The Three Aspects of the Healthy Human Being; Part Two – The Mind

April 20, 2014

If asked which of the three aspects (body, mind and spirit) I find most challenging to work with my answer would be the mind, hands down.

The mind is a complicated thing comprised of our sense memories, experiential memories and our egoic self-identities.

Sense memories are simply memories coming from our senses – tastes, touch, sight, smell and hearing. Experiential memories are memories from experience – good and bad.

Self-identity of course is necessary in some sense. We are all separate human beings with varying skills, attributes and experiences.  We become identified as a banker, teacher, nurse, professor, merchant.

Classical Yoga identifies this self-identity concept as a problem only when we seek to derive some sense of superiority because of it. In other words, if I marry into a rich family and become “Mrs. So-and- So,” I am no longer that teacher or nurse or banker – I am special just because I am rich or I wear that designer or I drive that expensive car.

Our society places much value on looks, what we wear and what we have and, in so doing, feeds this primitive human desire. The acquisition of more and more stuff satisfies this hunger for a while but it will eventually not be enough.  Perhaps marrying that rich man yielded Mrs. So-and-so lots of jewelry but if Mr. So-and-so can’t be faithful in his marriage vows, then Mrs. So-and-so will eventually feel a deepening emptiness in her relationship that the best Tiffany’s bauble won’t fill.

Sometimes, self-identities are created to protect a vulnerable heart or to overcome a perceived weakness.  For example, I create a persona of a woman who can “make it” in a man’s world and I become hard, tough, and disregard any attributes that I may perceive as too soft, too weak or too feminine. I begin to walk, talk, swear, drink and act like a man because I have defined for myself that those are the attributes of a successful businessperson.

But what is often created to protect us has instead created a prison. We are imprisoned in this self-created shell because to be anything BUT would make us vulnerable to something we hadn’t considered before. We become afraid to try new things, to fail, to stumble – which all are rich parts of the human growth experience.

We may even keep ourselves at a distance from others in our attempt to hold to our self-image. The problem in this instance is that if we want love, we are doing exactly the opposite of attracting it.

When we combine our experiences with our self-identities, it can be a real toxic tornado of crap. Experiences of shame, guilt and failure leave a big enough mark but if we’ve combined that with a protective shell of a false self-identity, that is one hard nut to crack.

I think most people who carry this burden want to be relieved of it. I think they get a whiff of what is possible when they listen to spiritual speakers. But I don’t think they want to do the work which would require them to confront their own demons. They’ll buy someone’s book, T-shirt or podcast but not face themselves in the mirror. However, this results only in getting a taste now and then of what freedom is like, rather than being free yourself.

It is like listening to a friend tell you about her vacation in Hawaii. You’d like to go someday, but you are afraid and so you tell yourself you’ll just listen to your friend’s stories.  Not quite the same thing as experiencing it yourself.

A disturbed mind can be easily distracted in our culture. In fact, disturbed minds love distractions.  I have acquaintances who tell me that they do not meditate or do pranayama because they can’t sit still so they just spend their day in a frenetic whorlwind of activity, thinking that if they do enough sudoku puzzles, their brain/mind will get all it needs.

I wonder if they realize how many decisions they make every day based on that frenetic, disturbed pace in their minds. Yes, that distracted, unsettled mind is making choices for you every moment of every day – from what you think of yourself, the food you eat, the business decisions you make and how you relate to others.

The answer then, is first to clarify the mind; to get rid of any experiences (baggage) that you’re hanging onto that affect your life presently, to rid yourself of a false identity and to forgive yourself and others every day for real and perceived slights where you can.

Then, the mind must be balanced. Yoga suggests that pranayama is the language of the mind and thus prescribes it as its medicine, too.

A calm, clean mind will yield you peace within yourself, your life’s work and within your relationships.

In Ayurveda, it is said that the seat of the mind is in the heart, not the brain.  For me, then, an open mind is an open heart and vice versa. You cannot have one without the other.

Rosalene and Me

April 14, 2014

I began dance training at the age of three and have never stopped although it is mostly my own work in my home studio space these days.

I attended a local dance studio that was opened by an ex-Broadway dancer who was hungry for her own business in which her ideas about dance  could be best expressed. She was not like other dance school teachers – fat, pink and boring; no, Rosalene was a dark, fiery woman with long chorus girl legs.

