The yoga practice is a glorious dance of the physical possibilities in the human body. An advanced practice can take your breath away as easily as it can expand your ujjayi. It can twist and turn in directions that make an artist quiver with creative jealousy and inspire even the heaviest of sloths to entertain a change of mind.
That being said — it can also be intimidating as hell.
I learned, trained, teach and practice in Santa Monica, California. It is the mecca of yoga these days and the cream of the crop when it comes to beautiful practices. It’s hard to find a level 2-3 class that doesn’t have at least one yogi soaring through the air in-between asanas or adding what appears to be a level-X variation to every pose. It can often be inspiring and mind-blowing but it can also be, in a word, daunting.
Fall is the season of transformation. We can see this all around us in nature: the leaves are falling, the air is changing and we are harvesting an entirely new crop of fruits and vegetables.
It is important that we change with the seasons — just as nature does — by adapting our daily habits, yoga practice and food choices.
Ironically, it is only through change that was can stay grounded during this shifting season.
Fifteen years ago, I was not acting my age. Since I would recoil from any form of exercise, as well as any green foods, I was overweight, inflexible and debilitated by lower back pain. The 40 extra pounds on my frame — plus tight, shortened back muscles and weak abs — left me moving like an 80-year-old version of myself.
I suffered daily from sciatica, back spasms, limited mobility, weakness, you name it. When I got stuck in my car one day, unable to swing my legs out because of my sciatic pain — at age 23 — I realized, “Something’s gotta change.”
I started reading up and realized a shocking number of people suffer with chronic back pain, partly from hours spent sitting in a way that flattens the lower back curve. (BTW, Gaiam’s Balance Ball Chair, the very one I’m sitting on as I write this, is a great tool to help build core strength and re-align your spine.)
Then, I found yoga. Over time, using some of the same poses I’m showing you here, I built a lean and pain-free body.
It’s allergy season — that time of year when many of us are plagued by itchy or watery eyes, runny noses, and bouts of sneezing and coughing that threaten to knock pictures off the wall. These common allergy symptoms are the body’s way of defending itself against bacteria and viruses. Luckily, yoga can help!
First, we have to figure out where those annoying symptoms are coming from. Allergies are triggered by allergens. Some of the most common seasonal allergens include pollen, dust, mold, food and insect venom. Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution and some strong odors (such as perfumes) also impinge the respiratory system.
The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid what triggers them — such as by staying indoors on days when the pollen count is at its highest and keeping your home free of dust. But yoga can also help with both the prevention and management of allergy symptoms.
Everyone has a story about why they took their first yoga class and why they keep coming back. Most involve a desire to slow down, release tension, or recover from an injury. Mine is no different.
I took my first step onto the mat to learn how to let go of tension before it turned into an ulcer, as my lifestyle at that time was very fast-paced and stressful. Little did I know that in taking my first step on the mat, I would not only learn how to tune into my breath and strengthen my body, I would learn that I had the power to transform my life by gaining a clearer understanding of the mind-body connection.
As you grow and deepen your conversation with yoga, it becomes quite clear that the yoga practice must stretch far beyond the boundaries of that little sticky mat. Naturally, your practice begins to bleed into every part of your life, saturating your world with concepts like ahimsa (non-violence). Part of that concept is living in a way that is non-harming to the Earth.
Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to explore this mind-set, as we look for ways to give back to our life-sustaining planet. Every moment we are nourished and blessed by the abundant gifts of the Earth, and on this particular day we have the chance to give gratitude back to the source! This is a special chance to develop lasting rituals in your yoga practice and in your life that nurture an eco-centric approach to everyday living and that have the potential to last all year round.
Yoga saved my life.
Pretty grand statement, I know. And perhaps other people say that, too. I guess depending on where you are in life or what you happen to be going through, there are a lot of things that can save your life. A good book could do it, a sign from the universe or maybe even a strong martini. But when I say that yoga saved my life, I mean it truly came into my life during one of the darkest moments I had ever experienced and gave me back my desire to really live — fully and entirely.
A few years back, I found myself completely paralyzed with anxiety. I couldn’t go to work, drive my car or even leave my house without a potential panic attack. This anxiety made me angry. It made me resentful. But most of all, it made me an entirely different person. I became a shell of what I used to be. A lot of people thought I’d stay that way. Full disclosure: I thought I’d stay that way too.
The season of new beginnings is upon us. With the arrival of spring, we shift from the hibernation of the winter months to an awakening of rebirth. Spring invites us to open back up, delight in warmer days and cultivate a spirit of aliveness.
As sunlight paves longer days, warm, damp spells have the potential to leave congestion and upper respiratory conditions in their wake. Spring is the time for releasing deep-seated emotions of sorrow and sadness. Support your body through this transition with the following recipe for balance as we embrace this upcoming season.
Are you addicted to crack? Cracking your joints, I mean! There were years during my 20s when I could not fathom getting through my early-morning yoga practice without popping my shoulders, low back, hips and neck. I was popping and cracking my way through the day like a one-woman band.
Usually these fast internal whacks felt great, a rush that temporarily relieved aches and pains. What I didn’t know at the time was that all that cracking was not only emblematic of my body’s instability, but it was accelerating my own tissue breakdown.
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.