Suzanne Norman

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    Breathe Deeply

    Thursday, September 07, 2017

     

    According to Chinese Medicine, Autumn is associated with the lungs. One of the best ways to strengthen the lungs is to breathe deeply. It sounds so simple, but most of us don't breath deeply, or efficiently. And this can affect important things like our emotional states, energy level and immune system.

    When we breathe deeply and with intention, we are flooding our cells, muscles, and brains with much needed oxygen that is vital to all the body's processes. It also distributes the vital Prana (life energy) throughout the bodily systems.

    One of the best things we can do is go for a walk in the crisp, clean autumn air and fill your lungs with that fresh air.

    Another powerful practice is deep breathing exercises.  Relax your body and take a gentle but deep breath in through your nose, filling your belly as if you're inflating a balloon...rest in the inhale for a moment, release the breath as if you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake...nice and gentle but full, all the way to the bottom of your lungs until they are completely empty.  Do this 5 to 6 times a few times each day.

    The breathing practices we learn in Yoga are very powerful and designed to support the life force energy within the body.  The practices are powerful immune system strengtheners as well important tools in the control of consciousness.  Learning how to breath properly can help you heal both body and mind.   Pranayama practice is always a good idea, but particularly in autumn, when lung energy is at its peak.  As we turn toward more introspective practices, autumn is the perfect time to work on releasing negativity in our life.    

    We can often feel like many of the negative things in our lives are beyond our control, but if we become aware of negative things, we can make small changes to avoid them as much as possible.  Negativity can be as extremely destructive force both physically and psychologically, so working towards keeping as much of it as possible out of our lives is a good goal.  Sometimes, it's just the awareness that can really help make the changes necessary to keep as much positivity and light in our lives.  We can also use our breathing to keep the prana (life energy) strong in our bodies and minds to keep that positivity and light strong as we transition into darker seasons.

    Taking time for a focus on the life force (breath) that moves through you and noticing when it is lacking or in excess and then using deep controlled deep breathing practices to balance your breathing can have a powerful and calming effect on your mind.  Relax and practice conscious breathing, get out in the crisp clean autumn air and fill your lungs with life energy.. you'll soon feel your lungs strengthening and your health improving.

     

     

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    Surrender

    Monday, July 18, 2016

    Drowning

    Each of us will face challenges in life.  Some of us will experience long periods of challenge that will have us questioning our faith and testing our courage.

    A few years ago the ground crumbled beneath me.

    This time for me can be described in only one word…loss.  I was losing everything. 

    My mother was dying, my marriage was ending, my only child was leaving the nest,  I had to sell my business and leave my home.  I was losing friends, loved ones, income, security, comfort, and all that was familiar. 

    All of this all took place in less than one year.

    When you experience an implosion there is very little left of you. The emotional and physical toll is great and recovery is lengthy.

    A Buoy

    When I found yoga twenty years ago, it came at another very challenging time in my life. That time however, was not a time of loss. The emergence into adulthood with all of its growing pains – new job, marriage, big responsibilities – can be just as ambiguous.    I was living a confused tumult, in a whirlpool.  And I found myself very unsteady on many levels.   Yoga found me and I was able to re-ground again. Psycho-emotionally, the practice of yoga balanced me, it calmed the angry seas.

    Living in a vortex of energy, it takes almost superhuman powers to step onto the mat, or to sit on the meditation cushion. It’s not easy to find stillness when you are riding turbulent waves.  But each time I mindfully moved my body or slipped into the tranquility of my breathing, I emerged more centered and grounded.  My mindfulness practice was a lifeboat in the storm.  To this day I will say that yoga saved my life. 

    Finding Ground

    The last few years have been an emotional drubbing.

    If you’ve ever been through any form of de-construction or demolition, you know that it is messy, dirty, noisy and sometimes painful.

    I have spent the last year slowly healing, licking my wounds and re-gaining strength.

    But the past several months have found me feeling restless, confused, unhappy, and more than a little fearful.  Reflecting recently on this, it has occurred to me that what I am experiencing is the inevitable and necessary phase following destruction. Re-building.  I am re-building everything I can, relationships, family, business, security…my future.

