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Yogi of the Month: Zuri

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 07:46

Meet this month’s Yogi of the Month! Zuri lights up any and every room she walks into with a beauty that shines inside and out.  Zuri has an infectious smile and a playful and lighthearted way about her.  Don’t let her laughs fool you though, she is a seriously yogi and her commitment has not gone unnoticed.  Zuri leads by example with an open heart, willingness to try new things and unfaltering dedication.  We feel lucky to have her as a part of the YOHI community!  Each month Yoga on High is happy to partner with Manduka to feature a Yogi of the Month. Learn more about this month’s Yogi of the Month, Zuri!

Take Root

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 07:02

by Bernie McKnight

The first chakra, Muladhara, is also known as the root chakra. As its name implies, it is related to our personal sense of foundation.  Located at the base of the spine, the first chakra is the physical space where we connect with the ground or its representation (the floor, a chair).  Getting grounded is an important activity as it provides the stability from which we can efficiently move forward in both momentary and lifelong pursuits. Sending roots into the earth is a common image offered during grounding techniques.  While this is clearly a metaphor, it isn’t unusual to focus on the body parts that touch a chair or the floor, and have the sensation that some part of the self is descending towards the center of the earth.  Ground is useful to focus your mind first thing in the morning, at the end of the workday or any time your experience frantic, scattered feelings.

Getting grounded honors the first chakra. As we pay more and more attention to this energetic center we can begin to see the details of other information housed there, the nature of the foundation from which we rise.  As children and adolescents we are initially rooted in the traditions and values of our families of origin.  Maturing into adulthood we often find that at least some of our assumptions and habits do not serve us.  Trying out different practices is a common rite of passage, and when we find a practice that feels right for us, it can be very satisfying to set down roots in a like-minded community.

Transitioning out of the dormancy of winter and moving through April, a month whose showers bring with them the promise of flowers, offers the invitation to ponder the state of the soil in which we are rooted. Taking a bit of time to be still and connect with our first chakra, we can begin to notice if we are in the correct growing conditions.  And as we grow and change, the practice of taking in information through our root can tell us if we have found the grounds through which our needs can best be met.

Renewal

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 08:00

Yogi of the Month: Jen

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 15:17

Jen Ferguson’s presence has been felt ever since she first came to Yoga on High a year and half ago.  She has made a big impression on all of us, as her commitment to the practice of yoga extends well beyond the mat.  She inspires us all to smile more, to give much, and to live from the center of our open hearts.  Thank you Jen, for spreading your sunshine!   Each month Yoga on High is happy to partner with Manduka to feature a Yogi of the Month. Learn more about this month’s Yogi of the Month, Jen!

Yoga on High’s Top 10 Essential Oils

Mon, 03/17/2014 - 11:22

The benefits of essential oils are plenty. With a few starter oils, anyone can experience the potentially healing and mood enhancing properties essential oils have to offer. From uplifiting, to detoxifying or energy boosting, essential oils are easy to introduce to your daily rotine. Here are our favorites.**Essential oils can be powerful and have specific uses and guidelines for safe and effective outcomes.  Please use essential oils with caution.  People with medical conditions or those who are pregnant or nursing should avoid many essential oils. Please consult  the “Essential Oils Pocket Reference” for complete safety guidelines.

Spring Cleaning, aka releasing that which no longer serves you

Fri, 03/14/2014 - 09:43

by Stephanie Estice

There’s an interesting thing that happens when you begin to lean into a more expansive way of being in life. As you listen to your soul’s calling and learn new things and feel things that you haven’t experienced before, you run into your old limits. Or, to put it another way, you reveal deeper layers of your old patterns.

The theme for the month of March at Yoga on High is to release that which no longer serves us. When you go to the High Street location of the studio, in the back hall, there is a display of beautiful photos. Just above this wall of images there are slips of paper where you can write what you want to release and then tie the paper wish to a branch on the wall. It made my heart feel warm to find this display. It speaks to me on many levels: it is aesthetically pleasing and reminds me of the papers that I saw people tie to tree branches in shrines and temples when I was in Japan – the papers containing bad fortunes that they wished to release.

Yet, when I take the time to sit and contemplate that which no longer serves me, what I find is discomfort. It doesn’t feel good in my body. Don’t get me wrong…I have used this expression, and I just used it again in class the other night, tying it in to the theme of the month. I have now done that twice in class, and after each class where I have brought an intention of releasing that which no longer serves us, I have left the class feeling uncomfortable.

So, what does it mean when I ask myself this question? Inherently, it means that there is something that I want to get rid of. There are things that once served me, patterns or ways of being, or perhaps actual physical objects in my life, that at one time were very useful, maybe even life-saving, but now, where I live now in my being, they are no longer beneficial.

And, as I notice this discomfort and this desire to have the discomfort be gone, what do I do with it? I continue to notice it. I acknowledge how I want to label the discomfort as a bad feeling, and then I play with it, by simply experiencing where in my body I feel the sensation that is connected with discomfort. I sit with the desire I am having to get rid of something and how that longing is part of why it is so uncomfortable. Then I explore what if I could just be with all the sensation that is here, and what if it is through being with it that I will transcend it.

