“Light on Yoga” Concordance

Looking for a pose in the hatha yoga modern classic, Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar?  The list below will help you find what you are looking for!  B.K.S. Iyengar listed almost 600 different poses—rather than list the page number, the order in which they appear in his book is listed.

 

# Sanskrit English name or description
1 Tadasana Mountain
2 Vrksasana Tree
5 Utthita Trikonasana Triangle
7 Parivrtta Trikonasana Rotated Triangle
9 Utthita Parsvakonasana Extended Angle
11 Parivrtta Parsvakonasana Standing Spinal Twist
14 Virabhadrasana 1 Lunging, back foot turned out, arms up
15 Virabhadrasana 2 Lunging, back foot turned out, arms open
17 Virabhadrasana 3 Balancing on one leg, torso & leg parallel to floor
19 Ardha Chandrasana Half Moon
23 Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana Standing one legged balance
28 Parsvottanasana Standing Forward Bend over one leg
34 Prasarita Padottanasana 1 Standing straddle forward bend
36 Prasarita Padottanasana 2 Standing straddle forward bend
41 Ustrasana Camel
42 Utkatasana Awkward Pose
44 Padangusthasana Pulling on toes forward bend
46 Pada Hastasana Stepping on hands forward bend
48 Uttanasana Standing Forward Bend over one leg
49 Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana Standing split
55 Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana Half bound Lotus forward bend
56 Garudasasana Eagle
60 Salabhasana Locust
63 Dhanurasana Bow
65 Parsva Dhanurasana Bow turned on side
67 Chaturanga Dandasana Four-legged Staff
71 Nakrasana Crocodile
73 Bhujangasana 1 Cobra
74 Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Upward Facing Dog
76 Adho Mukha Svanasana Downward Facing Dog
77 Dandasana Staff
78 Navasana Boat
81 Gomukhasana Cowface
83 Lolasana Dangling Earring
84 Siddhasana Adepts Seat
89 Virasana Hero
96 Supta Virasana Reclining Hero
100 Bhekasana Frog
103 Baddha Konasana Bound Angle
105 Padmasana Full Lotus
108 Tolasana Scales (lotus variation)
109 Simhasana 1 Lion (lotus variation)
111 Simhasana 2 Lion (lotus variation)
113 Matsyasana Fish (lotus variation)
115 Kukkutasana Rooster (lotus variation)
116 Garbha Pindasana Embryo in the Womb (lotus variation)
119 Baddha Padmasana Bound Lotus
122 Yoga Mudrasana Yoga Seal
124 Supta Vajrasana Reclining Thunderbolt
129 Janu Sirsasana Head of Knee Down
132 Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana Twisted Side bend
137 Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana Seated Bound Half Lotus Forward Bend
139 Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana Half Virasana Forward Bend
142 Krounchasana Heron
144 Marichyasana 1 Seated Spinal twist variation
147 Marichyasana 2 Seated Spinal twist variation
152 Upavishta Konasana Straddle Forward Bend
162 Paschimottanasana Forward Bend
166 Parivrrta Paschimottanasana Twisting Forward Bend
167 Ubhaya Padangusthasana Big Toe Standing Balance
168 Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana 1 Balancing forward bend
170 Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana 2 Balancing forward bend
171 Purvottanasana Inclined Plane
188 Urdhva Dandasana Headstand with legs lowered to 90 degrees
190 Salamba Sirsasana 1 Suuported Headstand (on forearms)
192 Salamba Sirsasana 2 Suuported Headstand (Tripod, fingers toward face)
198 Baddha Hasta Sirsasana Headstand with forearms crossed in front of face
201 Mukta Hasta Sirsasana Headstand with arms straight, back of palm on floor
212 Urdvha Padmasana in Sirsasana Lotus Headstand
224 Salamba Sarvangasana Supported Shoulderstand
244 Halasana Plow
246 Karnapidasana Plow with knees to ears
248 Supta Konasana Plow with legs straddle
259 Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Shoulderstand with legs lowered to bridge
261 Urdhva Padmasana in Sarvangasana Full lotus in shoulderstand
269 Pindasana in Sarvangasana Shoulderstand with lotus lowered to forehead
283 Chakrasana Backwards Summersault
287 Supta Padanghustasana Reclining leg stretch toward head
292 Uttana Padasana Fish with legs and arms raised
296 Setu Bandhasana Bridge
304 Marichyasana 3 Seated spinal twist variation
306 Marichyasana 4 Seated Spinal twist variation
312 Ardha Matsyendrasana 1 Seated half spinal twist
329 Pasasana Spinal twist squatting with legs together
331 Ardha Matsyendrasana 2 Spinal twist, one leg straight & one leg half-lotus bound
333 Ardha Matsyendrasana 3 Spinal twist one leg in half-lotus
343 Astavakrasana Arm balance legs to side
348 Bhujapidasana Arm balance both legs over arms, feet crossed
354 Mayurasana Peacock
357 Pincha Mayurasana Peacock Feather
359 Adho Mukha Vrksasana Hand Stand
364 Kurmasana Tortoise
368 Supta Kurmasana Sleeping Tortoise
371 Eka Pada Sirsasana One foot behind the head
394 Dwi Pada Sirsasana Both feet behind the head, arm balance
395 Tittibhasana Arm balance, legs straight over backs of arms
398 Vasisthasana Side Inclined Plane holding toe, leg straight
403 Visvamitrasana Side Inclined Plane leg straight to front over arm
410 Bakasana Crow
412 Parsva Bakasana Side Crow
419 Urdvha Kukkutasana Lotus Crow
433 Eka Pada Galavasana Flying Side Crow
476 Hanumanasana Split
477 Samakonasana Straddle Split
478 Supta Trivikramasana Reclining leg stretch (pull foot to head)
482 Urdhva Dhanurasana 1 Upward Facing Bow (wheel)
487 Urdhva Dhanurasana 2 Drop-back, lowering from standing to wheel backwards
512 Kapotasana Baby wheel, Dove, or Pigeon
513 Laghuvajrasana Baby Wheel, hands to knees
542 Eka Pada Rajakapotasana 1 King Pigeon
555 Padangusthasana Dhanurasana Full Bow
591 Natarajasana Dancing Siva
592 Savasana Corpse

Classical Hatha Yoga Poses

While the practice of yoga has its roots in ancient Vedic culture, the style of yoga practiced widely here in the west, hatha yoga, is fairly new.   Most traditions of hatha yoga trace back to three primary texts—  The Hatha Yoga Pradipika,  The Gheranda Samhita and The Shiva Samhita.

Collectively these books detail only about 30 classical yoga poses.  Most modern styles of hatha yoga include many more postures, however.    Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, for example, details many, many more postures.    In the chart below,  I have listed all of the classical yoga poses and the location in the various books in which they are described—including Light on Yoga .  The second tab on this spread sheet lists all of the poses covered in Light on Yoga.

Sanskrit Alternate Sanskrit Name English Pradipika Gheranda Samhita Shiva Samhita Light on Yoga
Bhadrasana Gorakshasana Gracious 1:54 2:9-10
Bhujangasana   Cobra 2:42-43 73
Dhanurasana   Bow 1:25 2:18 63
Garudasana   Eagel 2:37 56
Gomukhasana   Cow Face 1:20 2:16 81
Gorakshasana Bhadrasana Cowherd 2:24-25 117
Guptasana vajrasana, muktasana, siddhasana Secret 1:37 2:20
Kukkutasana   Rooster, cock 1:23 2:31 115
Kurmasana   Tortoise 1:22 2:32 365
Makarasana   Crocodile (dolphin) 2:40 62
Mandukasana   Frog 2:34
Matsyasana   Fish 2:21 113
Matsyendrasanda   Twist 1:26-27 2:23 312, 331, 333
Mayurasana   Peacock 1:30-31 2:29-30 354
Muktasana vajrasana, vajrasana, siddhasana Liberation 2:11  
Padmasana   Full Lotus 1:44-49 2:08 3:103-107 105
Paschimatasana   Forward Bend 1:28-29 2:26 162
Sankatasana   Dangerous 2:28
Shalabhasana   Locust 2:39 60
Shavasana   Corpse 1:32-33 2:19 592
Siddhasana vajrasana, muktasana, gupsasana Perfection 1:34-43 2:07 3:97-102 84
Simhasana   Lion 1:50-53 2:14-15 3:108-112 109, 111
Svastikasana   Fortunate 1:19 2:13 3:113-115
Ushtrasana   Camel 2:41 41
Utkatasana   Fierce (chair) 2:27 42
Uttanakurmasana   Extended Torttoise 1:24 2:33 364
Uttanamandukasana   Extended Frog 2:35
Vajrasana guptasana, muktasana, siddhasana Thunderbolt 1:37 2:12
Virasana   Hero 1:21 2:17 89
Virshasana   Bull 2:38
Vrikshasana   Tree 2:36 2
Yogaasana   Pose of Yoga 2:44-45

A Brief Introduction to A Course in Miracles

A Course in Miracles is a three-volume book that offers a complete system of spiritual psychotherapy. It uses familiar Christian terminology to express universal spiritual themes. Unlike much of Christianity, it is more a philosophy such as Vedanta or classical yoga. A Course in Miracles has the sole aim of helping students remove the psychological blocks that prevent us from experiencing love and joy.

The three volumes are the Text, the Workbook and the Manual for Teachers. The Text is the first book in the three-volume series. It is the foundation on which ACIM rests. It is by far the largest portion of A Course in Miracles at 669 pages. It is also the most abstract of the three books. Reading and studying the Text allows the student to understand some of the basic concepts that A Course in Miracles teaches. The Text redefines just about every common Christian term with each of these concepts presented in a new light, devoid of the guilt with which these terms have so often become associated.

The second volume, the Workbook, is a practical expression of the concepts in the Text. It provides 365 daily lessons to train the mind to perceive correctly. It is the tool that is used to “remove the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence”. The Workbook is divided into two sections. The first section works to undo the thought patterns we currently hold. The second replaces those patterns with a more accurate thought system. Over the course of a year, these simple yet profound lessons reshape the way the student thinks. By using these lessons, a new vision of the world is achieved, and the student begins to see through eyes of peace and forgiveness, rather than through the eyes of doubt, fear and prejudice.

The third volume, the Manual, is A Course in Miracles’ way of preparing its students to bring their newfound peace of mind to others. A Course in Miracles states over and over that we are all teachers to each other. Either we teach a message of fear or one of love. The Manual helps us to present a message of love in a clear and direct way. The Manual also includes a Clarification of Terms, which shines light on some of the basic concepts in the Course material.

Frequent Questions about A Course in Miracles

WHERE DID ACIM COME FROM?

The answer to this question depends on who you ask. According to the writing in the three volumes, the author was Jesus, speaking through Helen Schucman. Some people believe the book came from her subconscious and others believe that Jesus wrote it directly through her. The nice thing about A Course in Miracles is that you don’t need to believe in Jesus, or believe that he wrote it, in order to benefit from it. There are many people who ignore the claim that Jesus was involved altogether, and still experience the peace that A Course in Miracles promises.  Like all spiritual paths, A Course in Miracles should be evaluated based on its effectiveness. Like all thought systems, it should be free of contradictions. Where it came from or how it was inspired is of little consequence either way when you judge the material on its other merits.

IS ACIM RIGHT FOR ME?
A Course in Miracles is a great path for a lot of people, but it is not for everyone. I recommend that you read A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, or Path of Light by Robert Perry. They are both easy to read, and they both outline the basic tenets of A Course in Miracles. Also, you may want to find a study group in your area or join one of my online groups. Many people find that joining a study group helps them understand the material more easily. A list of study groups throughout the world can be found through The Miracle Distribution Center. If, after doing these things, you feel like A Course in Miracles is going to be a part of your life, I recommend you purchase a copy of the book and begin to study it on a daily basis.

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ACIM?
I have been a student of A Course in Miracles since 1991. Like yoga and meditation, it has become a fundamental part of my spiritual life.  Not only has it has helped me to move beyond much of the bitterness I once held toward Christianity, it has helped me look at the world in a new way. I read from A Course in Miracles almost every day and use it a great deal in my spiritual couching work.  I have also found it is a wonderful bridge between Eastern and Western philosophy.

Remembering Trevor Tice


On Tuesday, shockwaves traveled through the yoga world as news of Trevor Tice’s death arrived on our Facebook walls and in our Twitter feeds.  Those of you who practice at  CorePower Yoga are likely very familiar with Trevor as he founded the chain of studios that began in Denver and quickly opened in cities big and small around the United States.  Currently CorePower Yoga has more than 160 locations.

It would be impossible to overstate the number of people who found yoga because of Trevor’s vision of bringing yoga to the masses in a new and modern way.  There are countless people doing yoga today because CorePower felt safe, familiar and modern.     While the CorePower style of yoga doesn’t speak to everyone, Trevor’s  vision of what a yoga studio could be has had measurable and uplifting effects on the broader yoga community.

On a personal note, Trevor has always been a strong supporter of my work—promoting my books at CorePower and even endorsing one of them. While I didn’t work for CorePower, I have taught workshops at many of their studios.  Trevor always lifted me up, encouraged my work and had my back as a teacher.    I know many yogis around the United States who are the teachers they are today because he believed in them, and gave them a solid platform from which to offer their considerable gifts.

The word yoga means union—and at times like this, it is a helpful reminder that we are first and foremost yogis.  To my fellow CorePower yogis, know that the broader yoga community  is here to support you so please don’t hesitate to lean on us.  Yoga doesn’t happen in yoga studios.  It happens when we join together that which was perceived to be separate.    I hope that the whole yoga community can honor Trevor’s passing by realizing that we are bound together, not by the studio we call home, but rather by the practice itself.

I feel sadness and grief that a fellow yogi has passed but I also feel such joy and gratitude for all he contributed to my life and work and for the community he started that is home to some the most wonderful yogis I know.

 

 

 

Holiday Shopping for the Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi

 

Thanksgiving is over and the holiday season has officially begun leaving yogis and their friends and family seemingly with two choices.  One: dive head-first into a cesspool of commercialization or Two: boycott every calendar month that starts with the letter “D”
 
I  propose a third option—mindful giving.  Mindless giving is rooted in stress filled obligation and usually involves ugly socks or a Diamonique broach from Zales.  Mindful giving on the other hand leaves the giver,  the receiver and by extension the whole world feeling a little bit healthier and a lot more compassionate.  
 
