Movement the energy of life

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When you think of exercise what comes to mind? Well merriam-webster.com has this to say about exercise

  • physical activity that is done in order to become stronger and healthier
  • a particular movement or series of movements done to become stronger and healthier
  • something that is done or practiced to develop a particular skill

but here’s the thing it isn’t “exercise” that we should be promoting, it’s movement.

Friends and I were talking the other day and someone mentioned a trainer she knows and this trainer has a lot of injuries, old and new from ‘working out’, from pushing her body to its limits. And while we can do that (esp when we are young) it will most likely come back to haunt us, in the form of damaged connective tissue, extremely tight muscles, and arthritis. But exercise is good for us you say and we have been told we should do it, need to do it, but now they tell us it could be bad for us….. sheeeshee, its hard to know what’s what anymore.

But here’s the things….. pay close attention please…

Ahem:
It isn’t really exercise we need, it’s movement. But isn’t that the same thing? Nope not really. Exercise is a specific physical activity, based in movement but movement isn’t always exercise.

Think of it this way…An object in motion stays in motion. Right?, thats just physics.

Its movement we need to stay healthy, to age well and to become stronger. And from a yoga standpoint it also about balance. The balance between too much, too little and just enough, we all need to go Goldie Locks on this idea of exercise.

We think of movment as something that happens to us, even if we are doing the exercise, we think of it as being an outside endeavor. Instead think of Movement as starting from the inside, movement in the body, movement in the breath and then moving them together, the synchronicity of movement. First, we move the body, then we move the body with the breath and when they move together then the energy within the body moves. It flows, its an ebb and tide it contracts and expands. It’s movement. From our cells flowing with prana to the earth revolving around the Sun its movement we need.

So what can you do to increase movement in your life? To make movement your lifestyle, not just some exercise you do for an hr 3 times a week.

**Walk your dog, every day.

**Play outside, with the kids, without the kids, with the dog. Make “Play” part of your life too. Climb trees, play kickball, hit some golf balls.

**If you have a job that requires sitting for long periods of time, set a reminder and get up for at least 5 mins every hour and for at least 15 min every 4 hours. Or better still if you can, get a standing desk.

**Dance while cleaning…. Crank up your favorite tunes and Dance like to one is watching. And if you find they are watching, smile and invite them to join you in the dance.

** Wash your own car instead of going through the drive-through car wash

**Limit how much TV you watch. There is so much to choose from any more cable, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu ect ect ect… that we probably spend more time surfing and “looking” for something to watch than actually watching something… If your guilty of that raise your hand

  Image result for raise your hand Yea me too!

**Keep a pair of sneakers & a change of clothes in your car in case the opportunity to walk arises… Plan for that opportunity.

**Park a few blocks away from your destination and walk the rest of the way

**Do toe raises and calf raises while standing in line at the store or bank

** Instead of meeting a friend for coffee meet at the park and walk while you catch up

There are endless possibilities for getting more movement in your life……Oh there’s one more

**Take some exercise classes several times a week, Dance aerobics, Zumba, Pilates, and of course Yoga… they are fun and you can make new friends, just be sure they are a part of the movement in your life, not the only movement.

See you at the park, I’ll be the one climbing a tree 😊

Om Shanti

Cheryl

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Change

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”– Lao Tzu

Life can change in an instant…. One minute your waltzing through life and the next Bam! something happens and things change. Maybe its a big change, a traumatic change, a death of someone close to you or an injury that will take your life in another direction. In my case it’s been an unexpected illness. So no real trauma, but definitely unexpected. I spent 3 days in the hospital and took almost 3 weeks off from work.

I never take off work.

I rarely cancel classes and clients, as a self employed person taking off from work means money out of my pocket. So it had better be a big deal that keeps away from The Centre.

But heres the thing about change it is inevitable. There will always be changes, little changes and big changes and often we dont have a choice about some of the changes that come our way, but how we handle change is a choice. 

I learned a few things as I recovered over the last few weeks, big things and little things.

