Ayurvedic Practices for Spring

Spring Cleaning.

As important for our homes as it is for our bodies and souls. We are born with a natural intuition but when keeping up with the demands of modern life, it’s easy to forget where we came from. Ayurveda inspires us to return to harmony with the natural impulses of the world, and the more we can tune into our natural impulses, the easier it is to find our way back into balance and health.

Balancing Kapha Dosha

Denver Clark, C-IAYT, ERYT-500, LMT #89197

Photo by mitbg000 on Pexels.com

Spring Cleaning.

As important for our homes as it is for our bodies and souls.

In the ancient practice of Ayurveda, we learn of the 5 great elements.

Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Ether.

These 5 elements combine into 3 primary Doshas that represent the energy of all living things.

Every person, animal, food and season embodies a specific balance of these energies and from the end of winter through the beginning of Springtime is the time of Kapha Dosha, or the elements of Earth and Water. These elements embody the qualities of Dampness (think melting snow or spring rains), heaviness and cold. The continued darkness of late winter and early spring, coupled with these energies in the atmosphere begin to impact our physical energy and mental state, leading to the wintertime blues. To combat these feelings within and without, our body naturally desires the opposite. We reach for warm, stimulating foods with spices such as ginger and cinnamon. We long for the warm summer sun and begin preparing our bodies for heat by increasing our levels exercise and minimizing heavy foods from our diet, we begin to lighten our homes by cleaning out closets and donating the things we no longer need, practicing non-attachment.

We are born with a natural intuition but when keeping up with the demands of modern life, it’s easy to forget where we came from. Ayurveda inspires us to return to harmony with the natural impulses of the world, and the more we can tune into our natural impulses, the easier it is to find our way back into balance and health.

Below are a few practices you can incorporate to help you ride the transition into Spring gracefully.

  1. Wake up early – The circadian rhythms of the clock have energies and between 6-10am is the time of Kapha dosha. The later we sleep in, the more difficult it becomes to awaken. Setting the alarm for 5:30am allows us to rise with the lightness of Vata time of day, when air and ether are more prevalent, when the atmosphere is infused with quiet and spiritual energy. This also inspires us to be more productive during our day, fighting off that heavy Kapha sluggishness.
  2. Shift toward lighter foods – Kapha embodies the qualities of density (earth) and moisture. When the atmosphere gets cool & dry in winter, it’s no wonder we reach for dense and heavy root vegetables and thick stews. Now is the time to apply the opposite energies to our diet. Light, warming and simulating tastes such as cinnamon, ginger and turmeric and smaller more frequent meals can help us avoid sluggish digestion and a feeling of heaviness in the body that can transfer to our mental state. Kapha taste is sweet, cold and oily (think bananas & avocados), so try to minimize those flavors during this time and favor drying, pungent, bitter flavors instead such as apples, broccoli and cilantro. You might also look into an Ayurvedic “cleanse” with a mono-diet of healing Kitchari for 3-21 days to soothe the digestion and reset the system.
  3. Get moving – The antidote to depression is movement. So is the antidote to stagnant, Kapha energy in body and mind. Get out in the warm sun (even if the air is cool, the sun can help counteract that!) take a walk, breathe fresh air and stimulate your circulation with warming, invigorating activities. Lifting weights can also help you channel the stability of Kapha into productive energy that fuels your body, mind and soul. 30 minutes a day is enough.
  4. Set Goals – The blessing of the damp, cool earth brings with it new growth in nature and it can do the same in our personal lives as well. Now is an excellent time to sprout new seeds of growth, challenge yourself to begin a new habit and stimulate your inner Tapas (fire). What are you most excited about? Lean into the energy of renewal in spring. Sit with your journal, make your vision board, speak your desires aloud. Now is the time!
  5. Pay attention to your breath – The clearest way to invite Prana (life force) into your body is through the intake of the breath. BKS Iyengar says that the inhale is the intake of cosmic, universal energy. The pause at the top is the union of the cosmic with the individual, the exhale is the sharing of individual energy with the universe and the pause at the bottom of the breath is the moment we witness the union of our own energy with the cosmos. By focusing our attention on conscious breathing for a few minutes every day or even through practicing stimulating breath techniques, we can inspire movement of stagnant energy and improve our vital functions in the gross physical body as well as the flow of energy in our subtle body. Bonus points for practicing this outside in the fresh air!
  6. Practice loving self-massage – Using a light and absorbent oil such as sweet almond oil, we can practice abhyanga massage (self-oil massage) to stimulate cardiovascular and lymphatic circulation, increase muscle tone and bring self-love energy into our body and mind. You can even incorporate your favorite essential oils into a custom blend if you like **Check out our Abhyanga oil tutorial here** This can be done in the morning or evening to reset the nervous system and support better health. If you already have a lot of Kapha energy, you may also want to consider purchasing a garshana glove. This is a raw silk glove that can be used for self-massage to stimulate and enliven the body and can be a better alternative to oil for those who already have a lot of oil in their skin. Dry brushing is also wonderful. Remember to always massage from the end of the limbs inward to return lymphatic fluid into circulation.

Happy Spring to you and may you flow fluidly through this changing of the seasons into a bright and brilliant Summer!

New Yoga Teachers – Do you make these 7 common mistakes?

Denver Clark, C-IAYT, ERYT-500

There are now over 15,000 yoga teachers in the United States and many more worldwide. The entire globe is benefiting from the life altering effects of the practice of Yoga. It’s a beautiful thing that so many people are looking toward holistic practices to find balance and obtain healing and yoga teachers now have a platform to help others in a way never before seen. Of course, “with great power comes great responsibility” and now that millions of people are practicing yoga, there is a great need for teachers who can introduce the practice safely, sustainably and responsibly.

As we grow and expand as teachers, it is common for our own practice and beliefs to evolve. Learning new things, changing our approach and correcting past mistakes show that not only are we teaching yoga, but we are living it as well.

