Peter Sterios

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The Hidden Meaning of The Belly in Yoga

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly in Yoga Blog Header ImageMost of us have lost our connection to the mysterious forces at play in the abdominal region, as well as to the appearance, function, and location of the organs and glands within it. We know that this area is responsible for digestion and assimilation, but in most Western cultures, a belly is considered healthy only according to its outer appearance: flat, “cut,” and firm. Good posture is supposed to be chest up, shoulders back, gut in. Emotionally, for many, the belly receives the brunt of our dysfunctional attempts to deal with negative feelings such as anger, fear, or low self-esteem.

In general, popular Western culture has placed more prominence on the head (objective intellect) and heart (individual soul) centers for discernment and transformation, while overlooking what many Eastern or so-called primitive cultures consider an essential step—the prerequisite descent into the depths of our being (lower centers), which is necessary before the ascent toward higher levels of awareness (upper centers). Our attention has moved away from the profound intelligence of the lower physical and emotional center of the body—our “guts.”

However, remnants of understanding are still found in common expressions in our languages, intimating a time when we recognized the power of the lower centers. In English, to have “a gut feeling” suggests a deep understanding that often is hard to explain logically, and in the past, feelings that come from deep in our center were considered more reliable than those that came from “above”: the heart or the head. Then there is someone with “guts,” which implies courage and unwavering integrity.

In Japan, the word hara can be simply translated as “belly,” but the roots of its meaning extend far beyond the physical abdomen. In Japanese culture, hara takes on a meaning that involves almost every aspect of life. It implies all that is considered essential to a person’s character and spiritual evolvement. Hara is the center of the human body, but not just of the physical body. In many idiomatic Japanese expressions where the root word is found, the meanings suggest a deeper context for the term. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim describes one such expression: Hara no aru hito. It suggests not only one who possesses “center” physically, as in posture and balance, but also one who maintains balance in every way, including emotionally and mentally. This person is capable of tranquility in the face of strain, moves in and about the world with serenity, and possesses an inner elasticity that allows quick and decisive responses to any situation that arises. The hara is also seen as the place where the body’s vital life energies collect and are expressed, whether through physical movement or energetic presence.

Hara means an understanding of the significance of the middle of the body as the foundation of an overall feeling for life.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

It is this very quality of hara that we look for in our yoga practice. What is referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as sthira sukham is a state of unconditional calm that is not dependent on any outward circumstances. When in it, we command heightened sensitivity and an increased readiness to meet the unexpected. Here we realize that our capacity for appropriate response in the practice of asana can only come from the genuine absence of tension, coupled with the correct attitude of mind and lightness of heart. Throughout the practice of yoga poses, cultivating softness in the belly helps release a subtle downward flow and sense of fluidity that can be felt there and moving down into the pelvic floor, providing an intuitive invitation to move more deeply in all poses, especially those that turn or lengthen through the waist.

How the belly “thinks” intuitively could be a function of what science is now calling our second brain, or the enteric nervous system, which is an extensive network of neurons embedded in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to anus. In addition to its handling of nearly all the digestive functions of our intestines, it is important to understand how this system of neurons intimately connects with our autonomic nervous system and, through the vagus nerve, becomes a critical component of parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and intestines.

The vagal channel of communication between the abdominal organs and the brain includes branches of cardiac and pulmonary ganglion, which suggests a shared relationship among these organs as well and offers a scenario in which the interrelationships are established both anatomically and energetically. The enteric system includes many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain, including dopamine (in the intestines, it reduces peristaltic movement and maintains the inner linings of the intestinal tract; in the brain, it stimulates desire and motivation for reward response, or pleasure), serotonin (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates mood, appetite, and sleep), and acetylcholine (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates arousal, attention, memory, and motivation).

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the voluntary control of slow breathing has a substantial positive effect on our parasympathetic response. There is multidirectional communication via vagal signals to and from the brain to quiet frontal cortical activity, as well as an inhibitory influence upon the heart and sympathetic nervous system activity to and from the gastrointestinal tract that improves peristaltic function while strengthening immune system response in the gut.

