Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 24 Restore

My brain is fried. This blog post will be pictures taken in the past few months, that have inspired me.  Tapping into my inner photographer.




Wildflowers of Texas








The Breath
Lions Breath (Simhasana)
Sit comfortably either in Sukhasana (Easy Seat) or on your heels. Take a deep inhalation through the nose. Then simultaneously open your mouth wide and stretch your tongue out, curling its tip down toward the chin, open your eyes wide, contract the muscles on the front of your throat, and exhale the breath slowly out through your mouth with a distinct "ha" sound. The breath should pass over the back of the throat.
Some texts instruct us to set our gaze (drishti) at the spot between the eyebrows. This is called "mid-brow gazing" (bhru-madhya-drishti; bhru = the brow; madhya = middle).Other texts direct the eyes to the tip of the nose (nasa-agra-drishti; nasa = nose; agra = foremost point or part, i.e., tip).
You can roar two or three times. Then change the cross of the legs and repeat for the same number of times.
Benefits: Useful for people with bad breath, relieves stress and can be used when you need to ease a tense situation, relieves tension in the chest and face, move stagnation in sinuses.
(Yoga Journal)

The Poses
Mountain Brook
Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll, one 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.

Reclined Twist
Props: bolster, 2-4 blocks, 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras: blanket for warmth
Benefits: Allows breath to come in to the rib cage and belly more freely. Detoxifying. Can reduce high blood pressure. Relieves fatigue and insomnia.  Safe for a Prenatal twist.
This can be a very prop intensive pose but once you are in it, it is worth it.  Begin with right side of body, place the bottom of your right foot against the wall with leg extended. Left leg is bent at a 90 deg. angle and propped up with two blocks and a bolster with maybe a blanket on top. at least two blankets, S-fold blankets, and/or pillows placed along spine for support, lengthwise.  Extend your left arm out to the left side and lay it on a smaller stack of blankets either s-fold or triple-fold out to your side.  Right arm extends out to the right.  This means the left arm is at a higher elevation than right. Head can remain neutral to ceiling or turn to one side.   Extra blankets can be placed in spaces that need more support.  Neck roll for cervical spine and eye pillow.
*we are digging placing the arms in Goddess pose (not pictured) so try that one out as well. Place blanket support under arms. 

Savasana on Belly
Props: bolster, 1 or 2 blocks, 2 blankets
Benefits: soothing to the nervous system, grounding, stimulates the
digestive system, gentle chest opener, lengthens the legs, ankles, releases the pelvis.

Place bolster lengthwise on your mat and lay an unfolded blanket over it.  One or two blocks can go in front of the bolster.  Come to all fours and release your belly and upper body onto the bolster with legs extended behind you. Head rests on block. You may need someone to cover you with the blanket as it swaddles you.  Add another blanket for weight to the legs.  Delicious!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

May 17 Restore Series


Feeling the Waves of my Breath (literally)



I just had the most delicious, relaxing experience.  I floated for 90 minutes in a warm bath held up by over 800 pounds of Epsom salts and my breath.  This experience was brought to me by Halcyon Floats in Roxborough, http://www.halcyonfloats.com, a sensory-deprivation float tank spa.   I seized upon this opportunity via a Groupon and it was well worth the drive and the numerous Groupon emails following my purchase.

Here are some of my experiences, and if at all intrigued, maybe someday, you will get your float on too.  First of all the 90 minutes flew by.  It really felt like 30 to 45 minutes. The end of the session was signaled by melodic, soothing music flowing into the tank, with its volume slowly increasing. I harbored a little fear going in as I am not keen on small spaces.  With only two tanks at this spa, the attendant was able to give us individual attention and instructions on how to float, which eased my anxiety.

I guided my body into the tub slowly, keeping the low lights on until I could get my bearings.  Then came the moment where I turned off all of the lights - complete darkness.  Only once, a little well of fear rose up in me but otherwise, I was calm.  For me, it was a very physical experience.  I didn't go too deep into a meditative state but think with continued practice, that could be the case.  Hey Rome was not built in a day.  Think back how we came into our Restorative practice.  So my attention was on the sensation of not holding my body up and that every breath that I took created enough vibration to gently move my body and the water surrounding me.  That was so cool!  To notice that nothing in ourselves stands alone, one part of our being affects another part of our being and even the surrounding environment. This is our energy at work.

