Growing Roots: A grounding meditation to connect to the Earth

GroundingMeditationWhen 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.

Getting to know the Earth Element

Tree roots and boulders encountered while hiking.

Tree roots and boulders encountered while hiking.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Practice mountain pose. Embody Earth.
  5. Grow vegetables or fruit trees. Enjoy the pure nourishment from the earth.

7 stones to heal and balance the Chakras

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.

Hematite

Hematite

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.

 

Citrine

Citrine

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.

 

Tiger Eye

Tiger Eye

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.

 

Green Aventurine

Green Aventurine

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.

 

Turquoise

Turquoise

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.

 

Sodalite

Sodalite

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.

 

Amethyst

Amethyst

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.

 

Why should the last day of spring mean something to you?

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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.

A vinyasa flow yoga sequence with circles

If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred. (Walt Whitman)

If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred. (Walt Whitman)

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.

 

Why I write 3 pages about anything every morning

Cover of "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual P...

Cover via Amazon

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.

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Keep these 3 things in mind when you try yoga with weights

Arm rotations in tree pose require extra focus.

Arm rotations in tree pose require extra focus.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Come for the Restorative Yoga, Stay for the Cat

Cats give great adjustments.

Cats give great adjustments.

Restorative yoga is lovely and deeply relaxing. I enjoying teaching restorative classes and workshops, and one of my favorites is a workshop I created where participants learn how to prop restorative poses with just one folded blanket. This gives them the opportunity to recreate the practice at home without having to invest in bolsters, blocks and straps.

I thought I would share a short one-blanket restorative sequence with you. I particularly like this sequence because the transitions are smooth and easy. You’ll go around in a circle as you move from pose to pose. Rather than write it out, I set up my camera in the backyard to record a video of the sequence for you.

It was a good idea. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. However, our cat was outside enjoying the weather, too. If the cat knows there’s yoga happening, she has to get in on the action. I’ve nicknamed her “the 4-pawed Reiki master” because she loves to give paws-on, energy-laden adjustments.  Needless to say, I didn’t get to record the video without the cat.

If you’d like to try the restorative poses, ignore the cat, who shows up just past the 3-minute mark, and listen to my voice. If you like cats, then enjoy watching her climb on me, rub my face with her head, and get in the way during transitions.

Either way, thanks for watching.

 

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Yoga for Cyclists: 4 poses to stretch and strengthen your ankles

During the years I trained for triathlons, I spent many hours on my bike. I wish I knew then what I know now. Last year I explored cycling and yoga as part of a continuing education program and have put together a series of workshops for cyclists. The first workshop addresses the pain and strain that can develop in a cyclist’s ankles and feet.

Repetitive pedaling creates stress and muscle shortening around the ankle complex. Tightness in the calf muscles can contribute to poor foot alignment, plantar fasciitis (pain on the bottom of the heel) and increased stress on the Achilles tendon. In addition, pulling up on the pedals with bike shoes can strain the anterior shin area. Regular strengthening and stretching of the ankles and feet can help correct these problems. These four yoga poses are great for the ankles:

downloadTrikonasana (Triangle) By bringing your focus to your feet and ankles, you can enjoy some lovely lengthening in your calves and ankles. Root down through the ball of the forward foot and the outer edge of the back foot. Draw your inner ankles up and your thighs toward each other. Keep your lower body engaged as you lengthen your spine.

straddle-forward-bend_-_step_2.max.v1Prasarita Padottanasana (Standing Straddle Fold) Stretch the outside of your ankles and your calves while strengthening your inner ankles. Stack your hips over your heels and press the outsides of your feet into the floor as you lift your arches. Tip your tailbone up. Deepen further by contracting the quadriceps (muscles in the front of the thighs), which pulls your kneecaps up toward your hips.

Upward Facing DogUrdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog) Point your toes back and press the tops of your feet into the floor. As your hips move forward into the backbend, your shins and the front of your ankles lengthen.

airplaneAirplane to Hip Flexion Balance Flow Any time you balance on one foot, you are strengthening the entire ankle complex. Moving between two balance poses adds another layer of challenge. Begin in the Airplane variation of Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) with the arms extended back like wings. Lifting the upper body, draw the knee of the extended leg forward and up towards your chest, then transition back to Airplane. Move slowly back and forth, matching your breath.

