Category Archives: Viniyoga

The Purpose of Corpse Pose

A Whole Life Yoga student asks: what’s the point of Corpse Pose? I have a hard time relaxing when my mind is supposed to be completely blank.

This is a great question, and I’m not surprised you feel confused. In truth, no one can make their mind completely blank, at least no one I’ve met. Corpse Pose is, in many ways, a meditation practice. While it’s true that there can be moments of mental quiet during meditation, those moments are the gifts of meditation, not the practice. And they are fleeting gifts at that.

But let’s set the mind to the side for a moment. Corpse pose is at least partially for your body. A good yoga practice mobilizes healing energy called prana, which is very similar to chi in Chinese medicine. Corpse pose gives your system a chance to integrate that energy and send it wherever it is needed the most. Prana flows with the breath, but it is directed by the mind. Feel achy in your lower back after practice? Imagine warmth coating the area like a soft blanket. Feel tension? Imagine your muscles melting into the mat. The sensation you feel is the movement of prana.

Prana is a powerful source of healing, not to be wasted. Corpse Pose allows you to harness that energy without the distractions of movement.

Now, back to the mind.

The mind is designed to be active. Some say the mind is like a monkey, swinging from thought to thought like a monkey swings from branch to branch. Rather than asking the mind to do something impossible, give it a new job. Ask it to focus on something: the coolness of the breath in your nostrils; the delicious post-yoga sensations in your muscles; even the rhythmic snoring of the person next to you.

Whenever your mind wanders (and it will!) invite it back. You may find moments of quiet nothingness. Then again, you may not. In the end, it doesn’t matter. As soon as you notice them, they’re gone anyway.

Your body, energy system, and mind will benefit regardless.

I hope that helps.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

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 and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Reflections on Smiling with Sonia

Please welcome Jen Boyce to Whole Life Yoga’s blog today.  Jen is a current student in Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training  program.  She can be reached at jpboyce@comcast.net.  How will your smile (or lack of a smile) impact your world today?

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For those of you who attend Sonia’s Friday morning class, you know she is into monthly themes. In April, when Sonia said the focus of the month was on “smiling”, I internally rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh, brother!” I have always valued being true and telling it like it is so smiling when I don’t feel the need feels inauthentic.  In general, I don’t smile unless I want to.  Not because I hate life or feel depressed, my face is just not designed that way.  I blame it on my under bite. Some people appear to have faces that rest in a slight smile.  Me, I have “mad face”, coined by my daughter when she was a toddler.  Add to that, I run on the reserved, serious side. I rarely laugh out loud and I dislike how I feel inside myself when I smile on command (i.e., for a photo).

Sonia quoted Thich Nhat Hanh who stated “…smiling is a practice, a yoga practice. Don’t say, “I have no joy, why do I have to smile?” Because when you have joy and you smile, that is not practice, that’s very natural. When you don’t have joy and you smile, that is a real practice.” The idea of a smile as “practice” resonated with me.   However, I still felt totally awkward smiling during class. It wasn’t until we were on our backs that I played with smiling without worrying about how I looked. And I did note a slight increase in energy.

The next day my family and I headed to Santa Cruz, CA for spring break. At the airport, we jokingly plastered smiles on our faces.  It helped to pass the time and though we found it interesting to note the return smiles from others, we still felt silly. Every time something went well like getting through security without a full body pat down, we jested, “Maybe it was the smiling!”

The “aha” moment came when we were in line to board the plane. A woman noticeably brightened and widened her smile when she saw us (a happy, perfect American family eagerly awaiting vacation <:). Ever the honest one, I felt compelled to explain, “We’re totally fake smiling.”  And then I laughed.  I thought it was funny. Not so.  Her face FELL.  That’s when it hit me. She was feeding off of our energy and I had just slapped her in the face.  Something to think about….

