Elder care and yoga practice

Rolling Brook Restorative (barefoot photos)

I am so sorry dear readers that it has been sooooo long since I’ve posted.

This is the thing, my father-in-law who moved into assisted living in Fredonia last fall, fell out of bed and clunked his noggin’ at the end of February. Ten days of hospitalization were followed by a transfer to a nursing home-the locked dementia ward. This man, who two months ago was enjoying homemade dinners and classical music concerts with us, can no longer walk, barely eats, is in diapers, has leg sores, and hardly knows who his son is, much less who I am. At nearly ninety years old, where is the dignity? What effect does my yoga training have on my response to his suffering…and the family’s grief and suffering?

Well, the first thing I rely upon is the breath. I take long sessions of ujjayi to assuage the grief that he is leaving us.

The second practice I engage in is TONGLEN meditation. I will write a page about that soon. Fortunately for me, my teacher, Mahala of ten thousand bodhisattvas dot com offered a Tonglen class shortly after Ben went into the nursing home.  Did the universe know that I needed this? I can hear my yoga teacher muttering karma, carolyn, karma!

As a caregiver of a ninety year old with end stage dementia, I now know that I need to learn how to take care of myself first because at present I am suffering from a very nasty case of the flue, probably due to exhaustion. So restorative yoga, here I come. The third practice. Pull out the bolsters and blankies, cause I’m resting, deeply. It’s the core practice of compassionate caregivers.

Meditation Journal, breath

Snow Shadows (barefoot photos)

A rambling excerpt of a practice journal entry that I thought might be of some use . . .  .

December 15, 2010, Wednesday morning, 9:10 AM

Just meditated with soft ujjayi breath for an hour. Shocked when I opened my eyes and realized how much time had passed. That happens so often. The timeless place opens and I enter.

Mind wandered. Thinking about the blog and books. But kept coming back to Breath.

Disengaging from the heaviness of the body, even the entanglement of the mind.

Breath is so light and free. It is always here, always available, as much as I want it. A gift I need to be present to.

A tool for growth rest healing love.

Breath teaches me to love my essential self, my core, my self dis-embodied and de-minded, essential, free, perfect, and imperfect.

Breath is eternal and brings me into eternity.

Breath is who I want to Be.

Breath is who I am.

25 Random thoughts about Laughing Yogini

dicentra in Fredonia NY (devin photo)

Since I’ve been tagged repeatedly by FaceBook friends, I’ve gotten the message that I should provide a little more “personal” type info. for my beloved readers! So here goes, round two of 25 random thoughts….

25 Random Thoughts about LaughingYogini

chairpose1. Practices asana as a form of prayer.

2. Tore her Achilles doing the “Energy” Yoga tape with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden ….which she did every morning after the kids left for school and M. went to work….for a solid year…still remembers the “zing” in the back of her heel  (1998 or so)

3. She and Mike spent their 25th wedding anniversary at the London Iyengar Institute in an all-day workshop on standing poses.

4. Loves teaching college students (and younger!) because of their energy and willingness to go where they’ve never gone before!

5.  Wishes her tummy was smaller so she could go deeper in several poses.

6. Is still waiting to get into full splits on the floor, lift into a complete backbend, do a headstand away from the wall, clasp her hands behind her back in gomukhasana…..hmmmm, the list goes on….but who really cares since she is alive and well and feels like a goddess in ardha chandrasana?

dscn25967. Worked intensely for 2 years with a meditation teacher with whom she no longer studies. She did however, ramp up her sitting practice AND learned a lot about herself in the process.

8. No longer publishes her e-zine CIRCLE YOGA. Laughing Yogini blog and website launched in May 2008.

9. Practiced a half hour of ujjayi breath every day for six solid months while grieving a family member’s illness and credits THAT to her own life.

10. While in legs up the wall pose, listened to Pema Chodron cds every afternoon for many many months.

11. Teaches seniors because they ROCK and they don’t hold back!

12.Will probably never become a complete and utter vegetarian, though she really does love her veggies.

13. Has always believed in a higher power…god, the goddess, the Self. The Great Spirit,  energy, collective unconscious….you know what I mean. Believes that higher is within.

14. After returning from living in Mumbai, the entire family — parents and kids: 12, 11, 8 years old — practiced yoga on the living room floor following the suggestions of Richard Hittleman’s YOGA…for about a year.

15. Her back went “electrical” when F. tried to straighten her up in sarvangasana on the last day of her first teacher training! Not to worry, sometimes body parts need adjustments.

16. Gave each other yoga ropes for their 30th wedding anniversary (2 years ago). These are now in the basement studio and add a lot of zing to their personal practice as well as the classes.

17. Researched in Light on Yoga by B.K.S.Iyengar how to help heel spurs after being told by therapist that she’d never be able to walk barefoot…she’d already tried most of traditional medicine’s treatments at that time….after practicing Supta Virasana regularly those pesky heel spurs softened!

18. Graduated from 2 separate teacher trainings. Really LOVED BOTH of them even though they were quite different from each other. Sometimes it’s not the “advanced certificate” that’s as important as much as the knowledge that can be absorbed.

