Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Science of Rest ~ Restorative Yoga

The Science of Rest
by Julia Clarke, ERYT-500 and Certified Maharishi Ayurveda Consultant

Movement is important. Almost daily, we hear statistics about the impact of exercise on lowering stress and disease rates. But both emerging and ancient science support the idea that the practice of cultivating stillness so that the body can regenerate may be just as important for our physiology. Enter restorative yoga, a practice of deep relaxation, supported, gentle stretching and guided meditation designed to combat stress through receptivity instead of activity.

We live in a society that values upward mobility, action and results and is based around the projection of scarcity to create demand. Rest and receptivity are neither held in high regard nor commonly practiced. Today's Western physiology is learning to adapt to the pressures of this fast-paced, modern life with increasingly high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol that are fueling an epidemic of obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, depression, anxiety and insomnia. Restorative yoga instead emphasizes downward movement, receptivity and abundance.

In addition to the impact of modern stress, yogic thought identifies the source of our mental stress in our attachment to the impermanent things in life that society insists we value: beauty, earning power and possessions. All yogic practices are primarily concerned with reuniting the practitioner with consciousness, their true nature. By its very name, restorative yoga, in particular, suggests a practice that returns the person who has been injured, weakened or become lost to his or her original essence.

Today's yoga practitioners may seek out fast-paced, sweaty styles of yoga, in part to balance a day that was otherwise spent sitting in an office chair or behind the steering wheel of a car. I am not arguing that movement isn't important for our health, to release endorphins, move lymph and cultivate strength and mobility. To this end, active or flow styles of yoga have clear health benefits. Unfortunately, more and more often, the period of rest at the end of a yoga practice is getting lost.

A yoga class like this could actually increase your mental agitation after a white-knuckle day at the office. Imagine, instead, entering a softly lit room with quiet, harmonious music playing. On the yoga mats lay soft blankets, bolsters and eye pillows. You are invited to lie down, supported from beneath in such a way that your body can finally relax.

You exhale.

You feel a deep, inner stillness; a pause between breaths where you feel at once steady and free, supported by the earth and yet liberated from the confines of worry. You dive deeper than the ever-changing thoughts. The world stops spinning at such an inconceivable rate. After 60 minutes that fly by with only a handful of supine, supported poses, you emerge renewed. That night, you sleep deeply, and in the morning, you rise feeling perhaps just a little less ruffled by the emails, the traffic, the demands.

Restorative yoga is a powerful antidote to stress because it down-regulates the sympathetic nervous system and up-regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, digestion, energy conservation and slowing the heart rate. Different from sleep, which involves REM brain states during which dreams can trigger stress, conscious rest is designed to activate the alpha and theta wave states, which are associated with deep relaxation and meditation.

This is the true power of yoga that sometimes gets lost in the modern obsession with aesthetically pleasing gymnastics and fancy catchphrases.

Interested in learning more about the science of Restorative Yoga and how to add it to your teaching offerings? Join CSOY Faculty Tracey Garcia in Colorado Springs on March 23-25, 2018 for our Spring Restorative Yoga Teacher Training!

Monday, August 21, 2017

A few words on this total solar eclipse...

by Gina Caputo, Founder and Director of the Colorado School of Yoga

Bottom line is that I respect all attitudes, philosophies and approaches to today’s total solar eclipse. But here’s been my trajectory of thoughts around it:

1) News: "There will be a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 that you can view across much of the United States”
Me: “Oh.” Promptly leaves mind.

2) Husband: “Hey, there’s going to be a total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, maybe we should plan a camping trip up to Wyoming to see it, since they are more in the direct path?”
Me: “Ok, wow, you’re kind of into this, why?”
Husband: “Well, it doesn’t happen too many times in a lifetime, I think it would be cool to see.”
Me: “Ok, then sure, I’m always game for camping.”

3) People: “Eclipse, eclipse, eclipse, eclipse!!”
Me: “Dang, people are crazy into this thing, why don’t I feel more excited?”

