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

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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

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

 

 
 

Seva

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“Seva”(pronounced Say-va) is a Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service, work done without any thoughts of getting anything in return. Seva, in many spiritual traditions is believed to help someone’s spiritual growth and to also support your community or your tribe.

We all have the capacity for selfless service, to give without expecting to get, to help without thanks, to serve without reward. Ram Dass famously stated that “Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.

You don’t have to be a great sage, monk, priest or nun to practice seva, we can all practice seva in many ways throughout our daily lives. We can all spare a few minutes to pick up trash we see as we are walking through our neighborhoods or in the woods. If you have more time you can volunteer at a soup kitchen or help start a group that reads to children in hospitals. You can walk dogs at your local shelter or you can buy coffee for the guy standing behind you at Starbucks.

It’s important to note that true service doesn’t try to convert or save a soul; it simply serves for no reason other than lifting someone up.

That’s intention and I think seva is more about intention then it is about the act itself. If seva is to be a righteous action then the intention behind that action must come from the heart.

The intention of seva isn’t about getting something in return,

It’s about you taking action that benefits someone else.

 

Think for a minute what the world would be like if we all thought that way.

It’s important to know that since yoga is about balance, there needs to be balance in our actions, in our seva. We don’t want to donate so much money that we can’t feed our family and we don’t want to give so much of our time that we become exhausted. One of my teachers Ma Jaya taught that we need to fill our cup up first, and let it over flow. The overflow is what we have to give, to share. It’s not a new concept, they didn’t make it up, the idea that you need to care for yourself first has been taught for countless generations. But somehow we’ve managed to get it in our heads, women especially, that we need to take care of everyone else first and we come last. But when you live that way you are depleting yourself and then you won’t have anything to give others. How does that serve anyone?

But if we can learn to live our lives with purpose……. on purpose…… if we move through our days deliberately and we are caring for ourselves, then we have the resources to serve wherever we want and to serve those that need us.

So with no strings attached, try to do random acts of kindness that come from your heart.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

 

Sweet Psoas

When I am teaching I often refer to the psoas in my classes and I have written about it many times as well and its a fascinating subject, far more interesting than most muscles. And in class recently someone asked me to explain why its important. But its such a big subject that talking about in class just takes too much time and I wonder if she was just trying to get out of doing the extra core work I had planned…..

Ok so what is the psoas? Well its two muscles actually, one on either side of the body emerging from the thoracic spine, T-12 to be exact and running down into the abdominal cavity and pelvis. It also attaches to each of the 5 lumbar vertebrae and it attaches to the lesser trochanter, the thigh bone. It shares the tendon attachment at the thigh with the iliacus muscle and so they work together and usually when we refer to the psoas in yoga we are actually referring to the iliopsoas complex. Take a look at the picture…. You can see where the psoas starts on the thoracic vertebrae just below the last rib…..follow it down, you can see the attachments on each of the lumbar vertebrae and where it flows down into the pelvis and where it finally attaches (along with the iliacus) to the inside of the thigh bone.Iliopsoas

 

Ok now you know where it is, lets talk about what it does. It is most often referred to as a hip flexor, hip flexors are muscles in the front of the hip that act to lift the knee and bring the thigh towards the belly. But the psoas is actually more of a pendulum allowing the leg to swing free during the act of walking. So when the psoas is supple and expressive then there is a freedom in your walking, running and other movements. The psoas muscles are deeply affected by our movement patterns or lack of them. If you sit for long periods of time they shorten, tighten and dry out, losing their suppleness. They can pull the pelvis out of balance, strain the back muscles and result in back pain and sciatica. But a weakened, constricted and unresponsive psoas can also influence your digestion, affect the kidneys and adrenal glands which can then compromise the immune system. When the psoas is short, dry and constricted it can affect many things in the pelvis it can compress nerves and limit space in the pelvis.

The psoas isn’t just a muscle of movement it is also a deeply emotional muscle, it is affected by fear, love, anger, shame and trauma along with many others. It is also the muscle that moves through all three lower chakras, so it is deeply affected by chakra imbalances.

