“No pain, no gain” is over!

How many times have you heard the phrase “no pain, no gain” as a recipe for excellence? It’s high time to break up with this idea.

Here are three reasons why it doesn’t work, especially when we are applying it to progressing with our physical bodies. (I thank Candia Raquel for this list.)

  1. It’s aggressive.
  2. It’s violent.
  3. It inevitably ends in injury or pain.

That paradigm is over, and it’s time for something new and better.

Instead of using our minds to push and prod our flesh into “perfection”, we can link our awareness and our physical bodies in a spirit of collaboration, kindness and mutual respect. So much more is possible this way.

We can explore what it means to move slowly with awareness, focussing on fluidity and ease.  We can prioritize the quality and integrity of our movements, over their external appearance. We can discover our own first-person experience of wholeness. We can learn new and better ways to move, rather than falling into habituated patterns or looking for validation from outside ourselves.

This approach is especially valuable when we are working with chronic pain and tension. There is no benefit whatsoever in stretching or strengthening a tight muscle!  We need first to release long-held unconscious gripping patterns at their root within the nervous system. This release is fundamental to healing and wholeness.

Let’s also remember that pain is the body’s way of telling us that something needs to change. Loving kindness, along with deep listening and moving with awareness, is the new way forward.

I embrace this somatic approach in all my classes and sessions. If you would like to experience the application of these principles in Yoga, QiGong and Living Somatics lessons, please check my online teaching schedule. These strategies have changed my life for the better, and I love sharing them with others.

Free Living Somatics Lessons in February! Find out what it’s all about.

art by Anita Burnaz

I am pleased to offer two free Somatics lessons in February. Experience what it means to move slowly, with awareness, and within a range of movement that prioritizes ease.

This methodology re-calibrates our nervous systems, reduces pain, improves posture and well-being, and brings suppleness to our bodies and minds. And these are  just a few of the benefits.

Each lesson is one hour, which includes a short introduction to the method and an opportunity to share afterwards, or to ask questions.

All you need is your willingness and curiosity, and a place to lie down. This could be on a yoga mat on the ground, or even on your bed. Wear comfortable clothing that allows you freedom of movement, and have a few pillows or folded towels available to use as props if they are needed.

Please email me if you would like to experience one or both of the following sessions:

Saturday Feb. 12, 10-11am. “Freeing the Hips” and/or

Saturday Feb. 19, 10-11am. “Activating the Core”.

These lessons take place over Zoom, and you are most welcome to attend.

Happy New Year 2022!

A fresh look at New Year’s Resolutions?

Happy New Year to All!

2022 brings us a mixed blessing…. on one hand, we have an opportunity for a fresh start. On the other hand, we feel the weight of Covid fatigue more than ever as we approach the two-year mark of this world pandemic.

As turmoil continues to churn around us, we need to find an oasis within ourselves. We may not be able to change what is happening around us, but the good news is that we can shift our perspective.

In Yoga, this is called pratipaksham bhavananam. It is the ability to cognitively reframe a situation, so that we gain strength and purpose, and can continue to take action steps in a positive direction.

Each one of us has this privilege and duty.

Too often, our New Year’s resolutions are so grand, that we cannot help but fail. This simply adds more stress to our already complex lives…

The key to change is “digestible bites”. This means taking small steps towards our goal on a daily basis. Over time, these small steps add up to measurable change. And we don’t strain ourselves along the way.

What might this look like? I’ll share an example from my own life: losing my menopausal weight gain.

I’ve been on many diets over the decades, and all of them have worked for a while…. until they didn’t. I would fall off the wagon, overeat, regain the weight, and feel like a failure. Most of them had to do with restriction.

Now, I value health above all. I want to feel good inside AND I want to be healthy. Physically and emotionally.

A Yogic perspective on nourishing ourselves well, is to keep 1/4 of the stomach empty. This means a stomach that is approximately 1/2 full of solids and 1/4 full of liquids.

Let’s reverse engineer this, and look at some simple steps that support this goal.

For a long time, I didn’t know how to tell when I was approaching satiation; I would always rush past that point and find that I was stuffed. That did not work. In addition, it led to indigestion and bloating.

Now, I follow four simple protocols.

  1. I take a few moments before I eat, to become calm and settled.
  2. I chew slowly and thoroughly, and put my utensil down between bites, and
  3. I pay attention to “the first burp”, which tells me that my digestive system has all it can handle for that meal. That’s when I stop.
  4. I eat three meals, and do not snack in between them.

These simple rules come from Ayurveda, the “sister science” of Yoga. It is a common sense, natural way to find balance and harmony.

