Tag Archives: yoga

Julie Lusk practicing Yoga

Are Relaxation Techniques Part of Yoga?

Can something as mysterious as Yoga include guided relaxation and imagery?

Excerpted from Yoga Meditations by Julie Lusk

Julie Lusk practicing Yoga

Julie Lusk stumped.

Mayo Clinic’s “Housecall” has discussed the benefits of Yoga. Reading their article reminded me of Julie Lusk, one of our authors who writes about relaxation techniques and yoga.  She is a Yoga Master and teacher in the Cincinnati area. Julie can be found at Wholesome Resources when she isn’t traveling, speaking, and teaching. In an excerpt from her book Yoga Meditations she writes about using Shavasana, a yoga pose, to enhance relaxation and meditation.

Guided Relaxation: Still Yoga.

Yoga is the settling of the mind into stillness.
Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by mental activity.
The five types of mental activity are understanding, misunderstanding, imagination, sleep, and memory.
They may or may not cause suffering.

Yoga Sutra 1.2, 1.4-6

Stillness. What a treasure in a world that moves at lightning fast speed. Thankfully, there is an ongoing place in each of us that is an unending reservoir of inner strength and stillness. The purpose of yoga and practices like it is to uncover this powerful core and to use it as a solid platform from which to encounter the world and experience life.

Settling mental activity by actively becoming relaxed and centered is an easy starting point for discovering inner peace; it is also the foundation for most mind-body practices. It actively increases our capacity to calm the mind, soothe the emotions, and open the heart.

Yoga pose

Shavasana – Photo used with permission of Julie Lusk

Shavasana (sha-VAH-sah-nah) – the proper supine position for relaxation and guided imagery. The optimal position for guided relaxation and imagery is called Shavasana (sponge or corpse pose) in yoga. Shavasana is done lying down on a firm, flat surface, such as a carpeted floor or mat. A sofa or bed can be used; however, you risk falling asleep if it is too comfortable.

Here are the specifics:

Lie down on a carpeted floor or mat. Feel free to cover yourself with a blanket for warmth.
Start with a nice big stretch. Next, take in a deep breath and sigh it out through an open mouth.
Close your eyes or keep them barely open. An eye pillow or folded washcloth placed over the eyes helps the brain and body relax further.

Place your legs straight out with your heels twelve to twenty-four inches apart. Find a good distance for your feet so that your hips and back can relax. If your back is uncomfortable, bend your knees and lean them against each other with your feet placed on the floor below them. Start by placing your feet wider than your hips, and notice if it feels comfortable and stable. If not, adjust the placement of your feet and knees. An alternative is to place a sturdy pillow or bolster under your knees. Take the time you need to find the optimal position for your comfort.

Lift your hips up slightly and place them back down so they fall supported and your weight is evenly distributed.

Draw your shoulders downward by gently lowering them toward your ears. Snuggle and tuck them in so they rest comfortably beneath you.

Stretch your arms out and away from your sides in a position of ease. Place your palms face up and notice how this feels to you. If you prefer, turn your palms down or place them on your body.

It is important to preserve the natural arch at the back of your neck. To do so, rest the back of your head on the floor and make sure that neither your forehead nor chin is higher than the other. You may use a small pillow under your head, or roll up a small towel and place it under your neck.

Let your awareness roam around your body to become aware of any area that may be uncomfortable and take the time needed to adjust your clothing and your posture so you are totally at ease.

Yoga outside


Now you, or your clients, are in the perfect position to enjoy meditation or guided imagery. Find a CD with images you and your clients will find soothing, beginning with shorter scripts (5 to 8 minutes) and then graduate to longer ones when you have mastered relaxing for 5 minutes or so. You will find it gets easier each time the routine is practiced.

Remember that your clients are learning what might be a brand new way of using their muscles. Just as it takes time to learn to be a great shot on the basketball court or to be able to play perfect arpeggios on the piano, it takes time and practice to become expert at relaxation and yoga techniques. Everybody take a deep breath and begin to explore a new way to relax.

About Julie.

Julie Lusk author and yoga master

Author and Yoga Master Julie Lusk

Go here for a selection of relaxation and guided imagery CD’s.

What Relaxation Techniques Really Work?

What works for you when you want to relax? Have you found a reliable relaxation tool?

Advice abounds for those who are struggling to find an effective relaxation tool – the technique that will be a magical answer to stress issues. The following are quotes from some of our authors and staff describing what relaxation tools they use when stress begins to overwhelm them. Read them, and try the ones that appeal to you. Remember, of course, that relaxation is a muscle response, just like shooting a basket or playing the piano and it takes times to master a new skill. Practice for a couple of weeks before you try another. Eventually, you will find what fits you the best. I’d love to hear about your search.

