Blessings from the Celtic Solstice

This altar sends out gratitude for the earth that held and fed my ancestors.

It is an invitation to the wind to enter my window as I sleep and fill my lungs with the ancient memories of their resilience.

It calls to the water to nudge me tonight to flow through this lifetime as the generations of my fathers’ did; with the same acceptance the shore offers every unique ripple. Let the current carry my love and integrate the passion of this land with it’s immigrant shores. I am it’s child. My bones remember.

Goddesses of my clan, make yourself known, the way the new moon hides itself in humility and teases the earth with deep darkness. Splendid island, your latitude leaves little time for the earth to cast its shadow tonight. In this eternal light, release the inherited sorrow of my mothers.

If you walked here before me in the oppressive dark of the shortest days and I carry your blood, I celebrate you today in the longest sun. Much of what you had I want. Simplicity. Clarity. Vibrancy. Please honor my request to grow in appreciation of your elemental rituals and respect the omnipresent teacher, nature.

Tomorrow the days get shorter, but your message is clear. I will wake with the generosity of ancestral spirit pulsing through me; grounded in the strength of megalithic stone circles; enchanted in Sacred Presence. Midsummer’s Day, let my lineage lead the way…I am shining.

Beannacht,

Megan

Setting Intention in Yoga

The Significance of Setting Intention in Yoga

The word yoga has 2 meanings in Sanskrit: one definition is to yoke or union, as in the way we bring together the physical body and mind with postures and breathing. We also use the word yoga to describe a state of being where we do everything in life with more awareness. What we do and say to ourselves in class becomes a mirror into who we are and our self talk in life.  How do we respond when we are challenged in a pose? Do we painfully push our way through, degrade ourselves, get angry, or compare ourselves to others? When the practice appears easy or uneventful, do we mistake relaxation for boredom, have difficulty surrendering or does our mind wander off?

An important component of yoga as a state of awareness is setting an intention.  An intention can help guide us through the physical poses and choose the modifications that are right for our body and mind that day. Heartfelt intention also brings positive energy like gratitude, acceptance, peace or unconditional love to ourselves and others. The teacher will typically ask you to set an intention at the beginning of class. It is your responsibility to bring the mind back to your personal purpose throughout class.  When the intention is made from the heart, it is simple, pure and feels expansive, as if it is already a part of us that maybe we just forgot about or misplaced. Intention may be the same for days, weeks, or even years, and comes out of a commitment to support our highest self.  Where there is nothing wrong with doing yoga just for the exercise and physical benefits, setting an intention helps to make yoga part of your life!

A few suggestions if you are new to setting intention:

Sometimes an intention doesn’t come up right away.  Don’t pressure yourself.  Keep the space open for something to formulate any time during or after class.

Simply ask yourself any of these questions: what brought you to your mat today? What does grace mean to you? What makes you feel strong?  How do you find calmness?  What can you let go of today?

Think of something or someone you are grateful for; or think of the idea of gratitude.

If you come up with several purposes for your practice and have a difficult time choosing one, politely ask your heart what it wants.

When you are experiencing physical discomfort or disease in your body, set your intention to continually send healing thoughts and energy into that place.

Ayurveda sees the Self as a 3 legged stool; one leg is the physical body, one is the mental/emotional body, and one is the spiritual body.  If one leg of your stool has been neglected, set your intention to focus on that leg!

Feeling exceptionally joyful? Consider dedicating your practice to someone else who could benefit from your practice like a prayer. Imagine them watching you and send them your blessings at the end of class.

If the spiritual, esoteric and philosophical components of yoga do not appeal to you, set an intention purely for the physical body.  On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being completely easeful and 10 being extremely challenging, pick a number for your practice and honor that.

And if you don’t practice yoga, you can still benefit from the daily mindfulness of intention.

