Paula Carnegie Fehr

Yoga and its Sister Science: Ayurveda

By Paula Carnegie Fehr, YAA, Ayurveda teacher for SOYA 300 hr Upgrade.

YAA, Ayurveda teacher for SOYA 300 hr Upgrade.

It’s safe to say Yoga practice in North America has been burgeoning as our populace seeks refuge from stressful living. There is a strong drive for purpose in life and it feels like we fall short of that goal in debilitating ways. Pace of life is faster. Challenges are more complex. And the term, “First World problem” is becoming a catch phrase. Our health is becoming a major concern – not only physical, but mental. Life stressors are playing havoc with our ability to enjoy life and the urge to return to a place of balance in everyday life and in the world as a whole is becoming more pressing. This is one take on why Yoga and related practices like Ayurveda has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the West and why it is so needed at this time.

With such vast array of choices catering to the varied interests and capabilities of students, yoga can truly be practiced by everyone. As the focus widens from the exercise based experiences so prevalent today, foundational teachings of yoga are seeping into mainstream yoga studios and students are learning that yoga is more than a way to tone up and strengthen. Yoga is the means to know our true nature. The glimpses into this awareness may be only fleeting for some while others dig for deeper understanding. In their search, many are coming to hear about and incorporate Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, into their practice.

If Yoga is the means to Self-Realization, Ayurveda is the means to extend the healthy life to have more time to know the Self. Ayurveda means the Science of Longevity or the Science of Life.  It has been practiced for thousands of years and utilizes many modalities within several branches of medicine. This science is becoming known to North Americans due to the efforts of people like Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Vasant Lad, Dr. David Frawley, Dr. John Douillard – and yes, even Dr. Oz. Ironically, the origins of surgery seem to dwell in Ayurveda and its many thousand year old practices. Some of the work Dr. Oz and current day surgeons do has been described in its ancient texts.

While Yoga is now a household word, fewer people know much about Ayurveda – much less have access to its practitioners. So what is this science? Ayurveda has layers. It begins with the premise that everything is a unique blend of the basic elements of life. It uses the principles of earth, water, fire, air, and space to describe life (much like other systems including Traditional Chinese Medicine and classical medicine of Greece and Europe). When the balance of elements is kept, health and longevity ensue. When the elements go out of balance, disease develops and the higher purpose of life takes a backseat to coming back into balance. Energy is diverted into creating wellness instead of living purposefully.

The first layer of Ayurveda is simply maintaining the balance. This is done through lifestyle. Everyone can participate at this level. Once the balance is lost, another layer teaches how to detoxify and then rebuild to create homeostasis. This level requires technical training and many of its practices are banned in North America because they are deemed “invasive”. Only medical doctors are allowed to perform these techniques and very few have the interest to do so. In spite of this, some of the cleansing practices are available to be performed when taught how to do them properly. The neti pot practice is one example. If the balance of elements goes out enough and disease occurs, the next layer of Ayurveda brings in the Ayurvedic Doctor. This designation requires many years (usually 10 or more) of medical training in Ayurvedic Universities in India. While highly trained in many branches of medicine, Ayurvedic doctors do not have license to practice medicine in Canada or the US as our own medical doctors. Ayurvedic doctors use a variety of modalities including Yoga, Meditation, herbal treatments, essential oil treatments, diet, and even surgery. While not as well known or as prevalent as TCM doctors, Ayurvedic physicians are practicing in the West. They are a valuable resource for their expertise in creating health and well-being of not only body, but mind and spirit also. As the quest deepens, practitioners are becoming easier to find.

It feels like everything Yoga and Ayurveda makes its way deeper into our North American awareness with the help of celebrity, but that doesn’t detract from their value as so many are discovering. The greater challenge is fitting the principles of these life sciences into our busy everyday lives in a meaningful way. Both Yoga and Ayurveda ask us to re-evaluate how we live our lives. In this, we seem to pick and choose what we feel comfortable with doing. For many, this is enough. It serves a purpose. For others, the tip of the iceberg is only the sampler. There are many ways to explore having a longer and healthier life as we learn how to tap into our vast potential as human beings. The deeper teachings of Yoga and Ayurveda offer potential solutions to our global dilemmas should we choose to embrace them. As North Americans venture down this path, there is much to be said for living life purposefully. It takes courage to try and test these teachings to see what works and what doesn’t. As many teachers have said, “Don’t believe what I say until you experience it for yourself.” The proof is in the pudding.

