Curious Yoga


I have always been curious. I have the sneaking suspicion I can be annoying with my curiosity. I watch when I should be resting.  I read so much the ideas and words blur together.  I ask questions that can be seen as intrusive.  As an adult I have some awareness of how many questions I ask; as a child, I must have been trying at times.

One of the reasons that yoga immediately felt like home to me is that at the very heart of yoga is inquiry.  Everything is a question.  You have stepped on your mat at the YMCA because you are curious about something.  You have chosen to sit and meditate because you want to strengthen your ability to be present in the moment.  You choose to practice early morning pranayama to bring calm to your life and sweet peace to your soul.  You have a dog-eared copy of The Heart of Yoga that travels with you to remind you that no matter what facet of yoga initially drew you in, you practice all facets of yoga to have a complete practice.  Your breath teaches you patience, or at least informs your body to be patient.  All of these different things are questions we ask ourselves through our yoga practices.

Yoga is unifying.  It is not just a yoga community that is unified, it is the community of you.  Yoga unifies you.

Yoga brings you to the present moment. Whether that is so you don’t fall or so that you hold that ball of light in your mid-brain doesn’t matter. Its just that you are there. The present moment may not be pleasant. If you don’t experience the unpleasant, how will you know what is pleasant?  Because the someone tells you so?  Most of the people around us have a reason for wanting to influence our decisions and thoughts, from the people who write the ads we see on tv & the internet to our kids who really don’t want to watch a movie with us.  Form your own decisions.  Find your truth.  Live in the moment and live what feels real to your very soul.  Sound exhausting?  Maybe.  My belief is the more we practice self-awareness of mind and body the easier it will get.

As a world, we have taken simple things and complicated them.  Too many things to list but not enough to learn from.   Time to strip things back down to what our mind, body & soul truly crave.

Positive changes, step by step. Not just flexibility of the body, also flexibility of the mind. Not just flexibility of the mind, also flexibility of the breath. Add in strength and patience. In this way and many other ways, you will come together. You will attain what you thought to be unattainable.  As you bring peace, strength and knowledge into your own world, you will improve it, in improving your little world, you will start to improve lives around you.  Not by trying to, not by trying to be a hero for adulation or a rock star yoga teacher for fame or success, but by creating an atmosphere within yourself where you are constantly feeding your curiosity.  Becoming present in your own life is the simplest thing we can do for ourselves and the world.

Bhakti Fest 113

RESCUE doesn’t mean we solve your problems

Imagine this: you are sitting on your couch one evening and your family says, hey, let’s go for a ride. Its one of your favorite things, so you run to the car and sit down, excited all the while. You stop and get out of the car. Your family ties you to a fence with food and water. You sit, tied to this fence all night long for 8-12 hours until a very nice person drives up, sees you tied to the fence, and unties you, giving you hugs all the way into an office where you end up in a cage, not a couch.

How confused and upset would you be? Pretty messed up, hysterical and crying? Some human did this to a 10+ yro Pug at the Ranch recently. The dog, as many of you know, passed away in the arms of one of the Ranch’s adoption specialists who was kinder to poor little Buttercup than her family.

People ask me how I can participate in dog rescue. Because its not the DOGS that are sad, its the PEOPLE. We are the problem.

Do people know what a dog RESCUE is? Rescue = to save someone or something from harm. Not that the Ranch has some responsibility to correct your mistake. This is coming into clear focus for me because lately, I’m being contacted a couple of times a week by people wanting to know how a dog or puppy can be turned into Big Dog Ranch Rescue and how I can *guarantee* that their dog – the one they want to discard –  will end up at the RESCUE. While its ever-so-kind of you to want to make sure that the puppy or dog to whom you made a lifetime commitment but has become less of a priority to you nonetheless, you want said dog in a no-kill shelter, guess what?  You’ve no entitlement to a spot for that dog you brought into your home. There’s not always room at the inn. BDRR is constantly – anyone who is my Facebook friend knows this to be true – looking for foster families and ways to get dogs off campus. Why? Because BDRR is full up. Full up with dogs that need a home and two nourishing meals to day. Dogs that need a place to safely nurse and take care of their puppies. Dogs that have been abused, burned and starved. Dogs that humans have given up on.

So to those of you wanting to know how to turn in your dog to BDRR, go to the website. First of all, I don’t do intake and I have no authority whatsoever at Big Dog. I am a volunteer who walks with and helps train dogs. The dogs that the Ranch has saved from harm. The dogs that were homeless on the street, the dogs that were bait for fighting dogs or were themselves fighting dogs. Female dogs who have been overbred and inbred to the point of cancer. Dogs who perhaps have never had a roof over their heads or daily meals.