Below are ten gift ideas for the Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi in your life.
 
 
1.     Donate
There are numerous charities that could use some support.  If you can, find a cause that your Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi feels passionately about and donate in their name.  Not sure where to give?  Here are a few  I support that you may want to consider.
 Recommended
Mother Miracle School –Serves some of the poorest kids in India!
BRAID Mission  Offers support to foster kids in San Francisco.
City of Hope  Researching cures for cancer, diabetes and HIV
Grace Cathedral Community Preschool– Helping underprivileged kids from San Francisco go to preschool
Bay View Mission  Provides food, clothing and other essentials for some of San Francisco‘s poorest residents.
 
2.     Yoga Mat
bambi-blu-ray-image-2A good yoga mat makes all the difference.  Even if the Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi already owns a yoga mat, it probably smells like an old gym sock.  If they own a cheap PVC-based mat it is not only bad for the environment, it will be crazy slippery when wet. About the only thing PVC-based mats are good for is making  sandwiches at Subway.
 
Rubber based mats will transform a yoga practice instantly.  Until I purchased my first rubber mat, my downward dog looked something like Bamby on ice. [look familiar?]    If you are looking for some great mats and props I have listed a bunch of them here.
Recommended
Jade Harmony Mat
 
 
3.     Inspiring Books
OK, this is a shameless plug, but hey, I’m writing this on Black Friday so it’s a holiday tradition.    Of course I’m hoping that every Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi on your list gets a copy of my new book The River of Wisdom: Reflections on Yoga, Meditation, and Mindful Living, but there are also hundreds of other books out there that will help deepen their asana practice, start a meditation practice and live more mindfully.   You can see a list of my books here.
Recommended
 
4.     Yoga!
Just about every studio, gym and teacher  offers gift certificates.  Some offer memberships, others offer class cards and some teachers even offer private one-on-one sessions. Just find a teacher or studio that speaks to the unique needs of your Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi and get them a gift card.  Some studios even offer introduction to yoga packages and workshops for all those would-be yogis promising to start practicing in the new year.
 
Recommended
 
5.     Massage and Bodywork
Kind of hard to go wrong with this gift.  If your Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi has a favorite massage therapist, that makes things easy.  If not, Yelp reviews can help you pick out a therapist in their area.  If your Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi happens to live in San Francisco, I recommend Wanda Pierce.
Recommended
 
6.     Inspiring Music
Music is always a wonderful complement to any yogi‘s practice and home.   An iTunes gift card, a subscription to Spotify or a CD from a yoga inspired artist. 
 
7.     Online Yoga
Some people find it hard to get to the yoga studio because of travel, work or family commitments.  Not to worry—there are a number of online services offering all sorts of online yoga classes that your Hard-To-Buy-For Yogi will love.  My personal favorite is MyYogaWorks Online because it has such a wide variety of teachers and styles from which to choose.
 Recommended
 
8.     The Yoga Inspired Kitchen
Eating well is a fundamental part of living as a yogi but in our busy modern world that can be difficult.  Small things can make a big difference though.  In my view, every yoga inspired kitchen should have a rice and grain cooker, a slow cooker and a Vitamix blender.   All three gadgets make eating healthy convenient and attainable for even the busiest yogi!
Recommended
 
9.      Yoga Retreats
There are few things in this world that are as amazing as shutting off the mobile phone and stepping outside the business of day-to-day life on a yoga retreat.  There are yoga retreats for just about everyone.  Local weekend getaways, exotic Costa Rican adventures (check out Blue Osa) and modern Ashrams such as Kripalu.  I offer a retreat to India every Spring and a retreat to Joshua Tree National Park every Fall.
Recommended
 
10.  Teacher Training Pay it Forward!
There are lots of would-be yoga teachers out there who would change the world given the opportunity.  If you can help a yogi pay for a Teacher Training in part or in full, you will be helping to create the next generation of great teachers. You can even ask them to ‘pay it forward’ by volunteering to teach to underserved population once they graduate!
Recommended 
 

Witness the Change

Once_Smooth_FaceBy Darren Main
Back in January I turned forty-four— a fact that seemed much harder to embrace than turning twenty-four or thirty-four.   In many ways, I don’t feel much different.  In fact, I feel more alive, more grounded and more content then ever.  And yet, each time I go for a haircut, I notice decidedly more grey hair.    Each time I wash my face, I am acutely aware that fine lines are now framing my eyes, and the other day my son asked me why my belly stuck out more than his.
There is an interesting paradox to getting older.  Everything about me has changed—and not just my body.  My thoughts, my world-view, my ability to be far more ridged and far more pragmatic at the same time.  Even my emotional self is much different than it once was.  But even though I am  very different  than I was ten years ago—even though the details of my life have shifted dramatically, there is a part of me that has been along for the ride from the very beginning.  The ancient texts would call this the Self or Atman.
In my youth, and to a large extent now, I would get caught up in the details of the moment.
“I’m in love!”
 “I’m angry!”
“I look sexy today”
 “I look like ten miles of back country road today!”
“I have money.”
 ” I’m broke.”
“I hope I get this job.”
“My boss is a buffoon”
And on and on. . . .  What is interesting is that I rarely stopped to consider that all of this is little more than snapshot my ego mind is taking in any given moment in a futile attempt to make eternal that which is temporary.  All of it will change just the way my once-smooth face now looks older.
This is why we meditate and practice yoga.  Rather than swimming in the streams of consciousness and the changing tides of the external world, we teach ourselves to become a witness.  To simply sit and observe the changes happening without judgement or attachment—moment to moment, year to year, decade to decade.
Does becoming a witness stop the change?  Nope—doesn’t even slow it down.  What it does do is help us to stop identifying with the attachment du jour and start identifying with the Self.  Once this happens, we can feel the pain, celebrate the joy, become more creative and less stressed.
I’ve also learned that when I live in the moment, when I witness the change rather than resisting it, the fine lines around my eyes magically transform from crows feet to smile lines.

My Time at Yoga Tree

Tim and Tara Dale came into my life at the perfect moment. I had just found out I was HIV+, a business relationship was ending, and I had just been evicted from my home. I felt rudderless, alone and unsure of my future. Tara and Tim not only offered me a job at this new studio called Yoga Tree, they also offered me their friendship. They helped me transform one of the most hopeless times in my life into one of the most exciting and growth filled times. They stood by me when I adopted my son, recovered from an accident and wrote books. They have been a healing presence in the Yoga Tree community as we grieved the loss of fellow teachers, watched gurus fall from grace, and navigated the ever growing and continually changing yoga industry.

I know I’m not alone in saying that I am the teacher I am today because of faith they had in me. I’m excited for Tim, Tara and their family as they start this new chapter. As the Yoga Tree community integrates into the amazing Yoga Works community I am excited and hopeful, but I believe in my heart that the best of what we bring with us into this new chapter was uncovered and cultivated by Tara and Tim’s vision for what yoga could be and the yogis we could become.

Thank you Tim and Tara for believing in so many teachers, students and healers!

Spiritual Capitalism

By Darren Main
“The Church needs to do a reality check.” according to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Ireland.  This following  the landslide vote legalizing marriage equality in  his country.  And while I share his view about the need for a “reality check”, we arrive at that conclusion from very different places.
His view has more to do with messaging.  That the church simply needs to work harder to get their message out—in this case, the message being,  “homosexuality is sinful”.  My view, however has to do with something I call spiritual capitalism.    
 
Just as one can choose to shop at Safeway, Walmart or Whole Foods for their groceries,  people in most western countries can now shop for their spirituality through venus that speak to their unique needs— or develop a deeply personal and private understanding of what it means to live a more contemplative life.
 
Certainly if people agree with more conservative views about women, homosexuality, reproductive choice and stem-cell research, there are church pews waiting to be filled—in many churches you may have a whole pew to yourself.  But gone are the days when people need to make the false choice between exploring the spiritual and accepting the dogma espoused by any one church or denomination. It is easier than ever for people to choose a spiritual path—be that a traditional format such as Catholicism, Protestantism or Judaism, or a less traditional format such as a meditation, yoga or Tai Chi.
The problem that many churches face is that people, in huge numbers, simply don’t agree with them anymore.  I don’t believe, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin does, that people are failing to get the message.  I believe they are looking at the world through new eyes and rethinking many of the teachings which were once considered sacrosanct   They have gay son’s, lesbian friends and transgender coworkers.  Many have seen the wisdom in ending a bad marriage or in making mindful choices about procreation.  They have seen that many of the teachings that were once accepted without question no longer ring true in their hearts.
 
Personally, I hope there is a reality check and that it comes sooner rather than later.    I believe traditional churches could be a force for great healing and change in a world that is very much in need.  But I also know that dogma can be a lot like cement—easy to form in the beginning, but often requiring the blunt force of a sledge hammer to remove.   
On the surface, the vote in Ireland may seem to be about a singular issue—same-sex marriage.  But I see this as something much bigger and the religious leaders of the world would be wise to pay attention.  This is not about marketing your product more effectively.  It is about meeting the changing spiritual needs of the people.  Because if you fail to meet those needs,  people will look elsewhere—in fact, they already are.
 

The Reality Check

UnknownBy Darren Main
“The Church needs to do a reality check.” according to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Ireland.  This following  the landslide vote legalizing marriage equality in  his country.  And while I share his view about the need for a “reality check,” we arrive at that conclusion from very different places.
 
His view has more to do with messaging.  That the church simply needs to work harder to get their message out—in this case, the message being,  homosexuality is sinful.”  My view, however has to do with something I call spiritual capitalism.    
 
Just as one can choose to shop at Safeway, Walmart, or Whole Foods for their groceries,  people in most western countries can now shop for their spirituality through venues that speak to their unique needs— or develop a deeply personal and private understanding of what it means to live a more contemplative life.
 
Certainly if people agree with more conservative views about women, homosexuality, reproductive choice, and stem-cell research, there are church pews waiting to be filled—in many churches you may have a whole pew to yourself.  But gone are the days when
people need to make the false choice between exploring the spiritual and accepting the dogma espoused by any one church or denomination. It is easier than ever for people to choose a spiritual path—be that a traditional format such as Catholicism, Protestantism, or Judaism, or a less traditional format such as a meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi.
The problem that many churches face is that people, in huge numbers, simply don’t agree with them anymore.  I don’t believe, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin does, that people are failing to get the message.  I believe they are looking at the world through new eyes and rethinking many of the teachings which were once considered sacrosanct   They have gay sons, lesbian friends, and transgender coworkers.  Many have seen the wisdom in ending a bad marriage or in making mindful choices about procreation.  They have seen that many of the teachings that were once accepted without question, no longer ring true in their hearts.
 
Personally, I hope there is a reality check and that it comes sooner rather than later.    I believe traditional churches could be a force for great healing and change in a world that is very much in need.  But I also know that dogma can be a lot like cement—easy to form in the beginning, but often requiring the blunt force of a sledge hammer to remove.   
 
On the surface, the vote in Ireland may seem to be about a singular issue—same-sex marriage.  But I see this as something much bigger, and the religious leaders of the world would be wise to pay attention.  This is not about marketing your product more effectively.  It is about meeting the changing spiritual needs of the people.  Because if you fail to meet those needs,  people
will look elsewhere—in fact, they already are.
 

HIV=AIDS?: A Civil Discussion

HIV/AIDS denialists, sometimes called  AIDS Dissidents or AIDS Re-Thinkers, are a very small but vocal group of scientists, researchers, activists, and journalists who question the causal link between HIV and AIDS. Because I have been featured in several documentaries about HIV that have a decidedly ‘Dissident’ editorial slant. I get a lot of emails about my own views on the so called AIDS Dissident Movement.

My personal view is that a variety of factors or cofactors affect the health of an HIV+ individual, but HIV is the primary cause of AIDS and there is over thirty years of research to back this up.   I also believe that the choice to go on medications is a deeply personal one, but that the medications are extremely effective in surpressing the virus.  But as surely as I believe HIV is the cause of AIDS, I also believe that respect and civil conversation are far more productive than yelling and name calling.

The following email exchange  is between me and a man who first wrote me on February 10, 2013.  I have published this email exchange here with his permission because I believe it demonstrates the gravity of the decision that everyone diagnosed HIV+ must make. I hope you will find it helpful as you make your own informed choices about HIV, AIDS and various treatment options.
—Darren

____________________

(From Mark)

Sunday, February 10, 2013, 5:46 PM

Hello,

I have been doing research recently on if HIV=AIDS and I found the video House of Numbers. That video has been very informative.  I am “neg” but my partner of 14 years is “pos”.  I have been doing my research because as we both get older I am concerned about our future.

His story: He learned that he was positive in 96, he believes that he must have been “infected” in 89-92.  When he learned he was + he was put on meds, he only stayed on them for one month due to the effects he was having plus how dealing with all of it made him feel physically and mentally.  He has been med free sense and seems to be doing fine. We both believe in the power of nature and use natural supplements such as spirulina, olive leaf, etc…

I know it may be irresponsible and dangerous but we live our lives together as if he never had that damn test.

I would like to know what is your current view on HIV=AIDS?

Thank you,

Mark

____________________

(From Darren)

Sunday, February 10, 2013, 6:46 PM

Hey Mark,

Thanks for your email.  As a yoga teacher and HIV+ gay man, I share your view that the more natural the better.  That said, I am on meds.  I made this very personal decision for several reasons.  The biggest  reason was that the newer meds  are much less toxic than the earlier ones.  In my case, I’m on Atripla and have no side effects whatsoever.  When they filmed House of  Numbers, I had just started taking Atripla after choosing not to take HIV meds for the first six years of being positive.  For me, I’m really glad I waited, but I’m equally glad that I’m on the meds now.

I have a policy of not telling people what to do.  My experience is just that—mine.  I have made my decisions after mindfully weighing all my options.   Others will likely come to different conclusions and as long as they make informed  and thoughtful decisions, I support them 100%.  I don’t know what your partner should do, but what I will say is that taking meds today is much different than it was in the AZT years  or even in the Protease Inhibitor years.  Certainly it is good for him to continue with the holistic and nutritional things he is doing as it can only help, but he may want to revisit the drugs to see if the newer options feel like the right fit for him.

