Yoga

Retreating!

In Vancouver we are usually lucky with a beautiful summer, this year Mother Nature seems to be on vacation. As the rainy days continue to pound down on us and the torrential rain pounds outside the window, I’ve begun to look deeper into sunny and warm yoga retreats.

{Source: www.yogaretreatgreece.com}

Not only are there many studios locally who offer there own annual or semi-annual yoga retreats, there are retreats offered world wide, so where do you begin. Here are some tips to think about when planning a yoga retreat;

  • How much can you afford?
    Set yourself a budget, start here and set yourself a budget. Most retreat costs do not include airfare, keep this in mind.
  • Who are you travelling with?
    Many retreats are based on double occupancy and the price increases if you are a single occupant, while others offer shared accommodations. Decide if you are looking for a solo journey, a journey with you partner, friends or use it as an opportunity to make new ones.
  • Meals;
    Make sure you read the fine print and determine what meals are not included in the price and that you will be responsible for.
  • Type of Yoga:
    If you are going to take a retreat with a teacher you have never practiced before, find out as much you can about the teacher and what style they teach. Many retreats offer two classes a day, are you going to be happy with the teacher.
  • Other Activities:
    What other activities are included in the retreat? Tours, events etc?
  • Free Time:
    How much free time do you get to explore and be on your own?
  • Where do you want to go?
    We are lucky living in Vancouver to have places like Galiano and Salt Spring Island to find a retreat close to home. Decide where you want to go; somewhere far (Europe), somewhere closer (California), somewhere tropical (Costa Rica) and see what’s in your budget.

These gloomy rainy days have got me looking deeper into the yoga retreat wish list. Here are a few that are on the top of my list;

Have you been on a yoga retreat? What did you like or not like?

Practicing Yoga Eases Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Science is just beginning to verify what yoga practitioners have known for eons, namely, that regular yoga practice positively impacts and changes your mood, body and health. Yoga has even been shown to aide cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy according to a study done at NIH. And it teaches tools to help patients reclaim their lives both on and off the mat.

Asanas, or the physical poses, are the most obvious form of yoga. Moving standing, sitting, backbends, inversions and restorative poses strengthens the body, makes it more flexible and realigns collagen to help improve daily movement. Both the range of asanas and the basic tenants of yoga are ideal for cancer patients. All poses aren’t for everyone; if a practitioner experiences pain, they should alter the pose, or stop and move into a restorative position like child’s pose. Yoga Journal provides a great look at how chemotherapy affects yoga practice. Working and breathing through the asanas helps patients put the attention into their bodies and examine areas of discomfort. Breathing into problem areas causes a release of the tension. Often medication side effects cause aches and pains but are eased through yoga. And even if a patient is loosing hair, he or she finds a renewed self respect and strength.

Breath work is often called pranayama. Students practice breathing and moving energy into discomfort. Many people undergoing cancer treatment report using breath control whenever possible, from waiting for a doctor’s prognosis to undergoing an uncomfortable procedure. One such pranayama is big belly breathing, where you expand your belly in big, long breaths. This slows your heart rate and calms you down, bringing awareness and oxygen into your body without causing excitement or anxiousness. It is a technique everyone including people with cancers such as mesothelioma should put into practice.

Of course other factors play a part, like meditation, which helps a person find their true self and center. Studies have shown that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain. The concept of ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence to oneself and others, helps cancer patients find a non-harming way of viewing their bodies, the treatment process and the medicine, which is commonly defined as poison for the cancer. In this way, yoga provides a different outlook on the world and feeling in your body. Even in your darkest days, possibly even living with a big uncertainty, like an unknown mesothelioma life expectancy, your quality of life can significantly improve with practice.

Author Bio: Jillian McKee works as the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Her time is spent mostly on outreach efforts and spreading information on complementary and alternative medicine use in cancer treatment. You can contact her at [email protected] and check out the Cancer Alliance at @canceralliance on Twitter and Facebook.com/mesotheliomacance.

