Monthly Archives: January 2012

Muscles!

When I sat down to write this, I was going to write about my favorite muscle, but I found that I just couldn’t pick one. At a  young age, I found I was fascinated by our muscles. I wanted to be a body builder for a period in my late teens, early twenties. Then I moved on to an interest in triathlons, as I was peaked by the idea of multi-sport challenge to the body. Then there were marathons, and then yoga, of course. What I have found is that I have a strong interest to understand my body and to know it’s limits. All of these things that I have tried have required my muscles to be strong. No one muscle would be responsible for all these accomplishments.

Pittsburgh Marathon finish 2010.

The body is a kinetic chain. We are an endless system of links. We are made up of pulleys and levers. You can not affect one muscle alone because of this system. So I thought, if I attempted to pick one muscle as a favorite, I would have had to include all of it’s supporting muscles. Muscles are designed so that when one muscle performs an action, there is an opposing muscle that undoes that action. But, there are also supporting muscles to each muscles main action. I can say that I have a fondness towards the psoas, quadratus lumborum and the serratus anterior. I think why I love these three is because they are not as known to us as the big role players, like the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings and biceps, and that they are hard to isolate independently. Which makes them somewhat mysterious and elusive.

Most peoples’ vernacular of muscles is very limited. What I have found through teaching yoga is that most people do not know their hamstrings from their quadriceps. Even if they do, they can not identify the muscles that make up the hamstrings or quadriceps. The name quadriceps is just describing the number of muscles (4) that can be grouped because they perform relatively the same action. It’s not actually the name of the muscles. This lack of knowing our bodies seems unnatural. It’s this body that runs us across a soccer field, or hurdles us through the air to the basketball hoop, or takes us for a walk on a beach. I think most people agree that to lose any bodily function is tragic, whether to lose a limb in war, or suffer paralysis from an automobile accident. I’ve heard people say that they would rather not live then to be paralyzed. But there is a slow paralysis and limb loss going on each day inside our bodies, because we are not using them. This paralysis is so subtle that it doesn’t seem to cause much alarm.

That might seem like a stretch to some, but I have seen it because I’m looking closely. Our bodies are initially designed for us to be able to touch our toes easily. As the years pass we begin to lose that ability, and before we recognize it we can’t reach our toes anymore. This is sometimes why old people no longer wear shoes that need tying, slip-ons it is. Or they can no longer put on shirts that need pulled over their heads, just button-ups now. Or they can no longer walk up stairs: they can not raise their foot 10 inches to take that step. Do you see that loss of ability the way I do, as a form of paralysis? Seems tragic. Should we just accept these things as a natural course for the body we are in? To some degree, but more and more people are losing their independence and freedom at a younger age.

Most people only become involved with their bodies when they are no longer working properly? Doesn’t that seem too late? I heard this description of the quality of our bodies – that the more supple they are, the more life there is in it. And the more rigid or stiff, the less life there is. When we are born, we are soft and flexible. And when we die, we are stiff and brittle. So it would seem, that it would be wise to stay flexible and soft. Movement is the medicine necessary.

Range of motion is the key to youthfulness. The less we engage our muscles to their designed potential, the more we lose of their ability. Even with exercise, which is great movement, it’s not enough. The healthiest form of exercise is the kind that continues to gradually  take us out of our comfort zone. You have to leave your comfort zone in order for something new to be experienced and gained. If we are constantly repeating the same regimen, then we are creating a pattern of ROM that will only fit that specific activity. If we experience new movements, then we are constantly expanding our capabilities and increasing our range of motion. The greater the range the less paralyzed the muscle movement.

There are two essential things to understand about movement of our muscles: they can create movement as well as resist against it. Think of two men arm wrestling as a perfect example. In order for our beautiful muscles to stay healthy, young and supple, they must be as equally strong as they are flexible. That’s what’s so beautiful about yoga.  Body building made me strong. Triathlons made me adaptable with my strength. Marathons made my mind strong and my endurance endless. But yoga balanced my body’s strength and flexibility optimally, particularly because I practice Ashtanga yoga, with it’s never ending series of difficulty. Just when you master one pose that you have spent 6 months working on, a new harder variation of it is waiting in the wings. Yoga uses all the muscles we have to their fullest range of motion. I’m still a fan of running mixed in with my yoga, as yoga can never quiet get us the same cardiovascular work as running or biking does. It does a pretty good job, surprisingly, if practiced in a vinyasa (flowing) style.

