Monday, December 26, 2011

Respect Your Limitations

As we gear up for 2012, the enthusiasm (and sometimes pressure from the outside world) we sense at the close of the year has up chomping at the bit to do a complete overhaul of our lives. The body, career and relationship areas are highlighted as we compare and contrast where have been in the years past, and the urgency and expectation of the upcoming year nips at our heels. We see it all around us, a commercialism that sells us on a sense of lack, showing us what we must have or don't have or should have. This can put us in constant pursuit of what something looks like rather than what is actually good for us, even if our bodies are telling us to stop. If a light on your dashboard was blinking, you would not hesitate to take your car in for a tune up, and certainly you would not drive around ignoring it, as if it would simply disappear by itself. So why do we ignore our aches and pains, and our fatigue?

One thing I have learned through the years is to take a step back. If you are feeling worn down (and even if you aren't) I encourage you to take one thing off the to-do list. Instead of powering through to the next accomplishment and skipping the process of rumination that the Winter time allows us, perhaps we can go with the flow of nature. Hibernation is such a natural and neccesary part of the  growth process. Without taking a step back and assessing where we would like to direct ourselves, we could end up exactly where we are headed. Unconscious goal-setting is actually damaging. Rarely does our society take into consideration the individual human being. From the perspective of the field of wellness and health, I see over and over again the cycle of punishment/reward when it comes to my students, but what I recognize on a deeper level is the response that people have to the notion of  being easy on ourselves. Being good to ourselves and the need for self-respect is powerful! That may be what attracts many to yoga. Yoga is about knowing when to work through and face the edge, but also when to step back and repsect that the body has a language, which includes a part of ourselves that says slow down.

Child's Pose

I am a very physical person, so I am used to feeling in control of my body, and expressing control through my workouts and diet. I have excelled athletically by being strong and flexible. It is easy to get cocky and to feel invincible. Therefore, some of my greatest gifts have come in the form of injuries. Each injury has given me some very valuable education about my body. My torn meniscus and my knee surgery taught me patience and trust, as well as the ability to rehabilitate. My bulging discs have taught me to respect my body’s structure and limitations. Having dental work has taught me to accept my genetics. These experiences pin me to my body so that I become extremely present and grounded, and it is through this that I have learned the resilience that is truly within me. It is also how I have learned to understand bodies that are different from mine. I know how intimidating and frustrating it can be when it seems that everyone around you can do a pose that you can't. So this has taught me humility, respect, and acceptance.
As we wrap up the year, let's respect where we truly are. Your body knows. Allow it to speak to you.

For some modification tips for various limitations, see my TIPS and LINKS.

Monday, December 19, 2011


What you focus on expands. Have you ever been told, "Wow, you look like you've lost weight", and you say "nah", and before you know it the pounds start to creep on. Or the flip-side of that coin, when you make a decision to really celebrate your body and appreciate yourself, and then suddenly your body begins to fall right into place. Where would you like to put your attention? The mind is very powerful, and staying positive can be a challenge. But by focusing on the positive, our lives become joyous, and the little irritations matter less.

When I first started to watch my mind during yoga or spinning, I began to notice the way I would speak to myself. If I started grunting and complaining about how hot and sore I was, my body seemed to get more tired. When I focused on how good it felt to get my heart pumping blood to my extremities, and I remembered that the intensity is actually the feeling of my body falling right into place, I grew not only to look forward to my workouts, but the results turned out to be better. 

During the holiday season, or whenever there is a marker of time, generally we fall into a pattern of comparison. We compare to what other people seem to have, or judge our insides by another person's outsides. I have often fallen prey to being jealous of myself! What I used to have or what was happening last year, as opposed to this year. Things were very different. Last year I was off to spend the holidays with my boyfriend and his family, and this year, I am experiencing heartbreak and the loss of that relationship.