Take It Easy

Taking it easy when you usually don’t is its own kind of challenge. I am practicing Ashtanga yoga these days. Two days of led primary series and four days of Mysore at 6:00 am. But I worked for nine hours on my feet yesterday and today I was tired… and stiff… and sore. So I took it easy. As easy as you can take it in the Ashtanga primary series.

I felt guilty? Not guilty, but I had to rationalize this decision to myself. I had to continually remind myself that it is my practice and I can (and should) practice in a way that feels good.

Figuring out how much effort is appropriate is a theme in my life. I know that there are some people who do not have this problem, but all so-called “type A” yogis recognize this in themselves. Working hard is a virtue, but working too hard is dangerous. Vancouver’s own master teacher Bernie Clark characterizes it the best when he talks about how you can optimize health and you can optimize performance, but you have to choose.

And you have to examine your goals very closely.

I have found that the Ashtanga practice taps in to my competitiveness and drive to progress. I want to be able to reach the full expression of every pose because I’m goal oriented. But that’s not why I do it. I do it because it opens my heart and allows me to be more compassionate and loving.

I am committed to optimizing health, not performance. But taking it easy can be hard work too, sometimes.

OUR CONSCIOUS ‘WEB’ : ARE YOU LISTENING?

Over the course of the last several weeks we have looked at the benefits of the fascia system, and showcased a few of the meridian lines with relation to the practice of yoga and sport, but before we break the lines down further, lets take a moment to  bring the fascia system into consciousness and reconnect with the bigger picture.

Yoga and sport are not just about muscles and contractions – it’s about whole body communication and connection to the self. It’s about a whole series of systems working together as a unified symbiosis of pure movement.

We have discussed that this body wide net is one of the body’s most significant communicators in providing us with feedback and messages as a response mechanism to what is going on in our body. It is a conscious web, always present, communicating mechanical messages in and around the body, a synergistic dance of tension and compression,  force and stability.

The question is…are you listening?

These whole body linkages, not only shed light on how the body responds to pain, discomfort, energy levels etc, –  but there is a much larger connection between the fascia, the body and the mind; which is much more powerful.

Yoga engages the body and mind in a way that has therapeutic benefits and acts as a gateway to “re-form” ones self, our purpose and acts to discipline the mind through working with the body. Our attitude, energy and behaviors play a significant role in how our fascia responds; thus a conscious, all encompassing sensory experience.

Myofascial Meridians can give you a deeper understanding of the whole-body patterning needed in posture and function, in every day life and in performance based athletics. It gives us insight into the very concept that isolating a muscle or “area” is rarely the problem or failure, (meaning just one muscle, or the point of failure in the structure resulting in pain). When you experience knee pain or back pain, your whole body and every system experiences this on a biological level, however, we are custom to thinking and feeling it within a narrow lens. Yoga can help expand our perception and allow us to listen and become more aware of each movement as a whole body experience.

In transformational bio mechanics and functional movement (which Yoga paved the way for), this is called re-modeling or re-patterning.

“The way we have looked at Western anatomy is undergoing a somewhat of a revolution, or a paradigm shift. You’re constantly remodeling your system both in response to your psychological experience and your physical experience, and your habitual experience, including your exercise. So that if we starting looking at how this system operates as a system we would start to see a whole other way in which the body is conscious. Yoga can be seen as a fascial remodeling technique” – Tom Meyes, The Magazine of Yoga

For example, the ‘Spiral Line’ can show you how to resolve and re pattern rotational compensations or a lack of spinal mobility in a way that no assessment of any single muscle can give.

Fascia has ten times the innervating power then muscle; therefore, it is a grand communication tool and conscious operating system to tune into. Next week our exploration of the fascia web and anatomy trains continues with the Lateral Line, where we will explore a movement meditation for understanding the mechanics and benefits to side bends, and lateral movement.

