.. Happy Vernal Equinox to you all
The word 'equinox' means equal and refers to the day and night being of equal length in both the Southern and the Northern Hemisphere. Up here in the North, the Vernal equinox in March signals the official beginning of spring. 'Vernal' meaning fresh or new. You probably didn't need me to tell you that it is finally Spring as these last few days have been gloriously warm and sunny. The increase in heat and light has prompted me to tidy up our outdoor spaces - sweep decks, set up the patio furniture and clean the windows getting ready to spend many hours outside in the coming months. A yoga student once commented on the fact that I write about the weather a lot in these newsletters and that it was 'so very English' of me. While I do love an opportunity to pull out 'it's raining cats and dogs' or 'the sun's cracking the flags', my talk of the weather is because our direct experience of the natural world usually starts there...with the weather. My yoga teachings are heavily influenced by the Ayurvedic concept that we are nature and that what is happening around us in the natural world has an effect on us and there are tools that we can employ to bring ourselves towards balance therefore feeling healthy, inspired and alive. I weave this wisdom into my weekly yoga classes and this concept forms the basis of my sequencing and themes in both implicit and explicit ways. I speak more directly to these concepts in the Thursday morning 8.30am Intermediate Vinyasa class and even work with a sequence and intentions that we practice for the duration of the season to offer an opportunity to fully explore the effect on your mind, body and spirit.
Our One Day Seasonal Retreats explore seasonally appropriate tools, such as Asana, Meditation, Pranayama, Mantra, diet and writing designed to bring ourselves into balance as we move through the wheel of the year. These longer sessions offer a chance to explore the basic concepts of seasonal wisdom that you can implement and experiment with throughout the current season.
Each season has gifts and challenges. As we enter into spring you are probably feeling an increase in energy and creativity and feel inspired to clean up, start projects and get moving. These are Springs gifts to us. When this upsurge in creativity and inspiration goes out of balance we find ourselves doing too much and feeling overwhelmed, these are the challenges. This is what we are looking to balance. By paying attention to nature, starting with the weather, we begin to hone our skills of observation and notice how we are effected by the ever changing world around us.
We have many upcoming opportunities to explore these concepts. I hope you will join us. Check out the details of the One Day seasonal Retreat here. Check out the details of the New Moon Yang Yin Practice & Tea Ceremony here.
Each full moon has a name that reflects the changing seasons and the natural world around us. These names were given by ancient cultures that followed the lunar months as a way of tracking the passage of time rather that the solar year that we follow. The full moon in November, which was on the 22nd, is often called the Quiet Moon in association with the darkest quietest days of the year and would have been spent resting, going inwards and staying warm around a blazing fire. In our culture, which is very detached from following natural rhythms, December is a very busy time of the year with lots of excitement and busyness. The holiday season can often leave us feeling drained and tired but it doesn't have to be that way if we can take time to recognize when we are doing too much and take some time to rest and be quiet. To help you with this I have designed a Quiet Moon Restorative Yoga practice for you to do at home. The practice can be done in as little as 10 minutes but can also be lengthened into an hour if you have the time. I suggest getting cozy with comfy socks and having a blanket near by for savasana. Enjoy
As the autumnal equinox has past, we release all grasping of the last threads of summer and enjoy the wonderful autumn days for what they are. For me, this season is one of getting things sorted out. I like to do big clear outs of stuff from my house to set myself up with a tidy clear space that I want to be in as I will spend more time indoors in the coming months. I also have a renewed energy for creative work projects and collaborations with like minded people. With this upsurge in energy, I can get a bit overzealous, schedule and give way too much and end up feeling like a dry leaf being blown around. To balance out these tendencies, my practice is slow and steady with a focus on rooting and grounding. For those who are able to make it to studio classes you will notice this shift in focus. For those unable to be here in person, I have put together a short practice for you to do on your own to help balance the elements present at this time. I like to do this practice in the morning to help set me up for the day. I take some time in the last seated pose to think over the day to come and prioritize. I have a journal and spend a couple of minutes writing using thoughts that come to mind during practice as starting points. The whole practice can be done in under 10 minutes but can be stretched out if you have the time. Enjoy xo
A steady and grounding practice for Autumn
Stand in mountain pose and deepen your breath. Begin to count....inhale for 3 2 1....exhale 3 2 1 repeat for 2 minutes.
