Beginning a meditation practice can be daunting, which is a commentary on our society … that slowing down and being in the present moment is something that we crave yet it makes us nervous to try!

The basic principles of meditation are relaxation and breathing. If you can find a few minutes each morning and evening to practice, you will begin to feel the benefits of meditation very quickly; a few minutes a day can make a difference. Personally, it took me 15ish years of practicing yoga to achieve a consistent meditation practice. Meditation has lowered my reactiveness, helps me deal with chronic pain, even can help me dissolve a headache or stomachache. When I meditate I find that I am healthier, calmer and happier.

Benefits of Meditation: The benefits of meditation are well documented. Some of the earliest records of meditation date back 1500 years BCE and many religions, including Buddhism and Judaism, have records of meditation practice going back nearly as far. For instance – and I’m oversimplifying – in the Torah, Isaac (the patriarch) is described as going “lasuach” in the field. “Lasuach” is a term understood as a meditative practice (Book of Genesis 24:63). Ancient texts teach us that there has always been a central meditative tradition in Judaism.

Other forms of meditation evolved as non-religious variations of yoga traditions, such as the system of Transcendental Meditation, which became popular in the 1960’s. Instead of focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.

The effects of breathing your way into meditation are grounding. Learning to use your breath to naturally calm yourself centers you for meditation and relieves many symptoms of stress.

Stress reduction, better focus, better sleep, anxiety relief, enhanced self-awareness, assistance with age-related memory loss, promoting feelings of kindness, assistance with addiction recovery, pain control, blood pressure regulation are just some of the benefits of meditation.

Let’s briefly talk about some of the benefits and why meditation helps:

Stress reduction: Mental and physical stress can cause increased levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Cortisol will cause many of the harmful effects of stress, including the release the inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines, causing disruption of sleep, depression and anxiety, raising blood pressure and causing your thinking to become slow and sludgy. Meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions such as irritable bowel and fibromyalgia.

Anxiety Reduction: Less stress often means less anxiety. A regular meditation practice will help maintain lower anxiety over the long term. Meditation can also positively affect job-related anxiety. Since social anxiety, phobias and OCD can be symptoms of stress and general anxiety, meditation may help relieve those symptoms too.

Increased Focus and Memory: Meditation is training for your attention span, increasing the strength and endurance of your attention, much as physical exercise does for your body. Meditation may help you stay focused longer and remember details better. It is even suggested that meditation may reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to monkey-mind, worrying and poor attention. Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help keep your mind young, as mantra meditation has been shown to improve memory, attention and mental fitness in older meditators.

Improves Sleep: Will it surprise you to know that nearly half of American adults struggle with insomnia at some time? Meditation helps you control or redirect monkey-mind that can lead to trouble falling asleep. Additionally, meditation can relax the body, release tension and place you in a peaceful state where you are more apt to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Pain Control: A consistent meditation practice is found to decrease complaints of chronic or intermittent pain. Your perception of pain is effected by your state of mind. The quieter your mind the more likely you are to be able to “control” your pain.

There are many reasons to try meditation. Slowing down and being present brings many benefits. Here are tips when starting or freshening up a meditation practice:

  • Keep track of your practice: when you meditate, how long, guided or on your own, whatever details are helpful. You can use an app or keep a journal.
  • Meditation Apps: My personal favorite is Insight Timer, and there are many others. The apps have timers and keep track of your practice, they have guided meditations of many varieties and lengths with different teachers. Some of the apps also have talks and classes.
  • Try to meditate at about the same time every day. You can meditate pretty much anywhere you can sit still, so try different places from time to time.
  • Try to do breathing exercises before meditation
  • Be comfortable, but not so comfortable you get sleepy. You can lie down, sit or be in a restorative pose.

There is so much information available about meditation. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed or confused. If you’ve decided to start or restart your meditation practice, remember, one foot in front of the other and keep your practice simple. Maybe a few minutes early in the day and a few minutes later on. Work your way into whatever feels comfortable and necessary. There are also meditation classes available at yoga studios and other places. Seek assistance where needed.

