Sacred Space for Your Home Practice
by Stephanie Rehor
In the yoga community I often hear quoted “we create our own reality.” Meaning whatever we plant inside will surface and bloom on the outside. While this notion is lovely, I can’t deny I often find myself challenging it. Universal law states that everything is constantly connected and the outer and inner worlds are permanently linked. So, in that, can we cultivate what’s on the outside to create a better experience on the inside?
Asking this made me to realize that I don’t only have to travel to a yoga studio to be immersed in the divine energy of a sacred space. I could use my outer experience to enhance my inner experience by building one in my own home.
So how do we do this? While a sacred space can include a whole room it does not necessarily have to be that. My altar is in the corner of my room and it works just fine. Wherever this place may be, there are some important aspects to keep in mind. This involves lighting, energy enhancers, energy clearers, symbols, and journals.
First and arguably most important is lighting. Lighting creates the mood, as different wavelengths of light will affect different functions of the brain. Usually the physical practice of yoga requires a soft brighter light. As we get more into meditation the lighting should be minimal but not total darkness. I have two forms of lighting in my space, a brighter small lamp and a rock salt lamp. For yoga, I put on both lamps and during meditation only the dim rock salt lamp. It is important to note that natural lighting is best and if a natural light source is available it should be utilized.
As well as light, energy enhancers and clearers are also very important in building this space. Within our spiritual practice we tend to release a lot of energy, so we want to make sure this space is clear and calm and that it will assist us is getting to a meditative state. For me, I use crystals as energy enhancers. There’s an amethyst stone, which balances the crown chakra, aiding in emotional balance and the opening of our spiritual centers. I also keep a clear quartz crystal, which absorbs any negative energy. There are a lot of different crystals that serve different purposes so it’s important to do some research and find a crystal that resonates. I find that amethyst and clear quartz are good ones to start with. To balance energy, we also need energy clearers. In my space I use white sage. When in doubt, smudging is the way to go to clear energy. Burning sage will cleanse, purify, and protect the space. Again, it is necessary to do more research about sage and how to smudge properly. If the smell is unpleasant or if smoke is bothersome, try using essential oils in a diffuser. Some good ones for clearing are rose, frankincense, or lavender.
Additionally, using symbols can be a very powerful in a sacred space. I find symbols are the basis for making it personalized and unique. This can be anything that holds importance. A couple I have in mine are laughing Buddha to symbolize my intention to not take things too seriously, and the word “serenity” to symbolize my intention to uncover peace within. Again, the symbols in the space can be very personalized. For example, someone may put a feather on their altar as a to represent freedom and letting go. These are what we make them; just make sure that they represent the intention of the practice.
Finally, it is good to have a journal in the space to record anything that may come up during the practice. When we clear the mind we are more receptive to messages, some which we desperately need to hear. Resist the urge to resonate on it; this is why it’s good to write it down to look at it later.
So while it’s no secret that our inner experience affects our reality, we have choices about our surroundings. If we consciously make the choice to fill it with sacred energy then we see the space was within us all along.
June 21st, International Day of Yoga
What a gift it is to practice yoga! This ancient discipline that's been around for thousands of years is a seemingly perfect way to connect to the heart of who you really are. Yoga makes you healthy, vibrant, more aware, more alive and ultimately more peaceful. Yoga, which has the full attention now of many Western healing models, also has the attention of the United Nations. They've named June 21st International Day of Yoga since U.N. officials see the healing value of yoga when it comes to making people and entire communities more peaceful and connected. Won't you join us for practice tomorrow? In celebration of this special day, that coincides with the Summer Solstice, all Total Body Yoga classes are $10. So bring yourself, or bring a group -- and get connected with your highest self and your community.
Wishing you peace.
Teacher Feature: Christine Stock
TBY Teacher Feature:
(Christine pictured in Revolved Side Angle Pose)
interviewed by Julia Jonson
You are a dancer, have a degree in dance and used to teach. Explain how moving from this discipline into yoga was transformative for you.
