Friday, February 6, 2015

Words to a student

image compliments of Amy2121 at Deviant
I was corresponding with a student and sharing about adding in variations of movement in my personal, daily practice:

I'll tell you what I do.  In my own practice, I do lots of little variations.  I never do any one thing more than four repetitions (usually two on each side).  I try to make each repetition a quality repetition that is breath-centric - so I feel movement not just in the limb but in the spine.  Inhale is for the upper back.  Exhale I try to sense around my belly and pelvis.  The intention is to move the spine and breath together while making these movements "out in the limbs" if that makes sense.  That coordination of breath and movement is all we need.  Things shift and change just from that gentle focus.  At least they do for me.  :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bye bye, bells palsy

image compliments of wall art hd gorgeous lavender

Over three and a half years ago, I suffered a scary event on the day before my due date.  My face stopped working on the left side.  Thankfully, it wasn't a stroke.  Unfortunately, it was bells palsy.  The good news at the time was that the baby was fine!  (And he still is).  The news that sort of slowly dawned on me was that my face, my gateway to the world, was a bit damaged.  It took a while to sink in during the early days of motherhood.

However, upon my return to the workforce, I realized I had lost something.  I'd lost a sense of confidence.  I felt tentative and vulnerable, especially in speaking and sales roles.

Without the bells palsy, a nervous system condition, I never would have come so far in the world of yoga therapy.  Without having been left so low, I never would have had the guts to spend the time, money, and effort to pursue training with the American Viniyoga Institute.  First through the teacher training and finally now, I'm about seven months from completing the Yoga Therapy certification.

I am continually progressing with seeing the opposite (Pratipaksa Bhavana) and understanding this process as a gift, rather than a hindrance.  Through this process I've come to find my path - the service I was meant to perform in this world.  I'm still figuring out how to reconcile this path with sending two kids to college - but my faith is developing.

The practice that has helped my bells palsy is a daily event.  It has been supplemented with gentle exercise, acupuncture, myofascial release massage, and craniosacral therapy.

I start on my back, with arm movements coordinated with breath.  I then add pelvic raises to those movements.  I move to my belly for many small variations of breath-centric movement.  I transition through a kneeling posture and to a standing forward bend with arm modifications, and a standing twist, also with arm movements.  I close the asana part of the practice with a table/child's pose variation called cakra vikasana.

I move to my cushion where I chant vowel sounds, in a rising pitch, with nyasa (gesture) and then I chant to ojas, tejas and prana to balance the doshas and perform some cool inner alchemy.  I ask for my faith to be nourished.

I move to a pranayama (breathing) practice with alternate nostril exhale (segmented and regular), alternate nostril inhale (segmented and regular) then nadi sodhana for a few rounds.

Meditation for a few breaths....

At my upcoming training I will be adding the final touches to my practice - meditation and prayer... modification of chanting possible.

With this post, which I've considered writing for some time, I recognize that the bells palsy is on its way out... and that I am SO CLOSE to recovered.  And I am grateful to the process it has engendered.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fall cleanse - Yoga and Ayurveda principles

image compliments of wall art hd

This is an amazing time!  The equinox, the new moon in Libra, and the beginning of fall.

I first noticed something was up with the energy around the change of the seasons when a friend was struggling with overeating and feeling rather driven and dissatisfied.  I received an Ayurvedic email newsletter from Vaidya Mishra that talked about Pitta imbalance and described this friend's issues to a tee.  I asked around with my other Pitta (dosha type) friends and could feel something energetic going on.

Vaidya Mishra has way more Ayurvedic expertise than I do, so I'll simplify.  Summer keeps the channels of the body open.  When the fall comes, the cooler temperatures naturally cause some congestion of those channels (heat dilates, cool constricts).  We need a little extra help pushing out the toxins that were naturally being helped out in the heat of the summer.  It's a perfect time for a few days of self-care.

I, personally, do not suffer from a pitta imbalance.  I have a kapha imbalance that is "pushed" by my vata imbalance.  So for me, pacification of vata energy allows me to calm down enough so that my kapha coping behaviors don't kick in too strongly.  I'm grateful to Debby Andersen for helping me to figure out my vikruti.  To learn more about Prakruti and Vikruti go here. 

I've spent a few days now with the following protocol:
  • Abhyanga (vata-pacifying self-massage with vata oil containing magnesium and Vitamin D)
  • Nasya Oil in the sinuses - very helpful for my bells palsy
  • A trip to the pool including some hot tub action
  • A trip to the sauna for some hot/cold/hot/cold (sauna and a 30 second cold shower alternated)
  • No alcohol
  • Little caffeine
  • Little meat (no red meat)
  • Light exercise
  • Increased Veggies, detox tea, and water
  • Reiki (self-applied)
  • Detoxifying yoga practice emphasizing twisting on exhale and twisting on suspension after exhale.  
I feel great!  I feel better than I have in a long time and my bells palsy is almost completely gone, as evidenced by feedback from my neighbor and my Dad.  I also feel more space, calmer, and my energy feels excellent.

