Penned centuries ago, and considered by Krishnamacharya as the most important text on yoga, the wisdom contained in the Yogasutras of Patanjali is as relevant to all people today as it was in the past.
In a new online study platform, YogaKnowledge.net, A.G. Mohan and Indra Mohan wish to share the profound wisdom of the Yogasutras with not only scholars and serious students of yoga but to all people seeking transformation and meaning in their lives.
A.G. Mohan began his journey in yoga, with T. Krishnamacharya, 45 years ago in 1971. Over the course of almost two decades, he studied the Yogasutras several times with him. Considering it to be the most important, Krishnamacharya would usually explain the sutras using the commentary of Vyasa, and discuss how the sutras are based on Samkhya and the differences between yoga and other ancient philosophies.
The situation in which Mohan studied at that time was very different. Less distractions, a slower pace of life. Times have changed now.
Understanding the Yogasutras is not easy. It requires extensive studies of related subjects. Mohan’s studies in this area, have been on going throughout his life, both as a student of Krishnamacharya's and even longer since the master’s demise. He has read all the major commentaries, pondered the connections and practical implications of the sutras, studied their connections with Buddhism, non-dualism, and related philosophies and applied that which he has been able to, in his own yoga practice and daily life.
For some time, the Mohans have been working on presenting the Yogasutras in an online format in order to reach a modern audience. In 2011, they launched a series of online videos, detailing Chapters 1 and 2, covering each sutra with Vyasa’s commentary. They have now taken the next step with YogaKnowledge.net, making this information accessible to a wider audience. The Yogasutras are presented in short, easy to absorb videos, accompanied by notes highlighting key points. (The original, in-depth videos are also available as a resource.)
The program at YogaKnowledge.net is an ongoing program. Two new videos will be released each week and in addition, each month, the Mohans will answer questions from participants, offer reflections on key yoga concepts, and discuss the connections between some of the key sutras.
Rather than being a static subject of reading, the Yogasutras should be alive, applied, and ongoing. It is a deep and valuable resource for reflection and understanding as we go through life. The Mohans wish is to assist in nurturing this process through YogaKnowledge.net
For more information, please visit www.YogaKnowledge.net.
A lot, of late.
Yoga research is sometimes a revelation and sometimes repetitive, as with other medical research.
But a lot of what is done under the name of yoga is also done in different contexts. Exercise, mindfulness, positive emotions, and good breathing, for example.
Much of what is done under the label of yoga therapy is non-controversial. Often because some form of it is already being done in rehab, movement therapies, psychological interventions etc.
Fact is, going from doing nothing about your health problems to doing something about your health problems is itself helpful.
Talking to someone (maybe your yoga teacher!) is helpful.
Taking some good deeps breaths a day is helpful.
Appreciating that you're alive and have something to do today is helpful.
Being present in the small moments of the day is helpful.
These are all researched in some context. Nothing particularly esoteric or mysterious.
We can do all of these in a yoga session.
The point is that a lot of yoga therapy is non-controversial. We may not have hard evidence for specific protocols, but a great deal of healthcare is like that. A lot of yoga therapy on general terms, rather than the specifics of any protocol, is quite sensible and can be expected to work.
After all, what is so surprising that moving, breathing, and being present is helpful to health? Yoga delivers that in an excellent holistic framework that can integrate with many other modalities.
- Ganesh Mohan
I roll out my mat, my journey begins
But wait! The call, the message, the mail – my mind spins
Gently nudge in, I must, the new “will” that I seek
This dilemma, this quandary, is surely not unique
I seek to resist the urge to give in
To that endless churn, it is indeed all within
This “will” I must nourish through every act and word I say
For it carries potential to infuse greatness into my simple day.
- Nitya Mohan
Several studies show positive results using yoga as an adjunct treatment of eating disorders; but yoga can also be damaging for this population.
Heated yoga classes are unhealthy for a client with anorexia.