4) News: “If you don’t have appropriate eyewear to view the eclipse, your eyes will explode.”
Me: “Really? I don’t get how looking at the sun on an eclipse day is any worse than looking directly at the sun on any other day? Let me investigate...”
People: “It’s worse on this day because you can actually stare at the sun for a prolonged period, unlike on “regular” days and you have no pain receptors in your retinas so you won’t register when you’re doing damage.”
Me: “Ohhhh, got it. Special glasses are needed.”

5) Me: “Better pick up some of those special glasses STAT.”
Everyone: “Nope, we’re all out.” (repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat until I hate the eclipse)
One dude on street corner: “I’ve got several pairs of these $1.50 paper glasses for sale at $25/pop.”
Me: “That’s some entrepreneurial spirit boss but you’re SO not hooking me. Buhbye.”

6) Me: “Eff this eclipse. I don’t even care anymore and people have lost their minds and want a distraction from world affairs. I’ll just watch the NASA live stream on Apple TV.”
Me: “Will I regret this?”
Me: “I think I have FOMO.”
Me: Looking up how to make cereal box pinhole viewer thingee…
Me: “Babe, I’m going to Sprouts to buy 2 boxes of cereal, be right back.”

Most people I know seem to be super excited to see it, are taking off work, driving to Oregon, making a thing out of it! Yet, within the “traditional” yoga community, some are espousing the Vedic Astrology position that a total solar eclipse represents the ascendance of shadow energy and that one should fast during the eclipse and stay inside to meditate. Wow, those are some polar opposite approaches! This got me thinking more about this idea of the moon “covering” the sun and what it means to me...

I happen to love the moon. I’m a Cancer so the moon is my ruling “planet” and I’m rooting for the moon today (Go Team Moon!). And I think this is a day that the moon gets to take center stage for a change. It’s luminescence is more subtle than the sun and yet it is equally important to Earth (my opinion) and quite powerful - did you know its presence and distance from the Earth are what keeps us rotating as we are on our axis at a speed that sustains life? Yes indeed, without it’s presence, we’d be spinning in total chaos and none of the life the Sun makes possible could survive (Learned this on PBS’s Nova - so much good stuff btw). 

In Hatha Yoga and Tantra, the moon represents Ida Nadi and the aspects of receptivity, calm, nurturing, soothing, intuition, consciousness, the parasympathetic nervous system, right brain dominance, and the restorative practices and activities that sustain our capacity for action (solar!). So I’m choosing to look at this eclipse as a way of championing these qualities in the world in a time of chaos. Not to say "take no action", of course, but maybe this eclipse is a way to recognize that action (sun) is served by receptivity, open mindedness and curiosity (moon) too!

So in a few hours, you might just find me meditating outside with a box of cereal/pinhole camera stuck to my face. Followed by a nice, long savasana before I jump back into action. May this eclipse be everything you want it to be!

Not my dog, just found it online :)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fake It 'Til You Make It...Really?

by Mary Taylor at

What's in a Pause? 

It's a sinking feeling; a thick wave of sludge-filled despair sweeping through your gut. The uneasy sense that maybe you've been duped; or worse yet, that you're fooling yourself. And you ask: Did enthusiasm, laziness, greed or maybe that extra cup of espresso cloud my thinking and carry me away into believing--and immediately posting--my reaction to the online gossip? Should I have been more mindful of the context and asked myself how I really knew what I thought to be true before hitting "post?" Did I check my motivation and scrutinize the story's sources? And what might the repercussions be? In this age of type now and think later, these are the kinds of questions that poke up their messy heads when we power down for the day.

The fast and furious online world is remarkably vast, open and beneficial, yet it is also an invitation to isolation, augmentations and distortions of mind, and inflation of the ego. It's a medium that feeds on the unsteadiness of mind and thrives on us keeping our citta vrittis alive, active and--worse yet--shared with any unsuspecting soul who happens to absentmindedly click on our latest musing. (Like this one.) Patanjali would roll over in his grave!

As if it weren't strange enough to find fragments of thought being pulled out of the sky to masquerade as relevant content, there is intentional misuse and deception that surfaces through this technology as well; online bullying, cruel pranks that prey on recipients' weaknesses and endless hackings designed to create chaos. 