Not a dog that you bought from a breeder for $1500 because ___________ (you fill in the reason) and you now are realizing is a 10-15 year commitment that you are not equipped to handle. Perhaps you had a bad day and can’t see that dog who is annoying you by jumping on you, that you want to discard, just wants to give you kisses and is happy to see you. Maybe the puppy that pee’d on the floor was sending you signals to go outside and you weren’t paying attention, so got mad at the puppy.  Maybe you thought the 12 week old puppy you adopted at Christmas would housebreak itself.  These are not reasons to turn a dog over to a shelter. There are always alternatives. Take your dog to a puppy class, hire a trainer or behaviorist to evaluate your home, get some training yourself to be a better pet owner.  Want to turn your dog into BDRR? Check out the surrender information ( and make sure that you have gone through all of the steps first. There are always better answers than taking the dog off your couch and putting him or her in a concrete jungle. BDRR has terrific facilities, but its not home.

There are a large number of animals who are homeless. For many animals, this is due to overpopulation: people do not reliably spay or neuter their animals.   A homeless animal is sleeping on the streets or in a field, regardless of the weather. A homeless animal is scrounging for food, in trash cans or in the fields. A homeless dog is likely knocked up litter after litter until she dies. That is often a homeless animal’s birth control: death. When they live, the mother struggles to produce enough milk for her puppies and eventually tries to teach the puppies how to scrounge for food.

Its not that rescues aren’t interested in saving your dog that you screwed up by refusing to spend enough time with it, and of course, no one wants your dog to end up on the streets. However, you have no entitlement to have your dog placed at BDRR. Please don’t put the burden on the rescue of deciding between your suddenly inconvenient dog and the homeless dog. And for goodness sake’s, don’t be that coward who ties their dog up to the Ranch’s fence after hours. Please think twice, and even a third time, before you adopt. Try fostering first if you aren’t sure. BDRR can use the help and pays for many of the dog’s expenses.

Whatever you do, do not believe that your animal is entitled to place at the Ranch. Do not believe that there is always an open spot.  While I’m at it, the Ranch doesn’t board your dog while you go on vacation either. We don’t take your dog in and train it until it pleases you. The Big Dog website is comprehensive, please look at it.

Above all, please do not call me to get your dog into BDRR because I can’t help you. One of the reasons? I’ve loved dogs at the Ranch who have gotten sick and died before finding their forever home. So please do the responsible thing and keep your dog, spend that extra half an hour a day training your dog. Its really the right thing to do.


This is Jezebel.  We adopted her from BDRR as a puppy.

Her mother, Precious, was picked up off the street pregnant and

delivered her puppies at the Ranch.  Safely.


This is Stanley.  We adopted him as an adult.

He came from a high kill shelter in GA where he would have died.

2014 04 19 BDRR 256a

This was Tag.  He was dropped at a horse farm by a human,

emaciated and full of sores.  He got to BDRR where

he lived for almost two years before he died of cancer 07/05/14.

He never found his forever home.  I miss you buddy.

My New Hero

Among the many blessings that came with my husband and his two children was the set of friends that came along with this brand new social set.  There is a core group of families and kids that create a social galaxy that branches out, curves back in and winds around a few times.  These kids go to school together or Scouts together or karate together or volunteer together or some combination thereof.

One kid I’ve gotten along with since minute one, and for the past five years, I’ve watched him grow from a little 7 year old to an awkward pre-teen.  We bonded over Dwyane Wade and his creaky knees.  I’ve seen him grow up and poke the edges of boundaries with his parents, sometimes busting those boundaries wide open and driving his dad nuts.   I’ve watched him try out lots of different hobbies and sports.  Like his dad, he’s in love with music.  Like his mom, he’s passionate about defending and caring for the helpless, for the people and things who need protection.  I’ve watched him fall in love with dogs; I’ve watched him fall in love with the dog.

Recently I’ve watched as this young man went through two really difficult life lessons.  The amazing thing is that somehow he has managed to take the good out of each situation and seemingly discard the bad.

There was the ugly encounter with racism.  Depressing it is to learn that kids are still using racial slurs I was hoping we’d left behind.  He confronted the situation head-on, getting into some trouble and learning a valuable lesson.  For awhile I was worried he was going to end up a bitter person.  Instead, after a period of time, he just seemed to leave it behind and move on.

The second involves the dog.  There is nothing like a child’s first dog, the first dog they can appreciate and talk to and lean on in life.  From the first picture with the dog on Facebook this child’s smile could have lit up the sky.  Every successive picture showing naps and ball time and the dog curled up while his human reads ….. it is true love.  Unfortunately the dog accidentally got out and went missing for nearly 24 hours.

The story is nothing short of miraculous and one of these moments where social media worked ridiculously well.  His parents were able to email a picture of the dog to the homeowners in their development.  When we were driving around looking for the dog, 1 out of 3 people we stopped had already heard about him and were actively looking.  When we stopped to ask a young father on a bike with a son and daughter following on their bikes, he told us they were out looking already and we passed them several times.   Unknown to us while we were out looking, a good samaritan – a school teacher who’s son was a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11 – saw the dog on a busy street just a few blocks away from where we were looking and stopped.  He took the dog home and, thanks to social media, dog and boy are now happily reunited.