Sometimes my dad had to get me to and from class but I seem to remember that he did not mind doing this when he got to say hello to Rosalene. But I digress.

Rosalene was a great teacher for me. She was loving but stern. Compassionate but you knew you had limits. Creative and not afraid to stretch boundaries for the art of dance.

That’s what Rosalene instilled in me the most – a love of the art of dance. There has never been a feeling quite like the feeling  I had when I attended a good dance class. It is thorough, head-to-toe training; it is in the moment; I feel my body worked and moved through every bit of bone, muscle and sinew. My brain and my spirit are tested, challenged, and inspired.

Rosalene’s influence was why at the age of fourteen I would take a bus from my suburban home into Pittsburgh thirteen miles away, and walk from the Greyhound Bus Terminal to Point Park College (now University) for classes all day on Saturday. In addition, I’d go to classes in the evening twice during the week and my dad would pick me up on the way home from the office.

I would do this because the alternative was to go to a local dance studio where classes seemed to be taught by rote, the teachers were bored (and boring), and the priority was getting everyone ready for recitals. Recitals are the big money maker for most dance studios as well as gratifying for all the parents who get to live out their own dreams of stardom through their kids. The level of training was questionable and the technique was often below par but if it was accompanied by enough sparkle, no one seemed to care.

I never understood this type of dance studio. It was not about the art, or the depth of the work. It wasn’t about the athletic level of training that is required to be a good dancer.  It was about something else that even now I can’t put my finger on. All I know is that it was boring, dull, and dead.

Even today, the spirit of Rosalene even affects my practice of Classical Yoga and Pilates. While these two physical arts proliferate our fitness culture in a variety of forms (even P90X has a “yoga” sequence although I am baffled as to what is “yoga” about it), it is often taught in a series that is written down so that the instructors can remember the sequences and dumbed down enough so that the masses can easily digest it. Sure, there will be some breathing exercises (class, can you say pra-na-ya-ma?) and a trick or two like handstands at the wall (with the accompanying sound of students slamming their legs on the wall as they whip themselves up.  Learning to acquire control takes too much time – the masses don’t have the patience for it and the instructors don’t know how to teach it anyway).

To me, Classical Yoga and Pilates are arts. They are alive with flow and vibrancy. They are the tools to help someone become more alive in their body, mind and spirit. That is why in my studio there is nothing done by rote. Sure, they may have to learn some basics – much the way a dance has to learn first through fifth position – but they also are challenged to push their edges with every session. No one session should be like another.

Because no one day is like another. People are not the same every day. Bodies are different, minds and emotions are different. A person’s body will respond differently when she is on holiday than when she is having a busy day at the office. An athlete in a grueling training schedule cannot – and perhaps should not – also be in a grueling yoga session.  Post-surgery clients will require a different class set than someone who is going out to play tennis in the afternoon.

Minds are different, too. In fact, I find that minds are harder to work with than bodies. Minds are often too clogged with egos, false identities and old mindsets. I’ve had people with tight, “bad” backs tell me how they swing 25-lb. kettlebells (to work their core)  in their exercise classes but when I put them in a pose that requires that same level of core strength, they falter. They can’t do it. Sadly, instead of being inspired, they become angry. With me.

Because, you see, I’ve messed with their ego. It took me a long time to figure that out; I couldn’t imagine anyone letting their ego get in the way of progress but there it is.

It is much more exhausting for me to deal with people’s fragile, small egos that broken, stiff bodies. It is frustrating  that I have to give up on them but if their mind and spirit won’t show up in a positive way, there is nothing I can do but suggest that they go somewhere else. Perhaps “hot vinyasa kettlebell” yoga or whatever nonsense the masses are doing these days.

It’s like coming to an art class with one crayon of the same color and drawing the same picture every day. A person gets good at that but never challenges themselves to try other colors or other pictures. Some will be offended at the idea of a new color or drawing a new picture because they may not be as good at that as when they are drawing the old, familiar one.

It’s hard to know who will balk at the idea or embrace it.

But it is the way I teach because I cannot be a lazy teacher who does things by rote.  I am showing up for you and you should show up for you, too. And I want to show you that there are more crayons in the box for you to color with and more pictures to be drawn. Your world is bigger than you know.

I won’t give up on that philosophy, either. I am living this one life and I want it to be anything but dull, boring and dead.

I blame Rosalene.

