In the early hours of the morning one day in late June this year, I woke up in my little wooden hut in Bali to a debilitating pain in my gut. Arms wrapped around my stomach, I hobbled towards the bathroom, sat down, and realized that I was bleeding internally from somewhere in my bowel. A few days before this, I had developed a petechial (bleeding under the skin) rash that began in the upper part of my legs and slowly spread to the lower legs and feet. In the weeks that followed, different parts of my body would swell. Sometimes my ankles and feet would swell, sometimes my arms, and some days the swelling would manifest under the skin of my scalp. If swelling presented anywhere in the legs, it made walking difficult. Even before my official diagnosis six weeks later, I knew instinctively that this was autoimmune.
I didn’t seek out medical treatment immediately. Instead, I decided to stay in Bali until the end of my 30-day allowance and began a process of slowly peeling back the layers to understand how I had led myself to this place of dis-ease. Autoimmune conditions, like many other chronic diseases and cancer have a large mental and emotional component to their pathology. The constant interplay between the “Self” and the “Not Self” is at the heart of disease manifestation. We can be the fit, eat healthy, exercise regularly, and endowed with good genetics, but it may not count for much if we are predisposed to living in our “Not Self” state.
Clearly, identifying what is “Self” and what is “Not Self” is much more complex than taking medication, but call it what you want, my gut, my intuition, my inner wisdom, or perhaps the universe was sending me a clear signal to stop! For close to three years now, I have worked tirelessly to grow a business in an environment under duress. The pandemic; starting over in a place I didn’t choose to live in; a culture that glorifies the grind; the corporatization of yoga; my inability to express healthy anger; my childhood conditioning that values myself based on my achievements – it’s a toxic combination! When my mind; when logical reasoning; when my fears; when society had me convinced that I needed to keep going, my body said NO!
I have a new appreciation for this body and its intelligence. Last year, I ran a retreat called “The Body Intelligence Retreat” in which we explored the body’s inherent ability to heal. I now know that the body’s intelligence is far beyond physiological healing. It IS our wisdom and intuition. We often look outwards for signs from a higher power, God, or perhaps the universe. Through this process, I have come to experience that the signs we look for are within the body. In some ways, the universe is both outside and inside the body, separated only by an illusion that our minds create. The mind that we have perhaps come to rely on more than we should. Disease isn’t an indicator that there is something wrong with the body. On the contrary it is an indicator that the body is responding in the way it has been designed to. It is the universe’s way of guiding us back to our “Self”.
In our current culture of quick fixes and instant gratification, the long road of identifying the “Self” as a form of disease prevention and recovery isn’t as compelling as the narrative of the modern medical infrastructure. Since the onset of my autoimmune disorder, I spend most of my waking hours reading, studying ,writing, and reflecting to distinguish my “Self” from my “Not Self.” This is my full-time job at the moment and I am just barely scraping the surface. Deconditioning is both time-consuming and unprofitable, and as such, society places little value in the process. We enter a vicious cycle of using medicine to cover symptoms that allow us to ignore the root cause of disease, only to have them resurface in the future. We use medicine to numb both physical and emotional pain, allowing the physiological stress to continue unnoticed in the body, until the body itself chooses to reveal its truth. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science and medicine too, but real healing comes from the process of going inwards.
We are conditioned to default to denial over the often uncomfortable nature of truth. Positive thinking in this context equates to being happy and compulsively optimistic. However, as Gabor Mate eloquently writes in his book, When the Body Says No, “genuine positive thinking begins by including all our reality.” Compulsive optimism is in fact, a coping strategy to avoid confronting our anger and anxiety. I have seen the people around me express discomfort when facing truth. During the height of the pandemic, I wanted to acknowledge the struggles that I was experiencing. I shared through my social media channels the despair I felt during this time. Some of my posts were met with well-meaning, “Julie, you have to be more positive,” to the harsher, “I have no time for negative people,” to those who insisted on trying to “fix” my problems by placing themselves in the role of “caretaker” or “healer.” I can see now that these were simply reflections of their own discomfort with accepting the whole of their reality.
I have realized that so much of my childhood conditioning is built upon the value of success, that I am valued for my achievements. I was taught that we must aIways be happy, don’t be sad, don’t tell people about your problems. I don’t blame my parents. They too are conditioned by the environment that surrounds them. Since the onset of my illness, I have chosen who I surround myself with carefully. I choose to respond truthfully when I am asked, “how are you?” I recognize that in order to heal, I must have the strength to acknowledge the whole of my reality. Even as our modern culture and society seek to enslave us in its never-ending cycle of grind, I am fighting for my autonomy, for freedom from my fears, from caring about what other people think of me, for the right to be completely who I am, for being enough!
