Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Feel Your Feet - Hear Your Breath

We’re all on overload with information on how to be mindful. Sometimes I spend more time reading about how to be present than I do applying the principles I’ve learned.

Trying really hard to be present is almost an oxymoron – the two activities cancel each other out, and we’ve overcomplicated a very simple concept.

If you want to be fully present in any given moment, try this:

Feel your feet.

Hear your breath.

As you’re embracing these two simple actions, ask yourself these questions:

* Where are my feet? How can I be more truly “in” my feet? (Try imagining an X at the bottom of each foot, and then aim to press down through all four corners.)

* How is my breath? Can I deepen my inhales, lengthen my exhales, and notice the sound of air passing in and out of my nose?

* Can I feel my breath in my feet?

Ask these questions as often as you can. This will bring you solidly into your body, which then helps you be fully present to yourself, to the moment, and to the person or activity you are with.

Feel your feet.

Hear your breath.

It’s that simple.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Case for Hot AND Gentle Yoga

It’s no secret that I am a huge proponent of gentle yoga. It is the style of yoga I teach, and it’s been the primary style of yoga I’ve practiced for the past several years. Yet lately, I’ve been sneaking into some hot yoga classes. Why sneaking? Maybe because I am so outspoken about how we all need to slow down, and how for the most part, I suspect it's gentle, not power yoga, that our fast-paced culture needs.

I still feel that most everyone is on overload with DOING and really struggling with time to simply BE. But there are times in life when we slow down, through conscious choice or not, and a more rigorous practice can help get our mental and physical energy flowing.

I’ve been spending much time in meditation and off electronics lately. I’ve been reading fiction. I’ve been trying to stop multi-tasking. Between clients and classes, I’ve set an intention to be more still. I’ve noticed that stillness has energizing qualities, and I’m getting more done than I had when I was trying to pack too much into life.

From this quieter and more mindful space, I noticed a yearning for increased physical movement, something that would compliment my current state of being. Though hot yoga has not called to me for years, I answered the call and have found the increased pace in the studio has allowed me to maintain the decreased pace in my life.

This may sound counterintuitive, but not when viewed through the lens of balance. We all crave equilibrium. Hectic lives with no space for deep breathing need that breathing space. Lives with much time spent in stillness thrive on an increased pace.

This experience has taught me a valuable lesson – yoga is not a one-style-per-person modality. Our lives are constantly changing, so why shouldn’t our yoga practices? When the pace of my life increases, and it will, I will likely choose a slower, gentler practice again. The key is to listen in carefully to the unique needs of your physical self, depending on your current schedule, and to not be attached to any one kind of yoga.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Benefits of Practicing Yoga at Home

Self-reliance is becoming the new health care. One mission I have for my clients and students is to guide them to become CEOs of their lives – to be able to maintain overall health on their own, without constant help from outside sources. 

A weekly (or more) yoga practice at a studio will provide volumes of benefits to your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Can you imagine what’s possible if you extend your practice to the point that you roll out your mat at home – daily? 

It took me many years to cultivate a home practice, and it's incredibly fulfilling. While I still love attending classes, and being in a studio does inspire me to stay longer in a pose, it's empowering to know that I don't need to rely on someone else to practice. 

My home yoga practice travels with me, and has become a necessity when I’m on the road. I practice in nearly every hotel room I am in (you’d be surprised what I find under beds!). I bring my own mat, rent one, or even buy one for next to nothing. Two long bath towels will work in a pinch.

When traveling, I drive most everywhere I can (limiting distance to nine hours or less). Whether I’m pumping gas or visiting a rest stop, forward folds and sun breaths keep me energized and allow me to feel open, not constricted, upon arrival.

(If you’re lucky enough to be flying through one of these five airports, there are dedicated yoga rooms for weary travelers.)

Here are my seven top benefits of practicing yoga at home:

1.     It transforms the feel of your home. Everyone has always said my homes have been so calm – I believe that’s because of the regular yoga done there. And at times when I’m triggered by a situation, when I choose to roll out my mat, it always leads to an improved perspective.

