Online Accessible Chair Yoga Free
Thursday, December 30, 2021
Saturday, November 13, 2021
Remember, HYDRATE and BREATHE!
Slowly raise and lower back heel to intensify.
Deepen stretch for hips and back by bringing both hands inside front leg and lowering without rounding back. Tuck under back toe for foot stretch.
Increase intensity by removing supports, moving heels apart, placing sit bones between heels.
Knees CAN flare slightly for comfort. Deepen outer front hip flexor intensity by keeping them forward
Option: One leg extended forward (cushion under that sit bone).
Recline with props for bigger stretch in quads and other front of hip flexors.
Options for cushion under entire body, or graduated levels as shown.
Add another support under the upper body. Option to bend back leg up at knee to add quad stretch (note: creates intense backbend).
Supine version “figure 4” gentler on the knees and low back.
Cross one ankle (with foot in flexed (toe up) position, and feed hands around back of other thigh, drawing both legs closer to body, creating a stretch for outer hip/glutes/piriformis.
Can place foot against the wall to vary pressure instead of hands drawing legs inward.
Option to drop legs to the side for a twist.
Figure 4 Prone to Belly Twist
Lie on belly, turn one knee out to side like tree pose to release hips and low back. Arms can support head, or extend side ways with head turned to release upper back.
Option to have torso on a bolster for extra support.
Use props under bent knee if it doesn’t stay on the group, and/or blanket bolster against the back so body isn’t forced into a twist or if shoulder doesn’t completely reach the ground.
Legs up the WallDestress, decompress, reduce swelling in legs and feet, bring down heart rate, support back, and help you relax.
Saturday, October 2, 2021
Mat Yoga at Copley Price YMCA
I'm really excited to be back guiding this class and I hope previous members rejoin and new folks are interested in testing it out. This isn't your average studio flow class to be sure! I recommend bringing your own mat and if you have them, blocks and and a beach towel (or yoga blanket) and strap to help create a sense of ease for different variation of the poses depending on how your body feels that day. The Y does have some props that they clean regularly, but it's never a bad idea to invest a few dollars (if you have them) on your own set.
This class will be a blend of hatha and slow flow with a bit of workshopping and a focus on functional movement. We'll always get a decent mind/body workout, spend time in meditation with breathwork, and have a nice Savasana at the end.
The following classes are on hold throughout January 2022:
Baby Yoga StoryTime @ City Heights/Weingart Library
- Wednesday December 8, 10-10:45am in front of the Performance Annex
Kids Yoga @ San Carlos Library
- Wednesdays (starting November 3) 3-3:45pm
Expect movement, songs, library-chosen books, occasion-and-yoga-themed crafts, parent-and-kid partnering, and overall a lot of fun. Please note that this isn't a drop-off class; modeling participation is such an important part, and I do have plenty of caregiver-kiddo partnering to keep it fun for ALL ages! If you are unable to get down to the floor we will have chairs for seating. (If you do need to use your electronic device during class please step out of the room briefly.)
I will have some mats available for lending, but I do recommended having one of your own per child so they have safe space for movement. If we have a group of folks that need mats, we can always consider doing a group purchase to get a warehouse discount.
Coming Soon: Chair Yoga with Age Well Services
- Starting in 2022, Fridays, 12:45-1:45 at Park De La Cruz Recreation Center
Monday, September 13, 2021
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
Monday, June 28, 2021
The Abilities Expo was a rousing success. Despite the torrential downpours (known as simply "rain" in the Midwest) that caused flooding of many basements and parking lots, not only did the Expo have great attendance but we had fantastic participation in both the "Intro to Chair Yoga" and the "Kidz Yoga" classes (photos TBD).
I was so excited to have everyone there and am hoping that if you found this website because of it, you are interested in joining one of our ongoing yoga classes. I currently have two regular online classes: Chair Yoga (gentle, for seniors) every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11am PST, and Chair Yoga for Special Needs every Monday and Friday at 1pm PST. Both are completely free (though donations are always welcome).
To sign up, go to the respective page on this website, download the PDF waiver and drop me an email. I'll send you the zoom links to get you up and running.
I would especially love to reinstate our Adaptive Yoga Class for physical disabilities, designed to promote range of motion, functionality, physical and mental balance, fitness, and connection. However we need at least five regular attendees to commit to at least six weeks, once a week to give this a go. I"m well aware that schedules are tight now that things are opening up, and that month by month with health concerns one never knows what is going to happen, which is why I'm only setting up six-week-at-a-time sessions. Please drop me an email if you are interested in this program, to start perhaps in August.
Another class to be resurrected would be our Kids Yoga playtime, for ages 2-7 in the morning. Again, have a group of at least 3-5 families that would sign up for a four-week session would help get this on a regular schedule.
Buy Muscle Rub
For anyone that attended the expo, please know that you can pickup your own full size container of the Magnesium Muscle Rub (1 ounce, 2 ounces and 4 ounces) on Etsy here https://www.etsy.com/shop/BYOMyoga) and definitely leave me a comment on this page if liked it!
- Los Angeles October 29-31 (exact schedule TBD)
- Dallas Abilities Expo December 3-5 (exact schedule TBD)
Monday, June 21, 2021
Catch me this weekend at the (free) Chicago Abilities Expo teaching two equally fun but different adaptive/accessible yoga classes. Admission to the event is free at AbilitesExpo.com!
