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Thursday, September 18 2014

During the Labor Day Weekend, I attended a retreat on a beautiful farm in Stanton, KY.  My goal was to attempt to connect with my past—all the bad and the good—in a meaningful to help me move on with my life.  I thought meditation out under the stars might help me achieve this goal.

Through a yoga practice spanning 15 years and countless hours of meditation, I have been able to calm the chatter in my mind and progress through different levels of meditative states.

However, to my surprise, I experienced a great awakening, just by planting my bare feet on the ground, near a venerable maple tree and gazing up at the beautiful Milky Way.  I wrote about my experience and Elephant Journal published it today.

It may be a naive wish, but I truly wish everyone on Earth could experience what I experienced that lovely night.  I believe it just might be a path to making all of our lives so much easier.

Namaste.

Posted by: Jody Zimmerman AT 08:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, September 09 2014

I did not take this beautiful photograph, but purchased it off of one of the stock photo websites.  However, last weekend I witnessed a similar view on a farm in central Kentucky.  I lay on the grass, barefoot, gazing up through and over a beautiful maple tree, focusing on the enormity of the Milky Way.  Shooting stars flickered, and with every breath, I became increasingly drawn into this cosmic spectacle.

I relaxed more, letting my breath settle into my body.  I focused on the silhouette of the maple tree, halfway closing my eyes, inviting a meditative state to envelop me. After what I experienced as a short period, but later discovered it must have been a few hours, I could feel my brain slowing down, the random thoughts spinning out less frequently, and I began to notice a faint web reaching up from the maple into the sky. The more I relaxed and slowed my breath, the more the web grew until it covered the entire tree, my body, the countryside around the tree, the Milky Way and far, far beyond into the universe. 

Through years of hatha yoga practice and more recently acupuncture, I have attained many different meditative states, but none so overwhelming as this. I am not certain I can adequately describe the experience in words, but I will try. I felt as if my self-awareness—my ego—simply evaporated into the night air and my entire being became absorbed into this cosmic web. It did not feel so much a web of life as it did a web of existence. I felt as if I were connected to everything in the universe.

Deepak Chopra says that people are spiritual beings having a human experience, a rather abstract belief that has now become as palpable as the soft, caressing, feel of one of my favorite, old tee-shirts. 

In the days after my experience, one that some Buddhist, Hindu, and yogic doctrines describe as a form of heightened meditation or Samadhi, I have developed a feeling of sadness. This sadness is tightly coupled with yearning that every person on Earth quickly get to that state I experienced. In my naïve dream of Shangra-La, we would all understand that we are truly brothers and sisters, given the divine responsibility of taking care of one another and our beautiful planet as we ourselves journey through this dimension.

I encourage everyone to take your shoes off, put your feet on the ground, lie on your back, and gaze up at the night sky.

Posted by: Jody Zimmerman AT 06:40 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, March 07 2014

Jody Zimmerman in Standing Backbend, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, July, 2010

I’ve practice yoga almost daily for fifteen years, and I have been a yoga instructor for four years.  Of all the asanas I practice and teach, I have observed that backbends, particularly the standing backbend, generate the most anxiety, fear, and reluctance among yogis.

Backbends are one of the most mysterious of all the asanas, but just like a great mystery novel, as you progress page by page, slowly revealing the layers of the story, as you approach your backbends step by step, you unlock their enormous power.

Anxiety, fear, and reluctance are terms not normally associated with the benefits of the practice of yoga.  Don’t we all practice yoga to rid ourselves of these states of being?  The answer is yes and no.

The practice of hatha yoga or forceful yoga employs the body, mind, and breath control to help an individual arrive at a physical, mental, and spiritual state of overall calmness in order to meditate and connect with the universe—that which is everything.

So, what does this have to do with backbends?  For most of us, particularly Westerners, we spend our working lives hunched over computers, bent over executing physical tasks, bowing toward omnipresent gravity.  In this hunched over state, we are, both symbolically and physically, protecting our vital organs and our hearts.  We are covering and concealing and relinquishing to gravity. 

Backbends are the polar opposite of this.  In backbends, we are uncovering and exposing our vital organs and our hearts.  We are lifting our heart toward the heavens, away from the pull of gravity.  We are opening our spines in opposition to our normal state, we are exposing ourselves, and we are displaying our vulnerability.  These are all fearful, sometimes terrifying states for many of us.

The key to practicing backbends without anxiety, fear, and reluctance is to start within your comfortable range, and each time you come to your mat, take it one tiny step further.