Continue counting a steady paced breath as you move through the shapes spending 5 breaths in each side of each pose.
Use a block or cushion to sit on in order to elevate your hips off your heels and relieve pressure in your knees.
I certainly think so! I am relatively new to writing as a practice of sorting out the tangle of ideas, inspiration and emotions that is me but I find that just like yoga, writing helps me unwind and let go. Yin Yoga, with it's long time in supported postures, sets the scene for noticing the held emotions and patterns of inner dialogue that might be running unnoticed most of the time. While being in positions that target deep stretching in my body, there is time to check in on what other parts of me that may be stiff and stuck. Both Yoga and writing are ways we can loosen and release what is held within. When I do these practices together the result is greater than had I done each practice in isolation. I feel like there is forward motion and the writing gives the experience of actively releasing. Sometimes I am surprised by what comes to mind or heart during a yin practice but if I approach what I discover with curiosity instead of judgement more layers of experience are revealed. Writing works in the same way - if you follow threads with a sense of curiosity who knows what might be revealed.
In my work as a yoga teacher, I actually do quite a lot of writing. Most of it is everyday correspondence - emails, promotional copy, newsletters and other business necessities but there is also quite a lot of class planning and themeing that involves writing. I have worked hard at being succinct and clear in my written communication and I believe that this directly translates to my teaching style. From my informal (sometimes) daily writing practice I derive inspiration for classes, work out not yet fully formed ideas and process personal stuff so that I can be grounded and fully present to lead classes that have clear intentions and solid foundations.
I am really excited to collaborate with my friend and writer, Claire Sicherman, in offering you the experience of Yin Yoga and writing on October the 5th from 1-4pm at the Studio. With Yin Yoga we lay the foundation of openness in our bodies to let held emotions arise and then we journal with writing prompts. These prompts are designed to guide and support, allow for connection, reflection and sharing of writing, if desired. Go here for more information and to register.
I have traveled with the same yoga mat for many many years even though it is heavy and cumbersome. It has been rolled out in airports, on beaches, in friend's gardens, on balconies of hotel rooms and even on the side of a golf course on Dafuskie Island, South Carolina, at a family wedding (not at the ceremony). My mat has been to Cusheon Lake dock, Beddis Beach, Peace Park, Maricaibo, and many other beautiful places on Salt Spring. While I have the luxury of a yoga studio in my home, I really enjoy taking my mat and practice outside during the warmer months of the year. I find the meditative state of my yoga practice creates an immersion in nature that I long for and I am fully there with the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world around me.
Recent studies show that we are more disconnected from nature now than we were 100 years ago and one contributing factor is the rise of indoor recreation. This study shows that connecting with nature increases self esteem, improves mood, reduces mental fatigue, improves productivity, reduces stress, and increases inspiration. A well researched article written by Yelena Moroz Alpert published in Yoga Journal shows 4 ways that practicing yoga out side can have the positive effects:
"1. Spending time in nature can replenish depleted energy.
Our nervous system evolved in a way that punctuates moments of stress with bursts of energy—a survival tactic used when we were part of the hunter-gatherer community. Spending time outside sends signals to the brain that the body is back in its native environment and recalibrates itself to stay alert,. Not surprisingly, when people spend time in a forested setting, feelings of vigor and vitality are increased, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. We say that’s fuel for a dynamic Vinyasa flow.