Friday June 25, 1:00-1:30 pm (Central Time)
Intro to Chair Yoga (13+)
Saturday June 26, 11:15-11:45am (Central Time)
Kidz! Chair Yoga (ages 5-13)
In the children's class we'll use our imagination and music to inspire yoga-oriented play. We will energize, then calm, bringing awareness to our actions and teaching love and respect for ourselves and others. Free stickers for all kids that attend!
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Every Thursday at 4pm Pacific/6 Central/7 Eastern. Sign up at https://www.patreon.com/join/abiscuit?
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
After over a year of Zooming every weekday, I am changing the Zoom schedule this summer. Starting in June, we will be meeting (just) every Monday, Wednesday and Friday online (still at 11am PST). I have some other activities happening, and I'm trying to start a yoga non-profit project, and class numbers are reducing due to gyms opening back up, so I want to concentrate our time together efficiently.
The link will be the same.
We have a short break due to the Memorial Day holiday (Monday May 31), and we will start our new schedule Wednesday June 2. If you aren't already attending, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to register and get the link.
I'm also teaching in person at the Copley YMCA at 9AM on Tuesdays and their classes are transitioning to be indoors next week. They also have two chair yoga classes on their schedule so check out your local Y classes too!
I have an outdoor class at the Cuyamaca College Water Conservation Garden on Thursdays. Until the end of June it meets at 1PM. Starting in July it will change to 10AM (to avoid the heat). Classes are free with membership (that includes 5 other weekly classes plus a host of other bonuses and reciprocal membership at gardens all over the state and country).
Hope to see you around town (or the internet)!
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
- Pick up a round (not textured) Styrofoam pool noodle. We have had thin ones at our dollar store for $1, and more durable ones at sporting good stores for $2.99. All of them have openings down the center.
- Measure the side-to-side length of the back of your chair, and cut the length of the pool noodle to fit.
- With a utility knife, slice down one half lengthwise of the noodle all the way down. Be careful not to cut all the way through and only go to the center.
- Pry the noodle open enough to slide the opening over the back of your chair.
- It should be a tight fit. If it doesn't slide on, you may need to cut a thin "pie wedge" piece out of the noodle to make the opening bigger.
- You can use duct tape to secure any cracks as the noodle wears, or buy a new noodle.
Friday, April 2, 2021
I'm excited that I'm teaching yoga with a new group of friends. I've actually never met them in person; we follow one another on various social media platforms. But the big thing we have in common is a love for a group of comedians under the WellRed Comedy umbrella. You might think, "So, you're all just comic nerds or super fans?" You'd be mostly right, but we've become quite a bit more than that.
With stand-up comedy ground to a halt due to COVID restrictions, this particular subset of American comics decided they would take their craft online. In addition to podcasts, they had Zoom comedy shows. The gents found out the community they were fostering was more cohesive than just a random group of fans. Some of the folks had started a big Facebook group; pre-pandemic they even would travel to go to shows with one another. Now, they were even having "coffee talks" on Zoom on Sundays and started an online gaming group!
We have veterans, folks from every walk of life, those in the "redneck" community and those that have been accepted and "red adjacent" like myself. The community as of tonight started having virtual art gallery shows that features works from folks that do in-home woodworking, to acrylic painting, to 40-foot towers of children's toys http://www.karlunnasch.com/. There's a group effort to write an origin story of the community (it's heavy with quasi-Appalachian folklore and dialect). We discuss politics, spread the word on activism and Mutual Aid (we have experts in the profession), and do fundraisers.
Now, we have something I can contribute more than just dollars and a laughing voice. Another teacher and I collaborated to offer YOGA to the community. Anyone who is a Patreon subscriber to https://www.patreon.com/abiscuit/posts at the basic level ($3/month) can listen to the lion's share of the podcasts, get to join in on the Friday night "blue" shows, and also can tune in for what we call Hollerville Yoga. We do mat-based yoga, and Jessica and I alternate weeks. We have a little bit of flow, a little bit of meditation, and a lot of fun. What makes it so very special is that it grew organically out of this community. Of course it's open to anyone who wants to be part of it, with the only "gate" being the paywall. And true to form of people to whom I am not inexplicably drawn, no one will be turned away for inability to pay; if the basic subscription rate for Patreon is too much, the hosts will waive the fee to make sure they reach everyone who wants can be a part. Same goes for yoga.
Accessible comedy, accessible yoga, It's a grand idea, innit?
Saturday, March 6, 2021
by Jivana Heyman
My background is in AIDS activism, and in the 1990’s I started teaching yoga so that I could share these practices with my community of people with HIV and AIDS. We were in the middle of an epidemic, and many of my students were extremely sick and dying. What my students and I learned together was that yoga offered accessible and powerful tools for healing on a deep mental, emotional, and spiritual level. My students showed me that yoga could offer them healing even when they were dying. Since then, I’ve been trying to honor their legacy by sharing this message with the yoga community. The message is that yoga is not about physical achievement or even physical healing; yoga is about a deep internal spiritual connection.
What’s really remarkable about yoga is that it allows us to engage every aspect of our being –– our body, our breath, our mind, and our actions –– in our spiritual journey. This is unusual since most spiritual practices don’t offer us such powerful techniques for incorporating the body in our practice. Yoga offers us the opportunity to allow the body to flow in the moving prayer of asana. But we can’t let the beauty and power of asana fool us. Yoga is not about the body.
The truth of yoga is that the body and mind are temporary, constantly changing, and mortal, but the spirit is immortal, everlasting, and pure. This is the lesson of The Bhagavad Gita, where Sri Krishna explains: “You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies.” (Easwaran 2.20)
When we overly simplify yoga to just be about the poses, we strip it of its most essential meaning. We appropriate the practice from its traditional roots in India and turn it into a commodity to be sold by capitalist interests. So the issue is more than just one of respect and care for continuing the ancient legacy of the yoga lineage. It’s about holding these precious teachings in a way that respects their purpose, their background, and their proper application.
