How are we already in the middle of November? I feel like October was just a blip. However, cliche it may be, I love that November is a month that we are all encouraged to practice a bit more gratitude. It goes a long way in improving our mental health and our relationships, so why not weave it into our daily routines?! If you’d like to read a little more on the topic, I love this short article from Harvard.
This month has really pushed me into a gratitude practice… if for nothing else, but saving my sanity. I’ve been solo parenting all month, I flew across the country and back with a toddler, and have been blessed by my fellow teachers with class coverage while I’ve been away and/or otherwise occupied. I’m so grateful for the family who have hosted us, fed us, and shuttled us around. I’m so grateful for the Frontier flight attendants and baggage workers who helped carry our bags and set up our stroller so I could keep Atlas sleeping and calm a little bit longer. I’m so grateful for my fellow yoga teachers who have covered class after class. I’m just really f’in grateful for it all. Even the challenging parts… because it reminds me of what I’m capable of and it reminds me of the goodness within each of us.
In the midst of our busy lives, it’s easy to overlook the power of gratitude. Yet, it is a force that can bring immense joy, peace, and fulfillment into our lives. Fortunately, gratitude is like a muscle. It just needs to be worked and strengthened with practice and use.
Here’s the Science:
Research has shown that practicing gratitude can lead to increased happiness, reduced stress, and improved overall health. When we cultivate gratitude, our perspective shifts, allowing us to focus on the positive aspects of life, even in challenging situations. It can enhance our relationships, boost our immune system, and improve our sleep quality. A Study by Emmons and McCullough found that those who practice gratitude consistently experienced greater life satisfaction and overall well-being. Studies using brain imaging techniques even found that practicing gratitude activates brain regions associated with the experience of pleasure and reward, reinforcing the idea that gratitude is a natural mood enhancer.
Here are the Tools I Love:
1. Gratitude Journaling:
Set aside a few minutes each day to write down things you are grateful for. These can be specific events, experiences, people, or even simple pleasures.
Be detailed and specific about what you appreciate, reflecting on the nuances of each experience.
Writing in a gratitude journal regularly helps train your mind to focus on the positive aspects of your life.
2. Gratitude Meditation:
Practice mindfulness meditation with a focus on gratitude. Sit quietly, breathe deeply, and bring to mind the things you are thankful for.
With each breath, concentrate on a specific element of your life you appreciate. Visualize it clearly and allow the feelings of thankfulness to wash over you.
This practice helps you become more aware of the positive aspects of your life, promoting a sense of peace and contentment.
3. Gratitude Jar (I’ve been doing a gratitude turkey with Atlas)
Keep a jar and small pieces of paper handy.
Whenever something good happens or you feel thankful for something, jot it down on a piece of paper and put it in the jar.
Whenever you’re feeling down or need a boost, read through the notes. It serves as a tangible reminder of the positive aspects of your life.
4. Express Gratitude to Others:
Take time to express your gratitude to people around you. Write a thank-you note, send an email, or simply say ‘thank you’ in person.
Expressing gratitude not only strengthens your relationships but also makes you and the recipient feel good, creating a positive cycle of appreciation.
5. Gratitude Walk:
I’ve been doing A LOT of walking lately with the dogs and this has helped shift my mindset away from it feeling like such a chore:
Take a mindful walk outdoors, preferably in nature.
As you walk, focus on the things around you that you are thankful for – the sunshine, the sound of birds, the fresh air, or the beauty of the trees.
Engaging your senses in this way amplifies your sense of gratitude.
6. Gratitude Affirmations:
Start or end your day with gratitude affirmations. These are positive statements expressing your thankfulness.
Repeat these affirmations aloud or in your mind. For example, “I am grateful for the love in my life” or “I am thankful for the opportunities that come my way.”
Affirmations reinforce positive thinking and help shift your focus toward gratitude.
Add a mudra like Anjali Mudra (prayer hands) or Pushpaputa Mudra (gesture of offering)
7. Be Delighted and in Awe
Allow yourself to be awed every single day. Slow down and notice the beauty around you, watch a small child play in nature, etc.
