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Wednesday, September 7, 2016 2:22 PM

Road Rage And Bad Traffic Got You Down? Try This Next Time You’re Behind The Wheel!

by Ellyn Bell

You slam on your breaks and the tires skid. The Lexus comes up quickly behind you and passes on the right, then cuts directly in front of you and moves to the left. The driver is oblivious to you and seems not to understand the use or value of turn signals. Plus he looks 12 years old and shouldn’t be driving! Your heart’s beating fast, you’re gripping the steering wheel, mumbling obscenities, and trying to recover and focus. It feels like time to shake your fist out the window and yell. Better yet, tailgate the dude and make a mean and fed up face… but hey, maybe instead it’s time for some car yoga!

Car yoga is a rarely practiced form of yoga that is available to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you drive a car, a truck or a motorcycle. It doesn’t matter your age, gender, religion, or if you’re in shape. The techniques are simple and easy to use anytime, anywhere, even outside the car in places like the doctor’s office or the DMV.

Six easy steps and you’re on your way! Here’s how to practice:

1. Cleansing and Roaring

Take a deep inhale down into the belly and fill up the lungs, count to 4. Slowly exhale through the mouth making a “haaa” sound, counting to 6. Do this 3 times.  The take a deep breath, counting to 4 and exhale while sticking out the tongue and making a lion’s roar. Make the roar a little dramatic and extended. Do this 3 times.

2. Making Waves
After the third lion’s breathe, change the breathing pattern to an inhale through the nose slowly and an exhale through the nose slowly, involve the throat as you consciously exhale. You will notice that a sound is made similar to waves on the ocean crashing against the shore. That’s what you’re going for here. Do this at least 6 times, but try to keep this conscious breathing pattern going for the next 5 minutes as you move through the rest of the sequence. In other words, keep making waves.

3. Shifting Gears (but not literally)
Next, while keeping the breathing flowing, begin to notice how you’re sitting. Straighten your spine. On the next exhale, pull up on the pelvic floor and in on the belly button at the same time. Feel the spine lengthening on the exhale. On the inhale feel completely connected and relaxed in the driver’s seat. On the exhale feel the spine getting longer while the connection to the seat gets stronger. You are shifting energy, and metaphorically shifting mental gears. Do this at least 4 times.

4. Shrugging
Keep with the breathing pattern and begin rotating the shoulders to the front 6 times and then rotate them to the back 6 times. Next, shrug the shoulders up by the ears on the inhale and then drop them down gently on the exhale for 3 times.

5. Swinging
Start making gentle rotations with the hips. Make at least 6 rotations in each direction. This might make you laugh, and that would be an added benefit. Then swing the hips side to side while remaining connected to your seat. Keep the movement going with the breathing pattern; such as swing to the left on the inhale and on the exhale swing them to the right  6 times, then switch for 6 more.

6. Smiling
After all of this, it’s time to smile. Keep the jaw relaxed and just smile real big. Your tongue can lightly touch the roof of your mouth and this will help to further relax the jaw. See how long you can smile and breathe slowly. For some reason, it’s really difficult to be stressed, mad, or anxious when you’re smiling. I’m not sure why, but it’s a great reason to smile. Plus I hear it’s better for your face and keeps a youthful complexion.

All of these poses can be repeated as many times as necessary during a road trip or a traffic jam. Sorry, no savasana though until out of the car!

If you’re in the doctor’s office or the DMV, you can add head and neck movements and rotation of the ankles to the shrugging and swinging. These movements are not safe while driving, and should only be practiced in stationery settings. For obvious reasons, it’s also advisable to leave the roaring part out when in public settings.

It may only be a humorous thought, but imagine, the roadways full of smiling drivers, breathing deeply and taking their time. And if we took simple yoga techniques to our everyday life and all the places we find ourselves impatient…. Well, who knows, we might start something that could catch on.

Ellyn Bell teaches yoga at Ocean Yoga in Pacifica. She is co-author of Singing with the Sirens. Visit her at beautifulunconquerablesoul.com or take one of her classes.

Monday, July 11, 2016 4:11 PM

What is Rosen Method Bodywork?

Written By: Shanika July 11th, 2016

Claiming your Birth Right – Rosen Method Bodywork

Rosen Method Bodywork is a powerful form of somatic therapy that supports stress reduction by accessing deeper layers of tension in our body through gentle, direct, and empathic present touch.

Rosen Method Bodywork enhances relaxation, movement and aliveness through increasing your awareness of the connection between your physical and emotional self.

