Rishikesh

I’m writing this to you from the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. The balcony from my hotel overlooks this amazing river. My brother once said to me, “You know, most people vacation in Europe, and yet you continue to return to India.” My answer was “Well, I am not most people.”

But ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out why I continue to return to the subcontinent. I am simply drawn to the atmosphere, the people, the colors, the smells, the animals, the temples and the feeling. It is difficult to put into words, but I believe part of it is the way in which Indian people hold all things as sacred.

The river Ganges is not just a river, it is a goddess. The nearby mountain top with the Kunjapuri Temple is not just a mountaintop, it is where part of Sati’s body fell when Shiva was in such anguish at her passing. There seems to be a story for everything, and a celebration for every story. Part of the Indian culture is to acknowledge and uplift life itself as a gift from the divine. And this is how I want to live.

So I return to India, to be reminded of the things that are most important in life. And one of those things is actually that it does not matter where you are, if you are present to your experience in that moment, then that is where the sacred lies. This, of course, is why I continue to practice yoga, to be as fully present for each person and each situation that life has to offer. I do not always get it right, but I continue to make the effort. And anyone can practice yoga any time and anywhere. You do not need fancy equipment, just a desire to practice.

It becomes a reciprocal exchange of energy, when I practice the yoga of present moment awareness, the beauty and inspirational nature of the world gives back. I can only hope that I am a worthy instrument of this exchange and to be there for those in times of their suffering as well as in times of joy.

The on-demand library holds many ways to practice with me for many situations. Yoga for stress relief, yoga to reduce anxiety, and yoga for better sleep are a part of the yoga for healing series that you can find in the ODL. And there are plenty of classes to stretch hamstrings, strengthen core, and release tight fascia among other themes, plus you will find meditations and breath practices there as well. Please join me at your convenience online on demand.
–Kelly

Preparing for India

This Friday, I leave for Rishikesh, one of the heartlands of yoga in India, to participate in a sacred ritual. My friend’s mother passed away at the beginning of the summer this year, and they want to place her ashes in the sacred river Ganges. We will travel together and be able to offer this amazing experience to his mom in her afterlife. I am very much looking forward to this time that feels so visceral, so fundamental to a life well-lived on this planet and I am completely honored by my friend’s requesting me to be there with them.

It is inescapable that we all eventually must die but it is something we as a western culture rarely talk about. Different societies and cultures have different ways of handling the departed and even though the three of us — hailing from California, Texas, and Virginia originally — do not have any Indian blood, we all practice yoga and this ritual is the meaningful thing to do for his mother. Some may say this is cultural appropriation, but I say that the principles involved in yoga philosophy are universal and transcend culture. The three of us, my friend and his wife and me, are sincere in our desire to offer his mother a smooth and celebrated transition to whatever comes next for her.

This article talks about the ritual that occurs in Varanasi, another famous place for offering one’s ashes into the Ganges. The author uses a phrase, “the rawness, the simplicity, the completeness,” and I think that about sums it up. The article is not pretty, but it is honest. I have been studying yoga, meditation, and real-ly speaking, Indian culture since the early 1990s and this event feels like a summation in a way of all that I have learned. I’m excited to bring back photos and memories to share with you when I return. 

One of my teachers would always end a yogic discourse in this way which seems like a nice blessing for us all right about now:
    May you be healthy
    May you be happy
    May you be free from want
    May you always see the bright side of everything
–Kelly

Fall Equinox 2022

Thursday Sept 22 at 9:03pm ET is the Fall Equinox. After the intense heat of summer, we begin to cool down as the light wanes and day and night are of equal length, if only for 24 hours. When the trees lose their leaves, they send their strength back to their roots as they prepare for a long winter’s rest. That rest is important to prepare for the new season of growth in the year to come. As in nature, so with we humans.

In Ayurveda fall is considered a season of transition, a season of change as we move from the heat of summer to the cold of winter. During any time of change, it is important to embrace that which remains steady in our lives. Yoga philosophy teaches that there is a ground of being that remains steady, unchanging, and dependable even through shifts of season and life changes. That ground of being lies within each one of us, and when we still the mind, we can access that deeper support. It takes practice, but it is possible to recognize that experience of consciousness that is larger than our own selves and yet nothing other than our own selves.

Nina Zolotow writes in her book Yoga for Times of Change, “Learning about yoga philosophy provides you with alternative ways of thinking about your life, enabling you to be more content with what you have and what you don’t have, and to become more comfortable with change. This in turn can make you a better citizen of the world.”

The world needs better citizens right now. Please keep on shining your light in this world!

