Category Archives: Yoga Research and Styles

The posts in this category have to do with research and clinical trials where yoga is an intervention for medical and psychological challenges. I also post on styles and practices of yoga here.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Research comes out all the time touting the benefits of yoga for so many conditions. I had a student in class yesterday who had been referred to “yoga” by her doctor to help her with a chronic, complicated condition. This has happened to me weekly since I opened my doors. More and more doctors are referring people to yoga, and of course I am a huge fan of the doctors that are specific and say “very gentle, beginner yoga” or “very gentle chair yoga”. I am also a firm believer that the training in mindfulness and meditation happening in a good yoga class is a huge part of the significant results in the research.

But when another student told me she had a doctor recommend “mindfulness” I think she felt like she was sent to the store and told, “oh, get a bottle of pills”. Which one? What kind? Mindfulness meditation, mindfulness practice, yoga, what? How do I do this? How often? How do I know if I am benefiting? Will I get this in yoga? Not all yoga teachers meditate and many have no experience teaching various forms of meditation. This is another powerful practice, but I do think people appreciate a bit more instruction. I am offering Mindful Coaching  which can include education, instruction and support if students would like that.

What is Karma Yoga? Part 2

After a task is accepted, time is committed and you realize this is actually going to be sacrifice, you go to work. You may be cleaning toilets, doing manual labor, using your skills, or being the boss; any number of tasks can begin the Karma Yoga practice. Immediately, a new stream of monkey mind chatter begins.

Monkey Mind #1

Very common is, “Who cares what the quality of my work is, they are lucky to have me so I’ll just show up and enjoy myself and if my work is sloppy, it does not really matter.” You continue to think, “Oh, who cares, no one knows I am the one doing this. I will cut corners. I will do sloppy work and everyone should just shut up and be happy I did the darn thing. No one else is here wasting their time, so at least it is done.”

For some people it is difficult to perform at a high level and do your best when you are not being paid or recognized for your work. Changing this mindset is hard.

Karma Yoga practice does not allow for this mindset. The idea is to stay in the moment with the task at hand and do your best. Letting go of the need recognition for your job well done is part of the process. Being recognized may or may not happen in the future. The craving for money and recognition are the monkey mind. The trick is to get back to the moment.

Monkey Mind #2

Another common mind chatter, “It doesn’t matter if I am late or skip it once in a while.” Thoughts like this arise after you are acquainted with the task, accepted it, maybe you even enjoyed it for a few hours or a few days. You got a bit comfortable, moved a little bit more into it and bang. It hurt too much. Monkey mind tries to make it easier.

This is how we know we are trying. Getting to this point is actually success, because most people can not even get to this point. If you begin to show up late, pretend you are sick, call in and lie, skip the work and don’t even call…all of these things are a flashing red light that you have hit your edge. You want out, you want a break, you are completely at your edge and now you may realize this is a hard practice. The easy thing is to show up late or skip a day and disappoint all the people who rely on you.

In Karma Yoga practice, we name it for what it is, monkey mind chatter, and get back to work. Or is it selfishness? If so, name it and get back to work. Exactly like in sitting meditation when your mind zips off into crazy land. In meditation we are instructed to stop dreaming of how you are going to buy more lettuce and get skinny because that is not really meditation, that is dreaming. In karma yoga it is the same, call it what it is and get back to the moment.

What is Karma Yoga? Part 1

Karma means action. Yoga means union of things which have never been separated in the first place, such as the body, mind and spirit. Karma Yoga is a path of yoga where these concepts of action and union are combined in a unique way. This yoga path has nothing to do with fitness, but for those who practice, it is a form of meditation.

Where did it come from?

The Bhagavada Gita proposes a three prong approach to liberation. These three paths can be very meditative for people:

  1. Karma Yoga, the path of service. In the beginning, your personality traits may play into which path you are drawn to. People who love to work, volunteer and manage a million projects tend to try Karma Yoga.
  2. Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom or knowledge. Brilliant introverts, writers, or philosophers may be drawn to Jnana Yoga.
  3. Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. Artists, singers and actors may prefer the beauty and soul of Bhakti Yoga.

Just like we often gravitate to a particular asana style that is best for our physical body, we often gravitate to a Kriya Yoga (Jhana, Bhakti or Karma) best for us. Karma Yoga can be a very difficult practice so it is important to know the bumps in the road are completely normal and they are all instructive.

Is it like practicing asana (postures)?

In asana practice we hit an edge. When you hit your edge in asana practice you do not give up asana all together and run screaming from the mat. Imagine you are in Triangle and you find your edge, you stop and you realize your hand is a foot from the ground. This is not where you wanted your hand, you want your hand smack down on the floor. Everyone else looks better in Triangle. You think why me, this is embarrassing. But you probably do not run out of the yoga studio, tell the teacher you are never coming back and yoga is not for you. In fact, sometimes you love the edge. It shows you where your personal work is. As hard as it may be, you accept “my hand is a foot from the floor.”

It is exactly the same practicing Karma Yoga. We will hit an edge. Let me explain.

How does Karma Yoga begin?

A task is selected or assigned. This may be something you volunteer for or something your teacher or director asks you to do. This is probably something you are not being paid for and something that will take your time. So the first mental obstacle people encounter, if the job does not meet their expectation, is, “I am better than this. I am not going to do this. My time is much more valuable. Maybe they should ask someone else.”

