‘Too busy’ to meditate?

Sometimes it feels like life is pulling us in 1,000 different directions. To-do lists. Responsibilities. Stressors. So it’s no surprise that while we have all heard about the benefits of Mindfulness and meditation, we easily fall into the trap of thinking we “don’t have time to meditate.”

That’s part of why I love yoga so much. Yoga is moving meditation. When we focus on the breath and sensations in the body, when we concentrate enough to pair breath with movement — these are all forms of Mindfulness and meditation.

Plus, yoga has other benefits. It makes our bodies feel good and strong. Our tensions release. We gain flexibility. We make friends. To me, this is the perfect combo. Even on days when I feel like I “don’t have time,” often one of those many benefits starts calling my name, and I end up making my way to my mat or chair.

Hey, no judgment — whatever gets you there. The good news is that regardless of what draws you to the practice on any given day, you’ll still end up with the peaceful mental benefits.

That’s what I call a win-win-win!

My COVID-19 Online Yoga Teaching Schedule

Wow, that was crazy!

I’m sure you’re feeling all kinds of things during the COVID-19 pandemic. Life has been disrupted for almost everyone.

For me, I still feel lucky and grateful.

For my yoga teaching side passion, things have finally settled into a bit of a routine, so if you’ve been missing me or your yoga fix, here are some ways you can find me right now.

Mondays — 5-5:30 p.m. chair yoga via Zoom. Contact me for the code — FREE*
Tuesdays — 4:30-5:20 p.m. yoga for strength, stretch and relaxation via the Get Healthy UAMS Facebook page. Streamed live, then you can replay later. FREE**
Wednesdays — 5-5:30 p.m. chair yoga via Zoom. Contact me for the code — FREE*
Thursdays — 4:30-5:20 p.m. yoga for strength, stretch and relaxation via the Get Healthy UAMS Facebook page. Streamed live, then you can replay later. FREE**
Sunday — 6:15-7:30 p.m. Candlelight Restorative via Zoom and The Floating Lotus Yoga Studio and Day spa. See Mindbody to sign up.**

Other bits:
— I’ve had two people say they’d be interested in a chair hybrid class on T/Th evenings. If I get maybe three or four more, I’d consider starting it. This would be more vigorous that chair yoga, but we’d still use the chair for things like planks. You’d need to be able to get up and down from the floor, although we’d probably only do that a couple of times per session. Contact me if interested.
— If you’re more of an email person, Contact me and I’ll add you to my growing email list, where I send reminders and post news.
— PSA: There are cats in pretty much all of these videos. : )

* I’m doing this on my own, so I’m not being compensated for it. If you’d like to give me a “tip,” Contact me and I’ll tell you how via Venmo or Paypal.
** I’m being compensated for these classes. No need for tips, thank you!

Hope everyone is safe, sane, and well! See you — digitally — on the chair or mat. 🥰🌈🧘‍♀️

Join us for Cuddle Yoga 2020

The Cuddle Yoga pose that started it all: Sidelying Savasana x 2.

Each year around Valentine’s Day, Cliff and I do a partner yoga restorative sequence we call Cuddle Yoga. The details are up on Facebook and Mindbody. Sign up to reserve your spot, as we will need to ensure there are enough props to go around.

It came about innocently enough: Cliff goes to all my restorative yoga classes, so he knows the “moves” at this point. And one day we were cuddling, and he used me as a prop to do a restorative pose. “And now roll over, place you knee at hip height, and let your lower leg be supported by — (this is the part where I would normally say, ‘the bolster’) your partner!” he said, teasing me by repeating my usual yoga “script.”

What started as a joke grew from there. It didn’t take long for us to feel like we were on to something good that other people might enjoy too. It was fun to play around, be creative, spend time together and come up with a whole sequence of restorative poses modified to use each other as “props.”

Each time we do the sequence with others, we get so much great energy off seeing other couples enjoy it too. It truly does make me feel all squishy inside every year.

