It is Peace O'Clock

Greetings! It has been a while since I’ve posted in the Deeper Well Blog, and it is because I’ve been spending so much time in nature. I’m deepening, and cultivating some juicy projects.

My invitation to you is to get thee outside while the weather is so lovely. Take some time to breathe with intention, slowness, depth and connection to the earth. Stand in the grass in your bare feet! Take time to smell the subtle scents that waft to you on a breeze. Notice the busy bees in the hearts of flowers. Savour some herbal tea and give your adrenals a coffee-break, literally! Nap on the earth in the shade. Read a book by the ocean.

Grab a friend and go for a hike instead of meeting for lunch or a coffee. Bring snacks into the forest and have an herbacious picnic.

You get the idea.

Trust. More is coming soon.

Introduction to Yoga: Session 6

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Samyama: Focus, Meditation & Bliss

Plus a bonus Guided Yoga Nidra at the end…

scroll on down if that’s why you are here!

Pose of Interest: Low Lunge

In this session, we added in the asana of Anjyansana or low lunge to complete the puzzle pieces that make up our modified Therapeutic Sun Salutations.

We modified this pose by using blocks on either side of the front foot to support the upper body.

Completing the Micro Study of the 8 Limbs of Patanjali


Dhāraṇā

Dharana refers to focus, concentration and single mindedness. Dharana is the process of choosing what to focus on, perhaps the breath, or internal sensations, or thoughts as they arise. When calling on Dharana in meditation or asana, you are choosing to focus on just one thing, and subsequently you are choosing to not focus on anything else. This helps you to stay true to your intention and experience fidelity to your choices.

Dhyāna

Dhyana refers to the art and practice of meditation. This meditation can be either still or moving. When you are able to ‘drop in’ to meditation, to Dhyana, everything else seems to ‘drop away’. Sometime people refer to this as being in flow. Runners know it. People who knit or crochet know it. And mediators know it. The experience is often marked by ease, grace and surrender.

Samādhi

Samadhi is often read as bliss, because it is the experience of total union with your intention. Your body, mind and heart are congruent, as is your practice. Samadhi is the sensation of total integration with your meditation, complete and easy, in total flow. People who are creative experience this when they are completely melded with their music, art, writing or craft.

Samyama

Samyama is the Sanskrit word to describe the experience of combining the practices of Dhāraṇā (concentration), Dhyāna (meditation) & Samādhi (union). It is said that the practice of these final 3 arms of the 8 Limbed Yogic Path will deliver you to Bliss, as you will truly be in the oneness, the flow. You will be absorbed, captivated, deeply internal and feeling great ease within.

Chocolate Meditation

We ended our session with a brief chocolate meditation. You can do this anytime you wish to deepen experience of your sensory self in pleasure. Simply pop a small piece of chocolate into your mouth, and then just let…….it………..melt………..slowly as you savour the flavour and focus on your breath. Yummy.

Here is a link to my favourite chocolate for meditation: Wei of Chocolate

These little babies are life altaring! (Altar, because thye

https://weiofchocolate.com/

Yoga Nidra

We completed our session with a Yoga Nidra, as a way to experience Samyama. I read a brief yoga nidra text from a book I borrowed from the library. Here is the info, in case you’d like to check it out.

Reference:

Shapiro, E. (2018). The art of mindful relaxation: The heart of yoga nidra. Mineola, NY: Ixia Press.

OM Work:

I suggested that you listen to a longer and more luxurious Yoga Nidra that I have recorded. Please click the link to be awash in 20 minutes of sumptuous sensory bliss. All you have to do is relax, surrender and listen.

In-Joy.

****ADDENDUM: A Reminder that Leslie will be coming tonight at 6:00pm to share some information and samples from doTerra Oils. You won’t want to miss this!



Introduction to Yoga: Session 5

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A Trinity of Metrics from Kripalu Yoga

for Deepening the Power of Asana

In this session we discussed and practiced the Trinity of Metrics from my training in Kripalu Yoga. Kripalu is a Wellness Centre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts that specializes in Yoga, Ayurveda, Nutrition, Outdoor Education and Leadership. If you are interested in learning more about this incredible place, click this link to be whisked away to a wonderland of interesting information and offerings: KRIPALU YOGA & WELLNESS CENTRE. I would suggest going to this site, and signing up for their catalogs. I’ve streamlined it for you here: REQUEST CATALOG This will ensure that you are mailed a stunning and informative catalog every season! Not only are the catalogs jam packed with health-filled offerings, they also publish very useful articles that can support you in your quest for holistic health.

The Trinity of Metrics, or Three Fundamental Skills that mark Kripalu Yoga as a very special expression of Hatha Yoga is the focus on the internal experience during practice. To support this turning within, or phrased another way, coming home to self, is truly what keeps me passionate about this style of practice.

Here is a brief description of the three metrics:

1) Strong Steady Pose

Upon entering into an asana, you are invited to find strength and balance through aligning your joints and ensuring that the spine is not compromised. Pay attention to the muscle groups used in the pose, as research suggests that this attention helps the body to use that muscle with up to 30% more efficiency, simply by focusing. Use only as much energy as needed to hold the pose, and don’t over-hold in areas that are not needed. This will greatly help with the next step.

2) Spaciousness for Breath

Ensure that there are no impediments to your breath. Lengthen your spine, draw your rib cage up and out of the cauldron of your pelvis. Think about breathing with shape flow; opening your entire torso: front, sides and back, as you breathe deeply through your nostrils. And most importantly, keep your attention on your breath. Attending to your breath keeps you present and sets up the next step.

3) Awareness of Interior Life

Once you’ve settled into your asana, holding the pose with ease and supported by your breath, then turn your attention to what is happening inside. Would a micro-adjustment allow a deeper experience? Can you release tension anywhere in your body? How are you feeling? What arises within the life of this pose? Can you accept whatever arises with compassion? Responding to these questions will help you to cultivate something called Interoception, a special kind of awareness of your inner world. Click here for a great article if you’d like to know more: INTEROCEPTION: MINDFULNESS IN THE BODY by Bo Forbes.

