“Just as water flows through an open tap, so energy flows into the relaxed muscles.”
– Swami Vishnudevananda on asana
We are happy to announce the beginning of the high season at the Yoga Retreat! Starting this month we will begin offering even more great programs with inspiring guest speakers, and a variety of wonderful certification courses, including Yoga Teachers Trainings, the Ayurvedic Body Treatments Course, the Thai Yoga Massage Course and the Yoga of Recovery Course. This December, for the first time, we will host a ThetaHealing Retreat, led by a senior student of ThetaHealing founder Vianna Stibal. Some of our guest speakers will offer private healing sessions to interested guests. Also coming up, especially around the holidays, are enriching programs for families and children, and opportunities to enjoy diverse concerts and performances. In preparation for your visit many of the rooms at the ashram have recently been renovated and fitted with air-conditioning. So mark your calendar and plan to join us for a certification course, a family vacation, or an ashram weekend getaway soon!
– Om Shanti, Om Peace,
The Staff of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat
For Weight Loss, Joy is More Important than Diet
Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda
Q: How can I control my passion for eating?
A: The short answer is to go on a diet with joy. The joy is more important than the diet, which means that going on a diet and being miserable about it is not a good thing. For instance, yogis perform austerities, but if a yogi performs austerities and is not joyous about it, it is better to forgo them, as austerities should be performed with joy. The same applies to diets.
“Enrich your blood through japa, kirtan, meditation, sattva,
pranayama, asanas, tomatoes, grapes, spinach, pure air
and sunlight.” – Swami Sivananda
Why do people go on diets? There are several reasons – the health issue, the esthetic issue, peer pressure, etc. – that make people want to lose weight. But sometimes going on a diet actually takes away the person's joy in life, and I know some people for whom eating is a great joy. My opinion, which might be considered radical, is that it is better to be fat and happy than slim and miserable. Joy is a great source of health and is therefore more important than losing a few pounds, being vigilant about good cholesterol, etc.
On the other hand, if one has a good guide who can prescribe an effective diet in a compassionate manner so that the joy will not be taken away, that guide can lead us to proper eating habits.
The yogic rule of not crossing the pain threshold applies to this matter as well. Many of us would like to practice asanas as perfectly as Swami Vishnudevananda, but are not willing to invest the time required to reach such perfection. So we injure ourselves. In order to avoid that, we should observe our pain threshold. For instance, when we practice the forward bend, we should bend only until the pain threshold is met, and then go back about an inch and relax at that point. We should never keep our body in pain – we should reach the pain threshold, go back a bit and relax – this is the only way to make progress. This also applies to diets. A diet to lose weight should be effective but it should not take away our joy.
Swami Swaroopananda is the Acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda Yoga Centers and Ashrams on the West Coast of the United States, in the Middle East, and in the Bahamas, and is one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda. He is renowned for his spontaneous yet clear, concise, and complete answers to every question. This Q&A is from September 2010 at Kibutz Har'el in Israel.
For a list of courses and programs for losing weight and managing hunger,click here.
Ayurveda + Yoga + 12-Step = Yoga of Recovery
An answer to addictions and self-destructive behaviors
by Durga Leela (Catherine O'Neill)
To understand the treatment of addiction today it helps to have some context of the history of addiction treatment. In a time not so long ago, and perhaps a view still held by some today, addicts were thought to be bad people who were sent to priests for moral counseling. In more severe cases they seemed to be possessed by evil spirits, and ultimately were sent to priests for exorcism. Since the 1930s with the work of Bill Wilson and the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous, (AA, the first of which has now become a series of 12-step programs) addiction gained the status of a disease; now addicts are seen as sick people trying to get well. Today, even though addiction is generally accepted as a disease, it is not one that can be easily treated with allopathic medicine, with its emphasis on medications. Psychotherapy has been popular with those overcoming addictions, however, analysis, treating the mind directly with the mind, has its limitations. In recent years we have seen an increase in the use of psychiatric drugs that aim to treat the mind by changing the chemistry of the brain, these work well for some but not others and clinical trials often show that the placebos sometimes have close to the same effect that the medications have. In yoga, with its deeper understanding of the different levels of mind (brain, mind, consciousness) it is understood that it is not easy to effect a change at the level of consciousness by merely changing our thoughts on the analytical level or altering the chemistry of the brain.
