Thoughts

Stretching Into New Possibilities

When it comes right down to it Yoga is basically a form of stretching.

From stretching your ability to breathe; lengthening your inhales and exhales to stretching your mind’s capacity to quiet down, to become silent for longer and longer periods of time. To go further into the practice where it becomes not so much about the asana (postures) as it is about the ability to let go of desire, to allow for the spirit to move into the space you have created.

But really in the beginning, for me, it was all about the stretch, the movement into silence came later.

So sometimes I am surprised when people say: “Yoga?!! Oh, I could never do that”.

I try to ease them into it by saying: “Well, have you ever done any stretching after going for a walk, a run or any type of physical activity”. Actually most people have done some type of stretching in their lives. I ask them to start there; allow yourself the space to just stretch into yoga.

The asana are really a specific type of stretch; especially Yin Yoga where you stay closer to the ground and hold the stretches for a longer period of time.

As I am in my third week of recovery from an operation, I decided to try a Yin Yoga class at Yyoga Flow Wellness on Burrard Street.

The instructor, Megan Johnson, put everyone at ease by stating that as with all yoga, the length of the stretch is all up to the individual. I talked to Megan before class about my concerns and she was very reassuring by stating that although Yin can be very intense, I should allow my body to decide and just be very gentle.

I was game for that.

We started in Sukasana (easy cross legged), opening with Pranayama to settle into the space and relax into our bodies.

She then guided us slowly into little stretches of the neck where we allowed our head to drop to each of the shoulders, increasing the stretch by allowing one arm to lengthen to the floor.

Megan told us to deepen into the stretch, come to your edge and then breathe and settle in. But only go so far as to touch your edge; always bring it back if you feel any pain. Yin is about becoming comfortable in the stretch and then holding it for a specific length of time.

For the next 8 poses we stayed close to the ground, deepening our breath and allowing the body to relax.

What is interesting about Yin is that it is not about moving fast from one pose to the other, it is all about lengthening, stretching, breathing and relaxing into the pose, letting go and finally settle for awhile.

Yin does specific things that complements other types of yoga. It allows for a deepening of the stretch which in turns strengthens your muscles by creating little tears that the body repairs. Stretching into the deep connective tissues: the fascia. This is how the body keeps supple. That old saying: “use it or lose it” really does hold true for the body. To keep your body young and flexible, you need to actually use/move it. Yin is a gentle way of moving it.

Megan took us gently into this type of stretching, which is exactly what I needed after a few weeks off from yoga. Her voice is very calm and reassuring. She asks nothing of you except your willingness to try.

If you would like to give Yin Yoga a try, I can easily say it is something anyone can step into if you have done some stretching in your life. Remember that the length and depth of the stretch is always up to you, only go as far as your body allows and try to be kind to yourself. Yin only gets intense if you push yourself further than your body is willing to go. Remember to keep that ego in check.

You might notice that as you stretch further into your body, you might find yourself stretching into a yoga practice that is perfect for you.

(source: theyogafitnessguide.com)

Courage To Fall

blogs.forbes.com

In a conversation with my pal Jennifer before class started last night, she filled me in on some changes she is making in her life. Risks she’s decided to take because the saying, you never know until you try, deems to be true (funny how clichés tend to be true). Yet, making a big change, or trying something foreign or different often brings a sense of fear along with it.

For instance, I find myself going to lengths of comparing pros and cons before I make a big decision that will bring change to my life. I’m unsure if the idea for change sparks from a right feeling or desire, or the need for a challenge. So I weigh all the thoughts surrounding the risk for change and take my time before making a final verdict. Then I stop and ask, who cares?! Why do the things we lean towards need to be justified if they feel right?

Last week in a Vinyasa Power Flow class, I took several risks. My shoulders and arms violently quivered as I attempted four arm stand and side crow over and over again. I pushed myself because it felt right. I was determined that my body could manage. I knew the worst that could happen was I’d fall, and I did. Flat out like a pancake I just splattered onto my mat. My body, at that point had enough. But instead of harping on my decision to take this risk with my body, I laughed. Falling is actually kind of fun. Instead of beating myself up over failing to do the pose, I gave myself credit for trying and making progress.

Why is risk taking in yoga, when if done improperly could result in injury, so carefree? So unruffled? We will inevitably fall out of the pose, but we hold our dignity while we do it. We know that after falling, we’re merely right back to where we started and nothing less.

This notion is so simple in our yoga Kula, yet so hard in our outside community. How do we incorporate the courage to fall into our daily lives?

To quote the risk taking Jennifer, I’ll always have what I have now, so if this change doesn’t work out, I’ll be right back here. And here, the now, isn’t such a bad place to end up.

How do you bring your yoga mentality into your daily life?

