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Coming Out of Hibernation

Spring began March 20 and we’re already into daylight savings time….. time to take off the winter coat and wake up to nature’s rebirth.  According to Ayurveda, a gradual transition from winter is more effective than suddenly launching into activity.  I learned that last Monday when a “perfect Kapha storm” launched me into an upper respiratory infection.  (Bad diet + overactivity = Immune system crash)  Poop!  The key to keeping the momentum going is to consistently eat well, to show up on the yoga mat regularly, and to gradually propel the fog of winter habits out of the mind and body.  Today, I aim for 15 minutes of yoga, an afternoon napitation, and homemede nettle soup, so that I can come out from hibernation again, more gracefully this time.  We’re always learning.

Tighten Up with the Bandhas

What’s this?  Isn’t yoga about getting relaxed and mellow?  Well yes.  But you want to stand tall and move with lightness and ease, you need to engage your muscles intelligently.   Yoga is about relaxing AND being able to stand and sit comfortably, not to mention working on your handstand.  Even if you aren’t working on handstand, you can use the structure of the bandhas to reduce and clear pain in hands, feet, back and neck.

Bandha is a Sanskrit word that means lock or limit. In traditional yoga, the Bandhas, or “body locks,” contain energy that can be used during breathing exercises.    In contemporary yoga, the Bandhas offer a framework for stabilizing the core, and therefore serve as a basis for therapeutic yoga.

Part of the magic of yoga is in the way your effort is organized and channeled.  Limits mean that resources don’t spill all over the place, but are directed efficiently.  When effort is used efficiently, less effort is needed, and eventually what was difficult becomes easy.  Wouldn’t you like to move through life more easily?

During every yoga class, you are learning to apply the bandhas, whether you know the term or not.  Bandhas are inner locks that create a strong foundation and structure for action.  You’ll be hearing more about the bandhas when you come to class in January and February.

Your yoga needs to include an intelligent and systematic engagement, of your muscles to protect your joints in more advanced poses, or in a vigorous practice.  In contemporary yoga, we speak of the bandhas, or locks as one system of engagement.  The engagement of muscles is a tightening or limiting that serves the body.  The bandhas provide lift and support from feet to head, stabilizing the core, and organizing the movement of the whole body.

The primary bandhas are Jalandara Bandha, located at the top of the neck, Uddiyana Bandha, located at the diaphragm, and Mula Bandha, located at the pelvic floor.   Maha Bandha is the  combination of all three.  We can also speak of Pada Bandha, lifting the arches of the feet, and Hasta Banda, engaging the arch in the palm of the hand.

Jalandara Bandha, at the top of the neck, corrects the tendency of the head to hang forward.  Visualize, or find with your hand, the line where the bottom of the chin meets the front of the neck.  It’s a shape like a smile, and when you move that smile under your chin up and back, the head sits more directly over the rest of the body.

Jalandara is translated from the Sanskrit as “the Net-Bearer”.  In earlier times, net makers would hold an edge of the net under their chins with a sharp dip of the chin.  Holding the net with the chin would be impossible if the head is held too far forward.  Jalandara Bandha in yoga asana practice doesn’t bring the chin all the way to the chest, but it is the same action that elongates the neck and makes more space in the upper chest for optimal breathing.  Jalandara Bandha lifts the crown of the head and provides the lift and space that allows the other bandhas to happen.

Uddiyana Bandha lifts the diaphragm in the center of the torso and the lower ribs move up and out.  Uddiyana carries the meaning “to fly upward”, and you can visualize the ribs moving up and apart like the wings of a bird.  This bandha is engaged by drawing point above and below the navel inward, so that the lower ribs lift and widen on both sides, and front and back.  The lift begins below the waist, and lifts the ribcage fro the inside, making more space for the working of the inner organs.  The muscle engagement also stabilizes the low back.  One of my favorite ways to teach this is “zip up the front”, as taught by Doug Keller.  Imagine zipping up the front of your body, drawing the front hip points together, and continuing up to your sternum.

Mula Bandha tones and lifts the pelvic floor while stabilizing the lumbar spine and sacrum.  In yoga postures, it’s actually counter productive to clench the pelvic floor, and a subtle, almost effortless lift, is more therapeutic.

