Find rest

Laura lying on a rock in savasanaWhatever your plans are for the last long weekend of summer, I hope they involve a bit of relaxation. There’s often a lot of pressure to pack the Labour Day weekend full of summertime activities before the whirlwind of fall, but what about enjoying doing nothing?

Find rest in the forest, in a park, at a beach, on your living room floor, maybe even on a boat. Take half an hour and just lie down.

It’s not lazy or self-indulgent, it’s a recharge.

If you’re looking for an easy way to find rest this weekend, join me at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre for a delightful end-of-the-month yin yoga class tonight. Class starts at 6:30pm and we’ll slide into savasana (corpse pose) no later than 7:10pm.

During savasana, my voice leading you through relaxing every part of your body will help you find a deep, conscious state of relaxation. This ancient technique of yoga nidra (guided relaxation) encourages a sleep-like state that reduces tension, alleviates anxiety, and fosters an overall sense of well-being.

Find rest over this last long weekend of the summer. Fall tends to be active and rushed; take some replenishing downtime that allows you to start your September feeling balanced and calm.

Nature loves courage

Quote: Nature loves courageNature loves courage.

You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up.

This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it is a feather bed.

~Terence McKenna
American author, lecturer, and psychonaut

Summer camp sukasana

Summer campers sitting cross-legged - with Laura in neon pants!For a few summers, this time of year meant going to camp on Gambier Island. I discovered a bunch of photos from camp a while back (including the one to the right), which triggered a memory of my first exposure to yoga.

One of the camp counsellors was obviously a yogi; she led the cabin in meditations and would help us prepare for sleep by doing guided relaxation. Summer campers sitting in sukasana (easy pose or cross legged) now seems a little silly (or maybe that’s a reaction to my crazy neon pants!), but that introduction to yoga obviously sparked something.

Summer camp was likely where my appreciation of yoga nidra stems from and the childhood connection is probably part of why teaching and practicing this form of guided conscious relaxation is so powerful for me.

The yin yoga class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre taps into that summer camp spark: a short sequence of yin poses, 20-ish minutes of guided relaxation, then a long savasana.

Join me at 6:30pm tonight and say farewell to any stresses you’ve accumulated in July with a deeply relaxed practice. I might even wear neon for a little nostalgia 🙂

Pose like an Egyptian

Laura holding sphinx pose on top of a big rockBack-bending sphinx pose can’t help bring to mind the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt. I like using that enormous limestone statue as inspiration when holding the posture in a yin yoga practice: level gaze, long neck, relaxed shoulders, and unstrained stillness.

Dogs are also phenomenal models for sphinx. My dog, Sofie, often flops down into sphinx to wait for the next bit of excitement to cross her path.

In a yin yoga practice, the purpose of sphinx is not to bend your lower back as much as you possibly can, but to use your arms and belly to support the weight of your torso and let your back soften. It’s even better if you can convince your neck, shoulders, hips, and legs to relax as well.

Resist the temptation to come into your deepest back bend; instead, find a comfortable compression through your low back. You can always intensify the posture as you sink into it. Likewise, you can always reduce the intensity if you’re getting warning signs that it’s becoming too much.

The gentlest sphinx is simply resting flat on your stomach with your chin on your hands – although that’s certainly resembles the sphinx in Egypt a lot less!

Sphinx

Why it’s good

  • Compresses the lower back, which counters our strong forward-folding tendencies
    • we rarely bend backwards in the course of our daily lives, but often bend forwards (e.g. while driving, working at a computer, reading, lifting groceries/kids/dogs)
  • Helps to create a flexible spine and tone back muscles
  • Stretches stomach muscles and helps open the throat and upper chest
  • Can release tension from the shoulder blades/mid-back
  • Aids in detoxification
    • releasing the pose give the kidneys a fresh supply of blood, which that flushes out toxins