Breathing is not merely an in-drawing and outstreaming of air, but a fundamental movement of a living whole, affecting the world of the body as well as the regions of the soul and mind.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

 

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly In Yoga Pinterest

Yoga For Pain Relief

Yoga For Pain Relief

We often find metaphors for life in our yoga practice, and those of us who come to yoga stiff or weak are only too familiar with confronting our edges. In most urban, contemporary societies, we are frequently exposed to confrontation: in our communities, our relationships, our jobs—the list goes on. Our success in dealing with confrontation and the stress it generates depends on our ability to recognize and adjust to what presents itself in those situations. It is often easy to avoid dealing with confrontation until it reaches a certain level of intensity and we are forced to address what stands in our way.

 

The Hidden Gift of Obstacles in Yoga

When our tools for dealing with confrontation are overwhelmed and when what we perceive as our very nature becomes threatened, our life systems—mental, emotional, and physical—begin to contract. If we ignore this contraction for too long, it can color the way we perceive our reality, and what is very unnatural to a healthy body begins to seem natural. Because this process occurs over extended periods, as in the aging process, we often lack the awareness that it is happening until we are beyond simple fixes. 

Difficult Poses

Consider the beginner’s approach to difficult poses—even the relatively simple ones—that challenge flexibility, balance, or strength. These poses take our attention directly into areas of our body that are unfamiliar, painful, or unresponsive. This is often confronting. Stiff people have to learn how to work with pain, which is often intense, in order to remove the obstructions found in tight muscles or joints. Typically, this work is associated with movement where previously no movement existed or where it was extremely limited. The weak or overly flexible have to learn how to work without overworking, to create the support or resistance necessary to bring about the subtle movement of energy in the body to build stamina or strength. 

 

It is a common experience for beginners to question why they lack movement or feeling in these areas in the first place and to wonder if there will ever come a day when it could be different. This is the beauty of the confrontation found in yoga, where opposites attract and working simultaneously with effort and non-effort is a very important lesson to learn. 

Overcoming Resistance In Yoga

With many of the asanas that a beginner tackles for the first time, it is common to struggle with the opposing forces of particular actions found in a pose. Attempting to relax tight muscles is not easy when we are receiving a steady stream (or scream) of more demanding messages in the seemingly undecipherable language of pain. It can feel like the very resistance we experience has been protecting us from injury or overdoing something and that to surrender into this discomfort would be unwise.

 

Likewise, working with weak muscles to stay in a pose, to dig a little deeper, even for one more breath, seems to go against all of the yogic principles of nonviolence (ahimsa), and the anxiety that this can produce is real. Fatigue (mental and physical) seems to threaten our very existence, and every cell in our body is convinced that we’re approaching an injury or a near-death experience.

Hatha Yoga Is A Confrontational Journey

By its very nature, though, hatha yoga takes us on a confrontational journey that can produce the awareness required to overcome ingrained resistance and penetrate the dense matter of our consciousness. For those with chronically tight or weak muscles, the correct practice of asana with conscious breathing forces the mind into a very alert state and very quickly fills the gaps typically found in a beginner’s attention. This is a very important place to be. In it, we are given an opportunity to feel the power of this situation physically, to observe the dynamics of stress in an intense environment, and to overcome the mental or emotional struggle inherent in that predicament.

 

Of course, entering these situations in your practice requires a little preparation, and in the event of any preexisting conditions, it is beneficial and highly recommended to work with an experienced teacher who can suggest modifications to challenging poses. However, once you become familiar enough with your edge to gaze at what lies beyond it, an exterior guide will only be a distraction. Instead, you can reach inside yourself—toward your inner teacher—for guidance. 

 

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

Holidays are a mixed blessing … they’re times when we take a pause from our daily routines and share more personal time with family and friends—some who we love unconditionally, and those that we love “almost” unconditionally (as long as we don’t talk about politics, the environment, the world, etc.).

Here are a few easy suggestions to help show up in all holiday situations, while maintaining full presence and a sense of calm.

