Saturday, May 30, 2009

Yoga Question: Posture

Can you recommend some basic stretches and/or yoga poses to correct posture? My neck leans forward and my shoulders round forward (very badly) from 15 years of working in an office, staring at a computer screen. It has really caused my upper body to round forward badly.
It is very possible to significantly alter your posture by practicing yoga and you may find that improving your posture also leads to other beneficial side effects such as better sleep, more confidence, and more energy. This is a highly worthwhile undertaking, good for you for starting it.

It is going to take more than a few simple stretches to correct bad posture. In order to create significant changes in your body, you are going to have to make a commitment to this change. You will need to learn new ways to align your body and then do this alignment periodically all day as you remember. I know this seems like a lot of work, but it is so worth it. If you know there is something you can do to become a better version of yourself, you owe it to yourself to make this commitment.

I recommend taking an alignment-based yoga class (Iyengar or Anusara) at least twice a week.

OR even better, do a private yoga class with an alignment based teacher once a week, once a month, whatever you can afford. This could be in addition to classes or in addition to a video.

A video should not substitute for an in-person teacher as you need the individual feedback to make sure you are doing your exercises correctly. For a video, I recommend "Yoga to the Rescue" with Desiree Rumbaugh. Even if a class is not possible for you right now for whatever reason, order this video, it will be extremely helpful.

As far as a few stretches to get you started, do each of these for 1-3 minutes while breathing deeply and slowly through your nose.

Stand with your back to the wall. Press your shoulders and the back of your head into the wall. Be sure that you are not pressing your neck into the wall, there should be a slight curve away from the wall with your neck. This should feel really good. If you have the room, you can also slide your arms up and down along the wall--reaching your arms up as you inhale and down as you exhale. Another variation, in this same position reach your arms overhead -- interlace your fingers and turn your palms face up.

Turn to face the wall and reach your arms up the wall. With your arms straight press just your fingertips into the wall (the palms of your hands domed away from the wall). As you press your fingertips down, your arms will engage and the outsides of your shoulders will lift away from the wall. Keep this action and soften your chest and forehead towards the wall.

Walk your hands down the wall and your feet away from the wall until your body is at 90 degrees. Hands press flat into the wall, shoulders and hips right inline with your hands, and feet right under your hips. As you press your hands into the wall, lift your outer shoulders up towards the ceiling and at the same time soften your heart towards the ground. Make sure to keep your head in line with your spine and not let it drop since your neck already slopes forward, you don't want to encourage that.

Lay flat on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground, approximately under your knees. Hug your arms in by your sides as tightly as you can and then bend your elbows so that your fingertips point towards the ceiling. Press into your upper arms and the back of your head into the ground as you arch your upper back away from the ground. Your low back will come up too, but not your hips.

All four of these exercises will feel really good. Because they use the resistance of the wall and the ground for feedback and stability, they will be more effective for you than poses where you are not stabilized in this way.

Good luck!

Update on Yoga in the Garden and Twists

I am so excited to start the Yoga in the Garden series at the Arboretum. While this session is full, we may do another one later in the year and we will definitely do one next year, so stay tuned.

This weekend is an immersion weekend and tonight I had the pleasure of participating in one of the sweetest asana classes I can remember. Joe Taft taught a low key class focusing on the principles of twisting that was exactly what I needed after a stressful week and starting my period today.

The mellow pacing of the class as well as the repetition of the same poses several times allowed me to get deep into subtle alignment in a way that felt so right. After class I finally for the first time felt the refreshing and detoxifying effects of twists. I have not been enjoying twists very much for the last several years. Now I realize that I have not been practicing them with the subtlety that is necessary for someone with an open body.

When your body is tight, you can just twist any way and it feels good (for most people). But once your body starts to open, you need to start creating the appropriate restrictions for yourself. Joe also had us dive our awareness deep within our bodies to the base of our spine and guide the twist slowly up from the inside out. Working all the principles of twisting at once was divine, but moving from the inside was the icing on the cake.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yoga in the Garden

Join me for a very special yoga series: Yoga in the Garden at the North Carolina Arboretum. Monday nights from 5:45-7pm for nine weeks beginning June 1st.

