Thursday, May 18, 2017

Off the Mat with Carina

Get to know Carina, Zuna Yoga assistant trainer and ERYT200

Describe yourself in one word. 

What is your astrological sign?

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.
I once drank so much turmeric water that my skin turned yellow

What are your three top travel tips? 
Favorite places to go:
  • The Beachhouse in Fiji, a small resort at the coral coast with great surf and beautiful nature.
  • Bhagsu, a little village in Dharamsala, India. It's calm and peaceful but also has some funky Goa vibes and great people.
  • Austria, for everything. Vienna is a cool city that truly blossomed after total WW2 destruction. The amazing mountains, both in summer and winter, and our Great Lakes Region.
What book are you reading right now? 
I'm always reading more than one book on any given day. Currently, at different times of the day:
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 
Yoga and Ayurveda by David Frawley (some Zuna Yoga required reading)
The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga by Sir John Woodroffe

Three songs on your playlist right now? 
"Take Me Home Tonight" by Eddie Money
"Ong namo" by Snatam Kaur 
"I'm On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen 

One thing you're really good at: 
Changing someone's mood from stressed to relaxed

One thing you're epically bad at: 

What do you do for fun? 
All kind of water sports; painting in bright colors on everything that I can find; hiking and walking; dancing in nature; playing card games; reading

What's your biggest pet peeve? 
Sand in the bed

How did you make your first dollar (or Schilling)? 
In my mom's shop in Vienna selling old Christmas ornaments

What are the three qualities that got you where you are today? 
Cheerfulness, self-discipline and a sense of humor

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
Don't worry, it will all work out for the best. Eventually, you'll come to realize that every "bad" moment was a great turning point in your life.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
"Attitude is everything" by Everett Newell.

What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
Leaving Vienna and my old habits behind and going to India for my first yoga teacher training

If you had a superhero power, what would it be?
I'm actually pretty happy with the powers I already have

What's your favorite thing about being a yoga teacher?  
Oh, there are so many. If I have to pick, constantly meeting amazing people, sharing something that has so positively changed my life and not having to wear shoes.

What's your favorite yoga pose, and why?
Twisted lotus. It feels amazing. Every single muscle in my body get stretched and released, and I can really be still and connect with my breath.  

What's your favorite quote?
"Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside of you" from Rumi 

What's on your bucket list?
I want to rent a glass house in Greenland and watch the northern lights. One week of just watching the sky, practicing yoga and drinking hot chocolate. 

Carina is based in Fiji and Vienna and is assisting Zuna Yoga's 200 and 300 hour yoga teacher trainings. Learn more about our staff here!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

5 Awesome Benefits of Meditation

By Vibhu Krishna, 200 hour yoga teacher training student

We all know that meditation is beneficial to us. But how exactly does it affect our everyday lives? Here are our five favorite benefits of meditation, although we suspect it touches us in more ways than science can currently prove.
1. Improve your relationships Meditation changes our brains and behavior in many ways that positively impacts our relationship skills. It can improve our ability to respond appropriately to difficult situations, such as during a disagreement with our partner. The practice also improves empathy - the ability to understand another person's state of mind, without getting lost in their "stuff" or losing awareness of our own emotions. It also makes us better communicators, able to see a situation clearly and not get lost in our own "stuff."

