RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hasta Mudra

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Power Energy/ Riki, 2011

THE MORPHOLOGY OF the human hand facilitated primal through post-industrial tool making and many of the qualities that we term “human.” 
Hasta Mudras—“graceful hand gestures”—have complex associations in many classical Indian practices.  They are associated with health benefits [even as curatives] by restoring balance, as well as with the enhancement of spiritual awareness.  Beyond Indian mudras, the hand is the locus of cross-cultural therapies (e.g., palmistry and Korean hand therapy).  In these diverse practices, there is a sense of intense energy being present in the hands.  With mudras are referenced as offering a way to intentionally direct prana or energy rather than displace and diffuse and “waste” energy.  Mudras may be sensed to balance energy rather than increase energy.
The literature on mudras is extensive, as well as diverse rather than uniform.  An exploration of the literature on mudras will reveal many hand position variations [involving each hand by itself, or in contact with the other hand or with various points on the body, or directed either toward the Earth or celestially].  Each finger may be associated with specific physical elements [Thumb—fire, Index/Forefinger—air, Middle—ether [fills all space and solids], Ring—earth, Little—water] and/or with specific body regions.  There may be very specific associations with organs, and curative powers for various physical diseases as well as psychological disorders or the regulation of emotional states such as anxiety.  Claims for the efficacy of mudras may be extreme, ranging from the stand-alone ability to stop a heart attack, improve any specific body function, from eyesight to labor and delivery. 

Simply, in body-mind practices, mudras can have a value (1) in stilling the motion of the hands, and (2) in increasing one’s attentionality to a specific objective such as directing one’s attention to either increase concentration or relaxation.  While anecdotal rather than testable in a Western scientific sense, there may also be a sense of “completing an energy circuit of meridians” when bringing fingertips into contact.
Two Examples [of many] for yoga in general [looking primarily at the objectives of optimizing focus and sustaining desired physiological/emotional states, rather than toward being curative or more specific in their relation to body regions]:
GYAN MUDRA: The thumb and the index finger are brought together in gentle contact, while all other fingers are kept upright. It might be utilized as an aid in concentration to penetrate more deeply into an asana. 

PRAN MUDRA: Touch the points of the little finger and the ring finger to the tip of the thumb lightly. 

It might be utilized as an aid in directing one’s intention toward optimizing calmness, reducing anxiety to deepen relaxation.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Form Within Form

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Hidden Greatness/Dai-In, photo, 2011

ASANAS—POSES IN YOGA—offer more than just strengthening tissue and opening joints or massaging body parts and enhancing physiology. 

In psychodrama, having a family member arrange other family members into a group “sculpture” of various body positions may reveal external and internal feelings and family dynamics.  Similarly, in gestalt art therapy, drawing yourself, and then being asked to assume the gesture/pose/expression may offer unanticipated insights.

In The Inner Life Of Asanas, Swami Lalitananda explores her introspective experiences with asanas such as Tree, Mountain, Cobra, Warrior, and Swan.  Each pose might provoke a recollection of life experiences, a personal sense of meaning, as well as a reflection of societal activities occurring in her everyday life at the time of practice.  In the child pose [balasana], there may be a sense of hiding in the comforting sense of refuge [perhaps, for her, even expressed more in Tortoise pose], or more metaphorically, a sense of the child state and even childhood experiences; and in the corpse pose [savasana/shavasana], perhaps, in the sense of surrender, nuances of death.  The poses offer stability and solidity and foundation as well as weight/burden, as well as limitations and a sense of destroying limits.  There may experiences of hiding and closing, of equilibrium and upside-down disequilibrium, lightness and synchronicity and balance, and receptivity as well as vulnerability.  

All of this variety sums in an alchemy of wholeness that is different for each person, and this sense of wholeness can be expressed the reality of everyday life rather than be something esoteric.  In the personal, there is also the awakening of the personal expressing qualities that seem to be universal.  There might be something akin to Jungian archetypes, such as the mother, the hero, and the divine, being expressed in the pose and a deeper sense of these universals being expressed in one’s personal actions.  In each asana, there is a practice that links the practitioner with a web of practice that goes deep back in time and that occurs globally.  There is a sense of being linked with all life, past and present and future.