House of Numbers was a great project to be involved with as I think it made a lot of people step back and look at things that many people simply assume.  That said, one of my best friends, Christine Maggiore, who was also featured in that same film, has since passed away.  She took a different path than I did and made different choices.    I think if she could make the same choices again, she would likely not change a thing, but the end result was very heart-breaking for those of us who loved her.  I don’t say this to scare you or your partner, but rather to underline the importance of making an informed choice with all the facts on the table.  To her credit, Christine supported me fully when I chose to go on the meds even though it was not her choice.  Now I try to pay it forward by unconditionally supporting others.

If there is anything I can do to support you or your partner, please let me know.

Peace,

Darren

____________________

(From Mark)

Sunday, February 10, 2013, 6:46 PM

Darren,

Thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences.  I can’t express enough how much I appreciate you taking the time to reply. It really means a lot.  I will continue to research natural as well as the new meds as options.  I love my partner dearly and want to see him live a fulfilled life.  I guess I have just been thinking as any partner thinks that there may be someday that our partner will no longer be with us, but I must remind myself that all our days are numbered and that I can only give him the happiest life that I can give and cherish each day.

May you yourself live a much fulfilled life full of love and happiness.

Again, I thank you so much and I will keep you in my thoughts and send positive energy your way daily.

Thank you for paying it forward as you will be truly blessed.

Mark

____________________

 (From Mark)
Thursday,  April 16, 2015, 1:30 AM

Darren,

I hope this email finds you healthy and happy!

I emailed you back in 2013 with questions about House of Numbers and how you were doing.

Back then I was doing research because I didn’t want to believe this HIV=AIDS was true.

Well reality hit hard in Dec. 2013.

Around March my partner had been to the dentist and shortly after that developed a little thrush (hint #1) which we blamed it on the antibiotics.  I ordered some colloidal silver and was happy to see that it did help.

Then he developed a dry cough (hint #2).  The thrush then returned but a lot worse.  He lost 40 pounds (hint#3).  He kept up with all the natural stuff that I could do research on…. I so wanted to deny what was happening (we both did).

Then it hit hard!  The week of Christmas his cough got so bad he was throwing up sometimes.

We are both self employed and at that time without insurance plus he hadn’t seen a doctor in 16 years.

I got him to the emergency room and that’s when reality hit.  After being hospitalized etc. the test showed his viral load was in the millions and he his cd4 was only 9!

LONG STORY SHORT: He’s doing fine….He has been on Atripla for one year and at the halfway mark was undetectable with a cd4 over 100.

Just recently tested and is still undetectable and cd4’s at 212.  The cd4’s are going up slower than we hoped but going from only 9 the doctor says his outlook is great.

I would like to know how you’re doing on Atripla?  My partners had a few weeks at first of dizziness but other than that nothing.  He takes it before bed and sleeps great for the most part.

I almost lost my faith in nature. I felt like nature betrayed.  I always preached “nature has everything we need to heal ourselves”.

To me Atripla is a wonder drug (Coming from someone that is/ WAS anti-pharmaceutical).  I still choose nature first but now I see that somethings nature just can’t fight on her own.  I do believe that the supplements and superfoods did give him over 15 years of a med free life.

Thank you for your time,

Mark

In Lieu of Flowers. . . .

Pastor-Fred-PhelpsHaving written about the Westboro Baptist Church in my book, Hearts & Minds and having  debated Shirley Phelps,  I find  myself struggling with the passing of her father, The Rev. Fred Phelps.  As the founder of the infamous  church ‘meets Jesus’, the rest of us are left with a quandary about how to mark his passing.

Little nice can be said about his life, his deeds or his words.  He and his followers picked at Matthew Shepard’s funeral, the funerals of countless fallen soldiers and the funerals of children gunned down while at school.  They proudly called women sluts and whores, hosted the website godhatesfags.com and did a number of parody music videos in which they said the most vial things imaginable.

They angered people on the left and the right side of both the political and religious spectrums with their hate and rhetoric, and they mastered the art of using freedom of speech as a weapon—walking right up to the line, but never crossing it—at least not in the view of the Supreme Court.

So what are we to do now?  Picket Phelps’ funeral?  Celebrate the death of a man who, day after day, found ways to hurt and insult complete strangers when they were simply trying to grieve?  As tempting as that may be, I have a better idea.  Rather than swim in the same cesspool as Phelps, I suggest we all do a little spiritual jujitsu with two simple steps.

Step One:
Send the Phelps family a card expressing condolences.  I say this without a hint of snark.  However misguided this family may be, their grief is every bit as real and intense as the grief felt by the targets of their vitriol.  Simply wish them well and do your best to mean it.    To make your life easy, here is the address of the church:

Westboro Baptist Church
3701 SW 12th Street
Topeka, KS 66604

And then. . . 

Step Two:
In your card, tell  them that in lieu of flowers,  you will be making a donation in Fred Phelps’ name to one of the following charities.  The donation can be in any amount you can afford but give whatever you can without malice, hatred or revenge in your heart.  Let your donation be offered from a place of compassion and loving kindness.

Suggested  Non Profits
—> The Matthew Shepard Foundation
—> The Wounded Warrior Project
—> The Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation

It would be hard to undo the pain this man has caused so many people, but we can take all of that negativity and turn it around by simply using that energy to ease suffering in this world.  To hate him back is to increase his power, but to respond with compassion and love will help the people most affected by this sad and delusional man.

 

 

Farewell to Karl Erb

Karl_ErbOne of San Francisco’s finest yoga teachers, Karl Erb passed away earlier today after living with cancer for a number of years.  Karl was a fellow yoga teacher at Yoga Tree,  a part of the teacher training program and a friend.   The way he lived with—and smiled at, his cancer demonstrated just what an amazing yogi he was.

About a year ago, Karl called me to tell me his cancer had returned and that the prognosis was not good.  I asked him how I could support him and his answer was simple, clear and without hesitation.

“Let me keep teaching in the teacher training for as long as I can.”

Although he was not able to teach the physical practice he continued to be a guest philosophy teacher until several months ago.    His passion for yoga was so clear and unequivocal and it came though not simply what he taught, but also in how he lived and ultimately how he passed. So many people these days “do” yoga, but Karl “lived yoga” until the very end. Through his example, many of us were able to more fully grasp that yoga has never been about your handstand or your downward dog.

Thank you Karl for showing me that peace, compassion and a sense of humor are possible even when—especially when life is most challenging.

LISTEN TO MY INTERVIEW WITH KARL 

A memorial service will be held according to Karl’s wishes in September. Donations in memory of Karl can be made to Arsha Vidya Gurukulam Institute of Vedanta & Sanskrit.

Modern Yoga Gurus

The following gurus and masters are largely responsible for bringing yoga in its various forms to the west.  These sometimes controversial spiritual leaders, have written a virtual library of books.  This is but a sampling of their more popular writings.  

Mata AmritanandamayiMata Amritanandamayi (AKA Amma or ‘Mother’)

1953-Present- • About

Love Is the Answer Volume 1 by Mata Amritanandamayi

Love is the Answer Volume 2 by Mata Amritanandamayi

 

Amrit Desai
1932-Present • About

amrit_desai

Amrit Yoga: Explore, Expand, Experience the Spritual Depth of Yoga by Yogi Amrit Desai

Kripalu Yoga: Meditation-in-Motion, Book 1 by Yogi Amrit Desai

Kripalu Yoga: Meditation-In-Motion – Focusing Inward, Book 2 by Yogi Amrit Desai

Working miracles of love: A collection of teachings by Amrit Desai

Amrit Yoga and the Yoga Sutras by Yogi Amrit Desai

The Yoga of Relationships by Yogi Amrit Desai

A Yogic Perspective on the 12 Steps by Yogi Amrit Desai

 

B. K. S. Iyengar
1918-2014 • About

iyengarLight on Yoga: Yoga Dipika  by B. K. S. Iyengar

Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom by B. K. S. Iyengar

The Tree of Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar

Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar

B.K.S Iyengar Yoga the Path to Holistic Health by B. K. S. Iyengar

Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing by B. K. S. Iyengar

Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B. K. S. Iyengar

Yoga Wisdom & Practice by B. K. S. Iyengar

 

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
1955-Present- • About

Gurumayi ChidvilasanandaThe Yoga of Discipline by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Courage and Contentment: A Collection of Talks on the Spiritual Life by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Sadhana of the Heart: A Collection of Talks on Spiritual Life by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Kindle My Heart by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Kindle My Heart Vol 2: Wisdom and Inspiration from a Living Master by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

 

Swami Muktananda 
1908-1982 • About

muktanandaPlay of Consciousness: A Spiritual Autobiography by Swami Muktananda

Where Are You Going?: A Guide to the Spiritual Journey  by Swami Muktananda

Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri  by Swami Muktananda

Meditate, 2nd Edition  by Swami Muktananda

From the Finite to the Infinite  by Swami Muktananda

God Is with You  by Swami Muktananda

Secret of the Siddhas  by Swami Muktananda

I Am That: The Science of Hamsa from the Vijnana Bhairava  by Swami Muktananda

 

Paramahansa Yogananda
1893-19528 • About

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yoganandayogananda

God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita  by Paramahansa Yogananda

 

Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda by Paramahansa Yogananda

Where There is Light

The Science of Religion by Paramahansa Yogananda

How You Can Talk With God by Paramahansa Yogananda

Man’s Eternal Quest: Collected Talks and Essays – Volume 1 by Paramahansa Yoganand

The Divine Romance – Collected Talks and Essays. Volume 2 by Paramahansa Yogananda

Journey to Self-Realization – Collected Talks and Essays. Volume 3 by Paramahansa Yogananda

The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India’s Universal Science of God-realization by Paramahansa Yogananda

The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels by Paramahansa Yogananda|

The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You (2 Volume Set) by Paramahansa Yogananda

 

Swami Rama
1925-1996 • About

swami_ramaMeditation and Its Practice by Swami Rama

Living with the Himalayan Masters  by Swami Rama

The Art of Joyful Living  by Swami Rama

Path of Fire and Light, Vol. 1  by Swami Rama

Path of Fire and Light Vol. 2  by Swami Rama

Science of Breath  by Swami Rama

Samadhi: The Highest State of Wisdom: Yoga the Sacred Science  by Swami Rama

Royal Path: Lessons on Yoga  by Swami Rama

Yoga and Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness  by Swami Rama

Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad-Gita  by Swami Rama

Conscious Living: A Guidebook for Spiritual Transformation  by Swami Rama

 

ramakrishna Ramakrishna
1836-1886 • About

Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna  by Swami Nikhilananda

Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna  by Ramakrishna

 

Swami Satchidananda Saraswati
1914-2002 • About

satchidandandaTo Know Your Self: The Essential Teachings of Swami Satchidananda by Swami Satchidananda

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda

The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita – A Commentary for Modern Readers by Swami Satchidananda

The Golden Present: Daily Inspirational Readings by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Integral Yoga Hatha by Swami Satchidananda

Meditation: Excerpts from talks by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Beyond Words by Swami Satchidananda

 

 

Swami Vivekananda
1863-1902 • About

vivakanandaComplete Works of Swami Vivekananda 8 Vol. set by  Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda: Essential Writings by  Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda on Himself by  Swami Vivekananda

Pathways to Joy: The Master Vivekananda on the Four Yoga Paths to God by  Swami Vivekananda

Raja Yoga by  Swami Vivekananda

Meditation and Its Methods by  Swami Vivekananda

The Science of Breathing by  Swami Vivekananda

Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works by  Swami Vivekananda

 

 

 

 

A Collection of Ancient Yoga Texts

ancient_textAnthology of Texts
Sacred Books from the East

The Vedas
The Holy Vedas– translated by Pandit Satyakam Vidyalankar

The Rig Veda (Penguin Classics)

The Upanishads

The Upanishads– translated by Eknath Easwaran

Upanisads (Oxford World’s Classics) translated by Patrick Olivelle

The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita– translation by Eknath Easwaran

The Bhagavad Gita (Penguin Classics)

Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation by Stephen Mitchell

The Yoga Sutras

The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary -translated by  Chip Hartranft

Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – translated by Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali: A New Translation and Commentary – translated by Georg Feuerstein

Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali translated by Barbara Stoler Miller

How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali -translation & commentary by Swami Prabhavananda, Christopher Isherwood

 

The Pradipika & Hatha Yoga Texts
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika translated by Brian Dana Akers

Hatha Yoga Pradipika -translation and commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda

 

 

The Miracle: A Reflection On My Life Since Testing HIV+

By Darren Main

I waited on hold nervously—my index finger still a bit tender from where I had pricked it a few days earlier

I had used “mail-in HIV tests” in the past without incident. The process was rather simple: prick your finger, rub a blood sample on a card and mail it to the lab.  A few days later, a robotic voice  on the other end of the phone would ask for the unique serial number associated with my test kit, and then, after confirming the digits several times, the metallic voice would inform me that I was HIV negative. It was a very impersonal way to keep tabs on my status and be a responsible gay man, but it seemed somehow better than the litany of embarrassing questions associated with a trip to free clinic.

I was about to hang up the phone and call back later, when a young woman thanked me for holding.   She nervously asked me to confirm the serial number several more times and then, informed me I was HIV positive—information that would have hit me like a ton of bricks had the woman on the other end of the phone not been so upset by having to give someone such horrible news.

After calming her down and assuring her I would be alright, I hung up the phone and started a whole new phase of my life.  Since that time I have have passed through phases of denial, fear, hope, anxiety and finally empowerment. I realized very quickly that HIV was not just another diagnosis because to live with HIV is to be continually faced with irrational fear—my own fears and those of other’s.

Even before my own diagnosis, I had worked with HIV+ men and women as both a yoga teacher and a massage therapist.  I had seen the disease transition from a certain death sentence to a condition in which crude early treatments were often-times worse than the virus itself. To eventually becoming a chronic condition controlled with  medicine typically having few if any side effects.

In the beginning, I was quite hesitant to take HIV medications due to their extreme toxicity. In fact the first six years of my diagnosis I adamantly refused to take medication even as my CD4 count dropped to below 50—a level at which one can expect some very, very debilitating and potentially fatal opportunistic infections.  Yet in spite of those low numbers, my health remained robust.

I was featured in several controversial films including The Other Side of AIDS and House of Numbers.  Yet unlike some of the other people interviewed in these films, I was not what is often referred to as an AIDS dissident— one who questiones the existence of HIV or its harmful effects on the immune system. In fact I went to the doctor regularly and continued to monitor my labs closely.  At the time, I simply didn’t feel comfortable with the very toxic nature of the available treatments options.

