If you’ve never done yoga before, you might be wondering, “What’s the big deal? Why do I need yoga, anyway?” Yoga has been big in the news for quite a few years now, so you have probably heard that it provides many physical, mental and spiritual benefits. It’s been proven to improve happiness and health, but so do a lot of things. So why yoga?

Conversely, if you’re already a yogi, you already know what yoga can do for you. But sometimes, no matter how beneficial you know yoga is for you, you get stuck in a rut. For whatever reason, you’re just not getting what you need anymore, and you need to get back in the groove.

If you need to be convinced to give yoga a try, or you just need a boost to get you back in the groove, here are 10 signs that you really need yoga in your life…like RIGHT NOW! I’m a huge fan of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck…” routines, so I’m presenting this list to you in that style…enjoy!

Jeff-Foxworthy
(Jeff Foxworthy photo, courtesy of Little Things)

  1. If you’re restless…you might need yoga! Seriously, if you are exhausted but can’t seem to sit still, or you find yourself wired up and unable to chill out, yoga can help. It incorporates relaxation techniques that help you get better at understanding when you’re stressed, as well as techniques on how to let those stresses go. And once you figure that out, the empowerment you feel can’t be beat!
  2. If you can’t sleep…you might need yoga! With yoga, you can learn to incorporate meditation, which can help you better deal with what I refer to as the “monkey mind”. What is the “monkey mind”? It’s the mind that is constantly racing with uncontrollable thoughts, which can keep you from being able to get the quality sleep you need. Meditation helps you learn how to release those thoughts that are not serving you in any beneficial way.
  3. If you can’t make a decision to save your life…you might need yoga! Noticing you have trouble making up your mind, even over the smallest of things? The focus that yoga provides can help you better open your mind to clearer thinking. And when you can think clearly, you can better understand your own desires and goals….which lead to better decision-making.
  4. If you can’t properly focus…you might need yoga! If you have trouble keeping your attention on one thing, then completing tasks feels impossible. I’ve noticed lately that, for me, I can’t seem to keep my focus on the book I am trying to complete. I keep having to read chapters over and over again, because I can’t remember what I’ve just read…it’s super frustrating! Maybe you notice that a project you’re working on takes you WAY more time to complete than it should. Yoga incorporates concentration techniques, like helping you learn to balance on one leg, or matching breath with movement, which are great at helping you learn to tame a wandering mind.
  5. If you can’t control your emotions…you might need yoga! Let’s face it, we all overreact over things sometimes. But if you find that you’re freaking out most of the time, or are having reactions to situations that you know deep down are out of proportion, then yoga may be just the thing you need. Yoga calms your nerves and helps to release stress and tension, which helps bring inner peace. When you have that, you’re able to see the situation for what it is and respond appropriately. And when you can do THAT, you may find you’re more comfortable sharing your feelings and thoughts with others.
  6. If you no longer enjoy social situations…you might need yoga! Today, social media is EVERYWHERE. And I don’t know about you, but most of what I see has shattered my self-esteem on more than one occasion. All those beautiful pictures of people looking so put together and happy all the time…well sometimes, when I am having a “less than perfect” day, it makes me feel inadequate when I see posts like that. Enter yoga. Yoga is great in helping you learn to leave your ego at the door and becoming comfortable with who you are. I won’t lie to you…it’s not always easy to do this. Sometimes, it involves tears and frustration to get yourself to the point where you learn to love yourself unabashedly. But when that finally happens, like FOR REAL, you won’t believe how confident you’ll feel! And when you’re confident, you’ll feel more comfortable around others in a group setting.
  7. If you can’t cope in healthy ways…you might need yoga! When things get tough, do you turn to alcohol? Drugs? Food? If the habits you have are not good for you in the long run, then maybe it’s time to ditch those habits for some that ARE. Yoga is a practice that sees health and happiness as a lifelong journey, so establishing a regular yoga practice for yourself might just be the best habit you ever adopt. I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy and healthy?
  8. If you can’t breathe…you might need yoga! Now to be fair, I’m not talking about not being able to breathe AT ALL. If that’s happening, you need to call 911, baby! But, if your typical breathing is shallow, or if you sometimes feel like you aren’t remembering to breathe easily, then yoga can help. Yoga puts a HUGE emphasis on proper breathing, reminding us to pay close attention to our inhales and exhales and to deepen the breath. Usually, when we breathe shallowly or forget to breathe, it’s because of stress we’re not able to properly deal with. This deep breathing we learn in yoga helps to calm the mind, which releases that stress we’re holding onto. And when we can do that, breathing properly simply becomes second nature.
  9. If you have poor posture…you might need yoga! Do you sit for long periods at a computer screen? Do you constantly complain of a sore back or neck? If you can’t keep your spine in proper alignment due to long periods of sitting or standing in a non-ergonomic way, yoga might just become your new best friend. A physical yoga practice helps you build strength and flexibility, which can lead to better alignment in the things your body does. Yoga also helps us become more aware of what our bodies are doing, so it becomes easier to recognize when we’re doing something incorrectly.
  10. If your body is stiff…you might need yoga! When you get out of bed each morning, your muscles and joints might experience a stiffness you can’t seem to shake. It might even be downright painful. This only gets more challenging as we get older, as it becomes more difficult with age to stay limber. Yoga postures can help not only to stretch the muscles, but they also help to lubricate the joints. You’ll feel like a spring chicken in no time!

Do any of these signs resonate with you? I’m willing to bet the answer is yes for a good number of you reading this. If so, then you’ve already accomplished the big step of becoming aware of what you need. Now all you need to do is take the necessary steps to start incorporating yoga as a regular part of your life…either for the very first time, or to re-establish what you know can make you feel oh so good!

Namaste,

Melanie

Sorry for the lateness in this post, but this month’s post is the speech I gave in my Toastmasters International Speech Contest, and I wanted to wait until after the contest to post it in written form.

The contest was tonight, and I came in 3rd place. I am happy with that, because I delivered the speech pretty much the way I wanted to, and several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for sharing my story.

