Yoga Journal Blog: Core Values

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A traveling yoga teachers shares her stories and lessons from life on the road.

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Sadie Nardini Sadie Nardini
International yoga teacher and blog superstar keeps you centered.

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An Office Twist

October 12, 2010

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Editor's note: This is Sadie's last Core Values blog posting. We wish you luck in all your endeavors, Sadie!

Even though my cubicle-tethered friends are jealous that I don't have a mainstream day job, what they might not know is that as a touring yoga teacher whose business entity starts with her own name and ends in "LLC," I still log about eight hours a day on average doing office work.  

It's true: Being my own boss has its upsides (some days the 5 o'clock whistle blows at 3:30!), but the knowledge that you're the one who makes or breaks the success of your own enterprise is a heck of a taskmaster. Today when I sat down on the same hard cafe seat, I noticed my sitting bones were sore from the four hours I spent here last night. Even though my work is yoga, I still get the body blues if I go too long at the computer without a break.

I offer a lot of philosophy in this column. Yet, sometimes, an important benefit of yoga is that it's absolutely practical when it comes to keeping our bodies fit and healthy. We can apply our tension and stress-relieving tools all the time, whether we're on a rectangle of rubber or need a quick and effective refresher anytime during the day.

To remedy the stiffness and lethargy that can set in from remaining in one position, and if I can't leave the room to hit a yoga class or take a brisk walk, the following asana is the next best thing. Because of the twisting motion, it helps to detoxify and energize you, and the action of sitting in the air--without sitting on a chair--brings precious circulation back into the legs.  Plus, it tones your waist, abdominal muscles, and lower body, and even burns calories, since more lean muscle means a higher metabolism all day long. Now, those are office benefits I can get behind!   

Core Pose: Revolved Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana)

Still sitting in your chair, scoot away from your desk and bring your feet together flat on the floor. Lift your low belly in and up toward your chest to support your spine as you lift your butt off the chair. Inhale and reach your arms overhead. Exhale, bring your palms together at your chest and twist your upper body, bringing your right elbow onto the left knee.

Keep your tailbone long and your belly engaged as you take 5 inhales and exhales in this position. Then inhale your arms to center, and switch sides.

Between sides, or after both sides, you can bring your fists into the opposite elbow creases, and fold forward over your legs. Straighten them as much as is comfortable to release tension from your lower back and improve focus.
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Rest and Restore

October 5, 2010

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This weekend at the Vancouver Yoga Conference, I taught for 14 hours. I feel good, but I can tell I've really expended some energy.

I can remember when a two-hour workshop seemed massive to me. I didn't know how in the world I would fill all that time. Now I regularly teach for six hours a day, immersing people in Core Strength principles of anatomy and alignment. It's no walk in the park energetically. I have to be present every second.

As a yoga instructor, I promote Self-centering at every turn. This weekend reminded me that it's not possible for every day to exist in perfect balance with the amount of energy we give out equaling the nourishment we give back to ourselves. Balance isn't perfect, like a square. It's wild; it moves in a living flow that may seem chaotic to the outsider, but actually has it's own beautiful purpose. Living in balance, one of the ultimate goals of yoga practice, means that sometimes you give a lot--to a work project, for example, or to a friend in need. Other days you're able to rest and restore and do what's necessary for your health and happiness.

Of course, we aim to do some of both every day. But it's natural for waves of output and input to wash through our lives. The self-aware yogi creates a plan for making sure that there is always a moment of rejuvenation waiting around the corner. I purposefully said "no" to almost all commitments this week so that between now and my next weekend teaching in Manhattan, I can collect myself, have someone else teach me yoga, and follow my natural rhythms for a few days.

Whenever possible, we must preempt the busy times we know will come by creating boundaries around our peace. If we don't, who will? Rather than waiting until we burn out, how about starting today to set dates with yourself--moments that are untouchable, such as a night a week, one weekend day a month, whatever it takes to ensure that no matter how stormy life gets, there is always an oasis waiting right around the corner.

Core Pose: Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) Variation with Block

This is a powerful restorative posture that releases tension from the belly and lower back muscles, while bringing your sacrum and lumber spine into a gentle traction that frees you up on all levels by promoting deeper relaxation, detoxification, circulation and energy flow.

Come into a Bridge Pose preparation on your back, knees bent, heels under knees, with a block off to the side. Inhale here. Exhale to lengthen your tailbone and lift your hips with support from the firming lower back and abdominal muscles.

Place the block the long way (not wide across your hips) under the sacrum, with the top of the block at the top, center of your pelvis, and the rest of the block under your sacrum and tailbone. If the block goes up into your lower spine, it's too high.

In this position, the block will gently massage the sacral muscles and press the sacrum into a natural curve. Your lumbar vertebrae will pour down off the block like a waterfall. The shoulder blades, shoulders, and back of your head will all rest into the earth. Now, walk your feet as wide as your mat, and let your knees release toward one another. They don't have to touch, but this position will encourage a healthy widening across the low back and sacrum, two areas that tend to get compressed in our daily lives.

Reach your arms out to the sides, palms up, and take a few minutes to rest here. Breathe without effort and receive the benefits of such an open and restful pose.
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Finding Your Sutras

September 28, 2010

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I was at dinner last night, and someone asked me if I just teach the same thing over and over again, or if I'm always coming up with fresh ideas for each class. "A little of both," I replied.

I'm always seeking; bringing shiny new tidbits that I've learned to my students, like a bluebird adding pieces of holiday tinsel to its nest. My workshops are like snowflakes: instantly recognizable, yet no two are exactly alike.  Even so, I cultivate and maintain a voice, so that in addition to the differences, you'll always hear my language, main teachings, and perspectives on yoga.

When I do trainings for yoga instructors, I encourage them to continue their education, not only through yoga classes and other modalities, but also by paying rapt attention to life itself. Everywhere you look you'll see a signpost pointing back to yourself, and the aware yogi will begin to see patterns within the seeming randomness of it all.

My students learn to discover what I call their own "core message," the major, overriding aspects of spirit they feel called to express. Then, in taking action from their message and living in alignment with it, they become experts in some unique perspective that has been formed by their experiences, interests, and studies, and that they alone are qualified to share with others in a powerful way.

All the master yoga teachers have made it clear what they stand for, and their voice is recognizable. For example, if I say "kidney loop" or "inner body bright," you're going to think of John Friend and Anusara Yoga. Teachers like John have honed in on what they were meant to do, and they don't veer from that path by teaching wildly different styles or presenting different messages. Even if you're not a yoga instructor, you can look within yourself and see that you have your own recognizable voice and message.

Yogis might call this dharma, or life's path. There may be more than one path for each of us, such as having kids, being a painter, and taking care of an elderly parent. And your dharma can shift according to the different seasons and cycles of your life. Yet if we're still, and practice listening beyond the cacophony of life and the mind, it becomes easier and easier to detect where the currents of life energy are taking us and to follow mindfully along.

To me, this is one meaning of yoga: to unite--not just with the universal, but also with the personal. We can open ourselves up to serve the greater energy by streaming it through our creativity and personality in a vibrant way. As we transform, so does our unique song, yet some elements will remain the same. Those are the sutras, or threads that run through our lives.

We all have our own sutras, core values that provide some cohesion to our lives, helping to explain the things that attract us, illuminating the lessons we've learned, and also moving us into the path of challenges that keep appearing over and over until we bring them into line with our core values. One of my sutras is self-realization. I call it "core strength" to make this concept more accessible to the masses, but what I teach is so much more than an abdominal workout. It's a road map to find the way home to ourselves, and a process of turning away from over-reliance on things outside of us. I teach students to circle back to their own inner knowing, through movement, philosophy, cheerleading, and sometimes, by simply sitting back at the right moment.

My spiritual sutra stems from my own lifelong journey towards deeper understanding of my true nature, often sparked by massive challenges and discomfort, other times through the organic breeze of inspiration. As I teach, I learn about others and about myself, and become more skilled in discerning the ego from the soul.

To find my current sutras, I ask myself: To what or whom am I dedicated with all my heart? And, to distinguish all the other mind chatter from my core message and the ribbons of action that spool outward from it, I might also inquire, "If I had only one sentence I could say to all the world, what would it be?"   

When an answer comes that expands my heart and makes me feel more alive instead of less, I follow it to the end. And I trust that if one thread ever runs out, if I simply quiet down and look inside, I will find the next sutra waiting for me to pick it up and run with it, as far as it will go.

Core Pose: Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) with Side Stretch

Next time you're in Uttanasana, try this variation. It will help you pick up the sutra of your side body, and follow that line into more freedom as you gain flexibility along your outer shins (peroneal muscles), outer thighs (Iliotibial, or "IT" band),  side waist and ribs (obliques and intercostals) and more!

Come to the front of your mat. Bend your knees and fold forward over your legs. Cross your left ankle over your right and ground both feet fully into the mat. With bent legs, begin to walk your fingertips on the floor (or palms onto blocks) over to the left, sidebending your spine as the hips stay facing the front of your mat. Your right hip may want to push forward, but keep it anchoring back as if you were in your regular forward bend. This will cause a more dynamic lengthening through the right side.

As you breathe into the right ribs, straighten your legs until you access a stretch along the outer right leg. See if you can connect it all the way up into the side waist and perhaps even under the right arm. Take 10 breaths or more here, releasing tension and enjoying the new space and energy that you're creating by following the thread. Come back to center, come up, and then repeat on the other side.

9_28_Uttanasana_with_side_stretch.jpg
 



Push or Surrender?

September 21, 2010

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I often tell students, if you've decided to be in a posture, be in it with full dedication. Otherwise, rest completely in Child's Pose. Either way, you're giving it your all, whether that "all" is a more active, participatory state, or a surrendered, introspective one.