Most of us do backbends each morning without even thinking about it.  At some point we stretch our spines upward, open our arms wide, reaching up, lifting our chests, perhaps with a yawn—performing an unconscious hatha yoga movement to wake up our bodies after sleep.

Locus pose and Bridge pose are the easiest back bends for most of us, because we are firmly supported on the ground.  Camel and particularly Standing Backbend present more challenges because our bodies are more vertical and further away from the mat.

Backbends often generate a great deal of emotional release as you open your Heart Chakra.  Immediately after the death of three of my beloved dogs at different times in the past, I would go straight to yoga practice, and invariably, each time I arrived in Camel Pose, I became overcome with emotion and literally cried my heart out, helping me to both grieve the loss of my loved ones and to arrive at an understanding that they weren’t really dead or gone, but merely moving on to become a part of the universe in a different way. 

And so goes the mystery and power of backbends.

Jamie Haworth, Jody Zimmerman, Shawna Spellman, and Rob Spellman from Heat Yoga and Wellness in Camel Pose at Pura Vida Yoga Resort in Costa Rica in February 2007.

Posted by: Jody Zimmerman AT 10:02 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, December 20 2012

Taking a breath is the first thing you do when you are born, and it is the last thing you do before you die.  We need food and water to survive, but we need to breathe more than anything else.  The body can survive days without water and weeks without food, but only a few minutes without the breath.

We tend to forget about the breath, especially as we mature and get caught up in everyday living and routines.  In my yoga classes, I teach that the breath is the most important part of the yoga.

The great spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda taught that through Kriya Yoga Meditation (based on breathing techniques), a person’s soul can transcend a million years in one lifetime.  That is some pretty powerful breathing!

When was the last time you enjoyed taking a deep, rejuvenating breath—letting your lungs expand completely, all the way down to the lowest lobes?

The following five breathing techniques offer simple ways for you to connect with your breath.  Returning to your breath is a basic thing, something that grounds you, connects you with your inner-self and with the universe.

The brain is smart, it learns, remembers, and is influenced by a multitude of internal and external forces.  The brain is the control center of your body and so long as you are getting enough oxygen for normal body functions, the brain will not ask you to breathe deeper, using the full capacity of your lungs.  The following breathing techniques require you to put the brain in the background, slowing or silencing the chatter of the mind, so that you focus only on the breath. Listening to your breath is the basis of most meditation practices.

Taking a few minutes each day to connect with your breath will create positive changes in your life, making you healthier, giving you a richer perspective of your world and the universe.

Technique 1 – Deep-Breathing 7’s

a)        Sit up straight in a chair—no slouching or unnatural curving in your spine.

b)        Close your eyes and rest your hands on your thighs or knees.

c)         Relax your shoulders and hips, visualize any tension in your body draining down your body out through the bottoms of your feet into the floor or ground.

d)        Relax your jaw, but keep your lips closed, exhale completely though your nose.

e)        Inhale through your nose to your own personal count of 7, breathing from the bottom of the lungs up.  Put your hand right below your sternum.  You should be able to feel your ribs expanding as your breathe in.  Relax the back of the throat and let it open as you breath in.

f)         Exhale slowly through your nose to your own personal count of 7.

g)        Focus on the sound and rhythm of your breath with your eyes closed.  Try not to let your mind wander; keep retuning to the breath.  Repeat at your own pace for 7 minutes.

h)        I recommend setting a kitchen timer.  When the time is up, slowly open your eyes, smile, and thank yourself for taking the time to do this breathing technique.

Technique 2 – Deep-Breathing 7’s with Pauses

 This technique is performed exactly as above, except that you pause for 7 counts between each inhale and exhale.  If this is a challenge at first, just pause for a count of 2 or 3 and build up as you relax and gain more confidence experiencing a ‘breathless’ state.

This technique helps your brain move from the beta state (fully awake and alert) into the alpha state (relaxed, more right brain activity) that is a key requirement to reach meditative states.

Technique 3 – Alternate Nostril Breathing

a)        Get comfortable in a chair, sitting up straight or sit on the floor Indian style, or in lotus position.

b)        Close your eyes, breathing in and out through your nose, focusing on the breath.  Take normal, relaxing breaths.

c)         Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril as you breathe in through your left nostril.

d)        When you have breathed in a full, deep breath, immediately release your right nostril and close off your left nostril with your right index finger and exhale completely through the right nostril.

e)        Once you have exhaled completely through the right nostril, inhale deeply through the right nostril, with the left nostril still shut using your right index finger.

f)         Once you have inhaled completely use your right thumb to shut off the right nostril, release the right index finger from the left nostril and exhale completely through the left nostril.

g)        Inhale through the left nostril and repeat the cycles.

