Yoga For You? Yes. Yoga With Calley? You Be The Judge.

Hello readers –

I start teaching TWO NEW CLASSES this week at Modus Locus, a community space in S. Minneapolis, starting bright and early tomorrow morning at 8am. See the calendar with class descriptions here on the Modus Locus website.

We all know “yoga is good for you.” I’ll refine that a bit and say that gentle movement of the body that activates the muscles and mobilizes the joints in a safe way, while stretching the brain’s concept of “body awareness,” is, indeed, good for you. In a world where there are free yoga classes in every park, how do you decide what is the right place for you to familiarize – or continue – the learning process of your body and life through yoga?

I’ll start with a caveat, focusing on my word above – safe. This could be a whole other soap box for a whole other blog post, but for today I’ll just say this: in a world where many of the images of yoga we see as marketing material are very skilled practitioners with advanced practices doing advanced poses, its easy to get away from the fundamentals and foundation of what a yoga practice is for.

So here it is, folks: My “THIS IS THE YOGA I TEACH NUTSHELL”:

A time and place to unify your body, mind, life experiences, and spirit into safe and applicable movement and stillness for you, as they exist today. 

So THIS is what I aim to teach every day. Where are you today? Where is your life? Where is your body? Where is there mobility in your body, where do you feel your breath? In our western establishment of medicine, we largely treat our bodies like a sum of parts. The reason I have stuck with yoga and opted out of sparkly ideas about getting a nursing degree, or a behavioral counselor’s license is this: I am interested in not only getting you to think about the sum of your parts. I’m interested in getting you to think about all of what makes your body and your life. Your body is a system, just like your life. Yes, there are parts. And yes, occasionally there are parts that break down, or get injured. But those parts are connected to other parts. Learning to connect your body to work together as one optimally productive unit is like an insurance plan for when one of the parts breaks down – it has a strong connection and access to the strength of all those other parts.

In the last year I’ve been specifically doing a lot of reading about the nervous system. As a creative mind myself, I spent eleven years making a living in a performance and performance-teaching realm, all the while learning and bulking up my knowledge base of yoga and related healing practices and modalities. After eleven years of study and practice, and after learning how to transform my own body from a sickly pile to a resilient, strong being, I took a dive into this world of “teaching yoga.” And as a person who gets giddy like a goldilocks about connecting the concept of “create,” and “body state,” in ways that can be practically explained and practiced, the nervous system is, to me – and in our modern world of medicine – the vast mystery we are trying to learn more about in quantifiable ways. THIS IS WHY I TEACH.

I’m fascinated by the effect that experience has on us. When you go to a concert of music you love, when you are engaged in building something, or riding a motorcycle, or reading a book, or maybe even writing a book – any activity that brings you joy – when you are actively participating in the thing that brings you joy, you feel different. You have a sense of care-free-ness. You feel light, and happy.

By contrast when you’re presented with a problem – you get an awful cold, your boss gets mad at you, you are the boss and you’re mad at an employee, something in your house breaks, or, you know, something in your life breaks… you feel stuck. Frustrated, angry, or just plain sad and miserable. All of these experiences play out into our bodies, in an over-simplified explanation through small individual components called neuropeptides (among a host of other physical functions that are simultaneously happening – remember, the body is a system.)

So these neuropeptides are like signals for the nervous system. As stated by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “neuropeptides are the most diverse class of signaling molecules in the brain engaged in many physiological functions.”

THIS IS MY JAM, FOLKS! And its why I play specific music in my classes. It’s why I cue you to feel where your breath feels good. We all want more good in our lives. And while we can’t avoid the reality of “oh shit, that just happened,” what we are learning is that through PRACTICE, we can learn to participate in the very basic functions of our brain, and therefor body. We can chose to turn our attention, our focus, to practice and breathe in a certain way. We can choose to address or ignore the “parts” of our lives that are causing ailment. We can create guidelines, which, with practice, become habits that help us to move forward in the ever-changing wheel that is life.

We learn to observe all the parts of our lives, so that piece by piece, day by day, pose by pose, we can create a life that is abundant in health and happiness.

This. This is what I aim to teach. Yoga is so much more than poses to me. And we are so much more than just a pile of skin, muscles, and bones, just as our lives are so much more than just making money and owning things.

We are a complex system, us humans. I am endlessly inspired and energized to participate in learning about my own existence and health, and to aid in that process for any who come to take yoga practice with me.

Namaste, CalleyYOGA WITH CALLEY2

MBSR Mindfulness Weeks 5 & 6: TIME

mbsr56Hello readers! If you’re just jumping in, I’m taking a course this fall on mindfulness at The Marsh in Minnetonka, MN, and I’m dedicating my yoga blog to document and share my experience through the middle of November.

