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Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I have been doing a lot of hard (power) yoga classes. My yoga practice has been really strong. If I don’t press up into urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) at least once per class then I don’t feel as though I’ve really been on my mat. Which is wonderful. My practice is whatever I need it to be– when I need to work hard, I work hard, and when I need to rest, I rest. Wanting to be “better” at yoga than I am is not one of the ego problems that I am working on– or if it is, it’s at the bottom of the list.

So I’ve been sweating it out. And I feel great.

I’ve always been attracted to a powerful style of yoga practice, and vinyasa is what makes my heart sing. But for years I took it easy because of injury. I’ve been taking little forays into power classes and staying there longer and longer (which means 5 or 6 classes a week for me right now– I work from home).

Source: penelopesoasis.com

What I’ve found is that instead of working harder, I’m actually letting go more, finding ways to float through my practice. My body is strong and knows where to go, but it’s more that I’m training my mind to flow. The other day I tried Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (two legged inverted staff pose) for the first time. Instead of thinking “there’s no way I can do that”, I thought “why not?” It wasn’t easy, but it felt easy.

Of course training my mind is a lot harder than training my body. But little by little I make progress.

Little by little I let go when it counts.

Grateful

The subject this week is gratitude, again. Here I am living my life and then I got news that an old friend who has cystic fibrosis just got a double lung transplant after waiting for years. So there you go. I am so happy for him and so thankful that it makes me cry.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle”
-Plato

I talk a lot about being grateful for each breath in my classes, but imagine getting new lungs after having to fight for each breath for years. Plus he asked his girlfriend to marry him before the surgery and she said yes.

It puts everything in perspective

So I’m standing tall here in my life, breathing one sweet full breath after another. Each breath is an opportunity to begin again. To start over and live the life I want. Make the choices that I want to make.

And be grateful that I can.

The more I understand this life– my opportunities, the incredible gifts that I have been given that I am oblivious to– the more grateful I become for every inch of it. Every moment. It is such a gift to be able to practice and teach yoga with a healthy body and an open heart because I am safe.

Every time that something holds me back from happiness I have the opportunity to let it go– shed everything that I don’t want and stand here, full of breath, grateful.

Grateful for Jamie’s new lungs and grateful for mine too.

(source: www.thepointhocc.blogspot.com)

Gratitude For My Mom

It’s mothers day and I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my wonderful mother, who continues to be my best friend, confidant, and so much a part of me that I pick up the phone whenever I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing.

My mother is my greatest teacher. Her example and her unhesitating and generous love (which are pretty much the same thing, really) is the bedrock of the choices that I make in my life. Whenever I am out of line somewhere in my life– in my thoughts, words, or actions– I ask myself what she would do.

Her quiet example teaches me to be better every day.

Her quest for freedom, to live the good life (in a Socratic, not a Kanye sense), gives me the freedom to find my version of that good life, even if it seems to change with the seasons.

I am able to recognize other teachers and learn from them because she taught me what to look for– honesty, openness, a sense of humour.

I am grateful for every breath because she gave it to me and because she taught me that every breath and every moment is sacred.

Because of her I know that the true nature of the world is love, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.

‎”We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”
~Herman Melville

My mother lives this every day. This is how she is my mom. I know this is true because she showed me so.

Mindfulness And Me (3 Tips)

I’m thinking about walking the talk more. As I work towards being mindful in my yoga practice, I’m exploring how to be more mindful in my life. It doesn’t make any sense to be committed to being conscious and thoughtful on my mat and then float through the rest of my day on auto pilot. So I’m going to take my mindfulness practice off the mat…

How? you ask.

I have some thoughts:

1. Turn off my laptop more. Can I do this and keep my identity? Probably. It may be hard, but I bet I could do it if I made more of an effort (“I am not my mind, I am not my mind, I am not my mind”).

Less time reading the New York Times online would probably be good for me.

