Integrating Yoga with Martial Arts

Integrating Yoga with Martial Arts

A student recently asked some questions regarding the integrating yoga with martial arts. To answer these questions in the best way possible, we asked our SOYA Teacher Trainer in Pitt Meadows, who does just that! She has been practicing yoga for more than 40 years, and karate for 23 years. Here is how Dorothy Fizzell has responded to these questions.

Is anyone practicing both yoga and martial arts willing share their experiences on what is similar or different? 

I started yoga in about 1974 when I was at university and wanted a “cheap” form of exercise that I could do on my own. I started karate in 1995, after watching my then 9 year old son in his karate class. I had been looking for a form of aerobic exercise that had some “meaning”, rather than doing just aerobics or some other form of exercise.  Little did I know how both practises, yoga and karate, would play a huge role in developing who I am!

When I started karate, I kept yoga and karate completely separate as I thought they were two very different things.  I actually started karate training the same month that I began my SOYA 500 hour teacher training with Mugs.  This same month my mother passed away at a relatively young age.  These seemingly different experiences are so interrelated and have changed my life.

For me, I do not believe that I could have kept up the karate training at the beginning if I had not been practicing yoga.  Physically, both are similar in that you work at strengthening, flexibility, efficient movement, coordinating the breath with movement, body awareness etc. Karate is much more intense, fast and involves being able to disable or take down opponents who are attacking you.  But the intensity of holding poses, breath control, focus, body alignment in yoga helped immensely.

The style of karate I practice, Chito Ryu, also has a huge component of learning about the Self, by directing energy, meditating, and being able to defend yourself while at the same time remaining peaceful.  We have a Japanese word, reigisaho, which translated means “manners and etiquette”, but it also involves being aware of those around you, taking care of other’s needs (even before they know they have a need!), being humble, being kind, respectful and caring for the community.  We mediate twice – once before and once after every class – in order to bring together our learning, to connect with the energy of ourselves and the Universe, to prepare and to be at peace.

Has yoga influenced eastern martial arts?

Historically yoga has connections with Hinduism for sure, and yes, martial arts can be used for very violent purposes.  However, my understanding is that Indian martial arts as well as the concepts of Hinduism and yoga have influenced all other martial arts systems. There are monks who practice martial arts. Apparently one section of the Yajur Veda has references to martial arts, known as Dhanuraveda. Some classical Indian hand mudras have been incorporated into martial.

To me, the yamas and niyamas of yoga are equivalent to many aspects of reigisaho – that is, no violence, no stealing, having focus, having discipline, being open, not being greedy, constantly learning, and being selfless.  To me, practicing yoga and martial arts is about improving my physical, mental and spiritual health.  I have been very fortunate with my karate teachers or Senseis, and they remind me at times to “Bring your yoga into this Dorothy.” They have allowed me to teach yoga to karate students.

There are also many similarities in yoga asanas and karate positions. Here are some examples:


Integrating Yoga with Martial Arts

Once in Penticton, my Sensei asked me to lead savasana at the end of the training. We trained in a noisy community centre gym under fluorescent lights, with people coming and going, and everyone’s adrenalin surging after an intense class.  As I guided them through the savasana, almost everyone in the class (35-40 students from 12 years up to older adults) became still, relaxed and open. Everyone’s energy synchronized and became at peace, and the group stayed for a good 10 minutes.  It was quite remarkable!  I had a couple of students who had no experience in yoga at all tell me it was an amazing experience.How are yoga students practicing martial arts viewed?

How do yoga gurus feel or respond to their philosophy being incorporated into martial arts?   

A few years ago we visited Kumamoto to practice with the head of our karate style and we visited the sacred location of Musashi. A very famous Samurai who lived to an old age – meaning he was an expert and violent fighter – lived at this location. He sat and meditated for years, and wrote a famous book called the “Book of Five Rings”.  In this book are techniques for being an excellent Samarai, and many of it is about meditation, being peaceful, caring for your community and making it beautiful (eg calligraphy). There are also two huge Samarai statues at this location; one with his mouth closed, and one with it open.  One of the senior Senseis explained to me that one was saying “AH” and the other was saying “MM”; in other words, AUM!

I believe we are all spiritual beings, who in different places have developed different ways to become more in touch with our spiritual side in this physical world, and over time, many of these ways have touched, mixed and become something new.  I am not sure we can draw a clear line between the lineages of yoga and those of martial arts – it is more like a tapestry of styles and ideas that come together in beautiful patterns and colours.

We have a ‘mantra’ which we say out loud in Japanese, every karate class:

We who study Chito Ryu karate shall never forget the spirit of the Samurai;

With peace (or harmony), perseverance (or dedication) and hard work (or smart work),

We shall reach our goals.

