yoga

What’s the Deal With Your Tight Muscles?

What’s the Deal With Your Tight Muscles?

When a muscle feels tight, the go to for many folks is to try to stretch that muscle. That might help and it might not. If stretching feels helpful for your tight muscles and you see the improvements you seek, keep on keepin on! However, if you have a sensation of tightness and stretching doesn’t seem to help, might I recommend a two-step approach?

Mindful Movement Adapted (for fussy toddler)

Mindful Movement Adapted (for fussy toddler)

This morning I had some time set aside to get on my mat and record my practice in order to showcase the kinds of things I might share in my Mindful Movement + Massage workshop on Saturday. My little buddy had other plans, though…

Finding My Footing: Yoga, Massage Therapy, and The Evidence

Have you ever practiced foot-in-mouth pose?

foot-in-mouth-pose.jpeg

I have. I am right now. (If I’m being 100% truthful, I can only get my left big toe in my mouth. The right foot doesn’t even come close.)

I’ve recently come to understand that a good many things I was taught (and have taught to others) in my massage therapy and yoga trainings were unfounded. Perhaps they were in a line with what science was presenting at the time but there was a fair amount of hocus pocus thrown in there too. Now let me just say - I’m not knocking the hocus pocus; I love me some woo. Things get complicated, though, when the woo is presented as the thing that will cure what ails you and as the Indisputable Truth.

For the past month or so, I have been reading voraciously everything on the interwebz I could get my hands on regarding the intersections of pain science, yoga, massage therapy, and evidence-based practices. I think my brain started to dribble out of my ear a little by the end.

I’m finally coming up for air.

You may not know this about me but I went to a Christian college. Not just one of those private liberal arts schools that was founded by a Methodist three-hundred years ago - I’m talking a legit BIBLE college. My diploma says B.S. in Bible (oh the irony). If you know me now, you know that I am not a Christian. I gradually stepped back from religion nearly a decade ago and it was a huge shift. Deconstructing was like taking off a million pairs of glasses, each one representing a Christian principle, value, or perspective. Just when I thought I had taken off the last pair of glasses, I would find myself in a situation thinking in a way that didn’t align with my current values. Slowly, I would realize that I was still wearing a pair of old glasses, still filtering the experience through my outmoded worldview.

Well, this post is not about leaving religion. That process was a conscious, evolving choice. The paradigm shift I’m experiencing now blind-sided me but it still tastes like deconversion — only it’s with my yoga and massage therapy practice.

I didn’t go looking for this information (at least not consciously). I just happened to see something on Instagram that led me down a rabbit hole. For some time now, I’ve wanted to know what’s going on in the body during a yoga class or while getting a massage. I always just assumed I needed to go back to school to figure it out (and I almost did to become a PT but then I was like, Girl you crazy, you’re 6 months pregnant with your second child and you never even took a science class in college).

The information I learned about pain science was really cool and it seemed to have a trickle down effect, shedding light on various other topics as well. This post is not necessarily about what I have learned (News flash: most everyone’s fascia is probably fine) but it is about the process of uncovering, shifting, and finding a new ground on which to stand. (Or maybe it’s the same ground and a new way of standing on it.)

Is evidence-based everything? Is there room for mystery?

When I get really into something, I get really into it. Like I totally chug all the Kool-Aid. Then after the buzz wears off, my critical thinking kicks in. Sometimes the hangover comes quickly and other times it can be a slow recovery.

I got really into Reiki. In case you don’t know, Reiki is energy work. In a straight-up Reiki session, the client lies on the table and the practitioner uses light touch or no touch (hands hovering about six inches off the body) to transmit this ‘universal love energy’ via his or her hands. (I just saw your woo flag go up).

‘There is no scientific evidence that there is an energy system in the body that can be manipulated with the hands,’ says the science-based massage therapy community. True statement.

Just like with many other things, I shotgunned the Reiki Kool-Aid and then after a while, I was like, Hmmm…what’s really going on here? I still have no clue. I am a Skeptical Reiki Master. I know there is no scientific evidence for this practice. Although it won’t hold up in the court of science, I do have anecdotal evidence for this practice:  

When I practice Reiki, I experience certain sensations that some would call the ‘flow of energy.’ Sometimes I experience vivid imagery or see colors. Following the Reiki protocols feels very meditative to me so I often get incredibly relaxed. When I practice Reiki, the palms of my notoriously cold hands get hot.

