Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Meditation 101

I thought I had already re-posted this meditation overview article from Yoga Journal but I can't find it on my blog so here it is (again?). One of my favorites is to listen to the sounds of life. I was introduced to this concept first though Elesa Commerse and The Deep Calm. She has a nice meditation CD called Sit Comfortably Meditation Timer CD (pictured right). The funny thing about the below article is that I feel like deep listening is a combination of the 1st four ideas: just sit, listen to the sounds of life, practice bare attention and follow the breath. Really, this is being acutely aware of the present moment. Anyway, I recommend the CD and here's the article from Yoga Journal too.

Meditation 101
In the classical yoga tradition, hatha yoga is practiced as preparation for seated meditation. So over time, you might naturally find yourself drawn inward toward more contemplative practices.

By Claudia Cummins

To give meditation a try, sit comfortably, set a timer for 10 minutes, and explore one of the following strategies. And consider yourself forewarned: Meditation is a delightfully simple practice, but that doesn't mean it's easy!

Just sit. Commit to doing nothing more than sitting quietly and watching what happens. Don't pick up the phone, don't answer the doorbell, don't add another item to your to-do list. Just sit and observe the thoughts that arise and pass through your mind. You will likely be surprised by how difficult it is to sit quietly for 10 minutes. In the process, though, you may learn something important about the qualities of the restless mind and the ever-changing nature of life.

Listen to the sounds of life. Close your eyes and tune in to the sounds percolating both within and around you. Open your ears and adopt a receptive attitude. At first, you'll likely hear only the most obvious noises, but over time, you'll discover new layers of sounds that you had previously tuned out. Challenge yourself to observe what you hear without clinging to it or resisting it. Notice how the world feels more alive as your awareness of the present deepens.

Practice bare attention. Notice the raw sensations of the present moment—feelings of warmth and coolness, hardness and softness, pressure and ease. Which parts of your body are in contact with the earth? How does the shape of the body shift with each inhalation and exhalation? How does your experience change over time? Cultivating an awareness of the present moment will foster a more serene and attentive mind, one that is able to settle into the here and now.

Follow the breath. Attach your mind to the breath. While you're breathing in, note that you're breathing in, and while you're breathing out, focus on the exhalation. Don't manipulate the breath in any way; simply watch it with your mind's eye, just as you would follow a tennis ball bouncing from one side of the court to the other during a particularly engrossing match. When you find that your mind has strayed, as it inevitably will, gently refocus it on the breath and begin again.

Use a mantra. Choose a favorite word, phrase, prayer, or fragment of a poem, and repeat it slowly and softly. Let its rhythm and meaning lull you into a quiet, contemplative state of ease. When you notice that your mind has wandered off to other thoughts, simply redirect it back toward the words you've chosen as your touchstone and rededicate your awareness to them.

Practice kindness. As you sit quietly, focus your inner attention on someone you know who might benefit from an extra dose of kindness and care. In your mind's eye, send this person love, happiness, and well-being. Soften your skin, open the floodgates of your heart, and let gentle goodwill pour forth.

Claudia Cummins practices happiness and teaches yoga in central Ohio. A selection of her essays can be found at

Monday, March 28, 2011

Deep Relaxation Workshop ~ Saturday April 2, 2010

Join me for Deep Relaxation

Rest your body, rest your mind, renew your spirit, relieve stress, build awareness & bolster your health with deep relaxation.

In this workshop we will discover our sankalpa and practice breathwork, relaxation techniques, guided meditation & imagery.

Settle into the quietude of deep relaxation. Practice deep relaxation on Saturday, April 2nd from 10:00am-12:00 pm at Yoga North.

$25 in advance ($30 at the door). Advance Registration Encouraged.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Letter from a Reader

The following is a letter from Karen Paulson who has read my blog and shared great tips on Yoga Nidra CDs that I didn't know about. She has taken her own relaxation journey and I have asked her to share her story with us.

Karen says:

I first became interested in Yin Yoga, and then Restorative shortly after that, two years ago when my friend and yoga teacher mentioned it to me as a possible way to relieve muscle tension and the stress that causes it. She loaned me a book by Sarah Powers, "Insight Yoga," and a DVD by Paul Grilley, "Yin Yoga: The Foundations of a Quiet Practice." I fell in love with the long, slow poses and the quiet contemplation they encouraged. For my birthday, she gave me Richard Miller's book & DVD, "Yoga Nidra: The Meditative Heart of Yoga," and I immediately incorporated that and yin into my weekly rotation of asana practice.

