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Five ways to better posture with yoga

We have entered the age where there is a modern day health problem called ‘tech neck.’ Improper posture while using technology is a very common factor in poor posture and technology is recognized as one of the principle causes of this modern day posture epidemic.

The funny this is you may be reading this on your phone, iPad or laptop. If so, don’t change a thing about your posture and check how your body positioned. Is your head forward? Are your shoulders rounded? Is your lower back slumped? How does your lower back feel? Or perhaps take a look around you and observe other people’s posture, and the way it slips and almost folds inwards.

Over long periods of time, maintaining this head-forward posture can lead to muscle strain, disc injury, nerve impingement and arthritic changes of the neck—and the potential for developing ongoing neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and pain radiating down the arms.

This is how our tech savvy children are growing up and creating postural habits like this from a young age. There is no getting away from technology and we need to use it in our culture to stay up to date and relevant, but when you consider the kind of risks mentioned, it adds a whole other layer. Just as we have learnt to embrace technology, we also must learn to adopt tools and strategies to counterbalance these new stressors on our system.

5 ways to counterbalance ‘tech neck’

Take regular breaks

Set your timer for every 15-20 minutes to get up, move around and do these poses throughout your day to counteract the effects of phone and laptop use. These poses lengthen the front muscles of the neck, which tend to get shortened when we hunch over a screen or a keyboard. They also realign the shoulders and upper thoracic spine, freeing the lower cervical vertebrae. Restoring a natural curve in the spine also opens the shoulders and may even ease rotator cuff and elbow pain.

Baby cobra pose

Lay on your belly, with your palms pressing into the floor just beside your lower front ribs.

Firm up your legs and press the tops of the feet to the floor.

As you inhale peel your spine up off the floor, head moving last. Draw your shoulder heads back plugging the arm bones into the sockets, curl your shoulder blades down the back and into your heart.

You can float the hands so that your upper back muscles are holding you.

Lower as you exhale and repeat twice more.

Option for a little more, on the final one you can move the top of the thoracic spine (around shoulder height) and the bottom of the cervical spine (around shoulder height) in toward the front body and take chin up for an extra stretch.

Five ways to better posture with yoga 2

From hands and knees, align hands directly beneath shoulders and knees directly beneath hips.

Press the index knuckle down to engage your forearms. Lift the armpits up toward the ears. Use gravity to soften and melt arm bones into the sockets.

Keeping the arms straight, lift lower body into downward facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana) while the rest of the body stays the same.

Keep the armpits lifted, up away from the floor not ‘dumping into’ the shoulder joint.

Then stretch heels back into the full pose without dropping the armpits, keep knees bent if you need to to keep a long spine.

Five ways to better posture with yoga 3

Neck and forearm reset

You can do this one seated in any position, even at your desk. Sit up tall.

Bring the palms together in front of your chest, with the wrists at elbow height (the heal of the hands may not be touching if you are tight in the wrists, that’s ok!)

Again lift the armpits up towards the ears, getting long in the sides of the body, draw the arm bones back into the shoulder sockets, so that the chest is bright and proud.

Draw the chin and forehead evenly back a few centimeters.

As you exhale press the hands over to the right as you turn your head to the left.

Repeat a few times with good alignment.

Five ways to better posture with yoga 4

Use technology more mindfully

Wouldn’t it be great if we could practise yoga all day? Just imagine how good you would feel.Well, guess what? You can! Take your yoga off the mat and choose to use technology more mindfully. Set boundaries around usage for yourself and children, get up and take regular breaks, incorporate tools, stretches and strengthening exercises into your day. Bring your device up to eye level instead of peering forward and dropping your head down to get a closer look. But most of all, stand tall and proud, lift yourself up and observe how that lifts your energy, how you can breathe better and your postural stance exudes confidence and openness. Go on, put the device down and walk tall.

This article is not intended to substitute for medical advice. For any concerns, consult your health professional.


How Yoga changes your Brain

By Sat Bir Singh Khalsa

Can Regular Yoga and Meditation Improve Your Brain Function?

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.

Yoga-Brain Fact: If you practice yoga and meditation techniques on a regular basis, your brain will be better able to cope with stress and emotion. This brain enhancement will help you to maintain higher levels of learning and memory.

