What did you learn this summer?
Labor Day usually signals the end of summer fun. The lifeguards disappear, kids go back to school, commuter traffic gets heavier and college students merge back into their study halls.
The end of the summer season is a big shift for many of us. For me it means my schedule will get heavier and there will be new workshops to set up. It also means I lose my partner in television watching, thrift store shopping, silly dancing and pasta making as my daughter will leave very soon to go back to school.
I used to have a ritual with my kids when we would come back from summer traveling, or when I would pick them up from school. I would ask "What did you learn?" It didn't have to be a life lesson or anything groundbreaking. "I learned that I liked the blueberry muffins at the hotel breakfast better than the cinnamon rolls" was a valid response. I still ask this question when have a chance. Picking my son up from college became increasingly harder for me because when he told me what he learned I usually didn't understand what he was talking about. To show I was listening I would ask "What class did you learn that in?" and usually he would answer “I watched a YouTube video". I asked him the same question when he came back from a business trip and I got a combo answer which was about food (that I understood!) and techy stuff (which, no, I didn't understand), The ride to get my daughter is longer and I usually have a few months to catch up on. Her answers revolve around how she learned to throw a frisbee into the wind, that the vegetarian soup in the cafeteria sometimes has chunks of chicken in it, and what the etymology is for the word "stepfather". I also get caught up on the current use of pronouns and gender equality, which is a big part of my learning.
This summer was the most un-restricted one we have had since the pandemic lockdowns started in March 2020, and that is a pretty big deal.This has inspired me to ask everyone "What did you learn this summer?"
Here is my quick list:
Pandemic-wise I have learned I don't miss going to bars or crowded restaurants or music venues. I tried- I left.
I don't miss being with huge amounts of people and that my family is really good company!
I learned what it feels like to be stared at for the way you look and the choices you make at the times I am the only one in a store or restaurant wearing a mask.(Actually, that was something learned when I was young child walking just about anywhere with my disabled parents.What I really learned now as an adult is that it doesn't hurt anymore.)
Practice wise I learned more about what it is like doing yoga asana in an aging body. (This of course is ongoing).
I learned so much from the meditation intensive that we had this summer. One big thing I learned was how to witness (and not try to change) the many different ways the evolution of the practice can look. (A big thank you to everyone who participated! Thank you for teaching me all that you did.)
I learned the benefit of rest and doing nothing, whether it is during meditation or sitting and watching the beauty of the world unfold. And I learned how hard it is to do just that.
Business wise I learned that I am increasingly uncomfortable with the western marketing and branding of yoga practice. This summer I really saw what has been happening with yoga as a business model and this has made me much more careful and thoughtful about what messages I am putting out and why I am putting them out there.
In preparing for the opening of Eco Loka I learned what it was like working with a team which is a great experience and a great relief after having worked as a sole proprietor for the last 30 years. And I am also learning to let go of my old ways and habits of beginning something new.
I also learned how to sit on the beach and not get sunburned, hang out in the waves without getting pummeled and how to properly express when I am going to Asbury Park ("I am going down the shore" rather than "I am going to the shore". After more than 25 years of being a NJ resident, I think I finally got it!
On a more serious note I learned from a variety of experiences this summer that I have a lot more work to do in understanding humility, patience, and surrender. This too, I am sure, will be ongoing.
These are the first things that come to mind- how about you all? What did you learn this summer? Share what you can! Writing it out, or just thinking about it in your head will help to solidify the experience. And it will be fun to see how what you learned this summer will shepherd you into the fall and winter for many years to come.
I am so very happy and excited to announce that Yoga Loka has a sister! Eco Loka is a refill store that will be opening in the front boutique section at 23 Race Street. What is a refill store? Click here and here for some good articles about refill stores. Yoga will still be happening as it always has in the back room.
Why open a refill store? Whenever it came time to toss my shampoo or cleaning product bottles into the recycling bin I would say outoud, or to myself, " I wish there was a refill store around here". I said it a lot, and nothing happened, so I decided to step in to fill the void.
For many years I was would look at our garbage dumpster with satisfaction because it is a small container and was rarely full. I was proud of the fact that we were composting just about all of our food scraps and recycling like crazy. Then the little voice in my head began to ask this question much louder until I could no longer ignore it; "What really happens to all of this stuff I put in the recycling"?