A pathway to the interior world is Pratyahara, or the withdrawal of your senses from the external world so that you may pay closer attention to what is unfolding inside. Pratyahara is the 5th arm of the 8 limbs of yoga as set out by Patanjali. Through pratyahara, we learn to focus less on what is happening around us so that we can divine rich data from inside our bodies.

By practicing the above skills, you will learn to deepen your asana practice, turning it towards a moving meditation. Be patient with yourself while you practice, as this is yoga practice, not yoga perfection.

In-Joy

Reference:

Faulds, R. (2006). Kripalu yoga: A guide to practice on and off the mat. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Introduction to Yoga: Session 4

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Introduction to Yoga: Session 4

The Power of Intentional Breath

This session focused on the 4th arm of the 8 Limbed Yogic Path: Pranayama, or Intentional Breathing Practice.

Our breath is assured, as long as we are living, through the autonomic nervous system. However, once we begin to engage with breath through intention and with full presence, breathing becomes a tool that can support how we want to live our lives.

It may surprise you how you can practice different breathing exercises for different purposes. For example, did you know that just based on manipulating the simple number of beats in the inhale and the exhale holds the power to impact how you feel?

It may also surprise you to know, that despite this awesome power, there have until very recently been only 2 groups of the Western population that are taught how to breathe properly: pregnant women and patients in burn units. Wow, hey!

Until now. Now everyone who has access to a yoga class can be taught how to breathe beyond functionality, and towards nervous system self-regulation, pain management, and lifestyle and biomechanical support. Even very young children are being taught the power of breathing as young as 3 years old. And I know this because I am among those how choose to teach pranayama to everyone, including children.

Breathing well is particularly useful as support for the practice of meditation, and breathing well can also sustain a yoga practice, marking it with ease, vitality and joy.

The first step is awareness. Tap into how you breathe without efforting to change it. First, notice where breathe resides in your body. Where do you experience breath? Explore how the breath feels in your body, the effect of breath on the rest of your body, and how it influences your mind. Become your own authority on your breath. Attend to your own breath like an avid researcher with a huge grant!

Some people have reported feeling quite numb when first trying to discover where breath resides. If this is true for you, take heart, and take time… welcome the practice for it will deliver untold benefits over time.

I also find that the first step of awareness, of noticing the breath in the body will often incline one to begin to breathe more fully and deeply, as the body craves this more engaged and intentional breath.

In this 4th session, we reviewed the following pranayama or breathing practices:

  • The Resourceful Breath (or full diaphragmatic breathing)

  • Durgha or Three Part Breathing (filling and emptying the torso)

  • Ujjayi or Ocean Sounding Breathe (breathing slowly with a soft noise made through gently constricting the throat)

  • Embryonic Breathing (breathing in a fashion that is effortless, without tension and almost unseeable)

After a gentle practice of therapeutic sun salutations, and playing with Tree Pose, we ended our practice with Nodi Shodhna or Alternate Nostril Breathing. This is one of my favourite pranayama, and one that I dip into frequently.

Here is a short and easy to follow video to support your practice:

And here is an article that describes some of the benefits:

https://www.artofliving.org/yoga/breathing-techniques/alternate-nostril-breathing-nadi-shodhan

Personally, I find this breath especially useful when I want to feel a balanced state between relaxed and alert. It calms me deeply, but I remain awake, engaged and fully present.

Please take some time to practice different breathing practices until you find at least one that works well for you. You owe it to yourself to investigate one of the most vital activities of your machine: Breathing.

Here are a few resources for further exploration:

https://www.anxietycanada.com/adults/calm-breathing

https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/types/pranayama

https://breathingproject.org/

https://hendricks.com/product/the-breathing-coach/

Session 4 Om-work:

Lay on the floor for 5 minutes every day. Magic. Gravity aligns your spine. Breathing is easy. Rest is implied and hopefully experienced. Relaxation makes it all delicious. Make it a family affair.

In-Joy!

Introduction to Yoga: Session 3

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Introduction to Yoga: Session 3

Idea: Movement as Nutrition

This idea has been informing my work for almost a year, since being introduced to the work of Katy Bowman. I highly suggest her book “Movement Matters” and checking out her website: Nutritious Movement (click to link). Essentially, Bowman invites us to think of movement as distinct from exercise, which we perform in one hour blocks at the gym. Instead, she encourages us to engage in movement throughout the day, in ways that nourish us, such as dog walking or dancing in our living rooms, and that those movements will then nourish us.

Layers not Levels

I find it useful to think of modifying yoga poses through the notion of layers, not levels. Levels taps us into the strong, yet covert cultural idea of competition. We are trained to reach towards the highest level through meritocracy and capitalism. This is often subconscious. Instead, reimagining yoga as a series of layers that you apply when appropriate (readiness, capacity, energy, etc) will help you to carefully consider where you should be in a pose based on comfort in your body.

My invitation is to practice within your own comfortable edge. See poster below to self assess.

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Sensory Meditation

Practice Noticing through your Senses… come to your senses frequently as a technique to ground, to centre, to practice being in the present moment.

This meditation as a practice is simple. Find a comfortable position, either lying, seated or standing. Relax your joints, calm your mind and focus first on your breath. Once you have surrendered into this moment, allow your attention to rest on your senses.

Begin with your eyes. If your eyes are closed, notice residual patterns that can develop on the backs of your eyelids. If it doesn’t feel safe or comfortable to close your eyes, let your gaze (in yoga we call this Drishti) puddle on the floor in front of you. What patterns emerge as you relax your eyes?

Next work with your aural sense. Swallowing will help to open up your ears. Notice what you hear before and after you swallow. Listen to the sounds in the room, and listen for the sounds beyond the room. Listen even more deeply to hear your breath, and perhaps even your heartbeat.

Notice any scent that lingers in the air. Concentrate on opening your nostrils as you inhale, as though you were smelling a fragrant flower or meal. Take it in. Pause, and breathe in again, and see if you can sense any other smells that surround you, including any scents that may linger on your clothes or in your hair.

Next, swallow again, but this time notice any ambient taste that may be in your mouth. You may have brushed your teeth, just finished a meal or coffee, just notice what taste is there. Run your tongue over your teeth and roof of mouth. Does that change any sensation of taste at all?