Below are 7 common mistakes I see new teacher making after 15 years in the Yoga Industry…

  1. Attachment to the lesson plan – I know it’s intimidating to be a new teacher in front of the class and of course we want our classes to be “good!” to feel seamless. We often spend hours agonizing over the perfect sequencing, playlists, themes and poetry to share. But what happens when a person walks into the class you’ve planned and they can’t do half of the postures on your list? Believe me, this happens more quickly and more often than you may think. A lesson plan can act as a magic feather yes, but if we aren’t tailoring our class to our students because our ego needs to complete the “plan,” then we are showing up for ourselves instead of them. Practice thinking on your feet and  changing the plan. Watch your students. Respond to what you observe and get comfortable asking for questions and feedback. It may take practice not to take that feedback personally, but I promise it will help you grow as a person and a teacher in ways you never imagined.
  2. Apologizing – New teachers often assume that they’ll be received better if they make sure everyone knows they are new. They may open class by telling students that they recently completed training, or apologize before class even begins because they are new. When they inevitably make a mistake they stop the flow of class to say “oops” or “sorry” before correcting themselves. What many new teachers don’t realize is that this innocent apologizing actually steals your student’s experience. Instead of enjoying their practice, they begin to worry about your comfort and success. We are all human and we all make mistakes. If you forget to do the pose on the other side, just keep going. You have the choice to fold it in later or forget it. As long as your intentions are pure, your class will stand on its own, regardless of the perfection of the sequencing or anything else. In all honesty, I much prefer a teacher who shows they are real than one who seems as if they never make a mistake. It gives me permission to be real as the student too and that is a wonderful gift.
  3. Speaking in absolutes – People drawn to teach yoga are helpers. They want others to feel good and heal in the same ways they themselves have experienced through yoga. Because of this, new teachers often frantically strive to learn absolutely everything about everything all at once, and then make sure to say everything they know every single time they teach a posture or practice. This includes rattling off lists of “contraindications” for poses and often results in teachers saying things such as, “if you are pregnant never ….” Additionally, once we experience the positive benefits of a practice or posture, we may assume that everyone else feels those same benefits or needs them. What works for you may not necessarily work for someone else. Where you feel a pose isn’t necessarily where your students will feel it and that’s perfectly okay! The practice is still helping even if someone isn’t experiencing it the same way as you. Be mindful of the desire to tell students where they will feel a pose or telling students that a practice will “fix” something. Get comfortable with the word “may.” Allow yourself to invite students to explore and let them in on the possible things they might experience but then let them have whatever experience they have and validate that all of it is good. Just showing up and practicing is enough.
  4. Calling out students by name – I once inherited an entire class full of students from another teacher in town because that teacher had made an “example” of one of them thinking she was helping. The student was so mortified to have been called out by name that she left and all of her friends left too! I made a point after hearing this story to never ever make an example of a student in my class. I have personally been called out due to my flexibility or strength as the “example” and it always makes me feel uncomfortable. My favorite part of a yoga class is the anonymity I have and the space it provides to be on my own mat, in my own body with my own thoughts, allowing everything and everyone else to fade away. Whether you are correcting or praising someone, the purpose of the practice of yoga isn’t to compare it is to explore and grow. If you need to help someone with a correction for safety, give the cue to the whole class. That person will listen and others will also benefit from the cue.
  5. Stepping up or down modifications – You’ve probably heard it before: “If you can’t do A, then grab a block and do B..” or the infamous “If you want MORE….” This kind of language implies that there is a better or worse way to practice yoga. This is simply not true. Because every body is different, every pose will look and feel different to every student. If you want to incorporate modifications and options (As I highly encourage you to do) try giving them “popcorn style” so your students decide based on feel instead of what option will be the hardest or best one. This helps create an environment where students are truly listening to their body in the moment and learning more about what works for them on that day at that time. Svadhyaya (self-study) is the goal of yoga. Try using modifications to encourage more of this instead of promoting arbitrary ideal. Your students’ mental health will flourish.
  6. Offering props without context – I am guilty of playing devils advocate on this one. If I am in a class and the teacher says “if you want, you can grab your blocks here.” I will almost always ask aloud “What do we do with them?” Perhaps a bit distracting (here I go showing that I am human) but honestly I have seen so many brand new students completely lost in a class who could benefit greatly from the use of props if they only knew how to use them. Luckily, since I first started teaching we have seen a shift in the industry to more acceptance of props and I no longer experience push back from students when I offer them. In fact, I have made it my goal to incorporate props for everyone in the class and then offer the option to “use them or loose them.” I find that this invites students to explore in ways they may not otherwise because they assume props are for “lesser” students. If you can, try using the props to make the practice harder as well. This reframes the relationship to the prop and makes everyone feel more comfortable using them. The more explicit we can be in the way we use the prop (the angle, position, the where, how and why) the more we empower our students in future classes where we are not teaching. This keeps them safe and gives them options no matter the current state of their body.
  7. No silence in savasana – This one depends on the clientele. I don’t feel the need to leave a lot of silence in my classes with older students in chair yoga who may use the class as a social experience. They often already have a lot of silence in their life at home. However, the average age of yoga students is between 30-45 years old. Culturally this means that your average student is coming from a life inundated with noise and stimulation. Work, television, family, partners, children, traveling, shopping, doing….. it never ends. All day long there is noise and color and multitasking. The nervous system of these students is in hyperdrive. They need sensory deprivation. Silence. A reminder of how to just be rather than always doing. So take 3 minutes or so to read your poem, spray your essential oils, adjust their shoulders but then leave them alone. Give your students the gift of silence, even if only for 5 minutes. Their nervous systems will benefit and they’ll get a little taste of the magic that yoga and meditation have to offer. In a 75 minute class, shoot for 8 minutes minimum of savasana and if you need to “Sell it,” be ready with a list of benefits. Once our students have bought into the why, they will be more likely to try it and feel the why for themselves and that makes for lifelong practitioners.

No matter where you are in your teaching journey, the more you learn the less you know. This is a beautiful thing. The simple act of showing up and sharing this practice with intention and love means you are already a good teacher. My hope is you continue to sit with new information such as this and question how you teach – forever. This is what keeps us growing and learning and living our yoga and inspires our students to do the same. Keep sharing, keep practicing. The world needs you. Thank you.

Using Trauma Informed Language to create a more inclusive yoga space

Denver Clark, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist, E-RYT500, Licensed massage therapist

Trauma.

A heavy word.

A word that we are seeing more and more often, especially in the yoga industry.

Trauma is defined as, “a distressing or disturbing experience,” and once we begin to learn about trauma we become aware that every human experiences some form of trauma in their lifetime. This means that when we step into the yoga space to teach, even if we are not intending to teach “trauma informed yoga,” we are always working individuals with a host of different life experiences that have likely been very distressing or disturbing. Since this is the case, finding ways to be more trauma informed in our language is one simple way we can make our students feel more comfortable and uplifted in our classes.

Teachers are often unaware that they are speaking in commands:

“Raise your hand,” “lift the foot,” “Do this, do that,” etc etc.

Invitational language is when we omit the commands we’ve been used to using and replace those with opportunities to explore the yoga practice. This creates an experience for our students that shows them the practice is theirs and not ours because our job is to show up for their experience. Invitational language asks your student to really listen to their own body and make a true connection with themselves (the goal of yoga) instead of mindlessly following orders and potentially disconnecting from the union and awareness that yoga can facilitate.

