Category Archives: Yoga

What makes yoga postures so darn special?

Relaxing, watercolor, Amanda Green

Introduction: Is yoga the same as stretching?

For a long time, my yoga practice was about mastering certain postures.  I worked really hard to stick a handstand.  I went to vinyasa class and wanted so badly to be able to defy gravity and float my feet from downdog to that forward bend at the front of the mat.  Fancy arm balances? Yes, please.  Bend further? No problem. Big, dancer-like transitions between postures that took me high and then low? Bring it. I worked out. I got better at all of these things and even had moments of of feeling that particular kind of strength, balance and presence in my body that I was seeking. I also got increasingly more sensitive, an enduring shoulder injury, way too much flexibility in important joints, and the realization that this kind of practice was not sustainable.

Was I doing yoga? Does the ability to hold a handstand for 30 seconds make someone good at yoga? If I look at a yoga postures in a magazine and try to do the stuff I see, does that count? How we answer these questions depends on how we define yoga practice and what we think āsana (aaah-sun-uh, the practice of postures) is for. In the next few posts, we’ll look at several definitions of āsana, considerations for structuring a practice, and a few of Patañjali’s yoga sūtras that will give us a sense of what postural practice is all about and what we can look forward to when practice is well established.  

Seventeen years after my first yoga class, how I practce āsana is really different from those early years. With the guidance of my teacher and support of peers, my yoga practice is now slow, safe, and satisfying to me in very deep and essential ways. I practice at home, in the quiet. Breath is way more interesting that balancing on my hands. In times when I’ve been injured or in pain, I have ways to stay connected to my practice. And most interestingly, my mind operates much more attentively and peacefully.  I can imagine doing yoga like this for the rest of my life.

Here’s the sneak peak for the series…

Part 1: Āsana is about being and becoming

Part 2: What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary

Part 3: For Āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences

Part 4: Āsana reaches all parts of our being

Part 5: Vinyāsa krāma: start where you are and take the necessary steps to reach your goal

Part 6: Prevent future suffering (Yoga Sūtra II.16)

Part 7: Āsana should be stable and comfortable (Yoga Sūtra II.46)

Part 8: Āsana helps us loosen the knots and reduce resistance (Yoga Sūtra II.47)

Part 9: The result of āsana practice: we will not be affected by extremes (Yoga Sūtra II.48)

9 solutions for difficult times

Girl reading, watercolor, Amanda Green
Girl Reading, Watercolor on paper, Amanda Green

Yoga practice isn’t about rising above or rejecting our humanness. Instead, yoga can help us learn to accept, heal and develop our human nature. An amazing guidebook for this process is the Yoga Sūtras, authored by the ancient sage, Patañjali. 

The first chapter of the yoga sūtras dives right into one of the universal and unavoidable experiences of being a person on this planet… each of us will have some really hard stuff happen in our lives. At times, we may be able to move through these difficulties. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel the feelings, grieve, get angry, suffer or realize something about ourselves in the process.  What it does mean is that we aren’t stuck.

There are other times when the hard stuff will stop us in our tracks leaving us heavy in the chest, stuck with a negative outlook, a shaky body, breathing that is short and shallow and with a mind that is unable to focus. When we see these symptoms (Yoga sūtra I.31), we need help. Patanjali provides us with nine ways that we can seek support and balance during these times.

  1. Connect to a belief or faith in a higher power.  Can we sense and be comforted by the possibility or even the knowing that something bigger than ourself is at work in our lives? In difficult times, we may not know how things will work out but if we trust that it will, this faith can help sustain us. Yoga sūtra I.23
  2. Go deep in one principle. Let your attention and your energy focus on one perspective or method for sorting through the stuff that’s coming up in your hard time. Yoga sutra I.32
  3. These attitudes will be very helpful in moving through the hard stuff: friendliness toward those who are happy, compassion for those who suffer, support for those doing good work in the world, and for those who are doing bad and upsetting stuff, maintain emotional distance. If that kind of emotional equanimity isn’t possible, then you may need to establish physical distance.  The point with this last one is for you to do your best to stay emotionally and mentally balanced. Yoga sūtra 1.33
  4. Practice breathing with a focus on exhale and pause after exhale Yoga sūtra I.34
  5. Notice how the senses are operating. Are they leading you or are you leading them? Yoga sūtra I.35
  6. There is a place inside of you that is full of light.  This place can’t be darkened by sadness or grief. If you know the feeling of this place and can connect to it during difficult times, it can be a relief and comfort. Yoga sūtra 1.36
  7. Someone who has come through hard stuff of her own can be a great support. Yoga sūtra 1.37
  8. Dreams can offer insight into a difficult situation. Yoga sūtra I.38
  9. Meditate on something that you like and that is appropriate for your difficult situation. Meditation is best guided by a teacher who you trust, and who knows you well. Yoga sūtra 1.39

