Summer is right around the corner here in the Pacific Northwest, and you know what that means … Vacations! Camping! Backpacking! Road trips and Flights!

Summering is super fun, except when you’ve been cramped in the tiniest of airplane seats or trapped in a car for hours. You finally arrive at your destination with an achy back, and there’s no amount of coffee that will successfully revive you. Well, friends … I’m here to help. Yoga to the rescue! Here’s a little taste of a workshop I’ve developed to help address some of those pesky travel-induced ails.

BEFORE:
Before getting in your car or hopping on that plane, get your blood flowing and move your spine in all directions, especially twists and gentle back bending movements:

  • Standing Twist Flow – Stand with your feet wider than your hips, with your knees and toes turned out a little. Soften your knees place your arms next to your sides. Begin twisting side to side, and let your arms be floppy. As you twist to the right, lift your left heel and allow your left foot and entire leg rotate inward (to the R) and do the same for the opposite side. Do this for a minute or more. To help you stay balanced and prevent dizziness, find an object to look at in each direction you’re twisting.
  • Standing Back Bend – Place your hands on your low back and upper sacrum. Draw your pubic bone towards your belly using your abdominals. Inhale lift your ribcage away from your pelvis, reach your sternum forward and up, moving into a little back bend. You may keep your chin tucked or slowly release your head back.

DURING: (not for the driver!)
Movements focusing on your feet and legs to inspire circulation in your low body and stretches to open your chest:

  • The Alphabet – Draw the alphabet with your foot.
  • Chest opener – Sit forward on your seat. Interlace your fingers and place your hands behind your head with wide elbows and move into a little baby backbend, while looking upward slightly.

AFTER:
Get those hip flexors stretched out and blood flowing from your low body back up with an inversion.  You will also benefit from doing the “Before” postures as well.

  • Hi Lunge Pose – From standing, step one leg back into a long stance, with the ball of your back foot rooted, and your heel lifted. Bend your front knee over your front heel. Reach your arms out to the sides, shoulder height, and then bend your elbows and point your fingers up towards the sky for “Cactus Arms”. If you’re not getting enough stretch in your back leg hip flexors, scoot your foot back a little more. Take 10 deep breaths or more then switch sides.
  • Legs up on a wall or chair (or a tree!) – Lie down next to a wall, a chair or a stool and put your legs up. Rest here for 5 minutes or more.

Happy travels!
Emily

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Can you believe it’s May ?!

As I sat down to write you the newsletter this morning, I plugged in all of my upcoming announcements and events… the easy stuff, and then my fingers fell still on my keyboard… I wasn’t sure what to share in the opening article. I usually like to give you a little slice of my practice… a teaching I’m working with, or what I’m inspired by lately. But today I found myself with… not a whole lot to say. So I decided to take a break and sit instead. I went to my studio, grabbed my practice shawl and my mala, and sat down on my block.

Once the typical beginning chatter started to settle, and my mind became quiet, I had an idea – an answer to a question I had been asking myself popped up. I’m going to make a short video as a sort of preview for the Yoga for Anxiety workshop happening in May (see below for more details). The workshop is three hours long and I could certainly spend much longer than that covering all the potential subject material, so I’d been struggling to decide what little nugget I should include in the video. Then, BAM! The solution hit me and I suddenly knew.

Though I welcomed this revelation, I then faced the enticing prospect of letting it hijack my meditation. I wanted to think more about the details of the video. It was so enticing to plan it, and this is exactly the place to work with in practice. Instead I came back to feeling my body breathing and my soft gaze, which I had to do that more than once, believe me. But as much as I felt a pull to mull over the video idea, I knew that the whole reason it surfaced in the first place was because of stillness. This is why meditation practice is ideal for creative types. Creativity is born out of this stillness. If we never give our minds a break from all the monkey business of planning, ruminating, worrying, making lists, telling ourselves outdated stories about who we are and who we aren’t, we don’t have the opportunity for anything fresh and new to arise. There’s no space for it. So, the next time you find yourself stuck or uninspired, instead of walking in circles and beating yourself up for it, or getting consumed by social media, go and sit in front of an empty wall, steady your gaze and feel your body breathing. If there are interesting or seductive thoughts or ideas that surface, make a momentary note of them, and then come back to your breath.

Love,
Emily

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Those of you who regularly attend my classes know that Ayurveda informs my teaching quite a lot. Ayurveda is the native science of health and medicine in India, and is a perfect companion to the practice of yoga. In Ayurveda, there are three basic constitutions, called doshas. We each have a unique blend of each of the three doshas, and each dosha is dominant during different times of the year, as well as during different stages of life. Kapha is one of the doshas (the other two being pitta and vata), and in the Northern Hemisphere, kapha is dominant from late winter through spring. Independent of how much kapha we have in our constitution, we will all have the tendency to go out of balance in that dosha during the kapha time of year. Yoga to the rescue! But before we get to that, lets back up a bit.

