Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spring Silence Retreat at Yoga North

Please join me this spring for a day of silence at Yoga North! 

Spring Silence Retreat, Saturday, April 18th from 8-4P

Leave your commitments, smartphone and busy life behind as you welcome the day with a hatha yoga practice followed by a peaceful sitting meditation. Spend the morning, pot luck lunch and afternoon in silence in community. Participants will be asked to be in silence without the use of technology or their voices for the day and will have access to the outdoors for walks or reflection. Our day will close with a small ceremony and meditation before we return to the world. Please bring a light snack or meal to share with the group. We will eat our lunch in silence together.

8am Welcome and Hatha Yoga

9:15am Check-in and reflections on silence and its role in a yoga practice

10am Silence begins--walking, journaling, meditating, resting

12pm Potluck lunch in silence

1pm-3pm Silence continues--walking, journaling, meditating, resting

3-4pm Closing mediation and check-out

To register and for more information please follow the link: 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Let's Bring Death Back to Life

I spent last week at the bedside of my aunt, who was dying after a long illness in the hospital. During my childhood, she was one of my primary caregivers; the woman who made my bologna and mustard sandwiches, who watched me play in the sandbox, the one who took me to get my ear's pierced for the first time. In short, she was a special person to me. 

Sitting at her side over that week was nothing short of a gift, even though there were awful and scary moments. Like when we weren't sure she would make it through the night or when we came to the realization that death was imminent and her family asked to have her removed from life support. I rubbed her feet and fell asleep on her legs, crouched there in the uncomfortable hospital chair, flanked by family. We hugged each other, told stories about her, laughed, cried and said our goodbyes; not knowing how much longer she would continue to breathe. As the hours ticked by late into the night, I found solace in reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead on my phone, imagining not only my aunt, but myself descending through the stages of death into the great beyond. 

In many ways, I received a deep education that week. An education in how to accurately fill out an advance health care directive, the real meaning of "do not resuscitate," and most importantly the benefits embedded in facing my own mortality.

As a yogi I practice corpse pose often; the yoga pose we practice for the "great letting go." For many of us, it has become mostly about relaxation at the end of our yoga practice. Lying in it today, it felt altogether different as I pondered how one day I would leave this body behind like an old outfit; a future none of us will escape. So why don't we talk about it more freely? Ask questions? Embrace the inevitable?

 I believe we could live more fully by bringing death back in to life. We live in a culture that fears death, almost to an extreme. As a general rule, we uphold youthfulness, place our elderly out of sight in geriatric filing cabinets and only experience dead bodies as ashes or as metaphors of corpses full of make-up with sewn together mouths and eyelids; the "natural" look. It is no surprise then that the average American will never see a dead human body in a state of true decay-ever (except for maybe on the "Walking Dead"). 

In many other cultures this is not the case. We can scan the globe and find other funerary practices that are very different from ours such as in Varanasi, India where bodies are burned on the side of the Ganges river from dusk until dawn. Those that cannot afford this cremation for their loved one, sometimes toss the body in the Ganges anyway. There are so many bodies at times that the Indian government deploys flesh eating turtles into the river to help with disposal. 

Tibetan monks are often encouraged to meditate on death. The prescribed meditations center on the certainty and imminence of death; and on the process of death itself-a rehearsal if you will, which bestows upon the meditator a skillfull death. How many of us are prepared for that? To die skillfully?

Fortunately, there are things we can do to help ourselves come face to face with our mortality, allowing us to lead richer lives, with a sense of gratitude and awareness while also giving our loved one's a sense of our wishes. Let's start with a few questions:

1. How do you feel about your own mortality?

2. What are your religious and spiritual beliefs surrounding death? Are you at peace with these beliefs?

2. Have you filled out a will and an advanced health care directive?

3. Do you know how you want your body to be handled after death? 

4. How will your body be disposed of? Cremation? Natural burial? Embalming? 

Did you know that it is legal in most of the United States to have your funeral at home (yes, your home)? That in many cases embalming is unnecessary? That natural burials are on the rise? That you can have a "witnessing" at your cremation, even going so far as to have a loved one push the button?