When my dear friend and well-known AIDS dissident Christine Maggiore passed away, I questioned my involvement in these films.  While I stand by the statements made in these documentaries and remain friends with the filmmakers, I do feel that the films give the impression that HIV science is largely a hoax and that is a view that I most defiantly do not share.

Six years after being diagnosed,  two things happened almost simultaneously.  First, I was starting to see my health shift in a marginally negative direction which culminated in an episode of oral thrush, an AIDS defining condition. Second, newer drugs were hitting the market that were far less toxic and carried a much lower pill burden.

And so I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life.  After an enormous amount of prayer and meditation, I decided to give Atripla a try.  I tolerated the therapy beautifully and saw an immediate decrease in my viral load.  It also corresponded with an gradual  increase in my CD4 count.  The oral thrush went away almost instantly and I have had near-perfect health ever since.

Given my vantage point as a yoga teacher and an author as well as being featured in some rather well-known documentaries, I have had the privilege of talking and corresponding with hundreds of HIV+ people, who, like me, have struggled with what it means to be positive and the very personal decisions we need to make about when and if we should take medication, when and how to disclose our status to friends, family members and romantic partners, and what place holistic medicine has in living well with HIV.

It is because of these conversations that I have decided to be as open as I can be about being HIV+ and to share my own experience as a holistic minded yoga teacher with regard to complementary therapies.  My hope in writing this is simple, to give HIV diagnosed people hope.  Not just hope for a long and healthy life, but also hope that dreams and aspirations can still be realized.

As I sat alone in my  bedroom in the hours after my diagnosis, I wept for the first time in many years.  I wasn’t crying for a life I believed would be cut short or the stigma associated with being HIV+.  I have wanted to be a father for as long as I can remember.  In that moment, I felt that dream die.  In February of 2000, they were not allowing HIV+ men to adopt and the technology did not yet exist to biologically reproduce safely. So I needed to be content to be an uncle rather than a father—or so I believed.

I dedicated my energy to living well, eating right, exercising, meditating and doing yoga.  Eventually I started medication and managed to dodge the bullet that claimed the life of so many over the past three decades and I was fortunate enough to avoid the harsh side effects of the earlier medications by waiting to start treatment until more benign options were available.

Then, in 2011, the most profound miracle occurred.  A social worker from Family Builders Adoption Agency called me to tell me they had found my son—that I could pick him up at the hospital posthaste. And just like that, my life was turned upside down yet again, but this time for the most beautiful reason possible.

Being a single dad has been so much more than I ever thought possible.  It’s hard to imagine that I almost gave up on that dream.  Yet the realization of this dream came not by luck, but rather by making informed choices about the food I put in my mouth, the yoga and meditation that helped keep my body strong and my mind clear. And of course  the dedicated scientists that have worked tirelessly over the years and transformed HIV into  a chronic and manageable disease rather than a death sentence.

 I have gathered some useful resources that you may find helpful in your quest for health and posted them to my website.  The decisions you make—be they decisions about medication, diet, exercise or holistic medicine, are yours alone.  I hope the resources here will help you to make the most informed and reflective choices possible so that you too can live your life to the fullest and realize your dreams too.

—>Find More Resources for Living Well with HIV
—>Read More Articles & Essays by Darren Main
—>Lean more about Darren Main’s Books

Please feel free to link to this copyrighted material on your blog or social media walls.  If you would like to reproduce this work in a publication or on a blog, please contact Darren Main to obtain written permission.

I Just Tested Positive, Now What?

If you just tested HIV positive, you are probably freaking out. The weeks and months that follow that news can be very disorienting. There are all new questions to answer for yourself. Questions about dating, whom to tell and what to do to keep yourself healthy are all new. The following are points to consider as you begin this new leg of your journey. In time you will learn to live with HIV and to have a wonderful and productive life. For now, just allow yourself to take things slowly.

1. Take a deep breath and try to relax. You have more options today than ever before. An HIV diagnosis doesn’t mean you are going to get AIDS. You have many choices and you don’t need to get sick from HIV.

2. Find your spiritual center. Some do this through prayer or visiting a church or synagogue; others through meditation, Tai Chi or yoga. Finding this center will help you make clear and rational decisions and find peace with being HIV+.

3. As an HIV+ person, you need to accept the fact that you will die someday. But that was true when you were HIV-, too. We are all going to die, and coming to terms with that fact can help you to live a more full and active life. Although it may be hard to fathom right now, HIV can be a gift rather than a burden.

4. Don’t start planning your funeral just yet. The antibody tests only tell you that you have been exposed to HIV. They do not determine the course HIV will take in your body or your overall health. Many people who test positive will never get sick.

5. Go to a doctor and get some additional blood work done. There are two basic tests that are used to determine what the virus is doing in your body. They are a CD4 count and a viral load count. These tests are only one piece of the puzzle, so try not to let low CD4s and a high viral load stress you too much.  Learn more about basic HIV labs HERE.

6. Your doctor will likely want to give you a complete physical and make sure your inoculations are up to date. This is a great time to ask questions and begin the process of developing a relationship with your doctor.  Let your doctor be the starting point in your journey.  Research on your own, speak with other HIV+ people, and listen to your own intuition.  Your doctor is there to support you, so bring your questions and information to your doctor and keep an open dialog.

7. Evaluate your lifestyle and see what areas you can change in order to support and bolster your immune system. I have posted an article to my website that offers a ten-point plan for staying healthy.  It may give you some ideas about how to evaluate your lifestyle.

8. Tell family and friends at an appropriate time. Many people are going to have a difficult time with your status. Some of the people who are closest to us can react with fear, anger, and grief that trumps the intense emotions that a newly diagnosed person is going through. While it is important to let your friends and family know so that they can support you, they will need your support as much as you need theirs. Telling them at a time and in a way that will help you and support them at the same time is very important. Deciding whom to tell and when is a very personal decision, so meditate on it and tell people when you know the time is right.

 

—>Find More Resources for Living Well with HIV
—>Read More Articles & Essays by Darren Main
—>Lean more about Darren Main’s Books

Please feel free to link to this copyrighted material on your blog or social media walls.  If you would like to reproduce this work in a publication or on a blog, please contact Darren Main to obtain written permission.

Nutrition & Supplements for HIV

Everyone needs proper nutrition to be healthy including macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).  HIV+ people, however, need to pay special attention to nutrition so as to support the immune system an help detoxify the body.  Generally speaking, one should be able to get ample amounts of nutrition from a diet rich in whole foods, but given the high staks associate with not getting enough of a given nutrient, adding supplements is often a good insurance policy.

Below is a list of supplements that may be helpful in supporting your body’s efforts to stay healthy with HIV and to help counter some of the adverse effects of HIV medications. This is a partial list only, and I encourage you to explore the wide range of supplements that are available. I have also included a dosage chart that can serve as a starting point for taking many of these supplements.  Ultimately I hope you will discuss your nutritional needs with a dietitian so that you can make informed choices about which supplements and in what dosages are appropriate for your unique needs. It is also very important to inform your physician or healthcare provider of any supplements you are taking as some supplements are not advisable with some medications.

Remember: This is ONLY a guideline to help you get started. READ ALL LABELS and store your supplements properly.

 

Guidelines for taking supplements

•  When possible, try to take the daily supplements in three doses.

•  Take with food for best absorption.

•  If you miss a day, DON’T double up. Just resume where you left off.

•  DO NOT replace healthy food with supplements. They are there to complement food, not replace it.

•  If you have any adverse reaction to a supplement, stop taking it and contact a professional.

 

Standard Dosages
The following dosages are a general guide only.  Your gender, heath status and other variables will alter your daily needs, so be sure to consult a professional.

Vitamins Amount Per Day
C 3,000 mg
E 1200 iu
B Complex 300 mg
A 20,000 iu
Minerals Amount Per Day
Iron consult your doctor
Zinc 50 mg
Copper 3 mg
Calcium 1200 mg
Magnesium 400 mg
Selenium 200 mcg
Herbs & Other            Amount Per Day
Co-enzyme Q-10 50 mg
Acidophilus 2 capsules (or as directed on label)
Green food As directed on label
Psyllium husk 1 tablespoon mixed in water or juice
Astragalus root 2 capsules (or as directed on label)
Garlic 1-2 cloves at bedtime or odorless garlic (as directed on label)
Reishi mushroom (as directed on label)
Protein supplement 1-2 servings per day (read label)

 

About Micronutrients

Vitamin C: This micronutrient is one of the most touted supplements around. It appears to be good for just about everything, and keeping a strong and healthy immune system is no exception. Among other things vitamin C is believed to work with the body’s immune system to combat viruses—thus its association with preventing the flu. There is some thought that it may help the body in its fight against HIV as well. In fact, in his book Healing HIV, Dr. Kaiser cites a study in which continued exposure to vitamin C resulted in a noticeable inhibition of the HIV virus. This vitamin can also be helpful with anemia, which is a common side effect of several HIV drugs. In any event, vitamin C is excellent for maintaining good health and keeping the immune system strong.

Vitamin E: Running a close race with vitamin C, vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant. Numerous studies have demonstrated that vitamin E improves immune response dramatically. It is also believed by some researchers that vitamin E complements some HIV drugs in blocking or slowing the virus’ ability to replicate. This micronutrient is something all people should be sure to get enough of, but people living with HIV will find it especially helpful. (See also selenium.)

Vitamin B: All of the B vitamins are excellent for the immune system, among other things. B6 in particular is known for its effect on CD4 cells as well as the production of antibodies. In Healing HIV, Dr. Kaiser notes that a B6 deficiency was found to be “widely prevalent” among HIV+ individuals. B6 is not the only B vitamin that can be useful in maintaining health, however.  B3 (niacin), for example, is being used by some doctors to combat the high cholesterol seen in some people who take HIV drugs. A good B complex supplement can help in preventing a depletion in these important vitamins.

Vitamin A: While this vitamin is not usually associated with immune function, but it is instrumental in keeping the tissues of the body healthy. It is excellent for the eyes and for skin, bones, hair and nails. According to Earl Mindell in his book The Vitamin Bible, beta-carotene is a more effective form of vitamin A with less potential for toxicity.

Iron: A deficiency in iron is known as anemia. This condition is found most often in women. However, some of the HIV medications can cause anemia in both men and women. The primary symptom is a lack of energy, and an iron supplement may help. Because too much iron is not good, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking this supplement. They can run a simple blood test to see if you are anemic and advice you about dosages.

Selenium: This is an excellent antioxidant mineral that works in conjunction with vitamin E. It is essential for proper immune functioning and has been associated with better health among HIV+ individuals, though I have not found any studies to validate that claim. Although it is important to make sure enough is present in the diet, too much can be toxic, so be sure to read labels.

Co-enzyme Q-10: This is one of my favorite supplements and it is gaining in popularity for good reason. It works with the mitochondria (the part of a human cell that produces energy). Lower levels of co-enzyme Q-10 have been associated with premature aging, immune suppression, heart disease and low energy. In addition to its benefits to the immune system, it may also be helpful for individuals who are on HIV drugs, as some of these drugs adversely affect the mitochondria.

Acidophilus: Living inside your digestive track are organisms with which we have a symbiotic relationship. In effect we provide them with a place to live, and they help us to maintain good health. However, chronic antibiotic use, diets high in refined sugar, and a lack of fiber can wipe out the healthy organisms that we need so much for health. Acidophilus  and other probiotic supplements help to replace lost bacteria. Many HIV treatments are very unfriendly toward these healthy organisms, so replacing them on a daily basis is very important.

Psyllium husk: Psyllium is pure fiber. It is the active ingredient in things like Citrucel, but in its unrefined form, I find it to be much more effective. Taking psyllium husk on a daily basis will keep your colon healthy and clean. In addition, many of my students who are on cocktail drugs and have chosen to take psyllium husk have experienced a decrease or a complete halt in diarrhea. You can get psyllium husk in loose form or in capsules. The loose form is MUCH less expensive, but the capsules are a bit easier to take.  You can also get the powered form which may be a bit easier to tollerate.

Protein powder: One of the chief concerns among HIV+ individuals is wasting syndrome. This is especially a concern if you are taking older drugs like AZT, which have been known to cause wasting. Making sure you are getting enough protein as well as all the essential amino acids can help prevent wasting. This is possible through diet alone, but supplementing a diet with a protein power can ensure you are getting the amino acids you need. There are many different kinds of protein drinks available, so be sure to consult a nutritionist or someone knowledgeable with these products to find the one that is right for you.   One note of caution, however.  Some protein supplements contain fillers that are very harmful.  Try to find a brand that is as natural as possible.

 

Suggested Reading

Healing HIV by Dr. Jon D. Kasier, M.D.
Nutrition and HIV: A New Model for Treatment by Mary Romeyn, M.D.
Nutrition & HIV by Vivian Pribram
Earl Mindell’s Supplement Bible by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., P.D.
Cooking for Life: A Guide to Nutrition and Food Safety for the HIV-Positive Community by Robert H. Lehmann

 

 

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Living Well with HIV: A Ten-Point Plan

By Darren Main

Develop a meditation practice.
The first thing I recommend a person do when they test HIV+ is to meditate. If they don’t know how, I teach them or recommend that they learn from someone in their area. The mind can be the greatest enemy or the greatest ally in the quest for health. Learning to quiet the ego mind will help a person make more rational decisions about their health, their diet and their future, while at the same time giving the body the space it needs to find balance and wholeness. Meditation is really the foundation on which all the other steps I have listed here are built.

Eat well
Eating well is so important to good health. To keep the body healthy you need to give it the proper tools to fight off disease and repair itself. Unfortunately, the typical American diet is a double-edged sword. Not only does it lack in essential nutrients, it is also quite toxic. Because most American diets are high in fat, and loaded with pesticides, hormones, and artificial flavors and preservatives, we are actually doing great harm to our bodies when we eat that way. For many who are HIV+ a significant change in diet may be in order. This is never easy, but it is very important to good health. These changes don’t have to be overnight, but having a plan will really help. I recommend a vegetarian diet or at least one that is low in animal fats. I also recommend a lower fat diet that includes a lot of fresh organic produce. Cutting out refined sugar and dairy can be very helpful as well. I also suggest that you abstain from eating three hours before going to bed. For more information on becoming a vegetarian, please read my article on the subject.

