Guest post by Melissa Felsenstein
Many of us have noticed an increased level of ambient stress in our lives whether it be personal or environmental. As the holidays approach this stress is coupled by a busy schedule and family obligations. While we may sleep, we rarely take time to fully rest. Our minds are buzzing with to-do lists and we awake not feeling restored, we wake up feeling tired.
Restorative yoga is the perfect antidote to our frantic pace and busy lifestyle and through quiet, fully supported, long floor poses re-trains the nervous system how to relax again. By its very nature, the restorative yoga practice is the antithesis of the “no-pain-no-gain” mentality. We receive the greatest benefits from our practice not through forcing ourself into a pose, but by releasing and surrendering to it. This mentality helps to cultivate acceptance of your body and its inherent limitations. Further, it strengthens your ability to let go of preconceived notions of your body and how you think it should look or feel, both in and out of a pose.
I personally used restorative yoga to reduce severe anxiety during a hard period of my life when a family member fell mentally ill and as a result my body began to suffer the results of accumulated chronic stress: TMJ, migraines, neck tension, digestive issues, insomnia, etc. Restorative yoga is designed to nurture the parasympathetic or "rest and digest" nervous system though long holds, darkness, quiet music, and a self-connection and became my saving grace as my health depleted. Through restorative yoga and sound therapy, my nervous system rebalanced, the ambient stress was reduced, my health restored, and my ability to self-connect and self-nurture deepened which inspired trust and a new ability to surrender to a situation beyond my control.
Restorative Yoga benefits:
OUR WEEKLY RESTORATIVE CLASSES:
Restorative Yoga & Sound Meditation with Melissa
Wednesdays 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Restorative Yoga for Stress Relief with Nicole Matthiesen
Sundays 7:00-8:15 p.m. (no class on 12/31/2017)
How Ayurveda Changed My Life
by Nicole Becker
25 Years ago I was suffering from chronic sinus infections, chronic digestive problems and systemic candida overgrowth. Western medicine overdosed me on antibiotics and didn't have any answers for me so I started learning everything I could about natural alternatives to heal myself. I dove deep into Western herbology, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda (traditional Indian Medicine) for solutions. Long story short I was able to heal myself completely from all my ailments, and one of the most powerfully healing practices that I first incorporated into my life and gave me the best results, was a simple morning ritual from Ayurveda: Hot lemon water first thing in the morning.
You may have come across this health tip out there in the interwebs... first thing in the morning, before any other food or drink, squeeze half a lemon into a cup of piping hot water and drink up! This practice is great to stimulate the digestive fire or "agni" which improves digestion and, most importantly... elimination (if you catch my drift).
Many popular health trends out there these days are actually time-tested Ayurvedic secrets. The whole turmeric craze for anti-inflammation? Ayurveda. The whole coconut oil scene? Ayurveda (restrictions apply!).
Ayurveda means "the science of life". It is the companion science of Yoga, and looks at each person as a unique make up of 3 basic doshas (constitutions) that each have their specific tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, proclivities, etc.
You know how your body might run hot - you love to have the windows open at night but your partner runs cold and can never have enough blankets or wants the heater on all night? This boils down to a difference of doshas. The person who runs hot is going to also have different dietary, lifestyle and personality needs/preferences than the colder person.
Understanding Ayurveda, so many things finally make sense about my body, my mind, my tendencies, what I gravitate to in my life, what I avoid. I feel so much more compassionate towards myself and others. I also feel empowered with simple strategies to know how to balance any imbalances as they inevitably arise. It helps me to avoid getting pulled into the trap of the latest health trends and instead know what would be beneficial to my personal constitution.
You can learn the basics of Ayurveda and find immediate empowerment in our upcoming: Ayurveda Basics Workshop with Eugenia Park on Saturday, October 7, 2017 from 2-5 p.m. Sign up by Oct. 1st and receive a $15 early bird discount! ($45 by Oct. 1, $60 thereafter)
A Surprising way to release tension... the way (other) animals do!
by Nicole Becker
Stress, tension, and even trauma are nothing new to living a life in an mortal body. Scientific researchers of all stripes have long been interested in the mechanisms involved in how creatures respond to, process and recover from stressful experiences.