It is through this practice that I begin to integrate the understanding of that which is no longer serving me. Through being with all that is there, in all its varying levels of sensation – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual –  I come to a place of integration.

Studio Spotlights: Babette T. Gorman

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 07:21
“…modifications and rests galore.”

My yoga life:

In the fall of 1971 I was a 20-year-old college dropout living in New Hampshire. I bought Richard Hittleman’s introductory yoga book, followed his instructions in a room by myself, and thought I was very spiritual. I memorized the poses in the Salutation to the Sun. Two years later, I went back to school, at the University of California at Berkeley, and took a phys ed class in hatha. There must have been 100 of us on the floor of a huge gym. The instructor used a microphone.
She had us rest between poses, and used English terms, e.g. corpse pose, cat stretch, triangle pose, etc. We rubbed our hands briskly together and then cupped them over our closed eyes to warm them after studying. I loved it but didn’t keep it up, other than making an effort to stretch after exercise.

In 1989, living in Los Angeles, I was pregnant with my first and only child Amy, and took twice-weekly prenatal yoga classes with a teacher who was, a few years later, featured in Vanity Fair magazine as yoga teacher to the stars. Her name was Gurmukh (pronounced grr-MOOK), and she was a disciple of Yogi Bhajan of the Sikhs. Sigh. It was so lovely. At 38, I wasn’t the oldest pregnant woman in the class, and we all talked openly about our lives and plans. Some of us brought our babies to post-natal yoga class for a while as well. In both of these classes we did yoga, but they were social as well.

While pregnant, I became close friends with Awtar (pronounced AV-tar), who was, like Gurmukh, an American Sikh. I used to joke that we started doing yoga around the same time but she took it much more seriously than I did, joining the Yogi in the mid-70s, taking the name he chose for her, dressing all in white, and wearing a turban. Amy attended the Sikh pre-school for a year with Awtar’s daughter Gurusurya (grr-SER-ya), where they had lots of fun and ate apple rice cakes with almond butter for snacks.

When Awtar moved to San Francisco with her family, Amy and I visited them often, and I sat in on Awtar’s kundalini yoga classes at her ashram in the Haight-Ashbury district. They were difficult, especially what she jokingly called “killer arm poses,” very different from my relaxing college class and Gurmukh’s chatty, nurturing style. Awtar and I talked frequently on the phone in those days and sometimes I complained, “It’s all I can do to practice the corpse pose today.” She said, “It’s a start!”

Flash forward to 2001, when I moved back home to Columbus. Someone told me about Yoga on High, and I began taking Linda Oshins’ Wednesday morning Hatha I classes. Her soft, gentle manner warmed me, and the YoHi policy of encouraging modifications was comforting, now that I had turned 50. I soon found out that Marcia Miller was one of the owner/founders--we had graduated from the same high school! After breaking my right ankle in 2002 I took some time off, but have been a steady attendee for years now, loving the classes taught by Linda, Angela LaMonte, and Angie Hay, and treasuring the friendships I’ve formed at the Center. Now I, along with a few others of a certain age, refer to myself as a Hatha One Lifer. No more killer arm poses for me--modifications and rests galore. I do occasionally struggle to remember the Sanskrit names of the poses, because I learned the English ones so long ago (keeping the Sikh names straight was a challenge, too!) but I know that savasana is my believed corpse pose.
I visited Awtar in San Francisco last year and complained, “I can do a plank for only about ten seconds.” She said, “It’s a start!”

At 62 I have maintained the same, albeit diminutive, height as in my twenties, though some of my contemporaries have begun to shrink. I attribute it to yoga (and polarity therapy and massage). My Tuesday evenings are reserved for yoga class. It’s like a dance class. We strive to be graceful and, if we’re not, we just laugh. Usually out loud.

With no photo available of myself in corpse pose, I give you one of me swimming--alive and kicking.

Release that which no longer serves you

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 06:30

An Ayurvedic Approach to Seasonal Changes

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 06:18

by Jessica Hunt

Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, gives us guidelines for how to live in a state of balance, peace, and happiness. Through healthy diet and lifestyle routines, we can maintain balance and preserve health.

In the Ayurvedic system, seasonal changes are believed to be a contributing factor to imbalance and disease. By recognizing these changes and adapting our lifestyle accordingly, we have the tools to maintain harmony with nature.

The first step to maintain health and balance is to have a consistent sleep schedule. The best time to wake is early in the morning around sunrise. At this hour, the mind is alert and focused which makes an ideal time to fit in your yoga or meditation practice.

Late Winter & early Spring are considered the Kapha time of year. Kapha’s qualities are moist, cold, heavy, static, and slow. Those with a Kapha predominant nature are especially susceptible to aggravation during the winter months and should be careful to avoid eating excessively, sleeping too much, or lacking physical activity.

During the winter months, choose foods and drinks that are warm, dry, and light to counterbalance the season’s inherent qualities. Reduce sweets and dairy products such as cheese and ice cream. Keep in mind that like qualities aggravate, and opposites balance.

