Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Be Human. Be Real. A Reflection On Teaching Yoga

Be Human. Be Real. I find nothing more confusing than being in a yoga class with a teacher who is not really there. I've seen this many times, a teacher will sit down, open their mouth, and all of a sudden a voice that is not their own starts to pour out of their mouth. It is as if they feel that they are not good enough, or their yoga is not real enough to be shared. To me, what makes a teacher real is that they can stub their toe and cry, occasionally fart at inopportune times, and they allow their vulnerabilities to be seen. They are not concerned with upholding some archetypal version of the yoga teacher but they show up as themselves in real live human form.

My favorite yoga teachers are real people. They come into class and share what is on their minds and hearts even if the story doesn't have a tidy and neat ending. They teach from their experience and help students into poses and leave out the clever line, "do what ever is a part of your practice" and teach them how to do the pose. My favorite teachers get into the trenches with their students. They leave the safety of their mats and offer support and move blankets. They watch their students, offer kind words of encouragement, give advice based on their experience, and are there to help.

Being a real human yoga teacher is liberating. As a real human you can make mistakes, you can crack a joke when something funny happens in the classroom, you can wear what you want, and you can stop obsessing about that little bit of belly or thigh fat that the industry says is non-yogic. Screw that. As a human yoga teacher you can relax a bit, slouch on the couch, and best of all you can release the facade that you are somehow better than all of the people who don't do yoga.

In the last year my teaching has evolved. My teaching has simplified and is becoming more grounded in classical sequences and meditation techniques. My personal practice is driven by what I am interested in, and not what I think I should be working on or what I should be teaching. I still love reading and studying yoga texts and I'm now adding the study of my own ancestry to compare and contrast perspectives. Yoga is becoming more grounded for me and is helping me clarify who I am, and who I am not.

So this week's yoga teaching tip is simple. Be human and be real. Try taking a look at the imperfections in your practice and the sometimes messy nature of your life and embrace it. Get into the trenches with your students and let them know that you are human too. Most importantly, be yourself.

As Emerson once wrote, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."

Falling out of firefly pose

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter! The Medicinal Teachings of Easter Lily

Happy Easter! In honor of this spring holiday I thought I would write about one of my all time favorite plants, Easter Lily, or Lilium longiflorum. While many of us know this plant from its debut in grocery stores and florist shops in April, many of us might not know that it is also a highly prized medicinal plant.

I was first introduced to Easter Lily through Matthew Wood's, “Seven Herbs: Plants as Teachers.” This book takes the reader through a journey of seven plant teachers as they relate to symbols and myths contained within the bible. I was so impressed and captured by this book that I immediate told two of my closest girlfriends. Together we embarked on a journey and set out to take each of the herbs in order as we studied their teachings.

Of all of the seven plants, Easter Lily seemed to have the greatest impact on each of us. Many of our “female” symptoms seemed to clear and we noticed a distinct difference in our psyches after working with the plant.

Easter Lily is a low dose plant used to help cleanse the female reproductive organs. It cleanses the uterus after the menstrual cycle, miscarriage, or stillbirth. The spirit teaching relates to the bible story of Adam and Eve. Often we see Eve depicted as fallen. She was once pure, and is now sullied. It was her flawed nature that led to her eating the forbidden fruit. In this story there is also the opportunity to see Eve’s act separate from the judgment of it. That is, Eve simply acted and that act had consequences, but it does not made her dirty, bad, or broken.

Easter Lily shows us that we can detach from these polarizations of good and evil, clean and dirty, wrong and right.

The plant itself contains pure white petals surrounding a messy phallic stamen covered in pollen. These two exist together within one plant. Matthew writes about the teaching of Easter Lily to help us break down these polarities within our psyches and within our physiology, which are interconnected. That is, if we mentally separate things into good and bad and have feelings of shame or righteousness attached to them, then physiologically, we may have a tendency to compartmentalize “bad” things into cysts or tidy containers hidden beneath the surface of otherwise “good health.”

Easter Lily, or Madonna Lily is also associated with the archetype of Virgo, the virgin. A Virgoan tendency is to see oneself as the virgin, proper, and in complete control. When we fall short then we are instantly the whore, the misfit, or a total disaster. For many Virgo’s, life is a constant dance from one extreme to another. Easter Lily helps us find the soft center the place where the virgin and whore can hold hands, laugh, and sip hot tea.

