Author: liveyoga

How Yoga changes your Brain

There is increasing evidence that yoga and meditation can improve our memory and attention, both help us to function at a higher level at work, home or in school. Furthermore, these benefits occur whether you?re new to yoga and meditation or a long-time practitioner, and studies show it might even help starve off age-related neural decline. The reason, neuroscientists have discovered, is that certain areas of our brain undergo positive structural changes when we meditate. Because the brain exhibits plasticity, which means it has the ability to change, whatever you experience will be reflected in ? and have impact on ? your brain structure.

Several groundbreaking studies have shown how meditation, especially when practiced over the long-term, can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions. For example, a continued meditation practice can produce a thickening of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, awareness, thought and language. Like a body builder who pumps iron, the bigger his biceps get, the heavier weights he can lift. Likewise, when we meditate, we exercise the parts of the brain that involve the regulation of emotion and mind-body awareness that lead to changes in brain activity and structure, which in turn improve our memory and attention.

Studies have shown how meditation can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions.
Studies show how meditation can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions.

One of my fellow researchers, Dr Sara Lazar of the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, found these brain changes to be especially apparent in long-time meditators. In her 2005 study, for example, MRI brain scans were used to assess cortical thickness in participants with extensive meditation experience (averaging about 9 years of experience and 6 hours per week of meditation practice), and a control group that did not practice yoga or meditation. Dr Lazar found the brain regions associated with attention, sensory, cognitive and emotional processing were thicker in meditation participants than those in the control group who did not engage in yoga or meditation.

This was the first significant study (of now more similar studies) to provide evidence for a link between long-term meditation practice and structural brain changes. Equally exciting is that the greater prefrontal cortical thickness found in the meditation group was most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that extensive meditation might also offset age-related cortical thinning. It appears that the brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing, which frequently diminishes over the years, can remain more youthful in those people who continue to practice meditation.

Alt text hereThe brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing can remain more youthful.

In another interesting study conducted at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA, differences in the brain?s anatomy and structure called gyrification (or cortical folding) were also discovered in people who meditated. Although the implications of this research remain to be fully established, the findings from this study support the possbility that meditation can lead to changes in regulation of activities including daydreaming, mind-wandering, and projections into the past or future, and a possible integration of autonomic, emotional, and cognitive processes.

And while research reveals long-term meditation can produce structural changes in specific areas of the brain that enhance our ability to learn, one does not have to practice for thousands of hours to reap the positive brain benefits. Dr Lazar also found that these increases in grey matter in some regions of the brain occurred after just 8-weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Education (MBSR), a formal program involving meditation and some yoga practice. These results suggest that even short-term participation in meditation-related practices can lead to changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions that are involved in learning and memory processes, as well as in emotion regulation.


Long-term meditation can enhance our ability to learn.
Long-term meditation can enhance our ability to learn.

Yoga makes the brain Smarter

Think about how we feel when we?re stressed. We might eat more, lose our appetite, sweat profusely, or simply want to bury our troubles in mindless television or computer games. What happens to our brains when we are under stress is that our bodies increase the secretion of cortisol, a well-known stress hormone. When faced with sustained, high levels of chronic stress, the associated high levels of cortisol can actually be toxic and even fatal to our brain cells. Because our hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, is particularly vulnerable to high sustained cortisol levels, we may ultimately compromise our learning and memory capacities when faced with uncontrolled chronic stress. By managing stress through yoga and meditation, you can actually improve your memory, concentration, and your ability to learn.

While researching the effects of long-term yoga and meditation, I found an intriguing study that reported improvements in attention, mood and stress over a very short time period. When a group of 40 undergraduate students were given 5 days of 20-minute meditation training, this group showed significantly better attentional abilities and control of stress than a similar control group of 40 students given only relaxation training, including greater improvement in attention, lower anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue and an elevated mood.

There was also a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol.

These studies, which are just a few of those being conducted today, clearly show a strong relationship between our ability to maintain attention and our responsiveness to stress and emotional reactivity. In other words, the more one practices the contemplative skill of controlling attention through meditation and yoga, the more one has a manageable stress response and improved emotional reactivity. Ultimately, our cognitive performance is most efficient and at its optimal level when we are more in control of our stress and emotions.

Our cognitive performance is most efficient and at its optimal level when we are more in control of our stress and emotions.

The Effects of Yoga on Memory and Decision Making

Yoga and meditation not only make our brain more efficient, they also improve brain activity related to decision-making and cognitive performance. In a research study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana, scientists compared the effects of a yoga exercise session to aerobic exercise, the results showed that the memory retention and cognitive performance after yoga was significantly superior (ie. shorter reaction times, increased accuracy) to aerobic exercise. The reason yoga can be better for the brain than aerobics (although both are good), is that it allows us to cope with stress and emotions more effectively.

Long-term yoga improves concentration, processing and motor speed

Research clearly indicates that yoga and meditation, especially a long-term practice, improves the way our brain functions, including our ability to concentrate and perform well on certain tests. In one study comparing 15 yoga practitioners with a control group of non-practitioners and involving a series of tests for attention, the yoga group performed significantly better. Long-term practitioners of yoga and meditation showed greater attention span, processing speed, attention alternation ability,and performance in interference tests.

