Thursday, December 19, 2013

Winter Yin Time

I've been feeling a bit out of sorts (as I know many of us do in the winter and around the holidays). All I want to do is snuggle up in my blankets and read, read, read. Or maybe watch some movies. But for some reason, I feel like this "introversion thing" is somehow wrong so I schedule up my time by signing up for classes, teaching more, and having or going to parties. None of these things are wrong, but I am definitely forcing myself to get out of the house.

Thankfully, I came across this article in Yoga Journal which makes me feel a little better about my hibernation tendencies. Maybe it is ok to slow down after all. Enjoy.

Winter Wonder Yin

An acupuncturist explains why the final month of the year, an inherently yin season, is not the time to indulge in yang activities like shopping, partying, and staying up late. ~ By Laurel Kallenbach

The final few months of the year often find us in a frantic state of shopping, decorating, traveling, and other high-energy activity. Yet instead of having fun, we often end up feeling ill, anxious, or depressed. The reason, according to Taoist philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine, is that the action-packed schedules we keep at this time of year fall out of sync with the earth's natural cycles.

"We naturally have less energy to burn during the winter," explains acupuncturist Carolyn Cohen, L.Ac., who teaches at Yo San University, a college of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Santa Monica, California. "So when we engage in behaviors more appropriate for summer—staying up late and dashing around town—it's no wonder that the forced cheer of the holiday season can wear a bit thin."

Taoist philosophy conceptualizes universal balance in terms of yin and yang, complementary forces that govern the universe. Yin characteristics are cool, wet, slow, feminine, and quiet, whereas yang is the opposite: warm, dry, fast, masculine, extroverted. Winter, the yin season, is a time for storing and conserving energy in the way a bear retains fat by hibernating, or a farmer stores food for the cold months ahead.

In agrarian cultures, people spend the shortest, darkest days indoors by the fire, eating warm, slow-cooked, nourishing food and sharing stories with their families. The incongruity between winter's restful, introspective, yin nature and the frenetic way many Americans spend their holidays can contribute to seasonal affective disorder, depression, exhaustion, and other manifestations of what is known in TCM as shen (or spiritual) disharmony.

"Winter solstice, just three or four days before Christmas, is the darkest, most yin day of the year," says Cohen. "Instead of turning inward, we're celebrating with excess and yang activity. This artificiality creates stress, and many people dread the season as a result."

To stay balanced during winter, suggests Cohen, conserve your yang energy. Restorative yoga, tai chi, qigong, and walking are best suited for yin season, as they safeguard your energy reserves. "Think of these practices as an investment of your 'energy paycheck,'" says Cohen. "Don't use up what little winter energy you have with overactivity and added stress."

Eating cooked, spicy yang foods provides another good way to replenish energy. Prepare yang-strengthening soups, slow-simmered stews, beans, roasted root vegetables, and warm drinks. Add yang spices such as garlic, ginger, black pepper, cloves, and basil to increase the warming effect. Minimize your intake of yin foods such as raw vegetables, salad greens, and cold drinks.

If you find quiet, more modest ways to celebrate the holidays, you'll stay in tune with the season and feel less need to release tension by overeating or rampant spending. You'll also have more time and energy to connect with close friends and family. If you're out of sync with the mall mobs with maxed-out credit cards, chances are you'll find yourself in step with the quiet, nurturing yin nature of winter.

Article found here:

And to help us on our inward journey, a link to free guided meditations with Tara Brach:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yoga Nidra for Anxiety

I came across this Yoga Journal article about Yoga Nidra and thought it would be worth sharing. Enjoy!

Reflections of Peace

A proven antidote to anxiety and restlessness, the ancient practice of yoga nidra has been adopted by veterans, recovering addicts, and run-of-the-mill stressed out people.

By Katherine Griffin, yoga nidra meditation by Richard Miller.

One cool evening in a high-ceilinged dining hall in Novato, California, an unlikely yoga class is getting under way. Fourteen men wearing blue jeans, work boots or running shoes roll out yoga mats and get settled on sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows.

The instructor, Kelly Boys, smiles as she surveys her students, residents at Henry Ohlhoff North, a substance abuse recovery center. She asks if anyone wants to discuss their experiences in the previous week's session. A trim 52-year-old named Charles volunteers that he struggles with feelings of loneliness.

"How does your body feel when it hits you?" Boys asks. "Tense," Charles says. "And where do you feel the tension?" she asks. "In my shoulders," he says.

"Just ask it, 'What do you need? What do you want?'" Boys says. "We're just bringing curiosity to it. When you really meet it, it does drop away." Charles nods, satisfied for now.

As the men settle into relaxed positions, Boys begins to talk them through a detailed tour of their own bodies on this day and at this moment—the first step in the practice of yoga nidra. Gradually the room quiets, until the only sounds are the hum of the ventilation system and Boys' voice: "Can you feel the inside of your mouth? Now bring your attention to your left ear. Feel the inside of your left ear. Feel your right ear. Can you feel both ears simultaneously?" Around the room, faces relax, jaws soften, and soon snores start to rumble as the men drop deeper into relaxation.
Profound Rest
Yoga nidra is an ancient but little-known yogic practice that's becoming increasingly popular as both a form of meditation and a mind-body therapy. It is a systematic form of guided relaxation that typically is done for 35 to 40 minutes at a time.