In my trauma informed course at Heartwood Yoga Institute, teachers are often overwhelmed at this idea. They’re afraid of sounding like a broken record and turning their students off by saying “I invite you to..” every other pose. So to help you on your teaching journey, below is a list of a few ways you can start using “invitational” language in your classes this week:

“I invite you to…”

“When you’re ready..”

“One option is..”

“We could..”

“Let’s try…”

“How about we…”

“If you’d like…”

“If it feels good today..”

“let’s explore…”

A challenge I am always giving my advanced yoga teachers in training is to never say the same thing twice in class. Even when teaching a 2 sided posture, try to cue into and out of the pose completely differently each time so it feels just like a new pose. How many of us teaching many classes per week over the course of years have found ourselves checking out and simply reciting our usual “script?” If you practice expanding your vocabulary by always using new phrases, you’ll be more present as a teacher and your students will be more likely to listen and stay present with you to avoid missing out on what comes next. I like to call this “tricking” my students into being present. I know, I know, it sounds negative but sometimes we need a little challenge from our teachers – I know I do!

I promise that with practice, this kind of language will become a natural part of your communication as a teacher and best of all, it will create a more trauma inclusive and uplifting yoga experience for your students!

For more information on Trauma informed language and trauma informed yoga, you can take the continuing education course at Heartwood Yoga Institute with me!

Online Teacher Training – Is it any good?

Denver Clark, C-IAYT, ERYT-500

In the large picture of yoga, I am just a baby. Having taught Yoga for the last 14 years, my time studying, and learning is a drop in the bucket of the vastness of the ancient wisdom of yoga. And even in this short time, I have witnessed a generous shift in the yoga community from what was previously a western preoccupation with physique to the new frontier of Yoga as a therapeutic healing modality, in the same realm of chiropractic care and acupuncture.

The world is in desperate need of healing and the yoga community is primed and ready to step in and help. In January of 2020, Yoga Alliance of America and the International Yoga Therapy Association were cracking down on fly by night online certifications and exotic training retreats that were much more about ziplining and vacation time than they were about yoga and so many of us were ready for it.

And then – COVID.

Now, we exist in a world where we’ve seen the outreach that online learning and telehealth have provided to underserved, underreached populations of people and we’ve been forced to take a hard look at the view of teaching and experiencing yoga from a distance.

For the last 3 years, the main topic of discussion at conventions and meetings of Yoga Therapy Accredited schools is this:

Online learning is not going anywhere any time soon. So how do we offer quality Yoga instruction and guidance for our students and clients from a distance?

At Heartwood Yoga Institute, the faculty is constantly searching for answers to this question, and this has left us a bit behind other schools as we struggle to offer desired distance learning that meets our high standards of quality in education. Here is what I have learned about learning, teaching, and providing yoga therapy online to clients:

 Live, real time, face to face interaction is necessary. Effective Learning is never only Passive – Prior to my yoga teaching life, I owned a dance studio and have spent my life surrounded by teachers. One thing I have learned is that students must be actively engaged to process and remember information and many studies provide more information on the matter, such as one from the National Library of Medicine published in 2019 which states:

“The process of encoding, storing, and retrieving is enhanced by emotional arousal (Crowley et al., 2019). Arousal will help to construct stronger and larger schemas during initial learning, which makes it easier to retrieve the learned information from long‐term memory (van Kesteren et al., 2012). Active learning methods try to arouse the learner by giving them the opportunity to control the information that is experienced (Markant et al., 2016). In contrast, when new information is taught with a passive learning method, this information is stored with less connections to the existing schemas, and hence retrieval becomes more cumbersome. “

When a school makes it mandatory to show up in person for a portion of learning time, they are offering students a chance to connect emotionally with one another for processing. Their questions can be answered in real time and the container of learning that comes from meeting in a shared space with a common goal can be created, even if it is done through a screen. This requires the teacher and students to be present, with their cameras on, faces visible, sitting alert just as they would in a classroom setting.

It is not the same when watching a recording, or multitasking with other devices or activities such as eating, scrolling your phone etc. The very nature of yoga is a lesson in mindfulness and self-discipline (Tapas, in Sanskrit). Bringing these lessons into the virtual classroom is imperative if we claim to teach true yoga.

When looking for an online teacher training program or yoga teacher, I highly recommend one that utilizes and requires real time, live, face to face interaction throughout the journey to activate the emotional learning portion of your brain.

Repetition begets understanding. Lessons, slides, and lectures that students can re-visit more than once allow them to process information in a new way through repetition. Remember when you learned to tie your shoes? How many hundreds of times does it take to learn a new skill? It’s easy to forget this as we age, especially in the current climate of “instant gratification.” An effective school or teacher will provide opportunities for repetition and it’s important for students to understand this is not busywork or wasting time but rather a planned and studied teaching tool for our brains to contain more information over time.

I am wary of any school that limits how many times a student can revisit their online material or even worse, only allows it to be seen once. I would search for a school that offers repetition throughout the lessons (repeating slides) and allows you to revisit your course for at least 6- 12 months following your training.

Student participation is necessary to learn. To teach is to learn. By sharing information with others and completing assignments such as papers, videos and live teaching of peers the student’s brain must transfer the information they’ve learned and turn it over into a new understanding to teach it to someone else. This is what we call “practicum” in our courses at Heartwood and stretches the students understanding of the material into a new place where they must effectively communicate the information to someone new.

An online class that presents information alone is simply producing content. A course that requires you to share knowledge in your own words is truly one designed by teachers, for teachers. You’ll get so much more knowledge and a much deeper understanding if you re-teach what you learn to someone new as soon as possible and your brain will retain this information much more easily.

Look for a program that requires you to share what you’re learning and holds you accountable as a teacher with feedback and growth opportunities.

You get what you pay for. To offer true student/teacher live interaction, feedback and notes from a qualified faculty member and the additional time it takes to support students in their online learning journey, a school must make a significant investment of tools and staffing. This cost then gets naturally passed down to the enrolled student to ensure the quality of the programming.

At Heartwood, our online courses include pre-recorded lectures with lifetime access that are professionally edited, printable notes that can be re-printed as many times as needed, online quizzes that are graded by our faculty, live meetings with our most qualified faculty members and 24-7 support when students have questions or concerns throughout the process. In order to offer this in addition to the high quality in person programs we continue to facilitate, we must train and utilize our most qualified staff.

A “cheap” program is different than an “affordable” program. When considering the depth of offerings in the course you are considering, make sure you understand the qualifications of the school and its teachers (just because a school says they can train you as a yoga therapist doesn’t mean they are accredited with the correct organizations) If you think the cost is fair for all the elements included that’s a good sign. If you think the price is “a steal,” you are very likely to walk away missing the quality you desire.

