Monday, December 27, 2010

Treehouse Yoga Studio Arrives in the 21st Century!

Good news! Santa brought us an iHome! So now, at Treehouse Yoga Studio, we can say goodbye to skipping CDs, and hello to new music in our classes. Marnie and I are formulating new playlists on our iPods, and are eager to try them out in class. Don't worry, the old favorites will still be in the rotation.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Om Shanti

At the end of every yoga class, the very last thing I say, before I thank my students for attending, are the words "Om Shanti."

"Om Shanti" is essentially a prayer for peace. "Om" represents the sacred sound of the universe. And "Shanti" means "peace."

When I say it, I encourage you to say it back to me. Together, we wish for peace in our world, peace in our communities, peace in our families, peace in our lives, peace within ourselves . . .

Om Shanti.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Acceptance, Patience and Surrender

Today’s post completes my discussion of the Ten Principles of Yoga. The final principle is Acceptance, Patience, and Surrender.

Acceptance: Accept where you are in the moment, even if you’d prefer it to be different. Let’s say you want to be able to do a full squat pose, but whenever you try, it hurts your knees. Accept that your body is not ready for a full squat yet, and instead choose a modified version of the posture that causes no pain.

Patience: Be patient with yourself, with your body. If you keep attempting that modified squat, you will find that over time you are able to go farther and farther into it. You will make progress . . . incremental progress most of the time, but you may also experience the occasional giant leap forward.

Surrender: Just let it be. Let go of trying and breathe into “where you are” in the moment . . . and relish it.

These principles can be such a challenge! We always want to be doing “better,” and often as we age, we find that instead we are doing “less.” But less isn’t worse. As long as you’re doing what feels right in your body, you are doing your best. Take a deep breath and enjoy the satisfaction of doing your yogic best!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Here’s one of the most important of all the Ten Principles of Yoga . . . enjoying oneself.

We practice yoga for various reasons – to improve our physical and mental health, to relieve stress, to become more centered. But what good is it if we don’t enjoy the process?

Do you love coming to yoga class? Do you look forward to it each day/week because it makes you feel good? Then while you’re in class, take a moment to relish this sense of enjoyment – telling yourself “this” is what I love about yoga . . . whether it’s the opening stretches or Moon Salutation or rest pose. Taking note of the things we enjoy makes our lives that much more pleasant.

Sure there will be times in yoga class when you don’t love what’s happening – we all have our “least favorite poses.” There’s nothing wrong with not liking a pose – (as long as you still at least try once to do it, or a modified version of it). I’ve found that the poses I dislike the most are the ones I need more than anything.

I’ve learned something over the years that can be applied to practically every situation, on or off the mat. If you’re stuck doing something – whether it’s frog pose or window washing or navigating a traffic jam – try to find a way to enjoy it. If there’s no clear way to “get out of it,” why waste energy hating what you’re doing? Instead, seek to find some joy in it, some benefit, no matter how small. Hating it while you’re stuck doing it will only make you more miserable.

Finding enjoyment in all the little things we do in life is a valuable practice – especially when we’re challenged to find enjoyment in a root canal, for example, or a long wait at the doctor’s office. But it can be done! And you’ll have so much more peace of mind if you do it . . . or at least try.

Friday, December 3, 2010


While putting the Ten Principles of Yoga into practice, be careful not to be rigid with yourself! While you’re striving to relax, be breathed, feel grounded, and everything else, you may find that you’re trying too hard – either physically, mentally, emotionally . . . or on all fronts. Be gentle with yourself!

Gentleness is a very important practice in yoga -- not pushing your body too far, and respecting your current “edge” (where anything less would feel like not-enough, but anything more would feel like too-much). Physical gentleness is not always easy, especially when we’re trying to master a new posture. Mental and/or emotional gentleness can also be a challenge – permitting yourself to be imperfect is not always a simple thing to do!

When I have trouble being gentle with myself, I imagine a much younger version of me – say ten years old – and direct the mental chatter at that little girl, rather than her grown-up counterpart. It works wonders!

Being gentle with ourselves teaches us how to be gentler with others. No one likes a bully.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Opening & Elongation

Another of the Ten Principles of Yoga is “Allowing Opening and Elongation.” When we practice yoga, we are stretching the body – gently encouraging muscles and tissues to relax, lengthen and un-knot. While we CAN force a stretch to happen, the optimal method never employs force. It is much safer – and more practical – to get into position, and then breathe and gently encourage the body to stretch at its own pace. In this way we are “allowing” the body to open and elongate, rather than “pushing” it to do so.

This one is especially applicable to life outside the yoga room. Because there too, we get the best result when we refrain from force, and instead allow things to occur at a natural pace.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Centered & Balanced

A regular yoga practice will help you feel more centered and balanced. If you tend to feel scattered, yoga will help you put the pieces back together. If you feel off-center, yoga will help to balance things out.

Yoga has a wonderful equalizing quality. It can lift sadness or calm a hyperactive mind. It can create energy or bring calm. Whatever you need, really, yoga is there to serve you. It’s your inner self guiding your outer self toward what’s best for you. As long as you don’t let your ego get in the way!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sensing Connection

When you practice yoga, you become more aware of how things are connected in your body. For example, when you engage your abdominal muscles in a forward bend you feel your lower back relax a little bit more into the pose. That’s because your abs and low back work in tandem – one engages while the other releases. After a while, this becomes second nature.

