will power, 1874, from will (n.) + power (n.)

freefeetmountainAfter class, a student informed me that she’d recently been experiencing foot pain and had made an appointment with a Podiatrist. We Yoga Therapists are careful not to diagnose, but I suggested that if it was a bunion, there is a possible correlation to how we stand, walk, and the shoes that we wear. That people who tend to carry their weight on the inside balls of the feet may be contributing to this condition. That switching to flat shoes, and changing how we walk and stand might offer relief and stop the progression of the bone growing on the inside base of the big toe. (see Ancestral Movement and the Gokhale Method) Though there is no consensus about what causes bunions, the body is amazingly resilient and builds support where needed – hence the hypothesis that the bone growth on the inside ball of the foot may be caused by distributing weight excessively in that area.

As I have been working on changing how I walk/stand based on Ancestral Movement patterns (Gokhale), I briefly felt the fatigue that constant awareness of my form can entail. Every time I walk to the bathroom, to the fridge, out to the car, while making meals, picking up the cat, and standing in line at the grocery.

Changing bad and ingrained old habits is work. Whether you’re trying to eat better or exercise more, altering your way of thinking and moving requires a special kind of motivation to befriend yourself in order to feel better.

As a teacher, I’m curious about people who are committed to taking care of their bodies. What motivates them? What keeps them from throwing in the towel and slouching on the couch eating bon-bons instead of sitting upright, eating a salad, or coming to class?

Researcher Kelly McGonigal reveals in her book The Willpower Instinct that to stay motivated it’s important to keep our eyes on the prize. When we suffer from doubt or lethargy, remind ourselves of why we’ve chosen a healthier path and how we feel when we take care of our body/mind. Shaming or blaming ourselves is useless, but staying aware of why we’ve chosen to live healthier and imagining the good that will come creates the incentive.

With ‘carrot’ in hand, I re-lengthen a little though the back of my neck. When walking, I shift my hips back and move my weight a bit more on the outsides of my feet. When standing, I shift my weight towards the heels and evenly between my two feet. I am reminded that befriending this loving body of mine feels good from my fingers to my toes.

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The Life of Bees

I’ve recently become a beekeeper. I had no idea of all that this would entail and how intrigued I would become about the mysterious lives of bees.

Every morning I get up and check what’s going on around the hive. Then I revisit numerous times a day. The hive is in our front yard pretty close to the street (because that’s the best location for ample sun). I wonder as neighbors drive by if they think I’m insane for spending so much time looking at my bees….

Recently there’s been a new problem that I’ve had to tackle. Beehive robbing. This involves a group of bees from another hive entering your hive and stealing all the honey, maybe even killing the queen. You can tell this is happening because you literally see bees fighting outside the hive and numerous dead bee bodies. There are a number of techniques that can be used to help the bees defend their hive, which I quickly learned and instituted immediately. This thankfully stopped the robbing.

One of the things I read concerning beehive robbing (and the reason I’m writing about this in my Yoga blog), is that robbing occurs when a hive is weak.

For bees, weakness within a hive can be caused by a number of circumstances including – new environment, lack of necessary nutrition, and a lack of fortitude (low numbers and age of queen).

Like bees, we can also be robbed of our vitality when we are weak. This is usually why people get sick – because their immune systems are compromised.

Thankfully Yoga has good common sense wisdom for thriving. Sivananda condenses the essence of yoga teachings into 5 principles for optimal physical and mental health as well as spiritual growth. They are:

*Proper exercise – strengthen weak areas, stretch tight spaces, create balance

*Proper breathing – deep, slow, rhythmical

*Proper relaxation – thoroughly rejuvenate the nervous system

*Proper diet – more veggies/fruits, preferably grown using organic methods

*Positive thinking and meditation – we are what we think

These simple and profound teachings of Yoga are the recipe for cultivating the optimal environment to thrive. If you feel that your health has been robbed, take a look at these areas and decide which ones need attention. Start small with daily, routine gifts of nourishment to yourself. Overtime you will build the fortitude of your hive, so to speak, protecting the most important gift you have – your health and well-being.

Let’s get Beee-zy :-)

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Forgetting and Remembering

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a friend who told me about an event that surprised her. She had been suffering with blood sugar issues and was proactively limiting her sugar intake. Doing her best, she avoided restaurants and environments that would tempt her sugar tooth.

One day while she was talking to a friend about her lunch plans, her friend reminded her that the restaurant she was going to served her favorite deserts. Immediately she realized that she had completely forgotten that she had high blood sugar. Her amnesia, of sorts, greatly concerned her. How could her brain so easily forget this vital piece of information?

I thought about some of the times I had forgotten something that I didn’t necessarily want to remember, like the fact that my iron levels tend to run low, which of course is quickly remembered when a massive headache ensues.

Or when I’ve become slack in setting aside quiet time for my personal practices of meditating, writing, etc. Each time this happens, like clockwork, I slowly start to feel off-kilter. As I remember what was forgotten and begin again, I am reminded how good these practices make me feel.

I hear this frequently from students who return to class after a sabbatical – that they had forgotten how good it felt to have a regular practice. And that their practice poured over into everything else they did, making life a little easier.