Can’t seem to get rid of that cold or cough? Try a Kapha reducing tea made up of 2 parts ginger, 3 parts cinnamon, and a pinch of cardamom. Also, increasing your vitamin C intake will give you a nice immunity boost.

Here are a few special considerations based on your dosha:

Vata individual’s primary consideration is to maintain a daily routine including meal times, sleeping schedule, exercise, and work habits. If you tend to dry out in the winter, you can also take weekly warm, oil massages. Participate in activities that keep you grounded!

Pitta individuals should remember to let go and enjoy life as they have the tendency toward intense personalities. Take time to slow down and pamper yourself with a soothing activity such as a massage or yoga class.

Kapha constitutions primary aim is to stay active and add a little variety to their life as they have a tendency toward becoming stagnant, especially in the winter months. Try something new and engaging that gets you moving!

Jessica is available for private Ayurvedic consultations.  You may contact her at jessica@yogaonhigh.com for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Harmony, Compassion and Ahimsa

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 14:41

This is one in a series of articles on living with the Yoga Sutras that will appear on this blog over the next  year. Learn about how and why we explore this philosophical yogic text and how you can participate.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali list the yamas, restraints or “don’ts”. The first Yama is Ahimsa, often translated as non-violence or non-harming. Ahimsa is asking us not to be violent in our thoughts, words, and actions. Many of you have often heard me speak about oneness in my yoga classes. If we are dedicated to the oneness or wholeness of life and the interconnectedness of all living things we are naturally supporting living a life of ahimsa. It is the ideal of living a life in harmony with all living things.

Screech! Stop the record! This sounds beautiful but I have found that living ahimsa is a mindful struggle to overcome negative (violent and harming) thoughts. This struggle can be born of  anger, fear and a myriad of other negative emotions. Violence in any form often causes pain and suffering and this is something we all share. Once we realize we are all in this together it allows us to have empathy and operate more freely from a place of compassion and love!

Over time, compassion gives birth to love and understanding so pure that it lifts the mind to a place of peace beyond any tranquility we had imagined. Then, in a process similar to osmosis, the powerful healing energy of love and understanding flows from an area of greater to lesser concentration. The calming influence of selfless love is a powerful and palpable natural emanation flowing from the hearts of those perfected in nonviolence to the hearts of others. Fear and discord vanish in their presence. -- Rev. J. Carrera

The Buddha, St. Francis, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi all practiced Ahimsa. It is said if ahimsa is practiced consistently, even just a little, it is enough to lift us to a higher state of awareness. If you seek harmonious living, perhaps start by practicing Ahimsa in all you think, say and do. It is easy to quickly assume that you already practice non-violence but do you really? Can we be truthful with ourselves?

Loving Kindness in Thought, Word & Action

$#%$#! I catch myself swearing inside my head. It is the first day of focusing on ahimsa and I start to contemplate the violent nature of my internal swearing and the underlying reason for it. My friends can attest that I don’t verbally swear much, and when I do it doesn’t feel or sound authentic. When I do occasionally let a swear word slip, with my New Zealand accent I sound more like a British comedy! Now this is not a blog on the violent nature of swearing; this is a blog on contemplating the sutras, and this is an example of the type of inquiry that just might come to the surface when you expend a little time watching your own behavior with ahimsa in mind. This type of mindfulness is like peeling away of the layers of an onion to see to the core -- it is taking a look at the “what” is happening and “why”, and hoping that brings greater awareness, compassion and healing to any given situation.

A few days later, “Are you really that much of an idiot!” What? Did I just think this for a split second? Yep, I sure did! Recognizing the negative internal attack, I tell myself to come back to compassion, loving thoughts, thinking of the other person’s situation, breathe… and ahhhhimsa! I say something kind and loving to the person in front of me. Later, observing this interesting process, I ponder how I can continue to bring my thoughts in line with my words and actions. Seriously, thinking someone is an idiot is simply not harmonious. I sit in silence and stillness and contemplate the question in a meditation. The only answer that arrives from the quiet depths of my heart is, you must first have more love and compassion for yourself! Softening into this message and adding a level of self-acceptance for my imperfections this answer leads to more questions:

  • • Where in my life can I be more compassionate and loving?
  • • What does it looks like to be more compassionate and loving towards others and myself?
  • • How does having more self-love and compassion serve my relationships, community, and humanity?
  • • What are the practices that promote Ahimsa and how can I integrate them into my daily practice?
  • • Beside myself, who can I be more compassionate to in my life?

I have daily scenarios where I have to push the reset button back to Ahimsa and continue to make this my practice. I have to admit before consciously bringing my awareness towards Ahimsa I thought I already lived it. I considered myself a fairly positive person in thought, word, and action. Alas, like many things in life, I had to be truthful with myself and realize there was room for improvement and refinement. Moreover, if I can have radical self-acceptance and remain compassionate towards others and myself I may begin to cultivate greater harmony in thought, word, and action.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Gandhi

Savasana Armor

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 06:06

by Michele Vinbury

Every week in savasana, I ask students to allow me the privilege of helping them find comfort and to trust me, and the space we’ve created, as they close their eyes and begin to release tension in their bodies.  I stand watch, holding space, as they beautifully surrender to gravity and soften their physical armor.

