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Golf School featured post

Golf School

Many of the women in my two day golf clinic last week in Branford knew I ...
Tai Chi and Qigong Day featured post

Tai Chi and Qigong Day

I attended the World Wide Tai Chi Day celebration in Colchester, CT on ...
Beach Yoga featured post

Beach Yoga

I have returned from a whirlwind tour of Indochina. Amidst the noise of ...

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Golf School

3rd June 2012Blog, Featured, Lesson Plans, Qigong1 Comment

Many of the women in my two day golf clinic last week in Branford knew I taught yoga and were curious when I mentioned my interest in qigong. On the second morning I offered a brief warm-up to ease us into swinging our clubs and also to give a taste of the energy qigong cultivates through simple moving meditations and animal frolics. After an afternoon of instruction with Annette Thompson, LPGA Master Professional; Carole Clark, our PO pro; and Liz Gentile, an LPGA Class A Teaching Pro from Fairfield, I thought about what skills I need to become a better golfer. I need to calm my emotions and become grounded. I need flexibility to swing my arms and hips independently of each other in order to create more power. I need balance. I need to be relaxed in order to groove a repeatable swing path. Let me know if this warm-up routine helps your game.

PO Ladies, Please click on the following PDF file to print out the exercises we tried on Thursday and feel free to call me with questions and suggestions. If you are interested I can try to include some pictures or more detailed instructions. Carol, were you taking photos?

Golf Warm-Ups

Thank you Annette for your humor and inspiration! I feel better about my game already!

Tai Chi and Qigong Day

21st May 2012Blog, Featured, Qigong, Reflections, Videos1 Comment

I attended the World Wide Tai Chi Day celebration in Colchester, CT on April 28, 2012. The day was bright, breezy, and well attended. Most of the activities were appropriate for beginners as most of the participants were familiar with one or more of the presenters, but eager to try unfamiliar practices. You might even spot me in my blue biking jacket trying out walking qigong in the You Tube video below. This event highlighted many different aspects of Tai Chi and Qigong, including flowing physical warm-ups, meditations, choreographed forms with or without fans, swords, and bamboo sticks, animal frolics, and more. If you are unfamiliar with these Chinese healing arts, view the brief video below for an overview.

World Wide Tai Chi and Qigong Day on You Tube

Three instructors that I have studied with appear in the photo above and on the video.

Master Zhang Zhao Xun of the Hun Yuan Taiji Academy, LLC teaches traditional Taiji in New Haven, MIddletown, and Guilford Connecticut. 203-502-7054

Robert MIchael of Tranquil Mountain Internal Arts teaches in Guilford as well, 860-301-6433, rmichael@tmiarts.com

David Chandler of Eagle’s Quest Tai Chi teaches weekly classes in Clinton, Middletown, New London, Norwich, and Derby as well as a variety of workshops. http://www.eaglesquesttaichi.com/, 1-800-4 TAI CHI (484-4244)

Beach Yoga

20th February 2012Featured, Lesson Plans0 Comments

I have returned from a whirlwind tour of Indochina. Amidst the noise of motor bikes and the visions of merchant stalls and gaudy temples, there were moments of peace. We stayed two nights in an idyllic hotel on the beach near Hoi An, Vietnam. Standing on the soft sand, sinking deeper with each lap of the waves, I tried to memorize the feeling to help me visualize sinking into the earth in my Yoga and Qigong postures. Later, in the pool, I stood with my arms outstretched. Again I was trying to soak up the sensations of allowing my arms to relax and float on the water. These are watery images that I have been using in my classes, but reinforcing them with the actual experience felt profound.

Hatha Yoga’s name combines the brilliance of the sun, Ha, with the reflection of the moon, Tha. These opposites suggests the opposites of all energies: male, female; hot, cold; stiff, supple; and so forth. As the moon influences the movement of the tides, I have chosen to focus on the strength of the sun and the movement of water in my latest lesson plan. Solar postures inspire confidence, while the water element encourages us to move with grace and acceptance in the moment.

Click on  Hatha Yoga – Sun & Water for a PDF of a beach inspired yoga flow.

Qigong with Paul Weiss

20th January 2012Blog, Featured, Qigong, Reflections0 Comments

My Qigong journey continues. On Epiphany I drove to Winslow Maine, experiencing my first snow fall behind the wheel of my new gas sipping Prius. My light listening on the drive was “Courting Difficulties”, a suspenseful murder mystery on just enough CDs to get me all the way to my exit in Maine. I was so engaged by the concluding disk that I drove right past Augusta, my dinner destination. I stopped instead in Waterville where I ate spicy Chinese food with brown rice, or rather, white rice in a gooey brown sauce. I should have know better. Anyway, I was determined to be over the flu that had flattened me earlier in the week, to clear my sinuses, and to get on with my adventure.

