Chair Yoga Means Fewer Visits to the Doctor

Beginner Chair Yoga Show 3

One of my chair yoga students came to class and proclaimed,

Since I started chair yoga with you, I haven’t had any problems with my asthma and when I went to the doctor he said I didn’t need to come back for six months.

She was obviously pleased. She’d even brought someone else with her to class. The other person’s doctor had also been supportive of yoga.

Truthfully, I was a little perplexed. I teach yoga because I know all of the health benefits. My personal practice has kept me fit and even helped me survive being run over by a car.

But I’d only been teaching at this location for seven weeks and she didn’t even attend every class. What was really going on?

Obviously, my senior chair yoga does not provide a strenuous physical workout. We stretch and strengthen our bodies from head to foot, but this isn’t a sweaty power class. So, I put the physical explanation aside and knew her better health had to be due to our breathing exercises and meditation.

Pranayama (breathing) is our first and most important action. Think about it. You can go a week or more without food, maybe a few days without water, but you can’t even go a few minutes without air. Breathing only in the chest in a shallow way causes stress and fatigue. The body needs full breaths which expand the chest, rib cage, and belly.

Since I only teach once a week, my goal is to give students the tools to live better when we don’t have class. I encourage them to take their yoga breathing with them throughout the day and to also find a few moments each day to sit quietly and clear their minds with simple meditation techniques such as concentrating on their breath. They are discovering what a great difference this can make in their lives and how much better they can feel.

Several years ago I asked a yoga teacher how I could advance in my practice, he told me I had to practice yoga regularly and put in the time. Until I accepted this as the truth, I didn’t advance. As my student proved, it doesn’t have to be that much time each day. We can simply concentrate on breathing better and stopping our pesky brains from stirring up trouble in our lives.

Last week I talked with another volunteer and came up with the concept for a public access tv show called +Postive Health. +Positive Health encourages a better quality of life above and beyond trying to prevent disease. The first episode features me teaching a beginner chair yoga class including a 3-part breathing technique and an easy mantra meditation. The episode was filmed in the Montgomery Community Media studio and will be available for viewing soon.

I hope my “Online” yoga endeavors will help more people find better health each day and see doctors less often!

Simple Sensory Meditation

Meditation can increase productivity and decrease stress. You owe yourself a meditation break.

If you need some help to get started, this meditation guides you into the moment.

Seated Yoga For Your Office: 10 Poses to Invigorate Your Day

Often people would like a quick lift-me-up. All you need is a chair to get all the benefits of yoga! Here’s a slideshow presentation to guide you through a short practice:

If you have a chair with arms, stand for the Warrior pose. Have a great day!

Our Special Boy Scout Experience Lasts a Lifetime

Fair

Both the Scouts and the parents of our Boy Scout troop are close knit because we offer a special leadership experience that no other troop can match. We volunteer to direct the parking at our county’s annual agricultural fair in August.

Since scouting is boy-led, our scouts take on the leadership responsibility. As adults, we report to them. I don’t know of another Troop which gives their boys such a tremendous opportunity to be leaders. The boys learn how the system works, make improvements, and step up to the challenge. We pride ourselves on directing traffic across the entire lot without causing any backups onto the main road. You need coordination, good planning, and hard work to make it happen. Some of these boys aren’t even teenagers and yet they all demonstrate a newly-learned level of maturity. Truly, this is a fulfilling sight to see.

By working together, we have the opportunity to get to know the other parents better. They’re no longer just the people you see picking up their scout at the end of a meeting or eating with their family at the annual dinner. Since we spend time sitting in the tent on breaks, we talk and get to know each other socially. We’re in it together and it shows. You really get to know someone when you have a hundred cars coming right at you and you need to communicate and get them all parked without any delays. We’re a team succeeding together and there’s no better feeling.

My sons work “Iron Man” hours. Iron Man requires 14-hour shifts for most of the fair week. They wouldn’t do so much more than required unless they truly enjoyed it. A few days ago in the cold of February my youngest said he wished he was volunteering at the fair. Obviously he’s dreaming of his summer fun.

