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
By Phila Hoopes
The word Reiki combines two Japanese words - Rei, meaning "God's Wisdom or the Higher Power" and Ki, meaning "life force energy". So you can define Reiki as "spiritually guided life force energy."
Reiki is a Japanese healing technique by which this energy is transmitted through the laying on of hands to support relaxation and relief from stress, pain, and illness in the mind, body or spirit, and promote healing.
So, you may say, we’re looking at some serious “woo” here, right? Actually – while practitioners may take a wide range of approaches, some more “woo-woo” than others, traditional Usui Reiki is gaining genuine recognition in the world of conventional medicine.
While mainstream science hasn’t yet identified how it works, the National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) classifies Reiki as a form of biofield therapy. Researcher Pamela Miles teaches that Reiki affects the vibrational body, gently supporting its natural self-healing mechanisms by fostering balance.*
In the 95 years since Mikao Usui established the practice of Reiki, practitioners have found that it may be used effectively for anyone, human or nonhuman, in person or remotely. It supports all other medical or alternative approaches to relieve symptoms and side effects and promote recovery. Because it involves no physical manipulation, nor the ingestion or application of any drugs, creams, or oils, it has no known contraindications. It’s impossible to be allergic to Reiki!
For all of these reasons, Reiki is used as a supplement to conventional and integrative care in 76 hospitals in the U.S. and abroad, treating a wide range of conditions including:
So, you may ask – what does Reiki feel like? Well, you remain clothed, and you may be sitting or lying down. The practitioner may gently place hands on your body – or may hold hands a few inches above your body – in a series of locations roughly corresponding to the chakras. You may feel warmth, heat, or tingling in those areas, and most people report feeling a sense of relaxation that deepens as the session progresses. A session may be as short as 15 minutes or as long as 90.
Afterward, you may feel sleepy – or energized! It’s common to experience shifts, whether physical, psychological or emotional: if you have been blocked in some way (whether it’s, say, constipation, a charley-horse, or blocked emotions), you may experience a release.
To integrate your Reiki experience and energy release, be gentle to yourself! Drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep (and pay attention to your dreams!). Observe your experience with love and acceptance, remembering that this is energy moving. If you experience a major psychological or emotional release, stay in contact with your therapist to process the thoughts and feelings. And if you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to seeing you!
* Pamela Miles, Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide (New York: Penguin, 2008), 8
There seems to be a lot of controversy about NFL players "taking a knee" during the playing of the National Anthem. As an act of peaceful protest against the unequal treatment of black men (who are shot, injured, arrested, incarcerated) in disproportionately large numbers to the white population, kneeling instead of standing is a powerful visual meant to be disruptive but ultimately meant to cause some soul searching in the audience. But kneeling has also been used as an act of bowing to authority, of showing contrition, of demonstrating a prayerful attitude, and as part of a marriage proposal. Kneeling was never considered an act of disrespect until now.
There is a powerful pull for individuals to conform to actions performed in a group; standing to recite a loyalty oath with hand over heart, as in the Pledge of Allegiance, allows individuals to blend in, to demonstrate that they are part of the group. When one person declines to remain part of the group they are often ostracized, as Colin Kaepernick has been. If others in the group join the one person and their numbers grow, those who sympathize with the original protest but who were previously afraid to fully express themselves can feel more courageous in their new group. This can result in dramatic positive change, as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired massive peaceful protests against segregation (and violent backlashes by authorities), or in equally dramatic displays of assumed racial supremacy as with the recent marches by neo Nazis and white supremacists (which usually resulted in violent clashes with anti fascists).
As practitioners of yoga we are part of a group striving to create peace and balance within ourselves, hoping that this will spread to the larger community. Some work very hard to project "love and light" at all times while denying the shadow within themselves (unless you are a saint and have no shadows). Others work very hard to deny the light and embrace the shadows of race hatred, extreme nationalism and xenophobia. Most are somewhere in between, trying to make the world a better place but still on occasion lapsing into reflexive expressions of patriotism, or concerns about violence in "those neighborhoods". It has been said that when we are truly peaceful within our own hearts that expressions of violence will cease.
We can strive all we want to practice the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali but perfect Ahimsa (non violence, the first Yama) is impossible. We must kill to nourish ourselves (plants are sentient beings too), we commit violence in some form (mild or otherwise) every day in speech, thought, and sometimes in deed. The deeper work lies in cultivating equanimity as in the Bhagavad Gita - gaining the strength to do the things we must do while remaining unattached to the results. This should not result in doing nothing in the face of injustice; even small gestures can begin the transformation in someone else.
As we are seeing in the #TakeTheKnee movement.
Can you feel if you tend to put more of your weight onto one foot or to one side of the foot? Can you feel the effects of your habitual standing posture on your back? Do you know how to adjust your foot positioning while walking or running, can you feel the effects of that positioning on your knees? Have you ever worked out your feet the way you work out your arms, chest, shoulders, back, abs or legs?
The next time you are outdoors in a natural (and safe) setting, take off your shoes and allow your feet to luxuriate in the feel of the grass. Wiggle your toes, walk slowly across the ground while paying attention to how you can roll from heel to toe in slow motion; feel for all the bumps and irregularities in your path. Can you also notice how this slow mindful walking meditation feels in your legs, torso, and mind?
It's okay if you don't notice anything, keep practicing anyway and see if anything shifts in your awareness. Contrast how you feel when walking outdoors with how you feel barefoot in your home, the difference between carpet, rug, wood floor, stone.
Now see if you can coordinate your breathing with each step; choose a rhythm you can maintain and make your inhale and exhale relatively even in length (or make the exhale a little longer) and as smooth as possible (try not to suck the air in quickly or forcefully push the air out). For example, if you choose to try a 4 second inhale and 4 second exhale, take the entire 4 seconds to breathe in, and the entire 4 seconds to breathe out (and remember you can breathe out for longer). Once you have your breath rhythm it's time to try your mindful walking with the breath.
