Bringing it all together

I have been blogging here since August 2010, writing about my learning as a way to deepen my understanding about a variety of topics related to yoga, movement, music, and us, the humans who “do” yoga, movement and music.

Even earlier, in April 2007, I began blogging at Neurons Firing about “the brain, learning, yoga, and occasional sidetracks.”

This morning I merged this blog, Yoga~Dance~Music~Movement, with Neurons Firing. Phew!
I have been thinking about doing this for awhile and finally determined that my time and ideas would best be served by focusing on one place.

And it is possible, pending a bit more thought, that I will finally switch from a free WordPress site to a paid site and remove the ads. That will be another Phew!

To anyone who has been reading, commenting, subscribing, thank you! Feel free to join me over at Neurons Firing.

brainstormBrainstorm image by Fred Bartels

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Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, Module One

Overview of Jillian Pransky’s Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, Module One

For four days I was immersed in a powerful, tiring, emotional, informative thought-provoking, stimulating and interesting training. My distillation and assimilation of the train stationexperience and information will likely span several weeks, especially as there are only two days off before diving into the four days of Module Two, the second and final portion of the training. (That’s me on the first morning of my 90-minute commute door-to-door.)

The first day covered a deep dive into what happens in the body when it is experiencing normal stress vs chronic stress. This included discussion of “healing” as opposed to “curing”, multiple principles around the sense of wellness, sharing of research about yoga’s impact on health, and a review of the nervous and endocrine systems. Additionally, there was much information about how yoga can be used therapeutically to couple with medicine, counseling and other mind-body approaches.

remem wellnessI’ve written extensively about “remembered wellness” on my Neurons Firing blog. This is a photo of the words we each came up with after doing a guided meditation designed to return our thoughts to a time of remembered wellness.

On the second day we continued the exploration of stress by taking a look at depression and anxiety. We discussed how medical treatment and yoga therapy each have a role and noted what issues are (and could be) treated by each. There was specific discussion of insomnia and circadian rhythms, the phenomenal power of breath, and how using the Koshas (description here) and Ayurveda (The Ayurvedic Institute’s description here) as a lens for working with imbalances in the nervous system.

Day Three focused on dealing with trauma. Deborah Lubetkin was our guest speaker and she spent four hours with us sharing an abundance of information that included leading us through exercises and a practice. She said that when thinking about trauma and clients, we should consider a person as someone with a wound and not as a traumatized person. We need to remove the label “traumatized person” because there is more to someone than their trauma. She also shared a beautiful quote by Rumi: The wound is the place where the light enters. A portion of her talk revolved around the ACEs Study – Adverse Childhood Experiences, as well as Trauma, PTSD, layering PTSD on the Gunas (article about Gunas here), and polyvagal theory (explanation here) and the vagus nerve.

Prior to one of the practices Deborah asked if any of us preferred to not be touched. She mat cardsthen shared the “mat cards” that she uses during her group practices. Mat cards are placed by a person’s mat so that the yoga teacher can unobtrusively see who does and does not want to be touched. An equivalent object in some studios is the use of a coin.

In the afternoon, as we learned about how to craft a one-on-one therapeutic yoga session, we gathered into groups of threes. Each group was given a client intake form that had been previously filled out by an individual willing to volunteer for a private session, and our task was to think about how we might craft a session for that person  knowing full well that our plans could easily change the next day when we actually met our client.

Our final day consisted of three more guest speakers. The first two were Alice and Lou a married couple who both participated in the training; Lou had also volunteered to be a client. Alice spoke first, sharing a bit of her 30 plus years in nursing and then winding up as a hospice volunteer in retirement so she could continue to be of service to people. She talked about end-of-life options and working with people and families of people in hospice. Lou, a practicing psychotherapist, talked about his background experiences that led to his working with people dealing with anxiety, depression and addiction.

Their talks were followed by an intensely moving hour with Scott Chesney, a paraplegic  who wound up in a wheelchair as a teenager. He is a motivational speaker and spoke not just about himself but about the work we all do as people in healing professions, and the power of believing in yourself. He, too, was a client in our afternoon practice.

The afternoon was spent meeting our clients, working with them, debriefing with them in our small groups and then as a whole group. After they left we continued to converse as a full group to talk about the experience, wrap up our four days, and reground ourselves. A large number (about 3/5) are returning next week for the second and final module during which we will focus on specific diseases and, once again, have private clients.

Below are some of the many resources mentioned during lectures and talks.