The alternate sequence can sometimes at first be confusing.  Relax and start with three minutes.  Before long you’ll be able to do five to ten minutes easily.

Technique 4 – Favorite Place in Nature Breathing

Almost everyone has a special place outside, a place that warms your heart, makes you smile when you think about it, a place where you feel safe, secure, and special, and a place where you long to go, time and again.  I use this technique a lot in my yoga classes.
We usually do it in corpse pose (savasana).

a)        Get comfortable in a chair, sitting up straight or sit on the floor Indian style, or in lotus position.

b)        Close your eyes, breathing in and out through your nose, focusing on the       breath.  Take normal, relaxing breaths.

c)         As you breathe normally, let your mind visualize your favorite place:  focus on the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feeling of the place you know and love so well.

d)        As your mind carries you to your favorite place, relax your body and begin to slow and lengthen your inhales and exhales.  Continue to breath in and out through the nose with the lips shut, the jaw relaxed.

e)        After three to five minutes of deep breathing focusing on your favorite place, allow your mind to focus more on the breath and less on the favorite place.

f)         Continue in this manner for ten to twenty minutes.

g)        You will probably be in a fairly deep meditative state by the end of this exercise.  To come out of it, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers as you  slowly open your eyes.  Smile, knowing you can be instantly transported to your favorite place through the mind and the breath.

Technique 5 – White Light Breathing

a)        Get comfortable in a chair, sitting up straight or sit on the floor Indian style, or in lotus position.

b)        Close your eyes, breathing in and out through your nose, focusing on the breath.  Take normal, relaxing breaths.

c)         Imagine that your spine is a hollow tube and that as you breath in, your breath starts at the base of your spine, climbs up the hollow tube, through your throat and head and out the crown of your head.  As you breath out, the breath travels from the crown of the head, down to the base of the spine.

d)        Now imagine that your breath is a pulsing, bright white light originating at the base of your spine.  As you breath in, the ball of white light rises up through the hollow tube of your spine and through the crown of your head.

e)        This white energy emerging from your head mixes with all the energy in the universe gaining strength, power, and intensity.  As you exhale, fresh, new white energy is drawn into the crown of your head, flowing back down through your hollow spine and into every cell of your body with healing, refreshing energy.

f)         Continue focusing on this image as you breath in and out through your nose. The white ball of energy increases in size with each inhalation and exhalation until it expands beyond your body, filling up the room, filling up the building, filling up your town, your state, your country, the world, the solar system, the galaxy, until it fills the entire universe and you become one with the energy of the universe.

g)        You will be in a deep meditative state by the end of this exercise.  To come out of it, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers as you slowly open your eyes.

Remember, the breath is the basis of our lives.  Without it, we do not live.  Be kind to yourself, honor yourself, and take a few minutes every day to focus on your breath.  After all, without the breath, nothing else really matters. 

Posted by: by Jody Zimmerman, Registered Yoga Teacher, RYTŪ AT 09:20 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, November 21 2012

I woke up this morning feeling thankful for many things in my life, and since Thanksgiving is tomorrow, it seems appropriate that my feelings coincide with the holiday.

It is difficult, and I think pointless, to prioritize all the wonderful things in my life:  good friends, great pets, good health, peace of mind, two good jobs (commercial real estate and yoga instructor), a deep, spiritual faith, and a good family.  However, one special thing, like a deep steady current, runs beneath all my blessings:  my yoga practice.

I am so thankful for my practice, even though I have now arrived back to the starting point that initially led me to yoga over ten years ago:  an injury—a torn medial meniscus in my knee.  I think it is appropriate to call this my Thanksgiving Paradox.

Back then, I ran marathons and worked out incessantly in the gym.

Here is a photograph of me completing the Indianapolis Marathon in 2000.

I was so happy.  I qualified for Boston that year with a time of 3 hours 15 minutes and 51 seconds:  that translates to a 7 minute 29 second pace per mile.  I was forty-one years old and was the 41st finisher out of 437 who competed that year.

One day while doing a lunge with a barbell, my left ankle twisted, and I tore the medial meniscus in my left knee.  I told myself, no problem, a little orthoscopic surgery, a little rest, a little physical therapy, and I’ll be running marathons again in no time.

