Category Archives: Yoga Demystified

The path beyond the mystery.

Bringing Restorative Elements into Your Practice

Restorative yoga is the practice of resting for about 15 to 25 minutes in 3-5 poses. Restorative yoga is not a workout, but rather it’s meant to reset the body, give the body rest, bringing a sense of peace and calm to mind and body. However, there are ways to include restorative elements into your regular practice. All you need are blankets, pillows, and blocks or books.

A typical Vinyasa Flow sequence includes Child’s pose, downward-facing dog, high plank, low plank, cobra or upward-facing dog, mountain pose, chair pose, warrior 2, side-angle, reverse warrior, triangle, wide-leg forward bend, horse, warrior 1, a balancing pose or two, like airplane, warrior 3, or tree pose, back-bending poses, like locust and bow, half-pigeon and/or lizard pose to open up the hips, bridge pose, and a cool-down sequence that usually includes supine bound-angle pose, supine twist, happy baby, and corpse pose. Depending on your personal practice or the teacher guiding the class, this sequence may vary, but whether practicing at home or in class, if your body needs more restful moments throughout the sequence, using props and modifying poses can be a great way to reset the body even through the intense strength, balance, and flexibility of a regular vinyasa flow or power yoga class.

Child’s Pose

The easiest ways to introduce these restorative elements is on the floor. In Child’s Pose, place blankets, cushions or pillows beneath your chest. This allows for greater rest through the chest, and can help facilitate ease of breath. Tucking the props in close to your hips is great if your hips are tights, which is often the case at the beginning of a class. Place a block or stack of books beneath your forehead to help bring more ease to the neck. Rather than reaching the arms long in front of you, bend the elbows and relax the shoulders. This is a more restful position for the arms.

Sphinx Pose

When guided through chaturanga dandasana (high to low plank), come down to the belly, bringing forearms in front of shoulders, draw the chest forward and relax the shoulders back and down. Place a folded blanket under the chest and a rolled up blanket under the hips for more ease through the low back.

Hero’s Pose

At anytime throughout your practice, if you need a moment to rest in a more active position than child’s pose, come to a tall seat on your shins. You can keep toes curled under to stretch through the arches of the feet or lay the tops of the feet flat on the mat. Rest your seat on your heels or between your feet. If this is challenging on the knees, place a blanket beneath your knees for support. If it’s difficult to sit on your heels or on the ground between your feet, place a blanket between your hamstrings and calves under your glutes, or place a cushion or pillow underneath your seat. Keep the spine tall, shoulders relaxed, chest lifted and open, and the crown of the head reaching toward the sky.

Seated Forward Fold

Often in my classes, I will guide students from boat pose (a seated posture where heels are lifted, knees are bent or legs are extended, and arms reach forward, palms facing each other) to a seated forward fold to allow a deeper release through the lower back. Restorative elements may include a cushion propped behind the low back for support, a rolled up blanket beneath the knees, especially if hamstrings are tight, and either a blanket, cushion, pillow, or bolster to rest the upper body (belly, chest, and head) over. Picture, I have a block tucked in close to the hips, to rest the belly on, and a block at an angle on my shins with my forehead resting against the opposite end, allowing relaxation through the neck.

Supported Bridge Pose

In bridge pose, we engage the quadriceps (the muscles through the upper front part of the legs. You can bring rest to the quads by placing a block beneath the upper part of your seat. This pose can be challenging on the neck if the back of the shoulders are not properly adjusted beneath you. To facilitate greater rest through the neck, fold a blanket so that it is in a square and can slide beneath your shoulders and head, then fold a portion of the top of the blanket down so the it tucks beneath your neck and your head remains resting on the upper portion of the blanket like a pillow.

Supine Bound Angle Pose

Lying on your back, bend your knees, bring the soles of your feet together, and butterfly the knees out. For rest through the hips, especially if they’re tight, place blocks beneath the knees for support. You can bring one hand to the belly or one hand to the heart, or mirror the legs, reaching arms overhead, bending the elbows and allowing the fingertips to touch. Keeping a blanket beneath the head and shoulders can provide good support and promote rest for the neck.

Supine Twist

Again, support the neck with a blanket beneath the head and shoulders. Place a rolled up blanket close the hip closest to the floor and a block beneath the bottom leg to keep the legs propped up and help keep shoulder blades relaxed on the floor.

