Monday, December 27, 2010

Questions on Restorative Yoga Teaching Technique

I have received a number of emails asking questions about how I run my class and other technique related questions. I want to start sharing these emails so other folks can benefit from the conversations too. Below is an email from Melinda, wondering about how much talking do I do and what to do about students who fall asleep. I've expanded on my answer a little at the end of the post.

Hi Sara,

I just discovered your site and will be spending a great deal of time there I’m sure!  I teach a weekly yoga class, mostly Iyengar-style, although I have started adding in Yin yoga and occasionally some restorative poses.  I’d like to do an entire restorative class towards the end of my session (just before Christmas) but am unsure about all of the silence.  I’ve noticed that, although my students like a longer savasana (10-15 minutes), many of them doze off – which I believe is a comment on our culture more than anything else.  Anyway, I think 90 minutes of restorative postures would present a huge mental challenge – staying awake.  On the other hand, I think too much chatter (by me) would be disruptive.   How much instruction/information/teaching do you do once your students are in the pose?

Thank you, Melinda

Hi Melinda -

I’m glad you found my website. I’d like to post your question and my answer on my blog as a new post if you don’t mind. Lots of people have asked me this question so I think I should put a post up. I think we all have a hard time being quiet – even us, the teachers (especially us?). We want to keep explaining, help our students get everything just right. But really we need to let them settle into the quiet of the pose and experience the kind of relaxation that comes from “not doing.” If they fall asleep....well, I guess they are tired. Of course some people are the lucky kind who fall asleep the instant their head hits the pillow so for restorative, their challenge might be to keep more awareness of breath and try to keep their mind from turning off.

My class is 75 minutes. The first 15 I do welcome, announcements, short talk on  being comfortable and asking for help, demo the poses and then a tiny warm up and centering. The next hour we do 6 poses including Savasana. Each pose gets 10 minutes which includes set up, settling in and coming out.  I do talk some – I like to settle people in to each pose by talking them back into relaxation – but I try to be quiet for most of the pose. I give a reminder at the 1/2 way point to move the body or the head if they have become uncomfortable or if the person is in a twist or something that requires balance on both sides. I like to play an Om CD or Shamanic Dream with the heart beat rhythm. Sometimes I play the gong or the crystal bowl at the end for Savasana.

I’ll think about this some more and try to come up with a more coherent answer and put it up on my blog. I’ve got a busy week though so it might not be right away. Thanks for writing and best of luck on your class. I’m sure your students will love it.


I just taught two different restorative classes over the past week: one for teachers in training and one for my regular students. I tried to observe how much talking I did to the students in each of these classes so I'd have a more definite answer.

What I noticed was that with the teacher trainers I talked quite a bit more. I was thinking of their class more as a training session - which it was. I wanted to impart as much knowledge in the 4 hours I was with them as possible.

With my regular class I was pretty quiet this time. Just about everyone who attended has been to my class before so they know the ropes and don't need a lot of instruction. But I do still talk them down into each pose, settling them into relaxation. I tell them the 1/2 way point so they take the pose on both sides of their body.  And I talk them up each time by inviting them to take 5 smooth, deep breaths and then carefully exit the pose. I remind them to be mindful and quiet as they transition from pose to pose. And I remind them to ask me if they can't quite get comfortable.

That sounds like it wouldn't leave a lot of time for quiet but it does. I think quiet time in restorative is as important or even more important than instruction time.

Please feel free to email me with your questions or comments on your experience and I'd be happy to answer and share more here.

Happy Solstice!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Relaxation vs. Meditation

I'm often wondering how to describe the difference is between meditation and relaxation. In this short article (below) from Yoga Journal, Frank Jude Boccio gives a few key points in defining what is the same and what is different between relaxation and meditation.

Relaxation vs. Meditation

by  Frank Jude Boccio

We often think of watching TV, sitting down with a cocktail or a good book, or simply vegging out as relaxing. But true relaxation is something that is practiced and cultivated; it is defined by the stimulation of the relaxation response. Some forms of conscious relaxation may become meditation, and many meditators find that their practice benefits from using a relaxation technique to access an inner stillness helpful for meditating. But while relaxation is a secondary effect of some meditation, other forms of meditation are anything but relaxing. Ultimately, it all comes down to the intention and purpose of the technique.

All conscious relaxation techniques offer the practitioner a method for slowly relaxing all the major muscle groups in the body, with the goal being the stimulation of the relaxation response; deeper, slower breathing and other physiological changes help the practitioner to experience the whole body as relaxed. Techniques include autogenic training, the use of words suggesting heaviness and warmth in the limbs; progressive muscle relaxation, systematically bringing attention to various parts of the body to consciously release tension, then noticing the feelings of softness and ease that arise; body scanning, moving attention slowly through the body; and breathing, gradually extending the exhalations.

Meditation—generally presented in the three broad categories of concentration, mindfulness, and contemplation—are forms of mind training, operating on the fundamental premise that the mind determines the quality of your life. Meditation is about making friends with yourself, learning to see what is just as it is, and freeing yourself from reactive conditioning. This liberating aspect of meditation is conceptualized in varied ways, from purely psychological and secular to deeply spiritual and religious. For further information, you might want to check out Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English by Bob Sharples.
Frank Jude Boccio is a yoga teacher, Ayurveda practitioner, hypnotherapist, and the author of Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pause on Purpose ~ Winter Reflection Retreat 2011

Restorative Yoga, Lecture & Reflection, Meditation, Hiking, Sauna, Rest, Good Food, Community

24-hour January Reflection Retreat 2011
at beautiful Camp Amnicon,
just 30 minutes away from Duluth.
Pause on Purpose as the New Year begins. 
Take this opportunity to reflect on your life,
settle into your body,
quiet your mind
and cultivate contentment.

Led by Molly McManus and Sara Duke

Arrival: 6 pm  Fri, Jan 21st
Departure: 6 pm  Sat, Jan 22nd

$118 Before Jan 1st,
 $138 after Jan 1st

Call Yoga North at 722-9642 to register.

