"In the system of 'Suryanamaskara' are combined several Yoga postures with rhythmic breathing, rapid movement, sunbathing and prayerful contemplation of the divine power that the sun represents. We are asked to practise this Suryanamaskara facing the morning sun, bathing our whole body in the life-giving rays of the sun, the giver of light, life, joy and warmth of the whole world." ~Swami Sivananada "Yoga Asanas."
Seeing That Which is Already There
In Chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna to show him His Universal Form ("Show me Thy imperishable Self," he requests) and there follows a description of God in all of His unbearable radiance. Last year, during the Advanced Bhagavad Gita Course at the Yoga Retreat, Swami Swaroopananda discussed some of the underlying meaning of this teaching:
When we study scriptures, we are hearing about Truth. Of course, to hear about Truth directly from Lord Krishna is different. But when Arjuna is no longer satisfied to just hear about Truth, he asks Lord Krishna to actually show him His real form, His divine form.
The Krishna known to Arjuna is just one manifestation. He himself states: Among the Vaishnavas, I am Krishna. So, what does Lord Krishna do when he is asked to show His real form? Does Lord Krishna change into something else? No. What does He do? He bestows upon Arjuna the divine eyes. The problem is not with Lord Krishna. It's not as if Lord Krishna was veiling Himself until now. This has nothing to do with Lord Krishna but instead has to do with Arjuna. The divine eye, the eye of true vision of Arjuna was closed. But in fact it wasn't even closed. He didn't say that I am going to open your eye. Lord Krishna said that he was going to give him something. Lord Krishna said that no one has seen before you what you are going to see now. So he bestows upon him a divine gift. Basically, it's a gift of a divine vision, the capacity to see that which is already there.
Lord Krishna did not transform Himself into His real form. The problem was always with Arjuna. Arjuna had to open something that was there but closed. But Arjuna could not do it himself. That gift he had to receive from the guru. You cannot just grab it. You have to receive it from the guru, in the guru's good time. If the guru sees that you have bhakti, that you have devotion, which is the main factor, and if the guru sees that there is enough desire for true knowledge and spiritual liberation, and if the guru sees a purity of heart and mind, then the guru can give. You can't just snatch it. You have to receive it.
Swami Swaroopananda will again teach the Advanced Bhagavad Gita Certification Course March 27 - April 6 this year. Join us for a profound learning experience.
Sensory Integration and
How Yoga Helps Kids Cope
By Mira Binzen
Every day our senses perceive, process, and filter a mind-boggling array of input. Our nervous system receives messages from our environment through our five senses, interprets and processes the messages, and then emits an appropriate response.
In addition to our five familiar senses of vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, we have two additional "inner" senses. These two senses are called vestibular and proprioception. The vestibular system is based in the inner ear and lets you know where your body is in relation to earth's gravitational pull. Your vestibular system tells you that your back arm is at shoulder height (or not) in virabhadrasana II (warrior II).
Through proprioception, we sense where our body is in space and get a sense of "groundedness," or connection. It gives us the ability to plan and coordinate movements. Sense receptors in the joints and muscles are constantly sending signals to the brain so that we can walk with a steady stride, bring our coffee cup to our lips and sip, and carry out thousands of other everyday coordinated movements. Your proprioceptive sense tells you where and how much pressure is needed in your foot to balance in natarajasana (dancer pose). A child who has difficulty integrating proprioceptive input may hold something so tightly it breaks, or so loosely it falls to the ground -- and breaks. It is this proprioceptive sense that gives us "body awareness."
Brooke Backsen, an occupational therapist in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services at Provena Mercy Medical Center in the USA, works with children who have sensory processing disorder (SPD). She helps parents understand by asking, "Do you notice that Jimmy seeks out or enjoys bumping or crashing in his environment?" Then she explains, "This is proprioceptive input, just like we get when we are doing pushups (or a series of downward facing dog and plank pose). Jimmy's jumping and crashing gives him more input, helping him to better understand and feel where his edges are."
Sensory processing disorder
SPD is a condition where input from one or several of the seven senses is perceived as too strong or too soft or is misinterpreted. This condition was first recognized by occupational therapist Dr. A. Jean Ayres and described in her book Sensory Integration and Learning Disabilities, published in 1972.
Everyone experiences times when they are not responding well to the environment. We are more likely to find ourselves integrating our sense experiences poorly when we are "off balance." Insufficient sleep, poor dietary choices, and stress can throw our nervous system off balance. Most of us have the skills and experience to filter out overwhelming stimuli and to self-regulate. Backsen explains by asking, "Have you ever noticed on days that you have a tough day at work and you come home you may notice that you are more irritable or sensitive to your environment -- the kids' TV cartoons, the sound of the dishwasher, or your husband clicking his pen while he fills out the crossword? This is your body experiencing sensory processing dis-regulation." She goes on, "When we have a tough day at work, our body often seeks out certain things -- a workout at the gym, a big deep breath and a sigh, or even chewing gum in the car on the ride home -- to regulate our systems."