Finally, notice your clothing on your skin. Feel how the fabric clings or drapes, and notice any areas of constriction or flow. Then notice any skin that is not covered. See if you can detect the sensation of air upon your skin, notice your face, hands, feet, any part of you that is exposed.

Now aim to take in all your senses at once, as a sense garden. Just as you may enjoy looking at a bank of diverse flowers, you may also enjoy the diversity of senses at once. Do any of your senses seem more developed? Can you imagine taking time to develop ones that you feel less connected to? What gifts may await you with a deeper sense perception?

Block between thighs for internal femur rotation

Photo Credit:  http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com/2016/05/featured-pose-mountain-pose.html   Tadasana, or Mountain Pose is an active pose. Begin by feeling the four corners of your feet, then apply some pressure into your feet as through rooting into the earth. This will provide a sensation of lifting upwards. Stack your joints; knees over ankles, hips over knees, shoulders over hips. Starting at the ankles, like a water line, begin firming muscle to bone, wrapping the skeleton with flesh, aiming in towards the midline of the body. Don’t over do the pose, but activate your muscles enough that you feel solid, rooted, grounded, with an uplifting sensation. Draw the heart upwards, as you neutralize the pelvis, standing without tucking the tail, nor flaring it behind you.  Let your head float, like a balloon at the end of a string, with a free neck and lightness in the crown.  An easy way to learn now to hold tadasana is to but a block in between your legs. This will give your body something to firm against. Applying inner thigh pressure to a block also has the added benefit of causing a subtle internal rotation of the thighs (femur bones) which widens the sacrum and creates a stable base with an upward sensation. I also suggest turning the palms to face forward as an internal cue to draw the scapula (shoulder blades) towards each other on the back body. This will open the chest and realign the thoracic spine.  Stand tall and proud, majestic like a mountain. Notice if your perspective shifts as you feel taller, and aligned.

Photo Credit: http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com/2016/05/featured-pose-mountain-pose.html

Tadasana, or Mountain Pose is an active pose. Begin by feeling the four corners of your feet, then apply some pressure into your feet as through rooting into the earth. This will provide a sensation of lifting upwards. Stack your joints; knees over ankles, hips over knees, shoulders over hips. Starting at the ankles, like a water line, begin firming muscle to bone, wrapping the skeleton with flesh, aiming in towards the midline of the body. Don’t over do the pose, but activate your muscles enough that you feel solid, rooted, grounded, with an uplifting sensation. Draw the heart upwards, as you neutralize the pelvis, standing without tucking the tail, nor flaring it behind you.

Let your head float, like a balloon at the end of a string, with a free neck and lightness in the crown.

An easy way to learn now to hold tadasana is to but a block in between your legs. This will give your body something to firm against. Applying inner thigh pressure to a block also has the added benefit of causing a subtle internal rotation of the thighs (femur bones) which widens the sacrum and creates a stable base with an upward sensation. I also suggest turning the palms to face forward as an internal cue to draw the scapula (shoulder blades) towards each other on the back body. This will open the chest and realign the thoracic spine.

Stand tall and proud, majestic like a mountain. Notice if your perspective shifts as you feel taller, and aligned.

Ujjayi or Ocean Breath

This is a really simple, succinct and brief explanation of Ujjayi or Ocean Breath. The woman teaching the practice does also refer to this as Breath of Fire, which, in my opinion, it is not. However, this may just be how she is describing the internal heat that it can produce. Breath of Fire is an entirely different breathing pattern and is not recommended for beginners. This Ocean sounding breath is safe for everyone, though it does take a bit of practice to get. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Peak Pose: Intro to Warrior 1

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Photo Credit: https://www.yogabycandace.com/blog/how-to-do-warrior-one

Our peak post in Session 3 was Warrior 1. I like the Yoga by Candace Site, as she has many informational graphics that do a splendid job of highlighting safe alignment points with clear photos. Check out her site here: Yoga by Candace or if you just want to see her educational graphic images, try her on Pinterest where they are all arranged for you. Have fun looking around.

Quote: Intention is the pathway out of habit.

Introduction to Yoga: Session 2

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Introduction to Yoga: Session 2 January 24, 2019

Presiding Quote: “Yoga doesn’t take time, it gives time” (Ganga White)

Topics Covered in Session 2:

Review the 6 movements of the spine (See Session 1)

Parts of the spine

The spinal column is sectioned into 4 major parts. The cervical spine delineates the neck. As mentioned in practice, the first disc, referred to as C1 is called the Atlas. It allows the neck to lift and lower, as when nodding the head in the Western body language for ‘yes’. C2 is called the Axis. It allows the neck to turn from side to side, as in the Western body language for ‘no’.  The upper thoracic spine is often a place of congestion and stiffness in our Western culture because of our dependence on chairs, which encourage slumping, and because we are often rounding forward in using computers, driving, texting, reading small screens, etc. It is also interesting to consider that this is where the heart is seated.  The lumbar spine is another common area of discomfort for may. The weight of the upper body, if not supported by strong muscles, will over time collapse into the lumbar spinal region, causing stiffness, lack of mobility and discomfort. A vicious cycle occurs where the less we use it, or protect discomfort, the more it congeals and hurts.  Training yourself to sit on the floor with a straight, yet supple spine is good medicine to help ward off future back issues.

The spinal column is sectioned into 4 major parts. The cervical spine delineates the neck. As mentioned in practice, the first disc, referred to as C1 is called the Atlas. It allows the neck to lift and lower, as when nodding the head in the Western body language for ‘yes’. C2 is called the Axis. It allows the neck to turn from side to side, as in the Western body language for ‘no’.

The upper thoracic spine is often a place of congestion and stiffness in our Western culture because of our dependence on chairs, which encourage slumping, and because we are often rounding forward in using computers, driving, texting, reading small screens, etc. It is also interesting to consider that this is where the heart is seated.

The lumbar spine is another common area of discomfort for may. The weight of the upper body, if not supported by strong muscles, will over time collapse into the lumbar spinal region, causing stiffness, lack of mobility and discomfort. A vicious cycle occurs where the less we use it, or protect discomfort, the more it congeals and hurts.

