Thursday, September 4, 2014

France, here I come!

Getting ready to head to France for a month of Yoga + Wine Country + Canal boating on the Canal du Midi. If you are interested in following our progress via pictures, you can like our travel site: Savvy Nomad on Facebook.

Look at the cutest travel itinerary envelopes ever!

Yay! France, here I come!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What my desk looks like while I am in TT500

I know I'm not posting much but it's been a hectic time for me. I am in the Advanced Teacher Training Program (TT500) with Yoga North through November 2014. Plus, before I ever signed up for that, I signed up for Relax & Renew training with Judith Hanson Lasater because last year I enjoyed my iRest Yoga Nidra training with Richard Miller so much that I thought, "Why not do some more training?" Anyway, I am over-run with studying yoga but enjoying it thoroughly. This is what my desk looks like most of the time now:

Mostly, I'm sharing pictures on Facebook here: TT500 on FB. (I think this is a public album so even if you are not on FB you can have a look-see.)
And here is a brief write up of the past 5 months of training:

Our first weekend was in March - a whole weekend of Somatics and Therapeutic Yoga which was lovely! I felt soooo spacious after this training.

Our 2nd long weekend of this nine month training included Kirtan, postural analysis, history of yoga, the mind study, and a deeper look into forward bends and twists.

Our 3rd weekend included anatomy lab, back bends, studying the mind, the Yoga Sutra, ayurveda, prepping for spinal clinic and more. This is good stuff.

Between months 3 and 4, I went to the Minneapolis Yoga Center for my week of Relax & Renew Restorative yoga training.

On our 4th weekend we studied Adaptive Yoga, Ayurveda (even got to eat lunch), the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Agni Sara, Business of Yoga & Code of Ethics, plus we offered a public clinic on SomaYoga for the spine.

During our 5th weekend we headed back to UMD, this time to both study the mind with Bud McClure, and to study the body in the anatomy lab with Terri Ach. We also focused on the hips & pelvis as a big part of our weekend. We developed a Yoga Nidra class and then broke up into dyads to give and received it. For our final bit of Mind Study, we rated our "Confusion Strategies" as most to least like us and then got the news that whatever we picked last is actually where our work is - apparently we are blind to it if we think it is not a problem. Ha ha - so true.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Examining Power, Privilege and Oppression in Yoga Service

My sister recently shared the below article with me. I enjoyed it so much I decided to re-post it here.

Examining Power, Privilege and Oppression in Yoga Service 
~ by Jacoby Ballard

Yoga and service is a big topic in the western yoga world right now. It comes out of a lineage of karma yoga, of seva, that has roots in India. What is implied but less explored within this is that ‘service’ within yoga almost always involves a teacher offering yoga to a group of people that they are not a part of, and that the yoga teacher is in a privileged position in society. Usually these service projects are designed to be taught by a volunteer teacher; the teacher does not receive monetary payment. What the teacher does receive is the profound cultural exchange and awareness of what a community of people very unlike them (in socio-economic factors) goes through in the world, and how that shows up in their mental, emotional, and physical health. Now, just sharing these profound teachings is a gift, and we exist in a capitalist world where yoga teachers need to be paid; thus service projects are largely available to people who rely on other sources of income.

I have attended trainings by some of the leading organizations in yoga service in the US-Off the Mat Into the World, Street Yoga, and the Lineage Project. In these trainings, the participants and facilitators have been overwhelmingly white, able-bodied, middle-class, and straight, and we are talking about teaching yoga to low-income or homeless people of color in prisons, domestic violence shelters, veteran hospitals, queer youth projects, schools, etc. I personally come from a working-class background, and am white, able-bodied, queer, and transgendered. However, there is not a thorough discussion within any of these models about privilege and oppression, which inevitably is part of our experience in teaching yoga to ‘underserved’ populations. Within social justice and healing justice organizations that I am part of, members, staff, and others are regularly given anti-oppression trainings, as a ‘practice’. These trainings are an opportunity to reflect and digest the ways in which oppression and privilege affect all of our communities, and to hear and hold each others’ pain, and also to understand it in a systemic, institutional sense.

For me, as a working class, white, queer, transgendered person, I want to bring yoga back to my own community. I think this is the case for many people of color, queer, and low-income people that attend these service yoga trainings. For us, we are looking to return to our community with the skills of yoga and service, which is very different than offering it up to communities that we are not a part of. So then, the cultural exchange that is expected to be part of the compensation for teaching yoga, is not present. Of course we always have more to learn within our own communities, but the familiarity and the acceptance mean that the dynamic and exchange is different. In most models of service yoga we are expected to do this work for free, yet don’t upper class white women get paid well for teaching to their own communities?

Part of my interest in attending these trainings is that they are among the only organizations within the yoga world that begin to talk about dynamics of power and social justice, both in the world and in the yoga classroom. Given who I am in the world, the concerns within my community, and what yoga has meant to me (as a method of individual and collective liberation), I find conversations about privilege and oppression sorely lacking within yoga. Thus, without our awareness, the social realities of racism, homophobia, sexism, and classism that we are all steeped in roar their heads in the yoga classroom, teacher trainings, yoga ‘community’, and workshops. Because of who is largely in the room, who can afford access, and who feels welcome, these dynamics of power go largely unnoticed.

Being aware of these dynamics of power and actively working on them in my own life (though I am far from finished!), I notice that something ableist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or racist is said by the teacher or by other students responding to the teacher in nearly every yoga class I attend. I have seen a male teacher say something sexually inappropriate to a woman he is adjusting in a heart opener; teachers repeatedly talk about ten fingers and toes or having a straight spine (which not all yogis do, or can!); to describe a pose, a teacher has talked about holding your foot behind your hip so you ‘look like a peg leg’ (referring to a dis/abled person); teachers talk about Indian gods and goddesses but yet know nothing about British colonization and the effect that that had on Ayurveda and Yoga; and many teachers like to make jokes, while we are in poses that are useful in pregnancy, about how men don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant (when men around me in my community are indeed becoming pregnant and have even been on Oprah), and the whole classroom laughs at them (and, at me).

