Finding Peace among the Road Detours...

I love summertime - the lush green trees and colorful flowers, juicy homegrown tomatoes and fresh local sweetcorn, the feeling of warm sun and the caress of a breeze on bare skin, the sounds of birds, babbling brooks, gentle rain and even summer storms - ahhh...

Then, in rushes the pounding jackhammers, buzzing saws, roaring and beeping trucks interrupting my peace.  Many roadways are blocked, detours are delaying and frustrating me, and I am forced to close my windows from the beautiful day to avoid the dust storm... ugh!   I feel my blood pressure rise and realize I am angry at these people who are just doing their jobs, trying to improve our community.  Anyone relate?

I'll admit, sometimes it's hard to find my zen amid the chaos and frustrations, when I arrive later than planned and wonder how I can teach yoga from this frazzled state?   Coming back to center is part of the practice - again and again... 

Some days, it's a student who points out her gratitude for a beautiful day who gently shifts my perspective, or witnessing the care and helpfulness as everyone sets up their space in our welcoming room that turns my focus.  Then we connect with our mat, the earth, our breath, our bodies - in no time, I am transformed.  I find my peace in this stressful world once more.  I remember my gratitude for the countless gifts I am blessed with each day.  I leave class refreshed and more prepared to face life's detours, frustrations and challenges.

The ancient teachings of the Yoga Sutras invite us to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and I've had many opportunities to practice this summer.  Bringing my awareness again and again back to the sounds of the birds and fountains, back to the gifts of a smile and a kind word, back to the miracle of each breath, brings me back to peace in spite of the challenges.  It's not easy, but we practice.

Yoga is a practice that isn't meant to stay on the mat.  So we practice over and over coming back to our center.  Eventually we become better at choosing what we focus on, and the simple practice of watching the breath, feeling our connection to the earth, our bodies and to each other, releasing the tension in our jaw and shoulders... brings us to a more peaceful place - even amid the detours!

I wish you peace on life's detours!  Namaste!

Invite Ease with the Sun Breath

The Sun Breath is a great way to bring more ease into your day simply by linking breath and movement.  This easy practice can be done anytime, anywhere - and we don't even need a mat or yoga clothes!   Try this for 5-7 minutes a day, and you will begin to experience a delightful sense of ease and intimacy with body, mind and spirit through the breath. 

Enjoy this brief video which demonstrates three rounds of sun breath with a beautiful ocean sunset back drop.  Breathe slowly through the nose, using the throat as a valve to keep it long, smooth and easy.  Inhale as you lift and open, and exhale as you fold - take the whole breath to make each movement.  Make it feel wonderful - bend your knees as you fold if hamstrings are tight, or reduce the arm movement if needed to keep ease in the neck and shoulders. 

Repeat as many times as you desire...  This practice can stand alone or flow into your favorite yoga poses. Experience more ease today and everyday!

Breathing for Energy

When our energy is low and getting on our mats feels like more than we can manage, we can breathe.  Yogic breathing, pranayama, is a great way to nurture our life force energy (prana).  Directing the breath in different ways can either calm or energize the nervous system (see Sept. 12, 2012 blog for calming breath practices).  During times when energy is low, the following breath practices can be helpful.

Ocean Sounding Breath (Ujjayi – Victorious Breath)

This breath is both calming and energizing.  While it is the same breath used in an asana practice (yoga postures), it can also be done lying down or seated.  Begin by inhaling through the nose with a slight constriction in your throat.  You will hear a sound similar to the waves of the ocean as the air crosses the back of the throat.  Maintain this sound and sensation on the exhale, as if you are fogging up a mirror or whispering.  Breathe long and slow allowing the belly to expand on the inhale and empty completely on the exhale.  This conscious extension of the breath is calming to the nervous system while creating a state of mental alertness.

Bellows Breath (Bhastrika)*

Do this practice seated, with a tall spine.  Start with hands in fists near your shoulders, palms facing forward.  As you inhale deeply through the nose, lift your arms over head with force and open your hands, spreading your fingers wide (modify with bent elbows or taking arms forward and back if there are shoulder issues).  On the exhale, take the hands back to the starting position as you force the air out of the nostrils.  Continue this action with approximately one breath per second, 5-20 times (start with 5 as you are learning and progress as comfortable).  Then bring the thumbs inside your fists and press them onto your thighs, retaining the inhale for a few moments and releasing the breath slowly.  Relax and feel the effects in your hands, arms, shoulders and throughout your body.  You can repeat the practice 1-2 more rounds if desired.

