Friday, December 28, 2012

New Years Resolution

Here comes the new year again. I, as a list maker, have already planned out my year financially (even though I understand that we make plans and god laughs) and have begun to create intentions for the upcoming year. I have decided to work on being more positive.

I have been inspired by Baba Hari Dass. He writes:

"Life is not a burden; we make it a burden... We don't accept life as it is. That's why it becomes a burden...We can only do one thing, and that is to keep our mind positive in the present."

So I pledge to:
  1. Be more positive about my work life 
  2. Live in the present with my relationships and be happy with what I have
  3. Share this idea with others


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's the Holiday Season

I find that the holiday season can be the hardest time of year to let go of attachment. It is easy to compare your holiday to years past and live in a place of disappointment or resentment.

My partner and I have had a hard time as both of us are from aging families who pair off into groups of parents and children. He has a particularly difficult time as his mother was the person who made Christmas wonderful for him. Now he no longer has her and others are also missing from our holidays for one reason or another.

As a "nontraditional" family (whatever that means) we realized that we have to create our own traditions. We can no longer define our holidays by what they used to be. We decided to begin our own holiday traditions at home and take a moment to remember those who we loved while still remembering to enjoy our time together.

It is this time of year that I remember a writing from Adyashanti - he says that winter is a time for a stripping away, like leaves from a tree. Unlike trees, human beings tend to hold on to our "leaves" in the form of ideals, pain, and I would even venture to say that we cling to our past traditions in an effort to keep everything the same.

I feel a little freer knowing that I have moved on to something new - something that helps me focus on love, the present, and my life and practice today.

Namaste and love to everyone!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Patterning of Conciousness

A new interest of mine has been looking at different translations of the yoga sutras. I can then take those new or differing ideas and apply them in my own practice. One differing translation that I love is from a translation by Chip Hartranft (free copy @ Hartranft's translation of sutra 1.2 is "yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness." I particularly like this translation as it differs greatly from others that often replace the word "consciousness" with the word "thought". This could then lead the reader to believe that yoga is to still thought - which I believe is not the intent of this sutra.

In my mind, the meaning of "the patterning of conciousness" means gaining a greater understanding of the self. The mind is trained to bring the person back to their patterns -whether they be right or wrong. Yoga is intended to pull those patterns into conciousness. This includes your physical practice as well as your attitudes, actions, movement, breath, and more.

When you take yoga classes and begin to create your own practice, you get to know your patterns and tendencies. For example, I know that I have difficulty fully extending my spine in forward bends. Through yoga, I then learn to come into poses slowly, with integrity, to keep the spine lengthening fully - even if it is difficult.

What I learn on the mat is also applicable outside off the mat. For example, if I know I comfort myself with eating - I can draw this to my attention and learn to bring that pattern into consciousness. From there, I can hopefully make better decisions. 

Through yoga we bring ethical matters to our attention. Our body, breath, mind, and concentration all come into consciousness (or at least move toward consciousness). 

Thank you for reading. If you are interested in staying up to date with my blog, enter your email address into the appropriate place at the top right hand corner of the page.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Revisiting the Meaning of Ahimsa

On my way to work I had that moment I have successfully avoided for a few years (ok, weeks). ROAD RAGE! I was on the highway traveling the same speed as the rest of the lane, when a driver came up very close to my rear bumper. So, I lightly tapped on the breaks to ask the driver to back away from my car a bit. (Tailgating is not only illegal in Connecticut, but is also fairly dangerous). The driver proceded to motion with her hands. I got a bit upset, which I feel I am perfectly entitled to be. The driver was not only potentially putting themself in danger, but was also potentially endangering others.

What I am not so proud of was what happened next. The thing that happened in my own head. I started rushing through a list of what ifs. What if I was hit? What would I say to the driver if they hit me? And it got really ugly. In my mind I was threatening physical harm, for tailgating. For tailgating.

Ahimsa is an ethical principle of yoga - nonviolence in word, thought, and deed. I work really hard at keeping this promise with myself in word and deed - to the degree that I do not eat meat or swat flies. I do on occasion, however, get a little violent in my head. The brain is wired to do crazy things - and for me is the hardest to control. How does one not be violent in thought if they cannot control the brain?

I am hoping that writing this posting will be helpful to me. Creating awareness, acknowledging my thoughts without guilt - allowing myself to be in touch with my thoughts to possibly curb the fruition of them in the future.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Just Hit the Mat - 5 Methods to Spice Up Your Practice

I have been trying to fit in more asana practice, but hit a short dry spell. My cure? Hitting the mat. Once I get there, it typically comes naturally. But there are times when I need a little extra boost. So here are my 5 favorite ways to keep my asana practice fresh:

  1. Change Your Pose - modify common poses. For standing poses, try modifying the placement of your limbs: place the back heel on the wall, take the front toes up the wall or take the toe mounds of the front foot up the wall, press your bent knee onto a foam block at the wall. You can also change the placement of your arms - take triangle pose with your arms reaching parallell to the floor, take your warrior poses in reverse namaste. Prop your back bends and forward bends.

  2. Hold for Longer - Try holding poses for longer. Instead of doing 10 poses, do five for twice as long. Time your headstands and shoulder stands and try doing them for 30 seconds to a minute longer next time you practice.

  3. Break Out the Chair - Yoga chairs are such wonderful tools. Don't have a yoga chair? No worries. Grab a regular folding chair. Experiment with poses using the chair. Support your standing poses, back bends, forward bends, twists. You will be surprised at the results.

  4. Do Inversions First - Many of us save our inversions until the end of our practice. Try placing the inversions at the beginning of the sequence for a more internal practice.

  5. Challenge Pose - Open up light on yoga and find a pose that looks crazy. Create a sequence that can build you up to it. Take your time. Create a new goal. You may not get to that pose today, next week, or even for years. Who cares? You created a new goal and got excited about something new.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Circular Breathing

I have been taking a new class and this new experience has taught me a few things about myself. Although I have allowed myself to calm down a bit, it is usually on my own terms. Learning to be comfortable, calm, and relaxed in new situations feels like a new test, one that I am embracing wholeheartedly. The first big test for me is what the teacher calls circular breathing. This is basically breathing normally, but taking out the natural short pauses after the inhale and after the exhale. So the practitioner is always either inhaling or exhaling - no breaks.

At first, this breathing technique made me a bit panicky. I always dive deeply into the pause, finding comfort and quiet in the pause. I don't necessarily hold the pause for any longer, but I like the silence and quiet that comes in the pause. (try it sometime!!) So when the teacher said that this type of breath was relaxing, I was shocked. Relaxing? I feel panicked!

Then I asked myself, "is the technique making me panic, or am I making me panic?" That is when a door opened up. I started to observe myself. What was causing these emotions? Is there something I am doing that is making me feel this way? Is there something else going on?

Well, after some observation, I realized what I was looking for. Because I took out the pause after the inhale, I was rushing to get to the exhale, causing me to speed up the exhale. And also speeding up the inhale after my exhale. My heart was then beating a bit faster, making my body curious about what was going on. My breath was making my subconscious think there was something wrong. It went into panic on its own - as it traditionally would in such a situation.

It just goes to show that Pranayama is a very conscious practice. We have to always ask questions of our self - pinpoint what we are feeling and why. And also allow ourselves to stay with that feeling to understand what and why. My first response was to blame and judge the technique, when in fact it was me that I needed to look at.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Getting Older

So I just celebrated a birthday. This birthday does not end in a "0" or a "5". For this reason, I found myself saying, "this is not a major mile stone." "It is not a big deal." And even though it was not "a big deal," I found myself sort of down about it. It feels like a big deal. I am another 365 days older. After some investigation, I think I am ready to move on and feel good about this change in my life.

I have determined that every year is a major milestone. Last year, I celebrated my 30th birthday. A big year, a special year. But what makes 30 more special than 31?! Every year we have is special, every day we have is special. And every year, day, and moment should be treated as such.

What smacked me into reality was a short discussion I had with an older man. He asked me how old I was. I didn't realize, until after I said it, that I sort of grumbled my way through the statement of my age. As though 31 was a death sentence. He then told me that if I was feeling old now - wait until I feel what 70 feels like.