Yoga also teaches you how your body and your emotional states are connected. When you breathe deeply and slowly, oxygenating your body, you begin to relax a little bit. In time, you automatically breathe deeply when you need to slow or calm down.

And yoga helps you to feel more connected with your fellow beings. Generally when a yoga class draws to a close, there is a warm feeling of camaraderie among the students. Sharing experiences tends to make us feel more connected . . . and this sense of connection tends to make us feel good!

A regular yoga practice attunes you to so many different connections – which in turn helps you to have a better understanding of yourself, to be more responsive to your own needs, and to be more sensitive to the needs and motivations of others. Just one more reason why yoga is so good for you!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Feeling Grounded and Rooted

One of the most beneficial effects of a regular yoga practice is the feeling of groundedness or “rootedness.” You might come to your practice feeling preoccupied or scattered, but when you leave, you feel much more calm.

Yoga slows us down and helps us connect with ourselves. Stretching and breathing in a deliberate way helps to clear away the chatter of the mind. So we move our bodies slowly, we breathe deeply, and as a consequence we reconnect with our selves. We feel more solid, more whole.

For me, it’s one of the best things about practicing yoga. It’s also the fourth of the Ten Principles of Yoga.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Being Breathed

Of all the ten principles of yoga, this concept is the hardest for me to explain. Being breathed? Huh?

What it means to me is that while we practice yoga, we are allowing the breath to move us. We breathe deeply to help ourselves relax and go deeper into postures. We breathe consciously to help us concentrate and focus inward. We breathe easily – not forcing the breath, or any other part of the body/mind to go farther than it should. We let the breath flow through us, let the breath lead us to wherever our practice is meant to take us.

Following the breath, not the mind. Does that make sense?

Remember, if you’re not breathing, you’re not doing yoga!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Relaxed Body, Mind and Breath

The second of the Ten Principles of Yoga is having a relaxed body, mind and breath.

When we think of yoga, we tend to think of stretching, strengthening and ultimately relaxing the body. That’s what rest pose is all about, right? Even when holding a challenging pose, we look for ways to relax the muscles and tissues. First we get the structure of the posture just-right, then we learn to relax into it. It isn’t necessarily easy. But when we figure it out, it feels so right!

But what about the mind? Relaxing the mind means letting go of thinking and processing and what-if-ing and just “being.” Not just during rest pose, but throughout class.

And the breath? Having a relaxed breath means that we’re not striving to breathe in a particular way. We’re not forcing the breath. We’re letting the muscles around the lungs and other breathing apparatus relax. We’re just letting the breath flow smoothly in and out.

When we think, we tend to tense up the body and the breath (not to mention the mind if we’re thinking too hard [brain cramp!]) Pay attention to how relaxed you are when you practice yoga. See if you can relax more. Then try applying this practice to everyday life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The 10 Principles of Yoga: #1, Being Present

For the next 10 posts, I will be discussing The Ten Principles of Yoga, to which I was first introduced in a workshop led by pregnancy yoga guru, Janice Clarfield. The principles can also be applied to childbirth.

The first of the ten principles in Being Present.

This is not so much about being physically present in the room (although that of course is important too). It’s about being present, mentally. Being Present means that while you practice yoga, you are focused on your breath, on physical sensations in your body, and on your mental and emotional states. You are not just letting your mind wander off from one topic to another.

Another way to define Being Present might be “being conscious” or “being mindful.”

There are so many benefits to Being Present while you practice yoga. If you focus on your breath and draw your awareness inward, your practice will become more meditative and serene. By focusing inward, you will be more attuned to insights and inspiration. You will also be more in tune with your physical self, and thus will be able to sense which muscles are tight, or prone to injury – so you will be able to adjust your physical practice accordingly.

Reminding yourself to Be Present will also lessen the detrimental effects of a wandering mind. For example, if you find yourself comparing your own butt to the “perfect butt” of the person in front of you, and lamenting the notion that yours is less than perfect, then you are letting yourself become distracted with mental chatter. When you catch yourself comparing, bring your awareness back to the present – find your breath, notice what’s going on in your body, notice how you are feeling.

It’s a valuable practice that can be applied elsewhere in your life as well.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Samadhi, or Enlightenment

Samadhi, or enlightenment, is the eighth limb of yoga. It can be defined as a becoming one with the divine, or being in a state of bliss, where there is nothing more to be done or sought. It is generally achieved via deep meditation.

Some say that this is what we strive for while practicing yoga and meditation. There are plenty of seekers that want to achieve enlightenment and live in a permanent state of bliss. It’s a noble goal, and entirely possible. Who doesn’t want bliss?

But in the meantime, we have all the other limbs of the yoga tree to help us along the way -- to teach us valuable lessons about ourselves, and others, about our own worlds as well as the entire universe.

Spiritual seekers are often categorized into four sets or stages. There are the new seekers, aka students, who are actively learning the ropes of spiritual reflection. There are more mature seekers, or householders, whose charge is to apply what they have learned to their family lives. There are those who still later in life – think of retirees or crones -- begin to withdraw from the world and turn their focus inward. And there are renunciates – think monks and nuns -- who withdraw completely from the world and devote their lives to spiritual seeking.

Where are you on this spectrum?