One of our authors, Ester Leutenberg

Ester Leutenberg, co-author of many of our workbooks says, “When I have unwanted thoughts or memories rumbling around in my head and cannot fall asleep at night, I take in a deep breath slowly, and the release it slowly. Never make it past 4 or 5 breaths, and I’m asleep. I start with my toes and totally relax them, then ankles, calves, knees and on up, ‘till I’m a limp rag. SO GOOD!!!”

Izzy telling a Joke

Izzy Gesel, author of Playing Along, and a master of improv tells us, “Whenever I am feeling stressed and I am able to take a moment to pause and listen to my self-talk, I often realize that my stress is about something that happened in the past, is going to happen in the future, or is about another person or something I cannot control. What’s helpful to me in these stressful moments is to close my eyes, take a breath and ask myself, ‘What am I grateful for?’ Within about 15 seconds I feel more grounded. I’m able to focus on the present and take action on something I can control thereby reducing my stress.”

Carlene Sippola

Carlene Sippola, WPA’s Publisher tells us, “In the winter, I relax sitting in front of our fireplace playing a few games on my iPad or catching up on the day with my husband. In the summer, we spend time at our camper where we kayak, hike, and sit around the fire pit at night (my favorite). Spending time with good friends is always relaxing.”

Amy Broadsky is one of our talented illustrators, and a skilled, licensed therapist herself, says she does a progressive muscle relaxation starting at my feet and working upwards. “I also do deep breathing. Specifically I breathe in through both my mouth and nose to the count of 6 or 8, and then breath out to the same count. Initially I practiced these techniques three times every day until I was able to effectively relax. I have not had a panic attack in 27 years due to these techniques. I also listen to guided imagery at times, relaxation music, sounds of waves or rain.”

Our shipping and order entry Queen Deb says, “I relax at our family cabin in my kayak, with a soothing beverage.”

Julie Lusk
Julie Lusk

Julie Lusk, Yoga master and author, had a hard time choosing her favorite relaxation technique. She often combines Yoga with meditation to achieve the ultimate relaxed state.

From Jack Kosmach, WPA’s President, “I’ve always enjoyed sitting down with a good book.  When we were first married, my wife Lynne and I would sit on the couch with our books and read and read.  It was a really nice time to relax.  Then life seemed to interrupt and the opportunities to be ‘alone’ to read became fewer and fewer.  It is still my favorite way to unwind.”

Leigh Anne telling jokes to her dogs

I looked forward to Leigh Anne Jasheway’s response to my “How do I relax?” question. She is the author of Don’t Get Mad Get Funny and Are You Playing with Me and is a prolific speaker on all kinds of funny topics. “I’d put improv at the top of the list. Improv is like spending 2 hours at recess with friends whose sole goal is to have a good time. We laugh so hard and completely forget about anything we were worrying about before the improv session started. Afterward, I find that not only am I less stressed by things, I’m also filled with great ideas about every project I’m working on. That, in and of itself, reduces my stress further because now I have solutions.

“And let’s not forget that all that laughter introduces endorphins and other healing chemicals into the blood stream and massages all the organs. Improv is like recess, falling in love, and a full-body massage all wrapped in one playful adventure.”

Fran Liptak who put her own devastating loss to use by co-authoring the GriefWorks series with Ester Leutenberg says she does several things. Here’s her list:

  • Meditate daily – I have a practice that involves some stretching and meditation each morning. I miss this when I don’t do it.Photo of Fran Zamore
  • Walk outside – I have a real need for fresh air so when the weather is really too harsh for me to be outside I notice it.
  • Take long, warm baths as needed/desired
  • Frequent deliberate long, slow, deep breaths throughout the day
  • Listen to guided imagery scripts as needed
  • Exercise regularly
  • Spend time with friends
  • Gratitude practice – say aloud a minimum of three things each day for which I’m grateful, just before going to sleep
Jacquelyn Ferguson

Jacquelyn Ferguson definitely has a favorite relaxation approach.  Here’s what she does:

 I start in a reclining (a recliner, not a bed) position with eyes closed doing a rhythmic breathing exercise for a minute or two or more, depending upon how hyper I am.

I inhale slowly to the count of 6 observing my abdomen swelling, hold to count of 4, exhale to count of 9 (to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system – the “relaxation response”) focusing on my abdomen compressing. I repeat until I find myself floating around with no real attempt to do anything. If I return to more of an “awake” feeling I repeat the breathing exercise. If distracted I allow myself to be aware only of what I sense: sounds, a breeze, an odor, etc.

