Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Prison Yoga (Liberation Prison Yoga)

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This is a teaching on a Tibetan word: shenpa. The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word “attachment” absolutely doesn’t get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it’s incomplete, and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I’m going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.

Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of last night’s analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it’s the urge to scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is where your addiction is.

 

– Pema Chödrön

 

Hooked.  It’s been a part of my dharma talks in my studio classes. But when it came up as a topic for my Riker’s students, it felt sticky and tricky. A lot of the women in my class are at Riker’s for alleged drug related offenses. Because of my hammer personality I tend to see all problems as nails. However, I thought that approaching addiction from a unique angle may bring a new perspective. To add a little more tension to the mix, the B side of the dorms had their bunks searched in the middle of the night- so needless to say things were running a little…

When I got there- everyone was still cleaning up. The A side of the dorm didn’t have a teacher that day- so instead of sitting around waiting for the B side to get ready- I decided to do yoga with the A side as well.

 

Before our practice we talked about attachment and how the asana practice can get the mind ready to meditate. Taking it a step further we discussed how meditation can help us deal with that ‘hooked’ feeling or itch that Pema brilliantly articulates. I made our practice a bit tougher than usual, discussing throughout how when we work our bodies hard it helps clear the mind and is a distraction from looping thoughts or old stories that we tell ourselves. As a class we went through sun salutations, warriors, lunges, standing backbends, balancing poses and a brief standing meditation. By the time we hit the floor everyone (including me) had worked up a bit of a sweat.

 

I brought my copy of Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön and read a paragraph before guided meditation. One of the students translates for a friend who doesn’t speak any English and I found her voice soothing as I guided the class to a place of stillness.

 

When I finished a few students helped me take the mats and bolsters to the B side where I found some students ready and waiting. A few of them told me that about the search. They were ready for yoga. With this side feeling a little more tense we worked even harder. It was a good move. Every time we came to a balancing pose I reminded them not be attached- to the pose, to expectations…to anything. Everything changes because nothing is forever. We could have gotten down and dirty with the murky shit that surrounds addictive behavior- but they have group all day. In the moment it felt right to take a yogic approach to letting go.

 

And when we were in tree the Jane’s Addiction’s song Jane Says started playing in my head. In a brief moment I thought about addiction and some of the dumb things that I did in high school and college (and who are we kidding in my twenties)…it’s a roll of the dice. I was never addicted to drugs- but easily could have been. A one bad decision can lead to another. And when addiction gets hold all the great parenting and supportive home structures can’t save you. There are less differences that one might think between people inside jail and outside of jail.

When I’m there I focus on the things that make us the same.

When I am there- we are all yogis.

We are all the same.

 

By the time we were on our mats the room was breathing differently. It still felt a little tense but it was decidedly better than when we started. I used to think energy was woo-woo- but you can sense how a room feels and that’s not bs. The guided meditation helped to dissipate more tension. And by the time we ended, things felt better. I won’t say that things were great because I can’t imagine that a yoga class can take away the fear from a late night/early morning dorm search- but there were some smiles of relief and the question that never gets old. ‘You’ll be back next week?’

Definitely.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Food Yoga – PMS

photo credit health.com

 

PMS is no fun. Anyone who says it’s fun is perhaps taking lots of drugs. PMDD is a very serious condition that requires a doctor’s care. But for the 40 million women who suffer monthly with the more mild aspects there may be help. Did you know that there are several foods that can help alleviate some of the symptoms of PMS? In addition to exercise, here are 9 foods that may take some of the steam of PMS discomfort.

 

For those that are creeping closer to peri-menopause listen up as well because these tips can help you too. Cramps, bloating, moodiness and fatigue be gone!