So, at times, yes, I hit a glitch that feels like a contradiction, but both yoga and karate are ways to become connected with your inner Self and with the Universal energy, God if you prefer.  There are those who say that yoga and/or karate is going against Christian beliefs, but again as one brought up in the United Church, I find it is parallel and there is no conflict. I do not believe anything I have done in either practice contradicts the Christian values I have and in fact they have clarified and emphasized them for me.  I don’t believe yoga and martial arts contradict each other and in fact they complement and enhance each other. I think each practice can assist with the other one – they are both about connection with the body, mind and spirit.  There are those who will say that yoga is about peace and karate is about violence, but my experience has not been that.

These are some random thoughts giving you my perspective of my practice.  I am passionate about both yoga and karate, and have integrated aspects of both into everything I do.  If you have other questions or comments please message me back.  Hope this helps with your inquiries!

Dorothy Fizzell, E-RYT500, IYTA, SOYA, is leading the SOYA 200 hour training with Jools Andres in Pitt Meadows this Aug-Dec, 2018. For more information on this training or to contact her, go to .

Neti Pot

Neti pot


As spring arrives and the plants come into flower, pollens can begin to play havoc with allergies and sinuses. Spring colds and flus start spreading around as well. The yogic cleansing practice of “Neti” is a perfect first defense.

Neti, or nasal irrigation, is an ancient practice done by Hatha yogis.  The sinuses often become blocked or congested, causing problems such as nasal congestion, headaches, ear infections, and sore throats.  Since yogis are always concerned with maintaining a healthy body, the cleaning of the sinuses through nasal irrigation has been adopted into their daily hygiene.

Dr. Thomas Schmidt, a Doctor of Internal Medicine, performed a research study on the benefits of Neti in reducing the affects of the common cold and other airborne viruses. Dr. Schmidt conducted research over 5 years on the effects of “Jal Neti, or nasal irrigation using water and a Neti pot.  He had 115 soldiers in the study. Some were a simply a control group who did not practice Neti at all, while the others practiced neti on an average of one time per day.  Some did it two times a day, and the time varied between am and pm.  The soldiers kept a diary on how they did Neti and how often.  Each soldier had a check-up at the beginning of the study, at the end of the 1st month, and at the end of the 3 month course. At the end of the study, research showed that days missed from work dropped by 70% for the group that practiced Jal Neti daily. [i]  Why? Here is how Dr. Schmidt explained it.

Nasal mucous membranes have one layer of cells with cilia.  On this is a film of liquid.  One phase of this liquid is like mucous, and the other is like water.  The cilia move like a whip in the water layer, moving a constant flow down to the throat.  The same action is occurring in the lungs, only going upwards.  The sinuses bring this liquid to the nose, where it can be drained.  This protects the body by moving germs away from the cells.

The cilia are sensitive to many effects.  They become less effective in removing germs when they become too cold, too hot, too dry, too moist, too dusty, etc.  Temperature change affects the cilia as well. Gardening and breathing in the dust can laden the cilia with dirt. The first thing a virus does is stop the cilia from working, so they can no longer make the whipping action. It only takes 6 hours for a virus to take hold, and then a virus can infect the cell.  If a cell loses its cilia it takes two weeks to regenerate it.  All this leaves us vulnerable to the common cold and flu.

By performing Neti regularly, it helps the normal flow of cilia, normal flushing and cleansing. Neti works as a defense to keep the cilia functioning when a virus is trying to disable them. This helps to reduce the frequency of colds as well as lower the secondary effects (flu, pneumonia, tonsillitis, ear infections, etc).  Neti can also reduce the length of a cold if it does take place.  If you are exposed to a virus, Dr. Schmidt suggests you do Neti three times a day so the virus doesn’t have 6 hours to infect your cells.  Otherwise, doing Neti once a day should keep the cilia healthy and functioning well.

Many allergy and respiratory clinics use “nasal irrigation” as a standard treatment for people suffering from chronic problems with the nose and ears, headaches, and blocked sinuses. They may not use a Neti pot, but there are nasal sprays, and also a technique to “slowly sniff from a bowl a small amount of mixture (warm water with baking soda and salt) through one nostril at a time, pulling the water in through the nose and out the mouth”.   They recommend this practice twice a day to start, and once the sinuses start to clear, reduce to once a day.  Not only that, one clinic says, “Once you get onto this technique, often it is the only treatment you need to keep your sinuses and upper airways clear.”

Dr. Schmidt recommends using a ¼ tsp of baking soda to ½ a tsp of sea salt to 2 cups of lukewarm water (body temperature). Ideally, you want the solution to match the salinity of your body, or to taste like your tears. The salt makes it so your body does not try to absorb the water, and the baking soda helps it to match the PH of your body. You may need to adjust the amounts of salt and baking soda up or down until you find the comfortable amount.


