Yoga Makes You Well

May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well,

may you be peaceful and at ease, may you be happy.

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Posted on August 14, 2014 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (126)
Every time I get a comment on my blog, the website service sends me an email excitedly announcing that I have a comment on my blog.  And almost every time, I rush to see what someone wrote in response to my deep (or not so deep) thoughts about yoga or meditation or massage or just making the world a better place to live. And almost every time, I get to the comment and it is just some spam post from Russia or China trying to sell watches or to promote weight loss or maybe I do not even know what it says because it is written in a foreign language and I do not even know which one.  

Frustrating.

And then I write some little blog post about the meaning of life and how using a bolster changed my pigeon pose in yoga class or something.  And it makes me feel better.

A blog is kind of like a personal graffiti wall.  I can draw whatever I like up there.  And then some spammer can come along from wherever and draw over it with pictures of Rolex watches or some special product.  And then I can draw over it again.  

I like getting friends and people who do good things for the world as a habit to write little posts about what they do and why.  I know it might not stop global warming or get us all universal healthcare, but I like writing my little practical tidbits about yoga and meditation and massage.

I wonder if the spammers ever read it.  

Yoga and Astrology

Posted on August 12, 2014 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (26)
I sometimes get into astrology.  Every ten years or so, I start reexamining it.  This is one of those years. 

A week or two ago, I pulled up my natal chart showing the position of the planets in the sky overhead the moment I was born. There were the same patterns I have seen so many times in my life.  I got a book on the houses and I started reading about the placement of the planets in my chart.

One thing that was fascinating to me was that my chart said that a key elder would appear to me and help to guide me to become the person I want to be.

Now, as I was reading that, I thought of all the elders in my life.  They are mostly quite helpful to me.  But there is not one in particular that stands out as being the one I rely on. 

As I read on, the astrology source said, "this may be a person or it may be an ancient wisdom tradition."

Aha!

Yoga and meditation are ancient.  They are full of wisdom.  And unlike most things, they can help on the deepest levels to heal a soul first and then a mind and body. 

Therapy can usually only help people come so far and there are some things therapy cannot help.  Because it can only affect the mind.  The motivations are not touched in talk therapy. 

But yoga and (especially) meditation can help by helping us evolve.  As we become more evolved, health seems more and more normal.  

I am thankful for the wisdom and the elder experience I get from yoga and meditation.

Yoga Elders

Posted on August 7, 2014 at 10:01 PM Comments comments (47)
In my studies of yoga, I have found a nice website called Yoga U Online which interviews yoga experts about yoga.  They offer webinars for a fee (between 15 and 75 dollars or so).  They also do a lot of promotional MP3's interviewing people who are teaching classes to promote their classes.  I always listen to these freebies.

There are lots of teachers interviewed who have been teaching for twenty or thirty years.  Many of them are also physical therapists or acupuncturists or Ayurvedic doctors or regular western doctors.  But they are wonderful experts and elders in the field of yoga.

To hear them is to listen to a great deal of accumulated wisdom.  It is grounded knowledge of how yoga works in real people's bodies.

I listened to one interview with Judith Hanson Lasater.  She has been teaching yoga for over thirty years.  She was a founder of the magazine Yoga Journal.  She has written several books about yoga.  She is also a physical therapist.

She made the point that as a yoga teacher and a physical therapist, she sees some possible problems with the way yoga is being practiced.  She notices a real tendency in the current practice of yoga in America toward students and teachers trying for hyper mobility.  She talks about the hamstrings having a normal, average flexibility of 90 degrees.  She states, "a person can have a good life with 90 degrees of flexibility in their hamstrings."  

In yoga across America, people are trying to accomplish so much more flexibility than that.  She compared yoga to ballet, with hyper mobility being encouraged in both disciplines.

She ended by saying that as a physical therapist, not much that a person can do to their body is worse than hyper mobility.  As we age, we lose strength.  That muscular strength can keep a hyper mobile joint stable,  But as we age, that declines. 

