When some people find out I am a yoga teacher they are quick to tell me how inflexible they are. They used to be able to touch their toes and now they can’t, or they have never been able to touch their toes, or they have a cousin once removed who once touched their toes… I have heard so many stories about toe touching that I find myself looking down at someones feet when the yoga-teacher introduction comes, knowing that if I see them in clogs or some other kind of footwear that does not require bending down, I might need to be ready to make a quick get-away.
Touching your toes may be one of the most common ways non-yoga people measure their range of motion because it is something most of us, except clog-wearers, have to do on a regular basis. Yoga people will know their range of motion is changing if they can’t make it as far into the poses as they used to, or if the stretch sensation feels off. I like to describe it as “feeling rusty”.
Stretching the way we learned in gym class (bounce bounce bounce) will not have you back in lace-ups! I see bouncing to touch your toes as a series of mini traumas inflicted on the hamstring muscles. That movement is not going to get the hamstrings longer, in fact this mini trauma and other ways of incorrect stretching might actually make them shorter. So will some yoga poses, if they are done too aggressively and without the proper dose of patience.
Fascia, which surrounds all of our muscles and separates them from neighboring muscle, is protective in nature. It responds when there is a threat to the organism by tightening. When you bounce, your body is going to respond to the possibility that you might tear the muscle tissue. It will send out danger-hormones to do that. The same thing happens if you stress yourself in a pose (going deeper and/or faster into a stretch than you should). The fascia will tighten up to protect the muscle from the possible tear. Fascia is so interconnected that this tightening doesn’t only affect the muscle in question-it will restrict your breathing, your heartbeat, your brain from thinking rationally, as well as your other muscles.
Fascia can also restrict our range of motion by adhering to fascia that is enclosing the muscle next to it. Ideally the fascia will slide along the fascial surface next to it, but if it is dehydrated, injured or defensive as above, it will be more sticky than slick. Fascia can start to build up in an area in our body, practically molding it in a certain position, like forward rounded shoulders. This thickening makes it very hard to move the body out of that position without constant effort.
A combination of strengthening the antagonist muscle (in the case of the hamstrings, it is the quadriceps and hip flexors) so as to change the shape the body has molded into (ie, slumped seated position accompanying tight hams) and stretching with a ton of patience, will get your fascia long, thinner and back to its slippery state. (Did I mention drink a lot of water?) I have seen people achieve greater range of motion in the hamstrings and inner thigh muscles more quickly and with longer lasting results through tremoring (TRE) than through stretching. That is because TRE and other techniques, such as myo-fascial release, AFR (Assisted Fascia Release), Melting, Yamuna Body rolling, etc are working on the fascial system, not just the muscles. Happy fascia equals relaxed happy muscles which equals happy joints. And happier foot wear.
By the way, I am a big fan of clogs and slip-ons. I myself don’t wear lace-up shoes if I can help it. I like a fast exit from footwear and I am always kicking off my shoes at the earliest possible moment. So don’t worry, I recognize my assumptions about clog-wearers is a generalization, as I myself am a clog-wearing toe-touching yogi who is always searching for the perfect winter clog.
Check out the TRE retreats coming up soon.
Get more information on private TRE and AFR sessions.
I recently had the opportunity to do a presentation on fascia at a TRE training. I have always been somewhat fascinated with fascia-it always seemed mysterious and magical in appearance and function, and when speaking of fascia, many people put their hands out, palms up, and shaking their heads slowly and say “we have no idea…."
However, because of my preparation for my presentation, I found out that actually, yes, people DO have ideas about fascia! There are researchers not only asking great questions, they are coming up with fantastic answers! So I wanted to share some of the things I have learned in a short ongoing series about fascia.