The Three Aspects of the Healthy Person – Part One, The Body

According to Ayurveda, a person is truly healthy only when they are healthy in body, mind and spirit.  An unhealthy spirit within an otherwise healthy body is considered ultimately unhealthy. It is hard to keep all three aspects in balance. Most of us find one or two aspects easier to access. The ones not so easy to deal with we tend to neglect.

It is those  one or two aspects that we neglect are the ones that will eventually likely make us sick until we do pay attention.

This blog will be divided into three parts and today’s blog will center on the aspect of the body. It is probably the easiest one to start with – our culture’s obsession with the “perfect” body. We practically kill ourselves in the pursuit of a body that has low body fat, power, sculpted muscles and is essentially the ultimate physical machine.

Since I do not notice too many ultimate power machines or supermodels in my community, I assume that to beat one’s body up in pursuit of such a goal is nothing but a sad dream.

But I think it’s fair to say that  as a secondary goal, most people would like a healthy, fit body.

Are healthy and fit the same thing?  Not necessarily.  If someone is a marathoner who has low body fat but has a frozen low back, legs that can’t straighten because of excessively tight hamstrings and a significant kyphosis of the upper back, are they fit?  Is it healthy to have a body in this condition?

How about a cyclist who cannot use the full range of motion in her wrists?  Who is overly-flexed in her spine when she is off the bike? What happens when she decides to do planks to build up her core without addressing those  primary issues?  Is that a healthy choice for a healthy body?

And yet, these two individuals would probably be classified by the average person-on-the-street as fit due to their low body fat. And therefore, “healthy.”

According to the The United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), physical fitness is defined as a “set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity.” These attributes include cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition and flexibility.

How about healthy? “ Health” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary includes these terms: “the condition or being well or free from disease, the overall condition of someone’s body or mind; flourishing.”  (By the way, when was the last time you stood outside an exercise studio or gym and observed all the “flourishing” individuals exiting after class? Why do we tend to think that a “real” workout has to hurt, exhaust and/or require us to take painkillers for three days?)

If we are being picky about the two terms, then we see that they are not interchangeable at all.  In other words, we can even say that one can be fit but not healthy and vice versa.

And this is where we need to begin with the first part of the healthy human being according to Ayurveda. One of the best parts of the Ayurvedic model is that there are no numbers involved, no “ideals” to reach. The ideas are simple and common sense.

Referencing Ayurveda thought,  the weight you should be is the one where you feel your best, have good immunity, can sleep soundly and have good digestion. Your body fat should be a good percentage and it is better to have a little fat especially after the age of forty. This is because whether you like it or not, you’re getting older and after the age of forty, the years of depletion begin.  It is a fact of life and it happens to all of us. You can’t stop it but you can slow down the rate of depletion by examining what you may be doing to accelerate the process.

Can you see that to use the same tools you used at twenty-five to lose a few pounds may not be the smartest choices for the present?  To drastically change your workout program,  use crazy diet schemes, or add exercises to overused muscles and neglect other ones – especially postural muscles – amps up the rate of depletion.  To add more pounding, physical stress to aching legs when your legs have been standing all day because you think that low body fat is the one true indicator of health and fitness is a bad mindset that will never lead  to a good outcome. Working this way will eventually exhaust you to such an extent you will most likely give up and never again get that motivation back. If you don’t end up having a knee or hip replacement first, that is.

No matter where you are, you can begin the process of having a healthy body. By your standards, no one else’s.  When has it ever benefited you by following the crowd?  Isn’t it exhausting trying to keep up with what is being fed to you by some magazine survey or celebrity?

You have to examine where you are and then make small changes depending on the outcome you desire.  Approach this as a lifestyle change and a long-term investment.

The bottom line is knowing what fitness is, what healthy is, and where those aspects fit in with your life as it exists today. What are the realistic goals and healthiest choices you can make now so that each and every day, you jump out of bed with enough vigor and joy to embrace the day?

Teacher Training Programs – Buyer Beware?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Teacher Training Programs – Do You Know What You’re Getting?

No one doubts the popularity of yoga these days. It seems everyone is doing it in some form or another. Industries have sprouted seemingly overnight to sell us special mats, socks, tops, towels, bottles, body lotion, etc. etc. etc. to “help” us do our practices.

Makes you wonder how those yogis coped  two thousand years ago without special Prana pants.

There is also a glut of yoga instruction available, too. Every health club is competing with yoga studios and ladies’ exercise salons.  It takes almost nothing to open a yoga studio except to sign the rental agreement. So what is a yoga studio owner to do in the face of all of this competition?