My clients have reported experiencing sensations to which they referred as ‘the flow of energy.’ They have also reported feeling my hands go from cold to hot when I started using Reiki in a session. They have reported feeling like their thoughts melted away and becoming deeply relaxed. Often, there is snoring.

Is that all due to the flow of energy? I don’t know. Is it even energy? I don’t know. I don’t make claims that Reiki will do anything other than help clients relax and hopefully increase feelings of well-being. (Be well, feel swell.) The nervous system is a powerful thing. Who knows all the ins and outs and whys of what happens when two nervous systems collide via touch (or near touch as is sometimes the case with Reiki). We do know from pain science research that the therapeutic relationship between the client/patient and the healer (whether that’s an MD, PT, LCSW, LMT, or the village witch doctor) can influence the client’s experience of pain.*

If Reiki provides a way for me to connect with my client and meet them where they are while doing no harm and helping them relax, then why NOT do it? After all, I’m not making claims that it will cure cancer or treat a medical condition.

The yoga and massage therapy communities are full of modern-day gurus. When we blindly and without question fall in line with these ideologies, we tend to chuck reasoning and critical thinking out the window.

This skeptical approach I take to Reiki illustrates the stance I’m taking in my massage therapy practice and yoga teaching practice: I will continue to seek out the evidence and to practice and teach with integrity based upon those findings. I also recognize there are gaps, dark places, and mysteries that still elude scientific explanation. As I continue to dwell in the mystery, I will honor the complexity of the human body and the human experience. I will continue to practice foot-in-mouth pose and I will continue to tell you all the things I don’t know. Thank you in advance for your graciousness. May we all continue evolving toward enlightenment.

 

*Pain Reframed Podcast, Episode 69

I Haven’t Been to Yoga in a Year (and I’m a Teacher)

Pre-pregnancy boat pose

Pre-pregnancy boat pose

Today I went to my first yoga class in probably a year. That’s pretty bad considering I’m a yoga teacher.

I haven’t been intentional about making time to attend a yoga class for several reasons:

  1. The classes available at the times I regularly have childcare haven’t really worked with my schedule…although they could have if I had planned in advance to attend and blocked off my calendar.

  2. Many of the classes available at the times I regularly have childcare don’t really appeal to my pregnant bod (i.e. Toasty Core Strength Vinyasa)…although I’m sure I would have enjoyed Yoga for 50+.
  3. After my first pregnancy, I noticed sub-optimal changes in my core after attending a yoga class. I didn’t know how to engage my transverse abdominis so all the planking and boat poses were setting me back instead of helping me strengthen.
  4. Reinforcements (my husband) arrive home too late for me to make it to an evening class. But there are later classes that I could make.
  5. But then I’d have to miss putting my toddler to bed on another evening (I’m already gone two nights a week).

So those have been my excuses. I imagine that with two kiddos at home, there will be even more excuses. (Please note that I’m not saying these are merely whiney-pants excuses; they are valid logistical complications that require a certain amount of energy and planning to overcome).

I’ve been telling myself that maintaining my home yoga practice is the same thing as going to a class. Wrong!

At home, I either do yoga while my toddler is awake and playing, or I put her in front of a 20-30 minute TV program (mom guilt), or she is taking a nap and could wake up at any moment. I can never really fully devote 100% of my focus toward myself in these situations.

basics_bridge-300x225.jpg

In addition, I’m missing out on the community-building aspect of going to a class, the inspiration an instructor can provide, and the challenge I’m sure to avoid affording myself at home.

Back to this class I went to on Saturday. I wasn’t planning on going but I was a grade A grumpoose that morning and really struggling emotionally. After already telling my daughter we were all hanging out together that day, I informed her I was going to take a yoga class. (Saturdays are literally the only day a week when all three of us can be together for the day.) When it came time to leave she started to cry and told my husband, “I’m upset that Mama’s leaving.” Dagger to the heart with a twist.

I was headed to prenatal yoga. I went every week when I was pregnant with my daughter. I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my son and this is my first prenatal class. It was a welcome opportunity to connect with baby boy in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to so far.