Not for nothing, this kid did not take it for granted that so many people were helping look for his family’s dog.  Heck, its what his family would have done for their neighbor if someone else’s dog had gone missing.  He watched and saw how many people were helping.   For someone to pick his dog up off a busy street, saving the dog’s life – that’s not something he’s going to forget.  Hopefully its not something he’ll take lightly.

Not that this kid needs any better example of altruism than his own parents, but sometimes life lessons are best when reinforced by absolute strangers.  What really amazes me and is making me look at life with fresh eyes today is this child’s attitude.  Its the resilience, the sheer beauty of a child’s happiness and the flexible nature of their hopes.   Even when everything has seemed the worst, this young man sets the example of thankfulness.

Now his parents might say different things about this kid, this is surely my perspective.  Watching him work his way through two difficult situations, situations that would knock an adult on their ass and come out with a smile on his face and his dog in his arms gives me fresh hope.  Hope that people can be nice to one another.  Hope that young people do appreciate the efforts of others.  Mostly, though, hope that a little boy will sleep soundly tonight knowing his world is back in balance.


Things in the Universe I don’t understand …. part 3

Robin Williams is dead. A surprising number of his movies are “go to” movies for my family. How many times did my daughter & I watch Jumanji or Mrs. Doubtfire together? When my husband told me it felt like a hit in the stomach, the breath woooooshed out of my body for a second. I don’t understand the psychology behind this, but here’s what really sucks.


I am in no way, shape or form overly knowledgable about depression. I am lucky depression is not a part of my life. I have seen a (beginning of a) shift over the past decade or so, more and more people understanding that “depression” is not something a person can just shake off, or get over. Sometimes medication helps, sometimes meditation helps. Sometimes neither helps and a person may end up self-medicating, attempts that rarely end well whether that ending is on a coroner’s slab, hospital bed or rehab bed.

In the past depression has been viewed as a weakness. One doesn’t have to Google very far to find stories of people whose families rejected them for their depression, who thought it could be beaten out of them or some equally horrific “cure”. As a result the stigma attached to depression has been very difficult to shake. Hopefully (hopefully hopefully) some good will come of Robin Williams’ death and the mental health dialogue will get bigger and louder. At some point that dialogue will become a part of our national landscape and will cease to require discussion. Because people with depression and other mental health diseases will be treated with civility and kindness. When people with depression can obtain treatment easily and without stigma, depression will stop robbing us of people we love, people we admire and people who made a difference, even if we never met them.

Nonetheless, its still so hard to understand why someone so seemingly beloved …. and really, I haven’t seen anyone say that he turned down a request for a photo, or treated anyone badly except himself …. could be depressed. Three beautiful kids, an amazing number of friends. Of course his life wasn’t always easy; two divorces will certainly bring sorrow and grief. But why? Why was his universal kindness rewarded with sadness?

Why can’t love, this much love, bolster someone to get to the next day? The pain Robin Williams and other people with depression feel is beyond my scope. It does not compute. When I talk to a student with depression or anxiety, I often feel small and a little trite, like I’m passing off Hallmark platitudes as some form of assistance. I try to catch myself in those moments and replace my ignorance with kindness, genuineness and caring. Because that’s what I have to give and its true that you don’t know what the person next to you in the elevator is going through, so please, let’s treat everyone with a little more kindness today. And maybe imagine Robin Williams with that big Mork from Ork smile, looking over your shoulder. Let’s treat others today the way that you would like to be treated.

If you or someone you know suffers from depression or suicidal thoughts, please contact someone. Here is a list of helplines in the State of Florida:

Lesson learned, Tag. Lesson learned.

This post has taken me a bit to write because I want you to feel happy, not sad, after you read it.

The first dog I ever worked with at Big Dog Ranch Rescue, Tag, passed away. He overcame a lot in his life but couldn’t beat this. I saw him on Wednesday, he wasn’t eating, vomited a little and later that day stopped drinking water. He was taken to Medical; by Friday he was clearly weak and I sat with him Friday morning for awhile, opened his kennel doors while he rested his head in my lap as I sang to him (I’m sorry medical staff). I told him he was tough and he could do it but deep down I had the feeling I was saying good-bye. I left hoping I’d see him one more time again …

Tag had been at the Ranch for almost a year. He had some issues & never found his forever home. Except he did. If Big Dog Ranch Rescue had not been there for Tag, he would have lived the last year of his life on the streets or he would have been gone a long time ago. While there are dogs who get nervous or anxious at a rescue, Tag took to the routine of the Ranch: daily attention and care, two big square meals a day and people who cared enough to teach him manners. During the time I knew Tag, he was happy. Would he have been happier in a home, sitting with his human and playing the ball catch game? Yes. Given that Tag was an owner dump there is a chance Big Dog Ranch Rescue provided Tag the best quality of life he ever had.

