Friday, October 11, 2013

Embrace Your Inner "Pissiness"

So I have probably already offended a lot of "yogis" out there by the title of the blog. If so, you can stop reading and go back to pretending that you don't have the same emotions too sometimes. But that is a fact - as humans, we go through a variety of emotions - including many negative ones that we may not be proud of. As was the case of myself yesterday. I was just pissed-off.

You ever have one of those days were you wake up and for no particular reason, you are just mad? Well, I do. Usually I can shake it, or "fake it until I make it." But even when I was doing so, faking it, that is, this overwhelming feeling of anger just hung over me.

I had some chai tea, went and taught a beautiful yoga class, and had lunch with someone I consider to be a very dear friend. Any one of these things should have made me feel better. And on the outside, I did. But, on the inside, I was still pissed.

I had several hours to kill before my own evening yoga class, and my husband had taken the dogs for me for the day (some other things that should have made me feel happier), so I ran some errands, drove slowly, and sat in the car in random places, breathing, noticing, and trying to determine where this energy was coming from and why it was still hanging around. I could have blamed it on many things, but the reality was, I had no good reason for being angry...I just was.

I decided to head to my Thursday evening yoga class early, park, read, and wait for class. But as my luck was having it, my "negative" energy drove my gps bonkers and I wound up re-routed so many times it took my an hour and a half to drive 32 miles. During said drive, I tried to maneuver through many congested areas in and around South Jersey. Nobody would let me in, a box truck literally cut me off and yelled me, and my car was reacting poorly to the wet road conditions. By the time I arrived in the town where I take my yoga class, I was really PISSED. Fuming. Steamed. Ready to tear off the first person's head that looked at me.

I wasn't surprised that my ride in had gone so poorly. I knew that my energy was literally throwing off my electronics and creating more negative situations, but I was just there, in it. The only thing that brought my any peace was the knowledge that I was finally at my destination early and could take my time relaxing before class. I could feel my energy starting to shift as I grabbed my mat, water bottle, towel, and hand-bag, and headed towards the studio. It was locked. I was 45 minutes early to class, so of course it was locked. I started to walk away when the teacher opened the door and called me back. I turned and smiled, walking inside, and starting to drop all my "stuff."

I took some time to lay out my mat, do a supported bridge, a few forward bends, and breathe. I took a moment to notice that the pissy energy was waning quickly. By the time we were in the throws of our yoga class, I was smiling, laughing at my practice, and throughly enjoying - loving - the moment. Nearly two hours later when I walked back to my car, soaking wet from a vigorous practice, I realized that the inner strength I found in my practice had completely moved the energy out.

I drove home peacefully, showered, and hung out with my husband and doggies, enjoying the rest of the evening before bed. The end of the day certainly was quite different from the first part of the day! Today I awoke feeling blessed and grateful. Why? Because if I hadn't felt pissy and crappy yesterday, I wouldn't have understood how good it was to be alive today.

So, the next time you are feeling angry, pissed-off, or any other emotion deemed "negative," let yourself FEEL those emotions. First of all because it is a part of being human. And secondly because when you do feel better - and you WILL feel better - you will appreciate it so much more.

“Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.” - Vanilla Sky

Friday, September 27, 2013

Kumbhaka - The "Pause"

Kumbhaka is what is regularly referred to as the retention of breath in a yoga practice. There are many pranayama (breathing) techniques that teach the use of kumbhaka, but the results are all the same: the pause. It's all about the pause.

Take a moment to sit up tall, breathe in deep, and hold. What do you feel? Notice.

I've heard that the pause is where we long to be. Suspended in that moment in between breaths, dimensions, and space. Frozen in time, but fully alive. In the pause there is seemingly nothing, but where we find EVERYTHING.

A frequent technique in movie making is the slow-motion animation, especially when something dramatic has occurred, like an accident of some kind. If you stop to consider it, you may recall a moment in your life when you felt like something was moving in slow-motion, where you felt a flush of life and a full connection to the moment until the fear snapped you back into reality.

I had a moment recently in class working on kumbhaka where I was immediately taken back to the moment of my car accident. There in my safe-haven yoga class, holding my breath, I recalled the moment my then boyfriend hit a ditch and the car began to flip upside down. I recalled so vividly that moment when we were suspended upside down above the ground - that moment before we hit the ground and my life changed forever. But it was more than recall, in that moment when I was holding my breath, that singular moment in time, I was transported back to that same moment in time when I held my breath for impact. Only there was no nearly 30 year time difference - it was all happening together at the same time. Well, that, and so much more.

In one singular moment in time, I flashed through my entire life...and near death. Now I wonder, had I momentarily left my body then? Now? What had connected me in that moment to all other moments when I had "paused" - not to think, but to truly be?

The 51st Sutra in Book 2 of the Yoga Sutras says: "Bahyabhyantara Visayaksepi Caturthah."
Translation: There is a fourth kind of pranayama that occurs during concentration on an internal or external object.

Swami Satchidananda describes this fourth pranayama as happening automatically when we do not concentrate on retention of breath because it will stop automatically. He calls this kevala kumbhaka, the easy, unintentional retention which occurs automatically in deep meditation. When deep enough in meditation, the breath stops, and when we reach samadhi (liberation/ bliss) it stops for several hours.

To be alive, we need a lot of energy (Prana). Every time we breathe in, we take in more prana. Even when we are still, the mind is still active, using prana. So, the only time when we cease to need prana, is when body-mind is still. Interesting. Even more interesting, is the next Sutra:

52. Tatah Ksiyate Prakasavaranam. Translation: "As its result, the veil over the inner Light is destroyed."

There is a veil, a mental cover, over our inner Light. It keeps us from understanding Oneness. This Self is why we feel we are mortal and keeps us in pain and suffering. The Sutras go on to discuss some "super-human" powers that the yogi gains once this veil is lifted and samadhi is reached, like: becoming invisible, disappearance of the senses is explained, knowledge of your time of death, having the strength of an elephant, cessation of hunger and thirst is achieved, entering another's body, levitation, mastery over the elements, and so much more. This all leads me back to the knowledge that I was right when I was 7 years old watching the Justice League: I AM a superhero! I just haven't learned totally how to use my powers yet!

But in all seriousness, this information, these lessons, point to an understanding of what happens to us in life threatening situations, when we, out of survival instinct and in a singular moment, let go of the mind and truly connect. That same process happens during yoga, meditation, and pranayama practice. And the interesting thing is, that when you are in that moment, there is no time and space - all moments and all things are one...and, it's pretty cool.

As Pattabhi Jois said, "99% practice, 1% theory." You cannot try to understand without practice. The mind can only take you so far. So stop reading this blog, sit down, breathe, and pause!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Man Oh Man: 2 Yoga Classes with 2 Different Erik's in One Week!

This past week I took two separate yoga classes at different studios - both with male teachers. Other than Baron Baptiste and Dharma Mittra, most of the teachers I've taken classes with have been women. Although the historical evidence of yoga indicates it was mostly practiced by men in earlier times, we have certainly tipped the scales in modern-day yoga. Most local classes are anywhere from 80-95% female. In the cities I notice a much larger group of men practicing, and I do see more men dropping by taking yoga classes all the time. So perhaps the scales will eventually tip again - or, better yet, completely balance out!

I've been pondering the difference between male and female teachers to try and determine a defining difference between the two. I'm not sure that I've found a consistent one - I suppose like anything, it depends on the person. So I shifted my interest into determining if there is a difference in me when I practice with a male teacher vs. a female teacher. I'm still pondering that fully. What I can say, from this past week of practicing with two teachers who were; funny enough; both named Erik, is that there was a strong similarity in the Asthanga style influence, culminating to advanced arm balanced postures. However, the teaching style, the practice and my experience, were all completely different for each class.

Let's take Erik #1. This was a NJ studio. There was air conditioning and loud air pumping in for a majority of the class, so even though we did a Vinyasa style sequence, I never really broke a sweat. The sequence was "Vinyasa-light" - some basic Surya Namaskars, a few key postures, then on the floor for arm balance, followed by headstand, then floor asanas to savasana. There was really no mention of the spiritual of mental component. It was mostly focused on the physical attainment of the postures, without a lot of alignment details other than to step here or there. He would mention how he likes to do postures a certain way and why, but there was never a mention of muscle movement or engagement. I avoided the arm balance, knowing that I simply wasn't prepared to do so, but did take headstand. When I went up, I heard him whisper that he was there in case I needed him to hold my legs. I didn't, I was fine, but it was nice to know he was there in case I started to fall on someone. Other than that, he taught from the front of the room, not necessarily doing the practice, but occasionally showing the asana as he described it. I wasn't blown away by the experience. It was an ok class, with some challenging postures put in, but I never felt ready or supported enough throughout the class to even try the challenging poses. The arm balances, in my opinion, weren't worked up to with the Vin-light sequence, and in looking around, the only other student in said arm balances, was the other man in the room.

