2019 is on the Horizon – Can you SEE it?

As each year closes, we face the urge to toss out undesired habits, start fresh and to move in new directions.  Maybe you look forward to this “turning point” or maybe you are a bit hesitant after many years of  watching January’s enthusiasm fizzle out as you fall back into the trenches of old habits by February.  In fact, research has shown that about fifty percent of us make resolutions, however fewer than 10% of these keep them for more a few months.   Whether you call it “resolution”, a  “goal” or the more yogic term of “intention”, the process of follow-through and sustained change is very difficult for all.  Scientific research suggests that one tool, Visualization, may provide the key to success.

Psychological research teaches us that in order for a resolution to be successful, it must be specific, measureable and attainable.  Add the elements of relevance and time and you have created a SMART goal.  But, as you may have experienced, even these well-crafted goals fail.  One of the reasons for this is that our goals are often related to changes in lifestyle and personality which are entrenched in what yoga calls “samskaras“.  In Indian and Yogic philosophy,  “samskaras are the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions and intents that an individual has ever experienced”(yogapedia).   Do you ever have circular thoughts or an old story that is preventing you from realizing your dream?  This is samskara in action.  Meditation and other yogic tools work because they seek to dip beneath the conscious mind and get us in touch with our hidden expectations and unconscious ideas.

Meditation, especially practices such as Yoga Nidra, rely on the individuals ability to focus on and cultivate body sensations rather than thoughts.  One is asked to focus on how the body feels when our goals, or sankalpa, are fully manifested.   These techniques seek to convert the brain waves into a more relaxed and suggestible state similar to that of hypnosis.  Visualization techniques go a few steps further.  Several studies have shown that the brain does not differentiate between a real and an visualized memory.  We can, therefore, lesson the anxiety of a new challenge by creating a memory of that experience through visualization.  In addition, research  shows that visualizing a physical activity stimulates the brain in much the same way as actually performing the activity.  This may be especially true if the activity is an unfamiliar or if fear and anxiety are associated with it.

Proponents of Visualization put much faith in the concept of the philosophical Law of Attraction.  Many have questioned this principle which states that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, people can bring positive or negative experiences into their life (wikipedia).  However, knowledge of how the brain processes visual information may provide some scientific evidence to support how visualization helps one to attract what they want into their life.  Our brain relies on a network of neurons called the reticular activating system (RAS) to filter out what IS, and IS NOT important visually.  Since 90% of the information processed by the brain is visual, the RAS is critical.  Without it, we could  become desensitized and confused by the vast amount of information we receive every day.  Visualization techniques help “program” the RAS much the way Facebook feeds us information based on our search history and demonstrated interests.  Visualization is the lens through which we begin to see and describe our world.

With 2019 on the horizon, can you really SEE yourself acting in a way which cultivates the changes you wish to manifest in your life?  Close your eyes, relax and try to see and imagine how it looks and feels for you to live the life that you long for.  The more often you repeat this process, the stronger the path you are forging.  Good luck and I hope to see you on the mat in the coming year!

Need a little guidance?  Join us January 13th 2-5 for Creating a Vision for 2019:  Vision Board and Yoga Workshop with Melissa & Jules from Julesguide.

 

Solving the Unsolveable: 4 Steps in a Path to Healing & Preventing Chronic Pain

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are.

– Rachel Naomi Remen

Over the last 30 years I have gradually gotten myself into the business of chronic pain.  I developed this niche not by claiming it but, rather, through following my interests and passion for all teachings and related to the mind-body connection.  I first studied Psychology, and then Yoga, followed by Ayurveda, Meditation, Mindfulness and Buddhism.  Every path led to the same place with different words. While I was developing my own model of approaching my patient’s complaints from what we used to refer to collectively as a “holistic” or “alternative” point of view, the scientific theory of pain was evolving as well.  Currently, there is substantial evidence to prove that pain is not simply a physical or neurological reaction to a stimulus, but a process  involving an individual’s culture, their environment, their past and present experience and their perception along with the original stimulus.

All pain, acute or chronic, is real but not all pain is true in a mathematical sense (a + b ≠ c).  In recognizing this, we can let go of the need to find a solution to the problem.  In fact, these efforts to determine the how and why and whose to blame often create a self-perpetuating pain cycle and impede the natural processes of healing.  Below I offer you 4 steps to help you move through acute pain directly (without initiating the cycle) or to free you from the grip of the chronic pain cycle.  I believe these steps to be effective in most to all cases however the amount of time to progress through the steps is highly variable.  In the case of acute pain, you may move through these steps in a matter of hours; in cases of chronic pain, it may take weeks, months or years.

