Category Archives: yoga practice

Listening To What The Body Has To Say

I posted an article on WoH’s facebook page the other day about the difference between listening and hearing. It explored how hearing is a safety mechanism so we can decipher if something is about to fall on us or if a burglar walks in at night. Even in the deepest parts of sleep our body is censoring what it thinks we need to listen to and what we can ignore. Take for instance the end of my long savasana this morning when I realized that there were three enormous trucks digging a whole in the pavement right outside my window. Hmmm. Missed that.

But that isn’t the type of listening I was thinking about this morning when I decided to skip the early morning yoga class I like on Wednesdays and instead stayed home to practice. I was literally two minutes away from leaving when I heard this rather confident, strong voice inside of me call up, don’t go to class stay home. My inner monologue immediately called this voice lazy. To which the voice challenged do a more vigorous practice at home and do the postures you know your body needs.

There was no arguing with that. So as soon as my husband left I rolled out my mat gathered my props and sat down. Immediately the voice started throwing out pose names. It wanted to start in supported supta baddha konasana. It wanted to take a long headstand and shoulderstand. It wanted a significant amount of twisting and all the big hip openers. It turned out to be a glorious practice.  At the end I jumped up to shower and the voice swooped back in and insisted on a long savasana stating that I needed to rest for a full afternoon of patients and an evening workshop. So I did and felt more rested because of it.

I use the word “listen” when I teach my students how to check in with their bodies. Yet, this recent article on the difference between listening and hearing makes me wonder if I’ve been hearing what my body needs and fully ignoring what my body wants.

Be careful before you immediately censor the messages from your body, maybe they are healthier messages than you think they are. Maybe your body is actually desperate for something that would make your day easier and you miss out on that opportunity.

Observation: Practice Lesson #4

As this is the last post in the Practice series I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes people stick to a routine. I’ve already talked about how I don’t think that discipline builds a practice or keeps it going, I’ve talked about lighting a spark to keep the fire alive in your practice and I’ve helped brainstorm ideas for the actually composition of a practice. Now what is going to keep you showing up every morning, every Thursday at 6:30 or Sundays at 3, whatever your chosen time slot.

This is what led me to the fundamental question: what do you gain from a practice?

I tried to think of the people in my life who have practices that don’t involve yoga, because I know all the benefits of doing yoga on a regular basis. I wanted to see the benefits of their non-exercise based practices. Two immediately came to mind. First would be my parents’ practice of drinking coffee together every morning in their living room. They don’t down their coffee over breakfast, they instead take about half an hour (sometimes more) and just drink their coffee and chat. They use it as a time to catch up, make plans for the day and to de-stress if the day is going to be hectic. I know it lowers both of their stress levels and I know it is the secret to their marriage. The other practice would be that of my father-in-law’s writing on Saturday mornings. In the midst of raising four boys and maintaining a very full career, he devoted each Saturday morning throughout his life to writing. It helped him keep the mindset of a writer, allowed for alone time in a busy household and energized him for the week.

These are two successful, long-term practices that are very simple, but additions to a busy lifestyle. So why when things get crazy did they keep them? Why is it worth showing up on your mat again and again?

Observation. Think of all the people in our lives we pay to observe us: doctors, therapists, supervisors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We want someone else to see the patterns, to notice the thing we’ve missed. And don’t get me wrong—that is a necessary skill set. Every time my acupuncturist treats me she sheds new light on this body of mine that I try to figure out 24 hours a day. We need that outside advice, but we also need to make sure that when we see these caregivers we know what is normal.

Even if normal isn’t healthy, it is worth knowing about. A practice lets you compare every single day to every other day that you do the same thing. Yoga students can attest to that first down dog in a practice when you first check in with the body. Think of the first down dog after vacation or after you’ve been for a long hike. The body is entirely different than the last time. We need to be able to compare.

You owe it to yourself to know what the body is capable of, what it is learning to do and when it has achieved something it didn’t expect. This isn’t just about injury and illness, though aren’t those two reasons enough? This is also about improving and the ability to be proud of yourself. With equal positive awareness it is also about aging and noticing what may be harder than it used to be.

The better we are able to say, hmmm, this is new, when something catches us off guard—the better equipped we are to walk into a doctor’s office and say this is new and I’m worried. Knowledge is power, but it requires regular observation.

