Now that Juneteenth (June 19th) is a US Federal holiday we can use this opportunity to not only learn about a part of US history that was not always taught but to apply the "liberation theology" of traditional Yoga practices as a metaphor to describe that history in another way.
If you possess a passing familiarity with Patanjali's Yoga Sutras you may remember the "8 Limbs" (Ashta Anga, or Ashtanga) of this philosophy (not the only method of yogic practice): Yama and Niyama, the first two limbs, could be considered the "Ten Commandments" of yoga as they describe the the moral, ethical, and basic daily practices that make one suitable for learning the other 6. Hatha Yoga, which may be rooted in Shaivite or other spiritual/religious practices, takes these Yamas and Niyamas to be a given and may name them in different orders of prominence - for example, Patanjali lists Ahimsa (non harming) as first of the Yamas while Gandhi considered Satya (Truth) to be the first and most important. Shantideva, a Buddhist saint, once said that if the Truth would cause harm one should keep the mouth shut. Ašteya (not stealing) can be applied not only to possessions but to the emotional peace of those with whom we interact which should negate any claims of one group of people to the right to enslave another group of people. While Brahmacharya is often (incorrectly) translated as "celibacy" its root language refers to "walking with God" and is also one of the stages of the human lifecycle, brahmacharya referring to the stage of a young one's life where they are meant to concentrate on learning so they can become a fit husband or wife as well as a productive citizen in their community. Aparigraha (non grasping, non seizing) refers to the deliberate cultivation of non attachment to things, especially things which are not so important in the grand scheme of things.
The limbs that follow the ethical and moral precepts then could be construed to follow in a natural progression: the physical practice (Asana) balances the physical body, the breath practices (Pranayama) begin to balance the energy in the body (and there is now scientific evidence of how changing our breathing patterns can have an effect on our health from lowering blood pressure to helping us manage anxiety. Learning how to turn our attention away from distractions (Pratyahara) helps prepare us concentrating fully on an object or topic (Dharana) which prepares us to meditate (Dhyana) which then leads to liberation (Samadhi).
One fuller examination of the Yamas and Niyamas appears on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niyama
How can one achieve liberation when the knowledge of one's enslavement is not evident? The practice of traditional Yoga is but one path towards eventual liberation but while some are attracted to the spiritual side of the original practice others prefer to use the physical practice to free their bodies from the pain caused by structural issues or previous injuries that may prevent a full appreciation of life. Some fear anything labeled "yoga" because they think they are too old or too stiff, or that it's a religion that would interfere with their spiritual advancement within their preferred tradition. How does this relate to our new national holiday?
June 19th was the day that enslaved Africans learned that President Lincoln had made them free; their enslavers may have known much sooner about the Emancipation Declaration and withheld that knowledge knowing the truth would eventually become known and fearing what would happen. The enslaver and the enslaved were both enslaved, one by fear of those they abused and by their own attachment to the power they held and the other by the ignorance that the political winds were shifting in their favor as the North fought the South's treasonous secession. Many whites are STILL enslaved to their presumed superiority over those with darker skin and willfully remain ignorant of the benefits of freeing themselves of their heavy chains. Black people are weary of the horrendous treatment still being inflicted on their communities by police (our style of policing has disturbing roots in the old "slave patrols" of the Deep South" and are no longer remaining silent even in the most dangerous days of the COVID pandemic, marching daily with their allies after the open murder of George Floyd which was recorded by a courageous young woman and widely disseminated. While the officer responsible was convicted and will spend a long time in jail this was not the end of abusive police treatment; Black people still are enslaved to the fear that they might be next just for having a broken tail light or for having dated someone who had already been arrested for a crime.
This Juneteenth will first be about teaching and learning about what this day symbolizes to those celebrating the declaration of an end to chattel slavery. From this day on, let it be about continuing to liberate all of us from beliefs that keep us from eliminating inequities in our government, policing, economics, education, and every other institution - things that perpetuate White privilege and supremacy (this doesn't mean that all White people are rich or privileged or that all Black people are poor and disadvantaged). For the United States of America to live up to the promises made in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence every citizen must remember what comedian Stephen Colbert once said: that we have two ears and only one mouth; let's act accordingly.
To amplify a Black voice crying in the wilderness that passes for discourse in our diverse and divided nation, read this excellent piece by L. A. Justice in Medium, here is a small observation:
"Legalizing Juneteenth as a national holiday does nothing to bring about any type of racial justice to the Black community, or racial harmony to this country, in the same way that the signing of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day did not."
