Time Out!

IMG_3243Time Out!

Remember when we were too loud in class and our teachers’ made us put our heads down on our desks?

I’m putting my head down on my desk and taking a time out until the New Year. At least that’s my intention. Shutting down Facebook, not thinking about Practically Twisted – the blog I sporadically post on – or the blogs I have in my head with the catchy titles I won’t reveal.

It doesn’t feel as though that long ago when I announced I was headed to graduate school for my master’s in transpersonal psychology. And yet, here I am, looking at the bright light at the end of the tunnel. The school I attend – Palo Alto’s Sofia University (formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) – is a good school with a self-inflicted tarnished reputation that it is in the process of restoring. Despite the trauma Sofia experienced last year I trust the education I am receiving because so much of it depends on what I choose to put into it. And in this last term before graduation I intend to give it my all.

Meanwhile, my studies with Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy Teacher Training program in Oakland continue.

And, of course, I continue to teach my classes at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto: a Viniyoga inspired slow flow on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8:15 to 9:15 and my Pure Yin classes on Tuesday evening from 7 to 8:15 and Friday afternoon from 1:30 to 2:45.

There are a few class schedule changes, however. For the following two Saturdays I’ll be teaching a hatha flow from 4-5:30 in the afternoon but because I am away at Niroga for one weekend each month I’ve decided that it’s unfair to the students who want consistency in their practice and so I’ll be handing that class over to a new teacher beginning September 6th.

The Tuesday evening Pure Yin class will go on hiatus in October for eight weeks for an exceptionally cool reason. Samyama will begin the Dharma Path, its own Yoga Alliance approved 200-hour teacher training program. I am honored to be teaching Asana and Methodology with the visionary John Berg. This is going to push and pull me in wonderful ways and I am very excited! If you’re interested in a teacher-training program or would like to deepen your practice I encourage you to contact Samyama for more details. If you’ve been to our two Pathways programs then you have some idea the high expectations we set for ourselves at Samyama. We want to take you on a journey unlike any other.

Finally, I’ll be doing some traveling between now and the end of the year. I’m so looking forward to these adventures – my studies, my training, my teaching and my travel. I want to embrace them all with my whole heart.

I hope to see you in person at one of my Samyama classes and, if not, I’ll see you here in a few months.

 


Pathway to Stillness

CIMG2892

The Opening Circle for the Pathway to Stillness Immersion will take place this Sunday the 27th of April at Samyama Yoga Center from 1:30 to 3:30 pm.

I am extremely honored that I was asked to join in this beautiful program. For four weeks participants will dive into an experience that will burnish the hard edges and soften the soul. We’ll be introduced to new ideas about meditation and how we can live our meditation moment to moment. We’ll enjoy sound and energetic healing. We’ll deepen our practice through pure yin and yin flow. Breath work, yoga nidra and journaling exercises will open our hearts and minds.

But I’m just a very small part of Pathway to Stillness. Leading our journey is John Berg, founder and director of Samyama Yoga Center. Also guiding us are teachers Natalie Donofrio and Lindsay Amrein, sound healer Devin Begley and vibrational healer Joanne Brohmer.

It’s not too late to enroll. If you would like to know more visit the Samyama website or stop by the studio at 2995 Middlefield Road.

Samyama Open House

To celebrate the beginning of our second Pathway immersion Samyama is hosting a Therapeutic Open House. Massage practitioner Paul Crowl, Sound Healer Devin Begley, Cranio-Sacral and Reiki specialist Joanne Brohmer and little ol’ me, the house reflexologist, are providing free (yes, FREE) sample treatments from 10:30 to 3:30 on Saturday 26th April and from 10:30 to 12:30 on Sunday 27th April.

Spaces are limited and appointments are filling up fast. Visit the website or stop by Samyama to book your time. Each treatment is twenty minutes long.


Room to Breathe

IMG_2289Room to breathe.

If I took a moment to deconstruct my teaching technique, that’s what it would amount to. My goal is to give you room to breathe. Room to breathe into your body, into your heart, into the space around you.

Because we fill our lives to the brim.