2. Boost your brain Scientists have known for some time that meditation increases the volume of grey matter in regions of the brain associated with memory and emotion, resulting in improved learning and empathy. Meditation has also been correlated with improved focus and attention. And now research indicates that long-term meditators appear to have even more gyrification, or folding, in the cerebral cortex, making your ability to process information even speedier—which effectively means you’ll be able to memorize and recall the Sanskrit name of one-legged pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) with ease! 3. Jumpstart your mood Got the blues? Meditation may be useful for alleviating depressive symptoms according to research at Johns Hopkins University. The decrease of symptoms observed in meditators with mild depression matched improvements commonly associated with antidepressant medication. Meditation is also a proven stress-buster and can even induce positive thoughts. And you don’t have to meditate two hours a day for the rest of your life to reap these benefits. Research shows significant stress reduction with just 25 minutes of meditation a day over three days.
4. Fight Disease In a five-year study, Harvard psychiatrists found that meditation can switch on genes associated with improved immune function. It can also switch off pro-inflammatory genes which causes quicker recovery from the physical trauma of stress. Your heart also benefits from meditation via decreased blood pressure and the potential prevention of cardiac disease. Finally, meditation can bring relief from symptoms to those suffering from many illnesses, including fibromyalgia, HIV, asthma, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
5. Live longer Each time your cells divide, the protective ends of their chromosomes—known as telomeres—shorten. The shortening of telomeres is a natural occurrence that accompanies aging. Over time, however, it eventually leads to an inability of the cell to divide, which has been associated with disease onset. Telomerase, sometimes referred to as the immortality enzyme, helps maintain the ends of chromosomes after cell division, thus keeping the cell alive longer. In a pilot study at the University of California at Los Angeles, meditation caused a 43% increase in telomerase activity, proving that a calm state of mind can counter the effects of cellular aging.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Why I Do Yoga

By Stephanie Given, Zuna Yoga 200 hour yoga teacher training graduate

My first hatha vinyasa yoga class, I was there merely for the physical benefits. I walked a few blocks from my apartment to a local yoga studio and entered a class that was scheduled to last an hour and fifteen minutes, not knowing that Mary, the instructor, always pushed the class past two hours—a fact that I would later respect and, eventually, miss horribly. That entire class, I remember thinking “When the heck is this going to end?!” and “How can there be more poses?!” and “Kapalbhati? Breath of fire? What is that?” Quite frankly, it wasn’t what I felt during that yoga class that made me want to come back for more. Rather, it was what I experienced after the class that had me hooked. I remember the serenity of my walk home and really feeling the brisk air, sleeping soundly throughout that entire night and feeling less anxious than usual the following day. I returned to class every Thursday until the studio shut down.

For a while after that, I jumped around to other yoga studios, attending mostly fast and hot “heated hour of power vinyasa” classes during which I barely had a minute to relax let alone breathe. I would leave having experienced a great workout, which I craved, but I missed the feeling of tranquility and presence that I gained from Mary’s class. It took some time before I found a studio with a practice that satisfied what my mind and body craved— a balance of breathwork, core strengthening postures, and a beautiful savasana.

The more yoga classes I attended, the more I naturally began to take yoga off the mat into my life, physically as well as emotionally. I could feel myself becoming calmer, smiling more, and being more present and mindful during everyday activities. As I tried to explain this to friends and family, they asked why, which made me want to know, too. I began to research and write papers about the effects that yoga had on all aspects of your life for my college courses.

The reason has everything to do with breath.

In yogic terms, pranayama, the fourth limb of Patanjali's Sutra, is defined as the practice of voluntary control of breath and refers to the inhalation, retention, and exhalation of breath. “Prana” translates to “vital force,” and “ayama” translates to “expansion.” Coming together, “pranayama”  means “expansion of vital force.” In other words, it's controlled breathing, simple and powerful. And it has the power to change and sculpt your life.

In western terms, controlled breathing directly affects your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Your body reacts to psychological stress—whether actual stress or perceived stress—in the same way it does life-threatening physical stress. This means that the daily hassles that we all encounter, like running late for yoga class, being behind at work, or finding that your children have drawn all over your walls at home, create tension and friction in your body in the same way as a grizzly bear running after you. In response to stress, the sympathetic nervous system increases your heart rate, elevates blood flow, and shuts off function to major organ systems, including your immune, endocrine, digestive, and reproductive organs. Imagine the impact that has on your entire body over time. No wonder most people in the western world are suffering from stress-related disease.

The opposing parasympathetic nervous system incites the rest and digest mechanisms of the body. It reduces blood pressure and slows down heart rate after stressful events. It redirects blood flow to the parts of the body that are not used for survival tools, like the digestive and reproductive organs and the endocrine and lymphatic systems. With this increased circulation, you are able to more efficiently extract nutrients from food and better eliminate toxins.