Erik #2, was a teacher in Philadelphia. Upon entering the studio, I was greeted with a warmer room, which gradually got hotter and allowed me to sweat - a lot. The practice was aggressively Asthanga in style, however, Erik took time to discuss the mental/spiritual focus with us before we even got moving. He consistently encouraged people throughout the practice as he walked the room, showcasing asanas only when necessary - like those meaty arm balances and tricky transitions in between postures. I found myself smiling and really enjoying the class - even though the girl in front of me (we were lined up face to face) had a pout on her the entire time. I felt inspired to move deeper into my practice and try the arm balanced - where as earlier in the week, I felt more defiant about even going there. For me the strange moment came when my new favorite pose, headstand, was  unattainable. What the heck is going on?,  I thought to myself.

Looking back, I realize that with Erik #1, I didn't really feel inspired, nurtured or guided through an experience. I didn't get a chance to dig deep. With Erik #2, I felt all that and more, pushed myself so that by the time we got to headstand, I was a little spent, and a lot in my ego too, in that "needing to please the teacher" mode. So while I didn't feel as inspired by Erik #1 and was thus able to truly work at my own pace and do what I needed to do for me, while being inspired by Erik #2, I pushed myself to the point where I went a little too far. I even had some severe hip pain throughout the day and evening.

Hmm, lots to consider. Which teacher was better? Which practice more authentic? Who knows, really? Just very different.

My initial question about working with male teachers and how it may be different from female still remains. I think that perhaps there is a potential in me to want to work more for a male teacher, and thus the potential for feeling more let down by them when their teaching style doesn't stand up (wow, isn't that loaded with information!). Where this comes form - some outdated energy based around male superiority, my own past experiences with male bosses, school teachers, or other men of authority? - I don't really know. Maybe I feel a kinship and same level of "peer" energy with female teachers, and thus not really viewing them subconsciously and energetically as true "teachers." Or does it come from a very basic survival instinct of the male species being the provider for the female? Christmas! I don't think I'm going to know for sure in one week and two classes, but I do see the potential for learning a lot more about myself.

Yoga is such an amazing journey to the self. What always starts as an external practice, winds up going deep inside. There's no one way, no right or wrong way - there's only your way, your path. I'm finding mine quite entertaining. I'm laughing at myself a lot more as I uncover more about me. I'm really ridiculous most of the time. I worry about silly things, spend a lot of time pondering potential situations in my head, and spend much more time giving than receiving. They, I believe, are by large truly feminine issues. What I learn a lot from men (not just teachers), is to enjoy my life, take care of myself, and deal with situations as they arise.

Candace Bushnell of "Sex and the City" fame said, "Men may have discovered fire, but women discovered how to play with it." I always liked that quote, wrote it down in my notebook of cool quotes wanting to use it one day. There it is. Take of it, what you will!

So I would encourage anyone - male or female - to take classes with a teacher of the opposite sex and see what comes up for you. These, of course, are only my thoughts and experiences.

I'd love to hear from you about what your thoughts are on male vs. female teachers and your personal experiences. Please write and post them to this blog-spot. Maybe we can get a little discussion going!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Breakthroughs in Unexpected Places

Yesterday I spent about 12 hours in the car with my husband driving down to Pigeon Forge, TN for a vacation with his family. He drove the whole way - my Prius has never gotten such poor gas mileage. By the time we got there, I was exhausted and a little stressed. We met with the rest of the family who then hung out by the pool while my husband, his sister, nephew and I went to the store and shopped for  groceries for the week. When we got home we made dinner and went to bed. I thought I would sleep in the next day, but I didn't.

I awoke around 8:30 wide awake. Maybe it was the 2 phone calls I received from prospective students (yes, even when I'm on vacation, I'm still working in some way), but I was just not sleepy. I checked email, Facebook, got up and looked outside, and made myself some Chai I'd gotten from the store. I grabbed a clementine and decided to set up my yoga mat in the middle of our room. So, I slid the coffee table out of the way, set up and lit my incense, and got my ipod ready to go.

As I climbed on my mat, my husband was over my shoulder making an egg, eating it, and then plopping himself on the couch right in front of my mat to check his emails and texts. I thought about asking him to leave, but I decided to just practice. I only looked at him once, he was so nose-deep in his phone he wasn't even paying attention to me. "Good," I thought, "do your thing, and I'll do mine."

I began with some deep breaths in child's pose, got into my downward dog and explored my body a little. I actually didn't feel as tight as I thought that I would. This was a good sign. Normally after such a long car-ride, I would be a mess, but for some reason, things were feeling pretty good. After playing around in Down Dog and feeling things out, I migrated to my Sun Salutations - 2 or 3, then some Surya B's. I chuckled to myself as I took my first Utkatasana (Chair Pose), making a mental note how it was one of the most disliked poses of students, and here I was doing it of my own free will. It felt good - solid. I proceeded with my Warriors and variations there-of, going through Namaskar after Namaskar, flowing until I had a good beading of sweat going. I was also surprised that I could get that going, given the A/C temp in the room (I did notch the temp up before I began to practice, but only to 74).

I felt out some balance postures, worked with some variations of more standing postures, then went for my crow. My wrist had been bothering me for weeks so I hadn't been able to do much with arm balances, but crow was pretty solid too. I kept giving myself mental "nods" each time I went for a pose and felt it with ease. I decided to do a few backbends while I was warm, and even a quick couple hip openers, then I came back down to the mat and got into Dolphin. I hesitated, wondering if I should try Sirsasana (Headstand). It was another pose I hadn't been able to perform in many years - due to emergency abdominal surgeries and general core weakness due to my good old fractured spine that had been acting up since.

I decided not to hesitate, took Headstand prep, walked up, and instead of kicking up like I always had, took one bent leg up slowly and brought the other one up to meet it. "Whoa," my mind thought. This was a first. I'd never ever taken a Headstand with ease and control before. I slowly extended one and then both legs up in the air and there I was - Headstand, Baby! I couldn't believe it.

Now this is normally when most people fall. I realized at this moment my husband had gotten up and gone into the kitchen or bedroom. He was still mulling around on texts and phone calls. I had tuned him out. I wanted him to see me, damn it! But alas, he did not. I slowly came out of Headstand and took child's pose. I did a couple more salutations wondering if it was a fluke. "Was it just a fluke?" I had to know. So, I took Headstand prep, lifted one bent knee, then the other to meet it, slowly lifting one and then both legs up - just as before - and there I was, Headstand number 2, with ease and control.

I got down, did some more Namaskars, then some deeper stretches: Pigeon, 1/2 Forward Fold, Cobbler, etc. As I was stretching, I wondered if I'd crossed that bridge into new territory in my practice. You know that bridge, the one you cross when you aren't paying attention?

I took a couple of Navasanas (Boat poses) to strengthen my core and thought, "Why not? After all, third time's a charm."

I took Headstand prep, and popped up in my 3rd Headstand - with ease and control. I came out just as my husband rounded the corner, but I think he successfully missed all three. So I asked him to spot me for Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand). "Why not?"

I told him what to do, put my shin into his hand and told him to apply gentle pressure as I raised my other leg up. He helped me get both legs straight. It was a challenge and I certainly would have fallen without him, but, it was suddenly within the realm of possibility for me. Something I would have never thought would happen.

After that I took my bridge and went up into Shoulder Stand. "Ah," I thought, "Here it is, my tension and restriction." I took my legs back slightly over my head towards a Halasana (plow) and was immediately humbled. And there it was, the point I was looking for in my practice - the part where I was reminded that there was still a lot of work to do.

I came to my back, did a few last postures, then took Savasana for about 5 minutes. By the end I felt amazingly open, calm and happy. I showered and asked my husband if he wanted to take a drive to the Great Smokey National Park, where we took a short hike to Laurel Falls, which we hiked up in record time because we had to rush back to meet the fam for a trip to Dollywood.