Their heart is already under distress without this added feature. (Bikram standard is around 105 degrees with 40% humidity.) Also, many heated classes have at least two walls covered with mirrors. A teacher may state that a focused gaze leads to a focused mind, but for those with body image issues and/or eating disorders any and all staring at the body will inevitably bring up thoughts that conflict with recovery.
Eating disorder students need to be practicing with eyes closed in a room absent of mirrors.
Classes centered on alignment can be overly body-centric, which lead the eating disordered mind to perfectionistic thinking rather than pondering their internal structure. In these types of classes an instructor may break down a posture and gather the class around themselves or a volunteer performing a particular pose to demonstrate the right or wrong way to do a posture. While that can make a movement practice safer, it is black and white thinking, which we are trying to move the client away from.
Eating disorder students need to be aware that every posture will look and feel different on each distinct body in order to release judgments.
Fast paced flowing classes may not have specific guidance on moving at your own breath pace. Without focus on the breath, is the practice really Yoga? That type of movement could be categorized as exercise or stretching, which is beneficial for clients who need to move to release energy… but it doesn’t provide a productive linkage between the two components that are distorted in our clients.
Eating disorder students need the neutral gateway of breath inside movement to create a compassionate linkage between mind and body.
The above classes pose no problem to the normal healthy teen or adult, but even in someone considered “recovered” from their eating disorder, we should guide them towards practices that continue to build a deeper inner value of themselves.
If you are a yoga teacher, you are bound to come across this population in your classes. Use these techniques to hone your skills towards helping this community in your generalized classes.
• Eyes closed as much as possible.
• Listening within, rather than looking outside.
• Cueing the breath with movement.
If a student asks you for help after class… first, be proud of your teaching! They trust you so much that they are willing to share something they hide from most people. Then offer the following tips:
1. An ideal referral would be to send them to a professional seasoned in yoga therapy and treatment/experience with eating disorders.
2. Refer them to a classroom teacher you personally know is sensitive to this population.
3. Gentle and restorative classes tend to have more of a neutral clientele and environment that can be healing for this population.
4. Direct them to practice at home with a book or a video that you approve.
Here are several research studies in treating eating disorders with Yoga: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4047628/
- Caroline McCarter
owns a private yoga therapy practice in Austin, Texas, where she creates customized yoga practices for physical, mental, and spiritual issues. She is also contracted out
by the Texas state mental illness facility, the University of Austin, and eating disorder treatment centers for her specialized yoga teachings. Website: www.yoga-rx.com.
Most yoga teachers will know that Yoga Alliance (YA) has recently required registered teachers and schools to remove references to “therapy” from their syllabus, program descriptions, and all advertising material that mentions registration with YA. They have released a list of words that are acceptable and words that are not, based on advice from the law firm they hired, including a helpful online tool to assist yoga schools in making changes to their syllabi.
At Svastha Yoga, we have a yoga therapy program currently registered with the Yoga Alliance as a 300-hour training that we will be expanding to meet the IAYT criteria of 800 hours. I am also on the international advisory board of IAYT (and AAYT in which is going to be merged with Yoga Australia). I’ve been following this issue and am sharing some thoughts on this that may be helpful.
In Part 1, I’ve tried to summarize the points made by YA and IAYT, as best I can (this is not official, it’s my personal summary of their public statements!).
In Part 2, I offer some broader personal views on this topic.
In Part 3, I explain briefly where we are going with this at Svastha.
(I’ve typed this out in a bit of a rush. I’d be happy to correct any mistakes I’ve made or clarify any confusions I have introduced.)
PART 1: SUMMARY ON WHERE YOGA ALLIANCE AND IAYT STAND
Does Yoga Alliance certify yoga teachers?
No. You can only register with them. You are certified by the yoga school you studied in. The service that YA offers is registration on their database, provided you are from a registered school that has submitted the required syllabus, has given you a certificate of completion, and approves your request for registration.
Are yoga teachers licensed?
Registration, certification, licensing, and credentialing are different.
“Government agencies grant and monitor licenses; professional organizations certify practitioners.”
Credentialing is an umbrella term.