Tag was wonderful with humans and when you brushed him, Tag would lean against you in complete bliss. That is how I’ll remember Tag best, brushing him with lavender while he leaned into my legs and I leaned into him.

I love Tag and I am envisioning Tag & Jade & so many other dogs, running in a big field on the perfect day, with big buckets of crisp water, a loving pat on the head & maybe Tag can hear me telling him “Good Boy”. Because he is, he was and he always will be the dog that taught me that a dog doesn’t have to live in your house to live in your heart, and home most definitely is where the heart is.

Back? Sacroiliac!

Even before the micro-discectomy I had last year (which very successfully released my sciatic nerve & resolved all that nasty leg/foot pain/tingling/numbness) my pain doctor was talking about my sacroiliac (SI) joint.  I was so utterly distracted by the sciatic pain that the distinction didn’t really sink in. It did not occur to me at that time, the sensations were coming from two different places.

At my last doctor visit, she started talking to me in detail about the SI joint, treatments and alternative treatments.  It finally occurred to me:  these are two separate and distinct issues.  My disc problems are pretty much resolved.  The SI joint is angry.

So I did what I always do when a doctor talks to me about an issue.  I started reading.  We all know that a joint is formed where two bones come together, so the sacroiliac joint is formed where the sacrum and ilium bones join one another.  The sacrum is the base of your spine and formed by five vertebrae that are fused together, with the coccyx (tailbone) protruding from the bottom of the sacrum. The sacrum is roughly triangle shaped with the peak pointing down (where the coccyx protrudes).  So the sacrum has a “wing” to the left and the right where it meets the ilium.

The ilium is one of three bones that makes up the pelvis.  Two of the three bones (pubic bone and ischium) fuse together during our development.  The ilium is the top bone and it flanks the sacrum.  The sacrum is more or less lodged between the left and right ilium bones.

The SI joint has limited range of movement.  While you are standing, try to swing your leg out to the side and back.  That place where it stops going back?  SI joint.  So knowing that, you can imagine that anything that takes the legs or the joint wide (wide legged forward bends, bound angle pose, revolved head to knee pose) is going to aggravate the SI joint.

Unless it doesn’t.

Here’s the thing.  If the past two years of medical treatment, including conservative, holistic, Eastern, Western, supplements, massages, physical therapy and medications have taught me anything, its that there are not any one-size-fits-all treatment.  Since I’m a big proponent that there is no one-size-fits-all yoga, I don’t know why this would surprise me.   I’m pretty good about widening back in a seated position and overall, making space there feels good for me.  Janu Sirsasana (revolved head to knee pose)?  Feels amazing, especially when I take my far arm to the outer edge of my foot and take that little twist before I settle in.   This is very much not true for everyone.

Even if you have pain or discomfort at the SI joint you cannot tell on your own if your SI joint is out of alignment, you do need a trained medical professional to diagnose.  If you are a yoga teacher, unless you are also a physician or physical therapist or otherwise a licensed professional, you do not have the training or qualifications to diagnose SI instability.  As we should anytime a student or friend asks us to diagnose a problem, we properly demure and refer to the appropriate health care professional.

What we can do is try to stabilize the SI joint, in ourselves and our students.  Backbends, particularly those like supta virasana (reclined hero pose) that gently release the sacrum back into place can be helpful.  That being said, bridge may prove difficult because so many students clench their buttocks so strongly that they lose some of the benefit of the pose.  If you are going to do bridge, work slowly and perhaps try a supported bridge.  Encourage students (and yourself!) to lift from the top hamstring insertions for more of a “float” and less of a “choking” with the buttocks.  Importantly:  increased pain means stop.  Do not move past go if pain occurs.

One sided pelvic tilts, such as lying reclined and alternating drawing knee in towards same shoulder, will shift the ilium in the correct manner towards the sacrum.  Modified Locust pose, lifting one leg and then the other, will combine more than one element of realigning the SI joint by both back bending and shifting the ilium.

I’ve seen information that suggests twists, rejects twists and suggests modified twists taught by a medical professional.  Any disc involvement whatsoever, do not do twists.  If the student is experienced and body conscious, maybe, with modifications.  Reclined twists may be preferable because many students find it easier to modify.  Alternatively, one of the frequent symptoms with SI problems is soft tissue discomfort in the outer hip and leg (differentiated from sciatic pain; if you can’t tell the difference, don’t twist) and a good reclined twist feels so helpful.  I would approach twists with extreme caution.

Be kind to yourself in forward bends, especially standing.  Keep the knees soft and hug the thighs in towards the belly.  In a seated forward bend as soon as your pelvis stops tilting forward, stop moving.  Modify as needed.  Again, if there is a disc diagnosis, do not forward bend.  For SI joints, it depends upon the student but approach with caution.

