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The Healing Power of Trauma-Informed Yoga Classes

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Celebrating five years of service, the nonprofit Exhale to Inhale brings free, trauma-informed yoga classes to rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters in New York and California.

First it was her mother. Then it was a friend in college. And another friend. And another friend. As each person told Zoë LePage her experience of domestic or sexual violence, she was moved by the survivors. “I was furious that my loved ones had gone through this—that someone had violated them like this and made them feel less than. I wanted to create space for them and other individuals who had similar experiences, so they could do the work of healing,” she says.

Then, in her senior year of college, LePage’s women’s leadership–studies program tasked her with finding a way to change the world. She knew it needed to address trauma from sexual and domestic assaults.

See also How to Work with Yoga Students Who’ve Experienced Trauma

LePage thought about how much yoga had helped her with anxiety and depression between high school and college. “Yoga gave me a sense of strength and stability that nothing else could provide,” says LePage, who completed her first yoga teacher training in 2009. Hoping yoga would have the same effect on survivors, LePage founded Exhale to Inhale (ETI) in 2013, to bring free yoga classes to people who’d experienced trauma.

The name of the nonprofit organization comes from a quote her yoga teacher Jodie Rufty would say: “Sometimes you need to let go of that which is no longer serving you in order to fill yourself back up.” LePage explains, “In my mind, that translated into, ‘You need to exhale in order to inhale.’”

Exhale toInhale founder, Zoë LePage

See also 5 Ways to Use Your Yoga Practice to Help You Deal With Trauma

ETI yoga instructors visit domestic and sexual violence shelters and rape crisis and community centers to teach free, trauma-informed yoga classes to the survivors and staff there. What a class looks like: The lights remain on, there is no music, everyone is oriented to face the entry and exit point of the room, and the instructor stays on her mat or in her chair. “Part of that method is so that the students have someone to copy, and part of it is easing the anxiety of students who may be hypervigilant. The idea of someone coming up behind them or there being someone they need to track as they walk around the room is a distraction,” she says.

Instructors also use invitational language. “We want our students to have the experience of noticing the sensations in their body and making choices based on that,” LePage says. So teachers use phrases like, “I invite you to try…” and “This is option A; this is option B. Or you can choose none of the above.”

See also Sarah Platt-Finger’s Self-Care Practice for Survivors of Sexual Assault

This empowers students and helps them reconnect to their bodies in a positive way. “For someone who has experienced trauma, her body has been violated. You do not feel safe in it or you feel disconnected from it,” LePage says. “We hold space for people to be present in the moment, to connect to how their bodies move in space, and to recognize how those movements make them feel emotionally and physically. When our students begin to experience this, they may slowly incorporate that new way of being into their everyday lives so they can create the lives they want.” 



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How to Use the Ancient Principles of Vastu to Declutter Your Home and Improve Its Energy

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Could your home use a refresh? After making over her place according to the yoga of design, writer Elizabeth Marglin has 10 simple tips to help you get organized and create spaces that speak to your soul.

I’m drawn to home decluttering and design projects. I’ve dabbled in feng shui, KonMarie’d, and gotten my hygge on. Having a mother who is a hoarder makes me especially sensitive to the objects that constantly accumulate. Still, somehow none of these methods helped me find a genuine sense of ease in my space. Then I found Vastu, known as the “yoga of design.” Vastu is a traditional Indian system of architecture that’s for all kinds of buildings—temples, businesses, homes—yet its key principles can be used to rectify energy imbalances in existing homes (read: clutter) and to cultivate spiritual and physical calm. As a system, it’s neither dogmatic nor rigid. You don’t have to be building a house to incorporate what it has to offer. It plays out as a remarkably fluid, even common-sense method, to generate a domestic version of holiness. It can be as simple as using beautiful ceramic plates every day instead of saving them for special occasions, pruning your mantel of detritus so that it becomes an alter rather than a knick-knack conglomerate, or opting for natural textiles and materials instead of synthetic wherever possible.

In her book Vastu: Transcendental Home Design in Harmony with Nature, author Sherri Silverman, an internationally recognized Vastu sacred space design consultant, describes Vastu philosophy this way: “The structure of our homes is representative of our own bodies: what goes on in one affects the other, and our own little universes of body and home embody the same forces that compose the vast universe.” As I learned more about Vastu, it resonated as a trifecta of solutions that could answer several of my spiritual longings at once: interconnectedness, thoughtful design, and alignment with the divine. About to embark on a basement remodel, Vastu felt like an organizing principle I could get behind. I suddenly could envision my home as a microcosm of the sacred. I wanted to use Vastu principles to do-over my entire home, to reconfigure our unruly constellation of possessions, and to act as a template for the new rooms we were building out downstairs.

