Child’s Pose Is My New BFF

As mentioned in my previous newsletter, during this pandemic I have been dealing with a different health issue, hyperparathyroidism. The surgeon had to make an incision at the base of my throat to remove the “offending gland.” With that surgery behind me, I was able to get to the task of healing. It took a week before I really felt like moving again, I even had to support my head with my hand as I would transition from sitting to lying down for example. Once I felt stronger and ready to move, I really wanted to do some yoga! Practice was slow at first, with lots of full breaths and no hurrying. It involved much stretching and breathing from a seated position. And then, Child’s Pose, Balasana. I would bring big toes together and take my knees wider, fold forward from the hips and rest my forehead on my stacked hands.

Pre-surgery, balasana was a resting pose for me, but post-surgery it became respite; in Yoga Nidra terms, it became my Inner Resource. If you know anything about fascia, you know that if there is an injury or trauma in one part of the body, it can affect the rest of the body in a three-dimensional matrix. Because my neck was intensely healing, the rest of my muscles felt compressed, pulled toward the incision like covered wagons in a circle to protect the precious humans inside. Child’s pose helped those muscles to lengthen again; the sweet release of elongating my spinal extensors was better than a hot bath. The gentle opening through hip muscles was like my body exhaling, gently easing back to a state of normalcy. These inner sensations helped to remind me that all is well and on the path to healing, it just takes time and patience.

If you are feeling out of sorts, please make time in your day for a “yoga snack” and take balasana for several deep breaths — as many as you need until you feel your nervous system settle and you return to a state of calm.

Slow and Steady On

In case you missed it, I recently had parathyroidectomy surgery. This was an important surgery to make sure my parathyroid continues to function properly and maintain the acceptable range of calcium in my blood and not leach it out of my bones. On the surface, I never really felt badly, I just had a pain in my side that led me to my PCP last fall which was when I had the routine blood test that turned up this issue. The news was a bit shocking to me to say the least. My idea of a healthy lifestyle had not made me immune from this particular health issue. Now that I’ve had a few months to live with the condition and actually do something about it, I have the benefit of hindsight and let me tell you, I am so very thankful for my yoga training.

Preparing for surgery can be very anxiety-provoking. In the weeks leading up to my surgery and especially the few days prior, I made sure to take time for myself, to move my body in yoga postures and breathe fully in order to oxygenate my blood and ensure a maximum infusion of prana, vital life force, before being cut into. I even gave myself a steady diet of fresh vegetable juices including carrots, apples, celery and ginger to make sure I was taking in prana through my food as well.

On the morning of surgery, I had to be at the hospital by 5am. Breathing practices, pranayama, sustained me in that moment. Each time I felt fear or anxiety creeping up, I would return to long, slow, smooth inhales and exhales through my nose in order to remain as calm as possible beforehand. After surgery, I slept a lot. When I finally felt ready to begin moving again, I looked forward to returning to a gentle yoga practice. This was an interesting experience, because the feeling of the poses and my practice was very different. Whereas before I may have begun with some sun salutations and then stronger standing poses or backbends (my favorites), now I had to really pay attention to my body. I still did not have much range of motion in my neck and did not want to push things. Being forced to slow down was truly a practice of embodiment. Instead of returning immediately to a strong practice, I would sit on my mat, breathe, and feel. What do I truly need today? What would serve my current body most effectively? There is much to be learned from slowing down and paying attention. We can all benefit from the lessons of yoga to carry us through the challenging times as much as through the good times. And I would argue, we’ve all been through and perhaps are still in extremely challenging times right now. Slow and steady on.

Winter Inspiration

Winter is a time for rest, rejuvenation, and renewal. You may or may not agree with me, but I love the snow. Especially when I do not have to go anywhere, the snow just blankets the earth with quiet and to see the sparkle of the snowflakes reflecting the sun once the storm has passed, it just makes me want to exhale fully into a state of joyous relaxation. We may not get that lucky this year to see a beautiful snowfall, but I’m still hoping.

Here’s an idea — I hope that even during these cold temperatures you have been able to at least get outdoors to take some walks. Along your way, choose a spot that you can return to each day or each week to simply stop for a moment and view; take in your surroundings. When you return to the same spot over a period of time, you can really observe the changes in nature, from winter’s stark barrenness — there is a beauty to the stillness — to the first buds of the spring time. Your “viewing spot” can help you observe the transition from the hibernation of inner life to a vibrant outer life as spring shows its signs of approaching. We’ve still months to go, but taking time to observe the here and now in each moment can be a great practice in present moment awareness and even in cultivating gratitude regarding the gifts and things we have to celebrate. Keeping some sort of daily routine, be it regular walks, a time for reading, or yoga practice, can be a rejuvenating habit that supports you for years to come.