*Use caution with this practice if you have untreated high blood pressure.  This will temporarily elevate BP, but after completion, BP is typically lower than the original resting rate.  If you feel dizzy or agitated after practice, only do one round.

Breath of Joy**

This practice will wake you up and help relieve tension in the body, while inviting a sense of clarity and a balance between energy and peace. 

Stand with feet parallel and shoulder width apart, with knees slightly bent.  Inhale one-third breath and lift arms to shoulder level in front of your body, thumbs or palms up.  Continue inhaling to two-thirds breath and swing arms out to sides at shoulder level.  Inhale the final third of the same breath and bring arms overhead, palms facing each other.  Exhale completely with the mouth open, bending the knees deeper (chair pose) and swinging the arms down and behind you while keeping the head above the shoulders.  Repeat 5-10 times without straining.  Then rest and feel the sensations in your face, arms, hands, fingers and chest.

**This practice is not recommended if you have untreated high blood pressure, or if there is head or eye injury.  If you feel light-headed, stop and breathe naturally.

Stay tuned for more tips that can help regulate our mood and body systems.  Visit Nurture Yoga for classes that incorporate these healing practices.

Veterans Day Gratitude

Thinking today of those who have sacrificed for our freedom...  We salute all of our veterans!  

Nurture Yoga always offers veterans their first three yoga classes FREE.  This week, we are including a FREE iRest workshop on Nov. 16, 1-2:30.  iRest is a restful practice that leads to healing and well-being. It provides tools to relax deeply, release stress, and increase resiliency. This Sunday's iRest workshop is being lead by Joanne Morrissey, a US veteran and yoga teacher, who is currently offering classes at the VA.  Visit www.irest.us for more information on the 30 years of evidence-based research associated with this practice and its use with the military.

To attend this Veterans Day iRest for FREE on Nov. 16, 1-2:30 pm, just register with the free option at https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/admhome?studioid=33839 and bring your military ID to class.  Space is limited and pre-registration is required (and a minimum of 5 participants by noon Nov. 15).  

Nurture is also collecting new and gently used coats and blankets all month for homeless veterans.  Bring your donations to Nurture and receive $5 off your next pass!   We appreciate your support and we appreciate our veterans!

Three breaths of gratitude...

What we think about grows - and we are actually programmed to notice the negative...  This survival mechanism helped our ancestors stay alive, and has hence shaped the evolution of our brain and nervous system.

BUT, we have the ability to choose what we focus on, and gratitude is a powerful way to help increase our peace, joy, and resiliency - and we can actually re-program our brain through self-directed neuroplasticity.  When we hold a positive thought in our minds and stay with this experience for at least 10 seconds, we create lasting changes in our neural structure according to Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson, PhD.

Try stopping for 3 breaths periodically today to soak in the feeling of sun on your face, marvel at the colors of those persistent leaves that still cling to their branches, savor the taste of your meal, or relish the presence of an animal, child or loved one.

As we absorb these positive experiences and practice gratitude, we are not only living in the present and enjoying it more - we are also re-shaping our brains to look for the good next time! 

Sunrise Yoga

Join us this Saturday morning for Sunrise Yoga, and start your weekend off the right way!

Greet the morning sun this summer with an outdoor Sunrise Yoga workshop from 6-7:45AM!  On Saturday, July 12, 2014, join Nurture Yoga teacher Lindsey Marlin for this all-levels workshop that involves sun salutations and other postures that open the chakras to start the day!  We will take our mats outside into the morning light to practice on the beautiful grounds surrounding the Nurture Yoga building.  If you’ve ever wanted to breathe with the rhythms of nature in the warmth of the sun, this workshop is definitely for you! The workshop will close with Reiki healing energy being given during savasana, and then light refreshments and conversation will be served afterwards, so you’ll leave energized on all levels!  *Just in case, a rain date will be scheduled for the next day, Sunday, July 13, 2014.*

Register today by clicking here!

Celebrate Freedom

This 4th of July as we celebrate our country’s freedom, I am reminded of the freedom we are offered through our yoga practice.  This not only refers to freedom from tightness in the body or restrictions of the mind, but a dedicated daily practice can help liberate our energy and direct it toward a more positive way of being.  BKS Iyengar, who has been called the Father of Yoga in the US, tells us that yoga allows us to find a new kind of freedom through an inner peace that is not ruffled by the endless stresses and struggles of life. 

