The REAL Reason I Practice

Practice is not about improving my asana. It’s about seeing who I am and grasping an opportunity to explore my tendencies, emotions and reactions. As children, our parents navigate life and relationship for us; we learn these things for ourselves first by mimicking them. Without knowledge or intention, we become mini versions of our role models.

The beginning breather knows only the inhale and the exhale. A practiced breather learns to explore the spaces between. I begin each day as a beginner in this realm, and as I unlock the space between, I open up the potential for calm action. Like an exhale is the response to an inhale, I move through life on auto-pilot.

My asana practice gives me the experience of space. With space, I can choose when the next breath comes. In the space, I enjoy the bliss of presence and witness. I don’t have to live in a reactionary way. I am training to be the observer first, rather than having my reactiveness tell me without process, how I feel. In this, I am seeing the opportunity to change the patterning of my family. To re-wire the emotional tools I was given and have them better reflect who it is I am constantly becoming. I am not done. I will never be done becoming. “We are growing younger towards death” (words often heard in the lab of somanauts). The best way to connect to the experienced breather is to begin each day by moving my breath.

With practice, my chances are better for success.

Savasana for Beginners

What could possibly be so difficult about savasana (corpse pose)? Physically, it’s about the easiest position to get one’s body into. All you have to do is lay down on your back and decide whether or not you need a lift under your head or knees to ease any low back or shoulder pain.

For most beginning yogis, everything seems backwards when you are upside down, and it’s tough to decipher right from left. This is sort of the brilliance of yoga, it distracts your mind with the details of the body. Forced to investigate a sensation or movement within the confines of a few breaths can be all consuming, and It confuses you into complete presence of the moment. Whatever you were doing before you began your yoga practice, is nowhere to be found in your mind. That is, if you set yourself up well for the experience.

Going through the motions of asana when you have distractions close by, will usually end in a shortened practice or one that leaves you unsettled and anxious to get on with your day.

Creating adequate space in your day is the key to a yoga flow uninterrupted by the mind. I find my practice is best before my day begins, (and my day is best when it begins with yoga). When I come to my mat, I always begin by chanting OM three times. For me, this signifies that something deeper is about to take place, it warms up my diaphragm and creates space for deeper breath, which steadies me to begin.

Throughout my practice, I am observing my mind, my breath, my body sensations. If I don’t task my mind with these observations, I could easily stop to water the plants, check my email, attend to that thing that I just suddenly remembered I forgot… ‘Cause as soon as you begin to turn the volume of life down, you remember the things that you forgot.

This is why it’s called “practice”. Because we are never going to get it right, this is a lifetime journey. In order to actually turn down the volume, you must practice turning down the volume. The initial question: Why is savasana So. Damn. Hard? Because we have no experience with turning down the volume. Most of us can do ON or OFF, but to lay still idling? That’s a skill.

To get more out of savasana, first it’s good to know that without rest, your body cannot heal. Healing refers not only to physical injury/pain, but emotional unease, hormonal imbalance, digestive issues, anxiety… You name it. The body needs stillness and silence to recuperate. This is not the same as sleep, (a topic that deserves a separate post), also chances are if your are experiencing something you need to heal from, you probably aren’t sleeping all that well.

Through the yoga practice, you are already setting yourself up to be able to slow down. You are giving your mind stimulation and learning that is fully from the body; the place you are disconnected from in your day and work. For the first while, your mind will pipe up as soon as your body is quiet because, that has been its role. With practice, your mind will slip into a place of waking dreams during savasana. That place where you are hovering between a conscious and unconscious state. Where you are dreaming, but you can hear everything going on around you. This is the place where the greatest rest and healing occur. It feels a bit like magic (and happens all too rarely).

Keep at it. The learning is huge. You’ll see.

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Not completely unrelated: I had a epiphany while writing this. I had more to say than I thought, and it took some time to compose. I got hungry!
I paused to put together a plate of garlic stuffed olives, cheese, peppers and crackers. I wanted so badly to shove a few olives in my mouth while I prepped the plate, but talked myself out of it so I could fully enjoy the spread as a whole.
As I fished the olives out of the jar, I began to salivate PROFUSELY. Then I flashed back to my physiology studies where I learned that digestion begins in the mouth (with salivation). Had I have immediately gulped down the olives, I would not have salivated. The process of digestion would have had to correct itself down the line because I missed the salivation step.
Hm.
That is all.
I will leave this analogy here for you to run wild with 😉

Therapeutic Yoga

There are three types of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies: Physical, chemical and emotional. How does yoga actually work in reducing the effects of these stresses?

Although the method of each type of stress varies greatly, the impact on the body’s chemistry is the same. A physical injury, chemical reaction to food or drug, and emotional challenge all cause chemical changes within the body as it strives to repair damaged structures and return to balance. When the body is under constant stress (any of the three types), our immune response can become overworked, confused, and ineffective.

Your body has a way of maintaining balance under normal circumstances, and excessive stress can upset the controls of this balance resulting in pain, digestive issues, mood swings, fatigue etc.
Yoga, believe it or not, is actually stressful for the body – in a good way. We’ve all heard of good stress but what exactly does that mean?