I learned that Yes I can just sit here on the couch. Oh but my monkey brain really wanted to ‘get things done’ the body on the other hand needed rest and lots of it. So I listened to what the body needed and I complied. I learned that I can be patient. Patience is not my strong suit, but I learned I do have some if I dig deeply enough.

I learned that food isn’t always a comfort. Yea I said it..! Food is not always what the body needs. I had a very difficult time putting anything, and I mean anything on my stomach. Even just little sips of water could make me nauseous. I pretty much just ate what I lovingly referred to as the maternity diet. Soda crackers and Sprite, with the occasional apple sauce thrown in. So maybe I will use this time to reassess my diet, clean it up a bit. Less fatty foods and more fruit and veggies. So maybe positive changes can come from the unexpected changes too.

 The biggest thing I learned though was about me and my relationship to breath…. 

Breathing is my happy place. Pranayama, breathing practices, are at the heart of my personal yoga practice and at the heart of my teaching. But this illness changed my breathing. I found it difficult to take a full breath, and deep breathing was out of the question. Simple little breaths were all I could managed. I sat in the hospital bed and practiced Sama Vritti. Balanced breathing with a deep mindfulness on relaxing….. well, everything. I am only just now getting to a place where my breathing practices are getting back to ‘normal’. But my awareness and my intention well that has changed.

I have had many students and clients over the years that found ‘breath work’ to be challenging and I have always (at least I hope I did)  approached their concerns with compassion and taught them from that place. But I have to admit that I have practiced Pranayama for so very long that for many years I couldn’t truly relate. I didn’t remember what it was like to not be able to breath deeply, efficiently and with a richness that breath awareness brings. I think I have a better understanding now of how difficult changing your breath must be for those new to yoga.

And the most important thing I think I learned is not to take your good health for granted and if you don’t have ‘good health’ you should try to get some. It’s never too late to start. Find a health coach, a trainer or yoga therapist who can help you. Changes in our health are probably one of the hardest things we do in life. But I give all the credit to my speedy recovery to being in pretty good health to begin with and that credit goes to yoga and to what I call being Wellness Aware and to a consistent movement based practice and to pranayama and meditation.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” - Wayne Dyer

There is a lot of good advice out there to help you deal with life changes, 

*Know that Change Is Inevitable. …

*Separate Your Feelings from Your Reaction. …

*Practice Mindfulness. …

But for me the simplest  way to accept change that is hard to handle is to try to look at it from a different perspective. Look for something that might be a good outcome from the change. I know, I know…. Looking at something thats well, crappy, in a different way is hard. Who out there remembers the movie Pollyanna? Yea the old Disney version. In the story Pollyanna played a game called the glad game and no matter how disappointed or sad she was she always looked for something to be glad about. She looked for the light. She looked for a something in a bad situation that she could be glad about.

Well folks I am a card carrying Pollyanna. My ex-husband & my oldest son used to call me “Pollyanna” like it was a bad thing. An insult. But its not. Seeing the good in a bad situation makes you resilient, it does not make you an ostrich with its head in the sand. Being able to look ahead and see that this new road maybe taking you in a good or better direction comes from a place of strength. It take courage to look at your current situation, this new normal, and think ‘I can make something good come of it’. And personally I think that makes you more of a realist. Always being fearful of change or resisting it causes pain and keeps you stuck in a present moment that is meant to become a past moment. A memory. 

So remember that change is essential to life, if we always resist changes that life brings, we would never begin new relationships, make new friends and meet new lovers. We wouldn’t take that job we always wanted. We might never go to the new yoga class we heard about…..  Learn to at least welcome change and to meet it somewhere safe, but outside your comfort zone.

Life is all about change and begin open to what comes next. Learn to stay focused on the positives in life. 

Embrace your inner Pollyanna!

Om Shanti

Cheryl

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The Magic of Slowing Down

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So this Article talks about something called ‘conscious movement’ …. Like it’s a new thing…..

Yea, well its not a new thing, but it is a great article highlighting the magic of slowing down.

