Soul Surfing: 5 Yoga Poses to Help You Catch More Waves

Yoga poses that build core AND make you a better surfer? We’ll take ‘em.

Vinyasa teacher Cristi Christensen, co-founder of Yoga Surf Camp, a 180-minute workshop that combines beachfront yoga with surf lessons at Exhale Center for Sacred Movement in Venice, Calif., says yoga is the perfect complement to catching waves. In fact, many pro surfers (including Laird Hamilton and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater) swear by yoga as their secret weapon.

“Yoga helps to increase flexibility, improve balance and gain core strength and awareness,” and a strong core is the perfect starting point for surfing, says Christensen. “Yoga teaches us presence to remain calm and to return to our breath again and again no matter what the outside circumstances, all tremendous skills to have while out in the water.”

Are you new to surfing or an experienced board babe? Either way, adding these 5 poses to your regular practice will help you reap big rewards on and off the beach:

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Goddess Pose with Eagle Arms
Step your feet approximately three feet apart. Turn your toes out approximately 45 degrees and spin your heels in. On an exhale, start to bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure your knees are over the center of your foot. Raise your arms straight ahead to shoulder height, palms facing one another. Cross your right arm on top of the left and bend and hook your elbows. The backs of your hand reach for one another or wrap around your wrists. On an inhale, lift your forearms up a few inches and, on an exhale, reach the forearms away from you, spreading your shoulders on your back. Engage your core by drawing your navel in and up, and add this pulsing rhythm into your legs as well. Inhale, straighten the legs a few inches, exhale, sit deeper as the hips lower toward thigh height. Repeat the pulsing arms and legs simultaneously for 5 to 7 breaths. After the last one, slowly free the arms and straighten the legs. Repeat on the other side.

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Warrior II to Side Angle Pose
Step your feet wide apart and raise your arms up to shoulder height. Your wrists should line up over your ankles. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and turn your left foot perpendicular to the right. Inhale, engage your core and exhale bend into the right knee. Be sure that your knee is gently pressing open and tracks over the center of your foot. Bring your attention to your back foot now and ground the outer edge of your foot up the entire leg (stay here for 3 breaths). On your next exhale, bring your right forearm to your thigh and stretch and reach your left arm up to the sky. Lengthen the sides of your body while turning the underbelly of your waist and chest up to the sky. Breathe into the sides of the body and the entire length of your spine for 3 to 5 deep breaths. Repeat on the left side.

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Plank Pose
Plank is an excellent pose for gaining strength and stability in your core and your shoulders. This will help you build the power for your pop-ups (surf-ese for getting on your feet). Start on all fours, placing your hands directly under your shoulders. Gently spread your fingers apart, grounding all four corners of your palms. Tuck your toes under and lift up behind your knees to straighten your legs. You want your hips and shoulders at approximately the same height. Draw your abdominal wall up to support the entire length of your spine. Your tailbone lengthens in the direction of your heels as your pubic bone moves toward your navel and your navel extends toward your heart. Keep your neck long and breathe. Start with 30 seconds and build up to 90.

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Anahatasana (Heart Chakra Pose)
Start on all fours and begin to walk your arms forward, lowering your chest and forehead toward the ground. Keep your hips right above your knees. If there is no pain in the shoulders, press into the palms, lift the forearms up off the ground and melt the back of the heart. Remain in the pose for 5 breaths.

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Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Lie on your belly and place your hands right under your shoulders. Your legs are either together with the ankles touching or hips-distance apart. Lengthen your buttocks toward your heels and extend and reach through your legs and spread your toes. Inhale and, on an exhale, press the pelvis down and lift your hands, chest and feet off the ground. Lift with the whole of the spine not just from the back of your neck and keep the legs active and strong. This will help keep space in your lower back and keep you from compressing and jamming up the lower back. Try coming up and down for 3 rounds on your breath. Inhale up, exhale to lower and, on the 3rd round, hold the lifted posture for more breaths.

–Dana Meltzer Zepeda

5 Things to Consider on Body Image for Yoga’s Community Leaders

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When I started writing about the intersection between yoga and body image in 2010, it was to share how yoga had made a positive impact on my body image—one that had been toxic and negative most of my life. It’s a stance that I continue to take: yoga can re-connect us to our bodies and return us to ourselves in compassion, humility, grace, love and forgiveness.