*Price includes Saturday meals,
yoga classes in postures and philosophy
and the use of Camp Amnicon facilities.

Makes an excellent holiday treat for 
yourself or a loved one.

Camp Amnicon: Located on 700 acres of the south shore of Lake Superior, along the Amnicon River. Enjoy the community space with a large fireplace, windows overlooking the river and forest, nature trails, and sauna. There will be opportunities for both community and solitude.

Sign up online or, for more details visit Yoga North, or call the office at 218-722-9642. Looking forward to seeing you there. Namaste. ~ Sara & Molly

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Need of Yoga Nidra

The practice of deep relaxation rejuvenates the mind and body and helps decrease cortisol levels in the body, leading to better health over all. Deep rest is different than sleep where the body's muscles may be engaged during dreaming, and it is different than relaxing with a book or by watching TV. I found the following article about Yoga Nidra, or Yogic Sleep in Yoga Journal.

In Need of Yoga Nidra

In today's busy world, yogic sleep may be the essential tool for rejuvenation.
By Stephanie Levin-Gervasi

I'm stretched out during my first 45-minute Yoga Nidra class, body cradled in a fully supported Savasana (Corpse Pose), limbs limp, breath quiet, thoughts drifting by. In the distance, the teacher's voice blends with the sound of Tibetan bells. All traces of the day fade away, time stops, and stillness washes over me. So this is Yoga Nidra!

Also known as yogic sleep or sleep with awareness, Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice that is rapidly gaining popularity in the West. It is intended to induce full-body relaxation and a deep meditative state of consciousness. "We live in a chronically exhausted, overstimulated world," says Los Angeles yoga teacher Rod Stryker. "Yoga Nidra is a systematic method of complete relaxation, holistically addressing our physiological, neurological, and subconscious needs."

During a typical class, teachers use a variety of techniques—including guided imagery and body scanning—to aid relaxation. And unlike a quick Savasana at the end of asana practice, Yoga Nidra allows enough time for practitioners to physiologically and psychologically sink into it—at least 20 to 45 minutes, says San Francisco Bay Area yoga teacher Jennifer Morrice.

The ancient yoga text the Mandukya Upanishads refers to four different stages of Yoga Nidra. The practitioner begins by quieting the overactive conscious mind, then moves into a meditative state, gradually finding a state of "ultimate harmony," in which the brain waves slow down and a subtle euphoria emerges. Though most practitioners don't slip easily into the more advanced stages, they still tend to emerge feeling rejuvenated. "Yoga Nidra uniquely unwinds the nervous system," Stryker says, "which is the foundation of the body's well-being."

Yoga Nidra is best done under the guidance of a trained teacher, but not to worry if a class hasn't arrived at your local studio. Teachers like Stryker, Shiva Rea, and Jnaneshvara Bharati, to name a few, now offer Yoga Nidra workshops and CDs; you can do a simple search for them online.

Sara's note: I have found a number of Yoga Nidra and Deep Relaxation CD's that I really like. Visit my resources page or start your own practice with the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

30 Day Challenge - Final Comments

I want to share a few final comments from the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge. I had my students fill out both a starting survey and an ending survey. Here's a few of the questions and answers from the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge Ending Survey.

1. Was it hard to find 10-15 minutes each day to relax? How did you get yourself in the relaxation habit? Describe your commitment level.

Not really hard to find time. I have an ongoing yoga and meditation practice. Difficult to calm the monkey mind.

Some days I would forget until I had reached a point of fatigue - and then remember. I felt I got the most out of it when I would purposely plan when to relax regardless of my energy.

Not hard to find time but difficult to remember to take the time. Scheduled "breaks" helped me stay committed.

Yes, very hard for me. I had to approach it like a task or a chore. I still feel like I should be "doing something" or accomplishing something.

I found it fairly easy to relax. I generally found it nice to relax in the evening before bed. I was not good at relaxing every day - but most.

I took small moments in the morning before getting out of bed to "cuddle" myself and not jump up into the day.

2. Did you notice any changes in your health, mindset/attitude or sleep pattern? What were they?

A bit more ease in challenging situations.

I slept better and more thoroughly. I felt more rested.

I am more focused after relaxing.

My biggest problem has been staying asleep and/or returning to sleep after waking in the night. With the breathing and muscle relaxation techniques I have been able to fall back asleep. Thank you!

I noticed the Deep Relaxation to be restorative in a time of great stress in my life. I started to pay attention to my body more instead of disconnect.

Yes! I liked myself more in that I felt more centered or balanced emotionally.

More present, more grateful, more at ease, more aware, desire to journal, spent extra time in quiet.

Attitude - easier to catch myself in negative patterns. Sleeping - more deep rest, more vivid and lucid dreams.

3. Did your energy change? How?

Yes. My energy decreased but I attribute this to fall and the increasing dark and cold.

Slightly improved. Able to make it through the day and maintain better over all.

Not that I noticed.

I don't seem to be as "on edge" so I think I had more calm energy.

Yes. I found I was more focus and not so scattered.

I think I have more energy in the morning. I reach for coffee less often.

4. What significant learning will you take away from the challenge?

Keep making space.

I really enjoy meditation!

Practice, practice, practice.

Stop and slow down. Even when you are anxious and agitated.

Need more gratitude, more self-acceptance, and to create more sacred time to do some long relaxing poses.

Breathing and posture techniques.

I really enjoyed setting a sankalpa and focusing on that through the practice.

More definite and deliberate use of breathing practices to quiet the mind and body. Use of sankalpa.

5. Did you have any negative experiences with the challenge?

I became more aware of some of my negative habits - but this is actually a positive thing.

At first it was almost agitating to keep on trying to focus on my breath.

Not really - just nagging doubts pushing me to do better.

No. None.

Guilt for forgetting to take time to relax.

Sometimes I was willful.

I found myself coming to class each week in various mindsets but I always left relaxed and fulfilled.

