In my last post, I talked about sat sangha, right relationship, with yourself. What about right relationship with others? Loved ones, friends, and community? Well, researchers have collected some interesting data and it turns out that the yogis, once again, had it right.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the best longevity study in history. Researchers followed 724 men and their families for over seventy-five years. Every two years, researchers collected questionnaires, medical records, blood samples, brain scans, videotapes and family testimonies. What did the researchers learn?
The big take away was "Good relationships keep us happier, healthier and help us live longer."
Social connections are really good for us. People who are connected to family and friends are happier, healthier and live longer. Loneliness leads to unhappiness, deteriorating health and early death. It's not how many people are in your life, it's the quality of those relationships that matters. High conflict relationships are really bad for our health. Living in the midst of close, loving relationships is protective. What predicted longevity was how satisfied the men were in their relationships. Good relationships protect our brains. Being in a securely attached relationship led to healthier brains and memories.
The people who had the best health, most happiness and longest lives were the people who held close, intimate, loving relationships with family, friends, community - sat sangha.
Namaste, Peace, Love and Light to you and yours,
Sat Sangha is a Sanskrit term that translates as "right relationship" or "true community"
Classically, it relates to being in community with spiritually like-minded people, your spiritual family or tribe. If we expand the definition, it can mean being in right relationship with yourself, your significant others, your local community and your global community.
What does it mean to be in right relationship with yourself?
When you have patterns (samskaras) that filter your awareness, not only are you seeing a false reality, but you are not being your true Self. The first step to being in right relationship is to identify and acknowledge your patterns. Look for places in your life that aren't working and then use svadhyaya, a deep introspection, to reveal the patterns and then dig into the underlying motivations for these patterns.
Let me give you a personal example:
I used to get really triggered when someone would question my intelligence. Even if someone said, "I don't think that is correct." I would feel a strong sense of self-righteousness and over-react. That should have been my first clue that I had a big I'M NOT SMART ENOUGH button that was easily pushed. I could have worked on the underlying issue. But, instead I tried to get smarter...I got my BS, my MS and my Piled Higher and Deeper, became a teacher and an expert in my field. Not to say that all those things aren't great, but what was the driving force. Over time, my deep self-inquiry began to expose the folly. My dad was a self-made man and very authoritative and I remember him being verbally abusive around my intelligence. He called me names and if I got and A- on my report card, all of the focus was on that, not the five A's. So, at a young age I internalized that and strove harder and harder to be smarter to please him, like we do. Not until I did some "daddy issue" work in therapy, group counseling and, of course, svadhyaya, did I start to see how enmeshed my psyche was. Now, if I take a course or study, I can check in to make sure my motivations are true...to be of better service to my students, my clients, my patients and humanity, not to make myself look smarter or to please my dad.
As you dig into the depth of your being many patterns will be exposed. A big part of yoga is to unearth these samskaras as a way to transform yourself, to enlighten yourself. Some patterns are from childhood, others are from paste lives and others are archetypal patterns that stem from our human condition. So don't get worried as you dredge all these up, the more patterns you expose, work through and release, the more free you are. And the more you will see the true reality and be in true relationship with your Self, your loved ones and your greater community.
Ever had an identity crisis? Well, in yoga the ancients say that the cause of all our suffering is our misidentification. We identify ourselves with our body when, in fact, we are much more. We are physical, energetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual manifestations in a unified field of pure Love awareness, Omnipresence, Omniscience and Omnipotence. Call this Unity what you will...God, Goddess, Yahweh, Allah, Brahma, Infinite Intelligence. Or align yourself with the avatars Jesus, Buddha, Krishna who are perfect conduits of Love and Light. As long as you see yourSelf as you truly are.
The other part of this is nishkama karma, selfless action. Gandhi lived his live based on this phrase from the Bhagavad Gita. That and tyaga, renunciation. When we identify ourSelves with the All, the One, we are no longer attached to selfish desires, no longer attached to the fruits of our labors. We do what we came here to do in this life, then we let it go with trust and faith in the One Power of the Universe that we will receive all that we need to keep doing what we do.
