Spring, the Sky…

First signs of Spring

Spring, the sky rippled with geese,
But the green comes on slowly…”
From “March 16,” in Ted Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks

We have almost arrived at the end of March, and I have been observing its fluctuating energy throughout the month. What have you noticed this month? And, not just about the weather. How has your body been feeling? What has your energy been like? How have your moods been?

It is in the nature of March to reflect both the winter we have barely left and the spring that is promised. And each season has an energy that influences each individual depending upon his or her unique system.

A friend of mine with whom I spoke on one of March’s first sunny, warm days talked about feeling a sense of excitement without knowing why. I thought it funny she expressed it that way as I had been experiencing a similar sense of excitement. It was only when she mentioned this that I began to relate it to what was going on around us.

On a warm sunny early spring day there is a feeling of potential energy. My friend described it as “pregnant energy.” I had just noticed earlier in March how daffodils in my yard had pressed through the cold, hard earth, undeterred by snowfalls. They were growing greener and taller each day. “Pregnant energy” had pushed them toward the sun with a promise of blossoms, energy expressed in their opening. That pregnant energy is an energy of anticipation, excitement, a movement toward birth, renewal, fulfillment.

But even now as the vernal equinox is behind us, we can still feel the fluctuating energy of this season. Ted Kooser expresses this best in a short poem in which he speaks of “The pond, still numb from months of ice,” and juxtaposes it to the nearby “budding maple whose every twig is strung with beads of carved cinnabar, bittersweet red.” On a chilly, overcast March day, one perhaps even offering some wintry precipitation, we may relate more to ice barely cleared on the pond, or, for us living close to the Susquehanna, to ice barely cleared in the river. On such days the excitement of spring is dampened, and we feel a heavier, denser energy of winter not ready to let go to make room for spring.

Transition is often difficult. And the transition between the pregnant potential of a promised spring and weighty, internal energy of winter can bring a sense of agitation, confusion, or maybe even a sense of just being worn down.

One of the teachings of yoga that helps me with the fluctuating days of this seasonal transition is parinama vada, translated as “everything changes.” We learn that everything in the material world is in flux. It is the nature of things to be constantly changing, including ourselves, which we see as we grow from children, to adolescents, to young adults, to middle age, and to elders.

A regular yoga practice attunes us to the changes around us and within us. We learn to live in the present moment and accept that change and transitions are inevitable.

When the moody indecision of March plagues our bodies, energy and dispositions and disappoints our desire for a more consistent diet of pleasantly warm and sun, we can remind ourselves that it will change. That is assured.

Taking Time to …

Forest greenery

About a month ago my husband, Jim, and I had a talk about, well, about having fun. It wasn’t that we weren’t doing things together. We were good about working together on projects and supporting one another in our individual interests. What we weren’t doing was taking time to do things we enjoyed.

So we decided not to make appointments or plan other things on Thursdays. Instead we would choose something to do we could enjoy together. For example, one week we visited Hershey Gardens and lunched in Hershey. Another week we drove to Pine Grove Furnace and explored the State Park, taking a long hike, and lunching in Carlisle. This Thursday we went biking on the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail and had an ice cream cone before driving home from Lewisburg.

We don’t have lives as busy as many of you, especially those of you with children and grandchildren you care for. But, I have to tell you that we have enjoyed our days off, and I can imagine that taking an hour or two even once month would be enjoyable as well as healthful.

As you can see from our plans, our outings have taken us to places where we can enjoy nature. The beautiful mild summer days we have had certainly have encouraged all of us to spend some time outside. Personally, I know that this time outside, in nature is important to my well-being.

I came across the concept of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” in a recent article in Oprah magazine. This idea, which is hugely popular in Japan, refers to an immersion in nature, especially in forests. In fact, getting out into the woods is considered a kind of preventative medicine.

