Come join us for this month’s Yoga for Foodies! All are welcome. Register early here.
YOGISSAGE Q & A WITH JOSEPH CARMAN
We asked our teacher and massage therapist Joseph Carman a few questions about YOGISSAGE, his special combination of yoga and massage that he will begin offering on Saturday afternoons in January, by appointment.
What is the main intention behind Yogissage?
Yoga practitioners with a steady practice can get in touch with their bodies and breathing in a way they probably haven’t before. Living in New York, it’s easy to see people dwelling in their heads with little awareness of their physical selves. In a similar manner to yoga, massage allows the recipient to become present with the physical body by setting the focus on allowing the body to release tension.
As an avid yogi, I’ve been practicing massage for over 20 years and have seen first-hand how the two methods, essentially healing in nature, can work in tandem to create a greater consciousness of who we are. Both massage and yoga promote easeful bodies and peaceful minds. I wanted to design a system that would allow a person to deepen the experience of both. Yogissage combines light shiatsu with passive stretching, yogic breathing, restorative postures, and deep relaxation techniques that, in my opinion, allow for the best of both possible worlds. It’s also wonderful for people who are burned out by too much adrenalized energy, which is epidemic in today’s world.
How do yoga and massage complement each other? How are the benefits of each enhanced by this combination?
The benefits of massage are extensive. Massage relieves tension in weak, tight, or atrophied muscles and allows for increased blood flow to the muscle groups used in yoga. It can also increase joint flexibility and range of motion, which is helpful in a yoga practice. Massage can release endorphins that act as the body’s natural painkillers. Yoga, on the other hand, can improve poor posture that causes muscular tension and imbalance. By increasing respiratory function, improving balance, focusing concentration, and reducing adrenal stress, yoga works hand-in-hand with massage to create more easefulness in the body. The awareness of the breath that yoga cultivates allows for less stress on the body. The two modalities enhance each other exponentially.
What kind of body knowledge can be gained from Yogissage?
In a typical Yogissage session, I ask the client about physical limitations, injuries and areas of chronic pain. Usually within a few minutes of the session, they’re recalling other areas as well. So it’s a great reminder of what’s going on in the body, as well as addressing those issues from a healing perspective. Just bringing awareness to the breath, which I work with extensively in Yogissage, can bring a sea of change in how a person experiences her/himself. After those areas are discovered, I can also recommend yoga asanas (postures) to increase stretch or strength, helping to create more spaciousness in the body. When you feel present and healthy in your body, you can discover remarkable things about yourself emotionally and spiritually, as well.
What does Swanand offer that you won’t find elsewhere?
I think what makes Swanand so exceptional is the heart that the owner, Sonal, brings to the studio, along with the support of her extended family. Sonal has a deep belief in the dynamic, multi-faceted nature of yoga–the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of an ancient practice. She has imbued her immaculate sense of taste and style into the studio which offers a more personal, intimate experience of yoga. It is a pleasure to teach and work in that environment.
Thank you so much, Joseph! More details on Yogissage can be found here.
We interviewed our teacher Sarah Barab all about meditation, travel, and ways of experiencing the world. She leads a four-week meditation course at Swanand starting Sunday, Nov. 4th.
During my first meditation retreat, I was able to go deep into the practice without any external distractions. As I sat hour after hour, I experienced the whole spectrum of human emotions and states of mind-everything from pain, longing, sadness, boredom and obsessively playing over various memories in my mind, to calm yet profound joy, a sense of timelessness, ease, relaxation, vibrant well-being, and being deeply moved and a bit surprised by the suddenly much brighter colors, more detailed sounds, richer tastes, and simple wonders of this world! By the end of that retreat, I felt light-hearted, like everything was whole exactly as it was, and I could open myself completely to this world and to others without needing to change anything. I developed a new sense of inner confidence that helped me realize I could handle both the pain and the joy of this human experience. I did not need to shield, hide, or guard myself from any aspect of my life. The most profound shift was in how deeply I was experiencing others. I have always been fascinated by people, but meditation taught me to see beyond the masks we all wear, beyond the personalities we put forward and to peer into the richness of extraordinary qualities we often hide, even from ourselves. If we really knew the depth of our positive qualities as human beings, we would stop focusing on the insignificance of the negative ones and bask in the love of who we truly are.
In what ways has practicing meditation affected the way you live from day to day?
