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.

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Please, don’t.

*Around 2 a.m. one night I was struggling to sleep. The following is what came from my mind at that time.*

Please, don’t say you need to work on your beach body.

Please, don’t say, “I need to lose another 5 pounds.”

Please, don’t tear yourself down because you “failed” at or skipped your regular workout.

Please, don’t be mad at yourself for eating a cupcake or two and promise you’ll do better.

Please, don’t dismiss the messages your body is sending you.

Please, don’t disregard your emotions.

Please, don’t fall prey to beauty industry lies.

Please, don’t believe you are unworthy or broken.

Please, don’t stop wishing on stars.

Please, don’t forget you are made of stardust and contain all the magic you will ever need inside you.

Please. Don’t.

Good Vibes Only: A Practice of Spiritual Bypassing

It’s easy for me to get Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” stuck in my head come across the phrase, “Good vibes only.” However, I’m pretty sure the good vibes they sang about are different than the good vibes being expressed in this phrase.

What I get from this trendy expression is that good equals positive, and positive energy is the only thing acceptable to put out and to surround oneself with. Negativity should be avoided because negative vibes are bad. I find this to a very flawed way of thinking and experiencing life.

The pursuit of “good vibes only” is a form of spiritual bypassing. It is an avoidance tactic by using spiritual ideas to justify why someone is not facing issues. The Universe and life doesn’t always offer up what most people would consider positive. We’re not always given things that make us happy or content or joyful in every moment. Sometimes the Universe provides us with some really uncomfortable situations of negativity. Allowing yourself the opportunities to feel, observe, and analyze negative feelings and to visit your darkness or shadowside can bring about positive change through transmutation. You’re taking the energy in the negative situation or experience and changing it to something positive. Within this process of change growth and positive energy or vibrations are created.

If you are only seeking “good vibes” or positivity in your life experience, you are most likely masking negativity and pretending it is something it is not, or most likely, figuratively, burying “bad” feelings or thoughts. When these things are not dealt with they cause people to experience dis-ease, which may transform into disease because your body and mind are imprinted with your experiences. You also are vulnerable to having all of what you are avoiding bubble over and overwhelm you, and if you have not being practicing stepping into the darkness and gathering the tools to help you in those situations it can be quite scary when that overwhelming and sudden take over happens.

While I believe everyone wants to be happy and live a life filled with content, it is important to remember there is always some dark in the light and light in the dark. You can’t have just “positivity” in your life. There is always going to be some “negativity,” but you have the ability to morph what you might see as negative into something positive. This alteration is not always easy. It might mean that you have to give up something you’ve been holding on to for far too long out of fear, but the growth gained from that experience is what makes that experience so valuable in the end.

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.

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.

How to Balance & Manage Your Energy

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Balance is something everyone strives for. In Yoga the concept of energy management or balancing energy is the Yama known as Brahmacharya. Older texts will describe this as continence or celibacy and relate it to sexual energy. Modern texts speak to this concept as the right use of energy or the prioritization of energy. That’s what this post will be speaking to because there are so many things that effect energy.

Humans are no longer tied to the rise and fall of the sun. We can make our spaces as bright or as dark as we want whenever we want. We can wake up and go to sleep at any time. Our work days are no longer determined by how much light is available. The options for activity are endless.

If you are noticing your energy feels off, but not sure why, and looking to create balance in your life, consider the following.

Contemplate how you actually use and direct your energy.

Sit down and actually think about where you are spending your energy. Think on the macro scale so things like work, commuting, relationships, etc. Make a pie chart if you need a visual. Notice the different things you are directing your energy toward. Which of them are external desires, things that are awesome at the time, but are ultimately fleeing? Which of them are internal desires, things that help cultivate peace and happiness within you? How can you redirect some of your energy from external desires to internal desires?

Listen to your body and mind.