6. Will you continue any of the practices from the challenge? If so, which ones? If not, why?

Yes, breathing, awareness, making space, and the postures too.

Gratitude meditation, journal - as that is part of my sankalpa, breath work and meditation. I found that to be calming with a cumulative benefit.

Breathing, muscle relaxation, relaxation poses, and sankalpa.

Short 5 minute breaks at work and bedtime relaxation.

Restorative poses - they serve me well. Breath work is a lifelong tool I will always use.

Longer, quiet poses.

Yes, all. I'm planning to make myself a schedule of techniques & poses for my practice.

Breathing techniques, gratitude meditation, setting aside daily "me" time.

Breathing practice, restorative poses, sankalpa.

7. Would you recommend this challenge to a friend?

Yes, and I would do it again myself.


Yes, and to my enemy.


Oh yes.

Yes....duh! (smile face here).

8. Do you have a suggestion on how to improve this challenge? Or do you have any other comments that you would like to share?

I would like to have this class extended over the whole session, not just for 30 days. It was so nice to look forward to this every week.

I would like more clearly defined homework.

I missed 2 classes and I wish I didn't. I was so at peace here. I want more. Thank you.

Loved this class!

I will miss the class and Sara's instruction. I hope to attend more classes at Yoga North.

This is the least sweaty yoga class I have ever been to. Useful techniques that will be relevant for every day I have left.

Improvement - maybe add massage or energy work. I love all of your work, Sara. Thank you so much.

The slowing down was lovely. I'm learning the joy of just sitting and doing nothing/everything.

What about a journal focus or specific topic of reflection - but is that relaxation? I guess one focus thinking.

Loved the gonging and crystal bowl. I was hoping for more yoga nidra.

This challenge and my sankalpa have really helped me tune to my body and follow my own truth, especially in situations that were previously stressful.

Thank you all for your comments and for attending class. I really enjoyed teaching this class. Watch for a two hour, deep relaxation workshop coming up in April 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

30 Day Challenge - Final Class

Congratulations! You have completed the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge.

I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to teach this class. I enjoyed getting to know each of you and helping you find some space in your lives to let in a little bit more ease.

For our final class we found a comfortable forward folding position. Some picked Bound Angle, some picked Wide Angle, some picked Supported Dandasana, and some picked Legs-up-the-Wall. There were so many pose options because each person has gotten to know their own body so well over this month's experiment that each person chose a position that they knew their body could relax in. I loved that everyone has gotten to know their body well enough to find ease on your own. This is a huge accomplishment. Many people do not have the awareness to even notice that they are uncomfortable, much less the ability to make themselves comfortable.

Our breath practice was Nadi Shodhana, Alternate Nostril Breathing. We practiced this first with our hand to block one nostril and then the other as we breathed. During our deep relaxation, we did mental Nadi Shodhana. Robin Carnes offers this practice on her Yoga Nidra CD and I just love it. I find it deeply relaxing. I like imagining that I am breathing in from far, far away (like the tropics) and exhaling to somewhere else equally far away (like the arctic). This breath practice brings balance to the body's energy system. Try it out for your self with the audio file below.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: 2min38sec.

Best of luck with your continued relaxation. I look forward to seeing you all again soon.
Namaste. Sara

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

30 Day Challenge - Week 4 Homework

Hello Relaxation Practitioners -

I wanted to remind you of your homework for this week and give you a few links to learn more. This week we are voicing our sankalpa. First step, we voice our sankalpa out loud to ourselves. Second step, we voice our sankalpa out loud to someone else. Third step, we voice our sankalpa out loud to many someone elses. (Is that a word?) Step one may be the only step you take and that is just fine. Only go as far as you are comfortable going.

At any rate, we give voice to our deepest desire and notice 1) how does it make you feel to think about saying your sankalpa out loud? 2) how does it feel to say your sankalpa out loud? and 3) how does it feel to share with another person?

The second part of our homework is to do a gratitude meditation every day. It doesn't have to be long. Just
take a few minutes to settle in and give thanks for anything in your life that you can think of (thank you for the house I live in, thank you for my family, thank you for the challenges I face that help me grow into a better person, etc.).

Here's an article from Yoga Journal which talks about the health benefits you will receive by practicing gratitude. Also, look to the bottom of the page for links to more gratitude articles.

Give Thanks
Cultivating gratitude can boost well-being—and may help you sleep better.
By Jill Duman

Gratitude is a fundamental component of most spiritual paths, and a growing body of research suggests that it has important health implications, too, including better sleep, fewer physical ailments, and a greater ability to cope with stressful situations.

"Gratitude elevates, it energizes, it inspires, it transforms," says Robert Emmons, a University of California, Davis, psychology professor who has helped champion the study of gratitude as a factor in mental and physical health.

A series of studies he conducted in 2003 found that people who kept weekly written records of gratitude slept longer, exercised more frequently, had fewer health complaints, and generally felt better about their lives when compared with those who were asked to record only their complaints. In another study, he found that students who wrote in gratitude journals felt more satisfied with their lives and their school experience.

Practicing conscious gratitude has also been linked with positive mental health. Todd Kashdan, associate professor of psychology at Virginia's George Mason University, found that when veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder kept gratitude journals, they experienced a greater sense of overall well-being in their lives.

"There are two parts of being grateful," Kashdan says. "One is recognizing that someone benefited in some way, then mindfully seeing the connection to yourself. You have to really be in the present to see what's happening in your life, what's causing things to happen, and how you fit into things bigger than yourself."

A gratitude practice is a natural companion to yoga, which "offers numerous opportunities to reflect on all there is in one's life to be grateful for," says Emmons. To begin consciously cultivating gratitude, try considering what life would be like without a pleasure you now enjoy, or think about who you are grateful for.

A daily gratitude journal can help you be more mindful of these things in your life. But your gratitude practice doesn't have to be scripted: Simply taking time on a regular basis to mentally note your blessings is a big step in the right direction.

Two more articles from Yoga Journal on gratitude: Grounded in Gratitude  and Just Say Thanks, both by Frank Jude Boccio.

