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.
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.
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.
Everybody is susceptible to tight hamstrings, from professional athletes to soccer moms. People who spend long hours sitting at a desk or who have rigorous training schedules can especially benefit from a “hammie” stretch or two (or three or four).
I grew up during the age of Jane Fonda aerobics marathons and “No pain, no gain” mantras. When the way of the warrior was breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. As an exercise enthusiast and a dancer throughout college, I lived my life this way without ever questioning the theory. Now I know better: Question everything!
Breathing is a 24-7 unconscious act. Breathing provides necessary oxygen to your body, without which the cells of your body would quickly die. But are you breathing the “right way”?
What happens during the transitions between yoga poses — and the transitions in life? Whether you’re moving from one pose to the next or from one life event to the next (a relationship, a job, a city), yoga instructor Bo Forbes says that it is during these transitions that we often feel discomfort or a sense of uncertainty. However, transitions are also pregnant with potential for transformation and change, so we should strive to embrace them — or at least listen to what they are trying to tell us.
So the next time you unroll your yoga mat, try to slow down your practice and lengthen the time between your poses. Really listen to your body and mind during these shifts, because that’s often the space where you can begin to grow.
Have you ever wondered what to prioritize when you are doing a yoga pose? What is the most important thing to focus on when doing Triangle? Or Downward Dog? Or Savasana? Ask 15 different yoga teachers from different yoga lineages and you will likely get 15 different answers. Is alignment the most important? Is it the breath? Awareness? Eye gaze? What is it?
I have wrestled with this question myself and have attempted to deconstruct hundreds of poses to figure out what is most important … but after 29 years of practice (yep, I’ve been practicing since I was a kid!) there is one element that I come back to again and again — and it might surprise you!
“Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” ~George Iles
When you run a yoga studio, you hear it all. From the annoyingly trivial (“So and so was in my spot!”) to the enormously overwhelming (“I’ve been diagnosed with cancer.”). Some of the stories I’ve heard over the years are so powerful and transcendent, they’ve reached into my life and left an indelible imprint of hope. This is one of those stories:
Her limbs twisted by muscular dystrophy, she wandered in and unrolled her yoga mat. I was concerned — mine is a rigorous class, and I wanted to protect her without making a spectacle. It’s a line every teacher walks with any new student, but her circumstances had me feeling more conflicted about how hands on or off I should be than usual.