The next day I ran the Santa Cruz Half Marathon. The day was full of reasons to smile—sun, warmth, beautiful coastal views, and most of all, GRATITUDE that I was getting to run another half marathon.  Though this was my fourth half, my last one was back in 2011, shortly before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Ever since returning to running post-treatment, I had been slowly working toward this moment. There had been bumps in the road, but I had made it. It was like coming full circle.  Definitely smile worthy.  But as one can imagine, there are plenty of instances during a race that are NOT smile worthy. It can be exhausting and painful. And sometimes, meditative. I find I go into another space for periods of time and “wake up”, realizing that a half mile has gone by and I don’t remember any of it.  I am guessing that I am not smiling then. Maybe I am.  Thich Nhat Hanh stated, “To meditate well, we have to smile, a lot…. Sometimes the mind takes the initiative and sometimes you have to allow the body to take the initiative.  Sometimes the spirit leads, and sometimes the body can lead.”  I ended up finishing 10 minutes faster than my goal.  It was my first race where there were actually some decent photos of me running (smiling!).  I looked like I was having a great time. And for the most part, I was.

Jen

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.   The second book in the series, A Killer Retreat, is available at booksellers everywhere!

Ancient Teachings and Dandelion Seeds

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I wrote this blog article on New Year’s Day, but I couldn’t post it then because of my imminent book launch. Now, as we enter into spring—the season of dandelions—it feels perfect. I hope you enjoy it.

I taught a good class today, but it wasn’t the class I had planned. Superficially, there were similarities to what I had plotted on paper. Quite a few of them, actually. But what makes my New Year’s Day class truly special has nothing to do with the poses. Not even the breath work. Meditation and ritual make the class unique.

I was oddly troubled about this year’s class. I knew the “gift” I wanted to give to my students. I knew the flowers I would arrange and place on the altar. I drew out my sequence and printed out quotes. The day before class, hubby helped me lay out the mats and I lined up the candles. Superficially, I was ready, but something was missing. I’d pulled out my tried-and-true meditations about letting go of the past, but this year they didn’t ring true. I lay awake until well after one am New Year’s Day, still confounded. Eventually, I gave up, convinced that this year’s class would not be my best.

New Year’s Day morning, I walked into the room, still feeling uneasy. I smiled at the twenty-five yogis that were waiting for me, and silently asked their forgiveness for what was sure to be a subpar experience. Then, as I walked toward my meditation rug, an image came to me: dandelion seeds.

I can only believe that the ancients sent that image to me, because suddenly everything about my class made sense. What if we didn’t focus on leaving behind what didn’t work in 2014, but instead reconnected with everything that did? What if, instead of blowing out candles to get rid of the old, we symbolically shared it with the world, like a child sharing dandelion seeds with his neighbors?

I tossed much of my plan aside and taught from my heart. Both of my meditations changed. I changed the breath work. I even changed the asana. The class that seemed heavy and sad became free and light—as did the energy of my students. They even applauded at the end, in spite of my glaring would-never-pass-yoga-court sequencing error. But then again, the sequencing wasn’t the point.

I don’t even know why I feel compelled to write about this. Somehow it seems important to remind my teacher training graduates—and myself—to trust in the teachings and be open to what comes. Sometimes a class plan that worked brilliantly before simply isn’t right. Sometimes the right plan lies just buried in your subconscious.

There was power in that practice. Seeds of hope that we will carry forward and share with our worlds.

What seeds will you plant this spring?

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 and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Yoga for Health Fact Sheet and Yoga Research

I haven’t written much about yoga research lately, mainly because I’ve been heads-down in the book launch events for my second novel. But recently I stumbled across a fact sheet from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health that was too good not to pass on.

The article summarizes key facts about yoga, including side effects and risks, recent scientific research, and key points to keep in mind if you are considering starting a yoga practice. As a side bonus, there’s a detailed bibliography of additional articles and links to three videos, one of which includes a list of “dos and don’ts.”

Here are some of my key takeaways:

A carefully designed yoga practice has been proven to:

  • Decrease back pain
  • Increase range of motion
  • Decrease heart rate and blood pressure
  • Relieve symptoms of both anxiety and depression
  • Improve quality of life and reduce stress
  • Reduce insomnia
  • Improve overall physical fitness, strength and flexibility
  • Be safe for healthy individuals when practiced under the guidance of a well trained-instructor

And a couple of surprises:

  • Studies done thus far have not found yoga to be helpful for asthma. (Side note: I wonder how much pranayama—if any—was included. I’d have to look at the full study to weigh in on this.)
  • The benefits of yoga for arthritis are equivocal. (Some studies find it helpful, some do not.) Future research is ongoing to see if yoga has different benefits for patients with rheumatoid arthritis versus osteoarthritis. Scientists are also trying to decide if yoga practice may be more helpful for some joints than others.