I’m going to digress at this point.  I’ve been lucky enough to have more than one Viniyoga teacher and Gary Krafstow’s book, Yoga for Wellness, was a part of our training.  In reviewing the Viniyoga website and my dog-eared copy of Yoga for Wellness, I can’t help but notice how many of the modifications and sequences  speak to the SI issue.   If you want a specific practice or sequence, check out his DVD’s and books.  If you can find a Viniyoga practitioner, all the better.

More stabilization:  mula bandha.  Mula bandha is incredibly difficult to explain but the first thing women generally relate to are kegels, the exercise wherein we contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles.  Mula bandha is literally the “root base” and is contracted at the perineum, the “root floor” and draws up into the pelvic floor.  It is not a contraction of the sphincter.  It is an exercise of the PC muscle at the pelvic floor as are kegels, the approach and purpose are just somewhat different.  Mula bandha is an energy lock, a drawing up of energy into the central channel.

And its a great exercise to help stabilize the SI joint.  There are many benefits to exercising the pelvic floor.

In summary, I don’t like the shots and the shots don’t like me.  Doctors are so quick with the needle these days that I know a lot of people who have had shots and epidurals.  Unfortunately, like me, a large percentage of them have had no relief with the shots and another percentage have elevated pain from these shots.

There is much, much more to this issue.  The treatment can literally be 180 degrees from person to person.  Give that SI options seem to lead back to shots or even worse, stabilization surgery, this is a topic which will likely be revisited in this blog in the future.  Now I have a path to follow.



If super cool stuff happened every time we meditated, we’d do it more often.   The little zings of energy, the alternating feelings of lightness and heaviness, the occasional visitor, our moments of clarity … If we knew that something momentous was going to happen during our meditation instead of fidgeting, itching, trying to settle in, checking to see how much time has passed, trying to focus again, starting your mental grocery list, inhaling and exhaling, finding a dustball on the floor that has to be picked up right this second – yeah, we’d like it more if it was all pretty lights and clarity.

While I try to meditate regularly for stress relief, peace of mind and pain relief, its hard.  

Sometimes it takes something to help us in.  Playing my crystal bowl or the right practice before meditation can really help  As my practice has evolved into a more introspective practice, I’ve had more moments of meditation that really really make me excited to do more!

The studio I teach at and attend as a student has A LOT of different classes at different times of the day.  No one-size-fits-all approach at Bindu Yoga Studio.  I attended a Yin class recently that concluded with crystal bowl savasana/meditation.  The Yin practice itself focused on the spine which is of course a particular interest and necessity for me.  I was able to sink very deeply into the practice.  A couple of times I had to leave a position before the teacher suggested that we do, but I was able to do it quietly, without being frustrated but rather, accepting that this was my practice that day.

When we got to the end and settled ourselves down for savasana the teacher gave a few verbal cues.  I don’t know if it was working the spine, my acceptance of my practice that day, the fact that it was cloudy, dark and just approaching twilight (a beautiful time in the studio) or if the planets were “just” aligned, but I was able to immediately sink into an uncharacteristically deep meditation.

That’s when the magic started.  

From moving down to my mat, I had the image of the teaching platform with the two tables flanking it, where the crystal caves reside.  The crystal caves are lit by a spotlight each and just glow, especially in dim lighting. Flat on my back with my eyes closed it was dim but not dark and the sound of the bowls was affecting the places in my body that need some healing.  The crystal caves were glowing in my mind’s eye beautifully, warmly, comforting me.  As the teacher worked her bowls (this teacher has a lot of experience and plays several bowls at once) I noticed more light, coming from the teaching platform.  While it may not have surprised me to find my teacher glowing a bit, maybe her aura, maybe just leftover light from the caves, it wasn’t just her.  The caves glowed in the dim light that my brain had brought into savasana, but from the center of the platform there was a glow that was changing, seemingly along to the bowls.  Not a rhythm per se, it wasn’t a music video, but the glow would expand and recede, grow brighter and dimmer, as the sounds from the bowls changed.  The sounds themselves moved together, separated, moved together again and the sound would shift.  As those sounds worked through my brain, down the chakras and into my body the lights would shift as well.  

But that’s not all.  My body was very light, it felt almost as though I was floating a few inches off the floor.  Comfortable, not scary at all.  I found the arthritic area in my neck into the shoulder and down the arm were very affected but that didn’t bother me or pull me away from the meditation.  

Just when I really was getting into the lightness and wanted to see how high I could fly, the bowls shifted again and my arms grew heavy, drawing me back into the ground and making my body very heavy.  This made me a little sad, I was enjoying where I was.  But I was very heavy.  I was making that imprint on the ground that we teachers talk about.  I felt a shift in the energy again and the arthritis in my low back started getting “healed”.  OK it hurt (it also turned out it rained about an hour later) but the sensation in that hip was not pain.  I don’t know what it was.  My body grew heavier and heavier until it felt almost like I couldn’t even lift or move my arms when I grew lighter, again, starting at the arms.  