In the past decade, I have crossed the threshold from student to householder. Before my son was born, it was a priority for me to attend yoga workshops – sometimes for two weeks at a time – twice a year at Kripalu in the Berkshires. It was a wonderful way to immerse myself in the reflective practices of yoga, meditation, pranayama and (relative) solitude. Now as a mother of an active four year old, I’m lucky if I can fit in a daily meditation. I’m fortunate, at least, that one of my jobs is to teach yoga . . . .so it’s my “duty,” in a sense, to stretch and breathe each day.

Transitions like these can be startling. To go from focusing on my own spiritual path to learning how to practice what I’ve learned in the context of a family – and all the demands that family life (combined with part-to-full-time work) bring into the picture. Not easy, not easy.

But still, there are moments of deep insight and stillness that seem to arise out of nowhere and help me to see how it’s all connected. Glimpses of bliss. I’m content with this for now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dhyana, or Meditation

The seventh of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is Meditation. The fifth, sixth and seventh limbs all go together, in a way. In order to meditate, you need to
a.) withdraw from the influence of your senses (Pratyahara) ; and
b.) concentrate on something (Dharana).
When you achieve these together, most likely you’ll slide right into meditation, (Dhyana).

Traditional yogic and Buddhist philosophies define meditation as “the liberation of the mind from all disturbing and distracting emotions, thoughts and desires.” That sounds intimidating, though, doesn’t it? How on earth does one do THAT?

Try it this way instead. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines meditation as simply “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” That’s better, eh? And there are so many different ways to meditate – sitting, walking, praying, repeating a mantra, and so on.

There is a common misperception that meditation is only done correctly when one is sitting completely still and one’s mind is completely empty. We may have glimpses of that every now and then, but on the whole, meditation is not about ACHIEVING this goal, but rather the PROCESS that we use to get there, or even to approach getting there.

Meditation is about learning to quiet the mind, even if we never actually manage to quiet it. It’s about letting go of the past and future, letting go of all our predicting and what-if-ing and then JUST BEING in the present.

For most of us, the present is elusive. We may focus on it for a moment, but a second later the mind is flying off in another direction.

In meditation, we recognize that it’s the nature of the mind to run off (experts call it “monkey mind”). We just keep patiently bringing the mind back to whatever we’ve chosen to concentrate on, WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.

A traditional definition of the purpose of meditation is “to relieve suffering.” Suffering is defined as the conflict between what is and what might be, what we wish for, or what we want. In meditation, we try to focus on what’s real and to strip away the rest. What’s real may not be very comfortable – we may have to face problems, fears, discomforts.

Some interpretations of the Eight Limbs indicate that the ideal is when you’re meditating on the divine or feeling devotion to the divine. But atheists can meditate too! So I look at a “good” meditation more as aligning oneself with a higher vibration or energy, and landing in that place where everything seems to make sense and flow effortlessly. And, most importantly, feeling devotion to and gratitude for this connection between oneself and the universe.

When we’re meditating, we’re more open to insight. It’s a valuable tool to help us see things more clearly and extend our own perception of reality. It helps us to feel calmer, more grounded, more aware – and can improve our health.

Remember, the yoga postures were originally developed to prepare the body and mind to sit for meditation.

If you enjoy yoga, please consider coming to one of my meditation workshops this fall. I will offer two sessions – Meditation Basics and Beyond Meditation Basics -- at Dragonfly Yoga Studio in Marshfield (November 7 and 21); and another at Body To Soul Fitness in Pembroke (date TBA, probably a weekend in September). I also offer private Learn To Meditate classes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dharana, or Concentration

Dharana, or concentration, is the sixth limb on the tree of yoga. Like Pratyahara, it is part of the “meditation triad” in the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Sense withdrawal and concentration are basically precursors to meditation. In order to meditate effectively, one must tune out outside stimuli (Pratyahara)and then concentrate on something in particular (Dharana). Neither is necessarily an easy task at first, but both become much easier with practice.

What’s wonderful about meditation is that you can choose what you want to concentrate on. Your breath! Sensation in your body! An image (of a deity, perhaps, or something else that’s meaningful to you)! An action (walking, yoga, mala beads)! Find something that you can really relax into, and then focus, focus, focus!

It’s the nature of the mind to wander. Meditators call it “monkey mind.” So if you lose your concentration, you haven’t failed. You’re just human! Meditation teaches us to improve our concentration by constantly returning to the subject upon which we intend to focus, going back to it again and again, each time the mind darts off to other topics.

Dharana can be very helpful during your yoga practice. Do you find yourself contemplating your pedicure while holding forward bends? Thinking about your grocery list while standing in warrior? Instead of letting yourself become distracted by everyday concerns, choose something to focus on while you practice. Again, it could be your breath, or the sensations you experience in your body while practicing. A mantra, perhaps, or an affirmation. Choose something on which you can concentrate with relative ease, and come back to it, again and again, when you catch yourself becoming distracted. Doing this will heighten the benefits of your yoga practice and bring you closer to the “meditation in motion” that makes yoga a transformative experience.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pratyahara, or Sense Withdrawal

Pratyahara, the fifth limb on the tree of yoga, is defined as “withdrawal of the senses.” This is where we are concentrating well enough that we no longer respond reflexively to outside stimuli – sights, sounds, smells, and so on.

