Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tending the Seads

Almost three years ago I sat recovering in bed following the latest battle with a congenital heart condition I have. I had popped both wires of my Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD) and as a result was receiving inappropriate shocks. This brought the grand total of shocks given to me since the ICD was placed in 2001 to nine, and resulted in a surgery (the 3rd in 8 years) to replace the wires. There had been complications leading to a 4th surgery within 12 hours of the 3rd.

I was tired of fighting. I was disgusted that my children had to see their mother like this. I had finally been feeling like my life was getting back on track after rebuilding it for 8 years after my dance career was cut short following the initial placement of that damn device. Didn’t the powers that be realize I was raising two small kids? I had a husband who worked crazy hours! I did not have time to deal with this surgery and recovery! I was done. I couldn’t wrestle with it any more. I didn’t want to die… but I didn’t really want to live either. I flushed the bottle of pain killers I was given because I was too terrified of what I might do. The first call I made was to my therapist. The second was to my Teachers.

When I was able to get out of bed, I sat with my teachers, Bob and Cindi Barton, who had driven 40 minutes to meet me at the local shala where I was a yoga instructor. I sat and cried, releasing my fears in to their ears, and in the process opening my heart to remembering the teachings of yoga.

When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate and opposite, elevated attitude. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.
-Sutra II. 33 as translated by Nischala Joy Devi

I saw myself as disparaged-- sensing my dreams neglected. So I cultivated appreciation. To put it out to the universe, I wrote daily appreciations as status updates on my Facebook page. Sometimes they were small: I appreciate that I hit all the green lights on Penn Avenue. Some were reflective: I appreciate that when I had nothing else to grasp, I held on to my training and was able to meditate my way to serenity on the surgical table. Many served to remind me of the blessings right in front of me: I appreciate the rain storm providing the perfect soundtrack to snuggling with my kids under a blanket on the front porch.

For two years, these appreciations taught me about the abundance in my life. They demonstrated that my path was being laid before me. Within six months, I was appreciating that I had been offered the opportunity to share my practice therapeutically with heart patients. Months after that, I was appreciating that teaching for that was healing my own heart in more ways than I could have expected.

What these appreciations did not do was deny me. I could still sit with my feelings of doubt and sadness. I could still grieve the dance career that wasn’t given the chance to blossom. It was ok to feel guilty that my supportive husband had to learn the part about ‘in sickness and in health’ from the very genesis of our lives together. I was allowed to be angry that my children had to live with the reality of a mom who had a bum heart, and mourn that they also carry this gene. All of this anguish could co-exist with gratitude.

Yet, the longer I offered thanks daily, the less I needed to sit with this suffering. These disquieting thoughts no longer had power, because I did not actively nurture them the way I cultivated their opposite. Each emotion was a seed, but I only watered and gave sun to gratitude: Pratipaksha Bhavana.

One day about a year ago, I stopped writing these daily appreciations. It wasn’t because I was no longer seeing anything to be grateful for. It was because I was overwhelmed daily by all I had to appreciate. This sense of thankfulness had integrated itself in to my consciousness and allowed me to trust in that abundance.

Last week, I received some disheartening news. I saw fear and frustration rise up like familiar companions. Sitting down at my computer I wrote, “Daily Appreciation: good friends who not only adopt you and your kids for dinner while the hubs has a crazy work week, but who listen when you need to talk, hug when you need to hug, cry with you, offer insight and advice at just the right moments, and make it better just by being there and knowing they support you.” Yes. I truly am blessed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer Teaching Schedule

Hi All! I'm super excited that I'll be teaching a bunch of classes over the next few months that are open to the public. Please come join me! These will all be held at Schoolhouse Yoga at their Squirrel Hill Location. Classes are $15 each or buy a class card and join me for several! Namaste!

June 12 430-5:50pm Yoga 1

June 18 8:30-10am Yoga 2

10:30-11:50am Yoga 1

12:30-1:50pm Yin Yoga

July 9 8:30-10am Yoga 2

10:30-11:50am Yoga 1

12:30-1:50pm Yin Yoga

July 16 8:30-10am Yoga 2

10:30-11:50am Yoga 1

12:30-1:50pm Yin Yoga

July 17 430-5:50 Yoga 1

July 23 8:30-10am Yoga 2

10:30-11:50am Yoga 1

12:30-1:50pm Yin Yoga

Friday, January 28, 2011

Clean Mind, Clean Body

I admit it. The holidays really did a number on me. It was the first year I have every really worked consistently part time since I had kids and I still wanted to do everything I had done before so my children had those traditions to look back on. There was the baking, and the shopping, and the tree... so all of this left little time for me to eat well. And it didn't help that Ornish is located right next to a Dunkin' Donuts (those jelly donuts just call my name during Channukah!!!). Then I got sick. By the time January rolled around everything about me felt heavy. My gut felt heavy. My heart felt heavy. My energy felt heavy.

Enter Leah Shannon, owner of Full Well, and Holistic Health Counselor Extraordinaire (not to mention a dear friend of mine!). She emailed me and mentioned that she was going to be offering a Winter Cleanse and asked if I could provide a 10 minute detoxifying yoga sequence. I said, "Sure! But I want to do the cleanse too!"