2. Slow down. Looking out the window is not necessarily a waste of time.

3. Pay more attention to food and drink. I need to remind myself that eating is sacred, not something I do for entertainment, and it’s not just fuel. My heart loves to enjoy and savour food, but sometimes I forget.

So in May I am going to start living my yoga off the mat one mindful moment at a time…

(source: www.mindfulconstruct.com)

Finding Balance

I am out of balance. I keep getting sick and sometimes I’m bored and then I’m too busy. I know that yoga is the answer, but I still have to keep asking the right questions. Life is an iterative process. All the things worth doing have to be done again and again– like forgiving someone, and dishes.

Finding balance is constant work, balancing this part of your life with that part. Being a good person– being good both to me and to the people I love. Not always the same thing, is it?

I also need to find balance in my yoga practice.

When my practice is out of whack, so goes the rest of my life. I’m loving hot sweaty power classes these days. I miss my hatha and yin teachers, but I keep going back to vinyasa to burn through something inside me. Where my knee is and what my hip flexor is doing is not as important at the moment as connecting to my core and finding the devotion and grace that I find on my mat in power classes. Recognizing what I want and need is the first step to coming back to balance.

How do I find balance?

1. Listening. Yoga is intense and sometimes it’s important to take a break. It’s also important to work hard, so I work to listen to my body and my spirit.

2. Taking breaks. I have a daily yoga practice, but some days I lay off. I have a glass of wine instead because I need to keep that part of myself alive too.

3. Find joy. I like to work hard, and progress– hit my marks. But sometimes I get driven, and get way out of balance. Connecting to my joy in something allows me to go back to a sustainable and rewarding level of intensity and effort.

Like an elephant in crow pose on a beach ball, balance keeps me elegant and powerful.

Learning To Meditate

“When your mind finally becomes quiet, the stunning thing that happens is your heart opens.” – A Life Worth Breathing: A Yoga Master’s Handbook of Strength, Grace, and Healing

A couple of weeks ago my yoga instructor announced that we were going to finish the class with 10 minutes of an active meditation followed by 10 minutes of a seated meditation. My first though was, “oh my gawd, what am I going to do for 20 minutes while everyone meditates?” I closed my eyes for the first few minutes, finding my breath, my mind then went on to what I was going to eat for dinner and preceded down my to-do list. About 3 minutes into it, my eyes popped open as I was curious about what the heck everyone else was doing. They were ALL still, quiet and peaceful. All 40 of them were meditating and no one else but me was looking around the room! It became very apparent, that although I feel I am disciplined in my physical practice my mind could use a little TLC.

I have been reading an amazing book titled, A Life Worth Breathing, by Max Strom.  It has really highlighted the benefits of a daily meditation practice as well as a physical practice.  Max Strom believes that while meditation can seem like an inconvenience and unnecessary if already doing yoga regularly, it soon becomes a profound part of daily life. He explains in A Life Worth Breathing that, “meditation can provide direct access to peace, to your most authentic Self, to spirit and to the Universal Consciousness.”

He also lists several good tips on how to start:

– Find a comfortable, quiet place that minimizes the chance of interruption

– Sit for 3 minutes to start and gradually increase the time

– When your mind begins to wander, for example you are thinking about going for dinner, instead of eating in the restaurant envision yourself sitting down in the restaurant and meditating, do this for all day dreams and eventually your mind will just give up and allow you to sit in meditation.- A Life Worth Breathing

– Instead of trying to quiet your thoughts, focus on your heart. Imagine your heart center as being the source of all that is good in the world ( kindness, love, compassion etc.),  breath into it and imagine the exhale releases love into the world.- A Life Worth Breathing

I have committed myself to doing 40 days of  a daily meditation practice. So if I seem more peaceful and more like myself you know why!

JESSICA HAMILTON is a yoga teacher, boot camp instructor and elementary school teacher. She loves writing, reading, healthy vegetarian cooking, and traveling. Starting next week she will be a regular Vancouver Yoga Review blogger. Welcome Jessica!

Are We Too Comfortable?

