It has been almost a decade since we’ve lived here and we are excited to dive back into life in our coastal city, sample all of Vancouver’s beautiful offerings and reconnect to our yoga community here. This fall and winter are packed with Offerings with Eoin and Insiya, so please check this page often to see where you can find us, when we are not chasing our now 7.5 year old son around. 🙂
DROP IN CLASSES
Mondays + Thursdays @ 12 Noon: Active Flow Yoga with Insiya @Stretch Vancouver (starting September 10)
As part of our 500-hour training, I co-teach a course that I called Yoga and Mind Body Medicine. It’s a course I spent years dreaming up. My vision for it was to offer a Western science-based perspective on understanding the gross and subtle benefits of yoga on our body-mind physiology. I enlisted a colleague Dr. Lawrence Cheng—a Harvard trained integrative medicine doctor and yogi who teaches Mind-Body Medicine in medical communities—to present with me. I knew this was going to be groundbreaking.
However, when we listed this course under our Blissology Yoga school’s 500-hr training program on the Yoga Alliance website, we immediately received an email, telling us not to use the words “Medicine” or “Healing” in conjunction with Yoga.
Why is this an issue? Yoga Alliance explains that “the risk comes from suggesting that a yoga teacher or school is diagnosing and/or treating a mental or physical health condition. The words ‘heal’ or ‘healing’ imply this. These claims are within the scope of the practice of medicine and/or licensed health care professions.”
As an alternative to the word healing the phrases “improving health” and “increasing well-being” are suggested.
This meant we had to get creative with what we called the course on Yoga Alliance’s website. Eventually, we settled on “Yoga and Western Science.”
I understand that the medical community does not want people who have graduated from a 200-hour yoga training to describe themselves as healers, or treat someone with a sore back or cancer without the proper medical training nor does anyone want to be legally liable for endorsing someone as capable of healing issues for which they are not qualified.
This graph indicates the increasing amount of scientific research of yoga and meditation in the last decade
Yet, the data about the evidence-based healing benefits of yoga and meditation is increasing with each year. The benefits are so real that it is getting harder to dismiss all yoga as a “quack science.” I would love to see a day in the future when well qualified yogis (and doctors) will be able to claim that yoga is both “healing” and “medicine.”
Will this ever happen? Skeptics do not think so and go to long lengths to tell us why yoga is not healing, or medicine. In his article titled “Yoga Woo“, Stephen Novella, a clinical neurologist at the Yale School of medicine writes, “Yoga is simply exercise plus a lot of ‘Woo.'”
“Yoga, if practiced responsibly, seems to be a reasonably effective form of stretching and exercise. There is insufficient evidence, however, to conclude that it is any superior to any other form of exercise of the same duration and intensity. There are concerns about the safety of yoga, as it often involves extreme stretching or poses that the average person might find not only difficult but physically harmful.”
I’ll share more of my thoughts on this topic in Part 2 of this blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you, what is your opinion? Is Yoga Medicine or not? Should the word healing be used by some practitioners of yoga?
In my past two decades of teaching yoga, I’ve seen a lot of evolution in the yoga world. I’ve loved watching new poses come into the mix, some borrowed from creative minds and some from other disciplines such as circus school. I never thought I would be interested in a one arm hand stand for example. I thought, “this is just flashy,” but then I realized the challenge kept me fresh and gave me something to progress towards. I am no longer a naysayer and practice this and other “new school” yoga moves almost every day.
That said, having just taught one month of intensive Blissology Yoga Teacher Training course focusing on the ins an outs of yoga alignment, I am recommitted to making people realize my stance on yoga progression. I strongly believe that advanced yoga needs to be viewed not just as flashy, challenging poses, preferably done on the edges of cliffs or waterfalls; nay, advanced yoga lies also in being able to do so called “basic” poses with precision, breath and presence. This needs to remain the foundation of yoga.