Training yourself to sit on the floor with a straight, yet supple spine is good medicine to help ward off future back issues.




#1 and #2 Causes of Injury in Yoga
#1 Ego

In Ego, we may be susceptible to the subtle (or not so subtle) lure of competition. We may notice that others are lifting their leg high, so we may do this even when our body is saying ‘no’. The antidote to allowing ego to lead us into injury is Embodiment. The more we are in our bodies fully, with intention and attention, the more readily we will notice the signs and signals from our body about our capacity in this moment.

#2 Mindlessness

Another common source of injury in yoga is mindlessness, especially during the releasing of poses. It is very common to see people allow themselves to ‘fall out of poses’, which increases opportunity for injury. It is useful to imagine reserving some energy from your poses for a mindful exit, to release the pose in mindful reverse of entering it. We can save or conserve energy in poses by only using as much energy is needed to hold the pose through breath. Finding an ability to relax, perhaps not trying so hard, is helpful. I call this the “Goldilocks Rule”. Use not too much, nor too little energy, just enough.

Durgha Breath (or three part breath)

The above is a recording that I made to ‘walk you through’ the Dirgha or 3 part breath. In-Joy!



Beginning Sun Salutations

I teach a form of Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutations informed by one of my favourite yoga teachers and psychotherapist Bo Forbes. She refers to her style of Sun Salutations as Therapeutic Sun Salutations, because they are slow, easily modified for all levels of practice and focused on alignment, spacious breath as well as creating mind-space through the cultivation of relaxation during the pose.

Click to link to Bo Forbes Website, in case this resonates with you. And here is a brief video of her teaching Therapeutic Sun Salutations:

I modify these further for beginners, but you can get a good idea of the ideology that guides my practice from this video.




Peak Pose: Jackknife or Transition Pose

Click the above link for a full description of Half Standing Forward Fold. In this course, we work with the modified pose only.

Closing Quote: “Hint: The Cage is not locked”

Introduction to Yoga: Session 1

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Introduction to Yoga: Session 1 January 17, 2019

Please help yourself to the resources that serve you best. This information is completely optional, and intended to support those students in the Introduction to Yoga program offered through the City of Surrey at Standford Hall, Kwomais Point Park, in Ocean Park. This information may also be useful for any practitioner interested in the ‘basics’ of beginning a yoga practice. I also refer to this as a class for beginners, and re-beginners.

Help Yourself!~


Presiding Quote: “Ships are safest in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are for” (John A. Shedd)

Topics covered in Session 1:

8 Limbs of Yoga (Click here to be magically transported to an earlier blog that describes this)

Photo Credit:  www.boyoga.com  If you visit their site, you’ll find a deeper article, as well as this photo as a download in PDF format.

Photo Credit: www.boyoga.com If you visit their site, you’ll find a deeper article, as well as this photo as a download in PDF format.


Constructive Rest & the Psoas

Photo:  https://www.yogaelements.com/blog/2017/9/29/healing-your-vital-psoas-muscle-with-yoga   Click link to read a more in depth article on the psoas.   Constructive Rest Pose:  The benefit of this pose is that it releases the Psoas muscle (or Iliopsoas group). This is a very important and primal muscle in the body. Not only is the Psoas the only muscle group to bridge the upper and lower half of the body, it is also special because it does not respond to our will. We can’t ‘make’ our Psoas release with our minds, the way we can with other muscle groups. This pose sets the Psoas up to relax and release. With regular practice, you could feel a marked relaxation in the belly, as your organs happily move back into place (the Psoas when stressed presses the abdominal organs forward).

Photo: https://www.yogaelements.com/blog/2017/9/29/healing-your-vital-psoas-muscle-with-yoga

Click link to read a more in depth article on the psoas.

Constructive Rest Pose: The benefit of this pose is that it releases the Psoas muscle (or Iliopsoas group). This is a very important and primal muscle in the body. Not only is the Psoas the only muscle group to bridge the upper and lower half of the body, it is also special because it does not respond to our will. We can’t ‘make’ our Psoas release with our minds, the way we can with other muscle groups. This pose sets the Psoas up to relax and release. With regular practice, you could feel a marked relaxation in the belly, as your organs happily move back into place (the Psoas when stressed presses the abdominal organs forward).

Photo from Yoga Journal  Resting on your back, bend your knees and slide the souls of your feet in towards your buttocks. Press into your heels, and lift your hips up off the floor just enough to slide a thin cushion underneath your hips (you may also use a folded towel or blanket). Windshield wiper your feet a little wider than hip distance apart, and about 8-10 inches away from your buttocks. Allow your knees to spill in towards each other and you may wish to use a support (like a soft towel) to lean your knees into for comfort.

Photo from Yoga Journal

Resting on your back, bend your knees and slide the souls of your feet in towards your buttocks. Press into your heels, and lift your hips up off the floor just enough to slide a thin cushion underneath your hips (you may also use a folded towel or blanket). Windshield wiper your feet a little wider than hip distance apart, and about 8-10 inches away from your buttocks. Allow your knees to spill in towards each other and you may wish to use a support (like a soft towel) to lean your knees into for comfort.

The Resourceful Breath

I refer to ‘diaphramatic breathing’ as The Resourceful Breath to indicate the benefits inherent in the practice of breathing with intention, breathing fully and deeply. This breath is sumptuous during constructive rest, and resourceful throughout the entire practice because it creates internal structure.

The practice goes like this:

1) Sit or lay with a lengthened spine. Allow for flexibility and movement, so that your spine is not stiff, but is elogated through intention and micro adjustments. Laying on the floor uses gravity to naturally align the spine.

2) Release any tension in the cervical spine (neck). Allow the head to float (if sitting) or rest comfortably (if supine).

3) Breathe in through the nose, allowing the breath to expand the torso, to swell the belly. The biomechanics of this action are the lowering of the diaphram, which increases pressure on the belly towards distention, and allows the lungs to fill fully.

