Any visitor here would not know that I avidly blogged through my 2016 200-hour yoga teacher training because my writing has been at Yoga~Dance~Music~Movement, a blog I began in August 2010. I seem to gravitate there each time I have something to share, reflect upon or want to save for posterity. So I invite you, should you be interested, to join me at Yoga~Dance~Music~Movement, which contains all the thoughts shared here at Head to Flow, as well as all my yoga thoughts going forward.
Since August 2010, I have been blogging about yoga, first on my blog hosted at Posterous and then, when Posterous shut down, on my blog hosted at WordPress.
Now that I have my first yoga website, most of my blog posts have been copied and pasted here. Three years of blogging, all now listed under just one month. If you didn't know that bit of back story, you might think I had been a prolific writer for this month of September!
Welcome to posts about anatomy, the brain, types of breathing, dance, a bit of humor, poetry, quotes of wisdom, reflection, relaxation, tai chi, and yoga. Those are the categories I've chosen to help make it easier to find writing about specific topics. The posts are sequential, with the earliest post all the way at the bottom, and the most recent post always here at the top - the first one you'll see when clicking on the Blog link.
If there is something you would like me to address, an idea you have for a post, questions you would like answered, a poem you would like to share, or anything else related to yoga and movement, I hope you will feel comfortable emailing me at email@example.com or leaving a comment below.
Meanwhile, thank you for visiting!
[If you are wondering what this is in response to, please check my prior post: 500 Words.]
The Heart of (my) Yoga
I have been practicing yoga since the year my Dad moved to King Street Nursing Home, located fifteen minutes from my neighborhood. Back then, in 2005, I began practicing yoga as a way to manage my spirit and cope with the sometimes overwhelming sadness I felt about and for my Dad.
Somewhere along the way, my yoga practice became grace on two feet. I practiced yoga because it made me feel balletic, because my posture made me feel graceful, because my muscles felt stretched and massaged. I was internalizing the asanas and thriving from the reinvigorated strength and flow of my body.
And then, at a moment that is imperceptible, my yoga practice was spiritual. Oh, not all the time, but with certain teachers and certain classes, in certain moments, I was in the church of the inner-smiling/moving/chanting/being. As T.K.V. Desikachar explains, “there are many definitions of yoga…These definitions of yoga have one thing in common: the idea that something changes.” [p. 79]
It was the chanting that spoke to my spirit, and it was my teacher Deb who taught me these chants. Loka Samasta Sukino Bevantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free. Ohm namo bhagavatay ~ Vasue dayvaiya. To see the light of God within everyone and everything. I do not believe in a God, but I do believe in the good within everyone and everything.
Desikachar goes on to say that “Each of our actions shows its effects either immediately or after a period of time. Every action has a consequence.” [p. 82] When my mind needs calming or when my body needs energizing or my spirit needs nurturing, my yoga practice quenches that need. And sometimes, I have no noticeable need other than to simply be in class for my practice. My personal practice is my practice at The Yoga Sanctuary, where I have been taking classes since that day back in March 2005.
Desikachar spends Part II of his book sharing his understanding of yoga. He is explaining what I see as yoga’s philosophic approach to a way of striving to live. Ellen, one of my teachers, often plans her classes around yogic principles, and from her I learned of the yoga sutras, which she likens to ”the 10 Commandments of Yoga”. Here, too, I have found enjoyment in the chanting: ya-ma ni-ya-ma as-a-na pran-a-ya-ma prat-ya-har-a d-har-na dh-ya-na sa-mad-ha-ya-ha aush-tau an-gan-i. Desikachar informs us that “The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is called yama…, and how we relate to ourselves inwardly is called niyama.”
I do not consciously consider the yamas and niyamas in my daily life, but am certain that bits and pieces find their way into my daily living. How can they not, for the yamas relate to social and personal behaviors for peaceful living. Most of the niyamas, however, are a bit further removed for me. While I came to yoga for self-healing, and have certainly seen self-development, I rarely pause to ponder the principles of purity, discipline, or surrender to a higher power.
Undeniably, what gives me the greatest simple pleasure is moving through asana practice where my mind is focused on my breathing and I have, as my teachers say, Nowhere to go and nothing to do but be here now.
(written June 15, 2013)
Back in the Spring, while perusing the Kripalu catalog, I came upon the Yoga for Seniors Teacher Training. The description meshed with what I am looking for in terms of learning how to facilitate yoga for older adults, but while I have the required years of practice (plenty more, actually!), I do not have the teaching experience.
