Restorative Yoga – Why we Love it!

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I seem to write a lot about restorative yoga… or maybe I just think about writing about it a lot.

I know I think about it a lot. I use restorative yoga with my private clients and teach it quite a bit, even in my vinyasa classes there are elements of a restorative practice. So it’s always on my mind.

In the last few years Restorative style classes have popped up everywhere. And that’s a good thing in our Go GO GO world. We need that quiet time, that meditative rest that is so good for the spirit as well as the body.

Physically your body gets many valuable benefits from your restorative sessions…

** Deeper stretches…… When we can release and let go of long held tension in the body the body responds by ‘unraveling’. Long, supported poses allow your body to completely release, soften, and allow that unraveling to happen over time, without the need to pull or tug.

** Increased flexibility….. And while all that unraveling and releasing does promote more flexible muscles and joints it’s not a goal, or even an end results we are seeking. Restorative gives you a sense of freedom to explore what happens when you release the tension you habitually hold in your body.

** Getting to know your body….. When you spend concentrated time setting up for a pose and exploring how it feels and then giving yourself permission the change that setup, to adjust what you need, you learn where your patterns of tension occur in the body. And when you connect to those patterns it’s then that you can begin to change your body’s boundaries. This is where you get to be Magellan or Lewis & Clark and you  become an explorer.

But a restorative practice is so much more than the sum of its physical benefits. There are countless mental and emotional reason to add restorative yoga to your life.

**Cultivate body awareness….. Wait didn’t I just say that in the paragraph above?? Yes.. but getting to know your body  eventually shifts from the physical and delves deeper into the mental and emotional layers. Most people are cut off from their bodies, especially when we experience chronic pain. But through the  practice of restorative yoga we can begin to explore a deeper intimacy with ourselves and we may find a profound sense of self-love and acceptance.

** Sooths the central nervous system….. In our crazy busy lives we seem to always exist in a heightened state of nervous energy. That ‘fight or flight’ we all hear about.  All those stress chemicals constantly trickling into our bodies does an inordinate amount of damage to our cells. But when we know how to turn on our Relaxation Response then we can counter the effects of those chemicals, some studies now show that we can even reverse that damage.

** Encourages a meditation mindset….. When are first encounter meditation or are first learning about it ir can be very challenging to simply ‘sit still’ to cultivate that deep quiet of the mind. But when we start with a restorative practice we discover that it might just be the hardest yoga we can do! Because we being asked to shut up a mind that never knows when to quit and that’s where the work can be. But in that work we can often times find the deepest benefits of the practice, the greatest growth of who we are, physically and spiritually.

Lets look at a few of the common restorative poses

First ‘Supported Child’s Pose –

  • Gently releases the lower back
  • May relieve shoulder tension
  • Quiets the mind and deeply calming
  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system

Key propping ideas – For more height (head higher than hips) you can put a block or another bolster under the front end of the bolster. This can help if the back isnt comfortable in this pose.

Another place to consider when propping is if the knees are tight.. adding a blanket between the knees the calves often helps this.

If the Ankles are tight add a small blanket under the ankles

Salamba Balasana

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supported childs pose

Next is Supported twist over a bolster

Salamba Bharadvajasana

Benefits Include

  •  quiets the brain, calms the central nervous system
  •  quiets distress and anxiety
  •  reduces tension in posterior muscles of back, lateral, and neck muscles

Key Propping issues – The bolster can be elevated on a block reducing the angle of the twist.

You can add blankets under the knee to reduce strain on the hips

And place blankets under the arms to support the shoulders

  • Proceed carefully if you have severe back problems
  • Can be difficult if you have sacroiliac joint issues
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Twist over the bolster

Finally everyone’s Favorite  Legs up the wall

Viparita Karani

  • reduces edema in the legs and feet.
  • relieves tired leg muscles.
  • gives you all the benefits of inversion, without the effort.

Key prop is a wall…that’s all…. But if you have an eye pillow thats glorious! And you can have someone put a sandbag on your feet thats a nice luxury!

 

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Legs up the wall

 

So give restorative a try and let me know how it goes!

