Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Scar Tissue

This post was inspired by a student who is having adverse effects from scar tissue that has built up over 11 years since by-pass surgery. Her lung capacity, and thus oxygen intake, has been diminished. As you might imagine, this is not helpful in finding energy to go about your day. The effects of Yoga on oxygen, and how important this wonderful element is, is a discussion in itself. However, today I'd like to focus on scar tissue.

If you've lived more than a few years, it's almost guaranteed that you have scar tissue somewhere. Aadil Palkhivala said that "frequently the sounds coming from your shoulders, during arm circles, is from you rubbing against scar tissue." If this is the case, then keep circling! The more you rub scar tissue, the more it breaks down. It's no surprise that scar tissue is commonly helped with massage.

Ideally, you want to keep active after an injury in order to encourage the muscle fibers (and scar tissue) to line up in the proper manner. It's when you are completely still, that fibers begin to line up haphazardly. This can result in limited mobility, and in this student's case limited mobility means limited breathing and all the side effects that come with it.

AlternativeMedicine.com says that Yoga "stretching can help ease scar tissue buildup." Julian Walker, long time Yoga teacher and co-creator of Core Sequencing, agrees. He says, "stretching deeply into areas of scar tissue helps to gradually break it down."

It is important to be patient. Scar tissue that took years to build up, cannot be expected to disappear overnight. Also, stay aware of alignment in order to prevent further scarring to occur.

A great pose for stretching the side rib cage and enhancing lung capacity is Gate or Parighasana. Check out this Yoga Journal article for a detailed explanation.

Additionally, massage is very helpful in dealing with scarring. Check out Jonathan Kraft's advise on massaging scar tissue. There's some useful info here.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Spirituality and Health

In the March/April 2007 issue of Spirituality & Health, Louise Palmer wrote an article titled How Stress Shrinks Your Brain. It seems that stress lowers the number of brain cells in rats. When under stress, the part of the brain used in making decisions and paying attention were especially compromised.

Don't fret! There's hope for your brain. Aerobics not only slims your tummy and helps your heart; it, also, grows your brain.

There's a lot of controversy regarding whether-or-not Yoga can be aerobic. Timothy McCall, M.D., author of Yoga as Medicine, admits that "not all Yoga is aerobic." Yet, "if you do it vigorously or take flow or Ashtanga classes, it can boost your heart rate into the aerobic range."

Regardless, of the style of Yoga that you practice, all Hatha Yoga improves the efficiency of the body's ability to use oxygen. Also, breath capacity is increased. Add in a dose of meditation, which reduces stress, and your getting smarter already!

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, August 24, 2007

God - Connecting with God through Meditation

"We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."- Mother Teresa

A wise student once shared with the class "to listen to what I mean, not what I say." This stemmed from a conversation about the use of a term to describe the force behind our thoughts, the energy that is only felt yet not seen, the presence that brings with it peace and true happiness. Some call this God or Jesus. Others like Buddha, Allah, or Krishna. The list doesn't stop here. You might have heard Mother Earth, Higher Consciousness, Self (with a capitol "S"), Divine Nature, or Source. The terminology is truly endless.

For years, I had trouble with the word "God". It's a long story for perhaps another time. The point is, as I withdrew from this word so strongly, I missed some very valuable lessons from some great masters. I was hung up on the word and forgot the broader meaning that can be applied to it. Thanks to some wise friends and great authors, I can now heed the student's advise. "Listen to what I mean, not what I say."

Now, I interpret whatever word is being used for what it actually means to me. Every relationship with God (or whatever word you like), is very personal. So, listen to the wisdom of all religions and non-religions. Digest and absorb what fits for you and let the rest go.

To deepen your own personal relationship with Spirit (whatever that means for you), I will be offering a Japa Meditation class on Oct 13.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Heat - How to Cool Off

Today I received an email requesting any postures to help the body cool off. This poor woman has the chickenpox and any sweating makes the itching worse. With the pox, getting into asanas may be too difficult. This gal has over 500 pox. Yes, you read that right. So, send some healing vibes her way. In the meantime, a great way to cool off is with the following two Pranayama techniques. Start with a comfortable seat and straight spine.

To practice sithali, stick the tongue out of your mouth and curl it. Do this gently, not with the oomph that a child might have on the playground. That is, there is no strain around the mouth or back of the tongue. Inhale through the mouth. Briefly hold the inhale as you take the tongue back into the mouth and re-moisten it. Exhale out the nose. Repeat at least 12 times.

Sitkari is similar, but the tongue stays in the mouth and does not curl. With the tip of the tongue resting at the gum line behind the top front teeth, open the lips and keep the teeth relatively close together. Inhale through the mouth producing a hissing sound. Close the mouth to moisten the tongue, as you exhale out the nostrils. Repeat at least 12 times.

