The Yogi Approach to Thriving Through the Holidays

“The Holiday Season” is officially upon us. Thanksgiving is in the rearview and Black Friday has bled over into Cyber Monday. If you’re anything like most people I know, December’s calendar is probably full of events and visits, concerts and recitals, and, of course, shopping. Self care gets put on the backburner. We rationalize that if we can just get through the next few weeks, then things will settle down and we’ll have more time to rest. We allow ourselves to eat and drink things we might not normally consume, and we probably eat and drink them later than we would otherwise. We force ourselves to run around more and stay up later in the interest of getting things done.

With all this extra activity and little time to rest, is it any wonder that flu season peaks between December and February? We’re exhausted, we’re not eating well, and our immune systems take a hit.

The ancient yogis understood that less really is more. And sure, you can argue that they had much less to do and to worry about, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them and tweak our habits to better support our bodies and minds. For the ancient yogis, the prescription for thrive came down to two things: decreasing ama and increasing ojas.

Say what?

Okay, a few definitions are probably in order here.

Ama is a Sanskrit word that literally means “undigested” or “uncooked.” It usually refers to a gunky residue left over from poorly digested food. Ideally, everything we eat is either absorbed into our bodies or expelled as waste. But sometimes, when we’re not taking good care of ourselves, or when we are affected by stress, strain, or adverse weather, our digestion is compromised and some of this gunky residue remains in our bodies. Left unchecked, the accumulation of ama can be extremely detrimental to our health and wellbeing. At best, ama leads to energy inefficiency. At worst, it leads to disease.

How do you know if you have ama? Some common signs and symptoms are:

·         a sense of heaviness

·         a lack of energy

·         body aches and/or joint pain

·         dull skin and/or blemishes or acne

·         bloated belly/gas/constipation

·         white coating on the tongue

·         lack of mental clarity

·         apathy (that “blah” feeling)

Ojas is the opposite of ama. It means “that which invigorates.” Ojas is our energy reserve. It supports our immune system and psycho-emotional resiliency. It keeps us youthful, vibrant, and radiant. It gives us an overall sense of satifsfaction with life. Ojas is the result of healthy digestion and a lifestyle that reduces and reverses the depleting effects of stress. So as you might suspect, our busy Western society is running chronically low on ojas.

So how can we start restoring ojas? One of the easiest ways to build ojas is get enough quality rest (7 to 8 hours a night). Other ways include:

·         yoga and meditation

·         spending time in nature

·         spending quality time with friends and family

·         living boldly and doing what is meaningful to you

·         maintaining a sense of humor and perspective

·         maintaining healthy eating, sleeping and self care habits

During the holidays, when our schedules go awry and are working against us, these ojas-building practices are even more important. The December schedule at MSY will be packed with opportunities for you to slow down and tune in. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to reduce ama and increase ojas, join me for my free Body Wisdom talk on Sunday, December 3rd and/or fill out the form below.

See you at the studio

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The Yoga Lifestyle

I’m sure you’ve seen the phrase before: “yoga lifestyle.” Chances are you’ve seen it in conjunction with beautiful photos of beautiful people in beautiful clothes - photos meant to promote or advertise apparel or other products closely or loosely related to the practice of yoga. I’m about to tell you something that the yoga apparel companies don’t want you to know. The yoga lifestyle has nothing to do with the clothes you wear. It has nothing to do with what yoga poses you are able to do. And it is not particular to any body type, gender, or skin color.

BAM!

Mind blown?

I hope so. Because I’d like to start from square one.

In the beginning, yoga had nothing to do with poses. In fact, the texts that form the foundation of yoga don’t even mention poses. They do talk a lot about mindset, meditation, and how to live a good life. Somewhere along the way, they decided it was important to talk about how to take care of their bodies. And they approached the care of their physical bodies in the same way they approached their spiritual pursuits: systematically. They called their system ayurveda.

Ayurveda means, quite literally, the science of life (ayur = life; veda = science or knowledge). Despite the fact that it is thousands of years old, ayurveda continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful mind-body health systems. Much more than a system for treating illness, ayurveda offers a body of wisdom designed to help humans stay vibrant and healthy while aging and realizing their full potential.

Long before modern medicine provided scientific evidence for it, the mind-body connection was a guiding principle of ayurveda. While modern medicine is just catching on to the health benefits of meditation (a decrease in the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and an increase in “feel good” neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine), ayurvedic practitioners have been “prescribing” meditation for ages.

Ayurveda also offers many other practices for expanding self-awareness and cultivating an innate state of balance. These practices include when and what to eat, how to strengthen your digestive fire, when to sleep and when to wake, how to exercise, and how to live an easeful life. While the ayurvedic system is quite complicated, its approach is simple: align with the rhythms of nature rather than struggling against them. Cooperate with your body’s constitution rather than trying to force your will upon it.

Understanding how to apply this approach requires a certain amount of mindfulness – noticing what affects what in what way. While there are some universal practices, figuring out how to apply them in an intuitive and nourishing way takes time. So where do you start?