As a yoga instructor, I’ve developed this kind of judgmental voice in my head when taking another teacher’s class. It can be difficult to turn down the volume of that voice and just be present in the class like any other student. Sometimes the voice is telling me that a particular instruction might not be best for where my body is at (which is a helpful thing to listen to!) but other times the voice can be snarky, critical, or kind of like Larry David. I’m not proud of it but that’s the truth. Perhaps if I start going to more classes, I’ll get more practice quieting that voice.

Despite my mental high horse, I enjoyed myself. The room was full of that pregnant mama juju and we all were having hot flashes. We laughed and shared in the beginning and I was thankful and amazed that the hip work we did ended up feeling so nice (not too deep or destabilizing).

After class, I headed down the street to a local cafe, Wild Love Bakehouse, and struggled to decide between a classic chocolate chip cookie or a chocolate chocolate chip cookie with sea salt. So I bought both. I ate half of each one and headed home to make lunch.

My time away didn’t fix any of the problems that surfaced in my household that morning, nor did it really change the fact that I was mad or grumpy. But it did give me a ‘time in’ for myself so I could press pause on the drama and get out of that triggered mental space. I think that brief distance was valuable.

How do you find time for a movement practice when you have young children? Do you schedule mornings away for yourself? What strategies do you use to take care of yourself at home in the midst of a challenging situation?

What is Self Care?

Everybody’s talking about self care these days it seems. Ok so maybe my sample is skewed since I’m living in the health and fitness community as a yoga teacher and bodyworker. Helping people with their self care is literally my job. So you would think that I would be a pro at practicing self care on myself…right?

Sometimes I is, sometimes I ain’t.

To me, self care means intentionally and purposefully nurturing yourself. I have come to realize as a thirty-one year old mother, wife, and friend, that every person you count on will let you down at some point in time. There is no ‘perfect best friend’ out there. You have to be your own best friend.

Jeez, you may be thinking, that sounds really pessimistic. Why do you hate the world, Jen? Well I don’t hate the world. I just remember the times I haven’t felt heard or the times I have felt run down but no one noticed.

Adulting means handling your shit – paying bills on time, cleaning every so often, etc. But how can you handle your shit if you feel like shit? It’s rough. It can be done but then maybe you’ll start to develop unhealthy relationships, maybe you’ll begin harboring resentment toward those things/people in your life that require an energy input from you. Maybe you’ll become a *gasp* Bitter and Cynical Woman.

jen_soaking_feet.JPG

Ain’t nobody got time for that. Especially us gals. We have career ladders to climb, kids to feed, partners to connect with, and communities that need us. We give a lot. The question is…who’s giving to us?

We’ve all heard the oxygen mask analogy (tip: put yours on first). I prefer the one about the cup. If your cup is full, you can pour out some for others. The challenge is to keep that cup full, maybe even to overflowing.

How do we do that?

Self care doesn’t have to be grand, expensive, or time consuming. Self care can be simple and sometimes as simple as changing your perspective of mundane activities like washing your face or preparing a meal for yourself.

Here’s a list of some simple, typically free, activities to help you nourish yourself:

• Sit outside. Notice the warmth of the sun on your skin; listen to the birds; smell some flowers.
• Meditate, even just for 5 minutes.
• Take a nap.
• Prepare a colorful, beautiful meal for yourself; pay attention to the tastes and textures while you eat it.
• Take a bath.
• Go for a walk.
• Have a dance party while listening to a song you enjoy.
• Take your time washing your face. Pretend you’re getting a facial and lovingly massage the cleanser and moisturizer into your skin.
• Write in your journal.

Nearly anything can be self care. Does the activity make you feel revitalized, nourished, and sustained? Then it counts!

One way to get started in the self care game is to make a list of those activities that fill up your cup. Aim to do at least one or two a day. Then you can slowly build toward more intentional daily rituals that become healthy habits.

What are some activities you enjoy for self care?

Say It Ain't Flo

When you think of your period, what’s the first word that comes to mind?

For me, that word used to be ‘gross.’ I remember my very first period…my stomach hurt and I felt nauseated because I was so grossed out. I felt dirty and like my life had been interrupted by this inconvenience. Those feelings stuck with me. For nearly a decade, I took a birth control pill that suppressed my cycle so I wouldn’t have to deal with a period, even when I wasn’t sexually active. My doctor said, ‘There’s really no reason that you need to have a period.’

