Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I'm Back!

After a 2-week hiatus from teaching, due to Birthday celebrations, a break-up, and a cold from hell, I finally got back to what I love best, teaching yoga. ahhh... it felt so wonderful to be back. I have to confess, my body is a little stiff and tired and slow, after quite a bit of time in bed and on my couch. But it is delightful, to feel it begin to open up and heal and lengthen as I get back to my mat, as student and teacher. It's a bit of a slow road back, but I love feeling the creaks and pops and gentle sighs of my body, as I move slowly into postures that bring me back into alignment.

Last night, I taught a lovely group of people at the studio I love best, Upward Dog in Ottawa, Ontario (that's Canada, for my lovely readers around the world!). As we head into a chilly autumn and winter season, I am drawn towards backbends and heartopeners, poses that open us up to warmth and sunshine and love. But, just a note, backbends are stimulating, so it is advised to do these in the morning or daytime, not before bed! You might have difficulty sleeping after!

I set Camel as my apex pose, as shown above. In order to do this fairly intense backbend, there are a lot of body parts that need to be opened and stretched and warmed up. Lunges, salabhasana, cobra, and Warrior 1 are excellent for strengthening and opening up the front and back body, which is necessary for Camel.
The front of the legs, thighs, knees, and quads need to be warmed up, stretched, increased in flexibility, before going to Camel safely. Inverted table, quad stretches, and lunges will help with this. All of these poses also open up the chest, the neck, and the front of the shoulders.

When I brought students into Camel, I reminded them that it is a good thing to underachieve in yoga, and especially if this is a new pose or they feel stiffness in their body. It is crucial to have a long, open front body and spine. The spine should constantly be lengthening, as you begin to bring your hips forward into the bend. Hands can simply rest on the lower back, or come down to hold the heels, as shown in the photo above. When coming out of the pose, move slowly, bring the hands back up to the lower back, and thinking of that long spine, bring yourself up to a straight back.

In yoga, it is so important to follow vinyasa krama, or intelligent sequencing. In a nutshell, that simply means that you identify what parts of your body need to be warmed up and opened up and strengthened before you go into your apex pose, and choose poses to do before the apex, that will prepare you for that pose, safely. The last thing you want to do is rush into a pose before your body is ready, or you can cause injury to your body. After the apex pose, it is also important to do poses that will balance your body, bring it back into alignment, and allow your body to return to rest. After our powerful Camel, students were asked to fold forward, and gently bring themselves into Child's Pose, where they could rest and bring their spine back into alignment after the backbending.
So, this is just a brief explanation of our fun backbending class. Hearts were opened, chests were expanded, and as we ended our class, we rested our awareness at our hearts, and said the following intention together, 3 times:

May my heart be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy. 

I hope you enjoy this intention. It's so lovely, this lovingkindness meditation. May your hearts be opened and may you be filled with joy in this season.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Just sitting with it...

Yesterday, I wrote about disappointment. I felt a little lost, unsure, sad. I know these are common human emotions, common human experiences. I used to run from my emotions, as fast and furious as I could. When feeling sad or grieving, I would turn on the TV, eat some junk food, grab a bottle of wine, and drink it all, do anything I could to escape the feeling. And it worked, sort of, in the moment... but the thing that was causing me pain didn't go away. It just got pushed down and repressed, and often came back up in ugly, unpredictable ways when I wasn't ready to deal with it.

In the past few years, through my path with yoga, and just my own personal journey, I have learned the importance of sitting with pain and sadness. And just letting it be. Allowing the waves of sadness and pain to come to the surface, observing, holding that space so my grief can come up. And in sitting, instead of running away, the pain eventually lessens. It just does. Because I have honoured it, I have sat with it, I have loved myself through it. And then it doesn't have a hold on my anymore.

To let you in on my story right now, I just went through a break-up of a new relationship. No details are needed, it's a common story, you know how it goes, and the sadness that brings up. I do feel real sadness about not having this particular person in my life anymore. But as I sat with my pain, as I let the tears run, as I listened to my thoughts and deep heart cries, I realized that the deep pain is about so much more - my issues, my deep fears, about being alone, about not having someone to take care of me, about having to "do it on my own" again. And though that was scary to face, as those deep fears and blocks came up, I felt such clarity, such stillness, as I faced the truth. As I saw my inner fears. And as I began to see how those fears have affected the way I've lived my life, the choices I've made, the patterns I keep living out, again and again. And amidst my tears and sadness, there was joy. Hope. Understanding. Compassion. Even though this relationship didn't turn out the way I hoped it would, it was such a wonderful, necessary part of my journey, toward becoming Fully Me. I sat with my sadness. I loved myself enough to sit, and not run from the pain. And wonderful knowledge and truth came up.

There is a wonderful article, written by Thich Nhat Hanh, at, which talks about this, if you'd like to read more. His article speaks particularly about anger, but I feel it's really applicable to any emotion. He discusses how meditation (sitting, being with something, observing) allows us to recognize our emotion, be aware of it's presence, accept it, and allow it to be there. He talks about the importance of embracing our emotions and showing tenderness to them.

"Once we have recognized our anger [sadness, grief, etc], we embrace it. This is the second function of mindfulness and it is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting, we are taking good care of our emotion. If you know how to embrace your anger [sadness, grief, etc], something will change."

