Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blessed new year, solstice, holiday season with family, love and lots of GIVING

Short post from my jammies, three days from a plane trip and fighting some sort of virus. Had to commit the unthinkable and cancel a yoga class today - when really my heart needs it so much.

On the plus side, my sweet son who is five keeps asking if I'm better and trying to snuggle with me, and would rather "stay home wif you" than go to a Chanukah party with his friends.

To more yoga, more mindfulness, more love, more space for all three.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Yoga is

...about the experience, not performance.
...creating a synergistic relationship among the body, the mind and the breath.
...about finding your center and expanding from there.
...about letting go of whatever doesn't serve you.
...more than asana, more than breathing, more than study, more than just getting onto your mat. But some days can be about any one, two, three or all.
...guided self-study.
...practice, not perfect.
...exercise for the body, the mind, and the spirit.
...loving for everyBODY. But not everybody will love it.
...about the process, not the pose.

Your comments welcome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Restorative Yoga - Chill time you just HAVE to try

One of my favorite specialty styles is Restorative yoga. In one class, we started with three narrow pranayama bolsters, two blankets, an eye pillow and two blocks. Added as we went: 2 more blankets, 1 sandbag, and a strap.

We utilized a timer with a quiet chime at 30 seconds before the 10 minute mark to indicate the time to take three breaths to bring back awareness and prep to move to the next pose.

The poses:
Asana 1 - Salamba Bharadvajasana (supported twist of the sage Bharadvaja). This one is also safe for prenatal so long as it's fully supported and the body doesn't twist too deeply. Set up the bolsters stacked in line with pelvis, at hip, feet to other side. Lift up to extend spine, gentle start to twist, reach hands down to and around bolster and relax torso front (if possible, else side) on props. To increase twisting, turn head to side away from legs - then sink deeply - no holding! Change sides after 5 minutes.

Asana 2 - Salamba Supta Baddhakonasana (supported reclined bound angle pose). Two stacked bolsters, one folded blanket on top, another top blanket folder to 1/4 or 1/8 size to support head. Additional blanket at bottom of bolster for tailbone support. Student reclines onto stack, one block under each forearm for support during this nice heart opener. Feet together, knees wide, a long rolled blanket or towel (straps can be too constricting) put on top of feet then wrapped around and under the shins to support the legs. 10 minutes.

Asana 3 - Salamba Balsana (support child's pose) Students leave Asana 2 and turn around to face the stack. with knees wide, then draw stack close in to groin, realigning the pieces to make appropriate room for belly and bust. Sore knees may require another bolster under groin through to back of body, and/or a blanket folded and placed between calves and  thighs. Face rests in a u-shaped folded blanket, or between two smaller pranayama bolsters in a V shape. Blanket over feet/back. 10 minutes.

Asana 4 - Viparita Karani (legs of the wall) . Large bolster parallel to wall (or double rolled up yoga mats) with a blanket on top. Students sit next to one short end with back to the support, lay down on their side, then roll their hips on to the support. Support may need to move a few inches from the wall or more to allow legs to relax up against wall. Thinly folded blanket under head for cushioning.  Prenatal students Some students may want a strap around the mid upper thigh to help hold legs upright (esp. in cases of hip flexor laxity or sore knees), and some may want a weight (sandbag, or block) on top of feet to seat the femurs into the pelvis snugly. Arms away from body, palms up. 10 minutes. Prenatal students over 23 weeks modify with stacked bolster to provide at least 20% angle of torso to floor, and distance from wall to allow legs to not strain, or even calves placed on the seat of a chair or three additional stacked bolsters.Sore knees may require another bolster under groin through to back of body, and/or a blanket folded and placed between calves and thighs. Face rests in a u-shaped folded blanket, or between two smaller pranayama bolsters in a V shape. Blanket over feet/back. 10 minutes

The Ending: Savasana with support. Supine position, bolster/rolled blanket mat under the knees, thin folded blanket under the head. Eye pillows options. 10 minutes or more - this is a great time to indulge in some Yoga Nidra!

The Results: Try for yourself and see :)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Try New Things

So you woke up in a mood, and really wanted to get to your usual active vinyasa class to work out some stress, but the class was cancelled. Or had a sub. Or, you always decompress at that Tuesday night candlelit restorative class but it's full. Or, it's raining and you wanted to take a run. Or it's cold and you wanted to swim. The universe doesn't always cooperate to "allow" us to do what we want in terms of our self-care rituals. And there the lies the rub - the RITUAL. When ritual becomes compulsive, compulsory, obsessive, or unbending, it has shifted into HABitual and (should be) a sign to us that perhaps our kapha dosha is out of balance, or simply, we have gotten into a rut and need to switch things up.