Corpse Pose

In our final resting pose, get as comfortable as you can. Place a blanket beneath head and shoulders to rest the neck. Place a cushion or rolled up blanket beneath the knees and ankles. Explore rolling up two blankets and placing one beneath low back and one beneath the mid-back to keep the chest open.

In your home practice or any class, you should feel free to take the options that you need in that moment. If you want to get in your power yoga or vinyasa flow routine, but are limited physically or mentally by soreness or tiredness or by some other physical or emotional upset, bring these restorative elements to your mat. Yoga is all about finding that balance between ease and effort. Often times we think we are giving our all when we are putting great effort into something, and while that can be true, it is also true that giving our all includes giving our body rest and time to recover as we move from pose to pose. Pause. Practice. Play.

Do I have to say Namaste?

The short answer is no.
In my classes I usually end with everyone rising from savasana (corpse pose), our final resting pose of an asana practice, taking three breaths together to further calm the body, and saying the Sanskrit greeting, “Namaste.” If I have new students in classes, I say, “Namaste is an expression meaning ‘The Divine in me honors the Divine in you.’ Namaste.” The reason I explain the meaning of the word when I have new people in class is because not everyone knows the meaning, but many still say the word without knowing what it means. I think it’s important for people to know what they are saying so they can determine for themselves whether or not they want to return the greeting based on their own beliefs.

Perhaps you do not believe in a divine entity, or perhaps you don’t believe such an entity exists within human beings, perhaps you simply don’t care to show honor toward me. All of this is okay. I offer Namaste because I believe there is a divine nature within all beings, and because I honor that. Not everyone takes a yoga class to feel connected to the divine. Most people in class simply want to move and feel good. I have people in class from all different backgrounds of spiritual focus, some more interested in meditation while others are more interested in being fit and physically active.

Traditionally, “Namaste” is a greeting, but most yoga instructors, if they use the word at all, use it to close class. As I considered the possibility of using the mantra to begin class rather than to close, I thought about our final resting pose, Savasana. Savasana, or “corpse pose” is a pose in which students are invited into a deep rest and surrender. This final pose is like a death, and aptly named. Because of this, when we begin slowly to awaken from this “death” it is like we are starting the next moment in our day completely new. And so, being new, we are invited to greet our new state by acknowledging the divine, having taken on some of the attributes of the divine, like peace, strength, and perhaps even love. Our endorphins awakened, we feel, for the moment, a sense of unshakeable calm. Even if this is not our experience exactly, there is a sense of renewal rather than ending. So, when I say “Namaste” after those three calming breaths, I am greeting the renewed self as well as acknowledging and honoring the perfection, peace, love, the divine that I believe we are all containers for.

Defining the esoteric keeps our practice transparent and sincere. Not everyone arrives to a yoga class to experience the divine, and that’s okay. This isn’t church, and I won’t be offended if you don’t return the Namaste greeting, especially knowing what it means and not feeling connected with its meaning, but the opportunity is there for those who do have a spiritual leaning. That’s the beauty of the practice of yoga, I can feel free to express my spirituality without feeling offended by varying beliefs or lack of beliefs. I’m there to guide you safely through body movement, what you get out of the practice, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is up to you. I just hope you always leave feeling good and at peace.

 

Guided Imagery Meditation

meditation

 

Guided meditation aims to calm the nervous system, help decrease stress and tension in the body and mind, and bring people into the deep place within themselves that is at perfect peace in all situations. The more often we practice meditation, the more likely we are to handle challenges, obstacles, and difficult emotions in a calm and productive way, responding from that place of peace rather than from our raw emotions and feelings. Guiding meditation is the art of speaking, word choice, and practice, and results in a connection first between the person guiding and the meditator, then in a connection between the meditator and her body, breath, and mind, and finally between the meditator and her fully contented self.

When I speak out loud in meditation, I keep my voice rhythmic and light, yet audible. Often words seem to blend one into the other to draw the meditators attention fully into the present moment, my voice becoming the first point of focus to allow for a letting go of thoughts. I use simple language and physical description to further draw attention to the here and now. I pause between phrases to give time for the mind to process the words and respond with body and breath. Once the meditator has connected to body and breath, I choose words to help emphasize acknowledging thoughts without judgement and letting the thoughts go. Yogic philosophy states that we are not our thoughts. We think and we often act based on thoughts and feelings rather than based on the perfect peace within because it takes practice to find that peace, and our feelings and thoughts are right there on the surface. Meditation seeks to help people let go of our fleeting and illusionary thoughts and feelings and tap into our place of perfect peace.

