Wednesday, 15 August 2012

THe open heart and the modern Yogi (ni)

HI friends!

Today I want to share my blog post with you:

It just got published on the Elephant Journal, am very excited

The Open Heart and the Modern Yogi (ni)

check it out!

om shanty shanty shanty

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

YOGA as Therapy

“Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings  and practice of  yoga” – International Association of Yoga Therapists (definition 2011)

“It’s well known that stress can contribute to back pain and that yoga reduces stress.  Yoga, however, approaches this in a way unfamiliar to Westerners.  We believe our minds cause our bodies to move, our brains sending signals down nerve pathways to our muscles.  And, of course, that’s true.  However, in yoga, the opposite also applies.  The state induced by yoga in our bodies calms our minds.” – Loren Fishman, MD, and Carol Ardman,   Yoga for Back Pain

“The key to right teaching is in the adaptation of yoga to the individual, not the individual to yoga” – T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

“Tension is your body’s way of getting attention” – Mukunda Stiles, Structural Yoga Therapy

The word “stress” has become so common today and is at the root of many diseases starting with anxiety, backache, cardiopulmonary disorders, diabetes, discomfort, hypertension, insomnia, pain, and essential contentedness and en-joy(mo)ment of life.  There are different things you can do about it, from conventional to alternative medicine, which is where the system of Yoga is placed as a therapeutic discipline since it is a powerful tool for healing the body and relaxing the mind.  More and more scientific research has pointed out the numerous benefits.

The 3 Causes of stress:

-Physical -whether you have undergone a trauma, an injury or from sport-specific or other movement patterns that do not reinforce good posture and alignment.
-Mental/emotional –whether you are unable to relax, sleep, understand yourself, and make nourishing and supportive choices
-Biochemical/environmental – whether your mood is affected or you are involved in circumstances that unbalance you

That being said, homoeostasis/equipoise/balance is the natural state, which Yoga -when used therapeutically, is designed to help you reconnect with.  Perhaps you have been for a massage, a chiropractic or physio therapy session where the practitioner has given you 'homework' on how to live in your body with better ease and alignment.  Well, Yoga, when used therapeutically, is a unique and proven process of treating the person as a whole, not just a series of symptoms.   If you are experiencing pain, discomfort, restricted movement, “stress” and the inability to find inner peace, we can explore the use of breath, improved posture, movement, meditation, affirmation and deep relaxation to bring you back to your unique state of symmetry.

Essentially, I work with all the tools of the Yoga system to find the practises, which will empower you to move towards healing and enhanced quality of life.   I start the first one on one Yoga session with a comprehensive and confidential assessment of your history, lifestyle and musculo-skeletal patterns and design a Yoga program to meet your needs where you are. It is not about doing the same things as 10 other people in a class.  It is personal and productive in different ways.  In a class setting though, you would be encouraged to practice appropriately for you, whether that meant skipping something or doing it differently than someone else.  

I continue to realise the tremendous potential, accessibility and transformative power of yoga, not only in working therapeutically with clients for over 17years, but also through personal investigation and introspection. I teach from a place of professional enquiry, study and intuition gleaned from my passion to make sense of modern life in the context of this wonderful system of Yoga.   I believe we need to keep the self-reflection part of the practice, and grow and develop into the highest form of this Self that we can be.  As such it is such a sustainable and wonderful therapy - I look at it as essential vitamins for body, mind, soul.

Om shanty shanty shanty

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

free time and the modern yogi(ni)

"viveka-khyatir-aviplava hana-upayah"
"The means of attaining cessation is the unceasing vision of discernment" - Yoga Sutra 2:26

"The first thing to do is to introspect.  Take stock of yourself and your habits, and find out what is standing in your way" - Paramahansa Yogananda, Where There Is Light

"Stillness is not the same as a void in activity, it's more like a stabilizing strength" - Daniel J. Siegel, The Mindful Brain

Time off is relative I think.  Some folks get an entire summer "off", some take a week or 2, some have long weekends.  For parents with children, is there really such a thing?  If you are self-employed, what does this mini expression actually mean?  If you "can never relax", as some people have expressed to me then is time "off" really valuable or any different than time "on"?  As well, what are we taking time "off" of?  It seems to me that the expression is dependant on one's mind-set.  And that, dear friends, is what the system of Yoga can help you with.  A relaxed mind can travel through time and space with more ease.