A regular yoga practice is wonderful cross-training for any of the endurance sports. Make a daily date with your mat.

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What you really need to know before your first yoga class (hint: it’s not what to wear)

What's so great about yoga? You have to keep practicing to find out.

What’s so great about yoga? You have to keep practicing to find out.

From what I’ve observed during my six years of teaching yoga, it’s not hard to get someone to try yoga for the first time. It’s getting him or her back for the second round that’s the challenge. Because most yoga teachers, myself included, can’t take the time during a multi-level class to fully explain to newcomers what to expect, here is what you really need to know before your first yoga class.

The first time you try yoga, it will most likely feel very awkward. Just standing with bare feet on a sticky mat feels weird. Getting your body into the same shape as the instructor’s will seem impossible. You might feel uncoordinated, unbalanced, ungraceful and totally inflexible. The next day, you might be sore in places you didn’t know you had muscles. And, if you can’t set all those feelings aside, you might never try yoga again.

Yoga is not an instant cure-all. A yoga practice can make your body stronger, more flexible and healthier, but it won’t happen overnight. One time is never enough. The only way yoga can work is if you keep practicing.

The trick is to get through that first class without letting your critical ego get in the way. Your body is going to think yoga is great and that it wants to do more. The muscles, although they might be sore, will have really enjoyed the stretching. It’s your mind that will shut down your desire for more yoga. Your mind likes to carry on about anything it can, so it will chatter away, telling you that you didn’t look good in the poses, that you aren’t flexible enough to do these kinds of things, or that you need to lose 25 pounds before you try again.

The problem with the mind is that it always wants to be the center of attention. It looks for things to think about so it never has to be quiet. Yoga takes your attention away from the mind and directs it to the body. The mind fights back by dragging you outside yourself. It worries about what other people think and tries to convince you it knows what’s going on in other people’s heads. Once it does, you feel self-conscious and inadequate, because you can never live up to the expectations you have imagined other people have for you.

The truth is nobody else in your yoga class, besides the teacher whose job it is to make sure you are doing the poses safely, cares what you look like on your mat. Other beginners are suffering the same insecurities you are, and more experienced practitioners are usually thrilled when someone new tries this practice that they love. Once the class is underway, all those with experience are focusing on their own bodies and probably won’t even look at you. Many go through their practice with their eyes closed. They are not watching you to see if you mess up.

While laughter is certainly not off-limits in yoga class, and is, in fact, a welcome release when the class is getting too intense, nobody will laugh at you for being a beginner. Yoga students sometimes laugh at themselves when they struggle to balance in tree pose or mess up their rights and lefts and end up facing the wrong way. Laughter is a wonderful, heart-opening practice when it comes from love and camaraderie. Yoga students may laugh together, but they don’t laugh at each other, despite what your ego may tell you.

Practicing yoga is also an exercise in humility. Unlike sports, you are not going to get much recognition for doing yoga, no matter how well you do it. You can practice yoga for 20 years and you will never get a trophy, or even a ribbon. You are unlikely to have your journey to yoga greatness documented by a gaggle of photographers. On your mat, it’s just you against……you. Nobody wins. No sports page coverage.

Putting all the ego stuff aside is what makes yoga different than just stretching exercises and, in the end, is what brings people back to the mat. When you learn to ignore all the stuff the mind is going on about, it shuts up. You get to have a few moments of quiet and you discover what yoga really is.

Yogascittavrittinirodhah

Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.

That’s what it comes down to. The whole time you’re on your mat, struggling awkwardly into poses, fighting off critical thoughts – while toning and strengthening your body, of course – all you’re trying to do is have a moment of silence.

Once you discover the silence, you’ll keep coming back to your mat. The next time you practice, you can be pretty sure you’ll be right back to struggling with your ego, trying to find the silence again. But over time the poses will feel a little less awkward. You may be a bit more balanced. You may feel a touch more coordinated. You will begin to move with grace. And you may discover that you are more flexible than you thought.

All because you didn’t let the first class be the last class.