The Sound of Life

This week, as I was sitting in the Yoga Nook garden between clients, I was filled with gratitude for all those who have helped keep the plants alive and added to the bounty with new shrubs and trees.

Light filtered in through the lacelike structure of the pepper tree leaves, creating a soft green hue. The scent of jasmine and pepper filled the air. In the distance, I could hear the roar of the freeway.

Suddenly a flutter of wings brought me back to the garden as a sparrow came to the fountain for a drink. Then I was aware of water trickling and listened to its music for a while, till I was drawn away again by the sound of the train as it blew its horn across Tapo St.

A mockingbird sitting in the branches above my head abruptly launched into joyful song, and I began to smile as I saw a rhythm in the sounds surrounding me. Then our neighbors arrived home and children’s voices were first loud, then soft as they emptied out of a vehicle and were ushered inside. Our resident cat strolled into my view, sat down and meowed to be fed.

Sounds were arriving like waves, first taking my attention away then bringing it back to the garden. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the idea of deep listening and meditation. The sound of life surrounds us, and directing our focus to what we hear in the present moment is a deeply grounding practice.

Listen right now in this moment. Notice how the brain likes to label sound. What if you just allowed sound to move through your awareness, becoming acutely aware of the quality of the sound without labeling it?

Sound changes all the time, each wave unique and rich with life. Can you let your awareness float on the waves of sound? No judgment or story – just sound.

If you catch yourself thinking, return to pure listening. Let the sound of life become a tool for spiritual practice.

 

Image credit: John Baer via Flickr (CC)

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Making My Way Back

It hardly seems possible, but I have now been away from the studios for 12 weeks. It’s an unusual feeling, as it’s the longest break from work that I’ve ever had in my life.

This has been a time of reflection as well as healing, and I have been grateful for it even though it’s been emotionally and physically challenging.

I want to thank everyone for the support you have shown me, especially my staff who have worked with passion and dedication to maintain the exacting standards that our students have come to expect at Yoga Nook.

I start back to some of my yoga classes next week, and I’m beginning to see a few clients again for private AIM sessions. Self-care is my priority right now, so keeping my schedule more open than full and building time into my day for my own practice are key.

I hope to see you in class or around the studios soon.

With gratitude and love,

Jeni

 

Image credit: HD_Vision via Flickr (CC)

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Running Away to the Circus

As a kid, I always wanted to go to the circus. If I saw a poster on the street or an ad in the newspaper, I would whine to my parents, “Can we go to the circus, pleeeease?” They would always reply, “If you’re a good girl.” They got miles of leverage from this strategy but never paid up, and I was an adult before I had my first experience of a big top at Cirque du Soleil in Santa Monica.

By then, the idea of a circus to celebrate music, movement, flexibility and strength both intrigued and inspired my curiosity. The performance remains one of the most profound experiences of my life. I was astonished and amazed. It was as if a group of alien beings had made a friendly visit to Earth for the evening and invited a few humans along to observe their culture. I was transported.

A decade or so later at a Somatics course in northern California, I met Caroline Wright, an aerial artist who not only qualified for Cirque du Soleil in 2008 but is a teacher of aerial and circus arts. We became fast friends, and I got an inside view of circus lore from the stories and experiences she shared with me.

A gifted somatic educator and bodyworker, Caroline is playful in the presentation of her craft, yet her experience and confidence inspires trust. We welcome her return to our Yoga Source Conference next weekend, where she will present Foundations, Fulcrums and Fun on Saturday, March 11 from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

In Caroline’s workshop, you’ll connect with your inner child and find new ways to use your body in relation to gravity, building body awareness and perception. You won’t want to miss this chance to run away to the circus for an afternoon, and enjoy an exploration of trust, partner work and somatic movement. Sign up here today to reserve your spot.

 

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Stress Less

For most animals stress is episodic, the short, sharp response to a predator. An array of hormones cascade through the body, increasing blood flow, focusing attention and mobilizing energy systems to prepare for action. This hormone array includes adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol and is the organism’s response to an immediate, alarming change in the environment. Once the danger has passed, hormone levels will return to normal and homeostasis will resume.

Sadly, as humans, few of our stressors are episodic. While we are all likely to experience short-term grief and pain, the everyday stressors of life on earth are abundant, chronic and acute. Each time the body/mind perceives stress, hormones are released and the “fight or flight” cycle is activated. Over time the immune system is depleted, and the body’s ability to repair, renew and restore is compromised.