This sentence, taken directly from the article, almost made my heart sing: “Everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified based on individual abilities.” This is, of course, the hallmark of Viniyoga. How could I not agree?

Future studies are planned to determine yoga’s effects on a variety of other health conditions, including immune function, diabetes risk, PTSD, and HIV. I can’t wait to see the results!

If you’re at all interested in learning more about yoga, particularly its therapeutic effects, I highly recommend you check out this article. Lots of great information packed into eight very readable pages. Let me know what you think!

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 and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Saying Goodbye

Sixteen months ago, I led a retreat at the Grunewald Guild in Leavenworth, Washington. That wonderful weekend was the beginning of the journey that I started with twenty-nine other yogis. Ten days ago, I let a retreat at Jim Creek Recreation Area in Arlington, Washington. That weekend completed the journey.

I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. You see, each of those yogis was a graduate of my two hundred-hour yoga teacher training program. Two of them started with me in my very first class in 2003. Three of them—the assistants—had already taken advanced teacher training with me before.  Ten of the participants either were or had been my employees. Even the “newbies” had studied with me for at least a year.

So I should have known them, right? And I did, individually. But somehow when we came together as a group, something wonderful happened. This collection of kind, caring, honest, and intelligent people formed a community. A group that held together through automobile crashes, health scares, surgeries, breakups, job losses, and raising teenagers. A group that bonded and trusted and leaned on each other for help.

We had a few arguments (but shockingly few, honestly), and we got off track hundreds of times. We even had to cut some material. But I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever taught a group that so truly got yoga at its essence. Connection.

To my newest graduates: Saying goodbye at the end of our final weekend together was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I told you that I needed another year to teach you everything you needed to know. That was a lie. In reality, you are already wiser than I will ever be. You already understand what’s most important. Then again, you always did. It was I who needed another year with you and your loving energy. I miss you already.

So today, in this blog, I sing to you the chant we sang at the beginning of each class—in English this time—and share it with my yoga friends reading this blog.

We have  come together as student and teacher to share this time of learning.
Let us have energy and awareness to fulfill this task.
Let us be protected, and nourished, and cherish our time together.
Om, peace, peace, peace.

I did, indeed, cherish our time together. I hope our paths continue to cross over and over and over again.

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 and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Yoga Mysteries, Imperfect Sleuths, and Book Launches!

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Rene de los Santos waiting patiently for his copy of A Killer Retreat at Whole Life Yoga

Happy holidays, yogis!

Today is my blogging day on Inkspot., the blog for the authors of Midnight Ink.  As the publication date of my second book approaches (January 8!) I took some time to reflect on my beginnings with Viniyoga and how it can help heal wounds that are both physical and mental.  Check it out at  http://midnightwriters.blogspot.com/2014/12/yoga-mysteries-imperfect-sleuths-and.html

rutledge

Rutledge, waiting not so patiently….

I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season!

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. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Lithium Breathing: The Balancing Breath

This is the second of three blog posts that detail practices mentioned in A Killer Retreat.   This lovely breath practice helps balance energy.  Perfect for the holiday season.  Only three weeks until the official publication date!  Enjoy!

lithium breathing

This simple breath practice is great any time you need to balance your thoughts, energy, or emotions. Kate, the yoga teacher/sleuth in A Killer Retreat calls this practice Lithium Breathing, because like the medication for bipolar disorder, it balances energy whether it is manic or depressed.