The practitioner uses hands that listen rather than manipulate, that “meet” the client where she can sense herself and access the often unconscious holding patterns of stress, pain, emotional trauma and injury in the body. Becoming increasingly aware of restrictions in breathing, movement and muscle tension, relaxation occurs: the breath deepens, unconscious feelings, attitudes, and memories may emerge and be released.

Rosen Method is a valuable psycho-somatic approach for personal growth as it supports the recipient in finding access to greater emotional presence, deeper intuition, and growing intimacy with one’s own authentic being and purpose in life. Greater joy can emerge, open communication becomes more easily available and we learn to live more fully in the present moment. Rosen Method bodywork is often used by people who are seeking relief from headaches, back pain, muscle tension, joint pain, injuries, insomnia, and chronic conditions like asthma and chronic fatigue. The work can be supportive for people with eating disorders and healing for survivors of physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

The Rosen practitioner has been trained to notice subtle changes in muscle tension and shifts in the breath. S/he recognizes these as indications that the client is relaxing and becoming more aware of his/her body and internal experience. The practitioner responds with touch and words that allow the client to begin to recognize what has been held down by unconscious muscle tension. As this process unfolds, habitual tension and old patterns may be released, freeing the client to experience more aliveness, new choices in life, and a greater sense of well-being.

“Joseph Campbell wrote, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”. The goal of Rosen Method bodywork is to help us rediscover the essence of who we are. It is reclamation work, the work of remembering and reclaiming ourselves. It is accomplished experientially through sensing, listening to and expressing ourselves. This is facilitated through the gentle touch, presence and knowledge of a trained practitioner.” Sandra Wooten, SW Rosen Center.

Shantika S. Bernard is a certified Rosen practitioner. She has trained with Marion Rosen and various senior teachers of RMB since 2007 and given more than 350 treatments during her Internship with Senior teacher Jane Malek (Monterey Rosen Method Institute).

Shanti’s approach to Rosen work was also inspired by her studies of somatic Psychology. Her PhD research project on the effect of relational somatic presence in Rosen Method Bodywork on Trauma regulation and PTSD treatment is available at the dissertation TCSPP library.

Rosen Method Bodywork

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 6:13 PM

How to Overcome Stress by Practicing Yin Yoga: By Ellyn Bell

We all struggle to some degree with stress and its effects on our lives. It aggravates and will not let us relax. It keeps us from sleeping well and breathing fully. You might even find yourself stressed out while hurrying off to something you enjoy! Stress unattended can result in headaches, anxiety, depression, and even physical degeneration. Sure, it is part of the human condition, but in our crazy world where demands on our time seem endless, it can feel like there is no escape from the constancy of a stressed out mind and body… Or is there?  

Thankfully, there is yoga.

Yoga, in essence, has benefit in countering the effects of stress on the body and mind. The nature of connecting breathing with postures and movement has beneficial results for our ability to deal with numerous mental and physical issues including depression and anxiety.

Personally, I love the feeling after a good vinyasa yoga practice when I’m feeling like a crumpled sweaty towel on the floor after class. I love to feel a sense of release, strength, and exhaustion combined. However, for me as a very Type A, anxiety-prone personality, I also need to slow down and face all the creepy irritants of my mind in order to really get beyond the frantic clamor. In general, although extraordinarily helpful, most dynamic practices of yoga don’t address this deeper need.

And in comes Yin Yoga…..

Looking like a calm, stately queen comfortable in her shadow powers of regeneration, she is able to take you to new places within yourself.

Yin is a form of twentieth century yoga that is built upon the research of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama from Japan and Dr. James Oschman from the US. These guys explored the possibility that the connective tissues of the body, found in the organs, bones, muscles and joints, create pathways for energy to move throughout the whole of the human system. Combining the knowledge and traditions of acupuncture and yoga, a new form of yoga emerged. Yin Yoga, a term coined by Sarah Powers, explores the flow of energy throughout the body concentrating on the slow stretching of the connective tissues.  This energy flow, also known as chi or prana, runs like a current through the body, but can become blocked or stagnant thus needing to find the ability to move freely again.

Yin is unique.

Yin is a slow, steady practice with a sense of softness and surrender. The main principles include moving into the chosen posture or shape and then coming to the “edge” or place of challenge within the posture.  Remaining non-aggressive and slow, you move to a place that is not comfortable, but not painful either. In that in between place of comfortable discomfort, you find some stillness. Allowing the breath to remain slow and unlabored, you follow the sensations in your body with your breath and allow the extraneous thinking of the mind to come and go. Just noticing the thoughts without judgment or mental discourse creates a break for the mind. Not attaching to the “thinking” helps you to move into a meditative space, continually returning to breathing through the sensations that arise within the body. And here you stay for 3-5 minutes.

