Application To Be A Yogi

Dear Student,

Thank You for applying for the position of yogi/yogini.  This position is not to be underestimated or taken lightly, but a sense of humor is encouraged.  During your initial yoga internship, you may commit to only one or two class per week. Before you can make a decision to accept a full-time position, you have to show up for yourself.  Eventually, becoming a yogi will require more time in the form of every day mindfulness with family, friends and total strangers.  You may be training for this position while doing things that bring you joy as well as with people who deplete you.

Perhaps you think you are applying for a seasonal position and a 3-6 month commitment is sufficient.  This is accurate if you plan to return to your current position.  However, you cannot place a time restriction on transformation.

Please detach yourself from any outcome. Things happen that we cannot plan for. Do not quit.  Always code your program with the belief that you are capable and deserving.

You are encouraged take your work home with you; a home practice is highly recommended and could include a few postures, meditation, or taking time throughout the day to observe your breath. This will promote self-study, increase productivity and promote happiness. You might even sleep better and like yourself more.

You will need to gain strength, flexibility and balance. These are mental traits. At times, you will be asked to slow down and under-do. You will also be taken outside your comfort zone, dig deep within yourself and stay present for whatever arises.  This is a prescription to reduce your own suffering, be more compassionate toward others, and uplift you from a state of ordinariness.

This position requires you to accept that you are a multi-dimensional being. Yoga is meant to release karmic bonds of human suffering using the Panchamaya Kosha model; there is a unique physical body (Anamaya Kosha), a breath body (Pranamaya Kosha), a mind/senses/emotions layer (Manomaya Kosha), a deeper intellect representing the relationship between self and the universe (Vijnanamaya Kosha) and the even deeper layer of pure, unbound bliss (Anandamaya Kosha). We can get stuck in any of these layers. What on the surface appear to be physical postures will bring about changes to your whole being. Working with any one of the Koshas can ‘unstick’ all layers.

To say this position is in the field of health care is accurate, but understand that you are starting with all the healing tools you need already within you. And while long-term health is important, please find who you are in spiritual terms.

Don’t worry about a dress code.  You will be observing yourself from the inside.  What you may come to see is that you are a spiritual being dressed in a human form.  And the human form can be uncomfortable.  Over time, you will begin to see possibilities in yourself. You will want to change, or so it appears.  But what is really happening is not a change as much as it is a shedding of anything that didn’t fit you to begin with.

There may be tears.  Thank them for carrying the agitated energy out of the body. You are not the first one to wet an eye pillow in savasana.

And know that if you chose not to show up for class, your teacher and co-worker yogi’s miss you and may even worry about you. By coming to class, we extend our own life energy to others.

This position is permanent and you are everyone. The main qualifications are self-love and discipline. Are you ready?

Light and Love,

Megan

Weeding The Inner Garden

Perhaps it was the soaked soil after several days of straight down rainfall that motivated me, but it was the first time in 2 summers that I got into the garden to weed. I used to do some pulling and transplanting in spring then leave things like watering and expansion to Mother Nature. The motto was “only the strong survive”.  In spite of all the years of thoughtful tending, and in a relatively short time, the 16-year-old garden has morphed into a forbidden jungle.  What were clearly marked flagstone pathways have perennials of all sorts growing in the cracks over the stones.  One particularly invasive ground cover strangled out some favorite flowers.  Certain plants that are tall and strong still manage to bloom, but it is officially the “in spite of me” garden.

Squatting in the soft rain with soaked gloves and mosquitos buzzing made me realize how much life is like a garden.  Low maintenance is preferred and something grows even in complete neglect. There are still good seeds in there somewhere, they just get overtaken when we stop working. But there is no such thing as no maintenance. When you can no longer see the path, it is hard to take the next step.

Sometimes we don’t see the work that someone else puts in.  My neighbor has what appears to be several acres of natural, unkept woods. Every spring, he spends hours in the thick of forest floor clearing out garlic mustard and buckthorn. Inner work is like weeding. You need to be alone in a sacred place similar to the garden or woods.  Being in that space encourages transition and growth; yet, you will feel uncomfortable and in the dark at times. And it will seem as if no one else appreciates the amount of effort you put forth.

