The Element of Wood: Transforming dreams into action! With Anne Witmer

Have you been feeling stagnant, trapped, stuck in a rut?

Get your wood chi flowing to ignite growth, expansion and change

Chinese Medicine describes springtime as being dominated by the element of “wood” which we observe in nature as the force that pushes new growth up from the ground.  Wood energy propels that which has been hidden out into the light of visibility.

In our own lives, wood energy is the creative force that compels us towards growth and change and provides us with a sense of purpose and direction.  Wood energy gives us the courage to overcome our own limiting patterns and allows us to become more fully ourselves.  Just as wood energy pushes plants up from the ground, it can also inspire us to bring our own hidden talents out into the world.  

When are wood energy is weak or stagnant we tend to feel stuck, bored and frustrated.  Either we just can’t get going or our efforts to obtain what we want seem to be constantly thwarted.  Living in a frustrated state of unfulfilled desires blocks our wood chi and leads to disharmony in both the mind and body.  However, rather than chasing after futile pursuits, it is better to cultivate a sense of contentment and gratitude for what is already in our lives.  This is the best way to unblock the flow of energy and ultimately put us back on the right track.

Spring is the best time to nurture strong, flowing wood chi in our bodies.  One way to do so is with Yin Yoga. There are specific yin poses that stimulate the meridians and organs associated with wood, namely the liver and gallbladder.   The liver meridian runs on the inner thigh and can be targeted by poses such as butterfly or dragonfly (wide straddle). The gallbladder meridian runs on the outside of the legs and hips and can be targeted with hip openers such as shoelace or square pose.   Holding these poses for a number of minutes can help strengthen and pool the chi as well as help unblock stagnation in the meridians. The effect can be enhanced by employing mindful meditation during the practice or using self-inquiry to explore how and why one feels blocked and frustrated.  

Once your wood chi is strong and flowing, the sky’s the limit!  

So here’s to spring and here’s to being our best selves!

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Rasayana: An Afternoon of Rejuvenation with Anne Witmer

RASAYANA CHIKITSA

Long life, heightened memory and intellect, freedom from disease,

 youthfulness,  excellence of complexion, luster, and of voice; 

optimum strength of the physical body and the senses; 

fulfillment of whatever is spoken; reverence of all people—

all this does one obtain by the proper use of rasayanas. 

These rasayanas are so called because they replenish the vital fluids of the body.  

(from the Ayurvedic text:  Charka Samhita, Chikitsasthanam I/7-8)

Rasayana which means, “that which destroys old age and disease,” is a therapeutic process of offering deep nourishment to the cells, tissues, and organs of the body in support of their healing, renewal, and regeneration.

The sanskrit word rasa means juice, fluid or essence.  In the context of Āyurveda, rasa specifically means the preservation, transformation, and replenishment of energy. The word ayana means “to increase” or “to circulate”. Thus, rasayana is something that promotes the circulation of the vital essence or juices of life, or more simply, a way to restore and maintain the fluids or juiciness in our bodies.

Rasayana is one of the eight specialized branches of the practice of Ayurveda.  In Ayurveda, rasayana refers to both the science of promoting longevity and the herbal & behavioral remedies used to maintain optimal health as well as to reverse the effects of aging.  A Rasayana therapy is any herb, food, treatment or practice that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health, heals imbalance and sustains clarity and happiness.   One might engage in a rasayana therapy protocol for a specific time period (often a month - depending on need) to repair and restore one's system   But many of these practices can be incorporated into one’s daily routine to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. 

Rasayana therapy can take different forms such as:

  • Going on a retreat to receive special treatments with oils, herbs and foods. 

  • A dedicated time for healing and rejuvenating the body/mind.

  • an ongoing practice in adopting an Ayurvedic lifestyle.

Rasayana therapy might be indicated in a number of different situations such as after a deep cleansing process, when one is mentally and physically depleted from stress & overwork, or after intense physical exertion.  These techniques can be particularly helpful in the late fall and winter (Vata season) to ease the transition to the colder, dryer time of the year when it is more likely for the body and mind to become out of balance.

