How Pilates Can Strengthen Your Yoga Practice

Yoga and Pilates don’t have to be two separate practices. Here’s how they can work together to help strengthen your core, lengthen your side body, and improve your alignment. Through years of yoga classes, I’ve gamely moved into Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) hundreds of times—balancing precariously with one hand on the floor, the other reaching skyward, and one leg shooting back from my hips. I thought I had it mastered. Then I enrolled in a Pilates class to assist my recovery from an injury, and when I came back to Half Moon, I discovered a whole new dimension to it.

How Yoga and Pilates Can Complement Each Other

Pilates can complement your yoga practice.

Pilates can help you open your chest more fully and lengthen your spine in poses like Half Moon.

Pilates not only helped me strengthen my core, it taught me how to consciously tap into the power there to create greater stability and better alignment. In Half Moon, I can now open my chest more fully and lengthen my spine in a way I had never experienced—and I can hold the pose much longer. I have really strong legs and had been using them to compensate for a weak midsection. But the deeper awareness of my core strength that I gained through Pilates has given me greater control over my movements; I discovered a center of gravity that allows me to glide in and out of the pose with fluidity and grace.

I’m not alone in bringing Pilates to my yoga mat, of course. Many yogis are recognizing that Pilates—an 85-year-old system of body conditioning designed by German émigré Joseph Pilates, is a rewarding complement to asana practice. And some, like me, are finding that Pilates’s focus on building and engaging a strong core can propel their yoga practice into new realms.

How Yoga and Pilates Are Similar

How Pilates and Yoga Are Similar.

Some Pilates exercises and asanas have a lot in common. For example, Side Lift is much like Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose).

Interestingly, much of Joseph Pilates’s technique was derived from his study of Eastern philosophy, and many say this included yoga. In his book Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology, he wrote that age is gauged not by years but by the suppleness of the spine. He also noted that full, deep breathing is a key component to efficient movement. And a stint on any Pilates mat reveals similarities between Pilates exercises and asanas: Side Lift is much like Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose), Roll Over is reminiscent of Halasana (Plow Pose), and Swimming could be mistaken for Salabhasana (Locust Pose).

How Yoga and Pilates Are Different

But the similarities stop there. While yogis are instructed to either hold poses or flow quickly through them in vinyasas, Pilates is a rhythmic practice of precise movements repeated five to 10 times for each exercise. “There is a method to the practice, with a simultaneous emphasis on flow of movement, but a controlled flow,” explains Rebecca Slovin, a certified Pilates and yoga instructor in San Francisco. By focusing on targeted movements that develop core strength, Pilates can help yogis build a stable center, lengthen the side body, and increase awareness of alignment. “Pilates helps some of my [yoga] students slow down and work deeper,” Slovin says. Ultimately, she says, it can help yogis get stronger, avoid injury, and sometimes advance into poses that they hadn’t previously felt were possible.

Pilates Helps Yogis Engage Their Core

Pilates Helps Yogis Engage Their Core in Poses Like Headstand.

Pilates can give yogis greater awareness of their center, which comes in handy in poses like Sirsasana (Headstand).

When you hear the word Pilates, you might think of an apparatus involving pulleys, springs, or a movable platform used for a resistance workout. While equipment is an integral part of Pilates practice, the ultimate goal is to get to the mat work—a series of 34 exercises outlined in Return to Life. Done correctly, mat work is a lot harder than performing the hundreds of moves designed for the Universal Reformer, the Trapeze Table, the Step Barrel, and other types of Pilates equipment, because without the support of the apparatuses, students must rely solely on their own strength.

But whether practitioners work with an apparatus or on a mat, the emphasis is on using the breath to channel core energy into the center of the body and out to the limbs. “In Pilates, we say the periphery comes out of the core,” says former dancer Bob Liekens, a yoga teacher and the education director of Power Pilates, a training center based in New York. “Most of the energy in yoga is out in the periphery, but in Pilates, we learn how to bring it back to the center and send it out again.”

The core, also called the Powerhouse, is the body’s center of gravity; it is composed of the muscles of the lower abdomen, lower back, buttocks, and pelvic floor. Jillian Hessel, a Pilates instructor and yogi in Los Angeles who instructs the sequence of Pilates exercises shown here, explains how to locate your Powerhouse: Stand with one hand on your lower abdomen and the other on your lower back. Inhale deeply through your nose and then exhale through your mouth while pulling the lower abdominals up and into the spine, simultaneously drawing your pelvic floor muscles up and squeezing the base of your buttocks together.

