Seeing Gentle as Advanced Practice

By Vickie Russell Bell

I woke up this morning after sleeping for 8 hours and I felt wrecked, like I’d been hit by a bus. No, I didn’t have too many drinks the night before and I hadn’t even been awake at 3:30 needing to read for awhile to shut off the chatter in my mind. But I had been dreaming vividly. And the dreams were a bit like a post apocalyptic video game. What I knew upon waking was that my mind had been working through some stress. The evening before, I had finally made the decision to be honest with a man that I had been dating for a couple months. We had been having fun together, kind of a “friend’s with benefits” set up. But, I had been having this unsettled, nagging anxiety. After spending an hour quietly practicing restorative yoga, and inviting in this unsettled feeling (the sensation was just a clench in my chest and a hollow feeling in my belly that quickly dissipated as I gave it space) I knew that I needed to stop my current behavior in order to make space for the kind of relationship I truly desire.

Is this a piece about being single or dating etiquette? Not really. This is a piece about what’s often missing in our yoga practice. In the current yoga culture some of us have confused the practice of yoga with working out. Don’t get me wrong, working out is great and has it’s place. But the physical benefits of the practice of yoga are what I consider to be side effects. Long, lean, strong and flexible are wonderful by-­products of showing up on our mat.

The other day I was talking with a colleague about the idea “gentle is the new advanced”. I wholeheartedly agree.

Our culture rewards us for going hard all the time. We feel worthy when we push and stress.

I tell myself I am important when I answer the question “how are you?” with the answer “I am so busy!” We learn to ignore our exhaustion, our discomfort and our heartbreak. We learn to abandon our deeper Truths and needs in order to be productive beings.

And there it is BEINGS! For a long time I was a doer who had forgotten how to be. I ignored the young parts of myself that needed my attention and my comfort. I pushed all of that away and ran on adrenaline. Until I couldn’t do it anymore. Slowing down felt scary like a little death.

IMG_0833When I learned about restorative yoga and my nervous system, I felt drawn to it and scared at the same time. How can I stop pushing? Who will I be? What if all those plates I’ve been spinning crash down around me…then what? The ease that I touched kept drawing me back. I craved the comfort of the props and the deliberate stillness and silence. The physical yoga postures feel amazing in my body. It is fun to work hard in practice and to learn new things. The asanas can invigorate and challenge; they can be sensual and soothing. Gripping and protection start to soften and my mind is more clear. After 26 years of practice, this softening and clearing is the entry, the invitation to sit or to lie still. To invite the feelings that have been pushed down or distracted against (that nagging sensation of anxiety that leads me to the tenderness of knowing that I want more from a relationship).

After my quiet practice this morning, I knew that I had made a decision that was filled with integrity and honored all my desires and needs. I also knew that even though I had slept for 8 hours, I had still been exhausted. Sleep and relaxation are not the same thing. My restorative practice honored my night of disturbed sleep and the sadness of disappointing another in order to care for myself.

Some days when I lie down I am faced with a whirlwind of thoughts and an almost pounding sense of my energy. What I know now after years of balancing active asana practice with stillness and meditation is that it takes a little time, a little patience and a light attention on the breath and little by little my whole being starts to quiet down. Some days the ease feels deep and wide, and others, I barely touch it. When the chimes ring after 22 minutes of sitting or watching my breath or doing a restorative pose, I am more spacious, more sane and sometimes I feel like I’ve had a healing vacation.

Give it a try. Silence, stillness and savasana. Set your timer for 20 minutes. Switch gears. Get still and quiet. It will change your life. What’s missing from your yoga practice?

11_monthlyrestorative-socialJoin Vickie Russell Bell for the first session in her Restorative Series:

This Sunday, March 26 | Opening to the Equinox with Vickie Russell Bell

Take time to open up the body, wring out stress and balance winter kapha energy. This practice will center on restorative twists and renewing poses that free the breath to prepare your entire being for springtime. Sign up today: http://ht.ly/acWN30aarC5

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The Thoracic Jacket

The thoracic jacket is a supportive tool that helps maintain healthy upper spine alignment. It keeps the shoulder blades relaxed away from the ears, the chest lifted, and encourages the head to lean back and line up with the upper back.  I used it daily, not too long ago, when I struggled with chronic nerve impingement.  I had lots of tingling, numbness and nerve pain down the arms.  The sensations were especially uncomfortable when I slept on my side – for a 6-month period, I didn’t sleep through the night because of nerve pain.  My condition was probably encouraged by years of working with microscopes and computers for long periods of time, and exacerbated by two car accidents.  It also wasn’t helpful that I folded up in a car, 4 days a week, to drive to work from Oakland to San Jose.  I had lost all the natural curves in my spine.  The thoracic jacket was helpful in scaffolding my upper back, supporting me in healthy alignment so that my body could relearn a better way of being.

