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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To Prop or not to Prop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Om Shanti

 

Cheryl

Settling in for the changes to come

 

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Well here we are, 1 full month into 2016 how is it going for you? The New Year can bring so many different emotions. For me it’s always a season of change, some new challenge is always waiting for me after Jan 1. Last year at this time I was deep into writing again, something I hadn’t done in a very long time. I couldn’t seem to stop. It was tough to try to get the stories perfect or the articles exactly the way I wanted. It was a challenge, but I loved it.

I have a friend who is the opposite; this time of the year is more about quiet contemplation. About time spent reading or searching for answers to deep questions he asks only himself. But he enjoys this time to rejuvenate because he knows when warmer weather comes his life will be busy. And I know another sweet soul who struggles with the long dark days in the form of seasonal depression. She is a sun worshiper and cant wait for the days to get warm so she can spend more time in the sunshine.

So what is this time of the year like for you? So you feel energized? Do you take this time to cocoon or do you count the days till spring?

Most of you know what my challenge has been this year. The big changes all have to do with The Chattanooga Yoga Centre. I’m so busy trying to figure out the schedule and book new clients and …and…. and… I haven’t had time to write like I want to. So the big challenge is time management. I have hired a new accountant so that will free up some of the burdensome paperwork. And I hope to hire someone to take on the challenge of marketing and doing other paperwork. It a big hairy glorious mess! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So let me know what the New Year has brought for you. Reach out through the blog comments, or come to a Yoga class or workshop or schedule a Reiki session to help you find clarity and focus.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

C

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Be Gentle

Being gentle with yourself doesn’t mean lying around doing nothing

Being gentle with yourself means practicing ahimsa with yourself

Being gentle with yourself is a gift…. Not only to yourself but to those who love you

Being gentle with yourself means recognizing your light and doing what is needed to fuel your fire

Being gentle with yourself today is needed

When yesterday depleted you

And tomorrow looms

Be gentle

For tomorrow may kick your ass and then you will be thankful for today

Be gentle once in a while

You are worth it

~c

Om Shanti

Restorative Quote

A writing prompt

I-am

The writing prompt was “I am __________”

Tell me what you think, then tell me who you are………

I am_________Too many things to just pick one.

I am __________depending on my mood….

I am ___________ depending on who I am with….

I am _____________ because I refuse to be put in a box….

I am trusting and trustworthy. I am a healer, a seeker a teacher.

I am a woman, I am a little girl, I am 16, 37, 55 I am ancient.

I am loved and Loving.

I am kindness and I am expecting kindness in return, I don’t always receive it.

I am ok with that.

I am just beginning and I am endless….

I am __________ because that is how you see me.

I am ok with that too.

I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a foe.

I am________ because I am not done yet.

~c

Tell me who you are….I am waiting to find out.

Om Shanti!

Still a beginner after all these years

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Really, if you think about it, all Yoga is ‘Yoga 101’ or beginner’s yoga, because your practice is always changing, always adjusting to who you are right now. My yoga has changed so much over the years, as my knowledge of yoga expanded so did my practice and yet if you look at my  physical practice now compared to 10 or 15 years ago it almost looks like I’m going backwards, When in fact I am still expanding.

I took my first yoga class in 1976, yep I’m that old. Did you know there were no yoga mats back then? Seriously! And no fancy yoga clothes either. How ever did we do it! There weren’t yoga studios, at least not around here, there wasnt anywhere to learn yoga from a teacher in person, so the book-worm that I am I got books and learned a bit about yoga that way and my practice didn’t look anything like yoga does today, it wasn’t a vinyasa or flowy practice. And my practice now doesn’t look anything like what it did 15 years ago. 15 years ago it was still mostly a physical practice without as much understanding of the deeper meaning of the 8 limbs of yoga. 15 years ago I had heard of the sutras but hadn’t read them, 15 years ago I could still do a full wheel, 15 years ago I didn’t really have a meditation practice, 15 years ago I vinyasa-ed till I couldn’t breath (an oxymoron?…. perhaps), 15 years ago, I didn’t know what restorative yoga was, now I have a deep appreciation of a true restorative practice, I believe in its power to heal. 15 years ago I started studying more about yoga and began teaching. Over the last 15 years I’ve learned that yoga isn’t just meditation, that yoga isn’t speaking in Sanskrit, that yoga isn’t about tying your body in knots, yoga isn’t about performing gymnastic type poses and movements, yoga isn’t about eating vegan and never drinking alcohol. So I’ve spent the last 15 years learning what yoga isn’t……So what is yoga? Yoga is what you need when you need it; it is also the deep understanding of what that might be. Yoga helps you discover the layers of who you are and what you can be. Today, 15 years later, my practice is slower, much more spiritual, I no longer do full wheel and I meditate on a regular basis. Today, I have a deeper understanding of why I stuck with yoga beyond just the asana practice. Today I am aware of how little I really know and so I continue to read, to study and to learn. And today I appreciate how much I have to learn and look forward to it. Every day I am a beginner.

Oh and 15 years ago there was no Facebook or Instagram. Hell I didn’t even have a cell phone then. I KNOW RIGHT, CRAZY.

~c

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The Once Still Voice

I had lunch with a dear friend recently and of course we were talking about books, reading, Star Trek, reading Star Trek books and writing. His son writes every day he said and I asked him why he wasn’t writing (as he used to write  many moons ago). He said he didn’t think his life was interesting enough to write about. “Au contraire” I said, or maybe I just punched him in arm and said ‘that s stupid’. He is articulate, incredibly well read, loves a good, meaty, juicy debate and mostly I think he needs to find his voice to make that connection to who he is, really is. I love this man and I know him……well. So all day I thought about his voice and where it had gone and then I read a lovely blog post from http://bornbyariver.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/what-i-have-forgotten/ about losing things on this journey we call Life, things that gave us joy and why we lose them.  And this morning I had a conversation with a client & friend (as most of my clients become) about her putting her self to the side while focusing on the life, wants and needs of others. So after a day of the universe trying to tell me something…trying to tell me to write about this…what ever this is. Here I sit typing madly and spewing out words feverishly then stopping and realizing “I can’t put that out there”  “What if someone actually reads it”? delete delete delete ...

Deep personal thoughts are not my thing. It isn’t that I don’t have them, trust me I do, but I simply can’t express them for the whole of humanity (or my friends and family) to read.

so maybe I will write about you today…no one would know it was you, or would they? Maybe I will just keep my thoughts of you private and only for my eyes. Sometimes when we’re together I hold back, even from just sitting close or laying my hand on yours. Like right now I am holding back writing the thoughts that I have good, bad, naughty or nice..Because too close for us is too close. Lines we can’t cross……

How do we lose it? This thing that brings us joy, that expression of who we are. Maybe it’s some form of art we no longer ‘do’ whether it’s writing or painting or even dancing.

spinning, swirling, swaying my body to the rhythm  of the music only I can hear….all in the confines of my kitchen. Singing along with the words that stream through my mind, complete with bouncing ball.

It must be some type of fear that keeps us from finding our self-expression, our expression of self. Fear of being laughed at? Perhaps.

it certainly is one of my fears, being ridiculed, embarrassed  As a child it seemed nothing I did was right, older sisters had either already done it, or had done it better. 

Fear of failure or of coming up short, of not having all the correct information.

like speaking up in a group only to be told that didn’t make sense or wasn’t correct.

How do we manage to get here, to this place of silence, of self-repression. I really do envy the writers who seem to be completely free to express everything.

Maybe I just don’t have anything to say ……….nah, nope that s not it.

~c~

Oh Shanti