Ironically, most of us in the western world start developing mindfulness through the physical practice of yoga. When we step onto the mat, whether in a studio or at home, we create a space of heightened awareness. We tune out the outer world so that we can tune into our bodies. With regular practice, we are able to take that awareness off the mat and into the world, and that’s when the fun begins. We start to notice rhythms and relationships and interconnectedness. And we start to get curious about our part in all of it.

And THAT is the real yoga lifestyle: curiosity about and attentiveness to the connections we have within our selves, with others and with the world around us.

If you’re curious about yoga or ayurveda, come to my next Body Wisdom free talk on December 3rd or fill out the form below. I’d love to talk to you about your next step into the REAL yoga lifestyle.

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MSY Gives Birth

Hello! I’m Jen and I’ll be teaching Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Classes starting this week! I’m very excited, and I'm so looking forward to guiding expecting and new mamas to be more in tune with their bodies during this amazing life experience! But first, let me tell you a little about myself.

I’m a transplant from Ohio who is in love with West Virginia! I’m a mom of two boys, a wife, almost an Art History graduate, a lover of the outdoors, a Reiki practitioner, a member of the MOMS Club of Fairmont (a support group for stay-at-home-moms) and a proud graduate of 200 hour yoga teacher training with Moonbow Yoga & Wellness.

I’ll be completely honest here: teaching pre-or postnatal yoga was not on my radar when I started yoga teacher training, but the universe kept elbowing and shoving me, as my boys do to each other, in that direction. After getting the hint, I’m now overjoyed to embrace the path of supporting my fellow sisters who are connected in motherhood! Throughout my training, I’ve learned that our purpose in life isn’t the easiest path – it’s one where you will be continually challenged to grow, adapt, and learn. I’m thankful to understand that and am beaming to embark on this journey!  

So a little about the classes I’ll be offering . . .

Prenatal Yoga will be a class to relax your mind while building a sense of empowerment, strength, and confidence. Pregnancy is a wonderful time to enjoy your body and the changes you are experiencing! Sometimes at first, those wonderful new changes can be difficult to adjust to. I know during my pregnancies there were many times where I thought “NOW what’s happening??? I just adjusted to the last change!” Prenatal yoga can help you integrate those changes and feel more comfortable moving your body in a peaceful, nurturing, and compassionate way, as well as prepare your body and mind for the birth of your new love!

Postnatal class will provide a space for you to reconnect with your post-bump body, helping you regain awareness to your needs. Did you catch that? Yes, I said YOUR needs! After the beautiful experience of birth, there are a million new changes! After I had my two babies, I was exhausted from lack of sleep. I was trying to learn baby’s needs. Then helpful visitors left and I felt alone in caring for this new person while still healing. Don’t get me wrong, those were truly wonderful times, but I wondered, where does time for self-care fit in? Postnatal Yoga class can help alleviate these feelings by helping you to regain balance and heal. It’s a wonderful opportunity to recharge your batteries, care for yourself, and breathe, while having special time to bond with your baby!

I’m so excited meet all the expecting and new mamas on the mat this week! If someone you care about is a new or expecting mom, please share this post with them. If you are a new or expecting mom, I hope you’ll come celebrate motherhood every week with me…. that means celebrating YOU, Mama!

 Namaste!

Listening to Your Body

Have you felt it yet? That feeling inside you telling you to slow down? It’s the end of October; the days are much shorter; leaves are falling from the trees, and those that haven’t fallen yet aren’t green anymore.

Many of us dread the shift from summer to winter. We long for long, warm, sunny days with plenty of active time spent outdoors. While we might love the colors of fall and appreciate the cool crispness in the air when it replaces stifling humidity, we find that all too quickly cool crispness becomes bone-chilling wind. That is the case today. As I sit and write (under a warm blanket with a sleeping cat curled up at my feet), it is 47 degrees outside, but my AccuWeather app tells me that with the wind, the “ReelFeel” is 40 degrees.

Our bodies long to be in sync with nature, so if you’ve recently found yourself feeling a bit like my aforementioned cat, try not to judge yourself too harshly. Your body knows its needs. Our bodies know it’s time to shift into a little more stillness. And it’s usually best to listen.

Over the past week or so, I’ve had to ignore my body’s tendency to shift into stillness. My youngest son got married on Saturday and I served as wedding planner (I need to add that to my resume). To say I was busy is a profound understatement. When I woke up Sunday morning, I was tired and my body ached. That’s what happens when we work against our bodies’ signals and try to power through.

So how do we get back on track after we’ve been derailed? Well, I’ve started easing into an ayurvedic detox, eliminating foods that are not beneficial to my body and focusing more on self-care practices, including more rest and better body practices like dry brushing, self massage, oil pulling, pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation. If all of that sounds intriguing but unfamiliar to you, come to my next Body Wisdom free talk on November 12th or schedule a free one-on-one strategy session with me.