Whichever you choose, you're there, totally rocking it and getting what you need for your growth and transformation. When you realize that either choice is valid, both action and seeming inaction can move you unerringly forward and serve to support you in maintaining a healthy balance.

 

What strikes me about the practice of asana is how many practical tools and hints it reveals to us about how to cultivate a life lived more in the experience of our inherent equilibrium than in the wild and destructive storms of suffering. Often, I see students doing one of two things on their mats. They meet a challenging pose and instead of surrendering enough to allow the intensity to flow through the body and breath, they fight it.  Their breath gets louder and faster as their faces redden and muscles tense against the onslaught of sensation. It seems they would rather die than take a rest, even when it's obvious that rest is needed. Bottom line: They are trying to confront something that would be so much easier to accept, soften into, and allow.

 

Or the opposite reaction occurs. If the challenge appears too great, a student might just hang out in the pose limply, not even attempting instructions that might empower them. Instead, they enter into Child's Pose too soon or, they simply give up, plop on the mat, no more alignment or yoga breath in sight, because they're stuck in the mantra, "If I can't do it all, why even try?"


In both situations, have they missed the opportunity to engage at their next level, where transformation occurs? I can't say, but each of us can examine how our choices either serve our greatest good or keep us existing in a diminished state.

 

How often do we avoid doing the very work that would shift us toward our life's greatest expression or engaging in the sometimes-uncomfortable conversations that might take our relationships to that next place of honesty? This resistance to taking courageous action causes disconnection from one's core truth.

 

On the other hand, sometimes we engage too aggressively, trying to control every outcome by worrying about it, leaking energy by resisting reality, or over-focusing on other people's actions without realizing that these are the times when we are in danger of becoming out of alignment with our own integrity. In this state, we shut down to the teachings that are right in front of us, whether joyful or painful, that constantly ask us to decide: In this moment, what is most needed now? A conscious push or surrender?

 

Yogis come to realize, through practice and inner inquiry, that when they are faced with a choice, whether it's to do with a career move, a relationship, staying in Crow Pose for three more breaths or taking a rest, or anything else, that there are two options that have a good chance of paving a clearer path to peace. If you choose to engage, do it completely, serve the person or situation with love and respect, and do your absolute best to move forward. This can help quiet the anxiety of inner struggle than can occur when you don't fully commit to the choice you've made, at least for now.

 

If you choose not to participate, then sweetly but firmly exit the situation with love.  This helps you avoid becoming the victim or bearing the oppressive weight of grudges. Instead you'll learn the art of forgiveness so completely that you realize there is ultimately nothing to forgive.

 

You can always change your mind, but when you learn to strategically engage and disengage, what remains unwavering is you, living from center; capable, present, and inviting yourself again and again into the awesome flow of opportunities for growth that surround you, right where you stand.

 

 CORE POSE: Revolved Lunge with Variation

 

As you'll see when you play within Revolved Lunge, bending the knee may provide the twist or heart opening you desire and lengthening the leg could help you to gain flexibility. Learn to modify the pose through more or less action to suit your needs.

(Remember, in yoga poses, stretching more is not always desirable.)

 

Come into Low Lunge with your left foot forward, back heel up, and fingertips framing the front foot. If this feels too low, place a block under each hand.

 

Lift your belly on an exhalation, and inhale to wave your spine longer. Begin to twist from your right ribcage as you spin your heart to the left, and reach the right arm to the sky. Slide your left hip back and down, and take slow, deep breaths to open the chest and wring the inner body through the twisting action of the upper torso. Maintain a stable stance as you begin to draw the hips back, lengthening your front leg until you begin to feel sensation in the side of the hips or leg. Your heart may not open much at first, but you'll get a sweet stretch right where you need it most.

 

Stay in each variation (or choose the one that works best for you) for 5 to 10 breaths then step your back foot forward and switch sides. 

9_21_reverse lunge.jpg

 

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Every Moment an Opportunity

September 14, 2010

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I'm here in Manhattan, awaiting my mini-retreat at Omega Institute this weekend. Until then, I have a rare opportunity to do something I rarely do anymore: take yoga classes from other people.

As an instructor, you'd think it would be easier to make it to the studio, but I find that life (and teaching at the same time as many of your peers) easily gets in the way. Not to complain, but after teaching yoga for two hours, or four, or six, the last thing I want to do is find a class I might like, and then start the process over again.

Sure, I have a home practice. But how sweet it is to have a few days I can dedicate to sitting on the mat, making inner space, and letting someone else teach me. After all, I know what I know. These days, I'm more interested in finding out what I don't know.

I was able to take two classes this weekend at the same studio but different instructors. The difference between them was immense. The first teacher led us through the postures with no mention of living from center philosophy, intention-setting reminders, or the like. I got a great workout and was happy for it.

The second teacher, Mercedes Rodriguez-Bermejo, began with a sitting reflection and teaching on transformation, pointing out the changing tree just outside our city window. She encouraged us to search within our poses for what we wanted to shift or let go of. We sang rich Oms and chanted along with her gorgeous voice. And yes, we did Tree Pose (Vrksasana).

Then she moved us through the asanas in a living dance, returning to the theme of transforming yourself ("not into someone else, or something better or worse; just different, according to your intention") with a Temple Pose where we took Venus Mudra overhead, then swept forward with a "Ha!" and low-belly activation that truly made me feel that I was releasing something deep. By the end of class, I felt like I'd been on a real journey.

The poses were not that different between the two instructors, and I would never say that one class was good and the other wasn't. But it was marvelous to be able to surrender into a teaching that spoke to me and awoke my whole being.

When I have a teacher who is offering something from Source, I feel I've come into the presence of a true Sadhu, or spiritual person. Though I believe every one of us is inherently spiritual, some people actively live in devotion, consistently committing to do the uncomfortable, rewarding work of finding their innermost nature and therefore, their deepest truth.

You can tell by how they express themselves, on or off the mat, that they have found the inner knowledge of the oneness of all beings and the capacity we all hold to be, quite literally, in love with our lives. When I step into class with a teacher like that, it inspires me, infuses me, and lets me slip more easily into my own core relationship.

Life goes fast, and it's often compelling to make the easy choice ("Oh, I'll just take the class around the corner") rather than taking time to find something that might really excite you and give you something new. I was in a position to make that choice myself just the other night. In the middle of my Next Top Model marathon, I had the urge to learn something. So, I switched to the Science Channel. Now, is knowing about piranhas, Amazonian tribal culture, and why the Japanese coastline was recently overrun with gigantic jellyfish better than knowing who won the CoverGirl contract? Who knows? Both are enjoyable at different times. But I crave Science Channel to expand my knowledge of the world in a deeper way. I also had a lot more epiphanies about spiritual things while watching it, which I take as a sign that a universal teaching is underway.

Understanding what's true for you each moment (and it will change!) will help you more effectively create the inner and outer environments that support you and those around you. What you project through your attitude, intention, and attention to details makes a huge difference in how harmonious your relationships are. The central question becomes: Are you living as a holistically integrated Sadhu or are you living from just one part of yourself, such as your body, mind, fear, or ego? The yogi will take steps to reunite the mind, body, and spirit regularly so that she maintains equilibrium.

So, the next time you're choosing a class, a teacher, a relationship, a career move, what thoughts you're going to believe, what foods you're going to bring home from the grocery store, or even, yes, what TV show to watch, take a moment to consider what will increase your health, vitality, and innermost empowerment. Soon enough, when you look around, you'll realize that every minute of your day is an opportunity to do this.

Core Pose: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

9_13_mountainpose.jpg

To bring yourself into different states in a situation that appears similar, try this experiment. Let's do the same pose in two ways:

Pose 1: Come to stand anywhere on your mat, feet separated two-fists-distance apart. Lengthen your tailbone and draw your lower belly gently up toward your sternum. Widen your shoulders and reach the crown of your head higher. Bring your palms together at the chest, and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Remain here for 1 minute.

Pose 2: Come into the posture using the same alignment points from above. Close your eyes, and envision a bright, warm sun in the center of your belly. As you inhale, let the breath drop down slowly to stoke this heat even more. It will spread and warm your hip joints, sacrum, and pelvic floor, widening and softening any stuck, stuffed, or old energy found there.

On your exhalation, activate the bowl of muscles inside your pelvis as you hug around the sun and lift it up the spine. This action will bring light and heat from the root through the belly, solar plexus, heart, throat, and head, clearing your central channel, or shushumna, of any resistances to your vitality and inherent energy flow.

These main areas of resistance to your prana, or life force, moving freely, are called granthis, and are found in the form of tension in the belly, chest, and head. When we bring awareness to the inner life of our poses, we not only get a strong and supple outer body, we begin to unravel the granthis and experience an ever-greater movement and stability in the mind, heart and spirit within the body.

Breathe here for 1 minute or more as you experience this pose on all levels at once.

Drawing In and Letting Go

September 7, 2010

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I'm back in New York City for a long stay while I recoup between teaching dates. And I have to say, there's nothing quite like the Big Apple. Yes, it's crowded, not the cleanest place in the world, and oh boy, can it be loud. But it's also really, truly alive.

This city is lived in, that's for sure. It's a constant reminder to grab life with both hands, be who you have to be, and say what you came to say. Most of all, it's a place to experience all that life has to offer, whether it's a rooftop yoga class, a walk on the pier as the sun comes up, voyaging to Ellis Island for a taste of history, or catching one of the hundreds of live shows that artists, musicians, and other performers put on every day.

It's also a lesson in humility. After all, there's no way one could do everything the city has to offer in one day, or even one year. And tonight, sitting on a couch, enjoying dinner with one of my best friends, Bari Koral, I was discussing just that concept.

Bari is a busy singer-songwriter with a skyrocketing career in children's music. I'm a busy yoga instructor. We both are the originators and ultimate directors of our careers, and we are both called upon to be continuously creative.  Whatever you are involved in, I can bet that you've got a lot going on, too.