In order to do so, we need to consider the fullness of the practice. The essential teaching of yoga is that we all share the same spiritual essence no matter what our backgrounds or ability may be. We share the same essence whether we have a disability, whether we have a larger body, or if we’re a senior, or a child. We have got to let go of this idea of advanced asana equaling advanced yoga. There really is no correlation between our physical ability and the depth of our spiritual connection. This is why I always say that if it’s not accessible it’s not yoga. Because we all have equal access to the heart of yoga, and it’s up to each of us to find a form for our practice that allows us to unite with the spirit within.
Jivana Heyman, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. Accessible Yoga offers Conferences, Community Conversations, a Blog, and an Ambassador program. He’s the creator of the Accessible Yoga Training, and the author of the book, Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, 2019). Jivana has specialized in teaching yoga to people with disabilities and out of this work, the Accessible Yoga organization was created to support education, training, and advocacy with the mission of shifting the public perception of yoga. More info at jivanaheyman.com
This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
We talk about truth (satya) a lot in yoga. It's also popular in todays' vernacular to broadcast being "authentic" and "real," but I'm wondering if while trying to express these things (to ourselves and to others) we don't just end up creating more stories that are still less than, well, truthful.
Imagine if you will, one hand you have "your truth" and in the other "your lies." Depending on your level of self-doubt, it is completely possible that what you think is truth might actually be a story you've conjured out of anxiety, depression, and/or ego. The hand holding the lie is actually the truth, and the truth is the actually lie.
So here's the million dollar meditation point, all completely in my humble opinion. It really doesn't matter if you are going to announce your truth to the world or not. It only matters if you are going to be honest with yourself. So making sweeping declarations about the kind of person (you think) you are only have validity if you not only believe them but live them. If it feels conjured, then it's part of a façade.
In Sanskrit the word for lie is the same as untruth: asatyam (literally, "not the truth"). Though this seems to linguistically imply there is only black or white, lie or truth, in reality it is one big gray area. Satya doesn't directly mean truth, it implies truth, or essence. or virtue. Adding the "a-" prefix changes the meaning to be the opposite of. So the context of the word carries the significance.
Same in English, though we do change the words to fit the context. We don't necessarily lie about our own story; we fabricate a story, we stretch the truth, we embellish for effect, we hide fact, we have the sin of omission, we gild the lily, we cast shadow of doubt, we prevaricate, we change tone to suggest we feel shame about something. So our truth carries altered essence no matter what if we aren't paying attention to simplifying, and seeing it through the most honest of lenses.
Sometimes it helps to be accountable to someone else when having a truth check in, like in therapy. Sometimes it complicates the process of finding truth. In yoga, our honesty process involves Pratyahara (withdrawing the senses), Dharana (concentration), and Dyhana (single pointed concentration), so it's very much an individual experience. There is no one else to validate/verify what you are finding. It's even more important then, on this path, to feel at home in your own skin, comfortable feeling vulnerable, and confident to feel, period.
No one "muscles through" the eight-limbs physically or mentally, despite what modern incarnations that show short-cut asana mastery might suggest. No one need to supplicate or suffer at the hands of another, despite what some "gurus" might strongarm from their false pulpits. No one is incapable to doing yoga; there is a way to bring the practice to everyone if the teacher is truthful about their abilities.
As for the practitioner, it is not for me to say by what truth you or anyone else must abide. When someone comes to the mat, all I can ask is that they consider that what they tell themselves may be as much a story as anything else, so just be in the moment and see if their perception of themselves changes. We need to be able to observe ourselves with open minds and hearts before we can know our truth. It's weirdly NOT intellectual. So we find out truth by following the path, by doing the work on the mat (and off), by releasing the need to hold on to any of the "not truths" and we peel back the pages of the stories we've written until we get a peek at what is deep down. We don't need to shout it from the rooftops, or write a song about it, or make some grandiose statement when we find it. We can just be essentially ourselves.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Original image by Rachel Byer https://www.rachelbeyer.com/blog/2019/7/29/the-hanged-woman
The Hanged Man is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. He is hanging upside-down, viewing the world from a completely different perspective, and his facial expression is calm and serene, suggesting that he is in this hanging position by his own choice. He has a halo around his head, symbolizing new insight, awareness and enlightenment. His right foot is bound to the tree, but his left foot remains free, bent at the knee and tucked in behind his right leg. His arms are bent, with hands held behind his back, forming an inverted triangle. There is a halo burning brightly around the hanged man's head, signifying a higher learning or an enlightenment.
What does this represent? Wisdom, circumspection, discernment, trials, sacrifice, intuition, divination, prophecy. It's opposite is Selfishness, the crowd, body politic.
Why have I posted this image for the penultimate day of my 21 day challenge? Because as I near it's end, I realize it's all about changing perspective. In order to get that alternate view, you have to know where you are - you have to center to get a bead. Once you know where you are, you can see where you've been, and then make decisions about where you want to go.
For 20 days (ish) now I've been writing about practicing yoga and meditation, and how they relate to me personally, how I've been instructing in my classes and reflecting back on new techniques and lingering thoughts. As much as I started out with intent for this to be "life changing" at some point I was just going with the flow, waiting for it to end because it was just another task to have to complete. It's not that I don't think about yoga every day, it's just that my thoughts aren't always noteworthy for sharing. Yet I committed to putting them into the blogosphere for the sake of argument, to fulfill a promise, and to see what insight I might divine from it.
