Neck & Shoulders :)

Here’s another video for those of you trying to start a home yoga practice. If you are practicing chair rather than floor yoga right now, then please feel free to do these exercises while seated in a chair of your choice πŸ™‚ This one focuses on releasing the neck, shoulders and thoracic spine (the middle of your back), as well as stilling the mind of course πŸ˜‰ I hope you will find it informative and helpful!

ENJOY!!!

Lone Tree Hill Practice

~ Wide open sky, clean air & beautiful arbutus trees – what a lovely afternoon πŸ™‚
Daisy, Steve & I went on an awesome hike up Lone Tree Hill over the weekend.
Wow, what a beautiful view to be rewarded with after exploring the trails up to the peak!!!
I love an outdoor yoga practice too πŸ˜‰ ~

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~ teaching Daisy how to stay still for photos is a great way to build patience, and happily she seems to be growing by leaps & bounds every day, such a smart girl πŸ™‚
It helps that she loves yoga too! ~

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~it is so much FUN to have a puppy (well I guess she is a full grown doggy now) to play with & take on adventures!! And my girl always knows when it’s ‘yoga time’ πŸ˜› ~

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~balancing on the top of a hill, mountain, log, whatever you can do to challenge yourself – all are fantastic ways to find more stability in balancing poses. Facing your fear of falling in a yoga asana also makes it SO much easier to be brave in every aspect of life!!! ~

Winter Sky + Malasana = Awesome Practice ;)

Malasana

I had a lovely little malasana practice on a chilly winter day recently. All variations on the traditional squat are some of my favourite ways to release the back & hips, such a lovely way to find balance AND the beautiful mountains/sky as a backdrop makes an outdoor winter practice all the more worthwhile!!!

Yoga play day at Jordan River

My hubby and I took a fabulous trip out to Jordan River the other week and it was so much fun to explore the woods on the way to Sandcut Beach, the beach itself and a beautiful waterfall. Throw in a little yoga asana practice here and there, next thing you know it’s a yogatastic day πŸ˜‰ Steve was kind enough to take a few photos of my practice out by the water, river and sand…including lots of sweet pics of the scenery itself!!!

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…what a lovely waterfall, the sound of the water crashing on the shore combined with the waterfall was perfect background for a practice πŸ™‚

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…wow, balancing in the water is tricky! without a still point to focus my eyes on, crow was a serious challenge, nothing better to still the mind!!!

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…haha and I thought crow was a tricky pose when looking into the water, this variation of ardha chandrasana was harder, but felt good once I got it πŸ™‚ yoga is always the best medicine when you aren’t feeling super balanced –Β  it certainly has a knack for helping me feel better..

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…that same weekend we could not help but travel out to the same beach area for another day of fun in the sun, complete with yoga and playing in the water πŸ˜‰

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Steve told me it was worthwhile to stay still for a photo here, that water was chilly πŸ˜‰ haha you tell me was the pigeon photo worth it πŸ˜€

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Loved playing with balance that day & it was super cool to be working my balance on top of that waterfall in the pictures from the day before ~ it was so neat!!!

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I’ve always loved those spots where rivers meet the ocean, Jordan River is no exception πŸ™‚

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…and the perfect place for savasana of course!!! Love it πŸ™‚

Fascinating Fascia

Yoga has so many facets, including anatomy, more specifically a type of tissue called fascia. A recent anatomy assignment during my current term at the Victoria Yoga School required making a 15 minute yoga practice video featuring movements and postures focusing on a particular line of fascia in the body. I chose to examine the superficial back arm line and the deep back arm line. Below you can find a link to the two part video sequence I posted on YouTube (I couldn’t figure out how to post a video longer than 10 minutes, so I split my 15 minute video into two parts) and a little write-up to provide some insight into the fascinating world of fascia πŸ™‚

Fascia is like a honeycomb or matrix of connective tissue that surrounds our organs, bones and muscles, as well as anchoring these tissues to one another. The purpose of fascia is to help the body hold its form, keeping all the organs, bones and muscles in place. It also functions to distribute physical and emotional tension evenly throughout the entire body.