I experience a softer, more enriched, easeful daily life when I am meditating regularly. I feel a sense of simply being present in the now that is free of worry about the past or the future. I also have more spaciousness around my emotional reactions, like there is a time lapse between the feeling of the reaction in my body and actually saying or doing anything about it. It’s a momentary pause where I have more choice in how I will react to any given situation. For me, this is quite a shift because by nature, I am quite fiery, reactive and volatile. The first time I experienced this slow-mo emotional time lapse, I knew I was on to something quite amazing!
Why is a personal teacher important in learning to meditate?
In the beginning when one is first learning to meditate, it’s important to have a teacher or “spiritual friend.” This person does not need to be enlightened, but just a bit further along the path than you are, because they’ve put in more practice time. I think they should be someone you can talk to in a vulnerable way about your spiritual questions, doubts, and your life in general. Someone with whom you can reveal yourself to openly. So, essentially someone you trust and someone who can mind your business, so to speak. Entering into a spiritual path is difficult enough, because everything you’ve been repressing and not wanting to look at will undoubtedly show itself sooner or later. Without any guidance or someone to talk to, it can be overwhelming.
What do you most hope people will gain from learning about meditation?
I hope through cultivating a meditation practice in their daily lives, people will gain confidence and courage in being able to nakedly face their feelings, both positive and negative, without fear of being engulfed or disempowered by them. I also know first hand how meditation is capable of calming down the nervous system enough to help us catch the wonder of the passing moments in our life, so, we are actually present for this temporary human experience we are having and we don’t miss our lives worrying about the past or the future. It is also my deep wish that through meditation, people will peer into the mystery of their own heart and celebrate it’s expansive basic goodness.
How did you encounter the inspiration to make your documentary?
In my early 30′s, my life quite suddenly fell apart. I soon realized that there was no longer anything holding me back from my life-long wish to travel to East Asia. I had nothing left to lose, no relationship, job, or stable home – I was free! I ended up staying for an entire year, during which I volunteered as an English and Gymnastics teacher for Tibetan refugee kids, studied Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan language, traveled on pilgrimage to India, and went on solitary meditation retreats in caves and retreat centers. I came back to New York on fire with the blessings and wisdom teachings from many extraordinary scholars and meditation masters I had been so fortunate to steep in for the past 12 months. I knew I needed to share these teachings with people in the Western world, many of whom, though materialistically successful, were spiritually starving. So, I decided to make a film about the transformational effects of meditation and how we can collectively evolve our brains and beings, discover profound fulfillment, and reconnect with our basic goodness through daily practice.
Thank you for sharing with us, Sarah! We look forward to having you here at Swanand. For more details on her upcoming workshop, check out our events page.
We asked Sylvie Barthelemy, our teacher and contributing blog writer this month, some questions about Ayurveda and yoga practice. She will lead a wonderful Ayurveda workshop here at Swanand THIS SATURDAY, October 13th, from 2 – 5 PM. If you haven’t signed up yet, learn more here.
How does knowledge of Ayurveda allow for a more personalized yoga practice?
Sylvie: Ayurveda is all about tailoring! Understanding our unique Ayurvedic constitution helps us know the qualities we need in our lives to stay balanced, food-wise, lifestyle-wise and of course with our yoga practice. Vata types generally need a gentler form of yoga, lots of relaxation and grounding. Pitta types need to watch out for overheating and becoming too goal-oriented in their practice. A cooling, heart-centered practice with a healthy dose of challenge is generally what suits them best. As for the kapha types they need to move, sweat and practice in a way that is upbeat and energizing. That is still pretty general, because truth is most of us have a dual constitution, and are somewhat out-of-balance at all times J And regardless of constitution you always want to address the current imbalance. Let’s say today you are feeling chilly, restless and irritable. Chilly can be a vata or kapha symptom, restless mostly vata and irritable mostly pitta. Following the laws of “like increases like” and therefore “opposite decreases” to be balancing your practice should be warming while inviting inner stillness and a sense of playfulness too. Sounds in the form of sighing or fluttering our lips is also a way to release internal tension and too much seriousness.
On my website, www.yogavpk.com, I go into more depth about what Ayurvedic hatha yoga is and how to go about practicing in a balancing way.
How has your study of Ayurveda affected the way you practice and teach yoga?
