Category Archives: Therapeutic Yoga

Seven Viniyoga DVD’s to Help You Continue Your Summer Yoga Practice

Larry Payne Yoga DVDsI don’t know how I missed these, since they were created in 2005, but better late than never.  Larry Payne, author of Yoga RX and co-author of Yoga for Dummies has several DVD’s available.  Larry may not call his yoga style Viniyoga, but he studied with Desikachar—the leader of the Viniyoga lineage—and his work definitely utilizes the Viniyoga principles. There are a variety of practices to choose from:

  • Immune Booster and General Conditioning: Level One
  • Immune Booster and General Conditioning: Level Two
  • Weight Management for People with Curves
  • Common Lower Back Problems
  • Common Upper Back & Neck Problems
  • Restorative Health for Women
  • Classic Beginner’s Yoga for Men & Women

Each video offers at least two, sometimes three, separate routines of different lengths. They also contain MP3 audio versions of the practices, so you can listen to them on your ipod or computer.

Although yoga is always best studied with a teacher, summer activities often make it difficult to get to the studio.  I’m happy to be able to offer you the next best thing.  I don’t currently carry these videos at the studio, but you can purchase them on line at Larry’s web site Samata.com.

Let me know what you think of them!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

Yoga and the Maggie

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Maggie Toussaint. Maggie is a mystery/suspense author and a yoga teacher!   Find out more about Maggie at www.maggietoussaint.com.

Maggie ToussaintLet’s jump back in time nearly eleven years. Imagine, if you would, a 45-50 year old female, that would be me, who is having auto-immune issues. Also imagine that I have a closed mindset.

Closed, that’s right. New things are scary. If I don’t know about it, I don’t need to know about it. Aches and pains I understand. They run in my family. I’ve been to the doctor. I know what’s going on with my health.

Enter my guy who loves to try new things and always keeps me on my toes. He’s been looking into a new gym membership and instead of getting a single membership, is thinking about a family deal because of all the classes offered at this gym. And would I please come look at it with him.

Since this invite also included a stop at my favorite pizza place, I agreed. The gym was pretty much what I expected. Lots of people churning and burning calories, but the manager got my attention when she noticed how stiffly I moved and she showed me a hip-stretching yoga move in the middle of the floor. Going with the flow and trying not to hyperventilate, I tried it and was more than pleasantly surprised with the results. Not only did my hip feel better – I felt better.

Soon we had a gym membership, and I started taking yoga from a willowy, gentle soul named Erica. Her yoga was a mix of styles she’d done throughout her lifelong practice. I loved her choices of music and I loved how she worked with me, even in a large class of nearly 30 men and women, she showed me how to adjust and compensate and strengthen my body – and my spirit.

Other gals subbed or taught different yoga classes in time, but Erica really reached me. I learned to see what I could do, instead of focusing on the negative, and from that starting point, I learned to do more. A few years passed, and we moved six hundred miles away from the gym, back to my hometown, a place where yoga was viewed with outright suspicion because it was different.

I found a kindred spirit, another person with outsider ways, like me. We practiced yoga together, taking turns “leading” our small class for each other, and then others heard about it and wanted to participate. The two of us got certified to teach through AAFAA, but insurance concerns kept my friend from moving forward with a yoga studio.

The start-up YMCA invited me to teach yoga, and they would handle the insurance issues. I said yes to the Y. Much to my surprise, the class kept growing and growing. And many students came to the class who were more advanced than I was. I worked to offer something for beginner through advanced students, which was more challenging than my formerly all beginner’s class. At the same time, two family members developed what became terminal illnesses. I had to let the yoga teaching go to handle my other responsibilities.

Time passed. A niece approached me about yoga. She was recently diagnosed with a related autoimmune issue, and it was suggested that yoga would help her. Would I show her some yoga moves? Yes, of course I would. We began to meet weekly in my living room, both of us benefitting from the yoga time. Soon more family members joined us, and my lifelong best friend.

Family yoga is what we’re calling this iteration of my yoga class. It’s a way I pay it forward to help my family. Our practice consists of various breathing techniques, asanas from Erica’s blended Iyengar/Hatha/other styles of yoga, stretches I learned from various physical therapists, and meditation. Not your typical yoga class, but lots of love and laughter and fellowship.

(Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d tell my sisters to twist themselves this way and that, and they’d do it! But each week they come back for more.)

Lessons learned: there’s an ebb and flow to life; we adjust to life’s changes or we become out of sorts; and there is deep joy in helping others.

Namaste,

Maggie Toussaint

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available January 8, 2014 from Midnight Ink!

A Meditation Proven to Invoke the Relaxation Response

In last week’s blog, I shared some of the benefits of a consistent mediation practice and briefly discussed Herbert Benson’s early research.  This week, I’d like to prove how simple an effective meditation technique can be.

The meditation below was used in Benson’s research.  I’ve stolen it from his book The Relaxation Response.

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer rooted in your belief system.
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Relax your muscles.
  5. Breathe slowly. Say the focus word as you exhale.
  6. Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts intrude, just say “Oh well” and return to your repetition.
  7. Continue for 10-20 minutes.
  8. Open your eyes and sit for another minute.
  9. Practice once or twice daily.

If it seems like I’ve been writing about meditation a lot lately, I have.  But only because I strongly believe meditation has the power to transform your life and the lives of those around you.

Enjoy, and practice!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

The Relaxation Response

What if there was an exercise that you could do for as little as ten minutes a day, three times a week that was proven to:

  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce or prevent migraines
  • Combat heart disease
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Decrease premenstrual symptoms
  • Decrease alcohol consumption
  • Decrease pain
  • Boost immune system functioning
  • Improve sleep
  • Decrease adrenaline production, thereby lowering the “fight or flight” response
  • Decrease anxiety and stress
  • Boost creativity
  • Improve relationships
  • Provide an overall feeling of health and well being
  • Increase your ability to recover from sudden stressors
  • And much, much more

Would you do it?

Better yet, what if you could do this exercise virtually anywhere—at home, riding the bus, even sitting at your desk at work?  And what if you never even had to break a sweat?

That exercise not only exists, it’s been used for thousands of years.

I’m talking, of course, about meditation.

Meditation has been studied extensively in the West, much more so than yoga’s other tools.  Herbert Benson, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, was one of meditation’s research pioneers in the 1970s.

Studying something as New Age as meditation wasn’t exactly kosher forty years ago, so Dr. Benson worked under the cover of darkness. He snuck experienced meditators into his research facility late at night, measured physiological markers, and mapped brain wave patterns.  The results were impressive. Meditators showed measurable changes in brain wave activity that allowed them to manage the stresses of life much more effectively than non-meditators.  Benson called meditation’s health and emotional benefits “The Relaxation Response.”

Many other researchers—including Joan Borysenko, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Dean Ornish—have replicated and expanded on these results. Their work has shown that a variety of meditation methods are equally powerful, and that effective meditation doesn’t require hours of time, a Zen-like yoga space or Tibetan master teacher.  To meditate, you simply have to sit quietly for ten minutes a day, three times a week and focus on a word, phrase, idea, or image.

Start with this simple breath focused meditation or go online and Google the word “meditation.” You’ll find literally thousands of sites with hundreds of techniques, one of which is bound to appeal to you.  Of course we also offer a Meditation 101 class at Whole Life Yoga, and my Yoga for Anxiety class teaches meditation techniques that have been proven to reduce anxiety.

Give it a try.  I think you’ll be surprised at the results!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

A Meditation to Create Tranquility and Joy

This meditation practice is one of my favorites for clearing out emotional “gunk” and creating a state of inner peace, tranquility, joy and healing. Even better, it can be done anytime, anywhere. I hope you like it!

  1. Sit comfortably, with your spine in neutral and the crown of your head floating up to the ceiling.  Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable.
  2. Begin focusing your mind by paying attention to the sensation of the breath just inside your nostrils.
  3. When you feel ready, think of a quality you’d like to increase in your life.  Imagine that quality is a bright white light entering your body through your heart center and spreading throughout your entire body—from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes.  This light can represent any positive quality you wish it to—love, joy, health, healing, or anything else. Imagine every cell of your body illuminated by this light, and feel the quality it carries flow into every cell.
  4. Imagine that this quality is replacing everything that clutters your life—anger, impatience, stress, desire, greed. As the light grows brighter in your mind, visualize its pure radiance washing all negative qualities away.
  5. If your attention wanders (and it will!) just notice it, and invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath at the tip of your nose.  Then begin to focus on the white, healing light once again.
  6. Continue this meditation for 10 minutes or longer if you’d like.