Remember, the quieter you become, the more you will hear.

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.

Five Reasons why I keep coming to Yoga:

Why do I keep coming to yoga?  Before it was my vocation it was my avocation and I’ve been blessed to have the ability to make that shift.  There are days I walk into the studio not feeling myself for one reason or another and after teaching or taking a class, I feel an excellent shift in my energy, physical self and mental well-being.

Before Bindu Yoga Studio (www.bindu-studio.com) I practiced Sivananda for years, before that Bikram and hatha yoga. So a decade or so into my own personal practice my passion for yoga burns very bright although my focus has shifted. Here are ten reasons why I still love yoga and keep coming back:

1. Yoga makes me feel good: No matter what I walk into the classroom with, something usually improves physically during my practice and if it doesn’t, than a mental shift does.  I’ve never left a class feeling worse, both mentally and physically, than when I stepped into the classroom.  After spending the last two years battling physical injuries I finally feel like there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I ended up doing more yoga than physical therapy after my back surgery and feel like I am getting stronger every day.  Practicing vinyasa yoga gave me a rush of energy and eagerness to learn more and more.  Advanced poses, arm balances and other stretches were my goals …. until I couldn’t move my left shoulder and neck and there were days when just lifting my arms was a challenge.  Many acupuncture needles and neck releases later, those days are fewer and farther between so I revel in every arm movement I can make.  Same with my back – I’m nearly at my pre-surgery flexibility and I believe have surpassed my former core strength to hopefully keep that low back happy!  Yoga has been a saving grace for so many reasons, but above all, because it makes me feel good.

2. Its still practice, because I’m nowhere near perfect: And that’s not only okay, it is exactly what it should be. Since earning my Registered Yoga Teacher 200 hour designation, I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis in my neck, herniated disks in my low back, had surgery on my back and developed arthritis in my low back. Needless to say my changing physicality makes for a changing practice. I’ve always felt stronger in yoga class than in the gym. Targeted exercises in the gym for me, are a short term fix for an area that may need a little building. But in many yoga poses, particularly standing, finding the balance of strength, grace and release ends up strengthening more than the area that the pose targets.  Practice doesn’t always make perfect but it means some days my forward bend is far prettier than others.  Learning to accept yourself on a day to day basis is an important part of being a happy human being.  I find something in every class I teach or take that was an improvement upon the last time.

3. Physical Therapy/Yoga/Viniyoga: First of all, let me say that over the past few years I’ve developed a huge respect for physical therapists. They go through a lot of education and training, help people, hold our hands, prod us when we feel like the pain and weakness is going to win and they don’t make a whole lot of money. When I began attending and teaching classes at Bindu, we had a Viniyoga teacher, Emily Large, who was a breath of fresh air for me especially once my neck and I began doing battle. She made small suggestions and adjustments, strength building poses and movements and most of all, just a solid practical knowledge that got me through some painful days. As I got deeper into physical therapy for my neck and later my back, I came to realize just how many exercises and movements are related to yoga asanas and movements. I’ve been able to incorporate physical therapy movements into both my home practice and teachings.  I’ve shared class or taught students who are recovering from addictions, breast cancer, lymphedema, spinal injuries, sciatica, wrist injuries, wrist injuries and more wrist injuries.  Yoga is more than bending and stretching and balancing on your pinkie while tucking your toes into your ears (I kid, I kid – mostly) – it can help improve your physical self and rehab many injuries and diseases.

4. I’ve met wonderful people at the studio: I’ve met people who have passed through my life but been incredibly important while they were here; friends who I hope will be with me forever; people who I send a message to the Universe asking them to show up in class; students who do “turn the world on” with their smiles.  My mentor was an attendant in my wedding. A student did my (and my attendants’) hair on my (giddy) wedding morning.  Another student had suggested the venue. My pet sitter I met at a Simon Park Workshop at Bindu.  Officially, Bindu has permeated every facet of my life!  I’ve met students with wonderful stories to tell, students with stories of perseverance and injuries and surgeries and recoveries. Fellow teachers are joyful friends. Students and teachers exchange ideas, recipes, eggs and freshly grown or canned fruits.  Students who are emotionally or physically fragile can count on me for support, just as they’ve helped me through tough times with just their presence in class and relaxed smiles at the end of class.