I know this is typically a yoga blog, but this speech is one I think resonates perfectly with the philosophy of yoga. When we make the choice to step on our mats, we’re putting ourselves out there…sometimes, it means facing our fear of practicing in a room full of others when we feel “less than” because we get stuck in the art of comparing ourselves to everyone else. Sometimes it means facing personal demons, because yoga can bring up some pretty deep stuff…sometimes, things surface for me that bring me to tears and wondering, “Where the heck did THAT come from???”

However, every time we make the choice to step on our mats, we are making the choice to DO SOMETHING for ourselves. And in turn, that translates into giving us a better chance at being able to do something for others who may need us.

So, without further ado, here is the speech I gave…I hope it resonates with you.

hands(Photo courtesy of Simply Accessible)

I started off by singing the first verse from “With My Own Two Hands”, which is a wonderful song by Ben Harper…here’s the verse:

“I can change the world, with my own two hands
Make a better place, with my own two hands
Make a kinder place, oh with my, oh with my own two hands
With my own, with my own two hands”

Let me ask you something. What does it take before you will do something for someone else? If you knew it didn’t have to be something big, like money, or even a huge amount of your time, would it change your answer in any way? How many of you are thinking, “Well…it depends.”?

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a storytelling podcast called “The Moth” and heard the story “Luminaria” by Denise Scheurmann. This story centers around the time when she was 15 years old. Her dad was terminally ill and in the hospital during the holiday season. As you can probably imagine, she, her mother, and her brother were consumed with everything they were having to deal with. They felt alone, and the holidays were not on their minds AT ALL. As they were coming home from the hospital on Christmas Eve, they noticed as they entered their neighborhood that the luminarias were lit. It was a tradition in their neighborhood to light them each year and place them along their driveways and sidewalks to welcome in Christmas. They thought, “Our house will be the only one not lit up”, and that just got them even more down. But as they drove up to their house, they saw that their luminarias were lit. An anonymous neighbor (or neighbors…they never did find out) had decided to do something for this family to make sure they felt included in the neighborhood tradition.

That may seem like a small thing, but to this family, it meant the world. Denise said it made them realize they were not alone, and that people cared. In fact, she said that years later, when she was going through a divorce, remembering what her neighbors had done all those years ago helped her get through many dark moments.

Denise’s story resonated with me, because it made me think of my own story a bit. For those of you who may not know, I was diagnosed with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease in late 2012. That diagnosis came after more than a year of knowing that SOMETHING was wrong with me, but not knowing exactly what. I spent thousands of dollars on tests that showed nothing definitive. I thought I was crazy because many doctors told me it was all in my head or was just due to “stress”. I lost many important people in my life because they couldn’t deal with me talking about it so much and thought I was just looking for attention. During that time, and many times since, I’ve often felt alone. Lyme Disease has taken over my life.

However, God has amazing timing. He has placed several people in my path who have done for me what Denise’s neighbors did on that long ago Christmas Eve. They’ve made my world a better place, and they probably don’t even realize they’ve done anything at all.

I’m what you call a “functioning” sick person. You might be asking, “What does that mean?” Well, I go to my job, and I take care of myself and my family most days. I even exercise pretty regularly. Most people don’t even realize I’m sick. I don’t LOOK sick. Many people think, “If she’s REALLY sick, then shouldn’t she be in a wheelchair or something?” People don’t have a clue how to deal with someone like me. They don’t understand how many things I love that I’ve had to give up in order to “function” and make it through each day without being a burden. It can be pretty lonely.

In hopes of finding anything that could help me make sense of what I was dealing with both physically and emotionally, I stumbled across a blog called My Color is Lyme, written by a woman named Jennifer. Her post, Confessions of a “Functioning Lymie”, brought me to tears. It was like I wrote that post! The whole time I was reading, I was nodding my head in agreement, exclaiming, “Yes…YES! That’s it, exactly!” Like me, Jennifer struggled with various health issues for a long time before finally getting a diagnosis. Like me, she “functions” by being able to continue going to work each day and taking care of herself and her pets. And, like me, many people in her life walked away because they assume she is fine and should stop complaining.

People suffering, but “functioning”, like Jennifer and I, don’t usually feel comfortable putting their story out there for the world to see, because they’re afraid of backlash and more abandonment. But Jennifer decided to do something, and by sharing her story, she has given me (and I’m sure many others) a bit of hope. She had the courage to put into words what I was unable (or, if I’m being honest, unwilling) to.

You never know who might be going through a tough time. There have been others who, like Jennifer, have made me feel less alone. Sometimes simply asking, “Is there anything I can do?” is enough.

Think back to Denise’s story. It probably took all of 5 minutes to light those luminarias. No big deal. But what WAS a big deal was those neighbors decided to do something. A something that meant the world to this family, giving them a bit of happiness not just for that evening, but for a lifetime. To this day, that small gift is still giving Denise some comfort.

At the end of her story, Denise challenged her audience to write their names and numbers down and give it to someone right then and there, as a reminder that they are never alone. How powerful is THAT? Another example of something that seems like a small thing to do. But imagine how it would feel to someone who is going through a tough time, someone who feels like they’re all alone in the world…imagine how seeing that little note from you might be what is needed to lift them up and remind them that someone cared enough to do something.

Author Samuel Johnson said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” I ask you, in closing, to think about that for a minute. What is the something that YOU can do to make the world a better, kinder place…with your own two hands?

That last line, “with your own two hands”, I sang as a way to tie back to the song I opened with. 

Namaste,

Melanie

 

“To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” ~~ Howard Zinn

Happy February, everyone! I sure hope the start to your 2017 has been filled with positivity and happiness. Unfortunately, if you’re one of my readers here in the United States, I fear that many of you may be having a bit of trouble with positivity and happiness right now. I’m not going to go into politics…Goodness knows we’re getting bombarded by that everywhere right now. But what I will be talking about here in this post…well, I just hope that it does at least a little bit to lift your spirits if you’re feeling a bit out of sorts.

