January 2006

Here’s a good article on the recent findings that meditation increases the thickness of your brain. The study found a correlation between the length of time a participant had meditated and the thickness of their brain in the area devoted to attention and memory. Over time brains tend to get thinner there, so in this case, meditation was found to actually reverse the usual effects of aging.

The ‘control group’ just sat instead of actively meditating. I’ll remind myself of this when I’m on my cushion and catch myself reliving the previous night’s episode of Lost.

I’ve been reading bits here and there about nude yoga. I don’t know if it is a real trend or if a couple of classes out there are just getting some great press. Mostly it’s written from a sensational, unbelieving, voyeuristic point of view but I like this article from a guy who goes to a gay nude men’s class and writes about the experience of sticking his bare ass in the air in Downward Facing Dog. I can relate to that. Man, focusing in yoga can be challenging enough clothed in Lululemon ‘armor’. I can’t imagine the vulnerability of doing it nude.

And I think most people that read about nude yoga just think it’s a euphemism for group sex or something. I don’t. When I lived in Vancouver I went to Wreck Beach , the nude beach there. It’s the only beach I’ve been to where people wander over to sell you chocolate covered Rice Krispie bars and umbrella drinks :-) And it didn’t take me long there to realize just how unsexy bodies are. I mean, they’re just bodies. It’s really the stories you make up about them, or what you do with them that brings on the sexy. OK, tell that to the fully clothed tourist standing on the beach getting a good look, yeah I hear ya’. I hated those guys.

Anyways, I think nude yoga would be the same way. You’d probably get past the naked thing pretty quickly and move on to “yup, we’re all just bodies in Triangle”. I don’t know if I’ll get there, I think I’ll keep my armor on just a little longer.

My little boy had a bad dream the other morning and needed some comfort. I just couldn’t get back to sleep. So at 5:30 a.m. I decided to find my yoga mat in the dark. I did lots of Sun Salutations and was grooving on the repetition. Then I realized I was holding my ankles up in Downward Facing Dog instead of letting them relax toward the mat.

The muscles on the backs of my legs have been historically short. And yoga has made a difference but I still relate the sensation of an intense stretch with the excruciating stretches of my pre-yoga days. I was holding my ankles up to avoid not just discomfort but any *memory* of discomfort.

It was like I had already decided it was going to be a tough day with the lack of sleep. And I had already decided I was going to spend the day tired and short of energy. So therefore I figured I deserved to avoid just a little discomfort here on the mat. And I had decided this all without being aware of it.

So I made a point of relaxing. Sure there was some discomfort but as the muscles were able to stretch, it passed. And it reminded me again that nothing is permanent. I can’t arrange my whole life to avoid discomfort and why would I want to? And what was I doing deciding my day was going to go one way or the other? The sun wasn’t even up. It was a reminder to let the moment unfold as it’s meant to. To let my ankles relax even into a 6:00 a.m. Downward Facing Dog.

I’m having a hard time with the winter blahs. When they hit it’s pretty dark inside and out. I have no motivation. I’m just stuck and cranky. And on the weekends if I don’t plan ahead I get bored on top of it – too cranky to do anything, then cranky at myself for not doing anything.

Exercise helps alot, it seems to chase away the bad stuff and then yoga smooths out the rough edges. I’ve been trying to run outside but it hasn’t been regular. The weather has been mild but I feel too crappy to get out there. I don’t want to go outside Mom – it’s yucky and dark – that’s the whole point!

Yesterday I got out for a run at lunchtime. It was a degree above freezing, I put the iPod on shuffle and went for my usual run on Shore Road, a hilly residential road with some views of the water. I was feeling so low. Really begging the Universe to help me find just a scrap of OK while I ran.

Just as I got to the turnaround point a little patch of sun opened up between the clouds. I couldn’t believe it – how long has it been? I ran back and the clouds opened up even more – it was actually bright and sunny for a few minutes even though the forecast said it should be socked in and snowing.

I started feeling more hopeful and challenged the Universe a little more. Give me a song, play me something meaningful, something I need to hear. The first one was a Beck tune that is totally goofy and retro. It’s a get-on-your-gogo-boots-and-shake-your-booty song. I get it – lighten up, find the fun, don’t expect it to find you.

And the second tune is a current fave – Roots with Erikah Badhu called ‘You Got Me’. It has a great soulful groove and it’s all about trust. It’s about two people who get into a relationship and one is touring and they have to trust that they’re being true to each other even though they feel distant and disconnected.