Fast forward to 2013. My husband and I were talking about growing our family. I dreaded going off the pill and having to deal with periods again. I also felt embarrassed because I didn’t really know how to get pregnant. Before you freak out, I was well aware that sex was the answer. I also knew that ovulation was a thing, however I didn’t really understand the timing of it. Possibly as a result of the abstinence education program at my high school and the conservative values of the community in which I grew up, I had this vague idea that any time a woman had intercourse, she was liable to get pregnant.

I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know more about my body. I did some research and I found a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility Naturally. This book was a game changer for me. It taught me everything my health class didn’t. I learned about the physiology of the menstrual cycle as well as how to tell where I currently was in that cycle.

As you can imagine, after a decade on The Pill, my hormones were all over the place. I had terrible hormonal acne and PMS. Here I was trying to get on better terms with my body and my cycle and it was just making me a hot mess. One friend recommended acupuncture (I tried it; it was awesome.) and another told me about a book by Christiane Northrup called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. This book introduced me to the wisdom of the menstrual cycle and the parallels found in the lunar cycle - another game changer. Tapping into this wisdom, I discovered how I could sync up my lifestyle (and even my social calendar) with my cycle. As a result, my PMS symptoms decreased. I felt more comfortable and at peace with my body and good ol’ Aunt Flo.

This process of getting to know my body and learning more about my menstrual cycle has helped to instill a great trust in myself and my body. It’s taken me from ‘gross’ to ‘magical.’ On a physical level, this knowledge helped me see the imbalance in my hormone levels, to seek help, and then to conceive a child. On a deeper level, this journey into myself has helped me hear my intuition more strongly and has given me permission to let up sometimes. (Like we really even need permission to take breaks and rest!) I have discovered how I wax and wane with regards to my energy levels, sex drive, creativity, and more. I even feel more connected with nature, which is a big part of my spirituality.

In all my searching, I found quite a bit of material on what yoga poses to do while on my period and even some on using yoga to help with PMS. However, I couldn’t find much information about how to sync up my yoga practice with my cycle as a whole. That led me to develop my first Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm series. I had fun with this series but every woman was in a different part of her cycle. This made sharing yoga sequences for each phase difficult. I also tried presenting the material in a workshop but I found it was just too much information for one sitting. I even worked one-on-one with women in private lessons but they needed more instruction on the yoga practices than a typed out sequence could offer. So now, I’m trying another approach.

In my upcoming Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm series, we’ll meet in the studio each week for four weeks to share information, discuss, and meditate. Then, you’ll receive four, 15 minute videos (one for each phase of the menstrual cycle) so you can practice at home in conjunction with your cycle. I’m not promising that your PMS will evaporate or that you’ll suddenly create an altar out of tampons and menstrual cups. I hope though, that you can get some helpful information, learn about your body, and connect with other women in the process. I would love to work with you! If you have any questions about my journey or my upcoming series, please drop me a line.

Meditation for Relaxation

I enjoy practicing this meditation while in corpse pose at the conclusion of my yoga practice and even if I have trouble falling back to sleep in the middle of the night. Unfortunately for many of us, we need to condition ourselves to relax. View this meditation as something to practice; go easy on yourself if it doesn't come easy the first several times.

You can record yourself saying the directions or try to memorize them and guide yourself. These are not magic words or phrases so as long as you get the basic idea, you’ll do just fine.

If you’re practicing this meditation after your yoga practice or even as a stand alone, I recommend setting a timer so you don’t have to worry about falling asleep or spending too much time here. For me, 10 minutes is a good length of time because my mind tends to wander for a bit in the beginning until I can focus. Spend a minute or two on each step but not so much time that you start to over-analyze.


Lay on your back in corpse pose. Make yourself comfortable so you don’t have to move or adjust your position. Allow your eyes to softly close.

Take a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth to help yourself settle in. Then allow your breath to become involuntary again.

Relax your muscles and surrender your body into the pull of gravity. Feel your body sink into the ground.

IMG_5120.JPG

Visualize the color purple. Feel your awareness concentrate at the point between your eyebrows.

Visualize the color blue. Notice the center of your throat.

