Friday, December 31, 2010

Next Fitness Craze

While in Kentucky this past week, I stumbled on the next great fitness craze!   It's a total body work out and an amazing cardiovascular event.   As an added bonus, it's perfect for those with wheat sensitivities!   As many calories as you'll consume in a year, you will burn off with this workout!

I really think if I can market this right, I am going to be able to easily fund my children's college accounts!   Here it is...


I know.   It doesn't sound very sexy, does it?   Have you ever tried it?   It's amazing!   If you're not convinced, give me a chance in the next paragraph and follow my logic.

The actual grinding combines the disciplines of Yoga & Pilates (movement radiating from center as well as a moving meditation) with a phenomenal upper and lower body workout.   Imagine repetitive squats while your arms work through a 360 degree circle (think martial arts).   Now this circular motion has a lot of resistance, especially when a kernel gets jammed in the chute.   The resistance helps increase your heart rate.   Within seconds, you are well beyond your target heart rate and exceeding your maximum rate for your age (beats any wild Spin class!).

You just gotta try it!   I swear you will be impressed!

Now, if we could get the whole country grinding... WOW!   Even better, what if we started from seed?   What if we tilled the soil by hand?   Planted kernels.   Protected the corn from crows while it grew.  Harvested the corn by hand.   Dried it for several months.   And then, ground it?   Imagine.

I think we'd eat less because we'd appreciate the source more.

Well, in Kentucky this week, I was reminded that this is what my mother-in-law has done for over 70 years.   For the past 2 years, we've made a road trip and ground the corn for her - a year's supply of corn meal.

In 2011, may we all be more connected to our food, where it comes from, and know whose hands have touched it.   May they be loving hands.   And most of all, may the hands not be interested in a "get rich" scheme that jeopardizes the well-being of all.

Giving thanks to those who work with the Earth and bring food to my table with honesty and integrity.

Now, get grinding!

Grinding Corn Meal

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blank Sign

I've been staring at a blank sign.   The past few days, as I've sat at the traffic light for my neighborhood, there it stands - a flimsy wire frame sunk into the Earth with no message - just a plain white plastic coated piece of paper.

Hard to believe.   I kept thinking maybe the message faded off.  Yet, it's a new arrival on a corner piece of real estate firmly governed by an established community's covenants and restrictions.   Some one should remove it, soon.  

Maybe it's still standing because it's not breaking any rules.   It's not advertising anything.   Nothing to buy.   Nothing to sell.   Nothing lost.   Nothing found.   Nothing to give or receive.

How refreshing!   It's not telling me anything.  Or is it?

In November, one of my students sent me a touching email quoting from Kahlil Gibran's book, The Prophet.  I've been re-reading his words this week.

"Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced."



I now find myself looking at all the blank signs at the beach.   There's so much space available - so many empty places.

I've been waiting for a sign.

Another student told me that when we are waiting, it's an opportunity for meditation.

I wait a lot - especially for my children who are full of life and actively engaged in the world.

So this is my gift to me.   A blank sign.   An opportunity to connect with the space between.    The space between everything that demands my focus: my children, my husband, my work, my breath.   I inhale and exhale finding the space between....

"Time is the space between you and me."

It's here in this space that Peace resides.   Peace be with you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yoga Therapy - Principles

I was just reading the December 2010 issue of The International Association of Yoga Therapist's (IAYT) "Yoga Therapy Today."   This journal presents research and ideas for practicing Yoga therapists.   A common theme of recent issues is definitive standards for Yoga Therapy especially as it continues to emerge as an accepted practice in our Western culture.

I can affirm that Yoga as Therapy works.  Large binders filled with detailed notes on my private students are the formal documentation of postures, movement, and breath.   Yet, heartfelt moments witnessing another person understand, accept, and emerge is something that I can never quite fully articulate.   It's one of life's "you gotta be there moments" to understand -- goose bump moments that are deeply humbling when I recognize that the Divine is connected to this work.

It's been an honor to work with a wide range of students from athletes to individuals living with conditions including - multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, post-stroke,  Parkinson's, fibromyalgia, chronic pain (back, neck, hip, leg), migraines, dystonia... the list of conditions is long and the students I work with are a spectrum.   And these students' stories don't scare me - thanks to extensive Therapy Training with Jenny Otto's Body Balance Yoga, Anusara Yoga's Universal Principles of Alignment & Philosophy, and Pilates continuing education as well as teachers from many other lineages and disciplines that I study with each year.

I look forward to 2011 and who shows up in my life - both students and teachers.   They will arrive when I am ready to receive what they have to teach me.