Gratitude

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity…. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

–Melody Beattie

It has been a year like no other, but I have been moved by the determination and dedication of each of you during this year of challenges. As a teacher, I learn so much from you, my students, and that is what makes teaching yoga so rewarding. Seeing the greatness in the little triumphs — like holding Tree Pose for just a little longer or moving deeper into the breath because of a backbend — has kept me going. The Yoga Nidra Benefits this year were a spontaneous idea that became something to look forward to each month during this time of social distancing, and together we have raised over $7,000 for important social justice causes. I thank you for that! May the peace and comfort of the season be with you, may you recognize the small miracles each day, and may we all look forward to a new year of hope, compassion, and kindness for others and for ourselves.

Diwali

Happy Diwali! May peace, abundance, and the light of conscious awareness surround you at this time of year. In India, this festival of light is equivalent to our Christmas and New Years wrapped into one. It is a time of celebration for all of which we are thankful. The daylight is getting shorter and the nights are longer, but that just encourages the inner light of awareness and awakening to shine more brightly. Diwali is traditionally celebrated with ritual known as puja for a variety of deities, one of whom is Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, beauty, prosperity, and well being. People will light many clay candles around their homes and feast. Next week you may feast on some free yoga classes, courtesy of the Retreat Center of Maryland (RCM). See below for more details. There will not be a Yoga Nidra Benefit this month because I am offering a free meditation for RCM on Nov 19 at noon. Please join me or any of the great teachers in a week of gratitude as we move toward our holiday season. (It feels like we have something to celebrate right now, doesn’t it?)

Quiet Celebration for Fall

Mmm. Fall is here and I usually greet it with a little apprehension because I know that winter will follow. The funny thing is, September is probably the most beautiful weather-wise and October brings the brilliant leaf color as the trees succumb to the changes. There is plenty to celebrate in nature even if our ‘leaders’ might seem to be failing us right now. Life seems to be a continual balance between making effort to change what I do not want and letting go of the need to be in control of things to get what I do want.

Yoga teaches that very thing. We need to make effort to express ourselves through a yoga posture, but at the same time, we need to allow for things to unfold in their own time. If we want to do a handstand or hold Warrior III with elegance for example, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice. If we want to touch our toes with ease, we must put forth the effort. Sthiram sukham asanam, a yoga posture is steady and comfortable, Patanjali says in Yoga Sutra 2:46, but that is not generally true at first; we must put forth the effort.

Looking Forward

We are in the sixth month of a world-wide pandemic, and there are only meager signs of it slowing. This, plus the explosion of awareness regarding racial injustice to which we have born witness can really make a person stop and think. Not to mention the global climate change crisis or the economy…it gets overwhelming. If you are like me, when faced with these grim events, you are depending on your yoga practice and contemplative exercises more and more. I personally have found some solace in meditation — getting up earlier, sitting in stillness for a little bit longer. However, there is nothing like a well-rounded yoga asana practice to release the pent-up tension physically, mentally, and emotionally too. I am continually amazed at how effective yoga, breath work, and meditation practices can be at helping calm an overactive nervous system. This is why I am so proud to say that I have been a part of the Yoga Center of Columbia Yoga Teacher Training Program and the Ayurveda Immersion program for over five years now. Yoga Teacher Training can help you progress in your own practice as much as it will help you to offer the many gifts of yoga to others who are in dire need. If you want to learn something, teach it! The Ayurveda Immersion program will help you develop a specific daily routine to support your well-being and combat stress and anxiety. The more you help yourself, the more you can be present to support others, your family, friends, and community as well. We plan to hold these trainings in person, as long as it is safe to do so. Otherwise, they will take place on Zoom, but you will still get personalized attention with each of these programs. I hope you’ll consider joining me!

I came across these words from my friend and fellow yoga teacher Mary Byerly; she lives in Costa Rica and hosted the first international yoga retreat that I ever led. Ah, we were so innocent then. Her words seem like good thoughts to share here:

Please continue to take good care of your body, mind, and soul. May you be able to enjoy the beauty of nature, your loved ones, and the connections within your community. May we all find the way to hear and see each other as the spark of the divine we all are, beyond what we look like, what our politics are, and who we love. May we find unity and work with each other for a better world. –Mary Byerly, E-RYT500

Global Yoga Therapy Day

Today is Global Yoga Therapy Day!

