Heart and Breath of stillness

“The heart has no limit in regards to the body’s shape….If you want to know the shape of the human heart, simply take a look at your fellow human and behold the human heart before you”….. Gil Hedley

Our heart like the rest of our body is steeped in movement. It is movement.

Yes, it squeezes and releases, it physically moves blood throughout the body. But what other adjectives could you use to describe the human heart? I bet most of the words you thought of are descriptions of movement… the heart Pushes, Expels, Draws in, Squeezes, Contracts, Relaxes, Pulsates, Beats, Circulates, Pumps. Take a moment and sit perfectly still, feet resting on the floor and the body relaxed. Now put your hand over your heart and feel the heart, feel the beat and notice that you aren’t really completely still. So while on the outside you seem to be completely still, there is still movement in your body, and you are aware of that movement because you can feel it with your hand and consciously you know the heart beats.

But on an energetic level, the movement of the heart is much more subtle. The heart is filled with spirit and life, it continuously dances with the body and its favorite partner in the breath.

Gill Hedley, a wonderful anatomy teacher, talks about the dance of the heart and he even has an amazing, quirky video about it and I love it! But for me, I tend to think about hows things move together, how things move physically and energetically together. So when I think of a dance or the dance of the heart I think more about how it dances with the rest of the body.

In particular the heart and breath dance together, they could and can dance alone, but never for long, for without the breath, the heart couldn’t beat for very long and without the heart, the breath couldn’t move oxygen along the river of energy to reach out to all the body.

When healthy body moves, take walking as an example, all of its parts move together. The legs propel us forward, the arms swing by your side, there is an up and down motion as well, as the feet come away from the ground and then set back down. You may even have a slight sway side to side. Your head may bob. And your feet, oh the movement in your feet alone as you walk, well that’s a whole post by itself. Your heart beats faster, your respiration increases, your blood flows with more force, your body temperature increases and you sweat.

Walking is never just about the legs.

And a movement is never about only the body. Or only the body parts we see. When you peel away the layers you find movement everywhere. In the muscles, the joints, even the bones have movement to them. Blood flow through veins and arteries and the Breath brings draws in oxygen. The cells inside us move through out our body and within the cells themselves there is movement. The body dances with itself all the time.

All movement is a dance that is constantly happening not just physically but mentally and spiritually.

And it begins with the breath and the heart. Together they take to the dance floor and in that dance, you find a rhythm. The heart and lungs share space in our body and as we breathe, they dance creating a sense of rhythm and making room for each other. They change shape to allow each the other to function, each breath and each beat of the heart they are inseparable.

My friend Amber and I went to Nashville to listen to Gil Hedley lecture (it was amazing, He is amazing…Got a little FanGirl thing going on I admit) and after the lecture, we grabbed a bit to eat and chatted vigorously and enthusiastically about what was in the lecture and well as in our  own practices. You see Amber is a skilled body work expert and Neuromuscular Therapist, she is skilled in many different aspects of massage therapy and me I am a skilled Yoga therapist and teacher. And this is how I summed up the work we do…

Bodyworkers facilitate movement for those who can’t…. And Yoga Therapists, facilitate stillness with movement and facilitate movement within the stillness.

Stillness in movement?? Movement in the stillness?? What does that even mean?

I mean that when we dance with the heart we create stillness in the mind and when we become still we can dance with Spirit.

You need to learn to tune in deeply to the body and begin to listen to the stillness within the movement and then notice the stillness that resides in the movement. This, for me, is meditation. I have never been one to sit quietly in meditation, I try… Oh, how I try to be still, physically still… not a muscle moving, like all the great Gurus of the world … it’s torture and I die a little inside every time…Every damn time. But over the years as I would try yet again to sit in meditation I would say to myself ‘be still’ … ‘stop fidgeting’  but over time I began to notice that if I would just wiggle my toes or watch the movement of breath and listen to my heart that I was moving, that even in the stillness I was still moving. And then I began to incorporate the movement of the body with the movement of breath and I could slip away into the place of stillness in the mind even though the body was moving.

You see even in the stillness of the body I was moving and within the movement of breath and beats of the heart, I found stillness.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

gran pic

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Art of Self Care – A sacred practice

“You can’t serve from an empty cup”

Big-Cup-Saucer-180cc

We live in a world that is so busy, a world that is filled with ‘stuff’, a world that bombards us with (in my humble opinion) useless information and sucks us into it’s drama. A world that makes us believe we are full and fulfilled, filled up and overflowing. But are we really? Or are we just so busy that we don’t notice the emptiness?

