Benefits of Postnatal Yoga

~ By Melissa Savoie

The postnatal yoga that I offer at Eastside Yoga is a class for mothers and babies to attend together.  Partners, family and friends are also welcome.  Women usually don’t begin attending this class until cleared by their midwife or doctor for activity around six weeks postpartum.  

 

Just like prenatal, postnatal classes are focused on community.  We begin the class with a circle to share updates on the babies’ progress as well as physical, emotional or mental updates that moms choose to share.  These discussions also include sharing information about infant care: teething, feeding, diapering and any other issue that might arise in early parenthood.  In this way, the group acts as both a place for asking and answering questions as well as a place to find referrals to other resources in the community.  These referrals include infant swimming and music classes, mother’s support groups, pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture.  This sense of community supports women especially in these early days of parenthood, which can feel very isolating.  

 

The yoga in postnatal is a mixture of yoga done for parents while their babies rest or play on blankets and yoga done with the babies.  This is an open class.  Parents might stop to care for their child at different points in the practice and then re enter when ready.  The yoga for parents is focused on the needs of the group in the room that day.  Common issues include low back discomfort, upper back tension, wrist discomfort and a feeling of being unsupported in the core.  We use therapeutic style yoga to address these areas of tension as well as strengthening poses to support postpartum recovery.  

 

The yoga for the babies also includes strengthening poses for mom: squats while holding the baby, lunges and wall sits with songs.  We do a lot of singing in postnatal yoga.  Primarily, the same songs are sung each class so that as a baby grows the classroom is a familiar and comfortable place.  As they begin to move into toddler class, they will sometimes sing along.  We usually do a standing circle of activities, followed by a seated circle.  These activities and songs are a great way for parents to bond with their child.  This can be one of the first activities outside the home that they share and enjoy together.  

 

To end class, we finish with some restorative poses like long twists, legs up the wall or my favorite for parents: supported crocodile pose.  This pose is a great variation of savasana for parents, who tend to be very stimulated.  We lie facedown with the torso supported by a bolster and the forehead resting on a blanket.  It encourages release in the neck and a moment of relief from the constant alertness involved in the parenting of infants and babies.  In these moments of savasana and rest, how ever long they last, part of the practice of parent and child yoga is finding peace and rest in moments that might feel chaotic.  This is the practice of parenthood and is reflected in this type of yoga.

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Benefits of Prenatal Yoga

~ By Melissa Savoie

It’s Saturday morning in East Austin with sun lighting up the gold curtains and warming the cork floor.  Six women in varying states of pregnancy move about the room, unfolding their mats and gathering blankets and blocks.  The class begins with eyes closed, one hand on the heart, one on the belly.  Focusing on the growing and changing new life inside and to the breath that connects mother and child from the very beginning.

 

Prenatal yoga classes give students the opportunity and the place to connect to their community and their changing body.  At the beginning of each class, women are asked to share where they are in their pregnancy as well as any symptoms or experiences that are pressing at that moment.  These discussions are sometimes also focused more on the emotional and social experiences of pregnancy.  Being able to share these common symptoms, emotions, worries and joys help women feel connected to the other mothers in the class and to normalize their experience. Prenatal yoga class is a great place to begin to build relationships with other mothers that will continue after the birth of the baby.  

 

The movement in my classes often ends up being more therapeutically focused.  We try to relieve the common discomforts of pregnancy, including leg cramps, low back discomfort, upper back tension, ligament pain and even allergies.  In addition to contributing to the relief of these symptoms, yoga can also increase circulation, improve sleep and reduce stress and anxiety.  We also practice strengthening poses to prepare the body for labor and aid women in their postpartum recovery.  These include full and half squats, modified push ups and gentle core strengthening exercises.  These poses are great for building strength but also help women to feel strong and confident as they prepare for birth and parenthood.

