Those who attend classes at Taos Yoga Therapy say that their practice has helped sustain them through stress and life changes.
The holidays can bring us back to our own inner light if we can be present in the moment, says Monique Parker of Taos Yoga Therapy.
"When we get overwhelmed by the stress of the season, we can lose the ability to appreciate the moment," observes Parker.
The holiday season brings stress, such as demands on our time and finances. We often rush from one errand to the next without an opportunity for pausing.
"There is so much to do during the holidays and so many expectations," says Parker. "... Whether it's picking up kids at school, working, attending performances, shopping, preparing meals, and trying to capture a few moments to slow down can be sloppy. It's easy to fall into poor habits and even unhealthy thought patterns. By learning to check in with our breath, we can downshift our system. Breathing can take us into the present moment with an open heart where we all function better."
At her studio near downtown Taos, Parker helps her students come into the present moment by mindfully linking the breath with movement in classes on yoga, foam roller self-massage, meditation and chanting. Bringing balance and health to her students has been Parker's work for the last 18 years, first as a yoga teacher, then as founder of the University of New Mexico -Taos yoga teacher training program and later at Taos Yoga Therapy.
Her students speak about the benefits of study at the studio. "Taos Yoga Therapy is the gift that keeps giving all year long," says Mary Short. "It is the best thing anyone can do for themselves: body, heart and soul. I am a breast cancer survivor and Taos Toga Therapy has helped me with my journey in life to become a better person inside and out."
Yoga and meditation
On a recent morning, Parker led a class on yoga and meditation in her studio at Central Station. The bright and soothing space is lit from a skylight above. The wood floors glow; it is a place of peace and repose.
Six students follow Parker as she guides them through a relaxation practice that allows each person to focus inwardly. The distractions of the day fall away as the class engages in breathing and gentle stretching. The focus is on the breath and the alignment of the spine.
A sense of quiet coherence grows as the students go deeper in their practice. With the breathing and movement, Parker introduces a mantra that everyone chants together. The vibration of the sounds helps each person deepen their concentration and develop more stamina and lung capacity. The class begins to move mindfully, with arms raised. They chant as they bend forward, warming up the spine.
Grounding and returning to the breath
Those who attend classes at Taos Yoga Therapy say that their practice has helped sustain them through stress and life changes. "Like so many, I arrived in Taos amidst great changes in my life," says Tao Jones. "Taos Yoga Therapy provided me with a strong sense of grounding and returning to my breath, most essential during such times. Monique and her staff are beacons for those who are compelled to awaken to their most authentic expression of being."
Joanie O'Casey says that Taos Yoga Therapy literally saved her life. "As an experienced yoga practitioner for many years and in many places, it is my opinion that Taos Yoga Therapy is one of the best kept secrets in all of Northern New Mexico," says O'Casey. "I value their commitment to uphold the integrity of authentic yoga. The yoga poses are nonstressful, and yet effectively melt away stress. The instructors are friendly, compassionate, patient, skilled and genuinely encouraging."
Yoga as therapy
Parker and the other instructors at Taos Yoga Therapy are committed to working with each student as they walk their path of self-discovery and move from imbalance to balance. "Self-realization is the goal of yoga. The word yoga actually means to hold the thought of your choice to the exclusion of all other thoughts and distractions. As the oldest psychology on the planet, it's about concentrating an otherwise restless mind," explains Parker.
The breath is the vehicle or bridge that links the body and mind. Breath-centric yoga can relieve stress, anxiety, and depression as it strengthens the body in a holistic way. The focus is on maintaining the health and integrity of the spine, which Parker says is the house of the nervous system.
"We work in all planes of movement: twisting, forward, backward and laterally. This practice lays the foundation for safe and effective movement," says Parker.
People come to Taos Yoga Therapy to help heal from injuries, pain and surgery and also to find an approach to practice that is both mindful and based on classical lineage or tradition. Each movement is modified to be appropriate for everyone in the class.
Since yoga can improve balance and reduce the risk of falls, it is the perfect exercise for an aging population. "When we bear weight in exercise and against gravity, our bones remodel overtime to become stronger. One of my students is 75 years old and told me that her bone density test that measures risk of osteoporosis had improved since she began doing yoga with us several years ago," says Parker.
