Category Archives: Guest Writers

How Did I Spend My Weekend?

Hi all!  Please welcome Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate and Whole Life Yoga instructor Roxie Dufour to the Whole Life blog today.  Roxie can be contacted at YogaRoxSeattle@gmail.com. Roxie will always hold the honor of being the yoga student I saw get married in a kayak.  It’s only natural that she should combine teaching yoga with her favorite pastime.  Roxie, please share!

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How Did I Spend My Weekend?

Answer: Combining my favorite things!

Over the weekend, my husband Dave and I assisted in the Washington Kayak Club Basic Sea Kayak Class at Deception Pass. Yes, we are the kayakers under the bridge in the swirly waters, 28 students, and 9 instructors.  The best way to describe it is going to camp with your kayak.  I was asked to squeeze in a ‘brief’ yoga class.  I knew the students needed to warm up shoulders, neck and hips, side body stretching, and lots of torso rotation for paddling, calming anxieties and tension, and to invite balance, integrate left/right movements.  In any yoga class, there are adaptations and options to incorporate factors.  Some students have never been in a kayak or taken a yoga class.

No pressure, right?

Tapping on the Viniyoga lineage, Tracy Weber’s teachings, meeting the students where they were, and from experience…keeping it simple was my plan. Did I mention, we were at the beach, wearing dry suits, PFDs, and dressed ready for immersion?

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The sequencing was simple with about seven postures, all standing, because dry suits are expensive. Connecting simple movements to the breath impacts the autonomic nervous system and increases circulation.  I visualized the student’s shortened breath patterns, muscle tension, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. I was nervous, too. Having students recognize where they are and accept that place with compassion is important to any student, anxious kayakers included.

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My reward was seeing shoulders relax, smiles, sighs of relief, thank yous, and “When do we get wet?”

Whether you are on the mat or heading to your kayak, yoga is a positive piece of the day, keep it simple.

Roxie

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Three Key Ways a Yoga Practice Can Support Trauma Recovery

Please help me welcome Lisa Danylchuk to the Whole Life Yoga blog today.  Lisa’s acclaimed book, Embodied Healing shares her learnings about yoga and how it can help people who are rebuilding their lives after trauma. And who among us hasn’t experienced trauma?  Lisa, can you please tell my readers how yoga–and its teachers–can help students overcome trauma?

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As yoga’s popularity continues to increase, yoga teachers, mental health providers and researchers are all becoming more clear on the depths of its benefits. As a yoga teacher and trauma therapist, I have seen a myriad of ways that mindfulness and movement help clients, whether they are doing a traditional hatha practice or applying yoga philosophy to their healing journey. Here are three ways that yoga teachers and healthcare providers can help clients and students who are navigating trauma recovery.

Grounding

Grounding is the act of connecting to the earth, and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The most common ways to ground are to feel your feet on the floor, as we do in tadasana, or to feel the sit bones grounding to the earth, as we do in many seated postures. Often, people who are experiencing anxiety and extreme stress report feeling a spinning or rising sensation; this conscious effort to ground can counteract the pull of energy away from the body,, bringing attention back to the safety of the current moment. If you are teaching to a group of people who have experienced trauma, offer grounding cues repeatedly throughout class. Not only is it helpful in building a physical foundation for a pose, it can also have psychological benefits.

Present moment attention

Intrusive thoughts and feelings from past trauma can show up in the present and memories can even pull us away from our current surroundings. Getting connected to present moment time – right here, right now – is one way to distance from the intensity of a past trauma in a helpful way. Yogis are familiar with the practice of cultivating presence, and it is important to find ways to describe how to practice presence, rather than simply instruct participants to “be present.” Consider guiding attention to a specific place in the room, a lamp on the wall or the corner of a mat. Consider instructing participants to follow the sound of your voice, or to listen to the sound of a bell as it fades. While, due to sensitivities, we can’t always use smells in the yoga room, think of these present moment attention practices as smelling salts, bringing students more fully  into present time and space.

Compassion towards self

In the aftermath of trauma it can become easy to struggle with oneself, wondering why something is still upsetting or feeling there is some defectiveness of self that allows the bad feelings to persist. By definition, something traumatic is too much to process all at once and approaching the feelings with tenderness can facilitate healing, rather than self-criticism or judgement. Recall that the word yoga means union, so we are looking to unite the parts of ourselves that need healing, rather than cut them off. Practicing curiosity and compassion facilitates the gentle approach our psyches need – just as you would not shout at a plant to help it grow, criticizing ourselves does not foster healing. Encourage compassion instead.

Questions, thoughts? Post a comment below or go to www.howwecanheal.com to contact Lisa.

Headshot.L.DanylchukLisa Danylchuk teaches internationally on integrating yoga and mental health treatment. As a licensed psychotherapist and Yogaworks certified yoga instructor, she has provided counseling and yoga classes in prisons, schools, non-profits and community programs across the US. Lisa holds degrees from both UCLA and Harvard University and is the author of the bestselling book Embodied Healing: Using Yoga to Recover from Trauma and Extreme Stress. She is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she hosts the Yoga for Trauma (Y4T) online training program, accessible world-wide. More information at: www.howwecanheal.com/y4t.