As we all know, even though a particular stressor and/or stressful situation is over, our body can cling to the associated tension and fear, even mild over-alertness, long after the event. Our body tends to remember and store tension and trauma in order to be able to better predict and prevent threats to it's survival.
Animal researchers have observed (and you may have too in your pets) that shortly after experiencing a threatening situation, like being chased by a predator, that the prey animal will shiver/shudder for a few seconds/minutes. You may have experienced this yourself if you've ever been in shock and found yourself shivering even if you weren't cold. What's happening here is a very interesting primal version of "shake it off". The nervous system produces a "tremor" or "shiver" which is a rapid tense/release of large muscle groups. This is not just a symptom of shock, but a way for the body to release the muscle tension that was evoked during the stress and to reset back to neutral.
This natural recovery process from "fight or flight" mode has been harnessed and is being taught all over the world to everyone from survivors of war to everyday folks with normal everyday stresses. TRE: Tension/Trauma Relieving Exercises take you through a simple series of 6 standing poses similar to yoga postures that engage the large leg muscles. Afterwards, you rest on the floor in a comfortable but specific position that evokes this gentle "tremor" or "shiver" response in the legs (and sometimes other parts of the body). The first time I did it I was so surprised by the feeling - which was pleasant - of this sort of involuntary tremble of my limbs. It feels in a way like a percussive massage but it's happening from the inside out. At one point I was laughing because it was such an odd sensation. Resting afterward, I felt a little teary for no apparent reason other than I could feel the sweet catharsis of having moved some unknown tension out of my body and the subsequent lightness and freedom was poignant.
Join our upcoming 4-WEEK TRE Series on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8:00 p.m.
from January 9-30, 2019 with certified TRE provider, Ashley Brown.
Click here for details
Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word meaning "non violence". This is the same principle of non-violence espoused by great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Ahimsa is the very first principle of Yoga, in a long list of principles called the "Yamas" or ethical considerations that support the full flowering of our human potential. The word himsa means "injustice" or "cruelty". The prefix a- means "without". So the concept of ahimsa is about the absence of cruelty and injustice in thought, word, and deed. But, as TKV Desikachar, son of the great Krishnamacharya points out, in his book, "The Heart of Yoga,"
"Ahimsa is more than just lack of violence. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. We must exercise judgement when thinking about ahimsa. It does not necessarily imply that we should not eat meat or fish or that we should not defend ourselves. It simply means that we must always behave with consideration and attention to others. Ahimsa also means acting in kindness toward ourselves. Should [a] vegetarian find [them self] in a situation where there is only meat to eat, is it better to starve to death than to eat what is there? If we still have something to do in this life, such as family responsibilities, then we should avoid doing anything that may cause us harm or prevent us from carrying out our duties. the answer in this situation is clear - it would show a lack of consideration and arrogance to become stuck on our principles. So ahimsa has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. It could even mean that we must fight if our life is in danger. In every situation we should adopt a considered attitude."
There are many nuances of this topic to consider personally and collectively and on a case by case situational basis. I look to the strategy of Mahatma Gandhi, who's philosophy of satyagraha, "adherence to truth", was studied and adopted by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other pioneers of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.
Gandhi wrote, "Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance”, in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word satyagraha itself or some other equivalent English phrase......I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself." (Wikipedia)
I welcome conversations about this topic with you.
The practice of Trataka (TRAH-tuh-kuh), or candle-gazing is often recommended to alleviate eye strain, but here I will share the use of Trataka as an "energy hygiene" technique.
EXTENDED PRACTICE WITH HEART HEALING MANTRA
You may wish to experiment with repeating this mantra several times before your trataka practice. Click here to listen with SoundCloud
Vishoka Va Jyotishmati
(Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1:36)
(Vee-show, Kuh-vah, Joe-teesh, Mah-Tee)
Vishoka – free of suffering;
Jyotish- Inner light;
Mahti- concentration of inner light
Interpretation: By contemplating and expanding our inner light we become free from suffering. May my inner luminosity is glow bright. (This mantra is a heart opener on the inside and the chanting equivalent of doing a large chest opener like a backbend. )
Credit: Thanks to Missy Felsenstein of Inner Sounds Yoga for sharing this powerful mantra with us during the Harvesting Wholeness series!
