The Practice of Being Content

Quieting the mind. It’s hard to do. We can close our eyes, roll our necks around, bring it back to center...and then, we breathe.

But, there it goes again--our mind wants to be busy. It flashes to what we need to do later, a conversation we had a week ago...it jumps around. A lot.

When I first started meditating, I used a crutch. I counted, in order to keep my mind from wandering. Inhale-one, exhale-two, inhale-three, exhale-four, inhale-five...and then, suddenly my mind would jump. Then I’d bring it back to one. You see, once you bring your mind back...start over at one. It helps to alleviate the ‘contest’---by starting over at one every time you slip into thought and not going past nine each time you successfully reach it before you start at one, again. Just breathe, and count. It’s a crutch, but, we do that. It’s okay. You don’t lose points for using a crutch when you need a crutch. When we need support, we use that crutch. It’s ok. Know that it’s something you will ween yourself from. It’s something to help train the mind and when you notice the mind jumping...bring it back. Bring. It. Back. When we first start sitting, it can be overwhelming to suddenly realize how much the mind jumps around. But after awhile, you discover that you’re just feeling your breath. The counting becomes unnecessary, and we get to put down the crutch. We don’t need it. The mind has become stronger. We can find peace. We can find contentment.

In Yoga, we pay attention to the breath. It’s the glue, really. The yoga sutras written by Patanjali, the first person to write about yoga, are described as an eight limbed path outlining the art and science of Yoga. It is “a process of systematically encountering, examining, and transcending each of the various gross and subtle levels of false identity in the mind field, until the jewel of the true Self comes shining through”.

Sounds pretty important when one puts it that way, yes? When we look at it simplistically, it’s listed as an eight limbed set of awareness to evolve with;

YAMA - Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows.
NIYAMA - Positive duties or observances.
ASANA - Posture. (This is where we Westerners like to dwell...we loooooove asana.)
PRANAYAMA - Breathing techniques.
PRATYAHARA - Sense withdrawal.
DHARANA - Focused concentration.
DHYANA - Meditative absorption.
SAMADHI - Bliss or enlightenment.

The second limb, the Niyamas, are personal practices, rituals and daily activities for wellbeing and spiritual growth. First, there is Soucha, which is the practice of cleanliness--or the commitment to keeping the mind and body clean. It’s about looking at environmental toxins and opting to remove them from our lives. It’s about being aware that cleanliness is more than washing your hands after you use the bathroom. It’s about your mind, too. It’s about what you are thinking. There is Tapas-- the practice of self discipline, and Svadhyaya--the practice of self study. There’s Ishvara Pranidhana which refers to surrendering to the Divine--quite literally, “the divine in me honors the divine in you”. Finally Santosha--meaning contentment. It is this Niyama that I’d like to focus on. This time of year, there is a lot of talk about gratitude. We’re thankful for our family, our pets, our homes. We’re thankful that mom is a great cook and we get to gather between halftime to devour the magic she conjured for us...so very thankful that we’re all together, safe, sound, with a second helping of too-much-already. But, there is more to Santosha than our American perspective of gratitude for abundance. Santosha refers to surrendering the control of our lives in the present moment, and going with the flow.

Santosha doesn’t assume abundance.

When we live our lives this way, we’re much more receptive to opportunities and experiences that present themselves when we keep an open mind. The result of practicing Santosha is experiencing increased love and joy in our own lives. When we’re happy and carefree, we can be of even greater service to others, and positively impact more lives around us. We can
be...better humans, no matter what we have...or don’t have.

When we’re not practicing Santosha, we tend to be discontent and hold onto resentment towards others and toward our situations. When we decide to practice Santosha we surrender to all circumstances-good and bad- that have brought us to any given moment, the result is often a deeper sense of gratitude for the respective paths we’re on. It means that when the weather is “bad”, we breathe. We find pause. We fill ourselves with contentment in the weather, no matter its “badness”.

It’s a struggle in the West to be content. American’s love choices. We don’t just want something to eat to address our hunger. We want the perfect burger. We could get a burger at at least 45 different burger places right here in Missoula. But...really...come on...it’s a cheeseburger. We have too many choices. All these choices confuse us, and then, even when we make a choice, we focus on what we didn’t get to choose. It was a good burger, but, maybe we should have gone to The Top Hat. Maybe it would have been better. It probably would have been. Unless it wasn’t. Because, maybe, it really wasn’t. Damn. Should have made a different choice. We buy a new car, and we find exactly what isn’t perfect about it as soon as we’ve signed the papers. It’s missing something that we could now focus on. Needs a hitch. A rack. Heated seats. Don’t get me wrong. Heated seats are pretty nice. Especially in Montana. Especially after yoga. But...is it worth being unhappy about if you don’t have them? Or, maybe,
you got a new job and are super excited, but...three weeks in...are wishing for the old job, or for a new, new job. This job...you’re not so sure about. And your partner? Well...is he/she really the best option? When you’re listening to them chew, are you wondering if someone else can chew their food in a less annoying way? Can you? Maybe the act of chewing food is just...chewing food. Maybe, it’s time to practice Santosha.

In Santosa, the practice of being content, you find the breath. You find the peace, but there is a fine line wherein you can also find yourself in complacency. You want to find contentment, not complacency. Complacency is giving up. Contentment is finding peace. Tease out the difference. The weather isn’t great. It’s cold. COLD. We Missoulians know cold. But, you know what...we usually have beautiful weather. Even when it’s cold out, it’s really...beautiful. We can work with the cold, knowing it is part of the dynamic whollistic reality of where we live. Our burger filled us up. It was tasty. It did its job. It fed us. Our job, it gives us a paycheck. Its reliable. It’s what we are doing. Maybe it’s a step into the future, but right now, it’s where we are. It’s what we are breathing through, what we are asked to be content in, for our own sake, and the for the sake of those who ears we borrow.