  1.  Release Ownership:  stop referring to the discomfort you feel as “my pain” or, especially “my painful…injured…weak…bad…etc. body part”.  This is the most important first step to releasing the assigning of blame and responsibility for a solution.  In the truest sense, claiming pain as your own will ensure that the burden is yours to carry.  Attaching a negative adjective to body part will give your pain a home.  In truth, pain is dynamic and changing and healing is systemic.
  2. See it for what it is:  The word pain is so loaded.  What is “pain” and how is it perceived in the body?  “Pain” is the mental recognition of a negative sensation.  What would happen if you remove this word from your vocabulary?  Describe your sensation in every way you can, other than the word “pain”.  Give it a size, a shape, a pulse, a movement, a temperature, a weight, a texture, a taste, a smell, etc.  Next, describe another place of your choice in the body (maybe the opposite side, left/right, front/back).  Finally, check in with your the original place once again and note any changes in the sensation.  Even if the discomfort has intensified, you will recognize that your discomfort is not static or intractable.  This practice can take the form of a Body Scan or Body Sensing Meditation if you like.
  3. Accept It / Neutralize It.  This is usually the most difficult step and it may take time.  You don’t have to be happy about the presence of discomfort and irritability in your body, but you don’t have to run away from it either.  As you begin to describe the pain for what it is, you will begin to notice the hold it has on you and your life.    It may be the lack of control, the frustration of not knowing what is happening to your body, the inability to continue the activities which make you fuel your passion for life, the feeling of being “less than” or the guilt of not being able to fulfill your responsibilities.  On the other hand, you may recognize that you are somewhat attached to this presence.  It brings you love, nurturing and attention, it gets you out of doing things you don’t enjoy or that take up your time.  With persistent pain, there is often the relative comfort of living with pain compared to the fear of starting over without it.  When you begin to ask yourself, what can I accept and “what am I afraid to feel?”, you give yourself permission to feel the sensation or the emotion  (for more on this, see Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach).  In feeling the sensation or the emotion directly without negative connotations, resistance, or aversion, you free this connection in the cycle of pain.
  4. Take Positive Action with Compassion:  When you make it to this last step, you have so many options to move forward.  You are no longer trying to solve the problem, you are simply moving forward regardless of the condition in whatever way you feel safe and ready with a gentleness towards yourself and your body.  In the case of acute pain, you have the detachment to treat the condition directly and appropriately for what it is – you have described the sensations and you know which you will tolerate and which you will not.  In cases of persistent pain, the options include, but are not limited to: meditation, yoga, physical therapy, psychotherapy, nutritional support, medication.    Describe a “positive” version of yourself, one that you can remember with all your senses,  (“I am…”), and move slowly and steadily towards it with each breath and each decision.

Please feel free to comment on  your experience with pain or your path to recovery, to inquire for more resources or guidance, or to find out how to book a session with Melissa at Discover Yoga & Physical Therapy.

Lineage – “Please, Tell Us About the Wall!”

In yoga terminology, lineage refers to the historical succession of knowledge passed from teacher to teacher. With the foundation of lineage, a disciple of yoga gains insight not only from his/her own teacher, but from all the teachers that came before. The result of lineage is instruction that is enriched by many perspectives and free from the influence of any one teacher’s ego.

Yoga Lineage is often depicted as a tree in which each teacher grows from the branch of his or her teacher across generations most leading back to one of a select few yogis born in the late 19th century.  These core teachers are, of course, tied to their own teachers who extend back to the 5th – 2nd Century BCE.  In my studio, I have a row of photos of the individuals who have, in some way, altered my path.  While it is not a tree, each one of these teachers have a tree of their own and several of them share a common lineage. There are a few people missing because, believe it or not, I do not know their name but they are not forgotten when I set my drishti (focused gaze) towards the wall.  Many of my students have asked, “Tell me about the people on the wall”.   I don’t know how interesting my story is, but I think it is important to tell, so here it is.

