COVID 19 has turned our world upside down. We are social beings, meant to be together with others, to share our lives, our thoughts, our feelings, and our activities. Suddenly that sense of belonging, of being with others, of sharing our lives, and our interests, has been taken away from us in our attempts to stay safe, stay healthy, and to look after each other.
When we first started out on this journey of maintaining distance from one another, it was labelled “social distancing”, but we quickly learned that was a misleading terminology. This new way of living was going to take a toll on mental health, so better to make sure people do not feel like their opportunity for connecting socially, is being taken away; we are just limiting the physical connection – hence “physical distancing” came into play.
My last installment of this blog looked at staying connected virtually, using social media, (During this time of Social Distancing, Find ‘Sangha’). Luckily we were already virtually connected, and most of us are technologically competent enough that we can, even with some guidance, use technology to interact with others. What I didn’t realize, at that early stage of the virus in Canada, was that it was going to have such a long lasting and far reaching effect on how we connect with our communities.
Personally, I’ve been in taking part in physical isolation, except for a weekly grocery trip, for 69 days. Even though other retailers, beyond pharmacies and grocery stores, are just now beginning to open in Ontario, other businesses and organizations that provide opportunities for in-person activity and connection are still out of operation.
In my last blog, I talk about about the importance of ‘sangha’, community, and connecting with a group of like-minded people. One of the yoga’s foundational philosophies is ‘sangha’. It offers a community for people to come together, to practice together. You may come together with a group of yogis and your yoga instructor, at a studio, or you might connect on YouTube with a virtual instructor. Now, during COVID 19, we are learning how to come together in a virtual community, live streaming through any number of technological software platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, or Skype, amongst others.
If we let it, physical distancing, staying at home, and self-isolating can wreak havoc on mental, and physical health. We need to stay active, we need to take part in activities we love, and we need to stay socially connected with our families, friends, and our communities of like-minded people.
I have quickly jumped on board the Zoom yoga boat and am offering virtual yoga classes using the Zoom platform. People from across the Greater Toronto Area have joined in, as well as people from other parts of the province and country. It is wonderful to watch people begin to connect and to practice their yoga in a safe and welcoming environment.
If you are looking for a virtual yoga community, join us, come check us out. Classes are offered on Monday mornings at 9:30 am, Tuesday afternoons at 5 pm, and Thursday mornings at 6:30 or 7:00 am (we haven’t decided yet, and it might be a bit later – help us decide!). All classes are free while Ontario weathers the pandemic state of emergency.
If you’d like to try out these classes send me a response, here, at WordPress and I’ll let you know how to register! See you soon, as we practice yoga together in ‘sangha’!
One of the most important underpinnings of Buddhist philosophy is that of anicca, impermanence. Impermanence permeates our own lives, our relationships, our community, our world, our universe. Nothing stays the same, nothing is forever, change is ongoing. Without the ability to accept the reality of impermanence, we suffer, as we try to hold on to what we know and that in which we find comfort – the familiar.
COVID 19 has brought rapid change to our world. Everything we thought we could count on in our world, in our lives, is in question. The world may not feel like a safe place. And yet it is: the one fact we can count on is, that things will change.
Came knocking at my door
Barging in, disrupting life
Turning what I know,
On its head.
In gale force winds
That gasp and moan,
Is all there is.”
In what lies ahead,
In unexpected twists
That what you thought
Was your truth
I had planned to write about yoga for fertility and provide some poses that can be fertility enhancing for this edition of my blog. At this moment, I’m not sure that is the right direction to go. I know that when things happen and life changes, we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and soldier on, as the saying goes, but I feel that I do have to acknowledge what is happening in our world right now and look at it from a yogic perspective.
So many of us have had careers put on hold as businesses are told to close their doors. Education has ground to a halt with schools, colleges, and universities shutting down. Our ability to perform self-care and to socialize has been minimized with gyms, yoga studios, and spas closing up. Others are told that they must keep working, even when social distancing cannot be maintained, but the joy of the work you have chosen could be swept out from under your feet in a scenario like that. There’s seems to be very little positive about this global pandemic that we are experiencing.