I love to hear your thoughts about your practice so feel free to email me or to comment in the posts below.

And if you want to learn more come to the weekend Restorative Yoga Training Event! Open to all whether you are a yoga teacher or not!

Check out the website too http://cherylmurmanyoga.wixsite.com/certifications

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Oh those pesky Edges ….

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In yoga the phrases “find your edge” or “play with your edges” have been prominent for many years. But I haven’t ever really liked that way of teaching, at least not to my tribe. Finding one’s edge or playing with your edges always feels a little bit like playing with fire… closer (warm)…Closer (warmer)… CLOSer (getting hot)… CLOSER annnnnd you get burned!

Most people don’t know what the hell the edge means, let alone how to find it or play with it. And so they topple over that edge everyone else seems to know about. And they get hurt or frustrated. Playing the edge seems hard or harsh and it’s quite the balancing act if you think about it. And again us average Joes and Janes aren’t very good at walking a tight rope.

And I do know what teachers mean when they say those things, they want their students to grow in their practice, by pushing their personal limits. I get it… I want my students to grow and to expand too, but how about we talk about it in a different way. Think of that growth in a different way.

Let’s start by looking at other words we can use to convey the same message… these are words I use all the time to encourage growth while maintaining the concept of Sukha…. Effortless work.

Explore

I really want you to explore what you’re doing. Be Magellan, go somewhere you’ve never been. The mat is the perfect and safe place launch a personal expedition. From the security of your mat you can explore your body, look for ways to strengthen yourself, seek out new ways to release tension from the body and sift through the negative things your mind tells you about your body  to find ways to accept it for the amazing vessel it truly is.

Erode

From your mat your body can flow with your breath like a river, gently, slowly eroding away the borders of your personal riverbanks. As the erosion takes place the old is washed away revealing new life underneath. And your tension and stiffness are gently released revealing fresh new energy.

Expand

From the safety of your mat you can expand your horizons. You can approach a pose in a new way. You can spiral outward slowly expanding the territory of your own awareness, the awareness of your body but also the awareness of yourself. From your center you can reach outward through the action of expansion to create new boundaries.

Boundaries (my favorite)

Instead of edges think of boundaries, because a boundary can change, edges seem to be stationary, they are always there. But a boundary can shift and change as you change, as your practice changes. Over time you slowly build up strength to hold a pose longer and gently over time you increase your physical flexibility. But it’s within the boundaries of our minds that we can find the most change. As we ‘explore’ our boundaries our minds discover patience, as we ‘erode’ away the old energy we may find those old negative thoughts have less of a hold on us. As we ‘expand’ our practice we expand our heart and minds to see things in a new way.

Yoga is the perfect compass, and from the mat it can take us so many new and wonderful places.

Go explore your mat and let me know what you find there, tell me where it takes you.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Cheryl

Hello new yogi’s!

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To all the yoga newbies out there, there are a couple of things I really want to tell you…..

*Keep coming to class

*Keep trying new things

*Keep practicing (remember we call it yoga practice not yoga perfect)

And the next time you are in class look around at everyone with you in class ….We all started right where you are. Yep even the teacher was a yoga virgin at one time. Everybody started right where you are right now…Everybody!!

Talk to the people on the mat next to you, the ones that are doing ‘stuff’ you think you could never do, I bet you’ll find out they haven’t been doing this yoga thing very long. But they kept coming and they kept trying and they are still here doing things they were certain they would never be able to do. 

But please know that learning Yoga is so much more than just learning the poses. Yoga is about learning to express yourself and learning yoga is learning understanding, understanding who you are, where you are now and where you’re going.

That’s Yoga; a never-ending journey to be who we are right now. It is not now, nor has it ever been about trying to put your foot behind your ear, let me say that again! Yoga is not about tying yourself in a knot, that’s gymnastics not Yoga, but hey if you can that’s Great! Because I sure as hell can’t. Baby I don’t bend that way!