In the practices of restorative yoga and yin yoga, poses are held for some length.  This increased duration of poses that are done quietly opens a door of contemplation into a sense of form within form.  Factors explored in the deeper dimensions of restorative yoga that appear in other sections of Santosha: Restorative-Yin Yoga Journal, such as sacred space, insights into breath, flow, are consequences of asana.  Amplified in the quiet duration of restorative-yin practice, Swami Lalitananda offers an overview of the nature and objectives of a more comprehensive practice of Hatha Yoga [The Inner Life Of Asanas. Kootenay Bay, B.C.: Timeless Books, 2007]:

The atmosphere of the class is quiet, as if each person were alone on an inward journey. [p.11]

The aim of the Hidden Language of Hatha Yoga is to find the centre and to unite the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine, the rational and the intuitive, bringing the active and the receptive into balance, making ourselves whole again.  The process is like climbing a mountain.  It takes time and effort and means facing challenges.  But as you climb you are rewarded with a wider perspective, greater vision and understanding. [p.12]

The value of Hatha Yoga is not just stretching the muscles, but in stretching the mind. [pp.13-14]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Restorative Yoga Health Benefits

Copyright Lance Kinseth, The Infinite Reach, 48”x48, 2011

11/2014 NOTE:
While the information described in the post below in 2011 is significant, research since that time continues to expand the list of benefits, especially with regard to more subtle effects such as opening micro-vessels on blood vessels, enhancement of the vitality of nerves, and atomic changes in cells as a few extreme examples.  There are also bio-discoveries that might be impacted by activities such as the presence of olfactory cells in various parts of the body such as the skin and lungs and surprising effects such as the restorative aspects of sandalwood on skin (due to the presence of olfactory cells).  Overall, that which is described below is the tip of the iceberg of adaptive/restorative features of body-mind practices.  A search of research of brain scans and teh effect of body-mind practice and complex chemicals provoked by body-mind practice {and stress chemical that area reduced) are two examples of areas that can be searched.   While the list of benefits continues to expand, there should always be a caveat to be self-critical and realistic rather than completely buy into such practices as a panacea for everything.

4/2011: FROM A WESTERN perspective, selected measurable aspects of restorative with yin yoga practice [that also apply to other body-mind practices such as qigong and tai chi] include the following potential changes/transformations:
Basic To All Exercise:
·      Exercise as energizer [activity can boost energy level],
·      Build strength and endurance,
·      Help keep weight in balance,
·      Improve mood, self-esteem, and body image, and
·      Living healthier, longer.

