Monday, November 20, 2006

Savasana Before Bed

I do Savasana before bed most nights. (I only miss if I happen to fall asleep with my children.)

I find that doing Savasana greatly enhances the effectiveness of my sleep. I sleep more soundly and fall back to sleep more easily if I am awaken
(which can be several times each night with children.) Savasana is one of the best methods for calming our nervous system – the part of our anatomy that is responsible for the stress response. When our nervous system is calmer, our mind doesn’t work over time and can rest at night.

Another idea is to do your meditation at night. Meditation also calms your mind and can improve your thoughts before bed from worrisome thoughts to more spiritual ones. When I have lots of time, sometimes I do both Savasana and Mediation -- what a gift!

Restoring Yourself

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of restoring ourselves and our students. Our nervous systems are over-stimulated and taxed in our society, especially during the holiday season. People come to yoga to find balance in their lives and then we skip over Savasana, giving them a few minutes to unwind before going back out into the world. Did you know it takes somewhere between 17 and 20 minutes for the physical body to relax? We need Savasana, especially this time of year.

Judith Lasater recommends doing Savasana 20 minutes each day, one restorative practice each week, and a week of restorative practices once a year. (She dedicates the week between Christmas and New Year’s as her restorative time.)

My tip for you this month is to make your Savasanas longer. Treat your students to a long visualization or silence to help them counter the frenetic pace in which our cultures engages this time of year.

Releasing Old Beliefs

“We build self-images and construct concepts and paradigms that feed our sense of certainty, and then we defined this edifice by bending every situation to reinforce our certainty. This would be fine if life were indeed a homogenous event in which nothing ever changed; but life does change, and it demands that we adapt and change with it. The resistance to change, and tenaciously holding on to things, causes great suffering and prevents us from growing and living in a more vital and pleasurable way.”

-Donna Farhi

Admittedly, the quote is a mouthful. I had to read it several times to finally understand her words. It is our resistance to change that keeps us stuck in the suffering cycle. In one of the studios in which I teach, I teach in a different part of the room than the other teachers. My regular students have long grown accustomed to my unusual arrangement and I had forgotten how I have rearranged the room. Today I subbed for another teacher and was fascinated watching students come in. Some smiled, found their spot, and sat down. Others were noticeably annoyed, commenting that it was “uncomfortable”, “weird”, etc. One student had a hard time enjoying class until the end, holding on to her idea of what should have been the arrangement. By the end, we were all giggling at the realization that a mere changing of the arrangement could cause so much angst. It was so very unimportant in the grand scheme of life.

Think about what our beliefs about life do to us? We all have ideas about life that we tenaciously grip, as Donna says, resisting the natural changes in life that are constantly occurring. We even rearrange in our heads what is really happening in order for the situation to fit our paradigm.

Having a yoga practice can help us to loosen our grip on our beliefs. As we loosen our bodies, the hold our beliefs have on us also loosen. Not always, though, notice I said “can help” and not “will help”. In fact, our practice can keep us very stuck in our beliefs as well. We need to constantly evaluate our practice, what it is doing for us, and shift to make sure it is keeping us open and growing.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ayurvedic Water Flush

Drinking water. I know you all already know about the importance of it. I began an ayurvedic technique with drinking water around 10 years ago and love it. Right when you get up in the morning, drink a lot of water. I originally read 64 ounces. I have never been up that high. I used to do 32 ounces and now I do around 16 ounces. It rehydrates you after the night and gives you a quick detox (you will need to visit the bathroom several times over the next couple of hours.) Be sure to do it about an hour before you eat, though, so you don't dilute your digestive fluids. Also be sure you have no health concerns that could make this practice unsafe for you. Occasionally I miss a day and I can feel the effects all day even though I am still drinking my usual water throught the day.

Growth

I have a few students who are my "perennial" beginners or intermediate students. Many have been in the same level for years. Some occasionally ask if they "should" move up to a higher level. My response is always the same, "Do you enjoy where you are? Is it still serving you?" Sometimes the answer is a resounding yes, sometimes it makes them think (which usually means no).

If someone is staying because it is just what they want, the class level fits who they are and feeds them, wonderful. I have read many yoga books and studied yogic philosophy and I am quite sure I have come across nothing that says, “Thou shalt not stay at one level class for too long.” Yoga is suppose to nurture who you are, gently pushing you to do more with your life. Many people need their class because it is the one calm in their life, the one sure thing. Knowing that can certainly be supportive.

But others remain at the same level out of a fear of the next step and fear of not being ready. When it is that for someone, I gently suggest they try the next level once -- the door is always open to come back to their comfortable level.

