Thrive Yoga on the stage at the Healthy Living Expo
How do “firsts” start?
The enthusiasm during our yoga teacher training spilled out of our hearts. We wanted to share our passion. I started talking about creating a yoga event in our Town Center. My fellow teachers needed experience teaching and had proven to be a vibrant tag team during classes, so I attempted to find a time and place.
Logistics became a reality. Contacting the two largest venues proved fruitless. When the Summer Solstice came around, we decided to yoga flash mob in the Town Square. Several of us enjoyed the outdoor experience and kids joined the fun.
Then the co-owner of Thrive Yoga, Susan Bowen, called me while she was sitting in Town Square on a beautiful day. How was I doing planning a yoga event? She volunteered to contact the City of Rockville to find out if they would be interested.
The idea caught on at City Hall and grew beyond yoga. A substantial event featuring a variety of classes offered by the City’s Recreation and Parks Department expanded to include health screenings and cooking demos. After a few months of planning, the first Healthy Living Expo attracted large crowds. Our original estimate of 300-500 people turned out to be 1500-2000 with good interaction between the participants and the crowd. All the yoga and fitness demos were on the stage. Talk about highlighting health! Often our fitness goals are pushed to the back of the burner, but this event brought being healthy right into the heart of our City.
When more people get involved with an idea, the process can go two ways. Sometimes a spectacular idea is drained of all its enthusiasm by a committee. Other times a group of people will build on each other’s ideas and create something beyond any individual’s vision. When the later happens, the idea flourishes. The positive energy pours out around the whole concept.
Your thoughts can become reality so be careful about what you emphasize in your mind!
Often when people hear about yoga in chairs, they think about the older population or those who have physical disabilities. Although I have been teaching yoga in chairs at an assisted living community with wonderful results, people of all ages and ability levels practice this type of yoga. The trend’s growing.
The stretches and bends of chair yoga have been practiced in offices for years. Many companies offer classes and instruction specifically for the workplace. Short physical and mental breaks combined with deep breathing can relieve stress and increase performance.
Elementary schools offer yoga to students in their seats. We all know how kids have difficulty sitting still. Allowing a class to stretch, move, balance, and breath for even 5 minutes can result in better concentration and a fresh outlook.
Students and adults also contend with physical ailments from our tech overload. Bending over computers and cell phones causes neck, back, and shoulder pain which can easily be countered with a few good yoga poses scattered throughout the day. Many people on long plane flights enjoy the benefits of yoga in their seats for many of the same reasons.
Chair yoga can be empowering for those who are overweight and learn to adapt poses with chairs. All of our bodies are so diverse. Yoga poses can reflect those differences. When yoga makes people physically aware of their bodies, they can embrace their bodies and practice in creative ways.
My chair yoga routines always start with an exploration of a breathing technique. Then after a warm up from head to toe, the yoga poses work every part of the body building strength and flexibility in the arms, legs, and back. Many students find the conscious relaxation at the end of practice to be their favorite part.
As they say, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
Because of all of these life situations, chair yoga will continue to grow among people of all ages.
The most interesting fact I’ve learned in Yoga Teacher Training is that yoga originally had absolutely nothing to do with physical poses. What? No pretzel moves? Well, there was one pose: sitting comfortably. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2, Sutra 46 states “Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.” That’s not as easy as it seems for long periods of time. People have difficulty sitting still, so yoga was developed over time to include all the poses we know and still develop today.
So what was yoga about all those centuries ago when it began, and more importantly, what does it offer for us today? Yoga is knowing ourselves and controlling negative thoughts in our daily lives. From the beginning yoga emphasized proper breathing, meditation, and diet. See, things haven’t changed much in thousands of years! The Sutras advise staying away from pleasures because they can bring unhappiness afterwards. This is a difficult one to accept. However, in many ways, the Yoga Sutras resemble the Ten Commandments by advising non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, and non-greed. They encouraged people to be clean (purity) and to do their best without worrying about the outcome (contentment). People should not cause pain and should accept pain. Practice leads to a certain detachment bringing a better life without constant desires for material things. The Sutras offer practical advice about what to do with evil people and those who intend harm. The ultimate message is to stop going to the outside world for happiness, then these instances don’t matter.
