Friday, October 31, 2014

October 28 Restore Series

Ghouls and Girls ready for the Big Night

Happy Hallow Eve all.  Today and tonight all sorts of creatures, big and small will roam our neighborhoods.  Are you ready?  There is a somewhat contained feeling of excitement here in my household. Ghosts and goblins hardly slept at all and I know that I woke up feeling like I went through the Tales of the Crypt episodes.  All of our family and community traditions got me thinking about the origins of Halloween.  While I was researching these origins, I came across a lot of variations which helped me find my own connection to the holiday.  This is just one of the histories to share.  Perhaps weave your own traditions into the history of Halloween and enjoy yet another opportunity to be in the moment.

http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

The Breath
Pursed Lips Breathing
This is a great breath to control shortness of breath and can be done anywhere. Inhale through your nostrils for a count of 2 at the beginning, purse or pucker your lips, and exhale out of the pursed lips for a count of 3 or 4. As your breath regulates, you can inhale and exhale for longer counts. As with any breath, if you begin to feel lightheaded, please return to your normal breath.  This breath improves ventilation, releases trapped air in the lungs, induces relaxation, great for when you are exerting yourself in lifting, straining, climbing stairs, slow breathing rate.

The Poses
Seated Forward Fold on Chair

Props: chair or stool, bolster, blankets, neck pillow
Benefits: lengthens spine, centering, aids in relaxation response,
aids in moving digestive process, grounds through feet and seat

Bring chair or stool close enough to the wall where you can sit
in mountain pose and lean bolster at an angle against the wall.
Place blanket or neck rolls on bolster to rest head on. Additional
blanket on seat for comfort or under feet. Drape arms by sides or
on lap. Breathe into back body, sinking into the prop breath by breath.


Wide Angle Forward Fold


Props: chair, 2-4 blankets, neck rolls
Benefits: releases the pelvis which can help release tension in the buttocks, hips, belly and lower back.  Quiets the organs of digestion and elimination. Opens lower back area. As head rests on bolster, releases tension in frontalis where we hold stress in contracted state. Cooling and calming to overall body and provides a nice transition from day. Can help with sleep.

Add a folded blanket to seat of chair and another for you to sit on. You will straddle the chair bringing it in as close to your body as possible to support you as you forward fold.   Rest arms on the chair. Avoid too much pressure on the eyes.  To lesson any strain in the lower back, sit on a single or double-fold blanket.  Can add blanket rolls under the knees. Stay for 5 to 10 minutes. 
*note that for some students the breath can be constrained. Practice belly breaths to begin with.

Legs up on Chair

Props: chair, 2-3 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras: Sandbag, Webkinz stuffed animals
Benefits: relaxes the muscles of the lower back, legs, refreshes the legs, relaxes the muscles and organs of the abdomen.  Blanket on belly or legs.

Place a blanket on chair so you don't feel the hard surface.  If you need to elevate the body, you can place a triple fold blanket in front of chair, then place your hips on blanket to one side, swing the legs up onto the seat of the chair as you lower your upper body onto the mat or floor.  Use a neck roll to support cervical spine. Place a blanket or sandbag on legs to ground you in the pose. Arms release to the sides with palms turned up.  Use an eye pillow to shut out any light for ultimate relaxation. An eye pillow or some type of weighted object (I've used stuffed animals) can be placed in open palms to move and free up energy.  Stay for up to 10 minutes.  Your beginning practice may consist of only 5 minutes.  Feel the legs drain, the stress melt away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 21 Restore Series

Have you ever watched the Ted series of talks.  I've checked out some of the more "gone viral" ones like the woman who had the stroke and was experiencing it with her right side of the brain or Jillian Pransky's Tedx Talk on Metta Meditation (You Tube) but today I came across this talk on Gratitude.  Beautiful visuals to accompany the beautiful passages shared by the speaker, a child and a person of age.  Enjoy and maybe at the end of the talk, journal about what you are grateful for.


