Meditation – why/what/where/how?

Have you ever been frustrated with a piece of technology, like your phone, computer, home wi-fi or cable? And after numerous attempts at trying to ‘fix’ it, you end up shutting it off for a few minutes, walking away… then come back to turn it on and magically, it works?

Meditation is similar, but the technology impacted – before, during, and after – is your mind, body, and spirit.

In our day and age of incredible technology, our systems become overloaded… much like the Wi-Fi at home… with the various connections, interactions, demands of energy, output of energy, noise, lights, and more.

What is meditation?

A state in which the body is consciously relaxed and the mind is able to become calm, focused and free from distraction.

“Meditation can be daily hygiene for the soul, clearing out stress anxiety, and emotional blockages from our mind and body. Mediation has been referred to as a “mental shower”, cleaning and cleansing the mind.”

Only good comes from meditation. Only good.

Why is it good?
  • Meditation allows your “thinking mind” to take a break from itself. Quiets the noise of the mind. Gives your nervous system a chance to wind down.
  • Calms the waves – when the swirl of emotions and thoughts stop, clarity begins.
  • Focus improves – first, only get used to focusing on one item, but will help with distractions in future.
  • Love yourself – if you can observe your own thoughts and be a third party to them, and see how badass you are…
  • Awake and present – you can focus on observing life.
  • More relaxed and at ease – numerous articles by smart folks that its good for you.
  • Study yourself. Get to know yourself. Love yourself. After all, you are stuck with yourself your
    entire life.
Benefits
  • Calms your entire being, leading to a calmer you!
  • Reduces stress, able to handle stress better
  • More compassionate
  • Able to see things from other points of view
  • More energy
  • Able to be present
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Grounding
  • Stabilizes the mind
  • Increase vitality, emotional stability
  • Develops full awareness – the mind is at peace yet highly alert
  • Harvard scientists saw brain changes after 8 weeks of daily meditation.

I’m hosting a meditation workshop on Saturday, 2.16.2019 1-2:30pm. I’d love to have you join this
discussion, in a comfortable setting, focused on YOU and empowering you to start, continue, or go deeper
into your practice. We’ll discuss the preconceived notions of meditation, and get to the reality –
meaning, how you can add this to your busy life and carve out 5-10 minutes once or twice a day* to turn
off your systems, give them a break, and come back renewed.

*I’m a yoga teacher, know that I will of course endorse longer and more frequent – but let’s start you off
easy. 🙂

WHY Does Yoga Help You Feel Good? Flexibility and Bone Health

WHY does yoga help you feel good? If you are like me, you wish to understand the science behind how yoga works to improve physical and mental health, heal aches and pains, and keep sickness at bay.

An understanding of WHY yoga helps you feel so good can be that motivational kick to step onto the mat with regularity.

There are MANY ways you will improve your wellness with yoga. Improved flexibility and bone health are just two of those. This is the first in a series of blog posts to present the many benefits of yoga.

Improves Your Flexibility – one of the first benefits of yoga that you will notice.

The first time you came to yoga class you may not have been able to touch your toes, never mind do a back-bend! With continued practice, you noticed a gradual loosening. Eventually seemingly impossible poses become possible. That accomplishment alone makes you feel good!

You’ll also notice that aches and pains start to lessen or disappear. That’s no coincidence.

Tight hips can strain knee joints due to improper alignments of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. Tight calves can cause heel and/or foot pain. Tight neck muscles can cause upper back pain, shoulder pain, headache, neck-stiffness. OK – enough! You get it.

Simply put, muscle imbalances occur when one muscle is stronger than its opposing muscle. For example, if you sit all day at a computer, your shoulders are likely pulled forward creating a strength imbalance between the front of your body and the back. While these muscle imbalances may not be a problem at first, the real issues occur over time. Unless you find ways to fix whatever imbalances exist, you could be headed for injury and pain.

Increasing your flexibility with a regular yoga practice develops an equal load throughout your body from your feet all the way up to your head, thereby relieving an imbalance of muscular tension.

Betters your bone health – Many yoga poses require that you lift your own weight, known as a weight-bearing exercise, which is well documented to strengthen bones.