I love the way the body moves. I think it is fascinating! Dancing gave me this precise awareness of my body’s posture, and movement to music. But yoga gave me this mind-body connection that actually made me more in sync with my body, more than dancing ever did. Yoga heightened my awareness of my emotions, my breath, and even my organs. Yoga taught me how it feels to live in my body and to appreciate it, flaws and all. It has taught me how to nourish my body starting from the inside and then moving outward. And I love sharing that feeling with my students. I want them not to just think that they are doing a pose correctly by looking at me or another person in the room and mimic that, I want them to really feel it. “Does it feel good?” How can they move into a pose and even out of it and make it more integrated? Yoga is about being kind to your body and making it work at its most optimal level. Yoga is very personal and a different experience for every student. Each practitioner has a different story, their bodies and minds have been through unique journeys. So the same pose to me is going to feel different to someone else. I am a stickler for proper alignment though. Practicing a pose (asana) correctly is essential to makmg you stronger and more aware.
Like so many Sanskrit terms, the word dharma has different meanings. Using the interpretation of “doing what you were meant to do on this planet,” explain how your chosen path of yoga teacher is your true calling.
Yoga, for me, is the ultimate elixir and feels like a cure-all. When I’m sad, I do yoga, when I’m happy … yoga, when I’m tired or not feeling well … the same thing, yoga! It may be just 5 minutes in Child’s Pose or 5 breaths in Downward Facing Dog. Practicing always brings balance. I like teaching and sharing this knowledge and my experiences. If someone says that they do not feel good, I want to help. I believe that yoga is medicine that can improve all qualities of your life. The connections that I make with those I teach are priceless. I love watching them progress and it brings me joy when they say “thanks that is just what I needed today.”
Your path into teaching is fascinating. Describe your teacher training and then the teacher training you’ve been a part of leading.
I got my 200 hour certification in 2003 through Lotus Yoga under the direction of Shirley Walter. My mom was taking classes with Shirley and introduced me to her. Shirley (also known as Sarla) is one of the earliest disciples of Swami Rama and one of the founding directors of the Himalayan Institute in the United States. She also helped produce some of the first yoga publications in our country. Her instruction and knowledge of Hatha yoga and meditation was invaluable to me. She was an important catalyst in bringing yoga to the U.S. Soon after my certification, I assisted her in her teacher trainings, until she became ill and stopped holding teaching in that way. During and after my training, I studied with Gabriel Halpern, Paul Grilley, Seane Corn, Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini, Desiree Rumbaugh, as well as many others to enhance my practice.
You’re embarking on an exciting new chapter as a yoga teacher. Tell us about your upcoming 500 hour training.
I am beyond excited to start my 500 hour teacher training with Tiffany Cruikshank, the founder of Yoga Medicine. I share her a holistic approach to health and wellness and her love of anatomy and the human body. I start on May 7th. I will be in Sedona for a week studying the function and dysfunction of the hip joint. I can’t wait to come back and share what I learn. This training will take me a few years to complete because it is all retreat based but, I get to travel to some beautiful places.
What are your thoughts on modern, western yoga? It seems like the practice itself is morphing, changing, evolving as well as being more readily available. What do you think are some pros and cons of this explosion in popularity.
When I first started yoga, it definitely was not as mainstream. People thought it was a religion or an exercise for “hippies.” I believe that the modernization of yoga is a positive and creative response to this rapidly changing world. Yoga is popping up everywhere -- in studios, the web, and in corporations. I think that is great and I would love to see it incorporated into more schools. There are so many benefits that come from practicing yoga. I think everyone on this planet should try it. Some of my favorite classes to teach are my corporate classes. The people who attend work so hard all day long sitting at a desk or standing on a factory line. They are so thankful to have this offering at their place of work. They say it improves their work day on many levels by making them more excited to come to work, not to mention the camaraderie of meeting fellow co-workers in class. The not-so-good side of so much yoga … well, I think you have to be careful and really make sure to find a qualified teacher and a quality studio, like TBY, to avoid injury.
