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Heart Yoga – A Guest Post from Lin-Ann

 

On Valentine’s Day Eve (don’t tell me it’s a Hallmark holiday–when else do we get to celebrate the heart in such a gooey gaudy way?), I was rushed to the ER in my first ambulance ride after experiencing the most frightening episode of heart palpitations. This was coupled with difficulty breathing, dizziness, chest pressure, and the certain feeling of doom. Ah, sounds like love, you might say. Is my heart trying to tell me something? I’ve barely recovered from the pains of heartbreak! :) I begin to think about the “heart” it takes to be a person who guides others in healing. I begin to think about the use of yoga in my clinical practice.

I began introducing yoga into my work with children way back in 2001 when I was a direct care worker with emotionally-disturbed children in a therapeutic day school/residential program. This was before I had any clinical training, and had myself only been practicing for a year or so. These kids taught me the fun and joy of exploring what the body can do. They reminded me of the silliness of the whole thing, this body that bends and twists, stretches and soars, bruises and heals.

 

The work I do today with body treatment has taken on an altogether more serious nature. My clients these days are teenagers, all girls for that matter, resilient, feisty, curious, self-conscious, smart, hilarious, and amazing girls. Most of them have endured horrific traumas in their lives, and the body is not somewhere that is pleasant or safe to exist. I recently took a workshop with Dave Emerson, RYT who owns and teaches at Black Lotus Yoga. He is the yoga consultant at The Trauma Center, a mental health agency based in JP that specializes in the assessment, treatment, training, and research of trauma. Dave led a two-day workshop in Providence with Bessel van der Kolk, reknown neuroscientist whose research into the science of the brain and its manifestations of trauma have contributed to the foundation of current trauma treatment. The main message is simple: the brain stores traumatic experiences in areas of the brain that cannot be accessed through verbal processing. They are the portions of the brain that control autonomic functioning—those unconscious processes that govern our heartbeat, our breathing. In their preliminary research, Dr. van der Kolk and Dave Emerson discovered that body treatments may be the more effective means of directly treating trauma.

 

I decided to take this into my own clinical practice. I have recently begun one-on-one yoga therapy with a teenaged client of mine. She is insightful, thoughtful, a “thinker” who often becomes flooded by her thoughts and emotions, and memories of the horrible traumas she has survived. In these moments, I have noticed that talking no longer helps her. She becomes overloaded, re-traumatized, tearful, and overwhelmed by the emotions brought about by memories of her past experiences. During times when she has become very emotionally overwhelmed, I have led her in a short series mat practice that involved heart-openers. She talked of physical pain in her chest. I asked her to stretch and open. Tears streamed down her face throughout the practice. How does it feel I asked. It hurts she answered. But she continued to move and stretch.

 

Today, we were doing our daily practice. Our space is a makeshift studio. I only have 30 minutes because if I don’t leave work precisely at 4:55 PM, I won’t make it to Healthworks in time for Barrett’s 5:30 class. I turn off the fluorescent lights, bring in my lamp, and roll out a mat. There is just enough room for one mat. I am wearing knee high boots and a skirt today (bad planning). But that doesn’t stop us from getting down to business. I lead her through yogic belly breathing in a seated position. We do some sun salutations and standing postures. I then ask her to lie on her back and hug her knees into her chest. She begins to talk about feelings, memories, concerns, worries, and I ask her to focus her attention on each sensation of her body, and to leave her mind behind. Her face instantly relaxes and I notice her attention return to her body. As she stretches out for Savasana, she says something to me that nearly floors me: You know, doing yoga makes me feel less alone. Really? I say, How? Well, she says, I usually get pretty lonely, like if I’m in my room all alone, almost like I don’t exist. But when I do yoga, it’s like I can feel myself there. I nearly fall over. Exactly! I exclaim. I can’t think of any better way to put it. A teen who has been through terrible trauma, who is terrified of loss, transitions, and abandonment, can move in a way that leaves her mind behind, and establishes and confirms her presence.

 

We end with Savasana, Namaste, a bow, and as she stands up she sighs “Man I feel SO much better. I was SO tense before.” Then, I am dashing out the door to drive home, change my clothes, snatch my yoga mat, scarf down a banana, find a parking spot, sprint up the stairs of Healthworks, mutter something to the woman in front of me in line : Man I need yoga just to de-stress from the stress of getting to this class on time. I nearly knock over two women trying to get my props. And then when I reach my mat—I can feel myself there.

YOGA JOURNAL ARTICLE

 

Last month, I was featured in this article. A sister yoga teacher and blogger wrote a piece for Yoga Journal online about teaching in a gym versus a yoga studio.  I currently teach in both studios and one gym, and over the last 10 years, I’ve taught in a lot of situations! I’ve gotten to know the pros and cons of working in different environments, and so reflecting on this for an article was interesting and fun for me!

