30 Days of Yoga, 6 Days In…(Days 1-6)

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Alright, it seems that I’m hawking National Yoga Month like I’m getting paid to promote it. Sadly, this is not the case. However, what I am lacking in monetary return, I’m more than making up for in my goal of deepening my practice for the month of September. I thought it would be interesting, if to no one else except for me, to log my practices. So, on Day 6 (September 6, 2013) here’s where I am…

9/1:

9/2:

9/3:

9/4:

  • Vinyasa 2-3 at Nature Yoga Sanctuary in Chicago, taught by Wade Gotwals (105 min.)

9/5:

  • Hatha 1-2 at Moksha Yoga Riverwest, taught by Rich Logan (105 min.)

9/6:

  • Vinyasa 1-3 at Moksha Yoga W. Bucktown, taught by Kristin Urbanus (90 min.)
  • (TBD: restorative at Moksha Yoga W. Bucktown, taught by Katie Tuttle (90 min.)

I feel like I’m off to a strong start and hopefully this will give me that extra impetus to not slack off :) I’ll continue to update.

A little bit is better than nothing

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Me coming out of crow.

Apparently, September is National Yoga Month. For me, every month is yoga month, but hey, I’m down for celebrating and creating more awareness. I am, in a small way, celebrating this month by upping my home yoga practice. I admit, I tend to like going to the studio a lot more than I like practicing at home. For one thing, I love being surrounded by the collective energy of my fellow yogis. It’s nice to have the variety of different teachers who challenge me to push myself. For another, I’m ridiculously easily distracted (hello, vata) and most of my home practices are liberally punctuated by the sound of dogs barking and kids yelling and lawnmowers doing their thing. I can look at it positively and see it as an opportunity to learn to tune out distraction, or I can get annoyed that while I’m in savasana or yoga nidra, my very lovely, loving pug is trying to lick my face or jump on my stomach (not to mention when the neighbor dogs start barking, Monster happily joins in the barking frenzy.) Truth be told, I’m not yet at that point where I’m able to completely disregard distraction and the yoga studio environment is so much easier for me to stay in ‘the zone.’

For a long time, especially in my first few years, I grappled with the notion that if I didn’t practice for an hour or 90 minutes, it didn’t count. So, I didn’t until I went to my studio classes. All this really accomplished was that I missed out on a lot of really great yoga practice. I tried to establish a home practice and was fine following along with DVDs for a while, but after the 10th time of the same class, I’d lose interest and again, miss out on some great yoga time.

More and more often, I’ve read advice from other yogi(ni)s that has really resonated with me, “a bit of yoga every day is better than a) nothing or b) a lot of yoga once (or twice, or three times) per week.” So, while I may not have an extended physical asana practice every day, I try to incorporate some dedicated yoga time daily to either meditation or philosophy. And, on my meditation/philosophy days, I’ll try to throw in a sun salutation or two, or maybe just a pose I’m working on. Often, giving myself permission to practice a tiny bit leads to more practice.

That said, in the past few weeks, I’ve been working on honing and extending my daily home asana practice (distractions be damned!) My most recent useful tool is: YogaGlo. It beats the same DVDs every day by a mile and a million. I am kicking myself that I haven’t signed up earlier. I have on several occasions almost signed up, but didn’t feel like ponying up $18/month when I’ve got access to free yoga through my work/study. $18/month is actually NOTHING in Chicago, where $18 will get you approximately one class at many studios. Unfortunately, my studios are not close to my house and while I love the 10-14 mile round trip bike commute when the weather is nice, some days, I just don’t feel like it.

The day I signed up, I felt like a kid in a candy store. The choice and variety of teachers is fantastic, especially since my 2 favorites, Jason Crandell and Kathryn Budig are amply represented. I love that you can filter classes by duration, which really fits in nicely with my “a bit of practice every day” goal. Yesterday, for example, my energy was way low after I found out my poor sweet pug had another mast cell tumor. However, I found a 20 minute class that was perfectly tailored to my energy level and needs. I’ve been so excited by my options, that I queued up and scheduled classes for nearly every day of September. Sometimes two or more a day (i.e. vinyasa flow in the morning and restorative/yin in the evening.)