Do you have a favorite pose, or group of postures that you like to practice or teach? (And why?)
I have a few favorites one of them being the dancing warrior sequence. Where you move from Virabhadrasana I to Virabhadrasana II -- to “reverse warrior” (Parsva Virabhadrasana) then on to side angle pose (Parsvokonasana), then through a basic vinyasa. Linking these poses together and flowing through them with my breath as my guide is a little dance for me. Also, I love doing core work. If you have ever been to my classes, you know I will try to sneak it into every class because I believe that strong deep-abdominal muscles give you better posture and makes it easier to move not just in your yoga poses but in everyday life.
Family life can be hectic, draining, joyful and awesome all at once. How does being a student of yoga help with being a wife and mom?
All I can say to answer this question is that it has taught me how to breathe, breathe, breathe! And I tell my family to do the same. They may roll their eyes at me but they know that whenever life gets to be too hectic, or too overwhelming, the one thing that works consistently every time is to - “just, close your eyes and breathe!”
Your eyes light up when you are talking about your family. You beam as you talked about your daughter and two sons. I know it will be challenging to keep it brief, but tell me a bit about your very interesting children!
I love to talk about my children. Tyler is my oldest (21). He is my rock star. He is at Mizzou studying Mechanical Engineering but his passion is in his music and his band, Ray Wild. He plays lead electric guitar, writes his own music and performs. I love to watch him play. I’m his biggest groupie, but have been instructed not to stand in the front row, because that is too embarrassing. My 2nd oldest, Matt (18) is my entrepreneur. He is at Indiana University in the Kelley School of Business. He loves sports, especially baseball and basketball. Right now thinks he is smarter than his parents, which he is, but please don't tell him that. My daughter, Isabella (15) is beautiful, smart and talented. She dances with the Stevenson Dance Company and Midwest Dance Collective in Barrington. She loves to sew and wants to go into the fashion business. She is my perfect shopping companion.
You’re so filled with life and such a gorgeous smile. You painted an awesome picture of dancing around your kitchen while cooking. Please elaborate and share some other little-known fact about yourself.
Haha, thank you! With the right music blaring in the background, it makes everything more fun. Growing up in an Italian household, everything revolved around food, and still does. I love to cook healthy vegetarian meals. I believe you are what you eat, so why not eat a nutritious meal and fuel your body to create a vibrant healthy life. But also, if I want some dark chocolate and a glass of red wine, I’m not going to deprive myself. I think cooking can be relaxing. I like experimenting with new recipes, but mostly just throwing together whatever I have on hand.
My husband and I love going to all kinds of concerts. I am an 80’s hairband girl at heart. Bon Jovi is my favorite and, I also love country music. This summer, I’m going to see County Thunder, Windy City Lakeshake and the Zac Brown Band -- just to name a few. I like to have fun, travel, dance like nobody's watching, do the things that make me happy. I can really say I have a love for life!
Tuesday, 9:15am Level 1
Tuesday, 10:45am Basics
Wednesday, 1:00pm Yin/Yang
Thursday, 9:30am Yin
Teacher Feature: Bette Plass
TBY Teacher Feature
(Bette Plass, on one of her many journeys, pictured in Parighasana)Interviewed by Julia Jonson
Your very presence is peaceful and when you’re in teacher mode you have an eloquent way of sharing that energy. How do you maintain your center so that you can be a source of healing for others?
