Hey! Here’s How to Start Practicing Yoga

Starting yoga seems simple, right?
Just find a class.
Just look for an online channel.
Just put on the yoga pants.
Just do it!

There isn’t necessarily a right way to begin yoga, but there are definitely some things to consider if you’re going to stick with yoga for more than a class or two. Let’s look at a few.

First, always talk to your doctors before you begin any new practices. This isn’t just legal jargon that yoga teachers should say. Yoga involves standing, sitting, stretching, and bending. This should be taken into consideration, especially for people who:

  • are taking blood pressure medication
  • have diabetes or a heart condition
  • have high-risk pregnancy complications.

Your doctors know what is best for your specific health situation, so the first step is talking things over with your team of medical professionals.

Another thing to consider is that there are different types of yoga. You may have seen words like vinyasa, yin, hot, ashtanga, or restorative in the descriptions for yoga classes. Yoga classes vary between platforms, styles, and teachers. It can take a while to find your groove, but the good news is that with so much diversity, there is space for you. Don’t give up. Your yoga community will be stronger because you are there, and you will be stronger because of your community. Here is an article that breaks down the different styles of yoga. You may find this helpful when looking for a yoga teacher or a yoga class.

The final thing to consider is your goal. What is your intention?
Maybe it is physical: you simply want to stretch out your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and build stronger bones.
Maybe it is mental: you want to bring clarity or awaken deeper awareness.
Perhaps it’s for spiritual reasons like being transformed by the renewing of your mind, or being conformed to the virtues you hold as core values. Solitude, journaling, or conversing with a friend are great ways to identify your bigger why. Setting your goal will help you find your teacher, connect with your community, and connect with yourself.

So Sarah, what type of yoga do you teach?

I teach hatha yoga that is slow-paced and restful. There are elements of yin and restorative postures as well as mindful meditation. I offer modifications throughout class. Each class is different, literally, every time I teach! I do not use scripts. I ask students how they are feeling and tailor the asana for what they want to focus on. In group classes, I generally theme around virtuous elements like peace and joy, or physiological elements like stretching the muscles of the shoulder.

Because yoga is so multi-faceted, there is simply no way for me to teach every type of yoga. Hatha is generally a preferred style of yoga for the workplace, for people with limited mobility, people with special health considerations such as pregnancy, or beginners who may find a fast pace intimidating.

Here are some things I can not do. I am not a licensed healthcare provider. I do not accept insurance, offer medical advice, or converse about diet or mental health. I do not offer physical adjustments, sound therapy, essential oils, or aromatherapy. These are outside of my scope of practice. Be sure that any yoga teacher is transparent with you about their training and the scope of their yoga practice.

Personally, I have practiced yoga for almost 20 years. As a Registered Yoga Teacher® with Yoga Alliance, I have completed hundreds of hours of training that are dedicated to safe and ethical practices for healthy individuals. I have also completed Yoga for Cancer Teacher Training at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center so that I can help those affected by cancer. I have specifically studied yoga for pain management– whether it is managing recurrent pain, through pregnancy and labor, or after you have been released from physical therapy. If this sounds like a good fit for you, then email me. Let’s get started!

You are tired. Yoga and mindfulness can help.

I just can’t seem to think straight today.
I have too many irons in the fire.
I’m sorry I forgot; I was burning the midnight oil.
Her name is on the tip of my tongue; it’s there. Give me a second.
I can’t handle that right now; I have too many tabs opened in my brain.

Sound familiar? Your body runs involuntary processes all day long. These include memory, digestion, respiration, hormone regulation, and other processes that you don’t really see or think about unless something seems out of balance. But your body can also fall into “auto-pilot” with processes that you do see, such as waking up and walking straight to the sink to brush your teeth, walking in the front door and tossing your keys in the basket, or petting your dog when she brushes against your leg.

When our body experiences stress, it is designed to fight, flee, or freeze. The sympathetic nervous system takes the reigns. Our heartbeat might increase, our breathing might be come more rapid. Suddenly, we may experience stomach discomfort or tense muscles in our jaw, neck, and shoulders. Practicing yoga can help notice how our body feels, what it needs… or what it doesn’t. Through mindfulness, we can begin to see patterns between stimuli, what we think, and how we feel.

When we develop a habit of consistently functioning in the sympathetic nervous system, our bodies recalibrate to keep us alive. Signs that a person might be operating from the sympathetic nervous system can include:

  • abundance of cortisol production, adrenal fatigue, and weight gain
  • inability to down-regulate and fall asleep or stay asleep (insomnia)
  • fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, or decreased ability to recall facts

Fortunately, our bodies are remarkable! Practicing yoga methods for just 8 weeks can help you achieve better sleep.  Better sleep can help your body achieve the restoration it needs to move closer toward functioning from the parasympathetic nervous system.

