The practice of yoga is a constant journey and evolution. This blog is about experiencing and learning through the journey. There are countless opportunities for discovery, challenge, enjoyment and comic relief. It’s a journey that will never end, always a Yogini in Progress. Enjoy the journey!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter Yoga Renewal

It's that time of the year when New Year's Resolutions are all the rage. Forget the resolutions and join me on a Winter Yoga Renewal.

About five years ago, my sister introduced our family to Kangeiko. This is the traditional intensive Winter training practiced by many martial arts. The purpose is to commit to strengthening and training the body, mind and spirit. The first year, Kangeiko felt like a major punishment, but it's now become a welcome New Year's ritual (especially due to the unending buffet of holiday treats). Each year the commitment to the practice is intensified and the residual affects are noticeable. When you spend a month focusing on change with purpose and intention you can really make it happen.

Unlike New Year's Resolutions, several Kangeiko changes we have made throughout the years have become new habits for our family. We were introduced to agave as an alternative sweetener, found a yummy bread without high-fructose corn syrup, have eaten more vegetarian meals and regularly purge our closet (not enough though). Last year, I applied Kangeiko to my yoga practice and it was a really nice fit. It really helped to change my attitude, my physical strength and focus.

If you'd like to join in, here are the guidelines. I would love to hear how you incorporate them into your lifestyle, practice and goals.

Winter Yoga Renewal

The Winter Yoga Renewal begins on Monday, January 2 and ends on Tuesday, January 31.

Commit to practicing everyday. Try doing some form of asana every day. Fifteen minutes of sun salutations in the morning and 10 minutes of moon salutations in the evening are a great way to find daily practice. If you regularly practice, commit to a full practice 5-7 days of the week with 1-2 of those as a personal home practice.

Commit to “clean eating”. Be conscious of the food that fuels your body. Avoid processed foods, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and added chemicals. If you don't know what is listed on the label, you probably don't want it in your body. Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, fried foods, sweets, table salt and soda. Consider reducing or removing the animal proteins in your diet and increasing the amounts of fruits and vegetables. (A great an easy reference for being more conscious about your food sources is “Food Rules” by Michael Pollan. There are tidbits for every eater – omnivores to vegans.)

Rejuvenate your spirit. Pinpoint one thing that is a drain on your energy or spirit and make a change. Meditate, journal, sing, spend time with loved ones or dedicate time to a cause that is important to you. Plan a date night or family game night. Reduce or eliminate your use of tv and electronics.

Avoid drugs. Take nothing illegal and avoid over the counter medications if possible. This includes pain medications and cold remedies. (If you are under the care of a physician, please consult them first.) Try alternate methods to alleviate discomfort like relaxation, meditation, cold compress, etc.

Set 3 to 5 goals for yourself. Make a commitment to make a change. Set at least one goal for your mind, body and spirit. Some examples:

  • Mind – Learn something new. Attend a cooking class or geneology workshop. Take a different style of yoga (ashtanga, Bikram, yin, etc.) Read a book on mudras.
  • Body – Set a goal to advance a specific asana (i.e. press up to wheel/urdhva danurasana or float to caturanga from bakasana). If you are over or under weight make a plan to make a change. Engage in positive body-image self-talk.
  • Spirit – Purge your closets and drawers and donate. Drive without road rage. Meditate or pray daily.

Infractions – No one is perfect and you may fall off the wagon a time or two. Don't let that derail you. If you misstep, cheat or lose your way, consider offering up 20 caturanga push-ups, navasana sit-ups or donation to get you back on track.

I hope you join me on this Winter Yoga Renewal. Be sure to let me know how your are doing throughout the month. By the way, the best chocolate cake I ever had was in February, a couple of years ago, just after a month of Kangeiko!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

8 Things For Beginning Yogis

Being a Yoga Teacher is like being a parent in many ways. One major parallel is wanting to share everything you know, so your students can avoid the same pitfalls or learn the same lessons you have. As with parenting, these pitfalls and lessons have to be learned at your own pace with your own experience. So, here's some food for thought on your journey and a few things I hope you learn along the way.
  1. That's exactly why you should practice. The number one reason people tell me when they start yoga is, “I'm not flexible.” You know what? Most of the people in the room started out in the exact same place as you did. Give it time. With consistent practice, you will notice your body begin to release and before long you may even touch your toes.

  2. No one said it would be easy. Basic Yoga does not mean Easy Yoga. Basic yoga can be very challenging. Focusing on your breath, physical posture, intention, following the instructor, listening to your body, there's a lot going on in these classes. You will also find beauty in the basics. Taking the time to really understand your body, your practice, your limitations, your natural abilities, your breath and your intentions will help you in the long run to find and maintain a fulfilling practice.