Fill the Neti pot with the salt, baking soda and water solution. Mix well. Insert the spout into the right nostril and tip your head to the left.  The water will pour into your right nostril and come out the left nostril. Be sure to have your mouth slightly open to prevent an air lock. Let the water flow until about ½ the solution is gone, or less if it is too uncomfortable.  Blow your nose gently and repeat on the other side.

Any stinging sensations will disappear with regular practice.  You may also find discomfort being reduced by not doing Neti first thing in the morning – give the sinuses an hour or so to clear after waking.


Neti Pots are available from most drug stores and yoga studios. Be sure to measure how much water your Neti pot holds in order to adjust the amount of baking soda and salt to match. Many Neti pots are small and hold less than 1 cup of water so you want to adjust accordingly.

Here is a little video to see how Neti is done. They only use salt in the water, but I do recommend the baking soda as it really makes it a smooth experience without stinging.

I do my Neti in the shower daily. It has become a regular part of my daily hygiene.

Caution:  It is advised that this practice be learned with a teacher.  One may need assistance with the position of the head in order to avoid water entering the wind pipe.  If you feel water going down the throat, drop the chin more forward and down.  If you feel water going into the ear, reduce the angle of your head.

MugsMugs McConnell will be leading a workshop in Calgary May 26th and 27th at Hillhurst United Church, and May 28th at Yoga MCC for the Yoga Association of Alberta. She will also lead the SOYA 200 hour yoga teacher training in Calgary this coming July.

[i] The participation in Dr. Schmidt’s research study is as follows.

39 soldiers performed neti……………27 completed the 3 month course

76 were a control group………………61 completed the 3 month course

TOTAL 115 BEGAN                                        TOTAL 88 COMPLETED

The following table shows the results of Dr. Schmidt’s research:

 Days of Disease (cold and flu symptoms) resulting in days off duty

First Month                                        Third Month                        Total at Completion

Neti group                            .51 per person                                     0 per person                         .51 per person

Control group                       .82 per person                                     .96 per person                       1.78 per person


Yoga for your Eyes

Yoga for your Eyes

Yoga for your eyes is important as we use our eyes throughout our days; for work and play.  Keeping them focused and fixed for long periods of time on a computer screen, a highway, the television or reading a book causes strain.  This also limits our peripheral vision; some of the muscles in the eyes become strong and others lose their integrity.  If there is tension, then even a short period of reading can strain the eyes.

There are a wide variety of “asanas” for the eyes. The asanas help to neutralize eyestrain and teach us the correct use of all our eye muscles. When we gently and regularly move the eyes in all directions giving them a gentle massage, the six muscles that hold and allow the eyes to move in specific directions are strengthened.  Even the effects of aging can be lessened with these simple movements.  It is one of the easy stress management techniques that can be done anywhere.  Below are a few examples of what you can practice.

Contraindications to Practicing Asanas for the Eyes:  These exercises are not recommended for those with eye diseases or disorders such as glaucoma, trachoma, cataract, retinal detachment, retinal artery or vein thrombosis, iritis, keratitis or conjunctivitis. If you have these you should only perform yoga practices after consulting their eye specialist.  When practicing, the eyes should be relaxed along with the facial muscles, eyebrows and eyelids.  After each exercise the eyes should be closed for 30 seconds. The practice of palming may be performed at this time. Glasses or contacts should NOT be worn.

  1. Experiential Exercise – Eyes on the Sides of your Head

Stand in Tadasana with arms at hips.  Balance effort with relaxation as you press your feet into the floor and lift your chest.  Keep your breath smooth and release any gripping in your shoulders and neck.  Look straight ahead.  After a few seconds, imagine that you have eyes on your temples that can see out to the sides.  As you breathe, try to perceive what those eyes would be seeing.  Don’t pull the images toward you; just let them passively seep in.  If you feel a wave of relaxation come over you with this exercise, it’s likely you are holding tension in your eyes and facial muscles all day long.



  1. Palming Benefits: Palming is a relaxing, alpha producing exercise in Yoga for your Eyeswhich heat produced is used to soothe the eyes. Palming relaxes and revitalizes the eye muscles and the entire nervous system. Benefits are enhanced if practiced in front of the rising or setting sun.  Never look directly at the sun except for a few initial moments when it is just rising or setting.


Usually this is done while seated. Your elbows should be supported (either on a table in front of you or on a thick cushion or two in your lap).  It is recommended to remove all rings and watches and wash hands before beginning.

  1. Briskly rub your palms together until you feel warmth, charging them with energy.
  2. Cup your hands over your eyes so that your palms directly cover your closed eyelids (with no pressure on eyes).
  3. Heels of hands rest lightly on the cheekbones and fingers on the forehead. All light is excluded.
  4. Concentrate on relaxing your eyelids and releasing all tension held in them.
  5. Relax any undue tension in the muscles of the face, neck, shoulders or the rest of body.
  6. Recommended to hold for 4-5 minutes. Repeat 3-5 times in succession. This can form a daily practice.
  7. When time does not permit a longer practice, this can be done at any time. Even a few moments can keep the eyes refreshed and the mind relaxed.
  8. Visualize darkness and blackness. Pay attention to your breath. Notice how the body expands on the inhalation and shrinks on the exhalation. Go through all body parts from head to toe as you continue palming.
  9. Front and Sideways Viewing Benefits: Improves coordination of medial and lateral muscles.