The aim is to engage and strengthen the transversus abdominis (the deepest layer of abs that wrap around the torso horizontally), the obliques, the lower back muscles, and the pelvic floor during complex movements. By doing so, you develop a strong, corsetlike support system that protects your back from injury. “Many dancers and yogis who come to Pilates are hyperflexible,” Liekens says. And sometimes these extremely bendy people rely so heavily on their flexibility that they just let their muscles stretch rather than engaging and strengthening them.

“If the center is not realized or strengthened, then the structure is weak and the energy is not being channeled properly,” Liekens says. Exercises such as Seal and Swimming are ideal for challenging the core muscles and building strength, even in those who enjoy a great deal of flexibility. “As the poses get more advanced, rather than just breathing into them, you start to use your belly brain—that strong, deep core that gives you endurance and a center from which to grow,” Slovin says.

Over time, this greater awareness of your center can help you integrate movement between the front and back body, which comes in handy in a posture like Sirsasana(Headstand), in which a loose midsection can cause you to fall over. “In Pilates, you’re constantly asking, ‘Where is my center?'” Slovin says. “And as you move more from that center, you’re more efficient and more grounded.”


Pilates Can Help Yogis Lengthen Their Side Body

Pilates Can Help Yogis Lengthen Their Side Body in Poses Like Downward-Facing Dog.

Many of us tend to shorten the side body in poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Pilates can come to the rescue.

Paul Miller

By strengthening the muscular corset of the Powerhouse, Pilates can help you get in touch with your side body—from the tops of the thighs to the armpits. Many of us tend to shorten the side body in poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), and forward bends, leading us to stifle the full postures. Pilates can come to the rescue. “When you use the muscles in your center efficiently, you’re much more able to lengthen the side body,” Slovin explains. “It’s like a star. If the middle is burned out, the light doesn’t emanate outward.”

In the same way that some yoga styles use props, Pilates uses equipment to help create body awareness in specific areas. To encourage you to connect with your side body, a Pilates instructor might ask you to lie on your side over a Step Barrel, an apparatus that looks like a well-padded wine barrel positioned on its side and with a seat attached. As your side body drapes over the rounded barrel, you can feel the space between your ribs and hips and create a greater sense of length in the waist—an awareness that is helpful to recall in a pose like Ardha Chandrasana or Trikonasana.

For me, finding length in my side body while engaging my core transformed the way I do Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). For years, I hadn’t engaged my abdominal muscles properly, so I strained my trapezius muscles. My neck hurt and my shoulders were uncomfortably sore following any challenging vinyasa class. By learning to engage my newfound stomach muscles, I discovered how to distribute the effort evenly throughout my body and ease the strain on my trapezius muscles. Now I can flow through a vinyasa without having to stop and rest my arms.

Side-body awareness can come to your aid in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) as well. Instead of pushing out your chest to get into the backbend, you might find yourself focusing on grounding the pelvis, pulling in the floating ribs, and lengthening the sides to create a stable, beautiful pose. In postures like Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose), your side-body consciousness can guide your alignment so that you don’t compress your torso as you pull your leg toward your body. By maintaining length in your torso and using your core strength, you find stability, even when you cross the leg over your body for the twist.

Pilates Can Help Yogis Improve Their Alignment

Much Pilates mat work is done lying down, with the arms and legs both moving at the same time; this can help you perceive and correct your body’s alignment. “Because Pilates focuses on balancing the musculature, it helps create symmetry between the left and right sides of the body,” says Melanie Casey, a San Francisco yoga instructor who also teaches Pilates. “By working both sides simultaneously, you’re able to compare the strength of both sides and work them equally. That’s the goal.”

For example, having asked you to lie faceup on a Styrofoam roller and breathe into your ribs, a Pilates instructor might then point out that one side of your back is stronger than the other. Once you know this, you can bring awareness to the different sides of your back and work on correcting the imbalance every time you think of it. In this same position, you can use your awareness of proper alignment to balance your inhalations and exhalations evenly on both sides. Taking this knowledge back to your yoga mat, you may discover that a simple Balasana (Child’s Pose) provides the ideal opportunity to practice engaging your back muscles evenly and distributing the breath equally between the left and right sides of the back body.

The understanding of my body’s alignment that I gained through Pilates allowed me to take my Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) to the next level. Often, when I did this twisting Triangle in yoga class, I received the same adjustment: My teacher would come up behind me and square my hips. With increased awareness of my body’s alignment, however, I became more mindful and figured out how to adjust my hips on my own. I am now able to move my pelvis into position and keep it there even as I twist. With the help of my Pilates-enhanced obliques, I have become more stable in the pose and am able to lengthen my side body while articulating the twist deeply.

