My challenge officially comes to a close tomorrow. And I have lots of sore muscles and a few new discoveries in my practice to show for it.
few observations from my month of consistent practice. To start if off, here's a quote that stuck out to me over and over though out this month:
As a yoga teacher, I firmly believe that incorporating a steady practice can and will benefit your life for the better. That being said, even after embarking on this challenge, that I would be lying in bed trying to go to sleep and realize that I hadn't "practiced." For the purposes of this month, I went ahead and did some chill out in bed (or on couch) yoga. Supta Virasana or Viparita Kirani being the two favorites. One thing that yoga does whether you like it or not, it opens you. It opens muscles of course, but also it opens your subtle body, your hidden most feelings and desires and failures. All of that can and will someday come pouring out on your mat... and to be honest... there are some days where I just couldn't deal with the possible unraveling of myself. And that's okay. While this avoidance isn't advisable long term... it's okay to let something marinate and to not release it just because you don't want to. That's your choice. But know why you are making it. And remember that your problems will be there waiting for you with or without practice, so someday you might need to "bite the bullet" so to speak, and face those feelings and start to unravel some of the knots of your subtle body.
In that same breath - yoga doesn't solve everything. It simply gives you the tools to ride out the waves that life hands to you. Yoga will not increase your paycheck, get your roommate to finally clean the bathroom, keep your boss from aggravating you, stop your mom, dad, brother, sister, boyfriend, or girlfriend from nagging you about that one thing that just sets you off. But what it will do, is give you the tools of awareness and breath to guide you through those experiences. No one is perfect and we all can, and will, react to things with displeasure when they happen, but yoga can give you that chance - that chance of a second breath to realize while you have no means to control the actions of others, you can and are more than able to control your own actions.
Yoga is more than asana. While asana (the physical expression of yoga poses) is what brought me to this practice, as it does so many of us, yoga is anything you want it to be - it is bringing your breath, body and mind into harmony. And, as I briefly touched on, sometimes "yoga" needs to be the exact opposite of asana. Sometimes it is just sitting and appreciating your breath, letting the melting pot of this world continue to swirl around you without your hand in the proverbial pot.
Lastly, and probably the most important thing I am taking away from this experience, is that a practice can be anything you choose it to be. You do not need to practice 90, 60, 30, or even 15 minutes for it to count. If swinging your legs over the edge of your couch for 5 minutes calms your mind and deepens your breath... that's a practice. Anything that brings you closer to your authentic Self, the Self that is there despite of any external expectations or illusions that might be present in everyday society, is a practice. Above all I hope this is the one thing I take away from this experiment, and if anything I hope it can serve helpful to any readers out there. A yoga practice needn't be long or particularly difficult, or even effort-full. It is something you absolutely can incorporate into your life with minimal time and dollop of presence of mind and effort to do so.
Even as this month closes, and thus completes my challenge, it is my goal to continue to post here photos, stories or any other little something that comes up as I continue to maintain a practice on a daily level. Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions as I move forward with this blog. I appreciate your reading and wish you nothing but light and love.
A yogini of habit (Part 2)
"You'll never know if you don't try."
Now, I am generally not one to employ cliche motivational sayings... but, as luck would have it today that is just what I have to write about.
This week I had the opportunity to help a fellow yoga teacher, the lovely Brenna Matthews, with a yoga photo shoot. The photographer, one of my dearest friends, Omar Robinson, who has done many shoots for me so I invited myself along for the ride under the guise of helping direct Brenna's poses and holding big shiny reflectors to help Omar control the light. As Brenna and I chatted about the poses she was thinking of doing, I began to realize she was planning on doing poses I was no where close to getting. Which is fine, as a teacher I am able to explain a lot of poses that I cannot yet execute but, because of my understanding of what needs to happen, have had my students do so.
I must have told Brenna how one pose in particular, chin stand, had eluded me. I have had many students rock out in class and, I have to admit I have attempted to get into it a few times, and failed spectacularly. After that chin stand got put into a little corner in my mind, the one where I keep many other poses that I have deemed as something that just doesn't work for me and my practice at this point. Brenna shook her head at me - "you can do chin stand" ... I shook it off saying "well I guess I will have to come to one of your classes so you can teach me how to do it" and left it at that.
The next day while I was practicing in my room before teaching, I heard Brenna's words echoing in my mind and I figured - what the heck... can't hurt to try. I came into down dog, extended my right leg and rolled forward into three legged plank. Keeping the right leg high I tapped my chin down on the floor and took a few hops with my left. By the third hop I was shocked to realize - I was balancing. without a wall behind me. Sometimes all it takes is just a bit of space from a difficult pose, and after a month or so checking back in... and you might be surprised. But, you'll never know if you don't try.
One of the most encouraging and amazing things about a yoga practice is that it is always evolving. With a consistent and steady practice little by little your body will open, strengthen and prepare you for your future practice. Even if you don't constantly practice inversions or arm balances, by working more "simple" poses like plank, down dog, and warriors with precision and intention you may be surprised the next time you check in with those more "advanced" asanas.
So take a chance, yeah you might look silly but so what? At least you tried and who knows... maybe you will sur
A yogini of habit.
I am, among many other things, a creature of habit. I order the same food from the same restaurant, I buy the same groceries, I go to the same classes. Like many others, I find comfort in routine. My teaching is no exception. While I pride myself on working different areas of the body with each sequence and providing a creative flow within each class... there are just some poses that I hardly ever omit while planning a sequence. Lately I have been noticing that I have a gravitational pull to Warrior 2 and Extended Side Angle. I LOVE them. These two poses externally rotate your thigh from the hip feel really great on the body and they are huge multi-taskers in terms of sequencing: they open the outer hip and the inner thighs, they strengthen the legs and open the shoulders. Depending on what I am looking for in my sequence I can almost always use these poses to help my students get whatever I am hoping them to (ie. outer hip opening, oblique strengthening, inner thigh lengthening). It makes perfect sense that I would teach poses that I love to practice, theoretically that means I can bring a certain amount of understanding and finesse to the instruction of said pose.