In Dandasana, raise the R arm out to the side at shoulder level, keeping it straight and point the thumb upward. The thumb should just be in peripheral vision if looking straight ahead. The L arm is relaxed with the hand on the L thigh, and the thumb up.  Without moving the head, focus the eyes on the following, one after the other.  Inhale neutral position; exhale and look down at the L thumb; inhale and look up at the right thumb.

  1. Left thumb.
  2. Right thumb.
  3. Left thumb.
  4. Repeat this cycle 15-20 times. Close and rest eyes.
  5. Repeat on other side, holding the L arm out to the side and resting the R arm on the thigh.
  6. Close and rest eyes. Perform palming here for several repetitions when finished.

Modification:  If the arm tires, rest on two stacked bolsters.

  1. Up and Down Viewing Benefits: Balances upper and lower eyeball muscles.

 In Dandasana, make tight fists with thumb extended of both hands.  Keeping the arms straight, slowing raise the R thumb while following the motion of the thumb with the eyes. When the thumb is raised to the maximum, slowly return it to the thigh, all the time focusing on the thumb without moving the head.  Repeat with L arm.  Inhale while raising eyes and exhale while lowering eyes.  Repeat 5 times each side.  Close and rest the eyes. Perform palming for several repetitions.

Helen Mikuska is a lead trainer for SOYA’s 200 hour yoga teacher training held in Calgary this July.

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Temple Tour


Travelling to India for a temple tour alone at age 74!

My trip to India for a temple tour was a bit as I had imagined it, and quite a bit more. I had so many ideas and so much advice given to me before I left that it made my trip more secure, comfortable, and enjoyable.

I started my journey on my own. I arrived in the birth village of Krishna – Vrindavan. It could not have been a better choice. Right away I was steeped in the intense spirituality of the place.

Temple tourAnd there I met a couple of Krishna devotees that took me to Rishikesh and Haridwar. They were wonderful companions and guides. They arranged my plane tickets to Varanasi and Chennai. I stayed in “Home Stays” where I got to meet the families and made friends with them. I visited temples, walked the gats, and assisted in arati ceremonies along the Ganges.

The Ganges is so alive. I never felt her as unclean as people think she is. To me she was pure and crystalline… I did not drink her water though, just in case. Visiting a waterfall, I felt the water coming through Shiva’s hair, falling on my feet, and refreshing me.

Temple tourI arrived to Chennai where an Uber!!! taxi took me to the hotel to meet Helen and Bev. And there started our extensive tour of Tamil Nadu’s temples. Helen did an extraordinary job preparing a very rich itinerary. We did mantra practices to the gods and goddess for each temple, spending a little time at every stop. We visited big and small temples, and we all agreed we preferred the smaller, more intimate ones. I learned quite a bit about new forms of God, especially relating to the planets. This trip opened new avenues of fascinating studies, and many more ways to worship God in His infinite forms. I owe a debt of gratitude to Helen.

After I left the tour with Helen I headed to Pondicherry, where I got to meet with Dr. Ananda. He gave me a tour of his ashram and the following day he invited me to the teaching hospital where he is instituting a section of yoga therapy into the hospital. I even assisted in part of a yoga class given to patients and staff. I was so moved by his kind invitation and the time he dedicated to me. I would love to register for the yoga therapy course given there…may be one day!

And there I am brimming with emotion, flavors and colors of this extraordinary trip. Lots of love, Latika

Latika (Pierrette Claude) is a SOYA teacher (E-RYT500) who is passionate about the philosophy of yoga and what it offers us. She will be leading the philosophy studies at the SOYA 200 hour yoga teacher training in Mexico this November.


Viparita Dandasana: Supported Straight Rod Pose

Viparita Dandasana: Supported Straight Rod Pose. Feeling a bit tired after a long day of activity? Viparita Dandasana creates mobility in spine and shoulders, releases tension in diaphragm, and increases circulation throughout adrenal and thyroid glands. As a side note, it counteracts depression and mood swings while it relieves fatigue.

Please note, if you are suffering from a migraine or undergoing chemotherapy, Viparita Dandasana is not recommended.

Required Props for Viparita Dandasana:

  1. Two Rectangular Bolsters (One Horizontal/One Vertical).
  2. Four Foam Blocks.
  3. Five Blankets.
  4. Two Chip Foam Blocks.
  5. Yoga Strap.
  6. Elastic to fit your feet.