Last year a new parent commented that the description of working at the fair didn’t sound like anything he wanted to do but that turned out to be wrong. He wound up coming more than needed. Believe me, it’s hard to stay home when you know people are arriving at the exact same time for a special event at the fair and you’re not there to help. You feel like you’re missing out on something by not participating. We all revel in the sense of accomplishment brought on by a job well done. All hands are willingly on deck.

The Troop has directed the parking at the fair for over 60 years. Each year lots of men stop to tell us that they helped park the cars when they were a scout. They say it knowingly. They say it with their pride showing. You can tell volunteering at the fair is one of the highlights of their youth as they share their memories.

Tradition’s important. Generations wouldn’t keep coming back unless it was worth the effort. For our boys this is a rite of passage and we have the leaders to prove it when they’re adults.

What to Do About Turning 50

50 cake

You need to do something special to commemorate a half century in this world. After all, you’ve made it through quite a few ups and downs! What if you don’t want a party?

I wanted to do 50 of something. Somewhere along the way last year, I’d read about doing acts of kindness and service. Could I do one volunteer activity or help one person per week? I’m going to find out!

During my first week I wrote a Lenten Devotional piece. Although this has been an annual occurrence since our church started the booklet three years ago, I spent a long time reading, contemplating, and writing. Writing is one of my gifts and volunteering to write this piece was an appropriate first act of service.

They won’t all be volunteer jobs. I pictured smaller acts of kindness, like giving up a place in line or a parking spot, helping a stranger with a task. These little acts of kindness put people in a good mood and cause them to do something for someone else. I’m hoping I’ll be more open to people and mindful. Hopefully each one of these acts will spread.

During a harrowing Metro train ride which took over an hour when it was only supposed to take 20 minutes, I spent the time next to a group of young people. When I was waiting on the platform to change trains, one of the guys asked me to borrow a pen. My train was coming but I gave it to him knowing I probably wouldn’t get it back. He was writing on a scrap of paper. I hope the pen helped him along that day.

sandwich makingLast Sunday I joined our youth group at church to make 500 sandwiches to be handed out on the streets of DC during a cold night. As people joined in the assembly line, we streamlined the process into a fast and well-oiled, food-making machine.

Looking ahead, I’ve signed up to cook for those going through difficult times and agreed to do a free workshop for seniors.

So, I don’t know where all this will go. I want to do real service to those in great need as well as spread some sunshine. Each time I do, I know I’ll get far more in return. I hope to be feeling the love at fifty!

A Year of Healing at the Pond

Today marks one year since the accident which caused my husband and I to join the ranks of pedestrians hit by vehicles. Time passed in a blur. Since I didn’t have the vigor to do many activities, I spent a great deal of time observing the small changes in my surroundings.

A pond about a half mile from our house became my destination. Before the accident, sprinting down to the pond would be my quick warm up before a longer run. I always walked around the water for a big dose of peace and tranquility then finished my three mile course.

After the accident I couldn’t even walk down to the pond.

  • At one point I thought I might be able to go for a walk, but because I couldn’t use my left arm, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to tie my sneaker if the laces came undone.
  • Then there were days when I might have been able to walk to the pond but I was too afraid to leave the house. I wasn’t specifically afraid of cars, just leaving the safety of my house.
  • At other times I was too weak. Each day for most of the year I had to lay down and take an afternoon nap.

Then finally one day I told myself I had to walk. I had to make myself do it. Before I reached the pond, my knees and legs were hurting. The movement of my shoulder in the post-surgery sling was extremely painful. Too tired to move, I was in trouble. I could either turn back or take the last few steps to the pond. Either way, I had a half mile to conquer. So I stood on the sidewalk for a good long time then made it to a bench at the pond to rest. I had to dig down deep.

The walk to the pond developed into a benchmark of my healing. I’d judge my energy and pain levels to determine if I was getting better. The markers were ever so slight. The changes of the seasons marked the changes in the healing process.

My slow contemplative pace allowed me to notice every little wildflower and bug. Each time I stopped was a opportunity to be totally observant in the moment.

When you experience a trauma, you have to be aware of your thoughts and feelings and overcome them. The pond was the place which slowly allowed me to go back into the world without fear.

