Thursday, March 27, 2014

Creating Space:
Supportive Practices for Greater Vitality



It has been a long, cold winter here in the northeast and many of us are more than ready to transition into the warmer days of spring. As we bid a fond farewell to winter, we might also consider adding a few new practices to our daily routine.  In addition to a posture practice, Yoga and Ayurveda offer many tools to support balance and growth, creating space in our lives and bodies for greater health and vitality.  Below are just a few that I've chosen to incorporate into my own daily practice:

Tongue Scraping
When I first heard from my teacher that the "undigested metabolic waste" that appears on the tongue after sleep is better removed than swallowed, it made a big impression! Tongue scrapers can be purchased at many health-food stores and pharmacies.  A spoon is equally effective.  I do this first thing each morning before hydrating with warm lemon water.

Salt Water Gargle:
I was pleased to breeze through some repeated exposures to the flu after being reminded to add this simple and effective practice to my morning routine by Kripalu yoga teacher and Dean of Kripalu School of Ayurveda Larissa Hall Carlson.   A brief gargle with warm salt water once or twice per day helps to remove pathogens from the throat before they enter your system.

Oil Pulling:
There's been quite a bit of talk about oil pulling lately.  What is it? It is a practice of swishing organic unrefined sesame oil in the mouth (as you might do with a mouthwash, but for longer).   Though it may sound like a long while, twenty minutes passes quickly if you begin before entering the shower.  This practice helps support oral health and hygiene, but is also said to pull toxins from the system.  I swear by it!

Gentle Movements:
Try rotating the joints several  times  (ankles, shoulders, wrists, hips) and adding a gentle twist to your morning routine.  Gentle movements help to lubricate the joints, free the spine, and prepare the body for the day ahead.

Conscious Breathing:
Even a few moments of conscious, steady breathing can help to align the systems of the body and calm the mind.  If you have a pranayama practice, a few minutes each morning can make a big difference in your day.  If not, try sitting comfortably, allowing the breath to find a natural rhythm, and noticing the sensation of the abdomen or torso moving in response to the breath.  
 
-Kate Pousont Scarborough 
E-RYT 500, 
Director Shelburne Falls Yoga, 
Co-Founder and Director Living World Yoga School 

Monday, February 17, 2014

holding steady
 
Last month brought the beginning of another class session with my beloved young students.  Working with children often magnifies my understanding of traits and struggles that are common to
us all, and I know, as we embark on another season together, that these young students will be teaching me even as I instruct them. 
 
The concept of "stretching" is notorious for bringing out an attitude of striving and discontent in any age group.  And yet, expanding our range of motion in a mindful way can be a deeply healthful and balancing activity.  It is also essential to opening new doorways of expression for our young dancers.
 
One afternoon, as we gently approach the often sensitive activity of "splits",  I watch a range of reactions not unlike what might surface in an adult's yoga class.  Defeat was present,  and some pride,  and enthusiasm, and much desire to possess the desired outcome, now.  Just as I am about to speak to the need for awareness and patience, the entire group decides to try a "trick", a dubious activity involving pushing defiant limbs into the wall in hopes of attaining success, now.
 
As I watch and wait for a moment, giving an opportunity for the idea to run its course, I ponder the words I know I will offer as we reconvene, words that may be of relevance to those of us grown-ups who might also, on occasion, push blindly into the next threshold.
 
I will say to them, "How can you know where you're going if you don't first know where you are?".
 
And I will say to them, "How can you have the strength to move forward if you don't first have the strength to hold steady as you are?".
 
And perhaps they will not understand.  But perhaps they will, now or someday.  And what might the invitation to pause, breathe, and look clearly awaken for them?  What might it awaken for all of us?
 
On this particular afternoon, we settle again in our colorful circle of yoga mats, take a deep breath, and learn one small lesson in patience as we hold steady,  just as we are.  And then, in the small, clear space we have created with our own awareness, we begin to dance.  
 
  
~Kate Pousont Scarborough, E-RYT 500, Director Shelburne Falls Yoga


Friday, November 1, 2013

How We Grow:

Each time we turn our attention inward, a curious process is initiated.  Our first steps can feel awkward or humble, so simple that it can be easy to miss the landscape that might arise from the first seed of awareness.


We begin with self-observation, the non-judging awareness that forms the soil of our practice.   

With patience and attention, clarity arises, allowing us to see more clearly what is truly happening within us and around us.