The superficial back arm line extends from the base of the skull, down the length of the trapezius muscle, along the deltoids and the backs of the arms and hands. The deep back arm line extends from the lower cervical spine, to the upper thoracic spine, where the shoulder blades and rhomboid muscles sit. From the rhomboids, the deep back arm line includes the rotator cuffs and triceps, running through the elbow, along the outside of the little finger.

Any dysfunction in either of these arm lines can lead to hand and or shoulder problems such as carpel tunnel and shoulder/elbow pain. Additionally, straining the elbow joint can affect the mid-back, and straining the shoulders can create neck pain and contribute to shallow breathing. These fascial lines are specialized for mobility in the shoulders and arms, as well as dexterity in the fingers and hands.

When using yoga postures to engage these two fascial lines, it is valuable to note that opening up the shoulders will likely impact the neck, elbows and wrists, as well as the upper/mid-back. Furthermore, if one is suffering from elbow pain for example, strengthening the pinky fingers and opening the shoulders and triceps may prove useful, because of how the deep back arm line directly connects these areas of the body.

Change is far from easy…

Yoga has the ability to act as a powerful vehicle for change. Both the mind and body can experience immense alterations due to consistent practice of yoga. Although many moments of life are lovely, bright and full of hope, other moments can be dark, frightening and full of pain. I would suggest that pain is often an impetus for great change in a human being.
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Sometimes a significant amount of discomfort and or pain must be experienced before we choose to shift our habits. No matter how much emotional stuff is brought to the surface through my practice, I know it is medicine that I need to take in order to move forward in my growth process. Examining the dark aspects of our humanity can open us up or shut us down – either way observation of the less desirable qualities we possess provides us with an opportunity to choose.
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The practice allows us to gain self-awareness (for example, during asana we build awareness and control over subtle areas of the body) which provides the opportunity to notice our habits, and choose whether to maintain or change them. As we gain more subtle awareness of the body, it becomes more accessible to cultivate more subtle awareness of the mind. Past experiences that leave a significant impact on us, in both our bodies and minds, can be a significant factor in laying down habitual behaviours. Such habits practiced without awareness can become so deeply ingrained that we begin automatically identifying with our habitual tendencies, perhaps labeling these habits aspects of our personalities. What is a β€˜personality’ but a collection of more likely than not outcomes, in terms of one’s behavioural tendencies and habitual responses. One of my favourite yoga practices these days is what my teacher calls ‘replacement therapy’, using the wisdom of a particular yoga sutra from chapter three:
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The practice involves consciously saying a word to yourself with the inhalation and its antonym on the exhalation. For example, thinking “fear” as you exhale and “strength” as you inhale. It seems the more I focus on cultivating the new, the more easily what no longer serves me falls away, evaporating into the past.
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~ by the way I would LOVE to be a fly on the wall if Socrates and Patanjali were able to sit down for a cup of tea ~ what a fascinating conversation about philosophy of mind that would be!! πŸ™‚

Teacher Training Essay: Yoga as a Catalyst for Personal Evolution

…this is the title of an essay I wrote a while ago for my current 700 hour yoga teacher training program (following certification through a 250 hour program last year) – the title really says it all, this piece of writing describes a few of the many ways a regular yoga practice has allowed me to grow beyond my own perceived limits, simultaneously providing the necessary tools to weather any storm, in any sense of the word: emotional, physical, or intellectual (one could argue these are all one and the same, all fluctuations of the mind). Hope it’s an interesting read, or at the very least gives you a sense of what yoga practice has to offer us. Enjoy πŸ™‚

Marichyasana I

Marichyasana I

Yoga as a Catalyst for Personal Evolution

Over six years ago, the first aspect of yoga that I practiced was asana or physical posture. My attraction to yoga grew, as did the various permutations of practice I was willing to experiment with over time. So many aspects of yoga have changed not only my life, but also my character and how I perceive the world itself. Before beginning a yoga practice I viewed the world in a cynical way, always keeping other people at a safe distance. I believed that the brain and body were separate – completely ignorant of any possible method of integrating the somatic with the cognitive. Suffice it to say, yoga changed EVERYTHING. Looking back, I could never have anticipated that practicing yoga could become such a powerful catalyst for personal evolution.