Six months after the operation, I couldn’t run more than five miles without pain in my left knee.  I was frantic; I didn’t know where to turn.  Someone, and I cannot remember who, suggested I try Bikram yoga.  I read Bikram’s testimonial about how he healed his crushed knee (also from a weight-lifting accident) with yoga.  It sounded like a good plan to me.

I was so fortunate to have walked, albeit with much apprehension, into Bikram Yoga of Louisville on Frankfort Avenue and into Shawna Spellman’s Bikram class.  The physicality and challenge of the class overwhelmed me and enticed me:  this was much harder than running a marathon.  I was hooked, stifling heat and all.

Shawna smiled when I told her about my knee injury and told me to come to class for sixty days in a row; it would change my life.  I didn’t believe her, and I didn’t attend for sixty days in a row, but I did attend four to five times a week, and, to my complete surprise and satisfaction, after about three months of this, I could run ten miles with no pain.

Over the next several years, I became a dedicated student of Shawna’s and her other great Bikram instructors like Jennifer Farmer.  They taught me so much about yoga, about my mind, about my breath, about my body.  I convinced my good friend Thom Blincoe to try the yoga.  He did and began his own practice.  Thom and I, along with another friend, Jamie Haworth, accompanied Shawna and her husband Rob to Pura Vida yoga retreat outside of San Juan, Costa Rica, on two separate occasions.

Pura Vida is an amazing place:  lush setting, nice rooms, healthy food, a staff of excellent massage therapists, and nice yoga facilities.  I highly recommend it.  The second year we traveled to Pura Vida, Shawna invited a talented and lovely Bikram teacher from Chicago, Miryana Pahmier, to join us to teach some of the classes.

Here are some photographs from our two memorable trips.

Shawna, Jamie, and me in toe stand.

Shawna in a beautiful bow pose.

Thom and Miryana

As the years passed, I continued diligently practicing yoga.  I even gave up running, and, to my amazement, the yoga itself became an instructor, and I began to learn and to understand things about myself I had never known, or perhaps, had never let myself know, simply by going to my mat and performing the breathing methods (pranayama) and the poses (asanas) several times a week.

By 2009 and my fiftieth birthday, I felt an increasing urge to extend my yoga journey, but I wasn’t sure how to accomplish this.  Shawna encouraged me to go to teacher training, and I was surprised that she didn’t push Bikram training—she even suggested Jimmy Barkan.  Just as I was growing, so was my teacher, and she began allowing different types of yoga into her domain.

I decided on New Years Day 2010 to participate in a worldwide challenge of doing Bikram yoga for 101 days in a row.  I completed that on April 11, 2010, and when I saw this sign placed on the door of our yoga studio, I knew I had to become a yoga teacher.

I was not the only person in Louisville on such a path.  Kelly Robinson, a lovely young woman, with whom I had practiced, was also following a yogic path.  And so it was, Kelly and I enrolled in Jimmy Barkan’s Level I Hot Yoga Teacher Training, and we travelled together to Fort Lauderdale for a month of intensive training in June 2010, a life-changing experience for both of us.

Jimmy Barkan is an amazing teacher and a beautiful person.

Here is a photo of Jimmy teaching pada-hastasana using Masumi Ishii as a model. Look at her form—beautiful!

Jimmy introduced me to Pantanjali’s Eight-limb path, an ancient doctrine which I consider a “User’s Guide” to being a kind and loving person and contributing to the world in a positive way.  He also introduced me to Paramahansa Yogananda, the esteemed Indian yogi and guru, sent to the United States in 1920 to introduce the ancient Indian teachings of yoga and meditation to the west.

Jimmy’s Level I Training co-teacher is a woman named Lisa Goodwin, who I like to describe as a true angel on earth.  Lisa is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met and her immense desire to help others through yoga and life coaching is a beautiful, spiritual thing to witness.  Lisa taught me how to make a vision board—another thing that has changed my life in a very positive way.

Through the vision board, I arrived at the understanding that my true calling is to be a writer.  This gave me the strength to finish my first novel, Blood Brothers, which I will begin marketing next year.  I have been working on the book for ten years.  It is time to finish it and begin others.