And there it is...the breath. The breath is what we are practicing in the studio, so that when we go out there, we can find contentment in our lives.

Can you find that contentment in pigeon? In Warrior two? Triangle? Can you find your breath in headstand? Can you find that same breath at home when your kids are going ape because you didn’t make the burger the way they like it? Can you teach them about Santosha, too? In this season of bundling up, Look to see where you can find the gratitude...find the places you can choose gratitude. They are there, and they will direct you toward contentment. This time of the year, we can lose track of contentment in favor of stress. But, remember, whatever holiday you align with, ‘Tis the season to be content with where you are, right now. Breathe.


Worry, It's a Thing

Worry. It’s kind of a thing. There’s actually a lot of energy that goes into the practice of worrying about our problems. Some of us have real problems. Big problems. Problems that keep us up at night with deep seated, sincere, understandable angst. There are also a lot of people who don’t have problems to that extreme...and they still worry. But, what is worry? What does it accomplish? When we worry, part of that initial process can be productive if we are figuring out ways to solve whatever it is that is causing us distress--but that’s the part beyond the worry. The problem solving part. The worry...well, that’s not helping anything. That part is just in your head. It doesn’t make anything better. It doesn’t matter if the issue is big or small.The worry part is just spinning wheels in your head. It does nothing beyond pushing fear and negativity into the universe. And, it hurts. It literally damages your cells. If you can solve the problem, then do it, and don’t worry.

If there is nothing you can do to solve the problem, then...let it go...and don’t worry. Easier said than done, yes?

The struggle comes in when we can’t do anything about a problem. It’s so hard to feel helpless. I had a teacher, Judith Hanson Lasater, in a workshop who said that worrying was praying for the bad stuff to happen.

Sometimes statements like that feel like blame, but there’s some truth to be found in it. Have you ever manifested something into your life by focusing positive energy into it? Pouring yourself into something you care about, perhaps you found that you were rewarded with positive results? All that positive energy lifted you into what you envisioned and when that happens, most of us are more than happy to take credit for that good outcome. We know we manifested it. It’s ours, and we feel good about that success. It happens in the other direction too. Pouring negative energy into things also manifests outcomes. Fear is a powerful form of energy, right? Enough worry and fear, and you can find your immune system completely zapped from the internal stress of your mind in its hamster wheel of concerns.

Here’s a little story-zample... I was talking with my co-worker a while ago, and he was telling me about how he was zipping along on his motorcycle and a bee hit his hand and it stung him and it hurt! I immediately cringed inside and thought, “Oh man! You know what would really suck? What if you were riding along and a bee flew into your mouth!” The thought made me cringe. The idea of a bee stinging me in the mouth was just..nooononono! Within a week...I was riding
my bike and NO JOKE, a bee flew into my mouth a stung me. Trust me. You do not want to manifest that for yourself. I worried about something I didn’t need to worry about. Don’t do that. It’s not a good idea. Don’t bring unnecessary pain and strife into your life by worrying about things you can’t control.

When we ask ourselves if there is something we can do about our problem, if the answer is yes, when we have our path. If the answer is no...then, we have our breath. When we can acknowledge that we really don’t need to worry, that’s when we can find peace. That’s when we can move forward into manifesting what we want in our lives.

That is why we come to our mats. We come here to get out of our heads. We come into our breath to leave the spinning of our minds behind. We come...to let go.

This Autumn, we have some awesome things coming up to help you do that. We have a great beginner yoga class at the end of October that promises to give you everything you need to feel confidence in any regular class, and I’m planning a fun little workshop in Novemember! You can also play along with a little game I like to encourage; I’m excited to offer a challenge to everyone to find out how little you can pay for your yoga classes. Unlimited passes make that possible at the luxurious steal of only $85, and only $50 if you are new to the studio. The more you come, the less you end up paying!

Can you stretch your dollar far enough to pay $1 a class? Can you imagine how awesome it would feel to walk through that door every day and release your mind from the worry you were holding? What if you came often enough that you simply...forgot to worry ever again. What if you were so busy enjoying yoga every day that you found at the end of 30 days that you had replaced worry with inner peace? That’s what yoga can do. I believe in this practice, and this challenge is my gift to you as a thank you for being part of Inner Harmony. We also have some acro classes on Monday nights at 7:15 and an acto jam on Saturday afternoons which are accessible to anyone who wishes their secret power was the ability to fly! While actual flying may be out of reach, the thrill of doing acro is sure to bring a smile to your face while you strengthen, tone and tighten your entire body. It’s the most fun ever and you get STRONG. Join us!

We just finished an enthusiastic Autumnal Equinox celebration with 108 Sun Salutations. We had a hearty group which made the energy in the room expansive! Afterwards, several of us enjoyed brunch at Scotty’s table for a well earned indulgence and comradely conversation. We do this practice quarterly at Inner Harmony, and the next one will be in December for Winter Solstice. I hope to share this expansive event with you. If you’ve ever wondered if you had the endurance to accomplish the 108, I urge you to take it upon yourself to manifest it. Start with five sun salutations a day, which is something that has no negatives when adding to a home practice, or, make your way to the studio and I promise we’ll help you achieve that goal. I promise you can do it!

