The final quarter

Laura from the back in sat kriyaToday was my 31st consecutive day doing the sat kriya meditation… into the final stretch of the first 40 Day Meditation Challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre! Yay!

Sat kriya is a pretty intense meditation and it feels good to have gotten this far in the challenge. At first, the prospect of holding my arms above my head for 11 minutes was very daunting; now the 11 minutes passes amazingly quickly. Figuring out how to use props to keep my knees happy and prevent my feet from falling asleep has certainly helped, but I think I’ve also developed a stronger sense of willpower and settled into the meditation.

Perhaps I’ve tapped into the power of the first (or root) chakra and I’m feeling the abundance and unlimited energy that’s associated with that energy centre.

One of the unexpected benefits I’ve noticed is how quickly I’m able to sink into deep relaxation during the savasana (or rest period) after sat kriya. It’s also much easier to quiet my mind and fully relax my body in savasana following a yoga practice. It used to take me several minutes to let go, by which time the teacher was often bringing us out of savasana and finishing the class, but now it’s just a few breaths before that sense of calm and peace comes over me.

Kundalini Yoga Boot Camp has great information All about the practice of sat kriya if you’re looking for more info.

I’ll be attempting solo meditation this weekend as we’re going out of town. I’m hoping to ride the meditation-momentum of more than 30 days at Bound Lotus to carry me through the 11 minutes alone… and then keep that momentum going until day 4o on February 11!

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Beyond a good night’s sleep

Laura in corpse pose for yoga nidra

One of my few positive memories of summer camp is of a counsellor quieting us down at night by doing a guided relaxation. I remember feeling peaceful and weightless; letting go of all my tensions and forgetting any stresses of the day. Given that I didn’t like summer camp much, the comfort and security of the guided relaxation was very welcome!

I had no idea that the counsellor instructing a cabin-full of girls to relax from their toes to their earlobes was actually doing a form of the ancient practice of yoga nidra – or yogic sleep. Yoga nidra isn’t really sleep as the intent is to stay conscious, but it is deeply relaxing. Making a choice to release tension from all of your muscles and surrender to gravity is powerful and profound.

It’s a different feeling from sleeping as every moment of yoga nidra is a conscious decision to relax rather than giving in to the unconsciousness of sleep. It can be even more restorative than a nap of the same duration and some studies show that half an hour of yoga nidra is equal to two hours of sleep.

Sometimes students do fall asleep in yoga nidra and that’s okay, too. I see being comfortable enough to drift off in a yoga class as a huge compliment for the teacher ūüôā

I love the way I feel after doing yoga nidra – relaxed, refreshed, and calm. I also love leading yoga nidra and I end all of my yin classes with at least five minutes of guided relaxation to help settle students into savasana (the relaxation period at the end of class).

Join me at Bound Lotus tonight at 8:15pm for Yin Yoga and check my schedule to see when I’m teaching and join me for a class – including a yoga nidra-infused savasana!

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Tapped out? Or tapping in?

Laura flexing for the camerThe mid-point of the 40-Day Meditation Challenge (and my corresponding ‘dry’ spell) was Sunday and with it I felt a dip in my commitment. Not to completing the remaining days of sat kryia or going without alcohol, but to exercising willpower in other areas of my life.

I’d chewed my fingernails down to nubs, lost focus in my personal yoga practice, given up any pretense of resisting low-quality chocolate, and settled into a couch potato groove. My rationale was that my willpower was wrung out after letting the wine glasses stay on the shelves night after night and holding my arms above my head for 11 minutes each day.

But is willpower finite?

Psychology Today has a blog devoted entirely to the science of willpower, which explores all kinds of theories and research about self-control. An article on The Great Willpower Debate sums up the question like this:

Is willpower like a muscle that can only do so many biceps curls before it wears out or is it a powerful mental idea that can give you almost unlimited energy ?

I’ve elected to believe in limitless willpower and throw out the excuse that my self-control is exhausted.¬†The Great Willpower Debate¬†concludes with the idea that meaningfulness is an important part of motivation. If we can answer why we want to exercise willpower and make a change in a compelling way, we’re more likely to be able to tap into our self-control.

Being healthy (e.g. practicing yoga and not eating crap!) is important to me, so¬†I’ll file the remaining rough edges of my fingernails, get onto my yoga mat, eat food I really enjoy (rather than whatever’s around), turn off the TV more often… and do 16 more days of sat kryia. And on February 12 I’ll see if I’ve revised my opinion on whether willpower can be exhausted!

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Breathing fire

January 23 marked the start of the lunar new year (aka Chinese New Year) and 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. I welcomed the new year with a series of dragon poses at my 1pm yin yoga class on Monday. It was a hip-intensive class that really breathed some fire into the new year!

Dragon pose is a long-held lunge that’s great at opening hips. It can be quite intense and sometimes stirs up some anger or irritation, but the immediate loosening through the hip flexors, quads, and glutes makes it worthwhile. I feel like I have wonderfully mobile “salsa hips” after a good dragon series, which makes the rage I feel settling into the pose worthwhile and keeps me doing dragons.