How our brain perceives stress, threats or changes in the environment will have an impact on the release of hormones. Over the last two decades, several studies have linked chronic stress with increased pain, digestive disorders and disease onset.

But what can we do? How do we handle it? These are some of the questions that we will address at this year’s Yoga Source Conference. Stress, it seems, is inevitable but with tools to recognize it and strategies to manage it, we can decrease its effect on our mind and body.

Check out this year’s workshop schedule at yoganook.net and choose your workshops, then register on Eventbrite. See you there!

 

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Yoga Source 2017: Reduce Stress, Resolve Pain

Challenging situations are inherent in our daily life. We are sure to encounter fear, insecurity and pain during this human experience. But our pain, emotions and behavior are all influenced by stress — the effects of which are felt globally in the body.

Internal and external factors affect our ability to cope with life’s challenges. External elements include our home environment, relationships and pressure at work. Internal elements such as our emotional health, lifestyle and fitness all influence the amount of stress we experience, and how we respond to it.

Becoming aware of the habitual patterns in our daily lives that feed the stress response, and finding strategies to navigate the highs and lows, is a necessary part of our personal development. We may think we’re reducing stress by watching television, playing video games or surfing the internet to relax — but these activities can actually increase the stress response and add to your symptoms.

Yoga can help. That’s why we decided to plan our Yoga Source 2017 Conference around reducing stress and resolving pain. The workshops and presentations are designed to teach you about the influence of stress on the mind and body, how to heal your pain, and practical tools for responding to stress.

We’re pleased to have Denver physical therapist Rick Olderman, MSPT joining us again this year after offering such great information about headaches, neck and shoulder pain last year. He will again deliver the keynote presentation on Friday, March 10 and two workshops on March 11 & 12.

Aerial and circus artist Caroline Wright is also offering another fun workshop this year on building trust through circus play. Foundations, Fulcrums and FUN is on Sat., March 11. And for a very special music experience, the talented bass player Dan Pritchett (Dreaming Upright) will bring the sultry, soothing tunes. We also have a few new presenters from our own staff.

Click here to view the entire Yoga Source 2017 Conference schedule, and register here for classes on March 10-12. We have a wide range of stress- and pain-reducing classes, and an opportunity to more deeply explore your yoga practice. We hope you will come away inspired, encouraged, and set free from stress.

Subscribe below to receive updates. And we’ll see you there!

 

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Yoga Nook Teacher Profile: Di Hickman

Here we go, February! This month we’re featuring Yoga Nook teacher and fitness pro Di Hickman. Di recently joined our 200-hour teacher training as assistant, and she teaches weekly classes at both Yoga Nook locations:

Monday 5:45-7:00 pm | Sun Salutations 1&2 (@ Fifth)
Wednesday 10:30-11:30 am | Beginning / Yoga 1 (Cochran)
Thursday 5:45-7:00 pm | Sun Salutations 2 (Cochran)

Read on to learn more about Di’s yoga journey, her background in fitness, and her approach to practice and teaching. Then bring a friend and join her on the mat — her classes will be $10 community classes for the month of February.

What originally drew you to the practice of yoga? How has your practice changed over time? 

I attended my very first yoga class around age 13 and enjoyed it a lot. However, a year later yoga was “out” and Jane Fonda was “in.” So much so that I became a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Yoga was just something I did occasionally to relieve my stress and physical ailments.

For too many years, I was stuck in a cycle: work out, get injured, do yoga, feel better, and then go back to not doing yoga. I eventually realized that if I felt better when I did yoga, why didn’t I just continue to do it? That was 8 years ago, and my practice has been consistent ever since.

Why did you decide to become a Registered Yoga Teacher? 

About six years ago, I started teaching a yoga class at the gym I was working at. With my background in fitness, I knew the anatomy and physiology, but I didn’t know much about philosophy. I yearned to learn more.

I think I researched teacher training for about 3 years before I actually signed up. In hindsight, I can see that I was avoiding it because I knew I’d have to confront some things about myself. Holding that mirror up to yourself can be scary. But I am so thankful I did the Yoga Nook teacher training. It taught me so much about Yoga, and yet so much more about myself.