There is no licensing for yoga teachers or therapists right now that I am aware of, as it is not regulated by the government. A yoga school will need to comply with licensing as a business, like all other businesses, but the yoga certification is itself not regulated or licensed.
Do I have to register with Yoga Alliance to call myself a yoga teacher, or be credentialed by IAYT to call myself a yoga therapist?
To the best of my knowledge, no. As there is no government regulation or licensing requirement as of now, you are free to call yourself a yoga teacher or yoga therapist based on whatever studies you have undertaken. Registration or credentialing may give you more opportunities, however.
What is my problem if I call myself a “yoga therapist," credentialed or not?
You could be sued for practicing healthcare without the required license because the word “therapy” indicates that you are offering treatment for health problems and yoga therapists are not licensed.
1. This is theoretically possible, but practically unlikely given that “yoga therapy” is fairly widely used now and has gained acceptance in several universities and hospitals and even in the military.
2. IAYT makes it clear that yoga therapists do not "treat" health problems according to their scope of practice.
3. You could be sued anyway, regardless of what you call yourself. As of now, credentialing with the IAYT doesn’t really change this possibility. But with more acceptance of the credentials, things may perhaps change in future.
What is Yoga Alliance's problem with registering yoga therapists?
YA’s problem is that they could be sued for registering yoga therapists and this is not merely a theoretical possibility. While it is very unlikely that an individual yoga teacher or school would be sued (we are all small fry), the YA makes a much more promising and lucrative target. YA is large and visible.
From that perspective, this is an important legal stand from them to make clear: Yoga Alliance does not register or credential yoga therapists. Seen in that light, the legal approach to this problem from the YA, rather than a community based approach, does make sense.
What is the difference between yoga teachers and yoga therapists and why does that matter?
1. There is no scope of practice definition for yoga teaching. YA contends that the scope of practice definition for yoga therapists as defined by the IAYT does not differentiate yoga therapists sufficiently from yoga teachers.
2. YA seems to view yoga training as not requiring licensing as it is avocational, but feels that yoga therapy training, because of its healthcare connotations, may require licensing.
3. This could lead to a situation where government regulation of yoga therapy results in yoga teachers being regulated as well. YA’s main effort for the yoga community is to oppose government intervention or regulation of yoga teaching, supporting self-regulation instead. (Whether you think this is a plus or a minus depends on where you stand.)
1. IAYT contends that their current scope of practice definition for yoga therapy largely does differentiate yoga therapy from yoga teaching and they are open to community feedback.
2. All emerging complementary systems go through this phase of uncertainty.
Should yoga therapy be licensed and will the IAYT’s efforts at credentialing yoga therapists lead to that?
1. They do not have control over whether licensing may be required at some point by different governments - by individual states in the US, for example. However, they are not pushing for it without the yoga therapist community signaling its interest in it.
2. Setting a framework and credentials does not in itself increase the risk of government regulation. It will make it easier to take either pathway—to remain self-regulated or to be licensed—at a later time. (I suppose this could be argued both ways: a formal profession may come under scrutiny more easily, but on the other hand, good self-regulation enables making a case to be left alone.)
PART 2: THOUGHTS ON YOGA CREDENTIALING, PARTICULARLY YOGA THERAPY
This is a good development
It’s better to have some clarity on where the YA and IAYT stand in relation to yoga therapy. It is good these issues are being discussed.
At this time, the quality of your yoga teacher or therapy training depends mostly on where you got it from – and on you.
How many people fail a yoga training? It is very difficult for yoga schools to refuse students’ certification, both for personal and business reasons. To reduce this bias many professions have evolved standard reference books, as well as common or external exams – and even then, there is a lot of variation in outcome. Without a common textbook or external examiners, quality is essentially self-certified.
I am not suggesting that such standardization is a good idea, especially in an emerging profession such as yoga therapy. I am merely pointing out an existing fact: that it is hard to know what someone studied when they tell you they have undergone a yoga teacher training or yoga therapy training.
Contrast yoga training with Ayurveda training. Though there are differences across ayurvedic schools, the basic principles are consistent and many lines of treatments are agreed upon. That’s because there is substantial traditional documentation (of the basic principles, for example in the Sutra Sthana of the Ashtanga Hrdaya) unlike yoga.