Mantra (Man= mind, Tra = thread) The word mantra literally means "thread for the mind". Chanting a mantra repeatedly steadies the mind by giving it a single pointed focus. Each yogic mantra holds a special sacred vibration that is medicinal for all layers of your being.
One of the most popular mantras is "Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha" - a chant to Lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles. This mantra is often chanted before chanting any others. Ganesha (the elephant headed god), represents the strength within to overcome any obstacle in our path. Although we often perceive obstacles as "bad", we can see how obstacles help us grow and get stronger. Therefore, each obstacle is actually a tool to bring us a certain medicine in our life. The frustration of meeting an obstacle and the determination to overcome it is the exact fuel needed for growth.
The practice of repeating a mantra is called "japa". Traditionally one uses a string of 108 beads called a "mala" to count the reptitions. 108 is a sacred number to yogis and chanting a mantra 108 times is said to bring out the full power of the medicine of the mantra. Chanting not only brings you personal healing but also sends much needed positive vibrations out into the world.
After chanting mantra, sit quietly and receive the silence. You may choose to repeat the mantra silently in your mind or you may find it does it all on it’s own - like getting a song stuck in your head. Practice feeling the energy of the mantra but also the silent space within which your experience is occurring.
The above recording was made at Ojas Yoga Center in November 2016. Listen along or join in! Many blessings to you on your path. We are all together as One.
For eons, humans have marked the longest night of the year, Winter Solstice (Dec. 21 this year) as a sacred turning point. The return of the sunlight, bit by bit, is a promise from Nature that a new growing season will return. Nature uses Fall & Winter - the seasons when nights are longer than days - to compost and fertilize. It literally devours the remains of the previous cycle to generate the next cycle. These darkest days are essential to Nature's fertility and to our own psyche/consciousness. It is in the dark that gestation occurs. It is in the dark that we dream. This is a highly potent time to examine our values and how we intend to act in accordance with them as the light (and our energy) returns. What "You" do you want to grow in the coming year??
In our modern electricity- and convenience-filled world we do not remember how stressful this time of year would have been without them. Fields lie fallow, what we have managed to harvest and store in the cellar is what we must survive on until the next growing season. In ancient myths, this is the time of descent into the underworld - a time of great uncertainty and coming face to face with our very mortality. It is no wonder that huge celebrations and rituals of celebrating light occur all over the world in the darkest months, and especially in relation to the return of the sun (birth of the Son of God...God of Sun...) around the winter solstice.
Historically, the unique lessons of the dark months were literal and involuntary and put us in direct relationship with the essentials of survival. Facing uncertainty or fear with courageous vulnerability, getting resourceful with what we have on hand, submitting the to greater cycles of nature, and knowing the light will come again...all this fosters great humility, trust and resilience. It is in times of scarcity that we realize the simple joys of being alive, and having food, shelter, and good company.
These days, as part of a conscious life striving to be in tune with nature, we must voluntarily connect with these lessons. Our holiday rituals and celebrations are a reminder, and there is more. We must take time to get to nourish our depths, to find the riches in the fertile soil of our being. It takes a whole season to do this, and gets deeper and more nuanced each year of our lives.
If you would like to learn how to experience the Nurturing Source in meditation, I am available for one-on-one sessions.
Pluck the squash warm from the vine,
and celebrate the harvest time.
Do not mourn the fallen fruit,
now on the ground to nourish the root.
We've bloomed and we've bled,
we'll commune with the dead,
curl up in the darkest hours.
Compost your fears
through the end of the year,
and awake with a heart full of flowers.
The true healing power of Yoga can only be found by slowing down, learning to feel, and concentrating our attention inward with love.
Yoga is a complete system of movement, breath & meditation. Each part feeds the other.
We use the breath to move the body, we use the body to invite the breath into all the nooks and crannies to wash and nourish every part of us. To do this fully, we must slow down - take our time and feel. Feel our breath. Feel our body. To truly feel we must be empty of agenda. We must be able to meet our body-mind-heart exactly where it is, and with such kindness and curiosity. This slowing down and feeling is the secret to healing.