So when you take a Yoga class, remember, that your yoga practice is an opportunity to shake loose the stiffness, dump that junk we carry and wake up the body. And when the body is awake the Spirit very quickly follows and when the Spirit is awake there isn’t anything you can’t do.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

More off the mat chat

I’ve been talking about the concept of taking Yoga off the mat. I want to delve a bit deeper into that concept. Yoga has the reputation, certainly in the West, of being ‘only’ a fitness regime, a physical health program. And that’s part of it for sure, but at some point you realize that yoga is something else. Your practice then becomes so much more. And that’s when the real struggle begins, because you start to question things in your life. And that can make the people in your life uncomfortable. It can make you uncomfortable.

Odds are when you first come to yoga, whether through a studio or a gym class or even online it was through the lens of the physical practice, the asana practice, and so for many that’s all yoga is, only a bunch of postural exercises.

But after a while yoga begins to take on a different meaning, you start to recognize something in your practice that you can’t quite put into words.

I tell my students all the time that yoga will slowly worm it’s way into your life, it will start to move you in ways you hadn’t expected. Slowly and over time your yoga practice becomes your own…. Not your teachers practice, not your friends but your practice. Even if it looks similar on the outside, on the inside it’s unique. It’s intimate and subtle and you find yourself looking at the rest of your life through that now intimate and subtle lens.

You may change behaviors in your life, like drinking less or eating differently. You may stop smoking or maybe you start going to the gym or the park to exercise. You may stop participating in conversations with friends that marginalize other groups outside your own. Your prayer or devotion time might now start with an asana practice. You start to find the subtleties of yoga in the way you wash the dishes, in the way you actually listen to someone when they talk. You may also look at yourself differently. You may see your beauty, where before you saw only flaws. You may start realizing your strength is in the very same places that others had only seen weakness.

Yoga off the mat is an ambiguous phrase but the truth is yoga will change you and you will reflect that change in your life. As your practice grows so will you, you will blossom and flower into a new, better version of yourself.

For me Yoga is the basis of my life, it is the foundation of who I am and every single day yoga reminds me of where I come from and how I can continue to move forward. If I never get on the mat again, if for some reason I never do the movement practice again, yoga will still be an integral part of my life. It is how I breathe, it is how I move, it is how I face the challenges of life, and it is the foundation for my relationships, my relationship with my students, with my friends, my family and with God. Yoga isn’t about perfection it’s about reaching deeply into myself so that I can then reach higher and find the better parts of me.

Yoga is my spiritual practice.

Yoga doesn’t take away the responsibility of our daily existence, yoga doesn’t teach us to run away but instead to be grounded and rooted in the experience of life so that we can see the beauty in our daily lives.

Om shanti

Cheryl

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Yoga is everywhere

pic-effectsYoga is more than the movement of your body; yoga is a journey that takes its path through your entire life if you let it…

What does it means to take your yoga off the mat and into your life? That your body is physically stronger and more flexible? Well, yes you certainly will be but that isn’t what we really mean. Taking Yoga into the rest of your life means being strong enough to face life’s up’s and down’s, to be flexible enough to face the choices we need to make.

Yoga teaches us to be flexible and resilient to smoothly bounce back from the chaos of life.
It teaches us to inhale fresh life, and exhale the things that hold us back; breathing in love, and breathing out anger,
It teaches us to face the fear of failing in life, much like the first time we tried headstand on our own,

A few months ago my hubby and his two daughters and I went backpacking along a section of the Appalachian trail, it was a tough trail, hubby thinks it was just fine, but me and Ashley beg to differ…. It was Hard! 

All up…every step was UP the first day. We climbed 1800 feet in 5 miles that first afternoon and 1300 feet in 7 miles the second day. The 3rd day wasn’t as bad…I mean we had to come down, right. But my legs we  were pretty toasted by then. What most people don’t know about me is that I have a neuromuscular condition known as Mcardles disease that cause extreme muscular fatigue and failure. It affects the body’s ability to process sugars for energy. It wont kill me but it makes some things, from walking up a flight of stairs to backpacking for 3 days, challenging.

What does all this have to do with yoga well if hadn’t been for my yoga practice, my long suffering hubby probably would have left me out there….still whining! As I walked along I remembered all that I learned from my teachers…. from yoga. The  basic tenets of yoga help us to make choices throughout our lives and in this case to get through what was both a wonderful, fun time with my family and a grueling, physically challenging event, that at times I wasn’t sure I could finish.