Life is so YANG! With sons in the military and college and another one in high school (where I also work), a husband whose job demands travel and long hours, it seems like I'm often struggling to catch a long, slow, deep breath! Throw menopause in there and my brain and body are often caught up in a confusing, spinning vortex of activity and fatigue. I have found that these practices are helping me to cultivate a calm, positive energy. Indeed, that is the heart of my sankalpa...that intention I set for myself... when I lie down for a restorative session.

When Sara took on her 40 day challenge to rest and restore every day, it encouraged me to find time for a little every day, not just once a week. I jumped in with her around day 25 and enjoyed reading about her experiences and sharing impressions of the different personalities and styles we encountered in the recordings. I found that even on my busiest days I could fit in a 15 - 17 minute session with Katie Meehan or Vicki Hansen after work before running to a late afternoon Jazzercise class. In fact, I found that short lie-down to really give me the energy for the dancing and weight training we do in Jazz. On days where I stay in for the evening, I'll choose a longer session by Amy Weintraub, Richard Miller or Winter Robinson.

I attended a weekend workshop at The Asheville Yoga Center in February about using yoga to manage your mood. The workshop was led by Weintraub and she explained that she does Yoga Nidra every day without fail. She usually does it while still lying in bed in the morning. She just reaches for her earbuds and ipod and switches on one of a few different recordings she has. She explained that doing it in the morning is nice because it's easier to stay awake. I've found that to be the case, too. My favorite mornings are those where I rise at 4:30, do a short kundalini morning warm-up, 11-minute meditation, and then end with a 20-minute yoga nidra recording. I find myself energized and ready to greet the day.

When I began my meditation practice, my mentor said, "It's 11 minutes! Everybody can find 11 minutes!" She's right. And now I find that I also feel that way about Yoga Nidra. Everyone can find time for a short practice. You just have to keep your mind open to those little spans of time where nothing is going on. And then? When you find it? Lie down with a recording and do nothing!"

Karen's Bio:
My husband, Bob, and I live in Indian Land, SC, which is just outside Charlotte, NC. We have three boys: Nate (college student), Riley (Army guy), and Taylor (sophomore in high school). I have two blogs: one about my yoga journey, The 8 Limb Path, and another about food and family life called No Food Left Behind

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fell off the Wagon of Relaxation

When I started my 40 Day Relaxation Practice I was fairly certain that I would be able to make it. And I did. But what I didn't expect was to keep on doing it for 8 more days. Then, since I had kept up my practice, I was a bit arrogant thinking to myself, "This is so easy. I can keep on and on." No. I can't. I fell off the wagon on Friday. It's always Friday that messes me up. The time that I like to relax happens to be exactly when I teach Yin (which is relaxing for me but not the same as receiving a relaxation practice). So, I missed Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday. As we say in Minnesota, Oof-da! I know I'll get back on the relaxation wagon, but it's been interesting to observe how easy it is to let a good habit slide. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Report on New Restorative Stations Class Flow Plan

The new class flow pattern worked quite well on Thursday. I think it was easier for my students to move from one station to the next when all they had to do was roll over. I used this flow plan (click image to enlarge):

But I had slightly different stations.
Row 1 was Supported Reclining Bound Angle,
Row 2 was Supported Side Reclining Twist,
Row 3 was Laying on the Therapeutic Spinal Strip,
Row 4 was Supported Forward Fold of your choice (i.e. Supported Child's, Wide Angle, Bound Angle, etc.) and
Row 5 was Legs on a Chair.
Click any of these links for more details on the pose.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Restorative Stations coming up Thursday

So, as I mentioned before, Yoga North got rid of their cushy carpet over the winter holidays. I really loved that carpet for restorative class. I basically used it as one, huge, whole-class prop. When the carpet existed I didn't need to use any mats and all the people were totally comfortable. But, things change and we have to change with them. (Do I sound bitter? I'm trying to let it go. I really am. I am almost over it.)

After the carpet left, Yoga North bought a bunch more props - bolsters, blankets, etc. which has been super great! I have taught Restorative Stations twice since the changeover and it went ok but people had a hard time moving from station to station. The floor is too hard for most folks to crawl on so most people ended up getting up and walking to their next spot. This usually meant walking and chatting with your neighbor which can be disruptive to calming energy.