This is not to say that we are to blame for our disease. The machine of our modern capitalist society is a force designed to disempower us through homogenization. Being your Self, doesn’t work within this system. A culture that glorifies the grind and a caffeinated existence does so to keep us buying into the system. It doesn’t allow us the time or space to figure out who we really are. Even when we have reconnected to various aspects of our Selves, we are often caught in a struggle to prevent it from being swept away again. I have had to face my own mortality these past few months so for me, the choice is clear. I am not weakened by this disease. I am not debilitated by it. On the contrary, I am empowered to choose, and I choose ME!
The Outer Voice is a Reflection of the Inner Knowing
Your voice is a an expression of your soul. Your own sound vibrations are a reflection of your innermost thoughts and emotions. Words have power. We are gifted with the instrument of our voice. How we choose to use it, or not, is deeply connected to the manifestations of our dreams, our wellbeing, and the impact on the people and the environment around us.
Our own voice is the most powerful of all healing instruments!
After a month-long stay in Bali earlier this year, I was inspired to explore the potential of using my own voice as a mechanism for healing through vocal toning. A recent study by Dr. Jeffrey D. Thompson, founder of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research, revealed that of all sounds tested in an experiment that he conducted, the human body responds most to the natural overtones and harmonics of its own voice. A distant second to the healing potential of the human voice is that of amplified sound from acoustic instruments such as gongs and crystal bowls, followed in third place by electronic sounds designed to mimic various frequency wave patterns (Perry, Wayne, Sound Medicine, 2007). After months of practice, it is evident to me that there is something distinctly powerful in sounding my voice and feeling the frequency of my own vibrations from the depths of my own body. But this got me thinking, if our own voice is our greatest potential for healing, if our own bodies are equipped with this capability, why are the masses turning to the external sounds of instruments played by another human body? Why are we not inspired to fine tune our own natural healing instrument?
We are conditioned into silence
It occurred to me that most people do not have an appreciation for the sound of their own voice. Perhaps they dislike the sound of their voice, maybe even embarrassed by it. It is a conditioning that begins as soon as we are born. Babies are hushed; children are told to be quiet; in adolescence we are taught to be polite by speaking softer; we are told not to argue with authority. In all stages of our lives, there is a subtle conditioning to silence our voices. As an expressive person who has been blessed with strong vocal prowess, I am constantly being told to “ssshhh, lower your voice.”
This is problematic because as the outer voice is a reflection of our inner voice and spirit, silencing the outer voice means that we become disconnected from our inner being. We live in a world where people have lost sight of who they are; where we avoid speaking the truth, our truth, out of the fear of confrontation. Undervaluing our outer voice potential is deeply connected to undervaluing our inner voice. Lack of confidence, loss of authenticity, dis-ease, stagnation are just some of outcomes of silencing the voice.
Pitch, volume and meter reflect your inner thoughts and emotions
The strength of the outer voice is very much influenced by our inner knowing. As a yoga teacher for over a decade and someone who has worked with, mentored and hired many teachers, this dynamic is clearly demonstrated. Teachers who embody what they are teaching, who have lived the experience and speak through their own inner journey are often the ones who articulate clearly, passionately, and with voices full of tonal color and texture. Teachers who deliver concepts that they are unsure of, usually newer teachers or ones who are not yet grounded in a deeper knowing of the self, reflect an unevenness of volume, delivery, flow and enunciation. In general, “when we lose discipline and control of our thoughts and emotions, it is reflected in our voice. This is most evident in three vocal aspects: pitch, volume and meter” (Perry, Wayne, Sound Medicine, 2007). Building an awareness of how your outer voice shifts with changes in your internal environment is an empowerment practice that will strengthen both the outer and inner voices. The downstream impact is of infinite possibilities, from creating a life by design, to changing our relationships, and even healing our own bodies from chronic disease and pain.
Sound is fundamental in creation
Throughout the world, cultural and religious stories of universal creation seem to agree with sound as the vibration of the creative force. In Hindu scripture, the word OM is defined as the primordial sound of creation, a vibration from which all other vibrations are manifested. The Bible also references sound as the beginning of creation – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Inuits tell the story of how the raven made the world and the waters with the beat of his wings. Sound is fundamental to creation, and our own voice is the vibration of creative potential within us. Becoming comfortable and familiar with our own outer voice and its qualities, sounding our voice, allowing it to resonate from within the body cavity and into the external world begins the process of unleashing creativity. If we are unable to express this voice, ideas, dreams and potential remain locked and untapped.