So funny you should say that – I often don’t feel that way on my way to class. I have a tendency to always be in a hurry resulting in not being centered. When I reflect on having polio, I realize that a gift of polio was to slow me down so that I could live more in the present moment. When I enter the studio classroom and see my students, I mentally notice everyone and send gratitude their way for showing up to my yoga class. Checking in with them and asking for requests helps me feel a connection and calms me. I begin my class with gentle flowing movements connected to the breath helping both my students and myself to feel centered and to come together in the practice of yoga. If I feel the class is rushing or I have lost my focus I join the class in a slow flowing movement matching the rhythm of the breath. Deep breaths are always so calming.
Incorporating strengthening postures during your gentle classes is something you do so beautifully. Give us a snippet of your own healing journey to build strength in the wake of Polio.
It was a long journey of constantly trying new techniques to help my body move through life with greater ease and strength. For many years I searched for that one expert that could tell me what my body needed to get through the physical demands of life. It wasn’t until I became a yoga teacher that I realized I was the expert. I needed to learn as much as I could from other experts but it was up to me to figure out what helped my body and what harmed my body. I have seen many doctors who specialize in polio, physical therapists, chiropractors, personal trainers and acupuncturists. From all of them I have learned more about my body and about healing. I have taken many types of exercise classes including aerobics, step classes, and dance classes. I have studied tai chi, feldenkraise, pilates and self massage. Learning many exercises helped my body but it wasn’t until I took the yoga teacher training that I was able to put it all together to improve my physical being. This also helped me create a nurturing, gentle practice that helped students gain flexibility, build strength and increase their ability to heal their bodies.
You are the epitome of someone who ages gracefully (and we all start aging as 20-somethings). How has yoga helped?
Aging gracefully is a constant challenge but has become easier as I constantly rely on yoga’s gifts to help me face new challenges. Physically, yoga has helped me with balance, strength, alignment, deeper breathes, flexibility, and pain management. Mentally, yoga has helped me listen to my body and come up with a yoga approach to help the body cope with aging. Meditation practice has helped me listen more to my intuition on what my body needs and helped me discover its amazing healing ability. Through meditation practice, I have realized and more importantly, accepted that I am on a life journey with a beginning and an end. This has resulted in my effort to face every new day with gratitude and try to make the most of each day I am given. Emotionally, yoga has helped me accept difficult times in my life and know that although I may be having a rough or sad day it will not last forever. Socially, the yoga community has supported me through hard times, has given me wonderful new friends, given me the opportunity to teach my love of yoga and take part in new adventures. All of my students have touched my heart, inspired me and enriched my life.
And to that end, tell us about some of things you’ve been working on, such as Ananta and your upcoming, September workshop, to help guide anyone of any age through this inevitable process of life?
I have the honor of working with Wendy Dahl on a shared passion of getting the message out that anyone can do yoga. We have created the workshop Ananta with Maryanna Gibbs on the inclusiveness of yoga and how to modify yoga so that anyone can do this powerful practice. In September, I am doing a workshop on coping with midlife stiffness (September 10th, 2:00 - 4:00pm, watch TBY's website for details). I noticed that people become aware of stiffness sometime during their middle years. I want to challenge the assumption that stiffness is something you just have to accept as part of aging. I have spent my lifetime working with a body that is physically challenged. I want to take all I learned about coping with changes in the body and help students develop a practice to improve their physical ability and get in touch with all that is beautiful within themselves during this journey in life. In this workshop I will be explaining the aging process and how to cope and actually improve your physical well-being through your journey of life. The students will experience how to open the body, how to discover what the body needs, and how to build muscles to support the alignment and flexibility they have gained. The workshop will end with the wonderful nurturing practice of restorative yoga.
Hard work honing your craft has culminated with the final stages of earning your 500 hour certification. Please share about your latest learning endeavors and share how your studies have helped you to grow your teaching ability?