For both practices, focus mainly on smooth, easy, and slow inhales.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Honesty - Satha

One of the ritzier hotels in Milwaukee called me the other day. It seemed that a gentleman staying with them was interested in a Yoga lesson. The concierge, Mike, left a phone message inquiring as to my rates and if I'd be willing to come to the hotel to teach Yoga.

I called back later that day and got the concierge desk. I asked for Mike. The fellow that answered said that Mike was unavailable and in the middle of a meeting. He, the man that answered the phone, was the only one that could help me.

I explained the situation and immediately Mike "mysteriously" was out of his meeting and on the phone.

Now here's what gets me. Why does lying come so naturally to so many? Have you ever known someone, or perhaps even yourself, that white lies on a consistent basis?

Years ago, I had a friend that lied all the time. They were relatively innocent lies, but lies, none-the-less. As Shakespeare said, "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." Or in this case, white lie, fib, or exaggeration, is still a lie.

In the Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali lists Satha, truthfulness, as one of the actions a Yogi practices.

First, remember that Yoga is a practice not a set of rules that must never be broken. So, honesty is something to be worked towards in all situations. If you catch yourself fibbing, without judgement notice it and continue to work on the practice of honesty. That is, don't give up!

If chronic lying has been part of your life, then you might find it helpful to sit down and ask why? When I have caught myself in a lie, frequently it's been in an attempt to be more fully accepted. So, in order to work on this I had to work on accepting myself first and release my attempts at trying to please everyone.

Second, through the practice of Hatha Yoga and Meditation, there is a wonderful opportunity to monitor or watch thoughts as they go by. This can easily lead to the ability to watch or monitor actions or words. In my opinion, the Sutras aren't talking about simply "be honest." I see this as a process that Yoga as a whole, such as the Hatha poses, Pranayama breathing, and Meditation all help with. So, one day at a time grow in awareness of when or why you might stretch the truth. Over time, the practice of being truthful will become more natural.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Knee Pain

The Knee
(compliments of Wikipedia.org)

Yoga can help or cause knee pain. The key is alignment. This is one of the reasons working with a knowledgeable teacher is so helpful. In general, keep the knee cap (patella) in the same direction as the middle and 2d toe. Never put weight on the knee when it is past the toes. That is, when lunging keep the shin perpendicular to the ground and the knee directly over the ankle--NOT over the toes! When standing balance the weight evenly on the 4 corners of the feet: Ball mound of the big toe, ball mound of the baby toe, inner and outer heel.

If you experience knee pain, try the following therapeutic:

Sit on the floor with legs out straight (sit on a blanket if needed to maintain a low back curve).

Place a strap around the thighs and a block between the shins.

Keep the legs going straight forward from the hips. Hug the block in with the shins and push the thighs apart against the strap: "shins in - thighs out." On an exhale slide the heels on the floor (easiest to do on a hard floor with the heels on a blanket) toward the body, keeping the shins in and thighs out.

Inhale and slowly release the legs back out.

Repeat at least 6 times once or twice a day. Pay particular attention to "shins in - thighs out". If this is too hard. Place the block between the thighs to bring them out and the strap around the shins to draw them in.

How far in or out? Excellent question! The answer is "just enough to keep the hips, knees, and ankle all in a straight line."

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sun Salutations

I was thinking of posting the most common Sun Salutation, Surya Namaskar, that I've seen and recently stumbled upon a post at Playin' The Edge, where Corilee brings up the subject of just how many salutations are "too" many. This is an interesting question. I have taken classes with 6-8 each practice, have personally gone down to zero, and now teach a class with 2-6, depending on the day.

The Sun Salutation is a sequence of Yoga postures done more than once with the flow of the breath leading the way. This flow is placed towards the beginning of a class, as it warms up the body and helps to get out of the mind and into the present moment. For a more experienced Yogi it may be used as a warm up, but for beginners it's best to warm the body in a simpler manner first. There are numerous variations on these ordered poses, and the salutation is a great way to flow into more complex asanas (poses). Vinyasa classes incorporate this idea the most.

No one seems sure about where or when Sun Salutations came about. Based on the name, and the suggested direction to face East when practicing, it seems likely that Yogis began the salutation practice as a form of devotion to the rising sun. There is something magical about facing the sun rise, drawing the hands together at the heart and filling the lungs with fresh air. Slowly returning that breath to the Universe, joining as one you bow deeply into a forward bend. As you continue through the positions, your breath guides you. There is a rhythm of moving between bowing or facing the Earth and rising up to gaze upon the Sun and sky. I see here a symbol of joining the self with the Earth and the Heavens. Can there be a better way to bring in a new day? Or to honor your evening practice and time to remember that all is one. Yoga means union. Surya Namaskar brings such union on many different levels.