5. Meditation means more than it used to: This is a big one. A recent (good) shift in my back pain has found me meditating even more than usual. Whereas meditation used to be a 5-10 minute practice a few times a week, I now find meditation a useful tool to not only calm my brain but also to calm my pain. My practice is expanding and near daily I am experiencing some sort of little epiphany. Next spring I’ll be attending Instinctive Meditation Training with Lorin Roche at Bindu, http://www.bindu-studio.com/id2.html, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

5a.  I don’t have batwings.  Yes, I practice yoga because I love it.  But no bat wings on my arms, tight triceps, biceps and a firm(er) body are nice side effects.

“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.” —Rumi

My soul speaks to me the loudest when I am practicing yoga in one form or another.  That is really the biggest reason I practice yoga.

Your power lies within.  Breathe it, live it, love it ……



My personal practice: How do I love thee, let me count the ways …

Given that meditation is the weakest part of my practice and always has been, its funny that my personal practice began with meditation.

There was always something exotic to me about meditation and especially the props and accessories one can utilize to draw oneself deeper.  I’m embarrassed to say that I’m shallow enough that it was the “bling” that drew me to begin meditating at home – I found a book on chakra meditation that suggested a mala (rose quartz?  sandalwood?  both?) and candles.  I spent more time and energy picking out the right combination of candles and setting up my first little meditation corner at home than I did meditating!!

As I learned the Sivananda series better (and my daughter moved out) I took over the “Florida room” for my home practice and expanded what I did.  There were mornings that I would do the entire Sivananda class and a bit of meditation and breath work, then as I got burned out on the series, I would just pick out my favorite poses or what I thought I needed that morning.  Eventually, and especially after spending a week at the Sivananda Center in upstate New York, my home practice evolved and deepened.  While my Florida Room did not face the east, I enjoyed practicing in the very early morning hours where I could feel the sunrise at my back and watch it slowly light up my house.  The animals were quiet and calm.

At its peak I would practice at home for 60-90 minutes each morning and I had a routine of breathing, meditation, asana and yoga nidra that I felt eased me gently into the world each morning.

When my path moved to Vinyasa, my home practice got a little more confused, but I took teacher training within a short period of time of switching styles and my training became my focus.  There was always a project, breathing or asana to be practiced, sequencing to learn – between training and taking the requisite classes at the studio, my home practice became one of necessity and practicality.

For the first year or so of teaching the sequencing of each week’s class would become my weekly home practice.  First I would sequence, then send to Angel (who showed infinite patience) for suggestions/corrections, then practice the class until I knew it by heart.  It was also about this time, 2009 or so, that I began to have the first symptoms  of the arthritis in my neck and my home practice began to shift into a therapeutic/anatomical focus.

Since I began experiencing physical challenges my home practice has really waxed and waned, becoming mostly physical until this year two things happened:  I had back surgery and was gifted with a bronze singing bowl.  After my back surgery I expected to be back at practice in a few weeks but in truth, two weeks after surgery I was challenged by sitting against a wall and bringing my legs into tree and butterfly shapes.  Physical therapy movements have merged with yoga movements.  I began to re-discover yoga nidra.   It was lovely, like dipping into a warm salt water pool.  When I’m lucky, I even feel like I’m floating during yoga nidra!