In some modes of meditation, the meditator is guided to keep drawing the attention to body and breath, letting go of whatever is in the mind in order that the mind might find clarity through perfect peace. In guided imagery, however, the meditator is asked to engage the intellect and the imagination, imagining that he is in a place, sometimes walking from a place of discomfort to a place of comfort, other times immediately placed into comforting places, like a boat on water, waves slowly moving the boat along. Perhaps the sun is warm, and there’s a soft breeze upon the skin. Maybe I’ve asked you to imagine your bare feel upon smooth stones, cool water lapping your ankles. Whatever the image, I provide some detail, and the meditator fills in the gap with whatever additional details my guided imagery evokes. 

When we invoke imagination, our focus shifts from thoughts and feelings to an imagined place. It’s not that our thoughts and feelings aren’t still there, but rather that we shift our perspective. This is why before guiding image, I encourage acknowledging thoughts without judgement. If we are judging our thoughts, this judgement will distract us from the guided image. In turn, when we allow ourselves to be fully taken to a new place, thoughts and judgement naturally release. We cannot pay attention fully to two things at once, so either we will remain in our own thoughts, or we will shift our thoughts to a new place. Once in the new place, it can be easier to find peace than it might be returning again and again to body and breath and the attempt to let go of the mind. Imagery allows us to engage the mind in childlike play.

Peace either comes or eludes us depending on our ability to surrender to guidance. The guidance is simply there to bring us closer to what’s already within. None of us wants to struggle, to be sad or mad, to be in turmoil, harboring tension in our shoulders or hips, circling the same negative thoughts over and over again. We all want peace, and when we learn that this peace only comes from within and that we will not find it from anything outside ourselves—other people, objects, or money—we can begin to surrender to what is, let go of what we cannot control, and imagine a place of peace that with practice becomes real.

Peace. Namaste.

Men and Yoga

If these two concepts seem contradictory to you, let me give a brief history lesson. Yoga began as a way of finding the best posture in which to meditate, all of which were seated poses. This meditative way of life was practiced in India, at first primarily by the elite and only by men. Centuries of division, transformation, and various interpretations have brought this practice to us in the United States, where it is predominantly practiced for physical fitness, by middle to upper class white women. Even the revered Krishnamacharya refused to teach the practice to women until Indra Devi, a Russian noblewoman, insisted on learning the practice and after a number of years teaching in China, brought the practice to Hollywood, where she taught movie stars.

Today, however, the practice is widely known, but still not widely understood. For many men, especially in smaller cities like, Appleton, WI, there can be a lot of fear and apprehension about entering a yoga studio filled with mostly women. The ideal of men and women occupying the same workout space without feeling either emasculated or sexualized has not been fully realized by everyone and that’s okay. I’m not here to tell people how they should feel; I’m here to cue people safely through movement, allow them a space where they can feel fully accepted, open up hips to new ways of moving, and maybe open up minds to new ways of perceiving their own world and the world around them.

Most of my students are male, so from experience I know that men are open to the practice and looking to improve the quality of their life in the same way women are. Debates can be made as to differences in psyche between men and women, but ultimately all human beings want to live well, and for many of us male or female, living well doesn’t only include being financially secure, but it means having energy, exercising, eating healthier, getting rid of stress. The question is, how do we begin to open the door wider for men to feel comfortable practicing? I don’t have all the answers, but there are 3 things I have observed that get men to practice this ancient art.

1. A Familiar Face

One of my students, a Facebook friend and acquaintance who my husband and I knew through other friends, reached out to me because his “hamstrings are bullshit.” He knew the specific area that he wanted to improve in his body, and because he knew me and considered my husband and I good people, he decided to check out one of my classes. He’d mentioned that he was apprehensive about going into a class where he wouldn’t know anyone, afraid of being judged. In my experience, both men and women who hesitate to check out a live power yoga, vinyasa flow, restorative, hatha, or other yoga asana class do so because of a fear of how they might be perceived. But once the door is open, in this case, he saw someone he knew was teaching, those fears begin to fade. So, whether your a teacher or a student, keep the door open. If a male friend, co-worker, or spouse expresses interest in the practice, invite them to a class.
When I was in teacher training, I would practice cueing poses for my husband, Michael, whose hamstrings and flexibility in general were also bullshit, and though he’s still not as fond of the practice as he is of running, he came to my volunteer classes, and even to a few of the classes at the place I teach.