Research by the SPD Foundation indicates that one child in every 20 experiences symptoms of sensory processing disorder that are significant enough to affect their ability to engage fully in everyday life. Symptoms of SPD, like those of most disorders, occur within a broad spectrum of severity. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for children and adults with SPD, these difficulties are chronic and disrupt everyday life.
Stanley Greenspan, author of The Challenging Child, describes it this way: "Imagine driving a car that isn't working well. When you step on the gas the car sometimes lurches forward and sometimes doesn't respond. When you blow the horn, it sounds blaring. The brakes sometimes slow the car, but not always. The blinkers work occasionally, the steering is erratic, and the speedometer is inaccurate. You are engaged in a constant struggle to keep the car on the road, and it is difficult to concentrate on anything else."
There is a wide variety of types of SPD. Someone who is over-responsive to sensory input is often in a state of mild panic and may appear anxious or resistant to interaction. Everything she perceives is interpreted as an alarm to the nervous system. A child may appear to be bossy, irritable, or picky but is simply trying to control the environment that is bombarding her with sensations she is having difficulty processing. Others are under-responsive. Such a child may seem lazy, bored, or stubborn, but he is simply not receiving the messages that you and I do at a "normal" volume. He needs the input longer, louder, and deeper than you or I may find comfortable for it to register. Another child may have a sensory-seeking condition, as he is under-registering sensory input. He craves sensory experiences and comes across as a daredevil as he bashes into walls and other children, races from activity to activity, and earns a reputation as a "wild child." A child with difficulty processing sensory stimuli may be misdiagnosed as having attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disability, or a "behavior disorder." Therapeutic intervention is important for children, as SPD can, and often does, get in the way of learning, socializing, and self-esteem.
How yoga helps
When describing the benefits of yoga to children, I often tell them they are like a DJ and they have a DJ's mixing board full of dials and knobs. Yoga teaches them how to adjust the volume, change channels, or add some bass. Children with difficulty processing sensory input aren't easily able to access all these knobs and dials.
Students of all ages need a practice that is suited to their unique constitution, temperament, and interest. All children and adults at all levels of sensory functioning benefit from the strengthening, balancing, and toning effect yoga has on the nervous system. Scott M. Shannon, MD, recommends yoga in his book Please Don't Label My Child. He writes, "It provides structure and a commitment to wellness that kids who need grounding can easily latch onto. It's an empowering activity that suits kids well and that they can engage in for a lifetime."
Relaxation response: The sensory system is soothed, and the relaxation response (parasympathetic dominance) is engaged in forward folds; deep, even breathing; progressive relaxation (tensing then releasing each muscle group); and deep relaxation. Most children in my classes also love to put sandbags on their bodies for final rest. This is especially helpful for a child with sensory processing challenges. An 8-year-old boy in my class, whose mom signed him up to address "sensory issues," let out a series of five or six "Ahhhs" when I placed a sand bag on his chest. (Make sure the sandbags are not too heavy; check in with the child and look for easy, relaxed breathing. Leave them on for five minutes or less.) He had been irritable and very talkative during class. After relaxation, his face was soft, he smiled gently, and when I asked him how he was feeling, instead of launching into a dramatic high-energy story, as is his tendency, he just nodded his head as his smile widened. Backsen describes this as DTP, deep touch pressure. "This is the most calming form of input." It also increases body awareness, as there is increased sensory input across large surface areas of the body. Children with SPD often have weighted blankets to help them sleep at night.
Body/spatial awareness: Better body awareness is one of the greatest benefits of the yoga practice. Children get excellent proprioceptive and vestibular input through partner poses, walking around like bears and dogs (hands and feet on the floor), and in twisting poses that compress the muscles. The repetitive and soothing motions of vinyasa flow can be helpful for a child who feels too much sensory input but difficult for a child who has trouble processing proprioceptive or vestibular input.
Standing and balancing poses help develop stability, strength, and coordination. Poses such as tree, eagle, and dancer provide much-needed joint compression. Moving from backbends to forward bends to twists gives the vestibular system rich input, which helps a child feel calm and grounded. This all makes it easier for children to feel more comfortable and present in their body.
Breath awareness: Breathing, mantra, mudra, and meditation all have a soothing and regulatory effect on the nervous system. Sharon Heller, PhD, is a developmental psychologist who describes herself as "sensory defensive." In her book Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World, she shares many strategies for coping and states, "The potential of yogic breath control to revitalize the nervous system is enormous." She recommends ujjayi breathing and alternate nostril breathing. Breathing practices we teach children, including balloon breath, flower hands breath, and open wings also help soothe and balance the whole nervous system while facilitating the relaxation response. (See "Yoga for Kids; Let the Body Breathe" at yogachicago.com/may07/yogaforkids for an explanation of these breathing exercises.)