My fundraising project, A Woman’s Face, ended with its book launch on Saturday, the 2nd of November. The next day, there I was: a woman looking at a life that had some space around it. Finally, I had room to breathe. The problem is that space doesn’t always embrace its emptiness. A vacuüm longs to be filled. And when the universe provides our waking, working lives with a bit of room we love nothing more than to set goals and maximize production.

The gift of time and space is like that long, silent gap in the middle of a conversation. It makes some folks uncomfortable.

But not me. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a bit of space and some longed for silence.

And that’s what you’ll find in my classes. Space and silence. Room to breathe. Room to grow.

Because we’re trained to crave achievement, and because achievement implies hard work and pain, my classes might create a sense of unease at first. They might feel too easy. Too gentle. I have been that person who believed that if I didn’t feel a hurt, a pull, a sharp tug – then I wasn’t feeling at all. I have been that person who loved being yanked more deeply into the asana until injury finally forced the futility of the approach. But when we slow down and trust our body and our breath and give ourselves the space to experience the asana we gain a new perspective. Asana practice is about the body. We know that.

But it is also about our Self.

We are meant to move forward in our yoga practice. Our yoga practice. What does that mean to you? Why don’t you give yourself the room you need to find the answer?

I teach Hatha Yoga at Samyama Yoga Center, where the first class is free, on Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00 to 8:15 AM and on Saturday from 4:00 to 5:30. I teach Yin there, too, on Friday afternoon from 1:30 to 2:45.

I teach Hatha Yoga at California Yoga Center, the studio where I began my beloved yoga practice in 1984. My classes at CYC are on Tuesday and Friday from 9:00 to 10:00. I teach Yin there, too, on Monday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00.

 


Class Update and Exciting News

I’m headed to Norfolk, Virginia at the end of the week. Please note the following changes to my teaching schedule:

Thursday, 29 August

  • Palo Alto Community Child Care: My 6:30 class is canceled this week. I will see you in September 5th.

Friday, 30 August

  • California Yoga Center: The incandescent Lisa will be teaching our 9:00 AM class.
  • Avenidas: The 10:30 class is canceled this week but we will have a make-up class on September 6th.
  • Samyama Yoga Center: Warm and wonderful Carla will teach our 1:30 Yin class.

Saturday, 31 August

  • Samyama Yoga Center: Vinyasa-loving Bethany will teach at 4:00. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled slow flow on September 7th.

Monday, 2 September (Labor Day)

  • California Yoga Center: Our 7:30 Yin Class will be canceled on Labor Day. We’ll meet again on the 9th.

IMG_0156More Great News From Samyama Yoga Center….

A few posts back I introduced Devin Begley and Joanne Brohmer as Samyama Yoga Center’s new body therapists. We have two more to add to the team: Paul Crowl and….drum roll please….ME!

If you attend classes at Samyama then you’ll recognize Paul as the male energy behind the front desk. He provided this brief bio:

Paul Crowl is a certified massage therapist with more than twenty year’s experience. He was formally trained at Cypress Health Institute in Santa Cruz in Swedish massage and reflexology. He later studied the are of deep tissue bodywork with Michael DiBenedetto. His dedication to refining his craft and background in yoga and the healing arts lead him to being one of the more notable therapists in the Bay Area. With an intuitive touch and ability to read your breath, Paul will help you melt away tension and relieve unnecessary stress.

In addition to the classes I teach at Samyama, I now offer foot reflexology:

Mimm brings the ‘sole-ful’ healing of foot reflexology to Samyama. Her work – a combination of massage, warm stones, Reiki energy and modern reflexology techniques creates an unparalleled sense of balanced calm that supports health and wellness.

Mimm’s initial training was in sports massage and neuromuscular therapy from the National Institute in Dublin, Ireland. Although she enjoyed the intellectual challenge of clinical massage Mimm felt something lacking. She decided to explore body-energy modalities that not only soothed the body but settled the spirit.

“Reflexology has a quality to it that is soft and subtle. That’s why I love it. A profound change can take place in the most quiet of moments.”

In addition to her work in reflexology and the yoga classes she teaches at Samyama, Mimm is an artist and writer. She is currently completing her master’s degree in transpersonal psychology and will begin work toward her certificate in yoga therapy at Niroga Institute in Berkeley early next year.


