Blog Bite .010 - having a spacious pregnancy

Blog post by Dina Herring

I love holding space for pregnant mamas.  It is such a sweet and special time in a woman's life.  A time that demands self-nurturing and embracing uncomfortable self-change.  It has a glorious finish line, but the journey is long and hard.  Luckily, yoga helps alot. 

During my pregnancies, I remember prenatal yoga to be very fulfilling.  I found comfort in meeting other women on the same uncomfortable journey.  I learned new shapes and movements to accommodate my changing body.  Breathing practices taught me to find my inner strength.  Mantras and calming visualizations empowered me to birth my babies with ease.

Looking back, prenatal yoga helped me develop a fierce confidence during pregnancy that served me well on the days I finally met my babies.  It was a deepening of my yoga practice in ways I never imagined.  I will forever cherish the tools I learned in prenatal yoga that continue to serve me on my journey into motherhood... and into life.

 

Dina's Prenatal Classes are on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8-9am.

Balancing in Sun Dog

Balancing in Sun Dog

Supported Side Plank

Supported Side Plank

Twisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold

Twisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold

Warrior II

Warrior II

Supported Savasana

Supported Savasana

Blog Bite .009 - yoga training is essential for everyone

Yoga Training is essential for Everyone

As we come upon another year of Life School at Giggling Lotus, I have contemplated the many benefits that a serious yoga practice has to offer. From the gross to the subtle, the thorough nature of Yoga is profound and has lasting effects. Because Yoga is a unitive practice, it engages all of your aspects and helps you become aware that you are not separate but instead part of a greater whole.

At the grossest level, asana practice is a renewing activity, like shedding your skin on a regular basis. All of your cells become bright and renew as your generative energy and metabolism are stimulated from the physical movement. You can realize your own grace in movement as you become more embodied. Your sense of your body in space becomes acute and transforms the quality of how you move. Internally, your physical self becomes more pliable as the joints, like open door ways, allow the free movement of energy. As a result, the organs and your inner physical world are being consistently fed by your amazing circulating energy and you can experience a greater sense of ease even when you are still.

For the emotions the body can become a dense storage room. A yoga practice facilitates the safe and willing release of emotions that are being held in the body. If you are holding emotions in the tissues of your body you are more likely to become destabilized by them and potentially act out through anger or aggression. Yoga teaches gentle acknowledgement and acceptance of present emotions and gives you a sense of space to harmonize them. Coupled with the diminishing duality of Yogic philosophy, the swing between the extremes is reduced greatly and you begin to realize that all emotions have value.

Your energetic body, vitality or prana are greatly increased in your direct experiences from practicing Yoga. Pranayama (breath practice) facilitated by the vayus, or winds (lets call them intentions) serve the energetic body. All of your cells need energetic nourishment and Yoga cultivates an inner-environment that allows for better sustainability, energy absorption and fewer blockages. Your unencumbered clear intentions and actions are creating greater efficiencies. You learn these skills on-the-mat and eventually you will begin to see yourself applying them off-the-mat.

Disciplining the mind through meditation (the original sole practice of Yoga) is, in a way, an insurance program that will help protect you from over-reacting and instead to regard difficult situations through a lens of equanimity so that you can act skillfully. That is what practicing Yoga really is: Skill in Action. After releasing blockages physically and emotionally, you are then able to direct your mind rather than it directing you. The fog and mist will be cleared and as a result, clarity of mind and an ability to see the patterns and habits that you have cultivated in your lifetime are revealed. Only then can they be changed to the betterment of YOU and your direct experience of being.

Clear the fog.

Most importantly, the practice of Yoga nourishes your spirit, helps you abide in the present moment, and dwell in the body that you have with great skill. You begin to dis-identify with your patterns of reactivity so that you can recognize your own spaciousness and luminosity. Then, your essential nature, your beauty and wholeness are revealed.

Learn more about our 200RYT Life School program :)

This poem by Pablo Neruda is I think a beautiful metaphor for the possibility of experiencing wholeness, rather the dark Berlin winter. Your light, too, is waiting to be revealed.

 

Dream Horses

 

From the window I saw the horses.

 

I was in Berlin, in winter. The light

had no light, the sky had no heaven.

 

The air was white like wet bread.

 

And from my window a vacant arena,

bitten by the teeth of winter.