Notice the miracles big and small
Relish in and delight in your experiences — the food you eat, the company you keep, the air you breathe, the views you take in.
8. Gratitude in Challenging Situations:
Train yourself to find something positive even in difficult situations. It could be a lesson learned, inner strength discovered, or the support of loved ones.
Shifting your perspective in challenging times can foster resilience and help you navigate through difficulties with a positive mindset.
It fills up our reserves so when we’re faced with challenging situations we are able to weather them with more ease and grace.
Yoga and Gratitude:
In our yoga practice, we can infuse gratitude into every breath and every pose. With each inhale, we can invite gratitude into our hearts, and with each exhale, we can release any negativity or tension. Let’s approach our yoga mats with an attitude of gratitude, acknowledging the incredible gift that our bodies, minds, and spirits are.
As we practice gratitude, let’s inspire one another and create a positive and supportive community.
Wishing you a heart full of gratitude and a spirit at peace.
During my 200 hour yoga teacher training… way back in 2013/2014 I did a project on yoga and the immune system, specifically how it affects an immune system that isn’t working as well as it should. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I thought I could at least share what I found and the resources I used. So the big question is, “can yoga really boost your immune system?” We’re going to get super science-y here, so if you want the TLDR version, the answer is yes, yoga as a lifestyle absolutely boosts our immune system.
As a teenager and young adult, I always struggled with getting colds and upper respiratory infections. However, I quickly noticed that when yoga is a part of my daily routine I am generally healthier, less likely to become ill, and I’m less stressed out. So I’ve been curious as to whether my general wellness has been a coincidence or related to my yoga practice.
The Western Medical World is Finally Embracing Yoga
Much of the research on yoga and the immune system has been based on questionnaires instead of scientific evidence. Most importantly, researchers have finally begun studying yoga and its effects on mononuclear blood cells (MNBCs), RNA and genome analysis, but the studies have just begun. In 2013 Harvard University began a two-year study on the effects of yoga and meditation and I look forward to their results. In assembling my research I broke the yogic lifestyle down into its main components: asana, pranayama, meditation and diet and how each of these aspects relates to the function of the immune system.
Overview of the Immune System
We will begin our exploration of yoga and the immune system by reviewing the components of the immune system. The chief organs and tissues of the immune system are the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, tonsils, Peyer’s patches, Appendix, the lymphatic nodes and vessels and the blood capillaries. In addition to these organs and tissues, the body has an auxiliary immune system that helps the body combat invading microbes. According to Steve Parker, author of The Human Body Book (2013), the auxiliary immune system consists of the lacrimal glands of the eye, the mouth and throat (production of mucus and antibacterial saliva), the respiratory tract from nose to lungs (mucus and cilia help trap and remove foreign particles and microbes), the stomach, intestines and genitourinary tract (acids, enzymes and “friendly” bacteria eliminate ingested microbes) and the skin (the body’s first line of defense against invading organisms).
Where do Immune Cells Come From?
Where do immune cells come from? Immune system cells, lymphocytes and phagocytes develop from stem cells within the bone marrow in a process known as lymphopoeisis. The lymphocytes are differentiated into either B cells or T cells. B cells mature within the bone marrow and make gamma globulins, protein antibodies that act on antigens (foreign proteins). The thymus, located in the mediastinum, produces 5 types of T-cells in a process called T-cell education. The 5 T-cells created are:
1) Memory cells 2) Lymphokine-producing cells (Lymphokines are proteins that are toxic to microbes) 3) Cytotoxic T cells (Killer Cells) 4) Helper T cells 5) Suppressor T cells (Anatomy & Physiology Made Easy, 157)
The thymus is largest and most active in infancy and childhood; beginning in the teenage years the thymus decreases in activity and function as the stroma cells are replaced with adipose tissue. Although the thymus continues to decrease in productivity, the process of lymphopoeisis continues throughout adulthood.