Another recent study also showed improvement in cognitive functioning and dexterity among 57 research volunteers who were given tasks requiring attention, visual scanning and motor speed. Each participant was assessed before and after three types of sessions: yoga meditation, supine rest, and control (no intervention). The results showed that the yoga condition was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning with no improvement in test skills for those who did not practice yoga and meditation.

Yoga was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning.
Yoga was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning.

Yoga Improves Computation Skills

Many people believe that equation solving and memorisation are the most effective ways to improve one?s mathematical aptitude?all of which can be extremely time-consuming and, to the math phobic, feel like an ordeal. The fact is that sessions of yoga and tai chi can also sharpen your mathematical ability. These were the findings of a Bolo University of Miami School of Medicine study in which 38 adults participated in a session that included two minutes of tai chi movement and two minutes of sitting, standing, and lying down yoga poses. The researchers measured self-reported math computation skills of each participant before and after the session. The findings showed that the tai chi/yoga participants performed better on basic math after the workout. Why? The increased relaxation may have contributed to the increased speed and accuracy noted on math computations following the tai chi/yoga class.

Yoga as a learning tool for students around the world.

Another study providing preliminary evidence that yoga may improve academic performance of children in schools was done on 8OO teenagers in India. The students in this study who were engaged in a yoga program performed better academically than those who did not do yoga. Researchers selected 159 high-stress students and 142 low-stress students. Both groups were given tests in mathematics, science, and social studies. Those who participated in a 7-week yoga program of (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation performed better in academics than those who did not do yoga. The study also concluded that low-stress students performed better than high-stream students, showing, once again, that indelible connection between stress and academic performance.

Taken from:


The 6 key benefits of Mindfull Breathing

Being in a state of meditation means being present with what is. Following the breath, helps focus the mind and bring you back to the present moment. Recognizing the important connection between meditation and breathing, the Buddha taught attention to the breath as a fundamental meditation technique. He said, ?Being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes in; being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes out.?

In his classic guide to meditation practice, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes this about breathing: ?It helps to have a focus for your attention, an anchor line to tether you to the present moment and to guide you back when the mind wanders. The breath serves this purpose?Bringing awareness to our breathing we remind ourselves that we are here now.?

We have a Restorative Breathing Workshop coming up!

Breathing for Enlightenment

Vietnamese Zen Master and author Thich Nhat Hanh talks about mindful meditation as a way to develop deep insight, which leads to awakening and enlightenment. Meditative breathing, he says, is a tool to calm the mind so it can see into itself and gain that insight. It strengthens mind concentration and stimulates compassion, awakening each person?s true nature.


The breath is always with you. When you practice meditation and breathing you gain a skill you can use whenever you need to quiet and clear the mind. Just following a few breaths?in and out, in and out?can relax the mind and body so you can calmly observe and respond to the world around you, rather than mindlessly reacting to events. Mindful breathing is a technique you can use not only during formal meditation, but also in your daily life.

Let Go of Negativity

Benefits Of Breathing Meditation

Everyone has difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories; they are part of life. Trying to banish negativity is a useless pursuit. Rather, the challenge is to recognize negative thoughts and let them pass instead of identifying with them and giving them more power than they deserve. Meditative breathing teaches the mind and body to let go; like the breath, troubling thoughts and feelings come and go, they come and they go. As you learn to quiet the mind by paying attention to your breathing, distractions lose their power to disrupt your focus and disturb your mind.

Inner Peace

As you focus on your breath your thoughts settle down and your mind becomes calm and clear. What results is a feeling of contentment, happiness, and inner peace. Through meditation and breathing you will be better able to deal with life?s ups and downs without losing your equanimity.

Learn about Your Body

By following the breath as it courses through your body you learn how your body feels. The breath may feel warm or cool in different parts of your body, it may dissolve tensions, it may pass easily or feel blocked, it may relieve pain. Paying attention to the breath in the body as part of your meditation practice teaches you about who you are in your body.

Breathing to Connect Mind and Body

Kabat-Zinn makes clear the powerful connection between meditation and breathing when he writes, ?The breath is the current connecting body and mind?It is the current of life.?

Meditative breathing is a way to connect with the here and now, which is life.

Taken from:

Loneliness, The Middle Way and Enlightenment

In the middle way, there is no reference point. The mind with no reference point does not resolve itself, does not fixate or grasp. How could we possibly have no reference point? To have no reference point would be to change a deep-seated habitual response to the world: wanting to make it work out one way or the other. If I can?t go left or right, I will die! When we don?t go left or right, we feel like we are in a detox centre. We?re alone, cold turkey with all the edginess that we?ve been trying to avoid by going left or right. That edginess can feel pretty heavy.


“We?re alone, cold turkey with all the edginess that we?ve been trying to avoid by going left or right. That edginess can feel pretty heavy.”