The yoga sūtras acknowledge that there will be times when life knocks you down. It’s an inevitable part of the human experience. When these situations arise, it’s tempting to spend energy imagining the ways they could have been avoided, to feel like it isn’t fair, or to dwell on how much we don’t like what we are going through. If we stay in that mindset for too long, that is a signal that we need some help. In realizing this and seeking a new way of working through a situation we learn about ourselves– about fraility and strength.  Of what we can endure and of the forces that are in waiting to help us to keep going. This list from the yoga sūtras may seem simple at first glance, but when we need help like we may not have needed before, the profound nature of these solutions shines.

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…

 

Happy Thanksgiving. (Be like the sponge)

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For some of us, gratitude doesn’t come so easily. Or maybe it’s not the gratitude itself, it’s just hard to receive the things that are offered or given. It’s kind of like the dried out sponge. When you try to wipe up some water with it, the hard sponge just pushes the water around. It can’t absorb what’s there. It isn’t until the sponge has a little time under the running faucet that the outer layers get soaked and expand. The water makes it’s way deeper and deeper until, eventually, the very center of the sponge gets to be pliable and soft and absorbant. After it’s soaked, it can be squeezed out and that’s when it becomes it’s most absorbant self. That’s the cycle. That’s what helps the sponge to be able to bend and flex and hold so much.

My wish is that each of us gets soaked with exactly what we need over and over again. That we get filled and nourished to our very deepest parts. When we are, as we are, we can offer and receive. We can bend and flex.

I’m filled up by this special community of readers, seekers, and students every week and I’m thankful for each of you. Blessings to you and your dear ones on this day of Thanksgiving.

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Start 2017 off right!

Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali 8-week Workshop

c60a222648d350f0e6a193b3146ee9e9The Yoga Sūtras is an ancient and fundamental text of Yoga. Even though it’s over 2,000 years old, the 196 aphorisms continue to be relevant to our modern day practice and life. In this course, we’ll dive into the second Chapter and right into the heart of the yoga journey, looking at what yoga is and what it helps us overcome. Through chant, discussion and practice, we’ll learn how to cultivate balance, clarity, and more meaning in our daily life.

January 12th – March 9th, 2017 (no class 2/2)

Thursdays, 9:30 – 11:00am

Private Studio, SW Austin, TX

$150* through 12/15

click here for more info and to register:
https://www.amandagreenyoga.com/workshops-special-events/

 

The air we breathe

Nora in a pink wig


On Saturday morning, I was sitting for my morning practice. Nora was up early and she came over to me wearing a bright pink wig and a belted tunic to announce that she was going outside. She walked to the door and as soon as she opened it, this damp, warm, earthy air pushed its way into the room and enveloped me. With my eyes closed, I could almost see this blanket of air moving in. This outside air was such a contrast to the cool, dry, climate controlled stuff I had been in. It brought with it all the wonderful smells that come after a rain and with the morning. I widened my nostrils to breathe it in and softened to better feel it on my skin. I was sad that it only lasted a few breaths. But I reflected on what was really gone — the delicious smells and the feeling of the moisture and the tangibility of the air. But, of course, the actual life-sustaining part still surrounded me and was in me. The air wasn’t gone, but my appreciation and awareness of it had changed.

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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.

Conversion

Willie

On Sunday mornings, our local radio show has a great gospel music hour. The host plays an hour of really moving hymns, Willie or Dolly singing spirituals or some old recordings on a scratchy record player. I’m always happy when I’m in the car at the right time to catch a few songs.

This Sunday, I heard the song, “I saw the light” and it made me think about conversion and about the moment when something is clear – something seems possible that didn’t before or something changes and you can’t (or really don’t want to) go back from this light-filled peace and knowing. You want to eat well, you want to change the way you relate to your partner, you want peace all the time. You want the perks of conversion.

I saw the light, I saw the light

No more darkness, no more night

Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight

Praise the Lord I saw the light

This song might give the impression that once converted, once you see the light, then that’s it. The event is done and then there’s no more darkness, no sorrow in sight and perhaps at some level this is true. Maybe, with a spiritual conversion, you can feel held by a higher power in a way you didn’t before and that brings great comfort and does, indeed, relieve some existential darkness. But that’s not really all that’s required.