Two Types of Immune Responses
The body has two types of immune responses: non-specific and specific and they can occur simultaneously.
Non-Specific Immune Response
A non-specific immune response is a reaction to any kind of bodily damage (ex. burn) or to the presence of microbes or parasites. In a non-specific reaction, white blood cells flood the damaged area and destroy invading microbes. The main type of non-specific immune response is inflammation.
Specific Immune Response
There are two types of specific immune response the first is cell-mediated, which begins when T-cells recognize foreign antigens. Once the antigen is recognized, T cells rapidly multiply and enlist the help of B cells to initiate an antibody response and macrophages to destroy foreign microorganisms. The second type of specific response is antibody-mediated. That is to say, when B cells recognize antigens (foreign proteins) they rapidly multiply with some of the B cells developing into antibody-producing plasma cells. The antibodies attach to a microbe’s antigen sites, marking the microbe for destruction by a process known as phagocytosis, in which the microbe is engulfed and destroyed by a phagocyte (ex. a macrophage).
Immune Cells Circulate in Both Your Blood and Lymph
Not only do immune cells circulate throughout the blood system, they also circulate through the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is comprised of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes or glands. The lymphatic vessels gather lymph from the interstitial fluid between cells, and through a system of capillaries, lymphatics and one way valves the lymph fluid is moved toward the lymph nodes.
The lymph nodes hold an important position within the immune system. The lymph nodes drain lymph fluid from nearly all of the tissues in the body. Within the lymph nodes lymphocytes are produced, stored and readied for an immune response. The immune response within the lymph nodes is capable of filtering and cleansing the lymph through a process in which macrophages engulf dangerous microbes and debris. Afterward, the filtered lymph is then circulated out of the lymph nodes into the thoracic duct and into the blood stream at the right and left subclavian veins.
A healthy immune system can eliminate viruses, bacteria and cancerous cells from the body. In the same vein, general tips to maintain a healthy, balanced immune system generally consist of stress management and proper rest, diet, and exercise. Can a complete, balanced yoga practice boost the body’s immune system?
Yogic Diet and the Immune System
The old saying, “You are what you eat” is a friendly reminder to eat healthy, whole foods that will encourage health and wellbeing. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the yogic diet is one that doesn’t add toxins to the body and it is “free of meat, fish, eggs, stimulants and excessive spice” (Satchidananda, 144). The reason for such a diet is to allow the body to sit in meditation without the interruption and discomfort of “pain, stiffness, bile, gas, etc.” (Satchidananda, 144). The yogic diet, avoids rajasic foods (ex. stimulants, heavily spiced and salty foods, and refined sugars) which can lead to overactivity and tamasic foods (ex. meat, eggs, drugs and alcohol) which can lead to lethargy, in favor of sattvic foods, which are pure, whole foods that provide the body with easily digested essential nutrients, maximum energy, vitality, strength and endurance (Yoga Mind and Body, 129).
The Yogic Diet Provides an Abundance of Essential Nutrients for Immune Health
A diet high in healthy, whole vegetables and fruits, like the yogic diet, provides the body with necessary nutrients, like phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, for optimal function. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, “A phytochemically deficient diet is largely responsible for a weak immune system. Populations with a much higher intake of vegetables have much lower rates of cancer, and the longest-living populations throughout history have been those with the highest intake of vegetables in the diet (Fuhrman, 19).”
Plants are Rich in Phytochemicals and Micronutrients
Plants rich in phytochemicals are usually characterized by black, blue, red, green, and orange colors and are rich in not only vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but also phytochemicals like carotenoids, flavanoids, polyphenols and many more micronutrients. Dr. Fuhrman also states that green vegetables have the most immune-supporting micronutrients and that diets high in raw, green vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of cancer (Fuhrman, 26).