I program myself to become alert in 20 minutes or 30 minutes. I do become alert each time at the virtually the exact minute programmed. This part fascinates my husband, Bob.

That’s all I do. I have others I’ve done over the years but this one is what I’ve been doing for a good decade. So, so simple.

Me: When I first came to work at Whole Person I hadn’t heard of relaxation techniques, let alone tried one. After a particularly harrowing day my boss sent me home with “Countdown to Relaxation”, and after a couple of weeks of practice it worked like a charm.  Now I begin to count backwards from ten, deepening my breathing with each number, cleansing my body as I become more and more relaxed. I recommend it highly. Click here for the CD. I’ve used it for so long that all I need to hear is the opening music and I can do the rest myself. My other favorite: close my eyes when my family is all together and immerse myself in the sound of happy folks.

As I said at the start of this piece, I’d love to know what you do to relax. Click in the comment section and tell your story.

A Yoga Poem

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas A Cool Yoga Poem

DECEMBER 9, 2015 BY JULIE LUSK and December 15, 2015 by PEG JOHNSON

Adapted by Julie Lusk in 2013 from ‘Twas the Night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) and from Alex Newport-Berra’s rendition titled Bikram’s Torture Chamber in 2009.

‘Twas the time before Christmas, and in yogi’s place,
Not a muscle was moving, ‘twas all filled with grace.
The mats were lined up on the floor straight, with care
In hopes sweet relaxation would quickly be there.

The students relaxed, all snug on their mats,
While life sped by outside, like some silly cats.
Bodies were moving, they’re this way and that.
Finding just the right pose, not too curvy nor flat.

“Now Tadasana! Now, Chandrasana! Virabhdrasana! and Bridge!
On, Cobra! On, Bow! On Locust and Fish!
To the top of your head! And the bot’m of your heart!
Now breathe away! Breathe away! And please, please don’t fart!”

When up in my brain there arose such a clatter,
I fell out of posture, to worsen the matter.
When what to my wandering mind should appear,
But a big plate of chocolate and a six-pack of cheer!

With a mental mirage so clever and quick,
I knew in a moment, ‘twas a monkey mind trick!
More calmly and deeper my breathing I made,
To ensure that distractions so quickly would fade.

Breathing mindfully now, making ocean sound noise,
I found balance and focus to bring my life poise.
As I turnéd my head, I lost sight of myself.
Caught a brief glimpse behind me, of Santa’s small elves!

She was dressed in an outfit, all green and all red,
A tall pointy cap to cover her head.
Her back-bending looked strained, ‘twas most likely due,
To her crafting and building, ’till her knuckles were blue.

At last they were all stretched out and about,
Their stout little bodies about to break out,
From the crown of her head to her cute little feet,
Her positions were perfect, oh my, she was neat.

Their energy cleared, their circulation was merry,
Their cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry.
During downward dog pose, blood rushed to my head,
My brain filled with oxygen, turning me red.

It was then that I realized, that much like the elf,
I created a gift, yes of peace, for my Self.
Yoga postures and breathing, no cell left untouched,
Now the body at peace, and the mind just as much.

Each posture creating a wonderful feeling.
T’was real, yes, I knew that I couldn’t be dreaming.
Each part of my body I learned now to treasure,
A true gift of  love, and far beyond measure.

In final shavasana I heard not a word.
I felt I was soaring, on golden winged bird.
My body at peace, and so too, my mind,
Releasing my Self from the stressors that bind.

Never too poor, and never too sick,
Never too healthy, or fat, like St. Nick.
All life is yoga, it’s certainly true,
Health and vitality is right here for you.

And when as you leave, flown to a great height,
Here’s one phrase I hope that you get just right.
It expresses the feelings of yoga’s great light:
“Peace and Joy to you all and to all a Good Night!”

Adapted by Julie Lusk from Twas the Night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) and from Alex Newport-Berra’s rendition titled Bikram’s Torture Chamber in 2009.

Mouth Yoga

Mouth Yoga
By Julie Lusk

According to the yoga tradition, 80% of your problems can be solved with mouth yoga. That is, what you eat and drink and put in your mouth, what you say, and who you kiss makes a big difference. Wise yogis ask us to consider 3 things before saying something:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind?

Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by the Rev. Martin Luther King recommends smiling, even if you don’t feel like it. He says  you will feel more positive and at peace. In his book, Be Free Where You Are, he suggests we use this simple exercise: “Breathing in, I smile. Breathing out, I release.” If you’re wondering why you should smile when there isn’t joy inside, he answers, “Smiling is a practice. There are over three hundred muscles in your face. When you are angry or fearful, these muscles tense up. The tension in these muscles creates a feeling of hardness. If you know how to breathe in and produce a smile, however, the tension will disappear – it is what I call ‘mouth yoga.’  Make smiling an exercise. Just breathe in and smile – the tension will disappear and you will feel much better.”