I see this as a lack of awareness by the teacher of their own prejudices and ignorance (which are, indeed, samskaras, the imprint of past experiences and behavior on who you are now, and what you have to work on; perhaps this prejudice and ignorance is a cultural samskara) and hindrances to their loving everyone, which is ultimately a goal of yoga, to see no separation. We cannot bypass the important work of decolonizing our minds from systems of power, privilege, and oppression on the way to loving everyone. The fact that we are racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist is not our fault, and shame and guilt are not helpful paths to tread. But we must take responsibility for the world that our ancestors have created, and continue to transform it into one that celebrates all people, all bodies, all experiences in the world. In order to really love, we need to know how to be an ally to people in oppressed positions, how to work through internalized oppression, and how to ask for allies for ourselves when people have privilege over us. This includes our practice of yoga. As teachers, there are always people in the room, visible or not, who have struggled against oppression their entire lives, and this is a trauma that lives in the body, and so we must know how to hold space for them, and hold them well when we are asking them to open their hearts.

Photo from
I have been teaching Queer and Trans Yoga and Yoga for All Genders for the past 6 years-the first class at my cooperative health center, Third Root Community Health Center, and the second at the NYC LGBT Center. I have also taught Queer and Trans Yoga in Atlanta, Detroit, Denver, Vermont, Oakland, and Philadelphia, and last year taught at a queer youth foster home in my neighborhood. I treasure these classes, and the community built within them, through embodiment, through heart-opening, through holding space for all that we are as individuals and as a community. Part of how I want to see these classes for specific communities is to have a teacher from within their community teach, because the trust and empowerment is incredible. I have seen for myself the ways in which my community brings all of their joy and excitement into the room: through the chatter before class begins or the dates made after class, through the amazing colorful spandex, the queer political t-shirts, and as they bring more friends into the classroom. I also have the honor of holding space for an assault on the train based on someone’s gender presentation, the fear and sadness around holidays as we approach blood family and chosen family, the breakups within a small queer community, and the trauma of homophobia, racism, and transphobia that we sweat, stretch, and exhale out.

Service yoga has a lot of potential to develop this conversation from an embodied and heart-felt space, which is much different than most of the social justice work done around privilege and oppression that tends to be mostly in the mind (though some innovative work is being done around embodiment, somatics, and healing). Feeling the trauma of privilege and oppression in our bodies as well as talking about it is difficult and necessary. It demands our attention if we truly want to love everyone through each word we speak, each time we lay down our mats, blocks, and blankets, each class we teach, each adjustment we give.

Jacoby Ballard has practiced yoga for 14 years and has taught for 12 years. He has been involved in social justice work for 15 years, and is the founder of Third Root Community Health Center in Brooklyn. He received his 200-hour certification from Kashi Ashram in Atlanta, his 500-hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu in Massachussetts. He has received additional training from Street Yoga, the Lineage Project, Off the Mat Into the World, the Interdependence Project, Dinacharya Institute for Ayurveda, and Insight Meditation. Jacoby loves working with students of all bodies, genders, and experiences, and offers his students precise alignment, the lessons of yogic scriptures suited to daily life in the West, and physical challenge with playfulness and compassion. - See more at:

Monday, March 3, 2014

To Sleep or Not to Sleep

 I enjoyed this article in the October issue of Yoga Journal and thought I would share it here:

Sweet Surrender
When you can't sleep, yoga's deeper teachings can help you let go and find rest.
By Hillari Dowdle, sequence by Kelly Golden
meditation HP
It's 3 a.m. Do you know where your peace of mind is?

If you're thinking about it when you'd rather be dreaming, there's a good chance you don't. You're suffering from insomnia, and peace of mind is beyond your grasp—and so, at least for the moment, are all of the mind-body-spirit benefits that sleep confers.

If you've struggled with sleeplessness, you're in good company. Some 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from insomnia, according to the latest count by the Centers for Disease Control, and the prevalence of sleep medication bears them out: Last year, about 60 million prescriptions were written for sleep aids. These medications can have side effects, like any drug, and their effectiveness is questionable at best, but we're willing to stomach them because not sleeping is more harmful than simply feeling lousy the next day. Regular sleep deficits have been associated with high blood pressure, type II diabetes, heart disease, depression, cancer, obesity, and even increased risk of death. It's enough to keep you up at night! I know because I've been there—for like, the last 30 years.

Wakefulness has been knocking on my door since my early teens, usually during times of stress and strain. I always treated it like an unwanted houseguest, greeting it with anxiety and open hostility. I was warlike in my efforts to win the battle. I even brought that attitude to my yoga practice, expecting it to work like a magic weapon to knock me unconscious. That's hardly the sort of peaceful attitude that promotes sleep, which is probably why, in spite of all of the medications, herbal remedies, sleep-hygiene tips, and aromatherapy I tried, I never found a strategy that really worked.

Recently, after three especially difficult sleepless nights, I realized that I couldn't overpower my hyperalert and anxious state, or pound my mind into sleep through force of will. I could push away sleeplessness all I wanted, but here it still would be. I needed to look deeper into yoga's teachings, beyond relaxation practices, and find help facing this crazy insomnia monster instead of running away from it. And so I reached out to teachers and sleep experts who could offer insights, tools, and practices to help me get to the source of my problems, and, hopefully, to find a solution.
Embracing Twilight
My first lesson was about the nature of sleep. Like most Westerners, I tend to think of "awake" and "asleep" as polar opposites, and that you can have one only at the expense of the other. Black and white. Conscious and unconscious. Perhaps this perception explains why so many of us are willing to reach for a sleeping pill. We think our job at night is to black out.