Muscles, are beautiful and so resilient. They move our skeleton. They pump blood back to the heart. They can grow bigger or smaller, they can retract and be short and tight, or they can release and be long and flexible. They can swim you across a lake. They can cartwheel you in the grass on a sunny day. They can engage to bring you upright or they can release so you can lie down. They can weaken if you don’t use them, they can strengthen when you do. They are responsive, adaptable, graceful, artistic, and under appreciated. The way I show my appreciation is to use them, to push them, to heal them, and to know them. 656 muscles is the average in the  human body. I don’t know them all by name yet, but I hope to. I’m pretty sure I have felt all of them and used them, strengthen them, weakened them, injured them, and healed them, all.

My love affair grows each time I am on my mat, because everyday my body responds differently. Which keeps it interesting. What seems like the unpredictable nature of our bodies is not as unpredictable as we think. We just aren’t looking often enough, and deep enough at our bodies to hear loud and clear what our bodies want, and what they are capable of. Let’s not wait until the paralysis becomes apparent. All the information you need about your body is available to you every day. No doctor, pill, or apparatus necessary, just movement. Movement is the medicine, your body is the apparatus and your breath is the pill. Doctor’s orders, oops, I mean yoga teacher orders… move your body to it’s fullest potential everyday and adapt to the change in your potential everyday. While your at it, maybe try and figure out where your psoas is, how your quadratus lumborum works and what is your serratus anterior doing for you. Or better yet, pick your own muscles that amaze you and move you. Good luck.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Secret

Do you ever feel like some people know something that you don’t? Does this make you paranoid? It could, or you could think it makes you curious. Curiosity gives you that drive to keep going, to figure out what you don’t yet know. I always say the greatest thing you can show up with on your yoga mat is curiosity. Your greatest asset in yoga is not your black Manduka mat (even though I do love it), or a cute outfit, or a yoga companion; but instead, it’s that insatiable need to ask more questions and always look for your own answers.

The definition of curiosity: “eager desire to know”. Oh, I love that! It is not defined as just a desire to know, because that is not enough. It’s the eagerness that makes it so great. This gets even better. I looked up the word eager: “enthusiastic”. Ok, we’re getting somewhere. Didn’t that just simply spell out why  curiosity is your greatest life companion? We should be enthusiastic about the opportunity to expand our knowledge (vidya). Sadly, the greatest contradiction to this idea is, the old wives tale that “curiosity killed the cat.” Well, if a case of the curiosities is what I must die from, then I accept. I accept it enthusiastically!

In the Ashtanga yoga system, you would place curiosity under the second limb of the system – “niyama” or self observation. The practice of yoga should help you look at your interaction with your self more often. You will see patterns exposed and identify old schools of thought that maybe you have never challenged, maybe they were schools of thought handed down to you from your parents, or your environment. You took them to be true, without any self-study to find if those truths aligned and resonated with you, as you are now. The study of the self (svadhyaya) happens when you become curious. When you allow that curiosity to carry you into the deeper layers of the things you have been told to believe, and you start looking for the things that seem to resonate with you in that place we call our gut.

Our gut instinct should naturally occur. But it can be slowly squashed out of us when people make these statements: “You shouldn’t feel that way.” or “Because I said so.”. We have all heard it from so many different sources, and sometimes there is an inclination to go, “Ok, they must know something I don’t know.” Well, I say, challenge that. What do they know? How do they know it? Where did their information come from? It’s your 3-year-old brain I’m talking about.  The 3-year-old brain is the one that digs for information relentlessly, right? Well hang out with a 3-year-old and it sure feels relentless! 🙂 What, how, why, when, where and repeat.

That is how life’s secrets are found: the things you feel your missing, the things no one is sharing with you. We live in a time where we are bombarded with information. But how much of what is coming at us, have we challenged? I am always surprised when people say to me: “I tried yoga, but I got bored.” I have never understood how boredom can happen in a yoga practice. We have approximately 656 muscles in the human body, and we have 206 bones. With over 858 parts moving in our bodies, there should be no time for boredom. Boredom comes from a lack of interest. A lack of interest can come from laziness (alasya)or aversion (abhinivesah), or from trusting that your yoga teacher knows more than you would about your own body. A yoga teacher should know many things about the body and how it best functions in different asana’s. However, you should never take someones word for it. If you haven’t first applied your three-year old brain to the things the teacher says.