See the color green. Feel your awareness concentrate at the center of your chest.

See yellow. Notice the point midway between the base of your sternum and your navel.

Orange. Feel the point midway between your navel and your pubic bone - the very center of the pelvis.

See red. Feel your legs, feet, and even the soles of the feet. Notice a warm tingling sensation at the soles of the feet as you see the color red.

From here you have a few choices: 1) Continue meditating on the last step, 2) simply rest, or 3) start back up at the point between the eyebrows and follow the meditation again.

Let me know how it goes!


5 Yoga Poses for New Moms

5 Yoga Poses for New Moms

I wanted to share some of the poses that helped me survive my first year of motherhood. When I say survive, I mean survive. In the midst of crashing hormonal changes and trying to ‘figure out’ this whole other human, my goal was just to meet our (mine and Nugget’s) basic needs. These poses helped me stay as sane as possible during that sweet yet tumultuous time.

Birth Story

Here's the tale of how my daughter landed earthside. It's a magical story full of heart, humor, and humility. I share it because so much of what our culture presents regarding birth is negative and full of pain. My yoga, meditation, and breathing practices, as well as Hypnobirthing, helped me have a positive birth experience.

At 3:15 the morning of December 23rd, I woke up to some contractions. They kept happening so I timed them and saw they were all over the place in terms of duration and time apart. I wasn’t sure if this was the real deal or just more practice. They were a bit uncomfortable so I tried to center by visualizing myself sitting comfortably at the bottom of the ocean, where the water is calm but flowy. There was some seaweed around me that swayed a little, as did my hair. For some of the surges I got on all fours. Worried that all my moving around would wake up Travis, I went out to the couch around 6am and the contractions spaced out to twenty minutes apart. I assumed this was practice labor and was getting pretty grumpy about my interrupted sleep. When Travis woke up I told him what was going on. I was glad that we both had the day off. We planned to just stay home and chill out except for an appointment I had with my midwife in the afternoon.

The contractions kept coming all morning. I texted Kimberly, my doula, and let her know what was going on. We still weren’t sure if this was just practice or early labor. Travis and I went for a walk and they got closer together, about 6 minutes apart, but still lasted for only 30 seconds. I managed the contractions by swaying my hips and breathing. I was surprised by how much sensation I experienced around my sacrum with each contraction.

My appointment with the midwife was at 2:40. The car ride there was not very fun. I think I was still tense because I wasn’t really sure what was happening - practice or not? I was hoping I could be taken back to a room soon after arriving so I wouldn’t have to work with the contractions in a waiting room full of people. Forty minutes later, we finally got taken back to a room. Manola was the midwife on call and when she checked me I was 3-4cm and 70% effaced. She seemed confident that this was it - just knowing that made me feel better and really excited. She gave us the choice of going over to the hospital or going home to see if things would really get going. We chose to go home and agreed we would get back in touch when contractions were 3 minutes apart. Again, the car ride was not very fun but I was in better spirits about it and was excited to think that I could meet my baby that day. We stopped at the store to pick up some dinner on the way home because we were both starving.

We decided to eat some pizza and watch a Christmas movie. By the time the pizza was ready, though, I really wasn’t hungry anymore. The contractions were getting stronger and closer together. I was using a heating pad on my sacrum and all fours to cope with the discomfort. Travis was really great at applying counter pressure…it felt so good. About 10 minutes into the movie (A Muppet Christmas Carol), I started to feel that both the movie and the pizza were annoying distractions. Travis helped me get set up in the bath tub so I could focus. I turned off the lights and listened to the Hypnobirthing Rainbow Relaxation CD. I really got in the zone and the water felt so good.

Travis came back to check on me part way through the movie and I was ready to get out because the water was cold. I was tired from not sleeping much the night before so I decided to sit upright in bed and relax. I found I was able to doze a little between each surge. Here I just continued to use my breath. I visualized myself at the bottom of an ocean cave whose wide mouth was above me, widening more and more.

After the movie was over Travis came back in and I let him know he should start getting our stuff packed and tying up any loose ends around the house. I really lost all track of time because I was so in the zone. I know that at 8:15 I saw my contractions were between 3-4 minutes apart. I told Travis that we would need to leave whenever he was done. I called Kimberly, pausing to breathe for the contractions now lasting about a minute to 90 seconds, and told her we would be going to the hospital as soon as everything was ready and asked her to meet us there. I also called Manola and let her know we would be coming in. Then there was another car ride. It was much easier to manage because I was so relaxed.