 

Suddenly driven out by a man,

ten horses surged through the mist.

 

Like waves of fire, they flared forward

and to my eyes filled the whole world,

empty till then. Perfect, ablaze,

they were like ten gods with pure white hoofs,

with manes like a dream of salt.

 

Their rumps were worlds and oranges.

 

Their color was honey, amber, fire.

 

Their necks were towers

cut from the stone of pride,

and behind their transparent eyes

energy raged, like a prisoner.

 

There, in silence, at mid-day,

in that dirty, disordered winter,

those intense horses were the blood

the rhythm, the inciting treasure of life.

 

I looked. I looked and was reborn:

for there, unknowing, was the fountain,

the dance of gold, heaven

and the fire that lives in beauty.

 

I have forgotten that dark Berlin winter.

 

I will not forget the light of the horses.

Blog Bite .008 - why i love teaching yin

I remember the first time I took a Yin Yoga class and was completely blown away at how differently I felt afterward. I always feel transformed after any yoga class but this was a transformation that was much deeper, more essential, and longer lasting. After a Yin Yoga class, I am deeply connected to myself. Now that I teach Yin regularly it has become one of my favorite offerings. I see a profound and palpable energetic shift that occurs within my students over the duration of the class.

Unlike Yang (vinyasa, active) Yoga, Yin is luxuriously slow but intense. It gives the body permission to present itself in an obvious way but it invites deeper examination of the subtleties presenting at a lower frequency. Yin Yoga is spacious therefore encourages a letting go of tension in the mind and in the body. Because the technique of mindfulness is used to remain present, aware and safe, it bears a great relationship to my other favorite practice: meditation.

The energies that can be explored in Yin Yoga are very easy to access and experience. Because contrasts of sensation are great and are playing off one another, both can be realized in a more accessible and accepting way. The awareness of the range of possibilities is refined: what is between high sensation and pain, what is between high sensation and pleasant sensation, what is between emotion and body sensation….are they the same thing? All of the wisdom accumulated in Yin yoga translates into a life well lived because there is no mystery to how you feel anymore and you can instead dwell in ease.

My knowledge of anatomy has taken a huge leap since studying and teaching Yin Yoga. The underlying concepts of oneness in Yoga are supported by tensegrity as a structural model for the body where everything is united and symbiotic in movement/use versus a strict compression model where muscles and bones are viewed as independent parts being affected only by closely adjacent and similar parts. My understanding of this helps me facilitate my students realization of their own beings as whole and that they are part of a larger whole.

The qualities of Yin Yoga can be brought into any style of Yoga. This is the most powerful aspect of the practice and teaching of Yin. Yin does not have to be isolated to a Yin Yoga class. The moments in Yang Yoga when there is a logical opportunity, you can slip in some Yin Yoga that will probably be greatly appreciated. Yin is a beautiful complement to any Yang practice.

Yin Yoga is a practice of maintenance. A regular practice will help anyone maintain clarity. Because it restructures the body at a cellular level, it is clarifying the body’s ability to communicate freely without any blockages and allowing it to be united. Blockages in the body create blockages in the mind. Yin will smooth out any texture in any of your realms.

This poem by Basho has always resonated for me as it reflects the way I feel after a Yin Yoga practice :)

 

on a branch

floating down river

a cricket singing

 

 

sat-walk-from-bridge.jpg

Blog Bite .007 - try something radical

TRY SOMETHING RADICAL

Yes, I know that you have always been told to stay in your comfort zone by your inner voice but it is now time to try something radical: walk outside, go for a walk and LEAVE YOUR PHONE AT HOME.

This may shock you because you are thinking….what if I get that important email? What if I get a phone call or text? What if I want to take a photo and post it on facebook or instagram to prove that I actually went outside for a walk? 

Be shocked but don’t be afraid. This is one of the most nourishing things that you can do in the days of devices always inches or feet away from our sensitive and sensual faces. And the bonus is that it will refine your ability to observe using your attention and peripheral awareness. We have lost the connection to our abilities to feel, see, hear, smell and taste what is around us. 

The fact is, we have lost our acute sensuality due to the constant bombardment of mediation. Our phones give us a false sense of safety; whereas, our true safety relies on our ability to discern using a combination of our peripheral awareness along with our attention. As Culadasa, a meditation master, points out in his amazing new book “The Mind Illuminated” :

Attention analyzes experience, and peripheral awareness provides the context. When one or the other doesn’t do its job, we misinterpret, overreact, and make poor decisions.

