More Confessions From a Yoga Teacher......
When I was in Italy I took a yoga class in Florence with Guido (that is him above) which was pretty difficult. I didn't realize it was going to be a rigorous Ashtanga style class and that I would be, by far, the oldest person in attendance. I wanted to write a post about that class for two reasons; while Guido led a very strenuous class, he didn't push, or demand, or judge. I found him to have a deep caring energy and assumed that he has a very strong personal meditation practice and a deep dedication to all the limbs of yoga. He pushed, but was not a bully, which is a rare combination. I was also excited to find that even though I hadn't done most of those poses in a long time, my body could still do them! I appreciated the muscle memory and the level of fitness that a “yoga body” can retain, even after many years (especially since it was my body!)
I never wrote that post. I think it's because I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it did in July. Traveling to Italy, then the beach, and then being in retreat where I sat for 10 days straight while hosting multiple house guests for over 2 weeks really took its toll on my asana practice. Really, it took a toll on all physical practices, from tending the garden to walking to the grocery store . I have been able to sit in meditation for much longer, which is good, but that doesn’t really help to maintain the physcial body. So while my experience with Guido showed me that my body is resilient, my subsequent experience with lethargy showed me that strength gained is so very impermanent. As the end of July crept on, I found my knees hurting, my feet were so tight in the morning it took time for me to be able to walk to the bathroom, I was not able to fit into certain clothes, my shoulders were tight… on and on. (Sound familiar?)
You would think spending all day telling people to exercise, move their bodies, and tremor would remind me that I needed to do the same to maintain a level of well-being. It's not that I didn't want to follow my own advice. It's just that things got in the way, and I experienced the fallout from my neglect. Of course, this is not the first time I have “fallen off of the wagon.” But it is the first time I've done it at the age of 52, when most bodies start lose resiliency.
Personally, I don't think it's so bad to fall off the wagon every now and then. After all, when you do so, it is a good time to experience what your practice has been giving you all along. It can be hard for us to trust in a practice that is consistent and know that it's doing anything for us. Because we are consistent with the practice, it is consistently working, and we can imagine our well-being is simply a natural outcome of breathing. But think again!
Everybody is eventually lured out of routine by the allure of recklessness (and pasta, gelato and chianti!). I think very few of us escape the pull. And when we experience the fallout, we can either continue down the slippery slope of decay or jump back on the wagon. If we jump back on, and things switch back, we know for sure it is our dedication to our practice that is keeping us happy, not just good genes or happy coincidence.
As things happen, just as I was conjuring up this post, I saw this article in the NY Times which talks about what happens when you take a vacation from your exercise. Take a look if you are interested in the study.
(New York Times article: "Take a Vacation From Exercise? Your Body May Not Thank You")
So now you know, I'm not just shaking my finger at you when I'm encouraging you to come to more classes or to stick with your practice. I am shaking that finger at myself too. I will be spending August crawling back on the wagon and invite you along for the journey.
Today I finished up an intense 11 day retreat with my teacher. (Just in case you missed me during classes, I am back as of Tuesday morning). I am so grateful to have had everything in my life fall into place and allow me the time and resources to be able to attend the whole session. (Thank you so much Yoga Loka Staff and my ever-patient family!) This was an unusually long stretch of time spent together as a Sangha. We were finishing up year 2 of our training and began our final year, year 3, in the same block of time.
The training has so far included pujas, fire ceremonies, hours of sitting in meditation and hours of asana practices, reading, homework, attending lectures .... just like for any one who strives to learn something in depth, it takes a lot of time and effort. There were many years of practice and study that led up to participating in this training which included the same elements, just at a different level of understanding.
If you asked me what was the most potent thing we have worked with so far, it would be mantra. Chanting, chanting and more chanting of mantras, out loud or silently, while sitting, standing, doing asana and even dancing. The power of mantra is real, effective, and powerful, and vitally important in this lineage. It is funny in a way to have done so much, and find that it was simply the mantra after all.
It is never too late, or early, to start chanting, and there are so many wonderful ways to do that. Give it a try! You can start this Thursday at 7:00 pm with the yoga class I am leading with Girish. He will be chanting mantras for you while you move, or just sit. This is a great way to feel the mantras in your body. He will also be offering a Kirtan at Sky Island in Upper Black Eddy PA on Friday. That is when you can chant along while sitting. These two experiences are the best way to quickly feel mantra power! You will know what I mean at the end of the event. There will also be more classes in the fall that will give you the opportunity to practice, learn about, and understand the power of mantras! Stay tuned....