I enjoy working and studying with many different instructors. Everyone has their own approach which gives me even more options when I create a class plan or work with a private student. Last year I had the privilege of studying with David Lurvey and Mirjam Wagner In an advanced therapeutic training in Brazil to complete my 500 hour certification. I learned so much more about therapeutic and yin yoga. I am fascinated by how our amazing bodies work and how we can help them when they are in pain. It was so rewarding to spend a full week focused on teaching yoga. I was very touched by how they approached their students. They dedicated time to get to know each student’s life story. They were extremely supportive and very inspiring. It was fascinating to meet yogis from around the world and learn from their approaches to yoga classes.
We talked about how hard it used to be to find yoga, let alone yoga studios, in the Midwest decades ago. What are your thoughts on yoga’s rise in popularity in Western culture?
When working with a physical therapist after an injury I was surprised how many of their stretches were from yoga. A few years ago I was taking classes from a personal trainer and would constantly laugh about several of the things we did that came directly from yoga. When I was taking Pilates classes to be certified, I was surprised at how many movements came from the physical practice of yoga. Many health practitioners are learning the wisdom of yoga practice. I get referrals from several practitioners because they are impressed with not only the physical practice, but also the holistic approach of yoga. If we want to change our bodies and improve our lifestyle we need more than physical exercise. We need to treat the whole person, looking at their attitude about their body, their motivation, their lifestyle choices, how they view the world, their reaction to stress --- so much more goes into being healthy. It is not just a matter of physical exercise. Yoga is popular because it effectively changes how a person lives their life since it includes healing the body, the mind and getting in touch with our beautiful spirits.
My all-time favorite poem is by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken (“two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference”). It certainly seems as if you’ve chosen to live this way. Your career adventures alone read like a good novel. Give us a snapshot of some of the amazing things you’ve done and jobs you’ve had.
I went to college in the late sixties, a time of rebellion, rapid change and a whole world of possibilities opening up for women. I wanted to lead an exciting, adventurous life. I was fascinated by psychology and became a social worker working with young people in street gangs. We had a unique program were we would meet young people wherever they were: on the streets, in the schools, at a drop-in center or at their homes. It was an exciting, scary, amazing time in my life. During this time, I went to funerals of young people and could not cope with the sadness. I would lay awake at night wondering how could we save these young people. It was at this time I discovered the wonderful world of yoga. Savasana taught me how to relax and get sleep so I could continue my work.
After my children were born I started training other people how to work effectively with young people. I became in charge of an outdoor adventure training program which included rock climbing and high rope courses. I trained police officers, parents, teachers and other social workers. I then decided to go to law school and became a prosecutor for Cook County working in family court and later in criminal court. The transition between nurturing social worker and aggressive lawyer helped me experience the yin and yang parts of my personality and the two different approaches to life. I then started my own business consulting with corporations on team building and leadership skills. I was also an adjunct professor teaching leadership skills. After I retired from these jobs I sat at home and asked myself: “Now what?” “What can I offer the world to stay involved and try to improve this human experience?” I decided to take a yoga teacher training course to improve my own practice. With the support and encouragement of Wendy Dahl I became a teacher and love every moment of my latest career.
How does your personal practice affect your role as mother and grandmother?
Throughout my life as a mother I have encouraged my children to keep moving and respond to the needs of the body. When a body becomes stiff or is in pain it should not be ignored. I love when one of my five children comes to me and asks about a physical discomfort they are experiencing. We discuss it and discover together how to take care of the problem. Teaching yoga to my grandchildren is a joyful experience. They have such a fun outlook on yoga. They really experiment and play with the poses. They are so proud of themselves when they learn a new pose.
When I retired, I wondered what I would do with my life. I wondered if I had anything to offer. I wondered if I would be looked upon as one of those old people who just lived in the past and had nothing to offer in conversations but memories. My love and passion for yoga keeps me interesting. My search to learn more about yoga has introduced me to amazing people. The rewards of helping people feel more comfortable in their bodies and enjoy movement is so amazing and rewarding. I am truly blessed by yoga.
Monday 10:45am Gentle Basics
Wednesday 10:45am Gentle Basics