One Yoga for the People

One Yoga for the People

Source www.yogaforthepeople.ca

Last night was the grand re-opening of Yoga for the People. It is now One Yoga for the People. You should go. Really, you should go now. What was a beautiful community is now even more awesome. Last night’s kickoff featured the funnest class I have ever that the pleasure of taking, plus great people, and fabulous food (Gorilla Food– check it out).

Food for all of me.

I’d like to dedicate this to all the creator’s righteous children.
I’ve got some food in my bag for you.
Not that edible food the kind you eat, no I’ve got some food for thought.
-Erykah Badu

Sometimes I get so hungry. Hungry for something that I’m not getting in my life– it has nothing to do with food. I feel hungry when I’m not whole. So guess what I do?

I dig deeper into my yoga practice to find what it is that I need to feel whole, to feed myself. Last night was a feast.

It’s this paradox. In yoga we feed ourselves and fill ourselves up to get empty. The intermediate practice is to be full (of love, compassion). The advanced practice is to be empty. But I’m not there– obviously. Because I’m still hungry. I have moments of fullness, and I have flashes where I can see that emptiness is possible. One Yoga for the People is a community of people who support each other on that journey.

When I’m not paying attention I get hungry. And I try to feed myself with things that I’m not really hungry for. So I’m working on identifying that hunger and what it means so I can get still, take a breath, go to my mat and fill myself up.

Thanks to Ryan and the gang I am full. Next time you’re hungry check it out.

Baby Steps

As mentioned in a previous post of mine, I have just recently had an operation; an operation to remove my gallbladder and gallstones. As this is right in the region of the core muscles, and having practice yoga for over 13 years, I was nervous as to how this would affect not only my ability to practice but also my ability to teach.

When I asked my surgeon how long my recovery would take the expected response was “as long as it takes, it depends on each individual”. What about yoga, I asked. Again the response, “take it easy and play it by how you feel; your body will tell you how slow or fast you should go”.

When he said that I was curious, but also hopeful that my body would tell me what was okay, hopeful that my mind would not get in the way of my recovery. As we have all experienced, the mind has its own set of rules, expectations and judgements. Sometimes these expectations are perfectly reasonable. Other times we can be very critical on ourselves.

As I am just on the early side of recovery I am hoping I will not fall into any false expectations or overly critical judgements of myself, but really I won’t be surprise when I do. It is natural to set up goals for oneself. I am hoping that if I keep reminding myself to take it easy, be kind and just accept whatever happens as being exactly what is supposed to happen, things will be fine.

I know that at least I have a foundation of yoga within me. That yogic breathing sets one up to regulate the body, to slowly calm and focus the mind away from all the rushing thoughts and expectations back to what is truly important: to remain focused on the breathe and try to relax.

It is also important to note that when trying to manage pain, a three pronged approach of yogic breathing, relaxation and meditation has be proven to help. According to an article in WomenFitness.net, meditation can have a 40% reduction in pain intensity. As muscles tend to relax when exhaling, it seems only logical that to extend the exhalation could only help reduce any built up tension. When in pain there is an increase in stress and tension, as the body tries to push the pain away. But by allowing yourself to remain focused on your breathing, allowing yourself to relax, this gives you an opportunity to move through the pain rather than resist it.

Of course this is all about taking baby steps back to a practice that is so important. I am hoping that if you or anyone you know are dealing with an injury or possibly chronic pain that you will continue to give yoga a try. And please remember to be kind to yourself.

(source: weightlosssteps.net)

5 Ways To Make Your Practice Your Own

1. Follow your teacher’s instructions during class, but do your own thing at home. Did you learn the “proper” way to sequence a class during a workshop or teacher training? Try it that way for a while (so you know you understand how to protect yourself from injuries), then throw it out the window. There are no absolutes in yoga. Experiment and find out what works for you.

2. Practice a lot! Practice at home. Practice at work. Practice in your car. Practice at the grocery store. Practice while you do dishes. Practice at the dog park. Practice at the beach. Practice before you fall asleep at night. Practice… well…you get the point… Eventually, you’ll find your own rhythm, breath, and style, but it takes TONS of practice…

Click here to read the rest of this article.

Is Yoga Better On The West Coast?

Is Yoga Better On The West Coast?

It is no secret that Vancouver, especially Kitsilano is yoga heaven. The birthplace of  Lululemon has studios on every block, filled with highly experienced teachers and master teachers from around the world. My Vancouver friends are often surprised to learn that the other coast, particularly Halifax,  also has a booming yoga scene. With a large population of  buddhists and a long history of a deep connection to the land and it’s resources, the yogi lifestyle is a natural fit for many Hailgonians.