I was putting on a record the other day– yes, an LP. My mom and I got into a discussion about how she used to take care of her records… lots of work. Sometimes I can’t be bothered to make a playlist. I put 10,000 songs on random rather than take a minute. My day to day experience is so far from lovingly and painstakingly taking care of something in an elaborate ritual in order to listen to 20 minutes of music.

My life is so easy I get bored sometimes.

Except on my mat. I never get bored on my mat. One of the things that I love about yoga is the work. There is no hiding in my yoga practice, I sweat and I’m honest with myself. Part of my yoga is to really listen– both to what’s going on inside me and to the people I love and the people I meet in my day.

Yoga is work. It’s work to let go and it’s work to cultivate the habits of body and mind that will lead to freedom. It’s work to forgive the people that have wronged me and it’s work to forgive myself for all my shortcomings. Yoga is also work that matters. I do these things because it is the most important work that I can do.

My yoga practice is also the most rewarding thing in my life.

So maybe I need to work harder in the rest of my life. Work hard like I do on my mat– spend more time out of my comfort zone.

My Yoga, My Responsibility

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal responsibility– especially with regards to my yoga practice and the yoga that I teach. Injury is serious, especially in advanced yoga classes. Everyone knows someone who has hurt themselves. Ryan Leier, one of my dear teachers, talked about this the last time he was here in Vancouver: “I’m not going to talk so much about your kneecaps, because I trust that you all know what to do with them”. That trust is vital because it empowers me be conscious and honest within my own practice.

But I’ve been talking about kneecaps in my classes– maybe too much.

Yoga is a tool for me to practice taking responsibility for myself. On my mat I reconnect with who I am and with who I want to be. Yoga gives me the strength and the peace to go out into the world and live the life I want to live. I think that most people who stay with their practice do so because it teaches powerful lessons about personal responsibility. The practice of yoga allows us to be honest and to be present– to take responsibility for our actions and our thoughts.

But yoga teachers do have an enormous responsibility to their students. They are responsible for providing a safe environment and finding a balance between challenging students and protecting them. Ultimately it’s up to each individual to take responsibility, both physically and emotionally. Yoga is intense– it brings stuff up and can be hard on the body if we’re not careful. So each yogi needs to take responsibility for themselves every time they practice.

I feel so lucky that my yoga practice teaches me how.

The Amazing Seane Corne

I went to Seane Corne’s workshop at Semperviva City studio on Saturday afternoon and have been wrung out all week. Seane is an amazing teacher whose insight into the physical and the spiritual is an inspiration. So many of the things she spoke about resonated with my own practice both on and off the mat. As I looked around the room at the 150 other people there with me I could tell that what she said was as immediate for them as it was for me. She talks about planting seeds that will live in our tissues and come out when the time is right. So beautiful and so true– I know that I still carry wise words from my teachers that come out when the time is right.

She also talked about honouring our darkness and our light because both are sacred. This really hit home to me. Since I have begun to deepen my practice and become more committed to living my yoga, I think that I have begun to push all my “dark” thoughts down– censoring myself because they don’t seem appropriate somehow.

So I’m pondering how to be a yogini with a dark side.

We are all working towards love and working towards union (yoga). Some times it can seem like there is only one way, this ideal spiritual way. But being a yogini who is running late and who needs to take out the trash and do the recycling and would really just like a glass of wine is the path that I am on.

Seane’s teachings honour this path. She teaches that being who you are, whatever that is, is the way to your yoga. So it doesn’t matter what kind of yogi you are, you can come to your mat and learn how to love a little bit more.

Spring Cleaning With Yoga

I can feel spring in the air, which means I’m restless and full of energy. What does this mean for me as a yogini? This year it means letting go of all the junk that has built up over the winter. It’s not just dust in my apartment– as we all know. Junk builds up everywhere; in my body, my mind and my heart. Each day as it warms up I go back to my mat to open myself up and clear myself out. Getting into those stuck places with breath.

I’m spring cleaning with yoga this year.

