Passing Fancies & Becoming a Super Yogi

Unknown-2My life is filled with passing fancies.

When I wrote about my client Margaret and her experiences piloting military aircraft in World War II, I immersed myself so deeply in the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots that I took my acrophobic self on a twenty minute flight in an open cockpit Stearman biplane. I remember waking up pre-dawn to write a fictional account of her story. I did that until I reached 180,000 words (give or take a few) and then moved on. Her story remains in a box under my bookshelf.

When I wanted to know everything I could know about anatomy for the yogi I took the journey all the way to Gil Hedley’s cadaver lab. I was cocky enough to consider myself more informed than the average yoga teacher on all things regarding attachments, insertions and bony prominences. I was wrong.

I’m telling you this because then I met Louis Jackson. Louis is a senior teacher at Samyama Yoga Center. He also is an integral part of our Dharma Path Teacher Training and co-teaches with John Berg our landmark course in beginning yoga, Building the Temple. When Louis found yoga, it wasn’t a passing fancy. That’s true for most teachers, of course, but Louis’s yogic path has risen so high and so far that he has become one of a handful of gifted and genuine master teachers I’ve met in thirty years of practice. I feel sometimes that while I skim the surface, Louis dives deep.

He would disagree, of course, but in my mind humility is the touchstone that keeps us learning and growing. Louis is a powerful and humble teacher.

This video is proof. Shot by the gifted Devin Begley, Louis takes two minutes to describe the beauty of the breath and gorgeousness of that marvelous dome of muscle we call the diaphragm.

Want to learn something new today?


A New Practice

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To say it has been a busy few months is an understatement.

A friend asked the other day, So, how do you feel now that its all over?  She was referring to the conclusion of two years of study at Sofia University and the success of my final paper (which you can read here), my year-long adventure in yoga-therapy training at Niroga Institute, and the end of Samyamas first 8-week teacher training program, The Dharma Path, where I had the honor of assisting John Berg in the teaching of asana and methodology.

Are you excited?  Or is there a void?

The possibility of there being a void in my life was something I hadnt considered.  But Hillarys question encouraged me to step back and assess how it felt to reach the end of this hectic and amazing chapter.  When I did, I realized there is indeed a gaping hole where writing assignments and reading texts and lesson preparations used to reside.  The undercurrent of urgency that roiled through my psyche has mellowed to a gentle ramble.  The fractal-esque symmetry of lifes repeating pattern of work, teach, study, sleep, work, teach, study, sleep has been disrupted.  Like a Jenga tower with one too many blocks pulled form its foundation, Im teetering toward the unknown.  Im restless.

And its unnerving.

Its the faith I hold in the order of life that binds my fragile personal yoga practice together.  When my faith is challenged and order is disrupted, my practice is challenged, too.

The charge, however, is not how to keep my practice alive, its how to keep it moving forward.

The key, I think, is to accept this shift in my space/time continuum as a gift.  The end of school and the other recent commitments that took constant and attentive energy did not generate a gaping black hole.  Nor did they manifest a void in my life.  If anything, the end of these commitments created an opportunity for me to see my world and my personal practice with a new perspective.  I have a chance to re-tool my practice and to put the pieces of my life together in a new way.

And thats what I intend to do.  To accept the gift of open space instead of searching for ways to see it filled.  Is it possible that this is what my personal practice was meant to be all along?  That I should allow my arms to open wide and that I should listen – really listen – to the sound of my breath and beating heart echoing in the space of a less busy life?

 


The Dharma Path

IMG_2063Tonight I’m taking a break from my social media fast to share with you a program that will be starting at Samyama Yoga Center in Midtown, Palo Alto on Tuesday 7 October.

If you feel the calling to become a yoga teacher or if you want to immerse yourself in pure and true yoga study then you’ll want to join us for The Dharma Path. The Dharma Path is an 8-week, 200-hour Yoga Alliance sanctioned course. With the core curriculum being written and taught by John Berg with support from Natalie D’Onofrio, Hillary Easom, Lindsey Armien, Devin Begley, Louis Jackson, Anirudh Shastri, this comprehensive and intensive course will strengthen the relationship you have with your practice whether yours is a teaching path or not. I’ll be there, too, humbled and honored to be assisting John with asana and methodology.

Honestly? The Dharma Path is not for the faint hearted. John has created a teacher-training program filled with compassion, light and humor but one, too, that will challenge and call us to make a clear commitment to ourselves and to our practice.

I’m ready to make that commitment. Are you?

You can find out more by clicking here or by emailing our Program Director at natalie.d@samyamayogacenter.com.

 


Pathway to Stillness

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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.


