Friday, February 16, 2018

Keeping Your Heart Open

At Shree we have been using themes from Melody Beattie’s book Journey to the Heart, and for this week her advice is to “Keep your heart open, even when you can’t have what you want.” Not getting what we want is a root cause of most of our suffering. It doesn’t matter if it is that beautiful sweater you saw at the mall that was just a little too pricey, that the grocery store was out of the favorite ingredient you needed to make the perfect Valentine’s dinner, or longing for a few more precious days with a loved one who passed on from this world – our experience of not having is hard.  
Not getting what we want can cause us to shut down our hearts or to open them up. I have recently been re-reading Pema Chodron’s seminal book When Things Fall Apart and she speaks volumes on this topic. She says “Inspiration and wretchedness are inseparable. We always want to get rid of misery rather than see how it can work with joy. Feeling inspired cheers us up, makes us realize how vast and wonderful our world is.  Feeling wretched humbles us. When we are inspired, we are more able to celebrate the sacred in the world.  But feeling wretched ripens our hearts, it opens them up. It makes us more compassionate, more understanding.” I have found this to be so true in my life.  I have a hard time softening my heart, I tend to keep my armor pretty tight. But I’ve seen the most challenging times of my life in the last year or 2 and when I am able to stay awake and aware and not get caught up in my narrative of “how much things suck right now”, I really am able to see how staying open to all of it has helped me to connect more deeply in all my relationships – with my beloveds, with friends, and with God. (Yes, the G word.  If this is a hard word for you, I get it, I’ve been there too.  I’m still there sometimes.  I’ll invite you to just plug in whatever word you use for anything bigger than your own individual self and see if that resonates.)

The crucial point is to keep our hearts open to all of it, through all of it.  Through getting what you want and getting what you don’t. Through joy and heartache. Through celebration and grief. And it’s hard to do it through both I think. I know I’ve been in the midst of some of the happiest times in my life and I get these little pings of sorrow wishing things would last but knowing ultimately that they won’t. When things are good we shut down our hearts in fear of it ending.  When things are challenging we shut down our hearts because it’s hard to be in pain. So, life is hard.  Might as well be open to it, embrace it, engage with it and see what meaning you can make from it.

Ananda is a big buzz word in yoga, and it is part of the Anusara invocation we chant at the start of each class. However, like many things rooted in yoga these days, it tends to be somewhat misunderstood. Most frequently translated as “bliss”, I think we are sometimes misled to the pursuit of the surface feeling of “bliss”.  But rather than being the goal of our practice or what we are striving for, ananda is the state of being immersed completely in your current experience, feeling what there is to feel without fighting it, and the “bliss” is what arises as a result of being in connection with what is. This is the experience Ms. Beattie and Ms. Chodron are both referring to I believe.

Consider this - when you have a good strong workout, or start a new exercise program, what usually happens to your muscles a day or 2 later?  You get sore. Small tears occur in the muscle as a result of mild muscle strain, creating microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. The discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time.  When they heal, the muscles become stronger and healthier. 

Our hearts are like this too – sometimes they need to get a little torn up to get stronger, to adapt to a new way of doing things or state of being.  Each time your heart breaks it builds back up a little bigger and a little sturdier. Even the really beautiful moments that swell our hearts with joy and pride and love can cause those little tears by filling up to bursting.  When we keep our hearts open to all experiences, feelings, emotions, challenges and blessings we bring ourselves a little closer to humanity, our own and around us. And that is a beautiful thing. 

Off the mat:
Notice.  Notice your reactions to things, ones that you would label “good”, and ones that you would label “not good”.  See where you feel both experiences in your body.  Notice the thoughts you have about it.  Be aware of how you react.  Just be present with it, allow yourself to feel whatever comes up.  Be open to it all.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we are working on keeping the physical heart open – getting it pumping with some good flowing vinyasa movements, and working with scapula (shoulder blade) retraction and protraction (moving towards the spine and away from the spine) to keep the front and the back of the heart open at the same time.  In gentler classes leading towards Setu Bandhasana (bridge), and in more challenging classes towards Sirsasana II and Bakasana, tick-tocking between the two poses…which requires a lot of strength all around the shoulder girdle, the front and the back, to keep the neck safe.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace: In the form of your inhale and exhale, open to inspiration and wretchedness, to love and despair, to celebration and grief.
Open to breath and to the softness that comes with a broken heart.
Fill with breath and the inspiration that allows you to see the sacred in all things.

Muscular Energy: Engage muscles and engage with however this pose challenges you.
Firm muscles creating stress on the bones that will make them stronger.

