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.

Black Lives Matter

I would like to preface this by saying that I am not an historian, and I am definitely not a social activist, but given the protests of the last few weeks I discovered that I have something to say. Social activism was never in my purview. I grew up in a middle class white neighborhood, went to school with mostly white people, and lived my life without thinking much about how people of different color had very different experiences. 

In my college years, instead of social activism, music was my fascination, and all kinds of people made great music, most certainly Black people like Jimi Hendricks and Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave. I had a few black friends but never really paused to think how differently our experiences of America were.

The protests in the recent weeks have definitely made me think twice, think a hundred times, more. George Floyd died a senseless death at the hands of police brutality. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray, and so many others for so many years have suffered and lost their lives at the hands of racist bigots. It is disgusting and despicable and unexplainable. It is time for this to stop.

I asked a Black yogi student of mine how he is faring during this crisis and he suggested I check out We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-nehisi Coates as that has provided some support for him during challenging times. I have never considered myself “white privileged,” but my eyes have been opened. The systemic bias against people of color can no longer be tolerated. It should have never been tolerated. If yoga teaches us anything, it is that diversity is beautiful. It is the nature of things to expand, grow, shift, change, and diversify. It is a yogic practice to welcome diversity as a unique expression of Universal Consciousness.  Universal means that no one is left out — no animal, plant, or human being, regardless of race, creed, or color. All people and all beings deserve love, compassion, and understanding *and* a peaceful home in which to live without fear.

We need to talk about this.  Even more, we need to listen to what Black people have to say.  We need to listen to their stories, keep this dialogue going and make radical changes to weed out the vile racism that has shaped America.

I offer here some words from my teacher, Douglas Brooks of Rajanaka Yoga, because he always seems to say things thoughtfully and with more skill than I ever could.

“We are outraged by the senseless murder of yet another Black person at the hands of America’s police. In the last week we have continued to see police violently responding to peaceful protestors, including Federal officers in front of the White House and the military in battle fatigues at the Lincoln Memorial. These are stains on our present that are the consequences of a past we must address with honesty and seriousness.

We must speak out. We must protest. We stand together with all of the victims of these murders. We reject their silencing, their systemic oppression, and the prejudice waged against them on the basis of skin color. We march with all who seek justice across our country. We will say of the names of the murdered and today we say again his name: George Floyd…

We need actionable, concrete plans to address the deeper issues and so create sustained efforts and relentless commitment.” Find his full statement here.

And here is a list of resources compiled by NPR to educate oneself about the disease of racism in this country:  https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2020/06/06/871023438/this-list-of-books-films-and-podcasts-about-racism-is-a-start-not-a-panacea

Yoga is a universal practice — anyone of any color, race, religion, no religion, age, sexual preference, socio-economic background, or physical or mental ability can practice yoga and discover its healing benefits.  One of the first principles of yoga practice is called Ahimsa – the practice of doing no harm in thought, word, or action.  This is a universal principle because it should apply to everyone everywhere.  A yoga practitioner attempts to engage with the tendency within oneself to elevate or diminish, to separate or cling in order to recognize that all people come from the same source and all people deserve love, harmony, good health, and a happy life.  There is always more work to do, within ourselves and within our communities.  Black lives matter.

I pledge to no longer be complacent to race matters and to stand with those who stand for justice.

India 2020 – Short and Sweet

Our annual India Retreat was interesting this year, special thanks to Coronavirus. The day before we left, we knew it would be a challenge because Emirates had already canceled our return flight due to the lack of passengers. We were some of the last people allowed in to the country and thank goodness we were able to get out in time as well.

We made the most of what we had. Rimmi led our first yoga practice at the Taj Hotel in Delhi, beginning with a loving-kindness meditation that we sent out into the world for the upliftment of all beings and closing with a quote from Swami Vivekananda:

Give me understanding 
Teach me patience & acceptance 
Help me remember that whatever happened in the past 
happened for the best 
And whatever is happening now is also happening for the best.  
I came with nothing 
And I will leave with nothing. 
What belonged to someone else yesterday is mine today 
But what is mine today will belong to someone else tomorrow 
In this ever-changing world help me see your unchanging principle 
Which is that true happiness and peace come from the simple understanding that we are all connected and that we all come from the same source. 

We saw the Taj Mahal with a very small crowd of people. We visited the Ahaneri Step Well on the way to Jaipur and we got to spend some time in Jaipur — meditating, doing yoga, and visiting.

Udaipur and Rishikesh will have to wait for next time.

There are many things I love about India that keep me coming back, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the warm and friendly people. But one of the things I like best is, it seems like everywhere you look there is something to bring you back to Consciousness — like the random sign in Delhi, or the monkey feasting, or the kids laughing. They all become a reminder that we are all part of one big human family, no matter where we live.

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