Introducing Samyama Yoga Center’s Body Therapists

Samyama Yoga Center‘s home is a sleek modern building at 2995 Middlefield Road. From the outside, its strong lines and clean façade anchor the building to the earth while creating a sense of weightlessness. Once inside, the clarity of the light in the downstairs retail area welcomes and warms the heart of every guest. Upstairs, in the main practice studio, the diffused light is filtered through tall, translucent windows made to appear like Shoji screens. Shadows from the outside architecture draw soft grey lines across the glass and continue the effect. The white walls are a surprise but they are not harsh. Rather, they blur the edges of space to the point that the yogi feels as if she is floating. The room’s name, Ascension, is apt. Time, space and perspective seem different in that studio. And, over the months since we’ve first opened our doors, the room has become infused with Patanjali‘s energy and spirit.

sam roomWhen John Berg’s vision of Samyama became a reality, however, it included more than one opportunity to blur space and time. Downstairs, just around the corner from the lounge, there is a warm and inviting therapy room. Perfectly appointed for the comfort of the client, this soulful space is home to two of the Bay Area’s most innovative and gifted body therapists: Devin Begley and Joanne Brohmer:

Devin BegleyDevin

I was born on a sunny day in Santa Cruz California. At a young age I began practicing massage and studied with my fathers therapist so I could continue his healing at home. Growing up I was always encouraged to explore music and creative expression. I auditioned and was accepted into the bachelor of fine arts in acting program at USC. While undergoing rigorous movement, vocal and emotional training, I began to understand the resonant, visceral connection between body and mind. I enrolled at the Institute of Psycho-Sturctural Balancing in Santa Monica, where I adopted multiple modalities and a greater curiosity for vibration and energy. I started studying meditation, yoga, tai chi, sounding and cymatic theory. After moving back to the Bay Area I continued my training at the Accupressure Institute in Berkeley.

What I offer is resonance.

A return to sound via auditory stimulation and felt vibration. You will enter an altered state of awareness using a mixture of breath work, sounding, tibetan bowls, tuning forks and a gong bath. The mind will be entrained to a meditative state where hypnogogic subconscious connection can be made. The body will experience increased awareness, physical and emotional release, movement of energy, nitric oxide production, and sublime relaxation. Like yoga, lines of connection will be made as your natural healing ability is triggered and the mind/body unites with vibration.

This is a unique personal experience and how the session is orchestrated is dependent on the subject.

Image 2Joanne Brohmer

Being perpetually curious about the very core of life. I have always been one to dive deeply into the mystery of things and even once I have found an answer, I ache to go even deeper. Being a seeker of pure connection to source, my own eternal essence and the merging nature of spirit, my love drives me to help others encounter their souls, their inherent connection to nature and the flow of innocence that lives inside them. Using a combination of Reiki, CranioSacral Therapy and guided imagery a healing session can not only be deeply relaxing but a journey where you are an active participant in deeply releasing what you are ready for and creating a greater sense of alignment with your natural state of being.

I took my first Reiki class in Palo Alto 11 years ago and attained my Reiki II and Master certification within the following two years. I found that receiving the attunements alone started me on a rapid healing process and an ever-expanding spiritual journey. I have been a practitioner for 9 years now and have been teaching Reiki for 6 years. Integrated Energy Therapy, CranioSacral Therapy and intuitive reading are also powerful methods that I was led to learn and further help people to dig deep into their healing process and experience their full being and all the things that get in the way of experiencing to the fullest. I traveled to India in December of 2006 where I became a certified yoga teacher. I have studied and practiced methods of meditation and visualization techniques for the last 9 years and have found them to be powerful tools along my path. I became a certified Family Constellation Facilitator in August of 2010. I have discovered some of the deepest sources of my own personal wounding through constellations and am excited to be able to offer this chance for healing to others. I am here to wake up, love and help others wake up to their full human potential and move beyond the ego’s limitations.

About the modalities:

Reiki: Reiki is a gentle ancient healing technique that involves light touch and can also be done over distances. Since it heals the source of the condition, healing on many levels can be experienced. Reiki works to remove blocks, balance energies and restore natural patterns so the body may begin to heal itself.

CranioSacral Therapy: CST is a gentle, hands-on method of evaluating and enhancing the craniosacral system – comprised of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Using a soft touch with about the weight of a nickel, practitioners release restrictions in the craniosacral system to improve the functioning of the central nervous system. This method has the possibility of releasing deep traumas that have manifested in the body.

Appointments with Devin and Joanne can be made by ringing Samyama Yoga Center at 650-320-9262.


Sit. Stand. Breathe. Live.

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Sometimes we forget. We forget we’re not teaching yoga. We are teaching asana. And we forget Patanjali’s teachings: that asana is just one of the eight limbs. Most classes called yoga focus their intention on asana. Pranayama receives a cursory mention. The other six limbs – yama, niyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi – are left dangling in the breeze of our ujjiay breath.

I think that as asana teachers we find ourselves caught in trends. From practicing postures on paddle boards to holding shapes in slings, fitness trends are fine but they are like rainbows. Beautiful, fun and illusory. As fast as one trend disappears another arcs across to fill the sky – or the yoga industry – with light and color.

