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?

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.”

Only Three Classes Left in Teacher Training

Gyan Mudra

Gyan Mudra

Such a bittersweet feeling…

Part of me is relieved to have my Thursday nights free again and to actually have TWO days off per week instead of the one I’ve had for 7 months. The other part of me is incredibly sad to be leaving the training program. I’ve met some really remarkable individuals and couldn’t be happier with the lovely group of people I’ve spent so much time with over these past months. I know it isn’t the end of the road, but as is customary, people get busy, schedules are difficult to coordinate and eventually you slowly drift. I hope that isn’t the case. In a way, I imagine it won’t be, since we’re tied together by a stronger force than just having been thrown together for a far less personal journey.

At any rate, today we get together for class to practice teach the class. Generally, we approach our practice classes by learning the alignment cues and verbage to instruct our students how to get into the asana, then we break into small groups and practice teaching each other. Only one other class have we each taken turns standing in the front of the class, instructing all 25 of us. It was a “round robin” class where we had to make an intelligent decision about which asana would most closely complement or counter the asana taught before. Lucky for me, my turn was after my very graceful and flexible dancer classmate came up and taught ardha chandrasana on one side. I was the last student, so I’d already prepared a savasana sequence. Foiled!

Round Robin, get it??

Fortunately, I’ve made my peace with Half Moon over the years. I used to HATE it. I could never maintain my balance, half of which was caused by fear of falling, so I wouldn’t even fully try. But, I got up there and taught to the best of my ability. Once I stood in front of everyone, I wasn’t nervous, which is strange because I have a long history of being absolutely PETRIFIED of public speaking of any sort.

I’m glad to have had that experience early on, because I’m a little nervous today. I have faith that when I stand in front of class this afternoon, it’s all going to fall into place. As one of my trainee friends said the other day, “think about it. We’re all in the same place.” True dat. It’s not as if ALL of us are even close to being expert teachers. I’m among a safe group of peers. No one’s going to laugh behind my back  if I forget a cue or say “right foot” when I mean left. It’s all good. Until then, I will just take a deep breath and when I get to the front of class, I’ll teach what I know, from intuition and my own personal practice, instead of sticking to a script.

Kundalini Yoga….It’s What’s For Breakfast

Kundalini

Kundalini (Photo credit: vaXzine)

I realize the title’s a bit silly, but every morning for the past week, while I’m drinking my coffee/eating breakfast,  I’ve been reading from one of the assigned textbooks for my teacher training, The 8 Human Talents, by Kundalini yoga teacher, Gurmukh.

I’ll be perfectly frank, my verdict is still out on Kundalini. I’d had no experience with that yoga system prior to starting my teacher training (aside from one DVD by Ana Brett that I tried approximately once…) One of the studio owners is this lovely little pixie sprite, whose delicate size belies a powerhouse of strength. She has trained with Gurmukh and incorporates Kundalini in her classes.

Here’s a little of what we’ve come to expect in her Thursday night class: Hold plank for 3 minutes (try it,  3 minutes in plank is a LOOOOONG time), your shoulders are burning, your arms are shaking, you think about dying, then she’ll instruct you to go into half chaturanga and…. BACK TO PLANK! Since our shoulders are already broken, why not throw in some dolphin? And then…back to plank. I hurt just thinking about it (and I’m actually fairly strong.) This sequence isn’t particularly Kundalini in nature, but more an illustration of the focus and determination this teacher is trying to instill in us.

It’s hard to even describe Kundalini, since it was quite different from the vinyasa flow classes I am partial to. For one thing, there were no sun salutation sequences. It felt a lot like pilates. A lot of repetitive, fast movement linked to breath. We were working on some 3rd chakra exercises, which relate to personality, self-esteem and ego. My teacher warned us that some of the exercises might bring up some emotion. I was skeptical. I’ve been practicing yoga for 6 years and I had yet to encounter a practice that evoked an emotional response, though I’ve heard it happens.

kundalini

After about half an hour, we moved on to one sequence that involved placing your fingers on your shoulders, thumbs to the back, fingers to the front (see picture above!) You then twist from side to side, inhaling to one side, exhaling to the other, keeping your elbows shoulder height. She instructed us to close our eyes and focus upward, where we imagined our third eye to be. This movement was done at a fairly rapid pace and I felt like that thing in washing machines that spins the clothes. All of a sudden, I felt this tightness in my chest, a lump in my throat and my eyes were getting a little moist. Damn it, I felt like crying. It was quite the experience.

