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YIN AND WINTER

Have you ever noticed how you feel in different seasons? Both mentally and physically, we tend to respond to the environment around us.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on this concept. It’s rooted in the observation of nature and the unique dynamics to which nature adheres.  No season is a more perfect example than winter.

During winter, the temperature is colder and the days are shorter. In response, nature slows down. Animals hibernate, plants and trees grow more slowly, elements become more dense and damp. Every living thing turns within to nurture itself.

In the theory of Yin and Yang common to Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter reflects the utmost yin quality.  In TCM, we’re taught to heed the environmental conditions in order  to live in harmony with nature.  Activity should slow, rests should be extended, and food should come from dense nutrients—perhaps stewed over extended periods of time.

The organ most correlated with this season is the kidney.  The kidney  houses the body’s original “Qi” (basis of energy). It also stores “essence,” which is the dense form that produces bone marrow and spinal fluid.  This correlation makes it is easy to see why the kidney is so important to brain health and bone development in TCM.  In addition to being the body’s primary source of yin, the kidneys serve as the “ming men fire” or “gate of vitality.” This gate lies deep between  the two kidneys—opening their yang dimension.  An equal representation of both yin and yang makes the kidneys truly unique.

The winter is a great time to support the kidney and its related functions.  While good nutrition, hydration, and keeping the low back warm and protected during winter are all important, Yin Yoga is an excellent practice to support the kidneys physically.

Yin Yoga’s sustained holds stimulate tendon, ligament, and bone health. Its slow and prolonged movements are in harmony with winter’s yin character, while the active breath helps stoke the inner ming men fire to balance the kidney’s yang attributes.

In that light, Yoga for Relaxation would be the perfect addition to your winter regimen—and help keep you in harmony with life.

Click here to Try Yoga for Relaxation.

-ELLA

WHAT ARE YOU ENTERTAINING?

I’ve been observing myself and noticing what thoughts I allow into my mind. What mental images and stories that go along with my thoughts do I entertain? Do these thoughts line up with what I want to accomplish in 2019? Do my mental images line up with my bigger picture of staying in the flow of life and not getting stuck in bad patterns of behavior and emotions? Am I helping create my future or hindering my own process? 

 

ellavate yoga blogAs I was sitting with these questions and observing myself, I noticed how ridiculous my thoughts can be. Just this morning, while playing fetch with Anjali in our backyard, I heard an airplane go by—is pretty normal where we live.  For a moment, I decided that the next thing to annoy me will be airplanes.  In the future, I will be annoyed by the noise of airplanes and therefore I will need to move from this little back house that I currently love so much.  In the future, I have decided that I will be annoyed!  I laughed at how ridiculous this declaration was on this beautiful morning and placed my attention back on the beauty surrounding me.

 

If you take my yoga class, you know I switch it up a lot—so it’s best if you remain present during the practice.  This week I was observing new students take the typical plank-chaturanga-updog series before realizing that the rest of the class was doing something completely different.  Physically they were in the class, but mentally they were  entertaining something stronger than the desire to be present.  In situations like this, I often want to ask them to share the thoughts they’re entertaining.  What mental images are they creating?  What seeds are being planted in that cranium?

 

There’s a story about a student asking Socrates how wisdom might be attained.  Socrates took the student to a fountain and told him to submerge his head in water—whereby Socrates continued to hold the student’s head down until the poor guy was struggling for air.  When the student finally managed to escape, Socrates told him that when his desire for wisdom is equaled his desire to breathe, wisdom would follow.

 

The gift and the curse of life is that you have the power to choose.  The power to create.  What are you entertaining in your mind?  What seeds are you planting that will one day come to fruition?  You must observe yourself and become the gatekeeper of your mind!

 

-Ella

 



At first glance, 2018 seemed like a strange, frustrating year in many ways.  A year I couldn’t quite put into words until I received my birthday poem in mid-November.  This is a gift I look forward to each year and something that my adoptive father has been writing for me since I was 13.  This year’s poem, which you can read below, described what I was feeling in a way that I was not yet able to fully express or understand.  

