What exactly is “self-care”?  And how does it show up (or not) in your life?

Suffering is optional

I’m writing this blog article to address a yoga-related topic that might be overlooked or over-ridden. I am recouping from a double bunionectomy in my feet and had metal implants inserted in each big toe to overcome daily pain of severe arthritis in the joints of my toes and loss of cartilage.  For as long as I can remember, I had been struggling with pain; walking, hiking, practicing yoga, constantly finding creative ways to modify the poses during yoga class to minimize suffering.

I had three back surgeries many years ago and became completely resistant in my own mind dealing with any new health issues. Thinking I was done with all this, and ignoring any new problems, I avoided doctor visits and became a master at dealing with pain. I studied Eastern philosophy and medicine and totally embraced it (and still do), but more or less ignored Western medicine. (which was very fear based)

I focused on my students, teaching them how important self-care was. It’s a subject I fully believe, in but had difficulty applying it to myself, let alone acknowledging that I needed it most of all. I became masterful at ignoring pain, learning to deal with it, delaying even looking at my own health issues.

At the beginning of the new year of 2016, a switch flipped on for me. I dove head first into my own health care, starting with a complete physical, and leaving no stone unturned. I lost a good amount of weight, lowered my cholesterol 70 points, and lowered my blood pressure within 4 months to a very healthy number. I felt so much better, more energy and was totally on board with staying healthy. I had a benign tumor removed from my neck, something I avoided for over 13 years.

This last Tuesday, coincidentally the first day of summer, a day of total fresh starts and renewal, I had surgery on my feet. It was something I dealt with for over 15 years. It was time. It was a bit tougher than I thought, but the doctor did a wonderful job. (If you want his name I’m happy to pass his information along) For 2 weeks, I’m in walking surgical sandals. They are black, so they goes with almost everything! And I wear these cool plastic boot sleeves to shower in (they look like waders). All a new experience.

I decided to relay the story because I have heard comments from students in class tell me they too have avoided doctors or surgery and have been riding it out. You have most likely heard me in class telling stories about how I pride myself in being “the queen of modifications”. The injuries have definitely helped me tremendously on my teaching path. I feel that injuries give insight to something deeper and try to pass that experience along in a positive way to the students. So, although bittersweet, injuries are gifts depending on how you view the overall experience.

I’m relieved the surgery is past. I faced my fears and decided to use self-care, something I dish out freely in class, but not so much to myself, until now. I encourage everyone to practice “ahimsa,” a sanskrit word that translates to non-harming. It refers to non-harming to others and mostly to yourself. It’s one of the most important moral codes yoga practitioners use and live by. Help yourself first so you can help others. Making the decision to turn a corner with my own healthcare feels 100% in alignment with what nature intended. It is being authentic to my higher Self. It’s easier to meditate now because everything is clearer. I look forward to walking, standing on my own two feet literally and figuratively and having more freedom in yoga class. I hope the article inspires you in some way to be kinder to yourself and take charge of your healthcare.

Namaste, Kathy

Always go a little further into the water than you are comfortable with, go a little further out of your depth, when you feel your feet are not quite touching the bottom you are just about in the right spot to start to do something exciting.

David Bowie

“Anxiety: Get Over It”