There are various stages of pratyahara, but to be honest, that’s a territory of yoga practice that’s beyond my personal experience.

My own understanding of pratyahara so far, is pretty simple, something I think many of my students can relate to. I become so absorbed in my practice that the only things I’m aware of are my body and my breath. The rest fades far into the background.

Yoga can entrance us. It’s a little bit like when you’re driving on the highway and suddenly you realize that you have traveled x number of miles without even noticing. “How did I get here?” Yoga can have the same effect on us. We reach the end of class and realize and wonder, “It’s time to rest already?”

Pratyahara is actually one of three limbs on the yoga tree that describe the process of meditating. We have “withdrawal of the senses” as well as “concentration” or Dharana, and actual “meditation” or Dhyana. All three work together.

So when you’re so absorbed in your yoga practice that you don’t really notice time going by, then your practice has become a sort of meditation. And if you’re meditating and practicing yoga at the same time, you’ll find that the benefits are considerably greater.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pranayama, or Breath Control

The next branch of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is Pranayama, or breath control. Breathing technique and yoga postures go hand in hand. You may have heard me say in class, “If you’re not breathing, you’re not doing yoga.”

Well obviously -- if you’re not breathing, you’re not alive either. What I’m really saying is that it’s important to be sure you don’t hold your breath, especially when you’re doing a balance pose or one that requires a lot of strength or effort. If you find yourself doing so, pause for a moment and take a long, slow inhalation through your nose. Then let it out, again through your nose, allowing your strength to intensify and your concentration to deepen.

Breathing slowly and deeply helps to oxygenate your body, makes you feel calmer and more centered, and aids the body in eliminating toxins. Most of the time during a yoga practice, we breathe this way, but occasionally we take quick and/or shallow breaths to help move energy. There are Pranayama (breathing) techniques to build heat, cool the body down, build energy, calm the body down, improve concentration, release emotional/energy blockages, and so much more. Experimenting with different breathing techniques can add a whole new dimension to your yoga practice.

If you’re interested in exploring the different ways breathing techniques can enhance your yoga practice, look for my Breathing Basics/Pranayama workshop, which I run at least once each year (usually in the winter or spring).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Asana – The Yoga Postures

Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutra around 200 AD, outlines the eight limbs of yoga, a path to follow when developing a yoga practice. Yama and Niyama, outlined in the last several blog posts, are the first of the two limbs. The third is Asana, or yoga postures.

It’s important to note that there is no hierarchy here -- none of these limbs is more important than the others. Here in the West, when we think of yoga, we think of the physical postures. But they are just one small part of a yoga practice.

The benefits of asana practice are innumerable – regular practice of yoga improves your strength, stamina, flexibility, balance, and overall health. Yoga also will calm your mind, improve your concentration, and help you feel more grounded.

Most regular practitioners of yoga know that the benefits go deeper the more you practice. You have insights, great ideas, and inspirations while practicing yoga – you ask questions of yourself and solve problems. It seems that while busying the body with physical activity that at the same time calms and focuses the mind, there is room for new information in the brain.

Many of my students have remarked on how I keep a notepad with me while teaching, and often pause to jot something down. No, I am not grading you on your performance in class! Usually I am making note of an idea that popped into my head while stretching and breathing – something I don’t want to forget.

Regarding asana practice, renowned yoga teacher BKS Iyengar wrote,

"This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself. … This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body."

I hope to see you in class sometime soon!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ishvara-pranidhana, or Surrender

Ishvara-pranidhana, or surrender to the divine, is the fifth and final Niyama. There is no specific definition for “the divine” – there is no particular god or “higher power” that yogic philosophy asks you to worship. Some might interpret this as “surrender to what-is,” or surrender to the way of the universe. This isn’t blind adherence to a religion or philosophy, but rather a principle of faith, or trust, in what-will-be.

Ishvara-pranidhana is about trusting the natural flow of things. Letting go of your need to control things, or your desire to force the outcome of a given situation. It’s about cultivating faith, dedication, sincerity and patience – and getting one’s ego out of the way.

One of my favorite illustrations of this principle is all about taming the ego. I teach gentle yoga classes. Sometimes yoga students who are accustomed to a more challenging practice attend my classes, and I can see them struggling against the relative ease of what I’m teaching. We’ll hold a simple downward-facing dog, for example, and they’ll be lifting their legs one at a time and adding chaturangas to make the pose more difficult. Meanwhile, I am encouraging my students to tune into the finer points of the posture – the position of the fingers and toes, the depth of the breath . . . It can be frustrating for me, and distracting to the other students.

There’s something to be said for adapting a pose to meet your own needs (in fact, I encourage it), but there’s also a lot of value in slowing down and approaching a practice with beginner’s mind. Sure, your ego says, “I can do more with this pose, and so I will,” but the other side of that is your ego saying, “I’m too advanced for what’s being taught here, so I’m going to change it,” essentially thumbing your nose at what the teacher is trying to teach.

In those situations, I encourage the students to ask themselves why they need to follow their ego and why they think there’s nothing to learn in the simpler pose. Perhaps – just perhaps -- there is something to gain from going with the flow of a gentler class and having more time for introspection . . .

Of course, my own ego flares up in these situations too, because I’m supposed to be “the leader” and there are people not “following.” Ah, yoga . . . there’s always something to learn!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Svadhyaya, or Self-Study

And now for the Niyama that’s by far the most difficult to pronounce . . . svad-HYA-ya, most broadly defined as self-study.

