Saturday, July 30, 2016

Healing beyond the physical

Hear your story on your mat
I froze, standing on the left side of my mat, dripping in sweat like I had just stepped out of a shower, still conscious of struggling to slow my breath down. I was aware too, that I no longer wished to catch up to the class in Trikonasana, nor did I have any inkling or need to collapse.

All I wanted to do was to bring along with me the young juvenile that I once was, that was now in my imagination, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of me. Her head was bent down so that her long, straight unprocessed hair hung down a good 3 inches below her shoulders.

Interestingly enough and perhaps paradoxically, she is one of the reasons why I have gotten so involved in the Bikram community in the first place, even for the third year in a row competing in the national championship. Now here I was three years later, finally accomplishing what I had set out to do, to continue to bring more light to those parts of myself that still didn't feel good, and it involved no longer running over her but rather taking her along with me.

My teacher says that when you are praying for someone that you must imagine in your mind going up to that person, and handing her or him your prayer, placing it in their outstretched, cupped hands. So I did a modified version, gazing up at myself in the full-length mirrors that covered one entire wall, delighted in visualizing the desperate girl actually getting up off of the floor and merging with my effort to refine the poses.

My teacher is a Guru. I rarely share with anyone that I have a Guru because it's so atypical that I feel few will be able to relate. But after having just read one of Steve Jobs' biographies and learning that he too had a Guru, I thought to myself, of course, he had a guru. How else could he have accomplished all he had in his life?  For another blog.

There's a backstory to this antidote that needs to be told. The day prior to the event I was studying from a well-published author and read how important it is to assimilate new knowledge. It struck a familiar cord with me since assimilation is something that I've heard over and over again from the yoga path that I have been involved with for years.

 In my understanding, assimilation is not thinking but rather being the witness to your own mind and how it works, like a jigsaw puzzle it yearns to fit all of the pieces together to complete the picture, or in Steve Jobs' words, connecting the dots and trusting that they will all come together.

It's partly what we allow for in Savasana, along with giving time and space for the body to rest and calibrate the breath to a deeper, more fluid movement.

I think it where ah ha moments are born like the one that I had in the studio that morning, to be shown what assimilation is on a very profound, powerful, intimate level. As usual with yoga, with good intention and right self-effort the results are magical, so much more than I ever could have hoped for or even imagined.

Happy healing,


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Come out of the pose the same way you went in

I've just come out of Padangustasana in the studio, eager to lie my hot, sweaty body down after the standing series, and I hear Mandi's commanding voice, "you come out of the pose the same way you came in, even slower. You don't just come out any old way".  I couldn't help but think of a close girlfriend that calls our excursions out to do whatever we want, willy nilly. We say that we are going on willy, nilly trip. You don't want to be willy, nilly on your yoga mat.

What's the big deal about coming out of the pose the same way that you went into the pose?  If we take a closer look we can, in fact, see that it is a very big deal, especially if we are wanting cleaner lines of movement in our steps, not just on our mats but off as well.

We need to go back in time to when you were just born. Your mother, or whoever had the joy of caring for you must have put you on your belly on the floor at some point and watched you kick your little feet and hands, and if you were really fortunate she looked into your eyes and held your gaze for a long time. Then she watched as you used your arm muscle strength to push your upper body up off of the earth.

From there you progressed, moving forward and then backward, pushing yourself up to sitting and then eventually standing. That process of getting from birth to standing just happened, it was genetically encoded to ensure your survival. All it took was the activation of 14 patterns of movement from your nervous system to be expressed onto your spine. That's all, just 14 and combined they formed the basis for all of your future movements.

But consider that just because each pattern was expressed, doesn't mean that the pattern was perfected. You can think of the spinal patterns like the formation of your teeth. Everyone gets a set but it doesn't mean that they are aligned, straight and functioning optimally.

Albeit it doesn't have to end there though if you don't want it to. You can go back and "repattern" your movements and one of the ways to accomplish this is to do what our very bright, loving, firm Mandi says, move out of the pose the same way that you came in.

We can think of our nervous system patterns as designs that have order and a system. Jamie and I were talking about this very subject today at the studio, after the 9:15 class. She is once again helping me to train for the upcoming regional championship in October and shared that the judges need to see a beginning, a middle and an end to each pose.