I suffered from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common “mental illness” in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults. That’s 18% of the American population. Although it’s highly treatable, only one-third of those affected actually receive treatment. I am one of the 18%.
I put “mental illness” in quotes because of the way people use and react to this term. Often I’ve heard “mentally ill” used as an insult. I’ve heard way too many times “are you mentally ill?” thrown around carelessly. Then when I hear that something that’s plagued me my entire life is a mental illness, I can’t help but feel like something is seriously wrong or that what I suffer from is so looked down upon in society. Little did I know that I was not alone in the struggle.
It started when I was about six years old. I had gone to bed just like any other night, but when I woke up a few hours later, I was gasping for air and my mind was racing. I felt like I was dying. I was too young and innocent to understand what my brain was doing to me. Panic attacks like this would continue on and off, occasionally sending me to the hospital, for years. It was in 8th grade that the panic attacks escalated and the symptoms grew from shortness of breath to nausea and dizziness. I quickly developed claustrophobia and the anxiety worsened. Going to school or any public place was not an option. A year later, my anxiety became worse causing me to almost drop out of high school. I had no tools or aid in dealing with the stress from the anxiety and I felt stuck in an awful place. Leaving school felt like the best option but I was encouraged by my parents to figure out what was causing it and overcome it.
I began to see a therapist and take medication to calm the anxiety. I learned different techniques on fighting off any signs of an attack. I began working at Pulsation Yoga and wasted no time in starting yoga classes. I often attended Kathy’s 5:15pm Restorative/Therapeutics class. The studio has always been the perfect place to put aside my issues, relax my mind, and empower myself to fight the issue when it came time to face it. Through yoga I also learned that everyone struggled with something and trying to conceal my own issues only heightened them. Though it was difficult at first, I persevered in my mission to get better and take back control of my life. I learned breathing techniques for when I felt stressed or overwhelmed and I was taught therapeutic poses to relax my body and center my mind. I even went on to become a certified yoga instructor and began teaching classes to teens. At first I sought control of myself, but was quickly inspired by my own success with my “mental illness” and sought to help others that struggled as well.
By opening myself up to others and learning that we’re all up against something, it sparked some bravery in me to be able to talk about it more and inspire others that dealt with the same issues I did. While I don’t regret taking medication and I wouldn’t say that the medication was me cowering away, it weakened me to rely on something I know deep down I truly didn’t need. It helped me find a little stability to actually grasp what was going on and how I could survive without being medicated in the future. We all have fighters inside of us and sometimes it takes a little help in finding that person and letting them out.
I still don’t know what the cause of my anxiety is and I probably will never know. It isn’t something that is going to go away. It’s here with me always but it’s never going to control me again. You can’t tell someone to just get over their anxiety. It’s not something so easily overcome and while it’s “all in my head,”  it’s not so easy to get out.
Click here and here to learn more about anxiety disorders and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Click here for more info on Pulsation Yoga.
— MR: April of 2016

Q&A: Todd Norian

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Where you are teaching currently?
All over the country. I do many of my teacher trainings and advanced training near Lenox, MA.

How long have you been teaching yoga?
34 years.

Why did you become a yoga teacher?
Who and/or what are your biggest influences?
It was a calling of my heart. My biggest influences were from Iyengar, Kripalu, and Anusara styles. My philosophical background is from the Kashmir Shaiva Tantra.

How has yoga helped you to be a better person?
More conscious, accepting, and compassionate.

What is your personal mission statement as a yoga teacher?
To help others awaken to their divine nature and bring more light on the planet.

What do you think constitutes an excellent yoga instructor?
Soft heart, sharp mind, vibrant body.

What was your most challenging teaching experience? [Frustrating, funniest, or most enlightening teaching experience] Showing up an hour early to teach a morning sadhana resident yoga at Kripalu back when it was an ashram on the morning of the daylight savings change over. I was embarrassed. There was only one student in the room. I taught the one student until everyone else starting entering the room for the real class!

What do you recommend to the beginner student? To the seasoned student?
Follow your heart. Listen to your body. Get into a good alignment based method. Advanced students: keep up your practice at home.

How do you take your yoga off the mat?
I try to conduct myself professionally in all of my business interactions by being patient, bracketing my emotions, breathing and pausing when I get activated, and taking a time out when I’m upset so I can clear my head then return to the relationship with clarity and respect. I see the divine in all beings and act with integrity to the best of my ability. I’m also open to receiving feedback from others in order to gain insight about my blind spots that I can’t see myself. I use this process for my own growth and development.

What is the one pose you are most proud of getting into? Why? [it can be the first yoga pose you ever did, or a super challenging one, for example]
Full Natarajasana standing. This pose is so amazing because it opens my heart and upper chest like no other. But it takes regular practice and staying in shape. It has become my barometer of how much I’m practicing. If I can’t get into the pose, I know that I need to pick up my practice more.

What is your favorite time of day to practice yoga? Why?
Morning. Stillness.

Where is the best place you have ever practiced yoga? [maybe you did a yoga pose while on vacation in Europe or took a class on the beach somewhere—that sort of thing]
On the Greek Island of Hydra.

What is your favorite [band or album or music genre] to listen to while practicing yoga?
None.

What else do you want students to know about you?
I love to teach yoga. It’s my passion. I love to support others to align with their heart and take steps to fulfill their life-destiny path. 

Why do you love teaching at Pulsation Yoga in particular?
The love!

Q&A: Megan Miller

Megan-Miller-8
Where you are teaching: Arlington Heights, Lake Zurich, or both studios?

I teach in the Arlington Heights studio. Mondays from 9:30-10:45 a.m. (Level 2), Fridays from 9:30-10:45 a.m.(Level 1-2) and Fridays 12 noon – 1 p.m. (Level 1-2).

How long have you been teaching yoga? 