Have a wonderful holiday. May we all act and react with loving kindness.

Monday, November 22, 2010

30 Day Relaxation Challenge - Week 4

Congratulations! You are in the home-stretch of this 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge.

For the past 3 weeks we have practiced taking time out of our day to treat ourselves, to nourish relaxation and to find ease in our bodies. I have had a number of students comment on how they are really starting to like relaxing, how they are noticing that it feels really good to take a rest for a few moments, how much more sane they feel after stepping back and breathing. This is wonderful! This is exactly what I was hoping you would find.

This is also the time in our practice where things can fall apart. Our new habit of ease can be quickly forgotten if we do not discipline ourselves to take a few minutes each day to treat ourselves right. Continue to use your sankalpa (setting your intention), repeating it to yourself every day. This week I also want you to voice your sankalpa out loud and possibly to another person. Really put your deepest desire out there to the world. And continue to do your other homework: claiming 10-15 minutes (or more) each day for 30 days to consciously relax.

For our first week we practiced building breath awareness with Equal Breathing or Sama Vritta Pranayama.  The 2nd week we learned the 3-Part Breath or Dirga Pranayama. The 3rd week we learned one of my favorite breath practices: 2 to 1 Breathing, and this week we will expand our breath practice with the Sweeping Breath. This practice starts by imagining the breath sweeping through the body from soles to crown and back down to soles. There is a short version, long version and an even longer version. I'm going to talk you through the short version but I encourage you to try either version from Deborah Adele or Dr. Louise Montello too. Links are below.

Short Version:
If you just need a quick pick-me-up imagine breathing from the soles of the feet, up through the whole body to the crown of the head, and then exhaling from the crown of the head down to the soles of the feet. Do this about 5 times or until you feel refreshed.

Long Version:
Start the same way. Imagine breathing from the soles of the feet, up through the whole body to the crown of the head, and then exhaling from the crown of the head down to the soles of the feet. The next time you sweep the breath down from the crown stop at the knees. Then breath to the hips, then  hips to crown to belly, belly to crown to heart, heart to crown to throat, throat to crown to brow-point, brow-point to crown to brow-point, and back down the body in the same order. Deborah Adele details this version in her CD, The Art of Relaxation.

Longest Version:
Do the same as the long version but take 5 breaths at each stopping point. For example, 5 sweeping breaths from soles to crown and crown to soles, then 5 sweeping breaths from knees to crown and crown to knees, then 5 sweeping breaths from hips to crown and crown to hips, etc. until you have gone both up and back down the body. Dr. Louise Montello details this practice in her CD, Relax Into Wellness II.

I'm taking you through the short version in the practice below.

Sweeping Breath: 1min46sec.

The postures we learned this week are Laying on the Therapeutic Spinal Strip and Supported Reclining Twist.

Laying on the Therapeutic Spinal Strip

Step 1: Use a short strip or fold your long strip in half and place it on the floor behind you. Lay down on it and check for placement by finding the soft spot just below the breast bone. (If you don't have a spinal strip you can use a rolled up mat.) The spinal strip should be just opposite that soft spot where your finger tips are resting. Keep one hand at the soft spot and run the other hand behind your back to check for placement.
Step 2: Once you are laying down notice if you have any discomfort in the low back or if your lower ribs are flaring up. If either of these things are happening you need to lift your hips up and place a folded blanket under your hips/sacrum area. Keep your knees bent.
Step 3: If you still have discomfort or flared ribs, unfold your strip and lay on it in a single layer. If you feel like your chin is higher than your forehead place a pillow or folded blanket under your head.
Step 4: Lay for 5-15 minutes, allowing the shoulders to settle in around the black strip. Focus on your breathing. 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 back down on your back in Savasana.

Supported Reclining Twist

Coming into the pose:
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, 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.

Next week is our last class room meeting. We will learn our final postures and one new breath practice. I encourage you to continue to journal your experiences, noticing how you feel, and taking note of any changes in your attitude, mind, body or spirit.

Best of luck relaxing. Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

30 Day Relaxation Challenge - Week 3

Congratulations! You are at the half-way point in this 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge.

My hope for you is that by creating a new habit of softness in your breath and body, and by setting your intention (sankalpa) and repeating it to yourself every day, that you will start to feel an opening, an ease in your body and your life. Check back in your journal and see how you were feeling at the beginning of the practice. Then take stock of how you feel now. Note any differences. Note if there are not any differences. Continue to do your homework, claiming 10-15 minutes (or more) each day for 30 days to consciously relax.

For our first week we practiced building breath awareness with Equal Breathing or Sama Vritta Pranayama.  The 2nd week we learned the 3-Part Breath or Dirga Pranayama. This week we will learn one of my favorite breath practices: 2 to 1 Breathing.

2 to 1 Breathing: 2min48sec.

The postures we learned this week are Supported Lumbar Stretch and Supported Side Reclining Twist.

 Supported Lumbar Stretch

To do the Supported Lumbar Stretch, 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. Lay down, bend your knees, lift your butt off the floor and come into little bridge pose. Place your roll under you so it is at your waist - center it behind your bellybutton. Now start to lower your seat towards the floor, arching your spine over the roll.  When you settle your seat down to the floor, 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. Sit on the tail of the blanket if you have extra. Conversely, if you feel nothing, you will need to lift your seat into little bridge and make your roll a little bigger. Please click here to view the main post on this pose to see additional pictures and instruction.

Supported Side Reclining Twist

To come into Supported Side Reclining Twist, sit on your shins on the floor with a bolster at your side (next to one thigh). The bolster should extend long-ways away from the body. Let your seat slide off of your legs towards your bolster / blankets so that you are seated with your knees bent and your feet are slightly away from your body, off to one side. Turn the torso so the belly is facing the bolster, place one hand on either side of the bolster, lengthen the spine, then start to lay the body down on the bolster for a side-reclining, supported twist. Head can rest facing either side. Arms can rest in a comfortable position. Take this pose on each side for about the same length of time. Fore more details on this pose click here.

