Friday, January 27, 2012

Express Relaxation for a Busy Week

This week is one of those nonstop weeks for me.  In addition to my current fantastically full schedule of teaching, working the desk at Karma Kids, and massaging, I'm assisting my wonderful teacher, Jyothi Watanabe, as we take 19 lovely new Thai Yoga Massage Practitioners into the Lotus Palm fold.
So in deference to the extra craziness of the week (and to my body's response to it, which so far includes a chronic headache and my voice disappearing among other things...), I'm keeping this week's blog super short and sweet.

Whether you're relieving stress, a headache, or having trouble quieting down for sleep, here are two surefire ways to help restore your body:

1. Balasana - Child's Pose (also known as Wisdom Pose)

This is my all-time favorite yoga pose!  It can be practiced with the arms extended forward or resting alongside the body.  I prefer the latter, as it really lets my shoulders relax and stop working, but that's not comfortable for everyone.  If your head doesn't comfortably rest on the floor, rest it on a block or a pillow.  The brow line should be in contact with a surface, which is a huge part of the calming, restorative nature of this posture.  Breathe deeply, feeling your belly soften down onto your thighs and your back release.

2. Eye Pillows!

Any number of things can substitute an eye pillow.  Even just a little piece of cloth or some cotton balls soaked in rosewater resting on the eyes can be nice.  The great thing about an eye pillow is it has a little extra weight, encouraging the eyes to completely relax.  It helps to visualize them sinking way back into the sockets, relieving any extra strain or holding on the brow or the tiny muscles around the eyes.

My friend and fabulous restorative yoga teacher, Kelly Brennan, showed me another great way to use an eye pillow during her restorative class at Karma Kids last Tuesday.  Putting the eye pillow just above your eyeballs and across the brow can also be extremely calming.  She doesn't care for having too much weight or pressure against the eyeball, and so this is a great alternative she uses for herself.  I tried it in legs up the wall (pictured) and it felt heavenly!

See if you can take a little time for yourself this week, whether it be 15 minutes resting with a nice eye pillow (or washcloth) across your eyes or brow, or 5 breaths in balasana.  You'll be so glad you did.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Grasping and Contentment

Does this happen to you?  Whenever someone asks me what I want for my birthday or Christmas - or anything, I suppose - I can never think of anything when they ask.  My mind goes completely blank, and then I think, "I don't need anything."  Inevitably, however, I get my gears going and can think of a few things I'd like.  The holidays come and go in a crazy-joyful flurry...but my gears keep turning.  I salivate over my gift cards.  I think of how nice it was to go home, I think of lovely gifts given and received, and discover my mind isn't ready to get out of that shopping, wanting, and coveting mode.

I'm not usually a big shopper or someone who daydreams about stuff.  I tend to plot for ways to simplify my tiny apartment by getting rid of things that I already have.  Where is this crazy grasping for stuff coming from?

I think it has to do with the time of year:  Mid-January.  The holidays are over, the reality of the challenges of our resolutions are starting to hit us, and the weather is bitter cold with the sweet promise of spring still months away.  It can be a rough time, and it can definitely be hard to stay present with this occasional bleak reality.

My mind flies to things that I want, to spring, to when I can leave the house in flip flops and a light whisper of a jacket, and in my specific case, to my fabulous London-Paris extravaganza Marc and I are going on at the end of March.  It either grasps to something I can give myself right now to create a little shot of happiness, excitement, and novelty, or to the future where all those three things will surely be in abundance, because at least my fingers and toes won't be freezing cold and solid white as I huddle by my radiator in my bedroom.

All this grasp-y mental chatter has  gotten me thinking a bit about aparigraha and santosha.  They are a yama and a niyama, respectively, and they perfectly complement each other. Aparigraha is "non-hoarding" (or non-grasping if you like); santosha is "contentment."  It's hard to imagine one of those qualities without the other.

Coming down from a season that seems to be all about asking ourselves and our loved ones what we want, giving and receiving gifts, and parties, food, and drink in excess, it can seem like a fairly dramatic shift to suddenly go back to the daily grind in cold, cold January.  How do you ease yourself out of grasp-y mode and get yourself back to a place of balance - or better yet, a taste of contentment?

This feels like the part of the blog where I recommend a practice or a solution, and while I have a couple of things to share, this is something I'm still struggling with and exploring in myself.  What I can do is share with you a couple of techniques I've been exploring to get my monkey mind to chill out a little bit on the subject, and to find some contentment right here in chilly, quiet January.

-Actively cultivate patience in the day-to-day.  Find at least one instance per day where you know your usual inclination will be to get irritable and restless and try focusing on your breath and trusting the situation will pass instead.  Whether it be waiting in line, being stuck in traffic, or waiting for news, just finding one time to practice once a day can help change your mindset.

-Give yourself a 5-day rule before buying something that's not a necessity (and potentially breaking a New Year's Resolution about money!).  You'll be able to really mull the purchase over, more fully understand your desire or perceived need, and then make a rational choice outside the impulsive heat of the moment.  You may decide you don't need this item after all (or if you do, you may find a better bargain in the five days!)