Engaging in Rasayana practices can help:

  • Improve strength, energy, vitality and stamina 

  • Bolster immunity 

  • Promote courage, confidence, and success

  • Slow the aging process and increase longevity

  • Promote cellular intelligence and

  • Improve memory 

  • Bring balance, awareness, joy, and clarity into one’s life and relationships

The Rasayana Process is holistic and incorporates many elements including:

  • dietary modifications (nourishing fresh cooked foods)

  • ayurvedic herbs

  • gentle, grounding yoga practice

  • pranayama - focusing on relaxation of the nervous system

  • meditation or quiet reflection (especially at dawn)

  • specific ayurvedic techniques such as abhyanga (warm oil massage) & nasya (oil application in nostrils).

  • lifestyles adjustments

Lifestyle adjustments (both temporary and long-term) are key to maximizing the healing process and include such things as:

  • Minimizing stress.

  • Minimizing travel,

  • Getting sufficient amounts of quality sleep,

  • Maintaining positive relationships.

  • Avoiding unfamiliar places or situations that might incite anxiety, fear, or loneliness.

  • Wearing enough clothes to avoid getting chilled, especially in cool, windy weather.

  • Undertaking a period of celibacy to preserve your vital life energy.

  • Maximizing emotions & behaviors that enhance healing such as:

    • love, compassion, uplifting speech, cleanliness, charity, piety, respect toward teachers and elders, positive outlook, moderation and self-control, especially with regard to alcohol and sex, simplicity, routine/regularity.

  • Avoiding emotions and behaviors that are toxic to health:

    • anger, violence, harsh or hurtful speech, conceit, speaking ill of others behind their back, egotism, dishonesty, coveting another's spouse or wealth.

Yoga Conditioning - The Core by Emily Light

The word “core” gets tossed around a lot in yoga, but, in most cases, it’s used relatively

ambiguously. Do you know what the intrinsic core muscles of the body are? These are the

muscles that come on board when we lose our balance. The ability to return to a place of

stability is important, not only on your mat, but it’s essential in every movement. For a moment

in time, with each step we take, we’re balancing on one leg. This requires that we engage these

deep core muscles. When we’ve learned to optimally tone the muscles of the pelvic floor,

respiratory diaphragm, the transverse abdominis and the multifidi, we can move with more

ease and grace.

Read More

What is fascia and why should you care?

Simply put fascia is a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing all of your muscles, organs and internal structures, I’ll say that again… enclosing ALL of your internal structures. Every single muscle and structure of your body is surrounded by the interconnected tissue network of your fascia. Research has shown that even our more non tangible energy channels often referred to as nerve endings in Western medicine, Nadis in Indian medicine, and meridians in traditional Chinese medicine run through our fascia. Because of this the structure and functioning of your entire body, physical and energetic is affected by the malleability or rigidity of your fascia. …

I would be thrilled to lead you through 2hrs of self massage and fascial release work on December 15th at Yoga Bhoga.

Read More

The Three Gunas by Meghan Maris

In the yogic cosmology, the universe came into being through an explosive expansion similar to the modern theory of the Big Bang. Primordial nature, or prakriti, was resting in perfect harmony. Through the “bang,” prakriti differentiated itself into three basic qualities of energy known as sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Rajas is the active, stimulating, or positive force that initiates change. Tamas is the dull, obstructive, or negative force that sustains previous activity. Sattva is the balancing force, harmonizing rajas and tamas. When prakriti fractured, sattva generated the mind, rajas the life-force, and tamas gave rise to the elements that make up the physical body. These qualities are present in everything that we see, even the so-called inanimate objects. All three forces are needed in normal activity, but they have spiritual repercussions as well.

The gunas have a veiling power over the mind, covering the reality of Absolute Consciousness. Tamas keeps us in darkness, concealing the unity of life. Rajas keeps the mind scattered, drawn to the stimulation of the external world.