But, the conversation was complicated, and still is. The mainstreaming of yoga started around 2000 (five years before Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty sold Yoga Works to AskJeeves.com). The practice passed through the filter of popular culture. As a result, and as a way to remain competitive (not to mention capitalize on yoga’s increased popularity and access to a larger market), Yoga Journal covers changed, advertisements of an increasing number of yoga products increased and reflected the marketing tactics employed by many of the high-end fashion magazines, the emergence of the yoga celebrity and the cult of personality flourished, as well as the styles and “brands” of yoga taught.

In the process, “contemporary” yoga culture emerged and it became imperative to distinguish between yoga practice and yoga culture (as well as the business and branding of yoga) – they are not the same. Yoga culture began to look like our celebrity-obsessed, white-washed, size-zero pop culture with a bit of “spirituality” thrown in the mix.

And, unfortunately, the visual representation of the “yoga body” and what a “yogi” is in yoga publications and on social media, mimic the sterile, homogenous and one-dimensional images of beauty in mainstream culture. Yet those images are not benign. They marginalize many members of the yoga community and elevate one “yoga body” over all others.

The frustration of some members of the yoga community has brought various corporations, publications and public figures under fire for perpetuating these stereotypes and fueling body-image anxiety.

On July 12, lululemon and Yoga Journal came to the table at The Practice of Leadership panel discussion at YJLIVE! in San Diego to discuss the relationship between yoga culture and body image. The main goal: to examine the current representation of yogis and yoga bodies, the effects of imagery, and what can be done to create positive change for the yoga community as a whole.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this represents a water-shed moment in yoga culture. And, while people may remain skeptical about the motives behind this conversation, this is a brave and courageous move to continue to build on.

Based on our dialogue, here are my 5 things to consider as we move forward:

1.      Conscious conversation: It is possible to navigate uncomfortable topics and conflict with compassion and courage. And, as a “conscious community,” it’s up to us to live our practice by showing up and engaging with respect, humanity, and curiosity. Panel moderators, Kerri Kelley and Hala Khouri, set the groundwork and tone for a conversation that I view as successful and productive. In future conversations, we can continue to ask ourselves how to approach conflict and be authentic in the process.

2.      How do we define yoga?: Inevitably, in discussions about yoga and body image, we need to dissect what “yoga” means. Asana? Meditation? Awareness? While I don’t propose to have the complete answer, I certainly have an opinion. And I do know not everything or anything can be called “yoga.” I also know not all yoga practices are taught in the same way or emphasize the same things. And when it comes to body image, practicing with a yoga teacher that (un)consciously touts the body (i.e. “bikini season”) as an incentive for doing more vinyasa, will not make a positive impact. In fact, yoga classes like these, that emulate fitness rhetoric, can actually exacerbate body dissatisfaction.

3.      Conscious community and responsibility: What is the role and responsibility of the yoga teacher in facilitating safe, body-positive spaces? What is the role and responsibility of yoga publications and corporations in creating and disseminating inclusive and diverse representations of yogis and the yoga body? Which teachers are most heavily promoted? Is it because of their marketability, skill or knowledge? What images do we as yoga teachers and practitioners share on social media? Do we only post and share images of flexible, thin and toned bodies or do we promote a diverse range of images? We all create the yoga culture and we can all turn the tide.

4.      How do we define “health”? In promoting yoga as the key to a “healthy” lifestyle, how many fallacies, inaccuracies and stereotypes do we perpetuate when we focus on a body type that statistically represents only 5% of the population? Are we equating “health” with weight, BMI, flexibility, strength, or absence of disease? Too often, people, including yoga practitioners, undermine their health in its pursuit. How can we continue promoting wellness and “health” while increasing the range of diversity we feature and celebrate?

5.      Authentic inspiration: In discussing aspirational marketing, the panel agreed that authenticity is what is most inspiring, beautiful and powerful. And in focusing on authentic representations of beauty, power and sensuality, we’ll be able to create fully-dimensional and diverse imagery of yogis and the yoga body that promote inclusivity, self-love and acceptance.

Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College teaching Sociology and Women’s Studies. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.

See more on our Practice of Leadership Panel:

Yoga’s Evolving Body Image: A Call to Action from Justin Michael Williams

Wrap Up: Sociologist Kimberly Dark on the Practice of Leadership Panel

Out There: Yoga for Lawyers

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Can yoga make lawyers better at their jobs? Yes, according to a new book from American Bar Association Book Publishing.

Yoga for Lawyers: Mind-Body Techniques to Feel Better All the Time is filled with basic asana and meditation instructions to help attorneys lower their stress levels and stay on task. Many of the poses can be practiced at the office or while taking a break in court. There’s “Desk Dog”—an office-friendly version of Downward-Facing Dog, where you put your hands on a desk instead of the floor—and seated Camel or Fish Poses that can be done in your desk chair. The meditations are short and simple, such as staring at a thumbtack on the wall for one minute without blinking.

“A little practice always changes my day for the better and makes me more productive, not to mention happier,” says coauthor Nathalie Martin, a law professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. She hopes her book will bring lawyers a calmer, clearer mind, a more open heart, and a heightened ability to communicate and control their emotions.

What: Yoga for Lawyers: Mind-Body Techniques to Feel Better All the Time

Where: Purchase the book at the American Bar Association website.

Cost: $29.95

How Cupcake Hands Saved My Vinyasa: Learning to Flow Again with Annie Carpenter

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I’m seriously questioning why I signed up for a Sun Salutation Lab at Yoga Journal LIVE! in San Diego. I’ve hardly practiced Surya Namaskar since I injured my rotator cuff in those very poses. And, as exhilarated as I used to feel after flowing, my wrists just plain hurt. I blamed it on thin bones, maybe age, and switched to Iyengar.

Here comes Annie Carpenter, a master vinyasa teacher with a personality as bright as the sun and a stature slender like a flamingo. There goes my theory. She asks the class if we have sensitive wrists, elbows or shoulders. Hands fly into the air.

“Perhaps even after four or five days of vinyasa in a row there’s fatigue or strong sensation in some of these joints,” says Carpenter, the creator of SmartFLOW Yoga. “Once you pass, let’s be general and say 30, I think that’s true. I don’t mean to imply you should stop doing vinyasa. I’m only 56 and I do it most days of the week!”

I’m in the right place. The key, she says, starts with cupcake hands. Really, straight from the mouth of Annie Carpenter who’s instructing us to do Child’s Pose on our fingertips like we have two giant cupcakes in our hands. The idea is to raise your palms completely off the mat as if the little confections are sitting precariously beneath them. I’m thinking Red Velvet with cream cheese frosting.

“It’s a tall cupcake!” she says to a chorus of muffled laughs, our hands clawing the earth in this exaggerated lock. “Oh no! There’s smashing of cupcakes.”

Who wants to smash a cupcake? Carpenter says she borrowed the tantalizing term from another teacher because it highlights an important reality; if we don’t have the ability to do a vinyasa on cupcake hands, we’re not getting proper lift of the forearms, armpits and core. If the front body doesn’t have that support we’re dumping on our wrists and shoulders. Check. We venture into Downward-Facing Dog—cradling those cupcakes. (Try it—it’s fun!) Then we move on to a more sustainable hand lock.

Hasta Bandha: While I’d previously been trying to press my palms flat on the mat, in Hasta Banda we suction up from the center palm so it’s no longer touching the mat. (Insert Carpenter’s suctioning sound effects here, closely related to the slurp.) Fingers are still pressing down and forward. Now we bring the mouth of the thumb and the mouth of the pinky in a tad to create a little canal between the two mounds of the hand. (The carpal tunnel to be exact.) Okay, keeping the canal open, stretch through the index finger. Feel the tendons in your forearms come online? If so, you’re having the lightbulb moment I did as my wrists become buoyant.

Not that it’s easy. “We’re tired already!” one student says before we’ve started flowing. Carpenter’s strategy is to get the foundation down before the weightier poses.

So next up is the shoulder girdle. She says it doesn’t change one iota between Standing Forward Bend and Upward-Facing Dog in your Sun Salutation. As Carpenter guides us through a round, a new horizon opens for my wrists and shoulders. Here are some tips that helped.