Welcome to the Teacher Training Program.  For the last few years, more of these “programs” are sprouting up. They are a pretty hefty chunk of change, too (several thousand dollars usually), and in a yoga studio that charges $10-$15 dollars a class or has unlimited passes for a fixed monthly fee, these teacher training programs have become vital – if not necessary – in keeping the cash flowing for the studio.

So it is easy to see what the studio gets from offering these Teacher Training Programs. But what does the student get?  And what does the public get from these graduates?

A teacher?    Does anyone really believe that?

A person who gets a manual, follows the book and regurgitates the book protocol is not a teacher. The teacher may or may not be certified which really doesn’t matter either. Teachers don’t need to be certified to teach and the public also cannot place their faith in “certified” yoga teachers because there are no industry standards as to what makes up the certification. Yoga Alliance is merely a registry and that “RYT” is no assurance of quality, either.

There is also no consistency in the quality of these teacher training programs. There are some very good ones with very good, experienced true teachers – the ones who also recognize the value of being a student, contined study and a dedicated personal practice.

It is important that the prospective trainee do his/her homework before registering for these programs – and before plunking down thousands of dollars for something that, in the end, only benefits the studio’s bottom line.

Fear And The Older Student

January 26, 2014

As teachers, we are all familiar with that special look a student gets on their face when they are preparing to go into a handstand for perhaps their very first time. Sometimes  there is even a little “dance” to go with it  that involves leaning in toward the pose and suddenly backing away from it. It is a normal process in learning something new and especially something that turns you completely upside down!

In my work with clients fifty-plus, though I often find that fear takes another tactic. Many of those clients may not care to do a handstand but there are other poses that provide challenges of balance, core strength or patience that are just as uncomfortable to learn.

Since my clients are pretty active in their lives, it comes as a surprise to learn that maybe their knees aren’t as strong as they thought as they approach something like Utkatasana.  Being able to balance in Vrksasana is another that seems to frustrate people rather easily. Modified Bhujangasana often brings a look of dismay as they struggle in extending their spines.

When I hear a statement along the lines of “Gee, I thought I was stronger than that” or “I should be able to do that,” I know that I am looking at another version of fear especially if it is combined with a continued attempt to try the pose again with more force and aggression, which, of course leads to increased unsteadiness which leads to lack of success which leads to more frustration.

What is it that says we “should” be able to do something even though we’ve never done it before? What is it that says “well, if I go up and down stairs all day, Utkatsana should be easy!”

This is where ego-identity comes in. Our perceptions of ourselves, our world and what “is” is being tweaked by doing a pose that we’ve deemed “easy” to do.

It is fearful to have that challenged. Our ego-identities keep us safe. The problem is that they also keep us chained. We can never know if others see us the way we’d like to be seen so ego-identities really serve no useful purpose in that regard.  We are being tested to see if we are indeed free.

If we are taking our yoga seriously, then we are doing it for mental and spiritual well-being as well as physical well-being.  It should come as no surprise then that you will be tested on those aspects as well.

Bikram Yoga/Hot Yoga

January 12, 2014

“….And it made me understand: no matter what you do or make in life, it will be fogotten. And then people will just make it again and pretend that what you did never happened.” John Hodgman, “Downton Abbey With Cats”

As I read a news story today on (another) take on “hot” yoga (yawn), the above quote came to mind. I wondered if Bikram Choudhury thinks the same thing.

Bikram Choudhury is the creator of Bikram yoga, the first yoga style to incorporate 105° temperatures. Bikram yoga was left alone for a long time until other people thought they could make a lot of money with little work – just rip off Bikram’s twenty six poses, turn up the thermostat and voila!  Making big bucks off of a yoga trend with very little investment and effort – the great American  yoga dream.

Except eventually Bikram got wise and began cracking down on instructors who were ripping off his creation.  The bottom line: either get certifed by Bikram and pay his franchise fee or get sued for infringement. Aha! but the there is away around that pesky bit of agitation.

And that would be the birth of “hot” yoga. Now “hot” yoga can be anything – any pose, any sequence – done in a “hot” room.  Freedom!  No one pointing a finger at you telling you that you can’t do your thing, man!

But that is really kind of scary. Imagine, there are bunches of yoga instructors who put together a workout class (because that’s what it is) withposes that they like and are good at and put it in a hot room.  Oh, yes, and they will hide behind words like “detoxifying” and “cleansing.”