Perhaps one of the most disturbing uses of the internet is what is now commonly accepted (if not venerated by some as fair play) as "fake news"--hoaxes, propaganda or disinformation used to deliberately fool others and drive traffic in one direction or another. It was, after all, President Trump's adviser, Kellyanne Conway who introduced the euphemism "alternative facts" to describe some of the fake news (like the Bowling Green Massacre) tossed out for the public to chew on--and get distracted by--just after the election so that stories of fake news impacting the election became less of a front page issue. The age-old magician's trick of drawing your attention to their right lapel pocket while slipping a coin down the sleeve of the left arm was the training ground for this kind of manipulative use of the internet. 

On one hand we could become enraged or bitter about the use and misuse of the medium and swear off the internet. But realistically that wouldn't do much except to isolate us in our own limited point of view. On the other hand, it is a really interesting time to develop our critical-thinking skills and to remember the value of satyam or truth--which might be just enough to pull us back into Patanjali's graces. It is, indeed, an age of immediacy where veneer can be valued more than the truth, where sensationalism, cynicism and daring sound bites take a front seat to reflection and dialogue. Yet that doesn't mean we all need to buy into that value system.

"A deliberate, momentary pause is all it takes to consider our intention, our motivation, our choice of language, the impact we might have and our interconnectedness."

Savoring the truth, which is enriched by the messiness and dirt that sometimes lies beneath the veneer, exposes the beauty and vividness of life. It brings us down to earth, and all it takes is a single out breath to sense into the unending support of the ground beneath us! From there we might imagine that if we had the time and inclination to run our palms along that very surface of the earth we stand on that we could connect with every other sentient being on this planet. Not as quickly as sending a Tweet but with a lot more feeling. A deliberate, momentary pause is all it takes to consider our intention, our motivation, our choice of language, the impact we might have and our interconnectedness. One breath cycle can point us in the direction of what’s right while a missed breath and an ignored sense of connection may lead us to create “fake news, fake fear, fake us.”

Truth resides in the subtle layers of our body, mind and being as part of the foundational structure of who we really are. Relying solely on our mind and its reactions, conclusions and constructs (which is what social media promotes) to offer to the world our ideas and facade of who we are can throw us into realms of confusion for lifetimes. 

Any idea leaves a residue and is part of the chain of being or of karma. Residue exists not only in our own experience but in the experience of others who come across what we've tossed out with care or carelessly as a matter of ego or deception. Encountering an abundance of unchecked "news" and ideas, your mind searches for connections and starts building a web of understanding to make sense of it all in order to steer you in a perceived correct direction. But when we don't take time to pause for reflection into the idea and to examine the deeper layers of mind or, better yet, drop into the sensation of mind merging with the body, then the web constructed by mind is likely to become tangled--one of torment, anxiety, confusion or complete imagination and delusion.

As yoga students and teachers, maybe we really can be flexible after all. Perhaps we can resist the pressure to put it out there quickly and in a form that is flashy, fun, daring or strategic simply to up our ratings. Rather than searching our endless stash of citta vrittis for a quip to make them all laugh, or flipping through photos to find the extreme posture we did that one time before we blew out our shoulder--secretly thinking this one time it might go viral--rather than that, perhaps we can just pause for a moment, feel our feet firmly planted on this sweet earth and smile. At the very least, if we're sincere and see the silliness of this medium maybe we can catch a good selfie of our serenity and fleeting subtle smile. Though of course we don't care. 

Please visit Richard Freeman & Mary Taylor's website for information on events, writings, recipes and more.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Goat Yoga: Good or Baaaaaaad for the Industry?

by Gina Caputo, Director of the Colorado School of Yoga

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a bestselling book called The Tipping Point, which he describes as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point". Welp, while I've felt myself bumping up against the yoga industry tipping point threshold for some time now, something about Goat Yoga pushed me right through it and I'm boiling.

It's not that I don't support goats. They're kind of amazing. They can learn their name and come when called, they're amazing climbers, they have freaky rectangular pupils, they have 4 stomachs and on a personal note, they are responsible for goat cheese, aka chevre. 😛 They're also playful, have a wild streak as baby goats (called kids), there's a breed that faints when stimulated and if you have food, they do not hesitate to come check it out, thoroughly (power stance required!). Goats are great.