 Each of the spinal patterns has a beginning, a middle and an end.  Each of our poses needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Have you ever thought about competing? It's not as scary as it seems, and there are so many benefits, too many to mention here. Even the intention behind the championship has really nothing to do with competing but rather getting yoga accepted into the Olympics so that it then can be integrated into public schools. I would say a worthy goal. Wouldn't you?  So even if you in no way wish to compete, consider making a donation.  Here is the link to their website

Let's take a closer look at just two of the patterns that umbrella or provide the structure for the other 12 by looking at how they can help us to come out of Padangustasana. Keep in mind that we can apply these two patterns to all of the poses, not just Toe Stand pose.

I bet you can guess which movement pattern provides the structure for all the rest, that is actually a prerequisite, critical, even monumental because this pattern will determine how far you'll reach in the next pattern. There's a universal law of energy and it says that first, you must go down and order to rise up and the height that you will achieve will be inversely proportional to how far you went down. But that's for another blog at another time.

Yes, your first spinal movement pattern was a push off of the earth. When you were a baby, the first push was with the head. In the pose, the push will be a two step process. First, you will push onto the earth, strong and yielding, with your hands and the ball of the big toe. Once your hands are up off the earth then the push will come from the foot that is now flat on the earth.

Then, it will be the second movement pattern that will send you soaring. Once you've firmly planted yourself down, and you trust that the ground isn't going anywhere, only then will you start to reach and the more you trust, the wider your vision will go.  And of course, as Mandi and Jayme are constant reminders for us, where your eyes go the body will follow.

When you were a baby it was a reach with your mouth, looking for a nipple that got your upper body up off of the earth. In the pose, you will want to reach with your head.

So back to Toe Stand pose, you'll push first and then almost simultaneously reach with your head to come up to a standing position.

You can even make it a mantra if you like, push, push, push, then reach, reach, reach.  

This pushing and reaching is the basis for all movement. The next time you see a sporting event, take a moment to watch how the athletes move.  First, they will bend their knees, some ever so slightly, bearly noticeable as they push hard and strong against the earth and then reach wide up into the air.

Practice coming out of the poses the same way that you came in to support and enhance movement patterns inside of you that are probably as old as time itself. When you do I'm sure that eventually, your willy nilly trips out won't be so sloppy. You may even have more fun than you ever thought possible.

Happy Fourth!

Maurene Merritt

Monday, May 30, 2016

Remembering 3 gifts for my mat

Brenda Klein greeted me this morning in the Yogini's locker room at the studio and gave me a warm embrace,  "It's such a huge loss.", referring to my father's passing, May 29th at 9:23 am. I felt like she saw me and could acknowledge where I was in my mind and heart, and it felt really good to be seen. For me that's what yoga is all about, to be fully seen, that without, I feel certain that I could have never gotten beyond my grief to get to the studio a day after his passing, or to remember my childhood in a way that could extract the gifts that he had given to me, rather than focusing on what I didn't get that I thought I should have had.

       My father would come home from the factory, work around the house, take a shower and then sit at the kitchen table in his chair. He'd light a cigarette, crack open a can of beer and pour it into a glass and then start in. He was a preacher, a teacher it's how he related to my three sisters and me. Sometimes it was politics, and he would go on and on about how the liberals were ruining this country. Other nights it would be about religion and god and how it was just a crutch for people that couldn't make it on their on in this world. Gratefully he changed his tune later in life, not about religion but god and I have faith that it wasn't too late.
      But the topic that I loved the most, that kept me totally lost but at the same time curious in a very distant sort of way was math. I was only tenish at the time and would have much preferred to play with my Barbie dolls. I think I probably was still hanging on to my perfect make-believe world, or either that watch my older sister rock her body to Led Zepplin, Jimmy Hendricks, or The doors.
     She was the one that got him all worked up about math, coming home from school with algebra problems and asking him for help. He'd take a pad of paper and write the equation at the top of a page and then he would proceed to tear that thing apart, like a hungry pit bull, relentless in his pursuit. If he didn't get the answer that night he'd come back at it again the next night and the next and he didn't stop until he got it right. Sometimes he kept at it for so long that there would be pages that looked like a hydro graphics map or a secret morse code, one that I felt certain that I would never be able to crack.

I see now, only now after his passing and taking the time to reflect that this one scenario that I witnessed on so many nights, that it gave me 3 wonderful gifts that could have been lost forever if I never find my way to a yoga mat. There is a reciprocal nature to these lessons too, that I bring them to my yoga mat every time I step into the hot room.