If you think you can’t do yoga because of physical challenges, think again. Everyone can find poses to practice then combine each movement with good breathing. Moving with poses begins the yoga journey. I practiced for over a decade before trying meditation and now I have even greater challenges and purpose. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the state of “Samadhi” (bliss) but I’ll certainly enjoy continuing to try and notice the changes in my everyday life because of yoga.
Most of us take our breathing for granted and never give it a thought. After all, the diaphragm is an involuntary muscle. We breathe just enough air to function but perhaps not enough air to clear out toxins.
For the past month I’ve been paying attention to my breath once a day and journaling about my observations. When under a work deadline, I tend to hold my breath. During the pain of a tough workout or physical therapy, I don’t take the necessary deep, prolonged breaths. Give it a try. How are you breathing now? Are your breaths shallow? Do you pause?
During yoga, I do breathe well. Since I practice vinyasa flow, this is no surprise. The intent is to connect breath to each movement. At first my yoga practice involved learning the poses and finishing each class. Over time I learned to concentrate on deep breathing throughout my practice.
One of the easiest places to recognize your breath is during yoga. The challenge is to spread this awareness throughout the day. Typically we take about 16 breaths per minute but we are capable of taking 10 deeper breaths which brings better health to our whole body.
I’m not there yet. Last week I decided to breathe deep while driving to a store on a busy road. When I arrived, I didn’t remember when I stopped breathing deeply but I doubted it was half way. I have a long way to go.
One book, Breathe In Breathe Out: Inhale Energy and Exhale Stress By Guiding and Controlling Your Breathing, explains the importance of breathing correctly. The book details circumstances and diseases with case-by-case stories of regular people and famous athletes. Some of the most successful athletes had to learn how to breathe properly to truly dominate their sports. We don’t realize how breathing affects everything that we do – our health, sleep, fitness, and stamina.
If you want to give better breathing a try, take time to try an Abdominal Breath. Place your hand on your abdomen to start. Inhale deeply and slowly as your abdomen expands like a balloon. Then let the abdomen fall as you exhale slowly releasing all the stale air. Push all the air out each time. As babies we did it all the time! This is our natural breathing.
A few easy extras to add:
1.) Imagining you are breathing into a painful part of your body,
2.) Lifting your shoulders on the inhale then releasing them and sighing on the exhale, or
3.) Imagining yourself filled with a white light on each inhale.
In my yoga practice, I use alternate nostril, Ujjayi, and energizing breath. All of these techniques are outlined in the book and I intend to add them, and many others, to my classes. In yoga we study Pranayama “the art of placing the mind in the breath”. Group breathing is possible in a class.
As we grow older, we lose flexibility in our lungs. Using our lungs to their full capacity throughout each day will help reverse this aging. Fill that abdomen!
Currently I am studying to be a yoga teacher. I hope to breathe well for all 200 hours!
Many of my family and friends who have spent time with me in the last two months know I’ve been suffering from bone and muscle pain but resisted going to a doctor. At times the pain has been so severe in my shoulders and arms it prevented my normal physical activities. At first I thought I had “over done it” with my fitness routine (even though the pain arrived on a morning after two days of rest).
Over the holidays I noticed my muscles growing even weaker. The overall sensation frightened me. After such a prolonged period of time and the new challenges on the horizon this year, I finally made a medical appointment. After mentioning some despairing possibilities, my doctor ordered a series of blood tests. He discovered a severe vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D helps the body control calcium and phosphate levels. If the blood levels of these minerals become too low, the body may produce hormones that cause calcium and phosphate to be released from the bones causing weak bones. Researchers estimate 50% of the world’s population may be at risk.
How could this happen to me?
I used to run 5 days a week outside in the sunshine but in the last year I decreased my running because of my deepening yoga practice. This meant I was out of the sun and in the studio on most days. Fifteen minutes a day in the sun is all you need to acquire enough vitamin D in your body.
