uttanasana

Uttanasana

Submitted by Jeff Lutes, SOYA, ERYT500. Photo of Carla Wainwright in Uttanasana. 

This is one of my favourite poses.  It is simple yet provides for an amazing opportunity for self exploration.  Uttanasana is a great pose to explore the polarity between active and passive energy.  It has many modifications that are important to know and understand so everyone can do it.  This pose is both a forward bend and an inversion. It is quite often my second pose in my standing poses.

uttanasanaFrom Tadasana where I create symmetrical alignment we move into Uttanasana where I take the opportunity over several minutes and breaths to find what I have within me for my practice.  Here are a few pointers for exploring this pose:

  • Stand in Tadasana.  Feet are parallel to the long edges of the mat, hip distance apart, weight evenly distributed from the heel to ball of the foot.  Wiggle the toes.  Engage quadriceps.  On the wave of the breath extend the crown of the head to the sky, and soften the shoulder blades.
  • Place thumbs in the groin crease.  Inhale, then exhale and bend where your thumbs are.  Keep your feet grounded and legs active; extend forward, not down, yet.  Place your hands either above or below your knees and stay here.  This is Ardha Uttanasana, half forward fold.  Lengthen the spine from the tip of the tailbone to the crown of the head.  Bend your knees if you experience discomfort in the low back, hamstrings or back of the knees.
  • As you inhale engage core strength, energize the quadriceps and lengthen.  As you exhale tilt the pelvis forward and release deeply into the pose.   Find a comfortable and spacious place to pause.  Feel the crown of the head release to the force of gravity.
  • When it strikes you find greater depth.  Explore within the pose.  You will be surprised what you find.   Alternate between active energy-creating space, and passive energy-floating within the space you create.  Breathe.  Deep inhalations.  Smooth exhalations.
  • To come back to Tadasana soften the knees as much as required to slide the hands up the legs above the knees.  With the palms securely placed above the knees straighten the arms and spine.  With a neutral spine energize into the feet and come to a standing position.

Caution:  Lower Back, Hyperextension of knees, blood pressure.

Modifications:  Bend knees for low back and knees.  Keep upper body level to ensure that the heart does not go below the head for blood pressure issues.  This pose can also be done with a chair, sitting and folding forward over the thighs.

Benefits:  Lengthens and creates room in spine.  Massages abdomen.  Stretches hamstrings.  Allows for introspection.

Gluten free bread

The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread

Created by Sarah Britton (her blog is My New Roots). Submitted by Mugs McConnell. 

When I was visiting SOYA Teacher Heather Thomas in Ft McMurray this fall, she shared this amazing bread with me. In fact, she made me make it so I would really know how to do it. This bread is incredibly delicious, heavy like those wonderful European loaves, and totally gluten free! 

There are a couple of tricks to its success:

  •  A silicone loaf pan makes it really easy to take out of the pan partway through the baking. If you don’t have one, then line the pan with wax paper or a silicone dehydrator sheet.
  •  To continue baking it on the rack I put it on a cooling rack in the oven for ease of taking it out.
  •  The “dough” MUST sit at least 2 hours before baking, or longer.
  •  And you MUST let it cool before slicing it. Once it is sliced I freeze some of it and just eat one piece at a time (it is very filling).
  •  It is delicious toasted! 

THIS recipe makes one small loaf, but I actually double the recipe – the bread doesn’t rise in the pan so you can fill it right up to make a nice big loaf.   

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix together:

1 cup sunflower seeds (or a mix of pumpkin and sunflower seeds)

1 cup raisins or craisins (optional)
½ cup flax seeds
½ cup hazelnuts or almonds (I soak them first and chop them so the cut easier when I slice the bread)
1 ½ cups rolled oats
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
4 Tbsp. psyllium seed husks (3 Tbsp. if using psyllium husk powder)
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey (for sugar-free diets, use a pinch of stevia)
3 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee, melted
2 cups water

In a bowl combine all dry ingredients. Whisk maple syrup, oil and water together in a separate bowl. Add mixture to the dry ingredients and combine until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick, adding 1-2 teaspoons water if dough is too thick to stir. Press into the loaf pan so all the corners are filled, smooth top and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Bake bread for 20-30 minutes, then remove bread from loaf pan, place it upside down, directly on a rack (or a cooling rack), and bake for another 30-40 minutes (it should sound hollow when tapped). Let cool completely before slicing (even leave overnight, then it is easier to slice).