Books & Publications:

  • Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Zapolsky
  • The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski
  • How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
  • Mudras for Healing and transformation by Joseph & Lilian Le Page
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons and Rachel Kranz
  • The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris and Steven C Hayes
  • The Vital Psoas Muscle by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones
  • Counseling Today – website of the American Counseling Association


  • HEAL – a documentary about healing and belief
  • Ride the Wave – a documentary about Scott Chesney and surfing

Apps recommended by participants in the training:

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Yoga for People in Prison

campusA little over two weeks ago I attended an orientation at the Westchester Correctional Facility. The sign in the photo is at the entrance to the campus, which also houses a recycling center, medical center and medical college. (Photo taken  from my car while waiting for a traffic light on my way home, as I was uncertain about the photo policy prior to arrival. Turns out the only place pictures are not permitted is inside the correction facility.)

The plan was to meet my wonderful friend and yoga-teacher-training-colleague in the coleaderparking lot 20 minutes prior to yoga so we could follow-up in person to our telephone preparation. This was her fourth or fifth session so she was also able to answer any of my lingering questions, though by this point the preparation at home caused more butterflies than any other part of the practice. Sleeveless, form fitting, low cut, hoodies, anything orange, all were not permitted. Post earrings and wedding bands are the only allowed jewelry. No headbands or metal hair barrettes. I was acutely conscious of how I dressed, changing tops three times, switching bras, and realizing that once an outfit was settled upon it could be worn for every session to come, no more having to figure it out! (Picture taken when we were back in the parking lot ready to head home.)badge&container

We are not permitted to bring any bags into the facility and it was recommended that we use clear plastic containers to hold keys, license and any other “pocketbook” items. These would be locked in a locker upon arrival, before being given access to the rest of the facility. Our id cards had to be worn on lanyards around our neck while in the building.

In addition to the butterflies related to getting dressed, I was also a tad uneasy about the prospect of being buzzed into small holding spaces between two doors – buzzed in, wait for the door behind to be closed, then buzzed out into a hall – a process we had to go through twice. Perhaps because I was with a friend, it turned out to be no big deal. After the first set of doors we went to the Administrative Office to pick up the sign-in sheet though it turned out there were none and we wound up using a blank sheet of paper. From there it was down the hall to an elevator to the 4th floor, down another hall where we said a cheery hello to a correctional officer, then down another short hall where we were buzzed through another set of two doors before finally arriving in what my friend had told me was the mental health wing.

I looked up a definition of “cell block” and found that “dormitory” was used to explain the layout. Dormitory makes me think of college or the YMCA, yet it does provide a sense of how the space is organized. We had been buzzed through to a side room with phones on the short end of the room,  a windowed and locked (to the chagrin of one of the men) half basketball court across from our entry, and to our left the hall to the larger area. At the end of the hall was a slightly larger congregating area where a corrections officer had a small desk overlooking the actual cell block area, which is at a right angle to where we entered – imagine the entire layout as a letter L and we were buzzed through at the base of the L.

Egads, the cell block is just like every movie portrayal. There are two floors on each side of a rectangular space, the top floor has screening to prevent jumping down to the first floor. There is an open “plaza” on the first floor between the two sides, and this is where we practice yoga. The men set up the space by bringing out the mats, including mats for us. They are required to keep their socks on, though my friend and I went barefoot.

Anywhere from five to nine people practiced yoga with us. I knew in advance that at some point some of them would be called out for medicine, and they had the choice to join in or not, and to come and go as they wanted. The men ranged in age from what looked like in their twenties to mid- to late-sixties. Everyone was respectful and willing to give yoga a try. Indeed, many of the men have been attending the Friday and Saturday sessions since our program began in the summer.

This month’s theme for practice was self-compassion and self-kindness, and we repeated this two or three times during the session. Usually one of us would guide and the other would provide one-on-one assistance either verbally or, after asking if it was okay to touch someone, by firm but gentle touch. For instance, one man asked if I would help guide his leg during the “Figure 4” stretch (also known as a piriformis stretch or Supine Pigeon Pose.)

Ultimately, this was a yoga practice, plain and simple. Yes, there was a bit more energy in the space than typically found in a yoga studio or the community center where I guide practices. Yes, each yogi was wearing the same orange pants and shirts as everyone else. Yes, we were all initially there in that space for vastly differing reasons. But for that hour we were all in that space for one reason, to practice yoga. What brought any given person to practice was also varied and something we would never know. Something to do? To relieve boredom? Wanting to stretch? Hoping to calm and relax? Another reason? It didn’t matter to us. The men were there and so were we, all to practice yoga together.

Towards the end of practice I read a poem in reflection of the dual themes of self-compassion and self-kindness.

Born Again In Radiance
by Danna Faulds (from Go In and In)

Who can resist that first,
optimistic moment of dawn –
the dazzling sliver of light,
sun rising, rounding, making
the profound shift from
promise to presence.