Practitioners say that it often brings immediate physical benefits, such as reduced stress and better sleep, and that it has the potential to heal psychological wounds. As a meditation practice, it can engender a profound sense of joy and well-being.

"In yoga nidra, we restore our body, senses, and mind to their natural function and awaken a seventh sense that allows us to feel no separation, that only sees wholeness, tranquility, and well-being," says Richard Miller, a San Francisco Bay Area yoga teacher and clinical psychologist who is at the forefront of the movement to teach yoga nidra and to bring it to a wider audience.

While many prominent teachers offer classes, CDs, and books on yoga nidra, Miller is responsible for bringing the practice to a remarkable variety of nontraditional settings. He's helped introduce it on military bases and in veterans' clinics, homeless shelters, Montessori schools, Head Start programs, hospitals, hospices, chemical dependency centers, and jails. What's more, thanks to Miller, it's beginning to get serious scientific attention. Researchers are examining the practice's potential to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; addicts struggling to get clean; people with depression, cancer, and MS; health care workers; and married couples coping with stress and insomnia.

More than 40 years ago, in 1970, Miller attended his first yoga class at the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco. "At the end of that class, they taught a modified yoga nidra—deep Savasana," he says. "I had the most profound experience; there was this sense of my inter-relatedness with the entire universe. And a vow arose in me to really investigate this practice."

Over years of studying and teaching yoga nidra, Miller has developed his own approach, finding ways to make the practice accessible to a broad range of people, even those with little or no education in yoga. In 2005, he published a book, Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing, and he's released several audio guides as well. He currently leads the nonprofit Integrative Restoration Institute, an organization dedicated to the research, teaching, and practice of yoga nidra and yoga philosophy.

"Most people are trying to change themselves," Miller says. "Yoga nidra asks them to welcome themselves. That moment of true welcoming is where the profound transformation takes place."
Simple Steps
It's a deceptively simple practice. Because yoga nidra is most often taught lying down—initially guided by a teacher—it's appealing to people who might feel intimidated by yoga postures or traditional seated meditation. A short version of yoga nidra can be introduced and practiced in less than 10 minutes. Yet its various elements, taken together and practiced regularly, make up a sophisticated set of mind-body tools that can help practitioners navigate some of life's harshest moments. Yoga nidra can also be practiced as an accessible form of meditation for those seeking everyday well-being.

In a typical yoga nidra session, a teacher guides practitioners through several stages. You start by developing an intention for your life and for the practice. Then you learn to focus your awareness on your breath, bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Throughout, you are encouraged to tap into an underlying sense of peace that is always present and to cultivate "witness consciousness," observing and welcoming whatever is present without getting caught up in it.

"Yoga nidra allows us to reach the most profound level of relaxation possible," says Rod Stryker, the founder of Para-Yoga, who has been teaching yoga nidra since the mid-1990s and who writes about it in his book, The Four Desires. "It opens a doorway to a place where we can see ourselves and our lives in the most positive light."

Unlike other forms of meditation, in which you focus on a mantra or on your breath, yoga nidra asks you simply to let go. "The practice forces us to engage the muscle of surrender," Stryker says.
Relief for the Restless
The path to bringing yoga nidra to the attention of a wider audience led, oddly enough, through the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a military treatment facility based, at the time, in Washington, DC. In 2004, Christine Goertz, an academic researcher at the Samueli Institute, a nonprofit research institute, teamed up with Robin Carnes, a yoga teacher who had taught yoga nidra as part of a cardiac care program at Walter Reed. Carnes had learned yoga nidra from Stryker and from Miller's book.

She and Goertz used Miller's approach as the basis for a pilot study investigating whether the practice could help soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The results of that initial small study, conducted with active-duty service members, suggested that yoga nidra may be helpful for managing PTSD in veterans. (Along the way, someone at Walter Reed suggested renaming the practice to something more accessible, and Miller coined "iRest," short for "Integrative Restoration.") As a follow-up, a randomized, controlled trial involving 150 participants was conducted over 18 months at the Veterans Affairs (VA) facility in Miami from 2009 to 2010. And another study is beginning this winter at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Chicago.

On the basis of the pilot study results, the military is now offering Miller's iRest yoga nidra practice to wounded warriors at Walter Reed; Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas; Camp Lejeune, a large Marine Corps base in North Carolina; and VA facilities in Miami, Chicago, and Washington, DC. In these ongoing classes, soldiers have reported that some of their most troubling PTSD symptoms, including hyperalertness, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, have diminished.

Tools like yoga nidra can be crucial resources for soldiers adjusting to life after war, says Mona Bingham, a retired colonel who's researching the practice at Brooke Army Medical Center. "A lot of soldiers are coming back [from combat] with physical, psychological, and moral wounds," she says. "It's not something we can just give them a medication for." She's studying iRest's effect on military couples coping with the stress that often arises after a deployment ends.

Cheryl LeClair teaches the iRest practice to marines with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries at Camp Lejeune. "Most of the guys don't sleep," she says. "Some have told me they take two Ambien a night, and they still can't sleep. But many of them fall sleep in the very first iRest session. To see them relax and let go is just amazing."

Like the marines in LeClair's classes, new practitioners often go to sleep during their first few yoga nidra sessions. That's not surprising, says Stryker, since these days many people are sleep deprived. Yoga nidra literally means "yogic sleep," but that is a bit of a misnomer. It's not a special kind of sleep, but a state between sleeping and waking. With more experience, Stryker says, practitioners can experience deep rest while maintaining what he calls "just a trace of awareness."