 

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Yogi Interview of the Month with Rene de los Santos! AND a YOGA CRUISE!

Important note from Tracy:  Rene will always have a special place in my heart, because he was the person who talked me into offering my first yoga teacher training oh-so-many years ago.  He’s a fabulous yogi, a great friend, and an overall wonderful human being. 

And you can see that for yourself this November!  Rene is leading a Mexican Riviera yoga cruise! He’s got a great group already formed and they’d love to have you join them.  Double click on the flyer below for more information or e-mail Rene at theyogirene@yahoo.com

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Now, on to Rene. Tell us your yoga story!

Here’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I discovered Yoga (some would say “you were ready to discover”) in early 2001 after two different Yoga instructors mentioned “You should try this”!

My belief system dictates that when two different people who don’t know each other make the same request of me in a relatively short period of time – it’s really the universe (or ancestors or spirit) making the request.

My mothers voice resonates in the back of my head “If all of your friends went and jumped off the end of a bridge – would you jump too”?! To which I always responded “Probably”.

The connection was immediate in the very first practice. Yes, the very first class. Although the room was filed with people, I felt completely at peace. My body responded positively to the movements. The practice was lead by a male instructor, Roy Holman (who later became a good friend) which gave me hope! This was definitely for me. By the third class – I knew this was something to be pursued and shared.

After taking classes from several instructors over the course of three or four months, the time had come to practice more consistently and on the regular basis. The search was on to find a Yoga studio where I could go connect with other yogis and expand my experience.

Walking down the street one day with my partner Mark on Greenwood Avenue,  I noticed a woman placing balloons on the sidewalk underneath a sign that read Whole Life Yoga. It had a nice ring to it. Another sign read Join Us for Our One Year Anniversary Celebration! I was in class the following Sunday morning.

I didn’t know then that the simple act of connecting movement to breath would change me profoundly.

After that first class at Whole Life Yoga, I distinctly remember having a conversation with Tracy… not sure what was said but my mind was going a hundred miles per hour; This is great! Have to do this! Yoga, where have you been my whole life?! When are the classes?! Do I need special pants? Etc..etc.

After participating in 500 hours of formal training with Tracy at Whole Life Yoga, endless workshops from coast to coast, traveling to India, lectures, books, more books, years of personal practice, videos and classes, I am still discovering Yoga. My studies are in their infancy.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned as an instructor is to share. Share what you know so that other can benefit. krishnamacharya said “Teach what is inside you. Not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.  The greatest lesson as a student; Desikachar said “The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships”.

I truly believe that the most successful Yoga teachers are those who teach with the intention of helping and serving others.

What I really appreciate about Viniyoga practice and Viniyoga philosophy is that it focuses totally on the practitioners and what THEY need on every level; obvious and subtle through the use of breath, movement, chant and meditation to name a few tools. As Yoga instructors, we must connect with our participants on a deeper level over time; as Yoga students we must be willing to adapt over time in order to serve others. There is no room for superficiality. It’s not meant to be cool or trendy – it’s a lot of work! It’s life changing.

And I have a lot of work to do! I’m glad that Yoga allows me to learn and grow, to adapt.  I’m not perfect and I’m ok with that. Looking forward to more training, practicing, moving changing and growing.

Although not currently teaching a regular on-going class – I know I will be when the time is right.

You should try this!

Thanks, Rene.  You inspire me every single day.  It was my great fortune that the universe pulled us in each others’ directions.

Rene De los Santos is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 and 500 hour yoga teacher trainings. He can be contacted at theyogirene@yahoo.com.

The Power of Ritual

Earthen oil lamps lit with flowers during the performance of a hindu ritual.

Please welcome my friend and fellow yoga teacher Bija Bennett to the Whole Life Yoga blog today.  Rituals are so powerful!  Thanks, Bija, for allowing me to reprint this article!

Rituals give form to our lives, not just on the surface, but emotionally. We need rituals to connect deeply with ourselves.

Rituals have been celebrated in every culture and religion throughout time. Designed to inspire us, help set our intentions, and give us focus, they make our resolutions personal, powerful, and true.

Rituals elevate us to what is higher — to our potential, our life’s goals — and remind us that our highest values should direct our lives.

A ritual can be something as simple as sitting quietly and repeating an intention or word, lighting a candle, planting a tree every Arbor Day, or walking a hundred steps after you eat (an old Indian ritual). In taking a small step toward ritual, you make an outward sign of your inward focus, indicating that your commitments and intentions are real.

In every ritual, from the simplest to the most elaborate, from the spiritual to the mundane, the steps involved are very much the same: geometry, structure, rhythm, and intent.

Use these steps as ideas or suggestions for creating your own personal ritual. Then, whatever you choose to do, do it simply. It doesn’t have to be fancy or take long. It need only be regular and full of intention and meaning.