I said, "I am looking forward to it." And I am. Not because I don't have a choice (I obviously can't look back at it), but because I wonder what I will be like. What will happen to me in the next 39 years - what will shape who I become. I have many new moments ahead of me. I might as well enjoy them, be ok with them, be sad about some, be happy with some, and be overjoyed by some as they come.

What does all of this have to do with yoga? Well, I feel like I reached a crossroad. I crossed a certain line in my life. I found myself clinging to that line, not ready to cross it. Clinging to something: my age, my past... It made me think of the Kleshas - specifically abhiniveśāḥ (fear of death or clinging to life). I have been so down about getting older - is this a fear of death? Of getting older? Am I ignorantly holding onto my life?

This has made me start to think about the way I am spending it. It is time to take things slower - and do more things for me, my spiritual life, and practice. Be with my moment now.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Coming Out of Stagnation

Because of traffic this evening, I could not attend a regular class I like to attend. So, I decided to attend a class at a studio that is closer to home. I have been meaning to try this studio for a long time. I could not make it to the basic class, but there was an advanced class afterward. I had this feeling that the instructor would not be excited about a new student taking an advanced class - and I was right. The teacher did not want me in that class, but pulled me into the end of the basic class. I was so glad that he did.

Immediately, the teacher began to call me out on my little habits. Press down the back heel, activate the side of the foot, extend fully. Funny enough, that 20 minutes really woke me up. I got back home and jumped right into my normal practice, moving quickly in and out of poses. Then it struck me - I am doing it again! I was not even working with the corrections I had just gotten.

Then there was the wake up - take some time with it. Feel it. Sure enough, feeling the poses, taking time, and really trying to fully activate my legs and arms, extending, etc, fully woke me up. I have unconsciously let go of feeling in the poses - really feeling the extension and the full amount of sensation - I have been backing away. I tell my students not to do that all of the time!! What an incredible wake up call. Wow!

The poses in full extension not only provided feeling in the pose, but I walked away from the mat with a much broader open outlook. I was excited to do things, get active, and do some things on my list that I have been putting off. I say in my classes that what we learn on the matt we can take to our life off of the mat. I am glad I got the chance to see it again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Back to Work - What I Learned While I Was Away

So, I just returned from my vacation -  a week away from my full time job. I feel truly blessed to have had the experiences I had. I caught up with old friends, tried new things in my yoga teaching (I still did that on my "week off"), made some important life decisions, and got some much needed rest. One of the best things that came out of my week is a renewed interest in my Pranayama practice.

What stirred this new interest was my two days in New York City. I attended 4 classes at the Iyengar institute. This was week four of the month, so all of the classes I attended were restorative/pranayama classes. What I really enjoyed about these classes was the level of exploration and curiosity that the teachers brought to pranayama. Looking at breath in all of the poses, the feelings, sensations, and overall interest and focus they brought inspired me as a practitioner and teacher. I am realizing (again), that even though I have been practicing for some time, I need to look at my practice as a beginner again. Go back to examining my practice with a beginner's mind. Everything should be new each time, entering the pose with new examination and thought.

It is this type of exploration that will benefit my students when they attend my classes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Short Time of Silence

I took this week off for my birthday (Monday was my birthday, 31!). Part of my week off extravaganza is a trip to NYC. My plan was to go with a few folks and take some classes at the Iyengar Center.

After some deep thinking, I decided to go alone and have some quiet time with myself. Ok, maybe NYC is not the most quiet place. Quiet can be found anywhere - or at least that is what I am trying over the next few days.

I am writing this post on the train. I have managed to make it through the first half of the day with only a few thank yous and an "I love you" to my partner. I have to say it feels sweet - a steady quiet, where the only words will be words of kindness (and my direct needs - food, class, bed).

I recently read another blog post about silent time with yourself. This is something that I have been working with over the past year and a half. At one point, quiet was very difficult for me.

A business trip to Boston helped me to realize my difficulty with quiet time. I decided to eat dinner by myself and read a book. It might sound funny, but it was so exhausting that I got back to my room and passed out. It was only 7 PM! I had never felt so spent.

Since then, I have tried to cut some noise out of my life. I now really enjoy my quiet time in the car - no radio, and a nice walk with the dog - no phone. Taking the time to reflect has been much more satisfying than the regular distractions.

I am excited to spend some time with me and keep it quiet.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Breathing through Padmasana

I was poking through Light on Yoga yesterday, when I stumbled upon Padmasana. I was a bit surprised that a large chunk of the description was about breathing. Few of the postures described in light on yoga discuss breathing - Iyengar leaves that for his Pranayama section at the end of the book (with a few exceptions, of course).

When describing Padmasana, Iyengar quotes the Hatha Yoga Pradipika - "fix the chin firmly upon the breast and contemplating upon Brahman, frequently contract the anus and raise the apana up; by similar contraction of the throat force the prana down. By this he obtains unequalled knowledge through the ascent of Kundalini (which is roused by this process)."

I figured since I was bringing attention back to my Pranayama practice (and since Iyengar thought it was so important to mention in the description of the asana), I would give it a shot. I decided to practice these suggestions for 10 minutes - 5 minutes on each side.

I was surprised how wonderful the experience was. Just like most experiences with Pranayama that I have, I didn't really feel the effects until I returned to normal breathing. When I took the normal breath break in between, I lifted my chin. I immediately wanted to drop my chin and close my eyes and start again. It felt like my chin was being pulled down!

After the second side, I felt an amazing sense of softness. Everything wanted to move in (like it was happening on its own). I thought I was imploding. The feeling of being pulled in was so overwhelming. I could not help but feel a warmth in my belly and chest - the experience brought me to tears. I am not necessarily seeking unequaled knowledge, like the Pradipika states, but I have a feeling that the knowledge has to be an awareness of the beauty in ourselves.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Breathing Below the Belt

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am returning to the roots of Pranayama - normal breath. This evening I began working with breathing below the waist. I read in light on Pranayama that light pressure on the belly on the inhale will help to extend the breath below the belly. So I decided to work with that.

I have a hard time with the belly. When I take an occasional Ashtanga class, I get called out on not having enough Uddiyana Bandha - or belly grip. Teachers always get on me for this! I have been working hard at it for some time.

So, in order to feel the breath moving below the belly, I put a bit of pressure on the belly with my hand. This pressure made it easy for the air to move below the belly. After practicing this way a few times. I tried without the hands with some difficulty. I repeated a few times with and without pressure and am beginning to access it.

I have to admit that I began getting the giggles at one point. It made me think of this web series I saw about a yoga therapist. She asked her client to breath into her vachakara. So funny - worth a quick viewing.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 14, 2012

What Does Prana Mean to Me?

The other day I was asked what prana meant to me. My mind went blank - what a complicated question. No matter what the answer is, it could never be complete. After I gave it some thought, I came up with an answer, well... two answers. Prana is life and the gateway to consciousness.

Prana can be translated as wind or air. In the body, that is translated to breath. And breath is the symbol of life. When a baby takes in their first breath, they enter into the world. And after they take their last breath, they leave it.We cannot live without air. Without air, the body would last minutes. It is the base function to life, setting in motion the other systems of the body - the fuel for the fire.

In addition, I consider prana to be the gateway to consciousness.

I have a story that helped me come to this conclusion:

I learned first hand that breath affects out thoughts, emotions, and even affects us physically.This came to me in a yoga asana class. I was struggling in class, realizing that I was almost to the point of physical exhaustion. This particular class had a student assisting as well as a teacher. The student walked up behind me, noting that I was clearly struggling. Not only was the class physically demanding, but I felt that I could not continue, and I was beginning to feel panic and fear. They gave me what I consider to be the best verbal assist I have ever gotten. They said, "pull energy from your breath."

