On a regular basis, I have people tell me all of the reasons they don’t do yoga: they aren’t flexible enough, they feel awkward compared to others in class, they can’t quiet their mind, they aren’t fit…the list goes on and on, filled with fear and uncertainty. While it makes me sad that so many people are holding themselves back from experiencing the transformative beauty of yoga, I am also happy that so many people are sharing these thoughts with me because in sharing they are looking for answers.
Although choosing the style of yoga that works best for you is important, locating an instructor you resonate with is crucial.
My first experience with yoga was through an after-work exercise program at the school district where I worked. The instructor gave initial instructions, but didn’t explain how to modify a pose if you were unable to do one in the way she described. The lady next to me mastered all the poses in their original form and between her and the teacher, I felt lost, confused and most of all, uncomfortable. That encounter caused me to stay away from any yoga class for several years.
After hearing rave reviews about a local studio and needing to alleviate my joint pain from arthritis, I tried a gentle yoga class. From the moment I walked into the studio and was greeted by Jeni, the instructor, I knew I’d found a perfect place to develop a yoga practice. Jeni exuded friendliness and warmth, she explained everything, and she had one of the most soothing voices on the planet. If you mention an ache or pain you have, she incorporates moves into the class that help alleviate it, she gives lots of individual attention and she also takes other yoga classes. I’ve taken this same gentle yoga class from Jeni, every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. now, for about seven years. And I’m never leaving.
How can you find your own version of Jeni?
If you’ve avoided yoga retreats as a vacation option because you’re worried you’ll spend all your time contorted in meditative silence, it’s time to take another look. Not only do many yoga retreats blend spa treatments and body work with asanas, but a whole new trend combines contemplative practice with activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding and other outdoor pursuits.
I will begin with the admission that in this life, I have been extremely blessed. In the course of my work in the natural foods industry, I have been present at nearly every major yoga + music festival around the country. Wanderlusts, Bhakti Fests, Tadasana, Yoga Journal, you name it, I’ve been there distributing snacks, squeezing in some classes and generally reveling in the vibe.
Any yoga pose can be done in an inspired way. In fact, the more inspiration you put into it, the better the pose. (This goes for Savasana too, yo.) Be present, breathe, look inward, breathe … be inspired. This is yoga!
Nevertheless, most of us yogis aspire toward the more advanced asanas, and one that usually comes right to mind is Handstand: Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Downward-Facing Tree. In which your hands and fingers are the branches reaching down into the ground, and your feet and toes the roots reaching for the sky. There’s nothing like it for a new perspective — on yourself and on life in general.
The 9th Annual San Francisco Yoga Journal Conference was January 12-16. What a great way to start the new year! Gaiam was a sponsor, Rodney Yee was the keynote speaker, and yoga blogger Elena Brower was there teaching and sharing her yoga knowledge with hundreds of students and other attendees. Although many of us couldn’t be there in person, it almost feels as if we were, thanks to Elena’s gorgeous photo essay, below. Like what you see? Learn about next year’s event here.
Here at Gaiam, we don’t just walk the walk — we pose the pose. Many of us really do keep up a regular yoga practice, and yes, we love to use our Gaiam yoga mats, bags, straps, blocks and clothes. We also count ourselves lucky that we can do yoga at work — either on our own at the on-site gym or at weekly on-site yoga classes. There’s truly nothing like Warrior Pose to start the workday or Savasana to melt away stress at the end of it.