So today, drop into a yoga class you've never tried before. Or take a walk instead of a run on a new trail. Or just sit for 10 minutes and meditate if you don't have time for a full class. Observe the differences in your posture, your attitude just having shifted your perspective, having concentrated on (learning) something new. It will make your "regular" practice that much more rewarding!

But, I'm not flexible.

Folks seem to fall into four (broad) categories. (ok it's more than four, but bear with me on this):

1) those who do yoga and are happy to talk about it

2) those that like the idea but sheepishly laugh and say "Well, I hear it's good for you but I can't even touch my toes/I'm not flexible/I have injuries."

3) those that maybe tried yoga, but now shrug their shoulders and say they can't because "It was too boring/it was too hard/it was too hot/it was too weird/I hate all that quiet time meditating/breathing."

4) those who roll their eyes and give you a crossed-arm down glance while telling you they "DON'T do yoga."

Let's acknowledge that Group #4 would be a hard sell, and frankly speaking if someone is dead set against even TRYING yoga, there's no point in trying to convince them (it's like politics).

Group 3, well, might not be ready, and are set on the idea that any kind of regimen is to be faced with a frown. They MIGHT be interested in taking a class if someone they really admire would go with them or tell them about a place they recommend. Still, I take no pleasure in trying to convince someone that yoga is wonderful. You either feel it or you don't; if the mind doesn't want to accept the idea, no amount of honest conversation is going to work (maybe some subliminal advertising or mass marketing on the level of soft drinks and pharmaceuticals, but that's getting ever so slightly away form the core values in the tradition).

Group 1 is a no-brainer. Group 2, now there is a group that I love to talk to. Today alone I had 10 people walk up to me at a health fair and say, verbatim, "I hear it's good for you but I'm not flexible."  My response is one of two depending on the vibe I get. Humorous answer: You're EXACTLY the type of person that would get the most benefit from a practice! Metaphysical answer: Ah, yes, but are flexible in the mind?

Both are equally valid for the type of yoga I practice as a student and as a teacher. The classes I love to take are those that impart some piece of ancient wisdom, some insight into yoga, some opening of a window (no matter how small) in my mind that lets in some fresh air, and lets out some old non-functional habits. A class that reminds me of nice it is to have my body WORK, not necessarily 'workout' but simply hold me up, sustain me, breathe, stretch, balance. I love to be able to offer that type of opportunity to my students - to learn something new, to take new information with them to their next class (no matter the instructor or studio) so that their practice deepens. And even those classes that are a "workout" that teach me how to pace myself, how to observe how I feel, how to lead with the breath, how to quiet the "monkey mind." (Hot tip: Did you know the definition of yoga? In Sanskrit it's "yoga chitta vritti narodaha." In English that's "Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind").

I couldn't touch my toes when I started practicing yoga. Pigeon pose was torturous. I cried quiet hot tears more than once in Savasana. But I kept practicing. There was a deep seated joy in finding out how my body could move, even when my body was wracked with inflammatory pain, even when my heart was breaking and depression was around every corner. When I was able to embody a sensation of new strength, or new balance, or new relaxation, or new movement, I celebrated. When I was "stuck" I just worked on the quiet meditation, and let the tears come and go as they needed. I let my open-minded heart show my mind the way...and let go of (some) archaic, destructive, detrimental and/or limiting ways of thinking.

Group 1, don't get into a yoga rut. Keep being flexible in your mind, keep trying new classes, keep continuing to learn. That's what it's all about. We say "we all come to the mat for different reasons but leave with some of the same benefits." Don't limit yourself by forgetting to come to the mat not just with your body, but with your whole being!

Group 2, there are so many of you (us) out there. GIVE YOURSELF THE CHANCE to experience something. Don't be shy. Don't hold back. Ask questions, Seek out teachers that appeal to you. It's a process, but like that other old saying "the journey...starts with a single step," let's say "the practice starts with a single breath."