One study in Vietnam, found that children with a micronutrient rich diet had a lower rate of respiratory illness than the children in the control group, who were on a rice based diet (Fuhrman, 32). It is also shown that micronutrients like lutein, lycopene, folate, bioflavanoids, riboflavin, zinc, and selenium have immune-modulating functions (Fuhrman, 33). Recent studies have shown that the nutritional health of the host affects the genetic sequence of invading pathogens (Fuhrman, 34). Isothiocyanates, found in cruciferous vegetables, “have been shown to increase the immune system’s cell-killing capacity and heighten the resistance to viral infection” (Fuhrman, 65). Mushrooms, berries and pomegranates also contribute to immune function.
The yogic diet utilizes nuts, seeds and lentils as the main sources of protein and fat. Flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are excellent sources of vital nutrients necessary for a healthy body and immune system. Seeds provide a range of nutrients from omega-3s to vitamin E, calcium and zinc. Zinc (15 mg/day) supports antibody-mediated and cell-mediated immunity, and therefore can help fight off infections and cancer. Dr. Fuhrman concluded, through utilizing Cochrane meta-analysis, that zinc supplements help reduce both cold symptoms and the length of infection (102). Fat is also an important part of a healthy diet. Healthy fats enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients.
Caffeine and Cortisol
The yogic diet avoids both caffeine and alcohol, both of which suppress the immune system. Caffeine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response and increased stress hormones. “Caffeine stresses the adrenals, the glands that sit on top of the kidneys and support the body’s immunity and energy” (Guthrie, Yoga Journal). “A 2006 study published in “Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior” found that men and women given large amounts of caffeine, three 250-milligram doses, experienced the release of higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in response to physical and mental stress (Daniels, 2014).” Elevated cortisol levels are known to decrease the ability of your immune system to fight infections (Daniels, 2014).”
Hold the Martini – Alcohol Suppresses Our Immune System
Numerous studies have been done on the effects of alcohol on the immune system. While having a glass of wine or a beer may enhance immune function by increasing circulating lymphocytes, leukocytes, neutrophils, and basophils (Zabriskie), “investigators suggest that excessive alcohol exposure weakens host defenses by impairing function of T and B lymphocytes, natural killer cells and monocytes and macrophages, decreasing the inflammatory response, altering cytokine production and causing abnormal reactive oxygen intermediate generation (Zabriskie)” the affects of binge drinking may last for up to 24 hours after the consumption of alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcohol causes liver cells to swell with fat, which can lead to alcoholic hepatitis when the liver floods with white blood cells and becomes inflamed.
Even moderate alcohol consumption suppresses the immune system for up to 16 hours by decreasing monocyte function and the circulation of cytokines (Zabriskie). The yogic diet, rich in vegetables and fruit and lacking alcohol and caffeine, allows the immune system to function optimally and brings balance to the body and mind.
Meditation and the Immune System
There are a handful of studies about the benefits of meditation on the body and mind, but unfortunately there aren’t too many on its effects on the immune system (although there are quite a few on its effects on cancer). “One study found that people who attended an eight-week mindfulness meditation class (a three-hour class once a week, plus daily meditation for an hour) ended up with stronger immune systems than those people who didn’t meditate” (Guthrie, yoga journal).
When practicing meditation, you release stressful thoughts and emotions and create a more positive mental, emotional, physical state, which increases oxygen, blood flow and general well-being. Thoughts of compassion, love and contentment override stressful and negative thought patterns. According to Doc Lew Childre, “the emotions of happiness and joy have been scientifically demonstrated to increase the presence of white blood cells and the levels of antibody immunoglobulin A, both of which are fundamental to the immune response (Childre, 48-53).”
Mindfulness Meditation Helps Lower Anxiety and Improves Our Outlook on Life
A University of Wisconsin study lead by Dr. Richard Davidson found that practicing mindfulness meditation increases the activation of the left frontal portion of the brain, the area associated with lower anxiety and a more positive outlook. Dr. Davidson’s team also found that a practice in mindfulness meditation increased levels of antibodies circulating in the blood in response to the study administered flu vaccine.
Harvard University began a two-year study in 2013 studying the practice of kundalini yoga and meditation and their effects on gene expression, particularly the genes that regulate stress and immune function. I am looking forward to seeing the results from the Harvard University study. I believe that the Harvard study will spark interest from other researchers in the fields of immunology and integrative medicine.