At first yoga was all about the physical – I enjoyed getting stronger and feeling more flexible. Within less than a year of practicing asana several times a week, I noticed a shift in the way I felt towards other people. Not only did I begin caring about the welfare of others, I even started volunteering for the peer counseling program at university. After four years of peer helping, finishing my psychology degree, and practicing yoga even longer, I found myself caring so much for others that considering a career as a counselor was not far from my mind. Yet again I felt pulled toward practicing even more yoga; little did I know the urge to teach would soon emerge.

As self-awareness grew, my body became my laboratory, a special context within which to stage valuable experiments. Issues I had long struggled with became more and more visible, as I developed greater self-awareness. Exclusively focusing on academics, I was highly cognitive, but sadly dissociated from my body. As self-inquiry became an important practice for me, integration of mind, body and breath followed, each step acting as a preparation for the next. Challenges with binge-eating, negative body image, depression, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder all became battles on my yoga mat; each step forward became a preparation for the next. Slowly my yoga mat became a safe place to head when I was feeling emotionally distressed – it is now a place for challenging the dark and embracing the light that yoga has to offer. I discovered that self-awareness and self-consciousness are mutually exclusive concepts – they cannot simultaneously exist. I found as I cultivated self-awareness, my anxious tendencies toward self-consciousness decreased. Fascinatingly, following experimentation with chanting, I noticed an even more significant drop in physiological anxiety symptoms. It became clear that lengthening my exhalations, while taking short inhalations tended to create a physiological state of calm in my body – quickly and effectively slowing down my heart rate.

Yoga, particularly asana, had become the medicine I took to alleviate the physiological symptoms of emotional fluctuations. According to western psychology, trauma experiences frequently leave residue on our nervous systems, manifested through habitual tendencies, such as dissociating from body sensations and avoiding unwanted external sensory experiences. Asana allowed me to consciously begin to release the issues in the tissues. According to yoga psychology, every experience leaves an impression on the nervous system, also known as a samskara. Peter Levine, a noted psychologist and medical biophysicist, argues that β€œtrauma represents a profound compression of survival energy that has not been able to complete its meaningful course of action.” I would additionally argue that yoga is the ideal method for slow titration and release of the physiological energy that can be compressed and held within our systems due to highly stressful events, whether the event revolves around childhood abuse, surgery, car accidents, etc., until we are able to free it from our bodies. Yoga has taught me that the human nervous system can be injured just as any muscle, joint or bone can be damaged. Furthermore, yoga provides a web of interconnected principles and practices that can bring a balance between stability and flexibility in any aspect of the human system.

After a few years of practicing asana, and guided meditations such as yoga nidra, I became curious to study additional books concerning yoga rather than exclusively western psychology and trauma origin. Studying the yamas and niyamas or ethical observances related to yoga, ever so briefly, revealed some fascinating personal insights. It appeared as though yoga had been working on altering the structure of my mind, body and breath, all from the inside out – without conscious intention. I was intently curious how what appeared to be a purely physical system of postures could yield significant changes in a human being’s self-awareness and character on so many levels.