What inspires your teaching? 

I’m constantly inspired by the human body — not only how the human body moves, but also how it moves differently for each of us. My yoga pose is not your yoga pose. We are all different.

How would you describe your teaching style? What makes your classes unique? 

When I first started teaching yoga, I was more focused on the workout; now I also try to make it a work-in. It’s more focused on noticing how and why your body moves in a particular way, and being in the pose and not just in your own head.

Having a background in personal training and group fitness gives me the ability to adapt easily, offer multi-level options of each pose, and to think outside the box. I also like to add some humor into my classes. Yoga can be fun too!

What is your favorite pose, and why? 

Not a particular pose, but a type: twists. They have so many benefits, but being an anatomy nerd, I love that they give us a real opportunity to compare our bodies from one side to the other. How is the right side different to the left? Noticing these differences in my own body is a big part of my own practice, and I incorporate this into all my classes too. The human body is amazing!

If you could choose one quote that best encompasses your approach, what would it be? 

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” –Rumi

 

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RYT 200 training starts next week! We checked in with recent grads…

Can you believe our next RYT 200 teacher training is right around the corner? The deadline to sign up is this coming Wed, Jan. 18, and our first meeting is Fri, Jan. 20. We have a few spots left — call Jeni at 805-390-8175 and check out the syllabus!

As we look forward to this gathering of a new group of kindred spirits, brought together by our love of Yoga, we thought we’d check in with a couple recent grads to see what they’re up to:

“As a graduate of the Yoga Nook RYT 200 training, I am now able to apply all that I’ve learned toward my ‘day job’ working with children with Special Needs — as well as teaching in the community. It was the best decision I ever made to bring my practice to the next level.

Yoga is so much more than poses and breathing. It’s a way to help transform your lifestyle and bring you back to your true self.” — Niki Lewin


“The Yoga Nook teacher training is a life-transforming experience. It taught me so much about myself. I realized that the physical practice of Yoga is just the tip of the iceberg in becoming a teacher.

I’m currently teaching two days a week at a community center in Westlake Village, and at Yoga Nook whenever possible. I highly recommend this program for anyone who is a lover of Yoga. It has deepened my practice in every way.” — Yael McMillan

If you’re feeling a desire within to grow your own practice or teach others, call Jeni at 805-390-8175 and view the syllabus here. Be sure to sign up before Wednesday!

 

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A Poem for the New Year + Candlelight Meditation

New Year.
From my window I watch the horizon
A ribbon of black mountains far to the east
I sip my tea and feel the comfort of its heat
My fingers lacing around the cup
Warming my hands
Calming my anticipation
A clock ticks away the seconds
I await the sun.

New Year’s revelers are long gone
The remnants of their party strewn in the street
They’re sleeping now
Deep oblivion.

An incandescent glow backlights the mountain range
Giving it dimension and shape
For a moment the world is suspended
In utter stillness
Holding its breath.

An owl hoots
Breaking the silence with its mellow tone
Like the ancient pranam Om
The sound is resonant and universal
It calls in warning and celebration
Heralding the new day.

Together the owl and I watch the miracle of dawn
The inexorable turning of the earth
The sun peaks the ridge in a sudden blaze
Abruptly balancing on the tightrope
Between night and day
Then stretching its golden fingers across the desert
Chasing the shadows away.

There is no doubt
This is the beginning
Of a New Year.

For 10 years now we have offered a space for gathering, reflection and meditation at the turn of the new year. It’s a magical evening of candlelight, music, poetry, chanting and silence that aids the transition from the old year into the new. Join us for our annual Candlelight Meditation:

Candlelight Meditation
Friday, January 7, 2017 | 7 p.m.
Yoga Nook @ Fifth
690 D Los Angeles Ave.
Simi Valley, CA 93065

Bring a blanket and bolster (if you have one). Some chairs will be available.

This yoga community gathering is free to anyone who would like to attend. See you there!

 

Image credit: Jeff Turner via Flickr (CC)

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3 Ways to Use Healing Peppermint Over the Holidays

The holiday season wouldn’t be the same without a little peppermint. It’s a classic holiday flavor and scent that conjures up festive memories for many of us. But did you know that peppermint can actually aid digestion, sharpen concentration and soothe tight muscles?