So far it is a working summer for me, so time off is full of things I need to do, which I try to balance with things I want to do and also not to let this short season go without being outside and just enjoying fresh air and sunshine.  One thing I have really been reflecting on therefore is how to take time off while you are still in the midst of being on-duty.  Not in the sense of spacing out, but rather, taking a little break from one thing here and there to change the routines up and hopefully experience a newness within the daily flow.  A relaxed mind can travel through time and space with more ease.

Here are a few examples:

-take a break from social media for a day or two or more
-turn cell phone OFF not to vibrate
-skip one thing in your routine, to see if you miss it
-change your routine, whether the path you walk or change an activity
-do less of something
-do more of something else
-try a new yoga posture
-try a new pranayama, or if you haven't read this here before, learn how to relax
-cut out one yoga posture from your daily flow or -try the same posture but just try it a new way
-take a break from sitting a lot by standing and shaking your legs out
-periodically close your eyes or look away from the computer and take a few easy breaths

the blank spaces are for you to print this up and add your own to the list

Balance is organic and is created and re-created constantly in the process of taking time off from doing all the same things all the time.  What you call habits are things that may have worked last year or month but right now, are outdated.  The only way to tell is to give yourself space.  Space can be physical - which is what taking a vacation does, it changes your location.  Space is also visceral- mental/emotional/spiritual.  I just took a two week hiatus from writing.  I felt I had nothing new to say, and in stopping, waiting for inspiration, I saw what was right in front of my nose.  I just needed a little break.  This cue is now food for the blog so it obviously worked for me.
S - stop
T - take a breath
O - observe
P - practise

Now some people find it hard to give themselves space.  They have perhaps  internalised that silence is scary, and that being busy is a great thing while not being busy is a sign of laziness.  I would just say that even a computer will 'bomb' if all the programs are running full speed all the time.  I actually think short brain holidays are the key to health and wholeness.  Yoga based breathing exercises can be fantabulous for this! Stress shortens us - the muscles, the temper, the breath... I like to think of space as feeling of expanding, of freedom, and options. Try now, slow exhales slow exhales slow exhales...

Let me know how it goes!
Om shanty shanty shanty, Om peace peace peace

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

worry and the modern yogi(ni)


If worry ever changed
It could be worth a lot.
But, it only serves to wear you
And spoil what you have got.

That awful thing you’re
         Worrying about
may just simply disappear,
what ultimately unfolds in time
may not justify your fear…
Never helps to worry about
What you cannot rectify.
Your worry will never change
         The facts,
If you worry until you die.

Try to use your worrying time
For constructive thought and deed.
Might as well throw your
         Worries out,
They are things you do not


The opposite of worry/fear/anxiety  is prayer/trust/surrender.  If you are in panic mode, you are definitely triggering the flight or fright/sympathetic nervous system which = the  stress response: When you are in peace mode, you are triggering the parasympathetic nervous system which = the relaxation response.  Ease and/or disease, we are equipped for both. The one we give more attention and effort to will get stronger, you know that...

The average person is on the first side of the fence, and walks around sleep deprived, with rapid or shallow breathing, jittery nerves and queasy stomach, not to mention a mind cluttered or organised around a worry list. I am not going to tell you that there is a magic wand to make worry go away but you can adopt strategies to bring your mind under control.  This should not be underestimated since the mind is responsible for conjuring the worry up in the first place.  I realise when you see pictures of people 'doing' YOGA that it may be hard to figure out how it all works, why all the fuss about starting Yoga and how it ties into training the brain, so here are a few details.  

-We use postures and breathing to tame the busy mind, cultivate the meditative mind, and build a mindfulness about our attitudes in life.  
-We weed our gardens, try to be nourished and nourishing
-We practise first things first 
-We practise LET GO and LET GOD
-We try to balance out the GO GO GO with a bit of GO WITH THE FLOW
-We don't always know the answers and sometimes accept not knowing everything for awhile
-We let the worries be the hecklers at the comedy show, we try to use their lines to improve our material :-)
ha ha ha ha
-We practise Yoga not to escape but to help illuminate the way
-We meet ourselves where we are, whether on the mat, adding a prop to support us, or by accepting ourselves as we are 
-We neutralise stress as it comes up...this does not mean sweeping things under the rug
-We learn that we can face our emotions and thoughts and see what's what without necessarily being disturbed, in fact, this objectivity helps us make new, empowering, positive, nurturing choices and see options open up (see Pratyahara)

Well, the list would go on.  I hope this segway helped take your mind away from a few worries, give you perspective on them, and invigorate you to see the light, as it were ;-)

Why not take a moment now to bring your palms together in front of the heart, into Atmanjali Mudra (gesture of prayer)?  Affirm that you are grateful for this moment and connect with your heartbeat and the rhythm of your relaxed breathing.  Feel it as a moment of peace, harmony, balance, repose, silence, and the heart's desire.  As a result, you may feel more clear and rested so you may want to do it more often...

