Friday, October 5, 2012

Exploring Vrksasana

Notice what it feels like to hold the pose. What feels fluid within you? What feels tight or drawn? Do you have a sense of energy flowing? Take a look at the foot that you're balanced on - are the toes scrunched and white? Is the knee of your "standing leg" locked? Notice how the hip of the leg that you're standing on feels. If you're beginning to feel a burning sensation in the gluteals area (your backside "cheek and outer hip) more than likely your hip joint is locked. And how about your mindset? What is your intention for this particular pose? Are you trying to stay as static as possible...trying not to fall? Ironically, all the effort that goes into trying not to fall - in trying to be static - actually makes it harder to stay in balance. Once the roots are established, how can you allow for the flow of prana? As Erich Schiffman reminds us, trees sway. 

If we spend a little time analyzing the anatomy and kinesiology involved in vrksasana you'll notice that there are certain muscles that we typically "go to" in order to control our movement and that these tendencies make it harder to balance. We tend to scrunch up our toes in an effort to cling to balance in the pose. Take a moment to observe the sole of the foot when you scrunch up those toes and you'll notice that in scrunching the toes the majority of the bottom of the foot actually pulls away from the floor, decreasing the surface area in connection to the ground. Typically, we lock the knee back (there's no movement available in a locked knee!) and we tighten up the gluteal muscles of the leg we're balancing on, which locks the hip, in essence restricting all movement in the standing leg by making it rigid... or maybe a better word for it would be brittle. What happens then when the upper body sways a little, precariously perched as it is on the rigid leg and the outer rim of the foot?
"Change is the only constant." So rather than coming into vrksasana with the sense that it needs to be static, let's take the approach of making it dynamic. If you've taken a yoga class with me recently you may have been subjected to a little jumping during our practice. Go ahead and come back to standing. Now jump or hop lightly. Try not to make any sound when you land. Notice how you hold your feet and ankles when you jump. Notice the bend in your knees and hips? Now prepare to jump but don't push off or let the balls of your feet leave the floor. Feel that sense of "cocking back," ...the coiled spring-action in your feet? Think of this as dynamic energy. 

Stand a little closer to a wall, giving yourself room to move, but know that the wall is within arm's reach if you need it... oh, and make sure that you're clear of any breakables. Choose one foot to balance on. Try placing your other foot against the side of the calf muscle of your standing leg. (NOTE: Be sure not to place your foot against the side of your knee.) Now make a light hop or jump on your standing leg. Try the action of the light jump (without actually jumping) and think again of that coiled spring. Allow that dynamic energy to rise through your leg up towards your pelvis. As it rises through the leg be sure to keep a micro-bend in your knee and don't allow your gluteals muscles (on the backside "cheek") to clench. This time inhale and try the action of the light jump (without actually jumping) and use the inhale to take your arms up alongside your ears into a full vrksasana, tree pose. Allow the dynamic energy to rise up from the leg, through the pelvis, along the center-line of the body and through to your crown and your arms overhead.

So the question arises, how do you take the dynamic action of jumping into vrksasana and make it something that you can hold for several breaths? This deepening takes place through engagement of the core and by drawing the energy to the center-line of the body. Once you've drawn the energy in, it is from the center-line of the body that you can expand. You'll find this additional stability to aid in balance: 1) in the use of mulha bandha and uddiyana bandha, 2) by engaging your abdominal muscle to draw the lower ribs down slightly and the ASIS (the boney landmark points on the front of your pelvis) up slightly towards the ribs, and 3) by drawing your shoulder blades lightly towards the spine and slightly towards the waist. From here you can length the waist from hips to arm pits and lengthen the neck on all sides, keeping the chin parallel to the floor. Breathe.

Revisit your intention next time you come into vrksasana, garudasana, bakasana, or even sirsasana. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our interpretation of balance in a yoga pose. Its not a static moment that we're trying to achieve, but rather an expression of all of the dynamic energy that flows within us in every moment - our breath, our heart beat, our prana - always moving, always flowing...