Anyone doing yoga, pilates, TaiChi, and many other types of movement that require an attention to detail, has known about this for a long time. Back in the day, it was referred to as ‘Functional movement’ and ‘Everyday Exercise’ and of course a slower more precise movement based exercise like ones I have already mentioned were thought of as something you do once in a while to stretch or as exercise for older adults who had physical limitations preventing them from doing ‘real exercise’.

Let me be clear that when I say precise or talk about details, I am not referring to any thing akin to perfection or to the idea of a perfect alignment. I am talking about the precision or attention to detail that comes from simply slowing down enough to feel the pose or the movement.

I haven’t given what I teach a fancy name or label, I just call it yoga or movement. But even when I was still teaching STEP and other forms of aerobic exercise I taught a slower version, a more mindful way to move. And although the Mindfulness movement is fairly new (in the main stream anyway) that’s what we are talking about, Moving Mindfully.

One of my wonderful teachers calls it Subtle Yoga and I like that. It speaks of a softer, gentler way to move. A subtler approach to movement. But in our fast-paced culture where everything must be faster, harder, bigger and more complicated for you to get any real results this style of movement is overlooked or worse its degraded as something not worth doing. I remember when STEP first became a ‘thing’, it was everywhere in the late 80’s and early 90’s and it was taught (and I was trained this way) as a slower way to do aerobics that had you stepping up and off of a platform to around 125 BPM, but by the mid to late 90’s the normal BPM had jumped up to 135+… setting people up for all kinds of injuries. I had a few loud conversations with gym managers and other instructors about my classes. I kept the BPM’s well under 130 and I still do today, when I get a chance to teach. I have also taught Pilates and in classical Pilates, and in a style of Pilates known as The Method, precise movements require you to move slowly, Mindfully, but again the fast-paced folks weren’t sweating enough, so it morphed into something else looking more like boot camp classes. And guess what, people got hurt.

“Extreme soreness has become a celebrated experience in our culture, but pain is often an indication that you’ve gone too far, too fast.”
― Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement

And the same thing has happened in yoga. Yoga 50 years ago wasn’t taught in hot rooms with jumps and hops and crazy positions. Oh there were some crazy poses, well my hips think their crazy, but they were held for longer and they were taught over years, to students who practiced daily, that’s every day guys, yep people can do yoga every day… Just sayin’….. What has happened over the last 20 years or so is that our culture has once again taken the deliberateness and precision out of yoga and now everything is vinyasa. Fast paced movements designed to keep the heart rate up and burn calories. 

So what’s my point? Well there are good reasons why we need to move with more attention to detail. Moving more slowly actually allows you to recruit more muscle fibers. Moving deliberately takes a lot of momentum out the movement giving you a chance to feel how you move, to live for a moment in the foundation of the movement. In a slower paced practice, you can take time to notice the breath, to move with the breath. In a subtler practice you allow the body to move in a more natural way, increasing strength and pliability more slowly, therefore more effectively.

And the practice of moving more deliberately increases the flow of Prana through the body. Due to stress, lack of movement, poor diet and even aging, the body can become stiff. It becomes heavy and dense. And when that happens the movement of Prana, vital life force, is inhibited.

One of the reasons we do a yoga asana practice is to free up the physical body. To release tension and allow more freedom of movement, and when the body is free from tension then Prana flows more freely.

Moving slowly and holding poses for longer periods of time encourage a deeper level of relaxation. Holding a pose or a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds may feel like a stretch or that you are relaxing muscles but in reality, while the muscles may relax a little often times the connective tissue can actually begin to resist the stretch. If the posture is held for 2 minutes or longer, the belly of the muscle will begin to release and lengthen, and the connective tissue can then release old stuck energies and the result is more permanent elasticity and flexibility.

And along with that increased flexibility the Prana can begin to move and to release the mental, physical and energetic blocks in the body.

And I have nothing against a hot sweaty practice, or a practice that is intense and hard, but if that’s all you do you are missing out on creating greater balance in your body as well as your mind and spirit.