The Breaths
Hugs with Breath
In either Tadasana and Sukhasana (Seated post), on your inhale swing arms up overhead and on the exhale bring them into your body with a hug, then swing arms on the inhale out to the sides and bring in with a hug on exhale, two times.  Lastly, inhale and bring arms down by your side and exhale hug in. Repeat if necessary to open the chest, shoulders and feel the connection between breath and movement.  Repeat as needed for self-love.

Inhaling and Celebrating the Season
We were picking the colorful leaves up and flinging them into the air with this one. Exhale to pick up the leaves, inhale fling them up into the sky with wild abandon.  Now go outside and try this with some actual leaves.  Add a just raked pile of leaves and jump into them with all the joy of a child.

The Poses
Mountain Brook
Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll, two bolsters
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the chest to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.

Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft ones!), imagine your body like the soft rushing waters laying over those boulders, smooth, flowing.  It will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow.

On your mat, place one bolster where your knees will be and another where your lower legs can rest, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), and a neck roll for the cervical spine.  Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up or come into Goddess arms.  If ankles need support, use rolled-up blanket or dish towel.  Eye pillows can lightly rest on eyes or even be used on forehead (useful for headaches) or even on shoulders (wherever you need to release tension). To begin with stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes.  Great to use in savasana. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations: Feeling cranky in the lumbar spine? Place blanket to fill the curves.  Want to feel more grounded while still opening the heart? Place rolled up blanket against wall and soles of feet touching blanket.  Need to feel cuddled? Swaddle your head in a blanket cradle.

Supported Forward Fold (or Seated Childs Pose)

Props: bolster, blankets
Benefits: gently stretch the back, hamstrings, ankles, decompressing and grounding, may aid in digestion, feel connection to breath

Fold over one blanket to sit on and slide a bolster or stack of blankets under the legs at the knee joint. Placing enough blankets on your top legs so that your head is supported with room to breathe through your nose.  Bring your arms to a comfortable position.  Stay with breath and let your body melt into the floor and supports.  10-15 minutes. Stretch your body anyway that feels good afterward.

Savasana - Yoginis Choice
Al rocked this one against the column.

Friday, October 17, 2014

October 14 Restore Series

Love this pic of the Hall of Mirrors

Get out those pens my friends.  I have been a scribbling monkey lately as I deal with a loss in my life.  It has been very helpful to put it all down on paper. The murkiness of my thoughts and feelings become clearer as I journal as I surely move on with my journey.  Earlier this week, I received the monthly email/newsletter from Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., a leading researcher into Trauma.  The timing was perfect. The topic of the email was Healing Trauma Through Writing. 

Embrace the writer's cramp all!

Why You Should Write 
A Letter To Yourself Tonight


Writing  


is one of 
the most effective ways 
to access an inner world of feelings that is the key to recovering from genuine trauma and everyday stress alike.
Published by NYMAG.com
October 6, 2014

 
Most of us have poured out our hearts in angry, accusatory, plaintive, or sad letters after people have betrayed or abandoned us. Doing so almost always makes us feel better, even if we never send them. When you write to yourself, you don't have to worry about other people's judgment - you just listen to your own thoughts and let their flow take over. Later, when you reread what you wrote, you often discover surprising truths.

As functioning members of society, we're supposed to be "cool" in our day-to-day interactions and subordinate our feelings to the task at hand. When we talk with someone with whom we don't feel completely safe, our social editor jumps in on full alert and our guard is up. Writing is different. If you ask your editor to leave you alone for a while, things will come out that you had no idea were there. You are free to go into a sort of a trance state in which your pen (or keyboard) seems to channel whatever bubbles up from inside. You can connect those self-observing and narrative parts of your brain without worrying about the reception you'll get.

