The Last Thought-Bender!

Thought Bender
“Yogah Chitta Vritti Nirodha”. This is the second sloka (stanza) in the first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. This sutra provides the definition of yoga: it says that yoga is the cessation of the modification of the mind. This means that the goal of yoga is to reach a state of mind that is so focused that the constant chatter of thoughts is bought to a complete halt.

The question then is: if yoga is connected with thoughts, why is practicing of yoga-postures part of yoga? Why did Patanjali make Asana (or Yoga Postures) one of the eight limbs of yoga? What is the connection between yoga-postures and thoughts?

To answer this we have to first ask the question: Can stress have an impact on thoughts? The impact of thoughts on stress is well known. Just by thinking we can create stress in our body. This is easy to demonstrate. Close your eyes and think for a minute of a situation where you felt insulted (or embarrassed). You will soon find that your heart rate and blood pressure has gone up, and you are sweating and flushed. Just by thinking you were able to cause your body to generate stress hormones! But the question being asked here is the reverse. It is not about thoughts affecting stress, but about stress affecting thoughts.

The key insight here is that bad stress is a “Thought Bender”. Bad stress can bend thoughts so that they bend inwards to create an endless cycle of thoughts. The presence of bad stress causes you mind to generate an endless cycle of thoughts where each thought feeds the next one in an endless unproductive cycle. This can lead to a cycle of worry, anxiety, anger, angst, or other negative emotions.

A mind that is flooded with stress will not be able to concentrate or focus. Some of these thoughts can in turn generate additional stress and create a positive feedback loop. When this happens, it is very difficult to break out of the cycle and the situation can best be described as a “Stress Trap”.

Thus from the point of view of yoga it is important to counter the “thought-bender” aspect of stress. This is done by countering stress itself. This is why Patanjali included Asana or yoga-postures as a separate limb in his 8-limb yoga system. Patanjali knew that the practice of yoga-postures would counter stress. This in turn would free the mind up because, in the absence of stress. the mind would be able to function normally and there would be no thought-bending taking place that then generates endless cycles of thought.

All of us can be helped by this new insight, even if we have no interest in the deeper goal of yoga. So no matter what your profession or your interest is, you can greatly benefit if your mind is freed from the thought-bending aspect of stress. When this happens you can benefit from increased focus and increased creativity along with lower anxiety and worry.

When the mind is freed from the last thought bender it truly becomes happy, free and boundless. Its thoughts are now in harmony with the deepest wisdom of the universe and limitless creativity, love, and harmony flow out. The question now is: are you ready to free your mind of its last thought-bender?

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High Phone Bill?

A phone bill came out exceptionally high. Big Dad, the head of household called an immediate meeting of the family.

Dad pleaded, “I do not use our phone unless someone calls at home. I use work phone for local, national and international phone calls.”

The son explained, “Me too dad, I use my work phone, or borrow friends’ phone but rarely call some one on our home phone.”

The daughter said same thing. “Dad I am so busy with work and promotion that I always use work phone and rarely use home phone.”

Mom was in line with others and said “I use my work phone and never have time to use home phone.”

They all looked to maid who was listening.

The maid got annoyed and said “I am no different and same way, I work here and use my work phone!”

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The Donkey in the Well

Picture of donkey in the well

Many of you may have heard this story, but I was thinking of it recently and wanted to share this time old tale as a reminder for us to “take a step up”.

Once upon a time, a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well that the farmer had accidentally left uncovered. The donkey cried and cried, and the farmer tried to figure out a way to get the donkey out of the deep hole, however, the sides were too unstable to lower someone down with a rope to tie around the donkey, and as the donkey was panicky and thrashing about, he was concerned he or one of his farm hands might be injured and stuck down the hole too.

The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway, so it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited his neighbors to come and help, so they all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.

As he felt the dirt falling on him, the donkey, being a donkey, kicked and kicked. When that didn’t seem to help, he brayed and brayed. Once the piles of dirt hit the donkey, the animal found renewed energy, and brayed even louder than he had before. The men turned their eyes from one another and pretended not to hear the donkey’s pleadings. The donkey kicked up a fuss and made a terrible commotion, but no one came to help. The donkey cried, but as he tired and began to understand the hopelessness of its situation, he began to give up, and got quiet, and then he realized something amazing was happening.

The donkey realized that the dirt was a gift. With each scoop of dirt that fell into the well, the donkey shook off any that landed on it and then took a step up onto the top of the pile of dirt forming at the bottom of the well. More dirt, another shake and another step up.