Let me know how it goes!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

Allow Yoga to Enhance Your Posture and Balance

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Jeanne Startzman. Jeanne is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She can be contacted at yogaspring@hotmail.com and www.yogaspringyoga.com.

 

As I often do, I was recently thinking about the benefits of yoga and its age-defying qualities. It occurred to me that three of my friends fell this year, and each sustained fairly serious injuries.

Kathy tripped over her dog that crowded her in the bathroom; she crashed against a wall and broke her shoulder in two places. Lynae slipped on an icy street (ice is always treacherous!), fell, and fractured her left hip. And as Kristine told me, “I was feeling ungrounded that day, in a hurry, and multi-tasking when I tripped on my own feet and fell flat with my cheek breaking my fall on the edge of a retaining wall.” She suffered a broken upper jaw and concussion.

None of these women practice yoga, however I’m not implying that if they were practitioners their mishaps would not have happened. But I do believe that with a yoga practice, their chances of righting themselves before each injuring impact would have been more in their favor.

I recently taught a two-part series called Basic Yoga Poses to Open Your Heart, Lengthen Your Spine, and Improve Your Posture and Balance. I knew that only two classes would not bring dramatic physical change, so my primary intent was to heighten students’ awareness of the connection between posture, balance, and the ability to stay upright?and how yoga can enhance that relationship.

We opened our hearts with poses that drew our shoulders down and back as shoulder blades moved toward one another. Immediately students stood a little taller; we were on our way to improving our posture! We practiced extension postures, such as Mountain, with long, deep inhales to lengthen and bring our spines into alignment.

Chair and Warrior poses helped strengthen students’ thighs so that they might be just strong enough to withstand gravity’s forceful pull should a stumble occur. We also thawed-out our foundation by rotating our ankles and stretching our toes, enabling them to grip and respond.

And we did balance poses! Most of us like balance postures because they’re fun and, well, they look cool once you find that sweet spot. But really, the intent of Dancer or Tree is to create an integrated, overall body balance that will serve us in our everyday activities so that maybe, just maybe, you can catch yourself when you trip over a section of raised sidewalk or you’re steady on your tiptoes as you stretch way-high to reach that bowl on the top shelf.

Overall, our two practices and new-found awareness served to remind us that it’s all about maintaining our centers of gravity. Slumping posture leads to rounded shoulders, which lead to a protruding head and neck. Given such a weak posture profile, even a small misstep can result in a fall.

Unfortunately (and especially as we age) falling down can be life-changing with injuries that steal mobility and independence. With yoga, students of any age can enjoy more freedom of movement, protect against injury, and foster and preserve their ability to move about.

Even the quiet calm and clear mind that is yoga can help save us from harm. During her recuperation, my friend Kristine who broke her jaw pondered “What is the message here?” She concluded that for her, the message is to slow down, stay mindful at all times, and examine priorities. Along with a yoga practice, I consider it a valuable message for all of us to heed.

Jeanne

Belly Breathing for Stress and Pain Relief

This simple, relaxing breath can be used any time you want to soothe body, mind, and spirit. I taught it recently in my Yoga for Chronic Pain class, yet it reduces stress of any kind—physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Belly Breathing

  1. Lie on the floor, in bed, or any place else you can be comfortable without falling asleep.  Your knees can be bent or draped over a bolster.  If that’s not comfortable, you can also elevate your shins on a chair.  Any position is fine, as long as it’s physically comfortable and your spine is in a neutral position.
  2. Notice the sensations of your body, without labeling them as “good” or “bad.”  Just be present with those sensations. Surrender your weight into the earth and feel tension drain from your body.
  3. Place your hands on your stomach and consciously breathe as if you were breathing into your belly.  Notice how your belly gently expands with every inhale and relaxes with every exhale. Invite your mind to be in this present moment, not concerned with the past, not worried about the future. Every time your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the feeling of the breath in your belly.
  4. After a minute or two, begin to lengthen your breath. Take several breaths to deepen each inhale and exhale, focusing primarily on a slow, complete exhale. When you find a rhythm that feels deep, yet smooth and easy, continue breathing at that length. If at any point you feel a sense of strain, shorten the breath again until you find a length that feels full, yet relaxing.
  5. Continue breathing this way for approximately five minutes, and then gradually return your breath to a new, uncontrolled rhythm.  Notice the sensations of your body again, still trying not to label them as “good” or “bad.”
  6. When you’re ready to transition back to your day, begin with small movements, such as wiggling your fingers and toes or even yawning and stretching. Then roll to your side for a moment before gradually pressing up to sitting.

