Anjali Mudra

Practicing Anjali Mudra or Salutation Seal is an excellent way to induce a meditative state of awareness. Start your practice sitting in meditation in Anjali Mudra for five minutes. You can also use this hand position in Tadasana prior to beginning the Sun Salutation sequence, as you contemplate the "sun" or light of awareness that the yogis say is resident in your heart. Here are several steps to practice it:

1. Sit comfortably in Siddhasana(Perfect Pose) or stand in Tadasana(Mountain Pose). Inhale and bring your palms together. Rest the thumbs lightly on your sternum.

2. Press your hands firmly but evenly against each other. Make sure that one hand (usually your right hand if you are right-handed, your left if left-handed) doesn't dominate the other. If you find this imbalance, release the dominant hand slightly, but don't increase the pressure of the nondominant hand.

3. Bow your head slightly, drawing the crease of the neck toward the center of your head. Lift your sternum into your thumbs and lengthen down along the back of the armpits, making the back elbows heavy.

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Neck Release

No matter how careful you are to avoid putting yourself in taxing situations, as long as you're living on this earth, stress will hunt you down and wreak havoc on your day. More often than not, it will set up camp in your neck and shoulders, causing even more tension and discomfort. If you're stressed out today, breathe deeply as you try this easy neck release:

Stand in a strong but soft Tadasana (Mountain Pose), feet hip-width apart. Ground firmly into all four corners of each foot and create length in your spine, gently drawing your tailbone toward the floor and the top of your head toward the ceiling. Maintaining that sense of length, reach overhead with your left hand and hold under your right ear at the notch just behind your jaw; as your head tilts slightly to the left, make sure you don't tip it back and jut your chin toward the ceiling. Rest your right hand on your right shoulder, fingers pointing toward your neck. Take full, deep, but unforced breaths for a minute, letting your muscles relax and expand into that gentle rise and fall. Then deepen the stretch by gently pulling your head to the left and your right shoulder down, away from the ear. Pull right up to the edge of discomfort, then pause and relax into the stretch for another minute before repeating on the other side.

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Kundalini Rising

We often think of the masculine principle as active and creative, while the feminine is passive and receptive. While in hatha yoga, these are reversed: The goddess Shakti (literally "power") creates and nourishes the world, while her spouse, the god Shiva (the "auspicious one") is her silent audience. Shakti and Shiva are the heroes of an old parable that epitomizes the practice and goal of hatha yoga. Briefly it goes: In a cave at the foot of mythic Mount Meru, the axis of the Hindu universe, the goddess rests after creating the world. She's pictured as a slumbering serpent wound three-and-a-half (sometimes eight) times around herself, and therefore called kundalini, or "coiled one." When the time is right, she awakens and laboriously ascends to Meru's summit, where she's reunited with the waiting Shiva.

What do serpents, mountains, and unhelpful husbands have to do with yoga? Each of us is a composite of Shiva/Shakti energies. While we refer to them as distinct, they are actually inseparable complements, like the north and south poles of a magnet. When they are in balance, our lives are harmonious and joyful; but when one is set over and above its mate, we suffer from heartrending feelings of fragmentation, alienation, and loss. Shakti's climb and ultimate reunion with Shiva represents, in the context of our practice, the gradual awakening to and realization of our authentic Self. In our case, kundalini is at the base of our spine, "asleep" to our infinite potential but coiled like a spring under pressure, eager to spring to life. Meru is compared to our spine, the "axis" of our body, a universe in miniature. In turn, our spine is an image of the "ladder" of consciousness, starting at the bottom of the spine, where kundalini nests, and extending to the transcendent abode of Shiva at the pinnacle of self-knowing.

Many traditional texts make the spiritual conquest of Meru seem akin to the scaling of Everest and discourage all but the most dedicated from attempting the climb. But all of us have, in our heart of hearts, the longing to be whole and—as sincere yoga practitioners — all the mountaineering equipment we'd ever need. If we can't march all the way to the top, at least we can get a good way up from base camp.

