Managing Pain: Opioids and Yoga

Guest blog by Yoga in ME student, Lauren B Cape

Opioid addiction has been in the forefront for several years. Although opioids can be very helpful for those suffering, they can also trigger a larger problem. As someone who suffers chronic pain from scoliosis, which has led to bulging discs, I have been offered the opportunity to dance with opioids. I chose to pass. Not because of the stigma they carry, because I tend to go hard or go home.

I first discovered yoga while I was fighting as an amateur Muay Thai boxer in the New England area. Many of us practiced hot yoga in Cambridge to stay flexible, strong, and maintain a lean body mass. However, seven years of rigorous training started to take a toll on my body, especially my back. I started to experience shooting pains during training as well as getting out of bed. I knew something was wrong. I formed a relationship with an Orthopedic Surgeon who named a myriad of medications I could take to manage my pain. It was then I asked for alternative solutions. His answer, “your exercise should only consist of swimming, walking or yoga.” Coming from an extremely active background as well as being a certified personal trainer, I was crushed. I didn’t even walk to warm up for weight lifting anymore, I jogged. Swimming was financially unattainable and at the time, so was yoga.

I was very close to giving in to the prescription route. I told my husband daily that I was just going to try them and see what happens. He was not on board. It wasn’t until I moved to Eliot, Maine 3 years later that I discovered Yoga in ME. They were offering a 6 week beginner series for a great price. It was time. I am a full time bartender and doing my job efficiently was becoming nearly impossible. I was in love from the first class.

Not only has yoga dramatically improved my level of pain, I am able to carve out time during the week for just me. I have felt better than I have in 6 years. Although I cannot attend as regularly as I’d like to due to my work schedule, it never fails to disappoint when my body knows it’s been too long since I practiced. The benefits are all encompassing and it’s a great community. I am now able to check in with my doctor every 6 months with only positives to report. For me, opioids could not be the answer. I am so glad yoga is. Namaste!

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Acceptance

There is no denying the transformational power of yoga practice. People often start yoga looking to change their lives or change something about themselves. They come to yoga looking to lose weight, get stronger, improve balance, or feel better about their bodies. Some begin yoga looking to reduce stress, get more relaxed, or quiet their minds.

It isn’t often that someone starts out with yoga looking to stay exactly the same as they are.

But as much as yoga is about change and transformation, yoga is also about cultivating acceptance, or santosha.

Santosha is a combination word in Sanskrit, derived from Saṃ and Tosha. Sam means “completely”, “altogether” or “entirely”, and Tosha, “contentment”, “satisfaction”, “acceptance”, “being comfortable”. Combined, the word Santosha means “completely content with, or satisfied with, accepting and comfortable”.
Accepting reality and seeing things as they really are does not mean stopping or giving up. Rather, it means accepting how we actually are and how we feel each day in a gentle and loving manner and moving forward from there. Sounds great, but how can we begin to cultivate this?
A  great place to begin is to cultivate acceptance each time you step onto the mat. For example, one day you might come to your mat feeling great. Your practice feels amazing, you are able to keep your attention on the breath and flow seamlessly through your practice. Another day you might have a completely different experience. You may be working with an injury or other physical limitation that prevents you from doing the classic expression of a posture. You might be grouchy or tired or sore. Maybe you have a lot going on in your mind or something stressful is happening in your life. When we practice acceptance, we acknowledge the body that we stepped onto the mat with today and how we are feeling. And then we proceed with the practice.
Sometimes, students start yoga and are frustrated that their bodies aren’t able to do things they think they should. At Yoga in ME, many of our students are ages 50+. The majority of the participants in our Free Yoga for Veterans class are Vietnam or Korean War veterans. Many of these individuals have been athletes or very physically active in the past and are frustrated that their bodies won’t do just as they could 5 or 10 or 40 years ago
Our bodies are not the same as they were 20 years ago any more than they are the same that they were yesterday or last week. The body, the breath, and the mind change all the time. These changes are normal and expected!
Practicing santosha does not mean giving up on the practice or the possibility of transformation. And it doesn’t mean getting nothing out of the physical postures. It means accepting that the practice is different each time.  Whether you have some limitations, or are in a bad mood,  you keep practicing. Accepting that each time finding that place between “nothing” and “hurting” is going to be a little different.