So know and understand that a slower style of yoga along with restorative yoga, practices that seem simple are not at all “beginner’s yoga, they can be quite challenging.  These practices offer significant returns on the investment of your time and more importantly your attention.

These practices may seem simplistic, but they are incredibly profound.

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Try slowing down and let me know what you think

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Svadisthana Chakra, the chalice of life

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I have had many requests for information about the chakra system over the years. I even based the theme of last falls Autumn Retreat on the chakras.

So, I thought that since I am hosting and leading a workshop next Saturday all about the pelvis & Pelvic floor that I would touch on some of the information I will be talking about related to the pelvic floor and the chakra system. Particularly the Sacral or second chakra.

The Svadisthana chakras special gift is allowing us to experience life through feelings and sensations. Svadisthana in Sanskrit means ‘ones own abode or seat’. Another Sanskrit translation has part of the word meaning ‘to take pleasure in’.

The second chakra is the very center of feelings and sensations, emotions, pleasure, sensuality, intimacy, and connection all come from this chakra. And since this chakra is also the center of creativity it helps you to create change and feel transformation within your body.

But there is a problem, we live in a world where feelings are not valued, where passion, and emotional reactions are frowned upon. We are taught not to lose control and encouraged to hide our emotions. And because of this we can get disconnected from our feelings and from our body. Disconnected from our very center.

And the center of the body is the pelvis. From this place we create life. Even if we don’t have children we still have this space within us that creates. From this place we move forward, we use our feelings, our intuition, to guide us through life’s many changes.

The sacral chakra is located in the lower abdomen near the coccyx or tailbone, between the sacrum and pubis. The chakra color of the second chakra is orange, vermillion, and its element is water.

Imbalances in the sacral chakra can lead to:

  • Emotional overreactions or Emotional detachment
  • Excessive neediness in relationships
  • Codependency
  • Muscle tension and abdominal cramps
  • Fear of happiness or pleasure,
  • Lack of creativity and authenticity
  • Low libido
  • Pessimism, depression
  • Pelvis area infections and illnesses

 A balanced chakra can help you be more emotionally and creatively balanced. You will be less likely to be affected by the highs and lows of relationships, life, career, creativity etc.

You will less fearful about expressing your sexuality or other emotional needs. A balanced second chakra will help free from the blockages of ego and control issues. Often, our creative pursuits or focus get driven away by our emotional impulses, anger, frustration etc. A balanced chakra makes the person more self-aware, and able to express their emotions through creative work.

Sacral Chakra Affirmations

  • I have healthy boundaries.
  • I have healthy relationships.
  • I am open to experiencing the present moment.
  • I am open to feeling pleasure and abundance.
  • I know how to take care of my needs.
  • I respect and love my body.
  • I allow myself to experience pleasure.
  • My emotions are balanced.

Yoga poses to open the second chakra

Hip openers are primary in helping energize the second chakra. Poses such as Baddha Konasana, wide angle forward fold, and happy baby pose, just to name a few.

 

DSC03662 BKBaddha Konasana

DSC03671 seated wff Wide Angle Forward Fold

DSC03732 happy babyHappy Baby

Try a few of these poses and let me know how they feel.

Om Shanti!

Cheryl

Lets rant a bit about scales

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It’s a number thats all… just a number…just one indicator of your health.

It’s not how you judge your worth or value. It’s not representative of who you are or what you are. It’s not a measure of your success as a human being.

It’s a number. Nothing more.

We (woman especially) approach the scale with fear and dread, hoping it will tell us how we measure up. We step on that scale as if it’s number can tell us if we are lovable, or desirable. But what you need to know is that the scale is a liar. It can’t tell you what portion of that weight is healthy fat or unhealthy fat. It can’t tell you how much muscle you have, it can’t tell you if you have light bony structure or dense heavy bones.

It can’t tell you if you’re a good parent or if your partner thinks your sexy.

It only measures body weight. That’s all. And if you are judging yourself on that one number only let me tell you from experience that no matter how low that number is it can’t, it shouldn’t define you.