Again, thank you all for making Inner Harmony possible. Being able to do what I love is a dream come true, and I am so grateful for that. It’s so much better to guide people into getting out of their heads than it is to have a bee fly into your mouth because you worried about it happening. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.

I appreciate all of you Happy

Advanced Yoga

It’s summer. It’s hot. We’re more active. Sweating more. Are you feeling dehydrated? Muscles get angry when we neglect hydration...so, make sure you are compensating for the heat. Drink water. Lots. of. Water.

I have a little magic trick I’ve been sharing in class in order to beat the heat. Tongue straw. It looks really funny, but, see if you can do it, anyway. Curl up your tongue so it looks like a straw and then slowly inhale air up through the tongue in order to cool the body. Exhale through the nose. Do it several times and notice that, while It looks silly, it effectively cools your body. So, anytime in class, or while exerting yourself in this summer weather, or if it’s just peaking into the 100’s and your in survival mode, whenever you feel yourself getting too hot, transition the inhale from normal nostril breathing into the tongue straw inhale. It works...I promise.

Busy minds. It’s so easy to carry our troubles around with us instead of just allowing ourselves to be in the space we are in. Letting go of work, frustrations, worries...it’s hard to do. I like the story of the two monks walking down the street. As they walked, they came upon a woman who needed to cross the gutter and she was troubled because couldn’t get over it without soiling herself badly. The monks were going in the same direction as the woman, so the elder monk lifted her up onto his shoulder, and put her on the other side, and quietly went on his way without a word. This action pissed the younger monk off. He believed that the vows he had taken as a monk were sacred and absolutely not to be broken. After about 20 minutes, the younger monk finally lost his temper over having witnessed blatant rule breaking and went off on the other monk, his cheeks red with anger, “You know, I can’t believe you broke your vow! One of our vows is to never touch a woman and you touched her, You actually picked her up, and held her to get her over the ditch...and she didn’t even thank you! I can’t believe you would do that after making a solemn vow that you would never touch a woman!” The young monk went on and on his face getting redder with the anger he felt at his elder’s betrayal of one of his most precious vows to the brotherhood. The older monk quietly looked at the younger monk, smiled and said, “You know...I sat her down about 30 minutes ago...You are still holding her.”

How long ago do you clock out, and then continue to carry it long past when you were at work? How long do you carry a resentment, an irritation, an interpretation? You can hold it. You can hold it as long as you like. Forever if you must. Or you can...just let go. It doesn’t matter. It’s not happening right now. Right now, is...now.

Yoga is a practice, but it’s not just a practice of headstands and arm balances. It’s not simply about getting better at triangle. In a way, the asana is a way to trick the mind. What we are actually practicing is getting OUT of our heads and into our bodies. I’ve never considered a person who has the most perfect hand stand, or the most instagram worthy triangle pose to be doing “advanced” yoga. Advanced yoga is being at​ your level--not caring if the person next to you is doing something else. The simplest, most basic version of the pose, as long as you are
present and breathing in the moment at the place you are actually at...well, that is advanced yoga.

I consider seeing child’s pose in my yoga classes to be one of the most advanced poses, because of how hard it is for people to let go of wanting to prove that they can go deeper, harder. People like to prove they can do it. And, while we want to be honest with what we need, (because sometimes child’s pose is taken out of reluctance to push forward--we have to ask ourselves where we really are at. Do we need child’s pose? That’s advanced, then, to take it.

Do we want child’s pose because we don’t want to do another plank because...it’s hard...well...how about you go ahead and work your way into plank. And breathe. And...smile. That’s advanced yoga, too. Being at your level, where you are, right now.) On the other hand, ongoing child’s pose at home might be considered the worst pose to indulge in...it’s just too easy to spend 45 minutes in child’s pose at home, and checking off an hour long yoga practice with just child’s is not really having a yoga practice. It’s resting. Resting is valuable. We all need to rest. But, do pay attention to the tendency to just want to hang out there. Too much time in child’s pose doesn’t give us everything we really need when we are practicing filling up our bodies. Being where we really are; That’s advanced yoga. We’re getting out of our heads and back into our bodies. Lifting our hearts. Finding the space to discover what it is we are grateful for, today.


Transfomation Within Manipura Chakra

manipura chakra
Warmth is filling the air, drawing us outside and bringing heat to our muscles. It makes us want to move. To feel. We rush from one moment to the next, invigorated by the warmth and the sunshine calling to us. In that energy, just ahead of our next step, is the all pervasive tendency to “turtle neck.” It helps us get where we are going just a little bit faster, right? Maybe, if we push forward just enough, we can get ahead, and out into that sun a little more quickly.

Except, that isn’t how it ends up working. The turtle necking rounds our thoracic spine from what I call the, “hunchin’ ligament”, because it pulls us in and forward, like a hunchback. If the hunchin’ ligament gets tight, it envelopes and effectively weakens the third chakra, Manipura. Manipura Chakra is located above the navel in the area of the solar plexus, just below the breastbone. It’s the golden flame behind our personal power and self esteem. It’s the energy in our digestion. It’s our confidence. When the third chakra is diminished by the effects of turtle necking and the resulting hunching, we lose the expansion required for transformation. We feel weak, and
anxious-- and so we protect and round more when we allow the head to lead, instead of the

That’s why it is important for us to live Yoga.

