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The Breath Blog

For most westerners, the word “yoga” conjures up something that looks like Cirque du Soleil auditions. In truth, you can only use the excuse that you are not flexible or strong enough to do yoga 1/8 of the time, (and that doesn’t really float since yoga postures are a way to gain flexibility safely). Let me explain the 1/8 comment. The yoga postures, contorted or comfortable, function as “Asana” which is the third of eight facets in the yogic system. The purpose of Asana is to get your body into shape to sit still in meditation with as little fidgeting and discomfort as possible. Can you believe that? The goal is not to put your hands below your toes, drench yourself with sweat or increase endurance. The body is the vehicle for the spirit. Asana is not what this blog is about though, and it doesn’t even have to be part of your yoga. It wasn’t part of mine for many years since I was introduced to yoga to alleviate anxiety.

A common phrase in the yoga community is that if you can breathe, you can do yoga. This is only partially accurate. Philosophically speaking, breathing IS yoga. In the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga), yogic breathing practices (Pranayama in Sanskrit) are so important that they claim their very own limb #4.  Pranayama is an essential part of a complete yoga practice. It involves regulating the breath to control the mind. Pranayama is also it’s own practice (no pretzel-like postures needed!). Pranayama is used to prepare for meditation; its an invitation into limb #5 Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), the first stage of meditation.

Most yoga traditions would tell you that Pranayama is much more important than Asana when it comes to heath and happiness. If we subscribe to the philosophy that the goal of yoga is to decrease suffering, develop inner peace and feel our aliveness, it is typically Pranayama, not Asana, that awakens us to our highest potential.

The classic teaching of all wisdom traditions is that humans suffer because we forget who we are – Divine beings. We forget who we are because as humans we are hard-wired pleasure seeking survivalist. We seek enjoyment and relief from agitation and pain from things outside of ourselves – drugs (both the prescription kind and the ones that will get you in jail), alcohol, food, working too much, and in our relationships with others. The yogic path reveals that who we seek and what we need is buried inside of us under all of our human roles and repetitions of self-defeating stories.

It is just one yoga teacher’s opinion that many American yoga classes are another form of exercise. What is missing is the link of movement to a reasonable breath pace. Asana is supposed to introduce the student to regulating the breath. When the practice is too physical or choreographed like the Jimmy Fallon History of Music Video Dancing (recommended if you need to laugh after this!) the breath is strained or forgotten about all together. You may as well be hitting a punching bag or doing crossfit; nothing wrong with that – strenuous sweaty stuff can be a release valve. Additionally, a gymnast or high-endurance athlete may one up you and excel quickly at Asana practice; it is beautiful to watch the flexibility and strength of the physical body. But can that fit body sit still in meditation? That takes a fit mind! Admittedly, if what you want is a good looking exterior, any exercise may work. What about exercising the mind? Do you do something that increases awareness and brings inner peace? Sleeping does not count – unless you have mastered lucid dreaming. We are multi-layered beings with a physical body, mental body and spiritual origin. Pranayama is experienced on the physical level as the breath, but it takes us beyond into the mental and spiritual layers of ourself. Pranayama is a fitness program for all the layers of our being.

On the physical level, Pranayama positively influences the systems of the body including respiratory, immune, cardiac and nervous system. Typically, our breath is automatic and involuntary. It is continuous and we do not have to think about it, but we only use about 20% of our breathing capability. The mechanics of your default breath might include chest breathing, which is too shallow to bring in maximum oxygen and does not allow the lungs to be fully expelled. The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration but it is is often under utilized. The chest muscles are considered accessory muscles in breathing. When we maximize the role of the diaphragm in respiration, our breathing is slower, fuller and more powerful. We increase our oxygen consumption and the ability to release carbon dioxide. We also exercise the often tight respiratory muscles.