My first reaction was, "yeah sure." But what did I have to loose? So I tried it. And, of course, it was a huge help. I began to deepen and slow my breath. My mind then focused on the breath, instead of the idea that I could not do it. Then I started to shake a bit less, which calmed my emotions a great deal, proving to me that I was not about to drop dead. My breath had calmed my thoughts and emotions and even made the pose physically easier. I realized later, that my body had gone into a subconcious reaction. I was having trouble, so my subconcious mind began to create a pattern - my breath sped up, which sped my heart rate, and made me think that my body was at the brink. Once my subconcious mind began affecting my concious mind, my emotions started to get involved., bringing me to a level of panic.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Pranayama, the control of breath, is referred to as a practice that "lifts the veil." In my opinion, that veil, or one of the veils, that it lifts is the veil separating consciousness, the subconcious, and unconciousness. One of our goals in yoga is to bring the subconcious into conciousness - and pranayama can do that. Breathing is the one body function that can be done uncounciously, subconciously, and conciously:

  • Unconsciously: We can breathe when unconcious. Without any thought, our body knows to breathe - automatically.
  • Subconsciously: Our subconcious reactions can create breath patterns - just like in my example earlier. My brain created a pattern, and when I got into that pose when I was tired, my body forced a faster breathing pattern.
  • Consciously: Try to stop breathing for a moment. Now start again. Speed up your breath. Shorten your breath. Deepen your breath. We have the power to do it all - to conciously control our breath.
No other body system can be operated in these three ways. For example - you can't just stop your hear beating. You can't stop hearing or seeing consciously. Or can we? Some of us have heard stories of yogis being able to slow their brain patterns and even slow their heartbeat close to a halt. How did they learn to do that? What gateway did they have to cross?

By an awareness of breath and control of breath, we can affect mood, emotion, and even physical reactions. Taking ownership of the breath in consciousness, begins to lift a veil that thins the lines of consciousness - bringing the subconscious into consciousness. The breath is really the body's most base function. It is the first domino to fall, which then activates other processes in the body. By bringing consciousness to this aspect of our being, we open the gate to a much deeper level of consciousness. This then provides us with the tools to access deeper levels of consciousness, the subconscious, and perhaps even the unconscious

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Yoga Weird - Empty Yourself Completely

Sadhana is a search for what to give up. Empty yourself completely
     - Nisargadatta Maharaj

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who felt that the separation of the mind and soul is frightfully scary. What then? What is left? One of the largest fears of humanity is that nothing exists after you die. Nothing but pure darkness and silence. How scary.

The same fears can be associated with what yoga is intended to do. The Yoga Sutras state that the goal of yoga is yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah, or "yoga is the stilling of the mind." Identification of the mind as the true self, or what we are, is often referred to as ignorance. So that leaves us with the soul (atman).

We think, react, act, and communicate using our minds. The minds are the exact opposite of silence. So why would one want to separate themselves from that? Why would people walk knowingly into that darkness? One of the scariest parts is being ok that there is silence there, quiet there, nothingness there. But, it is this silence, this nothingness that is true bliss itself.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Calm in the Midst of Terbulence

“The intent of asana is that you are calm in the midst of turbulence. The success…of your practice should be judged by how well you remain centered in the midst of change. Not your leg behind your head or handstand in the middle of the room. Success of asana is measured by how well you deal with the challenges of life.”

     - B.K.S. Iyengar

I recently began working with a group of students who are used to a different teaching style - as well as a different form of asana practice. Many of the students have come from a Vinyasa Flow background - one where they are not spending as much time with or in postures. This has opened their eyes up to a new insight on what yoga is or can be. With this change, some students seem to be rebelling, while others are thriving, becoming more interested and excited.

A few students have noted that this "new style" is much more intense. Many of them backing away from poses, claiming that they are too difficult. Many of them want to rush in and out of poses, not spending the time to feel the pose.

Over and over again, this quote from B.K.S. Iyengar has been coming to mind. Yoga is not just rushing through the familiar - moving through life in the same routine. Likewise, our practice should also be different - attempting to enter into poses in different ways, hold poses, feel poses, and try to find that calm. By doing so, we can then take those lessons into our lives outside of class. Learning to deal with the challenges of life, without the story, excuses, or victim stance.

For beginners, this is not easily accessible. As teachers, I feel it is our duty to keep things new - constantly bringing new challenges, or entering a familiar practice in a new way.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Deflating the Brain

I determined that the best place to start, in bringing a new focus back to my Pranayama practice, was with "normal breath." I will begin working with my normal breathing patterns and build on that.

I had the pleasure of taking a workshop with Carrie Owerko yesterday and she was having us all work with a breathing suggestion. She asked us to think of deflating the brain on every inhale. With that suggestion came the idea of inflating the chest - with an emphasis on expanding the ribs outward. So the deflation of the brain inflates the chest. Then with every exhale, softening the outer barrier of the skin.

I explored this suggestion throughout the workshop and revisited it this morning. This idea is such a simple one, but at the same time is very powerful. Deflating the brain, softening the face inward and inflating the chest does help to create a nice quiet mind. The attention shifts to the chest, bringing me away from my monkey brain thoughts for a moment. The exhale is equally beautiful, as it makes the body feel that much more expansive.

After some time the instructions start to disappear. The focus moves naturally to the chest. I tried to focus on the chest feeling almost liquid (as a futher instruction from Carrie suggested). This idea makes the chest feel less concrete - less hard. The chest then eventually can become even less of a focus. The barrier of the skin feels very thin or almost nonexistent, as though you and the world are one. I found myself feeling connected to outside noise - a car passing, a lawn mower, the dog, even just being part of the silence or white noise.

My mind did jump back to action occasionally, as minds do. Thinking of what I was feeling and why. I even found myself thinking that I needed to write this or that into my blog. I did my best to release thought and instead focus on the feeling. Each time starting over with the simple instruction of deflating the brain on the inhale and softening the outer barrier of the body on the exhale.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Coming Back to the Breath

I have made a decision. I will, from now on, dedicate more time to Pranayama. It is imperative for me to have a more regular breath practice, so I need to dedicate the time to it. My primary teacher has said in the past that the student should make Pranayama fascinating - be fascinated by it. So that is my intention. You will be seeing a lot of posts coming up - I am writing in an effort to make this practice even more fascinating to me, and hopefully inspire the same in you.

To start, I have a few points of inspiration.

First, there is a quote from the Chandogyopanisad that Iyengar quotes in Light on Pranayama that is incredibly beautiful to me. The quote is as follows:

"Even as the spokes are fastened to the hub, so on this life breath, all is fastened. Life moves with the life breath, which gives life to a living creature. Life breath is one's father,... one's mother,... one's brother,'s sister, and one's teacher,...the Brahman... Verily, he who sees this knows and understands this becomes the excellent speaker."

Second, when I saw Adyashanti in Boston, he was talking about labels. We are humans - and the air is the air. But when we inhale the breath actually becomes part of us. I love this thought - We are the air and the air is us. We fuse with it, it becomes part of us as we become part of it. 

That is how I would like to make my practice. I want the practice to be part of my life and my life part of the practice. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Beyond the Outside

I try to focus my practice on one thing every month - whether that be a particular pose, working toward a pose, or connecting my practice with writings from the Yoga Sutras or other piece of writing. This month I have been inspired by two things, a passage from the Upanishads and a video I stumbled on while surfing YouTube.

There is a Yoga Sutra study group every Thursday night before a class that I take. I rarely make it on time because of work, but still try to participate in any way I can. While it is a Yoga Sutra study group, the focus has been on the Upanishads for the past month or so. One passage from the Mundaka Upanishad stuck out to me:

Not through discourse, not through the intellect,
Not even through study of the scriptures
Can the Self be realized. The self reveals
Himself to the one who longs for the Self. 
     - Eknath Easwaran
I have always considered myself to be an extroverted person, so turning inside can be very difficult. I prefer to live outside of myself. I think out loud and I focus on external sensations like sights, sounds, and smells. Working inside is not always easy, as I have preferred the opposite all my life.

I gave this some thought and had been trying to find a way to bridge the gap between my preferences and going inside. So I did what someone in my generation does when they hit a road block - search YouTube. I stumbled on a video of an amazing Iyengar Teacher who is no longer with us - Mary Dunn.

