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)

Beware of Bees

If you’ve spent any time in the Yoga Nook garden, you know how alive it is with bright, beautiful flowers, lizards and birds. It’s also been attracting a lot of honey bees lately. They love the pepper tree and like to drink out of the water fountain. I suspect they also enjoy the peace and quiet. No one disturbs them, and if I accidentally spray them with water while I’m gardening, I always apologize.

Indeed, they love it so much that they’ve decided to move in! You see, there is a feral cat that has lived here since before the Nook took up residence. Though I don’t feed her, concerned for her comfort through the cold winter months, I made her a warm place to sleep out of an old Styrofoam cooler and dry straw. She doesn’t use it in the summer and the bees, always on the lookout for a dark, dry, cool place to build a hive, have taken advantage of the vacancy.

Sweet Rewards

Making honey is a highly labor-intensive job. The bees may travel up to 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers just to gather enough nectar to produce one pound of honey. The flavor and color of honey reflects the nectar source, and there are over 300 unique kinds in the United States. Clover, eucalyptus and orange blossom are among the more common.

More than just nature’s sweetener, honey also contains antioxidants. As a general rule, the darker honeys have higher mineral and antioxidant potential. Composed of simple sugars, glucose, fructose and water that is predigested by the bees, honey also contains trace enzymes, vitamins and amino acids. As the simple sugars are quickly absorbed by the human digestive system they have an overall soothing effect, providing a healthful pick-me-up.

There are many health benefits to including honey in your diet. It relieves indigestion, promotes rejuvenating sleep, replenishes energy and dissolves mucus. When applied externally to the skin, it can disinfect and heal minor wounds and is great for chapped lips.

4 Helpful Honey Tips

  1. Mix a few tablespoons honey with a couple drops of lavender oil, and drop it in your bath water to help relax and combat insomnia.
  2. Do you have an old jar of honey somewhere in the refrigerator door that has crystallized? You can restore its syrupy consistency by removing the lid and standing the jar in some warm water until the crystals dissolve.
  3. Look for honey that has been produced by beekeepers who do not feed their bees refined sugars, and seek out organically produced honey.
  4. Remember never to feed honey to infants under one year old. It contains a bacteria that can be very harmful to them, though adults and older children are immune.

As for the nest in the garden, we’ll keep the doors closed for now while I search for someone who will give them a new home. Any takers?

 

Image credit: Claire Andre via Flickr (CC)

One Path to the Center

This last weekend, I spent a day at the beach with the Yoga Nook advanced teacher training group. The weather was cool and overcast when we arrived with shovels, gloves and tamping tools. Soon all of us were digging in the sand. As we worked, beachgoers walked by and asked what we were building. Some tried to guess, though no one was successful.

We were building a labyrinth, which is frequently confused with a maze, though they are quite different. A maze is a puzzle to be solved — which way will take me to the center? It has blind alleys, twists and turns, and requires one who enters to make choices at intersections. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is unicursal, meaning there is only one way in and one way out.

The labyrinthine pattern has been found on Greek coins dating back to 430 BCE, and the Romans reproduced many one-path patterns in tile and mosaic. By 1000 CE, labyrinths had begun to appear on the walls and floors of churches, providing a tool for private prayer and connection to the divine.

Walking a labyrinth is meditative and profound. The path is deceivingly long and seems to take you right into the center at first, then veers away, spiraling you outwards to explore the periphery.

The changes in direction require steady focus, and the outside world drops away as you concentrate on the task at hand. Just when you think you are furthest from the center, you are really closest to it; so coming into center is a surprise, almost unexpected.

We collected feathers, rocks and driftwood to decorate and define our project, and each person had an opportunity to walk the path several times. Then we left it in the sand for anyone to enjoy, and for the elements to reclaim — a wonderful practice in non-attachment.

 

Chakras on the Brain

I have a confession to make. I love brains! In my work as a somatic educator, I work with brains every day, and I’m always amazed at how they problem-solve, create and strategize.

Frequently clients laugh as I help them first recognize, then reeducate a deeply held pattern of movement. Sometimes the brain is so invested in a pattern, it takes awhile before it will let go of the habit. I have often felt emotional when we finally get a breakthrough and the pattern begins to change to make movement more comfortable and functional.

The chakras, taken together, are a philosophical tool to help us understand how we live in the world and how to balance ourselves. Through my research on brain function, I was inspired to investigate where the qualities of the chakras would be located if they were projected onto the brain.

I wondered if we could access those brain areas through visualization, movement and working with partners. Clearly we would need more time than a regular class would allow, so I created a workshop format for this interesting and informative journey, “Chakras on the Brain.”

This workshop is an experiential journey into your brain, helping you connect with different areas that govern emotion, movement, imagination, compassion and proprioception. A short lecture will give you some background about chakras and a comparison between the traditional view and this new and unique approach.