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Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend): Carpenter says if she could fix one Sun Salutation pose, this would be it! The main thing I was doing wrong is putting my fingertips on the earth, with a rounded back. Carpenter told those of us with rounded backs to bend our knees and place our hands on the side of the shins so the back flattens. (Putting hands on the fronts of the shins encourages legs to hyperextend.) Now, widen across the collarbones, extend through the heart, and pull the shoulder blades down so the neck lengthens. As those shoulder blades push into the chest, lift from the bottom of the sternum, and extend the top of the sternum forward. Keep the shoulders on the back where they belong.

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Plank Pose: Bend your knees enough to place your hands on the floor and step into plank without changing your shoulders. At this point, Carpenter adjusts me by lifting my bottom sternum up so my torso rises. I’m out of my wrists and into my core power! (Shaking and all.)

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Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose): Shift slightly forward into Chaturanga keeping the same shoulder actions: widen across collarbones, lift bottom ribs and bottom sternum up and back, slide shoulder blades down back. I’m doing a pose I’d avoided for the past year—pain-free! My hand lock is on and my core is solid.

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Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog): Flowing into Upward Dog, Carpenter instructs us to move our feet back to keep the shoulders over the wrists, not in front of them. Reach back through the legs, she says, which both stacks the arms and keeps us out of the lower back. Now, pull the chest forward and push the floor away. Carpenter is tugging back on the feet of one yogi now sporting perfect Upward Dog form and a bright red face. Like I said, this is work—but it feels good.

“That’s why we do workshops like this, because you have old hawk eyes catching every little thing,” Carpenter says. “It’s nitpicky but if you get this, flowing is fun for many years to come.”

Carpenter is a shining example. I leave feeling a new dawn of Sun Salutations and gratitude for the sweetness of cupcake hands.

—Rebecca Tolin

#findyourinspiration: The Importance of Humor (and Sequencing) in Yoga

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I have few yoga teachers in this world that rock my boat, and Jason Crandell is on the short list. He is a phenomenal international senior teacher based out of San Francisco, Yoga Journal contributor, and a dear friend. I was so excited to interview him (it took a bit of focus to halt the banter and get to business) for my blog. Here, I asked him about his amazing upcoming projects.

Kathryn Budig: You’re famous for your amazing sense of humor and wicked attention to detail. How important is the balance between humor and thoughtful teaching in a classroom?

Jason Crandell: There are plenty of people that would take exception to your comment about my sense of humor, but thank you. Honestly, the humor and detailed instructions are just parts of my personality, and they’re tools that I use to provide my students with a balanced approach to yoga. For me, the attention to detail isn’t just for safety and efficiency in the postures—it’s also a way to help students focus their attention. That said, detail can be bone-dry and tedious. So, if something funny comes to mind while I’m telling students which way to rotate their thigh, I’m happy to share it.

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KB: You launched a new website that has a fantastic sequencing blog with illustrations. Please tell us all about this amazing resource!

JC: My wife, Andrea Ferretti, has been a content producer for over a decade. We commissioned nearly 200 illustrations for my Teacher Training Manual. As soon as we started working on the project, we realized that we could use the same images on my blog to provide students with a resource for high-quality sequences. Since I’m passionate about sequencing—and providing education about sequencing—we decided to create a monthly blog that helps students and teachers practice at home. Readers can join my email list at jasonyoga.com and have the sequences mailed to them every month. They can also print a PDF of the sequence for easier use on their mat.

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KB: How often will new sequences go up? Will they all be themed?

JC: There will be new sequences every month, and, yes, they will all be themed. For now, the sequences are designed to take approximately 20 minutes and teach students how to prepare for specific postures, like Crow Pose, Upward Bow, and so on.

KB: Why use illustrations versus photographs?

JC: For so many reasons! Let me pick two. First, I’m a verbal teacher, but a visual learner. So, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate both in my teaching. I fell in love with the idea of complementing my classroom style of verbal communication with a training manual and website that presents information visually. I also love design and am excited about packaging information in a clean, clear, modern way. Second, I’ve been looking for a way to feature my teaching online and in social media that doesn’t overly rely on pictures of me practicing. Teaching postures and practicing postures are very different skills, and it’s more important than ever that students [differentiate between] the two. I wanted to figure out a way to emphasize my teaching technique and support students without the stress of putting my practice on display day in and day out.

