Category Archives: Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy

Creating Inner Space

For sure, all of us have experienced a crisis of some magnitude in our lives.  For each of us, the quality and dimension of that magnitude may feel very different even though the crisis appears outwardly to be defined by the same parameters.  We know that stress is correlated with the way we react to the crisis, not necessarily with some inherent qualities that exist in the crisis itself.  Witness all the self help advice about how to deal with stress.   It’s the “deal with” aspect that intrigues me.

Suppose it’s not actually about meeting out punishment or reacting in some other way with the expectation of changing the shape or qualities of the stressful experience.  Perhaps a more appropriate response would have to do with how we are being with what is happening.  The energy we bring to this event or issue might be less about fighting against it or struggling to make it different and more about simply being with what it is.  I’m reminded of how it is to take in a beautiful sunset or to witness a person in an act of compassion.  Such moments require enlisting the observer in us.

In order to be the observer, there has to be space between you and the object/event observed.  So, go back to what it is like to experience a crisis or to be in a very stressful situation.  Often the observer in us is lost at that point.  We give ourselves over to the fight or flight mode of being or else we freeze in a moment of overwhelm or shock.  Difficult then to imagine that we might be able to step back and take on the view of the observer.

At those times, we assume that in a calmer, quieter space, we will be able to sort out the meaning and understand what happened. However, when it’s over, it’s over – there may not be energy for looking back but rather an intention to forge ahead, put it all behind. Suppose the crisis lasts a long time.  How can you absorb this as a way of being that continues, becoming more like a fast flowing river that carries you with it?

Short of grabbing an overhanging branch or a rescue line, is it possible that there can be a way to pause and create some inner space when this is happening?  How would it be to appreciate that there is some part of you inside that is that calm, quiet space?  What can be most important is recognizing the moment when connecting to that part of you is the next step you need to take.  Not waiting until the shock or overwhelm is so great that you stop functioning.  It may feel like a kind of surrender, though it the kind that does not spell defeat.  It’s more like feeling your feet finally come into contact with the ground.

Perhaps, even from this inner space, the outcome will look the same.  Maybe there can be a softening around it, seeing it a bit differently than before.  Not that this happens in a moment; this is a process that may extend over a period of time.  You may not dive into this space, but approach the edge and step in and out.  Once you know how to get there, however, the experience is in your body and held in its memory.  And, so, for the next time – hoping there won’t be one and knowing there will – this next step of connecting to your calm, quiet inner space may be a smaller step.




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The Ground of Being

The Ground of Being is more than a working concept for those of us who have incorporated the practices of meditation, mindfulness and yoga into our lives.   When one has had an experience of this ground of being, it becomes an actual felt sense in one’s body and, thereafter, each visit is like returning home.  So, what is it?  How does one describe what shows up in this felt sense?  Why is it even important to consider?

I imagine the answers to these questions require an appreciation of what motivates us to do meditation and yoga.  Perhaps what draws us to these practices is an inner knowing that there is a connection to something larger than our smaller selves.  Or perhaps it’s simply that we want to explore whatever connection we have to who we really are.  That would mean setting aside the daily chronicle of words that speaks to us from inside – you know, the words that accompany every action and intention that we have throughout the day.  Because, after all, we are really much more (or less) than the thoughts and emotions that are attached to us as we take our next breath or next step.

Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if  what’s inside us is always moving, shifting from one thought or feeling to the next with almost no space in between?  What of silence?  Is there really nothing there when we are silent – or is that when the door opens even wider to let in more words, opinions, judgments and the like?  So, maybe the task before us is not so much to explore silence as to create space, take a step back so that our perspective is from a larger viewpoint.  With that action of stepping back, however subtle, a shift happens and space opens.  It may not be a lot, but just enough for us to see that our thoughts and emotions arise out of somewhere.  They are not present all the time.  There is much movement in them, even though at times the movement may seem quite circular as we are drawn back to the same issue over and over again.