Subbing Season is Early This Year

IMG_2073

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m helping out a few friends over the next few weeks by teaching their classes while they:

  1. attend a wedding
  2. take an unexpected business trip
  3. recover from an injury

And so, in addition to my regular studio schedule…

  • Monday Evening Yin at California Yoga Center/Palo Alto from 7:30 to 9:00
  • Tuesday Morning Flow at Samyama from 7:00 to 9:00
  • Tuesday Morning Iyengar at California Yoga Center/Palo Alto from 9:00 to 10:00
  • Thursday Morning Flow at Samyama from 7:00 to 9:00
  • Friday Morning Iyengar at California Yoga Center/Palo Alto from 9:00 to 10:00
  • Friday Afternoon Yin at Samyama from 1:30 to 2:45
  • Saturday Afternoon Flow at Samyama from 4:00 to 5:30

…I’ll also be teaching these classes:

Saturday, June 8:

8:30 – 10:00 AM at Samyama for Bethany

12:30 – 1:30 PM at California Yoga Center/Palo Alto for Candy

Monday, June 10:

7:00 – 8:30 AM at Samyama for Bethany

Wednesday, June 12:

7:00 – 8:30 AM at Samyama for Bethany

11:30 – 1:00 PM at Samyama for Amy

Saturday, June 15:

8:30 – 10:00 AM at Samyama for Bethany

Sunday, June 30:

8:30 – 10:00 AM at Samyama for Clive

Wow! I’m going to be one busy yoga dog! I better stock up on Scooby snacks!

Looking forward to sharing our yoga journey.


Yin Yoga and Chronic Pain

IMG_2289Day One: The fear is obvious. Something in their eyes. The slow, shuffling steps. The wariness as they drag bolsters and blocks from the shelves. Attempts to muffle timidity with parchment thin bravura and the fierce slap of a fresh sticky mat hitting the floor don’t work. I know how they feel. I’m afraid, too. I’m as afraid of hurting them as they are of being hurt.

When practice begins a woman whispers, “I can’t get to the floor.” I offer a chair. Ten minutes later a man grumbles and stands in order to walk off a spasm’s flair. I encourage the group of six to have open boundaries; to roam and move as needed. But at the same time I want them to look for stillness. But they won’t find it. Not yet.

Asana demonstrations are met with disbelief and so I use a soft tone and gentle words to coax their worn bodies into shapes. I offer support with pillows and props. When they discover that what I’m asking them to do is not impossible after all their fears – and mine – begin to subside. Within a few sessions confidence has taken a tentative hold as pain is accepted not as the victor but as something with which one might co-exist.

Up to seventy-five million Americans endure persistent chronic pain. According to statistics from the National Institute of Health the cost of chronic pain in medical expenses, lost income and lost productivity is more than five hundred billion dollars per year. Chronic pain is too often either untreated, under-treated or masked by drugs leaving 42% of patients with symptoms so severe they are unable to work and up to 63% unable to engage in activities those of us who are pain-free take for granted.

I began teaching yoga to chronic pain patients at Feinberg Medical Group in Palo Alto, California in 2010. FMG offers a Functional Restoration Program that is an interdisciplinary outpatient management approach for patients with persistent pain. The goal is for patients to acquire the skills needed to facilitate the behavioral changes necessary to restore function and to improve the quality of life. This is achieved through an individualized curriculum of exercise and psychotherapy, group wellness classes, stress and medication management, the development of relaxation skills and – of course – yoga.

The men and women entering the program have no yoga experience and are burdened by the consequences of chronic pain: low self-esteem, appetite and sleep disturbances, a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and depression. My job is to find a way to move them beyond these states and to help each patient build a new relationship with their body.

But these are individuals whose pain has become like a brick wall separating them from health and wellness. They don’t want to know about gunas or gurus, Sanskrit or sutras. At least not yet. What they want is to feel better. The practice has to be personal. Clear and immediate. Achievable.

I ask myself, “What is it that I can I do, right now, to help?” My answer is simple. Build trust. Build trust in the process. And build trust in me.

I was introduced to Yin Yoga in 2009 by a student who had attended a Sarah Powers workshop in nearby Menlo Park. She described a practice that was deceptively challenging but deeply soothing. Intrigued, I attended my first Paul Grilley workshop a few months later and by September of the following year had been certified to teach Yin.

