Monday, November 30, 2009

Pause: Practice Deep Long Exhale: A Yoga Moment

Find your feet.

Realize that your inhale finds you. Give that inhale some space, some room, by practicing the deep long exhale.

Imagine that you can sense your diaphragm emerging from your spinal column. It's big, it's strong, it moves with power. And, it's perfectly capable of keeping you alive unless you get in it's way.

Consciously contract your diaphragm and feel how the muscles of the ribs, shoulders, chest, and belly move along with the diaphragm. Release this contraction and let your inhale flow in. Do 3 times.

Thank you for sharing this yoga moment with me.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pause: Feel Your Feet : a Yoga moment

Are you standing, sitting, lying down or are your feet up the wall (love viparita korani)? It doesn't matter, this will work anyway.

Attend to balancing the sensations from foot to foot, within each foot, foot to foot. Inhale as you 'push' away the base of your big toes (that's at the 'ball' of the foot). Exhale as you press away the outer edges of each heel. Do 3 times.

Check in with your hips, check in with your knees, how do you feel?

Namaste ...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's Next for Yoga in Tucson?

Ellie has been taking up a lot of my writing time, and my thinking time, as she has challenged me to truly consider what it means to work and play with a dog in a yogic way. She is a great teacher here, in a different way than Gary (the horse) has been. Things I thought I knew, new ways to think and be in relationship, it's all good. Yet...

It's been a tumultuous fall here in Tucson. Three yoga studios have closed (that I know of) in Tucson; Anjali, Shanti, and Providence Institute. And, the Sunstone Cancer Healing Organization is closing it's doors at the end of the year. And all this happening at a time when our community needs yoga more than ever.

I'm choosing to look at these challenges as fodder for svadhyaya - self-learning. How can I best serve? How can we, the community of yoga teachers and yoga therapists come together and share resources to best serve our community through yoga?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

WitGit: Learning from Animal Bites

Where is the Grace in getting bitten by a horse, by a dog?

Typing is problematic today; my right hand is swollen in preparation for what is sure to be one big ugly blue black bruise from an interaction with a horse friend of mine. (Yes, I'm taking my arnica, and wrapping with castor oil and a few drops of lavender, and the swelling has significantly decreased.)

And, our rescue dog, Miss Ellie, apparently never learned bite inhibition as a puppy, so I am working on ways to help her learn how to moderate her mouth pressure at play and during communication. Mouth, teeth: these are tools that dogs, horses, cats, and most other animals use to communicate with each other.

There are models of human-animal interaction that require that biting be met with swift punishment delivered by the human to the animal. But I am committed to working with animals in a yogic way, so that cannot be my first response. What to do then?

What happened with my horse friend was the horse being a horse, and my presence was a complicating factor. (I'm working on a longer piece about this, stay tuned). With Ellie, she never learned something that most puppies learn. Punishment isn't fair to them, yet boundaries need to be set for reasons of safety and social contract.

If there was anything about the horse interaction I could change, it is my awareness about what the horse on the other side of the pen is doing. I would like to react faster to get my hand out the way, but the speed of the horse's reaction is probably always going to be faster than mine.
That's a reality.

Horses are horses, dogs are dogs, people are people. As we come together in companionship and healing, we have to respect the animals for being who they are, and respect who we are at the same time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ring Sour in the Saddle: More Samskaras

I saddled up today, pulling out Gary's old all-purpose saddle. It's a little small for me, but with a shaped foam pad fits him okay. It was quiet at the barn, all of the trainers off premises, and just myself and one other, so I thought it might be a good time to test out my arena riding.


My seat wasn't bad, I wasn't gripping with my thighs or calves, and my ankles weren't tensed. My shoulders weren't drawn up into my ears, and my jaw wasn't clenched. I had a tension spot at the juncture of the thoracic and lumbar spine, but managed to breathe that away. Still. Gary was recalcitrant, unresponsive. Could it possibly be because I was mind-grumbling the whole time?

I just wanted to play on the track that runs around the facility, and I wanted out of the saddle. Am I using my 'wants' to avoid 'work riding'? Why should I even have to do work riding? Why can't I just think of riding in the arena as play riding? Round and round and round go the thoughts as I resist going round and round. And Gary accompanies me in my resistance.