1.  Geometry: Define your space. Set the symbolic elements before you – a candle, picture, icon – and situate yourself in a certain relationship to these things. It’s not the objects that are important, but the faith in these objects that make them emotionally sacred.

2.  Structure: Give your ritual a beginning and an ending. Carefully arrange the steps, length, and sequence to create the body of your ritual.

3.  Rhythm: The progressive sequence of events, actions, thoughts, or prayers leads you into the ritual itself, and leads out of it, letting you resume your normal life.

4.  Intent: The purpose behind your ritual directs your ritual to fulfillment. The possibilities are numerous: opening your heart, connecting you to someone or something, completion, healing, asking for help, gratitude, self-reflection, linking with a higher power. Ritual isn’t a mindless movement. It’s a focusing technique to systematically give you an anchor point within.

This New Year, take your resolutions and make them into rituals. Personal rituals are important because of their enormous power to comfort and heal.

Learn more from my book, Emotional Yoga: How the Body Can Heal the Mind (Simon & Schuster)

Thanks, Bija!

Tracy Weber

books available

PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

Training Your Mind

I am delighted to welcome author Jennifer Niles here to the Whole Life Blog today!  Jennifer recently published My Yoga Transformation: One Woman’s Story of Her Healing Yoga Journey and 85 Pound Weight Loss, which outlines her journey with yoga and how it changed her life–in every way for the better.  Check out the excerpt below, and support her by reading her work!

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“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” ~Napoleon Hill

Thoughts become words, which become actions, which become habits, which become character, which becomes your destiny.  Since you “bring about what you think about,” obviously it would be wise to learn how to control your incessant thoughts.  You have to understand that your mind is designed to be constantly working in at least some capacity for 24 hours a day.  So, if the mind insists on focusing on something at all times, give it something positive or calming to focus on.

Training your mind is not the easiest task.  Especially if you are anything like I was prior to starting a yoga practice and learning about the ego.  That pesky little voice in the back of my mind, the ego, was running wild day after day and needlessly stressing me out over anything and everything that was less than perfect about my life.  By identifying with the mind instead of the soul, we give that little voice/ego the power to consume so much of our time and energy by dominating our thoughts and limiting our potential.

During my initial yoga years, during the time when I was suddenly feeling the desire to gradually cut down on my drinking and partying, my ego never ceased to remind me, “You are a party girl; therefore you must go out and drink with your friends tonight.  Who cares if it is a Monday night and you just feel like staying home, cooking dinner and doing some yoga.  You have to go get drunk instead.  It is who you are and what you have always done, and it is what you will always do.  You can’t change now.  Who will you be if you are not a party girl?  Party girls don’t stay home and do yoga!  Now go out and get wasted with your friends!”

For a long time, I identified with my ego and therefore let its persuasive little speeches win the battle every time.  Despite what my heart and soul wanted to do, which was sometimes to just stay home and dry out for a night, I would get in my car, drive to the bar, and proceed to get drunk until I could barely stand up without stumbling all over the place.  When you identify with and listen to your ego instead of your heart/soul, you will just continue doing the same destructive things, day after day.  Never changing, never growing, and never evolving.

I knew that my yoga practice was really starting to work when my heart/soul began winning the battle more times than my ego.  The nights that I actually stayed home to practice yoga versus drinking at the bars became more and more frequent.  Over time, my nights at the bars became obsolete.  If my lack of wanting to get drunk wasn’t a result of my yoga practice, I don’t know what is.

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Jennifer B. Niles is an author, yogi, vegan, and animal rights activist currently living on a small island in the South Pacific. Born and raised on the East Coast, Jennifer moved to California in her 20’s, where she taught yoga and enjoyed living among the palm trees.  During her time living in the South Pacific, Jennifer was finally able to pursue her lifelong dream of writing books.  Blessed (or cursed) with the opportunity to go through many drastic life-changing experiences, Jennifer mainly writes about her lessons learned in an attempt to help other people who may be struggling with the same or similar issues.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Yogi Interview of the Month–Laura Miller!

Please join me in welcoming Whole Life Yogi Laura Miller to the Whole Life Blog this month.  I’ve been honored to have Laura in my teacher training this past year, and she’s been kind enough to answer a few questions for me today.  You can reach Laura at msnailtek@yahoo.com and on her Facebook page.  Laura, take it away!

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Why and when did you start practicing yoga?

I remember being a little girl and when you would walk out of the grocery store there were these little small books about everything from dieting and recipes to different kinds of exercise. This would’ve been back in the 1960s. And I remember asking my mom if I could get one little book and it was about yoga.

Now I didn’t understand the concept behind it but I really enjoyed doing it, practicing those poses in that little book. Yoga still was not something that I knew much about really until I was a teenager but in grade school I sure enjoyed paging through that cute little book and practicing the yoga positions.

What made you decide to take a teacher training program?

Even though I’ve been taking a variety of types of yoga classes throughout probably the past 30 years, I felt that at this stage in my life I wanted to know yoga far better than I already did.