Sources: Tom Meyers – Anatomy Trains & The Magazine of Yoga

More is Not Always Better

Today marks Day 11 of my month-long Yoga Teacher Training certification. With so much information – anatomy, philosophy, alignment, adjustments, sequencing, etc – every day is a densely-packed amalgam of more and more elements to learn.

I have been practicing on my friends and family outside of class, because with so much fun stuff floating around in my head, I just want to share it all! I want to use juicy, dynamic language, create amazing and inspiring sequences, give my students the best physical adjustments and verbal cues. I want to do it ALL!

Source: http://www.fabianpattberg.com/2010/01/important-for-sustainability-and-csr-keep-it-simple/

The other day I learned a very valuable and humbling lesson in my foray as a yoga teacher: more is not always better. My partner Andrew graciously volunteered to let me practice teaching a 15min beginner’s sequence on him. He worked so hard and I fumbled a few bits, so when he climbed into Savasana, I really wanted to treat him with something nice – a sweet shoulder adjustment. I’ve been practicing this on my classmates every day.

But I really wanted to give him the BEST adjustment possible. “How to do that?” I thought. I reasoned that the adjustment feels so good is because of the shoulder blade being pulled down the back. So I decided to give him MORE shoulder, so he could have a better adjustment. Not good. It was too much for his body and I tweaked a muscle in his shoulder/neck. Oops.

Feeling quite sheepish now, I have been volunteering my massage techniques (sweet and simple) to help him with his soreness. I’m glad I learned this little lesson now (sorry Andrew!) rather than with a student in class. I definitely have a better appreciation for the importance of keeping things simple and moderate. Next time I find myself thinking, “more would be better here,” I will definitely take a moment to remember that sometimes it just isn’t.

Learning to Fly

Through instinct and practice we learn to walk, just as a bird learns to fly. Just as we cannot walk right away, many birds cannot fly right away and must wait for their muscule structure to develop but in order to survive learning to fly is envitable.

As a baby bird takes its first leap into the air, they are not overcome by fear and merely, awkward as it may be, are following their instincts. Since fear is a learned behaviour, a baby bird does not yet know to be afraid of jumping off the edge, as they watch their siblings take that leap and their parents flying overhead they know that that is what they are supposed to do. With many hard falls from nest to ground followed by an even longer journey home, the bird begins to learn, through their challenges and dissappointment, the mechanics of flight.

Day 29: Learning to Fly {Source: http://games-strike.com/games/577/learn-to-fly.aspx}

As they continue to practice, their falls to the ground become more controlled and with a little encouragement from their folks, they begin to leave the nest for longer periods of time as they learn more advanced techiniques on how to utilize the wind and begin to control their landings. Eventually all of these tools become instinictual and requires no thought or analyzation on how to get from Point A to Point B.

As we watch a bird soaring through the sky, and a few flaps of their wings as they play in the wind, diving and circling around we think how wonderful it would be to be able to fly.

In yoga, arm balances are often referred to as our chance to “fly.” But unlike a baby bird, many of us, for years have developed a fear of stepping outside our comfort zone. A birds body is made to fly, just like ours is made to walk. They are able to use their lungs, and their pectoral muscles to float through the air as the air below them keeps them afloat.

Our years of overdevelopment of fear causes us to be afraid to fall, afraid to learn through trial and error, whether from embarrasement or the determined words “I can’t do it!” As we watch the people beside us, with ease, jump into crow or handstand or even bird of paradise and stare in amazement “how do they do that?” 