A hybrid of water mint and spearmint, peppermint is one of the oldest herbs to be used for therapeutic purposes. It’s thought to have originated in Asia, though evidence of peppermint has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 BCE.

Peppermint oil has long been known for its digestive and anti-nausea benefits. The flavonoids found in peppermint leaves increase bile production, assisting digestion. Peppermint also has a soothing effect on the colon and can reduce muscle spasms.

Tea made from peppermint leaves has a high menthol content, which can soothe a sore throat and relieve an overburdened, irritated digestive system — as well that “I wish I hadn’t eaten that last brownie” feeling.

Here are 3 creative ways to use peppermint this holiday season:

1.  Boost your concentration and focus. Place 1 or 2 drops of peppermint essential oil on a Kleenex, and sniff as needed. (This is great for a stuffy nose too.) Just be sure to keep your eyes closed as you sniff — the menthol properties are strong.

2.  Make time for a long bath and add a little peppermint oil. Mix 3-4 drops of peppermint essential oil with 1 oz. of whole milk — the fat content in the milk will act as a dispersant for the oil. Or try putting a few drops on a face cloth and laying it on the shower floor while you take your morning shower. The vapors will rise with the steam and leave you refreshed in mind and body.

3.  Whip up this handmade peppermint muscle rub for a unique gift to share with your loved ones:

Peppermint Muscle Rub
(makes 3/4 cup)

Ingredients: 
1/2 cup
1/4 cup grated beeswax
2 tsp organic cayenne powder
2 tsp organic ginger powder
15 drops peppermint essential oil
15 drops lavender essential oil
Large glass jar
Small jelly jars

  1. Put the coconut oil and beeswax into the large glass jar. Heat 2 inches of water in a saucepan until hot but not boiling, then remove from the heat.
  2. Place the glass jar with the beeswax and coconut oil mixture into the hot water bath. As the coconut and beeswax melt, stir with a disposable spoon or spatula until incorporated.
  3. Add the other ingredients and stir until combined.
  4. Pour the mixture into small jelly jars while it’s still warm. Set aside to cool and set.
  5. Gently massage the peppermint rub into tight muscles to ease pain and tension. As with all topical creams, test on a small area of skin first to make sure your skin is not sensitive to the ingredients.

DISCLAIMER: This rub has not been approved by any government authority and is not meant to be used as a substitute for medical care.

 

Image credit: Zach Bulick via Flickr (CC)

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Responding to Change With Compassion

Change is the only constant in life. It’s an unpredictable, non-discriminating energy that can at various times be likened to a slow trickle, or a raging storm.

Small changes occur in our lives almost daily, and we adapt to them quite well. We compromise, make a mental shift or just go with the flow; and over time, almost without noticing, we become conscious that we’re facing a different direction. We can only see the change by comparing where we are now to where we were then.

Conversely, change can also come raging into our lives like a perfect storm, pulling the rug out from under our feet as the bottom falls out of our expectations. It shakes the very foundation of our carefully constructed beliefs and reveals that the world is not as we perceived it to be. We experience primal fears of abandonment, separation and insecurity.

The gripping fear that we may experience in times of change is generated in a deep brain structure called the amygdala (pronounced “uh-MIG-duh-luh”). Part of the limbic system, the amygdala stimulates the fight-or-flight response. Its central nucleus is correlated with the brainstem and hypothalamus, two other areas associated with fear and anxiety.

The amygdala also plays a primary role in processing emotional reactions, decision-making and memory. This area is thought to be responsible for nightmares and disrupted sleep during stressful periods in our lives.

So fear of change and the emotions that surface are a result of primal survival impulses encoded into every brain. Untamed, the mind indulges in cyclic thought patterns, perpetuating waves of anxiety and fear.

If change is the only constant, then we can “change” the way we react and deal with change itself. Even the amygdala’s reactionary impulses can be moderated through the practice of compassion meditation. Research has shown that even novice meditators can decrease activation of the amygdala by measurable amounts after only eight weeks of practice.

In all chaos, there is the potential for growth and new beginnings — indeed, for a complete remodel of life as we know it. We have to be prepared to put in the effort, to sit with all the different sensations as they arise, and “be curious,” as my meditation teacher often reminds me.

Look for new meditation classes appearing on the Yoga Nook schedule in January 2017.

 

Image credit: Send me adrift via Flickr (CC)

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