One afternoon during the YTT, I wanted to run our Yoga Foundations course so the students could see how to explain so called “simple poses” like upward dog or chaturanga to beginners. It become clear that this work was not just for beginners. Even people who had been practicing yoga for decades loved going back to basics and learning how to do them well. It was a joy to spend whole afternoons looking at what muscles need to turn on to make these poses feel light yet stable to explore what the feet, pelvis and hands do in the pose with a fine brush instead of in broad brush strokes. There is a whole world of detail that isn’t boring but outright exciting in this work. There needs to be a resurgence of this type of study in modern yoga.
Over the years, as thousands of more yoga teachers pour into the incredibly competitive global yoga market, there is more and more emphasis to find something fresh and exciting in the practice. This means that teachers will step up their sequencing game, make killer playlists, and throw lots of challenging poses into the mix.
To really do yoga with precision, you need to make people aware of what they are doing by plugging into their bodily feedback loops and slowing the tempo down. In way too many yoga classes I’ve observed, the tempo seems to be speeding up as this is what creates sweat which is an easy sell in our body conscious culture.
Imagine trying to play jazz before mastering the scales. This is an analogy for what I see in the modern yoga culture.
I believe that we need to spend more time ingraining a solid alignment foundation in yogis; and as experienced yoga teachers it is our responsibility to the next generation (of yogis) that we do so.
I always remind our graduating teachers that every yoga instructor is trying to strike a balance between detail and flow—and it’s a tricky balance. If you concentrate on the details of the poses, often the classes loses flow and become a clinic or workshop.
Yet, there is a third option. When we slow the pace down just a little and create an experience of harmony between mind, body and breath, concentrating on precise yoga can lead to the state of mind we all love called “flow.”
This means we need to let people know why they are doing the poses, what the benefits are, how they should feel in the pose and let their internal experience guide the poses.
It’s the opposite to being guided from the “outside in” and feeling like every pose needs to fit a perfect photo. This is where we progress to in our month long YTT.
There is a lot of room still for inspiring playlists, creative sequencing, philosophical themes and even options for advanced poses for those who want to go there in the class. Let’s walk before we run though. Alignment is and should be the foundation for all yoga, beginner or advanced. After all, cultivating a strong practice of alignment will help our bodies to continue to practice our yoga as we age, with more freedom and no injuries.
Here in the States, April is National Poetry Month. I love it for the inspiration to re-visit my favorite poems, the encouragement to discover new ones, and the excuse to share them in my yoga classes.
There’s such a beautiful parallel between poetry and yoga. One of the things that Eoin said during my teacher training that stayed with me is that teaching yoga is like poetry: the idea is to encourage people to slow down and feel.
When I read a poem, I feel a difference in my approach compared to my more typical tendency to skim. My time in law school with its endless required reading of case law made me a champion skimmer. And if I’m not careful, I find that skimming skill transforming into habit. Maybe it’s the same for many of us. How often do we skim the news, our email, our Facebook feeds, just trying to sift through and determine what really requires our attention?
This is where poetry is so good for me. It forces me not to skim. What would be the point of skimming a poem, after all? So much of the pleasure of reading a poem is appreciating each word, noticing how it relates to the next, much like our poses and movements flow together on our mats.
“…when you think, when you’re in a very quiet place, when you’re remembering, when you’re savoring an image, when you’re allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that’s a poem. That’s what a poem does.”
And at its best, isn’t that also what a yoga/meditation practice does? It provides us the same opportunity to get quiet, to savor, to make some space to notice how we feel. And like a poem, our practice is most powerful when we allow it to evoke feeling, emotion.
Shihab Nye, again, says it beautifully:
“…and after you read a poem just knowing you can hold it, you can be in that space of the poem. And it can hold you in its space. And you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”
More and more I notice our collective need for this space, and I see that the enemy of it is “skimming.” When we rush—whether through texts and images on a screen, or through movements on our mat—we’re not letting ourselves slow down and feel. With poetry as my remedy, I’m committing to skim less, and savor more.