For 2020, we’re mixing it up a little bit and I’ve asked the masseuses at The Floating Lotus to teach the group a couple of simple massage techniques you can do during the sequence and then anytime you want at home. There will also be drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks.

Come ready to relax and re-connect! I’ll see you there.

Video of Chair Yoga Demonstration from the Parkinson’s Symposium

There is now video available online of the entire day of great content from the UAMS Parkinson’s Symposium.

I did a chair yoga demonstration at the event, which you can watch at this link. Look for the video labeled “Part 2,” starting at about the 2:22:30 mark. I talk a little about yoga in general and chair yoga specifically, and then we dive right into a demonstration. If you’ve always wondered what my seated chair yoga classes at the UAMS Institute on Aging are like, this is a good little taste. Enjoy!

Want to know more about the latest in diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s Disease? See the rest of the videos for talks on:

  • The latest gait research, Tuhin Virmani, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Fall prevention and home safety, Mary Margaret Latham, PT, and Hylan Pickett
  • Managing Nutrition, Jessica Turker, RD
  • Advance Directives, Leah Eisenberg, J.D.
  • A patient-experiences panel
  • A FAQ panel with the experts

More info on Parkinson’s treatments.

More info on the Ottenheimer 50+ Fitness Center at the UAMS Institute on Aging, where in addition to chair yoga, we offer tai chi and other seated fitness classes that are great for those with Parkinson’s.

Pose Breakdown: Queen’s Pose for Couples

Cuddle yoga with both partners in queen’s pose with bound-angle legs.

Queen’s pose is one of my all-time favorite relaxing restorative yoga poses. Sometimes I joke that it’s like being in a yoga La-Z-Boy. As soon as I lie back into the welcoming arms of my props, it’s a signal to my brain that I’m about to get some serious chill time — and if I’m lucky, a nap. When people start snoring in my restorative yoga classes, chances are it’s in queen’s pose.

And I say, go for it!

In addition to being relaxing, queen’s pose is a heart opener. With support and comfort, it allows us to gently expose our hearts to the world around us. This is both physical and metaphorical. When we feel threatened, our instinctual animal response triggers us to round forward to protect our hearts and bellies. In queen’s pose, we do the opposite. We lift our chests; we let the arms and legs go slack; we close our eyes; and we surrender with trust to the world around us.

Relaxation, open hearts, trust? — What could be better concepts for a couple to explore together!

I hope you’ll try our “cuddle” version of queen’s pose:

  1. The Big Spoon sets up first. If possible, place one of the skinny ends of the mat against the wall. Build a supportive ramp using two blocks staggered in a stair-step position (one block on the lowest height and the other on the second-highest setting). Place your stairs near the wall-side of the mat for more support. Place a big bolster on top of the stairs to create a ramp. The highest end should touch the wall, unless you’re tall and need a little more head room.
  2. To get into the pose, the Big Spoon backs up to the base of the ramp. With the knees bent and the soles of the feet on the mat, hands on the knees, slowly lie back onto the ramp. Leave the legs open.
  3. The Little Spoon gets into place. Back up to the Big Spoon. With the knees bent, slowly lie back onto the Big Spoon.
  4. Explore the details! There are as many different ways to get comfortable in this pose as there are combinations of big and little spoons (endless!) and their body types (infinite), so find what works for you. In the photo, you’ll see that Cliff opted to fold up blankets for his arms to rest on. This can make the stretch through the chest less intense and also protect you from the jarring sensation of cold floor. You’ll also notice we both chose to align our necks by placing folded up blankets under our heads. And we chose to take our legs into double versions of butterfly/bound-angle pose, with the soles of the feet together and the knees splaying out. This often feels best with a little support under the knees in the form of a rolled up blanket, small bolster or blocks. With the legs, you could also extend them, or find a way to rest the feet on the floor with the knees bent (especially great for cranky low backs).
  5. Additions: this is the perfect position for the Big Spoon to give the Little Spoon a shoulder rub while you settle in. (Just sayin’ — Here’s looking at you, Cliff!) Plus, queen’s pose is great for listening to a guided meditation. You’re open, a little bit vulnerable and receptive to exploring ideas. Try out your favorite meditation in queen’s pose.