Here is the most common flow that I've run across. Try it out 2-6 times, depending on your fitness level. If you'd like, leave a comment and share how many salutations, if any you enjoy in a class.

1. Start in mountain (Tadasana) by standing with the feet slightly wider than the sit bones and parallel. Hands in a prayer position (Anjali Mudra) in front of the heart. Wait for a steady, even, and quiet breath.

2. Inhale: Lift the arms overhead while the shoulder blades melt down the back.

3. Exhale: Bend forward from the hips into standing forward bend (Uttanasana). If you cannot touch the ground, use Yoga blocks or bend your knees.

4. Inhale: Keeping the fingertips on the ground or blocks, lift the heart and belly away from the standing legs.

5. Exhale: Step far back with the right foot into a lunge (Anjaneyasana).

6. Inhale: With steadiness, lift up on fingertips, hands to your front knee, or arms overhead.

7. Exhale: Hands return to either side of the front ankle and step the left foot back to plank (Phalakasana).

8. Inhale: Establish a straight line in plank (Phalakasana) from the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears. If this is too challenging today, modify with the knees on the ground and a straight line from the knees, hips, shoulders, and ears. The belly is very strong. Do NOT allow the spine to sag downwards. Think of a strong plank of wood, not a hammock.

9. Exhale: Slowly bend the elbows straight back as you come onto the floor, belly down.

10. Inhale: Toes point straight back, keep the knees down and allow the power of the breath to float the chest and head off the ground. Heads (tops) of the arm bones stay back and neck stays long.

11. Exhale: Toes curl under and lift your buttocks up and back in to downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Stay for 3-5 breaths if you like before moving on.

12. Exhale: Swing the right leg forward between the hands for a lunge (Anjaneyasana).

13. Inhale: With steadiness, lift up on fingertips, hands to your front knee, or arms overhead.

14. Exhale: Step both feet to the front of the mat into a standing forward bend (Uttanasana).

15. Inhale: Hand on hips or out to the sides, push through the feet as you come up with a long and straight spine. Reach the arms overhead.

16. Exhale: Return the hands to the sides of the body or in front of the heart.

Repeat, starting with the opposite leg.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Yoga poetry

And now for something completely different. A Yoga Poem that I wrote 3 years ago. However being that it's about Yoga, it must be timeless.

Thousands of years ago in a place now called India,

was the start of something great known as Yoga!

Yoga helped folks to sit still in order to pray and meditate,
instead of having their bodies just ache.

They watched the nature to become a mountain or tree,
they became animals too, like the cobra, camel, and monkey.

They moved with breath while becoming flexible and strong,
soon their hearts began to sing a fine song.

As they opened their bodies, they opened their minds,
no wonder yoga has lasted such a long time.

Their spirits soared, as they opened that too,
is there anything this Yoga can’t do?

Today some folks think Yoga is a religion,
that if they practice there will be a belief collision.

Spiritual, yes. Religious, no. Whether it’s Ala, Jesus, Buddha, or none of these,
Yoga is sure to please.

Forget the pretzel shapes and odd contortions,
Yoga is for those of all proportions.

Try Yoga and you’ll not only get a good stretch,
you’ll find strength & balance too—I’ll just bet.

Finally, the point of it all,
vitality, peace, and connection all rolled into one ball!

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Leg Cramps

Last night, a woman in class asked for any ideas to help with night time foot and lower leg cramps. Here are a few ideas that got tossed around, and a special thanks to Janet and Sylvia for coming up with some interesting suggestions.

To prevent cramps:
1. Massage the lower legs and feet before going to bed and upon waking in the morning.
2. Eat more potassium.
3. Drink more water.
4. During the day, be sure your toes are relaxed and not gripping.
5. Stand evenly on the 4 corners of the feet (ball mound of big toe, ball mound of baby toe, inner and outer heel)
6. Root through the 4 corners and lift through the arches, especially just in front of the heel.
7. Put a bar of soap (Sylvia says Dove has been used successfully) near your feet in bed at night.

When cramps hit:
1. Tightly squeeze your ear lobes between your fingers.
2. Massage and exhale out the mouth with a sigh. Do not stretch the area.
3. Purse your lips and hold them with your fingers. Pull the lips away from the body. (Looks like a duck mouth, to me.)

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Self Discipline - What Do the Yoga Sutras Say?

Would you like more self discipline?
Do you find it difficult to be self disciplined? If so, you are not alone. Of all the comments and questions I receive about a home practice, the biggest one is "How do I motivate myself?" Excellent question!

In my last post, Yoga at Home, Glam Spirit left a comment that mentioned the need for discipline, especially for a home practice, but that the home practice was well worth it. So, how do you get yourself to do something that you know will be helpful?

