Category Archives: Yoga Therapy

A practice of Patience

Take a moment. Consider how patience feels in your body. Now consider how impatience feels. The difference is incredible. What does too much patience feels like. A little stagnant for sure. The question is how do we move toward balance. This also begs the question that when we feel passion or want to act against injustice, can this be done from a place of patience. One might think that patience means a lack of urgency or importance. Could patience allow for the perseverance to move toward righting injustice?

Patience is defined in the Webster dictionary as “to manifest forbearance under provocation or strain: not hasty or impetuous: steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity, and bearing pains or trial calmly or without complaint.”

I struggle with some of this definition but the term that resonates with me is steadfast. Patience certainly is not a practice of non engagement or being passive. One can be in control and steadfast, with purpose and stay in the present moment. Perhaps it would look like taking the time to listen and consider the thoughts and ideas of others, taking the time to express your ideas and wonders and taking the long game towards relationships, personal goals and societal injustices.

More often than not, my mind moves beyond the current moment and it recalls and interprets both consciously and unconsciously the past or forecasts the future. In other words, my mind gets in the way. Consider, when we feel like we have something figured out or we dismiss what we don’t understand. Active listening can be tenuous when patience is out of balance in either direction. When I become quiet and present, I understand that my current abundance or lack of patience comes from several well honed drives and reinforced behaviours. Like a mountain appearing before me, making the changes I desire seems more arduous and multi fasciated. This climb is not without reward.

In yoga, we have a concept called the kleshas and it is defined as an obstacle or an affliction.  Firstly, we have the hurdle that yogis would call incorrect understanding or comprehension. How often do we know for certain that we have reasoned correctly and our perception is without error. We might also feel all other interpretations are flawed at worst or not fully formed at best. One could think of our understanding as illusion. Consider too the ego mind and the many past experiences that have provided each of us with deep patterns of expectation and automatic reaction felt emotionally and physically. Finally, consider that we are unconsciously making decisions toward experiences of pleasure and we are repelled by suffering and unpleasantness.

How do we look to remove these unconscious obstacles? In yoga, we have the practice of focusing the mind. This practice could be meditation and it could also be the active practice active listening, and mindful movement to name a few. Here we learn the skill of being present and that the feelings both good and bad always come and always go.

Only practice leads to new skills. The skills of being present are simple to practice however it does take steadfastness and constant practice to develop patience. Practicing patience to increase patience. Curious isn’t it! Well not so much.

Being present is being patient. Can one be patient and act in the world? It would be the most steadfast, respectful, productive, and self honouring way to do so. This is the mountain and I have some thinking and climbing to do.

The Yoga of Being

 We spend our days doing, doing and well, doing some more.  We are champs at achievement and of accomplishment. We give ourselves permission and reward others for blind effort and society rewards us for breakneck speed and achievement regardless of the costs. In yoga, we often hear that we are human “beings” not human “doings”. This is where the concepts of yoga brilliantly provides us with perspective.

In yoga, there is the concept of Abhyasa. This translates to practice or effort. This term is seen in the sutra texts of Patanjali starting at Sutra 1.12.  Patanjali further defines the qualities of practice where the practice must be sustained for a long time with devotion, or the appreciation of the benefit. Sound reasonable? If you are looking for change this is the way to do it. Where then is the balance to check the rajasic striving, the do anything beyond all costs type of effort which most of us subscribe to or perhaps the only way we know? Patanjali couples Abhyasa with the concept of Vairagya. Vairagya is a practice of non-attachment.

Practice and non-attachment are a marriage of sorts; a beautiful balancing of effort and release.  The union and juxtaposition of these concepts will forever intrigue me. It has a push and pull, a tension that makes me curious and at the same time both comfortable and ill at ease. After being introduced, studying and practicing the concepts of Abhyasa and Vairagya, my competitive athlete brain was utterly mystified by the concept of non-attachment in the face of effort and striving with any kind of success. And after years of practice, I have experienced the benefits. I find comfort in Vairagya, yet there are many times, I confess, when the finer details of non-attachment elude me.