While our garbage was mostly empty, our recycling was full to overflowing. I recently heard the term "Wish Cycling" and realized that is what I have been doing! (Wishful Recycling, or Wish Cycling is the act of tossing something in your recycling bin with the hope that it is recyclable). My yoga practice has taught me to look for truth in an action and to constantly observe if the action fulfills the truth of the intention. Wish Cycling, and even recycling does not fully satisfy my desire to be a steward for the environment and cause as little violence to the ecosystem as possible. Converting recycled materials into new products still consumes energy and impacts the environment in not so great ways. And no matter how hard we hope and wish that something can be reused or recycled, it wont always be so.
The phrase "reduce, reuse, recycle " can be traced back to the growing environmental movement in the 1970’s . I used to think the phrase was "recycle, reduce, reuse." Now I hear it correctly, and the message is getting harder to ignore, especially with the evidence of global warming all around us. I am no longer comfortable relying on the recycling industry and big corporations to reduce packaging and pollution, mostly because that plan doesn't seem to be working. It is time to take things into our own hands as individuals, and see what we can reuse and how we can reduce. This will also let large companies and corporations know we do care and we do have a choice how to spend our money and our future. One of my favorite phrases comes from a refridgerator magnet a friend sent me after I blogged about my frustration about something many years ago, and I have used it over and over again to balance apathy with overwork, and frustration with accomplishment- "No one can do everything, but everyone can do something".
Our annual clothing swap and occasional mending circles have been fun ways of reducing waste and repurposing things that would otherwise end up in landfills. Now with Eco Loka right in the studio you will have access to more ways of reducing the burden we place on the environment.
In addition to a refilling station we will be selling sustainable self-care and cleaning items, and offering fun things we think will delight you. Yoga will still be happening just as it has been for the past 19 years. Our schedule remains the same and your practice space also remains the same. There might be some shuffling around of where things are stored, but everything will be clear, convenient and comfortable. And now when you come to the studio you can also do a bit of shopping to help fulfill whatever personal promise you might make to the environment, whether it is to buy less single use plastic, give up large detergent bottles, or attempt to go zero waste. Remember, everyone can do something, and every little bit will help.
Eco Loka will open early in the fall. We will selling some products at Frenchtown's RiverFest on September 4th. Come on down to Sunbeam Park and see what we have! We will also be introducing some of the fall yoga workshops and selling off some current boutique items. Until then you can visit the website at Ecoloka.shop
The Beach and how it unifies
I have been spending a lot of time on the beach lately, much more than I can ever remember doing as an adult. Probably like most people who went to the beach early in their lives, I have a host of childhood memories that make the idea of a day at the beach really exciting- flying the batman kite, the tar smell of the shampoo my grandfather would scrub our heads with to wash out the sand, the promise of fried calms, the smell and feel of noxema on sunburnt skin, even sandy gritty cantaloupe holds a special place in my heart.
I don't eat clams anymore, I have no idea what that tar shampoo was so that is gone forever, I am too lazy to run enough to launch a kite, and I use SPF 50 so no more sunburn (do they still make noxzema anyway?). The cantaloupe is still sandy, at least I have that!
There is a bit of sadness without those things that made a beach trip special when I was young. My adult body now recognizes the beach as hot, crowded, noisy, itchy, sticky and windy. However, I am still going, and I this weekend while walking on the boardwalk I began to understand my grown-up delight of the beach, and it gelled into some thoughts that I wanted to share.
I have been experiencing the beach as a great equalizer, and when something is equalized it becomes unified. Here is how I see the equalization- people are, for the most part, joyful when they come to the beach. Adults get to play like children and children get to play like crazy! People like to be with other people that are joyful! Beachgoers are hanging out with the birds, crabs, solps (look it up), fish, dolphins, mussels and the clams that have yet to be breaded and fried. We are all sharing this open space and can contact all of the elements (earth, water, fire, air, space). You can witness the way families walk alike, marvel at the people who are starting to look like their dogs, and the dogs excited to hanging out with the humans. We get to engage in many levels of vulnerability which helps cut through our seperateness. For example, when was the last time you fell asleep in a public place, or took most of your clothing off and walked around with other people looking? There are lovers loving each other for the variety of reasons that they do. In witnessingthese connections, we observe the force of attraction in action which does not follow logic and reason. You get to see so many different kinds of bodies, and how people are inhabiting their bodies with their extraordinarily uniqueness in a way that I don't think happens in regualar street clothes. Despite all the differences one can observe I feel we are sharing something that is the same in all of our bodies- our humaness is very present and our light shines out. Not inspite of the obvious differences, but because of them.