This approach works beautifully for me. It’s simple, and it has been life-changing. I feel lighter, and I definitely feel healthier. I have learned to value nourishment over restriction, and this is liberating.

And if I overdo at a meal (like at a holiday feast), I just start fresh at the next meal. Without beating myself up.

We need to be gentle with ourselves, as we implement new habits!

Perhaps the one New Year’s resolution we could all take on, is self- compassion. That goes a long way in these challenging times.

Here’s wishing you gentleness and health today and always.


Tarot Special in November!

Fall is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is a perfect time to slow down and go within to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going. It is said that the veils between the inner and outer worlds are thinner now, so we can dive deep, and tap into what lies at the heart of things. It’s also an ideal time to connect with our ancestors, and to ask for their guidance.

Perhaps you’d like to book a Tarot reading? I am offering a “Scorpio Special” for the month of November!

This is a 30 minute Zoom reading for $30 CAD. This includes taxes, a recording of our session, and a beautiful photo of the cards that show up for you.

Tarot uses archetypes, imagery and colour as a mirror of our inner state. We choose the cards together in a meditative state, and they reflect your intuition, emotions and inner knowing.

A reading is like talking to a loving friend, who tells it like it is with clarity and kindness. You’ll feel seen, heard and refreshed after a reading.

Contact me at karusia@shaktiflow.com with any questions, or to book your reading.

Global Yoga Therapy Day is coming this August!

The Global Yoga Therapy Day Conference takes place online August 13-15, and this year’s theme is “Therapy for the Ages”.

This is a rich experiential and educational conference for healthcare professionals, yoga professionals and individuals interested in how Yoga Therapy can be holistically used to create better health and wellbeing for all.

Yoga Therapy offers techniques to bring peace and harmony to all parts of ourselves: in body, mind, emotions, and spirit. A wealth of information will be shared by seasoned experts and new voices alike, and will cover all aspects of Yoga as a healing modality. (Yes, there is much more to Yoga than its physical postures!)

I am delighted to present a Community Session on “Care and Feeding of the Joy Body” on Sunday August 16 at 6pm EDT. We will look at the anandamaya kosha, and find out how to cultivate and circulate Joy as a medicine in its own right, as well as in combination with other modalities. This will be an experiential session for all ages and abilities, and will combine lecture with breath, movement and visualization practices.

As we continue to navigate the personal and collective challenges of our Covid-coloured world, Yoga continues to offer us stability, perspective and ease.

I invite you to discover more of the facets that make up the jewel of Yoga. Please explore the link below. I look forward to “seeing” you at GYTD this year!

Global Yoga Therapy Day

Is there more to Yoga than meets the eye?

Greetings, Beloved Reader!

February and Valentine’s Day always turn our minds towards matters of the heart, don’t they? This post is a little love letter about Yoga. (Yoga and I have been together now for over 55 years…..)

What is Yoga?

Yoga is union; it means yoking body, mind and spirit together into one whole. And once these elements are united, Yoga leads us back into the source of all consciousness, into the heart. Into love itself.
These days, we tend to think first of Yoga as a form of stress management. And let’s face it, our collective stress levels have been rising exponentially as of late. And Yoga practices can certainly help us to release tensions in body and mind.

But is there more?

Covid continues, and so does our collective anxiety around it. We worry about confinement; about ourselves and our loved ones; about the economy; about front line workers; about whether vaccines are safe or not…. It is very easy to be triggered by the news and the media, in addition to to being carried away by our own internal concerns. Overwhelming, to say the least.
Moving our bodies helps release excess energy. Slowing down our breath settles us. Relaxation and meditation offer us a calm port in the storm.

But is there more?

I’ll answer that question by posing another one. Do our practices fundamentally change us, or do they simply distract us?
We live in a consumer society, and Yoga is often chopped up into bits and pieces. We are encouraged to pick and choose what suits us, and to try the latest popular style until we get tired of it and the next one comes along to replace it. Yoga starts to look like one more commodity.
It is less popular (and less glamorous) to see Yoga for what it truly is: a process of wholeness, that leads to to our true nature. An evolution (and involution) that leads us to the consciousness within our hearts.
And that consciousness is Love.
Yoga is a process of self-development and transformation. Yes, it includes components that look like exercise, breathing practices, rules of ethics, and forms of mindfulness. But these elements are not the end-game, they are the tools. Their purpose is to lead us home to ourselves.
According to the inner teachings of Yoga, we are inherently beings of Love and Bliss. This birthright becomes veiled by culture, environment, gender, family of origin, life experiences (including injuries and traumas), and karma. These things build up our egos, and solidify our stories of who we think we are. Herein lie the causes of our fears, worries, and anxieties. But really, these obstacles arise because we have forgotten our true nature, which is Love.
The practices of Yoga are meant to soften and melt the hard edges of ego that have been built up by the world we live in. In this world, success is measured by how much we own, and by how important we are in others’ eyes. We live in a world that values the external over the internal.
Covid is holding up a mirror to this world. It asks us to take a good long look at all of these accepted ideas, and to surrender to the fact that we cannot continue along the same trajectory any longer. It is time to pare things down to what really matters.

