Thursday, February 22, 2018

Strength and Core Plank Series

Bent Knee Push Up (legs are crossed in table top)

- Hold at the top for 3 counts
- Lower for 3 counts
- Hold and hover for 3 counts
- Lift for 3 counts
- Hold at the top and recross the legs with the other leg on top
- 2 to 10 sets

- Hold 10 seconds to 5 minutes depending on your strength

Forearm Plank

- Hold 10 seconds to 5 minutes depending on your strength

Downward Facing Dog

- Hold 10 seconds to 5 minutes


- Hold 10 seconds to 5 minutes depending on your strength

Dolphin Pumps/Push Ups (moving from Forearm plank to dolphin with your fingers interlaced)

- Do as many sets as you can from 1 to 50

Mandala Pose

- Hold 10 seconds to 1 minute

Side Plank Variation

- Hold 10 seconds to 1 minute

Side Plank (if you are strong enough, if not omit)

- Hold 10 seconds to 1 minute

Forearm Side Plank

- Hold 10 seconds to 1 minute

Saturday, February 10, 2018


My sister and her husband had a charter school named Sankofa. I designed an image for them.

It’s a bird looking backward but moving forward.  That’s where I see myself right now in this state of Sankofa.

In yoga we have mystically bird, Garuda.

“Sankofa is a Ghanaian principle meaning “Go back and take it” symbolizing positive reversion and revival.  The proverb signifies “the importance of returning in time to bring to the present useful past cultural values, which are needed today.  It is believed that progress is based on the right use of positive contribution from the past.” - Agbo

According to wikipedia

Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to "Go back and get it" (san - to return; ko - to go; fa - to fetch, to seek and take) and also refers to the Asante Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backwards carrying a precious egg in its mouth.

Sankofa is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," which translates as: "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten."

“The keys and secrets which our great ancestors, healers, and Prophets had available to them, and which they use to decipher and reveal the great Spirit of life, are quickly being hidden away for all eternity, as concrete is poured over them, and as they are replaced with new devices using technologies that are deceiving instead of enlightening.” – Project Together

I talked to my uncle for about two hours on Monday.  I have never talked to him before in my life.  He is my father’s half brother, 18 years younger than my dad from my grandfather’s 2nd marriage. 

I never wanted to talk to him before.  I thought he and my grandfather were racists. I thought he didn’t want to know us because we were black.  I met my grandfather only once, I was six or seven and we drove to Omaha, Nebraska to meet him. I don’t know why at that moment we did that.  Why my parents opened up a world and another family to me and then closed it without any explanation,  leaving me to think I had done something wrong.  That I wasn’t good enough for my grandfather and uncle’s love.  I didn’t have any other grandfather.  My mother’s father left to get a pack of cigarettes when she was 5 and never came back.  That man in Omaha was the closest chance I had.

I remember my grandfather, his wife and my uncle speaking Greek all the time.  I didn’t know what was going on. In my memory I didn’t feel welcome – but my mother now assures me I changed that memory.  She swears that my grandfather doted on my brother and me.  That is in fact why I was probably so sad that I never heard from him again. My yoga teacher Maria Mendola once told me that memory is just the memory of the last time you remembered the memory. Can I trust my memory or did I change it to compensate for the loss? 

I wrote my grandfather many letters but I only remember mailing one myself.  I remember getting the address from my mother and putting a stamp on the letter and taking it to the mail box.  My uncle said my grandfather called my dad every couple of months and my dad would yell it him and then hang up. (My mother recently confirmed this – but as I child no one ever told me he called).  My uncle said he didn’t know about many letters from me, he only knew of one letter, and my grandfather kept it in his wallet his whole life along with a picture of me, my mom, dad, sister, and brother.

Maybe my dad never sent my letters, maybe my grandfather’s second wife never gave them to him.  But knowing now that my grandfather kept my letter in his wallet his whole life makes me cry.  Knowing that he wasn’t embarrassed that we were black that he wanted to be in our life is really important to me.  It’s transformational. "Go back and take it."  I am going back and taking the story of my grandfather.