If your conversion is of the ‘healthy eating’ variety, then true conversion, real life change, would come from the day to day eating choices that you make. You might see that eating cheetos and icecream in front of the tv every night is having a negative impact on your life. You might see the light, but if you don’t implement the change, then there will still be sorrow and darkness in the form of declining mental and physical health.

If I realize that the relationship I’m in isn’t good for me and have this light of knowing but I don’t take steps to change the problematic stuff in the relationship, then the knowing doesn’t lead to the end of that particular source of sorrow either.

I fully believe that we can lessen our suffering and that of others. It can be born of our own choices and actions and it can come through grace. I’ve seen it happen in my life. But this idea that we can have an experience, even one that truly changes how we behave and how we see, and then there’s no more night ever, is misleading.

At the end of the day, there’s still night. We need it. We need the time to rest and digest and to experience the other stuff that happens in those dark quiet hours. Bats, opossums and many other phylum of creatures do their best work at night. If we try to convince ourselves that it no longer exists, there will be some serious cognitive dissonance.

Maybe seeing the light means that we see more clearly how things are. We see that darkness comes at the end of the day, and we accept it for what it is. We know that some suffering is a part of human experience and rather than pretending it should no longer exist, we approach it with deference. We are kind to ourselves when we feel sorrow and support others when they are going through dark days. Instead of continuing to exist in this dual-idea of light or dark, we can relate to the darkness and through this, we really do see the light.

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

Balance and self-care sometimes involves brownies

 

kids crossing a stream

Ask yourself the question how as a woman, mother, wife, teacher do you find ways in which to nourish yourself and stay balanced in your life. What are some of the things you do? You can write 2-3 paragraphs. 

I’m teaching yoga at a retreat this summer and I’ve been given this writing prompt as a way of sharing what I have to offer as a teacher during the 5-days in Ojai, CA. I have to laugh, because over the last few months I’ve been kind of hard on myself about all the things I’m not doing. Lately, a lot of my nourishing routines and hard won ‘good’ habits are slipping. As I sit down to write this, I’m finishing off my second brownie… and it is way past 8:00pm.

It’s not just the brownies. On this side of a big family trip, house guests, and a bout of sickness, my body is kind of tired, so I’m not rising before the sun. Instead, I do my yoga practice after I get the girls go to school. I’m not pushing myself to strive and accomplish quite as much during my work-week because the weather has been so beautiful and the garden calls to me. I have an exam that’s coming due, but instead of studying during the 30 minutes before the girls are home from school, I read my first romance novel. I found the discarded book poking out from under a bush as I walked through the neighborhood with a friend. On the cover I could see a little drawing of a cabin and hearts pouring out of the chimney. The title, in its fancy golden script, shone in the sunlight : Manhunt, by Janet Evanovich. I picked it up and slipped it into my purse, deciding to read it all the way to the end. And I have.

There have been times when I prided myself on all of the things I’d do each day in the name of balance and self-care. For about a year, I had an expanding list of do’s and don’ts taped next to my bathroom sink so I wouldn’t forget the recommendations of my Āyurvedic practitioner. I wrote out the prayer that I wanted to recite to begin my day and kept that at my bedside. The details of my yoga practice were in a special binder next to my mat so I could stay true to what my teacher gave me. These routines and special efforts were really important, as was the sense of empowerment and pride I felt when I did what I intended to do. It helped me to see that I can play an active part in how I feel. These routines made it possible to live in a more conscious and intentional way. Through this period, with the guidance of people who know me and care about me, I saw how engaging with simple things, earnestly and sincerely, does truly nourish.

Right now I’m discovering that my path to balance and nourishment doesn’t look the same as it did two years ago. I need to be easier on myself. After all, the occasional brownie at 9pm isn’t the end of a good life lived. And balance isn’t a destination. We don’t arrive at “Perfectly Nourished” and then just hang out there for the rest of our lives. It’s an ongoing process. Just like we have to eat, drink, and breathe every day, we need to continue to nourish ourselves in other important ways, again and again, each day. As time passes and we change, the ways we care for ourselves may change, too. Rigid and disciplined routines, though very necessary to help me establish good self-care and empower myself, aren’t what I need at the moment. Now, nourishment is coming from a schedule that is more spacious and spontaneous. I’m more balanced as I learn to look with less judgment and more compassion at the moments when good habits slide. It comes from time with family, time with friends and a community of people who are also engaged in this process. We support each other along the way.