 Physiological/Psychological Benefits of Restorative Yoga: THE FOLLOWING IS A STRONG SAMPLE RATHER THAN A COMPREHENSIVE LIST:
·      Can lower blood pressure [reduce fluid retention—dilation of blood vessels, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) that balances the sympathetic nervous system by lowering blood pressure and heart rate],
·      reduce brain arousal [altered neuro-chemistry/brainwave: altered beta, slight increase in alpha],
·      carryover lower BP and HR and lower reactivity to stress into everyday life after repeated practice,
·      slight heart rate increase [from gentle movement],
·      non-distressing posture and open joints,
·      alter respiration: increased oxy-hemoglobin levels,
·      reduce serum triglycerides and blood sugar levels/ increase “good” cholesterol,
·      alternatively stimulate and sooth organs by compression and expansion,
·      stimulate flow of the lymphatic system [along with most activities, but with specific focus in yoga poses] that relies on movement of muscles and breath,
·      improve digestion/elimination,
·      reduce muscle tension/insomnia/generalized fatigue,
·      stress reduction, which has physiological components such as decreasing the production of “stress hormones” [produced by the Sympathetic Nervous System for functional flight-fight response in authentically threatening situations] by stimulating the PNS—the “relaxation command center”—as well as psychological components,
·      foster relaxation/calmness/“quiet state” process
·      improved attention/focus,
·      foster rest/recovery/restoration,
·      emphasize self-directed [autogenic] physio-psychological change,
·      non-distressing posture and gently exercises joints and organs,
·      contribute to increased bone density [as grounded exercise],
·      oxidize/energize/detoxify [CO2 expiration] tissue throughout the body—increase oxy-hemoglobin levels through deeper “softer” breath,
·      improve mobility and balance,
·      an exercise complement to diet,
·      adaptable to most people due to low intensity.
·      other small studies of qigong/yoga/tai chi that are not explicitly established suggest:
o      The possibility of improved immunology [antibodies against viral infection],
o      Reduced depression/anxiety,
o      [general yoga] protecting heart by activating nerves that can decrease arterial stiffness,
o      Reduced serum triglycerides and blood sugar levels/ increase “good” cholesterol [lower level of LDLs—20-26 mg when practiced for 12-14 weeks,
o      Better control over blood glucose levels [perhaps through practice as a regular activity that supports better self-monitoring of glucose levels as diet],
o      Pain reduction [Recent study of tai chi for fibromyalgia: eased painful joints (especially tender points in joints0, reduced degree of fatigue]
o      Improve digestion/elimination,
o      Reduce muscle tension and insomnia and generalized fatigue, and
o      Integration of right-left hemispheres;
·      Current NIH studies of potential benefits of restorative yoga: to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, reduce metabolic syndrome, reduce anxiety during drug rehabilitation, and benefits for women in treatment with breast cancer.
S. C Danhauer (2009) looked at restorative yoga for women with breast cancer:  The sample involved 44 women with a mean age of 55.8 years.  Thirty-four percent were actively undergoing medical treatment. There was a waitlist control group.  Both were give pre- and post-tests.  The restorative sessions were for 10 weeks for 75 minutes each class.  Improvements were noted in overall mental health, less depression, increased positive affect, “spirituality” [as measured by reports of “peace, meaning,” and lessened fatigue. 

Other NIH studies looking at yoga and breast cancer reports similar improvements, along with decreased emotional irritability,
Decreased gastrointestinal symptoms, decreased confusion/ cognitive disorganization, decreased mod disturbance, a decreased sense of “tension,” and self-reports of improved physical fitness.  However, an evidenced-based review of ten studies in 2009 by K. B. Smith argues for the need to examine both what components of yoga are most helpful rather than general yoga that varied across the studies and what type of patients received the greatest benefit.  In the ten reviewed studies, most of the participants were women and the most common diagnosis was cancer.  In a report on yoga published in VA Research Currents [Veterans Administration], there is a suggestion that participants who completed more sessions had a better outcome, but that few studies have been done with multi-problem participants.      

Psycho-Spiritual Benefits of Restorative Yoga [Participant self-reports of]:
·      opening or clarity and subsequent expansion of one’s experience resulting from calm awareness,
·      emotions present themselves in awareness,
·      experience of “grounding” and “balancing,”
·      de-prioritize experiences that may have become artificially dominant,
·      increased “vividness” and awareness in daily sensory life, and
·      experience of inclusion and meaningfulness: connection with all experiences and increased appreciation of experiences heretofore overlooked.

Eastern [Non-Western] Benefits of Restorative Yoga:

From an Eastern healing perspective, restorative-yin yoga is primarily associated with less measurable movement of qi around and within the body along meridians, stimulation of chakras as well as organs, and with organs, in turn, stimulating mental states such as compassion.  

While relaxing body tissue from a Western perspective, relaxing tissue is also considered essential from an Eastern perspective to open “energy channels.”  Measurable aspects such as the flow of blood, fluids of the lymphatic system, the gentle stimulation of the nervous system are secondary measures of the flow of a variety of “energy” channels. 