Seek Moments of Stillness

Look ahead to your holiday social events, then plan for intermittent moments to be by yourself for creating stillness, physically and mentally, away from the hustle and bustle of family activities (or the TV). It’s easier than you think, especially if you are truthful about its importance for your health with those around you. If they are curious what it does for you, encourage them to try it too. And after, be curious about their experience as a conversation-starter when you’re together again.

Seek Moments of Silliness

Calm is not easy when our mind is preoccupied and struggling with the chaos often found during the holidays. Luckily the human species is bestowed with the gift of humor and light-heartedness, which research shows is capable of overriding the mind’s obsessive or compulsive tendencies to overwhelm our emotions, and take us out of the present. Engaging in a bit of silliness is literally child’s play and an elixir to bring us back to the present that helps strengthen connection and community.

Breathe Slow and Soft

Awareness of breath is one of the most common techniques for staying present in our “moments” during the holidays. By simply making the sound of our breath soft and the breath’s rhythm slow, we create a more naturally conscious state of being that stimulates our body’s parasympathetic response. This releases the tension and stress our sympathetic nervous system naturally creates during times of anxiety or distress. Remembering this during the upcoming season is truly the best gift you can give!

 

Peter Sterios, author of Gravity and Grace, is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

The community here at Sounds True wishes you a lovely holiday season! We are happy to collaborate with some of our Sounds True authors to offer you wisdom and practices as we move into this time together; please enjoy this blog series for your holiday season. 

To help encourage you and your loved ones to explore new possibilities this holiday season, we’re offering 40% off nearly all of our programs, books, and courses sitewide. May you find the wisdom to light your way. Use promo code HOLIDAY10 and receive an additional 10% off your order.

EXPLORE NOW

 

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Meet the Author of Dinos Don’t Do Yoga

The Author
Catherine Bailey is the author of multiple picture books, including Harbor Bound and Mind Your Monsters. For more, please visit catherinebaileybooks.com.

Dinos Don't Do Yoga CoverThe Book
Rex is a dinosaur with a rough, tough crew. But when a yoga-loving dinosaur comes to town, Rex and his fierce friends discover there’s more to strength than big muscles and bad attitudes. This fun-filled story features timely themes about kindness, friendship, and being able to see past our differences.

 

 

 

 

Has your book taken on a new meaning in the world’s current circumstances? Is there anything you would have included in your book if you were writing it now?

Dinos Don’t Do Yoga was written back during the calm and quiet of 2018. At the time, it was simply a funny story about a grumpy T. rex. Today we are living in a very different world. Things have changed dramatically in terms of how people interact with each otherfrom social distancing to increased activism.

So now when I read Dinos Don’t Do Yoga, the relationships between the characters are more meaningful. I hope my readers see kindness, acceptance, and connection (in addition to a funny story!). I also hope that the book inspires children to explore yoga as a physical means of dealing with the stress of these crazy times. Yoga is a beautiful way to get back to a happy mental space.

After all, if dinos can do itso can we!

Q&A image

Send us a photo of you and your pet, and let us know if your pet had any role in helping you write your book!

Here we have a snapshot of the world’s most annoyed cat. I decided to share this particular picture because it reminded me of the Dinos Don’t Do Yoga cover. The illustrator of the book, Alex Willmore, brilliantly contrasted the highly disgruntled Rex (complete with eye twitch!) with his blithely happy costar, Sam. I laugh every time I see that artwork!

The same is true for this photograph of myself and our family cat, Chloe. This picture was taken right after her first (and probably last) bath. In my defense, I only bathed her because she had a small flea problem. She still has not forgiven me.

bailey cat

What is something about you that doesn’t make it into your author bio?

bailey 3

My author biography contains all sorts of fun tidbits, but it doesn’t mention this one cool thing about me: I am kid-sized! By which I mean I’m very short for my age. You cannot tell from (most) pictures, but even though I am an official middle-aged grown-up, I am only 4’8” tall. That is about the size of the average second grader! 