Next week we will learn 2 more poses and a new breath practice. I encourage you to continue to journal your experiences, noticing how you feel, and taking note of any changes in your attitude, mind, body or spirit.

Best of luck relaxing. Enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

30 Day Relaxation Challenge - Week 2

You made it through your first week of the 

You are creating a new habit of softness in your breath and body. This week we have two new postures, a new breath practice and a new guided meditation and deep relaxation practice.

Remember, the "challenge" part of this class is the homework - you must claim 10-15 minutes (or more) each day for 30 days and consciously relax. Also, continue to repeat your sankalpa (intention) to yourself 3x both before and after your relaxation practice to help your deepest desire come to fruition. Continue to journal if this is helpful to you.

For our first week we practiced building breath awareness with Equal Breathing or Sama Vritta Pranayama. Our breath practice will start this way every time and then we may move into a different breath practice. This week we will practice the 3-Part Breath or Dirga Pranayama.

3-Part Breath: 3min43sec.

The postures we learned this week are Legs-up-the-Wall and Supported Reclining Bound Angle.

Legs up the Wall

Legs up the wall pose is a great pose to do if you don't have any props. All you need is a wall. It can be a little tricky to come in to but once you get the hang of it you'll be hanging around upside down all the time.

Getting into this pose is very much like getting into Legs on a Chair pose. Sit down next to the wall with one hip towards the wall. As you start to lay back, you must also swing your legs up and your body around so your bottom is towards the wall. When you are turned tail to the wall, settle your body on the floor and your legs up the wall.

If you cannot straighten your legs or if your tail is curling up, you are too close to the wall. Push yourself back a little. Now your legs won't be straight up, they will be more at a slant, but that's ok. Let yourself soften here. Watch your breath. Let the belly rise and fall naturally with the breath. Let the arms rest out to the sides, palms up. Stay here for as long as you are comfortable. For more information and variations on this pose click here.

Supported Reclining Bound Angle

 Supported Reclining Bound Angle

Sit on the floor in front of a pile of pillows, folded blankets or a bolster propped up at a slant. Lay back on your bolster/pillow pile. Allow your knees to open out to the sides, resting them on pillows, blocks or blankets for comfort. Draw your feet in close to the body. Let the arms rest out at your sides, palms facing up. There should be no strain on the shoulders or neck from the arms pulling down towards the floor. Support the arms with blocks, blankets or pillows as needed. Close the eyes and try to keep your attention on watching the breath. Stay as long as you like. For more information and variations on this pose click here.

In the coming weeks we will learn more poses and more breathwork. I encourage you to continue to journal your experiences, noticing how you feel, and taking note of any changes in your attitude, mind, body or spirit.

Best of luck relaxing. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

30 Day Relaxation Challenge - Week 1 Comments

I sent an info-email to family and friends to let them know what I am doing and I have received a few comments which I would love to share.

I try to do this everyday after my PT exercises.  The chair pose is wonderful as it takes all the pressure off your lower body. ~ LS

I'm really delighted that you sent this information.  Being a singer, I sometimes forget to breathe correctly and my throat tightens up and vocal chords with it.  I'm going to work on the 30 day challenge and see if by doing this I'll be able to improve this particular problem regarding singing, while at the same time allowing myself to calm down.  I just love what you do.  Thank you! ~ JD

I would love to take this class! I will definitely be following along online. ~ LJ

Good morning Sara, What a nice way for me to begin my day with you and the equal breathing . Thank you.  I am going to tune in each day with you. I'm getting ready for my holiday sale and need to relax as well as work hard. I love you, Dad

My students had some good points too. Here are a few insights from class.

I really noticed how much work it is to build a new habit of relaxing. ~ Anon

I've been able to notice moments where relaxation is upon me and appreciate those moments. ~ Anon

I was able to help myself relax by keeping my hands busy with meditation beads. ~ Anon

Thank you all for your comments and best of luck to everyone with your own personal relaxation challenge. Remember: relax and breathe. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

30 Day Relaxation Challenge - Week 1

The Art of RelaxationWelcome to your first week of the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge.

The "challenge" part of this class is the homework - you must claim 10-15 minutes (or more) each day for 30 days and consciously relax. We will learn relaxation techniques in class which you can bring home with you including postures, breathwork and meditation. Part of your class fee includes The Art of Relaxation by Deborah Adele. You can use this CD anytime, using any of the practices, throughout this month (and beyond). (If you are not in the challenge but would like to try this practice, click on the image to go to Yoga North's store to buy this CD or click here to buy from CD Baby.)

Before starting this challenge consider taking stock of how you feel in your life right now and then writing it down in a journal. Also, set your sankalpa (intention) by thinking of your deepest desire and phrasing it into a positive statement such as, "I am whole, healthy and happy" or, "I am one with all" or, "May I be happy with what life brings me." Repeat your sankalpa to your self 3 times before your practice and 3 times at the end of your practice to help bring your intention to fruition.

A great way to find relaxation is through the breath. For our first week we practiced building breath awareness with Equal Breathing or Sama Vritta Pranayama. Any time you can bring your awareness to your breath, you can bring your body and mind into balance and calmness. You can practice while you are driving, sitting at the computer, or during a conversation where you find yourself getting upset. Conscious breathing brings a relaxed and focused state of mind. Take long deep breaths, both in and out, relax the belly and breathe. Listen to the instructions for Equal Breathing below.

Equal Breathing: 2min35sec.

The postures we learned this week are Legs on a Chair and Supported Child's Pose.

Legs on a Chair

Sit down in front of a chair or couch with the seat of the chair/couch towards you. Sit with one hip facing your prop. As you start to lay back, you must also swing your legs up and your body around so your bottom is towards the chair. When you are turned tail to the chair, settle your legs onto the chair's seat, making sure they are completely supported from the backs of the knees down to the feet. For a more complete description click here.