Just a few notes about the detoxifying yoga practice I did last night before my reiki session.

1) Cakra vikasana with sitoli tongue action, increasing the length of exhale (cooling, calming)
2) Urdhva Prasarita Padasana variation - one leg up to the ceiling, opposite arm overhead, turning head opposite the moving arm on exhale.  Long slow movements.
3) Supta Baddha Konasana - open and close, then close over a number of breaths.
4) Supine twist (Jathara Parivirati)  was the main focus of the practice.
                   A few repetitions back and forth with long exhale
                   A few repetitions 6-0-6-6 (inhale-retain-exhale-suspend)
                   A few repetitions where I stayed an extra breath in the twist with 6-0-6-6
                   Lastly, I twisted, exhaled, suspended, then inhaled, exhaled, and suspended then vocalized a low note to push the last of the air out and vibrate all around the pelvis.

Building heat gently in the abdomen is excellent for detoxifying and pushing ama out of the body.  
5) Paschimottanasana gently draping the body over the legs
6) Apanasana
7) Seated breathing 6-0-6-6 then moving to 6-0-8-6 and adding uddiyana bandha on suspension
8) taking 6-0-8-6 with uddiyana bandha on suspension with pratiloma ujjayi nostril breath technique.
9) Om Samana Vayu Namaha chant
10) reflect
11) self applied reiki with symbols.

Wow... I woke up feeling wonderful.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Allowing Chanting to Find a Home Part 2

image compliments of wall art hd

Part 1 can be found here.

Chanting is so energetically important because it has the immediate effect of marrying body and mind through vibration.  Yet it is tricky to get the chant right (tune, content, volume, setting) so that the mind willingly buys into the process.

In working with a client with a specific physiological condition, I took the sequence my teacher gave me at my most recent training, diluted it, and attempted to teach it in pieces.  It is a multi-faceted practice, using chanting of a mantra, gesture, breath-centric asana, pranayama, and meditation.  About 90% of the content of the practice is landing and is being received and processed by the client.  However, the chanting is meeting resistance.

I was able to take what works from the chanting practice, and scrap the rest.  We kept the OM and used it in place of any other sanskrit.  We also kept the nyasa (gesture) attached to the practice - namely bringing hands to eyes, hands to heart, and hands to belly.  We also had a conversation about chanting in Hebrew.  My client was happy to note how open I was to changing the chanting.  I looked at her and said, earnestly, my teacher has asked us to help our clients tap into sources of meaning.  I want to help this come alive for you!  Let's work together.  She is off to find phrases that make her spine tingle.  I sent her with those instructions because that little tingle is always a truth-beacon for me.  She is heading to Rosh Hashana services this week and will have a chance to drop in and swim in mystical currents of renewal.  I wish her a wonderful dip in the current!!

My teacher's practices are complex, elegant, deep, and esoteric in nature.  It's gratifying, in a way, to know that what landed well with me (the practice my teacher gave us therapist-trainees) does not necessarily translate to a client.  The gratification comes when I think of the many hours of studying, time away from my family, and financial sacrifices my family has made to allow me to receive this training.

The most fascinating thing of this process is that the chant that I gave the student, upon practicing it myself, has become my own.  I've entwined it with some tantric practices (Reiki symbols), nyasa, and mantra in pranayama.  It is truly alive in me and my bells palsy is responding.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Allowing Chanting to find a Home

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Aaaah... Chanting.

We're getting to that point in training where the deeper practices of chanting, pranayama, and meditation are at the fore.  I'm working with a client who has rheumatoid arthritis, and the practice I'm suggesting has chanting in it to activate the deepest inner alchemy - the relationship between prana, ojas, and tejas.  It is a deep practice, and the client is receptive to working this deeply, which is a true blessing.

Prana is energy.  Ojas is that which provisions the energetic flow of prana.  Tejas is the intelligent use of ojas-fueled prana - like the way we metabolize (insert anything here - food, experience, feelings, etc.)  There is much more to this discussion that I will leave for another day.

The resistance to chanting is something I'm very familiar with.  I was not chanting but knew I "should" be before I started to work with this client.  Working on her practice and reviewing my notes from training awoke an interest in me.  I'm familiar with the teachings governing this inner alchemy, but my student is just learning, with much less formal training.  We will see, with interest and awareness, whether it clicks for her and nourishes her?  Or whether it will be adjusted and fine-tuned to meet her needs more fully.

Chanting can be quite challenging as you have to hear your own voice reaching out into space.  It's easier to do in a group than on your own.  It's much more vulnerable when you chant in your own silent space.  Mental chanting is a way to ease into full chanting.  Full voiced chanting, whether loud or soft, high or low in pitch, creates tremendous energetic effects.  In my experience, it short circuits the mind-body duality we seem to live with so much of the time as we move through "real life" off the mat.

These energetic forces governing deep inner alchemy of physiological processes are well suited for chanting when dealing with a physiological condition.  In fact, I was so drawn to this "inner alchemy" that I have adopted this chanting myself.  I'm self-treating for nervous system condition of bells palsy.  In the lines with more than one syllable, the second to last syllable is a raised pitch, then back to the starting pitch.