Join me for a yoga class! We’ll practice

  • yoga asanas (poses) and breathing to promote relaxation
  • mindfulness meditation
  • bringing awareness to our habits

Three Things to Know About Yoga & Cancer Prevention

Disclaimer: There is a lot of information about yoga and cancer, and that leaves many people wondering which information is trustworthy. I’ll go ahead and remind you that I am not a doctor or a nurse. I don’t pretend to be. I cannot tell you anything diagnostic, and I won’t be recommending anything like courses of treatment. My hope for this series is to shine light on timely information from reputable sources so that you can have meaningful conversations with your licensed healthcare providers. I also hope that talking about cancer experiences will help us tell others about cancer support that they may not know exists, like my oncology yoga classes.

We will look at three things we can learn about yoga and cancer prevention, so let’s begin by defining yoga. Yoga is too old, too rich, too deep, and too multi-faceted to be reduced to a single lineage. You will notice that yoga vocabulary comes from the Sanskrit language, which is the root of many Indian languages. In the same way that many anatomical names like cardio (καρδιο), hypo and hyper, are derived from Greek or Latin, yogic terms come from Sanskrit because yoga originates in the Indian sub-continent.

Yoga is an eight-fold path that includes:

  1. Asana, or a posture like Warrior 2 and Tree. While the poses themselves are beneficial, the practice of concentration between postures and devotion to regular practice are equally beneficial components of the asanas.
  2. Yama, which is your governing ethics. The 5 Yamas are ahimsa (non-violence) aparigraha (not lusting or coveting) asteya (not stealing) brahmacharya (caring for your soul) and satya (truth).
  3. Niyama, or your self-discipline toward regular practices like meditating, praying, reading scriptures, fasting, or retreating. The 5 Niyamas are isvara pranidhana (trusting surrender to God), santosha (contentment), saucha (cleanliness), svadhyaya (studying yourself), and tapas (heat, or the inner flame inside yourself).
  4. Pranayama, or breathing. You can practice pranayama on its own or incorporate it into your asana.
  5. Pratyahara, or detachment. This concept includes stepping away from your attachments in order to objectively look at yourself.
  6. Dharana, or concentration on a single point, idea, or concept. It is actively tuning out distractions to be single-minded.
  7. Dhyana, or meditation. This perfect stillness is often the goal of dharana.
  8. Samadhi, or peace that passes understanding. It is a type of transcendent joy and hope that come from being deeply rooted in and devoted to your core beliefs.

It is important to define yoga in detail because we must step outside the idea that yoga is just a series of poses. The power of yoga is beyond the physical poses; the power of yoga is beyond the physical. Yoga includes breath work, spiritual inspection, a search for truth, learning to still your mind, and many other tenets that are not always covered in an article or a yoga class.

Second, let’s look at what cancer prevention means. For the sake of this article, prevention means “the act of preventing.” When considering your source of information, you may want to look at credentials. Are they licensed physicians? What type of research has been done to support their claims? How broad is their data? This may be of importance to you. As you read studies, look at the scope and sequence of their research. Which types of cancer were treated, which types of yoga were used, and the frequency and duration of the practice may be of interest to you. Always discuss things with your own physicians to see if yoga or a new healthcare practice is right for you. Some licensed healthcare providers, especially those in the field of integrative medicine, are Registered Yoga Teachers in addition to being medical doctors. This may be of interest to you when you are selecting your cancer care provider.

Last, let’s look at some data. Brilliant researchers make advances in the field of oncology every day, and that is good news! Below are some articles I hope you will appreciate.

Does Sugar Feed Cancer?
Society for Integrative Oncology, Continue Reading Article

Intake of Fiber and Nuts During Adolescence and Incidence of Proliferative Benign Breast Disease
NIH PubMed, Continue Reading Article

“Early diagnosis is important, but can you go one better? Can you reduce your risk of getting cancer in the first place? It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that up to 75% of American cancer deaths can be prevented. The 10 commandments of cancer prevention are…”
Harvard Health Publishing Continue Reading Article

Like any illness or disease, cancer can occur without warning. Many factors that increase your cancer risk are beyond your control, such as your family history and your genes. Others, such as whether you smoke or get regular cancer screenings, are within your control. Changing certain habits can give you a powerful tool to help prevent cancer. It all starts with your lifestyle.
Medline Plus, Continue Reading Article