Namaste, Megan

The Three Gunas

If you are still struggling with the post-election dystopia, have you considered trying yoga? Before you do, may I please explain something? As Gabriel Halpern said in his dharma talk last weekend, starting yoga to find peace and comfort is like being caught in a rain storm and deciding to jump in the ocean.  As a yoga studio owner, it saddens me to see countless class passes expire. In doing what they perceive as purely physical exercises, many students curiously and bravely, perhaps unknowingly, scratch the surface of their mental abyss. Then they suddenly suspend their practice. Either they are not ready or don’t have the the discipline to remove what conceals their joy. Being “set in our ways”, even when they don’t working for us, is a state of Tamas – inertia, darkness, ignorance – think inaction and procrastination.

Excuses are a way of hiding the truth from ourselves. In a Tamasic state, we use a lot of negative energy obscuring reality. To free ourselves from tamas, we have to go through a state of Rajas, (just an inexperienced guess that Black Friday Shopping requires Rajas). The term Rajas in sanskrit refers to the energy of passion, activity and transition. Rajas is change. As we all know, it is agitating being taken out of our comfort zone. When we are able to find balance between dullness (Tamas) and turbulence (Rajas), Sattva is achieved – the pure state of intelligence and virtue.  Sativa is the state of joy and the energy of unconditional love.

The past few weeks have been an “I’m back in “08 again” reminder that I have to keep visiting the bottom to swim. Yoga exposes every dark corner I try to hide from myself in.  Asana brings me into my body; currently a foreign, discontented place. Meditation is not a space where feelings are suppressed; it is the place I connect with emotions and sit in solidarity with them.  When the demons come out, there needs to be a way to purge them.  Writing is an act of surrender and the spark of transformation. Pen and Paper are two friends who simply hold space, without judgement or advice.

What Is Yin Yoga?

Most types of yoga asana are yang in nature meaning they require that we use the muscles, build heat and dynamically “do”. Yin yoga is a quiet, still practice that relaxes the muscles to stretch the deep tissue and release energy to the joints.

Yin/Yang principles explain why even graceful aging includes morning stiffness. We begin our life being more yang like – having lots of mobility with limited stability.  As we age, muscles strengthen and stability increases. Our bodies find balance between stability (yin) and mobility (yang) in our 20’s or 30’s. Eventually, our aging bodies are more yin in nature and that stability leads to rigidity in the ligaments, bones and joints. Most types of exercise and yoga keep the elastic-like muscles healthy with heat and movement. Conversely, the yin tissues are more plastic like and need long held postures to be stimulated.  Yang and yin health is a balance between stretching and stressing. Muscles can be safely stretched to elongate them and shortened to strengthen them. Part of their job is to protect the joints. But when the muscles are purposely relaxed, the connective tissue and joints can experience heathy stress.  Over time, the strategically placed stress can make tissues stronger.

Because yin yoga requires the muscles to relax, not all yoga poses can be done safely as yin poses. A limited number of poses are held for 2-4 minutes or longer and each pose is designed to apply mindful stress to the connective tissues to prevent the natural deterioration of aging. Specifically, yin yoga targets the spine, hips, pelvis and legs. Equally important, it opens the meridians (energy channels of the body that carry prana). Yin differs from Restorative Yoga in that you are encouraged to find deep sensations without strain. Props can be used to to help support the pose, making it suitable for all body types.

A yin practice is a fantastic compliment to dynamic yoga, enhances athletic performance or can simply help you to keep doing the things you like to do. If stress release is a motivator, consider yin yoga as an entryway to meditation. In fact, sometimes the most challenging part of a yin practice is staying present for whatever arises. But being present just makes it that much sweeter when the pose is released.

Wishing You Light & Love

Thank you to everyone who made the BFYH community stronger, healthier and joyful this year.  The studio will be closed Christmas Day and New Years Day.  All other weekly classes are on! I hope you can spend some time with us over the holiday season.  

We are at the darkest point of the year. When we look outside, there is a bleakness that translates to a lack of energy.  Though we may not want to, or feel we have time to acknowledge it, the depletion of earth energy is part of the natural human rhythm as well. Recognizing that we are part of this cycle means giving ourselves permission to attune to the silence and stillness of the earth.  It may be as simple as taking moments throughout the day to exhale longer and slower; the exhalation of the breath contracts us into our inner radiance and peace. Meditation can also help to relieve stress, which in turn strengthens our immune system. If you are new to yoga or have an active yoga practice, try some restorative poses at home.  (Scroll down to learn about restorative shoulder stand pose.)

