Next weekend I am teaching a yoga workshop called “Elemental Yoga” at the Central New York Pagan Pride Day Festival in Syracuse, New York. I’m very excited. This is the first time I’ve ventured out of my comforting Adirondack mountains to teach yoga to strangers, so I’m also a bit nervous. I have been doing lots of grounding work over the past few weeks, drawing nourishing energy from the earth, while at the same time inviting my vision for the workshop down to the physical level so it will manifest.
Yoga always helps me stay grounded and centered, but these three simple poses are my go-to poses when I need a quick refocus.
- Mountain pose. Tadasana is the basis of all standing poses in yoga. It embodies the grounding energy of the root chakra and brings awareness to your postural alignment. Stand with your feet no wider than your hips and your toes forward. Soften your knees, spread your toes and balance your weight between the balls of your feet and the center of your heel. Drop your tailbone and reach the crown of your head up, lengthening your spine. Relax your arms by your sides. Close your eyes and imagine your weight dropping into your feet, like you are trying to be so heavy that no one can lift you off the ground. You might sense your feet sinking into the floor or, if you are outside, the ground. Keep your knees slightly bent – if you lock them it will be harder for you to keep your feet heavy.
- Lotus pose. Padmasana originated in the meditative practices of ancient India and is still used by modern-day practitioners. This centering posture presses your sitting bones, your physical “roots,” firmly down. Due to the hip and knee flexibility required, full lotus pose, with both feet placed on the opposite thighs, is not available for everyone. If you find it difficult, you can modify by bringing just one foot onto the other thigh (half lotus pose) or simply crossing your ankles (easy pose). If you practice Padmasana regularly, be sure to alternate which leg is on top to avoid developing imbalance in the hips. Once you get settled in your seat, lengthen your spine, lower your chin slightly and become aware of everything that is touching the surface you are sitting on. I find that just a few minutes focusing on my physical connection to the earth is calming and helps me to feel present.
- Cobra pose. It is difficult to get closer to earth energy than to have your belly on the earth in Bhujangasana. Lie face down and stretch your legs back, feet hip-width apart, and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and hug your elbows to your sides. Keeping your pelvis pressed into the floor and straightening your arms as you make space to do so, lift your heart. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, draw your lower belly slightly off the floor and lift the top of your sternum. Draw your ears away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck. Feel the tops of your feet, your thighs, your pelvis and your low belly on the earth. If you are in a time of transformation or change, add extra oomph by closing your eyes and imagining you are shedding your skin, slithering out of whatever you are letting go of in order for change to happen.
I’ve been following the seismic activity and subsequent eruption in and around the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland with fascination. I live in an area where the mountains were created by glaciers, not volcanoes, and the ground rarely shakes, so it’s easy to forget that even the Earth is sometimes unsettled. Over the last few weeks, there’s been lots of shaking going on, all over the Earth, and there was another volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea. We are in need of some collective grounding, and there are some stones that can help.
There are a number of stones that are particularly grounding. In honor of the volcanic eruptions, I have to start with Obsidian. Obsidian is a natural volcanic glass formed from molten lava that cools very rapidly. It’s origin creates an instant connection to the core of the Earth. Obsidian is a powerful, protective stone that absorbs negative energy and enhances resilience.
Hematite is another grounding and balancing stone. It is mined as the main ore of iron and is somewhat magnetic. Use hematite to relieve spaciness, to protect your aura, and to enhance your memory.
Technically, smoky quartz is caused by irradiation and traces of aluminum built into its crystal lattice. Smoky quartz is a very physically and psychically protective and grounding stone. It also removes negative energy of any kind and transforms it to positive energy. Smoky quartz enhances survival instincts, and can help one reach personal and business goals. It is also used in assisting in making wishes come true by grounding their essence in reality. Thus, it is a stone that brings abundance, prosperity, and good luck.
Jasper is a common stone and comes in many beautiful colors and patterns. It offers gentleness, comfort, and relaxation. Jasper is associated with agriculture, gardening and prosperity. It also grounds and protects you during astral travel by keeping you connected to your body. Jasper helps you become peaceful and centered.
Black Tourmaline is a powerful stone, with a long history among many cultures of providing protection during ritual work. It is best known as a grounding and protection stone. Tourmaline takes negative energy and grounds it into the earth where it is transformed back into pure potential. It also promotes a sense of power and self-confidence, allowing for a clearer, more objective view of the world.
You can work with any of these stones by holding one during meditation, placing one on the Root Chakra during healing sessions, wearing a bracelet made of stone beads, or placing them on an altar or another sacred place in your home.
When things start to feel out of control or unsettled, I spend a few minutes practicing a simple, grounding meditation. Seated firmly on the floor or, even better, outside, I settle into my breath, then imagine growing roots.
To get you started, I recorded this simple grounding meditation to help you visualize your own roots. Once you get the idea, you can practice growing roots whenever you need to feel more settled and stable.