Is there an abiding antidote to stress?

Yes! Yoga invites us, over and over, to remember that Love is our true nature. And that a return to Love is our salvation.

What might it feel like to rest in the heart?

For a little taste, would you join me in an experiment?
I invite you to take a few moments to pause, and to lay your hands over the middle of your breastbone, the home of your heart center. Smile softly to yourself, and rest your awareness on your breath. Settle yourself, and begin to notice how each breath rises and falls gently beneath your hands. Think of a beautiful vista, or a being who is beloved to you, or even the word “Love” itself. Place this image on the altar of your heart, and allow the feeling to blossom and grow. Continue until you notice a shift within yourself.
How do you view the world now, from this new space of consciousness? What really matters from this vantage point, what do you really need? Is there any burden you can put down? How can you simplify your life?
From this place of Love, how might you treat yourself, and how might you treat others? How would you drive your car, go for a walk, sit at your computer, cook your meal? What would you feed your body?
From this place of Love, how might you stretch your body, or lift weights? How might you practise asana or QiGong? How might you put on your clothing? How might you breathe?
Resting in the heart space…
And this, Beloved Reader, brings us home to the sacred heart of Yoga. Love is the Source, and everything else springs forth from it. Love really does make the world go round.

May you feel love, and be love.

May its radiance shine forth from you like an eternal flame.

(photo from my collection, taken at Sunnybrook Hospital)

Mastering the Subtleties of Breath: The Art of Ujjayi Pranayama

I’d like to share a post that I wrote for a wonderful group of learners engaged in  the study of Radiant Lotus Women’s QiGong RLWQ). Breath practices are a very important part of both Yoga and QiGong, but there is no “one size fits all” style of breathing. I specialize in breath management, and often listen carefully to the volume, pitch, pace and quality of an individual’s respiration for subtle cues. In addition, I observe where breath moves (or doesn’t move) in the body. Breath has its own language, and can be both diagnostic as well as cure. Understanding the subtleties of breath is especially important during Coronavirus times. I hope you enjoy the following letter, and find something that supports you.

Dear Radiant Lotuses! A number of you are asking about how to integrate ujjayi breathing and RLWQ. I will put on my Yoga Therapist’s hat to share some information with you.
I imagine that you know about ujjayi breathing through your Yoga experiences. Yoga and QiGong complement one another beautifully. I personally delight in both.
Ujjayi means “triumphant” or “victorious” breath, and it is created by a skilful contraction of the glottis in the throat. This is much like the throat position for whispering, or for fogging a mirror.
In classical Yoga, ujjayi pranayama is taught as a stand alone practice. It is done in a seated meditation pose, as part of a series of breath-based energy practices that remove stagnations in our body, mind and breath. These same practices also build concentration, and prepare us for meditation. (Pranayama is more than “breathwork”; it is a cultivation of prana, which is identical to Qi.)
In Modern Postural Yoga, ujjayi is used while moving through sequences (vinyasa) and while experiencing poses within stillness (asana). This blend became popular with the teachings of Pattabhi Jois in the west, and what we call “Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga” or even Power Yoga today. This style of Yoga came to North America in the 1970’s, and exploded in the 1990’s. Interest continues today, and many related styles of Hatha Vinyasa Yoga have been birthed as a result.
(By the way, Ha-tha means Sun-Moon! Isn’t that lovely? Action and Repose, Yang and Yin…. and the traditional meaning of Ashtanga Yoga means “eight-limbed” Yoga, which includes the cultivation of ethics and kindness alongside that of body, mind and breath.)
Back to Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga, which combines a specific sequence of poses that are carried out while practising audible ujjayi breath, and engaging a toning of the perineal region (called mulabandha in Yoga). This form of Yoga was created for teen age boys. The breath and pace are strong, in order to build heat and sweat, and to channel and match the energy of that age and stage of development. Audible breathing becomes a focal point to discipline the mind, and to maintain a steady rhythm.
This type of Ashtanga Yoga, and its particular use of ujjayi breathing throughout, is primarily a male practice. It is very yang.
Many women have been drawn to this form of Yoga, and many have excelled at it. It is however not a yin practice.
Many of us in this group love Yoga and QiGong ❤️  We long for women’s forms of both; forms that speak to our unique bodies, experiences, strengths and cycles.
Thank you for your patience in this history lesson! I hope it has given some context to the relationships of qigong, Yoga, yin and yang….
As to ujjayi breathing: the louder the breath, the more yang it is. The softer the breath, the more yin it is. The same is true of tempo: faster is more yang; slower is more yin. When we slow down our exhalations, as Daisy Lee teaches, we settle and calm our nervous systems.
Like any other muscle, the glottis can be held too tightly. There are many reasons for this, that range from misunderstanding to pushing too hard. Here is another case, where “less is more”. When making ujjayi sound, the feeling inside the throat itself is best likened to that of a yawn. This maintains spaciousness in the throat, which supports freedom in our throat chakra, the center of self-expression (aka the 4th dantian in Radiant Lotus Women’s QiGong). ❤️
It is wonderful to play with ujjayi breathing and qigong! It is even better to understand the rationale behind the breathing itself, and how to use its medicine wisely and well.
We are living in stressful times, and we are exploring our feminine wisdom in this program. For both these reasons, a very soft and subtle ujjayi is a wise choice. Emilie Conrad, founder of Continuum, taught “lunar breathing”, a way to create ujjayi as softly and smoothly as possible….. “like a shimmering mist”. This is such a beautiful and transformational way to interpret ujjayi…. and exquisitely feminine. A woman’s version…. It also brings a delicate silence to the mind.
Ujjayi exists on a spectrum, from loud to soft, and from fast to slow. It can be tuned like a musical instrument. It has colour, texture, feeling. It is not a “one size fits all” technique.
If you’re playing with ujjayi breathing in your qigong practice (or even in your Yoga practice), see if any of these ideas bring something new or fresh to your experiences.
I wish you great joy and wonder in your explorations and self-cultivation ❤️