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

Yoga makes us 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.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.

By Sat Bir Singh Khalsa




The Sacred Science of Kundalini

By: UPLIFT

Uniting the Finite with Infinity

Kundalini Yoga is the science to unite the finite with Infinity, and it’s the art to experience Infinity in the finite.
– Yogi Bhajan

A few months ago my wife asked me to join her for a Sunday morning yoga class. I went surfing first, thinking the class would be a great way to ‘warm down’. I was wrong. We stepped into the class at 8:55am and by the time we re-emerged at 11:05 I was shaking, dripping and almost without words to describe what had just happened. It wasn’t Bikram, but I was sweating more than any other yoga class I’d ever been to. It wasn’t Ashtanga, but I had been physically challenged to move through postures I’d never imagined.

Experience Infinity in the FiniteExperience Infinity in the Finite

The class wasn’t held in a temple (rather a remodeled garage, aptly known as the “Yoga Cave”), but the atmosphere left me feeling more tuned in, tapped on and connected to myself and Spirit than most meditations. My eyes had been closed for almost two hours but I never felt more awake. The instructor, a relatively petite and seemingly compassionate former ballet dancer, had smiled and at times laughed (with us!) through cathartic journey of mind, body and soul; the intensity of which I hadn’t experienced since my most extreme competitive sporting days… and strangely I couldn’t wait to come back. “What was that?!” My first Kundalini Yoga class.

In Kundalini Yoga the most important thing is your experience. It goes right to your heart. No words can replace your experience. Your mind may accept the words or it may not, but your consciousness will not accept just words.
– Yogi Bhajan, The Aquarian Teacher Training manual

Origins of Kundalini Yoga

The word Kundalini comes from a Sanskrit word ‘kundal’ meaning coiled up. In ancient Greece, Egypt and early Eastern religion it was believed that each individual possessed a Divine energy that was coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent. This energy was considered to be the sacred energy of Creation – something each of us is born with, but most must work to “uncoil”, and in so doing, awaken our Higher Self and come into direct contact with the Divine.

Coiled serpentA divine energy coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent

The exact origin of Kundalini Yoga is unknown, but it is thought by many to be the Mother of all Yogas. Developed over the past 5000 years, the earliest known written mention of Kundalini Yoga is in the sacred Vedic texts of the Upanishads (c. 1,000 B.C. – 500 B.C.).

Early writing indicates that Kundalini was actually a science of energy and spiritual philosophy before the physical practice was developed.

Traditionally, Kundalini Yoga was not taught publicly and students were required to endure years of initiation before they were given access to the spiritual and physical lessons of Kundalini masters. So for thousands of years, the science of Kundalini was actually kept hidden, and the sharing of Kundalini outside an elite community of Indian yoga masters and disciples was forbidden.

It was during a trip to Canada and the USA in 1968 that holy Indian Sikh Yogi Bhajan had a vision of a new spirituality that combined ancient wisdom with the practicalities of modern life. Waking from a morning meditation in Los Angeles, he suddenly knew he must teach Kundalini to the west. “It is everyone’s birthright to be healthy, happy, and holy, and the practice of Kundalini Yoga is the way to claim that birthright.” This moment became the spark of a long term residence in LA for Yogi Bhajan, the establishment of the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Foundation and the launch of Kundalini Research Institute.

Yogi BhajanHoly Indian Sikh Yogi Bhajan had a vision

Flash forward 48 years and Yogi Bhajan’s vision of sharing Kundalini Yoga with the west is alive and thriving, from popular New York City studios all the way to the “Yoga Cave” in Australia where I was first introduced to the practice… and beyond.

Referred to by practitioners as “the yoga of awareness”, the philosophical purpose of Kundalini is to awaken our Higher Self and to integrate that awakening into our lives and the service and healing of others.

By consciously combining breath, mantra, mudra, eye-focus, body locks, and postures, on a physical level Kundalini Yoga aims to balance the glandular system, strengthen the nervous system, expand lung capacity, and purify the blood, while helping us move through perceived limitations in our body, mind, and soul.