Thinking of receiving, I receive a lot of invitations to study more.   One group that direct markets heavily is Duke Integrative Medicine's Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors Professional Training Program.  This month's IAYT's "Yoga Therapy Today" listed Carson-Crucoff Principles of Practice.   Carson and Crucoff are the two Yoga teachers who lead the Duke program.    Read an abstract of their work here.   I like their Principles, a lot.   Here they are...

1.   First, Do No Harm.   Join with our physician colleagues in making this our primary intention.
2.  Create a Safe Environment.   Cultivate ahimsa (non-harming) by encouraging students to honor their own personal journey and explore their full potential, with compassion and integrity.
3.  Encourage Yogic Balance.  Sthra sukham asanam - A yoga pose is, by Patanjali's definition, stable and comfortable.   Invite students to challenge themselves, but never strain.
4.  Meet People Where They Are.  Honor individual abilities and limitations by offering accessible and appropriate modifications that reflect the intention and function of traditional postures.
5.  Emphasize Feeling Over Form.   Let go of ideas of how a pose should look.   Focus instead on how a pose feels.   Teach students to discriminate between discomfort, which may be welcomed as an inherent  part of the growth process, and pain, which is to be avoided.
6.  Honor the Inner Teacher.  Don't assume you know what's going on with someone, even if you've asked.  Consider yourself a guide, helping students to explore what works best for them.
7.  Encourage Gratitude and Joy.   Create an environment that celebrates what students can do.
8.  Emphasize Fluidity.   The Tao's teaching that "those who are soft and supple are disciples of life" is particularly important as the body becomes rigid with age.   Minimize static "holdings."
9.  Use Skillful Language.  Encourage and invite rather than direct and demand.
10.  Respect Our Scope of Practice.  Recognize what we do as Yoga teachers is only part of the integrative health landscape.   Do only what we are trained to do and refer to other practitioners when necessary.
11.   Be a Guardian of Safety.   Get CPR/AED training and keep your certification current.
12.   Teach People, Not Poses or Conditions.   While acknowledging the inevitable changes inherent in life, it is essential to recognize the unchanging spirit at the heart of all beings.

May we remember.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pumpkin Soup & Pilates

A creamy, full of depth, pumpkin soup simmers on my stove.   A homemade gift from one of my long-time students. I love M.G.'s soups!   She arrives at my door with soup on the days I need it most!   I have been studying for my Comprehensive Pilates test -- a significant milestone.  Balancing family life, work, and studying has taken its toll on my ability to care for me.

M.G.'s soup is a reminder to me that the people who I support on their wellness path, support me as well.   I have always recognized that my students are my foremost teachers.   Everything I learn in my trainings or discover in my personal practice, I explore with them.   I'm honored to witness their bodies & lives unfold as we work together.

And as I observe their bodies move through space, I often wonder, "Who is really teaching who?"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bending & Getting Up with Ease

I have to admit, that at age 45, I've noticed some habits that I have when I get up from seated position.   One big one is I lean to the left.  Uuuuugh!   With everything that I know, you think it would be easy to break this habit.   I realize I need a really good teacher!   I am grateful that in a few weeks, Ned Dwelle, a lead Feldenkrais Trainer from Europe will be here in Jacksonville!   I look forward to an introduction to this method.  Sunday, November 28, 2010 from 3 - 4:30 p.m. at Body Balance Institute (Hodges & JTB).   More details & registration information is on my website.   And be sure to watch the Feldenkrais video posted on this blog!

What is the Feldenkrais Method®?

Friday, September 24, 2010


Just last week, I updated my look.   My haircut is reminiscent of a male teen idol's style.   A face framing short-do that's a bit shaggy & jagged.   I felt pretty current and younger walking out of the salon.

For 7 days, I struggled with re-creating "the look" Megan the stylist achieved.   No luck.   As I applied more goop, I grew frustrated.   After a week, I pretty much looked like I had the same hair style of a month ago - only shorter - greasier and frumpier.

Yesterday, I went in for my color & highlights to cover the gray.   This time, I watched Megan more closely.   "Aaaah, I see," I thought, "she's moving my hair forward towards my face when she dries & styles."

Now back at home, what an effort it is to change my habit of drying & styling my hair!   It's awkward for me to change after 40 plus years of styling my hair "back."

I had to keep saying to myself, "bring it to your front body."  My arms did not want to rotate.  My hand could not properly hold the brush.   With attention, I found a way!