Training is about both content and framework. IAYT or Yoga Alliance can fix only the latter.
I don't see how mandating hours alone can ensure quality when there is huge variation in content across yoga trainings. Quality of content is something only the yoga schools themselves can ensure. IAYT or YA do not have the resources for oversight and testing of yoga schools, and the yoga community does not want it either.
Completing a 200-, 500-, or 800-hour training is a measure of time spent. These numbers of hours are derived from consensus and context; there is no magic number. 800 hours does not necessarily make me a yoga therapist. It is my attitude, knowledge, and skills that makes me a yoga therapist or teacher. These are internal qualities at the heart of competence. Hours are only external markers.
The compulsion for registration
A recent phenomenon I see from the drive toward IAYT credentialing is that yoga schools feel compelled to offer programs that meet these numbers of hours, in a push to advertise this as a selling point.
This is unfortunate. Programs should expand when they have more to teach, not because they feel an industry body (or worse, marketing) mandates it. Credentialing requirements should be reached by the organic growth of content in emerging fields. Content should not be made up to reach credentialing hours.
Again, this is an issue for yoga students and teachers to ponder, not an issue with the IAYT standards themselves.
The key word is “self-regulation.” That is what YA and IAYT are about. There is nothing mandatory about membership with either. However, the IAYT is working to support the emergence of yoga as a wellness and healthcare modality in many populations that need it and they are a relatively small organization. If their work is in alignment with your values, do support them.
Deep well or rabbit hole?
Digging a deep well is a good idea. Meaning that in-depth trainings are useful and allow participants to absorb the perspective and develop insight. But if a field has diverse views, being too deep in a well can lead to tunnel vision. Looking at a broader context may be more useful.
In my view, it is important to have a degree of openness in a yoga training rather than a predetermined lock-in for a large number of hours. If people find the training a good fit, they will continue and complete it, and they deepen their perspective in the process.
The training should itself be open to revision and advancement—improvement by iteration and taking in different viewpoints wherever required. As I wrote in an earlier post, the emphasis on a top-down hierarchy in yoga trainings can be a problem.
This is the reason the Svastha programs on yoga therapy consist mostly of independent modules rather than a monolithic block. Our retention rate is very good; most participants do return, which is a reassuring affirmation that we are offering content with value.
Again, this is just my view; others may valid views that differ from mine.
PART 3: THE SVASTHA YOGA THERAPY PROGRAM
The Svastha Yoga Therapy Program is so far a modular 300-hour program, registered with the YA.
There are reasons why we have waited before beginning the process of registering with the IAYT.
1. Ecosystem rather than just a program. Our approach is iterative and toward building an ecosystem rather than only a program. Several initiatives are under active development in smaller groups and will be rolling out gradually from this year to a larger section of the participants.
2. Scale and belief in organic expansion. We are now running in 12+ locations and have completed the program multiple times over the last six years. We have been evolving into expansion in a way that support the integrity of the vision. The next step of further expansion is to be done in a way that will support growth over the next several years and must be structured carefully given that we have a responsibility to many people.
3. No magic number of hours make a therapist. It has been my view, for long, that there is place for a multi-level approach to yoga therapy training. Rather than a single block of 800 hours, a first level of 300 hours, followed by the rest is a good way to get into the science and art of individualized teaching to individuals with health issues. These hours are just milestones, and somewhat arbitrary anyway. At every step, applying what one has learned is important. That does not start only after 800 hours.
The time is ripe now for further expansion.
1. We are carrying out the required changes to comply with YA’s new policy, making the 300-hour training a foundation training in name and wording.
2. We are expanding the yoga therapy program to meet the 800-hour requirement of the IAYT and will apply for credentialing later this year. This was anyway in the works; we are merely moving it forward by a couple of months. (If you are already in the program, and haven’t received information on IAYT grandparenting through Facebook or email, please do look into it.)
