Category Archives: yoga therapy

As my life shifts and changes … so does this blog

 

Let’s see what’s coming next…

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking about this blog—how and why I started writing, the friendships and connections that have come because of it, how it has changed as I’ve changed, and where I am now. I’ve taken the last two weeks to see how it feels to pause my weekly writing practice and to reflect on what I’d like it to be now.

This blog started out in 2011 as a way to articulate and better understand things that were happening in my life as a result of yoga. I’d learn something then see it show up in my relationship with my kids or while I was driving or in the midst of an epic battle of house rats, and then take time to put it into words. The process of writing and reflecting provided me with the opportunity to spend more time with some whisp of intuition or to more carefully observe the slippery inner workings of my mind. By attempting to translate the experience or feeling into words, I had something of substance that I could work with and reflect on. It helped make manifest something important yet ephemeral. The process was exhilirating and meaningful. Nearly every week, as I wrote, published, read comments and had conversations my heart would pound in that way that confirmed how important this was to me. Blogging reminded me, in all the right ways, that I was alive, that writing is alive and that I am connected to the people, the ideas, the experiences and the feelings that I want to be connected to.

Flash forward to today, 2017. The experiences, feelings, and insights that were once ephemeral now have substance and staying power in my life. They are foundational to how I operate in my relationships and my teaching. I certainly don’t do it ‘perfectly,’ whatever that might mean, but I am more able to tune in, observe and listen to these more subtle aspects of myself and to operate from that place. Thanks to my friends and teachers at YATNA, my personal practice, and the individual guidance I receive from my yoga mentor, Chase Bossart, I have much of the needed language and framework for understanding what is happening in me and how to respond. Something else has happened, too. I’ve noticed that my attempts to write about all of this aren’t coming as easily. The personal work I’m involved in now is so incredibly intimate and I’m less willing or just less interested in putting into words the mystery of my unfolding spiritual adventure.  This inner work of yoga is really something.

So a change is a-coming. I’ll continue to reflect on what this blog will be for me and for us or maybe we’ll just watch it unfold together as I try out a different format for my posts or shift my focus to something that makes my heart do that thing again. I’ll still write and post, though on less of a fixed schedule. I do hope that we’ll keep in touch in a regular way, dear readers. If you’ve been considering deepening your yoga practice and would like to work together, let’s set up a time to talk – 20 minutes, no charge, and you can ask questions and we can see what we can do together. I’m in Austin, TX, but I’m also online (which means I can meet you anywhere!) CONTACT ME by clicking here.  If you aren’t already on my mailing list, there’s a button on the sidebar of the blog page or you can click here: SIGN UP FOR THE AGY NEWSLETTER  and you’ll get a monthly update on classes I offer, the annual Ojai Women’s retreat, links to yoga research, recipes that support a healthy lifestyle, or other offerings that I think you should hear about. Yay for change. Yay for 2017.

Until next time…

 

Signs and symptoms of shock vary…yoga offers a path of recovery

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I thought these lists of symptoms might be helpful as you try and make sense of what you’ve been going through.

Signs and symptoms of shock vary depending on circumstances and may include:

  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Pale or ashen skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Changes in mental status or behavior, such as anxiousness or agitation

http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-shock/basics/art-20056620

Emotional Symptoms of Grieving

A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the emotional symptoms associated with grieving. The Mayo Clinic lists the emotional symptoms found with prolonged, or complicated, grief. These can include:

  • Increased irritability
  • Numbness
  • Bitterness
  • Detachment
  • Preoccupation with loss
  • Inability to show or experience joy

While these emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.

Physical Symptoms of Grieving

It may come as a surprise that grief is not entirely emotional. There are very real effects that grief can have on the body. Some of the physical symptoms of grieving, according to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, are:

  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Sore muscles

Though these symptoms are normal during the grieving process, you should remember to contact your doctor if you experience any severe physical symptoms.

http://www.psychguides.com/guides/grief-symptoms-causes-and-effects/

I’ve felt a lot of the above symptoms in the last 24-hours. In addition, I only want to eat toast. I’ve had moments when I believed my legs were going to buckle out from under me. I’ve felt myself dissociate—floating out of my body while I fixed my gaze on this tiny red decoration in my kitchen. And I’ve had eight to twelve seriously messy cries.