I am a healthy, and pretty damn, fit Grandma and full disclosure here I weigh 175 lbs. I went to the Doctor recently for my annual and it’s the only time I step on a scale, I don’t own one. I am 5’ 9.5” tall, and according to the charts I am over weight. But what that chart doesn’t know that I can do a 2 min plank or run trails (slow but I do it) or throw kettle-bells around like a boss. It doesn’t know that my BP is 100/60 and my total cholesterol is 160.

That lying scale measures only one thing, the tug of gravity on your body. And it doesn’t consider certain variables like water retention, changes in hormones, or how much muscle you have.

Would I like to be a little bit thinner… yes…. Because I have been programmed to think that if I am thin then I will be happy… In Oh so many ways…. Well guys I have been thin, very thin, too thin and I was not happy. Not even close.

There was a time in my adult life, even after having had 3 kids, that I was about 45 pounds lighter than I am now. Wow! I can’t even imagine what I would look like at 135lbs! Gaunt? Emaciated? At my age (nope not telling you that, I gave you my weight, that’s enough) there is no way that would be a healthy weight. I would have to lose all the muscle I have put on in the last few years. Am willing to do that… No. But what then is a healthy weight? And who decides what number we should be targeting?

My doctor? The insurance companies? Self or Shape magazine? And if my BP is with in a healthy range, my cholesterol is on the low side of the normal range and I get copious amounts of exercise, then what does it matter what number comes up on the scale?

If you take my class often enough you hear me say that nothing in the body happens in isolation and that wellness is a layering process. What that means is no one thing makes you healthy and well. No single exercise will make you fit. And that one number on the scale is not the only indicator of health and well-being. Step back and look at the myriad of ways you can improve your overall life and start to layer them, see what works for you and what doesn’t. But don’t rely on only one thing to dictate your life. Remember that your happiness and self-worth are not dependent on reaching one single criteria.

So ditch the scale, or at least use it only as one, just one, of many tools that help you live your best life right now!

Om Shanti

Cheryl

bost cropped   (p.s. I will turn 58 this year)

Breathing Breaks

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Breathe easy……Take a breather……Take a breath ……Catching your breath

These are just a few of the different ways we express using breath to ‘take a break’. It’s in our lingo, part of our culture, and yet it’s something we rarely seem to do. Instead we ‘take a break’ by getting a cup of coffee or surfing facebook or Netflix on our pc…you know you do and your boss knows it too. We all need to take breaks from our work, even if we love what we do taking a break has many benefits ….

Better Circulation, increased muscle tone and flexibility

Sitting all day long can have a negative impact on the body, which is why it’s essential to get up and move at least once every hour. This increases blood flow improves muscle function, joint mobility and genuinely keeps you from feeling sluggish.

Boosts your Creativity

Get those creative juices flowing! Taking a break from the action allows you to recharge your mental batteries, improving the chances of coming up with that new genius idea.

Increased Productivity

Productive and engaged employees aren’t necessarily ones who work 80-hour weeks, it is usually someone who is engaged in the task at hand and productivity should be measured by the quality of the work.

Reduced Eye Strain

Taking just five minutes away from a computer screen is typically all you need to keep eye strain at bay, and it’s crucial to sustaining work for a long period of time.

Lower Stress Levels

Stress is one of the main things that causes burnout. To preserve your sanity, de-stress and improve the quality of whatever you are doing, you need to step back from the action. And remember it’s not goofing off,

it’s really about taking time to Refuel and recharge.

At the Cleveland Clinic they use yoga and modified traditional yoga breathing exercises as a way to help patients manage their pain and disease. Deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes.

Dr. Mladen Golubic, a physician in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, says that breathing can have a profound impact on our physiology and our health. “You can influence asthma; you can influence chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; you can influence heart failure,” Golubic says. “There are studies that show that people who practice breathing exercises and have those conditions — they benefit.”  He’s talking about modern science, but these techniques are not new. In yoga, breath work is called pranayama and Yoga practitioners have used pranayama as a tool for affecting both the mind and body for thousands of years.