My Sankofa, is learning about my grandfather from my uncle "and making a new relationship together with Nick where we can be friends and maybe one day be uncle and niece.  There was so much pain – mine, my father’s, my grandfather’s and Nicks, but that is the past.  The bird sees the past but moves forward.  Nick and I can define our future and heal this wounds by accepting each other as we are.

My grandfather lived his life for social justice.  He organized unions around the country.  He was a founding member of the CIO before it merged with the AFL.  He worked in steel mills, coal mines, and constructing the railroad, always organizing, trying to make conditions better.  He spoke Italian and some Chinese so he could talk to people better about the unions.  He changed lives, he changed the world, and he was just a short man just about 5’-7” with a 2nd grade education.  He came to the US from Greece when we was 14 years old without a single relative here.  But he was strong, like a bulldog, a learned from neck.  He was a man you didn’t want to mess with.

I will honor his strength and his life campaign for social justice in my own way.  Teaching yoga to everyone who wants it.  Sharing yoga with the underserved and under-represented. Sharing my story through art, yoga and writing.  Hoping my experiences can help someone else with theirs. Healing myself and bringing healing tools to others in the best way I know how.

On Initiation

“It is my conviction that initiation is a life-defining, affirming, and fulfilling rite of passage supporting and celebrating the young person’s membership in the community and unique gifts and potentials; powerful enough to align the individual with her dynamic person in the world.” - Penniman

I feel I never was initiated and it was very confusing to me when I stopped being a girl and became a woman.  For me having my period and then being sexual active were my personal markers toward womanhood.  But they were personal not communal. My period came at 12.  My father, not my mother, came to school with a bag of feminine napkins.  I longed for my mother to help me but she did not come.  She never even mentioned it.  My sister, ten years older, was already far away living in New York City.  I went to the bathroom not sure how to use the pads.  I ended up naively putting the pads sticky side up against my vagina.  Where was my initiation?  Where was my community of female elders? Where was a loving relative to care about me?

My first “sexual experience” may not even been sex.  I am not sure even now if we did it or not.  I was fourteen years old  - high and drunk and I went to bed with an ugly red head guy just because he asked me.  Not because I liked him. I didn’t get to like him.  I didn’t know him.  I wasn’t attracted to him but since my self-esteem was so low, I thought if he wanted me I should oblige.  I remember him pumping against my leg, and that is where I still am confused - I never quite remembered if he went inside of me or not.  I talked to my cousin a couple of days later and she assured me if I had had sex I would known it.  I was hopeful we didn’t do it but I watched my stomach carefully for many months hoping a baby was not going to appear.

This boy and I never really talked after.  I remember him having to leave school because of drug problems.  I even heared he had gone psychotic because of too much LSD.  We loved LSD and mushrooms my friends and I.  We loved the hallucinations, the visions and the insights.  But we all had this little fear if we did too many we too could “go psychotic.”

Going to college was also a marker.  I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island to be an artist.  Everyone was so disappointed in me.  I had gotten into one of the best art schools in the country and my parents were annoyed, disappointed and angry.  The weight of their disapproval was too heavy on me and by my sophmore year I was back home at an Ivy League school learning to be an architect.  I was even rowing on the women’s crew team.  Every felt better except me.

And somewhere in all that I didn’t worry anymore if I was a woman.  I knew I was a woman.  I had survived a rape at 15 and a sexual assault at 17.  I had given up on my dream of being an artist before I was twenty.  I had compromised my mind, body and spirit.  It wasn’t a question anymore of if I was a woman but what kind of woman I was going to be.

commentary on the Article: What Can Be Learned From Rwanda About Battling Depression

I really enjoyed this article.  It made a big impression on me.

For the key paragraph of the whole article is:

“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave."

~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.  From The Moth podcast, 'Notes on an Exorcism'.

Why was so transformative me?   I have been to talk therapy many times:  once my parents put me in therapy as a teenager, twice in graduate school trying two different therapists in my 3 year tenure, a few sessions with my husband in my thirties, and twice as a woman in my 40s.   Accept for one special therapist in graduate school where I had two sessions at a time of huge crisis I never felt like therapy was working.  Now I have words why.  The environment was sterile, forced, controlled and did not bring me joy.  I thank this article for bringing me language to express what I could not express before. 