Pilates Can Help Yogis with Their Breathwork

Many people say Joseph Pilates borrowed much of his breathwork technique from yogic pranayama. He was asthmatic as a child and lived through the great influenza epidemic of World War I, which killed more people than the combat itself. He developed opinionated theories about the importance of proper breathing, believing that the bottom of the lungs was a repository for infection, germs, and disease, and that only by fully exhaling could you cleanse toxins. By recruiting the deep abdominal muscles, he thought, you could more forcefully exhale air from the lungs.

In Pilates breathing, unlike in yogic pranayama, students exhale through the mouth and aim to attain a “scooped,” or flattened, abdominal wall on the exhalation. Some yogis even use what they learn from Pilates’s focus on the lower abdomen to inform the breathwork in their yoga practice. “Pilates breathing is really a form of pranayama that focuses on the lower bandhas,” Jillian Hessel says. Although she learned about the bandhas in asana, neither her Iyengar Yoga practice nor professional dance training strengthened her core—or her understanding of the abstract concepts of Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock)—the way Pilates breathwork has.

How to Use Pilates During Yoga Class

Yoga and pilates are, of course, distinct practices, but there might be times—perhaps when you’ve hit a plateau in your asana practice or are in an experimental mood—when you want to play with some Pilates techniques on your yoga mat. Mary Bischof Stoede, a certified yoga and Pilates teacher at The Pilates Center in Boulder, Colorado, suggests trying one of Pilates’ breathing techniques—in through the nose and out through the mouth while pulling the abdomen in and up—during yoga practice. “This will assist you in Mula Bandha, because when you exhale through the mouth, you have no choice but to engage that area below the navel,” she says.

Stoede suggests doing Pilates exercises before you begin your asana practice. “The movement flow in Pilates is largely about strengthening the inner core, so start with that very physical practice,” she says. “Then you can slowly move into the quietness of your yoga practice.” Some students start their yoga practice with the classic Pilates move called the Hundreds, which warms the muscles, and prepares the spine for flexion, extension, and twists.

Rebecca Slovin recommends incorporating Pilates principles throughout asana practice. When in Halasana, you can use the deeper awareness of your midsection that you’ve learned in Pilates to help you pull the navel to the spine. In Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), you can activate your core to engage the pelvic floor, which will enable you to move your sitting bones closer to the floor while reaching out with your arms. Slovin also suggests blending some Pilates into your seated poses; try Roll Over or scooping your abdomen inward as you move into Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend).

However you choose to bring Pilates into your yoga practice, Hessel points out that while the slow and controlled movements make the risk of injury extremely low for a healthy person, those with a history of back or neck pain—particularly a disk problem—should check with a doctor before starting a Pilates mat program. Hessel says they should also seek out a professional teacher rather than trying to learn Pilates on their own, since it’s easier to modify exercises for an injured individual within the context of a private lesson.

Joseph Pilates wrote that one’s self-confidence and health come from a balanced trinity of body, mind, and spirit—a belief that probably sounds pretty familiar to most yogis. The sheer physical emphasis of Pilates can give yogis a new body awareness about their strengths and weaknesses, help them become more mindful of their limitations, and give them insight into how the body moves. After experiencing the emphasis on precise, controlled movement and core strength, you may find that a simple Tadasana (Mountain Pose) becomes an opportunity to explore your newfound corset of muscles, or that a Handstand becomes a vehicle in which to engage the obliques and obtain balance.


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How Yoga changes your Brain

There is increasing evidence that yoga and meditation can improve our memory and attention, both help us to function at a higher level at work, home or in school. Furthermore, these benefits occur whether you’re new to yoga and meditation or a long-time practitioner, and studies show it might even help starve off age-related neural decline. The reason, neuroscientists have discovered, is that certain areas of our brain undergo positive structural changes when we meditate. Because the brain exhibits plasticity, which means it has the ability to change, whatever you experience will be reflected in – and have impact on – your brain structure.

Several groundbreaking studies have shown how meditation, especially when practiced over the long-term, can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions. For example, a continued meditation practice can produce a thickening of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, awareness, thought and language. Like a body builder who pumps iron, the bigger his biceps get, the heavier weights he can lift. Likewise, when we meditate, we exercise the parts of the brain that involve the regulation of emotion and mind-body awareness that lead to changes in brain activity and structure, which in turn improve our memory and attention.

Studies have shown how meditation can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions.
Studies show how meditation can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions.