As we reach the Winter Solstice on December 21, the light returns providing us with a vortex of energy to breathe in and expand.  Move into the fullness of YOUR light and enjoy the Holiday Season!

OM Shanti, Megan

 

Holiday Pose Pick: 
Supported Shoulder Stand

Restorative inversions are particularly relaxing with supported shoulder stand (Viparita Karani) being a favorite due to its adaptability.  All you need is a wall, headboard or even a chair to place the legs on.  The yoga bolsters under the sacrum in the photo can easily be replaced with bed pillows and/or folded blankets.

Some of the benefits of supported shoulder stand include: 

  • Aids in return of the blood to the lungs for oxygenation by raising the feet, legs and pelvis higher than the head. Blood pressure decreases and the heart gets to rest. 
  • Gravity assists the downward movement of lymph.  Since the lymphatic system, which is part of the bodies immune system, does not have central pump, going upside down encourages the one way valves of the lymph system to clear the lower extremities. 
  • By tilting the chin slightly toward the chest, the spongy thyroid gland is gently squeezed and receives fresh new blood when the pose is released. This little butterfly shaped gland regulates our metabolism.  
  • With the head slightly below the heart and the forward tilt in the chin, the nervous system is told to relax.  Baroreceptors are like tiny little command centers that detect blood flow in your neck. If they feel your blood flow increase, they send signals to the heart to relax.  If you want more on the baroreceptors and inversions, visit this blog on Yoga for Heathy Aging
  • Overall, supported shoulder stand is one of the most beneficial poses for heart health. Physically and energetically, making the heart the home for awareness is like giving your spirit or soul self a chance to reboot.

Inverted poses are contraindicated for certain medical conditions.  Please check with your doctor if you have any concerns. 

Wonder Woman or Yoga?

Body language has the ability to empower or defeat.  Where I don’t follow the belief that a cluttered desk is equivalent to a cluttered mind, I firmly support that body language, or non-verbal communication, can be more revealing than words.  Even before a hand shake or hug, much can be assumed about a person by the position of their head, shoulders, arms and their gaze. Clairsentience is the ability to see and feel things in others that are not sensually present.  A heartfelt look at another’s body position opens a doorway to clairsentience where we “have a feeling” about someone. Most people recognize that the feelings then lead to judgements. But what is not typically understood is that our body language also influences what we think about ourselves.

As a mother of 12 year old twin girls, it is instinctual to gently touch a finger tip to the space between their shoulder blades as a gentle reminder not to slouch; or more poignantly, to stand with confidence.  “Girls’ self-esteem plummets at age 12 and doesn’t improve until 20, an unhappiness attributed to changes in body shape…” (NYC Girls Project). The NCY Girls project is addressing the issue of self-esteem and body image in young girls. One of their recommendations: The Wonder Woman Pose!  I grew up in the 70’s as a huge fan of Linda Carter and secretly imagined she could dominate the Six Million Dollar Man. What I was too young to understand is that her high power pose was the source of her success.

According to Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy, standing like Wonder Woman can improve self-image.  In her TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”,  Amy shares research on how adapting a posture of power for as little as two minutes a day can change the outcome of your life. She explains how body language shapes outcomes in everything from employment interviews to MBA grades to the likelihood of a doctor being sued.  Cognizant or not, we form opinions about others based on non-verbal communication. But Amy’s talk centers on how non-verbal communication not only governs what others think about us, but that “our bodies change our minds;” chemically speaking. Research shows testosterone (dominance) and cortisol (stress) levels are directly related to body position. And unfortunately there is a gender discrepancy as the young girls grow up to be women who are better at making themselves small.