The Japanese first began studying the health effects of immersing yourself in a forest environment, and since then other studies have supported its positive effects on health as well. These studies have observed “that forest environments promote lower cortisol concentrations, lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, better immune system functioning and greater parasympathetic nerve activity” (Source: PsychologyOfWellBeing.com). In other words, your stress response is reduced and your immune response increased.

I know days will come when “forest bathing” is not practical. We will wake up to a rainy or cold Thursday. And, then, winter will challenge us unless we take up cross-country skiing. But we will find new activities and places to enjoy on Thursdays. After all, we dedicated this day to doing something enjoyable together.

I have to admit, however, I will miss the comfortably warm days of summer that encourage our days hiking in woods, biking through fields, and just spending time in nature, which is also our home, as well as preventative medicine.

You can find an interesting article on “forest bathing” in the online edition of Outside magazine.

Winter Solstice Reflections

Winter Solstice blog 2013I love noticing seasonal changes and what those changes suggest about the rhythms of our lives. After all, the teachings of yoga stress finding balance in our lives, harmony with the world around us. Awareness of the seasons, the energies they possess, their influence on our lives, and the lessons they teach can lead us to live more healthfully and harmoniously with our environment.

The winter solstice is the day of both greatest darkness and the promise of returning and growing light. In this way, it also offers us a metaphor for our own energies. Within each one of us there is both energy that is quiet and reflective as well as energy that is light and uplifting. In our yoga practice, we always seek a balance of these two energies, remembering that the seasons and our environment will influence these energies uniquely within each one of us.

As we move toward the winter solstice this week, we can bring our awareness to the messages of this season. We look around and see the skeletons of deciduous trees as they husband their life-sustaining resources. Most plants have entered a time of dormancy so they may bloom in the spring. Ground hogs, rabbits, and chipmunks hibernate or reduce their activity so as to conserve their food, water, and heat. Even in the midst of a winter storm, there is a sense of quiet as we watch snowflakes fall and cover the ground.

If we were to honor the quiet energy of winter, we would rest more and view this season as an opportunity to restore ourselves so we have the energy to blossom with our activities in the spring. Winter can be a fallow time, but not necessarily a time when nothing happens. It can be a time of reflection; we can begin to ask ourselves what projects we want to undertake when the energy of spring rises to nurture us. Remembering that in winter we plan our gardens, we don’t plant them, can help remind us of winter’s rhythm.

The winter solstice teaches us about living with faith. It is the day of greatest darkness. It announces the coldest months of the year. Yet, at some moment, probably in January, we will notice that dawn arrives a bit earlier, and the sun sets a bit later. In the face of the cold, cloudy days, and winter weather, the lengthening hours of daylight will raise our faith that spring will come. In December 21, Clear and five degrees, Ted Kooser reminds us of the hopefulness of this season.

“Perfectly still this solstice morning, / in bone-cracking cold…/…as I walk the road, /the wind held in the heart of every tree / flows to the end of each twig and forms a bud…”


Accentuate the Positive

Accentuate the PositiveAutumn marks the transition to longer hours of darkness. While many of us welcome the beauty and cooling temperatures of the season, many start to anticipate, with some anxiety and dread, cold, snow, and barren landscapes.

Yoga teachings tell us that “everything changes” – everything that is part of the material world – seasons, weather, the phases of the moon, the habits of animals, friends, our bodies. Even though we recognize this, we often greet change with resistance, especially if we like things the way they are. Let’s face it. If cold weather means our joints ache or the increased hours of darkness leave us depressed, embracing the seasonal changes marking winter’s approach is difficult. Yet, hanging on to the way things are in the face of change inevitably causes anxiety and pain, as we no longer live in the moment but in anticipation of what suffering may come.

Yoga also teaches that while change comes, a place within each one us exists that is unchanging, eternal, and it is called purusa. We can think of purusa as our inner light. When we are able to recognize and identify with purusa as that which is truly who we are, our perception clears and our decisions tend to have positive results. We can experience peace and joy in the face of our ever-changing life and circumstances.