Throughout the month of January, I found myself getting all out of sorts with a variety of things. I had a lot of different things going on with my full-time job, with Toastmasters, with my family, with my yoga classes. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when I say that it was one of those phases where I’d committed to WAY too many things. I think we’ve all found ourselves in this situation at some point in our lives, am I right?

Well, there I was, completely stressed out over trying to do too many things, and feeling like I was being pulled in all sorts of directions at once. I noticed that I was more short-tempered. My sleep was impacted. I was cursing over every little thing. My Lyme symptoms started to flare up. I felt like a HUGE failure! Try as I might, I just wasn’t able to provide the self-care I needed to keep things in check.

If this had only gone on for a day or two, things would have been just fine. But here I am, five weeks in, and things are still feeling out of control. I do see an end in sight, but some damage has been done, emotional and physical, that needs to be addressed.

Thankfully, this last weekend, I had the opportunity to get away for a weekend workshop on Restorative Yoga. It was held at a beautiful yoga studio in Mount Airy, NC called Sacred Space. It was just what I needed!

I was fortunate that my friend, Lidia, was able to join me. She lives in my area, so we drove there together and rented a nice room at a super cute B&B called Heart & Soul. When we checked in, we were in awe of how gorgeous this place was! We were within walking distance to the yoga studio, so we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and walk over.

For those of you who don’t know, Mount Airy is the town that Andy Griffith’s town of Mayberry was modeled after. We enjoyed looking at all the stores, and we were even treated to an old-timey police car driving by us. Already, I was smiling, which I sorely needed at that moment.

The workshop was small, with only seven of us in attendance. When I took my first Restorative Training, there were over 30 people. Don’t get me wrong…that was a great training. But I’ve always preferred the smaller trainings, where you can really get to know each other and walk away feeling you’ve made at least one true friend for life.

me_lidia_sacredspace
(Me and Lidia, after training on Sunday)

By spending so much time on the mat in a gentle and restorative practice, I was able to sit with my thoughts, really dig in to what’s going on with me, and show myself a little compassion. By spending some quality time making an effort to begin and grow friendships, I feel I was able to walk away being able to show compassion for others a little more effectively. It’s amazing how, when you really stop to think about it, we are all part of a web of people who love US, and who WE love. This web is growing all the time, as long as you take that time to allow compassion in.

So to my friends who read this blog, and to my readers who I may never have met in person: If all the things going on in the world right now seem to be too much to bear, show yourself some compassion. Find the time to make time for YOU, incorporating any self-care rituals that rejuvenate and empower you. Find a way to reconnect with old friends, do something that will allow you to make some new friends, tell your best friends and family how life wouldn’t be the same without them. Be there for them, showing them compassion as they may be working through tough times, too.

Tap in to this compassion, rooting yourself to the present. You might find it’s just what you need to reset and recharge.

Namaste,

Melanie

Many times over the years, I’ve been asked for a variety of recommendations. Things like:

  • What yoga mat should I buy?
  • What are the best yoga pants?
  • What are your favorite books?

You get the idea. Well, here is a start to things I’ve recommended over and over again to my friends and students, and I always get great feedback that I was spot on. So here is the first of hopefully many posts for things I recommend that can help you immensely in your journey to better health and wellness. This particular post is centered around yoga recommendations, so here we go.

a-few-of-my-favorite-things
(Photo courtesy of Guide to Secret and the Law of Attraction)

Yoga Mats

My favorite yoga mat — and I have had MANY of them since I began practicing in 1999 — is the Manduka PRO Yoga and Pilates Mat, Black Magic,71″. This mat is thicker than average, which is great for people like me who have joint issues. Plus, I don’t care how hot of a yoga class I’ve attended, I never slip when I take this mat with me. I sweat — a LOT! And prior to having this mat, I could never go to hot classes because I always felt like I would hurt myself…I would slip as soon as I started to sweat. But once I got this mat, it was smooth sailing! I’ve had my mat since 2009, and it still looks brand-new…and I use it a LOT! It’s expensive but worth the money.

If you travel and can’t take a mat this thick, the Manduka PROLite Yoga and Pilates Mat, Midnight, 71″ travels better and is also a bit cheaper.

Yoga Shoes

Next up…my favorite yoga shoes! These Merrell Women’s Tango Posh Zip Sneakers Shoes [Black] [7.5] shoes are awesome because they are super light and bendy, so I can wear them when I am teaching (my feet get cold when I am not actually doing the practice with my students, and I also don’t like my feet getting dirty by walking around on a floor that might not have been cleaned). Even when I’ve practiced yoga, I’ve worn these shoes because they really do feel like I am wearing nothing. Yet when I need to leave and move on to the next event, these shoes are super comfy so I don’t even have to change into a different pair.

Yoga Pants

Now for yoga pants…there are so many options! But I love the leggings Reebok has, as they are not super expensive, and they last a long time. Plus, when you’re doing yoga poses that require you to “stick”, you don’t want slippery pants, and you want pants that let you breathe so you don’t get too hot. I love these Reebok Women’s Elite Tights from Reebok, because I love the pattern…it’s quirky and funky, like me!

But if you would rather pants with a bit more of a feminine look, then the Reebok Womens Tree Tight might work better. Same material, so you should experience the same benefits as mentioned above.

Yoga Tops

In terms of yoga tops, that is SO hit or miss for me. I tend to get really hot and sweaty if I am practicing a vinyasa style, so I like something that breathes and moves with me…something very light and stretchy, but that doesn’t look skin tight. That is not easy to find! I tend to love tanks by Next Level, and I love this Next Level Women’s Stylish Soft Tri Blend Racerback Tank Top because it’s not too tight and typically runs true to size.

However, when I am in a more gentle or restorative class, I want to be warmer and tend to prefer long sleeves. Again, I love Next Level, as they make a super comfy Ladies’ Burnout Hoody that is the perfect amount of thickness, AND I can wear it to more than just yoga.