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Ayurvedic Bathing

Bathing, the daily chore or indulgence we've come to know as a way to wake up and scrub ourselves clean, is actually much more than a simple hygiene regimen. In many cultures, it's seen as the final step in a detoxifying process that can begin with circulation, digestion, breath, sleep, or even thoughts and emotions. Nowhere is this approach more evident than with Ayurveda. Ayurvedic bathing goes beyond soaking in a warm tub. It essentially consists of nurturing the body inside and out by balancing within ourselves the forces of the five elements: water, air, earth, fire, and space (which encompasses all of the others).

One way this is done is with several types of internal cleanings. For instance, an air bath consists of deep breathing and focused awareness of the breath. "Air bathes the lungs, while feeding oxygen to the whole body and purifying it," says Sudhakar Selote, a visiting consultant at The Raj, an Ayurvedic health center in Fairfield, Iowa.

A space bath uses deep meditation to extend purification to all areas of the mind and body, according to Pratima Raichur, author of Absolute Beauty. A fire bath involves consuming spicy, warm foods and beverages to stimulate the digestive system and increase circulation, while a water bath—drinking water and herbal teas—hydrates and detoxifies the body.

Another aspect of Ayurvedic bathing involves the three doshas—vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth)—which are said to govern all mental and physical aspects. Everyone has a predominant dosha, and keeping that force balanced means following a certain lifestyle, including diet and exercise. For traditional bathing, Melanie Sachs, author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care, suggests bathwater temperatures should be suited to one's dosha. For example, vata types fare better in warm to hot water; kaphas gravitate toward warmer temperatures, too, but the already fiery pittas might want to run a cooler bath. Doshas are also balanced by certain essential oils. In Ayurveda, oils are recognized for their ability to anoint the body and harmonize the mind. In fact, Ayurveda prescribes an oil massage before bathing, says Selote, as the warm water will allow the oil to penetrate skin tissues more deeply and help mobilize toxins in the body.

As for adding essential oils to bathwater, rose, rosewood, rose geranium, and neroli work well for exuding calm and warmth with vatas. For pitta types, calming and soothing oils for the skin and mind include jasmine (for women) and vetiver (for men), as well as mint and lemon. Kaphas can be stimulated and uplifted by rosemary, juniper, orange, and bergamot oils. However, soaps are generally discouraged in Ayurveda, says Sachs, "as they can be too scouring for dry types, causing dryness for vata and skin irritation for pitta."

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Yoga 'Vitamins'

If you're developing a dedicated yoga practice, you have surely heard of the yamas and niyamas of Patanjali's classical yoga, which include such virtues as ahimsa (nonharming), satya (truthfulness), and samtosha (contentment). Lesser known are the "yoga vitamins," as B.K.S. Iyengar named them in The Tree of Yoga. These five partner virtues, set forth in the Yoga Sutra, reinforce the classical practice of yoga and generate an abundance of good karma for the practitioner.

The first vitamin is sraddha, usually translated as faith. But many interpreters of Patanjali have also translated it as many other things - 'trust and confidence'(in the rightness of what you're doing and in the sympathy of the divine), 'firm conviction'(which is free of doubt), 'positive attitude'(even in the face of momentary setbacks), 'acceptance'(of traditional teachings and the words of your teacher), and 'sweet hope' in the ultimate success of your practice. In Sanskrit, sraddha is a feminine word, suggesting that faith is gentle and supportive. Indeed, the sage Vyasa, who is credited with writing the oldest surviving commentary on the Yoga Sutra, said that faith is: "benevolent like a mother; she protects the yogi." When the practitioner holds to faith, the mind becomes tranquil and, as Vyasa concluded, "strength gathers in him."