My intention for my practice was to just stretch out after the long ride. I never intended to tackle any challenging postures - and never thought in those circumstances that I'd actually be able to have a break-through. Yet, there it was. Maybe all the stars had aligned perfectly for me today. Maybe I just went with the flow and somehow managed to get out of my own way. Maybe I've actually worked through some blocks in my practice. Who knows how or why. Today was a good yoga day. Tomorrow will probably be a little more humbling...that's just how it goes. But for now...I will enjoy it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Vibrational Healing at Medford Yoga

I don't know if it was the new memory foam mattress on my bed or knowing I was going to take a yoga class with Crystal Bowls this morning, but I woke up happy and feeling good! I quickly ran through my morning routine and headed out to the Medford Yoga studio, a studio I've long wanted to check out. I am so glad that I did. First of all, it is a beautiful studio. From the hand-paintings to the decorations and the fabulous open window ceiling, it was just a stunning place to visit.

The woman at the counter was very nice and gave me a personal tour of the studio, which includes several treatment rooms in the back for Pilates reformer classes, Chiropractic care and Massage Therapy. They have a small second yoga room that they use for workshops and trainings too.

The large, spacious, lit yoga room felt like practicing in the atrium of a beautiful hotel. The many plants that adorned the studio made for a truly "vacation-like" experience.

When I arrived, so were several others, which was a nice change up from the many other studios I'd visited where folks were running in at the last minute. Maybe because it is such a beautiful studio, people were coming in, setting up, and either meditating or relaxing. The Crystal Bowls were already set up in a circle at the front of the room, and to the left of where the teacher would be, were three sets of cards: Goddess, Oracle and Angel. Some people were picking cards to use for meditation/contemplation, so after a few minutes, I did as well. Here are the cards I got. I welcome any thoughts on an intuitive reading!

We began our class with an option to lie on our back or stay in a seated position, as our teacher discussed vibration, sound, and the healing aspects of each. Then she began singing the bowls as we lie there taking in the healing vibrational sounds. I have no idea how long it was, but I could have lay there forever!

The rest of the class was nice. A few opening stretches, some easy Sun Salutations with lunge variations, then some balancing postures, a Frog pose, some twists, and other stretches. She wove in thoughts on yoga, life and sound, returning to the theme of the class and reminding us that yoga is a deeper practice than just the postures. At the end of the sequence she brought us to savasana for more bowl vibrations. I have to say, I am feeling FABULOUS!

Just before savasana when we were doing bridge pose and a few other things on the back, I just happened to open my eyes. On the bright yellow wall and just over my head was a grasshopper. I breathed through my initial panic, and immediately wondered what the totem was for a grasshopper. I had no idea. I watched the little bugger crawl up the wall a little at a time until I got up and slid my mat over just enough so if he fell off the wall, it wouldn't be onto my face...because I know I wouldn't have been all yoga-like had that happened! As he worked up the the top of the wall, he suddenly flew off and I watched him fly to the other side of the room until I lost him in the greenery of a plant. When I came home I looked up the meaning:

Grasshopper Totem Symbolism

Again, more than happy to hear any intuitive hits about this and the cards I drew!

So as I made my way out of the Medford Yoga Studio and checked out the little shop, and took a printed schedule, I checked in again to see just how amazing I was feeling. Is it the memory foam mattress? The Yoga? The Bowls? Or are my stars just all aligned nicely today? Maybe it's a little bit of it all, but who cares why? Just feeling immensely blessed...and a little hungry.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Second Chance for Yoga in Delaware

During my yoga road trip week I visited a large studio in Wilmington, Delaware, that I did not have the best experience in (see previous Blog: "Bigger is not Always Better"). I wanted to get back to the tiny state to the south to see if that was a rare instance, which I am sure it was, so that I could remove any negative thoughts about their yoga community from my mind. So I went online and found a smaller studio in Wilmington named Tulaa (the sanskrit word for balance).

I arrived 15 minutes before class to a locked door. Peeking in I could see a small check-in area, two pairs of shoes, and little else. The sign on the door said if yoga class has started or body work is in session, the door will be locked. I checked the time again. Well, class hadn't started yet, so apparently there's a very small window of opportunity to get into this place, I thought!

I wondered if I should wait in my car or not. I decided to take a stroll down the plaza to see what else was there. The typical: nail salon, pizza place (Best in Delaware!), etc. I walked back and peeked in the window again. Yup, shoes still there, door still locked. Then just as I was about to go sit in my car, a girl drove up and got out with a yoga mat. She greeted me while a smile.

"Are you the yoga teacher?" I asked.

"Yes, I sure hope you haven't been waiting long," she commented.

I smiled and told her no, then we went into the studio. Small space with two treatment rooms for massage: 1 in front of studio and 1 behind the yoga room. Everything was gray and white, with a couple small Buddha ornaments, a few chairs and cubbies. There were no brochures, flyers, things to purchase, or information on upcoming events. Even the large chalkboard behind the desk simply had a picture of a sun and a quote that read something like "How can you make footprints in the sand if you are sitting down? Who wants to make butt prints?" It was cute and I chuckled...then wondered exactly what it meant. I mean, what's wrong with butt prints?

It was a 1 hour all level Vinyasa class, and that's pretty much what we got. I think there were 4 of us in the room of various levels of experience. We started seated with a few easy stretches - there was no check in to see how we were or ask if there was anything we wanted to do. But I know how to take care of myself and I'm letting go of that sort of thing on my yoga road trips, so I went with it.

We did a standard Vinyasa sequence. The breath cues were good, the alignment was - eh, okay to "come into Warrior I" with no cues. She rattled of a litany of variations at the beginning of the pose, most of which I missed because I was focusing on "getting there." And even though she walked the room (pacing style), she never did any hands on assists or adjustments. I struggled not to judge her as a teacher, and was doing okay, then nearly lost it when I saw her do her first forward bend, push back into her heels and lock her knees! Agh!!! Further research on her bio explained why: former ballerina. Some of the most challenging yoga students I've ever had were former ballerinas. So much of the form they have drilled into their heads completely goes against what we tell students to do safely in yoga.

Okay, end of my critique. Now about my experience...

As I sit here writing about it a couple of hours later, I really feel no change in myself. I don't really feel as though I practiced yoga today. The same tightness and stress that I had from this morning still exists now. During class I took care of myself, modified as I should, redirected my breath/movement intention as I needed to, and followed her guide with the sequence. But I wasn't moved. I wasn't challenged or nurtured.

The A/C was cranked when we started to practice. I tried to let that go, but it was cold. I never broke a sweat, and just as we began to get a little warm, the flow was over and the A/C went back on. I just cannot understand practicing in a yoga studio with air conditioning on. I'm sorry, it hardly broke 8o degrees by the time we were practicing, why was the A/C on anyway? I understand for beginner classes or in certain circumstances you may need to put a little air on, but for me, I simply cannot practice like that. I need heat and I need to sweat - otherwise I do not feel the benefits practicing.

I noticed the teacher was Yogafit certified and is from Texas, originally. That explained a lot to me. I guess at this point in my tenure as a teacher, I simply need philosophy, spirituality and depth to my practice. It doesn't have to be physically challenging for me to get something out of it - a well planned Restorative or Gentle class will do the same. But it's just difficult for me to find enjoyment in a practice based solely at the physical level.

In looking on the website I don't think this particular teacher is indicative of the whole operation. It looks like a small studio that is getting up and going. And they have a Thursday evening Asthanga guided primary series there. I'm curious about that and it would be a better drive than going into Philly, so I may go back and check that out with another teacher.

At this point I'm struggling a little with determining if I'm turning into a yoga "snob" of sorts or just closing in on the type of practice that resonates with me. My hope is that I am not coming off as the first, because I do always learn something from every yoga class I've ever taken. Today she reminded me of a small arm variation for WII I had been wanting to do lately. I'd almost forgotten about it, but I'll add it in to class tonight. So I'm grateful for that. And, there is also a Trader Joe's right across the street from the studio, so of course that is a plus too...especially since in Delaware there's no sales tax. So I did a little shopping and then headed home.

In the end I think I'm still convinced that some of the best yoga classes are the ones in our area - Mercer County and up into NYC. The teachers in this area are by far more knowledgable, nurturing and challenging. I'm hoping this trend I'm seeing of the stripped down physical practice of yoga in other areas eventually grows into something more spiritual and with depth that we also have.

