Find a Yoga Buddy in January

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In our modern age where connection is seemingly more difficult despite all our technological advances, making friends can be tough. Common interests can help us find our tribe. And going to yoga is always much more fun with a friend! Need to find that friend that will help keep you motivated? Or maybe you’d just like to make a new friend? Let us help for FREE! You and your new friend could even win a prize!

Step one: Fill out the form below by December 27th, 2018. This will help us find someone that has a schedule similar to yours and some common interests besides yoga.

Step two: We’ll send you your yoga buddy’s email address and other info by the end of the year.

Step three: Make a date to get to know each other! Maybe you’ll plan to be at the same class and head out for coffee afterwards. Maybe you’ll exchange emails and text messages at first to start to get to know each other. It’s totally up to you!

Step four: Make a plan to help each other get on the mat. If you and your buddy make it to 15 classes together in January you'll be entered to win a semi private yoga lesson with Jessica! We’ll keep track on a special chart in the studio.

Step five: Enjoy your practice with your new friend!

We think this is going to be a lot of fun for everyone and it’s so simple! Won’t you join us?

3 Big Ideas for Improving Your Utkatasana

Utkatasana or chair pose can be a challenge because it asks us for strength throughout our legs and, by extension, our core. Given that most people that come to yoga are interested in (and if we’re being honest, better at) flexibility this can be a challenge and doesn’t exactly put this pose in the category of favorites. But if you’re interested in balance in all things, you’ll want to include this posture. How can we become better friends with this pose? Here are some thoughts.

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Check your stance and position but don’t make it a habit to do so! An important aspect of this posture is moving our hips behind our ankles. Doing so keeps strain from happening in our knees because we are keeping the knees from going past the toes. You may notice in class I often don’t even call out the pose name, but rather ask you to move the sit bones back to call attention to this important aspect of the posture. As beginners (and even beyond), once we enter the pose we’re often told to take a look down and make sure we can see the toes beyond the knees. This is a good way to start to develop our understanding of the posture. However, once you know the pose, check in now and then, but don’t do it every time you do the posture! Really being able to feel our bodies in space is an important aspect of developing our practice. You’ll also be breaking the line of your spine and effectively taking your weight forward rather than back when you look down (and possibly creating other issues. The human heads weight a lot!). And in our modern world, we want to focus on strengthening that back body line rather than continuing to over stretch it as we so often do.

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Work the legs independently and create less strain in the outer hips by taking a wider stance. If you’ve been practicing yoga for a fair length of time and depending on the tradition you studied in, tadasana and utkasana were often taught with the big toes touching or even the inner line of the feet totally together like so.

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The next time you come into the pose like that, take a moment to really feel what’s happening in the legs and hips. Perhaps you’ll feel fine and strong and that’s great! Every body is different. For me and my frame and the majority of the people I work with, it’s just too narrow. As I like to joke, this practice was invented by skinny little Indian men. I am not that! So what I find is that a wider stance (sit bones distance apart, not hip width which I think would be taking it too far) creates less strain in my outer hips and makes me use the muscles of my legs more, which is in keeping with the strengthening aspect of the pose.

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With my feet closer my knees can fall into each other so I end up squeezing them together rather than creating an isometric contraction in the totality of my leg muscles (that feeling of hugging the muscles to the bones). That feeling of the knees falling in toward each other creates strain in my outer hips, because the muscles there are trying to hold my spine up, rather than the legs helping the engagement through the core. Essentially, the strengthening benefit from the posture is gone.

But again, your milage may vary.

Finally, when moving through a common twisting sequence in this pose, pay attention to actually coming back to where you were in between each twist. We can find a great combination of flexibility and strength by bringing a twist into our utkatasana. The twisting action can help relieve tension in the spinal muscles that may have accumulated throughout our busy days. Where we get into trouble here is when we don’t fully engage between twists, letting the torso stay in a forward position rather than coming back to the full spinal height of the pose. Hopefully this image makes this a little more clear:

Didn’t mean for this one to get so psychedelic but hopefully you get the idea!

Didn’t mean for this one to get so psychedelic but hopefully you get the idea!

As you can see from the layering of these two images, the “lazy utkasana” brings the torso in front of where it might be if I’d been coming into the pose from Tadasana. My belly is practically resting on my thighs which probably means I’m not using my core to support my spine and missing out on the strengthening aspect of the pose again.

To make this more clear, here’s a short video of this twisting sequence. You’ll see me move into the twist and the first time I’ll lift the torso back to where it was when I first came into utkatasana, the second time I won’t so you can see the difference.