For LeClair, whose husband returned from Iraq in 2003 with a brain injury, PTSD, and a crushed vertebra in his neck, yoga nidra has become an essential part of getting through what are often very trying days. (She handles the family finances and much of the responsibility for raising a nine-year-old grandson.) She first experienced the practice at a weekend workshop. "After I woke up, I said, 'Whatever that is, I want more,' " she says. Now, when she gets overwhelmed, she recalls the lessons of yoga nidra: "If you can step back and witness the thoughts without reaction, it gives you some space. You learn to have equanimity."
Emotional Healing
The roots of yoga nidra are thought to go back thousands of years. When Miller adapted the teachings to make them more accessible to Westerners, he wanted to address emotional wellness. "The Eastern yoga principles took it for granted that you were at a certain state of health and well-being," he says. "What I saw was that this was not true of most students. So I added the element of the Inner Resource."

Early on in Miller's yoga nidra instruction, as you begin to relax, you are asked to conjure up your own personal Inner Resource, a vision of and feeling about a place where you feel safe and secure. If intense emotions surface during yoga nidra—or, for that matter, at any time—you can return to your Inner Resource to take a break.

Charles, one of the men at Henry Ohlhoff North, turns to the practice often. A former executive chef, he retired after a back injury left him in constant pain. He became addicted to alcohol and painkillers and, after three arrests on drug charges, chose rehab instead of jail.

Yoga nidra has helped him find his way back to a part of himself untouched by addiction and chronic pain. His Inner Resource is the bakery his parents ran. "I go back to my childhood," he says, "doing chores in my parents' bakery. I think about my dad and how good it felt to have his arms around me."
Earlier this year, when Charles was granted his first overnight pass two months into his six-month rehabilitation stay, a friend surprised him with a birthday party that included alcohol. Charles started to panic.

"I went out to my car, put my head back on the headrest, and went into [the practice]," he says. "My breathing came down, and I could focus better." After about half an hour, he chose to leave the party and return to the rehab center.

Early research supports the idea that yoga nidra can help people like Charles who are in recovery from addiction. In a study of 93 people at a chemical dependency treatment center, Leslie Temme, a professor in the social work department of Western Carolina University, found that participants who practiced yoga nidra had fewer negative moods and a reduced risk of relapsing into substance abuse.
With its emphasis on self-awareness, yoga nidra seems to help recovering addicts feel more comfortable in their own skin, cope better with difficult emotions, and make better choices, Temme says. What's more, she adds, "The clients loved it. They were lining up at the door to get to it."
Inner Discoveries
If you've ever tried to sit in meditation for 30 minutes, you know that you don't need to be recovering from trauma to be uncomfortable in your own mind. As a meditation technique, yoga nidra offers a gentle approach, starting with body awareness, then working compassionately with thoughts and emotions as they arise, and gradually leading the meditator to access a greater field of awareness. In fact, in some of the oldest written references to the term yoga nidra, it is synonymous with samadhi, or union, the ultimate goal of the eightfold path.

This aspect of yoga nidra is perhaps the most difficult to put into words, but, for Miller, it's the core of the practice. Learning to observe and welcome all of the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise in deep rest can lead a person to become less identified with the individual self—what Miller calls the "I-thought." Through this experience, he says, it's possible to lose the sense that one is separate from others and to tap into an unshakable sense of interconnectedness to all of life.

And when that happens, Miller says, "There's a deep pool of well-being. It's what I discovered in that first yoga nidra session in 1970. That's what I try to share."

Explore the 10 Steps of Yoga Nidra ~ by Richard Miller

Getting Started: Set up your practice space by placing a bolster lengthwise on your mat and slipping a block under the top end, so that the bolster slants gently. Lie down with your sitting bones on the mat and with the bolster supporting you from the low back to the head. Place a folded blanket under your head for a pillow. Notice and welcome sounds, smells, and taste as well as color and light. Release excess tension throughout your body and feel a sense of relaxation spreading throughout your entire body and mind.

Listen: To be guided into yoga nidra by Richard Miller, listen to the audio at

1. Connect to Your Heartfelt Desire. Bring to mind your heart's deepest desire—something that you want more than anything else in life. Perhaps it is a desire for health, well-being, or awakening. Feel this heartfelt desire with your entire body while imagining and experiencing it in this moment as if it were true.

2. Set an Intention. Reflect on your intention for your practice today. It might be to relax and rest, or to inquire into a particular sensation, emotion, or belief. Whatever your intention, welcome and affirm it with your entire body and mind.

3. Find Your Inner Resource. Bring attention to your Inner Resource, a safe haven within your body where you experience feelings of security, well-being, and calm. You may imagine a place, person, or experience that helps you feel secure and at ease and that helps you feel within your body the sense of well-being. Re-experience your Inner Resource at any time during your practice or in daily life when you feel overwhelmed by an emotion, thought, or life circumstance and wish to feel secure and at ease.

4. Scan Your Body. Gradually move your awareness through your body. Sense your jaw, mouth, ears, nose, and eyes. Sense your forehead, scalp, neck, and the inside of your throat. Scan your attention through your left arm and left palm, your right arm and right palm, and then both arms and hands simultaneously. Sense your torso, pelvis, and sacrum. Experience sensation in your left hip, leg, and foot, and then in your right hip, leg, and foot. Sense your entire body as a field of radiant sensation.

