Yoga for Depression

I’m finishing up an excellent book, Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way by Nancy Liebler and Sandra Moss. I am not currently depressed, but I certainly have been in the past. Actually, I was first introduced to yoga about 20 years ago when I went through a severe clinical depression, which included a hefty dose of anxiety as well (as depression often does). Yoga is, and has been a touchstone, and a first line of defense when depression and/or anxiety looms.

A little more on that, because this is a topic near and dear to my heart. For many people who get out of control depression, anxiety may be the first sign. If you find yourself acting and thinking more intensely than normal, take care. The body and mind get so wound up, that eventually, the system shuts down and depression may result. Think of it as a car engine overheating. If you’ve ever driven a really crummy car, or series of (as I did for an entire decade of my life), you may have experienced this. First the gauge starts to show that you are getting too warm. If you are a reasonable driver, you may decide that you really need to get somewhere, and maybe you will see if driving slower will still get you there, or to a service station. You turn off the air, pray you hit no stoplights. Eventually, you either manage to fix the problem, or you break down. This process is very like the reality of unchecked anxiety. If you don’t slow down, and regroup, you may not make it to your service station. You may just break down, which is when anxiety turns to depression. Having a daily yoga practice is an excellent way to keep on top of how and what you are feeling.

In this book, the authors offered a great overview of the different types of depression, some Ayurveda informed practices to support the different types, lifestyle changes, and some sample case studies to use as examples. If you find that depression, sadness, or anxiety loom heavy on your heart, I encourage you to find human help. If depression is something you revisit periodically, try reading the book before you are in crisis. You may discover what your early signs are, and be able to minimize your next event. More people have experienced depression than you know. And when you make it through, I urge you to be a light for others who are caught out in the dark. Having made it through, I feel like it is my duty (and a welcome one) to look out for others who may be stumbling, or have succumbed.

If you have never experienced depression, don’t try to cheer your depressed friend up. Just sit with them. Honestly, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge their pain, in a spirit of empathy. There is a wonderful Brene Brown video on the difference between sympathy and empathy. Watch it. Being there means everything.



Like attracts like

Today, I gave a presentation at my church about some of the spiritual observances of yoga (primarily the Yamas and Niyamas) and led the group in a chair based yoga practice, incorporating breath awareness, and a little bit of breath control. Afterwards, I took questions, which is always fun. In that Q&A period, someone asked what kind of practice they should pursue. This is where discipline comes in.

If you are a fiery overachiever, you will be most attracted to a fiery, accomplishment-driven practice. If you are a couch potato, restorative may be the only yoga you really want to sign on for. However, since like attracts like, if you are fiery, and only do fiery, you are only making yourself more intense. One of the many wonderful purposes of yoga is to help to bring us into balance. If you are fiery, asking you to do a restorative may be too much of a leap, but could you find joy in a more contemplative practice that still offers some challenge? If you are sedentary, a fast-paced flow class may be excessive, but could you find some challenge in an Iyengar class? Over time, we can use this balancing of opposites to bring us to the practice that we need.

Seasons of our lives also impact what might be best for us. If you are a busy householder, finding an hour to carve out each day for a languorous practice may not be practical, but you could develop a shorter practice that offers the maximum benefit. If we are in ill health, perhaps our practice may focus on breath control and meditation, and less on the poses.

Whatever we choose, examine whether it is moving you toward a noble goal, or a superficial one. If yoga is bringing you more stability, insightfulness, and introspection, you are on the right track. How does yoga help you? Let me know in the comments.

Yoga Therapy Available Now!

I am well into my first year as a Yoga Therapist in training, and am free to see clients! I have already been seeing a number of people, with some good results so far. I love this work, since it is where my librarian brain and my yoga brain meet. When you do reference interviews with people at the library, you listen and take in all the information; what they need, what they think they need, what they want, how the  information will be of service. Then, you have to figure out how to get that information. Sometimes, the obvious search terms, engines, or resources don’t work. After that comes the fun part (or the “hunt”, as I like to think of it).

Similarly, in working with people who would like to build more yoga into their lives, I have to take into consideration the goals of their hearts, their emotional state, the consideration of their bodies and current capabilities. I also have to think about where, how and how much they can realistically do, while working towards the goal. The person may have a restriction or special consideration such as joint instability, recovery from a major illness, muscle weakness, chronic pain, or multiple medications.