So I've been thinking about some new layouts for Restorative Stations. I remembered what Satyam said about his "wave" style restorative so I thought I could try a variation on that. He had to have people pass their props to the next row because everyone brings their own mat. But I can set up the mats in advance and also set up the stations (like I normally do) but this time I'll try a different flow pattern that will be easier.

Here's what I used to do. This is an example of flowing around the room. Click on the image to see larger.

I talk about this quite a bit in this post: Leading a Restorative Class: Part Three.

Here's a couple of my new ideas:

First: Keep on doing 5 stations but re-work the flow pattern as seen below - click on the image to see enlarged.

Second: Reduce the number of poses to 4 and hold each pose longer - click on the image to see enlarged.

I'll probably try the first option this time and the second option next time and see what works best and what everyone likes.

At any rate....
Join me for Restorative Stations on Thursday - St. Pattie's Day
Class is held 1 x monthly.
Scheduled Dates: Mar 17, Apr 21, May 19
Time: 7–8:15pm - please pre-register with Yoga North
Cost: Drop-in rate/ punchcard*

*Please pre-register. This class requires tons of set-up and I need to know how many people will be attending. Sign up online or call the Yoga North office at 218-722-9642.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - And More

So my final day of relaxation was on Wednesday but on Thursday I found that I really craved my relaxation time. I had to take a break in the afternoon to practice Yoga Nidra. Same thing Friday. Today (Saturday) I don't really feel the need for formal relaxation since most of my day has been spent relaxing with my book anyway. However, it is getting to be the time of day that I usually want to take my break so I'm thinking of heading to my calm room as soon as I finish this post.

What I tend to discover when ever I do a 40 day practice (I've done 3 or 4 now) is that the habit that is formed through the discipline of doing something every day whether you want to do it or not, is one of the greatest benefits. I suppose this is the point of the 40 day commitment.

Unfortunately, it has been hard for me to keep up with my inner core practice since I was using the time to relax instead. Without maintaining my core stability, I have been having some difficulty with my SI joints slipping in and out of alignment. I think I need to find a better balance between relaxing and doing strengthening practices.

One of my students said, "I'm a Libra and I'm always happiest when I find balance." I like that lesson. I'm really happy that I did the relaxation practice and I want to continue to incorporate more relaxation and meditation into my life but I need to remember to maintain my balance between strength and yielding.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 40

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 - Day 40

Well, I made it! 40 days of relaxation. I spoke with my sister yesterday and she wondered if I felt any different or if Dave noticed any difference in me. It's hard to tell. Dave thinks the added stress of blogging about the relaxation might have offset any benefits. He's right, it was stressful to be so accountable. But accountability was also the benefit. It kept me honest. Each day brought new challenges and with relaxation I was able to examine my resistance to giving myself this gift. Most days I enjoyed taking a break for relaxation. But I noticed that on my super busy days and on my nothing-to-do days I had more resistance to taking the time to do my practice.

A funny thing happened on the final day of my self-imposed challenge. I worked til about 4:45 pm and my knitting group was coming over at 7 pm and I had committed to making dinner too so I had to do a short relaxation. I tried a new Yoga Nidra mp3: Maureen Lewiston - Yoga Nidra. It was well led and lasted about 20-23 minutes which was the amount of time I thought I could spare. Interestingly, I found myself feeling a bit robbed. I wanted more relaxation. I hadn't really felt this before but I took it is a good sign. My body and mind needed to relax more and I was getting the message. So after my guided practice I continued to lay in my calm room for another 15 minutes or so, just settling in and being quiet. My timing worked out fine. I was able to make dinner, eat dinner and get ready for my knitting group all by 7 pm.

I'm curious to see if I will continue my practice. I think I will but I think it will change a bit. I probably won't practice everyday but I will remember that on my busy days I really do need to take some time out for relaxation.

Thank you to everyone who has followed along with me. Your support and comments are much appreciated. If anyone has a relaxation story to share I'd be happy to put it up as a guest post. Write to me at sara (at) dorestorativeyoga (dot) com.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 39

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - Day 39

I taught my two regular yoga classes today and then went to the chiropractor. I haven't been adjusted for about 5 weeks. I had thought about making an in-between appointment because my SI joints kept slipping out of alignment which causes quite a bit of back pain. But then they would go back in and I'd think, Oh, I'm fine. Well, I probably shouldn't have put it off because I had so many things that needed adjustment - SI's, multiple ribs, neck, upper back, plus multiple fascial restrictions - that I am wiped out now.