Bone is a living tissue with two types of cells. There are osteoblasts that build bone and osteoclasts that destroy bone. As we get older, particularly for women, there is a decrease in bone mineral density. Some are prescribed medications to block the osteoclasts, but those medications can have side effects and don’t build new bone cells. In contrast, weight-bearing exercise stimulates the osteoblasts and the building of new bone.

Yoga poses such as down dog help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures. Regular practice of our typical yoga poses has been shown to increase bone density in the vertebrae, femur and hip bones.

The practice of yoga poses also tends to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been shown to extract calcium and other minerals from bones and interferes with laying down of new bone.

Doing just a dozen basic yoga poses taking only 12 minutes a day, has been shown to prevent osteoporosis, develop better balance and coordination, and protect against falling, a major cause of osteoporotic fractures. Yoga, Another Way to Prevent Osteoporosis by Harvard Health Publishing

And YES, Savasana is included in those 12 poses.

“No, for now”

There’s a statement a very wise woman once shared with me that goes something like…”no, for now”

If you’re a mama who follows me on Facebook as well as one who has attended one or both of my Sunday yoga offerings you might notice that my classes are no longer available on the Studio site or app.

I’ve been teaching Prenatal Yoga as well as Baby & Me Yoga for over a year and I love these practices and the folks they serve so very well. There’s been a struggle to get more engagement and sustained attendance and I think it has everything to do with it being really hard for expectant and postpartum folks to feel as if space in their lives, potentially away from other children, leaving others in charge is okay and even incredibly vital to take for your health and well being.

I taught MANY classes to just one mama, or just one mama and her baby and was privileged to do so. Every time I did a mama would say, “I’m sorry you had to show up just for me!” and I would tell her A.that it’s Renkon Yoga Studio policy that we hold space for even just one client which is what makes it a special and beautiful place where yoga isn’t a luxury or treat,it’s habit.practice.life.love. flowing in and out of each and every offering and B.That SHE showed up and that if SHE showed up for herself,I could certainly show up for her.❤️

I have also spent many Sunday’s now away from my people, turning down opportunities to connect and re-fill my cup and after a particularly difficult Sunday where I knew baby was home, definitely upset, Papa bear doing his very best for many hours, and with some exciting opportunities for Papa Bear on the near horizon where my energies will be needed on a higher level as caretaker once again as longer hours and interesting shifts are likely to rule our schedule…I decided that it was time to step away from teaching…no, for now.

Right now, I’m not totally sure what my yoga offerings will look like in the future. I know I want to deepen my practice through continued Ed and I know that the population I’d like to serve is still expectant and postpartum families,mamas in the thick of any and every season of motherhood. Maybe it will be a free pop-up/meetup/community practice where mamas come to connect, practice and breathe together. Maybe it will be a weekly studio space offering. Right now I just don’t know. But I do know that this morning, I woke up..and then went right back to sleep with nowhere to be, nothing to plan, and a baby nestled into me and my heart saying,”Yes, thank you for honoring this. You need this.baby needs this. Jo needs you rested. Papa bear needs your support.”

This afternoon if you planned on coming to yoga, I encourage you…TO STILL PRACTICE YOGA. In your home, in a space, wherever. I want to thank each and every mama who I have had the privilege of practicing alongside this past year and a half. You amaze me. You have brought joy to my heart and tears to my eyes watching you mother in pregnancy and in the postpartum season. You have encouraged me. And some of you have become dear friends to me, thank you with every ounce of my being!

I’m slowly figuring out how it is I do the things I do and best serve the folks I serve. It has meant several iterations of business names, blog attempts, schedule changes, copious hours of continued education & networking, and so much energy and sometimes exhaustion! So this is just one no, for now….on the road to many yes’s, for right now! I can’t wait to share what’s cooking next, thank you to all the folks who follow our journey and show their virtual and real life support via comments, calls, and epic high fives and hugs. These are the good ole days, surrounded by friends and family, inspiration guiding the way, I’m convinced!

What if….

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, or know folks who do, for the purpose of improving themselves or learning a new skill.  And as we know, read, or learn via others, most of those resolutions are discarded well before the end of January. Many times the effort is too great, life gets in the way, we get distracted by others, or we simply don’t have time.