(Yes, and when you are sweating on your next job interview, tell the interviewer that you are just detoxifying. Notice reaction….).

Foundation and structure are as important in the teaching of yoga as they are in teaching ballet, Pilates, music or even medicine! If you want to go willy-nilly in your own practice that’s just fine but I would hope that you’d recognize that your responsibility increases drastically once you become an instructor and even moreso when you become a teacher!

Let’s not even get into the “detoxifying” and “cleansing” arguments. You may be able to put one over on the Goop crowd but not me. If you really want to detoxify then cleanse your liver, kidneys and lungs which have more to say about that process than your skin. And those organs don’t give a rip about how hot the room is.

Another problem is that too many people believe that to “work out” means to stop just short of brutalizing yourself. If you can’t hurt, aren’t exhausted and take two days to recover, well it really wasn’t that great of a workout. People, listen: a healthy body just isn’t supposed to feel that way. Ever. Unless you’re in training for the Iron Man. Maybe. A healthy workout leaves you energized afterward, not depleted.

I am not even going to get into “hot vinyasa flow” classes. Wonder who the first brainiac was who made that one up.  That makes as much sense as wearing winter clothes and going for a run. In mid-July. Sweaty? Yep. Killer workout?  Ah, sure, with an emphasis on “killer.”

We live in a world today full of uncertainty, anxiety, anger and the stress that results from those emotions. We are already walking around depleted and unable to eat properly or sleep fitfully. The last thing we need is to participate in a depleting activity for our exercise. Sure, you might feel exhausted and spent, drag yourself home and try to get some sleep but yoga should not be about forgetting it all for ninety minutes or so; rather it should leave you calm but also with a positive foundation for those days in between your classes as well.

I doubt if many of those “hot” yoga instructors have ever studied the poses and scrutinized why Bikram picked the poses he did for his sequences.  I imagine more effort is put into picking the “right” hip-hop tunes or Lululemon outfit for class. It must be maddening to be a Bikram teacher watching all of this craziness. As  a classically-trained Pilates instructor who has watched what has happened to the Pilates Method since the trademark implosion in 2000, I feel their pain.

I know that Bikram himself has alienated a lot of people with his somewhat abrasive personality and those alleged sex-abuse cases don’t do much to prove that his yoga practice has given him any enlightenment. If my opinion mattered to him, I would suggest some significant amounts of spent in meditation. But that doesn’t change the fact that the guy created a strong foundation and structure in his method that will last. All strong foundations do. Too bad he didn’t trademark his ideas earlier; I often wished Joseph Pilates had done the same. However, at that time there was a thing called honor which prevented most people from shamelessly ripping off the creations of others. Today, instead of honor, we turn to lawyers to tell us what we can and cannot get away with – and ethics have no bearing on the answer.

In addition, the Pilates and Bikram methods are not as old as, say, ballet which most people understand as an art with certain characteristics and a familiar form. If ballet had been created today, no doubt some self-described genius would create a “ballet” class done in tap shoes while swinging kettelbells. And he’d trademark it, of course. And maybe put it in a hot room.

So to all of those Bikram teachers out there, I say just stay true to your path.  You will be needed to carry on the tradition – and the foundation – after all of the little hybrids out there have worn out their tread.

Can You Handle The Truth?

January 2, 2014

This morning I listened as two radio hosts were discussing their theories on why Mitt Romney lost the last election. “Well, he came out and pissed a lot of people off by saying that 50% of the population didn’t pay taxes,” one said. The other replied, “But it’s true!” To which the first guy said, “Yes, but there are times when you shouldn’t tell the truth.”

Wow. Maybe Colonel “You can’t handle the truth!” Jessep was right.

Maybe most of us don’t want the truth. Even in my practice, I’ve worked with people who don’t want to hear that it is not their poor eating habits that have caused weight gain – they want me to say it’s menopause.  People who don’t want to hear they have the power to overcome their gimpy knees – they want to keep doing what they do and just hope for different results while they pop toxic levels of drugs.   Women who are wearing “props” on their daily hourly runs instead of working those deep pelvic muscles. I am  not saying that sometimes the drugs, and the “props” are not necessary – what I am saying is that try doing all that you can before you have to use the drugs and the props. Unfortunately, this falls on deaf ears because it’s easier to blame something else.