Svadhyaya is about striving to know oneself. Finding ways to get to know oneself better -- through meditation, journaling, writing, asking for feedback and help. It’s about wanting to know the truth and raising one’s self-awareness – the good and the not-so-good.

For most of us, understanding ourselves better is a natural consequence of a regular yoga practice. The principle of svadhyaya asks us to apply ourselves diligently to this process – actively working to get to know, and understand, oneself better.

Of course, there’s a danger in applying oneself too diligently to this practice – it can make us self-centered and self-absorbed. I think it’s especially important when refining our svadhyaya practice also to cultivate awareness of the other people in our lives.

I used to journal all the time – several times a day. When I suffered my first bout of depression and anxiety, a therapist advised that I cut back on the journaling, as it was probably aggravating my anxiety. She was right. Very likely, I was overanalyzing pretty much everything.

Now I rarely write in a journal. But I find that good conversations with good friends and family help me to get to know myself – and others – better. Especially when discussing the challenges we face, we end up learning a lot about ourselves.

Yoga just seems to show up all over the place in everyday life, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tapas, or Discipline

Another Niyama is Tapas. No, not dinner at Hola Restaurant in Marshfield Center (although I fully endorse that too!) . . . Tapas is defined as discipline.

Tapas is about being focused and working to achieve goals. Determination. Having the willingness to do what is necessary to reach a goal.

In yoga class, you might employ Tapas to keep yourself from being lazy. Having the discipline to focus on your breathing, for example, rather than letting your mind wander off to other, less-immediate topics (such as what you’re going to order for dinner at Hola).

In life, you might use Tapas to help yourself reach a goal. Say you decide to work with a personal trainer to make your back stronger. She gives you a set of exercises to do three times a week. You might be excited about the new routine at first, but then, when it loses its novelty, you could employ Tapas to help yourself stay faithful to your practice and dedicated to the goal of strengthening your back. Willingness, determination, dedication. That’s Tapas.

And when you achieve your goal you can celebrate with a nice dinner at Hola!

Note to the unfamiliar: Hola serves Spanish-inspired tapas cuisine.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Santosha, or Contentment

The niyama Santosha, or contentment, is about being satisfied with – and grateful for – whatever you have and whatever happens. It’s an easy concept to understand, but a challenge to put into practice.

We all have moments of contentment – when everything seems “just right.” But – at least for me – it never seems to last. I can always find something to worry about.

Practicing Santosha asks us to accept what is, and to make the best of everything. This is easy when things are going well. But much more of a challenge in the difficult times.

I think it’s helpful to remember that nothing is permanent. So when life gets tough, remind yourself that things will eventually change, because they always do. And when life is going well, enjoy it. Just enjoy it.

For me, achieving contentment isn’t something I can will into being. Instead, it just seems to happen on its own. But I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to invite contentment to show up more frequently.

1. At the end of the day, make a list of five things for which you are grateful. Be specific – cite things that happened that day, rather than general topics like “my family” and “my job.”

2. Express gratitude in the moment – Having lunch with a friend whom you haven’t seen in awhile. Don’t just think “I’m glad we did this.” Say it! It’ll make you both feel good.

3. Express gratitude for the ordinary. I swear, one of the secrets of a healthy relationship is to appreciate the everyday things your partner does. “Thanks for making a delicious dinner” goes a long way with me, even though my husband says it several times a week. I’m finding that “Thanks for working so hard today” makes him feel appreciated at the end of a long day.

On the yoga mat, practice contentment by accepting yourself for who you are. And be grateful! Rather than berating yourself for letting your thighs get jiggly, be grateful that your legs are strong enough to support you in warrior pose. Rather than cursing your tender wrists, be grateful that you’re coming to class each week to try to strengthen them.

Life is short. Don’t waste a precious minute talking down to yourself. But when you catch yourself doing it, immediately counter it with a positive thought. It isn’t always easy to pay oneself a compliment, but it’s not too hard to find something to be grateful for.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Youngest Yoga Student

What a cutie pie! This little girl's mom and big sister come to my Monday night yoga class.


Next we’ll move on to a discussion of the Niyamas – the other half of the “ten commandments of yoga.” The Yamas are considered the “social” disciplines, while the Niyamas are the “individual” disciplines.

The first Niyama is Saucha, or purity. This is generally defined as purity of body, including good health habits and personal cleanliness. But it’s also about keeping one’s living space (alas, that includes the car) clean – the home, the desk, even the computer desktop. It applies to both the internal and the external.

And Saucha also extends out to one’s thoughts, words and deeds.

So I guess it’s not very yogic of me to drop the “f-bomb” repeatedly when I’m angry or stressed . . . Swearing is not exactly “purity of words.”

Some other things that wouldn’t be included in that category include: gossiping, lying (and telling half-truths), and guilt-tripping.

Getting control of one’s words can be a challenge, but harnessing one’s thoughts . . . even more difficult. But this is an essential thing to practice! What you think, what you say to yourself – these are powerful words. The more you say them, the more likely they are to come true.*

Good thoughts produce good actions. And not-so-good thoughts . . . well if you keep telling yourself you can’t do something, then you’ll probably never do it. Richard Bach wrote, “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” So true.

