Building Empathy during Tough Times

IMGP6243 - Version 2As we deal with Martha’s impending death and the grief of her family and close friends, perhaps we can use this time to address how best to empathize with one another during hard periods in our lives. I know that SO very many of you care about her family and close friends, and you might not know what to say or do. There are some ways of showing your care that are easier for most people to receive. Let’s use this devastating event of the death of Martha to learn some tools that will likely serve you the rest of your life.

I’d like to start by recommending one of my favorite new books about offering empathy, There is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do when Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love, by Kelsey Crowe, PhD and Emily McDowell. It includes many great suggestions on what to say or not say, what to do or not do, illustrated with amusing picture and lots of painful and inspiring stories.

Here are two examples from the book of good ways of dealing with loss:

Instead of saying, “I can’t believe this happened,” you could say, “I’m sorry you are going through this.”

Instead of saying, “I lost my wife and I was devastated,” you could say, “This must be so hard,” or “I can’t imagine how you are doing.”

Generally when you are with someone who is grieving, do your best to take the lead from them and keep the focus on their needs in the moment. Many of our favorite ways of “helping” often shift the focus to ourselves in ways that don’t feel good to someone in pain. If you are familiar with Nonviolent Communication these are called “empathy blockers.” Here are some examples of things not to say—some very common and mostly painful ways that many people share their love and care:

  • Saying you know how they feel because (fill in the blank): Honestly, you don’t know how they feel, and asking them to acknowledge your feelings takes energy away from the other person to you. You are no longer focused on them; you are telling your story.
  • Giving advice: You probably know lots of people, practices and things that have helped you over the years, and you’d like to share them so that others feel better too. Please don’t. When someone close to us dies, feeling better is beside the point. Giving advice may make you feel better by thinking you are useful and it can also be a way for you to avoid feeling your own discomfort of being with someone in pain.
  • Saying your husband, wife, mother or friend (or even worse your goldfish) just died. As in the above scenario, the focus is now on you again, and not the other person’s experience. And now they are in the position of having to listen to you and your pain.
  • Asking how they are. Seems innocent doesn’t it, and likely you really care and want to know. But imagine they are feeling totally grief-stricken and someone asks them that question casually, while walking in the door of the studio together. How do they respond? Perhaps they sense you don’t really know what you are asking to hear. Saying that they are fine is hard as well, requiring some extra armor around the heart. If you have time and feel that the other is open to a real conversation, only then ask how they are doing, and be willing to
  • Asking for details—please, just no.
  • Being positive (we yogis are way too good at this sometimes). It might sound like this: “You’ll get through this with the strength of your practices.” Or “Just keep your head up, you’ll be fine,” or “It’s all for the best,” or “You’re so brave.” Again, just no. Each person finds their own way; you do not need to guide them.

And a few other phrases to please avoid:

  • “She’s in a better place now.”
  • “There’s another angel in Heaven now.”
  • “She fought a great battle and lost.”
  • “At least she is out of pain.”

You may be thinking that I have just taken away all your tools. That’s Ok, there are other tools, mostly non-tools. You can show up in little and kind ways. Send prayers, chant for the well-being of Martha and the family, and write notes and cards about what Martha has contributed to your life. In person, you can let them know they are in your hearts and prayers. You can listen if they want to talk. You can make donations in their names. Maybe bring flowers or food, but only if you know that will be welcome, and only if you don’t need your container back. Refrain from general offerings and be specific if you can. “I’d love to take you on a walk in the woods on Saturday if you would be interested in that.” “I’m very handy—are there any little projects you are not getting to that you would like help with?”

Keep it simple and give the person you are talking to the chance to say more or to stop the conversation. Don’t take it personally if the other person doesn’t feel like sharing. They are navigating a lot in their own way.

Some things that have been meaningful to me over the last month or so were really simple gestures…a few friends are texting me from time to time to check in with how I am doing and asking about my own self-care. I’m receiving this as a loving embrace. Others are asking if I would be open to a hug—almost always yes! The other day a woman let me know that if there was ever anything she could do for me that I could let her know. I was touched by her sincerity; I felt her care for me. Another student quietly brings me flowers from her garden. Others are letting me know they are sending me Reiki and keeping me in their prayers. I swear I can feel this support and love pouring in.