It is possible not everyone is experiencing this great equalization power of the beach, and that is ok. My experience makes me feel like I have been mashed into a unified soup and so I am a part of this moving pulsing organism of beachyness. Its nice to be in that kind of soup for a bit and not have to maintain my individuality and defend my positions and separateness. Wherever and whenever we can find that kind of soupy experience, even if it is fleeting, we should soak it up and try to find our way back to it whenever we are able. In the moment you are there, part of the organism, the world appears kinder- mostly because you will be kinder- and resting in that kindness is immensely healing. I have been on much visually nicer beaches in my life. The landscape in NJ is not as picturesque as some, but this unity can be found anywhere if we go looking for it. We don't need to travel far and pay a lot of money to experience the essence of beauty even in a less than perfect backdrop. Just like we can be in the most talked about, written about and most expensive locale and still feel our usual excluded and seperate self.
The beach may not be your place. Maybe you already know where your place is! Go visit it. It doenst' have to be the exact place of course. My childhood was spent on Rockaway and Jones beach. It wasn't until I was an adult that I visited the Jersey Shore. The fried clams and tar shampoo may no longer be a part of the experience so many years later, but you may just find that the kind of location that holds your sweet childhood memories can offer you an adult perspective that, combined with your wiser gaze will serve the place in you that longs for joy and healing.
Hit the brakes!
What happens when you get startled? Does your breathing stop, does your body tense up, maybe your posture folds inward? It could be that your stomach gets tied up in knots, you stop being able to hear and understand what people are saying, or your feet and hands get cold and numb. We all respond differently to a fright, bad news or a negative trigger. Our nervous system responds in these different ways to keep your body safe. We should really be thankful that this mechanism works so well, and so quickly (it is trying to protect us), and it would benefit us to mark when this mechanism is doing its thing. For example thinking "Oh my stomach is tight, it could be from that near-miss I just had on the highway" or "Boy is my jaw clenched tight! I guess that person yelling at me really did upset me" validates your awareness of the shut-down. With practice and deep listening our inner dialogue can start to sound like "Uh oh, I feel my shoulders beginning to creep up to my ears, better turn this around" or "Wow, I haven't exhaled in three days, I wonder if the stress of my upcoming presentation is having a negative effect on my digestion. Time to do something to restart my breathing because I seem to remember that is kinda important!" In other words, we can start to recognize what the stress and triggers are doing to our bodies, how they are affecting our systems, and then acknowledge that we can
It is important to know that we really can undo it! You can change this! Think about it this way- since our nervous system can quickly take over and constrict our body, shouldn't it be able to just as quickly un-constrict it? Two important functions that we might look for in a car is how fast it accelerates and how fast it can stop. A car that accelerates quickly and brakes well is considered to be a good machine, you wouldn't buy one that couldn't do both. A body that accelerates into fight, flight, or freeze (sympathetic nervous system) and can also decelerate into rest and digest (parasympathetic nervous system) would be considered resilient, and you will be more comfortable inhabiting a body that can do both. Deceleration however is the thing that is difficult, and so it is what we need to intentionally practice.
Has anyone ever taught you how to decelerate? You might have been told to walk it off or sit in a corner and count to 10 or to "take it outside." These are valid techniques! Depending on how those actions were suggested they may have felt more punitive than curative, and so you might not have thought they could be used effectively when needed.
How else can we tone the nervous system so that it will let us go back to rest-digest? A big part of being able to do this is understanding the mechanism. Once a process is understood and recognized, it can more easily be reversed. Just acknowledging that the body is tense is a great beginning. Many of us don't know what it feels like to be really relaxed because we are so used to walking around in a tension-filled body. I have worked with hundreds of people and when they have been successfully coaxed into a drooling state of relaxation they are surprised that this is what being relaxed feels like, and that they could achieve it.