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems balance one another like a seesaw —when one goes up, the other goes down. A consistent yoga practice with controlled breathing and pranayama establishes and maintains parasympathetic dominance. That means you minimize the body’s tendency to activate the sympathetic nervous system and thereby avoid the resulting cascade of negative consequences. In particular, research has shown that 30 minutes of controlled and focused breathwork, three times a week, under the instruction of a yoga teacher followed by a 10-minute savasana, can have significant improvement on a person’s overall wellbeing by increasing the parasympathetic nervous system response, which lessens the stress response and increases peaceful alertness  (Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, vol. 8, no. 5). Ample research shows how yoga alleviates unmanaged stress, a leading factor in anxiety, obesity, depression, and insomnia. All of these beautiful effects arise from attention to your breath!
Regular practice of controlled breathing strengthens the nervous system so that the mind becomes calm and capable of concentration and taking you one step closer to your true self. Focusing on your breath can literally and completely change your life. And you can practice this at any time. As you breathe in, feel and envision your breath flowing through your nostrils, down through your chest and to your pelvic floor for a count of five. Then slowly exhale your breath through your abdomen and chest and out through your nose for another count of five. Repeat this a few times and you’ll feel your entire body begin to relax. That’s the parasympathetic nervous system doing its thing. (When progressing beyond a beginner pranayama practice, it’s imperative that you work with a trained yoga or meditation instructor.)

When you learn to slow your breath and relax in difficult postures on the mat, you can train yourself to do the same in difficult situations off the mat. No magic. Just the science of the breath. It will make you healthier, calmer, and more present in your daily life—during rush hour, a stressful day at work, your child having a tantrum. You have the power to relax your entire body, not with a glass of wine but by becoming aware of the vital energy you already possess.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How Yoga Helps You Change Your Habits

By Jenny Ní Ruiséil, 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate

The relationship between our mind, our energy and our actions has always been an area of particular interest to me. It wasn’t until I read about the samskaras in T.K.V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga during my yoga teacher training that I found the explanation for something that for so long I’d failed to fully understand.

What Are Samskaras?

The Sanskrit term refers to the conditioning of the mind to act or direct itself in a certain way on a regular basis. It also refers to those paths or patterns along which these thoughts or behaviors travel. It’s similar in concept to the neuroscientific understanding model of how our thoughts and behaviors, whether positive or negative, become more deeply engrained in neural pathways in our brain with each repetition. The meaning of samskara is reflected in the very word itself, with “sam” meaning “well thought out” or “to accomplish” while “kara” means “the action undertaken.”

We must first practice awareness and understanding of self before we can change self. By understanding our individual habitual expenditure of energy, recognizing our tendencies and bringing awareness to behaviors that are not desired or that go against our greatest good, we can slowly and gradually learn to redirect our prana, or our life force, where it needs to go. This process is a lot easier said than done. Awareness is the first step toward achieving this balance.

Encouraging new behavioral patterns and discarding old ones enlists the use of purusha, the all-seeing force of energy within us; a higher consciousness which witnesses our actions from a distance and observes possibilities and potential directions without engaging. Purusha’s powers of observation are best when the mind is clear, and as such it’s vital that we obtain clarity before attempting to redirect or encourage samskaras along an alternate route.  

Why Yoga?

It’s through yoga that we cultivate the mental ability to become aware of and change our samskaras. Yoga and meditation aid with the reconditioning of the mind to repeatedly redirect itself away from the harmful patterns to which it’s accustomed. Yoga also helps encourage the positive flow of energy away from limiting or restrictive tendencies. This is why we find our practice of yoga to be so effective in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. Yoga literally helps create the space necessary to form pathways out of negative cycles.

We must remain attentive and aware as we determine which route we take. Where the mind goes, energy follows. The goal is to consciously redirect our prana towards positive and fulfilling actions until they become habitual. When this is done continually and with conviction, we call it a samskara.