My personal practice has reflected the weird changes to my physicality as well as the mental challenges of dealing with two chronic pain conditions (although its really one chronic pain conditions in two different places – that sounds better!) the healing sounds of brass and crystal bowls entered my life.  Angel began incorporating crystal healing bowls into some of the gentle practices until she found a home for her bowls with the Yin class Tuesday afternoons at 4.  At first, I found a lot of the tone discordant and would literally feel my ears ringing.  As my body has healed the bowls and I have become friendlier and friendlier.  My husband’s gift of a brass bowl has brought me much joy as I’ve learned to play it.  They’ll be more blogs on the bowl.  For the purpose of this blog, it is impossible for me not to associate meditation with playing the bowl.  The vibrations move throughout my body – supporting hand, arm, speeding up my heartbeat and bringing warmth to my chest – and bring me towards a meditative state partially because of the amount of focus I place on the bowl.  When I stop playing, and those last few vibrations release into the universe, I can’t help but sit and be.  Not always for long periods of time.  But the bowl has brought my personal practice back to a full circle – with a focus on meditation, thanks to the work with the bowl.

Now that I feel like I’ve gone full circle with my home practice does that mean I’ll be giving it up?  That’ I’ve learned all there is for me to learn?  Not at all.  One path may be well traveled and looped back around, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be stepping onto a new path tomorrow.


Yoga Etiquette

As teachers, we try to set a particular atmosphere for classes … specific music, lighting, props, whatever we can utilize to help students move deeper into their practice.  At Bindu we’ve spent a lot of time creating a loving and nourishing ambiance, and as teachers we work hard to not only maintain the studio, but to bring that ambiance into the classroom and maintain throughout classes.

Most yoga students tend to be incredibly respectful of each other as well as the teacher and the studio.  But there are a few guidelines that should always be followed, no matter what studio you attend.  Most of them are common sense or simple courtesy:

  • Never, ever wear your shoes into the classroom.
  • Do not eat for at least two hours before you practice.  Doesn’t matter if its a gentle class or active class – many poses (asanas) work your innards as well as your soft tissues, and you really don’t want a full breakfast in your digestive tract as you twist.
  • Arrive at least 10 minutes prior to class starting.  The teacher and students expect to start on time, and you will need time to sign in, put your belongings away, set up your mat, gather any props and especially, begin to center yourself in the classroom.  Sure, everyone has a day where we run late or decide to attend class at the last minute.  In those instances, please be quiet and thoughtful – avoid clunking shoes, jangling keys, slamming doors and being noisy in the classroom.  But try your best to get to class 10-15 minutes before it starts.
  • My personal pet peeve:  Leave your cell phone in your car or make sure you turn it off.  Not vibrate (you can often hear the vibration, especially if the phone is sitting in a wooden cubby) but off.  Few things are more disconcerting to a teacher or student than taking a class through a deep practice, moving into savasana or a guided meditation, then having someone’s cell phone start shrieking “Freebird” or “Baby Got Back”.  And if your phone does go off and you know its yours, please get up and turn it off.   Your teacher and fellow students will greatly appreciate it.
  • Please be honest about your injuries and heath conditions, even if they are controlled by medication.  There are poses that should be avoided for everything from glaucoma to herniated discs, however, there are many, many ways teachers can modify poses for you that safely take into account any health issues you may have.
  • I teach and practice vinyasa yoga, which is a form of yoga that is a marriage of breath and movement.  We breathe deeply, as in most forms of yoga.  Please avoid wearing perfumes and body lotions.   For the most part, I gauge when blankets need to be washed in the studio when they smell of body lotion and perfume.
  • Conversely, please be clean when you take yoga.  ‘Nuf said.
  • If you have something to talk to the teacher about, please do it before or after class, not in the classroom.  Many students come slowly out of savasana and want to savor those last few moments.  If you have a question about a pose while you are in it, please ask, but if you have a question about a class pass or want to discuss the class schedule, the classroom is not the appropriate place or time.

Everything about yoga class is thoughtfully designed to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for the student.  That requires some cooperation from the students as well as the teacher.   Just as a sloppy teacher who starts late, doesn’t end on time or gives poor instruction is going to make your class experience less enjoyable, having just one student who seems to forget that there are other people in the classroom can make teaching and practicing a challenge.

In the end, we all want to practice thoughtfully, mindfully and with patience, care and attention.  Being courteous to one another makes it all so much easier.