After each held posture, I like to have several transitional movements to release the pose and circulate the energy flow before moving on to the next yin posture. It’s like a dance of hold and release, steady, rhythmic, settle in, breathe, flow… and where does the mind go? Most all of the postures are practiced close to the ground and have great benefits for the spine and hips. Yin is actually surprisingly challenging in its simplicity!

Like rock overcomes scissors in the game played by children, Yin overcomes stress.

In the stillness, and challenge of the postures, opportunity to relax into awareness without fighting the mind, and just watching thoughts without getting involved with them is part of the practice. It teaches you a lot about yourself. Hopefully, you will even learn to laugh at your odd idiosyncrasies and develop a gentle sense of self compassion and humor toward your mind. After all, you are not your mind and you can’t believe everything you think! When you know this, then you are freer to choose your responses differently.

Slowing down, practicing mindfulness, breathing fully and stretching deeply all work together synergistically to decrease the stress response within the body. Practiced regularly, they have lasting effects.

Additionally, the physical benefits are plentiful. These benefits help you overcome stress by releasing stagnation in the body.

Yin benefits your health in the following ways:

Strengthens and maintains health of the joints
Prevents degeneration, low bone mass, osteopenia
Prevents stiffness and provides hydration to the joints
Regulates energy in body
Creates greater stamina
Increases flexibility
Helps with TMJ, headaches and hip and back problems

Balance is the key.

A good and practical balance of various exercise, including a regular dynamic practice of yoga as well as a yin practice are necessary for our best health. The Taoist symbol for the yin and yang illustrate this balance. In our hyper-competitive, driven world we sometimes forget the value of going inward and listening. What is counterintuitive may indeed lead us to a more calm, focused and centered place. A place where stress comes by and visits, but does not hang around or bother us in the same way as it did before.


Ellyn Bell teaches yin and vinyasa yoga classes at Ocean Yoga in Pacifica, CA. She’s been teaching yoga for 7 years, and practicing regularly for almost 20. A high school teacher, dancer, and a social worker, she is also co-author of the book, Singing with the Sirens, Overcoming the Long Term Effects of Childhood Sexual Exploitation. Visit her new blog site, www.beautifulunconquerablesoul.com.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 5:26 PM

Spring into Action: Get Grounded

As spring comes in full force and the days get longer and the world seems to get busier with the hustle and bustle and Memorial Day plans and BBQ's and life threatening to overload us with too much, I am reminded of the simple importance of grounding myself. 

Grounding can take place in many forms.

You could sit on a block, a chair, the seat of your car, close your eyes and feel your sit bones against whatever you are sitting on. Your spine lifting up. The texture of your feet on the floor or your mat, even if just for 30 seconds. 

You could simply bring awareness to your feet as you walk to your next activity/appointment, even if just from the parking lot to where you are going. What does it feel like to have your feet connect to the earth? To be aware of what it's like for your body to walk and move?

You could take three deep slow breaths, simply feeling how the inhales and exhales move in your body. Where do you notice sensation, what are you feeling?

In a world that often feels full and busy, I am amazed at the power of grounding- and how something as simple as just being aware of my body and what it's doing can totally shift my reality. 

One of my teachers has this saying she often repeats in her classes: "The body doesn't lie." The question is- are we listening to what our bodies are saying? I'll be honest- I'm not always listening. Sometimes I'll get halfway through a walk in the forest with my dog and realize i've barely even looked up at the amazingly tall trees around me, or smelled the air or soaked in the breeze. It's then that i feel each foot as i step, and I come back into presence- into awareness of the here and now.

So, if you feel the "busyness of spring" starting to creep in and take over, try out a few simple grounding practices. See if by simply shifting your awareness, you can shift your whole life!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 5:41 PM

Yoga All Around the World

Did you know one of our old yoga teachers, Amy Andrews, is involved with an organization called Africa Yoga Project? Africa Yoga Project is based in Nairobi, Kenya and started as one woman teaching yoga in the slums of Kenya hoping to make a change. 10 years later, this nonprofit is spreading yoga in a powerful way all across the African Continent.