Stress builds the moment we try to do more (or feel like we should be doing more) than we have time to actually give. As we cross the threshold from "I can give this" to "I have to give this in order to succeed, even though I have nothing more to give," we become trapped in a cycle of giving out until we burn out.

Granted, sometimes we all push it a little bit, to get that presentation done, or to take on a project that asks one more late night of us than we'd like. We have kids, which can be as draining as it is joyous; or we say yes to relationships that cycle into their own challenges, like illness or emotional struggle. Even if what we do is our life's work, and we love our interactions with others, there is still no way to be everything for everyone. In yoga, prana, or life force, is also the drawing in that which nourishes us. Apana, literally down breath, is also letting go of things that are potentially toxic.  For example, an inhalation is prana, an exhale, apana. Eating healthy food is prana, and excreting the waste created by that same food is apana.

Yoga, first and foremost, is a practice that bring us into a state of inner growth and transformation. It comprises conscious choices you make in every moment that lead you toward an experience of harmony--the balance between taking in what serves you and letting go of what doesn't. Knowing this, you can look around and see where you're being nourished and where you're participating in that which takes a bite out of your ability to love your life and be free. Sometimes you'll be surprised by what you find.

For example, you may think that offering your time to watch your neighbor's child once a week is an offering of support for her, and it is. However, what if those few hours are time you could, and need, to be spending on your own creative projects, or just taking a bath and a nap or a yoga class? Is there someone else in the area that could watch her child properly, or is it forever up to you? If you really think about your life, you may see places that you're taking up the space meant for someone else, and by not giving up your placeholder status (apana), you are actively blocking yourself from filling the spaces that only you were born to inhabit.

It's a fine line, but once you get used to making space to move toward your best dreams, you'll see that the exact right person will step into the void you left behind. Trusting that it will happen, and gathering the courage to make a nourishing move, is a skill and a process.

In the same way, in your yoga practice, seek out opportunities to bring in new energy and stop saying yes to old, limiting behaviors, or habits that aren't quite fitting you anymore. If you've always come up from Low Lunge into High Lunge with a supremely arched back, and you hold the pose with the front of your heart open wide but the back of the heart and the ribs frozen, and your back tight and cranky, perhaps it's time to move into the pose with new awareness. Try coming up by drawing in your belly and front ribs and waving up the front of the spine as well as the back. Now you're not giving everything away through the heart, but equally giving out and giving in.

In each moment, you can ask yourself: "Is this choice serving my health and happiness or moving me away from it?" When you step into your own power whenever possible (hint: it's always possible!), you'll create a wave of wellness, vitality, and goodness that will optimize your experiences both on and off the mat.  

Plus, when you balance prana-apana in your daily practice, you're more likely to be sensitive during your whole day. That way, when the scales begin to tip toward draining, resistance-oriented decisions, you can more quickly pull back, choose again, and live with your inner tank on FULL more often than not.

Core Pose: Down Dog Lifts into Down Dog Waves

It's so easy to get imbalanced in Downward-Facing Dog. The heels over-stretch, the back arches, and the hip and shoulder joints become pressured and congested.  Dropping your weight toward the floor is going to make the pose heavy. To lighten it up, open your joints and allow your prana to flow along with your nerves, circulation and detoxifying lymph fluid, start with one thing: Lift your heels.

It's counterintuitive, perhaps, but lifting your heels lets a wave of buoyancy move up from Earth to sky, releasing your hip joints higher, engaging the low belly and front ribs slightly upward, lifting the shoulder joints forward and higher, and finally, rippling the spine and crown of your head forward and longer between your arms.

There's a lot to understand about this movement. So, I've included a video this week to teach you how. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDBx6OUKC2c&feature=channel

Finding Love and Stability Within

August 31, 2010

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In yoga, we're all about creating freedom. Freedom from things like limitation, tension and lack, and the freedom to be who we need to be in order to feel alive, awake to our own potential, and of course, happy. On my off hours at the Omega's Institute's Being Yoga conference, I stumbled across Byron Katie's intriguing book I Need Your Love-- Is that True? It brings up valid questions about how much energy and time we waste trying to get other people to do what we want. I instantly saw the parallels to how and why we practice yoga.

The root of suffering, according to so many spiritual traditions, including yoga, is seeking fulfillment from outside sources. We know this, yet we still do it all the time. "You're late again!" we fume at our partners, while sitting at a restaurant with friends. "I hate it when you disrespect my time like that!"

But hold on there, yogis. You were at a nice restaurant with friends. Why not want your partner to get there when its organically right for them, and in the meantime, isn't there wonderful conversation to be had with your tablemates, precious time for the three of you to create your own special dynamic, or even a wine list to peruse and discuss with the sommelier? Which truth creates more harmony, increased life affirmation, and allows love to flourish?  And which creates a diminishing, negative space?

In the part of our yoga practice that includes a sticky mat and poses, we quickly learn that truth is relative. When in a long-held Plank, Pose we can choose this one:
"I can't do this--my arms are going to give out!" Or this one: "Wow! I'm getting super strong right now, even though my arms feel like they're going to give out!" Or a million alternatives that may or may not serve our ultimate goals the best. And that's the key to happiness.

When you're engaged in a lifestyle of awareness and health, your main goal is not to make other people keep you stable and loved. It's for you to be stable and loved, from the inside out, all by yourself. Otherwise, you're leaving your inner state up to the wild and unpredictable world of others. And no matter how much they want to be there for you, they cannot be you. Knowing this ignites your inner strength and potential to reclaim the power you hold to self-generate satisfaction right here, right now.

Only you can ensure that you turn all moments to your advantage, and that you see the love and unity inherent in every situation, instead of the separatism and doubt, and move into your best life even so.  Am I telling you to put up with abuse? Of course not. In Warrior I, you should get some kind of growth and transformation, and then you move on, before you overdo it and end up tearing yourself down. When you really look at what you do in yoga classes, meditations, and other spiritual disciplines you're engaged in, you'll see they are sending you direct messages about the road out of suffering. Whether you take it or not has nothing to do with anyone else--and everything to do with you.

Here's a pose I teach my students to help them engage in the practice of what comedian Stephen Colbert calls "truthiness." In other words, see how you can shift your perspective into something that lights you up and keeps your heart wide open, instead of the opposite.

Core Pose: Side Angle Preparation

Sure, you might be able to get your hand to the floor or block here, but that's not the point of this posture. I invite you to back off to go deeper.  The practice is to bring yourself out of full external expression and hug into your inner world.

Come into a Warrior stance with your right foot forward and back foot angled slightly forward. Heels either intersect on an imaginary line or step wider to hip distance.  Place your right forearm on your right thigh and sweep your left arm over the ear. Widen both shoulders and maintain the downward ground of your forearm. Breathe slowly and deeply through the nose.

Root your heels and balls of the feet deeply into the mat to create a corresponding lift and support through the legs. As the fierce intensity builds in your legs, your dedication may begin to waver as your mind begins to give you all sorts of excuses encouraging you to bail.

Instead, breathe more deeply. See if you can shift your focus to something empowering, like maintaining the engagement of your low belly, building core strength as your tailbone lengthens, promoting space in the sacrum and lower back. Spin from your lower ribcage and offer your heart to your highest self, even though you're enduring a lot of sensation. This is the same as any high emotional state that threatens to knock you off center. This is your practice of staying your ground. 

Most of all, enjoy feeling yourself transform. It's not always comfortable, but it can be powerful--depending how you look at it.


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Agree to Disagree

August 24, 2010

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I'm writing this from the Omega Institute's Being Yoga conference, in Rhinebeck, New York, where I was a presenter. While here, I got to sit in on Gary Kraftsow's talk about resolving the concepts of Dualism (the universe, and everything in it, is made up of two essential unchanging natures: good/evil, body/mind) versus Nondualism (although things appear distinct, they are actually not separate: you, me, the trees, God). Fascinating stuff.

Now, how can these two seemingly polar opposite philosophies be resolved or brought to common ground? Gary offered that in order to perceive the Universal (sameness) in all things, we must have the context of relationships to things. And, in order to understand that we are all one, there has to be a "we" to unite. In the end, he says, our search for humanity and our search for divinity are, actually, one in the same.

Now, there's a lot more to it than that, but as I approach the next part of this conference, it helps to know this. I'll be attending what's called the Lineage Gathering, where teachers of different styles and belief systems will come together and join in conversation about yoga, life, and the role of the teacher in today's world.

I'm honored and excited to be a part of such a prestigious gathering, and envision myself sitting in the back row, observing and taking it all in. After all, there are lifelong scholars and teachers here, like Aadil Palkhivala, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Lilias Folan, Sharon Salzberg, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, David Life, Sharon Gannon, and others. I'm intrigued to learn how they reconcile their different philosophies and styles of teaching for the greater good of leading others toward balance, harmony, presence, and clarity.

One thing I'm sure of: There will be no shouting, storming out of the room, overturning tables, or hurling expletives at one another. That's because every one of these teachers is trained in the art of integrity and respecting others. They know how to contain themselves in the face of adversity. Does that mean they always do? Probably not. But it's far less likely to see Gary Kraftsow or Beryl Bender Birch throwing a hissy fit than your average Joe.

The practice of yoga goes far beyond the performance of asana. It's a training ground for remaining non-reactive even if you're feeling intense sensations in your body, mind, or heart. Remember that next time you're in a long-held Chair Pose and you feel like bolting from the room--or throttling your cruel teacher's neck. If you can maintain your rhythm and grace on the mat, you can do it when things threaten to get heated in your relationship to the outside world. Yoga teaches us to stop, breathe, and use the tool of introspection, thus helping us avoid the slippery slope of hurtful words and actions.

