Alignment is a buzz word these days in the yoga world.
Since more and more people are practicing yoga, and more people are speaking out about how yoga has injured them in the past, instructors and practitioners alike are concerned about safety.
And that’s a good thing.
But for all the talk about alignment as it refers to the body, what about the alignment of our thoughts, decisions, and actions?
One of the reasons why the Yoga Sutras are somewhat hard to understand for a first-time reader is because of the presentation and organization of the sutras themselves.
Rather than presenting a chronological order of yoga with clear instructions, the very first chapter sets out to explain the unexplainable – the end goal of yoga, or samadhi.
In fact, it takes an entire chapter and 51 sutras to really define and deconstruct what yoga is. Keep in mind, asana isn’t mentioned once!
Transformation is often touted in the yoga world as an aim for which we practice. In fact, the phrase “transformation starts here” is written on the door of one of the yoga studios where I teach.
But what does that word really mean? What does the process of transformation look like? How do you teach it or guide that experience for someone else?
Are you wondering how to improve your yoga practice? It’s one of the most common questions I get from my students and clients.
It’s also one of the hardest questions to answer because there is no one answer.
Improving your yoga practice is not about learning how to do the postures the “right way” or learning how to hold a handstand and master arm balances.
Improving your yoga practice starts with shifting your perspective, keeping an open mind, and committing to stepping on your mat, literally or figuratively, as often as possible.
For a long time it was a running joke in my family that no matter your ailment yoga could help with that.
Over time everyone understood so it was no longer necessary to say it out loud.
Unfortunately yoga doesn’t help with everything.
In fact, practicing asana doesn’t in and of itself make anything go away.
And, the point isn’t to make things go away.
The point is to be with whatever is.
Some people have told me not to talk about it. That it’s my place as a yoga instructor to spread peace and harmony. That my message must be about love and fairies. That I must ignore reality.
That’s not yoga at all. That’s a continuation of the mess that got us here in the first place.
Yeah, I get it. We’re all sick of it. There’s a lot of anger and resentment and fear.
Encouraging people to escape to yoga is a disservice to students.
For many years, the practice of yoga was learned by dedicated students taught by their guru. Students learned yoga from one teacher or lineage and then either taught those same teachings or continued to study and live life. Today, when we read texts about how to learn yoga, you will always find a statement about the importance of finding a teacher. Presented as fact, this statement leads aspiring yoga practitioners to believe they indeed need to find their “guru.” An ideal of the guru is romanticized and categorized in the minds of many as an “if-then” statement — if I find a guru, then I will become enlightened. The problem with this dichotomy is that the student becomes disempowered by the notion that she can never find success on her own. Students are unable to progress in the true practice of yoga when this idea of the guru guiding practice becomes all-encompassing.
Affirmations are phrases you repeat to yourself over and over again. Repeating these words reminds you of their meaning and the importance of the words. You can use these positive phrases to stay motivated and inspired.
Affirmations can be repeated silently inside your head, said out loud, or written down and hung somewhere visible.
Here’s why I chose yoga as a way of life.
I want you to know my story, not because it has any particular significance to your own trajectory on this path called yoga, but because I want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling like you’re not really sure why you’re practicing yoga.
I’ve already shared a lot of my story on this blog, in my about section, and sometimes in my classes, but what I’m about to share with you here is a little more personal. My own personal reasons for why I continue to choose yoga as a way of life.
Yama Niyama Asana Pranayama Pratyahara Dharana Dhyana Samadhi.
In English (my translation): Be a good person, take care of your Self, be aware of your posture, control your energy, withdraw from your external senses, concentrate, meditate, allow total integration.
These are the steps on the path, outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, to enlightenment.
I have talked about the Yamas and Niyamas a little bit, the whole world is obsessed with posture, albeit not always healthy posture, meditation is gaining popularity, and the other steps are pretty much forgotten.
There are many reasons for this. It’s hard to teach the Yamas and Niyamas unless you’re ready for a self-help course with a philosophy book as a reading requirement. Sense withdrawal is the nicer way of saying sensory deprivation and that is being sold the same way tanning is sold these days. Concentration sounds boring, even though we all know it’s necessary and we could probably use it more then ever what with all the distractions of the internet. Total integration is admittedly optimistic, unrealistic, and metaphysical sounding all at the same time, so I get why people stay away.