Thanks to Mark Piper, a talented local musician and awesome friend (and my guitar teacher), for the background music.
When I chose “Elements of Wellness” for my services, I was considering not only the various aspects of creating health, but also of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. Each of these elements has unique qualities that you can tap into to become balanced and whole. In our Spirit Circles, we invite each of those elements to lend their power and aid to our intentions.
I resonate most deeply with the Earth Element (most likely because I’m a Virgo, an earth sign along with Taurus and Capricorn). Earth is where you put your roots, both physically and energetically. To me, Earth is home. It represents stability, security, nourishment and quiet stillness. When you think of Earth, think of mountains, stones, tree roots, bears, wolves, winter, midnight, and the colors green and brown.
Some ways you can connect to the Earth Element are:
- Grounding meditations. Sit solidly and imagine roots growing from your tailbone down into the earth. Feel yourself getting heavier and sense yourself being anchored in place.
- Walk on the earth. Whether you take a walk around your neighborhood or climb a mountain, direct your awareness to the feel of your feet on the ground.
- Explore crystals and stones. You can simply spend a few minutes holding one in your hands and noticing the feel. Particularly earth-y stones include hematite, jet and emerald.
- Practice mountain pose. Embody Earth.
- Grow vegetables or fruit trees. Enjoy the pure nourishment from the earth.
Stones and crystals have a long tradition of being used for healing. Each variety of stone has its own resonance which creates its healing abilities. Working with appropriate stones can help to restore stability and balance to the Chakra energy system, stimulating the physical body’s natural healing mechanisms. (For more on how healing crystals work, see this article by Benjamin Dean.)
My own interest in stones began when I was a child. I collected rocks everywhere, and was overjoyed when I found quartz or the beautiful red garnet which has been mined in the Adirondacks since the late 1800s. I’ve continued to learn about and work with crystals whenever there was an opportunity. Nowadays I carry a medicine bag with a variety of crystals, including one for each Chakra.
There are a number of stones that work well with each Chakra, and some are used for one Chakra by some folks and for a different Chakra by others. I chose the crystals which would best enhance the qualities of each Chakra that I most needed to heal, balance or support. Perhaps you will find others work better for you. I choose a stone by holding it in my hand and seeing how it makes me feel. You’ll know when you’ve got the right one.
1st Chakra: Roots
Hematite, or blood ore, powerfully roots you to the earth. It is used for grounding and for protection from negative forces. I work with hematite when I feel insecure or mentally scattered, to reconnect with the first Chakra’s stabilizing energy.
2nd Chakra: Emotions
A powerful stone for all the lower Chakras, citrine dissipates negative energy and invokes feelings of warmth, joy and hopefulness. It aids in physical and emotional healing and attracts abundance to your life. I chose citrine for the second Chakra because of its positive effects on the emotions.
3rd Chakra: Power
Tiger eye fires up vitality and personal power. This stone, which represents the sun, promotes optimism and aids with manifestation and the expression of will. I work with tiger eye when I’m ready to take action on an idea or to stand up for my beliefs.
4th Chakra: Balance
Like the 4th Chakra, green aventurine creates balance by evening out your masculine and feminine sides and the give and take of relationships. I use aventurine for work with love relationships, to get me through life changes (and there have been many), and to release anxiety.
5th Chakra: Truth
I have held a piece of turquoise to keep me calm and relaxed while speaking in public. Turquoise helps you communicate your truth and to empathize with others without loosing sight of your own values. It can help with any form of self-expression, as long as you are being honest with yourself and others.
6th Chakra: Intuition
Sodalite increases physic abilities and intuition, making it ideal for Third Eye work. It helps you recognize patterns in systems like astrology and the tarot, and can bring latent creative abilities to the surface. I bring out my sodalite whenever I’m stuck for a new idea or solution.
7th Chakra: Spirit
The perfect stone to accompany meditation, amethyst helps you quiet your mind and amplifies spiritual energy. Amethyst beads make wonderful malas. I use the uplifting energy of amethyst when life starts to feel heavy.
For a simple Chakra balancing practice, hold each stone, one at a time, in your hand and meditate on the look and feel of the stone, and how it makes you feel to hold it. Allow the energy of each stone to connect with yours and to enhance the energy of your Chakras.
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I have put together sets of the crystals I use for my Chakra work, which are available in the True North Yoga studio and will soon be in our Etsy shop. If you would like to purchase one before they go on Etsy, contact me and I’ll happily send one your way.
As I’m writing this, Spring 2014 has less than 24 hours left. Most folks are excited for summer to officially start, although, depending on the climate where you live, it may feel like summer already. Here in the Adirondacks, the start of summer was a bit of a shock, because winter-like weather lasted well into spring. We’ve only just turned the heat off at the yoga studio.
Perhaps you, like me, will be celebrating the Summer Solstice this weekend, or maybe a graduation or a wedding. Maybe, if you live in the U.S., you welcome summer on July 4th. However you celebrate, don’t forget to say goodbye to spring.