Today, let's all take a cue from our master teachers, and act with a little more reflection and a little less reaction, and agree to disagree when we find ourselves with a difference of opinion.   I bet Jivamukti's Sharon Gannon isn't going to convince me to go vegan, nor I to get her to try a free-range steak. However, we will bow to one another, recognizing the greater purpose we are each here to serve in the world.

Here's a pose I use to prepare me for the discomfort of being misperceived, of disappointing others, or of feeling wrongly criticized or judged. It won't be comfortable, because I'm going to ask you to go slightly beyond what you think you can do. But this pose can be a powerful teacher, if you use it to learn how to cool yourself down and remain focused on the bigger picture when the limiting and destructive fires of defensiveness begin to arise.


Core Pose: Utkatasana, Chair (Fierce) Pose (long-held variation)

Stand at the front of your mat, feet together. Bend your knees and touch the floor with your fingertips. Send your sitting bones back and wide, root your tailbone long, and, lifting through your lower belly, roll up with bent legs until your chest and arms reach for the sky. If this becomes hard on your neck, open your arms to the sides or press the palms together at your chest.

Look down at your feet--if you can't see your toes, shift the pelvis back until you can. Lift all 10 toes to activate your inner arches, and as you ground the ball and heel down, draw energy up from the Earth to help sustain you. Breathe slowly and deeply.

Stay in this pose until you think you need to come out. Then, stay for another 3-5 breaths. Afterward, take a few moments each in Standing Forward Bend and Child's Pose to stretch your legs and low back, neutralize the spine, and take the time you need to process.
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Making Space

August 17, 2010

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When Ava, my manager, suggested that instead of flying in and out for my Los Angeles teaching gigs last week, we rent a car from Lake Tahoe and take a 16-day road trip through California, I thought she was crazy. That is, until she explained a) all the fun we could have, and b) all the people we'd be able to meet in person. As a yoga teacher with students all over the world, I know the precious value of creating real relationships with those with whom we share a like-minded practice.

If I had just flown in for my weekend of workshops, and not explored for the week before and after, I would not have sat down with editors and publishers, helped a woman figure out what kind of poses she could do with her cranky knees, or witnessed a stockbroker come to an epiphany about his life over dinner. I would not have visited with my friend Ariel, danced in front of a fireplace, seen Shiva Rea's video shoot, bonded with Ava, or so much more.

Ariel is a feng shui master. He has said for years that it's not enough to make space to be who you are right now; you need to create the space for who you want to become. For example, if you want a love relationship to come into your life, you'll want not only to get yourself ready for it, you also want to pull your bed away from the wall, put a nightstand there, and pour a fresh glass of water each night in anticipation of your new partner.

Energy loves a void, and when you make one in the shape of your ultimate goals, such as abundance, partnership, prosperity, love, or career success, it can start to pour in. If you're still engaged in the same habits that got you where you are now, and are keeping you there, either resisting your greatness or maintaining the status quo, then new possibilities will have a harder time taking hold.

In this way, when Ava proposed a more intensive trip, but also one that left a lot of room to create new relationships and deepen ones I've already begun, I knew it was the right move. Things happened that neither one of us planned, like an incredible meeting that could skyrocket my teaching career and help millions of people be exposed to the healing benefits of yoga and mindful wellness. Sometimes, we want one thing to come into our lives, but the way we think, see the world, and act are not aligning with that which we say we would like to attract.

In yoga, we can easily practice working with this concept. When you breathe, you don't actually pull air into your lungs. Your muscles pull the ribs apart, the diaphragm drops, the lungs open wide, and then the atmospheric pressure of the Earth pushes air in to fill the space you've created.

T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of Krishnamacharya, one of the founding fathers of yoga asana, says that prana, life force, cannot be controlled. We can only make the space it requires to infuse us, and remove obstacles to its flow.

This is why in yoga class, we begin by bringing attention to the breath. If it's short, restricted, or choppy, we can be pretty certain that we are experiencing the same, on all other levels. The practice of yoga, therefore, is not to force openness, happiness, or health, but to seek out the places where we're blocked from wholeness, and do the work required to remove those blockages. In their place, we construct new riverbeds and banks, samskaras or habits, that serve us and take our prana in the directions we want it to go. Then, just like tearing down a dam, the streams and tributaries of circulation, central nervous system communication, lymph fluid, self-understanding, peace, and vitality will organically begin to irrigate your entire system, nourishing you for a lifetime from the inside out.

Core Pose: Making Space Breath

This is a simple breathing technique that will bring you back into harmony with the way the body actually breathes. Come into a comfortable seat. Close your eyes and direct your awareness to the tip of your nose. Without using the more yang Ujjayi breath (no Darth Vader here!), let the breath quietly but fully slide in as you flare your ribs wide in all directions. Note that as you inhale, the lungs fill from top to bottom. As you exhale, they empty out from everywhere at once as the ribs compress.

Listen to your body and notice the places in the side ribs, the front abdominals or around the mid and upper back where you find a jerkiness or stubbornness residing. Hold your breath in for a moment, and move in ways that help to release and resolve your resistance there. If you notice emotions or thoughts arising that cause the body or energy to contract, maintain the rhythm of your in- and out-breaths until they dissipate.

After two minutes of the making space breathing technique, you should feel a difference in the freedom and quality of your breathing, and in your body, mind, and heart.

Creating Conscious Media

August 12, 2010

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I spent some time in Los Angeles this week, and one day visited the set of the new Shiva Rea video. While there, I had a powerful conversation with the director, James Wvinner. We discussed the importance of media, both social and store-bought. Specifically, we talked about how it's really helping the world gain access to yoga and to the teachings of great instructors like Shiva, who can't possibly get to all the students who want to study with her.

James related a funny story told to him by another teacher who was recently leading a training in Bulgaria. A student came up afterward and said, "Do you know Sadie Nardini? I study with her!" Now, I've never been to Bulgaria, but I bet my YouTube videos have. Wherever I go, I meet students who have studied with me for years, without my even knowing it!

This is just one example of what I'm now calling Conscious Media. Anyone with a video camera and a YouTube account can employ these channels to spread the word about how simple and effective it can be to get happy, be healthy, and to rock your awesomeness from the inside out.

Before I made DVDs, wrote a book, or did anything else that now comprises my income, I was using social media to create virtual kulas, or communities of the heart and spirit. There are so many ways for each of us to speak our core values, and to a wider audience than just our partners, friends, and students. By reading this blog, you are directly benefiting from my choice to step outside my comfort zone and share my views in a public forum.

It's a vulnerable place to be, letting others see you and, at times, judge or disagree with your offerings.  But I endure this aspect of the job in order to do what I consider to be much more important: Speaking my piece in a way I feel is constructive to both our humanity and divinity.

In this day and age, when we're being bombarded with negative imagery and fluff, the media-sphere is crying out for substance and soul. And it's crucial that conscious people go first to light the way for those who may not even know they want to watch this mind/body stuff, or understand how much they need it.

Who will do this if we don't? In fact, I feel that as we awaken to our possibilities and become aware of the tools available to transform ourselves toward balance and passionate living, we have a responsibility to really put ourselves out there and lead by example.

Now, you may not be a yoga teacher or committed to raising awareness of the joy of cultivating wellness on all levels, as I am. But I'd wager that you have some skill, some creative voice you'd like to add to the mix. You can do this for yourself, so that you live each day as the rockstar you really are, and also because you just might inspire one person to dig deeper and step forward with more confidence to be their best. The amazing thing is, with conscious media, your one voice turns into thousands, and your single moment of sharing becomes a constant message.

When it comes to changing the world in a positive way, I say let's each do what it takes to turn our quiet, inner voices into a beautiful chorus that can be heard all the way in Bulgaria, and beyond.

Core Pose: Lion's Lunge

To help you access and then amplify your voice, you've got to make some noise. I use Lion's Pose with a lot of my core poses, to open the channel between my foundation, my core, and the courage it takes to express myself so that people can hear.

The muscle meridian closest to our skeleton, called the Deep Core Line, moves from the arches of the feet; up through the legs, hips and spine; and ends at the tongue. Doing Lion's Pose draws energy and tension up and out through this line, which is why it's considered an immensely detoxifying pose on a very profound, pranic level. Life force and your ability to speak from your inner knowing will increase as you dissolve obstacles to your inherent freedom and flow.

Come into a High Lunge with the front knee over the heel and the back leg long behind you, supported on the ball of your foot. If you want more stability, step your feet sitting-bone-distance apart.

Inhale through your nose and reach your arms either back behind you or up into the air, fingers wide. Exhale through your mouth as you stick out your tongue and say "Aaaaaaaaahhh," as loudly as you can.  Really get into it, letting the sound be another way to say what you really need and want to express from your deeper creative center.

Repeat 3-5 times or more. Then take Dog Pose or Child's Pose for a few moments, and move to the other side.
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The Road Within

August 10, 2010

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Last week, my friend and manager, Ava, and I left Wanderlust and took a road trip from Lake Tahoe through Napa Valley and into San Francisco, where I was scheduled to teach a workshop.

 

Taking a trip like this was fun and freeing--something I hadn't done since college. I've traveled, sure, but mostly on airplanes and highways. It's been a long time since I've stopped to smell the roses, literally, or walked through vineyards, wandered without an agenda, and taken my time getting where I needed to go.

 

When I left more space around the journey itself, rather than seeing it as useless time between my starting place and my destination, a whole new world opened up. We turned off the highway and into local communities and had adventures I never would have had otherwise, like singing impromptu karaoke into a straw at a local pub or eating an incredible meal at Bouchon in Yountville. A few times we turned off the GPS and just tuned into where our hearts told us to go next. We were led unerringly toward something life-affirming and just right. 