The men kept shoveling; certain that they were burying the poor donkey. But as they were shoveling, the donkey was shaking off the dirt and stomping it into the ground below him. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey shook the dirt off and took a step up. As the men continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, the donkey would shake it off and take a step up. The men were busy shoveling so they didn’t notice what was happening.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer and neighbours finally looked down the well and was astonished at what they saw. The men were quite surprised to see the donkey, looking right straight at them. It was standing on top of all that dirt that had been dropped on it. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!

This story of the donkey in the well is timeless, and has circulated for a while. Its message is timeless, as many of us have found ourselves stuck in a situation where we just didn’t know to get through. The metaphorical dirt was poured over our heads, and we got buried by the problems, or we shook the dirt to the ground and rise above the circumstances. Continue reading

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Yoga Helped Manage my Asthma

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Janet Doolin

In 1995, I almost died from an asthma episode that landed me in the emergency room. Denial can be a formidable enemy. I was in complete denial about having a serious asthma condition. In 1992, I had been seen by a asthma specialist and he had prescribed two inhalers for me which I always seemed to conveniently “forget” to carry with me. I ended up with very unstable asthma and frequently had to miss work and miss out on physical activities because of shortness of breath. My doctor saw me immediately following my emergency room incident, and he said “Janet, along with taking medication every day, you are restricted to two physical activities that I will allow you to do – either swimming or yoga.”

I chose yoga and fifteen years later, I have never looked back!

So, in 1995, I stated my yoga journey. My health club had just started offering yoga classes so I signed up and was pleased with the immediate relief I found with just two one-hour yoga classes per week. It was a miracle to me. I continued to take classes every week and after two years, my yoga teacher asked me to sub for her when she was out on maternity leave. I then decided I wanted to become a Certified Yoga Teacher.

In the year 2000, I received my yoga teacher certification. Since then, I have found that I love teaching yoga to seniors. One of my students was 100 years old and she was able to participate in a gentle senior yoga class I offered at an assisted living facility in Denver. What an inspiration she was to me! I continue to teach and now find that I want to teach seniors full-time as my special calling.

You can find Janet Doolin at She would love to hear from you and share more of her yoga story with you. If you are interested she can also help you with your journey into yoga.

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The Third Leg of Happiness

picture of smiley face

Happiness research indicates that we all have a “base level” of happiness. Positive and negative events veer us off this baseline only temporarily. A vacation or the purchase of a long sought of appliance only makes us temporarily happy and we revert back to our base level of happiness. On the same lines a flat tire or an illness makes us temporarily unhappy and we eventually revert back to our base level of happiness.

These may seem trivial examples but studies have shown that even after major events like winning a lottery or losing a leg, people usually revert to the same baseline happiness within a year of the event. So does this mean that the pursuit of happiness is a futile exercise? If the level of our happiness is pretty much baked in, why should we spend a lifetime of effort looking for happiness? The answer is that our baseline happiness, though relatively stable, can be moved up and down. This means we can in-fact become happier if we do the right things. The problem is that many of these are not things that we usually assume make us happy.

Studies have shown that happiness increases with wealth only up to a level. In the US this is an annual income of $75,000. Above this level of income there is only weak correlation between happiness and money. After this, social status then becomes a bigger driver of happiness than money. If the work we do is widely recognized and appreciated, this too leads to higher happiness because of our increased social standing, even if it may not make us wealthier. This means that the first leg of happiness is money, success, and social-status.

The second leg of happiness is social support and social network. This refers to the relationships in our lives and the connections we have with significant others, friends, relatives, and associates. If we have long and stable relationships, positive support, and strong connections, we are happier. If we are lonely and/or have poor connection with family and friends our level of happiness is lower.

The third leg of happiness is stress. The level of stress that we have has a direct impact on our emotional and physical well being. If we are less stressed we are able to relax and enjoy the moment.

Another reason why stress is so important is that it also plays a direct role with the first two legs of happiness. Higher stress levels clouds our thinking and makes us error prone. Our chances of success decrease at high stress levels because high stress lead to poor decisions.

Stress also had direct correlation with our relationships. Higher stress levels make us high-strung and emotional. We are ready to explode in anger or have a meltdown. Consequently relationships take a beating when our stress levels rise. We may find our social support and social network diminish as stress levels rise and consequently our happiness levels go down.

The problem with the first leg of happiness is that after a certain level, making increasing progress does not add to happiness. The main reason for this is that increasing wealth, success, and social standing, tends to increase our ego. This in-turn leads to higher stress and this counters any increase of happiness that we may otherwise have accrued.

An understanding of the three legs of happiness and the correlation between them should allow us to better manage our lives and increase our levels of happiness. As we make progress on the first two legs of happiness we must always keep an eye on the level of stress in our lives and take step to counter this. By balancing the three legs appropriately we can lead both happy and successful lives.

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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