Like some of my classes on Zoom, with the blog, there's an audience that doesn't really get to chime in one way or the other except in after comments. Essentially I'm journaling, and it feels empty sometimes, like I'm a lone semantic alchemist trying to conjure golden expressions of genius out of random metal words and phrases.
That being said, during this process I have been partaking in two different type of learning. I have this Yoga for Mental Health training with Cindy Beers (https://cindybeers.com/events/) where I have been immersed in lessons on mindfulness to help recognize, alleviate, and work with depression, PTSD and stress within the boundaries of a yoga practice. I also have started on a path to some sort of certification in biological/exercise science, and have enrolled in a Introduction to Kinesiology class. Going back to formal "college" was huge in conquering my fear and anxiety that almost prevented me from graduating back in 1988 (but that's a story for another time).
The 21-day yoga challenge didn't necessarily make me better at yoga pose, or an expert at meditation, but it led me to dive more deeply into learning. Something sparked that quest for higher knowledge, and fueled the confidence to finally enroll.
The Tarot card above (which traditionally would be shown with a man) kept popping up in my mind the past week or two, and when I was trying to find just the right picture this one came up. I think it's beautiful and represents where I am. People often see images like this in Tarot and think "Oh, that's bad!" If you look more deeply at the image you can absolutely see that even though the person seems bound and "hung" they are not in distress at all. It occurred to me that they are in fact holding tree pose, with their hands on the back and front of their power center (third chakra), and hanging not by an external force, but with strength of their own leg from the tree. Tree pose, one representing growth, strength, nature, connectedness. In this position, upside down, perhaps it could mean the tree can grow where it chooses, even upside down. Just because circumstances are odd, doesn't mean that you can't thrive; you just need to get centered.
The scene isn't gruesome, but serene, acrobatic, and even calm. Not bad at all. Tarot cards like Death and The Fool likewise aren't bad but depict something about change. They aren't meant to frighten or disgust but help the reader or even casual observer look at things with a different perspective.
So that's where I am with this practice. Thinking about how these past 20 days have given me insight to what is really important, and how I might proceed to stay true to what I need. Next time I need a reset, I'll remember to stand on my head!
Saturday, February 13, 2021
There are many guided meditations you can find online, and one of my homework assignments was to write/record a Yoga Nidra practice. So, I am posting mine here for you to try.
It is just 20 minutes start to finish, but to prepare for this meditation, you'll need to lay down first and get settled (I didn't do a long intro I just went right into it). You can do so on a mat, or a bed, or sit in a chair, but make sure you are warm and comfortable and safe. Ideally you wouldn't need to move, but there are no "points off" for having to adjust if you are uncomfortable.
(Truth be told, I did a two hour Nidra once and I think started snoring 1/2 way through, and once I was bumped awake, realized that the flesh around my tailbone was numb because we were on a wood floor with no props. I don't think suffering through this is the way to go so get yourself comfortable.)
What you'll hear on my very rudimentary recording is me guiding you to pay attention to certain body parts, slowly and methodically, hopefully encouraging a trancelike state of mind.
I feel like this could be used for a good morning wakeup or even an afternoon nap refresher. Let me know what you think!
Friday, February 12, 2021
Fell off the blogging wagon for a day, but I promise you I was practicing yoga without fail. So here's two days worth of updates. I absolutely was Om-ing and trying to figure out what it meant to me as I wander through this week, and today, I came across this gem in A Year of Living Your Yoga
Whatever you do, do it with an open heart. Maybe you agreed to do something, but now you wish you hadn't. If you do choose to follow through in the end, do so with willingness and interest. You will suffer less and so will the others around you.
Each day I wake up a little begrudgingly knowing I made a commitment to post because I'm trying to create a habit of getting my ideas generator used to working more than sporadically. This in turn will help make my classes better, me happier, my life in general more fulfilling, and my family and friends may find me more pleasant to be around.
So missing a day of posting means that I let myself down. Plus I forget any of the juicy ideas that did come up during the experience. They may not be noteworthy to anyone but me, but the ship has sailed once 24 hours have passed. Like having an amazing dream, and not telling anyone or writing it down, and by the next day it's just hazy memories like a partially erased tape or warped photo.
Plus the past three-ish days I have been battling migraines and the medication has left me feeling like I have a swiss cheese personality, so recapturing any of the flashes of insight from yesterday are difficult.
I do remember that the book listed above offered the idea of meditating on thing (person or object or idea) that brings your happiness, and allowing that sensation to fill you. I thought it might be interesting to combine the mental image of this with an Om vocalization. I like the idea of infusing the Om practice with another object of focus - like dedicating the practice to an object of love or happiness. I had chosen my son. However in hindsight I may have been overcomplicating the practice a bit at least as a beginning meditator. I will have to discuss this with my mentor and research a bit to see if chanting and imagery are advised. I didn't get any feedback from the class (yet) so we will see.
The migraine effect continues today, and I was rummaging around my brain to find a way to keep people interested in the Om practice. I brought out the singing bowl thinking that we would use that to guide our Oms, but I forgot that I don't have a striker to elongate the sound, and my foggy head and voice were unable to match the note of the bowl so that my "singing" fell so flat it was comical.
After a few anti-sonorous attempts I croaked out a few Oms but I didn't feel good about them. Directly afterwards I read the aphorism above and laughed quite literally out loud. I mean, I made my best attempt with sincerity, so hopefully no one suffered (more than already was). I meant well, my heart was in it, but my literal pain and drug affected brain could not cash the check!