I, on the other hand, am that student every restorative teacher knows, who would rather remain excruciatingly still while a blanket corner digs into my ribs than raise my hand to ask for help. This raised hand, a seemingly simple gesture, signals to me a vulnerability I needn’t expose. I admit that it is irrational – seen in my mind’s eye not as a form of self-care, but instead as a white flag of surrender, a signal of defeat. I need something because I can’t do it myself. I have no such judgments about my students though.  I often think the opposite, that it is the student with the more advanced practice that can accept and allow for comfort and ease.

You might not be able to tell, but I have been working on this self-acceptance thing for a while. About 5 years ago I chose to stop listening to negative self-talk in my head. At about the same time I began two practices that radically changed my self-perception. One was writing Love & Appreciate lists about myself (talk about awkward!) And for a summer, I made it a practice to notice something beautiful about every woman I saw at my gym and pool.  These changes in habit began a shift in my judgmental ways.

Then, about 3 years ago, on my mat in a Mysore class, I began to forgive myself for not being perfect, and acknowledged that any attempts in that direction would be not only prideful, but absolutely futile. Amazingly, over time, the word “forgive” has even given way to “accept”.  As my friend Jasmine says, I am now, a recovering perfectionist.

The next big shifts happened when I began, in earnest, the quest to investigate whether I believed that vulnerability could actually be an attribute of “the strong”.  I remember sitting on a couch in a sunlit room when a dear friend asked me to consider that being soft could be a strength. I thought she’d flipped her lid – inconceivable!

Since that conversation, I have made headway. But old defenses die hard, and a strong, visceral resistance still keeps a watchful eye on my comings and goings.  Barking loudly, a guard dog left over from an era when it made sense to leave a Pitbull at the door.  These days, truth be told, I believe a Golden a better fit for my needs.  However, my watchdog, with his menacing snarl and hard muscled body serves the best way he knows how.

I have learned in my yoga practice and through the kindness and counsel of my mentors, the power of working through resistance; facing fears, letting go and welcoming deep self-inquiry.  In that spirit, I ask myself now, why the resistance around asking for help in a class where people make it their job, and their joy, to do just that?

As I feel into this question, a few things arise.  My first inclination is that the answer lies in not wanting to put the teacher out. Instantly, my B.S. meter hits high. I know this is not the case. In my experience, these teachers love to prop and re-prop and fuss and adjust to get the pose feeling just right. Such sweet and kind gestures are hard to accept though, if you feel undeserving. I sense more deeply that my hesitation is in not wanting to call attention to something I perceive as a weakness in myself (needing help)… and on some deeper level still, I think it is not feeling comfortable with the intimacy of letting someone take care of me. Sometimes it is scary, I-need-a-guard-dog-scary, to let people get close. Close enough to see me without my armor on.

Thinking about this, I wonder if it is why they put the “Namaste” at the end of class…after savasana.  As I go around the room holding weighted heads in my hands, happily offering neck adjustments and feeling muscles soften under my fingertips…I feel too, in these bodies, some defenses slip away as they softly let go.  And when we sit together for those closing communal breaths, it is perhaps then, that our divine light shines brightest, released and unobstructed by the dull and heavy armor we may shoulder throughout the rest of the day.

For now, I accept myself as a work in progress, grateful to have found a a place on my mat with room enough for barking dogs and rusted armor and all manner of vinyasa flows.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 06:18

by Bernie McKnight

Chakras are energetic centers that run along the midline of the body from the base of the torso up to the crown of the head.   The chakras form a system through which energy cycles.  Located in the middle of the chest and the center of this energetic structure is Anahata, the heart chakra. Energy interacts with each chakra differently and as energy rolls around the heart chakra it is in the center of love.

I know my heart chakra to be functioning at its optimal performance when I experience feelings of peace and connection, when I have a sense that everything (even when I don’t judge everything to be perfect) is in its right place.  It’s nice to have what’s referred to as an open heart chakra, but it isn’t always easy.  When the feeling that I’ve been misunderstood or marginalized has me frothing with rage I know that my heart chakra is probably blocked.  It can be fun to think about whether my chakra starts off blocked and causes my outrageous reactions or if something about the situations I react to cause my open chakra to slam shut.  But all of that thinking really does is keep me from the work at hand, to find a way to open up a connection to love in the moments when I want to use all of my resources on being right.

Some of the most embarrassing times that I’ve experienced a closed heart chakra have been in close proximity to a personal spiritual practice.  Getting pissed off when I couldn’t get out of the parking lot after yoga class.  Stamping off in a huff when my spouse returned home unexpectedly and makes noise during my meditation practice.  For a while my practices were like vacations where I could rest from the toll of being alive.  It is when I started to take the benefits of my practice through my heart that they began to have a real effect on my life.

Taking the benefits of my practices through my heat for me means to consciously feel the equanimity I touch during my practices in the center of my chest.  When I do this I sometimes see my self-finding situations that used to get on my nerves as no big deal.  At other times I find that I have genuine compassion for a person I previously perceived as annoying.  To me unblocking my heart chakra means connecting with its essence, which is the essence of love. Through this I’ve even found compassion for myself for snapping my heart closed so soon after my practices in the past because now any time I feel rage swirling in my chest I have a practice I can use to open up to love.

