Articles of Interest

As yoga teachers, we are always learning. There is always something to discover – about ourselves, our practice or our teaching. We are always in pursuit of personal growth, and always looking for ways to foster growth among our students and fellow teachers.

In that spirit, we want to share some of the articles and ideas we find inspiring, helpful or just downright interesting. Check out some of our latest good reads below and feel free to share yours with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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Congressman Tim Ryan Talks Mindfulness & Its Role In American Culture
MindBodyGreen | By Anthony Schneck Posted: 06/18/13 11:00 a.m. EDT
It wasn’t so long ago that a practice like mindfulness would have been confined to the fringes of American society, deemed too “New Age-y” for mass consumption. In a relatively short period of time, though, we at MindBodyGreen have seen an explosion in the popularity of mindfulness, and not just among yoga teachers!
That’s why I was so excited to have Congressman Tim Ryan agree to talk with me over email about his advocacy for mindfulness. In his sixth term serving Ohio’s 17th and, more recently, 13th congressional districts in the House of Representatives, Congressman Ryan earlier this year released Mindful Nationa book that describes his personal journey to mindfulness and how the practice is linked to traditional American values.
Ryan, who was the youngest Democrat in Congress when he was entered office in 2003, told me about his mindfulness practice, the reactions his colleagues have had to the practice, and what he and others can do to make mindfulness a basic tenet of American health and wellness.
 
MBG: What techniques do you find most helpful for maintaining a mindfulness practice?
Rep. Tim Ryan: My breathing, really trying to focus on my breathing and any tension in my body. When I start feeling tension, I begin to try to focus on the present moment. When I notice myself becoming anxious about the past or the future, I come back to the breath.
In your book, you make the case that mindfulness and traditional American values are closely linked. How did you come to this conclusion?
Practicing mindfulness is very much about taking responsibility for your own state of mind and your own condition. It’s very much about self-reliance. With regard to healthcare, it’s very much about participating in your own healthcare — obviously I believe there is a time and a place for medical care, but it all starts with how you take care of your own body and mind.
What kind of response to your support for mindfulness have you received from your Congressional colleagues?
Most of my Congressional colleagues don’t really know what it is, but there are more and more members of Congress who are open to different approaches to dealing with the high levels of stress that come with this job. There is an openness to mindfulness unlike there has been in the past — in response, I’ve begun a weekly Quiet-Time Caucus held in the House Chapel before the first votes of the week. We turn off our Blackberrys and iPhones and spend thirty minutes in silence. I’ve had six or seven different members come so far, and it’s slowly but surely its gaining momentum.
I also hold a weekly staff meditation session where instructors from an array of different meditation backgrounds teach different techniques to Congressional staffers. We have had about 30 staffers on average showing up at these sessions.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in spreading your message about mindfulness?
I think the biggest challenge I have faced advocating mindfulness is the lack of awareness. People don’t really understand it. They may have heard about it, but they don’t see the simplicity of it. They don’t know that it’s not something you go out and get; it’s something that is already there.
You’ve introduced a bill to promote mindfulness in schools; do you believe that you can legislate mindfulness more broadly — for example for military veterans, private work places, or low-income areas — and what would Washington need to do to make it happen?
I believe now is the time to start promoting mindfulness more broadly, especially in healthcare and with our veterans. The question is: what is the best way to introduce mindfulness in these areas, and how we do expand mindfulness practice? I believe the best way to expand mindfulness is through the expansion of mindfulness training curriculum and programs. How do we teach doctors and nurses about it so they can teach patients; how do we teach teachers so they can teach their pupils and parents of those pupils; how do we teach it to the Veterans Administration (VA) so they can teach our veterans? There needs to be a comprehensive approach to introduce this mental discipline to hospitals, medical schools, the VA and the military.
So there’s not going to be a ton of legislation. It’s going to be more asking how we take current training and educational programs that we already have in the books, and infuse mindfulness into them.
What are your future plans for promoting mindfulness to a wider audience?
I will be continuing to talk about mindfulness and constantly striving to bring my message to a wider audience. I have planned on doing speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives. I am going to keep doing interviews on my book; Time Magazineand Salon.com have recently sat down to talk to me about A Mindful Nation. My book is about promoting the people who are doing this work — look at the scientists, look at the teachers, look at these people who are doing the work. They’re seeing positive and scientifically proven benefits. I intend to have an ongoing push for national media coverage on mindfulness, to show people that this is very much a mainstream idea, grounded in science, that can have a real and lasting effect on our nation.
If you can leave MindBodyGreen readers with one takeaway about your message and mission, what would it be?
I’m trying to speak about mindfulness in a broad sense and not necessarily in a traditional mindfulness practice of sitting in a chair or on a cushion and cultivating your awareness. Mindfulness can be anything you can do personally to slow down, to discipline your mind to be in the present moment, and to actually listen deeply to others. That is the sort of mission I am on.
I want readers to know that they have to be a part of the solution. They don’t need to change the word overnight; they should start small with their local communities. I hope to see an organic, grassroots effort to bring mindfulness into individuals’ daily routines across the country.