5. Become Aware of Your Breath. Sense the body breathing by itself. Observe the natural flow of air in the nostrils, throat, and rib cage as well as the rise and fall of the abdomen with each breath. Feel each breath as flowing energy coursing throughout your entire body.

6. Welcome Your Feelings. Without judging or trying to change anything, welcome the sensations (such as heaviness, tension, or warmth) and emotions (such as sadness, anger, or worry) that are present in your body and mind. Also notice opposite sensations and emotions: If you feel worry, call up feelings of serenity; if you feel tense, experience ease. Sense each feeling and its opposite within your body.

7. Witness Your Thoughts. Notice and welcome the thoughts, memories, and images that are present in your mind. Observe your thoughts without judging them or trying to change them. As you come upon beliefs that you hold about yourself, also bring to mind and experience their opposites, welcoming your experience just as it is.

8. Experience Joy. Welcome sensations of joy, well-being, or bliss emanating from your heart or belly and spreading throughout your body and into the space around you. With every exhalation, experience sensations of warmth, joy, and well-being radiating throughout your body.

9. Observe Your Self. Be aware of your sense of "I-ness," or personality. Notice this sense of identity when you say "I'm hungry," "I'm angry," or "I'm happy." Then, experience yourself as an observing witness or Awareness that is cognizant of these feelings. Set aside thinking and dissolve into Awareness, awake and conscious of the self.

10. Reflect on Your Practice. As you complete your practice, reflect on the journey you've just taken. Affirm how the feeling of pure Being, or pure Awareness, is always present as a deep, unchanging peace that underlies every changing circumstance. Imagine integrating that feeling into your everyday life, in both pleasant and difficult moments, and always reconnecting to that sense of equanimity.

To Finish: At your own pace, transition back to your waking life, reorienting to your surroundings. Come back slowly, and pause for a moment to feel grateful for taking this time for yourself.

This was published in Yoga Journal in November 2011.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation Follow Up

I hope you have enjoyed taking a bit of time out for yourself each day. This challenge has reinvigorated my practice and has given me many great ideas for future posts. I have a list of about 20 new poses/variations of poses which I hope to share over the coming months. If you have enjoyed this challenge please sign up to "follow by email" on my blog's sidebar. Don't worry, I do not collect your email addresses; Google facilitates sending these blog posts by email. Just be sure to check your inbox for an email from "Feedburner" and authorize/confirm your desire to follow by email.

It's been nice practicing with you!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 30

Today is International Restorative Yoga Day (see this website for more info: I hope you can find a local Restorative Yoga class to attend. If you are in Duluth, MN, please join me at Yoga North this morning, 8:00-9:15 am for Restorative Yoga. If you are doing a home practice, here is a final sequence to enjoy.

Legs on a Chair
For details on how to do this pose click here.

Supported Reclining Twist
For details on how to do this pose click here.

Enjoy Supported Child’s Pose
For details on how to do this pose click here.

Supported Savasana + listen to a free relaxation practice from Dr. Baxter Bell (link below).
Click here for 4 free guided relaxation practices.

Enjoy your day and your new habit of relaxation. Nicely done!

Friday, November 15, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 29

We are coming up on the home stretch of our challenge. I thought I would post a couple of my favorite short home sequences for these last two days.

Also, FYI, tomorrow is International Restorative Yoga Day. I will be teaching Restorative Yoga at Yoga North in Duluth, MN, Saturday morning, 8:00-9:15 am. Please join me for a live class.

For today...

Supported Reclining Bound Angle
 Supported Reclining Bound Angle Details on how to do this pose here.

Supported Child's Pose
 Details on how to do this pose here.

Supported Reclining Side-Seated Twist.
Make sure to take the twist in both directions.
 Details on how to do this pose here.

Feel free to keep on going and take more poses or finish up here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 28

If yesterday's pose did not give you enough sensation, today's pose might be more to your liking. For today, let's try
Supported Wide-Angle Forward Fold

Wide leg forward fold can be done from a standing position or seated. Generally for my Restorative class we are seated and have multiple props to support this sometimes difficult opening.

Setting up for the pose:
Gather a number of different props: a chair, or a couple of blocks, or a few pillows/bolsters, also, either a blanket for sitting on or else a wedge.

Tight hamstrings? No problem. Just use more props.
Coming into the pose:
Sit in front of a chair, block, or bolsters with your legs open wide (about 90 degrees). Support your low back by sitting on a wedge or a folded blanket. Toes draw back toward the body and knee caps point toward the ceiling. Reach out through your heels. Hinge forward at the hip crease, walking your hands out and resting your forehead on the block, bolster or chair. If you are using a chair or bolster you can rest your head on your forearms, keeping length in your spine.

While in the pose:
Keep breathing, keep observing the pose in your body, allow the body to open at its own rate. Commit to the stillness but do allow yourself to adjust your props and your body as you settle in.