A large portion of the workshop is movement- and breath-oriented, but the pace is easy and gentle like an AIM class. It’s about your personal experience, so it will be very relaxing as well as informative.

I hope you can join me.

Chakras on the Brain Workshop
Saturday, July 23
11am – 4:30pm (30 min. break for lunch)
Yoga Nook @ Fifth
690 D Los Angeles Ave.
Simi Valley, CA 93065
$69

 

Blink! 3 Yoga Exercises for Eye Health

It’s hot! As the summer heat rises in Southern California, the air becomes dry, humidity plummets and our sinuses respond. Sore throats and dry, red, itchy eyes abound.

The mucous membrane lining your respiratory tract is a natural barrier to the outside environment. When this membrane gets dried out from a lack of humidity, eyes get sore and tired and your ability to fight a cold virus is diminished.

According to Dr. Robert Ivker, family physician and former president of the American Holistic Medical Association, the optimum humidity levels for sinus health are between 35-45%. As I write this, the recorded humidity for today in Simi Valley is 32%, which would be considered low for summer.

Using a computer in an air-conditioned environment in the summer compounds the problem, as blink rates slow when we focus on a screen. When you blink, you not only give the eye a brief rest, you also coat it with fresh moisture.

Try these yoga eye exercises to relieve dryness and soreness: 

  • Close your eyes and keeping your head still, make slow circles with your eyes, clockwise and counterclockwise.
  • Keeping your head still, but this time with the eyes open, slowly explore your periphery. Look as far left as you can, as far right, as far above you and as far below you as you can.
  • Lightly moisten your palms, then rub your hands together vigorously. When your hands are warm, cup them over your eyes. Don’t press on the eye, just let the moisture and warmth provide rest.

During this heat wave, be sure to drink plenty of water. If you are trapped in an office, rest your eyes frequently by looking away from the screen and focusing on a distant object. And don’t forget to blink!

 

Image credit: Ballookey Klugeypop via Flickr (CC)

Becoming Judith Lasater

It was September 2010. My cell phone rang, and because hardly anyone had that number, the ring was urgent and a little ominous.

It was Judith. “Is this a good time for you?”

I could tell by her anxious tone that this was not a social call. Last night her daughter-in-law had given birth to a baby boy, but he was six weeks early. Her concern was palpable, threaded with understandable excitement for the early arrival of her first grandchild and a desire to be with her family.

“So I’m not coming to Colorado,” she said.

I felt my stomach lurch. We were scheduled to travel to the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park the following day, where I was assisting her in a busy schedule of workshops and intensives.

There was a moment of complete silence, rich with infinite possibility. A million scenarios played simultaneously in my mind, and then I heard a voice very much like my own say, “I would be happy to cover your classes for you.”

Quite suddenly, I seemed to be standing in my kitchen staring at the phone in my hand and wondering if I had really just said to Judith Lasater that I would be her “sub” at the 15th Annual Estes Park Yoga Journal Conference.

At that time, I had worked with Judith on and off for several years, supporting her work whenever I could. I relished the simple pleasure of watching a master teacher open students’ minds, and trying to intuit what prop or support she would need to illustrate her teaching.

How, I wondered, would I ever be able to fill her shoes and give her students the full Judith experience they’d signed up for? The simple answer, of course, was that I needed to be me, not try and be Judith, because there is only one Judith Lasater.

I worked through my anxiety and did my very best to provide a balanced, creative and honest series of workshops. It was educational time for me, both identifying my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.

It’s always disappointing when you show up for a class and expect a particular teacher, only to discover that life has gotten in the way and that person is unable to attend. Be assured that it’s never easy as a teacher to give up classes or change schedules. We become dedicated to the students we serve, but sometimes there is a more pressing need.

As summer progresses and we shift and change teachers to adjust for vacations, different kid schedules and illness, remember the job of the teacher in front of the class is to offer you an opportunity to grow. Her challenge is that she is not who you were expecting. Your challenge is: Can you be open to what she has to offer even though she’s not Judith Lasater?

 

Image credit: Ulrich Burkhalter via Flickr (CC)

Heal Thyself

As I sipped a well-earned cup of tea in the Yoga Nook garden, I knew instantly I was coming down with something. I could feel it in my throat as I swallowed. That’s always the first place I’m aware of an infection. There’s some weakness in my constitution that leaves my throat vulnerable. I’ve suffered with it since I was a child.

I had spent a good part of Sunday cutting back the spring growth at the front of the Cochran studio, so for awhile I tried to imagine that it was just the dust and pollen. It would pass, I’d feel fine in an hour or so.

But by that evening, I knew that dust and pollen were the least of my worries. For two days now, I have laid around like a zombie — sleeping the day away in front of the TV, binge-watching between the dozing, completely unproductive.