Yoga, meditation and self-study are all practices that can help with the deceleration. I have been doing these things for almost four decades. When I learned TRE in 2014 I understood that this technique was the fast track. For some, the tremor mechanism can lead to the deceleration within a matter of minutes. Consistent practice also helps you to observe the oncoming tension so that you can decelerate it before it swallows you up. Remember the old phrase, a stitch in time saves nine. It applies here. If we can observe the mounting tension, let it do its job, and then discard it, we will be healthier, more relaxed and more connected to practically everything around us.
If you have been curious about TRE, or you have done it before but not consistently, or you just like to tremor with a group (it is very different to shake with others!) join me for these evening group shakes in July and August (see below for details). On September 23rd I will be holding a 2-hour workshop in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Rebirthing Center and a 2-day retreat the first weekend of November there as well. The location is stunning, and if it is close enough to home you can join as a commuter. Space is limited so let me know if you are interested.
Private sessions for TRE are always available as well.
Try it- your nervous system appreciate it.
I saw a woman in a store wearing a t-shirt on that said "forgive me for when I said when I was hungry." I really loved that shirt because there are many times I act in ways that I regret when my blood sugar is low. When I am hangry, I am not peaceful.
Of course as a yoga instructor I'm going to tout the importance of self-care when it comes to maintaining our ability to project a peaceful environment.
We can't ignore that what we're putting in our body at every level has an effect on this environment. For example, the kind of TV and movies are we watching, what are we reading, how much grim news are we taking in, what kind of company are we keeping all have an impact. The sources of the food we are ingesting is going to make a difference as well. For example the commercial meat industry is more violent than small farm raised meat and so will hold a different vibration. Highly processed foods or food that is created or harvested by immoral measures will also hold a negative vibration, all of which is will have an impact on our ability to remain peaceful.
A few weeks ago I read a story about a coach of a under 13-year-old baseball league who was ejected from the game by the umpire for using foul language. The coach decided to punch him in the face before he left the feild and broke the umpires jaw in 2 places in front of all the spectators. Just as horrifying is that some of the parents of the kids in that coach's team yelled "he deserved it" as the umpire was being attended to by the EMTs. It's no surprise that between the pandemic and the many other tensions in the world people are not behaving as calmly as they once were. The evidence is all over the place as we witness mass shootings, war, increased gun deaths and violent crimes all across the world.
It is difficult to not become part of the collective consciousness of violence and unrest. We know mob mentality is a real and powerful thing. A negative collective energy can influence the individual who is not grounded in their sense of self. Perhaps even the most doubtful can acknowledge that these "energies" influence us by recognizing that when in a peaceful place we feel peaceful, and when not in a peaceful place, we don't feel peaceful. Pretty simple.
What can we do to counteract, or to pull against the effects of a negative, violent collective consciousness? Just like in tug of war, if you want to win the game you have to pull back as hard as the other team is pulling. Otherwise, you're going be pulled to the other teams side and loose. In these days of unrest and insanity we have to intentionally, with great effort, pull ourselves towards peace. If we want to make a difference in this new, and hopefully temporary, world order, we need to exert as much effort towards peace as we understand that energies are pulling us towards non-peace. We can't just state that we're fine, things are okay, and have it be so. Those days are over, if they even ever existed.
If you think it doesn't matter to the rest of the world what headspace you are in, think again. Imagine the ripple effect that this angry coach (a man who most likely was admired by his young team) that hit the umpire created. This happened in a playing feild filled with children who were either horrified by what they saw (maybe traumatized) or given permission to act violently against a decision that they may disagree with in the future. Then this became a news story. Now I'm sharing it with you. The EMTs, doctors and nurses who attended to the umpire were affected. What about the extended families of the coach and umpire, and the people they work with? The court case means more people will know about it and now this crazy thing has touched so many more people than just the man who was hit.
Just because we don't see the ripple effects and how its moves out into the future doesn't mean it won't happen. We can't think our energy is not influencing someone when we step into a room cranky, or when we present work that will somehow make its way out into the public. What about what you are posting on social media? What are you saying in front of your children and colleagues? If we agree that this ripple effect is true and valid, why not use it to create a peacful calm environment? "I didn't mean to do that" should only be acceptable a few times. So that t-shirt I mentioned in the beginning of this post would only buy me one or two missteps. After that I should be willing to recognize that I was not self-aware enough to make sure my energy did not harm others.
