Friday, March 25, 2016

Thank you. Have a Nice Day!

Thank you.  Have a Nice Day!

Are you happy?  Apparently, March 20 is International Happiness Day.  Were it not for social media, I wonder how many people would know? And social media has made it apparent that we need tips to be happy.   You can buy books, take courses or just read the 5 tips to happiness, which sounds more do-able than the 10-step programs… on happiness, that is.

One of the prevailing tips is gratitude.  Just say “thank you” as a start.  Then the hard part – pausing long enough to actually feel grateful for simple things.  I have a student who seems to be an expert at this.  He doesn’t really speak English.  At the end of every class, he comes up to me, looks me right in the eyes and flashes what can only be adequately described as a movie-star smile and says in perfect English, “Thank you.  Have a nice day!”

You can’t miss him in class.  Partly because he comes in late to what happens to be a very full room of older adults.  He rides the bus so he’s not on his own schedule.   And he is polite, in that old-fashioned way.  Or maybe the better word is respectful, not wanting to intrude or distract other students.  He stands at the door, lanky and awkward, with that beautiful grin.  Then he scans the room and nods at a possible spot.  He bows to anyone who moves for him, engaging his ever-present thank you’s and spectacular smile.

I didn’t realize he didn’t speak English in the beginning.  You never know.  He’s new.  Maybe he can’t hear.  Maybe he’s distracted.  Definitely, he’s awkward in his body. Then one day he wanted to talk to me after class.  It was then that he said, “no English.”  How charming that he learned to say, “Thank you.  Have a nice day!” perfectly.  Otherwise, he truly didn’t speak English.  At all.

So we had a pantomime, hilarious “conversation” about his shoulder, his left shoulder.  And somehow we communicated anyway and sorted out how he could move his shoulder differently without pain.  A couple of weeks later, as he came into class, he pointed to his shoulder and said, “better.”  Grinned.  “Thank you!”

I used to see him in various places, walking down major streets or waiting for a bus.  Always alone.  Always with that smile.

No one really seemed to know him.  Yet everyone loved him.  I don’t know if he was happy.  I just knew he made everyone around him happy.  So when he was hit by a car and killed this week, we all were devastated in a surprising way.  His gratitude was a ray of happiness for all of us, made all of us smile.  Though I didn’t know him at all, I am so grateful for his presence in my life. A reminder to be thankful for the simple things.  A reminder to connect and acknowledge each other and our community.  A reminder to be happy now.

If you are lucky enough to have someone in your life who makes you smile, let them know.  And if you are that person who smiles to the rest of us…

Thank YOU!  Have a nice day!

Leslie Kazadi

(Repost from 2015)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Yoga Alliance and the Therapeutic Benefits of Semantics

Yoga Alliance and the Therapeutic Benefits of Semantics

Or do I need to say “general therapeutic benefits” to be in compliance? After listening to the Yoga Alliance Q&A for an hour, I’m still not sure.  Yet & still, a few things were clarified in the call.

It does take some moxie to have a Q&A on the “yoga therapy” controversy.  So I do give YA props for opening up the conversation.  Moxie, btw, is the proprietary name of a soft drink, flavored with gentian root extract, reputed to have medicinal properties, according to Wikipedia. If I am following the YA logic correctly – and I am not at all certain that I am – Moxie is an approved word, but describing it as having medicinal properties is definitely not.

Likewise, yoga can be described as supporting general wellness. Yoga prescribed by a doctor canNOT be described as therapeutic or as treatment; only a licensed medical practitioner can prescribe or perform treatment. Following this logic, if you go to the doctor for an infection and the doctor prescribes an antibiotic and the antibiotic gets rid of the infection, you cannot say that it was the antibiotic that cured you.  Antibiotics do not have a license to treat you. You could, however, say that the antibiotics provided “therapeutic benefit.”

So what’s the difference? THIS, I am sure of, as it was specifically answered in the call.  If you have read the YA web site material, you already know that YA equates “therapy” with diagnosis or treatment of health conditions. And using the word therapy may mislead the public into believing that yoga teachers can diagnose or treat health conditions.  “Therapeutic benefit” means wellness – sans diagnosis or treatment. My personal extrapolation is that it’s one thing to say that as a yoga teacher, I can support you through an illness that leads to improved wellbeing, but I cannot suggest that yoga will heal you or that yoga is treating your condition.

And if your student writes you a testimonial saying that yoga or you – healed/cured/alleviated  their illness/condition/disease – you need to reframe it and use approved words because the general public may be misled into believing that yoga teachers can treat or diagnose health conditions. Yes, on your private web site, if you use the RYT or RYS designation, whether you use the logos associated with them or not, you must be in compliance.

This goes for all advertising materials in which you refer to the RYT or RYS designations. YA did point out that being a member of YA is voluntary and that they are available to assist you with making adjustments to your languaging to be in compliance.  I have had several email exchanges with them to extensively retool the language of my RYS training programs.  And they absolutely did help me get this sorted out.