The pattern of your breath is intimately connected to the mind. There is a breath pattern for every emotion. By learning to control the breath, we control the mind and emotions as well. Our involuntary breath responds to fatigue, stress or fear unconsciously by being incomplete or unbalanced. This auto-response ranges from the more obvious hyperventilation, shallow rapid breathing or to a simple reflexive sigh. The breath is the bridge between the brain (what your thinking) and body (what you feel). A starting point to control emotions is to simply observe the breath as it is. You could even close your eyes and do that right now for 1 minute…

Breath observation makes us more sensitive. Observation takes us into the present moment were we notice when the mind runs off to ruminate over the past or worry about the future. Our breath is a built in mindfulness teacher. But put your phone down – it doesn’t require money or meditation apps. We learn to block outer distractions and uncover what is especially present inside us. This is not for everybody and contrary to popular belief, it can be unpleasant. We may learn what troubles or agitates us; a bit like being stuck sitting with a blabbermouth stranger on a small airplane. You just want to put your headphones in and block her/him out, but the stranger is you. Instead of escaping physical or mental pain, we embrace it and lessen it with acceptance.

Once breath observation reveals what we are hiding from, we learn to safely and consciously lengthen and control the inhale (puraka) and exhale (rechaka). This practice alters the brain’s information processing. When we breath voluntarily, we actually change the region of the brain that we breathe from – unconscious breathing is controlled by the lower brain or brain stem and conscious breathing is function of the upper brain. We also balance the heart rate; the inhale slightly increases heart rate and the exhale relaxes the heart. By controlling the breath, we can listen to the chatty stranger in our mind with kindness, and redirect the story when it is not serving us. Pranayama is a free companion fair where you get to pick the person you want to sit with (you) and tell them when they are being irrational.

Energetically or spiritually (choose the term you like), Pranayama is how we begin to direct our Prana, Chi or life force (again – pick the term that works for you). On the subtle level, inhalation increases our focus, energy and vitality; the breathe out is an opportunity to purge, purify and relax more deeply. Eventually, you can learn to add a breath retention (kumbaka) which culminates in a balanced mind and provides a “peaceful pause” in energy body. The power of controlled breathing leads to a fusing of the complimentary opposites of solar/lunar and expand/contract. In this state of balance, the pleasure seeking senses and physical cravings are controlled.

Yogis believe we are all given a particular number of breaths in each karmic cycle. A lifespan is only limited by the number of breaths you breathe. Listen to the sound of breath in your own body as the argument of being alive.

Namaste,

Megan

PS – If you are looking for a place to get started with a Pranayama practice at home, visit the Breath Meditation Series in the free meditation library. BFY also offers free meditations the second Wednesday of each month or a private Pranayama and Meditation session with Megan can address your unique needs.

Gardening the Soul

Have you considered going on a spiritual quest?  The short, cold days and holidays season provide a particularly inviting opportunity and energy to explore spirituality. But the problem is we cannot take a spiritual journey because we are spiritual beings having a human experience. What we can do in the dark of winter is garden our soul.

On our human journey, accomplishment and success are measured by our intellectual pursuits that are sustained by what we learn and do in the external world. Make no mistake; how we interact with our outer environment is critical.  But as spiritual beings, we have the innate ability to perceive our outer environment through intuition instead of intellect.  Intuition is sometimes a soft voice inside ourselves, but more often it is a feeling in the body – the heart racing or butterflies in your stomach for example.  These voices and sensations are misread or missed entirely because of the constant stimulation in our outer world. Even though intuition is our essential nature, it needs to be cultivated like a garden through meditation or another practice of inner knowing.  When we purposely get quiet and still, intuition becomes the all powerful weather app for Spirit. Except, it actually predicts correctly because it relies on our internal senses.

In spiritual practices, there is an image that is widely used of the body being the temple of the soul.  I prefer to think of the body as a greenhouse.  Everything we take in with our five senses is a seed that is planted in our greenhouse.  Our words (to ourselves and others) are containers of energetic vibration that we put the seeds in. The enlightened spiritual Self is the gardner who decides what to water and where to make the best use of our Light energy. Spirit gardens from a higher sense of knowing than intellect, even though it may defy reason and logic.  It is the mind that often makes the mistake of providing the wrong seeds. The seeds of the mind can either take us toward or away from our recognition as Spirit. The good news is that even when we unconsciously plant rows of weeds, and no matter how much they take over, the spiritual gardener can step in and pull them to make space for new plantings. 

When you know your stress is at an unhealthy level and things are so overgrown in your greenhouse that they are blocking out the Light, 2 things can happen: 

Option One – the glass on your greenhouse will break; the body will experience anything from a cold to slight physical discomfort to disease. 