In these ways the pond became the symbol of my recovery. The plants, birds, and still water reminded me that life changes on a daily basis. We need to go with the flow and appreciate every little bit of beauty along the way.

Find your pond when you need it.

This Is Gonna Be the Best Day of My Life

As I was driving to teach a senior chair yoga class, “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors came on my favorite Sirius station. Since this was a typical day, I immediately stopped myself from identifying with the lyrics as I thought this was simply an average day and certainly not the best day of my life.

Then I listed the best days of my life – my wedding day and the days my sons were born. While contemplating these few short days, I realized there were far, far more minutes to my existence on this planet. Time wise, these days were nothing.

This day, and every day, should be the best day of my life. This moment is the only moment that really counts. As long as I’m conscious and aware of my living, my breathing, my soul, this was the absolute best it was ever going to be.

After a car ran over me earlier this year, I know how absolutely precious every moment is. You hear it all the time. You never know what’s going to happen. You never know how many more days you will have. It’s true.

Now when I hear “Best Day of My Life”, it’s a shout out – a reminder. I am having the best day of my life! I’m going to be content. I’m blessed. I’m living and accepting this day no matter what happens, no matter how much pain arrives.

As for all these “typical” days, when I teach, paint, or volunteer then help my sons with homework, make dinner, and sit down to eat with my family, these are definitely the best days of my life. I’m thankful I still have them.

You Can Make Better Videos: Public Access TV

A few years ago, I wanted to learn how to produce professional videos. You know how you attempt to capture an event on video and the quality’s usually poor? I definitely wanted to do better. At the time, a professional news cameraman recommended the training at Montgomery Community Media (MCM).

This past summer my sons enjoyed their Backpack Journalism camp for teens and the staff encouraged me to try. I did! This video is the result of the Studio Producer training.

Although TV production was a foreign world to me, I learned all the basics of producing a show, writing a script, and designing the lighting in six weeks. Montgomery Community Media (MCM) is a public access organization available to anyone in our community. They accept almost all programming and train volunteers to be producers, directors, and technicians.

My son, Chad Griffiths, is exploring various career options so participating in “Going Green On Wheels” provided a great way to try being a show host and using a teleprompter. Special thanks to Paul Triolo who has been writing about his new Nissan Leaf for Rockville Living and gave us his time as a very informative guest. Lots of details are packed in this 13-minute show! My co-producer was Vic Nardo, a fellow trainee in our class. We both learned a lot!

Here’s Chad’s Backback Journalism video on Boy Led Scouting:

Here’s Calder’s Backback Journalism video on Minecraft:

A Visit to Yoga: The Art of Transformation

Yoga: The Art of Transformation

Yoga has led me down many untrodden paths and today’s visit to Yoga: The Art of Transformation at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution was no exception. Although I’ve lived in the Washington DC area for a quarter of a century, I’ve never visited the Sackler, a small gallery bursting with art from Asia.

Sackler Gallery, Washington DC

While viewing the exhibit, I was grateful to have read The Bhagavad Gita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika which provided a basic knowledge of the history of yoga. The exhibit brought much of this ancient practice to light.

The earliest pieces in the exhibit include statues of yogis sitting in a meditative position. The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali mention only one posture, sitting. All the statues are either sitting or standing with arms extended to embody this quest for Samadhi (bliss). The attainment of this highest state is signified by a marking the third eye. Three monumental stone yogini goddesses from a tenth-century Chola temple are reunited for this exhibit and they look blissful although slightly broken. As I took my very first steps into this exhibit, I was pleased to see the inclusion of female master practitioners. With all the talk of men leading yoga in the olden days, seeing these statues and the paintings of female ashrams made quite a positive impression on me.

Magnifying glasses are available in each of the rooms to view the tiny, elaborate details in the artwork. Many of the paintings and carvings show practitioners attempting to leave the physical body behind with sunken faces and shrinking limbs from fasting. The first illustrated compilation of asanas made for a Mughal emperor in 1602 show sitting postures with one daring headstand. Large paintings depict the chakras of the body in colorful symbols which entice even the most unskilled of artists to do the same. Perhaps figurative painting is the only way to express the true meaning of yoga.

