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Have you ever wondered how many people over sixty years old are comfortable balancing on one foot (for more than five seconds), or how many enjoy the feeling of stretching backwards over an exercise ball, or even how many can get into a squat position and stay there?
 
These three poses are valuable for anyone, regardless of age.  By keeping our balance we protect ourselves from falls, we stand straighter and are stronger.  By stretching backwards over a large ball, we lengthen our spine and open our chest, which helps us breath deeply, energizing and revitalizing us.
 
My favorite pose of these three is the squat.  Randolph Stone, DC, DO, ND, the founder of Polarity Therapy and Yoga believed in the benefits of the squat so much he called the squat “Youth Posture.”  He taught at least seven variations, and believed that along with healthy eating, receiving polarity therapy and bodywork, and meditation that the squat is essential for our health.
 
Why?  Practicing the squat regularly stimulates the downward current of elimination and thus improves digestion.  When you squat you are stretching the achilles tendon;  By stretching and lengthening the lower back you are easing pressure on the sacrum at the bottom of the spine.  You are enhancing the flow of energy (a central focus in Polarity Therapy) because the proximity of the calves, thighs, solar plexus and chest is similar to the fetal position.  Additionally, the squat posture assists in concentration, focus, a feeling of being grounded, and is soothing and rejuvenating.
 
The modern dance company I founded in the 1980s in Philadelphia, Agape Dancers, used the squat pose frequently in our choreography.  Sometimes we were still, sometimes swiveling side to side, as we hummed or “toned.”
 
There are, however, different degrees of comfort in the pose.  For people who have difficulty squatting, making a rocking motion while in the pose can help acclimate hips and legs.  For some, resting the heels on yoga blocks or tennis balls make the pose possible, and even comfortable.  Those with painful knees and varicose veins will find it difficult and possibly contraindicated, although placing a small folded towel under the knees decreases the strain.  Another way to play with the pose is to rest arms on large exercise ball, or to face a partner, hold each other’s wrists, stretching and counterbalancing each other. 
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Learn yoga poses and self-care techniques for flexibility, to help balance the endocrine system, to create strong muscles and bones, to promote balance and clear thinking.  Learn ways to enhance your midlife and beyond.

Saturday, April 10, 2010 – 10:45-12:45

Korrie’s Pilates Place. Baxter Road off Rte 15 in Wildomar – exit east, make first left at Monte Vista, first right on Fredrick St., up the hill and buildings to the left.  34859 Fredrick St., Suite 108

$25, or $20 to members of Korrie’s Place.

Questions?  Call 951-677-5962.


 

I have been researching the many challenges of midlife transitions and being surrounded by people in the 40-60 year age range spurs me on. I have been teaching yoga since 1973, but just recently I have honed in on the value of yoga for women (and men) experiencing osteoporosis. We are told that getting enough calcium and getting enough weight bearing exercise is important. There are two reasons that yoga helps with both of these imperatives.

Many of the standing and balance poses taught in yoga classes involve bones and muscles of the legs, hips and spine working together; but also, yoga exercises often involve strengthening the upper body and sometimes require arms and hands to support the rest of our body weight. So you are strengthening yourself from all angles! What better way to strengthen your upper body than support your whole body in crane pose?  And what better way to improve your balance and strengthen your body from your feet up than in tree pose or dancer’s pose?

Yoga poses done on a continuous basis can help activate the endocrine glands that are so important for maintaining calcium balance, and for alleviating menopausal complaints such as mood swings, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, hot flashes, and disruptive sleep patterns.

Additionally, poses such as dog pose and table top stretch lengthen your spine  to increase space between the vertebrae.

I think it is important to see our changing bodies and new found challenges in mid-life and onward to be our guides for improving our overall health and increasing our sense of well-being. Yoga is a wonderful tool and a path for increased self-knowledge and awareness


Last summer my ninety year old father was hospitalized for a broken hip.  He was not getting much touch as his nurses were over-worked, and he developed a MRSA infection which meant no one could touch him without wearing plastic gloves.  In addition, his hearing aids were lost, and perhaps most challenging was the fact that he was brain damaged from an accident forty years ago.  When I got there his legs were blue from the knees down, and his feet were ice cold.  He was sleeping but seemed agitated.  I massaged his legs, feet and back.  He never woke up but when I left him he was sleeping with a peaceful look on his face.  The next morning his feet were warm and his legs and feet were a healthy color, and he was in good spirits.

Due to several complications he died several weeks later.  But during those weeks, at my insistence, he was graced with caring and loving touch from his immediate and extended family, and his entire Quaker meeting.  We in turn were graced to be sharing that sacred time with him.

Most people, like my father, appreciate caring touch.  Many, unfortunately, experience touch deprivation including people with AIDs, people with cancer and other illnesses; infants in Neo Natal Intensive Care Units, especially those who have been abandoned by their parents; people with injuries and amputations and deformities, the not very visible part of our population that is challenged with physical abnormalities; those recovering from addiction; victims of physical and emotional abuse who find it difficult to trust any touch; those suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome including victims of natural and man-made disasters and even car accidents; the elderly and the dying, and many veterans returning from Iraq who are suffering from the wounds of war. 

During times of high stress and financial hardship, healing touch is a gift you can offer someone, either done by you or if you prefer, you can find a reputable bodyworker who will work with you financially to find a price that works; most massage therapists I know offer holiday gift certificate specials.

Besides the emotional comfort of caring touch, massage therapy oxygenates the cells which increase endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers; it increases flexibility and movement in joints and eases stiffness and pain in arthritis sufferers and it gets the “chi” or life force moving, which helps us feel revitalized.  Healing touch reduces or eliminates stress related headaches, eases digestive disorders and chronic muscular pain including fibromyalgia, improves body image and speeds healing after surgery, and improves the immune system.  By increasing circulation, massage is invaluable in preventing bedsores that are so problematic, and too often life-threatening for the immobile.  It relieves agitation in Alzheimer’s patients, enhances blood pressure and pulse in geriatric patients, and helps women with all phases of the childbearing years.  Massage therapy comforts and relaxes children with attention deficit disorder, those with autism and people with many forms of mental illness.

You can start with those closest to you — your family and your immediate circle, including your pets.  My teenage daughter reminds me constantly that she needs massage to loosen tight muscles after an extreme physical work out, or to help her get to sleep when she is over-excited.  Our aging dogs need massage to help them with a myriad of conditions.

As vital as food and water is to our survival, so is touch and giving from the heart.


Summer into Fall

Summer into Fall

The Art of Centering in Yoga and Massage

In 1970, when I took a ceramics class at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I quickly discovered that I could not center clay on the pottery wheel. Over the next few years I was also studying tai chi and ten years later my studies took me into the heart of Kenpo Karate and White Crane Kung Fu. It was those movement systems that taught me about finding one’s center, also called hara or tan tien.

The hara, also called “one point”, is said to be located just below the navel and about an inch inside the body. It is a protected area and considered by many to be a sacred space. It is not surprising that this is the womb area, and that it is immediateley below where the umbilical cord connects mother and infant. Another factor that makes this area important is that the psoas, a major walking muscle and the only muscle to connect the lumbar spine, is nearby. Also the digestive tract, especially the intestines, is where 95% of the serotonin (feel good transmitter) is manufactured. In fact the gut area has its own nervous system, often called the mini-brain.

As a yoga/movement instructor I help students become centered through mat work, stretching, conscious breathing and attention inward. By focusing on our centers, yoga practitioners are able to generate heat and healing energy throughout their body, at the same time bringing the person into the here and now, with less focus on worries.

The squat, the Iyengar standing and balance poses, dog pose, seated forward bends, and many other positions stretch the legs and open the hips to develop strength and flexibility in the lower body. This allows us to root or ground and supports our extending and opening our upper body. And what is the connector here? Our center — of gravity, balance and equilibrium.

An alarming number of people, especially over sixty years old, have suffered from falls, and even more alarming is how many people die as a result of complications from the injuries. It is urgently important for people to stay in touch with their center as their anchor, thus I highly recommend yoga for people from early years to one hundred years old or more. And while they are at it, they can learn how to give massages!

Most forms of movement originate from our center, and that includes doing bodywork. The minds of skilled bodyworkers are focussed and free of distraction so they are able to be totally in the present with their clients. They may reach this state before beginning a session by consciously inhaling and consciously exhaling, and using energy awareness techniqes such as yoga, meditation or focusing on a mandala. This creates a free flow of healing energy so that the massage recipient experiences more than simply the physical sensations of having muscles rubbed. They often experience a renewed sense of wholeness.

Peter Levine, a well-known trauma recovery therapist and author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, believes that trauma is not in the event but in the nervous system. Thus everything we can do to enhance the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system will help us stay calm even while external events attempt to un-hinge us.

Not only is awareness of our center or hara an essential part of everyday balance and agility, it is a component of subtle and often spiritual ways of healing. We transmit healing energy from the same center that we use in an emergency, such as when a mother rescues her child pinned under a car. Our “chi” or life force, hyper activated in this instance, is also available to sooth us.

One of my favorite poses for bringing awareness to our center is called constructive rest pose. Lying on your back with knees bent,
legs hip width apart, feet flat on the floor and arms resting on your abdomen, across your chest or relaxed with palms up by your head, relax into gravity. This is a passive release of the psoas, encourages good alignment of the spine and full and deep respiration. Inhale, focus on your center, then exhale, internally sensing your breath move your energy or chi through your body, to release tension. After several breaths, allow your breathing to simply happen. After five, ten or twenty minues, roll onto your side, prop yourself up slowly, and re-enter the world.

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“Holding the breath is like holding the soul.” BKS Iyengar

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“Energy is the real substance behind the appearance of matter anad forms.” Randolph Stone, D.O., D.C., founder of Polarity Therapy

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“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.” Walt Whitman

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“Movement never lies.” Martha Graham