Yoga isn’t something that we do only when we roll out our mats, it weaves it’s way throughout our lives, in our minds and actions. Knowing how to practice Ahimsa, to do no harm, was a big help over that weekend. I had to know when I needed to rest, but I needed to balance that with getting to our camp site set up before dark. In Yoga there is a strong emphasis on having a ‘single point of focus’ a ‘Drishti‘. A drishti doesn’t move so you stay focused on a still place while moving  or being in a challenging pose.  For me during that those long climbs when I thought my legs weren’t going to make it, my breath became my drishti. Just being aware of my breath helped me to put one foot in front of another when my legs were telling me I needed to stop. Using the technique of a dristi can get you through many of life’s tough challenges. Having that stillness within you, no matter what is going on around you, gives you the focus to get through the Chitta vritti. Chitta vritti means chaos of the mind, literally means mental vortex or whirlpool. It’s calming  to know that when the mind is all over the place you have a place to go ‘be still’ and organize your thoughts.

Yoga can be everywhere and in every action. So when you are off the mat how does Yoga show up in your life. Where, in your life, can you start applying what you have learned from your practice? Give it some thought. And here are a few tips for taking your yoga off the mat and into your life.

  • Attend to your Breath: Just like in yoga class, breathe when uncomfortable situations come up, bringing with them emotions like anger, sadness and fear. Breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system prompting the relaxation response. So just like on the mat breathing with purpose and awareness can help us to relax and therefore change a stressful situation. 
  • Be aware of what you feel: Notice your feelings, emotional stress can come up in the body as muscle tension, or headaches or an upset digestive system. But our feelings are not the problem. It’s when we try to control them or we refuse to face them that is the real problem.  So when faced with a stressful situation sit with it and allow the feelings the come up to move through you, without you trying to clutch at them. Use your breath to control that knee jerk reaction.
  • Witness yourself: Witness consciousness is the capacity to notice what’s happening without judgment, the ability to observe with deep compassion and understanding. When we can step outside ourselves for a moment and witness whats going on we can gain new understanding of the subtleties in life. Just like on the mat when we step away from a pose and look at the subtleties of movement and alignment we gain a better understanding of the pose .
  • Allow things to unfold naturally: If we can allow painful sensations to arise and pass on the mat then we can do the same in life. We can’t control other people, situations, or things, but we can learn to let things pass, to ‘let things go’ without always trying to fix or change them.  We can relax and experience  what’s happening instead of trying to force it.     

 

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson                          

Om Shanti

Cheryl

 

 
 

Sacrifice

The Many S’s of Yoga

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Sacrifice

Sometimes to pursue a dream or just to move forward with our lives we have to make sacrifices. Just the act of growing up is a sacrifice; we have to sacrifice the freedom that childhood offers to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Yoga is like. You practice and you change. You breathe and you change. You meditate and change. Yoga produces changes in our lives, in our bodies and in our minds. It transforms us and helps us lift the veil around our spirit. These changes, this transformation requires some sacrifice, you may sacrifice time spent with family so you can go to class. You may lose friends who don’t understand what you’re doing or why. But you do sacrifice something to transform from where you are to where you want to be, to live your best life.

Yoga transformations are amazing but sometimes require difficult sacrifices.

 

Om Shanti

Cheryl

To Prop or not to Prop

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Hi so watch the really short video, by a damn good teacher and then read my take on it and then leave me a comment……

https://www.facebook.com/taylorhuntayc/videos

Ok, so for the most part I like this guy. He’s an awesome yoga teacher, in that he actually teaches not just shouts out poses and expects the student to do them……But…. then he does this video and now I’m disappointed……

Jeezzee….I thought we were past this….the yoga shaming……the ‘oh, do you have to use a prop? Well it’s too bad you can’t do real yoga, bless your heart’  crap……(So I added the “bless your heart” but I live in the south) .