For a relatively small city, over 400,000 compared to Vancouver’s 2.2 million, there are a plethora of studios with well trained teachers in a variety of different styles.  It is clear that yoga is on the rise here as there are more studios popping up annually. Yoga is getting so big here, that the Halifax Regional School Board has made it an elective in high school, Yoga 11. As a result, many school teachers are becoming certified yoga teachers to help facilitate this program.

While Halifax does not have the line up of  yoga “rock stars” that Vancouver does, they do have their share of workshops with master teachers such as Michael Stone, Coeli Marsh, Ryan Leier, Hart Lazer, Nischala Joy Devi and David Swenson coming later this year!

If you do ever find yourself in Nova Scotia, check out some of my favorite studios:

All Yoga– Located in Dartmouth is a very inviting studio that has something for everyone!

Halifax Yoga– Offers many styles including Baptiste Flow!

The Yoga Shala– Traditional Ashtanga from highly trained teachers!

108 Yoga– All levels

If you are ever here I would love to see you at one of my classes, www.jessicahamiltonyoga.ca!

Balancing On Life’s Beam

shadesofpinkmagazine.com

I recently had a personal epiphany about balance in my life, and the lack of it.

I didn’t realize my imbalance until I found myself rushing on Sunday evenings when I didn’t accomplish anything as planned over the weekend. I was grumpy after work when coming home to my disorganized, untouched little suite. I was dissatisfied with my lack in reading, in practicing yoga, and in writing.

So what did I do to try and regain some balance? I chased it. Fast. Only to find after over a month of this desperate and unsuccessful chase, I had to stop. You cannot catch balance no matter how long you chase it for; balance will catch you when you slow down.

But how can we catch ourselves before we lose our balance? When researching answers, I came across a technique in Psychology Today called S.W.E.E.P by Dr. Charles Sophy.

Sophy writes, Balance is a scale, both concrete and imaginary, on which we weigh things that affect all aspects of our lives. To live our lives to the fullest, we must try to find balance in five key areas which together form the acronym S.W.E.E.P.

The five key areas to examine are Sleep, Work, Eating, Emotional expression of self, and Play.

People whose S.W.E.E.P is in check, can teach, guide and love from a position of balance and, quite simply, have better overall relationships. When we strike that balance and make that connection between our minds and our hearts, many benefits follow.

In reading this, I couldn’t believe how seemingly obvious these tasks are. I rolled my eyes as I read about the importance of sleep and eating, I mean, who doesn’t know this stuff?

Nevertheless, as obvious as these five areas are, I slipped up and need to work on a few.

Just like in yoga, some days we can hold Warrior Three without wobbling or struggling. Yet, there are those times when we shake and vibrate to hold the pose for a mere minute. So what do we do? We come out of the pose, come back to our breathing, focus on our intention, and try again. We slow down to catch what we want. And we can all agree, that it works.

For the full S.W.E.E.P article, go here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/side-side/201003/how-keep-your-life-in-balance-using-sweep

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.

A MOVEMENT MEDITATION

“With a body made joyous through movement, the mind is able to relax. With mind/body balance, we can take the power of feeling good and generate compassion.” —The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche (Zen Buddhist)

Movement frees the body and mind. It is one of the most natural and functional movements the body can harness, as it propels us forward in life, literally, as well as metaphorically. Running is often the form of exercise chosen to reduce stress, which brings us greater perspective in connecting us directly with the wisdom and appreciation of our body mechanics.

Most runners will naturally agree, that running is a form of mental therapy, their time to just be… free and joyous.

This begs the question; does the practice running and the practice of mediation have similar affects on the body and mind?  The answer would be yes, and when nurtured can not only improve your state of running, but your state of mind.

The art and practice of meditation and yoga can offer similar benefits; which aid us cultivating stillness and nonjudgmental awareness of the mind’s activities. Even though one is sedentary and the other is not, they both require consistency and discipline. They both are a form of training and both are benefited when the student uses the skill of visualization and control within the moment.

As a  an ultrarunner and founder of RUN for A CAUSE, meditation and yoga are a significant part of my training all year round, as well as for those I coach.

When the mind is trained, the body follows and as many runners will convey, there is a moment in every athlete’s state of performance and consciousness when there is this sense of union within the body. All your senses are heightened and you feel free, even in the presence of fatigue.

Running can be seen as the extension of a basic meditative practice. The next time you head out for a run focus and meditate on your intention and don’t forget to hit the Yoga mat post run for a good stretch.

Next week lets look at the art of meditation in exercise as a preventative tool in prevention of injury and rehabilitation.

Yoga Teacher Telesummit

Have you heard about the 2011 Yoga Teacher Telesummit?

If you haven’t, you don’t want to miss out. It’s completely free and a great way to connect to a variety of yoga teachers from Mark Whitwell, Sadie Nardini, Rolf Gates and many many more.