Thankfully, you can keep the name of your business – and I am curious to see how many people either add or delete the “therapy” word from their business name. That’s where the disclaimer comes in. I feel for the people who have “therapy” in their program names and now have to change them.  YA is not responsible for the expense, per the answer on the call.

If you do have extensive training as a yoga therapist, get ready to thank Yoga Alliance…. just as soon as you calm down after reading the next couple of sentences. Two of the questions that were answered on the call were from 200-hour yoga teacher training program graduates.  One 200-hour program had the words yoga therapy in it. And the second caller had done a 100-hour program after her 200-hour program that was a yoga therapy program.  Yes, you can keep your RYT designation; no, you can’t call yourself a yoga therapist – based on those credentials. Or at all on the YA site. On behalf of certified, extensively trained yoga therapists everywhere, thank you, Yoga Alliance.

I think we can all agree that an ounce of yoga prevention is worth a pound of yoga therapy. And 100 hours of yoga training does not a yoga therapist make.  I am grateful for the Yoga Alliance discussion and for the distinction. I am grateful to International Association of Yoga Therapists for raising the bar and for their upcoming certification process to officially designate yoga therapists.

I think I understand that YA is a platform for yoga teachers and not for yoga as treatment of health conditions.

I am still confused, however, by the yoga research page on the Yoga Alliance web site. If they do not want to mislead the public into believing that yoga can treat health conditions, why do they have links to evidence-based research on yoga for cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc? Does this make sense to you?

In compliance,

Leslie Kazadi, *CYT, E-RYT500
Alchemy Yoga Therapy, LLC
Distill your Teaching, RYS 300-hour training program

* The yoga therapy components of my teaching are based on my certification as a yoga therapist by Loyola Marymount University, not derived from my status as an E-RYT500, RYS200 or RYS300 with Yoga Alliance Registry.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Meditation on a Mother's Love

How my Meditation Practice Reunited me with My Mother

My mother was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.  As a child, I wanted nothing more than to be just like her.  She had what I only later recognized as the innocence of a child.  And she loved people like a child – without reservation or judgment.  Not to say that she was perfect.  She was also very emotional and could give you the silent treatment for an unbearable length of time.  Like a child. 

Despite this, I always knew that she loved me and that she would love me no matter what I did.  I was perplexed by her poise when I would tell her my dark secrets, as she sat and listened, unfazed.  I was stunned that she would love me just the same. I was mesmerized by her aplomb as she faced terminal cancer, also mostly appearing to be unfazed, with a wisdom and invincible strength I had never seen. Anywhere.

As was her wont, she died in dramatic fashion.  Home with hospice, it was a Tuesday.  We all knew the end was near.  Her cancer had spread to her brain, creating the electrical storms of grand mal seizures.  Big and bad.  After the violent convulsions, there is a period of rigidity and a loss of consciousness where the body goes limp.  As we sat and watched, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief that the seizure was over…   relieved that she had not injured herself – the irony?! – and relieved that it was over.  Until the third one.  As her body lay limp after the third seizure, relief turned to panic with the realization that it was truly over.  She was dead.

Even writing that now, 26 years later…. Dead…. I gasp.  If you have ever watched anyone or anything take its last breath, you know how utterly inconceivable it is.  One moment you are here and the next you are gone.  Like a terrible magic trick of the mind.

After she died, all I wanted to do was sleep.  It was in my dreams that I could find her, the best part of her, the way I wanted to remember her.  In those initial dreams she was her best self.  In the light of day, her closest friends all claimed that she spoke to them.  Was she also speaking to me?  I didn’t believe them.  If she was talking to anyone, it would be me.  It never crossed my mind that she was talking to me in my dreams or that I could choose to find her, remember her love in the present tense.

Especially because over time, she became sick in my dreams.  I was losing her all over again.  I thought it was my mind finding a way to let her go slowly, in my own time.  Then for many, many years, I had heartbreaking dreams where she was still alive – she had never died but she was sick and hiding out.  She didn’t want to see me. I was the only person she didn’t want to see. I felt betrayed and bereft as I frantically chased a ghost, chasing after the safety of unconditional love.

These dreams always came at a time when I felt vulnerable.  Had that “I want my mommy” feeling that never goes away, even when I wasn’t aware of it. Especially then.  I would wake to the feeling that I need support that I can’t find anywhere.

And then something magical happened.  I took an online course with Sally Kempton on the Wisdom Goddesses.  The first week was Durga, the divine mother.  I wasn’t thinking about my mother.  I haven’t thought of myself as grieving for my mother for a very long time.  I had simply ASSumed that missing her was a natural part of my life. So when I was doing the meditation, I didn’t make a connection.

“Oh, goddess Durga, you whose form is love, wisdom and invincible strength,
Please reveal yourself within me.  Let me feel your presence, whether in my body, my heart or my mind.  Let me know you as my own self.  Let me feel your presence in the world.”

After just a few days of this, I had another dream.  A crazy good dream.  I was on some pier that I don’t recognize in real life, bustling with happy people.  I was chatting on my cell phone.  And suddenly a gigantic, cartoonish, dreamlike whale/dolphin breached right next to me, and looked me right in the eyes, impossibly close to me… right by the pier?! I dropped my phone and it clattered onto the pier and into the ocean.  And I didn’t care. It was then that I realized I had been on the phone chatting with my mother, in that casual way where you talk about nothing when you know you have forever.  And somehow it clicked.  I DO have her forever so long as I open my heart, open my field of awareness to all that is.

Now those dreams, those terrible dreams where she is still here and rejecting me, are gone. Now when I find myself feeling unsupported, I remind myself that that is a lie. A terrible trick of the mind. And instead, I remember the feelings of unconditional love and allow myself to feel the vulnerability of that. I remember that being supported means being open to feeling loved.  It is with the innocence of a child that I choose magic, the field of awareness, the field of love.  And I realize, my dream has come true:  I have become just like my mother.


Leslie Kazadi

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What's up(side down) on Ladies Holiday?

What’s up(side down) on Ladies Holiday?

Our menstrual cycle has many nicknames:  Time of the Month, Aunt Flo, The Monthly Visitor, Moon Cycle, on The Rag, or Crimson Tide.  We seem so reluctant to call it what it is, it’s no wonder there is confusion about how to address it in a yoga class. My favorite nickname, Ladies Holiday, comes from Ashtanga yoga.  In this system, women take a three-day holiday from asana practice during their menstrual cycle.  It was the first time I personally felt I had permission to slow down and honor my cycle. 

It seems every style of yoga has its own recommendations.  In the Iyengar tradition in Pune, India, an all–restoratives class is prescribed.   Typically in flow classes, ladies are advised not to go upside down.  This is somewhat confusing when options are given halfway through a yoga class that has been full of downward dogs.   So what’s the deal? 

First, all inversions are not created equally.  Anatomically, an inversion means the heart is higher than the head so that their natural positions are inverted.  In addition to the relative position of the head and heart, the position of the torso and legs in relation to the heart also matters.  For example, in downward facing dog, the heart is higher than the head (inverted), but the legs are below the heart; whereas, in extended bridge pose, the torso and legs are in the same plane as the heart.  This makes downward facing dog less intense than an extended bridge pose on the circulatory system.  Likewise, when the legs are higher than the heart, as in legs up the wall pose, the work of the circulatory system is reversed, where blood easily flows  with gravity down the legs and into the heart. 

Fully inverted, active poses like headstand, shoulder stand, forearm balance, etc, require more work by the circulatory system.  Any time a muscle is working, it needs more blood supply.  It is unclear whether this inhibits or promotes menstrual blood from being released.  In addition, these active inversions tend to have long holds that build heat and require lots of energy, which can be depleting.  If you are already feeling overheated or fatigued on your cycle, it’s probably best to skip these poses.

Does inverting stop the blood flow?  There is no hard evidence to suggest that going upside down will physiologically stop the menstrual flow, per se.  Though, from a yogic subtle body perspective, it does inhibit the apana vayu, or downward flow of energy. You could argue that that’s reason enough.  It’s a time of intuition for a woman, a time to honor subtle shifts.

Many back bends are also inversions.  And they definitely build heat.  They also may have the benefit of alleviating tension in the belly and/or the back that many women experience.  If you are addicted to urdhva danurasana -- in which case it probably feels great if you have the juice for it –  go for it!  Otherwise, “baby back bends” may feel better.   Even though it IS an inversion, supported bridge with a block underneath the sacrum felt amazing for me because it softened my lower belly. 

Supta baddha konasana, aka goddess pose, is the quintessential restorative pose for Ladies Holiday.  It is a (gentle) back bend without being an inversion and a hip opener. It supports the apana, downward-flowing energy, relieves fatigue and promotes relaxation on many levels.  This is one pose that will get everybody’s vote. It’s a nice substitute for active, full inversions and/or backbends if you are feeling fatigued.

As you can see, it depends.  If you were to ask 10 teachers, you may get as many answers of what you are supposed to do while on your cycle.  Where they all agree – at least I hope this is true! – is that you should listen to your body and trust its wisdom.  And it IS a time of women’s wisdom. It reminds us quite literally of the ebb and flow of life.  And just as each month is different, each decade is very different! 

Acknowledging our cycles by altering asana practice honors our femininity.  It is a ritual of letting go and opening to what is.  Embracing all of the changes of our lives is essential to the practice of yoga.  And embracing change is essential to feeling empowered as women at every stage of life. Let your choice depend on how you feel as you honor yourself and the awareness that is the great gift of practicing yoga!

Leslie Kazadi