To start, let go of the fear! Let go of the fear of falling on your face, you probably will at one point or another, probably in front of a room of people. It’s OKAY! Everybody else in the room was there at one point or will be in the future. Use your falls as way to learn what NOT to do next time. We learn to let go of fear and learn lessons from the challenges or falls every day, whether its taking a chance on a relationship and then learning from the mistakes to not repeat them in your next relationship or getting in front of a crowd of hundreds to speak.  Fear is constantly with us! Yoga Journal has a great article on the “Fear of Falling” and says;

“it’s time to consider another necessary ingredient for progress: mental discipline. Just as much as you’ll be excited by your first successes, you’ll be deeply frustrated and discouraged by your failures. Arm balances are therefore the perfect poses to practice persistence in the face of challenge, as well as non-attachment to the fruits of your labors.”

While I’m no expert on arm balances and continue to tackle this “fear of flying”, I’ve slowly come to realize that it is really only fear that is holding me back. If I take a deep breath, and not worry if I fall on my face and who sees me, it makes Bakasana that much easier to get into and perhaps even hold for a few breaths but there are still the days when my fear wins and I can’t for the life of me even take one foot of the floor. It’s an ongoing battle, this fear and me, I know it exists and try with every effort to bring it out in the open. Some days I win, some days the fear wins, but knowing that it exists is the first step to letting it go.

{source: http://www.wisegeek.com/how-do-birds-learn-how-to-fly.htm)}

Teaching is Learning

Last week, I started my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training certification at Live Yoga in White Rock. Dan Clement is running the course, with guest speakers (Todd Caldecott!!) leading specialised components.

Today is Day 6 of the training. I am completely blown away by the amount and depth of information there is to soak in! With every day comes a huge and boisterous variety of new theory, practical applications and teaching methods to learn and apply.

Before coming in, I had no idea about the detailed philosophical and cultural trends in yoga’s history. I didn’t know about the joints and their movements. I had never heard of the acromion process or what it meant for movement in the shoulder. I knew how lovely physical adjustments were, but not how to do them. I knew what “Downward Facing Dog” looked like, but not how beautiful it sounds in Sanskrit.

With every day compounding more and more inquiries and explorations, the trainees are voraciously taking in as much information as our muscle memory and minds can contain. It is brilliant as a teacher-in-training to have the exposure to someone as amazing as Dan. He always seems to know the answer to every question and never gets impatient with our endless queries (he is teaching public classes at Live Yoga through July – check out their online schedule!).

I am realizing with every passing hour that teaching yoga is all about learning. Yesterday, Carol Wray came in to teach us Restorative Yoga and said, of learning, “it never ends.” She proceeded to lead us through a two-hour practice, before teaching us some of the ins and outs of Restorative Yoga. While I am very excited to learn more about the different styles and how to teach them, it was simply marvellous having an afternoon of supported poses, where my body and mind could relax and feel the simple sweetness of yoga. This practice has so much to give.

Dan Clement, Source: http://www.indigoyoga.ca/

Finding Your Own Meaningful Mantra

Most of us are familiar with “Aum,” or “Om” as it is referenced in the West, as not only the opening but the closing of your yoga practice. While many teachers do not use any mantra in their classes, many do and although “Aum” is the most common and the root of all mantras there are many more that you may hear or even grow to love as you embark on different lineages of yoga and different teachers.

From the Ashtanga Invocation to various Kundalini mantras that are used throughout the class, we are introduced to the idea of using mantra in our yoga classes and slowly become familiar with them. 

When finding our own personal mantra do we have to use pre-existing ones? Not necessarily, but there is certainly something to them. A mantra can be as simple as a phrase that you repeat to yourself over and over again, a reminder to yourself everyday that there is a purpose to your action. While we have the opportunity to explore and hear all of these beautiful words, we also have the opportunity to create our own, take them from our favourite songs or poems or even quotes finding whatever resonates with us.

A Mantra is clearly defined as;

A sound, syllable or group of words that is considered capable of “creating transformation.”

My Bedroom Wall

Perhaps you have come across a mantra in yoga that really speaks to you, that touches you deep to the core every time you hear it or perhaps you have created your own or even have yet to come across something that talks to you.  Personal mantra’s or affirmation are likely to progressively change as we move through our lives based on the challenges and opportunities that face us, but how do you even begin to find your “mantra?”