The ultimate point of this post is that every little bit does count and that the all or nothing/studio or bust approach, especially for me, doesn’t work. The key is to make a commitment to let yourself practice for 5, 10, 20 minutes, whatever it takes, in lieu of thinking it doesn’t count if you’re not practicing for an hour or more. And, there are so many tools at our disposal these days that make even the short practices more enticing and easier to stick with.

So hey, why not join me in practicing every day in September?

To ashtanga or not to ashtanga?

Lately, I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the idea of taking up an ashtanga practice. As much as I adore my vinyasa classes (there’s a pretty decent overlap between the two, asana-wise, except vinyasa is basically a freestyle ashtanga, where as ashtanga has a very set order of poses.) I’m starting to like the idea of really honing my discipline and focus by concentrating on mindfully moving through the primary series and really working pose by pose before progressing to the next one.

I have a tendency to lose focus mid-anything and would love to learn how to harness that focus. It seems like it would also be very beneficial for exercising patience and non-attachment (aparigraha.) I’d like to learn how to stick with the pose and get it right instead of getting frustrated and moving on to something else that I find easier or more comfortable.

So, what is stopping me? Well, apparently, I’m still feeling a little resistant to the discipline of a 6 days/week practice, working on the same series. I can easily manage 6 days of vinyasa because you never know what sequence you’re going to get next. With ashtanga, I’m going to get the same.damn.series every day. I’m also hung up on the idea that maybe I’m too old? Many of these practitioners started out in their 20s, so by the time they’re my age, they’ve been at it for 20 years. It’s humbling. Yowza. I was living a life of next to zero discipline in my 20s.

Fortunately, I’ve found a few other ashtangis online that have discussed their foray into the practice in their 40s. If they can do it, I can do it. There is one fellow who was quite overweight and chronicled his journey and the difference a few years made was truly astonishing.

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Kino is amazing. I can totally do this….not.

And then there’s Kino MacGregor, ashtangi extraordinaire. I am awaiting the arrival of her book, The Power of Ashtanga Yoga, which should arrive any day now. I just adore her. She moves with such control and grace and seems really down-to-earth and straightforward in her instructional videos. She’s definitely a huge inspiration for me.

This whole paragraph from her blog REALLY resonated with me and I’m going to say it’s been my strongest impetus to go ashtanga.

“The recommendation to take on a six day a week practice is often hard to accept for new students, so new students can easily build up to a full six day a week practice by starting with three days a week. Then once that level of regularity is established one additional day a week can be added every six months until the full six days a week is within reach. One other crucial shift must happen in order to facilitate the transition into full immersion in the yoga tradition. You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one. By getting this subtle shift you will gain consistency and regularity in the way that you do your practice. A daily spiritual ritual where you take time to connect internally to a deep sense of yourself requires dedication. The requirement to practice six days a week is meant to develop the kind of mental, spiritual and devotional determination needed in order make progress along the internal path of yoga. If yoga is meant to be a life long commitment to inner peace it behooves yoga practitioners to practice as much as they can. If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week.”

Hopefully, putting it out there means it’s too late to back out now! Wish me luck and yoga on!

Pay attention to your audience

A yoga class.

A yoga class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I started a volunteer yoga teaching position at an artist community of developmentally disabled adults. And boy, do they LOVE their yoga. It’s so nice to see such enthusiasm and gratitude! I felt a little like a rock star :) While I’m dying to get my hands on a studio gig, I am pretty sure my first class in a traditional setting won’t be nearly as interactive and appreciative (on an outward level.)

I’m co-teaching this class with 2 of my other teacher friends and we alternate between teaching and assisting. Prior to the class, we met to go over our sequence, but once we got there, it was an amazing learning opportunity to realize that we really needed to be flexible in response to our audience’s abilities.