Because we have farmed out our death practices to the medical and funeral industries we have culturally lost the knowledge that comes with knowing how to prepare for death and how to care for one's dead. In doing so we have lost more than knowledge, we have lost part of our humanity. 

However, all is not lost. Each one of us can choose for ourselves to embrace our fears. We can practice letting go. In our day to day lives we can live more fully aware, with a greater sense of love and purpose, knowing it will not last forever. As the famous quote goes.."All of us will die, not all of us will truly live."

I write this still saddened by my aunt's death and yet, I am also filled with gratitude for the experience. In facing her death, I began to face my own. In doing so I have a deeper sense of what it means to live, of what it means to practice yoga and meditation, a deeper sense of what it means to be a human being. 

Let's begin to have conversations about death, for all our sakes. Let's embrace it. Let's bring death back to life.

Further reading and resources:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gain Perspective Through Yoga

Yoga is a great way to gain flexibility and build strength in our physical bodies, and it is also a great way to grow our awareness. We live in two worlds, the internal and the external. The external world is comprised of everything we do and see, how we interact in our world, the jobs we have, the roles we play, the things we take into ourselves in the form of relationships and entertainment, as well as the material possessions we acquire and own. One could argue that we spend most of our time out there in the external world of thrills and things, often at the expense of our internal world.

Our internal world is comprised of thoughts, feelings, sensations, attitudes, beliefs and our connection to the divine, spirit and/or a higher power. How many of us are aware of what our bodies are telling us moment to moment, or are connected to our emotions as related to our actions? Our internal world is constantly giving us signals and a regular yoga practice can help us to integrate them into conscious living while growing our awareness of how we present ourselves in the world. 

This relates to yoga in that we often show up on our mat how we show up in life, in terms of how we move, how we listen to our body and how we perform our practice. Do you rush, push yourself through pain? Do you challenge yourself or fall into laziness or apathy? Are you able to find ease in the poses, stillness in meditation? Can you be patient with yourself; find gratitude? Do you sense emotions as they change, or do you hold on to them? Noticing what is happening on the mat inside of our external physical practice is key to gaining a deeper perspective of ourselves and our lives. 

I invite you to grow your internal world by paying attention on the mat from a place of loving kindness, without judgement. Notice feelings, thoughts, sensations that may arise. Grow your body awareness by discovering where your body can breathe happily in poses. Taking this kind of care with ourselves transfers off of the mat and into our lives, seeping into the many spaces we inhabit.

Other practices such as mindfullness, pranayama or breath practices, reading spiritual material, centered prayer, fasting, seeking spiritual direction and serving others are other great ways to grow ourselves in terms of our internal world. 

Experiment where you are and find what works for you.

It's time to practice!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Make Room For Improved Health With a Household Detox

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I decided to "detox" our home. We were concerned about the myriad of chemicals in our personal care items, cleaning supplies, laundry soaps and other everyday household products and the effect they might have on our baby (not to mention the effect they were probably already having on us). 

It is no secret that there are thousands of unregulated chemicals floating around in our environment that coat our food, mattresses, couches, clothing, cars and carpet, to name a few. Thankfully, mainstream culture is beginning to become more aware of these chemicals and the adverse effect they can have on our health. We are all exposed to many chemical cocktails on a daily basis via what we ingest and what we put on to our bodies. U.S researchers have concluded that one in eight ingredients of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals including pesticides, carcinogens, reproductive toxins and hormone disruptors. Scary! 

We are living in a time of unprecedented illness that includes allergies, cancers and auto-immune disorders and science backs up the claim that many of these chemicals are partly to blame. Thankfully, there is something we can do as consumers, and that is to try to regulate what we expose ourselves and our families to. The easiest way to do this is to do a household audit, discontinuing the use of and removing products that contain harmful chemicals and replacing them with safe alternatives that are plant based. If you are up for it, you can even make your own for a fraction of the cost of conventional products. 

