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Musings from the Mat, a Blog


Lighting the Fire of Practice

This past December, I attended the Centenary Celebrations for B.K.S. Iyengar in Pune, India. Although I’ve taken more than 7 trips to India, this was my first time to the Iyengar Institute, the heart of Iyengar Yoga. It was an amazing gathering of 1,300 people representing 56 different countries showing the diverse populations that were there to mark the 100th anniversary of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengars birth.

Geeta demonstrated a lifetime of sadhana — sincere effort, preparation, and devotion to spiritual guidance. She had promised she would teach for her Father’s 100th birthday on December 14, but nothing more. She kept her promise despite failing health. She passed away peacefully in the early morning of 16 December in her home.

Cultivating Balance

Cultivating balance in life is the most important act of true love we can express for ourselves. Self-care–an essential survival skill—consists of any activity we pursue deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Just as you’re told to do on the airplane, in the event of a loss of air pressure, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others.

Many of us have been programmed to take care of others’ needs—in our families, at our jobs or at school/community/church/temple. Yet this often leaves little time for our own needs. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced stress. It’s also key to good relationships with ourselves and others, and to success in fulfilling professional and personal commitments.

Rest is the Story

For thousands of years, Chinese philosophy has believed good health is a harmonious balance of the five elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These five elements shape the principles of Feng Shui, Qi Gong and Martial Arts. They form the underlying structure of acupuncture and herbal remedies in Chinese Medicine. Getting in touch with the elements can help us feel more connected to the natural world, and find balance in health and wellness.

There is a concept in Chinese Medicine that wind has the power to bring illness into an unprecedented body. A “cold” in Chinese medical vocabulary is called a “wind cold.” As the weather changes, the body must adjust, and outward energy begins to move in. The celebration of sunshine moves into protection from wind and cold. It takes the body and system time to understand that everything has changed, and in that time we are vulnerable to “the wind that carries a thousand diseases.”

Luang Prabang LAOS - Indochine Dream

There is a saying in Asia : Vietnam plants rice, Cambodia harvests rice, Thailand sell rice, and Laotians listen to the rice grow. Laos is the definition of mellow.

The tiny and ancient town of Luang Prabang, the charming and serene spiritual capital of Laos has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

While the rest of Southeast Asia is growing, expanding and modernizing, Laos moves at its own pace, ambling along, taking plenty of time for meditation along the way. Everyone who visits laid-back Laos falls in love with this slow pace of mellow in the Mekong. Since coming in 2009, I fell in love and still have a piece of my hart here!

Nestled at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, amidst a backdrop of jungle-clad mountains, Luang Prabang is a most sacred and scenic spot. Crowned by verdant mountains and housing over 30 Wats (temples), former royal palaces and scenic ponds, it is the cultural nucleus of Laos.

Saffron-robed monks collect their daily alms and ornate temples such as Wat Xieng Thong offer spiritual solace.

Baci Ceremony - Calling the Spirits

Baci is an important ceremony in Lao culture, a ritual to celebrate important events and occasions, like births, marriages, monkhood, travel, or ill health and to honour guests. Baci can take place all year, any day before noon or before sunset.

The observance of Baci as a spiritual ceremonial event was prevalent in Laos before Buddhism, when the people of Laos practiced mainly animist traditions. As a result, Baci is not associated with a specific religion. The ritual of Baci involves tying strings around a person’s wrist to preserve good luck. The ceremony is known as Su Kwan ສູ່ຂວັນ, “calling of the soul” and is the belief that Baci is invoked to synchronise the Kwan spirits or “components of the soul.”

Ancient belief in Laos is the human being is a union of 32 organs and that the Kwan watch over and protect us. Kwan are components of the soul, but a bit more abstract in meaning. Kwan are described as: “vital forces, harmony and balance of the body, or part of it”, “private reality of the body, inherent in the life of human and animals from birth,” and “vital breath”.

What is Range of Motion (ROM) in Joints?

In a recent conversation with my good friend, teacher and mentor Judith Hanson Lasater, the degrees of movement in the spine came up as a topic. Yes, yogis do really have dinner conversations about this!

We were discussing a pose, and I was describing my surprise when I looked up the average and normal range of movement for the shoulder girdle. I asked, because my shoulders are hyper mobile, and I have struggled over the years with the appeal of mobile shoulders, and how easy it is to access certain movements, yet can see that those movements may not come easily (or ever) for some of my students. It has also been my achilles heel, in that it has allowed me great freedom in the joint, yet also at great risk for injury and pain

This got us onto the topic of standard anatomical Range of Movement (ROM), She suggested I look up the numbers and share them with my students. So in this virtual world of yoga online and global student base on the web, I am following up with a post to share what I have found.

The ROM of Major Joints

In my last post What is Range of Motion (ROM) we discussed ROM and how it is measured. It is something that is interesting to note, as we often assume in Yoga that all joints can move in all directions and degrees in all bodies. I have often heard one “should” get to blah blah in a certain pose. Have you ever considered the length of limbs, torso-to-limb ratio, height, weight, age etc. and how that might impact a pose, and everyones ability to be in a shape.

That would be akin to saying all women wear the same dress size. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly know that I am Not the same size as a Sports Illustrated or Victoria’s Secret model. Or many of the yoginis I teach!

