It’s been a while since I shared progress on my post 50 journey to become a yoga instructor. Through my education at Lourdes Institute of Wholistic Studies, I’m gaining a new perspective on the union between the body and the mind.
Our Amazing Bodies
In prior posts, I told you about my deepening knowledge of anatomy and physiology. This spring, I decided to re-audit A+P. Our bodies are very complex with so many muscles, bones, limbs, joints, and organs – it’s truly amazing how everything works together, or sometimes doesn’t work together when you don’t take care of yourself. It’s been said that a consistent yoga practice can help resolve “the issues in the tissues.”
The Power of Prana
I introduced you to prana, the Sanskrit word for “life force” and demonstrated different breathing techniques – Dirgha and Nadi Shodhana – to move prana through the body. Over the past several months, I’ve learned additional ways to use breath to calm and focus the mind, build lung capacity, and activate energy in the body. From Ujjayi, great sound breath, to Kapalabhati, skull shining breath, Sama Vritti to Vishama Vritti, both with a counting rhythm (Sama is equal counts with inhale and exhale and Vishama has a longer exhale) – I’ve witnessed how marrying breath with movement can bring greater benefits to the body and mind.
The Artistry of A Yoga Sequence
My artistry of asanas has multiplied with a broad portfolio of poses to choose from as I enhance my own practice and craft sequences to teach others. There are joint-freeing series, reclining poses, seated poses, standing poses, backbends, forward bends, twists, and inversions. There are the three-dimensional aspects of poses, their Sanskrit names, and proper alignments. There are key benefits, precautions, and contraindications for poses, plus modifications and assists for those who may need help.
We begin each sequence with centering. “Let your thoughts go. Bring your mind to the mat as well as your body,” said my instructor L. We end with savasana, known as corpse pose, the most important asana of them all. It’s when the body and the mind totally relax lying flat on the mat and the goodness of all the other poses melts into every cell.
While I am not as flexible as some of my younger students, I use props, such as blocks to lift the floor, a strap to lengthen my arms, and a blanket under my seat to tilt my pelvis so I can sit up straight. I no longer take “no” for an answer when my friends say they cannot do yoga. Everyone can do yoga. But not everyone looks the same in every pose.
Calming the Mind With Meditation
Morning meditations have become a daily ritual. Learning to be in stillness is part of my training and provides a sense of calm. I sit up tall on my cushion with my legs crossed and my eyes closed. Some days I use my mala beads and focus on a mantra (lately the mantra has been a healing one for all the dental surgery I’ve endured the past few weeks). Or I listen to Dr. Deepak Chopra meditations (which I highly recommend) or other meditation apps such as MeditateMe. Sometimes I do evening meditations to relax my monkey mind before sleep.
The Philosophy of Yoga
Taking yoga off the mat and becoming more introspective has been a spiritual part of my journey — from reading Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, a time-honored Sanskrit poem, to examining the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text written by the scholar and supposed physician Pantanjali in 200 B.C.E.. I’ve acquired a sense of deeper consciousness, both my own and the world around me.
“The Bhagavad Gita or ‘Song of the Blessed One’ is about two families fighting for kingship,” said my instructor N. “It’s a battle drawn out over many years. It is meant to symbolize the battles we have within ourselves.” The story is told in a dialogue between Arjuna, a son of one of the families who is facing a spiritual crisis, and Krishna, the god Vishnu.
“The Gita teaches us that when there is violence, everyone hurts,” said my fellow student H, whose family is from India and is well-versed in the Gita.
“Patanjali was a sage and he developed the Sutras to codify yoga,” my instructor M said. “Sutra means thread and there are four books or ‘padas’ which explain the nature of the mind, the 8 limbs of yoga, the powers of awareness that can come from yoga, and liberation from all properties of the material world.”
I also enjoyed reading Living Your Yoga by famed yogini Judith Lassiter. Judith draws from the wisdom of these two texts in simple terms, with techniques for “awakening awareness using yoga within yourself, widening the circle using yoga within relationships, and embracing all life with yoga and the world.” Chapters on Letting Go, Courage, Relaxation, Patience, Compassion, Fear, Success, Truth and Love – are some themes that especially resonated with me.
With about six weeks to go until my YTT200 is complete, it feels like I have so much more to learn. I’m realizing that this transformation journey I’m on during my life after 50 will really never be over. Once touched by the awareness yoga brings, you start to crave it. And the more you work on it, the better you become at it. That’s why yoga and meditation are a practice.
“What are your plans for when you graduate?” is a popular question in recent dialogue with family and friends. “I’m not sure” is my usual answer. For now, I’m focused on my studies and preparing for my final exam and practice teach.
In regards to “what’s next” on my post 50 yoga journey, I leave you with a comforting Japanese folk saying from the book A Zen Harvest that appears in the chapter on Faith in Living Your Yoga. it says:
Changes in this world
But flowers will open
Just as usual.