What is this Yoga Thing

Challenge question - how many of you go to a studio to practice yoga? Go ahead, raise your hand, no one is looking. But how many of you swing your body into Ashtavakrasana, or Balasana, or Tadasana (eight-bent limbed balance pose, child's pose, standing mountain) and just zone out, thinking about your job, or your grocery list, or your toenail polish, or the leaky faucet you have to fix? How many (of US) get grumpy when you have a substitute teacher? How many (of US) get upset when we fall out of tree pose, or our hamstring is too tight to allow a deep down-dog?

First and foremost I want to say one thing: swinging you body into a pose, zoning out, worrying about life, getting grumpy or frustrated - THERE is NOTHING inherently wrong with experiencing those things. That's life!

But I have to tell you something - if you experience those things but never move beyond them, never "forgive" or PAUSE or zone back in... then yeah, you're still doing ASANA but the actual YOGA... that's getting left out. If we never improve the practice beyond just moving the body, we are missing the bigger picture - the conscious activity of joining together the breath, the mind AND the body to create this cooperative experience people for 6000 years have called YOGA.

Yoga, real yoga as I'm learning it, takes patience and a jarring loose of the notion that you, and your body, and your mind will automatically know what to do, inherently succeed (if you are used to be very athletic) or dismally fail (if you are not). Real yoga, takes training, and practice, and patience, and awareness of when you ARE in a yogic place, and when you have strayed.

We (teachers) often say "come back to the breath." But what do we mean, exactly? For myself, I need to be reminded that I want to be in a place during my practice (and in life in general) where I am AWARE of my breathing and that I can control it. If I'm flowing through a sun salute and I'm panting like a down-dog on a hot summer day and falling over, you can be sure that not only am I not in control of what is happening I'm pretty unaware of it as well, and quite possibly focused on simply surviving much less "doing yoga!"

So how do we turn that moment back into yogic one? Well, how I do it may differ from what works for you, and for my son, and for my companions. But for me, just the act of realizing I'm way OUT of the moment is enough. It's a start anyway.

That my new friends, is what defines MY yogic moment. The act, the forgiveness, the awareness. The body. The mind. The breath. Not just one, but all three. The sanskrit "holy trinity" the above, the below, and what connects them.

Asana is great - a good sweat, or a good restorative posture will do a body good. And course asana is a big part (like, a third, or one of 8 limbs depending on how you slice up your Hatha pie) of YOGA in and of itself. But asana independent of awareness (aka sans mindfulness), well, that's just exercise. NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. But if you want more, you'll need to practice. It can help to practice with teachers that also admit to being human, that understand the struggle, and offer you the space to find your path and hone your awareness.

So work on abandoning relegating this "thing" we call yoga to the category of just exercise. You may be surprised to find out it really is much much more.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Corporate Wellness Debate

From a company HR department to employees about their wellness program and related communications.

Sadly, I'm not surprised some naysayers were vocal with their petty grievances (I mean shoot you can just delete the email and instead of stressing and taking your "valuable" time to send a negative about go for a walk or take a deep breath to reduce your stress?) and so appreciate her thoughtful reply.

Subject: Another Annoying Wellness Email

Body: That’s right, another one… why do we bother?

Well, I’ve gotten feedback that some employees feel that our Wellness Program is a waste of time and effort and that some find the communication a bother. I want to assure you that there are important reasons for all this Wellness “stuff.”

Actually closer to a $million reasons – as that was the initial amount of our insurance cost increase earlier this year. Due to the health status and claims utilization of our organization, we were facing a very large renewal increase. I don’t know about you, but if given the choice of spending another million dollars towards insurance—and that cost increase would be shared by the company and employees—or spending those same company assets instead on merit increases, stronger 401(k) match and more wellness activities, I know where I would like those dollars to go.

And we DID fund those other items – we did increase our 401(k) match and had merit increases at [our company] in part because we were able to significantly reduce our insurance renewal. How did we do that? A big factor was how [our insurance company] viewed our wellness program and associated activities: biometrics so employees know their health numbers and can take actions to improve; step challenges to show we are increasing our activity levels; and they especially valued wellness incentive focus. By showing our commitment to improving the overall health of our employees, we were able to negotiate with them and reduced our renewal substantially.

[Our company] also needs healthy, productive employees to be successful. The company is committed to helping you reach better levels of health which brings benefits to both you and us. We are focusing on activities that are good for everyone but that also target the areas identified as needing serious attention: prevention and management of chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, improving eating habits and increasing fitness levels, and better stress management.