    And if you’ve ever been through any form of construction or remolding, you know that it too is messy, dirty, noisy and sometimes painful.  It also takes much longer than you expect and always cost more than you imagined

    This tumultuous period of my life finds me, once again, adrift in the turbulent waters reaching for yoga to buoy me.

    Surrender

    When I was in college I took an advanced life saving class thinking it was going to be an easy A.  (To this day, the hardest class I have taken.)  This class was training in life saving skills in the most challenging of conditions.   When someone is drowning they will fight for their lives without any awareness of the attempts being made to save them.  When a rescuer approaches a drowning victim, the victim will do whatever they can to survive, including grasping the rescuer as a means to stay afloat. This can have dire results for both rescuer and victim.  The struggle to save someone is more often about subduing the victim, controlling their attempts to kill you in an effort to save themselves, it a battle and it’s exhausting. 

    If you ever find yourself drowning (literally and figuratively), and salvation is reaching out to you, you must surrender. You must become still and quiet.

    It will take great strength and trust to do so, but surrender is grace.  It’s not about giving up or giving in, it’s about letting go. 

    It may well save you.

    So as I slowly compose a new foundation and forge a new life, I will continue to step to my mat, no doubt many days with tear stained cheeks and trembling muscles. But each time I step off the mat I am a little stronger, a bit braver and slightly more stable.

    My house will be re-built on peaceful ground.

    How has your practice supported you in times of uncertainty?

    The Top 5 Things I Learned From My Yoga Practice

    Thursday, July 07, 2016

    The top five things I learned from my yoga practice

     

    The practice of yoga has many benefits.  Most people will tell you that they felt different after their very first class. If you practice yoga regularly, you can’t help but change.

     

    There is a reason this practice has stood the test of time – some five thousand years!  The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda.   And while it’s integration into the western culture has diluted its essence somewhat, even a halfhearted practice will give you a taste of the profound potential to radically transform your life.

    I practice the science of yoga, I am not merely an asana practitioner, I try and live the yamas and niyamas, I have a disciplined pranayama practice, I work to cultivate inner awareness, and I meditate on the Divine, all with the hopes of attaining absorption - Samadhi.

    The practice of yoga completely balanced me phsycho-emotionally and as I enter the second half of this life, it has kept my body supple, healthy and balanced.  I am not the same person I was before I began walking this path, and everyday I am honored and humbled to be helping others explore the potential of yoga as well.

    Anyone who practices experiences the increase in body awareness.  Being able to feel parts of the body again, to really connect with the smallest of sensations. Not long after we are born, we are taught to ignore the innate intelligence of our bodies.  We are told when to sleep rather than listen to the body and sleep when we need it, we are told to eat, even if our bodies don’t hunger.  We are told not to eat when our bodies do hunger.  We are directed to keep our emotions in check, ignored or buried and we are taught to numb our aches, pains, and sensations.  By the time we are adults, we have lost touch with our bodies. Yoga brings the awareness back.

    As you practice yoga you learn acceptance.  To accept your body without judgment, and to work with its limitations rather than against them.

    And we feel a greater depth of gratitude…. gratitude that we have a body, a form in which to experience the sensate world around us.

    But there are five things in particular that I believe are the most profound gifts from this practice.

    1)    Mindfulness.

    We live in a culture that no longer values being. We are so busy doing, that we have lost connection with ourselves, with others, and with everything around us.  Yoga teaches us presence.  To truly be in the moment, each and every moment.  In a pose, we are asked to focus on just the sensations and energy.  We are asked to absorb all of our senses in the breath as we sit on our cushions or lie back on our mats.  We are taught to get out of our heads and get back into our hearts.  And the mindfulness we learn on our mats translates to mindfulness in everything we do.  Listening to a friend, being with a lover, negotiating a contract or settling a dispute.  We are completely present in that moment and giving someone our complete attention is an act of love, there is no greater gift

    2)    Patience

    When we first encounter our body in a pose, we are met with resistance, rigidity, tension, and years of neglect.  It is a body that has forgotten how to relax, a body taught bad postural habits.  As we attempt to stretch away these things, our bodies will grip with a protective reflex in an attempt to maintain the status quo.  And it will stay where it knows if we rush through the process, if we give in to the resistance.  But we are taught to breathe with a neutral mind and wait.  We ask, will, invite the body to let go of what no longer serves us.  And eventually it does, and our bodies become graceful and flexible.  And then we find that (w) holistically we become more graceful and flexible. We become more patient with the world around us.