 So there you are. A few of my favorite things that always help me have a more amazing yoga practice. Stay tuned for more of these, which will cover books I recommend, as well as various things I use to help me in my journey to health and wellness.

Namaste,

Melanie

“Start wherever you are and start small.” ~~ Rita Baily

“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” ~~ Steve Jobs

“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” ~~ Alan Cohen

Here we are at the beginning of a new year. 2017…wow! Where did 2016 go? It seems like just yesterday was the beginning of 2016, and it feels like this entire past year went by in such a blur for me in so many ways.

So many big things happened for me this past year. I completed several of my Toastmasters goals, I completed my RYT-500 (finally!!!), I started a new job, I became certified as an integrative health and wellness coach. I lost my dog Ripley to cancer and a week later, we rescued a 1-year old lab/pointer mix who we named Panda…Panda has been a constant companion to our other dog, Lexie, and because he is so social, we are now members of an amazing dog park in our town…this has been great for ME, because I’ve made some new friends there, and I am able to get a lot of trail hiking in at this place, which is a form of not only exercise, but meditation for me. I bit the bullet and hired a personal trainer, and with the help of his team and my medical team, I am finally starting to see some changes after so long feeling like a failure.

So what does all this mean for me in this new year? How do I want to approach 2017 and make it a great year for me? Making New Year’s resolutions have not typically gone well for me in the past. When I look back over the years, I haven’t done a very good job about making and sticking to my resolutions. And let’s face it, this happens to most of us, and then what happens? We feel like failures, right?

Luckily, I’ve learned about SMART goal setting recently. Well, to be fair, I learned about SMART goal setting a long time ago, but I just didn’t pay attention…I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to get serious before, if I’m being completely honest. But now…well, let’s just say I am ready. I feel like I’ve finally found my groove, and I’ve got some amazing people who are willing to help hold me accountable, so I am much more confident about finding success this time around.

2017 provides me with the invitation for fresh thinking. It’s my time to ignite, and I want to invite you to join me. Let’s consider this a time of new beginnings.

Yoga can offer a compassionate approach to making changes. If you’re a yogi like me, one thing you can do to help you along the way is to use your body in tandem with your breath so that you can mindfully mark the transitions you’re making.

Once you’ve set your goals, actively work toward each one without judging yourself when the process takes longer or is less flawless than you’d like. If you do slip into an old habit, don’t beat yourself up…simply decide to start again. As a matter of fact, with SMART goal setting, it’s imperative that you check in with your goals regularly and reevaluate them, making adjustments as needed. It takes strength and trust in oneself to be willing to begin again; starting new is no easy task, especially if you feel like you’ve failed over and over again. If you have any self-awareness at all, then you probably know which behaviors are no longer serving you, and you sincerely want to overcome them. Be brave and let those old stories melt away. Use the breath to move into a conscious state of presence. Each exhale is a letting go. Each inhale is an opening. Breathe with intent when approaching your goals.

One of my overarching goals in yoga is to improve my shoulder mobility. Just four years ago, I could interlace my fingers behind my back with my arms straight, I could do Gomukhasana arms with no props, I could take a bind in Extended Side Angle, and I could do several advanced poses like Handstand and Bird of Paradise. But treatment for Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease has increased the inflammation in my body to a point that my entire body has paid the price, and my shoulders and legs seem to have it the worst. I would love to be able to get my body back to a point where I can do the arm binds I once used to, but I don’t want to frustrate myself, so I am setting a SMART goal of the following:

I will perform shoulder mobility exercises daily for at least 5 minutes and will reevaluate after three weeks. I’m starting small, because I think that starting big might overwhelm me; some of the exercises I will be using during this time are:

  • Gomukhasana arms with a strap…I’ll monitor my ability to get closer to not needing that strap.
  • Use a strap to interlace my fingers behind my back with straight arms and then folding into a Wide Legged Forward Fold. My goal will be to get my fingers closer together while keeping my arms straight.
  • Shoulder warm-up movements that take my shoulders through all the ranges of motion.
  • Neck warm-ups that help relieve neck tension, as that is contributing to my shoulder tightness.

After the three weeks are up, I’ll see where I’m at. If I am seeing improvements, I will add on some more challenging movements so that I can keep improving. If I’m not seeing improvements, I will work on finding the movements that will help me reach my goal. But the one thing I will NOT do is give up. Achieving this goal is important to me, not because I want to be able to do the crazy binds like I used to, but because this inflammation in my shoulders is negatively affecting my life in so many ways. Everyday functional movements, like putting things away in the top shelf of my closet, are no longer easy for me and they SHOULD be. So I am not looking for the vanity aspect…I just want to be able to do the things I need to do with ease and comfort. If I should eventually get back the ability to bind, then that is something I’ll consider an added bonus, but it’s not my goal.

And to make this easier for me to achieve, my wonderful husband has built me a yoga room of my very own! My 45th birthday is this week (on January 5th), and my husband knows how difficult it is for me to find yoga classes at studios to attend. The ones offered at times I can make it are not the style I’m looking for…my body just can’t do hot yoga or power yoga right now, and that seems to be the majority of what my area offers during times I could go. So for my birthday, my husband turned our youngest daughter’s old room into my very own space where I can practice whatever style I want, whenever I want.

me_yogaroom(Here I am, setting up for my first meditation time)

It’s also serving as my office, so that I have a more comfortable place than my dining room to work when I work from home. And a more comfortable place to compose my blogs!

me_yogaoffice(My husband captured me as I was setting up to write this post!)

So what are your goals? Are they actionable? Have you broken them down into achievable chunks? If you need some guidance, reach out to me and I’m glad to offer any advice I can. More than anything, hold yourself accountable and enlist others to help hold you accountable. If your goals truly mean that much to you, then plan out the RIGHT way to achieve them. Set those SMART goals for yourself. And let yoga help you with achieving the mindset to make them happen.