Seven years. My first teacher’s training was with Ana Forrest. I also completed a teacher training in  Anusara Yoga with Kathy Simonik  in 2012 and I am just wrapping up my Advanced Teacher’s training certification with Lori Gaspar through Prairie Yoga, which is influenced by Iyengar yoga.

Why did you become a yoga teacher? Who and/or what are your biggest influences?

I became a yoga teacher because I find yoga endlessly fascinating and I wanted to keep learning more and more about it. Yoga is so life changing and amazing and I feel gifted to be able to share it with others. I have been influenced and inspired by the ancient teachings of yoga and by my teachers Ana Forrest, Kathy Simonik and Lori Gaspar. I am especially grateful to Kathy Simonik for her wisdom, guidance, and inspiration.

How has yoga helped you to be a better person?

Yoga has given me more freedom in body and mind. A runner and athlete all of my life, I did not appreciate or understand the importance of opening, releasing, and lengthening muscles in addition to working them for strength and endurance. Yoga makes me feel amazing…strong, flexible, balanced, peaceful, and focused.

What is your personal mission statement as a yoga teacher?

To help students personalize their practices by modifying poses and mindfully progress to deeper and more challenging poses when they are ready. Trained in Forrest, Anusara, and Iyengar yoga styles, all rooted in alignment principles, I strive to help students develop wise, knowledgeable, instinctual practices.  I hope to guide students to find balance, harmony, and peace on and off of the mat.

What do you think constitutes an excellent yoga instructor?

Teachers who are curious and passionate about learning and growing are excellent because this enthusiasm infuses everything they do especially the yoga classes they teach. Incredible teachers commit to their own practice and continually work to expand themselves and then inspire others to do the same.

What was your most challenging teaching experience? [Frustrating, funniest, or most enlightening teaching experience]

Early on, keeping right and left straight. Who knew what seems so simple can be difficult and takes time to master…

What do you recommend to the beginner student? To the seasoned student?

To all students, we can always change. At its essence yoga is transformation. Anybody, at any age can be healthier, happier, and less stressed by learning and practicing yoga.

How do you take your yoga off the mat?

I seek to be grounded. Grounded in the present, rooted physically and emotionally to the earth and to myself. Staying centered and calm and maybe even embracing change and challenges. Many things are grounding- family, friends, being in nature, gratitude, and, of course, yoga because through the practice we cultivate a deep connection to our self.

What is the one pose you are most proud of getting into? Why? [it can be the first yoga pose you ever did, or a super challenging one, for example]

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand). It’s a powerful, playful, and fun!!!

What is your favorite time of day to practice yoga? Why?

Any time of day and as often as possible.

Where is the best place you have ever practiced yoga? [maybe you did a yoga pose while on vacation in Europe or took a class on the beach somewhere—that sort of thing]

Surrounded by the rainforest in an open air, bamboo covered yoga space at a yoga/health retreat in Costa Rica. Bliss.

What is your favorite [band or album or music genre] to listen to while practicing yoga?

I love music…all different kinds of music. My playlists are an eclectic mix of all different genres and artists.  I like to weave classic, timeless songs and artists with acoustic covers, soul, blues, indie, alternative, and new music with instrumentals, yoga artists and chants, yet always have meditative, reflective, restful music moments as well.

What else do you want students to know about you?

I’m passionate about eating and living to thrive. Always reading and learning about optimal wellness.

Why do you love teaching at Pulsation Yoga in particular? 

Pulsation Yoga is a really, really special yoga studio. The energy, the space, the owners Kathy and Jim, the teachers, and, of course, the students are amazing. It feels like “home”.

marc holzman

Q&A: Marc Holzman

How Long have you been teaching yoga?
15 years

Why did you become a yoga teacher?
The treasures I received from my practice were too profound to keep to myself.  Teaching is not only my greatest passion, it’s also my absolute responsibility.  I am grateful that my passion and my dharma are one and the same.

Who and/or what are your biggest influences?
My open heart surgery, Dr. Paul Muller Ortega and Sally Kempton (meditation teachers), author Stephen Cope of Kripalu, Bryan Kest (my first Hatha teacher), my dad.

How has yoga helped you to be a better person?
Two answers for how I’ve become a better person through yoga:
I realize I am happier and more peaceful when I am not trying to control every situation
I feel less fearful of situations and outcomes that used to scare me

What is your personal mission statement as a yoga teacher?
Mission statement:  Dedicated to evolving people and planet through Ayurveda, Meditation, and Hatha Yoga.