19. Is not happy with what the x-rays said about her lower back (spurs, eburnation, bone on bone) BUT is determined to continue honoring the “sacred space in the lumbar spine” as Vanda Scaravelli says.

20. Wishes she would find time to read and reread all of the yoga and meditation books she has on her shelf.

rope-squat21. Was born bow-legged. Once found a pair of her baby shoes with boards connecting them at the arches which were supposed to straighten out her legs, according to Mom Kieber. She’s still working on straightening those bones!

22. Wishes she were more photogenic so she could create yoga videos just the way she thinks they’d be instructive for her students…ahhh well, they’ll have to make do with podcasts….the oral tradition.

23. While she’s broadcasting wishes: she wishes she had a full and complete studio built over the garage! And …..she’d like to get some training with Tibetans!

24. Was first introduced to YOGA nearly 40 years ago in Mater Dei High School Yoga Club. Blessings on that sweet teacher, whoever and wherever you are today!

25. Has found a deep connection to her yoga kula: students, friends, teachers, online acquaintances. She’s grateful for the wellspring of support and love that she has found there and hopes to return the sweetness with every breath.

Beginner’s Mind and Body, one-legged yoga

Dipti lifting foot into Tree with strap

Day after day, month after month, year after year, practice can grow stale and arrogant if I don’t re-invigorate mind and body in what zen master, Suzuki Roshi refers to as Beginner’s Mind. In yoga asana practice I need to remind myself to approach the physical aspect of any pose with “Beginner’s Body.”

If I return to the mat each day with an intention to open myself to whatever the practice (the universe!) can teach me, if I approach every class—whether I am teacher or student— as if it is my first, yoga will continue to inspire and embody its own motivation.

Fortunately, there’s nothing like an injury in one part of the body to jolt me out of my usual routine. An injury that requires resting, like the neck strain I have today (due to doing something I KNEW I shouldn’t do, but did anyway!!!) forces me to lay off my usual inversion practice for a while and spend more time in other poses and sequences—an opportunity to practice with Beginner’s Mind & Body.

As all of my teachers have stressed, yoga is not about becoming “a little more bendy;” it’s about how deep and how quickly I can drop down into the center of the SELF. It’s about attempting to stay connected with my center for as long as possible. To do this, I MUST practice Beginner’s Mind.

Dipti in Revolved Hasta Padanghustasana

There’s nothing like a one-legged sequence to shake out whatever remains stale and “old” in my practice. My teacher Dipti introduced a challenging sequence in last week’s class. What made it different was that nearly all of the poses were practiced on one leg and then the class switched legs and did them all on the other side. This required balance muscles in the core, ankles, and gluteus medias as well as intense concentration to remain upright!

For the dark, cold days that are upon me now in the western New York, a great way to stir the inner light (without straining my neck!) has been playing with these one-legged poses. Remembering the stability inherent in correctly practicing the individual poses, I gently try combining them. I pay particular attention to stabilizing my pelvis to protect my lower back and I press down through the inner leg and ankle of the standing leg to avoid my tendency to roll onto the lax outer ankle.

I’m starting with just a couple—3 at first—and trying to move through the poses without touching the lifted leg onto the ground as I transition from one to the other. I figure that as soon as I get used to the first 3, I’ll add another one or two as I become comfortable. I’m shooting for stability and grace in the sequence.

If you decide you’d like to spice up your practice and develop your Beginner’s Mind/Beginner’s Body with one-leggers, start slowly and carefully with strong focus on building alignment in each pose before moving on. Use ujjayi breath to build the position. As always, listen to your body, especially your vulnerable lower back and knees and stop when you feel pain.

Read the Introduction to Home Practice and Asana Practice if you haven’t yet and be sure you have permission from your medical practitioner before embarking upon any asana practice. Everyone should work at their capacity, not beyond—and make use of blocks, straps, or chairs if the full pose is presently unattainable.

One-leggers are not recommended for pregnant women, folks with current spinal disc or sciatica issues, or anyone who experience dizziness,

D. in Revolved Lifted Bent Knee Pose

Here’s a list of possible poses that I’ve been fooling around with:

  • Vrksasana – TREE
  • Virabhadrasana 3 – WARRIOR 3
  • Natarajasana – DANCER
  • Utthita Hasta Padanghustasana -STANDING BIG TOE
  • Ardha Chandrasana – HALF-MOON
  • Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana – UPRIGHT EXTENDED ONE-LEGGED (standing splits)
  • Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana – HALF BOUND LOTUS
  • Garudasana – EAGLE

I have to resist the thought that “Now I have the pose- and i can relax my attention.” I keep reminding myself that the journey is the pose and attempt to stay mindful coming into, during, and transitioning from pose to pose. If I fall out, no big deal; I can try again or move on as I feel prompted from within. Practicing this way over and over again helps to relax the grip that the past has on my mind and allows me to breathe and “pose” in the present.

Read more about BEGINNER’S MIND:


by Suzuki Roshi


The audio version is great listening while walking deep in the forest, or on a treadmill:

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind