winter solstice remix


Last night, I spent my winter solstice in the Swannanoa Women’s Correctional Facility, sharing the practice of yoga. And while it was different than every other winter solstice celebration of my life so far, it was beautiful and perfect and right where I needed to be.

And because we are all one, because the only way to understand anything is through compassion, I would like to share 10 facts about incarcerated women. I am paraphrasing from an article that was originally authored by Becki Ney, a Principal with the Center for Effective Public Policy (CEPP) and Project Director of the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW). If you would like to read the original article please follow this link.

1.  Women pose a lower public safety risk than men, typically entering the criminal justice system for nonviolent crimes that are often drug and/or property related. As well, once in the system, incidents of violence and aggression by women are extremely low and women released from incarceration have lower recidivism rates than men.
2.  Women entering the criminal justice system are much more likely to have experienced poverty, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and/or other forms of victimization often linked to their offending behavior. As well, Women are much more likely to have co-occurring disorders- in particular, substance abuse problems interlinked with trauma and/or mental abuse.
3.  Women’s engagement in criminal behavior is often related to their connections with others- relationships are often paramount for women and their exposure to dysfunctional and abusive relationships can elevate their risk for victimization and the perpetration of violence.
4.  Women entering jails and prisons overwhelmingly report histories of victimization and trauma and continue to be vulnerable within correctional settings.
5.  Corrections policies and practices have been developed by managing men, not women.
6.  Jail and prison classification systems can result in unreliable custody designations and over classification of female inmates.
7.  Women have different risk factors than men- including depression, psychotic symptoms, housing safety and parental safety- all related to their criminal behavior.
8.  Women are more likely to respond favorably when correctional staff adheres to evidence-based, gender-responsive principles. Understanding trauma and its effects on women, using trauma informed strategies when interacting and engaging in cognitive problem solving with female inmates has been shown to enhance facility safety and security for staff and inmates alike.
9.  Transition and reentry to the community can be challenging for women. Women are more likely than men to have primary child-rearing responsibilities and are often single parents. Women report greater levels of poverty and less employment history preceding incarceration. Finding safe housing where women can live and support their children is very challenging.
10.             The cost of women in criminal justice is high- given what we know: low risk, parental responsibilities and significant needs- and strategies we can employ to improve outcomes- we can understand that we are failing this population when we understand that 60% of women released are re-arrested. The negative impact of involvement with the criminal justice system has- besides the direct cost of incarceration- a generational impact as the children of female offenders are 5 times more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.

Quite simply, we can do better than this. Another yoga teacher posted a poem by Margaret Atwood as her caption for a winter solstice themed photo. I share it now as it inspired the practice that I shared last night as well as spoke to me about where we are now, not only with the criminal justice system, but with everything. Personally and collectively- is there a difference?

“This is the solstice, the still point
Of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
The year’s threshold
And unlocking, where the past
Let’s go of and becomes the future;
The place of caught breath.” –Margaret Atwood

Light a Path works to create resilience through connection, showing up for people in communities of need. Light a Path has programs in local correctional facilities as well as local schools, utilizing yoga and other somatic practices as a way to health, healing, self-esteem and positive direction. We would love your support. Visit us online at www.lightapath.org


sharing the practice



I am a body person, meaning, so much of the joy in my life comes from the physical experience of being in my body. Body people tend to be the runners, the yogis, the athletes, the massage therapists and more. It makes perfect sense for a yoga teacher to be a body person. In spite of all my body knowing, it is only in the past few years that I have come to understand that the experience of trauma can drive us out of our bodies. That there are those of us that are as disassociated from our bodies as possible, disconnected because the pain of physical, sexual, mental and verbal abuse that has been received makes it too painful, too dangerous to really inhabit the body anymore. These are some of the kids I do yoga with.

In addition to encountering trauma survivors at the college I teach at, I also have worked with area high schoolers that are deemed “at-risk” by school staff. I spent a year sharing yoga in a rural high school with youth that were designated in this way. The opportunity to share the practice with these kids has been one of the most profound experiences of my life.