“How much do daily habits like diet and exercise affect your risk for cancer? More than you might think. Research has shown that poor diet and not being active are key factors that can increase a person’s cancer risk. The good news is that you can do something about this.”
American Cancer Society, Continue Reading Article

“Nerve growth factor (NGF), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) are among the early experimental cellular biomarkers that may be used to probe the modulation of oral cancer, obesity, and neurodegenerative disorders. Yoga has been reported to influence these molecules in healthy individuals but whether their expression can be altered in patients of oral cancer by yoga intervention is the subject of this research being discussed in this review article.
– Europe PubMed Central Continue Reading Article

“Want to Try and Prevent Cancer? Then Don’t Fall for These 7 Common Myths About the Disease
Johnson & Johnson Continue Reading Article

“Given the fact that many cancers can be averted, what would it take to make the dream of prevention a reality?”
Madeline Drexler, Editor of Harvard Public Health Continue Reading Article

Peace

Sarah does not provide medical advice or promote any product, organization, or service. The contents on this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek advice from a licensed, qualified physician or health care professional about any medical concern. Do not disregard professional medical advice because of anything you may read on this website. Sarah is not responsible for errors or omissions in information provided on this site or any actions resulting from the use of such information.

Free Class for the NC State Day of Giving

One of the greatest things that NC State has ever given the world was a stage for Coach Jim Valvano. In addition to leading the Wolfpack to a national championship victory in 1983, Jimmy V gave the Pack a hero. His passion for life, for basketball, for other people, for his faith and family, and especially for the Pack made him one of the greatest coaches in history.

Wear red and join me at 6am on March 23 as we honor the legacy of Coach Jim Valvano and his relentless optimism in coaching the Pack and seeking a cure for cancer. Our Crosswork Yoga Class for the Pack will be loads of fun and feature an invigorating, 30-minute yoga asana to start your day.

In lieu of paying for your Crosswork yoga class on March 23, please consider giving to NC State University or The V Foundation for cancer research. Why give to the V Foundation?

  • Because lung cancer accounts for more cancers than all other cancers in men and women.1
  • Because 4 out of 10 people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life.2
  • Because the V Foundation awards 100% of direct donations to cancer research and programs, and the V Foundation’s endowment covers administrative expenses.3
  • Because when The V Foundation finds a cure for cancer, all eyes will be on its founder and the institution he loved: NC State University. Red and white from NC State! Go State!
(1) https://www.v.org/research/cancer-facts/
(2) ibid
(3) ibid

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Here is the Big Secret to Achieving Your Goal

Whether your goal is personal or professional, here are three simple things you can do to increase the likelihood of long-term success.

  • A Vision
  • A Record
  • A Reward

Casting a vision means defining your goal. Write it down, and be specific. Identify what you need to do to reach that goal. Think about which obstacles stand between you and your goal, and make a plan to avoid them. Keep your written goal where you can see it. At the beginning of each day, remind yourself of your goal. Then think on it when you have quiet times (like when you’re on hold for a phone call or brushing your teeth!)

It’s imperative to keep a daily record because you need to track how you’re doing. This may mean including a successful friend you know and trust will be honest with you. It may mean finding an food diary or fitness tracker app. It definitely includes being honest with yourself. Write down when you fail, and write down when you succeed. Failures are opportunities to identify obstacles and eliminate them in the future. Successes are opportunities to identify your wins and replicate those habits.

The last component is a reward. Sometimes the goal itself is a reward (weight loss that yields increased energy, or higher sales that bring a financial bonus.) If the goal is less lucrative, don’t skip out. Whether you reward yourself with a pedicure, an electronics upgrade, or a pint of full-fat ice cream, identifying your reward and following through means a greater chance of keeping your habit long term.

Stretch your mind, body, and soul with Crosswork yoga.

The Best Reason to Talk with Yourself

Last week I found out that an online class for which I had registered was being postponed for a few months. I felt the expected gambit of emotions: surprised, disappointed, understanding, wonder for how it would impact my plans, thankful it was still being offered at a later date… you get it. When the time arrived that I would have been in class, the disappointment returned. This time it was carrying a suitcase full of unhelpful self-talk (Sanskrit: svadhyaya.)

“I should be in class right now.”
“I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.”
“Of course mine would be the class that was postponed.”

Wandering thoughts are part of life; they drift in and try to take residence. Through mindfulness, we learn how to send them back to sea. Here are my 5 go-to mantras for keeping perspective when things don’t go as I thought they would.

  1. Disappointment is part of life. It happens to everyone.
  2. I give myself permission to feel emotions; I’m human.
  3. This is a learning opportunity. What can I learn?
  4. I choose to share what I am learning with others.
  5. “All things work together for my good” is one of my core beliefs. I choose to see the good in this.