I would love to hear your experiences with this double queen’s pose for couples, especially how you made it work for your specific body type(s). Happy cuddling! Namaste.

Fresh Hot Yoga Science: Yoga + Mindfulness for Parkinson’s Disease

Video of the audience at a chair yoga demonstration I did on April 7, 2019, as part of the Parkinson’s Symposium at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

A study published April 8 in JAMA Neurology found evidence supporting something every yoga practitioner already knows: yoga is good for easing the symptoms of anxiety and depression — in addition to its physical benefits.

(Here is the study. Too complicated? Here is a Reuters news article summarizing the findings).

But hey, we’ll take it. I’m grateful any time we receive more news of the scientific evidence behind yoga’s benefits — which, if you’re unaware, there is a lot of.

The context for this study was Parkinson’s Disease. The researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial of 138 patients with Parkinson’s. One group did yoga, breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation, and the other did a conventional stretching and resistance training routine.

The groups experienced similar beneficial results in terms of mobility and the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease, but the yoga group had the added benefit of easing psychological distress, promoting spiritual well-being and boosting health-related quality of life.

Parkinson’s Disease has physical and mental symptoms, and both are related to low levels or missing dopamine in the brain. Physical symptoms include tremor, bradykinesia (slow movements), limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems. Mental symptoms include apathy, depression and sleep disorders.

The main popular and well-studied physical/occupational therapy program for Parkinson’s Disease works to counteract the disease’s slowing, weakening and motion “freezing” effects. They focus on paying attention to the body as it makes small movements — like buttoning a shirt — and pushing the body to take big movements — like wide steps and lunges.

Other longstanding practices like yoga, tai chi, boxing/martial arts — even dancing — turn out to have many of these same characteristics, and are a popular and accessible way for people with Parkinson’s Disease to exercise.

So, back to the study. What exactly did the yoga study group do?

“Yoga” can mean a lot of things, so let’s see what this group actually did. As part of the study, they developed a practice they called Mindfulness Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease. The 90-minute hatha yoga practice included:

  • 15 minutes of breathing exercises
  • 15 minutes of warm-up yoga poses
  • 30 minutes of sun salutations
  • 15 minutes of cool-down yoga poses
  • 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation

The group met for the practice once a week for 90 minutes and were encouraged to do a 20-minute home practice twice a week.

A detailed list of the poses, breathing exercises and meditation practices are covered in this supplement to the study (pages 4-7). Breathing exercises included bee breath, lion breath, alternate nostril breathing and cooling breath. Poses included mountain pose, upward salute, standing forward fold, high lunge, plank, knees-chest-chin, cobra and downward-facing dog. Mindfulness practices included body scanning, unattached observation, walking meditation and loving-kindness/compassion.

Before the study began, the planned routine was reviewed by a seven-member clinical panel. They recommended one modification for the Parkinson’s population that I found interesting (page 8). To account for balance instability, practitioners were encouraged to take standing forward fold and standing down dog with legs at hip-distance and the knees bent.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to do that anyway.

Also, I like this little caveat in the Reuters article from
Catherine Justice, an integrative physical therapist at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Risk of falls could be quite high in standing or balancing poses or when transitioning to and from the floor,” Justice said. “For this reason, I recommend that anyone with Parkinson’s practice yoga next to a wall, with a sturdy chair positioned within reach with at least 2 feet of the chair on the mat.”

Catherine Justice, integrative physical therapist

That’s part of why I like chair yoga and chair-assisted yoga so much. In my chair-assisted yoga class, we always have a chair somewhere on or near the mat and use it to do down-dogs and planks and just to add an extra sense of safety in standing and balance poses.

Whatever the details, I’m glad for more information about yoga’s benefits for everyone in general and the Parkinson’s population in particular. Thanks for nerding out with me on this deep yoga science dive. Namaste!

Pose Breakdown: Chair Goddess

Goddess pose at the chair.