The impact of many forces on body process is not well described.  The Eastern sense of energies such as Yogic prana and Asian qi/chi might be considered to be metaphors for a sense of processes that are not measurable in Western science but  that Western perspectives might acknowledge as possible.  The body is inseparable from physiological processes and physical processes such as a diverse array of solar energies, a diversity of materials in each breath, magnetism, gravitation, planetary rotation and orbit as well as movement of the sun and the rotation and direct line movement of the Milky Way galaxy at perhaps 1.2 million mph.  Further, each human cell may contain 10 16 atoms, with the proton in each atom moving at perhaps 150 million mph, and the potential energy of an atom is well-documented.   

As with more active yoga poses, restorative poses offer a process of acupressure that redistribute fluids perhaps settled in body tissue and joints.


Due to the postures being less physically stressful, the contraindications for restorative yoga practice are reduced.  Restorative yoga may be helpful in addressing bio-medical issues because it is low-impact in nature, involves micro-movement and uses support, allows attention to calming breath that may stimulate physiological reaction.

Participants with chronic as well as acute diagnosis-in-treatment, such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, back conditions, cancer, anxiety disorders, addictions, diabetes, etc. are strong candidates for restorative yoga [with a guarded practice of yin yoga components].  Medical recommendations for people with back conditions that are symptomatic may order a period of complete rest.  However, recommendations may also include careful activity to prevent weakening of strength.  In fact, medical and psychological treatment recommendations typically encourage engaging in appropriate physical activity as an adjunct to treatment rather than avoiding physical activity.  Restorative yoga offers a gentle, gentle yoga as a way into physical activity, as well as an ongoing, regular practice to both maintain and progress in terms of physical and mental health.  The slow, careful, gently-active movement of the practice is also helpful, along with not overdoing one’s poses, and being self-aware of any points that seem to be weight-bearing and to carefully to avoid weight-bearing poses. 

More general concerns such as irregular heartbeat, chest pain, leg pain, difficulty breathing, bone disease, or very low blood counts or anemia are examples of concerns that should be medically addressed before continuing exercise in general.  Restorative yoga practice should be avoided when heart conditions such as heart rate and blood pressure are not stabilized, not under control through medical supervision.

Lower back injury, spinal deformity, severe osteoporosis, some osteoarthritis, herniated disc (physical therapy vs. yoga), sciatica [compression of the sciatic nerve resulting pain or weakness or numbness in the legs], spinal stenosis [narrowing of lumbar or cervical spinal regions causing numbness and weakness] and extremely high blood pressure [e.g., in inverted positions or poses that lower the head below the heart] need to be considered as possible but not automatic contraindications for this practice that should be medically cleared before engaging in practice.  In the case of degenerative bone disease, no pressure should be placed on the spine.  Spasms may be workable but sharp pains are not, and any regular spasms should be medically evaluated.  In less severe cases, the use of props for support may address concerns and contribute to strengthening the lower back and hips. 

Inversion poses used in restorative yoga such as “Legs On Wall” should be avoided or time-limited for conditions such as hiatus hernia, eye or ear infections, glaucoma, migraines, heart problems, or menstruation.  Inversion poses, as well as other poses, should be either avoided or closely assessed after three months pregnancy.

Psychologically, the longer time spent in poses along with inducing a state of relaxation may provoke emotional stress.  Also, the largely seated or supine/reclining restorative poses may provoke a sense of exposure that triggers a feeling of vulnerability.  Generally, the increased time and openness of postures may present some psychological discomfort because they are unfamiliar activities.  With repetition, the increased time and openness of postures can become a psychological asset.  Repeated restorative practice can “train” the body to reduce reactivity as well as enhance a person’s capacity to access relaxation and to de-stress.

While likely to be a rare occurrence, an active state of chronic anxiety or psychosis might be stimulated by either the time opened by “doing nothing” or by stimulating deep body tissue that may be associated with emotional trauma.  Where a sense of vulnerability is a mild issue, participants can be encouraged to use blankets for cover.  The slight overall pressure that results from covering the body may reduce stimulation and positively deepen a sense of relaxation.