Julia McSheffery (updated based on an article written in 2010)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Love As A Mountain

We have the privilege of having Anne Douglas, a senior iRest teacher, coming to Columbus in November. Those of you who have taken the ShivaShakti Synthesis yoga teacher training with me know that I struggle with explaining non-dualism. It is a concept I can “get” in my Being but descriptions elude me. This summer a friend and I went to a workshop with Adyashanti, a meditation teacher from northern California and a friend of Richard Miller’s. He describes himself as a “recovering Zen” practitioner. He started practicing when he was 14 years old and like Buddha, realized about 23 years later, that the rigor of that system wasn’t serving him and created his own path, much like Richard Miller and iRest has done. Adyashanti talks about “heady” subjects such as non-dualism in such a practical manner. One of the things he said that really struck me, was that when you close your eyes and ask yourself “Who Am I” (or any of those probing meditation techniques), in that moment of nothingness that is everything, is who you truly are. However the mind does not like to sit with that confusion so it begins to fill in the blanks with “I am this and I am that.” Something about this resonated in a new way for me.

Another beautiful soul who has helped shine the light of “all is one” is the teacher Anne Douglas. Her blog is below and shares her real life example of non-dualism and unity. For those of you who may have been confused in the past, I would love to hear what you think about what Adyshanti and Anne have written. For those of you who have always had greater clarity, I would love to hear your real life examples. When do you remember that you are the spacious complete nothingness and everythingness that is always there? Hope to hear from you soon.
Shanti, Janice

                                                       Love As A Mountain
                         A blog by Anne Douglas, iRest certified supervisor and trainer and
                                    facilitator of the November workshop and training

Nature has an astounding way of showing us who we really are. It mirrors our perfection in infinite ways and forms and perpetually points us to our home ground of Being that is ever present, still, open, and unperturbed.

I have the great privilege to live in a National Park in the Canadian Rockies, where nature’s magnanimous beauty is waiting to be revealed in every moment and glance. It is rare for a day to go by in which my heart has not been slayed open by some subtle or spectacular scene.

On one of my favorite local walks there is a lakeside bench that rests at the foot of Cascade Mountain whose peak reaches almost 3000 meters or over 9800 feet high. I will often perch myself here, on the bench, and open. Not out of intention. Openness simply happens.

At first it is an opening of the senses that quickly and spontaneously opens in all directions and I feel myself AS the mountain, as the sky, and as openness itself.

I am struck by the flavors of each object. The lake, the trees, the mountain seem to have unique feeling qualities. Yet each of these occurring within the One flavor of True Nature.

Cascade Mountain stands like an ominous pyramid, towering over the valley. As I open to it’s Presence, I feel a deep resonance like the continuous Om that the monks of the east chant, and a profound love that cascades in and through me and my heart opens into infinity.

I notice thoughts proclaiming, “I love this” as ego’s way to affirm itself and yet there is a sensing through to the truth and simplicity of pure open love without a “me”. Love As a lake. Love AS the sky. Love AS a mountain.

Anne Douglas

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Neti, neti - not this, not that; well, then who am I?

I am in southern California this week visiting my family, primarily my father and step-mother. This is the area of my birth and formative years. I left California my senior year of high school for northern Ohio, went to college at OSU, tried living back out west a couple times and decided it wasn't for me. Ohio became my home although it took me awhile to realize and claim that. I must admit I never thought I would spend so many years in Columbus. Like many others I came to Columbus for college. I planned to finish graduate school, get some post graduate experience and then go on my way, which is just what I did. I lived outside the country for two years with every intention of relocating after the return to the US. You can imagine my shock when, after returning, stopping in Columbus for a couple days to visit friends and hearing this loud voice inside say, you are home. Home, I thought? I had never considered Columbus home the entire time I lived there. And now I was hearing Home. A little bewildered, but with certainty I Iistened to the voice and moved back to the place that had long been waiting for me to realize was where I needed to be.

