Month: July 2014

Withdrawing the Senses


“If you don’t go within, you go without.” –Darren Main


Are you mindful of your sensations? Your words? Your idle activities? Pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of yogic philosophy, which means the withdrawal or control of the senses.  This is a stage of yoga practice just beyond the physical where internal yoga practice begins.  Practicing pratyahara takes place when your individual consciousness is turned inward so you can master the flow of prana, or energy, in your body.  Specifically, pratyahara is the withdrawing yourself away from anything unwholesome, excessive, or distracting for the mind. 

Most people don’t have the ability to withdraw into seclusion in the mountains to meditate without distractions. It is a little easier to harmonize with prana when you can renounce the world to focus on controlling the senses.  In the real world we have temptations of money, sex, fame, etc. If you can overcome the temptations here then you have really mastered your senses.

“If you control your mouth—what you put into it and what comes out of it—you’ve controlled much of your mind already,” Sri Dharma Mittra explains in his book.  Every effort helps.  If you can master your senses even a little bit, you can calm your mind, improve concentration, and increase your energy.  Think about what you put into your body.  Do you nourish your body with what it needs? Or are you feeding your senses?  Even if you are vegetarian and in control of some aspects of a regulated diet, there can still be issues with overeating, eating unhealthy choices, processed foods that make you feel lethargic.

Just like yoga practice, it starts physical and external (your diet) and the next stage is more internal.  Are you mindful of what you say?  Any form of communication can be included: texting, emailing, body language, small talk.  How much time do you spend watching bad TV, listening to talk radio, or playing virtual games?  These temptations are satisfying for our senses but the satisfaction can wear off quickly and the cycle continues.  

One common technique to get a handle on the senses is to practice breath control, pranayama.  When breathing mindfully, we automatically withdraw from the external and focus inward.  So if you can control the senses, your energy is focused on one single-pointed thing.  Rather than feeding your body with unhealthy food, words, or thoughts, you can send out your energy to whatever is important to you.  This mindful discipline towards an intention has many physical and psychological benefits. You will have more energy since it is not wasted on distractions, more contentment by being present in the moment, and more productivity because of the increased concentration and focus.

Try driving to work without the radio on. Try eating a meal in silence without any distractions—no phones, television, or activities.  Try avoiding gossip, eavesdropping, and idle speech. At first your body or mind may react negatively, feel annoyed, or give up.  The more you practice focusing on one single-pointed thing and releasing the power of the senses, you can diminish your desires and experience true peace and contentment.

Pose of the Month: July


Wild Thing

Sanskrit: Camatkarasana

There are many different ways to transition from downward facing dog and Wild Thing or  “flip your dog” as you might hear it, is one of them! Wild thing is a fun and challenging way to open up the hips and chest!

Benefits: Opens up chest, lung, and shoulder areas as well as the front of your legs and hip flexors. Builds strength in your shoulders and upper back.


Start in downward facing dog with your hands spread wide, hips pressed up and back, heels lengthen down.

INHALE- Extend your right leg high. Make sure keep the right hip in line with your left to keep your hips squared.

EXHALE- Bend your right knee to rotate your right hip open. Lift your right palm towards the sky while your left hand remains the grounded palm.

INHALE- Press your sternum up and allow the head to drop back behind you.


Yoga for Athletes

Lots of professional athletes are catching on to the fact that yoga can help repair their bodies.  Through vigorous exercise and repetition in sports, athletes tend to have problems with tightness, tendonitis, and even struggle to touch their toes.  Through athletic training, these athletes tend to have a lot of strength in some areas but inflexibility in others.  The other tricky part is, most athletic sports encourage healthy competition which can be challenging to leave at the door of the yoga studio.

For athletes that can come with an open-mind and let go of the win-lose attitude on the mat, the benefits are extensive.  Increased strength, flexibility, mobility, focus, and improved sleep-wake cycle are just some of the list.  In turn, yoga has the potential to enhance athletic ability and peak performance. Yoga by Degrees has a partnership with the Chicago Red Stars, a professional women’s soccer team.  They visit our facilities to help balance their intense soccer training and season schedule.  “Doing yoga has been very beneficial for both my body and mind,” said Red Stars forward Alyssa Mautz. “It has helped me with mobility and recovery. And for me, it helps clear my head and allows me to focus on the present moment. It’s helped my game tremendously.”

Usually with the repetition in disciplines like running, biking, and playing soccer, there are several muscle groups that are under-utilized.  For any type of student, yoga works to bring us into balance.  Increasing core stability and optimizing a more balanced strength tends to rehab athletes from their injuries caused by overuse.  When you find balance on your yoga mat, it tends to leak out into a more balanced life off the mat.  Through consistent yoga practice, improved coordination and balance can lead to better technique and form in the athletic realm.  When you improve your flexibility through yoga, practitioners are enhancing joint, muscular, and deep tissue pliancy to increase range of motion.  For example, a soccer player with increased core strength and more flexibility in their hip joints and legs will be able to have a longer stride and a greater ability to change direction on the field.

So that takes care of just the physical benefits of yoga for athletes.  While the physical benefits are huge, they are still just the tip of the iceberg.  What about the mental aspect of yoga?  Most people who are first starting out with yoga come for a great workout, which is right in the typical athlete’s wheelhouse.  The meditative aspects of yoga, especially savasana (corpse pose), can be super challenging for some.  After you have worked, stretched, toned and invigorated your body and mind, savasana is a time to lie on your mat completely still.  People who resist savasana may just opt out and leave the class early or spend the time mentally and physically fidgeting.  Many people think the hard work is over but savasana is the most essential pose of class.  It is the time to meditate and let all the benefits of the practice settle into your body and especially mind.  Savasana helps to improve your focus, and quiet the impulses of the mind.  For an athlete, training the body is very important.  But training the mind is what can remove blockages and free them from fear, doubt, or negativity to help them persevere and be the best version of themselves.