However, years and years of going to the left or right, going to yes or no, going to right or wrong has never really changed anything. Scrambling for security has never brought anything but momentary joy. It?s like changing the position of our legs in meditation. Our legs hurt from sitting cross-legged, so we move them. And then we feel, ?Phew! What a relief!? But two and a half minutes later, we want to move them again. We keep moving around seeking pleasure, seeking comfort, and the satisfaction that we get is very short-lived.

We hear a lot about the pain of?samsara, and we also hear about liberation. But we don?t hear much about how painful it is to go from being completely stuck to becoming unstuck. The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA. We are undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern. It?s the human pattern: we project onto the world a zillion possibilities of attaining resolution. We can have whiter teeth, a weed-free lawn, a strife-free life, a world without embarrassment. We can live happily every after. This pattern keeps us dissatisfied and causes us a lot of suffering.

Find all our meditation classes on our schedule page

Our Birthright: The Middle Way

As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don?t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity. To the degree that we?ve been avoiding uncertainty, we?re naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms?withdrawal from always thinking that there?s a problem and that someone, somewhere, needs to fix it.


“Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, including you and me.”


The middle way is wide open, but it?s tough going because it goes against the grain of an ancient neurotic pattern that we all share. When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don?t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don?t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, including you and me.

Meditation provides a way for us to train in the middle way?in staying right on the spot. We are encouraged not to judge whatever arises in our mind. In fact, we are encouraged not to even grasp whatever arises in our mind. What we usually call good or bad we simply acknowledge as thinking, without all the usual drama that goes along with right and wrong. We are instructed to let the thoughts come and go as if touching a bubble with a feather. This straightforward discipline prepares us to stop struggling and discover a fresh, unbiased state of being.


“We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.”


The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it?s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don?t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up a familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. Or maybe we avoid the rawness by acting out and righteously telling the person how messed up he or she is. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.

Usually, we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It?s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness. They are less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one?s discursive thoughts.

Less Desire

Less desire is the willingness to be lonely without resolution when everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up and change our mood. Practising this kind of loneliness is a way of sowing seeds so that fundamental restlessness decreases. In meditation, for example, every time we label ?thinking? instead of getting endlessly run around by our thoughts, we are training in just being here without dissociation. We can?t do that now to the degree that we weren?t willing to do it yesterday or the day before or last week or last year. After we practice less desire wholeheartedly and consistently, something shifts. We feel less desire in the sense of being less solidly seduced by our Very Important Story Lines. So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn?t sit for even one, that?s the journey of the warrior. That?s the path of bravery. The less we spin off and go crazy, the more we taste the satisfaction of cool loneliness. As the Zen master, Katagiri Roshi often said, ?One can be lonely and not be tossed away by it.?


The second kind of loneliness is contentment. When we have nothing, we have nothing to lose. We don?t have anything to lose but being programmed in our guts to feel we have a lot to lose. Our feeling that we have a lot to lose is rooted in fear?of loneliness, of change, of anything that can?t be resolved, of nonexistence. The hope that we can avoid this feeling and the fear that we can?t become our reference point.

"Thoma Loneliness" by Hans Thoma -

?Thoma Loneliness? by Hans Thoma ?

When we draw a line down the centre of a page, we know who we are if we?re on the right side and who we are if we?re on the left side. But we don?t know who we are when we don?t put ourselves on either side. Then we just don?t know what to do. We just don?t know. We have no reference point, no hand to hold. At that point we can either freakout or settle in. Contentment is a synonym for loneliness, cool loneliness, settling down with cool loneliness. We give up believing that being able to escape our loneliness is going to bring any lasting happiness or joy or sense of well-being or courage or strength. Usually we have to give up this belief about a billion times, again and again making friends with our jumpiness and dread, doing the same old thing a billion times with awareness. Then without our even noticing, something begins to shift. We can just be lonely with no alternatives, content to be right here with the mood and texture of what?s happening.

Avoiding Unnecessary Activities

The third kind of loneliness is avoiding unnecessary activities. When we?re lonely in a ?hot? way, we look for something to save us; we look for a way out. We get this queasy feeling that we call loneliness, and our minds just go wild trying to come up with companions to save us from despair. That?s called unnecessary activity. It?s a way of keeping ourselves busy so we don?t have to feel any pain. It could take the form of obsessively daydreaming of true romance, or turning a tidbit of gossip into the six o?clock news, or even going off by ourselves into the wilderness.

The point is that in all these activities, we are seeking companionship in our usual, habitual way, using our same old repetitive ways of distancing ourselves from the demon loneliness. Could we just settle down and have some compassion and respect for ourselves? Could we stop trying to escape from being alone with ourselves? What about practicing not jumping and grabbing when we begin to panic? Relaxing with loneliness is a worthy occupation. As the Japanese poet Ryokan says, ?If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.?