Here’s an example of an internal dialogue of a curious yoga student: “Trikonasana pose – I wonder what that means? Ohh, 3 angled pose. Where are the angles? Oh, there they are. Why should my body be on one plane? Oh, because on two planes, I can’t receive a stretch to my tensor fascia latae muscle. What’s my tensor fascia latae muscle? Oh, it’s at the front top part of my ilium and attaches to my illiotibial band. Where does that go and what does that do? If my TFL muscle is tight, I wonder what problems it’s causing in my body? How does it affect my alignment of my 206 bones? If I can better stretch that how will I feel? When will I be able to grab my big toe? What would I need to do to grab my big toe?” This can go on for a while and after you have tried many things you will start to refine the postures you’re in. That refinement of your body will dispel ignorance (Avidya). You might also start to feel like people aren’t with-holding the secret. Then, you could realize that it doesn’t really matter how it looks, but more important, how it feels and why it feels that way?

Curiosity never really killed a cat. Not unless the cat’s name was “Doubt”. Because curiosity only kills doubt. Curiosity exposes the secrets you feel you have been missing. But it also creates secrets that you now know about your Self (Svadhyaya). I remember a big epiphany that I had. I was just getting ready to start my first yoga teacher training program of 9 ladies that were eager to learn. I was reviewing all my notes and nuggets of information I had learned, so far, in my study of yoga. I found my self grasping to my knowledge and not wanting to share it – out of fear that they might learn all the secrets I had worked so hard at uncovering. The little ego that exists inside all of us was afraid that if I gave it all away, I might not matter as much (which exposed another limb of the Ashtanga yoga system which is aparigrahah – non-greed). I only became the teacher I am now when I stopped coveting the information I have learned. When I openly and willing share all my secrets in hopes they will inform, in hopes they will dispel doubts, but also that they will be challenged.

So the Secret is…Don’t believe everything you are told until you have exhausted your self-study of how that information applies to you. Maybe you do need to be told, to move forward more, or to tilt your pelvis forward, or to exhale completely and then lift. But I promise, even with out those things that seem like secrets, you will figure it all out for yourself, if you just come at it with the eager desire to know!

My teacher, Tim Miller, sharing his secrets with me. Second series Ashtanga Yoga teacher training, 2010. Encinitas, CA.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Words

I had a yoga studio – a great space for people to practice together. We practiced breathing, moving, supporting and maybe growing together as like minded people who knew inspiration was a great fuel for fire. To help that happen, I had stenciled words on all the studio walls, with the help of a dear friend. These words were there to be glanced at whenever the eyes would wonder off the yoga mat, and to help the student remember their optimum self.

Cathy Woods in Padmasana @ The Practice Space

Here are those words-

Flourish • Cultivate • Strength • Breathe • Forgive • Patience • Courage • Trust • Believe • Resonate • Embrace • Flow • Give • Dedicate • Bliss • Laugh • Nurture • Heal • Discover • Ease • Luminous • Health • Sense • Devotion • Happy • Express • Organic • Listen • Achieve • Content • Balance • Pride • Kindness • Power • Intent • Faith • Joy • Create • Receive • Shine • Peaceful • Honesty • Progress • Silence  • Beauty • Honor • Quiet • Smile • Clarity • Release • Learn • Exercise • Celebrate • Grow • Share • Encourage • Live • Respect • Accept • Love • Practice • Support • Care • Change • Engage • Gratitude • Play • Hope • Heart • Try • Appreciate • Imagine • Commit • Explore • Study

Ryan Stone in Utthita Parsva Konasana @ The Practice Space

Categories: Asana, For the beginner | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Non-attachment shows up unexpectedly.

Just this past week,I had the chance to visit with three amazing people. They were once yoga students where I teach, but they have since moved on to new adventures and to new places. We no longer share our practice in a physical sense; but somehow, it seems there is still a thread that holds us together. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. To get all metaphysical on you, it is part of universal design.

The yoga sutras – what the heck are they anyways? And just how am I going to tie this all together? Well, with a thread of course. The word sutra means “a thread”. Patanjali wrote these sutra’s or terse thoughts as a guidance system for getting through life while keeping your peace. One of these sutra’s is Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah: “steady practice with non-attachment will stop the mind from fluctuating.” It’s a very advisable notion, usually advised in relationship to our bodies, our youth and our abilities. To not be attached to your looks, as they will change. To not be attached to your body, as it will change. To not be attached to your abilities, as they will change. Getting the idea, right? Things will change. I understand this sutra very well. However, I never saw it coming as a lesson for me to not get attached to my students.