So why do I mention it? What’s so great about being super small? Well, a lot of things! But best of all is that it makes me empathetic and mindful of other people’s differences. And that makes me a better writer. For example, it was easy for me to create the characters of Rex (challenged by his petite arms) and Sam (a true “outsider”) in Dinos Don’t Do Yoga. It is true what they say—great things come in small packages.

 

Dinos Don't Do Yoga Cover

Learn More

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The Hidden Meaning of The Belly in Yoga

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly in Yoga Blog Header ImageMost of us have lost our connection to the mysterious forces at play in the abdominal region, as well as to the appearance, function, and location of the organs and glands within it. We know that this area is responsible for digestion and assimilation, but in most Western cultures, a belly is considered healthy only according to its outer appearance: flat, “cut,” and firm. Good posture is supposed to be chest up, shoulders back, gut in. Emotionally, for many, the belly receives the brunt of our dysfunctional attempts to deal with negative feelings such as anger, fear, or low self-esteem.

In general, popular Western culture has placed more prominence on the head (objective intellect) and heart (individual soul) centers for discernment and transformation, while overlooking what many Eastern or so-called primitive cultures consider an essential step—the prerequisite descent into the depths of our being (lower centers), which is necessary before the ascent toward higher levels of awareness (upper centers). Our attention has moved away from the profound intelligence of the lower physical and emotional center of the body—our “guts.”

However, remnants of understanding are still found in common expressions in our languages, intimating a time when we recognized the power of the lower centers. In English, to have “a gut feeling” suggests a deep understanding that often is hard to explain logically, and in the past, feelings that come from deep in our center were considered more reliable than those that came from “above”: the heart or the head. Then there is someone with “guts,” which implies courage and unwavering integrity.

In Japan, the word hara can be simply translated as “belly,” but the roots of its meaning extend far beyond the physical abdomen. In Japanese culture, hara takes on a meaning that involves almost every aspect of life. It implies all that is considered essential to a person’s character and spiritual evolvement. Hara is the center of the human body, but not just of the physical body. In many idiomatic Japanese expressions where the root word is found, the meanings suggest a deeper context for the term. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim describes one such expression: Hara no aru hito. It suggests not only one who possesses “center” physically, as in posture and balance, but also one who maintains balance in every way, including emotionally and mentally. This person is capable of tranquility in the face of strain, moves in and about the world with serenity, and possesses an inner elasticity that allows quick and decisive responses to any situation that arises. The hara is also seen as the place where the body’s vital life energies collect and are expressed, whether through physical movement or energetic presence.

Hara means an understanding of the significance of the middle of the body as the foundation of an overall feeling for life.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

It is this very quality of hara that we look for in our yoga practice. What is referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as sthira sukham is a state of unconditional calm that is not dependent on any outward circumstances. When in it, we command heightened sensitivity and an increased readiness to meet the unexpected. Here we realize that our capacity for appropriate response in the practice of asana can only come from the genuine absence of tension, coupled with the correct attitude of mind and lightness of heart. Throughout the practice of yoga poses, cultivating softness in the belly helps release a subtle downward flow and sense of fluidity that can be felt there and moving down into the pelvic floor, providing an intuitive invitation to move more deeply in all poses, especially those that turn or lengthen through the waist.

How the belly “thinks” intuitively could be a function of what science is now calling our second brain, or the enteric nervous system, which is an extensive network of neurons embedded in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to anus. In addition to its handling of nearly all the digestive functions of our intestines, it is important to understand how this system of neurons intimately connects with our autonomic nervous system and, through the vagus nerve, becomes a critical component of parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and intestines.

The vagal channel of communication between the abdominal organs and the brain includes branches of cardiac and pulmonary ganglion, which suggests a shared relationship among these organs as well and offers a scenario in which the interrelationships are established both anatomically and energetically. The enteric system includes many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain, including dopamine (in the intestines, it reduces peristaltic movement and maintains the inner linings of the intestinal tract; in the brain, it stimulates desire and motivation for reward response, or pleasure), serotonin (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates mood, appetite, and sleep), and acetylcholine (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates arousal, attention, memory, and motivation).