For me, it all started in 1990 when a young yogi named Ana entered my life and my home in Sierra Leone, West Africa while I was working as a Peace Corp Volunteer.  She spoke reverently of her master yogi teacher back in Gainesville, FL and when she left the Peace Corp (after only a few months), she gifted me a yoga guide written by her guru depicting his core beliefs and a physical practice to follow daily.  My diligent practice with this guide had less to do with the philosophy as with a lot of lonely days and nights and a soul-seeking mind.

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When I returned to Western Society in 1991, I stumbled upon a tattered 20-year-old paperback book written by SatchidanandaIntegral Yoga Hatha.  Why a 24-year-old girl living on her own in San Francisco, CA might choose to carry around such a book reading it over and over again on the bus and during her lunch break, I don’t really know, but I did.  And I found a wonderful Integral Yoga Studio in the Mission and established a regular practice.  As a Christian, I remember being amazed that there were pictures of the Budha and Jesus on the walls of the studio room.  The Integral Yoga movement is dedicated to the philosophy “One Truth, Many Paths”.  This inclusiveness and holistic approach spoke deeply to me.

From here I moved erratically in my search, retreating often and meeting a few gurus face-to-face.  Unfortunately, none of them made the wall.

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In 2004, I entered the Teacher Training Program at The Hatha Yoga Center in Seattle, WA. Bob Smith & Ki McGraw were my teachers.  The two combined had a beautiful and complex lineage.  Rather than trying to agree on or consolidate a new approach in the teacher training, we benefited from the uniqueness and passion of each as an individual yogi on a path.  Sometimes it felt like the two were in conflict with each other and this became part of our study to learn where they meet up.  We were learning to find our own path with tools from so many different yogis in the Hatha Yoga tree.  I had no goals of becoming a yoga teacher.  I wanted only to experience what it was like to live as a yogi.

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After I finished the year-long program, Yoga was so deeply embedded in my soul, I had no choice but to practice, and teach.  I found myself inspired and motivated and, by-the-way, 6 months pregnant taking a prenatal ViniYoga class at a local studio.  My path was about to change and Yoga was just one part of this change.  In 2006, my teacher, Alison Eliason, brought me into the community of Discover Yoga and gave me an opportunity to teach.

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I had practiced ViniYoga before but I didn’t feel like it was enough for me.  I learned the basic principles so that I could use some ViniYoga flow in my class and make the students feel comfortable.   For myself, I craved alignment and strength.  In looking for an Iyengar studio, I found Aadil Palkhivala, the co-founder of Purna Yoga at Yoga Centers in Bellevue, WA.  In Purna Yoga I found all the precision of Iyengar Yoga with the heart of Integral Yoga plus lots of props!  I was challenged and with every class I was learning so much.

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By 2007, I had over 10 years of experience as a Physical Therapist and over 15 years practicing Yoga.  My father set me on my path toward Ginger Garner, founder of Professional Yoga Therapy (now Medical Therapeutic Yoga) with a newspaper clipping highlighting the “new” profession of Yoga Therapist.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before!  The first time I met Ginger, I knew I was in the right place.  All of my prior education and training, my interest in Ayurveda and my passion for Yoga finally fell together in one practice and it was so much more than experiential.  I learned why not all types of yoga work for all people all the time and what each teaching path offers and when to call upon it.

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In 2009, I partnered with Alison to open Discover Yoga Therapy in Redmond, WA.  Just 2 years later, in 2011, my family and I moved to Hong Kong.  While in Hong Kong, I had the priveledge of meeting and learning from so many amazing teachers through the Evolution Asia Yoga conference but none changed my path so deeply as Hersha Chellaram.  Hersha’s own tree in most firmly grounded in Integral Yoga having grown up with Satchidananda.  With Hersha I became part of larger community of beautiful teachers all over the world who teach, practice and live yoga.  Never before have I witnessed a person who touched the lives of everyone she encounters so deeply – making yoga relevant and accessible to all people.

While I still do not feel like I have my own lineage tree, I am so proud to be part of this garden of teachers and I know that everything they have taught me finds its way into my teachings on a daily basis.  Next time we bow in Namaste as the class ends, give an extra six or seven nods to the wall.

Thanks for listening.