Over my 12 years of teaching, I have met so many wonderful people. We became connected by this invisible thread of sharing something in common. At its simplest, we share a human body, then we share space, then breath, then a yoga practice.Then we share success, disappointments, laughter. If you have practiced long enough to no longer look at yoga as a short-term option, you seem to become bonded in a different way. You start to realize, because of your respect and dedication to the practice, you are now connected to everyone else that is dedicating themselves no matter their geography, abilities or beliefs. There will always be that one thread that will tie you to the next person. All it takes is having one thing in common. Then on our mats, we start to see that we have more things in common. Some of the students are mothers, some are runners, cancer survivors, college graduates and some are musicians. Each thing we have in common becomes an  additional thread that is connecting us. Some find common ground in that there are other people in the room that have been in auto accidents and have neck issues. Some find connection in their hamstrings being so darn tight, or their backbends being so blissful. These threads become exposed by sharing an hour and a half a couple of times a week and by looking for things that unite us instead of divide us.
But division may occur and probably should. Isn’t division the underlying root to science – things coming together and then dividing, splitting. So it’s going to happen. Laws of nature sometimes are easy to over look. There is this ebb and flow present in student attendance: some are coming, some are going. The ebb and flow exist across the board in yoga study. Sometimes our practice is easy, sometimes hard, or sometimes we can get to the mat 6 days a week and sometimes only once. If we could all just relax with the natural occurrence of ebb and flow, we would begin to feel more buoyant. It’s like the advice they give you in getting out of a rip current – don’t fight the pull of the current, let it take you. Save your energy and it will spit you out eventually, then swim with the current towards the shore.

So through the years, I have gained students and lost students. But, I didn’t realize the impact they were having on me until they were gone and I missed sharing my yoga space with them. Why? Because I had become attached. Attached to the comfort I feel teaching to a roomful a familiar faces. I have always felt I am at my best when I look out and recognize 80% of the people looking back at me and I know their names and maybe even a few things about them. This makes it personal for me. I feel like I can give a better class when I see more of those threads connecting us . My least favorite classes are a room full of strangers. But if I settle in and do my job, that to will soon change. I’ll learn their names and find out some of their passions and we’ll start tying our threads together. Once a connection has been made, geography won’t separate us. Especially not in our era of technology.

So even though I have lost many wonderful yoga students/friends, I still feel that we are connected. Which is why it’s so nice to catch up with them every now and then. I haven’t managed to stay in touch with all the students that have moved on, but somehow I know that if I have done my job well that when they roll out their mat in New York or Wyoming or the Netherlands, they will probably experience the same nostalgic feeling I do sometimes when I roll out my mat and think about all the great people I have met through yoga.

I think its ok to get attached, as long as I am prepared for the separation, and I don’t let it disturb my peace. Usually it doesn’t. It’s usually a heartfelt gratitude towards them for letting me share my love of yoga with them. The ebb and flow of the student population will always change. I have befriended so many wonderful people and they have fanned out all over the world. They have taught me as many things as I was trying to teach them with yoga. We grow together in the yoga studio, even if we move apart. I’m always sad when one of them leaves, but if I’ve done my job, then the thread of a good dedicated yoga practice, no matter where they are, will be the thread that holds us together.

Categories: My viewpoint | 1 Comment

Playlist January 8th – 14th

  • Radioactive (Remix)                         3:28         Kings of Leon
  •  Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall        4:03        Coldplay
  • Connected                 5:14                Stereo MC’s
  • Hey Mama                2:59               Mat Kearney
  • Fashion                     3:28               David Bowie
  • Lights                        3:32               Ellie Goulding
  • Elevate My Mind        3:18            Stereo MC’s
  • Soft and Sweet          3:22             G. Love & Special Sauce
  • Creation                      5:04              Stereo MC’s
  • Never Forget You      4:04             Lupe Fiasco Lasers
  • Runnin’                      4:06              Visioneers
  • Lifeline (Barefeet Version)        3:47        Citizen Cope
  • Pyro                             4:10               Kings of Leon
  • On & On                     4:02               Mat Kearney
  • Beach Side                  2:51               Kings of Leon
  • The World At Large    4:33           Modest Mouse
  • Dear Prudence          3:56               The Beatles
  • For the Summer        3:51               Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs God
  • Without You              3:18               Eddie Vedder
  • Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise        4:48        The Avett Brothers
  • Janglin                       3:50           Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
  • Ain’t No Sunshine    3:41          Lighthouse Family
  • I Will                           1:46            The Beatles
  • Broken Heart             2:36            Eddie Vedder
  • Something                  3:02            The Beatles
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To heel or not to heel?