The artists can choose to join in if they want and we had about 12 students. I thought that since this was our first class, I didn’t want to go straight into a million sun salutations, but I wanted to make it interactive to see where they were in terms of comfort and ability, so we did sort of a round robin where the students could demonstrate their favorite pose for us and then we all follow along. It was great. They seemed to really get a kick out of it. It was also fantastic to see the variety of poses. One man, Dave, had a ridiculously flexible baddha konasana and when he forward folded, his forehead was all the way to the ground (he also had a mean lotus.) Another guy chose table with one leg up in the air. And of course, we had a tree. Then, as we went along and resumed more of our scheduled sequencing, it became apparent when they were losing focus and you just had to modify to keep their attention or move on to the next thing. Definitely a great opportunity to learn how to improvise!

My biggest takeaways were that:

  1. Even if you have a set sequence, you might need to just completely abandon it at times. Go with the flow.
  2. You need to tune in to how your students are responding. You can’t get too hung up on delivering elaborate alignment cues. For this group, since some had quite limited range of motion, or comfort level in certain poses, it didn’t behoove anyone to drill in that they NEEDED TO STRAIGHTEN THEIR LEG (when they couldn’t or wouldn’t.) This is their class, not yours.
  3. Whatever happens in class, it’s all good, it’s all yoga.

A Yoga-Filled Weekend Ahead

Now that I have more free time in my life, I’m able to comfortably accomodate more asana practice outside the home and this weekend I’m looking forward to the Wanderlust Festival (Chicago version) in Grant Park! One of my favorite teachers, the lovely and talented Mr. Wade Gotwals is teaching a class that I plan to attend. Our festival isn’t as expansive as the Colorado and California ones, but definitely some great stuff. I’m also looking forward to taking classes with the Starnes sisters and Amber Cook. Hopefully the weather will cooperate! It’s been very rainy and stormy here in the Chi, which is great for the growing things, but not so great when you have outdoor activities planned. Fingers crossed for good weather!

Yoga in the Chi

Yoga in the Chi

I am also attending a lecture and experiential meditation session tomorrow at Moksha called Essence of Living Tantra with Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. Looking forward to hearing him speak!

And, in between, I plan to hit a few classes at my home studio, Nature Yoga Sanctuary. I just love my teachers there!

Have a great weekend and Yoga On!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone Missing For A While

This song has made it to my super duper repeat playlist. I run to it, I listen to it while I’m working, I turn it on and sing along with it, regardless of the fact that I’m pretty much a shower-quality singer. It’s very relevant to both my absence from blogging and the path my life is taking.

My last entry was a little vague, but I’m in a major transition phase in my life. I’m going in the direction I want, but not exactly on my timeline. I told a yoga teacher mentor of mine that I had this plan to leave my corporate job at the end of the year because I frankly need to save money to pay the bills (and maybe if I admit it to myself, a little scared to do something different, even if it IS what I want.) I was very insistent that this was the way my plan NEEDED TO WORK, in order to work. She kept asking me why my plan was so set in stone? Could I deviate from it? My response was, “no, this is how it needs to be.” Yep, not exactly how it turned out.

So, perhaps I willed the change, but here I am, on my own, trying to figure out how to make it all work. I’ve learned during this period that I need to be OPEN TO EVERYTHING. It’s so easy to define yourself by the job you’ve been doing (in my case over a decade.) Now I need to relearn who I am apart from that particular situation. In yoga, we call these old patterns samskaras and I’m on the journey to break free from mine.

As for the title of this post, I’m relating to my buddies in Maximo Park (figurative buddies) when they say, “I’m going missing for a while, I’ve got nothing left to lose.” I feel like I’m taking a break from the self that I know myself to be to get to the next me. Part of that process has been pulling back a bit, which being super type-A was hard to do, but I’m learning.

If you bend too far, you might break

If you’ve followed current yoga news for a while (or at least the past year and some change,) chances are you’ve heard of John Friend. And the scandal (oh, the scandal…) If you HAVEN’T heard about it, a quick Google search yields article after article after article, a few of which I’ve linked to, so I’m not going to go into detail, nor am I going to proselytize. I have never had any connection to either Friend or his school of yoga, the now-relatively defunct Anusara, so I have no personal bias, but what I read didn’t sit very well with me. Any teacher in a position of authority has a responsibility to not cross certain boundaries and Friend, as such a public figure, and for goodness sake, a yogi, could possibly have been held to a higher moral standard. (Am I getting preachy? I’ll stop. Just wanted to offer a little context.)