Yoga and Freedom

Happy Day-After-Independence-Day. In yoga we often speak about freedom — creating a sense of freedom in the body by releasing tension and stiffness, or accessing freedom of the spirit by letting go of unnecessary attachments to the push and pull of everyday life. On a national level right now it would seem that freedoms are being reduced by a minority opinion that wants to impose their beliefs on all of the rest of us. This can be infuriating and demoralizing, but we must keep hope. The word for hope in Sanskrit has a beautiful sound: asha. In the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, the Pandava brothers who represent dharma and the force for good are continually beaten down, over and over again for years until they have no choice but to fight for their rights. We may have lost a battle, but the war is not over. Practicing yoga is a way that I fortify myself, building strength and stamina for the long haul, and it works. Having war in one sentence and then yoga in the next seems a bit counter-intuitive. Even though yoga is a path of peace and compassion, it does not mean we become lap dogs or sheep — as much as I love a Downward Facing Dog! This practice helps us to get clear inside ourselves so that we can bring that clarity into the world. Practicing yoga together creates a community so that we know we are not alone as we stand up for what we believe.

Happy International Day of Yoga 2022 from Wildflower Yoga

At my first yoga retreat in Costa Rica several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Poás volcano. It is an active volcano that you can walk right up to the edge and peer down into. Our guide jokingly warned us to be ready to run if it erupted because he wasn’t going to wait around to help us. There was actually some movement within the volcano that day and it was producing these extremely low bass notes, one that a musical instrument is not large enough to replicate.

These were extremely low vibrations that I could feel viscerally in my body as opposed to actually hearing with my ears. I will never forget that moment or that feeling because it affected me so deeply. It helped me understand the ancient nature of the planet itself and the magnitude of its creation. In yoga, we connect to the earth through our “roots,” hips, legs, and feet to try to absorb that sense of groundedness and even (sometimes!) calm that Mother Nature has to offer through the many expressions of earth — the trees, mountains, flowers, volcanoes, weather patterns, glaciers, oceans, and more.

Yoga practice brings a great awareness of the gifts of the earth by practicing poses that reflect nature, Tree Pose, Mountain Pose, Half Moon Pose, and the Salute to the Sun for examples. This June 21 is the Summer Solstice and since 2015, has been named the International Day of Yoga across the world as well. This is a day to reflect on the benefits of yoga within your body, mind, and heart, and hopefully a day to practice yoga and experience those benefits too. In class this week, we will be stretching and strengthening hamstrings and quadriceps, which can have a very calming relaxing effect on body and mind, and may help us feel more earthy and grounded too.

On Dharma

We just completed the second weekend of Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga Center of Columbia. These eleven women and two men will graduate in November having gained 200 hours worth of experience going deeper in their yoga poses, meditation, yoga philosophy, and Yoga Nidra.

This weekend we began discussion of the perennial work, Bhagavad Gita, in which one of the main themes is dharma. “It is better to do one’s own dharma poorly than to do another’s dharma well.” [BG 18.47] It actually uses that statement twice in the Gita, to show just how important it is to be your own self fully, to live your life to the fullest.

Dharma means to make firm, establish, or secure. It also means to nurture, to develop in a sustainable and viable form, viability. It often translates as the law, truth, duty, or righteousness and it is your deepest held convictions; it is your purpose in life; dharma is the sensibility that we stand for something. Dharma is part of the way reality creates a centering, supportive experience. When we secure our own sense of place in the world, when we do our own dharma, we participate in that nourishing and grounding experience that the universe is offering to us.

What is your unique dharma you might ask? Only you can answer that question. And I am here to say that yoga practice is a tool, it offers many tools actually, to help you figure it out. Wildflower Yoga offers many ways to connect to your source, your purpose, your dharma through live classes, an ever-growing on-demand library subscription, and even Yoga Nidra. What are you nurturing in your life today?

Ayurveda Winter Survival Tips

Ah, winter is upon us. It is often challenging to keep spirits up during these colder months of shorter days, so I like to look toward time-tested wisdom for support during the weeks and months ahead. Here are five things to consider to maintain positive vibes for the winter-time.

1. Develop a morning routine. This sounds so simple but cannot be underestimated. Because the nights are longer at this time of year, it is natural to want to sleep a bit more. Going to bed at the same time each evening and awaking at the same time each morning helps to set your body-clock to encourage greater energy and alertness during the day. What you do when you wake up sets the tone for the rest of your day, so help yourself in the mornings! Ayurveda suggests that upon waking scrape your tongue and brush your teeth. Use a neti pot to clear out your sinuses and then practice a little yoga, meditation, or both. Drink a mug or two of hot water with lemon to prepare your digestive system for nourishment. 

2. Move your body until you sweat. Exercising to get your heart rate up is another great morning activity, but really it can be done at any time of the day. Increasing your heart rate and moving until you sweat stokes Agni, the inner fire of digestion and assimilation. When you sweat, the heat of Agni moves through each of the seven tissues, Dhatus, more thoroughly, so that you feel cleansed, energized, and refreshed. Don a warm coat and boots and get outside if you can. 

3. Eat hot foods with warming spices. Ayurveda considers winter time to be predominant with earth and water elements. These elements tend to be denser, colder, and slower, so it is easy to be lethargic during the cold months. The principle in Ayurveda is that opposite qualities will create balance. Hot foods heat up the cold earth element and move the fluids of the body. They support digestive Agni and help your body to absorb the nutrients it needs. Warming spices like ginger, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves combat the cold of winter and provide nourishment.