Such strength is known as virya, the second vitamin. Virya is usually translated as 'energy' or 'vitality', the sort that comes from knowing you're doing the right thing. But it's also characterized as 'courage', 'strong will', 'enthusiasm', 'stamina', and 'dedication'. As virya gathers in the practitioner, said Vyasa, "intentness attends upon him."

'Intentness' is one interpretation of the Sanskrit word smrti, the third vitamin. Usually, smrti is simply translated as memory, but in this context, it's better understood as mindfulness. What are you supposed to be mindful of? Some commentators talk about the practice of constantly minding the more palpable aspects of your life experience: your body, the contents of your consciousness, your surroundings, your breath. Others interpret mindfulness as a diligent remembrance of and reflection on the true nature of the Self. Still others believe that memory also includes the recollection of what you've studied in yoga scripture. In any case, mindfulness focuses the energy of consciousness and so serves as a prelude to meditation. According to Vyasa, - "At the presence of intentness, the mind, free of disturbance, becomes harmonized and established in samadhi."
Samadhi, the fourth vitamin, is a highly technical term in classical yoga that literally means 'putting together'. It ultimately allows the practitioner, said Vyasa, to "perceive things as they really are."

This perception of things as they really are leads to the fifth and final vitamin, prajna , which is actually the goal of yoga practice. It roughly means 'knowledge', but Patanjali wasn't talking about knowledge in a worldly sense, of course. The great 20th-century sage Sri Aurobindo defined the term prajna as the 'knowledge that unites' all the loose ends of one’s self in the Self...

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Kitchari Diet

In US downing a hearty grain dish would not be called fasting. But in India kitchari — a soupy porridge made from rice and mung beans, lightly spiced with ginger, cilantro, and other spices—is considered a fasting food and is used to purify digestion and cleanse systemic toxins.

Ayurvedic physicians often prescribe a kitchari diet before, during, and after panchakarma, a rejuvenative treatment that cleanses toxins stored in bodily tissues as it restores systemic balance. Kitchari provides solid nourishment while allowing the body to devote energy to healing. You can safely subsist on kitchari anytime in order to build vitality and strength as it helps balance all three doshas. For restless vata, the warm soup is grounding; for fiery pitta, its spices are calming; and for chilly kapha, it provides healing warmth. Ayurveda believes that all healing begins with the digestive tract, and kitchari can give it a much-needed rest from constantly processing different foods while providing essential nutrients. The blend of rice and split mung beans offers an array of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Its mixture of spices is believed to kindle the digestive fire, the Ayurvedic description for your innate digestive power, which can be weakened by poor food combinations.

Kitchari tastes like a cross between a creamy rice cereal and a light dal, or lentil soup. If it is a cold, blustery day or you are feeling under the weather, a steaming bowl of this classic Indian comfort food can both warm up your bones and restore sagging energy. Here's the basic recipe(serves 3):
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup mung beans (whole, soaked overnight)
6 cups boiling water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 pinch asafoetida (a spice also called hing—available at Indian groceries)
1 cup chopped vegetables, such as zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, or anything you choose (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin, coriander, or any other spices you choose (optional

1. Combine the rice with the mung beans and wash twice.
2. Place rice and beans into boiling water, adding the turmeric and asafoetida.
3. Cook over medium heat until the water is mostly absorbed.
4. Add one more cup of lukewarm water, vegetables, and optional spices if you're using them. The final dish should be a stew with a very moist and soft consistency.
Preparation: 30 minutes

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Knee Story

If you've ever experienced knee pain or a chronic knee problem — you know how frustrating and limiting it can be. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for yoga students to practice asanas with small misalignments in the knee. Repeated over months and years, these small misalignments can contribute to pain and long-term joint problems. On the other hand, yoga poses practiced with conscious good alignment of the leg bones and joints can be a wonderful tool for building strong, healthy knees.

