Set a Kinder Resolution for 2014

Dawn

I know a lot of folks will be setting new year’s resolutions to lose weight because we’re all trained to think of ourselves as fat and fat as bad … so I’m not comfortable promoting my yoga classes like, “Hey, let me help you with that totally body-shaming and self-hating resolution.” Maybe this new year you could make it your goal to make peace with your body instead. If you want to try a compassionate approach to your health, I would love to have you in my yoga classes this year.

Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll introduce you to the basics poses for beginners and incorporate them in a gentle flow class. I’ll adjust and modify poses to support your unique physical needs — whether your concern is as simple as tight hamstrings or chronic illness, there is a yoga practice for you. I’ll give you support and guidance as you deepen your practice. I’ll promise to always keep learning.

Here’s what you’ll do: Show up. Be open to learning. Be kind to yourself. Choose to work at a level that challenges you but respects the needs and limitations of your body — we all have some!

Classes resume on a normal schedule tomorrow, Jan. 2, 2014. I’ll be teaching online and in the studio, so you can catch me at either place.

This is about as much self promotion I can handle in one blog post, but I just want y’all to know I can’t wait to work with you in 2014. My goal as a yoga teacher is not to make you lose weight but to help you realize you’re already fucking amazing. So… you know. If you’re down with that, come see me.

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Yoga Sutra 1.2: Quieting the Mind

Yoga Sutra 1.2

YOGAŚ CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

I’m studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali again these days because sometimes I need to remind myself of why I practice yoga and why I teach it. Although I’ve been steeped in yogic practice and philosophy for nearly half my life, sometimes life gets chaotic, and I lose focus. On this latest return to the sutras, I’ve been moved to write some reflections on them. I’m no sanskrit scholar or philosopher, but the great thing about the sutras is that you don’t have to be those things to learn from them. They have something to offer us at every stage of our practice. I’ve written before about sutra 1.1, so today I want to share my reflection on sutra 1.2.

Yogas citta vritti nirodhah.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

The mind is a busy thing. It is always moving. Even when we sleep, the mind is fluctuating, making up little stories, tossing flashes of color and light around, reenacting or inventing conversations and scenes that feel like reality while we’re experiencing them. Only when we wake up do we realize our dreams were “just dreams,” no matter how real they felt. We’ve all heard of lucid dreaming, right? Some people learn to recognize that they are dreaming while it’s happening, and that changes the dream. Similarly, we become lucid in our waking life when we learn to tell the difference between what is real and what is just mental noise.

If I experience anxiety, I might have all kinds of crazy scary thoughts. I might think the world is a terrible place, no one loves me, and I’m doomed to be a failure. But the practice of yoga is about cultivating the awareness to ask, “What’s really going on here? I feel panicked but I don’t know why. The thoughts I’m having are unreasonable. They’re not an accurate reflection of reality. Perhaps I could choose to think something else.”

The same practice can be applied to many areas of life. If you’re driving and someone cuts you off, you get mad, right? You think, “Wow, that guy drives like a jerk! Why didn’t he look where he was going? And then he had the nerve to honk when I passed him! I hate people.” But you know the way someone else drives doesn’t have anything to do with you. And in reality, you probably don’t hate everyone. The truth is, we may feel and think a lot of different things depending on our circumstances, and while we can’t always control our circumstances, we have a choice about how we respond to them. We can choose to indulge negative, fatalistic, and panicked thoughts, or we can let them go.

Our perception of reality is strongly colored by our choice of thoughts. This is one of the simplest truths in the world and one of the hardest things to remember when the going gets tough. That’s why we have our yoga practice to use as a tool. Asana (poses) helps us create the link between mind and body. This helps us to stay present in the moment and to gain control over the fluctuations of the mind. As we create a state of ease and health in the body, we also create a sense of peace and quiet in the mind. Only when the mind is quiet can we begin to experience true yoga or union.