“Covid Fatigue”, anyone? ShaktiFlow tips for an optimal fall season.

Let’s be honest, these last 6 months have been challenging and nerve-racking! We have all experienced some amount of overwhelm, anxiety, worry, loss, fear, grief. And these emotions use up a lot of life-force energy, don’t they?  When this happens, our immune systems take a beating, and our coping resources wear thin. We all have a certain amount of reserve energy within us, that helps us weather crisis and challenges. There’s a good chance that we have used up all, or most, of this “back up battery power”. Now that we are entering our seventh month of pandemic times, it is crucial for us to find productive ways to replenish our reserves, and keep going in the best way possible. Our immune systems and our mental well-being depend on this.

A Love Note From Ayurveda: How May I Help?

Ayurveda is often affectionately called a sister science of Yoga. Let us look briefly at the Sanskrit meaning of the name. Ayur means life, and Veda means science or wisdom. So, Ayurveda teaches how to live wisely in order to promote physical, mental and spiritual health and longevity. Since everything is interconnected in both the Yogic and Ayurvedic world views, we see ourselves as part of creation. This is contrary to teachings that imagine the human being as having dominion over other forms of life; instead, we are led to a paradigm of ecology versus economics. It is natural to live in harmony with Nature, rather than to consume, dominate or exploit other beings or resources. The former attitude brings balance and wholeness; the latter brings depletion and conflict. We are invited to honour the cycles of Nature and the Wheel of Life. 

Autumn As Teacher

In the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is the time for conserving energy. We have already experienced the new growth of spring, as well as the bounty and harvest of mid and late summer. Now we are beginning a season of folding inwards; of resting and replenishing. Later in the year, we will be invited into the “hibernation” of winter. Next year, we begin the cycle anew.

How can we conserve and replenish our reserves of energy this fall? Here are a few general and proven tips that help all of us stay warm, steady and well-rested. (These tips can be further customized for your unique constitution, with the help of a professional Ayurvedic practitioner.)  As an experiment, pick one of the following suggestions that would be easy for you to implement, and try it for one week. See how that works and feels for you, and then choose another one the following week.