This clarity gives rise to courage, which gives us strength to move forward toward an uncertain future regardless of what the outcome might be.

Our courage inspires love, the ability to give selflessly to others with no guarantee and in the face of certain loss.

Love leads us on to grace, a practice of celebrating victories and making room for shortcomings in ourselves and others equally.

And grace may deliver us to wisdom, giving us the tools to choose wisely the paths that serve our highest purpose and the humility to begin again each day.


~Kate Pousont Scarborough, E-RYT 500,
Director, Shelburne Falls Yoga
Co-Founder, Living World Yoga and EARTHjourneys

Friday, June 28, 2013

a life well woven



In the sunniest corner of the studio lives a hearty jade.  It has always been there,mountainsas long as I can remember at least.  It gives the impression of a timeworn desert visitor, thriving but perpetually red-brown and gnarly as it soaks in the hot sun on its upward trajectory toward an unknown destination.  On occasion it sheds a piece of itself, one of which I recently took home to rescue at the suggestion of a plant-loving friend.  

This daughter of the jade is thriving too, but bears little resemblance to its parent.  In the cool corner of my kitchen it is stocky and dark, with its fat, succulent leaves exuding patience and ease.  It is far less wild. Of the same stuff, yet so very different.

These plants are living example of the way all things are shaped by circumstance and environment. They also serve as a reminder to me to meet each unique variation of the human condition with compassion and respect for that which created it.  Like the plants, we are so often handed our circumstances and left to grow into them to the best of our ability.  

Unlike them, our human state affords us the ability to shape our environment in return.  And shape we do, to such wondrous and disastrous effect.  On some days I feel like a bedraggled weaver, handed a set of strings upon awakening with no choice as to their color or size.  But while I may not be able to change them, I can weave them into a tapestry that is uniquely my own, a dynamic fabric of experience that reflects my choices as well as all that is beyond my control.  In this process of creation, pain and poverty become just another pattern, joy an unexpected sweep of color, our entire lives a rich and varied work of art.

Each of us is presented with a choice each day, each moment.  And this becomes our practice; Are we allowing the threads of our lives to hang limp and tangle in despair, or forcing them again and again into a pattern that no longer fits?  Or are we deftly weaving all we have been dealt with attention and with joy?

~Kate Pousont Scarborough, RTY-500, Director Shelburne Falls Yoga~

Thursday, April 25, 2013

.... and fly


 
Once, in my wanderings, I came to know a place that held within it the voice of the world like no other I had ever encountered. I don’t know why this place spoke to me so. It may have been the small brook that had, through gentle persistence, carved its way to the soul of itself with a sound like the whisper of grace in motion. Or the old and gnarled maples, still towering and stately, who gave their secrets only to those who sat with them long enough to understand the deep stillness that created and was created by them. I love this place.  

The place though was less affected by the play of the human world than was I, and the time came when I was to leave it behind. At first I felt the recoiling that still accompanies the threat of loss even though the passage of time has taught me often that I needn’t be afraid; new possibility awaits on the other side. I came to understand that this loss, like so many others, was determined by choices and circumstance set in motion long before I had ever known it as a gain. It was never not to be.

This understanding gave me strength and I did not turn away from its heartrending beauty in my final days with the place that had grown into my soul. Instead I leaned in to hear the words this unlikely love of mine might say. She whispered in my ear: Truth and love were not meant to be held in place but to be carried and shared with those who have not yet known them. Take me with you. And fly.


~Kate Pousont Scarborough,  E-RYT 500, 
Director Shelburne Falls Yoga~







Friday, April 19, 2013

Sweet and Steady


  
Early one morning, as the sun began to peek above the horizon, I settled into a seat yet again, ready toSthira Sukham Asanam,-may the posture be steady and comfortable.
begin another day and another practice.  Recently returned from a stay at Kripalu Center  where some early morning teaching reminded me of the unique pleasure of rising before the sun, I've been inspired to try, yet again, to carve out a bit more time in the pre-dawn hour to prepare for the day ahead.   And my stay at Kripalu stirred something else as well, a long ago memory of my first teacher training.  On this morning, as I began to sink into practice, a long-forgotten phrase, a verse from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, echoed in my mind: 

                I recall well first learning this phrase.  After a month of intensive practice and study of some of the more profound yogic texts, these words seemed a bit of a letdown.   Steady and comfortable?  I dutifully memorized and chanted the words, but their meaning did not quite register.  In fact, I never did revisit these words until the moment they reappeared at the forefront of my mind.  This time their depth did not escape me.

                Having spent a fair amount of time in meditation of late, I have learned to appreciate the steadiness that comes as a result of deepening my capacity for contentment and concentration, my connection to awareness; but this is only a part of the picture.  Steadiness is not just a result of our practice, but also a starting point, a passageway into growth for us all.  On this day, Patanjali's words spoke to me of a vital need for a balanced, easeful, and steady foundation.
  
I often begin my Advanced Practice classes with a reminder about an important premise; one that is often overlooked by yoga students and teachers in the west.  There are in fact two distinct (though often intertwined) threads within the practice of yoga.  One deals with purifying and bringing the body into balance.  The other with inviting more energy into our systems.  When we invite more energy into a system that is taxed, ill, or out of balance, injury or further illness may result.  Even for healthy and experienced practitioners, incorporating both of these approaches is an essential part of our growth.
  
This is often a new concept, even for seasoned students of yoga.  How often we dive into a practice in the hopes of building more energy only to place those hopes on a foundation not secure enough to sustain the increase.  And how often we fail to take even a few minutes to determine what we REALLY need.
  
In recent years I've learned to begin each of my own practices with a question:  What is it that would best serve my system right now?  And whether I end up in restorative yoga, deep meditation, or a vigorous flow, I've found that my practice rarely follows the course I thought it might.  Sometimes I'm surprised to discover just how tired I am, and others I tap into new reserves of energy, opening into the vast possibility that accompanies each arrival on the mat.
  
The progression of a practice, like the arc of our lives, often begins and ends with sweet simplicity, and each of the varied and limitless expressions that appear between serve as an example of the essence that lies just beneath the surface.  When we build our practice on a foundation of balance we create an opportunity in both directions, to dive deeper inward and branch ever outward, exploring the full potential of our unique selves from the seat of steadiness and ease.   Sthira sukham asanam.  May your posture be sweet and steady!
  
  
~with deep gratitude to my first Kripalu Yoga teacher, 
Devarshi Steven Hartman~

Kate Pousont Scarborough, 
RYT 500, Director Shelburne Falls Yoga

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sounds of Winter



Sounds of Winter




     Perhaps it is living in an old house with the constant hums and rattles of radiators and aging appliances, or perhaps the fact that I live there with three delightfully energetic teen-aged boys, but, for some reason, the sweetness of silence has been on my mind of late.

     And what a rare event it is, an encounter with silence.  I had one deep in the woods after pausing to rest atop a thin blanket of snow.  For a few precious moments no wind blew, no creatures stirred.  All was still except for the gentle beating of my own heart.

     When the wind resumed, and, along with it the rustle of a nearby tree still holding the last of its leaves, the sound seemed surprisingly different than it had just a few minutes before.  It  grew louder, quietly thunderous, capturing my attention and opening a door to a world that always exists amongst the trees.  One I often miss.

     I've noticed the same thing in the yoga studio.  To my amusement, I've recently purchased three new clocks after our trusty (and silent!) clock fell from the wall.  Each time, armed with a battery in my pocket, I set out to test the sound of a potential purchase.  And, each time, I'm sure I've found the right one; the ticking is soft, almost imperceptible.   Until meditation that is...

      I can't help but wonder how my ears can deceive me so!  It's not that I'm not paying attention to my surroundings.  In fact, I usually am.  And yet, a momentary meeting with silence inevitably alters sensory experiences that I once would have labeled as objective.

     Through my practice, I've come to understand that this shift arises not because of the change in the auditory experience but through the quieting of brain waves that occur as a result.  Silence is just one of many doorways through which we can access a change in thought patterns and perception with the stilling of the mind.

     Have you ever arisen at the end of yoga class and noticed that the light seemed different somehow?  Or become absorbed in the activity of a beloved child or friend only to notice that the world seems a softer, gentler place? Or perhaps sat still for just a moment to discover a new idea or solution has materialized?

      We live in a complex world, and there is much to do.   Action, and lots of it, is a valued and inevitable part of being human, especially as we strive to ensure a safe future for ourselves and for our children.  To support our actions though, we might consider incorporating moments of deliberate stillness, moments that allow us to be guided by the quiet truth toward a more vibrant future.

~Kate Pousont Scarborough, Director Shelburne Falls Yoga