There are children in our community that go home to broken homes. Not only broken in the sense of missing parents but quite literally broken: no heat, no food, leaking roofs, no safe shelter. Many of these same homes have adults that are vicious, drug and/or alcohol addicted, mentally unstable or a combination of all. Most of these homes contain an abuser, be it verbal, physical or sexual. Imagine yourself in this situation. Can you?

These are the kids that make me cry at high school graduations. If they even make it to graduation. Because these are the kids that seem to disappear: dropping out, moving away, becoming a teen drug or pregnancy statistic or worse. I think of all the ways in which I support my own children and I know that not even the least of these things are happening for these kids. This is the portion of our population that defines a good day as one in which no one hurts them.

These kids are living the hardest yoga, the yoga of survival, day in and day out. The very least I can do is to show up and share some time on the mat with them each week. I too thought that sharing yoga was a small thing, inconsequential in the long run but my experience taught me otherwise. Yoga can really make a difference in the life of any trauma survivor, of any age.

The latest scientific research confirms what we know in our hearts- that child abuse has a long-term impact on a child’s life. Children who experience abuse develop toxic levels of stress. Consistent high levels of stress not only impact quality of life, they actually damage the developing architecture of a child’s brain. This ultimately results in adults who are rarely able to navigate the world in a positive way.

There are a number of studies that cite the benefits of yoga and meditation to the youth-at-risk population. If you are interested- please- follow this link and this one and this one as well. But what I really want to share with you is not a list of studies, it’s this: these kids go from pretending they don’t care about yoga at the start of the year to shyly sharing that “yoga saved my life” by the end of the year. And in between the start and end of the year, behavior improves, attendance improves, impulse control improves and self-esteem is gained.

I have seen the benefits of sharing yoga and meditation with youth-at-risk in a very real way. I know that yoga is changing these lives for the better. Yet I also understand that I am changed, bettered, uplifted, humbled, broken, made whole by this exchange as well. And I am the one that is shattered by the knowledge that we have to do better. In 2014 more than 128,000 children were referred to local DSS (Department of Social Service) for possible abuse and neglect.  That same year, 25 children died at the hand of their caregivers. These statistics are unacceptable.

Light a Path is working to bring the benefits of yoga and meditation to youth-at-risk. We know that through the consistent shared practice of yoga and meditation, these kids are able to feel safe and supported as they reach for their somatic connection with the physical self. They are able to find peace and a sense of well-being within their bodies again. Everyone deserves that access. And maybe, just maybe, they have the chance to learn that, in spite of what they’ve been told, they are perfect, beautiful, and whole and have every right to be here.

last best book ~



This review originally ran on Yoga City NYC's page . Check out their "Must Read Book Club".


Sierra Hollister: Strand’s book is about our relationship to the dark, to the organic night without artificial lighting. It's about the consequences of not having the dark and how this is impacting not only our health, but also the health of our planet. It's a fairly quick and easy read and I found myself reading out loud, to whomever might be in the room as it was always fascinating enough to share. 

YCNYC: Favorite quote?

SH:  “All time is ancestral time. We stand atop Mothers and Fathers without end. Waking up in the dark helps us to remember that great reality, and helps us to remain connected to it once we do.”

YCNYC: What one person would you recommend this book to?


SH:  Humphry Davy, the creator of the first electric light in 1800.

YCNYC: What moment or part resonates with you the most?

SH: My favorite part of the book might be where he quotes from the Song of Songs- “I sleep, but my heart is awake”. This section of the book is about the time between what Strand refers to as “our two sleeps”. This was the time when we would turn to our beloved and share ourselves or perhaps turn inward and communicate with the divine from our deepest selves. There was no real fear of the dark as the dark was natural, part of the cycle and full of love and the mystical. 

This book is full of eloquent reminders of what our hearts know, what our souls know but what we have lost in our modern, busy lives. Reading this book has been an affirmation, moment after moment of remembering what I know in my deepest self: that the natural world holds the key to our wellness in more ways than we can begin to guess. 

You can purchase Waking Up to the Dark, Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age here.