Paul Weiss, from Bar Harbor, was teaching an introductory evening and day session of qigong at the Living Water Spiritual Center in Winslow. I drove into the snowy driveway of the retreat center and parked behind the building in the snow. A smiling, round faced nun greeted me inside. Lynn gave me the key to my darling single room on the third floor and directed me to the snack/ dining room where I could help myself to tea and look for others attending the retreat. The meeting space for our group was a large room with a circle of wooden rocker/glider chairs at one end and open space with an area carpet on the other.

Little by little our group of about ten students wandered in and began to rock on the chairs and to introduce ourselves. Some of us came because the Living Water Spiritual Center is scheduled to close this year and they wanted to savor the nurturing atmosphere again, while others were previous students of Paul Weiss or simply curious about qigong. There were couples as well as individual seekers, older and younger participants. Most were from Maine. I had read Danna’s memoir in which she describes attending several workshops with Paul and mentions his qigong interest. Danna is a friend, a poet, and long time member of the Kripalu community. If Danna thinks a teacher has a talent for creating safe spaces for transformational introspection, that is a strong recommendation.

As soon as Paul opened the workshop I recognized his emphasis on careful listening and supportive communication from other Kripalu experiences. As we introduced ourselves he encouraged us to take all the time we needed in silence to plan what we wanted to say so that we could really listen to each of our neighbors in turn as they spoke. Already we were making time for ourselves and each other, practicing being present. The meditation that followed was also a practice of being in the moment, in our bodies. If energy follows our thoughts and intentions, taking a moment to feel and bring our thoughts into our most immediate here and now concentrates our energy as well. How interesting to really notice mouth breathing as my nostrils were useless. How could I position my tongue so as not to overly dry my mouth?

Paul explained the proper pronunciation of qigong, “chi gong” with the voice rising on the last syllable. Each time he repeated the word the corners of his eyebrows shot up and he had to grin. This is significant, because all qigong should be practiced with a smile. The following day we even practiced a smiling meditation, visualizing big smiley faces on all our foreheads that lifted the corners of our own brows, softened our eye sockets, and left a faint smile on our lips. After the evening session, a text exchange with Terry, a steamy shower, and some self massage that finally cleared my nostrils, I repeated “qigong” to myself about three times while lying in bed, noting the accompanying smile. I slept instantly!

Paul has an interesting theory about flinch patterns. Worries, anger, joy, frustration, and emotions in general are held in our bodies. Notice when you furrow your brow or make an involuntary gesture with your lips. It is easy to see our friends’ involuntary emotional tics, but we have them too. Some are less visible: a tensing in the gut, a nagging headache, a strain in the neck and shoulders, and so forth. Paul suggests that a lifetime of emotion creates a flinch pattern in our bodies to the extent that we begin to tense involuntarily without recognizing the original trigger. Sitting, standing, lying down, and moving meditation -  bringing our attention, love, and breath into every part of our body – can release and open our flinch architecture. Intention is that powerful.

In this brief workshop, Paul introduced imagery and led physical practices to help sensitize us to our energy drawing from and expanding vertically into the deepest earth and the highest heavens as well as horizontally to expand our field of energy wider and wider from our three energy centers and to push apart mountains. Every movement is an opportunity to visualize our presence in the universal energy field and to interact with it. Paul also incorporated the water element. Lifting our arms was effortless, for example, if we imagined them resting on water that gradually rose or fell like the tides.

Stepping our feet apart to begin a form took on mythic dimensions. In every creation story, in the beginning there is an undifferentiated void. The vibrational word of the creator or initial energetic event begins to seperate the light from the dark, the depths from the heavens, masculine from feminine, yang from yin. So we stepped out to begin our practice with reverence. Lying on the floor afterwards, we imagined our breaths washing up cool, moist and yin from below our feet to our kidneys. As the breath rose higher towards the warm, dry heart, the yin energy met and was balanced by the yang. We visualized breath washing up and down, balancing cool and wet with warm and dry. We flexed our feet, pointing our toes upwards to bring the flow of breath up and into our bodies. Relaxing our feet, the exhalation ebbed back down our bodies.

In the last few years I have learned a variety of animal frolics and qigong forms, but Paul’s language and imagery helped me see how I could enrich all my movements with intention for an even more powerfully healing practice. I began to see how I will be able to teach qigong with confidence, incorporating the felt experiences of my years as a yogi and sharing my new journey with students with an attitude of exploration.