I tried different arm positions to find the best one for me. With arms overhead, I didn't feel the area of tension in my shoulders and neck but I wasn't completely comfortable.  I changed the arms to my side and that is when I noticed those areas.  With the rest of the body relaxed and my thoughts quiet, those places of unrest had a chance to show themselves.  I then tried the neck pillow and that is when I felt my knots unravel and I had the deepest experience.  I think that I may have drifted off to LaLa land a few times but felt completely safe in the 10" of water.  Several times I found myself drifting into one of the walls following maybe a body movement or a deeper breath.  The tub is an ample size, with the dimensions of 5 ft. by 9 ft. and a 4 ft. clearance above you.

At one point, I heard something drop into the water (turned out to be the water bottle used to wash out any salt in the eyes).  I didn't know what it was but I imagined that it was a snake or an eel but I really didn't care, as I was so relaxed. I really was able to stay present to what was going on and not drift to chatter in the mind.  Thoughts rose and fell away like the waves of my breath and the gentle warm waves of the water.

How did I know that I was relaxed?  Well, visualize a Friday evening drive on the Schuykill Expressway and the Blue Route.  That just spells stress and steering wheel griping.  I did not experience that at all.  I kept sending my fellow commuters love and driving along whistling a happy tune.  I was alert, calm, at peace.   Thumbs up guys!

The Poses
Seated Centering with Thumbs
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract, digestive and reproductive organs. Relaxes the back and releases tension in the neck. Centering for transitioning to your practice.
Props: bolster, 3 blankets or blocks (firm cushions and pillows are always an option) and one extra blanket for warmth.

Place a double-fold blanket on floor, sit on edge of blanket and bring soles of your feet together in Baddhakonasana). Option to cross legs. Bolster goes between legs and add blankets to top of bolster as necessary as you lean over the bolster.  Place thumbs at Third Eye center (middle of eyebrows). Your head should not drop down much but be supported. .  Feel free to add support under arms and wherever else needed.  Head is turned to a side.  Stay for 5-10 minutes.

Variation: Adding cupped hands over the eyes. Rub hands together until they are warmed and energetic.  Carefully lay cupped hands over the eyes and rest your forehead on fingers. Stay like this for about five minutes, absorbing the warmth, energy and giving your eyes their much needed rest from light and external stimuli.

Legs up Wall Variation

Props: 1 bolster, blankets, neck roll
Benefits: drains fluid from the legs, releases pelvic floor, chest and shoulder opener, back of legs get a gentle stretch.



Arrange a triple-folded blanket horizontally (lumbar and thoracic spine area). Recline crossed legs over the bolster and lower the upper body on the blanket. Adjust so that the tips of the shoulder blades are right above the blanket. Add neck pillow under neck and move arms to Goddess position if comfortable for  your shoulders. Otherwise, they can go by your side or stack hands on top of your belly.  Cover pelvic area with a blanket or whole body and add a blanket or sand bag to pelvis to deepen pose. 10 to 15 minutes, dropping the weight of your body on the exhalations.

Supine Twist
Props: bolster, 2-4 blocks, 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras: blanket for warmth
Benefits: Allows breath to come in to the rib cage and belly more freely. Detoxifying. Can reduce high blood pressure. Relieves fatigue and insomnia.  Safe for a Prenatal twist.

This can be a very prop intensive pose but once you are in it, it is worth it.  Begin with right side of body, place the bottom of your right foot against the wall with leg extended. Left leg is bent at a 90 deg. angle and propped up with two blocks and a bolster with maybe a blanket on top. at least two blankets, S-fold blankets, and/or pillows placed along spine for support, lengthwise.  Extend your left arm out to the left side and lay it on a smaller stack of blankets either s-fold or triple-fold out to your side.  Right arm extends out to the right.  This means the left arm is at a higher elevation than right. Head can remain neutral to ceiling or turn to one side.   Extra blankets can be placed in spaces that need more support.  Neck roll for cervical spine and eye pillow.
*we are digging placing the arms in Goddess pose (not pictured) so try that one out as well. Place blanket support under arms. 