Coming out of the pose:
To come up, bring the hands to the floor to support the torso, inhale and hinge or roll back up from the hips, protecting the spine. Help your legs back together and move into a shape that is supportive to you: maybe Child's Pose, maybe Legs-on-a-Chair Pose, or maybe something else entirely.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - day 27

Alright, we've made through our back bending series. Now I have a few more forward folds before we have our final practice on Saturday. Saturday, by the way, is International Restorative Yoga Day so I hope you can find a live class to attend. If not, I'll set us up in a nice series so don't worry. For today, enjoy
Supported 1/2 Wide-Angle Forward Fold

1/2 Wide-Angle Pose looks very similar in set up to Head-to-Knee pose (Janu Sirsasana) as shown in the Yoga Journal image on the right, but instead of turning the torso to fold out over the leg, the body folds directly forward, hinging from the hips, as seen below. 1/2 Wide-Angle is easier on the inner thighs than the full version and can be used as a pose in its own right or as a warm up for Wide-Angle Pose (which we will practice tomorrow).

Setting up for the pose:
Gather a number of different props: a chair, or a couple of blocks, or a few pillows/bolster, also, either a blanket or a wedge for sitting on.

Instead of a block, you could use a chair
so your fold is not too deep.
Coming into the pose:
Sit in front of your chair, block or bolster with your legs open wide (about 90 degrees). Support your low back by sitting on a wedge or a folded blanket. Fold one leg in to the body so the soul rests on the inner thigh of the other leg and heel is drawing towards the perineum. Toes of the straight leg draw back toward the body and knee cap points toward the ceiling. Reach out through your heel. Hinge forward at the hip crease, walking your hands out and resting your forehead on the block, bolster or chair. If you are using a chair or bolster pile you can place your arms on the chair’s seat, hinge forward at the hip crease and rest your head on your forearms, keeping length in your spine.

While in the pose:
Keep breathing, keep observing the pose in your body, and allow the body to open at its own rate. Commit to the stillness but do allow yourself to adjust your props and your body as you settle deeper in. Watch the sit bones. They will want to creep up and often your body tries to tip more towards the folded leg. Don't let these two things happen.

Coming out of the pose:
To come up, support the torso with the hands on the floor, inhale and hinge or roll back up from the hips, protecting the spine. Take the 2nd side. After the second side you can be done or you could try a nice follow-up pose such as Supported Reclining Twist.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 26

Here's our final backbend. This one is a little bigger and includes a quad stretch. Today we will practice Supported Reclining Hero's Pose. If you feel like this is too much for you, then take Supported Reclining Bound Angle instead. The set up is the same.

Hero's Pose can be a very tricky posture to come into for anyone with knee issues, tight quads or low back/SI joint problems. Luckily, with props, this posture can be made available to most people--comfortably--not just to "get through it."

Setting up for the pose:
Gather a number of different props: a few pillows/bolsters, a few blankets, and a couple of blocks. Test your ability to sit on your shins with your bum on the floor between your feet. If this does not happen for you in an upright, seated position, it is not going to happen in the reclining version either. You need support.

Set up a bolster or a thickly-rolled blanket behind you lengthwise. Place a block, bolster, or additional pillows under the end of the bolster where your head is going to lay to create a ramp set-up. Like so:

This bolster set-up is good for Reclining Hero's Pose or for Reclining Bound Angle.

Coming into the pose:
Sit in Dandasana (sit on your bum with legs straight) in front of your bolster ramp. Get very close to your props - let your back body touch the bolster. Bend one leg and tuck your foot by your outer hip. Carefully lower your body toward your bolster ramp, coming into Supported Reclining Half Hero's Pose.

If this feels ok and you want to go for full Supported Reclining Hero's Pose, come back to seated and tuck your other foot next to your other hip and repeat the careful laying down process.

If your knees are saying "NO WAY" then you need more propping. Give yourself something to sit on - like a folded blanket or a small bolster and make your bolster ramp higher. With these modifications, most folks should be able to do this pose. But if it isn't working for you, be kind to your body and settle into Reclining Bound Angle instead:

 Supported Reclining Bound Angle
While in the pose:
Keep breathing, keep observing the pose in your body, and allow the body to open at its own rate. Commit to the stillness but do allow yourself to adjust your props and your body as you settle deeper in. Notice if you are gripping the knees, quads, hips or back (or of course the usual places like the jaw, forehead or shoulders). Try to let these parts soften. Stay as long as you are comfortable.

Coming out of the pose:
To come up, support the torso with the hands on the floor, and either push yourself to a seated Hero's Pose or roll to one side slightly and untuck your feet, one at a time. If you were practicing 1/2 Hero's take the 2nd side. After the second side you can be done or you could try the full version of the pose.

This posture is great for creating length in the quads. There may be discomfort in the knees to start but by lengthening the quads this problem can go away - at least for me it did. However, if the knee discomfort is sharp, stabbing or causes you to hold your breath, I would recommend doing this pose only with supervision.

Happy Exploring!

Monday, November 11, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 25

Using the Therapeutic Spinal Strip for Shoulder Release + Thoracic Spine Backbend

Many of my classes begin with "Laying on the Spinal Strip." This is based on the therapeutic work of Susi Hately Aldous. We have firm foam strips at the studio but you can make do with a rolled up mat, a tightly rolled towel, or even a swim noodle.

Setting up: Fold your strip in half (or roll up your mat/towel tightly), place it lengthwise on the floor behind you, and then lay down on it. Once you lay down, the bottom edge of the strip should be at about T7 or T8 on your back.

Settling in: If you don’t know what I mean by that here is how to tell: place your finger tips on your breast bone then slide them down to the soft spot just below the breast bone. The spinal strip should be just opposite that soft spot where your finger tips are resting. Run one hand behind you to feel for the spinal strip.