Indy, Tonka & Ginger

The mind behaves a lot like a dog being walked on a leash. It either wants to be out ahead of us by worrying about things in the future or lagging behind fretting over things in the past, instead of living in the present, right by our side. But, just as a dog can be trained to heel, so can our mind be trained to stay in the present. The technique we use is actually very similar.

I used to have 3 dogs at once; and boy, were they good dogs. Two of them have since passed on. Don’t tell my current dog, but those two were the best two dogs I have ever known. I trained both of them myself. Nothing too fancy: they could sit, stay and heel. My 1st dog was a puppy that had been abandoned in a landfill. She was a piece of cake to train – positive reinforcement and a few other tricks I had learned and she was just a delight to take for a walk. It does seem that it’s not in a dog’s general nature to want to heel. But if motivated to please their owners they can be taught.

I have found from volunteering for a couple different animal rescue groups, that a dog would rather be ahead of its owner or dallying behind its owner. So how is it that they can be taught to heel. They eventually learn that the owner is worth paying attention to; and that if they listen, they are rewarded with a more peaceful relationship (and maybe a few pieces of cheese). You have all seen the person struggling with their dog, right? Walking down the side-walk yanking the dog along and yelling at it. Or worse, the ones that is be being walked by their dog. Well, if this goes on long enough, it’s going to be a very tiring relationship for both, filled with tension. So a little obedience can go a long way.

So what about our minds? Why is it that staying in the present moment, focused and relaxed seems so hard? We are in a fast paced world where there is a lot of pressure put on the future. What are we going to do with it? This constant pressure creates an environment where we may not be taking the necessary time to make decisions. We move faster than we are ready and set our self up for patterns of mistakes. These mistakes then eat at us, as hindsight – keeping us a bit too fixated on our past or rushing forward into our futures. Can our mind be trained? Can we really become beings living fully in the present? Yes we can. A little obedience can go a long way.

So, if you want to teach a dog to heel by your side there is a really great trick that I have always found works like magic. Keep in mind all training is only effective if practice and reinforced with consistency. Ok, you hook your dog on its leash and you ask it to “sit’, always a good idea. Release your dog from its sit, then step out and walk. Your dog will probably pull and hurry forward. Let him stretch that out until he is at the end of his 4 foot lead and then do an immediate about-face – sharp and direct, and start walking the other way. Now carry on this direction again until your dog pulls out in front of you to the end of his/her leash and again do an immediate about-face. Keep repeating this a couple of times until you notice that your dog is starting to look at you and is starting to back off his/her pulling ahead. Now continue to practice the about faces every time he is no longer walking by your side. But now start to interject the word “heel” and positive reinforcement for when he is walking exactly as you’d like him. Now for those of you that might actually take this article as dog training advice please do allow your dog time for potty breaks. 🙂

Well, your mind is just as trainable. You should practice with consistency, reinforcing your thoughts to stay present, and not to worry on the future or the past. Here’s how you do it: in your yoga practice…Ujayi breathing. The reason we breathe with sound in yoga is to give the mind something to watch, something to do, something to hear. If the mind is not occupied or given a task, it behaves all willy nilly. This can be very distracting in a yoga practice, as well as dangerous. If the mind behaves separately from the body, then yoga is not working. It’s about uniting the body and mind together in their actions, removing conflict and agitation.  A distracted mind wouldn’t be tuned into the subtleties of the body when stretching, which would mean you wouldn’t know when to back off a stretch or to go further. So every time your mind is distracted during a practice you try to let the sound of Ujayi constantly draw it back in. If that’s not reinforcing enough then, in the Ashtanga yoga style, we are responsible for counting out 5 breaths for every posture. At every 5 breath count, you switch your pose and begin again with a new 5 breath count. This is very similar to the about-face tactic of heeling your dog. So, what you are doing is heeling your mind, time and time again pulling your mind back in to the task of clear focused awareness. The more you practice listening to your breathing, the more informed you will become of so many things. Awareness, once open, is hard to close. Awareness, once harnessed can be a powerful tool for experiencing life at its fullest. When you are aware, you won’t miss a thing.