But in fact, this is a relatively new way of thinking about sleep. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, night waking was considered normal, explains Rubin Naiman, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sleep therapist who draws on spiritual teachings from yoga and other traditions in his sleep retreats and audio programs including The Yoga of Sleep. "If you look at all of the documentation on sleep recorded from 1500 to 1830, you find that people typically did wake in the middle of the night—they had a little 'night watch' and used that time to pray, or meditate, or talk quietly, and then they went back to sleep," Naiman says. "Conversely, people also regularly napped in the middle of the day. I think of the yin-yang symbol: There was a little bit of light in the dark, and dark in the light."

So what happened? "The Industrial Revolution changed everything," he explains. "Suddenly, people were working 12- or 14-hour days, and machines were the new model. We started treating our bodies like machines."

That is, as something you could turn on and off with the flick of a switch. Add a couple of hundred years, a lot of electricity, artificial light, and technology, and here we are: overstimulated, overworked, and vastly underslept.

When you're struggling with insomnia, Naiman says, it's important to understand something that the spiritual traditions teach—that waking and sleeping (as well as dreaming) are natural states of consciousness that coexist in the mind at all times. "Though science has been slow to acknowledge it, humans are always to some degree both awake and asleep," he says. "We have the misconception that if we aren't dead to the world, we aren't sleeping. We want to go to battle when we realize we're awake, but it's perfectly normal to have periods of wakefulness at night."

According to Richard Miller, psychologist and noted teacher of yoga nidra, a relaxation technique and meditation practice, it's natural to cycle in and out of sleeping and waking states. Miller explains that the mind skirts the edge of consciousness during sleep, and likewise skirts the edge of sleep—at moments when we space out and lose track of our surroundings—during waking hours. In other words, the states of being asleep and awake are not as black-and-white as you might think. "Our consciousness is coming and going all day and night," he says. When you accept this process, suggests Miller, you're better able to let periods of nighttime wakefulness arise and fall away without resistance.
Enlightened Rest
In fact, says Naiman, sleep is a state of consciousness similar to what yogis seek through contemplative practices: a profound serenity that exists underneath the turmoil of the mind. When you're suffering from insomnia, he says, it helps to know that this state of consciousness is always available to you. Even when you can't sleep, there is a deeper part of you that's in a restful state. "The notion of 'going to sleep' doesn't really make sense," Naiman says. "It's a place of peaceful awareness that we all search for, that's already within us."

As much as we want to let go and access that serene place of rest, something keeps us alert and tense. And that something, says Naiman, is ego. The ego is the part of you that notices and judges that you're awake when you shouldn't be and unleashes all the drama that comes with unwelcome wakefulness. Sleep becomes available, says Naiman, when you stop listening to the ego.

That's a tall order, especially when it's 3 a.m. and you're in thrall to a nattering, chattering brain. This is when, Miller says, it's helpful to get in touch with one of yoga's most powerful teachings: Within the mind exists not only the clamoring ego, but also the calm witness that observes without judgment. That witness part of us remains conscious as the waves of sleep and wakefulness come and go. The witness can watch the ego mind-controlling, freaking out, calming down. If you can stop, take a breath, and step away from your panic about being awake, you can become the witness.

When the hold of the ego-mind feels like a death grip, yoga nidra, often translated as "yogic sleep," can help. Yoga nidra is a practice of gradual relaxation, scanning the body and mind for sensations and emotions, recognizing and releasing those feelings one by one, and slowly dropping into a resting state (see sidebar above for a simple practice). Practiced lying down, it offers a nonthreatening way of stepping back from the mind's chatter and reconnecting with the witness. And by creating that space apart from your ego, you may loosen insomnia's hold.
Wake-up Call
When you can move from worry to witness, suddenly you have a choice. What will you do with this time? In our always-on culture, moments of quiet are rare, but they can serve a purpose. You can use this time as an opportunity to gain some insight into why you can't sleep, suggests Miller. "If your sleep is being interrupted regularly, it may be trying to convey a message," he says. "And it could be physical, psychological, or spiritual in nature. Your body is calling for you to address something that hasn't been addressed during the day."

The physical messages are perhaps the easiest to interpret. If your bladder is full, you can get up and pee. If your back is aching, you can shift positions and make a note to do a back-pain-relieving practice the next day. Psychological and spiritual issues are thornier, especially if you're going out of your way to not deal with them during the day. In that case, insomnia may be a signal that you need to make time to process your feelings and experiences. "So many of us get so busy during the day that we can't or won't deal with the real issues in our lives," says Kelly Golden, a yoga teacher in Northern California who developed the sequence for this story. "As soon as we settle down and the unconscious mind can finally begin to deal with it all, there's so much going on that it rattles the conscious mind awake again."

All this stuff we don't have time, energy, or willingness to grapple with affects us on every level: physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Ultimately, Golden says, it all plays out on an energetic level, and that is where asana can help.

In the yoga tradition, every posture is said to have an effect on the body's system of energies, known as the vayus, or vital forces (sometimes called winds). There are five primary vayus. Apana vayu is the downward-moving force associated with grounding and elimination. Samana vayu moves in a circular pattern through the belly and is thought to regulate digestion and assimilation, both physical and metaphorical. Prana vayu is centered in the chest and heart and is associated with breath and vitality. Udana vayu moves upward from the throat and is associated with speech, expression, and spiritual growth. And vyana vayu circulates around the body, integrating the system.

When working with insomnia, you might be tempted to go straight for static grounding postures that stimulate apana, such as the relaxing Legs-up-the-Wall Pose. But a better approach is to first practice poses that stimulate samana, Golden says. Gentle movement, such as Cat-Cow Series and Dynamic Forward-Fold Sequence, leads the way to deeper release. "You need practices that can help you digest your mental and emotional experiences so that you can get grounded enough to release them," she explains. "With asana, you can let your body lead where you desire the mind to be."