The lights would glow and recede, a couple of times the light at the center (between the caves) receded completely.  There was a time when the center light seemed to take the shape of a lighthouse and I could see the light streaming out, similar to light streaming out of a lighthouse on a dark night.  Was this an association my brain made because it was about to storm outside, or was this just the bowls and my teacher’s energy reaching out to me?  I don’t know, but it was pretty cool.

I was able to stay in for the entirety of the savasana which, as far as I’m concerned, either lasted 5 seconds or 5 hours.  When the bowls stopped playing the lights did not completely go away; as I lay there breathing the scene shifted and I was just clear and calm.  The physical sensations did stop, although I was certainly still feeling loose and relaxed.  The peace and calm have stayed with me.  As always happens when I have a great meditation, I feel excited, happy and most of all just good.

Often at the end of class I close with an inventory of the body, breath and mind.  Then I suggest that if you are noticing a difference between when you walked in and the end of class, that the peace and calm are always within you, we just have to look.  I know this to be true about my meditation practice as well.  Its there.  I can have good meditation.  I just have to take the time to settle in and look for it.  Practice and all is coming.  Even teachers have to remember that from time to time.  


Recently a friend of mine came to me and said “Tell me about insomnia. How do I know if its a problem?” Well, that’s pretty easy. If you are taking the step to ask a friend or investigate “insomnia” in any way, its probably already a problem.

Insomnia touches all of our lives at one point or another. The harder thing is when it sticks and becomes a chronic problem. By chronic I don’t mean that you lie awake every single night staring at the ceiling. That can happen, but your insomnia experience may be different. Chronic can mean that insomnia stays with you over a long time or that it is persistent and comes back to visit.

There’s lots medical professionals don’t know about insomnia. To me this is proven out by the ways in which prescription sleep medicine affect different people. If insomnia had one cause and only one or two symptoms, it would be cured. But the simple fact isn’t so simple: insomnia can be caused by many different things, ranging from medications to hormonal shifts to stress. The symptoms of insomnia can also vary wildly. Some people with insomnia can’t fall asleep and of those, some will lie wide eyed awake staring at the ceiling while others will fall into that half-sleep/half-awake state and never fall over the precipice to sleep. Some people with insomnia wake up at close to the same time every night for no good reason. Well, the “no good reason” ranges from indigestion to hormone shifts. Many women experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms wake up at almost the same time every night and medical science doesn’t know why.

Sometimes insomnia is caused by something simple. You can have a difficult time falling asleep or you may be awakening each night for reasons that are easily removed from your life. If you’ve been experiencing either of these symptoms the first thing to do is start a diary. Note the following:

A. When, how and for how long is your sleep disturbed?
B. What did you consume in the 6 hours prior to bedtime?
C. Caffeine and sugar – last consumption and how much?
D. What medications – both over the counter (OTC) and prescription do you take in the 8-12 hours before bedtime? With medications we expand the time frame as the effects of medication on the body can be longer lasting and can change over the hours.
E. Don’t forget supplements. Keep track of the supplements you take during the day and pay attention to any effects or any effects when mixed with medications and/or other supplements.

Start small. If and when you see a pattern, take action, eliminate any offenders from your diet/health regime and note any positive changes. Then move your inquiry a circle outwards – start paying attention to what specific foods give you indigestion and/or what spices may keep you awake. I don’t know if there is any specific research to prove this out, but I’ve had several people tell me that, aside from caffeine and/or sugar, ginger has a negative effect on sleep. That’s especially something to keep an eye on because of the number of us that drink ginger tea to settle a rumbly belly.

Start being even more specific. Imagine how wonderful it would be if your trouble falling asleep is alleviated by avoiding caffeine in the afternoon? Oh my!

On the other side are those of us who have limited to moderate success keeping track of what goes into our bodies before sleep. Keep in mind that not everyone requires 8 hours of sleep a night to be productive and alert. Many people work well on less, so if you routinely go to bed at 11 and awaken at 6 feeling rested and alert, that may not be insomnia – that may just be all the sleep you need.

If you are a woman experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms it is very likely you will experience disturbed sleep at some point during that journey. The main treatment for menopausal insomnia is HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or perhaps a low-dose birth control pill. If you choose to go that route, research, research, and do more research. Be cautious as to what websites you are getting information from so that the glowing reviews you are reading on HRT aren’t on a website owned by a pharmaceutical company; conversely, if you are reading that supplements work great, make sure a supplement company is not behind that research. Remember that just as you are unique, every person you speak to is unique so understand that your journey may not be the same as theirs.

I’ve had success with acupuncture and supplements. Its expensive but in the hands of the right acupuncturist your insomnia can be treated easily. Since benefits of acupuncture build with each treatment, the more you go the better you feel. If you are a woman who experiences insomnia right before or during your cycle – another time when insomnia is prevalent but treatments vary wildly from person to person – you can have a monthly session with your acupuncturist shortly before you expect your symptoms to start (keep a diary on this as well so you know when your cycles are and when your symptoms start) can head the insomnia off at the pass.

