Tapas is not just a Spanish appetizer. The word is also found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describing the Niyamas (2:32) or observances in the 8-fold path.

The term tapas derived from the Sanskrit root “tap” meaning “to burn” and implies a sense of fiery discipline or passion. In this sense, tapas can mean cultivating restraint or an effort made to burn away impurities physically, mentally and emotionally. Tapas also refers to the heat that gets our heart pumping and motivates us toward change. Lois Nesbitt (yoga teacher) described the heat of tapas comes from “the friction generated by going against the grain of habit, of complacency, of doing what is easiest” (2009, para. 5). The purpose of tapas is to burn off the heaviness in our bodies, energy flow, and mental processes to awaken the dormant energy within.

During asana (the physical practice of yoga), tapas can be the simple discipline of making time for our personal practice. It can also apply to the type of practice we do – maybe a hot yoga class or an intense period of meditation. Challenging our bodies to build strength and open chronic tension as well as changing habitual movement patterns are tapas practices.

Pranayama practices can also be used to challenge our habitual breathing practices. A simple practice of expanding your breath capacity – making longer breaths through systematic lengthening of inhale, retention, exhale, and suspension of breath – helps build heat and vitality. Ujjayi engages a gentle constriction of the muscles at the back of the throat to focus the attention and adjust your breathing. Strong exhalation through the mouth (optionally using the Lion face) increases the force of the breath, helping the body release tension in the neck and throat.

Mediation practices using long periods of silence can be a challenging tapas practice. The challenge of staying silent can create agitation in our busy minds, but it also offers a time for reflection on our mind habits. Even 1 minute of silence can be a challenge – give it a try now! Set a timer and close your eyes. Notice you mind/thinking patterns for just one minute. A regular practice of sitting still, observing your thoughts can help clarify your understanding of how you work!

Giving is Good for You!

Research is finding that giving to others makes the giver happier & healthier:

  • A 2017 study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at IUPUI found that people who give to charitable causes are happier than those who don’t, regardless of their gender and marital status. AND the more they give, the happier they are (Mesch, et al., 2017).
  • A Harvard study found showed that those who reported spending more on others also reported a greater level of happiness, while how much they spent on themselves had no impact on happiness (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2014).
  • A five-year multi-institutional study found giving can protect the health and prolong lives of the altruistic (Poulin, Brown, Dillard, & Smith, 2013).
  • The act of giving also lights up pleasure centers in our brains and gives a “warm glow” feeling (Harbaugh, Mayr, & Burghart, 2007).

When you want to give $$ – check out the GiveWell list of highest impact giving opportunities supported by research.

When you want to give your time – checkout VolunteerMatch for suggestions on where to put your talents and passion.


Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Prosocial spending and happiness: Using money to benefit others pays off. Current Directions in Psychological Science23(1), 41-47.

Harbaugh, W. T., Mayr, U., & Burghart, D. R. (2007). Neural responses to taxation and voluntary giving reveal motives for charitable donations. Science316(5831), 1622-1625.

Mesch, D., Osili, U., Okten, C., Han, X., Pactor, A., & Ackerman, J. (2017). Women Give 2017.

Poulin, M. J., Brown, S. L., Dillard, A. J., & Smith, D. M. (2013). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. American journal of public health103(9), 1649-55.

How to Meditate (and why do it)

Have you heard that you should meditate? There are many potential benefits from meditating like reducing your stress, clearing your mind, feeling less tired, getting happier, etc. Interested, but not sure what this meditation stuff is?

The practice of meditation is simple. Find a place to sit or lie down, close your eyes, and focus your attention on one thing (like your breath or sensations or visual aid). Actually practicing meditation is not so easy.

Some folks get caught in the “I don’t have time for this” barrier. It feels like you’re doing nothing and there are SO MANY things to do! Some folks sit still and just fall asleep – so you get a nice nap, but no enlightenment. Some people try meditating and get frustrated with the constant chatter of their mind. They feel that they are not good at meditating, so why waste the time. Some people can set aside time to meditate for a few days, but then something comes up – like getting a cold or having a big work commitment – and the new habit is lost in the flow of life-stuff. Some people get the meditation pillow and candle and set up a special space, but once there find that they are always distracted by the noises or temperature or their body is in pain. There are lots of reasons why you might not meditate.

So why meditate?