If you’re looking for relief from neck pain or shoulder pain, or maybe you’re just trying to neutralize text neck, I hope you’ll put on the thoracic jacket and go about your usual activities. Give it a try and see how you feel.  I have found it useful on days when I do a lot of writing or when I learn a new chant with my harmonium.  It’s not so great on days when you have to dress up for the office, and it’s particularly annoying if you like wearing nicely pressed, wrinkle-free clothes.

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Known for her curiosity, playfulness and nurturing style, Poh offers yoga practices that cultivate spacious presence for the busy, modern life.  Poh comes to yoga with a career in tech at the intersection of engineering, law and business.  Her personal practice revolves around nurturing body, heart and mind towards homeostasis as she navigates a demanding world.  This is the flavor of her yoga classes.  Poh teaches from the heart and offers her unique blend of attentiveness to healthy alignment, courageous + compassionate self-inquiry, and deliberate relaxation.  Typically, there’s a splash of Bhakti and she sings.

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The Magic of Enjoyable Movement – Hooping!

by Kimber Simpkins

When I picked up my first hula hoop as an adult (more than ten years ago), I was sure it was broken. It wouldn’t stay up around my hips the way the video showed it was designed to. False advertising. A lemon.

I remembered how easy it was to do as a kid. Not anymore.

It was frustrating, but I kept trying. Every day I went out into the backyard and spent just three minutes spinning the hoop around my middle and seeing what happened.

I felt silly. Ridiculous really.

My body and the hoop were in a circular argument about who was in charge. But one day it magically stayed there for a whole 30 seconds… before dropping back to my feet.

It was exhilarating!

Slowly, the hoop and I came to an understanding where it agreed to hang out around my waist for as long as I asked it to. Most of the time.
Since that day, my hoop has become a beloved friend, and one of my body’s favorite forms of movement.

It didn’t happen overnight.

In fact, when people ask me where my hula hoop skills come from, I tell them about my hooping teacher from many years ago, who taught me all kinds of fun ways to play with the hoop.

Now I want to bring that spirit of fun and play to you and your body.

Whatever age you are, whatever success (or otherwise) you’ve had with a hoop–even if you’re sure you can’t do it–I can help you find a new way to move your body that’s energizing, wonderful exercise, and is good for your body, mind, and heart. We’ll integrate yoga and dharma into the practice as well, helping you find your center and work through any “I can’t”s to explore a new way to enjoy your aliveness.

Starting next month I’m teaching a six week hooping series called “Love Your Hoop” at Namaste Berkeley. It’s Tuesday evenings from 7 to 8:45 pm from Aug 23 – Oct 4 (no class Sept 6). Space is limited to 12 people, so sign up soon. Hoops will be provided! Find out more and sign up here.

With love to you and your body, Kimber

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Kimber Simpkins: The wisdom of Buddhist and Tantric philosophy, the insights of physics and psychology, storytelling, and music continuously resonate through Kimber’s teaching and the experience of her students on the mat. She comes from a long line of lay preachers, teachers, singers, and healers and is happy to be walking a path that blends all of these roles. Kimber is the author of the Award-winning memoir Full: How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself, and 52 Ways to Love your Body.

 

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The Yoga of Intimacy & Play

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
— A.A. Milne (Winnie-the- Pooh)

I love teaching Partner Yoga almost as much as I love Winnie-the- Pooh. But then, just like no two bodies or partnerships are alike, why even try to compare a PAIR with a BEAR, right? I hope you will consider joining me on July 9th for our Partner Yoga Playshop which is a celebration of our interbeing and interdependence. The benefits of partner yoga include increased self-awareness and a deepening of one’s own yoga practice while getting the added perk of honoring and witnessing the other person’s practice. Bringing all of that together and you get the best of both worlds and even more!

Whenever I get to offer some support to my partner in a pose or receive some extra hands on assistance from my partner while on the mat, there is something very healing and reassuring about the energy exchange. The synergy of intimacy that can build over the course of a partner yoga workshop is quite lovely and many participants have said it has helped enhance the level of trust and cooperation in a relationship, whether it is with a significant other, a friend or a family member.

