How Often Should You Practice Yoga?

One of the most common questions that students ask me before or after class is, “How many times a week should I practice yoga?”

As the medical field increasingly recognizes the benefits of moving with awareness and improving posture, more and more doctors are recommending yoga as a gentle yet effective exercise system. Many students are drawn to yoga because they are looking for strategies to help relieve stress, pain and tightness. It’s no surprise then that students want to know: How often should you practice yoga to aid recovery and maintain a pain-free lifestyle?

The effectiveness of yoga for change and healing is dependent on the quality of the teaching and the ability of the student to move in and out of the poses with awareness. Change can begin after your first class. However, new students often find that the mind and body are a little disconnected. Reintegration through repetition and practice is necessary before real change can occur.

The equation for change is Intensity (I) x Duration (D) = Force (F). In other words, the more frequently you practice yoga with focus (intensity), the quicker you will see results. Once a week is considered a maintenance level — not ideal if you are wanting change. Practice twice weekly over a 10-week period and you will see and feel a difference. Three times weekly over a 10-week period will provide the maximum benefit.

It is also best to mix and match your routine. Attend classes with a variety of teachers and different styles. If your time is limited, practice at home. A 20-minute practice will still help affirm the movements you learn in class. Add some restorative classes to your program too, as a decrease in stress can reduce your perception of pain.

Our bodies adapt to the way we move in gravity, and it is easy to fall into poor movement habits as we age. With so much focus on external stimulation in our society, we become disconnected from our body and mind. Yoga means “to yoke” — to join or reunite mind and body. With that union, anything is possible.

 

The Summit That Changed My Life

Last week I was going through old papers and articles, sorting them into piles: keep and toss away. The toss pile was winning, along with the constant question, “Why on earth did I keep that?”

The task was taking longer than anticipated, as it was a walk down memory lane. I found old schedules I had created back when I taught yoga at local gyms; newsletters that were cut and pasted before computers were in daily use; and articles with titles like “Why Smoking Is Bad for You.”

Then I came across a newspaper clipping from October 17, 1996. “Peak of Courage,” read the headline in Simi Valley Daily News. “Climbing Mount Whitney puts 19 on top of the world.” I smiled as I read, for now — 21 years later — I can fully appreciate that event (though at the time it was the hardest thing I’d ever done).

Inspiration comes in many forms, and one Sunday afternoon 22 years ago it came to me as I was watching a PBS special. It was a documentary about a group of women who were recovering from breast cancer and had climbed a mountain in South America. This film was to become a catalyst for a fitness program my husband Rob and I created.

At the time, I worked for a women’s gym here in Simi and watched women exercise in my classes and in the weight room — but to what end? They never used the fitness they developed, never put it to task. So why not give them a goal and hike up the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney?

“How many women do you think will attend the first hike?” asked my boss as I presented the idea.

“Oh, I don’t know, probably about 20.” My estimate was hopelessly low. By the time we set off on our first hike up Rocky Peak, 84 women had signed up — and Rob and I got our first taste of what the next 10 months would bring.

Every month we designed and led hikes in the local mountains, each hike longer and harder than the last. We also offered classes under the banner, “Get fit for Whitney, get fit for life” and awarded points for events attended. Participants had to accumulate points to qualify for the trip.

Ten months later, in October 1996, 17 women were ready for Whitney. They all made it to the top, and I watched them celebrate after struggling and achieving so much in those 10 months. But Rob and I couldn’t celebrate yet — we still needed to get them back down the mountain safely.

I can remember feeling unfulfilled in that moment. I was surrounded by elation and joyous abandon, but I couldn’t feel that in myself. Instead the responsibility of getting everyone home safely loomed large.

Now, I look at the smiling faces in the summit photo, and I’m filled with pride for them. We all got to know each other so well in that 10-month program. It was life-changing for most, and an affirmation of fitness and dedication for all.

As for me — well, a few weeks after our climb, I turned in my notice at the gym and became a full-time yoga teacher. Whitney changed my life, too, and now 21 years later I can celebrate.

 

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)

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)

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.

 

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!

 

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)

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)

Making Space for Peace

As many of you have noticed, I’ve been away from the studios for about two weeks. I’ve been exercising my design skills in my latest project, a new vacation rental on the Oregon Coast. For several months, my Simi home (and my mind) have been occupied by mountains of soft furnishings and a chaotic whirlwind of negotiations, with boxes and packages arriving daily.

I thought I had become accustomed to the clutter until I came home from my trip last Monday. After the long drive south from Oregon, I walked into my bright, lightly furnished home and felt instant relief — a weight lifted, a lightness in my head, and a deep sense of gratitude for this happy, calm space.

I saw my home with new eyes, relishing its simplicity and lack of clutter. I sat for a few minutes in meditation on the couch, the late afternoon sun glowing gold through the windows — and I felt deep contentment.

I think it’s always comforting to arrive home after a long trip, but for me this homecoming was more than that. It was a strong affirmation that this is where I belong, that this is home for me and my family.

As we enter midlife there is a need for us to declutter, to get rid of things that at one time seemed to hold value for us, but that no longer serve us. Clutter is a form of agitation that distracts the eye and creates a multitude of inputs for the brain as it scans the varied shapes and colors. The mind, then, is not allowed to rest.

When we simplify and clear out what is not needed, there is more room for the spaciousness of peace and bliss. Our living space becomes a calm, tranquil retreat.

If you feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of clutter in your home, simply start where you are. Focus on one small area at a time, and do whatever you can in 30 minutes, one hour, or however much time you’d like to dedicate. Getting started is often the hardest part but if you focus all your attention on just the first step (and then the next, and then the next), you’ll likely find it much more manageable.

Our new house in Oregon will be on the VRBO market very soon, and I am planning a couple of yoga retreats up there for next year — one in April, one in late September 2017. Watch this space for more information. (Even better, sign up for our email list below.)

In the meantime I’m back to teaching my scheduled classes, plus a few guest appearances. I’ll see you in class!

 

It’s Bookworm Month at Yoga Nook!

As autumn approaches, a primal part of us responds to the shortening days. We begin to slow down and ponder indoor activities we can enjoy in the evenings. Why not read some yoga books?

This time last year, I was inspired by the idea of little community libraries. These small book exchanges have popped up in neighborhoods all across the country, and are open to anyone who would like to bring a book or take a book. Some have found homes in old chicken coops; some have built creative and attractive book houses; and I’ve even seen them arranged in old telephone booths.

Several of you have expressed interest in a book exchange at Yoga Nook — a place to bring books with a yoga, philosophy or yoga lifestyle theme that you’ve enjoyed reading. So we have decided to open a space for such an exchange for one calendar month, and see if you enjoy it and use it.

We’re calling our book exchange “Bookworm.” Beginning Saturday, September 17, you may bring books to either Yoga Nook location, browse books that others have left, and take books that you are attracted to as a replacement. Bring a yoga book, take a yoga book. 

Bring your books to class, and be sure to come a little early so you can browse the offerings others have left. Any books remaining after October 17 will be donated to Goodwill.

 

Image credit: Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr (CC)