One of my fellow researchers, Dr Sara Lazar of the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, found these brain changes to be especially apparent in long-time meditators. In her 2005 study, for example, MRI brain scans were used to assess cortical thickness in participants with extensive meditation experience (averaging about 9 years of experience and 6 hours per week of meditation practice), and a control group that did not practice yoga or meditation. Dr Lazar found the brain regions associated with attention, sensory, cognitive and emotional processing were thicker in meditation participants than those in the control group who did not engage in yoga or meditation.

This was the first significant study (of now more similar studies) to provide evidence for a link between long-term meditation practice and structural brain changes. Equally exciting is that the greater prefrontal cortical thickness found in the meditation group was most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that extensive meditation might also offset age-related cortical thinning. It appears that the brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing, which frequently diminishes over the years, can remain more youthful in those people who continue to practice meditation.

Alt text hereThe brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing can remain more youthful.

In another interesting study conducted at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA, differences in the brain’s anatomy and structure called gyrification (or cortical folding) were also discovered in people who meditated. Although the implications of this research remain to be fully established, the findings from this study support the possbility that meditation can lead to changes in regulation of activities including daydreaming, mind-wandering, and projections into the past or future, and a possible integration of autonomic, emotional, and cognitive processes.

And while research reveals long-term meditation can produce structural changes in specific areas of the brain that enhance our ability to learn, one does not have to practice for thousands of hours to reap the positive brain benefits. Dr Lazar also found that these increases in grey matter in some regions of the brain occurred after just 8-weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Education (MBSR), a formal program involving meditation and some yoga practice. These results suggest that even short-term participation in meditation-related practices can lead to changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions that are involved in learning and memory processes, as well as in emotion regulation.


Long-term meditation can enhance our ability to learn.
Long-term meditation can enhance our ability to learn.

Yoga makes the brain Smarter

Think about how we feel when we’re stressed. We might eat more, lose our appetite, sweat profusely, or simply want to bury our troubles in mindless television or computer games. What happens to our brains when we are under stress is that our bodies increase the secretion of cortisol, a well-known stress hormone. When faced with sustained, high levels of chronic stress, the associated high levels of cortisol can actually be toxic and even fatal to our brain cells. Because our hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, is particularly vulnerable to high sustained cortisol levels, we may ultimately compromise our learning and memory capacities when faced with uncontrolled chronic stress. By managing stress through yoga and meditation, you can actually improve your memory, concentration, and your ability to learn.

While researching the effects of long-term yoga and meditation, I found an intriguing study that reported improvements in attention, mood and stress over a very short time period. When a group of 40 undergraduate students were given 5 days of 20-minute meditation training, this group showed significantly better attentional abilities and control of stress than a similar control group of 40 students given only relaxation training, including greater improvement in attention, lower anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue and an elevated mood.

There was also a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol.

These studies, which are just a few of those being conducted today, clearly show a strong relationship between our ability to maintain attention and our responsiveness to stress and emotional reactivity. In other words, the more one practices the contemplative skill of controlling attention through meditation and yoga, the more one has a manageable stress response and improved emotional reactivity. Ultimately, our cognitive performance is most efficient and at its optimal level when we are more in control of our stress and emotions.

Our cognitive performance is most efficient and at its optimal level when we are more in control of our stress and emotions.

The Effects of Yoga on Memory and Decision Making

Yoga and meditation not only make our brain more efficient, they also improve brain activity related to decision-making and cognitive performance. In a research study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana, scientists compared the effects of a yoga exercise session to aerobic exercise, the results showed that the memory retention and cognitive performance after yoga was significantly superior (ie. shorter reaction times, increased accuracy) to aerobic exercise. The reason yoga can be better for the brain than aerobics (although both are good), is that it allows us to cope with stress and emotions more effectively.

Long-term yoga improves concentration, processing and motor speed

Research clearly indicates that yoga and meditation, especially a long-term practice, improves the way our brain functions, including our ability to concentrate and perform well on certain tests. In one study comparing 15 yoga practitioners with a control group of non-practitioners and involving a series of tests for attention, the yoga group performed significantly better. Long-term practitioners of yoga and meditation showed greater attention span, processing speed, attention alternation ability,and performance in interference tests.

Another recent study also showed improvement in cognitive functioning and dexterity among 57 research volunteers who were given tasks requiring attention, visual scanning and motor speed. Each participant was assessed before and after three types of sessions: yoga meditation, supine rest, and control (no intervention). The results showed that the yoga condition was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning with no improvement in test skills for those who did not practice yoga and meditation.

