Touching Your Toes Has Nothing to Do with It

What would you think if I told you that a paraplegic could become a sophisticated and very advanced yogi?

You might do a mental double-take: What? Don’t you have to be able to twist yourself into some insane human pretzel to be considered an advanced yogi? Don’t you at least have to be able to touch your toes?

No way, José.

The truth is, what we in the West consider to be “yoga” — the part where you move your body and stretch and strengthen and balance — is only a fraction of the full practice of yoga. One eighth, to be precise.

The Yoga Sutras, written by an author named Patanjali perhaps over 2,000 years ago, is considered to be one of yoga’s most sacred texts. In it, Patanjali lays out an eightfold path to attaining a higher state of consciousness, one in which the practitioner learns to still the craziness of his or her mind.

This path is yoga.

It’s often called the Eight Limbs of Yoga, but I like to envision it as a flower with eight petals. Below you’ll find my original interpretation (it’s really big so you can print one out for your fridge). If you like it, you’ll have to thank my teachers for passing on the lessons so very well.

patanjali's eight limbs of yoga

You’ll notice that the practice of asana, or the physical postures of the body, doesn’t even come along until the third petal! Furthermore, yoga scholar Chip Hartranft says to practice asana means to cultivate “profound physical steadiness and effortlessness in meditation.” So, really… touching your toes has very little (if anything) do with it.

I hope you enjoy looking over the eight petals of a flower I’m becoming increasingly infatuated with. Each of the individual pieces of information — each petal, each yama, each niyama — could be explored infinitely. This infographic barely scrapes the surface.

Which of the eight limbs (or petals) surprised you the most? Do any of them speak to you in some way? If you were already familiar with the eight limbs, I’d love to know your interpretations of the original Sanskrit. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below!

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My Lips are Sealed

my lips are sealed | MindBodyPlateI’ve been running in the mornings with my husband, and I’m trying something new. I’m trying not to breathe through my mouth.

Come again?

I’m trying not to breathe through my mouth. In fact, I’m attempting to sustain my morning runs breathing in and out through my nose and my nose alone.

Specifically, I’m utilizing a style of nasal breathing called ujjayi pranayama or ‘victorious breathing’, a slow and controlled style of yogic breathing which produces oceanic (or Darth Vader-like) sounds due to a slight constriction of the throat. Why? Well, it’s an experiment.

It’s based on some research I heard about, research conducted by Ayurvedic physician Dr. John Douillard in his book Body, Mind & Sport: the Mind Body Guide to Lifelong Fitness and Your Personal Best.

Basically, when you participate in strenuous exercise and start huffing and puffing through your mouth, your brain recognizes it as the same kind of breathing you do when you get surprised, or stressed… or scared. And it registers that you might just have a reason to be stressed or scared.

running huffing and puffing | MindBodyPlateNasal breathing, on the other hand, allows for deeper diaphragmatic breathing, which stimulates the vagus nerve, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — in other words, breathing through your nose makes you feel less stressed. It lowers cortisol levels. It sets you up for ‘rest and digest’.

And I want the very act of running to feel relaxing to me. I never want running to feel any more strenuous than a few sun salutations. I don’t want any small part of my subconscious to think that there’s something wrong when I hit the pavement at 6:45 AM every morning, that I’m running from something, that there’s an emergency. Because ultimately I think that will sabotage my goals. In some small way, I think it will set my mind against doing it.

When I was a kid, and let’s face it, pretty much up until the age of 25 or so, I hated running. And it wasn’t just because my cheeks turned a particularly Irish shade of beet red when I exerted myself. It was because it felt awful.

And I think it felt awful because it was something I just didn’t do on a regular basis. I rarely ran for fun, let alone for relaxation, and then all of a sudden, my PE teacher would bark out orders to run a mile, and my body was like, exsqueeze me? So infrequently was I asked to run, that whenever I did it felt like torture. My body wasn’t prepared for it, so it felt like death.

And the more I came to associate running with, you know, feeling like death, the more my distaste for it grew.

I’m trying to rewire that distaste. I won’t settle for just feeling proud because I pushed myself to run and I did — I want to want to run, because it feels good. I want every cell of my body to feel joyous when I run, so for now I’m breathing through my nose.

Now I can’t run as far or as fast when I keep my lips sealed, but I know that’s not permanent. My endurance will get stronger and stronger. Two years ago I ran a 10k, achieving something I never thought I would or could do, and it was a very proud moment for me. My next goal is to run a 10k while breathing through my nose.

breathe deeply kitty | MindBodyPlate

So if you’re not a runner, or even an aspiring runner (which is okay, by the way), how does this all apply to you?

Start paying attention to the way you’re breathing when you engage in any kind of activity. Even just walking to the car or the subway. If you find that you’re taking shallow, non-diaphragmatic breaths, or even holding your breath, you’re not alone; it’s pretty common. Spend some time thinking about the subconscious messages that kind of breath could be sending to your brain.

Imagine the deep, slow, relaxed and luxurious breaths you take when you’re, I dunno… getting a massage. What would it be like to breathe like that throughout the day? Or while you were exercising?

I’m interested to hear from my more experienced runner friends. Do you have a pattern of breathing or an approach to breathing that makes your experience more enjoyable or otherwise fruitful? Can’t wait to hear about what works for you!

Two Steps to Your Perfect Bikini Body

TGIF and Happy August 1st, everybody! Summer may be coming to a close, but it’s

NOT TOO LATE

to achieve your

BEST BIKINI BODY EVER!!!

These two miracle steps will unlock the bikini body you’ve been waiting for:

two step bikini body | Mucha | MindBodyPlate

Inspired by Alphonse Mucha and rendered by your very own SKF of MindBodyPlate

Why be skinny? Come on and enjoy life!

Wate-On

I saw this old ad a few days ago and kind of fell in love. I dug the cheeky copy, the sexy model (Shannen Doherty?), and the reminder of a bygone era that knew how to celebrate a curvy physique. I almost made it my Facebook cover photo. Almost.

I got so far as to upload it to my profile page. Then I changed my mind.

Because at the end of the day, this ad was making mid-century thin girls feel the same way that I feel when I flip through a high fashion magazine. Like I’m not good enough as I am. Like the only way I’ll ever “enjoy life” is by taking extraordinary measures to change the way my body naturally expresses healthy balance.

Is it important to encourage self-worth in full-figured women who feel abandoned, shunned, and underrepresented by mainstream media? Yes, absolutely.

But we’re missing the point if we think the answer is ousting the thin ideal to reinstate a curvy one.

While diversity in representation is imperative, the larger issue concerns advertisers who objectify the human body in order to manipulate a vulnerable populace into consuming products that promise to “fix” them.

Let’s move towards changing the dialogue completely, wherein the shape of a woman’s body – whatever it may be – is never used against her to make her feel less than whole.