I’d love for you to join me. Let’s make more space for poetry, for practice, for presence.
It seems only appropriate to share a poem to close. It’s so hard to choose just one of my favorites, but this one echoes a lot of Blissology principles for me. It’s from fellow Oregonian William Stafford:
Why I Am Happy
Now has come, an easy time. I let it roll. There is a lake somewhere so blue and far nobody owns it. A wind comes by and a willow listens gracefully. I hear all this, every summer. I laugh and cry for every turn of the world, its terribly cold, innocent spin. That lake stays blue and free; it goes on and on. And I know where it is.
I can’t tell you how many new yoga students have come to me in their first weeks of yoga and said, “My husband (or wife) really wants to thank you for your classes.”
I know most people think the biggest benefit of yoga practice after a month of practice is flexibility. And while that is certainly one of the effects, the greatest gift is vitality and connection to our higher vibration self. I see people with so much more life force moving through them. They have more purpose, more joy and you can see it in their eyes.
They feel more connected to their bodies, to their communities and to the world. Life gets busy and very few of us have a connection to our innermost self. Whatever you call it—our soul, our inner light or just oxytocin—we have a cultural amnesia about this place in the heart.
We don’t have sacred spaces or time to move stuck emotions out of body so we can get in touch with this place. When we connect to this place, we end up being kinder to ourselves and all those around us.
One thing that I know for certain: Yoga is less about touching your toes than touching your heart.
I have been introducing yoga to sailors cruising the globe for four years now and I love it. I did not only grow as a student but as a teacher as well and my realisation “light bulb” has switched on—I love to teach beginners!
It lights me up seeing the look on their faces and conversations after class, how much they enjoyed it, but most of all, I love their comments. Most common remarks are: “I thought I could never do yoga,” “I feel so light,” “My mood after yoga gets me through the day,” “My back is improving,” “I feel better after just three classes.”
My self practice keeps me focused as I continue my travelling yoga journey and I find room to grow along the way.
Sometimes I have struggled as a teacher. I find more often, not to introduce advanced asanas with my teachings, as I am often not in one place too long and it just isn’t appropriate for my students when they are often new to yoga. I keep it simple with glimpses of advanced progress from me as a teacher.
I find teaching preparations a mindful experience involving quiet time to decide the flow of asanas/postures, music, words to inspire, but the more I teach the more I have learned my preparations are often almost void and my plans quickly shift based on who is at my new location and joining my classes. Quite often one student will change my whole routine planned, but I love that it challenges me as a teacher and helps me grow. After all, this is not my practice but theirs.
Teaching beginners slows the whole class down, allowing transitions to be enjoyed by all students regardless of flexibility.
Prior to teaching beginners, I take a few moments to demonstrate various parts of the vinyasa flow practice, showing hand and feet placement, also the importance of not rounding the spine. I also demonstrate Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog to encourage beginners the importance of resting if needed.
I endeavor to teach from a place of compassion and understanding, emotions are clearly shown on beginners faces, some are nervous, they are questioning their capabilities, and some are worried as they do not want to get hurt or look foolish in their eyes. I use words of encouragement, and remind them that I was new to yoga once also, and that although I am teaching them, they in turn will teach me.
I not only slow the practice but my verbal cues, I speak in plain text limiting the ancient yoga language “Sanskrit” to eliminate beginner’s being overwhelmed by not only yoga, but a new language.
I encourage beginners by using humour, for example, take Tree Pose, they start to sway loose focus, I remember my teacher saying this once in a class holding this pose, “If you fall out just take a few people out with you”—the class always laughs, it reminds them to not take themselves so serious. Teaching the second side of Tree Pose, they are more relaxed and manage to hold the pose a little longer, and not be overwhelmed if they loose focus & start to sway!
The mindful practice, meditation, benefits beginners by becoming aware of their breath, and instills the beginning of using their breath as a tool throughout practice, to help steady and focus them, which in turn relaxes the nervous system and centers students prior and after class.