Asanas and the Immune System
Asanas, inversions in particular, are great for increasing the circulation of lymph throughout the body. Lymph is affected by gravity; therefore by lowering the head below the heart the lymph is able to flow into the “respiratory organs where germs often enter the body. When [the body] returns to an upright position, gravity drains the lymph, sending it through [the] lymph nodes for cleansing” (White, Yoga Journal). Dynamic movements typically found in vinyasa style classes also help move lymph throughout the body.
According to Timothy McCall, author of Yoga as Medicine, “when you contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures, lymph flow improves and with it lymphatic system function (McCall, 37).” Heart openers like Bridge, Cobra, and Camel Pose may also increase circulation to the thymus, the immunity powerhouse where disease fighting T-cells are created (Guthrie, Yoga Journal).
Restorative Yoga Can Help Boost the Immune System Too
According to BKS Iyengar the following series of asanas can strengthen a low immune system. This series, done in a restorative fashion utilizes props, such as: bolsters, blocks, straps, rolled towels, and chairs. By supporting the neck, chest and head with the use of props the body is able to relax and the lymph can move freely.
1) Setubandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) 2) Supta Baddhakonasana (Reclining Bound Angle Posture [Cobbler’s Pose]) 3) Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose) 4) Setubandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) 5) Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) 6) Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) 7) Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose) 8) Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) 9) Halasana (Plough Pose) 10) Setubandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) 11) Viparita Karani (Inverted Lake Pose [Legs up the Wall with/hips on a bolster]) 12) Savasana (Corpse Pose with torso propped up on bolster and head propped up slightly higher) 13) Ujjayi Pranayama (in Corpse Pose) 14) Viloma 2 Pranayama (2 second pause after each exhale)(in Corpse Pose) (Iyengar, 286)
Dr. Paul Martin states that, “moderate exercise elicits phagocytic activity in white blood cells” and “decreases biological reactivity to stressors” (Martin, 247-248). He also makes the case that extreme exercise increases stress, which decreases our immune system’s ability to function (Martin, 248-249). For example, intense exercise may create “a drop in two main classes of antibodies (IgA and IgM), a decline in the number and responsiveness of circulating lymphocytes and a drop in natural killer cell activity” (Martin, 249). As yoga practitioners it is important to practice ahimsa on ourselves and remember to gently challenge ourselves without overdoing it.
Pranayama and the Immune System
There are many benefits to the practice of pranayama; beyond calming the mind and soothing the nerves, pranayama benefits the respiratory and digestive systems, which support the immune system.
The practice of Ujjayi Pranayama, according to B.K.S. Iyengar “aerates the lungs, removes phlegm, [and] gives endurance (Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 443).” Surya Bhedana, a pranayama practice of inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril “increases digestive power, soothes and invigorates the nerves, and cleans the sinuses (Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 445).” Iyengar also teaches that, “Both Bhastrika and Kapalabhati activate and invigorate the liver, spleen, pancreas, and abdominal muscles. Thus the digestion is improved, the sinuses are drained, the eyes feel cool and one has a general sense of exhilaration (Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 450).”
One other pranayama practice that may boost the immune system is called Sitali Pranayama. Sitali is a cooling pranayama in which the mouth forms an O and the tongue curls up on the outer edges. In Sitali, the inhale is through the tongue and mouth and the exhale is through the nose, using Ujjayi technique. This method of pranayama is “beneficial in cases of low fever and biliousness (Iyengar, Light on Yoga 452)” and “activates the liver and spleen (Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 452).”
Calm the Mind and Soothe Your Nerves with Your Breath
By calming the mind and soothing the nerves, a strong practice in pranayama can reduce stress and its associated hormones, thereby allowing the body to utilize its energy optimally. Pranayama’s ability to cleanse the sinuses, drain mucus, and activate the spleen brings balance to the immune system. Therefore, pranayama boosts the immune system’s ability to recognize and remove foreign microbes and damaged or infected cells.
