23 November 2009

Happy Birthday Freddie!

In memory of my friend, Frederick Foster Davis, I'm posting these photos of him building one of his boats, the Charlotte E. Foster. Fred took his final earthly voyage earlier this year. His memory, spirit, wit, wisdom, and talent live on.

20 November 2009

StressLESS Holidays

Today on NPR's Science Friday the topic was holiday stress. I decided to recycle the following article, which appeared in the Eastern Shore News a couple of years back.

Many people think about stress or weight gain during the holiday season. This is a time of year filled with possibilities for joy and reflection but it often becomes a shopping and anxiety-filled mess. Even if you are not feeling particularly stressed, chances are you will be spending time with someone who is. For families dealing with divorce, illness, job loss, or personal friction this can be a traumatic season.

Shorter daylight hours can affect your mood, resulting in feelings of depression and fatigue. When it gets cold outside, most of us spend more time indoors - cut off from fresh air, natural light, and the calming effects of nature.

I’ve met lots of people in my years as a health professional who put themselves at the bottom of the list - they invariably suffer. It isn't selfish to take time for yourself. The healthier and more at ease you are, the more available you will be for those you love.

If you exercise regularly, keep it up. The worst mistake you can make is to use the excuse of  holiday busy-ness to abandon exercise. Maintaining or even increasing your regular exercise is a good way to allow yourself to indulge in holiday treats without worrying about extra pounds. Walking has amazing effects on both mind and body, especially if it's done in fresh air.

Resist the temptation to overeat at parties and special events. Food is a big part of the holidays and you can enjoy it without feeling guilty if you eat responsibly. Also, avoid alcohol as a means of coping with stress. If you're depressed, drinking will only make you feel worse and will add unwanted calories. Alcohol also tends to distort our nutritional judgment. Drink smart, eat smart, have fun.

Spend some time outside or buy a special lamp to help combat depression caused by light deprivation. Full spectrum lighting is affordable and available right here in Richmond.

Schedule time with friends and people who make you laugh. Laughter decreases tension and reduces pain and also has been shown to boost the body's production of infection-fighting antibodies. Laughter has the potential to help in the treatment of depression and other emotional illnesses - so does yoga. So keep in close contact with people who make you feel GOOD and don't forget your yoga practice!

Slow diaphragmatic breathing (3-part breathing as taught in many yoga classes) can help reduce anxiety. Even though breathing is an automatic response, we do have the ability to control it and that alone is empowering. If your breath is calm, steady, and even, you will probably be too. Focusing on breath is a way to increase mindfulness. One of the simplest ways to connect with your breath is to pay attention to its sound while sitting in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. When you become aware of the natural sounds of your inhalation and exhalation, you begin to breathe in a way that calms the body and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.

Give yourself a break. Appreciate what you’ve got - gratitude is a beneficial attitude. Share and receive love, and have a Happy Holiday Season!

17 November 2009

Yoga by any other name. . .

When my father heard I was teaching yoga, he decided to teasingly call it yogurt. I let him get away with that. Other people have used variations on the name since I've been teaching. Some have referred to the school where I studied (Kripalu) as CrippleYou. They all have given me a smile, but this is by far the best:

In the rural town where I lived (and where my heart still resides), I knew a woman named Norma. She had six sisters and one of them, Rosalee, owned a small store around the corner where I shopped for everything from the Saturday paper to fresh scallops, galvanized buckets and mousetraps.

Anyway, one day I saw Norma and she said, "I didn't know you could sing!"  I assured her I could not. "Oh yes," she said. "Rosalee told me you were giving singing classes over to the Town Hall." I again told her there must be some mistake. "No, I'm sure she said it was you giving yodeling classes on Tuesday nights." I LOVED that, and will never forget it or the sweet sisters who had the conversation.