See also Clearing Clutter for a Simpler Life

With the goal of transforming domestic chaos into a sacred refuge, I reached out to Silverman. She was eager to spread the word about Vastu and agreed to be my consultant on our home project. (Even amongst yoga devotees, Vastu still gets short shrift, despite being considered yoga and Ayurveda’s third sister in the pantheon of vedic sciences.) The ethos that drives Vastu is as applicable today as it was a millennia ago. It involves flexible design guidelines for space, sunlight, flow, and function. The idea was for my home to feel alive, supportive, and nourishing. I could get there with whatever style best suited my taste. Vastu can encompass the whole gamut of individual style choices, from rustic to beach to uber modern. But what distinguishes Vastu from other home organization methods, says Silverman, is the attentiveness to beauty. “Vastu requires beauty. If you follow all the rules but omit beauty, it’s not really Vastu,” says Silverman. “Beauty adds vibrancy to spaces. Without beauty, it’s just empty, vacant, sterile. Add beauty and the space comes alive.”

I sent Silverman photos of my home, along with the plans for our upcoming basement remodel. She gave me detailed recommendations for how I could bring in more haven, less havoc. What follows are the vital takeaways—attention to sightlines, freeing up the center of the room, bringing in a touch of nature—that I gleaned from our collaboration. Along the way, I learned how beauty is a natural conduit to presence. When things were aligned in the right way, my eyes said “ah, ah,” and I could feel my soul exhaling. I invite you to apply some of following Vastu principles to your own home to help you manifest your own sacred spaces that bring you exquisite relief—and delight. As for the things you can’t change or rearrange, I’ll share Silverman’s generous words regarding my plight: “Do what is possible and let go of the rest.”

See also 4 Ways to Eco-Consciously Declutter Your Home



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10 Yoga Teachers Share Exactly How They Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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Having trouble getting eight hours of shut-eye? Steal these secrets from some of the country’s top teachers.

10 yoga teachers share their personal night-time routine to help you get a good night’s sleep. 

Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Aim to go to sleep at the same time every night. Don’t sleep with a TV playing in the background. While these tips are great, you’ve likely heard ‘em a million times before and have tried all of them—and you’re still not getting the shut-eye you need.

Setting up a well-planned nighttime ritual to prepare your mind and body for sleep can help you get high-quality rest, which is important for everything from weight control to controlling blood sugar to keeping you in a good mood. So, who better to ask about bedtime routines than yoga teachers? Calming and centering techniques are their areas of expertise, plus many of them teach early-morning classes, which makes regular sleep schedules extra-important.

See also This Yoga Nidra Video Will Help You Fall Asleep in 5 Minutes or Less Tonight

Here, 10 yoga teachers share with us their exact night-time routine that helps them get high-quality sleep.

1. Wind down with lavender, an immunity shot, and Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose

Brittanee Greenhaw, yoga instructor at Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in San Diego, California, takes self-care seriously at night. Her multi-sensory wind-down rituals start with an immunity shot. She uses fresh-pressed ginger root, 10 drops of grapefruit seed extract, 3 drops of oregano, and dilutes the mixture with coconut water. She also likes to have Yo-Yo Ma Cello music playing in the background, but switches to classical music closer to bedtime. Some of her other go-to rituals: Showering using a lavender body scrub, using a jade roller to reduce inflammation of the face and lymph nodes, applying a magnesium body cream, and massaging lavender oil into the arches of her feet and then putting on cozy socks to increase the absorption and keep her feet warm. Right before bed, she stays in Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose for 11 minutes (it’s a balancing number, she says!), turns off the lights, puts an eye mask on, and drifts off to sleep.

2. Calming yoga flow, a bedtime tonic and journaling gratitude

Prior to bed, CorePower Yoga’s Master Trainer Emily Schmookler moves through a calming yoga flow. Here’s her sequence: Standing forward fold, squat and curl, toe stretch, crescent moon into half splits, table top with a couple cat-cows, child’s pose, and seated forward fold. Then, she rolls onto her back and does some gentle twists and movements to stretch her hips. She also drinks a night-time tonic to unwind. It includes Life Spa’s Ojas Milk, 1/4 teaspoon of ghee, 1/2 teaspoon of honey, and Four Sigmatic Reishi Mushroom Elixir. “This tonic is an Ayurvedic rejuvenate and aids in nourishing your depleted energy, calms your nervous system and helps to rebuild your immune system,” Schmookler says. Her night-time routine also includes writing down three things she was grateful for during the day.

