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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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

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