If you are continuously running negative stories through your mind, it might not seem possible to bring acceptance and contentment into all aspects of you life.

But practicing acceptance each time you are on your mat, can help develop the skills you need to bring this quality of contentment into the rest of your life. With time and practice, you will begin to distinguish between the stories you tell and the reality in front of you. Once you can do this,  you can begin to create distance between your story and who you truly are. 

And, as you begin to discern the difference between your story and what is actually going on in front of you, you will make the space to live in the moment, to accept what comes, and to create a brand new story about yourself—one that reflects your highest self, rather than a habitual or outdated yarn.

That is when santosha becomes possible.

8 Reasons Why our Teacher Training is Ranked in the top 5% Nationally

This fall, we are honored to be offering – for the 3rd time – The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute’s 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. We feel beyond grateful to have this highly ranked extraordinary program right here in our small town in southern Maine.

You might not realize it, but besides being a wonderful teacher and inspirational human being, our direct, Beryl Bender Birch, is an international yoga super star. She is one of the first people to popularize yoga in the United States.

But that, in itself, would not be enough to rank The Hard & The Soft as a Yoga Alliance® 5-star Rated Accredited Training School.

Here are eight reasons this yoga teacher training course,  when compared to hundreds of other programs, is consistently rated in the top 5%.

 

  1. The students. Our programs attract top quality students and genuine, bright, compassionate human beings from all over the world. We consistently hear from our trainees and graduates that “this is the best group of people I have ever been a part of – I look forward to the training weekends because it feels like I am coming home.”
  2. The Sangha (community). Students meet and are supported by like-minded practitioners and forge lifetime friendships.
  3. The faculty. Unlike many other programs, our teachers have all been practicing and teaching for many years. Most are Certified Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and nationally renowned specialists in a wide variety of fields and yoga applications. Students would need to combine several different professional trainings in order to duplicate the comprehensive quality of our single program.
  4. The practice. There are many ways to teach yoga and many ways to practice. Every weekend includes study and practice in asana, pranayama, and meditation, in order to help students find and define their unique path. The foundation and primary focus of our asana study for the 200 hour training is a brilliant vinyasa sequence of postures called Present Power. It can be as challenging or as accommodating as desired. Every student is certified to teach this power vinyasa system, plus more moderate styles of the practice that are capable of being amended for all limitation and disability, as well as beginning forms of pranayama and meditation.
  5. The depth of training. Because all our faculty have actually been studying yoga and practicing all its aspects – asana, pranayama, meditation, service – for so many years, we can offer insight into the deeper dimensions of yoga that, frequently, the staff of other trainings does not have the experience to provide.
  6. The emphasis on service. Through our affiliation with The Give Back Yoga Foundation, we prepare our graduates for a career in yoga service and help them to take their practice out into the world and be the change they want to create.
  7. The Individualized Yoga Plan (IYP).  Every student develops an Individualized Yoga Plan with help from faculty and the director of the studio where they are training. This provides students with a way to identify their dharma and pursue a path into the specialized field of their choice.
  8. The Director.  American yoga pioneer Beryl Bender Birch, is the founder/director of The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute and co-founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation. As a best-selling author, (Power Yoga, Beyond Power Yoga, Yoga for Warriors) and teacher, Beryl has been teaching yoga and meditation internationally for over 40 years and is a longtime faculty member at Kripalu and Omega Institute. She graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in English and Philosophy, and began the study of meditation in 1971 with her teacher, Jain monk Munishree Chitrabhanu. She traveled to India in 1974 to further her studies and started practice of the ashtanga vinyasa asana system with her teacher, Norman Allen, in 1979. She continued to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from 1987 through 1993. Her book Power Yoga (1995), an accessible form of the ashtanga asana practice, sold nearly 300,000 copies and was primarily responsible for introducing yoga to the athletic community. She, more than most, walks her talk…and is one of the brightest, most down to earth, knowledgeable, accessible, funny, and joyful people you will ever meet. One of her gifts is making authentic and therapeutic forms of asana accessible to all. Everyone on faculty has trained with her for decades and is at least a 1000-hour graduate of her school, The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute. Beryl’s vision trickles down from the top and infuses the program, the faculty, the community, and the students.
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What is Boomer Yoga?