Om Ojosi
Om Nourish Me
Om Pranosi
Om Enliven Me
Om Tejosi
Om Enlighten Me
I have added this to my personal practice before my pranayama, which is an alternate nostril and krama practice given to me by my teacher.

At the end of my pranayama, I repeat the chanting, low and quiet, and add nyasa (gesture).

Om                            hands to eyes
Om Ojosi                  hands to heart
Om Nourish Me        hands to belly
Om                            hands to eyes
Om Pranosi               hands to heart
Om Enliven Me        hands to belly
Om                            hands to eyes
Om Tejosi                 hands to heart
Om Enlighten Me     hands to belly

I drop into a beautiful meditative space.  It feels wonderful to inhabit my body and take care towards healing every morning.

I have adopted the chanting, but will the client?  Her most recent email to me:

Just printed this practice & we'll see if I chant this week!

Aaaah... chanting.  You bring out the emotions in us!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stress and the ANS: Autonomic Nervous System

Let’s start with the big picture.  The nervous system is a mechanism of delivering information to and from the brain via the brainstem, the spinal cord, and the nerves that run out to the peripheries, the organs, the glands, and the muscles.  The central nervous system is the brain and spinal cord.  It is also a system of homeostasis that works to maintain a certain balance.

Motor neurons tell the body what to do.  This happens in two ways.  Firstly, there is the somatic nervous system, which is what one uses to pick up a pencil and write a sentence.  Secondly, and more importantly for our purposes, is the autonomic nervous system.  Whereas picking up a pencil and writing is a self-initiated activity, the activity of the autonomic nervous system seems to happen automatically, or without conscious control.  The ANS controls whether or not one breaks into a sweat or has a racy heart when getting unexpected news.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a way of regulating the body’s functions in light of external circumstances.  The system is actually two mutually exclusive “drives” that act as a sort of gas pedal and a break.  Just as in a car, the driver’s foot alternates between the gas and the break, the human body also alternates between sympathetic nervous system as the dominant drive or the parasympathetic nervous system as the dominant drive. 

The sympathetic nervous system kicks in with the perception of danger.  Via the “fear” reaction of the amygdala, in the limbic system, the hypothalamus then carries out four functions, which if you're interested in the neurochemistry... look it up! 

 The release of these hormones into the blood provides a burst of energy to deal with a stressful situation.  These hormones increase blood glucose levels (to prepare to run, for instance).  They also increase oxygen available to cells by increasing the heart rate and dilating the bronchioles.  In addition, they increase blood supply to essential organs such as the heart, brain, and skeletal muscles and they divert blood away from nonessential organs such as the digestive system. 

Short term stress is designed to help a human escape a threatening situation.  It is designed to be short term, and followed by a “fight or flight” reaction.  The stress reaction helps a human to deal with a stressful situation like getting chased by a bear quite efficiently.  However, the system is not meant to deal with long-term stresses like losing a job while trying to pay a mortgage, which can stretch months into years in duration.
Chronic stress can contribute to or cause cardiovascular disease.  The blood volume increases, its force and speed increase.  Vasopressin causes the kidneys to absorb less water.  There is considerable wear and tear on the system.  Atherosclerosis, the accumulation of plaque, is also a risk.

Robert Sapolsky notes in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers that the inhale is more associated with sympathetic activation (the heart rate speeds slightly on inhale), while the exhale is more associated with parasympathetic activation (the heart rate slows slightly on exhale).  People with hypertension sometimes cannot “slow down” naturally with the exhale.  This can be a marker for trouble.

Stress (sympathetic activation due to a psychological or physical stimulus) is particularly bad for metabolic issues like Type-2 Diabetes.  The stress response dumps energy resources out into the blood stream.  It liquidates the stores thinking a person needs to run from a lion.  Not only does it dump the stores, but it stops any future storage projects in anticipation of a physical event.  However, sitting on a stressful conference call is not exactly charging across the savannah.  This dipping into the bank account can be quite disruptive to feeling adequately nourished and rested.

The immune system has an interesting reaction to sympathetic activation.  Upon short term activation, the immune system’s function is actually heightened.  However, that comes at a cost.  And after a short term gain in immunity, the body slips to a lowered state of immunity, and stays there.  This second state is lower than the starting state.  This means that long-term sympathetic nervous system activation  (long-term stress, like a mortgage) may lead to more incidents of getting sick.  There are many caveats and this is not a blanket statement.  For instance, cancer has not shown to be affected by stress.  But many other types of sickness or disease process are affected.  The common cold has been shown to be more common for subordinate, stressed mice.

There is a strong link in extreme psychological stress and depression.  Stress brings about some of the typical endocrine changes of depression.  Genes that predispose to depression only do so in a stressful environment.  Glucocorticoids, the central hormone of the stress response, can bring about depression-like states in an animal, and can cause depression in humans.

All of this has come together to make me realize how important it is to recognize and live as though every day is NOT an emergency.

Link: Body Divine Yoga - Yoga Body: The Conspiracy

Check out this great post.