Now that you know why I like doing yoga therapy, maybe you’d like to know what it is. Yoga therapy applies movement, breathwork, and meditation to work towards optimal health and well-being. It can be directed to address ordinary special conditions (pre-natal or cardiovascular), more unique conditions (cancer recovery, chronic pain) or in just finding a way to bring more balance into daily life, changing to meet the client’s current condition as required. I personally use this practice in my life to moderate/neutralize my predisposition to migraines, modulate my personal tendency toward stress and anxiety, and if I have an injury, working more conscientiously to support and heal that area.

In working with me, it is a partnership. I get a snapshot of daily life from the client, along with their concerns, goals, and any potential issues, seeing if we can get an idea of where there may be any imbalances that are counterproductive. Then we work together through a selection of asanas (poses), weaving breathwork (pranayama) and meditation throughout to develop a 15 minute sequence that the client will do everyday. After a few weeks, we will meet again, and refine/change/adapt the sequence to keep progress moving forward, and perhaps even a little more deeply. Yoga Therapy is transformative because you develop increased body awareness, you are fully in charge of your experience, and the therapist (me) works closely with you to help you find your edge and keep your goal in mind.

Yoga Therapy generally costs upwards of $100 per session, but as a first year intern, I am seeing people on a need-based sliding scale of $25-$50 per session. I will finish my 500 hour training at the end of the year. My rates will go up January 1st, 2018. So, if this is something you are interested in, come see me at the low price! (And then come see me again at the higher price)!

If you’ve already seen me, I’d love for you to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Kindly rejecting our own expectations

In pretty much every class I teach is that there will be at least one person that berates themselves for their difficulty in approaching a pose. For example, a student of mine may be working towards Dancer pose, which is a balancing pose as well as a backbend. At the first sign of wobbling, or of falling out, the response is often “I can’t balance!” or maybe, “I’m just so weak” or “I have no strength!”.

What’s behind this unhelpful dialogue? In what universe is anyone expected to be able to do something perfectly every time, or even the first time?

I imagine the underlying thinking must be some variety of the following:

I can’t do this

I look dumb trying to do this

Everyone else can do this except for me

People must think I am really weak

I will never be able to do this

But, here’s the thing. The person who is doing it right now while you aren’t either really worked hard to get there, or has some genetic privilege in their favor. A perfectly executed yoga pose may take hours, or maybe even hundreds of hours to refine. And, here’s a secret you may not know. Yoga giveth, and yoga taketh away. You can practice a pose for a long time, and one day, it may not feel good in your body. Or you may have lost access to it due to illness or injury, or mysterious forces. And, that’s the practice. Yoga (despite what all those glossy magazine covers may indicate) is a practice of non-attachment, of being present with what is vs. what we want it to be. It may come back, it may not, and there are still other things to explore. Yoga isn’t just about one pose, or about perfection. Suffice to say, among many other benefits, yoga makes us more comfortable with our imperfections.

First things first though. Start speaking in the present tense. If you can’t restrain yourself from absolutes, at least put a time frame on them. Say, “I can’t balance today”. “Today, I feel weak”. Today may not be your best day, but you don’t know what tomorrow holds yet.




Clairvoyant, I’m not

I have many excellent qualities, but clairvoyance isn’t one of them.  But no matter how many times I tell myself I don’t know the future, well, I think I know what is going to happen.  For many years, I’ve told myself, prepare for the worst, so I can be pleasantly surprised.  This, I’ve realized, is just one more way for me to justify my tendency toward catastrophic thinking.

Being a worst case scenario thinker isn’t all bad.  One benefit is that I tend to adjust to difficult situations quickly.  I don’t lose my head when something legitimately awful takes place.

What’s the flip side of that though?  Perhaps a tendency to give up too easily.  Because I don’t stretch myself as hard as I could, maybe I achieve success too readily, like a hurdle jumper hopping over uncooked spaghetti, conveniently distanced 2 feet apart.

