“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of my favorite poems is by Ralph Waldo Emerson “…to know even one life has breathed easier, because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” These words are a guiding force in my life. As the physical part of my yoga practice has deepen, so has the spiritual. I believe we are all interconnect, each of us a single thread in an incredible tapestry. The Sanskrit definition of yoga means “union”. In the physical practice of yoga, it means union of breath, body and mind. In the spiritual practice, it means union with the divine, the life force that exists in each of us. We acknowledge this every time we say namaste to each other.
As a teacher I want my students, not only to be fit and flexible, but also to live their lives with a sense of overall well-being. So part of my practice as an instructor is to serve, with compassion. I try to make myself accessible, approachable, to listen without judgement, and help whenever I can, even if it’s a hug and a smile. I believe we rise by lifting others. If we are all connected, then if you’re ok, I’m ok, that’s how it works.
A big part of why I am this way, is because of the example my family gave me. Growing we did not have a lot of money, although I never felt it, because they made sure I had everything I needed. My father had skipped town early on and my mother barely made ends meet. Thankfully my grandparents we’re instrumental in raising me. Nevertheless, my family was always helping others. Always. There was never a time I can remember when they were not doing something for somebody, which they still do to this day. It made my world feel rich, abundant, regardless of any material possession.
Recently a friend gave me this One Person Can Make a Difference poem (read below) on my birthday. I held back tears, truly that someone would think of me when they saw this. Then I remembered my mission statement. It helped remind me what I was capable of, and why I started this journey. I am not perfect, far from it. The layers of struggle I’ve had to work through, sometimes by my own design, rivals the best of them. Nevertheless I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, because service is the highest form of yoga. Namaste.
During the weekend of September 21th through 23rd I attended Love Yoga Fest 2018 in Falmouth, Cape Cod at the Seacrest hotel, with two friends. Anytime I attend an event like this, I try to simply be open to the whole experience, instead of critical. It’s exhausting to continuously rate and judge every single thing. Life is more beautiful and enjoyable, if you allow yourself to be present and allow yourself to experience.
I was happy to see that Cape Cod has a thriving, vibrant yoga community. There were people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds attending, some men, mostly women. There was a wide range of classes to choose from, including lectures that covered the spiritual side of yoga, as well as the physical practice. There were classes on nutrition, philosophy and Ayurveda. I felt like I came away with a pearl or two for every class.
A few of my favorites were Kevin Courtney (www.kevinjcourtney.com) with the Yoga of Yamas. I love that he’s bringing the teaching of these spiritual laws to yoga practitioners not just instructors, usually these are covered in our 200hour teacher training. It gives the practitioners an opportunity to understand that yoga is not only an exercise, it is a way of life. The Yamas can be practiced every day, regardless of your religion, they are guides for your soul. I loved the condor of his presentation. It was just the inspiration I needed on my continued spiritual journey.
Emily K. Griffin (www.emilykgriffin.com) conducted the Ayurveda class. Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. She did a great job giving an overview of a system that works specifically with each persons’ individual personality and body chemistry. She gave us, great, basic self-care tips, for every body to use. I particularly loved the tongue scraping instructional, and all of its benefits. I was happy to know that some of them I already practice regularly, and plan to add the others. Her class inspired me to take at closer look at my “self” care. I learned it is not a one-formula-fits-all.
I also enjoyed Melissa Boyd’s (www.melissaboyd.net) Yoga Mindfulness and Malas. Her enthusiasm was uplifting. I love when people share something that they are passionate about, and it exudes from their whole being, that alone is inspiring. She covered a lot of different areas in her class, however, the one I loved most, were her lessons on the mala (www.malacollective.com). She gave everyone in her a class a mala as a gift. I’ve been wearing it every since, and have already started using it. Meditation is a practice that is slowly becoming a big part of my life. My mala will help me stay on course, and true to my path.
There were many other classes I enjoyed too, overall I thought they did a great job creating interesting, meaningful classes. The vendors were wonderful too. So many beautiful, inspirational apparel, jewelry and artwork. I wish I could buy something from all of them. These vendor are people who put their heart, soul and money into their products.
There were only a couple of things that could have been a little better. First the SUP classes that were cancelled, the instructor could have stay to personally let people know, instead of letting them show up and having to figure out it was cancelled, not cool. Also the Saturday night fire at the beach was advertise as a “bonfire” and we were expecting a rip-roaring fire, instead it was a propane backyard fire table. Again not a big deal, however we were a little disappointed. It was a cool night, and a bonfire would have been awesome. They should hire a professional company to do that next time. It would be perfect! Again, small inconsequential in the big scheme.
All in all, it was a wonderful three-days of contemplation, inspiration, yoga and growth. It was also wonderful to share time with the two lovely women I went with. We had an opportunity to get to know each other better. There was lots of laughter, honest conversations and tears. Tears because one of our friend’s mother passed away on the last day we were there. Nevertheless, we were comforted that she was in the best possible frame of mind and spirit (thanks to Love Yoga Fest) to receive the news. The universe works in divine ways, every day.
There are many different yoga styles out there today. In addition, instructors love to create their own unique version. Choosing a yoga style can be confusing. Let’s try to clear it up a little. It starts with Patanjali’s eight-limbs of yoga, which encompasses both the physical practice of yoga and the spiritual. The western world has developed the physical practice of yoga called Asana. The western approach focuses more on the physical benefits of yoga, especially classes associated with gyms.