In other words, too many people have the power to make the changes they seek but who want an excuse not to do the necessary work.

I’ve heard all the arguments – “it’s too hard; therapeutic exercises make me feel like I am old person,  I don’t like it, I can’t do it…..”  I had a client once who told me she did Intermediate Pilates Mat which surprised me as she didn’t carry herself as if she had any Pilates experience at all. A review of her Pilates mat answered any questions I had – she simply did not do the ones she did not deem important and avoided those she found too difficult. Which is why her matwork lasted about five minutes.  Instead of facing the truth about her choices, she instead chose to blame Pilates for not flattening her tummy bulge.

Another woman did a non-classical form of Pilates in another state. When she worked with me, I was horrified to see no body awareness at all or core involvement. The method of Pilates she does is based on circuit training and does not work the body as one integrated unit. Yet she complained about her belly, too. When I introduced her to classical Pilates she said, “Pam, I don’t want to work that hard.”

She was thirty-three!

That is why Pilates hybrids and watered-down yoga classes are proliferate – they appeal to people who just want to do things that are not very hard but trendy and – for the moment at least – “fun.”  They will also be the first ones complaining about how often they work out and see no results.

I have clients who have been with me many years. They vary in age, economic status, profession. But they share all the same qualities of working hard, being consistent and being honest with themselves. They see both their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to WORK on those weaknesses.

That has always been – and will continue to be – the only way to get the results you seek.

NYE – 2013 – Time For Resolutions

December 31, 2013

About a week before Christmas, my email box was filled with “Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions” ideas. Of course, all of the resolutions have to do with losing weight – apparently everyone’s number one resolution in the New Year.  It is truly bizarre; in knowing that one will “promise” to lose weight by engaging in often strict, unmaintainable diets as of January 1, he/she often uses that as an excuse to eat more than usual pre-January 1.

Two weeks into January and half of those resolutions are in the trash.

I think we set our resolutions too high in an attempt to force ourselves to make better choices in our lifestyle behaviors. Force never works – not with kids, pets or adults – and it certainly doesn’t work with your Self. Smaller goals are more attainable, easier to keep and you can always expand upon them.  Yet we often small goals insignificant.

I dunno. If the goal takes me in the proper direction it doesn’t matter how big or how small, how fast or how slow it is. It just matters that I am heading towards achievement.

Also critical in achieving your goals is whether you blend your plan of action in achieving those goals with inner joy and satisfaction. Looking forward to getting up earlier to work out or meditate; feeling good with yourself about finally taking that class you’ve always wanted to take or getting started with strength training will keep you on the path.

Notice that I suggest “looking forward,” “feeling good,” “inner joy.” These are feelings. Making a list and crossing it off your list is not “feelings” – that is treating yourself as a machine without feelings. Crossing things off a to-do list might appease the control freak in you but it doesn’t help you to make a major change in your life. Lifestyle changes work only when they resonate with your heart.

When you connect with your heart (or Spirit), you will also know what to do when you occasionally fall off the wagon or have obstacles thrown in your path. Making to-do lists don’t quite cover those chapters.

Whatever you choose to list as your New Year’s Resolutions, my advice is to:

1. Keep your goals small. You will develop satisfaction as you achieve these small goals and you can always update them a few months down the road.

2. Begin each day with a new habit that you look forward to. Something that makes you practically jump out of bed with excitement. For example, it could be early time with a good book, sitting on your porch watching the sun rise while you wrapped in a deliciously fuzzy blanket – that quiet time allows your mind to wake gently and that gentle calm will help to carry you through the day.

3.  Be a better breather. It is amazing to me how many people don’t really breathe; rather it is some shallow facsimile and just enough to keep them alive.

Sad to say this is not even addressed in so many group yoga classes  Ahh, but that is another blog……….

The diaphragm is a muscle that is important in proper breathing.  Learning to develop diaphragmatic breathing has been attributed to a decrease in anxiety, improved digestion, and improved cardiac function to name a few of its benefits.  In Ayurveda, proper diaphgramtic breathing is often prescribed to severely obese patients who cannot exercise and who need to increase their circulation; along with proper dietary changes, these people lose weight along with improving their cardiac function.