So, where do they arise from?  Certainly not from nothing!  There is some ground, some sense of spacious awareness, from which all these thoughts and feelings come, take up space and then recede again.  That is the Ground of Being, the larger awareness that we all have, more or less masked by the constant filling up with words, judgments and opinions.  And while these may serve us in our day to day functioning, what might it be like to return home as it were, to the spacious awareness that is in us, that connects us with the Ground of Being in everything.  This may seem like a difficult task if looked at as a goal to get to and then reside in.  The easier path would be to carry the intention of touching it briefly, over and over again.

Remember that it’s always there, never lost.  It’s simply a matter of noticing, observing while stepping back, shifting perspective.  How amazing to realize that in the midst of all that changes, there is a connection to this larger spacious awareness!  Doesn’t that just make you want to smile…

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Edge of Awareness

Suppose you are at an edge, standing at a point where moving forward feels like stepping off into the unknown yet staying where you are is increasingly uncomfortable, and, of course, moving backward isn’t even a choice.  What happens now?

Sounds like a big deal – yet we do this over and over again every day.   Mostly, however, moving forward happens within the context of what we know and what is familiar.  Driving the car, making a call, walking down the street – all these actions happen without us knowing exactly what will happen next.  We do, for the most part, have expectations based on past experiences that allow us to take up these activities with confidence or ease.  But if enough about the activity is outside our familiar set of past experiences, then the sense of the unknown surfaces.   How we meet this can range from anxious resistance to enthusiastic excitement.

Think of children for whom almost all experiences are unknown.  Would any of us have learned to walk or run if we chose staying with what is familiar?  Or if we had a lengthy internal conversation about what was about to happen next?  Unlikely!  So we all have the capacity to choose moving forward, taking the next step, even in the face of not knowing.

Consider how we meet these edges in our life situations – right now, today.  Could it be that what seems edgy to us does so because some aspect of it strikes us at our core?  How do we choose moving forward or staying when our perception of what is at stake is the sense of who we are or what our truth is?  It isn’t simply about “not knowing.”  What stirs us is the dissonance of the potential before us compared with what we think of ourselves, our idea of who we are, our self image.   Perhaps this is actually the edge of awareness.   And our choice is to explore and take the next step or hunker down and stay put.

So, what might make the difference in how we choose?  If you go back to the childhood reference, moving forward was possible then because we felt safe, accepted and had a sense that someone had our back if things didn’t go well.  Or else the motivation was that consequences of failing weren’t clear and/or the risk seemed worth it.   Or simply being curious.

How to bring some more of that curiosity into how we make choices to explore edges and step out into the unknown as who we are right now?  Can we use the tools we have and the gifts we’ve been offered?  Meditation, mindfulness techniques and yoga can support the sense of who we are and strengthen the ability to take the next step.  They can provide a safe home and make it easier to move forward.  Yoga therapy, in particular Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, offers a unique structure for supporting this kind of exploration of the edge – one in which you can explore with safety and acceptance, with the sense of someone having your back.  What matters most in the way you meet your edges is that you get to choose – how far, how fast, even whether to go at all…

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Holding on/Letting Go

“Letting go” is a phrase much used in the teaching and support of practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness.  In the experience of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, there is also support for letting go, however, there is no teaching offered that will instruct you in how to do that.   The reason being that only you, the individual “you,” can tap into what it is that keeps you from letting go.  No one else can know, but how would it be to accept a practitioner’s invitation to explore?

In order to let go, there must be some understanding of your own unique process of holding on.  You must first develop awareness of where in your body you feel the sensation of holding.  Whether the holding applies to a thought, an emotion,  a memory or a story about yourself, it is stored in the cells of your body and held there.  It is easy to believe that this holding is the way you are supposed to be – the real you.  And if the story, emotion, thought or memory is significant – in other words, if it carries a lot of weight or energy for you – then the effort of holding on will also contain much weight or energy.  It will seem that there is no foreseeable way of letting go.

We don’t as a rule hold on to something of little import or value to us, however, that doesn’t mean that we always know what the attachment really is.  Sometimes the holding comes out of a desire that our life situations or relationships be different than they are.  At those times, the energy may be more about holding back than holding on.  And still, the intention of letting go begins with asking where in your body is the locus of this holding.