 

First of all, I’ve taught (and practiced) in a lot of crazy places. For example, once I remember I was taking a class at a yoga conference (which is *really* expensive, fyi) and we were in Savasana (see yesterday’s post to understand how important Savasana is!).   Dark room, quiet music, resting after a vigorous practice, and then…. POW!   Bright lights going off repeatedly!   Snaps, clicks, shutters sounding.   Two professional photographers had been let in to photograph us, without us knowing! It was quite disturbing and not at all peaceful, and just kept going and going for more than a minute.  Half of us ended up walking out (my only time ever walking out of a class).   

 

And of course, I’ve taught in some pretty crazy scenarios as well – places that were freezing, places that were dirty or loud, places where there wasn’t enough room for everyone who attended.   I feel….very adaptable :)

 

It’s true what the article says – being flexible as a teacher is important – and not just in your hamstrings!   Going with the flow, having a sense of humor, and helping everyone else go with the flow with your cheery attitude, really does help.  I try to remember that most of the students in a yoga class have made some big sacrifices in time, money, and effort to get to class.   I don’t want to let them down, no matter what!   Some of my best class moments have been in less than ideal circumstances, so I know that attitude really counts :)

 

All this being said, I’m so grateful that there are beatiful yoga studios to teach and practice in.   It’s really nice to have a dedicated space that was designed for yoga, and is filled with yoga energy everyday.   Of course, the one gym I still work at (Healthworks for Women) is really good about supporting yoga as well, so I’m not complaining.   

 

Enjoy your practice today, wherever it may be!

 

Barrett

Odyssey Featured in the DailyCandy

Marketing and promotion are not things I naturally gravitate towards. BUT, I’ve really loved these home Odyssey practices that I started in 2008 and I wanted to spread the word to everyone, not just to my Boston students.  

So with some encouragement from Gadi and Zeenat (ok, A LOT of encouragement), I started passing the word along to students, other yoga teachers, and to the press.   Today the DailyCandy featured the Odyssey – check it out!   As a result of this and other promotional work, I think we’re going to have at least 30 more participants than we have had in the past!  The more people who participate, the richer the discussion and overall experience for everyone.  So, I’m pretty happy about that! 

These days, every time I practice, I’m thinking about that exciting group energy that is building from the Odyssey. I love that about really good classes, too – the energy of the other yogis stimulates your own practice. It’s interesting that even though yoga is a personal experience, and highly individual, having some kind of sangha (community) is REALLY helpful.   I’m going to think about that a bit more…

Namaste,

Barrett

Last Day for Odyssey Discount!

Hi All,

 

Today is the last day to sign up for the Odyssey at a discount!    See this posting all about it and go here to register.

 

I just want to explain the below post.  I’ve wanted to have some other yogis write on this blog about life as it relates to their yoga practice.   Over the next few months, you’ll hear a couple different voices from yogis I know, talking about their practice on and off the mat.  I’m really excited about this!

 

Catherine is our first guest blogger.  She’s a new mom.   Stay tuned for another guest blogger later this week!

 

Namaste,

 

Barrett

Practice for One Month with Us

It’s been a week since I’ve posted because I’m right in the middle of finishing up preparations for the Yoga Odyssey.  This is the month-long home practice program that I’ve run twice now, and I can’t wait for it to start again January 4!  You can sign up here for the Odyssey.

We’re starting to get a critical mass of yogis signed up and ready to practice – very exciting!   I wanted to post because the early registration deadline is December 15.   Register by December 15 for $30.  It’s good to register in advance because you’ll be able to mark your calendar and go through holiday time without this hanging over your head to do.   Also, I’ll send you a preparatory email with tips (including optional book, video, and music selections) on December 16, just to get you thinking about setting up your life for a little more yoga practice.

In the spirit of preparation, here’s a little article I wrote about how to practice at home.   It might help you roll out your mat today, and definitely will help you as you embark on the Odyssey next month.

Enjoy!

KICKSTART YOUR HOME PRACTICE

 

If you struggle when you try to practice at home, you’re not alone!   Many people are daunted by the prospect of creating a yoga experience without a teacher to lead them.  I have been leading a month-long self practice course several times per year wherein students have explored how to develop their own practice. 

 

Here are some tips that have come out of those courses:

 

1) Take a moment to plan the logistics of your practice. 

 

Sometimes this is the biggest impediment.   Where in your house will you practice?   At what time?   Can you free yourself from distractions, like phones ringing and kids/pets needing attention?   Sometimes students have needed to talk with their family members to make sure they will have some uninterrupted time to devote to their yoga practice.