Back when I taught Yoga to university students I would use examples of ordinary everyday topics to illustrate how the Yamas and Niyamas (the first two limbs of Patanjali's 8 Limbed Path). With this post I hope to use the analogy of cultivating balance in our bodies to the topic of striving for a balanced and equitable democratic society.
There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding White Privilege, systemic racism, and other barriers to full participation in what is purported to be a democratic republic. The ideals of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have not always been upheld for all citizens (to put it mildly) and in many cases ignored or subverted in ways that White people may not notice (as we have often grown up in rather insulated fashion) but which are all too apparent to Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous people.
If we think of our nation as a body, we must consider the health of the entire body as being supported by the health and maintenance of each individual component of it. If we only care about our outward appearance but neglect our digestive health we may find that over time our outward appearance begins to show that neglect. For example, if we only eat toxic food our tissues will eventually break down as they don't have the nutrients needed for repair. Once we begin eating healthful nutritious foods again we can notice ourselves looking and feeling better.
If we consider our nation as being represented by our legs, with one leg being much stronger than the other we may not notice for a while how we favor using that dominant leg until we injure the weaker leg or the muscular imbalance causes an injury elsewhere in the body because of the unequal stresses placed on it. Only by strengthening the weaker leg until both legs are equally strong can we reduce the potential for an injury due to an imbalance between the two.
A couple hundred years ago the leader of the Bahai'i Faith used the analogy of the wings of a bird, one wing representing men and the other women: "The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment.".
Extending this analogy to encompass the human body as a metaphor for the various communities in the US, only when we strive to support the health of all of our various people (Black, White, Indigenous, poor, middle class etc) can we as a nation become a truly strong and healthy democratic republic that truly lives up to its promise.
The unrest and division our nation is experiencing is our "body" experiencing symptoms of an illness or disease that must be addressed if we want to survive as a nation. First we must attune ourselves to the messages our struggling body is sending us, then we must strive to act on those messages in order to create and maintain a balance of power and avoid allowing one group to abuse their imbalance of power.
Hope your week is going well! I wanted to let you know about the work my team is currently doing to help support those who suddenly find themselves with a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Based on conversations we have had with families across the US, it can be an overwhelming and heartbreaking time; and there are many questions especially since each situation is unique. We started to put together a series of guides meant to cover the common initial questions people had.
You can see them here:
Community Outreach and Senior Advocate
Caring.com is a leading senior care resource for family caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses and other loved ones. We have been featured by AARP, The Administration for Community Living, The National Legal Resource Center, and Forbes, as well as referenced by many governmental agencies and organizations across the Internet.
The pandemic has led to many people spending the majority of their time at home. Sequestered away from gyms or fitness classes, many of us have fallen out of our exercise routines. However, it’s arguably the worst possible time to stop exercising. The physical and emotional benefits of regular movement are more important now than ever before.
Here are some ways you can get yourself moving again.
Remind Yourself Why
Motivation begins with evidence.
● Exercise improves almost every aspect of health.
● You improve coordination and reduce injury risk when you workout regularly.
● Symptoms of depression and anxiety go down with exercise as well.
● Exercise is the best way to develop body awareness and physical mindfulness.
Build Movement Into Your Day
Your schedule has room for exercise, you just have to discover where.
● Working out first thing in the morning works well for early risers and those who’d like to get it out of the way.
● Your lunch break can also be a good opportunity to get in some exercise.
● If you work out at night, be mindful of how close you are to bedtime.
Get Your Family Involved
Exercise is always better together.
● Online exercise videos can be a fun way to work out with kids.
● You can also enjoy walks together — encourage them to identify plants or animals they encounter along the way.
● Hiking is a great way to get fresh air and sunshine while exploring your local parks.
● Set up a home gym so your family has a dedicated exercise space.
Keep these resources on hand as you create your pandemic exercise routine. This is no time to deprive yourself of the movement you need to thrive. Find ways to work out and home, and your body will thank you.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
I finally had the opportunity to take an online Zoom class with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who is a pioneer in Body Mind Centering, a mindful philosophy of movement that is not Yoga and yet IS Yoga to its core. Less a type of exercise and more a means of cultivating awareness of the body through movement, Bonnie weaves together such topics and shifting away from biomechanical reductionism (concentric vs eccentric or flexion vs extension etc) towards moving from a "different place" (expansion vs contraction, responses vs answers to questions).