Kapha is made up of the elements earth and water. Earth is associated with all the structural tissues of the body, like bones, fascia, ligaments, tendons, muscles and skin. Water is associated with all the watery parts of our body, like blood plasma, lymph, saliva, other digestive juices, synovial fluid, sweat, and liquid wastes. Earth and water are the densest of the five elements (the others being fire, air and space), and create the majority of the physical body. Kapha is responsible for the growth of the body, and is the governing dosha during childhood. Just like we see the daffodils and crocuses pressing up through the soil, reaching for the sun, during this time of year, the energy of kapha is inviting us to do the same… mobilize our bodies out of the hibernation of winter, full of strength and stamina. Whatever is happening in nature outside is happening on our insides as well. This is why I love using the framework of Ayurveda to help us understand how we can optimize our practice, nutrition, and daily lifestyle rhythm.

Kapha-dominant folks are steady, loyal and dependable. They are the “rocks” of our community, blessed with great stamina, bucket-loads of compassion and patience, and are natural caretakers. When there’s excess kapha (again, all of us have the potential to go to this place during late winter through spring) there’s too much heaviness, which can look like apathy, lethargy, even depression. There can be a lack of motivation and inspiration, weight-gain and lots of mucus, with upper and lower respiratory congestion (hello allergies) and a feeling of being “stuck in the mud”.

In yoga and Ayurveda, we work with finding balance through the use of “opposites”. If kapha out of balance is too heavy, then we balance this energy with postures, breathing exercises, and mindfulness tools to move energy upward, to warm the body and energize the nervous system:

  • Chest and shoulder openers
  • Back bends / extension of spine
  • Twists to stoke our inner fire / agni
  • Victorious breath / Ujjayi pranayama
  • Shining Skull or Breath of Fire breath / Kapalbhati or Bhastrika pranayama
  • A gaze point (dristhi) that’s slightly higher than eye level
  • Listening meditation

For more kapha support join my weekly classes or email me to set up an appointment for a yoga therapy lesson so I can tailor a practice specifically for you. Let’s practice together!

In celebration of the return of the sun,
Emily

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Happy New Year!

‘Tis the season for new year’s resolutions… yoga classes are packed, the gym is bumpin’, and people are swearing off sugar and refined flour across the nation. While all this inspiration for self-care and growth is great, if you’ve ever made a plan to change a habit, you know how hard it can be to stick with it.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear about my opinion of new year’s resolutions–I approach them with caution. Here’s why: when I was a teenager and young adult, I would make grand resolutions way more often than once a year (sometimes every day). At the center of every resolution was the desperate desire to be a more worthy me, which always meant losing weight. And what ended up hurting more than the severe restriction of calories was the belief that I had to be something else than what I am to be worthy of love and affection. This kind of resolution does more harm than good. Therefore, the guidance I am about to offer on how to implement healthy changes, is rooted in a deep reverence for our innate, already present wholeness.

While I don’t make new year’s resolutions anymore, I am working on changing something in my life right now. I’ve experienced insomnia for the last two years. After unsuccessfully trying lots of different dietary shifts, nutritional supplements and herbs, yoga postures, breathing, and mindfulness tools to calm my nervous system, I’ve just embarked on Cognitive Behavioral Sleep Restriction Therapy. I’m only a week in, but it’s working! To sleep like a baby for four hours in a row is like magic in my world. And even though I’m feeling and seeing the benefits, the process of sleep restriction is pretty tough. Just last night I had to put forth a LOT of effort to stay up until my scheduled bedtime. Truthfully, my husband, Mike, had to put forth some effort on my behalf as well. Have you ever kept a tired puppy awake during the early evening so they would sleep through the night? It was kind of like that. Just because a change is tough doesn’t mean it’s not helpful, but to ensure that I’m implementing changes in a nurturing and productive manner, I like to look at what is motivating the change.

WHAT FUELS YOUR MOTIVATION?

One really important consideration in the practice of healthy growth and change is how we motivate ourselves to take action. Unfortunately, what many of us learn growing up–especially if we participated in sports or dance–is the technique of motivating ourselves through shame. This isn’t true for all coaches or dance teachers (my dance teacher was a refuge of love and genuine support), but it is true that the practice of criticizing the athlete is a common approach to get them to work harder. Whether we had these experiences growing up, in school, or the workplace, or we’ve just been around it and seen it, this act of fueling motivation from shame becomes ingrained in our psyche. It can be so habituated that we might not even know we’re doing it.