As we take a break from the “busyness” of daily life and move and breathe through our yoga practice, we slow down and find a more natural rhythm which helps support our well-being.  We release stored tension from the body and we rediscover the peace and freedom that exists beneath the turmoil.  When we nurture our practice daily, we become more resilient in other areas of our life, and we begin to experience a freedom from suffering that is not tied to circumstance. 

This freedom is not about avoiding life or the pain that sometimes accompanies us on our journey, it is learning that we are not our pain and we allow it to move through us.  With practice, we begin to see and accept things as they are, and we experience our struggles with compassion and humility, knowing that we possess an unchanging inner peace which is always at our core – the blue sky which is always behind the clouds.   

While we cannot control the circumstances in our lives, a dedicated practice offers us the freedom to accept what is and know that peace resides in our core.  Let us nurture you in your practice.

Wishing you peace and freedom!  Namaste!

Stress Less with Yoga

Stress is a necessary part of life; however, our bodies are not designed for the unrelenting nature of current day, chronic stress. Research is now citing stress as a major factor in high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, strokes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Stress impairs the immune system and increases inflammation, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and our resistance to insulin.  In addition, high cortisol levels, which are a result of chronic stress, contribute to overeating, and these extra calories are converted to fat which is stored in the abdomen, the most dangerous place for our heart.

 

New brain research shows that chronic stress triggers an unrelenting flow of cortisol and genetic actions that begin to sever the nerve connections in the brain, causing cells to die and actually shrinking certain areas. Dysfunctional and dying neurons lead to cognitive decline and has been linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. (Spark, by John J. Ratey, MD)  

 

Our nervous system does not know the difference between worrying about a potential threat, a past threat, or the actual threat itself, so even our thoughts can contribute to the damaging effects of stress by keeping the system in an aroused state.  If this overload continues, the system becomes overwhelmed and eventually shuts down.

 

Yoga can help counteracts ome of the negative effects of stress. A complete yoga-based program (with a low fat diet, exercise and group support) has been proven to actually reverse heart disease.  In addition to the physical, tension relieving benefits of yoga, we also learn tools to help us deal more effectively with the stressors in our lives. While we cannot eliminate stress (we need some stress to adapt and grow), we can learn to maintain our equanimity and calm in the midst of stress.  Yoga teaches us to turn inward and to live inbthe present, the only moment we ever really have.

 

When the Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him most about humanity, he answered “Man.  Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.  Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.  And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

 

Yoga provides a complete system that can lead us to a whole new way of living.  Far more than just a set of physical postures (Asana), yoga gives us tools that lead us to wellness and wholeness.  Breathing techniques (Pranayama), turning inward (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana), and even moral restraints (Yamas – nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation,and non-hoarding) and personal observances (Niyamas – purity, contentment, zeal/austerity, self-study, and devotion to a higher power) are other “limbs” of yoga which allow us to take our practice into our daily lives and out into the world. 

 

Nurture Yoga is a peaceful place in a stressful world. Let us help you stress less this year with classes and workshops designed to nourish your body, mind and spirit. May we all experience wellness and inner peace – and take that peace into our world to share!  

 

Namaste! (the Spirit and Light in me honors the Spirit and Light in you!)

Rest in Breath

The breath facilitates our connection with body, mind and spirit during our yoga practice.  In fact, the quality of the breath impacts us profoundly all day, every day.  Rapid, shallow breathing contributes to anxiety, while long, slow breaths encourage relaxation. Posture and the muscles we use when we breathe also affect the quality of the breath. 

 

The following breathing techniques help encourage relaxation by slowing down the breath. While they can be done at any time or place, the suggestions below will help optimize your practice.

 

Suggestions:

  • Practice in a warm, quiet space, as free from distractions as possible - the bed is not recommended, as it may encourage sleep
  • Wear comfortable clothing so that the belly and chest can move freely - remove belts, glasses, and any restricting accessories
  • Breathe through the nose. This creates 50% more resistance to air flow and helps filter out allergens and toxins.
  • Feel the breath in the belly and allow the diaphragm to move freely.
  • Release the practice and return to the natural breath if there is ever any discomfort or anxiety.