Before the festivities start, take a few quiet minutes to reflect on the two seasons that have passed. Did you set intentions for this year, or for last season? Have you honored what you’ve accomplished? Is there anything you need to reassess?
I initiated some big changes back when fall gave way to winter. I needed to feel better physically and emotionally. I also needed to look at the directions my career and finances were taking. Heavy stuff.
I’ve been lucky. I have tremendous support from family, friends and my yoga community, and my new family of health coaches at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Even with that support, change is difficult. There have been fears to face, reality checks, uncertainties and second guesses. But there is also slow, steady progress.
I could not have made these difficult but necessary changes without all of that support. I will continue to need that support, as I still have a long way to go.
Knowing the value of that support makes me feel very good about my decision to become a Holistic Health Coach. The best way I can honor all of the support I have received is to give that same caring, nurturing support to others. Together we can discover how to change your life to put you on the path to health and happiness.
I am a big fan of circles. If you visited the page about my spirit circles you’ll know just how powerful circles can be. A circle holds sacred space, and in that space amazing things can happen.
By incorporating circular movements into your yoga practice, you can create sacredness around you and within you. I love to create sequences that contain circles to offer you that sacredness.
This short and not-too-challenging vinyasa flow sequence incorporates a number of different circles. Unroll your yoga mat and create your own sacred circle with your practice.
I purchased my copy of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, about 15 years ago. Working my way through the book was an enlightening experience, and the start of many small changes that have, over time, transformed my life.
The tool that I used most consistently, and kept up the longest, was the Morning Pages. From Julia Cameron’s website:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
I did my Morning Pages for nearly a year after finishing the book. I have started and stopped a number of times since then. The latest lull lasted a couple of years. Then I started my Health Coach training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
One of the many fabulous things about IIN’s training is all the non-food-related things that support wellness. Early on in the training I was reintroduced to the Morning Pages during an awesome talk by Julia Cameron. (She is a great storyteller.) I dug out the notebook I had been using during the last round and started again.
When my alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m., I am usually already awake. I sit up in bed and grab my notebook, a pen and my book light (so I don’t wake my husband). My brain gets very busy first thing, so I never struggle to think of something to write. It takes approximately 30 minutes to write three pages longhand. By the time I’m done, my mind is much quieter and I can get on my yoga mat focused on my practice.
I have sorted out lots of issues in my Morning Pages and my yoga practice feels much more centered. Try the Morning Pages for a couple of weeks and see where they take you.
I will be including the Morning Pages as part of my 6-month Health Coaching program. Contact me and let me know you’d like to be on the list for a free initial phone consultation during which you can find out how a Health Coach can guide you on the path to wellness.
When I decided to combine my yoga teacher training and personal trainer certification and teach a yoga with weights class, I looked around at the programs out there and couldn’t find one that satisfied me. Instead of taking a training that did not offer everything I was looking for, I created my own. My Earth & Fire: Vinyasa Flow Yoga with Weights classes are structured to be safe and designed to stabilize the core in every pose or movement. I borrowed from yoga, pilates and weight training and built all the moves into a flow.
Unless you live in the eastern Adirondacks in New York, you will need to find a yoga with weights class near you if you want to try it. (Or ask me about doing a session on Skype.) When you take that class, keep these things in mind:
- Keep it light. Yes, you should keep your attitude light, but what you really need to do is choose light hand weights. If you’ve never worked with weights before, 1 or 2 pound weights are enough. If you have, pick a weight that is less than you usually lift. When you are holding your arms out with a weight in each hand in Warrior II, you don’t want to be slowly tearing your rotator cuff. Since you’ll have to focus on holding a pose as well as what is going on in your arms, it’s safer to downsize your weights. The weights I offer my classes max out at 5 pounds.
- Engage your whole body. As you are pressing weights overhead in Warrior I, is your alignment degrading? The weights are just one part of what’s going on. Ground through your legs and feet and always, always, always use your core muscles. Maintain a neutral pelvis and support the low back by drawing the lower abdominals in and up and tucking your tailbone. Keep the shoulder blades down unless you are targeting their movement. Bring your chin down until your ears are directly above your shoulders and keep the neck as soft as possible. The true challenge of practicing yoga with weights is not the number of reps, but doing those reps without sacrificing your alignment.
- Breathe. I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but I have learned from my own practice and observing my students that whenever something new is introduced or the going gets rough, we forget to breathe. When I teach Earth & Fire, all the movements are timed to the breath. That might mean those movements are slow, and that’s okay. First and foremost, keep breathing throughout the practice, and fire up your Ujjayi breath.
I love my yoga with weights practice. The strength training has supported my regular practice by building the muscles that allow me to have fun in inversions and all sorts of balance poses. It’s also great cross-training for the running and hiking I do, and the yoga and weights give me a double-dose of bone density maintenance. Keeping those three things in mind, give a yoga with weights class a try.