Sylvie: With all the changes happening within me and in my environment all the time, it never made sense to me to stick to the same practice all year round. Ayurveda explained to me why I intuitively felt that way. It showed me that indeed everything is always in a state of flux, and that I needed to adjust my practice to my current needs as an act of balance. For example, if I am tired, I go for restorative yoga, lots of supported inversions and relaxation. If I am preoccupied and finding it difficult to be still, then I’ll start with a practice that meets this energy by moving faster, aiming to slow down gradually. Or if my digestion is a bit sluggish, I’ll intentionally work with postures that massage the belly organs, such as prone poses and spinal twists and incorporate some kapalabhati breathing.
When I teach classes I usually go with the seasons a lot, a factor that influences everyone in the class. Generally, during the fall my goal is to warm and ground the vata energy; during the winter and early spring, to circulate and invigorate the kapha energy; during the summer, to cool and pacify the intense pitta energy. That said most people in NYC suffer from a hyper stimulated nervous system (a vata imbalance) so I always incorporate grounding elements*, to help people get our of their head, calm their senses and tune in to themselves deeply. (*for example standing poses, emphasis on points of contact between the body and the earth, even breathing)
What do you most hope people will gain from learning about Ayurveda?
Sylvie: Ayurveda teaches us that we already have within ourselves all the answers to our questions, just like yoga. So that’s what I hope people come to realize: that at the end of the day, if you use all your God-given tools, your innate intelligence, power of discrimination, intuition and wisdom, you can figure out for yourself what the best course of action to take in any situation in your life, most definitely when it comes to your health. Our society would have us believe that we never know what is best for us, and that we need to always turn to the so-called “experts!” Ayurveda shows us how to become our own health experts through self-study and body-knowledge.
Describe what you love about Swanand!
Sylvie: What I love most about Swanand is that it’s a center that truly aims to convey the deeper teachings of yoga, not just yoga postures. In a city (a country!) where yoga has become associated with the practice of physical poses, Swanand is a breath of fresh air. It is here to remind us that, traditionally, the yoga poses were meant to prepare the body and mind for meditation, and entering higher states of consciousness. Personally I feel that is what people are seeking, whether they know it or not. The greater gift of yoga is not to make us more flexible, not even to improve our health, it is to help us remember our true nature, and I am grateful that some yoga centers (and teachers) remember that!
With its quiet, sleek, and understated vibe, Swanand is a center that will support anybody seeking to take their practice to the next level, to place yoga poses in a larger context, and as a result find deeper satisfaction.
Thank you, Sylvie! We’re so excited for the workshop this weekend. See you all there.
The One and Only Cause of Stress
Stress wreaks havoc on our health. It’s been shown to affect the body’s ability to regulate inflammation, something that promotes the development of many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and digestive disorders. In addition, prolonged stress lowers our immunity making us vulnerable to frequent infections, allergies, and fatigue, to name a few.
From an Ayurvedic standpoint, we can only eliminate a problem for good if we know where it originates from. Yet the root cause of stress is seldom talked about. Most of us think of stress as feeling overwhelmed or overworked, and as a result suffering from muscle pain, headaches, or insomnia. But these are merely symptoms.
Now, as much as I believe stress is at the source of most chronic ailments, I believe it is within everyone’s reach to live stress-free lives, regardless of circumstances, once we understand where stress comes from and address THAT.
So what could this one and only cause of stress possibly be?
One word: RESISTANCE.
Resistance to what happens. Resistance to what is. Resistance to Life!
Are you trying to control the uncontrollable?
How much control do you really have over what happens in your life? As far as I’m concerned the only thing I know for sure is that the sun’s going to rise tomorrow morning! Other than that…
Thinking we can control events and people in our lives and attempting to do so takes up a ton of energy and is bound to make us feel overwhelmed, discontent, and depleted. This is a major illusion human beings hold, something all spiritual traditions tell us is impossible, and yet something that we foolishly believe we can manage: to control Life.
Yet, there is one thing we can control 100% and that’s how we react to life. We can not change what happens when it’s already happening, but we can absolutely alter our perception of the events in our lives. The choice is ours at all times.
We can try to say yes to life no matter what, with an attitude that generates harmony and a sense of being “in the flow”. Or we can say no, this should not be, can’t be, must not be. Yet when we do this, life becomes a struggle, and peace is nowhere to be found.
STRESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE MIND.
Ah the mind! Isn’t it where it all begins anyway? Resistance causes us to clench and hold our breaths. Acceptance invites an opening of the heart and relaxation. Which one do you choose?