I wanted to be able to immerse myself in a program that I really believed in, not just to perhaps help others especially my massage therapy clients, but to be able to have a yoga foundation that would last me for the rest of my life especially as I am now approaching 60 years old. To be able to keep my flexibility, balance, and strength is extremely important to me.

Knowing that Yoga encompasses so many facets other than just asana, the ability to practice breathing techniques and meditation and calming the monkey mind, are all so beneficial to anyone at any stage but I felt such a need to just understand it all deeper and to know the background and the heritage.

Finding Viniyoga, and this was the first school I had even gone to inquire about the teacher training, and I was not familiar with this type of yoga, and yet it certainly spoke to me and I knew that it’s therapeutic nature would benefit me the rest of my own life much less the people that I would be teaching it to.

What population do you most enjoy teaching?

I am happy teaching any age group from children all the way on up through seniors, but I would say that given my own age that being able to work with seniors and helping them to have a basic practice is one of the most helpful things anyone can do to aid the aging process and keep it as graceful as possible.

I’m also very interesting it in designing a program for doing yoga outdoors, and also incorporating yoga with hiking. Definitely a passion of mine that I will be working on this summer.

What is the worst thing about yoga in America?

This is an easy one for me, I think the worst thing is that unlike a country like India, we don’t teach children yoga at an extremely young age whether it’s at home or in school. To have a yoga practice starting early in life, the health benefits alone would be tremendous. I certainly wish for myself to have had a foundation like this, and I would love to see yoga integrated into schools and into more park and rec programs for children. And then that reaches out to the far end of the age spectrum as we become seniors, to include more yoga classes in senior centers and nursing homes, to help bring some peace and calm and gentle movement as we age.

What non-yoga thing are you very passionate about?

I am extremely passionate about animals, all animals but dogs in particular because that is what I am able to fill my home with! We volunteer for a local dog rescue organization, that takes in blind dogs and any with medical issues. We have fostered and also adopted some of our foster dogs, and being an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves is extremely important to me.

As a society, ensuring that all creatures are respected and well taken care of I believe it’s something that should just automatically happen but it doesn’t. There is a lot of work to be done in the area of animal rescue and I’m happy that were able to do our small part.

I love dogs, too!  And I think what you and your partner Patrick do for special needs dogs is simply astounding.  Now, here’s an offbeat question for you: Yoga pants, Fashion statement or work of the devil!

I think that yoga pants are extremely comfortable and I definitely wear them a lot. I think for movement whether it’s yoga or other forms of exercise, they are about the best thing out there for working out. Now I’ve seen some amazing styles and colors, but I’m kind of a neutral black yoga pants kind of gal! But there are some amazing fashion statement outfits out there for yoga,

What is the best thing about yoga in America?

Well I probably should say yoga pants, ha ha! But I would say the best thing is that we’re seeing it more and more often, at health clubs and park and rec centers, yoga studios are popping up all over the place. At least it gets more exposure for yoga and then hopefully people will find what type of yoga works best for them.

What is your favorite yoga pose and why?

At first thought I would say child’s pose, it’s relaxing and a wonderful transition between other poses. But I guess really mountain pose or savasana also jump out at me because they are more difficult to keep the monkey mind and focus in check. Balance poses are also a favorite because of the concentration level to maintain the pose. Being able to calm the mind and focus on one thing is probably one of the most rewarding things about yoga to me, in my own personal practice.

Who is your yoga hero?

I would say that my yoga hero is Tracy Weber. And the reasons why, she’s not only able to take and articulate the vastness of this lineage to her students, she also walks the walk and talks the talk. She lives her life, from my perspective, in a way that touches others in such a positive manner, through the teachings of the yoga sutras and because that’s just her personality, she is someone to aspire to in all of our teaching experiences. To be able to eventually instruct a yoga class even half as well as Tracy does, then I will have felt like I accomplished the highest goal I have for my teaching ability.

Oh my!

Now you’re making me blush.  😉  Here’s a final question:  What do you most appreciate about Viniyoga?

It is therapeutic, it can be very gentle or you can also make it pretty kick butt if you want to! It’s key differentiators make it unique and applicable to everyone. Function over form, the use of movement and stay, linking your movement with your breath, sequencing, and adaptation. I believe that anyone can learn and use Viniyoga in their lives.

Thanks for coming to chat with us today, Laura.  Having you on the blog was almost as great as having you in class.  Make me proud!

IMG_1218About Laura Miller: I was born and raised in Seattle although I’ve had the opportunity to live a number of other places in our beautiful country. I am a licensed massage practitioner and a nail technician, and a yoga instructor! Along with my partner Patrick, we have 6 adorable dogs, one feisty cockatiel, and a very mellow bearded dragon. We love hiking, traveling, and hanging out with our fur babies. I have 5 beautiful grandchildren and they are the lights of my life! Namaste

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Love Wins Love

If you’ve read my first book and you live in Seattle, you can probably figure out that I’m a big fan of Real Change and their work to help the homeless.  I’ve befriended a few of the vendors, one of whom is working on project to spread love, light, communication, and hope between those with housing and those without.  It’s my great pleasure to interview Susan Russell and Denise Henrickson today to talk about their project, Love Wins Love.