Reiki is also on my agenda for this week, as is sound healing and restorative yoga (all of which are on the MSY calendar for the coming week, so make sure you check that out). Speaking of sound healing, Kindred Vibes have sound meditations planned for every Saturday in November! Sound healings, reiki, and restorative yoga are all wonderful opportunities to slow down, restore, and listen to your body. What’s even better about these modalities is that they can be practiced by anyone, regardless of age or ability, and you don’t have to have any yoga experience at all.

So what’s the difference between vegging out on the couch binge-watching Netflix and coming to the studio for yoga, reiki or sound healing? It’s the quality of rest. It’s the purposeful prioritizing of your deeper needs. It’s the sharing of time, space, and energy with others who support your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Because as important as self-care is, nothing beats letting someone else take the reins for a little while and letting yourself be guided into a place of profound relaxation and restoration.

See you in the studio.

Restful Yoga for Stressful Lives

Back in August, I wrote a blog entitled “The Art and Science of Relaxation.” If you missed it, you can read it here. The gist of it is that in today’s world, we find ourselves in “fight or flight” mode WAY too often. Too much adrenaline is being pumped into our systems on a daily basis, sometimes for no real reason. Our distant ancestors used adrenaline to escape real life or death threats; today, we produce adrenaline when we watch the evening news or read something we disagree with.

During restorative yoga teacher training this past weekend, my teacher started by explaining to us what happens to a possum does when it is threatened by a predator. Just like us, it’s body is flooded with adrenaline and other chemicals. Then, unlike us, it collapses and appears dead. Once the threat is gone, the possum “comes to” and violently shakes its body. That shaking is the possum’s way of discharging and releasing the alarm chemicals produced when the threat occurred. But what do modern humans do to discharge our alarm chemicals?

Often we do nothing. Often we just sit and stew in our own hormonal waste. Sure, some of us find some physical activity to “burn off” frustration, but sometimes that just compounds the problem. Going for a run (for example) helps us feel better, but now we’ve got endorphins and lactic acid adding to the adrenaline overload. Sleep is meant to be the body’s time to rest and repair and bring our hormone levels back into check, but many of us aren’t sleeping well (ironically, possibly due to an overload of adrenaline) or aren’t sleeping enough. Some of us consider it a feat of strength to be able to “get by” on just a few hours of sleep. And napping? Well, we aren’t toddlers anymore, are we?

Our society has come to believe that we are meant to get as much done in a 24 hour period as we can. Resting is frowned upon. As a result, we are seeing an alarming rise in autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, reproductive problems, and anxiety and depression. If we’re lucky enough to avoid big problems like those, we might end up simply catching a virus or succumbing to a bacterial infection that we otherwise would have been able to avoid.

So what can we do? We need to make time to relax, to let the “rest and digest” state undo the effects of “fight or flight.” And since we’re not sleeping well, we need to find time to do that during our waking hours. Any type of yoga or meditation will help, but if you want the full body/mind conscious relaxation experience, nothing beats restorative yoga. It is the antidote to the modern lifestyle. And the great thing is, anyone can do it! If you’ve come to a beginners class and been frustrated by it because you didn’t feel strong enough, or if you’ve come to a yin class and been frustrated by it because you didn’t feel flexible enough, you will love restorative!!! If you’re go-to exercise is core strength yoga, running, or crossfit, you need restorative yoga. In fact, if you are alive in the world today and you’re not living off the grid as a hermit, you need restorative yoga.

So what is restorative yoga and what is the philosophy behind it? Restorative yoga poses look a lot like poses you might see in a regular yoga class, but in restorative, the body is fully supported so that there is no effort or stress on the body. Full support encourages complete relaxation of the muscles, allowing the lymphatic system more effectively do its job of ridding the body of toxins and hormonal waste. Free flowing lymph moves infection fighting white bloods cells throughout the body. So even though it might not look or feel like the body is doing very much in a restorative practice, there is a lot of important “behind the scenes” stuff going on. For this reason, restorative yoga is especially beneficial for people with autoimmune issues, people who are receiving cancer treatment, people with anxiety and/or depression, and anyone under an unusual amount of mental or physical stress. And because the body is fully supported, it can be practiced by anyone including pregnant women, the elderly, and those who are less mobile.

I’ll be adding restorative yoga to the schedule in November, and I hope you’ll give it a try. It just might become your favorite class. ;)

See you in the studio!

The Yoga of Hair: When Extreme Color Change Leads to Extreme Self Study

I did something crazy this past week. I changed my hair color. A lot. Thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that was a crazy thing to do. I did it all the time. My hair has probably been just about every color that comes in a box. Well, except the extreme rainbow colors that are available these days, but had those been available back in the 80s, I guarantee you, I would have used those too.

A natural brunette, I was a blonde for big chunk of my early adult life. At some point, I got tired of the upkeep and went back to brunette shades that were closer to my natural color so I wouldn’t have to color as often. Over the past year, the door has started to swing the other way. More and more silver started creeping into my hairline. So with silver and grey hair on trend, and admiring the naturally silver hair of women just slightly older than me, I decided to help Mother Nature along by stripping all the color from my hair. I expected to be shocked. I expected other people to be shocked. I just wasn’t as prepared for it as I thought I was.