Many of you reading this are likely yogis. Showing up for someone in pain is a lot like showing up for yourself on the mat. Get started, be mostly quiet, listen deeply and make responses based on what you are noticing. You’ve got this.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, don’t be too worried about getting it wrong. We have all offered advice, told our own stories and not listened as well as we might like. Offer yourself as best as you can. Perfection is not the goal here, connection is.

What I Learned from My Mother

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to have jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
What anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, you chaste touch.

Julia Kasdorf

Martha is receiving great comfort care and has been comfortable much of the time but not always. It is these moments of watching her in pain that help us to let go a bit more each time. We love her so much—we want her to have every moment of the breath that is hers to take and are willing to be with her as she dies when it is too hard for her to keep living. It is unbelievably hard to type those words, yet they are as true as anything I can write.

If you want to support her or the family in some way and didn’t see the first blog with suggestions you can see it here.

This blog post was written with input from Linda Oshins and Jerry Marcom.

 

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May Calendar of Events

CC_May-19Schedule Updates:
Tuesday 7:15p Sekoia Level 1 & 2 with Karine Wascher

Workshops:
May 7 Book Conversations with Lori Guth Moffett
May 12 Ayurvedic Herbs: Herbal Oils and Ghee with Jasmine Grace and Meredith Bury
May 20 Sekoia Spirit Journey: Elephant with Michele Vinbury
May 21 Reiki Share with Marcia Miller
May 26 Richard Freeman: Art of Vinyasa Teacher Day
May 27 Richard Freeman: Art of Vinyasa Weekend Workshop

Upcoming Series Classes:
April 30 -- June 04 Sundays 3:00p 6-Week Foundations to Kundalini with Sada Nam
June 6 – July 18 Tuesdays 4:00p 6-Week Hatha Level 1 @ All Life Center with Melanie Miller
Click here to enroll in series classes.

Upcoming Teacher Trainings:

Ayurvedic Health Educator (AHE Part 1)
11 Month Weekend Program (equivalent to NAMA’s Ayurvedic Health Counselor)
May 20 -- 21, 2017 Kick-off Weekend
Free Ayurvedic Health Educator Info Session:
Saturday, May 13th from 12:30p to 1:30p with Jasmine Grace at Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute

UZIT (Urban Zen Integrative Therapy)
11 Month Program
Wednesday, August 23 through Sunday, August 27 Kickoff Session
For questions or more information contact: urbanzen@yogaonhigh.com
Free UZIT Info Session:
Saturday, May 13th from 1:30p to 2:30p at Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute with Marcia Miller

300 Hour Teacher Training
1 to 3 Year Customizable Program
Rolling Enrollment
For questions or more information contact: linda@yogaonhigh.com

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Update on Martha Marcom

Dear friends,

Martha remains in hospice surrounded by family and love. Nothing like a 4-year-old to keep love and light in the room and we have had more laughter over the last 10 days than I ever could have imagined. And somehow we keep having parties with silly hats. Who knew that was a yogic death ritual? And poems, lots of poems about life and death (the best ones always have both.) And Reiki. Thank goodness for Reiki which is so comforting to Martha. It is also the time when the emotional roller coaster of one day she feels pretty good, the next day she feels worse, settles into the space of timeless being. We can re-ground into our inherent connection during Reiki and come out the other side clear-eyed and rooted in love.

Each day I read her the memories and goodbye notes you have sent to me. We hear you are chanting and practicing on her behalf. She lies there in amazement at your love and stories. She takes it in and keeps saying over and over how lucky she is to be dying surrounded with such love. You, your prayers and your kindnesses are keeping her, and all of us, afloat on love. We feel you around us and send love and gratitude back your way.

Martha is receiving great comfort care and has been comfortable much of the time but not always. It is these moments of watching her in pain that help us to let go a bit more each time. We love her so much—we want her to have every moment of the breath that is hers to take and are willing to be with her as she dies when it is too hard for her to keep living. It is unbelievably hard to type those words, yet they are as true as anything I can write.

If you want to support her or the family in some way and didn’t see the first blog with suggestions you can see it here.