13 November 2009

Psychology Nods to Yoga - again

 Carl Jung investigated yoga, therapists employ yoga occasionally, and now the APA (American Psychological Association) has printed this article in Monitor on Psychology: Yoga as a practice tool. I have been sharing similar information with students and friends for a long time and am always happy to see mental health professionals acknowledge the benefits of yoga - physical and psychological - and back it up with research.

Using simple techniques such as breath awareness can help people learn how to begin to feel comfortable in the present moment - a challenge for many of us.

Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, is a neuroscientist and professor of medicine at Harvard. He is quoted here as saying, "I believe if everyone practiced the technique of yoga, we would have a preventive aid to a lot of our problems. There would likely be less obesity and Type-II diabetes, an people would be less aggressive, more content and more integrated."

I loved reading this and I know it's true. Many people come to me with excuses about why they CAN'T do yoga - time, physical limitations, money, etc. The reality is that anyone can do yoga in some form if they want to. There is good information contained in this piece of writing - you might want to read it.

12 November 2009

Charter for Compassion


White-robed Kannon, Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kano Motonobu, c. first half of the 16th century. Hanging scroll. Ink, color and gold on silk.

I received the following in an email and want to share it with as many people as possible. Some of you may know about TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. If you don't, it's worth exploring.

Dear Global TED Community,

Today, TED Prize winner Karen Armstrong's wish is realized as the Charter for Compassion officially launches. . .

This is a document created by thousands of people around the world. It is capable of enabling a new dialog between the major religions and between religious and nonreligious people. Please take out two minutes to read it. It's just one page. If it speaks to you, please add your name. Karen's wish was that TED should create and propagate the Charter. That's where we need your help. Email your friends, and do whatever you can on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. We would love to see thousands affirm the Charter. It's truly an idea worth spreading.

10 November 2009

Satyananda Yoga Nidra - Psychic Sleep

While I was living in New Jersey between 2000-2004, I was introduced to Swami Shantimurti Saraswati of Ashram Yoga in New Zealand. He taught me the Satyananda method of yoga nidra, and it changed my life - really. Shanti also attempted to teach me to play the harmonium, but I'm nowhere near as proficient at that as I've become in teaching yoga nidra!

Since then, I've moved and shared this technique with students wherever I go in classes, workshops and privately. Last year, I was given the privilege of teaching yoga nidra at a residential gambling and alcohol rehab center. Once a week, I leave Richmond city and drive into beautiful Hanover County to work with small groups of brave people from all over the country who are trying to get their lives back in order. Yoga nidra not only offers them a way to decompress immediately, but the long term effects are noticeable.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t experience some form of stress on a regular basis? We can't completely eliminate stress in our lives, but how we handle it is what determines its effect on us. Stress is a physical and psychological response to excessive or prolonged demands that exceed our ability to cope. Sometimes - oftentimes - we aren't even aware that we are experiencing stress, but our bodies know!

Three basic types of tension which create most difficulties seem to be:

Muscular - related to the body, the nervous system and endocrinal imbalances - These are easily removed by deep physical relaxation, regular habits, and consistent exercise.

Emotional - which stem from various extremes such as love/hate, profit/loss, success/failure, happiness/unhappiness - These are more difficult to remove. When we are unable to express our emotions freely and openly, and it’s not always appropriate to release these tensions in the moment, they may become repressed, leading to deep-rooted tensions which require a deeper type of relaxation.

Mental - from excessive mental activity - The mind is a mixture of fantasies, confusions and variations. Throughout our life, experiences are accumulated in the mental body. From time to time these explode, affecting our body, mind, behavior and reactions. We may attribute the conditions of the mind to something superficial. But underlying causes behind abnormal behavior can often lie in accumulated tensions on the mental plane which can be relaxed through Yoga Nidra.

Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice which has been gaining popularity. For everyone, specifically people who are chronically exhausted and over stimulated, yoga nidra is a method of relaxation that calms not only the physical body but the nervous system and the subconscious mind. This practice, adapted by Swami Satyananda Saraswati and outlined in his book entitled Yoga Nidra, is used to induce full-body relaxation and a deeply meditative state. During practice, your body seems to be asleep, but consciousness is awake and functioning.