Yogi of the Month: Neda

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 17:57

When Neda found herself without a yoga mat, we were happy to select this dedicated Yoga On High yoga student as our first Yogi of the Month. Neda is now the proud owner of an eKo Manduka mat and towel. Thank you Maduka! Each month Yoga on High is happy to partner with Manduka to feature a Yogi of the Month.

Shining Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 15:12

by Jasmine Astra-Elle Grace

Do you hear us talking about the Yoga Sutras of Patnajali in class and wonder what we are rambling on about? Well, over the next few months, I have been asked to share with you all some of the key concepts found in this important philosophical yogic book.  Some people say that this text is as important as the yoga mat itself but I will leave that for you to decide.

Invariably, success in yoga is through practice (sadhana) and practice only. This idea of practice and experience for your self is not only for asanas on the yoga mat; but, for all 8 limbs of yoga outlined in the philosophical text of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. We can all memorize these words and intellectually understand the concepts but it is not until we have meditated upon the teachings and stayed with them for a period of time that we can truly be anchored in our own experience of the profound teachings that exist in the silence and space between the words. Essentially this is a method for self-inquiry.  The only way to know the Yoga Sutras is to experience them.

If you are new to yoga or the philosophy of yoga here is the basic overview of the 8 limbs of yoga.

Yama -- the five restraints

Ahimsa -- Non-violence, non-harming, compassion for self and others.

Satya – Truthfulness in thought, word, and action.

Brahmacharya -- Control of the senses and energy conservation.

Asteya -- Non-stealing.

Aparigraha – Non-grasping, non-attachment, non-hoarding.

Niyama -- the five observances

Saucha -- Purity, cleanliness of one’s body, surroundings and mind.

Santosha -- Contentment

Tapas -- Austerity

Swadhyaya -- Self-study, study of scriptures.

Ishwara Pranidhana -- Surrender to the fullness of self, surrender to God.

Asana -- Steady posture or seat

Pranayama -- Control of prana or life force

Pratyahara -- Withdrawal of the senses or to turn awareness inwards.

Dharana -- Concentration

Dhyana -- Meditation

Samadhi -- Total absorption, bliss, to hold the realization of unity.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the 8 limbs of yoga are very familiar to our Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute teacher trainees and graduates. In our 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training program, every graduating student has to choose a single sutra to contemplate over a month. Each student journals about it daily for that month and has a first hand record on how the sutra shows up for them in their life. Their chosen sutra becomes a self-inquiry and a direct experience of living yoga. Over the course of the next year I have been asked to share with you some of the important themes from the Sutras and my personal experiences and practices in living this ancient philosophical text. I welcome you to join in my journey!

In honor of the theme of the month, love, I was asked to share a blog on the first and most important Yama, Ahimsa. I have spent the last month refreshing my understanding of the concept, contemplating it, observing what rises within, looking at my level of harmony in relationships with all living beings, and doing simple meditations on love (which I will share with you) to raise my personal energetic vibrations. I have to admit I had a blindfold on and thought I was a “good” yogi living Ahimsa the majority of the time. However, as soon I brought my attention to contemplating Ahimsa it kindly showed me I have much work to do.

I look forward to sharing this most personal experience – the humanness, the self-inquiry, the practices, and the insights!

Shanti,
Jasmine Astra-Elle Grace

If you are interested in living the sutras with Jasmine Grace she recommends the following texts:

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali -- Sri Swami Satchinanda

Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali -- B.K.S Iyengar

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali -- Edwin F. Bryant

Radical Vulnerability

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 06:31

by Jill Nielsen-Farrell

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.
- Muriel Rukeyser

Recently, my 14-year old son and I were talking about a challenge he was facing. During the conversation it was apparent that he clearly prides himself on his ability to not “whine or complain.”

As he was talking, a part of me thought, “This is good, right? Who wants to raise a whiner and a complainer? Not me! I’m happy I’m raising a kid who is strong and un-whiny!”

Almost immediately, however, I realized, “Oh my. I can’t help him unless he’s totally honest with me…and, more importantly, he can’t help himself either.”

After awhile, I said, “Babe, you are already strong and capable. You got that down. What you need to do now is learn how to be real and vulnerable.”

He turned to me and said, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about. What does that even mean?”

That question set me on my heels.  Ummmmm……

Thought #1: I haven’t taught my son, a BOY, about vulnerability; bad feminist mom.

Thought # 2 (i.e., the real problem):  I’m not sure I even know what it means. Not in an intellectual way, but in a ‘practice what you preach’ kind of way.

Of course, I gave him a good, solid answer about vulnerability. And, the power of vulnerability. I had recently watched the Brene Brown video, after all.  But inside myself, I knew the whole conversation was like talking to a mirror; I was creating my outer circumstances, in fact, to teach myself.

Did I know – truly know – how to be vulnerable with another person?