Yoga was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning.
Yoga was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning.

Yoga Improves Computation Skills

Many people believe that equation solving and memorisation are the most effective ways to improve one’s mathematical aptitude—all of which can be extremely time-consuming and, to the math phobic, feel like an ordeal. The fact is that sessions of yoga and tai chi can also sharpen your mathematical ability. These were the findings of a Bolo University of Miami School of Medicine study in which 38 adults participated in a session that included two minutes of tai chi movement and two minutes of sitting, standing, and lying down yoga poses. The researchers measured self-reported math computation skills of each participant before and after the session. The findings showed that the tai chi/yoga participants performed better on basic math after the workout. Why? The increased relaxation may have contributed to the increased speed and accuracy noted on math computations following the tai chi/yoga class.

Yoga as a learning tool for students around the world.

Another study providing preliminary evidence that yoga may improve academic performance of children in schools was done on 8OO teenagers in India. The students in this study who were engaged in a yoga program performed better academically than those who did not do yoga. Researchers selected 159 high-stress students and 142 low-stress students. Both groups were given tests in mathematics, science, and social studies. Those who participated in a 7-week yoga program of (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation performed better in academics than those who did not do yoga. The study also concluded that low-stress students performed better than high-stream students, showing, once again, that indelible connection between stress and academic performance.

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Yoga for high blood pressure

High blood pressure – what doctors call hypertension – affects one in three adults in the United States. Elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease, is often described as a “silent killer.” Recognizable symptoms do exist – fatigue, nosebleeds, nervous tension, ringing in the ears, dizziness, bursts of anger, headaches – but not generally until blood pressure is dangerously high.

Stress as the culprit

Blood pressure – the force blood exerts against the walls of your arteries as it travels through the circulatory system – fluctuates during the day, increasing during exertion or stress and decreasing when the body is at rest. Most doctors agree that a blood pressure reading of less than 120/80 is ideal for adults, and diagnose hypertension when those numbers reach 140/90. The top number (the systolic pressure) refers to the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or contracts. The bottom number measures the diastolic pressure, or how much pressure remains in the arteries between beats when the heart is relaxed.

Although several conditions can cause secondary high blood pressure (kidney disease, hormone abnormalities, type 2 diabetes), more often than not a high-stress lifestyle can lead to what doctors call “essential” hypertension, where there is no disease-specific cause.
Yoga, when performed mindfully, can reduce this type of stress-induced hypertension while addressing its underlying causes. It pacifies the sympathetic nervous system and slows down the heart while teaching the muscles and mind to relax deeply.


Balasana – yoga for high blood pressure


Pranayama can also be extremely beneficial. Research studies demonstrate that conscious breathing quickly lowers blood pressure. Practising pranayama while lying down encourages the breath to arise smoothly from a relaxed state, without any force. If you do choose to sit, keep your spine straight and lift your chest, while keeping your head down in jalandhara bandha, so that there is no strain on the heart.

While a general yoga practice has a pacifying effect and can bring the nervous system into balance, some asanas work better than others for actually lowering blood pressure – and simple modifications make others more beneficial. For example, do cooling poses, such as forward bends where the head is supported – to bring a sense of calm to the head, neck, face, and diaphragm. Modify any standing poses in which the arms are normally extended overhead (like virabhadrasana I) by placing your hands on your hips. In trikonasana (triangle pose), look down toward the floor instead of up at the ceiling to keep blood pressure from rising. Steer clear of poses that compress the front of the diaphragm, such as dhanurasana(bow pose) and mayurasana (peacock pose), which can drive blood pressure up.

Anyone with untreated high blood pressure should avoid unsupported inversions, such as shirshasana (headstand pose) or adho mukha vrikshasana (handstand pose) – or any other pose in which they can feel pressure in the throat or temples, or that cause respiration to become heavy or difficult.

Yoga asana’s

Practising a modified halasana (plough pose) is a good way to experience the benefits of inversions without the potentially harmful effects because you can learn to bear weight on the upper body and lengthen the sides of the neck without any strain. So if your blood pressure reads on the high side, stick to the modified version below.
Forward bends and other introverted asanas teach us how to quiet the brain and lengthen and soften the neck along the path of the carotid artery. When doing these poses to lower blood pressure, support the head, which has a cooling, calming effect on the whole body.