But what if you didn’t make a resolution?  Would the world end? Would the Cub or Cardinals win yet another World Series of Baseball?  Would you be shaken to your core in that you did something different?

What if….

  • You took a deep breath….. or 5
  • You complimented yourself instead of downgrading yourself when you look in the mirror
  • Turned off the radio on the way to work to be in silence
  • Turned off the TV and sat in silence at home
  • Put down the phone and listened to your partner, child, friend, coworker
  • Turned off your phone for 30 minutes
  • Journaled your thoughts, your wins or no so great moments of the day
  • Moved to simply move your body
  • Smiled instead of complain when something goes wrong
  • Nurtured your body with organic whole foods, rather than processed packaged food
  • Talked to someone in person, rather than via text or call
  • Took a walk instead of watching a show
  • Pause before responding

What if you took each day, hour, moment… and simply loved yourself?  Took care of yourself like you would your child or loved one?

What if you gave yourself the love you freely gave others?  

What if, instead of a New Year’s resolution to be greater, faster, skinnier, whatever it is….  You simply took each day, moment, instance….and loved yourself like you would a child? What if you actually did one, two, or all of those ideas above?  How would you present yourself to loved ones, friends, coworkers?

What if you gave yourself the greatest gift of presence to yourself….

Namaste and Happy New Year to our beloved Renkon Tribe!

 

1000 Hours of Teaching Yoga

As many of our tribe knows, via social media and/or attending my restorative yoga class on November 30, I recently reached the HUGE milestone of teaching 1000 hours of yoga, advancing my certification to an experienced yoga teacher at the 200 hour level of certification (E-RYT200).   This is yet another certification for me, with many more to go as I follow my passion of teaching yoga.

Yes… let that sink in…  1000 hours of teaching.  WHOA.

What does that really mean?  That is, aside from a LOT of teaching yoga?  

  • I’ve found my teacher voice and comfort zone… at least for now.   As I evolve in my passion, I hope to always be striving for more, and creating for myself challenges I will overcome.  I predict my voice and zone will change with me as I go forward, creating some pretty uncomfortable moments I will push through.  
  • I’ve taught some amazing classes…  heck, I’ve surprised myself at times with my classes.   This is not simply based on the fact I’ve nailed the left and rights, or cued both sides similarly, or other yoga teacher habits I once struggled with (and still do at times).  To me, this means the class landed well with students, the energy in the room is top notch, and the savasana is sweet.
  • I’ve taught some not so great classes….  Yes, we all do.  While the occurrence has gone down the past couple of years, it still happens…  And I’ve learned to not let it keep me up, worry, or to apologize to students at the end of class, I’ve learned how to constructively assess the class after the face, rework it, and do it better next time.
  • My teaching is a true reflection of my practice.  I think many new yoga teachers try to teach the perfect class that they think their students want, at least I did.  I would like to think this works for some teachers, but I’ve found it doesn’t work for me. What I present to a class, regardless of the type of class, is very reflective of what I’ve done in my personal practice that week.  This has made both my personal practice and my teaching improve – but I honestly can’t separate what has more influence.
  • My students, many of them part of the Renkon tribe, are amazing.  I am blessed to have many regulars at my class, both at Renkon and studios I’ve previously taught at.  No words could ever capture how grateful I am that folks look forward to my class on their best and worst days, when they need a smile or simply a break.  I’ve gotten to know many of you, not only about your lives, but your wins and losses, your struggles and achievements. Thank you for sharing your love and life with me.
  • What I’m known for, and what classes I teach best, is not what I intended to ever specialize in – nor did I practice it prior to becoming a certified yoga teacher.   I love teaching restorative yoga… yet while in my first teacher training, I detested restorative for the first 3 months.  I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t drop in. Fast forward a few years, and I love to both practice and teach it.  The results are immediate, for myself plus I love seeing the difference in students at the end of a class.