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days or slice and freeze.

Gluten free bread

supta baddha konasana

Supta Baddha Konasana

Supta Baddha Konasana for Sleep and Deep Relaxation

supta baddha konasanaOver 40% of Canadians suffer from sleep disorders and high stress levels. A recent Harvard study concluded that by practicing just 30—45 minutes of yoga a day, people fell asleep 30% faster and reduced their nighttime waking by 35%.

Restorative yoga is one style of yoga that helps you relax and let go of the daily stresses. Here is one yoga pose that may help you to sleep and relax: Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle).

How to get into the pose:

Start kneeling on your mat. To support sensitive ankles, place a blanket on top of your mat. Place one bolsters vertically on the top end of your mat. Add a folded blanket on top that will support your head (centerline of your chin should stay slightly below the centerline of your forehead). Keep 2 bricks close. Recline back onto the bolster, keep it close to your lumbar spine and keep your buttocks grounded on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together and allow the knees to split out, grab the bricks nearby to slide them underneath the outside of your thighs for support.

Optional, feel free to support the arms as well, another pillow or rolled up blanket will bring release. Eye bag for your eyes will regulate the pressure in your head.

Hold for 5 minutes. To release the pose inhale the knees up and let them fall together with your feet mat width apart (tenting your legs). Rest for a moment to adjust and breathe. When you feel ready, roll sideways off the bolster into a fetal position, head resting on the bottom arm. Stay for a few breaths again to give the nervous system time to adjust.

Pranayama:

Once in the posture, check in with the length of the inhalation, natural rhythm of the breath. Then, without a lot of effort, allow the length of the exhalation to be 2 counts longer than the inhalation. Sense how the body is being moved by the breath.

Benefits:

Stimulates Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and digest); calms anxiety; calms a scattered mind; soothes and comforts; reduces stress; relaxation response; promotes the feeling of releasing emotions (chest and pelvis are our emotional centres); supports digestion; gently opens the front side of the body, pelvis, belly, shoulders, throat and chest.

Precautions:

Avoid this pose if you suffer from a shoulder or hip injury. If you have a groin or knee injury you should perform this pose with a yoga blanket placed under your outer thigh to provide support. You should also avoid this pose postpartum. Refrain from practicing this pose till the pelvic area muscles, which get loose after child birth, come back to their pre-pregnancy tightness.

Nicole Schulz is leading a OneDay Retreat on Sleep and Deep Relaxation on Saturday, December 6th at Red Deer Hot Yoga. Students will look at the definition of sleep and the types, conditions and causes of sleep disorders. You will learn how yoga can be a powerful tool to improve your sleep and well-being and help you find deep relaxation! This retreat will focus on customized specific physical postures (asanas), relaxing breath work (pranayama), mind calming practices (iRest® Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra) and dietary recommendations. There will be a wonderful guest speaker: Abrah Arenson, author of the recently published book “The Herbal Apprentice” will share her knowledge about herbs that help to induce sleep and deep relaxation. Bring your beautiful self, eye bag and your own pillow.
For rates, registration & questions please check www.nicole-yoga.com!

Retreat Yourself

Gita

From the Gita to the Grail

 

Until I started reading this book I didn’t realize how much my culture has influenced the way I think. I mean I knew it influenced me, but the book opened my eyes a little wider with regards to this. It isn’t just my culture that influences the way I think, but also the cultures I have adopted during my lifetime.

I will try to shed some light on what I mean.  In a society influenced by Christianity, I grew up knowing the story of Adam and Eve. The myth is that Adam was lonely so God created Eve from Adam’s side near his heart. Symbolically this implies women are second to man and more emotional than intellectual (she came from the area near Adam’s heart, not his head). And our society still reflects this belief in many of its behaviours.

In a Babylonian story of creation there was only water in the beginning… waters on the land and salty waters of the ocean. The sweet waters of land were male and they merged with the salty waters of woman in the ocean and from this mixing together, life was created within her. The soil from the land was made fertile through sacrifice and hard effort from the gods. Through the blood of sacrifice of a god, man was brought to life, but this life is only to serve the gods. Growing up with this as a basis for belief leads one to understand their purpose in life is service to a higher power, or to those more powerful than himself.