Yoga Boosts Your Immune System
Yogis have been applying yogic principles and practices to live healthy, fulfilling lives for centuries. Modern medicine is just now realizing the benefits of a full yogic practice, one that includes asana, pranayama, meditation and proper diet. One small study conducted by the University of Oslo found that a practice in yoga, pranayama, and meditation (Sudarshan Kriya and Related Practices) had a “rapid and significantly greater effect on gene expression in PBMCs compared with the control regimen” (Qu S., 2013) of walking followed by listening to relaxing music. PBMCs are peripheral blood mononuclear cells like lymphocytes, macrophages and monocytes. These immune cells function as the body’s main line of defense against invading organisms.
With each scientific study being conducted on the practice of yoga scientists are finding multiple health benefits. Western medical practitioners are realizing the benefits of yoga as a method to reduce stress, boost the immune system, and heal the human body.
Are you like me and looking forward to the days we can travel freely again? I’ve led a handful of yoga retreats in Greece now and every time I’m there, I think, “this would be the perfect girl’s trip!” It’s been ages since I last went on a girl’s trip — and it was a disaster, lol. But I do have my favorite travel buddies who I’m always down to travel with. I’m a true Gemini at heart, I love a few days solo to explore, eat and do whatever I want, but I also adore the company of a good travel mate or two, and I love meeting other amazing, inspiring women — maybe that’s why I love yoga retreats so much? What about you?
I LOVE the greek islands and was daydreaming about planning another trip while looking over old travel pics. They’re so freakin’ beautiful — it’s the bluest water I have ever seen (I’m going to post a pic below so you can see), white stone beaches, and the most picturesque villages, tucked into their perfect tiny, little bays… I can’t get enough! How many hours have I spent sipping wine on the patio, telling stories by the pool, or swimming and lounging by the sea with new and old yoga friends. I mean, who’s counting?
These Off-the-beaten-path Islands are Greece’s Best Kept Secret
The Ionian islands, on the west side of Greece, are a hidden gem. Well, Zakynthos is well known and has a bit of a wild party scene, but Kefalonia, Lefkada, and Ithaca are the perfect getaway — far away from the tourist hoards, drunk 20-year-olds, and honeymooners! Do I sound salty? LOL. I’m not, I promise!
I discovered Urania Villas a few years ago. At first, I was blown away by the gorgeous villas with the comfiest beds– I felt like a queen and I’m sure you will too. But then you go outside and each villa has its own pool with a jaw-dropping view of the sea. Then there is the yoga studio with the same gorgeous view, every prop you can imagine, and the option for AC (so perfect during summer in Greece) or you can open up all the glass doors and let the cool morning breeze in… they’ve thought of everything! After a day in the sun, walking into a cool yoga studio for a yin or restorative class is such a treat.
Me, Jason, my friend Angie and Urania
And the icing on the cake: Urania and her son, who take care of everything. They are so welcoming, kind, and generous. Have you ever wanted to have a Greek mama? Now’s your chance (I do hope she doesn’t mind me gloating about how amazing she is). And to have homemade Greek food for every meal, I’ve never been so spoiled.
Yoga Retreat in Greece? I Know That You Know You’re Worth It!
I don’t know about you but I adore having someone else prepare all of my meals with love and care. I’m usually the planner, when I travel with my friends or my hubby, so I love when someone else takes care of all the details, so I can simply relax — or do whatever I want! The structure of a yoga retreat makes life easy– especially when beach trips, boat trips, and sunset spots are already planned out (I don’t have to research because someone has already done it for me)– there isn’t any hemming or hawing about what to do(is that even how you spell that?). And it’s just nice to know that I have someone looking out for me and who will give me loads of great recommendations when I am exploring somewhere new, whether I’m traveling solo or with a posse. Can you relate?
