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.
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?
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
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.
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.
Happy Summer Solstice! Do you love this time of year or dread the heat? The sun is the source of all life as its heat and light provide the energy for plants to grow so we have food to eat. Since ancient times, yogis have offered gratitude for the sun’s life-giving qualities, through sun salutations, surya namaskar, and even singing or chanting the Gayatri mantra. Yoga’s sister science of life, Ayurveda, considers the heat of summer the Pitta time of year and offers suggestions to help keep you cool and make the most of the long, leisurely, sunny days ahead. Here are a few to keep in mind.
Stay hydrated – the extra heat of the summer dries up the plants and things in nature, as well as our own bodies. It is extra important to drink plenty of water, the measure is to drink half your body’s weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds then drink 70 ounces of water per day. Add a little splash of lime for its extra cooling properties.
Enjoy cooling foods – cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, asparagus, avocado, coconut, cilantro, blueberries, parsley, lettuces, alfalfa sprouts. The foods that are in plenty this time of year are great food choices for summer. They help to cool the body from the inside.
Avoid extra spicy foods as they can have a heating effect on the body and lead to Pitta-type imbalances such as acid indigestion, skin rashes, and inflammation.
Exercise in the morning to enjoy the relative coolness of the morning sun while avoiding the more extreme midday heat. Swimming or other water sports are a great way to keep cool.
Apply a few drops of essential oil such as jasmine, rose, or sandalwood to the point between the eyebrows to encourage a calm mind and nervous system. The throat and the navel are other places that can get overheated, so a few drops there can be helpful too.
Try turning off all electronics an hour before bedtime and enjoy reading an actual physical book or stargazing. This is a great way to settle busy, overheated thoughts and prepare yourself for a sound sleep.
And of course, cooling yoga poses can help combat the heat of summer. Try a forward bending pose slowly and with full breaths, keeping a long spine as you hinge from your hips. Or, legs up the wall pose is a great one to practice anytime of day for its calming, cooling effects.
Happy Earth Day! This is the only planet we’ve got. Earth is our home. We should treat Her like we treat our own homes, as in loving and caring for the planet in the same way we would repair the roof, gutters, or windows, keep the insides clean, and ensure the pipes work without leaking. There are many ways to contribute to the healthy functioning of our planet and here are a few suggestions for this year:
Stop using water bottles. Get a good reusable (non plastic) water bottle and refill it.
We are about to reach the one-year anniversary of living with Covid19 in isolation. Normally at this time of year I would be preparing for our annual journey to India (See photos from past trips here and here) but this year is quite different. This year has seen so many changes in life, death, and lifestyle. I hope that yoga practice has brought you some comfort in this past year.
For myself there have been ups and downs. Transitioning to teaching yoga classes online was certainly challenging, but I was also able to complete an idea that had been brewing for a long time, my first online course. When the pandemic began, Wildflower Yoga started offering monthly Yoga Nidra to benefit various social justice causes. We raised a total of $8,272 last year! Our Benefit last week will add another $660 to that total. 100% of all proceeds go directly to the non-profit organizations; no funds were held back. If those were “up’s,” then a down would be that the physical space in which we were holding class is no longer available. The ups and downs are both waves in the ocean, eventually one settles and the other rises up. With yoga practice we learn to dive deep into the ocean and move beyond the surface push and pull to be able to observe life’s challenges from an objective place — with any luck, from a more harmonious place. We begin to recognize changes as different phases, different tides within the same ocean of consciousness.
My colleague, teacher, and friend Kathy Donnelly has been talking about community a lot lately and I agree with her that our community of like-minded souls is an important part of surviving the pandemic with a level head. It is great solace to me each time I see your faces in class. The effort it takes to bring peace and well-being to your own body-mind-heart really inspires me. Who knows how much longer this social distancing needs to be in place — I have always thought it should be called physical distancing, not “social” distancing — but I am thankful for each of you and for your effort to support your own good health. Let’s continue building community together by practicing together, and even on your own at home; home practice is an important part of yoga where you can really explore the poses and how they feel in your body. If I can be a small part of your yoga journey, for that I am truly thankful.
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!
I began gymnastics when I was 5 years old. It was an immediate love affair with moving and stretching and making beauty, or at least attempting to, with my body. I continued through high school, competing on my intermediate and high school gymnastics teams, even going to the state championships one year. I was never that great; one year I won the “Most Improved” award, but I loved the discipline of the practice and some of my teammates were really amazing, one having studied with Béla Károlyi, and it was a privilege to watch them practice and compete up close.
So it was a natural transition in college to take up yoga. There is a similar discipline of the physical body as well as the mind. My first yoga teacher was actually a meditation teacher first and foremost and I then had a new obsession.
Both meditation and yoga have served me well over the years, providing a firm grounding in self-care and a basis from which to live fully, and now that it is 2020, I am reaching a landmark birthday this summer. Dare I say it? 5-0. Yikes. It is causing me to be a bit more reflective at the start of this new year.
Each year I like to choose a word that represents my intention for the year to come; past words have included “ease” and “curiosity,” and this year, I choose “forgive.” To me forgiveness represents a way to allow things to just be, as they are, without me trying to change them. Forgiveness goes along with “allowing.” Allowing things to unfold as nature would have it, and “welcome,” creating a sense of welcome within your own body and mind so that you can inhabit yourself with love and kindness.
At a certain point in life, you realize you have to live with the choices you’ve made. You are no longer making choices about career, house, children, or partner, for examples, and you are living with those choices. Some things can still be changed, for sure, but many times it is the art of living with your choices where the real depth of life, feeling, and emotion occurs.
My teacher Douglas Brooks says, if you choose to love, you will grieve. So, we must accept that, allow that, and when the time comes, even welcome grief as an inevitable part of living fully. This welcoming of grief is in the recognition that we have loved and do still love fully.
I find that yoga has taught me how to exist with all of the rasas, all of the flavors of life. It is not simply a bondage to liberation model of yoga where you meditate long enough and hard enough and eventually become liberated from this world, free of the fetters of life itself to experience eternal bliss. This seems the way for the storied yogis who remove themselves from society and go live in the caves of the Himalayas to reach enlightenment.
I once sat in Ramana Maharishi’s cave (in Arunachalam, Tamil Nadu) and found my own unique experience. However, most of us have a daily life of responsibilities. The 10, 30, or 60 minutes of meditation and 10, 30, or 60 minutes of yoga practice daily builds a rhythm of deeper understanding and insight that allows me to recognize that everything is okay, just as it is. I want to live in this world, I choose to have friends and a community that is meaningful to me. This is how I define “living a full life.”
And the great thing about forgiveness is that enlightenment standard I may be reaching for occurs everyday in the simple relationships between family, friends, community, yoga students. In that recognition, I am truly free.