The myths in Bernie Clark’s book are far more detailed than what I have stated above, and after each myth is an explanation of how the myth leads one to their belief system. It soon becomes apparent how malleable our beliefs can be!

The book takes a look at how myths affect us in our cosmological function, sociological function, psychological function and mystical function. The myths in these sections unveil how our beliefs guide us in how we live and interact with each other, how we view the spirit, what boundaries we live by (such as the ten commandments or the yamas and niyamas), how we love one another, our attitudes toward life and its struggles, and so on. Lastly we are given guidance on how we can transcend the boundaries created through our beliefs.

It is a magical journey of stories that are sometimes very light-hearted and other times quite poignant and troubling. For me, the book gave me so much appreciation for all matter and species and their role in our amazing universe. It gave me a much deeper insight to the vast array of beliefs and where they came from while at the same time showed me how similar we all are with our search for our purpose in life.  Bernie Clark sums up very nicely where this book can take you.

“These myths are maps to our inner landscapes. These myths are models of the way we are supposed to behave. We all have our own maps, our own myths by which we live our lives. …A clue to your map can be found any time you find yourself thinking about the way things or other people, or even yourself, should be. The idea of should is based upon a map you hold internally; the map defines the way life is supposed to be. …It is easier to blame the outside world for not meeting our expectations of it than to go inward and find the flaws in our own map.

To explore a dark territory requires a light, and the light we use to explore the darkness of our deep, inner realms is the light of consciousness. … Be prepared to be shocked or pleasantly surprised – in either case, what you will find will be unexpected.”

This book is a great read that gives you a choice in how you live your life. Take your time in reading it while you discover why Siva dances on a dwarf, or Vishnu sleeps on an endless snake. See how your attitudes spark and change as you grasp a deeper understanding of the Eastern lifestyle as compared to ours in the West. I hope you enjoy the journey thoroughly!

From the Gita to the Grail: Exploring Yoga Stories & Western Myths by Bernie Clark is published by Blue River Press. ISBN 9 781935 628316

beach yoga

Need to Retreat to Mexico?

There is nothing like a warm break from winter where several hours of yoga are wrapped up with relaxation or special excursions in a tropical climate! Doing yoga in fresh air in an outdoor studio or on a beach while learning new meditation, pranayama and asana techniques can be inspirational to a stale practice. And removing yourself from the busy-ness of life even for just a week creates a sacred space for rest and renewal!

beach yogaEach year SOYA teachers hold the 200 hour yoga teacher training is Mexico. Consider joining us in this lovely warm climate!  Find out more!

 

 

headstand

Sharing Your Yoga with Your Own Children

By Dorothy Fizzell, SOYA, IYTA, ERYT500, mom and grandma.

If you are a yoga teacher, and you have children, do you do yoga with them? Or is it something you do separate from raising your children? Or, are you a parent/grandparent of young children, who also participates in yoga classes?  Do you share the knowledge with them?

There is a quote from Eyre in 1984 that defines play as “What joy is in the body! The joy of work, and of hard, purposeful effort, the joy of singing, the joy of sport and activity, the joy of tenderness and physical touch, the joy of controlling physical things!”  This is also a perfect definition of yoga asana!!

Children love to move! Yoga is a natural extension of what children already do, and sharing yoga, as with other aspects of bringing up children to be positive, confident, healthy, contributing members of society, can be exciting.

karlAs a yoga teacher, with young children, I did not spend much focused time sharing my passion with them.  There were, however, many spontaneous teachable moments, while I was doing my personal practice, or preparing for teaching, that my two sons did become aware of what yoga is. I used photos of my ten year old son, Karl, in my specialty project on “Yoga for Preschool children”.  It was enjoyable to answer their questions, to pay attention as they said “Watch me!” and to demonstrate breath and body movement, sitting still, as well as model some of the yoga philosophy such as yamas and niyamas.

Karl, doing Trikonasana at age 10.

Yoga can be extremely important in a child’s life.  Just as with adults, life for even very young children can be very structured, busy and competitive.  Yoga, in children, can reduce stress, can improve body awareness, strength and flexibility and can improve self-discipline and self-confidence.  And with concerns about children not being active enough, yoga is perfect!