Golden's seven-pose samana-apana series is designed for when you are really struggling with sleep. It can be done when sleep just won't come or when you find yourself awake in the middle of the night. In my experience, it's just enough to begin to digest what's on your mind and ease toward peaceful sleep.

Knowing that I have choices has taken the edge off sleepless nights. Rather than getting caught up in the same old stories, I remind myself that I can choose to engage with anxious thoughts or let them pass. And while I can't will myself to sleep, I can invite a sense of serenity by knowing that there is some part of me that is resting peacefully. I've learned to take a nonviolent approach, both toward sleep and toward my sleepless self. And so I say to my insomnia, and also to my wakefulness: I surrender.
Yoga Practice: Relax and Release
Next time you can't fall asleep, try this sequence by Kelly Golden, a ParaYoga teacher. It is designed to help balance the vayus, or winds, a concept in yoga used to describe the different types of energy that govern physical and mental health. The practice features poses that nurture samana and apana vayus—which respectively help you digest and release what's keeping you awake.

If your thoughts are creating tension in the breath and body, repeat the affirmations offered with each pose.

Try to breathe in a 1:2 pattern. Breathe in for 3 counts and out for 6, or whatever feels natural. As you relax, try extending the breath. If breathing becomes labored, return to an easy pattern. You can stay in an extended state of deep relaxation at the end of the sequence, moving into Savasana and doing yoga nidra. Or get into bed, allowing your breath to return to its natural pattern.
Dynamic Forward-Fold Sequence (Ardha Uttanasana to Uttanasana)
Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Exhale as you fold forward with a long spine, sliding your hands down and around the backs of your legs. With each inhalation, rise up to extend your back, sliding your hands up to the backs of the knees and drawing the chest through the upper arms. On each exhalation, slide the hands down the backs of your knees as you fold forward. After six repetitions, remain folded in Uttanasana, keeping the knees slightly bent to support the lower back. Allow the spine to lengthen and the head to drop easily to the floor. Rest your hands on the ankles or the floor. Hold the forward bend for 10 breaths.
Inhale: I accept
Exhale: I allow

Ragdoll (Ardha Utkatasana), variation
From Tadasana, bend the knees and drop the hips, drawing the sitting bones back and the tailbone slightly down as you fold the upper body forward over the thighs. Let your abdomen rest on your upper thighs. Adjust your body so that you feel stable. Interlace the fingers behind the back, then straighten the elbows and let your head drop toward the floor. Anchor into your feet and feel completely supported by your upper thighs. Hold the pose for 10 breaths.
Inhale: I am aware
Exhale: I anchor
Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Bring your hands to the floor about shoulder-distance apart, fingers facing forward; step your feet back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Keep lifting your hips, moving your shoulders down the back, and lengthening your spine. Once you have the actions of the pose in place, release your efforts. Think of this as a resting pose. Hold the pose for 10 deep breaths.
Inhale: I lengthen
Exhale: I let go

Cat-Cow Series
From Downward-Facing Dog Pose, lower your knees to come onto all fours with wrists beneath the shoulders and knees beneath the hips. To start the series, inhale and extend the spine, gently drawing the chest through the upper arms and the tailbone back, creating the tiniest of backbends. Then, begin to exhale as you round the spine. Complete the exhalation as you lower into an easy Balasana (Child's Pose) with the hips on the heels and the belly on the thighs. Let the exhalation stretch twice as long as the inhalation. Then repeat: As you inhale, rise back up and again extend the spine, moving fluidly between the three phases of the pose. Repeat 10 times.
Inhale: I watch
Exhale:I witness

Hypnotic Sphinx (Sphinx Pose), variation
Lie down on your belly with your legs extended. Place the elbows to the sides of the chest, forearms parallel to one another. Gently lift the chest, dropping the weight into the elbows. Allow the neck and head to soften. As you inhale, slowly turn the face and chin toward the right shoulder, moving as if you were pouring sand from the center of the brain into the left side of the skull; as you exhale, turn the chin and face back to center. Repeat this movement on the other side. Allow the movement to be intentionally slow and soft, taking time to explore the tender spaces of the neck and base of the skull. Repeat 5 times on each side.
Inhale: I relax
Exhale:I release

Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottonasana)
Come to a seated position and extend the legs, keeping them hip-distance apart and parallel to one another. Ground the sitting bones and sit straight and tall. As you inhale, reach the arms overhead; as you exhale lengthen the spine and fold forward from the hips. Settle the arms on the floor by your sides or take hold of the toes. Relax. With each inhalation invite length into your spine, and with each exhalation release into the fold. Hold for 10 breaths.
Inhale: I lengthen
Exhale:I let go
Legs-up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Sit with one side of your body next to a wall, with your hips as close to the wall as possible and a cushion nearby. Roll onto your back so that your hips come onto the cushion and your legs rotate directly over the hips and up the wall. The feet can be together or hip-distance apart, whichever feels more comfortable to you. Keep your arms by your sides, palms turned up; relax your arms and shoulders. Feel the leg bones anchoring into the hip sockets as you release effort. Feel the spine lengthening and resting on the surface beneath you.
Finish With Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama)
Release the 1:2 breath and the affirmation, and instead focus on Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Breath): Inhale first into the belly, then the rib cage, then the collarbones, and then exhale from the collarbones, then the rib cage, then the belly. Do this for 10 to 20 breaths, then allow all effort to fade way. Feel the core of the body release as the body and the mind enter into deep relaxation and rest.
Cultivate Consciousness
When insomnia seems insurmountable, yoga nidra is a way to cultivate much-needed deep rest for the body. "Yoga nidra means 'to sleep on the cloud of yoga,'" says ParaYoga creator Rod Stryker. "When we practice yoga nidra we step into the rhythm of deep sleep—a kind of rest that is even more healing and reparative than ordinary sleep because there is an element of effortless consciousness abiding there."

