Can Yoga Save The World?

 

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Recently I was invited to write for The Limestone Post Magazine, a local online magazine celebrating Bloomington, Indiana and the surrounding area.  As any of my friends can tell you, I am in love with Btown and all it has to offer.  Often taken for granted by life-long residents, and not as well-known outside of the mid-west (unless you follow basketball), Bloomington is a hotbed of intellect, music, art, culture, cuisine and comedy.  To my friends back in Denver who asked why in the world I would move away, I described my town as a little less weird than Boulder, CO and without mountains.  But honestly, without a doubt, this is where the deepest part of my heart resides.  Limestone Post gives me an opportunity to share my thoughts and views on the things I love most and introduces me to other perspectives about this place called home.  Click on the photo above to read my first article.

Regularity: Creating Bliss with Consistent Practice

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The second virtue of the Eighteen ities, is regularity.  Regularity has always scared me.  I pride myself in being free, flexible and able to go with the flow.  I do not want to feel or be seen as rigid.  Sticking with a set schedule not only seems boring, but generates a fear in me of missing out on things.
Fears of being uncool aside, regularity forms the backbone of our yoga practice and creates a strong foundation in our lives.  Finding routines and consistency, rather than pinning us down, creates freedom through stability.
We all have different demands and life gets messy and unpredictable.  Setting up consistent practices can begin to help ground us amidst the chaos.  Rather than trapping us in obligation, regularity in parts of our lives will help us stay connected to our foundation while we rise to meet the challenges of life.
When choosing practices to reinforce, be realistic and find balance.  Begin with rituals which feed your soul or nurture your body.  If your schedule does not allow for a regular bedtime, work to have a regular wake time.  Create consistency around your morning and evening routines and meals.  Meditate or pray and practice pranayama each day.  A few minutes is enough.  Practice asana each day.  Try not to sabotage yourself with the expectation of what your practices should look like or how long they should be.
Some habits will bring you peace and feel natural.  Those practices will be the ones you will be able to savor and stick with easily.  Other efforts will be unsuccessful.  Avoid judgment and negative self-talk.  Keep coming back to them for as long as it takes to establish a positive pattern.
It is a choice to be rigid.  Regularity is not the same thing as rigidity.  This week, choose just one change to make.  Start small.   Invite regularity into your life as a way to ground and strengthen your foundation.  Consistency is a pathway to true peace, freedom, and bliss.

What regular practices support your life?
 #TheItyProject

5 Reasons Your Yoga Teacher Won’t Shut Up About Your Pelvic Floor!

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illustration from: womenshealthfoundation.org
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles which create a hammock of sorts connecting to each hip bone, sacrum and coccyx (tail bone).  It serves to support our internal organs and plays a role in the function or dysfunction of our posture, continence, sexual function, fertility and much more.
  1. Improve Your Posture
    Pelvic floor muscles help to stabilize our hips, keeping our pelvis, sacrum and low back in proper alignment.  Learning to both engage and release this important muscle structure as part of a whole body approach can help correct improper alignments and relieve pain.
  2. Reduce Risk of Incontinence or Prolapse
    Many of us have experienced temporary incontinence when we have coughed, sneezed or laughed too hard.  If you have had a baby, you are familiar with an often shocking, although usually temporary loss of pelvic floor control and the resulting incontinence.  Strengthening pelvic floor muscles is often recommended to help prevent or treat incontinence.
    Prolapse, or the dropping of pelvic organs can occur in some women often due to weakened pelvic floor muscles.  While genetic factors can explain some cases, others factors including lack of muscle strength also contribute.
    Should we strengthen or release the pelvic floor?  Kegel exercises are often recommended to strengthen the pelvic muscles can help protect against incontinence and prolapse.  It is worth noting however, having ‘weakness’ in your pelvic muscles can also be the result of too much clenching and tightness.  Learning to lengthen and release these muscles is equally important.
  3. Ground Your Yoga and Meditation Practices
    Practicing Mula Bandha or root lock, the upward lift of the pelvic muscles, when engaged in our yoga practice has the benefit of stabilizing the pelvis and giving us a sense of grounding. Explore Mula Bandha throughout your asana and meditation practices.
  4. Improve Your Sex Life
    Both strengthening and learning to control the pelvic floor has been shown to improve sensation and enjoyment of sexual intercourse for both men and women. In addition, research shows pelvic strengthening can aid in the treatment of ED in men.
  5. Aid Relaxation and Stress Reduction
    When we think of our pelvic floor, we often think about the lack of engagement or strength, however we often unconsciously over-engage and tense our pelvic floor muscles.  This can lead to tension and stress throughout the body and mind, poor posture and even painful intercourse.  In yoga it is believed we hold our stress, tension, emotions, fear and anxiety in the pelvic region or ‘root’ of our body.   Developing an awareness of our pelvic floor muscles through yoga, meditation and exercise can have wonderful benefits in terms of our ability to relax both physically and mentally.