Please take 20 minutes to watch Amy’s TED talk, because as she says, why reserve this information for doctors and MBA’s?  Maybe the old school idea of young girls walking around with books on their heads isn’t such a crazy idea; or as Amy Cuddy suggests, doing a “power pose” in a bathroom stall to prepare for an important event.  But as a yoga teacher, I question why we would hide in a bathroom stall.  If “our minds change our bodies, and our bodies change our minds”,  and yoga is the uniting of the body and mind, why not stand in your fiercest Warrior pose for 2 minutes? Many yoga poses are meant to expand the front of the body and bring us into our powerful presence in a way that we can apply to life without hiding.

Fake it til you make it? Yes.  Fake it til you become it? Even better.  Nothing against the Wonder Woman Pose, but I will stick to using bathrooms to pee and yoga to self empower. And bring on Lee Majors!

OM Shanti,

Megan

 

Intentions for Fall Planting

The story starts with stepping on a freshly fallen green acorn the other morning.  The initial thought was “ ouch” and “crap, summer is ending”.  Then with the acceptance and appreciation that we can never outdo nature, a lesson formed.  The acorn in question was from a white oak tree that is approximately 25 years old.  I have been privileged enough to watch this tree grow from its own self-sewn seed. Now strong enough to support a zip line with a 300 pound weight limit and tall enough to shade the deck, it understands time as the rhythm of nature.  It also teaches the power of intention.

On an August morning that would heat up to 80+, the oak begins to drop its seeds as if it knows it will require the remaining three seasons to fulfill its potential.  What starts with just a few oak nuts being dropped will soon cover the grass. But the odds are against the acorns. Each nut contains only one seed which requires 1,000 hours of dormancy.  The potential for inhospitable weather is high – too wet or too dry; or another harsh Wisconsin winter and they won’t germinate. Additionally, due to squirrel and chipmunk all day dining, most of the seeds will never find dirt.  But the tree instinctually recognizes that the more it drops, the better its chances. And the older trees have an advantage as they produce more acorns.

Isn’t the acorn a bit like the seeds of our intentions?  They both take time – seasons even – to know if they will grow.  In the mean time, we cannot guarantee the perfect climate for growth.  Even when we put ample energy into creating a nutty idea 😉 things happen that are out of our control.  Then the decision has to be made as to which seeds we should continue to nurture. Our minds are a bit like the squirrels; we get all excited at first, but intentions are misplaced like acorns.  The squirrels get so busy hiding acorns that they can’t remember where most of them were stashed, and we get caught up in other distractions.

Masting is a phenomenon where every so often, different species of trees in a region drop an inexhaustible abundance of nuts in an effort to greatly improve the chances for growth.  The years when oak trees mast are unmistakable; walking barefoot in the yard is not recommended.   Viewed from the point of an individual tree, its ability to do this is remarkable.  What is unexplainable is the synchronicity in which it happens. Different species of trees coordinate this prodigious release over large geographical areas as if they recognize the power of the collective conscious.

The end is optimistic for the White Oak. Every year, I find new baby trees in the yard.  Somehow, the energy in one nut is strong enough to make it through it all.  Or perhaps, it was a masting year and all the trees worked together for positive growth.

Like the oak tree, it is not too early to set intentions for next summer.  And plant extras.  Perhaps, following the example of Mother Nature, we can “mast” our intentions and infect the quantum field with positive change.

Happy Fall! Megan

I Am Cherry Alive, the Little Girl Sang

Today’s Class Notes

Spanda is the Sanskrit word that refers to the subtle creative pulse of the universe as it manifests itself in every living form.  Spanda teaches that reality is inherently creative rather than static.  To invoke Spanda in your yoga practice, try these steps:

1. Find Stillness –  Listen to the breath and allow the breath to replace the thinking mind.  Merge with the breath instead of pushing the body around with only your muscle or mind power.
2. Invite Grace –  Turn your senses inward and get in tune with your nature.  Let go of self judgement or predisposed thoughts, especially those that start with “I can’t” or “I’m not”.
3. Find Spanda – Follow your own creative urges; a spontaneous expression of aliveness; Think of your mat as a playground and let the inner-child out.
Continue to let the breath guide you, listening attentively to your own inner rhythm.  Breath with more vigor in poses that require fire and stamina.  Use the gentle breath to bring softness to a pose.  In each pose, let your curiosity lead you to the point where you bump up to your limitations.