4) Exhale through the nose or mouth, which ever feels more native to your own body. As you exhale, slowly and mindfully, gently draw the belly button back and towards the spine. This creates internal support and tones the functional muscles of the breath.

5) Keep breathing, slowly and mindfully, expanding on the inhale, and emptying on the exhale. Fine a rhythm that serves relaxation, so that you are not forcing the breath. It takes practice, but with practice will bring greater ease, and increasing benefits.

I suggest this breath as it is fairly easy to remember, and supports the exertion phase of each asana.

6 Movements of the Spine

Photo Credit:  https://www.slideshare.net/pankajnsurange/anatomy-of-spine   In my yoga teacher training, we were taught that every warm up should include the six movements of the spine. Together, in class, we have approached these from several positions, including sitting, supine (lying on the back) and standing. This full range of motion is said to keep the spine healthy, and there are many who believe the health of the body is directly connected to the health of the spine. The spine is the first structure to develop in the embryo. Something to consider in terms of importance. We “spine” before we “brain”. That is why I begin practice with these gentle warming movements.

Photo Credit: https://www.slideshare.net/pankajnsurange/anatomy-of-spine

In my yoga teacher training, we were taught that every warm up should include the six movements of the spine. Together, in class, we have approached these from several positions, including sitting, supine (lying on the back) and standing. This full range of motion is said to keep the spine healthy, and there are many who believe the health of the body is directly connected to the health of the spine. The spine is the first structure to develop in the embryo. Something to consider in terms of importance. We “spine” before we “brain”. That is why I begin practice with these gentle warming movements.


Meet Me at the Temple

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Meet Me at the Temple

One of my favourite days of the week is Friday! And not just for the universal “Thank God it’s Friday” axiom, but because Fridays are Temple Days for me. Friday is the day of my Sangha, my yoga community practice. I consider this my ‘home yoga group’, my yoga family.

If you’ve been to one of my classes, you’ve probably heard me say “My week is an arrow, pointing at this hour”, and it is so true. Friday morning yoga class is my reset, my opportunity for integration, for connection and for authentic movement. I frankly feel the most ‘me’ in this hour.

I get to both witness and be part of the therapeutic flow between lush, fun, hand-picked bouquets of music, fascia-deep stretching, bone-density building strength work, and ripe core presencing.

I especially love the openness of this group. This is a drop-in class, so there is always fluidity in who shows up, but there is a core group of mavericks who show up every week: body willing, truth-telling, sensing and open to whatever the muses have channeled for me that day.

There is TRUST in the room, and it is palpable, built upon a model of invitations, self-choosing, multiple modifications, and most importantly, self-respecting movement that is intended to open, soothe and satiate even the most savage of beasts with creature comforts, with the odd psychological or philosophical wisdom pearl thrown in for good measure.

I am exceedingly grateful for this practice and my community. With so much heart, so much generousity and so much interest in our collective good health and wellness. The South Surrey Recreation and Art Centre is a veritable bee-hive of activity.

Blessings and Blissings, my Sangha.

The light in me, sees and acknowledges the bright light that blazes in each of your hearts.

Joani-la

Malasana & Autumnal Light: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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Malasana & AUTUMNAL Light:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than any other season” ~ Jim Bishop

I just got in from my morning QiGong and meditation practice at our river front. I’m absolutely gobsmacked by how wealthy I feel being in nature on a day like today. It is chilly, with evidence of frost on the forest floor. However, the sun is spilling down in cascades that sweeps the earth in brilliant patterns, and renders leaves transparent as the sun screams through their thin flesh, laying bare their bones.

This morning, I chose Malasana as my meditation pose, the Garland posture. The deep squat is a very frequent resting body posture for those countries that do not depend upon the use of chairs for comfort. Chairs are brutal on the human spine, and one of the major causes of back issues. In countries that ‘live and work on the floor’, spinal issues are much less of a concern.

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The deep squat is a position of work, rest, eating, child birthing, visiting and joy around the world, but not so loved in Western culture, due to the collective tightness of our hamstrings, and the weakness of our knees from lack of opening to their full fulcrum abilities.

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Children squat with ease, and frequently use this as a restful play position. This should tell us something about the dangers of chair dependence, the impact of years of sitting, rather than moving, and offer us a way to become more nubile, more flexible, more grounded and weightless… by practicing Malasana… the deep squat.

I am a fan of the internet meme: Sitting is the new smoking. Sitting in chairs that is! Sit in squat for lower body health. And… some extra bonuses are a good stretch for the pelvic floor, an important balance to conscious strengthening work through kegels. And the pressure of the belly against the thighs can activate and stimulate the vagal nerves, inspiring the rest-inducing and system restoring parasympathetic system. Can you feel the ahhhhhh?

I find when I am in Malasana pose, especially today, drenched in sunlight that pours down in golden sheaths in the amber autumn ambiance, I feel ironically free of gravity, weightless and unbearably light. I feel both connected to the earth, but also buoyant and free, ethereal, skybound.

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The squat is also common in the animal kingdom. These deLIGHTful frogs appear suspended as they fold their legs into garlands around themselves. Grasping with their tiny toes, they allow their weight to hang from their spines, in a natural and passive stretch that opens up fascia, melts muscle tension and builds strength.

Try it for yourself at some point today. Pause for a moment, and avail yourself to the lightness of Malasana. And preferably out doors in this resplendent sunshine. Here on the West Coast,fall sunshine is highly economical and rare. Like Gold itself, this light is precious and precarious. One feels rich and abundant in its radiant presence. Experience Gratitude in Garland pose by adding in Anjali Mudra (prayer hands). Wonder-full.

IN-JOY! And squat. Your primal self will love you for it.

Resisting Insouciance: A Prescriptive Poetic Invitation

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Resisting Insouciance:

A Prescriptive Poetic Invitation

(Inspired by the poetry of Celeste West[i])

 

 

Unscare your stable sensations of security,

Unveil and unshame your liquid sensuousness,

Uncritic your imaginal creativity,

Unreject your resolute will and boreal intuition,

Undefend your majestic heart,

Unsuppress your sovereign voice,

Unworry, unstick your lucid and fluid mind,

Unstop your lavish, secret sense of wonder.