When you show up to your next practice, be mindful. Do your day’s work. See what there is to see. Make a list of all the things you want to observe from this perspective. My parents are not just drinking coffee; they are monitoring their marriage, making sure it is healthy every morning. My father-in-law isn’t just writing, he is taking time to be an artist and see how his artist-self is after a week.

What observations are out there for the viewing in your practice?

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.

Fire: Practice Lesson #2

In Chinese Medicine the element Fire is related to the Heart. If there is too much heat in the body it eventually spreads to the Heart and causes agitation, sleeplessness and mania. If there isn’t enough heat in the body everything slows down and the mind gets foggy from the build up fluids.

Fire is crucial. Think of it physically. Agni or digestive fire according to Ayuverdic medicine and yogic philosophy is the fire of life. It is the 3rd chakra and the seat of the will. How you manifest or take action in your life.

This is how fire seems relevant in the discussion of starting or improving a practice. Don’t start a practice without fire. It would be like starting a romance without a spark. Opposites attract because of a chemical combustion of two parts uniting. I’m married to a perfect extravert who loves the outdoors and speaks in a very loud voice.

Maybe just maybe, there needs to be a little seduction in the start of a practice. You may think I’ve just got sensuality on the brain, but stick with me.

Disclaimer: I’m going to use the metaphor of yoga practice because a lot of you are yogis, but you all are smart enough to take this into your own life if you are non-yogis.

We are busy people. You have all had the moment at the end of a busy week when even the prospect of hanging out with friends sounds daunting. Or even the time it takes to cook your favorite meal isn’t worth it so you end up eating cereal for dinner. We’ve all been there. But what is it about the things that do keep us coming back, the friends we actually get excited about seeing, the meal that is quick and easy to prepare in addition to tasty. What are the characteristics of the things in our life we never actually dread doing?

There is another reason I want to talk about fire. One of the amazing things about the way I’ve been practicing on the mat lately is thinking about building fire. This time of year before the heat figures itself out inside the house, I walk arou  nd with a lot of layers and a lot of grumpiness. When I show up, really show up with all my layers on the mat and tell myself that I can take as long as I want and move as slowly as I need to in order to build heat it sounds like a lot more fun than holding plank for a minute and then doing 20 pushups and then going to do the dishes. If I start slowly and let the passion for the yoga and the internal heat build together an hour has gone by without my noticing.

There is a difference, thank heavens, between seduction and coercion. You are not tricking your body into a routine. You are not manipulating yourself into spending time on your health. You are instead enticing your body with things that feel good and sharpen the mind.

The 3rd chakra is related to fire and it is related to the muscles. When the muscles work in a way that builds fire the mind immediately goes clear. If you don’t believe me get on the ground and do 10 pushups.

The body is easy to convince, it loves to move and stretch. But the mind either wants to be productive or it wants to take a break. It can easily make a list of more important things to do. What if you could figure out a way for the brain to feel powerful, clear and certain? Wouldn’t that be worth a practice?

Thinking points for the week: What are your main passions right now and how are they related to your practice? What aspects of sensuality or pleasure could you bring to your practice to make it enjoyable, delicious and worth returning to day after day? How much fire is there in your life? What parts of your life need more fire?

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.

Rest

I blame myself. All those days I taught class with a drippy nose, barely any voice or came in late to class without any neck rotation. Those classes were all mistakes. But I’m learning, I’m growing up. I am trying to be a better example.

It took me a few years of teaching to realize that I’m a role model. If I come in with my back thrown out and teach from a chair (I have so done that) I am telling my students to go to work in pain. I am telling myself that my students’ one day of practice is more important than my overall well-being. Or worse that the money I would make teaching an hour class was worth the pain or sickness.

In January 2011, we bought a new car. I had been driving my beloved, but challenging, Saab for years and over Christmas vacation it broke down on us twice, each time on the Mass Pike. I lost it. It was a full and absolute turning point. I decided we were not going to be starving-artist-type-college-students anymore we were going to be respectable adults. I walked into the local dealer and bought a brand new car that week. I came home and calculated that my cute little Saab had put me back $17,500 in the six years I had owned it, most of which had been while I was in grad school. No wonder I was always strapped for cash. During grad school I broke down more than ten times maxing-out our AAA account for towing both years. Not to mention inconveniencing several friends for trips to and from garages. Owning that Saab was not taking care of myself.

It was a downhill slope from there. First it was the new car with the 100,000 mile full warranty, then it was skipping school when I was sick. What a concept? Get the notes from a friend, stay home and rest. I started canceling class if I woke up and had a fever or felt lousy. I figured people would prefer to stay home than to leave class sick. It was a big mental shift.