To begin with, let’s identify what it is. Fascia is essentially connective tissue that runs throughout the body. It covers your muscles, it forms your tendons, ligaments, it runs through your organs and bones. It is everywhere. Think of a grapefruit and the whitish membrane that covers the pulp, separates the sections from each other and connects the skin to the fruit and you have an idea how fascia exists in your body. And like that grapefruit “fascia," it is different strengths and thicknesses through your body.
An interesting thing to consider is that it is thought that fascia gets the signal to move a body part before your muscle tissue. So when your brain says “Let’s go places” the fascia is the first to mobilize. The other interesting fact to put with that is that your fascia molds itself to the shape or position that you have spent a long time, or a life, time in. What does that mean on a practical level? As you stand up to get out of the chair you have been sitting in for a few hours while checking your email with your right leg crossed over your left leg, your hip extensor and quad muscles may be fired and ready to go, but your fascia, which has kind of settled into the position you were sitting in, is still kind of molded to that sitting position, and not always ready to leave. So you get up, you feel stiff, creaky and rusty and you find it hard to take the first step without feeling like something is going to break off or that you are going to fall over. Pause, shake your body out a bit, give your fascia some time to get with the program. Give it yet another signal that you are going to start walking, take a deep breath and then start to go. Consider that the fascia is in charge here-nothing is going to start moving until it is ready, and respect that hierarchy.
Not being in the same position for a long amount of time will ease this kind of facial constriction. Staying hydrated will help to. So a great idea is to drink a ton of water when you are working. This helps keep you hydrated AND moving because you will have to get up to go to the bathroom more frequently.
Of course practicing yoga helps, but you already knew I was going to say that. Yin Yoga is particularly a good practice to loosen up fascia. As fascia is protective in nature (we will get into that next week) you may want to consider Restorative Yoga as well. Until next time, drink up! (By the way, choose warm or hot water with lemon over ice water)
Click here to sign up for Yin Yoga with Sally and Restorative Yoga with Deb in February
Welcome 2018! While there is no telling for certain what this new year might bring, it is pretty safe to assume we will all face challenges of some sort. This quote below inspired me to choose our subject, The Spiritual Warrior, for this first month of 2018.
"The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse." — Don Juan, as quoted by Jack Kornfield in A Path With Heart
The Spiritual Warriors task is to win in the war against self-ignorance and fear. The challenge is maintaining awareness, having courage and discipline, and establishing a commitment to transformation. This can be difficult as we begin to recognize stuff about ourselves and the world we live in. It is when something is recognized, when a truth, or falseness is revealed, we might find ourselves on shaky ground. We can either push the recognition away using the very popular technique called "deliberate ignorance," or we can stand and face it, toe to toe, with our eyes wide open.
The way I was trained in this particular battle plan was to continually ask myself "What am I not noticing?". You see the predicament in that line of questioning, right? When I was training in Karate this was actually a much easier task. For one thing, your opponent was always going to let you know with a well placed kick or punch that you didn't notice you left an opening. You might spar with someone you thought was an amazing mind reader because they always knew what your next move was going to be, until you finally realized you were consistently signaling what kind of kick or punch you were going to throw with a hitch of the shoulder or wiggle in the hips.
If someone chooses to begin training as a Spiritual Warrior they are probably not going to get kicked in the head if they turn away from a truth. This makes it all the more alluring to distance oneself from a truth as there are seemingly no immediate consequences, such as a black eye. But those who have an interest in training as a Spiritual Warrior know the possible liberation that can be experienced is worthy of the small battles waged along the way.
Join us this month as we contemplate the possibilities in becoming a Spritual Warrior as we stand firm in Warrior 1 pose, which is our pose of the month. Lets begin 2018 with our feet firmly on the ground, our hearts facing in the same direction as our eyes and our minds awakened to the possibe battles that await us.
You might be sick of reading about New Year’s resolutions, but please indulge me. I see New Year's resolutions as being one of the niyamas (tools used to increase social and personal harmony and elevate consciousness) found in the yoga sutras; swadayaya, or self study.