Paula Carnegie Fehr is a senior teacher with the Yoga Association of Alberta and has been actively studying Ayurveda since 2003 with Ayu Academy, Dr. Vasant Lad, and Dr. David Frawley. She currently lives in Red Deer and offers Ayurveda Lifestyle consultation. Her wellness education services include massage, aromatherapy, iridology, mantra and astrology. 

Virabhadrasana 1

Five Tips For a Home Yoga Practice

By Ulrike Brandner-Lauter, SOYA500, from Vienna, Austria

Students and teachers alike enjoy attending a yoga class led by a mindful and skillful teacher and for many it is the most delicious feeling of being guided and inspired. But many students are seeking guidance for the development of a solid home practice as the base for further development and as a steady point in life while traveling or working long hours. Yoga is a great way to find some moments of relaxation and nourishment. But even experienced students find it challenging to pull the poses together by themselves.

Virabhadrasana 1For the best yoga experience the combination of studio class and home practice are a great way to develop independence and self-esteem while being carefully guided by the teacher.

There may be long essays around what a home practice might look like, but I am a stronger believer of the power of simplicity – The following five points are for me equally important, so there is no ranking at all. I try to encourage my students to find step by step very individual and beneficial routine. And I encourage my teacher colleagues to offer workshops and special theme classes to give their students tools to grow and to dive into the creative and fun process of sequencing poses in order to get a self – tailored sequence plan.

What do I need? – Trying the poses and find out what feels best?

There are tons of self-study books, online programs and CDs out there, but for the very individual needs of each and every person it is important to know what you need. For a weight lifter or runner strength is not the first goal, but for an office work it is essential to build the right muscles to sit upright and healthy all day. So first step is to answer the question: “What are the postures I enjoy most and why?” This is a great way to get a more reflected and mindful practice and to learn to know your individual needs. The next question is:  “Which poses are hard for me and why?”– Please keep in mind that the challenging poses are exactly where we should work more.

Make space! – There is a place for everyone

PadottanasanaThere are two dimensions of space – time and room – both are essential for practicing yoga.

The right room? – everywhere

In some yoga classes there are so many participants that you may hardly have more space than the size of your mat. The same space is available in almost every house, even if it is between bed and wall. It doesn’t matter where the mat is placed, the intention is important. Look for space where you can leave the mat all the time, if it’s available so may serve as a reminder.

The right time? – anytime

For some people morning is perfect, for others the evening is the better choice, plan your yoga time as you plan an appointment – as it is an appointment with yourself and your body – both are so very important.

Have a plan!

Balance PoseIt is hard to make up a new plan for every practice. That’s why yoga teachers prepare their sequence in advance and why it gives us the chance to be in the moment without the brain working hard to figure out what comes next. Even though there is always a chance to go with the flow and to add on, a basic plan is essential. Taking a note book to class might be a good idea to write down favorite poses (after the class). All SOYA trained yoga teachers prepare their classes with all six important kinds of poses in them. This is a good guideline for a personal sequence too.

Sequence structure

  • Settling – Arriving at the mat
  • Warm up
  • Sun Salutations
  • 6 kind of poses:

Forward bends – Prasarita Padottanasana/Wide angle forward bend

Back bends – Bhujangasana/Cobra pose

Inversions – Adho Muka Svanasana/Downward Dog

Twists – Matsyendrasana/Twist

Balance poses – Vrksasana/ Tree pose

Side bends – Trikonasana/Triangle pose

  • Cool down
  • Savasana – at least a few minutes

Write down what comes to your mind and if you don´t know the name of pose, just describe it. Try the sequence several times and review it. The sequence is always evolving so keep your old notes as an archive of your yoga journey.

Ask for help – offer help

For students

Pulling together a written plan may sound difficult but what about inviting yoga friends for afternoon tea and work together on sequences – more people means more ideas. Another good learning opportunity is to ask your teacher for some private classes for you and your friends for tips and alignment advice for a safe practice.

For teachers

Inquiring students are a great gift for every teacher. A workshop or workshop series to pass on insight and knowledge might be a good idea as well as semi-private classes. These are a good opportunity to talk about sequencing and help lead your students on their own yoga path. For me it is our duty as a teacher to guide our students into personal responsibility.

Enjoy it and keep going

Many students find it hard to keep their home practice going. Be kind to yourself and do it at your own pace. Sometimes there are natural breaks – if you are busy and over occupied with work at the moment make a plan when you can start your home practice again and… stick to the plan.