Let's celebrate the abundance of summer in the mountains of WNC as we strengthen, stretch, and connect with our source. For those of us who love being outdoors, this class offers a special experience of opening that is only possible by combining the beauty and energy of the natural world with the benefits of a balanced yoga practice.

All levels of yoga practitioners from beginners to advanced are invited to open to a new understanding of your body and a deeper connection with the natural world. Precise and therapeutic alignment are combined with an uplifting philosophy for a practice of stepping into the flow of nature in order to live our lives more fully.

The class will take place in the beautiful Bonsai Garden, a private and tranquil setting with a pavilion and fountain.

9 classes for $95 if you are a member of the Arboretum, $115 to the public.

Contact me through my webform to register.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lakshmi and Kali: living fully with the here and now

During the last few years of drought, I had forgotten just how lush and opulent these mountains are. What an incredible revelation then, after the ample spring rains to experience the unfolding of a real WNC spring. This is the blessing of the drought. When things are easy and beautiful all the time, we begin to get jaded and are not able to fully feel the abundance of our lives.

I had the priveledge of studying with John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga, for the last two weekends. He reminded me that the goal of the yogi is to become comfortable in all situations -- both abundance and drought. He used the analogy of the Hindu Goddesses Lakshmi and Kali. Lakshmi is the goddess of beauty, abundance, and peak experience. Kali is the goddess of destruction and dissolution.

Nature moves in cycles of growth and dissolution. Lakshmi, the peak of the cycle is easy to appreciate. She is beautiful and sexy. Kali on the other hand is frightening and fierce. However, we cannot have one without the other. The destiny of the luscious flower is to turn back into compost in order to fuel the growth of the next plant and the opening of the next bud.

Within our yoga practice, Kali and Lakshmi represent raw power and refinement. We need both in our practice, but each in its proper place and time. The best quote of last weekend was when John said that "trying to rush refinement before its time is like sprinkling cilantro on the compost heap".

For many the current economic crisis is a time of Kali. As everything we once counted on crumbles around us, it is time to tap into the raw power of this destruction. If we can let go of our expectations that life should always be refined and beautiful, then we can take advantage of the possibilities that lie within the compost heap. At a time like this, anything is possible. Look at the incredible shifts that have already taken place over the last year. What else can we dream into reality?

Each of us have the choice to live in fear or to be the change. The time is now. The potential is yours. The shifts that you make in your life right now will reverberate throughout the rest of the world and the rest of your life. Set your intentions clearly, then feed them with down and dirty compost power of Kali.



Friday, January 9, 2009

Creating Conscious Change

The best thing about this time of year for me is how many people are taking stock of their lives and making changes in order to live more healthily and happily. I'm talking about new years resolutions of course, and this process of evaluating your life against your ideals is a positive and important tradition. Unfortunately, when it is only done once a year, the changes that we attempt to make in our lives tend to get lost in the frenzy of life by March.

Wise teachers, both ancient and modern, tell us that we get what we focus on. By that wisdom, the more attention we give to the changes we would like to create in our lives, the more likely that change is to occur. As yogi's, we have a wonderful opportunity to set aside some time to focus on the growth we wish for. Every time that we step onto our yoga mats, we step into a sacred space where we can focus on real, lasting, conscious growth.

My teachers recommend setting an intention for your practice each and every time you do yoga. Setting an intention is a powerful tool for creating meaning in your practice and creating change in your life. Many people have set intentions for their practice in a yoga class when the teacher mentions it. Get into the habit of doing it every time, whether it is mentioned in the beginning or not. Imagine you are trying to become more compassionate with yourself, to ease the self-critical voice in your head. Imagine that you make the resolution to do this one time per year. Now imagine what might happen if you focus on this for an entire hour (or more) several times a week. You can see how powerful it can be to take your resolutions into your yoga practice.

An important piece of Yoga philosophy is that we are essentially good. So when we talk about change--we are only talking about external change. That is the only kind that is possible-- our true selves are both unchanging and perfect. When we desire change, what we really desire is for our external selves to more accurately reflect who we really are inside.

There are 5 steps to help us make this happen.

In order to know what changes are going to truly take you closer to your innate goodness, awareness is essential. When we practice hatha (physical) yoga, we are cultivating an awareness of our body and mind. Eventually this practice of awareness leads us to have an experience of our inner selves. It feels so right that we wish to recreate it. This is the seed that, if nourished, can blossom into a flowering of our potential. Awareness is the first step in creating change, but it must remain throughout the entire process.