Interesting note – I never taught this type of class until Renkon opened, but I was up for the challenge.  I spent hours studying and preparing, creating sequences, and researching poses. I was always nervous prior to and during the class, until savasana.  Now? I love preparing for the class, teaching it, assisting/deepening the poses, and talking with our tribe to see how poses landed after class.

  • I’ve come quite a way, yet I’ve miles to go.  I got goals, y’all!  I am specializing in yoga for cancer and yoga for medicine.  I will be attending a Yoga for Cancer (Y4C) certification training virtually over the winter and finish up in Miami this spring.  Come summer, I’ll travel to North Carolina to get certified through the Duke Medical School of Integrative Health Yoga for Cancer program.   In the meanwhile, I’ve started my virtual work on my 1000 hour certification of Yoga for Medicine, plus I’ve signed up for shorter duration of other certifications.   I hope to mentor another yoga teacher training program with one of my teachers, and of course, take as many classes as possible virtually or in person with my favorite teachers.

Reaching this milestone actually belongs to more than just me.  It belongs to my students and former students, both classes and privates, all my yoga teachers, the studios I’ve taught at, studio owners I’ve worked with, and my friends and family who supported me along this journey.   This doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen in a bubble. My heart bursts with love and humbleness at reaching this, and I appreciate everyone that has been part of this journey.

Cheers to the next 1000 hours and wherever this amazing journey leads me!

 

The Relaxation Response and Vibrational Sound Therapy

I truly love giving Vibrational Sound Therapy. It offers instant gratification in the best way.

It brings me the immediate satisfaction of having sincerely helped another being. It brings my clients the immediate benefits of deep relaxation of their body and mind.

When the 1 hour session is completed, my clients tell me and I can literally see and feel that they have released their anxiety, stress and tension. In some cases if they had pain due to muscular tension, their pain is relieved as well.

How does this happen?

It has to do with the Relaxation Response. The Relaxation Response is defined as your personal ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain. 

The Relaxation Response is the opposite of the ‘fight or flight’ response. Vibrational Sound Therapy helps you get to your personal ‘relaxation place’.

You may be thinking “Well, I relax when I sit down to watch TV or scroll through Facebook.”

Nope, not the same kind of relaxation. Not at all.

The Relaxation Response is a physical state of deep relaxation which engages the opposite part of our nervous system from the fight or flight system—the parasympathetic nervous system.  Research has shown that regular use of the Relaxation Response can help any health problem that is caused or exacerbated by chronic stress such as fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ailments, insomnia, hypertension, anxiety disorders, and others.

There are many methods to elicit the Relaxation Response including visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, energy healing, acupuncture, massage, float therapy, breathing techniques, prayer, tai chi, and of course yoga. True relaxation can also be achieved by removing yourself from everyday thought and by choosing a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or by focusing on your breathing – in other words: meditation.

As beneficial as all these methods of deep relaxation are, most require time, patience, and discipline to learn and practice. Hence, a modality to help one easily and quickly achieve the Relaxation Response can be extremely beneficial in our busy lives.

With Vibrational Sound Therapy, I use specially crafted Himalayan singing bowls placed directly on your body to induce vibrating sound waves with rhythmic strikes to the bowls. These vibrations, along with the soothing ambient tones from the bowls, are such a strong treatment that most clients report falling into a place of deep relaxation and meditative state, usually very quickly.

Thus, they enjoy the instant gratification of the benefits of the Relaxation Response.

For more information about Vibrational Sound Therapy and to book a session Click Here

There are quotes and references in this blog post from a blog post from the web site Psychology Today by Marilyn Mitchell, M.D. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/heart-and-soul-healing/201303/dr-herbert-benson-s-relaxation-response) and the book The Relaxation Response (c. 1975, 2000) by Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, cardiologist, author and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute.

Buti Yoga – Get Curious

Stepping out of the comfort zone is scary.

Most of us have dreamt about it though.

Daydreaming about the what if’s is not enough. We should all step out and experience the unknown.

Buti Yoga was that for me a few years back.

I came across Buti Yoga through Pinterest. It was a short 11 minute workout. It was challenging, different, and fun.

I loved it so much I even daydreamed about what it would take to teach the format. However, I didn’t stick with Buti at the time, I was intimidated and had doubts.