She spoke of "cellular consciousness", of using movement and awareness to awaken our cells to themselves. Each individual cell has certain functions that every other cell has, and yet may be differentiated between groups of cells performing certain actions while others are dedicated to other actions, such as digestive cells breaking down ingested nutrients while other cells differentiate between the nutrients, recombine them into what is needed, and then sending those nutrients where they need to go. Any part of this system can break down, and when one organization of cells is not working coherently it affects how other organizations of cells work.
Think of our bodies not as one physical organism but a collection of them, our cells are collections of atoms and those atoms are collections of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Each one of us as individuals are then organized into collections of family units, communities of family units, and so on until we realize that collectively, nations are collections which form the larger ecosystem of the Earth, the solar system is a collection of planets, and so on as this universe is a collection of galaxies.
We all notice when we don't feel well that often we have digestive disturbances; we get constipated or have diarrhea or have issues digesting certain foods. We may notice when one member of our family isn't feeling "right" and they act differently than they used too. We feel unsafe when some members of our community act in ways that are not beneficial to the community, when "rogue" nations take actions that make the world less safe.
We as individuals can't always "fix" things to our own liking but we as individuals CAN work on how we react to things we can't change and take action on those things we CAN change. Perhaps we make a vow (vrata in Sanskrit) to be kind to strangers (hold the door for the person behind us), pick up the trash without being asked, ask someone who looks like they are having difficulty what can we do to help. These may seem like such simple inconsequential things but to the "other" they may help them to do the same for someone else.
Not everyone is able or inclined to take big actions in a public arena but others do feel called to publicly demonstrate for the things they believe should happen. Perhaps one day we won't need to resist policies that systemically oppress others because we will recognize and remain conscious of how the harmonious relationships we cultivate with each other is a reflection of the harmonious relationships we are nurturing within our own bodies.
Spring is a time of renewal, when the chill of winter yields to warmth and the slumbering beings begin to stir. We feel the urge to emerge, spend time in sunlight with the sprouting greenery, and perhaps even desire more freshness in our food choices.
Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves under Shelter in Place orders due to the novel Coronavirus, which forces us to remain sequestered against our instincts. But, as compassionate people, we know that in order to keep the vulnerable safer, we need to stay inside more than we wish.
Let’s learn some powerful Yoga practices we can do inside our homes to help us face the stresses of remaining inwardly focused while preparing to return to the outside world.
Your diet at this time should favor more seasonal cooked greens as you transition from heavier winter foods to lighter spring summer foods. Since these are stressful times adding a high anti-oxidant Ayurvedic jam called chyavanprash can help support your immune system in a tasty way without having to take a boatload of pills or capsules. Just take a teaspoon of the jam with your morning meal or even as a dessert! When you click through to the full article you will be on a local Ayurvedic company's website where you can learn more about it.
If you are interested in purchasing PIOR Living Chyawanprash, please use my affiliate link: https://piorliving.com/?ref=83 . You can also use my discount code of sandranicht for 25% off. Purchasing this way helps keep me fed and housed during these challenging times (and helps me buy my own jar of chyavanprash!).
Well, I can't do yoga either if the definition is what might be seen on Instagram - young bendy women or super strong athletic men doing "impossible" feats of physical prowess that test the limits of strength and flexibility. Such things may only be possible for those who begin at a very young age, have the "right" genetics and the discipline to practice intensively over a long period of time.
But if we redefine what yoga is, away from a purely physical expression of youthful exuberance and towards a more intuitive and interoceptive expression of what an older time worn body needs, we can take exercises and movement sequences from any "tradition" - add breath awareness, link breath to movement and body positioning - and from this place make everyday activities into "yoga": a union of body, breath, awareness, and intention that can lead us towards healing.
the Gentle Somatic Movement class I am currently teaching is a way to learn how to link awareness of your breath with awareness of how your body moves; the gradual addition of simple to more complex movements and patterns while imagining that the breath is the mover and not the muscles helps all of us practice moving in a more efficient manner. That stiffness we may feel when we first get up in the morning, especially if we are dealing with injuries, recovering from illnesses that restricted our movements, or the arthritis many of us associate with advancing age causes us to work too hard. How long have we been resisting our own efforts, can we learn how to get out of our own way?
While gentle movement is great for recovery as well as stress management, we also need to keep our muscles strong, our joints stable, and our entire body supple. Learning to apply the principles of linking breath to movement while reducing excessive effort is continued in more vigorous formats: weight bearing activities are introduced, your sense of balance might be challenged but still we want to cultivate a sense of ease in our movements, find ways to get from Point A to Point B and beyond with less effort so we can do more and not feel overtired once we get there. This new moderate class may include a few more familiar echoes of the traditional asanas commonly used in westernized yoga classes.