For many of us the daily truth is that the momentum of life can take over, where we are so focused on reacting there’s no head space to be conscious about what we’re doing moment to moment. The constant flow of information through technology and urgency in everyday activities wires our brains to be jump around, looking for the next emergency (even when there is none). Gazzaley and Rosen describe the effects of trying to multitask and work with the constant distractions of technology in their book The Distracted Mind. Neuroscience has shown that repetitive thoughts create neuropathways in our minds (Hebb, 1949; LeDoux, 2003). It’s as if we’ve trained our minds to be distracted!

Meditation is how we train our brains to focus. There are many changes in the brain when we meditate regularly (if you like to geek out on the science, check out Rebecca Gladding’s article This is Your Brain on Meditation or the book Buddha’s Brain.) But here’s the catch, it takes repetition…a lot of practice to build the new neuropathways for focus. Think of how you would leash train a dog. The first time you go out, especially to a new place, the dog is very excited…sniffing every blade of grass and pulling this way and then the other. Each time the dog jerks, you pull back on the leash giving the command to heel. It may take many trips on the leash before the dog understands the rules of the walk. They may even become so trained that they no longer need the leash…but watch out for the random squirrel! It’s the same with our attention. It takes time, often with a tool (like the breath or a mantra or an audio guide) to focus our attention.

How do you begin meditating?

  • Set aside some time (even just 5 minutes to start). Setting a timer can help you let go of the need to constantly check the time.
  • Sit purposefully. Try and find a space where the distractions are minimized. Let the other beings in your space (people, pets, etc.) know you are not to be interrupted for this block of time.
  • Close your eyes. If this makes you sleepy, you can “soften your gaze” – this means finding a spot where you can rest your vision without looking around or being visually distracted.
  • Start by focusing your attention on your breathing. Benefits of breath focus are that you always have it with you, there’s no special equipment necessary, and focusing on your breath can help you relax.
  • EVERY TIME YOU GET DISTRACTED gently, kindly redirect your attention (remember the dog with the leash). Even if you have to do it a million times, keep consciously directing your focus to your breath.
  • REPEAT! Be consistent, over a period of time, setting up the disciplined order for your mind.

There are many ways/methods for meditation. If sitting still is not working for you, try a moving meditation like yoga asana or tai chi or walking meditation. If you need more guidance to begin, there are many new apps with guided audio meditations or online resources. There are also many groups that meet to practice together with a trained leader. Check out what’s available for you.



Expect Obstacles!

Yoga philosophy is based on the idea of evolution toward mental clarity and reduced suffering. Patanjali described in the Yoga Sutras methods for achieving this goal. Three consecutive sutras (1.30-1.32) describe potential obstacles along the path and how to overcome them.

  • 1.30 vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah – Distractions arise (disease; dullness; doubt; carelessness; laziness; craving; distorted perspective; inability to know the true meaning and purpose of one’s practice; and inability to remain grounded) as obstacles naturally encountered on the path of evolution and self-awareness.
  • 1.31 duhkha daurmanasya angam-ejayatva shvasa prashvasah vikshepa sahabhuva – As a result of encountering the obstacles listed in the previous sutra, four consequences arise: 1) duhkha = mental or physical pain, 2) daumanasya = sadness or dejection, 3) angam-ejayatva = shakiness or restlessness, and 4) shvasa/prashvasah = irregularities in the inhalation/exhalation.
  • 1.32 tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasah – To prevent or deal with these nine obstacles and their four consequences, the recommendation is to practice meditation – training the mind to recognize when obstacles arise and to focus/refocus on a single principle or object.

Expect Obstacles! Distractions of the mind are natural. Our minds are designed to seek new information (Hallowell, 2011; Makris, Biederman, Monutaeux, & Seidman, 2009; Rock, 2009). The negative effects come when distractions arise (chitta-vikshepa) and attention follows the ideas away from mental clarity resulting in suffering – just like a dog catching sight of a squirrel and chasing after it. The suffering comes when we remain distracted, unclear.

The solution to getting caught in the suffering of a distracted mind is to first notice the distraction. Distractions can take us off course subtly. It may be you only recognize them through consequences of the distractions – when you’re experiencing physical or mental pain, sadness, shakiness, or irregular breath.