Yoga challenges both the body and the mind by putting you in uncomfortable body positions, stimulating mental activity that can show up as elation, frustration, curiosity and maybe even provoke feelings of sadness or anger. While this emotional event is taking place, your body is responding by releasing a flood of hormones and chemicals that are part of the fight or flight response. The goal is to restore balance to our body’s physical, emotional and chemical state. For most of us, the fight or flight response can not discriminate between a real threat or a perceived one, and our body responds too strongly to small stimulus which eventually leads to burnout.

In a yoga class when you are holding a long pose and your muscles begin to shake and burn, your heart rate increases and you might even begin to panic (while your brain screams profanity at the instructor). This intentionally induces a stress response in a controlled environment and you are actually learning on a cellular level, that the stress and panic are not life threatening. Over time, your nervous system learns to discern the difference between major and minor stress and deploys the appropriate response. It’s no secret that those who practice yoga regularly are less affected by the small stresses, and the reason is in your body’s chemical response. Yoga retrains your response to stress.

Some of the wonderful side-effects of yoga include increased strength & flexibility, decreased physical and emotional pain, a stronger immune system and a more balanced nervous system.

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Christine Anderson RMT:
Supported by two decades of yoga experience, coupled with an extensive knowledge of functional anatomy and movement mechanics, I have created this two-part yoga series aimed at giving you the tools to put an end to common body complaints related to office work.

Classes at Algonquin College. Register in person at the Fitness Zone A125 (613-727-4723 x7294

Part One: Stress, Upper Back & Neck (Thursday’s from 11:45am to 12:45pm) May 3, 10, 17, 24
$80+HST Register at the Fitness Zone
A-125 ext. 7294
No experience (or gym membership) required.

Part Two: Stress, Lower Back, Hips & Legs (Every Thursday in June from 11:45 to 12:45pm) $80 +HST
No experience (or gym membership) required.

Included with each four week series are four short practices you can take home. You will leave with the knowledge of where to focus your strength and where to gently stretch, enhancing any yoga class you attend.

Is it normal to be sore after a massage?

Even though you are passive during a massage, the muscles are being stimulated in a way that is similar to a workout; cycling through a repeating pattern of stretch-contract. This creates micro tears in the muscle, increases blood flow and eventually results in inflammation. The inflammation is what causes the soreness and is also what promotes healing. So, yes it is completely normal to feel some soreness following a massage.

Just as soreness lessens as you become more efficient with a specific exercise, soreness also decreases with repeated massage; the body builds a tolerance to the level of intensity. Increase the intensity, and the sensation will follow suit.

This does NOT mean “no pain, no gain”. While there is a certain level of soreness that is therapeutic, not all post massage pain is good. There are situations where there is already an ample supply of inflammation around an injured area and aggressive massage can slow down or even reverse the body’s natural healing.

The harder your knots are, the more time we need to knead them out. It’s a bit like buttering fresh bread… You cannot spread cold, hard butter over the bread in a hurry without destroying the bread. You have to let the butter warm up and soften in order to get a good result. A little skill and patience can go a long way!

A recent tightness may be well addressed in 60 minutes, where an old pain may take several consecutive visits (and some home exercises) to see results.

What is Thai Massage

There is something deeply relaxing about being on the floor. It seems as though the support and firmness of the floor allow for the body to yield more fully to gravity, encouraging a much longer and deeper breath which, in turn allows muscular tension to dissipate. 

Thai massage differs from regular massage in that no oils or lotions are used, it is done fully clothed, on floor mats. Your body is moved and stretched while being massaged. Some of the many benefits include:

Enhanced Energy Flow: Thai massage works off the belief that tightened muscles lead to the diminished flow of energy in your body. When energy can’t flow freely, you become tired, suffer pain and feel stiff. Clients report a stronger sense of vitality following a Thai massage.

Pain Relief: Studies suggest that the movement involved in Thai massage provides longer lasting effects on painful physical conditions such as low back pain. This is likely due to the full body nature of Thai massage, where stretch is delivered to all the muscles that contribute to the pain restoring balance. Thai focuses a great deal on the legs and feet (areas often underappreciated), resulting in a feeling of lightness and easy movement.

Stress Reduction: At first glance, Thai massage appears to be a lot of work because you are not lying still. However, when you are able to let go and allow your body to be moved passively, the rhythmic motion of Thai massage has a way of lulling your nervous system into a deep state of ease.

Christine came to thai massage accidentally while attending a yoga workshop in 2002. The experience inspired her instantly to explore the modality further and shortly after, she completed her thai massage training. Christine worked for 10 years doing thai massage exclusively before becoming an RMT.

*thai massage is covered by your benefits, just as a regular massage is.

Curious about which style is right for you today?

Thai massage is great (but not exclusively) for inactive bodies and active minds. It is an effective way to energize a sluggish system, calm an agitated mind and begin the process of repair to stressed immune cells. Because thai massage is always full body (with a lot of focus on the lower back and legs), it is a great remedy for lower back pain.