Addiction, more than being a physical disease, is a spiritual malady. This is the stance taken by 12 Step programs, with the input from doctors and psychologists (including Carl Jung). Those who accept this broad definition of the disease of addiction are put in a challenging position when seeking balanced treatment from conventional primary care providers. Western allopathic biomedicine and the physicians and providers trained in this system do not always acknowledge the spiritual aspect of any disease. This has left many people in 12 step programs in the detrimental position of not seeking treatment for the more physical aspects of the damage caused by addictions, or if they do seek treatment, they can be very susceptible to becoming addicted to the medications offered to them by a system than relies heavily on pharmaceutical solutions. On a more positive note, the necessity for spiritual healing does lead many people in recovery to embrace more holistic healing methods. This is where the teachings and practices of Ayurveda and Yoga offer a complete care package for body, mind and spirit. It is interesting to note that in the US, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants and research studies investigating the efficacy of yoga as a healing modality are primarily within the area of psychology with a large emphasis in the field of addiction.
What ties in with this and what some find to be the most remarkable aspect of 12 Step Programs is the fact that only the first of the 12 steps makes any mention of the addictive substance or act. Sobriety is described as a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”
The level of addiction in our society has become so strong that some view it as the spiritual emergency of the planet and its people. Addiction is born of attachment, it stems from what we face in the duality of life, how we are caught up in the web of maya (illusion). Those who have experienced the dark, desperate place of addiction have experienced their own spiritual emergency. Their suffering can lead them to their own spiritual emergence. Often an addiction problem is an alarm bell, a wake up call to the spiritual life.
To tackle the problem of addiction we need to understand the nature of the mind, repair the physical damage caused by excessive use of a substance or inappropriate indulgence in a behavior, and consider the spiritual solution. Yoga of Recovery is the integration of the philosophies from the East (Yoga and Ayurveda) with the widely accepted, 12 step programs that originated in the West.
Ayurveda, one of the systems of medicine native to India, is as its Sanskrit name describes, the "science of self-healing." It offers simple, daily and seasonal practices and therapies for prevention, palliation and repair. Twelve step programs offer practical suggestions for a life of abstinence to be lived on spiritual principles. Yoga and Vedanta offer a comprehensive understanding of the mind and consciousness. Ayurveda, 12-step programs, yoga and Vedanta are community, grass root, spontaneous, organic and spiritually based. They are not owned by anyone and they operate on the basis of attraction rather than promotion. They offer guidance based on the principles of service, self-love, selflessness, anonymity, meditation and prayer.
A program that integrates Western psychology and 12-step methodology with Yoga psychology and Ayurvedic healing practices is Yoga of Recovery. Currently Yoga of Recovery programs are offered as retreat experiences in the beautiful, peaceful locations of Sivananda ashrams. The retreat is for those looking to overcome their own addictive or self-destructive behaviors and also for people with histories of addiction in themselves or within their family. The retreat requires that people who have alcohol or other chemical dependencies have at least three months of continuous sobriety before they attend. People who attend the retreats range in age from 16 to 84 years old and experience every type of addiction. Yoga of Recovery is for those interested in a more holistic and complete view of the problem and its solution. It investigates and educates about the root causes and reasons for our compulsions, attachments and addictive imbalances. What in our nature compels us to this continual external seeking? We look at the stress response of the different doshic types, unmanaged emotions, how the mind works by repetition, creating deep grooves of self-destructive habits.
Yoga of Recovery also offers a certificate course aimed at therapists, social workers, addiction counselors, sponsors, yoga teachers, Ayurvedic practitioners etc. Yoga teachers will fully understand the root of the problem and the holistic approach, extended from limited understanding of substance abuse/behavioral problems to be treated with asana alone, to a full range of therapies for mind, body and spirit from these powerful healing modalities. Those in counseling roles will obtain a deeper understanding of the comprehensive approach to wellness, emotional sobriety and sustained spiritual development using Ayurveda and Yoga as extension therapies to any recovery/12 Step work.
The approach is from the point of view of Sattva (purity), unity (Vedanta) and not from separation, the "them and us" mentality that stems from egoism, Rajas (turbulence) and Tamas (dullness). This is important since in the media portrayal of the problem of addiction, both historically and currently, it is presented as a case of "them and us," but in truth we are all addicted to some degree.
Yoga of Recovery includes the following tenets with practical guidelines to address them taught in the retreats and courses:
- Life is Longing: for union, connection, love and fulfillment. When we seek the satisfaction of this spiritual longing from physical sources we end up in desire, craving, attachment and eventually addiction.
- Life is Prana: If we are energy (prana)-deficient we seek stimulation. If we are hyperactive and constantly on the go, we seek sedation. If the flow of prana is blocked and we are in pain (physical or psychological), we self-medicate. If we are under stress, we often seek instant gratification through our senses. The short-term pain relief created in these situations, however, is outweighed by the long-term progression of disturbed prana which can lead to depression, mental stagnation, denial and addiction.