Yoga introduces us to the deliciousness of counter posture. It calls us to focus on core activation. It reminds us to be gentle, yet attentive to where we need to go further. Deeper.. It requests strength of us. It calls us to pay attention to our balance, our minds...and our turtlenecks. Yoga asks us to lead with the heart, which is incredibly vulnerable, and that is why it makes us stronger, physically and emotionally. To bear your heart, your belly, can bring up all kinds of feelings because we are opening what we have been protecting from harm. It’s not uncommon to feel dizzy or anxious or even tearful when you practice opening and lifting Manipura--but it’s the key to countering the fatigue of turtlenecking and hunching. Paying attention to expansion is such a simple way to bring energy into your body... Inhaling, bringing as much width as we can to expand the chest, we expand and relax. We find stillness. We find that our stillness...is safe. The anxiety begins to release us from our mind.

And, we breathe.

And we listen to where we need more or less, on the mat--and in our lives.

Once, several years ago, I had a student who asked me, “Brian, why is it that Yoga makes me feel like divorcing my husband?” What a question! At the time, I really wasn’t sure how what to say to her. I didn’t have an answer for her. But, after years of teaching, I’ve started to notice answers to that question, because it’s not as unique or strange as it sounded to me at first. Yoga opens what has been closed. Yoga changes how we hold ourselves, even if only during class. Even if you run through the day in pure turtlenecked fashion, when you sit on your mat, you roll those shoulders back, you lift your heart, and you expand. You breathe. You quiet the

That sixty minutes of becoming a more open you is transformative. It changes your body. It changes your mind. You start to notice when you are hunched over even when you aren’t in class and you crave expansion; so, you find yourself allowing the shoulders roll, and the heart opens and lifts, and you breathe with intention. As we find ourselves opening up, we might also find that we want the people we are closest to to notice the change we are manifesting on our mats and in our lives, and honor it, maybe even take the time to transform alongside us. But, we can’t control that part. We can only honor what is ours to work with. Our shoulders. Our jaw. Our breath. And, maybe the most advanced of all, our smile.

As we bring energy into our Chakras, as they open and expand and as we become more who we are being shown to be, we are also noticing what, or who, causes us to retract into ourselves. We notice how we really feel. As a new aspect of self awareness, those feelings can be disconcerting, as they were to my student who found herself feeling disconnected from her partner. It can change things when we weren’t asking for change in that particular area.

One often enters a yoga class looking for physical or emotional change or pain relief, usually not to alter their entire psyche. Yet, with a regular practice, all of those things do transform. That can play out in many different kinds of change and it will sometimes mean that you may need to make changes that allow you to continue to expand, because you won’t be able to pretend that what was good enough when you were hunched over, protecting the heart, will be good enough now that your heart knows what it feels like to press open, in vulnerability and strength, to face the sunlight. And, that’s a good thing for you, and for the people who care about you.

I’m excited to continue to offer Missoula with opportunities to expand at Inner Harmony with regular classes, acro, massage and some really fun workshops that are coming up! We have an acro workshop series going on with a nice sized group! You don’t need a partner, but I’m offering a reduced rate when two people sign up together. We’ll do 20 minutes of strength building conditioning and then you can expect to learn all the basics you would need to attend regular classes and jams! The more the merrier! I’m excited to see you there!

On June 24th, we’ll be celebrating Summer Solstice with our energizing quarterly practice of 108 Sun Salutations. There is absolutely no reason to omit yourself from this event. Add five daily sun salutations to your life and this practice will be entirely doable and promises to be empowering and a great way to honor the extra energy of the season.

On July 13th, from 7-9pm which happens to also be my 40-onederfulest birthday, I’m hosting an amazing Sound Bath Journey with Crown of Eternity that will absolutely sell out. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the show. Please bring a pillow or blanket to sit on and prepare to be delighted.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow as a teacher and for being willing to open your heart on this yoga journey.


Yoga Every Day

It’s been a predictable Spring in Montana in that we’ve literally had a little of everything in the air! Sunshine, snow, flurries, rain, solid downpours, wind and then, more sunshine. The constant fluctuation in our mountain weather keeps us on our toes! Clearly though, the days are getting longer and brighter, and it’s exciting to feel that the icy/frigid days of winter are on their way out, making way for rambling hikes amongst hills that will soon be bursting with wildflowers (Though as seasoned Montanans we know better than to start planting our gardens just yet, right?). At IHY, we celebrated the season of new beginnings with 108 Sun Salutations, for
the Vernal Equinox. We had a generous group of regular Sun Saluters, along with several courageous new adventurers who discovered that, while hamstrings do require some love in the days after, the 108 is entirely doable and inspirational! It makes you feel strong! I hope you’ll join us next time for our quarterly 108, during the Summer Solstice (June 24th, 10am-12:15ish); and if the rapid beginning of the year is any indication of the months to follow, the next 108 is right around the corner! (even though you absolutely have time to implement half a dozen or so Sun Salutes to your daily practice to make the task of manifesting 108 Sun Salutations ever more awesomer...)

I mention a daily practice as a segway into this blog post, because, that is what I want to talk about. A daily practice. Yoga, as something we do--not only when we move from Forward Fold to Standing Split, or from Warrior Two to Triangle, but even when we move from our mat into our regular lives.

Yoga when we do the dishes.

Yoga when taking out the garbage.

Yoga when we munch a carrot.

Yoga when we notice that the sunshine has been replaced by a snow shower. Again.

Yoga...in every moment.

How do we do this? How do we take the tremendous peace and sense of well being that we gather during Asana, into the moments beyond the mat?

Well, it’s not really such a mystery. It’s not out of reach. It’s entirely doable.

It simply requires practice.