Spring is about rebirth, but that means many things. Spring is an opportunity to change up my yoga practice and experiment with new styles of yoga and postures that have seemed challenging in the past. This year I want to use the energy that spring offers to try new things and let go of old habits of mind.

This is a bit scary, too. Trying new things also holds the possibility of failure. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us to let go of the fruits of our actions, because only the actions matter. For me this means really going for it and becoming comfortable with failure, both in my yoga practice and in my life.

So I’m working on Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance). Every time I go upside down I learn something new about failure as I fall out. But I also learn about letting go– letting go of my expectations and fear of failure. One day (maybe soon, maybe not) I’ll stay up there.

It’s okay if it takes a while because falling out is part of my spring cleaning.

Anti-Aging Benefits of Yoga

Anti-Aging Benefits of Yoga

It’s no secret—especially here—that dedication to yoga leads to mental and physical health.  Beauty on the inside leads to beauty on the outside, and not just during your 20s.

“My students call yoga a natural face-list,” says Larry Paye, PhD, a yoga director at Loyola Marymount University.  “It cleanses, relaxes, and restores.”

Why Yoga Makes You Younger

Although exercise in general promotes good health, over-exercise is a prime cause of debilitated skeletal structures later in life.  Because yoga is gentle yet appropriately strenuous, it promotes strength in addition to flexibility, balance, and perhaps most importantly improved circulation—at any age.  Blood circulation tightens muscles and tissues, thereby reducing the slackness of skin.

People Who’ve Reaped the Benefits

Many are catching on to these anti-aging benefits of yoga, especially with the recent spotlight shed on former model and actress and currently 92-year old Tao Porchon-Lynch, who’s taught yoga for over 40 years across the globe.  Doctors told her that her total hip replacement at age 84 would rob her of most of her previous flexibility.

“I’m very stubborn about it,” she confesses with a mischievous smile.  “When people say it can’t be done, I have to do it.”  See one of several videos of her on YouTube from a few years back.

Yoga is not the only manifestation of her unquenchable thirst for life.  “I love to waltz.  I love to jitter-bug.  I like to do samba. . . .  All the crazy ones.”

Berlin’s Swami Yogananda is another testament to yoga’s anti-aging benefits.  At 100 years old, Yogananda wears no glasses or contact lenses, is missing no teeth, and has been practicing Sukshma Vyayam since 1948.

Reap the Benefits Now

We can only hope to live so long with such fine spirit and health, but yoga sure can’t hurt our chances, right?  Even sequences as simple as sun or moon salutations paired with appropriate breathing techniques will tilt the odds in your favor.  Do them at least three times a week if not every day.

Add variety to the basic sun salutation by incorporating some of the following poses for the best anti-aging benefits, as advised by Prevention Magazine:

  • Warrior II
  • Warrior II and Side Angle
  • Tree
  • Sphinx
  • Child’s Pose
  • Seated Twist
  • Inverted L or Shoulderstand
  • Savasana

Author Bio: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at Go college, where recently she’s been researching College Grants and blogging about new scholarships. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and hogging her boyfriend’s PlayStation 3.

Featured Teacher: Elana Epstein

The following excerpt is courtesy of Elana Epstein’s Breathing Spaces blog:

To Inspire And Be Inspired Is A Blessed Gift

Inspiration.

What does it conjure up for you? What meaning do you attach to it? What reaction does it bring? Where do you get it from?

Perhaps we need to define what inspiration means to us before we can know where to find it.
In order to know what it means I think we need to know what it feels like.
I have been watching where I derive inspiration from lately and have been noticing how it feels to be inspired.

For me, inspiration feels uplifting, exhilarating, awake and creative.
When I am inspired I am at my best, most literally.
When I am inspired I am connected.
I am truly alive.
I am so much more than my ego remembers me to be.
When I am inspired it feels like there is nothing I cannot do.
When I am inspired I feel like I am a part of the universe as I was meant to be.
When I am inspired I am grateful.