Boomer Yoga is one of our most popular classes at Yoga in ME. It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite classes to teach. The group of yogis who attend this class are enthusiastic, welcoming, and committed to this practice. It is so much fun to be in the room with them! I feel that they have taught me as much or more than I have taught them.

When students first come to our studio, they often wonder what exactly this class is. It is not, as many people assume when they first hear about it “easy” or “just for old people”. True, most of the students who attend this class are in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond. But this is by no means an “easy” practice.

Our Boomer Yoga class is thus named because it follows a sequence that is based on Beryl Bender Birch’s book: Boomer Yoga. It is meant to be a dynamic and athletic practice. This sequence allows us to offer many options in order to be accessible to all students, regardless of age or ability. We encourage students to do as much or as little as they choose to do. The only thing they have to do is: breathe.

We do our best to offer options in every posture. As we go through the sequence, we encourage students to try different things and learn what feels right in their body. As students become more familiar with this practice, they start to learn their preferred variation for each posture.

Students in this class embrace the opportunity to develop a vigorous movement practice that is appropriate for their bodies. We also delve into some of the deeper aspects of yoga practice.

A large part of this class focuses on learning to pay attention and be present in THIS moment. We work in the right here and right now. We do this through the use of the “3 tools” of yoga.  If you’ve been in one of my classes you have probably heard me mention these 1 or 1 million times. The three tools are the breath, a steady, focused gaze, and the bandhas (a light engagement of the pelvic floor and lower abdomen). We talk about these tools frequently and use them to help towards our ultimate goal: attempting to still the fluctuations the mind (aka yoga!).

Notice how we say “attempting”, not actually doing it. We constantly remind our students that this is a practice, not a perfect!

A large part of why and how this class works is this element of teaching our students to pay attention and listen to their bodies. Our job is to create a safe space for students to find a practice that is somewhere between “it’s doing nothing” and hurting themselves. We often say: “if you are breathing, you are doing it right!” and we mean it!

Are you a student in our Boomer Yoga class? Comment below with your favorite thing about this class!

Don’t Be The White Rabbit – You’re Not The Only One With Problems!

“Why does everything always happen to me?” Do you ever think that you are the ONLY person in the whole world who has bad luck? The ONLY one with problems? The ONLY person who doesn’t have it all figured out? Yeah, me too.

Especially at moments like:

  • When my youngest projectile vomits all over the place when we’re sitting in the audience at my oldest’s performance of Alice in Wonderland… twice.
  • When my middle daughter inexplicably puts her teeth through her lip while playing in the gravel area at the farm store leaving us both covered in blood (we just wanted to get some plants for goodness sake!)
  • When my husband’s away on a business trip at the baby wakes us all up all night screaming and then we finally fall asleep at 6:30am and sleep through the bus and then I still have to make lunches and don’t get the trash outside in time for pick up and everyone is late for school, daycare, work…

And that was just the last 4 days. Whew!

It would be easy for me to get caught up in the narrative that I have bad luck. I’m the ONLY one things like this happen to. I am busier and more stressed out that anyone else I know. I’m the only one with problems, right? But is that really true?

There’s no denying that we live in a society that is based around busy-ness and drama. Who is the busiest, the most stressed out? Sometimes conversations about this topic can start to feel like a little bit of a competition.

Oh, your daughter broke 2 bones last year? Well, my son broke THREE.

You guys had the flu last week? Well WE had the stomach bug.

Conversations about drama, trials, and tribulations, especially between parents, can start to feel like they are glorifying all this drama. And that everyone thinks they have it worse than everyone else.

It’s like we have to one-up each other to prove that we have the most dramatic life. We have to keep feeding the narrative in our heads that we are the only one that this kind of stuff happens to.

Well, guess what? We’re not.

Life, especially with little kids, is hard! There is no shortage of drama. But I bet if we take a moment to stop feeding our inner narrative about how hard our lives are, we might notice that there are other people around us who are struggling too.

We don’t want to be like the White Rabbit in my daughter’s musical and totally focus on ourselves and what we have going on.

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye! I”m late, I’m late, I’m late!

The White Rabbit is so worried about being late that he keeps running from thing to thing like a chicken with his head cut off. He’s panicked about his own problems and won’t even stop and talk to Alice. Instead of only focusing on our own issues and our own narrative, let’s save a little energy for compassion and for paying attention!