The gunas also relate to the different levels of consciousness within us. Tamas represents the unconscious mind. In this state there is no awareness of the unity of life. Rajas is the mind that is motivated by egocentricity, oscillating between worries, frustrations, and false perceptions. A sattvic mind is one that is undisturbed, clear, and harmonious. This is often referred to as the higher mind. Although negative thoughts arise, the higher mind is unperturbed, removing the need to react to the negative tendencies.

There are two important laws that apply to the gunas: the law of alternation and the law of continuity. Because of alternation, the gunas are in constant interplay with one another. Rarely do we see pure sattva, pure rajas, or pure tamas. Whatever guna may be dominant at the time is usually intertwined with the other two, each affecting the others in a variety of ways.

Although it is initially difficult for tamas to become rajas, or rajas to become sattva, once they make that transition the predominant quality will continue for a period of time. This is the law of continuity. These two laws are always in play. For instance, the night belongs to tamas, the day to sattva, and the transitional times of sunrise and sunset to rajas. The phases of time alternate but they hold their position for a period of time.

Sattva

Sattva embodies the qualities of love, light, and clarity. Sattva is responsible for spiritual endeavors to evolve our consciousness. It bestows the dharmic virtues of honesty, self-control, and humility. Yoga encourages the development of sattva, eventually transcending this quality all together. However, it must first be cultivated before it can be transcended. Yoga practices such as asana, pranayama, and meditation develop sattva. Other ways to cultivate sattva include ethical living, self-control, maintaining a vegetarian diet, living a pure lifestyle, seeking the company of like-minded people, selflessness, and devotion.

Rajas

Rajas embodies the qualities of agitation, passion, and activity. It gives rise to the emotional fluctuations of love and hate, attraction and repulsion, fear and desire. The higher force of rajas is the impetus for spiritual pursuits and holistic healing, creating peace and harmony. The lower form of rajas leads to self-centered thoughts and actions, breeding exhaustion or suffering. The higher form of rajas is necessary for it is the transformative power necessary to embark on the path of spirituality.

Tamas

Tamas embodies the qualities of darkness, dullness, and inertia. It is the pull of the lower force or mind which keeps us stuck in ignorance and attachment. Tamas creates heaviness, emotional clinging, and stagnation. The higher form of tamas is the power that helps us resist impulses that draw us off the path.

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September Challenge Reflection: A letter from Robert Baker

Robert Baker in India scouting locations for his upcoming documentary The Expat.

Robert Baker in India scouting locations for his upcoming documentary The Expat.

Yoga Bhoga!

I moved to Portland around 4 months ago. I went to a studio in The Pearl for the first month. It was good and sweaty, but I felt that it lacked a level of sophistication and spirit in the teaching that I had had in the past and was hungry for again. The movement at this other studio was more about moving from asana to asana than it was about the asana. The thing about yoga is that asana is the point. I think of it like this. Yoga is the doorway to all of life’s best stuff. Asana (and breath) are kind of like the key in that they unlock the door. The challenge, I suppose, is that we have to go through the door regularly in order to partake of the goodies within. I made my first yoga discovery several years ago while going through the hardest experience of my life. I felt broken and so very alone at the time. The first thing a teacher said which touched me was, “breathe through the pain.” My mind caught the odd sentence and immediately my higher self sent the message to my suffering self that this idea was just as applicable to my heart as it was to my sore muscles. I thought it strange that “exercise” could create a spiritual experience, but as I have quieted my breathing and my mind chatter, I have realized that in some miraculous, mysterious way yoga is healing me on every plane...physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

Honestly, it was a pleasure to go to 41 classes in September. There were times when I was sore, but for me the stakes are too high to allow fatigue to hinder my progress on the path. The stakes are peace, happiness (I’m not talking the silly brand we are told to want, but real contentment) and I hope ultimately liberation. Liberation is a huge topic. It’s gradual and beautiful like a sunrise that takes a few decades. It’s fine with me because I think I can see it happening.

I hope everyone at Yoga Bhoga realizes what gifted teachers are here. They know their craft and they love it effortlessly.