 

It was an experience similar to the one I aim to offer my students during yoga class. I've often asked them to pause and even play during the transitions between poses, those moments we often rush through on our way to the "goal" pose. The word "tapas" means "heat," but it also symbolizes the space we make with the energy and awareness we bring to the present moment. When we release our grasp on achieving the goal and wake up to what's going on every step of the way, we begin to see how fully we're surrounded by exactly what we need to evolve, to be happy and fulfilled, and to love our lives.

 

What you do before you get into a pose dictates its quality once you arrive. It's the same in your life: The millions of smaller actions you take will determine the strength--or shakiness--of the foundation underneath the more showy milestones of your life.

 

In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that if you're not bringing a consistency of mindfulness, spaciousness, and quality action into your transitional periods, you may not reach your goals after all.  If you want to be a financial advisor, but you're irresponsible with your own money, it's unlikely that any clients will trust you with theirs. If you do reach your goal on a shaky foundation, it's far more likely that your dreams will crumble around you, undermined from the very roots (hello, Bernie Madoff!).

 

Instead, what we yogis practice both on and away from the mat, is making sure that we pay attention to the entirety our lives, not just the parts; and doing so most of the time instead of just sporadically. It's as simple as taking a deep breath and reminding ourselves that we're here now. We stop time-traveling to the past or future when we learn that the only thing that will determine our future movement is what we do right now.

 

This inner road trip is the key to living out loud and enjoying your life holistically today. Not when you have the man, the cash, or have lost that last 10 pounds. Why wait? The power you have to self-generate satisfaction is waiting for you to see it, claim it, and act from it. When you stop, look around, and listen to your deepest wisdom in the space you've created, you will suddenly, sweetly realize:You are everything you need.

 

Here's a transition that I've made into its own pose, to exemplify that every moment is pivotal, not just the flashy, more obvious ones. There's a whole universe of strengthening and freedom to be found right here, on the journey within.

 

Core Pose: Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) with Core Circles Variation

 

When you go straight into Side Angle Pose from Warrior 2, the tendency can be to enter the asana with a over-curved lower back, front ribs jutting forward, and the back body constricted. To re-enter the pose with a more centered alignment and free the habitual hip, low back, upper back, and shoulder tension it can create, we need to exit it, or as I often say in class, back off to move forward.

 

First, come into the pose from Warrior 2 with your forearm on the front thigh and your other arm over your ear. Notice how your lower back and shoulders feel. Are you core-connected or are your shoulder blades, back muscles, and legs doing most of the work?

 

Begin to circle your top arm back behind you. Take it down toward the floor and, as you do, turn your torso toward the floor and draw your low belly away from your front thigh and upward, into your sternum. This will activate your core strength, bring length to the tailbone, support to the lower back, and also open the gateway of your front hip joint. You're not pressing out the low back curve at all with this move, but supporting it from the front of the spine as well as from the back.

 

Continue to sweep your arm forward now and back up over your ear. Press your feet down strongly; maintain the stability, shoulder fluidity, and core awareness you cultivated during the transition; and enjoy new strength, freedom and areas of stretch releasing in your new, more intentional goal of a pose.

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Lightening Your Load

August 5, 2010

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On Monday, in the space left behind by the thousands of yogis who attended Wanderlust, my friend and I decided to climb a mountain. (You can see it in the background in the picture below.) OK, it was more a civilized trail than something I'd need a rope and rock shoes to tackle. But let me tell you, it was pretty darn challenging.

The high altitude makes it harder to do even simple things, like breathe, much less hike. I was a little daunted thinking about scaling a steep path for an hour, especially since I haven't done any other exercise besides yoga for a decade, unless you count climbing the stairs to the 9th floor walkup I lived in for a year in Manhattan.

Yoga prepared us both for the adventure of doing something new with our bodies, and though the air was thin, and my heart rate was about as high as the hill itself, I felt strong, capable, and, finally, grateful for all those long-held Warrior poses. When we reached the pinnacle, a pyramid-shaped outcropping of flaking shale, my friend had the idea to pick up a large piece and heave it over the side. It bounced and skipped until coming to rest among another pile of rocks farther down. I felt so inspired by this that I got up from my serene perch overlooking a mountain waterfall and stream and start throwing rocks too. It felt like every rock I tossed was a heaviness I was deciding to release, lightening my mental, physical, and emotional load.

There is a parable I love, about a monk and his master stopping at the bank of a wide stream. There they encountered a man dressed in fine clothes. This man looked at the master and asked, "Will you carry me across? I don't want to get my nice clothes wet."

The monk volunteered to take the man across, as his master was older, and, well, the master. But the master said, "No, no. He asked me. I'll take him." So the master put this perfectly strong, healthy guy on his back and struggled across the stream with him, getting his own clothing all wet so the man could stay dry.

Once across, the man went his own way, without any word of thanks. The monk and master continued on, with the monk indignant. He mumbled under his breath and cycled back into a dark and stormy state every few minutes. Finally, after about two hours, the master said, "Brother, what's bothering you?"

The monk exploded: "I can't believe he didn't even thank you! I mean, you're a master, and he was capable of getting himself across. The nerve of this guy! What a complete jerk!"

The master looked at the monk, undisturbed, and said, "I put that man down on the other side of the river--and two hours later, you're still carrying him."

We all tend to carry unnecessary baggage around with us. Whether it's regret for what could have been, anger at a past experience, or even tension from a stressful job that builds in the shoulders or low back, it ends up as extra weight that prevents us from engaging with and enjoying the present moment.

Sometimes we might feel that punishing ourselves for past actions or keeping them alive by dwelling on them over and over again will keep us from repeating the behavior. But this is a toxic attitude that will slow you down as surely as carrying someone across a stream. Instead,  just as you enter a challenging practice with the intention to shake up and dissolve areas of restriction in your body, use your yogic tools to shake up and dissolve those stories or habitual "truths" you tell yourself that diminish you instead of lighting you up. Through mindful practice, we realize that we can remember the lessons we've learned from our experiences, but drop the weight of living them over and over again in ways that erode our happiness.

When, with arms overhead and with all my might, I threw the last rock, I did the following pose. This is a wonderful, instant way to release any negativity that's following you around. Do it regularly, to ensure that you're not gathering tension or destructive energies on any level, and watch your body, mind, and heart lighten and move with more freedom.

Lion's Pose

Take a deep breath. Imagine it traveling from your lungs to your belly, and all the way down to your toes. Really gather up any inner negativity you can find. On the exhalation, release the breath up and out through your mouth as you stick your tongue way out and roar like a lion: "HAAAAAAH!"

Repeat this 1-3 times, or until you start laughing. That's a good sign: As you lift the energetic stone of whatever has been weighing you down, you'll uncover the joy that is your right--and birthright--that's within you at all times.

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Community Spirit

August 3, 2010

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I spent the past few days at Wanderlust, the music-and-yoga festival in the mountains of Squaw Valley, California. As you can imagine, it was stunning.

I was honored to teach a few workshops for practitioners of all backgrounds, levels, and yoga interests.  Yoga teachers including Nikki Myers (Yoga of Recovery), Dina Amsterdam (Yin Yoga), and Maya Fiennes (Kundalini Yoga) attended, and another presenter, Giselle Mari (Jivamukti Yoga), graciously offered to assist me during a particularly large class.

I also got to be a student, opening my heart with Annie Carpenter and going down to the Delta in Shiva Rea's Sunday yoga revival. I talked yoga with Duncan Wong and was adjusted by Simon Park. As I watched people trying out styles and teachers that were outside their main discipline, my heart was filled with pride in our community for branching out in the spirit of curiosity.

To me, the definition of "student" is someone who wants to experience a variety of what the world has to offer, even as they may focus more on one aspect of study that interests them the most. There are many roads to center, but it's easy to let a single-pointed focus turn into tunnel vision. Sure, we yogis all have styles and teachers we resonate with strongly. Yet it's my belief that no one aspect of yoga or instructor holds all the answers.

Yoga teaches us that when it comes to discovering the truth about our nature, both human and Divine, we already exist in a state of full and complete awareness, although this is often obscured by veils of illusion and misaligned ways of perceiving the world. Our mentors can help us remove our blinders and remind us of this radiant truth. However, at times, all of us grow so attached to something or someone that we close ourselves off to other possibilities, or sometimes even to the awareness of our own potential for independent thinking or self-inquiry.

I'm happy to report that what I saw happening this weekend was the complete opposite. The yoga kula, or community of the heart, met here under the big sky, combined and recombined like a beautiful kaleidoscope under many masters, and people infused their spirits with inspiration and knowledge they may not have even known they were seeking. Personally, I was turned on to a breadth of fresh opinions and perspectives, all of which I'll use to inform my own practice and teaching.

When approaching the area outside the box, it's helpful to remember that our willingness to hear other voices and try new ideas will always, 100 percent of the time, teach us more about who we are. Whether you love the experience, discover it's not for you, or have a reaction somewhere in between, you've received valuable information about what harmonizes with you and what doesn't. Either way, you've strengthened your core connection with who you really are.

Being open-minded means that we don't become style snobs, turning our noses up at other forms of yoga. In John Friend's Anusara community, perhaps one of the most tightly knit yoga kulas out there, he asks his teachers to always honor other disciplines, and to speak respectfully of them. This is the conversation we can all enter into, as we look around our yoga family and open our hearts to the possibility that, like any circle of nourishing relationships in one's life, there may be room for more.

This week, consider taking a class in a style you haven't yet tried, or with a teacher you've never studied with. Off the mat, let your open mind lead you into opportunities for growth and adventure.

Core Pose: Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

This posture is nearly universal across many yoga styles. When you do it, you link up with so many others in your tribe, and yet everyone sees and experiences it differently. Listen to your inner teacher while standing in Tree Pose--ask yourself "What else is here than what I already know?" From the widening potential within, allow the roots of your presence and the conversation with the center of your physical and spiritual gravity grow clearer and stronger.