Let me know how it goes,
Om shanty, shanty, shanty (shanty = peace by the way)

it's a process...dive in...


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Prevention or Cure? Headaches and the modern Yogi(ni)

"Almost all experts agree that prevention of osteoporosis is more effective than treatment" - Loren Fishman, MD, and Ellen Saltonstall , Yoga For Osteoporosis

"According to yogic texts, regular practice of Pranayama prevents and cures diseases" - B.K. S. Iyengar, Light on Pranayama

"heyam duhkhamanagatam: Future suffering should be avoided" -Patanjali, Sutra 11.16, The Essence of Yoga by Bernard Bouanchaud

STOP - take a breath, exhale completely
LOOK - inside, be aware
LISTEN - for guidance, the voice of instinct or just common sense
Today for some reason three words are playing in my head like an old LP (not CD, those LPs when they got stuck on one track kept playing and playing and playing).  Those words are STOP LOOK LISTEN.  I think my first exposure to STOP LOOK LISTEN was in childhood.  Perhaps someone was teaching me about crossing the street and how to prevent getting run over.  Excellent tip! Today's drivers just roll through.

I was reflecting on why STOP LOOK LISTEN is so important, asking myself what makes them so relevant and the one reason I return to is PREVENTION.  The oldest saying in the books, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" is another way of suggesting that healthy food choices can prevent disease.  I can recall quite well, years ago taking a course on self-defence.  The one thing the instructor repeated was that so many attacks could actually be prevented.  Do not walk on the street alone at night if you do not have to.  Avoid talking on your cell phone while walking alone on a street because you will be distracted.  Firemen also talk about prevention.  Leaving a candle burning is an invitation to fire.  Daily life has different situations where if you are mindful and take precautions you will find yourself out of harm's way.  Hopefully.

In the health field, which is what Yoga Teachers are considered to work on,  we often see people when they are in recuperation - from injury, disease, burnout.  We are looked to as "fixers".  I am against the word 'fix'. I can facilitate, using the tools and techniques I know, but if I have anything to say about it, I would rather talk about PREVENTION here rather than 'fixing' or 'curing' once something has already happened.  It really does not do too much to overwork and overstress your back, go through 6 months of back pain and then look for a one hour patch up.   You, the practitioner, need to join me on the health field.  You need to become pro-active and participate in a very self-aware way.  It is really each one of us that has it in our power to create the conditions necessary to prevent injury, disease, burnout.  Some circumstances, like inherited patterns of illness, trauma, and whatever your life blueprint unfolds, are not to be belittled.  This is merely a way to address taking responsibility for what you can, when you can, if you can. A call to inspired action, if you will.

Yoga, when practised as a system: on the mat and off the mat, can help you identify patterns and habits, make changes where you need to through improved awareness, and re program your nervous system to learn to relax, cope and handle what is on your plate of life.  Yoga offers an alternative to drug therapy which may reduce symptoms but not take away the root cause.  I am going to offer you one example, because it is such a frequent complaint and I have worked with many a sufferer.  Headaches.

It is safe to say that the neck is the superhighway between the head and the heart. This path can be affected by stress/emotions which can impede proper breathing (tension headaches).  Relaxation is soothing to this kind of headache, as are certain breathing exercises which reinforce peace over panic.  Headaches caused by muscle contraction are pretty frequent as well and often are a result of poor posture (whether sitting or standing) which affects the entire spine and often people just describe it as upper back or shoulder pain because these areas get knotted up.  Yoga offers many remedies.  I would say the best one is actually that people learn to self-correct, so that in any given situation, you can adopt a better aligned posture and/or use a specific yoga flow to neutralise and diffuse stress, strengthen weak areas by waking them up, as well as quiet the overworked ones.  Balance!  In terms of migraines, as these are caused by vascular changes in the circulation to the brain, these we will put to the side for now.  If you suspect you suffer from them, steer yourself to a health care professional.