A volunteer job is a great place to begin because these thoughts come up quite naturally right away and it gives you something to work with. All your excuses are front and center so you can begin practicing yoga.

Imagine you volunteer to teach a yoga class at the shelter. No one arrives for your karma yoga class after you gave up your time, gas money and paid the babysitter. You are mad. You do not want to do this “volunteer work” any more. You doubt your ability to do this work. Now you have found your edge. Just like in asana practice, take a breath and know this is where your work is. There is no sense comparing your self to someone else who has a full class. This situation is completely yours and your practice is dealing with what is.

Another common first stream of thought is, “I do not want that task. Can you give me something else? Could you relocate me to another area? I do not like doing that sort of thing. That is not what I really signed up for. I want something more perfect for me.” It is another wonderful set of thoughts to work with. It is a way of your mind trying to get out of actually taking the action you originally agreed to or signed up for.

I was in a Karma Yoga Program once and we were divided into two groups – half were asked to clean and the others were asked to cook. Immediately people in the cleaning group began to try and get switched to the cooking group because it was perceived that cooking was a better assignment. They came up with every reason in the book why they should be in the cooking group; they were experienced, they needed to learn cooking skills, they had allergies to cleaning agents. The exact same thing happened in the cooking group. People started whining, I don’t know how to cook, I hate the smell in the kitchen, or I have food issues. These people got their first introduction to Karma Yoga and did not like it- accept the role. Some people quit the program and paid for airline tickets home because they did not want to be in the group they were assigned, they thought they deserved more, different, better. They gave up the opportunity.

©Beth Daugherty, 2013. Email questions to lifespanyoga@gmail.com.

Cross posted at the FloridaYogaDirectory.com

Part 2 Coming Soon.

Kids Yoga

When I began to teach yoga classes for children some of the calls that came in began to take on a similar pattern. After I explained the time, location and cost of class, the caller paused, waiting to tell me something about their child. I knew what was coming. The concerned parent was going to tell me about a “special need” her child was suspected of having, or had been diagnosed with. The range of “special needs” was extensive. Tactile dysfunction, proprioception disorders, vestibular dysfunction (possibly related to ear infections), brain damage, auditory processing difficulties, heightened sensory perception, autism spectrum disorders, childhood anxiety, ADD/ADHD or maybe something new to me. Often, a mix of two or three of these was discussed.

If a child had been diagnosed, the services available may be limited. Sometimes children would not or could not be included in traditional activities at the local gyms or karate studios. Sometimes these programs and the teachers were so geared to normally developing children they were not helpful or problematic. Always the parent, usually the mother, was searching for something they could not put their finger on. They wanted a program their child could be nurtured in and have some personal attention. They wanted a place where their child’s disability was recognized but not obsessed over or overly focused on. Of course they wanted the child to have fun but at the same time should not be over stimulated.

Lifespan Yoga is perfect.

My classes quickly became very inclusive. If you looked in the window you would never know there were children with all sorts of special needs practicing yoga. It looked like any children’s program with exercises, music, snacks, art, craft projects and the ubiquitous treasure box. There were plenty of normally developing children. No one knew anything about any other child’s history. Not the other yoga students, not the other parents.

As a yoga teacher it is important to be aware of possible abnormalities in “normal” and undiagnosed students too. Often children with special needs are not diagnosed or labeled for years. This does not mean they are developing normally. This can simply be a matter of finances (diagnosed children are eligible for many expensive health and education services some schools and organizations may not wish to pay for). Some professionals know a child has special needs but will put off labeling and wait to see if the child will “grow out of it.” 

All yoga teachers planning to teach children should pursue continuing education about as many special needs as possible. The availability and expense of quality continuing education in special developmental needs for children is very limited in the yoga world. I recommend local colleges for continuing education, as they will most likely provide the most current information and current research in the area of special needs. It is very inexpensive to take a course at the community college and many are offered online. I cover special needs in all of my teacher certification programs, but this is rare.

As yoga teachers, we meet the student where they are, even those students with special needs. Yoga education and research has not even begun to dive into this rich area of potential healing for children and families. My experience tells me yoga, safely and consciously taught, is more than a fun, inclusive activity for children with special conditions. It is a practice with great healing potential for the whole family and we have not even scratched the surface of what we can do.

© Beth Daugherty, M.S., M.A., E-RYT, CPF, LVCYT. I wrote this article for the website www.namastekids.com and cross posted it here and at blogger.

 

Research is Positive (Also posted at my Blogger Blog)

I love to read research about the positive impact of a good yoga practice. A blog posting on the Yoga Journal site outlined the following:

In an interview on the CBS show This Morning, P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University said that studies have shown yoga practice to produce a relaxation response that mimics the best anti-anxiety drugs on the market today, and that it can also help people with mild depression, insomnia, and ADHD.

We need to know exactly what they mean by “practice”.  Did the study participants do a special style of yoga? What about breathing? Were they taught to meditate?

Dr. Doraiswamy says, “Studies have shown that yoga affects perhaps more than 200 different processes in our body and in our brain. It affects virtually every tissue and every system in our body.”

Soon studies will compare styles of yoga, yoga teachers, length of classes, length of savasana and compare long term yogis to newbies. That is all possible and cheaper than drug trials. It is fascinating. You can read the whole post here.