Complete Discipline

Complete discipline is another component of cool loneliness. Complete discipline means that at every opportunity, we?re willing to come back, just gently come back to the present moment. This is loneliness as complete discipline. We?re willing to sit still, just be there, alone. We don?t particularly have to cultivate this kind of loneliness; we could just sit still long enough to realize it?s how things really are. We are fundamentally alone, and there is nothing anywhere to hold on to. Moreover, this is not a problem. In fact, it allows us to finally discover a completely unfabricated state of being. Our habitual assumptions?all our ideas about how things are?keep us from seeing anything in a fresh, open way. We say, ?Oh yes, I know.? But we don?t know. We don?t ultimately know anything. There?s no certainty about anything. This basic truth hurts, and we want to run away from it. But coming back and relaxing with something as familiar as loneliness is good discipline for realizing the profundity of the unresolved moments of our lives. We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity of loneliness.

Don’t Wander in the World of Desire

Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us?food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things okay. That quality comes from never having grown up. We still want to go home and be able to open the refrigerator and find it full of our favorite goodies; when the going gets tough, we want to yell ?Mom!? But what we?re doing as we progress along the path is leaving home and becoming homeless. Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are. Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be solved. The same is true for any other experience we might have.

Do Not Seek Security from One?s Discursive Thoughts

Another aspect of cool loneliness is not seeking security from one?s discursive thoughts. The rug?s been pulled; the jig is up; there is no way to get out of this one! We don?t even seek the companionship of our own constant conversation with ourselves about how it is and how it isn?t, whether it is or whether it isn?t, whether it should or whether it shouldn?t, whether it can or whether it can?t. With cool loneliness, we do not expect security from our own internal chatter. That?s why we are instructed in meditation to label it ?thinking.? It has no objective reality. It is transparent and ungraspable. We?re encouraged to just touch that chatter and let it go, not make much ado about nothing.


“We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humour at who we are.”


Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideas of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humour at who we are. Then loneliness is no threat and heartache, no punishment.

Cool loneliness doesn?t provide any resolution or give us ground under our feet. It challenges us to step into a world of no reference point without polarizing or solidifying. This is called the middle way, or the sacred path of the warrior.

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.

Taken from:


Yoga for high blood pressure

High blood pressure ? what doctors call hypertension ? affects one in three adults in the United States. Elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease, is often described as a ?silent killer.? Recognizable symptoms do exist ? fatigue, nosebleeds, nervous tension, ringing in the ears, dizziness, bursts of anger, headaches ? but not generally until blood pressure is dangerously high.

Stress as the culprit

Blood pressure ? the force blood exerts against the walls of your arteries as it travels through the circulatory system ? fluctuates during the day, increasing during exertion or stress and decreasing when the body is at rest. Most doctors agree that a blood pressure reading of less than 120/80 is ideal for adults, and diagnose hypertension when those numbers reach 140/90. The top number (the systolic pressure) refers to the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or contracts. The bottom number measures the diastolic pressure, or how much pressure remains in the arteries between beats when the heart is relaxed.

Although several conditions can cause secondary high blood pressure (kidney disease, hormone abnormalities, type 2 diabetes), more often than not a high-stress lifestyle can lead to what doctors call ?essential? hypertension, where there is no disease-specific cause.
Yoga, when performed mindfully, can reduce this type of stress-induced hypertension while addressing its underlying causes. It pacifies the sympathetic nervous system and slows down the heart while teaching the muscles and mind to relax deeply.


Balasana ? yoga for high blood pressure


Pranayama can also be extremely beneficial. Research studies demonstrate that conscious breathing quickly lowers blood pressure. Practising pranayama while lying down encourages the breath to arise smoothly from a relaxed state, without any force. If you do choose to sit, keep your spine straight and lift your chest, while keeping your head down in jalandhara bandha, so that there is no strain on the heart.

While a general yoga practice has a pacifying effect and can bring the nervous system into balance, some asanas work better than others for actually lowering blood pressure ? and simple modifications make others more beneficial. For example, do cooling poses, such as forward bends where the head is supported ? to bring a sense of calm to the head, neck, face, and diaphragm. Modify any standing poses in which the arms are normally extended overhead (like?virabhadrasana I) by placing your hands on your hips. In?trikonasana?(triangle pose), look down toward the floor instead of up at the ceiling to keep blood pressure from rising. Steer clear of poses that compress the front of the diaphragm, such as?dhanurasana(bow pose) and?mayurasana?(peacock pose), which can drive blood pressure up.

Anyone with untreated high blood pressure should avoid unsupported inversions, such as?shirshasana?(headstand pose) or?adho mukha vrikshasana?(handstand pose) ? or any other pose in which they can feel pressure in the throat or temples, or that cause respiration to become heavy or difficult.

Yoga asana’s

Practising a modified?halasana?(plough pose) is a good way to experience the benefits of inversions without the potentially harmful effects because you can learn to bear weight on the upper body and lengthen the sides of the neck without any strain. So if your blood pressure reads on the high side, stick to the modified version below.
Forward bends and other introverted asanas teach us how to quiet the brain and lengthen and soften the neck along the path of the carotid artery. When doing these poses to lower blood pressure, support the head, which has a cooling, calming effect on the whole body.


Iyengar Yoga for fatique relief

Bolsters, Blankets, Blocks, and Belts help open the body to deep relaxation.

Too tired. For many, it?s the default response to every request?even the fun ones. Some of the walking weary are simply too overworked or overstressed to get adequate rest, while others may feel drained by a physical ailment, a psychological condition, or the side effects of medication.