I get where he’s coming from and for the most part I agree, the postures are not the practice, they are one part and only one part of a rich, complex spiritual practice. But no single style of practice (western practice anyway) has done more to exclude most people than Ashtanga. Maybe not deliberately, but by only showing only the fancy postures (thank you Instagram & every yoga magazine…ever…) like crane and forearm balances…the jump back, pike into a handstand and float through to titibasana stuff, you know the yoga fluff. That kind of power practice has disenfranchised a lot of people. You rarely see an Ashtanga yogi in Instagram, just doing pranayama……

And the average person sees that and of course they think they can’t do it. And so they never….ever… get on a mat. They don’t try because they aren’t shown the years of work someone did to get ‘there’. (wherever the hell ‘there’ is )

Please know and understand I started my practice many years ago with Ashtanga and I deeply respect Pattabhi Jois and all he did to bring yoga out of the shadows. But as I grew as a teacher and as a student I knew that some (most) students, myself included, needed a different practice and so I was drawn to Iyengar yoga by its precision, by its application and use of props thereby allowing all to practice…..everyone. Iyengar didn’t use props because he wanted perfection in the pose; he used props to give everyone a means by which to practice. Without blocks, blankets, chair and other props most people would never be able to practice yoga….to live yoga.

And I do understand what he’s saying, that maybe using props can take away your learning something from the pose, from taking the pose deeper, that it takes away from you exploring the practice of yoga asana. And I personally don’t use a lot of props but I also don’t do 3rd series, hell I don’t do most of 2nd series anymore. But when I do I use props they don’t limit my practice…If my practice is limited (and it does get that way sometimes) then it’s ME that is the problem not the blocks, blankets or wall. My practice is eclectic, very eclectic. Somedays it’s Iyengar, and I work on specific poses and the alignment and other days it’s very Ashtanga, lots of Sun Salutations and movement. Most days, if I’m being honest it’s a mix, a blend of both. I think, those styles play very well together. And why shouldn’t they, they have the same ancestry. Krishnamacharya. Both Jois and Iyengar studied under the great yoga master Krishnamacharya.

Most people come to Ashtanga in their 20’s or 30’s and their bodies can adapt to the changes quickly, more quickly than say someone who begins practicing yoga in their 50’s. So what’s a middle aged person with no upper body strength or no core understanding let alone strength, supposed to do? Suffer? Push through the pain of the practice and hope they don’t get hurt in the process? Come on!?

He’s also saying that if you do use props that your practice isn’t meditative. Tell that to everyone whose yoga practice includes restorative yoga, a practice that heavily relies on props, and is deeply meditative. And if the practice is just meditative then why do the postures at all. You could just sit in sukhasana and breath. That’s yoga, that’s meditation.

What he is stating is that he assumes that everyone  using props are doing so because they want to somehow deepen just the physical aspects of the pose. To open hips (to use his example). Nothing could be farther from the truth. Props just help to bring the pose to where you are, in that moment. And if you do want to deepen the pose, so what?

Props help you get into a pose and help you get the pose into the body, so that you can be strong, steady and stress free while practicing. Ahem, Patanjali states in the yoga sutra 2.46 that yoga asana should be sthira sukham asanam – that asana should be Steady and Comfortable.

Yes of course yoga is an internal practice. No one is saying it’s not. But does NOT using props make you more spiritual? More enlightened?…. Yea, I didn’t think so.

Look if using a prop allows you to practice yoga without struggling (Sukha) and gives you a sense of steadiness in the pose (Stirha) then use those tools. A block is a tool, just like the breath, bandhas and dristi are tools.

And come on, all asana practice should be meditative, whether it be Astanga, Iyengar, Kundalini or any other yoga practice, it should be meditative and there should be a strong focus on the breath work as well.  And lets not forget there are 7 other limbs of yoga we should be studying along with Asana.

I have seen how yoga can transform someone’s life and I have lived that transformation as well. Just remember that whatever you practice, it’s your practice. Use props….don’t use props….I do not care. It’s about your choice, but don’t let someone’s idea of yoga, their dogma, take that choice from you. As long as you are on your mat, as long as you are giving all you have to your time on the mat and as long as you are always exploring why you’re on the mat, exploring the breath and the intention, that’s what I care about. Because then you can begin to take yoga off the mat…..and taking yoga off the mat and into your life, well, that’s where the big changes can happen.