In the meantime, I will keep you updated from time to time. Blessings and love to you all.

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News about Martha Marcom, Founder of Yoga on High

Martha Marcom

Here is Martha taking a lick of a mango popsicle.

Our dear friend and one of the founders of Yoga on High is nearing the end of her life. She has received treatments for the ovarian cancer discovered a few years ago, and there will be no more treatment. She is in the hospital at the time of this writing (April 5, 2017) and will likely be entering hospice in the next day or two.

Martha is grateful to have had time to watch her darling granddaughter continue to grow up, to spend precious time with family and friends and to see this year’s riotous spring. Outside her hospital window yesterday we saw a huge, flying hawk unfurl its wide, wide wings right in front of us--so close we could have nearly touched it. She remains glad to experience each precious moment as it comes. And she is accepting of death which she senses is near. She is not “fighting a courageous battle,” she is leaning into death now. Her pain and her yogi’s body, which is not supporting life anymore, and her natural growing detachment from the future, are all making the nearness of death more obvious.

Many of you are already reached out to us and we are grateful for the love, prayers and good wishes. Right now the circle of people able to be around Martha and Jerry is very small and it is the time for this quiet intimacy. We know many of you will miss Martha and may want to reach out in some way. Here are a few suggestions of how you can support Martha and her family during this time of much change.

  • Send prayers and blessings from whatever tradition speaks to your heart. We are all connected at this level and we are feeling your support.
  • Send Reiki if you know how to do that. Those of us with Martha are in the Reiki love pretty much all the time. We are giving lots of Reiki to Martha and we are sending when we are not there. Join us in the energy!
  • Chant the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra with us. This is an ancient mantra, sometimes called the Victory Over Death mantra. It is said to conquer the fear of death and bring calmness in the presence of death. Chanting this mantra puts us in the stream of yogis who have chanted this mantra for thousands of years. We add our voices to theirs to feel encouraged and empowered in the face of life’s challenges. When I told Martha I wanted to ask you to do this practice on her behalf she relaxed into her huge Martha smile and said she would like that—to ride out of this life on the wings of these holy and powerful words chanted by those who love her. That sounded just perfect to her. The words to this mantra are here and an audio is here.
  • Get on your mat! As a longtime Ashtangi, Martha believes in practice. She was a daily practitioner as long as she could be and always honored her time on the mat. In honor of her, get on your mat, practice, and dedicate the benefits of the practice to her or to anyone else in need.
  • Write down a favorite memory of Martha. Did she inspire you in some way? Help you in a time of need? Make you laugh? Write a single sentence or a paragraph or two and send it to me (Marcia@yogaonhigh.com) I’ll read it to her if the timing feels right and share it with her family.

Please know Martha sends all her blessings and love to you as well. It is now her time to turn inward and finish her preparations for this next phase of her life. She is doing this, leading the way in a path that will be all of ours some unknown time in the future.

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iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation: A Living Practice of Connection & Belonging

 

s-lopez-web_7By Stephanie Lopez 
This blog was originally published in the Accessible Yoga Conference newsletter in 2016.

In the course of daily life how often do we feel unseen, disconnected, and disempowered? For many this is an all too frequent experience.

People practice yoga and meditation to discover a sense of ease, balance, and purpose. I believe there is a deeper motivation as well; a longing for connection with one’s self and rest of the world. I’ve found this yearning is satisfied through iRest Yoga Nidra. This transformative yet simple practice uncovers an undeniable ground of well-being and interconnectedness. It brings forth a direct sense of wholeness that is unchanging regardless of life’s circumstances.

iRest is a modern adaptation of the ancient practice of yoga nidra and was developed by Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist and researcher, as well as yogic scholar and author. iRest comprises a full path of meditation with 3 core principles: the practice of welcoming, seeing everything as a messenger, and an essential wholeness or ground of being. These principles are woven through the 10 steps of the protocol forming a potent and healing meditation practice.

As we learn iRest we begin by welcoming everything just as it is. To practice welcoming is to abide in nonjudgmental presence and simply allow whatever arises in our mind. We learn that welcoming is not an extra something we do. Rather, it is an essential aspect of being human.