2. A Familiar Space

I teach at Flashback Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, LLC. While most yoga studios in the area are dominated by women, this is a space that, while greatly welcoming to women and men, is dominated by men. So, naturally, I have had students that come to my Vinyasa Flow class to increase their flexibility for this grappling sport. I once came to the facility, yoga mat and cucumber mint water in hand, and opened the door to men rolling on mats, moving their hips, adjusting their bodies onto their shoulders, shifting their body weight in order to block or fight. And after being very rough on their bodies, they just ended, and my immediate thought was, um, they should really stay for yoga. And since they were already there, they did. Yoga studios and Jiu-Jitsu facilities are typically open to both men and women, but depending on culture, geographical location, predominate ideas about sex and gender, there are reasons more women are practicing yoga and more men are fighting each other on mats. I am glad to provide such a peaceful practice in such a perceivably aggressive space. Strength, flexibility, calmness of mind, inspiration, peace are meant just as much for men as they are for women, and provide stellar recovery to the more aggressive work of jiu-jitsu.

3. Bullshit Hamstrings and… What Hips?

Men want to be healthy. They want to be strong, flexible, and to look good. We don’t see male body image issues represented nearly enough, but that is something that exists. Men care about their bodies and how they look. They care about tight hamstrings and hips. And while I never encourage vanity or ego as road to wellbeing, I do try to help men and women meet their goals while also emphasizing the importance of being okay exactly where they are at. Often in classes I will provide blocks for pose modifications, but in a class I taught recently, I said, “I want us to work just with the bodies we have.” I know we are moving through poses to get unstuck in body, mind, and spirt, but yogic philosophy tells us we have everything within us to arrive at oneness with the Self, so working with that attitude in mind, I cued these men from airplane pose (Eka Pada Dekasana) right into half-moon pose (Ardha Chandrasana), both challenging standing balance poses, the transition requiring strong abdominal engagement, an opening of the hips from closed toward the mat to opening out toward the side. A man’s hips are more narrow than a woman’s, but they do exist. In general, we don’t do a lot to open the hips. This posture transition brings greater awareness to what adjustments are needed to get the hips open and stacked in such a way that one finds balance. We all could use more body-awareness, but for the men in my class I focus on areas that are often neglected.

Man or woman, when a person finds good alignment and ease in a pose, it’s a beautiful thing. In my experience of observing male bodies versus female bodies, it seems to take a bit more for men to relax, especially in those more vulnerable postures like Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), but once cued to breath, to soften the face and jaw, to relax, the pressure is off. Sometimes I use a mantra I’ve heard other teachers say in class, there are no prizes. Once the pressure is off to have to perform in some way or impress someone, once men feel free to just be and exist as they are, the body relaxes, the hips release, and there is in the room a perceivable atmosphere of calm. It’s awesome.

Peace. Namaste.

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Sanskrit: The Language of Yoga

In my classes I use Sanskrit when cueing some poses, along with the English translation. I don’t do this to intimidate or show off; I’m not fluent in the language by any means. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge the culture from which the practice of Yoga originated. Sanskrit is an ancient language used in much of India’s literature, including Hindu scriptures. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are one example of Sanskrit literature, and contains therein a guide to the practicing yoga. Patanjali does not, however, present yoga as we in the west have practiced it, moving the body about in various shapes purely for bodily exercise, but rather he presents the idea that “Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness” (Yoga Sutra 1.2). It took a long time for Yoga to be developed into what it is today, and over time the original goal of yoga, which is Sanskrit for “union” has become lost amid the push to look good in yoga pants. But just as with anything we believe is beneficial to our well-being, we should have some understanding of its origins, and so for me there are 3 main reason I use the original language of Yoga when I teach.