For most of us, however, life fills with tasks, 24/7 news, on-line social connections and activities, advertising telling us what we need and how to live. All of this can fill our minds and engage our emotions in not so pleasant or helpful ways. The concept vrttis in the Yoga Sutra refers to the activity and fluctuations of our mind and our emotions. When the mind fluctuates from the ever-growing “to do” list, to worries about our children, life situation or what is happening on the other side of the world, vrttis with negative effects dominate. We feel overwhelmed, confused, or out of balance. Decisions we make when in that state may be based on faulty understanding and lead to painful consequences.

When the activity of the vrttis so mires the mind, our identity is not with purusa, but rather with what constantly changes around us. A veil covers our inner light.

So how can we deal these negative vrttis in our lives as the realities of our lives involve taking care of ourselves, caring for others, working, being informed, suffering losses, participating in the society in which we live?

“Accentuate the positive” is a simplistic yet realistic and yogic answer. Yoga is not just stretching our limbs. Yoga seeks to move the activity of mind/emotions – the vrttis – in a positive direction. Suppose, for example, we decide to consciously practice the recommended ethical practices of the yamas – compassion, truthfulness, moderation, not stealing, non-hoarding. Living in an ethical and conscious way connects us to positive thoughts and values and causes the negative vrttis to diminish as the positive grows.

The Yoga Sutra offers wisdom to help us better understand ourselves and live with greater awareness, harmony, and joy. I invite you to return to the Yoga 4 Healthful Living Blog as we continue to explore these teachings and relate them to our lives.


Breath of Life – Pranayama

Pranayama blog imagePranayama is the conscious regulation of the breath. Considered one of the most powerful tools to purify and discipline the body and mind, it is a subtle practice. To benefit, a practitioner should be knowledgeable in the application of pranayama as its misuse can create harm. That is why pranayama should be learned with the guidance of teacher skilled in its practice.

Why do pranayama?

The practice of asana or postures in yoga help to remove obstacles, restrictions, or tensions in the body. Pranayama helps remove the obstacles, restrictions, or tension in the mind. The work with the breath is also the most important part of moving the body in asana practice.

As we pay attention to the breath, we notice how the breath also reflects the state of the mind. Notice your breath when you are nervous or anxious. It will feel shorter, faster, more shallow. Notice your breath when you feel calm and peaceful. You will see it, too, is calmer, longer, deeper.

Likewise, we can affect the mind by changing our breathing pattern to help feel calmer or more alert. If I am feeling anxious and do a few postures with the breath, and then do a pranayama practice in which my exhale is twice as long as my inhale and use a throat-sounding breath, I will likely feel more calm. If I am feeling sleepy or dull and must take a test, and perform a few postures with the breath. and then do a pranayama practice in which I hold my breath, 2, 3, then 4 seconds after inhale, keeping my exhale the same length as the inhale, I will likely feel more alert as I take my test. But these are just examples to help you see how pranayama can affect how we feel. We have many possible pranayama practices, each with their potential effects depending upon the person and the context.

As you can probably imagine, pranayama requires complete attention. Because pranayama requires so much focus, it helps train the mind for meditation. We can’t be thinking about lunch or work or a disagreement with a friend and do the pranayama practice. Pranayama prepares the mind for moving within, away from the focus on what is around us in our lives and toward our inner life. And, in that way, pranayama helps move us toward yoga. For the goal of yoga is connection. And, not just to mind and body. But beyond to what is most profound and subtle, to what is deep within us – to that place of such clarity that is pure light and peace.


Yoga and Grief, Part Three

Yoga and GriefYoga is about being present for our experience, whatever it might be – a yoga pose, a conversation with a friend, an emotion. This is not easy. Our minds tend to wander. We often judge our own behaviors and vulnerabilities and seek to escape from our discomfort.

When we are sitting with someone we love who is dying, our emotional discomfort is at its height, and our minds may increase that suffering. “How long will this go on?” “What will happen to the family?” “Why is God letting this happen?”

And, the mind may journey to the past. “Why didn’t I spend more time with him or her?” “How could I have spoken so harshly?” “I would do so many things differently if I had a second chance.”