But of course, never being one to rest on my so-called "laurels", this week I decided I was going to plan my Sunday class this week with absolutely no externally rotated standing postures. As I stepped on my mat with my notebook open and ready for my sequence to start pouring out... I drew an absolute blank. Every pose I wrote down seemed to have to be yanked from the very depths of my mind and with my 5pm class just hours away I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I closed my eyes and in that moment all I wanted to do was go back to the drawing board. Go back to a sequence style that I knew and loved. Who likes change anyway? As the next breath came through me and my eyes opened, I pressed back to down dog to start to find a flow and much to my surprise, Warrior 2 didn't come out.... neither did side angle. I started to explore lunges and creating dynamic actions within those lunges and before I knew it... a new sequence laid before me. I am feeling some pretty significant feedback from parts of my body that I don't usually get into (which is always a good thing). ((**special thanks to my Sunday yogis at Sweat and Soul Yoga for being my test subjects - you guys rock**))
Now I can't promise that I won't order the same flavor tea from the same cafe or eat the same thai food from that same restaurant across the street from my apartment... but I can say that I will start to question my sequences more. To try more and more to expose myself and my students to new ways of doing things. Yoga is not a one size fits all, if a pose, class or teacher doesn't work for you today... try something else and maybe tomorrow you will be surprised to find that pose, class, teacher, that you once avoided is now offering something that today you needed. Take a breath and open yourself up for the journey - you might be surprised at what you discover. (And maybe... just maybe I will try a new restaurant... in the spirit of discovery).
I dreamed a dream...
Random side effect of practicing asana every day, even your dreams start to become steeped in yoga. Last night I dreamed of doing astavkrasana on a mound of rocks... maybe it is some sort of foreshadowing to some upcoming photos I will be doing in the next week or so... We shall see. In the meantime, here is a photo borrowed from the Yoga Journal website :)
When I first started practicing yoga, I would only do so in a public class. I also only attended classes that were "yang" or more active, almost always Vinyasa Flow. Yoga became a way to get my "ya yas" out - to physically exhaust my body, which then in turn allowed for my mind to calm and release the mental chatter (vrittis) of everday life. In fact, when I first began my practice, I had been suffering from fairly frequent anxiety attacks which almost immediately after I began practicing with regularity, completely dissipated.
My first experience with a more restorative class was during my teacher training I remember the day we practiced restoratives I had the *worst* savasana I had ever experienced. I kept feeling my thoughts popping against the insides of my eye balls trying to get out and every fiber of my being was itching to move. At that point I decided slow yoga just wasn't for me. That is until I found my way into a class at Back Bay Yoga Studio (which would eventually become my yoga home) with Ame Wren (who little did I know would become one of my beloved mentors) - Vinyasa with Deep Relaxation. It was at 6:15pm on a Saturday that I happened to have off from my teacher training and I needed to get out of the house. I figured that the Vinyasa portion of the class would make up for the so called "relaxation" portion and I'd hopefully be able to scratch my itch for movement. The class was exactly what I needed, about 45 minutes of warrior flows and then about 45 minutes of cuddling with a bolster. While in a prone twist over the bolster I felt my jaw relax and my body start to soften completely (and I'm pretty sure a little bit of drool started to form in the corner of my mouth. It was heavenly. Thus began my love affair with yin and restorative yoga.
Now almost a year and a half later, when I have been coming to my mat the last week for this yoga adventure I am on - every single day I have been doing some sort of yin/restorative flow. Odd, considering my intentions are usually to get a few Sun A & B's in there and play around with some inversions. After I center myself on my mat, my gaze settles on my bolster and... it's all over from there. Rather than trying to force my body to do what my mind believes it should be doing, I have been trying to practice what I preach and not think about it too much. If my body wants to chill out in child's pose hugging a bolster for 5 minutes - so be it!
One of the biggest challenges in a practice (or I would venture to say, in life) is to accept yourself and your needs regardless of whether or not they match up with your preconceived notions of what you should be doing. Embrace your self in the moment and don't worry about going off the path your teacher sets forth for you. As teachers we are able to give suggestions and keep your practice safe, but you are the only one who can judge what your body needs in the given moment. So, go ahead and rock out a handstand on the way to chaturanga or take your savasana a half an hour early, as long as you are working from a place of authenticity rather than from your ego - your body will thank you for it.
Light and Love.
Monday gets a tough rap. Usually for a good reason, it's the end of the weekend and the start to, for many of us, an arduous week ahead.
After a long day of teaching and riding my bicycle around town this is the one pose that can bring me back to life. Viparita Karani "legs up the wall pose." A very fitting Monday practice me thinks.
(Sorry for the less than amazing picture... I'm working on it...)
If you have been in my classes you probably know by now that this is by far my favorite restorative pose because... it's just AWESOME! It provides all of the benefits of an inversion such as head stand or shoulder stand with much fewer risks. For the full info on this pose check out the Yoga Journal page.
This pose can also be done laying in front of your couch with your knees bent over the edge, talk about ease! For maximum stress relieving benefits, hold the pose for 3-5 minutes.
Or until your cat decides it's time for you to pay attention to them... (my cat, Apollo, kindly demos).
Yoga Teacher based in Boston, MA. Teacher of Yoga Teachers. Committed to teaching anatomical, alignment & action based yoga asana that is rooted in mindfulness, skillfulness, & specificity.