So, I try to find inspiration where I can.

I feel blessed. There are so many place that I feel inspired these days.

…to continue reading, click here to visit Elana’s website.

Author Bio: Elana Epstein is a certified Hatha Yoga instructor and Reiki practitioner who came to yoga from a Social Work background. Her greatest passion is to help individuals find their own inner strength and harmony so that they can contribute to making this a more peaceful life for all.  Elana sees yoga as a way to live each day with awareness and to nurture a peaceful and healing journey into the self. As a teacher, she creates an environment that is safe, intuitive, and calming. Her classes are suitable for the beginner and seasoned practitioner alike. Elana enjoys a personal daily practice at home and shares this journey with her husband and three children. Along with her daily dose of yoga she loves to read, write and listen to music. When she can,  she adds a little dark chocolate and a Chai to help make each day as decadent as it is blessed.

Elana teaches 9:30am Hatha yoga classes on Wednesdays at Semperviva‘s Sun studio. For more teaching times and locations, visit her blog and connect with her on Twitter.

Yoga For Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Many yoga practitioners are runners and cyclists, and too many of them know the aggravation and discomfort—even pain—that comes from iliotibial band syndrome. Until recently, ITB syndrome was thought to be caused by friction of the ITB rubbing against the thigh bone near the knee joint. Recent research may indicate, however, that pressure from the ITB on a fatty tissue between the ITB and the knee joint may in fact be causing the pain. This tissue is a nerve hub that experiences pain when extensive flexing and extending of the leg builds pressure on the fatty tissue.

The following are symptoms typical of ITBS:

• Pain above the knee
• Swelling or thickening of the ITB over the lateral femoral epicondyle
• Pain at the hip
• Clicking at the knee or hip

These are usually the causes of these symptoms:

• Increasing distance in training too rapidly
• Running downhill
• Cycling with feet in an excessive angle
• Running excessively on a crowned surface
• Weak hip abductor muscles

It took a masseuse, 2 chiropractors, a doctor, an X-Ray, and finally a physical therapist to diagnose me with ITBS 4 long years since my actual injury, which occurred while stretching for my black belt test in Tae Kwon Do. I’d practiced yoga for several years by then, but I stopped when it felt like my right leg was constantly trying to pop back into my hip.

I stopped riding horses because every time I posted for a trot, I would feel my hip clicking. I stopped training after receiving my black belt in Tae Kwon Do for many reasons, but one of them was that I couldn’t do a roundhouse kick with my right leg without rolling across the dojo floor whimpering in pain. I stopped running while studying abroad for a semester in Europe because there were too many hills and my right knee was having none of it.

Faced with stress related to mild weight gain (hey, there was a lot of pasta and gelato to be had in Italy), I rekindled my relationship with yoga and was met with comfort—until the day I fell off a 10 ft. high wall in a vineyard onto my back and wrist, effectively spraining the latter. I should have gone to a hospital but I insisted I was okay (as I cried myself to sleep that night in excruciating agony). Three weeks later, I tried to do a simple plank pose and crashed to the floor.

It took an entire year to resume my yoga habits, and although all my wrist takes is a little warming up, my right hip remains my greatest obstacle. It hurts to do yoga and yet I know it is yoga that will ease my pain. This, of course, takes time and patience, and I am still on this journey. The following poses, however, are geared toward runners and sufferers of ITBS. Although my progress is slow, it is progress nonetheless.

• Square
• Cow face forward fold
• Pigeon
• Outer hamstring twist
• Outer thigh twist
• Half lord of the fishes twist
• Cross-legged reclining twist
• Frog legged pose

[Pigeon,GaiamLife]

If you suspect that you suffer from ITBS, consult a physician or physical therapist before attempting these poses. Afterward, if any of the poses are unfamiliar, most can be viewed in detail on YouTube or www.yogajournal.com. Be gentle with your body and with yourself. Happy healing.

Author Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where recently she’s been researching the highest paying college degrees around along with some low paying degrees you might want to avoid. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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