Now is the Practice of Yoga

A couple weeks ago, I felt pulled to my copy of Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary of The Yoga Sutras. Specifically, the first Sutra (1.1) of the entire collection, “Atha Yoganusasanam.” I had been introduced to this Sutra during my 200 hour yoga teacher training, and reintroduced when I attended a workshop series discussing the Sutras, but it didn’t really mean all that much to me.

Maybe it was because in my yoga teacher training we, the trainees, we’re given the translation, “Now is the practice of Yoga.” My thought was, “Well, yeah. We were practicing yoga because we were at yoga teacher training. Duh.” Not much discussion was offered on this, instead we went to the next topic without obtaining much depth.

Or maybe it is because Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of “Atha Yoganusasanam,” is, “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” Satchidananda explains this as, “Anusasanam means exposition or instruction because it is not mere philosophy that Patanjali is about to expound, but rather direct instruction on how to practice Yoga. Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, page 3) Each time I read this I was like, “Neat,” and simply went on.  The thing is, though, the first Sutra of each book is the most important, and the first Sutra of the entire collection is the most important of them all. If I am a Yoga teacher, and I’m not connecting to this first Sutra, then how can I share any kind of depth with my students?

So I started to wade into the muddy water. As I kept coming to this Sutra and looking at Sri Swami Satchidananda’s words, the notes from the Sutras workshop, and other interpretations of this Sutra I started to feel like the water might be come clear at some point, but I still had some wading to do before I would be able see to the bottom of this pond.

One day as I was driving to teach a class I had a thought about the word, “Atha,” which translates to, “Now.” Now is defined as the present time or moment. I feel most people, including myself sometimes, think of Now as a finite concept, like an appointment. However, Yoga is repeatedly said to be a continuous practice because it is done, both, on and off the mat. If Yoga is to be practiced constantly, then it must be practiced throughout every moment. What if “Now” was replaced with “every moment?” That would make it, “Every moment is the practice of Yoga.”

When I made that small, yet profound, switch of verbiage in my interpretation I felt a bit more clarity, but still needed more to really understand. This was the catalyst that caused me to return to my notes from the Yoga Sutras workshop I had taken. The instructor, who had been a student of Satchidananda’s, had broken down a couple more Sanskrit elements.

“Yoga” means to “union,” “to yoke,” or ,”join.” (If you’ve taken any number of Yoga classes you’ve probably heard a teacher use that translation before, but usually referring to the union of breath and movement or breath, body, and mind. I’ve heard it countless times. I’ve even used it in some of my first classes as a teacher.) The next phrase she described was “Anu.” “Anu” is “little moments where you see the most vastness.” These little moments occur when we feel connected to our higher Self, when everything feels aligned and right. That everything is as it should be.

When these new elements are added to the Sutra, the result is, “Every moment is the practice of joining with your higher Self.”

In each moment of our lives, we are trying to attain this state of bliss or enlightenment. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, Yoga is a continuous practice. Yoga isn’t something that just happens on your mat. It happens at work, the grocery store, the park, in the middle of standstill traffic. Every waking moment the practice of Yoga is happening. And with each new moment comes a new chance for this union with your higher Self to occur.

Atha Yoganusasanam.

Now is the practice of Yoga.

Have You Grounded Today?

The word “ground” is used a whole freakin’ lot in yoga classes. “Ground through your back heel.” “Ground into the earth.” “Ground within yourself.” Sometimes we, yoga teachers, will switch “ground” for “root.” What the heck does “ground” even mean? Why are we grounding so much in classes?

Ground, typically, means two things; 1) to physically connect with the earth/ground and 2) to draw inward. There’s some kind of connection with the ground in every yoga posture. Generally, teachers give alignment cues from the ground up in an effort  of Creating a study foundation. This not only brings physical stability to the body, but it also creates a feeling of being centered, or stable psychologically.

