Stuck in a Rut?!

Stuck in a Rut?! (Recording)

I recently read an online Yoga Journal article that I feel inspired to share with you.  For me, this article is timely and inspirational because it validates my focus to a more therapeutic form of yoga services.

Allow me to give you the ‘short and sweet’ of it… entitled “Change for Good”, the article explains that we, as human beings, have specific energy patterns (called samskaras in yoga) that manifest as habitual tendencies.  Often, these habits are disempowering and even destructive.  While the author of the article speaks specifically to samskaras as being of a mental or emotional nature, I would suggest that they also manifest as physical patterns as well.  Let me give you some examples to better explain….

Physical:

–       How do you hold your posture: do you tend to lean forward or round your shoulders?

–       Do you have certain common movements or actions you habitually do without even realizing it?  Like always crossing your legs a certain way, tilting your head to one side, or crinkling your forehead when you’re thinking?

Emotional:

–       Do you get defensive when in conversation with specific people?

–       Do you get fearful or discouraged by specific situations and circumstances?

Mental:

–       Are you able to stay focused on one train of thought without getting derailed by other thoughts?

–       Do you make assumptions about your abilities or what you are capable of?  For example when faced with a new challenge, do you automatically think, “I can’t do this” before you even consider what’s involved?

–       Do you have a tendency to procrastinate?

Now if you found yourself relating to any of these examples, you are not alone.  We ALL have our own physical, mental and emotional tendencies!  They are part of the human condition.  Our samskaras have developed over years of experiencing repeated actions, movements, circumstances and thought processes.

Over time, they become our “modus operandi” or blueprint for how we live our lives.  In the article, the author uses the metaphor of “mental grooves, like the rivulets in sand that let water run in certain patterns.”  This offers a great visualization to further understand samskaras.

Imagine your mind as soft, unprinted sand.  As you go through your life experiences and you act or move in a particular way, or think and react in a certain manner to similar situations, grooves are being carved into this sand.

Each time you repeat these actions and thoughts, those grooves get deeper.  As time passes, these grooves become deeply engrained in your mental foundation.  And you “fall into” them whenever those same or similar conditions and circumstances present themselves.

Thus physical, mental and emotional habits are formed and unfortunately, many of these internal patterns can feel very disempowering – like we repeatedly make the same mistakes or perhaps continue to injure our selves in the same area.  Certainly, I am simplifying to illustrate the nature of samskaras, but this is the essence of how they work.

The good news however, is that we CAN change them.  Just as a wave can wipe away the markings in the sand, we too can clear our old grooves.  We have the ability to re-draw the lines of our blueprints and create new empowering habits.  And when we work toward shifting these patterns, we embark on a journey to truly transform our well-being.

This is EXACTLY the crux of yoga.  All the poses, breathing exercises, mantras, visualizations and meditations that we do are tools… tools to help us retrain our bodies to respond and act with more ease and comfort.  Tools to help us re-pattern our thoughts and emotions so we feel internally clam, clear and “uncluttered”.  This combination of retraining our bodies and re-patterning our minds is what allows us to transform our health to …what I like to call… an “elevated state of being-ness”.

And this is EXACTLY the mission of the Therapeutic Yoga program that I have been developing for the past several months.  It offers a systematic structure that supports you in your daily effort to retrain the body and re-pattern the mind to be healthier and more empowered.

So I encourage you to read the full article (http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/1719 ), and if it inspires you to want to take charge of your health, give me call… I would love to share more on how the Therapeutic Yoga Program can transform how you feel – in mind, body and spirit!  OR better yet… come see me this weekend (Aug 13/14th) for one of my 3 Therapeutic Yoga workshops and get a live experience of how powerful this practice can be.

Here’s to creating new empowering grooves…  Be Well and ENJOY ~ Sheetal

Got Tension?

Maybe the better question to ask is “Who DOESN’T have tension?!”  For the majority of us, experiencing a certain level of mental and physical tension has become commonplace.

In this context, tension can be defined as:

1.  A strained state or condition resulting from forces acting in opposition to each other

2.  Mental or emotional strain; stress

Thus we can experience tension physically when parts of our bodies feel strained or opposed.  When we have repetitive or “stuck” thoughts and feelings, we also experience mental and/or emotional tension.

Yoga is an excellent way to address all forms of tension.  Through a consistent yoga practice, we not only train our minds and bodies to release the tensions, but we also attempt to discover their sources.

How does yoga teach us this?  In my therapeutic yoga approach, there are 4 key components to relieving the body and mind of stress and tension:

1.    Awareness

2.    Breathing

3.    Patience

4.    Surrender

It all begins with awareness!  Many of you who have taken my workshops/classes before know that this is the first thing I always teach.  Sometimes, we aren’t even aware of the tensions we hold because we’ve gotten so used to them!