Both class formats introduce concepts, movements, and sequences with guidance and cuing but allow and encourage exploration and a sense of play - letting go of the rigidity of the more usual led class format we can develop a sense of self empowerment, a direct experience of our inner wisdom which the conscious mind obscures when it wanders. Your body has a voice that tells you when to "back off" or stop and observe if we can soften our ears to hear it...
Be sure to fill out the survey on the hOMe page about the proposed new moderate class at Revolve!
As this stressful year comes to a close you may wish to find the time to nurture and nourish your body, mind and soul. Learning to move gently and with less effort, relishing the support of bolsters and blankets while lying down, and being guided in the powerful meditation practice of Yoga Nidra, listening to and feeling the vibrations of Tibetan Singing Bowls is one beautiful way of helping your body recover from the rush of the holidays while settling the mind and calming the emotions.
This one-of-a-kind experience will be held at Keep It Simple Yoga on East Drive in Arbutus MD and will be facilitated by Sandra Nicht, who has been teaching and practicing for three decades. Sign up on the studio website,: https://www.simpleyoga.net/events
Be sure to note the other workshops as you scroll for ours! And remember that Sandra teaches a yoga class there on Thursdays at 6 pm, currently an all levels slow flow but will be a somatic/gentle/restorative flow beginning next year (great for beginners as well as for experienced yogis!).
We look forward to making your New Year a happy one!
On the one hand, yoga for women need not be too different from yoga for anyone else - we all need to build muscular strength and endurance, many of us can use better joint range of motion as well as lung capacity, and we DEFINITELY all need to learn how to manage stress better.
On the other hand, yoga for women should be designed to help women cultivate the RIGHT kind of energy without depleting energy stores overall. Too many women strive for super strength or Cirque du Soleil flexibility without taking into consideration whether those things are truly needed for a better life.
My class at the Lynne Brick's Women's Fitness Club in Owings Mills is designed to help those brand new to yoga practice learn how to manage their energy (and those with experience can also learn how to safely "power up" without overdoing). It IS possible to cultivate energy so you have more at the end of class than you did at the beginning!
If you would like to try a class contact the club at (410) 363-4600.
UPDATE: unfortunately this club is now closed. Please come to my Restorative Yoga class at the Padonia Brick Bodies club on Sundays 3 - 4:15 pm!
Yoga Nidra means “yogic sleep” in the Sanskrit language, the original language of yoga. This isn’t the same thing as “shavasana”, the resting pose done at the end of most yoga classes but Yoga Nidra is often practiced in that pose. Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation practice often attributed to the Tantric tradition in India (Tantra being a philosophical tradition that emerged from the older Samkhya system that counts Ayurveda and Yoga as branches) and developed in modern times by the Bihar School of Yoga in India and refined and secularized by Richard Miller, PhD as the iRest (Integrative Restoration) method that has been scientifically studied for its effects on the recovering military population at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Bethesda MD.
Participants may practice lying down (with props for comfort if necessary and available) or sitting and are given time to settle into position and steady the breath before being directed to focus the mind on various things such as a specific part of the body (left big toe, right thumb, etc) or on principles of opposites (happiness, sadness; hot, cold). Some methods ask that focus be switched rapidly from one thing to the next, others allow for time to notice sensations as they arise while directly the observer to remain the observer and avoid attaching the mind to the sensations. The iRest method in particular delineates ten stages of practice from setting an intention to creating an inner resource or safe space within to draw on when or if difficulty arises with a particular direction, all the way to learning how to see and accept life as it is without judgement, a very powerful tool for reducing the effects of stressful situations.
You are not supposed to fall asleep during Yoga Nidra but sometimes it happens due to excessive fatigue; not to worry, though the conscious mind may clock out for a time the subconscious mind still receives the vibrations of the directions spoken and the body still gains the benefits! This make it a wonderful addition to any exercise program; rest days are needed to recover from work or intense exercise routines and adding a directed healing meditation to a rest day supercharges the body’s ability to recover and rejuvenate itself. Even if you feel no bodily fatigue or stress Yoga Nidra is beneficial for sharpening the mind’s ability to focus and concentrate. There are no complicated skills to master, no strength or flexibility required to participate, ANYONE in ANY CONDITION fit or frail can benefit from Yoga Nidra!
To sign up for the Yoga Nidra Reiki workshop with me and Phila Hoopes on Saturday May 5 from 4 - 6 pm (save by signing up ahead of time!) please visit