Self-awareness: All of the practices in yoga have as an aim to develop better awareness--awareness of the body, the mind, and the breath. Yoga also inherently helps develop a greater sense of self, a feeling of more ease in the world, and a sense that "everything is okay just as it is."
The technique of pratyahara, or sense withdrawal, is listed right along with asana (yoga postures) in the eight limbs of yoga in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras . It is an integral part of the practice and is the first step to mastering the mind. One of the most beautiful and sacred texts in the yoga tradition, The Bhagavad Gita , says it plainly: "Even as a tortoise draws in its limbs, the wise can draw in their senses at will" (verse 2.58, translation from The End of Sorrow by Eknath Easwaran). For someone who is more sensitive than others, or who has a difficult time making sense of what they do perceive, withdrawing the senses and focusing within can be a monumental task. The breathing exercises and postures of yoga help a child get to a place where meditation is more accessible. Dr. Heller suggests, "When it comes to learning to control the body and its experiences, few exercises can beat the over-3,000-year-old practice of yoga."
If the same effort was put into practicing concentration as is given to developing other life skills, such as teeth brushing, bike riding, and playing an instrument, our children would be relieved of a tremendous amount of stress and confusion. Just like brushing your teeth, you will continue to do it every day for life. Just like practicing an instrument, a little bit every day leads to mastery. The mind is an instrument, and concentration and meditation are the practices that lead to self-mastery. Whether someone has been given a diagnosis of SPD or not, we are all having our senses assaulted by the fracas of modern living and can benefit tremendously from the multifaceted practice of yoga.
Join us and learn from Mira Binzen how to bring the gift of yoga to children:
March 28-April 3: Teaching Yoga to Children Training Course
April 5-7: Addressing Children's Attention Disorders through Yoga, Guided Visualization and Meditation
Relaxation and Guided Imagery for Healing
By Julie Lusk
Real relaxation and guided imagery are so much more than nice things to do if there's time. They are important life skills to learn and practice regularly. Both are powerful mind-body-spirit techniques that elicit therapeutic relaxation; awaken and activate the natural ability for self-healing to occur; help with changing behaviors and habits; and uncover your inner truth and life direction while stimulating the intuition. Everyone can do it.
"Many common diseases and health complaints can be treated directly with mind-body techniques," reports Dr. Herbert Benson, the Harvard Medical School scientist who coined the term "relaxation response" 35 years ago. He states that "study after mind-body study, carried out with the most careful scientific protocols, produced incontrovertible evidence that the mind can indeed influence and heal the body -- even down to the genetic level."
Along with appropriate medical care, mind-body techniques can eliminate problems associated with anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, PMS, menopausal, peri-menopausal and breast cancer hot flashes, nausea, pain, premature aging and other disorders to the extent that stress is a factor. Now consider that 80% of all illness is either caused by or made worse by stress.
In addition to the powerful and positive effects of relaxation and guided imagery on physical health, it is invaluable and reliable for tapping into one's inner source of divine intuition and wisdom. Plus, behavior change, musical performance, sport and athletic ability can all be strengthened with the regular use of relaxation and guided imagery. It can be used to reveal inner guidance with respect to one's life direction.
Let's define guided imagery. Guided imagery, also referred to as creative visualization, is intentional daydreaming whose aim is to magnify the positive aspects of the mind-body connection. First, focused breathing and/or progressive muscular relaxation prepare the body for guided imagery and creative visualization. Next, the mind is purposefully guided in a process similar to daydreaming. The difference is that in daydreaming the mind is allowed to go wherever it pleases. Instead of this, the mind is directed in a specific and special manner. For example, a guided imagery exercise might ask you to focus on a setting or environment that feels safe and comfortable. This can be experienced and accomplished by mentally seeing the setting, feeling or sensing the environment, or using the senses of sound or smell. As Belleruth Naparstek says, "There are many right ways to experience guided imagery."
So, now what? If you're like the rest of us, you could use some help. There's no better place to either learn or renew your yoga, meditation, and visualization practice than at Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. You will leave feeling relaxed, energized, and motivated.
Register now for Guided Imagery and Creative Visualization: Awareness Adventures for the Body, Mind and Spirit with Julie Lusk, M.Ed., RYT. It is being held April 8-10, 2011 with additional practice time available from April 11-12.
Julie is the author of Yoga Meditations: Timeless Mind-Body Practices for Awakening and numerous other books and CD's on relaxation and guided imagery. Her books and CDs are in wide use internationally at yoga studios, hospitals, and mental health clinics. Learn more about her at Wholesome Resources.