So, I'll give Delaware one more chance, and perhaps the 3rd time will be the charm. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Joys of Being a Student

Every year I try to take a training for myself. First of all, I believe that we can always learn something new. Secondly, there is something joyful about being a student again - not planning the itinerary, leading the group, dealing with issues that arise, etc. It's just so nice to be led through a training my a seasoned teacher, allow yourself to go through the processes of the growth experience, and enjoy whatever new information comes your way.

I recently had the pleasure to both host and take Michael Sitzer's Thai Yoga Bodywork (TYB) training at our studio. We did a 2 week course, 4 days, 24 hours and it was so much fun. We had a great group of folks in the course and we got to practice and even more importantly RECEIVE Thai Yoga Bodywork. I have often thought about integrating massage trainings to our studio. It was a blessing to see all the energy exchange for this ancient healing practice occurring around the room. Some folks who had been stressed (self included) or that I hadn't seen smile in a while, were beaming from ear to ear after each session.

The hardest part of the day was cleaning up and clearing the room for the next yoga class. I was in such a joyful, relaxed place, to immediately switch to owner/business mode was quite interesting for me to see just how quickly my energy shifts. I feel the playfulness both when I am teaching and being a student, but when I have to collect money, or set something up - conduct "business," boy does it drain my energy quickly and there is a shift within me when my brain moves into full "on" mode. Must be the Gemini in me!

It is great to soak in new information, practice, apply it and make it your own. Michael's relaxed teaching style reminded me very much of the Thai approach to life. Whenever we asked if we could change the movement or position to make it easier on our particular body he would say, "Sure, whatever feels better for you. You have to play with it." When asked if we were doing "it" right, he would comment, "Looks good, how does it feel?" Or just give an affirming nod. Michael reminded us to be playful and have fun (in Thai the word for this is Sa-Nuk) and that in most Thai Yoga Bodywork sessions that the practitioners, who are working on people right next to each other, will often talk and laugh during the session, keeping life fun, light and relaxed. I recall when I was in Thailand this was something that really got under my skin at first. My Western mind required silence and attention during my massage! But after a while you come to understand that delicate balance of life where there is a need to laughter and joy and that while working, you don't have to switch modes and become more serious all the time. Hmm, such great wisdom in that!

Our culture, our world, could learn so much from that simple Thai lesson of  Sa-Nuk, keeping things fun and joyful. Everyone is so very serious anymore. With the financial situation, Middle-Eastern tensions, GMO's, and everything else we are bombarded with, we have become a world who worries about everything so much that we have forgotten, to a large extent, how to be happy, silly and have fun. Wouldn't it be nice to just let all that go for one day - not because we don't care, but because we need to balance our life with joy and fun?

Part of the reason I took my summer Yoga Road Trip was to go around and see what other studios were doing. The other reason was to immerse myself back into my own yoga practice and experience the joys of it again. I found that. Then the next two weeks I invited Michael in to teach us TYB. I must admit, I had intended to get a few other things done this summer, but instead, I am quite enjoying being a student again! I wouldn't say that I envy my students because I truly get more out of teaching them then they probably get from learning from me - or maybe it is a mutual exchange. However I do understand where that sense of peace comes from when they enter the studio to take a class - because they know they are in a safe place and are about to be guided on an inner journey that will leave them smiling when the leave.

If you are a teacher, facilitator, mentor, parent, business owner or counselor, when was the last time that you let yourself be a student and enjoy the process of surrendering to it? Maybe it's time to drop in again...the joys of being a student can take you to places that you never expected.

Michael Sitzer's TYB Website

Monday, July 22, 2013

Guru Purnima - Celebrating Your Guru

The full moon day of the month of July in the yogic community is called "Guru Purnima," a day where we celebrate our Guru, the teacher most responsible for helping assist our spiritual growth. In some yogic schools, the Guru is a revered person to whom shrines and alters are made in their honor and who's spirit is invoked when the student begins any spiritual practice like yoga.

I have had many teachers over the years - some good, some really good, and some really...well, let's just say that I have learned a lot about how to be a good teacher from some of the ones that didn't resonate much with me. You see, every event in your life and with everyone you meet, there is an opportunity to learn something. For me, some of the worst events have been the best teachers.

But when I think about people who I can look up to as a yogi, a spiritual seeker, a teacher and one who guided my knowledge, I am a little at a loss with personal contact. I've maybe learned from admiring someone from afar: Ghandi, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, yet never really meeting them close-up.

I suppose the closest I got was a year ago when I met Amma, affectionately known as the "Hugging Mother." In a group setting, I did get a private moment with her, one where I truly felt her energy and was overwhelmed by her compassion and love. She shared some deeply personal thoughts with me on my life within moments of meeting me and it truly touched me deeply. Another time I saw the Dalai Lama when he visited the United States and gave a lecture at Rutgers. I was there with thousands of others, but it was pretty darn close to feeling his greatness.

I've studied with Baron Baptiste and Shiva Rea the most of any other teacher. I love Shiva, but she has gotten to be so "big" that you don't really get too close to her. Baron is more approachable and has truly taught me a thing or two about myself. Most recently I took class with Sri Dharma Mitra. What an amazingly approachable teacher - available to all his students in a charmingly casual way, yet commands such attention and a desire to want to learn from him.

This is a day to honor a teacher who has brought you along on your path.

Who is that for you?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Falling in Love with My Yoga Practice Again

If you've been following my blog you know that I've spent the past couple of weeks strolling around the tri-state area checking out local studios. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Being a studio owner has it's ups and downs, but one of the worst things is that there are days that I am so exhausted from dealing with the business aspects of it that after finally teaching my classes, I just do not have it in me to do my own yoga practice - a trap that I warn all new teachers not to let themselves fall into.

My yoga practice has changed a lot over the years. When I first started practicing yoga, I could barely do any of the postures without extreme shaking, cramping and using lots of modifications. I realized less than a half a year into practicing yoga that I was feeling better - stronger, and no longer in constant pain. I lost weight, gained flexibility and strength, self confidence and worth. I achieved a state of mental calm that I'd never understood could exist before. And I was hooked.

After many years of practice, I found Power Vinyasa - inspired by Baron Baptiste, and then I studied with him. My body got leaner and even stronger, and I found myself able to do asanas that I never thought my fractured spine could do, and found a connection to Spirit that I never thought I would. I was hooked.

Then I was introduced to Shiva Rea, Pranic Flow, and other creative Vinyasa styles and I was inspired again to create movement based sequences that flowed with the energy of the seasons, moon phases, and all things earth-based, which spoke to me on an even deeper level that tied together my body, mind and spirit. I was hooked.

I found other teachers that had their own bend to the practice, offered Spiritual guidance and general wisdom about life, relationships, and the ability to use the yoga practice to guide you through life. I was hooked yet again.
Then as my business grew, so did the time I needed to spend on the computer. The more time I spent on the computer, the less time I had on the mat. I gained weight. I started having dislocation issues - with my shoulder at first, then with my S.I. joint, and most recently with my wrist and elbow. Recent x-rays confirm more arthritis in my spine and an emergency appendectomy two years ago created an inability to use my core for at least a year and a half. The last three years left my yoga practice practically nonexistent, and with a body that is falling apart again.

This yoga road trip couldn't have come at a better time for me. It forced me back into my practice again. I spent time in Vinyasa and Gentle/Restorative classes. I allowed myself to push my edge and to pull back, nurture and rejuvenate as well. At the end of the road trip week, I am feeling amazing again - having found a renewed love for my yoga practice.

This morning I got up early and went and took a yoga class. Two weeks ago I would have went back to bed and slept another two hours, missed my practice entirely, and complained about how I was feeling. The nagging pain in my S.I/Psoas is gone. The ache in the start of the bunion on my left foot is gone. My wrist feels stronger. My legs feel tighter. My waist looks slimmer. My brain is more clear. My spirit is lighter. This past weekend I could have fought with my husband at least 5 times, yet only did once, and in truth, I wasn't even angry when we did.

I've made a commitment to myself - this yoga road trip has been so good, I intend to visit a studio at least once a week for my own practice - a new studio or a teacher or studio I've already visited and enjoyed. On busy weeks, I may stay local or do a little gentler practice and on lighter weeks, I may trudge into the city for more challenging classes. Maybe I'll get up early and practice and maybe I'll practice on my day off. The door is wide open and I don't think it matters just what type of practice that I do - the only thing that is important is that I'm in love with yoga and my yoga practice again.