When we slow down and feel, we are concentrating. We are consciously choosing to focus our attention inside. This is a very different kind of concentration than writing a report for work or concentrating on driving, which are external uses of concentration. In true Yoga we are invited to slow down, feel and concentrate inward with loving attention.
This practice naturally primes our body-mind-heart for meditation. After we have moved and breathed and turned inward and rested, then we sit quietly. We are ready to relax even further inward into the Source of our Love and receive the gifts of the quiet heart.
In the Quiet Heart is the deepest healing. In the Quiet Heart daily thoughts, judgments and worries do not exist. By resting here in meditation as often and as long as we can, we heal our emotional wounds, our fried nervous systems, and our fatigued minds.
There is a catch phrase in the healing world "feeling is healing". If you want healing and healing connections in your life - notice when you could move more slowly instead of rushing and pushing. Tuning inward is the beginning of all the gifts of Yoga and the connection to true Healing.
There is a lot of research coming out these days showing the power of silence to heal our brains and nervous systems. What happens if we find some quiet time but our thoughts are still loud and driving us crazy?
This article was circulating around Facebook a few weeks ago. Very interesting stuff! http://www.lifehack.org/377243/science-says-silence-much-more-important-our-brains-than-thought
The research on silence may dove-tail with the abundant research on how meditation heals the brain and nervous system. Perhaps one of the main healing components of meditation is just the silence itself. Finding some quiet time - no phones, computers, radio, other people - that is a good start!
Now, actually intentionally sitting for meditation is different....
Because when we sit for meditation we realize that although the environment around us is quiet, our thoughts are really very loud! Constantly talking, judging, analyzing, projecting, computing, worrying, creating, dreaming.... There is a famous analogy in the Yogic tradition likening our mind to a team of crazy wild horses pulling a carriage every-which way. Seem familiar?
Is it even possible to quiet the mind? The answer is YES! But not by stopping your thoughts. It is by refocusing your attention on the Heart that deep inner silence is found. Think of this practice as Heartfulness. Heart-fullness instead of Mind-fullness! By focusing on the very deepest most loving Source of our own Beingness - we connect with something deeper, slower, more open and spacious... The deepest healing lies within.
Nicole Becker is the founder and lead teacher at Ojas Yoga Center, El Cerrito and a teacher of Heartfulness Meditation. She teaches regular weekly yoga classes and offers private yoga & meditation instruction. Join her upcoming retreat "Wisdom of the Quiet Heart | Spiritual Yoga Retreat", Sept-15-18. Details here
What are we advancing, anyway?
I often like to point out that putting your leg behind your head doesn't make you a better person. What trait would you prefer in a friend if you had to choose? Flexibility or a loving heart? What makes an advanced yoga practice is not how flexible you are or how fancy your poses. What makes an advanced yoga practice is your ability to let go into your own naturalness.
Drop the Agenda, Ma'am.
Most people practice yoga in order to gain a certain result - get strong, get flexible, get thinner, get peaceful. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with setting goals, the tendency can be to override our more intuitive functions and end up insulting and punishing the body in the pursuit of some goal that our ego/personality set up. An advanced yoga practice is one that is without agenda. Dropping agenda allows you to witness and love yourself exactly as you are. Ironically, when we liberate ourselves from the ceaseless goals, we gain everything. In this place of deep love an acceptance our yoga practice nourishes us rather than depletes us.
Advanced Yoga for EveryOne
Everyone who has a breath can practice yoga. The key is to adapt the postures and practices to the individual, not the individual to the practice. Better to take a simple posture with loving awareness and a complete and natural breath than be sweating bullets and panting your way through a posture that you are not ready for. The advanced yoga student is anyone who can practice simply as a celebration of the body, breath and life, as it is given today.
I bow to my heart, and to my teachers and my teachers' teachers.
Author, Nicole Becker
Yoga Therapist, Retreat Leader, and Heart of Yoga Teacher, Nicole Becker offers yoga and self-care insights and tips.