4. Drink hot Golden Milk. Golden Milk contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper to support your good health and pain-free living. You can use dairy or non-dairy milk for this recipe, and add a little ghee to support nutrient absorption. The optimal time to drink Golden Milk is about an hour before bedtime to help you have a good night’s rest. This stuff truly is amazing.

5. Get a massage, or give yourself a massage. If you have the opportunity, get a massage! It encourages circulation for blood and lymph and promotes relaxation on all levels. For a quick fix, give yourself an oil massage in the morning using sesame oil which has warming properties. Self oil massage is called Abhyanga in Ayurveda. Warm about 3 ounces of sesame oil by dipping the bottle in some warm water first, and then massage the oil into your skin. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes — this is a great time to practice meditation — and then shower off the excess. It is a rejuvenating practice that feels so luxurious.
–Kelly

New Year 2022 – Year of the Tiger

Year of the laughing tiger, that is. 🙂

Each winter at the start of the new year, I consider what occurred in the past year and what may be in store. For me, 2021 has brought perhaps even more challenges than 2020, but who is comparing? Life has been seriously challenging for a while now.

At the start of a new year, I like to contemplate what concept might be a helpful guide in the months to come — looking back at what occurred in the past year and considering what may be in store. Lately I’ve been a little stuck and wondering what might be a way to move forward. Usually I like to sit quietly in meditation and ask the Universe for the proper direction. Recently I learned of a goddess from the Japanese tradition, Uzume, goddess of the dawn. She is credited with returning light to a world that was engulfed in darkness. She is known for her baudy humor and is ever the comic. She is also credited with inventing the performing arts and it was her risqué dance that restored the light to what was a dark, dark world. The mythology of this goddess teaches us to not take life so seriously, because it is in play and merriment that we can find a little relief from life’s difficulties.

Each year instead of a resolution, I like to choose one word as a guide for the year. In the past, I’ve chosen words like calm, rejuvenation, and curiosity. So, when there is a big decision to be made, or even a little one, I would ask myself, does this support calm? Does this support rejuvenation? Or curiosity? It is a way to help guide me through the year. This year I’m choosing laughter. In honor of Uzume, it is a reminder to see the bright side of life and try to find the humor in situations. Sometimes there is not much humor at all, but in time, with loving care, patience, support, and perhaps a little comic relief, we can cultivate resilience. 

What concept or word would you like to be your guide in the new year?

Ayurveda for Fall

Why is pumpkin spice everywhere in the fall? Ayurveda offers us some clues. First, pumpkins are in season, so planning meals around pumpkins is a way to eat with the rhythm of nature. Pumpkins are heavy, dense, and earthy and these qualities create a good balance to the light, dry, windy qualities of autumn. Pumpkin spices have a warming characteristic in common, which is a good antidote to the cooler temperatures, but in addition, the warming spices help to improve digestion that can be sluggish or irregular this time of year.

Cinnamon is pungent, sweet, warming, and subtle. It can support the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems and can strengthen the heart. Nutmeg is warming and astringent, and supports the digestive, nervous, and reproductive systems. It is one of the best spices for increasing absorption, particularly in the small intestine. Cardamom is also warming, sweet, and an expectorant which means it can help reduce phlegm in the body. It supports the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems. So, with all of these benefits, go ahead and indulge in some pumpkin spice!

Interested to learn more? Join me and Rimmi Singh at Yoga Center of Columbia or online for the Ayurveda Immersion beginning in January. See the Events page for information and links to registration.

See you on the mat!  

-Kelly

Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

Yoga is uniquely suited to support people who have experienced trauma. Given the last 18 months, this country and the world has had its share of traumatic experience due to the pandemic, and that just overshadows all of the daily challenges many people face continuously.

As the title of Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book says, “The Body Keeps The Score,” and yoga moves us directly into physical, embodied awareness. When someone has experienced trauma that becomes embedded in their body-mind experience, mindful movement is a pathway to relief.

Yoga practice involves observation of the mind and the body while creating different physical shapes. Through connecting to the breath while embodying a variety of forms, one is able to breathe through the experience of the moment — whether it involves anxious or worrisome thoughts, self-denigrating thoughts, or simply a challenging physical shape. Being present to that experience and breathing with it, rather than forcing oneself to “just get over it” or “just relax” for example, helps to process the experience rather than denying it or pushing it away.

For these reasons, I am so excited to announce our annual Teaching Trauma Sensitive Yoga workshop online. Details below. And also, *coming soon* a Trauma Sensitive Yoga series of short classes, designed to fit into your busy schedule that you may access on demand at any time you need them. This series includes Yoga For Anxiety, Yoga For Restful Sleep, and Yoga For Empowerment. Stay tuned for details.

Peace and love, Kelly

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