In the practice called free writing, you can use any object as your own personal Rorschach test for entering a stream of associations. Simply write the first thing that comes to your mind as you look at the object in front of you and then keep going without stopping, rereading, or crossing out. A wooden spoon on the counter may trigger memories of making tomato sauce with your grandmother - or of being beaten as a child. The teapot that's been passed down for generations may take you meandering to the furthest reaches of your mind to the loved ones you've lost or family holidays that were a mix of love and conflict. Soon an image will emerge, then a memory, and then a paragraph to record it. Whatever shows up on the paper will be a manifestation of associations that are uniquely yours.

As far as I'm aware, the first systematic test of the power of language to relieve trauma was done in 1986, when James Pennebaker at the University of Texas in Austin turned his introductory psychology class into an experimental laboratory. Pennebaker started off with a healthy respect for the importance of inhibition, of keeping things to yourself, which he viewed as the glue of civilization. But he also assumed that people pay a price for trying to suppress being aware of the elephant in the room.

He began by asking each student to identify a deeply personal experience that they'd found very stressful or traumatic. He then divided the class into three groups: One would write about what was currently going on in their lives; the second would write about the details of the traumatic or stressful event; and the third would recount the facts of the experience, their feelings and emotions about it, and what impact they thought this event had had on their lives. All of the students wrote continuously for 15 minutes on four consecutive days while sitting alone in a small cubicle in the psychology building.

The students took the study very seriously; many revealed secrets that they had never told anyone. They often cried as they wrote, and many confided in the course assistants that they'd become preoccupied with these experiences. Of the 200 participants, 65 wrote about a childhood trauma. Although the death of a family member was the most frequent topic, 22 percent of the women and 10 percent of the men reported sexual trauma prior to the age of 17.

The researchers asked the students about their health and were surprised how often the students spontaneously reported histories of major and minor health problems: cancer, high blood pressure, ulcers, flu, headaches, and earaches. Those who reported a traumatic sexual experience in childhood had been hospitalized an average of 1.7 days in the previous year - almost twice the rate of the others.

The team then compared the number of visits to the student health center participants had made during the month prior to the study to the number in the month following it. The group that had written about both the facts and the emotions related to their trauma clearly benefited the most: They had a 50 percent drop in doctor visits compared with the other two groups. Writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings about traumas had improved their mood and resulted in a more optimistic attitude and better physical health.

When the students themselves were asked to assess the study, they focused on how it had increased their self-understanding: "It helped me think about what I felt during those times. I never realized how it affected me before." "I had to think and resolve past experiences. One result of the experiment was peace of mind. To have to write about emotions and feelings helped me understand how I felt and why."

It is now widely accepted that stressful experiences - whether divorce or final exams or loneliness-have a negative effect on immune function, but this was a highly controversial notion at the time of Pennebaker's study. Building on his protocols, a team of researchers at the Ohio State University College of Medicine compared two groups of students who wrote either about a personal trauma or about a superficial topic. Again, those who wrote about personal traumas had fewer visits to the student health center, and their improved health correlated with improved immune function, as measured by the action of T lymphocytes (natural killer cells) and other immune markers in the blood. This effect was most obvious directly after the experiment, but it could still be detected six weeks later.

Numerous experiments have since replicated Pennekbaker's findings. Writing experiments from around the world, with grade-school students, nursing-home residents, medical students, maximum-security prisoners, arthritis sufferers, new mothers, and rape victims, consistently show that writing about upsetting events improves physical and mental health. This shouldn't surprise us: Writing is one of the most effective ways to access an inner world of feelings that is the key to recovering from genuine trauma and everyday stress alike.

From The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Bessel van der Kolk MD, 2014.


The Poses
Surfboard
Props: blankets, including one for warmth, stuffed animals or eye bags for hands
Benefits: gently stretches the lumbar spine and para spinal muscles, and gives a release in the diaphragm, quiets the mind and comforting. Gives a sense of security.  