In contrast, struggle is accompanied by tension, contraction, anger, and fear. At its heart is the desire to have things other than what they are. You push away what you don’t want and cling to what you desire. There is no denying this pain and struggle but iRest meditation teaches us to meet these experiences without trying to fix or change them. Imagine the fierce grace of meeting pain as pure physical sensation and gently accepting the emotions and beliefs it engenders. Yet, simply feeling into and allowing pain to emerge can bring a shift in its intensity.

What happens when we let go of the struggle with life? What happens when we simply allow its challenges, heartbreak, and beauty? In my experience there is a release of tension, an opening to freedom, and joy in full presence of all movements of life. At the heart of this welcoming is an ease of being untouched by life’s movements. This is an underlying wholeness that cannot be broken.

In the practice of iRest we meet life fully through this combination of welcoming and ease of being. We navigate difficult emotions, beliefs, and memories with an Inner Resource to rely upon when they become overwhelming. We also come into new insight when our sensations, emotions, and beliefs are seen as messengers. Experiencing them fully develops and deepens a connection with the self. We come into loving and compassionate relationship with ourselves. You’re able to hear your voice and what is being asked for on the deepest levels. It is in this state of iRest meditation that habitual patterns are broken and you develop clear and novel responses to life’s challenges.

Through this compassionate welcoming you develop connection with all parts of yourself and begin to live authentically. There is trust in who you are and what you do -- and this belonging with yourself flows into a connection with others. As you live life fully and with an undefended heart you develop a sense of belonging in the world. This intimacy with yourself and others empowers you to live life to its fullest potential.

At the heart of every person is an ease of being and wholeness that has never been broken. I cherish this practice and its simple ability to shine the healing light of truth of who we are.

Stephanie Lopez is leading iRest Yoga Nidra Level 1 Training at Yoga on High April 19 -- 23.  Learn more about this training here.

Stephanie Lopez, LISW-S, is Director of Operations for the Integrative Restoration Institute (IRI), Senior iRest® Trainer and IRI Retreat Leader. Stephanie’s teachings are informed by over two decades of immersion in the non-dual teachings of yoga as well as her integration of western psychology and the wisdom traditions of eastern spirituality. As a clinical social worker Stephanie weaves self-inquiry and iRest meditation into her clinical practice. Teaching for nearly 15 years, Stephanie’s compassionate presence, depth of knowledge, and ease of being create a welcoming space for insightful learning. She leads workshops, retreats, and trainings in the U.S. and internationally. Stephanie finds joy in her marriage with her husband, Francisco, and their two cats, Juniper & Luna. She is also an avid traveler and hiker.

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April Calendar of Events

Jeremy-9095Schedule Updates:
Friday 6:30a Hot Flow Level 1 & 2 with Nicole Fleming
Monday 9:30a Sekoia Aerial Level 1 with Dale Ann Gray
Saturday 8:30a Hot Flow Level 1 & 2 with Jeremy Grace at Grow Yoga

Announcements:
Studio Closed Easter Sunday, April 16
Michael Murphy is moving to North Carolina.  All Love Michael!
Welcome home Karine Wascher!  Look for her on the schedule staring May. 

Workshops:

April 1 Reiki Share with Marcia Miller
April 1 – 30 Commit, Cleanse and Clear April Challenge
April 14 Ayurveda, Asana and Pranayama for the Seasons: Kapha with Jasmine Grace
April 15 Book Conversations with Marcia Miller (On Being Podcast with John Lewis: The Art of Discipline of Nonviolence)
April 19 -- 24 iRest Yoga Nidra Level 1 Training with Stephanie Lopez
April 29 Ayurveda: Spirituality and Wellness with Dr. Hari Sharma
April 30 Sekoia Spirit Journey: Lioness with Michele Vinbury