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Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental and Physical Health (Read Here)

The Huffington Post  |  By Amanda L. Chan Posted: 04/08/2013 8:53 am ED

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits
Oh mindfulness meditation, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

Even though the academic research on mindfulness meditation isn’t as robust as, say, nutrition or exercise, there is a reason why it’s been around for literally thousands of years. And we’re starting to get a better understanding of why it seems to be beneficial for so many aspects of life, from disease and pain management, to sleep, to control of emotions.

For starters, let’s define what mindfulness is: A Perspectives on Psychological Science study described it as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why you might want to consider incorporating mindfulness meditation into your daily life. And for our full coverage on the topic, click over to our Mindfulness Meditation page.

1. It lowers stress — literally. Research published just last month in the journal Health Psychology shows that mindfulness is not only associated with feeling less stressed, it’s also linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

2. It lets us get to know our true selves. Mindfulness can help us see beyond those rose-colored glasses when we need to really objectively analyze ourselves. A study in the journal Psychological Science shows that mindfulness can help us conquer common “blind spots,” which can amplify or diminish our own flaws beyond reality.

3. It can make your grades better. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that college students who were trained in mindfulnessperformed better on the verbal reasoning section of the GRE, and also experienced improvements in their working memory. “Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with widereaching consequences,” the researchers wrote in the Psychological Science study.

4. It could help our troops. The U.S. Marine Corps is in the process of seeing how mindfulness meditation training can improve troops’ performance and ability to handle — and recover from — stress.

5. It could help people with arthritis better handle stress. A 2011 study in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Disease shows that even though mindfulness training may not help to lessen pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis, it could help tolower their stress and fatigue.

6. It changes the brain in a protective way. University of Oregon researchers found that integrative body-mind training — which is a meditation technique — can actually result in brain changes that may be protective against mental illness. The meditation practice was linked with increased signaling connections in the brain, something called axonal density, as well as increased protective tissue (myelin) around the axons in the anterior cingulate brain region.

7. It works as the brain’s “volume knob.” Ever wondered why mindfulness meditation can make you feel more focused and zen? It’s because it helps the brain to have better control over processing pain and emotions, specifically through the control of cortical alpha rhythms (which play a role in what senses our minds are attentive to), according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

8. It makes music sound better. Mindfulness meditation improves our focused engagement in music, helping us to truly enjoy and experience what we’re listening to, according to a study in the journal Psychology of Music.

9. It helps us even when we’re not actively practicing it. You don’t have to actually be meditating for it to still benefit your brain’s emotional processing. That’s the finding of a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, which shows that the amygdala brain region’s response to emotional stimuli is changed by meditation, and this effect occurs even when a person isn’t actively meditating.

10. It has four elements that help us in different ways. The health benefits of mindfulness can be boiled down to four elements, according to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study: body awareness, self-awareness, regulation of emotion and regulation of attention.

11. It could help your doctor be better at his/her job. Doctors, listen up: Mindfulness meditation could help you better care for your patients. Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that doctors who are trained in mindfulness meditation are less judgmental, more self-aware and better listeners when it comes to interacting with patients.

12. It makes you a better person. Sure, we love all the things meditation does forus. But it could also benefit people we interact with, by making us more compassionate, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities found that meditation is linked with more virtuous, “do-good” behavior.

13. It could make going through cancer just a little less stressful. Research from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine shows thatmindfulness coupled with art therapy can successfully decrease stress symptoms among women with breast cancer. And not only that, but imaging tests show that it is actually linked with brain changes related to stress, emotions and reward.