2 bolster fold blanket placed lengthwise on mat on top of each other. One blanket at end of mat for ankle support. Make roll for ankle support. Rest of that blanket fills in gap where shin does not meet the floor. Make sure no blanket is on knee. This supports the knee in the pose.  Top bolster folded blanket roll towards you in a wider roll to fit in chest and shoulder area. One more blanket folded so that its height is the same as the two bolster folded blankets. Come to all fours straddling the props, release to forearms and then fully recline on props.  Ankles rest on small roll at end of mat, shins supported by the rest of that blanket. Rest the rest of your body at hip crease on the bolster fold blankets and lay chest on wider roll of top blanket. Head rests on additional blanket at top, turned to the side. Arms come out to the sides, releasing shoulders down the back and away from the ears. Placing an eye pillow or stuffed animal in palms as they face floor is very grounding and comfortable. Additional blankets for pillows tucked in as needed with student to create boundaries or make more comfortable.
New Version includes laying tops of ankles over padded blocks for further draining of the legs.

Side Nesting Pose

Props: blankets, bolster
Benefits; Nurturing, sense of security, well-supported pose to regulate the nervous system, good for when you are feeling anxious, keeps body in alignment, supportive for the spine, hips, shoulders, head.  Allows for optimal healing and sleeping position. nurturing, sense of security, optimal for sleeping

Create a big enough folded blanket to place between the knees to align the legs in Tadasana. Add a folded blanket to rest your top arm on. Recline on a side that is comfortable, resting your head on a blanket. A neck roll can go under the ankles for support.  Bolster can rest along spine for further support and grounding. Finally, cover yourself with a blanket from head to toes.  Sink down with each long exhalation.  Mantra to accompany pose "I am safe, I am supported".

Savasana with Goddess Arms


Props: blankets, bolsters, neck pillows, any other props to be comfortable and at ease
Benefits: Relaxes central nervous system and calms the mind, mild shoulder opener and strengthener in goddess arms, helps improve sleep, relaxes your body, reduces headache and fatigue.



Find a comfortable position for your savasana either lying on your back with the legs bent, knees touching, feet wide, or stretch the legs out on your mat, or elevate the legs on blankets or a bolster or even on the wall for Legs up the Wall.  Also a bolster or blanket roll can be placed under the knees. Use additional props as necessary to fully relax the body and let go of holding yourself up.  If the wrists are off of the ground, add a neck pillow under each wrist.  Fly off on the wings of an eagle, feeling weightless.

Friday, October 10, 2014

October 7 Restore Series

My yoga teachings this week have followed last week's posting of grounding through the Vata season of Fall.  The rooting through the feet, the longer exhalations, and engaging our mula bandha from the navel area. I hope that each of you have been able to practice this in some unique places and times.  One of my unique practice times was last weekend while we were apple picking.  Situated in the beautiful hills of Boyertown is a wonderful orchard, Frecon Farms (http://www.freconfarms.com). The sun was out, the wind was blowing, picture a gorgeous Fall day with just the right amount of chill.  Now notice my daughter in purple.  


So not into being there.  I wanted to fly off the handle with some of her attitude, spin with the wind so to speak but as a few apples fell off the tree near us, I was reminded of the ground underneath my feet.  Firmly planting my feet in the earth, I took some deeper breaths. lengthening my breath out and felt my core.  But I wasn't rigid which would have exacerbated the situation.  We both felt the shift and off she went with her older sister to explore the rest of the orchards and release whatever she was holding onto like those heavy apples. Celebrate your own release from whatever you hold onto that doesn't serve you and feel the ground hold you up.

