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“Nothing in nature blooms all year. Be patient with yourself.” — Karen Salmansohn


View from the suspension bridge at Anne Springs Close Greenway


I have never considered myself to be a patient person. Neither do any of the people who know me well. I have thrown my share of fits when someone cuts me off in traffic or doesn’t acknowledge when I’ve done something to help them out in some small way. I’m not the only one, right? I mean, I’m only human. That being said, I would like to think I’ve got the ability to practice patience in some of the most trying of situations (i.e., when one of my daughters has experienced one of the ever so wonderful teenage emotional meltdowns).

In my own life, though, I have struggled to find patience with myself. I would say that I enjoy most aspects of my life. I’ve got a wonderful family, awesome dogs, a very nice career, good friends (not many, but those I do have I consider to be true friends, and they are all I truly need).

So why am I constantly questioning my decisions that have led me to where I am? I always wonder if I’m in the right job, if I’ve made the right decisions when it comes to my kids, etc. I think we all do this, to some extent. Times when our inner voice says, “This was good, but not good enough.” Or, “Why didn’t you do this?” Things like that. It’s an abusive relationship like any other, but we ignore it because it’s us abusing OUR OWN SELVES. Crazy, right?

I think if we took the time to slow down once in awhile and really pay attention to what is going on around us, it would go a long way towards helping us find that patience we so desperately need.

Several times this week, I journaled about my constant questioning of my own abilities. I was getting frustrated because I am not sure why I’m doing this to myself all the time as of late, moreso than ever before. And then I had a lightbulb moment.

I thought back to when I first began practicing yoga, to DVDs, way back in 1999. It took me a solid year before I went to a live yoga class because my body was so stiff that I was embarrassed to be in a room with others. But I finally did attend a live class, and I STILL could not do many things the other students could do. But I kept at it. 

Chaturanga was my nemesis. I just couldn’t seem to make my way down without dropping my knees as a modification. And then suddenly, I could do it without modifying. It probably took me about 3 or 4 months. Honestly, I’m not sure how long it took. I just know that I worked, and worked…and worked…until one day I could do it. Hmmm…maybe I actually have some patience after all. For the things I really want, anyway.

Thinking on that this week — how I had the patience to work at learning Chaturanga — made me realize how so much of my life outside of yoga is stifled by my pattern of rushing to the finish. I tell myself that certain things are out of reach for me, and so they are. I simply give up, rather than following the foundational steps of getting there. But I am strong enough and capable enough to do lots of things. With my yoga practice, I’ve done the work needed to move to the next level in poses. In yoga, I’ve fallen many times — too many to count. But I always get back up and try again, taking my time. I collect myself after landing on my mat, I think about what I could have done differently, and then I try again. Over and over.

So this week, it suddenly hit me that I don’t need to be perfect as a mom, or in my career, or anything else. I simply have to be patient with myself. Easier said than done, I know. However, if I can remember the lessons I’ve learned on my mat, the patience I’ve cultivated as I am tackling something new in my practice…well, maybe I can eventually approach the situations in my life off the mat in the same way.

What about you? When you fall, do you let yourself tumble down into a state of disappointment or depression? Do you become a victim? Or do you accept it, learn from it, and then try again?

I think that if you can accept where you land…if you can accept the good, the bad and the ugly, and sit with it in contemplation…then that is when the magic happens. 

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

“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.”

malasana
(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

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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

“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering. … The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life. … Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one. ” ~~ Goldie Hawn

lotus
Picture courtesy of Kate Goodyear Yoga)

What a month April has been for me! I talked in my last post about some big changes I’d experienced, and after that post I had two more doosies.

The first big one was that I started a new job. This was a very big deal for me because I’ve never left a company before except for because I was moving away and couldn’t stay where I was. This time, I am staying right where I am in terms of location but have made the leap to a brand-new company. It was such a scary decision for me, but so far, I am so glad I have decided to take the chance.

The second big one just happened on Friday (4/29/2016). My beloved dog Ripley made her way to the Rainbow Bridge, after a year-long battle with cancer. We knew it was coming, and yet, I was caught so off-guard. It seemed like it happened too quick! Here she is, just a few days before she passed (if you look at her hind end, you can see just a few of the tumors that have been plaguing her for all these months).

Ripley_042016

Though my heart is breaking, I know that she is now free of pain and that we made the right decision to let her go. The last thing I want to do is keep her around just for me, forcing her to continue suffering so much.

All this change, both good and bad, got me thinking about the story of the lotus. It’s one of the most beautiful flowers in the world and opens one petal at a time, but only grows in the mud. I love Goldie Hawn’s take on it, quoted above.

As humans, we experience a variety of suffering in our lives — illness, loss, sadness, death — that represent the mud, so to speak. But it’s how we handle these things — this “mud” — which determines how beautifully we grow. If we can take these things and learn from them, and use them to help us deal with the next bit of mud thrown at us, then the next beautiful petal opens and grows.

Referring to this story has helped me find a bit of peace, as I’ve struggled in dealing with a heaping ton of mud lately! I know that I need to step back, find the lesson in each thing, and determine the path I will take to move forward.