Now it’s your turn! Let me know which of these ideas you found most valuable for improving your Utkatasana. And while you may never love this pose, the next time you have to use a public toilet or pee in the woods, you might just thank me! ;-)

Exercising Barefoot

To a yoga practitioner, exercising barefoot is a matter of course. It helps keep us from sliding around on the mat, gives us better connection to the earth and creates more flexibility and strength in our feet. We probably don’t even think about the fact that we’re doing something that you don’t typically do in most other forms of exercise. But have you considered that you might be able to find benefits from being barefoot in other forms of exercise? Learn more with today’s guest blogger, Laurie Gouley, Creator of The Dalai Nala!

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Have you ever exercised barefoot? You may be thinking, with all the super cool sneakers on the market that "support your arches" or "absorb impact" why would we ever workout barefoot? But that is exactly why we should workout barefoot. Wearing those fancy shoes have made our feet and ankles weak.

Of course going barefoot is not for everyone. If you have diabetes, open sores, numbness in your feet, a contagious foot disease or poor circulation, going barefoot is really not recommended.

However, most of us learned how to walk barefoot and spent lots of time as a child barefoot. We have grown accustomed to shoes but it is a very liberating feeling to be without shoes. It's so freeing!

Think about when you were small and outside barefoot in the grass. How did it make you feel? When I remember that, I get a happy feeling. There is an actual name for this! It's called, earthing. Earthing means walking barefoot on soil, grass or sand (meaning: any natural surface). Sorry this doesn't include sidewalks. :)

A review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health looked at a number of studies that highlight how drawing electrons from the earth improves health. In one, chronic pain patients using grounded carbon fiber mattresses slept better and experienced less pain.

Another study found that earthing changed the electrical activity in the brain, as measured by electroencephalograms. Still other research found that grounding benefited skin conductivity, moderated heart rate variability, improved glucose regulation, reduced stress and boosted immunity.

One particularly compelling investigation, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that earthing increases the surface charge of red blood cells. As a result, the cells avoid clumping, which decreases blood viscosity. High viscosity is a significant factor in heart disease, which is why so many people take blood thinning aspirin each day to improve their heart health. Another study in the same journal found that earthing may help regulate both the endocrine and nervous systems.

Most shoes act as a crutch, thus contributing to foot and ankle dysfunction.

Going barefoot improves bio-mechanics, strengthens the foot (ligaments, tendons and muscles), lengthens the Achilles tendon, and enhances coordination and balance. Going barefoot strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the foot and ankle and makes them stronger. It us true that shoes give a lot of stability and support, however, this is what makes the foot and ankle lazy. Strengthening the small stabilizing muscles of the feet can improve our balance and overall sports performance. Improving foot and ankle function will do wonders for movement mechanics, particularly in the hips and lower torso.

Going barefoot can improve our proprioception. Proprioceptors are sensors that provide information about joint angle, muscle length, and muscle tension, which is integrated to give information about the position of the limb in space. The way that we can tell that an arm is raised above our head, even when our eyes are closed, is an example of proprioception.

Going barefoot helps us to feel and connect us to our environment and this helps our balance and develops our natural movements. While it may seem the padding of shoes will reduce the impact on your feet and legs, in fact it may increase it since your proprioceptive system depends on feedback to adjust to impact and the padding can cause you to impact harder to activate it.

No stinkies! Bare feet do not naturally stink. The sweat glands in the feet are just like the sweat glands in the hands. Feet will only stink after being cooped up in shoes for hours.

Benefits for athletes! Athletes who train barefoot have amazing results and experience fewer injuries. No matter how strong, powerful, mobile, agile, fast, or explosive an athlete is, correcting these foot and ankle deficiencies will only improve upon their pre-existing bio-motor capabilities as well as reduce their risk for injuries.

(There are 5 bio-motor abilities. They are strength, endurance, speed, flexibility, and balance or coordination.)

An example why doing a lunge bare foot is better - To properly perform any variation of a lunge (front, reverse, walking, or lateral), first and foremost, you need balance. Performing them barefoot allows you to grip the floor with your entire foot—your toes, the balls of your feet, and your heels—for maximum stability. A sneaker would impede that ability.

While there are many benefits of going barefoot; don't just jump right in with both feet. :)

Train up to it just like you would with anything. After all we spend most of our lives in shoes now so our feet and ankles have weakened! Slowly transition. Your feet will be tender for awhile, so don’t do a whole workout right away.

Give your feet time to adjust. Begin with a barefoot warm-up for a couple of weeks. Slowly increase the number of exercises or drills you do without sneakers. If your gym doesn’t condone barefoot training, try minimalist footwear.

Take your shoes off when you’re in your house or sitting at your desk, too. You can also roll a tennis ball under your arch, and flex and point your toes to strengthen all the muscles in your feet.

I’m a huge believer in barefoot training just for the foot-strengthening and injury-prevention benefits alone!

"But, what if I drop a weight, Laurie?!"

Let's face it...if you are worried about a weight dropping on your foot, your sneaker is not going to do much to save you. Either way it will suck if that happens. So use caution. :)

If you're unable to perform a majority of your activities in barefoot or minimalist conditions, then you have foot and ankle deficiencies. Your feet & ankles will need to be re-trained. I will say it again, if you'd like to start barefoot training, ease into it slowly. The feet, ankles, and toes need to be trained just like any other body part. In fact, you could easily say they require greater emphasis considering most individuals wear shoes that limit, constrict, and bind their feet in unnatural positions, ultimately promoting dysfunction of the lower extremity.

Do you have blisters, corns, ingrown toenails, bunions, skin irritations of the feet, and calluses? Most of these can be traced back to either poor footwear, improper foot and ankle mechanics, or a combination. Most of these are a result of placing uneven pressure on various locations of the feet, a common result of faulty foot mechanics.

But remember whether you choose to workout with shoes or not, be sure to pay attention to any signs of discomfort in your toes, arches, heels, or ankles, and consult your physician if you feel abnormal pain or discomfort.

Do you dare to go bare?

Thank you Laurie! Check out the original posting here.

The definition of insanity...

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They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. As far as I can tell, by that measure that means most of us are bat sh*t crazy! LOL! In all seriousness, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Many of us have things we’d like to change in our lives. I know I do! But how many of us actually take positive steps forward to create those changes without getting overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of the task or just don’t even bother getting started in the first place?

If we want to loose weight we suddenly think we’re going to start on a specific date and completely change our diet or start an entirely new exercise program. And then by the second week or so we’re off the wagon and wondering where the days have gone. We end up feeling like change is impossible and give up.

If we want to change something in a relationship we sit down and have that Come to Jesus talk with the other person, lay out everything that’s wrong, agree to change and then realize a week or two later that we’ve fallen back into the same habits with that person again. We feel like change is impossible and give up, only to be unhappy and perhaps have another emotional explosion come again in the future.

If we just don’t feel great maybe we decide to start a meditation practice because we heard that would be good for us. So we sit down and try to do 20 minutes the first time out, end up looking at the timer approximately 3 billion times in the first 5 minutes and then think we just can’t do meditation and give up on ourselves.

Any of this sound familiar?

Yeah. Me too. But if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, but then we try and make some change and it “doesn’t work”, what is there to do?

We live in world where we’ve been conditioned to think we can just “fix it” right now. We can take a pill and everything will be all better. We want instant results. We want instant change.

But when was the last time that actually happened? Even if you have something you need to take an antibiotic for, it takes several days for that antibiotic to work! You aren’t cured instantly.

When you take that antibiotic you are doing one small thing, very consistently for a short period of time and then you measure the results. Maybe you take that pill once or twice a day. That probably takes you about 30 seconds. You do that for five days and then you measure the results. If all is well, great! If not, you go back to the doctor.

What if we applied this idea to the big changes we want to make in our lives? What if instead of changing our whole diet we picked something small like eating an extra serving of vegetables at dinner each night for a week and then noticed the change that created? What if instead of trying to change our whole relationship overnight we just chose to speak to them kindly when they forgot to take the trash out again instead of yelling about it and then ask that person how they felt at the end of the week? What if instead of trying to do 20 minutes of meditation every day we started with 1 minute 4 days this week and then wrote down how we felt after each session to see if there was improvement?

It takes time to see change. We can start without doing everything at once. And if we check in with ourselves consistently, we can see that these small acts start to pile up. It takes patience.

This month I want to encourage you to make a small change that will help you see that small changes can add up. I’m bringing back our annual gratitude challenge but in a shorter easier to manage format.

Starting today - grab a journal or a notebook and write down three things you’re grateful for each day. Do so every day through November 26th (that’s 21 days, which some studies show is what it takes to start a new habit). Show it to me by December 1st and you’ll get a little prize (you can leave it at the studio with your teacher if you won’t be able to see me during that time). This may seem like a small practice, but it can really make a big change in the way you see the world.

I look forward to hearing about what you’re grateful for in the coming weeks!

Meditation: It’s a muscle we have to build and grow

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There's a lot of conflicting information out there about meditation. The common misconception is that when you are really and truly meditating, your mind will be blank and you'll be free from all those crazy thoughts we all have day in and day out. While that's a lovely goal that some beings may be able to achieve, for most of us meditation is really more about the exercise of doing it. I like to think of it as a muscle you have to exercise, just like any other, in a way that's appropriate for that muscle.

The text below comes from an interview I did with the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript in 2016. You’ll find the original article here.


Q. We hear all the time that meditation is good for us. How exactly does it benefit one’s health?

A. The benefits of meditation are so vast that whole books have been filled on the subject! Meditation practice can have direct physiological and psychological effects such as the lowering of blood pressure, reduction in perceived stress level, relief of anxiety and depression, relief of temporary and chronic pain, improvement in the ability to concentrate and pay attention, and a general sense of greater well-being. Meditation is also shown by current scientific studies to be a key factor in the phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, where the brain, even at later stages of life, can actually rewire itself and create new pathways when needed. Meditation helps create pathways that can be beneficial to health, such as helping you stay the course with those New Year’s resolutions!  



Q. It seems there are as many techniques for meditating as there are yoga styles. How does one sort through the maze of options and get started?

A. That’s so true! It really can be overwhelming! But I’m reminded of a portion of the book “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass. He quotes the great Lao Tsu, who said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” He then asks, “But where do we begin? The answer is simple: You begin just where you are.” Do you see mention of a technique somewhere that appeals to you? Give it a try! But don’t just try it once and decide it isn’t for you. Meditation, like so many things, is something that you have to build a relationship with. Choose a method, and commit to trying it for a week. If you’re new to meditation in general, start small. Even 2-5 minutes has been shown by many studies to start to bring about beneficial changes. Practice two to five minutes of your chosen technique for seven days, every single day and at the end of that time see how you feel. If it just isn’t working for you, try something else. If you aren’t sure, try another seven days. It’s more important to dive in and take that first step in giving it a try, than to agonize over the choice. You can always try again and you can always try something else. Once you find something that works for you, stick with it; 40 days is a traditional time period for committing to a practice. After that time you may want to try a different technique. Or maybe you’ll continue with the same technique. It’s all up to you! 



Q. It seems like the thoughts in the head are never-ending. How does one know they’re meditating?

A. This is such a great question because I think there’s so much confusion and mystery around meditation. That question of “how do I know if I’m there” is so prevalent. People think that meditation is this mystical place you only can get to if you have some kind of special gift and you can make your thoughts stop. I used to struggle with this so much early on in my yoga teaching career. I always thought, “I’m a yoga teacher for crying out loud! Why can’t I do this?!” And then I’d get frustrated and give up. Then I had the good fortune to meet a wonderful teacher named Sharon Salzburg and her workshop totally turned my relationship with meditation around. Here’s the thing — you can’t stop your thoughts. Your mind is meant to think! That’s what it was designed to do! What you can do, is bring the mind to a single point of focus. That’s what most meditation techniques are asking us to do. We use a technique — such as following the breath or my personal favorite, repeating a mantra — as a tool to help bring the mind to that single point of focus. The moment of meditation is that moment when you notice that you are not with that single point of focus any more. That moment that you notice that you’re actually thinking about how much laundry you have to do later or what’s on your to-do list for that afternoon or that argument that you had with your spouse yesterday — that moment is the moment of meditation. Because that moment is the moment when you have this amazing choice to make. You can either give up and tell yourself you’re terrible at this meditation thing and just go back to your day, or you can let go of whatever it was you were thinking about, and draw your mind back to your point of focus, i.e. your meditation technique. That’s it. That’s the whole game. When you keep noticing you’re gone and you keep drawing yourself back to your point of focus, that’s when you know you’re meditating.  



Q. What exactly happens when one is meditating?

A. What happens is that the process I described above goes on over and over again. Through that process, we start to train the mind to be here in this moment, rather than somewhere else. We develop the compassion to treat ourselves with love each time we release a thought to come back to our chosen technique. That’s a big one! Have you ever noticed how you speak to yourself? For most of us, it isn’t with love. We teach ourselves that we can always begin again. We corral that busy, busy mind that is always pulling us elsewhere, rather than being fully present in the moment. Maybe that doesn’t sound that profound, but when was the last time you actually paid attention to what you were eating, rather than talking on the phone, watching the TV, and checking your email? When’s the last time you actually sat with a loved one and fully heard what they had to say, rather than listening to, responding, or looking at Facebook? There are so many small but beautiful moments that we miss in life because we are being pulled in so many directions at once most days. Our lives are so hectic and so filled with anxiety. Meditation gives us a tool that helps us deal more skillfully with the challenges of daily life. It’s a muscle we have to build and grow like any other muscle. It takes practice, but it’s so worth it.  



Q. How did you get started meditating, and what motivates you to continue your practice?

A. I was never a meditator in the traditional sense until I started yoga teacher training where a traditional practice was a required part of my training. I think yoga was my meditation before that — and is certainly a valid form of meditation in and of itself. The process of linking breath and movement and becoming fully immersed in the sensations of the body was an entry point for me. Training to be a yoga teacher gave me more of a traditional practice. What motivates me to continue? So many things! I have so much to learn. Compared to some of the great spiritual teachers like the Dalai Llama, I’m just getting started! Who knows what else I may discover along the way. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was fairly young. As we move into the deep darkness of winter, that struggle becomes more difficult for me. My mediation practice has smoothed that bumpy road. It has made me less reactive, which makes me a better wife, daughter and friend. It’s also a professional commitment. I’m a better teacher if I can speak about the practice from a place of authentic experience. I hope to be a guide on the path for others who are struggling to begin like I did. It’s a key element in my spiritual practice as well.  



Q. Anything else you would add to this discussion?

A. I was once told by a teacher of mine that there was a study done that took brainwave scans of people while they were meditating. The scans showed the difference in brain waves when one was meditating versus when one was just going about daily life. One of the study participants told the scientists after one meditation session, “Don’t even bother looking at my scans for today. My mind was all over the place!” They decided to look at them anyway and were amazed to discover that even though the subject didn’t feel like they were meditating, the brain wave scan showed activity that indicated that the person was, in fact, meditating! I found that incredibly liberating! So, if you’ve tried meditation before and you gave up because you thought you weren’t “getting it,” try it again now that you’ve read what I’ve written here. Spend some time with it. Build a relationship with it. Give it a solid commitment of time. I think you’ll be glad you did.

The perfect breathing practice to relieve stress and anxiety

In all my classes this month we are focusing on our breathing. Breathing and yoga go together like bread and butter, but it can take a bit of practice to make it all work. The overall effect is a calmer mind and body when done well. While the breathing practice we try to maintain during a vinyasa practice, called ujayi breath, is wonderful calming breath, if you’re experiencing stress and anxiety there’s another one should should really consider practicing.

That breath is alternate nostril breath.

I often say I wish I had known about this breath when I was auditioning for orchestras when playing the bassoon was the career I thought I’d spend my life in. The anxiety of that experience always left me with shaky hands, a dry mouth and not much in the way of coping mechanisms to work with that bodily state other than taking more auditions. Now, I use this breath any time I’m experiencing stress or anxiety. The key though is to have an established practice. Only then will you remember to do it in your time of need.

Alternate nostril breath is said to balance the energy channels on the two sides of the body. Those energy channels just happen to coincide with our two nostrils. The right side is said to be the more energetic side, the left side is said to be the more calming side. By doing this breathing practice you are bringing those two sides into greater balance and harmony. The effect can often be felt after just a few repetitions.

Here’s how to practice this breath:

First, choose a hand position that works for you. I usually offer three different possibilities. The first is Vishnu mudra. The first two fingers are curled into your palm. You use your thumb and the last two fingers to alternately open and close the nostrils. It looks like this:

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The second possibility is to instead take the first two fingers and anchor them at your third eye space or the space between your eyebrows. Just as above, the thumb and pinky fingers are then free to open and close the nostrils. That looks like this:

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The third option is to just choose to do it however is most comfortable for you! That might look something like this:

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Once you have a hand position that works for you you’ll then follow this sequence to perform this breathing practice (these instructions assume you are using your right hand):

  1. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril.

  2. Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through this nostril.

  3. Inhale through the right nostril. Immediately close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale through the left nostril. This completes one full round.

You’ll continue this sequence for about 3-6 rounds to start. Allow the breathing to be slow and deep without being forced. Always end with the exhale through the left nostril (remember how we said this was the calming side above? That’s why. We want to end on a calm note!).

When you’re finished, take a few breaths through both nostrils and take the time to notice the effect of your practice.

If you are experiencing congestion or there is a blockage in the nostrils best not to try to do this breath. If you’ve been practicing it for a while, imagining it can be highly effective as well, but you first need to have an established practice.

You can practice this breath a couple times a day for a couple of rounds to start out. Over time as it becomes more comfortable, you can extend how many rounds you do at once. With time and practice you’ll notice a greater calming effect. You may also find this breath helpful in times when your energy is feeling low. The balancing quality of the breath works the other way as well.

Did you find this helpful? Do you practice this breath regularly? Do you have questions about this practice? Let me know in the comments!

Hike October

I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment, dear reader, in a post that may seemingly have nothing to do with yoga at first, but which I assure you will come back around at the end.

Mental health is a huge issue in our country right now. Just turn on the nightly news and you will see story after story referencing it directly or indirectly. It’s influenced by our society as a whole, our daily interactions with others and our own personal inner landscape. What I personally observe is that many of us have not been taught coping mechanisms to manage our mental health struggles. Yoga certainly gives us a great toolbox of coping mechanisms. But I’ve written before about how yoga may not be enough to see us through our own personal mental health struggles. Today I want to offer another idea that might help you and also gives you an opportunity to join me in helping others.

That idea is taking a walk in the woods.

It’s only in the last several years that I’ve truly realized how important the outdoors are to me. It’s a love that was instilled at a young age. I grew up playing in the back yard making mud pies and being outside in our rural area. My Dad has been an avid outdoorsmen all his life and brought me up to love it just as much. He had me on cross-country skis as soon as I could walk. We went camping on a fairly regular basis when I was a kid and created some great memories like “steak on a stick” and “what do you mean I have to kneed the peanut butter?!”. We went on hikes from time to time and enjoyed our local state park.  

As I grew older and pursued my educational and career dreams the call to more urban areas took me away from the rural life I knew. But as I like to say, “You can take the country girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the country girl”! Now living in Manchester, NH I find myself with the best of both worlds; living in the city but a short drive from everything the country side and especially the amazing White Mountains have to offer.

Yoga is a practice of self knowledge. It’s only through my yoga practice that I have continued to explore what it is I really need in my life to help me with the ups and downs of the day to day. It’s that mindfulness that recently lead me back to camping and also hiking.

And hiking has totally captured me in the last few years. A fascination with the Appalachian Trail years in the making found me starting the ATC 14 state challenge last fall, taking my first hike in my home state of NY with my Dad. I’ve since completed hikes in 7 states including climbing Mount Katahdin on July 9th, 2018 - a feat that took 15 hours and was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. And so, so, SO worth it! I’m working on NH’s 52 With A View list and hope to climb my first 4000 footer in NH before the end of the year.

What has hiking given me? Confidence in my physical and mental abilities. Another form of mediation (when I’m out there, nothing else exists). A deeper understanding that we are all connected. Less back pain. Stress relief. Great memories. Freedom. Clarity. Happiness.

And a coping mechanism. When the swirling of my mind and the news in our country is more than I can handle I go outside and I see that there is still beauty in the world. That the cycles of nature are still running. That there is something still to love and embrace. That there is still something worth fighting for. And that this is not the end of the road. The cycle of rebirth will happen again.

So this month, I decided to put my love of hiking to good use by supporting an amazing charity called Hike for Mental Health. Eighty percent of the hike donations provide grants that enable scientific research and fund programs aimed at alleviating suffering from mental illness. Twenty percent of the hike donations support preservation of wilderness trails. Those are amazing numbers in my mind. Did you know that according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of their life indoors. 87% of their life is indoors, then another 6% of their life in automobiles. No wonder we are disconnected and loosing our way as a society! We need to get out there to remember what it means to be part of the natural world so we can care enough to preserve it for the future of all beings.

So I’m challenging myself to walk 100 miles outside and raise $500 in the month of October. As people always say, no donation is too small. If you can’t donate, please share my page with anyone you think might be interested in supporting me. And if you’re local, come walk outside with me this month! I’d love to have company as I do my best to stay motivated towards my goals!

Most of all, I hope you take a little time this month to go outside yourself and enjoy the spectacular fall we get to enjoy here in New England. Take a moment to notice how you feel afterward. I’m willing to bet you’ll notice a transformation not unlike coming to a yoga class.

P.S. Would you be interested in the studio offering more opportunities to combine yoga and the outdoors? Leave me a comment or send me an email and let me know! Thank you!

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Disclaimer: Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Please consult with your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The information provided in this blog is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.

Be here now

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As I'm writing these words, a rough week for many of us has just come to an end. And not a very satisfying end. An end that has more of a question mark on it then ever. Many of us have been forced to relive our own traumas that we may have set aside for years. Many of us may have engaged in heated debates with friends or family members. Many of us are feeling worn out and dragged through the dirt thanks to media in many forms.

I don't care what side of the debate you stand on. What I care about is that you take care of yourself in the best way possible right now. One strategy I've been using and I'd like to offer to you is being fully present. How can that help in times like these? Read on.

This may seem like the exact WRONG time to be talking about being present. How do we do that when the present is just almost too much to bear? I’ve asked myself this question a lot this week. I’ve wondered how do I stay present with what’s happening, keep being an informed citizen and yet not loose my mind as I watch horrendous suffering come to the surface in others and old traumas rise in myself as well? How do I do any of this when all I really want to do is run and hide?

First, I have to know my limits. I am only human. I can do my best and my best has to be enough. My limits may not be the same as yours. I have to accept that. My limits may not be the same as those of my family and friends. I have to accept that and I have to call upon them to respect my limits and respond in ways that honor my boundaries. I may need to speak clearly about my limits to others. I may have to accept that they will not appreciate my limits. I will need to honor them anyway the best I can, perhaps without their help or support. No one else can know your limits. Only you can know where your boundaries are. Be clear in protecting your limits. And when you’ve reached that limit, turn off the TV, put down the paper or turn off or put away whatever it is that all this was coming to you through, or ask the person you’re talking to to allow you to change the subject or simply walk away. It’s more than ok to make it stop for awhile.

Second, I can use what I know about the brain and yoga/meditation to stop the repetitive loop of past traumas playing out in my mind. Did you know that when you relive a memory, your brain doesn’t know if it is something that happened in your past or if it is happening right now? Many times the same chemical responses, such as the release of stress hormones, can be found when we recall an event. If we end up in the endless thought loop of remembering a trauma, we are basically putting our bodies and minds through the same experience over and over again. Sometimes we need to do this to make sense of the event, to find resolution or to simply fully deal with the trauma. But sometimes we can get stuck in a pattern of thought that just becomes harmful. This is why knowing your limits is first. If it’s time to get those negative thought loops to stop, being present is where we begin.

How? Start as above in step one and turn off the news, put down the paper or the social media or whatever it is that’s triggering you. Choose a technique you find calming. Your technique might be similar to one you use in meditation. You can follow your breath, you can look at an uplifting image or you can repeat a mantra. Whatever you choose, bring your mind fully to it. See it, feel it, experience it for all that it is. The more curiosity you can bring to it the greater the chances of stopping the cycle of damaging thoughts.

But what does that really do? It empowers us to reclaim the here now. And the here and now is actually pretty safe if we really look at it closely. If you are reading this you are likely sitting at a computer or looking at a device. If you take a deep breath and let it out the next breath is going to come. And the next. There is no one attacking you. There is no one hurting you. You are just here, reading these words and taking a deep breath. It’s all pretty simple right here and right now. The next moment may not be that way. But this moment is. This breath is ok. This breath is safe. In this breath all is well.

So you take this little vacation from it all and you live and breathe to see another day. To take action in another moment. You are rested enough and centered enough to do whatever is next. And that is all anyone can ask in these crazy times we live in.

And if you truly need help processing and dealing with it all, remember that yoga and meditation can only take us so far sometimes. Don’t be afraid to call and ask for professional help. There’s no shame in that. That’s also part of knowing your limits.

Just begin again

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Why is it that when we become adults and the older we get, we seem to think that we can’t start over or start something new? It’s as if we think when we get to {insert the milestone of your choice here} that we’re done! Cooked! Finito!

How ridiculous!

What we don’t realize is that there are new beginnings every day. When we start to recognize those new beginnings, we can start to see that the power to just begin lies within and that power is so very important in all aspects of our lives.

One of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg, shares great wisdom in the quote below that I shared in class and in your newsletter recently:

The critical element in meditation practice is beginning again. Everyone loses focus at times, everyone loses interest at times, and everyone gets distracted over and over again. What is essential, and also incredibly transforming, is realizing that we have the ability to begin again, without blaming or judging ourselves, without thinking we have failed, without losing heart, we can, and need to, constantly be beginning again.

Sharon Salzberg

This is so key in meditation, in yoga practice and in life. If you’ve ever started a meditation practice and thought you “failed” because you couldn’t get your mind to be quiet or empty, you’ve just discovered the importance of beginning again. (Stay tuned for more about this idea in a future workshop.) You also probably did a fair amount of beating yourself up in the process. I know I have!

“I suck at this.”

“I’m a freaking yoga teacher and I still can’t do this.”

“Why do I even bother.”

“Look at everyone else! They look so peaceful! Why is this so hard for me?!”

Sharon really changed my relationship with meditation the first time I took a workshop with her by bringing the wisdom of the quote above to my attention. Not only could I just start over, I could understand that I wasn’t alone in needing to do so. After over 40 years of meditation practice she does it too! That gave me great hope and a great deal more understanding.

That’s all well and good, but what does this have to do with your life you might ask.

When’s the last time you started trying to do something and gave up because you “failed”, or got busy with the daily requirements of your life or because your family needed you or {insert whatever it was here}?

  • A new eating habit

  • A new exercise program

  • A new business

  • A new educational pursuit

  • Finding a new job

  • A new way of being in an important relationship

  • A new self care habit

  • Etcetera …

We all do these things. But our practice of yoga and meditation can show us that we do have that ability to start over. We do it every time we get on our yoga mat. Every time you step on your mat is a new beginning. The body is different. The mind is different. The experiences of your life, no matter how small, have changed you. You really have no idea what you might find on your mat today. But you step on and you practice and you start again, and again and again.

Each breath is a new beginning. With great faith we take an inhale in and trust that it will nourish us. We let go of the exhalation with great trust that the next inhale will be waiting. Beginning again happens with every breath we take.

So we can start over. We can begin again. We do it multiple times each day.

What we might need even more practice with is the being kind to ourselves part. The not loosing heart part. The not judging or blaming ourselves part. And so we can get on our mat or our meditation cushion and practice that too. Notice when it happens. Know it happens to all of us. Then just let it go and start over. It’s just another thought.

Just begin again.

What is Kirtan and why should you make it part of your yoga practice?

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We are so fortunate at Forever Yoga to have International Kirtan artist Girish coming to visit us again at the studio in September! If you haven’t experienced a kirtan before or you’re wondering what it’s all about and why it’s such an amazing addition to your yoga practice, keep reading!

What is Kirtan?

Kirtan is a form of live music that often involves Sanskrit mantras. Each artist puts their own sound and creativity into the music, so it can be quite different from person to person or group to group. They may use different instruments from what you might see in a typical rock band to more traditional instruments like harmonium and drums or sitars. Beyond the music, a key element of Kirtan is that it is usually in Call and Response format. In other words, the leader of the group will sing a line, and then the audience will sing it back them. We all get to participate when we go to a Kirtan!

What are the benefits of Kirtan?

Vibration. Sanskrit is the science of vibration. When we chant Sanskrit sounds, we receive physical and energetic benefits. Kirtan makes that all the sweeter by, as Krishna Das often says, giving us something that makes taking the “Medicine” (the Sanskrit mantra itself) easier to “swallow”. Music just makes everything sweeter. Putting words to music has also been shown to make retention and recall better. That’s why you can still remember every word of your favorite song from when you were a teenager. Want to really learn a mantra? Do it through Kirtan!

Stress Relief. Singing has been scientifically shown to relieve tension and relax the body. But what if you feel like you don’t have a great singing voice? No one cares what you sound like! It’s just like when we’re in a yoga class, the only people that care about your down dog is you and your teacher! Everyone is having their own experience and if they’re really paying attention, they aren’t at all concerned with what you sound like. We’re all in this together. And if you really don’t feel comfortable singing, just being in the room with the sound and the others participating can bring you huge benefits.

Group Energy. Speaking of the others in the room, group energy is so important in so many of our practices. If you’ve ever done a yoga video at home, you know that it’s just not the same as it is when you do yoga in a class setting. When everyone is moving and breathing together, there’s something special that happens. The same thing is true in Kirtan. It’s just like when you go to see your favorite musical group live. Sharing that experience with others provides a kind of magic that you just can’t get when singing alone in the shower!

A sweet form of meditation. You know how you feel when your favorite song comes on the radio (or the Alexa or whatever it is you play music through these days)? Kirtan can give you that feeling in an even more beneficial way. The music we play in classes is often recorded versions of Kirtan. Just like so many other yogic practices, kirtan allows you to release stress, tension and anxiety in a way that is far more beneficial than sitting in front of the TV on a Friday night. Instead of simply distracting you, it actually draws you in to more conscious relaxation. How does it do that? Kirtan is a form of meditation practice! Really! As you chant along with a room full of friends your mind will wander, but it will wander a little less due to the group energy. When you notice you’ve wandered, you just come back to the chant. It’s that simple! You may find that this is the most fun meditation you’ve ever done!

I hope you’ll join us for our Kirtan with Girish this month or another Kirtan in the future. You won’t be sorry, I promise!

Bonus: My kitty who I named Kirtan because she loves to sing! :-)

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