Shoulder Alignment: (In various movements, work on) shoulder blade retraction (adduction) and protraction (abduction) - one is not better than other, both necessary, find the balance between the two.
Open the back of the heart (protraction) and the front (retraction) so the heart open 360 around, to all experiences.

Inner Spiral: Widen sit bones and open up to the little tears that make us stronger.

Outer Spiral: Drop your tailbone down settling into what you have, not necessarily what you want, but we stay open anyway.

Organic Energy: Shine out through the little tears and cracks – they let the light in and out.
An open heart radiates gratitude for all experiences, let yours sparkle.
Savor and shine the brilliance and the melancholy of this moment, knowing both have come to serve you.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Honoring the Ending

by Chaya Spencer

While we look forward to the New Year, it’s also important to look back and honor what has come before.

As I said goodbye to my daughter and sent her back to University in Scotland for her last semester and the end of her studies and time as a dependent under our roof, I feel deep sadness.  At the same time, deep joy at the adventure of life that awaits her as she steps forward on her own to discover, create and find her heart’s passion.  In the ending is the beginning, and I am filled to the brim with both.

In Anusara yoga our first principle is to Open to Grace.  We attempt to begin every pose by softening and honoring that we are held by something that supports us through our lives.  And yet, Open to Grace is also always at the ending.  The cycle moves in a full rotation.  We must honor what has brought us to where we stand at the moment: the things we’ve learned, struggled with, celebrated and grieved – the full spectrum of life.  It is only by fully embracing the ending that we can move into the next beginning.

As Melody Beattie writes in Journey to the Heart:
The journey of a year is drawing to a close.  Cherish the moments, all of them, event the ups and downs.  Cherish the places you’ve visited, the people you’ve seen.  Say good-bye to those whose journeys have called them someplace else.  Know you can always call them back by thinking loving thoughts.  Know all those you love will be there for you w hen you need them most.  Honor the lessons you’ve learned, and the people who helped you learn them.  Honor the journey you soul mapped out for you.  Trust all the places you’ve been.  Make a scrapbook in your heart to help you remember…Take time to honor the ending – though it’s never really the end.

May we each fully honor 2017 and may 2018 bring each of us – every human and creature on the planet - peace, joy, health and fullness.

May blessings abound.  Happy New Year!



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Practice Makes Practice by Rachel Dewan

When I reflect on the last few months of my life I feel so many things.  Surreal is the word that has come to mind over and over again when I pause to think about this journey.  As I’m sure most of you know by now since I have been very open about it, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June.  The diagnosis resulted in 3 surgeries and 6 weeks of radiation treatment which I just finished.  I am feeling relatively good, getting used to my new body and body parts, and feel very confident that the breast cancer chapter of my life is over.

It has been one of the most challenging times of my life, not because I have been “sick” (this is where the surreal part comes in most strongly) but because I have felt relatively ok physically most of the time.  Emotionally and mentally it was a different story. The hardest part is that life went on - my kids had busy schedules, I planned a bar mitzvah and helped my son prepare for it, we got a puppy, my older boys moved to a very competitive soccer league requiring a huge commitment of my time and energy as well as theirs.  I had to “just keep swimming”, as Dory says.  

What kept me swimming was my practice.  It’s what always keeps me going, what sustains me when I feel like I can’t tolerate another moment.  With so many surgeries and some resulting complications I was unable to do much of a physical practice for almost 4 months (which, anyone who even knows me a little bit knows is akin to torture for me), but I have never been so grateful to be grounded in ALL the practices of yoga, not just asana.  Meditation that kept me sane through many, many hours of doctor appointments and sitting in waiting rooms and on hold waiting for news about my health. Pranayama that allowed me to quite literally hold my breath with ease and skill and grace through 6 weeks of radiation treatments. (My radiation techs said they had never seen any breathing pattern like mine before - steady, even, deep and repeatable every time the same way.  They, and subsequently I, appreciated how it made my treatment so much faster and easier.)  

Most of all, just the practice itself. I have a sign in my kitchen that says “Practice makes perfect, so be mindful of what you practice.”  Waking up every day through all of it, some days feeling fine and some days feeling horrible, but just doing the practice either way, regardless. Waking with the same prayers in my heart and mantras on my lips as I do every day, no matter what is happening in my life. Daily practice leads to the deep inner knowing of something bigger than myself, some bigger plan that I don’t and won’t ever understand, but keeps me connected to the deepest layer of my being that is beyond sickness or health or humanness.  The knowing that life just is, everything happens, and sometimes there is a reason that’s clear and sometimes it’s just surrendering to the mystery. But the practice is knowing I get to co-create with the great loving Oneness that supports all of creation to decide what meaning and direction and reason there was for it happening, and what I’m going to do about it.  