14. It could help the elderly feel less lonely. Loneliness among seniors can be dangerous, in that it’s known to raise risks for a number of health conditions. But researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that mindfulness meditation helped to decrease these feelings of loneliness among the elderly, andboost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation.

15. It could make your health care bill a little lower. Not only will your health benefit from mindfulness meditation training, but your wallet might, too. Research in the American Journal of Health Promotion shows that practicing Transcendental Meditation is linked with lower yearly doctor costs, compared with people who don’t practice the meditation technique.

16. It comes in handy during cold season. Aside from practicing good hygiene, mindfulness meditation and exercise could lessen the nasty effects of colds. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in the practices miss fewer days of work from acute respiratory infections, and also experience a shortened duration and severity of symptoms.

17. It lowers depression risk among pregnant women. As many as one in five pregnant women will experience depression, but those who are at especially high risk for depression may benefit from some mindfulness yoga. “Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging,” study researcher Dr. Maria Muzik, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.”

18. It also lowers depression risk among teens. Teaching teens how topractice mindfulness through school programs could help them experience less stress, anxiety and depression, according to a study from the University of Leuven.

19. It supports your weight-loss goals. Trying to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight? Mindfulness could be your best friend, according to a survey of psychologists conducted by Consumer Reports and the American Psychological Association. Mindfulness training was considered an “excellent” or “good” strategy for weight loss by seven out of 10 psychologists in the survey.

20. It helps you sleep better. We saved the best for last! A University of Utah study found that mindfulness training can not only help us better control our emotions and moods, but it can also help us sleep better at night. “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress,” study researcher Holly Rau said in a statement.

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Yoga for At-Risk Youth Populations | Yoga Journal (Read Here)

Use your teaching skills to bring yoga and healing to students suffering from trauma.

By Molly M. Ginty

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A rape survivor who shudders when touched. A male prison inmate with both knees shattered by bullets. A child who slumps since she witnessed domestic violence in her home.

These are the people you’ll serve when teaching yoga to at-risk students, defined as those who’ve suffered trauma.

Since Bo Lozoff founded Durham, North Carolina’s Prison-Ashram Project in 1973, yoga programs for people in crisis have spread across the United States. From classes for inmates at Living Yoga in Portland, Oregon, to classes for veterans at Yogani Studios in Tampa, these programs are thriving—and redefining their instructors’ teaching practices.

Just as offering yoga to at-risk students can pose logistical challenges (tattered mats, nonexistent props, and a half hour of trudging through prison security checkpoints), it can present teaching dilemmas you’ve never faced before.

As the result of trauma, students may have migraines, stomachaches, locked shoulders, or other physical problems. They may lash out—or stare through you as if you didn’t exist. Those left numb may inch through Sun Salutations mechanically. Those who’ve become hypervigilant may race through the sequence three steps ahead of the class.

“When you teach at-risk students, you learn to address physical problems, diffuse anger, and spark interest,” says Leah Kalish, director of the Los Angeles-based Yoga Ed, which trains instructors across the country to work with urban schoolchildren. “You get the lethargic student to feel her body again by rolling on her mat. You ground the anxious student by looking him in the eye and telling him to root his feet into the earth.”

If you know how to teach at-risk students, you can help them regain control over their bodies, minds, and lives. “Yoga calms the nervous system, slows the thoughts, and helps you realize you’re accountable for your actions and have all the answers inside you,” says Shaina Traisman, director of Yoga Behind Bars in Seattle. “When yoga penetrates at-risk students, it gives them the tools to heal from old trauma—and to respond to new challenges in a healthier way.”

How can you prepare for this work? Read Lozoff’s We’re All Doing Time. Watch Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, a film about how meditation is lowering recidivism rates in India. Train at Yoga Ed, Yoga Behind Bars, New York’s Lineage Project, or a similar program in your region. Pair up with a mentor or coteacher who has done this work before.

Even if you don’t plan to make this population your niche, you never know when a student suffering from trauma might drop into your regular class. Take note of the following tips from teachers experienced in working with at-risk populations.

Get Grounded

The key to teaching at-risk students is to be a devoted student yourself. “You need to embody what you want to teach,” says Hala Khouri, author of Yoga Ed’s curriculum for at-risk students. Practice asana, pranayama, and meditation daily so you’re calm enough to support those living under extreme stress.