Actually, 3 years later I went back to it. By then I was ready to let go of the what was stopping me from doing Buti.

As I continued my Buti practice, I noticed my dedication to getting on my mat. I also started to change physically and mentally.

I again started to daydream about the opportunity to share Buti Yoga with my community. Through the help of some friends’ encouragement, I took the leap and decided to sign up for certification.

I have attended live Buti classes a handful of times and have completed many online classes. I have led 25 classes of my own.

My most favorite and consistent thing about Buti is the welcoming and acceptance of the collective energy that shows up.

Although challenging, Buti Yoga is for EVERYONE! The practice is about showing up where you are – no judgement of yourself or anyone else in the room.

You may be scared and that’s okay.

Be curious too. Let your curiosity push you past your comfort zone. When the music starts pumping, you and your fellow classmates are in it together.

You will push your body, sweat, moan…you will be present.

The practice will challenge you to breakdown personal walls. You will find you are not alone and you will break down those self-imposed walls with the support in the room.

Without a doubt, if only for a brief moment in time, you will become part of a community with strangers. A community of people with different backgrounds, different perspectives, different goals and different reasons for showing up.

Yet in that time on your mat no matter your personal intention, you are in it together. I have experienced and witnessed the courage and sense of community in every Buti Yoga class I’ve attended or led.

I write this to say in conclusion:

Be curious, step in to the unknown, and let go of the reasons not to try something new. Be courageous and explore. You might find something great.

 

 

Desiring Wanted Connection in an Obligatory Season

As the first snow began to fall outside our small-town home outside Bloomington, I thought to myself “how lovely it was to see everything so delicately blanketed in white” and simultaneously though, “here it comes”. The 6-month season Midwesterners know as winter was once again tapping at the door.

It would seem that connecting with others and the winter months are synonymous at first. After all, no matter what you celebrate, it is often a time for folks to get together, usually around a table of tasty food, and to be in community with one and other.

However, the connection with others that I often feel sapped of in the winter months is outside of the confines of what many folks consider the obligatory appearances of the holidays.

The connection I yearn for this time of year, I think requires more stillness, less anxious anticipation, and a quieter sense of being with those who we are living life beside and ourselves.

Winter feels like this time where I may have gotten the chance to see every aunt and cousin that I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with in some time…but somewhere along the way I feel like I missed out on holding hands with my spouse or taking in seeing my kiddos frolic in the snow.

So how do we do it? How do we connect more during a season that calls us to stillness, reflection, and the warmth of affection?

I think first we need to give serious pause and reflection when we feel that gnawing pang in our stomach before a gathering that makes getting ourselves out the door akin to pulling teeth.

If you are dreading an event or gathering because of the toxicity of the environment, one or more of the people there, or just because you haven’t had a moment of breath in a day, a week, or a year yourself…don’t go.

I know that is potentially WAY easier said than done, but at the end of the day IF you can make peace with the fact that someone might have negative feelings or comments about your lack of attendance and that those feelings and comments mean nothing about you as a person, you truly don’t have to go anywhere that isn’t life giving.

I adore my family, immediate and extended, but there have been seasons where I intentionally didn’t go to certain events and it gave me more energy to enjoy the ones I did attend.

Second, I think we need to carve out intentional time for connection during these months that isn’t obligatory, if anything to highlight the obligatory things that are weighing down our happiness.

Maybe you decide to attend a yoga class, maybe you go to dinner and a movie by yourself, maybe you take your partner or spouse back to a spot where you had one of your earliest dates together and reflect on how far you’ve come. There are so many ways to connect because you want to, not because you have to.

I find that in Savasana at the end of my personal practice or if I’m in a class, my truest desires about what I want for the season I’m in and what I definitely don’t want become shockingly clear.

It takes practice to get deeply quiet and listen to your heart. But once you’ve breathed true breath into those spaces within, it becomes easier to see what’s serving you deeply and what’s taking something away from how you experience each moment day to day.

Finally, I think we need to be daring when it comes to those obligatory events about how we approach them. When I say daring, I don’t mean showing up to the company holiday party with a face tattoo (though kudos to you if that’s your style!).