Supported Child's Pose

Sit on your shins, knees spread wide around the bolster/pillow-pile in front of you. Lay forward in Child’s Pose resting the body over the bolster. Arms can rest forward or behind, the head should take equal time being turned to each side. Make sure to have enough support under the belly. You don't want any strain in your back. Add props as needed. For a more complete description click here.

In the coming weeks we will learn more poses and more breathwork. I encourage you to journal your experiences starting with how you feel before you start this practice, and then continue journaling as the challenge continues, noticing how you feel, and taking note of any changes in your attitude, mind, body or spirit.

Best of luck relaxing. Enjoy!

Breathing for Relaxation

The 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge starts today (Monday, November 1st, 2010). I just found this article on Yoga Journal about breathing for relaxation. We will practice this throughout November in addition to other breath practices, postures and meditation.

Breathing for Relaxation

How simple breath work can lead you to a deep state of relaxation.

By Claudia Cummins

Beginning students often ask for instructions on the "right" way to breathe. Alas, there's no single answer to that question, since the optimal breathing pattern at any given moment depends on the type of practice. Restorative yoga focuses solely on relaxation, though, and emphasizes breathing that creates calm and serene states of being. When you settle into restorative poses, try the following techniques for cultivating breathing patterns that are hallmarks of relaxation and well-being.

Move the Belly with the Breath
When we are at ease, the diaphragm is the primary engine of the breath. As we inhale, this domelike muscle descends toward the abdomen, displacing the abdominal muscles and gently swelling the belly. As we exhale, the diaphragm releases back toward the heart, enabling the belly to release toward the spine.

Keep the Upper Body Quiet
During high-stress times, it's common to heave the upper chest and grip the muscles in the shoulders and throat. When we're at rest, the muscles of the upper chest remain soft and relaxed as we breathe, and the real work occurs in the lower rib cage. To promote this type of breathing pattern, consciously relax the jaw, throat, neck, and shoulders, and envision the breath sweeping into the deepest parts of the lungs as you breathe in and out.

Breathe Easy
Although some breaths may be deeper or faster than others, when we're relaxed, the alternating rhythm of the inhalations and exhalations feels like a lullaby—smooth, soft, and uninterrupted by jerks and jags. Consciously relaxing into this wavelike, oceanic quality of the breath deepens our sense of peace and ease.

Lengthen the Exhalations
When we feel stressed, our exhalations tend to grow short and choppy. When we're relaxed, though, the exhalations extend so completely that they are often longer than the inhalations. Some teachers even instruct that if we're deeply relaxed, each exhalation will be twice as long as the inhalation. To facilitate this, try gently extending each exhalation by one or two seconds.

Pause After Each Exhalation
In our most relaxed state, the end of each exhalation is punctuated by a short pause. Lingering in this sweet spot can be deeply satisfying and can evoke feelings of profound quiet and stillness.

Let the Whole Body Breathe
When we are at ease, the whole body participates in the breathing process. Imagine a sleeping baby: When he breathes in and out, the belly swells and releases, the hips rock to and fro, the shoulders bob, and the spine gently undulates. This offers a mini-massage for the muscles and organs of the whole body, and turns each breath into a soothing melody that further calms and quiets every cell within.

Claudia Cummins teaches yoga in central Ohio. Visit to read a selection of her essays.

Sara's Note: If you can really focus in on how your breath feels in your body you can get into a sweet spot of complete absorption with your breath. Notice how the belly moves, notice how the shoulders move, notice any pauses in your breath and how that makes you feel. This Pranayama (breath) practice is part of the process of the 8-fold path. This will bring us towards Pratyahara (Sense withdrawal, directing the attention inwards), Dharana (Concentration, developing one-pointed focus), Dhyana (Deep meditation, heightened awareness of oneness or unity) and finally, Samadhi (Enlightenment, Awakening, Oneness, Nirvana, Unity, Bliss). So let's breathe! 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

30 Day Relaxation Challenge November 1-30, 2010

Join me for the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge starting November 1st.


Rest your body, quiet your mind & renew your spirit with Deep Relaxation.

In the state of deep relaxation, tension is released from the body on a physical level, and the mind completely switches off. The relaxation response brings your system into balance. When practiced regularly, you will reduce your everyday stress levels and boost your feelings of wellbeing. You will also build deeper awareness and bolster your health with deep relaxation.

Class will consist of a variety of relaxation techniques including guided meditation & imagery, breathwork, and restorative postures. Join this unique 30 Day "Challenge" to bring ease to your body, mind and spirit. Meets Mondays 6:45-8:00 pm, Nov 1-30.

Teacher: Sara Duke
Date: Mondays, November 1-30, 2010
Time: 6:45-8:00 pm
Cost: $75 (includes Relaxation CD and course materials).

Advance Registration Required. To register or for more details visit Yoga North or call the office at 218-722-YOGA.

Check back here for homework extras (audio guides, images, and instruction) as the Challenge progresses. Looking forward to seeing you there. Namaste.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part VIII

Here's the sixth and final of the Restorative poses from Yoga Journal's article (Winter 2010 - link at bottom of page).

Reverse Savasana (Corpse Pose), variation

By Karen Macklin
Sequence by Jillian Pransky

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.

Sara's Note: This is the last pose in the sequence. If you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. I love how many blankets and bolsters have been used in this sequence. The more comfortable you can make yourself, the more your body can soften. Enjoy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part VII

Here's the fifth of the Restorative poses from Yoga Journal's article (Winter 2010 - link at bottom of page).

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

By Karen Macklin
Sequence by Jillian Pransky

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.

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.

Sara's Note: Stayed tuned for more poses or, if you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. Next pose is Reversed Savasana (Final Resting Position, alternate).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part VI

Here's the fourth of the Restorative poses from Yoga Journal's article (Winter 2010 - link at bottom of page).

Side-Lying Savasana and Jathara Parivartanasana (Side-Lying Corpse Pose and Revolved Abdomen Pose), variation

By Karen Macklin
Sequence by Jillian Pransky

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, in Side-Lying Savasana, 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. 