Every possibility contained
in a single instant; light
linking us to vastness,
light reaching back to the
formation of stars, light that
will not let us forget that we
are daily born again in radiance.

The men clapped at the end of the poem, which was read prior to the final minutes of meditation and Savasana. Was it out of politeness or because it resonated or some other reason, I don’t know, but I like to believe that something in the poem meshed, even if it was just accepted as a performance.

The men thanked us at the conclusion of practice, we all signed in on the blank sheet, the men put the mats away, and just like that practice was over. One man asked if there would be yoga next week. Alas, there will be a brief hiatus as the person who organized our volunteering has submitted a proposal that would result in a small stipend for the volunteers. Most of us do not have any desire or need to be paid, we just want to be there sharing practice with the men. My colleague’s response was simply that October’s schedule has not yet been determined so she could not provide any further information. When I first learned of this hiatus my heart sunk though I am optimistic that I’ll be able to return with my friend in the near future. Our organizers understand that the sharing of yoga is more important than the exchanging of payment.

My friend and I spent ten minutes in the parking lot talking about our experience. Our hearts truly soar at being able to share yoga. We are able to come into contact with the men, unlike the experience they have if and when visitors come. We are agog at the physical conditions – the cells – in which the men live. We realize that they are incarcerated for a slew of reasons, most of which are intense, sometimes horrible acts. Yet we also know that circumstances have so much to do with why people commit crimes.

My friend and I were born into middle class families and our lives are considered middle class. We had opportunities that thousands of people do not have because of where they were born or the circumstances into which they were born. And in the United States more money is poured into creating jails and funding the military than into education and any number of programs for helping to build strong, healthy communities. There is a tremendous divide between Americans as to the hows and whys government should even be involved in trying to alleviate poverty.

My friend and I know we will not solve any of this by sharing yoga with the men. We simply hope that during the hour we share on the mat their psyches have a respite. And perhaps they begin to carry that respite off the mat and into their lives. It is what we hope for any yogi we guide through any yoga session.

Above is what I learned by doing. However, prior it was important to me to find answers to questions, primarily among them how to cue people living in prison and how to better understand people living with trauma.

At Liberation Prison Yoga there was this helpful article on The right use of commands. From Prison Yoga Project I found a description for a Typical Class for Prisoners. I also purchased their book A Path for Healing and Recovery, as well as donated a copy for a prisoner. In addition, the organization that provided this opportunity is looking into a one-day training for all volunteers so that we may have a better understanding of who we are practicing yoga with. Besides Liberation Prison Yoga, other possibilities for training include Exhale to Inhale and the Crossover Yoga Project.


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The CORE of Yoga – Volunteering

As a result of a collaboration between Create QuanYin and CORE (Community Oriented Re-Entry) there is a nascent yoga program at the Westchester Correctional Facility in Valhalla. I heard of the program through the director of Create QuanYin and today attended an almost six hour orientation at the facility in preparation for co-leading yoga beginning with the last Saturday of this month.

The orientation began at 8:30 a.m. and the actual orientation portion, led by Sgt Allen, went for ninety minutes. He handed out multiple Policy and Procedure statements related to attendance, restriction of items that can be brought into the facility, workplace violence prevention, civilian code of conduct, and a Civilian Handbook. He made his points with humor, humility, and highly apparent dedication to both the people who work and volunteer there as well as the people for whom this is their residence due to not being able to make bail or not being given the opportunity to make bail.

Most residents are there for the short-term from a few months to two years, though there are people who have much longer sentences, and the reasons people are incarcerated run the gamut. Sgt Allen made numerous points, the most relevant for me as a volunteer were to be constant and consistent in how I interact, and to develop a rapport but not a relationship.

This morning after breakfast I could feel my heart beating in anticipation of the orientation, having only a minimal idea of what to expect. My friend tried to prepare me by saying “they will try to scare you.” Curiously, the orientation did not scare me; it was the physical facility – populated with barbed wire and checkpoints – that had more of an impact. The orientation was in the headquarters and not in the jail; my first visit in the jail will be at the end of the month.

The second part of the orientation consisted of about ten minutes filling out a form, followed by lots of waiting while 18 of us were fingerprinted and photoed for id badges. I had conversations with a number of people including two nurses who already work there, a recent graduate of John Jay who wants to be a PI (Private Investigator) and will be working in the commissary, and Alan, another yoga teacher volunteer who I had shared emails with prior to the orientation. Alan told me about Liberation Prison Yoga and the two-day training he took through the organization, which he highly recommends.