2.     It’s convenient. Do you ever have insomnia and find that a few spinal twists helps you get back to sleep? Yoga studios aren’t open at 2:00 a.m., while the commute to and from your bed to your yoga mat is probably 10 seconds. You don’t need to worry about parking, being late for class, or if you have any quarters for the meter.

3.     It’s free of distraction. It’s lovely to be able to silence your phone, alert the family to be quiet, close the door to your pets (or invite them in!), and be confident that the quiet will be maintained. There’s no fear of someone walking in late to class, jangling keys and rolling out their mat to interrupt your meditative state. You can focus fully on your breath and your pose.

4.     It’s economical. While I believe yoga is one of the best investments out there in terms of keeping you healthy (yoga is like health insurance in many respects), it can get costly. What if you could practice daily for free?

5.     It builds self-discipline. Setting a goal to practice at home a certain number of days, and then achieving that goal, helps exercise your self-esteem muscle.

6.     It’s private. Ever resist trying a balance pose like crow because of fear of looking foolish? At home, your cat’s the only one who can see how you look falling over. And it’s so liberating to practice in pj’s, with unwashed hair, no makeup, and no pedicure!

7.    It’s doable. One down dog and three mindful breaths can all be accomplished in five minutes or less. And yes, that’s yoga, and yes, that’s a home practice. And maybe that’s a good place to begin.

Just like it’s really important that you know how to prepare easy, nourishing foods on your own without a personal chef, it’s valuable to be able to do your own yoga practice without a teacher. This way, yoga becomes integrated into your life.

So how do you begin a home practice? If you’re not a yoga teacher, the task can seem daunting. If you want to start and don't know how, reach out, and let's talk.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Why Yoga After 40 Rocks

Tao Porchon-Lynch is such an inspiration to me. She’s a 97-year-old yogini, and credits yoga with helping her to love life into her 90s. Though I haven't {yet!} shared a class with any 90 year olds, introducing gentle yoga to people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s is such an honor, because this is the time in life when students might finally be ready to choose a form of exercise (or body movement, as I prefer to call it) that is not punitive or punishing.
If you’re over 40, here are a few reasons why gentle yoga will fit right in to your life:
1)    You’re done doing things with your body because you think you should. Remember step aerobics? Running? While they may have felt nourishing in our younger days, and maybe still do, many of us only chose to move in those ways to fit in or lose weight. I have sustained a few injuries from aerobics and have taught more than a few students 50 and beyond who “blew out” a part of their body in some earlier regime.
2)    You’re ready to dedicate your valuable time to a form of movement that feels good in your body and doesn’t hurt. While you still might feel a little sore the next day after gentle yoga, it’s delicious to feel longer, more open and stronger, instead of feeling like you need an ice pack.
3)   You’re driven by comfort, not ego. You can choose child’s pose or a seated meditation if the pose being taught doesn’t feel right, or grab several props to bring the floor closer to you. Comfort now is über-important.
4)    You admire, but don’t covet, the lithe, bendy 28-year-old beside you or on the cover of a yoga magazine. You bless them, but don’t wish to have the 28-year-old life that goes along with that look.

5)   You yearn for quiet, not loud dance playlists. You like your own company and you’d rather listen to your breath than a rap song.

I've also seen students 40 and over master yoga poses that they couldn't in their youth, and experience a new level of comfort, ease, flexibility and grace that was not available before.They've lived long enough to really know the "why" behind physical movement. It's an empowering time and yoga is a great fit.

Monday, May 2, 2016

10 Meditation Myths

There’s not a singular path to stillness; there are many. Just like each of us likes different styles of music or movies, meditation is not “one size fits all.”

