Category Archives: Uncategorized

Experiencing the Pleasure of Joy

This week we went to see the Young@Heart chorus sing. It was joyful. There is really no other word to describe it. I smiled so hard for the entire duration of the concert that I was a little sore the next day. I am a content person. I am very happy about the start of my business, but I don’t do silly and I almost never do joyful.

My students at the YMCA have the option of studying with lots of different types of yoga teachers. Some of the teachers have loud voices and big personalities, others are cute and playful, others are sweet and serene. I am serious and intense. My devoted students think that we are having fun when we are exploring the Large Intestine or softening the Heart, not when I crack a joke. I’m okay with that.

But seeing all those old people dance around stage is not your typical level of joy. Seeing the house stand for a full standing ovation at the end of the first set is not your usual level of joy. The concert made me determined to be a little bit lighter and to laugh deeply more often.

One of my favorite characteristics in fiction is the description of someone with a quick smile. I don’t have a quick smile. My smile requires warming up and usually starts out kind of stiff and awkward. There are a handful of people in my life who can make me laugh so hard I lose control and actually start trembling a little because my body isn’t used to it. I keep them around with a fierceness.

In the midst of the days getting shorter and everyone starting to lose their minds over the presidential campaign I invite you to take time to find joy. Remember that game when you lay your head on someone’s stomach and someone else lays their head on your stomach and then everyone laughs as hard as possible. Why do we stop doing stuff like that? I want to do that at our next dinner party, though I’ll probably be too embarrassed to ask people to get down on the ground. We have to make sure we instead look for different, adult ways of being silly and joyful. I find being around children, especially babies, is the easiest technique. They are our best teachers of joy.

I’m including this picture because it is only picture I have of me really laughing as an adult. It was taken moments after one of my closest friends made me laugh hard enough that I couldn’t be camera shy or sensor myself. That is why I keep her around. Keep a picture like this of yourself around as another great reminder of joy!

Composition: Practice Lesson #3

Now we get to the filler. You know what your practice is, you know how much time and energy you can devote to it, you know how to keep the passion alive, now we figure out the specifics.

Making an Outline

Every recipe has a list of ingredients and a set order of steps to best prepare a dish. Yoga doesn’t have to be any different.

  1. Centering
  2. Warm-ups
  3. Standing Postures
  4. Core work and/or backbending
  5. Twists
  6. Inversions and/or cooling postures
  7. Sivasana

That being said if you have five minutes to be on the mat you don’t need to do shoulderstand or sivasana. But you do need to break down all the goals you have for your practice and think about which aspects are most important to you. For instance, my back is my trouble area so my practice usually consists of breath work, core work, hamstring and quad stretches, back bends and twists. For quite a while now I’ve been skimping on standing postures because it isn’t in my practice. You have to know what you are capable of and get the results from the practice that you need.

Ideas

Some of you already have tons of materials. You know you love pigeon pose and hate wide forward folds but know you need to do them. You know how many sun salutations is a work out and how much is being lazy. Others of you don’t know postures or sequencing because you are new to yoga altogether or you’ve become so well trained at listening that you don’t really know how to do the postures alone. So here is a list of resources.

Pose Ideas

Dos and Don’ts

If you are getting bored with the same old

If you need a pranayama app

My list of great yoga books

Start thinking about the elements you want to be part of your practice and literally start practicing. See how long it takes to do a short centering, followed by 3 sun salutations, a couple hip openers and a 10 minute sivasana. Then switch it up the next day. Start practicing your practice to make it work for you.

Things to consider

  1. Your favorite pose: why do you love it?
  2. Your nemesis pose: why do you hate it?
  3. What physical ailments or health issues should be addressed with your practice? (ie low back pain, knee issues, depression, headaches, anxiety, etc.)
  4. Should your personal practice be supplemented by group classes once a week for inspiration and to check on proper alignment? Or is your practice going to three classes a week?
  5. Where in your home are you going to practice? Do you need anything in order to practice?

This week I encourage you to start the physical part of your practice. If it is a mental or emotional practice make sure you define clear parts and goals and aspects of your practice to help you stay to task. Best of luck to you! Happy practicing.

Beginner’s Mindset: The Freedom And Infinite Joy of Being A Novice

Any real ecstasy is a sign you are moving in the right direction. –St. Theresa of Avila. Trans. by Daniel Ladinsky

Maybe it is the teacher in me always at the front of the classroom, but on occasion I love to be the bumbling idiot in the room.