For most of my adult life, I have prided myself on the fact that I operate as someone who is somewhat invincible. Strong, confident, put together. I’m a Buffy fan. I admire and try to emulate people who kick-ass. Insecurities? Bah! Fear? Bah!

And, when I’m practicing yoga – on and off my mat – this is the lens through which I’ve viewed my “self;” I am a powerful yogini.  During the public shit storms of my life (the list is long), I’m pretty sure I’ve earned a blue ribbon in this department.

But really, what does this even mean when the result is that I tell very few people about what the real deal is for me? When I hide? Hibernate? Avoid? Repress? Tell half-truths?

Is this what a yogini does on the path of Union with the Divine?

To be seen – fully seen – I must have a witness – to be in union with another. It takes TWO to be vulnerable. I can’t practice vulnerability by myself. If I’m not TELLING people – my partner, my friend, my family, my whoever –  about the raw reality of what’s going on (read: letting it all hang out), how can I evolve as a soul?

I don’t believe I can anymore.

So, recently I created a long list of my most intimate and terrifying insecurities and fears. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I had nothing left to say. And then, in a brash act of radical vulnerability, I emailed the list to three of my friends.

I never felt so light and free in my life. Or so uncomfortable. Yikes.

I should say that the one caveat here is that if you’re gonna get down and dirty with airing your innermost shit, you better be doing it with someone worthy and capable of being a container for all of it. I knew who those people were for me. You know who those people are too. And, if you don’t have those people in your life, find them. It’s absolutely essential for the exploration of your own consciousness. And, a good place to look for these spirits is where you practice yoga.

I now see this conversation with my son and the creation and sharing of my list as the last links in a long chain of events. Events that ultimately triggered a deep realization; I had not practiced vulnerability and, therefore, had missed out on its cathartic beauty and power.

This catharsis leads to the breaking free from an unconscious creation of recurring life patterns that are based on unexpressed fears and insecurities. Patterns that leave us to experience the same issues over and over under slightly different circumstances. It’s the Universe’s attempt to teach us how to unearth and deal with the underground aspects of ourselves. It’s one of the ways we are called to evolve, to be free.

But only if we’re willing to be radically vulnerable.

I’m beginning to accept that the most important contribution I can ever make to this world is to be myself. My “perfect/imperfect self” as one of my best friends calls it. Fully, authentically me—living in all my glorious imperfection – and boldly sharing that humanness with my tribe. It is an expression of my ineffable power to evolve my own consciousness through this radical vulnerability.

Shed the shit, people. And do it with each other, in love and in compassion. Be fearless, be real, be you.

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”
- Pema Chodron

I would like to thank my Goddess Tribe for walking this journey with me. They know who they are.
- Wahe Guru

Above All, Bearing Witness

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 06:35

by Virginia Macali

There was an edge of anticipation for the second 5-day Urban Zen training that was palpable as we walked into the room. It was a mix of excitement for being together again, mixed with the anxiety of being assessed and tested on our learning over the past four months. The teachers and mentors guided us through more practices and language distinctions to help us to be even more precise with our language and more grounded and present with ourselves and others.

To test our learning, case studies were used. The “patient” in the case study was played by one of our fellow students. Over the days, “patients” had lymphoma, abdominal pain, hip replacements, and brain tumors. We worked with the patient and family members by using the modalities we studied while a mentor and our peers observed and offered feedback. In virtually all cases, our presence and skills helped the patients calm down and feel more comfortable. As a group, we deepened our learning by talking through the case study and discussing how we could work even more effectively.

We practiced yoga and reiki and deepened our knowledge of essential oils. We learned more about the practicalities of working in a clinical setting as we prepare for our upcoming rotations at Wexner Heritage Village and Ohio State University Medical Center. We practiced bearing witness to ourselves and others.

On the last day, Stephanie, one of our mentors, told of being called to the bedside of a young man to give reiki. He was teetering between life and death. She spoke of her grounding before offering reiki at his feet. She made eye contact with him and felt the connection. She was deeply present and bearing witness as she gave reiki. As she left his room, tears welled up in her eyes. When she walked to her car, tears flowed. In the car, the tears increased. She grounded herself and opened to everything she was feeling. She stayed with herself. Bearing witness. A memory surfaced of decades earlier when her life hung in the balance. At that moment and in the re-telling of the story, she was bearing witness to herself. And we, listening to the story, were bearing witness—to Stephanie—and to all. For me, this captured the heart of Urban Zen and why we do this work. Being present, no matter what, we touch our shared humanity one moment at a time.

Virginia Macali is a trainee in the accelerated Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio.

ANAHATA CHAKRA: Is this love that I’m feeling?

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 03:50

by Stephanie Estice

In the womb, the heart is the first of our organs to form and be fully functional.  We might consider the brain to be of most importance, and yet, in a recent study of perception, when sensing images that were rated pleasant or unpleasant, it was the heart that had sensation first, before the brain. And, when the heart is in a state of coherence, it is the heart that sends signals to the brain that trigger states of well-being.