Under Asana, they are different yoga styles. Some classes combine styles, while other styles are strict like Bikram Yoga. Even within a particular style like Vinyasa Yoga, you can have variations such as a Fit Flow or Slo Flow. Each yoga style has something unique to offer the practitioner, depending on the level of vigor, exercise and intensity. Choosing a style depends on different things, for example how hard you want to work, what rhythm you want to move with, or the level you want to practice at. There is no right or wrong, only what’s right for you and your body at the present moment.
Ten Examples of a Yoga Style:
There are other yoga styles that are not on this list, like Yin Yoga, Athletic Yoga and Aerial Yoga to name a few. As yoga has evolved, so has the styles. I like to encourage my students to try different yoga styles, as well as different instructors. Each instructor can teach the same yoga style differently. If you’re looking for a yoga style that incorporates more of the spiritual aspects, then you are better off going to a yoga studio. It can be more expensive, however it is a more well-rounded experience for mind, body and spirit.
The intimacy of Yoga. What does it mean? Yoga becomes sacred when you start to develop a relationship of love and respect with your body. They always refer to yoga as the mind-body connection because your mind is focusing on your body, and through that focus and attention you begin to discover that you are more than just a body. Your breath becomes your spirit, linking body and mind. Yoga is not just the connection between mind and body, it is the connection of mind, body and spirit, or shall we say “self”.
As you quiet the mind and focus inward you uncover the “self”, the presence within that has always been there, and will always be there. A presence that is infinite, boundless and timeless. A “self” which is connected to something bigger, more expansive then just the constructs of the body or mind. If you tune in with non-judgement during your practice, you will begin to feel the self. Its beauty and power cannot be measured, only felt.
That “self” is the essence of you. An essence that is omnipresent like the oxygen we breathe. We do not see oxygen, nevertheless it is always present. It sustains us. It is the same with our spirit, our self. Most of us focus outward, using judgement, material objects, titles and other superficial measures, trying to find our self-worth, when all we need to do is search within. Our self is whole, it is complete, there is nothing missing, there is nothing wrong. All of the issues we create in our head is false. I love that quote don’t believe everything you think.
Yoga is a journey through the self to the self. I have often said “music and dance saved my life, while yoga healed it”. It is true. Yoga help me find my way back to my spirit, to uncover my soul, with every breath, every twist, every warrior, and every tree. It asked me to be presence and accept myself as I am. It is that process of showing up, the discipline of being present and the commitment to care for my “self” with compassion and non-judgement. I AM HERE right now and I am ok just as I am. There are no labels on you mat, no discrimination, you’re not playing one of your many roles, it’s just you.
If you allow it, compassion will evolve and love will replace doubt, that’s when real healing begins. It is a connection through the self, to the self. So when you feel disconnected, lost or at odds with your life…find your way back on your mat. All of the answers are there, within, located in the essence that is the self.
Proper alignment is key in yoga. It keeps you safe, makes your practice stronger and it helps to navigate balance. Every time I teach I am constantly looking around the room. I look to see if there are any corrections I can illustrate, even if you’re pose is correct you can still benefit from checking in to your form. These three poses, Downward Facing Dog, Warrior II and Triangle are beginner poses and practiced in almost every yoga class. Review each pose and the comments below, so next time you find yourself in one of these poses you can be mindful of your alignment.
Downward Facing Dog:
A lot of beginners practice Downdog incorrectly. They stop somewhere between Downdog and a high plank. This puts a lot of undue pressure on the shoulders, and sometimes causes injury. In many pictures you will see the heels on the floor, however if your hamstrings are very tight, which is common, it’s impossible to do. You cannot force it, forcing it is counterproductive. I like the suggestion to add a bend to the knees, even with a slight bend in the knees, the chest should press back towards the thighs. Also I love the way her head is lined up with the ears next to the biceps. She not looking under and she’s not looking forward. This position is ideal. I also like that she mentions to “press the floor away from you”. This is another key factor in doing this pose correctly. Downdog stretches all of the back line muscles, from the feet through the achilles tendon, back of the legs, lower back, shoulders to the wrist and hands. It also becomes a place to rest during a vigorous flow.
Warrior II is a standing hip opener, a leg strengthener and a great pose for practicing balance. I love all of the suggestions here. One thing to keep in mind is the width of the stance. If you draw a vertical line from her left wrist to the outside of her foot you can see they more or less line up, same in front. She is working at her maximum stance. This is what you want to strive for. Many beginners work with a short stance so you don’t get the full benefits, however there’s a balance issue they are still trying to master. Warrior II looks simply, and if you hold the pose for a while you will feel how powerful it is. My instructor would say “practice your warrior…from a place of victory.”
Here are great alignment recommendations for Triangle, another common pose practiced in most classes. In my class we have the front hand in front of the foot or in back. I don’t feel either is wrong. When you’re in triangle, image your whole body against a wall, that will help to line you up properly. This is another challenging pose, if you’re doing it right, in terms of balance and core strength. If you were to draw a horizontal line across her spine, you will see that it is nearly parallel to the floor, that’s where you want to be. Also start with your gaze ahead, and then when you’re feeling steady, turn your gaze up to the ceiling, it will help stabilize your balance.
You can practice these poses hundreds of time and each time is an opportunity to stand stronger, work deeper, and have more balance. The ability to feel strong and steady in each pose is a great goal, that’s why yoga is called a “practice”. 🙂