It is a good point she makes.  I wonder what people are doing to themselves with the hot, driving, forceful yoga.  That is not how it is practiced in India.  (Although there are certainly hyper mobile yogis in India who seem no worse for wear as they age.)  It is basically a gentle practice in India.

I think building strength is a good part of yoga.  And some flexibility, too.  And balance.  I see it as a three legged stool, with those three as the legs.  Flexibility is a good thing, I think, when it is achieved slowly and steadily, without force or strain.

I am not sure there is just one answer to this question that she raised.  I think yoga as an industry would do well to slow down a little and build some wisdom into the way it is practiced.  It is easy to get caught up in the practice and find yourself pushing toward a goal.  We are told to work toward defeating ego on the mat.  And then we push ourselves to do a hot, driving practice. 

I think there is room for both.  I would like to see yoga become more introspective and careful.  It has so much to offer to people when it is done slowly and steadily.

Goddess pose

Posted on August 3, 2014 at 10:54 PM Comments comments (196)
When I was in Asheville studying pregnancy yoga, my teacher taught us goddess pose with soft hands. She had us take the pose from a traditionally very rigid structure with fingers together, hands pointed straight up to a softer W shape for our arms and fingers apart.

It amazed me how this little gentleness changed my entire experience of goddess pose.  Instead of this warrior, strength kind of energy, there was a grounded, calm energy.

I have been trying to have that energy in all my poses now.  Just softening my hands, relaxing my focus from strength and rigidity to grounding. 

Kinda beautiful.

Dogwoods

Posted on August 1, 2014 at 10:38 PM Comments comments (22)
I was talking with my team of fellow data collectors at Trees Atlanta about how doing  that project changed the way we look at trees.  We all agreed that it made us evaluate trees much more closely everywhere we went. 

In our data collection for Trees Atlanta, we measured trees that had been planted within the last five years.  We checked their trunk size in a couple of places and we looked to see if their leaves had chlorosis (were turning yellow).  We also looked to see how much of the crown (the leafy part of the tree) had dieback (no leaves). 


And I found out that the dogwoods in Atlanta are having a huge problem with dieback. 

Now, Atlanta is a dogwood town.  I sent a postcard to a person in my postcard club that I came across recently at an antiques market that pictured a road lined with dogwoods full of white blooms from the sixties that said, "Dogwoods in Bloom in Atlanta, GA".  For the dogwoods to be dying here is concerning.  In the Civil War (150 years ago), people used the red fruit of the dogwood trees as a medicine. 

For the dogwood tree to have a problem in Atlanta is a significantly bad thing.

I read about dogwoods and what they need.  Apparently, they get dehydrated easily.  They do not like to be too close to pavement because their roots get too hot.  This could be a factor.  Atlanta has lots of pavement and heat.

Dieback is most often related to root injury.  Construction work over the root system often injures trees by compacting the soil and by roots being cut.  It can be caused by the water table changing.  It can also be caused by insect or physical damage to the leaves that is widespread.  It can be caused by air pollution.  It can be caused by a fungus or a parasite.

But we better figure it out and fix it.

Community Yoga Studio

Posted on July 31, 2014 at 11:24 PM Comments comments (22)
There is a nice community of yoga studios near where I live.  I moved to this place in large part to be a part of it.  I attend class often and I get a lot from knowing others who attend.

I went to class today for the noon $5 class, which tends to be insanely packed.  I enjoyed it today.  Many times, I feel anxious with so many people in the same room.

I read an author talking about yoga who said that the more you practice yoga and the more progress you make, the more introspective your practice becomes.  I noticed that today.  In the past, I have attended the noon classes with some hesitancy because I did not feel comfortable in such a large group.  But today, I found I was pretty much at ease in the group setting.  I did not pay a lot of attention to what others were doing or not doing.  I did not do wildly different things from others. but in some instances, I did my own thing a little bit. 