PropsMethod for Viparita Dandasana:

  • Place two vertical foam blocks together at the wall.
  • Place one rectangular bolster horizontal across the middle of the mat.
  • Place a second bolster vertical on top of it with the widest and a foam block under each end of the vertical bolster for support.
  • In front of the vertical bolster (the end away from the wall) place two narrowly folded vertical blankets. Ahead of these stack 1-2 foam blocks with a folded blanket on top of them.
  • Have 2 folded blankets on each side of your mat for your hands to rest on. Now you are set up!
  • Apply a strap to your mid-thighs to hold thighs in place.
  • Apply a toe elastic to each big toe to hold your ankles in place
  • Recline into the pose as shown above, with your feet against the wall.
  • Make sure your shoulders fall off the bolster onto the blankets.

 Modification #1:  If you have back pain, then raise the height of your heels by stacking two more foam blocks under the heels. Still pain? Then add another two foam blocks to the stack.

Modification #2:  If you have neck pain, then place another folded blanket under your head. The spine should be effortlessly in a concave position thanks to the support of the bolster and blankets.

By Helen Mikuska, SOYA, E-RYT500


Understanding Contentment

Dr Ananda offers insights into understanding contentment from a yogic point of view. Unexcelled ease and bliss awaits those who manifest the virtue of contentment.

Reprinted with permission.

Santoshdanuttamah sukhalabhah (Unexcelled ease and bliss awaits those who manifest the virtue of contentment)- Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras II:42

Santosha is contentment. When one achieves that “state” of contented oneness, unexcelled ease and bliss is the reward. Un‑ease and non‑bliss are the result of dichotomy, division, duality. Oneness is contentment.

If we are able to be content with whatever we havephysically, emotionally, mentally, spirituallywe will be at ease (sukha) with ourselves, wherever we are. This is not the contentment of a tamasica nature. Tamasica contentment is for those who do not do anything (or those clever enough to have someone else do it for them). The rajasica contentment is the quality of those who seek recognition. The sattwica contentment is of those who act without showing that they are doing. From the outside the sattwica sadhaka looks as though they are not doing anything at all. The extremes seem to the external, superficial view to be the same. Both the tamasica and the sattwica approach towards santosham may look the same (as they are not seen doing anything) but the sattwica are acting without seeming to act and thereby attain santosha. Contentment is not complacency or stagnation. Those stuck in a comfortable rut are not experiencing santosham. They are simply sleep‑walking through life. True santosham is vitally awake and alert.

Unexcelled joy comes when one is at peace with oneself and totally at ease. When we are content with whatever we get, we get everything we need. Dichotomy and duality disappear in contentment as one becomes the Universe. If we are united at the universal level, at one with the cosmos, then everything and everyone in the cosmos is “us” and we possess all. What is there to gain? What is there to lose in such a state? Hence, supreme contentment ensues. When the Divine knows that we are not after anything, it will give us everything.

Why do people want a degree, a job, a wife, children, a house, a car? Because they believe such things will bring happiness. But, they make a drastic mistake. These desires only feed discontent and fear. Discontent comes because the object does not bring the happiness we sought! Fear comes because we are afraid we may lose what we have gained. The moment we realize that we can have happiness with whatever we get, we get all. Interestingly in the Dravidian Tamil language, santosham also means happiness.

Discontent is a synonym for unhappiness.

As my beloved Swamiji said, “You do not have a problem, you are the problem!” When we help ourself by ourself, we no longer have problems and experience contentment.

Discontent is being cultivated by modern advertising media and the business interests. This is also true in the world of yoga. Instead of saying “Yoga will solve all your problems” one should say “Yoga can help you cope better with your condition”. This is more correct. Otherwise, one only feeds more and more discontent. In the world of yoga today the market is for gadgets: mats, straps, bricks, belts and trendy toys. What nonsense! If you do not have the right gadgets you cannot practice yoga! Isn’t that the most absurd thing you have ever heard? Contentment is being able to say with honest feeling, “I know I have got enough”.

Santosham is the inner attitude of being content with who we are, where we are and with every life situation we face. This is the key to tuning into anandamaya kosha, the universal blissful existence. Think about the concept of nishkama, as espoused by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: do not be attached to the fruits of the action but only concentrate on making the best effort. Let go of the results. Why do we do things? If it is in anticipation and expectation of the result, we will never be content. The curse of discontentment will follow us like a dark shadow until we wake up to the reality of love and life. The truth is that: everything we need will be given to us when we are ready for it.

When we live in contentment, we will be able to fulfill our dharma, as we will be able to live as ourselves.

Do things out of love. Do them out of profound and deep spiritual interest. Do not be motivated by limited and mundane material interest. One’s life will then be blessed every moment by santosha.

Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani is presenting at the SOYA Annual Retreat June 1-3, 2018 at Sorrento BC.  He is a Certified Yoga Therapist with IAYT, the Director of CYTER, and the Chairman of ICYER at Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, India.