1. To Draw Attention to the Present

This drawing of attention to the present isn’t just for my students but for me as well. When I say “forward fold” and follow it with “Uttanasana,” which literally means to stand and fold forward, it might seem redundant, but what I am doing is reiterating the action we are performing in the present moment. It is for emphasis of remaining undistracted by anything outside of the action of folding forward.

2. To “Still the patterning of consciousness”

Every day we find ourselves thinking over and over again of the same things. Test this. Take a day to journal your thoughts. Read that journal to yourself after a week and you will likely discover a pattern of thoughts. In yoga we are not trying to escape our thoughts or shame ourselves for thinking about the same things again and again, but we are trying to find ourselves challenged and distracted enough by finding our sthira sukham asanam (steady, comfortable, seat). Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras, “The postures of meditation should embody steadiness and ease” (II.46). Various postures have been developed over centuries in order to find ways to still the patterns of the mind, giving clarity for new and more creative ways of being in the world, and ultimately to bring us inner peace.

3. To Acknowledge the Origin of Yoga Practice

I’m open to teaching anyone, and when I teach I am entirely who I am outside of teaching. I believe it’s important to know that what we are doing here in our yoga asana (posture) practice is all so that we might arrive at a place of meditation and perhaps even be enlightened and awakened to something deep within we didn’t realize was there. Language is a powerful tool. When we sing about the mercy of God in Latin it is a far different experience (at least, in my perception) that singing about His mercy in English. The same is true of Sanskrit in Yoga.

There is something powerful and more meaningful built in the classroom when we invoke these languages perceived as holy. I could just say, “boat pose,” but when I say, instead, “navasana” I am reminded of navigation. As I cue the body to draw the chest forward, engage the abdominals, I am reminded that we are here on our mats and off to navigate this life. When we are at ease and supported, our vision is clear and we navigate knowingly, but there are moments of unrest where our mind repeats its patterns, where we forget who we really are, and we might find our boat shaking, just as our bodies might shake keeping our heels lifted as we straighten our legs, navigating to what extent our body is able to find that sthir sukham asanam.

Peace. <3

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Why I Use Hands-On Assists

When we take time to reflect on why we do the things we do, we come to understand it better ourselves so that we can bring that understanding to others. — Jessica Haessly of Yoga Story

You may take several yoga classes and never have a teacher physically touch you. In those classes I can get just as much out of the practice from the spoken word as I can from classes where the teacher comes around to adjust my alignment or deepen my stretch. The practice is ultimately yours and you get out of it both what you put into it and what you’re willing to receive. I enjoy taking classes from a variety of teachers because it keeps me open to different personalities and teaching styles and challenges me to find harmony among mind, body, and spirit no matter what’s going on outside of me. I do believe, however, that touch is very important, whether it’s a handshake, a hug, a pat on the back, or a high five. When we bring positive, intentional touch into our human experience, we let down walls, connect for a moment as one, and give space for the possibility of healing. The short answer to why I use hands-on assists in my teaching practice is because I like to receive assists. When I receive them as a student, my attention is drawn even more directly to the moment, I feel and learn about what my body is doing and can do.

Calming the Mind & Deep Relaxation

When a student is in Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1), and I say, relax your shoulder blades down your back, it is a joy for me to watch the student(s) make that adjustment on their own. It lets me know 1) that they are listening and that what I’m saying is connecting with them and 2) that they are aware of their body and how it can move. But when we come into a pose there really are a lot of things going on. In Downward-facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), we’re pressing the ground away, pressing into thumb and forefinger, rotating the forearms in toward thumbs, the abdominal muscles are engaged, inner thigh muscles are strong, heels press toward the grown, hamstrings draw toward the back of the room, hips are lifted, and while all this strength and stretching is happening, we’re lengthening the spine to create space, letting the head hang heavy, neck, face, and jaw relaxed. We don’t normally cue all of these attributes of the pose in class because that’s a lot to think about for a workout that is meant to calm the mind. We need space and silence in class to find how the pose is best translated to our body, and it is in that space and silence, sometimes speaking a cue or two to help, that I may come around and rest the front of my feet on your hands to keep your hands pressed into the mat and steady as I bring my palms along the low back to press the hips up and back. Similarly in Child’s Pose (Balasana), I may come around, press the heals of my hands onto your low back to help bring your body deeper into the pose. The deepening assists help keep you grounded, and teach your body how to relax more deeply.