Her dedication to her practice inspired me. What curiosity! How relatable. One area where I have been able to bridge that gap is my asana practice. I have noticed that I can easily focus on the inside, or at least my physical structure and its mechanics easily while working with asana. Sometimes I feel that it transcends just mechanics. Asana practice has an ability to bring the practitioner to focus on something so individual, so personal. This video helped me to realize that.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hanuman Coming To A Close?

This month "with" Hanuman has been very special. I learned so much about that monkey and saw how I can apply his life and lessons to my daily routine.

This month has also helped me tremendously with my physical practice. Not only has practicing such a difficult pose given me courage, but it has also taught me a certain level of patience and understanding of my body and mind.

So is it over? No. There is so much I learned that I will keep with me moving forward in this life and apply to my every day practice. In addition, a great friend gave me something that will help me keep Hanuman close by.

More and More Hanuman

We tend to think of July as a Time for relaxation and basking in the sun. July, however, can end up being like any other month if we allow it to be. This month I realized that our time is what we make it.

I somehow packed this month with meetings and agreed to sub others' classes, not realizing the type of schedule I had built for myself. So I have been going non stop. Once I realized what I had done, I decided that I needed a source of courage. Lucky enough, this month I have been dedicating to the learning of Hanuman and the practice of Hanumanasana.

Just like Hanuman, I received advice from others, the belief in me that helped me realize that I can get through it and do well. In times of doubt, Aum Sri Hanumathe Namaha!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Daily Hanuman

I do realize that I cannot do Hanumanasana every day. So, I have decided to do other feats that are Hanuman worthy. On off days I have decided to work on arm balances and sit in padmasana for 10 minutes (5minutes on each side). While I can get into padmasana fairly easily, holding it takes immense concentration - something that Hanuman does very well.

I have been reading more about him and I have been enjoying the stories. I can see why so many are devoted to him, he is courageous, humble, and focused. In learning about the Bhakti tradition, I understand you can have a relationship with your Ishta Devita as a mother-child relationship, a friendship, or a lover's relationship. I can understand having a relationship with Hanuman as a friend, everyone wants someone like that in their corner.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Approaching Hanumanasana

This month I am making Hanumasana my focus. This challenging pose, I have found thus far, is just as challenging for the mind as it is for the body. The amount of stretch and opening that occurs in the legs and groin is very intense. I have found, however, that the longer I stay in it, the more the pose unfolds itself. When first entering the pose, my mind jumps right to the stretch and the intense feeling in the hamstrings and groins. It can be daunting to let the first reaction pass - the feeling is rather intense. After holding the pose in a supported position a few times, I can now approach it as a learner - realizing that I need to pull a hip forward or rotate the upper thigh to the floor, using the same lessons that I apply to other poses.

To prepare my body for the pose, I have been using a sequence that I am adapting from an old copy of Yoga Journal and different approaches from classes and workshops that I have taken.

  • The sequence starts with a forward bend. I have been experimenting with this - lifting the toes onto a rolled up mat or block to get a deeper stretch of the hamstrings, holding the pose for a few minutes, or approaching the pose in a restorative way - propping up the head, etc.

  • Next, I move onto rajakapotasana (pigeon). I have been using different variations of this pose. I do this pose twice on each side. The first time, doing the pose my traditional way - front leg bent, back leg straight. Then I do the pose a second time, trying to get my front leg closer to parallel to the front of the mat - which means that I have to prop myself up a bit, but the opening it creates in the hip is wonderful. Sometimes I will bend the back leg into the body as well.

  • I then move onto a lunge sequence - runner's lunge variations, added quad stretches.

  • Then I approach Hanumanasana - utilizing bricks to support where I am currently with the pose. I utilize different brick heights to elevate or lower the groins closer to the floor

The experience thus far has been amazing.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Aum Sri Hanumathe Namaha

I decided that after a month of head standing, I would give myself a new challenge. So this month I will be working on Hanumanasana, a yoga pose we in the west would call "the splits." The pose is named after the Hindu god Hanuman (the monkey god). The pose is a imitation of his jump across the ocean - legs split, arms up, mouth wide open.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Hanuman. I often chant the invocation to him (Aum Sri Hanumathe Namaha) in times where I need to summon up energy or when I need to do something that feels impossible. I have also made the promise to myself that I would learn more about him this month. So, here is what I learned so far:

  • Hanuman is known for great feats of austerity
  • He is credited as the creator of sun salutations, as the sun was his teacher (he actually met the sun when he jumped into the air to eat it - he thought the sun was a mango)
  • Hanuman, as son of the wind god (Vayu) was a faithful pranayama practitioner
  • While Hanuman was amazing at everything he did, music, breath, physical feats, etc. he stayed humble and was faithful to his practice. I think I will need that inspiration this month, working on his pose.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Every Day Inversions - Tips From Others

I was blessed to take four wonderful classes in the last two days - the first from my amazing teacher, Eileen, the other three I took today at the Iyengar Yoga Studio in NYC (I am writing this on the train home).

So here are some tips from the experts:

- reach the legs off of the hips - think of lifting the legs up to the ceiling to take some of the weight off of the arms and head

- when first learning to kick up into headstand, do not let your buttocks hit the wall - that impact could cause you to damage your neck. Practice first with Eka Pasa Sirsasana (plant the head and forearms on the floor and raise one leg then plant it on the floor. Repeat. Practice this for some time before learning to kick up.)

- extend the index fingers to access and lift the upper arms up to the ceiling

- if your arms often roll out on headstand, tighten the forearm skin prior to kicking up. Here is how: drop the elbows to the mat and extend the forearms forward while contacting the mat with the elbows only, extending the skin of the forearm.


- after you have been working with shoulder stand for some time, try to do the pose with the hands on the shoulder blades - bringing the thoracic spine in to broaden the chest

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Everyday Inversions - Slowing it Down

For the past few days I have been slowing down my variations. My hypothesis before trying this was that if I took longer between variations, with slower transitions, my inversions would be more calming/more quiet.

I suppose I was right. I do feel that slowing down made the poses more internal than moving at a faster pace, but it did not feel as calming/quieting as staying in headstand without variations. No duh, Paul. I suppose this was a no brainer, but I had to try.

I told Arunji about my holding of headstand for a prolonged period of time every day. He told that there was nothing wrong with doing this, but warned me about becoming addicted to the pose.

While I do not feel any major attachment to shoulder stand, I feel like I am drawn to a headstand practice. I do prefer when the pose has a more calming/quieting effect. Perhaps my experimenting with variations is for the best. I think that approaching the less comfortable is a strong practice - every now and again we have to step out of our comfort zone.

I was reading Light on Life the other day. In the book, Iyengar was saying that having a more comfortable practice does not make that practice better than an uncomfortable practice. Just like in life, we have to approach the difficult and the comfortable as though they are equally good.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Everyday Inversions - from a Master Teacher

I took a short break from my regular routine because I was attending a workshop from a Master Yoga teacher from India (H. S. Arun). He is known for using props creatively, especially chairs.

Accessing headstand in these ways was helpful in creating integrity. On the first day, we utilized the chair to align the spine in urdhva dandasana (headstand pike - as pictured), then eka pada sirsasana (headstand with one leg
lowered). Using chairs in these poses in incredibly helpful
for training the body to hold these poses and creating a long torso.

The second day, we utilized the chairs to bend backward
in headstand. The chair back was extremely helpful for
guidance, while the chair seat was there to press into to

I was also blessed to have him stay at my house Friday night before taking him to the train on Saturday morning. We had great discussions - especially concerning asana practice. He explained that poses should be held for extended periods of time - like 3 rounds of 5 minutes for
Downward Facing Dog, or even building up to 15 minute Parivritta Janu Sirsasana!!! I will be working on this next month :-).

With this change in my routine, I decided that I would work on other variations of headstand and shoulder stand when I got back to my normal routine. So, yesterday I decided to do 8 minutes of headstand variations and 8 minutes if shoulder stand variations.

I was surprised how quickly the time passed doing variations. Since I started this experiment, I thought that I should wait to do variations, instead building time in standard headstand and shoulder stand. I guess
I was mistaken - I am ready.

I am surprised I did not come to this conclusion sooner. I always
tell people that I learned to really hold headstand by doing
variations. It taught me balance better than holding headstand alone - it forced me to learn balance and made my head stand practice more fun.