Hindu Trinity

Kumbhak Pranayama with Bhavana

Practicing kumbhak pranayama with bhavana is a technique of loving kindness, where we develop a mental attitude that is rooted in compassion and love toward ourselves and others. Love is the ultimate expression of God, the Creator. Bhavana means “concentrated thought,” or a loving mental attitude focused on God.

This technique on page 68 in my book, Letters from the Yoga Masters, is from Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam. It assists us in developing this loving kindness through concentrated thought, focusing the mind and extending love to the gods of the holy Hindu trinity. If one prefers, substitute another aspect of God to fit your personal spiritual path.

Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam described this technique as follows:

Indian Sadhaks generally think Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—the Gods of Trinity. When they practice these pranayam, with inhale they think Brahma, the Creator, whose colour is like Fire. Fire is the symbol of Creation.

When they retain the air (Kumbhak), they think Vishnu, the Preserving Deity, whose colour is Blue. Blue is symbol of Infinite.

When the air exhaled, they think Shiva, the Deity of Destruction, whose colour is white.

Bhavana of Brahma should be in navel region, Bhavana of Vishnu in heart region, Bhavana of Shiva in forehead region or Bhrumadhya.[i]

The Hindu Holy Trinity: Right is Shiva, Centre is Brahma, Left is Vishnu.

Hindu Trinity

Pranayama can sometimes cause one to feel anxiousness, so be gentle with yourself. It is easier at first to break this pranayama down into stages. You can use a gentle sukha purvak (alternate nostril) breathing, or breathe through both nostrils (in the technique described below I am using sukha purvak). Simply watch the breath in the process, without controlling it. Let the breathing just happen. Practice with a concentrated mind, feeling loving peace extended toward the sacred within yourself.


Begin with a few rounds of gentle sukha purvak (alternate nostril) breathing until your mind and body relax.

 Using Vishnu mudra to seal the right nostril. Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly bring your attention to the solar plexus or manipura chakra.

Close both nostrils and retain the breath briefly while loving bringing your attention to the heart region, the anahata chakra.

Open the right nostril and exhale slowly through it, and lovingly bring your attention to the space between the brows, the ajna chakra.

Now inhale slowly through the right nostril and lovingly bring your attention to the solar plexus at the manipura chakra.

Close both nostrils and retain the breath briefly and lovingly bring your attention to the heart at the anahata chakra.

Open the left nostril and exhale slowly through it, and lovingly bring your attention to the space between the brows, the ajna chakra.

Now let’s add to this technique using the same pattern of breathing, alternating between nostrils:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly expand the colour red like fire at manipura chakra. This is where the personality resides.

Retain the breath briefly and lovingly expand the colour blue at the anahata chakra. This is where the soul resides.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril, and lovingly expand the colour white at the ajna chakra. This is where the personality and the soul merge as one.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril.

Adding further to the technique, we bring in the holy Hindu Trinity, representing the cycle of creation, preservation and transformation, which all manifestation experiences:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly think of Brahma, the creator of all. Sense all of creation around you.

Retain the breath briefly and lovingly think of Vishnu, becoming aware of all that you preserve in your life.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril and lovingly think of Siva, the destroyer, who removes and transforms all that is no longer needed in your life. Feel yourself lovingly letting go as you exhale.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril.

Putting it all together now:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril red flowing prana to the manipura chakra. Lovingly think of Brahma, the creator. Create and expand your loving, compassionate personality.

Retain the breath briefly with Vishnu at the heart, expanding the colour blue at the anahata chakra where your soul resides. Lovingly think of Vishnu, preserving your infinite soul and all that is good within you and around you.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril the colour white from the ajna chakra. Lovingly think of Siva, transforming the personality as it merges with the soul as One.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril. Continue doing as many rounds as you feel comfortable with.

This technique engages the mind, so it does not wander or become distracted. The purpose is to connect the heart and mind through focused attention. Pure love is extended for each of these aspects in one’s life—creation, preservation, and letting go of that which is no longer needed. It is very purifying, and it helps us to accept this natural flow of creation, preservation, and destruction as it occurs in all things manifested, including our personal lives.

MugsMARION (MUGS) MCCONNELL is a founder of SOYA and published author of her book, Letters from the Yoga Masters. She will be leading a workshop in Ft McMurray in April, Calgary in May and the SOYA Yoga teacher training in Calgary in July. This article is reprinted from her book with permission from North Atlantic Books.

[i] Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam, Shivananda Yogashram, 471 Netaji Colony, Calcutta, 50, India, Letter to My dear Dickman, April 4, 1966, p.6.


Honouring the Culture of Yoga

A yoga teacher training that includes teachings beyond asana

by Mugs McConnell

Seeking out a yoga teacher training must be one of the most confusing things to do for a yoga student. Most people who desire to become a yoga teacher do so because of the great benefits and joy they have experienced in a yoga asana class. However, there is so much more to yoga, and if only asana is taught, then, in my opinion, we are not honouring the culture and history of yoga. Sadly, the student is being shortchanged on what they could and should be exposed to.