Last night I went to a Knife Skills Course at Different Drummer’s Kitchen. It was fabulous, I learned a ton and I got to feel that tense-muscles-can’t-remember-my-name-type of confusion.

After a ten minute history lesson about knife design and manufacturing I was already swooning in the beginner mindset and had lost touch with my body. When the instructor moved rapidly into basic knife holding instruction I went into bumbling idiot mode. I looked at her hands, then I looked at mine. Nothing. She forced my clamped hands to move and then put the chef’s knife on the carrot stick again. Nothing, I couldn’t remember how to move my own hands. It was great. Complete mind/body melt down.

It took several vegetables and a lot of extra attention before something happened. I was mid julienne and the knife suddenly slid across the cutting board in this almost poetic fashion. The beginner in me froze terrified that I would never be able to do it again, but the teacher in me was delighted. I had seen the flow. One second in time and I was convinced I would be able to chop vegetables. Almost immediately I could get it back for four to five slices at a time. Then the flow happened for 8 to 10 slices. By the time I got home to show off for my husband, it was there, the poetic flow had destroyed all my years of muscle memory because my hands and forearms loved doing it the right way.

It reminds me of alignment. Years ago I was working with a client with sacral instability. She had no sacral curve at all, in other words she had a flat butt. At the end of our lesson I taught her how to recede the pubic disc to allow the sacrum to free back so the pelvic floor could be open and wide. She did it three or four times and liked it. I told her to think about freeing the sacrum back every day when she went walking. A week later when we had a follow up lesson she was very embarrassed because she had become confused and decided to just stop thinking about it. But when I looked at her I had to laugh. She had a perfectly healthy sacral curve. The body felt how good it was to be in the right position and helped her forget the old way. She still studies with me today and she hasn’t lost the sacral curve one bit.   

Our bodies and our minds know flow and ease and will always prefer it. Trust flow.

Check out my handiwork from last night’s class. Nothing like Beginner’s Pride.

Tips For Turning the Worst Insomniacs Into Good Sleepers

I have a history of sleep issues. To give you an example of how light a sleeper I used to be my husband didn’t see me physically asleep for the first two years we slept next to each other. Acupuncture, yoga, mindfulness and a lot of sleep hygiene training have changed all of that.

If a person sleeps 8 hours a night, they spend 56 hours a week in bed, 2,920 hours asleep in a year and a massive 233,600 hours (or 9,733 days) asleep in their lifetime. We do a ton of stuff while we sleep. The discs of the spine absorb fluid while we sleep creating the cushion that allows for greater skeletal mobility. Our heart rate and respiratory rates slow down improving the strength and health of the heart. Sleep clears the mind, allows the immune system to restore health in the body, and allows the muscles and bones to be without the body’s weight and our habitual postures. Read 11 more fun benefits of sleep here.

After studying Chinese Medicine and treating a lot of insomnia, I’ve learned some important things. Most people don’t know what good sleep is and they don’t know how to use proper sleep hygiene to get it. They put their body and mind through a complex race immediately before bed and then expect the body will just conk out.

Qualities of Good Sleep

Good hours (preferably 10pm-6am): It isn’t just about getting 8 hours, in Chinese Medicine the hours between dinner time and dawn are the yin hours. Yin is slower, cooler, quieter than the yang. If you sleep past dawn into the yang period of the day your sleep is less restorative and more active. If you are awake during the yin time you deplete the fluids of the body and add more heat to the system making it harder to sleep the next night.

Steady sleep: So many patients tell me they get eight solid hours of sleep every night. Then they reveal they wake two times to urinate. Then they say that they have a lot of dreams. Then they say they roll over every 30 minutes. It isn’t surprising at all when they admit they never wake rested. Good sleep is deep and thorough. You should roll over once or twice a night, not every half hour. You shouldn’t really dream at all and if you do, you shouldn’t be able to remember it. Dreams are a sign of active sleep, not deep, restorative sleep.

No night urination: This one is hard. Western Medicine tells us that as we age, especially men, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in frequency of night urination. Don’t believe it. I’ve treated a lot of men over the age of 60 who sleep all night long. It is possible and worth working towards with diet changes, better hydration, weight loss and acupuncture.

