Friday, April 21, 2017

PUSHING BACK THE WAVES

I confess.  I'm being slothful.  I've been on vacation and I have not been practicing yoga with any regularity or duration.  A few twists here and there; a few downward dogs; a couple of tree poses and that's about it.  Still meditating though, so I comfort my guilty conscience with that bit of back-patting.

What I have been doing is qigong.  I'm no expert.  Neither is my husband.  But one of his guides on an Alaskan kayak/meditation retreat last summer also introduced the group to a qigong practice which they did every early morning.  He loved it and brought it home to me.

I'm sure its a very elementary practice and is brief in duration (15 minutes), which makes it a perfect beginner's practice.  I was unable to attend the Qigong Sunday Workshop at Yoga Circle recently; I'm sure that included much more instruction and explanation than I can offer here.

Let me just say....whatever it is I've learned from my husband, I love.  It's a slow moving meditation with the various flowing moves mimicking events from nature:  Mist Rising from the Lake, Parting the Clouds, Pushing Back the Waves, Casting the Rainbow, etc.

Standing together on the beach, the waves lapping the shore, we move in a synchronized meditation that feels renewing, refreshing, and connecting.

In addition to yoga, there are a beautiful array of other practices that we can explore and embrace that further our spiritual and physical growth.  Qigong is one, as is Tai Chi -- also offered at Yoga Circle.   Give them a try. ©

Namaste,
   donnajurene

Sunday, April 9, 2017

SEEKING SYMMETRY

OK.  Fine.  I admit it.  Maybe I'm a teensy bit OCD.  I do like symmetry.  Come to my house; it's not super obvious, but I do try to keep my decor "balanced".   Things off-center bug me, which makes my new Yoga mat a source of constant irritation.

I lost my old and favorite mat at a kirtan/yoga retreat last summer.  We all kept our mats in the big gathering space and on the last day I was so caught up in the hugs and goodbyes and packing my bags, etc, I forgot to go back and fetch my yoga bag.  No problem, I thought, the friendly folks at the retreat center will just box it up and mail it to me.  Nope.  Many, many calls and emails later they said they couldn't find it.  Come on!  Seriously?  I guess someone could have walked off with it -- but these are YOGA PEOPLE!  No one would do such a thing!  Bottom line is I never got it back -- mat, eye pillow, bag all gone.  Sad.

So I went to East-West Books one day and as I was browsing about, I decided to get a new, cushy, pricey mat.  I was excited to try it out; it's a pretty deep blue on one side and lighter blue on the other -- reversible!!!


Here's the OCD part:  See in the photos how the linoleum floor tiles at the studio line up?  I always tried to get my mat to be parallel to the tile seams.  I rarely decide to unfurl my mat on the diagonal, as some prefer.   I unrolled my mat, lined it up with the seam in the floor and was ready to go!  But as I moved through the asanas I noticed that the imprinted pattern on my mat was off-kilter.  It ran slightly on the diagonal.  If I moved the mat to keep the pattern parallel to the floor seams then the top of the mat suddenly was off.  OMG!  The manufacturer cut the mat incorrectly!  What was  I going to do?

I was all set to return the mat, when I decided this was the perfect life lesson in imperfection for me!  A-ha!  Yoga is life, right?  Even my mat was teaching me to go with the flow, deal with unmet expectations, find beauty in asymmetry, breathe through the discomfort.

That was 8 months ago.  I wish I could tell you I don't even notice the defect anymore.  But that would not be accurate.  EVERY SINGLE TIME I UNFURL THAT MAT I HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE DISCOMFORT OF NOT GETTING THE THING LINED UP ON THE FLOOR!  ARRRGGGHHHH....  

It's a bit embarrassing to admit all of this.  Also, pretty funny, right?  Of all the things to occupy my thoughts, this should be an easy one to ignore.  It's not.  But I'm working on it.  Before I step on my mat for a class I stand quietly and say a prayer to Shiva, the God of Transformation, that I be present, accepting, focused, alive to my practice, embracing the transformation I'm about to undertake.  It had become an easy, mindless prayer until Shiva threw me the mat issue to deal with.  That Trickster!  Something so mundane and commonplace as a yoga mat has become a focal point of change and acceptance for me; not without some discomfort and struggle, not without some self-berating, but always with the knowledge that lessons abound and can be found in the most unusual places.

Om Namah Shivaya!

Namaste,
    donnajurene


Friday, March 31, 2017

WOULDN'T IT BE NICE? (CLASSROOM YOGA)

About a month ago I wrote about my granddaughter's first grade classroom and how I spontaneously introduced a few yoga poses to the kids one day when I was volunteering.  Yesterday I spoke to a woman in my yoga class about how we've both introduced yoga to our grandchildren.  It's a hit and miss venture depending on their moods, but we agreed the benefits of really getting them to use yoga as a coping tool would be so beneficial.

Kids, no matter their ages, have a lot to deal with....siblings, parents, friends, teachers, childcare providers, new environments, fears, frustrations, even joyful but impatient anticipations.   What tools do we give them to cope with these life events?  Not too many, really.  We might try to prepare them, talk them through a hard situation, reassure them of our love and care, try to let them know they will be OK, that things will turn out well.  But do they believe us?  Did you, when you were in the throes of thinking "everybody hates me" and some caring family member told you to "ignore them"? Not so easy.