For some time I have been offering to lead a complementary introductory qigong class for the stylists at Beyond Waves, where Sandy cuts my hair. There is a wonderful wood floor, a few mirrors, and a wonderful group of women that listen to clients all day while standing on their feet. Yesterday the owner brought up my suggestion and we made a date in March. When the teacher is ready, the students appear?

P.S. – The Lighthouse photo is from Cape Elizabeth, taken on my return trip.

Kripalu Qigong for Women

18th November 2011Blog, Images, Qigong, Reflections3 Comments

Hello Ladies! I wish I could have torn myself away from our practice sooner to take pictures in better light…

Here are a few examples of Xi Xi Hu. Can you tell which is which? The day after my return home I took a hike with my husband and practiced the whole cycle for Lungs, Heart, Spleen, Kidneys, and LIver on a rock outcrop by “Lost Lake” on state land in Guilford, CT. I thought of you all as I exchanged energy with the rock, trees, sky, and water. My husband was amused by my eccentric behavior, but not entirely surprised. I felt full of fresh air and joy! I can incorporate the qigong we learned together at home. The struggle for me is to get up with the sunrise for my own practice before I go out to teach my yoga classes. I need to make Dai Mai and Nourishing Women Qigong my own before I can incorporate elements of them in my work at the women’s prison.

For my own benefit, I put together a series of qigong and yoga options that align with qigong intentions for Fall. I didn’t include a stance. Practice whichever one calls to you to build up your stamina. I hope you find my summary of many of the self massage techniques Deborah Davis uses in her centering practices helpful. I was particularly struck that both the Dai Mai and the Nourishing Women Qigong called on celestial energy. The qigong color for Fall is White and the element, Metal. Did Deborah purposely chose these forms for Autumn? If I visualize the silvery white light of the night sky, or the pale glow of the early morning sunlight, a focus on the heavenly, metallic orbs seems seasonally appropriate. During my walk along the shore this afternoon, I was almost blinded by the white light of the sun, sparkling off Long Island sound. This week I added moon and star visualizations to my version of the Moon Salutation. My students were noticeably more focused and I hardly needed to make any alignment suggestions.

The Tiger is the animal associated with Fall Qigong. The short White Tiger form is an energizing breath practice in a single stance. There are a variety of tiger frolic walks and Deborah Davis created a more extensive Jade Tiger form, specifically for women. The Jade tiger form mimics the tiger waking up, cleansing herself, and moving through her daily activities. The form is almost a complete practice, warming up slowly and then including a balance of energetic and relaxing movements.

Please check out my Fall Qigong/Yoga and let me know if I left out something important.

Halloween Yoga

30th October 2011Blog, Featured, Lesson Plans0 Comments

Why do so many adults love Halloween? I think it is because it lets us express parts of ourselves, perhaps even those shadow parts, which we rarely show. Behind a mask, a costume, we can embrace the qualities of our outer form. We may find ourselves not just acting the part, but feeling the part. But what does all this have to do with Yoga? Yoga poses have long been considered ways to “try on” the qualities of other characters and creatures – the mighty roar of the Lion, the proud carriage of the Warrior, the grace of the Swan.

This has been one of my favorite classes since I began experimenting with the theme in 2006. I have based classes on yoga animal and plant asanas as well as on Kali, a ferocious Hindu goddess. In college a senior left me her leopard pantsuit when she graduated and it has been the basis of my go-to Halloween costume for decades since. I’ve bought cute ears, pinned on a tail, painted on whiskers… You get the picture. I have even had the nerve to prance by the guards at the women’s prison, with my tail tucked modestly in my satchel until I get to class.

This year I centered my groups with an energy face massage. Rubbing hands together to create heat and a lovely vibration we brought the energy up to our faces. Before the hands touch the skin, there is a moment when our expression is hiding behind the screen of our fingers and we can “let our masks go”. How many faces do I wear in a day? What a relief to have permission to let my facial muscles relax. In this class we return again and again to this simple exercise to transition between the different characters we assume.

The Cock and the Lion set the tone for  in this class. Kukkutasana and Simhasana appear in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an early Hatha Yoga text (probably written in the 14th to 15th Century A.D.), so I feel we are joining our energies with generations of yogis when we practice these postures. There is much controversy about where many of our modern yoga asanas actually arose, but  familiar sitting postures , spinal twists , inversions, forward bends, and backbends are included the Indian guru,  Satmarama’s, compilation of the wisdom of Hatha Yoga of his time. Once in a while I like to remind myself of the classics.