It is very easy to focus on what we do not have or what used to be, however, I am experiencing that I can take that very same circumstance and surrender to exactly where I am, that it can be correct, and even joyous. I had a break through the other morning where I settled into the feeling of heartbreak, and appreciated it for exactly what it is. It actually feels very good to be human and have my heart break open. I began focusing on how grateful I am for having had this love, and now for the loss of it... which includes this pain in my heart and the beauty of that surrender. 

I have created a positive affirmation for myself:
I surrender this relationship to God, so that I can feel closer to God and have faith that I am being carried to exactly where I need to be.

This has been incredibly expansive for me and I am feeling very good, even amidst change.  Don't take my word for it. Try each day this month to come up with a positive affirmation to live by, and watch what happens.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Teacher is the Ultimate Student

As a teacher, I consider myself the ultimate student. I began as a student, and my passion for learning and understanding is where my drive arises from. I have always loved pulling from the resources that a variety of teachers has to offer. Each of us has a different perspective and knowledge-base, and when we explore together and share our findings, we can touch on the whole picture. I may not enjoy one instructor's philosophy, but I may love their cuing or energy. We each have something unique to offer.

Many times, students in a class will wonder if they are practicing "correctly". What is the "right" way to do a pose? What is the "real" yoga? When I hear a teacher claim there is only one right way to do anything, I get suspicious. I am way too rebellious to just simply follow along because someone tells me to. Have you noticed that different body types look unalike in the very same pose? I cannot tell you how many times I have been injured because an instructor kept urging me to  move into the correct position, occasionally placing me in the pose, assuming that my body was ready to go there. No matter how much experience or how much of an expert your teacher is, it is essential to be confident in your own body's wisdom.

Almost everything that I truly know and understand has come through experience. No one person can tell me exactly what is right for me, but they can provide me with some guidelines, and once I have moved through it on my own, I am on my way to self-mastery. 

One of my students have told me what a 'bad student' they are, how they are uncoordinated and slow-learning,  rebellious and unruly. My reply: "Oh. You're a teacher's teacher." It's very true. When I am faced with someone who has their own way, it stretches me to be a better teacher. To face my own ego, and to see something from an entirely new angle!

Here is a list of my favorite teachers over the years:
Alan Watts
Ram Dass
Baron Baptiste
Vinnie Marino
Bryan Kest
Erich Shiffman
Steve Ross
Master Ni
Denise Kaufman
Mark Griffin

Here is a list of must read books:
Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz
The Art of Happinessa by the Dalai Lama
Way of Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
Grace and Grit by Ken Wilbur
Henry Miller
* The Diary of 
Anais Nin
The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda


When I was a young student, I was one of those kids who actually liked school. I went to a school for experiential learning, and was taught to be an explorer and to break free from the limitations that exist within the illusion of four walls. So I have always seen teachers as mentors who are on the path, just like me, and are here to help inspire me to find my own way. There are no two people with exactly the same path, and a teacher is here to open up your mind, and help to support and hold space for you as you find YOUR way.

The below is a book about the incredible school that gave me such respect for AND from the teachers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Energize & Relax with Yoga

Yoga practices the art of bringing the body, mind and emotions back to balance. There is a time for energizing as well as a time for relaxing, and we require both. Holiday time makes it  easy to look around and become distracted by the outside world. Finding what feels right is deeply personal and internal, so developing a routine to keep you stabilized during this time is essential. Some ways that we may energize: going to parties, shopping for friends, eating and drinking taboo foods. Some ways that we may relax: reading a book inside by the fire, taking a walk, reviewing and taking an inventory of your year, focusing on your internal rhythm through breath.

Here are several ways to tune up or tone down your 
yoga for the season.

The following yoga routine begins with a standard yoga posture and a tune up or turn down version. Depending on your mood, you can opt for the energizing version, or you can mellow the effect with the relaxing version. Generally, poses where we open the heart and expand the chest and 
lungs will energize, while the forward bends, have a way of relaxing the nervous system and calming us down.