So how does this one apply to your yoga practice? Number one: come to class with a clean (well, clean-enough) body. You don’t have to shower right before class, but if – for example -- your feet are a little bit stinky (and summer’s the time for feet to be stinky, for sure!), then give ‘em a quick wash before you head out the door. Your classmates will appreciate it.

But more importantly, be aware of your thoughts as you go through your yoga practice. Are you telling yourself you can’t balance on one leg? Redirect those thoughts with something more empowering . . . even if it’s something like, “I can’t do dancer pose today, but tomorrow I will feel more confident about it.” You’ll see results.

* For some expert assistance in overcoming negative self-talk and the bad habits that are associated with it (smoking, overeating, lack of motivation, etc.) I highly recommend the services of Beth O’Connor, who has an office in Norwell. Find out more at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yoga Is Good For Your Brain

Last night I attended a lecture at the Harvard Club in Boston, presented by one of my favorite yoga teacher/scholars, Stephen Cope, the Director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at Kripalu Center. The subject: the studies his institute has done in conjunction with doctors and researchers at Harvard Medical School to document the short-term and long-term physical, mental and emotional benefits of yoga.

Cope, along with Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa and Dr. Sara Lazar, outlined some of the studies they are currently conducting – including the mental health benefits of yoga in secondary schools; yoga for treating post traumatic stress disorder; and the physical changes to the brain that occur with sustained yoga and/or meditation practice.

A quick summary: yoga is good for your brain! It actually increases the amount of gray matter in certain parts of your brain. It helps improve your concentration, and helps you to process multiple stimuli better (like when you’re driving your car). And it makes you more resilient – better able to handle stress, and better able to bounce back quickly after adversity or trauma. Not just in the short term (how you feel better, more centered after a yoga class) but in the long term (and you will tend to feel better overall, over time).

So, what does this mean? . . . Keep coming to yoga class! It’s good for you!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aparigraha, or Non-Possessiveness

The last of the five yamas is Aparigraha, or non-possessiveness. Aparigraha is defined as non-attachment. Non-attachment to possessions, to relationships, to routines and ways of being. Not hoarding, not clinging to anything or anyone. Fulfilling our needs rather than our wants.

The principle of Aparigraha asks us to take only what we need. To appreciate what we have. To do what we can for those who are in need.

Here’s a story that illustrates the principle of Aparigraha. When I was a child, my mother (or possibly the Easter Bunny) gave me a really nice ceramic mug. It was a simple but beautiful mug -- hand-crafted, tan in color, with a three-dimensional lion’s face on one side. It was “my” mug, and I used it whenever I drank tea or cocoa (provided it wasn’t in the dishwasher).

It managed to survive my childhood, as well as my first two years of college, when I lived in a single dorm room (no roommate). But in my third year of college, I shared a campus apartment with seven other people. At some point that year, my lion mug disappeared. I couldn’t find it, and none of my housemates could account for it. Maybe it got broken, maybe it got lost – but definitely it was gone.

I was upset – sad that my favorite mug was gone, angry that one of my housemates had either lost or broken it, hurt that one of my possessions had been treated so carelessly. But I understood that there was nothing I could do to bring it back. Sure, I could rant and rave, or sulk, or break/lose someone else’s favorite mug, or beat myself up for letting other people use my mug in the first place -- but the outcome would be the same: no more lion mug.

So I just let it go. It was an epiphany for me, because up until that point, my usual modus operandi was to rant or sulk or beat myself up.

Aparigraha asks us to embrace the simple fact that life is all about change. Losing a favorite mug is pretty easy to take when you compare it to losing something far more substantial – a friendship, a job, a loved one. But even in the most extreme circumstances, we can still apply Aparigraha and learn to let go and move on. It takes practice, of course, and it’s not necessarily easy. But the more we “just let go,” the easier it becomes.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Brahmacharya, or Moderation

Another yama is Brahmacharya, or moderation. This is broadly defined as energy management. The ancient yogis caution us to avoid overindulging in anything -- to be moderate in all aspects of our lives.

One traditional definition of Brahmacharya is celibacy or chastity. This ties into the longstanding requirement in various religions that spiritual seekers (priests, monks, nuns, etc.) repress their sexual selves in order to enhance their spiritual lives. But history shows us that this strict practice often backfires. It doesn't really make sense anyway -- inherent in the definition of Brahmacharya is that energies are managed -- not repressed (nor overindulged).

So . . . managing one's energies. What’s that all about? For one, it’s regulating one's consumption. Paying attention to what we eat and how much we eat. What we buy and how much we buy. What we consume (not just stuff, but energy, time, resources) and how much we consume. And finding the middle path – moderation – with regard to this consumption.

It’s all about finding balance. For example, many of us are paying more attention these days to the impact we make on the environment. Maybe we wish we could make significant adjustments – going solar, for example, or driving a hybrid car. But perhaps those types of changes are not in the budget – or just don’t make sense right now (say, because your car is new-ish and works fine).

Applying Brahmacharya to this aspect of our lives could include finding simple ways to change our lifestyles so that we make a more positive impact on the environment – bringing our own shopping bags to the store, using refillable water bottles, turning off the lights at home when they’re not really needed. This way, we are moderating our consumption – making small, positive changes to the way we consume energy and resources. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.