Have a Must-Read book to recommend? Email us here.

—Interview by Allison Richard


DO YOU KNOW ME?

Asheville Yoga Center runs a sweet little feature on a different teacher each month. This month, it's me. You can check it out

online at their website

 - or, below.

Why do you teach yoga?

It seems to me that we are yoga; that the union of body, mind and spirit is our true state. If we are lucky, the time on our mats is a remembering of a way back to our true selves, a way to experience our infinity, as well as our accord not only with ourselves but with all life. Yoga has been the path to the altar within my own heart- to think that I could illuminate that path in any way, however small, for another person is my reason for teaching.

What is your teaching history?

I began sharing the practice at Ahimsa Ashram in Washington, DC in 1992. We left DC in 1994 adn did some traveling, arriving in Asheville in 1995. I have taught in various studios in Asheville over the years, as well as Warren Wilson College. I have been with Asheville Yoga Center since they opened, in 1996.

What is your favorite pose at the moment?

I give my best effort at loving which ever pose I am in, at any given moment. With that said, I am experiencing a special fondness for inversions lately.

What's your sign? (astrological)

Gemini #AirSign #AirIsLife

What is your most challenging pose?

Kurmasana. I am somewhat resigned to never experiencing this posture in full, along with a few others, due to shoulder injuries.

How long have you been practicing yoga?

Since sometime in the mid-eighties. Then it was quite sporadic and more of a gymnastic mind set for me than the way I've viewed my practice since 1992.

Describe yourself in three words: 

Learning, Loving, Grateful

What is your favorite quote?

Aadil Palkhivala said this and it inspires me every single day: "True yoga is not about the shape of your body but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn't care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied."

What is your favorite word?

Always changing. Right now it is luminous.

What are you reading right now?

Reading

Love Letter to the Earth

by Thich Nhat Hanh;

An Open Heart- Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life

by the Dalai Lama;

The Radiance Sutras

by Lorin Roche. I've just finished

Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age

by Clark Strand and it was an awesome read!

What are some favorite songs on your playlist?

Lean In

and

Rivermouth

both by Rising Appalachia, off their newest release,

Wider Circles. Nectar Drop

 by DJ Drez, and re-appreciating Krishna Das, all songs.

What is your favorite food?

I really love leafy green salads and smoothies with superfood add-ins

What is your favorite movie?

My absolute favorite movie is

I heart Huckabees

What inspires you?

Kindness, Compassion, Authenticity, all efforts to participate in co-creating the more beautiful world that we know in our hearts is possible.

Sierra's classes at Asheville Yoga Center happen:

Mondays 10:15 am & Thursdays 7:00 pm

#Stand4TheArctic


I’ve been asking myself how we became the people who let Shell get into the Arctic. How did that happen? How will we ever justify that to future generations? That Shell has made it this far has been keeping me awake at night. And the bitter truth is that I did not do enough on this issue. Not enough letters, not enough phone calls, not enough discussion. Not enough.

But there is good news: we’ve been given a second chance to protect the Arctic. Obama’s green light for Shell will not stand in court- there is a permitting requirement that prohibits drilling operations in the waters off Alaska to be within 15 miles of each other. Shell has plans for 2 wells this summer, about 9 miles apart.

Earthjustice has filed suit on behalf of a broad group of Alaska native organizations and conservation groups challenging the adequacy of the agency’s environmental impact statement. You can learn more about the groups involved in the suit and the suit itself by  checking out this link .
In the meantime, let’s pull out all the stops- let’s do whatever it takes to not sacrifice the Arctic. Not to Shell and not on our watch. Please call President Obama and tell him “SHELL NO, Arctic drilling is too risky to allow. Our job is to protect the only Arctic we have!” Call Obama at 202-456-1111 and tell him to please rescind the approval for Shell to drill in the Arctic.
Please make the call. The White House comment line looks for brief and succinct comments. If you want to get into deeper talking points, consider taking a look here. In addition to calling (time is of the essence), you can sign a petition with Greenpeace here.