Great schools come with happy graduates. Check out reviews on Google, Yoga Alliance and ask the school for references of graduates they have produced. The best way to judge if a school is for you is to go right to the people who have walked in your shoes. Ask what they have done with their education and what kind of support they have after graduation for job guidance, references, and continuing support.

If online learning was designed to provide us with a global community, then the mark of a good online school is keeping that community connected.

If you’re considering online learning for Yoga, Teacher Training or continuing education in Yoga take your time and find the school that gives you the right feelings of support, community, career longevity and quality. And if you’re interested in certification through Heartwood Yoga Institute, please feel free to reach out to us any time at www.rytcertification.com

Good luck on your Yoga Journey!

5 Inclusive Trauma informed Language Swaps for Yoga Teachers

Denver Clark, CIAYT, ERYT-500

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

Yoga is promoted as a space for healing and growth. But what happens if a student comes for a healing experience and leaves feeling even more uncomfortable or triggered? Of course, it is never the intention of a Yoga teacher to exclude others but often we aren’t completely aware of the simple things we can change about our delivery that make yoga even more influential for our students.  One very easy way to be more conscious and inclusive is though our language.

As a teacher, I feel that it’s most important to communicate with my students to learn what helps them feel more included in my class so I can continue to anticipate future student’s needs and make my classes even more therapeutic. Here are some common phrases you may hear in a yoga class that I’ve changed in my practice since becoming a teacher over 12 years ago:

#1 – “Come to a seated position…”

Remove Commanding Language – Instead, try invitational language

It’s common for Yoga teachers to speak like fitness instructors. For example, “Let’s come to seated…. I want you to raise your arms…..” This can make the class feel like a mandatory experience and place students in a position where they feel a lack of choice or agency over their practice. As we heal from trauma, it’s important that we find moments where we feel in control of our environment and the yoga class is a perfect space to give people choices back in their lives. Especially during a time when we may not have many choices elsewhere. Here are some examples of invitational language:

      “When you are ready, you can raise your arms..”

      “One option is to look upward…”

      “You might decide to sit back into chair pose here…”

      “You can bend your front knee on an exhale…”

#2 “The full expression of the pose is…”  

Instead of stepping up each option – Try giving 2-3 choices, popcorn style

David Emmerson, one of the leaders in Trauma informed Yoga work calls this the “ABC approach.” It’s easy for teachers to fall into the trap of making postures harder and harder: “This is the pose, but if you want more….. if you want the full expression….” This kind of language can make students feel like they are less capable in their practice or that they are “bad” at yoga. Similarly, teachers may present the “fullest expression” of a posture and then step back to “If you can’t do this, then grab a strap…” Giving students 2 or 3 options in a random order allows students to make a choice based on how they feel instead of what they think they should be able to do. Yoga is personal, not goal oriented and not every student should be doing the traditional version of every posture. This exploratory approach reminds students that yoga is about listening and responding to your body in the moment and that it’s ok to change your mind or your practice as your body changes. Try replacing the word “modification” with “version.” Here are some examples of how you might do this:

      “One option is to raise the front arm in warrior two, if this is uncomfortable today you could decide to place your hand on your hip and another choice might be to tuck that arm behind your back…”

#3 – “Don’t practice this if you’re….”

Instead of contraindication rules, try education. You don’t know the whole story

To protect our students, it can be easy to assume that the element we know about their health is the most important. But there is so much more to the story that we don’t know. If we speak in absolutes such as “always” and “never” because we read in a book or learned in a workshop that something is contraindicated, we may be unknowingly holding our students back from things they are fully capable of and ready for.

It’s a great idea to educate your students about the possible complications of a posture or pranayama practice, for example “menstruation may be a contraindication to inversions.” However, explaining the energetic and physical reasons why this might be a contraindication (“Apana vayu energy is trying to eliminate tissue during menstruation and we may find that inversions are uncomfortable or make us lightheaded during this time…”) gives my student the power to choose. An empowering practice is a healing one and after all, that is the point of Yoga – to learn how to listen to my own body and be responsible for my own health and happiness.

#4 – “That looks beautiful..”

Instead, make yoga about how things feel instead of how they look

When we comment on the way postures look, we are reinforcing a possibly harmful idea that yoga has to look a certain way to be correct – and many students may internalize this as “I have to look a certain way to be correct.” The gift of yoga asana (the physical practice) is interoception – the ability to be aware of my body and it’s internal changes. Focusing on how a posture feels allows my student to know that whatever state they are in is acceptable and there’s no goal on the outside. Because yoga happens on the inside. We can change this habit by removing phrases like “beautiful” or “looks nice” and replacing those with comments such as “feel the strength in your legs.” Or “notice how this posture makes you feel.” This also gives my student agency over their own body and reminds them of how capable they are and that they are in control of themselves at all times, which is tremendously healing when recovering from trauma.

#5 – “You’ll feel this in your…”

Instead of telling our students what to feel, try inviting them to “notice”

One of the most powerful words in trauma informed and inclusive yoga might be “notice.” When we tell our students where or what to feel, we run the risk of placing them in a situation where they feel less than if they don’t feel that sensation. We also direct them to believe that feeling that sensation is good, when it may not be for them. Inviting students to notice what they feel, wherever they feel it is another practice in interoception and helps them build awareness of the subtle changes in their bodies so that they can be aware in the future off the mat if something is amiss. It also allows them to have a unique experience rather than a curated one that may be unfit for their body or mind. Anatomically, not every person will ever feel a pose the same way but that doesn’t mean they aren’t receiving a benefit from the pose somewhere else. I will often say something like “you may feel a sensation in the backs of your legs, but if you don’t that’s okay too. Everyone carries tension in different areas. Just allow yourself to notice what you feel here…”

Most importantly – Ask your students for feedback.

Our students are our teachers. By asking them for open feedback we are allowing ourselves to become uncomfortable and on the other side of discomfort it always growth. Teachers are human and we make mistakes. It’s what we do once we are aware of those mistakes that matters most. I hope that as a community, we all continue to educate ourselves, to inquire, to acknowledge when we make a mistake and to learn from it. Then, we are truly practicing yoga in addition to sharing it with others. Happy Teaching!

Boundaries for Yoga Therapists – how to avoid healer’s burnout

Denver Clark – C-IAYT, LMT #91897

Many of us in the healing industries of Yoga and Massage are called to our work with the aim of helping others. We’ve felt the magic that yoga and holistic approaches bring to our health and healing and we decide that magic is so special that we’d like to share it with others. For many of us, it has always been a part of our nature to be “helpers,” and this leaves us spending extra energy, time and resources to make our work accessible to the world. After all, who doesn’t need yoga? But what happens when we start to feel the pinch of our work as “helpers,” and what if we start to feel drained, burnt out or even resentful?