How to do it

  • Start by lying facedown
    • let your belly press into the mat as you breathe
  • Draw your forearms under your chest with elbows bent
    • keep your elbows ahead of your shoulders
  • Rest the weight of your torso onto your forearms and relax your shoulders
    • feel your shoulders drop away from your ears; allow your shoulder blades to soften
  • Keep your chest and collar bones open
    • feel your lungs expand in all directions with every inhale and let go of tension with every exhale
  • Experiment with the positioning of your arms, hands, legs, and head until you find the right balance of compression in your low back, stretch along your front, and ease through your shoulders
    • To decrease compression in your low back:
      • draw your elbows further away from your chest, letting your torso come closer to the floor
      • widen your legs and/or your elbows/forearms
    • To increase compression in your low back
      • bring your elbows closer to your chest (just as long as they’re still ahead of your shoulders)
      • narrow your legs
      • rest your forearms on a bolster or block to bring your chest further from the floor
      • bend your knees and let your heels come towards your buttocks
    • To reduce stress on your shoulders and release tension in your upper back
      • rest your torso on a folded blanket, block, or bolster
      • place a soft, small weight (like an eye pillow or bean bag) between your shoulder blades to encourage them to relax
    • To stretch the back of your neck and stimulate your throat
      • drop your chin towards your chest without compressing into your collar bones – don’t round your upper back
    • To stretch your throat and compress the back of your neck
      • turn your face towards the ceiling, being sure to keep your jaw and throat relaxed
  • Keep your head centred between your shoulders and your allow your eyes to close or your gaze to soften
  • Hold sphinx pose for up to six minutes
    • adjust your head/arm/leg positioning as necessary to intensify or lessen the compression in your low back, but resist fidgeting

To come out of sphinx:

  • For a little extra stretch, inhale and draw the crown of your head upwards, without letting your shoulders come towards your ears
  • As you exhale, gently slide your elbows outwards, slowly lowering your torso to the mat
  • Rest on your belly for a few moments, enjoying the flow of energy and fluid through your low back

Child’s pose is good counter to release the lower back, but some people find that simply lying on their stomachs and letting their breath move to the area that was compressed in sphinx is enough to relieve low-back tension.

The nose knows

NoseSurgeryThis time last week my nose was bleeding profusely, the result of septoplasty surgery some hours before. The surgery went exceptionally well; the surgeon was delighted, I had no adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic, and a recovery room nurse even called me “bright as a berry.” Everything from waking up at 5:30am that morning and not eating to pre-op prep through to walking out of the hospital was almost effortless – much easier than I thought it would be.

The recovery, however, was not as smooth as I had anticipated.

While there wasn’t much pain, there was a lot of blood. I didn’t clot quickly and, even with the packing the surgeon left in my nose to sop up the bleeding, I spent the first couple days changing the gauze underneath my nose regularly and wishing for thicker blood.

Thankfully, the bleeding stopped after a couple days and I was left with discomfort, wooziness, and the continued joy of sleeping without fully lying down.

After a solid day without bleeding, it was time to get the packing out. The packing is great for controlling blood flow and keeping tissues separate so they don’t fuse together while healing (particularly important as the point of the procedure was to give my nasal passages more space), but it does introduce greater potential for infection and it’s damn uncomfortable.

I wasn’t sure if the crusty strings dangling from my nostrils would come out with the packing or if they were part of the stitches. Turns out “packing” is code for “tampons” and the surgeon used those strings to pull them out.

Getting the packing out was brutal. All blood and saline and mucous and Otrivin. Without the general anaesthetic of the surgery, I didn’t have the luxury of drifting off into oblivion while thinking about my favourite vacation spot and having the surgeon do all the messy work without me seeing or feeling it.

I left the hospital much less bright than after surgery and continued to ooze blood from my nose through the night. The next day I started experiencing head-splittingly painful sinus congestion, which didn’t get any better when I burst into tears. Turns out crying doesn’t make sinus congestion any less painful… but decongestants do 🙂

Equipped with Benylin (not my usual cold-fighter Advil Cold & Sinus as the ibuprofen wouldn’t play nicely with the antibiotics and also acts as a blood thinner… not helpful when I’m trying not to bleed!), plenty of fluids, saline nasal spray, and lots of naps, I’m feeling much better. I’m still tired, but my nose hasn’t bled for three whole days and the soreness is manageable.

I’m reminding myself to take it easy and not to expect that I’ll be entirely well yet – the surgery was just a week ago!

While it’s too early to say if the surgery has been a true success, I am already finding it easier to breath through my nose. Even with the congestion (along with the sutures and scabs that must still be there), there’s an ease of movement through my nasal passages. The surgeon said he took a lot of bone out of my right nostril, so it’s no surprise that things are clearer.

I’m hopeful that recovery will proceed smoothly and that within a few months I’ll be breathing easy… any that maybe I’ll even have stopped sleeping with my mouth open!

It’s okay to be scared

There can be no courage unless you're scared.Being fearful is not generally well-regarded. Scared cats are looked down on. Courage and bravery are rewarded, nervousness and uncertainty are not.

I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to be scared.

I think that many people are ashamed when they feel afraid. There’s this thing in our society that you’re not allowed to feel scared. You have to be a man and put on a brave face, but we all have fears.
~Eli Roth
Director, producer, writer, and actor

There is validity in being scared. It’s a normal, reasonable sense of self-preservation that makes us fear physical pain, emotional hurt, the unknown, and all the things we can’t control.