The first thing that occurred to me was “What the hell are you doing? You’ve been making this shift to less makeup, more natural soaps, shampoos and deodorants, and now you’re applying some really damaging chemicals to your hair and scalp????” Well, yeah. But I’ve kind of been doing that anyway, just in a less obvious way. AND this time it’s for the purpose of hopefully not having to it at all for much longer. (A tentative excuse, I’ll admit.)

The next thing surprised me. I felt like a bit of a fraud. I wasn’t prepared for that. For someone who has always colored her hair and who is living in a world where most women color their hair, feeling like a fraud is a bit of a shock. And even though I have had a few moments in the mirror when I thought the color looked “fun,” I’m still kind of struggling with this one. I’ve been on this quest for authenticity over the past couple of years. Can I be authentic with drastically different hair color? My brains says, “Of course! Authenticity comes from the heart, not the scalp.” But still, I’m kind of struggling.

And then there are other people’s reactions. A few haven’t reacted at all. That speaks volumes. A few love it. Most react the way I have: they’re just not sold on it. A few reactions have bothered me. One person gave me the “blondes have more fun” line. That irked me because that’s not why I did it. (It also irked me because the hair isn’t quite silver yet. There’s still a lot of yellow in it that won’t come out until the next process.)

But one of my older friends said something in response to my hair that really made me question my motives. She said, “I remember when I stopped being noticed on the street. That really bothered me.” Apparently she thought that’s why I had bleached my hair. So I had to ask myself whether that was the case. Was I hiding under the illusion of “helping Mother Nature along” because I wanted to be noticed on the street? My answer came pretty quickly. “No. I still get noticed, even when my hair is a mousy brown.” Usually I don’t care to be noticed on the street. My husband still thinks I’m “hot,” which is more than enough for me. But I will admit that every once in a while getting noticed makes me smile, maybe more than it should.

So what does all of this have to do with yoga? Well, yoga is self study. Yoga is the ability to step out of the base reactions of fight, flight, anger, regret, defensiveness and into a space of inquiry, deeper knowing and understanding. I don’t recommend drastic hair color change to test your yogi brain, but I do hope you’ll join me on the mat some time this week for some less extreme self study.

See you at the studio.

Identity Evolution

On Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to attend my last Reiki II class, a thought occurred to me. It has always taken me about an hour to get ready to go anywhere. That hour starts with brushing my teeth and stepping into the shower, and it ends with me picking up my things and heading out the door. In the past, I needed that time in between showering and heading out the door to do my hair and makeup. Today, wearing no makeup except mascara and rarely “fixing” my hair, I need that hour between showering and heading out the door for self care practices that started as experiments and have now become daily habits: neti pot, skin oiling (with pure oil instead of lotions), and green smoothies. In the yoga health coaching program I’m enrolled in (which is where I learned these habits), we refer to that as “identity evolution.” I used to be the type of person who valued her appearance; now I’m the type of person who values her health.

Most of us go through cycles of development and identity evolution throughout our lives. Often that evolution happens with big life changes. But sometimes, with no huge life changes to speak of, we start to open to a bigger perspective. We begin to value ourselves in ways we never did before. We start moving toward a greater good. I see it in my yoga students all the time, and it’s a wonderful thing watch unfold.

One of the many benefits of going to a studio to practice yoga is that you are surrounded by people who appreciate you as you are and support and encourage you as you move toward that greater good. I’ve watched friendships blossom in front of my eyes before, after, and during classes. People who didn’t know each other before stepping foot into the studio are now looking forward to seeing each other in the studio, communicating outside of the studio, and relying on each other for a greater sense of accountability both in their yoga practice and in their daily lives.

If this works for yoga, it can work for other aspects of identity evolution too. My yoga health coaching program relies heavily on peer support and accountability. The founder of the program began by teaching her method to clients one on one. She got decent results but found that even when we know what we should be doing, we are less likely to do it if we’re doing it alone. So after learning more about identity evolution, she started coaching small groups of people together, and the results improved dramatically.

Some of you responded to surveys I put out last month and have asked where they are leading. What’s next? You responded thoughtfully to the surveys and started thinking about where you are versus where you want to be. I can help you get there, but more importantly, your peers can help you even more. I will coach my first small group in January. In the coming weeks, I will hold a free group talk (or two) to explain a little more about what we’ll be doing. After that, I will schedule one on one strategy sessions with you to see if you are a good fit for the program. If you are interested in attending the free talk or are ready to schedule a strategy session, please fill out the form below. 

See you in the studio!

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Balancing Act

I skipped writing the blog last week. I tried a couple of times but just couldn’t seem to come up with anything coherent. Some days I sit down to write and within no time I have 500 words that flow together and form a theme. Other days . . . not so much.