Steps Towards Proper Sleep Hygiene

  1. Keep the lights low in the house after dinner
  2. Stay hydrated all day long and keep drinking until you go to bed (dehydration can cause insomnia and night urination)
  3. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet
  4. The bedroom should be used for sleep and lovemaking, nothing else
  5. Don’t keep work-related or stress-causing objects in the bedroom
  6. Turn the clock away from you or use one that doesn’t glow at night
  7. Avoid exercise after dinner or do a restful activity after exercise before bed
  8. Have a bedtime routine, just like you did as a child
  9. Sleep with a glass of water by the bed and drink if you wake thirsty
  10. Pay attention to sleep windows, do boring things after dinner and allow the body to tell you when it is tired, go to bed when you feel tired
  11. There are four hour cycles of sleep, if you miss the 10pm cycle you might not even feel tired again until 2am.
  12. Once in bed think about Sivasana, go through the steps of relaxing and quieting the physical body and allow sleep to come
  13. If you wake at any point in the night and can’t get back to sleep stay in bed and keep your eyes closed. You allow the nervous system to rest and recharge even if you are not
  14. Yes, try to avoid eating a big meal directly before bed, but don’t go to bed hungry either (low blood sugar can cause insomnia as well)

This summer we bought a new mattress at Fly by Night and built a bed for it out of beautiful, but inexpensive, maple plywood. The first night we slept in our new bed we slept right through until 8:30 in the morning and woke up giddy because we hadn’t slept that late or that well in years. A good night’s sleep is worth all the money in the world. Isn’t it time to think about how you prioritize sleep?

Discipline: Practice Lesson #1

Merriam Webster defines “discipline” in the following variety of ways: punishment, instruction, a field of study, training that corrects moral character, control gained by enforcing obedience or order, orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior, self-control. All that exhausts me.

Let’s talk about the difference between practice and discipline. Maybe there isn’t one in current rhetoric. Maybe the line is fuzzy, but I want them to be separate.

The aerobic instructors at the Y where I teach think it is incredibly funny that the yoga students are notoriously rude to them if the aerobic instructors run a minute or two over. I know it is true because I watch my own devoted students become fireballs of fury if a class before us is not orderly about exiting the studio.

So here is the truth. The more developed the yoga practice the more one knows how desperately the yoga is needed.  Beginner students may be grumpy and irritable people, but they don’t correlate their new exercise program to their emotions or stability. Intermediate students are usually diehards—they are the newest addicts, they see the difference and need their fix more often than any other group. Advanced students are so busy trying to incorporate their yoga into their driving patterns, their relationships and their workplace that they sometimes forget to show up on the mat. And teachers-yeah well, we are the craziest out there and we need to be surrounded by it at all times in order to stand a chance in this world. But all of that is practice, not discipline.

Practice is about development, change, evolution, betterment, discovery, enjoyment, fulfillment, struggle, challenge, fight, strength, devotion, the unknown and the known.

Discipline is about routine.  Do we learn much from routine, other than that it keeps us organized and sane? Not much. In order to learn from our routine, we have to make it a practice. We need to stay deliberate and mindful. To better explain I will share a current list of my personal practices and disciplines.

Practices

  • Recovering from Grad School
  • Resting
  • Morning Journaling
  • Lunch as a meditation not a multitasking session
  • Teaching yoga mindfully and safely
  • Starting a heart-centered business
  • Writing a wellness blog
  • Loving my husband
  • Staying in touch with friends and family

Disciplines

  • Drinking enough water
  • Showering more often
  • Eating at the table
  • Brushing my teeth 2x/day
  • Taking vitamins
  • Keeping a clean kitchen
  • 8-9 hours of sleep each night

 If we think of time on the mat as a discipline it becomes not just part of the routine, but part of the mindlessness of our day. There is enough mindlessness in our days. I want you to show up on your mat, or to any practice you have because you can’t wait to get there and do it again. It offers something so challenging you want another day of fight, or something so bewildering you want to figure it out, or something so delicious you can’t wait to slip back into it.

This week I invite you to make a list of all your practices and disciplines. Then start to think about how much time you could commit to a new daily practice to improve the overall quality of your health. Could you do five minutes a day and maybe 20 on Sundays? Could you do two hours on Sundays and 30 minutes on Friday night? Think it over, be creative and be very, very reasonable. Don’t forget about other time commitments. Don’t forget about fun time and times you are tired and without ambition. Make a list of times and write those down as well.

Important note: You don’t have to know what you are going to do with that time yet. Just think about how much time and energy you have available. Take one week to start to be more conscious of the current practices and disciplines in your life and how you maintain them. Pay close attention to the primary practice in your life and notice all the subtle practices within it that help keep it strong. They are helpful to remember and appreciate as well.