Even when we cultivate awareness and know full well which changes we could make in order to come closer to our true selves, there are times when we simply don't desire these changes. Without the desire to be your best self, change is unlikely to occur. Desire is a double edged-sword however; it is said to be the root of suffering. This is why we must remain aware. We must step back and observe ourselves from a distance, we must dive back in and look for that experience of ourselves.

The experience of the core of good within us will fade. In order to move towards this core, we must believe in our experience and we must belive that change is possible.

All the awareness, desire, and beleif will do us little good without effort. This effort must be disciplined and sustained over a long period of time. At times our desire will drive us to try to make changes too quickly. This is often unsustainable and will lead to failure. We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare, take it to heart. A little at a time gets the job done.

There is a time for effort and desire and there is a time to let go and let the bigger forces of the universe take over. Stay aware so that you know when it is time to let go. Maybe it isn't the right time for this particular change. Or maybe after all the effort you put in, the change will occur once you have let go of it. Either way, you have changed for the better, whether it was in the way you were planning to or not.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy, Holy, Holidays

I remember as a child getting really excited about how many cool things I was going to get for Christmas and how happy I was going to be when I got them. Then on after all the presents were opened, I felt disappointed because I didn’t get everything I wanted and what I did get failed to fill the void that I expected them to fill. There was something missing from the way that my family celebrated the Holidays, but it wasn’t until I was an adult myself that I figured out that it wasn’t better presents.

As adults the Holidays tend to be a frenzy of cooking, cleaning, buying, and wrapping all on top of our normal busy lives. We feel tired, stressed out, and confused and when it is all over we are left feeling empty and disappointed. Are we insane? Why do we keep doing this stuff if it makes us miserable? Isn’t this supposed to be fun?

The problem is that instead of making our Holidays special to us personally, most of us try to fit into a cookie cutter concept of what the Holidays are supposed to be. We allow advertising and media to tell us how to celebrate. And we keep doing the same things year after year whether we enjoy them or not.

Most of the holidays today seem to be focused on stuff. Getting it, giving it, wrapping it, buying it, and throwing it away. If I’m honest I’ll admit that as much as I like some of my stuff, it really doesn’t make my memories. And it seems to me that this focus on stuff is ruining my holidays.

I want to offer my daughter a more fulfilling experience of the holidays than I experienced as a child but I don’t want to exhaust myself doing it. This has led my family to do some serious considering and negotiating to create holidays that are meaningful to us on a personal level, yet fit the comfort level of all those involved.

The first step to making changes to your holiday routine is to sit down with yourself and try to figure out what kind of meaning you are trying to bring to your holidays. Get a pen and a piece of paper and do a short free-write on what the holidays mean to you. Set the timer for five or ten minutes and for the duration write whatever comes to mind. Don’t censor or think too much, just keep it moving. When you’re done go through and pick out the things you like about your holidays and want to keep and the things you dislike and want to change. Decide on some changes that you want to make and some new rituals that you want to start, using this article as a guide if you want or coming up with your own ideas.

Next, you may want to call a family meeting. This might include just your immediate family or it could include your extended network including your community of friends. Talk about past holidays and ask what people remember about them, both the positives and the negatives. Explain your feelings and ideas and ask for feedback and for ideas. Chances are, your family will have their own strong feelings about the holidays and how to make them more special. You may be surprised at what you find out.

As you plan your holidays, try to remain open to making mistakes and improvising. Don’t get tied down to one concept regardless of whether or not it works for you. Chances are you will want to keep refining things every year as your needs and priorities change. Some families might be more resistant to change than others so you may need to start slowly changing just one tradition per year.

Ah, the holiday shopping. For many people this is the most stressful aspect of the holidays. Of course you may be that rare person who LOVES figuring out what to get for each and every person on your list and if that’s the case, can I get on it? But if you hate it or feel like you are spending more than you can afford or giving lame things just because you have to, this might be an ideal place to start reforming your holiday habits.
  • Set a budget or guidelines for gifts.
    This could range from a specific monetary number, to giving only used items, to making your gifts or providing each other with services. Don’t think of your guidelines as limitations, think of it as an exercise in creativity.