-Sit with your desire - whether it be for an object or for the future to hurry up and get here.  Notice it, and then identify with who it is in your brain that's doing the noticing - the inner Witness.

-Cultivate gratitude, which can help us see that we all already have everything we need and we are where we are supposed to be.  Some people like to keep a gratitude journal, writing down 3-5 things they're grateful for every day or every week.

These are my ideas so far, Blogverse.  Anyone else have any tips or ideas that works for them?

Time is going to move at the speed it always does.  It can go painfully slow when we want it to go fast, and pass by in a flash when we want to slow down and savor.  Spring will get here when it gets here, and your life will go on as it should whether or not you get a new pair of pants or shoes.  Cultivating acceptance, abundance, gratitude, and contentment can make each moment of each day, no matter what time of year, so much sweeter.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Safety in Yoga

The yoga world (and my facebook newsfeed) exploded a little bit with the release of the New York Times Magazine article dramatically entitled, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body."

Reactions were varied - some cried "Amen!", some felt it had interesting points, and others (mostly teachers) were horrified at the scare-tactic feeling of the article.  Using rather dramatic words like "wreck," focusing more on anecdotal evidence and less on scientific evidence, and most of all, implying that yoga causes more harm than good.

A huge number of responses have since been shared throughout the Internets, and here's my uncharacteristically brief two cents:

Yoga asana (the physical practice of yoga) can potentially cause injury.  Yoga asana can potentially aid in the rehabilitation of an injury.

Some yoga teachers can be careless, either by not checking in with their students to see what injuries they may be dealing with or by placing too much importance on their students going "deeper" into a pose when it may not be good for them.  Some yoga teachers are phenomenal at tailoring each class to the specific students they have in front of them, offering copious options for each fitness level, and creating a safe space in their class.

Some students are overzealous, may push themselves too hard, or won't share with their teachers an injury out of shyness or ego.  Some students check their ego at the door, taking care that they don't place more importance on the poses than on their physical capacities.

In yoga, like in any other activity anywhere, accidents happen.  There are good teachers and not so good, mindful students and not so mindful students.  Realistically, we all have a bit of both in us.

What's crucial to remember is that one of the integral elements of a yoga practice is ahimsa - non-harming.  It's up to each individual who has chosen to practice yoga, however they practice it and for whatever reason, to respect and protect their bodies as part of that practice.  Otherwise, is it even really yoga?

During my Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, my wonderful teacher started the training by telling us she wasn't going to give us a list of poses to do and not do for pregnant women.   You can't generalize any segment of the population with a list of do's and don'ts.  The key to being a good teacher, she said, is to teach to the students you have in front of you.  Cater to them in all their unique needs and levels.  It makes you a true teacher, then, and not just someone parroting a sequence they've learned.

This seemingly obvious but absolutely necessary advice is something that can be applied to every class, every teacher, every student.  Work with what you have, not with what you wish you had.  Be mindful, be present, be safe.  That's yoga.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Unplugging and Mono-tasking

Happy 2012, Internets!

The beginning of a new year is always rife with self reflection, resolutions, positive change, year-in-review articles, and about twenty metric tons of inspiration/helpful/healthful articles about how to make this year the year you keep your resolutions and are happy and perfect.  For a (relatively new) wellness junkie like me, it's all a little overwhelming - especially when my Facebook news feed is full of likeminded yogis posting tons of articles that interest me.  The whole thing can just turn into too much of a good thing.

Of all the zillions of blogs and articles I've read in the last week or so, this New York Times article has stuck with me the most significantly.  Our phones, computers, television - it all adds up to a constant influx of information overload if we let it.

I don't have an interest in being a monk or paying zillions of dollars to stay someplace that doesn't have a TV (can they not just leave it off?) like the article mentions, but I can completely relate to the desire to be unplugged.

My own experience with my personal journaling (to say nothing of writing this blog!) has been adversely affected by this as well.  I've been keeping my personal journal on my computer since 2006 at least and it has served me well.  I type faster than I write, so keeping it on the computer just made sense for me, as I can keep up with and thus express my thoughts better.

 Now, it's gotten to the point where I have to force myself to deactivate the WiFi on my computer or else I'll literally stop midsentence and check facebook for no reason.  I don't even have a very strong desire to, I just do it.  It makes no sense!  I've been doing more pen-to-paper journaling lately just to feel like I'm actually connecting with myself, rather than being in front of a screen where Facebook, email, other health blogs, online newspapers, and a recipe idea for dinner are a tantalizing click away.

I think part of it comes down to too much multi-tasking and not enough "mono"-tasking.  In one of my procrastinate-y, getting-lost-in-the-blogging-rabbit-hole moments, I came upon this lovely blog from where the author mentions the lost art of mono-tasking as a time management technique.  It's brilliant, and something I've absolutely taken to heart.

So in the midst of the fabulous flurry of New Year's self-help articles, resolution making, and intention setting, remember to occasionally unplug yourself from the flood of well-meaning but often overwhelming information out there.  Remember that we're all doing our best, whether in January or June, and we can all use a break from the constant technological connection now and then to help us connect deeper with ourselves.

Resurrection of a blog (and a hip)

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