I’m all about hope and connection, which is why I so love the idea that “Love Wins Love.” How did you come up with this idea, and why prayer flags?

(Denise) We met almost exactly 2 years ago when I had gotten a small grant from the Department of Neighborhoods to make batik hearts at an Earth Day/Connect the Dots event at Seattle University. The day I received the grant award, I attended a Stand for Compassion event in Occidental Square and heard Susan speak. I’d included a small stipend in the budget and in that moment, I decided to reach out to Susan, rather than hire someone familiar. I stepped out of my comfort zone and  tracked Susan down through Real Change. We worked really well together. Susan and I became friends. We had supplies left over, so we kept setting up heart-making stations in community settings. We loved the process… “You wear a heart someone else makes and somebody else wears your heart” are the words that Susan uses to describe our process and we noticed that extraordinary conversations would take place around the painting table. Over the past 2 years, we’ve facilitated making over 2000 hearts, witnessed many “aha’s!” and seen new friendships take root and blossom.

(Susan) The idea for making prayer flags came out of that. Originally, we thought of prayer flags because they take a little longer to make, maybe people would stay for slightly longer conversations,… but the day after we first talked about making them, I spoke in support of homeless encampments in Ballard. People talked about how ugly the encampments were. Encircling the encampments with prayer flags would bring beauty to those places and also say to everyone who saw them… “Love Lives Here.”

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We decided to set our goal at 4,505 prayer flags because for the past two years, I’ve been at City Hall the morning after the One Night Count to ring the gong.  Real Change rings a gong for every person found sleeping unsheltered on that one night in January.  This year, the One Night Count was 4,505.  It takes hours and people take turns. It was while I was ringing the gong to honor each person that it came to me: we need to make 4,505 prayer flags. Each one a life. Each one a prayer.

We also realized that 4,505 prayer flags will stretch almost a mile when tied together. Wrapping City Hall or the Capitol in Olympia with a mile long string of prayer flags will be a beautiful, honorable way to bring a message of the need for shelter to the eyes– and the hearts– of policy makers.

(Susan) When I see these prayer flags, Love comes instantly to my heart and mind. “We see you. We honor you. We love you.” Without love, some people give up and they die. I’ve seen it.

Tell me your stories.  Have you ever been unsheltered, and how did your situation change, if it has?

12976832_1584065495254646_7395882607193105252_o[1](Susan) I lived on the streets in Seattle for 6 years. I was a union cement mason, helped build Safeco Field, the Exhibition Center, the West Seattle Bridge… then, one night, on my way home from work, I got rear-ended by an uninsured motorist. It screwed up my hip and my back. I couldn’t do my trade anymore. I lost my job. I couldn’t pay my bills. I spiraled down into depression and, eventually, addiction.  I went through SeaDruNar, got off drugs (hardest thing, ever)… Now, I sell Real Change and live in transitional housing- and make art and build community and advocate for shelter.

(Denise) I lived in my car for three months when I drove alone across the country after graduating from college. I had some scary moments, but I knew it was a choice, an adventure. I’ve never thought of myself as homeless. Even when I was really, really broke, like in my mid-20’s when I broke up with a boyfriend and he fired me (he was also my boss) and that same week there was a second arson in my building and I needed to move, I was down to my last $20… I had friends who took me in. I realize now how lucky I’ve been to have always had a safety net of family and friends. Not everyone does. I don’t think anyone chooses to be homeless.

What do you hope to achieve via this work?

There are so many systems falling apart right now- lack of affordable housing, millions of people who still don’t have health care and, like Susan, are one accident away from homelessness…, fewer family-wage jobs, rising student debt… We are both very concerned about the climate crises and extreme weather events and the connection of that to the rise in the number of people around the world who are being displaced.

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Through this project, we hope to create opportunities for people to experience our shared humanity. To experience new perspectives and create safe, beautiful spaces to step out of our comfort zones. We are all in this together. When it comes down to it, we can choose to respond to this extraordinary time with either fear or love- and model that for our children who will be facing even more challenges as weather patterns continue to shift.

Through this project, we are choosing love. Love makes us more resilient. And it makes our journey more joyful. Over and over again, in the simple act of talking to each other with brushes in hand, we’ve seen people have “aha” moments around the painting table. It’s a really simple set-up– recycled bed sheets and curtains, non-toxic fabric paint and soy wax– but what we’ve been able to witness has been profound. We think this kind of face-to-face cross-class/ cross-cultural dialogue plants new seeds of understanding and empathy that ripple out into the world. Love has the power to reweave our humanity together. It’s an ancient truth we are rediscovering.

We call our project Love Wins Love because we believe that love is regenerative…. Love gives back so much more than it takes. It is the most powerful force in the universe.