I’ve suffered from all of these feelings, coupled with the guilt of desperately wanting to set boundaries without letting down all the people who rely on me for their healing. Here is what I have learned in the past 15 years as a yoga teacher, massage therapist and now yoga therapist..

  • Boundaries are individual.

So many forms of holistic medicine from Ayurveda to Chinese medicine and more tell us that each individual is born with a specific balance of elemental energies. In Ayurveda, we call this the 3 Doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha). Having done the work to acknowledge my own tendencies, I know that I am a very fiery person. Those with strong fire element are often built to handle tremendous amounts of stress, allowing us to keep pushing through even when others might stop. This has allowed me to place boundary lines on my time and energy that are fairly flexible. I have had many times in life where I feel perfectly comfortable giving out my cell phone number and receiving messages and email questions from my clients at all hours of the day and night. I can multitask very well, cooking dinner and answering an email on my phone at the same time.

But not everyone is built this way and that’s perfectly healthy and normal. Those with high Vata (air and ether) are highly creative and driven to help but may need a bit more personal space (get it?) between them and their students/clients. Kapha heavy individuals might need more structure to their workday to feel at ease in their work/life balance, with specific days and times set for office work and appointments.

  • Boundaries can change.

 I have recently entered a phase of life where I need more space to focus on my own health and my family and have changed the amount of hours and personal information I choose to share with my clients. I’ve had a myriad of personal and familial health issues and my priorities have shifted from work to quality family time and rest for my body and soul. At first as I began to slowly create new boundaries, I experienced pushback from a few clients. A few of them were downright upset that I wasn’t as readily available to them and was no longer willing to extend my days to accommodate their scheduling needs. I even lost a few clients who needed me to be more available than I was willing to be. I spent a day or two mourning these losses and finding an appropriate way to send my clients with love to a new referral, reminding them that I am available in this new capacity but encouraging them to find a different therapist if my options no longer suit their needs. Once I stuck to my new boundaries, I found that my current clients experienced no decrease in satisfaction and since I had a renewed sense of personal agency my work became even more influential. I became a better therapist.

  • Boundaries do not need an explanation.

The guilt I have felt when drawing a line on my personal time has caused me more times than I would like to overshare my story. When canceling my clients during my miscarriage or re-scheduling a few months later after my mother’s heart attack, I felt like I had to give all the details of my personal life in to “earn” my time away from work. When my work weeks began totaling 60 hours between 2 jobs, I felt the need to explain every time exactly why I had fewer appointments available – because my family needed me, and my own health was suffering.

None of these explanations were necessary, however. My time belongs to me, and I can plan how I spend it without the need to answer to anyone else – especially a client. It is still difficult for me to answer a request with a simple answer such as, “Unfortunately I am not available that day,” or “That is against my policy.” But I am finding that every time I keep to a professional answer, I feel more and more comfortable doing so the next time. In stopping my apologies and explanations, I have also begun to truly see my practice as a business which allows me to leave work activities for my scheduled work hours, giving my brain the space to disconnect when I go home instead of obsessing over my client’s concerns. I can still help facilitate healing without sacrificing my own mental health.

  • Your time is valuable.

It was difficult for me to understand just how much my time was worth in the beginning. Many people need yoga, massage and other holistic practices and there is often a perception that these should be free to everyone due to the desperate need for them. I started charging very little for my time and after a while I found I would resent spending time with clients when I could be with my family or doing things for my personal growth instead. I found the transition to balance for me was slow and gradual. At first, I went up in price $5 every year in January. I would again, apologize and explain why to clients and most of the time I would be pleasantly surprised when they would respond with “$5?! I would pay much more than that – you’re so worth it!”

After a few years, I was much more comfortable looking at other prices in my area and basing my appointments on the area average. Then, once my time became scarcer, I knew it was time to increase my price. If I ever resent spending time with a client instead of in a class for myself, that is a big sign that I need to re-consider my pricing again.

I’ve spent thousands of hours in trainings, CEUs and research to improve my practices as a yoga and massage therapist. The 15 years I have practiced have also brought me experience. This education and experience are valuable and it’s important to consider this when deciding what you will charge for your sessions.

Pricing my time appropriately has allowed me to give more freely when the situation calls for it. If a client is having a rough time and we’ve established a relationship where they have shown they truly value my work, I am more than happy to offer a discount if I think it may be needed. It feels great to be able to do this from a place of love and a desire to help and it is never expected since we’ve already established a fair price at the beginning of our time together. I have a certain number of time/sessions I am comfortable giving away for free/with a discount each season and I consider this before offering a price break or freebie to a client. If I have already reached that quota, I make a mental note (or written) to offer my gift to the client during the next season instead. This way I can still pay my bills and give the karmic offerings I want.

  • Create a handbook of policies & procedures

There are many events and circumstances you will not be able to anticipate until they happen. Weather it’s in my personal practice as a single massage therapist or in my business as a manager in a group if yoga therapists, when an uncomfortable or difficult situation presents itself, I make a note to “put it in the handbook.” This handbook is a list of how to handle situations such as non-payment, sexual inappropriateness, client grievances, client intoxication, refunds, last minute cancellations and more. The more professional I can be in my language when writing these policies and procedures the better.  Weather or not I ever choose to show this handbook of policies to a client, I am able to reference an ethical and professional set of steps to take if it ever presents itself again. I can place these policies on a page of my website for anyone to see to protect myself and my clients and I can confidently respond with “it is not in our policy” when individuals are asking for more than I am willing to give.

You can view policies of other practitioners in your area as a starting place and I would also suggest researching local and stare regulations on things such as refunds for services, gift card expirations and more. For example, Florida laws states: “ A gift certificate may not have an expiration date, expiration period, or any type of postsale charge or fee imposed on the gift certificate.”

  • Setting boundaries ultimately make you a better practitioner.

It takes time and many mistakes to come to a place of balance as a practitioner in the healing community, but I think it’s important to re-evaluate your personal needs and goals regularly to be sure that your practice is in alignment with these needs. Spending time and energy setting boundaries and keeping to them has refreshed my love for my work and will allow me to continue helping others for many more years to come. I am so much happier and more fulfilled in my work since beginning to explore what my boundaries need to be and I encourage you to do the same.

Thank you for wanting to help others. They need you at your best self.

You deserve to set boundaries.

With Love,

Denver

How yoga is teaching me to love myself – even on days when I don’t

Denver Clark – CIAYT, ERYT-500, LMT #89197

Yoga has so much more depth than most of us (even those who teach) can even begin to comprehend. In a world full of filters and impossible standards of beauty, hearing that self-love is as easy as “getting a pedicure and deciding to love yourself” can leave us feeling frustrated and depressed. So, I decided to share a little bit about how yoga has shaken me out of the trap of self-loathing and into a place of self-awareness and compassion. Some days I still struggle to reach even a moment of self-acceptance, let alone self-love. But the magic of Yoga has been the true catalyst for me.