Sara's Note: Stayed tuned for more poses or, if you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. Next pose is Savasana (Final Resting Position).

Monday, October 18, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part V

Here's the third of the Restorative poses from Yoga Journal's article (Winter 2010 - link at bottom of page).

Supta Baddha Konasana (Supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose), variation

By Karen Macklin
Sequence by Jillian Pransky

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.

Sara's Note: Stayed tuned for more poses or, if you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. Next pose is Side-Lying Savasana and Jathara Parivartanasana (Side-Lying Corpse Pose and Revolved Abdomen Pose), variation.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part IIII

Here's the second of the Restorative poses from Yoga Journal's article (Winter 2010 - link at bottom of page).

Salamba Balasana (Supported Child's Pose)

By Karen Macklin
Sequence by Jillian Pransky

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. 

Sara's Note: Stayed tuned for more poses or, if you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. Next pose is Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part III

Here's the first of the Restorative poses from Yoga Journal's article (Winter 2010 - link at bottom of page). This pose reminds me very much of Legs-on-a-Chair.

Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose), variation

By Karen Macklin
Sequence by Jillian Pransky

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.

Sara's Note: Stayed tuned for more poses or, if you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. Next pose is Salamba Balasana (Supported Child's Pose).

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part II

Here's the 2nd part of the Yoga Journal article on Restorative Yoga that was published in the magazine in the winter of 2010.

Rest Easy 
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. 

Sara's note: To read the first part of this article, click here. If you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. The next post will feature the 1st Restorative pose in the sequence, Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose), variation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Solid Ground ~ Part I

I was very happy to see Yoga Journal do a big article on Restorative Yoga last winter. And now they have made it available on line too. I'm going to re-post the article and the poses but it is super long so I'll do it in parts.

Give roots to your restorative practice and be free to expand.
By Karen Macklin
Sequence by Jillian Pransky

It's been a long week, so you sign up for a Friday evening restorative yoga class. Unwinding with some rejuvenating supported postures for an hour and a half sounds perfect—almost like a minivacation. But moments after you close your eyes and immerse yourself in the first pose, an unexpected visitor arrives: anxiety. Suddenly your mind is filled with an endless stream of thoughts about the past week's events, your job security, and everything you have to accomplish over the weekend, not to mention doubts about where your relationship is headed and whether or not you paid that credit card bill. The pose feels as though it's going on forever, and although your body isn't moving, your mind won't stop racing. You feel restless, agitated, and out of control. This is supposed to be "restorative" yoga. What happened?

Restorative yoga is a passive practice in which poses like Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) or Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) are held for several minutes at a time, propped with blankets, blocks, and bolsters to minimize the amount of work that the muscles are doing in the pose. A restorative practice can rest your body, stretch your muscles, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and calm your nervous system, moving you into a peaceful state of deep relaxation. But while the practice of restorative yoga comes easily to some people, it can present real challenges for others.

"A lot of people think that restorative yoga is like a bliss practice, where they'll just be lying around and relaxing," says Jillian Pransky, the national director of restorative yoga training for YogaWorks. "But the practice of being still and restful provokes anxiety for many people. And during times of extreme stress, such as illness, a difficult transition, or grief, releasing control of the body can overwhelm the nervous system."

Passive postures can evoke feelings of discomfort for myriad reasons. On a physical level, Pransky says, the body is in a vulnerable state: You are releasing control of all your muscles, lying with your eyes closed and your chest and abdomen—the location of your vital organs—exposed. In many restorative poses, the body is also splayed out, and often the bones are not resting in their sockets, which can leave you feeling physically unstable or insecure. In Savasana (Corpse Pose), for example, the thigh bones pop up from the weight of the feet on the floor and the external release of the leg muscles, as opposed to resting inside the joint as they do when you're standing or reclining with the knees bent.

On an emotional level, restorative poses can be challenging because, when the body is in a passive posture, the mind has fewer physical tasks and sensations to focus on than it does in more active poses, making your attention more likely to turn inward. Any emotions you might have been suppressing throughout the day—fear, frustration, sadness, anxiety—are likely to come to the forefront of your mind once your body begins to relax.

Finally, if you go very deep into the meditation of the pose, says Pransky, you can lose a sense of your physical shape. If you are in a content and secure frame of mind, this can deepen your experience and provide a sense of bliss; but if you are going through a difficult time, losing a sense of your body can feel frightening and disorienting.

But just because restorative yoga can trigger anxious or uncomfortable feelings doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. In fact, times of high anxiety or stress are the times you can most benefit from the healing aspects of a restorative practice. The solution, Pransky says, is to support passive postures with props in such a way that the body and mind feel grounded, safe, and integrated. That way, you can still experience the benefits of restorative yoga, and can eventually learn to use the practice as a tool for being with all those feelings.

Pransky didn't always teach restorative yoga with these adaptations. Her own restorative practice was initially more about feeling light and blissful than feeling rooted and stable, she says. But 11 years ago, a death in the family brought on a period of intense anxiety that caused her practice to change. Suddenly her former way of practicing restorative yoga—going so deep into the meditation of the pose that she'd be aware only of her energetic body, not her physical body—was no longer blissful but destabilizing and disconnecting. "I was just out there. It was really scary," she says.

Pransky's experience with anxiety led her to develop an approach to restorative yoga that could accommodate and support an agitated mind. She drew on her training in Anusara Yoga, which emphasizes the biomechanical and alignment principles of "integration" (setting up the bones so that you can draw them toward, and not away from, the core of the body). She also tapped into her studies with somatic therapist Ruella Frank, PhD, in which Pransky says she learned how to "contain the outline of the body" with the use of supportive props and blankets so that the body feels cradled and safe, similar to the way a baby becomes calmer when swaddled.

