stress relief

Can I?

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The “Can I?” question comes up in yoga class a lot.
You are introduced to a new pose – one that challenges you. It looks interesting but you aren’t sure if you can do it. The teacher says “Let’s do it, but you aren’t so sure.”

“Can I do it?” you ask.

The answer is usually one of 4 things:
Yes.
No.
Maybe.
I don’t know.

The problem with asking “Can I?” is that it implies that there is a simple answer.

But a quest for personal growth & change can bring more questions than it does answers.

While “can I” can be an important thing to consider, there is another question that has given me more fulfillment in my practice. That question is:

How can I?”

This shift in thinking comes straight out of my Iyengar Yoga learnings over the years.

It acknowledges I am looking toward change/growth.

It reminds me that I am not just “going for it” or “giving up.” I am seeking to improve.

The “can I” question makes things seem too pat. And they are not.

BKS Iyengar’s work illustrates that there is always a how.

In the howwe are encouraged to be curious and interested about our challenges. We are asked to challenge our judgements about what is possible. We can shift beyond judgement about what we can and cannot do. We get creative about what we might try now.

This kind of exploration leads to small steps toward what we are looking at. And any small step toward something put in front of us is one step closer than before.

Small steps add up to big changes.

Changes over time will lead to transformation.

This is precisely why I choose to study/practice Iyengar Yoga.

Yoga teaches us to go beyond the resignation of “I can’t.” Yoga moves us past “I can,” as we are asked to improve ourselves rather than maintain our status quo.

How can I grow at a pace that feels right for me at this time?
How can I work hard and let go of the outcome?
How can I keep moving forward when things seem to be at a standstill?
How can I keep from sliding backward into complacency?
How can I create more time to do the things I really want to do?

HOOOOOOWWWW?

Creativity is required. The possibilities are endless.

I have found that these questions are a never-ending process that always takes me to a better place. Contemplating just one of these questions leaves me feeling stronger, positive, and more content.

I love that Iyengar Yoga practice moves me to a fresh perspective and a new part of life to explore

my top 7 tips for yoga @ home

In 18 years of practicing yoga, I’ve found that I will always have questions. Most days I have to make a Herculean effort to get on my mat and do something – anything.

With all of life’s ups and downs, here are my top 7 tips for your home practice:

  1. 1. Believe that you are worth the time.

  2. 2. Make an effort.

  3. 3. Go easy on yourself when you don’t rise to your own challenge.

  4. 4. Don’t judge yourself when you miss a day (or a month!).

  5. 5. Don’t judge yourself for judging yourself.

  6. 6. Do 1-2 poses that make you feel good.

  7. 7. Ingest a homeopathic dose of dark chocolate & get your ass on the mat.

 

Some of you will get on your mat for a few minutes every day. Some of you will do it once in a blue moon.

And it’s all ok!

Our community is open wide — enough to hold us all.  From the uncertain new beginner to the mild-mannered weekend warrior to the most seasoned and strong yogi. It takes all kinds!

We are happy that you have chosen to associate yourself with our center.

We will support you as you seek to be well, to feel good and to connect to yourself in a deeper way.

And we look forward to guiding you in your yoga for a very long time.

Leahsignature

 

There is no such thing as “not flexible enough for yoga”

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 6.30.30 PMIf you can walk, you can do yoga.

And even if you can’t walk, you can do yoga.

I love this time of year because of all the holiday parties. My husband and I make the rounds to see friends and family, and an extended network of neighbors and acquaintances we’ve developed in our many years of living in Memphis.

There are some people that I see only at this time of year. It’s great to catch up and hear what people have been up to, and swap stories about the previous year.

Sometimes people want to talk about yoga.

There are several refrains that I commonly hear when I am out and about.

  • I wish I could do yoga but I’m not flexible at all.
  • I can’t even touch my toes.
  • I could never touch my toes.
  • My hands (or wrists) can’t bear weight so I can’t do yoga.
  • I went to a yoga class once and it was too hard.
  • Yoga is not enough of a workout for me. I like an intense workout where I sweat.
  • My doctor says I’m too flexible (or stiff or old or injured or blah blah blah) for yoga.
  • My mother told me I’d never have good posture.