1.  Be a teacher, command an audience's attention.  In yoga, the true gift is to find the teacher inside of you, so that you can carry that knowledge with you, where ever you go. It's like the trump card that you can pull out anywhere in any situation.

 Of course, you need to find a great teacher outside of you first, one that can seamlessly give you that knowledge. But once you find one, it's all they could ever want is for you to find what they have already attained within themselves. I would say that we are in the right place, wouldn't you?

2. The mind, the ability to think is extremely valuable. My father was in intellect. It's what he did, and how he connected in this world. He would say, raising his pierced index finger and thumb to his face and slitting his eyes, "knowledge is something that no one could ever take away from you."

In Yoga knowledge is realized through Buddhi that part of the mind that is able to see the truth, what is real. It's the same part of you that is able to discern wisdom. This is probably one of the reasons why Mandy says so frequently, "don't think about it". She wants us to engage other parts of the mind, to allow for wisdom and to realize greater states of consciousness.

3. Never give up. This is, without a doubt the finest gift that he gave me, that he demonstrated night after night, to keep coming back to it until you get it right.
It would take me many years and more wonderful teachers to better able to own these three golden nuggets.  Even the math, I eventually was able to do very well in chemistry and physics in college.  But I couldn't have done it with him, for he was my first teacher. It was the only way he knew how to love me. As a little girl, I never sat on his lap or got to look in his eyes so that he could mirror the light to me that was in my own heart.  But ultimately, I'm so grateful to see now that what I thought I needed and what I got, they both have led to the same place.


Maurene Merritt,
Another Bikram Stoughton Lover

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Step Lightly into Spring pt. 2

The heat is upon us and the season always brings me back to my childhood summer vacation when the days felt so full and endless when the only thing that mattered was the number of slaps of our jump rope against the softening black pavement, and the sound of our ball dribbling back and forth. My three sisters and I played for hours, with our tanned legs hanging off of our short shorts and ponytails propped up on either side of our heads that rode along like two rebellious teens.
For some reason, we never attempted to bounce a rock, and no one had to tell us that we wouldn't have gotten very far. I guess it's one of those things in life that we know just because we know because it makes complete sense.

But it wasn't until I started to study yoga that I really understood my college physics classes that described why the ball bounced, and the rock didn't. Sir Issac Newton in one of his laws of motion stated, "when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction of the first body". (Don't worry, this is the end of our physics lesson, other than applying the knowledge to our yoga practice.)

So what about us? When we walk the earth, this lovely round ball that dresses up our galaxy like a grand ornament on a Christmas tree, are we mindful of how Newton's law affect our bodies?

Ideally, when we walk or run (hopefully not to our yoga class) this rebound force can move sequentially through each of our bones, like dominoes from the feet all the way up through to the crown of the head.

But if the weight is held up at our feet instead of being released into gravity than there are other parts of our bodies higher up that will need to do the work of keeping us upright. In such a case,  unfortunately, we will act more like the rock rather than the ball on this earth. 

On the other hand, if we can allow our two feet to release into gravity, and that we have spacious, supple, healthy joints for the force to cleanly move through (for another blog), then we can enjoy more lightness and ease in our movement and be more like the bouncing ball. 

The bones are perfectly designed to take the heat of gravity like a steel rod is to lightening. It's why we have 26 small bones that make up the feet and ankle (that's a quarter of the bones in the whole human body), to help articulate this support and transfer weight accordingly. 

That's really our first step, to walk lighter on this earth is to just bring our awareness to our feet. Just your attention, your awareness will activate the cells in that part of the body and will go a long way towards helping you.

Once your attention is on your feet, standing on your yoga mat, maybe a couple of minutes before one of our fabulous, knowledge, caring teachers begins, push your two feet down a little, gently, and look for the force that moves back into you.

Don't be surprised if you feel absolutely nothing initially. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day and if your anything like me which I know you are because you're human and on some level, we are all the same, patience is another one of those things that require practice.

There's something else you can do for your body to help create more receptivity to gravity. When you're in Savasana, let your attention be drawn to the back of the body and on the exhalation, visualize all six hundred of your bones release down into the earth.