See also YJ Tried It: 30 Days of Guided Sleep Meditation

3. Soak in an Epsom salt bath

Teri Wilkinson, yoga instructor, Ko’a Kea Resort & Spa in Kauai, Hawaii says she takes a 10 to 15 minute hot bath before bed. “I put in 1 cup of Epsom salt and 1 cup of baking soda to allow my muscles to relax and loosen up, my body to detox, and to clear my mind from my day.” She then drinks a cup of Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime extra. The valerian root in the tea, she says, helps her sleep deeply for about seven hours.

4. Do restorative yoga stretches and listen to melodic tunes from around the world

Each night before bed, Kirkland Shave, program director at Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat and Health Spa, and a certified yoga instructor, does 15 minutes of restorative yoga stretches. He finishes his stretching session with a short Chi Kung energy circulation practice, and makes some prayers of gratitude. “After, I turn my phone onto airplane mode, put in my noise-cancelling earbuds, tune into some melodic East Indian ragas, or Japanese Koto and Shakuhachi music, and lay atop a few spikey balls in bed, placing them along my neck and back,” he says. The balls place isolated pressure on imbalanced connective tissues to increase circulation, and also reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, he says.

See also This 6-Minute Sound Bath Is About to Change Your Day for the Better

5. Use an old-school alarm clock

Since Lauren Larry, a yoga teacher in Manhattan, Kansas, teaches 5 a.m. classes, she makes sure she’s in bed early and doesn’t get disrupted. “I banish tech from my sleeping space,” she says. In fact, she even relies on an old-school alarm clock. Without tech in the bedroom, Larry says, she doesn’t get caught up in the news or a tweet storm.

6. Stone diffusers, tea, and p.m. poses

Carolena Coley makes Bedtime Tea by Yogi and sets up her Vitruvi stone diffusers with a lavender and sandalwood essential oil blend before bed. “As I am drinking my tea, I practice mindfulness with my senses for grounding; what I can feel, hear, see, smell and taste,” says Coley, Yoga in the Vineyard instructor at Spa Terra at The Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, California. “Then, I take a few minutes to acknowledge my day with my gratitude practice.” In addition to Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose, she also does a Reclining Bound Angle Pose, and stays in this pose for five minutes, placing one hand on her heart and one hand on her belly. “I connect with my heartbeat and my breath, breathing in and out for a count of eight,” Coley says.

See also Try This Calming Meditation the Next Time You Need a Detox

7. Have a go-to song for bedtime

Remember nursery rhymes? It’s good, too, to have some soothing melodies that signal bedtime when you’re an adult. Kelly Clifton Turner, yoga instructor and Director of Education for YogaSix, often does 5 to 10 minutes of Legs-Up-The-Wall before bed. She also listens to a favorite song. (“Soul Lotion,” by Cadet de’l’espace, and “Cease To Know,” by Eluvium are currently in rotation). “There is an almost Pavlovian response when I hear those songs,” she says.”I settle right down.” If thoughts enter her mind while she’s relaxing (i.e. “What time is my first meeting?”) she thinks to herself: “This isn’t the time to spend on that.”

8. Mediate and make a to-do list

“I set a meditation cushion on my practice mat, close my eyes and face east in my studio and take the time to meditate, reflecting and reviewing my day,” says Karen Newton, a yoga teacher at Sage Yoga Studio, which is the on-site studio of Prairie Guest House in Fishers, Indiana. During her meditation, she plays relaxing music. “After my 30-minute meditation, I will write out my to-do list for the following day,” Newton says. Knowing she has an agenda for the next day brings about calmness.

See also These 5 Yoga Poses Will Make You a Morning Person

9. Count your breath

Some nights, no matter what you try, it’s hard to fall asleep. When that happens, try this technique, courtesy of Jennifer Reis, a teacher at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

● Lie down, get comfortable, and close your eyes.

● Become aware of your breathing.

● Slowly count the exhalations backward, starting with 10. Keep your focus solely on the breath.

● If you lose track while counting, begin again with 10.

See also This Energizing Matcha Lime Smoothie Will Help You Wake Up Without the Caffeine Spike

10. Enjoy a sound bath and a book

Love relaxing with music at night? Spotify has a “sound bath” playlist, points out Erin Motz, the co-founder of Bad Yogi, which offers online yoga classes. In addition to listening to the calming sounds, Motz also likes to read before bed, but she makes sure it’s light reading and not too riveting. She also practices 8-4-8 breathing to calm down the central nervous system and prep the body for sleep. Some of her go-to p.m. poses: Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose, Supine Twists, and Pigeon Pose.

So, will you be incorporating any of these techniques into your own sleep routine?



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Practice These Meditations When Your Bank Account Feels Especially Low

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Take a deep breath and let go of that money stress.



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