Now notice if you have any discomfort in the low back or if your lower ribs are flaring up. If you notice either of these things, try lifting your hips, elongating your tailbone and laying your hips back down again, keeping the knees bent.

If this does not really help, then you need to lift your hips up again and place a folded blanket under your hips/sacrum area. Keep your knees bent. Notice if this has lessened your discomfort and/or your flaring ribs.

If you still have discomfort or flared ribs, unfold your strip and lay on it in a single layer. Or if you are using a rolled towel or rolled mat, just unroll it a little to make your spinal strip a bit smaller. If you feel like your head is tilting back place a small pillow or thinly folded blanket under your head.

Allow yourself to settle here for at least 5-10 minutes, letting the shoulders settle in around the spinal strip. Focus on your breathing. You might play around with rolling the shoulders or floating the arms overhead (never moving into clicks, cracks, or discomfort).

Coming out of the pose: To come out of the pose, or if at any point laying on the strip becomes uncomfortable, push the blanket out from under you, roll gently to one side, push the strip out of the way and then lay on your back in Savasana.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 24

Supported Lumbar Stretch

I learned this lumbar stretch from my teacher Susi Hately Aldous during one of the Therapeutic Yoga Trainings I have taken from her. I'm a bit of a hyper-extender so I was surprised that this pose would be good for me. What it does is lengthen your lumbar vs. kink it - which is a typical move for me in any kind of backbending posture. Here's how it works:

Step 1. Get yourself a felted pad or a firm blanket or even a big towel (like a beach towel) and make a roll that is about a handful for you. Sit on the tail of the blanket if you have extra.

Step 2. Lay down over the roll, supporting yourself on your elbows to ease your body down.

Step 3. As you lay down, lift your seat up so you are in a tiny bridge pose. Adjust your roll so it is at your waist - not your sacrum). You know if it is in the right place if it is centered behind your bellybutton.

Step 4. Now start to lower your seat towards the floor, arching your spine over the roll. When you settle your seat your back should feel like "Ahhhh" not "Ow, ow, ow." You should not look over arched. Your belly is not raised by the roll under your back. If you are not comfortable, lift your seat (into little bridge again) and make your roll smaller until your back is happy. Conversely, if you feel nothing, you will need to lift your seat into little bridge and make your roll a little bigger.

Step 5. Lay here for 5-10 minutes or until you are feeling done.

A nice follow-up pose is a Supported Reclining Twist.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 23

This gentle heart-center opener will help you get rid of that hunched feeling you get after sitting all day.

Setting up for the pose:
The main prop for this pose is a therapeutic spinal strip. If you don't have one of these, you can use a swim noodle, a tightly rolled thin mat, or a tightly rolled towel. You might also need a thin, folded blanket and, if your roll is on the large side, a thick folded blanket.

Coming into the pose:
Sit in front of your therapeutic spinal strip (swim noodle/rolled mat/rolled towel) and then lay down on it at about the bottom of the shoulder blades. Your spinal strip should extend out from under your armpits - you should not be resting your shoulders on your prop. You can experiment with what feels the best to you. If your head is tipped way back or you feel unsupported in the neck, place a thin, folded blanket under the head and neck - not so thick that your head tips forward. Your head should be level with the body or slightly tipped back. If you feel like you are in too big of a back bend, place the thicker folded blanket under your bum.

While in the pose:
Send your arms out to the sides, palms up to encourage the heart center to open. Keep breathing, keep observing the pose in your body, and allow the body to open at its own rate. Commit to the stillness but do allow yourself to adjust your props and your body as you settle deeper in. I like to lay with my knees bent but some of my students prefer to have their legs straight. See what feels right in your body.

Coming out of the pose:
Option 1) Bend the knees, roll to one side, pull the spinal strip and other props out from underneath you, and then lay back down on your back.
Option 2) Bend the knees, press the feet into the floor, lift up the hips to bridge pose, and pull the spinal strip and other props out from under you.
Either way, hug the knees in and take a few sacrum circles or extend out to a full body stretch. A nice follow-up pose is a Supported Reclining Twist.


Friday, November 8, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 22

I'm going to start us on a back bending series. These will be gentle, but never the less, if you notice any pain please back off and take the pose in a smaller way. Less propping or even choose a different pose for the day. For today, we will try Supported Bridge Pose.

NEVER sit on your block and lay back. 
ALWAYS lay down first, then slide the block under you.

Supported Bridge ~ Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Getting into the pose:
Sit on the floor with knees bent. If you have a belt put it on around your upper thighs. Tighten it to where your legs can still open to hip width apart. Lower yourself down to the floor and lay on your back with your knees bent. Lift your hips in the air and place a block under your sacrum. For Restorative I like to have the block on the lowest side but if you want to try it on the medium height or on the highest height that's ok too. Just make sure you are comfortable and nothing is feeling pinched in your low back or neck. Lengthen the back of your neck. Resist looking side to side. Rest your hands by your side.

Settling into the pose:
First, make sure that the block is under the sacrum (the big triangle shaped bone at the base of the spine), not the low back (lumbar spine). If you have a pinched feeling in the SI joints (low back or sacrum area) try lengthening your tailbone toward the backs of your knees so your body is in one long line from shoulders (on the ground) to knees (in the air). You also might need to lower your block height. Let the hands rest by your sides, close the eyes, and give your mind the job of watching the breath. Stay for a few minutes or as long as you are comfortable.