July 9th will be the first time offering this playshop to the Namaste community and am very excited to bring the fun and challenge of the various partner poses but also adding to the mix an extended guided relaxation for each couple that I affectionately call a “Yoga We-dra” which will be accompanied by my partner Tim playing soothing and transcendental singing bowls.

I was interviewed a few years back by KTSF about the many benefits of partner yoga and hope you will check it out here.

And here is a testimonial from a recent partner yoga playshop participant:

“I came to Ken’s partner yoga class not knowing what to expect and boy was I blown away! He is incredibly down to earth which I really appreciated. Lots of room for laughter and for me to be myself in the workshop. Ken demoed several of the poses with his lovely partner Tim, which helped make the poses more accessible. On that note I was amazed at how seamlessly he was able to make a class that I really enjoyed as a teacher and other newer students were clearly having as much of a juicy good time in. Check out his next workshop- you won’t wanna miss it!” -Jeremi McManus,RYT, MFT

Jason triangle assist close upIf you are interested in attending and want to know more, please do not hesitate to contact me: kjbreniman@gmail.com

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Want to sign up? Follow us here to register for our upcoming Partner Yoga Playshop!

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Human Connection in a Digital Age

It seems ironic that though yoga is about connection (yoga means “to yolk”), it is such a solo practice. Though we may practice in groups, yoga invites us to focus on ourselves: my sensations, my thoughts, my habits, my abilities, etc. Where is the yolking? Where is the connecting?

Our digital culture also fuels more isolated pursuits. Even our social time is spent independently staring at our digital devices replying distally to a widening array of “friends”. However, humans are social creatures by nature, and our increasing isolation is thought to be one cause of increases in anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Partner Yoga provides an opportunity to truly connect to another person through physical contact, through shared breathing, through shared goals of creating the partner poses. We learn to listen not with our ears, but with our proprioception (awareness of your body in space). Partner yoga provides an opportunity to be sensitive not to only your own flexibility and needs in a pose, but that of your partner. It gives us a chance to tend to another, to be kind to another, to develop our sensitivity to another. It gives us a chance to connect.

“Through the practice of partner Yoga, the duality of self/other begins to dissolve and we experience directly the essence of Yoga – union.”

Elysabeth Williamson

PARTNER YOGA: THE PLEASURES AND THE PRINCIPLES

One of the reasons Facebook and Instagram are more popular than old-school, in-person interactions, is that they are navigated on our own terms. We have less fear of messing up, saying the wrong thing, being unpopular, than we do with in-person interactions. Similarly, fear may keep us from pursuing Partner Yoga. The practice evokes our inner dialogues of not being enough for our partner: not skilled enough, or flexible enough, or strong enough or patient enough.

Our willingness to engage in something, even in the presence of fear, represents our courage. And, courageous action enhances our resilience. Of course, every pose doesn’t come off perfectly on its first attempt, or second, or perhaps ever. But, being in the practice enhances our sense of capability. We learn that we can navigate challenges peacefully. We learn to express our needs and listen to the needs of our partners kindly.

And with that sense of ability, our fear diminishes and we start to find the joy of being embodied, the joy of moving with another friend in a type of meditative dance. We develop a sense of accomplishment. And, most importantly for our sanity and happiness, we experience true human connection.

I am happy to offer another Partner Yoga and Thai Massage Workshop with my husband, Steven. Come join us for an afternoon of connecting. Bring a friend or loved one. Give yourselves the gift of some unplugged time together.

[Original Post on The Opener Blog]


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Partner Yoga and Thai Massage with Domonick Wegesin

No experience is required. Domonick will provide clear, easy-to-follow directions to create a safe environment for your exploration. Bring a partner with whom you feel comfortable being in close contact.

Saturday, November 11th at  1:30 – 4:00 pm at  Namaste Grand Lake

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Take Back the Morning

If you’re reading this post, most likely you’ve taken a gander at the first page of google results that pop up when you search “Best Tips for a Morning Routine”. It’s become a trend to promote the importance of routine, especially when it comes to setting the tone for the day. The problem is sometimes we just don’t have enough control over our schedules.

Work, kids, illness, or guests can keep us up late and result in a rushed morning. Getting to bed on time is the first step, but once your schedule becomes unstable, it’s hard to to get the routine train back on track. Starting small is the first step. In honor of Margi Young’s upcoming Morning Immersion series we wanted to offer some sweet ways to guide yourself back into a simple morning ritual.