Yoga is my therapy now.  Maybe it is not the modality for everyone but for me it has been a game changer in my life.

This statement is also very important from the article.

“western mental health workers,” however well-intentioned, are not significantly different from the “Christian missionaries” who beheld “the white man’s burden” in Africa and attempted to “enlighten” them into Western ways. Less generously, it’s a form of cultural imperialism based on a spurious notion of Western cultural superiority that can be seen in every area of our culture.”
We have to be careful that we are not coming from a place of imperialism and privilege when we reach out to help individuals or communities. I even I (especially I) have to check myself with my volunteer work with at risk youth and Latino elders.  A higher degree doesn’t mean I/we have the answers and know what’s right for everyone.  Expensive education and/or skin color doesn’t justify paternalism.

As I understand it, research is moving toward explaining that trauma does not store in the pre-frontal cortex which is the verbal part of the brain.  This explains why movement modalities that do not deal with language are so effective in treating depression.  Bessel Van der Kolk author of The Body Keeps the Score will not treat patients with talk therapy unless they are doing yoga or some other form of contemplative movement.   I believe this too.  I believe in the healing power of the body.  Everything we need is already within us.  Let’s move!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let’s get outside! Let’s heal in community!

In addition, I related to this statement:
“. . . you can only get Obamacare for western mental health care; they don’t cover “body workers” such as cranial sacral, chiropractors, and masseuses, who have done more good for me personally (and many others) than pharmaceuticals have.”

I come against this all the time as a Yoga Therapist.  People want to be able to bill my care to insurance but they can’t.  I often think of getting a degree in Social work or Marriage and Family Therapy so I can bill my yoga services.  Why with so much evidence behind these non-western modalities can we not change the paradigm and cover these services?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Meeting the Rajasic State


How might you begin the third session with a 40-year-old client (either yoga or psychotherapy) who arrives in a rajasic(anxious) state? Her speech is rapid, her thoughts are racing and she’s fidgeting. Think about the language you might use to invite her to try something different.

- I would begin to set up the safe and sacred container by lighting a candle when she comes in. Maybe we could chant an opening mantra as a centering practice if there is something she likes or that we have been working with.  It’s important that I meet her rajasic mood and not try to force calming practices on her right away. I would meet her where she is right now. I want to establish an opening ritual that would occur each time between us.  This ritual would offer a moment of transition from whatever she was doing or experiencing before entering the yoga room to the therapeutic yoga private session experience.  I would make sure my eyes are always open.

- I would check in with her verbally asking if she wanted to share anything. I would make sure that she knows all feelings and emotions are welcome and she has permission to be who she is right now.  I would also let her know she has permission not to share.  I would affirm that I am here for her.  I would check myself to make sure I am actively listening.  I would stress that she has permission to modify, stop and or redirect the conversation or any yogic practice at any time.

- I would begin some pranayama first with just watching the breath without trying to change anything.  Then, I would offer Stair Step Breathing with bhavana as a way to meet her rajasic mood. state.  I could also use breath of joy.

- I would suggest a grounding mudra after the breathing like adhi or bhu

- At some point in the beginning maybe after the breathing when she’s settled down some I would ask her to set an intention for class. If she wanted to share the intention we could talk about it. I would make sure she also could keep it private if she wanted. If she wanted help with the intention we could formulate it together.  I could also introduce this as part of the opening ritual if I felt she was ready for it then.

- I would begin asana with an energizing practice like Joint Freeing Series, Cat Cow Variations, or ½ Sun Salutes to meet her anxious mood with the intention of moving and meeting the rajasic energy. Working under the principle “meet the rajasic state with vigor, then move to a more calming practice.”  The whole time it would be important that I cue to direct sensation (hands, fingers, feet, etc…).  It is equally important that I pause and check in from time to time.  I would make sure she knows that there is no way to get it wrong. I would also cue breath awareness.