If you really want to learn to teach yoga, it is important to understand that asana is only one aspect, and by far not the most important.  Patanjali and several other classical figures of yoga teach us that there are 8 important limbs of yoga. A yoga teacher should not only know about these 8 limbs, but be rooted in their practices and able to teach them with skill and expertise.Kriyas

There are 8 limbs of Yoga

  • Yamas & Niyamas are the first two, which are the ethics or the ten commandments of yoga. They are the foundation for your behaviours – things you should do and things you shouldn’t, if you really want to be a practicing yogi. Things like telling the truth, not stealing, cleanliness, and practicing contentment. There’s more, but this gives you the idea.
  • Here is where Asana comes in; your stable seat. Being comfortable in your body so you can enjoy health and movement with good circulation, and to sit comfortably for the other, deeper practices.
  • Pranayama or control of the life force through breathing techniques. Even though our breathing happens without us thinking about it, we can benefit hugely by paying attention and making use of our lung capacity. There are many practices that play a key role in raising our consciousness to the higher states that we haven’t even thought of, but the yoga masters have known this for centuries!
  • Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses… our senses draw us outward and away from our inner self. Here we learn to turn inward, away from sensual distractions, even for a moment. There are very easy practices, like yoga nidra, that help one to achieve pratyahara. A yoga teacher should be able to guide the students through this very important bridge to your beautiful spirit within.
  • Dharana, or concentration, includes practices like gazing at the candle flame, or a flower. These techniques help to tame the mind and become focused. A wandering mind will struggle with communication, listening, and being present.
  • Dhyana or meditation is a deepening of concentration where one experiences spaces between thoughts, where the real meaning of yoga or union begins. Here in these spaces of thoughtlessness is a sublime peace that cannot easily be described, but is far from empty, and very attainable. There are many techniques that help us to move into these spaces of silence, including mudras and japa and visualizations.
  • Samadhi, nirvana, or enlightenment at last…. A place of true unconditional bliss, not tied to the pleasures and pains of this world. This is a very healing state of being and comes as a result of practicing well all the other limbs.

MeditationKnowing about these practices is one thing, but knowing how to do them and to teach them is more important for a yoga teacher. In the classical yoga texts it remind us that we can do all the reading we want, but unless we put these into practice it means very little on the path of yoga.

The students in your asana classes don’t need to know all these practices, but very often you will find they want to!  It will serve you well to be well versed in these techniques. Then you can taper classes to suit the needs of a variety of students; such as those who want athletic yoga, those who want a spiritual yoga and those who need to breathe more effectively.

The 5 main paths of yoga

Let’s add to this vast abundance of yoga knowledge the fact that there are 5 main pathways of yoga! These are the yoga of compassion and love (bhakti yoga), the yoga of the mind and meditation (raja yoga), the yoga of wisdom (Jnana yoga) and the yoga of selfless action (karma yoga). Then there is the yoga of the body – Hatha yoga – the youngest of them all.

Being well educated as a yoga teacher allows you to still favour the hatha yoga asanas you love! These other limbs will enhance your hatha yoga practice greatly. As you learn more about the other limbs and pathways of yoga, they too will be enhanced by each other. And oh, there is so much more!

Most of your highly respected “rock star” yogis of today did their homework. They are well trained, dedicated teachers with a strong knowledge of yoga beyond asana. You deserve to get that kind of training too, so you get all the pieces of the puzzle. It doesn’t matter what the minimum standard is for a teacher training – set your own standard and do your homework to investigate, like you would if you were choosing a University to attend. Take advantage of the gift of these teachings that the yogis of the past have shared so generously with us, and find a teacher trainer who can really teach them.

I for one believe yoga is life-changing. All the gifts that yoga has to offer have given me a life map. After 45 years of yoga, 40 of those as a teacher, I wouldn’t have lived it any other way. By finding teachers who know the teachings and share them willingly made all the difference,. These beautiful techniques of Yoga have enhanced my faith, increased my confidence, and helped me find my voice. I hope it offers you the same.


Mugs McConnell is leading a RYT 200 hour yoga teacher training in Calgary Alberta July 4-19th. She has been practicing yoga for 45 years and teaching for 40 years as a classically trained teacher.  She is a published author of the highly acclaimed book “Letters from the Yoga Masters”, containing classical teachings passed on to us through the masters of the past.  To learn more about her and her book and workshops or trainings visit


Chandra Mantras: “Om Chandraya Namaha!”

Chandra is known as the Moon; the cosmic feminine force and the giver of delight.  The Moon represents the feminine, whereas the Sun is the masculine. The feminine is personified through the three goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kali or Parvati. They portray the three complementary aspects of lunar energy to the masculine energies of Brahma (creative), Vishnu (preservative) and Siva (transformative).