Can you take the entire 4 seconds it takes to breathe in to take one step? Can you do the same with your exhale? Can you sustain this practice for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or longer? Or do you have the time to forget about time and just practice until it feels like the right time to end it?
When finished, sit quietly for a few minutes and notice the effects whatever they might be. Smile to yourself, fold your hands in prayer and bow your head, or find another formal way of ending your practice if you wish. See if you can maintain the feeling of the practice while moving on the next part of your day.
In India, there are Doctors of Ayurveda who see patients in Ayurvedic Hospitals and local clinics. Vaidyas, the Ayurvedic Doctors, who move to the US are not allowed to practice to their full capacity here unless they are also MDs but many have spoken of the apparent miracles they saw in their practices in India.
Here in the US, many people come to Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine after they have exhausted all the treatments that westernized "conventional" medicine has to offer with little or no relief. At this point where a serious disease has already manifested even Ayurveda may not cure the disease but only help one manage it. According to Ayurveda, there are six stages of the disease formation process and disease can be prevented or cured if changes are made in diet and lifestyle in the first four stages. By attacking the root of the potential disease one can prevent the disease.
In cases where the disease is rooted in exposure to toxins one must also either remove the toxin from the area of exposure or remove oneself from the area of exposure before then taking the diet and lifestyle steps to help clear the toxin from the tissues (this might require a specialized process called "Panchakarma", a protocol used for thousands of years to help detoxify the body). The exposed person must then remain vigilant and continue to support the body's health and learn to understand how small seemingly trivial symptoms such as intestinal gas formation, acid reflux, headaches, or fatigue could point to the accumulation of the "Doshas" (the arrangements of the Five Elements that make up the body's structure and govern its functions), the aggravation of the "Doshas" in their normal sites of accumulation, the overflow of the "Doshas" into neighboring sites, and deposition of the "Doshas" into sites of weakness that then will become the first manifestations of the disease.
Once the initial symptoms of the emerging disease become apparent, westernized "conventional" medicine can begin to treat but some diseases are easily cured while others are not. At this stage and beyond Ayurveda and TCM can still provide supportive care, improving and maintaining the strength of the patient while s/he is undergoing standardized treatments.
Below is a link to a brief article about the possibilities of using Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine to support patients with mesothelioma, a disease resulting from exposure to asbestos. If you know someone with this disease or simply wish to learn as much as you can feel free to explore the rest of the site for information about symptoms, standard treatments, the different ways the disease can manifest, as well as resources for veterans and others.
What is freedom?
Is it the "freedom" to do whatever we want whenever we want? To eat things we like, wear things that make us look a certain way, to say whatever is on our minds?
Is it the freedom to willingly suffer the consequences of our own bad decisions or do we really think freedom is avoiding consequences at all?
What if true freedom requires a bit of discipline and a lot of education and practice?
What if freedom evolves out of deep self-knowledge and long experience of what works for us and what doesn't work as well?
Then we can be free of serious disease even in the face of discomforts because our healthier dietary choices have improved our immunity. We can be free of suffering in the face of pain and loss because we have done the hard work of cultivating emotional resilience. We can be free of dependence on pharmaceuticals and surgeries to repair physical damage to our bodies because of our ability to observe how our exercise habits not only build strength and endurance but balance.
None of us are immune to aging, decline, or death but we can keep working to live the best lives possible. It's not the years in our lives but the life in our years that counts.
Have a wonderful day, and may the Fourth be with you!
I had spend a wonderful weekend with my colleagues, mentors, and MUIH cohort at the Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research, emerging to find myself immersed into a local yoga festival right outside my hotel. The weather was perfect, I felt calm and focused, ready to rededicate myself to helping my clients feel the same energy I cultivate every time I set my feet firmly into my personal practice.
The first thing I heard when I turned on my car radio was the sad news about the Orlando shooting. One more deranged, mentally ill, fearful, hateful man somehow able to buy weapons and slaughter dozens of people just wanting to have a fun night on the town with friends. We can agonize (and have) for years over how often this happens in our "civilized" nation, about how to keep guns away from those who should not have them, hear endless commentary attempting to make sense of the killer's state of mind and whether those who knew him (and it always seems to be a "him") noticed anything alarming without ever wondering what we can do for ourselves; how can WE change ourselves to help build a better, saner, safer community?
I've been reading (finally) the groundbreaking book "The Body Keeps the Score" by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk that lays out in clear language how trauma affects the brain, how the conscious mind may not be able to make sense of traumatic events while the tissues of the body record the memories in every cell. Those at the Pulse may not remember what happened but their bodies will. It is my sincere wish that they all find some way to process this horrific event - talk therapy, somatic therapy, gentle massage, yoga - so they can find some measure of peace.
But what about the shooter? He died at the scene and so cannot tell us why he felt such hatred for gay people. Was he a victim of early trauma that perhaps he did not consciously remember? Was he gay and unable to accept himself as he was? As details emerge about his often violent relationships with others we could perhaps speculate that in the past he must have been abused in some fashion by someone he trusted.
This book also notes that mindful movement like yoga and tai chi can help a traumatized person process their experiences without having to relive them, that their brains gradually rewire themselves away from the fight/flight/freeze center towards the rest/digest/restore areas. While adults need to make the effort to heal it is increasingly possible to offer generalized yoga classes to children in their schools, to at-risk children in specially designed classes with trained teachers, and specialty classes in trauma-sensitive yoga for those who know they need help but haven't had much success with medication or other therapies.
We must do all we can to prevent acts of violence by helping create conditions that nurture and provide safety. The first step is cultivating peace in ourselves.