This is the last of our 3 part series on creating a solid, yielding foundation. Do you remember how we got started in this direction?  It was Jayme and her teaching of lock the knee and make it your mantra. Isn't it wonderful the breadth and depth of our yoga practice?  For me, it's refreshing to know that there is simply no end to what I can learn about myself, and with right, focused intention, balanced with a hefty dose of trust and faith, sometimes when I'm most fortunate I can actually feel like I did when I was a kid, bouncing a rubber ball with my 3 sisters. There was no effort then, it was all about the joy.


Maurene C. Merritt,
Another yoga lover at Bikram Stoughton

Friday, March 18, 2016

Step lightly into spring

It's important, where "lock the knee" begins because like all stories they need a beginning, and after all, hatha yoga is just another story. It's the story of our bodies unfolding on a yoga mat, revealing all of its joys, trials, and tribulations.

On a more linear, practical level, it's important to know where locking of the knee begins because we can then take it step by step in a process called chunking. Scientist  know that it is how we learn a complex process like locking the knee best, by breaking it down into tiny increments.

So if we don't know where the process of lock the knee begins,
 how can we take it step by step? 
Where would we begin?    

We could ask Jayme or Sharyn or Mandi, where it begins. But before I resort to asking someone else, even if that someone is a great, seasoned teacher, I'm going to ask the question of myself.

  Tapping into our innate intelligence is ultimately what yoga is all about. 
The ancient teachings make it very clear, that we have everything we need inside of us including all kinds of power to even invoke magic. But that's for another blog.

So, let us begin like how I would begin any creative endeavor and that is to make a list of everything that comes to mind about the subject matter. I think we call it brainstorming.

What I know about locking the knee
Make it your mantra
Knee cap lifted
Drawing up the muscles from the feet all the way to the head
Squeeze your butt muscles
Lift the quadriceps
Feel the action in your feet
Even if you think the knee is locked, lock it again and again
Draw the lower belly in
Squeeze the muscles, tight around the hips

Given that our perceptions are unique to each of us and are influenced by our experiences, I'm sure that you have heard more or something different. So please, we would love to hear from you. There is space below under comments for you to add to our list.

When I look at the list I still don't know where the process begins. I have an idea, only because of my working knowledge of other styles of yoga.  For example, I know from John Friends' Anusara yoga that creating the foundation for yoga poses involves two universal principles. The first one is engaging muscular energy, drawing energy from the periphery of the body into a central focal point in the body.  Secondly, creating spiraling energy fields that move from the feet up through into the pelvis.

The other place that can shed more light on this subject for me is the developmental theory of movement.  Accordingly, there are 6 neurological patterns that are entwined in our DNA that were responsible for getting us from birth to walking, and the very first pattern was a push with our bodies into the earth. So from this information,

I would say that locking the knee
 needs to start at the feet.

In April's blog....we'll start here, pushing our feet down into the earth, seeking the rebound force that pushes back on us. That's called yielding, and it requires a focus on subtlety, and a momentary release of all effort. It happens with the exhalation like how when our teachers say in bow pose, to exhale and be taken up with the force. It's the end of our stories, to allow ourselves to soar in freedom.


Maurene. C Merritt

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lock the knee, make it your mantra.

I don't see Jayme in class, rarely because I'm so focused on myself in the mirror. Isn't that what Bikram yoga is all about, an opened eyed 90-minute meditation? Isn't meditation at the very core of our yoga practice?  It's one of two reasons why Bikram yoga grabbed me right away, and I've been like a hungry fish on a hook ever since, sometimes feeling like I'm fighting way too hard to perform the poses rather than embrace yoga for how I found my way to it, a path of healing.

Yoga has helped me to be more fully engaged, invested in the world so that I can really enjoy the changing of seasons and how they reflect something that is so much grander than what is readily available to me, like how the earth rotates on its axis as it moves around the sun in our galaxy. I like to discover people that way too now, their insights and beauty that isn't always so prevalent on first impressions.

So if you are anything like me, it's important for us to remember our roots as we shoot for the moon in performing the poses, and in yoga, those roots are grounded in the breath, meditation, and the mantra.

Jayme, the owner and one of the teachers at the studio speaks of the mantra often with her dialogue of lock the knee, and she makes a big deal about it too. She doesn't just say lock the knee one time. Oh no, that's just not her way. She doesn't even say it twice and then move on.  She says it three times, "lock and the knee, lock the knee, lock the knee."  Then she says, "make it your mantra."