One of things I enjoy most about going to yoga class is the ‘sangha’. In yogic tradition, ‘sangha’ denotes a community of lay practitioners and instructors who come together to serve and bring joy to one another and who inspire each other to contribute. In ‘sangha’, the contribution of each individual and the contribution of that community—as a whole—to the world, is of the utmost importance.
Before I started to practice yoga, I don’t think I realized the importance of ‘community’, but once I began to experience that connection with other like-minded people, I saw what I had been missing. Before or after a yoga class, I look forward to connecting with my yoga friends. We often share positive and sometimes the more challenging aspects of our lives with each other. People are there to listen and support the best way they can. However, the amazing aspect of yoga ‘sangha’ is the notion that when I come to practice at the studio, there are other like-minded people in that same location, who believe in the power of the asana, meditation, and pranayama to clear the mind, detox, strengthen, and relax the body, and refresh the spirit. So I don’t even have to speak with each individual each day. I know they are there, with me.
The collective energy in the room buoys you up when you are feeling low, and when you are strong and positive your energy can contribute to lifting someone else’s spirit. This kind of community support can be found in so many nooks and crannies of our modern lifestyle, whether we belong to a yoga studio, a bridge club, a sports team, a musical group, or a model railroading club; finding that ‘sangha’ is important for our mental and emotional well-being!
With ‘social distancing’, our ability to connect face-to-face has been impeded, but with the wonder of technology these days we can connect electronically. Another component of yogic philosophy is ‘impermanence’, the concept that nothing stays the same: life is constantly changing and throwing us curve balls, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. If we resist change we cause ourselves suffering and pain, as we stay stuck in the past, and if we are open to good change, then we also have to open to that which we see as bad—it is all apart of the same concept and simply two ends of the same spectrum. It comes down to ‘living in the moment’, and learning to go with the flow—not that that is ever easy when the change feels so bad! But change is constant, so truly, this too shall pass.
Because, at this time, you cannot connect face-to-face with your community, think about connecting electronically, focus on that interest that brought you together in the first place and support one another, as best you can. To find your connection to this moment, I’ll leave you with a meditation video and the offer to follow that one breath, and then the next, and so on.
In my yoga therapy studies, I’ve been reading about yoga for fertility. The authors often write about yoga for “infertility”. In our fast paced, multi-tasking lifestyles, we can accumulate the stress of multiple roles, work and career expectations, commuting requirements, relationship obligations, and time constraints, which may reduce our ability to accomplish our own personal goals. We can fall prey to the anxiety, tension, and worry that lives in our body, our mind, and in our soul. All of this can reduce the ability to conceive a child when the time feels right.
When we are tense, anxious, and stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is engaged. We are in ‘fight or flight’ mode. The hormones of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released when we are in this mode, and they prepare our body to fight or flee! Our muscles become tense, blood thickens so it can more easily clot, pupils dilate so our environment and the ‘enemy’ can be seen more easily, our heart rate and breathing quicken, and our skin becomes pale, as blood rushes to fuel muscles. All of this makes sense if we are in danger and need to protect ourselves; but, if it is our constant state of being, our mental, emotional, and physical health is in jeopardy. We need to find healthy ways to ‘rest and digest’.
Trying to conceive a child—when your body and muscles are tense, when you are hyper-aroused, when you have difficulty sleeping, when your digestive system is functioning less than optimally because all your energy is going to your muscles—can be difficult.
So why wait until the time seems right to conceive? Why not be proactive and begin to bring that calm, present moment focus into your life right now? Engaging your ‘rest and digest’, or parasympathetic nervous system, creates a positive physical and mental environment for fertilization to occur. And this is just as important for males, as it is for females.
The yoga therapy perspective on fertility starts with cultivating overall health through a well-balanced yoga practice and lifestyle choices, particularly eating nutritious food, sleeping well, and engaging in life-affirming activities. Developing the ability to relax tight pelvic floor muscles can contribute to ease of fertilization and yoga can most certainly help with this.