(Denise) When I think about how my life has been enriched since I went beyond my comfort zone to hire “that homeless woman in the Seahawks outfit” to work with me, I am incredibly grateful that I had the courage to acknowledge my own bias– my fear, really– and chose love. Susan’s connection to her heart, her belief in the goodness of people, and her profound gratitude for EVERYTHING, especially in light of all that she has been though– is deeply humbling.  Because of our friendship, I have more faith in humanity.  In my dark days, I can hold onto that.  It’s solid.  And it is growing stronger.12961322_1582578955403300_6527941037491559987_o[1]

We set up a blackboard whenever we have our art stations: one side says “What Do You Value? And the other, “What Do You Need to Thrive?” We’ve noticed so far, that no one has written anything that costs money. This has gotten us thinking about the double meaning of “Transitional Housing.” There’s “transitional housing” like where Susan lives in SandPoint. And then there’s the whole “transition movement” of people and communities who are shifting towards living more lightly on the Earth. We are curious and excited by the connections between these ideas and are continuing to explore them.

Where are some of the places you’ve already posted the prayer flags?

IMG_3174We hung our first string of prayer flags at Camp Dearborn. Within a few days they disappeared. A friend told us she saw what sounds like a remnant of it as part of an altar in Pioneer Square. A week later, the residents of the encampment were evicted (2 days before they were told they would be) and the tiny houses that had been built for them by the community were bulldozed… (City of Seattle- We can do better!!!!!!)

The next string we hung under I-5, in the Jungle. We attended a memorial gathering to honor people who had died there, as part of the Homeless Remembrance Project. That’s where we learned that over 67 people died on the streets last year.  People held the string of flags and made prayers before we hung them.  We went back a few days later to check on the community and the flags and learned that someone had come into their camp and set the flags– and their couch– on fire.

under I-5

(Susan) “Apparently, those prayers needed to get up fast!”

We are planning to hang future strings in places that are more stable, like shelters, but we also know that as beautiful as the flags are, it’s the conversations that take place in the process of making them together that are the most valuable— and those experiences never go away.

I’m moved by the plight of those without housing, but I’m never sure how I can best help.  What would you suggest?

(Susan) Say “Hello.” Being invisible, being treated as less than human, was the most difficult part of being unsheltered, by far. It’s what led to my addiction.  And if you are willing to take a bigger step out of your comfort zone, you can ask “What do you need?” And take it from there. But it’s important that you let go of expectations. What that person needs will likely be so simple it will break your heart. Open.

I want to paint a flag! Where can we find you next?

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Last week, we made flags at Julia’s Place, a shelter for women and families in Madrona. We also celebrated Earth Day at the Peace Encampment at 24th and Spring in the CD.

On May 13-15, we will be at Break Free in Anacortes, making prayer flags with people there. We believe there is a connection between rising temperatures, resource extraction and exploitation, rising economic inequity, and the rising number of people who are homeless in Seattle, the nation and the world. We also believe that love and compassion need to be at the heart of how we respond and relate to ourselves, each other, and our Mother Earth. We are all connected.

We have about 4200 more flags to make, so we need your help! We are open to suggestions of places to make them. If you can contribute money towards making them, that would be most welcomed, too.

How can we follow you and this effort?

The best way to stay in touch with us is through our FaceBook page: Love Wins Love (three separate words). If you message us with your email, we can add it to our email distribution list. And we always have sign up sheets at our booth.

How can people support this project?

Come make prayer flags with us!  We always have a donation jar at our booth to help pay for supplies.  At our booth, we also sell strings of prayer flags that we make to reimburse some of our time. The flags we make to sell are ones we make on our own; the community-made ones go to shelters and encampments and are not for sale.

And we are always looking for people to be part of our team to help us facilitate art-making and conversations, social media support, fundraising, … build transitional villages! … If this project inspires you and you’d like to work with us, we’d love to hear your ideas and what you are passionate about.

Ultimately, this project is just a small manifestation of a bigger vision- To create a more connected and compassionate human family. Any action you take that requires you to step out of your comfort zone with love serves this shared vision. Love Wins Love.

Thank you, ladies.  I hope to come to one of your painting events soon.  Thank you so much for joining me here today!

21481_1571284239866105_6639173131585106058_n[1]Susan Russell is Real Change vendor and housing advocate who has been to the depths of hell and back when living on the streets of Seattle.  She believes that if her work helps one person from experiencing what she went through, she will be successful. Love Wins.

Denise Henrikson is an artist and community activist who believes people can change the world.  We do it every day.  You can contact us at info@salmonislife.org

 

How injury will make me better (as a yoga instructor and a human being)

Hi all!  Please welcome one of my favorite Whole Life Yoga grads–and perhaps my overall favorite human being–Mary Bue to the blog today.  One of the many, many things I love about Mary is her upbeat attitude.  Not to mention her indestructible spirit and way she takes lessons wherever she finds them.  Contact Mary at Imbueyoga@gmail.com. Those of you in Minneapolis definitely need to check out her new yoga studio, Imbue Yoga!