I contacted the teachers via email, and after several exchanges they suggested I read T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice and write a 500 word essay in response to it. Below is my first essay. Yes, first, because the next morning I woke up and decided there was more to say. So I wrote a second essay. And since the first one had already been sent, Carol and Kimberly became the recipients of two 500 word essays!
Gentle Edge of Expression
Take it to your gentle edge of expression – where any
more would be too much, and any less would be too little
Deb Gorman, my first yoga teacher, regularly exhorts us with the above suggestion, and I have taken her words to heart. This advice is indeed helpful if you want to make the most of your practice while avoiding potential injury that could come from being over zealous.
But Deb’s words resonate for another reason. They bring to mind psychologist Lev Vygotsky and his idea of ZPD – the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky believed that children could learn from watching and following adults, with the adult assisting the child to go beyond what the child was able to do on her or his own. The optimal learning takes place in each child’s ZPD, and that zone is specific to each learner.
I believe this is true not only for children, but adults as well, and it is true for all types of learning. Having taken up yoga in 2005 at the age of 51, I became my own best example of what it is like to start from scratch to learn something new. Over the years I learned to listen to my body, realize I wasn’t in a competition, and appreciate the many benefits I derived from yoga. For most of the years since, I have had a regular practice, taking time off every now and then. I have learned from each of my teachers and know beyond a doubt that their individual approaches and philosophies inform my practice and style of teaching.
Set an intention for your practice
When I first met Deb, my ears perked up at the mention of her being a yoga teacher, as I had been thinking about my Dad and taking care of him, and wondering how to also take care of me. You see, my Dad had Alzheimer’s and I felt good caring for him, but sad at seeing a part of him disappear. Walking around with sadness doesn’t do much for the spirit, let alone for my being able to bring cheerfulness and good feelings to my Dad. Yoga sounded like it could help me handle my sadness and lift my spirits for both him and me.
My engagement with yoga evolved from being a personal practice to a place where I want to bring movement to others to help lift their spirits. Yoga – Dance – Music – Movement. Any of these on their own can provide an endorphin release. A calming and soothing of the soul. A moment’s haven for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Combine dance with music, and movement becomes elegant for someone with Parkinson’s.
I just completed my 31st year as a teacher of children and adults. It is a selfish profession, because it makes me feel tremendously good to see eyes light up in the faces of kids as they explore and discover. And it makes me feel good to help colleagues become empowered to enhance their learning, and thus their teaching.
So it is with teaching yoga and facilitating movement for those who no longer move with ease. To create a space where folks with Alzheimer’s reconnect with themselves and others. To reawaken the ability to move with grace for folks with Parkinson’s. To bring comfort to the muscles, bones or spirit of anyone who needs a gentle reminder that they can still feel good. To smile.
This is my personal practice.
(written June 14, 2013)
I volunteer on Sunday mornings. My plan each Sunday is to help those with limited mobility to move in whatever ways work for them. Plain and simple. And in the process we sing a bit, laugh, and at the end whoever would like a massage always winds up having some combination of their shoulders, arms, neck or legs gently massaged.
The people I spend my Sunday mornings with are a mixed group. Most are in wheelchairs, and quite a few are somewhere on the dementia spectrum. Besides the movement, it is the music that often helps them participate, singing along to old, familiar tunes.
Several years ago, I participated in my first Dance for PD training. Besides learning how to teach a Dance for PD class, we heard from neuropsychiatrist Melissa Frumin, whoexplained Parkinsons to us. Not only did she understand Parkinsons from the perspective of a medical person, but also as a caregiver for her father.
Several months later, at a subsequent Dance for PD workshop, the bulk of the weekend workshop was spent sharing movement ideas with one another to broaden our movement repertoires.
I know there are many people who do something similar, be it through Dance for Parkinson’s, Let Your Yoga Dance for Special Populations, chair yoga or approaches I don’t even know about. It would be quite something if all of these teachers could connect with one another to learn and share!
As far as I can tell, though, there is no conference for movement professionals who work with people living with Parkinsons, MS, stroke, Alzheimer’s or illnesses with a similar impact.
Here is my hope for a Gather to Move conference:
Essentially, such a conference would educate us as teachers, help build a network of movement professionals with a specific focus, and empower us to return to our students more informed, aware, and better able to facilitate movement, smiles and a more positive experience for each of our students.