Come to standing. Place your weight on the right foot and slowly bring your left foot to your ankle, inner shin, or inner thigh. Press your standing leg and left foot together as you bring your arms out to the sides or overhead, or your palms to your heart. Deepen your hip creases toward the sitting bones and lift your low belly in and up as the tailbone lengthens. Draw your shoulders back to reveal the heart as you reach the crown of your head away from your grounding feet.

As you bring your attention into a state of curiosity, allow your balance to interplay between the three points of contact on your standing foot: big toe mound, pinky toe mound, and center of the heel. With the same dance between stability and fluidity, work your way up the body, noticing new aspects of the pose, even how the mind and heart are responding within this profoundly simple asana. Then, do the pose on the other side.

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Clearing the Threshold

July 29, 2010

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After moving into my new apartment, the first thing I did, after unpacking, of course, was to place a statue of Ganesh at the entryway. My friend, feng shui master Ariel Towne, says that besides a fountain, the other necessary item near your front door is the little elephant otherwise known as the Remover of Obstacles.

When you don't let negative, sticky energies in, they don't have a chance to affect you. "Cutting them off at the pass" is a phrase that might apply to what Ganesh is doing there at the front door.

Aside from that massive job, Ganesh is also the Lord of Thresholds. Threshold. What a beautiful word. It reminds me of watching wind ripple the wheat fields during my Midwestern childhood. Yet, the concept itself has different meanings, not only describing the doorway itself, but what the doorway represents: a starting point, the beginning of any new journey or transformation.

Ganesh is not some magic statue, without which you would have no protection against resistance, doubt, and fear--three of the biggest obstacles of all. It's the act of placing Ganesh that brings awareness to our own desire to remain free of anything that diminishes or limits our potential to fly. In that sense, he represents that aspect of ourselves that is ready to swing open the door to our next adventure--and ready to step out of our own way long enough to clear the path straight through it.

Henry Ford said, "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal." You see, we have the power to either turn our experiences and truths into obstructions, weights tethered to any possible rise in self-esteem, greater awareness, and health; or to remove them. 

Yogis have fabulous resistance-busting tools. We can get on the mat and practice, opening tight places and dissolving emotional and mental tension. We breathe, switch our thinking, learn to see more clearly and, by deciding to love ourselves a little more, we begin to widen the very doorway into our own hearts. By applying awareness to each situation we encounter, we open a threshold to our core, allowing our deepest wisdom to sweep through, and away, into the world in the form of our most courageous, conscious actions.

In my classes, any time I want to clear the threshold, I ask my students to focus on hip opening. I call the hips "the Gateways," because they can allow, or block, the energy moving from you foundation into your core. If the gateways are closed, the posture is incomplete and with it, the opportunity to gain the full benefits of the asana is lost. Try the following pose any time you feel a little closed yet feel ready to  make the space you need to cross the threshold into that next, most incredible state of being who you really are.

Core Pose: Funky Lunge  

This posture clears a common tight area--the side leg and outer hips--all the way from the foundation to your center. When you open this gateway, issues like sciatica may recede, since the piriformis muscle at the side of your pelvis often compresses it. As well, you'll open the IT band, making this a wonderful way to free yourself from over-closure of the gateways of the hip muscles and joints and, quite literally, be able to walk through any threshold more freely.

Come into Down Dog. Step your left foot to your right thumb. With this crossed foot placement, you'll bring the right knee to the mat. Center your hips, and come onto palms or fingertips, on the mat or on blocks, so that your hands are under your shoulders.

Begin to roll onto the pinky toe edge of your left foot. As you ground the foot down, and resist it back towards your hip, roll the outer left hip and upper thigh back and down so that it's not hiking up toward your ribcage.

Inhale, lift your lower belly and wave long through your spine. Exhale, and fold at the hip creases as you bend the elbows to your capacity. Play your edge of flexibility as you begin to straighten your front leg until you begin to feel sensation. Breathe and soften there before moving further into your stretch.

If you want more of a challenge, try tucking the back toes under and lifting the back knee as in a Low Lunge. Your hands will walk back to remain under the shoulders for support.

Breathe here for one minute, taking small spinal waves on the inhalation, and deepening your fold on the exhalation. Return to Dog Pose, and switch sides.
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Shadows and Light

July 27, 2010

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For a modality whose very title, yoga, means "unity," it sure seems to be chock full of opposites. Our hatha yoga poses are made up of the "sun" (ha) and "moon" (tha). Shiva-Shakti, or ying-yang, symbolize the passive and active parts of our natures, and we're in constant interplay between sthira (effort) and sukha (ease) on and off the mat.

Anatomically, we mirror this duality. Did you know there are no muscles that cross the midline of our bodies? We have the spine in back and the connective strip of the Linea alba in front, which when, you think about it, means that we are really two distinct halves fused together at these junctions.

Spiritually as well, we exist as polar aspects of energy, which make up our total prana, or life force. I'll call these collective energies the shadow and the light. Sometimes (in the cases of love and joy) the energies feel lighter, and other times (like with anger and sorrow), much heavier. Still, any of these energies can be used as pure fodder, fuel that either generates actions that are aligned with us or that steer us sharply from our paths.

Since, in another two-sided element of being, our thoughts and actions can either feel more positive (loving) or negative (hurtful), we might make the misstep of placing value judgments on our feelings, deciding that the lighter energies are "good" and that the shadows are "bad." We want to feel happy and free, and because our dark side may have caused us and others suffering, embarrassment, shame and loss, it's all too seductive to try and live only on the light side of ourselves.

I think it's unfortunate that being a student of yoga is sometimes understood to mean one must be only light and happy, all the time, and to never feel angry, insecure, or vengeful. In my opinion, this idealized state is not spiritual perfection but a delusion of grandeur masquerading as spiritual practice. Being as we're human and divine, it's a great day when we realize that we can be both, and have our yoga, too. Because it's not an absence of shadow feelings that makes one enlightened. It's knowing how to alchemize them into conscious, loving actions once they arise that matters.

Unfortunately, many of us aren't there yet. We've even decided that there is "good" karma and "bad" karma. But when you look at karma as a concept, it's judgment-free. It simply means that this or that choice can be more constructive or more destructive to your ultimate goals.
Add to this information the fact that, often, it's not the shadows themselves that are dysfunctional. It's the way we express them that causes problems. If you shy away from discomfort, in your yoga poses or in life (and if you do one, I can nearly guarantee you do the other), it's likely that you haven't practiced with that dark side as much as you need to in order to become strong and resilient enough to bear its intensity.

In other words, if you haven't done this work, you may be prone to reactivity, where some event, inner or outer, connects you to your shadow energy. Before you know it, you've thrown a glass or hurled hurtful words at a loved one. Or perhaps you react inwardly and act destructively toward yourself, as in blowing an important deadline because you're anxious or shutting yourself down out of fear. Picking fights, being disrespectful, participating in family dramas, gossiping, or using drugs or alcohol to cope with discomfort are all ways we let the dark side predominate. We have confused the reactions to our shadows with the shadows themselves, when in fact they are just energies waiting to be harnessed.

It's time to look directly at these energies, without naming or blaming, and use our yogi powers to  channel even our blackest moments from the messiness of reaction into the clarity and empowerment of reflection. From there, we can move forward into actions born of wisdom, not wildness.

One way we do this on the mat is, simply put, by no longer resisting the sensations we don't like, but by embracing them, or at least, softening our resistance against them to allow them to co-exist with the ones you are happier to feel. Say you're in a five-minute Pigeon Pose, and somewhere around the three-minute mark, your hips start grumbling, then maybe yelling out loud. You were enjoying your moment of Zen, and had the breath under control, but here comes the old familiar hips-on-fire feeling. To deal with it, you start breathing louder, thinking about the grocery list, pondering your fingernails, and turning your attention to anything but the discomfort. Yet, according to yogic wisdom, this might be a powerful place to explore.
What if, next time you found yourself in a battle of wills with those inner demons, you--well--just surrendered? Soften and widen the breath. Go gentler into that shadowy night. What happens when you stop fighting and start listening to what your dark side has been trying to teach you all along?

When you do this, the monsters inside lose their power to throw you off center, and you'll regain your inherent wholeness. The promise of yoga is unity, and by opening your heart to all of who you are, you will finally, completely, and nearly effortlessly, come home.
The goal yoga may be to become enlightened, or to keep the fires of awareness lit, but we cannot get there without recognizing, and in fact honoring, our darkness. Without developing the sweet embrace of understanding and mothering grace of compassion for all that we are, we will never become whole, but rather just play out our days, quite literally, half-lived.
Here's a variation on a common pose that includes a mudra, or sacred hand position. Get to know it in a way that will remind you, as it reminds me, that wholeness is waiting whenever we widen our idea of yoga to include all its forms.

Core Pose: Seated Spinal Twist with Gyan (or Jnana) Mudra
Gyan Mudra is the "Knowledge Seal," a hand position that helps focus your mind, heart, and spirit in a certain way. Start by uniting the tips of the index fingers and thumbs to symbolize the meeting of the awareness that comes from embracing your lower and higher energies. According to the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna was in Gyan Mudra when he imparted the teachings to Arjuna, urging him to use his humanity to express his divinity.

Come into your easy seat. Make Gyan Mudra with both hands. Inhale and lengthen your spine at center. Exhale and bring the right hand to the left knee or thigh, and weave your left arm behind your back. Depending on your flexibility, your left hand mudra might peek out around the side waist as you see mine doing here.

Take a few breaths here, facing your left side and opening the ribcage. Think of embracing your shadow side, the one you might hide from sight. Illuminate it with your attention and focused breath. Then reverse the pose and reflect on your active, bright, confident side for a few full breaths. 

When you're done with both sides, sweep your arms out and up, and when they meet overhead, bring the palms together in prayer, then down to front of your chest. Bow your head to your hands, a symbol of bringing yourself--all of yourself--into union.