That’s why we come to our mats. To practice. As tempting as it can be to reduce yoga to what it can do for the body, there is so much more it has to offer, beyond that undeniable perk. Studies are springing forth right and left to sing the praises that yoga can offer in the areas of chronic pain, anxiety disorders, mood disorders like depression and as a significant player in supporting the effects of PTSD. Mental health professionals, Alternative health practitioners (Chiropractors, Naturopaths, Massage Therapists, Yoga Therapists, etc...) and allopathic
practitioners of medicine (Doctors, Psychiatrists, Physical Therapists, Osteopaths, NP’s, etc) are beginning to recommend a regular practice of Yoga to their clients because the pharmaceutical options for lifting mood have numerous unpleasant side effects and inadequate efficacy in too many cases to be ignored. Yoga addresses the internal as well as the external, and, frankly, it’s less expensive than prescriptions that are showing about as much efficacy as a placebo can boast, while offering a powerful boost to the effectiveness of evidence based behavioral therapy techniques. Time and time again, the direction to internal and external health is pointing toward yoga as an answer, both collaboratively and singularly. Not only will it shape and tone and increase balance and flexibility, but it teaches your mind to be still.​ It allows you to practice the stability of breath. It prepares you for the moments beyond the mat.

Moving through Asana, we practice for the big game of life. It’s no different that anyone practicing basketball. You shoot, and you shoot and you miss and you miss and you shoot again and again and again, and after awhile, you start to see that your accuracy is improving. The distance you can run is further. Your mark is sharper. Your endurance more fluid. It’s no different in yoga. It takes practice. Lots of it. Not only is the practice enhancing your endurance physically, but it is transforming the mind...the soul. The practice only requires that you make your way to the mat and find stability of breath in the pose. It’s beautifully simple and only needs to be done with regularity in order to be able to access it when the phone rings in perfect timing with life hitting the fan. Because, it does. It does for all of us.

As we reach for stability and peace within our breath when we press into pigeon or lift our hearts in our backbends, we are practicing finding breath in difficult moments (It really is difficult to find breath in backbend, isn’t it?) It isn’t beyond our grasp, but without the practice required, when presented with car troubles and children and families and demands on our time---like in those moments alongside Bob from Accounting...Good ol’ Bob, who is not very self aware, nor intending to irritate, but who is trying to quit smoking by instilling a new habit of smacking gum relentlessly--All. Day. Long.​ Well, that is one of those moments found in the Big Game we are training for, while allowing Camel to come into fruition. Life...is The Ultimate Big Game.

When we are on our mats we move into and through our Asana, this commitment to the space is where we press back into pigeon, and lift into our backbends, and melt toward the earth in our Forward Folds. We practice the task of mindful breath in the poses and we reach deep in order to challenge the self into finding breath in a more complex bind. We do the yogic task of Asana, so that when we roll up our mats, say “Namaste’”, and head out of the studio, we can actually handle the moments wherein we have to truly look in the mirror and really see ourselves from the inside out--Because that’s another place where stuff comes up. Emotions come up.
Doubts. Fears. It’s moments of dealing with others and of dealing with the face we hide from others. Because of the desire and absolute necessity to bring yoga off the mat, we practice on our mats-- and the more comfortable and confident we are in our body and mind, the easier this yoga is to take it into our lives. We take the tools we learn and practice on our mat, and we then test ourselves as stress and problems and demands work their way into our lives. We breathe, bringing ourselves back to center. We use the tools we learn on our mat--how to deal with the constant attention to breath and balance--we practice those skills, right here. But then we live our lives out there. Our lives are messy and busy and complicated in the best and worst ways--the very reality of them can pull us off center. Away from our breath. Away...from our

The thing is, It takes lots of yoga--But, it’s not beyond any of us to practice every day. When I step on my mat, my goal isn’t to get better at yoga as much as it is to be a better...human. A better father. I’m working toward being a better sibling and son. A better friend. A better teacher. I think of my time on the yoga mat as an athlete would at practice in order to manifest his or her best. To win the game, they shoot hoop after hoop, just trying to make a basket, they swim lap after lap, they leap and dodge and bolt and train. It’s only with practice that we get better. In the real game, it’s way more difficult to make a basket. There are other players coming at us. It’s no different from Yoga as it melds into Life. This is where we practice. This is where we learn how to get on top of the game. This...is where we start.

So when that gum smacking in the cubicle next door begins, how do you bring yourself back to your yoga, without whipping your mat out in the office, launching into a headstand to regain composure? We close the eyes. We find our intentional breath. We center the self. When we can do that, it frees us up to access a sense of humor, or at least a willingness to breathe, and to get ahold of our focus toward acceptance about the challenges life presents as it asks you to find your yoga in adverse situations.

So, Thank you for sharing this practice with me and with all the dedicated teachers in your life. Remember, your child may be your teacher if you are directed to the breath when a sudden need (“Dad, I can’t find x,y,z...&rdquoWinking is placed in front of you just as you put your feet up. Bob from accounting can be your teacher as you practice not losing your composure as the smack, smack, smack pounds like a drum in your ears (because, remember, Bob is just doing his thing. He’s not chewing gum to annoy you It’s not about you. The only part that has anything to do with you is how you choose to respond.) In every moment, you may be presented with a teacher. That’s why... Yoga, in every moment. Practicing every day, that your yoga, your breath, can serve you, better.

In order to help facilitate extra opportunities to go deep, IHY is happy to welcome Sadie to our studio! Sadie is a local NP and a certified yogini who is excited to offer a soothing restorative yoga class starting in April, on Wednesday evenings, at 7:00 just after our regular 5:30 vinyasa flow. I hope you will take advantage of this enriching yoga opportunity where you are sure to enjoy melting further into the breath.