Stryker suggests this simple version of yoga nidra, called 61 Points Yoga Nidra, which can be done in bed or on a yoga mat with a folded blanket under your head. Use it as a precursor to sleep, as a practice during the day, or as a practice on nights when sleep won't come.

If your goal is to fall asleep, Stryker recommends beginning with 5 minutes of 1:2 breathing (breathe gently, making your exhale twice as long as your inhale), then another 5 to 10 minutes writing in a journal. Then turn out the light, get comfortable, and do the following practice. Let your awareness rest on each point for 5 to 10 seconds—no longer—before moving on to the next one. If you have finished the entire cycle and are still awake, start over from the beginning and do it again.

Start: Bring your awareness to the center of your forehead, then move it to the center of your throat.
Right Arm: Move awareness to the right shoulder, down to the elbow, wrist, tip of thumb, tip of index finger, tip of middle finger, tip of ring finger, tip of little finger, back to wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Return awareness to the throat.
Left Arm: Now move awareness to the left shoulder, down to the elbow, wrist, tip of thumb, tip of index finger, tip of middle finger, tip of ring finger, tip of little finger, back to wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Return awareness to the throat.
Chest and Torso: Move awareness to the heart center between the breasts, right breast, space between the breasts, left breast, space between the breasts, to the navel, and down to the pubic bone.
Right Leg: Now move your awareness to the right hip, knee, ankle, tip of the big toe, tip of the second toe, tip of the middle toe, tip of the fourth toe, tip of the little toe, back to ankle, knee, and hip. Return to the pubic bone.
Left Leg: Move your awareness to the left hip, knee, ankle, tip of the big toe, tip of the second toe, tip of the middle toe, tip of the fourth toe, tip of the little toe, back to ankle, knee, and hip. Return to the pubic bone.
Finish: Bring awareness to the navel, space between the breasts, throat, and to the center of the forehead.
Set Yourself Up for Sleep Success
Practice smart strategies to improve your chances of getting to sleep and staying asleep, says Woodson Merrell, MD, executive director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. And if insomnia persists, be sure to look into physical problems that might impair sleep quality. Hormone imbalances, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea are common culprits.

Develop a Routine: Choose a relaxing activity and do it every night. Listening to soothing music, reading a book, taking a bath, meditating, and doing yoga are all good choices.
Go Easy on Caffeine and Alcohol: Even one morning cup of coffee can be a problem for some people, Merrell says. Alcohol can cause nighttime wakefulness, so limit your consumption to one drink a day, and don't have it after 7 p.m.
Keep a To-Do List: Keep a nighttime journal to write down all of your concerns about the things you have to take care of tomorrow. Knowing you don't have to keep everything in your head will help you relax.
Eat Light: Carbs are easier on the digestion, whereas a dinner that's heavy on protein can keep the digestion working overtime just when you're trying to rest.
Power Down at Least an Hour Before Bed: Any device with a screen (TVs, computers, phones, iPads) emits blue-spectrum light that can inhibit the brain's production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
If You Get Up, Don't Get Worked Up: If you're wide awake, get out of bed and do some restful activity. If you feel sleepy later, and have time, return to bed. If not, move into your day with a calm commitment to try again the coming night.
Exercise Early: Vigorous exercise in the morning can help you sleep well at night. Aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity at least five days a week.

~ Article re-posted from Yoga Journal October 2013 issue.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Family Restorative Yoga

I found a lovely blog which features family restorative poses along with lots of other good info. I wanted to feature some of the pics here. The below are my favs from the blog Family Restorative Yoga...

From the post How I beat my addiction to adrenaline.

Restorative Stretch supported with pillows

This is as easy as it looks. Stack pillows higher for tighter hamstrings and lower for more flexible and open legs.  Rest head on top of hands to allow space for breathing (as shown), or turn head to one side.

From the post Running on Empty

"Restorative Bridge Pose" - Septhu Bandasana

This brings the tank up to half full.  We stacked pillows under our tushies, bent our knees, and let our upper bodies relax on the floor.

From the post Your Moments of Zen

Yaara's Improvised Legs up the Wall pose...up a comfy chair (Viparitta Korani

From the post Life Pie

(Supported) Supta Badha Konasana

In this pose, we make our legs into a diamond pose.  You may find that it is easy to do this pose without adding support under the knees, however, I encourage you to add the support because it feels really nice to have your knees "held" in this pose.  We put our heads next to each other so we can listen to each other breathing.  This is a very special action - most likely there aren't many other people in your life besides your family whose breath you listen to.

Contributing author, Ellie Klein says: I'm so happy to be able to contribute to  You can find out more about me by reading my blog at  My blog teaches families how to do restorative yoga together!  I am a 200-hour certified Iyengar-style yoga teacher with six years of studio and university teaching experience. In 2012, I completed an extra certification in restorative yoga and have been teaching in this capacity, as well. The focus of my yoga educating centers on families, calm, and interpersonal health. I am available for consultation and yoga education (individuals and groups) in the bay area. To contact me, email

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Winter Yin Time

I've been feeling a bit out of sorts (as I know many of us do in the winter and around the holidays). All I want to do is snuggle up in my blankets and read, read, read. Or maybe watch some movies. But for some reason, I feel like this "introversion thing" is somehow wrong so I schedule up my time by signing up for classes, teaching more, and having or going to parties. None of these things are wrong, but I am definitely forcing myself to get out of the house.

Thankfully, I came across this article in Yoga Journal which makes me feel a little better about my hibernation tendencies. Maybe it is ok to slow down after all. Enjoy.