7_27_YJ GYAN MUDRA TWIST.jpg


 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuzz Buster

July 22, 2010

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In a recent Anatomy of Yoga class with Leslie Kaminoff, we watched a video that I'll never forget. And hopefully, neither will you. And, trust me, this all has a heck of a lot to do with your yoga practice! It features anatomist Gil Hedley explaining The Fuzz. You can watch it yourself, but be aware that it shows him working with a cadaver. Yet it's such an important piece of knowledge that I'd like to define this incredible concept for you, and you can choose to view it or not and still take it forward into your daily life.

Each night while we sleep, or any time we're still for long periods, like sitting in a car on a long road trip, our body begins to build collagen fibers. They look a little like cotton candy, and are just as sticky, causing friction between what should be smoothly sliding muscle surfaces. The end result is the stiffness you might feel in the morning getting out of bed or standing up after watching a three-hour movie.

Now, this is usually no big deal for those of us with a consistent movement practice. We feel creaky, we do yoga, we're good. But if you don't lubricate your joints and move your muscles to break up the fuzz regularly enough, it begins to knit together. Over time, the normal, subtle stiffness becomes limited movement, and even pain as the spider-webbed, bound body tries to move against resistance. Instead of confronting the fuzz, to avoid discomfort, many people simply move less. It becomes a vicious cycle that we often chock up to aging, but really is a cumulative, and mostly avoidable, buildup of fuzz.

Now, that's not to say that all physical slowdown is due to the fuzz, and if we simply stretch more, we will never feel the effects of age. But there is much more we can do to keep our bodies--and therefore our minds--as open, vital, and free as possible.

This parallels the yoga teaching about samskaras, the mental and emotional patterns that make up our conditioning. Samskara is a neutral word, indicating simply the actions we take that lead to certain results, but our habits can lead to either constructive or destructive outcomes, depending on our goals. The yogi seeks to strengthen those positive habits that maintain the full range of spiritual motion, and, importantly, dissolve the ones that have become diminishing and threaten to hold us back from reaching our potential of living from love, light, and joy. It's exciting to see science finding that the same lessons apply to our actual body as well. In fact, I see the two as interconnected, since continual mental and emotional stress, for example, leads almost unerringly to muscle tension, which is a direct physical manifestation of the samskara of anxiety or fear.

This is the mind-body connection the yogis have known about for centuries, and though sometimes yoga philosophy can get pretty obtuse, much of it can be translated into the real world as simply as you want to make it. That's nice to know when you're looking for tools you can apply today, right this moment, that can help you release what doesn't serve you, and keep, even amplify, the things that do.

Yoga doesn't have to be confusing. It's the art of living in balance, and taking actions that fuel your happiness, whatever that means for you. From there, you'll be inspired to offer some of that goodness to the world through your creative self-expression, and with a burning desire to help those who are still suffering. This is the road map the samskaras offer us: What kind of a life are you carving out through your choices? Is it shaping up as you'd like? If not, then start chipping away at another way of being until it more closely resembles your heart. The next time you're on the mat, or doing a few Sun Salutes just out of bed, you are not only solidifying healthy habits, you're creating the potential for new ones to take root in your life in so many ways.

Here's a great all-in-one pose for dissolving restrictive samskaras, and, with them, the fuzz. Do it in the morning just after you get out of bed, and you'll greet your whole day with more resiliency, flexibility, and freedom from all sorts of fuzz.

Core Pose: Low Lunge with Cat/Cow Variation

Come into a Low Lunge position with your right foot forward. Your front knee is stacked over the heel, not out in front of it, to avoid knee pressure. The back knee stretches comfortably behind the hip, not directly under it. The front foot and back knee are hip-distance, or about two fists-width apart.

Keep your hands on the floor, framing your front foot at first. Take a moment to back off the hips, since you don't want to sink too far into this pose. This can cause you to overstretch the connective tissue. Instead, lift out of the pose a bit until you can ground the foot and knee, draw in the low belly, and bring your torso upright, hands onto the knee or thigh.

You should now feel a stretch in the center of your muscles, not in the back hip crease and front sitting bone only. Your legs are also working to maintain the buoyancy of the pose.

Inhale, carve your tailbone long, and arch your spine. Keep the back of your neck long, and lift the chest sky-high. As you do this move, pull your shoulders back and slide your shoulder blades closer.

Exhale and round your back. Remember to keep the length in your lower back and roll more through the upper back and shoulder area. Gently lower your chin for a mindful neck stretch.

This pose is meant to lift through the back of your heart and spread the shoulder blades wider apart than it is to press out your lower back curve. So although you will activate the low belly fully on your exhalation, lift it in and up towards the chest, rather than squeezing it back towards the spine only.

Repeat the spinal motion with your breath for 5-10 rounds, then return to a Down Dog or Child's Pose, and repeat on the left side. YJ LOW LUNGE CAT_1.jpg YJ LOW LUNGE COW_1.jpg

Filling the Void

July 20, 2010

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It's my first week in a new town, having moved from NYC to Austin to focus on yoga, travel and all that it entails for me right now. It's slower here, no doubt, with a local news story lamenting that the new city Metro system doesn't have enough people riding it! I'll soon be parking my grateful derriere on one of the new, cushioned seats (with actual airspace between bodies) on my way to a yoga class.

I miss New York, but I'm interested to see what health and yogic possibilities lay ahead for me here. In this transitional period, where cardboard moving boxes vie for my attention along with daily responsibilities (as I write this blog, all my books sit next to me in U-Haul containers, awaiting their freedom), I can't help but feel, well, empty.

This is a specific kind of emptiness, not the windswept sensation after an emotional storm, or the primordial suspension of a deep meditation. It's more like a mixture of mourning and excitement, so evenly matched that it generates the time-standing-still feeling you have while retaining the breath after an inhale, or letting the exhale slide into a silent moment of nothingness before inspiring again.

And when I say, "inspiring," I mean breathing in and getting back to the creation of my life's work, my dharma.  This is the calm before the flood, when creative elements will sweep me forward. And I have to be ready to both direct the wave and ride it into places I can't foresee.

It is scary, yet wonderful. I wonder if this could be the Middle Path the Buddha spoke of, or the "field" between happiness and sorrow that Rumi wrote about so eloquently. I think of it as The Void, taken from the Runes, the ancient Viking stones etched with symbols used by those seeking clarity. Here's one definition of The Void from the Book of Runes:

The Unknowable represents the path of Karma--the sum total of your actions and their consequences, the lessons that are yours for this lifetime. And yet, this Rune teaches that the very debts of old karma shift and evolve as you shift and evolve. Nothing is predestined. What beckons is the creative power of the unknown.

We all hit The Void at one time or another, sometimes multiple times a day. It's that pause that seems hollow but that is actually pregnant with possibility, full of creative energy, or shakti, waiting for you to decide which action to take next to direct it into form.

The Void itself is often what ignites fear: of the unknown, of letting go, of being alone, of moving to that next level of ourselves, and risking failure and public ridicule to do it. Many people never cross The Void, because of what seems an impenetrable closed door of "I can't, I shouldn't" or "I'm not enough" blocking the entrance to the bridge across.
 
Yet when we practice yoga with as much determination off the mat as we do on it, when we get present and focus on what really matters--living completely, passionately, and without regret--we take destiny back into our own hands, the doorway magically opens, and, Void or not ... we leap.


Here's a pose that may help you understand how solid the Void actually is, as you begin to see that you're always where you stand, and from there, you can channel this veritable ocean of energy towards your biggest, brightest goals.

Core Pose: Ankle-to-Knee Chair(Eka Pada Galavasana Preparation)

This pose leads to taking flight in the arm balance of Eka Pada Galavasana, but for our purposes, we're going to start where we are. Running too fast into the Void can cause you to miss out on the information coming at you from the core, and from your environment, a conversation that needs your full attention.

Come to the front of your mat, feet hip-distance apart. Bend both knees and generate as much lift from your lower belly as from your lower back. Keep your spine long as you ground into your left foot and lift your right knee mindfully into your chest. Don't rush; rather, make every moment of this pose an opportunity to find balance again.

Once you're stable, cross your right ankle over your left knee. Roll the thigh outward so your right knee lowers, and sit down deeper. Bring your hands to the chest, palms together in anjali mudra, which celebrates your connection to the Divine, or universal energy. Offer your heart forward as the hips move back to anchor you in this new place of balance and freedom.

Take 5-10 breaths here, then return to Chair Pose, and fold forward over bent or straight legs for a few moments before repeating the balance on the other side.
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Finding Center

July 15, 2010

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I left New York City on Monday with everything I own packed into a trailer, and set out for Austin, Texas, where I will be living for the foreseeable future. Though this was my decision, and I think a good one for my yoga career, my health, and my sanity, today it hit me: Everything I knew about my life in the city is now technically gone from me. My home, my neighborhood, my social scene, my yoga classes, even my local cafe have dissolved away as if in a dream, since I can no longer rely on them to help me feel grounded and secure.

I spent a decade getting to know friends, eating at my favorite places, living in an apartment I loved, and settling into a routine that comforted me.  The fact that I know that moving to Austin will be more productive for me doesn't change how floaty and surreal the world feels right now. Even the ground itself is moving, the highway spooling out and spinning away beneath my wheels.

When most everything external literally proves to be as impermanent as the Buddhists and yogis tell us it is, whether it's a big move we're going through, the loss of a relationship, a job or smaller transitions, like a well-worn pair of jeans finally kicking the bucket, there's always a sensation of shift.  These moments of ebb and flow can be unbalancing and scary.
 
Yoga teaches us about ideas that come from the things other people have lived. We turn to our teachers as guideposts, as those who have navigated similar situations, and emerged victorious using the tools of conscious awareness they then pass onto us. When our studies meet our personal life, and we are asked to walk the walk along this path, it's a whole new yoga practice, perhaps the hardest one of all. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather endure Warrior 3 until my leg gave out than go through a breakup or a radical move.
 