Monday, July 15, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

I'd spent roughly 18 hours on my mat over 9 days and traveled to 14 different yoga studios. I did Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, Yin Vinyasa, Power Vinyasa, Vinyasa Flow, Master Sadhana, Gentle Yoga, as well as classes that were inspired by Jivamukti Yoga, Baron Baptiste, and ultimately Dharma Mitra himself. In each and every class I learned something new: about myself or my practice, about being a teacher, a friend, a wife, a studio owner, and more. There were days when I didn't want to get up and practice, and there were days when I awoke before my alarm because I was so excited to get going. In some classes I wanted to run out screaming, my legs cramped up, and without my towel had sweat so much that I was forced to let said sweat run down my face into my eyes. In other classes I was so relaxed and nurtured that I never wanted to leave. I found new music to use in classes, purchased some cool yoga clothes, and met some really interesting people. All in all, it was an amazing experience that I am so glad I finally took the time to do. I'd never exchange the experiences of the past week and a half for anything. And yet...coming back to my own studio on Saturday was an even more incredible experience.

There's nothing like coming home, isn't there? You can be on an exotic vacation or visiting great friends that live out of town, but nothing beats coming home, kicking off your shoes, sleeping in your own bed, and knowing where everything is. Well, I feel the same way about the yoga studio.

I arrived early to the studio, excited to move some things around. I'd had so many visions or flashes of insight about my life and the studio over the past week that I was determined to get it all done as soon as I could! I walked into the studio and smiled. "Home at last!" I took a quick scan and determined that I'd forgot to water the plants - oops. And the carpet was messed up - okay. And the paper towels were almost out in the bathroom. But despite the little things I'd forgotten to have handled, it was my little studio. The place that I'd spent hours painting, decorating, moving energy around, cleansing, and teaching hundreds of students. Nothing can ever replace the memories or equate to the energy that my studio holds for me.

I feel truly blessed. Blessed to have been able to go around visiting other studios, meeting teachers and getting back into my own practice. Blessed to have so many supportive students, friends and family. Blessed to have the more awesome studio to come home to (Voted Best Yoga Studio in NJ, don't forget!).

As a creative person, sometimes the same situations create stagnation for me. I come home to One Yoga & Wellness Center with a renewed energy and vision, passion and inspiration. It's easy to be run down and overwhelmed by the day to day activities of home and work. But you take a little time away and - bham! - suddenly there's new perspective. And then you realize that the little things you were complaining about, worrying about, obsessing about - were simply symptoms of stress.

Ah, if only there were a good yoga studio in the area to help me deal with that!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Flying High with Aerial Yoga! (July 12)

I'm getting one.                 I'm absolutely getting one. 

Ever since Aerial Yoga starting making a splash around the yoga community, I've wanted to try it. Due to the apparatus, it isn't easy for all studios to offer these classes, but Dig Yoga in Lambertville does. After mentioning that I was going to try it out to Ryah, she said she wanted to come along. How great to take a fun new class with a good old friend!

There were two other girls in the class with us who were also new to Aerial Yoga, so I felt really free to start cracking up just trying to get into the contraption. Ryah started laughing too...and then so did they.

The teacher, owner of VaihAyasa aerial yoga (on Facebook), would show us the postures and then we would try to figure out how to do what she said to do. Once you got the hang of it, it really was pretty easy. I was surprised to find myself working up a bit of a sweat. We didn't hold the postures too long, the most challenging part is maneuvering in and out of the postures...without breaking your neck.

The best pose for me was the inversion in the picture above. I felt weightless and the best part was the decompression on my spine. I literally grew an inch. My head started about an inch above the floor and by the time the pose was over, I was pressing into it and growing more. It's many hours later and I still feel open and free without that nagging arthritic pain I sometimes get on rainy days. Maybe it was the hanging or maybe it was all the laughing - but I felt a little high afterwards. 

After a long week (9 days) of my yoga road trip, my ups and downs with my body and my mind, this was really a great way to end the week. I had decided to only take the one class today and end it on a high note with the Aerial class. Ryah and I had lunch at Big Bear, then I went and did a little shopping in New Hope before heading home. Even though my "Yoga Road Trip Week" is officially over, I plan on checking out at least one class a week for a while longer. So, if you want to come practice with me somewhere or have a local studio or teacher that you recommend, please let me know! And for those of you who have been enjoying my yoga blog, I promise to continue it! Namaste.

PCYH: an old staple in the NJ community, but new to me (July 11)

Any yogi that lives in the greater Central NJ area knows about PCYH, the acronym for Princeton Center for Yoga & Health. Established in 1996, just about since I started practicing yoga, I'd always heard about the studio but had never actually gotten there. Of course, the location has changed a few times since it's inauguration. Located now on 5 acres in an old 1700's farmhouse, their new location is like a little retreat center close to home.
I went in to take a 12 o'clock class, but there were two options: a core toning class which I was told was Vinyasa at the desk and a "Lunchtime Go with the Flow" which I was told was a gentle class. At first I signed up for the Vinyasa class. I was the only person on the list, but there were about 6 on the Gentle class list. As I stood there waiting for the teacher or another student to arrive, I hesitated, wondering if I should switch to the Gentle class.

My right arm was feeling better but I knew that it wasn't fully healed. It had been a long week of yoga and I took a few moments going back and forth in my mind as to which class would be best for me to take. I was completely unclear when the Gentle teacher came over to say hello to me. It seems she is new to NJ, having recently moved from Texas, and lived in East Windsor. She had stopped by to take one of my classes but it was a day that I had a sub. We got to talking, she was bright, happy and very sweet. I watched several more folks dropping into the Gentle class and made up my mind to switch classes and take hers.

There were quite a few people for a lunchtime class and since I wasn't sure what to expect of the class, I set myself up towards the back so that I could modify if need be. But the teacher, Jenifer Hughey, told me that It truly was going to be a very gentle class as she came around and checked in with everyone to see if there were any injuries or limitations.

I was surprised to find it incredibly similar to the gentle yoga classes that I teach at One Yoga & Wellness Center. Not many people actually teach a true gentle yoga class, and I truly feel that it is an important type of class to offer.

I noticed with the first neck stretch the limitations in my right neck and shoulder, but I just breathed through it. Jenifer led us through the asanas and the breath with smiles and compassion. I felt very relaxed - something I've noticed I do not always feel at all studios or with all teachers. When we got onto our backs, I made a slight movement and I felt a pop in my upper back...why hadn't I put it together before, my rib had been out. This had happened before. It certainly wasn't the entire problem, but it was a big part of it. I was so relieved to feel the release that I didn't want to move in fear of it slipping back out. I sat and breathed for a few moments, then joined in for the remainder of class, which wasn't much longer.

I finished class feeling pretty good. I only say pretty good because there was still lingering pain in my elbow and tenderness in my wrist. But I enjoyed a true gentle yoga class with a really nice teacher. I was so relieved to have made the switch over to the gentle class. As I was leaving the studio to head home, I noticed a stone Buddha resting under a tree. I thought I might stay there and sit a while, but I was tired and wanted to head home and rest, and that was still a long trek ahead.

I'm glad that I finally got around to checking out PCYH. There are so many teachers and styles of classes that are offered and I've noticed over the years that both are constantly changing. So if you haven't been there in a while, I suggest to check it out. Maybe there will be a fun class or workshop available, a chanting group or new teacher that you may want to follow or learn more from. I know I'll take a class with Jenifer again! Maybe you'll even see her teach something at One Yoga sometime soon too.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Studi(OM)ango with an Old Friend (July 11)

I awoke this morning with the same radiating heat down my right arm. "Damn," I thought. I was annoyed with myself. I wanted to get through this week and enjoy some more classes and I didn't want to have to give up. But there's that body's wisdom thing that I need to honor at the same time. I found myself in a bit of a quandary. I petted my dog, Kali. She gave me the sad eyes like she didn't want me to leave again. My other dog, Bodhi, nuzzled up next to my leg. I sat in bed with my iphone checking out local studio schedules to determine if there was any way I could hit a couple and do something gentle for my body. I had narrowed it down to 4 studios and I knew there was no way I'd be catching more than 2. What to do...what to do...?