The Fascia that Binds

The days are getting longer, but here in Missoula, we are still in the midst of winter. The mountains are white with snow, the air flush with windchill dipping into negative numbers. With this cold, blustery weather, it’s hard to move as much as we might like to. We walk more stiffly, protecting our knees and backs from potential injury as we navigate icy walkways that mock our stability. We rush into warm buildings and settle into our couches in front of the television, or maybe we putter around doing this and doing that; but, it’s not really much movement. We aren’t running as much. We aren’t outside in the garden. We take fewer walks for shorter lengths of time. In that assumed stillness, stiff muscles easily follow. Why is that? Why do we feel more stiff? The answer is found within the connective tissue called fascia that our bodies make in response to our stillness whether caused by sleep, injury or inclement weather.

When we talk about fascia, it is important to reference the idea of stability. What is more stable? A bridge with eight pillars supporting it on either side, or a bridge with one single pillar supporting it? Common sense tells us that eight pillars will absolutely be a more stable design. Anything with more support or cushion or more...stuff...around it is going to have more stability. Where our bodies are concerned, a joint that is supported by tissue is going to be a safer, more stable joint. The body wants to create stability to prevent or recover from injury. It sees immobility as possible injury and it works quickly to support what isn’t moving in order to facilitate the healing it assumes is needed based on the information it has been given; in this case, lack of movement. The stuff that is responsible for that stability, or stiffness, is a strong webbing of connective tissue called fascia. We need this tissue in the correct balance in order to maintain stability and strength in our joints. Without it, our joints would not be able to support our bodies and injury would soon follow. Tendons are fascia, ligaments are fascia, our knees, elbows, wrists and spines are all supported in their movement by the connective bonds of fascia. However, as important as fascia is, it has no blood flow. This is why injury to our ligaments or tendons take longer to heal than broken bones do. Our bones have blood flow, and that vital circulation offers somewhat speedy recovery.

When stuff stops moving--say it’s your lower lumbar or sacrum--the layers of fascia are going to get thicker and thicker over time. When that happens, this blood-free tissue essentially squeezes the moisture out of the area and suffocates the ability to move. We get locked up. We stiffen. Touching our toes gets more difficult. As we lose our mobility in one area, other areas follow. We begin to hunch as the fascia binds us into the still position we hold in front of our computers. Our hamstrings tighten, bound in a shortened seated position by our well-meaning fascia. It happens a lot nowadays because many of us are largely sedentary in our daily lives due to desk jobs and repetitive motion (or no motion) tasks that isolate one part of the body, neglecting the

When we don’t move, when we go to bed and hold still for eight hours in slumber, the body’s primary functions are still at work. Our body scans itself and finds where we aren’t moving, and even though sleep is not an injury, the information of stillness is obtained, and the body responds to it by wrapping a thin layer of fascia around the joints and the muscles in order to better support that which isn’t moving. When we wake up, we feel a little stiff, and so we stretch out the body, which in turn breaks apart the fascia and allows, once again, for more fluid mobility. But, let’s say we suffer an injury and stretching isn’t possible because of the pain experienced with mobility. When that happens, you can’t just stretch and tear through the fascia...so, the layers of fascia begin to stack. One layer becomes two, and then four and then ten. Days and weeks of reduced mobility send a message to continue the stabilization of the muscles and joints to create strength where there is weakness. Over time, the body heals, and once that happens, and the brace comes off, or the order to reduce motion has been lifted by our caregiver, we find that we don’t have the range of motion we used to have. We lose that, because the body is skillfully supporting itself with fascia in order to protect itself from further injury; Something that doesn’t move is more stable than something that does move.

When we see a cat stretch, we are seeing them keep their nimble flexibility with fluid movement whenever they rise. That might be several times a day. They have fascia...they wake up and they stretch boldly, tearing through the fascia that binds them. The cat knows that if it is to retain its stamina and flexibility, it must stretch its entire body. So, that’s one of the reasons we come to our mat...so we can break through some of that fascia that we are constantly making in stillness. Because the body never stops producing fascia, we offer it guidance as we show the body a complete range of motion on our mat, breaking through fascia we don’t need, gaining strength and flexibility in supporting muscle tissue, and creating a practice that informs the body and protects it from overproduction of connective tissue that, unchecked, ages us physically into bodies that can no longer enjoy fluidity of movement. This particular aging process is not inevitable. We can defy it with our yoga practice. We can break through the fibers that literally bind us, strengthening and offering ourselves the promise of flexible, healthy bodies that support us without hindering as we walk through our lives.

We feel better when we move. When we feel better, we behave better; we are kinder, softer, calmer. Our nervous systems are less frazzled and our mood elevates. This is what yoga gives us. All we need to do is to come to our mats...and move.


Ayurveda, Depression, & the Season of Kapha

We are in the belly of winter. Long periods of low light and extreme weather challenge our ability to move as much as we might like and this can affect our mood and our overall health. If we are to compare the seasons to Indian medicine (the practice of Ayurveda), this season of slow, dark days can be likened to the dosha, “Kapha”, wherein the qualities of density and heaviness are believed to be imparted to us.

In India, living with the understanding of attaining balance within one’s “dosha”, one of three biological energies, is an ever present way of life; a belief system that encompasess every facet of wellness, internal and external, from cradle to grave. In the West, it is considered an alternative health practice and, admittedly, some of the finer details are often lost. I like to say that I know enough about Ayurveda to get myself in trouble. As I’ve expanded my understanding, I’ve noticed relevant correlations that seem important to take note of, and I try to share this awareness with my students.