I’ll be honest. There’s a part of me that would love to be that teacher who enthusiastically embraces every trend and explores its possibility. But you won’t find me practicing asana on a paddle board – even though it looks like fun. And you won’t find me hanging in a sling or holding dhanurasana while balanced on the soles of my partner’s feet.

More than anything I would like to begin a new trend. I want to begin the trend that sees asana teachers coming back home to yoga. I want those of us who call ourselves yoga teachers – including me – to be yoga teachers.

A few nights ago I attended a class. A yoga class. You read that right. Not an asana class. A yoga class.

When I told fellow teachers and friends I was going to John Berg’s Intro to Yoga class on Tuesday night at Samyama they looked at me a bit funny. “Don’t you mean his Vinyasa class?” Nope. I meant what I said. After thirty years of practice and nineteen years of teaching I was a beginner. And, as a beginner, I wanted a beginner’s class.

In ninety minutes we sat, we stood, we practiced vrkasana, we breathed. In between we reviewed the eight limbs. We listened to a brief talk on yama and niyama. We spoke of intention. And forgiveness. I spent that hour and one half in a state of moving meditation, grateful to John and his teaching but equally grateful that I followed my heart through the studio doors of Samyama.

I believe, as teachers and as students, there are times for expansion. Times when focus on heat building asana is the right path. But I also believe that we abandon ourselves when we fail to listen for the quiet times. The times when we need to step back – contract –  and remember that as much as yoga is about the body, it is about so much more.


The Accidental Vegan

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Remember this post? The one where I proclaimed that my omnivorous ways did not make me a bad person? How times have changed. Turns out I’m a very fickle woman.

Eating meat worked well for me during the winter months. A nice stew of vegetables and grass-fed beef on a cold day warmed my bones and blood. But at the time I was sharing most of my meals with a friend. It was easier to prepare one meal, and even if I’d wanted to I knew I didn’t have the discipline to say “no” to bacon on a Sunday morning. So I was an omnivore. And I loved it. What I noticed, however, was that when I was on my own the foods I craved were foods that hadn’t been born. They didn’t have a face and they didn’t have a mother. They were grown from the earth.

When spring arrived our schedules changed and my friend and I had to say goodbye to the beautiful tradition of breaking bread together. I miss sitting down at a table and sharing a meal. It’s a ritual good for the soul. I miss the conversation and the laughter and I even miss cleaning away the dishes.

But I don’t miss the meat. Or the eggs. Or the dairy…except for the feta cheese I used to add to my kale salad.

I remember attempting a vegan diet about six years ago. I don’t think I lasted two weeks.

But I’m a different person now, and being a vegan wasn’t really something I thought I was moving towards. It just sort of snuck up on me. First I let go of the meat. The eggs came next – that was easy. The goat milk was more difficult because I love it warmed with honey before bed and I love milk in my coffee. But I did it. Last was the feta cheese.

So here I am. My favorite meal these days is a bowl of steamed veg with a spicy tahini sauce. Go figure.

How long will this last? Who knows. That’s the thing. I’m not really putting any pressure on myself to eat any one way or be any one thing.

I have to say, though, that this time it feels different. My first challenge arrived yesterday when the staff and teachers of Samyama had a dim sum celebration with owner John Berg at Ming’s. I passed the challenge. The next big test will be in two weeks when I fly home to Pennsylvania for my mother’s 80th birthday. I don’t know how to break it to her that I really don’t want pork chops fried in butter and mock seafood salad in mayonnaise.

I think sometimes you have to choose your battles. Besides, you just can’t argue with an eighty-year-old woman with a cigar in one hand and a slab of raw pig hanging from a fork in the other. Sigh.

Wish me luck.


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.


Samyama

 

The term samyama refers to the combined practice of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (union). It is a technique we can utilize to cultivate deeper understanding of the qualities of an object or a person or a concept. It’s said that the yogi who successfully practices samyama will experience the lightness of being freed from the mental constructs – the kleshas – that bind us to the ‘real world’. In other words, samyama liberates us from obstacles, hindrances, troubles and suffering.

Samyama is also the name of the new yoga studio opening in Midtown, Palo Alto in October (just in time for Diwali).

Samyama isn’t your ordinary yoga studio. It’s one man’s vision manifested. To read the history of how Samyama began, click here.

Two months ago John Berg and I met for coffee at Philz – John’s office until the new one is built. The following week he invited me to teach at Samyama. I’ll be joining local yoga master Anirudh Shastri plus Louis Jackson, Annika Williams, Hillary Easom and Bethany Sala. One or two others have yet to be confirmed but the truth is John is keeping the teaching staff small for a reason – he’s not creating a yoga mini-mart with 48 available flavors . He’s creating a yoga home.

And I can’t wait to move in.