You can improve your ability to breathe in just five minutes a day (yes, it sounds like a commercial!).  Lay on the floor, legs up on a chair or straight out on the floor – just be comfortable and take care of your back. Place a weight - maybe a 3 lb. weight to start (in my studio, we use a 10 lb. sandbag). Place the weight on your abdomen. Practice deep inhaling and full exhalation without force – let the weight work with you.  You can practice by doing equal lengths of inhales and exhales; you can add delays at the end of either or both.

The important thing is not to force – your breath or your time. Start in small steps.

And that little voice that tells you that if 3  lbs. is good maybe 20 is better?

Tell that voice to go away.  It is not there to help you.

If you have questions on this, you can always drop me an email and I’ll help you if I can.

Here’s to small steps, achieving your goals, and manifesting your dreams and hopes for a Happy Healthy New Year!

Amy Gets Hers

December 29, 2013

A few years ago, I was having dinner with some family members when one of them made a slip about my cousin Amy (names and relationships have been changed to protect anonymity).  Amy and her partner “Scott” had a custom-built home on about thirty acres of property. Scott made good money from several business ventures.  They were not married but they had a son, about age 8 at that time.  Their refusal to get married was not based on disagreement with the institution of marriage; rather it was that Amy could file tax returns as a single parent and get credits – and government-provided health insurance for her son.  Legal? Yes. Ethical? Not even close.

Yet when I expressed disgust with Amy’s choice to abuse a loophole, I was met with a surprising, shocking retort from one of the family members: “Well, Pam” she huffed, “you have get yours. I always thought that if you were nice, youd’d get things but that’s not how it works. You have to get yours because if you don’t, somebody else will take if from you. Then you won’t have nothin’!”

I wasn’t sure about the gettin’ and the nothin’ but I sure knew what I was witnessin’: a huge entitlement attitude.  I can’t tell you how shocked I was to hear this family member say this. After all, she was married to a self-made man who worked very hard and had a great education. It kind of shook me to the core because it is not the sort of comment you’d expect from someone who socio-economically is in the upper-middle class.

While I would like to think that my family member was in the minority, the adventures in our country over the last decade have suggested that it is I who is in the minority.

You see, there have always been people who don’t want to work and want others to provide for them. There have always been lazy people who have sponged from others.  However, more and more of the middle and upper classes are also of the mindset that you have to get yours and if in the process it hurts others, then so be it. If it is legal, then it’s okay to do it. Ethics and morals are for losers. LIfe is a competition, baby. He who gets the most – whatever – wins!

This is frightening to me.  I hear and see a lot of anger, fear, and violence in the media. I am of the mindset that we can change this world if we want to. We say that we want to but if at the same time we are working the system, do we really want change?

By the way, Amy and Scott broke up and the boy is now a young man all on his own, who is working several jobs while going to school.

Perhaps there is hope yet.

Giving Thanks At Christmastime – Unexpected Blessings

December 25, 2013

Regardless of how hokey it sounds, there is a special spirit that surrounds Christmastime. There seems to be more tolerance, more smiles. Certainly content of the television shows are tipped in favor of happy themes rather than the usual fare of blood and endless graphic violence. I know, I know – the reality is that people want more stuff, regardless of all that “true meaning of Christmas means we all love each other” bloviation, but the fairy tale- aspect still enchants me.

The whole atmosphere of the holiday season brings about a feeling of thankfulness within my heart.  And while I am very thankful for my Studio, its continued success, and the steadfastness of business throughout all the fitness trends over the years, there are also things I’d never thought I’d gain by having a Studio for which I am also very thankful.

The opportunity to grow spiritually by just working with the clients I have been privileged to know.

I was a loner most of my life, having shut off from people during my pre-teen years for a variety of reasons.  Introversion is just fine but the fact is that we need social interaction for survival. Even introverts need some social interaction.  I have spent most of my life fighting with myself between my love of introversion but also recognizing the need to interact, which usually results in extreme anxiety.

Working with people one-on-one has allowed me to find that wonderful middle point between total aloneness and crowds. Over the years, my clients have taught me as much or maybe even more than I have taught them. I have had the pleasure to observe open, honest, real personalities since both the client and I are in a safe environment that allows this to happen.

I have met brave people, people who embrace their eccentricities (which makes me feel braver about my own), and people who have overcome some pretty serious obstacles. I have also met cowards, bullies and people who are so stuck in their paradigms that they are offended by anyone who doesn’t agree with them.  I have met young people who are very wise and older people who refuse to grow up.

All of these people have helped me grow and decide who I want to be. They have allowed me to see myself in them.

They have given me the gift of spirit.