Namaste,

Melanie

“When you let go, you create space for better things to come into your life.” ~~ Unknown

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had chronically tight hips. When I work on hip openers, it’s like some form of mild torture. Poses like Pigeon Pose, Cow Face Pose, Eagle Pose and Frog Pose simply frustrate me to no end. Even as a child, I just couldn’t seem to move my hips in the same way that my friends could, and I always felt like I was missing out on something. And in yoga, whenever I see someone in Lotus Pose (which, in my opinion, is the crème de la crème of hip opening poses), I stare longingly, knowing my body will never be able to achieve that pose.

It wasn’t until I was in the advanced portion of my yoga teacher training that I realized that there were a variety of things responsible for my hip issues. In Yoga Therapy training, I discovered that my bony hip structure is simply flawed. A physical therapist ran that training, and when she conducted a physical assessment of me, she discovered that my bony structure impediments were keeping me from achieving a full range of motion in my hips. For my body, if I move too deeply in certain directions with my hips, it becomes bone on bone action…and THAT is not good at all! Perhaps it was because I was a breech baby…it stands to reason that, while your body is forming in the womb, if it’s not optimally positioned, the way your body grows could be compromised.

Of course, I also have tight hip muscles. I think the majority of us probably do. In our western society, we spend a lot of time sitting at our desks, on the couch watching TV, and in our cars. This takes its toll on our poor hips, causing physical pain the tighter they get.

Tight muscles I can work on. But changing my bony structure…umm, I don’t think so!

It’s important to note, though, that hip issues are not always because of physical reasons. Our emotional health can affect our hips in a big way, believe it or not.

If you’re a yogi, then I’m willing to bet you’ve been to a yoga class where the teacher has mentioned that the hips is where our emotions are stored. One of my teachers referred to the hips as the body’s junk drawer, because it’s where we store the emotions we don’t know what to do with. That description has always resonated with me, because I can totally visualize the whole process…something happens that angers me (say, a co-worker has gotten on my last nerve) and I avoid dealing with the anger by “tucking it away” until a later time. Except that I usually don’t end up dealing with it. So my hips get tighter and more painful. Then one day, I’m in a yoga class that’s heavy on the hip openers, and I suddenly find myself sobbing without knowing why.

Anyone else ever experience that? I bet if you have cried in a yoga class before and you think back on it, you were probably in a lot of hip opening poses prior to the emotional release. It’s analogous to “emptying out” the junk drawer…sometimes, you have to purge that junk out so you can have some space!

For the month of December, we’ll be focusing on hip openers in my yoga classes. Let’s look at some things that may help you understand the connection your hips have with so many different things.

The Physical Side

Often, people initially come to yoga because of physical pain. When that physical pain is manifesting itself in your hips, it’s important to understand why. The hip is a ball and socket joint, making its range of motion more varied than some other joints (like the knee). The hip can be abducted, adducted, and rotated externally and internally.

Because of its varied range of motion, hip tightness can stem from a host of issues including tightness in the quadriceps, inner thighs, hamstrings, lateral rotators, and psoas. In fact, lower back pain often stems from tight hips and buttocks muscles.

It could also be due to an abnormality with your bony structure, like what I have. If you think this may be an issue for you, then working with a physical therapist or yoga therapist could be beneficial.

The Emotional Side

As I mentioned above, the hips are considered to be the emotional storehouse of our bodies, the place where we store our deepest vulnerabilities. I’ve been told that WHERE you feel tightness or pain in the hips determines WHAT emotional issue(s) you have.

For example, if you feel pain or tightness in the front of your hips (i.e., your psoas and hip flexors), it could mean you have some fear of what’s in store for your future. Though I can’t prove that connection (I just haven’t gotten that far along in my studies yet), I can tell you that I have chronically tight hip flexors. Back when I was running regularly, I could chalk it up to that and deny I had any emotional issues. However, though I do still bike regularly (which also would contribute to tight front hips), it’s not the only reason I’ve got tight front hips. I must admit that I definitely fear for my future. When you have a chronic illness like I do, it’s hard not to worry about that stuff. I constantly worry about getting too sick to work, getting fired from my job because my brain fog has finally irritated enough of my co-workers that they clamor for me to be shown the door, and not being around long enough to see my daughters grow up into the strong women I know they will be. There are other things I worry about in terms of my future, but these are the ones that keep me up at night…and apparently the ones that keep my hips tight!

Similarly, if you experience tightness or pain in the back of the hips, which may include lower back and glutes, then maybe you’re having trouble letting go of the past. My back side is not as tight as my front side, though I do have tightness there, too. And I must confess that I sometimes find myself thinking of those “what if” scenarios. What if I’d focused more when I was a Russian major at UCONN and actually graduated when the rest of my friends did? What if I wasn’t so naive? I could go on, but you get the idea and hey…a girl’s gotta keep SOME secrets, right?

The point is this. If you are chronically tight somewhere in your hips, then it’s worth exploring why. If you can’t trace it back to a physical reason, then what might you be holding on to emotionally that is not serving you?

How to Open Your Hips

The hips are a tricky area of the body to open up. From a physical perspective, the hip muscles are surrounded by thick connective tissue. This means you have to spend some time in these poses to actually loosen up in this area. If you’re only spending 30-45 seconds in these poses, you probably won’t notice much benefit. Ideally, you should be spending 2-5 minutes in each pose if you want the full benefit. This may mean you need to learn to sit with discomfort, both physical and emotional. It can be uncomfortable to face your past and your future, but face them you must in order to truly let go and open up (How’d you like my Yoda reference? I’m super excited about the new Star Wars moving coming out this month!).

Once you’re in a hip opening pose, use your breath to help you. Focus on bringing your inhales directly into the spot you’re focusing on, and use your exhales to “let it go”. This can do wonders in helping to create the space you need in your hips.