There are so many symptoms of insomnia and so many treatments. The one treatment that is most likely to work but is most difficult to attain is meditation. I credit my meditation practice with eliminating my problem falling asleep. I can often use meditation to relax and fall back to sleep when I awaken in the night. If I am truly frustrated, anxious or nervous, I’m not a good enough meditator to get through the layers of gunk to find my peace. Elevated pain also makes it difficult for me to focus. Like anyone, the less focused I am the harder meditation.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is not to fight insomnia. If its a long-term part of your life, accept it. Accept that there may be nights when you just have to get up, make a cup of (decaf) tea and read for a bit. Accept that you may need to depend upon your meditation practice as a way to fall asleep or stay asleep, and adjust accordingly. Visit as many “cures” as you can, knowing that what works for your best friend, partner or spouse may not work for you. Above all, come to peace with your insomnia and try to find the positives. At one point in my life I woke up frequently and could not get back to sleep. So I would do a gentle practice, with asanas I found most soothing, then I would meditate and move into yoga nidra. At the time I was a single mom stressed to the max (wonder where my insomnia came from!) so waking up and doing yoga was found time for me, a blessing I apparently needed. One thing I’ve found to be true for me: the less I fight insomnia, the more I either (a) get back to sleep, or at least rest and (b) don’t feel as run down the next day. Acceptance, with peace and grace, is usually hard to find. Once you can bring it into your life, you’ll find more situations doable. Let that idea drive your path if you are dealing with insomnia.

Is Groupon Ruining Yoga?

I’ve been reflecting upon the year gone by and I find myself particularly drawn to the status of yoga in Palm Beach County.  I’m very concerned about the over-saturation of the market in this area.  There are other factors that make me wonder if this area is getting further from yoga’s traditional teachings.  But as I’ve been ruminating, I keep coming back to one thing:  Groupons.  

Most yoga studios are small businesses.  As with all small businesses yoga studios are always looking for a way to get their name out to the public and draw in more students.  When Groupons first started they were looking for businesses with whom to partner and more than one yoga studio put out Groupons.  In fact, so many yoga studios have tried Groupons and Living Social and other social marketing deals that a new breed of yoga student has evolved:  The Yoga Groupon Groupie.

I understand the economy has been difficult for several years.  Its great that students are working hard to find the right deal to fit their budget to get their yoga.   I also understand the connection and deeper level of learning that takes place when a student attaches to one type of yoga and one studio.  Having a mentor is one of the most fulfilling parts of a practice.  But is attaching to a studio, type of yoga and mentor becoming a luxury in these days of Groupon-fueled yoga?

Its hard for studios to compete with, for instance, a gym where for $50 a month you can attend as many yoga classes as they have scheduled.  Small studios run many in-studio specials, particularly if there are several studios in a small area and they end up competing with each other.  Adding Groupon and Living Social deals to this mix actually changes the way we are practicing yoga.

Some students find a studio, teacher or type of teaching that resonates deeply and they stay at a studio. There are students who buy passes on a whim, or with all good intentions of practicing yoga regularly.  Or the happy day when you find a Groupon for your home studio.  An increasing number of students use their pass and move on to the next deal at the next studio.  Some might argue that this gives a student the opportunity to visit different studios and sample different teachings.  

Occasionally you will meet a student who is making their way through Palm Beach County yoga studios to find “the one”.  Great use of deals.  But for the larger percentage of students who are moving from deal to deal I would suggest this:  slow down.  If you like a studio, stay for a month beyond your deal.  The advantages to practicing one type of yoga cannot be understated.  The advantages to having a particular group of teachers learn your practice and your body cannot be understated.   Think of it this way:  how many seeds take root if they are blown from place to place to place?  But if a seed stays in one place, it has the opportunity to take root, grow and flourish.  

Most studios offer in-studio deals.  If you check around, make a few calls and check websites, you’ll often find a studio with which you are familiar offering specials that are as good as those you’ll find elsewhere.  Be an informed consumer, even with yoga.

As you can probably tell I’m pretty torn on this issue.  I can’t help but feel that while these deals may attract new students to yoga, I also feel that studio-hopping with no intention of staying put is in the long run diluting the message of yoga.  If you have a particular physical ailment, not having regular teachers keep an eye on your physicality can actually be dangerous to you.  If you are attracted to yoga because you are living with an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, menopause or are seeking mental peace, unless you are a very special kind of person, it is so much better for you to have a single teacher or studio with whom to work.

There are many, deeper reasons to find the studio that resonates with you and stay there.  I guess the bottom line is this:  if yoga is your exercise and that’s all you ever want or expect to get out of yoga, then Groupon or similar deals is probably great for you.  I would still suggest that you check out a studio before you buy the deal, make sure the teachers are certified and the studio is well-reviewed.  