Sometimes headaches are triggered, for example, if I eat anything with MSG, I get a headache.  When I read without glasses, I get a headache.  To prevent this from happening, I try to keep my eyeglass prescription current, and I read ingredient lists where possible.  Prevention is part common-sense, I think, but here are 7 tips:
1-if you are repeating the "what a pain in the neck this is" mantra, write down what the "this" is - information can steer you to make changes where indicated or learn to breathe and accept.
2-if you slump in your chair, learn to sit well (I always do this with people!)
3-if you hold a telephone with one ear, get a headset or use hands free
4-if you drop your head forward or tilt the chin too far up, either position strains the neck...bring yourself into neutral by gazing at the horizon, as if someone were lifting you from behind the ears and line those ears up over the shoulders
5-if you favour one shoulder when you carry a purse/computer bag/suitcase, switch it up, get a backpack, lighten the load, do a few releasing shoulder shrugs
6-if you are a stomach sleeper, know that this is the best way to tighten up and seize up...
7-if you drive a lot, try not to round yourself forward over the steering wheel.

There is a difference between comfort and complacency.  I believe an examined life gives one opportunity to make new choices, ones that support whatever your best and healthiest life can be.  Marianne Williamson says, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."  I like this message.  It makes me ask the question, is there anything I can do better? Is there any area I can make improvements?  Are there any moments I can let go deeper?
I know I can STOP LOOK LISTEN anytime...

Let me know how it goes,
Om Shanty Shanty Shanty,

Friday, 15 June 2012

Sound and the modern yogi(ni)

"Dhyana (meditation) means absorption.  It is the art of self-study, reflection, keen observation, or the search for the Infinite within.  It is the observation of the physical processes of the body, study of mental states and profound contemplation.  It means looking inwards to one's innermost being.  Dhyana is the discovery of the Self" - B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Pranayama

"Sound can change our entire life's course in an instant. Words spoken in anger can cause permanent problems between a husband and wife, or parent and child.  The throb of a well-tuned motor can engender such satisfaction in an amateur mechanic that a whole new career path suddenly opens before him.  A word of encouragement from a teacher at just the right time can inspire a student for many years to come." - T. Ashley-Farrand, Healing Mantras 

Each one of us has a story about where we find ourselves at this moment in time, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  We have questions perhaps, or are seeking clarity, improvement, or a new momentum.  These crossroad moments are when we either give up, get addicted to something, or embark on a new spiritual discipline (a method) as a way to focus our attention on the healing/growth process.  In the Yoga systema mantra discipline is a great spiritual tool, as the repetition of the mantra (japa) brings concentration and relaxation to the mind  which is often racing around in negative thinking patterns,  thus depleting our vital energy/creativity/decision-making ability.  We are all leaders of our own lives and we need all the focus we can tap into in order to be able to do the mundane and the miraculous. It can be a full time job in itself but discipline and consistency pay off.  You do not need to know when, so trust it, do a little work, relax, wait.  Even if you are "not interested in Yoga", you can be interested in the power of sound. You know some sounds resonate as peaceful, some can be abrasive, some energizing.  With a mantra, sound is used as a healing tool; as the mystic Sufi master Vilayat Inayat Khan states, "The practice of mantra kneads the flesh of the body with sound."

There are many mantras to choose from, either from your favourite CD, a resource book or you may seek the traditional approach for guidance from your Yoga Teacher.  Focus on one mantra during your practise. Through repetition the mantra will  rest in your heart and repeat itself even when you are not formally in your practise time.  

Tips to try this out:

*Begin by stating to yourself your intention – your starting point problem, question, or desire.  You may initiate a new journal  and either write it or sketch it in a way that is clear to you or  fold it up and put it in a special place where it will remain for the duration of your discipline.  Perhaps you will create a special healing space such as an altar with your favourite incense, a lovely candle, an inspiring picture or figurine or crystal.  This will also be the place where you come to practise your discipline each day, your sanctuary. The painting in this photo is by one of my students, Julia Sheppard.
She painted it for me and it is a most special touchstone on my desk.

-Now that you have prepared the foundation for your discipline choose the approach that appeals to you:

*Repeat the mantra as often as possible over a 21-day period.  This means using the windows of time during your day to chant your mantra.  It might also mean a regular interval in your day where you are conscious of your mantra practise during more formal sessions. Intention, Attention.