This post is part apology, part confession, and all receipt reminder for future me when this happens again: keep the commitment, but you don't have to try so hard. I'm thinking don't scramble to "entertain" just stick with what you know. A simple Om practice would have been very grounding me for me, would have worked just as well for the class, and fulfilled the obligation 100% (and I'd feel far less guilty).
Note to self: I really have to find a bowl striker.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
To further my Om practice, today I led the class in a two-minute session. The daily reading from a book (https://www.amazon.com/Yoga-365-Daily-Wisdom-Life/dp/1452145008) I often garner inspiration offered the idea of choosing a word on which to focus a daily intention. Today, I chose Om/Source.
The daily idea not only suggested choosing a word, but also noting how that word presenting itself throughout the day. Did a situation arise where it was important to remember that word, or perhaps you saw an example of it? Did you need to remind yourself of that word to help you maintain focus during your practice? What does that word mean to you? Examine the reasons why you chose it, both obvious, and perhaps more subconscious.
This week being “Om” week I wanted to stay consistent with my practice, and Wednesday we work on our core, so using the idea of “source” (centering) seemed to fit the theme appropriately. Sometimes I’ll pick an intention for practice, but partway through class my mind has been racing and I forget the exact word I’ve chosen as the intention, so this one I was sure to remember!
I also wanted to change up the opening meditation practice, so instead of just three rounds of Om, I told class that we would do two minutes of meditation on our chosen “mantra” to be recited aloud or in our own minds, but I would also be turning off my microphone so that my voice would not be interfering with their meditation.
For two full minutes (timed on my Google Home Mini) I vocalized my Oms. I found myself smiling, and enjoying the sonorous quality, and to my surprise not feeling left wanting when I transitioned to silence. I am starting to embrace the idea of the quiet after the Oms being part of the “rebirth” or “fourth state of consciousness” and something to be enjoyed as much as the chanting itself. It’s almost like the spirit of the Om remained in the room, even if the sound itself wasn’t perceived.
At the end of class, I gave everyone the opportunity do a three-Om chant with me by enabling their microphones, but as far as I could tell no one took me up on it (yet). I still allowed my voice to ring out clearly, from my source, my center with the purest of intention to theirs in the spirits of one-ness.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
So this is a two-for-one post to catch me up. I will more than likely post for a extra day to make up for missing one.
I want to focus on how I've been practicing the Om chanting with my classes and compare the effects to that of affirmations, so here goes.
In my in-person yoga classes at the libraries I don't often include Oms because it's a non-sectarian, very secular environment and I never want anyone to feel uncomfortable with a Sanskrit, more traditional yoga based practice. We have people coming in from many different backgrounds and as we are providing the classes for free, on public property, it's important to make sure no one feel intimidated by the content. Occasionally I have asked students if they wanted to practice with the sound of Om and when they were open to it, we did.
In classes I do online from my home I can be more in control of my content, so I have been (as you have read) incorporating more meditation, more philosophy, more traditional "yogic" information. This information authenticates the experience of yoga for me, and therefore I find it important to share. I enjoy the sound of voices in unison reverberating through a room, ringing in the beginning and end of a group practice in harmony.
I have been part of many different types of Om practices: single Oms, multiple Oms, rolling Oms (where one group of people start, and others join in at various points, one group always starting as another finishes, for a few minutes until the lead signals all voices to come to quiet), silent Oms, Chakra toning, Oming chants with recordings. They all serve different purposes and can have different effects on the practitioner.
I introduced my two online classes (the Chair Yoga for Seniors and the Special Needs Chair Yoga) to the the practice of chanting three Oms aloud as a group at the beginning of class, following by a few moments of silence, as a means of celebrating and formally starting a practice.
I began by explaining what the sounds of the Om are (Awe-OO-MMM), and where in the body they move (from chest to throat, mouth/head, lips). Also that the sound moves from the back of the mouth to the center and to the front palate.
I read some passages of interpretation about the Om (that it represents Birth, Life, Death, and Rebirth), and how it is described as the primordial or most basic of sounds.
To assist understanding, I suggest everyone think of a song they love, and a reason why they love it, and/or the emotions that come up when they hear that song. Then they should think about if they are moved to sing or hum along with the song, and how they feel when they can participate in creating the sound of the song. The power of the Om is like that - participating in creating the sound connects us to the song of the universe, and we can start to notice how we feel/react to that simplest of sounds.
One of the benefits of doing the class via Zoom is that no one had to feel self conscious Om-ing in front of other people; everyone was able to keep their microphones off so that only person that heard them chanting was themselves. It's an opportunity to get comfortable with the practice on your own. Later this week I will offer both classes a chance to turn on their mics and Om with me aloud (I'll post the responses to that).
I often think someone might still have reservation about "chanting" thinking it's a religious thing or that I am asking someone to say words invoking something they don't understand (in fact, one person did ask me exactly that). To put everyone minds at ease I am always very specific about explaining what Om means ("source") and humming is also a perfectly acceptable substitute. I also like to point out, for those that have their own faith-based practices, chanting "amen" might be more familiar, would work with the exact same intention (amen means "so be it"), and have similar vocalizations (ahhhhhhhhh-meeeeeeeeehhhhhhnnnnnnn). Some speculate that "amen" may have derived from "om" or "aum" as well (see reference).
I lead the chant three times, and this correlates to the sounds A-U-M, also to the three states of consciousness: waking state, dreaming state, and dreamless sleep of spirit. The entire word represents the fourth state, samadhi (full awakeneing), and that is our silence after we chant.