I love using goddess pose at the chair as the foundation for exploring all kinds of movement in the body. I think people feel open when in goddess, with their legs spread a little wider than the chair legs, but not so wide that they feel unstable. Lunging poses like warrior I and II and high lunge are also fun at the chair, but are more challenging and can distract some students as they strain to contort themselves. If I really want to hone in on sidebody stretching or explorations of movements or muscles, chair goddess is my go-to.

First, let’s talk about how to get into chair goddess, then we’ll see what goodies we can add:

  1. From mountain at the chair, spread the legs a little wider than the chair legs.
  2. Check your alignment: knees and toes should point in the same direction.
  3. Tighten your abs and sit up tall.

That’s it. Pretty simple.

From there, we can add things in, depending on your goals. The options are almost limitless, but here are a few of my favorites.

  1. Sidebody stretching: My No. 1 favorite chair goddess variation is combining it with arms that mimic something between extended side angle and triangle, as pictured above. With the right elbow bent, bring the right forearm to rest on the right thigh. Slightly rotate the chest and reach the left arm toward the sky. The gaze can follow if that feels good on your neck. You can stay here, or take the side stretch deeper by moving the left arm so the bicep is closer to the ear, as in extended side angle. You can also make the pose a little more like triangle by allowing the right arm to drift lower, maybe anchoring on the inside of the right knee, or reaching the right fingertips all the way down to the floor. The left arm will reach toward the sky. Try static holds or flowing from side to side with an engaged core.
  2. Understanding core engagement: I also like to use chair goddess to teach about core engagement. From the basic posture, see if you can feel your abs zip up tight, feeling taught across the low belly and protecting the low back. Then see if you can maintain this slight engagement while doing another task: spine circles. Start to slowly move the back in clockwise circles, as if the base of your spine were the center. After a few rotations, let the movement get bigger, maybe even involving a little cat/cow action or movement in the shoulders. Check back in, are your abs still engaged? Try it again with counterclockwise circles.
  3. Warming up shoulders: From goddess at the chair, move the arms from a bent-elbow cactus or “goalpost” formation to a rounded spine with the arms arcing forward. In cactus arms, you’re squeezing the shoulder blades together on the backside of the body. And when you’re rounded forward, it’s as if you’re hugging a big ball to your chest. Flow back and forth several times to loosen up the shoulders or prepare for other shoulder stretches.
  4. Stretching lats and across the back: This feels great to me. From chair goddess, simply tuck the right shoulder across the midline of the body, like you could press it down toward your left knee. It doesn’t need to actually go there, we’re just looking for stretch sensation across the back. Found it? Ah! Hold for 5-10 breaths and try it on the other side.
  5. Challenge the legs: From the basic pose, engage through the feet to try to lift the bottom from the chair (or get close!) Try it, hold till tired, rest, try again. Try to work up to longer holds to build leg strength.

That’s it for today! Thanks for exploring chair goddess with me, and as always, I would love to hear your ideas and variations in the comments. Chair yoga is such a creative form of yoga and nothing makes me happier than seeing what new things people come up with. Namaste!

Progressive Body Relaxation

One of my favorite ways to settle into a quiet space for meditation is to use progressive body relaxation.

It’s pretty simple: start at one end of your body and work your way to the other, pausing to relax each muscle as you go.

That said, you have some options to make the meditation your own: 

1. Use muscles. The form of this technique that I’ve seen most often in a psychology/cognitive behavioral therapy environment instructs you to actually clench the muscle groups as you go, and then actively release them. I’ve seen a psychiatry lecture where this technique was cited as being just as effective as benzodiazepines at helping people relax – with way less potential for addiction.

2. Use the mind. Often, however, in a yoga setting, it’s more common to be instructed to simply imagine the muscles relaxing instead of actually moving them. This is my favorite way. But even then, you have options. Sometimes I like to imagine that I am looking at myself from the outside, almost like my body is a diagram, and then I imagine each space relaxing. Other times, I like to try to concentrate on feeling my body within when I visit each area. I think it’s fun to see what I can actually feel in my face, my neck, my stomach, my fingertips, etc. Sometimes we are ignoring bodily sensations and don’t even realize it, so it can be nice to use your body scan as a chance to check in.