Ways to Replenish Energy in Autumn

  1. Eat warm, nourishing foods, preferably that you cook yourself, with love. Look for inspiration at the fruits and vegetables that are in season. Soups and stews that feature or include root vegetables are perfect. Simple recipes are excellent! Avoid fried, processed, and convenience foods. If you are so inclined, this is a good time to include organic or ethically raised meats, fish and dairy; the natural heaviness of these foods is nicely grounding at this time. Eat organic or local foods as much as possible.
  2. Eat slowly, with appreciation. Avoid anything that may distract you, like watching TV or reading while eating. Put your cell phone away! Try a silent meal once in a while; conversation can distract us from the experience of our food, and also cause us to swallow air. 
  3. Eat until you feel about 75% full. Overeating dulls your digestion, and adds unnecessary weight. Imagine filling 1/2 your stomach with food, 1/4 of your stomach with liquid, and leaving 1/4 empty. Another tip is to notice your first burp during your meal; that can be a good sign that you are at a healthy stopping point.
  4. Hydrate well, to counteract the dryness inherent in fall. Warm and hot teas, stews and soups are excellent. Let go of iced, cold, and bubbling drinks; they interfere with your digestive process. Remember Ayurveda’s rule of thumb: “It’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest.” Poor digestion and the accompanying accumulation of toxins in our tissues, will eventually lead to many health problems and diseases. 
  5. Avoid or limit caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol and recreational drugs. 
  6. No snacking between meals. Give your digestion enough time to deal with the last meal. (Note: some people with fast metabolisms actually do need to take in high quality snacks between meals. You know who you are.)
  7. Watch what you take in with your senses. This includes social media, news, entertainment, and even the company you keep. Choose wisely. We all know what it’s like to feel drained by certain people or obligations, or to be uplifted by others.
  8. Get as much rest as possible. See if you can get to bed by 10pm, and up by 6am. (This step alone, has been a game-changer for me.) Put your digital equipment away at least one hour before bedtime.
  9. Keep to a regular schedule. This includes meals, as well as sleep and rising times. Ideally, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time each day. Your digestion and nervous systems will thank you. Regularity creates stability, and this grounds us during the mobile and changeable time of autumn. 
  10. Say “no” more often; don’t over-schedule yourself. Do less, and be more. Remember, this is not the season to push yourself; it’s the time to conserve and replenish. Simplify your life.
  11. Exercise daily, but don’t overdo it. Walking, biking, dancing, Yoga, and QiGong are excellent options. Keep your body and your energy moving, and remember that you don’t want to feel depleted afterwards.
  12. Spend quality time with loved ones, whether they be humans, animals, plants, minerals, or other. We are wired to thrive in community. Remember the Covid rule: “Physical distancing, social closeness”.
  13. Spend time in Nature. The fresh air will do wonders for your lungs and your mood. If you are city-bound, make friends with a local tree or park.

And, Remember to Feed Your Joy

Meditate, pray, reflect, journal, practise gratitude, dance, sing, and/or daydream every day! Include whatever inspires and delights you as a regular part of your life. Remember what brought you joy when you were a child… These activities are not only healing, but they rest and down-regulate our nervous systems.

In Conclusion

Happy Autumn! May we all be warm, grounded, rested, and replenished this fall. May we all become more and more adept at living in harmony with nature. Let’s discover together, what it feels like to make small changes that add up to a beautiful life.

Online Yoga, QiGong and Yoga Therapy: how does that work?

With yoga studios and public practice spaces closed, I have taken my classes and sessions online. Like many teachers and therapists, I am using Zoom.

I am grateful for all that the Zoom platform offers. It is a medium through which we can boost our health and well-being. Please continue reading to learn more about the benefits possible through online engagement.

  • It makes it possible for us to continue learning, teaching, and healing together, while respecting social distancing.
  • We save travel time. No traffic!
  • We can practice in the comfort of our own homes. This gives us a feeling of safety. It also brings positive energy into our living spaces.
  • As a student or client, it is possible to turn off your video for privacy. You can still see and hear the instructor/therapist.
  • In group classes, participants can see and engage with one another, and socialize before and after class.
  • Transmission of energy, warmth and intimacy flows beautifully through this medium.
  • We can stay connected.

My students tell me that in-person will always be their favourite, but that Zoom Live is the next best option. Watching a recording of even the very same class loses the immediacy of being together, even while apart!

Sheltering at home and really, really, really, missing physical contact?

We all have different needs in terms of touch. Many introverts are thoroughly enjoying their solitude during our coronavirus situation, and other people are keenly missing being able to hug and be hugged by their loved ones. 

It’s a conundrum, but I have something that can help.

My students have reported that they really appreciate the tapping, cupping and self-massage practices of QiGong, more than ever. We combine smooth breathing, loving intention, and caring touch, as we awaken our circulation at the beginning of a typical session. Self-massage is very soothing and nourishing; it feeds the soul as well as the skin and deeper tissues. 

Here is a link to a short video that will guide you through these practices, so you can find out for yourself. Take a moment before and after the practice, in order to feel into any shift you may experience. 

Please copy and paste this link to watch the video and try it out for yourself: https://youtu.be/-f0si0XLplU