Culadasa is referring here to our understanding observation skills in order to understand a pathway to cultivating a meditation practice. What I am suggesting is that we are missing out on so much fulfilling and informative sensory input in our day-to-day lives outside of a meditation practice, too. Yes, we will all benefit from a meditation practice but we will also benefit from just plain old digital-free time. Our skills of observation will have the space and time needed in order to sharpen and fulfill us if we mediate the mediator by leaving our phone at home every so often.

An antidote to this sensual atrophy is to ditch the devices, even if it is for 15 minutes. Think about it….we are rarely away from our phones for that amount of time. Most folks sleep with their phones right next to their bed. Give it a try and be free to experience what is around you in a truly full way.

See the lack of expression on these people's faces as they are looking into the digital abyss: 

http://www.collective-evolution.com/…/photographer-removes…/

Have a healthier, more strategic, relationship to your devices so that you can be more open to what is around you!

Blog Bite .006 - why do yoga teacher training?

Why do Yoga Teacher Training?

People ask me this all the time.

When I decided to pursue teacher training my aim was not actually to become a yoga instructor. It was more that I was looking for something: a means to clarify and better understand myself while I was hoping to develop a more in depth yoga practice.

I had accumulated a wide range of experiences but was sorely lacking the skills to digest and manage them in a constructive manner. I longed for an organization of myself. I felt plagued by past experiences, I was reactive (even to the smallest of things) and as a consequence I was often overwhelmed. My emotional and psychological baggage (samskara) was a huge burden and quite frankly I did not have the ability to deal with stressful situations at all.

Slowly, as I began to study the philosophy of Yoga along with my physical practice, the knots that had been constant in my mind and body began to unravel. I developed a mindfulness practice which has afforded me great understanding of my tendencies and habits. Awareness was the gift that I needed.  Without it, I was not able to move through fear, I could not move through pain and I could not experience true contentment.

My physical practice blossomed as I became more familiar with my own anatomy. I realized that no two bodies are alike and that we all have needs, limitations and asymmetries. This is valuable knowledge as I am now less prone to injuries and can move more safely through my practice with mindfulness and acute awareness.

Yoga has helped me cultivate mental concentration (dhyana) and meditation (dharana). These practices have created a spaciousness in my mind that I never had before; this ‘space’ now allows me not to hurry or to worry about whether I am where I should be but rather gives me certainty that I am exactly where I need to be.

Yoga is a unitive discipline. When I practice I am not isolating any one aspect of myself but rather I am engaging my whole self. It gives me the ability to be full and expansive and has improved my experience of living in more ways than I can count.

So, Why do a Yoga Teacher Training?

It will help you move closer to finding your true self. A self with an improved well-being, a set of skills at-the-ready to guide you through the toughest of times, and, a new found confidence to support you now and for the rest of your life. An investment of time well worth taking :)

 

Blog Bite .005 - inside lies magic

Inside Lies Magic

“Where I am is what I need, cellularly.”

Deborah Hay

I have been so inspired by Deborah Hay’s writings about re-conceiving our perception of the mind + body connection. At once both a writer and choreographer, she has brought to the public a new way of reading and experiencing the body: at a cellular level. As Buddhists and meditators of all traditions have realized for centuries, one doesn’t need a microscope to ‘see’ at the scale of a cell. It does; however, take time and patience to cultivate the skill of observation to see deeply into our being. From 1988 in one of Hay’s exercise directives:

“I imagine every cell in my body has the potential to perceive action, resourcefulness, and cultivation at once.”

Hay believes that each cell has the ability to sense and that each cell cognizes. I will often ask my students to bring activity to their pinkie toes and to imagine a smiley face there. This may seem strange and even funny, but what I see happening in my students’ bodies is no laughing matter…it is delightful, it is life force, it is energy and it is smiling!

When I begin to think of the universe that we can explore within ourselves, I recall a beautiful Introduction to the book entitled “Outside Lies Magic” by John Stilgoe. This is an excerpt that we would always have our students of observation read at the beginning of each semester. My colleague, Josh Keller, and I were teaching a class on color to architecture students. As any student of color quickly realizes, everything is relative. Context is hugely important: any red will look differently depending on the colors adjacent, the quality of light on it AND most interestingly, the observer’s previous experience with that color. In this excerpt from the book, Stilgoe encourages a slow, relaxed stroll through the city to begin to open ourselves up to what is around us. If we hurry, we miss a heap of juicy information. The same goes for our inner explorations. If we are patient and take our time, magic ensues.