It felt really beautiful to practice in a large room full of people and to feel comfortable with it.

Men doing yoga

Posted on July 30, 2014 at 9:28 PM Comments comments (24)
I subbed a yoga class for a friend of mine who is a man.  He has a rather large number of men in his class, which is nice.  Many more women make yoga a habit than men in America.  I am hoping men will start catching on soon.

I had just returned from a weekend of studying pregnancy yoga and then I taught this class full of men.  I decided to go ahead and practice many of the things we learned at the class because the class was basically a restorative class anyway.  In the workshop I attended, I learned a lot of ways to do hands-on adjustments to help students open more deeply and more easily into poses.  As I was trained to do, I asked before doing the adjustments to make sure people did not mind being touched.

The class was slow paced, full of poses that were held for a few minutes apiece.  I went around adjusting everyone.  As I adjusted, I noticed this incredibly different quality in men's tissues as I just pressed down toward the floor gently with my hands on the top back of their hips while they were in child's pose.  The women's hips were yielding and able to melt a little.  The men all felt so solid.  They really did not move.

Having done body work for over a decade, I know something of what tissue feels like energetically.  The men's hips all felt sort of shocked.  Their stretching bodies feel like they are in shock.

That surprised me.

New Year's Resolutions

Posted on July 30, 2014 at 12:37 AM Comments comments (45)
I have been told I am a very practical person.  It is true.  I usually ask myself if something could work and how.  This is one reason I love yoga.  It is so practical.  Just  a study of how the body moves and how to make it move more easily.  That has practical applications for everything from sports to breathing. 

Since I am so practical, I like making things solid.  I have been in the habit of making New Year's Resolutions each year for a few years and putting them up on the wall to see them and read them and keep them in my mind.  This helps because when I see them, then I think of them when I get opportunities.  If my resolution is to learn a computer program and then I see a training for that program offered on a big discount, well, then I buy that training. 

Last year I decided to do a little more formal study of trees to learn about them and be more ecologically literate. I also wanted to meet people who volunteer. Trees Atlanta is a community program here in the city that plants lots of trees all over the place to try to keep the air quality breathable and the erosion at a minimum.  They offered a program to study trees for a couple of months on Saturdays and then do some volunteer hours and become a "Certified Tree Keeper" and get my Tree Keeper's hat.

I took the classes.  Then I asked how to volunteer "in a leadership role", as they specified.  They did not have a clear way to do that.  Which meant that the leadership service hours were never going to be gotten and that I would not be able to complete my training (I hear Yoda telling Luke, "You must complete your training!").  I felt bereft.  I had no idea how to become a certified tree keeper. 

Which meant that I would not get my hat. I don't ever wear hats. It is funny how much I wanted that hat.  I had no idea how to get it.  No clear path.  If I even could figure out how to volunteer in a leadership role (some vague leadership role), I work most times they plant with volunteers. 

I found myself at a loss.

So it was time to make New Year's Resolutions and I decided that I would make getting my Tree Keeper's hat one of the resolutions on my list. 

I typed up two pages of these resolutions.  Very practical things.  Cook for myself at least once a week.  Attend yoga class at least twice a week.  Get my Tree Keeper's hat.

After four months, I still had no idea how to get my Tree Keeper's hat. I would read that resolution and think, "but how?"

But then, in the fifth month of the year, I got an email.  Trees Atlanta had a project they needed lots of data collectors to do.  It would be more training hours and it would be lots of field work.  And it would bring me my Tree Keeper's hat. 

I got my hat today.  I am a certified tree keeper.  Check.

Yoga for Pregnancy Workshop

Posted on July 27, 2014 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (27)
This weekend I went for a weekend of study of yoga for pregnancy.  This was one of the required courses that I must take toward my advanced certification in yoga teaching.  