You never know what the person next to you is going through. So maybe instead of just minding your own “busy-ness”, save a little attention for what’s going on for other people too. The more you pay attention, instead of just keeping your head down and focusing on being the only one with problems, the more you’ll start to realize that you’re not alone! We’re all in this together!

Hey, that’s yoga…

Yoga Nidra

Elements

Yoga Nidra

 

-a poem by Renee Parent

 

Ring the bell, and call the elements to me.

Earth, embracing the body as I’m a babe in arms.

Wind, caressing my flesh without any offenses.

Water, cleansing my burdens buried deep inside.

Fire, kindling the hidden soul into being present.

After they have come, call the most obscure of all

The Divine, the Holy, the Blessed, the essence of us both

I am! We are! Here. In the right now.

Ring the bell again, and let’s stay a while to drift

 

Namaste

 

“I Have To” vs. “I Choose To” – Changing Up Your Thinking For a More Joyful Life

Think about the last week: how many times have you described something you are about to do as “I HAVE to do XYZ”? 1? 100? 1000?

“Today, I have to go to the store”

“I’m sorry, I can’t go to yoga, I have to go to an appointment”

“I won’t have time to go for a walk today because I have to vacuum”

“I won’t be able to meet my friend for coffee because I have to run errands”

Even, “I have to go to my friend’s birthday party… or my child’s play…”

Etc. etc. etc. …. We use this phrase from everything from pleasant outings to mundane errands to the harrowing task of clipping our kids’ fingernails.

Language is a powerful thing. Yes, there are always things that we should prioritize and things that do truly need to get done. But, in reality, do we HAVE to do most of the things we use this phrase to describe? NO!

What if instead of saying we HAVE to do something – we say that we are CHOOSING to do it?

When we speak truth to the fact that (almost everything) we use our time for is a choice, we empower ourselves to give our energy to things that we value. And, we give ourselves the opportunity to view our choices in a more positive light.

Think about it: “I am choosing to pick the kids up early and take my daughter to her rehearsal this afternoon” feels a lot better than: “I HAVE to pick the little kids up early from daycare, and then I HAVE to rush to the school and pick up my oldest and then I HAVE to take her to her rehearsal”.

And, if you really think about it, the first phrase is true. I am choosing to do this.

Will the sky fall if I don’t choose to have her participate in this activity or attend this particular rehearsal? Maybe I’d like to think I’m that important, but the reality is that no, it will not.

Our society puts a lot of emphasis on being busy, and on obligation. It seems that young parents are especially vulnerable to this plague. We are “supposed to” keep up with the Joneses. It seems like we are expected to put each of our kids in 17 different weekly activities. Then, we “have to” shuttle them all from place to place with begrudging devotion. Powering through, while painting ourselves as martyrs for doing it.

Well, I’m calling BS! I carefully weigh the options and CHOOSE what activities I put my kids in and what things I do myself. I choose the things that I think are valuable and important. I choose to prioritize spending time with my family, doula work, and teaching the boomer yoga class because these things are important to me. Almost everything else comes next – after these obligations… I mean CHOICES.

Yes, it’s easier to turn something down when painting another commitment as non-optional. But the reality is that pretty much everything we do is a choice. OWN it! Now, off to pick everyone up early and head over to that rehearsal!

Coffee & Conversation – Why We Host This Event

When we started Yoga in ME, our primary goal was to create a community where all members feel valued as individuals. In our New Year’s Letter to our community this year, we pledged to keep hosting FREE community events in 2018 as a way to continue to work towards this goal. Coffee & Conversation is one of the ways we are keeping this pledge. We decided to start hosting FREE Coffee & Conversation at our studio once a month in response to feedback from members. Students loved having a chance to get to know other members – and for some of us it’s hard to get up the nerve to talk to the person on the next mat!

Many students say that their favorite thing about our studio is that they feel like they belong here.

I can’t tell you how many people have told me that this is the first place where they have felt like they fit in. As someone who has always felt that I struggled to fit in, this brings tears to my eyes. Every. Single. Time. It is so meaningful to us to be able to offer this feeling of community to our members.