Why do we do this… forgetting and remembering?

There are lots of reasons, I suppose. But for the scenarios above, perhaps as we begin feeling better through our healthy choices, we forget how we’d felt before, and slowly abandon our practices until things come crashing on our heads – like fatigue, depression, anxiety, general malaise, etc.

Historians say we must remember our past so that we don’t repeat it. I also like this analogy for our personal histories. If you aren’t feeling well, what are you no longer doing, that you have done in the past? What lifts your spirits? How do you feel when you are regularly nurturing your physical and mental well-being? (And why don’t you feel like your mental well-being is equally important to your physical health…? but that is a blog post for another day!)

It is essential to remind ourselves of the reasons we practice, especially when we’re feeling good. A regular personal practice is a cheap form of health insurance. And doesn’t that make a lot of cents!

And should we fall off the wagon, as we all do, let’s just dust ourselves off, and begin again.

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Freedom and Pancakes

I have great respect for professionals who in a desire to stay abreast of the latest information will readily admit that whatever they know today may be found untrue tomorrow. The author of one of my anatomy books, and an anatomy professor, always tells his students at the beginning of each semester that 50% of what is known about anatomy today may in the next 5 years become false. This kind of openness requires a real commitment to truth.

But it is also essential. It is a real obstacle to our own evolution if what we know about food, exercise, the human body, medication, science, spirituality, WHATEVER – is not allowed to be challenged and changed. Without constantly allowing our beliefs to be altered by new revelations, we are choosing to be static. And what is more essential to the existence of life than adaptation and evolution?

headinsandThen why is it so hard for us to budge from our beliefs?

Usually it’s because we have become invested in believing a particular way about the world, have likely adopted habits and routines around these beliefs, and are even enjoying some benefits from this way of thinking.

This happens to me quite frequently around information on how to live a healthy life. Especially around food, but also concerning healthy movement patterns. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed the way I eat based on the most recent scientific information about diet. Of course, I think I’ve found the right solution for now, but who knows?

And functional movement patterns to maintain a healthy body, this information is constantly evolving. I always know when I leave a Yoga training that my mind will again have to be stretched to let go of some old well-established ways of thinking about the body and accept new, proven truths.

I find refuge in the teachings of Yoga when it comes to adapting to change. Yoga says true freedom is freedom from one’s likes and dislikes.

From a practical perspective, we do this through mindfulness of our thoughts, seeing thoughts arise in our awareness and allowing them to pass through, without aversion or grasping. Mindfulness and meditation allow us to see the habits of the mind more objectively, acknowledging them as they are a part of the present moment, and consciously deciding what to do with those thoughts (instead of letting them hijack us as usual).

Mindfulness and meditation help us to see our belief systems and practice not getting too caught up in them. Constantly acknowledging them and letting them go.

They’re just thoughts, after all.

For example, take the thought that “It’s just not a Sunday morning with pancakes”. I know. Blasphemy that one should attempt to topple this mainstay. It’s a tough one. But essentially, it’s also just a thought. And can be altered should we decide this is the best course for ourselves. (p.s., I’m not shaming pancakes, it’s just a teachable example!)

A deeper understanding of Yoga teaches us that we are not our thoughts. In our truest essence, we are simply presence and awareness. Everything else is a part of the journey of experiencing our human selves.

But all of this is better understood in practice than theory.

Hope to see you on the mat soon!



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At the beginning of class, I often ask students what’s going on in their bodies, where they’re feeling aches and pains.

Inevitably I get one person who laughingly calls out that he/she is old. Or another that they need a new brain. And we all laugh.

It’s good to laugh about these things, as we can all identify with having bodies that need attention and don’t always feel great.

However, I am conscientious about the kind of labels that we place on ourselves because a label like ‘old’ can subconsciously cause us to dismiss aches and pains as ‘normal’ parts of aging. And that’s not often the case.

I have had my own recent bout with discomfort in the form of headaches. It was confusing for me as I take good care of myself, eat pretty good, drink plenty of fluids, move a lot throughout the day, meditate, have good social support, creative outlets, and I sleep well on most days. I tried everything on my own and wasn’t able to figure it out so I finally went to the doctor. As it turned out I was very low in Vitamin D, which can cause headaches and other soreness (and host of other health concerns, so get yours checked!).

I tell you this story because I want you to consider that pain is a message from the body/mind that there is an imbalance that needs restoring.

I am often surprised at how much discomfort people are willing to accept as a ‘normal’ part of aging. Perhaps they feel there is no way to fix it. Or maybe they don’t feel like they have the time to find out what’s wrong. Or maybe they are so use to aches that they have forgotten what it feels like to enjoy being in their body.

It is important for anyone dealing with pain to take it seriously and seek appropriate resources and therapies (for the back, my current favorite book is Back in Control).

Addressing aches and pains in the body is essential. When we don’t feel good, how can we make healthy/sound decisions? Be supportive of others? Contribute to our community? Our health and well-being is crucial not only to ourselves but to those around us.

‘Aging’ is not an incurable state of discomfort that we must endure. We owe it to our body, which is our container and vehicle, to treat it with kindness.

