Friday, July 1, 2016

June 28 Restore

Our final class of the school year, kids.  I was a bit sad to say goodbye to each of you.  For some, our paths will cross this summer; for others, we may touch base periodically. I am so grateful to have shared this practice with you each Tuesday.  Have a grand and glorious summer.

Setting the Summer Sun

The Inspiration
Accepting Loss - Food for Thought
Many moons ago, far far away, in a galaxy called my college years, I took a course called "Death and Dying".  There was a prerequisite for the course.  The student must have had a death of a person that was close to them.  My two grandparents had passed within 6 months of each other, so I qualified.

Throughout the course, we followed Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's  1969 book, "On Death and Dying".  In her book, she proposes that grief and loss occur in five stages.  

1. Denial and Isolation
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Those experiencing grief and loss may not follow the stages in order, or may not even experience a stage at all.  There also may be varying degrees of emotion felt for each stage. These stages help the person put their loss in perspective and only act as a guide.

Grief following a loss is not limited to losing a person close to you.  It also encompasses any major loss such as a job, a home, a way of thinking about yourself or how you live.  There are so many other examples of losses that can occur in our lifetime.  It is important to give and take the time to process the loss.  Listen compassionately to that person experiencing loss and be present for them.   When we are helping someone through those periods,  we can let them know that it is common to have difficulties in relation to normal everyday living.    

Sleep, eating and everyday living can be altered greatly., setting off dis-ease.  There is no 'normal'. Practices that normalize can greatly benefit someone going through grief.  This is where our yoga practice can step right in.  Balancing poses, calming practices like Yoga Nidra, Alternate Nostril Breathing, restorative yoga, meditation and Ayurvedic rituals all can create a sense of normalcy.

As you cross the paths of someone experiencing loss, keep in mind your own experiences and then step back to give them the space to experience however it plays out.

The Poses
Belly Down
Props: 2 or more blankets, neck rolls
Benefits: soothing to the nervous system, grounding, stimulates the
digestive system, gentle chest opener, lengthens the legs, ankles, releases the pelvis



Place a blanket for the chest to lie on as well as fill in the belly area and one blanket for a pillow. Lie belly down with legs extended, arms bent slightly out to the side. Can hold onto your neck roll to ground through the palms. Turn your head to one side and change direction when you need to.  Additional support at the ankles. Add a blanket over top for comfort and warmth.

Supported Forward Fold

Props: bolster, 1-2 blankets, block

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. Massage for the digestive system.



Sit on a folded blanket and extend legs out in front of you. Place bolster lengthwise along the legs adding a blanket or block to top as headrest. Lay your upper body on bolster and rest your forehead on blanket or block. Arms can drape on bolster, along side or any other comfortable position.

Reclined Bound Angle Movements




Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 14 Restore

This has been a pretty rough week thus far.  I don't need to rehash why.  But where does one turn when the world seems a pretty rotten place.  How do we heal ourselves and others?  First step is inward and then outward.

Our approach to the inner realm must be slow, gentle and filled with compassion and respect.  How would you approach a snake in the grass? (Or maybe you wouldn't).  The approach is much the same; slow, gentle, compassion-filled and with full respect.

We come back to our inner stillness through gentle waves of breath, soft focus on our body, observation of our thoughts, affirmations of our deepest longing, and acceptance of all things present without clinging to those things.  A restorative practice is one of the best practices for going inward.  Your body is supported so that your awareness can rest on the subtle body sensations, the breath, the mind and not on the muscular actions of the body.  You may be guided via your own self-inquiry or by an experienced teacher to delve into the various sheaths of your being (see Koshas).

Once we are at the place of our inner sanctum, we can almost set a place marker there, so that when we return through our process of stilling ourselves, we know where we left off.  From this place, we return through spiral waves of breath and awareness to the outside.  You just don't leave the aspects of your inner being in that sanctum, some of it comes with you like pollen on a bee.  This residue will cling to all of your layers as you move to the surface.  This residue will also burst through your skin and deposit itself into others via our senses straight to the hearts of others.