To engage all the bandhas in Maha Banda, I like an exercise from physical therapy.   Standing straight, imagine a grain of rice under each heel, and without lifting your heels, take the pressure off the grain of rice.  Ideally, you’ll feel a lift in pelvic floor, in the center of your torso, and up through the crown of your head.  It’s something to do while waiting in line that can awaken all the circuits in your body.

7 Ayurvedic Tips for Winter

Here are some tips gleaned from Dr. Virender Sodhi’s last newsletter:

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a season of celebrating and gratitude for Americans.  It’s a time of expressing our appreciation for the people and abundance in our lives, and the attitude of gratitude is a great blessing to ourselves and the people around us.

Thanksgiving also marks the beginning of a time when many of us indulge in habits that unbalance us, specifically overeating and physical lethargy.  Here are some tips to have a more balanced, joyful, and healthful holiday experience.

  1. Boost your metabolism with exercise, such as a set of Sun Salutations, a brisk walk or a slow jog.
  2. Breathing exercises.  Five minutes of alternate nostril breathing, ujaii breathing, or breath of fire promote metabolism and clear lungs.
  3. Use warming spices in cooking, such as ginger, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper.
  4. Eat slowly, notice the taste and texture of your food.  Enjoy your company, and don’t talk with your mouth full!
  5. After a meal, take a gentle walk to support digestion
  6. Nurture an attitude of gratitude, compassion, and love.
  7. Play games and have fun!

These tips help balance Kapha Dosha, the primary element of winter.

Learning about the Doshas is a gateway to understanding Ayurveda, the ancient healing methods of India.  Doshas are clusters of characteristics that vary from person to person and from season to season.  In December yoga classes, we will consider the yoga practices and the lifestyle choices that help balance the Doshas in our bodies, our minds, our lives.

Register now for a three class series with Kit at Monday 6 pm or Thursday 8 am.   See Schedule Page link at left.

Backbends VS Old Age

Backbends VS Old Age

My 86 year old grandmother said “I’m feeling OLD”.  “But Gamgam”, I said, “you’re entitled to feel old”.  I didn’t understand that she meant tired and confused.  “Old” was a feeling I hadn’t had yet, but  “Old” came to me earlier than I expected, in my 50’s.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was a paradox.  I was a yoga teacher with a strong yoga practice, 10 months of low back pain, and other aches that made me feel old.  A saner person might have chosen to back off the yoga until the pain somehow cleared, but I decided to go on a week-long yoga retreat in Costa Rica with John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, which was the yoga system I studied.

On the flight from Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica, I had a wonderful conversation another yoga teacher from Taiwan, and beautiful young woman about 30 years old.   She told me about her therapeutic yoga training, and I asked questions to learn more about how yoga can help backs.   I had more physical pain than I care to remember.  At age 55, I felt my age in so many ways, particularly in arthritis and weight gain.  What I didn’t realize was the pain my thought patterns were causing.   In the same way that yoga will uncover misalignments in the body, it was soon to reveal painful misalignments in my mind.

When we landed in San Jose, things started to go downhill.  My young seatmate moved quickly to join friends she’d made in yoga therapy.  I was a slow walker, with the arthritis in my toes, and honestly, I started feeling bad about being so old, especially compared to the 20 and 30-somethings with their yoga mats.  My mind stared offering up comparisons as I watched the sea of people moving through the airport.   These comparisons were painful and unwelcome, but they kept coming.  I noticed age and youth, good health and poor, thinness and fatness, sloppy and neat.  I noticed all the ways I didn’t measure up to my ideal.  Even my mind wouldn’t do what I wanted!

The days began with a 7 am talk and mediation, and breakfast was at 8.  The yoga sessions were 9:30 to noon and 3 to 5:30.  There were 100 students in the class, many of them skilled yoga teachers, and most of them strong and fit and thin.

The yoga training was great, my back improved rapidly, but mentally, emotionally I was struggling.  I was surrounded by young, strong, bendy yoga teachers and students.  Between classes, I asked other teachers and students how they had healed back pain.  I collected a wealth of techniques and practices for working with back pain, but I still suffered from internal judgments.   I wrote in my journal, I coached myself to think generous thoughts, and I made gratitude lists.  I put on a smile, but I felt like I was over the hill, uninteresting, and tired.

