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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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!

 

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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
$125*

*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.

 

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Teacher Profile: Hannah Grasso

It’s that time again! We’re featuring a new Yoga Nook teacher for the month of October: Hannah Grasso. Hannah teaches Sun Salutations at Yoga Nook @ Fifth, Mondays 5:45-7:00 p.m. Her class will be a $10 community class throughout October, so bring a friend and check it out!

Hannah also recently completed doula training, and will be offering a prenatal/postnatal class series in the near future. Be sure to like Yoga Nook on Facebook, where we’ll keep you posted on further details and dates.


How has your yoga practice changed over time? 

My practice has transformed so many times and in so many ways in the 10 years since I walked into my first yoga class. That first day I walked in as a self-conscious little girl, completely consumed by how others perceived me. I had no idea just how deeply this practice would bring me into my own being.

Yoga is still a very physical practice for me, but it is no longer just a means to be thin and flexible. I see the asana as a portal to explore the depths of my soul and identify how I choose to walk in this world.

Are there any particularly memorable or transformative moments in your practice that you would like to share? 

My very first Savasana, which was led by Jeni Winterburn, was so powerful. I had spent the entire class looking in the mirror to see how thin or how good I looked in each pose — never satisfied with what I saw, of course.

When we laid down on the floor to rest, Jeni spoke to the room but I felt like she spoke directly to me. She told me my body was my temple, a sacred place, and that I should treat it as such. I had never laid down just to rest this way, and I certainly had never viewed my body as a sacred temple. Before then it was an empty vessel in which I was unwillingly trapped, and I did everything I could to change it.

I laid there listening to her sweet accent, and I cried. All my self-hate and misunderstanding of what I was left me through those tears. I felt lighter, softer, brighter than I had ever even known I was capable of feeling. And then I drifted off into that sweet sleep-like state of a deep Savasana, where you are simply with your Self, not judging or trying to change anything, just simply being.

Why did you decide to become a doula? 

When I was little, I dreamed of being an OBGYN and literally bringing new life into the world with my own two hands. It wasn’t until I became pregnant with my son that I realized just how beautiful and magnificent it is to bring life into the world with your own body!

I became a doula to help women feel empowered in their birth experience. I want birth to be an exciting and enjoyable moment in their lives instead of one surrounded by fear and the inability to trust their bodies and themselves.

What do you enjoy about working with prenatal/postnatal students? 

I truly believe that the baby’s physical and psychological well-being is enhanced when the mom does yoga during her pregnancy. It helps women become familiar and comfortable with their changing bodies, to grow into the mother they want to be, to prepare their bodies for labor, and to connect with their baby.

When the baby has arrived, there is no better way to stay grounded and connect with the little one than to share that time on the mat together. We lead by example, and over time those babies and children watching Mom do yoga will move and breathe with her, and learn how to control their thoughts and emotions just like she does.

What advice would you share with a student looking to deepen his or her practice? 

Don’t overthink it. Just move from intuition and know when it is appropriate to push harder, draw back or take pause. The more connected you become to your breath, the more connected you will be to your practice and to the experience you are having. Breathe more, think less.

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

“In the hopes of reaching the moon, men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.” –Albert Schweitzer

 

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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)

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Cracking My Own Case

This week we’re featuring a guest post from Kim GalbraithYoga Nook teacher and creator of Little Dog Yogawhich offers yoga classes for athletes in competitive sports. Read on for Kim’s story about a rough trip to the dentist, playing “yoga detective,” and not being afraid to ask for a helping hand.

Having completed 500 hours of yoga teacher training at Yoga Nook, I am well aware that holding tension in my body will create contracted muscles. I am also aware that contracted muscles lead to imbalance and dysfunction in the body, which in turn create pain and discomfort.

So when I had dental work done and woke up with severe pain the next morning — not in my mouth, but in my shoulder! — I set out to solve my own case.

Why the heck does my shoulder hurt? Even just standing was painful. My collarbone (clavicle) felt as if it was being pulled down by a 100-pound weight. No matter how hard I tried to relax my right shoulder, the pain would not subside.

I wondered if this was the result of how I held my right arm during the procedure. So I channeled my favorite Forensic Files character and performed my own reenactment, sitting in the front seat of my car to mimic the reclined position at the dentist’s office.

How was my body positioned during the procedure? My right arm was bent at the elbow, and since the armrest was too low, I was holding the arm up and away from my body slightly by lifting my right shoulder. Since the IV was attached to the inside of my forearm, my knuckles were facing out, adding a degree of external rotation in the shoulder joint.

What muscles were responsible for helping me hold this position? Well, the biceps bend the arm at the elbow, while infraspinatus and teres minor help with external rotation. The trapezius and levator scapulae are the primary movers in elevation of the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, which connects to the clavicle; and pectoralis major and deltoid lift the arm away from the body.

Other factors: Since I’m a yoga teacher and I practice pretty much daily, I do a lot of Adho Mukha Svanasanas (a.k.a. Downward Facing Dog). I also broke my right clavicle and dislocated my right shoulder when I was a teenager, so I have some instability in that arm already. I tend to have tight pectoral muscles that try to do more than they should to keep me stabilized in arm balance poses.

So what did I do? I tried to think like Jeni! I implemented my own plan to release the muscles that I identified as tight and contracted. But after attempting this on my own, I wasn’t getting the results I needed. I wasn’t really able to add the resistance necessary to release the tight areas. I needed help.

Thankfully, after only two sessions with Jeni, my pain was 95% gone. Together, with her guidance and my focused awareness, we got those heavily contracted muscles to soften and relax.

The moral of the story? I realized that even though I’ve learned a ton about the human body through teacher training — knowledge that has empowered me to heal myself and support my students — we all need a little help sometimes from our friends and practitioners to promote the healing process.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. And don’t wait until your pain gets worse — call Jeni!

 

Image credit: University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences via Flickr (CC)

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