We can and should contribute time and money to uplift our neighbors who have less and use our votes and voices so that our social structures offer real support. This doesn't always work as we might have hoped, and we have seen time and time again. The only way we can make a lasting positive change towards peace is in by creating it our own minds first. So, let's get to work and clean up our vibrational fields while we are doing everything else we are doing. Remember in this game of tug of war we have to pull the rope as hard and strong, and continuously, towards peace as we can.
If you are interested in doing this work together, join me for the meditation intensive that is starting July 5th. More info can be found here
The psoas muscles are your deepest core muscles. They run on either side of your lumbar spinal column, pass through your pelvis across the pubis and then attach to the inner thigh bones.
The important physical functions of the psoas muscles are hip flexion (lifting your thigh bone up), hip abduction (takes the thigh bone away from the midline of the body), lumbar flexion (draws the lumbar spine forward) and external rotation (rotates the thigh bone outward).
Equally important is that the psoas is one of the first muscle responders for the flight, flight or freeze response in the body. When one feels threatened and adrenaline rushes into the bloodstream, the psoas will jump into action and will either help you run faster (hip flexion), tighten up around your organs (preparing for a fight, like armor), or immobilize you (stuck on the spot- freeze!). Since the psoas also attaches to the diaphragm their actions will affect your breathing. When the psoas is activated it will help you breathe deeper if you are running or fighting (pulls the diaphragm down with more force), or slow your breath way down if you are going into freeze mode, like a opossum playing dead (diaphragm movements frozen). The psoas is also known to hold emotional energy. People have been caught off guard when they are in a psoas stretch and burst into tears. It is a fairly regular occurance in a yoga class.
A tight psoas, especially if it is just on one side, can cause lumbar back pain, sacroiliac joint instability, nausea, weakness in the core, instability, hip pain, knee pain and shoulder misalignment. Tight psoas muscles can also cause an excess of guarding of ones emotions as well as poor sleep, poor digestion and low sexual drive.
Many people will think they have back problems when their pain is actually coming from the psoas. It is not always obvious if the psoas is weak, tight, or in a hyper-contracted state.
Stretching is not always the best thing for the psoas, especially if it needs to be released.
Here is a good way to both strengthen and release the psoas-
Sit on the ground with your feet about 3-4 feet apart.
Lean back slightly and support yourself with your hands behind you.
Turn your toes out at a 45 degree angle.
Keep your knees soft. Then lift the right right leg up about 3 inches from the ground on an inhale. Exhale lower it back down. Imagine you are lifting the leg from the inner ankle, or inner knee. Try not to compensate by using your abdominals, shoulders or the opposite leg. It is also important not to lift the leg too high. Repeat on the other side. If one side is more difficult to lift, that is your weaker side. If they feel the same, and the movement is not too hard to do, walk your hands closer to your body, arch your lower back forward and try to lift the leg again. See if one is easier than the other. If the movement is too hard and you can not lift your leg off the ground, lay down on your back. Have your legs the same distance apart as above and try to lift each leg. Up on the inhale, down on the exhale. Lift up only about 3 inches.
This movement is both a test to see if there is asymmetry in your psoas strength and also a way to correct it. If one leg is hard to lift, start with 3-5 times lifting. Even if your leg does not leave the ground, you are still toning the muscle. You might want to work the weak side twice as much as the stronger side.
You can stretch the psoas like this:
Get a stable chair (kitchen or dining room chair is best) and place it against a wall. Stand alongside the wall and use it for support as you put your right foot on the chair. Sink your hips down. You can lift your back heel off the ground and have a little bend in the left knee. Make sure that when you sink your hips down, your right knee does not extend past your right toes. If it does, step your left leg back further or your right foot forward more, or both. You want to give a lot of space between the left leg on the ground and the right foot on the chair. When you sink your hips look for a stretch in the front of your left hip. If your left toes are facing the chair that your right foot is on, you will be stretching your superficial hip flexors. Now, if you turn your left toes out to the side at a 45 degree angle and you sink your hips you should feel the stretch on the left side closer to your groin. That will be your psoas, and that sensation you feel will be your psoas stretching. It is best to pulse the movement here- inhale pull your hips up, exhale sink your hips down. 5-10 pulses on each side is good.
It is important to know that some people will not feel a strong stretch in the psoas, especially if it is weak and hyper contracted. You may also feel it very differently on one side than the other.