There are three hip opening poses that I think should be done daily by everyone if at all possible, as they are wonderful in targeting the most troublesome areas of the hips. They are:

  1. Modified Runner’s Lunge. I strongly suggest doing this one with the back knee on the ground, and work on squaring your hips to the front as you sink into it (check out what that looks like here). This will really help to open up the psoas and hip flexors.
  2. Pigeon Pose. There are so many variations of this pose, so there truly is a version for you, even if you have bad knees. This one is great for tackling the outer hips…especially those glutes! Below is a pic of my friend in one of the variations.
  3. Reclining Twist. This is another pose that has so many variations. I love the version where you come into the twist with Eagle legs or Figure 4 legs, as it gets into the outer hips more, and especially targets the IT band.

There are so many other great poses that help with the hips. Some of my other favorite hip openers are:

I asked a couple of my yogi friends what their favorite hip openers were, and they graciously agreed to send me a picture of them in their fave pose, along with why they like it so much. Here’s what my friend, Pam Johnson, had to say:

“I’ve always carried a lot of stress and trauma in my hips, going all the way back to my teenage years. When I was first introduced to Pigeon, I would almost invariably cry each time after practicing it. Now I seek it out as a pose of comfort and healing; a place to allow the stress to seep out before my body holds onto it.”

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(This is Pam in a modified Pigeon Pose…doesn’t she look serene?)

My friend, Rita Hines, said this:

“I love Malasana because it is a great hip opener and a release for the low back as well.”

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(This is Rita in Malasana…I think she looks rather meditative here, don’t you?)

When you begin to release stored tension, you can open up wounds — the wounds from the trauma or stress that is being stored in your hips and caused the tension. So if you feel a rush of emotions in these poses, it’s a good thing.

Emotions are healthy. Historically, people have been taught to remain poised and collected at all times. Doing that makes it’s easy to suffocate those emotions so they don’t come out. However, I think that today, it’s becoming more and more acceptable to show your emotions.

Give yourself permission to explore these wonderful poses. Permission to be OK with letting your emotions out on your mat. If you come to one of my classes, you’ll see me smile when I notice a student finally let go of something huge.

It can be hard. It can make you cry, and it can even make you angry. But working through whatever emotions arise allows you to move forward. Which allows you to open up space in your life for love, compassion and positivity. It allows you to just be … happy.

Namaste,

Melanie

“I have worn my heart on my sleeve because it is too painful to carry it inside my chest. When I carry it on my sleeve, it has the freedom to exist, to beat in rhythm with the Universe. I feel like I’m more alive and yes, there are those who out of curiosity will say or do things that can cause its delicate existence to feel pain and sorrow. I would rather deal with that, than to put it back in its little cage where it knows nothing else but the rhythm of my body and my Ego. My heart was never meant to be part of my Ego. My heart was meant to experience the Soul.” ~~ C. C. Campbell

It’s been over two months since I last posted. Believe me when I say that it wasn’t my intention at all to take a hiatus. It’s weird, since I’ve been posting monthly, and sometimes even more than that, for years now. But as I mentioned in my last post, I enrolled in an Integrative Wellness & Life Coach program with the Integrative Wellness Academy, and I’ve been working really hard to make my way through. I decided that to focus on all the material the way I needed to, I needed to cut back in some areas. Unfortunately, my blogging was where I decided to cut, temporarily. But now….I’m BAAACK!!!

At this point, I’ve completed my program, and literally just found out that I passed…with a 100% on both the final exam and the practicum! Let me just say that I truly feel I chose a stellar organization for my certification. They are totally in line with everything I believe, and I love that the focus is on addressing all four areas of a person…Mental, Emotional, Physical and Spiritual. If you aren’t addressing all four when coaching a client, then science shows that the ability to make lasting changes is not as likely. I am so excited to start working with people. I’ve got a few already, who I’ve been working with for free, so that I can get more practice and build my confidence. I hope they know how grateful I am for their willingness to put their trust in me to help them through the things they are trying to work on.

Throughout this entire process, I’ve been going through the process of being coached myself. After all, how can I expect to help others and feel confident that the tools and techniques work if I haven’t been through the process myself, right?

As I made my way through my own “stuff”, I realized I had a lot of deficiencies in the emotional realm. I don’t typically do a good job managing my stress, I don’t express my feelings very well when I am especially worked up about something, and I’m not one to relax and practice self-care by nature. So I spent a LOT of time working on these things over the past few months. And I must say, I really feel like I improved in this area tremendously. And the most important thing I did to get myself to the next level was to be more open.

Those of you who know me probably think I am already pretty open. But as I really dug deep within, I realized how much I bottle up my true feelings. I am always holding back, for fear of upsetting someone if I tell them what I REALLY think. And there are so many things that I’ve been through in my life that I have never shared with anyone. Not a SOUL!

But as I made my way through the process, I realized that all the things I’ve been through have made me who I am. And you know what? I actually, FINALLY, like who I am. No…scratch that…I LOVE who I am. Yes, that’s right…I actually LOVE myself. After all, how can I expect anyone else to love me if I don’t love myself?

Keeping everything inside for as long as I did…well, that’s what made me depressed. I felt like I had no one I could confide in. Or that people would judge me. And there were some things that I just needed to get off my chest, but I couldn’t. So I kept them inside and it festered. But going through this process made me realize that keeping things to myself — important things — is not healthy. And it’s selfish. Because there might be someone else out there, going through the same things I’ve been through, and maybe me sharing my story could help them. Help them realize they’re not alone, you know?

I’ve realized it’s necessary for me to speak my mind. I’ve been baby-stepping my way to that point, but I’ve definitely been able to be more open and honest lately. And while scary, it feels good.  To be able to be ME is kind of refreshing! And I feel like I’ve got WAY less ego than before. When I take on something, I am definitely thinking more about whether or not it is in line with who I am, rather than if it will get me “noticed”. So definitely less ego involved.

And as I go, I find more and more happiness. That’s what it’s all about. We should be doing things in our lives that make us happy. For many of us, it’s doing things for others. Whatever it is for you, make sure you’re doing it from your heart and not from your Ego. Once you get to that point, you will be amazed at how much lighter you feel…how much happier you will be.

Go ahead…give it a try. I dare you!