When you experience the energy centers, it becomes easy to see the depth of importance of the heart center. We are here to do our work in the physical, the emotional and the mental arenas of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd chakras, and yet many of us have a deep longing to explore the spiritual frequencies of the 5th, 6th and 7th chakras. What role does the 4th chakra, Anahata, the heart center, play in this dance of the energy centers?

Energetically the heart center is a bridge. It is a bridge between the earthly energy centers and the spiritual ones.  What we find in the heart center is love and compassion. It can start as that loving feeling you have when you feel good will towards another. It’s the sensation you have of warmth in the center of your chest when you connect with nature or when you hold an infant. And the more time you spend practicing this experience – through a practice of gratitude, through the heart openers you do in your asana practice, through noticing when you have sensations of warmth and harmony – the more you will gain a steadiness in this important bridge, a maturity of consciousness that will spill into all areas of your life.

I used to think that I would find my salvation in the energies of the spiritual chakras. At that time I didn’t realize that I was using my practices to try to escape emotional and mental pain. I had traded in meditation as a replacement for the role drugs had played in my life many years ago. There were times in yoga class that I heard the teacher speak of grounding, but from my years of experience trying to avoid the sensations of my physical, emotional and mental bodies, I had no idea what that meant. When asked to notice the sensation in my feet, I could sense nothing there. Thanks to the grace of a wise spiritual teacher, I was directed to practice being steady with the energy of the heart center – specifically that of the upper heart center, behind the collarbones. I worked on this for many months, and it has now continued on as a practice that has stayed with me for years. As many know with the Loving Kindness or Metta meditation, once we are able to connect with self-compassion, we are better able to see the suffering of all beings. Our heart grows. As my heart grew in more and more acceptance of all the places I had previously judged myself, I became gentler with myself and others. Ultimately I was then able to be with more experiences, with more sensation. Through the exercise of being with the energy of this bridge, I have been able to step into new learning that has helped me fully embody the rest of my human experience, which has led to balance throughout the energy body.

So listen…stop and listen to your heart center. Listen to the calling of your soul, that place of your knowing and remembering, to bring compassion to Self and others. Allow the harmony that this center radiates to wash over your being.

Ocean City

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 06:28

by Angie Hay

I have a picture of myself at age 18 flying a kite on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland.  I am wearing one of my favorite shirts of all time, the same shirt I had my senior pictures taken in, a long sleeve black turtleneck sized 3XLT.  I imagined that I had this kind of flowy bohemian poet thing going on, but what you see in the picture is a tiny girl wearing a giant square.  The beach-goers around me are comfortable in tank tops and board shorts, but I am basically a head floating above a censor box of my own creation.

I should warn you in advance: this is not the before and after story you may already be imagining.  I was fat on the beach and I’m fat now.  I’ve been thinner than now twice in my adult life, each time the result of a crushing nervous breakdown during which eating slipped outside of the realm of concern or, really, possibility.  I lose weight when I spend lots of time crying; when I’m happy, I’m fat.  So I won’t be telling you I lost 75 pounds and finally wore that bikini.  This isn’t that kind of journey.

When I was a brand new bellydancer, I met an amazing Amazon woman named April who danced in the Advanced class.  She was bigger than me by a mile.  She was wide and tall, gave powerful hugs, and could out-dance anyone in any room anywhere, hands down.  She wore skimpy tank tops and sarongs that showed her thighs and she looked like sculptures of goddesses that cavemen worshipped by firelight.

One night a bunch of us were sitting around doing that thing we do, bemoaning our miserable bodies, and we riffed on the topic of arms for quite a while.  Oh, my fat arms, oh, my flabby arms, oh, the way this shakes, it’s awful, I keep them covered up all the time.  April listened for a while before interrupting us.  “I’m bigger than all of you,” she said, “and I wear tank tops all the time.  How do you think it makes me feel when you say those things?  You’re not just talking about your arms, you’re talking about mine.”

Oh.  Was that true?  To my shame, it was.  Our insistence on hating our arms was a direct and evil instruction to April, who was smart enough to kick open the door we were trying to slam in her face.

(April, I miss you, girl.  Wherever you are, I hope you’re dancing and happy.)

But could we really love these arms?  We had a list of their failings one hundred items long.  We had stacks of magazines that confirmed their ugliness.  Was there a deeper truth we had been missing?  There was.  It was the truth of April dancing.

Summer was coming, and we were tired of sweating in long sleeves on ninety degree days and acting like we were perfectly comfortable.  My roommate Andrea and I made a plan:  Tank tops, summer 1998.

We bought tank tops in spite of cringing in the mirror.  We negotiated tiny challenges.  Wear the tank top for five minutes at home.  Wear the tank top for a full day at home.  Wear the tank top on a little trip to the gas station.  Wear the tank top on an hour long trip to the grocery store.  The miracle was that Andrea in a tank top was just as lovely as Andrea in a hot long-sleeve shirt.  She wasn’t somehow fatter or suddenly way too much, she was just a curvy girl enjoying the breeze on her arms in a chair on her back porch.  We were mirrors for each other.  Accepting the possibility of April’s beautiful round arms and Andrea’s beautiful round arms meant accepting the possibility of my own beautiful round arms.  It was a practice, and we practiced it.  And it didn’t take long for the challenge to dissolve into two girls wearing what everyone else wore in the summer, and not thinking about it too much.