I hit the shower and reached for my bottle of the "Thai Yellow Stuff," which I know works well on joints. Since I had no success with tiger balm last night, I figured, let's go for the papa of all balms. Within 15 minutes I was feeling amazing. The radiating heat was gone and the clicking and throbbing was less too. I had to really take stock of the situation and not go for it like I could easily do. So I said goodbye to my dogs, grabbed my stuff and got in the car. I actually didn't know where I was going until I started plugging an address in the gps.

I arrived at Studio Mango in Pennington at 9am. A former student of mine, Miss Ryah Dekis, was teaching a 9:30 "Calm & Strong" class, and I knew that she would get me modifying anything I needed to (cause I taught her that). I'd heard nice things about Studio Mango and the owner, Julia. But I couldn't make a class with her this week and there was something pulling me to take a class with Ryah anyway.

It was so good to see an old friend. Ryah embodies the life of a yogini in many ways. I won't embarrass her here with private details about her life and travels, but when you meet Ryah you know right away that she is a true yogini. Ryah welcomes everyone with a big smile and for those that she knows, a bigger hug. She takes time to check in with each person individually before class, asks what they may like or need at that moment. You can feel her compassion for each student and know that you are well taken care of in her class.

Ryah Dekis, Yogini Extraordinaire :)
Studio Mango is located in a light, upstairs room painted color! The sparse decorations really pop in the room yet allow you to focus within when you need to. Ryah started us with a great breathing technique and I realized that this entire week of popping around to different studios, I think she was one of the only teachers to teach us a specific breathing technique other than ujjayi - and most teachers simply offered ujjayi without offering the instructions for it. I was so grateful to have time to sit and breathe into my body and create a space to practice. As we continued to practice I was more and more impressed with how much Ryah has grown as a yoga teacher. With wonderful instructions, a watchful eye, and many modifications, Ryah truly is a gifted, all level teacher, something that is difficult to come by these days. I felt grateful to practice with Ryah, modify for myself, work a little yet not over do it. It was a perfectly blended class.

Ryah teaches all around Mercer County, and if you want to check her out somewhere, check out her Facebook page for Ryahhh Yoga by clicking here: Ryahhh Yoga on Facebook

As for me and my arm, well it didn't feel too bad after class. Not as bad as yesterday and not much different than after I applied the balm. I didn't do a lot with my arms in class, however, and I could feel restriction and pain when I moved my neck, so I had a good idea whatever was causing this heat was coming from my shoulder area. So, feeling okay, and wanting to take another class and check out another studio before lunch. What to do...what to do...?

Laughing Lotus is No Joke (July 10)

After practicing with Dharma Mitra, I went to lunch. Still having a little time to kill before meeting my new yoga buddy, Lindsey at her home studio, Laughing Lotus, I accidentally happened upon a massage studio (right next to Laughing Lotus, although I had no idea where I was at the time). I dropped in for a one hour deep tissue massage. There is really nothing like a Chinese woman walking on your back. I thought maybe I should have had her do that BEFORE Dharma's Master class...then maybe I could have gotten into more of those bendy postures!

I arrived early at Laughing Lotus. I remember hearing about them many years ago when they were a few folks practicing on a rooftop in NYC. I had wanted to go then, but had never gotten the chance. As luck would have it, the studio was only four blocks from Dharma Yoga and Lindsey was taking Ali Cramer's 5:30 "Lotus Hour" class and had invited me to join her. My yoga week had been really great so far, but it was getting a little lonely. I was looking forward to practicing with someone that I actually knew.
Stunning artwork greets you as you enter Laughing Lotus and proceed down the hallway to the studio. Vibrant colors and a very artsy crowd awaited me as I walked in. Lindsey was right behind me and we chatted a bit while waiting for the yoga room to open. The room was full and Ali started class with a discussion about water, announcing that we would be doing a 2nd Chakra class. I thought to myself, "Thank God, I really need some hip openers after this long yoga week." It's amazing how you do always get what you need. And I loves me some 2nd chakra/water classes!

Ali spoke to us throughout the class about the energy of water - I often do this in my classes, but she had different things to say which was nice. We flowed and created strong wave-like movements in our body, sometimes holding more challenging asanas like Ardha Chandrasana, then once we were nice and sweaty diving into some deep hip openers.

I enjoyed the flow, the pace and the atmosphere at the studio and I really enjoyed having someone to practice with in the city. Laughing Lotus is definitely a great studio to go check out. It seems like they have interesting special classes and events, and hopefully I'll be able to make it to some in the future...hopefully with some more yoga buddies!

The class was a Lotus Hour, so it was only 60 minutes long, but that was ok. I had the massage therapist work deeply into my elbow and after class I was having a pretty intense feeling down my arm. I wasn't looking forward to the drive home in traffic, but I threw on some Tiger Balm on the muscles around my elbow and drove home inch by inch through the Holland tunnel and into NJ. By the time I got home, tremendous heat was radiating down my right arm so intensely I could no longer determine where it was originating.

Several weeks ago I noticed issues with my wrist. Then with all the yoga the past several weeks it seemed to move up into my elbow. Now I wasn't quite sure if it wasn't in my shoulder. I wondered if the sensations were energy trying to move out, or blocked energy with nowhere to go, or just overuse. I couldn't find a comfortable position to sleep in, but I was so exhausted from my day that I fell asleep.

I was so glad that I'd decided not to stay in the city and push myself with classes on Thursday. I decided to stay near home and check out some more local studios for Thursday. Did I take one class? Two? Or skip all together and just relax? Well, I decided that I would just figure it out in the morning, I had three different options...which way would it go? Only tomorrow will tell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sri Dharma Mitra - Master Sadhana Class (July 10)

Today I awoke at 6:30 am to the telephone ringing. It was the Broadway Plaza hotel confirming my two reservations for that evening. "Huh?" I had made one reservation for myself, but not two. I was advised to cancel it online immediately. I had set my alarm to go off at 6:45, so I was up anyway, I may as well get cracking!

I took a deep breath, went downstairs and canceled one reservations. I stared at the screen looking at the second reservation wondering if I really wanted to stay overnight in NYC by myself and take a bunch of yoga classes all over the city. I was starting to miss my dogs and my house. I had logged a lot of miles on my car and was finding some really great local teachers to NJ. I changed my mind and canceled the reservation and set about determining a new course of action for Thursday...even though this was only Wednesday.

I didn't have much time, really. I was on a pretty tight schedule. I had to be in NYC for a class with Sri Dharma Mitra at 12 noon and still had to stop by my yoga studio to check on things and grab paperwork. I wasn't sure what traffic would be like getting into the city so I wanted to give myself enough time. I think I finally got out of the house a little after 8 am and hit the yoga studio by 9:25. I left there at about 10 and set in to NYC for a class with the Master himself.

Most people already know Dharma Mitra, even if they don't know how they know him. You've seen him every time you've come into my studio when you walk past the poster of all the yoga asanas because that was him on that poster. When he created it so many years ago, there weren't computers to help copy and paste. He hand cut each picture and created the poster himself. Now most yoga studios offer it as a decoration in the studio - although I use it for most of my teacher training programs too.

Dharma Mitra has been studying yoga since 1958. When you think of what a yogi is, he is the real deal. He was a full-time yogi and bramachari (celibate religious student who lives with his teacher and devotes himself to the practice of spiritual disciplines). Dharma Mitra has a yoga studio in NYC on 23rd St near 6th Ave. appropriately called the Dharma Yoga Center. It is a large spacious yoga room adorned with many statues and boasting a large screen where he displays the asanas that he wants you to perform.

I arrived early, but a few of Dharma's students were already hanging around. It was a very chill vibe. I was surprised when Dharma sauntered in with his dog, Baxter (a white yorkie-poo looking dog very similar to my Bodhi), and began chatting with his students. Dharma Mitra is very approachable, very open and inviting. I felt like I was hanging out with friends, not walking into a yoga studio in the heart of NYC.

After purchasing a couple of items and renting a towel (yes, I'd forgotten mine again), I set myself up in the second row next to a pole (see my mat there in the picture?). I wasn't sure what to expect so I grabbed a block and sat down. Some others had started coming in at this point and I was told I could "warm up" if I wanted to. The class I was taking was titled "Master Sadhana." I wasn't intimated because I already knew I wasn't going to be able to attain all of the asanas in their full form, but I remember the yoga poster and the progression of postures - from fairly simple to extremely difficult to "really, a person can DO that?"