Where to start?

I suggest doing one room at a time, starting with the kitchen. Many of us with children have locked kitchen cupboards below our sinks. They tend to be full of conventional products that contain poison warning labels. There are numerous products for various household chores; a different spray for dusting, floor washing, sink scrubbing, cleaning the fridge and the floor. 

I think we have been duped into believing that we need a different chemical cocktail for every chore and it is simply not true; coupled with that belief is our obsession with the idea of "clean." It's not clean if it it contains chemicals that harm your health! Natural soap, vinegar and water clean most things really well. It can be an adjustment to change to natural products, especially when we feel beholden to certain commercial brands. If the all-at-once approach doesn't work for you, try replacing one thing at a time or setting a goal of reducing the use of conventional products over time. 

After our own audit and detox, the only cleaning products under our kitchen sink are bottles of citrus infused vinegar. Our kitchen cupboards are now unlocked and our toddler is free to play with the spray bottles when she feels like helping mama; what a great feeling!

The bathroom is a big one. It contains all of the sprays, soaks, goops, lotions, soaps, shampoos, hair pomades, make-up, nail polish and medicines in many households. Many of these items go directly on to the skin, our largest organ--which absorbs everything that is put on to it, including some of the nasty chemical compounds such as parabens, sulfates, preservatives, and petroleum.

We began our own detox with our hand soap, shampoo and conditioner. We switched to Dr. Bronner's for hand soap, mixing 2 parts Dr. Bronner's with 1 part water into our soap dispenser-easy and cost effective! For shampoo and conditioner, we switched over to an organic brand found at our food co-op. And while I do not get the same silky results with our new conditioner, I have found that doing an apple cider vinegar rinse works just as well, if not better than the conventional conditioner I used to use. Again, using plant based products, especially with hair care, can be a challenge. For me, the risk of using the old product is simply no longer worth it.

Toothpaste was another tricky one, as far as trying to find a toothpaste that tasted good and gave my mouth that minty fresh feel that I was used to. After trying several brands we have settled on a "Kiss My Face" tooth gel that is fluoride free and tastes great. I invite you to do your own experiment and find one that you like.

Make-up, nail polish, hair dye and lotion came last for me, obviously this part was easier for my husband. I slowly over time replaced all of my cosmetics, including nail polish, with plant based products and stopped using hair dye all together (I have been a life long addict) after researching the chemicals used in it. For lotion we initially switched to a plant based brand until I became interested in making my own. I now make all of the lip balm, body butter and oils that our family uses including a honey sugar facial scrub and a moisturizing face serum. The great thing about making your own products is that you know exactly what is in them. I was surprised to find that making these products is very cost effective and EASY!

The medicine cabinet can be another tricky challenge. We are a nation dependent on pharmaceuticals and pain relief, as well as many chemical filled first aid products. I recommend auditing your cabinet to see what is useful and what isn't. There are natural alternatives and essential oils that can be incorporated or used in place of many first aid and pain relief products. Consulting with a naturopathic doctor or other holistic professionals can be helpful in assessing your medical history and need for pharmaceuticals. Please take your time with this aspect of the household detox and consult the appropriate care provider, while educating yourself about natural remedies and oils. 

Lastly, let's explore the laundry room. Many of our clothes, if not made from organic cotton or other organic materials like wool, can already be laced with pesticides and herbicides. We can help to mitigate this by not adding more chemicals to them in the form of laundry detergents, soaps, dryer sheets and perfumes/synthetic fragrance. Natural laundry products abound that are plant based and safe for you and just as importantly, the environment, since laundry soap and fabric softener all go down the drain. I found the switch in this case to be simple and quite easy. We even found natural dryer sheets that we add essential oils too which smell much better and are much safer than the chemical compounds that make up most synthetic fragrances.