 

Position

  • Lie in a comfortable position on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, knees hip distance apart
    • A rolled up towel or blanket can be placed length-wise along the spine from the waist to the back of the head to expand the breathing space (be sure the low back is comfortable)
    • Keep the forehead and chin level, using a small pillow if needed
    • A bolster or rolled blanket under the knees can help relax the back
  • If lying down is not possible, sit on the floor or in a chair with a tall spine, open chest, and the shoulders relaxed

 

Restful BreathPractices:

 

Before performing thefollowing practices, observe the breath for 10-15 minutes. Relax the body and allow the mind to rest on a sensation of the breath. Be curious and accept the breath as it is without controlling or judging.  Notice any changes and enjoy the gentlemassage and rhythm of the breath.

 

  1. Lengthen the Exhale: Count the length of your inhale and exhale. Gradually lengthen the exhale one count at a time while keeping the inhale the same.  Gently closing the back of the throat (as if you are fogging up a mirror with the mouth closed) can act like a valve. Patiently lengthen the exhale to possibly twice as long as the inhale. Never force the breath, as straining will encourage the stress response rather than relaxation.
  2. Peaceful Pause: Notice the pause at the end of each exhale and observe the peacefulness in that space. Rather than taking the next inhale by force of habit, wait until the body requests the next breath.
  3. Three Part Breath: Divide the inhale into three parts.  Begin by filling the belly with the breath, next expand the ribs.  Finally feel the heart lift and the upper chest expand as you complete the inhale.  Allow the exhale to release first from the upper chest, then the ribs, and complete the exhale by emptying out the belly.  Allow the breath to be smooth, without forcing it.  This can be done in the opposite order as well.

 

Taking the time to nurture our breath through these practices can have profound effects on our health and well-being. Try them at home and see for yourself, or visit us at Nurture Yoga, where we teach many calming breath practices.

Restorative Yoga to Combat Stress

Stress is a part of life, and there is no escaping its effects.  Even positive life changes, like marriage, babies, new jobs and houses create stress in our lives.  In ancient times, stress was shorter lived.  The "fight or flight" response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) was designed to help us flee from danger.  When faced with a real or perceived threat, the body produces adrenaline and cortisol to increase heart rate, blood pressure, mental alertness and muscle tension in order to deal with the threat.  At the same time, the body shuts down digestion, elimination, growth, repair, and reproduction systems until the threat has passed. 

 

The human body has not changed much over the years.  The sympathetic nervous system treats current day stressors the same as running from a sabor toothed tiger; however, the stressors we experience in our fast-paced, information-based society are more long term and ongoing.  Whereas our ancestors' stressors were resolved after the threat of danger passed, now the constant barrage of stressors creates a state of chronic stress, and our adrenals are overworked and shutting down as a result.  Consequently, the "rest and digest" process is disturbed, we lack the ability to benefit from nutrition and sleep, and the body's natural healing processes are disrupted.

 

Restorative yoga provides deep rest and relaxation to combat the effects of stress and help restore our body's optimal functioning and its natural ability to heal.  Placing the body in nurturing physical postures which require no effort allows the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to take over and bring on the "relaxation response",  defined by Herbert Benson, M.D., as "a physiological state characterized by a slower heart rate, metabolism, rate of breathing, lower blood pressure, and slower brain wave patterns."  This relaxation response allows the SNS to take a break, and lets the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) take over so the body can "rest and digest".  The PNS calms and restores the body by lowering breathing rates, heart rates, and blood pressure, and increasing blood flow to internal organs.

 

In Relax and Renew, Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, Judith Lasater, Ph.D., calls restorative yoga "active relaxation."   Comfortable positions are held with the use of props, allowing the body to rest deeply.  A sense of being cradled and nurtured, and a feeling of receptivity is encouraged.  Attention is gently focused on the breath, helping to quiet the brain as well. 

 

Restorative yoga is recommended during stressful periods (even good stress, like holidays and vacations) and when the body is fatigued, ill, or recovering from illness or injury.  Taking time to nurture ourselves with restorative yoga can help combat the negative effects of stress on our body and minds.

 

Nurture Yoga (nurture-yoga.com) is offering several restorative yoga workshops during the holidays and throughout the year.  Each workshop is comprised of two hours of restful poses that will leave you feeling more calm and ready to handle the stresses of everyday life.  Come find a peaceful place in a stressful world.  Let us nurture you.

 

Namaste!