What got me thinking about this idea of grounding was some reading I did. In Yoga of the Subtle Body, by Tias Little, the entire first chapter is about the foot. Why? Because as bipedal beings our feet are our foundations, the feet are usually what gets us from Point A to Point B, and our feet are what’s used the most to connect us to the floor/earth/ground. As I was reading the description of the anatomy of the foot, stretching the plantar fascia, standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and how if there is a misalignment in the feet the rest of the structure can be thrown off causing pain and discomfort in other parts of the body I started to ask some questions.

Do people feel less grounded mentally and emotionally because there is less physical grounding? What would happen in people were barefoot more often? How would that effect them both, physically and psychologically?

The next time you are in a yoga class, weight lifting, running, walking, sitting at your desk, etc. try to 1) take time to actually ground/root into whatever your feet are touching and 2) notice if by taking the time to physically ground do you feel more mentally grounded.

I think there is so much more that can be discussed on this subject, and maybe one day I’ll revisit this, but I think for today we’ll stop there.

Self-Care Sunday, Episode 2: Bath Time

Bathing dates back to Ancient Greece and has been practiced by many cultures. Bathing can be done for hygiene, therapeutic, and religious purposes. I want to focus on the therapeutic aspect of bathing. While bathing can help with the rehabilitation of an injury, many people bathe for relaxation.

Bathing, aka soaking, is one of my personal favorite methods of self-care. For me it’s a great time to be with myself and my thoughts. It also relieves physical pain. I was diagnosed with my first knee issue shortly before I turned 11, and the conditions piled up for years. I’ve had surgery to partially remove a tumor from my right knee, several bouts of bursitis, Osgood Schlatter Disease, and Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome aka Runner’s Knee. At one point, if I remember correctly it was when I diagnosed with Runner’s Knee, the doctor told me I should NEVER use stairs again. I was about 16 years old. To say the least, I’ve struggled with knee pain for about 18 years. It comes and goes. But I find when the pain is particularly uncomfortable a hot bath helps me find relief.

Isn’t soaking just sitting in a tub of water?

Well, put like that is sounds pretty lame. True, sitting in a tub of water with lights blazing can be pretty underwhelming, so while the tub is filling set the mood. Create some ambiance by dimming the lights or lighting a candle or two. Decide if you’d like music or not, and if so, what type of music. My musical choice varies depending on my mood. I’ll listen to anything from instrumental to Birdy to East Forest to Def Leppard. Listen to whatever is appealing in the moment. Then it’s time to decide if you want to add anything to the tub; Epsom salt, essential oils, bubbles, bath bomb, bath salt (not the synthetic kind that make people zombie-like). This, too, depends on my mood, but I’m partial to tub tea. Tub tea is a mixture that steeps in the water as a person soaks. The different elements of the mixture offer different benefits, some physical and some aromatic. I’m currently using a Chamomile Calendula Tub Tea mixture. The recipe can be found at the bottom of the post.

What are some benefits of bathing?

Soaking in a tub of water can do the following:

  • Increased blood circulation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • General relaxation
  • Improved sleep
  • It’s been reported that soaking can help with Diabetes by reducing levels of glucose and sugar in the blood
  • Steam from the hot water can help reduce mucus and clear nasal passages
  • Relieve pressure on joints

These are just a handful of benefits. If you don’t have a tub, don’t worry. You can still take get some of these benefits from a hot shower. While there are some limitations with showering, you can use salt or sugar scrubs to exfoliate skin. For aromatherapy you can hang a bundle eucalyptus stems from the shower head. The steam from the water will help to release oil from the eucalyptus leaves.

Chamomile Calendula Tub Tea

Attunement

Attuning is defined as making aware, or making harmonious or balanced. As children, everyone is connected so closely to their inner Self. They are attuned to their body and mind. Some say babies are connected to the Divine or Universe or Supreme Consciousness. But as babies get older the connection to this inner knowledge slowly breaks down. Maybe this is because as the child gets older other parts of the brain develop, like the neocortex, or maybe it’s because children are taught by caregivers and society to ignore messages from their body and mind.