I have just two concerns about leading yoga. The first is that for the past two plus years I have been leading practice with a community where we all know each other, and this will be my first foray in a long time leading yoga for people I do not know. My other concern is that there is no public record (for the yoga teachers) of what is done each week. Other than a general monthly theme, I do not know how the practice has been building and what the participants are familiar with. I mentioned this to Alan and he said it seems that each teacher does their own thing when leading yoga. I am glad to be co-leading with a friend, and even gladder to be seeing her this weekend so I can get a better sense of the flow!

Although I made the decision to become involved with leading yoga in the jail before talking with my Aunt, I take to heart a comment she recently made to me. She said the two most difficult parts of aging (she turns 87 in just a few weeks) are losing friends to death or cognitive impairment, and no longer feeling she is making a useful contribution to society. If I hadn’t already made my decision, her sentiment would have provided a gentle push.

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Communal Yoga Potluck Dinner

In June 2017 we celebrated our first year of community yoga with a communal breakfast following our Friday morning practice. This year we marked our second year by celebrating with a communal yoga potluck dinner at the end of May, after our last Monday evening practice of the season. Our Monday evening Restorative practice switches to Tuesday morning Flow during June, July and August, and then reverts to Monday evening Restorative in September.

We used the website Perfect Potluck to plan the meal, which made the entire process easy as could be!


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I’m On A Board!

Last Fall a colleague who had taken the 200-hour teacher training with me asked if I would be on the Board of a non-profit she was in the process of bringing to life. What began as casual conversation became a commitment, and has become real in the sense that the non-profit is now a fully registered entity, we have our first set of financials, and it’s time for me to provide a 3-5 sentence bio! We were asked to include the following, and my blurb follows.

  • Your identity at Create QuanYin
  • What you offer/value
  • Your experience/training/education

Laurie is equal parts cheerleader and learner at Create QuanYin, with a desire to help bring yoga to people who are caregivers. Laurie, RYT-200, is certified in Restorative Yoga, Chair Yoga, Yoga for Seniors, and Dance for Parkinson’s, and is working towards a 100 hour Certificate in Yoga Therapy. Over a three year period she volunteered leading yoga, movement and music sessions for people in both the skilled nursing and independent living sections at The Osborn, a local retirement community. Since 2016 she has led a restorative yoga class and a hatha flow class at her local neighborhood center. During the school year Laurie gets up each morning ready to play with lower school students in the realms of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

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Art & Science of Chanting Mantras

Yesterday I spent an uplifting 60 minutes attending the Art and Science of Chanting: Mantras for the Body, Mind and Heart at The Westchester Holistic Network. The session was led by Cristina Ortiz, who I have had the pleasure of knowing ever since we met during our 200-hour yoga teacher training. I was tickled to discover three of the seven chants that she shared during the session were already familiar to me.

Cristina opened with a brief overview of the benefits of chanting as outlined in the article Neuroscience and the ‘Sanskrit Effect’. According to the article, neuroscience has shown that chanting mantras can calm the default mode of the mind. Given that mantra means “a tool for the mind” this is not a surprising conclusion.

The first chant was one we had learned from Patty during our first session with her as part of our yoga teacher training. Cristina describes this mantra as a chant to the breath. We learned it with mudras, which have been called “yoga in your hands“, though alas I do not recall the names of the multiple mudras.

Om namo pranaya
Pranaya nama Om     Pranaya swaha
Om namo apanaya
Apanaya nama Om     Apanaya swaha
Om swaha, Hari Om

Cristina labeled the second mantra as a chant to Ganesh, Ganesh being the God with a human body and head of an elephant who is known for removing obstacles. Like the previous chant, this one also has mudras to accompany it, and as with the previous chant, I do not recall the mudras.

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaya

Recently, Cristina incorporated a non-profit, Create Quan-Yin. [I am on the Board of Create Quan-Yin.] Quan-Yin is the feminine energy of empathy and compassion. Among her many interests, Cristina is also a musician so it was quite natural that she put this chant to guitar. In China the mantra is sung as a lullaby.

Namo guan shi yin pusa

The next mantra we chanted comes from Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras (2.16) and translates to “the suffering which is to come is preventable.”

Heyam Dukham Anagatam

Another sutra (2.1) that we chanted was also touched upon during our teacher training, which I wrote about here. The mantra translates to “Strength to change what I can, Humility to know what I cannot change, Wisdom to know the difference between the two.”

Tapas Svadhyaya Ishvara pranidhana Kriya Yoga Ha

Our last mantra is one I know well and have shared with the yogis I lead in practice. Thanks to my first yoga teacher Deb, it is among the first mantras I ever learned. The message is “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Sometimes I swap out “happy” for “peaceful.”

Loka Samasta Sukino Bevantu

The evening concluded with a chant in English. We began with call and response and concluded with all our voices as one.

We are the light
of the moon and the sun

We are the light
in everyone
We are the churning
of the tides
We are the whole
deep inside



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