Ayurveda is a holistic system of traditional Indian medicine; it’s sanskrit meaning is, “Life-knowledge” which is centered upon one of three “doshas”: Pitta (fire/water), Vata, (air/ether) and Kapha (earth/water). The triangulation of the three doshas rise out of the various elements that help form the stability of one’s life- fire, air, water, earth and ether. It is typically believed that everyone has a combination of these elements, which ultimately determine our personality/physical traits and our emotions; and that there are very few people who embody only one dosha entirely. Rather, it is the combination of these elements that make one unique. Of course, most of us do have a dominant dosha or two, and within a trinity of perfect balance, this is typically the dosha that expresses itself most visibly when out of balance.

Depending upon our dosha for guidance, the foods we will want to choose to eat, the exercises we will find balance in, and the lifestyle we choose to live are then selected to best serve the body in attaining equilibrium. In Ayurveda, balance is paramount, and suppressing natural urges is seen as unhealthy, potentially leading to illness. However, honest self-awareness concerning these urges are stressed as well, especially in the areas of food quality and intake, sleep, and desire. For example, it may be the desire of a Vata to always eat fresh fruits and veggies, but to qualify balance, one notes that when the Vata dosha is manifesting dry, itchy skin, or anxiety, foods containing more fat will, in fact, offer a healthy counterbalance to the primary out-of-balance desire. In Ayurvedic practice, it is believed that each person can bring more balance into their life with modification of their food intake and environment in order to increase or decrease the expression of doshas that are out of balance.

My favorite analogy about Ayurveda is found in the image of a mountain. When the three doshas present themselves to the mountain, we will find Pitta, the dosha of fire, will approach quickly, burning its way to the very top. Pitta people are the CEO’s, the athletes, the people who check things off their lists yesterday. This “type A” Dosha, which thrives upon goals and challenges, tend to wear glasses when out of balance, because the heat that burns within also burns out the eyes. Along with the increased susceptibility to heart issues and strokes from burning too hot, they gray early, and anger issues spark under stress.

When Vata, the air dosha, approaches the mountain, just like the wind splits in half and goes easily around the mountain, so does the person with dominant vata flit around through their lives. These quick thinkers talk a lot, and are typically slender, delicate and wispy. A true vata has trouble holding on to mass of muscle or curve and may struggle as they age with brittle bones and dry skin. No matter what they eat, it seems to escape in the very air that blows through their constitution. When unbalanced, they can find themselves being distressed with anxiety and stress and absent mindedness. These are the writers, the artists, and musicians of our time. Like the wind flows through the air, so does their intuition seem able to reach through time and space and they thrive when life offers renewal and the freedom to be creative in their lives.

Kapha is the dosha of earth and water. In a way, they simply are the mountain, but as water is persistent, the slow steady pulse of Kapha finds its way through the mountain, creating rivers without effort . Grounded, nurturing, reliable, this dosha tends to be the least favorite dosha of our time and culture due to the fact that Kaphas have the strongest tendency to struggle with weight and typically have thicker bones, broad shoulders, wide hips and hobbit feet. Considered the “worst dosha” from a modern culturally aesthetic perspective, they have sturdy constitutions, strong teeth, and healthy skin and typically find it easy to give of themselves to others. This dosha is voluptuous, strong and hearty, with full lips, and lustrous hair... but, the struggle with being sedentary is real, and when out of balance, dominant kapha people can suffer from depression and obesity. These are the nurturers and caregivers, the teachers, the doctors. They are loving and kind, patient partners and parents- and they tend to be amazing cooks, because, they love to eat and create delicious, rich food.

We now find ourselves in Kapha season. Movement becomes slower, rising times later, and motivation to move becomes reluctant in the winter. This is the time of year when depression or lack of motivation can set in as our Northern climate brings the sun close to the horizon, robbing us of daylight and warmth. To counter the weight of Kapha season, there are few things as empowering as the way it feels to find your way to the middle of a room, hitting a steady headstand, and hold it for five minutes with grace. When you do that, you feel strong. When the heart lifts and legs and arms push away from the floor to lift into a backbend with a perfect arch of the spine, adrenal glands, kicking adrenaline into the body to infuse it with energy. Inversions and backbends are masterful at moving lymph around as well, improving your immune system’s ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. We can literally use backbend as a pick-me-up throughout the day, instead of coffee. Not only does that stuff pick us up, but there is a bonus prize that the energy boost found in backbend happens to lack the adrenal sapping quality that is a side effect of coffee; and, healthy adrenals also enable us to cope better with stress and exposure to disease.

In Montana, we sadly have one of the highest rates for depression related suicide in the nation. In response to that devastating reality, behavioral clinicians work with evidence-based perspectives and promote behavioral change in order to reduce or eliminate depression and anxiety; their dedicated research indicates that the centering and calming practice of yoga is highly effective at reducing the symptoms of depression at a higher statistical rate than is found with medication alone. While medication can be helpful for some, studies do show that most antidepressants show to be little more effective than placebo- and while they can and do work for some, a steady practice of yoga, coupled with the cognitive skills taught in behavioral therapy, elevates mood beyond placebo or medication. These findings are exciting, because they offer us all the very real, and accessible opportunity to step forward, taking charge of our mood by simply finding our way to our mats on a regular basis, no matter what our medication choice may be. While yoga is most certainly habit forming, there are no negative side effects of a regular yoga practice, which is pretty fantastic, considering how effective it has been shown to be for reducing depression and other mood disorders.