Bridge Pose: 
Come to your back, legs bent and feet 
hip-width apart. Start with your arms by your sides. Bring your heels up to your tush. Make sure your feet are straight and parallel. Take a deep inhale. On the exhale, pull the belly in and rotate your pelvis under, keep peeling your spine off of the floor, one vertebrae at a time. Push the feet down in order to lift the hips up. Keep your chin tucked (see image below, top).

Energize: Extending each leg, one leg at a time (see below, center).
Relax: Place a block underneath your sacrum (see below, bottom).

Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose - ENERGIZE
Bridge Pose - RELAX

Forward Bend:
Separate your feet about hip-width apart and hang your upper body down, folding over the legs. Allow the crown of the head to dangle down towards the floor. Feel the spine release and elongate. Press the thigh bones backwards. Lift the kneecaps up. Dangle and breathe.

Energize: Place finger tips on floor, on the inhale extend and flatten out or back, on the exhale fold. Repeat 8 times (Images below, top and center).
Relax: Try bending your knees slightly, and "rag doll" the upper body (Image below, bottom).

Forward Bend
Forward Bend - ENERGIZE
Forward Bend - RELAX

Step your feet about four feet apart. Turn the right foot out, and slightly angle the left foot in. Arms are extended out to the side. Breath in. On the exhale, extend and reach outward through the right arm, as you press the hips to the left. Keep opening the chest as you elongate here. Try to create a straight line from the hips to the fingertips. Keep the length after hinging from the hips. Now keep the chest open, and drop the hand down to the shin, the ankle, or maybe even the floor. Keep opening the chest. 10 breaths. Try to extend and reach through the top of the head. Try to keep the crown of the head and the tailbone in alignment (see image below, top).
Energize: As you open your heart and extend both arms out to the side. Allow your core strength and trunk to support you (see image below, center).
Relax: Try it with a block or even a chair, if you want to ease up a little (see last two images below).

Triangle Pose
Triangle Pose - ENERGIZE
Triangle Pose - RELAX
Triangle Pose - RELAX

One Arm Balance:
Begin in Plank. Bring the feet together. Move the right hand directly below the face. Rock your body to the side, so that you are balancing on the right hand and the outside edge of the right foot. Feet are flexed and the underside of the waist is lifting up so that your top hip is lifting up towards the ceiling. Press the bottom hand into the floor, so that you are not dumping into that right 
shoulder. Keep the right arm straight (but not locked). If you are super flexible to the point of hyper-extension, stay aware of not locking the elbow (see image below, top).
Energize: Lift the top leg (see image below, center).
Relax: Rest the lower knee on the floor (see image below, bottom).

One Arm Balance
One Arm Balance - ENERGIZE
One Arm Balance - RELAX

Breathing is all about expansion and contraction. The art of breathing in yoga is called Pranayama. There are two basic breathing exercises I will share with you here. The first is the energizer called breath of fire, or skull shining technique. The second is called alternate nostril breathing and is designed to bring the energy down and calm the nervous system.

Breath of Fire:
Try this for about a minute, sitting Japanese-style, with your spine straight.
1. Relax your abdomen. You can place your hands gently on your belly, as you start to get a feel for the breathing.
2. With your mouth closed, exhale strongly and quickly through your nose, contracting your abdominal muscles to push the air out in short bursts.
3. The inhale should happen relatively automatically, as the focus is on the exhale breath.

Avoid this type of breathing if your nasal passages are blocked.
Also avoid this breathing if you are pregnant, or have any heart problems.
Detoxifies the lungs
Energizes the body

Alternate Nostril Breathing: 
Start by doing this for three rounds, from a seated position.
1. Use your right hand and close right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril for a four-second count.
2. Immediately close the left nostril with the right ring finger and pinky finger, as you remove your right thumb from the right nostril. Exhale thru this nostril for an eight-count.
3. Then, switch. Inhale thru right nostril for a four-count. Close the right nostril with the right thumb and exhale through the left nostril for an eight-count.

Avoid this type of breathing if you have a cold. Do not force the breathing if the nasal passages are blocked.
Increases brain functioning, creativity and reasoning ability
Calms the mind
Calms the nervous system