I held each variation for about 20-30 seconds. I moved from head stand to revolved headstand (twisting my torso). Then I opened my legs into a split and twisted the torso again. I did the same with bent legs then I started doing one legged variations - lowering one leg straight down, then the other, then one leg to the side, then the other.

I was inspired by Arun and his use of back bends in headstand (as you can see in the attached pictures) so I decided to do drop-backs from shoulder stand to bridge pose - so fun!

One thing that I noticed, however, is that holding these variations for short periods did not give me the same quiet mind that holding the poses for extended periods gave me. Tonight I think I will hold these variations for longer to see what happens.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Continuing with Every Day Inversions - Moving Inward

As the days go by, I continue to headstand/shoulder stand on a daily basis.

Two days ago I tried to go for 10 minutes each. I am not sure if I am getting tired or I lost my nerve, but I decided to come down from headstand at 7 minutes. I then proceeded to work with halasana and karnapidasana instead of shoulder stand, as my ego was a bit bruised. For me, I am not sure if others feel this, when I get tired or shaky my mind begins to panic a bit. Typically I can talk myself into working through it, but on Tuesday my mind got the best of me and I came down. I think I also "walked" into headstand with the wrong intentions. I went into the pose with the purpose of "excelling" or "breaking a record," which is not the point. I rushed into the pose without allowing myself to enter the pose mindfully.

With the previous day's lesson in the back of my mind, I approached an 8 minute headstand and shoulder stand on Wednesday. Beginning my practice with a more mindful approach allowed me to stay in and be comfortable. I realized that after being in the pose for some time, my focus became less sharp, if that is the correct word. No longer was I staring at my drishti (focal point), I was instead gazing at it with a softness. My breath periodically took me over and I was able to stay quietly in the pose. It became quite spiritual.

My mind-state changes when holding these poses. Eight minutes starts to feel quick and my thoughts get quiet. It is a different part of myself that I tap into at that point - not really accessible at other times. Holding these poses makes it quite easy to calm myself and be inside of myself. The effects stick around for some time as well. It is easy to stay internal and quiet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Every Day Inversions

I decided to try a new challenge. BKS Iyengar says that there are two poses one should do everyday - Sirsasana (headstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). I began an everyday headstand challenge one week ago and have worked my confidence up to 8 minute headstands. After day 2 of doing 8 minute headstands, it became clear that I needed to balance out my headstands with shoulder stands.

Today I did my 8 minute sirsasana followed by 4 minute plow and 4 minute shoulder stand and feel very balanced. Why didn't I do this sooner?

So why the challenge? I felt like I was loosing confidence in these poses, which I considered to be 2 of my strongest. I felt wobbly and unsure. I was also beginning to feel off balance and uneven. So, what better way to fix this than with dedication and experimentation.

There is so much time to experiment when doing the pose each day. What I learned about headstand is that I can loose myself in the pose. I will continue to have moments when I am not centered on my axis and realign myself when needed, but attending to the body can slip away.

One thing I do want to comment on - lightness. I have heard others say that headstand can feel very light, which is the product of practice. While I have started to feel the lightness, it can be a bit scary when I realize it. Feeling light in the pose snuck up on me today without warning and I almost fell onto my desk. I thankfully got through it and was able to stay secure.

Perhaps I should try away from furniture?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bursts of Wisdom

I have a theory that we receive wisdom that sticks with us in small bursts. This wisdom also comes in pairs, or threes, or fours - almost never alone. Today I had a day where I received many little bursts that just stuck with me. Perhaps this is because we have to be ready or open to teachings. Perhaps we have to be exposed to the same teaching over and over again until it finally sinks in - once we get that teaching in, the floodgates open and we are open to other teachings as well. Or, perhaps these teachings come to us when we are ready to receive them.

Today I was reading an article from a professional journal and at least 10 yogic principles jumped out at me.
  • "Thoughts can either be productive or prohibitive" or as I know it, "vrrityaya pancataya klistaklista" of Sutra 1.5.
  • Create a mental mantra
  • Spend more time enjoying your world and less time worrying about how unworthy or untalented you are
  • Really listen. Turn off your automatic response. Just listen.
The article then had me. I was listening. It reminded me of the new goal I set for myself this year: Deepen your practice. Until recently, I have been unable to find the time. That is when the last lesson popped out:

"Time passes at a predetermined rate no matter what we do. It is a question not of managing the clock, but of managing ourselves with respect to the clock." .

Ok. I am listening.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adventures in Vegetarianism - 1 Year Later

It has now officially been one year since I embarked on the vegetarian adventure. I can safely say that my life has changed quite a bit. I didn't realize how much until a friend asked me if I have noticed any differences.

After thinking about it, I realized that there have been many positive changes:

First, I feel much less anxious. Around the time that I decided to go vegetarian, I was battling what was the worst bought of anxiety I have ever felt. I was starting to shut down personally and even felt physical effects that were threatening my health. While the first few months were difficult (getting my sea legs), my body acclimated to the new diet and the physical effects of my anxiety have disappeared and I have calmed substantially, making my anxiety much more manageable.

Second, I have a great deal of additional energy. That being said, just like eating meat, there are times when I eat too much and feel a heaviness that can slow me down. Even vegetarians can eat heavily. When eating intelligently without meat, I feel lighter and have a great storehouse of energy - even more than I had originally felt or expected.

Third, eating outside of the realm of my "typical" diet has opened me up to trying many new things and eating foods I would never have tried before. Vegetarianism has been the gateway drug to healthier living - including adventures in growing vegetables and herbs, making my own herbal tea, cutting sugar, and more. 

That being said, I still feel new to the meatless world. I am still surprised on occasion by foods that have dehydrated chicken as an ingredient. (Why would anyone want to dehydrate a chicken? just saying). And I still struggle with a few things - for example eggs. I am considering the removal of eggs from my diet, but am ignorant of what food products contain eggs. I am, however, encouraged to learn more and continue to make healthy decisions. Overall, I am incredibly grateful for the decision and look forward to continuing with the adventure.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Thoughts on Mindlessness

This weekend a teacher pointed me to Sutra 1.43 - which introduces Nivitarka Samapatti. This type of absorption exists without conceptualization. What this means is that the mind no longer registers sense objects, but instead focuses on the main object of meditation, the self.

It is hard to imagine life without registering sense objects. It seems impossible, like seeing without seeing or tasting without taste.

This sutra basically draws the line in the sand - everything else is just a clinging to ignorance. Absorbing yourself in tastes and sounds and sights is just a trick, pulling the mind away from the true object of meditation.

But what is life like without these tastes and feelings and smells and sights? Can it still be called life? Is that living?

Time is a sense object - so the yogi will not even know they have reached that state until they have come out of it. It almost sounds like a dreamless sleep.

It sounds peaceful, but without the feeling of peace.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Over the past few months I have been trying to memorize the Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit. It has been coming along VERY slowly.

I started working on memorizing
Sutra 1.14 - the longest one so far. I was working hard on it and then almost gave up. It was then that I realized the irony of the situation - I was about to give up on the sutra that translates as:

"Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time."

This sutra really hits home for me. It speaks to the importance of patience with out practice - whether that practice be our asana practice, meditation, or learning to chant the Yoga Sutras. Your practice cannot be perfected in a night, a few weeks, or even years. Commentators actually agree that it can take multiple lifetimes of perfection to reach the goal of yoga.

A practice needs to be cultivated - not found or experimented with. It takes time and devotion.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Twist and Detox - One Week Later

It has been one week since the twist workshop and I feel amazing - very open and light. I have been trying to carry over some of these new habits: changing my diet moderately to include more vegetables and fruit, with more basic grains. As far as my diet goes -I have gotten much simpler. Nothing too fussy, just simple and clean.

I have also been taking more time for myself, or what I would like to call "smell the flowers time". My workload has picked up at my full time job, but even with this extra work and stress, I am taking more time for myself and allowing time to be with myself. Spring brings so many beautiful things that you can miss if you don't pay attention - in yourself and your surroundings. If my time with the detox has taught me anything, it is to enjoy that time.