Play is the most important aspect of a young child’s life and is the major method of learning.  When yoga is done in a fun, natural way, children will learn it.  It is exciting for them to use the Sanskrit language, and they love to show and feel how their bodies move in space.

As parents, or grandparents, we can involve children in our yoga practice, challenging them, having them use their imagination, with all the same yoga asanas, the same breath techniques, the same meditation techniques.  We do need to be mindful of the “dos and don’ts”, of not having to be precisely aligned, and we need to modify accounting for different body proportions.

Doing yoga with children also teaches us, as we open our minds to children’s perspectives, as we develop patient calm when they want to repeat and repeat again, as we move with more ease and relaxation, having some laughing moments in a yoga asana.

Karl2And…who knows, your child may then pass yoga onto their children!

Karl, doing Sirsasana prep/ Svanasana with two year Odin.

Erich Schiffmann

“Continuing Education” in Freedom Yoga with Erich Schiffmann

Submitted by Mugs McConnell, E-RYT500, Co-owner of SOYA

Bob and I have just returned from a 5 day yoga teacher’s training with Erich Schiffmann at Exhale Yoga in Venice Beach. I always look forward to continuing to learn and deepen my knowledge of yoga. Even though Bob and I have trained for more than 100 hours with Erich since I first experienced his yoga in 2005 we are continually so very grateful for his depth of spirit and incredible ability to inspire our personal practice.

So what makes Erich so different from other yoga teachers? Of course the asana is awesome… it starts so easy and then the next thing I know I am in something so very deep and I wonder how I got there! His hip-opening sequences create amazing space leading to the ultimate achievement of the lotus position. His back-bending is delightful to watch, and his dog sequences are liquid as they open up the heart.  But it isn’t so much the asana that is so incredibly inspiring, it is his union with the Divine that takes me to places beyond.

“Your personal practice is being in class with the Infinite. Having your notebook ready is like inviting the insights in. The insights are the fruits of your work. Write them down right away, when they are the most clear.”
Erich reminds our class that the Infinite, the Universal Consciousness, or Big Mind – otherwise known as God – is Love. And Love is oozing out of every one of his pores as he teaches us teachers. “Put more love into your asana”. “That’s YOU in there. Be gentle!”

Erich has trained with the best of the best… He studied with Krishnamurti and taught yoga for many years in Krishnamurti’s Brockwood School in England. He lived in Madras, India for a year and studied with Desikachar. He studied with Mr. Iyengar in Poona, India in the 1970’s. He studied with Dona Holleman and Vanda Scaravelli in Italy. And in USA, Joel Kramer made it all click for him by taking it beyond the physical to an understanding of the flow of energy.

According to Erich, self-trust is the advanced technique of yoga… as you trust YOU, you are trusting in the ALL. We learn self-trust through the practice of meditation – regularly – on and off all day.  Start when you wake up in the morning by sitting up in bed with pillows supporting your back. In that early stage of waking, enjoy the inner quiet as you enter your day. Let those insights come into your mind and then trust them. With self-trust you are opening up to the Universal Wisdom. As you think less, and listen more… then “new knowing” will flow into your mind.

Erich lives his yoga ALWAYS. “Yoga is a lifestyle, which means living it all the time. ‘All the time’ is the new NOW that you are in all-the-time.” Whatever comes into your day, good or bad, it is your “new now” and how you handle it is a reflection of your state of yoga, your current level of consciousness.

We are very excited about Erich returning to BC next June 5-7, in Sorrento, BC at Sorrento Centre where he will help us celebrate 20 years of SOYA! He doesn’t come to Canada often so we are really very fortunate that he is making the trip here. Registration for this event will open in January 2015, so be sure to register early!

SOYA Yoga Teaching

To be or not to be a Yoga Teacher?

Submitted by Jeff Lutes, RYT500, E-RYT200 from Prince George, BC.  

 There are profundities in many experiences in life.  We have the opportunity to experience them every moment of every day in the interactions we have with people, our environment and with ourselves.   This is what I learned in my Yoga teacher training.

The experience of teacher training itself was unexpectedly profound.  When I began the training I had been doing Yoga on and off for about ten years. My interest in doing Yoga teacher training was not to become a teacher but to learn more about the ancient practice and to understand the philosophical foundations better.  What occurred in the SOYA training was much more.  At the time, it was like a magnificent dive into the infinite pool of energetic power that exits in the universe and how we as individuals embody, contain and manifest that power.  Today, the lessons learned are a source of inspiration that I can draw on when I feel an illusory dark reality descending.