Mukunda, one of my dear teachers, would encourage us to look at what our actions were and ask ourselves if those actions were giving us what we want. For example we keep eating food when we are not hungry, but we want to loose weight. We stay up late, but we want to be better rested. We watch violent movies and TV, but we want a calm mind. We want our body to be strong and healthy, but we don’t exercise enough. In practicing swadayaya we might recognize the disconnect between what we want to manifest in our lives and what we are doing, or not doing, to have that happen.
It has been shown that to create a habit takes at least 40 days of repetition. It is hard to say what it takes to break a bad habit, but when we see what we are doing is not giving us what we want engaging in a productive habit might replace a misguided habit. Simplistic perhaps, but it's a good start. However it is not always easy to stay with those 40 days, or even 1 week. It definitely helps to have a buddy (or two) who is also walking down a path of change to share the challenges.
Ok, now that I have written all of that yoga-teacher inspirational stuff, let me make a few confessions:
Number 1-While many people think that I practice asana every day, I am going to come clean and tell you that is just not true. The only asana I practice every day is sitting cross-legged for a minimum of 10 minutes, longer on a good day.
Number 2-My body is getting old! Things are beginning to wear out, wear down and disintegrate. People told me this was going to happen and much to my surprise, it is.
Number 3-Yes in fact I did think I would be immune to the above aging process because I, at one time in my life, did practice asanas every day. But those days are long gone and with them went the fluid joints, strong bones and toned muscles that accompany such consistency.
At 49 I noticed things were changing. By 50 I was able to properly ignore those changes, and by 51, when knee and back pain began to creep up on me I went back to a consistent asana practice. You might be happy, hopefully not surprised, to know it worked. I found some awesome asymmetries in my body and used poses to begin to correct them.
Here is another confession-If I did not need to get up and down from the floor many times a day, move easily around a room full of people doing yoga, and occasionally demonstrate an asana, I could have kept up ignoring the small failures of my body for a long time, at least until those small failures became much bigger failures.
I understand how easy it is to not notice when our body begins to weaken, stiffen and age. This kind of “acceptance” is built in to us. Sometimes when people come in to start yoga they say that the rigidity in their body, or their injury is relatively new. But I can often see that it has been a long time in the making. Things settle in and then get hard to move. The good news is the less time we wait the easier it will be to get back on the right track. We can replace the habit of ignoring our bodies and minds with the habit of self-study and assessment. You might remember this from the first paragraph; it is called swadayaya.
This is not about being cranky about aging and trying to stop the process. Our bodies are designed to last 120 years! Between the demands and stresses of life, disease and our frequent indulgences, it is hard to meet that potential. The longer we can keep ourselves moving comfortably and efficiently through life the more we will be able to give to those we love, right? The longer we have to fulfill our dharma. And generally speaking, we will be less cranky. This world doesn’t need any more negativity- It’s good to do what you can to not contribute.
So, to help you with this ongoing process I have created a coupon code that you and a walking-on-the-path buddy can use when you register for a workshop or a class block**. The coupon code will give you both 10% off your fees, but you have to email me so I know who your buddy is, and then your buddy has to register at the same time. I have also added classes to the schedule in the evening, and given you more time to sleep-in on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. There are a bunch of workshops for people who are either less experienced with asana and meditation, or they just do better in a workshop setting. Check them all out by clicking on the hyper links above.
Don’t forget January 1st there will be a sale on class blocks and workshops. Just in time for you to fill your tool box with manifest-worthy habit-making classes for 2018.
** Your buddy must be a new visitor to Yoga Loka to receive a buddy discount on class blocks. Workshops are valid regardless of how long you have been at Yoga Loka.
Yoga Loka is about to begin its 15th year in Frenchtown.
It’s been an amazing journey.
I am incredibly humbled by the degree to which the community has embraced Yoga Loka and what we do here. And I am so very appreciative of the kindness and enthusiasm of our students and teachers.
