The Living Yoga Blog

Grounded In Care and Love For Our Students


it is what it is
 
One of our amazing volunteer teachers, Rita, shares her experience of Radical Acceptance, and what it means to her!
 
“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what we call Radical Acceptance.”  Tara Brach
 
My starting point for sharing my experience of radical acceptance is offering a solid definition, which comes from one of my favorite teachers, Tara Brach, who wrote an entire book on the subject. Learning about the concept of radical acceptance has been a paradigm shift for me. I offer one example of what that looks like in the context of my Living Yoga teaching.  
 
I have been teaching yoga monthly to teen girls who have survived sex trafficking and are now living in a residential program. When I started teaching there I was taken aback by the way the girls interacted with each other, the staff and us during the yoga class. I observed an environment that felt frequently chaotic and sometimes mean. There was swearing, throwing props and sometimes unkind words, the kind that only teen girls know how to dish out. Raised in a strict Catholic home full of rules (and love), along with sometimes harsh enforcement of rules, my initial reaction was to recoil with judgement and a desire to impose order. I got to sit with these feelings and reflect with compassion on my upbringing, as well as the lives that these girls have experienced. I thought about how I could offer ground rules to these girls in a way that is both loving and empowering. To model that the words we speak and the way we use our bodies can embody kindness, and to shift away from my own early experience of rules.  
 
So I offer ground rules framed with that intention of creating kindness and spelling out what it looks like for me (as their teacher) and asking them for their thoughts and ideas. This is how it goes at the start of each class: “our class is a time for kindness. To ourselves and one another. What that looks like for me is: no touching one another, no throwing, no swearing or yelling. These ground rules also apply to those who are not practicing yoga, but in the room. Are there other ground rules you would like to have for our yoga class?” These ground rules help set the tone of each class, which has shifted to a more respectful and kind energy, grounded in my own care and love for them.  For me holding this space for my students is what Living Yoga is all about.   

When we realize how closely we are all connected...

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It's easy to believe that the men and women in jail are somehow very different from the rest of us. After all, they are confined to institutions that few people wish to visit, much less inhabit. The very word "inmate" suggests a world apart, a world clearly defined by who is kept in and who is allowed out.

But teaching Yoga to men at the Washington County Community Corrections Center has taught me that the inmates usually face the same problems and challenges as the rest of us. For one thing, the WCCCC students’ most common physical complaints—tight shoulders, sore backs, stiff necks—are the same ailments I encounter in my drop-in studio classes. Like many men I see in my studio classes, the students at WCCCC tend to focus their exercise time on their upper bodies and abs, paying too little attention to their pelvises and backs.

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Yoga for Every Body

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Rita, one of our dedicated volunteer teachers describes a recent class at one of our partner sites:

"I taught the SAGE class solo for the first time, and it went really well. Our class has been moved to the cafeteria, which has a really positive impact on the class participation and energy. Before, we taught the class in their living space with the TV, which gets turned off when class starts. That instantly creates some resistance to practicing, and by being in a new TV-less space, the girls are there to practice yoga and did! Five girls and one staff participated in class. One girl came in late and one left sick. With the exception of one girl who tended to lay on her mat until the end of class, everyone participated fully.

I start off each class with introductions, what they like or think about yoga, and what is going on with bodies that I should know about. All girls have some experience with yoga; many outside of their Living Yoga experience. One girl shared that since she’s gotten fat she cannot do yoga, and I pointed out that I’m proof that yoga is for every body. I am a fat middle-aged Latina. I shared that people of all sizes, ages and abilities do yoga and that it is not just for skinny, young, white women. One girl who has been doing yoga since she was 11 talked about knowing a man who is paralyzed and has a yoga practice that has helped him regain some movement in his feet. I told them about an inspiring yogi Jessamyn who I follow on Instagram. She’s fat and African-American, just like the girl who said she can’t do yoga. It was a great discussion.

There was essential oils, laughing (involving a fart, gotta love teaching teens!), goddess pose (told them it's because we are goddesses) and a savasana with chimes I brought. At the end, everyone was relaxed, eyes closed, as I moved the chimes and guided them in relaxation. It was so beautiful to hold the space for these girls to rest and be cherished."

Rita, thank you for your dedication to these girls and to Living Yoga. You are inspiring!

Yoga At Old Town Clinic

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As part of National Recovery Month in September, we are taking the time to highlight some of our great recovery sites! Today we are thanking Central City Concern: Old Town Clinic. A member of Old Town Clinic wrote this beautiful passage on Living Yogas' classes.

Starting any movement or exercise practice can be so intimidating, especially for folks dealing with limited mobility, social anxiety, chronic pain, body shame, or an institutionalized mind-set. Walking into a practice like yoga can be even more stressful – “I don’t know the right words, I’ve seen yogis on TV and I know I can’t do yoga the right way,” etc.  One of the many things that I love about Living Yoga (LY) instructors is their gentle encouragement. The teachers don’t single folks out or shame modifications, but instead take the temperature of the room and offer safe options for every body. Just as important, LY teachers don’t assume that people in wheelchairs can’t test themselves, and don’t fragilize folks out of trying new postures. This mix of gentleness and encouragement allows my clients to feel they have permission to try as well as permission to let themselves guide their practice. Having permission to practice being yourself in this way, and in a room full of people, is so important.

After Gentle Yoga groups, people report feeling stronger, clearer, and better about themselves.  Some leave frustrated with themselves, but many come back to try again. I’ve seen one client practice twice a week for the last year move gradually out of her wheelchair and onto the mat. She uses a chair when she needs one, and more and more, she doesn’t. Two months ago, she successfully worked her body into a beautiful Downward Dog and held that pose for over a minute. She was so happy, and so pleased with herself. When new people come in and talk about “not doing it right,” she often interrupts the instructor to let the new person know that that’s ok: “We do what we can. And we’re doing it. You’re doing great.” 