According to Psychology Today, breaks at work improve employee performances. Below is a list of breaks that may be effective during the work day (Fritz et al., 2011):

  • Meditation helps you detach from work thoughts by clearing your mind and focusing on relaxation.
  • Physical activity helps you increase blood flow to areas in the brain that are necessary for focus and attention.
  • Learning something new or playing a game will help you feel confident and boost motivation.
  • Setting a new goal and thinking about the future will help you see the bigger picture and re-evaluate life in a positive way.

Meditation, physical activity, learning something new, and setting a new goal can sound like a lot of different things you need to do to take that break, but the reality is you can do all these things by simply taking a ‘Breath Break’.

Instead of reaching for coffee to give you a boost, allow your breath to soothe your body, mind and spirit.

If you don’t have time to leave your desk here is a 2 min ‘Breathing break’ you can take to de-stress, invigorate the spine and enliven your brain…

Push your chair away from your desk, place your feet on the floor under your knees, sit near the front of the chair and lengthen your spine.

Now close your eyes and place your hands on your belly and begin to take long slow deep breaths. On each inhale lengthen a little more through the side and back body, while doing your best to keep the chest and shoulders relaxed. After about 5 or 6 breaths open your eyes and let the breath return to normal.

Then begin the deep, calm breaths again, this time taking your arms overhead on the inhale and bringing them down on the exhale, again about 5 or 6 times.

Then place the hands on your knees, inhale to lengthen the body and on the exhale ‘roll forward over your knees’ keeping the hands on your knees for support. Go as low as you are comfortable. Inhale as you bring your body up and exhale you roll forward. About 5 or 6 times.

You can do another round changing the dynamics if you like and if your back is strong enough….

On the Inhale raise your arms up and on the Exhale as you roll forward you release your arms out to the side (swan dive fashion) and towards the floor. If you need to support of your hands on your knees, please keep them there.

If you have more room and time, try the above sequence standing up…. Just adjust from sitting to standing in mountain pose for the first round of breathing, on the second round arms go overhead slowly as you inhale and slowly come down on the exhale. You can add a little bit of fun here, as you go up on your toes slowly raise your heels off the floor.

For the next round (keep the heels down) raise your arms up on the inhale and on the exhale, bend the knees and roll down towards the floor. And on the inhale bring your body back to standing.

Again 5 or 6 breaths for each round. And remember to smile and have fun.

Breathing is the original mantra and just a few minutes of deep breathing is easy, it is an act of self-care and it accelerates the benefits of the work break. And connecting movement with the breath enhances brain function and amplifies the benefits of your ‘Breath Break’.

I could be talked into a wee little video of the above mentioned breath breaks….Hummmm? Interested?

So try substituting the ‘coffee break’ for a ‘Breath Break’ do it every day for a week and let me know how you feel!

Namaste my lovelies 

Oh Shanti

Cheryl

For information regarding events, Classes, Reiki and workshops, please check out the FaceBook page for The Chattanooga Yoga Centre.

 

Gentle Yoga

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As I started to write this month’s blog about the difference between Gentle yoga and the yoga everyone thinks they know…i.e what they see on magazine covers. I found myself journeying down memory lane.

I took my first yoga class sometime in the late 70’s…. 1976 or maybe 1977. I was visiting my sister in Alabama where she was a graduate student, she took me to the university gym and we took a class. No yoga mats, no lulu lemon clothes. No blocks, bolster or blankets Oh My!

Just yoga.

No jumping, no flipping your dog, no flow, no power and no heat.

Just yoga.

The students used beach towels and old blankets and gym mats (you know the thick one’s gymnasts use).

810b4b6a940ce9f91a852a96f8a765fb (This is pretty much what classes looked like way back when. Street clothes and no sticky mats)

I was hooked. I loved it! And over the years I mostly learned from books and I practiced on my own.

As I grew older and married and began raising a family my practice fell away, as is the case for a lot of people. But during the mid 80’s after a long illness and all of life’s challenges I began to teach fitness classes. Aerobics!