Yoga asana practices for women’s fertility focus on a holistic practice. This includes a well-balanced set of poses from every asana family (standing, seated, twisting, balancing, and inversions), to build strength and flexibility, and bring vitality to the body, mind, and spirit. In this blog I’ll start with two breathing practices you can do that will begin to help your body and your mind move towards that ‘rest and digest’ relaxation mode, which you want to cultivate to enhance fertility: one to begin your practice, and one to end it. In upcoming blogs I will, first, offer a warm-up focusing on opening and relaxing pelvic floor muscles; and after that I will provide a more general practice for building strength and flexibility, and opening hips.
Starting a practice with diaphragmatic breathing—deep belly breathing—begins to calm your system. Many of us are “chest breathers”. We breathe shallowly into the chest. Learning to breathe deep into your belly allows oxygen to circulate throughout your body, muscles, and organs.
For this exercise, you’ll want to set up the area first. Fold a blanket and put it lengthwise on your mat. Fold up the bottom of blanket once more so that the blanket only extends to the mid point of your mat, and there is more height at the bottom end of the blanket.
Fold a second blanket, placing it horizontally on top of the first to use as a pillow for your head. For belly breathing, start by laying on your back in Savasana. As you lay down on your back, the bottom blanket should stop just at your low back. Your sit bones will be on your mat and your pelvic area will be lower than your back. Let your thighs feel heavy. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Bring your attention to your breath and as you inhale allow the belly to rise – don’t force it, just let it happen. This may be difficult at first, but with practice it will get easier. As you exhale, notice as the belly falls. Continue to follow your breath. Start with three minutes.
When you feel ready, extend your breathing practice to five minutes. When your mind wanders—and it will—once you realize, bring it back to the breath. That is meditation. Our mind wanders, and thinks, and comes up with all sorts of thoughts and ideas. That’s okay—there is no right or wrong. There is only practice.
Finishing a yoga practice with relaxation is vital. That time allows your practice to ‘sink in’, to weave its way through your muscles, and joints, and all of those spaces that you have opened in your body and your mind, through your practice. We often end a practice in corpse pose, but a really, relaxing way to end can also be in an inversion, like Legs up a Wall or Viparita Karani.
To do Viparita Karani, bring your yoga mat close to the wall with the short end against the wall. Sit down sideways on your mat, with one side of your body
as close to the wall as you can. Lie down and turn your body so your head is away from the wall and your legs are resting on the wall. If the stretch is too deep for your hamstrings, you can either push yourself slightly away from the wall, or bend your knees until you feel comfortable. If your legs are up the wall, you can rest a 5 lb. sand bag or rice bag on the top of your feet (something weighted but safe, in case it slips), place a folded hand towel or eye mask over your eyes, and even cover yourself with a blanket to stay cozy and warm. In this final relaxation pose, focus on your breath. Follow each inhale and each exhale—pay attention to its journey as it travels in through your nostrils, and filters down into the lungs and out into the bloodstream, the body, and the organs. Then follow that journey back out as your body releases, and relaxes and enjoys that fuel it has just received.
Commit to staying still and continue to follow your breath. When you have completed three minutes, five minutes or 10 minutes (there is no limit on how long you stay in relaxation), begin to bring some movement back to you fingers and toes, giving them a wiggle. Make some circles with your ankles and wrists, going in both directions. Turn your head from side to side, moving with your breath. Very slowly bring your legs down from the wall, shifting your body sideways so you can lower your feet down onto the floor. Roll to one side, using the arm on that side as a pillow, and legs remain bent. You are in a fetal position! Stay here for a moment or two, then gradually push yourself up, head coming up last, to sitting. Take a moment to notice how you are feeling, keep a gentle gaze. Take that wonderful calm with you into the rest of your day. Namaste!
Adding pranayama and meditation to your yoga practice brings you into the present moment, supporting the ability to let go of anxiety about the future, and worry about the past.
Next time, I’ll focus on some poses that can enhance fertility.