 

  1. Artichokes. Artichokes contain magnesium. Magnesium supplementation can help alleviate many symptoms of PMS including cramps, irritability, fatigue, depression and water retention.  Magnesium is a good muscle relaxant. This makes it especially important for women who suffer from menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhoea). Cramps are caused by strong contractions of the uterus and magnesium helps to relax the powerful uterine muscles.basket-artichokes
  2. Flax seed. High in lignans, a natural hormone-balancing substance, flax seed oil flax seed oil is effective in treating mild depression symptoms brought on by PMS. (Also  It’s also good for depression and fatigue. An alternative is to buy ground up flax seed, and sprinkle it on top of your food (such as oatmeal and popcorn).
  3. Oatmeal is a good source of manganese (see #1).
  4. Tofu contains soy.  Soy may support better menstrual health by favorably altering estrogen levels and estrogen metabolismSeveral studies suggest that pre-menopausal women who consume soy protein significantly lower their estrogen levels to more “balanced” levels.
  5. Edamame also contains soy. (see #4)
  6. Dark chocolate! Eating chocolate stimulates the release of mood-affecting chemicals such as endorphins, phenylethylamine and serotonin. These feel good chemicals may also explain why women crave chocolate when they are suffering from PMS. Serotonin levels often drop in the days before menstruation begins, so eating chocolate can help boost those levels and improve one’s mood. Read this very informative article about dark chocolate benefits.Dark chocolate
  7. Brown rice is a complex carb that also contains magnesium and has fiber. Fiber-rich foods are complex carbs that take longer for your body to break down and absorb, further curbing your cravings. Eat more whole-grain breads and cereals, and produce like legumes, fruit, and starchy veggies, which are on the complex-carb list.
  8. Cheese contains calcium and vitamin D which have both been shown to ease PMS symptoms. Vegan? No worries, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale contain calcium and vitamin D as well.
  9. Wine and Grape Juice– Oh mama. Now let’s get one thing straight, we aren’t talking about tying one on, but studies show that moderate alcohol may have some benefit. Dr. Heller is a family practitioner, specializing in helping his patients with PMS, depression, anxiety, and chronic diseases since 1995. He is the founder of PMS Comfort and a Research Fellow for the Optimal Health Foundation in California. Here’s what he says about red wine consumption:

A dash of wine or other alcohol. A glass, or even half a glass, of wine every night is healthy for most people. We consider red wine preferable to white wine, since it is higher in antioxidants. That said, most research shows that white wine, beer, and even hard liquor also lower risk of heart disease and other health problems—when consumed in moderation. Once you increase your alcohol consumption to more than a drink or two per day, alcohol becomes unhealthy. Of course, some people don’t do well at all with alcohol, so this recommendation truly needs to be custom-tailored to each individual. We’ve met women whose PMS and PMDD improved quite a bit when they quit drinking.

 

Life is best lived in moderation. Servings sizes of these foods should be reasonable. Many studies suggest that no one fix is out there but a combination of healthy food choices and activities like yoga can make a real impact.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Get Interested in Your Yoga Practice Over and Over and Over Again…

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It’s so easy at the beginning. Your tapas is finely tuned and every pose is new, fresh and exciting. And as my yoga progresses so do the poses. With so many new exciting things happening, as I deepen my practice and begin teaching, it seems critical to stay in touch with my yoga foundation.

Taking classes is a little different now that I teach yoga. My ears prick up even more when I hear something that makes me say ‘Yes!’ That is awesome and needs to be shared with my class.

A few days days ago as I was sweating it out the teacher said, “Get interested. Find new ways to get into a familiar shape.”

‘Um- can you all pause for a quick sec? I need to write this down.’

A big smile covered my face.

Get interested. 

So I did. My koshas seemed like the best place to start. Very briefly, I’ve heard the koshas described as ‘energy lampshades’ or sheaths that cover our light. In yoga our goal is to move inward to a state of purity.

I looked at poses from the inside out and connected with my pranamaya kosha, or what I like to call my energy fascia. It’s the kosha that connects all the koshas to the body. With my breath really in tune with my body I felt like I was doing poses both as an observer and a participant.

It was cool.

Get interested.

In my head as I got into a pose I asked, ‘If I were a teacher how would I adjust this? What verbal cues would I give?’

I was surprised at how I could disappear so deep into the adjustments that I had to back off. I was almost missing my practice.

Eventually I found that sweet spot. It’s the same with students. You have to feel the space of each student. There’s a point when you make the adjustment and let a person explore the shape with their own breath. It’s like I’m the tour guide. You don’t need your tour guide yapping at you the entire trip , but you might want them to point out a spot that shouldn’t be missed.

As my own tour guide I got a little over zealous, but found balance.

I can’t say I’d practice like this daily. And truthfully if I did, eventually it wouldn’t be interesting anymore.

But flipping the script on myself was an challenge I’d do again and will continue to do.

This is yoga. And boy is it interesting….

Namasté y’all.