Yoga Ruins Your Life. . .

Puja at Hanuman Festival 2014

I have many teachers.  Teachers who have inspired my practice and life.  Not every one of them knows how they have influenced me or even my name.

Not every teacher has taught me asanas.  Some of my teachers even come in the form of my child or my dog.  But I am touched by each one just the same.

One such teacher is Richard Freeman.  He does not know me by name.  Although there was this one time he did point me out as an example of someone NOT doing what he instructed (so embarrassing – I must have been awe-struck)!

That's me in the light blue at my first Hanuman Festival workshop with Richard Freeman.  Photo by the amazingly talented Jim Campbell
That’s me in the light blue at my first Hanuman Festival workshop with Richard Freeman. Photo by the amazingly talented Jim Campbell.  To see Jim’s work visit OmLightPhotography.

I have been blessed to practice with Richard Freeman over several years at                 Hanuman Festival and respect deeply his teachings and sense of humor.

Below is a beautifully made video by Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop in which he eloquently and effortlessly describes how yoga grabs hold and ruins your life.

Yoga Ruins Your Life. . .


One last thing. . . many of us are blessed to have the ability to travel to festivals and study with well known teachers. However many of us can barely afford the price of keeping up with a consistent studio practice, much less leave our jobs, children, and other responsibilities to explore our practice. I have been in both situations in my life. Yoga can and should be accessible to everyone. Remember, Yoga Doesn’t Give A Shit! Many of the most inspiring and most studied teachers are available on services like YogaGlo or MyYoga and you can find local teachers in your area through apps and sites like MindBodyConnect and YogaTrail Keep Practicing!

Sit. . . Stay. . . Repeat!

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“Separate the mind from the body and unite it with the supreme soul. When your consciousness is free from its different state, know that to be Samadhi.”

– Hatha Yoga Pradipika 7:3

 The physicality of asana gives us a glimpse of what is possible. It allows us to relinquish control to our teacher, our guide. It gives us a physical task to focus our mind upon. Asana allows us to let go and release.

But it is in learning to be still and to sit in our own presence where the real magic happens and the proverbial “shit” hits the fan.   This is where all of our crap comes up; all of the thoughts, the crazy monkey mind, the negativity, the judgments – we no longer have the controlled distraction of our asana practice, the community, the music, the voice of our teachers – we are alone with ourselves.

Learning to sit in stillness teaches us to know our true selves. It teaches us to look beyond the delusion of the chatty, gossipy, bullying and unruly little customs agent, our ego, and truly see who we are. To see our selves is to turn the light on. Enlightenment isn’t some unreachable goal. Our path to greater awareness and presence requires us to clear away all that masks our true selves. It requires us to stop believing the customs agent. It requires us to walk through the dark spaces in our minds and hearts instead of turning and running.

The practice of sitting, while simplistic is not simple. It is not easy to sit and listen to our own thoughts. We have had much practice in distracting our minds. We are expert multi-takers, and because we so embrace the concept that busy is accomplished, we make the excuse that “sitting” is not something we have time for.   The work we do in our asana and pranayama is mindfulness in action. Through this physical effort, we cultivate focus and concentration. However, perhaps it is in sitting that we know our true selves. It is in the stillness of the body and the release of manipulated breath that the mind can truly be observed. It is in this place that the harder work can begin.

Our task is to release the idea that sitting requires anything more than our willingness to observe, to become the seer. To focus our awareness away from the running dialog of our minds and our tendencies to analyze and engage those thoughts imagine that you are a teacher that has walked into a room of unruly children. The children are running about, acting crazy, talking incessantly and screaming. Now imagine that rather than trying to take control of the room by force, by yelling, explaining, reasoning or lecturing, you simply arrive in the room and calmly sit down in the middle.   Eventually, the children relent. Many of us have experienced this before. We have been in the presence of a teacher who sits calmly at the front of the room waiting for the chatter to calm so that they may begin their lesson.

As we move through the 8-limbs, we learn from our external teachers and gurus, we begin to acknowledge the lessons of our own behavior and tendencies, to cultivate mindfulness in action, and to be present in our bodies and aware of our breath. As we pivot towards the internal, and practice our ability to remain physically and mentally still, we move through the darkness and all that it masks. With effort and repetition, with courage and resolve, the light within us begins to burn brighter.  We are able to become the seer, to shed light on our lives, to become enlightened. Through this we realize that we are our own teachers and gurus. All we have to do is turn on the lights.