Namaste,

Melanie

destination

First of all, I must apologize for the lateness in this post. But as you continue reading, I think you’ll get an idea of why it’s taken me so long to get this together.

Since my last post, so much has happened for me…especially internally! Probably the biggest thing that happened is that I finally, after 5 YEARS, completed the curriculum for my 500-hour yoga certification (RYT-500). I’m the type of person who doesn’t believe in slamming in training after training without taking the time to process it and figure out what it means to me, and how I will use it for myself and my students. Or at least, that’s how I approach the things that really matter to me…and yoga is such a huge part of my life! So I took my time and I don’t regret it for a minute.

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(Here I am in front of the Asheville Yoga Center after receiving my certificate…I thought standing in front of this quote was PERFECT!)

Throughout this program, I figured out pretty quickly that I had a passion for working with people in a therapeutic capacity. In my life, there are so many I know who have issues with anxiety, depression, stress, chronic illness, injury…so many people suffering who feel hopeless. And guess what? I’ve dealt with each and every one of these things myself, and yoga has been a huge part in helping me manage these things since 1999. So while I may not be an expert in every area, I truly do feel I know quite a lot, and I feel I can use what I have learned to help others live a more productive and healthy life.

So, I’m done with this wonderful program and I’m thinking, “What now? What do I do with all this in a way that is authentic to who I am?” Several have told me over the past few years that I’d be a really good life/health coach, as I have learned SO much not just about yoga, but about the four pillars of health (Sleep, Movement, Nutrition, Stress Management). I’ve done SO much research over the years, and have found so many useful resources that help me manage my chronic illness…because when I slack in one of the four areas, my symptoms flare and I am MISERABLE!

But ME? A health coach? How would that work, if I am still a work in progress? I mean, don’t I have to be perfect in every way if I’m to coach others to find their healthiest and happiest selves? Am I healthy enough to be a health coach?

After meditating on this for WEEKS (well, if I am being totally honest, I’ve been meditating on this for months), and after doing quite a bit of research and having some heart-to-heart conversations with trusted friends and family, I decided something. When I really thought about it, even though I’m not perfect and am still actively working towards finding my sweet spot, I am doing my best to eat real food, exercise, and surround myself with positivity. And from what I gather, that makes me already WAY ahead of the curve, and that makes me more than qualified to help others.

Ever since I came to this realization, things have been falling in my lap that basically let me know it’s time to stop thinking about it and take action. So much so that this week, I did the SECOND biggest thing to happen to me since my last post…I took a big leap and enrolled in an Integrative Wellness & Life Coach Certification program with Integrative Wellness Academy. I really like their program curriculum, and the best part about it is that I have to go through the whole process myself, which will allow me to really understand what I’ll be putting my future clients through. I’ve already started, and am loving the content. And I’ll be honest…completing the Client Intake Form (which is the first thing a client of mine would need to do) was SO hard! It made me really take a long, hard look at ALL areas of my life and analyze where things are good and where things are in need of some revamping. There were some questions that I wanted to answer in a way that made me look better, but in the end, I decided to be totally and brutally honest. Which was HARD! But also freeing. It felt great to let go of some stuff I’ve been holding on to, and I can’t wait to see how MY coach will help me along the way.

I’m so excited! Excited to learn something new. Excited to know that I’ll have even more tools to help others. Excited to figure out how I will merge what I’ll learn in this life coach program with yoga, so that I can offer something unique while being authentic to who I am.

Part of me is scared to be sharing this, because what if I fail? But then I thought about how many signs have been given to me by God, telling me this is the right thing to do. Because believe me…God knows how stubborn I am, so he knows he needs to bombard me before I’ll actually notice and listen!

However, I know I’ve already helped many  people over the years, because they’ve told me so. This is just one more way for to me to formalize it a bit more, and gain more confidence in my abilities and knowledge.

Also, by putting this out there in BlogLand, I am hoping my readers will hold me accountable. Maybe some of you might even be interested in working with me, allowing me to get some practice and some honest feedback. If this is something you’re interested in, please e-mail me at scyogagirl@gmail.com and let’s try and work out a plan.

Now, does this mean I’m going to quit my corporate job? Not at all. I enjoy my job, and I am making a difference there, so I have no plans to leave that. But this coaching/yoga thing is something I feel drawn to, and I definitely feel it’s part of my future, so I need to see this through and figure out how to work it in to my life. I love the quote above by Martin Buber, as it really sums up how I feel right now…my journey is definitely proving to me that there are destinations meant for me that I am not even aware of yet. And I sure plan on enjoying the journey and learning every step of the way.

Namaste,

Melanie

“When cleanliness is developed, it reveals what needs to be constantly maintained, and what is eternally clean. What decays is the external. What does not is deep within us.” 
~~ Yoga Sutra II.40 ; Translation by T.K.V. Desikachar

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(Folly Beach at dusk, one of my favorite times of day to experience the ocean)

Saucha is one of the five niyamas, or observances, from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Literally translated as “cleanliness” or “purity”, saucha goes much deeper than its literal translation. Saucha is also about cleanliness and purity of thought and mind, in addition to the body. It has the greater yogic goal of mental and physical freedom and bliss. Sounds pretty great to me! Who doesn’t want freedom and bliss?

Each day, we can practice saucha in practical ways:

  • Showering (especially in these sticky summer months) not only cleans our bodies of dirt, but it energetically uplifts and refreshes you.
  • Choosing foods that are clean and easy to digest is not only healthy for your body, but these kinds of foods also help keep the mind clear. I know that for me, personally, when I eat processed foods, I feel sluggish and experience brain fog. And usually, my stomach doesn’t like me very much. But when I choose fresh, whole foods (like good quality lean meats and vegetables), I feel energized and ready to tackle most anything.
  • Setting aside time to focus on our bodies and our breath provides a sense of purity. You can do this in a yoga class, meditating, or any other type of activity where your sole focus is on paying attention to what your body and breath are doing.
  • Creating a clean, de-cluttered environment. For me this means a clean desk at work, a clean house (particularly my bathroom, bedroom and kitchen) and a clean car (I spend a lot of time in my car). This one has been very challenging for me lately, as I have been super busy with so many things. And believe me, I’ve noticed the increase in stress levels due to the clutter I’ve got going on. Bottom line, be mindful of your environment and how it affects your ability to cultivate saucha.