 

2) You only need a minimal amount of time.

 

Often, we sabotage ourselves by thinking we need to find 60-90 minutes to practice yoga, because that’s how long a yoga class is at a studio.   Thankfully, that’s not true! Yoga postures are so potent that you can feel a difference after only about 10 minutes.   Commit to 10 minutes of practice for the next week or two, and notice how much better you feel.  Within a short amount of time, you’ll likely want to practice for a bit longer.   Students have often commented to me that it is easy to find more time when yoga has become part of the daily routine.

 

3) There are lots of postures to practice.

 

As for what to practice, draw your inspiration from any number of sources.   Many yoga books have suggested sequences to follow.   Several websites offer free yoga sequences, such as yogajournal.com.  Consider writing down a practice that your teacher led you through in class, or even ask your teacher to write something out for you to practice at home.  Many of my students simply practice the traditional morning yoga warmup of  Sun Salutations – energizing and easy to remember! 

 

4) Be kind to yourself. 

 

In our home practice program, my students have mentioned over and over how much they needed to hear that any little bit helps.   It’s okay if you don’t practice for a day, or even a week!  Life happens – the important thing is not to feel so guilty that you never start again.  And it’s okay if you only practice for 10 minutes and never longer – I bet you still feel better than when you weren’t practicing at all.  Many of us need one space in our lives where we don’t have to be perfect.  We don’t even have to be good.  Yoga can be that space.  Give yourself permission to do nothing but child’s pose for your yoga practice, if that’s what you feel.  Cut yourself some slack if you don’t make it onto your mat – can you just close your eyes for a moment at your desk and take a deep, relaxing breath?   That’s yoga at work for you as well!

  

Enjoy your practice – Namaste!

 

 

Somerville becomes a Fit City

Just ran across this article about how promoting walking and biking in Somerville has helped kids and adults alike get more fit in the last several years.   I was a proud Somervillain for almost 8 years, and still work there every week, so this makes me happy.  

The article also talks about fresh and local produce being more accessible to kids in school and to residents through farm shares. 

It reminds me of this article earlier in the week, about a doctor who eats only organical food for 3 years.  He’s coming out with a new book on “green” living during pregnancy.   Should be interesting!

Homebirth in the News

I am a big fan of women and families having choices, options and alternatives throughout pregnancy, birth, and childraising.  That’s why it’s always bugged me that if the medical establishment  had its way, homebirth would be illegal everywhere in the US. It’s already illegal in several states for a midwife to attend a woman in labor at home – see mana.org (Midwives Alliance of North America) for more details.  FYI, for those of you in Massachusetts, it is alegal – meaning it is unregulated and there is no law for or against homebirth midwives practicing (although Mass Midwives want to change this and create a bipartisan regulatory board).

It’s heartening to read this front page news in the NYTimes about more women choosing home birth.   I think enough information is out there about women not being listened to in some hospital settings, and of the huge number of unnecessary interventions happening these days (I’ve written on this before here).

My sincere question is – if ACOG (the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) and the AMA (American Medical Association) really want satisfied customers and good outcomes for healthy and happy babies *and* moms, why don’t they try to support homebirth with the best kind of backup support and communication between midwives and doctors? Instead, doctors are strongly discouraged from developing relationships with homebirth midwives.  Why don’t they try to establish a more nurturing atmosphere in the hospital so that more families are satisfied with their hospital birth experiences?  Instead, more often than not, women are pressured into following hospital protocol, and aren’t encouraged to question their care on anything – from the easy (do I have to wear a hospital gown – why can’t I give birth in my own clothes?) to the more complicated (why do you induce labor? when do you induce labor?  what are the many methods of induction?  what if I don’t choose to be induced?).    

Finally, it’s all well and good that ACOG says they support births in either a hospital or “accredited birth center on hospital grounds.”  But how many birth centers are left these days?   We had three in Massachusetts.  The Wellesley Birth Center closed abruptly a few years ago.  The North Shore Birth Center is about to close as we write (click here to get in on the consumer actions being taken to try and save the birth center).   Only the Cambridge Birth Center remains – which fills up months and months in advance.  The fact is, the climate exists where birth centers can’t operate freely – the owners/practitioners are scared out of business.  It’s only because of the homebirth midwives, who really are tenacious, amazing women who will not be silenced, intimidated or scared, that we still have a national conversation about a family’s rights in the birthing world. 