The Inspiration
Sat Nam Meditation


Sat Nam: The Kundalini Mantra of Awareness

The most prevalent of all mantras in theKundalini yoga tradition is at once very simple and very complex.  You'll hear this mantra used as a greeting, as a part of many kriyas and meditations, and as a closing to class.  You'll find it the "default" mantra, suggested by teachers as the mantra to have playing in your head constantly on each inhale and exhale.  It even headlines Spirit Voyage's Kundalini Yoga and Music Festival: Sat Nam Fest.
So what is "Sat Nam"?  What does it mean?
In very simple terms, Sat means Truth and Nam means Name.  You could translate it as True Name or Truth is my name.   It is a way of acknowledging that at our essence is the Essence.  The "Truth", which is bigger than any human truth, isn't a matter of right or wrong or even a concept that we can clearly articulate.  It is simply an acknowledgement that the Great Mystery is who we are.
As a greeting, saying "Sat Nam" is a bit like saying "I see your true nature" or "I recognize the divinity within you".
The vibration of the mantra itself is important.  "Sat" has a vibration that reaches upward through the crown chakra.  It is an etheric vibration, as the meaning of "Truth" here correspondingly isn't tangible but is more etheric.  If you meditate very carefully upon the vibration of "Sat Nam", you can feel the flow of energy moving from the Etheric (Sat) to the Material (Nam).  Nam is "name" but more importantly it is a vibration.  The word itself carries a vibration that makes the divine manifest into the earth plane.  So "Nam" is a grounding vibration, a manifesting vibration.  It acknowledges the Infinite made manifest as a vibration in this world.  So chanting "Sat Nam" reaches up into the etheric plane and pulls the vibration of Infinity into your awareness, your consciousness, and your physical world.
This mantra is more than what it means in translation.  It is an experience.  By chanting "Sat Nam" or meditating upon it with your breath, you call into your awareness the state of the vibration of truth.  You create an internal experience of what these words represent.  Truth, enlightenment, consciousness and above all awareness, comes into your experience.
Try it.  Saaaaaat Naaaaaaaam.
The Breath
Elevator Breath
(compliments of Rudy Pierce, gentleyogi.com)

The Elevator Breath is a simple, yet profound breathing technique. You can do it just about anywhere.

Inhale to a count of four. Then exhale to a count of four (same count as the inhale.)  Go at your own pace. No strain. Smooth and easy.

Then inhale to a count of five. Exhale to a count of five.
The breath can be held in or out for a moment in between the inhale and exhale.  If that doesn't feel okay then keep your breathing continuous.

Then Inhale to six. Exhale to six.
You can use the word “inhale” or “exhale” instead of the number one if it’s helpful, like this:
Inhale two, three, four, five, six.
Exhale two, three, four, five, six.
Inhale two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Exhale two, three, four, five, six, seven.

Continue for a few more rounds. You may increase the count to further lengthen the breath if you can remain comfortable. The number you count to doesn't matter; there's no goal of achieving any particular count.  It's your breath, your body.

Now release all control of the breath. Observe the breath as it self-regulates.
And notice how you feel….physically….emotionally….mentally. 

The Poses
Childs Pose Variation (Extended)
Props: 2 bolsters, blanket rolled up, block with neck pillow
Benefits: Gently stretches the lower back, relieves shoulder tension and quiets the mind.  Give a sense of security. Feeling support and release. Gently lengthens the legs.
Extras:sandbag for sacrum

Place bolster on the mat lengthwise and lay a blanket over it. Make a smaller roll for the ankles and place at the other end of the mat. Also place a block at top end with a neck roll or eye pillow on top. Begin on all fours and lower  your upper body onto the bolster. Settle the tops of the ankles on the smaller roll and adjust the body so that the tops of the thighs rest on the edge of the bolster.  Lay the forehead on the cushioned block and place the arms to the side, shoulders dropping from the ears.  Soften your jaw and let the body sink into the supports and the floor. 

Reclined Bound Angle

Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. 
Props:  2 blankets, bolster, additional blankets for warmth and support

Again we changed this a little to make it lower, more grounded.  Place bolster horizontally on mat or floor.  Stack two blankets on top of each other lengthwise.  Recline head, upper body onto blankets.  Bring feet together in bandakonasana with support under the knees.  Arms can rest by your side with an eye pillow over the eyes and any other support under your neck.  As we have entered the windy fall, allow a blanket to hug in your body warmth.  Stay for 10 minutes, breathing into sensation.