Roughly every three months, the season changes. In some places in the world seasonal changes are quite evident. It others, it feels the same for most of the year. I’ve always been a fan of seasons because I like variety. With each new season brings a change in perspective, whether we consciously think about it or not. New fresh fruits and vegetables, new available activities, new temperatures, new clothing to meet those temperatures and associated forms of precipitation, new colors.
When I was little, my sister and I came up with this game that we would play whenever we would go to the ocean (once a year). We would be so excited to get our feet in the sand and our toes wet that we couldn’t wait to put on a bathing suit. Fresh from a 12-hour car ride, we’d run down to the beach, still in our clothes, roll up our shorts even shorter and feel the waves crashing on our feet. Then, we would challenge each other by declaring in delight “Step farther!” and each of us would have to take a giant step forward into the ocean. Whoever chickened out first because they were afraid to get waved on lost. We would giggle and scream and then start all over again to see how far we could get into the ocean without getting scared.
I recently graduated from my 500-hour advanced teacher training. The experience was an intense and deep study not just of yoga but also of myself and my relationship with yoga. As I’ve shared with some of you in my classes, it seems that we are always just beginning our journey – the moment we identify an end-goal is the moment we stray from the very path that will help us achieve it.
Some of you have encouraged me to share some of what I wrote in my lengthy 7,600+ word final exam essays. As I went back and reviewed what I wrote, I found the perfect piece to share with you today. There are so many times I reference the Yoga Sutras in my blog posts, but I’ve never really talked through them in a full dedicated post, so now is the time!
Summer solstice was on Monday, complete with a beautiful strawberry full moon (something I was informed of after the fact and apparently this strawberry stuff only happens once every 70 years!).
Solstices and equinoxes are important to me because they signify a change in season. Just as Mother Nature changes throughout the seasons, so do human beings. Now is a good time to contemplate how your routines, practices, and needs are changing as we officially enter summer.
About a year ago I shared an article about the Ayurvedic perspective on circadian rhythm. In it, I shared how different times in the day have different qualities associated with them, thus making certain times more appropriate for specific activities.
Today, I’m offering up another video for you post-travel. If you forget to stretch during the trip itself, at least take some time to decompress afterward with some yoga you can do in bed.
Last week I got the amazing opportunity to help assist a workshop at a corporate event, where my fellow teacher and I were tasked with teaching people yoga you can do at work.
A few weeks ago, I learned that I had been doing a yoga pose wrong for the entirety of my time practicing yoga. It took about 7 years for anyone to tell me otherwise, so I want to share the knowledge with you here today so that you can be an informed yoga practitioner.
Sometime within the last year, a friend of mind asked about a nagging ankle injury. He had just recently gotten into yoga but wasn’t sure if yoga was helping or hurting his ankle recovery. Specifically, he wanted to know how you know when you need to strengthen, stretch, or rest.
Ever wondered what the difference is between a yin class and a restorative class? Or maybe you even wonder what this yin yoga is in the first place!
Yin yoga is a relatively new “form” of yoga that has become popular in the past decade or so.
While the practice itself has always existed, the practice as it’s offered today in studios across the world has evolved. Today I’d like to offer you my perspective on the yin practice and give you a little experience.
As the world becomes more complex, the universe is sending subtle signals to simplify.
It seems a lot of the world is starting to question the complexity we’ve built into our ways of doing things.
It’s that time of year again!
Another season, another equinox. Another opportunity to reflect, set intentions, and commit to right action.
I thought I was getting okay at being uncomfortable.
The universe decided otherwise.
As I sit here writing this post, listening to the music of the chimes produced by a gentle breeze, serenaded by chirping birds and the rustle of squirrels playing in the bamboo, I look upon the back of my house.
It’s a heavy subject and one most Americans don’t feel comfortable contemplating.
And yet, it’s the only ultimate truth in the world. And one we have very little control over.
So it’s funny that we spend most of our lives trying to control everything around us.
For peace. For happiness. For health. These are the reasons we often cite for why we do what we do. Why we believe what we believe.
If you’ve ever experienced low back pain before, you know that it ranges in severity from mildly annoying to so severe you have to take off work because you can’t get out of bed.