Also come to terms with your own history. “Teaching at-risk students can trigger you, especially if you have unresolved issues around violence or abuse,” says Seane Corn, who is based in Topanga, California, but offers yoga to needy and HIV-positive children in India, Cambodia, and Africa. “You need to address those issues and feel safe working with them so your students can feel safe too.”

Before walking into class, surrender your expectations and check your ego at the door. Focus onbhakti (devotion) and karma yoga (selfless service). “Your intention should be to offer choices, self-awareness, and power to at-risk students,” says Kalish. “It’s about what you’re giving, not what you’re getting back.”

Be Consistent

Establish class rules with input from your students, and gently but firmly maintain them. Show up as scheduled and stick to the same basic format, perhaps doing warm-ups followed by Sun Salutations, backbends, forward bends, inversions, then Savasana (Corpse Pose). “If at-risk students know what’s coming, they can relax in the moment and enjoy the full benefits of yoga,” says Leslie Booker, a New Yorker who teaches prison inmates through the Lineage Project and who has also taught yoga to pregnant teenagers. “Experiencing consistency can help them achieve stability in their own lives.”

Keep It Simple

As you move through the asanas, teach at the basic level. “At-risk students tend to be doing yoga for the first time and to have limited body awareness,” says Traisman. Go slowly and mindfully, helping students establish a pose before attaining its full expression. Keep instructions clear and uncluttered, telling students in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) to “make your feet like the number 11” instead of “keep the outer edges of your feet parallel to the outer edges of the mat.” Your hour-long class may include five poses and 10 minutes of meditation. Consider that an accomplishment.

Adjust Your Adjustments

Safe, supportive touch can help at-risk students recover a sense of safety and trust. But touch can be charged—especially for perpetrators and victims of violence. Talk to class administrators about whether touch is appropriate. Avoid adjustments that could be sexualized (such as pulling a student’s hips back in Downward Dog) or triggering (such as placing the hands on the head, as if you were making an arrest, in Cobra Pose). Have students reach toward you instead of reaching toward them. Offer verbal corrections, and always ask permission before touching.

Be Resilient

“At-risk students may act out and challenge you,” says Kalish. “This is part of their defense—a way of coping that you can’t take personally. Don’t try to fix it, but be nonreactive and mirror their behavior back. If a student is rude, say, ‘Wow, I can see you’re really angry today.’ This acknowledges emotion and creates a safe space to express it.”

Adapt to your students’ needs—and to the unexpected. How will you teach prisoners when they’re being punished and are not allowed to sit on their mats? How will you adapt Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon Pose) for a student who has been stabbed in the hip? How will you remain calm and respond with lovingkindness when a veteran in Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) releases grief trapped in his heart chakra and bursts into tears?

Though some at-risk students may burst with sudden emotion, most are more likely to hold back—and to be so reserved that the teacher may wonder if he or she is getting through. “At-risk students usually need to feel things out before they come to trust the yoga teacher or trust yoga practice itself,” says Booker. “But over time, they’ll start asking to work on specific asanas. They’ll tell you how they’ve started sharing yoga with others. They’ll tell you they’re no longer angry or lashing out. They’ll show that they’ve grown excited about this practice—and that yoga has become a nurturing, stabilizing force in their lives.”

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Feasibility and Preliminary Outcomes of a School-Based Mindfulness Intervention for Urban Youth

Tamar Mendelson & Mark T. Greenberg & Jacinda K. Dariotis & Laura Feagans Gould & Brittany L. Rhoades & Philip J. Leaf Published online: 4 May 2010.  J Abnormal Child Psychology Journal.

Abstract: Youth in underserved, urban communities are at risk for a range of negative outcomes related to stress, including social-emotional difficulties, behavior problems, and poor academic performance. Mindfulness-based approaches may improve adjustment among chronically stressed and disadvantaged youth by enhancing self regulatory capacities. This paper reports findings from a pilot randomized controlled trial assessing the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness and yoga intervention. Four urban public schools were randomized to an intervention or wait-list control condition (n=97 fourth and fifth graders, 60.8% female). It was hypothesized that the 12-week intervention would reduce involuntary stress responses and improve mental health outcomes and social adjustment. Stress responses, depressive symptoms, and peer relations were assessed at baseline and post-intervention. Findings suggest the intervention was attractive to students, teachers, and school administrators and that it had a positive impact on problematic responses to stress including rumination, intrusive thoughts, and emotional arousal.

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