The working title of this article was originally The Yoga of Doing Nothing, since most people believe that non-attachment is the opposite of doing something.  I thought it was catchy, but it was also wholly inaccurate as non-attachment is a very active practice. So I ditched it. While most agree that non-attachment is yogic and also a “good thing”, as Martha Stewart would say, we are inundated and encouraged with the opposite. We are attached to our outcomes and our successes, and we are especially attached to failure and the possibility of failure. So much so that we might not even begin the “practice”. Perhaps cultivating non-attachment would also help us tear down the walls of our perceived abilities.

I recall watching Olympic coverage on television where the U.S. ski athletes were talking about how they trusted in their ski training program. They added that they had faith that practice would bring them to their peak performance. They also noted how trust in their training plan allowed them to enjoy the experience. More importantly, they felt they were at their best when they did not be worry about the results. The U.S. ski team had a very yogic thinking approach to their coaching. Perhaps that is why they were so successful. This is the practice of Abyhasa and Vairagya. I recall my joy for the athletes experience, considering how hard it is to compete at that level.

When you look at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, etc. we see posts that encourage achievement. Even in yoga, we see individuals pictured in social media, in crazy poses, with retweets and accolades that come from the awe of these achievements. We all get swept up in the hype and begin to find ourselves competing with others both on and off the yoga mat. We relish the praise we receive for the number of hours we worked, the fact that we did a 15 minute headstand. This is not unlike the praise we receive when we proudly say we can work with little sleep.

This only encourages further one dimensional striving and less awareness. For those who engage in seemingly inhuman yoga poses, we cannot tell if their life is happier for achieving this feat, or even if they were injured doing this. I, for one, would love to see more experiences of “being” in the yoga world and media, but this doesn’t seem to capture the public as a whole. I am open to finding ways to do this and will support all means to this end.

Imagine, the brilliance of the experience, whether it is a yoga pose, a meditation, making dinner or doing volunteer work with greater awareness of journey and the non-attachment of the outcomes. The gem is being unattached to the accolades and being of aware of our inner life. What would happen if we did the work but were unattached to the outcome, praise, and criticism associated with the goal?

I have a disclaimer that practicing non-attachment is not for the faint of heart, and this introduction is intended only to let your toe dip into the big pool of the concept of Vairagya. Vairagya has many layers. A good place to start to explore this concept is in savasana. The side benefit of exploring in savasana is the restorative and healing benefits that comes from this active adventure in non-attachment.

Savasana as an opportunity to explore non-attachment

For 20 minutes each day find time to practice letting go, and explore the concept of non-attachment. Position yourself lying comfortably on your back. Ensure you are well supported, warm and place your head shoulders and hips on the same level. Lessen any physical discomfort with the use of props, such as blankets and rolls. It is important that you feel well supported.

Once comfortable, close your eyes. As you move from seeing to not seeing, notice your awareness changing. One of the senses now is withdrawn. Let the mind rest within the body and breath. This is where we look to be the “human being” and not the “human doing”. Take a few minutes to allow your body to settle. You can actively be aware of tight areas and take the time to let them settle into the support you have provided yourself.

Next take your attention back to your breath. You may notice that you want to change the breath. Be curious. You may feel the need to adjust, or even feel emotionally uncomfortable with the breath. That need to judge and to change is in each of us. This is where we begin our practice of non-attachment.

At this point, we often automatically look to control the breath, to force it to what we think is correct. We consider making it longer, employing the belly breath, or the 3 part breath, grasping to remember what the last yoga teacher said. We want to control the breath and the body to what we perceive as correct or right. Here is your turning point. Consider doing less. Consider not being attached to a technique. Consider just being.