 

Moving Up to the Next Level: Progression in Yoga

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“Remember it is not how deep into a posture you go – what does matter is who you are when you get there”    ~Max Strom

My students ask me all the time, “Do you think I am ready to move up to the next yoga class level?” or “How do I know when it is the right time to try out a more advanced class?”  The truth is, there is no set algorhythm for determining readiness for progression in yoga.  We cannot look at variables such as years experience, body type, age and current ability and come up with the answer.  In this way, yoga is different from almost all other physical endeavors.  Continue reading Moving Up to the Next Level: Progression in Yoga

Moving Your Mind in 2017

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If we can make just 1% of the population meditative, the world will be a different place” ~Sadhguru

If you listed among your New Year’s resolutions the desire to learn how to meditate or to meditate more often, then you are certainly not alone.  With an ever-growing amount research and evidence stating that meditation is good for anything and everything from a healthy heart, to work productivity, to a better sex life, it is a wonder we don’t schedule the time to sit and breathe as readily as we plan to sit down to dinner.   Continue reading Moving Your Mind in 2017

VATA- Grounding Ourselves for the Winds of Change

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When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build windmills”       ~Chinese Proverb

As my students entered the house today, each shivered a little and made a comment about the weather – the wind is gusting and there is a brisk coolness to the air.  Fall has arrived and with it a bluster of action readying ourselves for the close of the year – holiday festivities, school exams, vacations, and family visits.   It can all seem a bit dizzying sometimes.

In the ancient science of Ayurveda, Fall is the VATA time of the year.  VATA represents the elements of Air and Ether.  The wind is strong, the air is cool and dry and life is sooo… busy.  Are you the person who walls themselves in and waits until the winds have passed or do you ride the force of the winds for all they are worth? This depends on who you are and who you were born to be.  Those whose bodies, minds, and emotions are like the wind – flexible, quick,  open to change, always looking for options and on the move, may see this time of year as just another challenge to take head-on.  If this describes you, be mindful of the symptoms of VATA overload:  lack of focus, constipation or gas, numbness / tingling, sharp and inconsistent pain (especially in the lower back), difficulty falling asleep.

The good news is, according to Ayurveda, you can help you find your balance by simply adding in activities and foods which ground you so that you can harness the energy of the winds without getting blown away.  Stay warm and establish routines and rituals.  Do not overexert or overstimulate yourself.  Favor foods and smells that are sweet, heavy and warm.  Avoid raw or cold foods / beverages, erratic habits of eating and exercises, going to bed too late, watching TV or viewing a computer screen late into the evening.

Today we began working on balance and moving within your base of support rather than stiffening and holding on.  When we bring our awareness to what our reactions are to the things in life which throw us off balance a little, we come from a grounded and safe place.  Much like a young, healthy tree, we may sway, but we will not fall over or break.

If you would like to learn more about VATA and Ayurveda, check out this website or many others which are easily found online and consider scheduling a Ayurvedic Counseling Session here at the studio to determine what your dosha-type is, signs and symptoms of imbalance, and recommendations for a personalized, balanced lifestyle.

A Full Moon Ritual: Making Room for the Freedom to Choose Something Different

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This Saturday a full moon will rise in a (very likely) clear North Carolina sky.  Lately, I have been working with how to “let go” of habits which no longer serve me and working with the intention “In this moment, I choose health”.  I have learned a lot about my so-called “triggers” and I can spot the moment of choice almost without fail.  Unfortunately, I have not yet found my way to consistently choosing something different.  Honestly, I usually choose the bad habit time and time again (In fact, as I write this blog I am finishing my glass of wine).  Many people believe that the arrival of the full moon brings a power and an opportunity to “let go” of anything which does not serve your intention.  So, I am choosing to invoke that power to explore and share with you what I have learned.