This simple practice is one of my favorites for soothing both physical and emotional
discomfort.  I hope you enjoy it!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Article on Viniyoga for Back Pain–Complete with a Practice!

Articles touting the benefits of Viniyoga seem to be popping up everywhere (and that’s a good thing!). One of the newest examples is an article called “Watch Your Back” in Yoga Journal. This article talks about Viniyoga’s proven benefits in reducing back pain. Specifically, it discusses the Group Health study on Viniyoga for low back pain and shares the personal case study of a woman who healed her back using Viniyoga.

The student, Terri Stoeker, has a back pain story much like my own.  Like Terri, my back injury cane “out of the blue,” though it had likely been building for quite some time.  Unlike Terri, I suffered for years–seven to be exact.  During that time, I tried a number of methods for healing: physical therapy, acupuncture, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medication, osteopathic manipulation, counseling on pain management, ice, rest, and massage therapy. At one point, I even said that I’d dance naked around a witch doctor’s fire if that would help.  The one remedy that healed me, after seven years of failed experiments, was Viniyoga.

Terri’s relief came quickly.  Mine took a bit longer. But after seven years of pain, a few months to get relief seemed like nothing.  In fact, since my doctors and I had already given up hope, the fact that I healed at all is nothing short of a miracle.

I’d like to share two of my favorite quotes from the article with you.

The first is from the student, Terri Stoeker:

“You can let your back control you and change your life into something sedentary and painful, or you can find something that can keep you healthy and get you back to 95 percent normal. I was told I would never run or garden again. Now I can do those things. I have to be careful, I have to take care of myself, but I live my life. Yoga has done that for me.”

The second is from my teacher, Gary Kraftsow.

“We’re not talking about fancy yoga or power yoga  here. You don’t need an hour-long class or a special outfit or a fancy mat to do this. This practice is available to everybody. You can learn it easily and use it to feel better and really begin to manage your condition.”

The article comes complete with a yoga practice that may help decrease back pain.  But be forewarned, the photos are misleading.  In fact, they only show part of each position.  The movement between positions is vitally important in Viniyoga.  So I highly recommend using the text to guide your practice, rather than the photos.  Better yet, sign up for my Yoga for Healthy Backs class!  In the mean time, read the article, and tell me what you think!

Go Viniyoga!

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Cakravakasana: the “Un” Cat-Cow

Cakravakasana (also called “Cat”) is often confused with a yoga pose called Cat-Cow.  Although the two poses look similar, they have completely different effects and intentions.   For most students, Viniyoga’s Cat is much more beneficial than Cat-Cow.  So much so, that my teacher calls it the “un” Cat-Cow.

According to Gary, approximately 75% of Americans have increased thoracic kyphosis.  Put in English, we have upper backs that are already too rounded.  This happens primarily because of the activities we do in daily life.  We sit in chairs, type at computers, drive cars,  and do other activities that leave us in a hunched forward position.  To balance that, our yoga practice should strengthen and flatten our upper backs as well as stretch the fronts of our shoulders.

On the other hand, most of us have tight and weak lower backs, with increased lumbar lordosis. Meaning our lower backs are weak, tight and overly arched.  To balance this, our yoga practice should both strengthen and stretch our lower backs as well as strengthen our abdominal muscles.

Below is a photo of a student doing the pose most people call Cat-Cow.  In the position on the left, she arches her low back in the “Cow” position.  In the position on the right, she rounds her upper back in the “Cat” position.  This increases the curvature of both her upper back and lower back—exactly the opposite of what most students need.

In the two photos below, the same student performs Cakravakasana.  In the position on the left, she uses her abdominal muscles to support her low back while drawing her shoulder blades together to flatten her upper back.  In the position on the right, she gently pulls in her belly while folding her hips toward her heels, gently stretching her low back.