I love when modern science lines up with ancient knowledge. With science getting more and more sophisticated, and reports of this work becoming more accessible because of the internet, we are seeing in writing the ideas that uphold what those of us who have been studying, and trusting, yoga for years have experienced. It almost makes one want to shake their finger and say "told you so", but of course I would never do that. (Click to read the article on "the Sanskrit Effect")
Once, many years ago, there was another yoga studio in the area that advertised their classes as being "real yoga" with "no chanting at all!" I knew this was directed at classes at Yoga Loka because we chant! I also know it makes some people uncomfortable. But some people also are uncomfortable getting their teeth cleaned, exercising, getting a yearly physical, relaxing, and doing a million other things that keep them healthy, vital, and enjoying life.
Now there is this report that says chanting is good for us too. There are people who just know they like it, which is surely enough reason to just do it. But knowing you are helping your brain as you join in with your favorite kirtan wallah is like winning the lottery! OK, maybe that is too dramatic and you are not that into chanting. Just know that even listening to mantras can have an effect on your energy, your mind, and your physical brain. No need to even open your mouth. My training has taught me that mantras repeated internally actually have the greatest benefit. But joining your voice with others in community can not be underestimated either.
There are two great opportunities to hear mantras with amazing vibration the end of July. I will be leading an all level asana class with Girish chanting, live and in person, right there in the room with us. Moving to live music is amazing! It amplifies the benefits of both the mantra and the asana. The next night Girish will be holding a kirtan in Upper Black Eddy at Sky Island. Either of these experiences (I of course recommend you do both!) will give you the felt experience of the benefit of mantra, and you won't need a scientist to tell you that this is medicine. If you would like to read more about mantras and their vibration, Girish has an amazing book about mantra which you can find online (Amazon link below), or get a copy from him directly.
See you there!
Yoga With Bonnie/Music With Girish: Thursday July 26th, 7 to 8:30 pm. $35 to pre-register, $40 at the door. Click here to register, or click here to view all of our other workshops.
So what’s going to make you happy? Let’s get more specific: what’s going to make your brain happy? And let’s focus on things that are simple and easy to do instead of stuff like winning the lottery.
This article from www.thriveglobal.com notes five ways neuroscience answers that question. Try some of these techniques out for yourself;
2. Smile - and wear sunglasses
The brain isn’t always very smart. Sometimes your mind is getting all this random info and it isn’t sure how to feel. So it looks around for clues, called “biofeedback." The idea is that your brain is always sensing what is happening in your body and it reviews that information to decide how it should feel about the world.
You feel happy and that makes you smile. But it works both ways: when you smile, your brain can detect this and say, “I’m smiling. That must mean I’m happy.” So happiness makes you smile, but smiling can also produce happiness. Feeling down? Smile anyway. “Fake it until you make it" can work.
Continue reading about how to make our brains happy HERE, and then check out the rest of our upcoming workshops and events to enliven your body and being as well.
I went to India the first time in 2008. I saw this trip as a once in a life-time opportunity to travel with my teacher to her Guru's ashram for a teaching on Shri Vidyaa. I had recently separated from my first husband, moved into a new house and had two small-ish kids, but somehow, someway, I was going to make the trip work logistically and financially. I expected that this adventure would change my life in some way, as many who take a spiritual journey do. I am happy to report I was not disappointed, although I can’t really pinpoint how it changed me.
I had done a fair amount of travel before, but honestly nothing I had encountered was quite like India. For a year or so after I returned I would weep when I saw a scene in a movie that took place in India, I missed it so much. I just wanted to walk barefoot and eat with my fingers again. Many of the things I purchased there held on to a certain scent, including my journal, and when that smell ultimately dissipated, I was heartbroken.
I can’t say why I feel different each time I return. It could be the practices that I have done while there, or the teachings received and the temples visited. Some of the Gurus I met there would laugh at our earnest group of travelers, asking why did we bother to make the trip? "God is everywhere! Even back home in America! You don’t need to come all this way to find God!” (This is obviously not sanctioned by the travel bureau.) While I understand that theory technically, there is just some way that this particular western mind is able to experience that more in India. It could be that I just want that to be true, or that the energetic vortex is stronger there, or that all of the practices done over the centuries have really changed the environment. But really, I don't care what the reason is, because for me, it just is. Each time I have gone it has been the same-there is a little sigh of relief when I realize I am back home again.