Sound is fundamental in healing
And when we turn to the potential healing capabilities of our voice, there is no other instrument that can compare. No other instrument has the capability to produce or replicate all the sounds that can be made by the human voice. No other instrument can express emotions, laugh, cry, sigh, or shout the way the human voice does. The expression of sound or the vocal tones that we release from the body, the AAHs, OOOHs and OOOWs, the HMMs, and MMMs are all soul expressions that bring us into our own resonant frequency. If we are unable to express through sound, through our voice, appropriately, we become disconnected from our body’s own healing potential. Furthermore, the inability to express emotions, particularly that of anger, the inability to say no, prevents us from releasing the physiological stress on the body that may lead to chronic disease over time. Using our voices to express ourselves authentically is necessary to maintain our health.
"Only your own vocal cords can produce the unique set of harmonics and overtones which are characteristic of your personal, unique voice – print pattern – a pattern highly recognizable to the part of your biological system which designed and grew your body out of two cells in the first place. This part of the unconscious mind designed the vocal cords themselves and deeply recognizes the unique frequency pattern of sound that they produce. "
We are gifted with the greatest sound healing instrument that exists. Through this, we are empowered with the capability to connect to our inner voice and to take healing into our own hands. We have the ability to know ourselves, to sense deep into the physical body, to feel the resonant frequency and vibrations produced by our own vocal toning. It is a power we do not acknowledge and appreciate enough.
I will be going into the details of vocal sound healing and disease; sound patterns and mandalas; voice awareness and control for public speaking and communication; and sound as creation in future articles. If you are interested in learning more about sound through my personal lens and experimentation, follow me on social media or on Medium.
Conversations around Mental Health
Since 1992, October 10th has been designated as World Mental Health Day, an initiative by the World Federation for Mental Health, and supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). Across the globe, companies demonstrate their support for their employees’ mental wellbeing by offering in-house wellness activities such as yoga or meditation, and in some cases, by launching month-long campaigns in the name of mental health education and awareness. This year, the theme is “Make Mental Health for all a Global Priority.” In 2019, prior to the onset of the pandemic the WHO estimated one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder. In the aftermath of the pandemic, that number could be staggeringly larger. And while yoga, breath, mindfulness and other wellness practices become more widely accepted as tools for accessing mental health and wellbeing, they have also become Band-Aid solutions that help us ignore a more complex problem, the role that our cultural values and societal conditioning play in the current mental health crisis.
While I can appreciate the effort, the truth is that a singular yoga class as part of an office team retreat or team-building activity is limited in its ability to impact mental wellbeing. At best, it’s a free class for those who already enjoy yoga or perhaps an introduction to those who have never practiced before. So too are the short-lived campaigns to “check in on a fellow colleague” or the odd sound bath or gratitude circle. The fact is, mental health requires a consistent and dedicated effort. Even yoga teachers and wellness professionals who live and breathe in this space can fall through the cracks sometimes.
Chronic stress is a leading cause of disease
Stress contributes enormously to mental health disorder. Even if we consistently engage in the practices geared towards stress management and nervous system regulation such as breathing techniques, meditation and ice baths, it may not be enough. While the natural physiology of our bodies to mount a response to an external or internal stressor is vital to our survival, we must acknowledge the difference in the roles and outcomes of acuteversus chronic stress. Acute stress in our modern world can take shape as a looming deadline or a disagreement in the boardroom or with a friend over decision-making. Chronic stress may look or feel like what many of us experienced during the height of the pandemic, such as uncertainty, loneliness and the loss of control. Whether the stress is acute or chronic, physical or emotional, the body mounts the same response. To simplify, the end result is an artillery of chemical and hormonal secretions within the body that attempt to bring it back into homeostasis. “The same stress response, triggered chronically and without resolution, produces harm and permanent damage. Chronically high cortisol levels destroy tissue” (Mate, Gabor, When the Body Says No, 2003). The point is that even if we have the nervous system and stress management tools, long-term and chronic exposure to stress is a leading cause of illness, often in the form of auto-immune disease or cancer, and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Stress can be invisible even to the person under stress!
Identifying chronic stress may not be as easy as it seems however. The stress response is a set of physiological events that involve the brain, the immune, nervous and endocrine systems, and various organs of our body. By this definition, stress can occur in the body even when we are not aware of it. Studies have shown that stress can be produced in unconscious patients under anesthesia. Stress responses have also been observed in people who are unaware of their emotions or who have mastered the repression of their emotions. In such cases where the person is disconnected from the subtle body responses, stress may go unnoticed.