Thankfully, there’s another place we can draw strength from to take action: love. Love for ourselves, and love for others. While the action taken might look the same on the outside regardless of motivation, the effect is absolutely not the same. When we’re motivating from shame, we get exhausted. This is because when there’s shame, the body is experiencing stress, causing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to flood your system. I won’t detail all the ways in which stress creates hardship within the body because there’s plenty of research and writing on that topic. But suffice it to say, the effects of stress are not good. And while we can’t control the external stressors in our lives, like traffic jams and work deadlines, we can be intentional with how we relate to ourselves, and our experiences, so that we don’t add to the stress we’re experiencing. We can do this through nourishing self-discipline.

NOURISHING SELF-DISCIPLINE / TAPAS

Tapas is one of the personal ethics (niyamas) of yoga and it’s considered the most important practice of the yogi/yogini, because without dedication to that which we’re cultivating, we won’t succeed. Whatever we’re growing–whether it be compassion, generosity, the ability to concentrate, a garden, a family, or a business–it all requires commitment. If I weren’t committed to watering my raspberries and tomatoes, they wouldn’t grow. It’s the same for our personal evolution.

When we use the word “discipline,” there’s often the implication of some external force that is imposing structure, harshness, and rigidity on our lives. There’s also a correctional association with discipline. However, this isn’t the way that yoga views self-discipline. Yoga looks at self-discipline as a nurturing action to promote wellness. Tapas comes from the place inside of us that wants to learn and grow; it’s an expression of self-love and a commitment to the path of yoga.

As we practice tapas, the body and the mind become more regulated and balanced, which is necessary when we begin looking inward for self-study (svadhyaya). If our body systems are dis-regulated in any way, investigating our inner terrain (our habitual thinking, behaviors, and emotions) isn’t going to work so well. Have you ever been really anxious or upset and tried to engage in self-reflection? Good luck! When the body or the mind is out of whack in some way, we’re not able to see ourselves clearly. Everything is muddy and confusing. However, when our biology begins to come into balance, we’re able to see where to focus our practice and what’s holding us back. Being kind with ourselves and putting forth the energy needed to thrive in our lives, is the root of positive change.

That all sounds great… and how do we practice tapas, specifically? Tapas is an attitude, more so than a specific practice. The attitude of tapas is one that rises above unskillful habits and the inner critic. I employ the practice of tapas through making sure my blood sugar is balanced, I’m hydrated and I get some outside time. I practice tapas when I wake up in the morning and motivate myself to get out of bed and onto my meditation cushion even when I’m tired. I’m practicing tapas right now as I write this by committing to a certain number of hours of work before I go play in the snow. Nourishing self-discipline requires some restraint at times. I’m delaying my snow play gratification, because I am dedicated to my work as a yoga therapist.

So rather than making a plan to lose weight or never eat sugar again, how might it feel to resolve to be kinder to yourself? To be an ally to your own self rather than an enemy? How might it feel to motivate from a place of love rather than criticism and shame?

 

With a full heart,

Emily

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pineConeHeart_resized_cropHappy Fall everyone! As the heat of summer wanes and the cool, crisp air of autumn is ushered in, we are wise to take a hint from nature and make some shifts as well.

Welcome to vata season!

Vata is one of the three Ayurvedic doshas, with pitta and kapha making up the other two. Our dosha is like our blueprint, and it’s thought to be determined at conception. While we all have different amounts of each of the doshas, lots of factors influence their balance including diet and lifestyle, our age, the time of day, and the time of year.
Vata season runs from late fall through winter. Whether there’s a lot of vata in your dosha mix or just a little bit, we all have the tendency to go out of balance in vata ways more easily during this time of year. Vata is made of the elements air and ether and is the energy of motion. When there’s too much motion, we find ourselves distracted, ungrounded and moving too fast. When the wind of vata season picks up, it can leave us feeling caught up and spinning. When our vata is nourished, we gracefully ride the wave of inspiration and our light shines bright.
 
We’ll be exploring how to tailor our yoga practice and lifestyle rhythms for vata season over the next few weeks in class. We’ll dive deeper into the vata dosha… what it looks like in balance and how it presents when out of balance, and how yoga and Ayurveda helps. If you can’t make any of my public classes, email me to set up a private lesson and receive personal guidance – a fall and winter practice just for YOU! 

For now, I’ll leave you with a few suggestions in regards to motion:
 
  • Slow Down. When you find yourself hurried, ask yourself if you really need to move that fast? Moving fast is a cultural habit, and for many a personal habit as well. Learning to slow down even mundane movements like closing a kitchen cabinet, can calm the nervous system and encourage mindfulness.
  • Eat more healthy fats in your diet (ghee, sesame, sunflower, olive oil), and stay hydrated (with warm beverages). Both of which will help keep your joints and tissues lubricated so you can move in ease.
  • Maintain a regular daily routine (waking and bedtime, meals, exercise, etc.) as much as possible. The power of rhythm never ceases to amaze me.

Blessings,
Emily

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