—Kathryn Budig

Kathryn Budig is a yoga teacher behind AIM TRUE is a regular writer for Yoga Journal and presenter at YogaJournalLIVE!. 

Do You Go Commando for Yoga Class? (New Pants Make It Less Risky)

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Yeah, we’ll go there—er, down there—because yoga wear must be not only fun but functional. And let’s face it, a wedgie in Wide-Legged Forward Bend is literally a pain in the butt. That’s one of the reasons women’s underwear brand Dear Kate will debut commando-friendly yoga pants (available now for pre-order) in October.

According to the company’s market research, only 17 percent of women go commando in yoga pants—but Dear Kate says so many more could and should. “Most women assume that everyone either does it or doesn’t do it,” says founder Julie Sygiel. “And there are strong opinions on both sides.” So let’s carefully consider the pros and cons of going bare-asana.

PROS 

  1. Wedgie elimination. It’s worth repeating, because bunching, scrunching, and pulling in inconvenient places can really do a number on your dharana.
  2. VPL prevention. Do you pay top dollar for those pants to show off an unflattering panty line?
  3. Lady-part health. Unbreathable underthings paired with tight tights can lead to yeast infections, while panty-line-friendly thongs can result in UTIs. Going without can sometimes be a safer bet.
  4. Freedom. “I personally feel a sense of freedom that’s probably more psychological than physical, but it makes a huge difference for me to feel less constrained in my yoga practice,” Sygiel says. In other words, it’s just liberating to have less between you and your lunges.

CONS

  1. Scanty coverage. Think panty lines are unsightly? Consider the alternative. “I don’t mean to be indelicate,” says Sadie Nardini, yoga teacher and star of the reality show Rock Your Yoga“But by the end of class, I have seen one of the following things that are not in my job description: scrotum, pubic hair, vagina, crack. This, my friends, does not for a Zen experience make.” For the love of your yoga teacher, make sure your pants are opaque.
  2. Moisture mismanagement.“I have gone commando, but honestly not in years,” says Kathryn Budig, international yoga teacher and YJ’s #FindYourInspiration blogger. “I like the extra ‘wicking’…Geez, awkward!”
  3. Camel toe. You may be able to prevent the classic wedgie by going without, but that leaves you vulnerable to one on the flip side. “Sixty-six percent of the women we asked listed camel toe as a pet peeve of their current yoga pants,” Sygiel says.
  4. Loads of laundry. “If you’re not getting super sweaty, you can wear the same pair of pants multiple times before washing,” Sygiel says of panty-wearers.

Dear Kate’s pants promise to eliminate all of the risks of going commando with extra-wicking fabric, trustworthy coverage, and a camel-toe-free design. We tried them, and they do deliver. But most of our favorite yoga brands (including lululemon, who told us they’re “100 percent confident in the level of coverage” they offer) will assure you their pants can also be worn with or without underthings. So what’s a minimalist—yet modest—yogi to do?

First, assess the commando capacity of your current pants. Here’s a smart strategy: (1) Put on some patterned panties; (2) Try on your yoga pants; (3) Practice a few exposing asanas in front of a mirror, cameraphone, or significant other to gauge opacity. “A rear-view check in the mirror is not nearly enough to show you what will happen in Down Dog, Forward Fold, or my all-time fave, Happy Baby,” Nardini says.

If your pants don’t pass the test, play it safe with a pair of yoga-friendly underwear. Here are a few to try:

  1. Hanky Panky Thong
  2. Under Armour Seamless Cheeky or Thong
  3. PACT Fair-Trade-Certified breathable thongs or boy shorts
  4. Dear Kate Hazel Sport Thongs or Sport Hipsters
  5. FOR GUYS: PACT Fair-Trade-Certified soft boxer briefs

Tell us what YOU wear (or don’t wear) under your yoga pants in our Facebook poll.