Something I notice, as a yoga teacher, is this lack of attunement. As students enter the room I like to check  in with them by asking how they are feeling (mental/emotional check in) and how their body is feeling (physical check in). The answer I get most often when I ask how someone is feeling is “Good.” Sometimes that is how the person is feeling. They’ve had a “good” day, but more often than not it’s just an automatic response. The majority of time when I inquire about their body I get an answer like, “My shoulder/low back hurts, but I’ll deal with it.” Another thing that has been slowly increasing during classes is the checking of smartwatches. People are so driven to be connected with external sources that they will sacrifice another person’s chance to draw inward.

In my classes, I’ve been encouraging students to tune in with themselves multiple times during their practice. There’s the initial tuning in, then a couple-few times after movement, and a final moment at the end of class. I’ve been doing this because our physical, mental, and emotional states are in a constant state of ebb and flow. There’s not one feeling throughout a single day, and if something does go wrong we have the choice to continue focusing on it even if the issue has been resolved or to move on to the next feeling.

In addition to asking students how they feel, after they’ve checked in a few times I’ve asked them to notice if they need to change something to honor what is happening — do they need a break, do they need a sip of water, do they need to reconnect with their breath, etc.

I challenge you to skip checking Facebook a handful of times today and instead check yourself. Ask yourself the general attunement question, “How do I feel right now; pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?” At each check in notice if your answer changed from the previous check in(s). Maybe the first few times you ask this question you don’t know the answer. That’s okay. Like with most things in life and yoga, it might take time. Be kind and patient as you begin to relearn your body and mind’s language. Once you are able to tune in with how you are feeling maybe you can become aware of what change(s) may or may not need to be made.

Give it a try, and if you want feel free to leave a comment with your observations.

Coffee, Accessibility, Bali, and Connection

Beachbody-Blog-Pumpkin-Spice-Latte

Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my lovely friends for coffee. She’s also a yoga teacher. A little about my friend, she teaches weekly classes at a couple of studios, goes into a local prison to teach inmates, teaches life skills and yoga classes with inmates about to be released, and teaches yoga at a shelter for women recovering from violence, addiction, and sexual exploitation. She is one of my favorite people, and it had been a month since we’d seen each other.  So much had happened in a matter of four weeks. Time to connect was definitely needed!

As we sit down, we’re both so excited about what the other has going on in their lives. I’ve been diving deeper into my passion of body positivity, inclusivity, and accessibility of yoga. She’s been traveling. First a yoga retreat in Aruba then a trip to Mexico with friends, and soon…Bali.

We go back and forth between our desires, dreams, goals, etc. She’s decided to ask herself if she could do anything without having to worry about anyone or anything else what would that be. She wants to immerse herself into her study of yoga so she can go further into her teaching. She’s found, what sounds to be, an amazing school in Bali that aligns so much with who she is. She’s also allowing herself to be open to possibility. While she has a ticket back to the States, she might take some extra time to travel to neighboring countries before returning home. But only time will tell. A hope of hers is to apply new teachings and a new understanding of herself to her work serving the under-served.

I, on the other hand, am staying put. I’ve recently completed a training called Yoga for All, in which I learned how to teach open-minded classes that are accessible to students of all body sizes, shapes, types, and abilities. In the near future, I am hoping to offer a workshop focusing on body image and yoga. As part of my teaching philosophy, I wholeheartedly believe every single person who wants to have a yoga practice can have a one, regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, size, shape, income, and whatever else. Unfortunately, yoga is quite exclusive, but I’m hoping to add my voice to choir of those fighting for inclusivity.

Although, her path and mine appear to be quite different from the outside, I really don’t think they are. I think our end game is the same. What I see is two teachers looking to create deeper connections with themselves so they can connect more fully with others, especially those who are “unseen.” I’m going to miss my friend so much while she’s gone, but I am so excited for the moment when our paths will cross again and we get to reconnect…hopefully, with coffee.