None of these things have anything to do with your ability to do yoga.

If you want to practice yoga, you will find a way.

You will try teacher after teacher until you find the one who is the right fit for you.

When people talk to me about yoga when we are just hanging out, I take that to mean that they are interested in it.  Even when what they are saying is why they can’t do it.

If you have heard yourself (or a friend) saying any of the above, let’s talk.

Sometimes you have to overcome your “can’ts,” “nots,” and “never haves,” before you can find your “will, your “want to,” and your “must do.”

I’d love to help you find your way.

Email me.

Precision & practice

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 3.33.29 PMLast week in class, a student asked me if I had been a Girl Scout growing up.  She said she wondered this because of the precise instructions I use when I’m teaching yoga.

Her question made me chuckle — because unless you count eating an entire box of Thin Mints by myself in one sitting, I never even came close to becoming a Girl Scout!

But I was a G.A. The G.A.’s were our religious community’s version of the Girl Scouts. G.A. stands for “Girls in Action” — and a precisely accurate description of this busy girl (more about the ins & outs of G.A.’s another time).

The question concerning precision reminded me of my first Iyengar Yoga class – and my own teacher’s exacting instruction. I arrived at the classes ready to charge ahead and push through my limits.

But the classes stretched me in ways I had never considered.  When I forged ahead in a frenzy from pose to pose, my teacher insisted that I stay at the pace she set for the class. I still hear her voice saying, “Leah, stay with us.”

I thought she was holding me back. But over time I learned that was not her intention at all. She was keeping me from getting ahead of myself.

Boy did this go against my grain!

Didn’t she know that I’m the one who put the whirling in the dervish?  I had built a whole identity around earning gold stars by working fast and furious through school and beyond, wearing myself out, and moving on to the next thing.

With my teacher’s insistence and encouragement, I became open to trying a new way.

It eventually occured to me that my entire life I had met myself coming and going, but I had no idea how to stay with myself.

This realization had implications way beyond my yoga mat.

I knew how to set my sights on a goal. I’d start out with gusto — burning bright like a fiery comet. But I was always subject to the fizzle factor. I’d abandon myself at the first sign of trouble. Over-doing led to overwhelm led to over over-the-top anxiety levels, chronic stress-related illness and often some sort of burnout.

I had to learn how to pace myself so I could stay observant of my thoughts and actions. I had to learn how to listen to my body (still working on that one). I had to respect my limitations and uncover their hidden lessons.

The mention of the Girl Scouts piqued my curiousity, so I visited the Girl Scouts of America website.

Turns out that the Yoga Sutras are not that different in concept from the Girl Scouts’ values. Junior Girl Scouts even earn a special badge called “Practice With Purpose.” The award is earned by “setting a goal, increasing endurance, building strength, and practice, practice practice!”

The Girl Scout Promise is worth reading, and below are a few highlights from it.

I will “do my best to stay courageous and strong…and to take responsibility for what I say and do…to respect myself and others and to use my resources wisely.”

My time, attention and energy are among my most valued resources. Practicing yoga at a pace that allows for discipline, critical thinking and understanding is one of the many ways I stay with myself.

It isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s almost never easy – most things that contribute to our positive change aren’t.

The excitement of reaching for the stars might get me going. But it’s yoga’s exploration of inner space that keeps me moving toward true and lasting transformation.

 

How massage transformed my pain

massagepublicity1In 1999, I enrolled as an adult student at The University of Memphis to complete my undergraduate degree in journalism.  I had visions of righting the world’s wrongs through investigative reporting.

But first, I had deadlines to meet. Not just school deadlines — family deadlines, work deadlines, personal deadlines.

Trying to do it all at once came with a price. The constant anxiety led to shortness of breath and a recurring pain in my neck, shoulders and arm. I was irritable during the day and sleepless at night.