—Jessica Levine

Reminder to Feel: Tara Stiles’ Top 3 Takeaways From YJ LIVE

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Strala Yoga founder Tara Stiles, Yoga Journal’s August cover model, presented at her first Yoga Journal LIVE! conference in San Diego last weekend, and came away feeling “energized, sensitized and fantastic.” Here are three lessons she learned from three days packed with amazing yoga classes and good vibes.

Energy Is Everything

We are co-creating the world we live in with our thoughts, actions and energy. How we feel affects how everyone around us feels, and that rippled energy has the power to heal, expand and radiate us all. You know that super jazzed-up feeling of sparks shooting out of your head you get sometimes when you’re in a great mood? That happened all weekend because of the gathering of amazing vibes. Our energy is powerful on our own, and mega-powerful in numbers. I’m super grateful to have soaked up the collective awesome energy all weekend.

Reminder to Feel

One of the elements in leading Strala is allowing freedom for people to move how it feels great to move. Linger where it feels nice to linger. I’ve called this element “permission to move” for the last few years. The radiant group that participated in my Strala Intensive last Friday corrected me and said it feels much more like a “reminder to feel,” and that is positive. I learned so much from that simple refinement in wording. Thank you, YJ LIVE!

Support Is All Around

The collective awesome vibes at YJ LIVE! provided an incredible sense of support for everyone that was there, and for everyone that will travel wherever the attendees and presenters head next. Support is now radiating in the world!

I had several friends that showed up at the conference to surprise me. They expressed how they have felt supported by me over the years. By supporting the classes I led at the conference, they made me feel uplifted and energized, too.

Thanks so much YJ LIVE! See you soon!

Xo

Tara

Follow Tara on Instagram @tarastiles and on Twitter @TaraStiles.

Shiva Rea Gets Real About the Root Lock: A Woman’s Guide to Mula Bandha

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Like many yoginis, I’ve tried futilely to squeeze the area I think is the root lock as a teacher calls out “activate Mula Bandha!” But those Sanskrit words came with as much instruction as how to roll out your sticky mat. And where is the perineum anyway?

In walks Shiva Rea, the worldwide teaching sensation who embodies the very essence of sacred feminine, fire and grace. Turns out, even she was once shy about sharing this knowledge.

“It’s pretty amazing that Mula Bandha is actually stimulating the very same process that creates orgasm,” Shiva Rea told me after her class at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. “We think it’s far-out or neo-tantric to talk about orgasm. But after you’re 40 you’re like ‘life is short, let’s not reinforce any more disconnection.’”

So in the spirit of getting real and helping women connect to their bodies, let’s start with the fact that Mula Bandha, or Yoni Bandha as Rea calls it, is different for women than for men. The Yoni canal connects to the clitoris and the entire womb. Women draw up at the base of the pelvic floor around the vagina and extending up to the mouth of the cervix. Draw in and up on the inhalation. Let go on the exhalation. Draw in strongly but not so much that you feel tension. It’s much more than a Kegel, which Rea feels is devoid of poetry and Eros. “It’s like this light that rises and illuminates the whole spine,” Rea says.

We’re all women in Rea’s Yogini Shakti class. The lights are dim. There’s freedom to experiment. Rea says one of the best poses to feel the Mula Bandha is Malasana. Try squatting with your heels in and toes out, lean your torso in between your thighs with your hands in Anjali Mudra. As you inhale, engage Mula Bandha and feel the currentrise from the earth, enter the pelvic floor and “up inside the Yoni as if when making love,” Rea says. When you can’t inhale any longer, relax the squeeze on your exhale, without collapsing it entirely. You’re pulling energy up to tap into a subtle pulse, like the ocean tide.

Soon the room full of yoginis seems to be pulsing with new discoveries. I feel Mula Bandha’s potent source of power for the first time. After class, another woman tells Rea that she recently miscarried twins and is grateful to reconnect to her body. All it takes is practice, Rea encourages us, to let go of mechanical instructions and tap into your own beautiful and personal rhythm.

—Rebecca Tolin

Photo credit: Tony Felguieras 

Yoga’s Evolving Body Image: A Call to Action from Justin Michael Williams

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Yoga teacher Justin Michael Williams attended our Practice of Leadership panel and gave us his main takeaways after the event. Here, he talks about the evolving issue of body image and how it is represented in today’s yoga community. Plus, his two main takeaways.