I like to say “Inside Lies Magic” because it is true. Our inner experience colors our outer experience and of course, vice versa. Becoming familiar and curious about our inner world as much as our outer world will bring a little romance and a whole lot of richness into our lives. This morning I led a meditation on this very idea…each cell is experiencing all senses and thoughts, both individually and together simultaneously.

How might that change the way you feel? One of my students said that when she felt discomfort in her cells, she imagined they were having a party. Now that is much better then thinking of it as just plain old discomfort, yes?

Recommended reading:

Deborah Hay “My Body , the Buddhist”

John Stilgoe “Outside Lies Magic”

being

being

Blog Bite .004 - finding time to do yoga

Finding time to do a whole yoga sequence during the holiday season or when traveling can be very challenging if not seemingly impossible. For me, this really begs the question of what is yoga?

I woke up this morning with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I just had a few disconcerting short dreams that probably set the stage for this feeling in my body. Then the narratives begin to swirl …How am I possibly going to complete all of my tasks today; or even this week? Something horrible is going to happen! Thankfully somehow, I was able to step back and say to myself…WHOA. Take a minute to truly understand what you are feeling before you even get out of bed. And I did. I found that as I said to myself exactly what I was feeling in my body, what emotions were present and I acknowledged my mind-state, I calmed and felt more spacious.

Checking in with yourself at least once a day just to ask how are you is as important as a physical yoga practice. In many ways it is no different. It helps you to make the magical connection between body and mind. It brings you into the present moment. It helps you to cultivate a compassionate attitude towards yourself and to accept the truth. This act of self -acceptance is something that can be done on a train, plane, in bed or in a meeting. It doesn’t take a long time BUT it is so helpful in creating space and understanding; kindness and compassion.

If I am already up and about, I might get out my yoga mat with no intention of doing a whole sequence from beginning to end. I just sit down for 5-15 minutes and respond to what my body desires. If it is sitting back into child’s pose because I need to GROUND, super. If it is doing 6 sun salutations because I need to ENERGIZE, great. If it is just taking solace from the simple act of sitting or lying down to FEEL, awesome.

Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated but it does need to be connective…between you and YOU.

Truth

Truth

Blog Bite .003 - snuggling with your mind

I woke up this morning and it was dark. In the past when this was the case, I felt heavy and lacked motivation to get out of bed. My husband, Alan, usually had already gotten up to do his morning Qi Gong practice. I would ask myself, should I snuggle with our puppy Tarzan? Or should I get up and blindly make my way to the bathroom only to turn on the harsh artificial light and take a shower? I think you know what my decision was :)

I have always been very sensitive to light. I grew up on the Gulf Coast in Pensacola, a beach town. My days were filled with bright, warm, southern light. Yes, we southerners, too, had to adjust our schedules to the ebb and flow of seasonal light but because we were closer to the equator, the light was brighter and warmer and the sun was higher in the sky. I have great memories of playing outside with my neighborhood friends into the warm evenings until my mom would call me in for dinner and also as a teenager watching the sunsets from the point at Fort Pickens until the last speck of light was present on the horizon. My life revolved around the sun, its warmth and the affects it had on my well-being.

After graduating from architecture school, Alan and I decided to move north to Boston where we sought exciting building projects and sought to expand our life experience by being in a highly urban environment and a different part of the country. Living in New England and in a beautiful city such as Boston was very fulfilling and distinctly different from living in the South. The seasons are more varied, the winters colder and there is lots of snow! We loved the unique personality of each season. Over time, though, I became acutely aware of the affect that the general lack of light was having on my emotional state. I felt sluggish most of the time, not unlike the way I have been feeling in the darkness of the Autumn mornings here. We kept moving into homes that had more and more windows until finally, we ended up buying a loft that had 95 linear feet of windows that were 8 ½ feet tall. WOW, I clearly couldn’t get enough light!

Ultimately, we realized that we both longed for a warmer, more light-filled and temperate climate. We moved to New Orleans for several years until we were offered an opportunity to move here to San Francisco. San Francisco has beautiful light, not as warm in color as the south, but bright and inspiring. The mornings, as we move into fall and winter though, are still challenging to me.