It is said that yoga therapy is waste removal; substitute ‘weed’ for ‘waste’.  If you pull enough weeds, the light will touch the things that are already planted that you want to develop.  In removing the weeds, you are also clearing space for new seeds to plant themselves…even if it is in the cracks.

Yoga as Interval Training for the Body & Mind

Life requires interval training. Physically, interval training allows you to push yourself beyond your limits and increase endurance by combining blasts of energy with a recovery phase. Intensity is increased without burn out.  In yoga, we might practice interval training by releasing all the muscles in a child’s pose after a series of dynamic standing postures. Interval training works on the principle of adaptation – the body’s ability to adjust to increase or decrease in physical demands. Yoga is interval training for the body and mind. The adjustments we make are physical and mental. With repetition, an athlete can expend less energy doing the same movement. Likewise, poses become muscle memory the more we do them. But yoga also considers the fluctuations of the mind. For example, the more savasana (relaxation) we do, the more we live in a state of savasana.  Doesn’t this sound like a program for life?

Using the breath as the pacer, we challenge the body in postures, even to the point of creating stress.  When we are deep in the “blasting” phase of a difficult posture, our mind tends to react to the discomfort in habitual ways; negative self talk like “I can’t do this!” or anxious thoughts like “crap, I’m going to hurt myself!” or even feeling envious of someone else’s pose. The sanskrit term for these conditioned thoughts is samskaras. If we were to walk the exact same route through a muddy trail every day, eventually there would be a rut in the ground. Samskaras are impressions left in our subconscious mind when it continually takes the same path. What we don’t know (or more accurately aren’t aware of) can hurt…or help. When we perceive difficulty for ourselves or others, our unconscious thoughts tend to be vicious or virtuous. Put another way, like addictions, samskaras can be helpful or harmful. But typically they are not obvious in their outward appearance. They hide in repetitive thoughts and emotions.

In yoga, it is in our attempt to keep the breath steady and rhythmic that these patterns are uncovered. The power of the bursts and desire to push toward accomplishment, joy and success are entwined with periods of rest, low activity, and introspection. The breath is the built-in diagnostic tool; if the mind is aware of changes in the breath, we are present for the repetitive thought patterns during times of physical demand, and we can quiet them in the recovery phase. This interval training for the brain offers an opportunity to try a new route into the next  yoga pose and release any negative thought patterns. In between the blasts of energy and recovery phases, we see ourselves for who we are – never perfect, but always pushing beyond our limits without burning out.

“This being human is a guest house.  Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably.  He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

– Rumi, The Guest House

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.

Words Within Our Body

soften, melt, surrender, whole(ness), gentle, release, breathe, invite, feel, let go, assimilate, nourish, observe, joyfully, love, offer, access, integrate, flow, allow, transition, impartially, sweeten, transcend, tenderly, ground, stimulate, centre, nurture, awareness, peace, miraculous, heartfelt, organic, smooth, soothe, advocate, please, relax, expand, passionate, presence, bliss, manifest, notice, receive, smile, remember, grace, lighten, subtle, uplift, brighten, precious, goodness, pause, witness, support, openness, sukha, loving kindness, acceptance, sensation, consciously, welcome, embrace, beauty, exploration, amazement

The above word list fell out of a book from a yoga therapy training from several years ago. Sometimes it takes things literally falling into my lap to know it was meant for me. This was a gentle reminder that in a state of healing, our words and thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) play an integral part in the outcome.  “Healing Words” as it was labeled, was compiled by the teachers in the training to help each other speak to our students in a way that would encourage them to have a nurturing relationship with their body. Regardless of the conditions, diagnoses, or experiences, self talk is the sounding board for our innate ability to heal.