Two of the ethical observances associated with yoga are non-harming and self-inquiry or svadhyaya. Non-harming, or ahimsa, can be perceived and applied in many different ways. As I practiced more and more yoga, both ahimsa and svadhyaya started to manifest in my behaviours and habits. Yoga was literally shaping my thoughts, words and actions from the inside out. I found myself drawn to practice more challenging asanas or physical postures, and discovered novel interest in other practices of yoga such as chanting, and most recently pranayama or breathing exercises. I also felt compelled to seek out a consistent teacher for deeper study of the practice and to gain confidence as a teacher. Ironically, looking back, it is easy to observe the gradual integration of the principles of non-harming and self-inquiry into my life. Throughout my practical experience with yoga, these principles are present in varying degrees. Initially, the only way I could experience these concepts was being self-aware enough to know yoga was good for me, even when I felt like doing anything else. During periods of depression, I practiced little to no asana, embracing yoga nidra and other guided meditations as the only form of yoga that felt accessible at the time. Conversely, during periods of acute anxiety, I became aware enough to practice many standing poses as a way to ground the emotional fluctuations. With self-inquiry comes self-awareness; with self-awareness comes noticing of harming actions, which gives me the opportunity to shift previous patterns. Slowly, long-standing negative, self-harming patterns of thought and behaviour shifted, as yoga practice allowed my consciousness to be more equally distributed throughout the body – no longer exclusively tied to the mind and its neural pathways. As the inherent link between thoughts, words, behaviours, habits and human character itself became revealed to me – the desire to practice with further discipline grew. As a long-standing yogi, Mr. Iyengar shares my belief that β€œdensity in bones is a virtue, but in brains it is a vice.” In other words, focusing all of our energy on the mind is a mistake; we must do the work to integrate the mind and the body – equally distributing our conscious intelligence throughout the entire body, not merely the brain. Use the entire laboratory we have been given and run fascinating experiments until the end. For years I heard yoga teachers refer to how at some point they felt they could not help but start teaching – the urge to share the gifts that yoga had bestowed on them was too deep to ignore. I finally understand what that means and why I will practice, practice, practice, aware that all is coming – whenever I’m ready for it.

Back Bending Bender :)

I am a serious yoga junkie. I kid you not; yoga is my drug of choice. Whether it is asana (physical postures), nidra (literal definition is sleep, a.k.a. guided meditation), pranayama (breathing exercises), chanting, or the yamas and niyamas (ethical observances) – I need my daily fix. Last night was no different. A wave of craving for practice came over me and all of a sudden I was breaking out my deep back bending sequence notes from a workshop at Victoria Yoga School, taught by one of the most authentic people I have yet to encounter: Michelle Rubin. Nothing gives me a better physiological high than a sweet back bending practice – deeply energizing and well worth the effort (or should I say effortless effort, lol). Definitely highly aware these days of how much attachment I have to my asana practice in particular – one day I’ll put more of my energy into cultivating non-attachment, but right now it’s way too much fun to let go of completely. Loving every minute of my practice wasn’t always my norm. For the first several years of exploring yoga, I oscillated between love and hate, on one hand enjoying many aspects of this centuries old practice and on the other hand, taking yoga asana and nidra as necessary medicine, even when it was the last thing I wanted to do with my time. I have known since my introduction to yoga in 2006, that it was good for me. Little did I know what an immense impact it would end up having on my life! It is surreal how much this practice has to offer. Over the years, I have become aware of muscles I previously did not know existed, both in a physiological and mental sense of the word. Letting go of my previous tendencies has been simultaneously deeply challenging and unbelievably satisfying. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know and the more my passion for learning ignites!

β€œThe more I see, the less I know, the more I like to let it go.”
–the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Photography by Steve Leclerc

Photography by Steve Leclerc

Passion for what I love, believe in and value is key to my sense of discipline, or in yoga terms, tapas: the fire that drives my practice. I love how yoga makes me feel, like any drug of choice, it allows for immersion in the present moment, complete surrender to your phenomenological experience. What could be more fascinating than using the body as your own personal laboratory, an ideal ground for launching one experiment after another? The breath becomes a barometer for your mind state, an accurate measure of the degree of mental fluctuation you are experiencing in any given moment. Fluctuations of the mind (also known as vrittis in yogic terms) whether they are emotions, thoughts or ingrained habitual responses, can be observed and examined. Bringing conscious awareness to thoughts as they are experienced, allows you to gain awareness of how your thoughts become your words, eventually yielding your actions and habits. And what forms our character more than our habitual behaviours? Disciplining the mind, focusing on the nature of the mind and its constant fluctuations, creates the space for great change. Self-transformation is nothing more than commitment to changing one’s habits, which start as seeds of thought in the mind. Water the seeds, habits take root and establish themselves, slowly forming your character. Working from the gross to the subtle, you can literally alter the neural pathways in your brain, by extension altering your habitual behaviours.

Lao Tzu said it best:
β€œThe greatest gift I have to give is that of my own self-transformation.”