Winter Wonder Yin

An acupuncturist explains why the final month of the year, an inherently yin season, is not the time to indulge in yang activities like shopping, partying, and staying up late. ~ By Laurel Kallenbach

The final few months of the year often find us in a frantic state of shopping, decorating, traveling, and other high-energy activity. Yet instead of having fun, we often end up feeling ill, anxious, or depressed. The reason, according to Taoist philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine, is that the action-packed schedules we keep at this time of year fall out of sync with the earth's natural cycles.

"We naturally have less energy to burn during the winter," explains acupuncturist Carolyn Cohen, L.Ac., who teaches at Yo San University, a college of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Santa Monica, California. "So when we engage in behaviors more appropriate for summer—staying up late and dashing around town—it's no wonder that the forced cheer of the holiday season can wear a bit thin."

Taoist philosophy conceptualizes universal balance in terms of yin and yang, complementary forces that govern the universe. Yin characteristics are cool, wet, slow, feminine, and quiet, whereas yang is the opposite: warm, dry, fast, masculine, extroverted. Winter, the yin season, is a time for storing and conserving energy in the way a bear retains fat by hibernating, or a farmer stores food for the cold months ahead.

In agrarian cultures, people spend the shortest, darkest days indoors by the fire, eating warm, slow-cooked, nourishing food and sharing stories with their families. The incongruity between winter's restful, introspective, yin nature and the frenetic way many Americans spend their holidays can contribute to seasonal affective disorder, depression, exhaustion, and other manifestations of what is known in TCM as shen (or spiritual) disharmony.

"Winter solstice, just three or four days before Christmas, is the darkest, most yin day of the year," says Cohen. "Instead of turning inward, we're celebrating with excess and yang activity. This artificiality creates stress, and many people dread the season as a result."

To stay balanced during winter, suggests Cohen, conserve your yang energy. Restorative yoga, tai chi, qigong, and walking are best suited for yin season, as they safeguard your energy reserves. "Think of these practices as an investment of your 'energy paycheck,'" says Cohen. "Don't use up what little winter energy you have with overactivity and added stress."

Eating cooked, spicy yang foods provides another good way to replenish energy. Prepare yang-strengthening soups, slow-simmered stews, beans, roasted root vegetables, and warm drinks. Add yang spices such as garlic, ginger, black pepper, cloves, and basil to increase the warming effect. Minimize your intake of yin foods such as raw vegetables, salad greens, and cold drinks.

If you find quiet, more modest ways to celebrate the holidays, you'll stay in tune with the season and feel less need to release tension by overeating or rampant spending. You'll also have more time and energy to connect with close friends and family. If you're out of sync with the mall mobs with maxed-out credit cards, chances are you'll find yourself in step with the quiet, nurturing yin nature of winter.

Article found here:

And to help us on our inward journey, a link to free guided meditations with Tara Brach:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yoga Nidra for Anxiety

I came across this Yoga Journal article about Yoga Nidra and thought it would be worth sharing. Enjoy!

Reflections of Peace

A proven antidote to anxiety and restlessness, the ancient practice of yoga nidra has been adopted by veterans, recovering addicts, and run-of-the-mill stressed out people.

By Katherine Griffin, yoga nidra meditation by Richard Miller.

One cool evening in a high-ceilinged dining hall in Novato, California, an unlikely yoga class is getting under way. Fourteen men wearing blue jeans, work boots or running shoes roll out yoga mats and get settled on sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows.

The instructor, Kelly Boys, smiles as she surveys her students, residents at Henry Ohlhoff North, a substance abuse recovery center. She asks if anyone wants to discuss their experiences in the previous week's session. A trim 52-year-old named Charles volunteers that he struggles with feelings of loneliness.

"How does your body feel when it hits you?" Boys asks. "Tense," Charles says. "And where do you feel the tension?" she asks. "In my shoulders," he says.

"Just ask it, 'What do you need? What do you want?'" Boys says. "We're just bringing curiosity to it. When you really meet it, it does drop away." Charles nods, satisfied for now.

As the men settle into relaxed positions, Boys begins to talk them through a detailed tour of their own bodies on this day and at this moment—the first step in the practice of yoga nidra. Gradually the room quiets, until the only sounds are the hum of the ventilation system and Boys' voice: "Can you feel the inside of your mouth? Now bring your attention to your left ear. Feel the inside of your left ear. Feel your right ear. Can you feel both ears simultaneously?" Around the room, faces relax, jaws soften, and soon snores start to rumble as the men drop deeper into relaxation.
Profound Rest
Yoga nidra is an ancient but little-known yogic practice that's becoming increasingly popular as both a form of meditation and a mind-body therapy. It is a systematic form of guided relaxation that typically is done for 35 to 40 minutes at a time.

Practitioners say that it often brings immediate physical benefits, such as reduced stress and better sleep, and that it has the potential to heal psychological wounds. As a meditation practice, it can engender a profound sense of joy and well-being.

"In yoga nidra, we restore our body, senses, and mind to their natural function and awaken a seventh sense that allows us to feel no separation, that only sees wholeness, tranquility, and well-being," says Richard Miller, a San Francisco Bay Area yoga teacher and clinical psychologist who is at the forefront of the movement to teach yoga nidra and to bring it to a wider audience.

While many prominent teachers offer classes, CDs, and books on yoga nidra, Miller is responsible for bringing the practice to a remarkable variety of nontraditional settings. He's helped introduce it on military bases and in veterans' clinics, homeless shelters, Montessori schools, Head Start programs, hospitals, hospices, chemical dependency centers, and jails. What's more, thanks to Miller, it's beginning to get serious scientific attention. Researchers are examining the practice's potential to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; addicts struggling to get clean; people with depression, cancer, and MS; health care workers; and married couples coping with stress and insomnia.