  • Pare down your list.
    You don’t have to buy presents for everyone you know. Even among families, there are creative ways of minimizing the sheer volume of presents required. Everyone in the family can go in on one really nice gift for each person (so for example Mom, siblings, grand-ma and friends all pitch in to buy that cordless drill that Dad really wants, but nobody could afford on their own). Or have a Secret Santa where you draw a name out of a hat and that is the only person to whom you will give gifts.

  • Simplify.
    Find one cool all-around present to give to everyone (gift cards, magazine subscriptions, homemade cookies, movie passes etc).
  • Recycle.
    Recycle your wrapping paper and boxes. One crafty mother I know bought plain canvas bags to wrap presents in and decorated them with her kids. Now every year she has hassle-free wrapping, quick clean-up, and no waste!

Christmas Tree
For some people the Christmas tree is a time-honored tradition that cannot imagine the holidays without. Ideally though, do we really need to kill a tree to celebrate?

  • Substitute.
    For several years, we used a potted palm tree as our Christmas tree. We hung decorations on the fronds and surrounded it with presents. You could hardly tell the difference.

  • Borrow from other traditions.
    Just because you’re not Jewish doesn’t mean you can’t have a menorah.
    The Yule Log is another sustainable tradition that can be used instead of a tree. Find a nice looking log, decorate it with pine, ribbons, and candles and arrange your gifts artfully around it. Research what the tradition means to its original people and substitute your own meanings if necessary.

  • Plant
    Some people buy a potted tree and plant it after Christmas. If you decide to go this route, make sure to buy a healthy tree from a nursery rather than one with burlap wrapped roots from a roadside stand since these don’t have much chance for survival. If you plan to plant a tree, you cannot keep it inside for very long and must acclimate it to the outside slowly. If all this sounds like too much work to you (it does to me!), then consider one of the other options.

  • Go Organic.
    Conventionally grown Christmas trees use a lot of pesticides. If your tree tradition means that much to you, show it respect by purchasing an organic Christmas tree.

Sometimes being with family is the most stressful part of the Holidays. Some families get along great, but for others the stress of the Holidays makes tempers flare. If you know that you will have at least one fight occur in every holiday situation, you may want to consider limiting company during the Holidays. Obviously all of these options must be carefully considered and tactfully explained to avoid hurting feelings, but sometimes you just have to take that risk in order to take care of yourself.
  • Stay Home.
    If you usually travel during the Holidays and have come to dread it, stay home. Explain that you will come and visit at a time that is not so hectic when you can have more one-on-one time with your hosts.

  • Set Limits
    Limit the number of Guests you invite into your home. If the celebration is always at your house, ask someone else to host.

  • Go away.
    Escape the Holidays altogether by dropping the kids off with the grandparents and having a couple of days as a couple at a romantic Inn somewhere eschewing the family chaos for a year.

For our family, food is probably the most important aspect of our Holiday celebrations. We really enjoy the preparation and serving of gourmet meals. But we also like to take it easy sometimes and just relax. Here are a few suggestions for simplifying Holiday meals.
  • Potluck.
    Next time the celebration is at your place announce that it’s a potluck and you will provide drinks. Organize who brings what or leave it to chance—either way you’ll finally have time to get your house cleaned before company comes

  • Keep it small.
    For Christmas Eve at my Mom’s house we all cook one appetizer and make a meal out of it. It’s fun and not too much work for any one person.

  • Leftovers.
    Cook plenty of food the day before a Holiday and then just reheat and serve. More time to relax and enjoy the rest of the day.

  • Simple Luxury.
    At our house, Christmas and New Year’s morning consist of bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers, coffee and oj. Hardly any work to set up or clean up, yet it feels luxurious and leaves plenty of room for a hearty dinner. Make sure to buy your bagels early on Christmas eve, bagel places tend to run out early and then close (as I learned the hard way!). Hmmm…we must not be the only family with this tradition.

Some people have strong religious convictions that dictate exactly what they do on the holidays. Many of us however do what we grew up doing, whether or not we still believe in the philosophy behind the traditions. If this nourishes you, by all means keep going. But if your traditions leave you feeling empty or incomplete, you may want to examine your beliefs and tailor your rituals to follow.
  • Ancient Traditions.
    Explore your roots and give traditional rituals a try. Call your grandparents and ask them what they did for holidays when they were young. Attend church or synagogue or any other religious gathering.