The knee is so vulnerable and sensitive to alignment because it is a shallow, basically unstable joint. Imagine two long columns stacked atop each other, and you've got the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). The flat surfaces of the bones make the knee dependent on ligaments (which join bone to bone) and tendons (which join muscle to bone) to hold it together. Any side-bending or twisting forces endanger these supporting tendons and ligaments. For example, standing poses done with improper alignment can put great strain on the knee. The best indicators of knee alignment in standing poses are the relative positions of the foot and kneecap. The foot acts like a pointer showing the rotation of the shin and lower leg, while the kneecap shows the rotation of the femur. In Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), for example, the front leg kneecap should point over the center of the foot. If the kneecap points toward or even inside the big toe, you know that the columns are twisting. In Trikonasana, all yogis need a strong outward rotation of the femur bone in the hip socket to align the femur with the shin and foot.

Bent-leg standing poses can also stress the knee. As the knee bends, it should function like a hinge, with no sideways movement. In Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), a common misalignment is for the front knee to point inside the big toe. In this position, the columns of the leg are not only twisting, they are also bent to the side at their junction. This widens the gap between the bones at the inner knee, straining the ligaments there, and compresses the outer knee, which abrades the joint surface and contributes to arthritis. As in Triangle, a strong outward rotation of the front leg femur is needed.

Seated poses may also put strain on the knee. In Virasana (Hero Pose), if your toes angle out to the sides instead of pointing straight back, you're twisting and straining your knees. The foot and lower leg are rotating out while the femur is, relatively speaking, rotating in. While Virasana does require the femur to rotate in slightly and while the knee can safely allow some twist in a bent, nonweightbearing position, Virasana with the feet turning out is an excessive twist which will damage the knee ligaments.

Cross-legged sitting poses such as Padmasana (Lotus Pose) can also be problematic for the knees. To sit well in Padmasana, the femurs must be able to deeply externally rotate within the hip sockets. When this rotation is limited, the knees will stick up in the air. If you then attempt to place the foot on top of the opposite thigh, the outer knee ligaments will be stretched and the inner knee surfaces compressed, causing pain, and if the pose is forced, injury. Before students attempt Full Lotus, they should increase their hip flexibility so the knees come near the floor when they sit cross-legged. To help improve external rotation, try this variation of Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose). Sitting tall with your back to a wall, place the soles of the feet together and draw the heels in toward the hips. Either allow gravity to pull the knees down or very gently press the hands on the thighs, lengthening the thigh bones out of the hip sockets and down toward the floor. Sit in this position for two or three minutes, so the muscles and connective tissue around the hip joint can soften and release.

Hip joint flexibility can also be helped by lying on your back and crossing the right ankle over the left knee. Hold your hands behind the left knee and gently pull the legs toward the chest. You should feel a stretch in the back of the right hip, not at the knee. Because the muscles and fascia (connective tissue) of the hip joints are so strong, it may take months of work to improve hip flexibility enough to do Padmasana without knee strain. If your hip flexibility is adequate and you still experience knee pain in sitting poses, it may be due to previous knee injuries or strains. If that is the case, it can help to create a long thin roll with a washcloth or small towel. Holding each end of the roll, pull it deep into the back of your partially bent knee; hold the roll in place as you continue to bend the knee fully. Then try Virasana, Padmasana, or some other bent-leg sitting pose. The roll helps to keep the bones in their natural alignment, without twisting or side bending, and keeps a little space open inside the joint, avoiding compression.

All these cautions may sound alarming, but you really only need to keep a few simple principles in mind: always check your alignment, and if you ever feel strain in your knees, back out of the pose and experiment until you feel the stretch in your hips or groins instead. Practiced with care, asanas can contribute to the long-term health of your knees by strengthening your quadriceps, opening your stiff hips, and teaching your body improved alignment and movement patterns that transfer into your everyday activities.

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Yoga Vacations

Even if this is not your first yoga vacation, choosing among the vast number of offerings can be a challenge. How do you select the experience that's right for you? With a bit of common sense and the right resources, it's not as hard as it might seem. Ask yourself the right questions, and you'll soon determine the type of yoga vacation that best suits your needs.