Imagine an everyday situation where you become delayed, disrupted, abused, due to circumstances outside of your control. The examples add up. You wait for the train. There are delays. You wait in line. There are all kinds of people around you all the time. How do you handle stressful situations? As the great spiritual teacher Paramhansa Yogananda once said, “All circumstances in life are fundamentally neutral.” And because you know circumstances are nothing other than “situations,” it is how we perceive the living event as individuals that turns it into a “problem” or not.
TO LIVE WITHOUT RESISTANCE IS TO LIVE WITHOUT STRESS.
Acceptance of “what is” is the only solid foundation for stress free living.
So how can we get to that place, and be able to embrace each and every moment as it comes? Well, there’s actually no “getting there”, no process. All it takes is a shift in attitude and it can happen in a second. Yes, radical acceptance is just an attitude.
That said, one practice that has helped me enormously over the years is meditation.
Through meditation we realize we exist beyond thoughts and feelings, beyond our likes and dislikes. Meditation expands our awareness and shows us that we are not what happens to us, what we think, do and believe, or not. It helps us touch our true nature, which is ever calm, contented and unaffected. In that state it is easier to approach each moment in life with equanimity, and choose acceptance over resistance.
So this is what I would suggest you do, for long-term stress control. Meditate daily. Just start, even if you can only set aside five minutes a day. Just do it. And to use a verse from the Bhagavad Gita: “Even a little practice of meditation will save one from dire fears and colossal sufferings.”
If you are curious to learn more about how to live a stress-free life, come to Swanand on October 13th for my workshop “Detox, De-Stress and Ease into Fall.”
Wishing you all a peace-full day,
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
Ayurvedic medicine uses the Sanskrit word “ama” to refer to any kind of toxic byproduct generated due to improper or incomplete digestion.
Ama is sticky, gooey, and thick. If allowed to build up in the digestive tract, it eventually starts circulating throughout the body, potentially clogging the channels of circulation and preventing flow of nutrients, oxygen, and life force to all tissues. Accumulation of toxicity creates many, if not most, health problems!
Here are signs you may have some AMA build-up:
- Feeling heavy, lethargic, foggy, unclear.
- Thick coating on the tongue in the morning.
- Feeling tired after eating.
- Stiff and painful joints.
- Poor circulation.
- Skin blemishes.
- Bad breath.
It’s undeniable that we live in an increasingly toxic world and that at least some cleansing is necessary to keep our bodies and minds functioning optimally.
So what can you do, where do you start?
- Limit your intake of foods that are difficult to digest.
- Adopt a diet that is clean and balancing to your mind/body constitution.
- Strengthen your digestive fire.
- Cleanse, in the right amount, at the right time, in the right way.
1. Before you rush into some major fasting or cleansing rituals, the first thing to do is to reduce or eliminate from your diet foods that are hard to digest and therefore generate toxicity, such as:
- Fried foods, leftovers, junk foods, processed foods, rich desserts.
- Ice cream, ice-cold water and foods straight from the refrigerator (anything too cold dampens the digestive fire, makes sense right?)
- Foods that contain hormones, colorants, artificial sweeteners, and/or have been cultivated with pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). All these are downright toxic, regardless of whether you digest them well or not!
2. Next you want to favor a diet that balances your ayurvedic mind/body constitution. Choose foods that are in season and that you can easily digest. Example of food you can go for: fresh, organic vegetables; sweet, juicy fruits; whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, quality oils, fresh organic dairy, high-quality fish, poultry and eggs.
3. Increase your digestive capacity. Although this is #3, it’s a biggie. Why? Because if your digestion is top-notch, you can burn through toxic matter more efficiently, and even indulge in so-called “bad” foods and still get away with it (that said, I wouldn’t tempt fate.) Here’s one thing you can do to strengthen your digestion (in addition to #1 and #2): Eat a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger with a few drops of lemon juice and a few pinches of salt on it before a meal. This triggers the release of digestive enzymes so that the nutrients in the food are more easily absorbed by the body.
4. Now comes the time to cleanse. If you observe #1, #2, and #3, you should already feel a lot less toxic. Ayurveda teaches everyone to cleanse differently, according to his or her own constitution. Some of us benefit from major cleansing several times a year, while some of us can easily end up depleted from even a one-day fast. Knowing your Ayurvedic constitution (knowing yourself!) goes a long way in determining what methods are best for you, and when to do them. Here are a few simple ways to begin the cleansing process gently:
- Begin your day with a glass of lemon water. Squeeze one lemon and mix with warm water. Lemon helps flush out toxins from the body, cleanses the liver, and promotes elimination.