My attention seems to be all over the place recently. The studio is and always will be my first priority, but I am currently enrolled in a Reiki II class, advanced yoga teacher training, and a year-long yoga health coaching certification program. I also work at my husband’s pizza place a few days a week and babysit a grandchild a couple of days a week. If I’m having a great week, I manage to do laundry and other basic housekeeping tasks.

I know I’m not alone. Many of you are juggling multiple priorities at once as well. Sometimes we let other priorities get in the way of the self care we know we need, even though self care is what allows us to balance our priorities with ease and grace.

In summer, we tend to stay busy. It’s a time of high energy. But with the occurrence of the autumnal equinox, our bodies and minds naturally want to reorient toward balance. We start to need a little more “down time.” I’ve noticed I’m craving different foods. In the mornings, I’ve been picking spinach from the garden as well as dandelion and plantain leaves from the yard to put in my morning smoothies. In the evenings, I’ve been craving spicy chai tea. I’m starting to crave roasted root vegetable and if this heat would let up, I would probably already have made some.

It seems as if autumn is coming quickly this year. Leaves have been falling already. Squirrels have been busier than usual in September.  Take some time this week to slow down and listen to all the ways your body and mind are seeking balance. Go for a walk in the woods. Sit quietly outside for a while. Breathe and notice the changes occurring in you and in nature right now.

I’ll be focusing more on balance poses in my classes this week, so I hope you’ll join us for that as well. Balance poses teach us about all the little pieces that have to come together in order for balance to occur (both on and off the mat). Even when we are balanced, we are never truly still. Tiny little muscles are tensing and relaxing. Sometimes the only thing keeping us from falling over is one little toe digging into the mat. Some days it seems like we could stand in tree pose forever. Other days we just can’t seem to keep our foot off the mat. Usually, we’re somewhere in between.

The key to balance, in yoga and in life, is to not let ourselves get too frustrated when all the little pieces don’t quite come together. When you fall out of balance, laugh it off and try again. When you seem to be in perfect balance, enjoy it and notice all the little pieces that are coming together. And when you’re somewhere in the middle, remember that our time on the mat is called “practice” for a reason, and that in life, all we need to do is do the best we can with the tools we have at any given moment.

See you at the studio.

On Distractions

In a society that thrives on electronic devices and multi-tasking, distractions are everywhere and unavoidable. You go to send an important email and you get distracted by an email in your inbox with news of a sale at your favorite store. Before you know it, you’ve forgotten all about the important email you meant to send, but you’ll have an awesome new pair of boots on your doorstep in a few days. Even now, as I write, I remember that I opened my laptop to pay a bill, got distracted by the last thing that was up on my screen, and half an hour later, the bill remains unpaid.

Hold on a minute.

Okay, bill paid.

I actually just took action this morning to reduce distractions in my inbox using a service called “unroll me.” Sometimes taking small, incremental steps toward a goal pays dividends in the long run. The Japanese practice a philosophy called “kaizen” that focuses on continual improvement through small, daily changes that result in major improvement over time. Kaizen is usually associated with business practices, but can be applied to any aspect of life.

We use a kaizen approach in yoga too. When we first start to practice, we might see a lot of improvement in a short period of time, but after that short period of time, we focus on small improvements that happen on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Maybe we’re able to hold a pose a little longer or maybe we’re able to take a different variation of a pose, and then little by little, we work our way into totally new poses. The new poses are exciting and re-energize our practice, but they wouldn’t have been possible had we not practiced kaizen and put in the time on those small, daily practices.

It’s easy to get distracted from our small, daily yoga and meditation practices, or even from our weekly or semi-weekly practices at the studio. Ironically, time spent practicing yoga and meditation help teach us to avoid the distractions that sometimes take us away from our practice. In yoga and meditation, we learn to listen to the needs of our body, to become aware of distractions in the mind, and to honor our emotions. We know how good we feel when we’re practicing consistently, yet we sometimes get distracted and drift away. And that’s okay . . . as long as we come back.

If you’ve been to a few of my classes, you’ve probably heard me say during opening or closing meditation that the mind will wander off while we’re supposed to be paying attention to our breath. It’s natural for the mind to do that. Our goal is to recognize the distraction and bring our attention back to our breath. It’s also natural that as seasons and schedules change, we drift away from our yoga practice. The important thing is that we come back to it. By making your practice a priority, you are making yourself a priority. You deserve to feel good. And you deserve to realize your own potential. But that’s probably a blog for another day.

See you in the studio!

Begin Where You Are

Henry David Thoreau said, “Begin where you are and such as you are . . . .” That’s great advice in general, but it particularly applies to yoga. Here are the common excuses people give for not coming to a group yoga class and my rebuttal.

1.       “I’m not flexible.”

This one is the most common and the most misguided. You don’t do yoga because you’re flexible. You do yoga in order to become more flexible. And you’ll be surprised how quickly you become more flexible.

2.       “Everyone will be looking at me and I’ll look stupid.”