This practice is perfect for any time of day, and the beauty about breath work is that you can do it anywhere—at home, on the bus, even in the middle of a meeting at work—and no one will think you’ve gone crazy.  😉

Lithium Breathing

  1. Come to a comfortable sitting or lying position.
  2. Notice how you feel before beginning to practice.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel as you think you “should.” Just notice whatever comes to mind and be grateful for the awareness.
  3. Gradually, over 6 breaths, lengthen both your inhale and exhale, noticing the natural pause at the end of each.
  4. Maintain the breath in step 3 for at least 6 breath cycles.  Then, break the inhale portion of your breath into two equal parts, with a natural pause both between parts and at the end of the inhale.
  5. Maintain the breath in step 4 for at least 6 breath cycles.  Then, break both the inhale and exhale portions of your breath into two equal parts, with the same natural pauses in the middle and at the end.
  6. Maintain the breath in step 5  for at least 12 breath cycles.  Do not strain the breath.  If you start to feel strain, decrease the lengths of the breath segments, and then continue with that new length for the rest of the practice.
  7. Once you finish 12 or more complete breaths at step 6,  release the pauses completely and breathe for several breaths.  Then gradually allow the breath to come back to a normal rhythm.
  8. Notice any changes you feel after this practice, without trying to judge them as “good” or bad.

Give it a try and let me know how it works.

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. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Five Questions to Ask Yourself when Choosing a Yoga Teacher Training Program

Who says yoga teacher training can’t be fun?

Seattle is  blessed with a wide variety of yoga teacher training programs.  Although I’m partial to the one offered at Whole Life Yoga, to be completely honest, many of the programs offered by other studios are also quite good.  So how do you choose?  Reflecting on the five questions below may help.

  1. What style of yoga are you drawn to? This question actually has two parts. Consider the style of yoga you personally like to practice, as well as the style that would best suit the audience you want to teach. Some yoga teacher training programs (including my own) adhere rigorously to a given lineage; others teach a blended approach.  Either way, make sure that you understand and can support whatever you’ll learn. Never embark on a teacher training program if you don’t appreciate the style you will be learning. Doing so will lead to frustration and disappointment.
  2. Does the structure of the program meet your learning style? Some students learn best when fully immersed in the teachings, as is the case with residential trainings. Others do better with what I call a trickle approach, in which bite-size pieces of information are provided consistently over a longer period of time. Are you more likely to learn when you remove yourself from the rigors of your daily life or when you integrate your yoga practice into it?
  3. Do the program’s requirements realistically fit your schedule? Find out the full program costs, time, and other commitments of the training.  Cost calculations should include any extra classes you’ll be required to attend, mentoring costs, materials, registration fees, and lodging. When you’re budgeting time, include the time you will actually spend in yoga teacher training classes, personal practice time, teaching time, and written homework. Are there make-up options if you miss class? Be honest with yourself. Choose a program that has the flexibility you need while still offering a rigorous learning experience.
  4. Are you drawn to the primary teacher(s) of the program? Some teacher training programs are taught almost exclusively by a single teacher; others use a panel of different instructors for different topics. If you’ll be studying with multiple teachers, who will be responsible for mentoring you and helping assure your success? If there is a primary teacher, get to know them. Do you respect them? Do you trust them? At a minimum, you’ll spend 200 to 500 hours of your life with this person. Hopefully your connection will last significantly longer. Make sure the student/teacher fit is a good one.
  5. Do you want/need a certification that is nationally recognized? Love them or hate them, Yoga Alliance is the only nationally-recognized regulatory body in the yoga community. If your program is registered with Yoga Alliance, you may have teaching opportunities that others do not. Not every person who attends a yoga teacher training intends to teach, however.  Is a nationally recognized certification important to you?

As with most questions in life, there are no right answers, only answers that are right for you. If you’re interested in learning more about Whole Life Yoga’s program, I’d be happy to meet and discuss our program in detail.

Best of luck to you in your yoga journey, whatever particular path you decide.

Tracy Weber

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. 

Yoga for Bipolar Disorder—Research Horizons

The results of a recent study on the benefits and risks of Hatha yoga for individuals with bipolar disorder were interesting to me, but not surprising. The study (which was originally published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice) evaluated the survey responses of more than seventy people with bipolar disorder who also practice yoga. The researchers’ goal was to find out if yoga was, at least on the surface, safe and effective for individuals suffering from this disorder.