I follow @Teachasana on Twitter. Teachasana is “a site for yoga teachers by yoga teachers.” Last week, thanks to one of their tweets, I discovered these three articles about chair yoga.
Chair Yoga Part 1: Why Teach Chair Yoga
Chair Yoga Part 2: Setting Up Your Class
Chair Yoga Part 3: Adapting Poses to the Chair
These informative and helpful posts were written in the fall of 2012 by Bruce Binder and Lakshmi Voelker, of Get Fit where you sit. On the east coast, where I live, Lakshmi’s trainings take place in the metro-NY area as well as at Kripalu. My plan, barring family vacation, is to take her August 2013 training at the New York Open Center. [Update: I did take the training and found it stimulating, informative and very helpful!
I've picked up some yoga links here and there to share.
I’ve taken Chair Yoga with Julia Hough. I’ve taken Dance for PD with David Leventhal and Misty Owens. I’ve been practicing yoga since 2005. I have wonderfully helpful and supportive friends and mentors. I’ve been volunteering since January doing a movement and music session with a group of people, most who have limited mobility. And I’ve been a teacher (of kids and adults, using technology) for 30 years.
So you’d think I could teach a yoga class, no problem!
Well, turns out, you’d be right. But the lack of a sound sleep the night before might have fooled you into thinking I was unprepared; it almost fooled me based upon my nervous anticipation in the morning. Hardly the case! Instead, as is typical of me when planning my yoga sessions, I was highly prepared. Having organized the moves and words into sequences, I recited my session over and over in my head, and then earlier in the week took it to my 80 year old Aunt.
As my husband said when giving feedback on my first movement and music session, so my Aunt said when I took her through my newest yoga class: ditch the notes and do what you know best – teach from your heart and your body. Sound advice, as I found out each time, and perhaps this time I’ve internalized that lesson!
When preparing a yoga session, I decide what the focus will be, plan out a sequence of moves (warm ups, poses, stretches, relaxation), match music to the sequence, and find a reading to share at the start. I write it all down, rehearse it in my mind and practice it multiple times on my own, and this time asked my Aunt to be my student, since she would be typical of the students I expected to attend.
The best reminder from my Aunt was to start at the top of the body and work my way down. That is essentially what I do, progressing from the chair to standing and then back to the chair. Yet nervousness about doing a good job and hoping I wouldn’t stumble over my words were enough to give me a fitful sleep the night before.
A little bit of stress is helpful – the positive stress of excitement around which new experiences are incorporated and new learning takes place. The body releases a bit of cortisol that acts as an escort to the new learning and assists it in developing. But too much cortisol can result in escorting that experience right out the door, and that’s what I wanted to avoid!
As I learn to be a yoga teacher, I enjoy the stimulation of planning, and the excited anticipation that comes with starting a new session with a new group of people. I thrive on making the personal connections. I am learning to go with my own flow, and appreciate that all my preparation is necessary to give me the kinesthetic confidence to proceed. Indeed, I believe it is that very preparation that helps regulate my cortisol levels.
The proces is exhilerating – finding places where I can teach, preparing the sessions, meeting new people and hoping to share with them a positive, uplifting, well-being experience.
Yoga is a gift from my Dad. I took to yoga as a way to ease my sadness as he delved deeper into dementia, and to calm my psyche in order to bring smiles and music and joy to our time together. I observed the decline of movement in my Dad and later in my Mom. I saw what it was like to have to leave one’s home and give yourself over to the care of others.
From my parents’ experiences I concluded that music and movement and rhythm, coupled with smiles and gentle touch, can go a long way to uplift spirits and make that time together special. I no longer have either of my parents to share that with, but there’s a whole slew of aging people who deal with the pluses and minuses of getting older, and I hope to share these nuggets with them. Fulfilling for me, and hopefully for the people in my classes!
Of all my yoga teachers, it is Deb who often reads to us, sharing a selection or two of someone else’s words that always seem to resonnate with my mood at that moment. Deb has an uncanny eye for seaking out those words, and there have been multiple times when I have asked for a copy of the day’s reading.
And so I was delighted to follow a tweet to the poetry of YOGA, “a new anthology of contemporary poetry” as described on The Daily Downward Dog. The blogger invites visitors to this post to leave a comment, and states that she will be giving away two copies of the book. Could not resist leaving the following:
I came to yoga later in life