I am very excited to be going back in 2019. I am equally excited that Rafa, my spiritual brother, will be joining me in sharing some of the teachings that we have both been engaged in for decades. If you have had the pleasure of hearing Rafa chant you know how he can weave a magic that slowly, but strongly, pulls at your heart strings. His devotion is infectious! Ganeshpuri is one of the sweetest places on the planet. It is one of the last places I received a structured teaching from Mukunda, and it is where he received teachings from his Guru, Swami Muktananda.
I hope if it is in your heart to join us you will find a way to make it happen. We will be offering an early registration discount up until April 24th. We do have a limited amount of spaces available in the retreat center itself, so hopefully you will be able to commit sooner rather than later, and take advantage of the discount. Please let me know if you have questions! I know it can seem like a daunting journey, but you will be happy you did it.
“Poetry is a little lens through which one can examine, at close range, some details of the universe”. — Luci Shaw.
The Subject of the month for April is poetry, in line with National Poetry month. When Parvathi was still teaching asana classes she would often read poetry while we were in the deepest of twists or bends. She reminded us that the ambiguity in poetic verses allows the mind to be free from its pull towards a usual and known meaning. That freedom allows us to almost feel and possibly taste the words rather than think about what was just said.
Here is another quote about poetry, this by Roger Housden as published in the Huff Post:
"Poetry at its best calls forth our deep being. It dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind; it calls to us, like the wild geese, as Mary Oliver would say, from an open sky. It is a magical art, and always has been — a making of language spells designed to open our eyes, open our doors and welcome us into a bigger world, one of possibilities we may never have dared to dream of.
In addition to using poetry to soar through the open sky this month, we will practice Garuda Asana. Garuda is the fictional half-bird, half-man vehicle that carries Vishnu, the god that sustains. He serves the task of this deity well as he is often seen carrying a vessel full of amrit, the nectar that sustains life and keeps death away. He uses his super-human strength to serve rather than to dominate. Garuda is known to act as a messenger between the gods and the humans. Perhaps he uses poetry to convey these as tidings from beyond. After all, in my experience anyway, messages that come as intuition from the god-realm (or you can just call it grace) often appear as a bundle of words that require consideration and need to be felt deeply in order to be assimilated on some level, just like poetry. And of course the different levels of meaning can take us lifetimes to understand.
And as a side note, I am very proud to host my husband’s book release party on Friday the 6th at the studio. His connection to poetry has helped me to relax in to the music of words and let myself be in the place of not-knowing. I am also grateful to witness an intention come true, which was on his part to have a book published by the end of 2017. Staying true to Warren’s nature of procrastination, we received the first copy from the publisher the end of December. I am happy to say we have reached (over) full capacity for the reading, so if you have not RSVP’d already you can pick up a copy at the studio after next week or visit Amazon.
PS-He did not edit this writing, I take full responsibility for all grammatical mistakes and misspellings.
Going to Mexico to teach TRE was an amazing experience. The idea started when a friend from Mexico was visiting while two earthquakes hit Mexico City. He is a body-oriented psychotherapist who knows about David Berceli and his work with TRE. I mentioned how great it would be to be able to teach this self-regulating technique there, he agreed and just a few months later I found myself shaking with a wonderfully diverse group of people in both Mexico City and Playa Del Carmen. Everyone was excited and appreciative during these workshops, and no one, including me, was sure how the 4 hours flew by so quickly. The people at the workshops were very ripe for this type of work; perhaps it was because of the strong connection to Shamanism that is embedded in the Mexican culture, or the fact that many of the attendees are already involved in some type of self-study and consciousness raising work. Whatever the reason, everyone was happy to have yet another tool in their arsenal.
