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.


Whack-a-Doodle Time

DSC_0025 (2)_2

Did you notice? I did. Today was the day I felt things going a bit whack-a-doodle. Not that I mind, of course – ’tis the season, after all. But with the whack-a-doodle season come a few whack-a-doodle schedule changes.

 Here’s what’s happening over the next few weeks:

My classes at California Yoga Center will continue uninterrupted through the end of the year. You can join me on Monday evenings for Yin Yoga from 7:30 to 9:00. I also teach Hatha on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00. Check CYC’s website for more details.

Samyama Yoga Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. That means my 7:00 AM classes on November 28th, December 24th and December 31st will not be held. But you are welcome to join me and the rest of the early bird yogis at dawn on every other Tuesday and Thursday! If you prefer to sleep in, I teach a Level I/II Hatha “slow flow” class at Samyama on Saturdays from 4:00 to 5:30. That class will continue uninterrupted through out the holidays as will my Friday afternoon Yin class.

While everyone else is traveling over the river and through the woods, I’ll be subbing at Samyama for those teachers who have family to visit, marathons to run and workshops to attend. Please join me on these days:

Friday 29th November at 4:00 PM for Slow Flow

Sunday 1st December at 10:30 AM for Yin Influenced Flow

Monday 9th December at 7:00 AM for Shakti Reset

Wednesday 11th December at 7:00 AM for Shakti Reset

Thursday 2nd January at 9:30 for Slow Flow

Sunday 5th January at 10:30 for Yin Influenced Flow

(after that I’ll be ready for some subs of my own!)

 

Finally, classes at Avenidas Senior Center are on holiday break. They will resume the week of January 6th. You can register for the winter quarter online by visiting the website or by visiting them in person. I teach Hatha Yoga on Mondays from 1:00 to 2:00 and Chair Yoga on Fridays from 10:30 to 11:30.

 

May we be filled with gratitude for gifts received and find joy in the giving. May our winter be filled with warmth, love and comfort…..and yoga!

 

 

 


Don’t You Just Love that New Car Smell???

CIMG2291Yes, it is a weird title to a blog post about yoga. But I’m celebrating the purchase of a new car. No – not mine. I’ve happily paid off my Honda and intend to drive it into the ground. Let’s just say a friend who’s very closely associated with Samyama Yoga Center recently traded in his rockin’ sports car for…a luxury sedan. OH, but what a luxury sedan. I had the pleasure of being chauffeur driven the 200 yards from Philz to Samyama yesterday. Sweet ride.

Speaking of sweet rides and Samyama – I’ve exciting news! Morning classes are coming back. My summer hiatus was an opportunity to regroup and refuel and I’m making my return to mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:15 beginning September 24th.

You’ll notice the class is shorter – seventy five minutes is a perfect morning practice. But there’s one other change, too.

Choice.

How we choose to carry ourselves from Point A to Point B is never the same. Some days we feel like flying down the freeway in our neon detailed leathers strapped around a BMW S1000 and some days we prefer a business suit and the coolly appointed comfort of a sedan. And so it is with yoga. On some mornings we crave music and vigorous movement. Some mornings it’s all about the silent slow flow.

Sharing the mornings with me will be Amy Rogg. You can get your Vinyasa on with her in the main studio while those of us who enjoy embracing the day with gentle introspection will cocoon ourselves in the practice studio.

Guests joining us in the mornings will have the choice of choosing the practice that best suits their needs on that particular morning.

I look forward to waking up with you!

Class Schedule Updates:

I’m away to the Yoga Therapy Summit in Rapid City, South Dakota this coming weekend and so there will be a few friends stepping in to lead my classes:

Friday 13 September: Lisa will be teaching my 9 AM class at California Yoga Center. Nicole will step in for my 11:30 class at Avenidas and Carla will teach my 1:30 Yin class at Samyama.

Saturday 14 September: Bethany will teach my 4 PM class at Samyama. (I accidentally began a vicious rumour that this afternoon class was going to be moving to 8:30 AM. I spoke too soon. We decided 4 PM was just perfect. We’re not going anywhere.)

Monday 15 September: The 1 PM class at Avenidas will be taught by Carla. My 7:30 Yin class at California Yoga Center will be cancelled this evening. We’ll resume again on the 23rd.

Visit my page to view my full class schedule.


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.


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?


Summer Class Updates

If you’ve been to my classes you’ll know that I love to “hang out” in the asana. 

I don’t believe in rushing, I don’t turn yoga into aerobic exercise, and the thought of practicing yoga in order to build a better backside is loathsome to me. 

So if you enjoy exploring the shape of a pose, feeling how the energy shifts as you change your alignment; if you enjoy testing your strength and flexibility while dialing down the stress – then I’m your guide.  My classes begin with two minutes of quiet reflection/meditation and end with savasana.

Seasons change and so does my teaching schedule. At least a little bit.

Here’s a summer update:

California Yoga Center

The Monday Evening Donation-Based Yin Class continues to meet from 7:30 to 9:00 PM at the Palo Alto Studio.  All equipment is provided.  Some understanding of Yin is helpful (you can find that here) but not necessary.  There is no class on Monday 30 July.

My Tuesday and Friday Iyengar-inspired Slow Flow meet from 9:00 to 10:00 AM at the Palo Alto Studio.  Please bring a yoga mat.  These class are Level I/II. $15 drop-in.  The class on Friday 27 July will be taught by Terry Lesser.  The class on Tuesday 31 July will be taught by Lisa Brill Robinson.

Prajna Yoga and Healing Arts

My Hatha Yoga Class meets on Wednesday from 6:15-7:30.  Please bring a yoga mat. There is no class on 4 July. The class on 25 July will be taught by Yiwen.

Avenidas

Registration for Summer Session, which begins on Monday 9 July, is still open.  I teach two classes at the senior center:  Monday at 1:00 and Friday at 10:30.  We’ll have seven class meetings over eight weeks, with no class on Friday 27 July or Monday 30 July. 

For further details on any of these classes check my website.