So … How can I apply this to my life right now? Having recently been struck with a sneak attack of the flu, I need to slow down and be quiet for a while. Rather than pushing harder, teaching more classes, perfecting harder poses and so forth, I need to reconnect with that deep well presence. I’ve been pursuing the career side of things, the outwardly visible trappings of so-called success rather than focusing on my own basic wellbeing. That’s essentially the opposite of what my yoga practice is all about, so even though it may look like I’m doing tons of yoga, keeping up this pace for too long can become counter productive. Luckily, this little virus came just in time to put me back in line without doing too much damage. Now, it’s time for more self-care, rest, and quiet reflection.

Peace!

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I’m Stronger Than I Thought I Was

surya namaskar

Last month, I did 108 Sun Salutations, and for the next 48 hours, I couldn’t shut up about it. I kept mentioning it off-hand, hoping people would be impressed. It was a big deal to me because I’d been afraid I couldn’t do it. I’d simply never done all 108 together before, so I wondered if I would be strong enough. Luckily for me, it was a cool spring day, overcast and breezy, which made the challenge a little easier.

The whole practice was divided into four sections of 27 lead by alternating teachers with a short break for water after each set. The second set was my turn to lead the group. Oh yeah, did I mention I volunteered to help lead this thing I’d never actually done before? As one of the volunteer yoga teachers for a local nonprifit, I was asked to help with this fundraiser by leading the participants through 27 rounds, which meant I needed to do the practice and direct everyone else through it at the same time. This might not be the wisest decision I’ve ever made. My biggest fear was that I would not only fail to do all 108 rounds but I wouldn’t even make it through the 27 I was supposed to lead.

The first part of the practice went great. The teacher who started us off picked a nice pace and a simple, easy-to-follow version of the sequence. When my turn came, I was predictably nervous, but I decided to just go slow, follow my breath, and count on the practice itself to pull me through. Once I got started, there was no room in my head for counting how many rounds we’d done, much less for worrying. I was simply too busy doing the work, and before I knew it, my turn was almost up. When Kiersten announced that we had only five rounds left in my set, I surprised even myself by cheering a little too loudly. “I didn’t think I could do this!” I blurted out, in what might have been the most awkward admission by a yoga teacher ever.

In the end, doing 108 sun salutations was a challenge, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Rather, it was something I’d told myself I couldn’t do for a long time, and I got to prove myself wrong. I’m not a highly competitive person when it comes to my fitness. I don’t do power yoga or hot yoga, I don’t lift weights, and I don’t run without a damn good reason, but over years of slow, gentle, patient practice, I’ve become stronger than I thought I was. I’m glad I challenged myself to find out.

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7 Reasons I Love My Yoga Students

Chattai yoga asanas goa india by Denise Weiner

At the risk of seeming like a total weirdo hippy, I gotta say: I love my yoga students. You don’t always realize how much your teacher appreciates you, so I wanna share my reasons why I adore every last person who comes to my yoga class.

  1. Yoga students are brave. Tons of people are simply scared to try doing yoga, either because it seems weird to them or because they’re self-conscious. Showing up to a class and trying something new is incredibly nervy, and I admire everyone who finds the strength to do it.
  2. Yoga students are beautiful. And I’m not talking about skinny people in tight pants. I’m talking about individuals at every level of health showing up and doing really great work with whatever physical and mental condition you’re in. To see people do work like that is inspiring.
  3. Yoga students educate their teachers. I don’t know what it’s like to be in your body or live your life, so when we practice yoga together, I learn from you at least as much as you learn from me. You challenge me and make me want to improve as a teacher.
  4. Yoga students make the world a better place. Look, none of us is perfect, but in yoga practice we do our best to improve ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually. Every time you improve yourself, you improve the world. I’m grateful that you take the time to take care of yourself.
  5. Yoga students are open-minded — open to trying new things, open to learning about themselves, open to the present moment, open to connection. I think that’s just a fabulous quality for anyone to have.
  6. Yoga students make the class. Without you, what’s the point of me standing around talking about downward dog? What you bring to the class — your energy, your sense of humor, your unique challenges — that literally makes the class. The reason we like doing yoga in groups rather than alone is often simply because practicing with other people is more fun!
  7. Teaching you is an honor. Your health is a very personal thing, and meditation is a profoundly deep experience. To be trusted enough to guide you through a yoga practice and meditation is a big responsibility, and I am both honored and humbled when you choose to share your practice with me.