In the midst of all this, I’ve also felt something else: A need to take care of myself.

You know those people who have a fine-tuned moral compass? The ones who can identify and support the things that align with their values and call out the things that are not? The ones who have a clear sense of right and wrong and are able to move and act on that inner guidance with clarity and courage? The people who stand up for others and for themselves and don’t miss a beat? The ones who can lead? The ones who can follow a great leader? The ones who dedicate themselves to a cause worth fighting for? I want to be well resourced so I can be one of those people. I want that for you, too.

To do any of this, we have to prepare. It occurs to me that maybe the last eighteen years of yoga practice have been preparing me. Maybe you’ve been preparing, too. We aren’t done. We need to care for ourselves and continue to practice. With this, our ability to pay attention and stay focused will improve. Dhāraṇā —dhyāna — samādhi[1] describe the progression of deepening focus.

Attention is important for several reasons. One good reason? It comes with a side of praśānta[2]peace. Yoga describes peace as a symptom of attention. Peace doesn’t mean that everything around us is perfect. It’s a feeling that we can have on the inside even when the outside looks bleak or threatening. Nirodha — a deep state of attention and the flowing peace that comes with it are felt everywhere in us –in our body, breath, mind, and emotions. This is important because attention with peace can give us equanimity. When we can hold the binoculars steady and bring the little bird in the nearby tree into focus, we have a chance at seeing it clearly.  Attention, like binoculars, is a tool that can help us to see something we couldn’t see without.

Patanjali defines three aspects of a yogic path: tapas – effort, svādhyāya- self-reflection, and Īśvara-pranidhana –acceptance[3]. Do some work. Think about what motivates your actions. Know that you won’t always get everything right, and that’s okay. This is ongoing, moment-by-moment kind of practice. It involves Abhyasa and vairagyam[4]making efforts and relinquishing what gets in the way of those efforts. And you know what helps a lot with this? Śraddhā – a conviction, abiding faith, or something you can believe in. Patañjali says when we know and can feel this deep faith, it is a sign that we are very near our goal.[5]

Acceptance doesn’t mean going along with everything is happening. It does mean that we allow ourselves to see our current situation clearly and accurately. Prāmaṇa[6] is clear and accurate understanding. If we can see and understand a situation, then we can address what’s actually going on. If it’s not a good situation, we can go inside ourselves and listen for the guidance that helps us to know what we can do about it. We need viveka – discernment, to do this work and to make sense of the many things that go on in our inner world and the world around us. There’s a lot going on all of the time and viveka is helpful when we need to discern between the stuff we should witness compassionately or even dispassionately and the call to stand up and act.

Let us really take care of ourselves during these next 4 years and beyond so that we are nourished, resourced, clear, perceptive, and strong. May our efforts and practice continue, re-invigorated by our circumstances. Yoga, or whatever practice you cultivate, is going to be as important as ever in helping us all to be the kind of humans and the nation that we want to be.

[1] YS III.1-3

[2] YS III.9

[3] YS II.1 – kriya yoga

[4] YS I.12

[5] YS I.20

[6] YS I.7

The rewards of yoga practice (It’s not what you think)

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When asked to chose her fav’ Austin destinations, this burger joint was at the top of her list. Extra pickles, two ketchups, please.