By Leanne Hembrow, 200-hr YTT graduate Check out Leanne’s teacher profile to learn more.
Ayurveda—India’s ancient wisdom science of longevity—categorizes us as unique individuals, each stepping into life with our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual blueprint.
This blueprint, or prakriti in Sanskrit, arises from Ayurveda’s universal life-creating elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. These elements combine to form specific bio-energies called doshas, existing within us as well as in the world at large. Earth and water create the heavy Kapha dosha, from fire and water emerges fiery Pitta, and from air and space we get light and excitable Vata.
It is our unique ratio of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha that gives us recognizable characteristics, traits, and quirks. For example, earthy Kapha people have bigger bones and tend toward calm solidity, athletic Pitta people exhibit competitiveness and passion, while Vata people tend toward thinner frames, as well as a quick, creative, scattered mind.
Our work in life, according to Ayurveda, is to understand our doshic blueprint so that we can choose activities, food, and a lifestyle that balance, rather than amplify, our doshas.
Understanding our doshas is also key to getting the most benefits from our yoga practice. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class and emerged feeling a little out of it—you may have felt irritable and over-heated; or perhaps too scattered and spacey, or too mellow and melancholy—it is possible that your yoga practice is not supporting your doshas.
Here is a short guide to poses that will help to balance your doshas for maximum health and happiness…
This January 22nd – February 4th 2018 we’re launching the Blissology Project. This is a program we created years ago to create an Upward Spiral of positivity and health in ones life. We’ve refreshed the content while keeping what works the same and we’re stoked to change lives!
Watch the video below for more information. More detailed information will be released in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and keep your Bliss Vibes strong in the meantime!
A superflow is a joyous movement practice that pulls from yoga, tai chi, and surfing.
This powerful yet calming trinity intentionally mimics the rhythm of nature and flow of the oceans, opening you to a higher state of bliss in both body and mind.
Here are five beneficial surf-inspired movements:
Tai Chi for centering
Lay back flow
Surf burpees with slash
On a physical level, these practices increase agility, coordination, and strength; mentally they evoke positive energy and clarity. Yogis will find these flows more circular and less confined to a grid than a traditional yoga practice. Fitness enthusiasts will love the physical challenge and creativity within each sequence. Expect a whole new level of mind-body harmony.
Twenty-nine years ago I started dabbling in tai chi, meditation and yoga.
I didn’t know a lot about any of these at the time but I would go to empty beaches where I could feel the transformative power of the Great Spirit. I would move organically and let its energy flow through me, sand in my toes and peace in my heart.
Today, a mix of these tai chi, yoga and surfing movements is called a Superflow and it is my favourite routine every morning when I wake up (I highly recommend checking out the instructional video first to understand the movements before putting them together in a flow, practice starts at 5:20 mins):
Whether you are preparing to hit the ski hills this season, play golf next season, perform fall yard work, or simply are wanting to continue to walk and perform all your household chores with ease and efficiency, it might be helpful to be knowledgeable about the term ‘core’ and how timing of our core contributes to quality of movement whether we are participating in sports or activities of daily living.
The ‘core’ can be interpreted in many ways, depending on who is explaining it. Some leading spine researchers debate that a true ‘core’ even exists (O’Sullivan 2012 interview here). Scientific reviews of high level (level 1) evidence conclude that there is not any one superior exercise for chronic low back pain. The popular belief that core stability exercises are essential to prevent and address back pain is not supported by research (don’t shoot the messenger) (Smith et al 2014). Sure, these exercises may help some people; but not for the reasons we may think. This debate is for another post. That said, we all likely have heard of the ‘inner core’ described as a group of muscles surrounding the trunk and described as a cylinder. The main function of these muscles is said to create spinal stability and control the intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) when the rest of the body is in motion. There are 4 main muscle groups that make up the inner core: Transversus Abdominus (TA), Multifidus (MF), Pelvic Floor muscles (PFM), and the respiratory diaphragm. TA is the deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your abdomen like a corset, and is connected to tissue surrounding the spine. When TA engages, it assists in increasing the pressure inside the abdomen, which can be one of many factors that contribute to trunk stability. MF is a deep spinal muscle which makes up the back part of the core. It is a postural muscle that helps keep the spine erect. The PFM’s are the bottom part of the ‘cylinder’ or core. More information about the role of the pelvic floor and the factors that influence its function is here.