Believing any of these myths can keep you from making meditation your own:

1. RIGID – In fact, it’s just the opposite. Meditation is fluid. Though it’s best to practice meditation as you begin your day, before checking email or engaging your mind fully in your to-do list, you can meditate at any time throughout the day.
2. RELIGIOUS – It’s an ancient practice, over 5,000 years old, which transcends religion or can bring you closer to your faith. It’s a practice that fosters listening to that still small voice inside.
3. SITTING IN A LOTUS POSITION – If that works for you, great, but whatever posture helps your body be comfortably still enough to listen is perfect. Lying down is okay, as long as you don’t fall asleep. You can even practice meditation standing.
4. LONG AND PAINFUL – You can arrive into stillness in one minute or after a few mindful breaths. And some days you’ll find connection faster than others.
5. EXCLUSIVE – Yoga is not just for monks. It’s available to all, regardless of age, background or training.
6. HARD – On the other hand, it’s not easy. It’s like any other skill you want to cultivate; it takes practice and patience.
7. A CURE-ALL – Sometimes you might even feel worse before you feel better. Bearing witness to your stream of thoughts can be disheartening at first, but soon you learn to be more conscious about your real truth.
8. ELUSIVE – Everyone has five minutes in their day to meditate. Saying you don’t have time is delusional. In fact, the more time you spend in meditation, the more time you will have because it helps with concentration and focus.
9. NON-THINKING – It’s impossible to completely empty the mind. It is possible to slow the thoughts and experience more gaps between them. Even if you feel you’ve been thinking throughout your whole practice, it’s still beneficial.
10. OM’ING – While you may choose to use the mantra “OM,” that’s not a requirement. Mantra meditation is just one of many types available.

Meditation can be misunderstood, and many miss out on its benefits by holding one or more of these beliefs. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Count Breaths Not Calories

I don’t like to use the concepts of weight loss and yoga in the same sentence. Yet I’m noticing that gentle yoga has changed many of my students’ relationship with their body from being at war to being at peace and as a result, pounds are lost.

While it makes sense that a vigorous hot yoga class would lead to weight loss, most wouldn’t expect the same in gentle yoga. Burning150 calories per hour of gentle yoga hardly seems like a big deal, but it’s what happens off the mat that creates change.

The 75 minutes spent in a yoga class creates a template for how to live in your body. You have an opportunity to pause, use your breath, and respond – not react – to sensations. This dynamic of slowing down translates into more mindfulness around food choices, or honoring the body with rest rather than piling on more work.

In yoga we learn to listen to the needs of the body, not just around food, but the desires for rest, peace, and the removal of stimulation. Honoring these requirements feeds the body in ways that food never could.

There are vast differences between the settings of a yoga studio and a weight loss office:

·      We don’t have mirrors, and are never weighed or measured.

·      Our emphasis is on how you feel in a pose from the inside. Standing in a Warrior II pose, we feel authentically powerful, and that is far more important than how we look in our yoga pants.

·      We don’t count calories; we are invited the witness how nourishing the breath can be when experienced fully.

·      We don’t rush to meet a weight or size goal – rather we cultivate the fine art of patience by staying in a pose when we may want to leave, or continually returning to the breath when the mind wants to run the show.

·      We don’t take before/after pictures; we invite you into loving the essence of who you are and the gift of a body that can bend, flow and exhibit strength.

·      We don’t subtract, we add; you’re encouraged to feel the fullness of your breath, your grateful thoughts, and your progress.

·      We don’t ask you to measure your food, but you might notice that yoga unlocks feelings that you’ve been suppressing with emotional eating.

·      We don’t suggest removing gluten, dairy or sugar, but you may find your internal organs working more optimally to cleanse toxins as a result of twisting poses that literally wring out your liver, kidneys and more.

·      We don’t ask you to busy your mind by keeping a food journal, but rather to quiet your mind to allow the body’s voice to be heard.

With all that we’re not doing to focus on weight loss, we still achieve it. I’ve suspected this for years, and now we have evidence from researcher Alan Kristal. As an article at Prevention.com explains, “In Kristal's study of more than 15,000 adults in their 50s, overweight people who did yoga at least once a week for 4 or more years lost an average of 5 pounds, while those who didn't practice packed on an average of 13.5—a difference of nearly 20 pounds. Additionally, yogis who started at a healthy weight were more likely to maintain their weight than those who never unrolled a mat.”

Count breaths, not calories, and see what changes.