In this season of Kapha, I’m moved to address and provide balance to the diminished mood we collectively feel by offering the awareness that we can move beyond painful feelings through devotion to our practice of yoga. Though this is Kapha season, and depression and general malaise is frequently worsened in this season of minimal daylight hours, the point of Ayurvedic medicine is that things can be done to move into balance. Yoga has been clinically shown to be one of those things. In that spirit, I’m offering an uplifting workshop focusing on Yoga for Depression on February 11th, from 10:00-1:00, wherein we will focus on heart-opening backbends and upon the grounding stability of inversions and headstands. This is an intermediate workshop where some experience will be helpful as we journey together. In the next few weeks, our classes will hone in on building strength for these poses, and I hope to bring light, hope and awareness to those who are feeling down or unmotivated during these chilly Montana days that stretch out for so many months.

I look forward to seeing you on your mat in the weeks to come as we work toward emotional balance.


(Note: Treating depression is a very personal journey. If you or someone you know is hurting from the effects of depression, please do consult with a licensed behavioral clinician who can best come up with ideas that will support your safety and help you to create an integrated plan for healing, or call 9-1-1 for emergency services. Know you are not alone and that there are viable answers- we hope that yoga will offer some of those answers in collaboration with guidance and support from your wellness team.)

How Do We Feel?

That’s a question I ask daily in my classes at Inner Harmony. It’s also a question I ask myself, and one I hope you are asking of yourselves as well. How do we feel? The answer to that question can vary widely throughout the day, but it is our barometer; if we pay attention to the answer, it can help us to navigate our humanity. If we bumble through without considering the answer to that question, we miss opportunities to put our practice of yoga into action. Not only is the question, “How do we feel” important to ask, it is vital. It helps us to see that the answer is very different at the end of our yoga practice than it was before we rolled out our mat. It helps us to see that breath can alter that feeling. That slowing down can ground us, just as speeding up brings heat into the body when we need energy and warmth. When we sit down to eat, we can ask ourselves how we feel, and maybe that helps us to consider what it is our body is craving beyond what our mind tells us it wants to eat. Yes, I know that chocolate cake is delicious; and there are times when maybe that is exactly what you need when you ask yourself what it is you want. Maybe. There may be other times, though, when how you feel will not likely be improved by a rush of white sugar and pastry flour, no matter how many eggs are folded into the batter.

How do we feel?

Is there something the body wants? Needs? Will getting on your mat help? Have you tried to find out today what will feel good? What will nourish you, today?

I talk about muscle groups in our classes. Sometimes, I mention that there are muscles that are always engaged. Our postural muscles hold us up; they give us shape and form: the psoas, the bicep, the erector spine group. Then there are muscles that are working overtime. They don’t need to be engaged constantly. We can release them, letting other muscles work. These overworked muscles are like the story of “The Little Red Hen”, who does all the work. In a way, though the little red hen is the hero of the story, she’s also in error. Who is she really helping in allowing her companions to disregard the ways in which they can, and should be helping her. When we find a muscle group that is doing work they do not need to do, it’s okay to tell them to stop. It’s okay to say, “Hey back! I’m going to stop using my glutes to hold this cobra. I want you to engage. It’s your turn.” And then, even though those glutes are so good at what they do, it’s okay to turn on the back and allow the posture to soften for a more subtle expression of the pose.

When we get better at asking ourselves how we feel, we will also get better at asking ourselves what it is we really need to feel the way we would like best to feel. We’ll find ourselves getting up 15 minutes earlier so that we can gift ourselves a breakfast that doesn’t consist of a coffee stand double latte’ and a muffin. We’ll step onto our mat without hesitation, because we know we will feel better. We’ll accept the invitation to become better humans; more assertive, more flexible, more patient, more tolerant. It will also give us strength, endurance, and stability as we streamline into lives that have become easier to navigate, simply through the attention to how we feel in the moment, every moment.

As we settle into 2018, we can embrace the practice of paying attention to how we are feeling. If you forget to ask yourself, don’t worry. It’s not a perfect. It’s a practice. When you realize you have forgotten to ask yourself, “How do I feel, right now?” Just...do it as soon as you remember to. There are no grades. No special awards. The only benefit is personal, and interpersonal. As you become more grounded, centered, aware, the people who you surround yourselves with will notice that there is something more about you. Something they can see. Something they can feel. And you will feel it to, just like you do at the end of your yoga...only it will not stay limited to the mat. It will follow you, and envelope your heart. It will carry your breath, and remind your mind to stay where it is, right in the now. So, don’t be afraid to ask yourself how you are, right now. If the answer isn’t what you would want it to be, pull out your mat and practice, or eat something that will nourish your body, or fill your cells with cool water. Take a walk. Notice the stars. Pull yourself out of the funk and into the breath. Come to class. Paint a picture. Be.

How do you feel?

(Sara’s note: This works. Working steadily with the guidance I have found in Brian’s studio on my mat, I’ve ventured into finding out what it would be like to lose 85 lbs of tears and stress and worries stored in my body. Asking myself how I feel has been paramount in that journey, and I honestly could not have done any of it without the wonderful guidance and encouragement of Brian as I worked to remind myself of the possibility that my inner little red hen was no longer serving me as well as she could. I remember the very first time I heard Brian’s voice asking us all, “How do you feel?” and the tears that threatened to burst forth were the evidence that there was something more to do; something else to try. So, ask yourself how you feel today. Listen to the answer, and...work to be the change you wish to see in yourself. I hope to see you in class, soon. Peace!)