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Easing Anxiety with Yoga: It’s not all in your head

by Barbara Vosk, PhD, RYT200

Why does yoga have such a positive impact on your physical and mental state?

Advances in medical and psychological research now provide a greater understanding of the “how” and “why” of yoga’s effects: yoga actually increases the production of certain brain chemicals associated with improved mood.

One recent study of mindfulness meditation showed that those who engaged in this practice had an increase in activity in the portions of the brain that process stress, as well as an improved ability to focus and an increased state of calm. Doctors and psychotherapists are increasingly utilizing yoga and mindfulness-based practices as an adjunct to more traditional therapies, especially in the treatment of anxiety and other stress-related disorders.

Anxiety is often accompanied by a sense of being in some sort of danger — even if it is one of your own creation. But anxiety isn’t “all in your head.” When you are anxious, the nervous system is in a state of high alert. Breathing practices (pranayama) have a direct effect on the nervous system.

When you learn to manage your breath, you help your body and mind shift toward a more relaxed state. Gentle movements, in rhythm with the breath, begin to loosen the muscles and often loosen the knots of thinking that are also part of the anxiety response. Whenever you recognize you are anxious, consciously slowing down your breath will have an impact. When the body no longer feels it is in danger, options for skillful action expand.

Learning to work with thoughts via mindfulness meditation invites you to find a little bit of space between what you think, and what you do in response to those thoughts. Restorative yoga, where the body rests in stillness while supported by props, invites the body’s relaxation response to turn on, allowing you to physically integrate the experience of “calm.” In a calm state, the ability to process and digest your emotional experiences also shifts. As a result of the practice, it is not unusual to discover what lies beneath the anxiety.

Understanding why yoga helps with anxiety is not as beneficial as actually practicing yoga on a regular basis. But as we know, sometimes understanding more about what is happening and how to deal with it can give us a greater sense of comfort and control.


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Cultivating faith and devotion

by Jill Sockman

By the time you read this, I’ll be far from Raleigh, having just arrived to Varanasi — arguably one of the most chaotic cities I know. Hopefully by now I’m over the jet lag, and presumably I’m inundated and awestruck by the complete overwhelm and sensory overload that is India. This will be my third trip to the subcontinent, and I’m not yet sure if it’s three strikes you’re out or third time’s a charm. Mmmm. Neti Neti says the knowing Self — not this, and not that.

My preparations for this pilgrimage have been extensive — making the arrangements and gathering the things needed for a journey of this kind; trying to complete any and all undone tasks that they not clutter my mind or my desk while I am gone; loosening my grip on expectation and attachment; deepening and steadying my practice. I’ve been holding the intention of opening up to whatever gift or lesson this experience holds, without resistance. I’ve been working to soften around the somewhat daunting reality of intensive study with one of the great living masters of Yoga: letting go of my smallness, worry of inadequacy, desire to learn, know, remember everything and just settle into the safety of the spacious heart that is always ready and able to take it all in. I don’t feel nervous or anxious. This journey called to me, and I answered YES. What happens next is not for me to worry about. This is a sacred journey for which I have prepared everything — from my work to my bag to my mind and body — with faith and devotion.

It is this long-cultivated sense of faith and devotion that was the source of the YES answer when this journey called to me. And it was in India where I first came to truly understand these qualities. My experiences there have been ever fraught with great paradox: smallness and bigness, beauty and sorrow, richness and lack all in equal measure, not only side by side but impossibly intertwined. And all of these seeming contradictions are held in a container of vibrant connectivity: raw humanity and perfect divinity as One. And so as I write to you from my little yoga room in Raleigh, T-4 days to departure, I am ready. I am saturated, fully, in faith of this oneness. What comes to pass in this next month shall be exactly as it needs to be — which will not vaguely in any way resemble any of my pre-conceived ideas about it. That is for sure.

I’ll miss you while I am gone. I’ll be sending extra prayers and blessings to you. I’ll be so happy to see you when I return. Most of all, I invite you to come with me on this inner pilgrimage of faith and devotion — in whatever way you see it, seek it, find it, are surprised and blessed by in the weeks ahead. Notice the oneness when it touches your heart. And be reminded of why we are all here: to seek, to explore, and to love completely, wholly, with all that we are.


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Celebrating the love that grows at the blue

by Jill Sockman

In the same way it’s hard not to write about gratitude in November, it’s nearly impossible for me not to wax nostalgic at this time of year. And somehow this February feels bigger than most. Celebrating our 9th birthday means we are headed into our 10th year of community at blue lotus. And when I look back to where I was 10 years ago, with the exception of a very few most precious near and dear (you know who you are) nothing about my life looks the same now as it did then. Except the Booling. And if you think she’s wee now, she was really wee then.

As I was getting ready to open the door at 401 N. West Street for the first time, I remember thinking that even if it all failed — if nobody came, if it didn’t work — I was still glad I did it, that I was gifted this process of having a dream and blood-sweat-and-tearing it into reality. I felt no matter how short-lived it might be, I was incredibly grateful for the experience — how much I learned; the people who showed up out of nowhere and everywhere to help and be a part of it; the road I travelled to get to opening was worth the journey, regardless of the eventual destination.

Those who know me well won’t be surprised to hear me say IT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME that it might work. It never occurred to me that all these years, so many faces and forms later, I would still be here. That we would still be here. But I am. And we are. And I am still grateful. Somewhat ironically, I’m grateful for the very same things, though they look so different now. Other than my own class rosters, I look at our student base and instead of knowing every single face and name, I just know a relative handful. Many of “the regulars” back then have moved on — some I never see, some I rarely see, still others have moved from the role of student to teacher along side me. The dreams of Immersions and Teacher Trainings have also been made manifest — growing beyond my wildest expectations or hopes. Our little staff and little schedule have exploded and expanded to and beyond capacity.

This little vision for a sanctuary, for a place to be and to become is still here. And while it is here for you, it also is here because of you.

So thank you. And thanks to all of those who have come and gone along the way to make the journey exactly as it’s been. As Hafiz said, All evolves us.


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