  3. What's your favorite flavor? Yoga teachers and classes come in all shapes, sizes, intensities, disciplines and music preferences. It's like flavors of ice cream. There are some that most everyone likes; your vanillas, chocolates and strawberries. And there are some who are acquired tastes. Your best friend may rave about an instructor and you may or may not agree and that's okay. If you are in class and it's not your favorite flavor, maybe take the opportunity to see if there's anything you do like about it or if there is something you can take away from it.

  4. Two steps forward, one step back. When you are learning something new, there's a tendency to want to plow forward, move onward and upward. But, it's worth taking a step back every once in a while. Just because you can bring your hand to the floor in parsvokonasana (side angle), doesn't mean you should every single time you visit that pose. From my personal experience, I was able to cultivate more length, stability and space in this pose when I picked my hand up from the floor and moved my forearm back to my thigh. I was able to really focus on the stability in my legs, lengthening my side body and opening through the heart. This helped me cultivate the ability to bind in the pose and find energetic radiance from head to toe.

  5. You want me to spin what where and press what to what? The prompting and queues that teachers delivered are intended for the class as a whole. They may or may not apply to you. Those queues may not even make sense. As your practice matures, so will your understanding of prompts and how or if to use them. My evolution of understanding queuing goes something like this; a) I have no idea what she's talking about I should probably just breath, b) Okay, I get that you want me to press my right hip forward, but honey it's not going anywhere, c) Ohhhhhh, that's what you meant.

  6. Step out of your comfort zone. – There are lots of ways to advance your practice that don't include harder poses. A few to try include; move to a different spot in the room, practice with your hair down, try a new instructor or new style, eliminate fidgeting and adjusting, tone down the intensity of your practice, or try practicing at home.

  7. Seek and ye shall find. – There is so much information out there. Decide what you want to learn more about and ask questions of your instructor, read a book/article/blog or take a workshop. You can delve into the asanas (postures), mythology, meditation, sutras, 8-limbs, doshas, or Ayurveda to name a few. The topics are endless.

  8. Physical, emotional, spiritual. It is your practice and your motivation and experience can take many forms. Your practice can be purely a physical pursuit, it can be a great work-out. Your practice can be a vehicle to release or affirm emotion. You can also welcome your faith and spiritual beliefs to your practice.

What information, advice or tidbit was helpful to you as a beginner? What would you want a new yoga student to know?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Upside-Down: A Weekend with Brock and Krista Cahill

I had the opportunity recently to attend two classes/workshops with Brock and Krista Cahill. The married California-based yogi team ventured to Omaha for a weekend of workshops at my home studio and made a BIG impression. I have to admit, before they came I had preconceived notions about the class and the teachers in general. I had heard a little about their style from other yogis and the online videos gave me the impression that their practice was mostly about showmanship and tricks. I am happy to say I was very wrong.

Both classes started with just natural discussion and interaction. There were no prepared speaches or diatribes, just getting to know one another. I was impressed immediately that they quickly learned the students names and became invested and rooted in our yoga community. When they talked about their practice it all made sense. Brock and Krista both put a lot of focus on handstands in their physical practice. From an outsider this can look like just tricks and show boating, but to hear them talk about it I realized that it was about focus and intention. It is very easy to allow your mind to drift during yoga, but with handstands you have no choice but to constantly focus on and scan the body for harmony and of course, to breathe. All of your energy has to go toward that practice, there is no room for partial effort, partial thought or partial presence.

The classes were incredibly challenging and loaded with lots of arm balances and core work. During the classes both Brock and Krista were extremely encouraging in their feedback, queuing and assisting. At one point or another they assisted every yogi in the room. My favorite assist was from Brock in scorpion. For scorpion you find handstand and then bring your heart forward, reaching past your hands, then you bend the knees and reach the toes towards the crown of the head. It is very easy (like most backbends) to collapse into the small of your back as you try to achieve a deep backbend. I was playing with this pose at the wall, when Brock placed his hand on the top of my feet allowing me to press into them, alleviate the low back collapse and extend the spine for a fuller backbend. It felt so good and so secure!

Spending the weekend upside-down in handstand made me think about my practice differently. First, the alignment, I've never focused so much on pulling my front ribs in and resisting my arms forward, but I have found more integrity and focus in my practice. Second, I realized that those ultra-challenging poses and transitions do keep me incredibly focused on alignment, breath and intention. And finally, the weekend was very humbling and encouraging. I left feeling like there was still so much to learn (and very, very sore). Later I found out that the classes we participated in were “level 1”. Maybe in ten years or so, I'll be ready for “level 2”.

If you have the opportunity to practice with Brock and Krista, I highly recommend it. You can follow these gravity-defying yogis on Facebook (BrockandKrista Cahill) or via their websites below.


Photos courtesy of Mary Clare Sweet.