Finding your voice

You think you are free, but there probably isn’t a gesture, a thought, an emotion, an attitude, a belief in you that isn’t coming from someone else. Isn’t that horrible? You feel pretty strongly about certain things, and you think it is you who are feeling strongly about them, but are you really? It’s going to take a lot of awareness for you to understand that perhaps this thing you call “I” is simply a conglomeration of your past experiences, of your conditioning and programming… Anthony de Mello, Awareness,

 

It’s a Herculean effort, to be sure—

not the finding of right words

(let alone right thoughts and actions),

but rather the separating

of those planted by others

from the ones that are unmistakably your own…

For a writer,

It is the most constant

and compelling challenge.

Getting beyond the conditioning

to the core—

and discovering the voice

that is uniquely yours—

is a lifelong journey.

What the great writers eventually discover

is that the secret comes

only to those who listen.

This has been a year

of clearing the way,

diving deep, with courage,

dissolving and re-membering.

You step forth now

in the space between

“no longer and not yet”

perhaps less sure

but certainly more open.

Engage the Earth’s wisdom.

Allow its energy to lead you

into the stillness

that precedes thought,

movement,

speech—

and in that place,

free from ingrained attitudes, emotions, and habits,

let the words come

as they will.

And they will.

 

Upon reflection, I would take three key phrases from my birthday poem that helped define 2018.

  1. Clearing the way: I have changed my schedule so I can clear the way for my vision.  I have cleared the mental thoughts and stories that are holding me back from this vision.
  2. The “space between no longer and not yet”: this has been a constant theme in my classes this year as I have fought with and finally accepted that I did not know the next steps in my life—and I had to be ok with that.  For a Type-A controlling personality like me, acknowledging that a shift is taking place and not knowing what that means and where it will lead is pretty damn scary.
  3. Stillness: “sit with the question and the answer will come” is an approach I strongly believe in.  This year, my soul was restless and I was often uncomfortable in my own skin; I was doing a poor job of honoring the space between no longer and not yet.  After returning from a recent trip to Sayulita, I feel as if my heart found the stillness and understood the necessary steps and action needed to get there.  Hello 2019!

 

So I ask you: What are your three power words or phrases for 2018?  What did you learn that you would like to take into 2019?  What past conditioning is holding you back from your vision?   Has your vision for your life changed?  What action plan will you create?

-Ella

 

IS YOUR ENVIRONMENT FULFILLING YOUR NEEDS? 

In the summer of 2011, with $187 to my name, I bought a one-way plane ticket from Portland to Los Angeles.  I always dreamed of living in LA and waking up to sunshine every day!

Last week, I half-jokingly texted my family saying I’m ready to buy a one-way ticket back to Portland!  This is not because I feel defeated by Los Angeles. It’s just realizing that the city no longer meets my needs.

I have never lived in one place as long as I have lived in Los Angeles.  This “belly of the beast” as I call it, is a wonderful, tough, and unpredictable son-of-a-bitch that will eat you up, spit you out, and then ask: how badly do you want this?  You would have to live here to understand this city: a weekend bus tour does not count!  But I’m grateful for this beautiful beast because in many ways it has been very good to me and shown me how strong I truly am.  

What has kept me here is my career and the wonderful community I’ve built the past 9 years teaching yoga.  I would like you to think about your environment. Is it meeting your needs?

Continue reading EVERYTHING HAS ITS SEASON

OWN YOUR STORY

I’ve been thinking a lot about life and destiny lately. Thoughts like, “How much of our path is already determined for us at or before birth? In the end, how do our choices impact and determine the course of our lives?”
Funny enough, all of this started with a conversation I was recently having with my 3-year-old niece, Stella. She’s about the only little human who can wake me up in the morning before I’ve had my espresso and make me read a book called “Where’s Eleven?” By our third time reading it, she had other questions. 

Stella: Are you a grown up?
Me: No.
Stella: But look how you big you are and how little I am.
Me: I’m a very big kid.
Stella: But do you make your own food? My mommy and daddy make my food.

Continue reading OWN YOUR STORY