I had to miss the majority of class 5, due to a work obligation that was unavoidable. But since my last post, I’ve had class 6, and also the day-long (or 7-hour long) silent retreat. It’s been interesting to see how I’m finally settling into this class and what its lessons hold for me: first I was excited about the knowledge and tactics that I would be able to pass on to my clients and students. Then I started to get impatient. For me, the very methodical practices and tactics were tedious, and I just wanted to get back to my silent meditation, my self-led yoga practice. But in week 6’s class, I had a very interesting experience as the volunteer for a group exercise around reactions to anger. And during the silent retreat I finally saw how much I’d been missing before… and had the TIME to put it into practice.

Week 6:

insula-preso-55-728Reactions: When something happens in our lives – in our relationships, jobs, etc. and that something is unexpected, we tend to have a reactionary response. It’s at least partly due to a primal part of the brain, our Insula, where our visceral subjective emotion is processed.

During this session we did a simple exercise derived from Japanese Aikido (“The way of unifying life energy,”) to help reflect on four common reactions to the emotion of anger. I was asked to come at my instructor as if I was really angry at her. This was a particularly interesting challenge for me because I’m an actress, you would think this should be no problem for me. Except that I tend to struggle with anger. I don’t get angry very often, I tend to get very shaken up by anger when it is directed at me… in short, it was an uncomfortable challenge for me to try and be angry at my lovely, gentle instructor, and to admit that I should be better at putting my insecurities aside in light of an exercise in acting. But aside from my personal processing around this, the exercise was meant to point out four common reactions to anger:

  1. Fall down and cry.

  2. Become confused / freeze up / not do anything

  3. Fight back and also get angry

  4. Listen, and let the aggressor know that you are listening

Its a simplified explanation of MOST people’s common reactions to anger – and a helpful tool in assessing what are your normal reactions around anger. Once we understand that most of us fall in one of the first three categories (and – let’s give ourselves a break -because of primal instincts), it helps to step back from feeling like we’re being blamed for our reactions, and helps to put us – along with everyone else – on a spectrum. And to understand the power of attempting to integrate more of the 4th reaction (the Aikido-inspired reaction) into our lives.

In terms of yoga, I tie it back to this idea: work with your body, instead of against it. Sometimes we don’t even know when we’re fighting something, because we don’t see it as a choice – its just the way things are, its just what happens.

water_flow_bBut once you can observe what your reaction is, you can then start to see how much you are fighting to get what you want… (hint, hint Calley, enjoy the time of the silent retreat to let this info settle into your physicality!) instead of using the best resources in front you – where your body has strength, or flexibility, or where you CAN feel your breath move freely… it is a subtle but powerful shift in behavior, which not only

brings us to flexibility and strength quicker than if we were to fight or manipulate the process

but it is also a much MUCH more enjoyable W A Y to get there.

Things We Tell Ourselves

I went to the bank today, aFEEL.jpgnd ended up chatting with the teller about yoga. He told me he once went to a class without too much thought about it, and was surprised at how different it was than he was expecting. I was reminded of the first two months that I practiced yoga. I remember thinking, “WHAT am I doing? I don’t even understand what’s happening here.” Even though I felt clumsy, and awkward, and pretty insecure about the whole thing… I also was kind of addicted to how much better I felt when I was done. So it was worth it to keep going, and keep trying. It was after about three months of weekly classes that I finally felt like I could comprehend what my body was supposed to be doing. And THEN I could start to refine the basic actions, focus on breathing… all the stuff we attempt to do with this thing called yoga.

If you’ve never practiced yoga before, its likely that you think of it as “good for you,” or “I know I should do it,” or “I’m not very good at it.”

Maybe your narrative is something else, but I’m willing to bet that there IS an existing narrative. This is a normal and important part of being human: intellectual discernment. We label things, and make judgements about situations and people and things, so that we can understand them. Judgement is not necessarily a bad thing…. but with the process of practicing yoga, comes a decomposition of our fixed judgements, or your “inner narrative.” As you physically start to understand what your body does by default, and how you can start to create the flexibility, strength, and control to adjust that default, your beliefs about what you are capable of, and what is possible starts to also change…

Sometimes the sheer process of practicing will bring these “yoga-piphanies,” as I like to call them. But the more I practice, the more I learn that as my brain will follow my body, I can also switch that relationship around. Body also follows brain, and if you are willing to change the things you tell yourself from:

I can’t,”

I’m nervous,”

I’m not sure if I’m doing it right,” etc…

into:

I’ll try,”

I know I’ll get this eventually

I’MA BADDASS OUTTAH MY WAY

Or you know, whatever you’d like to tell yourself… I bet you’ll find the results as interesting as I do.

So I encourage us all to be careful with “these things we tell ourselves.” Your brain and your body are more linked than you think.

