What’s a yoga teacher to do?!

Winter can feel isolating at times and somewhat lonely as we retreat indoors and stay cozy. While it can already certainly be a challenge not to go dark, hide under the clouds and let the grey skies begin to match our mood, we do experience plenty of bright moments and positive days as well. ( I hope !)

But I’ll be blunt in sharing that the beginning of this year really kicked my butt! 2018 began like a tidal wave with my mom’s cancer diagnosis, my dear friend learning she has a brain tumor and my 49 year old friend dying of a heart attack, leaving behind her 14 year old son.

As I ride the waves of upset and grief I’m constantly coming back to how truly grateful I am for this one great, beautiful life. For all its suffering, there is just as much abundance and joy there to balance it out if we choose to look for it.

Coping with upset, suffering, and imbalance is part of the great navigation through life, yes, and just now it has been feeling particularly acute – fueled by the absurdly abnormal times we’re currently living in under in this political storm and calamities beyond our control.

In such fraught times, how do I keep fears and anxieties from taking the driver’s seat?

Here are a couple practices I come to for balance and grounding.

First is Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. This has been a lifesaving pranayama practice for me as a way to calm, ground and get out of my head. It’s also a useful technique I use as a lead-in to meditation. The power of this pranayama technique is the simplicity of focusing on the breath as it enters and exits one nostril at a time. It quiets the busyness of the mind and stills the buzzing energy of a nervous system on overdrive.

Learn more about alternate nostril breathing by clicking on the link below to watch the video.

Simple Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique video

Next, a basic grounding yoga practice. Start in table top, knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with eyes and mouth softly closed. On each inhale lift tailbone and chest, letting belly drop toward floor & on exhale, tuck chin, hug belly up toward spine and push the floor away with hands and tops of feet. It’s truly a moving meditation and forces my mind to stay focused on the union of breath and movement.

After 5-10 rounds of cat/cow, shift hips to heels for child’s pose (Balasana). I make sure to allow space for my belly so that I can continue to take deep breaths in and out through the nose, letting my forehead rest on the floor, letting go of the neck muscles and stretching my arms up toward top of mat for a deep stretch in the side body. Then I come to my belly, rest with forehead or cheek on the floor and fill up with breath from the belly, expanding into low back, up into side and back ribs, then into upper chest and back. Real slow. The floor is such a great guide for breath because you can really feel it as belly and chest expand and press into the floor on inhale, then the whole body lowers back down on exhale, ahh..surrender. It’s hugely stabilizing for me.

Then I’ll make fists, tucking thumb gently under the index and middle fingers, lift hips and glide fists underneath the fleshy part of my belly with tops of hands on floor, knuckles in belly. Lower hips back down so belly gently releases into fists. This has an immensely grounding effect for me as it releases and opens into the space where anxiety resides. I may envision the color yellow which is associated with solar plexus, or 3rd Chakra (energy center), as an invitation to re-connect with my own self-empowerment & self-confidence. In this process, I’m melting away anxiety and landing in re-assurance and wisdom. Here, I can accept the things I can and cannot control or fix outside of me.

I continue this brief practice with several lunge variations of choice and finally, a twist, hugging one knee in and drawing it across the body with opposite leg extended along the floor, then the next leg and finally, a brief, rooting rest on my back in final relaxation pose to integrate the movements and intentions of my practice.

With these practices, I intend to merge with Spring as it continues to blossom and offer up its Wisdom and Beauty. I’ll return to them again and again so I may best serve my mom through her rough and rocky time of chemo, leading up to her surgery in June.

I’ll return to my practice to ground and sustain me so that I can honor my grief, move through it and best serve myself, my family and community.

Sometimes we just need little reminders to continue along the path of our evolution, wings open to capture and preserve the love and light that sustains us.

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