Manifestation

 The experience of teacher training is to be in an ideal nurturing environment.  While I would imagine there are some teacher trainings where group dynamics may go sideways, what I experienced and what I have witnessed others experience is that as an individual you are immersed into a completely supportive group environment.  It is recognized through constant dialogue, re-enforced by the philosophical texts that we all come to the mat with our own respective dysfunctions and that it is these dysfunctions that make us who we are, the unique individual expression of the universal energetic source.  The teaching is constructive, the texts and lessons learned are all about positive intention and energy.  The constant theme reinforced is to learn to accept and love yourself and others with your best possible effort.  Whatever it is you can contribute towards achieving that-it is enough.

The experience is framed within an ancient practice of holistic well being, a physical and mental cleansing of the body and soul, ten to twelve hours of concerted application of well being per day.  Morning kriyas (cleansing techniques), daily pranayama (breath and vital energy manipulation) practices, two or more times per day, to help balance and cleanse the energy channels in our body, mind and soul.  There is Asana practice twice per day to stretch and strengthen the physical body and build capacity within to maximize the application of the increased vitality built throughout the training.

Compassion

 Through this daily work we inevitably encounter our own personal limitations and obstacles towards our goals.  These become our challenges and as they are recognized they are learned from.  The group of students in the training all face challenges and the magnificent thing that takes place is that we begin to apply the philosophical framework for the discipline and practice of Yoga-love and compassion towards our fellow yogis.  We learn from each other and realize that as we are compassionate toward others we learn to be compassionate with ourselves.  As others are compassionate towards you (the individual you) you begin to see the positive feedback loop strengthening.  You become stronger the more love and compassion are experienced.  This is the ultimate lesson, we are learning beings, built to absorb the lessons of the environment and world around us, and when properly enforced with positivity and prosperity of spiritual growth lessons, we manifest the true nature of our beings, lightness and love.

Reality

By the end of the training it is not as if you have become a permanently enlightened being.  Though euphoria and glimpses of the infinite universe led me to think I had achieved permanent enlightenment, the reality that it was not so was a major bummer.  For most, the embodiment of lightness and love are fleeting experiences, throughout the training and in life.  In teacher training though, when these moments of enlightenment arise, they are nurtured and the experience may linger longer than it otherwise would have.  The moment of enlightenment will probably pass though and we encounter the challenges within ourselves once again.  This is a natural ebb and flow.  The highs of these experiences are amazing and in the context of the training the lows are made less by the support of those around us.

The difficulty is in applying the experiences of what we learn to our every day lives.  Re-entering reality can be challenging.  Describing your experiences to others who have not done a teacher training or do not understand the practice and principles of yoga can be met with ponderous looks of bewilderment and disbelief.  In the teacher training you have been surrounded by reflections of your own experience, and the magnification becomes brighter and enhances your own experience.  In your normal reality the reflection may not be as bright or exist at all and as time goes by the magnification of the reflection diminishes within yourself.  The framework of positive re-enforcement disappears and it is up to you, on your own, to keep the light shining.  Many people are overwhelmed by this prospect.  I am one of those people.  Within this there is a vital lesson though.  While it is up to you to maintain the discipline and path in the experience of lightness and love, understand that what the environment of a teacher training provides is a community of people to keep the flame burning strong.  It was through the experience with others and the provision of compassion and love to others that created a brighter flame within the personal individual experience.  The lesson within this is that while the community you live within may not initially embrace your knowledge with open arms, trust that there is a community who will.  As you seek out and find that community, the continued application of the lessons of lightness and love will only serve to help the people and loved ones who viewed your knowledge with skepticism see the brilliance within what you have to offer. Maintaining the lessons learned is difficult but through persistent effort the benefits will continue to grow and the experiences of enlightenment will become more and more natural.

To Immerse or Not to Immerse:  That is the Question

 There are different options for how one can do a teacher training.  I did my initial training as an immersion-it began with completing a number of philosophical lessons at home on topics like chakras and the Gita, followed with an immersion of 16 days/12 hours per day.

