Yoga “studio”

Since June 2016 I have had the immense pleasure of leading yoga practice at the newly renovated clubhouse in my neighborhood. Almost 30 years ago we moved into a neighborhood of 200 homes sandwiched between two creeks, Guion on the west and Otter on the east. Where the roads converge is a spit of land that houses the clubhouse.

This spit of land is at the mouth of Mamaroneck Harbor, where it begins to merge with Long Island Sound. The reason the clubhouse had been renovated was due to its location, fully exposed to the elements, including hurricanes and Nor’easters that all took their toll on the stout ground level building. Additionally, the clubhouse was old and over the years there had been discussions about how to modernize it, as well as make level the floor of the main space.

The result is a building with a main space raised one floor up and providing amazing views of sunrise or sunset. Occupants often feel they are in the trees because there is a mature bushy tree just off-center to the left of the Sound facing side of the building. In addition, there is a deck facing the Sound, and the deck gives the impression of expanding the room size.

This is where we practice yoga. The first set of pictures is the “studio” in the morning before our 8:00 a.m. Friday flow practice. The second set of pictures is the same space in the evening before our Monday evening 5:00 p.m. restorative practice. The 3D designed, printed and coded (on an Arduino) light sculpture is made by my husband, and is the only light we use once our restorative practice begins.


evening lights1evening lights2evening lights3

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And so the online course concludes (but the learning continues)

final journal assgnThis is the last week of the online class Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga. Each week I have enjoyed the videos, learned from the interviews, been exposed to (and am developing) new breathing practices, and been prodded to think about my practice and teaching of yoga. I will miss the weekly stimulation of being introduced to researchers and practitioners, and their work and approaches.

I intentionally did not participate in the online forums. My day job involves much use of technology and I had no interest in expanding the time spent online. My goal was to learn and grow as a yoga teacher, and this course has definitely helped me to do just that. For instance, I have shared a number of the breathing and meditation practices with the yogis in my flow and restorative classes. I have also added information about the vagus nerve in my guiding of class.

There is a wealth of information available on the websites of the people who were interviewed. While I visited each of their sites, there is still plenty more at each location for me to explore!

The goal setting practices of the course were useful but did not impact me in any substantial manner. I am goal oriented by nature and have been setting goals for myself for years. I find the simple act of setting a goal to be calming and to serve as an organizing structure. List-making has been a natural part of my day-to-day life, especially since my first child was born over thirty years ago, and this practice has continued, usually in written form but also as reminders kept at the forefront of my mental focus.

Thank you Stacy and Catherine for sharing your passions, interest and expertise!

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Dan Siegel

Dr Dan Siegel, interviewed by Catherine Spann, is the last interviewee for Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga. When Dan and Catherine began talking about the Wheel of Awareness, I recalled he had been introduced during the first week of the course. Initially, I found their conversation a little off-putting, perhaps because it was not concrete enough for me, however, about two-thirds through the interview I became much more interested.

I am intrigued by the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology. Rather than trying to understand the human self through the lens of disparate sciences, I understand this field as bringing together all the sciences to understand the “me” and the “we” that compose humanity. Further, it is the practice of Mindsight, integrating the relational (between bodies) and the neurological (within the body) that is explained by the field of interpersonal neurobiology. Since this paragraph may not do either of those terms justice, definitely click the links and watch the videos (one on each page and they’re brief!) for clarification.

In speaking with Catherine, Dan described the practice of mindsight as consisting of three aspects: insight into one’s own inner experience; having empathy towards someone else’s inner experience; and integration, which is honoring the differences within oneself, and between oneself and others, and at the same time linking these differences with compassion. It can sound a bit heady and abstract, yet the more he talked about this, the more I found myself wanting to get a stronger sense of it, and that led me to explore his website. (Back at the start of this course I was miffed at the sign-up form that keeps popping up on the site, but I’ve come to grips with it and just close the pop-up window each time it appears.)

In essence, Dan explained that integration of the different parts of the system is at the core of well being, and this combination creates synergy, i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. I might add, as John Donne wrote:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man
is a piece
of the continent, a part of the main.

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Cathy Eason

As part of  Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga, Stacy Dockins interviewed Cathy Eason, a nutritional therapy practitioner and member of the Nutritional Therapy Association. The area of nutritional therapy is new to me, and I learned that it covers both what to eat and how to eat, essentially the “sourcing, preparing and eating” of food.

Cathy explained that metabolic depletion occurs due to stress, leaving the body with insufficient nutrients for nourishing health. It is not unusual for people to deal with stress by eating comfort foods, larger quantities of food, or engaging in some other non-healthy food practice. These approaches may provide temporary satisfaction but do little to promote stress-free nutritional health. Cathy provided a long list of tips for healthy stress-free eating and sleeping:

  • meditate (she is a big fan of the 1GiantMind app)
  • when selecting food – choose colors; seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables; aim for variety; and skip the calorie counting
  •  “candle down” the house, gradually having less light, and sleep in a darkened bedroom
  • keep a glass of water at bedside for sipping upon rising (or if you awake during the night with a dry throat!)
  • meals should be eaten in a dedicated eating space, just food prep and eating, no digital devices or reading
  • take time with food prep
  • S•L•O•W down, make a nice table setting
  • eat mindfully, taking time with each bite, engaging the senses
  • try eating with the non-dominant hand or chopsticks, and put either down between bites, a sure fire way to slow down the eating process
  • engage in some “earthing” (grounding) everyday by taking off your socks and feeling the earth
  • rest your bare feet on some river stones heated in warm water and placed in a wooden bowl kept under a desk

All useful suggestions, some of which my husband and I already practice, and some which I am eager to try!