Consider the following:

1. Do you know, I mean really know, that a disciplined practice will have a pay off? Let's find out. Start by committing to practicing just one hour every Wed morning (or pick another day and time) for 2 months? If you can do more, then pick 2 or even 3 days a week. The key is select the days and times first. Then carry through for 1 or 2 months. This is only 4 to 8 hours over 1 or 2 months to test something out that just might change your life! You are worth that piddly amount of time. So, DO IT!

2. Dr. Wayne Dyer, when asked how to find time to meditate, said, "I don't have time to get sick. So, I find time [to meditate]."

3. Do you find time to tuck your kids in at night? To help out friends? To feed the dog? To shop for your family? To run errands? To watch TV? Why not honor yourself with some time to nourish, rejuvenate, relax, strengthen, and care for just you?

4. In an airplane, the steward instructs all passengers to place the airbag on yourself first. Then you take care of children or the disabled. That's right. It's not selfish to take time for yourself. It's necessary.

5. If you say, "I practice Yoga", then remember the fundamental text that most Yogas today are based on, The Yoga Sutras. In the Sutras, Pantanjali lists the third Niyama as Tapas. Tapas is committed self-discipline. So, part of the practice of Yoga is to practice self-discipline. How wonderful. It's a practice! That means you don't have to be perfect. The neat part about a practice, is that you are always learning and growing. That's why we practice. Instead of saying, "I don't have a home practice because I'm not disciplined." Say, "I practice Yoga, and part of that is learning discipline. I'm growing more disciplined every day." Remember, part of the practice is the discipline. Soon you'll reap the rewards in more discipline in all that you do--eating, sleeping, relationships, etc.

6. Create a comfortable space to practice in. You only need about 4'x7'. Buy a mat and start by unrolling it at your chosen time. If nothing else, lay in corpse (Savasana) for 5 minutes. That's a practice. Next time, you might just add some sun salutations (Surya Namaskars).

7. Check out http://www.totalhealthyogaclasses.blogspot.com/ for some ideas. I don't know how long this link will be available, but it's up right now. And the ideas for a home class are all FREE! So is a home Yoga practice.

In summary, start today, not next month. Step one is selecting the time and day. That will only take 5 minutes. Don't you owe yourself 5 minutes?

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Yoga at Home

Today's practice was inversions. Not because a teacher decided it or someone in a class requested it. In a personal home practice, the focus is set because it's what my mind and/or body choose it! This is one of the many joys of home Yoga.

Does the idea of finding peace, strength, flexibility, and centering at home sound intriguing to you? If so, try Yoga at Home. This is such a useful and important part of anyone's practice that I am even writing a book about it and hope to have it published by next year.

Home Yoga is a wonderful time to re-connect with your Self/God/The Universe/Higher Consciousness or whatever label you'd like to use. In the silence, there is only your breath to guide you. Your imagination and creativity have a chance to be stimulated. There is no better time (that I've found) to really pay attention to your body.

So many of us spend the day complaining or finding fault with our bodies. Private Yoga is a time to "converse" with your body. To literally ask, what do you need? What direction would feel good right now? What area can use some strengthening? How about some opening? Where do you simply need to rest? A personal practice is a time to honor the body and bring it into positions and motions that it craves. This sense of honor and nourishing continues throughout the day. You might find that you're eating better or taking more walks after dinner. The practice doesn't end after the mat is rolled up. It just takes on a new form.

Physically, when a practice is about following your bodies needs the results can be amazing. I've learned more about my own alignment pluses and negatives by experimenting and taking my time just on my own. With that said, working with experienced teachers has provided me with the tools and basic knowledge to know what to look for and what direction to go in.

Thanks to Traveling Shoes and Yoga Spark for their inspiring stories about a home practice.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, August 3, 2007

All that fresh air has changed me.... again

Every time I take a really great vacation, I feel changed when I return. Maybe it's less of "changed" and more of "remembering" who I am and what's really important to me. I love to take this time to regenerate and just love every moment. No worries about money, career, house stuff, etc. Just loving my family and this beautiful world that we're all blessed to be a part of. It might sound corny, but it's true.

Change or remembering doesn't always run smoothly. Since returning from vacation last month, I've been feeling a bit out-of-sorts. My Yoga practice is always evolving and directly reflects the various stages of life. There was a time I practiced for fitness, for flexibility, for spirituality, for enlightenment, for strength, for peace, for centering, for health, etc. The list goes on and on, and after a vacation it will almost definitely shift. Once again, like a reflection pool it shows me where I am.

For the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with different ways to carry out my practice. Some things worked, and some did not. Finally, things are settling and a new ritual is forming. I believe it's important to try new things and break out of ritual periodically. But then to settle, again, in the flow of something that speaks to you and "just feels right."

As organic beings, we are constantly changing. It only makes sense that our practice and life change along with us.

Stay flexible in all things--body, mind, thoughts, and actions.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!