So, thanks for being who you are, for honoring and challenging yourself, for sharing your experience of yoga with your classmates and your teachers, and for simply showing up. Namaste!

xoxo~

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Meditate Like a Boss, Part 2: Being in Your Skin

Yoga vid Dödsklippan

The real reason we do yoga poses is to prepare the body for meditation. Yep. In fact, in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the only pose or asana mentioned is the simple seated posture we use for meditation. In a classical yoga practice, the primary reason for doing poses is to help the body be strong enough and flexible enough to meditate comfortably. Of course, that translates to better overall health as well, which is one reason yoga has become so immensely popular in recent years. The good news is you don’t have to do a long, complicated or showy practice to prepare for meditation. Here’s a simple practice that you can modify based on what your body needs and how much time you have. Each pose has a unique effect on the body, so it’s best to pick one pose from each category to get a well-rounded practice.

Step 1: Side Stretch
Side stretches are energizing to the body and good for the digestion. A simple side stretch can be done while sitting, standing, kneeling or lying down. To start, try reclining half-moon. Lie on your back on the floor, and stretch the arms out overhead, touching the floor behind you. It’s OK if the elbows to bend in order for the arms to relax in this position. With the legs straight, walk the heels over to one side as far as they’ll go, and then inch the arms, head, and shoulders in the same direction, forming a “C” or half moon with the body. This will create a stretch through the elongated side of the body. Take a few deep breaths, and allow the body to sink into this stretch without using force. Come back to center before repeating the stretch on the opposite side.

Step 2: Twist
Twists are cleansing and calming to the body. Like side stretches, they’re also good for the digestion as they gently squeeze and massage the internal organs. Here’s a quick and easy twist anyone can do.

Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair. Stabilize the hips so they will not move when you twist. Place the right hand directly behind the spine on the chair or floor, and place the left hand on the right knee. Inhaling, imagine you could actually grow taller, extending the head toward the sky and tucking the chin slightly to create length through the back of the neck. As you exhale, gently squeeze the belly button toward the spine to begin twisting. The heart and ribs turn to face the right while the hips stay grounded. Turn the chin over the back shoulder. When you’re ready to come out, inhale once more to sit up tall, and on the exhale, gently unwind the pose. Then do the same twist in the opposite direction.

Step 3: Back Bend
Back bending is considered very energizing – no wonder it’s the first stretch most of us want to do when we wake up! When you spread your arms wide and raise the chest with a big yawn, that’s a gentle back bend. To do a seated back bend, simply rest your hands on your knees while sitting up nice and tall (just like you will for meditation). Inhaling, lift the heart and press the chest forward while rolling the shoulders back and down. Slightly lift the chin to create a sense of length and openness in the front of the throat. As you exhale, hug the belly button in toward the back, tuck the tailbone, and create length through the back of the body, reversing the curve. Do several rounds of this movement combined with slow, deep breathing. The same thing can be done on the hands and knees and is usually called “Cat/Cow” in yoga classes.

Step 4: Forward Bend
Forward bends are calming and are great for times when introspection is needed. There are tons of great forward bends to pick from, such as child’s pose, standing forward bend, wide-leg forward bend, and downward dog. If you’re seated in a chair, place both feet firmly on the floor, and simply drape the upper body over the thighs, allowing the head to hang. If your chest doesn’t reach your thighs, a blanket or pillow across the lap can make this more comfortable. Alternatively, sit on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged position (also known as sukasana or easy pose), and place the hands on the floor in front of you. Walk the hands out in front of you, bending forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the hips. Whichever foot is in front, that side of the hips will feel the stretch first. After a few breaths, change the cross of your feet and do the stretch again to make sure you address both sides.

Once you’ve completed this brief practice, try sitting for a short meditation. Notice if there is any difference in the body, the breath, the energy level, or the state of mind. If you are very distracted, a longer practice can be helpful in calming the mind. Several rounds of Sun Salutation, for example, can be a great preparation for a longer meditation.

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