We can recognize a habit as bad and even forecast a situation that will almost always lead to exhibiting an unwanted behavior but still not feel free to choose something different.  This is what it means to be “hooked” and it happens to the best of us.  This week I learned that much of the problem lies in the dialogue we have with ourselves after the trigger.  You know the one – “I know….but, in this case…” or, “if it weren’t for this person (or this situation) I could definitely have made the right choice” or, worse yet, “I cannot believe I am going to do this again – what kind of awful person must I be…when will I ever learn?”  This dialogue, whether it is with yourself or with others, is the fuel for the fire of habit.  What would happen if we just decided to let go of the “I know but” and the self-loathing, to just stop and feel the desire creep up and accept that it is uncomfortable and difficult.  We could just quietly listen to the other person slander us or something we care about and not react but, instead, feel the tension build, notice the physical location and the intensity of this stress and then recognize that it is all temporary and irrelevant.  Pema Chodron says that when we do this we open ourselves to a “positive groundlessness” – a state of uncomfortable and ungrounded freedom where we can then make a different choice.  As we repeat this process day after day, we create new, positive, intentional habits.  This appears to me to be the missing link in all the self-help lessons I have learned and practiced before.  If this is true,  recognizing what habits are not serving you is not nearly enough. Nor is it much more productive to focus on your intended, or more positive choices and habits. We need to “let go” of the need to justify, to blame, to rationalize, to equalize, to control or, engage with even the thought of the behavior and, then experience what that detachment feels like.  Too often we feel the need to take a firm hold in something we believe in thinking that this will provide the footing we need to take the leap into what we truly want to happen.  Chodron’s theory is quite different.  I believe she is saying that if we grasp too strongly to any belief (positive or negative), we may be a little too comfortable there to make a solid leap for change.  But if we allow ourselves to just experience what it feels like to be a “hooked” human being with an overactive brain and conflicting desires we will be free to move, change and evolve without constraint and without the holds that bring us back time and time again.

So, as you look up into the sky, and see the full moon rising this weekend, acknowledge what no longer serves you and, then, label all the reasons you feel it it isn’t right for you and all the reasons it is still comfortable for you and all the barriers you have to changing your behavior.  Finally, choose to let go of all of these thoughts and prepare yourself to be drawn in by the moon’s gradual waning into a positive state of groundlessness and, subsequently, a gradual return to the power of fullness.

A Good Retreat

A good retreat is better than a bad stand”        ~Irish proverb

As I was preparing to leave for my Yoga Retreat at Aldermarsh in the Pacific Northwest, my 8-year-old daughter asked “What does retreat mean?”  Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly sure how to reply.  The answer on the top of my head was “it means Mommy gets to go away to a place where no there are no kids and nobody she needs to take care of but herself – it is awesome!”  Luckily, my 10-year old son chimed in first.  “It means to turn back in a battle…strange that they call it that!”

Continue reading A Good Retreat

Yoga – “The Everlasting Gobstopper”

You can suck ’em, and suck ’em, and suck ’em, and they never get any smaller”     ~Willie Wonka

I really love Gene Wilder and the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of only a handful of movies I will watch over and over again.  My love for this movie is almost 100% attributable to the amazing character of Willie Wonka, played by Gene Wilder. Continue reading Yoga – “The Everlasting Gobstopper”

Putting “Therapy” into Your Yoga

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.  ~BKS Iyengar

I am often asked “What is Yoga Therapy?” and “How is Therapeutic Yoga different from regular yoga and from Physical Therapy or other forms of traditional therapy?”.  First of all, let me say that not all Yoga is “therapeutic” and not all “yoga therapy” is therapeutic for every person.

At the core, Therapeutic Yoga begins with Awareness.  In this, it is very personal and, often, different for different people.  Whether taught privately or in a group, Therapeutic Yoga offers the individual student or client a series of tools to look at themselves and identify what it is he or she desires or needs less/more of.  These tools are usually taken from Yoga, from Ayurveda, from Physical Medicine, and contemporary Psychology.

In a regular class, the student takes positive actions (asana) towards “feeling good”.  In traditional therapy, a patient is relatively passive and the goal is to diagnose (“You are sick”), reduce symptoms and cure disease.  On the contrary, in Therapeutic Yoga, the client is “empowered” with physical, mental and emotional tools and the goal is to adapt and improve.  In some cases, the student will learn that it is not possible to improve the physical state (“The body is sick”) but that adaptations can be made to allow the mental or emotional state to  drastically improve.

“It is less helpful to know the cause of one’s stress than the state of mind when one is stressed”

While starting in the physical body, therapeutic yoga allows insight into the layers of the body, or the Koshas.  These layers are the Physical, the Emotional, the Energetic, the Social, the Intellectual and the Spiritual. The student begins to see how these layers overlap and intersect – how that “trapped” feeling in your neck, shoulders and upper back can be eased with the intention of “freedom” or “surrender” or maybe by becoming more physically grounded and aware of the alignment of the feet and the lower extremities or looking into our social / emotional and noting where he or she may feel stuck.

Once the student has the tools, he or she can put “therapy” into any yoga session.  What is more, the student is ready to put Yoga into his or her life and learn to adapt and improve “off the mat”.