That’s it! The real reason we talk to our self is to encourage our self– to meditate on constructive thoughts instead of ruminate on fruitless thoughts. We bring awareness to our intentions. We remind ourselves of the bigger picture. We extend grace. The next time things don’t go according to plan, consider some positive reinforcement– from yourself.

Identify your core beliefs and write some mantras of your own when you register for a Crosswork yoga class.

How to Take a Meaningful Retreat for Self-Reflection

When is the last time you stepped away from the hustle-hustle of everyday life to seek solitude? If you are having difficulty concentrating, taking time to yourself can help you clear your mind. If you are making big decisions, a retreat can help you bring awareness to your intentions and motivations so you can see the entirety of your situation with a fresh perspective. If you are burned out, solitude can help you rest, reconnect with your bigger why, and recalibrate.

The world is moving faster than ever before. But in spite of the frenetic pace around us, we can still prioritize time to look within ourselves. If you have never taken time away for self-reflection, then you may be at a loss for where to start. Good news! Taking time away to rest and reflect may be easier than you think. Here are 3 ways to take a meaningful retreat for self-reflection.

  1. The Stay-cation
    Ahhhh! Home! For many people, there’s no place like home. It is your castle, your fortress, and the place to let your hair down. Just staying home with nothing to do sounds like a dream. But for others, staying home isn’t the most relaxing idea because of all the distractions. Once you unplug from electronics and begin staring at unfinished projects, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to start tackling your to-do list. Whether you’re taking a single hour of solitude or an entire weekend to get some peace and quiet, the first thing you have to consider is freeing your mind from distractions.

    Other helpful things to consider include:
    > shopping for groceries so you don’t have to leave home
    > setting your email to an automatic reply
    > creating a peaceful atmosphere in your home with lighting or sound
    > placing “Please Do Not Disturb” signs on your door(s)
    > letting loved ones know you are safe and practicing solitude (so they are not concerned)

  2. Escape to the Great Outdoors
    Going outside is often a great way to get away from common hindrances to peace. You may choose a local park, a favorite hiking trail, or other outdoor space. But you don’t have to go far away to find sunlight and fresh air. Outdoor spaces that are close to home like your back yard or patio can also be relaxing. Many people tune out noisy distractions by using ear buds to listen to a book, singing bowls, chanting, guided meditation, or (ironically) sounds from nature. Other people prefer the sound of silence. If you are going outside: be safe. Make an informed plan, and let others know your plans. This helpful list is a great place to start.

  3. Find a Yoga or Spa Resort
    Travelling can be relaxing. There is an opportunity to feel truly alone. There is beautiful scenery. There is a rewarding destination at the end. The anticipation of visiting a new place or a familiar hangout can bring a thrill of excitement. “Research shows that the brain releases dopamine in anticipation of a reward.” Planning your time of solitude and anticipating your retreat could be as beneficial as the retreat itself.

    Resort spas that center around yoga and solitude can be a great fit for people who feel stressed by (or don’t have time to) plan a trip. All inclusive spas shoulder all or most of the decision making. They often have access to amazing foods that are in season, or they host renown yoga teachers. Some resorts offer other therapeutic amenities like horseback riding, wraps and facials, or massage.

    Here are a few things to consider when planning a trip:
    > Do some research. Make sure the place you visit has a reputation for safety and ethical practices.
    > Resist the urge to over-pack.
    > Having a clean, organized space can contribute to a peaceful mood.
    > Whether riding in your personal car or opting for mass transit, your travel time to a resort can also be a great time to notice your natural breathing.

How to Relax When You Take a Day Off

I regularly see people on social media asking for help with the same dilemma. It usually reads like this:

“I am on vacation, and I still can’t stop checking my phone for work. I’m afraid that if I turn off my phone, I’ll miss something big, lose an account, get overlooked on a project, lose my job, etc. How do I take time off from work without feeling guilty or stressed about missing something?”

Here’s a good place to start: what are you repeating in your mind?

“I’m just going to answer this one call; I have to.”
“Checking my email will only take one minute.”
“AH! It’s Chris! I should take this.”

Mindfulness habits can help you switch gears between work and rest. When you’re at work, you have a to-do list (whether physical or mental.) You are conditioned to operate in this mode; it’s your current habit. Rather than trying to completely re-wire yourself on your day(s) off, piggyback on your existing habit and give yourself a task for today. Maybe it’s rest. REST. Today, rest is as important as selling your product, closing a deal, stitching a wound, or teaching fractions– whatever your usual tasks are.