”Telesummit is designed to motivate, inspire, and educate yoga teachers and dedicated students from all over the planet; to connect and share and inquire; to provide tools for teachers, studio owners, and other yoga-related entrepreneurs to become more authentic and more sustainable, to broaden their reach and focus their attention on what really matters; to create a dialogue between many different styles, traditions, and schools of Yoga to find our common ground, the shared pscyho-spiritual ‘trunk’ that roots the yogic tree into the cosmic ground of our being.”

You can register for FREE on their website at; http://www.yogateachertelesummit.com and view the daily call schedule. They will send you email reminders about the upcoming call with login information, but don’t worry if you can’t make the time, all the call are recorded and available for download.

What an amazing opportunity to hear some fantastic teachers share their insights, without having the cost of attending a weekend workshop. Don’t miss out calls with Mark Whitwell and Susanana Harwood Rubin have already happened.

Yoga A-holes Unite

Define Yoga A-hole you may say? If you read Lia Aprile’s April 19th article with the Elephant Journal, How to Tell if You’re a Yoga A-hole, you may find yourself in many of her descriptions. I know I did and I hate to say it Vancouver, but yoga a-holes are all over this city.

My definition of a yoga a-hole is a self proclaimed yogi who doesn’t actually live up to the true yogi lifestyle . We open with om, stay present with our Kula, maintain gratitude throughout our classes, smile, breathe, sigh. But the moment we step off that mat, we leave our yogic mentality at the door. Rushing to leave the studio, pushing our way through the doors, we don’t smile, our breathing quickens, and we begin to create mental lists of all the things we have and want to do.

In class, we preach we don’t need anything. We could go on living without ever getting any more than we currently have and we’d be fine. Completely fine. But in reality, want and need become interchangeable. We strive to gain. Push our limits. Try and taint fate. And all the things we claim to believe during our practice mean nothing in our real lives.

We talk about being present and gracious. We write about it, share our stories with family and friends, recommend it to those who will benefit from it– but do we live it as we preach it? I know I don’t.

I cannot list the amount of times I have told someone he or she should go to yoga. It will help you stay present, focus on what’s truly important, teach you how to breathe, make you feel better about yourself and your body, place you in deep relaxation…as if I’m more enlightened than them because I practice this in the studio. This make me an a-hole. We must practice this in our daily lives to have the  benefits come to light.

How do we turn off our brains as we do in class and listen to our hearts? How do we carry the skill from our lessons  into the world? I don’t know about you, but I feel I’m in need of a good ass kicking to banish the yoga a-hole from my being and actually practice what I preach.

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)

PLAY. BUILD. REACH. LEARN! How do you practice sustainability in the real world?

Ideas Worth Spreading.  Riveting Talks By Remarkable People, Free The World!

Does this sound familiar? If you guessed Ted.com, then Namaste to you!

Over the course of the last decade through the art and science of Yoga I have sought out Dharana (inner conceptualization and compassionate awareness). Through the service to others and much like Yoga intends – found a place of union with something larger then myself; which we know to be the basic fundamentals of the yamas and niyamas of Yoga teachings. Yet, it is no easy task as the landscape of the global revolution changes daily.

At a cross roads I continually find myself asking, how do we practice sustainability in real life?  Today I ask all those who embody the Yoga way to take their practice off the mat and consider this opportunity…

Imagine for one moment, if we could harness that potential as kids? Imagine for one moment the potential if we START with our kids? And lastly, imagine for one moment we could return and re connect with that child-like potential as adults?

It takes a community to raise a village, therefore empowering kids’ means they don’t even have to be your own! We live in a generation where; yoga, get your green on and sustainability are part of our evolutionary process, WE are passing these teachings onto the next generation! Humanity’s framework is always under construction.

This is what [email protected] is preparing to achieve on Sept 17 2011.  Vancouver will host the conference’s first home. [email protected] is a platform for facilitating opportunities to empower kids and support authentic learning. A gathering of remarkable people with young hearts will aim to share their captivating stories borne from genuine curiosity and bold ideas. Much like Ted.com conference, except with the color and vibrancy of play, build, reach and learn and as adults, I say we embrace our inner kids!

In a recent Ted.com video with Jacqueline Norvogratz, called “Living a Life of Immersion,” she coined this closing statement, and I ask each of you to meditate on it for a moment during your next Dharana practice…

Robert Kennedy once said, “few of us have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and it is in the total of all those acts that the history of this generation will be written.”

If you know a speaker, nominate them! If you have a story to tell please apply @[email protected] Story telling, this is one way we create sustainability in the real world!

Sources:

Ted.com: www.ted.com

[email protected]: www.tedxkidsbc.com/

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