Yoga Nidra lasts for at least 20 minutes and often longer. Lying comfortably on the back in savasana (corpse pose), the student is instructed in quieting the mind, moves into a meditative state, and gradually to a place where brain waves slow down. People tend to emerge feeling rejuvenated. One hour of yoga nidra is said to equal 4 hours of restful sleep!

Because of its regenerative effects, Yoga Nidra can be helpful for degenerative and stress-related conditions such as hypertension and arthritis. By reducing deep seated conflicts, Yoga Nidra promotes a feeling of well being, which has also been found to curb excessive consumption of coffee, cigarettes and alcohol as well as aiding in the management of drug abuse and addiction.

Yoga Nidra is prescribed by doctors in many countries both as a preventative and curative therapy. This ancient wisdom is a perfect complement to educated, professional medical care. Yoga Nidra is best done under the guidance of a trained teacher or with an instructional cd prepared by a teacher. Swami Niranjananda leads a beautiful practice. My teacher, Swami Shantimurti Saraswati has cds for sale through Ashram Yoga, and in the U.S. the Atma Center in Ohio sells instructional cds.

Thank you Shanti - Hari Om!

07 November 2009

One Blue Day


The Colour Blue (2009) is an updated and remastered version of a short film made by LeSa Milano. It's not pretty, but it seems important.

Her own words about it, "At this time in the Earth's history, we truly live in important and interesting times. There is great consequence and urgency to our actions. Our decisions and actions will be remembered for generations to come. What we do today affects tomorrow. We are pushing the earth to its limits literally, in population, resources, and it's capacity to sustain human life. At this time in our evolution, it is being revealed in many ways that we are all connected. One people, one planet. The Native Americans have a beautiful philosophy regarding action, when you take action you should contemplate it's effect on the next seven generations.This film is dedicated to those of you who inspired me to create my own digital home here."

I was told about this video by an environmentalist friend. Earlier the same day I heard about a book called The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's are One by Sylvia Earle and THEN I found a link to Dr. Earle's TED talk featuring beautiful video. This was also depressing, but the video images were so beautiful that it didn't share the same visual grimness.

I started thinking about the color blue. Richmond's sky is highlighted these days by the contrasting brilliance of changing leaves. Then I started thinking about Joni Mitchell and her timeless album, Blue, which my little sister and I listened to endlessly from the time it came out in the early 70's. I remembered hearing about a man, John Kelly, doing a cover of the song "Blue" which is both crazy and wonderful.

A book that I enjoyed last year was The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner about areas in the world where people live longer - he discusses what they eat, how they pray, and essentially tells us about the kinds of lives these people live that he feels contributes directly to their enhanced states of health. William Boyd's novel, The Blue Afternoon is a great read like most of his work.

I love to eat blueberries right out the freezer and wear blue jeans straight from the dryer.

The genetically modified blue rose is beautiful but crazy in a creepy way (see above) and makes me wonder if all this modifying of nature isn't what might lead us to the eerie but compelling scenario portrayed in the video mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Anyway, blue is irreplaceable, tastes good, gives us comfort, keeps things alive, and creates a sense of serenity when you use it to paint your walls. We have to keep it!

04 November 2009

Blood Orange Gelato!

You might wonder what this has to do with yoga, but I firmly believe that as our senses are refined through regular practice, our appreciation of pure and healthy food goes up. This counts!

Bev's Ice Cream at 2911 W. Cary Street in Richmond is right across the street from the Byrd Theater. This is my favorite ice cream shop ever! They make seasonal flavors like fresh plum sorbet, ginger ice cream, and my new favorite - blood orange gelato! You can't get all flavors all the time, so it's a good practice to stop by whenever you are in the neighborhood. There is no other desert place in Richmond where I've found such consistency coupled with great service. Yum!