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It was a beautiful,  sunny winter day in northern Minnesota. My husband and I were gifted free lift tickets to snowboard at a ski resort because we performed a rock show the night before. I had been wanting to try snowboarding for years and the conditions were perfect. I figured it would be a challenge – but I’m a yoga instructor who has good core strength, balance and mindful breathing.  I’ve got this! No problemo, right?

Wrong!  My husband was a ways down the hill and I thought, “I’ll catch up to him!”  For 30 seconds I was having a blast,  zooming down but I turned too sharply onto my toe side,  did an airborne cartwheel and BAM! Crashed down on my right shoulder.  I heard a crack.  Doh!

The results weren’t looking good – possibly torn rotator cuff.  Thankfully the MRI found only a bad sprain, but also a fracture on the tip of my shoulder,  such that, should I lift my arm too high,  it would chip off requiring sugery.  SO,  for six weeks,  no yoga.

Did I mention that during this six weeks I am recording in Nashville, moving, and opening a yoga studio?

Life has interesting timing sometimes, doesn’t it?

Thankfully I was trained in the yogic lineage of Viniyoga that not only values adaptations but also trains teachers to teach with our voices rather than demonstrating every move.

How will this injury make me a better yoga instructor and human?

  • Incorporating a sense of humor.  It’s been funny to see the look on a new student’s face when their teacher shows up with her arm in a sling.  Have to make light of it!  In one class I wanted to applaud my students for an awesome balance posture and told them, ”Here is the sound of one hand clapping for you!” (I thought it was funny).
  • Greater observation.  Instead of being glued to my mat,  I walk around and watch what is going on in the room, making sure everybody is on the same page, trying to connect with each student with eye contact and a smile.
  • Well designed sequencing.  I tend to create classes in the moment depending on what my students want, but I’ll also have some peak postures which I’ll research, share the anatomy and benefits, and get a little off the grid from my habitual teaching routines.
  • Increased empathy.  This injury,  minor as it is,  reminds me of my vulnerability and that this human vessel is fleeting.  Life can dramatically change without warning,  in mere seconds.  I felt pain,  distress,  aching,  restlessness,  and I am healing. All beings feel these feelings at some point in thir lives.  I hope to fully integrate this experince into my teaching,  my music,  and my day to day life.http://www.marybue.com

Namaste,

Mary Bue

Mary Bue is an indie musician, yoga instructor and brand new studio owner of Imbue Yoga in Minneapolis, MN – grand opening June 11th 2016! She spends her time touring the country, recording (7th album in the works), teaching and practicing Viniyoga amongst the lakes, trees and nice Minnesotans.

Music: www.marybue.com
Yoga: www.imbueyoga.com

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Why Yoga isn’t as ‘Wishy Washy’ as You First Thought

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Please welcome Megan Zsaa to the Whole Life Blog today!  I’ve never thought of yoga as a “nothing exercise,” but  all of you marathon runners and weekend warriors out there should give this article a read.  Megan’s right!

My yogi friends–what benefits have you seen from your yoga practice?

Admit it, you once (or still do!) thought yoga is a bit of a ‘nothing exercise’; a chance for a load of people who have little energy or motivation to do anything else to feel better for heading to the gym. Well – you’ve guessed it – I’m going to tell you that you were wrong to think that! And you only need to get yourself along to a yoga class to fast realize it’s far from ‘wishy washy’, ‘easy’ – or worse still – ‘pretend’ exercise.

Yoga is hard, really hard. And there’s a reason the ancient Indian practice has been in existence for centuries – it’s because it works. I really have heard it all when it comes to people’s perceptions of yoga and I felt it was about time to take a stand. Here’s why it’s not quite as pointless an exercise as you might have first thought.

Yoga Really is ‘Ancient’

Let’s be honest, the word ‘ancient’ is overused. You might joke that your parents/grandparents/[insert other old relative] are ancient, but hey – they don’t come close to the real meaning of the word. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago. Yep, 5,000 – you read that right. Some researchers believe it could be as old as 10,000 years. So you see, it’s been around a long time – and that alone must mean it offers more than a few benefits. If not, why else would people do it?

Improved Flexibility isn’t its Only Benefit

True, if you get yourself to enough yoga classes you’ll be able to bend and stretch like a pro. Touching your toes? No problem. Splits? In time, maybe. But did you know improved flexibility isn’t the only benefit of yoga?! The hobby can also help you burn calories, too. So if you’re thinking of kick-starting your fitness regime for 2016, you can enjoy all the stress-busting benefits of yoga and a smaller waistline – in time.

That said, yoga does burn a relatively small number of calories – but it will help improve everything from muscle tone and strength to balance and posture. Not bad at all, eh?

It Makes You Happy

And by happy I’m not just talking about that post-gym feeling of ‘I’ve done a workout so now I have a chocolate bar’. No, yoga actually makes you feel happy in general – it’s been proven! Reducing the stress hormone in your body, it brings about a general feeling of happiness and helps you zone out and relax whilst you’re in the class, too. Result!