Everyone has intuition, but a major problem is we’ve been taught to ignore it. The body will tell you many things if you’ll only listen. Some days the body might request intense movement like a power yoga class or 5 mile run. Other days it might be needing something gentler like yin or restorative yoga or a walk through the park. Think about this in terms of food as well. Have you ever ignored your body’s messages that is was full and kept eating? Or what about messages that it’s hungry? Do you ever eat anything that in the moment is amazing, but later it feels like a brick in your stomach, your abdomen is painfully bloated, and the mind is foggy? Do you ever consume food that is delicious in the moment and continues to not only fuel your body, but also makes the body and mind feel healthy?

Review your calendar.

Sometimes a full calendar is not the best thing. Become aware of daily activities that are draining your energy. Ask yourself if you can change or cancel some of these things, and in place schedule time for yourself. Do you need to binge Netflix late into each night? What if you watched one less episode and got more sleep? It’s okay to give yourself a moment or two to slow down, catch your breath, rest, and find some peace.

How do you know when your energy is being depleted? How does your body feel? What about your mind? In what ways do you manage your energy?

Nourishment for the Heart and Soul

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At the moment I am participating in an online course called Manifest: A Corse About Standing in Your Power hosted by Amber Karnes of Body Positive Yoga and Kelley Carboni-Woods, author of Manifest: 30 Days of Intentional Mantras. The course is a practice of self-exploration to build trust with ones self and stand in ones power. Each week we are given two mantras for reflection and two asana practices that correspond with each mantra.

The first mantra of Manifest was, “I nourish myself with the best.” Typically, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about nourishment is food. The body derives nutrients from the food and drink consumed to help it function and sustain life. But what comes to mind if you look beyond what you eat? We nourish ourselves with quality of the media we choose, the music we listen to, the activities we participate in, and the people we interact with. Personally, I find nourishment through reading, creating art, moving my body, taking naps, snuggling my dogs, and spending quality time with my boyfriend. However, I think nourishment goes even further than just what we take in. I think it also involves what is released.

Think about the thoughts, events, people, feelings, etc. that you might continue to harbor negativity toward. Are you someone who holds a grudge? I certainly was. Are you someone who revisits some past event and replays it differently in your head so there is a different outcome? Again, I was. What does holding on to all of that do for you, especially if it is something that happened years ago? Holding on to all of the negativity not only gives that person/event/thought/feeling power and control over you, but it takes up space that could be used for something else, something more positive and productive. Lessons can be learned and growth can be produced from certain situations, but once that has happened let the negative go. Granted that is easier said than done in many cases and can take a long time to happen. Keep in mind it doesn’t mean you have to forgive and forget.

I held a lot of anger toward someone for many years. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized it didn’t serve me to be angry. It wasn’t going to change the past, and it drained my energy, which took away from the important things in my life. While I may not have necessarily forgiven this person, I have been able to release my anger toward them. This has allowed me to see some of the growth this person has gone through, as well as see this person as an actual person.

Allowing the negative to be released clears up space for you to take in nourishment from the things that light up your soul. It allows you to give energy to the things you enjoy, rather than to the things that bring you discomfort, pain, heartache. Offer yourself the best quality nourishment you can because you deserve it. You deserve to be filled with positivity. For it’s this positive energy that allows us to share the best parts of ourselves with the world.

Do you agree with the idea that nourishment can come from letting something go? In what ways, do you find provide yourself the best nourishment? If you are holding on to something negative, will you consider or work toward letting it go?

“A pose isn’t supposed to look like anything.”

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At least once a week, a student will either say to me before class something about being very sore or having an injury and following that statement with something like, “So please don’t be upset if I don’t do some things or change things,” or a student will come up to me after class and apologize for not doing everything I offered or for modifying postures. I usually follow these statements by asking them why should I be mad about them listening to their body. As a yoga teacher, I love when students know their limits and respect their bodies, whatever that looks like in that moment.