    3)    Strength

    For me, as a former athlete, the physical practice didn’t challenge me as much as the mental practice, but I was amazed by the integrated strength I developed.   Yoga makes bodies overall more balanced in its expression of power, there is a stability that develops that can only be described as grounded.  I often remind my students that if there is hardness in the body, there is hardness in the mind; if there is weakness in the body, there is weakness in the mind.   As our bodies become stronger, so too does our concentration and focus.  Our minds become stronger, our emotions become more stable. We become more grounded

    4)    Surrender

    Our culture teaches us to strive, dominate, and acquire.  We are conditioned to believe force is a sign of power and to meet resistance with even stronger resistance.  That lifetime of struggle is creating a society of aggression and stress.  Yoga teaches us to release our holding patterns and our forceful nature so that in a pose we can relax the muscles and go deeper or so in meditation our minds can soften.  Surrender isn’t about giving up or giving in, it’s about letting go.   There is inherent peace in the act of surrender.  And if we are a microcosm in the macrocosm, our act of surrender can affect the greater whole.

    5)    Stillness

    When we begin practicing yoga, we are focused on the movement of the body, the flow of the breath.  Eventually, we are directed to focus on the stillness between the movements or the pauses between the breaths.  As our practice deepens, and thus we mature, we connect with the stillness even within the movement and we become stillness itself.

    What has been the greatest lesson or gift you’ve received from your practice?

    We Are One

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

    There is a South African philosophical tenet known as Ubuntu. It means, I am because we are.  The full proverb is Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu="a person is a person because of people".

    The meaning is that we are interconnected with everyone and everything through an invisible field of intelligence and energy.  In quantum speak, this is known as nonlocality. Nonlocality and entanglement are signature concepts of quantum mechanics. 

    In terms I better understand, nonlocality is when one object, without being anywhere near a second object, can influence the second object. Nonlocality occurs due to entanglement, whereby particles that interact once with each other become permanently connected, or dependent on each other.  Physicist have demonstrated time and time again that once an atom has been in the proximity of another atom, it will be influenced, or entangled, by that atom no matter how far away it travels.

    The human body is made up of seven billion billion billion atoms.  When you meet someone, when you interact with someone, you are forever entangled.  If two test subjects, knowing each other,  were hooked up to an EEG and placed in isolated rooms, the brain-wave patterns produced by a series of strobe lights in one of the subjects eyes will appear identically on the other test subjects EEG even though he was nowhere near the same flashes.

    This has profound implications.   If you think or speak negatively about or toward someone, does that mean they will feel it? Will it affect them on a cellular level?  If I watch the news with its pervasive negativity and feel a visceral reaction to it, is my partner feeling that too?  If you stay in an abusive relationship, does it mean your child feels the same pain?  On a global scale, doesn't this imply that if we are subjecting ourselves to negativity in any form, be it physical, mental or emotional, that everyone we have ever interacted with in all parts of the world would be affected by that negativity as well?   The concept of entanglement and nonlacality would have us believe that to be true.

    Then it would also mean that if we were to pray for someone to heal, their cells would be affected by it, that we could help someone far away get better.  It would imply that I could send a warm embrace to my child and he would feel it.  It tells me  that if we, collectively, were to focus on and think about love, equity, harmony, brotherhood, peace, and compassion that we can create a new world.  We can, with our very thoughts heal the planet and bring peace to it's inhabitants.  

    I feel a great sense of hope in this idea. 

    So I will choose to turn off the negativity, both external (television) and internal (thoughts). I will care for myself knowing that what I do to me will have a far reaching affect on others.  I will be project loving and kind thoughts so that everyone I have ever met will feel them. I will forgive and I will be kind.  