I made a decision after the first yoga class I went to during that brutal time, that yoga will always be in my life. The path is too rich and littered with too many gems to ever leave it. So, thank you Meghan and Krista and Kimi and Anne and Amanda and Sara and all other Bhoga teachers for enriching my life and creating a beautiful place to grow.

Much love, Robert

Asana for Meditation

While concentration and meditation can be found in a variety of seated positions, lotus pose was held in particular high regard by the ancient yogis. Our goal is to find a comfortable and steady seat as suggested by Sri Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. This requires several forces within the body to balance. From the pulls of the spiraling hips to the shoulders as they press upon the breath, our physical practice can enhance our opportunity to sit in easier balance and quiet the mind. Here are a few movement suggestions that can release and activate the body to maintain a seat for longer meditation practices.

Image 1. Piriformis, obturator internus, and ligament of the hip joint.

Image 1. Piriformis, obturator internus, and ligament of the hip joint.

1) Finding the sit bones - The position of the hips in a half lotus seat is an exceptional request that requires a significant amount of external rotation at the hip joint. Tight muscles like the piriformis (image 1) can grip which pulls the pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt (tucking into a slouch posture). By sitting on a bolster, zafu (meditation pillow), or multiple blankets when doing this, the demand on hip flexibility is reduced which helps the pelvis organize more neutrally. Once you get to a height where you have total play of the pelvis (you can tuck the tail, stick the tail out, and tilt into each sit bones freely) you have found a comfortable and sustainable seat. If it seems like you wouldn’t find play in the pelvis unless you were sitting in a chair, then sit in a chair! You and many others feel the same. If your yoga classes doesn’t offer a chair then try thunderbolt pose, sitting on the shins with the legs together or with the pelvis on a block (no rotation at all). A posture that deeply opens the hip and the piriformis is Pigeon pose or a simply figure 4 (isolating the front leg of Pigeon pose).

Image 2. Multifius of the transversospinalis group.

Image 2. Multifius of the transversospinalis group.

2) Finding the spine - As we sit for longer periods of time the muscles of the spine fatigue and your body falls into a head forward upper chest collapsed posture. We essentially hang on our connective tissue as gravity weighs on us. The key muscle group to help us stay erect is the multifidus (image 2) which runs up and down the vertebral column snuggling the spinous processes (your stegosaurus bones). The muscle fibers span 2-4 vertebrae from origin to insertion and run the entire length of the spine from the cervical to the sacrum. When the right and left sides co-contract it offers stability and decomposes the vertebral bodies, literally making you taller. To strengthen this muscles group in your meditation, place a block between the pelvis and the wall (establishing distance from the wall) then move the block to your behind your head. Gently press the head into the block and imagine you could “slide” the block up the wall. Be sensitive to the tendency to extend the spine. To create opposition, as the block slides up visualize your tailbone rooting downward and your low back elongating. A posture that helps activate multifidis is locust especially when emphasizing length rather than deep back bending.

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3) Lift your shoulders - Before you sit, take your shoulders through full range of motion. In giant circles lift you shoulder blades to your ears, back to squeeze the spine, down onto the ribs, and then forward into a rounded position. Continue this circle many times over, hydrating and mobilizing all the muscles and connective tissue that connect the arms to the ribs. Once you have created some warmth and mobility, allow the shoulder blades to rest passively on the ribs as if they were floating on top of a cloud… DO NOT PUSH THEM DOWN. As we draw our mind to our breath we want the lungs in their entirety to be free to inhale and exhale. A posture that will help open your shoulders is gomukasana (cow-face pose) that emphasizes the shoulder blades mobilizing.

All of these notes can be used as a mindful external focus. Begin your meditation on the seat and its comfort, then move the mind to your spine and its length, then allow your breath to be the main point of focus. Using the container, our body, as a guide for our seat. Once you have explored your seat with mindfulness place your awareness on the rise and fall of your breath.

Anatomical images created by 3D4Medical Ltd. (2019). Complete Anatomy (Version 4.0.1 (7770) Mac application software.

Loveless-Lennartz. (2018). Asana for meditation [Blog post]. Retrieved from www.yogabhoga.com/blog/asana-for-meditation