How does this play out in our day to day lives? Our workplace culture, the dynamics of our personal relationships, our childhood environment all play a role in conditioning us not to notice chronic stress. For example, in companies where the accepted culture is to work 80 hours a week, adrenaline combined with exhaustion from lack of sleep become normalized so much so that the employees who choose to endure such expectations become unaware of the subtle and continuous stress that it places on the body. A person who remains in a toxic relationship for one reason or another may also become conditioned to their emotions to the point where they may not be aware of the internal stress that it creates. Hans Seyle, a medical researcher who is often known as the “father of stress research” observed that people conditioned to high levels of stress in childhood may become addicted to their own stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, resulting in unexplained behavior in adulthood that consistently leads to stressful situations.
Mental Health in the Workplace
What does this mean for organizations that are genuinely interested in improving mental health in the workplace? It means taking a real and honest look at inter-personal relationships and power dynamics, and the underlying work culture. It means creating an environment where everyone feels safe to speak. It means training executives, managers and staff in productive and non-violent communication. It means identifying employee interests and strengths, and giving them a sense of purpose and empowerment. It means valuing their time, offering fair wages and acknowledging their work. It means upholding work-life balance and identifying areas of toxicity within the structure of the organization in order to correct it. Finally, it also means offering comprehensive mental health and wellness education.
Sound bowls and ice baths are not enough, self-inquiry is essential
On a personal level, we have a big part to play in our own mental health journey, and it’s not an easy or pretty path. Beyond breathing, movement practices, sound baths, ice baths and all the nervous-system training we can do, there is a deep need for self-realization and self-love. For being able to see and acknowledge our shadows and our light. To understand why we seek to please others. To know how our personal upbringing has conditioned us into certain patterns of behavior and thinking. To identify repressed emotions and to release them. To listen to our inner voice and to express it freely. To say “no” when it’s not right for us without guilt. To move on from what no longer serves us. To be an empowered and unique individual without the fear of rejection and abandonment. These are the real gems of mental health.
Breaking from our conditioned selves
I speak here from personal experience, and from a period of intense study and reflection since the onset of a rare auto-immune disease known as Henoch-Schonlein Purpura (HSP) about four months ago. I have been a yoga practitioner for twenty years, and a yoga teacher for ten of those. I have an entire toolkit of nervous system and stress management practices. I live and breathe within the space of mental wellbeing and spirituality. I have taught philosophy, mindfulness, self-love, and empowered practices for almost a decade. As I said earlier, even yoga teachers can fall through the cracks. What I’ve realized is that our patterns of behavior and thinking can be so heavily conditioned that while they may seem benign in the best of times, so much so that we may even think we have transcended them, in the worst of times, they re-emerge unnoticed until one day, the body reveals its truth. It is not a failure to fall in this way. It is the ultimate validation of the mind-body-spirit connection. In scientific terms, it is the natural interplay between our mind, our brain, our nervous system, our immune system, our endocrine system and the organs of our body.
If we are to speak honestly about mental health, we cannot ignore the role that our modern society plays in this conditioning. We live in a culture of instant gratification, of homogenization, of being busy, of the pursuit of more. Our perception of what we need to survive on both a social and material level have been so skewed, the bar pushed so far off course, that many of us are driven to anxiety from chasing an artificial target. We are also conditioned by our families and our early childhood experiences. Our conditioned sense of self, confidence, sense of security and how we value ourselves may leave us vulnerable to the larger societal conditioning as we mature through adulthood. To truly prioritize mental health, we need to go through the process of de-conditioning individually, and together as a society, as humankind. The question is whether we are willing to do this. Are we willing to do what it takes to make mental health for all something within reach?
I’m a yoga teacher, so when I started experiencing chronic pain after falling down a flight of stairs in a remote town in Laos with no access to medical care, and a few months later pulling my back while doing some heavy lifting on karma yoga duty at an ashram in India, the toll it took on my physical and emotional wellbeing was . . . . well, it was challenging to say the least.
Chronic pain doesn’t just happen overnight. It comes and it goes over the years until unsuspectingly, you begin to notice its daily presence. For me, it was a pain that ran from the top of my neck, down the right side of my back, ending somewhere around the lumbosacral joint, where the lumbar spine and sacrum meet. Simple tasks can be agonizing. The worst part though, is that although yoga helped to soften the discomfort, it also became a daily reminder of the pain, because with yoga, I was always aware. Aware of how different moving an arm or a leg can feel from one day to the next, how the pain progresses. Aware of my own physical condition in each and every yoga class that I taught. Aware of my deteriorating mental and emotional condition and eventually aware of its toll on even my relationship with my husband. Yup, chronic pain can make its way into every part of your life.