Safety & Proper Alignment

Often in the physical practices of yoga we use phrasing like, observe how the pose feels in your body, or, if there’s any pain, adjust or come out of the pose. These are good things to say, and as students and practitioners, I believe it’s important for us to develop our own practice, to take what we learn in live and online classes and from any articles we might read, to become our own teacher. If we follow yogic philosophy, everything we need is within, which is why as teachers we often use the word “guide.” And as a guide, my main job is to bring you safely through your practice. I may have people in class who are brand new to yoga, and if that’s the case, I may take the pads of my fingers to the knee of a student who is in Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2), to draw the knee toward the pinky toe to prevent knee pain. In Side-Angle Pose (Parsvakonasana) or Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana), I may bring my hand to the front of the shoulder and roll the shoulder back to open the chest and help guide the shoulder to stack on top of the other. Opening the chest and stacking the shoulders facilitates ease of breath, focusing on the lengthening of the side body. In every pose we should either be strengthening or stretching the body; we should not be straining. Our face should always be soft, and our breath should always be smooth and steady. If the head is lifted in a Forward Fold (Uttanasana), I will say, relax the neck, let the head hang heavy, while also, drawing my forefinger and thumb to your neck in a C-shape to physically guide the relaxation of the neck, keeping it safe rather than strained. A teacher, in any setting, is there to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere whether by words alone or words and touch. My hands and the words I speak are for health and healing; that is my intention always.

Asking Permission

There are a number of reasons a person may not want hands-on assists, and I want to respect a person’s desire not to be touched. So, I ask. Much of the way I teach is learned, whether from my teacher training program, observing classes, taking classes, or reading articles, I take what is helpful to me, those things which I connect most with and bring them into my class. At the beginning of class when people are in child’s pose, I let them know (just as I have observed other teachers let their class know), I may come around and do some hands-on assisting; if this is something you would not like, please feel free to flip up a palm. This makes the decision safe for the student, so they don’t have to feel singled out if they are the only one who does or doesn’t want to be touched, and it frees me from having to ask every individual as they walk in whether or not it’s okay for me to physically assist them in poses. Now, I may not ask the same students each time, but if my hands are ever met with resistance whether by a new student or a returning student, it is my job and my desire to respect that because things change from moment to moment and day to day. We all have days where we just need to be in our own space and move without any interference. And what is this practice but an opportunity for us to give ourselves space to be?

I’m speaking as though my classes are full of people, and in the spirit of honesty and authenticity, at the moment they’re not. This, however, is at great benefit to the students who do arrive because my focus will be specifically on what their body needs in that moment. This is also a great benefit to my spirit because my gratitude is that much greater toward those who do show. Often I say to my husband, I got to teach today! I quoted myself above not to be arrogant but because I truly believe that each of us has something within the core of our being that can touch someone else. That touch can be physical as a hug or ethereal as a parting word. When we are touched by something or someone, we awaken to a new way of thinking and being, even if just for a moment, and if that touch heals us, that moment stays with us forever.

Be blessed. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

Awareness vs. Obsession

 

You will often hear yoga teachers say, “become aware of your breath” or “draw your awareness to [body part].” The awareness we are cultivating in yoga is not meant for us to judge these areas and obsess over them, but rather to deepen our ability to pay attention. Paying attention to our breath and body in yoga or in any physical activity gives us knowledge about what is going on with our body when it is moving in a particular way so that we can make adjustments as needed. Awareness gives us a focal point so that we can let go of what is not important in that moment and helps prevent injury. Obsession, on the other hand, is the opposite of letting go. It causes tension in the body and mind, making injury more likely. The only balance between these two is to let obsession dissolve into awareness so that whatever change need be made comes with ease instead of fight.

Awareness

Awareness keeps us challenged, yet also prevents us from taking unnecessary risks. Awareness of the breath in poses, along with paying attention to what’s going on in the body, whether we are feeling pain or ease or lax, helps us better determine whether or not we need to back off, stay right where we are, or go deeper. It is a moment of noticing something within ourselves without attaching our own judgement, so that when our attention beacons us elsewhere, we let go and transition with ease to the next point of focus. The same is true when we move through our day aware of our surroundings. The more aware we are of others, our interactions, and our environment, the more likely we are to make the best decisions in the moment.