When something is hard, if something isn’t working out, are you too quick to drop the thing you are working on?  Acceptance is good, but if you are flinging yourself into the lap of failure, calling it “being realistic”, are you doing the best thing there, or are you doing yourself a disservice?

I often fall back on the “realism”, on the worst-case scenario, into the status of someone who gracefully settles into failure.  And, I do it all because the first thing to pop into my head is where I think something is going.  Oh well, it must not be meant to be.  Sometimes that’s true, and you don’t want throw energy at everything.  You only have a finite supply of energy and time.  But, perhaps, acknowledge and accept that you don’t know the future.  A bad day is just a bad day.  One day, everything is crap.  The next day, the world has opened up.  A phone call, a good cup of tea, a hot shower, a walk, even just a good night’s rest could be all that is standing between you and progress.  Sometimes, it’s just your mind.

I am reading Perfectly Imperfect by Baron Baptiste, and I love it.  He says:

Every student has his or her no pose…But you actually don’t know for sure that you can’t do that pose.  What you’ve come up against isn’t necessarily a physical limitation.  Resistance can be very deceiving behind the many masks it wears.  Maybe you haven’t been able to do that pose in the past, but what about today?  The yogis say you can never step into the same river twice, because the current is always shifting and changing.  You’ve never stepped into this exact river before today…

How many of us know people who act as if their assessments, personal opinions, and judgments are truth and fact?  This is a common phenomenon.  It is no surprise that people who view life as if their subjective assessments are The Truth have difficulty forming an empowering relationship with the practice and with life.  There’s no room for new possibility or perception if you are locked within your perception, holding it as the cold, objective, unmovable truth.

Today, there was something that I perceived as hard in a yoga class, and I didn’t want to even try.  I could see that a bunch of people around me didn’t want to try either.  But then I remembered this good reading I’ve been doing, and I decided to think, YES.  I will try.  And I did it.  And it was awesome.

Who knows what’s next?  I don’t know, and you don’t know.  We never step into the same river twice.  Even if the water was the same, we wouldn’t be.

Genetic Privilege–it’s for you, too

When I took the fabulously insightful Yoga for All training with Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes, there was this great concept of genetic privilege that just blew my socks off.  In the first module, they talk about how some people have a natural ease with certain postures, and some don’t.  Dianne framed it as “genetic privilege”, which I just found so interesting, particularly when she said that everyone has it.  When I framed it in terms of myself, it had an interesting effect on me.  One, it helped me to focus on the positive, the idea that some things really do just come naturally to me.  Two, it helped me to understand that I can’t have a natural affinity for everything.  Some things are easy, some are hard.  Three, it helped me to feel a little less self-congratulatory on things that do come easily to me.  I got lucky.  Nothing to get to puffed up about there.  For some reason, I find this very freeing.

For me, I am pretty good at opening my side body.  I enjoy it, I have a nice, long torso that makes it come a little more easily.  However, I can’t really clasp my arms up behind my back and lift them.  Namaste in the back?  Ha!  Dream on!  But, by being able to be at ease with the idea that some things I do come easily, it makes me more able to accept that some really don’t.  No longer do I berate my poor, tight shoulder carriage, because heck!  I can do triangle!  The silver lining makes the grey part a little brighter.

So, next time you are on the mat, notice your strengths and weaknesses without getting too attached.  Walk that line of equanimity, thinking in a factual way, without all the emotional baggage and pay attention to what feels good, what feels instinctive.  Be okay with practices that aren’t so simple to you.  You can learn from both, if you don’t get caught up in a miserable cycle of accomplishment and failure.  Recognizing privilege doesn’t eliminate the ability to strive and improve, but it may shift your perspective.

New Classes Launching and Finding Progress in your Practice

In an absolute windfall of awesomeness, I have been picked up by another yoga studio, and have brand new classes at all three that I am working with!

On my home page, all details will be listed, but in short, I have the following in September:

Mondays at 10 am, Yoga Basics at Willow Glen Yoga

Tuesdays at 7 pm, Vinyasa for All at Downtown Yoga Shala

Wednesdays at 10:45, Full-Figured Yoga at Almaden Yoga (a 4 week series beginning 9/14)

Thursdays at 6:30 am, a refreshing dose of Vinyasa at Willow Glen Yoga

What luck, right?!?  I hope to see some (oh, heck, all of you!) there sometime.  If you have questions, please email me.

