Yoga is More Than Exercise

Yoga is more than exercise; it is a way of life. A way of being.

Yoga is a spiritual path, not to be confused with religion. Modern yoga has emerged in the west primarily as a physical practice, an exercise.  However, the physical part of yoga is only one branch in Yoga Sutras of Patajanli: The Eight-limbs of Yoga (see illustration below). The Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 CE, so it is an ancient body of work. The branch related to the physical practice is called Asana, later extended to Hatha Yoga. It never ceases to amaze me that the template for living well transcends time. It applies to everybody regardless of the race, religion, century, level of education etc.

Today in the West there are many styles of yoga under the Asana/Hatha umbrella. There is Power Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Slow Flow, Restorative Yoga and Athletic Yoga to mention a few. However, in the yoga lineage (see illustration) Ashtanga, Vinyasas and later in the twentieth century Iyengar, create the foundation from which modern yoga emerged.

As an instructor when I started teaching yoga, I intentionally  focused on the physical practice. I wanted to make yoga accessible to many, who may be turned off by the spiritual sides of yoga. Interestingly, even just practicing the Asanas, opened spiritual doors for many of my students. When we start quieting the mind, concentrating on our physical body and focusing on our breathe, a journey inward occurs. It is only the beginning.

As a teacher, students sense the spiritually in my classes. It is because yoga is a spiritual practice for me. Every day I try to be conscious of my spiritual values. I practice and study  different areas of the eight limbs. They are a great guide for one’s spiritual development. As my work evolves and my studies deepen, I hope to bring more of these teachings to my students.  We can all use positive guides on our journey.

Namaste ~Grace

Be Inspired Fall Retreat Review 2019

It’s hard to plan a retreat, a lot of work goes into it, and there are no guarantees of the outcome. I really wanted our first retreat to be a real retreat. For me, a real retreat includes learning, growth, healing, inspiration and a sense of community. I was pleased that this retreat had everything I had hoped for, and more. I am still on a natural high from the experience. 

I call that being inspired. 

There were people who got to spend time with people they usually see but don’t know, and discovered how wonderful they were. We met new people who were brave enough to join a group they didn’t know and shared their stories with us. Then there were the owners Katie and Declan, who opened their home and made everyone feel welcome. 

The meals were beautifully presented and made with lots of care and love. Beets that were roasted for three hours, carrot-ginger soup and fresh baked apple tart with pumpkin ice cream from the local creamery. There was a vegan banana bread, and curry roasted potatoes, made with spices brought from India. For breakfast there were homemade blueberry scones, veggie omelets and always fresh fruit. The food nurtured our body and soothed our soul.

Our Saturday afternoon trip to West Rattlesnake blew us away. It was an unbelievable fall day-it couldn’t have been any nicer. When we got to the top, we were all speechless. The view of Squam Lake was stunning. We all sat quietly for twenty minutes, in a mindful meditation, just taking it all in. 

The Being True presentation went well. It was a serious topic, however there was a lot of laughter to heal the soul and remind us not to take ourselves so seriously. It was based on my journey, which I have been wanting to share, to help others see life from a different perspective. I was overwhelmed when one of the youngest attendees, a collage student, told me afterwards that it was so inspiring, and she wished a few of her girlfriends had been there to have heard it! It made all the hard work worthwhile.

There were a few bonuses like the fun Conscious Ink tattoos in the journals I gave everyone.  These temporary tattoos with inspirational messages, had everyone talking. The surprise “intention” in our welcome packets was thought provoking, and the beautiful campfire on Saturday night brought closer together.  The owners joined us at the fireside, and we all sat around sharing stories, and listening. Declan said, “ the summers are measured by how many campfires you sit around”. This will be my goal next summer. The night sky had the most stars I have every seen in the dark sky. It was truly magical. 

The silent walk on Sunday morning was spectacular. It seemed like the fog had dropped low, slightly  hovering above the grassy meadows all around us, while the sun shined brightly glistening through the trees. Not a word was spoken, so you could take it all in. It was a “mindful” walk.  

The yoga classes were diverse and beautiful. Katie taught her Ayurveda Dosha Flow class and ended savasna with a beautiful song, that she sang to us, using her harmonium. We experienced a little heaven in this sacred barn studio. We held our Saturday afternoon class outside in front of the barn. It was the perfect day for outdoor yoga and Sunday’s Yoga & Mudras flow, allowing us to bring these ancient hand gestures to our practice with inspirational mantra to deepen our self-awareness and spiritual connection.  

Best of all, were all the hugs I received! Hugs are the best connectors of people. You can feel their energy, their love and their beauty. I simply love hugs more than anything. I received many meaningful hugs that weekend.

Thank you all for your gratitude. All the hard work was worth it!  So much so, that we’re doing it again! If you are interested put it on your calendar.

Our next retreat will be at the same place, Dragonfly Yoga Barn Studio & Retreats, on September 18 to 20, 2020. Full details will be posted in January 2020. Join us! 