Practice hatha yoga
Hatha yoga is one of the best forms of exercise available. It keeps the muscles strong and limber and helps to cleanse the internal organs. It also helps to raise body awareness and reduces the severity of the side effects that many people experience as a result of being on drug cocktails. Most importantly, Hatha yoga poses do wonders for the immune system.

Take supplements
Even with a good diet, it is not always easy to get the right nutrients. Taking supplements is a great way to give your body everything it needs to stay healthy. There are many supplements out there, and some you will not likely find in your diet. Herbs, for example, are something you may want to add to your diet. It is a good idea to talk with a nutritionist or an herbalist when deciding what to take, but my supplements page will help get you started.

Cleanse the body
We live in a toxic world, and many of the drugs that are given for HIV are toxic as well. Even if you are living a very clean life, it is impossible to avoid this toxicity. There are many cleansing things you can do to help clear your body. Not all of them will be right for you, but it is wise to find a system that fits your needs. Some examples are juice fasting, colonics, mono-fasting, colon cleansing and deep sweating.

Get regular bodywork
Massage is often thought of as a luxury, but it is so helpful to good health. There are many types of bodywork that range from relaxing Swedish massage to deep tissue work. There is energy work and chiropractic as well. Finding a style that feels therapeutic to you is the key. The frequency of your bodywork sessions is up to you, but I recommend at least once per month.

Go on retreat
If you have never been on a retreat, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is a time to regroup and recommit to your health and your spiritual center. By removing yourself from your day-to-day life, you have the opportunity to see things from a new and more lucid perspective. There are many types of retreats to choose from—silent meditation retreats, yoga retreats, juice fasting, and retreats to various religious centers. Look around and choose one that is good for you. My schedule of events has a listing of the retreats that I offer. I recommend you go on at least one week-long retreat and several weekend retreats per year.

Abstain from drugs and alcohol
If you like to party or start your day with a hot cup of coffee, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you let go of these habits. Drinking, drugs, caffeine and nicotine are poison to the immune system. Even their casual use can wreak havoc on the body. Letting go of these things, while difficult, is very important to living well with HIV. To some this may seem like a sacrifice, but if you think about it, it is a much bigger sacrifice to continually beat up your immune system when it is already being attacked by a virus.

Sleep well
Sleeping well is the best way to give your body what it needs to stay healthy. If you like to live on only a few hours of sleep per night, supplementing your sleep with caffeine, you are putting a lot of undue stress on your system. Try to sleep seven or eight hours every night, and take naps throughout the day if you feel tired. Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself and strengthens the immune system. Give your body all it needs.

Don’t plan your funeral
Looking at lab results and living with the side effects of HIV medications (if you choose to take them) can be quite depressing. It is easy to give up on life. Try not to let your mind go there. Clean healthy living will go a long way to keeping your body and mind healthy. If you find your mind dwelling on funeral plans and other depressing thoughts, do something good for yourself. Cook a healthy meal, take a yoga class, or sit in a hot tub. If you are in a real rut, get away for a retreat. Do whatever it takes to keep that positive attitude. It may well be the difference between a long healthy life and a life of chronic illness.

 

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Stop Smoking: Five Tips for Quitting

By Darren Main • January 2001

Q: I am 25 and have been smoking since I was 13. I just watched my father die of lung cancer last year, and I want to quit. I watched my father die a slow and awful death that devastated my family, and yet I still can’t seem to kick the habit. I don’t want to use a patch or gum because that is just a substitute and would mean I’m weak. Do you know of any natural things that might help? 

 

A: First, I am sorry about your father. Countless people like your father die each year. Unfortunately we still have a Congress and president who won’t take more of a stand against an industry that is contributing to so much suffering, disease and death. Its economic, emotional and psychological toll on this country is impossible to estimate. 

I also applaud your decision to quit. You may not have kicked the habit yet, but giving it the serious consideration that you have is certainly a prerequisite to quitting. Now, you just need to dig in your heels and stay committed. Even with a strong commitment, you will need all the help you can get, so here are a few tips.

1. Use the patch. I can understand your resistance to using nicotine to kick a nicotine habit, but the patch really does help. Nicotine is more addictive than heroin and getting rid of it without the patch is going to be unnecessarily hard. Even with the patch, you are going to need commitment and determination. The patch is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign that your convictions and commitment to your health are stronger than ever.

2. Quit caffeine first. There is some evidence that caffeine and nicotine work together to make your addiction to both drugs more severe than they would be on their own. Caffeine is an easier habit to kick for most people, so take a few weeks to wean yourself off coffee, colas and other caffeine sources. This will make the eventual task of quitting cigarettes much easier.

3. Try bodywork. On the first few days of your new smoke-free life, you might want to book a massage or bodywork session. Letting go of nicotine can make you feel as if your entire nervous system is shorting out. Massage is very effective in soothing the nervous system. Foot reflexology is particularly useful.

4. Eat sunflower seeds. I have never seen any hard studies on this, but it is believed that sunflower seeds have a similar effect on the nervous system as nicotine. Before the days of Nicorette gum, many people used these seeds as an aid to help quit. If nothing else, it will help replace the oral craving associated with smoking, and you can look cool like The X-Files‘ Fox Mulder.

5. Pick up some good habits. Reward yourself and start some good habits to replace the old one. Maybe start a new exercise program or stock your pantry with some healthy food. Keep reminding yourself that you deserve to be healthy.

For more information, visit The American Lung Association Web site.

 

 

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Becoming a Vegetarian

By Darren Main • June 2001

There is no doubt that eating a well-balanced vegetarian diet is a healthy alternative to the American staples of a “burger and fries”, but it is essential to do it in a way that is safe and well thought-out. In order to know what you are doing, you have to understand a few things about nutrition and in particular about protein. First of all, protein is a catch-all term for one component of our diet. All foods are made up of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins) The protein part of the equation is made up of 22 amino acids. Of these amino acids eight are essential and 14 are non-essential.

I hope I haven’t lost you, because it gets a bit trickier. Non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body. In other words you can eat a bunch of things that don’t have the exact amino acid, and your body will magically turn that hodge-podge of food into the amino acids it needs. Essential amino acids, on the other, hand need to be acquired directly through food. Our bodies are incapable of producing them, so it is essential that we get them through our diet.

In order to live a healthy life, you need to get all your amino acids, but you can get these amino acids from a variety of sources. Meat provides us with all of the amino acids we need in one lump sum. There is not a lot of planning involved. If you just ate a piece of prime rib, you got all the amino acids your body needs, end of story.

This sounds great, but there are some draw backs to eating meat. First of all, meat is not just protein. It also has fat. Even lean meat has fat, and animal fat is never the healthy kind. With the exception of hydrogenated oils such as margarine, saturated fat (the really bad stuff) comes almost exclusively from animals. Also, not all protein is easily broken down, and animal proteins are more difficult than many plant proteins for the body to use. Lastly, the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) that your doctor warned you about is derived almost exclusively from animal fat, so the less meat and animal fat (such as cheese and butter) you eat, the better off you will be on the cholesterol front.

Being a healthy vegetarian is much more than abstaining from meat. While cutting out animal products will help remove many of the bad things from you diet, you will still need to get all of the good things that meats offer without the convenience of one simple source. For example, beans are a great source of many amino acids, but it is not until you combine them with something like rice that you get a complete protein. Other great sources of protein are yogurt, tofu and soy beverages. There are also a wide variety of protein drink powders on the market, which can help ensure you get all the necessary amino acids.

It is not really as hard as it seems, but it does take a bit of mindfulness in the beginning. Once your body learns how to get protein from these new sources, you will naturally start to crave the foods you need. In the beginning, however, you will want to get a good book on vegetarian eating. I have listed a few below. You may also want to speak with other vegetarians and trade some recipes. Also, take a look at Veggies Unite for some valuable information. (www.vegweb.com)

One last thought, try not to think in terms of black and white. You may want to become a vegetarian slowly or start by cutting out red meat. Or you may not want to become a full-on vegetarian, but simply reduce the amount of meat you are eating. Take it slowly, and proceed in a conscious and intelligent way. As always, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about any major changes in your lifestyle. He or she might have some helpful advice as well.

 

The Myths About Yoga

By Darren Main • Summer 1999

In the all the years that I have been teaching, I have heard just about every rumor there is about yoga. I suspect that some of this is generated by a fear of the unknown, and I guess I can’t blame anyone. A lot of times when I look through various yoga books, I get a little freaked out myself. Let’s face it, there are few things more unsettling than seeing someone with their legs twisted behind their heads.

In this article, I would like to put some of those basic myths about yoga to rest so that you or the friends you are attempting to drag to their first yoga class will feel a little less threatened.

Myth #1: “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” 

This is my personal favorite. It is the same as saying, “I am too sick to see a doctor,” or “I am not strong enough to do weight training.” Yoga is a tool to become limber; it is not a private club for circus freaks who can stuff themselves into a lunch box. If you can’t touch your toes and stretching feels like punishment, then yoga is calling your name. Sure, it will be challenging at first, but certainly not impossible and the rewards are many.

 

Myth # 2 “Yoga is some sort of religious cult.” 

Yoga is a science, not a religion. What this means is that you can believe in yoga or you can think yoga is a load of crap, but if you do the practice, you will feel its benefits. Yoga has nothing to do with any one belief system or dogma. While it was developed by Hindu mystics over 4,000 years ago, it is a practice unto itself, and people of all faiths as well as atheists and agnostics have experienced its benefits. Some yogis follow the teachings of a guru or teacher, but that is by no means a pre-requisite for developing a successful yoga practice.

 

Myth # 3 “Yoga hurts.” 

If it hurts, it isn’t yoga. It is just that simple. Yoga is about honoring your body and treating it with respect. It is about listening to the wisdom of the body and doing what it asks in order to find healing. Some people will approach yoga with the “no pain, no gain” attitude that seems to rear its ugly head in almost any exercise program, but I assure you that that attitude has no place in yoga. Really all it can do is hold you back. If you really want to experience all the benefits yoga has to offer, make a commitment to yourself that you will never do anything that feels inappropriate for your body. The rest will take care of itself.

 

Myth #4 “Yoga is not a real workout.”

Anyone who has taken a moderate to vigorous yoga class would laugh at that statement. Yoga is a full and complete workout. It can be used to complement other exercise programs, or it can stand-alone. Most of the press yoga gets is about stretching. Yoga is excellent for flexibility, but it is also a wonderful way to build strength, and to refine balance and agility.

The Real and the Unreal

By Darren Main • January 2002

Lead Us From Darkness to Light

From the Unreal to the Real

From Mortality to Immortality

Om Peace

I often end my yoga classes with the above prayer. It is a traditional prayer in a number of yoga traditions, for a very good reason. It sums up some of the core issues that yoga tries to address.

 It is no secret that yoga is a very healing practice. Its effects are quickly felt in just about every aspect of a person’s life. This is because yoga seeks to address our mental, physical and emotional suffering at the root of the problem— a radical distortion in perception. In other words, yoga seeks to redefine what we perceive as real and unreal.

Because of this reality confusion, we walk through life seeking happiness in things that are not real and denying the things that are. This has an unfortunate and double-edged effect on a person’s ability to find contentment.

On one hand, this confusion about what is real and what is unreal allows us to make bad investments with our emotional and mental capital. Rather than invest in eternal things like love and compassion, we allow our hearts to become shallow and our minds to become clouded. We value the size of a wallet over one’s capacity to love, and we place physical beauty before inner beauty. Aside from the shallow nature of this distorted perception, there is an even bigger problem. The things of this world will always change, and when this happens the mental and emotional investment we placed there gets lost along with our peace of mind.

For example, if you value your physical beauty over your inner beauty, you will eventually lose out. All beings will age and eventually die. This is a given. To value this over inner beauty is to place a wager on a horse you know in advance is going to lose.

Through yoga, our perceptions get healed and we start to experience the qualities of love and compassion as real rather than an idealistic fairy tale. The very nature of who we are— Atman is the only thing that is real. Our jobs, relationships, racial, religious and sexual identities are all temporary. Eventually all these things will change. Once we fully realize this, we are free to enjoy life without the burden of attachment. Through yoga, the confusion between real and unreal disappears, as does the suffering that such a confusion always carries with it.

The life of John Nash is a great example of this process. In the movie about his life, “A Beautiful Mind,” John struggles with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that is characterized by various hallucinations and delusions. In the movie John learns to decipher between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘unreal’ by looking calmly at his delusions and seeing them for what they are. Yoga would have each of us do the exact same thing.

 

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Spiritual Romance

By Darren Main • February 2001

If you believe Hallmark and Russell Stover, there is only one way to find happiness in life, and it all comes to a boiling frenzy on February 14th. That’s right. Romance is where it is, at least that’s what we are told. If you don’t have it, you probably spend at least a part of your day looking for it, and if you do have it, you probably wonder why it doesn’t measure up to all the love affairs you see on TV.

Romantic love is fun, of that there is no question. But is it spiritually sound? Is it something that can be a part of our spiritual lives? Regardless of your spiritual persuasion, it is common knowledge that we can only find happiness within and that the only person that can make you happy is yourself. Yet we seem to talk out of both sides of our mouths. On the one hand we affirm that contentment comes from within, and on the other hand we say, ” I will be happy WHEN I find prince[ss] charming.” or “I will be happy WHEN my partner changes and behaves the way I want him/her to.”

For a long time it seemed I needed to make a choice between my love life and my spiritual life. It was either a codependent relationship that was fun for awhile, filled with drama and ended like a Greek tragedy when they didn’t live up to my expectations. Or it was live a life alone, like a monk who was content to have a passionate romance with God. Neither path felt like a fit for me, so I bounced between these two extremes that seemed to split my mind and heart in half.

All that changed for me when I met a beautiful man several years back. He had long blond hair, blue eyes and a great smile. It was love at first sight. It was the first time I had ever fallen in love with a man. My prior relationships had always been with women where all the “rules” seemed to be in place for me. Now I had to figure things out for myself. And so I tried something I had never done before.

I treated this new relationship like a part of my spiritual practice. Everything was just like one of my yoga poses. When I resisted it, it became difficult and painful. When I allowed spirit to flow between us, I felt peace. Rather than trying to own him and make him a possession, I continually gave him as much freedom as I could. Of course I didn’t do this perfectly, but I kept returning to the idea that I had to stay spiritually grounded. It was a powerful experience.

As the world might judge relationships, ours didn’t work out. We never got to the “ever after” part. But we have remained friends and I consider him family. He has been one of my greatest teachers, and because of him I now believe in spiritual relationships. And so the way the world sees things, and the way my spirit sees things are once again at odds.