At any rate, this video and article: “John Friend’s Advanced Variations of the Roots: First Set” appeared in my news feed from online source Yoganonymous (love you guys!) Naturally, I was curious and clicked to see what this Roots series looked like. And this is what it looked like:

Ouch

Ouch

I’m not gonna lie to you, it made me uncomfortable. There didn’t seem to be any rationale or intelligence to the asanas. There’s the “full extension of the pose” but, this was something else altogether. It felt like a contortionist act and it made me fear for the spinal columns of less flexible practitioners, who attempt to emulate this craziness. Again, another example thrown out there for the uninitiated who think they have to BE contortionists to “do yoga” or “be good at yoga.” It just seemed a little ridiculous.

What do you think?

 

Look Ma, Two Hands!

jason crandell

This past weekend, I had the good fortune of studying with Jason Crandell at Moksha Yoga Chicago. I first became familiar with him last year when I embarked on a Yoga Journal 21 Day Challenge. They had a variety of different instructors, but I always particularly enjoyed his online classes. He seemed very no-nonsense and accessible. I was more than happy to find out that he’s a really great teacher in person, as well. He’s got a great sense of humor and I definitely learned some invaluable arm balance tips (it was an arm balance workshop.)

Jason first started out with a story about how with all of his traveling to different countries, he decided he wanted to learn different languages, German, Japanese, Spanish, etc…Then, he realized that he actually didn’t want to LEARN those languages, he wanted to KNOW them. I found that to be very timely with my last post about handstand. I don’t want to learn it, I just want to be standing on my darn hands, already! He stressed that it isn’t the outcome that’s important, but the process leading up to it. Just because we work really hard, doesn’t mean we will always nail an asana, but once we step back, deconstruct, question, and approach it intelligently, we’ll make more progress. Love it.

We then went on to learn four different versions of vasisthasana. Confession, I am no fan of vasisthasana, so again, my ego kicked in as the versions got progressively more difficult and my ability to maintain my balance decreased. Oh well, at least I gave it the ol’ college try! I have a feeling in order to make peace with vasi, I’m going to have to spend a little more time with it. Again, I want to KNOW how to do it and do it flawlessly without having to work at it. Patience, grasshopper…

After we went through the vasisthasana segment, we moved on to bakasana. He told us a great story about how he doesn’t interact with his Facebook page very much, but one of his friends who works at Facebook helped him understand some measurement about what kinds of asana photos people respond most favorably to. More advanced asana didn’t perform terribly well, but bakasana was a winner. The logic behind this is that bakasana  at first appears difficult, but is ultimately accessible.

I remember my first yoga class when the teacher demonstrated it for us and I just turned to my friend and, pardon my French, said, “no fucking way.” Lo and behold, a few months later, I was in bakasana and haven’t looked back since.

We learned three different versions, two I nailed, one…not so much, but I did get close! I was quite pleased with the workshop! And, at the end, he again reminded us that it’s more important to focus on the action than the outcome. So, I am going to keep slowly working on my arm balances and skip the stress part of not being perfect.

Good At Yoga

Since my “graduation” from teacher training a week ago, I’ve gratefully accepted congrats from friends and colleagues. Very  heartwarming. However, this exchange inevitably leads to, “I would like to do yoga, but I’m not good at it.” Le sigh. But, it’s my task, nee mission, to let people know that asana, advanced asana, is only a tiny part of this massive moving organism that is yoga. Unfortunately, I’m still guilty of wishing I was “good at yoga.”

Case in point, I was in a particularly challenging class the other night. My normal vinyasa 2-3 class, with this particular teacher, is usually only very fast-paced, ashtanga-style, which presents its own set of challenges  when my old rotator cuff injury sparks up sometime after my tenth chaturanga. This class, however,  was very top-loaded with arm balance variations, forearm balances, handstands, full iterations of eka pada rajakapotasana, “advanced poses” etc…All well and good, but here’s where my ego gets in the way.