I’ve included detailed step-by-step instructions for high-flying dragon below; take a look at the Yin Yoga page on dragons for alternative variations.

High-flying dragon pose

Why it’s good

  • Provides a deep hip and groin opener
    • Gets into the connective tissue in the hips and helps work deeply into hip socket
  • Stretches hip flexors and quadriceps
    • Some variants also stretch the glutes, calves, Achilles, and feet
  • Builds strength through the legs and core
  • Improves balance
  • Releases tension (and anger!) from the hips

How to do it

  • Warm up your hips first with some gentler hip openers (like butterfly or half sleeping baby), then move into all fours or down dog
  • Step your right foot between your palms and rest your left knee on the mat
    • Add a foam chip block or folded blankets under your left knee to cushion the joint
  • Relax your pelvis towards the mat until you feel a stretch at the front of your left thigh and groin
    • Keep your right foot in-line with your right knee and hip and your left foot in-line with your left knee and hip
    • Square your hips toward the front of your mat
  • Lift your torso upright and rest your hands on your right knee for balance
    • If you’re feeling well-balanced, bring your hands behind your back and interlock your fingers in yoga mudra
      • If your hands are in yoga mudra, focus on letting them come towards the floor, relaxing your shoulders, and opening your chest
  • Feel your spine lengthen as you inhale and relax your pelvis down as you exhale
    • Let your breath out forcefully (as if you were breathing fire) to release anger and really embody a dragon – also just because it’s fun ūüėČ
  • Settle into the pose and remain still for one to five minutes
    • Keep your breathing even and unforced
    • Relax your shoulders
    • Find a drishti (or focal point) to still your gaze and help settle your mind
    • Don’t fidget, but adjust your position if your body invites you to deepen the posture or if the pose feels painful or too intense
  • Follow the guidance for coming out of dragon below and then repeat – stepping your left food between your palms

To come out of dragon:

  • Roll back onto your left heel, stretching your right leg straight in front of you
  • Pull your right toes back and hold them with your right hand if possible
    • Feel the stretch through your right calf and the back of your thigh
  • Release your right toes and come to all fours
  • Push back into each hip, drawing a horseshoe shape with your hips
    • Hopefully the loosening in your left hip (and possibly your right, too!) provides serious¬†motivation¬†for coming into dragon on the other side!

After holding dragon on each side for a few minutes, coming into a¬†recuperative¬†position like child’s pose can be particularly nice. Child’s pose is also good because it also gets into the hips and can help you feel the impact of your dragons.

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The strength of stillness

Laura relaxing at Prana

At the end of this morning’s meditation, one of my favourite teachers at Bound Lotus encouraged us to find the power in the relaxation that comes after 11 minutes of¬†Sat Kryia.

That struck a cord with me.¬†So much of my life (and I suspect yours, too!) is filled with rushing and running around that it’s easy to miss the profound satisfaction of being still. Not being vegetative or twitchy, but being¬†consciously¬†relaxed and tuning into the body.

Sitting or lying still for any longer than a couple of minutes (and not falling asleep!) is a challenge for me. My mind wanders… thoughts stray to what needs to be done and where I need to go. My body suddenly discovers itches and small discomforts that weren’t there moments ago… I invent reasons for moving.

But when I get past that first bit of twitching and let my brain clear, I start to feel the strength of stillness. Not doing or worrying or wanting… just being.¬†The stillness brings calmness, relaxation, and a sense of rejuvenation.

Come join me at Bound Lotus for yin yoga and a bit of stillness on Mondays from 1-2:15pm and Fridays from 6:30-745pm.

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If you do only one yoga pose…

Legs up the doorIf you only ever do one yoga pose, make it legs up the wall. It’s one of the easiest postures and is the foundation for many restorative yoga practices. It’s fabulous after a hike, run, long-walk, cycle, or anything that works your legs.

All it takes is nestling your bum next to a wall and swinging your legs up; once your legs are up the wall, relax and let your back body sink into the floor. That’s it!

It was immeasurably helpful for me after an accidental 8-hour hike in China this fall – luckily the hostel bed was tucked right against the wall so my back was well-cushioned!

I’ve included step-by-step instructions below.