This reminds me of what we ask our students to do in therapeutic work.   We ask them to find a new way.   The shift requires total focus, and they often return to the next session with questions and a bit of frustration.

I am also musing - perhaps this is one of the reasons for a military buzz or a monk's shaved head.   External change happened quickly for both recruits on the day of the big hair removal.   The larger process of change is a shift deep inside - that requires a breaking down first.   The military and religious orders know this fact.

In therapeutic work, the break down is really a break through.   From what I've experienced and witnessed, it's about creating more space inside the body.   For me, it's been about busting through the concrete until the hard dense masses have been pulverized and excreted.   While that sounds harsh, I do not use a jack hammer.   I have been trained to clearly see the path, use the softest touch, and be patient.

As teachers, we can keep trying to externally re-arrange our students body parts.   This is only superficial - like me blow drying my hair forward.  

Finding the space and then the action from deep within the body is powerful teaching that changes lives.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


My local grocery store moved this weekend.  Not far.  Just across the street into an updated shopping center.   Out of milk and fruit, I happened into the old store the day before the big move.   It was amazing to see the store just before "Opening Day" at the new location.   The old store was still stocked, yet carefully pared down.

The next morning, I drove past both stores on the way to teach.   I passed the old store first.  At least 8 tractor trailers were lined up to haul the remaining items to the warehouse.  I am sure folks were working since the store closed the night before pulling items from shelves.

And, just across the street, I saw over 100 people gathered at the entrance to the new store.  It was 5 minutes before opening - and people were excited!

Later that same day, I attended a Bar Mitzvah.   The mother of this wonderful boy, my dear friend, is living with liver cancer.   Nearly a year ago, her doctors told her she had 6 months.   Since then, she's been on a radical path of alternative treatment.   She wanted to make it to this day and see her son read from the Torah.   She also plans to be present at her sons' high school graduations.   Her oldest boy calls her "a wizard."

One of the things I love most about my teaching is being able to watch people transition.   In Yoga, Sun Salutations are all about transitions - moving freely from one pose to the next as well as stabilizing during a pose.   In Pilates, our sessions have a logical order and the transitions are important, too.

Often as we move through the decades of our lives, our pelvis stops moving.   It gets stuck in particular positions.   These pelvic locks or hang ups - can literally bring us down creating pain and dysfunction.   When working privately with students, I often see that the pelvis has stopped moving in response to the breath.   We are designed to rock and sway when we breathe.   Yet somewhere over the years, something has blocked this natural flow.   We hold.  We grip.   We don't want to let go.

We can see and feel this in our bodies during Sun Salutes.   During this sequence, the pelvis needs to have the freedom to move and also be dynamically stable.   For most of us, our bodies have to be reminded of this natural rhythm that creates a ripple effect throughout our entire organism.   And that's what a majority of my teaching is about.   A reminder.

In class, you will often hear me say that it's not about the pose - it's about the transitions to the poses.   Or the poses between the pose.  The big poses - the ones you see in the magazines, to me, are the big moments in our lives.   The wedding.   The birth.   The Bar Mitzvah.  The graduation.   The death.   The break up.   The new store opening.  These are the poses.   Yet, there's so much that happens in between these big events.   And that's the majority of our lives.   The transitions between the big things.   The big stuff punctuates the routine of our lives.  We can put all our attention there on the big moments - but those are all destinations.   Certainly not the journey.

My dear friend, who has chosen a longer transition with her life with cancer, is a formidable mother everyday.   Despite the heavy toxins in her body, her focus is on transitioning her boys to manhood.   It's the steps she takes each day to ensure their well being that define her living in the here and now.

May we all bring more attention to the daily moments of our lives.   May we re-shape patterns that no longer serve us.   May we know the way to the new store and not find ourselves in an empty parking lot.   May we breathe.   May we rock and sway.  May we see that the space and time between the poses is our purpose for being here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The truck arrived yesterday with furniture from my childhood.  The pieces are being handed down to my daughter who turns 14 next week.   One simple piece holds special memories - a vanity that was my great grandmother's, Marina Benzoni.

I spent many afternoons in front of the vanity staring in the mirror wondering what I would look like at age 21, 30, and 40.   Each of those birthdays have long passed.   I look in the mirror now and see the woman I am today.

Before the vanity moves into my daughter's room, it must be refinished.   As was the trend in the early 1970's, my mother painted it antique white and gold.   Growing up, I always wondered what the wood looked like beneath the layers of paint.   I have been stunned in amazement by the process these past 2 days.

As I apply the stripper, I marvel how quickly the paint lifts.   I have refinished furniture before and this is the fastest reaction I have ever seen.   The paint literally lifts up as a sheet as soon as I apply the chemical.

I've seen this reaction in myself and my students, too.   When there's a catalyst for change we will quickly shed off the adorned layers revealing a rough, dried and stained surface underneath.  The next step is to neutralize the situation then sand smooth the remaining rough spots with a very delicate hand & super fine grit.   This refinishing process is much like our therapeutic movement work.   The natural beauty shines out at this stage - and is accentuated with stain and a clear coat.

Underneath all those layers of 40-year old paint, the vanity revealed a spectacular zebra wood.

What's been hiding beneath the surface is quite special.

We are too.

My each of us continue to re-finish.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Art of Feedback

This is a wonderful article written by John Friend, Anusara Yoga's Founder.  Enjoy!

The Art of Feedback

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Yoga Therapy: The Next Wave in Yoga

This is a nice article about Yoga Therapy & the increasing demand for well-trained teachers in this healing art.   Join us in 10 days!

Yoga Therapy: The Next Wave in Yoga

- Gaiam Life

Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Betty Larsen & John Charping

Jacksonville teacher, El Grabar is hosting her senior teachers in February!   Come enjoy a mindful, focused, meditative practice of asana, pranayama, and deep relaxation.

Betty Larsen & John Charping
Sunday, February 28, 2010
1:30 - 6 p.m.
Palm Valley Community Center
148 Canal Blvd. - Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
$50 if register by January 30th; after 1/30/10 - $65

For more details & a registration flyer, please contact El at (904) 534 - 8546.

How Are You?

How are you?   Over the course of a lifetime, we utter this phrase & receive this phrase countless times.  Only 3 words.   Now read it differently each time.

HOW are you?
How ARE you?
How are YOU?

Read the same phrase & emote a variety of feelings as you say the words.   Compassion.  Anger.  Bewilderment.  Empathy.

All it takes is a change of emphasis & the whole meaning changes.  

So, how are you?  How are you doing with your personal practice?  Is it time to shift the emphasis of your practice?   Time to shift the meaning or feeling of your practice?  Is it time to deepen your understanding of your practice & welcome the full potential that this inquiry provides?

Join us to discover the many more ways that you can change the emphasis.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Garden of the Heart Yoga

While we are offering an exceptional experience with senior teachers here in Jacksonville on Florida's north east coast, there's a strong line up of teacher's slated to come to Florida's south west coast in 2010.   Wonderful senior teachers are coming to Sarasota's Garden of the Heart Yoga Center.   To learn more, please visit

Sarasota, FL - Garden of the Heart Yoga - 2010 Workshops
Jan.  29-31 Amy Ippoliti
March 12-14 Paul Muller
April 30-May 2 Moses Brown
August 20-22 Martin Kirk on Anatomy for Yogi's 
October 1-3 Sommer & Paul Sobin
December 3-5 Douglas Brooks 

Garden of the Heart Yoga, located in Sarasota, FL, is owned by Betsey Downing, PhD.   She is a phenomenal Anusara-Certified teacher.   I often give her Yoga Nidra CD as a gift.   As well, she has several video practices available for purchase on her website.  Jaye Martin, her teaching colleague, also has practice videos available.  I highly recommend both teachers.   And, if you are ever in the Sarasota area, be sure to practice with them!  

Friday, January 8, 2010

Relaxtion Response

"Tools in the toolbox" is one of my favorite sayings.   Our team of medical & wellness providers are a big part of our team - and they wield the best tools to keep us on the ground on our own two feet.   We also are fully responsible for our own bodies.   The more we actively participate in the process of our well-being (rather than depending on someone else to do it for us), the better we feel.

This is what mind/body forms of movement - such as Yoga - provide all of us!   An amazing gift to participate in our well-being, Yoga meets us where we are on our path.

With my legs literally going out from under me this week, I've been reminded of the importance of the Relaxation Response both for us as teachers and for our students.   The Relaxation Response is the opposite of the body's "fight or flight" response mechanism.  Due to the nature of our lives, most of us live in constant "fight or flight."   We call it stress.   Modern pharmaceuticals advertise to us to help alleviate this condition.

An important thing to know is that you can discharge this response - and we must discharge.   Every time I see our dog do a full body shake -- I know she is discharging the fight or flight response from her body.   We may all look crazy shaking like a dog after bad news or an interaction with another person -- but what if we could do it privately?    I learned something from a senior Gyrotonic teacher called the "7 Shakes."

Raise your right arm above your head (or out if you have a shoulder injury) - shake it 7 times.
Raise your left arm above your head - shake it 7 times.
Extend your right leg - shake it 7 times.
Extend your left leg -shake it 7 times.
Keep breathing.
Repeat the sequence.  
Shake each appendage 6 times.
Then 5 times.
Then 4 times.
Until you get to 1shake each.
Stand (or if you did this sitting) - pause and feel the difference.
Feel that you are no longer stuck with your thoughts.  Are probably smiling (mostly because it made you feel silly, eh?).  And now, you can move on!

What's interesting is earlier this week, my husband was watching a science show about stress and hierarchy.   The researchers were studying baboons.   The baboons on the lowest rung of the clan had the most stress.   The head baboon - almost none.   The scientists were comparing their research with the human response.

One of the fantastic things about being human is our minds.   We can change our mind & truly change our world.   So, maybe we aren't the "top dog" or "top baboon" in our universe, but how we respond to what occurs is our choice.

In our Yoga & other mind/body classes, we teach people how to illicit the Relaxation Response.   We help them re-pattern - forming new grooves & pathways in the body/mind.   Yes, we still have our "stuff," but how respond to our stuff is what's different.   We learn to shake it off.   Or we begin to see the patterns.

In 2010 our Advanced Studies program here in Jacksonville, top teachers from many disciplines are coming to town.  These teachers will provide us with "more tools in the toolbox."   Enabling us to self-care better & serve others better.   Please be sure to check out the website & see if any or all of the training may be appropriate for you.   Many elements are open to students, too.   So if you have students who are deeply interested, please feel welcome to refer them!

And, finally - for those who are like my lovable husband - and need a bit  more science to back up claims, I offer the following.    The Relaxation Response is proven to work on pain.   Many controlled trials have proven the value of the Relaxation Response in decreasing both acute & chronic pain.   Studies have shown that the Relaxation Response can predictably be triggered.  The following information comes from an extremely comprehensive 1996 review article published in The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.   The review showed that the Relaxation Response has been shown to be the most beneficial in helping all kinds of painful conditions, both acute & chronic.    Here's a sample from the article.

Acute & Chronic Conditions Proved to be Helped by the Relaxation Response
Acute Pain - after gallbladder removal, after hernia repair, after a hemorrhoidectomy, after an abdominal hystorectomy, after the repair of a fractured hip, after an episiotomy.
Chronic Pain - low back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, arm pain, leg pain, facial pain, headaches, chest pain

Let's all learn more!   And together feel better & teach others how to feel better too!   Take advantage of all the amazing senior teachers coming to Jacksonville who will teach us so many great proven techniques.   Join us starting in March for a phenomenal year of training!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On My Knees

I don't think too many of us get through life without some sort of challenge - body, mind, or spirit.   We all have something.  Our Yoga practice provides many tools to face these obstacles.  

I had a recent wake up call on many levels this past week.    I am currently on crutches.   My rare joint disease has re-announced its presence in my right knee.   For over a year, thanks to a team of professionals (bodyworkers, chiropractor, acupuncture/homeopathy) as well as a focused therapeutic approach to both my Yoga & Pilates practices, I have been relatively pain free.   And when I hear stories of others who have this disease, I am awed by our bodies ability to bring us to our knees.

Most of all, I am grateful for my support system.   Family & friends, students & colleagues, wellness providers & my senior teachers have all taught me something.   They have shared with me insights & ideas.   They have listened & pontificated.    Each, in some way, has shown me the way.

Last night, I was able to begin some active Yoga therapy on my body.   I can not even begin to express how grateful I am for John Friend's ability to distill complex ideas into a comprehensible system called Anusara Yoga that allows you to work pain free.   His Universal Principles of Alignment are the foundation of the solution for me.   Combining Anusara's methodology with some of the amazing therapeutic techniques I've learned from Jenny Otto & my Pilates training, I was able to integrate as well as create space & length.    With my Anatomy Trains knowledge (thank you Tom Meyers), I have been able to unlock some of the myofascia as well.

Like many others, managing pain will most likely be a life long process for me.   Pain will knock on my door throughout my life - affecting my body, mind, and spirit.   Being able to be present and breathe with the pain is something I have learned, too, from my practice.   Using my breath to expand the places that need space as well as connecting with my breath as a means to connect with my life force - has also been a powerful practice.

While I may be humbled and literally on bended knee, I am not down.   My gaze is inward and my heart lifts upward.   Thanks to the practice.   Ishvara Pranidhana.


Check out this wonderful excerpt from Gary Kraftsow on Svadhyaya.