Series Classes:
April 3 -- June 12 Mondays 4:00p MS Yoga Mondays at Yoga on High with Jennifer Gebhart
April 3 -- June 12 Mondays 6:00p Prenatal at Step by Step Wellness – Westerville with Julie Carpenter
April 4 -- May 16 Tuesdays 7:30p 6-week Ashtanga Foundations at Yoga on High with Tom Griffith
April 5 -- May 31 Wednesdays 5:45p Hatha Basic New Beginners at Yoga on High with Cindy Houpt
April 6 -- June 15 Thursdays 5:45p Prenatal Yoga at Yoga on High with Mary Sinclair
April 7 -- May 12 Fridays 9:30a 6-week Sekoia Series at All Life Center – Powell with Alissa Jackson
April 8 -- May 20 Saturdays 10:15a Introduction to QiGong at Yoga on High with Kevin Eigel
April 8 -- June 10 Saturdays 12:00p MS Yoga Weekend Class at Yoga on High with Jennifer Gebhart
April 9 -- June 1 Sundays 2:00p 9-Week Hatha Beginner Series at Grow Yoga with Holly Moretti
April 9 -- May 21 Sundays 10:30a 6-week Kids Yoga (Ages 6-11) at Yoga on High with Julie Standish
April 9 -- May 21 Sundays 3:00p 6-week Ashtanga Foundations at Yoga on High with Correna Starbuck
April 10 -- June 12 Mondays 5:45p Hatha Dynamic New Beginners at TTI with Marcia Miller
April 10 -- May 15 Monday’s 7:30p 6-week Advanced Vinyasa at TTI with Lara Falberg
April 10 -- June 19 Monday’s 7:30p Prenatal Yoga at TTI with Jennifer Gebhart
April 11 -- May 16 Tuesdays 9:30a 6-Week Vinyasa Beginner Series at Grow Yoga with Alissa Jackson
April 13 -- May 18 Thursdays 4:30p 6-week Slow Burn Vinyasa Level 1 & 2 at All Life Center – Powell with Marcy Freed
April 18 -- May 23 Tuesdays 11:15a Mommy & Baby at Step by Step Wellness -- Westerville with Janet Braden
April 26 -- May 31 Wednesdays 6:00p EMBER at Yoga on High with Marybeth Hamilton
April 30 -- June 4 Sundays 3p 6-week Foundations of Kundalini Yoga at Yoga on High with Sada Nam
Click here to enroll in series classes.

Upcoming Teacher Trainings:
Ayurvedic Health Educator (AHE Part 1) -- 11 Month Weekend Program (equivalent to NAMA’s Ayurvedic Health Counselor)
May 20 -- 21, 2017 Kick-off Weekend
Free Ayurvedic Health Educator Info Sessions:
Sunday, April 2nd from 5:30p to 6:30p with Marina Zahran & Marisa Barsotti at Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute
Saturday, April 15th from 12:30p to 1:30p with Jasmine Grace at Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute
Saturday, May 13th from 12:30p to 1:30p with Jasmine Grace at Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute

300 Hour Teacher Training – 1 to 3 Year Customizable Program
Rolling Enrollment
Contact: linda@yogaonhigh.com

UZIT (Urban Zen Integrative Therapy) – 11 Month Program
Wednesday, August 23 through Sunday, August 27 First Onsite
Contact urbanzen@yogaonhigh.com
Free UZIT Info Sessions:
Saturday, May 13th from 1:30p to 2:30p at Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute with Marcia Miller

 

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Sending Reiki

By Marcia Miller

Marcia-8579ccOne of the greatest gifts of Reiki Level 2 is learning to send Reiki through time and space. There is no doubt that in-person Reiki offerings are powerfully loving and satisfying, but many of the people we love and care about are not able to be with us in person: they may be across town, across the world or even across time. (More about this in another blog.) Just as we love people who are not right in front of us, we can also send Reiki as a vehicle of that love for those who are not in our presence.

Linda Oshins and I are currently sending Reiki to our dearest friend who is living with cancer. We are so glad to have a daily way of offering her support. Linda lives in Seattle, I’m sending from my farm west of Columbus and our dear friend is downtown. We have chosen a specific time to send to her each night. The best part is that it feels like we are all together in person as we send energy each day.

We are having several different kinds of experiences as we send. Sometimes, we feel our friend as her separate self—with specific health and emotional sensibilities; for example, we can sometimes sense her anxiety, or we feel a deep personal love for her.