You might stop where you are right now and pay attention to what’s happening with your breath.  If you notice holding, it’s not likely to be the kind of  “holding your breath til you turn blue”  – we know what that looks like.  For sure it will be much more subtle than that.  It could be that you take in less than a full breath, or you grasp at the breath and pull it out of the air as opposed to receiving it in a gentler way.  Suppose your awareness simply tells you that your breath could perhaps be different than it is.

How would it be to check in with the rest of your physical body to notice where and how holding might be happening?  Remember that it can show up in many different ways –  as a tightness in a muscle, an ache that may be felt deep inside a part of you,  a felt sense of some part not functioning the way it should, a heaviness, a weariness in your body.  You see, holding can be present in so many ways.  The discovery can happen in the naming of it.   Bringing awareness to it can then be the next step in the process of understanding whether this holding serves you anymore and then appreciating that you have a choice.

I imagine the next question you might have is how you can be certain that what you notice is “holding.”  The answer is that sometimes, in fact, you don’t know you’re holding on until you have the experience of letting go…

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Core of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy

It begins with the body.  It’s the physical body that is the medium, providing fertile ground  for exploring.  And “exploration” is exactly what takes place by attending to the inner experience of what is happening – moment to moment – in the body as well as in emotions, thoughts  and in the connection to what feels greater than all these put together.

You might wonder how this happens.  Essentially, it is through an amazing process of noticing sensations, memories, feelings, words and phrases, colors and images that surface as the body is moved and supported in postures and patterns.  As this occurs, the Witness (the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioner) allows the client to explore whatever is noticed, spoken or not.  While the focus of the client throughout the session is inward, the practitioner provides physical safety, active listening and an invitation to explore whatever shows up at the edge of awareness.

I want to say, “That’s all there is to it,” but one must appreciate that simplicity can only truly exist when there is a solid foundation beneath it.

At the core, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is a process, not a protocol or a treatment.  It is a relational process guided and supported by the practitioner in which the client interacts with himself, navigating his inner body experiences.  This way of being with a client is based on a two-fold path: one that incorporates the eight limbs of yoga, anatomy, body mechanics and verbal skills and a second that develops the skills of mindfulness, compassion, intention and appreciation for whatever happens.  The core combines both; the practitioner combines both.

Simply put, the process facilitates the client staying in the present experience of his body as he explores what’s happening now, in that moment.  It all happens for the client from the inside out – enabled by the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioner.  And while the therapy session moves forward from beginning to end, the take-away is created by the client, never prescribed or taught by the practitioner.

A Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioner is so much more than a teacher or a healer, emerging out of a process that is based on the fact that human beings have the capacity to heal themselves.  They require only fertile ground and a climate that promotes healing and change to occur.   What can happen then is truly amazing…


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Becoming Yoga Therapy

How does one go from the experience of yoga to “yoga therapy?”  I’m sure for some it’s a big leap, and for others, more of an unfolding in the direction you have already been facing.  I realize there has been much focus of late on the benefits of yoga and, certainly, much is to be gained from practicing yoga.  Of course, it all depends on what it is you are looking for.

Consider in what ways your wanting and desires might direct your practice – is it losing weight or better sex, increased strength and flexibility, letting go of stress, lowering your blood pressure, perhaps a few moments to be with yourself.  Or are you going for the greater connection – to something greater than yourself?

How does this practice shift to “therapy?”  For some, there’s an evaluation of a person’s current status, then an application of elements of yoga to target whatever symptoms have been identified.  Valuable, it may be, as when I see a practitioner for my knee pain and am given postures to practice to help alleviate the pain and strengthen surrounding muscles.  The practitioner brings respect for my body and physical issues, and I bring a willingness to participate and follow direction.  Then I take the recommended postures home with me to practice.

I’m going to say that the operative word here is “practice.”  Imagine that there is another approach – where the client shows up and is guided in a process where he can access information in his body while being supported in yoga postures. Where he is assisted in real time exploration of what’s happening now for him – whatever may be showing up in the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual parts of himself.  Difficult to imagine – perhaps.  But completely possible and not dependent on “practice” but on living your yoga.

The essentials of living your yoga apply to the practitioner and create the path that leads to a fully launched yoga therapy practitioner.  The process of “becoming” means that you know yourself, you understand what triggers you and what gets in the way of you being present with unconditional acceptance of the client.  It means you can meet the client where he is and offer an invitation for him to explore whatever is happening for him during his session.  You appreciate what he’s ready to work on and accept that he goes the direction he chooses.  And the most real aspect of this experience is that it is anchored in his body, so, of course, he takes it with him when he walks out the door.

This is the way of the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioner.  It’s not the only way, but it is the only way that offers such an extraordinary invitation from the perspective of “living your yoga,” not “practicing” it…

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Heart of Your Practice

Had some recent experience of  “heart” lately – not only mine but the heart of a community.  Seems so many words come to mind to describe heart and all of them are always rich with meaning and depth.  Whatever the descriptor, it’s meant to capture what is at the core of one’s being – albeit at that moment, not necessarily for all time.  The experience can feel so big or consuming that it’s as if that one word or two is all there is, and there is no room for anything else.  No matter what it is that grabs your heart, how important it is to allow for shifts and changes in what takes up space there.  Seems this allowing may be what keeps the heart alive, keeps it beating.

How vital it is to bring “heart” when showing up for your practice – whether yoga or meditation or meeting another on the mat in yoga therapy.   What this means to me is that you bring passion to what you do.  There you are with attachment in your heart because then you are living and breathing what you do.   The voice inside tells you that this is who you really are (or who you want to be), and the energy of your heart is maybe a bit too attached to what’s happening there for you.  But isn’t this attachment what enables you to bring all of you authentically to your practice?  Wouldn’t feel right to show up “half-hearted,”  would it?

So, my real question is how to put your “heart” into your practice and allow non-attachment to come in as well.  This is the moment when your heart is filled with passion – where it’s so full that you can ride that path of attachment all the way to where it lets go and sets you free.  Otherwise it becomes an encumbrance, holding you too tightly and gets in the way.   It may seem a bit contradictory at first, but a few breaths into it and perhaps you can feel how it’s like breathing in and breathing out.

How awkward it would be to try to walk about with lungs full all the time.  Seems like there has to be some letting go in order to keep us alive…

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Grieving on the Mat

One doesn’t come to the yoga mat in order to grieve, but grieving is a whole body experience.  So, if grief is what’s happening now, then it’s going to be there in every breath, thought, emotion and movement of your practice.  Grief has a way of moving in with you, taking over your inner household in a more permanent way than most other experiences do.  As it sidles up next to you, it can be almost comforting while it takes the place of the one that is lost or dead or gone.

So, do not expect that you can show up for your yoga or meditation practice alone when grief is in abundance.  But know that you can share the experience.   Grief can be the cushion on which you sit or the partner that helps support you in tree pose.  Imagine that grief is what fills in the empty space left by the one who is gone; it’s what allows you to take the next step in appreciating and understanding the loss.  It’s there when you’re crying or cursing or focusing on your practice.

How would it be then to bring awareness to the changes you notice in your body and breath as you move through your practice?  Notice what’s different – where there is heaviness or perhaps unexpected lightness.  See how muscles hold on – where there’s grasping so tight that it seems as if there will never be letting go.  In the passing thoughts and waves of emotion that move to the foreground and then recede, bring attention to how being in the moment supports the whole of you in your practice .  Notice feelings of fullness and shifts into emptiness, and then, bring awareness to the fact that nothing remains the same.   Ever.

Know that grief may move through you.   Doesn’t it make sense to acknowledge that you bring it with you onto your mat?   Your body and your breath are the vehicles for moving grief through your cells,  and your practice can be what helps shape your experience of loss.  There is something wonderful in accepting that you have choices with grieving as you do in other aspects of life.  You may choose to sink under its weight or you may choose to welcome it as the partner it can be in supporting you to move forward.  You might even be able to do both at the same time – as in  those postures that require the balance of opposing energies…

This post is dedicated to Karen Hasskarl who left her family and friends on April 9, 2011.


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Movement on the Mat

Amazing to consider how movement begins – how it is to be at the point where your body extends the “you” that is inside and takes it out into the world by shifting some physical part of you.  I wonder how much our movement follows intention and how much it supports our intention of being in the world when we begin to move into and out of yoga postures on the mat.  How different are these movements than the ones we do when off the mat?  How much more attention is involved in beginning movement on your yoga mat?

Do you decide ahead of time how to move – what posture to do?  Is there a sequence to follow?  Is it familiar and routine?  Is there an ideal of what the movement looks like or feels like?  Does it feel like stepping onto your mat or sitting in lotus is where you begin moving, or is that something like a prelude to movement?  Does it matter?

Perhaps it matters only in the level of awareness brought to beginning movement and appreciating what moves you to move.  What might it be like to allow the emergence of movement in whatever way it shows up at that moment on the mat?  What does that look like?   Do you begin with small motions and low energy, in a way that you honor the process of beginning?  Perhaps you start with warm-ups, creating heat and then sparking fire.   Imagine jumping onto the mat and throwing yourself into big energetic movements right away.  How would that serve as a beginning?

Or is there a settling down of energy that happens when you step onto the mat?  Moving into stillness and allowing movement to emerge from there.  The energy that drives your movement can be subtle or consuming, and it can also be drawn from that expansive range in between.  Beginning motion on the yoga mat can serve this energy in different ways.  Sometimes moving might be about creating more energy, and, at other times, it may be in service of controlling or managing the energy that’s there.

For sure, there are shifts of energy in motion throughout your practice.  I’m suggesting that there’s a flow in your movement on the mat – moment to moment – from beginning to middle to end.  I don’t mean in terms of a vinyasa flow or choreographed movement, but motion that has the energy of a wave.  You may not always be aware of exactly where and how it begins, but somethings shifts when you begin moving on your mat.

So the next time you begin your yoga practice, consider these questions – What happens to the “me” when I bring my full awareness to moving my breath and body on the mat?   Am I the mover or am “I” what’s moved?

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I imagine that Centering is a process that means something different to everyone.    Do you begin your practice of yoga  with a Centering?  If you do, what is it like?  If you don’t, imagine what it might be like.

Consider these two options:  A Centering where you are checking in with the different aspects of yourself to see what’s happening in the moment and another Centering where you are trying to bring all of you together to experience yourself in a more grounded place.  One is about noticing, not trying to change, not bringing in judgment, just allowing.  The other requires more  intention, though it may also ask you to notice and allow it to happen, but essentially requires you to work with what you notice, to make some changes, maybe let some things go.  I am drawn to say the second demands more effort – though perhaps not necessarily so.

The first option is difficult enough if you really check in and allow without judgment whatever is happening for you in that moment.  How is it to notice how you are breathing, what parts of your body are speaking to you and what parts are quiet?  What is it like to acknowledge what emotions are up for you, both big and small, consuming or not?  What happens when you open up to thoughts and images that are taking up space in your mind, and how do you not get caught up in the story?  And, finally, what does it even mean to look at what might be present for you in that space beyond your body-mind, that connection to whatever might be bigger and more encompassing?  Okay, it is a lot to take in.  Thankfully we all have filters, so we’re not continually overwhelmed by what’s happening now.   I recall the story of the millipede who stopped to consider how he was able to walk with all his thousand legs and feet and then finds that he can’t take another step!

Perhaps this is where the other Centering process steps in – where the work of centering really happens.  This is where you bring it all together, just as it is.  (And try not to think about who it is that’s doing this, just appreciate that it happens.)  Accept that what you’ve noticed is all right here, right now – knowing that to be all that you are in that moment, the present moment, is the most centered you can ever be…

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