Although the Tantric philosophy of Anusara yoga is a deep foundation of my spiritual life, so is my Jewish heritage.  Each week in the Jewish calendar corresponds to a portion of the Torah.  The Friday night after my final treatment I was in synagogue and as is my practice during Shabbat services, I read the weekly torah portion which I was not surprised to find was one of my favorites.  In it, we find Jacob anxious and scared about meeting his brother Esau after many years, because Jacob had deeply hurt him the last time they were together.  Unable to sleep, he goes wandering around in the night. He comes upon a being, most commonly referred to as an angel, whom he “wrestles” with all night.  Dawn is breaking and the angel is begging him to give up.  Jacob tells him “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  

It is no coincidence to me that this is the portion read the week my treatment ended.  Although cancer is not a journey I would particularly wish for anyone, there were so many beautiful blessings that came out of it.  This is the essence of Tantric yoga practice (and kabalistic Judaism) - there is a blessing to be had in everything if you are willing to engage with it and wrestle with it long enough.  You can let it defeat you, you can give up and surrender, or you can hang on until the blessing is clear.  And, just as Jacob did, you come out the other end changed, a different person. Through his struggle with the “angel” Jacob gets renamed Yisrael (meaning one-who-wrestles-with-God).  When you wrestle with your challenges, when you allow them to bless you, you come through it with a new way of identifying yourself, a new layer of depth of being.  But you wake up every day just the same, doing the practice, swimming back to the source, same as always.  

One of the 3 trademarks of Anusara Yoga is kula (community), and I felt that stronger than ever over these last months.  The Shree community has been an essential part of my healing.  The number of cards, texts, messages, gifts, hugs, kisses, meals, and prayers sent my way by this amazing community helped to sustain me through this journey.  It made every day so full of love and grace and I am so grateful to yoga for bringing you all into my life.  1,000 humble bows to all of you my friends.  I cannot wait to see you on Monday!

Rakhi and I on a ride at the beach, 1 week post-mastectomy
Kiran and our new puppy Axl

Zev's soccer team, winning their first tournament

Zev's Bar Mitzvah, November 18th

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Flourishing Farewell

Written by Jessica Addeo

Flourish: (verb) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment

If I think about the past year and half I spent teaching at Shree Yoga “flourish” is the word that comes to mind. As I prepared to teach my final class at Shree on June 21st, this word reverberated through me. I began teaching at Shree in January of 2016 as I was completing my second teacher training with Chaya and Susan. I felt nervous and unsure of my capacities to be a teacher at such a high caliber studio. Part of what makes Shree so high caliber is the quality and integrity of the people who not only teach there, but also the students who attend. Because I was surrounded by these people weekly as I taught, every class, every month I felt more comfortable in my new role. Where I was once insecure I felt more grounded. For every student who told me my class helped them, I grew. Planning my classes, practicing speaking from my heart out loud and meeting so many inspiring people is an experience I will keep. This is the ultimate gift of a yoga practice, whether that practice is a taking a class, teaching a class, or simply taking a few focused breaths in the morning before you start your day. Finding more and more layers of yourself in a supportive way and finding those people and spaces that allow you flourish fully into who you already are.

I am leaving my teaching position at Shree to make space for a new baby in my life, I know the lessons I learned and the growth I gained from teaching will not only stay with me but help guide me in this new role. The following is my favorite home practice, I can’t do all of it now that I am 7 months pregnant, but it is what I taught my last class at Shree. It is my ode to Shree Yoga, a place where I found my voice and stepped more fully into myself. Thank you!!

Jessica's Home Practice Sequence Gift for You:

-Start seated with a few moments to connect with your breath. (I like to place one hand on my heart and one on my belly).
-Child’s Pose (This is my favorite way to start a practice, I am bowing to myself and to my practice, honoring my time on the mat)
-Come to hands and knees and move through a few rounds of cat/cow.
-Thread the Needle on each side
-Hands and Knees back to child’s pose
-Flip to lay down on your back (have a strap handy)
-Step feet mat distance apart and let knees drop in towards each other, place your hands on your belly and again take a few moments to connect with your breath.
-Draw one knee in at a time, pause, straighten your leg and hook the strap under your foot. Point and flex your foot several times, open your leg out to the side first, come back to center and then take your leg across your body. Do on both sides with a long pause in between sides.
-Supine Pigeon: Place your ankle on your opposite knee, draw your legs into your chest. Do both sides.
-Moving very slowly, roll to your side and slowly make our way to standing.
-3-4 Half Sun Salutations: Inhale reach arms up, exhale forward bend, inhale lengthen spine and look up, exhale fold, inhale come up halfway, bring hands to your hips and come all the way to standing.
-Standing Side body stretch (2x each side): Inhale reach arms up, grab a hold of wrist, root down through same side leg and side bend opposite way.
-Inhale lengthen side body, roll head of arms bone back and interlace hands behind back. Fold forward reaching knuckles up towards ceiling. Hold for a couple of breaths, gently release hands to ground. Shake head yes and no several times. Step back to downward facing dog.
-Lunge on each side (back knee down): Reach arms up, grab a hold of same side arm as back leg, gently lengthen up and side bend.
-Twisting lunge on each side (sometimes I keep back knee down, sometimes I lift it up…): Same side hand as back leg stays on mat, reach opposite arm up. Take gaze where it feels best for your neck, up at your top hand isn’t the only option!
In between the lunges, I play around with what feels best for my body. Sometimes I hold down dog, sometimes I go through a vinyasa, and some days I stay in hands and knees or take a few breaths in child’s pose.
-Slowly make your way back to standing, come to a wide legged stance on your mat. Once more inhale and lengthen through side body, roll head of arm bones back, interlace hands and fold forward (knuckles up towards ceiling). As you are ready release your hands gently down on to the mat. Inhale lengthen and exhale and fold several times.
-Walk your hands forward so they are in more of down dog position (keep your hips over your ankles). I like to push down and forward with my hands gently to lengthen my spine and root further back into my hips.
-Take a twist in this wide legged position by reaching your hand to your opposite shin and twisting underneath your arm. Alternatively, you can keep your hands under shoulders, center one hand under your face (on the mat) and lift the opposite arm up. Slowly make your way up to standing after you have done each side. 
-Standing Poses: Warrior 2, reverse warrior, side angle pose (I almost always rest my forearm on my thigh), triangle pose. One of the best gifts I ever gave myself in my practice is permission to place my gaze where it is comfortable in triangle. Sometimes that is down at the ground or straight ahead versus up at my top hand. On some days, my neck and upper back feel open and I do take my gaze up and open through my heart, but it is always my choice not a given.
-Come back to standing at the top of your mat. Bring hands together in front of your heart and close your eyes. Notice your body, your breath, the palpable change that a practice brings. Notice all the ways you have flourished in your practice up until this point. 
-Pigeon Pose 
-Seated Twist
-Lay down on your back. Supine Twist When I twist on my back I like to take my bottom foot and place it on my top knee, stretch my arms over head and give a gently pull up to length my side body a bit more.

 If I have the time (or really need to ground and center myself) I do legs up the wall to end my practice. Admittedly this is one of my favorite yoga poses, when I can’t find my center or feel scattered it always helps put me back together.

-Savasana: I check in with the center of my forehead and try to release any tension I am holding there, I check in behind my eye sockets and try to let my eyes sink deeply in, I open and close my jaw a few times and drop my tongue of the roof of my mouth and then slip away into savasana. These are cues I have picked up from teachers along the way and they help me to rest and restore. When I am coming out of savasana I always pause rolled to my side for a breath or two, taking a last moment to relish in my time with myself. I then come to seated take a few breaths and slowly open my eyes.

Although I will not be teaching for some time, I look forward to resuming my role as a student of Shree Yoga. Thank you to all the teachers who supported me, to Chaya for always providing me with words of encouragement, to Susan for setting this all up and to all the students. Trust me when I say being your teacher was transformative for me and you all have a special place in my heart. Happy Practicing!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Shree Expert Teacher Focus: Jan Jeremias

 Jan Jeremias RYT 200

Jan has been practicing yoga since 2006 and teaching since 2010. She feels that Yoga continues to provide her with the tools to handle the “rollercoaster” of life and is passionate about sharing the teachings of yoga with her students. Read below to learn more about her practice (on and off the mat) as well as get a sneak peek into her newer class “Yoga for Strong Bones”.

What is your biggest physical challenge in your practice? 
The greatest physical challenge for me is my scoliosis, which manifests as a curve in my spine and a rotation of the pelvis and shoulders. At points in my life this has caused me pain and some physical limitations. As a result of my scoliosis I have altered my yoga practice to one that is slow, deep and very mindful.  I learned early on to divide my body into quadrants or parts and learned what each area needed to be doing so that the poses were comfortable, safe, and beautiful. For me this awareness or mindfulness has been refining each pose so that each time I practice, the asanas/poses becomes deeper, more meaningful and I am able to explore my body just a little more. This mindfulness practice is quieting for me and creates a feeling of calmness which brings me to my mat over and over again. It even astonishes me sometimes how that if I focus on what I need to do and where my breathe needs to be directed I can stay balanced, safe, full of light and stability even with my physical challenges and limitations. Scoliosis has shown me my gifts as a teacher as it helped me find my passion for teaching yoga therapeutics and yoga for strong bones.  