This one is more understandable, at least from my perspective. I started out in 1980s group aerobics classes. Usually, at least one wall of the aerobics studio was a giant mirror that made sure that everyone in the room could see what I was doing. And depending on what was happening at any point during the class, I could look and feel really, really uncoordinated. So I understand this fear. But let me reassure you. Yoga studios don’t have mirrors, and if we are practicing the way we should, we’re not looking at anyone else. We are too busy paying very close attention to how we feel in whatever pose we’re in. Also, a lot of poses prevent us from looking at anyone else!

3.       “Yoga studios/teachers/students are snobby, so I won’t feel welcome.”

I get this one. Snobby yogis are probably out there. But I guarantee you this is not the case at Main Street Yoga. Our teachers truly believe that yoga is for everyone, and our students are some of the most amazingly helpful and welcoming people you will ever meet.  If you won’t take my word for it, read our reviews on Facebook. None of them were solicited.

4.       “I don’t have a yoga body.”

Every body is a yoga body! No two people will look exactly the same in the same pose. And if you think you have to be tall and skinny to do yoga, look up Dianne Bondy. She rocks!

5.       “I’m a guy. Guys don’t do yoga.”

Men were the original practitioners of yoga. In the United States however, the majority of yogis are women, and the demographics at Main Street Yoga are in line with that. But there are men who come to our classes. And if you’re a dude who thinks he’s too cool to practice yoga, here’s a list of ridiculously cool men who practice yoga:

a.       Robert Downey Jr. (my personal fave)

b.      Matthew McConaughey

c.       Adam Levine

d.      Alec Baldwin

e.      Russell Brand

6.       “Yoga isn’t ‘real’ exercise.”

I can’t tell you how many new students have told me how surprised they were that they broke a sweat during a beginners class. Yoga provides every type of exercise you need: cardio, weight/resistance training, core work, and, yes, flexibility.

7.        “I don’t have time.”

Look, we all lead busy lives. And yes, it is difficult to “find” the time to come to class, but it’s not difficult to “make” the time to come to class. Put it in your schedule. Make whatever standing arrangements you need to make it possible for you to come to class.  You’ll feel better and you’ll function better in other aspects of your life.

Have I convinced you yet? Even if you’re not completely convinced, even if you’re just leaning a little more toward coming to the studio than you were 15 minutes ago, consider registering for Yoga 101. It’s this Sunday at 2:00 pm. It will be full of first-timers. It’s only $16. And it includes your first regular group class. Here’s the link: https://squareup.com/store/mainstreetyogafmt/item/yoga

See you in the studio

Illumination from the Eclipse

So I skipped writing a blog last week. Why? Because it just didn’t occur to me that it was Monday. I was in such a state of flow with my life that I didn’t realize that a new week had started. Plus there was a solar eclipse! The first solar eclipse to be visible in our tiny speck of the solar system in 99 years! That’s a big deal. Here we all are on this spinning rock that is revolving around a giant ball of fire. And for a few moments, another rock, much smaller than the giant ball of fire, blocks the light coming from the giant ball of fire. What are the odds that our little moon, so much smaller than the sun, would be the perfect distance from the earth and from the sun that in the path of totality, it completely obscures the sun?

So for one day, or maybe just a few minutes, people from one end of our country to the other stopped what they were doing to look up and observe a natural phenomenon that proved that no matter how precisely science can explain such an occurrence, it still inspires awe and wonder. And that awe and wonder serves to bring us all together in a way that lets us put aside our differences in favor of our common humanity.

As I sit here typing, leaves are falling from trees in my backyard. Soon the remaining leaves will turn yellow, orange, and red - another phenomenon explained by science that still inspires awe and wonder. Many of us will stop to observe that as well, maybe traveling to state parks, mountains, or even New England. If you think about it, that stopping and observing, that coming together as humans in awe of the world around us, is yoga.

Lately, with no forethought whatsoever, I have been closing my yoga classes by asking my students, after they rise up from savasana, to just sit quietly for a few more moments and observe. Observe the breath; observe the body; appreciate stillness. I started that simply because I found myself wanting to do that. (And now that I think about it, that started around the time of the recent lunar eclipse.) It seems like the most powerful part of the practice for me right now.

Taking time out of our day to day lives to stop and observe what is going on in and around us IS yoga. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t even have to involve poses. It only has to remind us that we are somehow connected to the world around us and to each other. So as we transition from the heat of summer to the cool clarity of fall, take some time to appreciate, in awe and wonder, the ordinary phenomenon of being human.

I hope to see you in the studio.

Yoga and Art

It’s Art Week in Fairmont, and Melissa May’s vibrant paintings are adorning the walls of our studio, which, it seems, makes a really great art gallery. When we hear the word “art,” most of us probably think of paintings like Melissa’s. Sure, musicians might think of music; actors might think of theatre; writers might think of prose or poetry, but most of us think of the visual arts.