This morning I woke late but brighter, and finally my throat feels better. But wait — now I have shoulder pain. Stiff and sore from no movement, my body’s complaining from the lack of mobility. As I dozed on the sofa, my left shoulder must have been tucked awkwardly under my torso. I can feel the pattern in the muscles under the shoulder blade and the unaccustomed stretch in my mid-back.

Somatic Educator, heal thyself!

The area around the scapulae is a common cause of complaint for many of the clients I see one-on-one. A large proportion of people suffer from scapular dysfunction as a result of improper use, poor posture or injury.

Because the position of the scapulae is vital to healthy arm movement, it’s important to organize this flat, highly mobile bone optimally on the back ribs. Scapular dysfunction can cause neck and shoulder pain, as well as upper back and arm discomfort.

Students frequently ask me for “stretches” for pain and discomfort in the shoulder girdle area. Aware of my own soreness, I can understand why they want to stretch. The problem is that stretching is not the answer. Indeed, stretching alone could create more damage and increase pain.

The answer is somewhat counterintuitive until you become familiar with the way AIM (Awareness, Integration and Movement) works. Contrary to the instinct to stretch, what is needed are contraction and slow release of the muscles that are causing the displacement, then reeducation of the muscles that are creating the irritation.

We are always attracted by the pain, thinking it’s where the problem must lie, but the area of pain is frequently the symptom, not the cause.

Even as I type this, I’m bringing awareness to my posture and to the displacement of my left scapula. I’m slowly contracting then releasing, and for just a few moments the irritation disappears, so I know I’m on the right track. It will take awhile to release and reeducate, but eventually I’ll be back to work with a better understanding of my clients and myself.

 

Related articles: 
The World on Your Shoulders
Correcting Poor Posture with AIM Somatic Movement
3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Your Back Pain

Image credit: Dax Tran-Caffee via Flickr (CC)

 

Mirror Mirror

I’m cleaning the bathroom

It’s amazing how you can ignore grime

Until it reaches a certain pitch

Then you’re vengeful

Rubbing out the blight with vigor.

I clean with my mother in mind

Thinking how spotless she kept her house and how

I could never match her enthusiasm

For washing a floor or cleaning a window.

I spray the mirror

Not an unpleasant smell.

As I wipe, the world is smeared into a fog

An impressionist painting of a bathroom

A woman

Disheveled

Rubbing out the splashes of toothpaste foam

Her arm flesh rolls in a rhythmic dance

Her face emerges from the smears

Crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes

I pause.

Wrinkles are changing the shape of her mouth

I gaze

She’s familiar

I see my mother, my sister, my aunt.

I smile at her

She smiles back

Time is etched on her face

But behind those eyes

She is ageless.

 

Image credit: Gabriela Camerotti via Flickr (CC)

The Goat and the Monkey

We all love a good story. From the very beginning of language, we have used storytelling to excite, entertain and explain our developing world.

This story is based on a discourse from Maharaj Sawan Singh (1858-1948). Originally a simple tale, I have colored it to meet our western needs and told it in my own voice. It reveals how the mind is often the culprit in our delusion and incorrect perception.

Once upon a yogi time, a woman owned a pet monkey and a goat. She kept both tethered under a tree by her house. One day she was making an elaborate meal for a family celebration. Delicious aromas emanated from the house as dish after dish accumulated on the window sill to cool.

The goat paid no attention to all the activity and nibbled at some small patches of grass at the base of the tree. The monkey watched the woman’s labors with interest and sniffed the air approvingly.

Soon the woman had run out of ingredients, so she grabbed her shopping basket and left the house to buy more. The monkey watched the woman disappear, released his tether, climbed the tree, jumped onto the window sill and ate all the food. He then returned to his usual place under the tree, set the goat free and tied himself up again.

When the woman returned, the first thing she saw was the goat wandering in the yard. The next thing she saw was that all the food was gone from the window sill. Then she saw the monkey still sitting in his place under the tree. She picked up a stick and started to chase the goat.

Just then a wise man happened by. “Good woman, why are you chasing that goat?” he asked.

“He has eaten my day’s labors, and now I have nothing to serve my family for dinner,” she lamented.

The man laughed and pointed to the fat-bellied monkey under the tree. “Then serve the monkey, for he is well-stuffed with sweet meats.” The monkey swiftly untied his rope and climbed to the highest branches of the tree.

Shading his eyes from the afternoon sun, the wise man watched the monkey climb. “See how the monkey is just like the mind,” he said. “A master of scheming, condemnation and avoidance.”

Can you observe your monkey mind today and catch the trickster in the act of incorrect perception? 

 

Image credit: Boston Public Library via Flickr (CC)