Yoga is a practice of exploring who we are, where we are going and how we choose to get there. It is a practice of the breath, the heart, the mind, the body and ultimately the spirit.

Use whatever tools you need to strengthen your body, relax your mind and enrich your spirit so that you can transform your life.

Om Shanti

 

Cheryl

Swinging on a pendulum

So the question is Does God actually have a hand in the direction life goes? Not just the life or death stuff but the everyday stuff, or is everything in life a flip of the coin, chance?

This seems to be how people view life, as only one or the other. Either God has a hand in everything single thing going on in every single life or that everything is happenstance.

Either way you have no control over your life…..If you believe that a power higher than yourself makes all the decisions, bends you, twists you, challenges you, denies you, gives and takes, well then some outside force is controlling your life. Or perhaps you believe that everything in your life is a game of chance, a roll of the dice, there again, you’ve given your power away.

Here’s the problem with living your life at those edges, it’s too easy. It’s easy to say “Well God will take care of that” and so you sit back and wait……do nothing.  It’s also easy to say “Well that was just bad luck, maybe it will get better with time” and so you wait, for the next roll of the dice…..and you do nothing.

When the fact is Life happens on a sliding scale….with a pendulum like motion. Life is fluid; always changing and we have to understand that we have control over all of our circumstances. But when we begin to view the pendulum like motion that life is, we realize that we have choices and that we can step up and make the changes in our lives that will benefits us and ultimately give us control over our own lives.

Make no mistake I believe in a power higher than myself, God, and I believe that power does contribute to my life in many forms. But I believe that we are given the power to choose and that what you believe influences your decisions and prayer and meditation have the power to changes us. I have the power of choice.

But I also believe in chance, sometimes it’s just bad luck; that guy pulls out in front of you causing a crash…a blown out tire…getting fired….a divorce. It’s how we respond to that roll of the dice that matters. How do we deal with life when life has spiraled out of our control?

Life happens on a spectrum, an ever swinging pendulum and sometimes God takes over completely, but never for long and sometimes the happenstance of life forces us to make a different choice.

Always living at one edge of the pendulum, at the far ends of the spectrum, diminishes your life, keeps it small. Remember that life happens all along the spectrum and that it takes a lot of courage to grab hold and swing with that pendulum. Life happens all along the spectrum and it’s not the end points or the length that’s important but that you keep swinging.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

pendulum of life

 

Are Private Clients needy?

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I have a private client that was attending an event downtown recently and she was seated at a table with a local yoga teacher. During their conversation my client mentioned she did yoga but had a private teacher. The person she was talking to said she did not take private clients because private clients were ‘just too needy’……. Hummmm well my knee jerk reaction is “what a jerk!” but that’s not very Yogi like is it. So I thought about it for a minute and I know that each of us has our talents and the gifts we were born with. And I’ guessing that her gift is something other than working with private clients. It does take a specific skill set to be successful at working one on one.

But I think it’s her perception of private clients as being needy that I took the most exception too. It is way off base……They aren’t needy but they are in need. They need the specialized training that a private yoga teacher has. If you had a heart problem you wouldn’t go to a General Practice Doctor you’d go to a Cardiologist. If you need help with your teeth you see a dentist. If you are training for an Iron Man event you don’t go to your local gym and hire just any Trainer you hire someone who specializes in coaching athletes.

And the people who go to a dentist, cardiologist or hire a coach aren’t considered needy. But they do have a need.

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And just as not all yoga teachers are gifted as private teachers, private yoga isn’t for every student. Most of you will never have that ‘need’. But don’t assume that because someone is hiring a private yoga teacher that they are needy and just want a lot of attention. All of my clients have very specific needs, such as pain reduction, mobility issues, illness or injury recovery to getting ready for a marathon or Iron Man (and many others). But whatever your reason it should be looked at as part of your self-care regime. Just like getting a massage, seeing a chiropractor or having your teeth cleaned it’s all part of what you do to keep yourself health and well.

You keep doing what you need to do to be healthy and well!

 

Om Shanti

Cheryl