Option Two – you can remodel, split the heathy plants, reuse what you want and reseed. Sometimes that includes making changes in relationships, jobs, or moving.  If external changes can’t be made (at least right away), there is the opportunity for climate control within the greenhouse; establish and honor boundaries.  Spirit as the gardner has the right to say “no” to anything that is detrimental to our Being-ness. If visitors to your greenhouse are annoyed by your boundaries, it is because they are the ones who benefit from you not having any.  In recognizing that we are spiritual beings, we can offer unconditional love to others from the heart, but not like what they do or let them seed our mind.  It’s the heart, not the mind or body, that is in tune with our infinite nature. In remembering this we transcend the stories and trauma on the human journey.

When I live from my soul as Spirit, I am empowered to honor the notices the gardener posted in my greenhouse:

Refuse to just cope with things or settle.  Unfortunately, our human system is hardwired for that – coping or settling.  The proof is in our tendency toward addiction and all the drugs created to mask pain, depress emotion, function with disease etc. When I remember I’m a spiritual being, I want more. Joy is the natural state of Spirit, but it doesn’t fall into your lap on the human journey. I’m disciplined and motivated to find happiness. 

Refuse to be a victim. No matter what difficulties I experience, it is only the mind that can take me away from spiritual wholeness; and only if I let it.  Pain is real – physical and emotional – but the mind can make me a victim of that pain or lead me to my true nature as Spirit, where every difficulty, flaw, and failure is an opportunity for growth and transformation.

Refuse to have expectations.  As humans, we need to have desires and goals to guide us.  But Spirit asks that we include a clause that when we ask for something, we understand that we only get it if it is in alignment with the highest good of all.  In yoga, this is referred to as ishavara pranidhana – surrendering to a force greater than ourselves. Failure does not need to cause pain and suffering; it is a flaw of the mind and ego. Spirit does every action for the sake of itself and not for reward.

Refuse to feel alone.  I am never alone when I am in the presence of my higher power.  It also helps to be grateful for and keep contact with my friends in the garden club. 

Peace and Light,

Megan

 

In the Irish tradition, honeysuckle was believed to have power against evil spirits. In other places it’s believed that grown around the doors it will bring good luck. Its clinging nature in the language of flowers symbolizes, ‘we are united in love’.

Honeysuckle or Fairy Trumpets

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

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.

In Praise of Spider Webs

Mind is the spider;

spinning, spinning, madly spinning.

Recreating the past; restless and poisonous.

A tapestry of turmoil.

Thoughts all connected with one unsubstantiated thread.

I lost my place in the center.

Terrified of heights,

I grip the edge, fearful of falling back down.

So desperate for a satisfying meal,

unable to get beyond the gasping fly.

Too self-absorbed to see the beauty of the whole web.

Be patient. Be still.

Web is an intricately woven Mandala; unique and purposeful.

A single silky strand crosses my forehead,

knocking me conscious.

Hitting me like Newton’s apple as I walk to awaken.

Spinning stops; I reconnect to Self and Source.

Using all eight legs to walk the path of the Eight Limbs,

I crawl back into now.

Namaste, Megan

Choose Love

Raw and scared and hopeless and unsure and angry and revengeful: Hatred is a result of all of these faces. There is no need to see photos of victims, know their names or hear their stories; I choose not to know so please don’t talk details.  My protective cover is on. The sensational story lines are for the primitive brain where we chose to attack or hide.  My heart already knows them as me.

Each time it happens, being alone is where I release.  How do I know how long to keep the band-aide on? As long as the wound is healing, it needs to be in the dark where all filters are off. In daylight, I walk a line between not suppressing my emotions and trying to hold space.  One morning I don’t want to leave meditation because that may be the only place all day I don’t feel guilty for smiling and not attaching to the madness.   And the next day I want to scream at the top of my voice “I am tired of all this shit you hateful pricks”.  I also cry unobstructed without needing to explain why.  “Stop your crying.  Act like a big girl.” That is the bad advice I heard the mother tell her child last week. I am a big girl and I do cry. I allow myself all this and more.  Each emotion has it’s own energy. I feel their sensations in my body and give permission to go there. I can hold myself in sacred space. And whatever they may be, I make peace with my thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I learned it is not in my job description to tell others who I am. No matter how long or how well you know someone, you never truly know them. People are not put in my path so I can tell them about myself.  They are here to teach me about mySelf.  They expose my difficult parts so I can grow spiritually.  What makes me weak, angry, judgmental? Please push those trigger points.  I will embody a stronger vibration.  But when the world feels this broken, part of me feels the need to explain myself – that I am like a bear and my method of self-nurturing is hibernation. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or am in denial or avoidance. Solitude is where I dig deepest into my heart space beyond all that is black and dead.