 

We work on connecting the movement to the breath, which helps to focus the mind.  Also, practicing restorative poses or resting poses helps to relax the nervous system and calm the thoughts.  Practicing progressive relaxation techniques, breathing techniques and vocalizing is also applicable to labor and delivery later on, but help women stay more relaxed and calmer during their pregnancy.  Studies have connected the practice of prenatal yoga to shorter labors with less pain.  In general, being able to relax the body and mind is useful preparation and beneficial through the entire prenatal period.  

Yoga supports awareness and mindful decision making. The practice offers the opportunity for self study, which supports the transition into parenthood.  Any positive practice, which supports the mother, whether it’s healthy diet, meditation, yoga, or exercise supports the baby as well. Yoga helps to make that connection between the health of mother and baby more clear and present, hopefully supporting mothers to continue to practice self care as they move into early parenthood.

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Change Challenged? Yoga can help.

One thing you can count on in life is that there will be change. Look around, it’s everywhere. Seasons change. Babies are born, and then they grow up. Friends and family move away and pass away. Hairstyles and fashions don’t stay the same from one year to the next. Jobs come and go. Relationships evolve, and sometimes they deepen and sometimes they end. Think about any area in your life, and you will see change. Imagine that your boss or spouse or friend calls you up (or texts you, as is more likely the case with all the changes in the way we communicate) and says “Things need to change”. How do you feel? Excited and optimistic or nervous and anxious?

Change is challenging, and it is constant. A change I recently made was leaving a steady job with smart people and a nice salary to pursue my passion for teaching Yoga full-time. “But you have it so good!” A few friends mentioned. “I guess if you can afford it” said others. And, a lot of “I admire people who do what you are doing. I’d be too afraid.” All of these friends know how much I love teaching Yoga and that I’ve been trying to make this change for quite a while. But even my friends, who are not actually making a change, are having trouble handling my change. It is hard for us to change, and it is also challenging to watch others change around us. I think my practice helped me to come to the final decision to make this particular change. In November, I added Ashtanga classes to my practice. Ashtanga has always been a big challenge for me, and the first few classes were so humbling. But it signaled to me that I had the courage to make other changes in my life, which is just one of the ways our practice can empower us. Once the momentum began, there was no turning back.

My practice has also taught me to let go of expectations. There is a Facebook post going around these days that says “Expectations are planned disappointments”. When you let go of expectations, the world really can open up for you. I let go of the expectation that I should always have the answer. It’s hard, but I am allowing myself to dive into the unknown. And the more I practice on the mat, the more I can identify when I am being limited by my expectations. It’s an interesting process.      I’m thrilled to be making this change. In the first week of my new life I have felt completely exhausted, even going to bed at 8:30 one night. Not what I “expected”. My wise friend today told me to embrace the change and just ride on it, and to take it a little easy. I will try.

Here are just 5 of the many ways Yoga helps us cope with change.

  1. Yoga strengthens your inner resources. Sometimes we get defensive and blame others when change has happened. Our practice teaches us instead to witness the change, and examine our own response to it. When we recognize our role, we understand what we need to do to face the change, and seek the strength to do so.
  2. Yoga helps you recognize habits and patterns. While things change, we may still remain in our old habits and patterns—they are familiar and often provide a comforting frame of reference. But they may not serve us in our new situation. In our practice, when we become a witness, we can notice these patterns and be open to a new approach.
  3. Yoga helps you recognize reactions in the mind and body, rather than identifying with the mind and the body. Even though we each have a mind and we each have a body, we are not our minds and bodies. Sometimes this confuses us. When we can recognize our reactions for what they are, we can chose to a different approach.
  4. Yoga helps you to live in the moment. Change brings fear in both the past and future directions. We may be hesitant to let go of the past and identify with things in our past. Or we may be projecting out various outcomes in the future, often letting our fears get the best of us. Our practice teaches us to recognize the present moment and live fully in it.
  5. Yoga encourages you to let go of expectations. As previously mentioned, expectations often lead to disappointment. They also get in the way of being in the moment. Most things are not as bad as you imagine, and many are better than you expect!