On to weightier matters, recently I read Yoga Beyond Belief by Ganga White, and honestly, I think it may be one of my most favorite reads ever, and definitely at the top of the list for yoga and mind/body books in general.  One of the many quotes in this work that I liked follows.

Advancing in yoga is more related to refining than to attaining.  If you want to know if you are advancing in yoga, ask yourself these questions: Am I gaining greater understanding of my body?  Am I learning how to heal myself?  Am I learning subtler and different ways of using the poses and how each asana affects the body to produce different results…Am I beginning to get some control of my own autonomic nervous system and some of the unconscious processes of the body?  Am I less rigid in my beliefs and less fixed in particular systems and structures?  Am I alive and awake in my practice, constantly questioning and willing to vacate my position–figuratively and actually?  Am I questioning, not only of others but of myself?  Is my mind becoming more open, compassionate, more peaceful?  (White, Ganga Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen your Practice Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2007)

One person may not feel all of these shifts all in one go, but you might get a taste of them.  Often, we focus so much on the “progress” of the asana, which, let’s face it–it’s a clear measurement, but we forget all the intangible benefits of yoga.

When I was a much, much, younger woman, I came out of a very bad relationship.  It was all the dysfunction, without any of the “fun” in it.  Having come out of a chaotic home life, into a relationship with a very unpredictable man for the formative years of my adulthood 5 of them!), I craved stability of any stripe.  The man and I separated, and consequently, I was easy pickings for a very strict religious sect in which I attempted to live “by the rules” for the next 5 years of my life.  Eventually, this led to a real disconnect for me that was absolutely shattering.  When I picked up the pieces again of my life, I made this my litmus test for religion and philosophy: does it make me kinder?  If it doesn’t make me a kinder person, it is not the place for me.

Look through that list above, and honestly, if you love yoga, read the whole book.  It isn’t a hard read at all.  But, is your practice making you kinder?  Is it making you more open?  Compassionate?  Self-aware?  Peaceful?  Are you coming to greater self-knowledge?  Are you sensitive to your flesh and subtle bodies?

It’s a great thing to burst through into a new asana.  It really is.  But, it isn’t the only measure of progress.  Drop a line in the comments to let me know how yoga has affected you.

The Thief

When I was a younger yoga practitioner, first starting out, I constantly measured my progress and what I thought I “should” do by looking at the people around me.  “Oh, that person has their head on the floor.  Why isn’t my head on the floor?  I should be able to do that.  I am younger/been doing this longer/skinnier.”  Or, “I’ll never be able to do that, because that person is younger/been doing this longer/skinnier.”  As a result, I was really missing out on the depths of the practice.  The last couple of years, I practiced Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga.  If you aren’t familiar with that, well, here’s how it works.  You go into the studio.  The instructor isn’t instructing the group as a whole, but working through the room, offering individual guidance and instruction to each student.  While there is a led version of the class where you are learning corporately, the Mysore practice is individual as opposed to led.  You learn the sequence from the teacher, and you start when you get there with whatever poses that you’ve been given by the teacher, from the series, while the teacher gives the benefit of instruction as needed.  For more on Mysore Ashtanga, visit this website.  Each person starts with a series of Surya Namaskar A & B, and then moves into the held asanas (poses). When you do see someone, they are rarely in the same pose as you, so there isn’t anything to compare against.  That really cuts the opportunity for chatter.  Also, you tend to practice with the same rough group most mornings, and then you know how hard everyone is working.  So, when your buddy manages to break through to something new, it is thrilling.  A victory for one is a victory for all of you.  Also, it becomes evident that everyone has a struggle.  Everyone.  Some folks can’t open their side bodies so well (in poses like triangle), or some struggle in headstand.  (Well, most struggle in headstand.  Although I was just in a vinyasa class where this one guy held it for minutes, and seemed like he could have stayed there all day).

You can’t predict how someone’s yoga practice is going to go by how they look.  People will surprise you every time.  You also can’t judge what you will be able to do by how you look.  If you continue the practice, you will surprise yourself with what you can do.