We got to the hospital at 9:45pm. Thanks to my hands on knees squatting, we got to skip triage at the hospital and got taken straight to a room. One of the nurses asked about the pain scale and I told her to pick a number for me - it really wasn’t pain. I laughed to myself when she rolled her eyes at me. Shortly after the eye roll, I got checked and was 5-6cm and 90% effaced. Then my water broke…it really just felt like peeing my pants, which, in that moment, was an oddly satisfying sensation.

Once they got me all hooked up and whatnot, they noticed the baby was having some extreme heart rate fluctuations with each contraction. They gave me IV fluids and had me labor on my left side for a while, which was more intense, but helped her stabilize. I was expecting to labor in the tub but wasn’t really given the option because the way her heart rate changed with each position I was in. I did get in the shower for a while but my legs were shaking so much I felt really unstable. I also labored on the birth ball but found just sitting up in bed to be the most sustainable position for me and my energy level. I kept falling asleep between contractions and even burped after many of them, which we all thought was hilarious. I told myself that an hour would last only ten minutes and I really lost all track of time. At various points I felt my water release again and again, still oddly satisfying. One time the nurses noticed a bit of meconium. Nobody freaked out but they were on watch.

Eventually, I started to feel a little pushy and I was at 9cm with just a little lip of my cervix holding me back. I got on all fours and Manola applied pressure to the lip while I pushed some. That was really intense and made the contractions stronger. Still, I didn’t have the “overwhelming urge to push” I’d read about, probably because of that lip. I pushed sitting on my heels, on my left side, and on my back with my knees at my chest. All totaled, I pushed for an hour and a half, roaring with each push. There was so much pressure!

I started to feel afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get her out. I was giving it all I had but it didn’t feel like enough. Manola told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head - that was so surreal! Her heart rate was doing more crazy things so Manola said I needed to get her out with the next round of pushing. I was so tired and I roared and squeezed Travis’ hand like mad. It wasn’t enough. Manola did an episiotomy, which I felt thankful for - I needed some help! - and Kimberly said it was the smallest one she’d ever seen.

With the next round of pushing my baby’s head was born and Manola said, “Whoa! Whoa! Don’t push!” I was out of it and didn’t really know what was going on. Travis told me later that she had both hands up at her face and the cord was wrapped around all that. He said Manola worked so fast to free things up and with the next push, my daughter was born at 5:42am on Christmas Eve. She was immediately placed on my stomach where she pooped all over me! Everyone commented that if her hands would have been down she probably would have come out a lot faster. She was 7lbs 10oz and 20 1/2 inches long.

Because of all her crazy heart rate acrobatics, the NICU team was in the room just in case but she started screaming before her feet were out so they weren’t needed (her Apgar score was a 9). She was so alert and her eyes were really wide. As I looked at her in shock and awe, I noticed some hair on her lip and said, “Is that one of my pubes on her mouth?!” Manola responded by saying, “Well I’ve never heard anyone say that before but yes, it probably is.” Then I apologized to my baby for not trimming things up in anticipation of her arrival.

A little while later the placenta was born. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see it before they took it to the freezer. Travis didn’t want to cut the cord so Kimberly did it. I remember thinking the cord was so thin and long. I was at risk for a hemorrhage due to my bleeding disorder and I felt a gush of blood as the placenta was born. Manola said it wasn’t a hemorrhage but we still went through the protocol we had talked about in the past to be on the safe side.

I felt so proud and strong (and tired!). Travis told me all the nurses were impressed with how calm I was throughout the whole thing. Kimberly told me later that I seemed annoyed that each contraction woke me up. What an empowering birth experience - I pretty much felt like a badass!


To Yin, With Love...

“That was delicious…I like to use food adjectives to describe this class,” she said as she staggered into the prop room with her savasana hair. I smiled and replied that I was glad she enjoyed class so much - we had just finished Yin yoga - but on the inside I was whining with jealousy.