Try any sequence of your favorite postures, visualizing and imitating the energetic qualities of each character you choose. If there is a pose that has always been too much of a challenge, try making up your own version so you can add the energy of that animal or plant to your practice. Imagine each yoga pose as a Qigong frolic – a chance to explore and connect your playful inner child with the energies of the natural world.

Take a look at my suggested class, Halloween Yoga and at my post for the Kukkutasana, the Cock.

The Cock – Kukkutasana

Blog, Featured0 Comments

What better way to wake up a class than with the Cock or Rooster? Few of my students can insert their arms between their legs and support themselves on their hands in Kukkutasana, so I created an energetic warm-up and pranayama, inspired by the Haka (a traditional Mauri dance used to bring out the fighting spirit of Mauri warriors and currently employed by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team) and an imitation of flapping wings.

The Haka, as I see it, involves lots of vigorous body slapping accompanied by focused and severe facial expressions. The slapping, like Qigong body tapping, stimulates the flow of energy and hormones in the body. The more enthusiastic the body thumping, the more enlivening the practice. Thus my rooster persona assumes a cross-legged posture on the floor or a grounded stance on a chair and begins to flap its wings as in a chicken dance. The difference, however, is that with each down stroke of its wings it thumps against the sides of its chest. Talk about waking up stagnate lungs and overcoming inhibitions right off the bat in a class! Thwack, thwack. Pause and feel the energy throbbing in the chest. The rooster then clasps its claws under its wattles and lifts and lowers its wings, coordinating the movement with its breath. I feel the sides of my lungs stretching and expanding with each deep breath, from the sides of my hips right up to my arm pits. I find this breath calming after the vigorous Haka thumping. Try the two rooster variations anytime you need to wake up and fill yourself with fresh prana.

I looked up the Cock in Swami Sivananda Radha’s book, Hatha Yoga, The Hidden Language, Symbols, Secrets, and Metaphor as well as in Ted Andrew’s, Animal Speak. The Cock, throughout history, has been associated with sexuality, watchfulness, resurrection. In Greek mythology, Alektraon was turned into a cock to herald the day when he failed to warn the lovers, Mars and Venus of Vulcan’s approach. Or, according to Andrews, the cock plays a vigilant role in the romance between Ares and Aphrodite.

Andrews also describes the god Abraxas, revered by the early gnostics, “the rooster-headed god with serpent feet, in whom light and darkness are both united and transcended”. Unity, in the meaning of the term Yoga, refers to the transcending of opposites. As I flap my wings in the two versions of my cock posture, initiating the active portion of my Halloween flow, I am aware of the therapeutic benefit of acknowledging and assimilating opposites in my own personality.

The Cock is also one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, representing enthusiasm, humor, directness, eccentricity, and optimism. The more we practice yoga, the more we discover who we are and learn to express our essential selves with confidence. Needless to say, yogis are an eccentric lot.

Tuscan Harvest

28th October 2011Blog, Qigong, Reflections0 Comments

This September, Terry and I biked with Backroads in Tuscany. The sunflower fields were bare as most of the field crops had been harvested, but the grapes were plump on the vines. Each of our meals was evidence of the bounty of the local region. The autumn is a time to appreciate the fruits of the summer growing season and to nourish ourselves with fresh, local food. In Italy we ate figs, tomatoes, mushrooms, and eggplant along with fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. The famous Florentine beef, lamb, and rabbit we consumed were local as well.

In a qigong practice, the golden harvest season or Indian summer is an additional season of the year, between summer and fall. In this season of bounty, Qigong students cultivate the emotional energy of gratitude to balance worries and over thinking. It is a time to focus on the earth and nutrition in all its aspects. How can we feed ourselves in a way that supports our health and that of our environment? I support the American Farmland Trust because it wrestles with the questions of maintaining farmland and open spaces in our communities, promoting local farmers’ markets, and right livelihood for farmers. One of the ways AFT raises awareness and funds is by bringing together chefs, farmers, and donors to enjoy harvest dinners. These meals nourish the farmland cause and help build supportive communities.

While the golden afterglow of summer is still with us, what practices can nourish us and prepare our bodies for the colder, darker days to come? What images fill us with gratitude and nurture our spirits? Qigong standing (or sitting) practices for this season help to ground us. The healing sound and gestures for the Earth, the element for this season, remind us of the bounty in our lives and give us a practice to give thanks to the earth and the heavens. The monkey frolic brings us on an imaginary journey through the trees, reaching and grasping branches, eating, and offering fruit.

See my Qigong – Earth post for more practical details.