Thank you. I get it. I need to trust that the winter will pass, the darkness will slowly be dissolved by the light, and I will smile in the sun again. Until then I’ll try to practice.

I’ve been talking to a friend about the importance of taking baby steps to get to where you want to go. And then I was listening to some Carolyn Myss CDs that I burned from some free downloads on her site. It’s a weekend workshop on The Wizard of Oz. The sound quality and editing isn’t always great, but the material is fabulous.

She talks about the need to engage not just our head and mind but our heart. If you logically decide you should make a change in your life, it’ll only take you so far because only your head believes it. It’s a ‘should’. To make it a ‘want to’, you need to engage your heart. You need to find the meaning and purpose in it. Find the part that speaks to your soul.

Carolyn talks about the importance of *activating* our intention. A great way to do that is with baby steps. My friend has wanted to make some big changes at work. But the first thing she did is clear up some of the clutter in her office. She brought in a good water glass to make sure she gets her 8 per day and a little table top fountain for some calming influence. She said that making those changes to her environment made a huge difference. Not only does she see that she’s made some real physical changes but it’s like she’s convinced herself she’s worth making change for, and confirmed that big work changes are worth committing the energy to.

Sometimes baby steps are the only way to move forward because you don’t have the whole journey mapped out. And that’s OK, because making the first step will help you get closer to seeing what the next one should be. It’s like by making a move, any move, it proves you’re physically heading toward your goal and not just talking about it. A baby step is enough to get you off the couch. And it creates momentum.

Carolyn says that the important part of taking baby steps is meeting your inner-saboteur head-on. When you start doing something consistently, you will meet up with the part of yourself that doesn’t want you to change. And that’s an opportunity to deal with that stuff, at the heart level, and move on to the next baby step.

My Power Yoga class came back last week and they were such Noobies, it was *so* cute. They were scattered and unfocused and falling all over, it was just great. Because Noobie is where we want to be on the yoga mat. I think Buddhists call it ‘Beginners Mind’. A recent article in Yoga Journal says that our mind and ego want security and certainty. But when we get that we get a little puffed up and distant. And it’s that puffiness that insulates us from really experiencing our experience. It’s like going to the beach in a down jacket. And the article says, when we’re Experts, we’re in danger of becoming gymnasts instead of yogis. The practice becomes dry and static. But when we can ditch all that *stuff* that comes with experience and knowledge, then we can be a Noobie. So every pose is like the first time and we can really experience the juiciness that’s there.

I remember back when I started yoga, the teacher would walk by me in class and I’d wonder if I’d get adjusted. And I would hope that I wouldn’t because an adjustment might mean I wasn’t good at yoga yet and still needed help. I wanted to think I was doing it right and I’d accomplished something good. I wanted to think I was an Expert.

On Saturday I was at Robert Weber’s class and we know each other from teacher training. It was a small class so he adjusted me a few times and it was so great. He knew just what I needed and every adjustment was like a little window opening deeper into the pose. It made me realize again that there is so much richness in every pose but it’s only as Noobies that we can be open to it.

When the Yoga Journal started a newsletter for teachers complete with an “Expert Panel” I sent in a question assuming it would be part of a flood of questions and I’d never see anything back from it – and the answer has been published! Thanks Dean, I appreciate your response.

I had to chuckle when I read his suggestion about starting with Reclining Hero Pose – when I suggest that one in class the guys generally grumble at me :-) (some of the women too).

A while back I’d asked the same question of Allison Ulan at a weekend workshop and she suggested sticking with backbend poses to energize and open the heart and to avoid forward bending poses. She said “if you focus on the calming poses you might just have everyone in the class crying!”

Dean suggests Fish for a backbend and I agree, that’s a great backbend that doesn’t require alot of energy. He also suggests Standing Forward Bend. His point of view is more about the benefits of the individual poses. So far, when I’ve dealt with this issue in class, I haven’t avoided forward bends but I’ve focused on back bends and on moving the spine to get some energy flowing (Cat/Dog, multiple Cobras or repetitions of Childs to Upward Facing Dog in a more advanced class).

But there was also a class where I talked about the need to rest, take care of ourselves and not just push ourselves endlessly. I talked about the need to listen to our bodies and respect when we’re low energy (that’s a big one for me). So when we got to the end of class I turned the lights down, had some good music playing and really felt that people were getting into a calm positive space. We did some Reclined Bound Angle and Legs Up The Wall and it seemed to work well. It’s like we gave ourselves permission to be low-energy so that it was a open-heart calm, not a depressive thing.