If you’re in Australia, note that the AAYT’s standards are basically co-equivalent with IAYT’s thanks to the cooperation between them; being compliant with the IAYT standards will make you eligible for AAYT registration as well. (AAYT requires 350 hours Yoga Australia Level 1 + 650 hours. IAYT requires 200 hours YA + 800 hours.)
- Ganesh Mohan
Is yoga about being on the cover of a magazine? Is it about being in front of hundreds of students? Is it about teaching yoga at all?
Or is it about the quiet steadiness that holds relationships together? Is it about the caring that binds people? Is it about the mental strength that is required to support others through their ups and downs?
In the extroverted, publicity driven, winner-takes-all culture that modern society rewards, it is easy to miss the point of yoga. Yoga has never been about material rewards but personal success – the decrease of unhappiness and the increase of well-being.
How does that well-being come about? The largest and longest study on happiness, the Grant Study from Harvard, finds that happiness depends largely on relationships rather than material achievement.
A week ago, we had International Women’s Day. For many generations, most cultures have fostered patriarchy and sometimes outright misogyny, implicitly and explicitly supporting an attitude entirely devoid of factual validity or moral justice, based on biases that were rarely questioned. We have come some distance since then, at least in some countries, while in others, atrocities beyond imagination continue. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand; reforming culture is the work of many activists and much effort over time, some visibly vocal and others quietly persevering.
Even in the generally progressive yoga community in egalitarian nations, while most practitioners are women, major scandals have usually centered around significant abuse by a few male teachers in positions of authority. Not a particularly new or different story, sadly. A sobering reflection of how difficult fundamental change is.
At the root of this problem is the perception of yoga as an inherently top-down teaching passed on only at the inclination of the giver when the recipient has met veiled requirements. This implicitly diminishes personal power and responsibility, and paints a social context supportive of exploitation. This is a world view that has midwifed many unsupportable cultural mores and unconsciously ingrained attitudes - the same ones we are trying to move beyond as modern societies. This should not be encouraged in yoga learning or teaching either.
Yoga is not a mysterious state achieved by esoteric transmission through a hidden pathway from an all-knowing guru. Yoga is about what we do with our lives. It is about moving toward emotional wellness and mindful presence over time. But that inner movement is fundamentally dependent on ethical engagement and meaningful connections outside, both as an individual and as a society. It takes a better world to create better people, and vice versa.
How hard so many people have struggled in the past to create positive change, to win the freedoms that we enjoy today! We pay tribute to the famous among them, but there have surely been countless others outside the narrow spotlight of recorded history.
Yoga is mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, friends and colleagues, neighbors and strangers, going on with their lives and responsibilities, facing challenges, some great and some small, with kindness, courage, and grace. That calls for discipline, strength, and flexibility, more than any yoga pose.
Let us cherish and offer our gratitude to these unsung yoginis and yogis we all have in our lives and in the world!
- Ganesh Mohan
Change is hard. Habits are tenacious. That’s our life experience for the most part.
Positive change comes more easily when done with what the Yogasutra calls shraddha, often translated as “faith,” for that is what it means in casual Sanskrit. But in the Yogasutra, this word has a different, deeper meaning that carries psychological insight. A more accurate translation from a reading of the commentaries would be "calm and restful clarity of the mind supported by positive experience and certainty of reason."
(Incidentally, this is an example of why the Yogasutra should be studied with the key Sanskrit commentaries, not just by itself. Most of the clarity and insight from the text resides in the commentaries, principally the one by Vyasa.)
In the explanation of this word, there are keys to help us sustain positive change, working on the emotional self, rational self, and critical self.
One, to find a positive experience in what we do, to the extent we can - doing it in a way that emphasizes the rewards in the process, physical or mental. For instance, feeling a little calmer or lighter, more energetic or grounded, more safe or stable. If I appreciate the positive feeling my effort brings me, I can engage my emotional self to support my transformation with intrinsic motivation.
Two, to try and understand, to the extent we can, how what we are doing will help us. If I cultivate some knowledge of the process of change, I can engage my rational self to support my transformation with clarity and deliberation.