Qigong Elements and Seasons

24th October 2011Blog, Featured, Qigong0 Comments

I have begun to organize my yoga classes around the five elements and seasons of Chinese medicine and Qigong. As I work with my students I am seeing great value in the repetition of what I have come to call “default practices” and I am beginning to organized them seasonally. This corresponds to the first stage, or willful practice phase of Kripalu yoga. Each day, in my own practice, anxiety arises as I have to choose how to begin. Depending on the day, I have to make a willful choice of what to do next rather than simply finding my body flowing into its own practice. Do I start with Pranayama? a prayer? a physical warm-up? Students often tell me they love to be told what to do in class. No brain weighing the effort and benefits of various activities, just mind attending to present sensations. Both Qigong forms and Kripalu yoga pranyamas, warm-ups, and vinyasa flows help me reduce the number of decisions I need to make in my Sadhana. I generally pick a warm-up sequence and then proceed through it, allowing myself to explore the familiar postures as feels appropriate at the time, but knowing the general sequence I plan to follow. Once I pick the plan, the pressure of decision making is over. I relax and sometimes find myself moving in a new direction! Then I pick a pranayama or a standing qigong meditation, followed by vinyasa (a fancy name for any yoga flow of postures), or a qigong form or frolic, ending with relaxation. Once the initial decision is made for each phase of my practice, I too can attend to sensation. I generally include joint loosening movements, self-massage,attention to breath, still and moving postures in a balanced practice. Organizing these elements within the structure of the Chinese medical calendar lends me additional guidance. I feel rather like a poet writing in a given form, narrowing some choices, yet still free to express herself.

Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth are the five elements of traditional Chinese medicine.  Just as Yoga is linked in India to Ayurveda, so is Qigong linked to Chinese healing. Therefore, the five elements are central to the practice of Qigong. Each element corresponds to a different season of the year (the Chinese add Indian Summer or the harvest for the Earth element), a different set of emotions, a color, one of the five senses, a healing sound, particular organs in the body, even planets. In Qigong there are different animals associated with these elements, organs, and emotions, leading to the practice of animal frolics. Not surprisingly, there are parallels between the Indian and Chinese traditions that make it interesting to create seasonal classes that incorporate elements from both traditions.

Currently, when I choose practices for myself or my classes, I focus on the elements of the season I am in, consciously balancing the energies of the moment. My next post will focus on the harvest season. If I am ill or in a particular mood, it may be useful to bring in practices from an element that is not of the current time of year. Healing Sounds Qigong, for example, balances all the elements and can be a soothing practice any time. I often choose all, or just the seasonal sound, for the standing meditation in my practice or classes.

Yang Ying is a former Chinese opera singer who teaches the proper Chinese sounding of the Healing Sounds and has a lovely CD that can be used to accompany the practice. I find the precision of her sounds very challenging for my American ear, tongue, lips, throat, and mouth. Maybe I’m just not that vocally coordinated. Deborah Davis simplifies the sounds for Westerners and coordinates them with simple physical gestures that I find very rewarding. I study with her at Kripalu whenever I can, but think her instructional DVD stands alone very effectively. The Healing Sounds seems to be a popular form and are taught to beginners by many Qigong teachers. If you have tried them, please share your experiences in a comment. Clicking on the CD or the DVD above will bring you to sites where you can preview and/or purchase these practical tools.

PS – A friend is involved with the Hope Water Foundation where the proceeds of sales go to bring clean water where it is most needed.

Tug of War

2nd February 2011Featured, Reflections2 Comments

When I walked outside this morning I was struck by how beautiful and dangerous the ice appeared on the trees and on my walking paths and driveway, the glassy surfaces causing my emotions to slip back and forth from delight to fear. Our daily life is a constant tug of war between pleasure and distaste. How do we maintain equanimity with reality? The word awesome denotes this ambiguity. When we are struck with awe, we are witnessing or feeling something overwhelmingly powerful and find ourselves in a conflicting state of admiration and anxiety. Nature often awes us – with majestic mountains, crashing waves, starlit skies – and today with sheets of ice. We are thrilled, yet feel humbled.

Arjuna, the warrior hero of the Bhagavad Gita, demands to see his charioteer, Krishna, in his full divine splendor and is awed by his wonderful and terrible form. Arjuna is both happy and afraid as he views his teacher and friend, yet Krishna urges him to be calm and returns to his gentle four-armed form. When we remain calm we can walk across the ice, whereas if we are tense and awkward we slip. Let us relax this winter season, admiring the cold, the snow, and the ice. Enjoy the cold clear night skies and the sculptured snow banks. Be grateful for the snow removal equipment  and operators that work through the night to clear our streets and parking lots. Balance delight and caution with compassion. Slow down, breathe, and the snow will melt!