There’s this idea about students having to mimic a teacher exactly or doing every single posture given, and I say (warning adult language) a big, “Fuck that,” to this concept. As a child I developed knee issues shortly before I turned 11 years old. It started with an osteochondroma, a benign tumor on the growth plate of my right knee, then several boughts of bursitis, Osgood-Schlatter Disease, and Runner’s Knee. I also suffered a break of the talus bone in my right ankle at the end of my freshman year in high school. I was lucky to have a dance teacher who taught me to listen to my body, and at times who made me take breaks or would change choreography because I was stubborn and would ignore what my body’s demands to take it easier. She taught me, maybe unknowingly, that poses and movements can be tailored to suit the body performing said poses and movements. For me, I believe there is not a single perfect pose that everyone needs to strive toward. Instead, I believe each individual body has a perfect pose for each individual moment.

One day I had experienced a student talking poorly of their practice. I had commented how I love to watch her practice, and she immediately replied trying to be tongue in cheek with, “Because it’s so lazy?” I was taken aback. No, her practice was wonderful because she listened. She modified. She moved with ease. She took breaks when she needed them. A day or two after that encounter I found myself reading How Yoga Works by Michael Roach, when I came across a paragraph that helped affirm my belief.

It was during an exchange between Friday, a female traveler who was jailed and acting as the local yoga teacher, and the small son of the jail’s sergeant, Ajit. Friday wants Ajit to teach the other boys that day. Ajit agrees saying he’d teach the boys giving and taking, breathing, etc., then get Friday when it’s time for the poses. Friday makes it clear she wants Ajit to teach everything, including the poses. Ajit quickly says he can’t because he has a crippled leg and can’t do the poses perfectly himself. Friday is quick to reprimand him, gently.

“I took his scarred cheek in my palm, and he let me, innocently — did he know it already looked better? ‘There’s something you have to understand, Ajit. It’s very simple and very true. A pose isn’t supposed to look like anythingNobody can do a pose so it looks perfect. A pose is perfect only when you are doing the very best you can –gazing steadily, breathing sweetly, and thinking of how it will help someone else. And I watch you every day, doing lots of these perfect poses. And that’s the kind of poses I want our wonderful boys to learn.'”(How Yoga Works)

If you are planning on apologizing to me or any other instructor, then stop and ask yourself the following questions first. Did you breathe consciously, sweetly, actively? Did you focus and use your drishti? Did you think of how this might help someone else? Did you do your best in that moment? If so, then you have nothing to apologize for. If not, you still don’t need to apologize to me. Take a breath, release judgement, and move on.

Studio Etiquette? What’s That?

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Maybe it’s because I’m leading a workshop designed for beginning yogis or maybe the Universe is just trying my teacher patience, but etiquette, sometimes lack thereof, has been showing up a lot lately in quite a few of my studio classes. As a yoga teacher, I try to provide a safe, supportive, and respectful space for students to practice in.

For anyone new to yoga or new to practicing in a studio here are some things to be conscious and aware of in class. For anyone currently practicing at a studio this is your friendly, not-so-subtle reminder about respecting the yoga space, your practice, and the practice of others in the room. Keep in mind each studio has its own culture. Therefore some of these may not apply or they might have even more rules for etiquette.