That seems simple enough on the surface yet my ego does a funny thing with this story. I always manage to slide into a conversation, fairly early on, that I am not from Ohio but rather California. It seems important somehow that people know I am where I am by choice, not "stuck" by circumstance. Now that does surely sound like an ego thing. It is my ego, rather than the Self shedding false identities, saying I am not This. Next comes the inevitable comment from the listener of "Oh how lucky, why did you ever move?" Then my ego seeks to "educate" them on my perspective that California is not the promised land that it is often assumed to be. So here I suppose I am saying that I am not That. Being back in California is providing an opportunity to ponder why I stay attached to this story of "not this, not that". Am I seeking to be unique? Many of my dearest friends live in the area of their birth and are quite wonderful and unique. They don't need explanations. Why do I? I also, as we all do, seek connection and unity. The truth is that for me, I didn't find that in California. I am in Columbus, by choice, because that is where I found home. Do I need to go into a whole story to convince others of my truth? And does it work? Of course not, as with all truths it is a deep knowing that transcends words.

So it seems to boil down to this. I am of California but I am not California. Just like we are of our parents and our heritage but we are not a clone of that. It shapes but does not define who we are. I don't need to reject that nor emphasize it. It just is. I am of That. Columbus has been the place where I have been able to find enough grounding to explore my roots and roles, play those out and one by one strip away those that no longer fit or serve me so I can remember the authentic being I am and let that presence speak for itself. I don't have to use my story to remind people that I am unique and one with them. That has never been in doubt. I am also This.

Perhaps my lesson is not neti, neti, not this, not that, but rather I am of this and that. I can embrace all of it without the story needing to define me. I am of it all and as I grow


Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Lusty Month of May

The Lusty Month of May

May invites us to celebrate the fullness of ourselves. It asks us to clear out the out clutter, just like we clean out our flower beds, so we can blossom forth. It reminds us it is not a bad or shameful thing to enjoy the sensuousness of life, just as we might enjoy the sight and smell of a blossoming flower.
In my yoga asana practice this reminds me to explore my belly and hips. This is the region of the second chakra, svadhisthana, which is also the realm of feelings and sensations. It is where we allow ourselves to explore the vast beauty of life. The word svadhisthana has two meanings:to be established in the self as well as to sweeten. It is this chakra that gives us the flowing juiciness of life while also reminding us to not go overboard and lose ourselves in its sensuality. Its element is water and represents the flow and river of our life force.

Here is a musing about the belly and hips from Racquel Graham, a local Iyengar teacher and Chair for the Center for Wholeness:
“I see that the rooms of my hips are very dense - not as free or wide open as once they were, or that I would like them to be. To be able to skip through life, one needs lightness in the room of the hips! Density comes to the hips from sitting too much - trying to be comfortable, to seek ease, to be entertained, distracted or amused. The belly becomes dense by protecting the energy, the joy of the child within. The shoulders become dense from carrying the weight of the world around - by being too responsible, too in-charge, by believing that working hard is essential for survival.”

How easy it is to forget about the joy of life. Even in the hard times there is an invitation to remember that hard times are a part of the journey of remembering the bliss that is our true nature. This comes only through allowing all that is present to be acknowledged and honored.

So how can we do this? Here are a few pratices we have been playing with in classes this month:

• Begin by lying down on a trifolded blanket. Lie at the end of the blanket placing it between the pubic bone and the belly button. The purpose of this is to allow the belly to free up from its held tensions. If you aren’t getting much juice from this then roll the end of the blanket up once and see if that gets a little deeper in. It shouldn’t hurt but should create a gentle pressure in the tight places inviting them to release. Don’t try to force the breathe into the belly. Allow the breath to move into the side ribs and back body. Each inhalation is an expansion of those areas and each exhalation is an allowing of the belly to relax a bit more. You can think of the inhale as an invitation to the belly to enter the abode of the body and the exhale as the belly’s response to that invite – to enter more deeply.
• After a few minutes here begin to stretch like you are a starfish. Let the limbs stretch out from the core. Then roll onto your right side and pause for a few breaths. Then make your way to sitting.
• After a few warmups, make your way into adho mukha svanasana, downward facing dog. Allow the freed up belly to lift you up. See if it feels any different than your usual dog. Take the right leg out to the side with a bent knee, allowing the belly to flow toward the right hip. Twist to the right, looking at the right armpit and then bring that leg forward into kapotasana, pigeon pose. Prop the right hip as needed to create stability so the hips can open safely. If the belly is the river, the hips are the its river banks. They are needed for the river to flow with ease.
• When ready move back into down dog and repeat on the second side.