While not an easy task to find something that fits you and speaks to you here are some steps when considering your own personal mantra, whether you make your own or find one;

  • What Do You Want to Achieve? What is your passion, what do you want from your life? Take a look at where you are today and the challenges that are before you, what would help you get where you want to be?
  • Positive Language! Look for things that use positive language. By changing your language not only in the use of a mantra but everyday, you can change your life. Look at the difference between “I will” and “I want to.”
  • Choose a Few! Nobody said you only have to have one. Can’t decide take them all, and write them down!
  • Visualize! Post your mantra somewhere that you will see it every day, whether that’s on the bathroom mirror, or the front door. Leave yourself a constant reminder!
  • Repetition! Find ways to bring your personal mantra into your life, share it with others, make modifications that make it more suited to you.

Finding your own personal mantra can be a challenge, when there is so many to choose from. Remembering to look inside to find what really touches you, that makes you feel good, that brings a smile to your face and leads you to YOUR definition of happiness or where you want to be in your life.

One of mine;

“Everyday, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others for the benefit of all beings.” ~ 14th Dalai Lama

Do you have your own personal mantra? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Seeing as if for First Time

Shrimp, when his eyes were open but still blind. He is such a cutie!

My mind is abounding with thoughts of yoga teacher training and newborn kittens. Yes, it’s true. All in the same month, I have the joyous fortune of playing with three kittens while undertaking my certification as a Yoga Teacher. Plus, the training takes place in White Rock (beach!!!) in summertime. How could the month get any better really?

I live with my sister and her husband-to-be in a house near Aldergrove. None of us had realized that a 6-month old cat could get pregnant, until she did. Although the actual birth of the kittens was something I will never forget (how slimy and amazing!), the event that most resonated with me was when they opened their eyes for the first time.

Just after their 10th day of life, the kittens’ eyes started to creak open. I had thought they would suddenly come apart, all in one day. In actual fact, it takes a few days for the closed eye slits to gradually peel apart from the sides, until the whole lid is unobstructed. My next shock was finding out that kittens with eyes recently opened, do not actually develop sight for a few days after that!

Inside their comfortable closet-hidden laundry hamper, the kittens developed full sight a few days later. Their retinas developed, pupils responsive to light, they look up at us wide-eyed and intrigued. Literally everyday, these kittens see something they have never seen before. They approach each new vision with playfulness and curiosity.

I can only hope to take some of their playful newness into my teacher training this week. How precious to approach every new day like it’s the first time you’ve seen it, to explore every new lesson with awe, to undertake adventures that you’ve never had before, to learn and live with wonder. I can’t wait for the upcoming month. It’s going to be perfect.

All three kittens, with full sight. Looking and walking around (albeit on wobbly legs).

Moving Day!

Source: honeyandlance.com

I’m moving today. So you all know how I feel. The culmination of many weeks of asking the universe what to do and listening to my heart. Wow, is that really how a yogi decides to move? This yogini anyway. I’m packing boxes, and organizing things, and realizing that there is much more to this than I thought.

Of course.

It is very like me to underestimate how much energy a move will take. VERY like me. I have moved at least 30 times in my life. Usually by myself. I am not an elegant mover– I do not ask my friends to help me and put things in boxes and label them. I throw my clothes in industrial strength garbage bags and box up my kitchen and put my bathroom things in a shopping bag and stuff it in the back of my car. Which works for me and so it’s fine. I am not an elegant lady– my bra straps are always showing no matter how hard I try.

But that’s another story. Today I was humming along, doing my thing. Really flying through the move. And then I got to the kitchen.

I live my life in my kitchen. When I started pulling things out of cupboards and peeking into the fridge (really peeking, seeing what is actually up in there) I realized that I’m leaving this kitchen for the foreseeable future. That’s when the move really sank in. Now my momentum is gone and I might have a beer and stare out the window for a while.