Koshas and Subtle Anatomy
Appreciating the completeness of yoga solely by putting your body into a yoga pose is like hoping to experience the majesty of the Grand Canyon by looking through a paper towel tube, understanding the vastness of the ocean by observing a tablespoon of water, or trying to figure out the mystery of the cosmos by viewing a photograph of a planetarium. The more ways we can view something, and experience it directly, the closer we can come to understanding it. Yoga is a vehicle to view, and to merge with, the true self. The koshas are the different views (or lenses) we use. Kosha means veils, or sheaths, and the koshas are the veils of illusion that we view life through.
There are 5 main koshas, or lenses that we use to see the world. Knowing what kind of veil you are looking through will help you to make more sense about what you are seeing and experiencing. It's a bit like the "glass half full or glass half empty" scenario. When you know if you are more of a half empty or half full person, the way you perceive the world around you will make more sense and become more predictable. If it makes you unhappy (or the people around you unhappy) to see a half empty glass, you can actually start to see the glass as half full if you want to. It takes a change in perception. But before you change a perception, you might want to know what your perception already is, and you will probably want to know your other choices. This is not just about going around and saying things are great when you don't really think they are, or saying "it's all good" when it is not. We are not trying to "fake it til we make it".
This shift in perception is like taking off your far-seeing glasses and slipping on your cheater glasses in order to read fine print. If you don't realize that you are using the wrong eyewear to see something, you might feel helpless, hopeless, or get angry and frustrated because you can't read the text that you want to read. And if you can't read that text, you can't get what is needed, you will not have the freedom to choose because you don't really know what your choices are. Being someone who now has to cycle through both far seeing glasses and cheater glasses while wearing contacts, I find myself wondering what people did back in the olden days before corrective lenses were a thing. Did they think everyone saw things blurry the way they did? What were they missing in the landscape around them and from being able to read books, or from recognizing people they passed? Until I was in about 4th grade I thought everyone saw the blackboard blurry. Then I realized I needed glasses. I remember crying from this realization that I could do something about not being able to see. Similarly I wonder about people who are doing asana with just their body. What are they missing? I did asana for many years before I "plugged in" to the subtlties of prana and the koshas, and just like when I discovered I needed glasses, I cried with joy. My yoga practice took on a new and profoundly deep mean. So I do actually have an idea of what they are missing, just like I remember what it is like to not be able to see the blackboard in school.
In the seminar Asana Through the Koshas we are going to study the koshas and what it may look or feel like to be perceiving things through those koshas. We will use yoga asanas to experience the koshas and, this is the fun part, we will experiment with viewing the asanas through these different veils (or koshas). The lovely thing about learning to practice this way is that you will find a deeper level of connection with the practice and with yourself. You will find out you don't need to struggle through asanas in order to practice yoga.
Interested? Check out the workshop coming up this weekend, 3/5-6 AND the Subtle Anatomy workshop happening on Friday evenings 3/18 and 3/25. Find out what is happening beneath your skin.
Here comes 2022!
This new year day, January 1st, 2022, will mark the 19th year that Yoga Loka has been in business! It is a great accomplishment, but as I have always said, a class is only a class if a student shows up, just like a story is only a story if someone is really listening.
As we sail into our 19th year I want to once again thank you all for your efforts, your practice, your attention, your trust, and your stories. Everything that you have all shared with me over the years is like a precious gift, whether it was about your families, your work and hobbies, your struggles and your successes. People sometimes ask me if it is hard to hold so many stories, but really it is an honor and a privilege to have these shared with me. One of the superpowers that has arisen from my practice over the years seems to be the ability to listen and hear when something is off and not in alignment with the story teller- whether that is because the timeline is inaccurate, the players were misunderstood (and therefore mis-cast) or the meaning of the story has not yet been understood or acknowledged by the teller. I think one of the most important things I have done in the past 19 years is to help people reframe their stories and therefore integrate them, whether that is by helping them to explore how their body is working, how the emotions are interfering, or how the importance of the story blown out of proportion, or minimized.
One of the things that has come out of this community we share is friendship. I know some really deep ones have formed, and it is very gratifying to know that Yoga Loka was able to facilitate that. I know it is a struggle now that we are just appearing on zoom, but never fear- we can still connect online, and after all, zoom only is not a forever-thing, it is just a for-right-now-thing.