The planetary deity  Chandra is propitiated through increasing mental health and peace of mind. The esoteric result is intuition, spiritual acuity, the understanding of weather phenomena, and dreams.

Chandra rules over our emotions, feelings and creativity.  Since the moon rules over the water element and the soma nectar, physiological associations are fluids in the body such as saliva, perspiration, and other secreting functions, the lymphatic drainage, the sympathetic system, the digestive system, the pancreas, and the female reproductive system. It deals with the elimination and assimilation of nutrition, and the overall protection of the organism.

The moon has many different names relative to her different qualities and actions. If you would like to learn some of these names, join me in a mantra workshop dedicated to Chandra, the Divine feminine.  These mantras help to develop peace, faith, receptivity and surrender.  We will practice the mantras related to the Moon Salutation (Chandra Namaskar), and conclude the class with a Moon Meditation.

By Helen Mikuska, E-RYT500 in Calgary, AB

Friday, February 16th ~ 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Harmony Yoga Pilates Studio, Calgary  $25.00 (incl. gst)

For information please contact Helen at or phone (403) 809-1402.

 200hr immersion Calgary, AlbertaHelen Mikuska is an E-RYT500 and certified mantra teacher is a lead trainer for SOYA yoga teacher training in Calgary, Alberta, July 4-19, 2018. 

Information in this article is summarized from:

Dr. David Frawley; Ayurvedic Astrology: Self-Healing through the Stars.  Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press. (2010). 

Thomas Ashley-Farrand (Namadeva Acharya).  The Ancient Power of Sanskrit Mantra and Ceremony, Second Edition, Volume II.  Pasadena, CA: Saraswati Publications. (2002).

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Yoga and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Early November, I woke up with a sinking feeling and an aversion to participating with life.  My old friend Seasonal Affective Disorder, (S.A.D) was back. It has hit me every year for as long as I can remember. I can’t wake up fully, I withdraw from social activities and basically move through my day with a low level despair. For many years, I set my life up to travel for the winter months but that’s not in the cards this year. As days of grey increased, so did my anxiety about surviving the winter.  My solution is to address it from all angles: light therapy, supplements, affirmation/mantra and S.A.D specific yoga.

Many articles suggest S.A.D has to do with an increased production of melatonin (what makes you sleepy) and a decrease in serotonin (what makes you happy). The pineal gland is involved in the regulation of serotonin and melatonin and the stimulation of the pineal gland will be at the core of my S.A.D specific yoga.  Here are a couple of practices you can include at home if you too are needing some support with your mood this time of year.

Tratak: steady uninterrupted gaze

Sit in front of a candle in a dark room (or stare at a point tip or a black dot) that is approximately 20inches from your eyes. Gaze at it for as long as you can without blinking. When you must, do so, and then start the gaze meditation again. Set a timer for as many minutes as you can sit for. This technique improves memory and concentration and stimulates the pineal gland.

Half Sun Salutation

Synchronizing breath with movement (i.e.: Cat-Cow) regulates the functioning of the entire endocrine system. And is an awesome way to start your day.

  1. Start in Mountain Pose
  2. Inhale, raise your arms overhead
  3. Exhale fold forward towards the floor
  4. Inhale, raise your back level with the floor
  5. Exhale, fold again towards the floor
  6. Inhale, rise to standing and extend your arms overhead
  7. Exhale rest your arms to your sides.

Other poses that may be helpful are Shoulderstand and Fish Pose, spinal twists and Headstand variations (consult an instructor for help with these as they aren’t suitable for everyone’s bodies).

Yoga Nidra or guided visualization

Here’s a simple body scan I recorded that you can use

Gratitude Practice

Keep a gratitude journal. List 5 things in the morning and 5 things before you go to sleep that you are grateful for.

One of the huge gifts of yoga relative to S.A.D is that on the mat, we are encouraged on witness thoughts without engaging in them. We become aware of all the ups and downs internally that show up even in the span of one class. We are invited to observe them and compassionately decide if they are helpful to our well being or not.

And this is exactly what I’ve been doing this past week in the dark mornings and afternoons. Staying vigilant about negative self-talk and devoting a little extra energy to sustaining my sanity through these simple but potent techniques.

May your light stay lit these winter months and should you need extra support, check out my Yoga classes at Purple Lotus Yoga in Penticton, or join me for the SOYA Yoga Teacher Training from March through June.

By Kamala Wilkie, E-RYT500, SOYA lead trainer in Penticton BC

200hr Extended Penticton BCKamala Wilkie is the SOYA lead trainer for the 200 hour and 300 hour Upgrade yoga teacher training programs. She is the owner of the award winning Purple Lotus Yoga studio in Penticton. Have a quick listen to what Kamala has to say about the teacher training!