We began with a short round of chants while Dharma played the harmonium and then immediately began a practice. We warmed up with some sun salutations, stepping back to lunges instead of jumping in traditional Surya Namaskar. So far, so good. Then Dharma began to showcase postures and would say, "now you." As we practiced, these asanas became more and more challenging. Many of them require you to be very open and flexible, and also strong and steady. I'm still working on both of those things.

The folks in the front row (mostly men) were close students to Dharma. They would perform these yogic gymnastics and Dharma would point to them and say in a surprised manner, "wow, look!" In any other studio I would have thought it was ego showcasing, but it is evident that this is not the case at Dharma Yoga. The look in his student's eyes was nothing but love for him. I could tell that the performance of any asana was not for themselves, but for their Guru, Sri Dharma Mitra. They performed to please him, and in return, he would show them even more advanced variations - like one handed peacock (mayurasana - look it up!).

The Master Sadhana class was 2 hours long, but I think it ran a little longer than that. There were a few portions where Dharma would tell us to practice on our own a posture, or variation of (although he gave no variations, it was up to you to figure that out), then he would stop us and show another pose and let us go again. He walked the room offering assists - but the kind where your in supine padmasana and he lifts you up into fish...figure it out.

We took an extended Savasana, a long, quiet, savasana. The whole room was chill. It was great. After savasana, we sat up and Dharma read to us yoga philosophy, then talked to us about a few things that I felt were directed right to me alone. He talked about wondering why everything leaves us: people, our jobs, everything. And told us that the only way to get the answer was to be still, sit for a whole day with no food, do nothing and think on it. He talked about foods and how what we eat are what we become. He said to be a vegetarian for one reason: compassion. And then he told us of two great vegan restaurants to go eat lunch in the neighborhood. He made a few jokes, and very casually got up and started to put things away, signaling the end of class. We all got up and started making our ways out. Well, not all. As I was leaving the rest room I noticed a large gathering of folks still hanging out in the yoga room laughing and talking.

This was not my first time practicing with Dharma Mitra, but it was my first time to the Dharma Yoga studio. I will definitely go back some time, but going into NYC is not an easy trek from my home in south jersey. Someone told me he is coming to Philadelphia in August. I highly recommend taking a class with the master - especially if you are a yoga teacher. And as for Baxter, well, just like my Bodhi, he slept in the front of the room while his master taught class, and then walked around and sniffed folks, landing on one student's lap while Dharma chatted with us. 

Yup, now I really wanted to see my doggies. I was glad I'd canceled that reservation.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

If the 3rd Times a Charm, then Why did I go for a 4th? (July 9)

Well, I did. After my great class at Yogawood I headed home. I had a little time to eat and unload my car before attending an evening Restorative class at Pink Lotus in Swedesboro. It took me 3 minutes to arrive there. I had forgotten how close it was to my house! I'd also forgotten how "curt" the people there could be.

It's not that they are rude. They just have that air about them, you know what I mean? Like they are so busy, and so bothered, and so tired. I almost walked out. But I stayed. The class was only one hour, after all, why not.

In the hall I heard a teacher describe to a man that Restorative Yoga is, "when you're on the bolster the whole time relaxing." Okay, I guess that's fair enough, although I'd have said it a little better than that.

There were only 3 of us in class. The teacher walked in and told us to get on our backs and start breathing. She didn't check in, she didn't introduce herself, she didn't give an intro - just on the backs and breathe. Okay, so I did. She led us through a nice breathing practice, then some stretches with the straps for our legs and hips. About half way into class I started to wonder when we were going to get on that bolster that we were supposed to be on for the whole class. But we finally got around to it. And I have to say, she did a couple of really cool asanas that I'd never done before in Restorative, that my students will definitely be seeing in the next one I teach. So, there's that.

We ended class as we began - kind of matter-of-factly. Props were put away, I was confused as to where they went and where they came from. The information was reported to me without a look in my eye. The teacher had left the room twice, in my recollection, which I found to be a little off-putting. But she did come right back in. Maybe she went out for some props. IDK.

It was an "OK" ending to a "REALLY GREAT" day. Nobody seemed to care when I was leaving, just like they didn't seem to care much when I had come in. I've gotten this vibe from Pink Lotus before. It's a shame, it's so close to home and I do learn some very interesting asanas when I attend classes there, but is it worth the attitude or lack of interest on their part?

Well, I don't know if I have the answer for that right now. But here's what I do know based on today:
1. I'm definitely working with Rhonda from Yoga for Living
2. I'm going back to Yogawood to practice with Beth again soon
3. And I'm most certainly shopping in Haddonfield

A long day, blogged out, and quite pooped. Time to pack for tomorrow: visiting Sri Dharma Mitra in NYC where he will most surely kick my asana.

Yin-Vin - the Perfect Combo (July 9)

Just 2.5 miles down the street from Yoga in Haddonfield is Yogawood (in Collingswood). It's even on the same road. And as luck would have it, they had a 1pm class. I had just enough time to grab a quick salad and protein shake in Haddonfield and motor to Collingswood for their Yin-Vin class with owner, Beth Filla.

I'd been wanting to see just what a Yin-Vin yoga class was. We had tried it several years ago at the studio, but couldn't get it going. People either thought it was not enough yin or not enough vin! I was curious to see how she would sequence it and how many people would come to a class at 1pm. Well, let me just say, she had like 9 people there and she said that most of her regulars were on vacation and the room was usually packed!

A beautiful studio with lovely wooden floors with big, knotty grains. One wall was painted exquisitely (see picture) and the other was brick with a bronze type glaze on top. I didn't even realize they had a store because it was upstairs. I entered into the yoga room and set up for class with the assistance of a student.

Beth was very nice. She came around and talked to me about what I was doing (my little yoga road trip) and made sure to check in with everyone (something I find so important, yet am finding that not every teacher does).

We began with some chanting. Beth brought out her harmonium and we began chanting:

Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

a translation being: O my Lord, the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You. 

After chanting we began the Yin practice. Beth guided us through each practice discussing the aspects of the mind, reality, and consciousness. She quoted her own beloved teacher, David Life of Jivamukti Yoga, a man I've also practiced with a few times and found to be the REAL DEAL when it comes to yoga teachers. I could feel Beth's emotion and pure love as she led us through the entire Yin practice. I felt so relaxed that I almost didn't want to Vin! But, that time came.

We did a few sun salutations with some standing asanas, then came to the ground for twists and hip openers before savasana. It really was a perfect practice - yin to thoroughly open you up, and just enough vin to get a sweat going, but not overwork you. I felt truly amazing after class. Now, was it the morning chant and the Svaroopa class I'd just taken in addition? Perhaps, but I still felt great and I was truly blessed to have taken class with Beth.

One of the students recommended I come back on a Friday to take Beth's Jivanukti Spiritual Warrior class, and I absolutely will. Her alignments and assists - both verbal and hands on were amazing! Definitely some of the best that I've had in the local south jersey area.

Is a Yin-Vin class in One Yoga's future? I could see it happening...maybe now is the time to try it again.
Blessed to practice with Beth.

Svaroopa Yoga - Svoopa-Huh? (July 9)

After my lovely morning chant, I headed down the road Yoga in Haddonfield for a Svaroopa Yoga class. I had no idea what it was, which was the point of taking it. I'd also heard it was a lovely studio, and since there was a 10am class, it was convenient for me to drop in.

Here is what their website says about Svaroopa Yoga:

Svaroopa® yoga offers a significantly different paradigm in yoga poses. Our practice is both physical and more than physical.
We specialize in the inner opening. Svaroopa® yoga poses release the tensions in the deepest layers of your body – the layers of muscles wrapped around your spine.
This opens up conscious access to the ever–expanding inner realms of your own being. Rather than using hatha yoga as a sophisticated form of exercise, Svaroopa® yoga pursues the understanding of the deeper purposes of yoga: the understanding of your own essential nature
When your body is contracted, it shuts down and you lose the ability to feel it.Svaroopa® yoga uses precise alignments in carefully selected poses, along with meticulous placement of props, to open up the deepest tensions of your body.
As soon as you experience this physical opening, you realize that something has opened all the way through your whole being. The physical changes are profound and reliable, but they become less significant to you as the practice provides an inner transformation that gives you new eyes through which to see. Your life and the whole world begin to look perfect, even though it is the same world that used to drive you to despair. The most profound shift is the inner one.