A quick check of the soy milk, orange juice, and other products in my kitchen indicated I was only getting about half the vitamin D required. Although I worried about my family’s calcium intake because of my son’s dairy allergy, I hadn’t concentrated on vitamin D. Not all calcium products contain vitamin D. With the lack of daily sunlight and my meticulous use of suntan lotion, I had made myself very sick.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms include:
Bone pain in the arms, legs, pelvis, or spine
Muscle pain and loss of muscle strength
I’m sharing my story because taking a supplement is an easy fix and the complications from not treating the deficiency can be quite dire including high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, and early mortality. In fact, many medical professionals are beginning to think that childhood obesity is being caused in part by a vitamin D deficiency.
Do yourself a favor and check your vitamin D intake. Are you getting enough? Make sure you are — especially in the winter when we aren’t outside as much and tend to stay warm under layers of clothing.
My doctor prescribed a supplement for the next 24 weeks. Hopefully I’ll be feeling better soon but I also intend on soaking up the sun as much as possible this winter.
People don’t want to buy vegan baked goods. Last month the Long Island Press described how BabyCakes NYC opened a shop in downtown Disney World only to have to remove the word “vegan” from the signage:
The shop’s teal signs touting their dairy- and egg-free treats proved too much for the mostly middle American, indulgent vacationers passing by.
“It was more of a repellant,” said owner Erin McKenna. “People were just walking away.”
After the “v” word was removed, sales improved.
Since the food allergies in my family have led me to bake vegan for over 14 years, I wondered if the “vegan” name was bad for business in our Maryland hometown. With cookies needed for school fundraisers at both our elementary and high schools, I found the answer.
Everyone who has ever eaten one of my cookies raves about the taste and quality. My sons constantly tell me I should open a restaurant or bakery. People have complimented my cookies at parties for years without knowing I baked them. All these goodies have been completely vegan without eggs or dairy.
Since people love chocolate, I created Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookies from a few different recipes. Frankly, they tasted like thin brownies with chunks of rich chocolate scattered throughout. My other baking creations included Maple Cookies With Maple Frosting, traditional Chocolate Chips, and Sugar Cut Out Cookies.
For the high school event I provided a small sign which explained the Chocolate Chocolate Chips and Maple Cookies were vegan. One vegan friend told me she wandered over to the table thinking she wouldn’t find anything to eat and was delighted to find the cookies. However, most people didn’t agree. My cookies didn’t sell as well as all the other treats. At the same time, the Chocolate Chocolate Chips sold out at the elementary school event and people were coming to the table asking for them because of the recommendations of their friends.
The next week I removed the “vegan” sign at the high school and the Chocolate Chips disappeared. People love dairy-and-egg-free cakes and cookies when they don’t know about the missing ingredients.
At a party this week, a woman told me she had been on Lipitor since 2000 but went vegan this year and has lost a substantial amount of weight and gone off the medication. She stressed how healthy the move has been for her. My other vegan friend has met with harsh words for changing her diet and she believes people simply don’t want to understand the benefits.
With healthy ingredients and the knowledge of the science behind baking, vegan baked goods can taste much better and be much healthier for you. You might be eating a vegan baked good and not even know.
For the first time in my life, I realized that if I had the chance to do something all over again, I wouldn’t. As the question formed in my head, I slowly came to the painful realization that if I was confronted with the same situation, I would resoundingly decide not to participate.
I don’t remember feeling this way about an experience. Since I’ve been around for 47 years, I guess I’m lucky. I’ve never wrestled with regret. Even if a situation or decision didn’t go very well, I never found myself wishing I hadn’t done it. I always chalked it up to life’s lessons and found something positive to remember.
This doesn’t mean I can’t create a long list of good outcomes from my recent experience, because I can. I can also detail the bad outcomes just as quickly. They even balance each other.
When I told my family about my thoughts, my youngest agreed without hesitation. Even a ten-year-old recognized my time could have been better spent.
When I think back to all of the hours I wasted, I’m overcome with a sense of loss. I desperately find myself wishing I could somehow add all those years back to my life, but it’s not going to happen.
What can I do?
Time does heal wounds. Even within the brief timeframe of these last few weeks, I’ve been feeling better.