  • Melting Pot.
    If you are unsure and searching for answers try asking people of different religions what they do to celebrate and cobble together your traditions by what interests you. Attend a different religious service each year. Ask each member of your family to come up with one simple ritual to try out.

  • Strictly Secular.
    If the religious aspects of the holidays just don’t appeal to you, don’t force yourself to do them. Focus on the aspects of the holidays that you actually enjoy such as feasting and gift giving. A hike in the woods on Christmas day is a tradition that many would consider secular, but to my family it is not only spiritual, but also healthy and fun.

  • Service.
    Teach your children the value of giving by spending your holidays in service to others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Help your children go through their toys to pick out some to give away. Many people find giving much more rewarding than receiving at this time of year.
Above all, remember that any change you make to the way your family celebrates this season of the return of the light is supposed to make is less stressful. So listen to your intuition. If any of these sound good in theory, but thinking about them makes you feel slightly anxious, this may not be the year to try that particular idea.

I am interested in hearing about how you celebrate. What traditions nourish and fulfill you? How do you keep things simple? Let me know by posting a comment below.

Yoga on a Budget

Everyone I know seems to be affected in one way or another by the current recession. People are getting laid off, business is slow, and people are stressed. It is easy to become overwhelmed by fear and distracted from your path.

Remember that you get more of what you focus on, so instead of staying in the fear, get moving and come to yoga.

Don't make the mistake of cutting yoga out of your life because you are afraid you cannot afford it! Yoga has the reputation of being expensive and only accessible to the rich, but there are many low cost ways to learn.

During trying times, the practice of tapas (discipline) is more important than ever. Here are some low-cost ways to get you back on your mat, day after day.


All the local yoga studios offer some sort of work trade. You help check people into class, clean the studio, or hang fliers around town and in exchange you get free yoga classes. This is a great option for those who are self-employed and are dealing with a slow down in business. Use your extra time constructively! Contact individual studios for openings and details.

Community classes/sliding scale

Many of the studios in town offer specially priced classes or sliding scale classes where you pay according to your ability.

Asheville Yoga Center offers $6 and $7 classes as an offering to the community, including two of my classes there: Gentle Yoga Basics at 9:45am on Tuesdays and Level 2 at 4:15pm on Sundays.

West Asheville Yoga and Namaste offer all of their classes on a sliding scale basis. WAY classes range from $6-11 for one hour classes and $9-14 for 1.5 hour classes. Namaste classes range from $7-12 for one hour classes and $10-15 for 1.5 hour classes. Pay what you can within that range, you decide where you fall on the scale.

If you aren't local, check to see if any of your local studios offer sliding scale or community priced classes.

Love offering classes

There are a few classes around town offered on a donation basis. There is one at Namaste on Saturday afternoons and one at Firestorm cafe on Sunday mornings. Contact those places for more details and ask around, I'm sure there are more that I don't know about.


The YMCA offers financial aid to help pay for their memberships. You do not need to make less than a specific amount of money, just fill out an application and tell them what your circumstances are and why you think you need assistance. I know of several people who get unlimited yoga classes at the Y for less than the cost of two drop-in studio classes per month.

Community College

Anyone can take classes at AB Tech (the local community college here in Asheville), you do not have to be enrolled in a program. The yoga classes meet twice a week for four months and only cost $42 for the whole semester. That means you are paying only slightly more than $1 per class! This is possible because the classes are subsidized by the state. Thank you taxpayers of North Carolina! If you live elsewhere, check with your local community college to see if they offer yoga.

Home Practice

Use this seeming hardship and turn it into a blessing by finally starting that home practice like you've been meaning to for years. Start small and work your way up. Yes, it's ok to use dvds. Whatever gets you on your mat is perfect. offers a variety of different level classes to stream from your computer for free. They rotate daily and have three different instructors, so there is something for almost everyone.

Practice with friends

If you have a hard time practicing on your own, make a yoga date with a friend. You can get together and do a video, take turns leading, or just do your own thing together. Beware of the tendency to chat and forget about your practice. If you find yourself falling into this habit, try to make the first half hour be silent and then see what happens.

Do you have any ideas for practicing yoga on a budget that I missed? Comment on this post below.