Allowing my yoga into my move. Giving myself time to honour this kitchen and all the laughter and tasty meals I have enjoyed here. Being soft and gentle, and finding the energy to continue the move from my centre.

Sweating with Shiva Rea’s Prana Flow

My favourite teacher just got back from training with Shiva Rea in Venice Beach, California. In the last two weeks, she has brought her new lessons back to her Flow class on Thursday nights – her classes, though  typically marvelous, have since been nothing short of challenging, sweat-inducing brilliance!

Shiva Rea. Source: http://shivarea.com/about-gallery

Shiva Rea teaches a unique style of Vinyasa called Prana Flow which is an “energetic, creative, full-spectrum approach to embodying the flow of yoga” (www.shivarea.com). It is indeed an “embodied” style –it encompasses breath-driven exploration of effort and a wave-inspired fluidity of movement that gets your heart pumping.

On a normal day, I can work up a sweat in my practice no problem. During a Prana Flow class with one of Shiva’s students, I feel immediately like I’m firing on all cylinders – the prana is moving no doubt! My teacher called me a “wet seal” when she saw me smiling and dripping sweat all over my mat.  This is a freeing practice, with lots of lightness and dynamism to get you through a tough practice. Glorious!

Clara Roberts-Oss Source: http://pixieyoga.net/id3.html

Valeria Pongracz (Hari Om Yoga, Langley) and Clara Roberts-Oss (Semperviva, Yaletown Yoga, Flow Yoga and Wellness, Vancouver) are two of a very select few teachers in BC working towards certification with Shiva Rea. They both teach a rocking class that, if you haven’t already, cause you to fall in love with movement.

Clara teaches classes and hosts workshops primarily in Vancouver. Check her out on http://pixieyoga.net/ for a full listing. Clara will be out in Langley’s Hari Om Yoga for a one-week Vinyasa Flow Yoga Teacher Training and Immersion in late September (more info available on www.hariomyoga.com).

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s Prana Flow class!

Vancouver Yoga Riot 2011!

In the aftermath of the unimaginable events last week, and the showcase of love for our city and our community the following day, make sure you check out the latest event; Vancouver Yoga Riot 2011!

“Join together as a community to heal and rekindle the beautiful energy of our city using the powerful practice of yoga.”
With a variety of teachers expected, make sure you check out the Vancouver Yoga Riot 2011 details are as follows;

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.
~
Dorothy Thompson

Everyday Expressions – Yogic Gardening

I frequently find myself talking to people who have never tried yoga and are thinking about it. I repeatedly invite my friends or family to class, or end up talking to strangers about why yoga is SO great. A common question that comes up is, “how will yoga benefit me?”

At times the answer seems so obvious it’s almost hard to answer. At other times, I am at a loss because if you invited someone to play hockey or go swimming, their first response would not be “how would that activity benefit me?” They would just go for the fun of it!

Although I often find myself ruminating about the mystique of yoga that seems to cause so much trepidation to newbies, on the weekend I was slogging away in my sister’s garden when I found myself alternating between yoga poses to ease my weed-pulling discomfort. And a thought jumped into my head – this is a practical application!! This is an example I can cite next time someone wants a measurable, practical explanation of the benefit of yoga!

Source: http://www.christinepredd.com/quiltingontheedge/2010/05/my-bella-yoga-garden-sculpture.html

It seems so obvious, but when you’ve got a million weeds in front of you, Garland Pose is not a bad way to start. Getting sore in the hips? Pop on up to Wide Legged Forward Fold – but the same yogic principles of alignment factor in here: use your core and keep a straight back! Warrior II or Extended Side Angle poses could be used for those hard to reach brambles out to the sides.

Assuredly, some expressions of Cat-Cow or Child’s Pose would work too, but my personal preference is to avoid touching all the worms that my digging provokes! 

Any other yoga poses spring to mind when you’re weeding the garden?

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