“Don’t look for the light to find me, become the light.” The first glimpse is not going to come from the evening news, on social media or in an emotional discussion on current events.  I find it alone in my wounds.  If I let myself get caught up in the stories and conversation, even with the best of intentions, I stay in the dark. The wounds become universal wounds – my wounds.  Evil prevails and too much energy goes toward trying to fathom the despise in another soul. I am my thoughts.  Why do I want them to repeatedly be of hateful humans and tragedy? They want me to be scared and judgmental. Protect yourself. Don’t trust each other. Instead I will be stronger in my resolve to see myself in others; because it is not death I fear – it is a world of better people living IN fear.

Hatred is a small child throwing a tantrum.  It has limitations and will exhaust itself.  It is only satisfied when it gets attention and recognition; Enter the Aquarian Age of information where Mass Media nurtures hate.  Love knows no boundaries, has no agenda and tiptoes quietly through the human madness. The energy of the heart heals.  The mind judges.  The heart is empathetic and compassionate.  The mind wants revenge and justice.  Nothing sinks us into survival behavior faster than allowing hatred to gloat; or it sends us into an emotional upheaval that society then tells us to restrain; or into the ego where anger lives.  We are certain we are better than the perpetrator.  I tell myself my hands are not weapons of hate.  But what are the small ways that my words and thoughts harm others?

Today is a full moon.  I choose to magnify love.

Namaste, Megan

Falling, Flying and Wakeful Napping: Healing My Concussion

(This first person perspective was written in July 2010 while 6-20 days post-concussion. The timing of the concussion was incredibly serendipitous; six days later I was scheduled to attend an 11 day Yoga of the Heart training with Nischala Joy Devi at Kripalu Yoga Center. The program is designed for cardiac and cancer therapy, but it was a remarkable recovery option for concussion. This piece was never shared publicly until recently when it was typed up for a 15 page research report on Yoga for Concussion as part of a 300 hour certification with Inner Peace Yoga Therapy.  Thought it was not an official part of the research, it was included as a personal insight into a messed up brain and my continued motivation to study yoga therapy. I still believe the main component of recovery from concussion is patience, but I am hopeful that the standard of care will go beyond rest, limitations and restrictions. As multidisciplinary treatments are more readily understood and used in all areas of medicine, treatment plans that follow the yoga therapy model will continue to be developed for concussion.)

Falling, Flying and Wakeful Napping: Healing My Concussion

Being on a plane on a clear day is so amazing. It is a form of humility to feel so small as a city as big as Chicago shrinks down to something resembling an H scale train set. In years of flying, why haven’t I noticed this before? Comfortably connected, but without boundaries or motives; differences and judgement disappear from this height and my reality is tested.

This connection comes after going through the airport with a mixed sense of awe and fright at the number of people all scurrying along their own path. Winding my way through O’Hare is baby steps. I’m cautiously hesitant and extremely overstimulated. Living in the moment and being fully aware of my immediate surroundings is the only shield of protection, (that and a pair of dark sunglasses to hide my deep black eyes from inquisition). The words “please don’t touch me” repeatedly roll through my brain like an unchosen mantra. Resourceful with my energy, or lack there of, I allow myself to see everything without being there; unable and unwilling to join the party or react.

Oddly enough, an airport has never felt so peaceful. At the same time, I recognize that my brain is trying to chew through its leash and do what it wants. My movements are awkwardly unpredictable, like a blind drunkard. When I attempt to order a smoothie, my mind plays a game of Mad Libs with the sentences. Thank you understanding smoothie maker dude for your patience. I think you know the secret of my shattered brain.

Writing this now from the plane feels therapeutic because I have time to think and correct. This is perfect. My brain needs a challenge, but on my terms. Getting the thoughts from my head to the pencil to the paper takes time. And lots of erasing. When I go back to read the scribble, it is as if someone else wrote it.

