The Rhythm of Life

The drum master danced around the circle as he directed us — his face expressive, arms waving, hands so fast and furious on his own instrument that the term “smoking drum” came to mind.

I looked around at the gathering. Everyone’s eyes were locked on him as he walked the inner circle. He was the Pied Piper of Hamlin and we were the children, so captivated by the spell of the music that we would follow him anywhere.

An expert conductor, he whipped up the sound to a crescendo and then dulled it to a soft whisper — directing first one, then the other. Collectively we created a wave of sound that filled every inch of the studio. The rhythm was so intense that it not only surrounded us, it went through us. It was us.

Every now and then we would pause while he explained an exercise or shared a story. When the sound ceased in these moments, there was silence — and late into the evening during that suspended hush, he told this story:

He had been working with a group of women inmates. He’d taken pizza and Coca Cola to bribe their interest. They were sassy and full of back-chat but were playing, finding some joy in the rhythms.

One woman played with her head down very close to her drum. A black curtain of hair spilled around her face, creating a shield of sorts. She never looked up and was just tapping her drum quietly with her fingers. Tap, tap, pause. Tap, tap, pause.

In his attempt to include her, he approached, wanting her to be part of the group. Several women stood in front of her, creating a blockade.

“Sit your ass down and leave her alone,” the warrior women said.

So he backed off and left her playing to herself. Tap, tap, pause. Tap, tap, pause. It was almost as if she expected an answer, like the tapping was a question: “Anyone home?”

Gradually, the drumming session came to an end and as the circle broke up and drums were put away, the ribbon of hair was finally thrown back, revealing a tear-stained face.

She hadn’t been playing to herself. The rhythm had made her baby move inside her, a feeling she had not experienced for weeks. She’d been afraid that the baby had died, but the rhythm of the drumming had stirred the little soul and it kicked out a rhythm in response.

The rhythm of a drum, the rhythms of nature, the rhythm of our hearts and our breath … They all carry tremendous power to move our spirit.

Join our next gathering and connect to your own unique rhythm.


Image credit: dapple37 via Flickr (CC)

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Teacher Profile: Barbara Arens

October has arrived! Our featured teacher of the month is Barbara Arens, or “Barb,” as she is fondly known by many of her students and colleagues.

We checked in with Barb to learn more about her yoga practice, her unique teaching style, and the advice she’d give to students wanting to deepen their practice. Check out our Q&A below, then grab a buddy and drop in to any of her classes throughout October for just $10. That’s 50% off the drop-in rate!

Wednesday 5:45-7 pm (new!) | Core & Yoga (Fifth)
Sunday 9-10 am | Core & Yoga (Cochran)

Yoga Nook: What originally drew you to the practice of yoga? 

Barb: I had been to a few classes in my 20s, but it wasn’t until my 30s that I began practicing yoga more seriously. I picked it back up because of some mild issues I was having with my back, and it was “love at first class.” The asana practice called to me in a way that no other activity did. I was lucky that my instructor taught using Sanskrit and delved into the philosophy of yoga right from the beginning. I can truly say that yoga made my heart sing, and still does to this day.

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

My teaching style is very dynamic and challenging, and it can be either slow-paced or a bit faster. The slower the flow, the more time students have to perfect their alignment in the poses. I do prefer a flowing form of yoga because of the artistic beauty of the movement, which is different for every student.

What is your favorite pose and why? 

One of my favorite poses is Ardha Chandrasana because it is such a challenge for me. It makes me go deep inside my body and mind to cultivate the breath and work on my alignment. Some days the pose feels beautiful and serene; other days I feel lucky if I can balance at all. Yoga keeps me humble.

What advice would you share with a student looking to deepen their practice? 

Talk to teachers you admire and ask them questions. Most teachers love to mentor. Also, read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is the core text of yoga covering ethics, meditation, physical postures, and even dealing with situations in daily life.

There are many translations of the Yoga Sutras, and it’s important to find one that resonates with you. At this time, my favorite translation is by Sri Swami Satchidananda. There are stories you can relate to and a complete breakdown of the Sanskrit verses with the teacher’s explanation of their application.

What inspires your teaching? 

The students inspire me. It is such a privilege to share this sacred practice with them. There is so much more to yoga than the asana practice. It dwells within you and becomes part of who you are.