Once you are aware of the distraction, recognize that this is the natural habit of the mind and give yourself a break. Let go of attachment to the distraction (vairagya) and any judgement about the strength of your mind. Use your energy to redirect the mind to the one point of focus. With the example of the dog on a leash, when the dog jerks away to chase the squirrel you must pull back and make the command to heel as many times as needed.

To build the strength of one-pointed attention you must practice! Regular practice (abhyasa) is required to strengthen the mind and the body. Repeated practice of focusing your attention builds neuropathways (Congleton, Holzel, & Lazar, 2015; Fox et al., 2014; Ludwig & Kabat-Zinn, 2008). This practice of requires thoughtful attention or mindfulness rather than sinking deeper into a distraction (like work, TV, internet, etc.). The next Sutras (1.33-1.39) describe specific methods for practicing one-pointed attention including; breath awareness, sensation, inner luminosity, contemplation on a stable mind, and focusing on the stream of the mind.

Come explore your distractions and consequences with guided practice of movement (asana), breathing (pranayama), and meditation on Fridays in October at 11:30-12:45pm classes at Dragonfly 360 studio in Nora.

Sthira & Sukha: Stability & Ease

In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, sutra 2.46 is “sthira-sukham asanam”. This sutra is commonly understood as “yoga postures should be stable, and the body be at ease.” This understanding focuses the practice of yoga postures and movements. It is a valuable concept to aim for steadiness and ease when practicing yoga movement, but there is a deeper understanding of these ideas.

Patanjali used the sutras to describe a path toward developing samadhi, cultivating mental focus and clarity. In this perspective, this sutra would refer to the quality of a practitioner’s meditation pose or seated posture. It could be understood that the practice of asana leads to an ease in the body and allows for extended time in physical stillness to shift the practice to concerns of the mind.

A more literal translation of the sutra could be “in yoga, we should resolutely abide in a good space.” Sthira etymologically comes from the root stha, which means “to stand, to be firm, to take a stand” and can mean “firm, compact, strong, steadfast, static, resolute, and courageous.” Sukha comes from the root words su (good) and kha (space) so the literal meaning is “good space.” Sukha originally described the kind of smooth ride one would experience in a cart or a chariot whose axle holes were well centered in the wheels, implying the development of sukha as an active process. Asana (most commonly referring to yogic movements) comes from the root as which suggests “the act of sitting down, abiding, dwelling, inhabiting, being present.” In this sutra, asana suggests being grounded and being fully present in the current action.

So, there are many levels in our yoga practice where sthira and sukha can be cultivated. The development of physical stability and ease of movement on the mat benefits our bodies. Creating a still, easy place for our minds allows for the practice of samadhi and deep meditation. In the broader sense of our full lives, sthira and sukha can be building a “good space” that allows for us to feel stable and have a sense of ease in the face of life challenges.

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Pranayama is the yogic practice of breath control. This Sanskrit term is made up of two smaller words; prana and ayama. The term prana refers to the subtle energy that pervades all things. Ayama translated as “to stretch” or to expand. The practice of controlling breath allows us to expand breath capacity and manage subtle energies.

Pranayama is also the fourth limb in Patanjali’s 8-Fold path as described in the Yoga Sutras. According to the sutra 2.50 (bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desha kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah):

“Pranayama has three aspects of external or outward flow (exhalation), internal or inward flow (inhalation), and the third, which is the absence of both during the transition between them, and is known as fixedness, retention, or suspension. These are regulated by place, time, and number, with breath becoming slow and subtle.” – translation from SwamiJ.com

The mechanics of breath involve the process of pulling in oxygen and diffusing it through the blood stream. The primary role of inhalation is to bring in oxygen, thus brining energy into the system. The role of exhale is to release waste (carbon dioxide) and releasing stress, tension, even thoughts. The techniques described by Patanjali include inhalation, hold/retention after inhale, exhale, and pause/suspension after exhale. The different parts of the breath can be combined with certain movements to increase the effect of that movement.