That’s when I began studying yoga, a practice that eventually led me to open Evergreen Yoga Center.

While yoga has numerous medical and spiritual benefits, and has changed the lives of many, it is not a magic bullet for  anyone. Not even yoga teachers.

The neck pain continued to spread down my right arm and into my hand. I was sure that the more yoga I did, the faster the pain would dissipate.

But relief did not come. Finally, after complaining to enough friends about my stress and pain, one friend slipped his massage therapist’s card into my backpack.

I lied when I told him I’d call. Massage was not for me.  I considered it the realm of ladies who lunch, the rich and famous; those with too much time on their hands and who need fragrant soap and pampering.  I was tougher than that.  The thought of spending money to have someone rub me for an hour seemed extravagant.

Another pain-filled, sleep-deprived night made me reconsider, however.  The therapist said she could see me that afternoon. I might have cancelled if I had more time to think about it.

As it turns out, massage was exactly what I needed.

At the time I was clueless that my lifestyle could have anything to do with the problem. But I was so knotted up that the therapist said it would take at least three sessions to completely address my current condition.

While I had neither the time nor the money for three sessions, I had a good feeling about this therapist. She seemed professional, knowledgeable and clear about my problem. I was definitely tired of the pain.

Skeptically, I scheduled the remaining two appointments. That night after my first massage, I went home and slept.

It was hard to tell if I felt better because there was less pain or because I got  a full-night’s sleep.  Either way, I looked forward to my next massage and the possibility of feeling even better.

After the initial three appointments, I was pain-free. A month later the pain was back.  I scheduled another massage session and immediately felt relief.  A month after that, same thing.

The therapist suggested I schedule monthly “tune-ups.”  She said I needed regular massages to break that pattern of stress and tension in my body.  It was a substantial time investment for me, as a student.  And it had to be worked into my budget. But it seemed worth it.

Yoga changed my life, and regular massage therapy makes it more comfortable.

According to a recent article in Yoga Journal, many people need extra help releasing contracted muscles due to their habits, physical patterns, emotional traumas, and stressors.

Yoga therapist Leslie Kaminoff says if you’re a beginning yoga student and are experiencing difficulty, you should try having a private yoga lesson so the teacher can help you address the issue through yoga.

“But,” Kaminoff says, “also know that there is a range of limitations that might be neuro-muscular.  And with those things, bodywork can really help.”

If you feel that massage might help you, look for a therapist who is knowledgeable and professional, and who understands your problem. A good therapist will encourage you to think for yourself and help you learn skills that will empower you to deal with your concerns. As with any other health care professional, you may want to try a few of massage therapists until you find the right person for you.

If you practice yoga, it’s helpful to see a massage therapist who has an understanding of yoga and which asanas you are practicing.

At Evergreen, our in-house massage therapist, Lorrie Garcia, is a longtime yoga practitioner and is skilled at helping people with patterns of pain, gripping and holding in the body. She is also on the faculty of the Memphis Institute of Massage where she teaches theory and technique to student massage therapists.

lorrie

Lorrie Garcia, LMT

“Therapeutic massage may seem too simple to be so transformative,” Lorrie says.  “If you have a yoga practice, you’ve undoubtedly encountered those who are skeptical about the power of yoga.  But of course you’ve experienced some simple-looking  (like learning to stand in Tadasana) yoga poses that have turned out to be profound. Massage is similar in this way.”

When asked about what keeps yogis from trying massage, Lorrie says, “It  surprises me when yoga students hit-a-wall in their practice or continue to have pain, and they don’t seek massage.

“I want people to know therapeutic massage is much more than rubbing and petting, just as yoga is much more than sitting and standing. Massage and yoga are parallel paths on the way to self-healing.”

“It can take various approaches for a person to discover what works for best for him or her. Ultimately, the path we follow on the journey of transformation is rarely a straight line.”

To reach Lorrie Garcia, email her at lorrie@evergreenyogamemphis.com. To schedule an appointment, contact her via text or cellphone at 901-496-2881.