Obsession

Obsession distracts us from ease-filled focus. Often in balancing poses when we obsess over our falling out, it becomes that much more difficult to come back into the balance or to smoothly transition to the next pose. Obsession blocks our ability to let go and can cause us to dwell on a thought, our appearance, or how we feel to such a degree that we lose touch with the reality of the now and become encumbered by the illusion of the past and future. We wish we wouldn’t have fallen, or we wish we were thinner or stronger. But obsession is not entirely bad if we can become aware of it. When we notice that we obsess over a certain area of the body or past event or future desire, we can begin taking steps to dissolve obsession into awareness. This may take time and patience on our part, but if the awareness is there and the desire to let go is there, progress will be made, even if only in incremental steps.

Steps to Dissolving Obsession

  1. Become aware of obsession: when you are in Corpse Pose (Savasana) and are still thinking about falling out of tree pose earlier, you are not existing in the moment. You have allowed a past moment to distract you from the reality of the now.
  2. Breathe: When in doubt, when in anger, when in frustration, when in bliss, when in life, always remember to breathe. If you have become aware of an obsession and are not sure how to let it go, take a deep breath in and a longer deep breath out. It is the breath out that calms the nervous system, moving you closer to a place of ease, and it is the focus on the breath that brings you back into the now.
  3. Be Present: Thoughts might drift to past or to future, so check in with yourself to be sure you are focused on what you are doing in the moment.
  4. Notice without judgement: It is good to discern by the way you are feeling in the moment whether or not you should modify or come out of a pose. But refrain from attachment judgements, like, I’m weak, or, I hate my belly fat. Instead simply observe and move, and if judgements do come, observe them and work towards offering yourself gratitude for taking time for yourself.
  5. Smile: Obsession rarely, if ever, leaves us smiling. It usually causes furrowed brows, a tense jaw, and shoulders that are way too close to our ears. We begin to close in instead of opening up because though awareness does draw our attention inward, we are still present and moving and relaxed because we when we don’t judge what we notice, we move with greater ease both in our bodies and through life. And when we are at ease, we smile. From personal experience, when I smile during a moment of obsession, I find letting go, letting obsession dissolve into awareness that much easier. I become amused by myself instead of displeased with myself.

Wear Your Awareness

It is a great thing to be fully aware during your yoga practice; it is an excellent thing to be fully aware in life. The reason there are so many awareness campaigns for various cancers, diseases, or other health-related issues is because awareness is the first step to overcoming life’s challenges. And while it’s not necessary to walk around with a ribbon showing your support for awareness, you can walk with your head up, pay attention to people, to the spaces you occupy, to what happens in the atmosphere when you or others enter or leave, to what happens in your body when you eat this or drink that. Being aware of yourself and others, the space, what you consume, and how what you consume affects you, whether it be a candy bar or a sitcom, you can begin to more easily let go of those things you no longer need. Obsessions and even bad habits dissolve, not because you scolded yourself, but because you allowed yourself to operate in the reality of the now. If you’re in tree pose now: focus on the breath, keeping the standing foot rooted with equal weight in the ball and heel, strong in the legs, engaging the core, lengthening through the spine, relaxing the shoulders, light through the crown of the head, and if you’re wondering why you keep falling, why you can’t just balance, become aware of your breath and repeat and when it is time to move to the next pose, let tree go, and move on.

Namaste.

 

 

I Can’t Teach You Yoga

Recently I received my 200 hour RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) certification through Empower Yoga in Appleton, WI, registered with Yoga Alliance, my “Yoga Story” dba (doing business as) was approved by the state under my current Write It! LLC, I created a Facebook page for Yoga Story, I began teaching/practicing at Flashback Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu LLC, and I created a few videos to help guide people through their practice. Despite these credentials, I cannot teach you yoga, that state of being in union and harmony with yourself and the life around you. I can guide your practice, I can cue you into and out of a pose. I can offer inspiring words, and encourage you to focus on your breath, to go within, to seek and find the deeper truth hidden in your spirit. But I can’t teach you how to unite your mind, body, and spirit. I can’t teach you enlightenment.