 

Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREAT

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th! IMG0172

REAL LIFE. REAL TOOLS.

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments to receive your discount. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

 

This class begins May 10th, and it’s free! Yoga for Addiction Recovery

 

Sister Helen Prejean: A Life Guided by Faith

Click image to visit Sister Helen Prejean's website: Ministry against the death penalty. photo by Scott Langley.

Click image to visit Sister Helen Prejean’s website: Ministry against the death penalty. photo by Scott Langley.

I’m interested in people who live lives of faith. It might be a life of religious faith, but it’s bigger than just that. My fascination is with those who are guided by and believe in something that is bigger than themselves — people who organize their lives around a relationship to a divine presence or a cause or a calling. For years, I’ve sniffed out clues, read books, and positioned myself to catch glimpses of people who live this way. I’m a secret scientist, collecting information and making observations about what it looks like or feels like to be a person of faith.

Last night, Dave and I went to hear a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean. The movie, Dead Man Walking, is based on the book she wrote about her relationship with a man on death row. She says that it was that experience that awakened her to what she now does—she serves the poor, the families and victims of violence, and those in prison. She’s works, writes, lectures and educates others with the explicit aim of ending capitol punishment. It’s heavy stuff, and yet she goes about it with southern charm, infectious conviction, and a sense of humor.

I was there for the whole lecture, but I was really there for the chance to hear any juicy tidbits about Sister Helen’s spiritual life. I want to know how she relates to God. What kind of prayer life does she have? What is her relationship to the Church as an institution and to Catholicism? I want to know where she accesses this joy despite the very serious and difficult work. I want to see for myself what a sister, whose spiritual commitment is so public, is like to hang out with for a couple of hours. Is she nice? Relatable? Is she grounded?

Here’s what I noticed.

She is very much herself. Her personality and her human-ness came through during the lecture and I get the sense that it flows through all the work she does. She’s not lecturing from some higher plane. She’s down here with the rest of us.

She looks for balance.  She says she relaxes. She plays cards and drinks beer. She puts effort into her friendships, appreciates her sisters, and gets enough sleep. She said that when she’s on a plane, she doesn’t talk to anyone. She likes that she can be anonymous in airports.

She spoke openly and freely about her personal experience – but it wasn’t about her. She talked as though the real work was coming through her. She talked about God’s grace and Jesus and the Gospel. She talked about the victims and those suffering from acts of violence and how important it is that we don’t leave them alone. She said those who find forgiveness and love are the real heroes of her stories. She was talking and it was her experience, but it wasn’t all about her.

She said something that really touched me. As in, when she said it, I felt a big gut-response to the words. She said, truth springs from the earth, so if we want to get close to the truth, we have to put our feet on the ground. Of all the calls to action, this one got me. And she is a living example of what she is asking others to do.

She’s on a first name basis with Jesus. Her relationship to the divine is personal and intimate. Sister Helen said that when she first agreed to write a letter to a man on death row, that was “sneaky Jesus #1.” She had no idea where he was leading her. She was willing to open her heart to write letters, which was all she could handle at the time, so that’s what she got. Sneaky Jesus #2 was when she agreed to be this man’s spiritual advisor. It was another single step, and look where it led – it led her to know and fulfill her dharma.

I’m interested in these personal faith stories because I’m still wondering and exploring my own — a story that unfolds a tiny bit more every time I practice yoga, every time I kneel at church, every time I feel some knowing that moves through me, every time I say yes to something that I can’t really explain. It was an honor to spend time in the same room with Sister Helen and to see, so palpably, that she believes her life is guided by something divine. The way she tells the story, it’s because 20+ years ago, she was willing to open to the moment, to what she calls God’s grace, and follow her life in the right direction.

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I’m happy to announce my upcoming class in Austin, TX:

Healing from Addiction with Yoga

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–       Cultivate a positive relationship with your body

–       Develop tools to support you in every phase of recovery

–       Foster well-being
and emotional stability in a supportive small group environment

COMMUNITIES FOR RECOVERY

Tuesdays 12:15-1:30

May 10th – June 14th, 2016 (6 weeks)

10 participants

 ! FREE !

Please contact me to reserve your spot or to find out more

—————————-

Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREAT

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th! IMG0172

REAL LIFE. REAL TOOLS.

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments to receive your discount. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

http://handson-retreats.com