Last week I wrote about how we have lots of workshops coming up. I hope that if you find connecting in asana classes over zoom challenging, you will consider trying a workshop or two. The workshop format gives you a chance to ask questions and clarify what might be confusing, to connect with others, to ask many many questions, to take notes, and to rewind and play the video again to hear what you might have missed, or what you just need to hear again. And since many of these workshops are multi-day experiences, you will find a "group" does form. You will connect in the way you need during these isolating times, perhaps even at a deeper level considering how isolated these times actually are.
Click here to check out the worskhop page for the list of what is scheduled so far. And there is more to come! I can't wait for you to see all that is planned for 2022! We may be living in wacky times right now, but remember that your source is always within you, and the wacky-ness of the times is really the thing that pushes us further in towards that source. Just keep looking for the things that bring you back to your source and you will be fine. And taking that journey with others is always better (like in a workshop!). And yes, even a workshop on hamstrings can be the thing! You just never know, so stay alert and tranquil, and stay tuned.
Please use this coupon code for any of the below 2022 workshops for a 22% discount at checkout. More information can be found on the workshop page:
Doing yoga while old and cold
I started doing yoga when I was about 19 years old. I was born with a flexible and strong body and the poses came pretty easy to me. It was of course still work, but it was more like dancing than working out. Obviously the yoga bug bit me and I've been practicing ever since. That was about 30 years ago. And like everybody else, my body has changed quite a lot in those 30 years.
I remember seeing yoga for “over 50” advertised and thinking, ``What's the big deal? Isn't 50 just like 40 and isn't 40 just like 30?” Now I realize the answer is a big fat no. I turned 55 this June and I really feel the difference in my physicality. I noticed things starting to shift when I turned 50, but each year on top of 50 is making a difference. What are those differences? I'm not as strong and I'm not as flexible and I don't have the desire to do as many as the fancy things my 19 and 20 year old body used to do. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying! Now add to the 55-year-old body 30° weather. It's true that the warm weather does make us more fluid and flexible and limber and the cold weather does the exact opposite. So when it started to get cold out I began to feel all the 55 years in with the 30 degree cold and thought “Whose body is this?”
Doing yoga asana while old and cold (and wearing many layers) feels like I am in a strangers body. And you know what? I love it! It might sound crazy, but for somebody who spent many years doing yoga and not actually feeling anything in their body, to feel the restrictions and the stiffness and the tightness is actually quite lovely. It has made me more tender-hearted towards my body. Feeling the limitations of my physicality has revealed a give and take, surrender and effort, which I didn't have when I was younger and was able to easily demand so much from my body. There's also a fragility which I have come to appreciate. In a way it separates the “who I am” from the body that “I am not”. The great enlightened sage, Ramana Maharashi, suggested we ask ourselves if we are not this mind, and we are not this body, then what are we? This question makes more sense to me now that my body is not as reliable as it once was. That's where the fragility comes in. There's a kind of separation between my body “the vehicle” and what I am, as well as a deeper appreciation for this vehicle than I've had before, and an understanding that this is in fact merely a vehicle. An important one for sure, but still just a vehicle.
I've also found that my yoga asana practice is no longer about being better at doing something as it was for many years. It's also not about curing something that is wrong or out of place, it's about restoring, maintaining, and showing reverence. This gives a different, and hopefully more mature, perspective on my practice. As a result it's changed many of the ways I relate to important parts of my being, as well as to the aging process.
For many years I would hear from students older than myself how much they needed the practice. I didn't quite understand that then but I certainly do understand it now. One of the struggles that younger people can have doing yoga is staying consistent with their practice. I imagine this will change when the practice has become a necessity, and that there's no going forward without it. Practicing becomes a choiceless choice when we realize yoga doesn't just help accentuate our life, it is our life. Many people feel that freedom is in having a plethora of choices, but wiser ones realize that freedom is really being presented with the choiceless choice.
Check out the workshop page for seminars that will help you while you are old and cold:
Working with an injury?
I sustained an injury a few weeks ago at the dog park. I had about 120 pounds of rolling playing puppies crash into my shin, which dropped me down from both pain and surprise. The first two days I was unable to walk or bend my knee, which was not great fun. I wasn't in pain, but I was concerned about how much mobility I was going to have going forward. I attribute my rapid healing to acupuncture (thanks Ann!) and some herbal poultices and patches, the Joint Freeing Series and good old rest and ice. By the following Sunday I was able to participate in asana classes again. Ironically, the thing that remains difficult to do is the restful child’s pose AND the pose of the month, Natarajasana (dancers pose).