My Yoga Journey

Next weekend I will begin the next step in my yoga journey. For several years I have thought about getting my 500-hour teacher training certification. The programs I considered were either too expensive, required lengthy stays or were not well-developed. I had let it go and decided to just take workshops with different instructors that appealed to me. However, my visit to Dragonfly Yoga Barn in NH last May changed that. They were offering a well-developed program, in an intimate setting designed for growing and learning. In addition, the program is created by owner Katie O’ Connell, someone who loves every aspect of her work and lives a yogic lifestyle. I was so inspired, and with the support of my family, I enrolled.
The program is a 300-hour advanced yoga teacher training approved by the National Yoga Alliance. For the next nine month I will be going to NH for a four or three-day weekend which will focus on specific modules, taught by instructors who specialize in those areas. They will also be traveling from far and near to share their knowledge and wisdom. I am beyond excited for this incredible opportunity!
The areas we will be focusing on and studying are Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Yogic Philosophy & Lifestyle, Heart Based Meditation with Paul Dugliss, Thai Massage, and Therapeutic Yoga and Anatomy to name a few.  Naturally, my concern is balancing my currently busy schedule and home life with this new endeavor. Fortunately, my family is supportive, however I’ve had to cut back a few classes from my regular schedule.  It’s for a worthwhile cause.
My passion for yoga is both professional and personal. Personally, yoga has changed my life for the better, therefore it deserves my curiosity and dedication. I have been on a spiritual journey for many years and yoga offers an opportunity to explore its spirituality.  I know this training will move me outside of my comfort zone, and change my inner self in ways I cannot image right now. Professionally my students and private clients will benefit, for they are on this journey with me. I am sure, as I evolve, I will lose students and gain new ones. It is the law of attraction.
I am allowing myself to “trust in the process of life”, and go with the flow. My desire is to learn, practice and grow. Hopefully, to share my wisdom along the way, in order to help others along their journey. I will be blogging and sharing my experience at Dragonfly Barn, so stay tuned in! Namaste <3

My Concern with Shoulderstand

I love the inversion called Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana), plus the benefits of practicing inversions are many. Shoulderstand is thought to promote good blood circulation, calm the nerves by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, decrease fatigue, and improve immune function. It also strengthens the spine and core muscles. However, it also puts a lot of pressure at the base of the neck (cervical spine), especially if performed incorrectly (“no” in picture 1). The body’s weight is pulled down by gravity, to rest on your cervical spine.   

Picture 1

In Shoulderstand it is important the body aligns in a vertical line (“yes” in picture 1). I tell my students to image the entire back of their body up against a wall. The ankles, knees, hips and shoulder line up with one another. Your hands are supporting your back, with fingers facing inwards toward the spine. The shoulders blades are squeezing together and the back of the arms helps create a trapezoid base. The core and leg muscles are all engaged. Energetically your reaching your toes towards the ceiling. 
If you still feel too much compression on the neck, use a folded blanket. A blanket adds space between the neck and the floor (pic 2), releasing pressure. One blanket is usually enough. 

Picture 2: shoulder stand with a blanket

Other great options are Half- shoulderstand (pic 3) and a  Modified-shoulderstand (pic 4), which uses a block. In Half-shoulderstand the torso is at an angle, alleviating pressure from the neck, while still working core muscles and getting the benefits of an inversion.

Pic 3: Half-shoulderstand

Pic 4: Modified shoulderstand with block

In Modified-shoulderstand, start in bridge pose, press the hips up and place the block under the sacrum, then lift the legs straight up. This pose is a cross between Shoulderstand and Legs-up-the-wall. You are still getting the benefits of an inversion. It is gentle and works for most bodies.
Cautions! If you have chronic neck issues, you should not attempt Shoulderstand, instead stick with the modified options. If you have high blood pressure, inversions are not recommended. You should consult your doctor. Always listen to your body, pushing your body beyond its natural limits is likely to cause injury. 

I Can’t Focus.

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine about yoga and how it helped one of my students with her lower back issues. It’s an incredible story and I know she suffers with back pain. I was hoping to inspire her. Half way through our conversation she said, “I can’t focus!…that’s the problem”.

It’s a common problem, especially in this day and age, where we are connected 24-7. It’s no surprise there’s practically a whole generation, with ADD or ADHD. It’s crazy. There are seemingly hundreds of things vying for our attention on a daily basis. One Mindfulness expert said our biggest commodity, in this age, is our attention. I agree.

Just like a yoga practice, focus is something that needs to be practiced. In order to do that, you need to be aware when it’s happening, and then be able to implement techniques that help redirect your mind to the present moment. This is the corner stone of the practice of Mindfulness.

In my yoga classes, I always tell my students “if your mind starts to wonder, redirect your attention back to your breath”.  This is one technique that helps bring your attention back to the present moment. Not only does it redirect your mind, it also brings in large amounts of oxygen into your body, which helps calm your nervous system. It’s a win-win technique and one that is easy to use no matter where you are or what you are doing.

So next time your mind starts to wondering, first, take a moment to notice it’s happening, then take 5 to 10 deep breath focusing on pulling the breath into the lungs, filling the lungs up like a balloon in your chest cavity. Then feel the lungs deflate until there isn’t another breath left, like a deflate balloon. Stay with the breath, no matter how silly you think the exercise is at first.  After a while, with practice, you will start to feel calmer and more centered, which means your focus is strengthening.

There are no quick fixes for anything that truly matters in life, however if you make the decision that you matter, then it’s worth the effort!  Take time to practice focus, it will change your life…for the better.