2. Natural scenery can heighten awareness.
When you leave the four walls of a studio, all of your senses wake up—scent, sight, and touch, in particular, activate parts of the brain that make you more present. “Fresh air heightens breath awareness,” says Devani Paige, a yoga instructor who teaches outdoor yoga at L’Auberge de Sedona in Arizona. “I can really feel the oxygen flowing through me, clearing my mind and empowering my practice.” What’s more, researchers at the University of Southern California found that looking at beautiful scenery releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that bring us pleasure. “Perhaps the color green is the default mode for our brains,” writes Esther Sternberg, M.D., in her book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. Touching grass or a sandy beach further provides stimulation. Bonus: a slightly uneven surface engages and strengthens your core. As we become more fluent in processing a sensory experience it morphs into a sensuous experience that shuts off the list-making part of our brain and zeros in on the now.
3. Practicing yoga in a new environment can build confidence.
Find your edge—no, we don’t mean balancing on a side of a cliff. Practicing outside for the first time can feel awkward. It is easy to feel self-conscious when you’re used to practicing in a set environment. While familiarity brings security, stepping outside your comfort zone opens a gateway to an entirely new interpretation of your yoga practice. Imagine the power of sun salutations under actual sun rays or the vivacity of a tree pose while focusing on a real tree instead of a spot on the wall.
4. The outdoors can further boost meditation’s benefits.
Scientists have already shown that those who meditate on a regular basis have a smaller amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for managing the fight-or-flight response. Coincidentally, field studies, published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, show that people who were exposed to a forest environment versus an urban environment had a lower concentration of the stress hormone cortisol."
Judging by the evidence above we need to get outside and practice!!!! Join me each Tuesday starting June 5th at 9.30am for an all levels Vinyasa in the garden class. Let's do our own experiments and see if we can feel some of the benefits of spending time on our mats in nature. Dress in layers for your comfort and sign up here.
Strong grounding and heating practice for the Spring season.
At the Nest, we welcome spring with open arms and delight in the sounds of the birds chirping away in the many trees that surround our cozy studio.
As a time of renewal, the spring season offers an abundance of creative energy and often the desire to release habits formed over the more inward conservative season of winter. Using the principles of Ayurveda, we can tailor our yoga practice to balance out the energy currents of the different seasons so that we are balance within ourselves and with the world around us. Coming out of the heavier winter season there may be residual feelings of a heavy body and even though we want to catch the rising tide of creativity and inspiration we might feel overwhelmed. Practicing strong standing poses cultivates grounding and builds the inner fire we need to pull us fully into the new season. Our digestion is often sluggish at this time of year and we are ready for a change in the way we move and the foods that we eat. Incorporating bitter flavours such as stinging nettle, dandelion greens and grapefruits into our diets will help get the digestive juices flowing and boost the body's metabolism. Adding twists into our yoga practice will also benefit the digestive organs and offers a chance to shift perspective as we focus our eyes somewhere other than straight ahead. I have put together a Spring sequence for you to practice at home or better yet outside with the sun on your face, the sounds of spring in your ears and the fresh air on your skin.
I suggest warming up with a few rounds of your favourite sun salutation done with cultivating a syncronized breath and movement pattern as your aim. This sequence can be done in 15 - 20 minutes or if you have more time and want to cultivate more inner fire stretch it out and take more time in each posture.
Vinyasa up to standing and repeat on the other side
Repeat on the other side
Spend at least 5 minutes in Savasana.
I hope you take some time to practice on your own or with friends. If you have any questions or comments about the sequence, practicing yoga or the studio please reach out and comment below.
Yin yoga holds a special place in my tool box of practices that help me calm down from my busy life. A few Yin yoga postures before bed can help me settle down for a peaceful nourishing sleep. Have a some time before bed tonight? Try out the following sequence of poses to help calm your nervous system and transition into a restful state. Stay in each pose for up to 3 minutes to reap the full benefits. You can practice all but the first pose in bed even!!!! I like to cover myself in a blanket and practice in front of the fire.