Write your task on a sticky note, and stick it where you can see it as a constant reminder of your goal. When fear of missing out kicks in on your day off, look to your mantra.

REST.
I value rest. I need rest. I can rest.
If I do not rest, I will burn out or get sick.
My capable team has got things covered.
I will return stronger because I refilled my tank.”


If rest is too abstract, make a list of restful pursuits.
Walk my dog in the park
Practice yoga
Play a board game with a loved one
Knit
Play golf

In a healthy relationship,
absence makes the heart grow fonder.
It’s okay if you are missed for a short time;
it indicates that you are a valuable member!

  • If everything falls apart because 1 team member is absent for a day, or someone is made to feel guilty for taking reasonable time to refuel, it is a sign that the relationship with others is unbalanced.
  • If we personally feel guilty for taking time to take care of ourselves, it is a sign that the internal relationship we have with our self is unbalanced.

The sticky-note habit helps us keep our mind’s eye fixed on our core values (or the yamas) and minimizes fear of missing out. Taking time to rest and study yourself (svadhyaya) can help you turn an abstract goal (like rest) into something tangible you can measure. It can give you the courage to speak candid truth (satya) like:

  • I understand that things are not the same when a team member is away. I did a great job delegating my usual responsibilities before I left, and I always help others when they are away. Prioritizing my health makes me a better team member.
  • This project sounds like a great opportunity, but I am going to have to pass. Have you considered asking Julio?
  • This project sounds like a great opportunity, and I am in a great place to help you with it. Let’s get started!

    Many industries move at a rapid pace, and competition is fierce. It’s true. Healthy teams are comprised of healthy individuals. Healthy relationships at work are open and honest [in the kindest, most professional, and most respectable way] about boundaries, skills, limitations, and expectations. A healthy relationship with your self requires nothing less. Support others when they need a break, and don’t feel guilty when it’s your time to recharge.

    Hope that helps!

I am ready to help your team with mindfulness and yoga in the office.
Let’s schedule a lunch & learn. Email me to get started!

New Blog Series: Yoga & Cancer

I’m devoting some of my blog posts to bringing mindful awareness to cancer. How we think about cancer is a lot more important than most of us probably realize, and it’s time we started talking about it. Here’s why.

I have found that most people don’t really want to talk about cancer at all unless [or until] they have to. But at the same time, when people are diagnosed with cancer, they often wonder how it happened, why it happened to them, if it was just a genetic predisposition, or if they could have done more to prevent it. Given the option between burying our heads in the sand or being proactive, we stand to gain a lot more by being educated, intentional, and mindful in our fight. So let’s talk.

I’ll go ahead and remind you that I am not a doctor or a nurse. I don’t pretend to be. I cannot tell you anything diagnostic, and I won’t be recommending anything like courses of treatment. But I hope that as we become more comfortable talking about cancer, it will take away some of the taboo that frightens us from seeking important health care screenings that could save our life. I also hope it helps us tell others about cancer support that they may not know exists, like my oncology yoga classes.

Here’s what I will be covering:

  • Data on Yoga & Cancer Prevention
  • Integrative Health Care for Cancer Patients
  • Yoga for Those in Remission from Cancer
  • How Cancer Affects Caregivers & Communities

I hope you’ll join me!

The Reason Morning Routines are Helpful

Developing a morning routine is often seen as a Type A personality trait or a tool people use to increase productivity. If we examine routines more closely, we find that even basic routines are pretty useful to almost everyone. In fact, for better or worse, you probably already have a few.

  • Forgetting your gym clothes
  • Wondering if you unplugged the iron
  • Leaving your coffee on the kitchen counter
  • Yelling at your loved ones to get in the car because you’re late

Those habits don’t really comprise an ideal morning. What are more preferable habits?

  • Walking or playing with your dog
  • Reading
  • Making a healthy lunch

Morning routines are really just intentionally healthy habits. A routine means that you have found the flow that works for you, and you are trying to do basically the same thing each morning so you can give your brain a break from decision-making, save time, curb forgetfulness, or foster positive interpersonal communication. Maybe you have other reasons!

Currently, my morning routine includes:

  • Brushing my teeth
  • Putting up my hair
  • Gardening in my greenhouse
  • Yoga
  • Reading and meditating

The rest of the day, my plans are usually pretty loose. I try to go with the flow and not let others’ plans throw a wrench in our day. Some days are easier than others. The reason morning routines are helpful is that they can bring us closer to balance. They may offer a familiar assurance. The stability of a morning routine contributes to filling my well of inner peace. Then I can draw from that peace if things around me seem frustrating, chaotic, or uncertain.

Download your free Crosswork Mindful Morning guide.