Yoga is about finding union between your body, mind and spirit.  Your body, mind and spirit.  The breath links it all together.  If you are looking over at someone else, thinking of your shortcomings, or theirs, or taking pride in doing something that someone else can’t do, you are robbing yourself of the benefits of yoga.

Recently, I was in a gentle yoga class with Kyczy Hawk, who is an amazingly knowledgable, intuitive teacher, with a sense of humor that makes me bark out loud with laughter.  She is funny and wise.  During class, she said, “Comparison is the stealer of joy.  Stop comparing and enjoy yourself.”  While that is something I do know, it’s always good to have a reminder, and it has stuck with me all week, so I think I must have needed to remember it.

Expanding that concept outward, where is comparison your Achilles’ Heel?  Do you compare your house, car, kids, job, talents against someone else?  Let me know in the comments if you plan on taking action somewhere in your life.  And today, when I look at my old red couch with all the smushed cushions, I won’t think of my friends who are impeccable housekeepers with showroom ready furniture.  Oops…I already did.  I’m a work in progress, just like everyone else.


A Door Closes and a Window Opens

So, a door closes, and a window opens, and other platitudes is my topic today.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that my children are starting school this year (in less than a month!), and I’ve had a little time to test-drive what it will be like to get my kids to school on time through the use of summer camps.  The answer is that it will be very, very hard to get my children to school on time, at least without big changes to how I run mornings in my house.

My old schedule was extremely luxurious.  I would wake up, get dressed in the quiet of the house and head to the yoga studio around 6 or 6:30, do my 90 minute routine, perhaps chat with people afterward, text my husband that I was on my way home, and come back to the glorious scents that only someone who isn’t cooking their own breakfast can enjoy.  My husband is the better breakfast cook by far and assumes most responsibility for it, much to my delight.  There’s really no reason for me to improve on that front.  After breakfast, and an additional cup of tea, washing up, showering, etc., then I would start my day.

This summer I’ve discovered that I can’t actually have it all, not to mention that school starts a full 1/2 hour earlier than anything I’ve signed my kids up for this summer.  Unless I were to arrive at the studio an hour before most people get there, it would be impossible to do my routine and make it to school on time.  So, what to do?  What should I cut?  Yoga?  Breakfast?  Showering?  (NO).

I’ve finally surrendered myself to the fact that my yoga practice has to change.  If I am just squeezing it in early and rushing through it, ever conscious of the time ticking, am I still doing yoga?  Or am I doing surly aerobics?  The last couple of weeks, I thought I’d try to adapt a little.  Classes at a different time.  Different styles of yoga.  Yoga at home when the kids aren’t.  Adding some aerobics, and then yoga.  All this change takes an effort, but I have to tell you, my windows are wide-open right now.  My mind has become so curious about what makes yoga special to me.  I’m seeing the value in doing different things.  I’m sure I’ll settle on something.  I am a creature of routine, after all.  But for now, it feels good to be back in an exploration phase.

Do I still feel some sadness about not being able to do my special practice in the same way that I have been for the last few years?  Yes, of course.  But it doesn’t preclude the idea that there might be another special practice right around the corner.  Seldom do I try anything new when the old thing works just fine.  I have been shoved into change, but now I have moved past the bitterness stage, and into the curious stage, which is a fine place to be.




Kapha Yogi in Black and White

So, my fabulous and glamorous friend, Amy, made me a logo for my business!  Here it is!

Small Yoga Logo.jpg

Not only does Amy make yogi friends thoughtfully designed and beautiful logos, she can also make you pretty much anything you want for any event or party you want to throw, and she makes the prettiest one of a kind stationary you’ve ever seen.  Right now, she is on vacation, but save the link to her shop if you want to contact her for work in the future.

In making this logo, it was kind of a fun process.  We discussed what I wanted, which she pretty much understood right away.  Then all the revisions consisted of me saying “make her fatter!” (which I think probably isn’t a phrase graphic designers hear often) and this is where we landed.  I love it!

As a reminder, my Full-Bodied Yoga series launches at Willow Glen Yoga on Monday, July 11th, 11-12:15.  It runs for four weeks, until August 1st.  Sign up at  This class is perfect for beginners, and can go deeper for those who are already familiar with yoga.