Lazy Days – Part Five

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Feeling Bleh? Try this one…

4) If it isn’t already, Viparita Karani will become a heavenly staple in your yoga practice for those times when you’ve been run off your feet and your legs and feet are swollen and sore. Getting the blood rushing out of them and new blood flowing in will remove the pain and reinvigorate you in about 10 minutes. One of the best things about this pose is that you get to do it lying down. At its most basic, It also requires nothing more than a wall and a bed or the floor, so you can do it without needing any yoga equipment.

Eve Johnson in Viparita Karani.

The image above is from Eve Johnson’s yoga blog, myfiveminuteyoga.com, which is a fantabulous resource for many more ideas for yoga poses you can add to your repertoire. Eve is using a bolster, which is a common way to do the pose, but even without a bolster, you’ll feel how amazing this pose is if you hold it for at least 10 minutes.

Benefits: Regulates blood pressure; helps treat ear and eye ailments as well as stress-related headaches; relieves asthma, bronchitis and throat infections; alleviates arthritis and cervical spondylosis; relieves indigestion, diarrhea and nausea; prevents varicose veins.

***Remember to breathe***

 

Yoga for Lazy Days – Part Four

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Feeling Bleh? Try this…

4) Baddhakonasana lends itself very well to a lazy day because it’s partially active and involves sitting in a comfortable position. But don’t be fooled — there’s a lot of good happening in this pose. And who doesn’t want lots of benefits without a lot of work?

The work you want to be doing in this pose is elongating evenly through the side body, pressing the soles of your feet together, and attempting to move your thighs lower to the ground. To start you need to sit on enough height for your knees to be lower than your hips and have a downward tendency. You can facilitate this downward movement by resting or gently pressing your hands down against your knees. If you’re quite open, you may need no height at all. Five minutes in this pose is excellent.

A yoga student sitting in Baddha Konasana.

(Source: ihanuman.com/asana)

In this quiet place, you have a great opportunity to become more spacious and meditative by focusing on your breathing. If you like, you can take longer, slower deep breaths to increase your vibrance and tranquility.

Benefits: Good for kidney and prostate health, helps treat urinary tract disorders, reduces sciatic pain, prevents hernias, helps the reproductive system, corrects irregular menstruation, reduces testicular pain and vaginal irritation.

***Remember to breathe***

Yoga for Lazy Days – Part Three

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Feeling bleh? How about this one…?

3) Paschimottanasana is a wonderful pose for when you have all the time in the world, because it allows you to really deepen into it slowly and gently to an extent you aren’t likely to have time for in class.

Be sure to extend towards the computer or television you’re watching as you fold forward. If you can reach your toes, grab them to help pull you a bit deeper. If you’re very flexible and can grab the wrist of your opposite hand over the soles of your feet, then you can do this for the same effect. If you can’t reach your feet, then use a strap around the soles of your feet.

This is how the pose will look if you’re stiff:

A yoga student sitting in Dandasana with a belt.

(Source: Pinterest)

Your pose will look more like this if you’re quite open:

A yoga student in a seated forward bend.

(Source: pakladies.com/yoga-treatments-and-exercise-for-diabetes)

This pose is much more about how much extension you get from your sacrum to the crown of your head than about how close you can get your forehead to your knees. The downward motion comes from the space and softness you create by extending forward maximally, not from simply pushing your head down to your legs, which can hurt you.

Benefits: Rests and massages the heart; soothes the adrenal glands; tones the kidneys, bladder and pancreas; activates a sluggish liver; improves the digestive system; helps treat impotence; stimulates the reproductive system.

***Remember to breathe***

Yoga for Lazy Days – Part Two

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Feeling Bleh? Try this one…

2) Gomukhasana is a great pose you can do just about anywhere. If you have the space and the inclination, you can sit in the full pose. If not, you can just do the arms while standing in Tadasana (Tadasana Gomukhasana). If you can’t clasp your hands together, hold a belt in your top hand and grasp it with your lower hand, gradually working your way up the belt to your final pose. The tendency in this pose is to shorten your side body, typically on the side of your lower hand. Correct this by bringing even length into both sides of your body by rooting both feet into the floor (sitting bones, if sitting), and lengthening upwards.

Here’s Mr. Iyengar demonstrating the full pose:

Mr. Iyengar sitting in Gomukhasana

(Source: jackcuneo.com/blog/2014/10/4/gomukhasana-cow-face-pose)

…and here’s what the modified pose looks like:

A person sitting in modified Gomukhasana.

(Source: byronyoga.com/asana-spotlight-gomukhasana)

Benefits: Helps uplift the spirits (great for sadness or depression), alleviates cervical spondylosis, improves breathing, strengthens knees (the standing pose), reduces sciatic pain, corrects flat feet.

***Remember to breathe***