Self-care, especially when applied to women, is often interpreted as pampering or getting a spa treatment. And can often times have the feeling of being self-indulgent.

When in fact self-care, “is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” A report in 1983 attributed to the World Health Organization defined self-care as “the activities that individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health.”

Since then the concept of self-care has been taken in far reaching and almost ridiculous directions, which is probably why some people think you’re being selfish when you take time to de-stress yourself.

But men & women alike need to take time to recharge their batteries. To renew their spirit….To full up their cups.

And I’m not talking about the annual one week vacation to the mountains or the beach, but about changing your lifestyle to adopt the idea of caring for you and fitting those moments into your daily life.

Think for a moment about the energy needed to live your life….Go ahead think about it. Think about all you do to take care of your family, to be successful at your job, to help out in your community. Think about the tremendous amount of energy all that takes. Now imagine a large cup…. All the energy you need just to get through your day is in that cup. What would that cup look like at the end of the day, as you crawl, spent and devoid of energy into your bed? What would your cup look like?

Empty? … Barely a drop or two of that precious elixir in the bottom.

Now lets assume you don’t have a decent night’s sleep, what would that cup look like in the morning? Half full? Three quarters full? And so you get on with your day, your energy levels already at a deficit, you go to work, you deal with family issues, and maybe you have children that need help getting ready for school or day care. Maybe you have aging parents that need you. And after you work a full day you know there are still school activates for the kids, maybe you sit on a committee that meets right after work. Let’s just not even talk about laundry, dishes, house work and yard work….

Now imagine trying to get through that day with a cup that is only half full….

That’s how most of us live. And it’s why so many of get sick.

The concept of self-care is really about having a cup that isn’t just full, but over flowing, Because it is from that overflow that you can serve. You cannot serve from an empty cup.

Taking time for you isn’t selfish behavior it’s self-preservation. You wouldn’t run your car for 1000’s of miles without regular maintenance would you? You take time every day to plug your phone in and charge it up. So why don’t you do that for yourself? For your body and health?

And please know that taking time for you has to be something that you do not just to recuperate from a busy day just so you can get up in the morning and do it again. But as something that is part of your life. Your lifestyle should include time to read a book, time for a walk in the woods, time to play with the kids.

And maybe it is scheduling a spa day once a month or spending a few hours at the golf course. But it’s also about getting your workout in … everyday… it should be about nurturing your passion. Is your passion gardening? Then you garden on a regular basis. Is it painting? Then paint whenever you can.

These shouldn’t be things that take a back seat to the rest of your life, delegated to the role of ‘hobby’. A thing you do once in a while.

With a little bit of attention to your own self-care, you’ll feel more connected to yourself and the world around you. You’ll delight in small pleasures, and you have so much more to give to those around you.

Like that car or phone you must keep yourself in good repair and charged up to make sure that you don’t need a complete overhaul.

Here are a few tips for incorporating self-care into your lifestyle.

* Move your body…everyday. Take a Zumba class. Walk the dog. Dance around your kitchen and remember to smile and giggle a little.

* Take a breathing break. Instead of a coffee break during the day spend a few moments every few hours to be mindful of the breath. Inhale, slow and deep and watch the body. And notice how sweetly energized you feel.

*Do Yoga! Yea you knew I was going to say that right… but the combination of breathwork and movement not only heal the body but also help us with mental focus and give us energy to face life ahead.

Walk in nature. Walk somewhere green, the Japanese call this forest bathing. It cleanses your spirit.

* Help someone. Carry a bag, open a door, or just smile at them a stranger.

* Listen to your gut. Trust your instincts if it feels wrong don’t do it.

* Learn to say No 

* Learn to say Yes

* Say what you mean, but don’t be mean with what you say.

* Spend some time Daydreaming Take a deep breath and let your mind carry you away. It will help you to focus on more demanding tasks later.

* Love more  

* Fear less

overflowing-cup

You are a garden. Your body is the soil, your mind is the seed, your spirit is the rain and taking time to nurture yourself is the sunshine that helps your garden grow and to blossom.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

floral-old-paper-or-parchment-600x467

Oh those pesky Edges ….

explore-pic

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

Just a thought

The power of Yoga isn’t in your ‘core’ or in your legs. It isn’t in pushing into the perfect pose. Yoga isn’t about rushing to the finish. Yoga is what is in your heart & in your head. Yoga is an understanding that only through practice do we become steady. Knowing that, you know that there isn’t a ‘finish’ line, that each day is fresh and each time we come to our mats, it’s a new practice. And that’s when Joy begins to flow.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Yoga therapy. So, whats that all about.