If you have a difficult phone call to make, smile as you make the call. Keep smiling as you talk, and you’ll find that your ideas come across much better and you will create less confrontation. Belleruth Naparstek calls smiling “affirmations for your face” and promises you’ll start getting smiles back from others. Julie calls it smile-asana. Go ahead… and smile now!

Do you have jaw tension?  Do you grip your teeth tightly?  Try opening your mouth and moving your jaw up and down and sideways to relieve tension. Another method is to rub your scalp around the half-moon circling over the top of your ears. While you’re at it, rub your outer ears with your fingertips and thumbs for a nice energizer. Lowering your caffeine levels may relieve jaw tension too. Come on now, let go … and smile! Practice your mouth yoga.

The yoga police say,  “You have the right to remain silent.”

What you see and hear matters too.There is a phenomenon called the Illusion of Truth Effect. Basically, it says that repetition increases our mental validation of anything we’re exposed to whether or not the information is true. Hearing or seeing something consistently is viewed as more valid than messages we’re exposed to only occasionally. A weak message repeated twice becomes more valid than a strong message heard only once, according to research from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Therefore, be careful of the messages you’re being exposed to since repetition matters. Think again about all those political messages and evaluate their accuracy with facts.

Dr. Habib Sadeghi offers these recommendations:

  1. MAKING WORDS WORK. To consciously harness the power of words for your benefit, start with the ones you’re using.
  2. NO NAME-CALLING OR SELF-CRITICISM. Everyone is doing the best they can at any moment in time with the consciousness they have to work with, including you. Be kind and offer yourself the same empathy and compassion you’d extend to anyone else.
  3. STOP ALL SELF-DEPRECATION. Never make your body, or something you’ve accomplished, or anything else in your life the butt of a joke. Words have power, and quantum energy doesn’t have a sense of humor.
  4. RESIST GOSSIPING AND SPEAKING ILL OF OTHERS. It’s impossible for your words to resonate in anyone else’s body but your own.
  5. GO ON A NEGATIVITY DIET. Instead of saying that a meal was terrible say, “I’ve had better.” You’ve basically said what you wanted to say without putting negative energy through your body—you even used a positive word to do it!
  6. BOOST THE POSITIVE ENERGY OF WORDS. Instead of saying something like you had a good time at a concert, ramp up the positive energy by saying great, terrific, or fantastic. These feel much better and generate a bigger energetic response in the body.
  7. IF YOU HAVE SOME NEGATIVE NANCYS IN YOUR CIRCLE OF FRIENDS, limit the time you spend with them or find better friends. Negative energy has a way of dragging everything surrounding it in, like a big black hole. Avoid it when you can.
  8. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE, UPLIFTING WORDS. Put affirmations on sticky notes around your home and office that say wonderful things about you, your family, or your goals. Wear clothes that have positive messages or phrases on them. Imagine the kind of positive energy you’ll be generating for yourself when you’re wearing positivity all day long. As you keep doing these things, you use the power of repetition in a highly effective way for your benefit. You have the power to change your world, and using words consciously is one of the quickest ways to shift the energy you bring into your life.

Check out Julie Lusk’s website.

Julie Lusk

Julie Lusk

Go to our website to check out Julie’s books. 


Good to the Core

Yoga to strengthen & flatten abdominals, tone back, legs, hips, and more.

Posted by: Julie Lusk

This yoga sequence helps with abdominal core strength and tones the back while also lengthening the psoas muscles.

The psoas, deep and large,  runs from the lumbar spine, stretches over the hip joint and under the abs, and attaches to inner thigh bone.

Traditional leg lifts, “crunches” and sit-ups are often done to strengthen and flatten the abdominal muscles.  The problem is that they also tighten and shorten the psoas tipping the pelvis forward, pushing your belly out (yuk) and misalignment of the back.

A tight psoas contributes to back, hip and knee problems, indigestion, dysfunctional breathing, instability, and other problems.

This particular yoga sequence activates the psoas muscle in a progressive manner:  first facing forward, to the side, and then turning.

Other beneficial yoga postures are the forearm plank and side plank (creates core stability and strength with a neutral psoas) and pigeon (stretches and releases the   psoas).

Consult a qualified yoga professional for instructions and contraindications.  As with all exercise, practice for your own benefits and at your own risk.

Click here for your complete pdf handout on  ” Good to the Core:  Yoga to strengthen & flatten abdominals, tone back, legs, hips, and morefrom Julie Lusk