I mean daring to do things like set healthy boundaries around conversation topics, inquiries, and unsolicited advice. I find it helpful to write these sorts of things down or share them with my partner or a trusted friend.

For instance, if you have a family member who tends to like to ask you why you’re not coupled up with someone yet and providing your family 100 babies to love on, set a boundary before that you think is reasonable. Perhaps, “When Aunt Ethel prods me about my relationship status, I’m going to start talking about all the wonderful progress I’ve made at work this year”…or even more daring, “When Aunt Ethel prods me about my relationship status, I’m going to thank her for her charming curiosity but let her know that it’s not really a topic I have a desire to discuss and smoothly make my way to the table where all the cheese and pie is. Once I’ve reached that table, I’m going to take three deep breaths and remind myself what an utter badass I am”.

It’s my firm belief that when we set healthy boundaries for ourselves and seek out means of connection that our hearts crave, the winter doesn’t have to feel so incredibly long. It can be a season of rest, reflection, and rejuvenation.

It’s okay to give yourself permission to be exactly who you are and connect and love exactly in the ways that feel right and healthy.

Whether yoga, a good book, or a long cuddle with the ones you love fireside…I hope you find something comforting and exciting this winter to help you connect more deeply to yourself and the ones you love.

The Most Effective and Accessible Yoga Pose for ALL YOGIS

One of the most common things I’m asked as both a yogi and yoga teacher is my favorite pose or ‘what pose will fix xyz’.  Much like when I’m asked which of my 4 cats is my favorite, I just can’t do it (or for yoga poses, just 4!).

My go to pose, my duct tape pose if you will, is legs up the wall.  This pose can be practiced anywhere, at any time, in any clothes.  I’ve practiced this at work and home, at airports or outdoors, in a dress or cutoffs, with friends or by myself.

For me, this pose slows down my mind and heart, grounds and calms me, and helps reset my mind/body/heart/spirit. I do practice this pose every day before I head into my corporate day job; sometimes dressed for work, other days in my robe before getting ready.  I also try to spend time in this pose before teaching restorative yoga, as it helps me get into the mindset I’m trying to share with my students.

I hope you enjoy this pose as much as I do, I’d love to hear your feedback on it!

Namaste – m.

Viparita Karani – Legs up the Wall

What is it?  Simple as it sounds – you lay with your back on the floor (or a mat), get your sit-bone (aka tush) as close to the wall as possible, and extend the legs up the wall, letting them rest on the wall.

Variations –

  • Block or bolster under the hips
  • Can place a blanket on the bolster for extra cushioning
  • Strap your legs together to ease the stress out of trying to keep them together
  • Legs over a chair or couch
  • Blanket under the back or head for extra cushioning
  • Can roll the blanket to place under the neck

Why should I do it?

  • Calms the nervous system
  • Your back and head are grounded on the earth, helping bring on a calming sense to your flight or fight stress response.
  • Quiets the mind
  • You are fully supported – nothing is ‘hanging’ or ‘dangling’ – between the floor and wall, your body is completely supported, invoking a sense we don’t often get in our daily lives (walking, sitting, driving – all take effort to hold the position)
  • Its an accessible inversion for all folks, without the effort.
  • Inversion – another way of saying your turning your body ‘upside down’
  • Inversion helps regulate blood pressure, moves stuck fluids, improves digestion, and assists to reverse the effects of gravity on the entire body system
  • It is an active pose – even while you are relaxing and releasing
  • You are able to focus on your breath all the while not trying to hold a pose (think down dog, headstand, handstand, etc)
  • Relieves tired leg muscles
  • Drains tension from the feet and legs – reversing all the pressure we put on daily with walking, sitting, and other movements
  • Reduces edema in the legs and feet
  • Let gravity help move built up fluid in your legs and feet while you relax

Ok – I’m sold.. but what do I do?