Try a little inner work first, the outcome of this work will be felt no matter what.

The Breath
Alternate Nostril Breath (Nadi Shodhana)


This breath invites the calm in, balancing both sides of our nasal passages and our brain.  We tend to breath predominately with either the left or right nasal passage and we become unbalanced.  A few minutes at the start of a class or practice, can merge the two hemispheres of the brain and allow you to become more receptive.

Breathing through the right or left nostrils gives different effects.
Right Nostril
increases heart rate, increases verbal performance, stimulates left brain, increases rate of blinking
Left Nostril decreases heart rate, increases spatial performance, stimulates right brain, reduces rate of blinking,

The Practice: Find a comfortable seat or laying down.  Using the right hand, bring the middle and index fingers to rest toward the palm.  Alternatively, they can be placed at your third eye (forehead area). Begin with even breaths through both nostrils, gently close off right nostril, then inhale through left nostril and exhale through the right nostril.  Gently close off left nostril, as you inhale through right and exhale through left. Keep the same count for both sides. That is one round.  Repeat for 5 to 6 rounds or more.  Tongue comes to rest on roof of mouth.

Other variations of this breath are:
  • Retaining the breath after the inhale while keeping both nostrils gently closed. 
  • Extending the exhale longer than inhale
  • Cessation of breath after the exhale, with only one nostril closed
Mental Nadi Shodhana.  Mentally instruct the breath to come in and out through alternating nostrils.  Can even visualize breathing in from one far away place and breathing out to another far away place (Mt. Everest (Inhale), African plains (Exhale)

The Poses
Boat Pose or Incline Legs up Pose
Version with chair

Props: 2 bolsters, 2 blocks, neck rolls for neck and hand support, 2-3 blankets

Benefits: relaxes legs and drains excess fluid from legs, gives spinal support, gently lengthens the spine, shoulders relax, 
refreshes the legs, relaxes the muscles and organs of the abdomen.  

Place a bolster horizontally on your mat. If you need to elevate the body, you can place a triple fold blanket in front of the bolster, then place your hips on blanket to one side, swing the legs over the bolster so knees are supported.  Lower your upper body onto the bolster with blocks set up underneath. 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.

Childs Pose
Props: bolster, two blocks, 2-3 blankets
Benefits: Gently stretches the lower back, relieves shoulder tension and quiets the mind.  Give a sense of security. Feeling support and release.
Extras:sandbag for sacrum

Place the two blocks at either the lowest or medium height, equidistant from each other bolster lengthwise on top of blocks. A s-fold or triple fold blanket on top of bolster.  It may be more comfortable without blocks.  Legs straddle the props at one end, and lengthen body over them. Head will rest on props.  Additional blanket(s) may be used behind knees. Ideally props should extend all the way to the pelvis area but this may not be the case with your body structure.   Stay here for 10 minutes to begin with, rotating head side to side. 

Variation: Straddle Forward Fold - for those with discomfort in their knees.  Support the knees with blanket rolls and straddle the propped up bolster with additional blankets on the top, if necessary.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

June 7 Restore


The last remnants of my oldest daughter's high school career are seen on our couch.  Every school day since middle school, she has placed her backpack on that couch, so that she could grab it on her way out.  Early on, I could be seen walking her to the bus stop. A year later that wasn't cool and I was relegated to the front porch, just watching the bus go by.  Fast forward to high school, where she was sometimes up and out of the house before I even woke up.  And some mornings, the goodbye was a "May I borrow the car?".

I will miss the sight of her heavy backpack on the couch.  Next year as she begins college at Montco., she may not even use a backpack and a few years after, may not even be home.  I've cherished watching her backpack grow - with knowledge and independence into the mature backpack that it is - Ready to take on the world (which coincidentally is right smack next to it!).