Try these out and let me know what emerges for you. Explore, without shame and with abandon, this lusty month of May.
Shanti, Janice

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Forgetting and Remembering

Forgetting and Remembering

Last Monday I sat down to write the “weekly” blog. I put weekly in quotations as it does not get produced each week as I would like. Life tends to not always cooperate. The focus of the blog was to be on the hip joint and its relationship to yoga and to the energy of the rebirth of spring. I sat in front of the computer, got two lines written and then realized that I did not have the energy or brain capacity at that point to write it as I was still recovering from the flu. Honoring my body’s needs and reality, rather than my cognitive intention, I shut down the computer and laid down on the couch.

Getting the flu, a full blown case with 102 degree temperature like I had not experienced in probably 15-20 years, brought me right up against my ego and out of touch with humility. Thoughts such as “why am I sick, what did I do wrong, let me take this remedy and it will go away, I can’t be sick, how will I reschedule all my clients, etc.,” filled my head. I was so convinced that I could will it away that I even worked until my body put the brakes on and I came to a full-blown stop.

I have worked hard in the past year to be more present to my needs, to surrender to the moment and to reach out for assistance. My old pattern had been to push through and think I had to do much of it myself. With the crisis of illness, all the new coping mechanisms I had gained and celebrated seemed to momentarily be forgotten. Does this sound familiar? How does this happen? The yoga sutras of Patanjali give us some insight. In book two of the sutras, Patanjali outlines the causes of suffering. They are:

Avidya (ignorance of our eternal and connected true nature; the loss of true identity.) This ignorance is a normal part of the human condition. With birth an individual form is adopted. In that individuation there can be a sense of abandonment and loneliness leading to a feeling of vulnerability.
Asmita (false sense of self, ego.) To guard against this feeling of vulnerability, a protective structure known as ego is developed. Because the ego is external, it tends to require external support to maintain its existence, which leads to
Raga (attachment to that which does support the ego.)
Dveshya (aversion to that which does not support the ego.) There is a natural tendency to become attached to things that support the sense of self while rejecting or avoiding those things that do not. In Western science, this might be referred to as the fight or flight response. This up and down ride of raga and dveshya leads to behaviors of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, which leads to suffering.
Abineveshah (fear of death.) The reality of life is that everything except “essence” or “Source” is impermanent. We experience death every moment. It may be the death of a cell, (our bodies are said to be totally new every seven years), the death of an identity, a relationship or a season. The only constant is change. The greater the attachment to the false sense of self, the greater the fear of loss becomes. Running from this fear reinforces the basic misunderstanding that keeps us stuck in the cycle of suffering. Reinforcing abineveshah takes us right back to avidya, ignorance of our true nature.

How did this play out in my illness? The illness created a sense of vulnerability. In that state I clicked in to a sense of aloneness. This was absolutely not true, I have wonderful sources of support, but in that time of crisis, I forgot. And that forgetting truly is the cause of suffering. From that basic misunderstanding I fell back into old ego patterns. This is true for us all. What varies is how our ego patterns show up. Mine showed up in that “push through and carry on” way. In hindsight it was a gift to be able to see where there false belief still exists so I can continue to unwind it. This ego pattern took me into behaviors that supported the false belief system by the acts of attachment or rejection. And that took me further into the fear of death. In the thought patterns I mentioned in the second paragraph, can you hear the resistance to accepting some of those mini-deaths of ego and false beliefs? Resistance to accepting that I can do my best but I am not in control of the world, and stuff will happen, despite my best efforts and intentions? All of this cycled me back to avidya, the basic misunderstanding.

What got me out of the cycle? I was intelligent enough to cancel teaching yoga classes. In putting that word out some friends reached out. In that reaching out they reminded me of my present reality – that I am not alone, I have support, that stuff happens, that lots of folks have been getting the flu, i.e., I didn’t do anything “wrong.” They brought me soup and tea and relatively quickly, and this is an improvement from the past, I got out of my head and into my body. I received the love and support and offered it to myself. I was able to let go and rest knowing that if I got out of my way, my wise and intelligent being would do the healing. This is the return to vidya, or truth. This brought me back to humility, which bought me back to remembering, which brought me back to wholeness.