** Jan teaches Yoga for Strong Bones. Her classes are creative and fun. In her class, she guides the student through poses that are beneficial for building strong bones and shares which bones and parts of the body are being nurtured and strengthened by the specific poses. See below for more information on her class!**

Who inspires you? Why?
am inspired by poetry. I find my greatest inspiration comes from reading poetry. I love the great works of Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Rumi, and Jeffrey Foster. Right now I draw inspiration for my life and classes from the beautiful words of David Whyte. Let's look more closely at poetry. A good poem, or even a good line of poetry, can very swiftly and deftly pierce the heart and I have found that both poetry and the physical practices of yoga move me in deep and personal ways. My favorite poet David Whyte expressed a similar sentiment on the NPR show “On Being” with Krista Tippett. He said that poetry is "a language against which you have no defenses." I feel like poetry provides me with insight and helps me to live my life with an open heart. I read poetry in my classes hoping that my students will feel or connect in with their own hearts. My intention is that I am able to show my students that our yoga poses can be like poems that we write with our bodies. The practice of yoga is an art if we practice it as such and that art might be different for each of us. 

Jan's Hydrating and Nourishing Sugar Scrub: 
I have been making sugar scrubs to nourish and hydrate my skin. It is very fun, easy and I love being creative. Currently for spring I am adding in Eucalyptus, Lemon and Lavender essential oils as I suffer from seasonal allergies. Eucalyptus helps to open up the sinuses and air passages, Lavender has anti-histamine like properties, and lemon is great at supporting the immune system. This simple practice allows me to enjoy spring and all the wonderful beauty that comes with this beautiful time of year. 

Jan's Sugar Scrub for Allergies
1/2 cup Organic Sugar
6 drops Lavender Essential Oil 
4 drops Lemon Essential Oil
2 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
2 tbsp. Fractionated Coconut Oil


Even 10 seconds in a yoga pose can help trigger chemicals in the body that build bone mass.  With yoga, you can protect and lubricate your joints safely for an increased range of motion while building strong bones.

A disease characterized by weak, thinning bones that can lead to fractures — affects an estimated 200 million women worldwide, and one in three women over 50 experience osteoporotic fractures. Classic risk factors for osteoporosis include being female, age, low body weight and smoking. Forty-four million Americans suffer from low bone mass. Osteoporosis leads to painful fractures due to loss of bone mass; yoga strengthens bones without endangering joints: it stands to reason that yoga is the perfect therapy for osteoporosis. Drugs and surgeries can alleviate pain, but study after study has shown that exercise is the best treatment, specifically low-impact, bone-strengthening exercises―hence, yoga.” (Yoga for Osteoporosis by Fishman MD and Saltonstall). Studies show that with consistent careful yoga practice, Osteoporosis can be arrested and even reversed.  

 This class is a great fit if you have scoliosis. Jan can help you expertly modify to most optimally align your spine! Here is one of Jan's favorite poses for bone health:

Viparita Karani is often called Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose, but viparita actually means "inverted," and karani means "in action." We can interpret that to mean that the pose inverts the typical actions that happen in our bodies when we sit and stand. There are many benefits to inverting the actions in your body. Here are a few: When you put your legs up the wall with your pelvis elevated on a folded blanket, lymph and other fluids that can lead to swollen ankles, tired knees, and congested pelvic organs flow into the lower belly; this refreshes the legs and the reproductive area. This pose also gives blood circulation a gentle boost toward the upper body and head, which creates a pleasant rebalancing after you have been standing or sitting for a long time. 

Alignment: Start on your side as close to a wall as possible. Swing your legs up onto the wall and your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Take a small roll (made from a towel for example) under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up.Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them vertically in place. Release the heads of the thigh bones and the weight of your belly deeply into your torso, toward the back of the pelvis. Soften your eyes and turn them down to look into your heart. Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. 

If you are concerned about your bones and would also like to reduce stress and move with more freedom then join Jan for this slow therapeutic class to heal mind, body, and bones.  

Gentle Therapeutic on Tuesday 1:30 to 2:45 PM
Yoga for Strong Bones on Friday 12:30 to 1:45 PM

**This week only, bring a friend to their first class at Shree and they get to take the class for free and learn Jan’s remedy for bone mass building. **