The workshop itself had a larger effect on me than I originally thought. I left with a rather large post-class euphoria. I was really affected by the chakra-related twist. I love working with natural rotation/axis. Feeling the natural rotation and momentum that the body has, without much effort, is very powerful. I look forward to next year's detox and Twist Into Spring workshop.

Cultivating the Opposite

I had such a wonderful weekend - a yoga weekend. After two full days of yoga therapeutics training, I taught my Sunday night class. I felt so open and sharing and loving. The idea of helping others, of course, brings such joy. For some reason, within one day, I found myself angry and frustrated. I easily found reasons to be upset at work and at home - distracted by how things "should be" or "could be." I am consistently amazed at how quickly our minds can change our mood within a short span of hours.

I have come to believe that our minds sabotage our work. At the end of the day, I know that I have to work, not assume that I can change without work. After days like today, I come back to Sutra II.33, "Upon being harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate counteracting thoughts." I understand that it is ok to be angry and it is good to be with my feelings. I feel, however, that these feelings are not helping me. After being with my feelings, I know that I also have to cultivate the opposite (pratipaksa bhavanam).

I was particularly bothered by the words and actions of a few people. I have to realize that while no one is perfect, we are all made of the same piece of perfection. My work - looking beyond the surface level, what I can see, and instead think of what is common and perfect about all of us.

I will think of the following to overcome this:

          svasti prajabhyah paripalayantam
          nyayena margena mahim mahisah
          gobrahmanebhyah subhamastu nityam
          lokasamasta sukhino bhavantu

"May all of humankind be happy and well. May the great noble lords protect the earth in every way by the path of just virtue. May there be perpetual joy for those who know the real nature of things. May al the worlds be happy."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Yoga Weird - Kriyas - Neti

For those of you who delve deeply into Hatha Yoga, you will eventually hear about kriyas, or cleansing techniques. It is believed that these cleansing techniques help to prepare the body for the physical practice of asana.

One of the most common Kriyas is neti. There are two types of neti:

  • jala neti - pouring water in one nostril and draining it out of the other

  • sutra neti - pulling a fine thread in one nostril and out of the other
In addition, there are other types of neti where the practitioner can draw milk in one nostril and out the other. Some even use ghee - or clarified butter. Regardless, this practice is used to cleanse the nasal passage to help eliminate distraction and prepare the body for practice (asana, pranayama, etc).

As part of my teacher training, I had to buy a neti pot and join in on a group neti. Of course, I wanted to try a neti prior to class to ensure that I looked like I knew what I was doing. Unfortunately I could not figure it out on my own. For this reason, I walked in incredibly nervous. I did not want to be the student that gagged on my neti in front of everyone.

I was very thankful to have a teacher that could easily explain the process. I was also very stuffed up at the time, so I was doubly thankful to have a good nasal cleaning. I began to use my neti pot every morning, helping me easily keep my nasal passage clean - virtually eliminating my fall allergies. I stopped using it once the weather got cold, because I know that if one is susceptible to nose bleeds, they should not use the neti pot. When I was a child, I would get nose bleeds all winter long, so I have strayed from using it.

I am writing about neti today because I brought my neti pot back out for spring. Now that allergy season has started, I have been waking up with a runny nose - typical. I feel wonderful today - still some runny nose, but much better.

For those of you who have not tried it, I would encourage you to give neti a shot. When you do, ask someone who has been doing it for a while to show you how. This person can help you make sure that you have the right water/salt mixture and ensure that you are using the proper head tilting technique.

It is not as weird as you think - I promise.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Detox Diet - Final Day

This being the last day of the detox, I determined that I would take the day for me. I slept in a bit and took my first morning walk of the year with my dog in complete sunlight. Everything was so green and bright. I have been amazed how much has happened in these past 10 days. So many new happenings, trees in bloom, birds coming around again in full force, and a new scent in the air.

I am also surprised at what has happened to me. I feel like I am a person that sets and meets his goals - but willpower with food has always been my downfall. In the past 10 days I have turned down all of the food that I have come to love and over-enjoy. The force of my will came much easier than I ever expected it to. A few cravings here and there were easily pushed away by a determination to work with myself.

This experiment, however, is far beyond food. This detox, instead, has shown me the importance of new beginnings, reflection, and meditation. My fears, anxieties, and doubt can disappear to instead bring a concentration and focus to the work that I try so hard to avoid in my daily life. This detox has helped to create a new beginning; a beginning to the season, a new focus, a new energy, and a new example for determination. The bi-product is the beautiful bloom of spring that can be found around me and inside of me.

Detox Diet - Day 9

I woke up this morning feeling out of sorts. After such a long day, my body and mind were a little tired. I drank my water and took the walk with my dog and slowly felt myself coming back to normal. After a great sitting, I started my day.

I was the only one in the office today, which provided some nice quiet and peace. I found time on my lunch break to perform a few slow asana and a long savasana. My body settled very quickly and I found myself incredibly calm yet alert.

After work I attended the Thursday night class at Karuna, where the class was concentrating on Pratyahara again. Allowing time to move inward. Prior to class, Eileen shared that while Pratyahara is a quieting of the senses and a moving inward, it makes us better when being with others and reacting in the outside world. I feel like this detox has been just that. My body feels so clean and prepared to meet the challenges that Spring brings. I feel like I am also able to notice its beauty and enjoy what is to come.

What I learned today:
  • I can get energy without protein

  • I have to make time for me and for quiet

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Detox Diet - Day 8

Today was the second day in a row that I woke up with a smile. Spring has begun! When I say today, I actually mean yesterday. Day 8 was so long that I had to write this the next day.

I basically spent the day on my feet teaching a day-long course at work. This involved quite a bit of moving items around the room and being quick on my feet and focused. I tried to squeeze in food on every break and had a few herbal teas. After cleaning up and checking in with my coworkers, the work day was over. I stopped at home and had a quick snack before moving on to an appointment. I finally got home a little before 10. Then I hit the bed and passed out. My energy was so low by the end of the day that my focus was weaning. I could have used a good power nap in the middle of the day.

Lessons I learned yesterday:
  • During a detox, you have to give yourself time to rest and reflect

  • I can eat an apple very quickly

Detox Diet - Day 7

It happened! I woke up and smiled. It has been a while since I started the day in a good mood. From there the day just got better. I start every morning with a walk and that is where my mood typically changes. Today, the walk kicked me into high gear. I became incredibly productive. My mind was so clear and focused that I was able to manage all of my tasks at work and end early. I took a beautiful quiet break at lunch time and was able to enjoy that time for myself.

The diet is still going very well. I have decided, however, that I need a break from roasted vegetables. On to steaming and baking!

I am a little nervous about tomorrow. I am teaching all day long at work and then have an evening appointment as well. Normally I would be tired after a day like that - I wonder how it will affect me on the detox diet. We shall see.

Things I learned today:
  • There is light at the end of the tunnel - I am excited to start tomorrow with a smile

  • Roasting for a full week is too much

  • The spring transition really is difficult. Sometimes we can't see the scope of the job until we begin to do the work

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Detox Diet - Day 6

I woke up very moody this morning. But just like any other day this week, after drinking my two glasses of water, I am back on track. I have started to notice some physical differences. My skin looks like it is glowing. Someone told me it looks like I lost weight, which of course is possible. (Note for future detoxes - pre and post weigh ins and photos are necessary). I have also started to feel cold. I have been wearing an extra layer lately. Perhaps it is because I have not been eating as many "stick-to-your-ribs" kind of meals.

Today was my first day back at work after the extended weekend. Transitioning from keeping the focus on myself to keeping the focus on work has been difficult (perhaps because of the reflective mood). I was happy to take a nice long lunch break by myself and spend some time in quiet.

I was also blessed to be able to sub in a Monday evening class, giving assists in a gentle class. It was nice to be in such a supportive environment where I could help others and feel that energy coming back to me as well.

Things I learned today:
  • You can keep an inward focus in your day-to-day life
  • Sometimes a glass of water can change your mood
  • You can find and feel that reflective energy in others

Detox Diet - Day 5

Day 5 is here!