*Use the classical 40 day discipline, and set your practise at the same time, upon rising in the morning and before going to bed in the evening.  This is your sacred time to practise without interruption.  In the classical sense, a 40 day discipline is one where you repeat the same mantra every day for those 40 days.  As with everything else, the more attention you apply to your intention, the more dramatic the results.   This is one reason for the classical twice a day ritual.  Determine for yourself in a spacious and focused way how much time you will devote to your practise.  And hey, if for you, the modern yogi(ni) this is when you are on a walk, sitting at your desk, in the car at a red light, and you only get in 5 repetitions, that is always better than 5 negative or worrisome thoughts. Don't judge, practise!

If you wish, set aside a special mala or rosary that you will use for this specific practise until you have completed your discipline.  Either place it in your sacred space or wear it.  Most malas have 108 beads, as the Vedic teachings state there are 108 principal astral channels leading from the heart in the subtle body out to the rest of the subtle body.  Saying your mantra 108 times sends energy into each of these channels.  Using a mala keeps your energy focused on your meditation
Once you have started on this silent journey, there will be consequences from your effort.  Tensions may ease or arise, obstacles or irritations may come up as you clear through resistance and negative energy patterns, doorways may open.  You will be faced with the choice always to move through, open up, recreate new internal energy patterns or give into those parts of the self that do not seem to want to change and grow.  Knowing that this is a natural part of the voyage, relax into your practise.  Engage your peaceful warrior spirit and if it is within your ability, give yourSelf to the process.

At the end of your discipline, take a look at your original intention and notice in how many ways this first inspiration has been positively affected.

Let me know how it goes! 
Om shanty shanty shanty

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Awareness and the Summer Yogi(ni)

"If we want to make changes or improvements in our lives, we must first become conscious of what is going on now.  Learning to pay attention is the foundation for the development of a relationship with ourselves." - Rachel Schaeffer, Yoga For Your Spiritual Muscles

"I imagine how a chemist would write the equation for mindfulness: concentration + calm + equanimity + rapture + energy + investigation = mindfulness."  - Sylvia Boorstein,  Don't Just Do Something, Sit There
While touching one’s toes in a forward bend is not the goal, body awareness is definitely a learnt skill and side benefit of the practise of yoga.  People have different degrees of proprioception and this can also improve with time spent on your mat.   This being said, even new awareness about the body is not the whole picture.  You may not look at awareness as a “muscle” you need to strengthen, but it is invaluable and can definitely get stronger as we train our brain in new ways, opening up neuropathways.  We talk about mindfulness as a practise, so it can really be integrated as you roll up the yoga mat and walk into your daily life - better health, decision-making, creativity, safety, are some  of the pluses.

                                                                       Here are a few opportunities to practise “I am aware of:” 
-be aware of your fingers when you are cutting veggies for salad
-be aware when you are driving, where is your car vis a vis other cars
-be aware of whether your body is making any unusual noises 
-be aware of whether your body is expressing certain signals of pain or discomfort
-be aware of your energy level
-be aware of where your wallet or purse is vis a vis your person
-be aware of who is in your 2 foot bubble and your instincts about it
-be aware when you are in crowds (festivals etc) of where people are holding their cigarettes, especially if you are walking with children, obviously, be aware of your children in crowds (no brainer)
-be aware of the weather in order to bring an umbrella, dress a   certain way, wear sunscreen
-be aware of rules at airports and watch your personal belongings
-be aware of any noises your car is making
-be aware of where you put the keys to your house, car, office, gym locker
-be aware of your thoughts, attitudes in any given moment or about a certain situation
-be aware of your habits and whether they are good for you
-be aware of your weaknesses and strengths
-be aware of whether you are sitting near a bee or wasp or other biting/stinging creature (my niece is great at this one!)
-be aware of the flowers or nature that is near you
-be aware of how much you have not how much you want
-be aware of the sounds around you, the smells

I am not suggesting living in or acting from fear, rather, moving towards your instincts.  People are generally looking for “fixing” situations once they happen.  Prevention can be far more interesting, and I think awareness is part of its foundation.  It can definitely start on the yoga mat but it does not end there....

Three things you can also try:
1-When you walk through a crowd, can you do it without getting bumped into or bumping into others?  
2-Simply close your eyes for a moment and be aware of your breathing.  Taking a few seconds to pause helps you to reconnect to the inner voice.  Great guide.
3-Start a relaxation practise...there are different levels of awareness...yes, being aware of awareness itself...deep and meaningful step towards realising your "true nature" of peace and light.  The Sufis say "God lives in the details".
Stay safe, and let me know how it goes 

Om Shanty, shanty, shanty,