Three, to begin with acceptance and be kind to ourselves. Whatever my problems may be, accepting their existence in this moment is not the same as acknowledging defeat nor is it equivalent to condoning their presence; it is merely letting go of unhelpful internal conflict and judgment to bring a measure of restfulness to the mind. If I practice acceptance and kindness to myself, I can suspend my critical self, and channel my energy away from negative self-talk toward positive self-reinforcement.
Change is a process of many steps. Yoga offers us not just the process but also the keys to make that process work well.
- Ganesh Mohan
It is widely known that Vitamin D is important for strong bones. That’s because Vitamin D helps calcium absorption and plays a crucial role in calcium and bone metabolism, along with parathyroid hormone.
But Vitamin D also has other effects on health as it influences a variety of cell lines. Vitamin D deficiency has been potentially implicated in pathologies such as cancer, inflammation, auto-immune disorders, and diabetes. Whether Vitamin D deficiency is causative or a consequence, or possibly both, is unclear. 
How much Vitamin D should we take? You can find a long list at the Mayo Clinic’s website as possible guidelines for different health conditions. 
NIH, Office of Dietary Supplements, recommends an upper limit on daily intake of 4000 IU/day. The reasoning behind that is set out in a detailed research review by a committee formed for the purpose of analyzing safe upper limits of long-term, possibly life-long, Vitamin D supplementation.
The reason why there has to be an upper limit is that Vitamin D in large doses can be toxic. The acute toxicity of Vitamin D is well known. But the research findings on chronic ingestion of Vitamin D are quite variable. How high a dose is preventive and how high a dose is toxic is not that easy to determine.
10,000 IU/day of Vitamin D appears to be the upper limit where no adverse effects are observed, if the marker for adverse effects is taken to be hypercalcemia (Ca+ > 10.5 mg/dL in the blood). Prolonged hypercalcemia is an important factor in organ damage and other adverse effects.
The circulating variant measured in the blood as a marker of Vitamin D status is 25-hydroxyvitamin D (converted in the liver), 25(OH)D in short. 25(OH)D levels are presumably a more sensitive marker for adverse effects than hypercalcemia.
25(OH)D concentrations seem to have a reverse-J-shaped benefit curve on several health parameters such as all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, as well as falls and fractures. That is, a low level of 25(OH)D is associated with an increased risk of several health conditions, but beyond point, high levels of 25(OH)D also seem to be risky.
For example, levels of 25(OH)D <30 nmol/L seem to be associated with increased all-cause mortality, and rising levels are associated with decreased risk, but only up to a point. Once levels rise beyond 75-120 nmol/L they appear to be associated with increased all-cause mortality again. 
There are numerous conflicting studies on the dose of Vitamin D beyond which adverse effects are seen, some of which suggest that much higher 25(OH)D concentrations can be tolerated with no adverse effects reported. To quote the paper from the NIH committee, “The vagaries of serum 25(OH)D measures in general, the sparse data available, and the uncertainty as to the nature of the adverse effects preclude strong conclusions.”
What would natural levels of Vitamin D be? Our lifestyle after the industrial era has changed to keep most people indoors much longer than they would have been earlier in human history.
Significant sun exposure in outdoor occupations and recreations seems to result in concentrations between 125-150 nmol/L,  and a study of traditionally living men in East Africa with a pastoral and hunter-gatherer lifestyle measured a mean 25(OH)D concentration of 115 nmol/L. This is possibly a reasonable guideline to go by, though all these are measurements in healthy men, not in an elderly age group or people with specific health problems.
One of the few longer duration studies suggested that doses of 5000 IU/day result in 25(OH)D serum concentrations from 100-150 nmol/L but do not exceed 150 nmol/L after around 20 weeks of administration. (Again, this was in healthy men.) With some leeway for uncertainty, given the rather diverse research findings, the recommendation comes down from 5000 IU/day to 4000 IU/day.
Also, steady smaller doses seem to result in reduction in fractures and falls, while there was one Australian study that tried 500,000 IU annually and found an increase in falls and fractures.