So now that you know who you are. What are you here to do? What unique gifts and talents has Source endowed you with to share with the world? How are you going to make this world a better place, a more loving place, a place of the shining Light? I wish you the best! Namaste, Mark
They're all part of the same family. It's called the American family. They're bound together by common purpose, mutual trust and selfless devotion to our nation and to each other. The soldier understands what we often forget, that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all. I do not make a habit of quoting The Donald (or listening to his rhetoric), but I must say he did speak some truth (even if it was lip service). I would extend this to our World family and say that violence toward anyone is violence inflicted on us all. And not just violent acts. Ahimsa is non-violence of thought, word and deed, to the letter and in the spirit. If you look at another person with hate in your eye, you have already committed assault in your heart. If you hold violent thoughts toward another, you have already started a mental force that adds violence to our World. Even if you hold the spirit of separation in your consciousness, you are adding separation to a divided World.
Now we can't change other people, so the best way to change the World (if you think it needs changing) is to change yourself into the role model you would want to see. You know...be the change that you want to see in the World. And release expectations of anyone following your lead, especially those you think should. All you can do is what you believe to be right and true. So how do you know what you think, feel and do is right compared to anyone else. If it comes from a place of peace, love and unity in your heart of hearts, then trust it is right. If it comes from a place of violence, hatred and separation, better think again. This begs the question: Are you in touch with your heart of hearts?
The yogis gave us tools to tap into our consciousness. One of those tools, svadhyaya is a deep introspection where we approach our own desires, motivations, priorities and values. Through this meditation practice we can see what patterns of thought, feeling and behavior are active for good or bad. Once we are aware of and understand our negative patterns, we can practice viyoga to separate from these patterns.
Another tool is pratipaksha bhavanam, to shift to an alternate consciousness, no longer allowing the negative patterns to "run" us. To change our perspective, attitudes, thoughts, feelings and actions toward what is "good" and "right" in the highest sense. This practice disarms our negative patterns and empowers our highest good. Ultimately this transforms us to our highest potential as our True Nature shines through.
In this installment, a slight deviation from the norm in celebration of the Summer Solstice.
Originally a pagan celebration, it is when the Earth's axis is tipped closest to the Sun. At this point, the Earth stops its inclination toward the Sun and reverses its direction. Therefore, Sol (Sun) stice (standing still). Thousands gather at Stonehenge to witness the Sunrise. As it is the longest day of the year, it is often seen as a representation of our most illumined time; A time when we are closest to the Light.
Since we already are close to the Light, we can use the Summer Solstice as an affirmation and a time to reflect and re-establish our intention to continue to move toward the Light.
What does it mean that we are already always in communion with God? Not that the everyday world is an illusion. The illusion is simply that we appear separate. The underlying reality is that all of life is One. The ideal of the vedas, upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita is to live in the world in full awareness of this Unity. Giving, receiving, enjoying, participating in other's joys and sorrows, but always aware that the world comes from God and returns to God. This life we have is everlasting in that our true Self is never born and never dies and is eternally in communion with God, Lord of Love, the Light, the Om.
"Hear O' children of immortal bliss! You are born to be united with the Lord. Follow the path of the illumined ones and be united with the Lord of Life."
Kyphosis is the spinal curve that is associated with your upper back. It can manifest in
other areas of the spine, but the most common form is a "rounded upper back." The
normal curve of the thoracic spine, called the primary curve, is rounded forward 20-45
degrees, however, when your back rounds more than 45 degrees (>2.5 cm forward shift),
it becomes "hyper-kyphotic" and is abnormal.
