Friday, December 16, 2016

Yoga Practice in Turbulent Times

As the chaos of our world situation continues to reveal itself this season, many of us are struggling to understand our role in the events now unfolding.  As yoga practitioners, we may also be seeking to understand how a spiritual practice can aid us as we move forward.  For some, it is tempting to retreat to an inner landscape, where we have worked to gain some measure of control or peace.  Others may turn away from internal practice altogether in order to focus on action.  While the best strategy for moving forward in a changing world will be different for each of us, I suspect, as with most things in life, the answer for many of us will lie somewhere in the middle ground.

A yoga practice invites us into that middle place by helping us to see and make sense of the varied, sometimes paradoxical, aspects of embodied existence. By working with mindfulness and integration, we may have moments of knowing or feeling our essence, our connection to source or other beings, or whatever we might define as our "true self". We may experience moments of balance, strength, or clarity as we explore our individual identities through action on the mat. Insights or struggles around challenges in the external world could arise. Ideally, a yoga practice will serve as a bridge between the inner and outer experience, helping us to remember our responsibility to others when delving into internal terrain AND our essence or interconnection when engaging in action. In this convergence, true aim may arise and help lead us to appropriate action.

So, while a practice in yoga isn't going to create change in and of itself, it can, when practiced with these intentions in mind, support us by:

- Encouraging an internal balance that helps develop the clarity to know what we'd like to accomplish and the strength and resolve to actually do so.  (Self-care is still important!)

- Helping to develop skill in non-reactivity, allowing us time to assess before we respond.

- Fostering a sense of compassion for all beings through practicing non-judging awareness.

- Encouraging self-honesty and a willingness to both see what is taking place and acknowledge our role in it - a necessary act for those interested in understanding the impacts of privilege and complacency.

-  Building a greater capacity to bear witness as individuals and to foster a sense of shared awareness in community - an important skill in this "post-truth" era.

Yoga is a tool that can be used toward any end.  It will be up to each of us to determine what that end will be and what other skills we may need to develop in order to navigate this particular moment in time.  It is my greatest hope that our practice in this community will support us all in bringing into action whatever we most wish to offer to the world and to each other.
In peace,
~Kate Pousont Scarborough, E-RYT 500, 
Director Shelburne Falls Yoga

(illustration by Gayle Kabaker)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Some Ideas for Customizing and Enhancing your Practice

(The following comes from a recent series at the studio and explores some ways in which to tailor a practice to meet individual needs.)

-          -Remember the underlying aims of reducing suffering, discovering  your full potential, and learning to see what is truly happening AND the underlying technique of integrating body, breath, and attention with non-judging awareness.  You can bring any personal goals to the mat (flexibility, relaxation, clarity, strength etc.) to be explored through this lens. 

-         - Your teacher’s instructions are suggestions and guidelines for what works for many people much of the time.  You are the ultimate authority on what does and does not work for your body.

-          -Yoga is a preventive health tool.  Use caution and consult with your health care provider when working with injury or special circumstances.  Contrary to popular opinion, yoga is not universally “therapeutic” or relaxing.  Many techniques and postures are fairly intense practices designed to impact deeply held patterning in the body & mind, so it is important to bear this in mind and/or let your instructor know if you are working with any health conditions.

-         - Yoga should not hurt.  While some activities may produce moderate sensation and even a bit of muscle shaking, try to avoid intense sensation or working so hard that movement or breath becomes disorganized.  The body generally does not respond well to stretching or strengthening in the end range of motion.  The extreme flexibility we see in the yoga media is a holdover from a time when past generations were exploring the far reaches of energetic “freedom” or flow by working with extreme positions (activities that may have their roots in ascetic practices often intended to punish or “transcend” the body).  There is now a movement away from these extremes as the first western teachers of extreme posture work have begun to speak openly about the injuries many have experienced as a result. Working toward a normal, healthy range of motion that supports the activities you like to do in your daily life is usually a more sustainable, effective, and injury-free path.

-         - Yoga asks us to look into our habits and patterns, a process that can be uncomfortable.  It is as much about “how” we do things as “what” we do, and only you can know what is taking place internally.  If you catch yourself falling into familiar patterns (like working too hard, being self-critical, or shying away from a challenge), simply take note.  If you feel that you are getting off course or are experiencing pain or agitation, try asking  yourself “what I am actually doing?” and “what am I trying to create right now?”.

-          -Yoga asks us to consider that less can sometimes be more when it comes to creating lasting change.  Be on the lookout for subtle sensations and open to new patterns and perspectives.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Finding Balance this Fall

Greetings students,

I hope you are well and enjoying this beautiful fall season!  As the cold weather moves in, we've been relishing the warm sunlight during our morning classes and the warm glow of candlelight once again in the evenings.  Our fall schedule includes all of your old favorites and some new favorites as well.  Please read below to see our full class schedule.

I'd like to thank you all for your well wishes and understanding during my illness and
subsequent studio closure at the end of the summer.  Two months later, I am in the final phases of healing and beginning to feel fully well again.  During this time, I've had many opportunities to reflect on yoga, its strengths and its possible pitfalls, and the ways in which the practice can help us to achieve our aims on a number of levels while building lasting health and well-being.

Each of us comes to yoga for different reasons and with different goals in mind.  We could be seeking physical strength, increased mobility, relaxation, clarity, healing, or any combination of these things.  And the range of practices available allows us to explore whether we prefer a vigorous class or a gentle one, a detail oriented class or a more experiential one, an exploration of movement or one of stillness, or something in between.

If you've been to any of my classes in recent years, we've also explored how these practices might influence those with whom we share our world through our actions off the mat, actions that are, ideally, rooted in the clarity and power we've cultivated through our practice.  My recent reflections have led me to another and equally important emphasis: self-care.

The transition to cooler weather and the busyness of fall make this a perfect time to focus on self-care and balance in our practice and beyond. They provide an opportunity to recognize the necessity of caring for ourselves while also preparing to share our gifts and strengths with others.  Toward this end, you'll have a chance to work with healing and calming breathing practices, movements and postures to stimulate the flow of energy while balancing the nervous system, and some extra integration time on the mat this fall.

While there is no one right method or reason for practicing yoga, it can be helpful to bear in mind yoga's call to union, its invitation to look at both sides of whatever coin we happen to have in our hands. And this can be a reminder to us that a love of giving is most effective when balanced by self-care, a desire for strength is most powerful when balanced by an ability to soften, and a quest for increased mobility is healthiest when balanced by a respect for stability and the tissues that hold us together. 

In calling us into balance, yoga asks us to reconsider the stories of our time.  It gives us a chance to experiment with the pervasive message that being in constant action and pushing ever harder forward is the best path to success.  It asks us to reside, if even for a moment, at the center of things, to see without reacting, to experience stillness, to listen.  Those who reside often in this place tell us that such grounding allows us to reach farther and to know ourselves better in the process. 

What will be the outcome for you?  
I hope you will join us this fall to find out!  

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

Tai Chi at Shelburne Falls Yoga

by Steven Howland

One of the questions I get frequently is about the different Tai Chi Styles. There are three main schools of Tai Chi; Yang, Sun and Chen. Yang style is the most common form practiced, but Chen and Sun Styles have increased in popularity in recent years. All the styles are named after the family
or person that developed a particular form.

Yang style, named after Yang Lu Chon (1799-1872) is was brought to the US by Cheng Man Ching, the subject of the upcoming documentary at Amherst Cinema, and it’s popularity spread from there. It’s what most people think of when they hear the word Tai Chi and it is a wonderful form with endless learning possibilities, including the solo form, two person forms, cane form, sword form, and long stick from. There is too much to say here, so if you want you can find more reading at

All Tai Chi is, of course, characterized by the slow, fluid movements and meditative energy. The differences brought to the form by Chen Style, from General Chen Wanting, are the balance of fast and slow, hard and fast movements that make the self-defence aspects of Tai Chi more visible. It is a more demanding physical style.

Sun Style, from Sun Lu-tang, moves Tai Chi more toward the internal and health related aspects. It is done with a higher stance, less kicking and punching, and more built in QiGong (more on that later). More reading about Chen and Sun style is at

In our classes at the Shelburne Falls Yoga studio we are practicing a modified Sun Style that is design to get at the core health benefits of Tai Chi and be simple and fun to learn. But a nice thing about this form as an introduction as it is just the opening to a whole big world of Tai Chi. I began with this style and have gone on to study both Yang and Chen styles. They are all fascinating and endless pools of learning.

Join us anytime and at any level
Steve Howland (
Tai Chi for Health Shelburne Falls Yoga Studio
Thursdays: noon to 1