- Exhale! Exhaling is the simplest way to release toxic particles. Slow, deep breathing also results in an internal massage for all digestive organs. Blood flow to the area is increased, and with it the opportunity to flush toxins out of the digestive tract.
- Exercise! Nothing like working up a good sweat to feel cleansed inside and out.
Next time, we’ll shift focus from detoxifying to de-stressing. To learn more about how to cleanse for your particular Ayurvedic constitution, along with more ways to detox this season, be sure to sign up early for my workshop at Swanand on Saturday, October 13th, from 2-5 PM.
“Our biological rhythms are the symphony of the cosmos, music embedded deep within us to which we dance, even when we can’t name the tune.”
“Ayur” means life, and “veda” means knowledge. Ayurveda is India’s traditional medicine system that has been around for five thousand years. As more and more people face the limits of allopathic medicine, Ayurveda has become one of the most popular forms of alternative and preventative health care in the West. As the science of how to live a long and healthy life, Ayurveda seeks to treat the root cause of any imbalance, as opposed to simply addressing symptoms. It offers each individual a way to heal at the deepest level.
Ayurveda sees the entire Universe, including us human beings, as made of the five elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth. Those elements come together to generate three distinct energies called the doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha.
- Vata is the combination of the space and air elements. It governs movement.
- Pitta is mainly the fire element. It governs transformation.
- Kapha is the combination of the water and earth elements. It governs structure.
Each dosha displays specific qualities that show up in individuals and their environment. For example, the qualities of the vata energy are: light, cool, dry, mobile.
Those are also the qualities that predominate during the Fall, and that’s why it’s known in Ayurveda as Vata season. At this time of year if we do not take care to adjust our lifestyle and diet to the changing elements, the same vata qualities can easily accumulate in our bodies and minds making us feel spacey, restless, stiff, chilly, bloated, constipated and very tired. This is even more so if your individual constitution is vata (take this quiz to find out).
So how can you keep your vata energy stable?
Try this … drop the cold water!
Fill a thermos with hot water and sip on it throughout the day. This habit alone has been known to change lives! No kidding.
- It will keep you hydrated (warm water is more easily metabolized than cold water.)
- It will keep you warm.
- It will encourage proper elimination and lymph drainage. (Hello, detox!)
- And if you do sip throughout the day at regular intervals, you’ll find the habit very comforting and grounding.
Sylvie will lead a special Ayurveda workshop at Swanand on Saturday, Oct 13th, 2 – 5 PM. Visit our events page for more details, and to register online!
Love & Light,
The Swanand Family
Coming Soon to a Studio Near You—Free Yoga!
Have you been eyeing that new studio around the corner? Too shy to ask about the prices? Or perhaps you want to branch out from your go-to class, but aren’t sure what style to try next? You’re in luck: LUNA® Bar and Yoga Local NYC are teaming to fill the dog days of summer with downward dogs. Sound exciting? We think so too.
As yogis ourselves, we are thrilled to present the LUNA Free Yoga Series. For eight weeks, from July 1st to mid-August, LUNA Bar and Yoga Local NYC will provide two ways to experience great yoga.
We will distribute over 1,000 passes for a free class at 50 yoga studios across NYC. But wait, there’s more! Not only do you get a pocket full of free yoga classes, your community benefits as well. The LUNA Free Yoga Series is aimed at people who are new to yoga and for existing practitioners who want to try different styles of yoga or new yoga studios. So not only are we supporting local studios, we’re also making the yoga community more diverse and wonderful.
But wait, there’s (even) more! We’re also raising money for three special charities: Bent On Learning, Kula for Karma, and FoodFight. Last year the LUNA Free Yoga Series raised $1,000 for Bent On Learning; with your help, we’re going to do even more good work this year. All you have to do is get your inner yogi on Yoga Local.
How does it work? Donate $10 or more to Bent On Learning, Kula for Karma, or FoodFight and you’ll be entered to win a free month of yoga at the studio of your choice. When even one class can end up costing big bucks, trust us, this is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. Each week we’ll give away more passes; winners will be announced on Yoga Local
Imagine—a month of side cranes, wheel poses, and forearm balances—all for free!
Help yourself and your community: click here to sign up!