More than 40 years ago, in 1970, Miller attended his first yoga class at the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco. "At the end of that class, they taught a modified yoga nidra—deep Savasana," he says. "I had the most profound experience; there was this sense of my inter-relatedness with the entire universe. And a vow arose in me to really investigate this practice."

Over years of studying and teaching yoga nidra, Miller has developed his own approach, finding ways to make the practice accessible to a broad range of people, even those with little or no education in yoga. In 2005, he published a book, Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing, and he's released several audio guides as well. He currently leads the nonprofit Integrative Restoration Institute, an organization dedicated to the research, teaching, and practice of yoga nidra and yoga philosophy.

"Most people are trying to change themselves," Miller says. "Yoga nidra asks them to welcome themselves. That moment of true welcoming is where the profound transformation takes place."
Simple Steps
It's a deceptively simple practice. Because yoga nidra is most often taught lying down—initially guided by a teacher—it's appealing to people who might feel intimidated by yoga postures or traditional seated meditation. A short version of yoga nidra can be introduced and practiced in less than 10 minutes. Yet its various elements, taken together and practiced regularly, make up a sophisticated set of mind-body tools that can help practitioners navigate some of life's harshest moments. Yoga nidra can also be practiced as an accessible form of meditation for those seeking everyday well-being.

In a typical yoga nidra session, a teacher guides practitioners through several stages. You start by developing an intention for your life and for the practice. Then you learn to focus your awareness on your breath, bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Throughout, you are encouraged to tap into an underlying sense of peace that is always present and to cultivate "witness consciousness," observing and welcoming whatever is present without getting caught up in it.

"Yoga nidra allows us to reach the most profound level of relaxation possible," says Rod Stryker, the founder of Para-Yoga, who has been teaching yoga nidra since the mid-1990s and who writes about it in his book, The Four Desires. "It opens a doorway to a place where we can see ourselves and our lives in the most positive light."

Unlike other forms of meditation, in which you focus on a mantra or on your breath, yoga nidra asks you simply to let go. "The practice forces us to engage the muscle of surrender," Stryker says.
Relief for the Restless
The path to bringing yoga nidra to the attention of a wider audience led, oddly enough, through the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a military treatment facility based, at the time, in Washington, DC. In 2004, Christine Goertz, an academic researcher at the Samueli Institute, a nonprofit research institute, teamed up with Robin Carnes, a yoga teacher who had taught yoga nidra as part of a cardiac care program at Walter Reed. Carnes had learned yoga nidra from Stryker and from Miller's book.

She and Goertz used Miller's approach as the basis for a pilot study investigating whether the practice could help soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The results of that initial small study, conducted with active-duty service members, suggested that yoga nidra may be helpful for managing PTSD in veterans. (Along the way, someone at Walter Reed suggested renaming the practice to something more accessible, and Miller coined "iRest," short for "Integrative Restoration.") As a follow-up, a randomized, controlled trial involving 150 participants was conducted over 18 months at the Veterans Affairs (VA) facility in Miami from 2009 to 2010. And another study is beginning this winter at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Chicago.

On the basis of the pilot study results, the military is now offering Miller's iRest yoga nidra practice to wounded warriors at Walter Reed; Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas; Camp Lejeune, a large Marine Corps base in North Carolina; and VA facilities in Miami, Chicago, and Washington, DC. In these ongoing classes, soldiers have reported that some of their most troubling PTSD symptoms, including hyperalertness, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, have diminished.

Tools like yoga nidra can be crucial resources for soldiers adjusting to life after war, says Mona Bingham, a retired colonel who's researching the practice at Brooke Army Medical Center. "A lot of soldiers are coming back [from combat] with physical, psychological, and moral wounds," she says. "It's not something we can just give them a medication for." She's studying iRest's effect on military couples coping with the stress that often arises after a deployment ends.

Cheryl LeClair teaches the iRest practice to marines with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries at Camp Lejeune. "Most of the guys don't sleep," she says. "Some have told me they take two Ambien a night, and they still can't sleep. But many of them fall sleep in the very first iRest session. To see them relax and let go is just amazing."

Like the marines in LeClair's classes, new practitioners often go to sleep during their first few yoga nidra sessions. That's not surprising, says Stryker, since these days many people are sleep deprived. Yoga nidra literally means "yogic sleep," but that is a bit of a misnomer. It's not a special kind of sleep, but a state between sleeping and waking. With more experience, Stryker says, practitioners can experience deep rest while maintaining what he calls "just a trace of awareness."

For LeClair, whose husband returned from Iraq in 2003 with a brain injury, PTSD, and a crushed vertebra in his neck, yoga nidra has become an essential part of getting through what are often very trying days. (She handles the family finances and much of the responsibility for raising a nine-year-old grandson.) She first experienced the practice at a weekend workshop. "After I woke up, I said, 'Whatever that is, I want more,' " she says. Now, when she gets overwhelmed, she recalls the lessons of yoga nidra: "If you can step back and witness the thoughts without reaction, it gives you some space. You learn to have equanimity."
Emotional Healing
The roots of yoga nidra are thought to go back thousands of years. When Miller adapted the teachings to make them more accessible to Westerners, he wanted to address emotional wellness. "The Eastern yoga principles took it for granted that you were at a certain state of health and well-being," he says. "What I saw was that this was not true of most students. So I added the element of the Inner Resource."

Early on in Miller's yoga nidra instruction, as you begin to relax, you are asked to conjure up your own personal Inner Resource, a vision of and feeling about a place where you feel safe and secure. If intense emotions surface during yoga nidra—or, for that matter, at any time—you can return to your Inner Resource to take a break.

Charles, one of the men at Henry Ohlhoff North, turns to the practice often. A former executive chef, he retired after a back injury left him in constant pain. He became addicted to alcohol and painkillers and, after three arrests on drug charges, chose rehab instead of jail.