It’s a reminder of two mantras I’ve chanted of late, “to have faith in myself” and ” to have the courage to act from my heart and the compassion to stay open” to whatever the future brings.
“Welcome to yoga training Methods & Techniques I,” said my instructor B as she addressed our first weekend class at Lourdes Institute of Wholistic Studies in Camden, NJ. “We come together as strangers, but we leave as a tight-knit community. These are your sisters.”
There are five women, or should I say five yoginis (female yoga practitioners are called yogini, male are yogi), in the YTT200 program this year and by May 2016, after 200 hours of training, we will be eligible for our first yoga teacher certificate from Yoga Alliance.
Discovering My True Self
I was excited and anxious to begin training. I started practicing yoga about seven years ago, after my husband passed away. It helped me heal my “mind, body, and spirit” and work through my grief. It continues to provide an outlet for “letting go” and “slowing down” – which is an on-going challenge for me since retiring from my fast-paced full-time job.
“Explore your own creative expression as a yoga teacher, ” said B. “Don’t worry about anything. I’m looking at your growth during this training.”
Om, om, om, I breathed in and began to relax on my mat. This journey I am embarking on for the next nine months is sacred. Am I ready to discover more about my own true self? Am I prepared for what lies deep within?
Yes, yes, yes, it’s a bit scary delving deep, yet at the same time freeing. Plus, I’m eager to improve my own strength, flexibility, and balance during my life after 50 and share all the benefits that yoga has to offer with others,
The Eight-Fold Path
B explained the “Eight-Fold Path” Of Ashtanga Yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, who lived and wrote a long, long time ago between what is thought to be 200 BC – 200 AD. The guidelines start at the base with Yamas (restraints such as non-violence and truthfulness) and Niyamas (behaviors and observances such as contentment and cleanliness). The path moves up the hierarchy to Asanas (postures), Pranayama (controlling your breath), Pratyahara (where you close your eyes and be with yourself), to Dharana (concentration), to Dhyana (meditation), and finally, to Samadhi (a blissful state of spiritual freedom).
“It is a roadmap to get to Samadhi,” said B. “It can be a life-long journey. There is always a deeper experience.” Am I ready to walk this spiritual path? Yes, yes, yes, I have a strong desire to live a balanced lifestyle — mentally, physically, and emotionally during my second act.
Sequencing A Yoga Lesson
During our Saturday session we learned how to create a lesson plan. “Follow the three fold sequencing approach,” said B. “First centering, next content, and finally relaxation/meditation.”
♥ Centering: I sat cross-legged with my body in alignment on a blanket on my mat. Centering can be done lying down too. “It’s about becoming more aware of your body and your breath,” said B. There was much to learn about the breath experience or as a yogini says “pranayama.” Our instructor M would cover more about breathe on Sunday.
“Ask students to set an intention and read a quote or piece of poetry or blessing for the beginning or end of practice,” said B. (My intention lately has been gratitude for all that I can do in each moment.)
♥ Content: This is the main portion of a yoga class. As a first step, we learned warm-ups, including the joint-freeing series to massage all the joints in our body from head to toe. Then we studied and practiced the six movements of the spine – back bends, forward folds, side stretches to the right and left, and twists on both sides.
B showed us ways to ensure that our students are safe during all of these poses and we learned how to marry movement with breath. “Breathe steady,” said B. “Whenever you expand your chest, you inhale. Whenever you round your chest you exhale. When you are going up you inhale and when you are going down you exhale.” (I hope my menopausal brain can remember all these steps. It’s a practice Judi! It’s a practice I reminded myself.)
Following warmups, come energizing poses, such as the Warrior series and Sun Salutations. Then cool down poses, like Happy Baby, Legs Up the Wall, and Supported Bridge. There will be many poses to learn in the coming months.
♥ Relaxation/Meditation: At this point, it was time for Shavasana, one of the most important poses in yoga. It’s when your body takes in all the goodness of the practice and totally relaxes. I reclined on my back with my arms in an A-frame and my legs straight out about shoulder width apart and my feet flopped outward.
B taught us how to do a guided relaxation with an “Awareness Check.” “You take people through each part of the body,” said B. “Begin with the head and go to the feet. Or, start with the feet and go to the head. It takes you away from everything else and allows you to focus on each area.” We formed buddies and led each other through total body awareness.
Before we left for the day, B guided us with Zen breath counting meditation. “Keep your spine straight and your feet grounded if you are sitting on a chair,” said B. “Don’t lean on the back of the chair or your spine will not be straight.”