Consider sharing this post, encouraging others to make the call- we’re all in this together. The Arctic belongs to all of us and has far more value undrilled than drilled.


#Stand4TheArctic #SaveTheArctic #ActOnClimate #OpenYourHeart2TheWorld #ChooseLove #OnlyOneArctic #ShellNo

meditation for the embodiment of the 3rd sutra



here you will find support for continuing the practice of the Guru Gaitri Mantra and the meditation to embody the 3rd sutra.

the third sutra is "when the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off"

a sutra is a thread or knot. sutras are dense, sometimes just a few words, sometimes 2 or 3 short sentances. a sutra is meant to be "unpacked" with a teacher. we sit with the sutra, turn it over in our minds, discuss it & attempt to live it.

the meditation is sweet & simple. take a comfortable seat- perhaps easy pose. spine is straight, eyes are closed, no specific mudra.

chant the mantra: Gobinday, Mukanday, Udaaray, Apaaray, Hariang, Kariang, Nirnaamay, Akaamay. this mantra is considered the 8 names of the divine & can be translated: sustainer, liberator, enlightener, infinite, destroyer, creator, nameless, desireless.

chant & focus on the sound for 11 minutes.

this meditation is said to bring stability to the hemispheres of the brain & works on the heart center to develop compassion, patience, & tolerance, uniting one with the infinite. it is noted for the capacity to break through deep-seated blocks.

follow this link here to watch an instructional video to practice the meditation

follow this link here to purchase an mp3 of the music for meditaion

see if you can practice this meditation for 40 days in a row ~ giving yourself the chance to really take the change in deep

golden milk


Like the recipe for Yogi Tea, I learned this recipe from Yogi Bhajan. Golden Milk is every bit as delicious and nourishing as Yogi Tea. Golden Milk is the beverage to drink that will address those aches and pains in your body. Yogi Bhajan taught that this recipe is good for the spine as well as all the joints in the body.
Be careful working with the turmeric as it can stain materials. Below is the recipe for a cup of Golden Milk as well as the way to make a half a gallon at a time.
For one cup:                1/8 tsp. turmeric (heaping)
                                    ¼ cup of water
                                    8 oz. milk (can be cow or soy or rice or almond)
                                    2 tblspn. Raw almond oil (optional)
                                    Honey to taste
Boil the turmeric in the water for about 8 minutes. You are looking for a thick paste. You can add more water if you need to- the operative word being “paste”. In another pan, gently heat the milk and almond oil. If you are omitting the almond oil then warm just the milk. When the milk comes just under boiling, remove from heat and mix into the turmeric paste. Add the honey to taste. For me, the honey is a key part of the Golden Milk appeal. I am not a fan of the taste of turmeric alone. If it is summer time and you feel resistant to a hot beverage, you can add the honey to the hot turmeric paste and then add the milk at room temperature, stirring well.
To make half a gallon, increase turmeric to a heaping teaspoon, water to 2 cups, milk to 8 cups and almond oil to 16 tablespoons. You can also mix up the paste and then refrigerate it until you would like to use it. The paste will keep in the refrigerator for up to 40 days.
This drink is really quite delicious and I always feel that I am nourishing my bones and body when I drink it. There are many, many studies that verify the health claims made about turmeric. The primary active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Recent research has shown that turmeric:
            *addresses the pain and stiffness of arthritis
            *decreases the inflammation caused by arthritis
            *could be an effective tool in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease
            *inhibits the growth of cancer
            *delays liver damage that can lead to cirrhosis
All I know is that I feel a difference in my body and my yoga when I add Golden Milk to my weekly diet. Many of the studies about the health benefits of turmeric are readily accessible online as well as other recipes for enjoying turmeric. Next time you are in the supplement aisle of your local co-op or health food store, scan the labels of supplements- many of them contain turmeric. It is almost always better to boost your health and nutrition through whole foods and whole beverages than supplements.
An overview published in Advanced Experimental Medical Biology in 2007 attributes Turmeric with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer properties. It would seem that a little Golden Milk can go a long way.


Enjoy.