In recent conversation with former elite level ballet dancer and the original founder of Australia’s first Kundalini Yoga studio, (current owner of HarJiwan Yoga and founder of the WOW – Women of the World – Kundalini Yoga program) instructor HarJiwan shared insights into what makes this form of Yoga particularly potent for humanity today.

HarJiwan shared insights into what makes this form of Yoga particularly potent for humanity today.HarJiwan shared insights into what makes this form of Yoga particularly potent for humanity today.

We use a lot of Asana (postures), very specific breathing techniques, we use mantra, we use mudras, we use rhythm, we use sound. And all of these are in one experiential class. We work with Kriyas (translated as “completed action”) and there are literally thousands of Kriyas, so you are never really doing the same thing. There are so many ways to impact an individual.
– HarJiwan

Slicing through limits and resistance like a sword.

One of the things I noticed during my first (and subsequent) sessions of Kundalini Yoga was that while traditional sitting meditation often sends my mind off flying to other places, the basic process of completing (and in some cases enduring!) the kriyas leaves no room but to be totally present. The combination of specific postures, breathing, rhythm and sound weave together in such a potent tapestry of experience that there’s no possible way to be anywhere but completely in the present moment of the class. You certainly don’t need to be an elite athlete or yogi to get into the postures but the movements often require a certain level of perseverance (in many cases mental) that seem to bring us up against our own pre-conceived notions of what’s possible, and allow us to stay there long enough break through and see what’s on the other side.

As HarJiwan shares:

The dynamic nature of Kundalini yoga is very different than other forms of yoga. It brings you right to presence. There is no choice. It’s a very direct system. The way it is delivered, there is no room for distraction. It is full immersion and in the process it is activating the glandular system and the nervous system, as well and the chakras and the ten bodies of consciousness. There are many elements that are adjusted in each kriya, depending on the specific intention or outcome of the experience.

KriyaA combination of specific postures, breathing, rhythm and sound

The power of intention and thriving under stress

One of the things that resonated most for me right from the beginning of my first Kundalini Yoga class was how each class has a unique theme or focus and how each movement or kriya has a specific intention which is geared toward harnessing and matching the physical movement or posture we are engaged in with the full power of our mental, emotional and spiritual focus (in the direction of such themes as igniting our personal power, building courage, cutting away fears and perceived limitations) as well as the pure physical aims such as draining the lymphatic system, cleansing the organs, balancing hormones, etc.

Kriya treeThe full power of our mental, emotional and spiritual focus

Often the mind has its self-imposed limitations and when we are doing a specific exercise the mind will want to stop because it doesn’t want to go through challenge or difficulty. Kundalini yoga teaches us to thrive under stress by developing the plasticity between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. By harnessing the focus of the mind, the body will develop natural painkillers so it gives us stamina to be able to endure and move through life’s pains and challenges. So what we are doing on the mat is really a training for life.
– HarJiwan

Switching on the self-healing system of the body

One of the areas of greatest fulfillment in the practice and sharing of Kundalini Yoga for HarJiwan is the capacity it has to awaken and activate often radical healing response in the bodies and lives of those she works with – no matter what their physical ailment or condition may be.

Kriya mudraAwakening and activating healing response in our bodies and lives

When people have fallen into disease they often experience feeling totally disempowered, wondering, ‘Who can fix this for me?’ We can spend so much time, money and resources chasing complex symptoms. Kundalini self-empowers people to take control of their own healing and awakening journey. It switches on the self-healing system of the body. can help someone who is totally bedridden and you can also be a super athlete and get what you need. As long as you can breath you can do Kundalini Yoga.
– HarJiwan

Kundalini Yoga is also known as the science of angles, because the different poses and movements often involve having our limbs at angles which put pressure on specific organs and glands. As you hold or sustain the moment, the pressure builds, and when you take the pressure away, blood and energy flows to those areas. As HarJiwan shares, “There is a great mysticism about Kundalini Yoga but in truth it is systematic, scientific and simple. We are designed to have our Kundalini rise. It’s our energy, our creativity, the unlocking of the nerve of the soul.”

For HarJiwan, the act of building a daily spiritual practice (or Sadhana) is “an act of self-care and self-love and the first step to healing the planet.”

By UPLIFT

Feature Image: Excerpt from ‘Antenna‘ by Adam Scott-Miller