We often say that Yoga is individuated, and yet also say that we “should All be able to have 90 degree arms in chattaranga” , be able to bind our arms around leg/torso in all bound poses, and other myths. As I have continued my own study of anatomy (under the guidance and tutelage of Judith Hanson Lasater, who is a physical therapist and senior yoga teacher), I have discovered my own truths about myself and others. Additionally, I have grown older, had injuries, illnesses and other aspects of life that have changed my view on asana.

The Power of Rest - Restorative Yoga as Treatment

There is growing evidence that Yoga is an effective rehabilitation tool. Medical institutions have tested the efficacy of Yoga in clinical trials for cancer treatment and rehabilitation, heart disease, PTSD, metabolic syndrome, addiction, asthma, arthritis, epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain syndromes.

In many cases, fatigue and poor sleep contribute to slow rehabilitation, and can affect quality of life, and the body’s ability to repair. Restorative Yoga has proven helpful for rehabilitation, which helps to reduce tension, improve respiratory function and help patients find much needed rest.

From a yogic view, disease is created by insufficiency or blockage in life force, which creates loss of immunity, which leads to disease. From a medical view, we understand lack of immunity is often the cause of disease, as it disables the body from fighting infection or other disease.

Ahhhh, Savasana

Savasana is being without was, being without will be. It is being without anyone who is.
~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Stress Relief
There are some things in life that are universal. Some are helpful and some are not. Stress is something that we face more and more in modern day life, and most of us have experienced the weight of it on our bodies, mind and spirit.

One of the best things about yoga is the element of stress relief, and for me, one of the best asanas to practice is Savasana!

Now I know most of you are thinking – ok big deal. We all know Savasana is a good release after an active practice. What is the new news about that?

So my question to you is this – have you ever thought to do this asana on its own? Can you imagine a world where everyone took 15 mins of Savasana a day? Would the world shift? I think it might!

Preventative Yoga

What is Therapeutic Yoga?

Therapeutic Yoga focuses on working with mental and physical conditions. It utilises yogic techniques including posture, breath work, meditation and pose variations created for a unique need and/or individual. Therapeutic Yoga is particularly helpful for recovering from, or living with, injury or illness.

Modern life can over stimulate us, creating anxiety and stress, leading to stress disorders like fatigue and insomnia. Combining the healing of Therapeutic Yoga and the quiet awareness of meditation to slow down, we can find our own personal levels of good health. Therapeutic Yoga uses the principles of Yoga to relieve stress and promote recovery of injury and illness. Sessions are modified sequences specifically fit to the needs of the individual.

What might be appropriate for one individual might be injurious or ineffective for another.  What and how we practice can vary depending on day, season, emotional stability, illness, injury, or if we are stressed, lethargic, depressed or anxious.  All variables need to be considered in choosing appropriate techniques to apply them beneficially.

Yoga and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is particularly close to my own heart, so to speak, as everyone in my maternal lineage had a battle of one kind or another with breast cancer, and I myself am on a list of very highly susceptible. Given that my family were all born and raised in China, with a traditional Chinese diet, this is a highly unusual statistic. The rate of breast cancer in traditional China was low to non- existent in my great grandmother’s day, and for her to have had an issue was considered very rare. In China even today, breast cancer incidence is 6.43 per 100,000 people annually , ranking 183 in the world (April 2011), compared to the US where breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, and breast cancer incidence of 300.2 per 100,000 people annually, ranks it at number 7 in the world.

Breast Cancer Today
Over the years, I have had friends and family diagnosed, fight, survive and lose the battle with breast cancer, and it has coloured my life, yoga teaching and my own view of health and well being. With a personal cloud of breast cancer on the horizon, (as I enter my “Crone” years after menopause) and watch my body change and shift with the illumination of aging, I am increasingly interested in finding ways to work with yoga and aging.

Seasonal Detox and Cleanser

Since childhood, my family has used herbal elixirs and tonics to help heal the body and mind, and I remember my beloved Grandmother making strong ginger root tea for menstrual cramps or snow fungus and goji berries for winter health.

I made an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant drink that has helped me fight the flu, colds, and bronchial attacks in this cold Winter. It is made of some favorite spices including Turmeric, Ginger and Cayenne, and Ive named it after my friend Shari’s studio, Enlighten Yoga, as her well stocked home gave the inspiration!

This is a great tonic to help cleanse the winter blahs, and support you in the upcoming Spring Liver Season.

Rest is the Story - Entering Autumn

As we enter the Autumn season, the air becomes cool and crisp, and the leaves are starting to turn. Autumn brings the harvest of crops, shorter days and preparation for winter. It is a time of ripening, withering, and completion. This is a process of moving inward, and the inclination to hibernate is this season’s natural rhythm.

There is a concept in Chinese Medicine that wind has the power to bring illness into an unprecedented body. A “cold” in Chinese medical vocabulary is called a “wind cold.” As the weather changes, the body must adjust, and outward energy begins to move in. The celebration of sunshine moves into protection from wind and cold. It takes the body and system time to understand that everything has changed, and in that time we are vulnerable to “the wind that carries a thousand diseases.”