Become an explorer, as curious watcher of the body and breath. You have no stakes in the results; you are unattached to what you need or expect. With each need to change or judgement of your experience that comes up, you let go of it and again you bring the mind back to becoming a humble witness.

As we practice non-attachment and letting go, we slowly become aware of all the layers of fluctuations. We are cognizant of all the holding in the body, mind and breath.  Some of these sensations might be familiar or foreign to us. Continue not to change or attach judgement to the awareness. Continue to come back to being, not doing or judging.

The beginning practice in Vairagya is powerful. Permit yourself to take some time each day to not be attached to the sensations or thoughts, or the outcomes of the practice. Enjoy!

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Kimberly Mantas lives and works out of Ottawa, Canada. She is a Yoga Therapist, Meditation and Hatha Yoga Teacher with Mantas Yoga and loves to hang out at Blue Bamboo Yoga and Beyond Yoga and her health partners. She thinks yoga therapy rocks and is an always curious sort – ever excited when people get to know their bodies and minds better.

Less Stress in Fall with Yoga and Ayurveda

The change in seasons has a profound effect on our systems. Fall, for many, often seems particularly harsh. Fall is a vata time of year according to Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga) and several of the many qualities of vata are the qualities of wind, dark, dry and cold. More than any other season, fall is where I notice a change in me, my students and my clients.

Here in eastern Canada we have yet to see the true fall chill, or the winds, but we have certainly felt the effects of the busy schedule and the effect of rising and having dinner in the dark. We might see the sun if we can get away from our desk during the day. In the fall, we start back to school, and our traditional work schedules fall back into place. We are all well immersed in our volunteer work, activities, sports, family support demands, appointments, work trips, and we crave to fit in some plain old pleasure. The summer is now simply beautiful memories and photos.

Starting in September the family finds itself going all different directions. And while thrilled with the new and interesting activities, the consensus remains that it is darn busy. For many fall is a favourite time of year. It has beauty and the joy of crisp refreshing air, the beautiful colours, cosy sweaters and cups of steaming hot tea. Amidst this joy we find ourselves fighting the effects of so much activity, darkness, winds, and dryness.

I notice these changes in myself. I start to crave soups and I have a natural desire to do more grounding meditations. I have learned over the years to put some things off until later in the fall or winter to distribute the amount of things I am doing. I am slowly learning that “no” and “later” are great words for this season (no, this isn’t my very robust procrastination abilities speaking.) I am busier and I have to find ways not to add on to the controlled chaos.

I see the effects in my students. The meditators seem more anxious, the minds much more unwieldy than in the summer. Many of my yoga therapy clients can be more achy, and restless. Even the clients with the best outlooks can become easily frustrated and overwhelmed. The group classes are just plain chatty. It is a joy to see them all tucked into savasana, warm and balanced after a practice.

Here is where the concepts used in Yoga and Ayurveda can come to our rescue. Ayurveda very much considers taking the seasons into consideration and that our choices can help us balance our system. For our physical practice we can look to have grounding practices – think forward folds, balancing postures and poses like parsvotanasana and grounding a child’s pose and legs up the wall. For breath work consider Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breath and a breath that has the same length of inhale and exhale. These will help with keeping yourself feeling balanced and calm. Remember, inside and out, warm and oily is good. Warm baths, steam and using warm sesame oil on the body will help warm, balance and ground you. With respect to vata soothing foods, think warm proteins and vegetables with fats and spices. At this time of year cooking your vegetables helps with effects of vata. You can get back those crisp salads in the summer.

Instead of fighting your way through the Fall “vata” season, meet it joyfully with some simple tools and techniques from Yoga and Ayurveda.

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Kimberly Mantas lives and works out of Ottawa, Canada. She is a Yoga Therapist, Meditation and Hatha Yoga Teacher with Mantas Yoga and loves to hang out at Blue Bamboo Yoga and Beyond Yoga and her health partners. She thinks yoga therapy rocks and is an always curious sort – ever excited when people get to know their bodies and minds better.