My husband makes me laugh harder and certainly more often than anyone else I know. He’s clever and light hearted. He can improvise a catchy song at the drop of a hat and has a knack for an Australian accent. He’s good for a deep belly laugh, but he’ll go for a chuckle, too. He’s good for some word play. Puns make our 12-year-old roll her eyes which makes the whole thing even funnier. This special kind of wit isn’t it’s reserved for the girls. When I come into the room after 20 minutes of Vedic chant practice, Dave finds a way to slip in how en-chanting he finds me. And after my yoga practice, he’s fond of asking, Did you get it right this time? I always smile but that one makes me think…

Why do we practice yoga? Are we doing yoga to get it right or to achieve some level of mastery? Are we going through the steps and ‘climbing the ladder’ because we believe there’s a reward wating for us at the top? Will yoga make us more deserving or more loveable? Is there something magic about the techniques that if we just get them right, they will transform us?

Even though I couldn’t have put these words to it before, this approximates my attitude. I’ve been bartering with my yoga practice. I put in my time, and yoga will repay me with more peace, ease in my body, more insight. The harder I try, the further I’ll go. Even though I know it doesn’t really work that way, it’s hard to give up the belief that I’m in control of yoga and what it does for me. It’s hard to let go of the sense that I can make it happen.

Lately, I can feel myself wanting something even more from my yoga practice. Through yoga, I can have feelings of profound connection to some deep essential part within me –a part that’s inextricably linked to the special thing inside of everyone else. This experience is an antidote to my long-time attachment to loneliness. I want more of that connected feeling. I want to remember that essential part. And, even though I don’t know exactly what it looks like, I want whatever comes next…on a tray… with pickles and two packets of ketchup.

Because I’ve been wanting more, I can feel myself trying harder. There’s a quiet urgency as I come to my mat in the morning. I’m reading books in hopes of uncovering a secret key hidden between the lines. I’m doing the stuff that I think I’m supposed to do, because I want to receive something in exchange. But there’s tension. I can know the motivation isn’t correct. There’s wisdom inside nudging me to remember that trying harder hasn’t been the way I’ve experienced personal growth in the past. It isn’t the way I’ve made strides in my self-understanding or my relationships. That growth always happens when I do less. It comes when I’m not begging for it. It sneaks in when I finally accept something about my life or myself, I soften and I let go of the struggle. When I make space and open to what is, that’s when something shifts. I don’t make it happen. It’s offered. Grace.

My practice is essential, not because it’s what’s required for spiritual advancement, but because it prepares me to recognize grace when it’s offered. Daily practice readies my system — body, breath, mind, personality and emotions, to function well and to be content and balanced through the dramatic ups and downs or while I wait. Īśvara pranidhana encompasses this notion of grace. I can do what’s best, not because I’m are striving for a particular result, but because it’s the right thing to do. It isn’t service performed in exchange for goods or reward.  It’s action without attachment to the outcome (Bhagavad Gita Ch 2:47).

We don’t have to work hard for it, but I think it is hard work to consistently see ourselves with a loving and honest lens. At least it is for me. But that’s exactly what practice can help us to find. Less effort or striving can nurture an internal environment that’s suited for this gentle, patient, compassionate work. It requires dedication, not because we’ll get kicked out of the club if we slack, but because having structure and regular committed time supports us along the way. It supports us while we wait.  It helps us know our true nature (YS I.3) and this mystery of receiving gifts of grace.

***I offer individual yoga sessions and support for those who would like to begin or deepen a personal practice.  You can read more about the process on this website or contact me  to learn more.  I’d be happy to hear from you!

Awareness is good. Tools to do something about it is life changing.

Sylvia Colle, 1954 oil-on-canvas.  Balthus (French 1908-2001), collection of the St. Louis Art Museum

Balthus (French 1908-2001). “Sylvia Colle”, 1954 oil-on-canvas. , collection of the St. Louis Art Museum 

Differentiation: The ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning.*

I wish that when I was a kid—a ‘sensitive, moody, emotional’ kid, someone had talked to me about this idea of differentiation. I think it would have been so helpful to know that some people can be especially affected by the moods and energy of other people and that sensitive people can learn healthy ways to hold onto themselves during those interactions.