These past mornings, reading Gurmukh’s book, I’m really getting into her explanations of the physical application of Kundalini. I’m starting to gain a deeper understanding of the chakra system and the physical ways we can address blockages via movement and breath. It’s also made me understand the exercises in class, why they’re so different from other vinyasa classes and the intention behind our teacher’s sequences. I’m intrigued to see where this leads!

I Challenge You To A….Downward Dog? (from jello arms to yoga teacher training)

yoga

yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

After over a decade of working in various advertising, media, PR and related fields, I decided this past September to enroll in a 200 hour Teacher Training program at Nature Yoga.

This was a decision that was years in the making. After taking my first yoga class in 2006 at (the now defunct in Chicago) Crunch gym, I was hooked. Seriously hooked. At the time, I was working at a media agency and one of our health magazine clients came into our office every week for a month to give us tips on nutrition, fitness, and health. Those of us who participated in her program received free passes to Crunch as incentives to (join the gym) get in shape. One of the trainers was a woman I had worked with a few years earlier, and I knew she knew a thing or two about fitness, she was a seriously ripped little woman. So, when she told us that if there was ONE thing we REALLY needed to do during the program, it should be to try a yoga class, I thought, “Eh, why not?”

I’d always been a little fascinated by yoga and, not to brag, had dabbled in it a little myself when I was a small child, along with my mom and Lilias Folan, who was the Queen of Yoga on PBS in the 70′s (oh, I didn’t mean to date myself…) But, decades later, I never really thought to seek it out on my own.

Armed with this “challenge” from my trainer, a colleague and I made a date to hit one of the Crunch yoga classes over lunch. My first observation was that there was an interesting mix of people in the class, young gym rats, middle-aged people, nearly as many men as women. I situated myself in the back near a woman I gauged to be in about her late 50s. Seemed like a safe enough situation, surely I wouldn’t feel out-of-place next to this nonYoga Journal cover model.

Gads, I was so, so wrong. The class seriously kicked my ass. When I was in downward dog, my arms were shaking like crazy. When it came time to lower down into chaturanga, I basically belly-flopped. Holding warrior was like trying to walk a tightrope. There was very little balance to be had. All I could think was…THIS is yoga? What happened to the gentle stretching? I’ve always been fairly flexible, so I assumed it would be a cakewalk. By the end of class, I wasn’t quite sure what hit me and I was a little humbled by my lack of strength/balance, but somehow….I felt AWESOME.

I remember turning to the older woman next to me, who was firmly holding her down dogs – no shaky arms there – and fully in control of her chaturanga. “Does this EVER get easier?” I asked her. She replied, “It does if you stick with it.” CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! It also didn’t hurt that my colleague was similarly in awe of the difficulty, yet awesomeness, of this experience. So, we went back…over and over and over. Soon, my noon-time yoga class was the absolute high point of my days. And over time, those downward dogs stopped being shaky.

And that was basically the genesis of my love of yoga. Eventually, I started not just physically practicing, but reading about it any chance I could. I bought DVD’s to practice with at home when I couldn’t make it to the gym/studio. I purchased books that offered more insight from experienced yogis. I researched the Sanskrit names of the poses. I checked out different studios. I busted out warrior in the elevator when no one was looking.

Over the years, I’ve ebbed and flowed in terms of commitment and ability. There were times when I practiced every day and periods of injury where my mat grew dusty for months at a time. I still feel guilty periodically when I think about those down times. Sometimes my ego berates me for not having practiced consistently enough that I am able to just fling myself into scorpion pose (although, I feel like my rotator cuff injury may have nixed that particular pose for me…) at moment’s notice.

And honestly, the single largest reason I had only wistfully entertained the notion of yoga teacher training for a few years is that I felt like I needed to be perfect at it. But, let’s get real here…I’m never going to be a Yoga Journal cover model. I’m not getting any younger and with that realization, I need to accept that perhaps I never will be able to do scorpion pose. But y’know what? That’s OK! What I lack in sheer gymnastic ability, I make up for in passion. Besides, asana is merely one little teeny tiny bit of yoga. If I can teach even a few people here and there the things I’ve learned along the way, mission accomplished!

I’m so very glad I made the decision to pursue teacher training. It has been an amazing experience and dare I say, life-changing?