Since becoming an incubator for human life (sounds more epic than “pregnant”), I have left Yin yoga out of my personal practice. Yin yoga targets connective tissues and joints in the spine, hips, and legs. During pregnancy, the body produces a hormone called relaxin, which relaxes muscles, joints, and ligaments - great for the expansion required during labor, a little less great for stability, steadiness, and digestion. I personally feel that doing Yin while “on relaxin” would turn me into a puddle of goo, leaving my frame too fluid to support the rest of me. The problem is, I really miss my Yin.

When I first began practicing Yin, I knew it was something I needed in my life because it made me want to cry. Sounds crazy right? Instead of pushing to the limit, we go to 60-70% of stretch capacity in each pose; that’s because we’re trying to stimulate connective tissue (fascia) as opposed to stretching muscles. It’s a “back off to go further” approach. During the 2 to 5 minutes of stillness in each pose we relax muscular effort and attempt to release held tension. That’s where the emotion comes in to play for me:  The “made me want to cry” thing indicated some deeply held tension that needed to unwind. When I practice Yin, when I practice yielding, I can feel my body literally rearranging itself. As I commit to stillness, my fascia slides around under my skin, mobilizing, hydrating, and aligning. I watch this reorganization with an attitude of “whoa that is so mind blowing and cool and weird.”

Yin is impactful not only for the body but also for life off the mat. It’s an opportunity to retrain our response to life’s stresses; we can learn how to yield and go with the flow when things are out of our control. I try to practice this on I-40, when I’m mentally anywhere from “everyone is an idiot” to “all these cars are out to get me.” With mindfulness I can catch myself in the pattern of bad traffic, white knuckles, and held breath. Then instead of maintaining the tension, instead of pushing back, I try to find my breath and relax. From that headspace, the idiocy of my fellow drivers (it’s never my fault) seems way less significant and I’m free to flow on to the next thing.

Even though I’m not holding physical Yin poses during my pregnancy, I’m still trying to put the skills I’ve learned into practice…I have a feeling they’re going to come in handy sometime in the next two months. What about you? Do you need a little restructuring for your spine, hips, legs, and maybe even your attitude? I’m not saying it’ll be easy but it has the potential to be transformative. I teach Yin Yoga on Mondays at 6:00pm at The Glowing Body and I’d love to see you there.

Namasté,
Jen


Get Yoked: The Yoga of Connection

Connect with yourself to connect with others.

I love having to quiet the room when I walk in to teach a class (maybe you’ve observed how much pleasure I take in ringing the gong). I know many of you have built solid relationships with the people matting up next to you. I truly cherish the community we’ve built at The Glowing Body.

After college, I decided to stick around Knoxville even though I wasn’t from here (I had my eye on a fella). At that time, I had a handful of superficial friendships mainly with people from work. We didn’t really have much in common other than the job. I found it easy to build meaningful relationships in college but a little bit harder out in the real world. Where was I supposed to meet new people with similar interests?

At some point, I found myself at The Glowing Body doing yoga and not talking to anyone. Believe it or not, sometimes I’m shy. I was loving the yoga, though, taking lots of classes and the teacher training – it didn’t take long before I felt like I’d “moved in.” Eventually I made friends. At first, we only talked about yoga, then we started sharing our lives. As I practiced the yoga of connection with myself, I began connecting more to others around me. Those people then connected me to other people, who connected me to other people, and so on. Now, I see someone I know practically everywhere I go in town. I feel incredibly connected, plugged in, and supported (something I hear is helpful when raising a tiny human).

Yoga is all about connecting. The word “yoga” actually means “to yoke” or “union.” Typically we perceive this connection happening with one’s highest Self. But just as connection runs vertically between you and that Something Greater, it also runs horizontally between you and the folks around you. Syncing up with your highest Self means having a centered base of attention from which to reach out, thus enhancing relationships with others.

I hope that you continue to reach out. Whether it’s at yoga, your kid’s soccer practice, the break room at work, or church; you never know the impact a sincere “how are you” may have on a person. For those relationships that are more established (think: the strange beings you live with and love), practice yoga to be more present. Your practice becomes a service when it allows you to listen and respond mindfully, navigating relationships with greater skill.