This is my story. I wanted to be honest about my process in hopes that it will support you in remembering. I would love to hear about what takes you into forgetting and what brings you back into remembering.

Next week I hope to write about the hip. If you have some issues or questions about that topic, or any other, I would love to hear about it.
Shanti, Janice

Monday, April 2, 2012

Panchakarma - Release and Rejuvenation

Panchakarma - Release and Rejuvenation, by Kristin Stevens

Last year I was challenged to confront everything I knew about health because I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Wait, what? Me? At 42-years old, I was a yoga teacher, meditator and nutrition enthusiast, and I considered myself extremely healthy. But when I got my diagnosis, I knew my body was telling a different story. Something was not working, and I took it as my job to figure out what it was and return to a state of maximum health.

I went through the regular Western treatment, which included lumpectomy surgery and a 6-week course of radiation therapy. Along the way, though, I knew I wanted to find alternative treatments that would enhance my healing and reduce side effects. I tried numerous alternative practitioners, and I always came back to one doctor whose recommendations resonated with me on a deep level: ShivaShakti’s own Dr. Vijay Jain, a Western-trained surgeon and experienced ayurvedic physician. I did my best to adhere to his simple ayurvedic recommendations for dietary changes and herbal supplements to boost immunity and reduce inflammation. They helped me during treatment, but I knew that the root cause of the cancer--the factors that created the conditions for the cancer cells to proliferate in the first place--had not been addressed.

So when Dr. Jain suggested that I do panchakarma, an ayurvedic detoxication process that integrates yoga and ayurveda into a whole body wellness program, I was in. He indicated that panchakarma would help cleanse my body of toxins resulting from the cancer treatment itself, including anesthesia and radiation, as well as release the toxic build-up that fostered the cancer growth. He also told me his theory that panchakarma would provide an effective alternative to an estrogen-inhibiting drug my oncologists recommended that I take. Okay, let me get this straight... a holistic way to clean house, so to speak, and prevent the cancer from recurring without the addition of more toxins and the potential for unpleasant side effects? Um, yes, sign me up.

What exactly is panchakarma and how does it work?

Panchakarma is a three-week ayurvedic detoxification program that releases deeply-held toxins, called ama, while simultaneously nourishing and rejuvenating on a cellular level. It is based on the premise that anything we take in through the senses, i.e., food, music, television, etc., has to be digested. If the digestive system is not well-balanced, and for most of us these days it is not, then the food or other sensory experience collects in our bodies as ama (toxins), which give rise to disease. During panchakarma, the ama is drawn into the digestive system and released by various protocols according to each individual’s specific needs and ayurvedic constitution.

The first week is all about drawing the toxins into the blood stream and then into the digestive system. This is done by ingesting ghee with bitter herbs on a daily basis while adhering to an ayurvedic diet. The second week, which is onsite at Amrit Yoga Institute in Salt Springs, FL, is designed to help release and eliminate the toxins. The treatments, depending on your individual constitution, may include virechna (controlled purgation), basti (cleansing enemas), abhyanga (hot oil massages), herbal steam treatments, shirodhara (calming oil streamed to the third eye to remove emotional blocks), and others. The third week is about rejuvenation--continuing a cleansing diet and incorporating specific practices to help nourish and rebuild the tissues.

What are the benefits of panchakarma? What is it actually like? Is it worth it?

By now you may be wondering what the punch line to this story is... as in, what are the benefits of doing the program? What is it actually like? How does it feel? And, perhaps most importantly, is it worth the effort cost?

Well, from one yogini to another, I will tell you that it is totally, unequivocally worth it, and I’ve never felt so amazing. I’ve written a brief summary of the benefits in terms of the koshas, or layers of being: physical, energy, mental/emotional, wisdom, and bliss:

Physical Body

Although the treatments work at all layers, a lot of the action, so to speak, takes place in the physical body. For me, the elimination of toxins through virechna and two bastis was less than pleasant. But my theory is that the more ama one has, the less comfortable it will be coming out. Unfortunately, after all my cancer treatments, I had a lot of ama! But during those intense few days, I took my body’s strong cues to rest and relax, and I can honestly say that the clean feeling afterwards was worth it.