What do you think constitutes an excellent yoga instructor?
The desire to be of service.  When this is prioritized, all the other qualities (integrity, humility, kindness, etc) naturally fall into place.  Technical knowledge is important but not the MOST important.

What was your most challenging teaching experience?
I once taught what I thought was a 2-hour workshop class but it was really supposed to be 3 hours.  When the host realized I was getting students into savasana she whispered to me:  “you have another hour left!!” I had to fudge my way through another hour of teaching after I had essentially ended the class.

What do you recommend to the beginner student? To the seasoned student?
To beginners:  Be patient and have fun!  The subtle gifts of yoga are more accessible after the hips and shoulders open!
To seasoned students:  Be patient and have fun! Never outgrow the joy of the practice

How do you take your yoga off the mat?
I teach yoga to homeless gay and lesbian youths at a shelter here in Los Angeles.

What is the one pose you are most proud of getting into?
Headstand! My all time fave!

What is your favorite time of day to practice yoga?
Always morning. The physical body is strongest during Kapha time (6-10 am)

Where is the best place you ever practiced yoga?
This sounds cliché – but wherever I am practicing feels like the best place. I do prefer practicing in public classes rather than home alone.

What is your favorite music to listen to while practicing yoga?
I listen to a recorded chant of the Sri Rudram

What do you think constitutes an excellent yoga instructor?
This is same question as #6

What else do you want students to know about you?
Please visit  http://teach.yoga/the-love-of-my-life/  to read a short recap of my yogic journey!  Some startling stuff in there.

Marc leads a 2 day workshop at Pulsation Yoga. October 23-24:

Schedule:

Friday, October 23:
6-8:30 pm IN ARLINGTON HEIGHTS STUDIO

Saturday, October 24: IN LAKE ZURICH STUDIO
10:45 am – 1:15 pm and 3:15 – 5:45 pm

Each session will be an aspect of Ayurveda philosophy (30 minutes) followed by a 2-hour asana session that corresponds to that lesson, to embody the teachings. To pre-register for this event: please call: 847-989-7792.

Q&A: Rob Murray

Yoga Instructor Rob teaches at the Lake Zurich studio

Yoga Instructor Rob teaches at the Lake Zurich studio

How long have you been teaching yoga?  

I have been teaching yoga for about one year, since completing the teacher training with Kathy and receiving my RYT-200 registration.

Why did you become a yoga teacher? Who and/or what are your biggest influences?

I decided to register for the teacher training with the objective of establishing a solid foundation in the principles of yoga and to deepen my practice. I had been practicing for 10 years but was interested in better understanding alignment, practicing safely, and extending yoga beyond the mat. I had been a youth hockey coach for 10 years and really missed teaching, sharing, and learning alongside my players. When I finished the training program, Kathy really inspired me to take the next step and teach.

Who and/or what are your biggest influences?

As it relates to yoga, I have two: BKS Iyengar – I have practiced different forms of holistic health for over 20 years and one day picked up BKS Iyengar’s book “Yoga, The Path to Holistic Health.” I was absolutely amazed at the breadth of what yoga could provide in terms of healing and wellness. In addition, my dad has practiced and taught meditation for more than 40 years, and hearing the stories of how meditation influenced people’s lives has really touched me.

How has yoga helped you to be a better person?

First of all, I learned that yoga is much more than asana. We studied the Yamas and Niyamas in teacher training and they have become a guide for what I strive for: Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess, non-possessiveness, purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender. One of the practical ways I try to apply these principles on a daily basis is focusing on how I can be of service instead of what I can receive. And when I fall short of these ideals, I realize that our beauty is in our imperfection and strive to better.

What is your personal mission statement as a yoga teacher?

To spread joy, happiness, and peace through the community practice of yoga.

What do you think constitutes an excellent yoga instructor?

Authenticity – being yourself, teaching what you know, being prepared yet flexible, and most importantly being kind.

What was your most challenging teaching experience?

The most challenging experience is still in front of me. I was asked to do a workshop at a studio I visited last summer on Long Island, Hamptons Healing Arts. I’m working on a theme, content, and music and feel a little intimidated as the guest teacher.

What do you recommend to the beginner student? To the seasoned student?

Be open to the experience and try not to have any expectations. And to the seasoned student: Share your gifts!

How do you take your yoga off the mat?

I try to be kind and giving. It’s one thing to be all Zen when inside the studio, but the real reflection of progress is how you treat others.

What is the one pose you are most proud of getting into?

Astavakrasana, or Eight Angle Pose. I first saw this pose in one of the many yoga books I have and thought it was completely beyond my physical abilities. When I stopped trying to muscle my way into the pose and used my breath and just relaxed, one day it just came.