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Patricia Gerbarg

Dr Patricia Gerbarg and her husband, Richard Brown, are each professors in psychiatry, she an assistant clinical professor at New York Medical College and he an associate clinical professor at Columbia University. Between them they have impressive credentials and experience integrating mind-body practices into their treatment programs where they have worked extensively with children and adults who have undergone some form of trauma. Patricia was interviewed by Catherine Spann in this week’s Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga online session.

Earlier in the course Patricia took us through the practice of Coherent Breathing, which involves taking 5 breaths per minute. I had difficulty with this practice because the quality of the recording and the sound of the tone both were irritating to listen to, resulting in a continually interrupted practice. About a year ago the New York Times published Breathe. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing, which explains Coherent Breathing along with other breath practices. In the video below Patricia and Richard demonstrate Coherent Breathing.

During the interview Patricia explained that this type of breathing is one of numerous breath practices all referred to scientifically as VRBP (Voluntarily Regulated Breathing Practices). Her client approach utilizes “integrated treatment”, which consists of “standard treatments combined with herbs, nutrients, and mind-body practices.” I found it heartening to hear that she tries to prescribe few, if any, anti-anxiety medications because they can be addictive and studies are showing that increased reliance on such drugs over a twenty year period can lead to dementia.

I was all ears when she began speaking about caregiver’s stress and stress of people who generally maintain their calm when in the face of adversity – people who can manage a high degree of stress. She noted that even people who describe themselves in that manner are still susceptible to “accumulating internal stress without realizing and noticing until something happens.” Essentially, caregivers, doctors, people in similar professions cannot go through life unscathed by the intensity of circumstances they come in contact with. Therefore, as Catherine commented, VRBPs such as Coherent Breathing provide both a preventative technique as well as a coping technique.

The other portion of the interview that caught my attention had to do with the vagus nerve. Patricia described the vagus nerve as the true mind-body connection as it carries messages from the mind to the body, and from the body to the mind. As she explained, each breath we breathe influences the messages that our respiratory system sends to our brain. Slow, steady controlled breathing sends a powerful positive message to the brain, providing a short-cut to self-regulation.

Typically, during an INhale the message is to speed up the heart rate, which in turn activates the sympathetic nervous system. This automatically kicks in when we feel stress. During an EXhale the heart rate slows and that, in turn, activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The other piece of this process is HRV (heart rate variability). Whereas heart rate refers to the number of beats per minute, and can be measured by taking a pulse, heart rate variability is the time between each heart beat and requires an EKG machine for measurement. The higher HRV, the more parasympathetic activity there is, which bodes well for long-term health. Curiously, this is a measurement that is rarely provided during an annual physical!

To quote from the quiz at the end of Session 5:

Higher heart rate variability (HRV) is a reflection of greater vagus activity, which is associated with better health and living longer.

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Doodle Draw (visual artifact)

In my previous post I explained why this visual artifact would likely be done as a doodle draw rather than created digitally. The drawing below could use some refinement, including finer-tipped pens and use of color. Nonetheless, it represents how I see the intersection of breathing and the nervous system, and what happens when our nervous system is out of whack. (Heads up: gray scale image lower right corner, under Allostatic Load, the word that looks like “frequest” was meant to be “frequent” and the color version, though at the top, was added later just to see if color made a useful difference. I should really redraw the diagram since this is a first doodle… )

draw doodle 2

doodle draw

Week 5 Discussion and Activities

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This week, we will focus the creative time in this course on creating a visual artifact. This can be a graphic design or concept map of the content covered in the course. The intent here is to spend time detailing how course topics are connected and intersect to you. If you need help creating a visual artifact, try some of these websites:

Once you have created a visual artifact, please share it in the Week 5 Visual Artifact Discussion below.

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Reflection mid-way into Week 5

I am thoroughly enjoying the online course Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga. My #1 goal in taking this class is to continue my growth as a yoga teacher. One of my secondary goals included wanting to learn more about anatomy. Both these goals are being met and, like others who are participating, I will miss the weekly talks, lectures, interviews, breathing practices, and real-time check-ins when the course concludes in early December. It will be like saying goodbye to a friend with whom I’ve shared relaxation, cognitive stimulation, and a nodding head of understanding.

The weekly journal suggestions have seemed superfluous to my enjoyment of and benefitting from the class because I am continually reflecting on my learning without the need of prompts. This reflection comes in the form of blogging to document or clarify the content presented within the class, incorporating bits and pieces of the class into the twice weekly yoga practices that I lead, and discussing my experience with my husband.

This current week’s material is providing greatly appreciated clarification and detail about the nervous system, breathing, and the amazing vagus nerve, some of which is new to me and much of which is reinforcing details that I had shelved in memory and am now taking out for refining. Feels like a classic “use it or lose it” scenario – once exposed to information it is not enough to catalog it in the recesses of memory; in order to truly “know” something it must be used, reused, associated with new learning, thereby growing the knowledge and reinforcing the understanding.

Finally, I continue to enjoy the challenge of the creative assignments. Since 1982 I have held roles in a variety of educational technology positions. Within the past three or four years, however, I have made a conscious effort to begin to “unplug” myself from the online world beginning with professional organizations. (Blogging remains intact purely because I like to write and to document certain areas of interest, and have been blogging for 10 years since beginning at Neurons Firing.) I have peripherally kept up with current trends but not necessarily engaged with them, so it was fun to create a meme, make a motivational poster, and create an animated gif. Had to mildly smirk at this week’s assignment to create a mind map, though, as I was teaching children and adults how to use Inspiration (mind-mapping software) back in the late 1980s. This first smirk is followed by a second one as I decide whether to use one of the online options available to us or to doodle draw my map. I guess we will all find out by the time of my next post!

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