I can’t do a handstand. I can’t do the full form of eka pada rajakoptasana, there are a lot of things that I can’t do (yet?) And it still makes me a little sad.  For a long time, I felt like it was the one barrier between me and full yoga teacher-hood. I wanted to dive into the world of yoga teaching a few years ago, but I was worried that I wasn’t “good at yoga.” At that point, asana was my main focus (and I know I’m not alone!) All I saw was photos of yogis who were, as I imagined, “good at yoga.” Fortunately, over the years, the more I studied and made pranayama and meditation a more substantial part of my practice, I realized that asana wasn’t the end-all-be-all. Even more reassuring, I have had the good fortune to work with teachers who inform the students that there is no “good at yoga.” That you could spend the entire ninety minutes of class, in child’s pose on your mat and you are still practicing yoga!

A few days after that class, I brought my handstand conflict up to one of my yoga teacher friends (ooh, I love that I can call them yoga teachers instead of yoga teacher trainees!!) This particular yogini informed me that she’s been working on hers for THREE YEARS (this woman is quite adept at her physical practice, so the knowledge that she didn’t just kick up one day was very reassuring.) And then she reminded me that it’s the practice, the journey, that’s important.

Of course, the other extremely crucial element that I somehow manage to forget is that I actually have to PUT IN THE WORK. I’m not quite sure where I got the idea that by practicing vinyasa for a few years, I would all of a sudden be the next Kathryn Budig, who looks as comfortable on her hands as I feel on my feet. I actually have to work on the damn poses and if I don’t, I can’t feel sad that I’m not rocking pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room. I’m a quick one, right?

That said, while I still battle my ego, at least I am aware of the absurdity. I do feel that it is my duty to remind myself and others that there is no “good at yoga.”

Post SF Yoga Journal

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Oh, I have been so lax with the blog the past 2 weeks! So, here’s my little update. I flew to San Francisco on January 19th. As always, I really loved being there. The weather was a very, very pleasant departure from the winter chill of Chicago. Apparently, I missed out on some single digit temps. Can’t say I’m sad about that. In SF, it was sunny and 60-64. Perfect.

I was staying in lower Nob Hill (or technically, the TenderNob – what a terrible name!) Fortunately, it was a very pleasant, mostly downhill walk to the Hyatt Embarcadero where the conference was held. I attended a Sunday afternoon session with Gary Kraftsow: “Meditation, Contemplation, and Transformation.” Then, an all-day intensive with Mr. Kraftsow on Monday: “Evidence-Based Viniyoga Therapy for Stress Management.” Both sessions were incredible. He’s a very, very interesting man and a captivating speaker. Having studied with both Krishnamacharya and Desikachar from the age of 19…what can I say, he’s the real deal.  There was very little actual asana practice, but we did several pranayama, meditation and chanting exercises. I have become incredibly enamored of chanting in the past few months, so it was right up my alley.

I think one of the things I most appreciated hearing was that “yoga is not asana.” Obviously, that’s part of it, but there is SOOO much more. I think in the West, so much focus is placed on asana that the rest gets neglected. Gary told us about how people talk about how they practice yoga, and they also meditate. As if they’re separate. And they’re not. Meditation IS part of yoga. And a wonderful part, at that!

The most fascinating exercise we did involved langhana and brahmana, along with chanting. First we were told to think of something that caused us stress or anxiety. Once we captured that thought, we were told to really feel it, evoke those uncomfortable emotions. Then, we started the pranayama practice, as Gary chanted. We repeated a pattern of inhale/retain, exhale/sustain. I have to admit, I was seriously uncomfortable. I am no stranger to long inhales and exhales, but the retain/sustain parts were no fun. After several minutes of this, we were told to return to a more neutral/slight ujayi breath, while we did a guided meditation. Then, we were asked to summon that emotion we felt at the beginning of the exercise.

This is the amazing part…it was gone. All the emotion and stress I felt the first time I conjured the memory (and it was a super fresh one…something that had actually occurred about an hour earlier) was GONE. I was able to visualize the event without any sentiment attached. And even now, 10 days later…nothing. I’m a believer.