I was raised in front of a mirror. My mother was a dance teacher at Steps on Broadway and traveled all over the country as a master jazz teacher. My stepfather was my ballet instructor. My mom opened a dance school when I was just a year old, and some of my earliest memories are of bouncing my walker into the mirrors of the studio while she taught. I used to spend hours making faces at myself as a child and was even caught lip syncing the songs from the musical “Miss Saigon” in the bathtub, while watching myself in the mirror when my parents listened to new music to use for their dance company concerts. I grew up with a love for music and performance and decided at a very early age, that I was content to become a starving artist in New York City if it meant I could be on Broadway and inspire others from the stage.

            I was born to be a naturally larger bodied person. I learned to channel my anxiety into hiding food and eating it excessively to help myself feel calmer. The problem was, I was never thin enough to be up front dancing or singing or acting. I didn’t “look right for the part” and this became my internal narrative – not just on stage but in every moment of life. I punished myself as a teenager by hiding in my room and excessively picking at my face – even covering it with scrubbing bubbles bathroom cleaner once in an attempt to wash away the things I didn’t like. I obsessively stared at myself in mirrors, pinching and pulling on my flesh and fantasizing about cutting off my extra girth with scissors. My mind had taken the corrections from my dance teachers, my own parents and twisted them into corrections for myself. My mind had heard “wrong for the part” as just “wrong.” I decided I was the problem, and I did not love myself.

            Even when I was admitted to a prestigious BFA program for Musical Theatre, I found ways to internalize this “not good enough” monologue and managed to sabotage my experience, eventually removing myself from the program and dropping out of college entirely. I made every choice in my life based on the idea that I deserved the bare minimum, from who I chose to date to the way I communicated with others to the activities I engaged in and the meals I ate.

            In my 20’s I found myself working in a fast-food drive-through and looking for a way to re-connect with my body after losing my college dance classes which led me into the upstairs room of a chiropractor’s office in Rural Georgia where I met – Yoga.

            My first experience in a yoga class was simple and to this day I’ll never be able to tell you if the teacher was a “good one” or not. What I can remember is that for the first time in my entire life, I was moving with my body in harmony. I was connected to my deepest self. I was completely at peace and there wasn’t a mirror in sight. I cried during savasana.

            This began my journey into Yoga. Starting with my 200-hour training and navigating the new yoga and dance studio I inherited during the program, I was frantically trying to learn enough to be worthy of my student’s trust. Born with “imposter syndrome,” my desire to know all the answers led me to my 300-hour certification and eventually to become both a massage and yoga therapist. Along the way I learned a myriad of helpful information about anatomy, physiology and how to be a compassionate listener and strong communicator. But the most important lessons came once I started practicing yoga experientially.

I learned about the energetic subtle body and the theory of how our thoughts and emotions manifest in physical pain. I started noticing that when I felt sad and unworthy, my body changed composition – literally padding itself to protect me from my negative thoughts and the outside world. I would experience physical pain in my joints and even gain weight just by thinking negatively about myself.  As a yoga therapist (and someone actively in therapy for body image and disordered eating) there is a proven connection of our physical body to our subtle body. We are what we think. So now, at 35 I am actively working to re-direct my negative thought patterns to compassionate ones. By showing myself love mentally and emotionally, I have begun to feel more worthy, and I treat myself better. I get out of bed to practice or meditate, and I spend the time nourishing my body and enjoying what I eat instead of punishing myself with food.

            My yoga journey has brought me to the alter of Ayurveda. This 3,000-year-old system of medicine coming from India introduced me to the study of the Doshas and how everything in the universe is made up of a combination of the 5 elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether). I’ve learned to accept that I was brought into this world with a lot of fire and instead of allowing this energy to consume me with anger and self-destructiveness, I’ve decided to treat it as my superpower. I’m actively trying to reshape my narrative as a “Type A, anxiety ridden, short, fused person” into “a passionate, transformative and hardworking induvial” and self-awareness helps me see the moments when I’m beginning to tip out of balance. The practices I’ve learned – mindfulness, meditation, breathwork, postures and eating in accordance with my energies – have shown me how to bring myself back when life throws me a curveball instead of taking to my bed for days on end or acting out of self-loathing, mistreating my body and binge eating. I find I recover from stress much more quickly now and can acknowledge my missteps and apologize when that fire comes out sideways instead of hiding behind self-defensiveness. This has completely changed my relationships and my parenting.

Philosophically, the Yoga Sutras have shown me that all of us have fears and aversions. We call these the Kleshas. That our monkey mind and our ego will constantly be grasping, and our job is to stay the course and keep doing the work of spiritual growth. To get back up even when we trip and fall into old habits.

The most important thing yoga has taught me is that healing is not linear and self-compassion is the end to suffering.

Do I remember this every day? Of course not! Honestly, the best way for me to live my yoga has been to teach it. Not on a yoga mat in a “yoga class” but by sharing with others the gems that I’ve discovered. I have these conversations with my daughter, with my husband, with my friends over lunch and I find I’m beginning to live my yoga. After all, it’s yoga “practice,” not yoga “perfect.

My friend and teacher Donna shared a beautiful quote in class just this morning from Brene Brown: “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our self-acceptance.”

Self-awareness is the gift of yoga. This leads to self-acceptance and for me, is the doorway to the long and winding journey of self-love.

For further contemplation:

  • In subtle body studies, the concept of the 5 koshas teaches us that we have increasingly subtle layers of existence. Our physical layer sends messages to our energetic layer and creates changes in the physiology of our body. This creates a shift in our mental layer. Also, our thoughts change our physiology and nervous system in the energy body and create measured physical changes. We can in fact, make ourselves sick.
  • In Ayurveda we learn about the 3 doshas, Vata (air and ether), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). All things in the universe are made up of a different combination of these elements. Therefore, to stay in balance, it’s important to recognize your constitution and apply the opposite energies in your food and activities to keep from falling into an excess of one element over the other.
  • The 5 Kleshas or “causes of suffering” are ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear of death. All people fall victim to these sensations and yoga teaches us to ride the wave instead of allowing these feelings to rule our lives and our decisions.

Yoga is Not Diet Culture

Here we are again.

It’s January. The time when news feeds, commercials and billboards are all flooded with ways to improve ourselves. “New Year, New You” messages inundate the airwaves of our subconscious and most of these messages allude to the fact that the best way to improve our miserable lives is to make drastic changes to our bodies. Couple this with a 2-year COVID landscape and the messages of undoing our depression and isolation induced weight gain are even louder and more difficult to ignore.