Over the years, I had tried various treatments. Some to just get me through the pain. Others to address the source of the pain. But it wasn’t until recently that I found real hope. I had heard about a technique called Rolfing a few years ago. As defined by the Rolfing Institute of Structural Integration, Rolfing is “a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity.” The goal of Rolfing is to restore the individual to his/her natural alignment to encourage an easier interaction between the self and gravity.
After a little bit of research, I visited Hee Tan, a certified Rolfer, located in Singapore. I opted for the full 10-session Rolfing treatment. The changes to my body were noticeable immediately after the first session. I felt longer, lifted, lighter, along with an experience of diminishing pain. Session after session, we worked through the different parts of the body, identifying the sources of the pain and also acknowledging the history of my active life. What do I mean by this? Well, I’ve been identifying the source of my pain as the two most recent injuries that I mentioned above. As it turns out, ALL of the little injuries along the course of my life (some that I barely even remembered) are relevant. I think about them as layers of brick. Layers of injuries that may seem significant or insignificant at the moment that they occur, but together form one big, solid, impermeable wall of pain.
By the Rolfing Institute’s definition of the technique, I have experienced the “soft tissue manipulation” as the part done primarily by the Rolfer and the “movement education” as the information he passes to me, that then becomes my work. It is the knowledge of how my body has compensated for my injuries, which muscles are overworked, which ones have been neglected in my daily movements that were truly the defining moments of my path to healing. As a yoga teacher, I thought I understood my body and its movements, but what I learned from my sessions with Hee were really . . . . mindblowing!
What I’d like others who suffer from chronic pain to know is that there is hope, but there is no magic pill. Before my Rolfing sessions, I used to view my treatments, as something my therapist would do to me. I lie on the bed and they massage me, or treat me with needles or with energy work, and believe me, it’s all good stuff. But the reality is that for it to be sustainable, you have to continue to move with awareness. You have to continue to do the work. There’s a certain reprogramming that needs to be done and this must diligently be done by you!
Patience is virtue. As the body heals, it changes. There were moments in my yoga practice that I felt like a beginner all over again. I had been practicing yoga for over 12 years and I found myself as a beginner! And as frustrating as that was, it was also absolutely incredible! I often ask if there are any beginners in my classes. We often think of a beginner as not having done that many classes or not being familiar with the postures, but how about familiarity with one’s own body? I was a beginner again because I was unfamiliar with my own body, how to move it, what squared hips felt like, how to use muscles that were underworked. Slowly, and with patience, I became familiar again and also started to enjoy some of the new experiences that my body presents to me each day. I am ever grateful to what Rolfing has done for me and for the kind and knowledgeable care that I received.
If you are heading to or passing through Singapore, check out Hee Tan’s website, www.postureconnection.com or contact him by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (+65) 8498-5673.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)
"Who Owns Yoga?" A Documentary
“Who Owns Yoga” is a documentary by Bhanu Bhatnagar, a journalist who also moonlights as a yoga teacher in Doha, Qatar; Micah Garen and Marie-Helene Carleton, award-winning documentary filmmakers and founders of Four Corners Media. The documentary reflects upon the current state of the yoga industry and raises some important questions regarding the future of yoga for all. Whether you are a regular or occasional yoga student or teacher, this debate is relevant to you. Please take the time to read this blog and to watch this engaging documentary. “Who Owns Yoga” is also in the works to be a made into a feature-length independent film, supported by funds raised through Kickstarter. If you would like to support this project, donations can be made by clicking on the link at the end of this blog.
Yoga is, today, a multibillion-dollar industry! In the United States alone, the annual amount spent on yoga products totals approximately USD27 billion. That incudes the classes we attend, the equipment we purchase, the clothes we wear and the vacations we take. Compare that to the USD63 billion spent on all sporting goods annually. In the last five years, we’ve seen an 87 percent increase in spending on yoga products. Between 2008 and 2012 yoga participation increased by 29 percent. Industry revenues are expected to increase by 4.8 percent annually through 2019. This statistic includes just the United States and does not account for trends seen in Europe, Central and South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, which are also on the rise. It comes as no surprise, yoga is a MAJOR industry!
From rather simple beginnings where the practice was passed down from guru to an individual student, to the emergence of yoga ashrams, to the explosion of yoga studios and retreat centers worldwide, how we define yoga, how we practice it, and as teachers, how we teach it is in constant evolution. The rise of yoga styles is also something of interest as yoga gurus emerge from various lineages, some to share their own approaches to the practice of yoga and some because in a competitive market, standing out from crowd is the essence of both gaining a share of the market and remaining relevant in an ever-changing environment. And so, from the days of Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kundalini and Sivananda Yoga, we now see the genesis of much more modern and creative spirits of Aerial Yoga, Voga, Rave Yoga and everything in between.