10313324_10105704786713630_55739205661043419_n.jpg

The Issue With Our Tissue

ArdhaChandrasanaWell, I’m fresh off of a certification training with the incredible and knowledgable Laurel Van Matre, owner of YOGA Garden MPLS, which is a big part of why I have not been blogging as often. My brain is full of a host of topics to expand upon here, and to my students… And though I could spout out all kinds of clinical and official-sounding tidbits that I have learned and explored during this training, I come back to something simple which proved to be profoundly deep to me years ago as a budding yogi, stressed-out professional musician, and struggler with my own body image:

We have a cultural tunnel-vision issue with our tissue.

And by that, I mean skin. The stuff we cover up for propriety sake. The stuff we look at each day. The stuff our primal nature makes us all tear our clothes off to see and touch and -ahem- *interact* with so we can re-populate this earth.

As I crammed all kinds of new and newly-integrated information into my brain for the last three months, I came back again and again to something essential to this practice, and to gaining its benefits – while learning and practicing, we must attempt to go deeper than our skin, the shape, the “end goal” of getting into a pose: we must get out of thinking, go past the skin we look at all day long, and get into feeling what’s going on underneath all that skin.

Thanks to one of my trainee cohorts, I found this great series of illustrations and articles by Ray Long, MD / Orthopedic surgeon / yogi, and 3D illustrator Chris Macivor. The images visually isolate the use of the psoas muscle in different poses – literally at the ahem – CORE – of our bodies. You’ll notice this core is not a picture of your abdominals, or anything resembling a six pack. Its much deeper than that, and it gets used, twisted, lengthened, stretched, and strengthened in just about every yoga pose. So next time you come to class you can remember to close your eyes if necessary, get out of your head, go further than your skin, and feel your body and your breath in order to find mobility in the tissue which brings us into optimal alignment.

Namaste folks,

Calley

Allergy Hacks From a FORMER Sufferer

Hi folks!

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Click Here –> These Health Hacks helped me kick allergy meds

Well, the sun is shiiiiiiiining in Minneapolis after a week of rain. If you have any kind of seasonal allergies, this is prime time for feeling like poo. Having allergies sucks. It is literally your body attacking itself in order to try to get rid of the thing you’re allergic to, and that’s preeeeeetty much what it feels like. Awful.

I feel you. Actually, correction –  I can’t tell you how happy I am to say that I no longer ACTUALLY feel you, but for years and years I struggled with allergies that put me down for the count for a month at a time. I had to miss work, was a walking emotional basket-case, and spent thousands of $$ over the years on medicine and medical treatments.

Hopefully  my decade of reading, research, trial, error, and hashing out every trial with my sister-the-doc can benefit you all. I wrote a blog post last year with ALL my tips and tricks to help ease your allergies. I’ve incorporated all of these things into my life, little by little, and I have been amazed every step of the way how much relief these tools have given me. I went into the trenches in 2008, determined to figure out how to bring back my quality of life from the allergy-robber, and by 2010 I made the leap to stop taking my medications and haven’t looked back since.

Now, please take note – these remedies are not like the quick fix that we’ve come to expect from pills. You usually have to do a combination of them, and give them a week or even several weeks to see noticeable difference. (Except the cider vinegar one! That stuff is IMMEDIATE – try it!) But for ME, I’ve found that difference to be greater than that of using medicine alone.

Happy Flower-Sniffing!

International Day of Happiness

Life is not ONLY about being happy – there’s actually research that shows that if you expect too much happiness ALL the time that you could be setting yourself up for disappointment and more UN-happiness… but the other interesting thing about happiness, which mindfulness practices like yoga remind us, is that we choose where to turn our attention, and we get to work on making proactive choices, instead of just repeating habits as choices.

This process is not easy, and for more and more of us, choosing happiness has chemical barriers in addition to the regular everyday life ones.

Thankfully, we can also point to research, practice, and experience to show us that even these chemical barriers are more easily overcome with the help of rest, exercise, and mindfulness.

I’m grateful that over the years I’ve had my yoga practice as a place to reset, reflect and boost the happy hormones….

After all, you cannot TOUCH happiness 😉 ——> Watch and laugh. Which is good for your hormones, and immune system, which helps make us happier:

Hope to see you Sunday at 10:30am or Monday at 5:15pm.
~ Calley

Our Physiological Reactions

How YOGA teaches the discipline needed to overcome them…

This is a re-post from an emailer I sent out last week:
A few weeks ago a student of mine told me about something called the Prison Yoga Project, and how she had become obsessed with it. Yesterday I took some time to look at the website, look up the founder, and read a little about what the project is, and why its working for inmates. The physiological effects of stress on the body are intrinsically connected the mind, which is true for us all… and I got a little obsessed with the ideology behind the project, and how it applies to everyone in varying degrees.