But all this said, the therapeutic doses of Vitamin D would likely have to be much higher. For example, a pilot study that used does of 35,000 IU/day for six months found significant benefit in vitiligo and psoriasis, and the 25(OH)D concentrations rose to as high as ~265 ± 79 nmol/L and ~ 330 ± 37 nmol/L in patients with psoriasis and vitiligo respectively.
There is also the possibility that individual variations in the response of 25(OH)D levels to Vitamin D supplementation are large, based on genetics, body mass, and baseline levels.
The safest approach would be to get Vitamin D from sunlight. Anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours of sunlight may be required, however, depending on melanin in the skin, latitude, time of the year, time of the day and other factors. Regular and adequate sunlight exposure is unfortunately not easy in modern times for many people.
To err on the side of caution, if taking Vitamin D supplements in higher doses, measuring calcium, PTH, and 25(OH)D levels to observe how one responds is wise.
You can find useful summaries on several websites from specialists on this topic. Nonetheless, how definitive can a recommendation be when the underlying data is potentially variable from one individual to the next? My purpose in this post is partly to bring out a simple fact: it is truly complicated to research and understand the effect of even a single supplement on the body.
If research on Vitamin D delivers such complex results, is it surprising that research on herbs which may contain numerous bioactive compounds, or on holistic interventions such as breathing, movement, or lifestyle changes, can be enormously more variable and complex?
- Ganesh Mohan
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I remember my father, A. G. Mohan, saying, years ago, that having a challenge in yoga practice is good, but every practitioner needs to ask, “Who is challenging what? And why?”
If my challenge is to put my legs behind my head, that’s neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong, as an absolute. But who is issuing that challenge to me? My mind? Am I conscious of every thought in my mind? Far from it. My mind in this moment reflects the sum of innumerable subconscious processes in the past and the present. Not much that that our minds say can be given a free pass.
If my mind issues the challenge, who executes it? It’s not my mind that puts its legs behind the head; not directly, anyway. It’s my body that does it.
So, if my mind challenges my body, is that a wise challenge? To answer that question, we must ask, “Why?”
When the mind challenges the body, it’s a good idea to challenge the mind first. If there is a meaningful answer forthcoming, then we can pass the challenge to the body.
If the answer is, “Because the person on the next yoga mat is doing it,” “My teacher told me to,” or “That’s how we do it in this style of yoga,” that’s not a very good answer, is it? After all, none of these answers says why you should be doing this. None of these responses includes the context or relevance of this challenge to you as an individual.
You are not your neighbor on the mat. You are not your teacher. You are not the same as every other person doing a style of yoga. Even identical twins do have different life experiences and life goals!
As Krishnamacharya wisely said, “Teaching is for the taught.”
Yoga has to be meaningful to you, and powered by you. Only then is it sustainable over time, and rewarding throughout life.
- Ganesh Mohan
"I want to be happy” is a universal goal in our lives—as a baby or as an elderly person. For one person, happiness lies in accumulating many possessions; for another, happiness lies in leading a simple life and serving others.
The Yogasutra says that the purpose of yoga is to remove duhkha or suffering. Removing unhappiness is no doubt attractive. Yet, all of us would like something more. All of us would like to be happy.
Happiness and unhappiness are both just experiences in our mind—like all experiences, they are transient. Happy moments pass, leaving behind pleasant memories. On the other hand, unhappy moments usually pass too, leaving behind unpleasant memories.
When we are happy, our mind is excited and active. The mind cannot continue to remain like that all the time. We would find it tiring after a while. Eventually, the excitement of happiness or pleasure gives way to a feeling of satisfaction or contentment. Then our mind gradually becomes restful, relaxed.
“Being happy” is temporary. “Being fulfilled or content” is potentially long-lasting.
The Yogasutra does not say “I will show you how to be happy,” because that is a transient goal. Instead, it says, “I will show you how not to be unhappy.”
To be free of unhappiness does not mean that we are never happy. It means that we are peaceful within; that we have restful contentment instead of the mental urge to chase happiness without pause. That is a lasting goal.