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The Power of 8 Percent

As International Peace Day approaches, I find myself Googling a rather existential question: “Has the world ever been at peace?”

According to this New York Times article, humankind has only succeeded at avoiding conflict for 268 of the last 3,400 years — a mere 8 percent of recorded history. This initially struck me as a grim harbinger of the future. After further consideration, it also inspired hope. After all, many people believe there has never been a time without war.

What would happen, I wonder, if 8 percent of the time I was on the verge of snapping at a loved one, I regained my composure and responded with understanding instead? And what if that person, in turn, maintained their patience with another just 8 percent of the time?

When you consider that every action has a reaction, it becomes possible to imagine that 8 percent rippling outward and growing in magnitude. Perhaps it wouldn’t usher in world peace, but it would certainly diminish a significant degree of our suffering and that of those around us.

Indeed, small changes in the way we think, feel and act in our interpersonal relationships add up to larger shifts with practice. Especially when we see our outcomes improve — who doesn’t want to experience more harmony and understanding in their relationships?

I know of no better way to gain greater awareness and command of our thoughts, feelings and actions than the practice of meditation. Slowing down and creating space between thought, impulse and action offers us a chance to consciously choose peace — the kind of peace that can grow from, say, 8 percent of our lives to a peace that abides.

On International Peace Day, next Thursday, September 21, Yoga Nook teachers will incorporate a short meditation, chant or other offering in their classes to mark the day. By joining countless groups across the globe to practice peace for just a small percentage of the day, we intend to expand our personal, community and global “8 percent” into something much bigger. We hope you will join us.

Image credit: United Nations Photo via Flickr (CC)


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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)

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 and choose your workshops, then register on Eventbrite. See you there!


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!


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


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!


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)

October Day Retreat: The Alchemy of Karma Yoga

Today’s guest post comes from Pat VanBuskirk, MA, MFT, RYT 500, our beloved yoga & meditation teacher at the Yoga Nook. Pat is leading our upcoming October Day Retreat: 

The Alchemy of Karma Yoga: Taking Yoga Off the Mat
Saturday, October 22
10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Krishnamurti Center

*Cash or check (made out to Pat VanBuskirk). You may sign up at either Yoga Nook location. Call Pat at (805) 208-5978 with any questions. 

Retreat (verb): 

  1. to go away from a place or person in order to escape from fighting or danger
  2. an act or process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous or disagreeable
  3. to retire or withdraw, as to seclusion or shelter

Retreat (noun): 

  1. a private and safe place where you can be alone
  2. a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation or study

The verb “retreat” means to move away from something that is disagreeable or dangerous, or to still the advance. The noun “retreat” means an actual safe space to reflect and study, alone or with like-minded folks.

A day of retreat offers the opportunity to still the incessant noise of the ego, which can in fact be dangerous — or at the very least, disagreeable. It provides the needed physical space to restore, rejuvenate, repair — and most of all, to remember who YOU are so there is physiological, emotional and mental space for your purpose to come forward.

The Yoga Nook is providing an opportunity for you to retreat and give your deeper Self a chance to be restored. The environment of the retreat is a natural secluded space in Ojai that is dedicated to restoration and reflection: the Krishnamurti Center.

The theme of our retreat is The Alchemy of Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is the yoga of Selfless Action. What that means for us is our ability to note when the habit patterns of the ego are taking control of our path through life, refrain from those patterns, and walk our life’s path with consciousness and integrity — away from the clutches of the demanding egoic self. Ahhh, freedom!

Karma Yoga, or Selfless Action, is inspirational in its philosophy and transformative in practice. The intentional practice of Karma Yoga can bring us to a place of abiding joy (which is our “true” Self), versus momentary pleasure, which is the ego’s addiction!

When we begin to slow down and intentionally retreat to practice stillness in a group of like-minded people — listening to the philosophy and learning to apply the ancient teachings in our current life situation — we can transform our thoughts, our behavior and our life.

At this retreat, we will:

  • practice asana as a means of unlocking blocks to our true Self, thus remembering our authentic Self;
  • practice silence to notice how the ego self demands attention and may lead us to habit patterns that are not necessarily those we want; and
  • learn about our own relationship with Karma Yoga and the practical application of it, both personally and globally.

I hope to see you at the retreat on Saturday, October 22! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (805) 208-5978.

Many blessings. Namaste.