Another method is to do it over a longer period of time.  Some schools provide opportunities to do it over three or four months, every other weekend and other schools provide the student an opportunity to work toward a certification in several short modules which amount to the required number of contact hours with approved teachers.  Obviously there are no right and wrong ways of going about getting certified as a teacher.  Each method has its own strengths.

Going the immersion route seems to manifest more dramatic shifts due to the consistent application of the lessons from Yoga day after day.  The armor most individuals have built up over the course of life is stripped away quickly.  A few days of feeling raw and vulnerable may take place but the support of those around you helps to ease the difficulty of the process and feel open to the depths of the practice of Yoga.  The result is both a positive and a challenge.  Due to the immersion the cathartic changes that take go to deeper depths.   The realm of constant positive re-enforcement forms a more innocent integration of the lessons learned.  Upon re-entry into regular life the bluntness of reality may overwhelm the innocence.   A trust is required that the seeds of what were planted during the training will continue to grow as long as they are nourished.

Doing a teacher training over a longer period of time gives one the benefit of integrating and experimenting with applying the lessons over the few months the training takes place.  The stripping of armor may not go as deep though.   The constant reentry into “normality” may cause a student to put the armor back on before they have experienced the lessons of what vulnerability has to offer.  It is a more pragmatic learning experience and as such has its obvious benefits and limitations.

Whatever a student chooses to participate in will be beneficial to themselves and the world as a whole.  There is nothing to compare that one is experience is better than the other, rather, it is important for a student to choose what seems right for them.

Profundities v. Normality

 Acceptance, love and compassion are fundamentally important experiences and attributes to have in your life.   These form the foundation for a healthy community.  Understanding and experiencing these through a Yoga teacher training has a profound long term impact on your own reality.

Other experiences may happen during the teacher training.  Through the consistent balancing, cleansing, strengthening and stretching or our energetic beings some interesting shifts and happenings can occur.  The subtle energies in our mind and body and spirit can manifest cathartic energy explosions that have profound impacts on our understanding of ourselves our own energetic connection to the universe around us.  In some form or another a student will experience a connection to the Chakras, the raising of Kundalini energy and a depth of connection to the vital life force-Prana.  The connections may be subtle or may be dramatic.  What is certain is that a student can experience and learn that the energy they are comprised of is as magnificent and mystical as the energy contained within the power of nature that surrounds us.

What is important to learn, whether you have done or will do a teacher training, or if you are a regular practitioner of yoga, or an aspiring practitioner, is that all of this, yourself and our universe are profound.  We see the profundity every day and it is this that sparks the awe of our unique, individual and collective reality: the smile on the face of someone who needs to make a connection to community and does so, the amazing power of the natural world we live in, the power within ourselves to be compassionate and loving towards others, this is what our practice is about.  Acknowledging that.  It is profound and yet the more it is practiced, the more normal it becomes.

jeffJeff Lutes is an enthusiastic teacher of Hatha yoga with a little vinyasa, power yoga, the yoke, and good times thrown in. He is an owner of Chinook Yoga in Prince George and our newest addition to the SOYA Lead Trainer faculty.

Horse yoga

Yoga opens our hearts to horses

Explore the horse-human connection by reconnecting with yourself – Sept 13-14 or Oct 18-19.

By Sandy Bell, Chinook Communications at Windhorse Retreat and Jo-Ann Bance, SOYA500, Our Inner Yogi

Breath and balance between mind and body — these yogic principles can bring us closer to awareness of ourselves through our reflections in equine eyes.   This is what we try to help participants achieve in our unique workshops blending the principles and practices of yoga and equine assisted learning.

Horses live in the present completely integrated with their whole brain, all of their senses and their physicality.  They are thoroughly connected with the natural world that surrounds them.  Contrast this with what many people in the developed world experience in our day-to-day lives.  In our work especially, we often are right-brain, visual, verbal and detached from our bodies and nature.

We may be, as well, self-limiting in our perception of the world around us, and our place in it, as received through our senses.  We may focus on using our vision and our hearing primarily, and our touch and taste to a lesser degree.  We may be unaware of the messages given to us by our sense of smell.  We may be fairly unconscious of some of the other senses we have that inform us about the world around us — proprioception and balance, for example, which tell us our about our bodies relative to the spaces around us.