You'll want to start by looking for ways to narrow down the field of options. For instance, if you've already found a teacher and yoga technique you like, you're in good shape. Even if your teacher doesn't offer yoga vacations, he or she should be able to recommend retreats with other teachers of the same style. If not, begin to narrow it down by location. Determine what makes the most sense for your practice—and your budget. There are a seemingly endless number of options, both in the United States and abroad. What makes most sense for you? Would you be more comfortable booking a prepackaged deal that includes flight and hotel reservations, or are you willing to arrange your own accommodations to save yourself a buck or two? Will you enjoy a tropical hideaway or a mountain setting? Once you've got an idea of where you'd like to go, your search truly begins. Wherever you end up, just make sure you schedule plenty of time for yourself and your yoga...

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Some Precepts of Karma Yoga

Most religious traditions place high value on apology, forgiveness, and making amends. Yoga teaching, too, speaks to the importance of dealing ethically with others. The concept of karma tells us, in part, that our actions will come back to us. Karma yoga is the practice of selflessly putting ourselves in service to others, and part of this is trying to right the wrongs we have done. But how do we make amends if our apologies are rejected? In the sacred Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, the god Krishna tells the yogi Arjuna that it is a mistake to focus on the results of our efforts instead of on the efforts themselves: "The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquility." Put simply, the crucial point in apology is not that you're successful but that you make the effort.

Kelly McGonigal (yoga teacher/research psychologist,Stanford University) offers a four-step practice rooted in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy that can take us through the process of making amends. "First," she says, "recognize that you've done something that caused suffering or harm. Second, sit with the feeling of remorse and regret. Feel it in your body, and experience the emotions. Don't push them away or wallow in them." The third step is moving into a place of compassion for yourself as well as the person you harmed. Fueled by those compassionate feelings, we can move to the final step of setting an intention toward positive action.

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Tea Time

One of the highlights of an early morning practice usually refers to the aroma of homemade yogi tea wafting from the kitchen. Sure, you can purchase Yogi Tea bags at any health food store, but why not put some love into making it from scratch?

It’s well worth a bit of chopping and measuring for the multitude of benefits you’ll receive. Black pepper is a blood purifier; and cardamon, a digestive aid. Cloves help support the nervous system, cinnamon helps the bones, and ginger is for digestion and the immune system. Both cardamon and ginger help reduce mucus, relieve gas, stimulate agni (digestive fire), and eliminate ama (toxins). Black tea is optional. Add some soy, rice, or almond milk to assimilate the spices. You may add a touch of agave nectar, as well. Try to brew up a homemade pot of yogi tea to stash in your fridge and enjoy—warm or cool—after your practice. Also try some Tulsi tea to increase your sattvic energy. After all, the tea you drink even counts toward your overall water intake, while bringing a moment of calm to your day.

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Neem - Skin Rescue

With its long leafy branches and lotuslike flowers, the neem tree has long enjoyed a prominent place in the Ayurvedic tradition. Centuries ago, Sanskrit writings made mention of its medicinal applications, and healers in India continue to call neem the "village pharmacy" in acknowledgment of its versatile range of uses. Today, the benefits harbored in the leaves, fruits, oil, and bark of this plant are gaining recognition in the US, and we now find the ingredient in everything from toothpaste and skin cream to natural insecticides.

But do you know how exactly neem works? According to Ayurvedic medicine, the tree possesses powerful cooling energies that act as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic in cases of excess heat. "Neem can be used to treat imbalances involving fire. It's therefore most often applied in cases of excess pitta," says Mary Jo Cravatta, a chiropractor and Ayurvedic practitioner in Northern California. In Ayurvedic medicine, an imbalance in one of the three constitutions—vata, pitta, or kapha—can cause discomfort and, ultimately, disease. By putting out the excess heat of pitta, the fire element, neem prevents problems down the road.