“Most prisoners suffer from Complex Trauma, chronic interpersonal trauma experienced early in life such as abandonment, hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, bullying, discrimination, drug and alcohol abuse, and witnessing crime – including murder. We call this “original pain.” These experiences, imprinted by the terrifying emotions that accompany them, are held deeply in the mind, and perhaps more importantly, in the body, with the dissociative effects of impulsive/reactive behavior, and tendencies toward drug and alcohol addiction as well as violence. Carrying unresolved trauma into their lives impacts everything they do, often landing them in prison, where they experience even more trauma…

…Traditionally, cognitive behavioral therapists have helped people process unresolved trauma, but more recently psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers — many working with US military veterans — acknowledge that embodiment practices such as yoga enriched with mindfulness practices can have more impact in alleviating the symptoms that lead to both reactive behaviors and stress related disease.”

So, I watched the video. And they showed these big, burly, rough looking men, silently struggling to stay in down dog, twists, and seated meditation. You could see their struggle with various poses, but you also heard them commenting in interviews on how they had learned to use their yoga practice to withstand the effects of other struggles in their lives. It was teaching them discipline to manage their own reactions…

We all have our own versions of stressors and problems, and while some of us have ones that are “worse” or “easier” than others, we all feel the effects of stress and past pain. These things take a physiological toll on the body, and affect our psychological expectations and reactions. You can’t avoid all of these factors in life, but I found this to be a beautiful reminder that we can help our bodies and our minds to process and release our experiences in healthy, effective ways.

Hope to see you very soon,
~ Calley ✨

Yoga for that mental thing you’re trying to get under control

I’m writing this post for any and all who are trying to overcome their own selves.

(Yes, I’m aware that was not a grammatically correct sentence. This is a private yoga blog, not the New York Times.)

First things first: you are the only one who can tell what you are feeling. Whether or not you are struggling. Whether or not the habits and routines and people in your life are actually helping you or not. So as you read this, please use your intelligent if somewhat stressed and over-taxed brain to determine whether or not these sentences are true for YOU.

I’m seeing ailment all around me. Anxiety. Depression. Panic attacks. Lethargy. Feeling strangely disconnected from… maybe you don’t even know what. Perhaps I’m seeing this more because now I’m teaching yoga. Maybe its because this time last year I was in my own pit of depression, and I’m grateful that one year later I’m effectively on the other side of the wheel.

In my opinion, the biggest misconception about mental health is that you can’t help yourself. You need doctors and expensive medications to fix you. And when those don’t really work or you don’t like the way they feel, then you’re a lost, broken cause. You feel like no one gets it. No one sympathizes. No one wants to help, and even if they did want to, they can’t. 

Well that sucks. And it doesn’t seem to be working. Shall we try something different? I know, different is scary. It’s not familiar. It’s probably not comfortable. But is it comfortable where you are?

(By the by, you’ve heard of the placebo effect? Why does it work? Because we believe we’re taking something that is helping us. We believe.)

THIS MIND SHIT AIN’T NO HIPPIE JOKE, PEOPLE.  I digress.

We know that moving our bodies is good for us. We know that breathing is good for us. Often the problem that gets added to that health salad is the demon spice: trying to do too much. Causing more injury (mental or physical) than good.

The hardest thing – especially when you’re going through something hard – is that it’s going to be hard for a little while. You have to be willing to stick with your own progress, and you might have to change your expectations as to how much progress will be made. And you HAVE to be willing to start with something easy and build from there.

And this is why my guiding word for the year is SMALL.

And, preaching what I teach, I’m not actually doing it for you guys. If you want to hop on board and help yourself, by all means. But I’m doing this for me. To remind myself that if I want to grow, I have to first be willing to be small. And I might need to be small for a while, until I gain the strength to grow bigger. And no, I’m not patting myself on the back for figuring this out and suddenly all my problems are gone. Some days I kick myself when I realize that for days or weeks on end my expectations have been unrealistic. And then I remind myself to NOT kick myself, and to go smaller… start with being grateful that I figured OUT that I need to go smaller. And then do a small thing. A breath. A bath. One minute of breathing with my eyes closed. Laying on my tired back and just… laying there. Damn, that feels good, maybe I’ll stay a while. Maybe I WILL get my ass out of bed and go to my colleague’s yoga class. And maybe I won’t because what I really need is to chill out alone for a morning.

This is my process. I don’t know yours, and I can’t. I’m not you. But we DO know that the person who will make the biggest difference in your life – in the way you feel – is you. You have to want to help yourself. You have to believe that you can try. It’s that simple. And its amazing how challenging simple is because the people in our lives have all kinds of opinions that have clouded it. Pretty much, we’re just a bunch of humans running around in life, trying.

Try: it starts by doing something small and celebrating your tiny ass step.