  • Find space in a quiet spot of your home or office
  • Set a timer – I suggest at least 10 minutes, but even 5 minutes works
  • How do I find this time????
  • Put down your phone – spend time doing this instead of texting or on social media
  • Make an appt with your self daily
  • Lock the door of the room you are in
  • Invite kids/spouse/partner/coworkers to join you!
  • Sit down next to the space you will practice in.
  • Place a hip against the wall.
  • Gently turn your body to lie your back on the floor as you move you legs up the wall
  • Close your eyes
  • Start to breath in/out through your nose (if nose is blocked, mouth is ok to use – most important is to just simply breathe)
  • Fill up the belly, expand the side ribs for the inhale
  • Slowly release the belly and side ribs for the exhale
  • When your time is up
  • Take a minute or two to open the eyes
  • Slowly bring movement back to the fingers and toes
  • Getting release the legs from the wall, usually by reversing how you got into the pose

Take a moment to thank yourself – you practiced yoga!

 

 

The Power of a Subtle Smile

If you ever come to one of my yoga classes, be warned, I am probably going to ask you to smile. It’s a simple gesture, and most likely it’s probably something you’ve done before, but it’s also a gesture most of us don’t exercise often enough.

Why smile? Researchers tell us that smiling, even when we aren’t feeling like it, can actually make us feel happier. That is the ultimate goal for most of us, isn’t it? …to be happy. So, what the heck, why not? What’s the harm in smiling? Some people might complain that smiling causes wrinkles. But, those are smile wrinkles. We should all be working towards more smile wrinkles, not fewer. People with wrinkle smiles are statistically speaking happier than the rest of us. If you don’t believe me, Google it. 😉

But to return to a serious face for a moment, if bragging about our happiness with our smile wrinkles and statistically significant happiness aren’t enough, why else should we smile?

A smile communicates a benevolent message to the smiler and to the receiver of the smile. In western culture, a smile on a person’s face can mean, “Oh hello, isn’t it a beautiful day?” “I’m one of the good ones; I’m safe;” “You can trust me;” and, “I’m full of joy.”

I want to be clear for a moment here about the kind of smile I’m describing. It’s a simple, subtle smile. While I find supreme value in deep belly laughs and LOL’s and even LMAO’s, those aren’t the smiles I’m talking about here. I’m referring to that smile that sometimes appears on your face when you’re appreciating something or someone that just fills you up with bliss. And in this moment, your conscious mind might not even register your body’s response until someone else points out to you what your face is doing in that moment (“hey, you’re smiling!”). And maybe you suddenly feel your face cramping a little because your mind has registered what your face is doing. I believe we’d all be happier and better people to ourselves and to one another if we lived more of these kinds of spontaneously subtle smile moments.

This is the kind of smile I invite my students to purposefully put onto their faces, particularly when their bodies are forcing some other unconscious facial expression (like a grimace directed at their yoga teacher). Maybe we’re moving through a challenging asana (physical) posture, or maybe my student stopped listening to my voice and is marinating on unpleasant thoughts that have crept up in her mind. And then my voice interjects with an invitation to smile. I think something changes physically and mentally when we smile in these moments. I think smiling allows us to let go.

A smile signals benevolence, an act of do-no-harm, non-violence. In Hindu philosophy this concept is captured in the word, ahimsa. Ahimsa falls under the yama category, meaning it’s also a restraint. As we oscillate in life between suffering and pleasure on our way to blissful balance, this moral concept invites us to restrain from doing ourselves and all other beings harm. Ultimately, practicing this and other yamas and niyamas will lead towards the alleviation of suffering. I believe that ahimsa begins with a smile. Sometimes this smile is an outward reflection of that pure, blissful light we each hold delicately within our bodies when we are experiencing a peaceful moment, and sometimes we need to remind our bodies what peace feels like. Both kinds of smiles accomplish similar effects internally and externally. So, I invite you now to join me in the act of adorning a simple smile.

10 steps to achieving a simple smile.

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take a deep breath in, and take a deep breath out.
  3. Drop your shoulders out of your ears.
  4. Engage the muscles on both sides of your cheeks.
  5. Begin to feel the gentle curve taking hold on your lips, as they begin to extend outward and broaden across your face.
  6. Keep breathing.
  7. Are you clenching your teeth? Let them go.
  8. Let your eyes relax.
  9. Let your face relax but hold the gentle curve across your lips.
  10. There you go; you are now smiling.