It’s challenging to read the vibe in the class and to know how far to stray from your class plan. Sometimes it’s tough to know too if you achieved the results you were hoping for. I’m trying to get better at either asking for feedback from someone I trust to be honest, or letting it go and trusting it worked out ok for someone in the class.

Letting Go has been a bit of a theme for me lately. I was off early for the holidays and had a list of great stuff I was gonna do – tons ‘o fun. And life *totally* happened. My family got sick and for one reason or another I couldn’t do *any* of the things on my list.

I was pretty pissed off about it too. I just couldn’t let go of the expectations and hopes I had for my vacation. And now that my holiday is in decent view thanks to hindsight, I can see that I didn’t need to necessarily let go of my anger and disapointment. It wasn’t about trying to find the silver lining – who am I trying to kid? It would have been a start just to let go of the fact that things *needed* to be different.

I’ve been listening to some Zencasts and in Zencast 33 he talks about finding the place in meditation where you can just be transparent. You’re transparent enough that the thoughts and emotions happen, but they just flow through you, you don’t identify with them. He uses the example of a river flowing and how the water doesn’t get caught on the rocks, it just flows. I love that. The water doesn’t stop and argue with the rocks and get all pissed of at them for being there you know? It just flows around them. I talked about this last night in Power Yoga class and someone said, ‘and the water can be OK with that because over time it erodes the rocks’. Ha! So true.

The Vancouver Sun ran a great article on cleansing and detoxing . It talks about hardcore methods like fasting. That’s one I just don’t get – why would I *want* to feel cold and cranky? But it also suggests that saunas, epsom salt baths and dry brushing are great places to start – options that sound more doable especially in January.

I’m trying to keep my ‘get back on the wagon’ urges reasonable and doable too. I’m eating more fruits and veggies, drinking less of the stuff with alcohol content and more of the watery variety. I bought a wack of good-looking oranges and Jonagold apples to get started.

The article says that cilantro, garlic, grapes, melons, beets and celery all play a role in detoxing. I’m adding all those to my grocery list. I’ll come clean though, it’s going to be canned beets. It feels like cheating but at this time of year I’m just not going to do the peel ‘n boil routine. Beets will sit in the fridge until spring. I’m trying to take baby steps and at least get the suckers eaten. When spring comes, it’ll be a whole new ball game on the detoxing front.

The article mentions yoga in passing, but it’s worth more airtime. Inversions, any time your legs are higher than your heart, are great for massaging your internal organs and flushing your lymphatic system. And it doesn’t have to be something challenging like headstand, legs-up-the-wall is a great inversion with or without props. The pose is good for what ails you and it’s very rejuvenating too. Here’s to clearing out the old and letting in the new.

A friend mentioned to me that she took some ‘sit and breath’ time in the car for 20 minutes on the way home from work yesterday. She lives in the boonies so 20 minutes is a drop in the bucket, *and* she wasn’t driving so she was able to close her eyes and do some breathing exercises. She felt like a million bucks by the time she got home.

Obviously you’re not going to get into any heavy duty alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodana) when you’re driving, but commuting time is great ‘sit and breath’ time. You’ve usually done the commute so often you could do it with your eyes closed anyways. And if you’re on a bus or train, even better. Some suggestions:

3 part breath - fill up your belly with air, then your ribs, then your chest and do a long slow exhale (in no particular order). When you fill up your ribs, see if you can fill them up all the way around. See if you can feel the ribs expand under your arms and back into the seat. This exercises all the intercostal muscles between your ribs.

Perfectly Peaceful Pause - add some ‘kumbhakas’ to your breath. Start with a brief pause at the end of your inhale before starting the exhale. If you’re feeling adventurous (and please, not lightheaded) add a brief pause at the end of your exhale. The deep breathing will give you plenty of oxygen to take you through the pauses.

Lovingkindness Meditation - First relax your body, as much as you’re safely able to, and become aware of your breath. Then say to yourself “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I live with ease and well being.” Then repeat it for the folks in the cars around you: “May You be peaceful. May You be happy. May You live with ease and well being“. Especially for the guy who cuts you off.

Taking ‘sit and breath’ time during your commute helps you arrive at your destination calmer and gives you a nice division between work and the rest of your life. And just think, you’ll never have to fight off road rage again.

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