Thursday, May 12, 2016

May 10 Restore



Mountain Pose - Tadasana Alignment in Restoratives

You may have heard Carmen and I cue, from time to time, to bring your body into a Tadasana alignment for restoratives.  What does this mean and how is this beneficial?  Here is the low down on this alignment cue.

The benefits of Tadasana alignment are calming and clearing for your nervous system, supporting the circulation of your blood throughout the body, and in that joints and muscles are in position where optimal healing can occur. It is the foundation pose for all yoga poses creating stability. The body feels the least amount of stress so that the mind can become a calm, balanced setting for deeper healing and connection with the self.

The Tadasana alignment is where the joints, bones and muscles are in their natural alignment according to your own body's alignment.  This may not be the  textbook "perfect" alignment but it is exactly where your body is at the moment. If you come into a pose and it feels comfortable, and you don't feel that you are adding any tension by holding the muscles, or you can stay calm and relaxed, that particular alignment is working for you. But if you become irritable or agitated, and feel intense sensation, that tells you to come out and reposition yourself or take a break.  Another indicator of the alignment being "off" for you is that your breathing changes from a calm, natural breath to faster, more rapid breath or a holding of the breath.  

You always have the permission to let yourself change position in a pose, come out completely or come into a different pose altogether.  Make these healing restoratives work for you exactly where you are at that moment.  Now go scale your own mountain!


The Breath
Straw Breath
Benefits: increase range of motion of diaphragm, aid in continuous and smooth movement of the breath, support complete exhalation and removal of toxins in the body, calming practice.
Props: narrow opening straw or just pursing your lips.

Begin in a comfortable position, either seated, lying down or even standing supported.  Inhale through the nose in a natural relaxed way, exhale evenly and naturally hrough the straw or pursed lips. The head position is neutral with the straw facing forward not down. A variation is to take the straw out for the very last bits of air releasing and exhale through the nose but it takes some practice to do this evenly.  Try 4-5 rounds at the beginning, returning to your natural breath between rounds.  

The Poses
Legs up the Wall Variation


Props: 1-2 bolsters, blocks, blankets, neck roll
Benefits: drains fluid from the legs, releases pelvic floor, chest and shoulder opener, back of legs get a gentle stretch.

Place one bolster horizontally on mat (for the knees) and one vertically (for the feet, ankes and lower legs). Arrange a triple-folded blanket horizontally (lumbar and thoracic spine area). Recline legs over the bolsters and lower the upper body on the blanket. Adjust so that the tips of the shoulder blades are right above the blanket. Add neck pillow under neck and move arms to Goddess position if comfortable for  your shoulders. Otherwise, they can go by your side or stack hands on top of your belly.  Cover pelvic area with a blanket or whole body and add a wrapy for shins so legs stay in Tadasana alignment. 10 to 15 minutes, dropping the weight of your body on the exhalations.






Straddle Forward Fold or Childs Pose

Benefits: calming, gently stretches lower back, nice transition from the days activities.  A good pose to do if you need a few minutes break from your daily work, easy to do and easily accessible.  Good for headaches.  Breathing is easier since muscles of the respiratory system are relaxed.
Props: chair, 2-4 blankets

Place blanket single-fold on chair draping down. Legs can stretch through chair or straddle or cross-legged.  Arms placed folded on chair in front of you. Rest forehead on arms. Tilt chin slightly toward your chest.  Close eyes. For comfort or lower back issues, sit on blanket, add rolled up blankets under knees if legs in straddle, or blocks/blankets under knees if cross legged. May add a blanket at sacrum for grounding.


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".


Saturday, May 7, 2016

May 3 Restore



I had a entirely different topic to cover in this blog but I think it was weather-induced, so I ditched it.  Instead, I will share my musings of my attachment to my hip popping.  Following both pregnancies and subsequent days/weeks/months/years holding my babies on one hip, for some time, I have experienced a popping sound in my right hip.  It is not an alarming pop but a reassuring one in which I believe the hip is correcting itself.  I also had this one movement I do in bed where I squeeze all the leg and glut muscles together and I receive in return yet another reassuring pop of what I thought was a treatment.