Whatever the cause, all can benefit from the respite that a restorative yoga practice provides.


When someone is deeply fatigued, a dynamic practice, like a double espresso, can be depleting, despite its initial invigorating jolt. Restorative yoga, on the other hand, soothes the senses, so they stop urging the mind and nervous system to react and instead turn their attention inward?on the breath or embedded tension, for example. These asanas also lower anxiety levels and calm the fight-or-flight response?the stress-induced outpouring of adrenalin and other hormones that taxes the systems of the body.


viparita dandasana ? yoga for fatigue relief


Furthermore, deep, long-standing fatigue can turn the simple, unconscious effort of standing upright into an exhausting task, and when the shoulders stoop and the spine sags, the chest and diaphragm get compressed, the breath becomes shallow, and the abdomen tightens. Under these circumstances, who has the strength or energy to hold their body with integrity in a yoga asana?

That?s why blankets, bolsters, blocks, and belts are essential props in a restorative practice. With their help, passive supported backbends allow the chest to expand without physical effort and open the body and mind to the stimulating effects of the pose without draining already-low energy reserves.


The first asana of this sequence supported?purvottanasana(upward plank pose), broadens and lifts the chest and frontal diaphragm away from the lower body. This posture encourages the inhalation to expand outward and upward toward the top chest, bringing lightness, while the abdomen can flow downward and soften on the exhalation.

Similarly, supported forward bends quiet the mind and body and provide a reprieve from overstimulation by turning the attention of the brain and senses of perception inward. At the same time, because the bolsters and blankets support the organs in the frontal body, the back of the body and kidneys relax and spread, further relieving tension.

Finally, inversions provide support for all of the body?s systems, especially the immune and endocrine systems, and thus help address various kinds of hormonal issues?like adrenal fatigue. Inversions give the heart a rest from its effort to pump blood to the brain and let gravity help refresh the legs and lower body from heaviness and vascular stagnation.


Iyengar yoga and releasing lower back pain

Iyengar Yoga helps back painChronic back pain is defined as pain that lasts more than three months. Notoriously it is difficult to treat. Not surprisingly, it drives many sufferers to turn to alternative and complementary therapies in search of relief. The?Spine?study is the second of two randomized trials to test Iyengar yoga.

Chronic lower back pain


90 adults participated in a year-long trial comparing the effects of Iyengar yoga therapy with those of standard medical care.
Participants ranged in age from 23 to 66, and all were suffering chronic low back pain.
About half of them were assigned to 24 weeks of a twice-weekly, 90-minute regimen approved by B.K.S. Iyengar and taught by a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and two assistants with experience in teaching yoga therapy to people with chronic low back pain. On days when they didn?t have a yoga class, they were instructed to practice at home for 30 minutes using a DVD, props, and an instruction manual.
The rest of the participants (the control group) continued with usual medical care and were followed with monthly telephone calls to gather information about their medications or other therapies.

All subjects reported on functional disability, pain intensity, depression, and medication use at the start of the study, midway through (12 weeks), immediately afterward (24 weeks), and at a follow-up six months later.


Compared with the control group, the Iyengar group experienced a 29% reduction in functional disability, a 42% reduction in pain, and a 46% reduction in depressive symptoms at 24 weeks. There was also a greater trend toward lower medication use in the yoga group. There were no reports of adverse effects.

Six months after the trial ended, 68% of the yoga group was still practicing yoga ? on average, three days a week for at least 30 minutes. Their levels of functional disability, pain, and depression had increased slightly but were still lower than those of the control group.


A small number of participants, as well as reliance on the participants? own reports of symptoms and disability. Also, the control group, on average, had been suffering back pain longer than the yoga group. Still, the results are consistent with findings from other studies of yoga for low back pain.


The breakfast Dilemma

?What should I eat for breakfast? ? is one of the most common question I hear and I know it represents a real problem most of us struggle with. Is breakfast indeed the most important meal of the day? Should we eat a light or full nutritious breakfast ? High in carbs? Or rich with proteins? Let?s think about it for a moment, the word breakfast consists of two words; break and fast meaning literally breaking the fast. That is good because in order the break the fast you need to fast first and then eat, right?



When we evolved as a species, food was not available 24/7, when we found or hunted something, we ate and then perhaps had to fast for hours, days or even more. Our physiology has evolved to deal with these conditions, hence the whole mechanism of hormonal production, secreting insulin to remove excess glucose from the blood to keep it ?for later? and leptin to manage energy storage in fat cells and releasing it back to the blood when needed (when there is no food available). Now, our bodies still work exactly the same, only we don?t really stop eating all day long?

The more the nutrition science develops the more we look into understanding our ?manufacturing manual? in order to understand what is the optimal diet and lifestyle for us and this principle of ?intermittent eating? proves to have a lot of health benefits; regulating hormonal production, natural weight balancing, leveling blood sugar, regeneration of cells and natural healing processes and many more. For most of us, who live busy life, working, taking care of families, it is practically impossible to stop eating for a whole day or more and therefore shorter fasts on a regular basis e.g. narrowing the eating window is a perfect solution.