Loosen the reins, feet out of the stirrups, let's head back for carrots.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Clicker Training: When we forget...

Apparently I haven't been clicker training Gary enough. When I went out to see him with my clicker around my neck, he grabbed it in his mouth. He'd never done that before. So, I filled up my pockets with carrot bits and pretzels (horses seem to like the Trader Joe's pretzels with sesame and they are the perfect size) and we headed out to practice. He was pushy with reaching for treats, and did not target on cue, so it looks as if we need to go back to basics.

That means that the treat goes into a bowl on the ground, so Gary remembers that mooching is not appropriate. We'll go back to targeting, where he touches his nose to my hand and help him to get reliable with his ability to follow my hand. This will help us with my goal, which is for him to be able to reverse while free lunging 'into' the circle, rather than his habit, which is to turn away.

What's the yoga in this? Samskaras. Samskaras are habits, and some habits are useful, and some not so much. We replace the habits that are not useful with habits that are, by practicing for a long time, without attachment to outcome. So, it's back to the clicker basics for Gary to re-establish those useful habits.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yoga Horse: Pose / Counter Pose

(Note: This is an edited re-post)

As Gary and I explore the nuances of posture and breathing through yoga, we come up against a samskara, a habit, of Gary's that is his own habit (rather than a mirror of my own, of which there are plenty). That's his stiff-necked posed, which gets in the way of a comfortable back up or a comfortable move forward.
Usually, if I exhale to engage my own transversus abdominus muscle and sacrum, he will come out of the stiff-necked posture. Today was different, so Stacey suggested to go into the pose with him, and then do the
counter pose of flexion and engagement. You can see the results.
An additional yoga question here is: did Gary's stiff-necked posture have anything to do with my needing stillness and needing to resolve 'something' through letting tears flow?

I have learned that, rather than asking 'if' or 'does', it is more helpful to ask: 'What did...'. So, what was the information that Gary was transmitting, in his stiff-necked posture prior to movement?

It might just be, "This is my habit." Or, it might be, "You are hiding something, why should I move?" And, it could be both. Thank you, Gary, for another deep lesson.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Blog - DhYoga Dog Training

Educating Ellie has moved to DhYoga Dog Training where the focus is dog specific and where Ellie's progress will continue to be tracked.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Educating Ellie: Bit of a Breakthrough

Hooray! Rather than straining at the leash in the opposite direction from me, Ellie started moderating her pace to mine, speeding up and slowing down, and repeatedly doing a 'sit' when I stop.

This makes up for my coming home from teaching the Deep Core Yoga Intensive today and seeing her whole body balanced carefully on the living room windowsill, watching out the window.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Educating Ellie: Let the Wild Rumpus Begin

It's only fair to report missteps with Miss Ellie, though thankfully they are few.

Today we did her flea dip again (I use Organic Neem dip from Azmira), and didn't realize that Socks had come 'off the wall'. Naturally, Ellie saw him before I did, and it was Cat and Dog, nature in the raw.

For whatever Cat reason, Socks jumped off the wall right in front of her, Ellie pounced, and Socks went at her with all claws, all four paws. Having been the recipient of those mighty weapons, I would have thought she would have backed off sooner than she did. He got in some good licks, enough to finally back her off, and he headed up the tree.

And here we'd had such a great walk in the park. So, time for Ellie to go into the house to settle down, and I took Socks treats to coax him out of the tree.

Ever watch a cat climb down a tree? It's a true lesson in climbing, as he got himself into situations where the only way out was to keep going.

And he did, making it safely to the wall, and his treats were waiting for him, and they were still crunchy (with apologies to Maurice Sendak).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Educating Ellie: The Yoga of Park

I wonder if I need to change my title here, as Ellie is educating me.

Park is a neutral reinforcement training strategy, not a clicker training strategy. The idea is to ignore the dog until the dog "self-manages" and lays down. The dog is leashed, and can't move more than one or two feet from the handler.

Every morning, about 5:45 am, I take Ellie to the park and attach her to one of the benches supplied for the handicap next to the ballfield on the corner. I take my cup of tea, plenty of treats, and an extra leash. I attach the extra leash to the bench, and I hold the other. (I do this in case some other dog who isn't under control threatens Ellie, so I can quickly unhook her, yet still have my leash attached to her.)