It saddens me that even as a member of the yoga community, surrounded by individuals and corporations who are jumping on the body positivity bandwagon (and profiting from it) I’m still seeing messages about how to “eat Ayurvedically to lose weight” or how to “tone your arms and tighten your core with inversions.”

At Heartwood Yoga institute where I teach, we often refer to the philosophical concepts of yoga as “Big Yoga.” What we mean by this is that there is so much more to yoga than just postures. Luckily here in the west we seem to finally be catching up to this idea (albeit rather slowly). What does this mean exactly though? What exactly is the deeper meaning of yoga? And how to we utilize postures in a way that isn’t detrimental to our mental and physical health when all we can see on Instagram are thin, white, female bendy bodies upside down in crop tops?

I have found so many students arriving at yoga Teacher Training with a mistaken idea of yoga, not even aware that the physical practice is only 1/8th of what we consider Hatha yoga. Even less often do we start this journey with an understanding of the magnitude of impact that our subtle body energies have on our physical body. “The issues are in the tissues,” as they say. What I love about the health and wellness community is that more and more often I am hearing these ideas come directly from the mouths of doctors and therapists (mine included), giving Yoga Therapists like myself more credibility than we have ever had before.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to explore where yoga might fit in the western world of body-obsessed individuals and what yoga teachers could be “Selling” instead of new year’s body goals.

Promise – “Yoga promotes physical change or improvement”

Reality – Yoga promotes Self-awareness which brings about a decision to be our best self

Yoga Asana (or the physical practice) is one of 8 limbs of the practice of Hatha yoga. Many lineages believe that the only reason yoga practitioners ever practiced postures is to prepare the body to sit for extended periods of time in meditation. That Meditation itself is the actual, ultimate goal of yoga. If this is the case, then it doesn’t matter if we can balance in Tree pose and stick our toe up our nose. If we cannot be still and go inward in reflection, then we aren’t practicing “yoga” at all. We are simply exercising. We may as well go find a spin class instead. There is a time and a place for asana to be of importance and for many students, this is a way to begin channeling our energy to discipline and growth, but the answer to weather or not we are actually doing this is in our intention. If we can be completely honest with ourselves and notice when our ego is guiding our practice, we should never have a problem knowing if our asana practice is legitimate or not. How do we start to recognize our ego? Meditation! To truly be an advanced yoga practitioner, it is said we must be able to be still and listen inward. Openly, honestly, without fear. If our goals are driven by ego, by the desire to be better, look better or win against ourselves or others then we are missing the whole point of yoga.

Promise – “Yoga promotes weight loss or management”

Reality – Yoga regulates our nervous system and this keeps our bodies in their optimal state

In addition to the self-awareness that yoga gives us, the stress relief of yoga is what mostly leads to a healthier body. When we feel a sense of inner balance and peace in savasana or meditation, our bodies move out of the sympathetic nervous system stress response and into a parasympathetic nervous response where we lower blood sugar, stress hormones and improve digestion and organ functions. Heart health is improved and our bodies return to a natural homeostasis. This does often lead us back to whatever shape our bodies were naturally intended for and hopefully along the way we find acceptance of what that shape is as well. Surprisingly enough however, physical movements can have very little to do with this change.

In the modern world where our nervous system is inundated with noise and stimulation and stress  – the most healthy activity we can do for our bodies, hearts and immunity is to simply relax. In addition, the concept of non-attachment or Aparigraha teaches us to accept that life will not always be perfect and our job is to stay grounded and present even when things totally suck. This allows us to regulate our own nervous systems even when there is chaos, because we have practiced it time and time again on the mat in a controlled environment. Weather you’re working toward 108 sun salutations or laying on a bolster for 30 minutes, whatever activates that parasympathetic response in your body is helping you win at health and longevity. How do you know you got there? One benefit is improved circulation to your digestive system = stomach growling during savasana is a great thing!

Promise – “Cleanses are part of yoga”

Reality – Your body cleans itself every day. Yoga DOES help you get rid of the mental gunk.

Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. One element of this practice is eating in accordance with your given constitution. This means that some of us are built to eat meat, others are not. Some crave spicy foods and others crave sweets, etc. When we add like to like, it throws our bodies and energy out of balance. Firey people + firey food = inflammation and anger, for example. By practicing self-awareness and knowing what our natural tendencies are it is said that we will be able to stay in balance in part through the foods we eat. When we find ourselves out of balance, Ayurveda recommends a “cleanse” that involves natural elements such as oiling the body inside and out or eating a simple mono-diet of rice and mung beans etc. These types of cleanses are recommended based on the individual’s constitution and spoiler alert: NONE of them involve living off of lemon water, tea or mushroom milk for a month. The purpose is to reset the digestive system in a way that is soft and kind to the body under the care of a licensed or certified ayurvedic counselor with thousands of hours of schooling. Watch out for diet culture creeping into yoga spaces. Real Ayurveda will never come in the form of a one size fits all advertisement. It is always curated for the individual after careful one on one counsel.

IN ADDITION – The concept of “removal of toxins” is NOT a reality. Your body has specific mechanisms in place to remove wastes (digestive, lymphatic, sweating and more) and yoga postures do not “squeeze” wastes out of you. Movement can improve the function of your organs but speaking about the body as if it were “toxic” creates an unhealthy relationship with it for many of us living with body image issues. (More on language in yoga classes in another blogpost) The best cleanse that yoga can provide is the one where we release our expectations, our judgements, triggers and our self-deprecating thoughts.

Promise & Reality – Yoga is life.

So the next time you or someone you know mistakenly touts yoga as a way to “get rid” of the undesirable parts of themselves (physical or otherwise) perhaps you can gently remind them of all the wonderful things true yoga can add to our lives instead, such as:

– self-awareness
– acceptance
– compassion
– love
– inquiry into the subconscious
– empowerment
– stress relief
– mindfulness
– energetic awareness
– Ayurvedic education

– freedom from our thoughts and emotions

– union

After all, yoga isn’t about changing.

It’s about connecting to our innermost, untouchable, radiant self.

And we are perfect as we are.

What is Ayurveda, Anyway?

Denver Clark, LMT#89198, C-IAYT

Ayurveda is often referred to as “the sister science to Yoga.” It has been used as a system of health in India for well over 5,000 years and is deeply focused on not only healing the individual but teaching them how to use knowledge of the cycles of nature to stay in balance and avoid illness whenever possible.

The word Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit roots of “Ayur” meaning “life” and “Veda” which is a deep, inherent knowledge when one truly understands. This knowledge cannot be taught, only experienced.