See you on the mat,
Jen

Changing, Learning, Growing

Some of you rather astute and intuitive folk have started asking about my growing (albeit still rather small) belly. And yes, there’s a bump in the making (and yes, I’m super pumped about it)! This is one of those times in my life where I think, Holy cow, what would this be like with out my yoga?! I’ve never experienced such a rapid and constant rate of change; add hormones to the mix and a girl’s bound to feel crazy at least once or twice or ten times.

I shared this crazy change feeling with a friend and she offered an idea I think works for all people, not just the pregnant ones. Think of a mountain. Each season, the mountain looks a little different – vibrantly green in the Spring and Summer, burning with oranges and reds in the Fall, and a little bare in the Winter. Different people and animals visit the mountain at different times as well. Despite the constant change, the mountain is still the same mountain. It might get worn down in a few places but its essence is unchanging. We are in the same boat as the mountain. Even as life happens, even as we grow and develop new skills and perspectives, our essence remains unchanging. We acknowledge this same essence in one another when we say Namasté at the end of a yoga class.

I’m joyfully managing this pregnancy due mainly to the skills I’ve gained from my yoga practice (think: self-care like a panda). Deepening connections with other women has also been an integral part of my process. Over the past year and a half, through focused study and personal experience, I have absorbed some pretty vital information I can’t wait to share with other women. The Yoga for Women’s Health & Healing training I attended with Dr. Saraswati Markus in May served as a capstone experience for me, validating several ideas I’d intuited and providing a more cohesive framework from which to present those ideas.

As a result, this summer is full of special offerings for women: another Yoga for Women series and two workshops, Yoga & Your Fertility and Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm (details below). I’ve also planned my workshop calendar through November, which includes another Target Practice focusing on hips, a Down Dog Clinic, and a super special Self-Care Retreat co-taught by the lovely Sarah Fields. Keep your eyes peeled for more information on those offerings in the future.

I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line and let me know how you’re changing, what you’re learning, and where you’re traveling this summer.

Namasté,
Jen

Practice Self-Care

A 9 year old recently asked me, “what’s your spirit animal?” He didn’t find my quippy response of “pizza” amusing. He told me to be serious so I said that I wasn’t sure and asked for his opinion. The corner of his mouth turned up and his eyes moved in a way expressive of deep thought. Finally the answer emerged, “a panda.” He caught me off guard as I’ve never been compared to a panda in my life. “Because you’re always so calm and even-tempered,” he added. According to this kid, pandas are calm and I am calm too.

Even as my husband, close friends (including the mother of the 9 year old), and family are rolling with laughter at the thought of me being described as calm, I must say I get this a lot. People frequently say to me, “You’re always so calm and peaceful. How do you do it?” In fact, the client I just saw said those very words which inspired me to sit down and write this post. (She followed up by saying, “you’re so cool.” Gush!)

Just to set the record straight, I have spells of feeling quite the opposite of calm and even-tempered. I’m human (not marsupial). I fly off the handle and scream at my husband and get sassy with customer service representatives on the phone. Overall, however, I feel incredibly stress-free most of the time – think panda chilling and chewing on some bamboo. I attribute this to my amazing job and skillful self-care. I’m not in the business of giving career advice but I can help you with self-care.

Effective and nourishing self-care requires planning and commitment. I often find that when I haven’t scheduled self-care practices into my day or week they fall by the wayside. For me, self-care includes regular bodywork like acupuncture, Rolfing, massage, chiropractic, and Reiki. I have assembled an awesome team of gifted healing practitioners who keep me running like a well-oiled machine. I also make time in my schedule for regular yoga and meditation practice along with journaling and walking. Another essential element in my self-care mix involves syncing my life with my monthly cycle. Ladies, we’re quite lucky that we have a monthly reminder to slow down and release things that no longer serve us.

For me, self-care is a lifestyle choice. Even though I’ve chosen to work a bit less than most in order to focus on things that truly bring me joy and satisfaction, I often hear those voices telling me that I’m lazy or don’t deserve to be stress-free and content. For me, radical self-care is choosing to claim my worth. It’s such a big deal!

Self-care is a choice and sometimes a difficult one at that. There’s space in even the busiest schedules for nourishing and supportive practices. Aren’t sure where to start? I’d love to be a part of your self-care routine, whether that’s through yoga, massage, or energy healing. Drop me a line and we can make a plan for you. And let’s not forget the vital question that started it all: What’s your spirit animal?