“What is Yoga?”
With the ever-grow growing marketing machine behind yoga’s explosive popularity, the question “What is Yoga?” has become the core of many discussions amongst seasoned yogis. Traditionalists or classicalists are quick to judge new and modern forms as “NOT” yoga. A trip to India, the birthplace of yoga, might surprise you however, with its general openness to the definition of yoga. The ancient philosophy behind this practice is in fact accessible to a modern lifestyle and perhaps this ability of yoga philosophy to be understood in its simplicity by all as a journey towards being the best version of yourself as you can be, is what draws millions of people to it.
“Is Yoga a Secular Practice?”
With roots that date back to approximately 6000 years ago and knowledge gained from the Vedas, the oldest existing written literature in the Indian Subcontinent, yoga shares similar bedrock to the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. But yoga philosophy itself is secular and any overlaps with Hinduism are in a cultural rather than religious context. While most yogis experience yoga in a secular way, Religious activists still claim that yoga is rooted in Hindu beliefs. This point is further discussed in the documentary through interviews with advocates of various perspectives.
“Who Owns Yoga?”
Currently, yoga enjoys the freedom of expression and of individuality. While Yoga Alliance recommends guidelines and minimum standards for yoga teachers and schools, throughout the world, it is not a regulatory body. In fact, there is no overarching regulatory body that determines what yoga is and isn’t. This is the beauty of yoga. In recent years however, with the likes of Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga, seeking to patent or copyright yoga sequences, the Indian government is putting together a yoga knowledge database of existing postures to ensure that these stay in the public sphere. But with the practice and the industry changing faster than we can keep up with, what is the future of yoga?
The questions above are explored by, Bhanu Bhatnagar, who incidentally also taught his first yoga class in Luang Prabang. In this fourty-minute documentary, Bhanu seeks to find the answers to these questions through interviews with renowned gurus in the East and West, as well as other key players in the Industry. If you are a yoga practitioner, these questions should matter. The future of yoga and our individual right to make yoga our own matters. “Who Owns Yoga” can be watched by following the link below:
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)
People come from all walks of life looking for calm, tranquility and every variation of the word "PEACE." It seems as if everybody is looking for peace these days, traveling halfway across the world in search of this thing, this feeling, this state of being that we've all heard about, but can't seem to hold on to with our hands, our hearts, our minds. Even in a sleepy town, set in a seemingly "peaceful" setting between two lazy rivers, the sound of a car or the baseline from a nearby boom box can throw us off on our path to peace, and we're forced to begin our agitated journey once again.
And so it seems as if we've been searching in all the wrong places - outside instead of in - perhaps because creating a picture perfect image of peace is much more pleasant than acknowledging the ugly thoughts, the fears that keep us up at night, the would haves, could haves, should haves and the what ifs.
What if . . . . . what if for a moment we could absorb ourselves entirely into the present, where yesterday and tomorrow did not exist. What if all there is, is NOW, so that even a simple and mundane task such as chopping an onion could take on a whole new meaning, as if doing it for the first time ever. To be engrossed in the texture, the smell, the stinging sensation of the eyes, to acknowledge the experience without an expectation of what comes next. To be undisturbed by the comings and goings of the world around. To be untroubled by that stinging sensation in the eyes. It is what it is. This is what is happening now. Acceptance.
The nice thing about peace though is that it can be contagious, even if for a brief moment. One person's inner peace affects another person's inner peace until, with a little bit of effort, it becomes accessible and available to all. Peace isn't a permanent state of being though, nor should we ever expect it to be. Maybe there's some solace in knowing that. It comes and it goes. Eventually, we learn how to access it in our times of need, like making hot tea on a cold, rainy day. And maybe that cup of tea becomes two cups, three cups . . . . until there's enough to feed the world.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)
In today’s world of “rock star” yoga celebrities there is a tendency for students to glorify their yoga teachers just as much as there is a tendency for yoga teachers to want to be glorified. Students want to follow and teachers want a following. Students want approval and teachers want to be loved by all. This is off course, not true for all teacher-student relationships in the yoga world; and there’s certainly nothing wrong with admiring a knowledgeable teacher and wanting to learn more under his/her guidance; but as yoga is much about finding your own truth through your own practice, blind faith can be incredibly damaging.
Traditionally, the world “Guru” refers to a teacher or master. Gu (darkness) and ru (light), refer to “one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.” While yoga is a physical practice (whether in meditation or through movement), it also walks the fine line between spirituality and religion. While spirituality implies freedom, a search for knowledge and truth within oneself or the universe, religion on the other hand is dogma. The dictionary definition of dogma is “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” Religion requires blind faith. In blindly following, we can easily turn our yoga practice from spiritual to religious, and in doing so, we lose our ability to think, observe and experience our own unique condition.