When you Google the word yoga, the images you see are all too similar—tall, bendy, Caucasian women with a soft glow folded into pretzel-like poses. With the exception of the occasional Indian Guru, this has been the aspirational body image set forth by the yoga industry.

But times are changing.

If we take a closer look at what’s actually happening with the popularization of yoga over the last two years, we see that the representation of yoga in the media is indeed evolving at a surprisingly similar rate as reality of the demographics of practitioners.

Let’s be real. It was not “cool” to walk around town with a yoga mat slung over your shoulder until quite recently. Although yoga has been available in the United States for several decades, the mass popularization of the practice is just evolving through its infancy. For the majority of its prevalence in the States, yoga has always been a practice for the privileged – a niche offering at a high price point. But today, yoga is being offered to people of all socioeconomic classes, bringing diversity to the practice and fostering opportunity for people of varying colors, shapes, and sizes to become leaders in the public eye.

Yes, it’s true that most of the practitioners highlighted in yoga publications are still tall, thin, Caucasian women – but there has definitely been a shift. Look at any recent yoga magazine. You will find men, people of color, and women of all shapes and sizes making their way into mainstream media. New styles of yoga are forming to coincide with varying body types, spiritual practices, and social preferences. This is cultivating new leaders within the community – my personal experience is social proof. I am a multiracial male featured in a full page of an upcoming issue of Yoga Journal.This moment in history offers an opportunity and great responsibility for both the yoga community and popular media. It’s time for a call to action. Here’s what I think:

Yogis of all colors, shapes and sizes
We must step fully into our power, steep in the practices, and activate our role as leaders. It is time for alternative community frontrunners to step out of the yoga closet. Learn to use marketing and social media just as effectively as the current yoga icons so that we can spread our message to the world. This is the only way we can continue to shape the face of yoga.

Yoga media outlets
Keep your minds open to the changes on the ground level of the community. Watch carefully for developing leadership outside of the typical demographic. Remember that the image you highlight will be the image yogis aspire toward, so hold space for leaders of all shapes, colors, and sizes and provide a platform for them to shine.

This moment will never come again. This is our chance to create a clear, open, and authentic public image of yoga that matches the reality of the community and the ethics of the practice. Let’s make it count!

- By Justin Michael Williams

Justin Michael Williams is a social media expert, public speaker, and yoga teacher who decided to ditch corporate America to start his own yoga-centric social media marketing agency. 

See more on the Practice of Leadership panel at YJLIVE in San Diego

Wrap Up: Sociologist Kimberly Dark on the Practice of Leadership Panel

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Last weekend’s Practice of Leadership Conversation at YJLIVE in San Diego focused on body image in yoga culture. The timing couldn’t be better with the recent launch of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. (Learn more here.)

This lively discussion focused on how current media images of yoga practitioners do little to inspire and welcome diverse bodies to begin and maintain a yoga practice.  If this is our goal as yoga teachers, practitioners and yoga-focused businesses (such as Yoga Journal and lululemon athletica, both sponsoring this panel) then we are not yet doing our best work.  Businesses and publications, along with yoga teachers, can become trailblazers rather then simply reinforcing cultural messages that damage body image and prevent a wider range of yogis from reaching the mat.

The panel discussed the role of each yogi in becoming aware of how we perpetuate cultural values and stereotypes that fail to welcome every body – regardless of race, size, ability, gender or age.  In order to do this, individuals must become aware and change body-shaming language in the yoga studio and businesses must work to represent a wider range of bodies and experiences so that yoga seems accessible to all.  For instance, Rachel Acheson of lululemon pointed out that they generally “sample” a size six in all of their media material and that doesn’t have to continue to be the case. Even if the brand’s size range is limited, they can begin to show more of that range.

Indeed, magazines, like Yoga Journal, take a huge role in reinforcing cultural norms and values around yoga practice and what “looks like” a “yoga body.”  The audience was told to expect more body diversity in upcoming issues. Further discussion about this issue is on the horizon in public and private forums, to be sure.

Kimberly Dark is a writer, sociology professor and yoga teacher. She travels worldwide using humor and storytelling to help people discuss the body in culture. She’s a founding board member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Learn more at www.kimberlydark.com