Yin Yoga applies stress to the connective tissue: fascia, tendon, ligament and even bone. Intellectually this might feel counterintuitive, and indeed we can all agree that over-stretching any tissue whether it’s muscle tissue or connective tissue will be injurious. But a mindful Yin practice does not overstretch – it gently stresses and unwinds. It doesn’t require tremendous strength or flexibility and yet it delivers profound physical and mental release. A Yin practice asks the body to open to the discomfort of the pose and to accept the stillness required to maintain the pose without grasping or grabbing either physically or mentally. Working to an appropriate depth for the appropriate amount of time gives the connective tissue, the heart and the spirit space to open and, in a sense, breathe.

At first they are resistant, as unyielding as their bodies. I talk about the importance of our intentions. I remind them that what we have is this moment and this body and this one constant – change. But if we want to see change in our bodies we have to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us about pain and healing.

We alternate between a manageable Hatha practice that includes chair yoga and longer held floor poses. They find the silence of Yin a challenging aspect of the practice. I ask the group to watch their breath and the sensations they experience. We manage for sixty seconds one week, ninety the next. And then, eventually and collectively, it begins to work.

A few months later a young client stops me after class and with tears in her eyes thanks me.

“I don’t know what we did but it held for three hours.”

This is a woman with cervical pain and radiculopathy so severe she can not lift her arms. But during our practice she found the strength to be fully present and subsequently experienced Yin’s benefits. Michelle remained relatively pain-free for the remainder of the afternoon. In this population, that is considered a victory.

I’m not suggesting Yin cured her. All the components of FMG’s Functional Restoration Program work together to support healing. What happened during one Yin practice on a rainy afternoon is that a beautiful young woman discovered wellness was possible. Within a few months she had returned to school, returned to driving and was attending a weekly Hatha yoga class.

For chronic pain patients, Yin teaches trust. Clients demonstrate this trust in the questions they ask and in the confidence they have in creating their own modifications during our practice. They know the difference between challenge and pain, moderate stress and injurious stretch. Our work is slow and they appreciate the opportunity to explore and release, to hold and to melt.

Clients enter into a six to eight week commitment with the Functional Restoration Program at FMG. During that time new clients will enter while others graduate to the Aftercare Program. The “rolling” nature of participants contributes to the program’s success. New attendees are unofficially mentored by clients who have been in the program for a number of weeks. Patients nearing the end of their training will look in the nervous eyes of a new client and say, “I used to be you. But now look at me. Look at what I can do. You’re going to be able to do this, too.” And then they lift a bolster from the shelf with ease. They pick up two blocks and one strap. The slap of the sticky mat as it unfurls on the floor is a reassuring sound. As they lie down I see them slip into stillness as they settle into another hour of Yin.


Spring, Samyama and Teaching Myself to Read

IMG_0617The start of spring is a wonderful thing. Today in Northern California spring is at its best. Clear and crisp with the scent of climbing jasmine in the air. Pale pink cherry blossoms dust the sky. Simply beautiful.

Spring is about rebirth. New beginnings. Happy anticipation. And my life is full of new beginnings and happy, giddy anticipation.

Samyama Yoga Center will host an Open House on Sunday, April 7th. Classes will begin the following day. Samyama is a very special studio. Everyone affiliated with Samyama feels as though they’re part of a family. My first class at Samyama will be on Tuesday, April 9th. I’ll be the 7:00 AM Hatha class on Tuesday and Thursday, a Yin flow class on Friday’s at 1:30 in the afternoon and another afternoon Hatha class on Saturday’s at 4:00.

This week was spring break at Sofia University. I spent the time teaching myself to read. Seriously. Reading for leisure and reading for comprehension are two different skills. I was deficient in the latter, but a few days of practicing the techniques we were taught back in high school – read, identify key points, summarize – has cleared out a few cobwebs. And that’s a good thing. The course that I’ll be diving into next week, Introduction to Transpersonal Theory, promises to be challenge for me.

So four new yoga classes to teach and a new course to tuck into at school. What more could a woman want at the start of a stunning spring?

I can think of a few things I’ll choose to not divulge…

…and A Woman’s Face.