Kelly and I got so much out of Level I, that we traveled back together to Jimmy’s Level II/III Hot Vinyasa Training the following October. For the advanced training, Jimmy’s co-teacher is another remarkable woman named Kelly Green.  Kelly can seemingly defy gravity in amazing ways with her ability to float into a variety of arm balances, headstands, and hand stands.  She is also a woman of deep spirituality and a wonderful teacher.

After my training, I began teaching at Shawna’s new studio Heat Yoga & Wellness at The Vogue.  The Vogue is a shopping center I lease and manage in the heart of St. Matthews in Louisville.

In 2011, Shawna added Lauren Eirk to her roster of yoga instructors, so I began taking classes from Lauren.  Lauren is undoubtedly one of the best yoga instructors I’ve ever had, so when she announced that she would be conducting her own yoga training based on her own methods called Yoga Integrated Science, Yoga I.S., I enrolled.  Lauren’s teachings are based on the anatomy of the body and the ranges of motion through which an individual’s particular joint can safely travel during a yoga pose.

This past October, after teaching regularly (4 to 5 classes most weeks) for over two years, I ventured back to Jimmy’s for another Level II/III teacher training.  This time, though, I let my ego get in the way of my practice.  Perhaps that occurred because I am having trouble resolving how my life seems to march on relentlessly the older I get.

There were many younger people there, and I tried to keep up with them.  We attended two 90-minute hot yoga classes daily, and I was having trouble keeping well hydrated.  Somehow, and I didn’t feel it when it happened, but I suspect it was in a deep Lotus position, the medial meniscus in my right knee tore.  The subsequent pain and loss of mobility were so familiar that I self diagnosed correctly—the MRI was an after thought.

Now I’m facing orthoscopic surgery on December 7th.  I’m not worried about it, and I know I will heal quickly.  I also know that I will conduct my own physical therapy (yoga).

I believe deeply this was a lesson I needed to learn and for this I am thankful.   I can only hope that ten years out from this knee injury, my yogic path will have continued to blossom.

Namaste y’all.

UPDATE:

A year has passed since I posted this weblog.  I constantly use my vision board as a guide.  I finished Blood Brothers, self published it, and began marketing the pschological thriller through social marketing.  I have made so many new and wonderful friends on Twitter, and I just wanted to repost this so that I can share a little bit about myself with all of you.  I went through the sugery just fine, was teaching yoga in one week, and practicing again in three weeks.  2013 has been a year of transition for me: a good one. 

My yoga practice is stronger than ever and evolving, I'm focusing on writing, and as I approach the end of the year, I feel so grateful that I am able to feel so much love in my self and in most other people.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by: By Jody AT 11:15 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, October 23 2012

I love this photograph of a beautiful road extending up to the horizon, leading somewhere, most likely unknown by the majority of people viewing it.  I try to think of the rest of my life as a journey on a beautiful road.

I do not mean to romanticize my life: I know I’ll suffer losses, experience sickness, disappointment, even heartache and tragedy on the journey, but I’ll also experience many good and beautiful things.  I strive to keep moving in a positive direction, with concrete goals, trying to make my journey as meaningful as possible, which includes trying to stay on a beautiful road.

My hatha yoga practice is like a navigation system that directs my path.  Through daily practice of postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama), I have more success focusing my mind (cutting off the constant random noise and thoughts that are so distracting and often, annoying) and directing my thoughts to what I want to do and to where I want to go.

I was unsuccessful at meditating until after several years of practicing yoga.  Meditation is really the goal of yoga.  I like to describe it as the process of trying to connect myself back with the universe.  Only when I get close to such a state of calmness and oneness with the universe, do I truly feel safe, directed, and sure in my decisions.  Having the skill to do this is powerful.  This is what drives me to share yoga with others, and after, ten years of dedicated practice, it led me to obtain certification through The Barkan Method of Hot Yoga and to begin teaching at Heat Yoga and Wellness.

Hatha yoga (forceful yoga) suits me because I’ve always been athletic, and I like to work out.  Hot yoga simply adds another challenging dimension, but yoga does not have to be either forceful or hot to achieve healthful benefits and to achieve a meditative state.

My yoga practice is probably the main reason I remained focus enough over an eight year period to finish my novel, Blood Brothers.  It is also the main factor that gives me the courage to pursue the things I want most as I continue my journey.

I encourage everyone to try yoga.  If you live in Louisville, come by Heat Yoga and Wellness and take a class.  Yoga is one of the fastest growing leisure time activities today, and there are yoga studios everywhere.  There’s probably one near your home.

Thanks for reading.  Namaste

Posted by: By Jody AT 12:40 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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