I’ve only worked therapeutically with a handful of clients with bipolar disorder, but designing appropriate yoga practices for them is tricky, because it involves managing energy that can fluctuate rapidly and severely between two opposite states: rajasic (agitated, stressed, and hyper-aroused) and tamasic (dull, lethargic, and depressed). The yoga tools used to balance those energy states are significantly different.

An energizing, nourishing practice (which is typically what we teach to clients with unipolar depression) may well send a client with bipolar disorder into a manic state. A relaxing practice (which is what we typically teach to clients suffering from anxiety) might send them into a depressive one. Therefore, I often make my practices for bipolar clients more balanced energetically or very slightly sedating.

The results of the study mirrored what I’ve seen in my teaching.  The vast majority of respondents said yoga helped them; some even went so far as to say it saved their lives.  Five of the seventy, however, said that energizing practices did, indeed, agitate them.  Another five individuals said that yoga practices increased their depression. One said a relaxing practice sent him into an almost catatonic state.  As the Viniyoga teachings indicate, effective teaching is all about adapting the yoga practice to the individual.

Obviously, there is more to learn.  These surveys were the first step of a pilot clinical trial that will compare the effects of yoga practice to using a well-regarded workbook for bipolar disorder.  That trial will hopefully set the stage for a larger study.  I firmly believe that yoga, particularly Viniyoga, can be extremely useful when appropriately applied for this condition.  The results of these studies may help us understand how.

Those of you who have experienced depression, anxiety, or suffer from bipolar disorder, what have your experiences been with yoga? I’d love to hear from you.

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! 

Yoga, Attachment, and Testing Error–Ode to a Bad Week

I’m pretty open about what happens to me in life.  Some of my friends and students use words like “gutsy” and “courageous” to describe me. Detractors sometimes refer to me as “overly self-revelatory.”  Regardless, after 50 years on planet earth, I’m unlikely to change.  I always warn my teacher training students that when they choose me as a teacher, they get what they see.  Readers, I guess the same is true for you. I’ve always felt that the best yoga teachers are those who use The Yoga Sutras to learn about themselves.

I had a stressful week last week.  My husband learned that his job will be moving to Oklahoma next year.  We will not be going with it, so after 30 years with the same company, our primary bread winner will likely embarking on a new career, and we will shortly thereafter be looking for a new home.  We are both committed to staying in Seattle at least until 2016 when I will finish my next 200-hour yoga teacher training  and release my third book. After that?  It’s one of our current life unknowns.

We learned that on Monday.

On Tuesday my doctor e-mailed me the results of some routine blood work.

It wasn’t good.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  Most of it was, indeed, very good.  There were some hints that I need to eat more veggies (smoothies, anyone?) and I definitely need to take more vitamin D.  None of this was news to me. One number, however, was oddly high.

I called the doctor’s office and they said we should re-do the test in case I was dehydrated.  In the meantime, hubby and I independently did what you should never do: we Googled it. According to the Internet, if that number went up much higher, I would be at risk for sudden heart failure. Husband sent me a scary article and we talked about him learning CPR.

To make a long story short, I was terrified, and my doctor was less than helpful. Friday, I received the results of the re-test.  The original number was a lab error.

I’d love to say that this week gave me some great insight on life, or that it has inspired a new story that will soon top the best-seller lists.  I’d even love to say that I handled the situation with the aplomb and equanimity you’d expect from a yoga teacher.  In the end, I can only say that those were three days of my life that I’ll never get back.

Why do I write about this?

I guess to say that my yoga knowledge did actually help me last week.  I’m surprisingly calm about Marc’s job situation.  The teachings promise that there are several life paths we can take, all of which are a source for our learning.  I’m confident that Marc and I will end up in the right place, even if it’s a challenging one.

And in the midst of my health-related panic, I remembered that according to yoga, the mind is riddled with error. Most of what we worry about never actually happens. That was my mantra. It helped, at least a little.  The teachings also say that fear of death is a source of suffering for even the wisest sage.

No one said yoga was magic.

Finally, even yoga teachers have flaws.  This particular one has too many to count. If I were truly in samadhi, I wouldn’t be attached to this body, this life, this city, this house. I’m rather fond of all of them. Life offers us many challenges, and as my husband says, the future is always an unknown. The yoga teachings provide hope.

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!