Having the language to describe something like this along with the awareness of what happens is usfeul. Having practices that help to establish one’s emotional autonomy is life changing. It’s empowering. Practice is where we develop tools to use in all sorts of challenging moments that help regognize when we are getting pulled in a difficult direction and can do something about it. Regular practice can also influence and change what we believe to be our relationship to ourself and to others. We can go from distrust or fear in these relationships to something more secure and even joyful. This pursuit has been central to the work I’ve been doing through yoga.

When I began, I participated in group yoga classes. These experiences laid the groundwork for this work. The biggest change came with individualized practice and a relationship with my yoga mentor. Regular individual practice, with the guide of a yoga teacher, provides the method and the support for personal growth. The practices and philosophy of yoga can take us a very long way toward becoming the kind of person each of us wants to be.

If you’d like to know more, contact me. I offer a 20-min call to anyone who has questions about individual vs. group yoga or wonders if it’s the right time to begin a guided personal practice.

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*I came across this definition in the book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate. It’s an excellent book, though it’s not an easy one. There are stories of people who have suffered terrible tragedy and trauma and whose addictions have cost them greatly. Reading this has also provided plenty of opportunities to look at my own addictive behaviors (not easy either). Mate paints a very thorough picture of the different biological and psychosocial aspects of addiction and gives us hope for those who want to recover and heal. The book has stirred a lot in me. I highly recommend it.

 

Unconditional Positive Regard

carlrogers

 

Last week, I blogged about a really special kind of love and appreciation that isn’t tied to things that I do or say. It isn’t given on the condition that I’m in a good mood or recently showered or productive. It just is. I’ve been thinking a lot about this – how sweet unconditional love and acceptance is and how important it is for healing and change. I’ve also been wondering how to get there. How do I offer this love to myself and to others even when someone is being shitty and difficult? How do I do this for myself when I have a really strong samskara or habit of seeing myself through a different lens? How do I hold onto this kind of unconditional acceptance when a situation feels incredibly dark? All this has been swimming inside of me and then I came across something so relevant in the book I’m reading! The Humanistic American psychologist, Carl Rogers (1902-1987), believed that when we are accepted and appreciated for what we are rather than what we do or say, then we are more able to take risks, accept occasional failure, and be open with people. He calls this Unconditional positive regard. That’s it! That’s another, less sappy way, of talking about accepting ourself and others!!! Rogers says our sense of self-worth is related to receiving this kind of acceptance. Self-worth is key to facing challenges and achieving goals and it’s this special combo that allows us to become who we are meant to be. Unconditional positive regard is a key component of self-actualization. Yoga agrees.

Yoga says the ability to hold unconditional positive regard for others is a question of identity. If we identify ourselves and others as a beings that are, in essence, full of light, then all the other stuff that we do, think, feel, and say is something else. It is behavior, but not who we are. It’s thinking, but we aren’t our thoughts. It’s a feeling, and feelings change. When we have the perspective that each person is good, wise, and light-filled, even when their behavior sucks, we can connect to that.  From this place, the efforts we make to improve ourselves become a way of removing the obstacles to clear perception. It isn’t about how horrible we are as a person, but about letting go or changing the things that are keeping us from perceiving or knowing the light within. Cultivating a perspective that lets us get to know this light inside, puruṣa, can make it easier to hold this unconditional positive regard for our self and each other.

Am I doing the things I need to do to be a good person?

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self-acceptance stud-muffin who also sings karaoke.

I was driving to work today and I was thinking about waking up with my husband, Dave, and the class I was about to teach, and my car on the road, and the big white fluffy clouds in the very blue sky, when I caught a glimpse of this unpleasant story that was running in my head. It was going on in the background, mostly undetected, until I had this small, bad feeling come up. Kind of like tuning the radio to get better reception, I tuned into to this stream of thoughts. As the static cleared, I could feel what was happening just under the surface of my conscious thought, “Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing the things I need to do to be a good person.” I was worried because I didn’t reply to a student about scheduling and I failed to complete some paperwork for my yoga therapy program that I really wanted to finish. I didn’t feel bad and think, “I’ll take care of these things this afternoon,” I felt bad about myself. I realized, When I don’t accomplish certain things, then I can start to feel low. A little less worthy.  A little less loveable. 