In summary, Yoga helps you regain perspective when in the midst of change, which is an integral part of life.

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly slight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
C.S. Lewis

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Gratitude

Hi community!

For those of you who attended my stress management workshop last weekend, thanks so much for sharing space and energy with me.  It was always a goal of mine to lead a workshop, so I’m really grateful that my first one with met with so much kindness and good attendance (19 people including Steven’s mom!)

Stress is such an important topic, considering that we are all faced with some form of it whether it be interpersonal, job related or just due to the minor inconveniences we face as human beings.  One thing I have learned in my own journey toward understanding the experience of stress is that I can actively make a choice whether I indulge in it or let it go.  If I indulge in the feelings associated with stress; panic, fear, anxiety etc.  I might curl up into a ball in the corner and give up.  If I choose to let it go, I take a moment to deepen my breath and to notice my surroundings.  

Those that attended had such beautiful things to say about their own experiences with stress.  It turns out that we all have a lot in common.  We know for a fact that stressful situations are going to come up in life no matter what.  Even if we are yoga teachers or avid meditators or drink tea everyday at the top of a mountain.  There’s bound to be stress.  We can’t change that.  What we can change is our internal experience.  Pranayama and Asana practice are great allies to shift the fight or flight response to a more calm and even existence.  It is possible to do this.

I used to deal with painstaking anxiety. Panic attacks, accelerated heart rate, and racing thoughts.  It was very difficult to make even the smallest decision under these circumstances.  I have learned through the incredible gift of yoga that there is a way to change this.  It might not be perfect.  I still get flustered when an unexpected bill comes in the mail or if my car has troubles but I know now that I have this great tool to rely on and the knowledge that I can get off the hamster wheel of fear, doubt and anxiety.

We plan to have more of these workshops in the future and so I hope you will consider coming if you were unable to attend this last time.  It’s a great learning experience for all of us.

Also, please join me for an additional yin flow class on Friday evenings at 6 PM.  What a great way to end your week and salute the weekend.  

Deep breaths,

Brooke

 

 

  

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The Great night of Shiva – Shivaratri this Friday

On the 14th day of the dark half of this moon cycle,  Hindus celebrate with a festival dedicated to Lord Shiva,  known for his compassion to devotees on this night, he dispenses spiritual and material blessings to those who utter his name with reverence.   For centuries the great Yogis have referred to Shiva as Yoganath, the Lord of the Yogis,  he is regarded as the teacher, the path and the goal and the highest Guru.

During this special night of the lunar calendar it is said that if sadhak (practitioner) can maintain focus on the Divine from sunset to sunrise they can gain control of their mind for the entire year! Several years ago I attempted this and let’s just say it’s extremely difficult to get through.  Any devotional practice or simply chanting of a Shiva Mantra will have a positive effect on your concentration and meditation.

Yoga (to yoke) allows us an opportunity to realize our highest Selves and experience directly a Divine connection this is the destiny of all yogis.   Mantra being the oldest yoga practice is a powerful tool to experience pure consciousness.  Shiva is a cosmic force is defined by Yogis as pure conscious bliss.

This Friday (February 28th) the moon’s influence over the mind is at its least for the entire lunar year, a rare opportunity arises for us mere mortals to gain a greater control over our minds.  This window allows us to meditate more deeply and perhaps lessen our mind’s almost constant fluctuations, bringing us closer to inner bliss.  Perhaps its worth a try?

Any time this week but especially Friday night it is recommended to chant Shiva Mantra.
A simple yet very powerful mantra is OM Namah Shivaya.  chant 108 times.

OM Namah Shivaya

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Raja yoga on Wednesdays, 6pm, beginning March 5th.

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Starting in March Mary is going to be changing the format of her Wednesday 6pm class to Raja yoga.  We are excited about this change and wanted to share more! 

What is Raja yoga? 