 


My Aura Embraces Your Aura

Head wrap and ear plugs at the ready!

Head wrap and ear plugs at the ready!

I’m anxious. Fidgety, clutched and giggly. In a tizzy.

This is not the state-of-mind one would associate with a yoga teacher. Yet it happens.

Anxiety happens. Because anything could happen. And isn’t it the fear and anticipation of the unknown that trips us up? Starts the spiral and spins the story? But the unknown is just that – unknown. So what’s the problem? It’s all good. As my grandmother may have joked, “Isch ga bibble!”

Yet if I had fingernails, they’d be chewed to the quick. Because my life is going to change this year.

That’s the one thing we can count on. Change. Change is constant. Each moment is new. Some moments of change, however, are more profound than others. And the anxiety and anticipation I’m experiencing is a mix of fear, joy and impending adventure.

It’s as if I’m an audience of one, waiting for the curtain to be drawn back (and hoping that I overcome my aversion to hugs and sharing circles).

On Tuesday I begin two years of study at Sofia University. In March I begin teaching at Samyama Yoga Center. Yes, I’ve mentioned my admission to Sofia and the building of Samyama in previous posts. They are small things in the course of human events. Very big things in the course of this small life.

So how am I handling the anxiety? How do you think?

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. Breathing. Yoga. Meditating. Yoga. With a few sandbags and head wraps thrown in for good measure.

More specifically:

  • A strong Yang practice featuring plenty of Flying Dragons to burn off the fidgets.
  • A soft Yin practice to open and release.
  • Restorative work featuring the placement of a sandbag on my forehead (yes, seriously).
  • Meditation featuring head wraps and earplugs (yes, seriously).

And finally, embracing this time of deep change and new beginnings with a living, ‘off-the-mat, into-the-world’ daily practice – a practice that will melt rigid trepidation.  A practice that will encourage blissful surrender to the unfamiliar journey I’m beginning.

As for my aversion to hugs and sharing circles? Well, that’s something for me to work on. In the meantime, Samyama’s owner John Berg offered this advice at our last staff meeting, “If someone goes in for the hug, just tell them ‘my aura is embracing your aura’. Works every time.”

And it does.

 


Let’s Talk About Yin. Yes, again.

English: Tension lines of the human skin. They...

English: Tension lines of the human skin. They follow the main fibres of the connective tissue of skin.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about anatomy, too. And whether or not a yoga teacher needs to study anatomy and physiology…

I was having coffee last week with Anirudh Shastri and John Berg. Both are much admired and deeply loved teachers in the Bay Area. In January John’s dream will be a reality when Samyama opens its doors in Midtown Palo Alto. I am so proud John found me and asked me to teach at Samyama. I’m proud to be part of a faculty that includes – besides John and Shastri – Louis Jackson, Annika Williams, Hilary Easom, Amy Rogg, Clive Beavis and Lindsey Amrein. We are not only a team of teachers but a family. We meet regularly and support each others’ practice and teachings as strongly as we hold our vision of Samyama. We all chose different paths and somehow still managed to arrive at the same place. How wonderful is that? Eight individuals. Amazing journeys. Same vision. Different stories.

Here’s my story about why I believe the study of anatomy is important for any yoga teacher:

I didn’t go to medical school. I attended massage school. It was a good school and the anatomy was fast, furious and hard taught. I learned the names of the muscles and the names of the bones. I learned the origins and attachments. I looked at fake plastic skeletons and the living limbs of my bodywork clients and my yoga students. But until I saw these photographs I didn’t know. Until I studied with this couple and then this man I didn’t know. I didn’t know that for fifteen years I was teaching an alignment-focused style of yoga and assumed my students’ inability to move deeply into any particular posture was the fault of a ‘tight’ muscle. I never considered the important contribution bones and connective tissue make toward how we move and how we feel. How we experience asana.

It seems obvious. It feels like it is something I should have known all along. But I didn’t. It’s my continued study of anatomy that has provided an insight I didn’t have when I began teaching.

One of my responsibilities as a yoga teacher – particularly a teacher who loves introducing beginning students to the profound joy of an asana practice – is to keep you safe. Knowing the difference between a femur and a tibia helps me do that. Describing the sacroiliac joint and understanding fascia helps me do that. No, my classes are not a lesson in human anatomy. But sometimes it’s more efficient – more precise – to name a muscle in the body rather than indicate an area on the body.