Physiologically Easter Lily breaks things down. It softens cysts and fibroids in the uterus or breasts. It breaks down old congested menses and can promote fertility due to this deep cleansing. It essentially helps us to break down the boundaries that we create to wall out the things we perceive as wrong or impure. Yet, the point is to recognize that we are both dirty and clean at the same time. That we cannot separate the two.

I’ve seen Easter Lily work wonders. As a low dose plant you only need to take 1 – 3 drops daily. The medicine is made from the root and has a sweet and slightly warming taste. I searched far and wide for a tincture of this plant and was so happy to find it atBear Wallow Herbs.

So, in the spirit of Easter we may want to take a look at gray areas between life, death, and resurrection. Perhaps we can summon the spirit of Easter Lily to help us soften our own hard lines and judgments. A good practice for this weekend would be to re-look at the things that we perceive as dirty or impure and explore why we have this perception. Through this initiation into the world of Easter Lily we see that chaos lives inside everyone who seems to ‘have it together,’ and that the dirt we wash from our foods contains vital minerals we need to be healthy. And if you are feeling really bold, try dropping your food on the ground and override your '5-second' rule. Who knows, you may find peace and serenity in the form of a dust fairy. There is so much more magic alive in these gray spaces than we realize. Thank you, Easter Lily for helping us to embrace life in its pure raw form.

Thank you: Matthew WoodSEVEN HERBS Plants as Teachers & Bear Wallow Herbs for introducing me to this fine plant :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Iris Versicolor - From Stagnation to Circulation

Plant Teaching Thursday - Blue Iris, Iris versicolor, the rainbow bridge, Blue Flag. These are the many names of a
wonderful plant dear to my heart. The first time I learned about Iris my teacher James Snow commented on how it is indicated for the "Pilsbury Doughboy" type. I had a big chuckle and envisioned a large puffy white creature with a sailor cap walking into my office, sitting down in a cloud of flour, giggling to himself.

However, if we get to know the indications for this plant, we are more likely to see this puffy archetype collapse into our chair with a sigh and tell us about the nature of sadness as they reach into a bag of sweet candies or treats.

When working with Iris, I've noticed that it seems to work best for people with stagnation. This can be physical stagnation, creative stagnation, emotional stagnation, or psychic stagnation. Iris is cathartic, a blood cleanser, and has a powerful effect on the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and colon. It is commonly used when there are symptoms of toxicity or a slowing down of the organs of detoxification. A few things that can tip me off to using Iris is when there is constipation, edema, hypoglycemia, a dullness of spirit, and a lack of motivation. Other physical symptoms include skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and what Matthew Wood describes as a "sugar glaze" on the skin. Especially on the cheeks. Matthew speaks about Iris as a deep cleanser and mentions in his, "Book of Herbal Wisdom" how the Creek Indians cultivated this plant alongside ponds presumably to help filter the water and keep the ponds clean. 

A few years ago when we opened our first Sky House Yoga location Silver Spring, we were lucky enough to have some Irises growing in the front yard. I have always admired their beauty yet never really had the chance to study their growing patterns. I was blown away when I noticed how the Iris flowers bloom!! They unfold in a very natural way, their petals extend out and fall open with such generosity. But the shocking part, was that AFTER they bloom, they start to pull their petals back inward, until the entire flower is absorbed back into the plant!!

I reflected on this and after much research on its use for melancholy and spirit sickness, it dawned on me that the plant is able to recycle its own creativity. If we see the flower as the final expression of a plants creative process then this makes great sense! I've since used Iris for artists who have experienced success in their lives and yet feel exhausted, depressed, or void of inspiration for the next project. Like they just don't have it "in them." I think that Iris can teach us how to share our work, bloom, and experience success, AND THEN bring those resources BACK IN to fuel the next expression. It can free us from the melancholy and nostalgia of living in the past and can get our energy moving again physically and mentally.

Iris is a strong medicine so you don't need very much. I recommend starting with 1 - 3 drops a day. If you really resonate with the plant, then try growing it! Watch how she beautifully displays and unfolds her petals, and then gathers them back up as she leaves the stage 

Here is a time lapse video of a brown-orange Iris doing her thing....

Want to dive into the study of herbs?  Join our upcoming Herbal Apprenticeship program starting May 1st. Learn how to identify plants, make medicines, and use herbal wisdom to enhance your life and connect you to the wisdom of the plant world.  Visit our Herbal Apprenticeship webpage for details: http://www.skyhouseyoga.com/herbal-apprenticeship-program.html

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beauty & Happiness

Yesterday I had the most extraordinary experience with a group of local teenage girls.