As with any posture practice, if you feel something isn't right or being in the pose hurts then ease yourself out. Consider stopping all use of computer technology for 60 minutes before bed time to make falling and staying asleep easier.
There are a few places left in Rest & Recharge: a 2 hour restorative Yin practice on Wednesday June 19th at 6.30pm $25. Register here
We get asked all the time why we offer and teach hot yoga so I thought it would be a great topic for a series of blog posts! Here goes the first one......
Did you know that repeated exposures to exercise and heat produce acclimatization - changes in physiological function by which the tolerance to heat stress is improved resulting in increase in blood plasma volume, increase in sweating rate, and improved endocrine system response?
Well it does - have an in depth peer reviewed read about it here
Have you been to Kyle's Roots of Yoga class yet? It is really quite different than any other class on the schedule and is taught in the true Kyle style!
In his own words, this is what you can expect from the class"
"This class begins with Meditation, Suria Kriya, the origins of Surya Namaskara, to help break the "karmic cycle" followed by Angamardana, the diamond body or"limb mastery" practice for 15-20 min. Great for joints, strengthening, pumping blood flow and building Prana through rigorous breath. Resting in between movements. This is followed by a gentle Hatha Flow where we hold postures for 2-3 minutes with relaxation after each posture. Followed by Aniloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing ) meditation and finally savasana."
Check out a video of Angamardana as taught at the Ishta School in South India where Kyle studied.
It was after teaching my first class of yoga nidra that I witnessed the powerful potential of this ancient practice.
A women came up to me, slightly in shock and with a great sense of relief in her being to ask me what “that” was. She said some form of dis-ease that she had been working on healing for a long time had been significantly relieved, maybe spontaneously healed during the session. It was a very positive experience for me to receive her in the space she was in and I remembered being quite surprised and also in awe.
Though not necessarily uncommon, spontaneous realization and healing is not something I’d guarantee in a yoga nidra session, still the experience really accentuated the validity of the method for me. I knew I hadn’t really done anything, basically reading through the steps in my notes; however following the very specific and seemingly random, sometimes comical, guidance had real impact. I guess the ancient yogis were on to something.
Interestingly, because of accounts like these, “[r]esearchers are examining the practice’s potential to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; addicts struggling to get clean; people with depression, cancer, and MS; health care workers; and married couples coping with stress and insomnia.”
So what is it?
Contrary to better known yogas, yoga nidra, translated as yoga ‘sleep’, occurs while lying down and involves as little movement as possible. Through a sequence of instructions, simple imagery, felt senses and the use of paradox, the individual is guided towards a very specific and powerful space of healing and relaxation. A space of awareness where our true nature resides, outside the ego mind. A place rich with potential.
As recognized yoga nidra expert, Richard Miller states:
“Yoga nidra…can be practiced for countless reasons: to induce profound relaxation in your body and mind,; eliminate stress; overcome insomnia; solve personal and interpersonal problems; resolve trauma; and neutralize and overcome anxiety, fear, anger and depression…[y]oga nidra dissolves the obstacles that stand in the way of our leading an authentic life and purpose and meaning, and for those who are interested, it can awaken us into living an enlightened life of self realization as our True Nature”.
Perhaps the most exciting thing for me, is that yoga nidra is not just a body of knowledge to learn but rather an experience to have. Although the concepts of true nature, ego and liberation can be understood easy enough, understanding them rarely brings the change and transformation desired. Yoga nidra provides a unique and powerful arena where these concepts of realization are not just understood but engaged, felt and experienced, and thus the impact can be transformational.
Join me and experience the practice for yourself
Thursday February 16th 7.15 - 8.45pm $17
Friday mornings starting February 24th 9am - 10.15am 6 weeks for $81
Visit www.thenesthotyoga.com for more details and to register.
See you there,
Sarah-Jane loves learning, listening, sharing and doing yoga!