If other aspects of yoga are also attractive to you and you’d like to further your meditation practice, or have some guidance through some of the sacred texts of yoga, or deepen your physical practice by slowing down and taking yin classes, then find your home studio.  

I guess as with everything there are good an bad sides to this position.  To me though, I do believe that the bad will eventually outweigh the good and these deals may be the final bit of commercialization of yoga.  While full classrooms means that more people are coming to yoga, through this warehousing process we are actually losing yoga.  Surely, as a yoga community, we can find that happy medium.

Things in the Universe I don’t understand …. Part 2

I am a sports fan, football and basketball mainly.  Due to several different incidents in the past six months there is a raging debate in the media and sports world over use of the “n” word.   I’ve never been a person who is really comfortable with derogatory words – the “n” word, the “f” word, the “c” word – I don’t really see the point.  Don’t we have enough problems in the world without continuing to demean each other over our differences?  

With regard to the “n” word, there have been two incidents that hit home hard for me.  The first was early in the summer of 2013, when Riley Cooper, a young white wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, used the “n” word repeatedly and easily at a Kenny Chesney concert.  Chip Kelly, the new coach, did not cut Cooper despite many public outcries for Cooper’s head.  Kelly did two things:  he sent Cooper out on his own to meet the press, then sent him home to his parents for a few days.  During the press conference Cooper was contrite and apologetic.  He was asked what his parents thought about the situation and he looked the media in the eye and said they were embarrassed and upset by his behavior.  Several team leaders, black and white, came forward to preach forgiveness.  Cooper is having a good year and that appears to have rebuilt several relationships on the team and I would sincerely hope that he learned his lesson.

The second incident is a lot more complicated, involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, both of the Miami Dolphins.  Incognito has a “spotty” history at best – thrown out of two college programs for an inability to follow rules, during his pro career Incognito has been called the dirtiest player in the NFL.  Incognito is white; Martin is bi-racial.  Martin is claiming Incognito bullied him and whatever the NFL and NFLPA investigations may find, Incognito repeatedly used the “N” word in conversation with Martin.  That is undisputed.

There is a third incident that is a little different.  Alec Baldwin, whose contentious relationship with the media has been going on for 20 years or more, called a paparazzi a c–k——g f—-t recently.  Then talked about how much he loves gay men and didn’t consider that use of the “f” word was derogatory to them.  Hard to understand that an intelligent, well-spoken person in the public eye could really reconcile those two positions.

As to the “N” word there seems to be a debate between white people (such as myself) who despise the word and its use and wish it would be eradicated from the world’s vocabulary, and black people who feel that they have softened the word and changed its meaning by using the soft “a” at the end.  They also feel that they have the right to use it, and white people do not have the right to tell them not to use it.   

But by continued use of that word and especially with the debate flowing the way it is, the word continues to divide the races.  White people using the word in any manner:  affectionate (as Incognito claimed) or derogatory there should simply be no place for that word.  Its history is sour and its usage is incomprehensible.  The black community that suggests that their usage of the word is acceptable is equally confounding to me, not just because of the damage the word has done to their community but because perpetuating its use, no matter how the word is pronounced, is going to continue to divide communities.  At this stage in the U.S. many and much of the black community is actually bi-racial.  I watched First Take the other day and Stephen A. Smith was talking about his white grandmama but then defending his community’s use of the word (although he himself does not use it and dislikes the word).  That makes zero sense to me.  Had Stephen A’s grandmama told him to stop using the word, would that have been a direction from a white person who has no right to say anything, or a direction from a beloved grandparent?   If biologically Stephen A is of mixed heritage, why wouldn’t he want the communities joined in choosing not to use that word?  Smith is not the only person I’ve heard use that argument, it seems to be common within the black community.

The “f” word carries a more complicated punch.  Like two football players calling each other “girls” it is a word that is often hurled at a person who is considered feminine and is meant to be an insult.  As used by Alec Baldwin it was absolutely meant to be an insult.  Its not acceptable to this society, when the gay community (much as the black community before them) are working and achieving so much by way of civil rights.  So again, why are we dividing communities by using this word?

Perhaps with this in mind, in re-reading the Bhagavad Gita recently, Krishna’s explanation to Arjuna of why he should not be afraid to go to war struck a chord with me.  The Gita teaches us that the physical body is temporary, that the permanent part of us is inside.  The Atma, the real us, was never born and will never die, while the physical being is a shell that comes and goes.  As it relates to the Gita, Krishna was teaching Arjuna to not be concerned about the death of his physical being or those he may kill in war time.  As I see  this teaching relating to race it is another moment that teaches me, at least, that the permanent part of us – our souls, so to speak – are not attached to the temporary part of us – our bodies.  Therefore, we really should be blind to each other’s differences.  We should not use our differences against each other.  Our differences – our skins, our shells – are temporary.  What is the point of thinking one race, one sex, one religion is better than another, when it is all temporary?  Instead, we should be working together as one community of Earth to try to make our planet a better place to live and at this stage, try to save our planet.