What is your favorite time of day to practice yoga?

All times of day! In the morning I enjoy the peacefulness of yoga; in the afternoon, it’s a time restart and re-energize; and practicing in the evening provides an opportunity to leave the chaos of the day behind. I also love to do mini yoga’s throughout the day. Whether it’s a brief pranayama or a quick forward fold, taking a few seconds or minutes is so refreshing.

Where is the best place you have ever practiced yoga?

On the beach in Westhampton Beach, Long Island.

What is your favorite music to listen to while practicing yoga?

I curate different playlists for all my classes and try to match the music to the theme of the class. My playlists include classic rock, reggae, classical, kirtan, jam bands, and live Grateful Dead shows.

What else do you want students to know about you?

I enjoy teas from around the world (come to one of my Saturday classes – I brew tea for each class), all kinds of sports (hockey, golf, skiing, tennis, etc.), and love being at the beach. I have a passion for live music (nothing like Ravinia on a summer evening) and have attended well over 100 Grateful Dead Shows.

Why do you love teaching at Pulsation Yoga?

Jim and Kathy have built Pulsation into a real community. It is a safe and non-intimidating environment that is grounded in the principles of yoga. Many of the students and teachers I practice with have become true friends. A really cool example of the essence of Pulsation is one recent Saturday morning, when a student brought in fresh herbs and flowers from her garden and shared them with everyone at the studio (thanks Susie!).

Rob Murray teaches at the Pulsation Yoga studio in Lake Zurich. Check out the class schedule to attend his classes.

Prop Up Your Yoga Practice

By: Megan Miller

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 “Sthira Sukham Asanam”

                                                Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.46

An Asana should have the dual qualities of stability

and comfort, strength and stillness, steadiness and joy.

Yoga props can profoundly improve your practice. Instructors often incorporate the use of blocks, bolsters, blankets, and straps to help to make postures more accessible, stable, aligned, safe, and comfortable. By providing support, these props enable you to focus on relaxing both the body and the mind. This guide can help you become more familiar with the uses and benefits of yoga props, and enhance your practice.

BLOCKS

Blocks are used to open up space, allowing you to go deeper and to stay in postures longer. Using blocks can improve alignment, which brings an ease to many of the postures. These props are especially helpful if you have very tight hamstring muscles during poses such as Uttansana (Standing Forward Fold), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Trikonasana (Triangle), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid), and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon).

With a brick-like design, blocks can be used at three levels, offering varying degrees of support. Sitting with a block between the feet in Virasana (Hero) can make the pose safer and more comfortable by eliminating knee strain. Sitting up on a block in seated positions such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose) is a terrific modification if you have tight hamstrings and/or hip flexors (quads). The tighter the muscles are, especially the hips, the more height helps. As your practice progresses, your muscles will begin to lengthen and blocks can then either be lowered or perhaps may no longer be needed.

BOLSTERS AND BLANKETS

Both of these props are utilized to cushion or elevate various body parts for comfort and relaxation. Just like with blocks, they can be used in seated postures such as Sukhasana if your knees are higher than your hips or your low back is tight while legs are crossed. If your hamstrings are very tight, sitting up on the edge of a folded blanket is especially important in seated forward folds (Paschimottanasana/Upavistha Konasana/Janu Sirsasana) to bring the pelvis to a neutral position and protect the low back. Bolsters, which look like cylindrical or rectangular cushions, can be used to help recline in poses such as Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose). Using these props under the hips in Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani) or under the knees in Savasana softens and relieves tension leading to a more restful pose.

STRAPS

Straps are a fabulous tool to stretch and open areas in the body, including the hamstrings, shoulders, and side bodies. In either Reclining Head to Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) or Standing Extended Head to Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana), straps can safely increase flexibility and provide stability. They bridge the gap between the hands in binding postures like Bound Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) and create a bigger stretch in the upper back in Natarajasana (King Dancer). Straps can be used between the hands when the arms are extended to take standing side bends, or behind the back for shoulder openers. These props can also be looped and used in many ways to strap arms, legs, and feet together and create stability, teach alignment, or maintain key actions or elements of poses.

 

 

meganMegan Miller is 200 RYT in both Forrest Yoga and Anusara Yoga (through Kathy Simonik and Pulsation Yoga). She is currently completing a 500 RYT  Advanced Teacher’s Training at Prairie Yoga, which is influenced by the teachings of Iyengar Yoga. Practice with Megan during her classes on Monday and Friday in the Arlington Heights studio.