Ayuryoga – Ayurveda & Yoga

The concept of AyurYoga was formed around three years ago when Elena & Cristina met in an Ayurvedic Nutrition course in the Academy of Ayurvedic studies in Amsterdam.
Elena, Ayurvedic practitioner & therapist certified at the Ganesha Centre of Ayurveda en Yoga studies in Alkmaar and Cristina, Iyengar yoga certified teacher.



They say Yoga and Ayurveda are sisters sciences, they are in fact coming from the same philosophical background. Further as Yoga practitioners we know that it’s impossible to engage into a yoga practice without spontaneously reviewing one’s own lifestyle and as Ayurveda practitioners we know how physical activity will benefit our mental and physical condition.

Instead of dogmatically applying Yoga and Ayurveda teachings and impose a rigid military lifestyle forcing changes from the outside, with our workshops we want to take participants to the level of simple observation of their nature.
Here Ayurveda offers a simple method based on the Doshas system and their qualities that, beyond any kind of “judgment”, supports people to reestablish their body/mind equilibrium throughout reviewing and tuning diet, daily routine, massage and the use of spices and herbs that are finally just a part of your diet.


This knowledge is very simply learned; once the basic principle is understood it can be applied to every situation. In this sense you don’t need to go indian to remain healthy. Speaking about food, eating what you need at your cellular level as well as your emotional level is enough, provided that you are aware of your needs of course!

To become aware of one’s own needs requires a process that may be chaotic, dynamic, concerning at the first sight, but it is a necessary step to remove any external conditioning that may prevent you to develop your own, unique personal awareness.
With our AyurYoga workshops we hope to make a contribution into supporting students in taking responsibility towards their own health and joy.


The AyurYoga workshops are tuned with seasonal changes affecting body and mind as well as nature around us. They are generally composed by 3 parts:

  • Asanas & Pranayama practice
  • Eat & Learn experience based on Ayurveda Nutrition concept
  • An interactive discussion amongst participants on topics treated by the workshop in relation to their personal experience.

Yoga and stress reduction

Stress is something many people are dealing with nowadays. We all know too much stress is unhealthy, but what can you do to reduce stress? This is where regular yoga practise comes in. Yoga can help balance out stress you experience and bring back harmony in your life.


The feeling of stress is a combination of our perception of events or situations and our body’s physiological reaction. Work issues, difficulties, challenges, obstacles, deadlines, papers, tests, athletic events, performances, family problems, and tragic events are only a few of the situations that can instigate stress. Even joyous events like holidays, weddings and new additions to a family can also exacerbate stress. Natural disasters, world conflicts, tragedies, and stories of suffering and heartbreak, even those occurring on the other side of the world, can have wideranging impacts, affecting people’s mental health.



One of the ways in which we respond to stress is through our fight-or-flight response. This is a combination of the activation of our sympathetic nervous system and specific hormonal pathways which result in the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is one of our primary stress hormones, and is often used to measure the stress response.



Stress in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Immediate, or acute stress, can often be as motivating, as it can be activating. We hear stories of people being able to accomplish physical feats in emergency circumstances because cortisol increases blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar, as well as increasing mental focus. Because the stress response increases mental focus, it can often help us meet a deadline or finish a project.



But too much stress, or constant stress with no respite for the body and mind, can interfere with numerous physical and mental abilities. On a long-term basis, chronic stress can be damaging. Stress hormones including cortisol decrease the responsiveness of our immune system. They also increase blood sugar levels as well as blood pressure and heart rate, helpful in a crisis, but not for long-term health and wellbeing. This is how we respond to stress can have a significant impact.



The practice of Yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body, and has even been found to lower cortisol levels. This effect is noticeable, and it is one of the primary reasons why people often take up Yoga.



People find that they feel more relaxed after practicing Yoga. The asana, or physical postures of Yoga, are helpful for reducing muscular tension, which reduces stress. We have a tendency to store stress not only in our nervous system, but distributed throughout the musculature and other tissues of the body; our digestive system, for example, responds very quickly to stress.

Yoga can be a valuable and effective tool for releasing this stored stress. This can be true even for post-traumatic stress and recovering from the after-effects of traumatic events.



Yoga includes not only the asana or physical postures, but most Yoga classes end with savasana, or a pose of relaxation. Some classes include a guided relaxation where the teacher leads students through a progressive relaxation of the body, which further reduces the experience of stress.

Yoga also includes meditation and breathing practices (pranayama) as well as a set of ethical precepts and observances (yamas and niyamas). Meditation, the ethical precepts and observances, focused relaxation techniques, and working with the breath all have beneficial stress reducing qualities, through improving our relationships with the various aspects of our inner nature as well as affecting our psychology and physical body.