So when I was asked to teach yoga Kids Art Day (and subsequently at Fairmont State’s Academy for the Arts), I was thrilled and immediately said yes. But then I started thinking. Why? Why was I asked to teach yoga at art programs for kids? What does yoga have to do with art? Sure, the practice of yoga can make you a better artist (or for that matter, a better teacher, a better mom, a better secretary, a better waitress, a better lawyer, a better whatever you already are), but how is yoga related to art?

And then it hit me. Art makes you take notice. Some art makes you take notice of social issues. Some art makes you take notice of the human condition. Some art simply makes you take notice of color or shape or sound. But all art makes you take notice of something. It takes you out of your day-to-day thoughts and causes you to focus on something new.

Yoga also makes you take notice. In yoga, you take notice of YOU. It takes you out of your day to day thoughts and causes you to focus on the newness in you. Each day we feel a little different; we look a little different; we breathe a little differently; new cells are being created and old cells are dying. In yoga, we pause to notice those changes, which, if we’re practicing regularly, are often for the better.

I find it deeply satisfying to think that as we practice, as we pause our day-to-day thoughts to take notice of our body, our breath, our mind, our emotions, we are creating art. We are art.

I’d love for you to share your thoughts on the subject. Please comment below.

See you in the studio!

The Art and Science of Relaxation

Last week I ended my blog with a quote from Wayne Dyer:

“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”

While trying to decide what to write about this week, I started going through my notebook from yoga teacher training. I came across a page that has this quote in all caps in the top left corner. The page is titled “Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic Nervous System.” So brace yourself. We’re about to get all sciencey about that awesome feeling you get at the end of yoga class.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) work together to help you respond to and cope with daily life. Parasympathetic activation is the base state of the body, brain and mind. Think of it as the “rest and digest” state. But for most of us living in today’s world, daily life involves a myriad of stresses that activate the SNS. Loud noises, traffic, televised news, and internet ads all send us into the “fight or flight” response of the SNS. As a culture, we’re on SNS overload. Our cortisol levels are chronically high, and consequently, we end up with weakened or confused immune systems that can create a variety of health problems.

Yoga and meditation, on the other hand, activate the PNS. At the beginning of class, we “tune in” to our breath and cultivate a slow, steady, diaphragmatic breathing pattern that reduces blood pressures and slows the heart rate. At the end of class we lie in savasana and once again enter that “rest and digest” state. Often, we don’t want to leave that state. We reluctantly rise up from our mats looking sleepy-eyed and a bit disheveled yet completely at ease. That’s the parasympathetic baseline state!

With regular practice, we can learn to be more aware of and respond differently to stress-inducing thoughts or circumstances. We can maintain a slower, steadier diaphragmatic breath that redirects blood flow from the heart, lungs, and muscles to the digestive and reproductive organs as well as the endocrine and lymphatic system, allowing us to better extract nutrients from our food and more effectively eliminate toxins that can lead to health problems.

While we might not be able to make it to the yoga studio every day, we can do mini meditations any time of the day in order to activate the PNS. It doesn’t have to be complicated. All you have to do is pay attention to your breath for a minute or more. And in that way, as Wayne Dyer says, you can control what goes on inside.

But if you crave that blurry-eyed, blissed out, “yoga stoned” state that a really good savasana brings, and if you’re one of those people who wish you could just lie in savasana for an hour, then I invite you to come to the sound healing meditation that Kindred Vibes is doing this Saturday at 4 pm. They truly bring art to the science of relaxation. Sure, the science is still there at work, but the music of David’s crystal singing bowls and the resonance of Liz’s voice during the guided meditation (not to mention her gift for reiki) make the science seem insignificant. And it’s an Arts Week event! There’s no better time to give this form of meditation a try. All you have to do is lie there.

See you at the studio!

Spending Time in Our Bodies

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with the lovely Paula Flint on Saturday afternoon. During that time, she told a brief story about a visit to a doctor. While trying to explain her sense that something wasn’t quite right, she told the doctor, “I spend a lot of time in my body.” As you can imagine, that statement was met with a look that suggested it was unnecessary. We are all in our bodies all of the time, aren’t we?

Not really. On the whole, we, as a society, “check out” of our bodies quite frequently. We arrive at work or at home with little or no recollection of our commute. We sit and stare at screens that take us elsewhere, sometimes for hours. Our minds are constantly traveling into the past or into the future. We are rarely in the moment or “in our bodies.”

Yoga class is the perfect opportunity to practice being in our bodies. Often teachers will give us prompts or cues to facilitate that practice. But depending on the class and the teacher, we are sometimes left to our own devices. Sometimes that is purposeful. As a teacher, I am often quiet during savasana or during long holds in poses. The reason for that is twofold: 1. I think we are talked at enough during our daily lives and I recognize that some of my students come to the studio to escape the chatter. 2. I want my students to develop their own tools for remaining mindful or “in their bodies.” I like to introduce mindfulness tools (the breath, body scans, guided meditations) and then let students practice them (or not) during my classes.