The respiratory diaphragm makes up the top part of the cylinder. When all of these muscles engage in a coordinated manner, they help to maintain the pressure in the abdomen which then provides the stability to the spine and pelvis. It is important to note that the timing of these muscle engagements is needed for efficiency of movement and function, which is why I often like to refer to this phenomenon as “core timing” instead of “core stability.” For optimal core function, these muscles will activate in a sophisticated and coordinated during movement and are ideally engaging at a variety of intensities, automatically, throughout all movement, all day! Julie Wiebe, PT, describes the core strategy system as ‘piston science.’ Antony Lo, PT, discusses the refined recruitment that continually changes in response to each task as “tension to task.”
A common misconception is that “strong abdominals protect the spine”. In fact, as described above, the abdominal muscles make up only one part of the core. Furthermore, coordinated ‘timing’ of the engagement of the TA is important and not just the mere ‘strength’. The famous “6-pack” or Rectus Abdominus muscle that many fitness fanatics train is not the muscle we are trying to target here. Instead of engaging TA adequately, you may be using or over-recruiting the Rectus Abdominus (as evident by the abdominals popping out and up) to compensate for the TA that may not be recruiting appropriately.
Core timing or core training can play an important role in any rehabilitation program. A healthy core means a healthy foundation from which our limbs can move with more power and efficiency. However, can we actually volitionally ‘train’ each muscle to engage in a perfectly timed and refined way? It’s quite a sophisticated and automated system: there is debate on whether or not we can actually cue the timing of the core adequately. That is also for another post!
For now, I will say that in my clinical experience, cueing breath and ease of movement seems to improve core timing (therefore movement efficiency and performance) more than actually cueing TA, PFM’s or MF to voluntarily ‘engage.’
Brent Anderson, PT, PhD, explains a similar approach, and uses two real-time ultrasounds to illustrate this concept here.
Core timing can be an essential part of any regular workout routine. Whether you enjoy recreational sports, competitive sports, pilates, yoga, or enjoy working out at the gym, addressing your core (through breath) can improve your abilities and enhance your overall performance.
If you experience low back pain, then a visit to your physiotherapist or other trained health care professional would be a good idea. See “Truth About Back Pain” for more info on myths vs truths about back pain and the myth of core stability here.
**This article is not intended to act as medical advice, nor to diagnose or replace your current treatment. Please seek clearance and guidance from your licensed healthcare professional prior to participating in any of the tips, advice, practices or movements mentioned in this article.
By Shelly Prosko, PT, PYT, CPI, Blissology 200-hr YTT graduate Check out Shelly’s teacher profileto learn more.
There are few things in life as blissful as a well executed yoga adjustment. Yet when it goes wrong, it is very, very bad. We are offering a mind-blowing module in Santa Cruz this August called Advanced Alignment and Adjustments.
Just in case you can’t make it and in my interest of bringing more love and connection out into the world, here is our six steps to adjustments in our Blissology Yoga School. Remember, not everyone wants to be touched and you can always cue people with your words. As you will see in the article, if you can’t get passed Phase three, don’t worry.
I hope to see you on the mat soon.
Step 1: Intention: What is your intention for adjusting? Be clear.
It is important to start the process of adjusting at the foundational level: our intention. Most times, before we adjust someone, our intentions are unconscious. We go straight into the how the adjustment should be done and the question of why we are adjusting someone happens in the background of our minds. Even though I believe we need more touch in the world, I believe it needs to come from our highest consciousness.