We gathered in a classroom at Eleanor Roosevelt High School to talk about beauty, values,
and yoga as part of my work with The Body Love Yoga Project.  As many of you know, this is a subject very close to my heart, as I struggled with body image issues and eating disorders throughout my late teens and early twenties.

As they gazed upon the images of black, white, old, young, conservative, edgy, and modern women, they chose one image and wrote all of the qualities that they liked about this woman.  Then they chose a second image, one that they didn't like as much, and wrote what they didn't like.

The results were incredible.

The majority of the girls liked the images of women who were smiling and relaxed. They attributed the beauty of these women to their self-confidence and an inner happiness. One girl said that she liked the image of a woman in a baggy sweater and hat because she seemed comfortable in her own skin. Another liked the plus size model because she seemed happy and set a good example for other curvy women. A quiet younger teen said she liked the mother and baby because there is something beautiful about being able to nurture and love another being.

When asked to describe the image of a woman that they didn't like, many of them pointed to the image of a business woman on the telephone. They said she looked distracted, tired, and there was a harshness in her face they thought showed her unhappiness. Another pointed to the image of a woman who seemed to be taking her top off. She said the woman would be much more beautiful if she wasn't trying so hard to be sexy.

After a nice full discussion I asked the girls to consider these qualities as their own. Which qualities did they link to beauty? Which qualities distract from beauty?  I explained that there are no right or wrong answers here. We can simply use this exercise to show us what we value, and when we are aligned with our values, we are happy, and happiness makes a person beautiful.

As cliched as it sounds, our take away from the afternoon was that beauty comes from connecting with what makes us happy. Whether it is nurturing others, owning our curves, traveling, resting, or having fun, it is this commitment to our values that will lead us to happiness. The girls were able to pick out which women were confident and happy and which seemed unhappy, distracted, or disconnected. Beauty had nothing to do with body shape, age, race, or clothing. It was the recognition that these women had connected deeply to their own inner values and were wearing them proudly. 


The afternoon ended with a playful yoga session where all twenty-seven of us lined up in the high school hallway and practiced embodying the positive qualities we wrote down.  Through warrior poses, balancing poses, and partner practices, we let our inner focus, resolve, and confidence shine through.  At the end, a few of the skeptics were asking how they could find more yoga.

I hope this little story inspires you to connect in your own way to the radiant confidence that lives inside you. If you have a few minutes, jot down some of the words that come to mind when you see a beautiful woman. My guess is that it will have nothing to do with the cost of her shoes, the size of her waist, or the color of her skin.

Then write what comes to mind when you see a woman who irritates you, upsets or disturbs you. If you want to go even deeper you can think about how these qualities may be parts of your own shadow lurking under the surface. How does the woman speaking loudly on her phone, pacing the aisles in the grocery store reflect back to you the images of ugliness that you carry with you.

To me, this exercise can show us both our strengths and our blind spots. It can help us locate our core values so we can and dress, live, eat, do our yoga, and walk in a way that radiates self-love and self-understanding. It can help us LIVE in accordance with our deepest values so no matter where we are, or what we are doing, or what kind of hair day we are having, we are presenting a congruent image of beauty that starts from the inside....and works its way out.

With Heart,

Interested in learning more about our work with teen girls?  Visit  The Body Love Yoga Project website and help us spread the word!

Yoga Blossoms: Yoga and Herbs for Girls 10 - 14
with Ashley Litecky & Amy Dixon

Sundays  July 13th -  27th
 12:15 pm - 1:45 pm

The heart, mind and body of a girl is full of delight and magic yet she can sometimes feel uncertain. This three week session, co-taught by Ashley Litecky and Amy Dixon, will focus on using yoga and the plant medicines to celebrate and support the pure beauty, strength and joy of the 10-14 year old girl.

Each session will include 45 minutes of a physical yoga practice, time in Ashley's healing herbal apothecary, and an introduction to the Indian medicinal practices of Ayurveda. In the Ayurveda session, we will do our yoga and then learn skin and self care practices to keep our bodies and skin healthy and bright. We will close the session with fun partner yoga and then ornament ourselves with henna and art.

July 13th - Yoga & Plant Medicine
July 20th - Ayurveda & Skin Care
July 27th - Yoga & Henna Body Art

Suggested Donation
3 -week session - $45 - $60 (recommended)
Single session - $15 - $25