As a side note, use caution and be responsible when disposing of household products that contain harmful chemicals that you no longer wish to use. If a product says flammable, toxic, corrosive or poison, it should not be thrown in the trash or be put down the drain. If you live in the Duluth area, WLSSD is a great resource. They will take household hazardous materials for free, as well as expired or unwanted pharmaceuticals. WLSSD Hazardous Household Materials Disposal

It is a beautiful thing to take responsibility for one's health and for the health of the environment that we are dependent upon. The simple measures listed above can make all the difference. I invite you to explore what works for you and your family, and to consider a household detox in the spirit of improved health and wellness. Cheers to you on your journey!

Recipe for Citrus Infused Vinegar All Purpose Cleaner:

You will need:

White vinegar

One pint of range peels or even quartered citrus fruits

1 wide mouthed quart sized mason jar

Add peels or fruit to jar, fill with vinegar. Let sit for 4 weeks and then add to a spray bottle (you can dilute with water as you like to find the desired strength). Add essential oils for fragrance. Voila!

Natural Cosmetics:

Natural Body Lotion Recipe:

Essential Oils in the Home:

How to Create a Natural First Aid Kit:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Got Meditation?

Meditation is one the most powerful aspects of a consistent yoga practice. In recent years, science has proven that meditation can actually change your brain, creating more gray matter in areas involved in learning and memory, perspective taking, emotional regulation, and sense of self. 

Our minds can tend to be like toddlers or puppies, often up to their own antics and difficult to discipline (teach) without patience, consistency and gentle guidance. Many of us spend most of our time either caught up thinking about the past, or focused on future events-things that haven't even happened yet, unaware that our minds are creating our reality without much conscious input from us! When we run on auto-pilot like this we unconsciously allow our minds to run a-muck; losing the present moment while also losing the ability to make conscious choices about our lives.

A consistent practice can help us get to know ourselves better, help us understand what makes us tick and give us insight into why we do what we do. When we can cultivate that sense of self understanding, we then have space for conscious choice; action vs. reaction. 

Have you ever found yourself reacting to a situation without even thinking about it, suddenly caught up in an emotional tumult with racing thoughts? Have you ever lain awake in bed at night unable to stop the cascade of thoughts that seem to be endlessly pouring down on you? Have you ever missed what was happening right in front of you because you were off somewhere else, in the past or the future daydreaming and lost in thought? These are situations common to all of us, more symptoms of running on auto-pilot. 

Thankfully, meditation can help us wake up to the present moment, to process and integrate our experiences, and to ultimately live this life more fully.

So, what does a meditation practice look like? 

Consistency is key. It is more beneficial to meditate for five minutes a day than to meditate for 30 minutes on Wednesday and for 1 hr on Saturday, skipping all of the other days of the week. Practice really does make perfect when it comes to meditation since we are literally training our minds to be in service of us, rather than their usual mechanics. This takes gentle guidance and above all consistency. 

Doing a physical yoga practice or asana practice can also be helpful to gain body awareness, ease, balance and flexibility--all helpful when sitting still for long periods of time. (Did you know that this is actually the intended purpose of an asana practice, to get the body ready for meditation?)

Choosing a comfortable, quiet space where you will not be disturbed is also important. As if turning off any devices, phones, etc. A timer can be helpful if you are concerned about the time, although I caution you to not place it in front of you where you can stare at it, wondering when, if ever, your practice will be over. That is just more monkey mind antics trying to distract you from your goal!

Some people like to have soft music playing, others like to have a candle or incense. How you structure your meditation space will be unique to you. Having a pillow or blanket to sit on to support your body, perhaps even props under your knees or even sitting in a chair can also be beneficial. It is important to be comfortable, otherwise all your mind will do is complain about how much pain your are in-another distraction!