In ancient philosophy of yoga, the yoga sutras offer a present day GPS to find physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Out of some 196 sutras, a mere three directly discuss the physical aspects of yoga (asana). And to the surprise of many practitioners, the suggestions could easily slide into the “Healing Words” list.

Sutra 2.46 sthira sukham asanam – postures should be steady and comfortable.

Sutra 2.47  prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam – perfecting the posture means releasing tension or effort to remain in it and allow attention to merge with the infinite.

2.48 tatah dvandvah anabhighatah – then the perfected posture brings balance to complimentary opposites and freedom from suffering.

It was dark stories that ultimately brought us to the yoga therapy training. But at some point, and perhaps presently, our journeys were graced with the healing power of yoga firsthand – that of body, mind, emotion and spirit. Often confused with curing,  we came to understand that healing is an inside job. It requires effort, form and self-discipline. But never without “Healing Words”.

Peace and Light,

Megan

The Why and How of OM

Even if you have never entered a yoga studio, you have probably heard of the sound OM.  OM or AUM is the most frequently used sacred sound on earth, and the mantra often chanted in yoga classes.  Though it is meaningless, there is deep significance and healing power in this primordial vibration.

So what does it mean and how can we use it as a healing tool?

Sound is the essence of all energy. The whole universe is formed from energetic vibration and OM is the sound made by this cosmic energy.  If we could hear the universe, it would make a ‘hum’ like the OM sound.  Additionally, the root sounds of human speech are in AUM. Think of a baby learning to speak.  As humans, we are capable of producing 3 fundamental sounds: A, U and M.  All other sounds are combinations of these three made with the help of the tongue and oral cavity. If that sounds unreasonable, try holding your tongue and making any sounds other than A-U-M.

Are your fingers dry? Lets move on. Simply put, humans are matter and states of energy.  And as Einstein equated, mass cannot be destroyed or created, but it can change from one form to another. In chanting OM, all three of the root seeds are pronounced to vibrate the entire body from the inside out: from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, permeating all seven chakras.  OM awakens and transforms every atom in our body.  It clears, balances and energizes the entire electromagnetic field.

Some additional significance to the AUM:

A – represents wakefulness we experience in the outer world through our senses, or conscious state and present realm

U – is our dream state of inward experiences or subconscious state and past realm

M – is deep sleep or unconscious state or future realm

What is not heard, is the silent pause at the end of the OM which transcends the previous states and symbolizes the spiritually awakened state. In silence, energy returns to the heart where matter and spirit meet.

Ready to try it? Find a comfortable seated position with a tall spine and soft gaze or closed eyes. Invite your senses into your body by scanning it internally. Keeping the throat soft and oral cavity spacious, take a full breath in through the nose, and on the exhale, make the sound “Aaaaaaaa”.  Notice the inner vibration in the abdomen and the core center.  On the next exhale, make the sound “Oooooooo” and notice the vibration in the chest and throat.  Finally, gently touch the lips to make the sound “Mmmmmmm” on an exhale and notice the vibration in the head.  When you are ready and if your breathing allows, make all three sounds on one breath out.  Listen to your intuition. Linger in any of the three sounds longer and play with the volume etc.  Repeat as you feel comfortable and focus on the sensations and sounds made within the body.  You are now practicing Nada yoga, the yoga of sound!

OM Shanti,

Megan

Morning of Winter Solstice

At the end of this longest darkness I see you and remember who I am.

Not able to tell if the day starts with snowflakes floating or fog resting; fingers fumble to write.

The window is a stoic wall.  My heart is the window.

In the safety of this sacred space I am learning to open.

Genghis Khan no longer holds the mic.

First shaking off the astral dust of last night’s dreams.  Attempting to make sense of what remains.

A dried sea sponge in need of your salty water, I taste you. Soak me. Fill me. Expand me beyond form.

My house of mirrors is too dark to see in Brahma Muhurat. Pure fire strength only reflects light.

Follow the flame inward and know my outward appearance.

Purity comes in self practice.

Before warm colors splatter the sky always the question – how can I be better today than yesterday?

Namaste, Megan

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