Many of my clients have expressed very similar difficulties as we have moved into a dimmer season. I have found a solution that has been working great for me that I wish I had discovered way back in our Boston days.  Thankfully, I had begun in New Orleans to cultivate this practice. It is something that feeds my soul in a way that doesn’t rely on seasons, or light, for that matter:

MEDITATION

The early morning is a time of great mental clarity. Traditional Ayurveda claims this period of time is when our minds are in their most creative state. This might explain why meditation devotees rise before the sun, regardless of the season, to ride the waves of just being. As I continued to meditate, I realized that my experience has been that the transparency resulting from my early morning meditation practice helps create peaceful mind-waves throughout the day independent of lightness or darkness in every sense of meaning. My mind IS the sun.

Give it a try…..snuggle with your mind! Overcome your crawling deeper into bed by willfully bringing yourself either into a seated meditation or walking meditation….indoors or outdoors. The affects will be palpable and will create ripples of peace so that you can find light even in the darkest of places.

mind-sun

mind-sun

Blog Bite .002 - willingness to be happy

True will IS willingness.

--unknown Sufi poet

Where else can you live and have a portable heater and a cooling fan in the same room at the same time? LOVE that constantly changing San Francisco weather. This polar opposition reminds me of the term, pradipaksha bhavanam, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (II:33), the ancient text on which many contemporary yoga practices rely. When I first heard it and tried to understand it, it sent me into a tailspin because of its meaning: to turn your thoughts around. It seemed trite, somehow cute and superficial. Seriously, if I have a negative thought, you are telling me that I can turn it into a positive one? What if I don’t BELIEVE it to be positive?

Well almost 1200 years later, science has finally caught up to Yoga wisdom. There is indeed evidence that if you say it until you mean it you can actually create meaningful changes in the brain. Evidently, we are naturally wired to default to negative thoughts. It doesn’t mean that we are bad people but simply that in our history as human beings, having a negative thought/reaction to many situations might have saved our lives. Fortunately, today, the impending deadline at work that causes us stress and negative thoughts doesn’t equate to the salivating predator waiting outside the cave to have us for dinner. Our deep-seated neural pathways have been historically conditioned based on our samskara (implicit memories) to react a certain way to stress triggers. Sometimes in yoga we call our default reactions to certain situations grooves or habits. For example, we might habitually react in a negative way when a car pulls aggressively in front of us or if we come home to find dishes in the sink.

So, how do we create new neural pathways so that we can, instead, default to the positive? PRADIPAKSHA BHAVANAM. Turning thoughts from negative to positive creates new neural pathways that are strengthened every time we enact this simple practice.  It may not be a smooth as it sounds…it may be more like:

·      being present with the fact that you are having negative associations with a certain condition (likely a condition that you have experienced before); 

·      you realize that you are beginning to react;

·      you realize that you have a choice of how you react;

·      you don’t react but gracefully accept the condition and move on.

The more we do it, the more our minds will default to non-reactive and even positive feelings to conditions that have previously been triggers for negativity/stress. Try it and you will find that slowly but surely when the same condition arises you don’t have any reaction at all but you simply move straight to graceful acceptance.

Even with my initial skepticism, I tried pradipaksha bhavanam before I knew the science behind it and found that it really does work…with mindfulness, willingness and an open heart :)

Inspiration for this post and for further reading on the subject:

Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius (Nov 1, 2009)

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Baba Hari Dass (2008)

 

 

 

Blog Bite .001 - meditation + mindfulness

Meditation is one of those activities that we love to judge. Ironically, meditation is very helpful in cultivating a witness consciousness and a non-judgmental attitude. Isn’t it interesting when what we try to practice entices us to do the very thing it is helping us NOT to do?


My dedicated meditation students have reminded me that even when we deem our meditation session to be ‘bad’, the benefits throughout the day are palpable and real. The ‘texture’ of the mind is altered in a way that creates a non-reactive and more mindful approach to anything that heads our way.


Meditation should be difficult…the mind IS a muscle. The effort we exert in order to keep the mind focused is what serves us in the rest of our waking hours. The effort awakens us and helps us be mindful in all of our activities. An investment of time each day in a meditation practice is an investment in the rest of our life. Well worth the time.