Mary: In the last few pages of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Svatmarama prescribes Hatha yoga as preparation for Raja yoga. Some say Hatha yoga disciplines the body and allows one to gain control of physical functions, where as Raja yoga disciplines the mind. In a Hatha yoga practice, we often explore a few of the limbs discussed in the Yoga Sutras, such as asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breath control), but in most classes we don’t explore other limbs, such as  dharana (concentration of mind) or dhyana (meditation). Therefore in a Raja yoga practice one might incorporate all the techniques and practices of Hatha yoga (asana, pranayama, mudra, etc.) while also incorporating the other limbs in order to prepare the body and mind for meditation. This leads one to the ultimate goal of Raja yoga, controlling the mind in order to reach or attain Self-realization. 

 

How will the class be different from Deepening Hatha? 

M: I will spend some time at the beginning of class discussing a philosophical theme. This theme will be woven into the physical practice and final meditation. In order to prepare the body for meditation, I will offer more of a full-body focus, unlike Deepening Hatha where I might spend the whole class working on one pose. The physical practice will also be a bit more active then what I typically offer in Deepening Hatha. The class may culminate with pranayama and/or chanting and will always conclude with meditation. 

 

Can you give us an example of a philosophical theme that you will explore and how it connects to the Raja yoga practice?

M: When specifically practicing Raja yoga, the aim is to control the mind in order to know the Self. As Swami Satchidananda says, “Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors the mental mirror. If you can restrain the mind from forming into modifications, there will be no distortion, and you will experience your true Self.” A yogi can take a concept like ahimsa (non-injury or non-harming) and practice it on the mat by observing their body and mind with the intention of non-harming. This not only protects the body from injury during asana practice, which allows them to sit comfortably in meditation, but it also trains the mind as it requires one to observe their reactions by restraining from harmful thoughts or emotions. For example, people often express judgments regarding their physical practice or lack of mental control during meditation. These judgements can be harmful as they “distort and color the mental mirror,” clouding our knowledge of the Self. Therefore, incorporating concepts like ahimsa are extremely important to the practice of yoga on and off the mat. 

 

 

 

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The Yoga of Time Management

How I stopped multi-tasking and actually got something done.

1505806_origI love teaching Yoga. No matter what else is going on in my life, when I step in front of a class as their teacher, everything else fades away. I am completely and totally involved in the moment, and remain that way until class is over, and I am feeling just as renewed as my students. I love having that single focus, and I know it makes me a more effective teacher.

I was thinking about that this morning as I headed from my class back to my home office. I felt great, but was already getting a little frazzled as I drove home while making a few phone calls and thinking about the day ahead. And then I had an idea for an experiment. What if I tried, just tried, to bring that focus to my non-Yoga (and lately, very non-Yogic) workday?

First, a little background as to how things are going these days. I am not someone who always has her cell phone in hand, always on her laptop, doing several things at once, while paying attention to nothing. Or at least I wasn’t like that until recently. Over the past year, as I’ve adjusted to my part-time schedule at an advertising agency while continuing to teach my full class schedule and help manage a thriving family, something happened. When I took on my job, I got a laptop for work, which went in the same home office where my personal laptop resides. For my 50th birthday I got an I-pad. When my company celebrated its anniversary, I got an IPod shuffle. In December, to help us all become digitally savvy; my company gifted each employee with a Google Nexus tablet. So you can imagine the number of devices and cords that live in my office. It is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is how things started to evolve.