It is likely that my desire to move in slow motion and watch the rat race in O’Hare as opposed to joining it is an innate, medical necessity. Six days ago, I was knocked unconscious when a pole of flying metal three inches in diameter hit me in the right temple, sending me to the ER with a concussion. With little memory of what happened, I know the best thing I can do is be present and forgiving of myself. My brain needs a healing, nurturing environment with limited stimulation. What could be more healing than yoga in the Berkshire mountains?

So I am on my way to Kripalu to do an 11 day “Yoga of the Heart” training to learn to teach yoga to heart and cancer patients. The irony is that I am now the one that needs serious recharging. After doctor recommendations, discussions with others who had concussions and reading all the gore the internet has to offer (in between much-needed naps), I have come to accept that it may be awhile before I no longer feel like a sea-sick sailor. At least I know my humor portion of the brain is still there as I seemingly inappropriately laugh out loud in my plane seat like a crazy person after writing the words “sick sailor”; the reality is that I was taken out by a sailboat boom.

Understanding this is a time to listen to and honor my body, I’m optimistic the word salad will settle as my brain finds balance. Mentally, I have made a list of the things I probably should not do: sailing (don’t really want to,) water skiing, any fast movement or contact, anything that raises my blood pressure or makes me sweat, and definitely no yoga inversions. That is a hard bit of reality when you love yoga, have 3 fun kids, live on a lake, the month of August is approaching and your nickname is the Energizer Bunny.

I keep coming back to one thought though: I believe in the healing power of yoga.

When I signed up for this training months ago, the ultimate goal was to empower others who also believe in their own healing power. The other day, frustrated and scared, I found myself doubting that same holistic approach to healing. Then I looked back at what brought me to yoga over 20 years ago – a desire and BELIEF that I could manage my panic attacks through breathing and meditation. After a double vision re-reading of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s “90 Second Rule”, I promise to give myself 90 seconds of circuitry freedom to flush the brain no matter what flies out of my mouth. With courage and searching for the appropriate-emotion-meter in my brain, I am considering an additional purpose for this training. My hit to the head was taking one for the team – only I got hit with the bat instead of the ball. I will approach this as a research participant trying to study the benefits of yoga therapy for Post Concussion Syndrome. More to come…

11 days have come and gone and the Puja graduation took place tonight; amazement and joy. I’m beginning to remember what it is like to be a whole person in mind and body. Appreciating that there is no control group – I would have been hard pressed on this sacred ground to find someone else who wanted to get hit in the head and NOT practice yoga – I have to believe there is no better way to heal from a concussion than a yoga retreat; specifically the peaceful protection of Kripalu under the leadership of Nishala Joy Devi: veggie diet, no TV, radio, cell phones or overstimulation…not even my computer, which I purposely chose to turn off the past 10 days, (mainly because of the instantaneous high power headaches it caused); surrounded by calm, attentive people taken to a surrealistic level – the Cleaver family in yoga pants smelling like a garden variety of essential oils. Everyone smiling, but the kind of smile your feel in your heart. The environmental factor is huge: it is easier to be peaceful and centered when you are surrounded by it. And unlike in the airport, where I suspected people looking at my black eyes thinking “poor lady, someone beat the shit out of her”, there is no judgment or labeling. We are all here to heal from something, and some of the deepest scars are not visible. This setting is a true Avalon for those in need of quiet personal space and unconditional love.

As for the practical instruction I was blessed to received in the name of learning to teach Deep Relaxation Through the Koshas, I cannot say enough about the healing benefits of this mystical state between wakefulness and sleep. Guided Deep Relaxation through the Koshas, specifically when in the hands of someone as masterful and compassionate as Bhaskar Deva, is a blissful holistic opiate. I looked forward to my daily afternoon “naps” (don’t fall asleep or you will miss the good stuff!) like a kindergartener rolling out their mat after milk and cookies. Only in this case, the “nap” kicked ass on the cookies. The commercial “this is your brain and this is your brain on drugs” where they show the egg frying in the pan met its antithesis. With each Deep Relaxation, my brain took a relaxing trip to the island of tranquility. I imaged my brain as a little superwoman being fed the anti-kryptonite/concussion serum during each relaxation session. It was as if I could feel the neurotransmitters throwing a party inside me as the swelling subsided.