For a more dynamic pose:
If you want to add movement and/or more sensation to this posture here is a way to go a bit deeper:
walk your shoulders under you and clasp your hands together behind your back to open the chest. Stay for a few breaths and then slowly release.

Getting out of the pose:
To come out, lift the hips up, slide the block out from underneath you, drop the hips back down to the floor, rest here for a few breaths then take what ever movement would serve your body: hug the knees to the chest, take a twist, full-body stretch, etc. When you feel ready, roll to one side then gently push yourself up on one side back to an easy seated pose.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 21

Yesterday we did our relaxation in bed. Today you can too, or you can get back down to the floor as the picture shows. But if you want to do this twist in bed it is very easy to set up. All you need are two pillows.

Supported Reclining Twist

Coming into the pose:

Option 1: Lay on one side and snuggle a pillow into your low back from behind your bellybutton to below your bum. Stuff another pillow under your stacked knees and then roll your top shoulder open, letting the pillows support your lower body. If you need more support under your "top" shoulder and arm, lay a flattish pillow lengthwise under that arm from shoulder to hand.

Option 2: Lay on your back with your knees bent. Have a support ready on each side of your body. Shift your hips to one side and let your knees fall to the other side. Snuggle a bolster under your back hip and bum to support staying in the twist and let the stacked knees rest on a second bolster as they fall towards the floor.

Try to keep the shoulders on the floor (or bed), keep the heart center open by extending the arms away from the body, palms facing up, and let the head turn away from the knees. Stay as long as you are comfortable.

Changing sides:
Let the head come back to center. Remove the support from under the back hip. Engage the core slightly to support the spine and then bring the legs back to upright, helping the legs with the hands if needed. Settle into the second side the same way as the first and try to stay here an equal amount of time.

Exiting the pose:
Let the head come back to center and then keep turning towards the knees. Remove the props from under the knees, lay on your side for a few breaths, and then gently push yourself back to an easy seated position.

If this twist is not to your liking try Supported Side Reclining Twist ~ Salamba Bharadvajasana ~ like we did on Day 6 of the challenge.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 20

OK - we are 2/3 done with our challenge. Let's celebrate by not getting out of bed! Today, Restorative Yoga you can do in bed.

Guided Deep Relaxation with Baxter Bell

Dr. Baxter Bell has four free guided relaxation practices available on his website. Visit his site here: Yoga for Healthy Aging Audio Tracks to listen to these practices.

Legs up the Wall 
 from HuffPost.
legs against wall

Kids laying upside down on the bed

Kids always know how to relax. We should take the clue from them. Have a good day!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 19

Yesterday I showed some images for Restorative Yoga on a Chair. Today, I've found some that show standing poses. It's not as much as I would like, but until I can take the time to do my own series, this will have to do.

Wide-Leg Forward Fold with Chair Support in front and Wall Support in Back from

Forward Fold with Support Table from Yoga Journal.

A deeper Supported Forward Fold modeled by Rodney Yee,
using the chair seat for the arms and head and the wall to support the behind.

And an even deeper Forward Fold modeled by Rodney Yee,
using only the wall to support the behind. I think it might be nice if the head or forearms had a block to land on.

Monday, November 4, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 18

Last week, someone asked me if I could recommend some Restorative poses which did not require getting down on the ground. I don't have any ready to go for this blog, but the request sure got me thinking. As in, I think I can do a whole new series. However, for the scope of this challenge, it's a bit too much (remember, I started all this so I would relax more! - lol).

That said, I figured that somewhere out there some one would have already conceived of some non-floor Restorative poses and posted pictures too. So thank you again people with images on Google. Here's some seated ideas for us. The first one is especially good for Mondays.

Head on Desk from The Healthy Living Lounge
This reminds of grade school - everyone put your heads down and have some quiet time.

Wide-Leg, Seated Hanging Forward Fold from Nirmala Yoga
Might be nice to have somewhere to rest your head: a block, another chair, etc.

Seated Forward Fold with 2nd Chair as Arm & Head Support 
Might be nice to have a folded blanket over the back of the forward chair to cushion your arms.

All good options for today, I think. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

30 Days of Relaxation - Day 17

Again, since it is the weekend, I am posting an article which shows an entire restorative sequence. This one is from Yoga Journal, written by Karen Macklin, sequence by Jillian Pransky. I am excerpting just the pose part of the article. I highly recommend going to YJ and reading the whole article though. Macklin dives into explaining how our brains process relaxation and why we might end up with anxiety when we are trying to relax. To see the whole article click here.