So, what about on the yoga mat? Brahmacharya is applied when we decide how much to push (or not-push) ourselves when we practice. Say you come to class wanting a strong workout – you have lots of energy and want to channel it into strengthening your body and improving your endurance. Applying Brahmacharya, you can push yourself to your edge, going a little deeper and holding the postures a little longer than you normally would, but at the same time you avoid pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. Again, finding the middle path.

Are there parts of your life where it’s easy to apply moderation? Areas where it is more difficult? Just by being aware of these, it becomes easier to make changes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Principle of Asteya, or Non-Stealing

Continuing our discussion of yogic philosophy, we move on to the third yama, Asteya, or non-stealing.

Asteya has many aspects:
• Honoring what belongs to others
• Never desiring to possess by mind or speech, either outwardly or secretly, the wealth of another (this applies to money, possessions, ideas, space, time . . .)
• Not taking anything (neither valuable nor trifling) that belongs to another
• Not coveting; not being jealous
• Proper time management (not stealing from one aspect of your life to satisfy another)
• Keeping appointments and commitments
• Cultivating a sense of completeness and self-sufficiency; letting go of cravings.

Okay, then.

I think Asteya is a tough one. Most of us don't steal (as in taking things from stores without paying for them). But who doesn't have moments (or years) where they feel incomplete or not-good-enough? Who doesn't envy others for their better salaries or nicer homes, or constant stream of brilliant ideas? It's hard to be content with what one has and not desire to have more or "other." Still these are things for us to work on: because we cannot be truly happy unless we are content with our lives as they are in the present moment.

I used to be really good at time management. Always on time for appointments, deadlines, and other commitments. But then I had a baby. And much to my horror, I discovered that when another human being figures into your process of getting-out-the-door (or onto the computer, or simply to think straight), it's much harder to be reliable and consistent. Still entirely possible, but a heck of a lot more challenging. So I continue to work on that.

And then there are cravings . . . How can we make ourselves NOT have them? Isn't that impossible? It's one thing not to give in to cravings, but another thing entirely to just not-have them. Here's what I think: the more content you are with your life, the more grateful you are for your current situation, the less you will crave what you don't have . . . be it a brownie, or an ice cream sundae, or a cute new pair of yoga pants that make your butt look good.

The yamas and the niyamas are not goals to be attained once and forever. They are principles that we work on, day in and day out, throughout our lives. With any given one, we will have good days and bad days. It's important to remember that it is an ongoing process, and if we keep these principles in mind, we are likely to be happier in the long run. So as you strive to apply the yamas and niyamas to your life and your yoga practice, remember to keep practicing Ahimsa -- to avoid judging yourself poorly when you don't live up to your own standards. In the words of the indomitable Scarlett O'Hara, "Tomorrow is another day!"

Abel's Latest Favorite Yoga Pose

In case you don't recognize it, that's Balancing Half Moon!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More On Satya

The principle of Satya includes communicating in a loving way, especially while giving criticism. This is not so much about just being truthful, but about being gentle and kind while speaking the truth.

Many times we fall into the trap of being blunt or even rude in the name of truthfulness. We justify it by saying, "I was just being honest!" Which is true. But on the yogic path, kindness and truth go hand in hand. And think about it: wouldn't you rather hear "the truth" in a way that makes you want to listen instead of a way that makes you feel defensive?

This tends to be the most challenging when we're dealing with the people closest to us -- our families. These are the people with whom we censor ourselves the least.

So I'm challenging myself this week to pay attention to how I deliver criticism or air grievances. I'm going to aim to be more compassionate and kind, even when I'm cleaning up pee from the floor (from my three-year-old) or scooping yet another pair of dirty socks from the floor beside my husband's easy chair. We'll see if it makes a difference.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Satya - Truthfulness

Satya, or truthfulness, is another one of the "ten commandments of yoga" (the yamas and the niyamas).

Satya is defined as living in harmony and integrity with all things. Practicing truthfulness of speech, thoughts and deeds. Being honest, owning your feelings, giving constructive feedback -- in a loving, non-judgmental way, letting go of masks. Being careful of self-delusion, denial, and avoidance of telling the whole truth.

I am a terrible liar. I just can't do it convincingly. This is a blessing in that it helps me live up to the ideal of Satya, to be truthful all the time -- because lying is just too much work. So that covers truthfulness of speech.

But what about truthfulness of thoughts? Promising myself, "Tomorrow I will eat better" as I crunch through a bowl of popcorn at 10 PM in a futile attempt to combat stress... Sadly I'm not often very sincere in that vow. Or truthfulness of deeds? ("Oh, has that coupon expired? I didn't realize it.")

Self-delusion? I'm there! Denial? Highly skilled! Not telling the whole truth . . . well, if it will help me to avoid a late-night argument with my husband, then I'm all for it -- except somehow I always seem to end up paying for it later. Is anyone else guilty of these things? It's human nature. But that doesn't mean we can't work on it and try to improve our "truthfulness" skills.

What about Satya as it applies to our yoga practice?

Some of this goes back to what I wrote about Ahimsa. Be careful of self-delusion and denial -- especially where it pertains to what may or may not be good for your body. Are you skipping down down because your shoulder hurts. . . or because you'd just rather rest in child pose? Are you doing the full expression of the posture even though you're really tired, when you suspect you should be taking it easy today? Satya (truthfulness) and Ahimsa (non-harming) go hand in hand. Be HONEST with yourself about whether or not you are HARMING yourself. It may sound easy,but sometimes -- often -- it isn't.