How do I feel when I Om? Buzzy. Awake. Sometimes, if I'm emotional, it can cull from me tears as I sound through the lengthened exhale. But always Alive and Aware. I try to create the sound in different place in my body; sometimes my sinuses, sometimes, my belly, just to see where I can place the vibration, or where it wanders if I'm not mindful.
It feels weird to be chanting alone. The silence afterwards can be startling. I miss hearing the voices of others ringing out harmoniously after I've stopped. Even after the fifth or sixth time of this resurrected practice, I still anticipate hearing others when my humming stops. The more I guide the practice for others the more I build my confidence, and try to find the beauty in that quiet, content rather than seeking. I've been asking for feedback to see how others are feeling. Some are responding that they find it calming. One gentleman was not a fan, saying he very comically stated that he felt like a sick cow, and we all giggled. I reassured him that there are no wrong feelings and he might find nice easy breathing more to his liking next time (he smiled broadly).
I guess, if anything, Om is Moo backwards.
Sunday, February 7, 2021
Back when I was working on becoming a kids yoga teacher I had the unique opportunity to sit in on classes at the Chopra center, as well as assistant teach and even substitute teach family yoga classes there. Each class has a particular flow to it, that had to include Chakra toning with the Bija Mantras. Bija means seed, and the purpose of each seed is to activate the chakra, or energy center, with sound, or, rather, a chant.
My teacher had a mnemonic to remember the names of the sounds, hence the title of this post. (Note: some practices will skip the Sham and just repeat Om twice). The sounds are:
Lam for the root chakra, to activate/draw attention to connection to earth, grounding energy, and the phrase "I am."
Vam for the sacral chakra (just below the belly button), to energize creativity, and the mantra "I feel."
Ram for the solar plexus, for personal fortitude and willpower, focus on "I do."
Yam for the heart, where both receives and gives emotion, with "I love."
Ham for the throat chakra, for find the words of truth for "I speak."
Sham for third eye chakra, the intuitive knowing, phrased as "I see."
Om for the seventh chakra at the crown of the head, the place where we are connected to the divine, for "I understand."
A practice that includes "oms" can be powerful because vocalization resonates in the body and has an effect on the nervous system, reverberates in the sinus cavities, and stimulates the brain. Music/sounds has deep connectivity with memory. The word/sound of om (actually pronounced AUM) utilizes all the vowel sounds and is said to create a unique focus for your conscious mind. [You can read more about OM here. https://www.yogajournal.com/philosophy/the-sound-of-om/].
On the simplest level, it can feel good simply to vocalize a simple chant during yoga with the entire class, or release any self consciousness and sink deep into a resonant open mouthed OM!
The Bija Mantras are a nice scale to utilize to energize the whole body, uttering each seed on a long outbreath, and focusing on the chakra to which it pertains. A five minutes practice, repeating the mantras while drawing attention to each energy center as you utter the syllable, picturing energy moving into the area of the body and creating warmth, healing, and vitality can be a very powerful medtiation.
It will be my practice this evening. I hope the title of this post can help you remember the sequence: Let Veda Rule Your Happy Shiny Om! Lam Vam Ram Yam Ham Sham Om!
Saturday, February 6, 2021
I was asked today to offer a blessing before a reading of a portion of the Torah (the first five books of the bible sacred in Judaism), during the Saturday morning service (Shabbat).
Being asked to give this aliyah ("calling up") is an honor, and it was bestowed up me by the Sisterhood of the Synagogue to which I belong, as a thank you for provide community yoga classes last year.
The entire service revolved around Sisterhood members and contributors with both Aliyot (plural for aliyah), readings from Torah, and other prayers, in a beautiful multi-generational collaboration of speaking, singing, and praise.
We had a special guest contributor as well, Allison Leichter https://www.alisonlaichter.com/, who not only spoke eloquently about the weekly Torah story (Parashat) but wove it into a delightful meditation session.
During the service there is a reading and sermon about a story from the Torah. This week's is that of Jethro (Hebrew "Yitro"), the advisor to Moses, and the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. (Check out more about this story here https://medium.com/ifnotnowtorah/yitro-all-night-revelation-6b196bf6e8ab.)
In the words of our Rabbi:
Also, Yitro (Moses' father-in-law) advises Moses to set up a system of judges so that Moses does not have to answer every individual question himself, lest he exhaust himself (“you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well").
In our Torah reading this week, Parashat Yitro, we continue to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites make it to Mount Sinai and they receive the Ten Commandments. The Exodus from Egypt becomes one of the most symbolic experiences, a defining moment, and an inspiring story in Judaism’s tradition. According to the Talmud, we owe it all to the merit of righteous women for making it happen.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Ever have that horrible feeling in your gut, that anxiety/tension that just doesn't diminish? Like you did too many sit-ups, and your muscles can't relax enough to let you breathe fully, or you ate a really something really greasy and it's a knot in your stomach? But this isn't actually caused by a physical situation - it's purely emotional and it's manifested physically. You get the picture.
Someone today asked if there was yoga to do to help alleviate this. What occurred to me was breathwork, affirmation/mantra, and believe it or not, the entire concept of letting go. We so much hold on to our need to fix, to duct tape/glue/kluge our lives into some semblance of order that we are often holding in the anger, the fear, the very thing that keeps in the pain.
I offered the following relaxation technique not as a quick fix but a daily practice we can integrate into our daily routines to help us weather the chaos.
