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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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)

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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.

 

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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

 

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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)

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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)

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