Once you have chosen the amount of time you will meditate, have committed to doing it daily, have chosen and created a suitable space, it is time to sit. Once you are comfortable you can start your timer if you are using one. Settle into the stillness with yourself, noticing thoughts arising and letting them go with your breath. Let your breath be smooth and easy, expanding on the inhale, gently tucking the navel point on the exhale. Let the shoulders relax, let the eyes soften. Check in with your hips, knees and ankles, making any necessary adjustments for ease and comfort.

And that is really it. If you find that you have followed a trail of thoughts away from the present moment, come back to noticing your breath. If you find yourself feeling uneasy, agitated, annoyed or bored, rest assured that these are all normal feelings--the mind once again trying to distract you from sitting still with yourself. 

Sitting still can be hard for some of us, but I invite you to stick with it, be curious and see what happens! 

It can also be of benefit to find a local group that does sitting meditation, to take a meditation class or workshop or even to look at some Youtube videos about mediation. There are many ways to practice! The important thing is to actually do the practice, rather than get caught up in method, form, books, videos, etc.

That being said, it's time to practice!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

40 Days and 40 Nights: It's Time to Practice

Happy New Year one and all! 

If you are like me, you are excited about the turn of the tide into a new year with a fresh start; leaving the old behind, making room for the new. There is a beautiful practice that was taught to me by my teacher that is perfect for this time of year. It is called the 40 Day Practice. 

The saints and sages say that it takes 40 days to change a habit. Science tells us it takes repetition and dedication to change our neural pathways if we want to make a permanent change in our lives.

What would you like to make room for in your life? What would you like to see fade away? What healthy habits sound appealing? 

As a stay-at-home mom, I often find it to be a challenge to incorporate time for myself. A 40 Day Practice is a great way for me to find some "non-negotiables," meaning a set of practices that I have unequivocally committed to, no matter what.

In the past I have tried things like: 40 days of meditating daily, 40 days of chanting daily, 40 days of asana, etc. All of those are lovely, however, as a mom, I find that practical things like oil pulling before I brush my teeth, dry skin brushing, or juicing in the morning are also relevant practices.

This time around my 40 Day Practice looks like this.

40 days of juicing in the morning
40 days of meditating for 10 minutes a day
40 days of having greens with every meal

I also like to add things to practice, or rather, pay attention to. This time that will include paying attention to technology use and practicing letting go when I find myself in the grip of an emotional reaction. 

I invite you to explore this practice for yourself and find something that is unique to you. Committing to a 40 Day Practice is a wonderful gift that you can give to yourself this year. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Yoga is Against Your Religion And Other Myths

Yoga has gained increasing popularity in the west over the last decade, becoming a booming billion dollar industry with infinitely different styles being led in studios, parks, homes and community centers all over our nation.

Here in the west, yoga tends to show up concentrated around the physical body. This can manifest as extreme yoga work outs and the wearing of “Yoga Butt Pants,” a garment designed to be much like a girdle for your behind. Along with these elements comes the myth that one has to be flexible enough to twist oneself into a pretzel in order to do yoga, as often seen on the cover of the popular magazine Yoga Journal.

This intimidating theory, fortunately, is untrue and as of late there has been a progressive movement towards gentler yoga classes and accessibility for all—as “every body,” can do yoga regardless of age, shape, size, and skill level (and you don't even need special pants).

So what is yoga, if not just another form of exercise? And furthermore, doesn’t yoga go against my religion?

Let’s start with the first question, just what is it, this “yoga?” My Grandma says, “Yoga, what the world?!” She has no frame of reference for the strange name or the even stranger practices. People sitting still and breathing with their eyes closed? Warrior? Downward who? And the chanting! Oh, my goodness, the chanting! What language is that even in?! It’s the devil, the devil, I say!

Let’s unpack this “yoga,” shall we? And before we go further, it isn’t the devil, I promise.