Now, the ancient practices from Ayurveda are spreading across the world as people experience the benefits of techniques such as dry skin brushing, oil pulling, cooking with turmeric and eating seasonally from locally grown produce.

One ayurvedic principle that pervades all the practices is that of the Doshas.

These are the 3 elemental energies that create and drive all of nature – including us.

These energies are created from the 5 great elements.

Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether (or space)

These elements are inherent in all natural things in various combinations. Even inside our own bodies, we see their qualities in different physiological processes. They are also in the foods we eat and the activities we engage in and can therefore increase or decrease depending on how we interact with the world, the season and even the time of day.

Kapha – Earth and Water create the Dosha of Kapha – useful for stability, steadiness and grounding but potentially sticky, dry and heavy or depressed when in excess.

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

Pitta – Water and Fire create the Dosha of Pitta – Transformative, full of energy and power but potentially destructive, hot and angry in excess.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Vata – Air and Ether create the Dosha of Vata – light, free moving and circulates energy, but in excess can be disconnected, cold and restless or anxious.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

We come into this world with a specific tendency toward one or two of these 3 doshas. You may already be able to think of a person you know as very “earthy,” stable, reliable, nurturing and maybe even sometimes slow to change and may be prone to depression. This is Kapha energy. Someone who is “fiery” with high Pitta energy may often be described as  “Type A.” These individuals have a tremendous amount of energy and stamina to do all the things but may also be quick to anger or plagued with inflammatory issues in their body. “Airy” Vata people will naturally be more prone to move from project to project, easily letting go of grudges and always spouting out new creative ideas. They may also find it difficult or even impossible to complete any of these projects and be prone to forgetfulness, poor circulation, and anxiety. ALL of us have all 3 energies but as we look over our lifetime, we can see patterns of behavior that alert us to our primary “Prakriti” – which is the dosha balance we are meant to have when we are our best selves.

Life experiences, seasonal changes, foods and more call all bring us out of balance. This is referred to as or “Vikriti” or current imbalance. For example, as we age, we enter a period of “Vata” when we retire, become empty nesters and our bodies produce less fluid and become dryer. Those with high Vata tendencies already can easily be thrown out of balance and suffer from poor circulation, anxiety, insomnia, arthritis, osteoporosis and more. These are all light, dry, airy conditions filled with wind-like movement. Add to this, the dryness and cold weather in Fall and early winter and it’s no wonder why we are running to Florida when things cool down up North!

Once we determine our prakriti we can begin to see the way in which we help or hinder our sense of balance. Each of us has a unique constitution and will need a unique list of lifestyle choices that are best for us. Fad diets such as the keto or the raw food diet are perfect examples of ways in which we try to box ourselves into a way of eating that may work for others but will not work at all for us. This isn’t because we aren’t good at eating right, it just means that our constitution is different. The same can be said about the place where we choose to live or our job choice and how it affects our mood. Pittas make excellent lawyers, Kaphas are born to take care of others, Vatas are the creative geniuses.

Yoga teaches us that the ultimate goal in life is knowledge of the self. Ayurveda uses this knowledge to help us live our best lives.

If you’d like to take a simple dosha quiz to start your exploration of self, you can follow the link here.

If you are interested in learning more about Ayurveda, please join us at Heartwood for our “Intro to Ayurveda” weekend or try an Ayurvedic bodywork session with one of our Licensed and Certified Massage Therapists. You can read more about our offerings on our website at http://www.rytcertification.com & http://www.heartwoodyogainstitute.com.

Finding Pockets of Silence in a Busy World

By Stephanie Engebretson, 500-RYT, RCYT and Yoga Therapist in Training

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

After bustling through the holidays with family and friends, schedules and meals to plan, laughter and long nights, it may seem out of reach to accomplish just a few moments of conscious silence throughout our days. We set our lives in motion in such a way that we encourage our hours to be filled with more buying, more dining, more planning, which in turn leads to less mindfulness, less time in nature, and certainly less access to silence. Sound is constantly around us filling our minds with memories, thoughts, and emotion.

Take a moment right now, as you read this post, to become aware of just how many sounds you can hear around you. Is there a radio on? Can you hear the air conditioner or fan? Are there pets or children in the space you are in? Can you hear the cars on the road nearby, or the microwave beeping with your pizza? What about a television, a power tool, a washing machine?

All around us we are experiencing sensation stimulation; unconsciously receiving constant vibration in the form of individual influence on the natural world. There is no question that to live in this human world is to interact with sound in every moment, but the question is, how do we as humans find pockets of silence in our busy lives?

My journey in developing a daily practice for myself has been unpredictable in it’s setbacks, but truthful in it’s difficulty. I am frequently reminding myself that a practice is something that grows with us, changes as we need it to, and adjusts to our current circumstances. So many times, we shy away from things that we know will be good for us because we don’t think we can do it perfectly.

But if we consider that it is better to brush our teeth imperfectly every day, than to wash them perfectly once per month, then we might be able to take the logical step in knowing that the same would be true for meditating, finding silence, and mindfully living.

  1. Consider, what is something that you do every day? Is it making a cup of coffee in the morning? Is it walking your dog every evening after work? Is it brushing your teeth before bed? Take a few days to observe your daily habits and find the one thing that you do each day.
  2. Then, once your daily habit is acknowledged, we can place a pocket of silence before the habit is enacted daily. For example, on your way into the bathroom to brush your teeth each evening you can find a strong mountain pose facing your sink. Standing tall and powerful, close off your eyes and become mindful of the experience your body is having in that exact moment. Notice your breath and then invite in an easy count: 1 with the inhale, 2 with the exhale; all the way up to 10. If you become distracted by a thought, or a feeling try to notice whatever it is without attachment, and then return again to 1. Once you have finished your 10th mindful breath, release your focus and continue on to brush your teeth. Or perhaps you take 10 breaths after you’ve poured your morning coffee or tea; inhaling in through your nose as your smell the warmth and robust flavor of your bean water, and as you exhale you slowly breath your through your pursed lips to cool off the steaming drink.

Whatever these moments are for you, the point is not to achieve them perfectly, but instead to just allow yourself a few moments to slow down and become more aware of the present moment. Allowing the sounds to fall away as your focus your attention away from the vibrations they create, and instead onto whatever it is that you choose to set your mind to. Your breath, the smell of your coffee, a guided meditation on Youtube, whatever it is that allows you take a few moments to yourself will be worth it.

As we enter the New Year, I want to encourage you to find these simple moments. Allow yourself the time to try it out imperfectly, and with awareness that it is hard for everyone who tries it, and still committing to doing it anyway.

There is no perfect silence in this world, but there are little pockets of imperfect moments in which we can slow down, become more aware, and just “be”.