As a yoga teacher, I noticed the scenes of students sitting and listening to their gurus and teachers. The aesthetics of these paintings show peaceful landscapes. Yoga was represented as a serene practice dominated by cleanliness in open spaces. One 16th century painting shows a change in style as the Renaissance in Europe became influential.

Some of the illustrations show a different, sometimes darker, side of the yoga culture not known in our modern studios. Yogis would serve as spies because they could travel extensively to every corner of India. Some were known as wizards with one painting showing a woman slashed so the yogi could gain supernatural powers. The battle scenes from The Bhagavad Gita and Krishna’s revelation of his true self depict man’s struggles in this earthly life. These images from yogic history add depth to the exhibit.

Heading over to the modern section of the exhibit comprising the 20th century, you’ll find many staged and artificial photographs. The westerners wanted exotic photos and these were the impressions that were commissioned. Here we also find the beginning of the many hatha poses brought to America in the early 1900’s. Books show how the scientific examination of yoga started at this time to justify yoga’s benefits to the medical world. Many photographs of the first Swamis to visit American provide a glimpse of the earliest faces associated with yoga and you wonder what they were thinking. At the end of the exhibit, black and white videos of some of the oldest masters demonstrate difficult yoga poses requiring extreme flexibility.

My only wish was that the exhibit would be larger with more of a bridge from the ancient to the modern yoga. The perception of yoga to the Western world has always limited. This exhibit shows a small bit of the history of India. Yoga is one fine thread of this country’s rich and robust heritage but what a wonderful thread this exhibit is!

After looking at these changes over the last 2,000 years, one can only wonder where yoga will journey in the future. Will we see even more extreme versions of yoga? Will yoga for specific physical and mental conditions become commonplace? Will it survive another 2,000 years in some new form?

Please let me know your impressions of the exhibit. Photography is prohibited or I would have loved to share my thoughts about specific pieces. You have to see Yoga: The Art of Transformation for yourself here in Washington DC or at its next stop in San Francisco.

This Is the Perfect Name for a Yoga Blog

Close friends often tell me they don’t like the name of this blog because it gives the wrong impression about me. They don’t think I’m negative as the name implies. Of course, the name could be Trying To Be Positive but that’s not as much fun!

Since becoming a yoga teacher, I’ve been asking myself a few questions, “What does Trying Not to Bneg have to do with yoga? Why am I still using this name? Should I create a separate blog for yoga?”

While studying the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali* during my 500-hour Teacher training, I found my answer. Trying Not to Bneg is a perfect yoga blog name. Modern interpretations of the Sutras, such as the following from Marshall Govindan in Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas have several passages about overcoming negativity.

When bound by negative thoughts, their opposite [i.e. positive] ones should be cultivated. (Chapter 2.33)

Yes siree, that’s yoga for you! Here’s a longer explanation:

When negative thoughts or acts such as violence, etc. are caused to be done or even approved of, whatever incited by greed, anger or infatuation, whether indulged in with mild, moderate or extreme intensity, they are based on ignorance and bring certain pain. [Hence] opposite thoughts should be cultivated. (Chapter 2.34)

The Sutras advise embracing the imbalances in order to find balance. So, we shouldn’t immediately make things positive by shoving the bad feelings down in our minds and bodies. That’s not healthy. Let the negative thoughts go after acknowledging how you feel about them. We need to fully feel the things that are negative and use a positive “seed” to replace the negativity and bring balance.

When I teach, I often mention how important opposites are in our physical asana. During yoga, notice how many poses are designed to bring balance to the body with opposite holds, limbs, and movements. In the same way, meditation and concentration can bring the opposite to the most powerful muscle of all, our brain. Strive for this balance of not being negative.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali  Sri Swami Satchidananda explains that the best way to control the mind is to “invite opposite thoughts”. Two ways to control opposite thoughts are to (1.) leave negative environments, and (2.) think of the after-effects of the negative thought.

Along with everything else, Trying Not To Bneg’s definitely a yoga blog.

 

*Sutras are “threads”, the barest threads of meaning. To these we add our experiences to reach the most advanced stage of Samadhi which is contemplation and bliss.