Amy had the chance to help assist a teacher training taking place in Nairobi and shares her story here:

"Teacher training in Nairobi is called a Seva Safari. AYP does these nearly every month. Seva means service in Sanskrit. Seva Safari's (at least as I understand them) are a way to give back what we have, to connect with others, and to be of service for other people to create greater change in the world. So, the first few days of teacher training involved seeing and then being service in action. First, we went to outreach. Outreaches are community classes taught all over Nairobi by our AYP teachers. As part of their commitment to AYP, they teach 3 classes to people in need for free. It's a way for them to connect with community, and also to provide yoga to those who might not have the opportunity to learn it otherwise. The participants (and assistants!) piled on buses to see different classes and then spend some time at the teachers home to ask questions. Our bus went with Mary. We drove to Kibera (I believe this was the name), the largest slum in Kenya. We drove in on a dusty, uneven dirt road. Trash filled the "streets" and there were multiple places with piles of trash where there were simultaneously burn pits and also kids running around playing in it. The dump in Tijuana, Mexico, where I spent 4 spring breaks building houses in high school, immediately came to mind. So much poverty, and yet so many happy faces on the kids. I never felt unsafe at any point, more out of place. In Mexico, they are sort of accustomed to seeing white faces. In Kenya, some have never seen that color of skin before. The stares happened before we even got off the bus. 

We arrived at Mary's class, a large one room school house with a part cement, part dirt floor. There were probably 50 or more kids waiting for her and as soon as she arrived they started cheering and yelling as loud as they could! They knew the "yoga lady" had arrived. We watched as Mary laid out 4 large pieces of rubber (the yoga mat surface) for the kids, and they all filed in in their school clothes. Mary led them through a Power Vinyasa class (no easy task!) up through balancing, and then broke out into song, dance and games. The kids had so much fun, so many smiles, so much excitement was evident in the room. 

I watched the participants as this all happened- shy at first, not sure what to do or think. So, my team leader Laura and I jumped in. We assisted some kids in poses and then we practiced with them. The participants slowly joined in, and by the end, we were all playing games with the kid in a circle. One of them even led the kids in a game, and it was so fun to see him open up and lead.  I had my first thought of "that guy is going to be an amazing yoga teacher!" After games, we all sat on the floor in a circle. I remember being sandwiched between two kids, making faces and smiling. Mary had us all close our eyes, reach forward, and try to grab someone else's toes. Everyone giggled. We did it until we all had a hold of feet beside our own and then Mary said, "Ok, now we are family." My heart burst at those words- looking around this circle of varying skin color, all sharing yoga and community and laughter. We lay down next to the kids for savasana, final rest, and I remember laying there, on a dirty mat, my head on a dirty dirt floor, holding dirty kids hands, and feeling so much peace. So content to lay right there and just BE with these kids. It was a magic moment.

After outreach, we went to Mary's old house, a two room cement building, no electricity, very dark. We talked about how often, the last thing someone in Kenya will do is spend money to buy a bigger place. They are content with small space and don't need more. Such a distinction from the frame of mind the United States. Mary was gracious and kind to all of us. We stepped outside when it got too hot and that is when the stares really began. I had probably 25 kids in front of me open mouth staring at my face and my tattoos. I asked my friend Irene how to say what's your name and tried engage the kids. They wouldn't even answer, they just stared. It took a good ten minute before I got anyone to interact with me. That too, was a strange feeling. I got a true taste of what being a minority feels like. 

Watching Mary that day, I thought about the 75 other trained AYP teachers who are out in their communities, their homes, doing the same kind of work. Allowing people who might never have a chance to experience the healing power of yoga to experience it. Allowing people to see how yoga builds strength in mind and body, cultivates inner peace, and builds community. This is the REAL and AMAZING work that AYP is up to, and it was truly an honor to experience and be a part of. 

The following day, the whole team went to a school for children who had gotten into trouble in their lives and had left their families to stay and rehabilitate. We painted the schoolhouse and built and stained desks for the kids. The amazing part of this day was the connections. As soon as we started working, every student in the place came out and wanted to help, wanted to work alongside us, was happy to do so. We spent most of our day connecting with and being a part of the community being built amongst troubled kids."

Being of service all comes back to connection. We can work hard. Sweat. Teach yoga. Paint school walls. Build desks. Volunteer. Give back in the community. Pick up trash. All of it centers back around connection to others. Around simply giving our full attention to  the people and the things in our lives. There's a raw, intimate feeling that comes from service based in connection. A sharing of hearts, no matter the age or the skin color. We humans are really all much more alike than we think... and as I connect with people and allow my walls to drop, I see it. I see I am not alone- I see I can let people in, I can let people see me, I can live authentically into who I am- and doing this allows others to do the same. 

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