We had 28 women in the class and all wore pillows and specially designed pregnant bellies and practiced yoga together, learning modifications and precautions for pregnant women doing yoga.

Our teacher had just had a baby 6 months ago and was still very much processing that experience.  She shared how she had problems with feeling badly during pregnancy, with the birth itself, with healing, emotionally from imbalanced hormones, and with pain during breastfeeding.  

One woman in the class had had two children many years before and was very pro-birth.  She offered another perspective, but then she went so far as to say she was afraid that the teacher sharing the negatives of her experience would scare some women off from ever having their own kids.

It sat with me wrong that this woman who had just been through a rough time was shamed and silenced in a room full of women as she shared her traumatic experience. 

Birth is so revered.  Everyone reinforces this "but you are very happy about your baby" to every new mama who is really in a very precarious state.  Nobody has room for the mama to be anything but thrilled about being a mom.  Forget that she is exhausted, perhaps bewildered about how to care for a baby, maybe without support emotionally or financially.  She is just thrilled about having this baby.  No one wants to hear anything different.

I think it is time that women stop being silenced and shamed for being human.  Some women have a great situation and have an easy time giving birth and breastfeeding and all that.  And some don't.  I want to hear them all tell their stories.  Once we tell our stories, they can begin to transform into more empowered stories.  But if we feel like we are never supposed to speak about how our experiences really felt, then we stay stuck in the fear or the pain or the shock or whatever.  There is a saying in bodywork: "if you can feel it, then you can heal it". 

One of the things I really want to see come about on this planet is that women have a safe space to just be.  Women are threatened and used and objectified and made to feel afraid and inferior from day one.  It is a vulnerable thing to be, to be a woman.  But there is great strength in femininity.  An endurance kind of strength. 

It takes a great deal of power to build and create.  It does not take a great deal of power to tear down and destroy.  Women are the embodiment of building, creative power. 

Restorative yoga and weight loss

Posted on July 25, 2014 at 12:04 AM Comments comments (19)
One of the most common requests when people seek out yoga is that they want to lose weight.  The yogis pictured in the magazines are always thin. They must get that way by doing all the hot yoga and vinyasa flow, all the Bikram and the planks, right?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

The research that has been done (mostly in India) points to restorative yoga as the best yoga for weight loss.  (Say what?!)

Restorative is restful, laying on the floor with blankets and pillows and blocks and holding poses for several minutes while you sort of fall asleep and wake up.  It is easy and delicious yoga.

Why on earth would this help with weight loss?  Good question. 

There is a connection between being able to rest properly and being able to maintain a healthy weight.  Weight is gained around the midsection because of stress.  Stress makes the adrenal glands over work, sending out lots of cortisol.  This stress hormone keeps the mind active, alert, supercharged.

All of this leads to insulin being produced more and more with the body able to use it less and less.  Insulin is the chaperone that takes sugar (glucose) into cells. It keeps blood sugar levels steady when it is able to do its job. But in this scenario, it cannot do its job.  The body becomes insulin resistant.  There is all this sugar in the blood because the cells cannot access it because insulin helps them access it.  It turns out that lots of sugar is pretty bad for the blood.  It harms the organs and the blood vessels when it is out of balance.

This metabolic imbalance leads to diabetes and to heart disease and to strokes.  Oh yeah- and to weight gain around the midsection.  Yikes!

Restorative yoga decreases stress and cortisol (and actually so do meditation and massage) and it helps create a better resting state.  Resting, sleeping, meditating all are the times when the body heals itself and comes into balance.  Better quality sleep means healthier weight because of the healing and balancing properties of rest.

A novice yogi went to a restorative class once and she described her experience to me in this way: "we just laid on the floor on pillows in different positions for an hour.  Then we went home."

That is what it feels like.  And what it is.  But learning how to really rest is a powerful experience and it can reset the body's ability to heal.  And maybe to lose weight, too.

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