As a new teacher, in a martial arts studio that is newly offering yoga, I am learning a great deal of patience. The beauty of being a practitioner of yoga is that when no one arrives for me to teach, I practice. The ancient practice of yoga has multiplied into a myriad of disciplines over time, all with one common theme: be present. Whether there is one, many, or none, if I am to practice yoga to its fullness, uniting mind, body, and spirit, I must practice being exactly where I am without judgment, moving and breathing in the present moment. In my teacher training, I learned how to sequence poses. I learned cues to help move people from one pose to the next. I learned some about the anatomy of poses. And I am continuing to educate myself on the physical and spiritual practices of yoga to help further improve my teaching and my own practice. But knowledge is not yoga.

Yoga is a state of clarity and insight, where epiphany awakens the spirit, and suddenly everything is okay. No one can teach me how to be okay. I can’t teach you how to suddenly see clearly who you are or what you’re doing here. I can say, breathe. I can say, inhale half-way lift, exhale forward fold, inhale mountain pose. I can tell you to lengthen through the crown of the head. And I can attempt to inspire you with a quote I like, song lyrics, or a personal story of victory. I can tell you, allow your breath to bring you victory through each pose. And I do say these things. But it is you who must be present, listening to your own breath, tuning into your own body, patiently accepting your limits and bravely challenging yourself to new heights. I can give you the words, but you must tell your own story.

 

The Yoga of Listening and Critical Thinking

Meditation
Yoga Tree, San Francisco, CA

 

The trick of a well-taught power yoga class is in making it seem as though you hardly have to think at all. The teacher breaths with you, speaks clearly, and gives you a general feeling of ease, guiding you through challenging poses while also supporting you. In time, you begin to understand and feel how each pose is operating in your body, what muscles are being stretched or strengthened. You begin to pay attention to the way your body is moving on a daily basis both in and out of class. And you begin to think more critically about how to approach a pose, and possibly even how to approach life.

Often, one of the first things a yoga teacher will ask you to do, after guiding you through a series of calming and grounding poses to help awaken the body and encourage you to be present, is to set an intention. Another way to put this question is, “Why are you here?” or “What do you want out of this practice today?” It is a fundamental question asked throughout the ages, and you are challenged to seek from within an answer to it for this moment. Immediately, your intellect is challenged. This practice is no longer only about moving your body, but it is about moving your mind. One go-to intention I use is to learn how to be in my body. I am overjoyed when in a yoga class I experience epiphany, whether it is finding a new adjustment to make a pose more comfortable, finally coming into a pose I once found quite difficult, or an expanse in depth of thought.

The other day I had an epiphany about open palms. For a long time I considered the open palm as a symbol for readiness to receive, but I realized, at least as it applies to me and my connection to Spirit [God, Holy Spirit], that the open palm both receives and gives. Seated, I folded forward, palms open, my body demonstrating my communication with God, and as I allowed the spirit in me to guide me, I turned over my palms to the earth to send love and peace to those around me.

Listening to one’s body, one’s mind, and one’s spirit comes with practice. And in the class setting it begins with listening to cues. I may have my own way of coming into a pose, but when I’m in a class I practice listening to the teacher for new ways at arriving at a particular pose because I want to know and feel the difference. I want to be open to learning knew ways of operating in my body, of moving my body in this world, and of simply being. Listening, in the moment, to step by step instruction improves our ability to pay attention.

Often in class, we are asked to let go of our thoughts, but this does not mean we stop thinking. Rather our thinking changes from things we’ve done or want to do, to the thing we are doing. We become present, paying attention to precisely what is happening in the moment. If we are in Ardha Chandrasana (Half-moon Pose), we are paying attention to the grounded foot. We pay attention to our abdominal muscles and the stacking of our shoulders and hips. We pay attention to our breath, finding balance through it. We feel supported as our teacher tells us, don’t worry if you fall out of the pose. We listen to her prompting us to bend the front knee and slowly bring the floating foot back down to the mat. Our ears are open, our mind is exactly where our body is, and as we, through practice, reach that place of yoga– union between mind, body, and spirit– we gain a clearer understanding of our intention here. In a moment of epiphany, without saying a word to anyone, I prayed and sent the love of God out to the people. Other times, I simply find the rest I didn’t know I so desperately needed, and often I learn how to move in my body through challenging moments with greater ease. Ultimately, I learn to listen, to think, and to trust that I am being supported by something greater than myself… no matter how many times I fall out of Ardha Chandrasana.