Now I no longer look for a romantic relationship. I trust that one will come if one needs to come. I am just as happy to live as a single man, because I know that every person I meet is my lover if I choose to love them. Each person I give myself to honestly and openly is my partner in that one breath we share. And someday, if spirit sees fit, I will share many of those open honest breaths with one person.

So with all due respect to Russell Stover and Hallmark, I think I will respectfully disagree that I need a box of chocolates and a sappy card to be happy. Instead, I will do something good for myself on February 14th, rather than waiting for someone else to do it for me. And on that day I will remind myself of the words of Yogi Amrit Desi, “The solution is not in finding the right person, but in being the right person.”

Yoga & Chronic Pain

By Darren Main • Spring 1999

Yoga promises many benefits, such as stress management and spiritual growth, but I believe that the benefit that attracts people to yoga most often is its effectiveness in dealing with chronic pain.

It seems few Americans live free of pain. Back and neck pains are more common than hangnails. For many, persistent pain has become such a way of life that they have long forgotten their days free of discomfort and restriction in the body. In a sense, many experience their bodies as a prison rather than as a temple.

Although yoga has become a new buzzword in the treatment of pain, it was viewed by the medical profession not so long ago as a new-age fad. It is so refreshing to see the tides turning. In any given week, I see two or three new yoga students who have sought out yoga on the advice of their doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist.

With so much interest in yoga’s ability to manage, and in some cases alleviate pain, I thought it would be appropriate to explore just how yoga works, and how it can best be used in chronic pain situations.

Yoga works on three levels. The most obvious level is the physical. Often when a new student comes into my class, his or her first comment is, “I had no idea I was so tight.” This should not be surprising when you consider the average American lifestyle. Before we can really understand why yoga works so well on pain in the body, we need to understand why so many people are in pain to begin with.

Our bodies have been evolving slowly over thousands of years. Evolution has prepared our bodies for lots of physical activity. In the early years of human history, we were hunters, actively seeking out our dinner and shelter. As we evolved, we became farmers, still requiring huge amounts of physical activity. More recently we became industrialized, again giving us more security, but still requiring constant movement.

With each of these changes, there were countless generations in which the powers that be could evolve the human body to match the evolution of our minds. Things worked fairly smoothly until our most recent evolutionary leap into the technological age.

In less than twenty-five years, not even a full generation, we have gone from doing at least some physical labor each day as a part of our work, to doing almost nothing. Keep in mind that I am sitting here typing away on my Macintosh, so I am in no way opposed to technology. Our minds have evolved far faster than our bodies. Our bodies were designed to reach and climb, to pick up rocks and build shelters—not to sit on our rumps.

Anyone who has taken a yoga class will tell you that it is anything but static. In most classes you move and stretch, you sweat and deeply work the body. It is an incredible exercise that moves the body more thoroughly than most other forms of exercise. The skeletal muscles of the body get lengthened and toned, fibrous scar tissue in the muscles gets aligned with muscle fibers for better and more efficient movement, and blood flow reaches deep into the muscles to flush out toxins and supply nutrients. Fascia, the connective tissue that encases our muscles and organs like plastic wrap, gets untangled and unstuck allowing for a wider range of motion. The internal organs get massaged and cleansed and the endocrine system gets regulated. Joints get lubricated, the nervous system gets stimulated, and the spine is encouraged to lengthen and align.

With this happening, people naturally feel better after a yoga class. Generally, a person with chronic pain will feel some instant relief. As balance is restored to the body, many forms of pain can be erased all together.

Second, yoga works at the emotional level. In the past we had a “tribe” of interconnected people who we could count on for support and emotional venting. This tribe included family, neighbors and members of our churches and synagogues. As community has diminished, family and friends have become more distant, and the avenues for emotional expression have been reduced, individuals tend to hold more in.

Because we have fewer safe and nurturing opportunities to express these emotions, they solidify and take form in the body. At first they manifest as small things like weight gain or loss, stooping posture, or a stiff neck or shoulders. Then more annoying symptoms emerge, such as muscular pain, headaches, and a weakened immune system. Eventually, these unexpressed emotions will manifest in more life-threatening ways such as cancer and heart disease. Yoga can release emotions safely and supportively. Some people will experience an emotional release during or shortly after their yoga practice. This can come in the form of tears or laughter or may just manifest itself in a general shift in one’s emotional state. Sometimes yoga just brings an overall sense of peace and wellbeing. In some strange way, the practice seems to free us from the emotional stresses we tend to hold trapped in our bodies. Letting go of pent up emotions is like releasing steam from a pressure cooker—you can’t help but feel better. Though emotions held by the body are not the cause of all chronic pain, they are often a contributing factor.

The third level which yoga affects is the psychological. Our attitude and relationship towards pain influence how intensely we experience it. In a yoga practice, we intentionally put ourselves in poses that are uncomfortable. As we breathe and relax into the pose, what was once painful and uncomfortable becomes pleasurable and joyful. What we learn is that our fear of discomfort plays a large role in how intensely we experience pain.

In our modern world we have a pill for everything and we are taught from a young age we should place as much distance as possible between ourselves and pain. Yoga teaches us to reverse that perception. Through yoga, we learn that pain is neither good nor bad, but simply the body’s way of speaking to us. We stop running from the pain.

Through the practice of yoga we begin to explore pain by moving consciously into it. We trust that our body is not our enemy and that when it screams out with pain, it is because something is wrong. By practicing yoga, we increase our awareness of the body’s feedback so it doesn’t have to scream quite so loudly to get our attention. When we pop a pill, we deny ourselves the opportunity to listen to the body, to ask what it needs, and to provide it with whatever support we can to both relieve the pain and to achieve healing.

Having established that yoga deals with pain on several levels, let’s look at how best to implement yoga in a way that is most safe and effective.

First, remember that yoga is not a cure for everything and is actually contra-indicated in a few rare circumstances. As we discussed above, pain is never without a cause, and whenever possible, the student and the teacher need to know what that cause is. One way to do this is to consult a physician. Never assume that yoga is your cure if you don’t know what is wrong.

Let’s assume you have chronic headaches. Headaches can be caused by anything, including stress, diet, vision abnormalities, allergies, or even a tumor. I’m not saying that each time you have a headache you should see a doctor, but if the headaches are chronic, severe or persistent, it is essential that you discover their cause before you start standing on your head. In most cases the physician will give the go ahead, or he or she may encourage you to modify your practice or avoid yoga all together.

Second, western medicine and eastern healing techniques work best when they are used in concert with each other. Before you decided to abandon any medication you might be taking, it is important that you consult your physician. Also, if you are being treated by a doctor or have any health issues, no matter how small they may seem to you, be sure to inform your yoga instructor.

Third, listen carefully to your inner physician and your inner yoga instructor. If you are doing something in a class that just doesn’t feel right in your body, stop. Check in with your instructor. You can usually modify your practice to support your body’s opening. If a modification can’t be made, omit that pose from your practice. Your body’s wisdom should be your first authority—neither your doctor nor your yoga instructor knows your body like you. They are simply guides helping you explore the vast territory of your body.

Fourth, give the practice a little time. Most injuries did not occur in an hour and a half, so believing all pain with be gone after one yoga class is unrealistic (though I have seen several cases where that has happened). As I mentioned above, most people will feel some relief after one class, but managing pain and staying pain-free usually involves a lifestyle change.

Fifth, find the appropriate class. If you aren’t currently practicing yoga, I would recommend a gentle or beginner class to start. Depending on your condition, you may be able to quickly move to a more challenging class. You also many want to work privately with a teacher. I also have a number of restorative classes which are perfect for chronic pain issues.

I suppose the last thing I would say, and perhaps the most important thing is this: don’t settle for a life that is filled with discomfort. Through yoga and other healing arts, I believe most pain can be reduced or alleviated completely. Take charge of pain, instead of letting it run your life. Remember that the body should be your temple, not your jail.

 

 

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HIV & The Mind-Body Connection

By Darren Main • Fall 2000

For many, the mind and body are two distinctly different and separate forces. For them they co-exist peacefully at best. At worst they are at odds with each other, in strong conflict. In either case, there is a strong tendency to see them as separate with each having little or no effect on the other.

In this column, I suggest we take a look at a more holistic view of healing by recognizing connections between the mind and the body. In this model, the mind and body are not seen as separate but rather as a team that works together to allow us to respond to the world in a way that allows us to get the most out of life.

Close your eyes and imagine just for a moment that you’re eating a lemon. First hold it in your hand, feel the texture then cut it in half. Watch the juice squirt out. Now put it up to your mouth. How much more saliva do you have in your mouth? When I ask my yoga students to do this, I can literally see everyone’s mouth begin to pucker. When I ask them what the experience was like, many describe being able to taste this imaginary lemon. Most talk about an increase in saliva as well.

The point in this exercise is to demonstrate that simply thinking something can create a physiological change in the body. A much more common example is one we all know well: What starts to happen below the belt when we see someone we’re attracted to?

OK, granted visualizing eating a lemon may seem like a simple enough exercise, but it is really an important experience to help us recognize the influences between the mind and body. The mind can actually foster healing or contribute to an illness.

I don’t suggest you do it, but what if you imagined your body being beaten by an attacker with a baseball bat? Your body would begin to tighten. Blood would leave your digestive organs and flow to the limbs. Your blood pressure would likely increase and your immune system would be weakened by the surge of adrenaline.

Well, your body doesn’t know the difference between a man with a baseball bat and a lot of self-defeating attacks based on a stressful job or relationship, a low self-worth or thinking you are inferior to someone because you’re gay. Therefore, our psychology has a profound effect on our physical health.

Of course, the wonderful thing about a mind is that it can be changed. The messages of attack that your body receives over and over again can be replaced by messages that affirm health and bolster the immune system. This is not to say that deeply held beliefs and patterns of thought that formed early in our development are going to be easy to change, but with a little bit of determination, it can be done.

Some people may remember the famous affirmations touted by some schools of psychology and self-helpers. The truth is techniques in which you give your body loving, peaceful support help us to get healthy or stay healthy. Techniques such as meditation, yoga, Qui Gong and body-centered psychotherapy can help us to look at our mind and its connection to the body and make the changes needed to stay healthy and promote healing.

In this column, I will present them to you on a regular basis, offering you books to read on the topic, anecdotes and exercises. I welcome your e-mails with comments and questions.

If you’re a person with HIV, you are particularly welcome to read this column. A lot of emphasis has been placed on keeping your viral load down. The use of medications to accomplish this has very obvious benefits and some potential side effects. A holistic approach to HIV would not necessarily exclude the use of pharmaceuticals, but any holistic treatment plan would include a technique or two to heal the mind. In this way, the virus can be addressed from many different angles increasing the effectiveness of that program.

 

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Learning to Sit: An Introduction to Meditation

inner_tranquility_thumbnailBy Darren Main
Reprinted From Inner Tranquility: A Guide to Seated Meditation

The Buddha was once asked which meditation technique was the most effective. The master’s response was both simple and profound. “The one you practice.” Therefore, start your practice with this simple technique and explore others as well. The important thing is that you get started and that you practice consistently.

Sit in a comfortable upright position. Some people sit cross-legged, and others prefer to kneel. It is also acceptable to sit in a straight-backed chair. Allow your body to relax and take a few deep full breaths to shift into a quiet space.

As you begin to quiet down, focus on the sensation of the breath flowing in and out of the nose where it touches the upper lip. There is no need to change the quality of the breath. Simply watch it move in and out. You will find that the mind will frequently wander. This is natural. Once you notice that the mind has wandered, bring the mind gently back to the breath.

The whole process is one of bringing the mind back to the breath over and over again. Try not to be discouraged by how much the mind will wander. You have been letting your mind wander without discipline for many years. You can’t expect it to sit still overnight. Rather than chastising yourself for letting your mind wander, praise yourself for noticing and gently bring it back.
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Finding Meaning in the Meaningless

By Darren Main • October 2011

The events of September 11th have changed us all. Certainly Americans have felt a devastating blow to the collective psyche, but it is not just Americans. People in every country and from every faith have been forever changed by this tragedy.

In the wake of this unimaginable act of violence and hatred, we are left with our grief, fear, pain and confusion. Each of us has been hurled into a tailspin that will no doubt alter us in ways we can not begin to imagine. Individually and collectively we have been sucked into a catharsis that has incredible power behind it.

There is no going back. As much as we would love to undo the events of September 11th, that is simply not an option. We must press forward. It will no doubt be years before we can collectively make sense of this, but in the midst of this chaos it is helpful to remember that we have a choice. On the one hand we can choose to allow this tragedy to make us a bitter and cynical people. If we do this, we have chosen to share in the violence of the terrorists, and in effect given them what they want.

On the other hand, we can use atrocity as a catalyst for growth and evolution. In much the same way that the kung fu master will use the attack of his or her assailant to subdue the aggressor, we can choose to do the same. When a Kung Fu master is pushed, he or she pulls. When pulled, they push. This has the effect of turning the energy put forth by the attacker around3⁄4boomerang style. Then the conflict look more like a graceful ballet than a fight.

As people on a spiritual path, it is important to remember this principle. If we respond to violence and hatred with more violence and hatred we have joined the terrorists and allowed hate and fear to spread like a virus. This can only serve to add to our great loss. Responding to these attacks with compassion rather than fear is not easy. But finding our center is possible. Through various forms of prayer and meditation, we can quiet the mind and open the heart. Once we are centered we will be in a position to turn this tragedy into a catalyst for positive change.

I hold in my heart that this will be the last act of terror that this world need witness. This is not a pipe dream. Together we can use the energy behind this attack to lift up all of humanity, bringing us one step closer to the day when we will no longer be divided by race, religion or nationality. Rather we can value all beings as brothers and sisters in Spirit.

As with all things on the spiritual path, spiritual practice is the key. Now more than ever we need to ground ourselves firmly in a practice that will help us to keep the heart open and the mind clear. If enough of us cultivate peace within, this world will reflect that. Unfortunately, the same principle applies if we allow ourselves to become shut down.

Right now, in this very moment, each of us has a choice. Please join me in making a commitment to choosing inner peace, so humanity may once again find balance.

 

HIV Treatments: An Interview with Jon Kaiser, M.D.