  1. Be in the room at the scheduled start time for class. Or better yet, be in the room early!
    • Getting to class early allows you time to actually set up your space and settle yourself before class begins. Sometimes things happen, like traffic, and it’s difficult to get to class early. If that’s the class try to be in the practice room at the time class is scheduled to start. The instructor can always give announcements while you are getting settled. Another tip is to call the studio if you are running late. In some cases, the instructor can set up a spot (mat and props) for you so all you have to do is quickly come in while they are giving announcements.
    • Entering the practice space after class has started causes a few issues. First, it’s distracting for everyone involved. There is no possible way for this to not distract the other students and the teacher. It’s like trying to open a potato chip bag in a quiet room. Second, if the class has already gone through their warm up you are putting yourself at risk of becoming injured because you have not given yourself ample time to warm up. Third, depending on the class type or size there’s a possibility of getting kicked in the face or accidentally knocking into someone potentially causing harm to you, someone else, or both.
  2. Avoid flopping your mat down.
    • Other students are trying to get settled and center before class. When someone drops or flops their mat on the floor it creates an unnecessary distraction and throws off other students’ peace of mind.
  3. Unvelcro your mat strap before entering the room.
    • Similar to #2. Try to create as little noise as possible when getting yourself set up for class. For some people this class might be their only quiet time or personal time that day or week. Be respectful of that concept.
  4. If it isn’t yoga related, then don’t bring it in the room.
    • This includes cell phones. Personally, I prefer when students leave watches, fitness trackers, and smart watches outside the room, as well. Part of practicing yoga is removing distractions. How can you have a distraction-free practice if you are worried your phone might go off in class or when you are texting on your smart watch during Savasana?
  5. NO shoes in the room!
    • Do not wear your shoes into the practice space. Depending on the flooring in the studio, shoes can actually mess up the floor. It creates an unhygienic practice area. Keep in mind hands, feet, and faces all end up near or against the floor at some point. Studios work incredibly hard to keep the practice space floors clean to make sure students stay healthy. I know this can be hard at smaller studios. Believe me. I’ve practiced at a studio where you open the door and you are in the practice space and cubbies were all the way across the room in a separate space. Take your shoes off the moment you walk in and carry them to the cubbies. Easy peasy.
    • The only time it is acceptable to wear shoes into the room is if you have a medical condition, i.e. plantar fasciitis. In that case, bring a second pair of shoes to class that is dedicated only to being worn in the studio – something that is never worn outside or anywhere else.
  6. If you think you will be tempted to talk to your neighbor during class, then place your mat elsewhere.
    • Sometimes friends, colleagues, or partners will go to class together. I know it’s tempting to talk during class, especially the first class, because it’s something new and weird, and nervousness is pouring from you and it’s manifesting in an urge to talk. But please don’t do it. In fact, just put your mat somewhere away from your buddy if you think either of you will be tempted to talk.
  7. Do NOT place your hands on another student!
    • You’ve convinced your partner to come try yoga. You get everything set up while your partner is filling out their liability waiver or changing in the locker room. Class starts. Everything is going peachy, then the first Downward Facing Dog arrives and you decide to get off your mat and “adjust” your partner. (Yes, this has happened in a class before.) As a teacher, this is the fastest way for me to go from being nice to flames in my eyes and smoke coming out of my ears. DO. NOT. TOUCH. SOMEONE. ELSE. You are responsible for you. Unless you attending an integrated accessible yoga class as someone’s caretaker and are being employed to assist them through the class then DO NOT PLACE YOUR HANDS ON ANOTHER PERSON! Don’t do it. Ever. I’m sure your intentions are good, but forcing someone’s body into a shape it’s not used to making is a great way for them to get injured. If you think you might be tempted to touch them, then see the suggestion in #6 – put your mat elsewhere.
  8. Stay the entire time.
    • Please, please, please stay the entire time. Savasana (Corpse Pose) is essential to the practice. It allows students to practice letting go of the grasp on thoughts and observe them entering and exiting the mind as they please. If you aren’t quite ready to practice thought control, then think of it like a cool down for any other physical activity. It lets the body calm and relax and the practice integrate with the body. This allows the body to reap maximum benefits and decrease the risk of injury.

This list and my thoughts might seem a little harsh, but these are all things I’ve experienced as a teacher and as a student. These are things I’ve had students complain about or wish would be practiced more often. The studio space may be just a workout space for some, and that’s fine, but the studio space is also a sacred space for others. No matter your reason for coming to a studio, please respect the space and the people you share it with.

If you practice at a studio, what are some other guidelines you wish others would respect? Do you try to practice all of those listed above? Maybe you are someone who unconsciously does one of the things listed about, would you be willing to make a conscious effort to do something different? Leave you comments or insights!

Coffee, Accessibility, Bali, and Connection

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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.