As we learn in yoga classes, when we are stressed (anywhere on the "Stress-O-Meter Scale of 1-10) our bodies respond as if the sabertooth tiger was at our heels --  the fight, flight, or freeze response happens: tense muscles, shallow breaths, rapid heartbeat.  Sometimes the stress is real and sometimes is is merely imagined.  "Everybody hates me" is a stressful thought -- and thoughts are not "real", but they are very powerful and we tend to believe them based usually on limited data that we interpret negatively.  We can learn to unlearn this negative thinking with all kinds of tools--cognitive behavioral therapy comes to mind as a powerful method of changing those thoughts to be more realistic and positive.  But that is a fairly sophisticated therapy and not one easily available to children.

What IS available at any age and in any situation is to breathe.  There is a reason that the directive we hear when upset is to "take a deep breath".  It works.  Taking a deep "belly breath" for a count of say 5,  and letting it out slowly to a count of 7 literally changes the way our bodies respond to stress.  We are telling our bodies to "relax; no tiger".  We are reprogramming our physiological response to a thought to be more in line with reality.  Kids get this too.

I work with children in that 1st grade class who come to school with challenges over which they have no control -- families in crisis, sleep deprivation, language barriers, learning difficulties, anxieties, social and behavioral challenges.   When I call them back to the table where I sit to help with reading, sight words, and homework, I first ask them to tell me something fun they did the previous day.  I ask them how they are feeling in that moment.  I have them stand up, reach for the sky, touch their toes, and show me their super power muscles (boys AND girls!).  Then they sit, and I tell them to close their eyes and take three deep breaths with me.  I can see their bodies become more centered, their movements less "antsy", their ability to focus a little more intentional.  Sometimes we have to do this another time or two during our work session.

Wouldn't it be great if yoga was part of every class day?  Wouldn't it be great if these tools became second nature in elementary school so that by the higher stakes (academically and socially/emotionally) years of middle and high school, they already had a "go to" practice to help them through stressful times?

I see clearly that the academic curriculum already jams up against "too few hours/too much to teach" conundrum.  I see clearly that the emphasis on "crowd control" leaves little room for innovation.  Yet....I have to believe that in the progressive schools where meditation and yoga are part of the day, the kids are learning valuable life skills that are just as important as reading and math.

For now, those of us who practice yoga can help our younger friends and family members learn a few calming asanas (although I note they most like seeing what strange pretzel shapes they can contort into).  We can teach them calming breathing.  We can model for them that grownups get stressed and there are healthy and gentle ways to deal with it, and that our thoughts come and go, even those that seem hardest to ignore.  We can take them to studios that offer yoga for kids -- just as important as T-ball and soccer!

Here's a great resource, if you are interested in more about Yoga for Kids; I get their weekly email newsletter, full of great ideas.  http://www.kidsyogastories.com    Happy Baby Poses to all!©

Namaste....donnajurene

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com


Saturday, March 25, 2017

FACE YOGA

We are missing a great opportunity with our asana practice.  Face yoga!

I know sometimes we open our mouths widely and stick out our tongues doing our Lion's Breath, but here is a book full of weirdly wonderful facial exercises and massage techniques designed to address an often neglected body part when thinking of strength conditioning.

I think some marketing director told them to add the "younger looking you" tag on the subtitle, because our culture has a youth fetish.  I can't tell you how offended I get at everyone striving to look younger, as if younger is the "ideal".  I disagree.  I am an outspoken proponent of aging naturally and living with as much health and vitality as I can -- at any age.

But having said that, I do note that we put a lot of emphasis on trimming, toning, and flexing our bodies, but lament in the mirror and rub magic potions on our faces.

People!  Your face is full of muscles too!  When is the last time you gave them a workout?  Doesn't it stand to reason that our face muscles will atrophy over time, just as our biceps and glutes do?

As for our yoga practice, how about bringing mindful awareness to our faces?  Is your default one of peaceful repose or scrunched up nose?  Do your lips slightly part or do you keep them pursed?  Do you look down a lot or tilt your head back?  Do you knit your brow or raise your eyebrows?  Do you even think about what your face is doing as you drive, watch TV, read a book, talk to your friends?  Is your face immobile most of the time or openly expressive and always on the move?

I found many websites and YouTube videos demonstrating 'facial yoga' and most were basically the same exercises I found in this book.  I think exercise only turns into 'yoga' with intention.  Do we want to "look younger" or do we want to be healthy, with all of our muscles working in peak performance to our benefit?  We will not stave off the process of aging forever and it's a waste of our mental and physical energy to believe we can.  However, we can take control of how we age.

Our yoga practice teaches that the body and the ego are not the "real" us anyway, so stop with the obsessing -- unless you are obsessing about being a strong, powerful, calm, resilient presence in this world, where your spirit and true essence shines through.  Let that shine begin on your beautiful, healthy, strong face!

Namaste....donnajurene