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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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

More off the mat chat

I’ve been talking about the concept of taking Yoga off the mat. I want to delve a bit deeper into that concept. Yoga has the reputation, certainly in the West, of being ‘only’ a fitness regime, a physical health program. And that’s part of it for sure, but at some point you realize that yoga is something else. Your practice then becomes so much more. And that’s when the real struggle begins, because you start to question things in your life. And that can make the people in your life uncomfortable. It can make you uncomfortable.

Odds are when you first come to yoga, whether through a studio or a gym class or even online it was through the lens of the physical practice, the asana practice, and so for many that’s all yoga is, only a bunch of postural exercises.

But after a while yoga begins to take on a different meaning, you start to recognize something in your practice that you can’t quite put into words.

I tell my students all the time that yoga will slowly worm it’s way into your life, it will start to move you in ways you hadn’t expected. Slowly and over time your yoga practice becomes your own…. Not your teachers practice, not your friends but your practice. Even if it looks similar on the outside, on the inside it’s unique. It’s intimate and subtle and you find yourself looking at the rest of your life through that now intimate and subtle lens.

You may change behaviors in your life, like drinking less or eating differently. You may stop smoking or maybe you start going to the gym or the park to exercise. You may stop participating in conversations with friends that marginalize other groups outside your own. Your prayer or devotion time might now start with an asana practice. You start to find the subtleties of yoga in the way you wash the dishes, in the way you actually listen to someone when they talk. You may also look at yourself differently. You may see your beauty, where before you saw only flaws. You may start realizing your strength is in the very same places that others had only seen weakness.

Yoga off the mat is an ambiguous phrase but the truth is yoga will change you and you will reflect that change in your life. As your practice grows so will you, you will blossom and flower into a new, better version of yourself.

For me Yoga is the basis of my life, it is the foundation of who I am and every single day yoga reminds me of where I come from and how I can continue to move forward. If I never get on the mat again, if for some reason I never do the movement practice again, yoga will still be an integral part of my life. It is how I breathe, it is how I move, it is how I face the challenges of life, and it is the foundation for my relationships, my relationship with my students, with my friends, my family and with God. Yoga isn’t about perfection it’s about reaching deeply into myself so that I can then reach higher and find the better parts of me.

Yoga is my spiritual practice.

Yoga doesn’t take away the responsibility of our daily existence, yoga doesn’t teach us to run away but instead to be grounded and rooted in the experience of life so that we can see the beauty in our daily lives.

Om shanti

Cheryl

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