The KOSHAS
What are they and can they lead me to my center of being?

The five koshas, or 'layers' of the body, constitute a map for navigating the inner journey.
By Shiva Rea
When you are heading into new territory, it is helpful to have a map. Hiking in Yosemite, you need a topography map showing the mountainous terrain. In New York City, you need to know the city blocks and major sites to orient yourself. Within yoga, a different guide is needed—one that charts the landscape of the self. The koshas, "layers" or "sheaths," make up one such map, charted by yogic sages some 3,000 years ago. Written about in the Upanishads, the kosha model navigates an inner journey—starting from the periphery of the body and moving towards the core of the self: the embodied soul. While this may sound esoteric, the koshas are both a practical and profound contemplative tool that can help you deepen your yoga practice and the quality of your participation in life. You can use the kosha map the same way that you would when you travel—to orient yourself before you head out on the journey of your practice or when you are getting lost or stuck (e.g., in the chatter of the mind or in the discomfort of a pose). As we explore the koshas, you will find that you have been here before, and that your final destination, the anandamaya kosha, is the body of bliss.

According to the map of the koshas, we are composed of five layers, sheaths, or bodies. Like Russian dolls, each metaphorical "body" is contained within the next: annamaya kosha—the physical body; pranamaya kosha—the breath or life-force body; manomaya kosha—the mental body; vijanamaya kosha—the wisdom body; and anandamaya kosha—the bliss body. This is not a literal anatomical model of the layers of the body, although you can find physiological parallels to the koshas, like the nervous system and the "mental" body. As a metaphor, the koshas help describe what it feels like to do yoga from the inside—the process of aligning what in contemporary language we often call "mind, body, and spirit" or "mind-body connection."

From the kosha perspective, yoga helps us bring body, breath, mind, wisdom, and spirit (bliss) into harmony. Like a tapestry, the koshas are interwoven layers. You have no doubt experienced this in your own body: When you are tense or strained, your breath becomes shallow, your mind becomes easily agitated, and wisdom and joy seem far away. When you are filled with joy and communion with life, these feelings permeate your entire being. Separating the strands of the tapestry is a way to look at how your whole being can become integrated or in discord. The kosha map is not a rigid truth but a template for exploring the mystery of being alive. Let's bring the koshas to life now by seeing how this map applies to hatha yoga practice grounded in asana.
Navigating the Koshas
The first layer of the koshas is always where you begin your journey. It situates you in the present moment of your body like the arrow on a map that says "you are here." Take one of your hands and connect with a chunk of your thigh, arm, or belly. You are touching the annamaya kosha—your physical self—the first layer of skin, muscle tissue, bones, and organs. The annamaya kosha is often referred to as the "gross" body (sthula-sarira)—the tangible part of yourself that you can mostly see, touch, and feel. Annamaya means "food body," and there are long passages in theUpanishads drilling in this realization that we are composed of food from the earth, a beneficial contemplation that helps you pay attention to what you feed your first kosha. Like having good fertilizer for your top soil, all of the layers of yourself will benefit from a healthy, balanced diet. Just eat a funky meal or dubious bon bon and watch the changes in your breath and mental body.

In the beginning of your yoga practice, a lot of time is spent exploring your physical body. The first step is becoming aware of the entire field of your body from head to toe and all the little crevices that are highlighted through yoga postures, such as the arches of your feet and the side ribs. Learning how to align your joints, bones, and spine, engage your muscles, sense your skin, and even become aware of what is happening to your organs and endocrine system within the poses teaches you to harmonize your first kosha. When I teach yoga or do my own practice, I start with a keen awareness of the first kosha—the body sensations—to make the more subtle layers of the self more accessible. In other words, if you want to deepen your breath or affect your state of mind, you have to honor and pass through the gateway of the physical body.