Hiking with well-behaved dogs.

Now, back to the puppies. There are many dog trainers that feel it’s the owners that need the training not the dog. Consistency is the greatest thing the owner needs to bring to each lesson with their pup. Inconsistency,  more than anything, can ruin a dog’s ability to become a good dog with a happy owner. Most dog trainers would agree that when training your dog you should never use a retractable leash. The temptation is too great for your dog to get way out ahead. And you can’t effectively convey your message to your dog that you would like him to heel by your side. 4 Foot lead works best.

Imagine restraining your mind in a similar way. So that your mind could not get out in front of you by more than 4 feet. It won’t seem possible at 1st. You are going to be distracted by many things while doing yoga. And every distracting thing is like another foot of leash for your mind. But with the reinforcing sound of breath, and counting, and lot’s of consistent practice, you will start to see the refinement of your mind. You will start to feel the zen notion of yoga: the idea that your yoga practice can become a moving meditation.

The word meditation is so intimidating to some. But if you could just change the word meditation to observation, you’d see. It’s just practicing the skill of watching our breath. Your breathing really is a gateway to your mind and emotions. It is a stabilizing force. Marksmen know this, they have been trained for this. They know that breath is influential to our ability to take precise action at the necessary moment. You can train your mind.  Keep drawing your attention back to the sound of your breathing. Keep heeling your mind right to the side of THIS moment and you will start living in the present.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Paying it forward

We are not too far removed from the joyous festivities of the holidays, close enough to remember the stories of reciprocates. Maybe you felt the contagion of needing to do something for those in difficult circumstances. This seems to be a feeling worth carrying on year round and not just seasonally. The concept of “paying it forward” has been around since 317BC when a play had been written with this idea, it – was called Dyskolos. Benjamin Franklin in 1784 stated a viewpoint on this, as did Ralph Waldo Emmerson in an essay called Compensation in 1841. Emmersons quote is: “In the order of nature we can not render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed,cent for cent, to somebody.” The idea appears again and again in our culture but it seems to occasionally lose momentum. Maybe it’s because we only think of such a concept as possible through our wallets, or our time. But what about through our energy? Sometimes the things we do are not always going to create huge ripples around us; they might be small ripples. But, no matter – it still create’s movement. It’s about the size of the stone, right?

What we’re used to is giving money to charity, or donating our used up possessions to others. But what about energy? Not everyone has money to give, or time to give; but we all have the energy we walk into a room with. Have you had this experience, where a certain person just seems to drain energy from you? I call them energy vampires. They are like the drain at the bottom of the pool. But we all are swimming in this same pool. We should only be splashing around in the water, not using it up. When the pool is dry, it’s not much fun. On the other hand, there are those people who just seem to draw you in, and lift your spirits when they walk in a room. You don’t want to be an energy sucker, where people are happier to see you go, then they are to see you come. Don’t you think that we could all pay it forward by being more responsible for the energy we create. Sounds easy right?

Easier said then done? It seems like a very usable excuse to do nothing about this. But we can all do something. Here’s the something I have experienced personally time and time again. So it goes like this…you’re having a bad day. You got thrown off your focus, and rhythm early in the day, and you’re starting to snap at people. Tensing your shoulders, jaw, and neck, thoughts are becoming scattered, feeling less patient and tolerant. So people you are now interacting with start receiving the venom you’re exuding. So a simple regrounding point could be, take a breath, take a moment. Ok, well that lasts for a bit, but seems short-lived. So what to do?

I have found that most people come on to their yoga mat’s feeling worse than when they roll them up. In its simplest effects, sometimes a good yoga practice just allows that person to sleep better that night – fall asleep faster maybe, sleep less fitfully. Then they wake up feeling rested, clear-headed. Maybe even getting up an hour earlier, so now they can accomplish more. The first person they greet they might do so with a smile, maybe they will share a good joke with someone, or maybe since they feel so good they’ll forgo the coffee and not have a caffeine crash later, and they save some money in the process, which might lessen their stress level some more. All these good things keep rolling on, all from a good nights sleep. Possible? Sure. Would this be paying it forward? Yes, it would. All the people around you would be receiving the benefits of your yoga practice, because you are now responsible for the energy of your being. It’s good energy, strong, positive and light energy. You might even seem to others to be floating through your day. They might then ask you what’s your secret? Where would you start? You woke up early, or you slept great, or I’m kicking my coffee habit, or that you had a great yoga practice the night before and it created these other opportunities?

