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.  www.jazmoonie.com

keep_calm_mula_bandha_womens_dark_tshirt

Meditation

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.  

Insomnia-Ack!

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. 

Things in the Universe I don’t understand … Part 1

I am the proud, loving and occasionally anxious mother to five wonderful dogs.  They are my joy and my purgatory. 

I’ve been a fan of the dachshund breed since I was a child.  Apparently I like a challenge.  When I was a tiny child my running buddy was a stuffed dog named Hot Dog who was a dachshund.  I had a red smooth coat little girl named Lotus who introduced me to the vagaries that make up a dachshund’s personality.  Later Bree, a long haired black and tan, found her way into my life and taught me more about the breed.  Last year my husband and I decided to bring a little girl named Abigail Rose into our hearts.  She is a tiny mini long haired dapple dachshund.  She is dachshund personified.  

And from Day 1 in our home, Abigail bonded to Bree in a very primal way.  My daughter, who is a veterinarian, strongly believes that breed recognizes breed.  After seeing Abby and Bree together there is no doubt in my mind.

To me this is proven out by the fact that Abby listens better to Bree than she does to any human who tries to direct the flow of Abby’s life.  Oh sure, she eventually deigned to eat her meals with the rest of the dogs, without a human family member watching and applauding every mouthful, and she eventually agreed to (mostly) go to the bathroom outside – as long as its not raining.  Although at some point house-breaking became more about Abby imitating the other dogs than her actually listening to her humans.

When it comes down to it, Bree is the boss of Abby.

Bree is the alpha dog.  She raised Jezebel and still won’t hesitate to nip at Jezebel’s legs if she thinks that Jez is being too rough with one of the other dogs.  Watching a ten pound dog bring a seventy pound dog to her knees is always somewhat awe-inspiring.  Especially if you’ve spent a day with teenagers.  But this is not the only piece of Abby & Bree’s connection.

More than once I’ve asked another human in the house where Abby is – and a minute later, Bree will walk up with Abby in tow.  Several weeks ago Abby escaped the back fence.  All the dogs were sitting by the back gate so I knew that Abs had squeezed  through that small opening between fence and gate.  First I took Jezebel with me to look.  That was pretty useless.  Then I brought Bree out with me.  Bree walked halfway down the driveway, stopped, barked and sure enough, Abby trotted up right away.  This is after about 10 minutes of me yelling for her.

This morning again I couldn’t find Abby in the back yard.  I checked all of her “usual” spots and she wasn’t there.  I checked the chicken pen – didn’t see her.  I checked the fence, checked the gate, checked any soft spots in the fence – nothing.  I was getting nervous but the dogs weren’t indicating that she was out of the yard – and if any of the pack is not in the right place, the rest lest me know!  So I started taking another lap of the back yard when Bree came back out, barked and voila’ Abby comes running out of the chicken pen!

Bree turned and walked back inside.  This little dog just drips self-confidence.

I don’t have any explanation for this.  I don’t know whether to be amazed or annoyed that Abby respects Bree more than her humans.  In some ways I’m pretty impressed with their relationship.  It is very much mother and daughter.  Sometimes you can even see Abigail Rose testing Bree’s boundaries and Bree will look at me with eyes that say “see what I do for you” as she curls her upper lip at Abby to tell her to back down.  I don’t understand why they bonded like they did.  But I’m glad we put them together.

How does this apply to my yoga practice?  Not in any linear way but there is nothing like a pet to to draw you into the present moment.  My mind could be anywhere, I can be deep into work or cleaning but as soon as I hear the unmistakable sounds of my two dachshunds playing, I’m immediately drawn to watch them play and run and roll around, sounding like Velociraptors as they tumble; suddenly its become a very sweet moment, and the day becomes that much brighter.

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 ……

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