     I Am Because We Are.



    Heart Chakra

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    In our yoga classes this month, we've been focusing on the Chakra system.  An important concept of yoga is that of the Chakras. In yogic thought, the body contains seven primary points that store energy, known as Chakras.  (There are thousands of Chakras within our bodies)



    Westerners would interpret the Chakras as nerve centers, but they are much more than this.  As life energy, called prana, enters our bodies (using oxygen as its vehicle) the breath and life energy serpentines its way down and up our spinal axis.  At the meeting points of this serpentine movement, a vortex of energy is formed.  These energy vortexes are Chakras



    Though not physical in nature, they can be associated with various aspects of our physiology and psychology. 

    They do more than store energy, each Chakra controls a different system of our body as well as a different realm of your emotions.  When a Chakra becomes blocked, you could suffer from problems in that area.  



    For example, a sore throat, or….an inability to adequately communicate your feelings could signal a blocked

    vishuddha (throat) Chakra.  If you have indigestion, or…are overly competitive, you could have an imbalance in your manipura (solar plexus) Chakra.



    Certain yoga poses can make releasing and opening the Chakras easier, flooding them with energy, which helps to balance your entire body/mind.  
    One of the goals of a yoga practice is to free the blocked prana to ensure balance and harmony in the physical body, the mental body, and the spiritual body.  


    The Heart Chakra is called Anahatha.  This is associated with the cardiac plexus of nerves.  The heart Chakra is associated with the capacity for us to emotionally and spiritually nurture others.  On a physical level, imbalances here are associated with lung and heart diseases.  Psychological implication of a lack of energy imbalances here would lead to apathy or an inability to offer love to others.  Feelings of love and compassion are experienced at this center.  This energy center is about love, relationships, passion, joy of life.  It relates to the heart, lungs, thymus gland and emotions.


    When we work with yoga asana to bring balance to this Chakra, we would look to heart openers, back bends!


    One of my favorites is a simple, passive, supportive backbend.  Lie on the floor with a rolled yoga mat or blanket running perpendicular to the spin across the scapula (shoulder blades) with the arms in goal-post position above the rolled support.  Relax and breathe evenly but fully in the belly, back and chest.  Visualize your heart center, which is behind the physical heart.  imagine a radiant green aura of light coming from this place.  Each time you breathe in, allow that light to expand and as it does, expand the feelings of love, compassion, empathy, generosity, optimism, and grace.  As well, feel the muscles of the front of the chest, shoulders and mid-section releasing and relaxing.



    Allow five minutes in this position.  When you are finished you will feel less tension and tightness in your shoulders and chest.  Your breathing will have deepened, and your posture improved.  More importantly, you will have a more open and compassionate heart center.

    love thy enemies

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    "But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you,.."  Matthew 5:44


    I am not a religious person nor I don't profess to know much about the bible, but I do know that some consider this to be one of the most important verses in the entire New Testament and is what separates Christianity from all earlier religions.  I suppose most of the verses in most of the religious text are subject to personal interpretation, translated based on our own perceptions, conditionings and beliefs.   But this one is powerful and appears fairly straightforward to me.

    But these modern times, especially In light of the recent events in so many parts of world, this ideology seems to be lost, forgotten, or ignored.  How does one "love thy enemy" when there is such hate, violence, and destruction imposed upon human beings by other human beings.  How can we forgive? How can we begin to heal as a species, a planet, a collective consciousness?  These questions keep many of us awake at night, worrying for our future.

    I turn to the teachings of the wisdom traditions when I feel lost and disheartened.  Time and again, regardless of the problem I am seeking an answer to, I am presented with one simple idea…change your perception. Clear your lenses and try to see through new eyes.  This is empathy.

    Empathy is not sympathy.  Sympathy is the outpouring of pity or feeling sorry for someone(s).  Empathy is the ability to step into the world of another person, what is it like to be in the skin of another, feeling what they feel, trying to understand.   Empathy is easier when its our neighbor. We can more easily step into the shoes of those near to us, especially if they are "like" us.  But empathy doesn't work so well at a distance.  For instance, how can you step into the shoes of an Isis operative to understand their motives?  How do you try to empathize with someone you hate in order to understand them? 