But, since I was so tuckered out after my adjustments, I felt no guilt at "wasting away" the rest of my day doing relaxation. I tried a new Yoga Nidra practice by Amy Weintraub (thank you for the recommendation, Karen) called Life Force Yoga Nidra. I think I liked it. I say "think" because I can't remember much about it. I do recall hearing myself breathing and hearing her talking at the same time. Obviously I was relaxed.

I listened to all three tracks, Long Yoga Nidra, Short Yoga Nidra and Relax Into Sleep. I didn't really care for the Relax Into Sleep track. She started chanting her instructions as if she was Om-ing them and it didn't work for me. Plus she did quite a bit of whispering the word "relax" in a semi forceful manner which was a bit weird. But I'll give it another try. Maybe it will grow on me. At any rate, the CD was a super good deal since I downloaded it from Amazon for just 99 cents per track. So I do not feel bad about preferring two out of three tracks instead of three out of three.

Monday, March 7, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 38

Monday, March 7, 2011 - Day 38

Well, I have come full circle on this Relaxation for Tooth Pain journey. I had my follow up dental appointment today. I am not having sensitivity like I was a month ago. I can breathe without the air hurting my teeth, which is pretty nice. But, my dentist thinks I need a mouth guard. A $900 mouth guard. Ugh! She sees signs of wear on my teeth - probably from clenching or grinding - and I have a small chip in the enamel of my left, lower, rear molar which is part of a possible fracture in the tooth. She does not recommend a cheaper Walgreen's version of a mouth guard because wearing such a guard can do funny things to your bite and to your jaw muscles since it is not fitted for your mouth. This makes sense to me. But I still do not want to get the super expensive mouth guard.

On an up note, my hygienist thinks I have excellent oral hygiene. And I don't have any cavities. So, I am going to wait on the mouth guard. I am going to keep up with my awareness building and stress reduction regime in hopes that I can solve this problem myself. On a down note, my dentist says she has never seen anyone be able to break the habit of night time grinding because we don't even know we are doing it. But I am hoping with Yoga Nidra I can be more and more aware while sleeping and be the exception to the rule.

For today's relaxation I listened to James Jewell's entire CD, first the long version of Yoga Nidra and then I followed it up with the short version. I needed the extra long relaxation after going to the dentist. It's hard to hold your mouth open for an hour.

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 37

Sunday, March 6, 2011 - Day 37

I had such a do-nothing-stressful kind of day that I put off my relaxation til bedtime. Here's my day: read the paper and drink my tea, eat breakfast, do a bit of clean up after our wine ed group meeting last night, loll around, walk the dog, eat lunch, loll around some more, go to my friend's house for our randomly annual clothing exchange, go directly to Good Will afterward to drop off the clothes that no one wanted to reuse/repurpose (finally! I have been trying to get someone to take a few of my items for about 5 years now - I decided it was time to let it go), come home and read my book for about 3 hours and lastly, do my relaxation right before bed.

I listened to Dr. Louise Montello's Autogenic Training again and danged if I didn't have the best night of sleep I've had in a while. I made it through most of the practice with awareness but dropped off right at the end (of course it 11 PM by that time - past my bedtime). But I was able to put away my headphones without getting too tangled in the cords and I slept great. Thanks Dr. Louise.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 36

Saturday, March 5, 2011 - Day 36

Today Dave and I visited my mom for breakfast, took a relaxing walk afterward and generally visited away the morning. When we got home we had to get to cleaning the house because it was our wine education group get-together night at our house. We had quite a bit to do with cleaning, setting up the space (getting enough chairs to fit in a fairly tiny room) and getting food ready. Plus we had to eat, shower and get a bit of rest and relaxation in too.

Thankfully I had a long relaxation time yesterday because I only had about 20 minutes today. I listened to the short Yoga Nidra track on Yoga Nidra II by Robin Carnes. I was determined to stay fully alert and aware. I thought I was doing a pretty good job but then when she got to the breathing and counting part I guess I lost my alertness because I suddenly woke up to silence. The practice was over.

It's a funny thing but when I first started practicing Yoga Nidra I never missed anything. I did not fall asleep or drift in and out of conscienceness. I did feel rested afterward but I had not slept. But now (I could be making excuses for myself here) I find myself in that in-between conscienceness state quite often and I wonder, Isn't that good? Isn't that the state we are going for with Yoga Nidra? I kind of love that feeling of being aware enough to hear the Yoga Nidra instructions but at the same time my brain is so completely relaxed that it's almost as if my brain and body don't exist. It's super cool.