Isn't that true in life? Sometimes we remain where we are because we feel supportive and enjoy not being pushed to grow. In which case, it may be supporting growth in other areas. Other times we are stuck out of fear. Think about your own life. What is true for you? Sometimes there is a gentle way to “sample” the next level so it isn’t so scary. Other times it is a true leap of faith.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Health Practice: Body Scrubbing

I have had a request to begin sharing some of my own practice, ideas and techniques, around health and wellness. (Please know that just because I do it, doesn’t make it the perfect practice for you.)

This month I want to tell you about body scrubbing. Your skin is one of the most important detoxing organs in your body. Much of your toxins go out through your skin. Invigorating and exfoliating your skin through body scrubbing can aid this process. I had always done it in conjunction with a detox or cleansing process I used to do regularly. (Detoxing is not appropriate when you are pregnant or nursing, something I have been or doing for over 6 years now.) I have begun doing it now as part of my daily practice and it is wonderful! Not only does it keep the skin refreshed, it helps the lymphatic system as well.

I have read many ways to do it. I will describe here the method I have chosen. You can use a body scrubby, a washcloth, a loofah, or a natural-bristled brush. I use a loofah although I think I would prefer to have a brush. I chose the loofah because it felt safer to have around the house with children.

Do a dry scrub before your shower. Be in the shower or bath so you can rinse any dry skin that flakes off down the drain. Begin with your feet and rub up toward your heart. Scrub and rub vigorously. You are suppose to scrub until your skin turns pink. (I will say that my skin didn’t turn pink for several weeks and it is still only a mottled pink. I have more detoxing to go!) Before I began to turn pink, I judged my stopping point my when I was beginning to get sore. Then move to your calves and thighs. Make long sweeping motions, again, up to your heart. Then do your hands and arms, sweeping up. Do your face, but be gentle, neck and chest (avoid the breasts and other tender areas). Stroke down on your stomach. Now do your back and buttocks. (Here is where a long-handled brush comes in handy.)

It is incredibly invigorating for your skin. It feels refreshing like brushing your teeth in the morning or washing your face at night. Just try it for a few weeks and let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Detachment

I had an interesting experience this spring I would like to share with all of you. I had been considering the topic of detachment and curious about what it really means. I understood it in an academic way, but I was yearning for a deeper experience and understanding. Leave it to the universe to provide!

I had planned many things for the spring, for expanding the website, activities with the kids, my own practice, and, of course, classes and trainings I was teaching for which people were counting on me. Then I got sick, really sick. It took me five weeks to fully recover and during that time, the rest of my family came down with the illness as well.

During that time, I kept thinking of the things I had scheduled and wanted to be doing. I found myself saying, “I’ll be better by Saturday so I won’t have to cancel that meeting.” I had so much resistance to my lack of control over being sick! (“Hmmm”, I thought, “could this be my lesson in attachment?”) Then Saturday would come along and there was no way I was well enough yet to attend. That occurred week after week after week. During that time, I cancelled a day-long training, a weekend spiritual retreat, untold classes, and my daughter’s birthday party (we rescheduled it three times!)

When I finally released to the reality of the situation, and I mean literally relaxed the resistance in my body, I realized my attachment to my responsibilities. I also got how that attachment was affecting me and holding me back. I was seeing from a limited perspective – “I have to do this or people will be disappointed.” Rather than trusting the process, that there was a lesson involved, and I was going to be greater because of it and knowing that people understand (and continue living their lives quite happily with out me. ☺ )

I am still working on this one. I recently had a “set back” in which I became caught up in my responsibilities again. I needed to let go and be with the flow of what was happening, but I resisted and remained attached to my plan. I became full of adrenalin and very stressed. I am still feeling the effects in my body and mind almost 2 weeks later.

When I am not attached, it feels like I am floating in the ocean. I just allow the movement of the current to take me where it wants me to go. That may sound as if I am limp and not engaged in life. On the contrary, it makes me very engaged and dynamic. When I allow the flow of life to move me, I am in harmony with my surroundings and what the Universe wants for and from me. I feel the guidance I am receiving from my higher self. When I resist that flow, it is because my mind feels it knows better than the Universe and I become hard and unbending. I feel the discord in my heart and soul.

So, now the question is, how do we become detached? Do you even know what it feels like to be detached? I know I didn’t fully feel it until this year. According to the Yoga Sutras, the key is your practice. Moreover, maintaining your practice for a long, uninterrupted time. Being dedicated to it. Trust me, it is well worth your effort. The feeling of detachment is glorious!

When we give up attachment to everything, including the little self, then we find wisdom, power, and freedom. —Harold Klemp

Sasvasana

I was teaching class last week and chuckled as my class heaved itself out of Savasana. It definitely brought up my desire to speak on the purpose of Savasana, especially discussing how exiting Savasana is an essential aspect to maintaining the essence of the pose. So, let’s look at the purpose of Savasana on a purely physical level.