As we continue to grow and seek to deepen our commitment to yoga, to healing, and to community, we plan to introduce new classes, workshops and events at the studio. Our aim is to continue to cultivate what we have planted here 15 years ago and have so diligently nurtured all the time since.
In addition to these other changes, we will also be increasing some fees — for the first time since 2014. As of January 1, fees for drop-in classes will be $18. Class blocks and other fees will similarly increase. Click here to see the 2018 rates. Monthly unlimited auto-renew fees will remain at $99 for current subscribees until May 2018 when they will increase to $108. That $108 level also upgrades to receiving 10% off all workshops and boutique sales.
We are offering current students an opportunity to purchase class blocks for 2018 and other passes at 2017 prices through the end of the year. On January 1st we will continue our usual discount day — the 2018 class blocks will be 10% off for current students. You can purchase the class blocks on-line or during Aniko's New Years Day Class.
On behalf of all of us at Yoga Loka, I want to thank you for being part of this wonderful yoga community, for your ongoing support of the studio and of your friends and family who tread this ancient path, and for your dedication to your own practice. We wish you peace, health, happiness and success in the coming year.
Savasana is one of those poses that some love and some, not so much. While you might have heard from your yoga teacher that savasana is one of the most important poses you can do, you may never have heard why that is so. More and more, research is pointing to the nervous system and suggesting if we can make a change there, we will find some long lasting and profound changes in our bodies, energy and mind.
This article gives a good description of what is going on in Savasana on these three levels, mind, body and energy. I also want to share with you a good technical reason to use an eye pillows during your deep rest! Parvathi often points out the direct connection of the eyes to the heart center through the nadis. Well it turns out there is also a nervous system connection between the heart and eyes, it is called the Oculocardiac reflex. Slight pressure on the eyes will stimulate the parasympathetic response and lower heart rate. This light pressure can also stimulate the vagus nerve, which can help us relax more deeply in addition to the other gifts a well-toned vagus nerve provides-good sleep, digestions and more ease in interactions with others.
This month is extended relaxation, so bring your blankets, scarves, and eye pillows.
And in honor of savasana month we are running a sale on Mad Lavender eye pillows; 10% off when you come in with this coupon code: Eyes2017
In addition to the other benefits of eye pillows, these smell wonderful!
Poetry is something I never understood when I was younger. Things changed when I started taking yoga. Parvathi, my teacher, would often read poems in asana class. You would be sweating like crazy in a demanding pose like ardha chandrasana 2, praying to hear “come down into child’s pose”. Instead a line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”, met your ears and you would sink deeper into the pose, your mind got still, and you might possibly weep.
When I first started to study with Mukunda and I felt powerful energies starting to move, suddenly I was writing poetry. When I fell in love with my husband it started again and when I experienced a time of extreme grief, the verses poured out. This once foreign language of poetry helped me to express what I couldn’t express, and once expressed, my poetry powers would leave as quickly and unexpectedly as they came.
I looked up some definitions of poetry and found this online:
“The art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”
I loved this definition because it explained to me how poetry fits into a yoga practice. The rhythm, like music, helps to calm vata (air element). Invoking the imagination and elevating the thoughts helps to balance pitta (fire/water), and the appreciation of pleasure and beauty helps to refine kapha (earth/water element). These are things we strive to do with asana classes using the sequencing of asanas, the imagery and directional cues and the music played. Poetry can help to refine and balance these elements without ever having to step on the mat! Now, it’s not like reading poetry in your arm chair will have all the same benefits of an asana class for your physical body, but you might notice a quieting of the mind and a heightening of the senses with a few good poems.
We usually use poetry as the subject of the month in February, but you can get an early jump on experiencing the poetry/asana connection this Thursday at the Thanksgiving Day class. Warren Cooper will be reading some original works (his first poetry book will be published soon!) and Mike Wojik will be playing some music. Come see how this combo can help you get into the gratitude groove. All proceeds will go to the Frenchtown Food Bank to help our neighbors share our bounty.