The New Year is upon us. It’s time to set those New Year’s Resolutions. Or is it? When you set a New Year’s Resolution and you don’t manage to achieve it, how do you feel? Do you feel defeated and deflated? We start out with excitement and great expectations of the changes that we will make—this year. Yet, if we don’t achieve those goals and make those changes, we can be so hard on ourselves.
When we set New Year’s Resolutions, we can set ourselves up for failure. We set goals that we may not be able to achieve; and when we don’t, we feel as though we’ve lost, or that we’re not good enough! New Year’s Resolutions focus on the future, rather than on the present. When we lose that extra 10 pounds, we imagine how good we’ll feel. That might be true; we might feel better when we’ve lost some extra weight, but what about right now? We want to feel better in this moment!
When we set an intention, we set ourselves up for success. Setting an intention can help you to live in the moment and enjoy each moment as it comes. An intention gives you a road map for how you want to live your life, rather than a resolution, which only gives you a map showing you the final destination, and doesn’t give you any idea of how to get there.
Suppose you do want to lose weight. Think about how you can achieve that. What would you do in your life to bring that weight loss to fruition? Would you intend to eat more healthfully, nourishing your body with more fresh fruits and vegetables? Would you intend to move your body each day to give it the exercise it requires to stay strong and flexible? Perhaps your intention might be to ‘live a healthier lifestyle’.
Once you’ve set your intention, write it down. Then take some time to think about how you will feel when you assimilate this intention into your life. You may feel stronger; have a more positive outlook on life; feel more energetic. What wonderful feelings and outcomes to achieve for yourself!
Knowing that we cannot predict the future, allow yourself to enjoy the present moment; live in the present moment and bring your conscious awareness of how you want to ‘be’, into the present moment. “Sankalpa—the Sanskrit word for intention—is generated for your soul’s growth. A good intention nurtures your consciousness and has the power to significantly raise your awareness. When you set an intention, you don’t have to worry about your actions. A righteous intention creates a righteous action.”
I, as many of us are, am looking for more joy, and gratitude in my life. My intention is ‘to explore my relationships’: to explore my relationship with myself, to explore my relationships with others, to explore my relationship with the world I live in.
When I begin these explorations, I believe I will feel more joy in these closer and more connected relationships, and I will feel gratitude for the relationships that I am nurturing and holding close to my heart—whether the relationship is with others, with me, or with the world around me.
This year, anchor yourself in the present moment, set an intention, and create meaningful changes in your life.
Pose of the Month
To ground yourself in the present moment, try an asana that supports your Root Chakra— Utkatasana (Chair Pose):
To do Utkatasana, start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your big toes together and heels slightly apart. Make sure that your knees are pointing forward. If they aren’t, adjust your feet. Inhale, as you bring your arms up over your head. Exhale and begin to bend your knees as though you are going to sit down in a chair. Sit down as low as you can, and bring your weight into your heels. Look down at your feet to make sure you can see all 10 toes. If you can’t see your toes, then your knees are too far forward and you are putting stress on the knee joint—so sit back. Lift your toes, and this will help you to sit back towards your heels. Tuck your tailbone and firm your abdominal muscles. Hold this pose breathing in and out through the nose for 6 to 8 breaths. To come out of the pose, straighten the legs and bring your arms back down to your sides. If it is difficult to keep your arms up over your head, you can bring your hands to Prayer, or Anjali Mudra.
Good luck with intention setting. I’d love to hear how it goes! Next month, I’ll explore the Root Chakra!
Recently, I tried something I never thought I would try: Baby Goat Yoga! Prior to this experience, as someone truly passionate about the practice of yoga, I thought goat yoga sounded a bit silly and that maybe, it even watered down the true meaning of yoga. I had also read opinions on yoga involving animals, written by other passionate yogis, who have called the “practice” of including animals in a yoga session, “unethical” (Downward Dog, but without the Dogs, Denise Moore, Toronto Star – November 18/19), because it ‘dilutes the true teachings of yoga’.