These are just a few things you can do. When I don’t do the things I mention above, I feel like I’m filling my body and mind with dirt…it’s like I’m saying to the Universe, “Gimme the dirt…bring it on!” But every moment can be lived with greater purity and energetic alignment as we become more aware of ourselves and our habits.  Taking a few deep cleansing breaths in the morning before we get out of bed, periodically throughout our day, or right before going to bed each night, can help in becoming more attuned to and protective of our energies.

Choosing to spend time with people whose presence makes us feel re-charged rather than drained is another. I had the good fortune to spend a week with my husband, children, and my husband’s family this past week at the beach. I must admit I was worried about spending an entire week with so many people in one house. But it ended up being just what I needed. The house was gorgeous, everyone had plenty of space to find time to themselves when needed, the weather was great, and everyone did their part to help out with daily chores. And because we had a whole house, we cooked the majority of our meals there, and they were pretty darn healthy! The smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves was very cleansing for me, so I definitely came home feeling clean, inside and out.

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(Folly Beach family beach shot) 

As we move through this very challenging season of summer (here in the southeastern United States, it is HOT!), sometimes tempers rise along with the temperatures and humidity. Make sure you take a few moments each day to  consciously create some clean and clear space for yourself…clear away all that “dirt”…your body, and your mind, will thank you for it!

Namaste,

Melanie

“A wild elephant has many wild habits. It runs away when humans approach. It attacks when frightened. Our mind is similar. When it senses danger, it runs away from the present.” — Jan Chozen Bays, MD in How to Train a Wild Elephant

Elephant attack (Photo courtesy of www.indiawilds.com)

Over the past several years, I’ve been drawn to elephants. I had no idea why, but I found myself gravitating to pictures of elephants, shirts with elephants on them, elephant figurines…you name it, and I wanted to touch it or have it if it had an elephant on it.

I definitely wondered why I had such a fascination with this animal all of a sudden, and I guess I sort of chalked it up to Ganesha. Ganesha permeates the yoga world…you can’t go anywhere these days without hearing Ganesha in a song, in a mantra, as a figurine on the mantel in a yoga studio, on a variety of yoga clothing…you get the idea. It makes sense. After all, Ganesha is the Hindu Lord of Good Fortune, the Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles (both material and spiritual). And let’s face it. Many of us westerners come to yoga because we want to be better human beings, right? If we can remove the obstacles from our lives, we can have new beginnings and good fortune will come our way. Who doesn’t want that?

For me, yoga began as a physical practice. I just wanted some relief from the pain in my body, and some relaxation. Over the years, I’ve definitely evolved into a much more spiritual practice, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog.

Last month, I attended a training towards my RYT-500 certification, and it revolved all around the chakras and consciousness. It got very scientific, which I loved, because I learned SO much about how the brain and the mind work. (For those of you who don’t know what the chakras are, there are a variety of definitions…I refer to them as the 7 main centers of spiritual energy in the body).

In this training, we were referred to the book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness”, by Jan Chozen Bays, MD. We didn’t get into the book too much, but as soon as I heard it contained mindfulness exercises, I had to buy a copy for myself. Mindfulness is something I struggle with constantly, so any help I can get to improve this area of my life is most welcome. And I love homework!

Let me just say…I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK! In just reading her introduction, I finally understood my fascination with elephants after all these years. You see, mindfulness is deliberately paying attention  — full attention — to what’s going on around you and within you, right here, right now. It is being aware of these things without criticism or judgment.

Training your mind in the art of mindfulness takes a lot of work for some people. Me, for sure! In the book, the author equates training the mind to be more mindful to training a wild elephant. For example, until the elephant is tamed, it has to be tethered to a stake, have all distractions removed, and have certain tasks repeated over and over again until the elephant learns them. Similarly, to train our minds to be more mindful, we need to practice certain behaviors over and over again until we achieve the calm mind and can incorporate these behaviors without even thinking about them. And when we are more mindful, we can more easily get rid of the things in our lives that make us unhappy.

Doing this is SO hard for me! When I’m at work, I’m on it…I can focus like nobody’s business. But focusing on the things that will help me lead a happier life is such a challenge! I don’t know why, but it is SO hard to practice mindfulness. It literally makes my brain hurt.

Even with a pretty regular meditation practice, I still have trouble staying in the present moment. I constantly zone out, fret about the past, worry about the future. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this!

If you’re looking to get better at the art of mindfulness, I highly encourage you to peruse a copy of this book. There are a variety of mindfulness exercises for you to practice, all in attempt to help you get better at being mindful. Each exercise has a description of the task and some ideas about how to remind yourself to do it when you need to, a description of other people’s discoveries with the task (their observations and insights), and then the deeper lessons you can learn from practicing the exercise.

For example, the one I am working on this week is “Leave no trace”, where I am to practice using one room in my house where I leave no trace that I’ve ever used it. The kitchen is the room I am choosing to focus on, as I tend to make all kinds of messes in there! The deeper lesson to this exercise is to put a spotlight on the tendency to be lazy. When I’m lazy, it tends to mean that I make more work for others, as they have to come clean up the mess I’ve left behind. That’s not cool!

How am I doing on this one? Well, let’s just say, I might need to spend an extra week on it! But I noticed that I am now starting to realize when I am leaving something in a way other than how I found it. Before, I don’t think I ever paid attention. So…progress is happening, albeit slowly.

There are SO many ways we can practice being mindful. If you are practicing this on your own, I’d love to hear what you do. Reply with a comment and share your tips on tricks on being more mindful. If you don’t have any, no worries! Maybe that’s your sign that now is the time to start a mindfulness practice. I’m here if you’d like my help in keeping you accountable.

Namaste and have a sparkling day!

Melanie

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