On a physical level, yoga helps us release the nervous system and relax it, at least a bit. The nervous system is our body’s way of communicating to its various parts quickly. It controls our breathing, heart activity, among many other things. For our purpose, the most important responsibility of the nervous system is it controls the stress we feel as well as our relaxation. In our society and culture, we rev our nervous system at a high level. Using an analogy, it is quite similar to revving a car engine. At times this “revving” is quite beneficial because it helps us “take off” as soon as we hear a “go”. Most of the time, thought, it is an unnecessary action that slowly takes its toll on our body. Unfortunately, it easily becomes a habit, especially when we are exposed to as much as we are in our culture. We then begin to think in a revved state and hold our body in a revved state, slowly exhausting it.

When we do yoga, we begin to retrain the nervous system. The brain and the spine are the core of the nervous system. Yoga moves the spine around in all directions, freeing tight and frozen muscles and bringing new awareness and life to the nerves. This movement also helps retrain the body for new habits instead of the same old ones. When we continue to hold the body in the old way, it maintains the old thoughts. As we move the body in new ways, we begin to introduce new ways of being.

Savasana gives us a time to let the body integrate the new knowledge, the new way of being we learned during our practice. Just as studying to take an exam gives you an opportunity to review the knowledge you gained during a semester in school, when we rob the body of that opportunity, it easily falls back into its old way of being, the old habits, especially the nervous system.

So, skipping Savasana is almost akin to not doing a practice at all. Yoga will still help without it, but your time in Savasana helps imprint the new way in your body.

So, now we come back to where we began, what does hopping out of Savasana do? When you hop up out of Savasana, you easily grip muscles that can rev the nervous system again and cause the old habits to creep back in. Instead, come out slowly. Begin by bending your knees to release your lower back. Roll to one side and rest for a moment. Then, use your upper hand to press you up, keeping your upper leg relaxed. Let your head hang until you are sitting fully upright. Then lift your head. Keeping your head low helps deactivate the stimulation of the nervous system. Ahh…doesn’t that feel better?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yielding: Part II

(I am going to enter this one as an Audioblog so you can do the exercise as I talk you through it. I am also including the text so you have it if you want it for teaching.)

Last time I discussed Donna Farhi’s concept of yielding as it relates to daily living. Now let’s bring it to the mat. It is particularly useful to learn how to do it on the mat since what we do there is reflected in our daily lives. If you find your energy is either collapsed or propped in your life, practice yielding on the mat to help you bring yielding into your life.

The concept of yielding refers to being able to use gravity to ground yourself and still lengthen your physical without losing the groundedness of your energy. If you are a teacher, play with these exercises with beginners. I am amazed at how often they get this and it is rewarding for them to realize they are beginning to connect with their energy.

First let’s do it sitting. You can do this sitting on the floor or on a chair. Begin by slumping. Yes, you heard me correctly. I know it isn’t aligned, but it can dramatically connect you to your grounding ability. Go ahead and slump. Did you notice that you felt heavier as you slumped? You aren’t actually heavier, you are just grounding your energy or letting it drop. Now, the goal is to begin to align your body and lengthen without losing the weight in your sitbones.

I find I need to align from the bottom up. If I bring my attention to my upper back prematurely, I lose the connection in the grounding. First, tip your pelvis upright, then align your lower back, then open the back of your heart, feel it fan open and bring your head into alignment. Do all of this without losing the weight in your sit bones.

Now let’s do it standing in Tadasana. Be sure you take your shoes off first, grounding is much more effective without shoes. Come to standing and find your Tadasana. Balance your weight between the four corners of your feet to align yourself over your feet. The standing equivalent of the slumping to ground your energy is bending your knees. Just bend your knees and feel the weight in your feet. Now align just as we did sitting, from the bottom up. Straighten the legs, draw the tailbone toward your heals, open the back of your heart. Are you still grounded in your feet?

Now practice this concept in all the poses you do. How does it change in other seated or standing poses? What about in inversions?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Yielding: Part I

Something I have been considering lately is what it means to be fully present. In her book, Yoga Mind Body Spirit, Donna Farhi discusses the concept of "yielding". She describes it as a way of being that is perfectly balanced.
The concept is easier to understand when you consider the extremes. On one side you are collapsed, that is the student who is new and doesn't yet understand lengthening. On the other side is "propped". This propped student forces extension on him or herself, looking military in stance. Neither position feels good nor conducts energy well. The balance is yielding. Yielding is being able to feel the ground firmly and extend without losing that contact.
I see this as a fabulous metaphor for life. When we are propped, we are not engaged in life. We may be stuck in the past or just "sitting on the couch eating potato chips". When we are propped, we are forcing life, trying to make things happen that aren't ready to happen. We are pushing toward the future.
Which do you do? I find people have a tendency toward one way or the other. Where do you fall? Whatever you do in life will show up on your mat in your practice as well...Next time I will discuss how to transfer this to yoga poses.