I don’t have to push those feelings away. I can acknowledge them and let them resonate… and know that they don’t have to control me.

I can be afraid and still be brave.

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker
WWI fighter pilot

Sunny salutations

Laura in a standing salute in the snowGorgeous weather calls for celebratory yoga. And what better way to honour the sun than with a salutation?

Sun salutations are sequences with easy to remember poses that flow into each other, allowing you to focus on the moment and the movement. When you’re not worrying about what posture comes next, you can let your breath dictate your transitions and let your brain zone out.

There are many different versions of sun salutations, most of which are based on the traditional Sun Salutation A. While I like the sequences of the traditional sun salutations, I most often adapt the flow depending on what body parts feel like they need more attention and the circumstances of my practice.

Modified sun salutations are great for travel; it’s easy to adapt the sequence to take up very little floor space or to do without a mat. I’ve done something like the sequence below on muddy trails, sandy beaches, between beds on hotel room floors, and even in the snow while wearing boots as shown in the photo.

Don’t worry if you miss a breath or two or forget what side you’re on. You can always come back to the start and re-group in Mountain pose. It’s really about moving and breathing… the poses and flow are just there to help get things going!

Hands-free sun salutation

This probably looks like a lot of steps, but it’s surprising how smooth the movements become and how quickly you can glide through a full sequence.

Why it’s good

  • Gets circulation going and works your cardiovascular system
    • good for warming up the body and generating heat!
  • Stimulates the lymphatic system
  • Strengthens and gently tones a range of muscles – from the ones along your spine to your shoulders & arms and into your legs
  • Stretches most muscles along the front & back body (abs, back, hips, hamstrings, shoulders, chest, calves, neck)
  • Works your joints – from toes & ankles up through your neck & shoulders – in a healthy way
  • Encourages balance and deep breathing

How to do it

  • Start standing in Mountain pose
    • standing tall, with even pressure on both feet
  • As you inhale, come into a Salute
    • raise arms above your head; palms facing, fingers reaching to the sky
  • As you exhale, bend backwards into a Standing Back Bend
    • look upwards, open your chest, and draw shoulders back
  • Inhale to bring yourself back to Centre
    • bring neck and back straight, arms stay up
  • Exhale slowly into a Swan Dive
    • gracefully lower chest towards thighs, sweeping arms wide
  • Hold a Forward Fold for a full cycle of breath
    → inhale to lengthen your spine & exhale to soften your torso

    • hold each elbow with each palm, hips lift upwards, torso relaxes
  • As you inhale, come into Half-forward Fold
    • back flat and parallel to ground, palms resting on your knees, look forward
  • Exhale into a Forward Fold again
    • chest towards thighs, fingertips towards the ground, bend your knees if necessary
  • With an inhale, bring your Right Leg Back to Lunge
    • shift weight to left side, keeping your left knee at 90° and directly over your ankle
  • Exhale to settle into the Lunge
    • sink hips your hips lower if comfortable and make sure pelvis stays even; rest your hands on your left thigh or at your sides
  • Inhale to raise your arms up into a Back-bending Lunge
    • arms are shoulder-width apart and shoulders stay relaxed; open your chest as much as comfortable
  • Exhale into another Forward Fold
    • let your shoulders and hips relax as your arms extend towards the ground and your feet come parallel and hip-width apart
  • Inhale to draw your Left Leg Back to Lunge
    • shift weight to right side, right knee bent at 90° and directly over your ankle
  • Use your exhale to settle into the Lunge on this side
    • keep your hips from sagging, rest your hands on your right thigh or alongside your torso, and feel the strength in your legs
  • Inhale, drawing your arms up into a Back-bending Lunge
    • shoulders relaxed and rolled back with your chest open
  • Exhale to bring your feet together into Forward Fold
    • torso relaxes towards thighs, arms dangle down, feet come together
  • Inhale and lengthen your spine into Half-forward Fold
    • gazing forward with a flat back
  • Exhale into the last Forward Fold of the sequence
    • bend your knees a little to relax your legs, relax your shoulders and let your arms hang down
  • With a slow inhale, sweep up to a Salute
    • bring your arms wide and palms facing as you raise your torso with a flat back
  • Exhale and draw your palms together and lower your arms into Mountain with Prayer
    • lightly press your hands together in front of your chest, relax your shoulders, feel both feet grounded

Repeat the series a few times, switching which leg moves back into the lunge first if you’d like. And, of course, find your own modifications dependent on what your circumstances are like!