Don’t deny your feelings. Identify the feelings of anger, blame, and irritation. Accept each as your honest reaction without making excuses, then let the emotions go.
Emphasize the positive. In this case I’m intensifying the excellent personal relationships formed during the experience. In this way, the positive outcomes are becoming even stronger and therefore the experience can improve slightly.
Frame the experience correctly. Due to my overwhelming desire to “make other people better”, I never touted my contributions, leadership, and erudition. Although shining a light on others is an excellent mantra for a better life, confidently communicating and owning your own success is also necessary for fulfillment in the long run.
In order to get past a bad experience, you need to absolve those involved. You may need to forgive yourself or someone else. Remove the blame.
Although my realization stunned me, I’ve been able to make progress with these goals. I’ll carry this lesson with me in all my new endeavors and will be able to recognize and control similar situations. The pattern will not repeat – yet another impetus toward a better outcome.
Friends and family have been asking if I experienced a revolution in my life after completing the 40 Days To Personal Revolution program at Thrive Yoga earlier this year. Realizing my enthusiasm during the program, people have been wondering if it was real.
I’ve asked myself the same question, but wanted to wait a few months before answering. Raving about a program in the moment is one thing, but a change in lifestyle a few months later is a completely different matter.
My answer is yes. I’m radically different now.
The main emphasis of the program was yoga, so let’s start with a look at my practice. I’m still regularly immersed in yoga practice in the studio. Some weeks my schedule allows a session every weekday, but at a bare minimum I make it to Thrive at least a few times per week. Besides a tremendous improvement in my poses, my confidence in practice has grown. Some days I accept my yoga abilities and some days I push myself. Returning to the mat in the studio brings new experiences every week because the instructors always have a new twist and guide my poses to a heightened level. My practice at Thrive never fails to leave me in the absolute best mood to face all the situations in my day.
I continue to practice yoga more regularly than before the Revolution.
Besides improving on most poses, the greatest gift from the program is the ability to practice on my own. Each week I followed the yoga workouts in the book from sun salutations to inversions. The practice time increased each week and built upon the previous week so I now can lead my own yoga practice for an hour or more. This is extremely important with Vinyasa Flow because it should flow. I don’t have to wait for instructions or be led, I can move freely with my breath the entire time in the true sense of a natural flow for my body. This just can’t happen quite the same way in a group setting. My yoga has been completely transformed by this ability from within and I am much more in touch with my body.
I never practiced on my own without a recorded session before the Revolution so this is life-changing.
On my own for breakfast and lunch, I continue to choose vegetarian options. We have incorporated several of the vegetarian dishes in our family dinners too. I know the power of fruit to cool my body and bring rejuvenation. During the fruit fast I started drinking fruit smoothies with vitamin boosts and now these drinks are a constant in my diet. When I do deviate from healthy choices, I recognize how bad my body feels.
I can notice the difference food makes in my body more than I ever did before the Revolution.
I love meditating in the morning before I start my day. Sometimes I need to meditate in the afternoons and can easily slip into a good meditation when necessary. This ability makes all situations better and easier to handle.
Renewal from meditation is something I knew nothing about before the Revolution.
Throughout the program I worked on figuring out what I really wanted in my life. I knew the year was going to bring several endings to long-time activities, but when one of the most important of my endeavors was suddenly put on the chopping block on the last day of my Personal Revolution, I had to contend with more than I expected. If I hadn’t completed the Revolution that day, I don’t think I would have been able to be as honest with myself and let a major part of my identity go. Each part of the Revolution helps to bring you to a higher place of peace in your life and I had no idea how necessary my newly-found inner strength would be.
The Revolution is a blessing in handling the changes in life.
Five days before the end of my 40 Days To Personal Revolution, I had a bad snowboarding accident which injured my tailbone. Not wanting to miss the last days of this program, I tried everything possible to continue my practice. After such physical improvement for 35 days, it was tremendously upsetting to be unable to do simple poses without extreme pain. I couldn’t even do the resting pose. Painkillers didn’t help. I didn’t let it stop me.