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the voluntary control of slow breathing has a substantial positive effect on our parasympathetic response. There is multidirectional communication via vagal signals to and from the brain to quiet frontal cortical activity, as well as an inhibitory influence upon the heart and sympathetic nervous system activity to and from the gastrointestinal tract that improves peristaltic function while strengthening immune system response in the gut.

Breathing is not merely an in-drawing and outstreaming of air, but a fundamental movement of a living whole, affecting the world of the body as well as the regions of the soul and mind.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

 

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly In Yoga Pinterest

Yoga For Pain Relief

Yoga For Pain Relief

We often find metaphors for life in our yoga practice, and those of us who come to yoga stiff or weak are only too familiar with confronting our edges. In most urban, contemporary societies, we are frequently exposed to confrontation: in our communities, our relationships, our jobs—the list goes on. Our success in dealing with confrontation and the stress it generates depends on our ability to recognize and adjust to what presents itself in those situations. It is often easy to avoid dealing with confrontation until it reaches a certain level of intensity and we are forced to address what stands in our way.

 

The Hidden Gift of Obstacles in Yoga

When our tools for dealing with confrontation are overwhelmed and when what we perceive as our very nature becomes threatened, our life systems—mental, emotional, and physical—begin to contract. If we ignore this contraction for too long, it can color the way we perceive our reality, and what is very unnatural to a healthy body begins to seem natural. Because this process occurs over extended periods, as in the aging process, we often lack the awareness that it is happening until we are beyond simple fixes. 

Difficult Poses

Consider the beginner’s approach to difficult poses—even the relatively simple ones—that challenge flexibility, balance, or strength. These poses take our attention directly into areas of our body that are unfamiliar, painful, or unresponsive. This is often confronting. Stiff people have to learn how to work with pain, which is often intense, in order to remove the obstructions found in tight muscles or joints. Typically, this work is associated with movement where previously no movement existed or where it was extremely limited. The weak or overly flexible have to learn how to work without overworking, to create the support or resistance necessary to bring about the subtle movement of energy in the body to build stamina or strength. 

 

It is a common experience for beginners to question why they lack movement or feeling in these areas in the first place and to wonder if there will ever come a day when it could be different. This is the beauty of the confrontation found in yoga, where opposites attract and working simultaneously with effort and non-effort is a very important lesson to learn. 

Overcoming Resistance In Yoga

With many of the asanas that a beginner tackles for the first time, it is common to struggle with the opposing forces of particular actions found in a pose. Attempting to relax tight muscles is not easy when we are receiving a steady stream (or scream) of more demanding messages in the seemingly undecipherable language of pain. It can feel like the very resistance we experience has been protecting us from injury or overdoing something and that to surrender into this discomfort would be unwise.

 

Likewise, working with weak muscles to stay in a pose, to dig a little deeper, even for one more breath, seems to go against all of the yogic principles of nonviolence (ahimsa), and the anxiety that this can produce is real. Fatigue (mental and physical) seems to threaten our very existence, and every cell in our body is convinced that we’re approaching an injury or a near-death experience.

Hatha Yoga Is A Confrontational Journey

By its very nature, though, hatha yoga takes us on a confrontational journey that can produce the awareness required to overcome ingrained resistance and penetrate the dense matter of our consciousness. For those with chronically tight or weak muscles, the correct practice of asana with conscious breathing forces the mind into a very alert state and very quickly fills the gaps typically found in a beginner’s attention. This is a very important place to be. In it, we are given an opportunity to feel the power of this situation physically, to observe the dynamics of stress in an intense environment, and to overcome the mental or emotional struggle inherent in that predicament.

 

Of course, entering these situations in your practice requires a little preparation, and in the event of any preexisting conditions, it is beneficial and highly recommended to work with an experienced teacher who can suggest modifications to challenging poses. However, once you become familiar enough with your edge to gaze at what lies beyond it, an exterior guide will only be a distraction. Instead, you can reach inside yourself—toward your inner teacher—for guidance. 

 

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

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