Yoga nidra has helped him find his way back to a part of himself untouched by addiction and chronic pain. His Inner Resource is the bakery his parents ran. "I go back to my childhood," he says, "doing chores in my parents' bakery. I think about my dad and how good it felt to have his arms around me."
Earlier this year, when Charles was granted his first overnight pass two months into his six-month rehabilitation stay, a friend surprised him with a birthday party that included alcohol. Charles started to panic.

"I went out to my car, put my head back on the headrest, and went into [the practice]," he says. "My breathing came down, and I could focus better." After about half an hour, he chose to leave the party and return to the rehab center.

Early research supports the idea that yoga nidra can help people like Charles who are in recovery from addiction. In a study of 93 people at a chemical dependency treatment center, Leslie Temme, a professor in the social work department of Western Carolina University, found that participants who practiced yoga nidra had fewer negative moods and a reduced risk of relapsing into substance abuse.
With its emphasis on self-awareness, yoga nidra seems to help recovering addicts feel more comfortable in their own skin, cope better with difficult emotions, and make better choices, Temme says. What's more, she adds, "The clients loved it. They were lining up at the door to get to it."
Inner Discoveries
If you've ever tried to sit in meditation for 30 minutes, you know that you don't need to be recovering from trauma to be uncomfortable in your own mind. As a meditation technique, yoga nidra offers a gentle approach, starting with body awareness, then working compassionately with thoughts and emotions as they arise, and gradually leading the meditator to access a greater field of awareness. In fact, in some of the oldest written references to the term yoga nidra, it is synonymous with samadhi, or union, the ultimate goal of the eightfold path.

This aspect of yoga nidra is perhaps the most difficult to put into words, but, for Miller, it's the core of the practice. Learning to observe and welcome all of the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise in deep rest can lead a person to become less identified with the individual self—what Miller calls the "I-thought." Through this experience, he says, it's possible to lose the sense that one is separate from others and to tap into an unshakable sense of interconnectedness to all of life.

And when that happens, Miller says, "There's a deep pool of well-being. It's what I discovered in that first yoga nidra session in 1970. That's what I try to share."

Explore the 10 Steps of Yoga Nidra ~ by Richard Miller

Getting Started: Set up your practice space by placing a bolster lengthwise on your mat and slipping a block under the top end, so that the bolster slants gently. Lie down with your sitting bones on the mat and with the bolster supporting you from the low back to the head. Place a folded blanket under your head for a pillow. Notice and welcome sounds, smells, and taste as well as color and light. Release excess tension throughout your body and feel a sense of relaxation spreading throughout your entire body and mind.

Listen: To be guided into yoga nidra by Richard Miller, listen to the audio at

1. Connect to Your Heartfelt Desire. Bring to mind your heart's deepest desire—something that you want more than anything else in life. Perhaps it is a desire for health, well-being, or awakening. Feel this heartfelt desire with your entire body while imagining and experiencing it in this moment as if it were true.

2. Set an Intention. Reflect on your intention for your practice today. It might be to relax and rest, or to inquire into a particular sensation, emotion, or belief. Whatever your intention, welcome and affirm it with your entire body and mind.

3. Find Your Inner Resource. Bring attention to your Inner Resource, a safe haven within your body where you experience feelings of security, well-being, and calm. You may imagine a place, person, or experience that helps you feel secure and at ease and that helps you feel within your body the sense of well-being. Re-experience your Inner Resource at any time during your practice or in daily life when you feel overwhelmed by an emotion, thought, or life circumstance and wish to feel secure and at ease.

4. Scan Your Body. Gradually move your awareness through your body. Sense your jaw, mouth, ears, nose, and eyes. Sense your forehead, scalp, neck, and the inside of your throat. Scan your attention through your left arm and left palm, your right arm and right palm, and then both arms and hands simultaneously. Sense your torso, pelvis, and sacrum. Experience sensation in your left hip, leg, and foot, and then in your right hip, leg, and foot. Sense your entire body as a field of radiant sensation.

5. Become Aware of Your Breath. Sense the body breathing by itself. Observe the natural flow of air in the nostrils, throat, and rib cage as well as the rise and fall of the abdomen with each breath. Feel each breath as flowing energy coursing throughout your entire body.

6. Welcome Your Feelings. Without judging or trying to change anything, welcome the sensations (such as heaviness, tension, or warmth) and emotions (such as sadness, anger, or worry) that are present in your body and mind. Also notice opposite sensations and emotions: If you feel worry, call up feelings of serenity; if you feel tense, experience ease. Sense each feeling and its opposite within your body.

7. Witness Your Thoughts. Notice and welcome the thoughts, memories, and images that are present in your mind. Observe your thoughts without judging them or trying to change them. As you come upon beliefs that you hold about yourself, also bring to mind and experience their opposites, welcoming your experience just as it is.

8. Experience Joy. Welcome sensations of joy, well-being, or bliss emanating from your heart or belly and spreading throughout your body and into the space around you. With every exhalation, experience sensations of warmth, joy, and well-being radiating throughout your body.

9. Observe Your Self. Be aware of your sense of "I-ness," or personality. Notice this sense of identity when you say "I'm hungry," "I'm angry," or "I'm happy." Then, experience yourself as an observing witness or Awareness that is cognizant of these feelings. Set aside thinking and dissolve into Awareness, awake and conscious of the self.

10. Reflect on Your Practice. As you complete your practice, reflect on the journey you've just taken. Affirm how the feeling of pure Being, or pure Awareness, is always present as a deep, unchanging peace that underlies every changing circumstance. Imagine integrating that feeling into your everyday life, in both pleasant and difficult moments, and always reconnecting to that sense of equanimity.

To Finish: At your own pace, transition back to your waking life, reorienting to your surroundings. Come back slowly, and pause for a moment to feel grateful for taking this time for yourself.

This was published in Yoga Journal in November 2011.