So please be mindful about the way you label yourself and

take best care,


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Ignore the Snore, or Not

There is a sign along the road I pass daily that says “Don’t ignore the snore”. It’s quirky enough that I’ve noticed it over the last few months, though not knowing exactly what it’s advertising. This week it made me laugh, seeing it through the lens of a recent Yoga class.

During the summer on extraordinarily hot days, it’s hard to keep the studio at a cool 72 degrees. I’m in a lovely, historic building which is not well insulated, so the outside sometimes feels incredibly close, particularly on extremely hot and cold days. This week was no exception.

On sweltering summer days, I tend to move students through a slower class staying closer to the floor. The air to me feels thick and these days often make students even more relaxed by the end of class. I had such a day recently and during relaxation/meditation a few students fell deep asleep. Falling asleep during relaxation is not uncommon in my classes. I’m glad students can become that comfortable in a group setting. However, there are differing views on whether students should or should not sleep during relaxation/meditation.

During my teacher training in India I fell asleep frequently during the relaxation moments between poses. I was exhausted. It was hot. The perfect combination of circumstances. Some students fall asleep during relaxation because they are exhausted. This is common as our culture is sleep deprived and insomnia is pervasive. Other students always fall asleep when they are lying on their backs in stillness, regardless of whether they’re tired or not. Most often it is newer students that are prone to crash.

Some schools say that if a student falls asleep, they must need the rest. Others feel students should stay awake otherwise the benefits of being relaxed while alert are lost. I agree with both.

Sleep is an incredibly healing therapy and can be the best medicine for what ails us. On the other hand, acquiring the skill to be both comfortably relaxed and completely alert benefits our every day lives in infinite ways. Our default mechanism associates a relaxed state with sleep and an alert mind with tension. This shift towards being relaxed and alert is gained through a regular Yoga practice which includes relaxation/meditation – if you can stay awake for it :-).

Ignore the snore?

Of equal importance is how the sounds of sleep (or any sounds) affect others in class. I tend to agree with the opinion that any distraction – whether it’s the sound of a bus going by, a siren, coughing, labored breathing, or snoring – are all tools for Yogis to practice strengthening their ‘letting-go’ muscles. (This does not mean that cellphones can be left on during class as unplugging is also a healthy letting-go practice.)

When I did a 5-day meditation retreat at Kripalu, during one of our sessions there were sounds of voices and a vacuum cleaner just outside the door. At the end of the meditation, our instructor brought up these sounds. He said that he had been annoyed by them at first but then realized they were valuable teaching tools. How easy it is to relax when we are surrounded by gentle sounds of birds chirping, waves on the shore, or bubbling brooks. These sounds easily facilitate the relaxation process and have their place in healing. But the real work and the next level is learning to relax around every day, or even disrupting sounds as this is the true background music of our lives. Yoga as a therapy becomes more practical if it teaches us skills that we can translate into better handling and coping with life’s messiness.

So maybe it’s not so much about whether to ignore distractions, but instead to be with what is, while simultaneously connecting to the ever-present, deep inner sense of calm, always awaiting our attention.


Posted in meditation, relaxation, silence | 2 Comments

radical act of lovingkindness

ImageI often borrow Sharon Salzberg’s words when reminding students that slowing down, letting go of distracting thoughts, and turning inward is a radical act of lovingkindness, as it is! This way of being so contradicts our modern Western paradigm that it takes new Yoga students awhile to understand and experience it. At the beginning of class, I’ll see some breathing shallowly, unable to close their eyes as they look around the room, or up at the ceiling seemingly lost in thought. For those who’ve had a busy day, this can be a normal initial response to quieting down and turning inward.

In fact, it takes many people awhile to slow down. And some only choose to do so at the end of the day as they partake of their evening nightcap, pill, or until they become so exhausted that they get sick.

Some clients have admitted that slowing down would be detrimental to their lifestyles. One woman told me that she was a New Yorker and was afraid that if she relaxed this much at the beginning of her day, she was never going to do all that she needed to accomplish. Another man said he was concerned that Yoga would make him lose his ‘edge’ and that would affect his performance as a stock trader. Neither returned.

I get that our society’s praise of accomplishment and success makes it hard to prioritize slowing down and becoming more mindful.

In addition, who of us isn’t too busy to neglect our own self-care – whether you are a parent, business owner, caregiver, and/or have lots of social and community obligations? There can always be more than enough excuses to neglect this responsibility to ourselves.

“If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating rest and play, and we must work to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth.”
~ Brene Brown

So what if we did slow down a bit and as a result didn’t finish everything on our to-do lists? Or became a little less productive at work? How would this impact our lives? And those around us?

Whatever reasons have kept us from taking care of our inner-selves, we must know that living from the heart involves a radical act of lovingkindness towards ourselves. The result is immeasurable in it’s gifts of open-hearted clarity that comes from a life who’s busyness is sandwiched by moments of quiet stillness.

I think I’ll go out in the backyard for a few minutes to watch the trees grow, and just be.

Posted in compassion, loving-kindness, mindfulness, openness, silence, svadhyaya (self-study) | 2 Comments