Yoga, mindfulness and other tools can aid recovery

Although there are no shortcuts for getting over disappointment or loss, there are tools that can help you heal.

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Yoga Under a Big Blue Sky

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Photo: J.T. Liss (Photography for Social Change)

Sun Salutations in the late-afternoon sun. Hawks soaring high above. A light breeze cooling down the day while gentle drumming keeps the tempo. Around me, 60 yogis, woman and men, arch into Up Dog, faces radiant as they gaze skyward.

Such was the idyllic scene at the recent Mind, Body, Spirit and Wine event at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California. Leading us through the practice was the lovely Suzanna Spring from Cosmic Dog Yoga studios. And co-teaching on this perfect autumn day was Yogadork, the delightful and prolific New York yoga blogger and teacher.

The event marked the confluence of passions for yogin-winemaker Karl Wente, whose love of the practice is something of local legend. Around the winery, Wente is known for his spontaneous expressions of asana, busting out an arm balance to make a point or kicking into headstand when too-long tasting sessions start to dull his senses. Yoga, he says, makes him a better winemaker, helping to cultivate the Beginner’s Mind that allows him to approach each wine anew, fully experiencing every nuance. Watch Wente discuss his yoga-and-winemaking philosophy here.

Pairing yoga with wine is a relatively new trend that stirs some debate in yoga circles. But on this day, yogis flush from fresh air and asana happily sampled the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah Wente had chosen for a post-class tasting.

Whether or not you agree with mixing your yoga with wine, it’s hard not to like outdoor yoga. Your inhalations feel deeper; the exhales extend further. Reach for the sky; bow to the earth. No walls, no boundaries. Practicing under an autumn-blue sky, surrounded by grapevines? A votre sante!

 

 

 

 

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Peaceful Arts: Tai Chi, Meditation, Yoga, Stretching

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Where Yoga and Zen Meet

Yoga and Buddhism stem from the same Indian lineage yet remain distinct spiritual paths. Still, there’s natural crossover between the two disciplines, and mutual respect among practitioners of each. This relationship is beautifully celebrated at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center–an oasis of mindfulness nestled some 20 miles inland from California’s Big Sur coastline in the Ventana Wilderness.

Tassajara_night.jpgPhoto of Tassajara’s yoga studio courtesy of Margo Moritz margomoritz.com

While Tassajara primarily serves as a Zen teaching monastery, from April through September, its doors open to the public to enjoy the site’s natural hot springs, abundant hiking trails, meditation instruction, and some seriously delicious vegetarian food (mealtime is a much-anticipated event here). Guests attend workshops that explore mindfulness as it relates to relationship-building, cooking, art, writing–and yoga, which has become one of the most popular workshop themes. The folks behind Tassajara, a branch of the San Francisco Zen Center, have made such a commitment to its yoga program that they just built a gorgeous eco-friendly studio, complete with cork flooring heated by piped hot-spring water, solar electricity, tons of natural light–it’s even stocked with Manduka Eko-Lite mats. 

On a recent visit, I had the good fortune to test-drive the just-opened studio in a class with San Francisco’s Diego del Sol, who was teaching a three-day yoga and Zen retreat with Tassajara’s head of practice, Greg Fain. The class was great, and pretty intense. I’ll admit, somewhere during our umpteenth Sun Salutation variation, my mindfulness strayed into a daydream about a post-class soak in the hot springs.  But then, Savasana. Pure sensation. Nothing but idle awareness of the sound of Tassajara Creek rolling by and dappled sunlight playing across my closed eyelids. I think I reached a Zen state!

Combined with endless surprises from the world-famous kitchen (what 1970s vegetarian didn’t own the Tassajara Bread Book, not to mention the center’s gorgeous contemporary cookbooks), stunning natural beauty, and absolute serenity, this is a destination yoga retreat center well worth the drive.  And what a drive it is. Tassajara is located in a canyon, 14 miles down a winding, unpaved mountain road. (There’s a shuttle for those without 4-wheel drive or who are squeamish about off-road adventures.)  