So I say, fast first and then break the fast; try fast for at least 12, and even better, 14 hours before you start eating again. For example, if you finished your dinner around 7 or 8 pm, stop eating until 7or 8 am and if you ate later then start eating later. Some of us are naturally not hungry in the morning and some of us can?t start the day without breakfast. The only golden rule I suggest here is to listen to your own body and needs. If you have to leave the house you can always pack your breakfast to eat later. The nature of your breakfast should also take into consideration the type of work or activity you do. Is your work physically challenging or do you sit the whole day in front of a computer?


And now for some practicality. For most of us, midweek mornings are hectic as hell and not much time at hand and therefore the ultimate quick yet super nutritious breakfast can be a smoothie. You can throw in fruit, green leaves, nuts and seeds, good fats like coconut oil or avocado, your favorite super foods like green powder, maca, cacao or protein powder. As liquid you can use any nut milk, coconut water, green veg juice or herbal tea. The possibilities are endless and there are so many recipes out there, experiment a little and find your favorite. You have a whole nutritious meal in a glass and you can easily pack it in a flask or a jar and take it with you. Remember though, smoothies are food not drinks so drink really slowly as if you?re eating them rather drinking.

Here?s another dilemma, most of us tend to eat a very sugary and starchy breakfast thinking that all these carbohydrates will get us going and fuel us for the day but in fact what happens is that our blood sugar levels shoot up and come mid morning we start feeling peckish and perhaps experience an energy drop (especially if you had refined carbohydrates like cereals or white bread for breakfast). So make sure to pack your breakfast with vital nutrients (vitamins, minerals, good fats and proteins) and minimize the sugars.


Other breakfast ideas could be:

  • yoghurt with some fresh fruit, nuts and seeds
  • Egg of your choice with cut vegetables
  • A rich (miso) broth with some greens, sprouts and tofu, just like they eat in the Far East (cook the broth in advance and reheat in the morning)
  • Whole grain crackers with avocado, sprouts and fresh cut veg

And here is one of my favorites:


Chia seeds pudding is absolutely the ultimate breakfast for me, easy to make and ever so nutritious. Rich in the precious fatty acid omega 3, minerals, fibers, essential amino acids and more. They promote good digestion and stabilize blood sugar level. What more could you ask for?!
This dish will boost you with energy and will keep you going for a long time




Makes 1-2 portions, depends on how hungry you are in the morning?

1. 4 spoons raw chia seeds
2. 1 cup coconut milk (or other nut nut milk)
3. ? cup Goji berries soaked in water over night
4. a handful of fresh berries like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries etc.
5. a generous handful of raw nuts
6. 1 spoon cacao nibs (optional)

Mix the seeds and milk well by using a whisk to make sure there are no lamps. Let it ?rest? and thicken for 10-15 minutes, wile you?re busy with other morning tasks. You can prepare this in the night before and keep it in the fridge for the next morning. Spoon the soaked Goji berries on top of the pudding and top it up with the fresh fruit, nuts and cacao nibs. Here you can play with it and add any topping of your liking.

Enjoy! Your body will thank you?


Ayuryoga – Ayurveda & Yoga

The concept of AyurYoga was formed around three years ago when Elena & Cristina met in an Ayurvedic Nutrition course in the Academy of Ayurvedic studies in Amsterdam.
Elena, Ayurvedic practitioner & therapist certified at the Ganesha Centre of Ayurveda en Yoga studies in Alkmaar and Cristina, Iyengar yoga certified teacher.



They say Yoga and Ayurveda are sisters sciences, they are in fact coming from the same philosophical background. Further as Yoga practitioners we know that it?s impossible to engage into a yoga practice without spontaneously reviewing one?s own lifestyle and as Ayurveda practitioners we know how physical activity will benefit our mental and physical condition.

Instead of dogmatically applying Yoga and Ayurveda teachings and impose a rigid military lifestyle forcing changes from the outside, with our workshops we want to take participants to the level of simple observation of their nature.
Here Ayurveda offers a simple method based on the Doshas system and their qualities that, beyond any kind of ?judgment?, supports people to reestablish their body/mind equilibrium throughout reviewing and tuning diet, daily routine, massage and the use of spices and herbs that are finally just a part of your diet.


This knowledge is very simply learned; once the basic principle is understood it can be applied to every situation. In this sense you don?t need to go indian to remain healthy. Speaking about food, eating what you need at your cellular level as well as your emotional level is enough, provided that you are aware of your needs of course!

To become aware of one?s own needs requires a process that may be chaotic, dynamic, concerning at the first sight, but it is a necessary step to remove any external conditioning that may prevent you to develop your own, unique personal awareness.
With our AyurYoga workshops we hope to make a contribution into supporting students in taking responsibility towards their own health and joy.


The AyurYoga workshops are tuned with seasonal changes affecting body and mind as well as nature around us. They are generally composed by 3 parts:

  • Asanas & Pranayama practice
  • Eat & Learn experience based on Ayurveda Nutrition concept
  • An interactive discussion amongst participants on topics treated by the workshop in relation to their personal experience.