The next three layers of the self are considered to be part of the subtle body or suksma-sarira, as they are unseen and cannot be tangibly grasped. They can, however, be felt, and they have a profound effect on the physical body: You would perish if your pranamaya kosha, or breath body, ceased to function. Throughout the day the breath body can go unnoticed and become limited in range, like a caged bird that forgets how to fly. To experience the pranamaya kosha, contemplate the reality of how your next inhalation literally circulates through your entire body through the oxygen in your bloodstream. On a physiological level, the layer of prana refers to your circulatory and respiratory systems—the rivers of life flowing in you—as well as to the flow of feelings in your body. The system of yogic breathing exercises called pranayama is designed to increase and cultivate the quality of the pranic body. When you start to know where you are in your physical body through the alignment of the poses, you will have more freedom to explore the flow of your breath. By shifting to deep, slow, and rhythmic breathing in your yoga practice, you are becoming conscious of and affecting this second kosha. As you increase the amount of oxygen in your body, this pranic body starts to come alive. The coordination of your inhalation and exhalation with the movements of your physical body, as in the Sun Salutations, is one of the ways in which the physical body and breath body become synchronized with the mental body (concentration and awareness).

This third layer, the manomaya kosha, corresponds to your nervous system and expresses itself as waves of thought or awareness. How active this third layer is becomes apparent within the stillness of a yoga pose: Try resting your eyes on a point and concentrating on the sensation of your breath rising and falling in your chest. See how long it takes before a thought-wave, or vritti,passes by.
Often our minds are as overloaded as a freeway in Los Angeles, constricting the flow of your journey or yoga practice. If your mind is obsessed or is going in different directions, your breath becomes erratic and your sense of physical ease and balance wavers. Your breath can serve as a bridge between your body and mind. Expanded breath = Expanded mind = A sense of openness in the body. For most of us, our yoga practice is devoted to learning how to get the flow of these first three layers happening. Like knowing the best route home, observation of how these three layers interact in your practice will also help in the flow of your daily life. Many teachers and students use ujjayi breathing during yoga practice to find this balance. Drawing the breath over the back of the throat helps to focus the mind and coordinate your movements within and between asanas.


The vijanamaya kosha is the intelligence or wisdom body and refers to the reflective aspects of our consciousness when we experience a deeper insight into ourselves and the world. As the first three layers begin to syncopate in your yoga practice, a different feeling arises as your wisdom body comes alive. All of a sudden you are not just trying to survive or breathe in a pose, but a shift inside you occurs, as if the spirit of the pose starts to emerge. In Tree Pose, you may begin to feel a steady strength and inner power. In a backbend, it may feel like the sky opens up inside your heart. You are still in the fourth layer of your body when a subjective witness observes these shifts—that inner voice that says, "That feels good!" When the witness of experience dissolves into the experience of the moment, the final layer, anandamaya kosha, the core of bliss begins to shine through. There is a feeling of wholeness and integration, a sense of arriving at your destination, even if you are only there for a moment. This is the radiant core where unconditional love and communion with life arises. In the Upanishads, this bliss body is described as having "joy as the head, contentment as the right arm and delight as the left, bliss as the heart, and Brahman [universal self] as the foundation."

This is not a VIP-only area. Throughout your life, you have accessed this part of yourself. Children go there regularly, as do musicians and dancers. And so do beginning yoga students. Whether we touch this bliss body every day or in every practice is not the point of the journey. Sometimes we make it through the gates or to the top of the trail, sometimes not. Sometimes we find ourselves more complex and difficult to unravel and other days we shift easily through the layers of ourselves. Just keep the center in your inner horizon.
Shiva Rea teaches flow (vinyasa) based yoga integrating alignment and intuition, strength and fluidity, meditation and wisdom in action at Yoga Works in Santa Monica, California. She is the author of the home practice CD, Yoga Sanctuary, and leads workshops and adventure retreats worldwide. She can be contacted through www.yogadventures.com.
Article from Yoga Journal You Are Here by Shiva Rea

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.

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. 


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