Marcia-8463ccSometimes I can feel our friend’s energy through the connection I feel with Linda. When Linda and I both lived here we did a lot of Reiki together. When we shared clients she would generally end up at their head and I would be at their feet. We found we could feel each other’s energy through a person’s body. We can feel each other in sending as well. When we are sending to our friend at the same time, we can feel each other there—together. Sensing Linda there with me is so comforting. As we walk side by side with our friend who has a terminal diagnosis, we need each other and Reiki is the best way for us to be with each other. It’s been hard for me to face this by myself, and it’s very comforting for me to know Linda is there as a felt experience. When I do my sending—generally at the end of the day—I’m tired and full of the day I just had. When I plug into my send it feels so much more palpable when Linda is there too.

And then there is the other type of experience I have—the Big Energy. Sometimes I start sending, and I tap into an Energy that is Big—it’s not just Linda and me together; it feels like the energy of the entire universe. It’s Big (I know I said that already but it’s the word that keeps coming) and palpable with a vibratory quality to it that feels like the essence of Life Force. It has a flow and pulsation to it. In this case, no matter how tired or distracted I am, I immediately feel this huge connection and can rest into it.

In my mind, I am not at all Ok about the impending death of my friend. But when I am in the Reiki energy with her, in that Big Energy, I am actually OK and so is she. It just feels Ok that life is as it is. That in itself is a huge gift as we go through this time together.

Reiki is one of my paths that has broadened my experience so that I know that things are not always as they seem. That love is love whether we are together or not. The Love and Reiki both exist without any limits of time and space.

Marcia Miller, Linda Oshins and Michele Vinbury are teaching Reiki programs throughout the year and reinitiating the Yoga on High Reiki Masters’ program beginning in the fall. Please click here for details.

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Richard Freeman: Asana-Poet and Embodied Philosopher

It is my position that the great, traditional asana sequences are like the epic poems of Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and Ovid. Richard Freeman is a voice uniquely situated to interpret the various Ashtanga Vinyasa series, often by breaking them into sonnets and haikus in order to reveal hidden structure and meaning. Richard’s 60- or 90-minute classes might focus on, say, the first third of second series “Nadi Shodhana” or the last third of primary series “Yoga Chikitsa”. As students, we are blessed by the opportunity to read these gigantic works of physical poetry through the lenses of a master teacher.

Richard Freeman’s approach to teaching yoga is a consistent re-envisioning and re-imagining of traditional yoga techniques, particularly those found in the various series of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system Richard studied with his guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. With equal love for physical, contemplative and philosophical practice, Richard has devised a completely unique and idiosyncratic teaching that invites each student constantly back into the “beginners mind” -- forget what you know, and practice into the open mind. You can hear straight from him about his method and history of practice here.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.25.53 AMIn the recently released The Art of Vinyasa, Richard and his partner Mary Taylor collect the condensation of the vinyasa method unique to the lineage and innovation of the luminary T. Krishnamacharya, teacher of Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar and others. Correct vinyasa for entering and exiting postures extends into a method for sequencing postures into the yoga mala, or garland of practice. The Art of Vinyasa begins, not with Sun Salutations or an introduction of asana technique, but with a chapter entitled “Natural Alignment: The Internal Forms of the Practice,” wherein the question is asked: if asana is as old as we think it is, how was physical practice taught without our modern knowledge of anatomical alignment?

One answer given is that the practice of visualization was key: visualizing deities, remembering teacher demonstrations, sensing into systems of the subtle body (nadis, bandhas, mudras, cackras, etc). These internal forms create a deep core of listening in and around the body, wherein the rhythms and pulses of the nervous system itself can be the teacher. We can see this key turning in the lock of Richard’s teaching when we hear in class about the heavy golden coccyx (tailbone) and the four angels of the pelvic floor, undulating the torso like the “peacock who swallowed a snake,” spreading kidney wings and lifting cobra hoods, coiling around the sun in the belly and tasting nectar at the root of the palate.