So what's my problem? Well, I've been trying to make a career, a profession, out of being a teacher. And in particular, a teacher of a practice some might call spiritual. And however you describe it, it is a practice that has the power to deeply impact our lives, far beyond our physical bodies. I've poured the last 20 years of my life into the study and practice of yoga so that I may be a teacher of benefit. And for me, the main way the power of Yoga is accessed is via the transcendence of conditioned consciousness. And to even begin to explore our conditioned consciousness, we have to first train up our skills in awareness, focus and concentration on subtlety (ie: thoughts, feelings, values, intuition).

These days, those skills are rare. How often do we see people sitting at a meal together looking at their phones because the present is apparently too dull to focus on exclusively? When was the last time you felt you had someone's undivided attention? When was the last time you gave something your undivided attention instead of thinking about the best angle for the photo you'll take of your experience to share on social media? And I'm guilty of all of the above, which is why I'm so clear on the problem.

I hear ALL THE TIME about how people don't like meditating because "it's so hard". And any of us who have meditated know, the "hard" is just sitting with the fabric of your mind, in quietude and focus on it, without engaging with it. Exhausting in it's simplicity compared with being flooded with images and words and connections. Patanjali's 8-Limbed Path of Yoga describes this practice of focus or concentration as the 6th limb or dharana.

One thing I love about Patanjali's path is that it seems to be an accessible funnel made for humans living in the world. We start with the ethical practices to engage with each other, then move to the practices to regulate our physical bodies, our breath, our senses and then we finally get to tackle our conditioned minds. What this tells me is, its not easy given that there were 5 full limbs before it! This path gives us a "big picture" - a why for the asana we love.

What the hell does this have to do with goats? Simply put, Goat Yoga makes me feel like yoga is perceived as a joke. And by extension, that I am too. Goats aren't known for their tranquility. They're playful, mischievous and bold. Given that without goats we struggle to focus (with our own internal goats one could say), I fail to understand how adding actual goats to an already challenging internal practice makes any sense at all?!

"They're gimmicks and every single one of them provides distraction from your own inner landscape, they don't support inner focus."

Let's be honest. Goat Yoga and it's friends Beer Yoga (buuurrrppp), Llama Yoga (yes, real), Voga (fashion and yoga y'all!) and Noga (nude yoga of course) aren't about dharana. They're gimmicks and every single one of them provides distraction from your inner landscape, they don't support subtle inner focus. And they're embarrassing to some of us sincerely trying to help people liberate themselves from the suffering that conditioned consciousness often causes. And before you say "But it gets more people doing yoga!", just know that I get that. It gets people coming together and doing some poses and laughing and that is fantastic! But I don't see ANY of these classes with a Part 2 or a Next Level where these newbies who needed goats or beer to practice get to explore some of the deeper dimensions of the practice without the hook. Why not call them what they are and take Yoga out of it? Baby Goat Therapy! Happy Hour! Farming! Fashion Show! Naked Stretching! All those things sound great! Ok, actually, no naked stretching for me. But there ARE ways to make yoga more accessible without making a joke of it and adding distraction as a gimmick.

It gets really ridiculous when I think of other professions trying to do the same thing. Goat Accounting - meet with your tax advisor and a troop of baby goats, don't forget to laminate your 1099s in case they shit on the desk! Llama Lawyering - meet with our resident llama and then we'll write out your will together. Naked Healthcare - don't bother getting dressed to come for your check up - we didn't! 

It's hard to imagine these things happening because they are perceived as "real" professions. Teaching yoga is just a hobby, right? If we ever want to be respected, it's important that we use some discernment and consideration for how our actions may impact the rest of our industry. Perhaps I'm just naive in saying that since it often means saying no or pushing back for the greater good when the alternative is a momentary flush of students and cash. So what's the motivation? If you respect this practice and believe in it's worth, we could all stand to think about how our actions and presentation impact each other and all our students. When we glorify asana, we limit the power of the practice. When we are willing to do anything for free, we diminish the value of our teaching. When we use any means possible to get students in the door, we risk making a fool of the whole industry.

Let's come together and try harder to find ways to be of service that still highlight the value of transcending conditioned consciousness. Let's have fun together too! I'm driven to reliably resource people in working with the suffering that arises in all our lives. An afternoon playing with goats doesn't usually leave you with a reliable tool, just a temporary bit of joy. 