We know that a wellness program won’t “cure” all of our current claim issues. Prevention isn’t going to immediately help someone who is already battling cancer or who has had a heart attack. Thankfully, just a small part of our population is experiencing these serious health situations that are so difficult to fight and tend to have high medical expenses. But, a much bigger part of our population has health conditions that, if not attended to, may turn into conditions that are personally and financially challenging.

As we reported earlier in the year on our Wellness Report Card:

· 22% of employees have high blood pressure that is not yet being managed by medication or behavior modification.

· 64% of employees have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 25 or higher putting them at risk for weight related health issues.

· 25% of employees report that they have high levels of stress.

These aren’t folks in the hospital (yet) causing large claims – these are folks who have a chance to NOT be the next heart attack or dialysis patient. Knowing the numbers of your blood pressure, your waist circumference, your cholesterol levels, etc. are the first steps in preventing a bad outcome for you later. This is where our Wellness Program comes into play. We want to help you improve your health by providing data, information, resources and opportunities to take action, prevent future health issues and have accountability for your own health.

The promise of an employer to create a culture of wellness is not a waste of time or money – it’s a risk management approach that has positive outcomes by creating healthy, happy and more productive employees who also see the benefit of improved health in their lives outside of work and with their families.

So, why Wellness? Wasted time and a bother? Not when you see behind-the-scenes and realize how important your health is to us all.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lessons in Seva, Gratitude, Fun, and Love - The MS Challenge Walk

I have been involved with the National MS Society Challenge Walk in Southern California since the same year my yoga practice started: 2004. I raised the minimum donation ($2500) for TEN years, walking in all but one of the events (my son was born during the walk in 2009). This year, year 11, I was unable to commit the fundraising and unable to commit to the training, the time and effort it was going to take to prepare for the walk. With a son entering elementary school, a technology part-time job and a new yoga studio/coop blossoming, there was just no time.

But I couldn't give it up altogether. I squeezed in a few hours here and there to help build a blog for the people who wanted to map out training plans and schedules, and ran a fundraiser for some friends who were doing the walk.

But even that wasn't enough. I still wanted to be part of the event. After 10 years of sharing 72 hours with an amazing group of teachers, moms, lawyers, scientists, fathers, children, cousins, partners brothers, philanthropists, friends, families, and therapists all walking for a a cure, I couldn't NOT spend time with them. I needed to see these people I have grown to adore, support, befriend...the ones with whom I've laughed, cried, blistered, ate, slept (the snoring kind), and for lack of a better word, BONDED.

For a few years prior while also being a walker, I volunteered to do the (very) early morning (humor-based) pre-walk stretch at the starting line and for the 2nd day of walking (by day three, there's more groaning and sense of urgency than there is patience to wait for someone to lead a stretch!). That means I had the unique and humbling opportunity to strut my yoga stuff on a (small) stage in front of (a few hundred) people, make jokes, and basically support them with as much love as one can muster balancing on one foot, reaching high into the air, and singing along to some pop inspirational tune at a very early hour.

So this year, I made sure to make my intention of leading the stretch clear. And thankfully, they took me up on my offer. Allow me to share a few photos that deepen my smile -asana every time I look at them!
YNW and Team Diane colors.

Okay, everyone, hands on your hips...

...lunge to the left...

...lean to the right...

...again to the left...

...wait, I mean to the right...

oh heck, squat in the middle...

...then take flight!

Partner yoga for 170? SURE!

Captain Morgan Arrrrgh-asana!

Thank you to the Pacific South Coast Chapter of the National MS Society for allowing me to continue to be part of this amazing event. Thank you to all the teams that have walked with me, fundraised with me, befriended me each and every year - I cherish you. Thank you family and friends who have donated funds and time, effort and love to create the space for this to happen. Thank you universe for leading me on the path to find this amazing event, these amazing people, and even be able to share yoga with them. Thank you son and spouse who supported me in this time and heart consuming venture. Until there is a cure, this is why we (they) walk.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Trying New Things

Today is the day, that maybe, you change your life. Not drastically, but subtley. Mindfully. Gently. Authentically. Not by taking a yoga asana class, not by doing a power workout but by simply thinking about what (simple) things you need to create a sense of physical and emotional well being, clear cognitive function, spirituality, and ability to express your self creatively. SIMPLE THINGS. Like, providing your body with nutrition. Like, breathing. Like, reading something that inspires you. Like, connecting with a friend. Like maybe, ok, doing some asana, but more simply, how about just standing still, tall, aligned, grounded and connected, breathing in prana and exhaling to relax? 