 

Uncleave your bodymind

Ungrind your porous bones

Unmachete dense dentrites

Unanxiously sit in the quiet forest of your mind

 

Unresist the beckon to root and reach,

            Uncomplicate your ferocious desire for peace

Unagonize, unneglect and unburden your fecund, velvet self

 

Unlisten your desire to conform

Unblunt your thirst for justice

Untether the leash that chokes your love

Undampen the fire that drives your hunger

 

Unruffle your luminous feathers

Unhide (from) your feral self

 

 

 

© Joani Mortenson

September 22, 2016

  

[i] Unstiffen your supple body, unchatter your quiet mind, unfreeze your fiery heart. ~Celeste West

This poem was inspired by the words of Celeste West. I first read these precious and profound words on a small sign by the door of our Osteopath, Karen Angelucci of Birthright Investment. Click HERE to be whisked away to her nourishing website. We highly recommend this earth angel for your body’s every need.

Serve Lovely Tea, Invite Reverence & Create Hospitable Space

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Serve Lovely Tea, Invite Reverence & Create Hospitable Space

The above photo is from one of my most favourite sites, Unsplash. It caught my eye as I was browsing the latest of their Creative Commons photos. I continue to be so grateful for generous artists who share their delightful work with no cost to me. Thank you,
Loverna Journey
@loverna
, for your photography.

I was drawn in by the beauty of this photo, and it struck me as a way to talk about creating reverent pauses in our lives. So often, our pauses are expressions of frustration, signaling lack or deficit, or worse, noticing how someone else, or something else robbed us of our equilibrium, our comfort, our sense of familiarity. We let out a strong sigh when our nervous systems get overloaded as a way of literally letting off steam.

Pause… Let’s invite in another kind of pause.

The Pause of Prevention. The Pause that fills our cups, the pause that puts patience in our emotional bank accounts.

The Intentional Pause. The Pause that refreshes. The Pause that doesn’t drain us, but fills us.

What if at some point today you stopped what you were doing, gathered up just a few simple items, perhaps a candle, a flower or fern, a fond object, and served lovely tea. That tea that you hold on to for company, that tea that you save for a special occasion. If you are like me, you have lots of them in your cupboard, along with those nice mugs that you don’t use daily.

Use them. Enjoy them. Create a sacred space with them.

Bless your own bounty. Serve yourself some lovely tea. And pause while you savour the aroma, the flavour, the trajectory of how those leaves that grow in a field, probably very far away, made their way to you, through numerous industrious hands. Pause to give thanks. Pause to enjoy. Pause to savour.

Even if it is only for a few minutes. Take that sigh, in an intentional way… notice the tension that creeps into your body in an average day, and decide, for just a few moments, to let it all go.

If you want to alter your life, start by creating an altar of reverence, start by deciding to create hospitable space for yourself, for your friends, for your family. Start Now!

Don’t postpone joy.

Don’t wait for the next best thing to arrive.

Carpe Vida. Seize Life.

Jai Bhagwan.

Shift Your Weight, Like a Heron

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Shift Your Weight, Like a Heron…

If you’ve ever taken a yoga or movement class with me, you may be familiar with one of my oft used nature-based similes… Shift your weight, like a heron…

In my yoga teacher training, we were guided to rely on nature for metaphors and similes, because nature provides direct experiences that are easy and safe to relate to. If you live on the West Coast, chances are excellent that you’ve had the opportunity to observe a heron standing very still in the water engaged in food foraging. Herons take their time… they pause… they breathe very slowly, slowing their heart rate and increasing their focus and attention to make their beak strikes count. They are efficient. They are intentional.

Herons appear to embody ‘weight sensing’ before shifting into ‘weight activation”, to borrow terminology from Laban. This slow shift a heron makes illustrates a material and corporeal demonstration of intention. Intention feels very much like an internal process, though it can be triggered or motivated by external stimuli. A heron watches the water closely, waiting for food to swim by, and only when food is in view, do they dive in after it.

When I suggest moving like a heron, I’m using this simile to invoke the sensing of the body first. Feel your weight, allow the sensation of gravity to become predominant in your experience of the body. One of my teachers calls it “making a date with gravity”. Then, with intention, shifting weight onto one foot before moving the other. This, slow and methodical intention, the literal deconstruction of movement, provides an opportunity to slow down, to pause, to reflect and to breathe, and to decide what to do next.

I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz about busy, the memes that help remind us to resist the cult of ‘busy’ and to take time for self care. It seems we are collectively inundated with ‘busy guilt’ as we are busy being busy. I am not here to ‘busy shame’ you.

Rather, I’m here to inspire you to consider the benefits of slowing down, taking time before shifting from one gear to the other.

Admittedly, I know myself well enough to know that I am a slow processor: I have the kind of temperament that prefers slower transitions. So this works very well for me and my constitution. In my experience, it also works well for children.

I’ve been inviting others to shift like a heron during movement practices, yet in my business life, I’ve not given myself enough time to be heron-like. So this year, I am taking on the heron as a true spirit-guide. I’m taking the time to sense where I am, and where I want to go before I strike.

This year, I am pausing. I am doing less than half of what I’ve done in the past in order to decide how to shift with efficiency, with grace, with elegance, with intention. I am taking the time to view the entire pond before making any moves.

I am taking time to observe. I am taking time to write. I am making time to move with intention, sensing first, then moving with clarity.

There are myriad moments in a day when we could choose to pause. Pay attention to how you move in your environment, in your own eco-system. Notice when you might sense first. Try it out. Experiment. Be curious about sensing before moving. Does it serve you?

Another movement instruction Joani-ism is that “I offer invitations”. I will often explain before a class that what I am offering are merely invitations, and sometimes it is most empowering to decline an invitation. So… my invitation here is to shift, like a heron.

Does that work for you?

Are you willing to share your experience?

I’d love to hear from YOU.

Keep Knocking...

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The following poem is one of my favourites. I recall my first time reading this poem, finding it, of all places, in a washroom at Banyen Books and Sound in Vancouver. I was reminded of it this morning, having just watched a short video by the actor Will Smith, who waxes about the importance of self discipline in order to achieve 'success' (however one may define this for themselves). 