Although kyphosis can be congenital (from birth), caused by osteochondritis
(Scheuermann's disease), due to poor nutrition (Vit D deficiency), or caused by trauma, the
most common is acquired postural kyphosis. Postural kyphosis is due to "slumping" or
"slouching" which unnaturally rounds the upper back. Overtime, your spine and
surrounding structures become altered. The worst case of this that I have seen was a
middle-aged man who was an avid weight lifter and had tightened his chest and abdominal
muscles to the point of having a permanent "hunchback." I also worked with a woman with
osteoporotic spinal compression fractures that had a permanent hyperkyphosis. In some
severe instances surgery is indicated, but when compression fractures are present or your
spinal structure is permanently altered, kyphosis may be irreversible.
What I want to talk about is the postural hyperkyphosis that is reversible. Now, we have
probably all been told "you're slouching, sit up straight!" by someone with the best
intentions. That's not usually the most effective way of creating positive change and
kyphosis is more complicated than that. Besides just a bad habit, slouching creates
inherent muscle imbalances that promote and advance the problem. The most common
imbalance is tightness of the muscles on the front of your body and weakness of the
muscles on the back of your body. This is somewhat of an over-simplification. More
specifically, tight pectorals and abdominals with weak spinal erectors. Our breath is
shortened due to the downward collapse of the rib cage. And what complicates this further
is another classic manifestation: shoulders rounded forward and head protruded forward.
These associated problems are most commonly due to weak anterior neck core muscles
and tight posterior neck muscles, along with tight anterior shoulder muscles and weak
posterior shoulder muscles. So, you can see how this gets complicated and a simple "sit
up straight" will not do the trick.
Generally speaking, a practice of postural awareness, breath awareness, opening the front
of the body and strengthening the back of the body is indicated. You can do the
necessary exercises on your own with minimal props to alleviate the muscle imbalances
and restore natural postural alignment. Goodbye, kyphosis!
When I think of Spring cleaning, I think of sweeping out the old, getting rid of that which no longer serves me. Letting go of the past. Releasing old habits and patterns.
The ancient yogi's recognized that the root of our dysfunctional patterns (samskara) is the conditioned mind. So they developed the science of meditation to understand, transform and master the mind. According to the ancient yogi's, mastering the mind is the path to Self (God) realization, fulfillment and liberation (moksha). Yoga uses an integrated practice to establish a deeper state of awareness, through which we can surface and transform habit patterns and realize our highest potential.
We can use yoga postures (asana) for structural purposes like postural awareness and
physical healing, or to prepare for breathing practices (pranayama). We can use
pranayama to influence the autonomic nervous system and our physiology, or to prepare for meditation. We can use meditation for stress reduction, or to understand our minds, become aware of our unconscious patterns and transform them. This leads to actualizing our highest potential, finding joy and happiness in the present moment, finding peace, and a means of linking our heart to God, known as Self-realization.
How do we do this? Yoga gives us tools and teaches us a number of methods:
svadhyaya - "inner self-study" where we surface our dysfunctional patterns.
pratipaksa bhavanam - "go to another room" where we re-frame our perspective to our
highest potential, sankalpa - "set an intention" and make a commitment to doing the work required to transform ourselves.
Your transformation should be specific to your life experience, your patterns and what
works for you. Also, your transformation should be consistent and practiced in all
earnestness for a long period of time. Yoga Sutra I.14 sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya
satkarasevito drdhabhumih” Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness."
Gurudeva Paramahansa Yogananda referred to it as "the art of emerging from what you
are into what you are going to be in the future. Every time you give up a weakness and
feel happy in being good, Christ is resurrected anew." Divine Freedom is gained by many
little victories. Jai !
When we talk about Yoga Therapy, what are we really talking about?