On Solid Ground

by Karen Macklin, sequence by Jillian Pransky

The poses in this sequence are designed to give you the experience of being cradled and protected while providing the opportunity for deep relaxation and rejuvenation. When you're practicing them for the first time, it can be helpful to have a friend assist you in setting up the props. Warm up with a few rounds of Cat-Cow Pose, or any other gentle poses that help you connect with your breath. Once you're propped and positioned, take the first few minutes in each pose to sense where you connect with the floor or the props. What part of your body rests most heavily on the support underneath you? Let this area be like an anchor rooting you to the earth. Slowly allow this sense of connection to spread to all the areas where you meet the ground and the props.
When your body feels completely supported, let your attention turn toward your breath. Like an ocean wave, each breath will rise and fall on its own. Rest your mind on the tide of your breath. Throughout each pose, let your attention move back and forth between the earthlike qualities of your body and the fluidlike qualities of your breath.
Stay in each pose for up to 15 minutes. Even a few minutes will make a difference. If you feel restless but want to stay in the pose, you can do small vinyasa movements with your hands to help yourself settle down: Roll your open palms to the sky as you inhale; roll them back to the ground as you exhale.
Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose), variation
This pose is usually done with the legs extended all the way up the wall. Having the legs lower, with the feet against the wall, encourages grounding by creating a sensation of "standing" on the wall, as opposed to having the feet wide open to the sky.
Lie on your back with your calves and feet supported by either bolsters or blanket-covered blocks. Wrap or cover your calves with a blanket. Rest the soles of your feet against the wall. Place an additional folded blanket across the pelvis to help release tension there and to encourage the pelvis to rest more heavily on the ground. Rest your arms by your sides, either palms down or, if facing up, with an eye bag in each open palm. If your upper back and shoulders don't rest heavily on the floor, support them with towels or blankets. Place a folded blanket under your head.
You should feel firm support all the way up the torso, out through the arms, and up through the neck and head. Your throat should feel open and tension free. On each exhalation, allow the weight of your lower legs, pelvis, upper back, and head to be fully held. On each inhalation, allow your ribs to expand in all directions. Stay in the pose for 5 to 15 minutes.
Salamba Balasana (Supported Child's Pose)
Place blocks underneath the two ends of a bolster and come into Child's Pose, with your torso supported by the bolster. It should feel as though the support is coming up to meet you rather than your torso dropping into the support. Slide your arms underneath the gap between the bolster and the floor, bringing each hand toward the opposite elbow. If the forearms or elbows don't touch the ground, fill in the space with towels or blankets so that you are supported from the elbows to the fingers. Supporting the elbows and arms helps to release tension in the upper back and neck and to integrate the arms back into the body. In order to release tension in the lower back and create a deeper sensation of groundedness, place a heavy blanket on your sacrum. If the base of the shins or the tops of the feet are off the floor, prop them with a rolled-up towel.
Turn the head to one side, alternating sides halfway through the pose. On each inhalation, feel the back body expand; on each exhalation, feel the support under the chest and belly. Stay in the pose for 5 to 10 minutes.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), variation
Supta Baddha Konasana opens the whole front of the body: the pelvis, belly, heart, and throat. These are areas we instinctively protect, which is why a pose like this can leave one feeling exposed and vulnerable.
Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline. Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place a second bolster under your knees and bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment. Place another folded blanket over the pelvis to create a feeling of insulation. Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 5 to 15 minutes.
Side-Lying Savasana and Jathara Parivartanasana (Side-Lying Corpse Pose and Revolved Abdomen Pose), variation
Twists are generally good for the nervous system, but some twists can make breathing feel constricted, which can be anxiety provoking. This gentle, supported twist allows more room for the breath to come into the rib cage and belly.
Start by lying on your left side with your feet at a wall and your back against a bolster that is at least as high as your spine. Bend your right knee to 90 degrees and support your right knee and shin with a bolster or folded blankets so that the right leg is as high as the right hip; rest the sole of your left foot against the wall. Next, place folded blankets under your top arm and hand to lift them to the height of your shoulder. Finally, tuck a folded blanket under your head and neck to lift your head in line with the spine. Rest here for 2 to 5 minutes.
To move into the twist, roll your torso to the right over the bolster, keeping your right arm fully supported by it from shoulder blade to fingers. Your right hand should be no lower than the height of your right shoulder. If you have tightness in your shoulder or chest, try placing more support under your arm until your hand is higher than your shoulder. You should not feel a stretch, but rather as though your chest is open and your breath is fluid. Stay in the twist for 2 to 5 minutes. Repeat on the other side.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Savasana can be a very expansive pose, especially when done with the legs wide apart and the arms away from the side body. Keeping the legs and arms a little closer to the body encourages a more contained feeling.
Roll up a blanket and place it alongside a wall. Lie down with the soles of your feet against the blanket. Place an additional rolled blanket or bolster under your knees to encourage the thighbones to drop deeper into your pelvis. This helps release tension in the iliopsoas and allows the pelvis to rest more heavily on the ground. Place a folded blanket over your belly to release tension and weigh the hips down even more. Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing down.
If your upper back and shoulders are rolled toward your heart and don't rest heavily on the floor, fill in the space with towels or blankets so you feel firm support all the way up the torso to the neck and head. Support your cervical curve with a small rolled towel and place a folded blanket under the head to create a cradling effect. Your chin should be perpendicular to the floor, and your throat should feel open and tension free. With each exhalation allow the earth to fully hold each part of your body: your heels, thighs, pelvis, upper back, and head. Once you feel completely connected to the ground, rest your mind on the waves of your breath. Stay in the pose for 5 to 15 minutes.
Reverse Savasana (Corpse Pose), variation
This reversed variation can feel more secure for someone who feels vulnerable in Savasana. Lie on your belly. Turn your head to the right. Bring your arms out to the side, elbows bent. Take your right knee out to the side. If needed, place a blanket for cushioning and support under the right arm, knee, thigh, belly, or all four. Cover your entire body with a blanket, including the exposed soles of your feet. After a couple of minutes, turn your head to the other side and switch the position of the knees. Stay here 5 to 10 minutes, releasing your whole front body into the ground.

December 2009