I have come to discover through my own awareness of stress on my low back and intermittent pain running down my left leg and through the observations of my Yoga Therapy colleagues that I have an SI dysfunction (sacro-illiac).  It is where the joint of my illium (back crest at the top of your pelvis) and my sacrum should connect but don't all the time.  A gentle little squeeze or hip movements will pop it back into place. The SI joint is very important for stabilization and taking the brunt force of our movements.  My SI joint may have become hypermobile during childbirth but then rigid with bearing more weight unevenly, i.e. carrying kids.  Please note that this is my own diagnosis, not one of a professional.

Presently, my SI pain is sometimes felt as a sensation down my back left leg to the knee or a stiffness to my walking, limited range of motion, and low back pain.  Recently, I have learned some valuable exercises which I practice daily and have seen improvements in the above areas.  The self-correcting in bed was a short-term, easy fix. But I miss my popping sounds and my limited range of motion in my hips and legs.  I have become attached to my dysfunction.  And I grieve in a very small way its loss.  This happens to the best of us where we relate who we are with what we experience in our bodies and our minds.  We are this cancer, we are this diabetes, we are this addiction and so on and so on...  

I share with my students that they are not this pain, this disease, this dysfunction.  It is part of them but not who they are.  I was surprised that I related to the SI dysfunction as an integral part of me, and that I miss it when it is lessened.  When I had breast cancer, I didn't relate to having cancer except to deal with it.  It didn't consume me (literally and figuratively) because I was so much more than my cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.  So a little SI stuff is what I attach to?

In Yoga, attachment is a ticket to suffering.  Furthermore, these sufferings or afflictions are outlined in the Yoga Sutras as the Kleshas (Patanjali, Sutra II.3). Ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to bodily life or fear of death.  These are the five obstacles or sources of despair.  I stuck to my little pops and painful sensations as my coping strategy.  Rather than seek out a possible treatment for it, I stayed with what is easy and convenient.  Pops and complaining. I now have learned really effective methods for me to build my muscles, tone my ligaments and gently stretch the area.  I can't guarantee that I will be pain-free or pop-less forever, but at the present moment all is quiet.

The Poses
Belly Down Pose with Hip Opener

Props: 2 blankets, neck roll or small pillow for head
Benefits: gently opens hips, lengthens leg muscles and tops of the feet, soothing for the belly, shoulder opener, grounding, lessens anxiety





Stack one or two blankets to the side folded in half. As you release to the floor, lengthen the body and then bend the leg at 90 degree angles to lay on the blankets to the side. Arms can come to goddess position, head turned to the side or stack hands as a pillow.  For those with tight shoulders, extend arms by the sides of the body.  When you need to turn the head, do so with a soft inhalation.


Legs up Variation


Props: 1-2 bolsters, block, 1-2 blankets, neck roll or one bolster and two blocks for more inclined variation
Benefits: drains fluid from the legs, releases pelvic floor, chest and shoulder opener, back of legs get a gentle stretch





Place one bolster horizontally on mat (for the knees) and one vertically (for the feet, ankes and lower legs). Arrange a triple-folded blanket horizontally (lumbar and thoracic spine area). Recline legs over the bolsters and lower the upper body on the blanket. Adjust so that the tips of the shoulder blades are right above the blanket. Add neck pillow under neck and move arms to Goddess position if comfortable for  your shoulders. Otherwise, they can go by your side or stack hands on top of your belly.  10 to 15 minutes, dropping the weight of your body on the exhalations.


Savasana with feet at Wall
Grounding, supported


Sunday, May 1, 2016

April 26 Restore

Graduation Day - receiving my 500 hour certificate

I felt so welcomed by everyone in the class on Tuesday. It certainly made my transition home much easier.  The two weeks of yoga therapy training were much more intense than I could have ever predicted. Our subject matter consisted of Yoga for Depression and Anxiety, Grief, Pain, and Cancer.  I felt like I was dragged through the mud at times and lifted to the skies at other times. Balance was forthcoming from some of our 'out of classroom' romps; like feeding turtles, numerous hikes through the hills, river wading, chilling in Austin, countless opportunities to laugh and love one another, and of course, delicious vegetarian and vegan meals.

One of the main themes from the training, which I learned, was the idea of holding space.  Sacred space for our clients, our students, and ourselves. I recently came across this article which shares the author's story as well as 8 suggestions for holding space for somebody.  Read through and try it out at your own (s)pace and time.

http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/