Working with the breath can be a particularly effective method for treating a negative response to stress. When we are experiencing stress, our breathing tends to become shallow and rapid. Shallow and rapid breath further stimulates the body’s stress response, and we can become caught up in an ineffective breathing pattern that only causes more stress.



Many yoga techniques emphasize slowing and deepening the breath, which activates the body’s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. Just by changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience of and response to stress. This may be one of the most profound lessons from yoga practice.



Studies of Yoga have demonstrated that Yoga practice has the ability to reduce stress. Yoga can reduce cortisol levels, a finding which was documented in the October 2004 issue of the journal, Annals of Behavioral Science. In the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers found that caregivers for people with dementia (a very challenging condition) improved physical and emotional functioning after practicing Yoga.

February and August 2005 studies published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine analyzed the breathing techniques of a specific Yoga practice, Sudardhan Yoga Kriya, which the authors maintain reduce stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder.



Another Yoga-based program that has been widely studied in the use of stress reduction is the mindfulness based stress reduction program (MBSR), which is taught, studied and popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The mindfulness-based stress reduction program includes guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices, yoga and gentle stretching, inquiry exercises to enhance awareness, individual instruction, group dialogue and home assignments. The effectiveness of the MBSR has been studied in a variety of different scientific studies both at the University of Massachusetts as well as other medical centers around the world. Results that they have reported on their website which are still in the process of being written about include improved ability to react effectively under high degrees of stress.



Published studies have found that program participants experience lower levels of stress. Kabat-Zinn and colleagues also found that people who practiced a meditation technique while receiving treatments for the skin disorder psoriasis (which is sensitive to stress) had skin that healed faster than people who did not listen to the meditation tapes during treatment.



If you would like to learn more about the effects of yoga practise on stress, you may find the information below useful.

    • Brown, R.P. and Gerbarg, P.L. Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2005; 11(1):189-201.
    • Brown, R.P. and Gerbarg, P.L. Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part II: clinical applications and guidelines. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2005; 11(4): 711-7.
    • Kabat-Zinn, J., Wheeler, E., Light, T., Skillings, A., Scharf, M.S., Cropley, T. G., Hosmer, D., and Bernhard, J. (ABSTRACT Psychosomatic Medicine abstracts/abstracts9.cfm) 1998; 60: 625-632.
    • Robert-McComb, J.J., Tacon A; Randolph P; Caldera Y; A pilot study to examine the effects of a mindfulness-based stress-reduction and relaxation program on levels of stress hormones, physical functioning, and submaximal exercise responses. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; 2004; 10(5), 819-27.
    • Robert-McComb, J.J., Tacon, A., Randolph, P., and Caldera, Y. Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress and levels of cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and melatonin in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Psychoneuroendrocrinology. 2004; 29(4): 448-74.
    • Waelde, L.C., Thompson, L., and Gallagher-Thompson, D. A pilot study of a yoga and meditation intervention for dementia caregiver stress. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2004; 60(6): 677-87.
    • West, J., Otte, C., Geher, K., Johnson, J., and Mohr, D.C. Effects of Hatha yoga and African dance on perceived stress, affect, and salivary cortisol. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2004; 28(2):114-8.
    • Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Web site:

NOTE: The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) carries an extensive set of Yoga and Health Bibliographies, including citations for ongoing research, on their website. Eleven of the most requested bibliographies are accessible free of charge. Dozens more are freely accessible by IAYT members, or available to nonmembers for a modest fee. IAYT also maintains an extensive library containing many of the articles cited, which is open to researchers and the general public. For more information, please visit


10 great reasons to try Yoga

Give yoga a try and discover what it can do for body and mind. A central idea in yoga is “everything is connected.” That’s clear when looking at the health and fitness benefits of yoga that have long been reported by practitioners and are now being confirmed by scientific research (please see references).

1. Stress relief: Yoga reduces the physical effects of stress on the body by encouraging relaxation and lowering the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Related benefits include lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving digestion and boosting the immune system, as well as easing symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, asthma and insomnia.

Health and fitness benefits of yoga have long been reported by practitioners and are now being confirmed by scientific research.

2. Pain relief: Yoga can ease pain. Studies have demonstrated that practising Yoga, meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases and hypertension as well as arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions.

3. Better breathing: Yoga teaches people to take slower, deeper breaths. This helps to improve lung function and trigger the body’s relaxation response.

4. Flexibility: Yoga helps to improve flexibility and mobility, increasing the range of movement of the joints and reducing aches and pains.