Yoga is an excellent way to encourage detoxification in the body. The main systems that cleanse the body- circulatory, digestive, and lymph- are all stimulated in a balanced yoga practice. Yoga facilitates the proper workings of these systems by lengthening, pulling, stretching, contracting, compressing, and twisting every bit of you so that even the deep tissues are stimulated and encouraged to release waste. The deep breathing of yoga not only helps to expel excess carbon dioxide, but also stimulates organ function and massages those organs so that they can better do their job in detoxifying the body. Most importantly, the practices helps to calm and cleanse the mind of toxic thoughts, bringing together a more cohesive mind/ body connection.

So here I am- Five days under my belt and feeling pretty damn good! My sugar and caffeine cravings are gone and I'm confident going in to my second week. I've also developed a soothing and cleansing practice that you can use too!

10 Minute Yoga Detox

Try to hold all postures for at least five even and steady breaths, unless otherwise indicated.

1. Sukasana (Easy Pose) with breath awareness (30-40 breaths) and Full Yogic Breath (5-10)

2. Cat/ Cow flow (10 breaths)

3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

4. Plank Pose

5. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

6. Balasana (Child’s Pose)

7. Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Twisted Head to Knee Pose)
Twist the body towards the knee and open the arm (same arm as straight leg) up behind you.

8. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes)… this twist can be done with bottom leg straight

9. Paschimottanasana (Intense West Stretch-- Seated forward bend)

****Repeat steps 7-9 on opposite side before continuing on.****

10. Jathara Parivartanasana (Reclined Twist)
Practice this on both sides.

11. Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Adapting to Adjustments

I had an interesting conversation with a friend a while ago that has been in the back of my mind since. She had taken a yoga class at her local health club and was feeling insecure about it because the teacher had given her a lot of attention in the form of adjustments.

The fact that she was a little unnerved by this surprised me. I LOVE to get adjustments when I take a class. Maybe it is the dancers ego in me that strongly remembers a childhood friend-- also a dancer-- telling me it was good that I was getting adjustments. She said it meant that the teacher saw talent in me. Ever since that conversation when I got a 'correction' in my dance class or a kinder 'adjustment' in a yoga class, it was always a nonverbal bit of encouragement saying, "You can do this!" My friend, on the other hand, said she felt almost like the teacher was picking on her. It got me thinking about how and why I give adjustments as a teacher. I've been wondering if my students ever felt the same way, and it saddens me to think they could.

As an instructor, my intention is always to wait to adjust a student until they are ready to accept what you are offering. As a teacher trainee, I was always shown how to use non-verbal adjustments first, or one finger adjustments to correct a misalignment and ensure safety for students who are new to us. As we continue with a student, the relationship builds so that they can trust you and allow you to open them up to a deeper expression of the posture. It is then that we can grow more hands on with our assistance.

Not long after this conversation with my mom, I went to a five day intensive with the internationally renowned teacher Donna Farhi. She brought an even deeper insight to the art of adjustments: The Neutral Touch. She described how on top of asking verbal permission to adjust a student, when she first touches them she comes to them with a touch that is neither timid nor aggressive and "wait for the sentries to welcome you in." From that point on a teacher can guide the student further in to the asana.

As important as it is for a teacher to respect the student's limitations in every adjustment, it is equally important for students to take on responsibilities for their own bodies. My teacher is not in my body and can not sense and feel what I do. If an instructor is making an adjustment that doesn't feel "right," it is the student's responsibility to verbalize that. A student also has the right to verbally refuse an adjustment if they don't want it. We are encouraged to do this by the yama (restraint) of ahimsa (non-violence). We practice ahimsa with our bodies when we listen and honor them and their limitations. A good teacher will respect the student for where they are in their process.

I've been sharing these ideas with my friend. As with all things in life, we have to be ready for changes... willing to adjust. When the time is right and we can be present with what needs to happen, we adapt in the way we need to so we can develop each posture to its fullest nature within our body.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Checking In

More and more, I am working with people interested in how Yoga can help them relieve stress. While a daily asana practice will certainly balance the hormones and a consistent meditation practice helps to maintain center, taking it off the mat and in to daily life can be a challenge.

One of the most powerful changes a Yoga practice can make is that it builds greater awareness in the body. Our communication with ourselves takes on a whole new conversation as we connect further inward using breath as our language. When the body begins to understand its signals are heard, the healing process can begin and we can rid our bodies of the seeds of disease that stress creates.

To carry this communication in to daily life, it helps to begin to create ritual check ins with yourself. For example, at every stop light... on the bus... during commercials... while waiting in lines... we can start to check in with our physical body (Annamaya kosha), our breath body (Pranamaya kosha), and our emotional body (Manomaya kosha). We begin by simply observing any areas of tension, discovering where we might be constricting or holding. Observe the qualities of each of these bodies. There is no need to judge. We simply study what is happening within-- the way a mother watches her child play on the playground.

Consider these initial observations a baseline assessment. After this baseline is established, invite any areas of tension to soften and release. This is especially effective with the physical and breath bodies. Tension in the emotional body can manifest stubbornly. While softening with the breath is helpful, we invite ourselves sit in whatever emotion is present. In my experience, emotions are like some misbehaving children-- offering them your attention allows them to settle.

As our awareness of stress and tension grows, we begin to recognize these sensations in their infancy. This gives us the opportunity to draw upon the tools in our Yoga tool box (pranayama, visualization, systematic tensing and releasing in the body, etc.) and fizzle the stress.