RichardFreeman_AdamWetterhanA precise knowledge of the power of sequencing asana with the internal forms of the practice has led Richard to emphasize the transitional space between each pose, lengthening out the boundary-points between one pose and another. He says, “The best poses are the ones with no name,” such as the one I’m demonstrating here, a preparatory position and first vinyasa for Trikonasana B (revolved triangle), Parsvottanasana (pyramid, or intense side forward bend), and Parivrrta Ardha Chandrasana (revolved half moon). This in-between-pose is usually only practiced for one inhale “on the way” to some destination; but as a posture in and of itself it opens the line from the back foot crossing the psoas to the top hand, a relationship integral to proficient performance of the asanas that might follow, and one that just might trick you into utilizing those elusive bandhas. Richard sometimes refers to this posture as “Challenging Indra Pose, not to be practiced on golf courses during thunderstorms.” Indra, being the Indian equivalent of Zeus, sits above the clouds and hurls thunderbolts at potential threats, including powerful yogis whose arms grow miraculously longer during asana practice.

Richard’s method of teaching has been particularly useful to me for my work teaching Ashtanga yoga to incarcerated men. Re-envisioning each asana and vinyasa as a sacred moment of listening, we grow closer to the wisdom inherent in our own nervous system. This fine-tuning of the inner ear not only leads to a perfection of asana -- not that the poses are perfect, but that the person practicing is already perfect; listening in this way demands that we begin to live within the shelter of the yamas & niyamas, the ethical precepts of yoga.

Internal forms of practice “turn the light around” from external perception to internal feeling. Many prisoners begin practicing yoga with an eye toward physical improvement or rehabilitation of injury, but then find their way into the more contemplative pursuits of pranayama, visualization, and meditation via methods informed by Richard’s teaching. As stated on page 9 of The Art of Vinyasa: “Visualization helps you to organize sensations and perceptions so you can release habitual, self-centered perspectives on these sensations and relate to the world as a composition of interconnected parts.”

Perhaps the power of the imagination harnessed in Richard’s technique is best explained by the French philosopher and student of Sufi mysticism, Henry Corbin, in his doctrine of the “mundus imaginalis” or imaginal realm: “Between the universe that can be apprehended by pure intellectual perception and the universe perceptible to the senses, there is an intermediate world, the world of Idea-Images, of archetypal figures, of subtle substances, of ‘immaterial matter.’ This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe ‘where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual.’” (Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi).

What I most want in my own practice, in my teachers and in my own teaching is this ability to mediate between the worlds -- inner and outer experience, hard physical reality and energetic subtlety, progress in practice and return to the basics. Perhaps all of these require an abundance of that magical faculty, the imagination!

Come explore this synthesis of anatomical precision and internal form with Richard Freeman & Mary Taylor at Yoga on High this May, including specific insights into backbending, hip opening, twisting, the Finishing Poses and a section entitled “Restorative Ashtanga,” which I personally cannot wait to experience!

Art of Vinyasa Teacher Day | Friday, May 26
Art of Vinyasa Weekend | May 27-28

Adam Wetterhan is a yoga instructor at Yoga on High, Blue Spot Yoga, and through Healing Broken Circles at Marion Correctional, where he is also Director of Programming for a community center inside the prison.  Adam has been practicing yoga for most of his adult life, holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Comparative Religion from Capital University, completed his 200-hour certification at Yoga on High in 2015 and is currently enrolled in their 300-hour program, where he has concentrated on Ashtanga, pranayama, and yoga therapy.

 

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What does it mean to be a channel for Reiki?

Marcia-8436ccWhat does it mean to be a channel for Reiki?  We often hear that Reiki is Universal Energy that is channeled through us. The image given by one of our dear teachers, Hyakuten Inamoto, is that of being like a “hollow bamboo.” This beautiful loving energy flows through us—it is not “our” energy. Air flowing through a bamboo flute, for example, doesn’t come from the bamboo, it comes through it.

This image is very helpful but doesn’t go far enough in my experience of Reiki. There IS a sense that something is coming through me that is not originating within me, and I think this is what Sensei Inamoto means by this comparison. However, a piece of bamboo with air flowing through it isn’t changed by that experience, yet I am deeply changed by the Reiki flowing through me. Just before I started writing this article I did my Reiki self-practice and paid close attention to my experience. I immediately felt more relaxed and at ease. I felt a warm, tingly, energetic flow coming through my hands and into my body, and my whole body felt spacious with room for all parts of myself.  My mind didn’t get especially quiet, but there was room for the thoughts I was having and so much more. Everything felt in context and interconnected. I felt meditative and happy for no particular reason. As I gave myself Reiki I also sent Reiki energy to many other people I love and care about. (This is a practice learned in Reiki Level 2.) I felt the connection with them as well and my heart welled up with love. Even when my main intention is to give Reiki to another, it is still affecting me as I offer it.