As I begin another series of trainings in yoga therapy I have people asking me ‘what is yoga therapy’ or ‘what does a yoga therapist do’.

In the west when we think of yoga, we think of it primarily as a physical practice, as exercise. But yoga is a multi-dimensional practice, and along with its sister science, Ayurveda medicine, has been used as medical treatment and prevention for thousands of years. Yoga therapy has many applications such as managing high blood pressure, coping with the effects of cancer treatments, or treating mental and emotional disorders like depression or anxiety. It is especially helpful for treatments of musculoskeletal issues like low back pain, knee and shoulder issues, just to name a few. In an article for Gaiam Life Janice Gates, then president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists stated “Yoga therapy is very much about the whole person. It is complementary to physical therapy, but we take into account that back pain may be related to an emotional element, or it may be from lifestyle, some pattern that is not serving them, physical movement patterns or other patterns.”

Yoga therapy integrates traditional yogic concepts and techniques, with western medicine and modern psychology to become a complementary health & wellness practice. The Yoga Therapist creates a safe place for healing and growth to happen, by combining these elements and treating their client as a whole person, not just a disease.

Yoga therapy has been making inroads into the healthcare industry for quite some time; the ideas, concepts and deeper understanding of all that yoga has to offer are slowly making their way into main stream medical offices. Many doctors are now recommending yoga therapy to their patients primarily as a way to combat the effects of stress. But there is so much more that yoga therapy can do and while physicians are now beginning to understand how yoga therapy can complement modern medicine many doctors recommendations stop at stress relief. Maybe they don’t know how yoga works or perhaps they don’t have any personal experience with yoga, but without the information about how yoga works and how to best prescribe it they will simply continue to tell their patients to “go do yoga”. Since most patients won’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) seek yoga on their own, doctors need a resource, someone they can refer their patients to, someone with the knowledge of the right poses, or what breathing and meditation techniques would work for them. The yoga therapist can bridge the gap as  the patient begins to transition from dis-ease to a life more functional.

 

Surely everyone knows how great yoga is for stress reduction, isn’t that a ‘given’ anymore? But yoga is also beneficial for people getting back to the business of life after major surgery, illness or injury. And yoga is for everyone; young children are being taught yoga & meditation in schools to help them study and elderly residents in nursing homes do yoga in chairs to help alleviate the effects of aging and to help them stay active. Yoga is for people looking to slow down the aging process but also the injured athlete wanting to get back in the game. Yoga therapies are for the obese client and those battling eating disorders; for someone healing from trauma to another person making their way back from addictions.

Yoga therapy offers holistic healthcare solutions for everyone.

If you think yoga is just about stretching or being flexible you limit what yoga can do, how yoga can help you.  Yoga contributes to your overall health and well-being in so many ways. Yoga teaches healthier breathing habits that help the body with superior oxygenation providing many benefits on a cellular level, giving you bright, healthy, youthful skin; increased energy; reduced mental and physical fatigue; increase mental clarity and yoga gives your body’s immune system a big boost. All that healthy breathing combined with the yoga postures can benefit your metabolism without the stress that hard cardio workouts can put on the body. And some studies are now showing that ‘less is more’ when it comes to heart health and exercise. Beyond the physical benefits, yoga contributes to a sense of well-being and self-awareness. Yoga can enliven our senses, helps us be aware of the world around us and allows us to move through that world in a way that serves us on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. Modern medicine simply does not address all of those components.

Yoga therapy concepts are an important component of preventative medicine too. If we expect to age well, to live productive lives, to remain active in our communities then we need to add yoga to our lives to allow us to get healthy, be healthy and to remain healthy. As yoga therapy continues to grow into the medical fields, yoga therapists will have the responsibility help physicians understand the benefits of prescribing yoga to their patients. We need to work together, physicians and yoga therapists, along with other complimentary and holistic treatments to empower people to live healthy lives.

At its heart yoga is about living life without fear. Whether that fear manifests as physical pain, emotional turmoil or mental distress, Yoga therapy is another tool that you can use to live healthy and well.

Roger Cole demonstrating an adjustment for the SI joint on yours truly, at a recent training event.