We are talking about using the tools of yoga to treat the causes and symptoms of dis-
ease. There are many possible tools to use, so let's use shoulder pain as an example and break it down to make it accessible.
viyoga - decrease (or ideally, eliminate) the negative stress on your shoulder. This could
mean decreasing the amount you use your shoulder, the amount of weight you lift, and the range of motion that you use when you move your shoulder. This might include how you sleep on your shoulder (or not) and the cumulative stress that happens over several days. What about dietary considerations? Are you eating things that you are allergic to or that are creating inflammation? How is your sugar? Statistical evidence puts people with high blood sugar at risk for adhesive capsulitis. It might also include reducing mental/emotional stress, which has been shown to increase pain. It might mean looking at negative patterns of "shouldering too much" or "carrying burdens." The arms are extensions of the heart, so look at patterns involving giving and receiving, especially love. Release your expectations and embrace the reality of the situation with compassion. This list is not exhaustive, and remember the blog post from March 9th.
samyoga - apply positive stress to your shoulder. Move your shoulder only in the pain-free range of motion. Only lift things that do not increase your pain. Maintain healthy neck and shoulder posture. Gently warm-up and stretch tight structures and strengthen weak structures. This includes the right yoga breath-centric asana. What I mean is the right posture and movements will help to heal, but the wrong posture and movements could harm. This may include specific rotator cuff and/or other shoulder exercises. Change your diet to reflect healthy eating of whole foods and drink plenty of purified water. Surface negative thought patterns using svadhyaya or other yoga methods and transform these patterns into positive thoughts, which lead to positive behaviors. Connect with your heart around giving and receiving love to create positive emotions. Use meditation to manage stress and prayer to give you hope for healing. There are many other tools like pranayama, mantra, mudra, marma cikitsa and ayurveda, etc. Ultimately, yoga is about accepting our soul journey with compassion and aligning our heart and mind with our true spiritual nature.
In this special Sunday edition of the Healing Arts Blog, I want to address an important
aspect of Life, Death.
Early this morning, my dad passed. He finally succumbed to throat cancer after being
diagnosed a year ago. He died peacefully without suffering in a hospice care facility in
Bloomington, Indiana. He was 90 and lived a full life. Even though his death was coming
(as it is for us all), the finality of it does carry a poignancy. I will never see him again, or
hear him again, or feel him again, except in my memories. A couple of days ago, I felt him
in my heart and I knew he was about to go. We have these soul connections on Earth and
are aware of each other. So, I let go and let God.
So, what about death.
In classic yoga, one of the most important reasons to practice is to prepare for our moment
of death. Prepare ourselves for the inevitable passing of our soul into a new dimension.
How do we prepare ourselves? By living as a constant offering to our Higher Power. By
being in constant awareness of God's presence in our lives. By living our lives as souls
destined to be with God and realizing that we are already always with God. All we have to
do is awake to this truth...this universal reality. That is what Yogananda meant when he
said "When you work for God, then you know that you are not surrounded by death but by
the immortal breath of God. When you look at the limited surroundings of the material
world and relate yourself to the world and its limitations, you forget your Infinite Nature and
you think that you are also limited." But when you live in communion with God, and love
God with all your heart and mind, soul and strength. When you love one another as
brothers and sisters. When you surrender to God's omnipresence, omniscience, and
omnipotence, then you will find your true life and not fear death. Amen.
What does happiness have to do with health? Well, a vast amount of scientific literature
has detailed how negative emotions harm the body. Serious, sustained stress or fear can
alter biological systems in a way that, over time, adds up to “wear and tear” and,
eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and
anxiety can disrupt cardiac function by changing the heart’s electrical stability, hastening
atherosclerosis, and increasing systemic inflammation.
In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years,
for example, researchers found that emotional vitality—a sense of enthusiasm, of
hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional
balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The protective effect was
distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not
smoking and regular exercise.
Research suggests that certain personal attributes, whether inherent or learned, can help
people avoid disease or manage disease better. Here are the qualities of a happy, healthy
1. Emotional Vitality - a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness and engagement in life.
2. Optimism - the perspective that good things will happen and that one's actions account
for the good things that occur in life.
3. Supportive networks of family and friends.
4. Being good at "self-regulation" that is choosing healthy behaviors and avoiding
unhealthy behaviors. Also, bouncing back from life's stressful challenges and knowing that
things will eventually be better.
So, don't let the world, life and your dis-ease get you down. Undo the patterns of negative
thinking and create health through life-affirming positivity.
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