But I am persistent.  I work hard.  On about day 5, we were working on full backbends, again.  I had never pushed myself up into a full backbend, altho’ I’d tried. John taught backbends every day, and this day, something clicked, in a good way.   We lay down on our backs with knees bent. I pulled my arm bones back into my shoulder sockets, hugged my shoulder blades onto my back like the hands of a friend, placed my hands and pushed  the floor, and up I went.  It felt natural, and it felt amazing.  It felt so amazing I shouted some kind of victorious sound. Yee-HA !!

When I came back down, I was different.  This was something that had never happened before.  It was not just getting into a backbend and being free of back pain.  Something had changed, as if an electrical pulse had gone from my feet to the top of my head.  I’m not much for metaphysics, but I could have sworn my chakras had been cleaned by a blast of energy up the central channel.  I was beyond happy.

Very suddenly, it didn’t matter that my toes were painful.  My age didn’t matter.  All the judgments that plagued me earlier in the week simply dissolved.  I didn’t have to talk myself out of or into anything.  It wasn’t that problems went away, just that I accepted everything exactly as it is, as a beautiful work in progress.  I kept working just the same, but I was quietly ecstatic.  I’ve never felt anything like it.

I thought to speak with the young woman from Taiwan.  After she had walked away at the airport, I imagined she found me old and boring, and I avoided her.  Now I told her how I had avoided her because she was so accomplished, and that I appreciated the beauty of her yoga.  And wonder of wonders, she explained that in Taiwan, it’s disrespectful for a young person to be too familiar with an elder, and she was concerned that she’d been over friendly on the airplane.

When the retreat was over, the state of ecstasy was still strong, and soon to be tested.  The long flight from Costa Rica to Houston and back to Seattle  was delayed and I missed the last shuttle home.  It was almost midnight.   After 5 phone calls at the airport pay phone, I realized a basketball tournament had filled all the hotels.   The ecstasy would not be erased, and now I was on an adventure.  I could sleep in the airport and save 100 bucks!  I surveyed ticketing and baggage claim and found an area with benches, mostly occupied with blanket covered lumps.  I settled in to an empty bench with happy anticipation.  I dozed until 6 am when the blanket covered lumps came to life.  The others were all young men in their 20’s!  We stretched and smiled the smiles of a secret society.  I bought tea and a muffin and caught the morning shuttle.

The ecstasy tapered off in the next few days, back to a regular optimistic frame of mind.  The painful judgments haven’t returned.  My back is as healthy as ever, and I feel younger now.   Backbends are still a struggle.  Thanks to my fellow yoga teachers, I have a wealth of yoga techniques and practices that I teach to help people with back pain.  The biggest thing is, for a little while I was at one with everything.  I totally understood that the world is evolving as it should be, that everything is connected in a way that is loving and beneficial and good.  Judgment was washed away.  Time didn’t matter all that much and I was totally at peace.

My friend, Jim Patterson, says that old age is a spirit that comes and goes.  Old age visited me for a few years, and vanished in an instant.  Next time it comes to visit, I think I’ll be more accepting and more curious.

“But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”. Bob Dylan

Home Base

In January 2013, I’ll be moving my base of operations to my home studio on Pleasant Ridge, a quiet place with a wood floor and lots of windows.   Stay tuned for more information on class times and registration.  Classes at Maple Hall and Bayside will continue.  Keep practicing wherever you find yourself this holiday season!

Yoga Newbies begins September 26!

Yoga for Newbies with me! Kit Muehlman: 7 to 8:15 pm, Wednesdays, Sept 26, October 3, 17, 24, at Crescent Moon Yoga, La Conner.

Our last Yoga Newbies series was a hit. Participants became much more comfortable with the basics, and learned therapeutic applications of yoga for their own individual needs.

<- Click the Newbies link in the left column for the full scoop and to register. Cost for four 75 minute sessions is $40.

I’m excited to offer this beginner series for those new to yoga, those returning after time off or an injury, and seasoned students who want to review the ABC’s of yoga.

Please invite your friends and/or join in the fun. Let’s share the benefits of yoga with as many people as possible. Expect to learn ways to be safe in yoga class, how to get down to the floor gracefully, or somewhat gracefully, and to laugh a lot.

Happy Solstice!