It can Ward Off Illness

We bet you don’t need another excuse to sign up for yoga at this point – the fact it burns calories, keeps you fit and reduces stress must be enough, right? Wrong! But there’s another great benefit of yoga – and it’s that it can help prevent illness too. So not only will it ensure you feel good today, it can also stop you getting ill in the future.

If you’re someone who’s always got a cold, you’ll definitely want to try this quick move to help prevent you contracting one in the not-to-distant future.

Start by sitting sideways next to a wall, or the headboard of your bed. Now, simply lie down on one side, facing away from the wall but with your bottom touching it. Now, using your arms, just lift your legs up the wall as you roll over onto your back. Allow your arms to fall on either side of you, with your palms facing up. Finish by breathing for at least 10 breaths. Go on, give it a go – you know you want to.

By now I hope I’ve converted you to the art of the humble – but extremely beneficial – yoga class? And if I haven’t, can I suggest you keep reading up on the hobby; it really will become your new favourite workout if it isn’t already!

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Megan Zsaa has been a student of yoga for three years and works with Samsara Mind and Body on their health and wellness programs. She lives in London and when she isn’t doing yoga you’ll find her preparing yummy, healthy food or making Kombucha. 

Reconnecting with the InnerWeb

Hi all!  Please welcome Whole Life Yoga 500-hour teacher training graduate Jayde Pryzgoda to the Whole Life blog today. Read on to learn how to build balance and social integration in the midst of our high-tech world….

Lately, I’ve noticed that my body is increasingly in this shape:

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This “pose” leads to a tight jaw, sore neck, strained vision, and hunched shoulders. Yet I willingly find myself this way many, many times a day.  What’s going on?

No, that’s not a book I’m holding…  About five years ago I bought my first smart phone.  And while I no longer need a smart phone for work, over last 4 years I have slowly come to enjoy being attached to this small, ever-present and convenient source of news, entertainment, and connection to friends and loved ones.  It is my personal portal to the world wide web.

I don’t consider myself very tech-savvy or dependent, but when I honestly assess my daily behavior these are some facts I find:

  1. I always know exactly where my smart phone is. This is more than I can say for my keys, my cat, and my husband!
  2. I check my phone every 2 hours, on average. I check the internet at my computer in between.
  3. I take my phone to the bathroom. Apologies if this is too personal, but it makes a point. I’m attached.

Turns out I’m not alone.  According to a Pew Research Center report from April 2015, 64% of adults own a smart phone and 46% of smart phone owners say they “couldn’t live without” it.

As I learn more about our interactions with internet technology, I recognize that my posture is only one of the things likely to change if I keep up this level of “connectedness.” In her recent book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” MIT sociologist and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, highlights some social impacts of our device-time:  decreased ability and comfort with face to face connection, difficulty being alone, difficulty knowing ourselves, and a shift towards presenting our idealized selves to the world, thus side-stepping authentic connection.  She proposes that device-time robs us of solitude- our quiet time to simply sit and be with our own thoughts, emotions, and inner experience.  And that decreased solitude ultimately leads to disruption in our deep connection with ourselves and with others.

So how can Yoga help?

The promise of yoga is the integration, or fluid working together of our body, mind, and breath.  We could say yoga helps us create our own inner-web.  The practices of yoga (movement of our bodies and breath, meditation, chant) provide us with many options for getting to know our inner experience, or in other words: opportunities for solitude.

So if you are into yoga, (and you must be to read this far!), you are in luck.  Building a daily practice may hold a key to maintaining the balance of solitude and authentic connection.  But as with all things, this hypothesis is best tested personally. If like me, you find yourself very attached to your internet time, join me in experimenting with some alternatives.

Some things to try:

  • Consciously set aside 5 or 10 minutes daily for a personal practice. For tips on developing your home practice, check out Tracy Weber’s blog entry Nine Tips for a Successful Home Yoga Practice
  • Better yet, before reaching for that phone or internet:
    1.  Take 10 mindful breaths
    2.  Go for a walk or find a quiet space for some gentle movements (think forward bends, warrior I, or just resting your forehead on your forearms.)
  • When you go to yoga class, arrive early, put your phone away at least 5 minutes before instruction starts, lay down and attend to your breathing. At the end of class, see if you can wait until you are out of the building and well on your way before checking your phone.
  • When you finally do find yourself squinting at the smart phone (or table, or computer), take a pause. Check your posture, take a breath, and scan your attention head to toe. How do you feel physically…mentally…emotionally? Listen to your answers and make a conscious choice about your next move.

Good luck – I’ll be out there practicing with you. Let me know how it goes!

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Jayde Pryzgoda is a WLY graduate, yoga teacher, and practicing clinical psychologist in the Seattle area.  She is interested in the intersections of yoga, mental health and physical well being and she starting a new blog to explore these topics and more.

www.thisonemoment.org