We tend to think of muscles (when we think of them at all) as two dimensional ‘things’. They contract, they expand, we can strengthen them or we can stretch them. That’s pretty much the extent of how we think of muscles. And if we were talking about your biceps I’d probably agree, but some muscles like the iliopsoas behave or act differently oh they contract and expand but they also ‘fire’ or ‘freeze’ and you can’t strengthen a muscle that is constantly firing and you can’t stretch one that’s frozen. That’s why when we talk about the deep muscles of the abdomen we often say to ‘release’ or lengthen them. These muscles need to be resilient and supple, they should be strong too but with a strength that is more of a tensile strength. We get this from rehabilitating our movement patterns and by liberating our breathing patterns. This is why yoga is so beneficial to those suffering from back pain. We aren’t just making your back muscles ‘bigger’ or ‘stronger’ yoga is changing the movement patterns that tightened up, dried out and created constriction in the deep core muscles.

In yoga it is the combination of breathing, that frees up tension and the subtle movements, that release constriction, that help create a supple and resilient psoas.

The easiest pose to do that helps release tension in the iliopsoas is Constructive Rest Pose; if you take my classes you see this a lot, whether in a gentle class, restorative class or a power class. CRS uses gravity to release deep muscle tension.

Lay on your back with the knees bent and have your feet and knees as wide as your hip sockets. Let the back be neutral neither lifting or pressing down the lumbar spine. Use no force. Let your breathing be easy, soft and relaxed. You can also try taking the feet a little wider than the hips and let the knees fall in towards each other. If you are in an active phase of back pain you can elevate the feet that can help keep the pelvis neutral.

Laying in CRP not only relaxes the physical body but also can activate the relaxation response and calm the central nervous system and that alone does a lot to ease back pain.

Try out CRP and let me know how you feel.

One of my favorite authors is a Somatic educator named Liz Koch she has been studying the psoas for more than 30 years her book “The Psoas Book” was groundbreaking in that it took a very complex subject and presented in a way that was easily digestible and it began my exploration of the workings of the iliopsoas more than 20 years ago. It is a wonderful and informative book that I highly recommend. Check it out!

 

Oh Shanti

C

 

Often times we don’t see it coming. The big event or the one little word that starts us on that roller coaster ride that shakes us, bounces us around and with twists and turns it brings us back to the beginning. It seems that we are trapped  on that merry-go-round of emotions for most of our lives.

These moments or events can cause us to doubt ourselves, to create drama on the inside that doesn’t exist anywhere else. And most of the time its a big fat nothing that causes that shift in our perception, that brings up the old manifestations of negative self-worth. Some rigid idea that we aren’t good enough that we don’t matter as much as someone else. That our dreams are foolish or insignificant. And then we turn that nonsense outward, flinging poo at other people.

Don’t we know who we are. Don’t we know are significance, our value. When we practice Yoga & live by the basic principles yoga can teach us to respond in a manner that is compassionate, that requires Love to dampen that fire of doubt.

The practice of Ahimsa is a kind of self-love that is a cool rain on a sticky August day, it calms and soothes and then we can embrace our dreams and with love and peace we can ignore the outside triggers and we can surrender these old patterns of behavior to the universe, and allow things to happen as they should. No resistance, no misunderstanding.  You learn to recognize that other people are not the ones who doubt, who question, who don’t understand those thoughts are within us. With a consistent yoga practise we become flexible enough to move out-of-the-way of  the slings and arrows of someone else’s discontent, of our own discontent and then we begin to understand our divinity

Quotes About Moving On 0173-175 (Spiritual Quotes) (1).

Om Shanti

C

Happy New Year

 

20160103_171315Let’s talk a moment about your New Year’s Resolution. Do you have one or two? Have you given up the idea of declaring a resolution because buy March or April you’ve given up or even forgotten what it was in the first place. Trust me I feel ya! Setting that resolution and then keeping it so we can make lasting change in our life can be challenging. Let’s see if we can make it a little easier. First let’s change it from a ‘resolution’ to an ‘intention’. Setting an intention encourages us to look a little deeper into the reason for change. So how do you set an intention?

By asking yourself why…. a lot.

Grab a pencil and some paper and write down your intention.

Let’s say your intention is to quit smoking or lose weight (the two most common ‘resolutions’) or maybe it’s to spend more time with your family or save more money, whatever your intention is now ask yourself ‘Why’. (write it down)…. Now ask yourself ‘Why do I want to ____________(fill in the blank).