I want to chat about chai, one of my favorite topics.
I looked up the health benefits of chai and there are a ton of articles out there. So you don't need me to tell you how good chai is for you. Google it and read for yourself. What I wanted to write about instead is the magic of chai!
When I was in my first teacher training the boxed Oregon Chai had just come out, or at least it had just come to my attention, and it seemed like a magical drink. I couldn't get enough of it. I had recently given up coffee as I was pregnant with my first child and this sweet milky concoction, was an excellent replacement. It was difficult to find in coffee shops and restaurants, so I bought it in the health food stores whenever I saw it.
Later on in during the training my teacher had passed around a canister and asked us to look at the ingredients, smell them, and then go home and recreate it. It was wonderfully mysterious! We were to let our senses lead us in this task. The mixture, as you probably guessed, was chai spices. We all trotted off home and a week or so later presented her with baggies full of spices, all looking and smelling completely different from each other. It became a big deal for us- we waited anxiously for our “chai grade," which by the way, never came. (I have since prepared chai for my teacher, and she always drinks it, so I guess in some way, I passed!)
One of my favorite memories of Ganeshpuri India was getting up very early to go to the temples for the morning aarti. After, the lingering smell of temple rituals heavy in the air, we would sit on plastic chairs at the chai stand to sip a metal cupful of steaming hot, ridiculously sweet chai that was lightened by milk fresh from the cow, transported to the chai wallah in a plastic bag. All for 25 rupees. I would have paid the fee just to watch the man make the chai! It was quite a beautiful procedure.
I recall a few years ago having house guests and serving chai for breakfast. When someone commented on enjoying the brew my husband puffed up his chest and said with pride "We have this EVERY morning". It was nice to have him inspired enough to brag about our indulgence with something as easy to make as chai. Yes, easy now, after many years of experimentation. Since the time my teacher passed around that canister I have been playing around with chai spices to come up with a suitable blend. I have tried different ways of preparing it for large gathering, making a concentrate for easier travel, experimenting with dairy free versions, different blends of black tea, different ways of sweetening it, on and on. One thing that stays constant is people always love it. It makes sense as it satisfies so many of the senses; the smell is heavenly, the taste (usually) mouth watering, the caramel color appealing, particularly when you first pour the milk into the dark brew and watch the pillows of white milk clouds puff out. Those of you who come to classes will sometimes hear me exclaim that the chai was particularly good, and abundant, that morning, which is ultimately why the class that day was inspiring. Really, it's not me, it's the chai.
If you don't want to sift through the dozens of articles that extol the virtue of chai, here is a nice short one that goes through the main ingredients and what their benefits are by Dr. Isaac Eliaz: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5825/Why-Everyone-Should-Drink-Chai-Tea.html.
If you want to sample my years of experiments, we are selling small jars of chai spices mixed with special black tea at the studio. Just add water, milk and sweetener if you want. It is drastically on sale so you might want to pick up a jar for yourself and one for whomever is cooking thanksgiving dinner for you. Jars of just chai spice are soon to come!
If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.- Mother Teresa
Our subject of the month is Karma Yoga. Karma means action in Sanskrit, and when we link the word “action” with “yoga” we should expect we are going to be encouraged to observe and perfect our actions. And since yoga practices inherently guide us towards unification rather than upholding the individual “I”, it makes sense that Karma Yoga translates to mean self-less action.
Mother Teresa is good example of a Karma Yogi. She worked tirelessly to improve conditions for underserved populations, and she was an inspiration for many to do the same. I love the quote above. It gives us permission to do something, anything at all, when we feel overwhelmed by the enormity of need.
Like all of yoga, selfless service is a practice. So we watch ourselves as we strive to give time, money, objects and serve humanity. I believe most of us want to serve others but we don't know how to go about doing it. Leaving our families and possessions behind to join a missionary are not in the cards for most. Even devoting a day to deliver for meals on wheels may seem daunting if you have a busy schedule.