Three years ago, the center was threatened by a summer wildfire that swept through Big Sur, eventually taking out 162,818 acres. The fascinating story of a heroic band of Tassajara residents who stayed behind to defend the property is chronicled in a new book, Fire Monks, out in July. Lucky for all of us, Tassajara still stands, ready to share its bounty with anyone willing to venture deep into the forest–and into their own hearts.  

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Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation

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Puppets, Heart-Felt Blueberry Pie, and Yoga at the Fair

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During my visits to Haines, Alaska these past several years I have had the good fortune to attend the Southeast Alaska State Fair. It is a sweet fair organized primarily by volunteers that has a wonderful homey feel and also displays a great deal of talent and creativity. The fair has everything from a petting zoo with goats and llamas to a vegetable and pie contest. There is also a world-class puppet show (in its own log cabin) and a line up of incredible musical acts from around the country.

This year, I decided I wanted to contribute as well. I have been receiving the benefits of the hard work of the community and I decided a little seva, selfless service, on my part was in order. So, I signed up to work the Hospice of Haines Pie Booth and registered myself to teach a yoga class that included kirtan. Both turned out to be special in different ways.
 
At the pie booth, I got to receive and sell the dozens of pies as they came in from the woman of Haines. A freshly baked wild blueberry pie is a beautiful site. I knew the woman who made it spent hours picking berries and lovingly making that pie. I was so touched by the love and care that went into each pie, all going to raise money for Hospice. This is yoga in action.

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I was a little nervous about my yoga class, it being my first time teaching at a fair. I asked my good friend, Bruce Blake, if he had any advice for me. He said, “Just pretend you are at Burning Man.”
 
Yes, then I got it. Offering a respite from all the activity of the fair and a chance for students to connect in with their breath and their sense of center and home was all I had to do. We were fortunate to have a small dome for the class, and I opened with a short kirtan which droped us all in.

From there, I had students connect in with their breath as I lead them through a slow supine hip opening sequence. Little by little I could feel them letting go, and the sounds of the fair (like the train that honked every 15 minutes) around us became just like little bells to remind us to connect back with our ever present friend of the breath.
 
As my dear friend and mentor Thomas Fortel says of the breath, ” In times of challenge we breath deeply and come into the moment. In times of joy, we also breath deeply and come into the moment.”

So there, in that little white dome, amidst the frenzy of the fair, we all joined each other in connecting with our breath and coming home into our bodies.
 
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I give thanks for all the people that made the fair possible and to the practice of yoga, my friend and companion on this journey of life.

Sarana Miller lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sarana is trained in the Iyengar and Forrest Yoga traditions and is a graduate of the Piedmont Yoga Advanced Studies Program and the Forrest Yoga Teacher training program and is currently studying the Sarah Powers method. She also sings and studies kirtan with Jai Uttal.

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Travel Yoga: Stretches for Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More!

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Yoga for the Young at Heart: Gentle Stretching Exercises for Seniors

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Yoga Zone – Stretching for Flexibility

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The Sounds of Yoga

stock3.jpgThe sigh with the first sip of coffee.
The click of my mug when I set it on the coffee table.

The grunt when I realize my left hamstrings are still half the length of my right hamstrings.

Ujjayi breathing, when I remember to do it.
Seagulls squawking outside.

The yeah! yeah! yeah! I say under my breath with my handstand and anything resembling a back bend.
Heaving groans that ease their way into regular breaths during side twists.

The big, fat sighs that settle me into Savasana.

Shanti, shanti, shanti, which I whisper to the lake (don’t know why I whisper at home). The tickety-tickety-tickety of Rosie, my dog, who hears me whisper and comes to join me after her own upward dog, downward dog series.

It’s worth it just for the sounds, isn’t it?

What are your favorites?  

Thanks to yoga for the sounds and thanks to you for the conversation.

Kristin Shepherd is a chiropractor, actor, writer, and workshop wonderwoman in North Bay, Ontario.  Please join me at kristinshepherd.ca or on Facebook at Dr. KristinShepherd.

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