Skin eruptions are a classic pitta problem, and in India, neem has long come to the rescue against topical fungi, viruses, and other infections. "Conditions like eczema and hives always have a heat and toxic ama [bodily waste] component," Cravatta explains. But neem can counter more serious skin problems as well, says Ellen Norten, author of 'Neem: India's Miraculous Healing Plant'. "Because neem contains antibacterial properties, it is effective in treating epidermal conditions such as septic sores, infected burns, scrofula, and ringworm." Stubborn warts even clear up with neem, she adds. A powerful blood purifier, neem is often used in Ayurvedic detoxification programs. David Frawley, author of 'Yoga and Ayurveda', explains that neem serves to clean the blood and liver at profound levels, even to the point of ridding the body of heavy metals, and should be used with discretion. "Neem would be useful for anyone about to embark on a yogic spiritual path to counter the ill-effects of old diets and toxins." Before committing to a program of internal cleansing, consult an Ayurvedic physician.

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Focus on Feet

Whether we're standing tall in Tadasana (Mountain Pose)or flexing our toes in Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose) , yoga gives us many opportunities to focus on feet. Alas, it's often the only time we do. Foot care is not something many of us find time for, and when a yoga instructor directs our attention toward our feet, we're often unpleasantly surprised. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, 80% of American adults will suffer from some kind of foot problem in their lives, and yogis are no exception. For the regular practitioner, foot problems often go unnoticed until a callus thwarts our stance in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) or foot odor becomes a source of embarrassment in class. But here's the solution - simple home remedies both treat and prevent common pediatric problems:

1. If you've ever surveyed the feet that walk through the doors of your local studio, you know that certain problems are common among yogis. Perspiration can be one of them, and it's no wonder. With 250,000 sweat glands, your feet can produce as much as eight ounces of sweat daily. To avoid slipping around on your mat, brew two black tea bags in one pint of boiled water for 15 minutes. Add two quarts of cool water and soak your feet for 20 to 30 minutes. The tannic acid in the brewed tea will change your skin's pH level and help prevent unwanted odor-causing bacteria.

2. Athlete's foot presents another big challenge. This itchy condition around the toes ranks as the most common fungal infection in the US. You can pick up the organism that causes athlete's foot almost anywhere—including shared sticky mats—so consider bringing your own to class. Geranium oil and tea tree oil both have germ- and bacteria- killing properties, making them excellent treatments. Add these oils to your own creams and powders, or look for products containing them as a key ingredient. Athlete's foot germs thrive in damp environments, so also be sure to keep your feet clean and dry, especially between the toes where moisture can get trapped.

3. While not contagious, corns and calluses cause discomfort as well. Your body produces these growths as protection against daily friction and pressure, but if they get too large, it's time to smooth and reduce them. Use a wet pumice stone to slough off extra skin, or purchase foot creams that contain ground pumice for smooth, soft feet. Also, try adding fresh or canned pineapple juice to your footbath. This tropical fruit contains bromelain, a natural enzyme that will help soften calluses and rough heels.

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Summer Meditation

During this summer, it's easy to get overloaded and miss out on the most important part of the season — connecting with others. To be loving toward your friends and family, you need to slow down. Try the meditation below, from spiritual teacher Sally Kempton, for a few minutes each day. By imagining a flame in your heart, you'll radiate loving energy from the inside out.

Sit in a comfortable upright posture. With your eyes closed, let your awareness drop into the center of your chest.

Breathe naturally and imagine your breath coming in and out through your heart. Let each inhalation caress and soften your inner heart space.

Become aware of a golden flame in the center of your chest. Your might visualize it or simply feel its warm, glowing presence.

With each inhalation, the flame glows. With each exhalation, it radiates light through the heart—front, sides, and back.

Rest your awareness gently in the flame; inhale and it glows, exhale and it radiates. Keep softening and relaxing the inner heart, spreading the glow of your inner flame throughout your body and out into the room.

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