Friday, March 4, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 35

Friday, March 4, 2011 - Day 35
Wow, I can't believe I am on day 35. My dental office called today to remind me that I have an appointment on Monday. Which reminds me that I started this 40 day practice because of tooth pain.

I am happy to report that I am feeling pretty good in the teeth. I can eat things straight out of the fridge without cringing. I can can even sip water straight from the tap if I am careful (Duluth water comes from Lake Superior which is frozen right now so our tap water is pretty dang cold). I can drink hot things no problem at all and I can chew hard or chewy things without pain too.

Of course my 40 day practice is not scientific since I am both relaxing and using a special paste that I have to put on my teeth and let it sit for a while. So I can't unequivocally give credit to relaxation for the decrease in tooth pain. But I do think the practice has helped me reduce feelings of stress, which in turn has reduced my jaw clenching. I am more aware of feeling stress and then dealing with it by taking a break. Even though I had a bit of a downer week, it was nothing compared to times past. I'm very happy to be on this relaxation journey.

Today I listened to both the long Yoga Nidra practice and the short Yoga Nidra practice on Robin Carnes's second Yoga Nidra album. I was in la-la land and came back quite refreshed.

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 34

Thursday, March 3, 2011 - Day 34

Today's relaxation was lead by Margaret Harstad who is a co-worker of mine over at Yoga North. Margaret also has her own business: Muggy Moose Massage. She does all kind of massage but specializes in Thai Yoga Bodywork. I believe she is the only one in Duluth who practices this style.

For her class, she combines restorative style poses with Thai Bodywork. Here's how it works: she limits her class to 12 people so there are enough props to go around. She sets up individual stations around the room. We pick out a spot and stay there. She instructs us on how to get into the pose then once we are settled she comes around and gives us all a bit of individual attention, using Thai massage techniques on different parts of our bodies.

Last night we got back rubs, assisted back bends, shoulder rubs, neck and head work, and assisted happy baby pose or all the way into plow depending on flexibility. It was super great! I was so relaxed by the end. Plus, to make things even better, my friend Emily was signed up too and she picked me up and brought me home. It was so nice to be on the receiving end of a nourishing class.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 33

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - Day 33
It was another hard day for me. It's that time of year where other places are warming up but Duluth is getting colder. Spring equinox is just around the corner but over night we had temps down to -10. Ugh!

I didn't have to teach today but Dave and I had our final Northeast Entrepreneur's Fund "Be Strategic, Grow Your Business" class tonight. We had walked to this class all winter but gave up on walking for our final class because it was so dang cold out (in March!).

I know I am much less bothered by weather and lack of sunlight than I used to be before I had yoga but I still get down when it's cold, dark and should be spring but it isn't. So again, I am grateful for this practice that is "forcing" me to relax and take time out for myself. I listened to Robin Carnes's 1st Yoga Nidra album, longer Yoga Nidra track. It was very soothing and a good mental pick-me-up.

For tonight's practice (Thursday) I am going to Margaret's "Thai Restoration" class: Thai Yoga bodywork combined with restorative postures. YUM!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

40 Days of Relaxation - Day 32

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - Day 32
Last night I took my Tang Soo Do brown belt test. Class went from 6:30 pm - til almost 9:00 pm (I passed). This morning I taught two classes in a row and then went to the acupuncturist.  Dave had lunch waiting for me when I got home from teaching and from being needled, but just the same, I'm exhausted.

I tried a new Yoga Nidra practice today. I downloaded Yoga Nidra ~ Blissful Relaxation for Mind and Body by Vicki Hansen and Dana Gifford on the recommendation of Karen (frequent commenter on this blog). I listened to both the short and long track. Short track first which was good since it took me at least half the practice to settle myself and my dog in. The speaker is either Kiwi or Aussie - Kiwi I think - and it was fun to listen to her accent. She has a very soothing style and says a number of "feel good" type of things which was kind of funny but kind of ok too. She had music in the back ground of both tracks. Sometimes I was a bit distracted by it (birds tweeting, new-agey sounding riffs, etc.) and other times it was nice.

I am pretty sure I missed a big chunk of instruction because I could hear myself breathing (ok, tiny snores) but I could hear her talking at the same time sooooo, I don't know - maybe I didn't miss anything. I'll have to listen again to find out.

Anyway, I am grateful to have this relaxation practice. After two days with lots of physical activity, I seriously needed to relax.