By Darren  Main • Spring 2001

NOTE:  Because this interview was conducted in 2001, standard treatments for HIV  have changed and evolved.  Please consider that as you read this article.  Please consult your physician or contact Dr. Kaiser directly for the most up-to-date treatment options available if you our someone you know is HIV+.

Over the past few weeks, my email box has been flooded with questions about HIV treatment in response to the U.S. Government’s new recommendation that people with HIV wait to start Antiretroviral cocktails.  As a result, more and more people are interested in learning ways to keep their immune system strong and healthy, so as to avoid these toxic drugs for as long as possible.

In an effort to answer all of your questions with regard to this new standard, I interviewed Dr. Jon Kaiser, author of Healing HIV. Part one of this interview deals with the use of drug cocktails.

D       In your book, Healing HIV, you make an astounding claim that in the past four years, not one of your patients who had a CD4 count of greater than 300 has dropped below that number.

J          Well, to make it more accurate, it would now be during the past six years.  So it’s still held true and continued during the two years since I wrote Healing HIV.

D       You also state that not one person who came to you with CD4’s greater than 50 has been seriously ill from an HIV related illness.  What do you mean by seriously ill?

J          Nobody who’s come to me with greater than 50 T-cells, and again that’s now during the past six years, has required any hospitalization or died from their HIV infection.

D       You also make a really strong distinction between the words “healing” and “cure”.  Could you say a few words about that?

J          Healing is taking one’s level of health at a beginning level and raising it to a higher, stronger level of health.  And oftentimes healing requires continued attention and continued intervention over time.  Work on your healing program doesn’t end at any point.  You have to keep working on improving your health.  The term cure, by definition implies the elimination of any need for follow-up care related to a condition. So when I say healing from HIV, I mean people who have this condition going from point A to point B, which is a healthier, stronger place, but it doesn’t imply that they then can forget about it and no longer pay attention to it.

D       When do you feel a person should start on the antiviral medication?

J          I base it on three factors.  First, what is the T-cell count, and how has it changed over time.  The second is where the viral load is at the moment, and how that has changed over time, and the third factor is whether the patient has any symptoms that can be attributed to the HIV infection.  So in my book, I state that there pretty much needs to be either a T-cell count which has gone below 300, a viral load which has gone above 50,000 and/or clear symptoms to the infection before I believe starting antiviral therapy is indicated.

D       What are the current government suggestions for starting on the cocktail?

J          They’re now at 350 T-cells and 20,000 viral load.  They were at 500 before, so my numbers are still below theirs.

D       How do you feel about HAART – (Highly Active Anti Retroviral Therapy)?

J          Most people look at HAART as being triple combination – certainly in patients who are starting their initial program. So in the vast majority of people who progress to the point where they need to go on antiviral therapy, I will prescribe at least triple combination at this point in time.

In the past, in people who have had – let’s call it – mild HIV infection – a low viral load and T-cells at least over 300 – I have used a dual combination.  In quite a number of people, and a percentage of patients that I follow are still taking just the two initial drugs that they started with.

In that subset of patients with mild HIV, who are also following aggressive natural therapies, I’ve averaged five years with two drugs before we need to consider making any changes.  So that’s far above what the studies looking at two drugs show as the length of time that it works.

D       Are there drugs that you tend to start with – that you feel have less side effects in general and ones that you avoid until the last resort?

J          AZT is one of the drugs that I try to save for later because of its toxicity to the bone marrow.  The bone marrow makes your T-cells.  It’s responsible for providing red blood cell production, which ties into your energy level, and your sense of well being.  And I also favor using the NNRTI class versus the protease, so my initial regimens are usually protease sparing. The reason for that is because protease inhibitors have more toxicity to the gastrointestinal tract and to the liver.  I think that a person’s long-term health and immune function are very much dependent on the health of their bone marrow, their liver, and their GI tract.  And so I’m going to try and choose medications that have less toxicity to those three systems.

D       Some of the emails I’ve received have asked – “I did the hit hard, hit fast regime, and I never got sick, my T-cells never went down, my viral load was never really that high.  Is it safe for me to stop taking the antiviral drugs now?  Should I consider doing a drug holiday?”  What is your opinion on drug holidays or stopping altogether?

J          If there’s clearly toxicity going on, in terms of symptoms or lab tests, and the patient’s T-cell count is high enough to warrant a break from the medication safely, then I really don’t hesitate to give them that break.  The term is Structured Treatment Interruption – STI – but really the S is better defined as “supervised” – Supervised Treatment Interruption because that’s really what it should be.  You should be doing this under the supervision of your physician.

Let me define the two classes of people who I believe it’s safe or beneficial to stop taking their medications.  One, people who have high T-cells but are exhibiting obvious toxicity, so they clearly need a break, and Number Two, people who have high T-cells who may have not needed to go on the drugs in the first place.  So those are the two classes that I think can warrant [or] have some utility in taking an interruption.

D       Is it possible that the virus could become resistant to the drugs by taking a “holiday”?

J          Actually there’s been a large number of studies in the past year, looking at treatment interruptions.  Nobody’s come up with a formula that works all the time for everybody, but what they have shown is that the virus does not appear to develop any higher level or higher frequency of resistance.  Even if you go off and on the drugs several times, as long as you stop them all together and start them all together. So at least we know that it’s relatively safe in that respect.

D       What do you think of the so called AIDS dissidents who believe that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and that it is drugs like AZT that are killing people?

J          I believe that in general, the people in those groups are denialists, in that, it’s just very convenient to deny that there’s a viral infection that is causing damage to the immune system, and causing people to die.  On the other hand, I believe that there are a few threads of truth in their message.  And the threads of truth go back to the fact that when antiviral drugs are prescribed inappropriately, such as AZT 12 a day, they can poison people.  And so I agree, that when prescribed inappropriately, these drugs are harmful.  So I honor that part of their message.  The other part of their message that I honor is that lifestyle and drug abuse and unhealthy behaviors can damage the immune system.  And so I honor the fact that plays a role, but the scientific evidence is overwhelming that the amount of viral activity of the HIV virus is the major factor in whether the immune system gets weakened and damaged.

Dr. Jon Kaiser has a practice in San Francisco Bay Area and offers phone consultations for people living outside the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached through his website 

 

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Hepatitis B Vaccines: Are They Safe?

by Darren Main • Summer 2001

Darren, I like your articles on gay.com, as I am a strong believer in holistic health. I exercise regularly, including doing yoga, I am trying acupuncture, and I go to a naturopathic doctor (who is not gay). I did go for full medical recently (at an allopathic doctor), and came back with excellent results. However, I tested negative for Hepatitis B and have not been vaccinated, and the doctor recommended that I consider Hepatitis B vaccine (he, like me, is a gay man). My Naturopathic doctor (who is not gay) said he normally would discourage having this vaccine, though it depends on my circumstances. (I am sexually active, though pretty selective.) What are your suggestions? 

 Bernie 

 

Hey Bernie,

Thanks for writing, and thanks for reading my column. Your question is a very good one, but there are no easy answers. As with any medical or health decisions, it all comes down to personal choice. Understanding Hepatitis B (HBV) and the pros and cons of the vaccine might help you to make a more informed choice however.

HBV is a virus that attacks the liver. Sometimes exposure to this virus is no big deal, and you would never know you had it. If you get a mild exposure to HBV your body will build up its own immunity to the virus and there would be no need to give you a vaccine for it. According to your doctor, you have not yet been exposed, as your labs showed that you were not producing the antibodies. That is why he is recommending you get vaccinated.

Not all cases of Hepatitis B are mild, however. Oftentimes exposure to Hepatitis B can cause severe damage to your liver and make you very ill. Some of the things Hepatitis B can do include scarring the liver, liver cancer or liver failure, and even death. Because of the potential problems associated with Hepatitis B, the choice to vaccinate should be carefully considered.

The official guidelines for Hepatitis B vaccination put out by the CDC and other government agencies suggest that all people under the age of 18 receive the Hepatitis B vaccine, as well as heterosexuals who have more than one sexual partner in a six month period and men who have sex with men. The vaccine is given in three injections spread out over a six-month period. Your doctor will put you on an appropriate schedule.

If you choose not to receive the vaccination, or until you receive all three of the inoculations, it is doubly important to practice safe sex. In addition to the usual safe sex precautions that are in place for HIV and other STDs, rimming (oral/anal contact) is particularly discouraged, as this is one of the primary ways the virus is transmitted during sex.

While the CDC and other government health agencies claim that there is no risk involved with receiving the Hepatitis B vaccine, there are a growing number of people who disagree. Neil Z. Miller, author of Vaccines, Are They really Safe and Effective, said that the number one complaint his organization receives with regard to vaccine side effects is from the Hepatitis B vaccine.

According to Miller, the vaccine is so dangerous that the French government removed it from its list of suggested childhood vaccines because it was linked to Multiple Sclerosis and other neurological disorders. He also stated that the United States Congress recently held a hearing to see if there was a link between the HBV vaccine and Multiple Sclerosis.

The CDC website had this to say, “Although scientific evidence to date does not support hepatitis B vaccination causing multiple sclerosis (MS) or other demyelinating diseases a study is currently being organized in the Vaccine Safety Datalink project at CDC because of public concern about this issue in France and elsewhere . . .It will probably be at least one year, however, before any results are available.”

So this leaves each of us with a personal decision. As a gay man, you are at a higher risk for contracting HBV than others. You should also take into account your HIV status, as a bout of Hepatitis B will no doubt hit your immune system quite hard. With this in mind, you need to decide whether the risks associated with vaccination outweigh its benefits. While the vast majority of gay and bisexual men in the United States choose to receive this vaccine, it is a personal decision that you need to make for yourself.

 

To help you with this decision you can visit the CDC website and you can also visit Neil Miller’s website or an alternative albiet controversial view of vaccinations.

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Heal Yourself, Heal the World

By Darren Main

Yoga is love, it is non-violence at the extreme edge.”

Mahatma Gandhi

This past spring, I went to the anti war protest in San Francisco.  It was a powerful event with hundreds of thousands of people gathering in the name of non-violence.  It was nice to feel like I was part of a collective decision for peace.  When I got home, I turned on the news only to find the coverage was all focused on a small group of people who thought the best way to promote peace was by defacing property and chanting hateful slogans at the president.

I found this contrast to be so disturbing that I sat in meditation.  My head whirled with thoughts and questions.  What is the point in protesting a war if the only people who are going to make it to the evening news are the ones whose behavior is no different than the actions they are screaming out against?  Like many of my meditations, I was very distracted for most of my sit, but then, just when I thought my mind would never find stillness, a profound calm washed over me.  It was out of this stillness that a major shift happened.

I realized that I no longer wanted to be a war protester.  Rather, I wanted to be a peace demonstrator.  I had always heard the two phrases and used them interchangeably, but during that meditation, I realized that there was a very big difference between the two. In that moment I no longer felt like an unheard voice.  I felt like a powerful emissary of peace.

What I have learned since then is that going to a peace march is all well and good, but the real peace demonstration is something that I, as a yogi, am called to do every moment of every day. For me, yoga has always been a very personal practice that has brought me great peace.  But what I have started to realize is that the poses, breathing and meditation that I practice are not just for me.  A person’s yoga practice can have a profound effect on our world.

To some people, western yoga seems a bit self-indulgent. I guess I can see their point, when you look at a room full of people doing head stands on hundred dollar yoga mats (two hundred if you count the designer mat bag).  But yoga is much more than that, and under the piles of yoga accessories is a practice that has the capacity to heal our tired world.

What yoga offers us is the opportunity to be responsible.  The Universe is like a large garden, and our minds are a small patch in that garden.  We don’t need to rid the whole universe of ‘weeds’, just our own mind, and one of the most powerful ways I have found to do that is through the practice of yoga.

When we come to the yoga mat or the meditation cushion and practice the eight limbs outlined in The Yoga Sutra, we bring awareness to the many seeds of discontent that have been planted deep in our minds.  As this awareness grows, we are given the freedom to choose.  In that choice lays the potential for peace.

What I have discovered is that as I have become more centered and peaceful, others around me have as well. Not because I preached to them or because I tried to guilt them into changing their behavior, but because I demonstrated a new way of being.  As yogis we are all called to be peace demonstrators both on and off the mat.  In chaotic times like these, that is the most powerful medicine we can offer this world.

 

 

God in Drag

By Darren Main • January 2000

Last month I wrote an article about giving from the heart rather than from the wallet. One of the reasons I wrote that article was to make a public statement of my intention, so that I would be a bit more accountable this holiday season. A few weeks ago I had the chance to experience that accountability first hand.

I was walking to one of my morning yoga classes when I saw a homeless man trying to get a large grocery cart filled with an assortment of stuff up onto the sidewalk. On top of this cart was a large Futon mattress and frame that made the whole thing very top heavy. It was clear that he was struggling and needed some help. Although I did my best to ignore him so I could make my commute to work would more swift, I kept thinking about the article I had sent out just a week earlier. That little voice would simply not let me pass him by. My tolerance for self-hypocrisy has gone way down, so I reluctantly stopped to help him.

I assisted him in getting his heavy and awkward cart off the street and out of the way. As we moved the cart, my ego went wild with judgment. His hair was matted and very dirty, and his cloths were covered with mud and dandruff. The shopping cart that I was helping him move was most likely stolen as were the things he had stuffed within it. Then an odd thing happened. He came up to me and gave me a hug. He was so grateful that someone had been kind to him.

My first reaction was resistance. I didn’t want to smell like a street person for my class. But in the split second that followed that judgment and fear, I surrendered. I felt a spiritual warmth pouring from this man’s heart that was so clear and pure and without condition that I knew I was touching God. I stood there on the side of Castro Street hugging this man for a good minute or so. In that time, I didn’t know judgement. I didn’t care who saw me or if I would be on time for class. I felt like I was communing with a long lost friend, and I was once again reminded that we are all expressions of the Divine.

I like to think of people as “God in drag” because it helps me to remember that each person I meet in my day-to-day life is an expression of the Divine, and if I let my judgements go for even an instant, I will see beyond the clothing, the social staus, and the tight little box I have tried to stuff them into. I thought I was being nice when I helped this man out, but the reward I received from this man was so much more, and all it took was the willingness to let go of my judgements.

It is astounding to think that every person you see in traffic or all those people who ride the bus with you are simply God playing peak-a-boo with you. Each person is a gift that is just waiting to be unwrapped. I hope that you will take the time to see the people you encounter for who they are this day and every day, and that you will remember that you yourself are God in drag, too.