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Thank You, Lifeline Connections!

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September is National Recovery Month and to give thanks to our amazing recovery partner sites, we want to highlight their unique work. Our first spotlight is on Lifeline Conections who helps treats substance abuse and mental illness. We asked Lifeline a few questions about yoga and recovery and here is what they said:

  • How do you see yoga helping on the path to recovery? The lives of individual who struggle with substance use are usually out of balance in many areas. Yoga allows the individual to stop and be in the moment. Yoga provides another tool that the patient can add to their tool box to help bring life into balance. Yoga increases the oxygen flow, allows the individual to stop and connect with the world around them, join with others in a positive social environment, and set specific goals.
  • What do your students like most about Living Yoga's classes? They like how they feel after the class. Some comments include peaceful, calm, happy.
  • Is there anything you would want to say to our volunteers/donors/supporters?  THANK YOU!  Living Yoga provides a valuable service to our patients. Our focus at Lifeline Connections is wellness. Our wellness initiative includes being a tobacco free facility, providing pet-therapy, quality nutritious meals and snacks, a structured day including 8 hours of sleep, once a week faith-based services (optional), and physical activity along with the medical and clinical services provided. Thus, bringing the physical, emotional, and spiritual being into balance. 

Interested in volunteering at Lifeline Connections or one of our other partner sites? Click here for info!

Life Is A Cycle- A Class Story

cycleOne of our long time, dedicated volunteers, Ivy Katz, shares a heart-warming story about one of her classes last week at Trillium Family Services, Edwards School:

Great class this morning at Trillium Edwards School, there were 5 kids and one staff member. Two of the kids sat out for most of the class, but were still very present and following along in their own way. The other 3 and the staff member were very engaged throughout the whole class. Each kid went around sharing any requests they had for class, which included, "doing more active stuff, big stretches, and a guided meditation". I began the class talking about how everything happens in cycles, seasons, and our experiences are also like this. First we might have an awareness or something we notice in the present which could be a body sensation, thought, feeling etc. and then we take an action. Then comes satisfaction and then comes completion or rest. I explained how we sometimes get "stuck" along the way when we struggle with some part of the cycle. And for each of us it might be very different.

For some of us we might struggle with noticing something in the present, which then might lead to the "wrong " action, and we don't feel satisfied and therefore never complete. I weaved this idea through the class which seemed to make a lot of sense to them. I noticed everyone really paying attention to their own experience and then making the "right" choice. I also weaved in how our bodies can remind us that we are all different as well as similar and that is a good thing. Even in our own bodies we feel this, noticing differences on both sides during the same pose. We did some seated shapes to start, and then quite a few standing poses, lunges, warrior two, triangle, dancer's pose, and even crow. A pretty full spectrum class, and ended with a nice guided shavasana.

At the end, everyone thanked me before leaving the class. The kids who sat our for a lot of it participated in the breathing and the meditation. They stayed engaged in their own way. One of the kids who participated the whole time moving, for many weeks would not participate. It's nice to have kids for a long time and see these shifts. It was a sweet morning!

Thank you for your service to our community, Ivy!

A Look Into Living Yoga's Teacher Training

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A couple of our newest volunteer teachers who completed Living Yoga's teacher training in June 2016,  shared their thoughts on what it's like to experience the training first hand:
 
"Living Yoga trains teachers to meet diverse students with patience and friendliness exactly where they are. And the trainers teach by example as they meet the trainees exactly where THEY are. Positive affirmations and encouragement reverberate through the training. The goodness burbles to the top and becomes the dominant message--"don't and shouldn't" lose power and fall away without being called out. One phrase spoken during the training that has become a mantra for me is, "If you are breathing and paying attention, you are practicing yoga." I have always believed that yoga is for every body, and now I have some wonderful additional tools for helping others to more deeply believe and understand the truth of that. Since this training, I've found that in all of my classes I have more compassion for everyone present doing the best they can with the tools, energy and information available to them. My understanding of a felt sense of compassion has deepened. Even if I wasn't planning to teach within Living Yoga's special populations I would recommend this training as a beautiful place to learn to "live yoga."" -Jerri Clarke
 
"I really appreciated the focus on working with group dynamics. Through the training staffs role-plays, watching current Living Yoga volunteers co-teach, practicing co-teaching, and taking quick turns teaching in groups, I felt a clear, spacious, quality relationship being upheld." -Anonymous
 
Interested in completing our training? Learn more HERE
 

Volunteering is the Ultimate Exercise in Democracy

quoteOur volunteers are the HEART of Living Yoga. Each day we are filled with gratitude and amazement at the compassion of our volunteers. Today we want to recognize them and the change they are making in our community every single day! Thank you!

Breath at the Veterans Recovery House

BREATHE Poster 850Carol, a Living Yoga volunteer teacher, shares her insight teaching at the Veterans Recovery House:

Volunteering at the Veterans Recovery House in Vancouver over the past year has been a very rewarding and valuable aspect of my own yoga practice.

The Veterans Recovery House has a rotating population. Typically we will only see students for about three months.  I have seen men, within the context of our class, looking frail, afraid, and tired change to encouraged, strong and ready to move.  I have also seen anger be replaced with focused attention and a strong easy breath. It is truly amazing to see the changes that a simple practice can have on people. 

The students at the Veterans Recovery House live in very challenged bodies. They are in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Many have the addition of recovering from injury, illness, or PTSD. It is not uncommon for us to hear someone say “I had a stroke last week” or “look what happened to my leg when a road side bomb went off.”  Or “I lost everything, I hate everything,” I have seen these students stay with their practice for the whole duration of their treatment, which is an amazing testament to the power of yoga.

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