Darkness inspires deep relaxation

This coming Saturday I’m teaching a special extra-long yoga class at Younion Yoga to mark the Winter Solstice. It’s the third year I’ve led this seasonally-driven session and I particularly love using yoga to embrace darkness on this longest night of the year. The inspiration for the practice fits perfectly with my teaching style: deliberately slow, purposely restful, mindfully self-centred, well-supported—and with a bonus literary touch. 

Slow yoga is advanced yoga

I did my first yoga teacher training with Shakti Mhi in Vancouver (she’s now in Tel Aviv). Her 200-hour training follows traditional hatha lines and Shakti was never a fan of sweating profusely during a practice. An overall sense of peace, comfort, ease (often known as sukha in Sanskrit) underlies Shakti’s asana teaching style and she focused on maintaining relaxed, natural breath—no huffing or puffing here! Well, unless it’s part of pranayama (breathing exercises). 

These principles underlie how I teach so-called ‘regular’ yoga and perfectly fit my favourite styles: yin and restorative. I give lots of space for rebounds between poses, encourage students to move slowly, and suggest relaxed, long holds. Many yogis love an athletic, quick-paced flow (think vinyasa), but that’s not my style. Shakti spread the gospel that slow yoga is advanced yoga—and I’m definitely a convert!

Supervised almost-napping

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that an ideal savasana (meaning resting in corpse pose) is at least 10% of the total practice. So seven and a half minutes for a fairly standard-length yoga class and nine for a longer 90-minute session (but why not round up to 10?). That might seem counterproductive (after all, isn’t the purpose of doing yoga asana to move?!?), but I really believe that this intentional, conscious rest is where we soak up most of the benefits. It’s a way to press pause and reset.

For a tiny fraction of the day we’re allowed to be in a space where there’s nothing to do, nowhere to be. Isn’t that a powerful method of self-care? To be suspended in that state just before slumber, where the mind drifts and wanders. To put your everyday worries and anxieties on hold and simply float. 

I often encourage this suspended animation by leading students through a yoga nidra practice before leaving them in quiet repose. Moving through the physical self, directing attention to different body parts (up to 108 distinct points), yoga nidra helps release tension throughout the physical being. I’ve been told that my voice has a hypnotic quality during yoga nidra that lulls students into a deep peace—or allows listeners to tune out and let the words simply wash over them.

Holding the space

To my mind, every yoga teacher exists for a singular purpose: to create an environment where students can surrender to their yoga practice. I think of this as holding space for my students: taking on a bit of their burden and supporting them in ways that allow them to discover what they need. 

I always have a plan for what postures to teach and in which sequence, but often the class pulls that framework in a different direction. Students might feel unwilling to leave a particularly juicy pose and we stay for an extra minute or two, maybe it takes three times as long to get everyone sunk into their props, or perhaps the asana I was thinking of simply isn’t suitable for a class filled with students who have knee problems. Whatever my original intention is for the class, I am willing to end up wherever the students need to go that day.

As an active teacher, it’s important for me to give my full attention to each student. Seeking out clues in a pinched expression or a twitch in a limb. Offering additional props or a gentle touch. Actively encouraging students to express any discomfort or uncertainty. And inviting silence in the room to help quell the noise in their minds. 

When I teach, I am fully present. Completely engaged with the class unfolding around me. Always thinking about how to support the people who have chosen to practice with me. I bring that tranquil focus to the room—letting students immerse themselves in their own experience and recover their own energy. 

My way is not the highway

While I want to take care of each and every student, I also know that they are responsible for their own practice and, ultimately, they are their own best teacher. I can yammer on about a pose, but it’s most important how it feels for them. It doesn’t matter what I observe externally or intuitively, what counts is students being aware of how the poses impact them—and adjusting to suit them.  

Bernie Clark, author of the amazing Your Body, Your Yoga, has a great metaphor about students as pilots: 

“Ground control is full of helpful advisors: your doctor, dentist, accountant, lawyer, yoga teacher… They want to help, but you’re the one flying the plane.“

Taken from Jodi Dodd’s interview with Bernie Clark on Shut Up and Yoga 

When students are mindfully self-centred, they aren’t worried about offending me by refusing a suggestion or modifying the posture to suit their own unique needs. They are concious of fitting the pose to the person, not forcing themselves into something just because that’s how someone else thinks it’s supposed to look. 