There are many pranayama techniques that manipulate the breath to achieve different results (relaxation, invigoration, narrowing focus for deeper states of concentration, etc.). But the first step of controlling the breath is to become aware. Take a moment now to become aware of your breath. Close your eyes and put one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Feel your body move as you breathe. Feel the expansion of your chest, your belly pushing out as you inhale. Feel the contraction of your abdomen and the softening of your ribcage as you exhale. Take a few breaths with this awareness. Even as you bring your attention to your breath it will change, often lengthening without any conscious intent. Take 10 breaths simply focusing your awareness. After you’re done, notice the effect you feel. Notice how much time this practice took. Did it relax you? Did you feel clearer in your mind? Did it bring up emotions – if so what? Now you can do the practice on purpose – breathe on purpose!


Pranayama Workshop
Saturday, May 26
12:30pm to 3:00pm at Dragonfly 360, on 86th Street in Nora across from North Central High School


This 3-hour workshop will include an asana (physical movement) practice focusing on integration of breath and movement, description and practice of pranayama techniques, information on how pranayama affects physiology, and energetic effects of pranayama practices. You will leave this workshop with data on the practices and an experience of how the breathing practices affect you. Yoga Alliance CEUs are available for participation in this training. This workshop is open to anyone who is interested in developing their breath capacity or teaching breath techniques.

Cost is $50 for the 2.5-hour workshop. Yoga Alliance CEUs available upon request. Register at https://www.dragonfly360.net/events/


Abhyasa/practice and Vairagya/non-attachment (Sutra 1.12-1.16)

The practice of yoga includes deep awareness of habit patterns (samskara). These habits of thinking, feeling, and reacting affect our capacity for joy. The unconscious habit patterns create filters over the reality of the present moment, with the potential of creating distress or suffering. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the methods of yoga are described as a pathway to reduce the internal machinations that provoke suffering.

Sutra 1.12 suggests that our thought patterns (vrittis) are mastered, regulated, or quieted (nirodhah) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).  The process of persistent, systematic exploration of thought patterns, fears, and false identifications allows for detachment from the filters that enable suffering.

Abhyasa describes the continuous practice necessary to clear the mind. It cannot be accomplished in one sitting. Clearing the mind requires discipline of consistent attention and time to develop the cumulative power of yoga. It is also true that old habits die hard. The unconscious thought patterns continue to arise. Through continued intentional awareness we can begin to observe these patterns and reduce their impact.

Vairagya refers to the process of letting go of the many attachments our minds accumulate. Panatjali describes these attachments in Sutra 2.5, saying attachments are the thoughts that follow identification with pleasurable experiences. There is no moral judgement about this attachment, rather it is how our minds differentiate between “I” and “other.” Attachment is a natural habit of the mind. The yoga practice is to become aware and witness these natural attachments as thought patterns rather than reality.

“It is not that ‘I’ am attached. Rather, the thought is colored. ‘I’ then identifies with the thought.” Swami Jnaneshvara

Jon me for exploration of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra at 11:30am-12:45pm on Fridays at Dragonfly 360 in Nora https://www.dragonfly360.net/events/ or call (317) 344-9840 to sign up for the Gentle Yoga + Philosophy series. 


Pratipaksa Bhavana

Have you ever gotten stuck in negative or disturbed thinking? Ever had a time when all looks dark and there seems to be no good in the world? Yoga philosophy offers a suggestion for changing perspective, inviting new ways of thinking.

Patanjali’s Yoga Stura 2.33 “VITARKA BADHANE PRATIPASHA BHAVANAM” suggests that when suffering from afflicted thinking, we need to cultivate a different perspective. Patanjali continues to describe how negative thinking is a kind of violence done to ourselves. The practice of yoga is to develop clear thinking and introduce thoughts opposite to the negative.

The Western psychology perspective of this idea is cognitive restructuring. This is where the individual works to adjust their attitude, thoughts, and reactions. “Cognitive restructuring refers to the process of replacing cognitive distortions with thoughts that are more accurate and useful.  Cognitive restructuring has two basic steps:  (1) Identifying the thoughts or beliefs that are influencing the disturbing emotion;  (2) Evaluating them for their accuracy and usefulness using logic and evidence, and if warranted, modifying or replacing the thoughts with ones that are more accurate and useful.” (Benggeli, 2010, para. 15)

The process of pratipakha bahvana must start with understanding/belief that events or situations do not have inherent meaning. We assign meaning in our interpretation of the events.  Our brains are story makers.  Often, we get so caught up in the story that we increase our suffering. The practice of meditation in yoga creates the space to see clearly our thinking patterns and the stories created in our minds. Once we are able to see more clearly, we can build more functional thinking.