For most students, the two positions of Cakravakasana effectively work together to restore balance to the spine and release back tension. Cat-Cow, on the other hand, may contribute to spinal imbalance and even increase back pain–even if it feels good while you’re doing it.

Cakravakasana Instructions:

  1. Come to hands and knees, placing your hips directly above your knees and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders.  Your knees should be at least four inches apart, and your hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders.
  2. On inhale, draw your shoulder blades together and lengthen your spine, keeping your belly lightly pulled in and your chin tucked slightly down.  Do not allow your lower back to arch or your hips to move beyond your knees.
  3. On exhale, contract your abdomen while moving your hips toward your heels and your forehead and elbows toward the floor. Notice the gentle stretch in your lower back.
  4. On the following inhale, return to the hands and knees position in step 1.
  5. Repeat 6 – 8 times.

Cakravakasana is a gentle pose you can use to release tension and stretch your back any time of the day.  I hope you enjoy it!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

 

The Gift of Depression

I wrote this post in early June, but decided to wait until now to share it publicly.  I hope you benefit from these sutra teachings and my personal learnings.

I’ve been fighting a case of the blues for the last several weeks—the kind that makes me want to sleep twelve hours  a day and cry about  every sad story I hear on the news.  Friends cite lots of reasons why I might be depressed:  a pet that recently died, another that is sick without a defined cause, the difficulties of running a business in our current economy, Seattle’s gray June weather, even that dreaded life transition that happens to women of a certain age.

But internally, I know none of those reasons fully explain my lethargic mood.  This sadness has roots deep in my heart. I would feel it even if I were independently wealthy, still in my 20’s, and basking on a sunny beach. The Yoga Sutras call my mental state Daurmanasya, or depression and negative thinking.  They go on to say that Daurmanasya is simply a symptom of something deeper: an obstacle on my path to personal growth.  Sutra 1.31 lists four symptoms that indicate the presence of an inner obstacle.

  • Duhkha: Psycho-emotional suffering
  • Daurmanasya: Depression or negative thinking
  • Angamejayatva:  Instability of any kind, including body, work, and relationships
  • Svasaprasvasa: Disturbance in the breath, including  uncontrolled crying, laughing, or bursting out.

According to the yoga teachings, those symptoms are simply a subconscious warning sign.  When you feel them, you’re up against an inner obstacle, whether you’re not aware of it or not.

Sutra 1.30 lists nine specific obstacles:

  • Vyadhi: Sickness or disease
  • Styana: Fixation or being “stuck in a rut”
  • Samsaya: Doubt
  • Pramada: Carelessness and  impulsive knee-jerk reactions
  • Alasya:  Lethargy, burnout, and lack of passion
  • Avirati:   Inability to withstand the temptation of the  senses
  • Bhrantidarsana: Distorted self esteem ranging from low self esteem to arrogance
  • Alabdhabhumikatva: Not achieving the level you expected of yourself and losing heart
  • Anavasthitatvani: Achieving a level but not being able to sustain it.

Even as I type this list, I have to smile and shake my head.  Doubt and burnout practically leap off the page. I’ve been down this road before.  In fact, these two old friends seem to be recurrent themes in my life.  I don’t yet know what their return means, but that’s the beauty of yoga: I don’t have to.  Sutras 1.32 – 1.39 outline a list of practices I can do to help, regardless of the cause. Historically, I’ve found meditation and reflection to be the most useful.  So it’s back to the mat for me.

And here’s the gift.  As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The teachings say that each time I overcome an obstacle, I grow.  I become more resilient and more able to withstand similar issues in the future.  When I come out of this darker period, I know I will be changed. I don’t know exactly how, yet, but I’m sure I will be stronger.  I will have greater clarity about who I am and the role I am meant to play in this world.  And that is truly a gift.

So the next time you find yourself sad or suffering for no clear reason, know that yoga offers tools to help. Try not to run away or bury those feelings.  Instead, give yourself the gift of time, reflection, guidance, and practice.  Like a caterpillar painfully struggling in its dark cocoon, you may emerge brighter, more alive and more vibrant that you ever imagined!

Namaste

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!