Other techniques for making the body feel less vulnerable in restorative postures include using blankets to create a layer of warmth and protection, and placing eye bags over open palms to create a "hand holding" effect. Pransky also recommends resting the feet against something—a wall, a rolled-up blanket, or a partner—in every pose. This helps the body feel more connected to the earth, she says, and integrates the legs back into the body, creating a deeper sense of stability and safety. Props such as folded or rolled blankets placed to support the arms and legs likewise ensure that the weight of the leg bones and arm bones drops in toward the body, and that the weight of the head is fully supported.

Finally, Pransky recommends leaving the eyes open during a restorative practice if closing them is uncomfortable for you. "When you have a very busy mind, closing the eyes can be an invitation for the mind to wander into worry," she says. "Keeping the eyes open can help you feel more connected to the outside world."

With these adaptations, Pransky says, you can develop the capacity to be more grounded and relaxed in restorative postures, whatever your mental state. "Once you can become more connected to your breath, the whole nervous system calms," she says. "And then, when those difficult emotions arise, you might find that you can handle them more easily than you thought you could."

Sara's note: If you would like to read the entire article at Yoga Journal's website click here. I'll post the sequence of poses in the next few blog posts.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yang-Yin Class ~ October 2, 2010

Yang-Yin Special Combo Class - Join us on Saturday, October 2nd for this one time only class.

Join Kristin and Sara for this unique 2 hour class that takes you through an invigorating Vinyasa Class to warm the body followed by a restorative Yin Class with long held stretches and a deep relaxation. Space is Limited.  Please register in advance. Sign up online or call the office at 218-722-9642.

Date: October 2nd
Time: 8:30-10:30 am
Cost: $15
Location: Yoga North
4628 Pitt Street, Suite 208
Duluth, MN 55804

Looking forward to seeing you there. Namaste.

Monday, September 27, 2010

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.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Eight Principles of Movement

Many of the teachers at Yoga North have had Therapeutic Yoga training with Susi Hately Aldous. She sums up her training with 8 Principles of Movement to help us get out of pain. Of course there is a lot to learn about each of these (if we want to confuse ourselves and make it complicated). Or we can just keep it simple, follow the principles, build awareness and work to get out of pain.

From Susi's "I Love Anatomy" Ezine: 
Eight Principles of Movement
from Anatomy and Asana: 
Preventing Yoga Injuries

by Susi Hately Aldous

Susi's first book - click to link to site.
1. Nourish Relaxation. This principle is all about creating ease in the body. It is in this state that you can become aware of your body, and recognize the whispers that are letting you know when to back off, when to go deeper, when to switch practices. One of my favourite mantras is "when you listen to the body when it whispers, you don't have to hear it scream". Something to try - listen, really listen to the whispers in your practice. 

2. Begin with the Spine in Mind. The spine is the hub of our movement, and it is also the geographical area for a tonne of nervous, vascular, muscular and fascial connection. From here, nerves move peripherally to tell the body how fast and how much to contract. Something to try - when you move, consider what your spine is doing throughout the movement. Don't try to change it, just be aware of it and feel what it does. 

3. Connect the Spine with the Largest Joints First. Many practices build asanas from the feet up, or the hands up. I like to begin centrally and out. Why? Because a large degree of movement happens (or we want it to happen) at the shoulders and hips. If it doesn't happen there...compensations are going to occur. Improve movement at your shoulders and hips...and you will know happiness! Something to try - when you raise your arms to the sky, do your ribs pop out, or do you try to hold your ribs from popping out? If so, only move your arms as far as your ribs stay ease-y and quiet. With no extra effort. 

4. Move Your Joints In Their Optimal Range of Motion.  I love this principle since it brings in the "depends" factor. If you were just on a hike, then your practice will likely be different than the day prior to your hike. If you have osteoarthritis, your practice will be different than someone who doesn't have osteoarthritis. Be ease-y with yourself. I promise that if you move in the pure range of motion that is available for your joint, your range will improve. Something to try - when you move your leg in your hip socket in Tree Pose, does your pelvis move? If so, you aren't moving as purely as you could be...try making the movement more pure and see what happens. 

5. Core Stability: Boost Up Your Bandhas and Breathe. Core stability is so vital to a practice, and more often than not, I see people working far too hard at something that is very simple. Something to try - when you are engaging your core, are you breathing - breathing totally easily? Try engaging in that form. Why? Because your transversus abdominus interweaves with the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor and diaphragm work together for full body breathing. Hold or force your breath, and you will not have core stability . . you will have rigidiity.

6. Adopt Relaxed Resilience. For every level of awareness we have, we have an opportunity to strengthen it, by going deeper. Ask yourself - where else can you be aware? In what other asanas can you experience ease? How deep can you go? Something to try - survey your asanas and discover where you are holding tension and purposefully attempt to be okay with the tension...truly okay. Then move in a tension free range of motion (see next principle). What do you now notice?

7. Move In Your Pain Free Range of Motion. This is the best principle ever. And it is the one that stumps (along with # 8) most people most of the time. Why? Because most people think pain is normal. What I am suggesting (because I see it everyday, and in every training that I teach), is that everyone can have reduced pain or have pain eliminated by moving in a pain free range of motion or in a range where their pain symptoms don't increase. Why does it work? Because you are sending different communications back to the nervous system, which in turn changes you physiologically. Try it's crazy and it works. It is mind blowing! Something to try - really and truly move in your pain free range of motion. See what happens.

8. Less Is More. Some would say that this is cliche and doesn't work...I am here to say that in every aspect of life it does. Both in my life and on the mat. Teachers who have trained extensively with me, will also agree. The idea is cultivating less effort to have the same result. It is about achieving a simple yoga asana before moving to a complex asana. Your body, your muscles and your brain will love you for it. Something to try - can you do the same asana with 5-15% less effort and still have the same result?

If you want more: Coming soon is the Online Biomechanics, Kinesiology and Anatomy training program. If you are interested in exploring these concepts with me as your guide for one month, you can click here and we will send you details when the program is launching. We'll send them soon.
Happy exploring!!

Sara's note: For more information on Susi and her teaching visit This article is taken from her September e-newsletter 2010.