The meditative experiences and yoga poses we offer in our workshops begin to re-open awareness of all our senses, thereby broadening our experience of ourselves in our environment. This enhanced awareness deepens the potential connections to the sentient and sensitive horses encountered in activities facilitated for personal reflection.  We do not merely think we know or try to rationalize about what the horse is telling us, we sense it in multiple ways, we feel it, we know it at a deep core level.

Horses are expert at non-verbal communication and can read people in a glance.  They absolutely know and trust their gut feelings coming from the non-verbal as perceived by multiple senses.  People often ignore or distrust their gut feelings — their intuitions —even though 70 to 80 per cent of human to human communication, we are told, is non-verbal in nature.

All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man. The air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.”  Chief Seattle

We encourage people to release themselves to the non-verbal through a yoga practice designed for all levels.  Yoga can open a person’s whole being — heart, spirit, mind and body — to what a horse has to offer in honest and immediate feedback from them.  horse in mistFor instance, at the beginning of the retreat, during a guided meditation participants are asked to imagine walking up to a field and in the distance noticing the silhouette of what appears to be horses.  They open the gate and make their way across the field.  As they get closer, they are asked to make one simple request “Can I be part of your herd?” Participants are encouraged to pay attention to the answer.  After the session, the group is then introduced to the Windhorse Retreat herd.  Through an equine-assisted learning exercise, individuals are asked to choose their herd and then to share their insights with the group about their choice.

Two-day “Discover you! Reflections in an equine eye” workshops at Windhorse Retreat (www.WindhorseRetreat.com) take place on Sept. 13-14 and Oct. 18-19.  A weeklong retreat in Costa Rica runs from Dec. 4-11.  No prior horse experience is needed for the workshops or the retreat.  Please text, phone or email for more information or to register: 403-700-7880 or chinookcomm@gmail.com.

supta baddhakonasana

Supta Baddhakonasana: Yoga for Menopause

Contributed by Helen Mikuska, SOYA, ERYT500, IYTA and SOYA Teacher Trainer. Helen is a lead trainer for the SOYA Teacher Training and is offering a workshop on Yoga for Menopause, Sunday, October 19, 2014 at Harmony Yoga Pilates Studio in Calgary. For more information visit www.harmonyyogapilatesstudio.ca/workshops

As part of the natural aging process, the body produces smaller and smaller quantities of reproductive hormones.  The ovaries and uterus shrink and ultimately the menstrual cycle ceases.  Menopause is a gradual process that may extend over several years.  Usually it occurs between 45-55 years of age, but may occur earlier.  Other factors affecting the age of menopause is one’s general standard of nutrition, weight and whether or not one has had children.  An early menopause can occur as a result of disease or surgical removal of the ovaries.  Hysterectomy usually does not precipitate menopause unless both ovaries are removed.  The decline of estrogen and progesterone triggers minor changes in the bones, skin and circulatory system but essentially all the menopause really signifies is that a woman can no longer achieve a child.  Women may experience hot flashes, vaginal atrophy, weight gain, headaches, digestive upset, dizzy spells, palpitations, blood pressure irregularities, insomnia, lethargy, irritability and depression.  They are not directly related to the fall in estrogen, but the stress of hormonal fluctuations do influence a woman’s mood and these difficulties could then be precipitated in more vulnerable women.

For women who have been practicing yoga in earlier years often physical difficulties at menopause are less intense and any emotional disturbances practically non-existent.  As with all hormonal imbalances, yoga asanas have a tremendous stabilizing effect.  Some estrogen continues to be produced by the liver and kidneys even after the ovaries cease their secretions, and the correct yoga practices can stimulate these extra sources as partial compensation for loss of ovarian hormones.  For those who have not been practicing yoga before, it is never too late to begin. Women who have undergone a hysterectomy or other major operations are equally able to commence.  Workshop will include the practice of asana, learning pranayamas specific to menopause along with some suggested mantras and mudras.

 Supta baddhakonasana:

supta baddhakonasana-menopause2

Sit in butterfly pose with a bolster behind your back and a block underneath each knee. Wrap a strap around your waist and tuck it under your ankles. Breathe in, then exhale as you recline onto your bolster. Place an eyebag over the eyes. Place a folded

blanket under your head for comfort if desired. Relax here for up to 10 minutes.

This pose is beneficial for irregular periods, heavy bleeding, insomnia, headaches, eye strain and fatigue.