I decided that I would keep today's post short, so here goes.

The tea is interesting! I went to an herbalist the other day to pick up the herbs for the detox tea. She told me, while mixing it, that the tea sounds like it will taste good. And she was right - it's not a typical cup of tea, but still tasty. And speaking of tasty - liver cleanse!!! It is nice to have something so delicious as part of a diet.

The issue I have been having is finding something sweet to eat in the evening. I have been craving sweet pretty bad. Apple juice has been my savior thus far.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Detox Diet - Day 4

Today was a practice in opposites. My day began with a mad dash out of the house. We were off to a family gathering, then to a restaurant for lunch. Thankfully, I made my tea and had my two glasses of water. I even made a fruity-delicious liver cleansing drink. Without these I would have been lost. Perhaps the mad dash was due to all of this liquid preparation?

When we made it to the meal, I was hungry again. Everyone was drinking wine - there was even a glass bought for me that I had to politely refuse. Then the meal was served (buffet style). 3 meat options (which included pasta or veg) and salad.

I immediately gravitated to the salad. I could not eat everything in the salad (tomatoes and mushrooms) or the dressing. For this reason I got many looks and questions. This did not bother me - what bothered me was the host of cravings that followed.

Craving 1: Meat. I haven't eaten it in a while, I suppose I was due for a craving

Craving 2: Cheese, which led to

Craving 3: Pizza

I tried not to think about it and made myself a beautiful roasted vegetable lunch with greens and sprouts when I got home.

Then my mood switched and I had some alone time. I spent some time meditating and looking out at the river. I am still fascinated how quickly my focus turns inward this week, especially when I give myself time for myself.

Frankie (my faithful pug) and I took a nice walk afterward and had a wonderful run in with a bird. (for those of you who haven't noticed, the birds came back all at once). This particular bird was sitting on the grass when Frankie and I walked by. He (I have determined he is a male - no science behind this whatsoever) hopped into the tree above where he settled so comfortably. We stopped to watch him, Frankie taking a seat on the grass.

We then proceed to have a staring competition that lasted a few minutes. The bird finally gave in with a chirp and a flourish - victory is mine.

What I learned today:

- There will be temptations along this journey

- Roasted veggies are a perfectly acceptable alternative to meat

- I need practice steeping tea

- I now think staring competitions with birds are interesting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Detox Diet - Day 3

I decided to take the day off of work to take time and reflect. I had quite a wonderful morning sitting on my back porch. Not doing much, just looking at the river and buds on the trees. Some of our perennials are coming up. I am glad that I took the time to notice. So much goes on under our noses - things that we take for granted or things that may not seem important in our regular hustle and bustle.

The river also rose this week, new meltings from the north, here to sweep away what the winter left on its shores.

All of these spring happenings got me thinking about humans and how/if we bloom and flower in the spring. Do we go through as large of a change? I feel blessed this week to have the sun and warm weather to spread my leaves and grow.

I am really settling into the food. When I need a little something sweet, I drink a bit of organic apple juice. I have not used any salt, pepper, or any other spices. Anyone who knows me understands that is very unlike me. I already have a feeling that I will be eating much more simply when this diet is done. I feel so clean and alert. I picked up the tea mixture from the herbalist today. It is steeping as I type. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

What I learned today:

- I can eat simple food

- Everything seems clearer

- Tea mixtures from herbalists look illegal

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Detox Diet - Day 2

Part of the reason I decided to take on this detox was because my mood has taken a major shift. I wake up irritated, I have lost interest in what typically keeps me going. While I am not looking at this detox as a cure, I am hoping that it can help to give me a new outlook - that fresh start that I spoke of in previous posts.

It's day 2 and I woke up the same way, irritated, not wanting to get out of bed or go to work. After getting everything taken care of and on the road, I drank my two glasses of water and everything started to change. There is something so simple and soothing about water. I know that our bodies react very well to cool water. It is easy for Americans to get water - we have sinks, and bottled water at every turn. Our bodies, however, can go into survival mode when we do not drink liquids, causing us to get irritated or panicky. It is instinctual - we are programmed to hunt for water. I wonder if I have pushed myself into survival mode? Who knows.

One thing I am missing today - caffeine. I gave up coffee, for the most part, months ago. I do still enjoy a glass of green or black tea most days. Today would be one of those days. I am not craving caffeine, as a matter of fact I am not really craving anything today, but I do feel the affects of having no caffeine - sluggishness, heavy eyes. I am sure this is more a side effect of not having caffeine, not a side affect of actually being tired - but we shall see in the next 8 days.

My day ended beautifully with Karuna's Thursday night class. We worked closely with Pratyahara, or a softening of the senses to bring the focus inside. This theme is perfect for this detox. Getting the chance to go inside and be with myself was amazing. I would have to say that I had the most quiet savasana ever.

Points from the day:
  • The detox gets easier. I was scared that this was going to be impossible. I do miss certain foods, but have gained a new perspective.

  • Caffeine plays a greater part in my life than I thought
  • Grapefruit rocks my world

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Detox Diet - Day 1

I woke up this morning hungry- so I was immediately skeptical of how my day was going to go. One of the hardest parts of the morning was drinking 2 glasses of water before eating anything. I was able to get down 1 glass of water before leaving, and got the other one down in the car.

After getting to work, I allowed myself to gorge on fruit - we are allowed, after all to eat as much as we want. Two grapefruits and a kiwi later, I felt amazing and completely alive. I had my mid morning snack all prepared - I made my homemade apple sauce, but I put it in a container that apparently last held tomato sauce - and I could taste it. Regardless, starting the day with fruit really left me energized and alive.

Before lunch, I took some time alone and meditated for a half an hour. My energy felt so different. Almost like it was flowing backward. I wonder if this is because of the amount of citrus I ate, or perhaps it was that I had not eaten any grains? I felt lighter and more inside of myself. Regardless, I felt a different flow of energy that quickly brought a calmness and a steadiness.

This calmness has followed me through the day. I did however have some serious cravings mid afternoon. I learned this evening that potatoes may be the best way for me to feel satiated in the vegetable arena.

Lessons from day 1:

  • Perhaps going back to basics with food - fruits and vegetables - can bring the mind back to basics.
  • I can do this. All of my fears: not being feeling satiated enough or not having enough energy have proven to be only in my mind.
  • Do not put apple sauce in a container that last held tomato sauce. Garlic, tomato, and apple do not taste good together.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Detox Diet - the Next 10 Days

I am incredibly excited to begin a 10 day detox diet as part of a spring yoga workshop. Over the next 10 days, I can only eat fruits and herbal teas in the morning and only vegetables and herbal teas in the evening. I am incredibly excited to give this a try, as I am in serious need of a reset for spring. Over the next ten days, I will keep you up to date on what is happening and how things are going.

What I am afraid of:
  • I will be hungry all the time
  • I will not be able to digest everything well
  • I will cheat and have some grains to keep me full
  • No SWEETS!
What I am excited for:
  • Getting in touch with more natural foods
  • Trying things I would not normally try (I am talking to you beets!)
  • Making apple sauce again
  • Still being able to have garlic
  • Ginger!
  • Allowing myself some time with myself - and meditate on this new transition
I am planning my last few meals pre-fast.

For lunch: Avocado Roll and Sweet Potato Roll at one of my favorite sushi restaurants
For Dinner: TBD - thoughts?

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I am reading a wonderful book called The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice written by T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of Krishnamacharya. It is always exciting to read the same ideas in a different way. This is the reason why I enjoy taking class from different teachers. Sometimes, the way someone phrases something can affect understanding that would otherwise be impossible. A simple difference in language or applying a concept in a different way can open doors.

In the first few chapters of the book, the author talks about how "yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present-really present-in every action, in every moment." This means that whether we are working, cleaning the house, or doing our asana practice we should strive for presence. Doing our best at everything, but without attachment to the outcome.

This is a very difficult part of the practice. Staying present at all times. It is easy for me to zone out at work or with friends. Being fully present is work, but the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Opening Your Heart - Not Just for Valentines Day

In my classes this month, we have been working on opening the heart. It all began on valentines day. I told my students that theme of the class would be opening the heart. This idea, of course, got a few comments. "That is so sweet" and "oh! that is so nice." I have to admit, I was proud of myself. I thought this was a fun idea. Something I was happy to find afterward, was that my students realized a change in themselves the next day - and not just physical changes.