On the opposite side of grad school I don’t have the ability to run myself ragged anymore and I am fully devoting this entire fall to rest. Even in the midst of starting a business I planned how many days a week I wanted to see patients and how many days I wanted to be home to rest. I’m making a concerted effort to shower every day, brush my teeth better, eat when I feel hungry, drink more water. I’m trying after years of breaking down my body, to spoil it. This is more than rest. This is making recovery a priority.

I am astounded at how many of my yoga students don’t know how or don’t know when to rest. I will always throw students out of class for showing up with an injury.  If you sprain an ankle over the weekend or throw out your back, I don’t want to see you in class Monday morning at 7:45. I want you to rest at home. That is how recovery happens. Almost all small injuries will be better if properly rested in the first 48 hours. You don’t get to go back and rest a sprained ankle three weeks later. By then the injury is deep in the body and causing lots of difficulties. Ideally I would love for you to make an acupuncture appointment for the little aches and pains before they become big ones, but I hope you already know that.

Rest is the secret medicine to almost any ailment. But we would rather take cold medicine or put a bandage on something than give in and let the body heal.

Do you get the metaphor of the new car? Does that make sense to you? We have these little stressors in our life that we don’t fix because we don’t think we deserve to rest. We don’t brainstorm options because we feel trapped. Here is a new option for you, write it down if you need to. You are the only one taking care of you—you had better do a good job. Be proactive about your needs, not reactive. Look for the solution that creates energy and reduces stress. You will know you are on the right track when you continue to feel giddy about the decisions months later. I still love my new car.  It is the cutest car ever.

My History of Beginnings

Starting this new business is a definite beginning, but unexpectedly it is also a spiraling back to the numerous places in my life that helped bring me to this point. This whirling of names and faces from the past coming out to show support reaffirms I am on the right course and that somehow all along they saw this coming.

I started practicing yoga in my bedroom when I was a freshman in high school. Every night after my parents went to sleep I would pull out my copy of The Sivananda Companion to Yoga. This creased and flattened book introduced me to pranayama, meditation, postures and a healthy diet. When I started practicing I didn’t know anyone else who did yoga. Literally no one. My mother and aunt had taken one class together in the 70s, but that was it. This was before google and certainly before the idea of finding a yoga studio in the yellow pages was feasible.

I was alone in this new exciting world. Everyone in my life knew the word “yoga” the way they knew the word “tofu” but had never tried either. I still remember the first time I saw a “Namaste” bumper sticker. My father and I were in Santa Fe and we took a picture of it we were so excited.

In college the yoga morphed into dance and from there into the desire for anatomy training. When I graduated from college I just decided to pick a town, move there and figure life out. Because the universe provides in its mysterious ways I stumbled into my first job and found my first two mentors. These two amazing co-workers taught me everything I know about employment, job searches and how to build a career.

I was your typical post-private school elitist who thought I could just roll out a resume and everyone would come knocking at my door. But you don’t make or even start a career by looking through the want ads. My two brilliant co-workers taught me the first step to getting a job is knowing what it is you want and what it is you have to offer. Then they taught me not to compartmentalize my life. Instead of thinking of writing as my only career option and having a mile long list of interests and passions, I could design a career path. I could imagine a career that incorporated writing, yoga, health, nutrition, business, organizing things, planning, birthwork, sexualities, researching, helping others and dance all at the same time. In fact if I could figure out an angle and had the guts to try, I could actually make a living from the delightful mix of all of my interests.

Now years later, though not many, I’ve got my angle. For five years the IRS has received taxes from the occupation: yoga teacher. This year I could add the occupations: acupuncturist, herbalist, doula, writer and business owner to the list, but I won’t in order to avoid confusing them.

My point is your path is there for the finding. You must first know deeply what it is you want. You have to find that which causes the utmost passion. That which makes you desperate to know more. Then you brainstorm and push and pull. You ask questions, you get hung up and you get confused. Yet all the while you have to trust that your desires are worth exploring. Let me say that again, your desires are worth exploring.

As my insightful father-in-law said to me the other day “You’re going to have a rich time building this practice, whether you get rich or not.” This has already proven itself tenfold. The opening of this business has reminded me of the richness of my community. Thank you to my marvelous network of loved ones, friends, mentors, inspirations, students, teachers, clients and patients. This beginning is the most spectacular homecoming of my life.