 

A Yogic Perspective on Evil

by Darren Main • December 2001
I wrote this essay in response to the September 11th attacks when many of my students were trying to make sense of such unbridled brutality.

Since September 11 people in the United States and across the world have been searching for answers. While the questions are many, solid answers seem hard to come by. How could such awful things happen to innocent people? What would motivate someone to kill themselves and thousands of others in the name of God? What would inspire a person to develop anthrax and then mail it to other human beings?

There are no easy answers to these questions. The human mind is a very complex and unknown place. What motivates a person to act in such extreme ways is truly unknown. One word that is touted a lot, however, is the word “evil”. It is not just religious leaders and people of faith who use this word. News reporters, political commentators and politicians from the left and the right can barely speak a sentence without using the “E” word.

While calling a person or a group of people “evil” may be effective in providing a generic answer to our many questions, it has the unfortunate effect of rising many more. Not the least of which is, “What is evil?” and “Do we have any control over evil?” Of course, every religion in the world addresses these questions in its own way and different people may find these explanations helpful. Yoga is surprisingly quiet on the issue of evil.

In the Yoga sutra and the Bhagavad Gita, there is no real mention of evil. The concept doesn’t really exist in yoga, and for a very good reason. The very concept of evil takes responsibility for “bad” behavior and places it outside one’s own mind. Statements like, “The devil made me do it.” Don’t hold much weight in yoga. Because the body (action) is always under the command of the mind (will).

Yoga asks each of us to take complete and full responsibility for our actions rather than projecting that responsibility outward. To talk of evil is to say that there is some dark force larking around every corner waiting for a soul to be deceived by its cunning and lies. From a yogic point of view, that darkness can only exist within the mind, and the solution to dealing with that darkness is to allow that mind to be illumined by Spirit.

In the case of September 11th, it is easy to call Osoma Bin Ladin evil, dust off our hands and be done with it. But that doesn’t solve the problem. We are left with our emptiness, grief and anger. Osama Bin Ladin (or someone like him) will continue to create problems and the cycle of violence will continue. Calling him evil may provide a temporary sense of satisfaction, but in the long run it only allows for additional violence.

According to yogic philosophy, all minds are connected. It is in this principle that we find both the problem and the solution. It is the problem because if we are not vigilant, someone like Osoma Bin Ladin, whose mind is obviously very distorted, can invite other minds to join him. This is obvious in the case of the terrorists who carried out the attack on 9/11. But it is also true of each of us if we allow our own minds to become angry, bitter and cynical.

The good news about having our minds connected is that we have the ability to invite healing in the minds of others simply by healing our own minds. In other words, if we choose peace over violence an compassion over cynicism the darkness that lives in the corners of so many minds can not exist. In maintaining our own center we invite others to find theirs as well.

As long as we view evil as something outside of the human heart and mind, it will always exist as an elusive and mysterious force. But when we see “evil” in the world and turn to a spiritual practice such as yoga or meditation, our own minds find the light of Truth and other minds can gradually make that same decision.

Desktop Yoga

by Darren Main • Winter 2001

Over the past million years, the human body has evolved. First, we were hunters with bodies that allowed us to catch our dinner. Slowly we became farmers and our bodies changed, needing to stretch and reach more.

About 150 years ago, we became industrialized. Our bodies shifted again to be more suitable for factory work. But before that evolution was complete, we started leaving the factories to go to the wonderful world of cubicles and office chairs. Our minds evolved so quickly that our bodies couldn’t keep up.

The bottom line is that we need movement to keep ourselves healthy. We need to be dynamic and in motion in order for every system in our bodies to function properly. Even the mind works better when the body is active and stimulated.

Unfortunately, many of us have jobs that require we work in areas that would make the stable of a veal calf look spacious.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not suggesting we abandon the technological revolution, but taking a few minutes to stretch out several times per day would go a long way toward relieving a lot of your work-related pain and discomfort.

Try doing these simple exercises several times during the day. You’re sure to notice a difference in your health and your attitude.

1. Reach for the sky

Begin by sitting up straight. Close your eyes and take a few conscious deep breaths. Reach your hands slowly over your head and clasp them together. Allow your hands to invert so that the palms press toward the sky. Keep the spine long and tall and take 10 deep breaths in this position. When you’re done, let your arms float back down and open your eyes. Take a moment to enjoy the effects of this exercise.

2. Reach and twist
Begin by sitting up straight in your chair without using the backrest for support. Make your spine as tall as possible. Now reach your right hand to your left knee and begin pulling your spine into a twist. Once you have twisted your spine as far as you comfortably can, turn your head to look in the opposite direction of the twist. Try to hold the twist for five to 10 breaths and then repeat twisting to the other side.

3. Leg stretch

You will need a little bit of legroom to do this stretch, so you may want to push your chair away from your desk a bit. Straighten your legs and flex the feet by pulling the toes back toward your face. Now begin to lean forward so that the hands reach toward the feet. If you can easily grab the feet, begin pulling your chest toward the shins. Try to hold the stretch for five full breaths.

Note: If you have any injuries, check with your healthcare provider before doing any exercises, and be sure to engage in other forms of exercise away from your desk to really keep the body healthy and strong.

 

The Breath of Life

by Darren Main • Fall 2000

We do it about 900 times per hour, about 21,600 times per day and about 7,844,000 times per year. It is the most fundamental part of who we are, but we rarely give it a second thought.

Breathing can be a powerful tool. If we learn how to use it, it can literally change our physiology in very dramatic ways. Breathing is one of the few body functions that is under both our conscious and unconscious control. In other words, we can willfully deepen or hold our breath, or we can forget about breathing altogether and it will continue on, using the nervous system’s equivalent of automatic pilot. This is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The ANS has two main branches that govern the unconscious functions of our bodies. The “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) branch is responsible for healing, digesting, eliminating waste, the immune system and basic day-to-day functioning. The “fight or flight” (sympathetic) branch of the ANS is what kicks in when we perceive danger. If a vicious dog comes at you, the fight or flight response kicks in. Your body prepares to protect itself; adrenaline surges through your body. This energy can be spent getting you out of immediate danger.

Many of us are stuck in the fight or flight mode, and consequently live our lives as if we are being chased by that dog. Our health and peace of mind are seriously compromised as a result. Luckily, breathing allows us to manually shift our ANS back into rest and digest mode.

Close your eyes for a moment and notice your breathing. Don’t try to change it right away. Just become aware of what it is like. Is it shallow and short or is it full and deep? Now allow the breath to deepen. Start by pulling the breath deep into your belly, filling the lower part of the lungs. Gradually allow the breath to fill the belly and the middle of the chest. Finally, allow the breath to fill all the way up into the top of the lungs. Don’t rush; allow the air to fill your lungs slowly. When you exhale, move just as slowly and allow the lungs to empty completely. Allow yourself to take 10 full breaths and then open your eyes.

By taking time to breathe in this way each day, we can set the tone of our lives and keep our minds and bodies healthy and strong. We can also use this technique when we feel the stress of life bearing down and threatening to crush us. Breathing may not fix external problems, but it will certainly induce a state that is much more effective in dealing with most of what life throws our way.

 

Balance & The Search for Peace

By Darren Main • March 2001

This really is a magical time of the year. When I lived in New England it was much more dramatic as, the seasons were much more defined, but even here in San Francisco one can feel the change. It is the season of balance when the day and night are equal in length and all sorts of life begins to push its way through the frozen earth.

In many ways, the spring equinox and its counterpart in September should be the most holy days of the year, because they are what the spiritual journey are all about. That perfect balance between energies is symbolized in many ways ú the sun and moon, male and female, the earth and sky, Yin and Yang.

In the Yogic tradition, the whole practice is about uniting Shiva and Shakti.  In Tantra Shiva is the God of transformation, and Shakti is his consort or lover. They are really one and the same, but in our physical world they seem to be separate from each other. They are like two lovers who keep flirting with each other but never really get around to asking each other out. Shiva represents the formless potential in all things, and Shakti represents Spirit, which has taken form in this world.

Shakti is always seeking to reunite with her lover and so she rises up over and over again. She can be seen in the giant red wood tree and in the weed that finds its way through the sidewalk crack. In our bodies, she manifests as our life force (prana and kundalini) and she is always reaching and seeking to expand in order to touch her formless partner. This dance between Shiva and Shakti can not really be described, but it can be felt.

When I was in Costa Rica last year, I was walking along the beach early one morning. Half way through my walk I stopped and did my morning practice of breathing, yoga postures and meditation. To conclude my practice, I began chanting the sound of Om. There was no one else on the beach for miles, so I felt very comfortable belting it out.

All at once I felt a vibration that came from deep within me. It was present in the chant, but it was also present in all things. It was in the ocean and in the sand. It was present in the sound of the birds and in the wind. It was as if I were part of a cosmic chorus and everything was directed and perfectly balanced. In that moment I felt Shiva and Shakti merge and become one within me. There was no separation between form and formlessness or between all beings and myself.

For me, the Spring Equinox is a time to remember that cosmic dance. It is a time to remind myself that I am a part of a great universe that is filled with order and reason. It is a time to return to that natural state of balance that is always present when I get my ego out of the way. But most importantly, it is a time to remember that all life, my own included, can only be at peace in a state of balance.

 

2000 Years Later

Note: I wrote this while I was living in Bozeman, Montana. There had been a rash of hate crimes by “Christians” around that time. This story was my response to that hate. 

 

Jesus came down off Mount Sacajawea of the Bridger range and entered the city of Bozeman in the state of Montana. As he entered the town, people from the whole of Galitin County came to hear him preach.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are oppressed on account of the color of your skin, for your physical appearance is an expression of the Divine.

“Blessed are you who have been told that your path home is wrong and still endured, for your faith has brought rest to a tired world.

“Blessed are you who have found the joy of a loving relationship regardless of your orientation, for your love brings peace to the world.

“Blessed are you who have been driven off the land which God has given you to protect, for your love of the earth shall endure.

“Blessed are you the mothers, daughters, and sisters who have been treated with disrespect, for it is your joy to give birth to the Divine, and bring hope to the future.

“Blessed are you who have not been oppressed, yet felt the pain of seeing your brothers and sisters crucified on my account, for you know what it is to be a child of God.

“But Woe to you who have used the guise of religion to oppress people of color, for you have missed the chance to see the face of God.

“Woe to you who have misused my teachings to lead people from the path of their heart, for in doing so you have become lost.

“Woe to you who have condemned the love of any two people, for you have guaranteed emptiness in your relationships with others as well as with God.

“Woe to you who destroy the earth for worldly treasures, for you have not seen the heavenly treasures which present themselves in the simple beauty that surrounds you.

“Woe to you who have only known women as objects, decorations, and entertainment, for you have denied your own heart the opportunity to be tender, nurturing and loving.

“Woe to you who have called your brothers weak on account of their gentleness, for you have exchanged the power of God for the weakness of mortality.

“O City of Bozeman, remain faithful to what you know to be true. God is within you. Therefore, love the lord your God, and love your neighbor as well as yourself. In this right thinking you will create a community free of hate!”

Lean more about Darren Main’s Books

Please feel free to link to this copyrighted material on your blog or social media walls.  If you would like to reproduce this work in a publication or on a blog, please contact Darren Main to obtain written permission.

 

Remembering Swami Kriyananada

In 1920 a boat docked in Boston, MA and a man by the name of Paramahansa Yogananda stepped onto American Soil.   He was only the second swami to come to the United States at that point, and his teaching and writing sparked the imagination of many young spiritual seekers.  Thus began the yoga revolution here in the West.

Swami-pronam-cmyk-faded-out-on-the-right-125x152

Donald Walters was a direct disciple  of Yogananda and a member of Self Realization Fellowship  (SRF),  an organization founded by his guru. Walters eventually took vows and became known as Swami Kriyananda.   Yet after  a rather public and acrimonious split with SRF,  he went on to found Ananda, author over 150 books and teach worldwide.

On Sunday, April 21st, Krinanada passed away leaving behind many devoted followers.  While he will likely be remembered by some as a rogue Swami and by others as a great teacher, I think he and his generation of  Western yogis is most influential in the brave choice they made to explore yoga at a time when it was known only as an exotic Indian practice.

If not for people like Kriyananda bringing yoga to the mainstream, I might well be wearing a suit to work each day rather than yoga shorts and bare feet!   For those of us who have had our lives healed by yoga, the people like Kriananda who came before us, deserve our gratitude.

Please keep Kriananda’s many students in your thoughts and prayers as they greave the loss of their teacher.  You can also listen to my two part interview with Kriyananda (part 1 • part 2).

 

Music For Yoga & Meditation

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Buddha-PC Davidoff: CDMP3

Koi-PC Davidoff: CDMP3

Music for Zen Meditation- Riley Lee: CDMP3

Yoga Tranquility- Riley Lee: CDMP3

Healing- Anugama: CD

Shamanic Dream -Anugama: CD

Shamanic Dream: Vol 2 -Anugama: CD

Eight String Religion- David Darling: CDMP3

Graceful Passages- Remal Malkin: CD

ReTurning- Jennifer Berezan: CD

Kindred- Kevin Wood: CD MP3

Prana- Craig Kohland & Shaman’s Dream: CD • MP3

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Dropping into Stillness- Sam Jackson: CDMP3

Initiate: Crystal Bowls & Bamboo Flutes- Sam Jackson: CDMP3

OM: The reverberation of Source- Synchronicity: CD

Music for Airports- Brian Eno: CDMP3

Jewels of Silence- Ashana: CDMP3

Soul of the Esraj- Benjy Wertheimer: CDMP3

Voice of the Esraj- Benjy Wertheimer: CDMP3

Golden Bowls- Karma Moffett: CDMP3

 

 

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Pilgrim Heart- Krishna Das:  CD

The Love Window-Shantala:  CD MP3

Sri- Shantala:  CDMP3 

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Music for Yoga and Other Joys-Ben Leinbach:  CD 

Weaving My Ancestors Voices-Sheila Chandra:  CDMP3

Sacred Chants of Buddha- Craig Pruess:  CDMP3

108 Sacred Names of Mother Divine – Sacred Chants of Devi- Craig Pruess:  CDMP3

Leap of Grace: The Hanuman Chalisa -David Newman:  CDMP3

The Essence- Deva Premal:  CD

Love is Space- Deva Premal:  CD

Dakshina- Deva Premal:  CD