When we as seekers of center experience times where all that we thought was real turns to smoke and slips through our fingers, and we're dealing with the grieving process of moving from the past into the present, there's a powerful question I can think of that we might ask ourselves: This is happening. Now, what am I gonna do about it?

Believe me, when I was in the space of first realizing how much I'd just given up in order to follow my goals, one thing I could have done was totally, completely freak out. I felt the panic rising, as if I was that little bubble that's supposed to be in the middle of a carpenter's level, but someone tipped it, and my poor bubble was squished way up in the corner. In that moment could have turned back, canceled the whole crazy Austin idea, and settled back into what I knew.
 
Then again, my heart is calling me towards something different, and if yoga has taught me anything, it's to be able to endure uncomfortable sensations in the body, mind, and heart, long enough to get to that atman, the soul, or center of myself. Once there, I can more easily bring myself back to a leveling off place, and find that calm bubble of my core returning to center.
In fact, it's not our inner peace that wavers as life does, but our moveable parts: thoughts, emotions, expectations, perspectives, and even the physical body. When we remember that just because our outer world changes doesn't mean our innermost one has to, we dissolve the illusion that we are the constructs, and not the constant.

So, we can answer our own question by choosing to draw not from our first reactions, but from the stillness inside. Then we can act from equilibrium to move towards the next, though as yet unformed, part of our journey, with the integrity it takes to create the future experience we want to live most of all.
 
Here's the pose I did at the Virginia rest stop that helped me remember that ...

Core Pose: Natarajasana
 
If you see a statue of Nataraj, you'll notice he's standing on what appears to be a baby. Don't be alarmed--it's actually a demon. Nataraj is the cosmic dancer, and he exemplifies the power of riding the wave of universal energy rather than being consumed by the dark forces of doubt, insecurity, lack, and fear. Whenever I want to find my ground, and from there, let the joyful dance of life take me where I'm supposed to go next, I make sure to include Natarajasana in my practice.
 
Stand with feet hip-distance, about two-fists-width wide. Ground into your right foot, and bend your left knee so you can take hold of the outside of the left foot or ankle in your left hand.
As you draw your low belly up and lengthen the tailbone down to maintain space in the front and back of your lumbar curve, begin to kick your foot behind you as you reach the chest and right arm forward, or up to the sky as your balance and flexibility allows. The amount of backbend here is up to you, but if you stay rooted into your standing leg and foot you'll gain the stability and gravity this pose requires in order to inspire its freedom dance.








A Room of One's Own

July 13, 2010

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Before I move to Austin on Monday, I thought it would be a good idea to pop up to Boston to teach a couple of workshops on Saturday. Why? Because I'm a glutton for punishment! No, actually, and perhaps strangely, I'm considering it a mini-vacation. A moving vacation, more specifically, since I get to ride a train and have nearly 8 hours to myself to do with what I wish. That's about 6.5 hours more than I've had in a long time.

On the trip so far, I've slept, read a magazine, planned classes, written this blog, caught up on emails, and simply stared out the window, enjoying the passing views of the verdant Hudson Valley.  This may sound like a lot, but these were all things I felt like doing, and they've brought me heartfelt pleasure. Virginia Woolf once said, "A woman must have money and a room of her own, if she is to write fiction."

I think that sentiment extends to both genders. No matter who you are, in order to create, you need resources. And one integral requirement of creative freedom is space.

This doesn't mean just a physical space, but some kind of spiritual "room"--an expanse within. This is where your spirit can dance with abandon as you gift yourself the chance to decide what to create next, instead of having your next move dictated by the pressures of time, relationships, and responsibility.

The funny thing is, we yogis learn that in order to expand, we must first draw inward. We have to contain ourselves, plug our pranic leaks, and stop existing solely in other people's rooms if we are to truly live in our own. This practice of self-regulating the balance between giving and receiving helps us stay focused not only on sharing with others, but on keeping what we need. In this way, we cultivate moksha, or being free from stress and suffering, but to me, also means having the freedom to access the soul, and from there, to express oneself completely and without regret.  

This is often what stepping onto the mat means to me. It's a magic carpet ride to new adventures as I remember and reveal the most vital parts of myself. No phones ring, no flight times loom, no partners or students need my attention. Sometimes I feel guilty for wanting this time to myself, this room of my own. After all, I love my loved ones and enjoy my job. As a centered-living teacher, I should be able to exist in peace within the chaos and pull of the outer world, right?

Well yes, and no. I find that in order to give the quality of attention that my projects and interactions deserve, I simply must take physical, mental, or emotional retreats at regular intervals. Otherwise, I risk burnout. Whether it's a nap, a walk in the park, a long bath, or a train ride, I'm careful to immerse in the luxury of being totally Self-centered. Then, once I'm ready to re-engage with the world, I have all the more to offer the next time an offering is called for.     

All too often, we wait until we are at the end of our ropes, frazzled and spent, before we'll use those vacation days or get a massage. Sometimes it takes illness or fatigue to force us to pause and get some much needed rest.

As practitioners of a conscious path, I invite each of us to do better than that. Let's look for daily opportunities to invoke freedom: to withdraw, conserve, and nourish our bodies, hearts, and minds. If chances for restoration are lacking in your life, build a room of your own with the tools gathered from your yoga practice: the wisdom to know when to go and when to stop, and the inner strength to create the boundaries needed to literally make peace with--and within--your life.

Core Pose: Ustrasana (Camel Pose) with Arm Stretch

Here's an asana that helps me invite moksha into my day by shaking off the constrictions of tension in my body or on some other level.

Kneel at the front of your mat with your knees slightly separated. Reach one hand back onto the floor or a block. Exhale fully and firm your belly. As you inhale, press your fingertips into the mat and circle your other arm up and back beside your ear. At the same time, lengthen your tailbone and pull your navel in and up as you lift your hips (a little or a lot, depending on your flexibility) and wave your spine towards a heart-opening backbend. Refrain from dropping your head back; keep the neck curve naturally long and supported. Exhale, return your hips to your heels, and bring the opposite hand behind you to repeat on the other side.

Aim for 5-10 repetitions of this pose then fold forward into Child's Pose for one minute.
YJ CAMEL STRETCH_fnl.jpg 

 
 

Moving Forward

July 8, 2010

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I just did something so major I have to write it down to believe it. I'm relocating from New York City where I've lived and taught yoga for nearly a decade, to Austin, Texas.
I've decided to relocate so that I can focus exclusively on my health, yoga, travel, and teaching for what I'm calling my yogi artist's retreat year. After that, I'll see where I am.

The requirements of my burgeoning yoga career are intense, and living in a place like New York City doesn't make things easy. For example, it took me 4 hours to drive 11 miles to the airport the other day, only to miss my flight. Total cost: $1,600. Austin has a shuttle that goes from my new apartment to the airport in 10 minutes. Total cost: 50 cents. I kid you not.

Now, don't get me wrong. Just like the T-shirts say, I (heart) New York. That's why I've lived there for so long. But it's time for a change, and specifically, I'm interested in what will happen to my yoga trajectory when I steep in it fully for a good period of time. This will be a Dharma Immersion, if you will.

At first, I was torn about whether or not to make such a radical move. So I practiced what I teach. I put fears and judgments aside and thought about what would serve my ultimate goals the best. Right now, I require ease of travel; a location that is equidistant to both coasts and the flyover states; an affordable apartment with enough space for me to film my YouTube and training videos; and a community that values health, good food, and good yoga. A creative environment and a lack of traditional winter weather is just icing on the cake.  

For these reasons and more, Austin was an obvious choice for me. The cool thing is, once I chose it, I was surrounded by so many universal green lights that I have to believe the signs are pointing me on the road I'm meant to take now.

Before I was a yogi, I would have shut myself down before I ever began this journey. I probably would never have left the safety of the Midwest to try my luck in the Big Apple, or taken any of the risks that have brought me to where I am now. Yoga teaches us how to step out of our own way, remove the veils of uncertainty, and quiet the voices that tell us we're insane to do what we are being called toward. If we can turn down the volume of our fears, it's possible to hear that still, powerful whisper of our satya, or truth; that core voice that can move us toward transformation.

We do this through cultivating a regular asana practice so our limiting patterns don't build up and slow us down. We learn to sit in meditation and listen intently until we hear only our inner guide and not the confusing cacophony that surrounds it. We implement our lessons off the mat, do our best to be brave, and lead by example into our next incarnation of who we want to be.

Most of all, when grounding is called for, we ground, and when flying beckons, we find out how wide our wingspan really is. The yogi is a shapeshifter, an energetic alchemist who uses the raw materials of experience, relationship, self-knowledge, and prana (life force) to create magic out of what others see as a static reality.

Is it the perfect choice for me to take a year in Austin? Perhaps not. Staying in the city has its benefits, too. But we can always go back to what we know. So why not try going forward? Yes, it takes a big leap of faith sometimes. But we yogis have that in spades, y'all. So what is your dharma calling you to do next?

Core Pose: "First Eye" Goddess

This asana is one I teach and do whenever I want to envision my next move. It stimulates the forehead center, the seat of our intuition, and expands perspective away from the constriction of fear. This is why I call it the First Eye. It's a primary tool of perception, your mind's eye, and keeping it wide open will serve you well as you navigate your next steps along your path.

Sit on your mat. Bring both feet together, knees open wide. With a long spine, tilt your sacrum and top hip crests forward as you bring your elbows onto the floor or two yoga blocks. Place your thumbs inside your eyebrows, just above your nose. Allow your forehead to release towards the thumbs even as you maintain the open hips and spinal alignment of the rest of the pose.

Breathe here for 1-2 minutes, and then come into knees-together Child's Pose for a few breaths to counterbalance the asana.
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