 Oh, I also want to give a shout out to my most wonderful, supportive, loving family and friends. It is so important to sit with your emotions and process them. But it is also so important to reach out, and be held by others. I am forever grateful to the amazing people who are in my life, who support me, listen to me, shower me with love and affection, and hold me up in these hard times too.

So, dear friends out there, it's all ok. It's all part of the journey. The beautiful, heart-breaking, scary, wonderful journey. Sit with it. Love yourself deeply. We are all wonderful, amazing people.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

when things don't go as we plan...

Sometimes I think things are going a certain way. And then they don't. And then there is sadness. Disappointment. Grief even. And I think, hmmm, maybe I should learn this being-in-the-moment thing more, and not plan, and not anticipate, and not get attached to how I want things to go... because if there was no planning and anticipating, there wouldn't be this disappointment and sadness. But how? I struggle with that. How do you live life fully, in this moment, and NOT think to the future? Guess I need to do a little more meditation and reading and learning and sitting still. So for now, I am in this moment, sitting with my feelings of sadness and disappointment. And it's OK. I won't die from this. I know that this too shall pass. As with the seasons in nature, where everything is always changing, so there are seasons in my life. Where everything is always changing. And all I need to do is watch, observe, see the beauty, notice the pain and growth, and be very gentle and loving to myself in these times. OK.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

a long life...

Here is an interesting commentary on breath, and how it can lengthen our lives, from the following link:

Breathing and Life Span
Slow, deep and rhythmic respiration sublimates, and is stimulated by calm, content, states of the mind. When you breathe incorrectly it disrupts the rhythms of the brain. This leads to physical, emotional, and mental blocks. This in turn leads to inner conflicts, imbalances, personality disorders, destructive lifestyles and disease. By establishing regular breathing patterns through your Pranayama practice, the process is reversed, and negative cycles are broken. In yogic terms this is essential for concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana). In practical terms this leads to happier, healthier and more balanced states of mind.
In addition to influencing the quality of life, the length, or quantity of life is also dictated by the rhythm of the respiration. The ancient yogis and rishis studied nature in great detail. They noticed that animals with a slow breath rate such as pythons, elephants, and tortoises have long life spans. Where as, those with a fast breathing rate such as birds, dogs, and rabbits, live for only a few years.
From this observation they realized the importance of slow breathing for increasing the human lifespan. Those who breathe in short, quick gasps are likely to have a shorter life span than those who breathe slowly, and deeply. On the physical level, this is because the respiration is directly related to the heart. A slow breathing rate keeps the heart stronger, and better nourished, and contributes to a longer life.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

lovely breathing

One super-important part of the yogic path is breath control. It's called pranayama. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words: Prāna, meaning life force or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and āyāma, to extend, draw out, restrain, or control. Pranayama is, essentially, using techniques to control the breath, or vital life force.

There are many different techniques that can be explored, and each one brings about a different effect in the body and mind. Some pranayama techniques can build heat and fire in the body, by accelerating blood circulation in the body. Some techniques bring stillness to the mind and reduce tension. Some techniques bring stillness and calmness to the nervous system.

I'd like to share some thoughts and a bit of teaching about one technique today, called Nadi Sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. This is considered a balancing practice, which stimulates equally, the left and right side of the brain. Yogis consider this to be the best technique to calm the mind and the body. It can improve sleep, encourage a calmer emotional state, increase your mental abilities, and soothe your nervous system. Like to try it?

First, sit in a comfortable cross-leg position. Close your eyes and allow your awareness to draw inward. Allow your left hand to rest gently on your left knee.
Bend your right elbow, bringing your hand beside your face. Bend your first two fingers toward your palm, so the thumb, ring finger and baby finger are extended in the air.
Bring your hand toward your face. Place the thumb just above your right nostril, and your ring finger above your left nostril. You will use the thumb to close your right nostril, and your ring finger to close your right nostril.

Before closing either nostril, inhale deeply, sensing the air coming in through both nostrils equally, and gently exhale, feeling the air leaving through both nostrils. Begin to develop a breath where the inhalation and the exhalation are the same length, maybe 5 or 6 seconds long. Try to keep this equal breath, as it will bring greater balance to the process.
After several balanced, equal breaths, gently close the right nostril and inhale through your left nostril. Then close the left nostril, opening the right, and exhale through the right nostil.
Inhale through the right nostril. Then close the right nostril, opening the left, and exhale through the left nostril.
Continue with this rhythm - inhale through the left, exhale through the right; inhale through the right, exhale through the left.

Continue this for several cycles, working your way up to several minutes.
To end, make your last exhalation through your left nostril. Then gently release your right hand to your right knee, and come back to that equal breath, slowly inhaling through both nostrils, and exhaling through both nostrils. Do this a few times, feeling the energy and balance in your body and breath.

Keeping your eyes closed, just become aware of how your body and mind feels differently than it did before your began. Do you feel calmer, quieter? Do you notice a greater sense of balance? Do you, perhaps,  feel relaxed, and also energized? I use this technique off my mat, when I feel anxious or unbalanced. I've used it just before an interview. I've used it when I feel anxious about a relationship. I often teach it in my classes, after savasana, to bring students to a place of balance and quiet, before they leave the yoga room to head back to the busyness of their lives. I find it so healing and soothing and lovely. I encourage you to try it. I dare ya! And if you do try this technique, I'd love for you to leave a comment as to how it affected you!

Namaste, dear friends!

Monday, 3 October 2011