Let’s use giving up smoking as an example. Your answer to Why might be ‘ I know it’s bad for me’. Ok good start, now dig a little deeper, ‘Why is it bad for you?’ Your answer might be… It’s bad for my health, it costs too much money and it makes my hair smell like an ashtray (Had a BF many years ago who told me kissing someone who smoked was like kissing an ashtray, I like kissing… A Lot. So I quit smoking, but I digress)….Now dig deeper…..Ask yourself ‘In what way is it bad for my health?’ …. You get the picture, you keep asking why, and you keep writing them down, usually the answers are the negatives about the behavior you want to change. But now turn the questions around a bit, dig deeper but in a different direction. Ask yourself about the positives, the good things that can come from making a change…How will quitting benefit my life? And write down all the good that can come from making the change.. ‘I will breath better, I will smell better, I’ll save money I’ll have more energy. I will be healthier.’ You can do this with any change you want to make. Remind yourself about the rewards for stepping out on faith.

Another thing you can do is to frame your intention in the here and now. “In this moment I am healthy”. “I am living a smoke free life”. And remind yourself often of your intention. In yoga we call this a Sankalpa, I have written about Sankalpas before. Having a Sankalpa can be a powerful concept.

Here are some other things to keep in mind that will help making change easier .

* Hang out with the right people. Do your best to avoid the places and people that may tempt you, keep good company; in yoga it’s called Satsanga. Spend time with others that are making the same changes as you. There is a reason that groups like AA have such a great success., they are like-minded people coming together to support each other.

* Cultivate what’s good for you. Instead of putting all the focus on what negative thing in your life you’re trying to change, remember the good things you’re doing and cultivate those habits and attitudes.

*Begin a gratitude practice and if you already have one take it one step further and write down the things you are grateful for. Daily! Everyday write down 5 things you are thankful for.

*Meditate. Sit quietly, let the mind be still, give yourself those quiet moments to de-stress, to calm and quiet the mind, the body and the spirit. When we are stressed, when the body, mind and spirit are filled with anxiety then those old habits are often the things we turn to. Like comfort food they calm us but only for a moment and in the long run they cause more turbulence. Taking time every day for meditation gives us clarity and peace.

* Be joyful! Know that you are making your life better not only for you for those around you.

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Change is hard. But when you learn the different techniques you can use then change is not only easier but joyful as well.

Om Shanti!

Cheryl

BTW My intention is to blog more. How am I doing so far 🙂

Restorative insites

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In an active asana class (Vinyasa, Flow or Ashtanga) we are learning and practicing the art of ‘doing’. Doing the pose, doing the breathing, doing the movements…. But with restorative yoga we are cultivating the art of ‘being’; Being in the pose, being with the breath, being patient, being focused, relaxed and aware.

Yoga as a whole is the art and science of being. Being human, being well, being Love, being you…..the art of restorative yoga allows us to more deeply cultivate that sense of ‘being’.

Judith Lasater refers to Restorative Yoga as ‘Active Relaxation’… that sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it. But if we aren’t actively involved in the process of learning to relax, if we are just going through the motions, then the body doesn’t respond in the way we want it to, it doesn’t actually relax. You might fall asleep during a restorative class, which is ok when you are first learning the process, but sleep is passive relaxation. We want to be able to turn on the relaxation response when we need to; we want the body to know when to relax and when to flee and then how to relax again.

When you’re doing a restorative yoga practice give consideration to gravity. Observe the gentle pull of it, the way it softly tugs at you, take time to notice it.

Throughout our daily lives we fight with gravity, we have work to stay upright, to walk, to move, just staying upright is a constant battle between us and gravity. And as we age if we think of gravity at all we think of it as the enemy. But gravity has a purpose; it holds us close to the earth….. Connected….. Tethered…. Gravity keeps us tethered to the Earth. And restorative yoga takes advantage of the tether, of that connection. Restorative yoga gives us a chance to use gravity, to work with gravity.

Now, go back to observing how the body responds to the pull that is gravity and then give up the fight, surrender to that gentle pull, honor it, it’s what keeps us from floating off into space, gravity is what grounds us.

Think of ‘being’ grounded the next time you are ‘doing’ restorative yoga and explore the tugs and pulls of gravity

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Om Shanti

Cheryl