The grit, beyond the cheese, in Will Smith's diatribe on self discipline is that he equates this resourceful behaviour with self-love. I really appreciated this framing of what some may find unpleasant, the tapas, the heat of disciplining one's behaviour towards health, and often away from hedonism, or id-focused living where we allow our wants to supersede our needs. Instead of focusing on the slog-thoughts of trudging through one's plan, an attitudinal reframing of this work as investing in one's own growth through the self loving acts feels way more hopeful and helpful to me.

This brings me to a few of my own favoured practices for elevation and self growth: Meditation, Music and Movement (and reading Rumi's ecstatic works). Rather than include Will Smith's video (which you can Google is you wish!), I offer a video of music that supports the ascendency of Rumi's poem, and promotes meditation and easy movement. It may even support chanting along, creating an internal vibration that is soothing to the nervous system. 

My invitation is to play the video and read the poem. Pause. Give yourself some time to absorb the offering. Weigh what it means, if anything, for you. Allow and accept these gifts, releasing what does not serve, and integrating what does. 

Keep Knocking... and the Joy inside will eventually open a window. 

 

THE SUNRISE RUBY


In the early morning hour,
just before dawn, lover and beloved wake
and take a drink of water.

She asks, "Do you love me or yourself more?
Really, tell the absolute truth."

He says, "There is nothing left of me.
I'm like a ruby held up to the sunrise.
Is it still a stone, or a world
made of redness? It has no resistance
to sunlight."

This is how Hallaj said, I am God,
and told the truth!

The ruby and the sunrise are one.
Be courageous and discipline yourself.

Completely become hearing and ear,
and wear this sun-ruby as an earring.

Work. Keep digging your well.
Don't think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who's there.



Coleman Barks, Tr., The Essential Rumi (San Fransico: Harper Collins, 1995)

Courage Does Not Always Roar...

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"Courage Does Not Always Roar....

Sometimes, it is the Quiet Voice that Says, "I will try again tomorrow".

~ Mary Anne Radmacher.

One of favourite quotes ever. In the history of Ever.

I first saw it on the bathroom wall of my favourite therapist of all time, the inimitable Susan Armstrong (who has a practice in the Okanagan... she is THE REAL DEAL).

I am currently writing a course on trauma sensitive and decolonizing yoga teaching strategies, and this quote is like a bolster under the legs of my theoretical perspective on "resilience" and "courage". 

These words: resilience and courage,  are often used as psychological whips that produce deep shame when someone is so depleted of energy they cannot produce, perform or rise as others may decide they should.

These words are sometimes oppressive even if they are intended to be helpful. I love this quote's approach to courage. It signals the inclusion of waiting until it arrives, rather than expecting it to always move you forward like a lion. Sometimes, courage needs the right context to show up. Sometimes courage is quiet. Unassuming. Sometimes it subverts and disrupts what we expect. 

Sometimes courage is the quiet lamb that needs to rest and gain strength.

Trust yourself first, to decide what expression of courage is right for you. 

As one of my most prominent yoga teachers shares, "May you be like the lotus, at home in muddy waters " (Judith Lasatar, inhabiting the original quote from Thich Nat Hahn's "No Mud, No Lotus" axiom). 

Life can be muddy, but without the mud, we wouldn't feel that oh so satisfying 'ssshhhhluckkkk' feeling when our boot breaks free from the muck into clear air. As care workers and support professionals, we can't, nor should we, clear other people's muck because it is their journey to traverse, but we can line up gum boots and rain gear to help others weather their own storms, and make their own way through their own muck, in the company of community. 

How are you expressing your courage today? Roaring? Or in quietude? 

 

I am Part of the Movement MOVEMENT

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Movements happen when consciousness is raised through awareness and action, action happens through intention, intention is informed by awareness. See the cycle here? We are witnessing and experiencing an uprise in the awareness and action of, as well as the participation in movement, because of the increasing understanding of the global and holistic healing aspects of movement; physiological and psychological, cognitive and spiritual. There are also huge community and relational healing aspects to movement.

We are in the midst of a MOVEMENT about movement.

*Ferociously Happy Spontaneous Living Room Dance*

"Together We Rise" is a pithy statement that reflects both the metaphysical and material aspects of coming to new knowledge, skills and awareness, as in, arriving in or choosing to be part of a movement. The pith of this is that it is actually happening, in big and small ways across the planet. We are moving as individuals, as groups, as cultures, as movements. 

The individual experience of being part of a movement is often one of a greater sense of community and belonging which promotes best-self behaviours. When we tap our universal need for belonging, for acceptance, for love and meaningful connection, our traumas can heal, our defenses can be lowered and we can be more authentically who we are, as our best selves with our most expansive capacities. 

For me, yoga, dance and intuitive movement have been the portals to self knowledge and community, to beauty, tenderness and compassion, to an expansion of myself and my agency in the world.

Movement is both my method of inquiry and my internal conflict resolution strategy.

In short, I believe with all my heart that MOVEMENT WORKS.

Movement animates. 

Movement both differentiates and bonds us. 

Movement is both expressive and functional. 

Movement fuels the exertion and recuperation cycle. 

Movement delivers one more deeply to oneself and thus to the world. 

Movement Reveals and Heals. 

Movement is life, life is movement. 

Welcome to the MOVEMENT. Your whole self is welcome. 

 

Nutrition Bomb: Rainforest Bark

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Lately, when I am asked to bring a 'nibbly', this is what I bring. Firstly, it is so DANG easy to make, and secondly, the taste is buckle-your-knees-good. Thirdly, it is sugar-free, so... you know. Right?

Recently, I attended a Meet & Greet afternoon hosted by Manipura Yoga College at OmTown Yoga Studio in Nanaimo, BC. I brought this om-mazing and ridiculously inexpensive and super easy to concoct treat.  As requested, I am delighted to share the recipe with you! 

The recipe is from the book "I Quit Sugar" by Sarah Wilson. I highly recommend this book. I first found it at the library, which is my favourite way to preview items that I covet. Cookbooks are among my biggest holdings! Books in general are my biggest vice, second only to iTune purchases. Sheepish Grin. 