Adding a little bit of storytelling

The first time I led a Solstice yoga session I was inspired by a beautiful composition from Margaret Atwood (well-known for dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood is a superb poet as well). Her Solstice Poem conjures up all the darkness and brooding of the longest night—and hints at the promise of the days to come.

This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.

A portion of ‘Shapechangers in Winter’ by Margaret Atwood

The poem evokes the power of this longest night and I’ll read the whole thing aloud during one of the long-held restorative poses of the session. 

It all comes together for the longest night

The Relaxing Winter Solstice Yoga on Saturday, December 21st starts with a short welcoming meditation, then a handful of yin yoga poses (well-propped, but still with a bit of intensity and held for around five minutes) that lead into a couple comfortable, long restorative yoga positions. We’ll then find a supremely-supported corpse pose and bask in around 20 minutes of rest. I’ll do three readings during the practice and kick off savasana with a mesmerising yoga nidra, recalling childhood bedtime stories and my own introduction to guided relaxation at summer camp

And in 2020 I’ll continue teaching a 75-minute Yin Yoga class at Younion Yoga every Tuesday evening, the occasional Restorative Yoga class on Fridays, and probably subbing a few classes here and there.

Rejoice that the days will slowly start getting longer soon (well, in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) and channel the darkness into deep relaxation!

Rest deeply

To relax is to REST deeplyIf you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, burdened, fatigued, dog-tired (hundtræt), over-extended, beat, confused, spent, exhausted, weary, over-committed or just tired and you’re in the Copenhagen-area, come join me for deep rest on 25 February from from 15.00-17.30 for a Restorative Wonderland.

This two and a half hour workshop at Hot Yoga Østerbro is a deep restorative yoga practice with gentle mantra music and a long yoga nidra (guided relaxation) that will help you rest deeply and refuel for your regular life. The passive therapeutic practice of restorative yoga provides deep rest for tired bodies, relaxation for busy minds and rejuvenation for the entire nervous system.

The workshop features gentle mantra music and deep yoga nidra (guided relaxation). It costs 250 kr. and is limited to 8 students.

See the Restorative Wonderland page for more information and registration.

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.

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 🙂

Sweet pea solstice

Magenta and periwinkle sweet pea flowers with water dropletsSweet peas mean summer to me. And while the grey skies in Vancouver (and the flooding in Southern Alberta) might suggest otherwise, summer has officially begun.

The day of equinox or solstice that marks the division between winter, spring, summer, and autumn rarely feels like the actual commencement of the season. This summer solstice is no exception.

But at least the grass is green in the Pacific Northwest, the flowers are out, and we don’t need to worry about watering gardens and lawns!

There are lots of summer solstice celebrations happening today – including one at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre that preempts my regular yin yoga class tonight. No yin bliss tonight… and next Friday is the last of the month, which brings with it a sublimely soothing yin yoga session with guided relaxation and an extra-long savasana.

Hope the first day of summer is treating everyone well and that you’re able to join me for some relaxation on Friday, June 28 at 6:30pm!

Twice the relaxation

Big graphic M - which is for May
Image from happy_serendipity; some rights reserved

The last Friday of every month I teach a yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre with an extra-long relaxation period. Last week wasn’t the last Friday of the month (May has 31 days? since when?), but the 6:30pm yin yoga class got an extra-long relaxation anyway.

Maybe I sensed that students (particularly those completing the 40 Day Transformation Yoga Challenge!) needed a little more rest. Maybe there was requiescence in the air. Maybe I just can’t keep track of days and months… Or maybe this May has two last Fridays!

As the second last-Friday-of-the-month class, tonight’s yin yoga class at Bound Lotus will feature an extra-long savasana (corpse pose) with yoga nidra (guided relaxation) to help really dispel tension and stress.

Come celebrate the May with two last Fridays! Class starts at 6:30pm, deep conscious relaxation begins shortly after.

 

P.S. If you want to learn more about yoga nidra, the Yoga Wonders website has a nice overview of the practice.

East-ahhhh weekend

Laura sitting in a relaxed easy poseAdd a little “Ahhhh” to your long weekend with an extra long savasana during tonight’s yin yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre.

Good Friday happens to be the last Friday of March… and the last Friday of every month I do a 20+ minute yoga nidra (guided relaxation) as part of a blissfully long deep relaxation. It’s a wonderful way to wrap up a month and tonight’s class is a great chance to bring a sense of deep calm into your Easter weekend.

Class starts at 6:30pm and we’ll be doing a short series of to warm up and stretch before getting deliciously comfortable and settling in for deep relaxation. Ahhhh….

Happy Easter!