When I arrived I noticed lots of nice little shops and made a mental note to go back to Haddonfield shopping whether I liked the class or not! The people at Yoga in Haddonfield were very nice and got me started with 5 yoga blankets, 2 blocks, 2 wedges and a strap. What??? Ok. I waited as the room began to fill up with folks....senior folks. I was literally the only one under 55 in the room. I thought it must be a real good therapeutic practice and wondered why I'd never heard of it before?

The teacher, Kemm, was very nice and nurturing. We started on our backs in Savasana. Kemm came over and got me all situation, helped me refold the blankets their way, wedged them into my legs, gave me a couple of adjustments and fixed my pants saying, "I'm a mom, I fix everything."

I lied back ready to relax and let go. Kemm began to lead us through a Yoga Nidra practice - bliss! Well, it should have been pure bliss, but I started to notice my right wrist nagging me. I wasn't quite sure why, but I decided not to move and just breathe through it. After our long savasana, I reach over and cracked my wrist. It hasn't hurt me since!

The practice was very much like a Restorative practice, however we did a lunge and a spinal twist without props (blocks under the hands if we needed it). Then it was back to savasana again. The class was about an hour and a half and I felt super relaxed afterwards...and my wrist is great! I think there may be a little something to this Svaroopa-doopa Yoga and I may need to look a little more into it!

I really liked the way that the studio was set up. I was surprised to see how many statues they had - from a very large Shiva to Lakshmi tapestries to a beautiful Kwan Yin. The space was quiet and nicely decorated. It gave me some nice ideas for the studio at home - in fact, I have to say that I'm getting lots of great ideas on decorations and set-ups for my own studio - whether it's something I see, or something that comes to me in class.

Starting the Day with a Song (July 9)

Last night I felt sick. That kind of sick feeling you get when you've worked out a lot and had enough. I'd been taking a lot of intense Vinyasa classes - 2 yesterday, plus 4 hours of driving in major traffic. The last time I felt this way was the year I worked with a personal trainer 3 days a week. He pushed me and my body was sculpting and looking great. But one day I just looked at him and told him I couldn't do it any more - I had had enough. He said he understood and that a lot of athletes when they train get to that point. Well, lucky for me, I was not an athlete and so I quit.

When I woke up today (much earlier than I had planned to), I was feeling much better. I wasn't too tired for 6:30 am. I told myself today was going to be a busy day, but with a much different bend to the style of classes that I was taking. Plus, I was staying more local to home. And so, I got up, got showered and dressed and headed out for my day.

My first stop is a little studio in Cherry Hill called Yoga for Living. The owner, Rhonda Clarke, is a wonderful woman. Every Tuesday morning from 8-9 am you can come and chant and meditate with her for free! I thought, why not? I need a little chanting right about now and I headed out. The traffic was light just before rush hour and I got there just before she did. There was only one other woman there this morning to chant, but we headed in anyway.

Yoga for Living is located on the lower level of a small building off Greentree Rd. It reminded me of One Yoga, coming in and heading below the ground! The studio was dark, but very nicely decorated. We sat down and Rhonda brought out her harmonium and started to lead us through a call and response of "Om Namah Shivaya," which she had written in English and Sanskrit all around the yoga room. I don't know how long we chanted, but it was quite a while. When we finished chanting, Rhonda gave left us with a thought to ponder for meditation, a quote from Swami Muktananada:

"The knowledge of his own true nature is the source of a yogi's contentment."

"Hmm," I wondered, "What IS my own true nature?" Immediately I was flooded with images of my yoga students in the studio, happy and feeling fine. I thought to myself, "I'm a yoga teacher." It may sound obvious, but there are moments when one wonders if that is one's true calling or not, as I sometimes do. I was then struck with an image of an old boss of mine, Mr. Trout. He was a mentor of mine from my corporate days and had passed away suddenly one day. I was heartbroken about his passing and I hadn't thought of him for a long time. Mr. Trout (I never called him Tom), ruled with an iron first, but was soft and gooey on the inside. He used to affectionately call me, "Snot Nosed Kid," which may not sound affectionate, but was his way of being endearing. And, in all truth, I was a snot nosed kid. I had started working for him in college, he promoted me after I graduated, and I had worked for him through my 20's...through my drinking, partying, relationship crazed 20's. Now that I think back, I think that "Snot Nosed Kid" was probably a lot nicer of a name than what he could have called me.

I smiled and began to tear up. I missed my old boss. I missed a lot of people that had passed on too early - close friends of mine and family. When I stop to think about it, it seems that the people that have meant the most to me over the years have left this world suddenly. Sometimes I think I can feel them around me - sometimes I think I'm making that up just for comfort. I was suddenly struck with the image of a student and friend of mine who often makes off-color remarks and acts like a child. And I thought, "She is my Snot-Nosed-Kid." And I was comforted.

My meditation took me to a swarm of ideas for my yoga studio and I wasn't quite sure if I was meditating or thinking - often a struggle of mine. So, I just tried to sit back and watch the movie that was playing in my mind.

After class Rhonda and I talked about putting some events together. She is a lovely, intuitive woman that I'd love to work with in some way, and I'm sure that I will. I purchased a mala necklace (not that I need anther one, but the black onyx & carnelian beads were calling me) and headed out for my next class, happy that I took the time to get up earlier than I had anticipated.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Forest Yoga in Philly (July 8)

I've never taken Forrest Yoga (Inspired by teacher Ana Forrest). I've seen videos of her walking around rooms in Wheel pose and creating lots of intense gymnastic-style sequencing. It always scared me. But I thought that I would drop in and check it out in Philly tonight.

Now, I must say that I am not very comfortable in Philly - driving, parking, or walking. I know a lot more about NYC than Philly. So, when I got to the area in West Philly where the studio is located (Studio 34), I parked on a side street and really wondered what type of neighborhood it was. I really wasn't quite sure! I looked at my Prius and hoped it would be waiting for me when I got done class.

Studio 34 is located in an upstairs loft off Baltimore Avenue. It reminded me of a big, open city apartment. The drop in price was only $10 so I liked that. But the girl behind the desk was busy with other folks so I really was confused as to where to go - there are lots of little healing rooms where people can rent to do body work so with all the doors, and two yoga classes happening, I really didn't know where to go or where to get props. I figured it out half watching others and half asking, and set up in the room.

The teacher was a sub, but she was the first teacher since I've started going around that asked people if they had any injuries before we started. When I raised my hand along with others, she took the time to come around to each of us and learn the issue, and give modifications ahead of time. I liked her already.

As we started, the instructions were very precise. It reminded me very much of an Iyengar class. We began seated stretching our wrists and fingers and then did other opening work like forward folds and twists, which I was thoroughly enjoying after so many Vinyasa classes. I wasn't sure what Forrest Yoga was, but I was digging it.

Then we stood up and began sun salutations. I kind of lost it at that point. My body was extremely tired and my mind kept popping off between wondering about my car and wishing I had a towel. Luckily the room was air conditioned with fans running. I was tired and sore from the last two days of classes, so I was hoping for less heat and more stillness. But once the salutations started, the class took off in an entirely different directions. Her alignment cues and instructions were still very good, but it became a Vinyasa practice. And maybe Forrest Yoga is a Vinyasa practice, I think I was just hoping it wasn't and had enjoyed the beginning sequence so much.

I had to come out of the standing postures a couple of times from the same leg cramps that I'd had that morning at Empowered Yoga. But at least she was very mindful to offer modifications and I didn't get the sense that coming out of the pose or honoring my body was something that was a problem.

Class ended with a nice Savasana, and then I went out and found my car waiting for me. The neighborhood was more alive now and I was sensing it was time to get moving out. I set the GPS and headed out of Philly for home in record time.

I would definitely try Forrest Yoga again. This class was a Beginner Forest Yoga (not beginner in my book, but okay), so I'd like to try it again at a time when I am less tired. I may not travel back into West Philly, but I think the studio was nice enough and the teacher very knowledgable that I would recommend it for anyone who already has a strong practice and lives in the area.

As I look at the clock and find it to be after 11 pm, I contemplate showering or just going to bed. I'm starting my day off with an 8 am free chanting class tomorrow in Cherry Hill. I decided to modify my day with a Yin Vinyasa class in the afternoon and Restorative in the evening. Practice with Dharma Mittra is Wednesday in NYC and I need a little more Yin tomorrow. So I guess the only question is: shower or bed?