Instead of using a chair, I sat cross-legged on my mat with my bottom firmly planted on the earth, spine straight, and the crown of my head towards the sky. Slowly I counted to 10, inhaling on the odd numbers and exhaling on the even. “Then focus on the third eye (the spot between your eyes). Focus on the soft belly. Release and let go,” said B.
To close, we learned a mantra using our hands and our voice, bringing thumbs together at the third eye reminding ourselves to “see the truth,” then index fingers to the mouth reminding ourselves to “speak the truth,” and to the heart center to “always know the truth deep within your heart.”
We bowed our heads and honored each other for what was truly a fulfilling first day of yoga training, with many more lessons to come.
Om shanti, shanti, shanti, namaste.
Note: In January I took a class on Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga as part of my training. You can read about it in an earlier blog post at My Post 50 Yoga Journey – The First Step.
Understanding Holistic Healthcare: by Dr. Frank Pileggi
Many of you have come to me asking “why don’t many people respect or understand holistic healthcare in the way that they should”. Well to be honest, it’s because not many people want to.
As many of you know, people want the quick fix. In and out, no waiting, no hassle, no time wasted. Unfortunately holistic health care doesn’t work that way. It’s a lifelong process, which takes continued knowledge of various modalities along with continued growth from within to allow yourself to open your minds and hearts to new ways of thinking and feeling.
I have patients that want me to “fix” them immediately. Sore shoulder, bad knee, messed up elbow, whatever it is….fix it now. I do my best with all my patients, but fixing is only a fifteen minute process, healing takes much longer. What people don’t seem to understand is that healing comes from within. It’s that something inside you that allows you to accept a limitation or to motivate you to try to overcome those limitations. Whatever it is… it needs to come from you. Yes you can get a pill to help ease the pain or have a massage to relax your stress, but what is it that you do in those other times.
Holistic health care is within all of us, that is the beauty of it. When you fall and bang your knee – your first instinct is to grab it with your hand and start rubbing it – well that’s the massage therapist in you. You’re stressed out from a long day at work – you get home and lay down to listen to your favorite music – well that’s the relaxation therapist in you. You have a frustrating conversation with a friend or loved one and you call someone to vent those frustrations – well that’s the healthy relationship counselor in you. What I am saying is that we all practice some kind of holistic healthcare. Gardeners, people into cars, people into sports, and people into collecting, people into anything….all of you are practicing what we call spiritual wellness. Simply defined as… what gives you meaning and purpose in life. Probably the most key component to all wellness and holistic health care.
People need to understand the healing begins with you. Understand that your everyday practices are exactly what you make fun of others doing when they are looking for holistic healthcare. I have said and I will repeat it again, we all do it, every single person in this world practices some kind of holistic healthcare, and when people truly can accept that is when Holistic Healthcare will get the greater respect it deserves.
There are many types of allergies, including those caused by foods, pollens, chemicals and environmental factors. The following recommendations are for hay-fever-type allergies that affect sinuses and have cold like symptoms.
If you know you are allergic to something, obviously try to stay away from it. This applies to foods, dust, mold, cat or dog hair, synthetic fabrics and chemicals such as those found in cleaning supplies. When the pollen count is high try to stay indoors and use an air conditioner that has a clean filter. Also I recommend you get tested for allergies at least once every five years.
Easy Quick Relief Methods:
Acupressure – Use the following sequence of pressure points around your nose, eyes and forehead to relieve sinus headaches, pressure and congestion.
- Press at various points around the eye sockets, using your thumbs for the upper points and your middle fingers for the lower points. Do not press hard around the eyes. You will find several natural depressions that help locate the points for you. Press both sides simultaneously for three to five seconds, release, and repeat twice.
- Press along the bottom edge of the cheekbones. Press with three-finger pressure on both sides. Again, press for three to five seconds, release and repeat twice.
- Use three fingers to press on the temples, in a straight line from the corner of the eye toward the ear. Use medium pressure at most, pressing and releasing.
Aromatherapy – Essential oils for allergies include eucalyptus, pine, rosemary, mint, chamomile, and lavender. Tea tree oil is also effective. The easiest way to use these oils is with a diffuser. Read labels of oils for details on how they should be used as their concentrations vary.
Herbs – the following herbs are good for hay fever: sage, ginger, mint, burdock, and green plantain leaf. To use any of these herbs, make a tea infusion using about ½ teaspoon of the herb per cup of boiling water, and drink two or three times a day while symptoms last.
Hydrotherapy – I always say simple is better. Many look puzzled when I tell them just standing a while in a hot shower is very effective when dealing with allergies. One it washes any allergen that may be on you away and second the steam produced clears your nasal passages.
Obviously there are many more in-depth ways of dealing with allergies, but hopefully these four simple measures will help you effectively deal with those annoying flare ups we all suffer from time to time. Remember the importance to get testes at least once every five years, as we sometimes build an immunity to old allergies and find out we have new ones that we never knew of.