AT this time of year, of course we’re looking forward to the return of the light. Let’s also savor the darkness and the introspection it invites. Myself, I apparently invited a cold virus to help me stay quiet and still.
Here’s one of my favorite poems that honors the darkness. Read slowly, savor the cadence that takes you deep.


Inside this sitting here
this mind pulling knees up close to the chest with tense hands.
Inside this movement of anxiety for the body
and its worries of money,
and its teeth grinning falsely to the solution
of all things surrounding,

Is a seed.

And the hands pressing down into the soil,
and the dreams of generations in the seed
about to wake.

Tonight I will sleep with my worries
through dreams dark with soil
and the heaving cataclysm of the spade
turning earth around me, not speaking of air

or light fused with greenness,
but of darkness and the first leaves
like hands in prayer
clasped inside the seed.

~David Whyte



You’ve been wanting to go to early yoga, but there just isn’t enough time in the morning?
You may think that doing the physical practice will be hard, but for many people, getting their sweet ass to class on time is the hardest part.
It’s important to start wayyy before the time when you’re lying in your warm bed, deciding whether to get up, or not. When you’re prepared ahead of time, with a clear motivation, clothes laid out, yoga mat in the car, it’s easier to roll out of bed into the routine you’ve already set up.
It starts with a motivation that makes sense to you. Perhaps you like to start the day feeling balanced and alive, perhaps you simply want to stretch and improve your flexibility, perhaps you want to support a program such as dropping some weight. Be clear about your reasons for yoga practice so you have motivation in the morning.

Here’s the scoop. The night before class, do your before bed routine. It can start right after dinner, and when you get into bed, you’re halfway to yoga class. For me, the before bed routine includes cleaning my sink, checking my calendar, setting out clothes for the morning, and putting things I need for my jobs in the car. Your routine will include the things that make your day go better, and will help eliminate the last minute things-to-do that keep you from getting on your mat in the morning. Also very important, go to bed early enough so that you can get 7 or 8 hours of sleep. For me, that’s 9:30 pm, and it feels wonderful. When your routine becomes regular, you’ll even sleep better!

One yoga friend says she doesn’t even think about it in the morning, she just goes to class.

Set an alarm if you need it, allowing yourself time to wake up, eat and dress, and arrive at class 5 or 10 minutes early. Those extra minutes allow you to drive at a reasonable speed instead of driving like a crazy person. Congratulations, you’ve given yourself a sanctuary of time and space to awaken and align your mind and body for beautiful day.

Nourish your Vitality in the Summer

Summers in the Pacific Northwest are precious. After nine months of cool, wet weather, we now have long, balmy days and the social calendar is in overdrive. Everyone’s ready for a picnic or art opening to see who else made it through the winter. The days are luxuriously long, so I can garden until 9:30 pm. With just a few months of sunshine who wants to rest? Alas, around July 1, I find myself falling asleep in my car, in the driveway, at 6:30 Saturday night. True story.
This is just a reminder, to me as well, to take time for quiet in between the social activities, not just for sleep, but for reading and writing and contemplating. It’s all too easy to dissipate our vitality going from fabulous activity to fabulous activity. Yet we enjoy those activities all the more when we’re nourished and rebalanced by stillness and, of course, some gentle yoga.
Now imagine lying on your back on your mat, with your legs up the wall, perhaps an eye cover, soft music, tension draining away. That’s it. Yeah.

Balanced Action

May we open to the present with softness and strength. May we relax to the present moment, especially if it’s not the moment we expected.

May we use our strength with kindness, our discipline with flexibility. May our efforts be in service of joy, beauty, and happiness for all.

Asana: AdhoMukhaSvanasana – Downward Facing Dog

From “hands and knees”, come into the general shape of the pose, and upside down “V”. Slightly bend your arms and legs, and find the softness inside. Moving from softness brings joy and beauty to all our efforts. Keeping the softness inside, straighten your arms and legs, slowly, kindly…….Bend your arms and legs again, and as you move, just notice your consciousness, find the floatyness of your upper arms………With a soft heart, straighten again, making a generous shape. Float your chin slightly to soften your heart. From your heart, send your appreciation for your body down your arms, into the earth. Draw the support of the earth back up your arms, re-soften your heart. Lengthen through your tailbone and extend with strength through your heels. Breathe into the spaciousness of the moment, and softly, slowly, come back to hands and knees.

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