Summer time, holiday time!

Ah, summer! Shorts, sandals and the the wonderful sensation of sunny warmth on your bare skin. Many of us go on holiday to make the most out of the season; a time for us to take a break! Even if you?re keeping your daily routine of work and commitments, life feels different- the warm weather (if you?re lucky), the long days with light evenings and the wonderful feeling that life is just one big, ongoing party. Time for going out or BBQing with friends, indulging yourself, loosening up and letting go. Kids are out of school and we need to pay a lot of attention to keeping them busy and entertained. If you are on a holiday or traveling, then your daily routine is completely different.

But, are you taking a break from your body? A break from your health and well being? A break from taking good care of yourself?



If you choose to live consciously and eat with care, you want to keep making those choices while on holiday. Naturally it will be a bit more complicated to do so, but if this is the path you chose in life you might want to opt for a more conscious holiday. I would like to share with you some of my tips and experience for keeping a healthy lifestyle, also during the holiday summer months.

Like everything else, it starts with putting your mind in the right place, to create the awareness. What you need to do is think about and develop a strategy. So, here are my top ten tips for forming a good strategy for a healthy, mindful holiday:

1. Decide on what is really important?for your well being so you can set yourself some borders. For example, if you?re not eating gluten, or you follow a vegetarian diet, or are limiting your alcohol consumption to very minimal, cut your sugar intake and so on, only enforce the laws that are most important to you and let go slightly with the rest. Don?t be too harsh on yourself- don?t be afraid to give yourself some legroom.

2. Good planning:?don?t leave food matters only to chance and luck. If you?re flying or traveling long hours, take food with you so you don?t find yourself hungry and bound to eat something you?d rather not.

3. Choose a self catering accommodation?where you can easily prepare your own food and thus rely less on food that is made for you with unknown ingredients and unhealthy cooking methods.

4. Include exploring local markets,?farms, artisan food producers into your travel plans. Try going on a wild herb and edible plant hunt. This not only enrich your holiday experience as well as your culinary repertoire, but will give you a chance to get your hands on some fresh, local and sustainable ingredients that you don?t get to include regularly.

5. Find out about restaurants?with good ratings that can cater for your dietary requirements ahead of time.

6. Make sure to include some physical activities?in each day of the holiday. It could be hiking or biking, swimming or practicing yoga every morning. Choose something enjoyable that also relaxes you.

7. Get kids involved with food shopping and preparation.?This is the time to create some fun activities in the kitchen and keep them busy.

8. Make cooking even more fun?by taking the time to cook with friends, put the music on and have a small glass of wine. Boost your creativity in the kitchen by trying new ingredients and new recipes.

9. Opt for light summer food.?This is the time to eat more raw or slightly cooked food. Naturally, in the summer we are less hungry so follow this instinct and eat less and light.

10. Leave guilt and self hatred at home?when you go on holiday. These are spoiling factors that are absolutely not needed in your luggage! Only self love and acceptance are your good companions for a wonderful vacation.


I call this salad ?market salad? because you just make it from what ever you can find in the local market at your holiday destination. As we are loosening up and letting go here, there are no quantities but it?s rather the principle that will inspire you to indulge yourself with a light, fresh, summer salad, full of goodness and takes only minutes to prepare. Work with what you find and just improvise.



  • Very ripe tomatoes! Try to combine a variety of types, cut into cubes
  • Cucumber, cubed
  • Red pepper, cubed
  • Radishes, halved
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Fresh herbs: basil, parsley, oregano or anything you find and like, chopped
  • Zest and juice from half a lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A handful of pine nuts (optional)
  • Some feta cheese, cubed (optional)
  • A handful of good quality olives
  • A pinch of sumac, (optional)

Place all ingredients, apart from the cheese, in a large salad bowl and toss gently to mix well. Crumble the feta cheese on top, sprinkle the sumac, if using and voila! Your salad is ready to go!


Yoga and stress reduction

Stress is something many people are dealing with nowadays. We all know too much stress is unhealthy, but what can you do to reduce stress? This is where regular yoga practise comes in. Yoga can help balance out stress you experience and bring back harmony in your life.


The feeling of stress is a combination of our perception of events or situations and our body?s physiological reaction. Work issues, difficulties, challenges, obstacles, deadlines, papers, tests, athletic events, performances, family problems, and tragic events are only a few of the situations that can instigate stress. Even joyous events like holidays, weddings and new additions to a family can also exacerbate stress. Natural disasters, world conflicts, tragedies, and stories of suffering and heartbreak, even those occurring on the other side of the world, can have wideranging impacts, affecting people?s mental health.



One of the ways in which we respond to stress is through our fight-or-flight response. This is a combination of the activation of our sympathetic nervous system and specific hormonal pathways which result in the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is one of our primary stress hormones, and is often used to measure the stress response.



Stress in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Immediate, or acute stress, can often be as motivating, as it can be activating. We hear stories of people being able to accomplish physical feats in emergency circumstances because cortisol increases blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar, as well as increasing mental focus. Because the stress response increases mental focus, it can often help us meet a deadline or finish a project.