The food at the ashram was wonderful, consisting primarily of kichadi, rice and dal, and sauteed vegetables. It was comforting to know that the meals were clean and well-balanced for each dosha. One interesting tidbit about eating according to ayurvedic principles: when finished with a balanced meal, which includes all six tastes, there are no cravings. Usually, I like to end a meal with something sweet, but during this week I was perfectly satisfied after every meal. What a bonus.

The daily treatments of abhyanga, steam and shirodhara at first felt a little, well, oily. We were encouraged to limit our use of soap, so as to allow the oils to soak in to the skin. Once I got over my initial hesitation, I found that I relished in the softness of my skin and didn’t want to wash the benefits of the treatments away. I have since incorporated a daily abhyanga self-massage practice, and it has really made a difference in how grounded and connected to the earth I feel. I highly recommend it.

Energy Body

In general, my energy waned in the beginning of the week, but after a gentle energy treatment with Janice and increased sustenance through fresh air and nourishing foods, I started to rebound and feel even more energized than before.

Another aspect of the energy body, of course, is the breath. I have known for a while now that I’m a pretty shallow breather, especially when I’m under stress (which is apparently a lot). Dr. Jain emphasized daily pranayama as a way for me to calm my over-engaged sympathetic nervous system. I find that in the course of my daily life (back in reality, that is), I don’t do pranayama as much as prescribed, but I am stealing away small practices whenever I have a little down time, and it quickly helps me access a deeper level of calm. Nothing like a little energetic nadi shodana at a red light.

Mental/Emotional Body

Many panchakarma programs deal with the physical effects of treatments as well as a spiritual component, but to my knowledge, this particular panchakarma program is the only one that fully integrates emotional processing along with the other aspects. The reason for the addition of two yoga therapy sessions is that when physical toxins are eliminated from the body, the emotions suppressed by the toxins come up as well.

For me, the emotional processing was fairly subtle. It started with some very quiet thoughts about wishing I could be a better yoga teacher (if only I could teach like Janice!). If I hadn’t been paying close attention, I would have missed them. But then in my yoga therapy session, we started working with this subtle envy and its complement, shame. At one point, my eyes started fluttering, and after Janice asked me why, I said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” Ahhh... the energy of confusion, the underlying emotion beneath the others. As we continued, I saw an image of my scared inner six-year old hiding behind a door. It turns out her patterns of hiding, comparing and self-criticizing are still my go-to coping mechanisms whenever I get confused. But now that I know the source of these habituated patterns, I can use my adult awareness and tools to respond to the confusion instead of reacting to it. What a gift.

If I hadn’t learned the lesson yet, I got a reminder from nature in the form of a bird that repeatedly banged into the glass window outside. Janice and I said at the same time, “the bird is confused!” Even instinctual beings like birds get confused. Confusion is just a vibration of energy like any other emotion, and we can learn to be with it instead of resisting it (or berating ourselves for it). Part of our inner knowing is sometimes not knowing.

Wisdom Body

After about four full days of clean food, plenty of rest, fresh air, two-hour massages, shirodhara, and daily yoga and yoga nidra, Dr. Jain took my pulse and said, “your mind is still very active, isn’t it?” Um, well, yeah, how did you know? (He knew by taking my pulse--go figure).

The amount of sensory input and stress that we endure on a daily basis is staggering when you really think about it. Television. Internet. Email and texting. Phones ringing. Cars and sirens. Conference calls. Meetings. It’s no wonder that we find it hard to unwind and relax.

Even after almost a week of being unplugged, my mind calmer, but still over-active. From that point on, I incorporated even more pranayama and yoga nidra, and I started to observe noticeable shifts toward a quieter mind and a more centered presence. By the end of the week, the pace of my thoughts actually slowed down. I got a beautiful glimpse of what a quiet mind actually feels like, and it felt magical.

Bliss Body

When living on a quiet ashram near a beautiful lake, it is not difficult to get a sense of oneness, of the bliss in everything. An evening of kirtan certainly helped honor the energy of the divine.

Two specific moments, though, stood out for me. The first was on a walking meditation through a national forest on our last full day. I experienced a joyous sense of oneness and exhilaration as I gazed at the stately pine trees set against a brilliant azure sky. Magnificent.