The Practice

One of the reasons I love my Friday morning class is that my students let me talk about “The Practice” off the mat. I dabble with little bits in my other classes, but I get the sense that the Friday regulars are hungry for it. Maybe it is just the Friday time slot because they come in wearied from the week, or maybe the students are just in the routine of thinking beyond asana, or posture.

Last night I read Heather Church’s recent post Eleven Steps to a Happy Life; My Joy Practice. I like that she takes her yoga and her practice to so many different places. She titles it her Joy Practice, but what she conveys is her full practice, the life practice. Which is very suggestive of how she wants to live her life—with a focus on joy. What I want to talk about today is the current practice, perhaps even a finite practice.

You may think that my practice right now is starting a wildly successful heart-centered acupuncture and yoga business. Let me assure you it is not. My practice right now is recovering from grad school. Starting a business that feeds me spiritually, physically, and intellectually is a key component to that practice, but only one part. Recovery in the short term and sustained health is a necessary practice if I want to help people heal for a living.

For the month of October I’ve decided to really contemplate the word “practice” and make a list of what I want my health practice to include and what I want my health to look like. In doing this I’ve decided to invite you along and offer four weeks worth of practice-oriented guidance and conversation.

To begin this process I want to start by discussing the idea of this moment’s practice. This moment in your life that is, not just in your day. What is your focal point? What is most important to you? Maybe it is the biggest struggle. Maybe it is your greatest joy. It may not even be that obvious to you until you stop and think about it.

Start with the number one thing. It may be one thing that is culminating in a month or three months like planning a wedding or having a baby. Or it might be something with no end in sight like raising a teenager or loving a partner. Whatever it is I invite you to name it this weekend. Own it. Maybe even write it down on a piece of paper and put it someplace special where you can see. Be proud of your current practice. Give it the weight it deserves.

Please comment on facebook or on my website and share your practice. If you are one of my students catch me after class and tell me your practice if you like. Tell other people in your life. It is your life’s work at the moment.

Sick Day(s)

One of my husband’s greatest strengths is how well he gets sick. When he gets sick his body goes to war.  I can almost hear his immune system rising up and fighting from within him. He gets high fevers easily and sweats profusely like the body is not just pushing, but propelling out the germs. He stays home from school and doesn’t leave the bed, sleeping in four to six hour stretches during the day. He lets his mind shut down and his body takes over. It is a sight to be seen.

I, on the other hand, am not very good at being sick. For the last two days I have been home sick contemplating the immune system and how to rest deeply to make the body heal faster. After two days of being in the house and watching an absurd amount of television I have nothing to report, no brilliant lessons learned. Rest is hard.

Last Friday I taught an entire yoga class on the concept of yield. We did some partner work sitting back to back with another yoga student in the class and practicing yielding against each other. Yield by definition is relational. It is not a giving over completely, but a resting against to feel what comes back to meet you. In order to yield to a partner’s back you have to be able to support their yield and give equal yield back. The meeting halfway creates a safe place to rest. That is yield. It is fundamental piece of embodyoga,TM the style yoga that I practice and teach. If we first find the earth and can yield to it, we can begin to push away and find the support of the earth in more challenging postures.

Canceling class and staying in bed all day is not necessarily yielding. The last two days have included more grumbling and fighting of the cold and not much yielding.

So what would yielding look like? What would it feel like? Yielding would be canceling my afternoon appointments right now instead of waiting a few more hours to fail again. I’m not going to be strong enough to treat patients in a few hours. I know that now.  Yielding would be using a gentle soothing voice in my head when I talk to myself and say it is okay to be sick. This morning on this third morning of sinus pain and body aches I need to hear that I’m going to continue to take very good care of myself and will continue to as long as it takes. If I have to be out sick all week, that is okay. My students and patients will understand.

I love how difficult it is to tell if pictures of the sun low in the sky are sunset or sunrise pictures. This is a sunset picture. I’m using it to tell my body that today I am still sick. We took this picture through a dusty, scratched old window and I love the graininess of the view. That is how I feel with my sinuses fully clogged and this lightheadedness that threatens to tip me over every time I stand up. I am not emerging from this illness today. If I take very good care of myself I may or may not feel better tomorrow. I’m not going to be attached to any outcome. Today the sun is setting, the sickness is still in deep. I can be okay with that.

To the rest of you home sick—may you recover quickly and peacefully and remember for the body to falter it must be warring against something very powerful. Have faith in the strength of the body to overcome, it will.