Yes I wore head bands and scrunchy socks and played “lets get physical” by Olivia Newton John on my boom box. But I always added yoga in my workouts, Always!…… now jump ahead a few decades and trust me yoga looks very different. I started teaching full yoga classes in the late 90’s and in early 2001 I was teaching at a gym in Nashville. A flow class because that’s what everyone was teaching. That’s what everyone wanted in the gym. But my practice, my own personal practice, didn’t look anything like the power classes I taught. You see, that long illness I had in the 80’s never really went away. I have had many diagnoses from Fibromyalgia to MS. And most recently (about 10 years ago) a neuromuscular disorder.

I don’t really care about the name of my disorder because any way you spin it, it means I tire very easily and that my muscles spasm and ache and don’t always work like they should. Oh we could chock it up to age at this point in life and I have been told by well meaning friends, family and even Doctors that this is all part of the aging process. Really? Then I have been aging for as long as I can remember.

The point of saying all this is that I am a ‘spoonie’…. A spoonie is someone who struggles with chronic illness or chronic pain. The term spoonie was coined by Christine Miserandino who created the Spoon Theory. The theory provides an explanation about what life is like for anyone living with chronic illness/pain. Check out her explanation here

What does all this have to do with how Gentle Yoga is different that Magazine yoga? Well for starters the way I teach yoga, or fitness for that matter, grew out of my own experience with chronic fatigue and muscles spasms. Even when I was teaching High impact STEP classes and Power yoga classes I taught them differently because otherwise I simply could not do them.

Personally, I hate the term ‘Gentle Yoga’ it implies a practice that is less than… that you do it because you can’t do real yoga… I cry bullshit on that! But what else can describe the class in a way that separates it from it’s Power / Ashtanga cousin. A description that lets people know that here is a class you can do. How is Power Yoga the Real yoga anyway. It is simply one way to do yoga.

Don’t be mistaken, Gentle Yoga isn’t an easy class and it isn’t a beginner class either, it is simply a class that doesn’t have a heated room, it doesn’t have Jump backs or head stands. It doesn’t have hand stands or any pretzel poses. And it doesn’t always ‘Flow’. It is a class that makes sense to the body and it makes sense to the brain. It moves, perhaps more slowly, but it moves. And it moves far more deliberately than many other styles of yoga.  What I mean by that is that it allows for a great deal of movement but interlaced with static poses and poses that protect joints and promote strength but gives the student choices for resting, modifying and changing poses so that their body can participate.

I started doing some research on what Gentle yoga was and I could list you all kind of benefits of gentle yoga and I could give you a stock definition of gentle yoga, no doubt written by someone more articulate than myself. But that’s not what I wanted to really write about, I guess I wanted to write about why gentle yoga is appealing to someone like myself.

You see someone in chronic pain or dealing with an on-going illness is often very frustrated with ‘regular’ classes, because some days they might be able to get through all the vinyasas and some days it’s all we can do to hang out in Childs pose. Also, yoga classes themselves are often taught by instructors that don’t know how to make the class accessible for everyone. Even I find it difficult to take public classes and I am often embarrassed that I can’t do everything that a yoga teacher should be able to do.

But a Gentle class (gotta come up with a better name!) is anything you want it to be. Anything you need it to be in any moment. Taught well a Gentle class will help ease pain, it will help you gain mobility and it will help you get stronger. And that extends off the mat too… well all yoga should extend off the mat. We’ve talked about that before haven’t we? Here and Here.

So in a nut shell the difference between Regular yoga and Gentle is …. Nothing… no real difference. They are both ‘Real’ Yoga, both styles help you make strength gains and changes in your body that are positive and both styles should also give you a better sense of yourself. They are simply two different approaches that help you bring yoga into your life.

That yoga class I took in the 70’s, well that is pretty much what my practice still looks like today. Simple but challenging, Gentle but never easy. Poses and movements done with an attention to the breath and stability more than linking them together and making it a dance.

What does your own practice look like? I really want to know.

Om Shanti!

Cheryl

 

 

 

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

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The Art of Self Care – A sacred practice

“You can’t serve from an empty cup”

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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

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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

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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