Legs up the wall pose

Why it’s good

  • Encourages healing throughout the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Slows the stress-induced sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight reflex
  • Activates the body’s relaxation response; lowering the resting heart rate, slowing breathing, and decreasing the production of stress hormones
  • Brings fresh blood and lymph fluid into the abdomen and internal organs
  • Relieves tension in the lower back and sacrum
  • Reduces swelling, tension, and stress in feet and legs
  • Raises the feet above the heart; reversing effects of gravity, improving heart function, and allowing the heart to rest

How to do it

  • Sit on the floor with the side of your hip against a wall or a closed door
  • Swing your legs up the wall, pressing your bum into the corner where the floor and the wall meet
  • Lower your back to the floor and lean your heels against the wall
    • If keeping your legs straight is too much for your hamstrings, slide your bum away from the wall and bend your knees slightly
    • Your spine should be perpendicular to the wall with your back on the floor
  • Rest your arms alongside your body, lengthen them out in a “T” shape, or extend them over your head for more of a chest and back stretch
  • Let go of the tension in your legs and pelvis
    • Make it even easier by ¬†strapping your ankles together (try a bathrobe belt or an elastic exercise band if you don’t have a yoga strap) so you don’t have to work to keep your legs close together
    • Add a folded blanket under your hips or head if you need more padding to be comfortable
  • Breathe into your belly and relax everything
  • Hang out in this posture for 5-20 minutes – try to relax for at least five minutes

To come out of legs up the wall:

  • Bend your knees and slide the soles of your feet along the wall towards your bum
  • Remove anything you’re using to hold your legs together and press your lower back into the floor for a couple breaths
  • Squeeze your knees into your chest and roll from side to side on your back to release any tension in your lower back
  • Roll to one side and slowly come up to a seated position
  • Breathe deeply for at least three breaths to allow the blood to settle back into your body and prevent getting a head rush when you stand up
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Exercises in willpower & futility

Laura with hands in prayer poseWhile doing the first 40-Day Meditation Challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre, I’ve also committed to 40 days without alcohol. I’ve temporarily given up liquor not so much to cleanse, but as an exercise in willpower and to allow the meditation to have as much impact as possible.

It’s a good thing I’m not hoping to detox my liver for the rest of the year by taking 40 days off from alcohol as British Liver Trust¬†and other health professionals state that¬†‚Äúdetoxing for just a month in January is medically futile.‚Ä̬†The Globe & Mail’s article on¬†The right way to detox your liver¬†recommends staying away from alcohol for two or three days straight every week to allow your liver to recover.

So after the 40-Day Meditation Challenge is done on February 11, my more important challenge will be exercising my willpower and taking a couple of days in a row off from my nightly glass of wine…

And maybe committing to the next 40-Day Meditation Challenge when it starts on February 20!

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“The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego”

Laura wobbling on one leg in treeThis article on How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body from the New York Times is making the rounds and certainly serves as a reminder to listen to your body and keep your ego off the mat.

Asana is not a panacea or a cure-all. In fact, if you do it with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems.

– Yoga teacher Glenn Black

I’ve certainly pushed myself too hard doing asanas (yoga postures) and suffered the consequences for days after. Thankfully I haven’t had any catastrophic injuries like those described in the article, but it’s easy to see how they could happen.

Every time I practice I remind myself to stay in the moment, listen to my body, and accept that whatever it’s capable of doing that day. ¬†If some part of my body hurts, I need to respect that and move out of the pose or find another approach. Sometimes that means using lots of props, other times it’s just backing off a bit or being okay wobbling on one leg. Often I need to remind myself that yoga is not a competition (not even with myself!) and surrendering my ego is part of the practice. That last part generally means laughing at myself ūüôā

If you’re looking for a really laid-back, no ego involved practice this weekend,¬†I’ll be subbing Randi’s Restorative Yoga class on Saturday afternoon (3:15-4:30pm on January 7 at¬†Bound Lotus). Randi’s Restorative classes are always fabulous and I hope to live up to her excellent example. In addition to being an incredible teacher, Randi also¬†founded Samana Wellness to help people find balance and nourishment through yoga and nutrition.

Randi will be teaching Restorative Yoga again on Sunday (6-7:15pm on January 8 at¬†Bound Lotus) and I’ll be there… striving to get my ego off the mat!

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Yin on Fridays & new mellow music

Wrap up your work week (or kick-off your weekend!) with yin yoga. Join me at Bound Lotus (161 East 1st St., North Vancouver) on Fridays, starting January 6, for a yummy yin yoga class from 6:30-7:35pm.

Yin yoga is a great way to de-stress and refuel. It lets you settle into postures, relax your muscles, and target often neglected connective tissue. Yin brings to life the yogic idea of a quiet body leading to a quiet mind.

And all my yin classes end with a guided rest in savasana – the ultimate in delicious relaxation!

Speaking of relaxation, I’ve updated the Listen page¬†with a few new tracks. A couple are winter-themed, including my new favourite holiday song: Winter Song¬†by¬†Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson. I’ve been loving waking up to Winter Song and having it in my head through the morning… hopefully it keeps me going through what looks like it will be a rainy January in Vancouver!

Laura & Sofie in dolphin pose

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Laura’s certifications & training

Updated April 2012
View resume

Certifications & training

Additional education

Presentations

  • Facilitation skills for info pros, January 2011
    Continuing Education, BC Libraries Association; Vancouver, BC
  • Creating Order Out of Chaos: Writing and Maintaining Web Design Standards, October 2009
    Netspeed Conference, The Alberta Library; Calgary, AB

View resume

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