Make a list of all the things you value in life. Short or long list, no matter. Now, make a list of things you can do to SUPPORT those things (support the vitality, well being, spirituality, creative expression). And now, make a list of things (you may or may not do) that disrupt vitality, well being, spirituality, creative expression.

Can you, will you, commit to doing ONE of the supportive things, for some specific period of time, and be accountable for it? Make it doable, make it non-self-effacing (for example, committing to reading 2 hours every day would never work for my schedule and I'd only be upset with myself for not reaching my goal... so make it accessible but appropriately challenging). 

Now, call a friend. Or post it on your blog, Or tell your yoga teacher, or post it on facebook. MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE, not to open yourself up for disappointment (remember, these are reachable goals, doable exercises that create a better sense of self for you, try to not set yourself up to fail) but to make sure you have some reinforcement!

Here, I'll share mine.

1) Meditate for 5 minutes a day, every day of the week. Morning or night doesn't matter. But just sit, breathe and deepen. 
Every time I take the time to do this, no joke, I feel like a weight lifts off my physical and psycological being. The transitions easier, I have more patience, I feel more grounded and yet more open hearted and spiritual. The transformation is obvious to my family, and so why would I not embrace this.
2) Eat a good, healthy, nutritious, non-rushed breakfast at least 5 of the next 7 days.
If I slip into poor eating habits and skip breakfast, or eat something too filled with carbs, my entire day body/mind balance is thrown off - blood sugar drops, craving for short term energy foods, foggy thinking, mid afternoon exhaustion, general impatience... nothing that makes me feel good about being. SO, breakfast it is.
3) Spend at least 10 unadulterated minutes with my son playing. That doesn't sound like much, but I mean, 10 minutes of focused time on something (reading, building train tracks) where neither of us is not trying to multitask, read email, watch tv, post on facebook, watch a video, do laundry, clean, etc. FOCUSED loving attention with eye contact, genuine love and vested involvement.

Ok, you have my list. Feel free to post yours. We can check in :)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Donation classes around town - One Love Yoga

Sunday 6/8/14
Sunday Funday, here's some options for you:
*9:30am Hatha with Rebecca 5 Elements Martial Arts & Wellness Center Allied
*11:30am Power Yoga with Emilee at Liberty Station 2590 Truxtun Rd Ste 101 Point Loma
*5-6:30p Mindful Yoga with Bettina at Studio Peace 2045 Granada Ave South Park
*6-7:15p Sunset Flow with Jennie at Sunset Point Dana Landing Road Mission Bay

Monday, January 27, 2014

More about My Children's and Teen Yoga Classes

I am fortunate that I have been asked to teach children's yoga at a couple of local schools and now at the Central Library in downtown San Diego. If you are an elementary school, preschool, un-schooling group, home school group, daycare center, girl scout troupe, middle school, high school, or a family with children from 2-7, 8-13 or 14+, please call me to discuss how we can create a yoga class to suit their needs!

For younger children my style incorporates music, books, and crafts into yoga-oriented play, where I help them learn how to energize and calm with breath. We learn about the Big Three B's - body, brain and breathing - and how using them in unison creates YOGA. One of the favorite and most fun classes is where the children get the opportunity to "teach" demonstrating, vocalizing, and assisting their peers. I have seen them discover, to their own delight, how very capable, focused and good they are in this role, whatever their physical ability level. I believe the skills developed in practicing yoga can be translated into being a better a family member, classmate, student, sibling, athlete - whatever the child experiences!

For middle schools and high school young adults the focus is a little more like a conventional yoga class but scaled to suit the ability levels and limits/strengths of still growing bodies and minds. We do many grounding poses to help create a sense of stability and security, balance poses to improve coordination and stimulate brain development, twists and bends to strengthen and stretch and learn about complex body movements, and of course inversions because they are not only fun but help us to see the world from another perspective! I use props to bring poses within reach without strain and add support and security. Discussion of the eight limbs of yoga as they apply to secular living (health/cleanliness, non judging, non harming, continuing education and more) are blended with breathing exercises, uplifing music, and positive affirmations to round out the body/brain/breath experience. Whatever their ability level, from the more sedentary to the vigorous athlete, all teens can benefit from a yoga practice to help them also become more self aware and a better person.