These projections and ruminations increase our suffering and keep us from experiencing the painful emotions that are a direct part of the loss. Our inability to stay present steals the time we can be with our loved one as we are more in our heads than in the reality of the present.

Being present with the reality of our grief is key to accepting loss. To do this we need to experience a tender, gentle attitude toward ourselves, without criticism.
This allows us to move toward acceptance and healing.

In yoga we are asked to observe the “effects” of our practice. Are there any areas of tension or openness? Is my breath long or short? Is my mind active with thoughts or quiet?

We are training to free ourselves from the judging mind. Without the judging mind, we don’t have to feel bad about what we notice. We don’t have to compare ourselves to others. This freedom can allow us to see and accept our vulnerabilities. It allows us to have compassion for ourselves.

When we begin to be present with our pain, treating ourselves with compassion for our suffering as we would treat a child in pain, we can begin to accept our loss.

Bringing compassion to the brokenness we feel in our grief can help us connect with the love we have for the one we have lost. We can come to recognize the love that bound us that still lives on within us. When we reach this place, we have moved to a deeper healing and sense of peace, and a profound honoring of the one no longer with us.


A five week “Yoga for Life, support for those who are grieving” begins Thursday, September 5th. For more information, you can read a description of the class. If you or someone you know is grieving and would like to explore the healing potential of yoga, please contact me by noon, Tuesday, September 2nd at eterryyoga@gmail.com or call 717-645-0067.


Yoga and Grief, Part Two

Yoga and GriefWe know intellectually that all of us at sometime in our lives suffer loss and the trauma that ensues. When this happens, our entire being experiences grief. Our mind and heart, as well as the cells and systems of our body respond to loss. Physical symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, a feeling of heaviness, fatigue, and depletion. Mentally we may have difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, and remembering things. Emotionally, we may feel anguished, anxious, depressed, powerless, or angry. Spiritually, we may sense a loss of meaning or purpose in our lives.

So how can yoga help us to heal?

Yoga sees healing as “a change in mind, in perception, in attitude” so that “mental, emotional, and physical suffering are alleviated,” and the person’s quality of life improves.1 One reason yoga is effective in healing is because of its holistic vision of the human system. Everything is interconnected.

Try this experiment. Stand with your hands resting on your heart; slowly open your arms out to the side as you breathe in; slowly bring your hands back to the heart as you breathe out. Do this 4 or 5 times. Then mentally focus on the word “peace” as you breathe in and open your arms; focus on the words “in my body,” as you breathe out and bring your hands back to the heart. Next, mentally focus on the word “peace” as you breathe in and open your arms; focus on the words “in my mind” as you breathe out and bring your hands back to the heart. Finally, focus on “peace” as you breathe in and open the arms; focus on “in my heart,” as you breathe out and bring the hands back to the heart. Repeat this series with your mental focus on the words two more times.

Now sit down in a chair and take a minute or two to notice – without making any judgments – how you feel. Does your body feel more relaxed? Is your breath slower? Is your mind quieter? Do you notice any sense of peace emotionally, even a twinge?

Another way in which yoga encourages healing is in the practice of observation and acceptance. Yoga develops our awareness by requiring us to observe the effects of what we do in our practice, just as you did in the exercise above. Our observation is without judgment. It is a training in learning about ourselves, and accepting where we are at a particular moment in time. This practice of non-judgmental observation and acceptance prepares us to deal with change, and our struggle to accept our loss.

The vision yoga gives us of our human system and the practices it gives us to touch all dimensions of our being with awareness and acceptance empower us to begin our journey from suffering to healing.

If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one and would like to explore the healing potential of yoga, please contact me. A five week “Yoga for Life, support for those who are grieving” session begins Thursday, September 5th.


1 Desikachar, Kausthub. “The Yoga of Healing: Exploring Yoga’s Holistic Model for Health and Well-being.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy. No. 15 (2005) 17.