    This is where Gandhi was so ahead of his time.  Gandhi, who was Hindu, said "I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.."  He saw the power in this, the power of empathy to bring about peace.  Gandhi dedicated his life to satya (truth) and peace. One of his more famous quotes of "an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world bind", supports his renown as  a pacifist committed to non-violence and conflict resolution.

    For those not so steeped in the ideology of those like Gandhi, the militarist Robert McNamara, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense famously said that the number one rule in all foreign policy making should be to empathize with your enemy. He didn't mean to befriend or agree with them, he meant that to think smart, you had to understand what it is that drives them. Because if you don't understand them or where they are coming from, then all of your strategies to defeat them will be a failure.  While his motives were different, he understood the value of empathy.

    Empathy is vital to any form of relationship, business, familial, or global.   So how does one begin to develop empathy?  There are many techniques or ideas you can consider to begin to open yourself to this ability, but one of the simplest ways is to simply be curious.

    Develop and nurture your curiosity of another person, a stranger. Ask the Muslim guy that sells you your morning paper about his life, his world. Ask the Hindu in the tea shop about her family, her dreams.   Act as if that person is more interesting than your are.  Then you will begin to soften your fear and perhaps your hate,  and empathize (feel) what another person feels. You never really understand a person until you've stepped inside of their skin and walked around.

    This is the only way to begin to heal, to build healthy and peaceful relationships toward a common goal. 

    "A man is absolutely free only when there is no identity left.  You are neither a Christian nor a Hindu nor a Mohammedan; you are neither an Indian nor a German; you are neither a man nor a woman.  You are just a pure consciousness, and that consciousness is eternal." 

    Healthier Summer Tips

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015
    Sunscreen smarts 
    We've been led to believe that sunscreens are the safest way to protect yourself from sun damage, and that's due to the fact that companies spend millions of dollars a year to keep you believing that. Yet most sunscreens block out beneficial UVB rays, (which are the ones that help you produce vitamin D) leaving you wide open to the damaging UVA rays... not to mention the toxic chemicals that are the ingredients in most of these products!


    There are a few better ideas.  You may want to consider skipping the sunscreen. Don't wait until your skin turns dark pink to get out of the sun, go from sun to shade every 15-20 minutes, this is the best way to prevent a burn. You'll get a healthy dose of Vitamin D and avoid absorbing harmful chemical toxins.


    Or consider a natural alternative. Coconut oil and aloe vera gel are natural sunscreens that are also good for your skin. And that red pepper you may throw on the grill will also help protect your skin. They're full of antioxidants that defend against sun damage.


    Kill Pests, Not Brain Cells
    Bug sprays containing DEET are some of the worst offenders when it comes to toxic chemical exposures, especially to children, and the longer the product claims to keep the bugs at bay, the more chemical it is likely to contain.  And the risk increases if it's left on overnight!
     
    Why risk it? use essential oils instead.  Mix citronella, peppermint, and tea tree oil with witch hazel and distilled water.  Bugs hate it, and it smells great.


    Quick Dips
    Traditional swimming pools are full of harmful chemicals. Chlorine, bromine, and their byproducts can start damaging your DNA in as little as 40 minutes of exposure.  So keep your pool sessions to 30 minutes or less.  And remember, exposure to pool chemicals doesn't end once you're out of the water, so be sure to rinse off when you get out.


    Healthier Grilling
    Marinating meats in beer before grilling will help prevent meats from  forming carcinogenic compounds.  But so can pre-cooking them to further limit the amount of cancer-causing chemicals formed on the grill…like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).


    Start with grass-fed or organic, free range chicken.  They should be free of any antibiotics or hormones.  Bake it most of the way in the over. Then finish it on the grill right away to prevent bacteria from moving in.


    Add Some Color
    That's not the only way to help fight cancer on the grill. Antioxidants in vegetables can help soak up any toxins left behind on your meats.  Tossing them on the grill also helps to bring out their natural sweetness.