This week I am going to try to pay attention to truthfulness -- to see if I can "bust" myself on some lies I tell myself again and again. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More on Ahimsa

This week: another perspective on Ahimsa, or non-violence/non-harming.

Many of my students already know the saga of my sore shoulder. Last fall, I put my son, Abel, up on my shoulders for a walk around the Farmers' Market. Bad idea. He had grown just a little bit too heavy for that, and I ended up with a bad muscle spasm in my upper back/neck/shoulder area.

This had happened before, so I did the usual home treatments -- ice, rest, ibuprofen . . . and monthly massage therapy. Plus a daily dose of stretching. Instead of getting better, my shoulder got worse and worse. By December, it hurt so much that I had a hard time falling -- or staying -- asleep at night.

I'm a yoga teacher -- I'm supposed to teach people how to make their bodies and minds feel better -- and yet there I was suffering through my yoga classes, wincing through any posture that involved putting weight on my right arm or shoulder.

As the new year arrived, I made a pledge to take better care of myself. It was going to be challenging, especially if I had new students in class, but I decided that I would flat-out avoid any posture that aggravated my shoulder injury. No Down Dog, no Dog & Cat, nothing in Table position at all. It was a big challenge -- but for the most part, I was able to do it (except for occasional instances where a new student really needed me to demonstrate). I would still teach those poses in my daily classes -- just not do them myself.

I resolved to wait three months before trying Down Dog again. But by the end of the second month, my shoulder was feeling well enough to begin putting weight on it again. And so over the course of the next month, I slowly eased back into my regular practice. And so far, so good!

This is what Ahimsa is all about. Not harming one's body. Giving one's body what it needs and avoiding what might make it feel worse. For me, the challenge was more in "How am I going to effectively teach these poses without actually doing them?" than the actual avoidance of the poses myself (which felt a bit like a vacation for me, truth be told).

You can apply the principle of Ahimsa to your yoga practice, even when you don't have an injury. Perhaps the person seated next to you in class is doing a more advanced variation of a posture. You want to "keep up with" that person so you do it too, even though it makes your body hurt in a way that feels more like a strain than a stretch. Stop! Wait! That's harming yourself! Practice Ahimsa and listen to your body. If you want to do more in a posture, proceed slowly, breathe deeply, and avoid straining. It's not always easy to keep one's ego out of one's yoga practice, but if you see it as a way of caring for yourself actively not-harming your body (or mind, or spirit), you might feel a little bit more "in control."

Be compassionate with yourself.

p.s. In case you're wondering how my shoulder ultimately got "fixed" . . . Amazingly, I changed the way I was sleeping, and it cured itself, practically overnight. I had observed that while I was lying in my son's bed, propped up on pillows while reading to him, my shoulder felt much better. But when I would lie down in my own bed, on my foam contour pillow, the pain would flare up. I had always been a back-to-side sleeper, but the shoulder injury forced me to stay on my back all night. The contour pillow wasn't providing enough support. I switched to a traditional "fluffy" pillow and slept through the night for the first time in months! That way, my shoulder was able to rest and relax throughout the night, and the deep spasm within it finally released itself. Ahhhhhh . . .

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Practicing Non-Violence, aka Ahimsa

For the next two months, I will feature some fundamentals of yogic philosophy here on the blog.

Many of my students have heard me talk about the Yamas and the Niyamas -- sorta the 10 commandments of yoga. Today I'll discuss Ahimsa, or non-violence/non-harming.

Ahimsa is not harming any living being by speech, thought or action. Having awareness and gentleness in action, thought and speech. Since violence rises out of fear, anger, ignorance, restlessness, or selfishness, let yourself practice compassion, love, understanding, patience, worthiness. Avoid blaming and judging. Apply this to how you treat yourself and others.

I try to bring the principle of Ahimsa into my daily life, as well as my yoga practice. At home, I do my best not to yell (not always easy with a preschooler), and I never, ever hit. Unkind thoughts and words are harder to tame, though. When I hear myself being judgmental of other people, I try to see things from their perspective. When I find myself being judgmental of myself (all too often) I try to counter it with kindness. Life is a constant process of self-improvement. But we must be kind and accepting of ourselves as well.

The yogis often carry the principle of Ahimsa into their diets -- choosing a vegetarian diet so that other beings are not harmed in order to nourish ourselves. I realize that the vegetarian diet does not work for many people. Still, adding an occasional meat-free meal to one's routine can have all sorts of health benefits.

You can find some of my favorite vegetarian and vegan recipes on my food blog,

Friday, March 12, 2010

Yoga Wisdom

Some of my favorite yoga-related insights.

The highest quality of a spiritual seeker is self observation without criticism.
- Swami Kripalu

Emotion is energy in the body with a label from the mind.

Meditation is like watching fish in an aquarium. You can watch the fish go by, but you don’t have to get in and talk to or swim after them.

In yoga class, as well as in meditation, just be a “C” student. Just show up & keep showing up.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New & Improved Website

Visit for up-to-date information on my yoga classes and workshops, my Gentle Yoga CD, and Yoga at the River's Edge. You will also find resources such as downloadable info sheets on meditation, yogic breathing, the basic warm-ups we do at the beginning of every class, and much more. Check it out!