The other was on the last day, when Dr. Jain took my pulse and said, “your vata is down, your pitta is down, your ama is gone. This is what it feels like to be in balance.” I started crying tears of joy. To know that my intentions had been realized. My efforts had paid off. And the best part was that I could feel the difference in every layer of my being: a clean, clear body; deeper breathing and an increased flow of energy; the sweet release of emotional baggage; a calm, relaxed state of mind; and a stronger connection to the oneness of everything. Now that is bliss.

Kristin Stevens graduated from the ShivaShakti Synthesis Level I program in 2010 and currently coordinates Level I marketing and ShivaShakti's Facebook page (please visit our page to join the conversation!).  She is also a business coach who specializes in helping healing practitioners make their vision a reality and make a good living in the process.  Check out her affordable coaching options, including a new virtual community for healers, at

Monday, March 26, 2012

Having someone's back

Having someone's back

No man is an island. This is a truth. As much as we might try to not have needs, we do. And those needs are not just about food, water and shelter. We also have needs in regards to love, safe touch and connection. A study conducted in a French orphanage in the 1950's demonstrated that children could suffer the ill effects of failure to thrive, which includes being severely underweight, cognitively and/or physically delayed, or even dying, from a lack of touch. These children had food, water and shelter, which were considered to be the essentials. However they were not picked up and held, touched, massaged or cooed at. This was the time that behaviorism was becoming an accepted theory (remember hearing about the scientist, Pavlov, and his experiments with dogs?). So it came as quite a shock that these children were not doing well. They were failing to thrive. Some died.

From this experience we learned that touch, the sense of being loved, held and protected by caretakers, whether that be parents, grandparents, friends, or neighbors, is just as important as food to the development of a child. That the developmental concept of "nurture" is just as essential as biological concept of "nature."

Recently I was fortunate to be part of a "Women and Leadership" workshop created and facilitated by my office partner, Suzanne Roberts. The workshop was largely somatic, meaning that experiences were created where our psycho-biology could feel what disempowers us and what empowers us, allowing for awareness and choice rather than unconscious reaction. One of the most meaningful experiences for me was the concept of "having your back," or someone having yours, which can be figurative or literal. It is the experience of standing with the kind of support that allows the central nervous system to relax, moving out of the fight/flight/freeze stress response and moving into the deeper connection of the resilient core and its authentic power. We each took turns placing a firm and compassionate hand at the sacrum and/or back of the heart of another participant while they faced the embodiment of an old fear or belief system that diminished and disempowered them in some way. With that support we were each able to experience these old unfounded fears melt away as the body reorganized around its core essence, strength, passion and truth.

I have had the honor this week of giving back some of what I received from that workshop. This past week I was in Florida with Vijay (Dr. Jain), Michele and the rest of the Healing Arts staff providing yoga, yoga nidra and individual yoga therapy sessions to the participants of our annual panchakarma program. The program is designed to release undigested material, whether that be food or experience, from the body. It is truly transformational, as I can attest, as I was a panchakarma participant last year. A piece I felt that would be helpful to facilitate this process was for each participant to receive individual yoga therapy sessions to aid in the digestion of issues, especially emotional, that may arise as the physical toxins are released. From the feedback, it appears that these sessions were useful and so will continue to be part of the ShivaShakti Synthesis panchakarma program in the future.
The most profound healing occurred when I stayed present and had "someone's back” during a yoga therapy session. Sometimes they were lying on the ground and I would be moved to bring my hands to the back of their heart. Tears of grief would flow, the old pains would surface to be healed, and a new sense of freedom, well-being and lightness would emerge. If a false belief system arose we would welcome it, identify it, look at how it once served the system and why it was no longer needed. Out of this a deeper truth emerged. Panchakarma is not just about detoxifying, it is also about replenishing with what the body's intelligence craves. We came to standing and they would take Warrior pose. I would place one hand on their sacrum and the other behind their heart while they spoke their truth. This felt embodied experience empowered them to understand more fully who they are when they remember their spacious fully alive sense of Self. What I offered involved no tricks or special tools. It was the simplest and most profound offering - presence and having someone's back. It is our greatest gift. And it does transform the world.