Ready? Try it. Here is a recording of a Progressive Body Relaxation that I made for you to try.

Progressive Body Relaxation Meditation

Pose Breakdown: Couple’s Sidelying Savasana

Cuddle yoga: Both partners in side-lying savasana.

Sidelying savasana from the restorative yoga tradition is one of my favorite relaxing poses. It’s probably because I like to sleep on my side, so mimicking that posture seriously signals to my body and mind that it’s chill time.

Adding in some snuggles from my partner makes it even better. This is one of my favorite cuddle yoga poses, and I think for most people it will be the one to most closely resemble how you and your partner already snuggle. So settle in, and let those cozy vibes soar!

Let’s get started:

1. The Little Spoon settles in. Little Spoon, have a big bolster handy, along with a couple of blankets or smaller bolsters and lie down on your right side. Fold up a blanket or use a small bolster to support your head like a pillow. Bend your left knee and bring it up to about hip height. Slide the big bolster under your leg and allow it to be supported as much as possible. If you’ve got another prop handy, you might hug it close to your chest or use it to support the left arm, as I’ve done in the picture. Your right leg is going to stay extended, long along the mat.

2. The Big Spoon snuggles in. Big Spoon, come behind the Little Spoon and place a folded up blanket on the Little Spoon’s right leg. Snuggle in behind the Little Spoon and lower yourself onto your right side. Use a prop as a pillow for yourself, or share the Little Spoon’s. Bring your left knee up, bent and snuggle it behind the Little Spoon’s, resting its weight on the Little Spoon’s right leg, the one with the folded up blanket on top. If it’s too much pressure on the Little Spoon, try a thicker prop. Do what feels right with your arms so that you feel nice and cozy. Hold for 6-8 minutes. Switch sides.

Pose Breakdown: Pigeon at the Chair

Pigeon is a great way to stretch the outside of the hip. However, traditional pigeon pose on the mat puts a lot of your body weight on your hip and knee. It can be hard to get into the pose if you’re not very flexible and challenging to stay there because of discomfort for a variety of anatomical reasons.

Chair pigeon provides an excellent alternative.

Pigeon pose at the chair.

Popular activities like yoga, running and cycling really challenge our glutes, and that’s great, but we don’t always take the time to stretch them. Stretching using poses like pigeon and reclined twisting can really help us ensure this vital part of our bodies stays flexible and mobile – as well as strong. Plus, my students with hip replacements tell me that chair pigeon helps them stretch areas that are often tight and uncomfortable.

To set up:

1. Start in mountain pose at the chair. Come toward the edge of your seat so that your feet are making good contact with the floor, but you still feel supported by the chair under your sitz bones. Extend the spine.

2. Bend and stack the right leg. Lift the right leg and rotate the foot so that the right ankle bone rests on top of your left thigh. Keep your right foot flexed throughout the pose.

3. Bring movement to the hip socket. If you have had little or no movement in your hip joint so far during your practice today, go ahead and warm it up a bit. I like to do this by placing my right hand on my knee and my left hand on my foot. Then I “rock the baby,” by lifting my foot a little off the thigh and rocking the leg back and forth or in circles. You can extend your left leg a little if it gets in the way. This gentle motion activates the synovial fluid in your hip joint. Perform this move for 5-10 breaths.

4. Move into the stretch. Place the right ankle back on the left thigh and then decide if you need more or less sensation in your stretch, which you should feel on the outside of your right hip. If you need to back off, do so by extending the left leg. If you need more, lengthen through your spine and then hinge at the hips to fold forward with the chest lifted. You’re brining your belly toward your thigh more so than rounding the nose toward knee. Stop when you feel good stretch sensation. Hold for 5-10 breaths, moving a little deeper if you lose the stretch sensation.

5. Repeat on the opposite side.