Plan Your Next Girl’s Trip in the Greek Islands
Could a yoga retreat in the Greek islands be your next girl’s trip? I have an upcoming retreat in the Greek islands in 2022 — June 25 – July 2, 2022 at my favorite villas — Urania’s Villas. The retreat is basically built around all the things I love about yoga retreats, travel, self-care, good food, adventure, and an amazing sense of community. I’d love to host you, whether you’re flying solo or traveling with your girlfriends.
I’ve been to the Ionian Islands three times now and I am more than happy to share all of my favorite places with you (whether you’re joining me on retreat or not). I highly recommend visiting this little-visited group of islands– they feel like Greece’s best-kept secret.
Ksepana Mudra is the mudra for letting go and boy did I need it this week. After a frustrating start to my week, I knew I needed a major attitude adjustment. I knew that I needed to shake off this cloud of frustration and overwhelm ASAP, so this morning I welcomed Ksepana Mudra into my meditation and asana practice. This is probably one of my favorite mudras, simply because I experience an energetic shift immediately. It’s so much easier to work through the tough stuff when we have the tools to do so!
The Mudra for Letting Go
In Sanskrit, Ksepana means to throw (away), to let go, pour off or to cast off. Ksepana mudra is the mudra for letting go of waste known as mala in Ayurveda. This waste, or mala, can be literal physical waste, toxic relationships, negative thoughts, or old habits, samskaras, and vasanas that don’t serve your highest self. I like to use this mudra when I’m feeling heavy or down or when I’m holding to tightly to expectations or my desire to be in control. I also like to practice this mudra when I’m feeling grumpy, frustrated, or overwhelmed… it’s like a tonic for the soul! Give it a go and let me know how you feel afterward.
Ksepana Mudra and Apana Vayu
Ksepana Mudra works with apana vayu, which is the down and outward flowing energy (prana) of elimination (defecation and urination), menstruation, and child birth. In addition to elmination through the large intestine, Ksepana mudra helps us remove mala through the surface of our skin via perspiration and through our lungs via expiration (the exhale breath).
Ksepana Mudra: Elements and Chakras
Mudras are often associated with specific elements according to Ayurveda’s five element theory (earth, water, fire, air and ether). Ksepana Mudra is often associated with the air element and therefore the heart chakra. What a beautiful act of self-love to say “no more, this doesn’t serve me, I’m letting it go”. After many years of practicing Ksepana Mudra it often resonates with the second chakra and the water element. I find that the imagery of water helps calm my nervous system and clears out stagnation, stress, etc. The second chakra is also very much associated with the energy of apana vayu and the act of letting go.
Ksepana Mudra Practice:
To practice ksepana mudra interlace the fingers of both hands and then release the index fingers. The index fingers are touching one another. The thumbs are crossed and the thumb pads rest, more or less, in the crook between thumb and index finger. When seated and practicing this mudra the index fingers should point down. The index fingers should point toward your feet when practicing this mudra lying down.
You can also practice this mudra in your asana practice. A flow that I like to do in a seated posture.
Begin with the mudra at heart center. Index fingers pointing up.
On an inhale turn the index fingers to point down and slightly away, extending the arms long toward the floor.
Using the same inhale breath sweeping the arms up overhead.
Exhale index fingers come to the crown of the head, to the forehead, the nose, then the lips and back to the heart like a waterfall tumbling over smooth stones.
Each inhale envision vibrant, light energy flowing into your body and on your exhale let go of negativity in any of its forms.
Practice a total of seven times.
Benefits of Ksepana Mudra:
Ksepana mudra helps us release negativity, frustration and suffering. Practicing the mudra, especially as stated above, creates a palpable difference in our energy. I call this letting go mudra an “attitude adjustment”.
“I let go of what no longer serves me.”
“Spent energy in my body, mind, and soul flows away from me, and I thankfully accept all things that refresh me,” from Gertrud Hirsch’s book Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands. Gertrud’s book has been on my bookshelf for years and is literally my go-to book for mudras.
“I surrender to the flow of the Universe.”
“I embrace uncertainty with ease.”
If you want to learn more about Mudras and powerful meditation practices that you can combine with these symbolic hand gestures, check out my book, The Little Book of Mudra Meditations. Hope to see you on your mat or cushion soon.