Part of what asana, or our physical practice, gives us is the ability to stand tall and throw our shoulders back. This is something we have been told since we were children. My father always told me to stand tall and reminded me not to slouch. There is some real wisdom there. Anyone who has spent time working on their posture realizes that there is a certain confidence that comes with standing tall.

By physically opening the chest, we stand taller. The effects are a brightness of energy and an openness, which I like to refer to as an opening of the heart. Once your chest is open, you will find that there is a confidence and so much more. With that brightness and that confidence comes the ability to open yourself to others. You will also be surprised how open others are open themselves to you. That brightness, that energy, is infectious.

This is exactly what my students felt. The next day, they felt bright and open and others noticed it. Try it yourselves. Open your mind to opening your chest and opening your heart.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Simple Yoga Wisdom - Avoid Pain

Some of the sutras from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are quite simply stated, but are incredibly complicated in nature. Sutra 2.16 is just that - the sutra states that future pain should be avoided. Sounds easy right - just avoid pain.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali state that pain comes from the conjunction of the seer and the seen - that is of the self and the mind. In yogic philosophy (and Hinduism for that matter), the purpose of life is to separate the mind from the true self. The two are seen as separate.

So how do we avoid pain? By not identifying the mind as what makes you what you are.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Can A Mat be Too Sticky?

My gym students often ask me about purchasing a mat. What is the best brand, what should they purchase? I have a lot of thoughts on this topic:
  • It is worth spending a little extra. I know you have all heard the saying "you get what you pay for." I have had students come in and say that they purchased mats from a bargain store for four to five dollars. Some consider that a steal if you are just trying out yoga. I would disagree - there are far too many unused junk mats out there sitting in basements and landfills. And unfortunately, these mats are not made of the most sustainable products.

  • Don't even bother buying a mat if you are just trying yoga out. If you are just giving yoga a try - use one of the extra gym or studio mats. (But I am going to warn you - you are going to like it.)

  • Look through studio lost and founds - for some reason, people leave their mat behind and don't come back for it. Try out a few of these - and look for different brands in the L+S stack.

Sticky vs. Not Sticky

Reasons to buy a super sticky mat (Manduka/Jade)
  • You will not slide - I know many people say they have a hard time with downward dog because their hands won't stop sliding. If this is the case- get a super sticky mat.

  • Very good for more difficult back bends like Viparita Dandasana - where sliding is scary

Reasons not to buy a super sticky mat:
  • Sticky mat stubbed toe - these mats are sticky. Occasionally, when working with a super sticky mat, you will jamb your foot or fingers on the mat because...well...they are sticky.

  • If you do a lot of jumping in your asana practice - I have been stopped mid jump because my toes caught the mat. This is a good and a bad thing. Good, because it will train you to lift higher to keep your feet away from the mat. Bad, because sometimes you just want to slide a bit coming out of your jump.

Feel free to share your responses. What makes a good mat? Can a mat be too sticky?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Squeezing It In - The Morning 15

Here is my new mission - fit in 15 minutes of meditation in the morning. For a while, I was making it happen. I would get up and spend a half hour doing pranayama or meditation. For some reason (perhaps the winter) I have been unable to do so lately. I had a light bulb moment - what if I do my ironing in the evening? That will get me 15 minutes in the morning.

I have been reading a book about mudras and plan on working with a few mudras during this time. I am excited to get started! I will let you know how it turns out.

Adventures in Vegetarianism - No Meat in Middle America

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of visiting a small town in the mid west on business. When I say small, I mean that the town has less than 2000 people. (I know, small). This is my second time traveling out there and this experience was even better than the last trip. Everyone out there is very welcoming and friendly and down-to-earth. Overall, I had an incredible time.

That being said, being a vegetarian out there was incredibly difficult. The town is on the Canadian border and the temperature can drop well below zero. (I checked and the today's low was -22). For this reason, I am assuming, they like a lot of stick-to-your-ribs meals. Every meal has two staples - meat and potatoes. Potatoes come with everything. I ordered macaroni and cheese there and it came with french fries.

For some reason, I still have a hard time explaining my vegetarianism to people - especially around a lot of meat eaters. It is easy to feel strange when you are at a table of 15 - all of whom are eating red meat - and you are the only one who is different. To make matters worse, there were not many alternatives. We went out to one restaurant where the entire menu is as follows:

  1. Fillet
  2. Prime Rib
  3. Chicken
  4. Shrimp
  5. Fish
So what did I have? A baked potato. Yup that is it. It is hard to feel like one of the group when everyone has a large piece of meat, a big plate, and takes 15 minutes to eat - and all I could have was one potato on a very small plate. I know that I shouldn't let it bother me, but I can't help but feel different from everyone else - I don't even know why that is important to me. These particular challenges may seem petty, but I cannot help but feel separate.

I managed to get through the trip and two giant bags of trail mix. Vegetarianism is a challenge, and I considered this week to be a test. I got through it and am proud of myself. I suppose my work now is to be ok with it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Getting Creative: Chair Shoulder Stand

Iyengar Yoga provides many great alternate poses to help teach us the mechanics of a pose. One of these great alternates is chair shoulder stand. In chair shoulder stand, the practitioner is inverted with their shoulders on a bolster and arms clasping the chair rungs at the back of the chair. The tailbone is resting on the chair seat with either the legs resting against the wall or raised toward the sky.

One question I have received in the past when practicing chair shoulder stand is, "why not just get into the traditional shoulder stand?" The reason is that this alternate version of the pose provides us some education that we cannot get from coming into the full pose. In traditional shoulder stand, there are many variables to think about: coming up high on the shoulders, supporting the back and neck, moving the tailbone in and legs back, rolling the legs towards one another, flexing the toes, etc. The chair helps us to get into the pose in a supported way, so that some of these variables are instead put onto the props.

Being able to really access the tops of the shoulders is a blessing that this pose provides. By having the tailbone supported, and the chair rungs, the student can continue to turn their arms out, bringing the shoulder blades in, and are able to come onto the tops of their shoulders. For many new students, it is hard to access this without the use of props. More often than not, new students are actually standing on their upper back, not their shoulders. By utilizing these props, students can not only access the pose, but also get a greater understanding of where the base of the pose is.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Loving the Un-Yogi – Hoarding

Recently I was sitting in on a regular Yoga Sutras discussion group and we were talking about sutra 2.39:

aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathanta-sambodhah

This sutra discusses the 5th YamaAparigraha. Aparigraha is defined in many different ways. Some define aparigraha as non-hoarding, not being acquisitive, or not lusting for possessions. I have always taken this yama to mean living simply. The yogi does not need to find joy in possessions. The Sutra actually says that letting go of this need “unlocks the real purpose” of life.

This particular yama is very difficult to discuss for me around the holiday season – and not for the reason you may think.

When my partner and I decided to live together, the first thing he asked me was, “What Christmas decorations do you have!?” Apart from being shocked by his excitement, I was surprised that this was such a concern.

“None” I said. “Why? Should I have Christmas decorations?”

Then I learned his dirty secret. We (and by we I mean he) has 14 large bins of decorations for Christmas alone. To top it off, he is always looking for more. Before the holidays, after the holidays, throughout the year – the need for holiday “accent pieces” does not stop. I secretly call all of this “craft” – “What a bunch of craft” or “what a load of craft.” I just don’t understand why all of it is necessary. And why the need for more? We have a total of 3 rooms that are fit for decorating.

Living with the non-yogi can be difficut, especially when you have differences like we do. How do I keep my life simple when there are so many decorations clogging my home? I do not get wrapped up in it. I sit back and allow the holiday magic to happen around me. We have discussed our differences and I do not take part in the decorating. I help out a little and allow the rest to happen.

The hard part is hoarding my thoughts during this time. I try not to get upset with the complication of it. It is easy to get upset, but the real test is finding peace with the decisions of others who are not trying to live the yogi lifestyle.