Yoga means to yoke, and for our purposes, it means to connect the body and the mind. We live at a schizophrenic pace, often the mind doesn’t know what the body is doing and vice verse. Have you ever driven somewhere only to arrive and not remember driving at all? Ever ignored a sore back, a nagging pain (in your body or in your heart)? Ever done more than two things at once? It’s hard to pay attention (let alone find God) when we are so busy, and yoga is a great way to slow down and bring it all together.

So where does it come from, this yoga? Some argue that it originated in the Indus Valley (2600-1900 BCE). In what is known as the “Classical Era” a coherent philosophical system began to emerge. Patanjali systematized these concepts in The Yoga Sutra which later became the basis for a system referred to as “Eight Limbed Yoga, (Ashtanga Yoga)” which includes:

1.    Yama (The five "abstentions"): non-violence, truth, non-lying, non-stealing, non-sensuality, celibacy, and non-possessiveness.
2.    Niyama (The five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender.
3.    Asana: Literally means "seat", and in Patanjali's Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
4.    Pranayama ("Suspending Breath"): Prāna, breath, "āyāma", to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
5.    Pratyahara ("Abstraction"): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
6.    Dharana ("Concentration"): Fixing the attention on a single object.
7.    Dhyana ("Meditation"): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
8.    Samadhi ("Liberation"): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.

We won’t get in to any more specifics here, just know that yoga philosophy and practices appeared a long, long time ago (like 5,000 years ago). And there is a lot more to it all than P90X, headstands and stylish pants. When you distill it down, it’s mostly about meditation. The physical practice we Americans love so much, is really just meant to get our bodies supple enough to sit still for long periods of time. Yes, really.

It’s fascinating when you think about it. People a long, long time ago sat around doing these practices and discovered a lot of interesting things about our internal world (i.e. the way our minds function and cause us suffering). They wrote it down, codified it and passed it on. People tried the practices and experienced the benefits (flexibility, health, clarity, awareness and more) and became teachers. Some of those teachers came to the west with the “Eight Limbs” in tow in the 60’s and succeeded in blowing enough of the collective mind. The fallout of that still resonates and has given birth to multitudes of new styles, studios, teachers and philosophies. Yoga is more popular than ever. And one could argue, more needed than ever.

But what about my religion?

Yoga isn’t against anyone’s religion. It is a system of practices, if anything, designed to bring a person closer to God-whatever God that might be; and for all the billions of people on Earth, those Gods are varied, colorful and shifting. If you think you possess the only way to God, your religion is on way too tight my friend.

Yoga compliments the jewels hidden in all religions because all religions tell the same truths--if your eyes, ears and heart are open. Yoga shows us that we are all the same on the inside, that we are all connected and that we should treat each other accordingly. Sound familiar?

Yes, yoga uses an ancient language called Sanskrit that might seem kind of weird. And it even is tied to Hinduism in a deep way that cannot be undone. But that still does not have anything to do with any one person’s particular religious affiliation. 

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) reaffirms that yoga, "an inward journey where you explore your mind, your awareness, your conscience, your consciousness," is an essential part of Hindu belief and practice. But the science of yoga and the immense benefits its practice affords are for the benefit of all of humanity regardless of personal faith. Hinduism itself is a way of life that acknowledges that there are infinite paths to God. Hinduism is also a non-proselytizing religion and never compels practitioners of yoga to profess allegiance of faith or convert. Yoga, therefor, is a means of spiritual attainment for any and all seekers.


There you have it. You can be of any, shape, size or skill level and practice yoga. You can pray anywhere, worship any God and practice yoga. And you don't need to do headstands; no pretzels required.

If you would like more ease, freedom, space, contentment and joy-practice. If you would like less stress, worry and fear--practice. If you would like to get closer to your idea of God-practice. Be curious. Check out a studio. Talk to a friend. Sign up for a class. 

Yoga offers unique gifts personal to all who practice it. Now that all those myths are out of the way, wouldn't you like to find yours?