For example, do you find yourself crinkling your forehead when you think?  Does squeezing the muscles of your forehead somehow make you think more clearly?  NOT!

How about when the temperature in the room suddenly drops… Do you find yourself shrugging and lifting your shoulders?  Does this action bring you warmth?  NO!

And most of the time we aren’t even aware when we do these things because we are so conditioned to them.  So first of all, we must become aware… we must observe our minds and bodies and ask ourselves, “Where are our holding patterns?”  It is this type of introspective observation that can also help us to “undo” our conditioned responses.

Once we become aware of the areas we hold our tensions, we begin to breathe into those areas.  I know what you’re thinking, “Sheetal, how the heck do I breathe into a part of my body?”

Its actually quite simple… just imagine it!  As you stay aware of your area of tension, imagine your breath flowing into that area… slowly and gently soothing the area and causing the tension to dissipate.  This is a simple form of visualization that can be surprisingly powerful.

The 3rd key, which for many people is the most difficult, is to be patient with yourself!  Only when we give ourselves the patient time to feel supported and safe will our bodies respond.  It’s like wanting to come to a gradual stop while driving a car, but we keep giving it gas.  If we don’t let the foot off the pedal how can we expect the car to naturally slow down?!

Similarly, we must take the time to stop “fueling” our bodies and minds and instead let them come to a gradual halt where they can then unwind or do whatever needs to happen.

Finally, the last key is to surrender.  Just allow yourself to let go.  Sometimes, even when practicing first 3 keys we fail to completely release certain tensions because we are unwilling to give them up.  I know it sounds strange but it goes back to the idea of our minds and bodies being conditioned to respond in certain ways.

“Muscle memory” may sometimes be so engrained into our beings…. or certain thought patterns may be so woven into our psyches that we must willingly and conscientiously surrender them in order to truly release the tension we hold.

And while all of this may seen logical or at least easy enough to understand, it’s the “doing” that is the tricky part!  Like anything, these techniques to releasing tension take practice.  But, believe me, they are well worth the effort.  In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that the Keys to Releasing Tension are the also keys to proactively staying healthy!

So I invite you to join me in June to learn AND practice these techniques.  Check the Calendar for dates/times/locations in Eastern PA.  And at the end of the workshop when I ask you “Got Tension?”…. you may just be surprised by your answer!

Happy Joints… Healthy Body!

Last month, I talked about Yin versus Yang energies.  And I introduced the notion that we could benefit from more Yin-like experiences to balance out the prevalent Yang-like activities in most of our lives.

This month, I’m offering you the perfect opportunity to experience this!  In my May Therapeutic Yoga workshop, we’re going to learn how to stretch our joints.   Yes, you heard me right…. We’re going to STRETCH our joints!

Now I know what you’re thinking… “Sheetal, you’re nuts!  You’re not supposed to stretch your joints – you can really hurt yourself by stretching them!”  And my response is that you are absolutely correct…. IF you are thinking of stretching your joints in the same manner that you stretch your muscles.  IF you try to use the same type of approach then you may most certainly harm your joints and that is NOT recommended!

Ok – so now that I’ve completely confused you, let me explain further…

At our joints, we primarily have a variety of connective tissue – things like tendons, ligaments and fascia.  All of these things bind or “connect” the muscles, organs and systems of our bodies.  Without connective tissue, we would not be able to hold our “shape” as humans.

When compared to muscle, connective tissue is Yin (hard and inelastic) while muscle is Yang (soft and elastic).  This key difference is EXACTLY why we cannot exercise and stretch connective tissue, or for our purposes – our joints, the same way that we exercise and stretch our muscles.

This idea of exercising and stretching the joints at all may seem foreign to most people.  We all understand and accept that exercising and stretching our muscles are important because that’s how we can stay strong and flexible.  But working our joints & bone is equally as important.

To quote Paul Grilley, a leading authority on Yin Yoga which focuses on joint health:

I have known many muscularly powerful adults who are physically incapacitated or uncomfortable because of joint problems….  Bad ankles, bad backs, bad knees – these are the injuries that force athletes to retire and old people to shuffle around.  Yin Yoga postures gently stretch and rehabilitate the connective tissue that form our joints.

So while taking that run, weight training, cycling, power & flow yoga are all great examples of working the Yang parts of our bodies (like muscles), therapeutic and yin yoga are effective methods for exercising the Yin parts (like our joints).  Both are important and for most of us, it’s matter of learning how to balance the two in a way that suits our own bodies.

That’s why I’ve chosen the topic of “Maintaining Healthy Joints” as the focus for this month’s Therapeutic Yoga Workshop.  The manner in which therapeutic yoga and yin yoga postures are experienced is very similar; thus, including some yin yoga as part of our therapeutic yoga practice is natural.

Check the Anyone Can Do YOGA calendar for dates/times and locations.  Remember… Happy Joints lead to a Healthy Body!  🙂

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