Our goal in hosting this event is to give students a chance to strike up a conversation with other members OFF the mat. We are both introverts, and we know how hard it can be to approach someone new. The concept is simple: this is an opportunity to “go out for coffee” with your new yoga friends. The best part is that you don’t have to go anywhere new or spend any money. We provide the space, free coffee, tea, and snacks. Our members provide the conversation.

If you’re shy about approaching new people, this is the event for you! Conversations have been casual, easy, and inclusive. At today’s coffee & conversation, a first time attendee asked me: “what do you talk about?”. Admittedly, it was hard for me to answer this question because it varies so much from month to month! We’ve talked about books and TV shows, our families, kids, partners, one member’s 13 guinea pigs, gardening, food, the weather – and everything in between!

We hope that you’ll join us for the next coffee & conversation event. We look forward to this opportunity to get to know each and everyone one of you a little better. As well as watching friendships grow – new and old!

April Fool’s Easter: Who was the fool?

One of the benefits of yoga is that the mindfulness starts to show up off the mat. I have been simplifying my life, connecting more with the Earth, slowing down and focusing on the present. Holidays are tough for me; they bring up a lot of expectation and anxiety. I found myself doing much more than I wanted and wound up exhausted.

It all started with Pinterest, which is a wonderful way to store ideas, recipes, and plan.

I made my list, ordered a smoked ham from a local farm, and planned to grocery shop on Friday. The vision was embedded: food, table settings, and activities. I shopped at Market Basket and actually everyone was happy and cordial, the sun was out, and all was well.

On Saturday morning, I taught two yoga classes and felt very connected and energized by the practice. My niece was visiting and it was her birthday so we had great plans: Apple store, lunch, Odiorne State Park, Starbucks, and Lululemon. It was an epic girls’ day for four. Saturday evening, we joined the guys who had dinner ready (almost, they forgot vegetables) and a fire going outside.

Sunday, 6:00 am, I arose with fervor and began the battle in the kitchen. I was chopping and mixing and prepping until 10:00 when the others came down for coffee and to open Easter baskets. The food was prepped and the table was set. I needed extra seating and a table, so I carried them in from the garage. I did it all myself and did not ask for help. Easter baskets were opened and the ham was in the oven. I took a quick shower before the guests arrived.

As I was setting up appetizers at 12:30, I realized I had not eaten since about 6:30 last evening and I was HANGRY! I was completely having an out of body experience. I was in my head and not at all in my body; no heart, no soul, no throat, just me and my monkey mind. Check, check, check off the check list and eventually you will be happy: mindlessness.

Needless to say, I was depleted at this point, no prana.

I got through the rest of the holiday in a fog. Everything may have looked great, even Pinterest-worthy, but I was not fully present. I had enough energy to sustain a few meaningful moments but not full conversations. By 4:00 pm, I admitted to others that I needed a nap.

When my daughter left, she told me I should journal about the day and what went wrong. So, as I sit here, I realize: I was not true to myself. Instead of listening to my body, breathing and focusing on what was important, I got hung up on my expectations. I did not use any of my skills from my yoga practice. I am feeling like a fool. But a wise man once said, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — William Shakespeare

Another day will arise and another holiday will be around the corner. I will take this new wisdom and practice. A wise woman once said, “Practice means making an effort to keep your mind steady. Yoga is about learning to pay attention. That’s what drives transformation.” — Beryl Bender Birch.

See you on the mat!

-Sue

New Class at Yoga in ME: Yoga And Recovery. Mondays from 4-5pm

Beginning Monday, April 2nd a new offering has been added to the schedule. Yoga and Recovery is an hour-long practice aimed to develop calm, peace and awareness of our ability to reclaim the lives we want to inhabit.

Patanjali defines yoga as effort toward the cessation of thought. These efforts can include:  poses (asana), breath (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). Practicing a yogic life style, we learn to quiet the mind. This can happen regardless of chaos around us as we seek union with the essence of our true being.

The healing process of recovery also aims to still the chatter of the mind. We aim to recover from any negative patterned conditioning that has developed over the course of living our lives.

Yoga and Recovery is an hour-long yoga practice that begins with short meditation or breath work and simple intention setting focused on the positive qualities we wish to foster in our lives. We then move mindfully with breath through a series of asana poses, ending with an ample shavasana rest.

The practice is designed to activate the parasympathetic system offering the body a chance to recuperate and heal.

This class is offered Free or By Donation.

Mondays from 4 – 5pm.