Then I thought about Dave. Being with him is a good way to get some self-acceptance beamed right through me. I can sit around all day and not accomplish any tasks or projects, and Dave doesn’t give off any hint that my lack of productivity makes me a less valuable part of the family. If I suggest that I’m having a hard time accepting how little I got done, he might point out a few simple things that I did or comment that resting is good and we all need it. There are days when I accomplish a ton of stuff. On those days, Dave sincerely appreciates what I do, but he doesn’t love me more because of it. I get the feeling that he just loves me. Sick or well. Happy or Sad. Productive or not. He’s glad I’m on the planet.

It’s a very special gift to be on the receiving end of this kind of love.

I turned into the parking lot and the icky feeling I had earlier was gone. In its place was relief: I don’t have to work so hard at justifying my place on the planet. Openness: Neither does anyone else. And beneath it all, I was aware of another story playing through the brain-frequency of radio waves: Nobody has to change. There isn’t anything wrong with who we are. There isn’t anything that we must do to be worthy of love. We are all good. We are all lovable. We are all worthy. 

 

 

Thank you, Mr. TKV Desikachar

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Some of the things that have the most fascination for me are things that can not possibly be grasped in one lifetime. I feel that way about ceramics. During my undergrad I had a teacher, Professor Veerkamp, who was not only a great teacher, but totally engaged with clay and the creative process. With thanks to him, I went on to spend 10 years as a ceramic artist and teacher. In that time, I became aware of the multitude of elements when working with clay. I knew early on that I’d never exhaust the creative possibilities or test all the variables. I could make the same form 100 times and it wouldn’t be the same because I’d change along the way.

I feel this way about yoga. I started coming for the physical practice, but as that started to work on me I opened to learning more. I read lots of books and went to lots of classes, but it wasn’t until I met my teacher, Chase Bossart, and through him came to know the work of his teacher Mr. TKV Desikachar, that this learning started to work on me and my relationships. I can see that the well from which these teachings come and the possibilities of personal transformation are profound that I’m not even close to exhausting the possibilities of all there is to learn. The things I learned years ago keep coming back around in more meaningful ways. I’m so grateful to the long tradition of practitioners and teachers who help to make this so meaningful to me.

The sweetness (and discomfort) of being open

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IMG_8282There are all of these tender things happening in my life.

  • My girls are home for the Summer and with a slower and more relaxed pace, they get time to enjoying each other. And Dave and I are enjoying them.
  • The yoga therapy clients I see are sincerely doing their work. I can see that though it is sometimes very hard, they practice and are willing to stay with it. This is inspiring.
  • Honey, my grandpa, moved from independent living to an apartment where he can have more care. There’s so much I could say about this, but mostly, today, I’m touched by the way that Honey and my parents love, respect, and care for each other. It’s so special to witness.
  • The move has unearthed treasures from Honey’s life—photos of my dad and uncles when they were boys, special things that belonged to my great-great grandparents, pictures of my grandmother’s high school friends held in an envelope with a one-cent stamp and addressed with only my grandmother’s maiden name and the town where she lived at the time.   Touching things that were special to my relatives gets me every time.
  • I turned 40 this week.
  • My yoga practice these days is hard and that always leaves me tender and a little uncomfortable.
  • I just back from Nashville where I had the next part of my training, and now there’s a lot to digest.

I’m taking notice of how these experiences leave me feeling open and tender and vulnerable. It’s really good and really uncomfortable.  I have a tendency to not want to feel this way. My most practiced tactic is to stay busy and distracted until the stuff passes. But this time, instead of pushing through or forcing myself to keep going or work harder, I’m trying to slow down. I’m sleeping a little more. I’m saying, ‘no thank you’ to the many enticing things that I could do with my days. I guess I don’t want to miss any of this good stuff that’s happening.  I’m getting used to what 40 feels like and considering what it means to have these pangs of nostalgia or to be overcome by the profound mystery of aging. I’m enjoying the sweet ache of parenting my two young girls who will only be 8 and 12 for a little while and I’m grateful for the practice of yoga that makes so much of this possible.  What if it all leads to grace?