There is something so very special about offering Reiki to another person. They are receiving a powerful energy that is not mine—since it is not coming from me, but through me—so in a way I am a hollow bamboo. But, there is more for me. In addition to the Reiki flowing through me, the person under my hands is getting my care, my intention to serve and my love. They are getting something from me by my personal presence. We experience a powerful mutual connection by being in the Reiki energy together, and we are both transformed by it, whether the session lasts just 2 minutes or is much longer.

So what does it mean to be a channel for Reiki energy? I invite you to join me in this ongoing contemplation. I have been living with this question for years, but lately in a more active way. As I give myself or someone else Reiki I have been feeling into my experience in a deeper way—even repeating that question and just sitting with the felt responses that come to me. And I’m also asking this question as I go through my day when I am not giving Reiki consciously. Do the events and decisions of my daily life affect the way Reiki is channeled through me? I’m finding that in some ways yes, and other ways no. I’ll save this exploration for another article. In the meantime keep offering your warm, Reiki hands to yourselves and others.

Note: I have been doing self-Reiki now for about 20 years. In my early years I didn’t have many sensations. I would feel relaxed after my sessions, but that was all.

Marcia-8579ccMarcia Miller has been practicing and teaching Reiki for 20 years. She uses it is all sorts of ways—in private Reiki sessions, in private therapeutic yoga sessions, in yoga classes, as part of Urban Zen Integrative Therapy™ and in her daily life. She is teaching Reiki at national Yoga Journal conferences, as part of UZIT training and in the Reiki Masters’ program at Yoga on High, beginning in October, 2017.  Marcia is teaching our upcoming Reiki Level 1 Training March 18 -- 19 at Yoga on High.

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Christen Boyles: Venture Inward

Christen BoylesBy chance, or perhaps by divine intervention, I stumbled into a semester-long yoga class in college. I knew nothing about yoga at the time. I knew I had anxiety. I knew I was overwhelmed. I remember that class being the only two hours of my week when I felt like I could breathe.

At the end of that semester, I graduated and left on a retreat-like road trip by myself across the country. Life was quiet and simple for a month, and a trip that I had thrown together at the last minute ended up being life-changing. I packed a $10 yoga mat (which I still use to this day) and rolled it out on dusty campsites for 30 days. At some point, I decided I wanted to share this practice with other people.

On a 1,400 foot peak In Utah, I met a group of friends and discovered that myself and the two girls in the group share the same birthday. Divine intervention? One was a yoga teacher. Divine intervention.

Before I knew it, I was back home and walking into my first night of teacher training at the Yoga On High Teacher Training Institute. An elaborate mandala of candles and flowers was spread out on the floor and we all chose a seat around the circle. None of us could have imagined the journey we were about to embark on together.

The knowledge shared
Friendships formed
Tears cried
Hands held
Epiphanies reached
Lives changed

I learned how to teach yoga. I learned how to adjust poses and sequence classes. But most importantly, I learned to venture inward in search of myself. I learned to be in silence whether it was comfortable or not. I learned to look fear in the face and do it anyway. I learned to quiet my mind. I learned why people cry on yoga mats.

I laughed, cried, felt vulnerable, got frustrated, and through it all, I was always surrounded by a community of people who supported me, reminded me to forgive myself and to always go forward.

I still feel the support of that community as I navigate each new experience as a yoga teacher. I feel the impact of those 9 months with me everyday.

I am eternally grateful.

Christen2Christen Boyles graduated from the Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute in 2016. She teaches Hatha yoga and is passionate about teaching students who are just beginning their yoga practice. She is also interested in the ways that yoga can help students cope with stress and anxiety.

Our next 200 Hour Teacher Training program begins March 17. For more information, join us at our upcoming Free Info Session Sunday, February 19th from 12:00p to 12:45p with Michele Vinbury at Yoga on High. To apply or for questions, contact Breanna at applications@yogaonhigh.com

Watch Yoga on High Teacher Training video here.

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