In-depth study of anatomy has changed my teaching. I will agree – it’s not for everyone. But it turned me from an alignment-centric cookie cutter teacher into one who focuses less on the aesthetics of alignment and more on helping each student have their own, ever-changing, safe, unique life-affirming asana experience.

Shastri was about halfway through his coffee and John had probably finished his tea when the discussion turned to Yin and connective tissue.

Yin – like any style of yoga – can provide something different depending on what time of the day you practice and what your intention is for your practice.

Yin Yoga shifts our awareness away from yang’s contracting strength and power to soft and melting expansion. Contraction and expansion are neither positive nor negative. They are states our body experiences as we move through life. Yin Yoga restores but should not be considered the style of yoga we call Restorative. Yin Yoga is challenging but many of the challenges differ from the ones we find in classic Hatha Yoga.

Physiologically, Yin Yoga stresses connective tissue. These tissues include fascia, tendon, ligament and bone. Because we hold yin poses for time, the practice also offers a deep release to the nervous system. It feels intuitively wrong to consider stressing our joints, but done with right intention the practice results in greater stability and fluid flexibility. Consider this – we don’t correct crooked teeth (yin tissue) with a blow from a hammer. We use orthodontia – a long, slow and sometimes uncomfortable technique that realigns and corrects. That is Yin Yoga in a nutshell.

When I take yin in the morning my muscles are cool. They’ve not woken up. They’re at their shortest. This is the time when my yin focus is less on the benefits to the nervous system and more on the gifts to the connective tissue. My cold muscles won’t “steal” the stretch away from the connective tissue. The stretch/stress is not diluted by muscles that are warm enough to accept a deep fold or twist. The practice is more challenging to me in the morning because my body is cool and my ego is bruised. In the morning I cannot sink into the same deep and calming positions I can explore with an evening yin practice. The morning yin practice is sometimes frustrating but teaches acceptance and mindfulness. And it reminds us not only to be humble in our practice but to have a sense of humor.

But Yin Yoga is not all about the connective tissue.

When I practice Yin Yoga in the evening my intention shifts from the effects on the body to those on the spirit. In the evening our muscles, warm from a day full of movement and work, will absorb some of the effort saved for the connective tissue in the morning. But experiencing yin’s long-held poses in the evening calms the mind and prepares the body for sleep. Many of my students have told me the evenings they attend class are the evenings they know they’ll have the week’s best nights sleep.

Yin is a style of yoga that nurtures balance. For the yogi whose practice emphasizes power, strength and endurance Yin Yoga may feel too slow or too easy. With time and an open mind, however, even the most ardent Bikram devotee’ will recognize the grace, challenge and benefits of Yin’s quiet beauty.

As for me, I need both. I love a strong, contracting Yang practice just as deeply as I love a cool, quiet and expansive evening of Yin. That’s what balance is all about.


How the Faux-Grinch Made Christmas All Her Own

yogaI’m not really a Grinch. I’m just one of those folks who love winter not for the shiny tinsel but because their’s nothing quite as cozy as a cold winter day burrowed under the blankets with a few good books and a hot toddy.

Too much burrowing, however, does not a festive yogi make.

This year I’ve decided to celebrate the season doing what I love. Yoga.

And I hope you’ll join me. Over the holidays I’ll be teaching these four classes at the California Yoga Center:

Monday 24 December – Christmas Eve

7:00 – 8:30’ish PM (please note earlier start time)

Yin Yoga

Donation Based

Tuesday 25 December – Christmas Day

9:00 – 10:30 AM (please note extra half hour)

Hatha Flow

$18 drop-in

Monday 31 December – New Year’s Eve

7:00 – 8:30’ish PM (please note earlier start time)

Yin Yoga

Donation Based

Tuesday 1 January – New Year’s Day

9:00 – 10:30 AM (please note extra half hour)

Hatha Flow

$18 drop-in

CYC Students – Please note the time change on the Yin Yoga class.  We’ll be starting at 7:00 and NOT 7:30.  Also note the extra half hour added to the morning classes.  

I think we deserve a longer savasana on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Don’t you?