Don’t jump out of bed.

Although it may be counter intuitive to stay in bed it’s the best way to gently wake yourself up. Arianna Huffington, who recently came out with the new book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night At a Time, recommends not even waking up with alarm! The reason she gives is that alarms can be violent and jarring, starting your morning with anxiety. Waking up without an alarm may not be an option for you – but giving yourself  a few moments to just gently wake up can change your whole mood.

To maximize the first 5 minutes awake try propping yourself up with pillows, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing for 20 counts. Think about your intention for the day and possibly a few things you are grateful for. Then hop out of bed.

Keep Movement Simple.

If exercise has been elusive or you prefer to sweat it out in the evening then keep your movement routine simple. Once you’ve hopped out of bed, role out your mat (or keep it out from the night before!), do a few cat-cows and work out those sleepy kinks. If you are feeling good, try 3 to 5 sun salutations. Don’t guilt yourself for not doing enough. Small wins are where it’s at. Once you stick to 5-10 minutes of movement you will naturally start to grow the practice of doing more.

Drink Water (Preferably with Lemon)

Slice up some lemon slices the night before and keep them in the fridge. As soon as you are done with your morning yoga grab some lemon wedges and a glass of water. Your body is working hard to cleanse itself at night and we all wake up a little dehydrated. Life is sustained by water and you will feel better the more hydrated you stay. Drinking some fresh H2o first thing in the morning can help with grogginess, digestion, and mood.

This entire routine should take no more than 15-20 minutes. Keeping it simple and working on being compassionate with yourself will help alleviate any tension and anxiety. Before you know it you will be looking forward to having your sweet morning ritual.


Still struggling to feel back on track? Try to incentivize with some social support.

Get your summer off to a great start by committing to your practice during this 4 day “mini retreat” at Rockridge. Each morning will have a physical theme, a philosophical theme, and will end with breath work and a short meditation. You will be given homework to practice during the day so that your practice on the mat becomes more integrated into your life off the mat.

margi-200Morning Immersion with Margi Young

Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu

Date: Jun 06, 2016 – Jun 09, 2016

From: 7:00 AM – 8:30 AM Location: Rockridge

 

 

 

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Alexander Technique: Discovering the Balance Between Ease and Strength

By Hannah Michahelles

I’ll start by admitting that I am a serious fan of Alexander Technique! I started studying the technique as a Freshman in college as part of my major in Theater for Social Justice. I was privileged with the opportunity to take both group and private lessons for three years (oh, how I miss you, liberal arts education!) and I found the work deeply profound and lasting.HannahMichaelles

The technique, very simply, is about learning to let go of harmful tension in your body.

Like yoga and other ‘attention through movement’ practices, it is about focusing your awareness on the body and breath, about noticing your postural habits, your patterns of holding and tensing, and learning to let them go.

It’s about finding a balance between ease and strength. It’s about learning to move through the world with a lightness, a sense of freedom. It really is as good as it sounds!

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As an actor, the work becomes a bit more specific. The technique helps you access a “neutral” body. You begin to notice your own physical idiosyncrasies and learn to let them go, to find a more neutral body onto which you can “build character.” You learn safe ways of  adding another’s physical characteristics onto your own body’s blank slate. This becomes powerful and technically precise with a deepened awareness of the body and how it moves through space.

You can take the principals of the technique with you, anywhere you go. In a car, on your bike, standing in line. The insight, the knowledge you gain about your body and how to make it feel good, stays with you. I have found this technique to be my best companion on my yoga mat. I know better what my body tends to do and where it tends to hold and overcompensate. I know better how to let that stuff go, how to move more freely, and with ease, into my practice. I know how to better protect myself from injury and repetitive strain, how to keep myself safe and self-soothe. And, most importantly, I have a deepened joy in moving and breathing and the yumminess that comes from taking really good care of myself.

Join us for our Alexander Technique Workshop in June with Tara Sullivan where we’ll learn to stop doing the habits that interfere with our innate ease and can then make conscious choices about how we want to move through life.

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The Yoga of Sound by Amber Field

Sound is vibration. Matter is vibration. Everything is sound. Everything vibrates.

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Singing and the voice are related to expressing yourself and speaking your truth. The throat is the link between the heart and the head. Therefore, you want a clear channel to allow the head and heart to come into conversation and balance with each other. The throat is connected to divine will, being in right relationship to your life’s purpose.