Yoga Therapy uses yogic techniques — yoga postures, breath work, meditation, mantra, mudra — to support a wholistic approach to life, good health, and mental and emotional prosperity. In honor of Global Yoga Therapy Day, I created a video about coping with the global (and local) crises and anxieties of the moment. Enjoy!

Click here to view this short video.

I Feel Good… But Not *That* Good

Let there be light at the end of the tunnel.
Let there be light at the end of the tunnel.
When I left my day job at NPR ten years ago (gulp), I went on to Erik’s health insurance with his employer. When he left his day job two years ago to become a freelancer/entrepreneur/construction worker (gulp again), we had a big decision to make. Do we continue health coverage through COBRA? Way expensive. Do we purchase our own health insurance? Also way expensive, and even more so if we were to keep the same level of coverage we enjoyed through his employer. Or, do we risk it and go health-care-coverage-free until one of us stumbles across an employer willing to offer us this important piece of social safety net?

For better or worse, we chose option three. Thank goodness there were no major issues for either one of us in the last two years. We knew we were taking a big risk.

I can say that now because recently we evidently were approved for health care coverage on our own. By our own little selves. This is still in process, but we must have been approved because they have already taken our payment. Hopefully soon we will get our insurance cards.

When I noticed on the bank statement that our payment went through I felt a palpable thread in the fabric of my life get a little stronger. Now, don’t be mistaken, this is catastrophic insurance, our deductible is $10,000 (gulp 3x)… but at least the other members of our families will not be burdened if something horrible were to happen to one of us.

The only reason I’m bringing this up here is to point out that Erik and I are pretty average human beings. We are both smart enough… we just happen to want to work for ourselves and therefore not only are we charged with extra tax due to self-employment, in the past we had been effectively excluded from health care coverage. We are not an unusual case, and this is late in the game for me to chime in to this conversation. I am consciously not making this a political rant, but something is wrong in American society when you are required by law to have auto insurance but, until now, health insurance was your own choice.

As a yoga teacher, I believe strongly in preventive medicine — and in the power of the individual to take care of him or herself through lifestyle choices and behaviors first. But at some point in everyone’s life, a doctor will be necessary, and thank goodness we as a society are a little bit closer to everyone having an opportunity to see a doctor when in need.

Go back to Dealing With Distraction.
Go forward to Mamacita Costa Rica.

Dealing with Distraction

Photo by Erik Dunham
Photo by Erik Dunham
I am currently teaching a Meditation For Stress Relief course at Willow Street Yoga Center in Silver Spring. We are cultivating a state of witness consciousness in which we can sit and accept whatever thought or feeling arises as it happens by observing without passing judgement. Recently a student asked me about how she can maintain better focus when she is sitting because she seems to always notice sounds — someone walking, a cough, a siren in the distance. Here is my response:

Sustaining focus is a big part of the practice! There will always be things that distract us, so first of all, just knowing that is the case can help relieve you of some of the burden of “should.” For example, “I should have better focus than I do,” or “I should be able to sit still and not be distracted for longer than 2 minutes!” When something distracts you, it is natural to notice it, but can you notice it without falling into the “should” trap or without having a physical reaction, like the adrenaline rush if it is a loud, scary noise for example. Simply notice it and return your attention to your point of focus for your practice. (Unless that loud scary noise is actually a warning of impending danger. Must beware of danger.) Continually returning your awareness to your point of focus is major.

So the question is not necessarily how can I sustain better focus? But the question becomes, how can I accept fully each moment as it arises? If that moment is one of silence and focus, all the better; if that moment is one of a distracting noise, or a phone call, or an appointment that you do not want to attend, can you allow yourself to be in that moment without getting too caught up in the drama, in the story of it.

Meditation practice helps smooth the edges. Over time, your awareness no longer has huge swings from happiness to sadness, pleasure to pain, anxiety to calm. Over time you learn to maintain a more even keel which actually brings about a state of “satchidananda.” The yogis call this state our true nature. And our birthright as human beings.

Sat = being or existence, the truth of our lives
Chid = conscious awareness, knowing that we exist
Ananda = joy or bliss

As they say, we are not human beings having spiritual experiences, we are spiritual beings having human experiences. Like standing on your head, this shift of perspective can turn the world upside down. In a good way.

Go back to Durga Mahashakti.

Go forward to I Feel Good… But Not That Good.

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