Sit comfortably, hands on the belly. Close your eyes. Allow the breath to move the belly, encourage it to do so. Resist the urge to push the belly out or squeeze it in as you might do during an active asana practice or ujayyi breath. Feel air move through the nostrils, and flow easily to the belly. If you feel the hands rise and fall, you're getting the hang of it.
Now, repeat to yourself "I allow myself to release this tension." With the inhale, say "I allow myself," and with the exhale "to release this tension." Take three to four counts to do each half-breath. Do ten cycles of breath (or more), repeating this mantra and truly accepting the idea of letting go. Check in that you are loosening the shoulder, and letting the belly move freely in and out.
Once you have finished your mantra repetition, continue to breathe easily, and notice if there is any shift in the belly tension. Envision whatever stress you may have been holding there, like ropes or braids, unravelling, dissolving into pieces, and moving through your body, and out - out through your skin through sweat, your nostrils through breath, and other elimination channels. Let your body naturally release this negative energy breaking it down to render it harmless and then purging it from you.
Continue to take easy breaths in and out, as long as need. As you wish to come back to the present, notice your connection with the earth through feet, sit bones, back body. Start to reconnect with the sensation of air on your skin, the sense of light behind your eye lids, and move the hands slowly up your body until palm meets palm in front of your heart.
Seal in your commitment to taking care of your body by bowing your head, thank your body for releasing for healing, and complete your meditation.
Give yourself permission to not take on another stomach ache. Drop me a note if this works for you - it helped me today.
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
On Wednesdays our Chair Yoga practice usually revolves around strengthening the core, through abdominal exercises (traditional and non-traditional) and exploring the ideas of reinforcing our center. I read a word today that I found intriguing when in comes to describing personal power and strength: resolve. I like the way it implies fortitude and resilience but also a flexibility/malleability, stick-to-it-ive-ness but also level-headedness about itself. Also, a carpet cleaner (respective of nothing related to yoga, but funny).
Bearing that idea in mind, I suggested that everyone perhaps find an affirmation that reflected their own sense of power, whether it be something akin to "I am strong," or anything that was uplifting, to help celebrate, reinforce, and focus on the idea of fortifying our passion and strength.
We sat quietly for 10 long inhales and exhales, with the suggestion to speak aloud their affirmation/mantra, then sit quietly while we waited for the group.
I then read a passage "chair pose" (Utkatasana) and how it embodies this resolve and strength, but also requires an awareness of not putting in too much effort, to understand what your "edge" is.
On the beneficial side, Utkatasana done mindfully is a wonderful energy generating pose that conditions the leg muscles, core muscles, works balance (esp. standing version), builds endurance, mobilizes the leg joints, hips, shoulders, creates mental focus (drshti) and preps the body for more work. It takes practice and mindful resolve to know how, what, and when to commit to each and every action.
There are a number of caveats with the physical posture-including and certainly not limited to being mindful of knee placement and bend, low back position to ensure no lordosis nor slouch, shoulder position to ensure upper back health, head and neck position - and on top of that utilizing the breath to maintain a steady heart rate and keep blood pressure even while not fatiguing the glutes, hamstrings, etc.
Even in a chair, this pose can be "overdone" with too much flexion at the hips, which could create low back issues, strain in the shoulders or neck, or stress the hip flexors. One might start clenching their jaw, round their shoulders, and/or end up creating body alignment that harms rather than helps. A pose of this intesity needs extra mindfulness!
All the sequences and postures I led in class were tied back to power of chair pose. One basic exercise was awareness of the movement of the transverse abs (I can thank my Physical Therapist for that). We had a seated sequence that combined arms overhead, with single knee lifts to target our transverse abdominals. We had a standing sequence that moved us from chair pose, to lunges, to single leg lifts to challenge balance, but also (yes) to target the abdominals and also draw awareness to the psoas.
We even tackled a 60-second plank (class is on Zoom with no cameras to students so I have no idea if anyone else did this with me, but I walked the walk!), focusing on the power in our center and as always, coming out of the pose if there is any undo strain. We do not develop our strength and power through pain, or force; we must be aware of how we work our body.
We then went back to our chairs and did some seated lunges with side bends and twists to help open up those psoas and side body muscles, and even the quads. After building the heat, now we wanted to start let the fire die down a bit.
Our ending sequence brought us back to where we started, sitting with our power, reflecting on our affirmations. After seeing how powerful our bodies are, I reminded everyone, always take the time to thank it, honor it, breathe. I repeated for them my affirmation which was "I am strong." Why should we resolve to be any less?
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Monday, February 1, 2021
Got up, got out of bed, put hot water across my head.... (apologies to Sir Paul McCartney).
Tapping while I'm showering seems to be an thing so today's affirmation comes courtesy of some delightfully pine/evergreen scented soap. I'm starting my kinesiology class today and admittedly a bit nervous, what with the Yoga for Mental Health program still going on, book club still meeting on the reg, Purimshpiel practice about to begin, and in general me trying to take ownership of a more mindful life. So I needed an affirmation to reinforce being competent, being smart, being capable.
Tapping really seems to energize, and I know that I'll be doing some havening when I teach later today, so I tried to be honest without being negative, positive without making it feel false. "Even though I know that I struggle with being organized and doing things I time, I know that I am a capable and intelligent woman."
I started the tapping with the outer hand gesture, and a almost a whisper. I kid you not (apologies to Jack Parr), by round three I was speaking very much declaratively and with full vocalization. By round five, if I told you didn't believe (in) myself I'd be lying.
Is this hard? Yes. Do I feel a little silly whenever I start, yes. Does that silliness fall away? Yes yes yes. Why? I have no idea (yet), but it does. Because it feels GOOD to believe what I'm saying, it feels good to believe in myself. Like I'm tapping it into my soul, or tapping the message out of me. Either way, i'm for it.