On the down side, listening to, processing and writing notes was a gigantic struggle. As I look back now, it’s as if someone else occupied my body and thoughtfully took notes for me. But this, too, was part of the healing. The exhausting part admittedly. Getting the two hemispheres of my brain to team up again and send the appropriate messages to my hand resulted in lots of cross outs, chicken scratch and frustration. (I would love to blame the poor spelling as well, but that is a genetic flaw.) Too exhausted to do anything but sleep in the evening, I would reread my notes in the quiet morning hours in my dorm room proud and amazed at my ability to focus that long. The first few days, it was as if I was reading all new material. What fairy delivered this information while I was sleeping? Gradually, my brain began to recognize bits and pieces of the material from the day before. The language and thought process made friends with my writing hand too. Since this was an intense 100 hour training, taking notes was necessary. And to some degree, the processing of seemingly endless hours of intellectual information may have aided my recovery. If I were to go on-line today, however, and search out yoga for concussion treatment, I would look for a program with less intensity and more nap time – think retreat not training. But the daily dose of deep relaxation is a must!

As far as the yoga asana goes, my practice was stripped down to about 1/4 of its usual strength and vigor. Delightful! One of the things I thought I would miss the most – the challenge of flow, big backbends and inversions – was replaced with grace; an acceptance of what I could not do and embracing what I could. In the yoga philosophy, this translates as being able to recognize my strengths through self-study (svadhyaya) and surrendering limitations to a higher purpose (ishvara pranidhana). Fortunately, Kripalu style yoga lends itself well to a gentle practice. In the big picture, the physical poses were like being offered desert when I was already satisfied from the meal; not necessary, but a pleasant accompaniment. I also learned to “under-do” – to fill my awareness on less, which is a feeling I will carry with me in my practice.

From a practical standpoint, I don’t hold much hope that football players or wrestlers will retreat to Kripalu after a concussion. But trust me when I tell you, it is their loss.

On to the real world. That’s a whole other story. Can you say relapse?

Peace,

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

Anniversary Blog

A Year of Gratitude
This week, BFYH starts its second year in business.  What did the first year bring? Not to keep you waiting, I will skip to the thesis statement;  Yoga brings out the best in people. Forget the physical aspects. It is the human side of the story.  The power we hold to hurt or heal each other.  In the studio this past year, it was a story of how we bring Light to each other.  A term I call Generosity of Spirit;  The idea that every interaction is the opportunity to improve the day of the person you come in contact with. Sometimes as simple as a smile.

There were unexpected twists that were not in the business manual – months of distracting train whistles, interesting neighbors and shady deals going down in the parking lot behind us, and most recently, lots of shoveling, ice and a polar vortex. (Even as a snow lover, the current temperature of -2  makes this a particularly good week to practice cultivating positive thoughts and perception – and I realize I take my chances saying that!)

Difficulty came in losing the clients, friends and family that transitioned this past year.  There need not be an agreement where they go to when they leave their bodies, only that we continue to send blessings in our own way.

I cannot express the gratitude in my heart for all you have taught me this past year, but thanks go out to:

  • The students who followed me from the Aurora Wellness Center and helped to make BFYH our new home.
  • The prayer pot that overflows with selfless thoughts and greets me each day.
  • All the intentions set by and for each of you in class.  We are energy and awareness and energy follows intention.
  • Meeting and making new friends… and meeting your support team: parents who attend with their children, couples, sisters and friends all practicing together. Keep bringing your visitors for free!
  • The teachers who are yoga students at BFYH. Thank You for taking care of yourselves because you help our kids.
  • Workshops and events with fantastic guest facilitators sharing their knowledge and energy. And for the attendees who open their minds to holistic methods of health and healing.
  • The clients who supported me during my Healing Touch certification. Next goal: making the word “chakra” a household term in Burlington!
  • Dog lovers who greet and treat Luna and Bodhi. Bodhi is starting his therapy training and appreciates your patience and affection.
  • Those who participate in, and Janine for teaching our Friday community class.  We raised $1,986 for the Transitional Living Center in 2014!
  • Lots of savasana – student or teacher, always my favorite pose 🙂
  • Mostly, Thank You for the countless hugs and for sharing your “Selves”.

As a friend wrote recently, “life is just a really big project, isn’t it”?!  A project where my hope is more things happen FOR you instead of TO you in next year.  Either way, life is a project we can work on together.

Namaste,
megan