Here we go! And in homage to all yoga practitioners, I have modified this recipe to suit my tastes; feel most free to modify it towards your own palate. I have learned that I have a hyper-mobile palate, so be warned. I like most things. You may not. 

Assemble: 

1/2 cup of coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup of almond butter warmed or melted (I use Rainforest Butter, a Nuts to You Butter available at any health food store)

2 tablespoons of unsweetened coconut flakes

2 tablespoons of brown rice syrup (I used coconut nectar)

pinch of rock salt

handful of cacao nibs

Directions: 

Line a pie plate with baking paper. Combine the oil, butter, coconut flakes and syrup in a pan on very low heat (coconut flakes burn quickly) just enough to melt. 

Stir to mix all ingredients well. 

Pour directly onto the baking paper in pan, then tilt the pan side to side, spreading around the gooey goodness to even it out. 

Sprinkle handful of cacao nibs on top, and then sprinkle some nice course rock salt. 

Put the tray in the freezer for 2 hours. Then break up into shards and store in the fridge. 

That's it! Sooooo easy. And sooooo good. I'm sure you can think of other modifications too! Make it your own. 

Take Me to Your River

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I have recently watched a mini series that initially launched on HBO. It hasn't hit Netflix yet, but I'm sure it will, as the series was so successful they've planned a second season. Are you curious what it is? The series is called "Big Little Lies". And it was a phenomenal experience for me in so many ways. Though, the content was not as remarkable as the form for me. 

I borrowed the series from my local library and viewed it while exercising on our elliptical machine. The first two things that struck me about the series were the remarkable visuals... the cinematography is exquisite as it takes place on the gorgeous and succulent Coast of California in Monterey. The director of photography, Yves Bélanger, accomplished the feat of creating intimacy in each and every frame, often taking my breath away with sheer gorgeousness. 

The second aspect that gripped me was the music. Oh, my, but this series, like many others, has a very carefully, well-crafted and curated soundtrack with tunes as deeply sensuous and a music director as intimacy-focused as the director of photography. Together, this created a lush landscape upon which to place the intertwined stories of modern day problems of the privileged. For me, the drama was secondary to the feast for my senses, steeped in sights and sounds that moved me deeply. 

Spoiler alert: This series could (and most probably would) be shockingly triggering for women who have experienced sexual assault and/or intimate partner violence, so my advice is to be mindful of your psyche if you choose to view it. If either of these circumstances are potentially re-traumatizing for you, then I would suggest forgoing the series and instead just listening to the melliflous and benevolent soundtrack. 

Race is also an issue on this show, though only in they way it is presented, rather the stunning lack of it. The series team missed an opportunity by not making race a potent content point. I admit it struck me as odd and incongruent that so many of the recording artists featured on the Big Little Lies soundtrack are of color, especially when the cast is almost entirely Caucasian, and notably the leading cast consists of three white women. I can see how this could create a valid criticism of the show, but it certainly upholds my thesis that the content focuses on white privilege and their everyday lived experiences and problems. 

Returning to the soundtrack, the primary purpose of this post is to invite you to check out this incredible music and to lose yourself in the meditation and movement it inspires. 

Here are my three favourites tunes from the Soundtrack. I hope you enjoy them as deeply and sensuously has I have. 

The first is "River" by Leon Bridges. Oh, my but this song is for me a wild ride of (sh)ear-joy. I've linked a YouTube from the artist (as opposed to the soundtrack set) as it was produced to be a stand alone mini film. It is a treat to watch as well as listen to. I'd love to hear what you think. The first time I heard this song, I knew it would live long in many song sets for yoga, dance, movement and other sensory experiences. Wink Wink. Take me to your river, I wanna go. Take me to your river, I wanna know. Oh, yes, Oh, yes, Oh, YES! 

The second is the theme song for the series: Cold Little Heart by Michael Kiwanuka. I enjoyed opening each of the series' seven episodes, watching the main characters traverse the winding roads that hug the shoreline with their elegant children in tow on an incredible drive to school that felt more like the initial ride of a long-awaited vacation. I had no such experiences being ferried to school. Ever. There is a grit to this song that foreshadows and underscores the brutality that unfolds within the connected story lines. The slowly urgent pace of the song moves the story along week to week, and when I listen to it my living room, inspires me to move in ways that arc into space in a languid, dreamy way. 

The trifecta of new songs I was introduced to on this series is This Feeling by the inimitable Alabama Shakes. I've included a live version of the song here, because watching the tenderness of the lead singer Brittany Howard is so worth the watch. This woman is a Goddess of creating ambiance with her voice. This song offers so much hope with the refrain "I'm gonna be alright". 

I hope you enjoy these offerings, and I would really love to hear what you think? Do you like these songs? Does a favourite emerge? Have you seen this series? What are your thoughts and feelings on the form? The content? The alchemy of both? Dialogue? Rants? I'm open for business! 

New Website; Fresh Wishes

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Welcome to my new succulent space.

My cyber shingle and ethereal gathering space.

Blessings to my dear friend Jay Suttonbrown of Manipura Yoga College for introducing me to Square Space and the agentic wonderfulness of being able to create, maintain and update my own website. I'm so thrilled to have a space to call home, and to source you with current, relevant and reverent resources. 

I hope you find this site interesting, challenging, resourceful and germane to your growth, health, happiness and peace. My intention has been to create a thriving space where conversations could be lingered over, where wine could be sipped whilst savouring lush and contemplative photography or listening to a podcast, where coffee, tea or YOU could be percolating while reading a rousing regaling post, and where you could also find that sultry song you loved so much during yoga or dance class with me. 

Please. Make yourself comfortable. You are welcome here. In the words of one of my favourite people on the planet...

Show up. 

Be present. 

Tell the truth. 

Susan Armstrong 

May your time here be well served. And may you know that even though it is fun to look around, exciting to learn and beguiling to find resonance with others, the true source of your wisdom lies within you. As Rumi says, "Remember, the gateway to the sanctuary is inside you". Now, make your own wish. 

c/Joani Mortenson, February 2018