The home practice is meant to be relaxing, calming and healing – even if there are just a few minutes available. Just warming up and harmonizing breath with motion has a calming effect on the nervous system. Turning your cell phone off and letting family members know about your intention may help to stay focused.

Since they form the first stage of Hathayoga, asana (postures) are mentioned to begin with. Asana make one´s body and mind steady, keep one healthy and light the limbs. (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Nr. 17, Chapter I)

I wish students and teachers alike a great time with their exploration of new potentials.

UliUlrike (Uli) Brandner-Lauter is life & business coach & yoga teacher in Vienna, Austria where she also wears the hat of a business professional. She first fell in love with yoga as a young girl and was on & off the mat for 15 years till she finally stuck with  it & did her teacher training with the South Okanagan Yoga Academy (SOYA) in British Columbia (RYT 500). Ulrike (Uli) teaches Asthanga & Anusara inspired flow classes at the Feelgoodstudio in Vienna & in her hometown in Northern Austria. As a skier and mountaineer she loves to combine her passions of yoga & the outdoors. Her close connection to nature and her enthusiasm for traveling inspires her yoga practices. Through her clear & caring approach to teaching, she aims to give students tools to connect mind & body.

Warrior pose

Pain: A Story to Rewrite with Yoga

Many have experienced that yoga practices help decrease pain. Typically the answer to ‘how yoga does this’ is considered as a physiological reaction, or maybe a psychological reaction. Yet, maybe we need to consider pain from more perspectives. We share stories of students who have found their way to yoga because of pain. These stories surprise us and inspire us. We also share stories of people who have found peace, and regained movement and purpose in life through yoga. These suggest that we should consider the story of pain more broadly.

Warrior poseScientists tell us that when we feel pain, the brain has concluded that we need protection, and that we need to change our behavior. Since the pain system is a sophisticated protection system, it does so much more than create a sensation of pain. Our pains have qualities, and locations, and behaviours. They are related to changes in muscle tension, breathing, body awareness, body image, thinking, emotions, and our ability to move and interact with others. Putting this all together, we can consider that it is as if the brain has come up with a story to protect us – not just pain to protect us. The story is part of the protection. We can change the pain by changing the story. But how do we do this rewriting?

The practices of yoga provide us with the opportunity to notice if the story is playing over and over. Yoga practices allows us time to explore the story in more detail. Each time we look inward, we gain more understanding of the story. Each time we look inward we can consider the story from new points of view. And each time we look inward, we have the opportunity to rewrite the story.

Yes we can rewrite the story. And here I pause to thank my greatest teachers for my understanding of this – two of my students asked me this important question. “If pain is a story, will rewriting it change the story AND the pain?”

What story arises when you try to move in the face of pain? Does the story include changes in your breathing, your body awareness, your body image, your thinking, or emotions? And could you change the story by changing any of these body functions? Sure it might take practice, and it will definitely take persistence, but it is possible.

Let’s be perfectly clear though! This is not a story you wrote on purpose. This is a story your brain created through automatic processes to protect you. This story is real, and difficult to change.

Most pain stories include difficulties moving the body. And most include disruptions of breathing and muscle tension. For many of us when the story has continued to play for some time, it includes changes in our feelings of competence, difficulties in letting go of tension, being out of balance in life, being disconnected from our life’s purpose, or feeling less courageous than usual. These can all be part of the story created by the brain to protect us. And as such, if we direct our yoga practices towards these, we can rewrite the story.

Yoga allows us a safe place and gentle practices to explore our pain story. Yoga allows us to rewrite our stories – a little at a time. We can change how our breathing, and muscle tension, and mind, and heart respond to movement. And each time we do this, the story shifts away from a tragedy, towards the happy ending we desire.

NeilUpcoming workshops with Neil are May 22-24 Cranbrook, Oct 2-4 Semperviva Vancouver, Oct 23-25 Saskatoon, Oct 30 – Nov 1 – Calgary, Nov 21-23 White Rock.Neil is founder and director of Neil Pearson Physiotherapist Corporation, which operates as life is now. He works clinically in Penticton, BC and teaches internationally providing the knowledge and tools for effective pain self-management throughout physiotherapy and therapeutic yoga. Neil received the 2012 Excellence in Interprofessional Pain Education award. He has created the Pain Self-Management video series which you can find at