When you can speak, sing and sound your truth, you can move confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Singing is one of the best activities you can do for your health. By taking long exhalations, you calm down your nervous system. You also release endorphins and dopamine (happy chemicals!) and when you sing in group, you release oxytocin, which is the bonding/attachment hormone. In short, singing makes you happy! 

Chanting/toning through the chakras allow you to open up your whole body through sound. This helps bring chakras into balance and alignment. You can literally feel sound opening up your body, releasing tension and knots, helping breath and energy flow through blocked areas, and giving your body an internal massage.sing-b

Group singing is such a powerful way to come together to bring healing energy to the world. Singing spirit songs–songs of love, devotion, hope, and freedom–is such a powerful vibration to put out into the world together. I have watched how free your voice classes have transformed people’s lives, and witnessed my own transformation into a more free, confident, expressive, spontaneous, playful being. It’s infectious to be in a community of people who are freeing their voices, creativity, and spirits together.

Come free your voice and discover the yoga of sound with Amber Field in her 2-hour playful Free Your Voice workshop at Namaste Grand Lake on Saturday May 2nd from 1:30 to 3:30pm. Sing, sound, and speak your truth with more confidence and freedom! More info here.

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Waiting for Baby: Birth Preparation and Practicing Patience

In the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu poses this question…
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

In the land of on-demand everything; meals, rides, movies and even dating apps, you may ask, how can we slow down and turn on the patience switch for an easeful birth experience? For many couples the need for patience started pre-conception with fertility challenges and then is required again in the first trimester with often all-day sickness. Through these periods of patience and suffering we experience gratitude, but often again around 35-38 weeks that little monster called impatience rears its head again, creating anxiety, stress and often doubts that make us question whether or not something is wrong.

In prenatal yoga, as well as birth prep classes we learn tools to work with discomfort, whether they be contractions or just indigestion. We also learn to step back and let go of judgments, thoughts of limitation and just notice what is happening right now in the present. Through mindfulness meditation, and by intentionally bringing awareness to postures, we start to see where we are holding back, holding on, or preventing the opening that might be needed to welcome this new life into our arms.

We are all aware that our birth experience may not go as we had planned–and I’m grateful for the resources available in the hospital when an emergency arises or medical intervention becomes the best option to reduce suffering. We always hope that our babies are able to come to this planet in their own time, without prodding and provoking, unless there is a real medical concern. Sometimes interventions like Pitocin, the epidural and C-sections seem like the best option to numb the discomfort of labor and the waiting because our mind says “run from pain, cling to pleasure. A common theme in my classes is Impermanence, knowing that everything changes, including the pain of labor and once you allow yourself to be in a place you might want to bolt from, you learn that its possible to stay a little longer without defeat…maybe even feel encouraged!

 Next time you want to push away that thought or sensation, see what happens if you stay still and wait–until the mud settles–and trust that you will be guided so that the right action arises by itself.

To learn more join Elika for her upcoming ‘Prep for Birth‘ workshop on Saturday, April 18th. Register HERE.

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Growing Generosity

Growing Generosity with Ashley Sharp

We can understand generosity in two ways.  First, generosity is a spontaneous expression of an open heart and mind.  It is not a matter of deciding to be generous, but instead it arises and simply flows out of us. When we are connected and wholehearted, generosity emerges without thought. Hafiz says:

“Even
After
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look
What happens
With a love like that
It lights the
Whole
Sky.”

The second way to investigate generosity is as a practice.  When we practice generosity we are, as Pema Chodron says, learning to let go.  Generosity helps us connect with others and it generates awareness of our interconnectedness with all beings. In order to give, someone must receive and in order to receive, someone must give.

Recent science coming out of the University of Notre Dame says that being generous causes a person to be happier and healthier.

The ancient teachings of the buddha speak of generosity as a treasure and recommend practicing acts of generosity as a basis of social harmony and personal virtue.

To cultivate generosity, take on the challenge of acting on every generous impulse you have for 24 hours. Give food away 4 times this month.  Give away $20 or $50 dollars to a stranger.

Generosity need not be limited to money and goods.  Practice generosity with your time or your receptivity.  Give a smile and a kind word.

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“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”  Elizabeth Gilbert

Join Ashley for her upcoming Growing Generosity workshop on Saturday, April 11 to continue this teaching.

Sign up here for Ashley’s workshop

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