If you struggle with tuning into your body and remaining in the present moment, you’re not alone. Frank Jude Boccio, author of Mindfulness Yoga suggests three questions we can ask ourselves during our yoga practice to cultivate awareness:

1.       Am I bringing awareness to my breath?

2.       Where is sensation arising?

3.       Am I starting to create a mental formation by wondering when this pose will end?

I believe it was B.K.S. Iyenar who said, “The pose begins when you want to leave it.” By staying in a pose and investigating our physical, emotional, and mental reactions to it, we are spending time in our bodies. Yoga class then becomes a laboratory for becoming more mindful. On any given day, the traffic noise might be uncomfortably loud, you may feel bored or restless, your neighbor’s breathing might annoy you, your hamstrings might feel tight. Armed with mindfulness techniques such as the three questions above, we learn to observe ourselves and reframe these conditions so that they become less distracting or less irritating.

With more frequent practice, more time spent in our bodies, we can learn to use these techniques in our daily lives, outside of yoga class, so that can know our truth and feel less reactive, less distracted, less irritated or, conversely, and more importantly, more in tune with true selves. Because, as Wayne Dyer says, “You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” But it does take practice.

See you in the studio!

The Power of Yin

Our class description for yin reads:

Yin Yoga is a quiet practice focused on flexibility. It involves holding and exploring poses for longer periods of time in order to target deeper connective tissue and calm the nervous system.

That’s a pretty superficial explanation of what can be a very deep, satisfying practice.

In our Western society, we’ve been programmed to think that exercise should be fast paced. It should make us sweat; it should make our hearts beat faster. “No pain, no gain,” right? It’s no wonder that Power Yoga is so popular in the United States. Using the Eastern concept of yin and yang, Power Yoga, or vinyasa, is a yang practice. But the concepts of yin and yang are relative terms that can be applied to almost anything:

Yin: calm, still, inner, dark, hidden, cold, winter, feminine

Yang: active, moving, outer, light, exposed, hot, summer, masculine

In relation to our physical bodies, muscle tissue is yang; connective tissue is yin. Most types of “exercise” affect our muscles, which are easily strengthened and can become very flexible when warm. Yin yoga affects our connective tissue, which takes much longer to become pliable and can become “shrink wrapped” as we age, leaving us less flexible and more prone to injury in our joints.

Both yin and yang practices are essential for achieving balance in our bodies, our minds, and our lives. As a society, we are pretty dialed in on yang: we value activity, productivity and multitasking, so keeping still, even in a very simple yoga pose (savasana, for example), for several minutes can be extremely challenging. So how do we approach a practice that asks us to be still in pose after pose after pose?

  1. Let go of the “pose” mentality: On the surface, yin poses look a lot like poses you might see in any other yoga class, but in yin, they’ve been given new names. The purpose of that is to shift the focus from an alignment-based “Am I doing this right?” mentality to a state of observation that can allow us to detach from our ego and just be.
  2. Focus on the breath to get past the “freak out” phase: Although yin yoga doesn’t utilize any special breathing technique, focusing on the breath can help us move past our initial urge to resist a pose and allow us enter a state of relaxation and receptivity.
  3. Find your first edge: To create lasting flexibility in connective tissue, find your first “edge,” the first place you feel an interesting sensation. Stay there until the sensation subsides before allowing yourself to relax more deeply into the pose. In this way, you will avoid activating the “stretch reflex” that causes the body to contract.
  4. Take your time moving out of a pose: After creating space between your joints, you will likely feel a bit fragile. Move slowly and be mindful of sensations that arise as the body returns to a more neutral position. Focus on those sensations until you transition to the next pose.

In addition to the physical benefits of the practice, yin can act as a “reset” button for the mind and the emotions. An hour of a relatively still and quiet practice that is so antithetical to our daily lives is a powerful tool for achieving balance and a sense of ease. Join us for yin practice at Main Street Yoga on Sundays at 6:00 pm. If you’d rather start with mix of yin and yang, we offer power/yin on Saturdays at 9:00 am.

Namaste

Private Yoga Classes

Why book a private yoga lesson?

STUDENTS BOOK PRIVATE LESSONS FOR A VARIETY OF INTENTIONS

With private yoga lessons, you get personalized instruction based on your health, body type, lifestyle and goals—on your time.

These are just a few reasons to book a private session:

  • Receiving one-on-one attention in a private space
  • Grasping the basics of yoga (3+ sessions recommended)
  • Developing confidence to practice in group settings
  • Learning to modify a practice while healing from injury
  • Cultivating a therapeutic practice to manage or improve mobility or health issues like insomnia or low back pain
  • Tailoring the practice to benefit a sport or profession outside of the studio, such as improving golf swing or complementing triathlon training
  • Diving into postures, whether you need an overall “check up” to make sure you are practicing the fundamental poses using safe and correct alignment or you want special attention to master a challenging pose like headstand
  • Establishing a studio practice that works with your schedule

Private lessons can be one-on-one, or you can share your session with several people with similar goals.

Email mainstreetyogafmt@gmail.com for more information.