There were other challenges, some of which we did together, but mostly roads I eventually took on my own.  The getting-rid-of-control-top-pantyhose challenge.  The dancing-with-my-belly-bared challenge.  The not-keeping-my-butt-covered-in-a-long-shirt challenge.  The wearing-whatever-I-want-to-yoga-class challenge.  The getting-dressed-without-thinking-about-being-sexy challenge.  The no-make-up challenge.  The wearing-a-skirt-without-shaving-my-legs challenge.  (Did I lose you on that one?  Why?  Can only shaved legs be considered beautiful?)

This doesn’t mean that I now live a magical life of loving myself unconditionally every minute of every day.  There are still days when looking in the mirror makes me sad, or when trying to get dressed for a fancy occasion is a painful of hour of putting on everything I own and taking it back off in despair.  What it means is that when that happens, I try to love myself anyway.  It’s the loving-yourself-when-you-feel-ugly challenge.  The quieting-the-mean-woman-in-my-head challenge.  It’s a practice, and I practice it.

Every time I feel tempted to limit myself, whenever I feel those walls closing in, I push back.  Sometimes I do it for myself, and sometimes I think about who might need me as a mirror.  When I ride my bike, or practice yoga in public, or dance on a stage, or even take a nap when I feel a little tired, I can create space for someone else to love themselves a little.  Five minutes at a time.  Maybe just on a little trip to the gas station.

Studio Spotlights: Steven Leput

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 06:58
“[Yoga on High] is the place I learned my practice. It’s like home.”

why yoga?
In the beginning, I had horrible posture and wanted to correct that while strengthening my body.

favorite yoga style?
Ashtanga

how long practicing?
4 years

dream yoga retreat?
Hawaii

greatest yoga lesson learned?
Shoulders down the back! Sternum forward!

favorite thing about YOHI?
It’s the place I learned my practice. It’s like home.

Pose of the Month

Sat, 02/08/2014 - 16:33

by Michele Vinbury

Ustrasana, or Camel Pose, serves to stretch and open the front of the body (throat, chest, abdomen, hip flexors, ankles) while extending and strengthening the back of the body. Ustrasana is also a go-to for relieving fatigue and can be a great alternative to Urdhva Danurasana for those with tight or injured shoulders. As a heart opener, we thought it particularly fun to look at during the Valentine’s season.

To come into the pose. Begin by kneeling, align the pelvis over the knees and adjust yourself so that your knees and feet are hips’ width distance apart. Place the tops of the feet flat on the floor.

Take the hands to the hips, fingers facing forward, and begin to bring the elbows toward each other behind the back. Create lift in the heart center by pressing the shoulder blades against the back ribs. Allow the tailbone to descend and the low belly to lift. Then begin to press down on the hips with the hands and further arch the spine. Because this is an advanced pose, you may wish stay here.

Ustrasana with Toes Turned Under

If you’d like to further your exploration, take care to maintain the alignment of hips over knees, and with the chin towards chest, continue to curl the chest open while you reach the hands toward the feet. If you cannot touch your feet without leaning back, turn your toes under to raise the heels (you can even place a rolled up blanket or towel under your ankles here). Alternately, you can position a block to the outside of each heel and place the hands there. Your upper legs should be perpendicular to the floor in this pose.

If it feels appropriate for you, you might gently release the head back at this point. Though take care not to grip in the throat or crunch in the neck.

As always, if the breath is restricted in any phase of this pose, it’s an indication that, at least for the moment, you might benefit from returning to the previous stage.

Throughout your time in this pose, engage the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of your thighs). If you’re not sure how to engage your quadriceps, try pressing the tops of your feet into the floor and notice what sensations of muscular activation that elicits. This particular engagement is also helpful if you notice that you are beginning to lean back (hips drifting more over the heels than knees). By engaging the quadriceps you should lean back less as the thighs move more perpendicular to the floor.

Ustrasana with Tops of Feet Flat on Floor

Notice if you’re feeling low back strain and compression. If this is part of your ustrasana experience, take a moment and notice too if the front ribs are popping forward. This can often cause back compression and with it, discomfort. To find more balance and ease, try engaging the low abdominals by bringing the top of the pelvis toward the low ribs. Next, bring your breath into the kidney area, inflating it as you lift the low back ribs away from the pelvis. These combined actions will aid in keeping the lumbar spine long.

If you’re experiencing pinching in the sacrum, experiment with the action of moving the inner thighs back to create space in this area. One way to cultivate this action is to use a block. As you kneel to begin this pose, place a block between the mid-thighs and without using, or moving, your knees begin to send the block back (behind you) using the muscles of your inner thighs.

 

To come out of the pose. Lead with the heart, letting the head be the last to come upright. At a workshop earlier this year, David Swenson suggested initiating this movement by creating the action of isometrically moving the thighs toward each other to create lift. See how this feels in your body!

You should work under the guidance of an experienced teacher or avoid this pose entirely if you have high or low blood pressure or have low back or neck injuries.

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