In yoga class this month, we’ll be focusing on extending our poses to the fullest expression we can for our own individual bodies. My students typically have a challenging time with forward folding, and I teach primarily Restorative, Yin and Deep Stretch classes. So we will be spending some quality time exploring our folds, working on ensuring our hamstrings and low back areas are dealing with “the mud” in such a way that we can let that next petal open up.

My wish for each of you this month is to take a look at the mud in your life.  What are the obstacles you are dealing with? What can you do to gain the wisdom, compassion and kindness needed to deal with them?

Doing the work is not always easy, but it’s necessary. Find comfort in knowing that everyone deals with these things at many points throughout their lives, so you are not alone. Reach out to your tribe, your community, your people. Confide in them, ask for advice, let them carry you when you need it. You’ll be surprised just how beautifully all your petals will open and bloom once you do.

Namaste,

Melanie

“There’s a rebirth that goes on with us continuously as human beings. I don’t understand, personally, how you can be bored. I can understand how you can be depressed, but I just don’t understand boredom.” ~~ Dustin Hoffman

March is here, and the groundhog told us last month that Spring was on its way, so I am super excited to move on from Winter! Springtime is always an exciting time to me because there is so much new and returning life coming into the world. New flowers blooming, new leaves on the trees, new buds popping up from the things planted in a garden. The birds come back, so I get to hear their beautiful morning chirps. Good stuff!

Because there is so much “new” going on at this time of year, it’s the perfect time to de-clutter. To make room for all the new, sometimes we need to remove the things that no longer serve us. I like to think of it as a rebirth of sorts. If you take the time to REALLY think about what you should remove from your life, and then REALLY think about what you want to replace that with, isn’t that sort of creating a new you? I think so!

For me, I love this process. I love getting introspective and mulling over all the things I’m doing in my life, taking a long hard look at each one so I can figure out if it’s still something that is helping me grow. In the past, I’ve just noted it in my head and promised to get rid of it. Then I think about where I want to go in my life and start trying to think of what I can incorporate to help me get there. But again, I have typically just noted in my head what I want and promise to make it happen.

What I’ve found is that I’ve lost probably 50% of what I committed to get rid of or add in. Why? Probably because, for me and for most people, it doesn’t keep you accountable. If there is no record of what you decided on, then it doesn’t count, in my opinion. Because, let’s face it — sometimes giving up something we’re used to is HARD! It may be something that, even though it isn’t good for us, it sure does FEEL good! Or for the things we know we need to start doing, it may require us to deal with some uncomfortable emotions or situations — who wants to feel all SQUIRMY, right?!

This year, I’m approaching this season of change and rebirth a little differently. I’m writing things down this time. I’ve got a journal, and I’m doing a different mental exercise each day and then writing about it in my journal. Once I’ve made my way through each exercise, I will review it all and use those writings to help me write out my final list — my list of things to boot out the door and things to bring in.

What kind of exercises? Well, I just happen to be participating in a great 31-day challenge right now with a group of amazing women, and the whole goal is to better ourselves (shout out to Sarah for starting this group and organizing each day’s challenge…she truly is amazing! I don’t know if she reads my blog, but I hope she understands how much women need these kinds of challenges…we so often beat ourselves up for the most mundane of things!). Each day, we get a new challenge and some of those involve writing about the very things I talked about above. One task was to write our personal mission statement…I enjoyed that one, because I’d never done that before!

One was to write, at various times of the day, things we are grateful for. I’ve never done that in this way before. I’ve written about things I’m grateful for, but usually all at once. By doing it this way (3 things in the morning, 3 things mid-day and 4 things at the end of the day), I feel like I paid more attention to events happening to me in the present moment and I included some of those in my list that day. Here’s the output of that day:

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As you can see, some of these things on my list would be considered “little” things, but it truly is the little things that can add up to making our lives good, in my opinion.

In the yoga classes I teach this month, I’ll be focusing on the theme of rebirth as well. Normally, if I were still teaching vinyasa classes regularly, I’d focus on Sun Salutations, because they help with enlivening and energizing you, especially if you’ve had a pretty sedentary winter. If you’re not familiar with Sun Salutations, or if you want to try a new variation than what you may be used to, check this link out…it’s got several different variations, and some videos of different versions…lots of great stuff!

Since I mostly focus on Deep Stretch classes, I will be planning to incorporate lots of twists. Not only are twists detoxifying, but they help stoke your metabolic fire. Many of us gravitate towards “heavy” foods in the winter time, and they can make the metabolism more sluggish. So let’s clear that junk OUT…PRONTO! I plan on incorporating Wide-Kneed Child’s Pose with a Twist…something different, as many of us probably wouldn’t think of twisting in Child’s Pose. Check out this link for information about this pose and to see what it looks like.

Hopefully, I’ve given you lots of stuff in this post to get your mind thinking about your own rebirth. I love the quote by Dustin Hoffman above, because he absolutely nails it on the head. If you do the work to figure out how to make your continuous rebirth what it needs to be in order for you to grow, then how could you possibly be bored? What will YOU do to help usher in this new season in your life? I’d love to hear what you come up with!

Namaste,

Melanie

 

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