Benggeli, N. (2010). CBT techniques, part 1: Cognitive restructuring. Retrieved from http://www.nelsonbinggeli.net/NB/CBT-CR.html


*see Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet – saved in Dropbox/Research on 3/21/14.


Yogas chitta vrtti nirodha

The long tradition of yoga is rooted in the exploration of the human mind and developing perspective to reduce suffering in this life. One of the primary sources of yoga philosophy is the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutra is a collection of short statements with deep meaning. Sutra translates from Sanskrit to thread and this thread, or multiple threads, weave a tapestry of insight and path for direct practice.

The second sutra “Yogas chitta vrtti nirodha (1:2) is where Patanjali defines yoga. It translates to “yoga is the practice of stilling of the mind.”

Our minds are in constant motion. We are trained to identify, categorize, label, and judge the input from the world. All of this processing can lead to a distracted mind, like a pinball machine, constantly reacting and bouncing to the next thought. This type of mental activity can create barriers or lenses through which we view the world.

Stilling the mind completely seems an impossible goal. Patanjali suggested that there are methods for quieting and clearing the mind. The sutra(s) offer specific practices to consciously remove the lenses that distort thinking, cultivate a witnessing presence to release identification with our thoughts, and detach from false identifications.



(yoga chitta vr-it-tee nee-ro-da-Ha)

Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.

yogaḥ = (nom. sg. m. from yoga) yoga
citta = (iic.) all that is mutable in human beings; thoughts
vr̥tti = (iic.) thought-wave; mental modification; mental whirlpool; a ripple in the chitta. A vritti alters perception like a misconception, or as waves on the surface of a pond obscure or distort our view of the bottom.
nirodhaḥ = (nom. sg. m. from nirodha) to find tranquility; to control

I will be leading a 6-week workshop designed to explore some of the practices outlined in the Yoga Sutra. Each class meeting will include an introduction of the sutra, asana (physical practice), pranayama (guided breathing), and meditation. Classes are designed to provide an experiential practice where you can explore your own thinking patterns and techniques described in the Yoga Sutras. Visit https://www.dragonfly360.net/events/ or call (317) 344-9840 to sign up for the Gentle Yoga + Philosophy series.

  • Friday, January 5 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: intro to philosophy & viniyoga)
  • Friday, January 12 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Viyoga/developing awareness)
  • Friday, January 19 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Samskara/habit patterns)
  • Friday, January 26 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Vairagya/non-attachment)
  • Friday, February 2 11:30am-12:45am (Pratipaksha Bhavana/perspective)
  • Friday, February 9 11:30am-12:45am (Topic: Abhyasa/dedicated practice)

The Power of Gratitude

That old saying, “count your blessings” has more power to improve your mental health than you might think. Gratitude has been shown to have a negative relationship to depression and positive relationship to life satisfaction. Some studies have shown that grateful people are more agreeable, open, and experience less depressive symptoms than those who have a low sense of gratitude. In a 2003 study, Emmons and McCullough found that people who focused on gratitude in their lives for 10 weeks showed significantly more optimism in many areas of their lives, including health and exercise. Expressing your thanks can really improve your overall sense of well-being.

Gratitude is something you can build! Practicing gratitude can be a simple habit of focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of your life. Try writing a list of 3 things you’re grateful for each day. Or write a thank you letter to someone and deliver it in person. Even taking just a moment each day to mentally recognize the gifts of your life can cultivate your gratitude. As with most healthy habits, it is more effective if you can practice a little everyday – but a quick gratitude check when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed can also help lift your mood.

Try it now! Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and bring to mind something you are grateful for. It can be one thing or many things. Fill your awareness with that sense of gratitude. If you like, imagine that feeling of gratitude as a light and visualize that light expanding each time you inhale. Imagine the light growing to fill your whole body. Then, imagine that light – the feeling of gratitude – growing beyond the boundaries of your body so that you are filled and surrounded by that light. Imagine that light continuing to expand each time you inhale until it spreads to all of the people that you love. Imagine the light growing even bigger, even brighter until is spread to all of the people that they love. Imagine the light – that feeling of gratitude – expanding until it fills the whole planet, that light shining on all the beings present. Then, imagine the light focusing into the space around your heart. Hold that feeling of gratitude in the space around your heart.


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