Almost from the moment I wake up I am plugged in and multi-tasking. I check various devices at 5:30 I in the morning as I send a quick work email or with someone a Faceboook happy birthday before heading out to teach. My office workday begins mid-morning when I return from teaching. As I walk in the door, I am pulling my IPhone out of my bag and attaching the headset. Once at my desk, I charge the phone and flip open the lid of my personal laptop and my work laptop, typing passwords into both. I scan two screens and begin answering emails. I join a conference call, and, during a lull, begin to scan some e-mails about upcoming Yoga events. I have a to-do list that is filled with items in various sections pertaining to the different areas of my life and within minutes of sitting down it becomes jumbled with illegible notes. I jump up to grab some lunch, usually still on the phone, bring the lunch back to my desk and take bites in between my conference call contributions. Sometimes I will throw in a load of laundry, or empty the dishwasher, usually while I am in the middle of working on a document—how lucky to work at home and be able to do that. If there is a webinar, I grab my laptop and take it upstairs, plug in my headphones and hop on the treadmill while I listen in. And it doesn’t end. At the end of the day I am getting dinner ready while still working on tow computers, playing Words with Friends on my IPad and logging my daily calories on My Fitness Pal on my Google Nexus tablet. Finally, after dinner I sit down to watch TV, but since my husband is working on his laptop while he watches, I grab my IPad and surf Facebook while I half-pay attention to whatever is on TV. If you think you are exhausted reading this, you can imagine how exhausted I feel during the day. At the end of the day I am uneasy, distracted and very, very tired.

So, as I said, today I decided to commit to do just one thing at a time. It seemed like a simple idea. I came home from class, and instead of opening up computers and grabbing my cell phone, I scrambled an egg and some spinach and sat down to eat it. I made a promise to myself to sit for at least 10 minutes, without reaching for the phone or a tablet. I had to really slow down to make breakfast last 7 minutes and then I made myself sit for 3 more minutes. It was hard, but it was also nice. I actually tasted my breakfast, and, instead of feeling hungry after gobbling it down, I felt satisfied.

Now to my office. I opened my work computer, but did not lift the lid on my personal computer. That was big, as I knew there was some Yoga business waiting. I gave myself 20 minutes to read and answer various e-mails before preparing for a meeting. Even though it took a concerted effort, it already was having a calming effect on me. I was able to really prepare for my meeting, taking time to pay attention to some data I needed to analyze, and, of course, the meeting was productive. Even though I was tempted, I did not once turn to my “other” laptop during a lull in the meeting as I often do. I never had to say “Sorry, I couldn’t hear what you just said” to mask the fact that I wasn’t paying attention. This won’t come as a surprise to any Yoga practitioners, but I was actually enjoying the day more by being present. I decided that if I stayed focused until noon, I would do an e-mail check on my personal laptop before I ate. I did that, but kept myself from checking Face book, which was hard. I closed the lid to that laptop. I ate lunch, again without any devices in hand, again feeling much more satisfied than usual. Then, back to work, again with only one laptop open. When my computer “ding-ed” to indicate incoming emails, I resisted the urge to click over to see what had come in until I finished what I was working on. It was an effort, but already I could see the results. The items on my list were getting checked off and I felt clear and focused. Interestingly, I was not jumping up every 30 minutes to grab a snack—I didn’t even notice my usual afternoon hunger pangs. At the end of the day, I checked my personal emails once more, and then closed both computers. My daughter had just gotten home from school and I gave her my undivided attention, which of course was lovely. I noticed her gorgeous smile and what a great outfit she had on (she has an awesome sense of style). I told her about my experiment and she said “Everyone knows that multi-tasking is less effective than being focused”. She’s so smart. She invited me to take a break and watch a show on TV with her to wind down, but I decided to stay on course. On to make dinner-no phone or computer checking. Dinner prep was a breeze and took less time than usual. A couple of phone calls came in and I was able to take them, completely focused. Of course, once I shut down the office, lots of “to-do’s” came to mind. Each time, instead of dropping everything and doing whatever popped into my mind, I just wrote them down. After I made dinner, I had one more computer session, and began writing this blog. I had a great dinner catching up with the kids, and I knew I would still have energy to catch up with Seth when he came home a little later. Now as I complete this lengthy story, it is 7:40. I am going to step away from the computer, take Zoë to her dance class, and then relax…completely.

When I teach my classes, I always advise students to be present. I’m so glad I am beginning to listen to myself. As day transitions to night I feel calm, energized and accomplished. There is a sense of completion to this day. I am looking forward to honing my uni-tasking skills in the days ahead.

I challenge you to one day of focus—see how much you can accomplish. Let me know how it goes.

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