Let me give one more example of the reason why yoga is a great way to “pay it forward”. I have seen this one a lot over the years. A parent comes to a yoga class, at their favorite studio and they start to feel guilty for leaving their kids, or having to pay for a babysitter, or walking away from a project before it was finished. This can become a gnawing guilt throughout their practice, or even be the reason they decide to skip their yoga practice. Maybe when you were with your kids before your decision to go to yoga, you weren’t really with your kids (not fully present), or you were being very grumpy and impatient with them. But now, you roll out your mat for an hour. You move your body vigorously, you breathe deeply, you start to feel relaxed, grounded. These things create a feeling of peace, or more simply – calm. The shoulders you were shrugging drop. The tension in your neck starts to lessen, which in turn get’s rid of the headache you had. You overall just feel better. You took a little time out for yourself. So you head back home/work in a better mood, with more energy, and with more patience. This can happen, right? This does happen. How do I know? Well, have you ever had any of your friends or family say “Uhm, you need to go to yoga. I got this. Why don’t you go? We’ll be fine.” You know what that means right? That means yoga works and even your family has seen the signs. The two different versions of you;  the one before yoga, and the one after yoga.

If we have more energy, we accomplish more, at home or work. We then have more time for the hobbies that balance us. If we sleep better, we accomplish more and feel better. If we are healthier, no one needs to give up their time to take care of us. We can take care of others. If we are calmer ,we are more responsive and less reactive which allows for reflection before we speak or act, which leads to kinder words. Or better yet, no words at all, because if you can’t say something nice…well you know the rest. These are all great examples of paying it forward to your family, to your job, to society. So roll out your yoga mat for you. But see all the ripples around you that this is going to create. Let’s be more responsible for our energy and let’s pay it forward all year round with each thought, word, action, deed and yoga practice.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | 1 Comment

My take on what it is to be a student, Wizard of Oz style:

Yoga is like the journey of Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ. We can sometimes find ourselves in an unhappy place. And through the stress of life, we begin to swirl in a tornado of self-destruction, with the ego chasing after us (“I’ll get you my pretty”). By chance, if your lucky enough to take your first yoga class,  you’ll be set down in the land of OM. With the guidance of a good witch (guru), you will journey inward. Along the way you will wish to have a brain (scarecrow) connected to the body. Then you will need to link the brain to the heart (tin man), and in order to show up on the mat day after day, challenge after challenge, you will need courage to overcome your fears (lion). You will travel through dark places (the haunted forest), and you will be chased by evil ways (samskaras a.k.a. flying monkeys).  You may even come across a field of poppies with alazya/laziness radiating from each bloom. But eventually, through the brain to the heart, and with all of your courage, you will meet the divine, (the man behind the curtain) that lives in the Emerald City. You will realize that all you had to do was tap your  heels together three times  and repeat:

“There’s no place like OM, there’s no place like OM, there’s no place like OM”.

You will then go back and live life through the heart with a smaller, gentler ego by your side. Bliss wasn’t something you had to go out and find,  you just needed to go inward – it was there all along.

Categories: For the beginner | 2 Comments

Current Playlist

Titled: 2012

SONG                                                        TIME               ARTIST

  • The Sound of Winter                            3:29               Bush
  • Iko Iko                                                      2:54           The Belle Stars
  • Sail                                                            4:19            AWOLNATION
  • The Downeaster “Alexa”                     3:42                 Billy Joel
  • Smoke & Mirrors                                   4:26                RJD2
  • California Soul (Remix)                      4:08               Marlena Shaw & Diplo
  • Never the Same                                      4:03               Supreme Beings of Leisure
  • Modern Man                                           4:40               Arcade Fire
  • How Many Loves                                   3:49               Naomi
  • Stereo                                                         5:46              Boombox
  • Feel So Free                                              4:59              Ivy
  • I Am Here                                                  3:42              Naomi
  • Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be     4:36              The Black Keys
  • Bad Man’s World                                     3:40             Jenny Lewis
  • Love                                                             4:33              The Sundays
  • Problem of Pain                                       5:24              William Fitzsimmons
  • Two                                                              2:38             Ryan Adams
  • There Is Hope                                           5:11              Princess One Point Five
  • Juju’s Theme                                             2:44             Undersea Poem
  • All I Want Is You                                     5:03             Vitamin String Quartet
  • Make You Feel My Love                         3:32              ADELE
Categories: Playlist | Leave a comment

The sun is shining.