We do a combination of Park and Attention, maybe sneaking in some Sit, Touch, and Watch Me with Distraction. Park is for when no one is around. I switch to Clicker Training when there is movement; people, other dogs, bicycles, children, birds, leaves. When the movement is gone, I go back to park, drink my tea.

We are getting to know those movement folks! Each day is a little less intense. She's coming along.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Educating Ellie: Curbing Cat Chasing: Step 1

Ellie has no check on her very strong prey drive, so helping her to live successfully with our two older cats is probably our biggest challenge. Although I've been successful with other dog and cat introductions, I actually had not run across a dog exhibiting as strong a drive as Ellie, so I went to my favorite training site and found a great article by Joan Orr addressing just this issue.

Socks and Kafka understand that click means treat, so that piece was in place. Ellie has discovered that food rewards are pretty nifty, so I started as Joan suggested, with Ellie in her kennel and clicking and treating her and Socks (tossing treats to Socks). One thing I wasn't crazy about was the barrier issue, with Ellie in her kennel.

That problem got solved later in the day when we came home from our walk, I let Ellie off leash, and then my husband informed me that Socks was loose in the house. There was a pounce, a hiss and smack, and I caught Ellie, put on the leash and began the click-n-treat vending machine routine - madly clicking and treating both Ellie and Socks. Ellie began to look to me, and I was running out of treats, and we called it a night. Success. Now to repeat, repeat, repeat.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Educating Ellie: The Yoga of Dog Training

Downward-facing dog might be your favorite yoga pose, but that isn't quite what I mean when I'm talking about the yoga of dog training.

There are dog trainers who have probably never been inside of a yoga studio but whose way with dogs is definitely a yoga. Mike, from whom I picked up Ellie, is one of those dog training natural yogis, although I'm not sure he would think of himself in that way. He just knows dogs, what they need, and how to interact with them. The rest of us need to develop our awareness and observation skills when interacting with our dogs, and that's where learning yoga tools is so helpful.

The yoga tools that I find helpful in my work with dogs and other animals include: asana (postures) and vinyasa (movement) to develop a strong and centered stance (very useful when with a dog that pulls), breathwork (useful for calming and regulating energy levels up and down when needed) and meditation tools for focusing awareness, observing behaviors, and learning more deeply about the dog.

Ellie has a very strong prey drive, and her focus is naturally outward, towards things that move (like cats). My focus, in training, has to be on Ellie, and how to help her direct some of that acute attention towards me. I'm using a combination of clicker training, and neutral techniques called 'park' and 'racetracking'.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Educating Ellie

Ellie is a three year old rescued German Shepherd who doesn't seem to have had any formal dog training. I will be tracking our education progress and posting highlights here.

My initial evaluation of Ellie was that she was intelligent and kind, and she took easily to the clicker 'loading'. She also jumps on people, clambers on furniture, chases cats, and pulls hard on the leash, and indicates a very strong prey drive so we have some behaviors to remove, replace, and redirect.

Funny how, once I got home, her interest in food as reward virtually went away. She does like the click, and responds well to positive verbal praise, so I offer the treat with praise ("Good girl", "Good Job", "Thank You"). She takes her treat about 30% of the time, turned her nose up at cooked chicken, and doesn't know what to do with dog biscuits.

Physical touch with Ellie is interesting. She's clever at gently deflecting head touching, accepts body handling and brushing, but seems to have mixed feelings about being touched. This is going to be a rich area to explore with her. She does love to have her chest scratched.

And, she loves her ball. She invents games with the ball, so I suspect she spent a lot of time on her own without much physical interaction with her humans, and devised ways to keep herself happy and amused. We've already begun a gentle game of give and take, and she loves that.

We've already made some excellent progress towards loose leash walking. I do some 'racetracking' with her and once she settles into a pace where she isn't pulling, I switch to many clicks and rewards. She will accept her treats probably 80/20 while walking. From 100% pull to about 60/40 now, so she's learning fast!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Horse Agenda, Human Agenda...

Today, a Monday, is usually Gary's day off. He plays in the arena with his buds, hangs out, no riders, no yoga students. Gary is a horse, btw. But, horse fuzz coat time is coming and we wanted to get in a photo shoot of his changed topline, and maybe some photos and video of us riding.

That was our agenda. Gary had something else in mind, as he fussed about standing, was not interested in looking pretty for the camera (drooling his 'chaw' of stolen alfalfa), and just looking askance at us. Oh well. I got on anyway, even though the next shift of playing horses were playing hard, squealing, raising dust and running the fence.

That's when things began to get a little strange. We played yoga pose / counterpose, which actually went great (more on that when I get the photos). Then things began to get still, and I sensed Gary asking me for more and yet more stillness. I commented to Stacey that I did not feel as velcroed as I have been lately. She asked me where the velcro was. As I went into my body, I began to feel a racing, a discomfort, at the area of the diaphragm, at the origin of the psoas. Ah, would breath help here? I changed my breathing, and I could feel almost nauseous. So I cried, and then cried some more, and then Gary walked off and we walked it off and he went back to his day off and I went back to my day.

Why was it necessary for me to cry? Maybe I'll find that out, maybe not. That wasn't the point. It just needed to happen, to free that internal constriction, to find my velcro.

Monday, September 21, 2009

WitGit: Where is the Grace in This?

Stuff happens.

Big Stuff, like losing a beloved companion, losing work.

Small stuff, like unexpected auto repairs, new equipment that doesn't work, my underwear losing it's elastic while I'm teaching in front of a class of people who actively dislike the material being taught (yes, that actually happened, and not long ago).

Where is the grace in this?

I find if I ask this question, I might manage a little half-smile, can take a bit of an exhale, and make a choice not to berate myself or slip into the tyranny of the shoulds. If you try it, let me know how it works.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Yoga with Horses

With the advent of cooler weather, Stacey Kollman and I are again offering our introductory mini-retreat: Horse-Assisted Yoga for Personal Transformation. You can read more at Stacey's site. .

Yoga with horses is a little hard to describe, it's so deeply experiential, and unique to each person. It's a bit paradoxical, these large intelligent creatures so present and so skilled at the art of subtle nuance.   You can see a bit of yoga with horses on my Facebook photo wall. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yoga off the Mat

Recently, many of my yoga students have mentioned how they don't seem to have much success at coming to the peaceful state that they reach in yoga class when 'out amongst the English' (with a nod to Harrison Ford's character, John Book, in Peter Weir's film, Witness).

What is it about being in a yoga class and how can we find our way into that state when, oh, say, sitting at a stoplight behind that person texting on their cell phone?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Helping Horses

It's a gray morning with the promise of rain in the distance and in the unmistakable air of creosote.  This is the kind of morning we in the desert love as a treat. It would be a good morning to indulge in coffee and newspaper and sad, without our Gilly. 

But. It's also a day where I have commitments; I have a class in Sanskrit to attend and there's Gary, one of my horse partners in Desert Horse Yoga, who could probably use some time to just hang out. 

Heading to the round pen, it's freshly turned, so no horse poops to smell and revel in, but it's soft and new. Gary rounds and rounds, nose to the ground, searching for his perfect spot. He finds it and down he goes, rolling on to his spine, turning from side to side, getting in three good spinal massages. He comes up easily, braces in the front, legs splay and he shakes from head to tail. 

He strolls to the gate, picks at the lead rope, time to move on. So we go to the grassy area (quite the premium out here in the desert) and he gets in some good grass munching time before it's time to leave.  How is it that just these horsey moments reach into the sadness in the cave of the heart, provide a little comfort? 


Saturday, September 5, 2009

It doesn't get any easier...

Today is Day 5 - marking the days from when we put our beloved Gilly to permanent sleep.
These passings don't get easier, no matter what I tell myself, no matter what others say. Each passing reminds me once again of all the others; little bitty Rogue, Baraka, Julep, Jasmine, Koda, Tsuki, Circe, Dallas,Sara, Janie, Otto, Ziggy,Midnight, Bob, Sherlock.
Gilly's death was dignified and quiet. The housecall vet, Alan Christo, was quiet and unobtrusive. I held her head, and there was that moment when she relaxed and was once again comfortable, doing what she loved best - sleeping. Om shanti, Gilly, Om shanti to all our animal friends.