I have trained myself to take a few extra seconds in my internal dialogue to clarify what my intention is before I think about putting my hands on someone. I know my intention will come through in my touch. Often it is the same simple Mantra I repeat to myself: “I want this person to feel total joy!”
It is essential to have an honest conversation in my mind. If it is not my “highest vibrational self” coming through, I have to catch those non-beneficial seeds. For example, if I ever think to myself, “I have to show this person how much I know,” or proclaiming judgmentally to myself, “God, what is this person doing? Don’t they know anything?” I know I am not coming from the right frame of mind as these are low vibrational qualities. These are about me wanting to be liked and needing to prove my worth. If these stories are operating somewhere in the background, the first adjustment I need to give is my own state of mind and not to another person.
I need to make sure that the place I am coming from is one of sharing the miracle of health and the gift of life with another. I need to feel in my body, mind and heart that I truly have nothing to prove and everything to share.
Step 2: Assessment Phase
Start your assessment process with the Pranayama Kosha—the breath. Is the breath relaxed and full or is it short, choppy, strained or being held? Are they embodying peace and listening to bodily feedback.
ManaMaya Kosha—the Mind: The mindset and the breath are ultimately intimately connected. Is the mindset one of dominating the body? Is there a sense of willfully trying to submit the body even if it means sacrificing the breath? Is the shape the body is taking more important than the feeling of peace and connection?
If the answer is yes, then we need to find strategies to soften and encourage the student to back up to a point where they can enjoy their breath. Often they will need a touch that soothes the side of them that is driven and turns their awareness to the internal experience.
On the level of the Anamaya Kosha—the muscles and bones—we need to scan for joints at risk. This is the biggie. But in general, watch for 1) Sharp angles or joint 2) stress that is concentrated on one joint vs dispersed over several. Know the 12 indispensible joint issues section of the Blissology manual cold. If there is a joint at risk, don’t move to the next phase of the adjustment process, back them out of the pose and start again.
Next, have an eye for whether the student has “yin” (loose) or “yang” (tight) tissues. Are they stable or instable? What is stuck and immobile and what is too loose? Have they lost their lines of DUO*? Their arches?
Step 3: Attunement Phase
Attunement is huge—it means that there is a harmony between your actions and the recipient. It means the doorway of trust and connection are open; you are both “in sync.” You are a “horse-whisperer.” Your energy matters.
Awareness of Energy and Feelings will come over time but the easiest place to start when you are in the attunement phase is by observing the breath of the recipient. When you touch them, do they clam up, tighten and lose the natural rhythm of their breath?
Don’t forget to check in with your own breath. Is it still deep and relaxed? Stay in your body as well and generate a vibration of kindness and confidence.
Find a soft touch on your partner and don’t adjust too quickly. Are you being “let in” or “shut out?” If you are not being let in, do not adjust your partner.
You need to know that you may not make it past this attunement phase. If you are not energetically in sync, do not proceed to the next steps.
You may not have to walk away, either. There is a little more exploration that needs to happen here.
1) Injury: Is there an injury? This is my go to for noticing why someone may be guarded and not willing to receive an adjustment. When I notice the breath is being held and the body tightening, I simply whisper to my partner, “are you injured?” or, “is this ok?”
2) Ego: Sometimes people are in their egos or from a different school of yoga and they feel that you are not qualified to adjust them. In this case, my response is to observe something in the pose that they are doing well and offer it up to the student. The words, “Nice Pose,” can go a long way to break down a barrier and they will be more likely to receive what you are offering.
Especially in the case of our Blissology Alignment system where the principles and methodology are new to many yogis, you will need a strategy to help them work with you. The compliment and redirect strategy can work well here. I often say “Nice Pose” and then complete the sentence with “… but let’s try it this way today.”
3) Trauma: A person may want you in their space: If you just aren’t welcome because a person is not ready to receive touch, that is okay.