There are two stories that I wanted to share. One is about an attendee at the workshop in Mexico City. She was following along with the process but having a really hard time. Anxiety was coming up, which was not new for her. Her eyes were red-rimmed by the time the workshop was over, even though she barely tremored in the afternoon. After the workshop she decided she wanted to work privately with me. During this session we slowed down the process and she was able to watch how the feeling of pressure in her chest dissipated as she tremored. She practiced intentionally bringing in negative feelings so she could see how those feelings dispersed too, and as a result her perspective about her anxiety dramatically changed. She was able to make friends with the tremors and understands now how to use them at home to chip away and soften her familiar anxiety reaction. I credit her for being brave enough to try tremoring again, even after her uncomfortable experience with the group. Tremoring is simply a tool! Some of us need more thorough instructions on how to use tools. Some may need to go slower and focus on different things. This is one of the things that makes this process so amazing-it can work on so many different levels, in so many different ways.
This other story touched me deeply. I worked with a woman who has small children, one of whom has been struggling with very severe scoliosis. The mother and the child apparently have a very strong connection. Just recently this little girl had to visit her surgeon in the States to discuss the next step in her treatment, which understandably is a stressful trip for all concerned. One night in the hotel the child started to tremor! The nanny calls the mother in to see. (The nanny had a session with me as well, so she was also familiar with the process.) The little girl was extremely pleased to be shaking, and very proud of herself, and she calls out "Look at me! Look what I can do”. Mom and the nanny asked her how she was doing, if she was ok, and she replied that she was loving it. So here we have two primary care givers for this child familiar with shaking, and their comfort with the movement, and their own practice empowered the girl to discharge her stress in a joyful and spontaneous way. I don’t know if the girl had seen them shaking at home or not, but in either case I love this story so much because if the mom and nanny had not been familiar with the process of tremoring, and saw the girl shaking, they might have thought something was wrong, pathologized the movement, and worried themselves and the child, who was already under a great deal of stress from their trip to the doctor. Instead the girl was able to discharge her stress and reboot her resilience which will be much needed for her journey ahead. It also shows how our own practice can help with our family-whether directly, or indirectly by changing our responses and reactions.
I will most likely go back in October as the participants want to do a two day retreat to refine the technique, and bring their friends and clients. I am very pleased to be invited back. I hope to piggy back with a trip to Puerto Rico to teach TRE to people who lost so much in the hurricane and are still living without electricity and running water. So I shall continue my Spanish lessons and my own practice! And if you would like to join me in Mexico City for the retreat, I would be happy to have you come along. However it might be less expensive to join me for the TRE retreat April 7th and 8th in Perkasie, PA. Either way, if you are a TRE fan, or just curious, these extended sessions are a great way to find out how the tremors can best serve you and how to fine tune this amazing tool.
When I was in Playa Del Carmen I was interviewed by a lovely and dynamic YouTuber named Kalinda Kano. She recently switched her blogging from makeup how-tos to mental and physical self-care. Once she started to talk about it she realized how much people really wanted to hear how they can keep themselves happy, healthy and peaceful. I will post the link to the video once it is done-most of it will be in English with Spanish subtitles. Stay tuned….
We just got back from Mexico Monday night (yes, just in time for the storm)! The time I spent in Mexico City (the first 5 days) turned out to be very much a personal retreat. I woke up, sat in the grass to do my practice, ate breakfast and worked with people. My daughter traveled with me and fortunatly she was on her own retreat which consisted of a hammock, quesadillas, card playing and reading. I was only needed to slice up the super ripe mangos for her.
I saw 17 clients in three days in Mexico City. It was an amazing blessing to work with such a variety of people in such a short amount of time. Each person I worked with responded so very differently to the work, but there were also the common elements; everyone left relaxed, calm, happy and really surprised at how the gentle the process was.
There were of course some language issues. My clients and I did not always understand each other when we tried to speak, but fortunately the look on their faces and the shine in their eyes when we were done didn't require any verbalization. Nor does the natural unwinding of the body! It was actually my limitation with Spanish that confirmed my theory that the less I know about a persons story, the better off they were going to be in the session. Without knowing what the "issue" is I will not anticipate or guide erroneously. The body always shows the way, and that is exactly what I relied on.
After the last client of the day I would stay in the treatment room and sit with the resulting deep sense of gratitude and awe that moved me to tears. It was amazing to have this time to acknowledge the blessings of service. Usually at home I am on to the next thing right away, but here I had time to sit and remain in this feeling. I understood in these evening sittings that you can know you are following your dharma when you feel it in your bones, and that dharma can only be known through surrender.
I also taught two 4 hour TRE sessions, which I will write about next week. Until then, stay warm and cozy!
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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