To all my wonderful prenatal and postnatal students, present, past and future: every birth is sacred.   On some level, I don’t care how or where someone gives birth (that’s only one part of the whole experience of pregnancy and parenthood). I only care that every mom and family feels respected, cared for, and informed.  I am supporting homebirth midwives, birth centers, and all other practitioners who are working for this same right to choose how you will bring your baby into the world. 

 

Keep Moving

 

It’s already happened a few times to me as the temperature drops and the days have less light.   I am starting to want to hibernate – to move less and burrow into the couch or under the covers. 

 

It’s exactly what I know I’m not supposed to do.   I feel so much better when I exercise, when I practice yoga, when I walk outside instead of drive.  So this year, as I have in some previous years, I’m telling everyone I can to help me keep moving, and to keep moving themselves. 

 

Recently, the NYTimes wrote this article about all the ways you can fit exercise into your life.   The recommendation is for adults to try to get 150 minutes of exercise in a week.   That sounds like a lot, but for all of you who live in this great walking city of Cambridge/Boston (or someplace like it), you probably walk for 20-30 minutes many days of the week.  You may be getting close to 150 minutes just on your commute around town. 

 

Remember, not only is exercise good for you physically, but also, it’s crucial for some of us mentally, especially during the winter.

  In yoga class this winter, expect lots of flow back and forth between postures, lots of backbends, and lots of energizing pranayama!

 

Vote Mindfully

Hi there. I’m Gadi, Barrett’s boyfriend, and I have the distinct honor of being the first guest blogger.

We have been following the presidential elections for what seems like forever. And the time has come to actually cast our votes. I’d like to share with you in this post some of the resources I use to become a more informed voter.

Like many of you, Barrett and I have had many discussions about the political issues of the day; taxes, the economy, the wars, health care, and education. We’ve gossiped about the latest game changers and gaffs with our friends. And, we have poured over polls, political blogs, opinion pieces, and TV pundits views, but now it’s time to vote.

I’ve made up my mind about who to vote for President; however, on my ballot there will also be candidates for local races and ballot questions. In order to make a more informed decision I’ve gotten into a habit every two years of researching the details of my ballot.

So, here are some resources to help you vote mindfully.

1) Find out where to vote.

I highly recommend going to your state’s Secretary of State website. For those of you in Massachusetts you can find out where to vote at the where to vote link (this form is a little temperamental, but stick with it, the results are great).

2) Find out who is on your ballot.

Again the Secretary of State web site is likely a good source for this. In my case I was able to get a list of all the choices on my ballot. Here is what my ballot will look like.

Another site that has a fair bit of information on what you are likely to see on your ballot is votesmart.org. Here is a list of candidates and elected officials for my ward on their site.

3) Find out what the ballot questions are.

These are sometimes worded awkwardly so you aren’t entirely sure which way you are voting. I don’t think this is intentional, just a consequence of legalese and an attempt to be very precise. Sometimes it leads to not very readable prose.

Once again, I found the Secretary of State web site to be the best resource for finding out what the actual ballot measures are. I found the links on the left panel of this page (Question 1) provide the most detailed information about the ballot questions.

4) Finally, find out why.

I have found a couple of non-partisan sites that are somewhat useful for comparing candidates on the issues.

On votesmart.org candidates are asked to fill out a positions survey called the “Political Courage Test” (or “Issue Positions”). Unfortunately, few candidates have filled out this survey. To see how awesome these are check out my Congressman Michael Capuano‘s positions or my State Legislator Alice K. Wolf’s.

Still there is a ton of other information on each candidates page that makes this site really helpful. Check out the candidates for this years Senate race in Massachusetts:

Another decent site for positions of candidates is OnTheIssues.org. It’s definitely more geared towards national races but it still has good information about the candidates. For example, here are the pages for the candidates for this years Senate race in Massachusetts:

I know I’ve thrown a lot of links at you, but I hope this information helps you learn in more detail what choices you have on Election Day.

Finally, I am not in any way claiming that these resources are the be all and end all. Rather I think they are something to start from. Do you have any other sites that you really like? If so, please let me know!

Composting in Cambridge

 

I was so happy to find out that Whole Foods on Prospect St. in Cambridge has a compost bin.  This year I didn’t compost much at my CSA farm, but I really think it’s an effective way to reduce waste and promote local farming. 

 

Read this article about Whole Foods’ composting in Cambridge. 

 

Anyway, I’ve been collecting my scraps for a few days, and excited to go over there soon and “contribute” to the pile. 

 

In general, I’m a huge fan of fresh, local food.  In my journey through the blogosphere recently, my friend (and yogini) Zeenat turned me on to this blog called bostonlocalvores.  Stay tuned for a blog post about evil MSG and all the things it is lurking in.

 

Namaste,

 

Barrett

 

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