Connecting to what drives us aligns us with our core beliefs and interests, leading to a more joyful practice on the mat and presence off the mat.

A poem I used in class this morning –

“I am cherry alive,” the little girl sang,
“Each morning I am something new: 
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited 
As the boys who made the Hallowe’en bang: 
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
 When I like, if I like, I can be someone new, 
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
 I can be someone else whenever I think who,
 And I want to be everything sometimes too:
…
But I don’t tell the grown-ups: because it is sad,
 And I want them to laugh just like I do 
Because they grew up and forgot what they knew
 And they are sure I will forget it some day too. 
They are wrong. They are wrong. When I sang my song, I knew, I knew! 
I am red, I am gold, I am green, I am blue, 
I will always be me, I will always be new!”

-Delmore Schwarts

My Response to Divide and Conquer

In some ways, however small and secret

Each of us is a little mad.

Everyone is lonely at bottom,

And cries to be understood.

But we can never entirely understand someone else

And each of us remains part stranger,

Even to those who love us.

It is the weak who are cruel.

Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.

Those who do not know fear

Are not really brave,

For courage is the capacity to confront what can be imagined.

And you can understand people better

If you look at them,

No matter how old, or impressive they are

As if they are children.

For most of us never really mature,

We simply grow taller.

And happiness comes only when we push our hearts and brains

To the farthest reaches of which we are capable.

For the purpose of life is to matter,

To count,

To stand for something,

To have it make some difference that you lived

At all.

– Leo Rosten

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90-Second Storm Warning for Your Mind

What a confusing time for Wisconsin. This reference is not to football or politics, but rather the weather.  58 degrees a short time ago with no measurable snow fall. After a few days with our nose linings stuck together and seeing lots of white, we are in the depths of winter.  The snow and cold was predicted, but reactions to winter finally arriving have been mixed.  In Colorado, extreme weather changes are typical; golfing one day and cross country skiing the next.  The saying in the mountains used to be if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.

The “wait ten minutes” weather joke and the need to discuss emotional storms with my 9 year olds had me revisiting Jill Bolte Taylor’s 90-second rule.  Dr. Taylor is a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke at the age of 37 and wrote about it in her book, “My Stroke of Insight”.  Her rule explains how it only takes 90 seconds for the body to have an emotional circuit triggered, send the chemicals flushing through the body to put it on full alert, and totally flush it out of the body.

“It’s predictable circuitry, so paying attention to what circuits you are triggering and what that feels like inside your body, you can recognize it when it has happened. Whether it is my fear circuitry or my anger circuitry or even my joy circuitry – it is really hard to hold a good belly laugh for more than 90 seconds naturally. The 90-second rule is totally empowering. That means for 90 seconds, I can watch this happen, I can feel this happen and I can watch it go away. After that, if I continue to feel that fear or feel that anger, I need to look at the thoughts I am thinking that are re-stimulating that circuitry.  You can continue to make yourself mad all day and the more you obsess over whatever it is, the more you run that loop.  We can all learn that we can take full responsibility for what thoughts we are thinking and what emotional circuitry we are feeling. Knowing this and acting on this can lead us into feeling a wonderful sense of well-being and peacefulness.”  – Dr. Taylor

The weather in Wisconsin may take more than 10 minutes to change, but it is forecasted. We can contemplate ahead what it will feel like on our body, and respond by adding layers, seeking shelter, or react with emotion and complain about it.   The 90 second rule is like a weather report for our mind.  We learn to predict when and what situations will trigger our circuitry.  Then when we feel emotion filling our body, the mind can choose to stay stuck in the response, or wait 90 seconds for the storm to blow through.  Think of the neuro-cascade of chemicals like snow beginning to fall and prepare to take shelter in the present moment.

I highly recommend watching the TED video talk by Jill Bolte Taylor: