Bring a Friend to a Free Yoga Class!

People often ask me, “what’s a good yoga DVD for a beginner?” My response is always the same — there isn’t one. The guidance of a teacher and the camaraderie of other students is priceless. Next week, July 9-15, yoga literally IS priceless, as The Yoga Center of Columbia is offering free introductory classes!

If you haven’t tried yoga, why not give it a go? It’s probably a lot different from what you think. If the idea is unsettling, bring a friend!

I’m offering Gentle Yoga on Monday at 9:30am, Yoga 1 on Monday at 11:15am and Friday at 5pm, and Yoga 1 Plus on Thursday at 4:30pm.

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia! Free classes the week of July 9.

Respite and Reprieve

An Amazing Presence

I am touched to the core
with a presence I cannot explain.
A loving plan enfolds me.
Someone is always believing in me,
calling me forth, calling me on.
I am standing in grace,
filled with mystery,
touched by the eternal.
I cannot get away from goodness.
–Macrina Wiederkehr

Summer vacation brings time to unplug, relax, and renew. Enjoy, and take a yoga mat. ūüėČ

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia! Free classes the week of July 9.

The Calm Amid the Storm

I’ve had a stormy week, for reasons I can’t easily explain. I sought solace on my yoga mat again and again. My best times were with students, teaching. Guiding them through a practice drew me inside, even as I engaged with them. The rhythm and pace of the practice, the laughter and smiles,¬†brought a measure of peace for which I was very grateful.

And so this is life:¬† ups and downs, storm and calm, tranquility and strife. Our challenge is to walk through it all with courage, being true to ourselves, and always working toward the best. As we walk on this earth, life will never be perfect. The mindset of “…and THEN I’ll be happy” is pure foolishness. Minute by minute, life is moving by.

When a storm hits, how do you make your way through it? How are you in the middle of it? After it’s passed, do you spend some time reflecting and considering what you learned? How do you support others through their turbulent times?

Here are a few things I know for sure:

  1. People matter more than things.
  2. Never underestimate the power of your words.
  3. I’m not responsible for other people’s “stuff.”
  4. I’m never going to be perfect, so I might as well give up the idea and be okay with it. Ditto for everyone else.
  5. No matter what, I return to gratitude for all that God has blessed me with.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
-Hebrews 4:16

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia! Free classes the week of July 9.

Why I Practice Yoga

Most people know that consistently practicing yoga makes your body stronger and more flexible. I love to look at amazing pictures of advanced yogis in impossible poses! The full version of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pictured above) is one of my favorites! Is nailing an advanced pose what drives me to practice? Not hardly! Here’s the point of the practice for me:

Yoga helps keep me sane. When I’m having a rough day, yoga lifts me up.¬†All I have to do is roll out my mat; sometimes¬†¬†I just lay on it and breathe. The yogis speak of opening energy channels, or nadis…we have over 72,000 nadis!…and when we break through those blockages, we feel better.

I’m more compassionate because of yoga. Both practicing and teaching yoga have made me more aware of suffering. I’m fortunate to have wonderfully compassionate teachers, and¬†my desire¬†to help people in the ways that¬†they help me was¬†one¬†reason I started teaching. I absolutely love guiding people into a pose and helping them find their “version” of¬† it, with whatever support or props they need. Never much for the “no pain, no gain” attitude, the yogic mantra of “no pain, no pain” has always appealed to me.

Yoga makes me healthier. Yoga is a way of life — it has affected how I eat, how I view myself and others, and it makes every body system function better.

I’m a better me! Yoga encompasses much more than just the physical poses (asana). It’s about how you conduct yourself personally and with others (yamas and niyamas), how you breathe¬† (pranayama), and so much more. True yoga is seldom about what we do on the mat — it’s when we take yoga off the mat that we can call ourselves true yogis.

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia! Free classes the week of July 9.

Top Five Reasons to Practice Restorative Yoga

Learning to relax is at the heart of living well. –Judith Lasater, PhD, PT

I’ve been hooked on restorative yoga since the first time¬†my teacher told the class to get a bolster and five blankets! If there’s a bolster involved, it’s got to be good, right? Restorative yoga is a practice you can do anytime — even (especially!)¬†when you’re injured, ill, or tired. It opens and softens the body, calms the mind, and soothes the spirit. I use restoratives regularly in my own practice, and there are so many reasons why!¬† Here are just a few…

Relaxation is an essential¬†learned skill and it’s not about sitting on the couch in front of the TV, having a glass of wine, hanging out with friends,¬†or playing a computer game. It takes intention and practice to learn how to become still, and this is what nourishes your body on a deep level. In restorative yoga, we use lots of props (blankets, bolsters, blocks, chairs, etc) to get the body very comfortable, and we release into the quiet and stillness. The body opens via the miracles of gravity and breath, and the breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure slow down. With the support of props, we can hold restorative poses for several minutes. A well-rounded restorative practice will include forward bends, back bends, twists, and even inversions, so that the spine moves in all the ways a healthy one should, and so that the internal organs are revitalized with fresh blood and enhanced removal of toxins.

Living in the 21st century is hard and we need to unplug sometimes. Literally.¬†I don’t know about you, but I’m¬†so darn connected to everyone¬†via phones, computer, and tablet that sometimes I feel a little claustrophobic! Solitude is a rare commodity in this fast-paced, hyper-connected world. When’s the last time you were truly unreachable? How great would it be to regularly turn everything off and lay down on some blankets and bolsters to do nothing but breathe?!

Doing absolutely nothing is worth your time. As a recovering Type A, I can tell you that productivity is over-rated. Some people think they’re not doing anything unless they’re doing something. The constant churn, the lists, the calendar(s!), the texts, emails, and phone calls…one obligation after another…wear us down and sap our bodies, minds, and spirits. A friend recently posted on Facebook, “Do they still make Calgon?” I don’t know about Calgon, but I do know that restorative yoga takes me away to a place of renewal, where my body and mind and spirit¬†can take a break. Just simply being is critical to your mental and physical well-being.¬†A¬†little bit of time doing “nothing”¬†might even make you more productive when it’s time to plug back in.

You’ll get to know yourself. As we carefully arrange blankets and bolsters for restorative poses, the difference between heaven and hell can be as little as one-quarter inch. With an extra blanket tucked¬†here or a slight move there, you’ll come to understand better what your body needs. In the quiet stillness, you’ll be able to listen inside and actually hear something.

You’ll be a nicer person when you’re not exhausted and stressed out all the time. Your time on the mat doing restoratives will not only leave you immediately refreshed, but over the longer-term, regular restorative practice will help you sleep better! When you’re refreshed and rested, you take a better you off the mat and into the world. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia! Free classes the week of July 9.

Savoring the Sweet In-Between

I’m naturally a fast walker; if you accompany me to the mall, wear comfy shoes! Our cats¬†often scurry away as I determinedly move from one household task to the next, moving quickly from here to there. The cats don’t like it, and neither does my husband, who cringes when I’m working through my “to do” list¬†or when I ask him to “go for a little walk.” You see, he prefers a strolling pace, taking in the scenery and enjoying conversation. I’m all about burning calories and “accomplishing” something. And you know what? He has a point¬†(don’t tell him I said so!). In my fast-paced walk, I don’t notice what’s blooming in nature around me, can’t observe a sweet moment between father and son playing catch in a neighbor’s yard, and can’t even feel the breath in my own body. There’s something to be said for slowing down and noticing what’s happening on your way to the next thing.

This happens on the yoga mat, too. The mind habitually moves ahead to the next pose and we miss what happens, or can happen, during the transition. Those transitions just aren’t as sexy as being in the next big pose! But what might we be missing along the way? During a Sun Salutation, moving from Mountain Pose (Tadasana)¬†to Forward Bend (Uttanasana), into Lunge¬†(Palakasana), and back to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), it’s easy to fall into thinking that Downward Dog is the goal. After all, it’s glorious to stretch up and back, lengthening the whole spine, stretching and strengthening¬†the entire body. It’s the quintessential yoga pose, after all! But careful attention to the placement of your feet and hands¬†in every pose en route to Down Dog means that your hips, pelvis, spine, and shoulders¬†will stay aligned and thus get the chance to strengthen and open in a safe, healthy way. Mindless movement toward Downward Dog deprives you of these opportunities and actually risks injury. The point is not just to get to Adho Mukha Svanasana, but rather, to be with each pose along the way, staying present in body, mind, and breath. The same is true in any yoga sequence (vinyasa).

Transitions are an opportunity to build strength in body and mind:  staying fully present, aware of every muscle movement as you progress into the next pose not only disciplines your mind, but it enables you to focus on the weaker muscles. When your muscles shake as you transfer from one pose to the next, your breath is there to facilitate the transition and remind you to keep your body integrated and aligned. Paying full attention during transitions keeps you safer: a mindless move, perhaps trying to muscle ahead, can result in injury. This presence of mind invites us to stay in the moment: every moment counts, on and off the mat.

As I move through my days,¬†consciously slowing down my task-oriented self to savor the sweetness of the in-between moments, not only can I feel the breath in my body and¬†actually¬†be ¬†aware of what’s happening around me, but the cats might remain¬†more calm. And maybe my husband will say yes the next time I ask him to go for a walk!

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!

Why I Teach Yoga

This weekend I did something extraordinary: I taught my visiting big sister some Therapeutic Yoga. What’s the big deal, you might wonder. Well, Mary has Multiple Sclerosis and somewhat limited mobility and energy. She fights the “I can’t” demon daily. Can she do everything she’d like to do in her life? No. But I think this weekend we both learned that she can do much more than her mind thinks she can.

Through the two practices we did together, I was reminded why I teach yoga: to help people live happier lives, with less pain in their bodies. For me, it’s not about twisting up into a pretzel or standing on your hands in the middle of the room. It’s about good alignment and small movements that help build strength and improve posture. The mind opens up along with the body, and the spirit feels more free.

Yoga isn’t a miracle cure, but it can be miraculous. Consistent practice and a compassionate attitude toward yourself are key. I tell my students regularly that 10 minutes of yoga every day is better than 90 minutes with a teacher once a week, and a combination of the two is ideal! The body longs to be in good alignment, and with skillful, compassionate instruction, it will move toward the better. With a stronger, better aligned physical body, the mind has a chance to calm, especially when we connect with our breath, feeling it move in the body. From there, it’s easier to be in the world, challenges feel less overwhelming, and we respond to others with more care. If you’ve ever visited my website, you know that my teaching mantra is strong body, sound mind, open heart, and this is the reason why.

I’m currently apprenticing in Therapeutic Yoga¬†with the lovely, skillful yoga teacher Lucy Lomax¬†on Monday nights at The Yoga Center of Columbia. She is a senior teacher with a beautifully compassionate spirit, and so generous with her time and knowledge. Thanks to Lucy’s open heart, I was able to share yoga with Mary this weekend. Mary can take what she learned (handout included!) and incorporate it into¬†her life. The community of yoga is rich and loving, and the benefits ripple out endlessly. Namaste, Lucy and Mary. I honor you both.

Check out my schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!

Enduring the Fire

No one was more surprised than my father to find himself with a new baby (me!) at age 48. I was his Cookie, and he was my Daddy. He loved, protected, and nurtured me for 26 years, until he died at age 75.¬†When he was felled by a serious stroke at 70, I was in my last semester of college. While he survived the stroke, he lost the use of his left arm and leg, and would spend the rest of his days in a chair or riding in a motorized scooter. He would never play golf again, and he needed a great deal of assistance for his daily needs.¬†His stroke¬†was the beginning of my walking through¬†fire…many years¬†of intense emotional pain and uncertainty, as¬†I prepared as best¬†I could¬†for his transition to the next life and my transition to life without him.¬† Amazingly, throughout this time, he retained his sense of humor and his intention to be engaged in living. I learned a lot from his graceful, dignified example of living out the hand you’ve been dealt.¬†It was a tough lesson¬†to learn, and I was not always¬†as graceful in¬†receiving it as he was in the teaching.

He died suddenly when I was 5 months pregnant with my first child. I was so devastated that I was sure I’d lose the baby. When they played Taps at his funeral (he was a World War II hero), my emotions were so heated I felt like I couldn’t breathe. That intensity was¬†heightened by my uncle¬†unexpectedly rising¬†in the little chapel, before the casket was carried out, to sing Danny Boy.¬†This classic Irish song was a¬†family tradition and one of my Dad’s favorites. It was usually sung around the dinner table, my father¬†in the head chair¬†with a good glass of red in¬†his hand…this time the words were ever more poignant, the richness of the moment burnished in my heart forever.

I mourned his loss for a long time; my beautiful baby’s birth a few months afterwards was tinged with the regret that she would never know her grandfather. As I gradually emerged from the darkness, I found that having given myself time to just live¬†with those intense sensations was a gift. I welcomed the support of family and friends, and stepped back into a life without my¬†Dad but with a renewed sense of the rapid-fire passing of time. Now I wear an Irish Claddaugh symbol tattooed on my upper back, and I conclude every yoga class with an Irish blessing that my Dad taught me. These are some of the ways that I honor him and keep his memory alive.

Raw emotions are just like the raw ingredients in a good Irish stew. With alot of time, simmering heat, and careful attention, those raw ingredients soften and cook, leaving us well-nourished when the meal is over. Similarly, we can sit in the midst of challenging times and allow life to settle around the experience, as we reflect and feel and give ourselves time to soften and gain a new perspective.

A yoga practice can support us through fiery times. When we hold postures longer than is perfectly comfortable, the heat in our bodies builds, along with our stamina. With a long hold, an inner conversation might arise that will teach us to simply be with the fire, breathing and remaining steady. As thoughts blend with the physicality of the practice, ultimately, we learn that we can endure.

Moment of Release

You’ve held the pose for so long.
All your sweat and effort,
all your focus, courage and connection
have brought you to this moment of release.

Receive it with your whole being,
knowing that you can’t control
where surrender takes you.

You can only give yourself
over to the flow of breath
and consciousness that leads
into the clear light of
your remembering again.

–Danna Faulds

Check out my schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!

Light Brings Life

The lengthening days of spring as we head toward summer solstice on June 20 are something to celebrate! More sunlight hours¬†beckon me outside onto the deck in the evening…with dinner al fresco, I linger outside, reveling in the last moments of light and enjoying the birds, deer, and foxes that make their home just outside my yard. Each evening outside is a little mini-vacation, and I’m refreshed and renewed.

Light is more than just something to read by; it’s the very source of life. Nearly all life on earth depends upon the sun! Don’t you love its warmth shining down on you? Being outside is one of the ways that so many of us relax and nurture ourselves. In many cultures, light is a symbol of consciousness. God is often spoken of as the source of light; Jesus is considered the Light of the world.¬† The contrast of light and dark enriches any experience:¬† poets write of shadow and light to engage our emotions, artists use shadow and light to create depth and dimension. Times of darkness teach us to appreciate the light when it shines brilliantly¬†into our lives, just as the cold days of February invite longing for the sunny days of spring.

The Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, is a dynamic series of poses (asana) that require precise physical alignment and engagement with the flow of breath in the body as heat builds. The body-mind softens as tensions dissipate and we create a silent “meditation in motion.” The Sun Salutation originated almost 3000 years ago as a ritual bowing to the dawn; the sequence¬†draws us inward toward¬†a humble adoration of the Light.

May the lengthening days bring a smile to your face and invite a sense of gratitude in your heart for all the good things in your life!

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!

Are You For Real?

I’ve been sharing life with two good friends for almost¬†three decades. We’ve been together through births, adoptions, illnesses, deaths, parenting highs and lows, a deployment to Iraq, graduations, and so much more. They are the “extra” brother and sister that God gave me when I really needed them. Whenever we’re together, it’s like we were never apart! We have bonds of love, loyalty, and trust, that we’ve nurtured over a lifetime. True friends give you the courage to be your authentic self. The word courage comes from the Latin cor, which means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” When you show courage in being vulnerable to another person, you make a real connection.

There are layers of vulnerability that arise quite unbidden in both teaching and practicing yoga, and¬†in this way¬†the practice teaches us to be authentic. One way or another, the masks¬†we try to hang onto fall¬†away. Yoga is never about what we look like, but rather, about what’s happening inside. We connect with our breath, we combine breath and movement, and we enjoy stillness and quiet contemplation. The active part of the practice opens up channels of energy and strengthens the body, and the passive part lets the body integrate and rest.

When I teach, the class is always about my students and never about me. I share bits and pieces of myself because I think that keeps it real, but my goal is always to help students connect into themselves. I try to create a safe space where students know they can be themselves, and they give me the space to be myself. Every practice is an opportunity to check in with yourself, and hopefully with something greater than yourself. Each practice builds on the one before, and as we come to know ourselves better we take that authenticity out into our lives off the mat.

View my complete schedule of classes at the Yoga Center of Columbia!