On the last day of the program I showed up for yoga practice with Dave who was leading the Revolution program. Devastated by the pain throughout the week I explained my situation to him before class and my eyes started to tear up. He immediately understood. He knew I was a black-and-white person. Either I do something full force or I don’t. I can’t approach things without giving them my all. His pep talk made all the difference and was particularly timely on the last day. From that day on, my Revolution would be in a “gray” area. My mind wouldn’t be totally dedicated to the program and I would need to find a way to weave it into the fabric of my life for the long haul. I could do it.
In the final chapter of the book, After The Revolution, Baron Baptiste explains why you shouldn’t have goals in life.
My goals were an attempt to manipulate reality in my favor (or so my ego thought). My purpose, however, was to be a vessel for good in the world, in whatever form that took. In this way, I could live out God’s goals for me. Really, giving up goals is a high form of faith.
If you look at young children, you’ll notice that they have no goals. They tend to be much happier than we are as adults, much more free and light. Why? Because without goals, they can simply relax, be creative, and learn from reality as it is. When we have fixed goals, we are struggling to force things turn out a certain way. Hence we close ourselves off from seeing what is possible and what else is available to us. We can’t see the bigger picture.
My physical injury taught me a valuable lesson in feeling accomplishment even if you can’t do something perfectly. The Revolution taught me to accept life’s constant turns with total trust.
The book ends with Daily Practices, which I occasionally re-read to remember to live the way I want to live, not react to the world.
Yes, I have had a Revolution, but it means constantly practicing.
When my oldest son was born with multiple food allergies, I asked why they couldn’t make a shot for food allergies like they do for dogs, cats, and the environment. For 13 years I’ve continued to repeat this question.
Last week my son was tested to see if he physically qualifies for a milk allergy study. Every participant will receive the milk cure because they are testing an additional injection to find out if it will aid the process. The possibility of my son helping to create the treatment for food allergies was never expected. If he gets into the study and continues to a certain level, he will be cured. Every time I allow myself think about it, a wave of emotion rushes through me.
Over the years I read the articles and listened to the lectures on the scientific research. I was never one of the people who believed there would be a cure for food allergies. Some families packed up and moved to be closer to research facilities, but I never, ever allowed myself or family to believe it could happen. Early test results did not seem promising. All the projections for success indicated he would be an adult before you could go to a doctor’s office and get the treatment. We accepted the fact that he simply couldn’t eat certain foods and created a healthy family-oriented lifestyle.
Until we went last week, I still didn’t believe it would happen. Even if he qualified, I wasn’t sure we would agree to the risks. Also, the study will take 31 months with an hour of travel to and from the facility plus many days of missed school. The commitment is substantial.
But when we discussed all of our questions and fears with the research team, I found myself hoping.
I hate hoping. For me hope always winds up “dashed against the rocks of despair” which is a frequent mantra.
We won’t find out for a couple of more days. Many things could ultimately prevent his participation. I’ll push back this hope and wait. I’m finding it too emotional to believe in concrete miracles.
Many people have been asking me how to meditate. At the end of my 40 Days to Personal Revolution, the goal was two 30 minute meditations each day. But the program started with 5 minutes twice a day and added five minutes each week. Those beginning meditations were quick releases from my day, a solid way to start and finish. You always have 5 minutes!
To demonstrate how I started, I have created a brief video. You can listen and follow along. I promise it will be over before you know it. After you listen, you can incorporate the basic thought pattern when you try it on your own. When I hear it out loud, the instructions seem busy. But when you are on your own, you can slowly choose to do some or all of the instructions. Slowly stretch out each thought with many more full still breaths between each one, or pick one mantra and repeat it. Before you know it, you’ll be meditating even longer.
Along the way I've discovered a love for blogging. First for my local community with RockvilleCentral.com and almost immediately with TryingNotToBNeg.com because I needed to express my thoughts beyond Rockville, MD.
My company, Online and In Person works with businesses, organizations and individuals to build community and improve communications. I also share Yoga Online and In Person as a 200-hour registered yoga teacher (RYT) on my way to being a 500-hour RYT! I love to teach beginners, power sequences, and chair yoga!
Please share your thoughts here. It always means a lot to me!