- Life is Relationship: "No man is independent of the whole. Man makes himself miserable by separating himself from others." – Swami Sivananda. The progress of the disease moves from seeking out lower company to isolation. It is interesting to note that the first word of the 12-steps is "We." The second step is "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Separation and isolation must be countered by developing a relationship with the universal consciousness (God/Higher Power/Ishta Devata). Connection to a lineage or guru, the practices of Bhakti yoga, and especially Satsanga will elevate and purify the mind. "The greatest and most important thing in all the world is to get a right concept of God, because your belief about God governs your entire life." -- Sivananda
- Life is Sweet: Madhurya Bhava, those who are devoted to the sweetness of the divine. Lack of satisfaction of our spiritual seeking nature leads to cravings at the physical level. The rapid increase and nature of eating disorders reflects this. A simple solution is pacification with Sattvic, sweet therapies for all five senses. Ayurveda views misuse of the senses as a major disease-causing factor and we live in a society that promotes constant and immediate sense gratification. Experiencing all the sense therapies, including the Bhakti yoga practices, can be a revelation to people who have never been guided on the balanced use of their senses. This provides a means for developing a healthy relationship with all of the senses, and through the experience of Bhakti, some actually connect with how sweet their relationship with their higher power can be.
- Life is Love: Most of us make the error of thinking love is something that we can get, rather than being something we can give or even more fundamentally, simply what we are. Under this tenet we look at forgiveness and the release of resentments and grudges. Swami Sivananda summarizes this beautifully when he says, "The salt of life is selfless service. The bread of life is universal love. The secret of true life is in the love of God and the service of others".
- Life is Progress: understanding the Law of Karma and the principle of Dharma. 12 step programs use the expression "we claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection". The suggestion therefore is to keep coming back – to meetings, to the mat, to prayer and meditation. Practice the spiritual principles of the 12 steps, which correspond with the ethical and lifestyle foundations of the 8-fold path of classical Yoga, in all our affairs. Destiny is your own creation, through thoughts, actions, habits and character. Habits make health, one day at a time.
When people become addicted to strong, mind-altering substances like drugs and alcohol, this behavior can be viewed as spiritual seeking that is directed in self-destructive patterns and can be turned around or redirected using a combination of abstinence, 12-step methodology, Yoga and meditation practice. The more subtle and ubiquitous 'attachments' that we all suffer from and that no one can avoid entirely are our addictions/attachments to food and people. These are the first and last ties to our embodied existence in our human condition. These 'primal' attachments take us to the Kleshas/afflictions (ignorance/avidya, egoism/asmita, likes or attractions/raga, dislikes or aversions/dvesha, and fear of death or the natural clinging to life/abhinivesha). The founder of AA, Bill Wilson, speaks of these same concepts when he discusses our "instincts run wild" which involve our "legitimate, natural desires to eat, to reproduce, for society, security and companionship". (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous)
Yogis practice fasting, silence and stillness in solitude as the ultimate cure for attachment. For those coming to the spiritual path through the suffering and attachments of addictions we begin where they are, utilizing Ayurvedic five-sense therapies and gently and gradually leading them along the Yogic paths. It is a spiritual and sensible approach to recovery, acknowledging the roots of our addictions to be no less than the normal pitfalls of our human condition, teaching us to harmonize our sensory intake of the world, understand the mechanics of our mind and eventually, as we progress on our path, become ready to withdraw from our senses in an effort to contact the true Self that is independent and transcends environmental influences. Once we realize our True Nature, all psychological problems are removed at the roots. The process of affirmation of, and identification with the Self (Atman) helps to reduce and eventually remove all cravings, sense of lack, self-esteem problems and self-defeating behaviors.
Combining the Yogic psychology of how to deal with the mind and the Yogic philosophy of the Self with the practice of the principles of the 12 steps alongside an Ayurvedic lifestyle offers us a continuous process to help us move from the path of self-destruction to the path of Self-realization - one day at a time, in a continual practice and remembering.
Durga is a Clinical Ayurvedic and Pancha Karma Specialist, trained at the California College of Ayurveda and also in Kerala, India. Each year, she leads several Ayurvedic Retreats at International Sivananda Yoga Ashrams. Durga has been involved with the 12-Step Fellowship for more than 10 years. She completed her Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course in May 2002, the Meditation Immersion Course in January 2005 and the Advanced Yoga Teachers Training Course in March 2006.