Then one day in October, while out on a wine tour, my oldest daughter texted me about a winery that was offering goat yoga sessions that—in spite of everything—piqued my curiosity. I figured that I ought to, at least, give it a shot before forming my ultimate opinion. Now, I have to admit, I’m glad I kept an open mind. Yoga is a beautiful practice. When undertaken with regularity, passion, and knowledge, yoga can be transformative and healing – mentally, spiritually, and physically. I truly believe that. I have had first-hand experience with the healing benefits yoga has to offer. And yet goat yoga is something so different—yes, that includes it being a little silly—but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad.
Was it fun, and truly engaging for me, to hold “Table” pose with a goat on my back? Yes, it was. Were the other people taking part in the session focused on their breath and on the technical aspects of each pose? No, it certainly didn’t seem so. Many had probably never held a yoga pose before in their life and, to be frank, while some may never take part in yoga again, they might otherwise have never been exposed without the novelty of involving those lovable, furry creatures.
For those like me, that have practiced yoga, it turned out to be a fun and enriching way to spend our afternoon. With my best friend beside me, we spent the better part of an hour rejuvenating our souls as we laughed, snapped some photos, and held a few yoga poses, all with a bunch of baby goats!
These miniature goats from Africa, wander in and out between people, and often hop right up on your back for a better view of the territory. When the group is loud and excited the goats are active. When we calmed ourselves by closing our eyes and focusing on our breath (which we all did – momentarily), the baby goats quieted and calmed down along with the group.
The session I participated in was run by Fox Den Yoga. Their philosophy is that their inclusive classes allow participants of all skills levels to feel welcome and leave the goat yoga session feeling lighter, happier, more connected to nature and each other. (https://www.foxdengoatyoga.com/site/about-goat-yoga-niagara). From my experience, that’s exactly what happened!
Baby Goat Yoga may not be for everyone, but in the yogic spirit of accepting that life is ‘change’ and that to live life fully we need to live in the moment, perhaps we should all be more willing to try new things, be it goat yoga or something else. Ultimately we should look to do things that bring us joy and happiness.
Incontinence is something we don’t like to talk about, and when we do, it is likely in a hushed tone, with accompanying giggles. Does that mean that incontinence is a joke? Well, hardly! Incontinence can lead to embarrassment and missed opportunities to work on physical health because we are afraid of what might happen if we run, or jump, or hop, or dance, or do any variety of physical movements.
There are three types of incontinence:
Stress incontinence which is when you leak during a laugh, jump, orgasm, sneeze or cough.
Urge incontinence is when the need to urinate is immediate. For example, the moment you get up from the dinner table..
Mixed incontinence is a combination of both of the above types of incontinence.
Sometimes referred to as the “core 4”: the pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidus and transversus abdominis are responsible for maintaining continence.
Pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic organs: bladder, bowel, and uterus. The diaphragm has respiratory functions, but also, it increases abdominal pressure to help the body release waste: urine, and feces. The multifidus is a deep muscle located along the back of the spine very close to the midline. Together with the transversus abdominis and pelvic floor muscles, the multifidus works to stabilize the low back and pelvis, raising intra-abdominal pressure.
Various yoga tools can help to strengthen those core muscles that are responsible for maintaining continence.
Pelvic floor muscles can become ‘hypertonic’ or too tight. Restorative yoga can help to relax pelvic floor muscles, allowing them to activate when needed, but also letting them relax and release when appropriate. Muscles that are too tight cannot operate optimally.
Pranayama, Meditation, and Gentle Yoga
All of the above help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the ‘relax and digest’ response. Someone who is dealing with urge incontinence can use these yoga tools to tap into their relaxation response.
Alignment and Posture
Having good alignment, which results in good posture, has a positive effect on how the core muscles function. Alignment is a major topic of importance and discussion when holding and moving through yoga poses.
During yoga practice the core 4 muscles can be activated and strengthened. Simply sitting in Easy Pose or Sukhasana can be an opportunity to engage and activate those muscles.
Yoga invites us to bring awareness to our practice and to our life. Incontinence sends the message that something in the body’s system is not functioning optimally. Yoga provides the opportunity to listen to that message and respond.