A mantra is a Sanskrit word that means, freeing the mind,
 and it involves repeating a phrase silently to yourself,
 often in concert with your breathing. 

So when Jayme tells us to lock the knee and make it our mantra, what she is really saying is to make our foundation everything, because when we lock the knee with strong, focused intention, we are essentially allowing for a burgeoning of understanding about ourselves to happen spontaneously, like how a child learns to go from birth to walking. There is no thinking in that process. In the same way, when our foundation is solid, growth happens. We can't help but tap into our innate intelligence, and those ancient, dormant neuro pathways get all fired up and before you know it, our world is transformed. 

So, I think we can all agree, that learning to create a solid, resilient foundation in the hot room is critical, and it behooves each of us to explore more about what it means to lock the knee, to make it our mantra.

I hope you will join me with my next two blogs......

In March, I will work with how our minds learn best, in a process called "chunking" for a more thorough understanding of what it means to lock the knee. Then in April, we will investigate the concept of yield to help relax enough in our foundation so that we don't act like a fish caught on a hook but rather more like a dolphin, free to jump and spin and sometimes, when we are so moved, even perform.


Maurene C. Merritt

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Namaste for a very Happy New Year

Happy New Year from Bikram Stoughton! There is so much I love about the new year, a time to settle back in from the whirlwind of activity created with the Holidays, and our New England weather invites such a retreat. There's something very satisfying for me about being all warm and cozy on the inside while, on the outside, it's gray, raw and cold. Of course, warm and cozy doesn't quite describe how one feels in a Bikram yoga studio.  On the contrary, it's hot and sweaty and so far from cozy that one can only wish at times that we had joined our fine feathered friends and flown south months ago! But there's a change that can happen when one is willing to put forth great effort towards a goal despite how hard it may seem, and that for me is at the heart of Bikram Yoga. The practice is more than just a challenging physical exercise but rather a systematic method for living a beautiful, righteous abundant life.

My name is Maurene Merritt and it gives me great pleasure, indeed, I am honored, to begin a New Year with a blog on Jayme's behalf in support of the entire community.

I have only been involved at the studio since October of this past year.  But when I came through the doors, I knew something felt very different, special, and it was indeed, confirmed to me when Jayme, the owner personally coached me for the New England Regional Championships. I was so blown away that even though she hardly knew me, and given her busy schedule, owning a studio and caring for her lovely family, that she took the time to really look my way and make recommendations that were seemingly small, insignificant like the way in which I raised my hand up in preparation for standing bow pulling pose.  I brought my hand out to the side then up rather then out in front which of course changed the whole dynamic of my shoulder joint so that I could better take the twist needed for the final expression of the pose.

 Speaking of subtlety, I'm reminded of a yoga teaching that I do my best to align with and that is,  what is subtle can bring about profound change.  According to yoga philosophy, it is when our senses are keenly sharp, and our mind is quietly still that we are able to shift our awareness to more subtle states of consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of our practice.  The physical poses were originally designed for that purpose, to help open and strengthen the body so that one could sit longer in meditation.

The poses, the notable 26 poses, Jayme will need to help me in that realm given that I am not a Bikram trained teacher.  However what I can bring to the plate is 350 hours of Hatha yoga in Anusara style and 150 hours of advanced training that had an emphasis on the developmental theory of movement which I found fascinating and continue to draw support from for my practice.  I also have 16 years of a steady, sustained meditation practice with the guidance of my teacher Swami Chidvilasananda.

Until Next time.....

Please join us for our next issue where we will focus on something that we hear so much from Ms. Jayme that has become like a mantra for me, at times banging around in my head like a headache, "lock the knee, lock the knee, lock the knee".  When I first heard it,  I had so many misgivings about it,  but proceeded forwarded cautiously optimistic anyway and of course, the more I listened, the more I understood, and the more I practiced, the stronger I became.  

Strength is my challenge area, not flexibility.  What is yours?  

Each of us usually leans more one way than the other. Very few of us come into this world perfectly balanced.  Our bodies are like our teeth that often need braces to help make them straighter.  The only difference between the teeth and our bodies is that we can live quite nicely without perfectly straight teeth.  However, one could argue that we cannot live to our fullest potential without a more aligned body. So let us all take heed and step boldly, deliberately into the hot room at Bikram Stoughton as much as possible in 2016.

Namaste for a very Happy New Year,