    Zucchini, rich in vitamins A, B, and C, is a great choice as it hold up well on the grill.  Add some red peppers and this combo packs a healthy dose of antioxidants like lycopene and nasunin.  Together, they fend off cancer-causing free radicals!

    Self-healing

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015
    There is scientific proof that you can heal yourself. And this isn't limited to just the nuisance symptoms that decrease your quality of life such as low energy,aches and pains and waning vitality. It applies to chronic health conditions that Western medicine hasn't been able to successfully address, as well as life-threatening illnesses.  


    The Eastern medical and the more "natural" health modals have known this for hundreds of years. Our own contemporary medical establishment has been proving that the mind can heal the body of over 50 years.  We call it the placebo effect. There's loads of data proving that the mind can believe itself well. (We can also think ourselves sick, this is known as the nocebo effect)


    Patients treated with placebos don't just "feel" better, they are getting better. Bronchi dilate, warts disappear, colons become less inflamed, hair grows back on the heads of bald men, ulcers heal, as well as many other measurable physiological phenomena.


    It turns out, the body has built in self-repair mechanisms that fix damaged proteins, repair DNA, eat up cancer cells and other infectious agents that our bodies are exposed to everyday.  This natural ability explains the spontaneous remissions that we hear about from seemingly "incurable" diseases. 


    How do these things happen physiologically? Through the power of our thoughts!  A positive thought or emotion can trigger spontaneous repair within the body.  A negative thought or emotion can, conversely, help foster dis-ease.


    What disables the body's natural self-repair mechanisms?  Stress. Stress flips on a series of physiological cascades associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the "fight or flight" response of the sympathetic nervous system.  


    But here is the catch, the body can only repair itself when it is in a state of physiological rest.  Whenever your body is in stress overload, it shuts down self-repair. 


    In October, I will be hosting a workshop to share not just the scientific proof that you can heal yourself, but also tips for using the power of the mind to optimize the body's natural self-repair mechanisms.  You'll learn how disease prevention and spontaneous remissions aren't just something that happens randomly, but something you can experience for yourself.  


    Please join us


    Meditation Shown to Change Your DNA

    Tuesday, February 10, 2015

    We know that meditation is good for us.  There are hundreds of studies showing how it can decrease stress, calm the mind and emotions, and increase mental clarity and focus.  The medical studies showing how, in as little as ten minutes per day, meditation can help reduce blood pressure, quell anxiety and aid in the prevention of heart disease, should be enough to get everyone on the meditation bandwagon!  But now we have more support in favor of this ancient practice. 

     
    A recent study published in the Canadian scientific journal Cancer, the use of mindfulness meditation was shown to have an impact on certain types of DNA in breast cancer patients. Specifically it was the length of telomeres, which are tiny protective caps on the end of chromosomes. In this study, they found that the telomeres where physically altered as the result of mindful meditation.

    Leading the investigation was Dr. Linda Carlson.  She and her colleagues took distressed breast cancer survivors and divided them in to three groups.  The first group was randomly assigned to an eight week cancer recovery program consisting of mindfulness meditation and yoga; the second to a twelve week group therapy in which they shared emotions and fostered social support, and the third was a control group, receiving  just a six hour stress management course.
    A total of 88 women completed the study and had their blood analyzed for telomere length before and after the interventions.  Telomeres were maintained in both treatment groups but shortened in control group.

    Wondering what telomeres have to do with anything?  Here's the lowdown.  
    Basically, shorter telomeres correlate with ailments like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (just to mention a few).  So if we can manage to keep these structures from shrinking, our overall health is better off.  This new correlations of telomere length with the age old practice of mindfulness gives people the power to control their own health!  

    So if the zen-ness of a meditation practice isn't enough to draw people in, maybe the proven promise of physiological health benefits will get them on the bandwagon!

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article-our-dna-through-mind-control/
    http://www..ornishspectrum.com/wp-content/uploads/increased-telemerase-activity-and-comprehensive-lfestyle-changes.pdf

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