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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equanimity_noBorder_desat_contr

Dear,

As I sit to write this month’s newsletter, all I can hear is my heart crying “Orlando”.

 

How can I write about anything else? This colossal tragedy, loaded with misunderstanding, hate, violence, and murder, creates ripples that unsettle and affect all of us.  When I first read the news my body was flooded with hot anger, then frozen with fear, followed by a core-deep feeling of grief. Each emotion occupied and saturated different parts of my body. All of this happened quickly and over the course of only a few seconds. Then, I clicked to another post/page and, almost immediately and without much thought, I was reading something completely different.

As you can see, my most immediate stress response is “flight” vs. fighting, freezing or submission. I noticed myself fleeing the pain of this terrible event through distraction. But I didn’t actually need to run-away to survive these feelings. I wasn’t in danger from any immediate threat in my environment. I could choose to FEEL. So I did. And this is how I did it …

Many years ago, I came upon a practice that Ajahn Amaro Bhikkhu calls Embodying the Mind. This is a meditation that helps us shift away from the psychological trap of an emotion that we are feeling, to experiencing it viscerally. I use this practice both with the initial onset of intense emotions, and afterwards, the latter because I don’t always have the immediate time or space to fully process an experience when it is happening.

 

  1. Begin by relaxing the body as much as possible. Get yourself comfy by propping your hips up on a blanket or block, by lying down on your back, or by taking crocodile pose (lying on your belly with your hands stacked and your forehead resting on them). Take the first few minutes or more to breathe deeply into your abdomen (it will be easiest for the body to breathe this when way in crocodile pose). Then, once you feel settled, let your breath return to its natural rhythm. You may stay in this position or you may choose another for the next meditation.

 

  1. If you’re not experiencing immediate upset, deliberately recollect the traumatic memory, charged thought, repeating anxiety about a future event, or whatever is troubling you. As soon as you have created an emotional reaction to that memory, thought, or worry, stop intellectualizing about it. Stop the direct thoughts surrounding that emotion or experience. This is a challenging part of the process, but it is an essential one. The point is to stop storytelling and just feel. When we are telling stories, caught on a thought train, cycling through the scenes from a previous experience, or making up scenes for a future experience, we aren’t feeling … we are thinking. This practice is about the sensations your body is experiencing.

 

  1. Notice where you feel the emotion in the body, and become intimate with the sensations by asking yourself the following questions:
    • Where is the feeling in my body?
    • How big is it?
    • Does it have a shape?
    • Does it have a temperature?
    • Does it have a texture?
    • Does it have a color?

    Be interested in the sensation. What you will come to realize, is that while the feeling in the body isn’t comfortable, it’s also not intolerable. The visceral sensation of fear, anger, desire or craving, greed, envy, etc. isn’t actually the part of the experience that seems so unbearable to us. Suffering comes when we start telling ourselves the story of who we are, who other people are, why we are feeling this way, what we want and don’t want, and what might occur in the future.

 

  1. Accept the sensation for what it is: a sensation. It’s one of the myriad feelings we experience in the body. In this exercise, there is no space for story or judgment, just the raw sensation. Stay with this for 5-10 minutes.

 

  1. Finish the meditation by beginning the release process. Breathe spaciousness into the area of your body where you felt the emotion, allowing your breath to wash over your tissues. Then, sigh through your mouth with long exhales. Soon, you’ll start to feel your body let go. This phase might take two or three times as long as the holding phase, but be patient and continue as long as needed to clear any trace of the somatic sensation. Once you feel the sensation has dissolved, rest for a couple more minutes to finish the meditation.

 

Hopefully, this has given you a basic understanding of this practice, so that you can begin to use it.  I find it extremely effective.  I’ll conclude with another example of how I’ve used it …

A few years ago, on a silent retreat with Michael Stone, I had my first teacher–student interview. In the Buddhist tradition, this is a meeting where the student can ask the teacher questions and request guidance. At the time, I was struggling a lot with feelings of shame because my father was dying of cancer and I wasn’t taking care of him in Wisconsin. I was in Portland, living, while he was dying. I felt like a bad person and a horrible daughter because I chose not to be in Wisconsin with him.

I asked Michael what to do. At the time I already knew about and practiced the technique I just described, but sometimes we need to be reminded of our tools, as he did in this meeting. He told me that the next time shame arose I should stop telling myself the story about how I am a wretched person for not being with my father, and instead, focus on feeling the shame in my body. The shift was immediate and powerful. I still remember the first time I practiced this when shame surfaced in relation to my father. When I stopped the storytelling and felt the feeling in my body, it moved through my tissues and dissolved. It’s not that the initial practice freed me from all shame … I wish that were the case! It did, however, create a sense of leadership over my emotional experience. That’s what I want for all of us … I want us all to have the tools, the community, and the agency to manage our most painful emotions.

 

May we have the courage to feel deeply AND remain steady in our center.

 

Love,

Emily

 

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I shared this recipe last summer, and here it is again, easy for you to find 🙂

With all of the fun activities filling these hot, dry, summer months, it’s important to relax and stay cool. Counteracting the effects of the elements we’re exposed to, including the sun, is critical to our health. The following recipe is for an Ayurvedic, electrolyte replacement drink. This has SAVED MY LIFE a number of times last summer and with the Pacific NW heat wave that hit us for this last week, I’m pretty sure it’s saved my life already some this year too. coldGlassWater

  • 1 Qt. Water
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar, maple syrup or honey
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 lime juice

Additionally, you can jazz-it-up with some fresh mint, or use a Tulsi tea in place of the water.

Enjoy!

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