Fellow instructors Raquela Moncada-Cowan and Cecily Levy bring specialized expertise to their classes at Taos Yoga Therapy.
Originally from Argentina, Moncada-Cowan is bilingual in Spanish and English. She studied in the UNM-Taos yoga teacher training program and is also a yoga therapist. She co-teaches at Taos Yoga Therapy's sister organization Syastha Yoga Institute yoga teacher training program along with Parker. Moncada-Cowan offers classes and therapeutic consultations.
"She has grown tremendously as a teacher and yoga therapist. She is so passionate and giving in her teaching; her heart is enormous" observes Parker.
Ceily Levy brings a wealth of information from her studies and practice of the last 26 years in yoga and meditation. She teaches hatha, yin, restorative yoga and meditation. Described by Parker as a gifted teacher who uses beautiful, articulate language in her instructions. Levy integrates the active and still components of yoga to create a safe place for personal exploration, transformation and awakening awareness.
Vedic chanting and astrology
One unique offering of Taos Yoga Therapy is Vedic chanting. According to Parker, it is the world's oldest unbroken oral tradition, which has been preserved with exact pronunciation for perhaps 5,000 years.
In 2003, UNESCO recognized this tradition as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. "Vedic chanting is considered the word of God," Parker said. "As an invaluable tool for spiritual awakening, the sounds activate different energies in our body and psyche. Many faiths use the chanting of hymns to the divine as a way to literally shift consciousness."
Chanting can improve immunity, reduce stress, sharpen concentration and release anti-depression hormones. Parker was certified to teach Vedic chanting this past summer after four trips to India over a two-year period and is one of only a few instructors in the United States.
Parker said she is dedicated to continuing her healing practice and looking for ways to help her students. She has trained in Jyotish, the astrology of India, a sister science to yoga and Ayurveda.
Parker says that Jyotish means light and is meant to illuminate the life path of an individual, providing insights into strengths, weaknesses, personality and karmic path. She is just beginning to offer readings in this tradition.
Celebrating four years
After hosting a visiting teacher at San Geronimo Lodge for several years that helped over a dozen local yoga teachers attain specialized yoga therapy certification, Parker heeded an inner call to open her own studio at Central Station. She estimates that as many as 300 people from Taos and all over the country have come here in that time to deepen their practices and improve their health and peace of mind.
"For three years, I have taken regular classes at Taos Yoga Therapy," says student Gwen Augusten. "Vedic chanting, foam roller and hatha yoga classes bring strength, flexibility and peace of mind. Monique brings a wealth of knowledge and understanding to all her students."
Parker explains that yoga is an integrated practice of body, mind and breath that helps us feel more grounded and present. "We are so externally referenced with our attention, our sensorium, whether it be our relationships, work, gadgets, or the internet, that we experience a constant leaking of our energy, a mental exhaustion that leaves us physically tired," Parker says.
"Yoga teaches us how to harness our energy and regain peace of mind through better discernment," she says. "By taking time out and consciously directing our senses inward, we recharge. We heal. We come closer to ourselves. As a result, our relationships improve, we develop better habits, we become better versions of ourselves and enjoy this life more fully."
Taos Yoga Therapy is a provider of alternative services for Cancer Support Services at Holy Cross Hospital and can work with people through the New Mexico Medicaid self-directed waiver program and those in the New Mexico Division of Vocational Resources for people with disabilities to receive therapeutic yoga training and support.
For an afternoon of Vedic chanting, join Taos Yoga Therapy on Sunday, Dec. 30 from 2- 4 pm. Cost is $30. The class is also offered every Monday morning from 9:45 am to 10:45 am.
Breathing technique for calming from Monique Parker
One of the simplest techniques to calm anxiety and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed during the holiday season, or at any time, is pursed lip breathing:
-Sit down. Close your eyes. Relax neck and shoulder muscles.
-Breathe in through the nose with the mouth closed.
-Breathe out through pursed lips as if blowing out a candle, but keep tongue and jaw relaxed.
-Repeat 10-12 times - holding in mind a thought, such as "I'm OK, everything is ok, let go, or peace be with me."
This practice encourages the body to relax. It gives a signal to the central nervous system to take tension down a notch and allows you to stay present.
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