5. Increased strength: Yoga postures use every muscle in the body, helping to increase strength from head to toe. Yoga also helps to relieve muscular tension.

6. Weight management: Yoga can aid weight control by reducing cortisol levels, as well as by burning excess calories and reducing stress. Yoga also encourages healthy eating habits and provides a heightened sense of well being and self-esteem.

7. Improved circulation: Yoga helps to improve circulation and, as a result of various poses, more efficiently moves oxygenated blood to the body’s cells while helping to rid the body of deoxygenated blood.

8. Cardiovascular conditioning: Even gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.

9. Better body alignment: Yoga helps to improve body alignment, resulting in better posture and helping to relieve back, neck, joint and muscle problems.

10. Focus on the present: Yoga helps us to focus on the present, to become more aware and to help create mind body health. It opens the way to improved coordination, reaction time and memory.

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What is Yoga?

The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit and means ‘union’. Yoga is a spiritual science of Self-realisation that has been developed in India thousands of years ago. Through Yoga we learn to master our body and mind to cultivate inner stillness and an ever growing realization of the innermost essence (soul).

The traditional practice of Yoga is holistic by nature and includes every aspect of life, amongst which: universal ethics (Yama), personal ethics for self purification (Niyama), body cultivation through practice of postures (Asana), mastering of energy through breathing exercises (Pranayama), control over the senses of perception (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), and meditation (Dhyana). The yogic journey guides us from the periphery (body) to the centre of our being (soul) aiming to integrate and harmonize the various layers of our existence to achieve wholeness, health and self realization. Yoga identifies five such layers of being that can be seen as Russian dolls nested within each other: The first layer is the physical body (annamaya kosa) that encompass the following four subtle layers: Our energetic/organic body (Pranamaya kosa), our mental body (Manomaya kosa) our intellectual body (Vijnanamaya kosa), and ultimately our spiritual body, or soul (Anandamaya kosa).

Yoga teaches us that when we manage to bring those layers into harmony and alignment, fragmentation disappears, integration is achieved and unity is established. In the last 50 years Yoga has become widespread in the West mainly due to its appealing aspect of physical practice (asana), and what most of us know is in fact related to a form of Yoga that emphasises the practice of Asana more than any other: Hatha Yoga.

Hatha Yoga and its benefits

Ha-Tha means Sun-Moon, representing the two major types of energy referred to in different cultures – the solar and the lunar energies, the Ying/Yang, or even the scientific left/right brain mechanics. Hatha yoga aims at maintaining an equilibrium of the two on every level but with a clear and strong application of this principle on the body through Asana and Pranayama. In each aspect of our being, yoga offers great benefits.

For example, on the physical level: Hatha Yoga is therapeutic by nature. The regular practice of Asanas and Pranayama makes the body strong, supple and healthy. Breathing becomes even and calm and the mind more balanced, quiet and clear. Yoga has a profound effect on physiological circulation and on the functioning of the inner organs, glands and nerves, promoting greater health and vitality, better concentration, and a happier life. Many common physical ailments can also be improved through the regular practice of Yoga while others can be better endured.


What is Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar Yoga is a yoga system developed by B.K.S. Iyengar. His approach to yoga is based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga written down by Patanjali in ‘The Yoga Sutras’, over 2,500 years ago.

We provide daily Iyengar classes at LiveYoga Amsterdam. Visit our schedule page to know when! 

“Yoga means union. The union of the individual soul with the Universal Spirit is yoga. But this is too abstract a notion to be easily understood. So for our level of understanding, I say that yoga is the union of body with the mind and of mind with the soul”.

BKS Iyengar in a yoga pose called Purvottanasana


What is unique about Iyengar Yoga is the practice of asana and pranayama with an innovative approach to precision and alignment. This approach to yoga has allowed people of varying ages, levels of health and fitness to enjoy its benefits.  the ability to face the physical, mental and emotional challenges of life are among these benefits.


BKS Iyengar showing the downward facing dog yoga pose


The term “Iyengar Yoga” was coined by his students to distinguish his approach from other styles of yoga. He, however, has described his yoga as “Patanjali Yoga”

I have no right to brand my practices or teachings as Iyengar Yoga. My pupils, who follow me, call it Iyengar Yoga. The only thing I am doing is to bring out the hidden qualities of Yoga. What I do is pure, authentic traditional Yoga. It is wrong to differentiate traditional yoga. As it is also not fair to brand Yoga, as Raja-yoga, Hatha-yoga, Kundalini-yoga and so forth. There is no distinction between one Yoga and another. Yoga, like God is one.