Now I'm gonna make like a goat and just bleat it,

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

If Integrity Falls In The Yoga Forest And Nobody Talks About It, Does It Make A Sound?

by guest blogger Taylor White Moffitt, LCSW, RYT 200

Life is so weird, don’t you think? We live in a world where every day we have a chance to “like” someone’s images, words or actions through social media. Our strange little view into people’s worlds, putting our rubber stamp of approval on their every move. As time goes forward Instagram, Facebook and Snap Chat get shinier and prettier. Especially as it comes to the world of Yoga.  Poses while balancing shots of tequila on ones’ head, a handstand in front of the Taj Mahal, bikini shots by the turquoise waters of someone holding eka pada galavasana while the water and sunlight splashes over them. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t oppose yoga poses or social media.  What I oppose is how often these pictures and posts don’t tell the whole story. They don’t speak to the truth that the yoga teacher at the front of the room just relapsed back into his alcohol or drug use.  They don’t speak to the truth that the student in the back row was injured last week in a pose that she didn’t know how to get in or out of. They don’t speak to the things that matter most—the ethical limbs of yoga and its practitioners upholding them.  If we yogis and the practices of yoga are to survive the intense pressure and growing pains yoga continues to move through, we must start seeing and speaking the whole truth.  The truth that covers topics such as some of the things we learned as teachers and then taught our students we now know were not safe or helpful for the body.  The truth that the blasting heat in the room and everyone’s joy around sweating like pigs was sometimes too much and it blew out some people’s adrenals.

The truth that there is dishonesty, insecurity and struggle in every yoga room, every day.

As a psychotherapist and someone who spends a lot of time in her head, I found yoga asana as a respite from my exhausting mind.  I could practice asana for 60 minutes and feel a reprieve from monkey mind (because unfortunately it is my circus and they are my monkeys).  Yet in addition to a reprieve I felt some serious shit getting stirred up. About who I was, what I stood for, how my actions were affecting me and others.  And yoga asked me to set that shit straight.  To take right action, to apologize, to mend my ways and commit to a new way of being that was already offered to me in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the yamas and niyamas, by everything that is yoga.

We are at a precipice in the yoga movement here in the United States. Shiny Instagram poses, clever “spiritual” slogans and memes, false promises by teachers, studios/schools training and churning out more technicians and teachers than ever before yet the integrity beneath us is shaking and crumbling as we keep stacking more of this falseness on top.  If we are honest it’s all of our responsibilities as to how we got here.  The lack of accountability for teachers and their growth process is modeled for students.  We have teachers lying, cheating, stealing and many who are ill prepared to stand in the space of 5-100 students and have the tools to teach a safe class while holding the space for all the shit this practice stirs up.  If we don’t start giving our teachers skills to do this, our students leave with more disillusionment, injury and confusion from the practice we love.

We have been complicit through collusion. If none of us speaks up about the student with anorexia who practices 2-3 times a day at 3 different studios then we all share the responsibility for not doing our part to truly support that student.  If we train teachers in a week or weekend and throw them in front of students without supervision, mentorship and more training we all share in the conspiracy of letting students think this is what yoga is.  When we see, hear or learn of studios, students or teachers breaking laws, taking shortcuts that puts the health and well being of its community in jeopardy we are cooperating in cheating the system, making sure no one wins.

This practice brought me home. Closer to my bones.  Closer to myself.  I call each of us to look at our practice and ask ourselves how we will take a stand. Not in righteousness or judgment, not in calling people or poses out but in calling people back in.  Calling us back to what the practice has to offer us: a physical place for our bodies to breathe and get strong, a spiritual path to wake up and see where we are out of alignment and a place in our communities where we hold each up from a place of kindness, honesty and integrity.  Without this willingness to get into action we abandon ourselves and even worse, we abandon the practice that is strong enough to hold us up.  And in the world we live in, we need more voices, more resistors, more people willing to speak up and stand up. I call on all of us to start a conversation about how we can do that together.

Taylor White Moffitt, is a psychotherapist of over 22 years, a yoga teacher and student for over 15, and a fallible human for about 47 years. Taylor owns a private therapy practice, teaches yoga and meditation publicly, privately, on retreats and with humor. Find her at