But too much stress, or constant stress with no respite for the body and mind, can interfere with numerous physical and mental abilities. On a long-term basis, chronic stress can be damaging. Stress hormones including cortisol decrease the responsiveness of our immune system. They also increase blood sugar levels as well as blood pressure and heart rate, helpful in a crisis, but not for long-term health and wellbeing. This is how we respond to stress can have a significant impact.



The practice of Yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body, and has even been found to lower cortisol levels. This effect is noticeable, and it is one of the primary reasons why people often take up Yoga.



People find that they feel more relaxed after practicing Yoga. The asana, or physical postures of Yoga, are helpful for reducing muscular tension, which reduces stress. We have a tendency to store stress not only in our nervous system, but distributed throughout the musculature and other tissues of the body; our digestive system, for example, responds very quickly to stress.

Yoga can be a valuable and effective tool for releasing this stored stress. This can be true even for post-traumatic stress and recovering from the after-effects of traumatic events.



Yoga includes not only the asana or physical postures, but most Yoga classes end with savasana, or a pose of relaxation. Some classes include a guided relaxation where the teacher leads students through a progressive relaxation of the body, which further reduces the experience of stress.

Yoga also includes meditation and breathing practices (pranayama) as well as a set of ethical precepts and observances (yamas and niyamas). Meditation, the ethical precepts and observances, focused relaxation techniques, and working with the breath all have beneficial stress reducing qualities, through improving our relationships with the various aspects of our inner nature as well as affecting our psychology and physical body.



Working with the breath can be a particularly effective method for treating a negative response to stress. When we are experiencing stress, our breathing tends to become shallow and rapid. Shallow and rapid breath further stimulates the body?s stress response, and we can become caught up in an ineffective breathing pattern that only causes more stress.



Many yoga techniques emphasize slowing and deepening the breath, which activates the body?s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. Just by changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body?s experience of and response to stress. This may be one of the most profound lessons from yoga practice.



Studies of Yoga have demonstrated that Yoga practice has the ability to reduce stress. Yoga can reduce cortisol levels, a finding which was documented in the October 2004 issue of the journal, Annals of Behavioral Science. In the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers found that caregivers for people with dementia (a very challenging condition) improved physical and emotional functioning after practicing Yoga.

February and August 2005 studies published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine analyzed the breathing techniques of a specific Yoga practice, Sudardhan Yoga Kriya, which the authors maintain reduce stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder.



Another Yoga-based program that has been widely studied in the use of stress reduction is the mindfulness based stress reduction program (MBSR), which is taught, studied and popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The mindfulness-based stress reduction program includes guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices, yoga and gentle stretching, inquiry exercises to enhance awareness, individual instruction, group dialogue and home assignments. The effectiveness of the MBSR has been studied in a variety of different scientific studies both at the University of Massachusetts as well as other medical centers around the world. Results that they have reported on their website which are still in the process of being written about include improved ability to react effectively under high degrees of stress.



Published studies have found that program participants experience lower levels of stress. Kabat-Zinn and colleagues also found that people who practiced a meditation technique while receiving treatments for the skin disorder psoriasis (which is sensitive to stress) had skin that healed faster than people who did not listen to the meditation tapes during treatment.



If you would like to learn more about the effects of yoga practise on stress, you may find the information below useful.

    • Brown, R.P. and Gerbarg, P.L. Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2005; 11(1):189-201.
    • Brown, R.P. and Gerbarg, P.L. Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part II: clinical applications and guidelines. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2005; 11(4): 711-7.
    • Kabat-Zinn, J., Wheeler, E., Light, T., Skillings, A., Scharf, M.S., Cropley, T. G., Hosmer, D., and Bernhard, J. (ABSTRACT Psychosomatic Medicine abstracts/abstracts9.cfm) 1998; 60: 625-632.
    • Robert-McComb, J.J., Tacon A; Randolph P; Caldera Y; A pilot study to examine the effects of a mindfulness-based stress-reduction and relaxation program on levels of stress hormones, physical functioning, and submaximal exercise responses. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; 2004; 10(5), 819-27.
    • Robert-McComb, J.J., Tacon, A., Randolph, P., and Caldera, Y. Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress and levels of cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and melatonin in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Psychoneuroendrocrinology. 2004; 29(4): 448-74.
    • Waelde, L.C., Thompson, L., and Gallagher-Thompson, D. A pilot study of a yoga and meditation intervention for dementia caregiver stress. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2004; 60(6): 677-87.
    • West, J., Otte, C., Geher, K., Johnson, J., and Mohr, D.C. Effects of Hatha yoga and African dance on perceived stress, affect, and salivary cortisol. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2004; 28(2):114-8.
    • Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Web site:

NOTE: The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) carries an extensive set of Yoga and Health Bibliographies, including citations for ongoing research, on their website. Eleven of the most requested bibliographies are accessible free of charge. Dozens more are freely accessible by IAYT members, or available to nonmembers for a modest fee. IAYT also maintains an extensive library containing many of the articles cited, which is open to researchers and the general public. For more information, please visit?