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Did a quick family hike (spouse, son, dog, self) and it's always interesting to see how our discussions unfold with our 11-year old who has yet to come along willingly on our excursions. We usually have to let him air his grievances without resistance for a goodly part of the time, and my legs often echo his sentiment. It's good medicine to see him work through his anxiety of being taken away from his screen, and challenge his body in new ways, and try to get him interesting in flora and fauna. He usually has some deep philosophical issue that emerges, like "why do I feel at odds with myself about family time?" that we puzzle through. When he gets a bit aggressive with the "blame mom for all my difficulties" my husband steps in to diffuse the situation before Eli gets too insulting or perhaps my feelings are truly hurt. Oddly enough I don't take most of it personally (I find it interesting how he vents his frustrations) but it's fair to think that I don't need to swallow all of the venom, plus they do need to bond.
On the way down, Craig introduced the idea of comparing hypothesis to theory, and would you believe it, Eli sunk his newly emerged adult teeth into that conversation fully! To listen in on the two of them discussing "null hypothesis" and the scientific method, seeing the gear turn in Eli's head and actually getting it more importantly, completely distracted from complaining about hiking and from being away from his computer was swoon-worthy. To add sprinkles to the delicately drizzled cake, Craig worked in Stoic philosophy, the principle of "living according to nature." At one point Eli had said "I'm starting to appreciate us doing this," and if that doesn't put a tick mark in the life affirmation column, I sure as hell don't know what does.
Tried tapping in the shower again (why the heck not). Today's affirmation choice: "I am a beautiful I accept myself for the vibrant woman that I am." Somewhat of all encompassing, but standing naked in the shower, a bit dirty from hiking, not feeling particular sexy or aesthetically beautiful, I figured it was the best time to assert that phrase, because I really really needed to hear it, not from anyone else but from myself.
After I got out of the shower I had this amazing epiphany. I remembered another friend online talking about feeling insecure about her writing, even though I have read her stuff and she is really good. She talked about always needed approval from others to fortify herself and I completely related to that. Then, I had a miscommunication with a dear dear friend of 40 years that stuck in my craw because it shouldn't have happened; I was making it harder to communicate than it should have been and I had to puzzle through why.
All of a sudden, it hit me. If I'm craving approval from someone who is already giving it means that it's me that has the problem. I'm the only one not approving of myself. There it is, plain and simple.
It's almost funny, you know? Seeing the truth. All this time I kept thinking "They are wrong, I'm really not (insert good thing here)." But NO...it's just some farkakteh negative voice that really is just some small part of me that needs to take a damn nap because it has had the soap box way to long. If was the tapping, or the hiking, or the family time, or the affirmation that have shaken up the dynamic that gave that part the loudspeaker, then good, let's keep doing any and all of the above. Because the quality of my life is going to get a hell of a lot better, and by proxy that of those around me.
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Tonight I had the opportunity to lead a Havdalah Yoga class with a handful of families from my synagogue (via Zoom). The Havdalah service is short, where you say prayers while you: light a braided the candle, sip wine, inhale the scent of spices, notice the reflection of the flame (in your fingernails of all things), and at the end, douse the flame. The significance is to utilize all the senses - feel the cup, smell the spices, see the flame of the candle, hear the blessings and taste the wine - close the sabbath, and welcome a new week. Havdalah itself means separation which is semantically ironic as the braided candle represents unity; the name of the ceremony signifies the separation of the sabbath from the rest of the week.
Our beginning centering meditation included one of the havening hand gestures to focus on attention, and the suggestion that everyone embrace an affirmation to complement the idea of a sweet week, personal reflection, celebration, and appreciating blessings. After, I lead them them through a modified "sunset" salution with hip openers in seated poses, and slow generous breaths for deep hamstring/calf stretches. I also had us creates the shapes of the Hebrew letters shin, bet and tav (that spell Shabbat) with our bodies to add a little levity to the class.
I took a moment to explain that in a yoga we consider everyone to be part of the divine, and each forward fold is an opportunity to bow to your own inner wisdom, divinity, the "godliness" that lives in each of us.
At the end of the class I suggested everyone revisit their affirmation, repeat the havening gesture, and then as a group we big one another both "Shavua Tov" (Have a good week) as well as "Namaste," where we bow to honor the wisdom in one another.
Peace Peace Peace, Shanti, Shalom.
Friday, January 29, 2021
We live in a cynical world - Jerry McGuire
The World is a cruel place, Petrosinella, and it wounds the weak. - Kate Forsythe
The World's a cruel place,/ You are baptized as "body"/ The moment you stop breathing/ The soul appropriates your name,/ The physical you is set aflame. - Preeti Anand
He saw the world in its true light, as a place where nothing had ever been any good and nothing of significance done; - Kingsley Amis
Platitudes do little to combat the cynicism and bleakness, and generalized fatalist perspective that seems to pervade the internet, literature, and discussion forums these days. It breaks apart not just the way we see the world, but how we view ourselves. We, rather, I, lose our sense of who we are, at our core.
For example, I forget that I am smart. I forget that I'm a good person, I forget that I'm capable. So much so that I find my self crippled with self-doubt, apologizing for every thing, and spiraling into a place of ineffective idleness.
Finding a calm yoga practice when there is chaos in one's head is a fool's errand. We need affirmations to combat the voices of negativity, but not ones that are nothing more than distracting smoke. Rather, affirmation need to be from a true sense of self, of checking in and remembering one's real value.