Since the popularization of yoga by Krishnamacharya in the early 20th century, many forms and philosophies of yoga have emerged. Krishnamacharya’s lineage gave birth to Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. A classical form of yoga also grew from the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati and gained in popularity by the work of his disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda. More recently the yoga world has seen a flood of even newer forms such as Anusara, Jivamukti, Scaravelli, Forest, Power, Yin . . . . and the list goes on!
Each form of yoga is differentiated by its approach to the philosophy of yoga and its approach to alignment. In some cases, the names of postures may even be slightly different. As responsible yogis, it is important to view each form of yoga as an offering of knowledge. Draw inspiration from all types of yoga. At the same time, question them all. Do not follow any single one with blind faith while judging all others as wrong. If in the end you choose to follow in absolute purity one single form of yoga, do it consciously and with knowledge and awareness that the lessons of the others do not benefit you. But then again, it is impossible for us to try every single form of yoga, so therefore, I suggest always keeping an open mind. Try to avoid thought processes such as “My teacher taught me this. You are saying the opposite, so therefore you are wrong.” These are the kinds of thoughts that lead to war and as yoga is much about peace, it is important for us to respect and accept everyone’s own unique path on their journey to discovering their own truth.
Remember also that you are your own Guru. While there are certainly many knowledgeable teachers out there to study with, very often, their opinions and teachings may conflict. Do not be discouraged or confused. It is up to you to determine what is right for you. In practicing with awareness and honesty, the answers will reveal themselves.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)
Useful Tips To Make The Best Out of Your Downward Facing Dog (From Jessica Magnin's Technical Workshop)
Downward-Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana is a posture that’s practiced often in most forms of yoga. In fact, it’s likely that your yoga practice will consist of at least one downward facing dog no matter what style of yoga appeals to you. While this posture is often referred to as a resting posture in Vinyasa Flow yoga, taken as a break between standing postures, it’s an incredibly demanding position that requires your entire body to be engaged, your breath to be active, and your awareness to be fully present. Jessica Magnin’s recent workshop at the Hotel de la Paix in Luang Prabang broke down this complex asana, transforming it part by part. There were a few “aha!” moments in the workshop as participants expressed freedom in the experience of being aligned. We’re sharing these useful tips with you.
To begin, downward facing dog is a posture of reflection and a posture of humility. The head hangs below the heart as we reflect upon the experience of our practice. In Vinyasa Flow yoga, we come into adho mukha svanasana in between standing postures on the left and right sides. In downward facing dog, we restore equilibrium, we restore our awareness, and we bring ourselves back to the present as we observe and fully engage all parts of the body once again.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)
The Joys of an Outdoor Yoga Practice - 10 Reasons to Take Your Practice Outside the Studio
Here in Luang Prabang, we’re blessed with the kind of weather that allows us to practice yoga outside almost all year round. But practicing outdoors is not always easy. Most people are used to practicing indoors, in a quiet room, enclosed by walls that physically create the feeling of personal space. Outside, the weather, noise and insect life can often be distracting, but the joys of an outdoor practice far outweigh the cons. Here are ten reasons to practice outside while you’re in Luang Prabang and elsewhere, as well as some tips on how to make the most out of your outdoor yoga practice.
1. Where else can you practice with a picture perfect view of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers?
Most yoga studios are indoors, so most likely, a majority of your yoga classes have taken place inside. This makes sense considering most people live in cities that are not conducive to an outdoor practice either because the weather is not favorable or the environment, such as traffic and pollution, do not support a healthy practice. In Luang Prabang on the other hand, mountains, rivers, great weather and a slightly less modernized environment surround us. Yoga decks on the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers therefore can be used year round. Where else can you get this kind of view?
2. The ancient yogis drew their inspiration from nature. Practicing outdoors can help you connect more deeply to your yoga postures.
Ancient yogis observed the natural environment in which they existed and understood how living things drew the energy of Mother Nature to survive and thrive. In modern day yoga asana practice, postures are often named after the natural elements that they represent. While practicing outdoors, draw inspiration in mountain pose from the mountains in the distance or root into the earth like the tree in front of you. Perhaps even experience gratitude for life as you salute the sun while it rises from the horizon.