There are so many things I want to share about this experience, which was probably the most intense soft tissue injury I have had since my karate days. As I do more and more asana, and I am figuring what I can and can't do (which changes every day), my understanding about working with injuries in asana has been confirmed, so that is what I will share today.
I imagine that if I went to a standard asana class with an instructor that was schooled in "alignment" and I mentioned my dog encounter, they might tell me off the bat which poses I should not do. They might have a standard list of knee poses that are considered to be the “bad ones”. I say this from experience, as back in the days when I went to studios for asana classes, I would tell the instructor of some valid injury or limitation if asked, and inevitably the instructor would tell me not to do something that I knew was actually fine for my body. What an instructor often would not do was ask me what I was feeling in the pose before suggesting I either come out of it or try it a different way. Now I know this kind of individual attention can be difficult- especially if you are in a big class, and if you are the new kid in the class and most likely transient, a teacher may not give you that kind of attention, understandably so.
If your instructor forgets to attend to your injury because they have a ton of other stuff to manage, or they don’t know how to advise you (and by the way, lately there have been warnings to instructors to NOT ask because if they do, and if a person aggravates that injury in class, the instructor opens themselves up to liability being that they knew about something but didn’t do anything to prevent a re-injury) then you are on your own to manage yourself. And that is the thing right there- we should be on our own. We should be ready and able, as soon as we decide we are going to do asana, to listen intently to our bodies and see if what we are doing is good, or not good, is helping or hurting. This can also be problematic. Some of us just want to be told what to do when we go to a yoga class. I hear that and that is ok! But then again, at some time, for some reason, we might actually want to, or need to, know if what we are doing is helping or hurting.
I just spoke to a woman yesterday who was a professional dancer in the early part of her life. Lately she has been having issues with her hip. She told me that armed with her desire to strengthen her core and try to get some mobility back, she went on YouTube, found a core-strengthening video, followed it, and hurt herself. She said the whole time she was following the video, she knew that she knew better. “I am smart about these things, and I still got hurt. I don’t know what happens to people who are not as in touch with their bodies”. She is a very busy person, and she really wants to get better. She made the wrong choice and she recognized it before doing more damage. There are really great things that can be learned well on YouTube. But there are some things we will never get from a video, like a direct question “how is that feeling?”, “how are you doing with that” and then subsequent feedback and options that respond to those answers.
If an instructor gives us the list of no-nos, we might accept it with no questions asked. But here is the thing about my knee in Natarajasana- it hurts when I bend it back too far and reach for my ankle if I am sitting sideways, but not when I am standing or on my stomach. It is much easier when I hold the right ankle with the left hand, less so if I use the right. When I am holding my ankle, even in the sideways sitting, and I engage the quads and pulse pressure in in my hand, I can feel the pose is doing me good. I can feel that is a therapeutic pose for the thing that is still lingering in my knee. If I am lax and just holding my ankle without engaging, it doesn’t feel good. If I engage, I feel that I am changing something for the better. From the outside, it looks the same. From the inside, it is so much different.
We must embrace our potential to understand our bodies better, and teachers should give us the power to understand this body and know what the therapy might be for it. It is so individual. No one pose is going to heal or harm an injury. Had I been hit on the front or the back of the knee instead of the side, I would probably be having a different experience in Natarajasana, and maybe a different pose would be the one that was my therapy pose. We have to listen in to know, and we have to be guided to understand the messages we are getting from that feeling.
One other thing to consider- sometimes you hear a teacher say in an asana "align this way to protect the knee (or back or whatever)". It makes me wonder about the difference between "protecting", “strengthening” and "healing". Just like a substances in one amount can be a miraculous cure, in a different amount can be a poison, some movements that seem dangerous can actually be the therapy, when done with awareness, intention, vigilance and intelligence. I wouldn’t recommend a YouTube video for that either, because you again are missing the important question, “how is that movement feeling now?”. As a yoga therapist, I am always listening for how a person describes the sensation- there are so many things a “pull” may mean. My job is to help you understand which pull is good, which is not.
Meanwhile, I am working on my own pulling and pushing, finding my way back to the Natarajasana that I was able to do prior to my injury. And to all of you who have been in classes lately, thanks for keeping me company during my therapy session!