Love and Light,
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Padma mudra is known as the lotus mudra or lotus seal because it resembles a blossoming lotus. It is a beautiful mudra to incorporate into any meditation or asana practice. In Sanskrit, Padma is commonly translated simply as lotus, but my favorite translation is “sacred lotus”. The sacred lotus is a reminder of the divine within and it’s a way that we can honor our own inner beauty and light and our ability to rise above the darkness of the muck and mire.
Lotus flowers grow abundantly in South Asia and Southeast Asia. (pic by Dietmar Dorsch)
Lotus Mudra Symbolism and Imagery
Lotus symbolism and imagery is common throughout Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism. A lotus flower takes root down in the muck and mud and rises up through the water to blossom unscathed at the water’s surface. You can think of the path of the lotus as the journey to enlightenment. It is the journey from the darkness to the light.
The mud and muck represent our ego, our habits, our stories, our samskaras, our vasanas, our dramas. It represents life’s challenges, our shadow, and even inertia. The water through which the lotus must rise is cleansing and purifying. It is our yoga practice and our personal development. It takes action and awareness. The lotus flower’s rise from the muck up to the water’s surface requires action, and fortitude, it is a period of growth. And the fully bloomed flower represents our fully awakened self. Pure and beautiful.
Padma mudra is often associated with the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the shakti of all types of good fortune and abundance, both spiritual and material. She graces us with the gifts of auspiciousness, grace, compassion and love.
The Lotus Mudra opens our heart chakra to receive love, grace, compassion and abundance. When I notice that I’m starting to pull away from loved ones or pull away from experiencing love I find Padma Mudra to be a helpful reminder to lean in, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. Love is always worth it.
How to Practice Padma Mudra
To practice padma mudra, bring your hands to anjali mudra, or prayer mudra, in front of your heart center with the palms of your hands touching. Keep the heels of your palms touching, your pinky fingers touching and your thumbs touching as you peel the palms of your hands, index, middle and ring fingers away from one another. The three middle fingers of each hand blossom away from one another like a lotus flower in bloom. Hold the mudra for five to ten minutes although it’s perfectly acceptable to hold the mudra longer.
Two Meditation Practices for the Lotus Mudra
One of my favorite lotus mudra practices puts a little spin on the traditional mudra. Sianna Sherman calls it prayer wheel padma mudra. I personally like to add either pranayama or mantra to this version. I’ll explain it briefly below:
From a traditional version of padma mudra, you begin to spin the fingers away from your torso, you roll to the backs of the hands until the pinky fingers touch again and then come back to lotus mudra. I often incorporate this version into my Lakshmi practice and chant “Om shrim maha Lakshmyai namaha” or simply Lakshmi’s seed sound “shrim”. I will often do 27, 54, or 108 rotations.
Another Lotus Mudra practice that I’ve been feeling called to share is a moving meditation that connects the mind to the wisdom of the heart. Here you can start with the hands in Padma Mudra at the heart center. As you inhale allow the mudra to float up to your Third Eye Chakra at the center of your brows. As you exhale, allow the hands to return to the space of the heart. This mudra practice can take you out of the thinking, analyzing, judging mind and into the wisdom of the heart. I like to do this practice when I need clarity on what is best for my higher self or when I need to work on trusting my own inner wisdom which is always rooted in love.
Benefits of Padma Mudra
Padma Mudra helps you remember that your very essence is love, radiance, and bliss.
the lotus seal inspires purity and perseverance
Reminds you of your own inner beauty
It is calming to the mind
Opens the heart chakra to love and compassion
Affirmations for Padma Mudra
I rise above life’s challenges with ease and grace.
My inner light shines brightly.
My heart is pure.
My Mudra book is now available on Amazon. If you’re looking to expand your mudra and meditation practice it is packed with 30 mudra meditations for healing. I would be honored if you checked it out!
As always, I am here to support you. Please feel free to reach out with questions any time.
Love and Light, Autumn