3. Yoga is about non-duality. Feel oneness with the universe as you practice outside.
In non-duality we remove the separation between the universe in which we exist and ourselves as individuals. This is a difficult concept to experience as modern society puts a high value on individuality, placing importance on the “Me,” “I” and “My.” Within the walls of a yoga studio, the focus is often on “my practice,” “my progress,” and “my space.” While there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this, the experience of an outdoor practice can be eye opening. Outside we have less control over our environment and as such, the practice no longer becomes about “me.” It’s easier to realize our tiny significance and insignificance in the larger scheme of the universe as rivers flow, birds fly and insects buzz around, each with their own role to play, without concern or care that we’re out there in the middle of our yoga practice.
4. Have you ever seen the full moon rising behind the mountains and light up the river in front of you as you awake under a starry sky from Savasana?
During the winter months in Luang Prabang, the full moon rises above the Nam Khan River, usually at the end of the sunset yoga class, as yogis make their way towards or out of Savasana. The yoga deck is lit with candles. There’s not much else to say about this one.
5. Peace comes from within.
There’s a misconception that an enclosed room will protect you from noise. Perhaps if the building were soundproof this would be true. The reality is however, that most are not. Even within the confines of walls, you can hear the rumbling of motorcycles outside, the sound of construction equipment from the house next door or the clatter from the neighbor’s kitchen. Walls often create the illusion of quiet, but true peace comes from within. Practicing outdoors encourages us to quickly look inside ourselves as we cannot always rely on our environment to create the feeling of calm.
6. We naturally feel happier outside, in the sun.
It’s common knowledge that catching some sun each day helps to boost serotonin levels and makes us happier people. Maybe it’s a combination of the view, the sun and the yoga, but yogis coming off a practice on our outdoor deck definitely look like they’ve had a dose of the happy pill. If that isn’t a reason to practice outside, I don’t know what is.
7. Problems with mosquitos? There’s nothing a little mosquito spray can’t fix.
Mosquitos and other insects appear to be the number one reason why people don’t want to practice outside. During the rainy season here in Laos, mosquitos can be more of a nuisance than in the dry, winter months, but that’s not something a little mosquito spray can’t fix. If you’re considering practicing outdoors regularly and are concerned about too much use of Deet, natural insect repellents are just as effective. They need to be reapplied every 3 hours instead of the usual 7 hours required for sprays that contain Deet, but that’s enough for a 90-minute yoga session.
8. Learning to deal with unexpected situations is a step towards living life happily.
It’s true that it’s a lot harder to control the environment when practicing outdoors. From unpredictable weather, to people chatting, to interruptions from insects and animals, there are a lot of factors beyond our control. But isn’t it also true too that unpredictability is a fact of life? Learning how to navigate unforeseen situations without letting them affect us is key to living a happy life. Next time something happens that’s not within your control, observe how you react to it. Through an outdoor practice, you can hone the ability to let the little things slide with indifference. Does it really matter if someone accidentally walks into your personal space? Was it really “your” space to being with?
9. Experience freedom by practicing outdoors.
Ah freedom! It’s something we strive for, yet most of us don’t really know what it feels like. Practicing yoga outdoors can help us experience freedom in a way that cannot be easily replicated indoors. The expanse of the sky above can give us a sense of freedom as it takes us away from the enclosed environments that we are usually confined within (house, office, car etc.). Outside, space is limitless. We connect to this limitless space as we extend upwards from our heels to the crown of our heads and from fingertip to fingertip as we spread our arms like wings into the vastness of the outdoors.
10. If you can practice outside, you can practice anywhere, anytime.
If you build the ability to practice outdoors, you can pretty much guarantee that you can take your yoga practice anywhere. All you have to do is find a flat surface, close your eyes, look within, and the perfect yoga space can be created.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)
The Teachers That Inspire Us
There are good yoga teachers, and then there are great yoga teachers. The good teachers challenge us. Physically, they help us push the limits of our capabilities. Mentally and emotionally, they impart confidence, self-worth and discipline. The great teachers however, touch our souls in a way that causes a vital shift to our inner being, leaving us a little bit transformed.
In this lifetime, we will likely only encounter a handful of these great teachers. We may not recognize them upon first meeting them. Most probably, we would not have heard of them before. Teachers like these do not seek fame. Rather, they practice and teach, touching one person at a time, without the need for recognition and without the need to be commended. In the end, it is not their goal either to instill these changes in others. Those who come with an open heart and mind will gain the benefit of their teachings. Those that are closed to it will not. They don’t tell us what we should or should not do or think. They do not judge us for how we live our lives.
Most importantly, great teachers grow in us, the desire to be better people, to be selfless people. In a single class, these teachers can make you feel your smallness in the larger scheme of the universe, yet feel so connected to it at the same time; to want to sacrifice your own goals for those of humanity; to feel deeply for all of humanity; to have compassion for all things good and bad; to love and to truly seek peace.
To all the inspirational teachers out there, THANK YOU!
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)