I came up with an idea for practicing Karma yoga that I would like to share with you. I can do this in the comfort of my own bathroom! First you need to know a fun fact about me - I LOVE hot showers, I could be in there all day. When I think of the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico and how so many still have no running water, I recognized my privilege and how I am serving myself in these long, hot immersions . Of course the water I save by shortening my showers wont go directly to the people in Puerto Rico (remember your mother making you eat all the food on your plate because “children are starving in China?”) But long showers do tax an important natural resource, and that is also important to me. I decided that for the time I spent over and above what was necessary for the essentials in a shower, I would make a donation to the Red Cross. The same if I buy too much food that ends up going bad before it is eaten (another bad habit of mine).
Even though I may not be able to be on the front lines of service in Puerto Rico at this time, I think this donation system can fit the ideals of Karma Yoga. This process requires that I observe actions that benefit me, shift them to have a more global, constructive impact, and adds some tapasia (heat, difficulty) to an otherwise mundane action. We will see how it goes… I will keep you posted. Let me know if you want to join in this at-home Karma yoga practice. Not for praise of course, but for inspiration for others!
Halloween is next Tuesday. Frenchtown is a HUGE halloween town. If you live here, you don't need to be told that! Hundreds of dollars worth of candy are handed out to ghoulish kids, primped up teenagers and babies dressed as pumpkins. So if you planned on coming to class that night, stay home instead. We will be cancelling class for that night and giving John the night off. And this means there will be more parking spots for the ghosts and goblins and their chauffers.
Back to Halloween- most of us might say that it was our favorite holiday when we were growing up. But now, if you are not dressing up or giving out candy, does halloween hold any significance? When my kids were in middle school they were encouraged to honor an ancestor by dressing up like them or representing who they were and what they did in some way. It was a really sweet tradition and allowed kids to get to know stories about their relatives and tell them to their friends. We can all honor our ancestors by remembering them and how they laid the groundwork of the lives we are now living.
When you begin to meditate and participate in other yoga practices that you feel are transforming you and clearing out some of the not beneficial mind stuff we tend to suffer with, it is said you can affect 7 generations back and 7 generations forward. Now it may be easy to see how you can affect generations going forward by becoming more patient, clear headed, kinder, all the lovely things we want to see come from our practice. Certainly an increased level of discernment so you can make better choices is going to benefit your family into the future. To affect the generations that came before you may not be as easy to grasp. It is far more subtle, but it does work. When we start to burn the karma through our practices, ancestrial patterns are broken, energy is liberated and everything can shift. You might sometimes feel a long gone relative was looking down at you, guiding your movements, or just happy to see you happy. Many of us feel that and we will sometimes talk to the people we loved who are gone. In that scenario we feel we are making contact of some kind and if the energy of that observer shifted, what might happen? Watching our actions, can they now "rest easy" or are they "turning over in their grave"? All interactions change us somehow. So feeling that your ancestors are observing you, what in you shifts, what in you is transformed? Can we change the behaviours that are difficult and maybe inherited? Can we consider that we eased someones spirit by making a positive change? Consider also that even if there is no legitimate contact with those departed, if we felt like we made a change in a family pattern, what fresh energy and new direction does that give us? Even if Grandma doesn't get "liberated" after she has been dead for 40 years because of your practice, the love that you felt for her will only magnify if you feel like your efforts benefitted her in some way, right? And anyway, all of our ancestors live in us in some form or another and perhaps its that part that got free, the part that lives on in you.
Halloween is a good time to remember your ancestors and perhaps make a connection because that is when the veils between this world and other worlds are thinner. We can have more contact with the unknown. Eat too much candy, and you can easily loose that contact! Sugar tends to do that. So sit and meditate for a bit, see if you can make a connection, then go on and eat as much as you like.