 

How to do yoga āsana

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The yoga sūtras doesn’t give us a lot about how to do āsana. There aren’t any descriptions of postures and no instagram worthy pictures. But there are two sūtras specifically about the qualities that should be in every āsana and these include the following ideas: sthiram sukham or steadiness and ease (2.46) and prayatna śaitilya (2.47).

A common working definition of prayatna śaitilya is “appropriate effort to loosen.” Sure. Yogis should be flexible, but not too flexible. We should work toward those qualities, but still with sthira sukham. Makes sense.

But this week, I learned of another way of thinking about this sūtra. Prayatna is defined as the intention that comes before a movement or the energy that precedes an action. It’s fascinating to wonder and attempt to feel what is behind a conscious thought that leads to movement. Śaitilya is ‘loosening’, but what is it that needs loosening? If we think about prayatna as the quality of connecting to something more subtle and something behind even the intention of our movement, then perhaps the loosening that happens is on the level of our identity. Can I let go of the idea that I am in charge of everything my body does.  Is it possible that I am not the illy force that allows my body and breath to move.

This sutra feels like a beautiful invitation to slow down, be quiet and listen to the subtle force within.

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Deep gratitude to my YATNA teachers who make it possible for me to have these kinds of ongoing conversations in the company of amazing colleagues.

Thank you Amy Wheeler, Dolphi Wertenbaker, and Chase Bossart.

grieving and change

 

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Here we are again, mourning the loss of people killed and facing a very difficult and complex problem of what to do about it. One side says gun control. Another says no way. One side says immigration reform. The other side has a message of unity. It’s a lot of us vs. them. I’m often discouraged and overwhelmed by what seems like insurmountable differences of people who actually want the same thing— a country where people enjoy freedom and relative safety for themselves and their families.

I’ve been reading the book, Difficult Conversations, How to discuss what matters most, a book written by people of the Harvard Negotiation Project — a research project that develops and disseminates improved methods of dealing with conflict. Just last night I came upon a passage that gives me hope. It’s kind of long, but I think it’s really good.

Remember: You Can’t Change Other People

In many situations, our purpose in initiating a conversation is to get the other person to change. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for change. The urge to change others is universal. We want them to be more living, to show more appreciation for our hard work, to accept our career choice or our sexual orientation. To believe in our God or our views on important issues of the day.

The problem is, we can’t make these things happen. We can’t change someone else’s mind or force them to change their behavior. If we could, many difficult conversations would simply vanish. We’d say, “Here are the reasons you should love me more,” and they’d say, “Now that I know those reasons, I do.”

But we know things don’t work that way. Changes in attitudes and behavior rarely come about because of arguments, facts, and attempts to persuade. How often do you change your values and beliefs – or whom you love or what you want in life – based on something someone tells you? And how likely are you to do so when the person who is trying to change you doesn’t seem fully aware of the reasons you see things differently in the first place?

We can have an influence, but here we need to be especially careful. The paradox is that trying to change someone rarely results in change. On the other hand, engaging someone in a conversation where mutual learning is the goal often results in change. Why? Because when we set out to try to change someone, we are more likely to argue with and attack their story and less likely to listen. This approach increases the likelihood that they will feel defensive rather than open to learning something new. They are more likely to change if they think we understand them and if they feel heard and respected. They are more likely to change if the feel free not to.

What this means is that posting a rant or meme on facebook isn’t going to bring two sides together. Yelling at the other side… not the answer. If we want to see something shift in these bi-partisan issues, each of us can make efforts to understand, hear, and respect the other side.

 

Stone, Douglas, Patton, Bruce and Heen, Sheila. Difficult Conversations, How to discuss what matters most;  Penguin Books, 2000