I am happiest when the sun is in full bloom. It’s a character trait I believe. You are a summer person, fall, winter or spring – my trait is definitely summer. No matter where you fall, the sun’s influence over us is palpable. I have found that optimism and sunny days go hand in hand. It should be no surprise that the sun is a stabilizing factor in so many peoples’ lives, I mean, we are rotating around it. It is a symbol of constancy and cycles. This is why then it makes sense that Ashtanga Yoga starts out with what are called Surya Namaskar A & B, translated as Sun Salutation. So it was probably a perfect fit for me from the very 1st class I took. For me, it seems intuitive to begin with an appreciation for what keeps the rhythms of our planet in check.

The sun is what developed the calendar and time. It gives us heat and light which then allows all things to grow that will feed us and provide us nourishment for the practice. The sun also seems to be a great indicator of when it’s time to rest/sleep. When the sun rises and sets can be predicted accurately because it is constant. You can plan your day based on knowing these things. Ashtanga yoga takes the constancy idea in that it is a preset sequence of poses practiced daily against the ever changing life around us. This idea of something that is permanent against a background of change can be so stabilizing for yoga students.

We just past the winter solstice (which is sometimes celebrated as the rebirth of the sun) a week ago. This marks the shortest day of the year based on number of hours of light. From that day forward, we gain a minute of light each day until the summer solstice (June 20-21). For me, that is cause for celebration! It means that a minute a day we are getting closer to my favorite season – Summer. And it just so happens to be the season with the greatest amount of light. Light seems to be directly related to the amount of energy we have. As winter is the best time to hibernate, to take your energy and exertion down a notch or two. So, you should expect to feel cycles of energy and even physical lightness in your yoga practice depending on the season.

The sun is the greatest example we have of the word Guru, which translates: “to dispel darkness”. So it seems that the sun is a daily reminder for us to burn a little brighter, to radiate. Yoga emphasizes these ideas through out its practice and study. Namaste, the gesture at the end of each practice, is a great example of appreciating daily that we can be a light in the world.   Maybe you have noticed the same root to Namaste as Namaskar, which is to “salute”. You can salute anything, really. So why not salute the sun? With each vinyasa (interconnected sequence of asana’s/postures) we physically gesture our bodies by bowing, which is a ancient form of showing appreciation, respect and humility – all are great qualities to reinforce for our positive character traits. Interesting, that the depth of a bow was once an indicator of the degree of respect or gratitude. In Surya Namaskar A & B we are to fold as deeply as possible, hmmm? (Pause for thought)

If you practice yoga you may know that you should face the sun when practicing. And, if at all possible, you should do your practice in the morning, as the sun is rising to honor a new beginning – setting the tone of your day ahead. You are also supposed to complete 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A & B to build heat in the body. The heat is used as a tool to create greater ease in transformation of your muscles from stiff, and dense to light and flexible. The sun is the source of heat for our planet, so again this strengthens our appreciation to the sun.

Sun worship has been around since the beginning of time. Every culture has had some form of it. Why should we not still practice it? The Romans, the Egyptians, the Buddhist, the Aztec’s and more all had praise for the sun, even sacrifice. Back in the day you had to sacrifice your head. Today, you only need to sacrifice your time for a little yoga practice. No sun equals no light, no heat, no food, no plants no fire to burn as there would be no tree’s, no rhythm to our days and eventually no air to breath. So remove the sun, and we remove what sustains us. So, it just might be wise to embrace a little sun worship into your yoga practice. To bow down with gratefulness that it again crested over the horizon and it will provide us another day of light, rhythm, growth, food, and warmth.

A great mantra to add to your yoga practice to deepen this appreciation would be the Gayatri Mantra.

Here are two different translations of the Mantra. Could be chanted 32, 68 or 108 times as the sun is rising would be best.

“We meditate on the effulgent glory of the divine light: mat he/she inspire our understanding.” S. Radhakrishnan

“O effulgent light of creation! Let the Sun of Truth illuminate my divinity and meditation allow my thoughts to be inspired by thee.” Robert Fox

Om bhur bhuvah svahtat savitur vareṇyaṃbhargo devasya dhīmahidhiyo yó naḥ pracodayāt

surya namaskar video

Categories: My viewpoint | 1 Comment

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