Being Still and Quiet

Today I tried something totally different. I did my yoga practice in the quiet. Usually I play music – anything that fits my mood. Sometimes I listen to mellow stuff like Norah Jones and some days I rock out with Pink and Christina. But today, for some reason as I entered my yoga room the idea came to me to just be quiet.

Now, for those of you who know me, you know that being quiet and still is a real challenge for me! I have an opinion on just about everything and I’m not shy about sharing. And stillness is challenging for me.  Yin is not my favorite class because I want to MOVE, sweat, get my heart beating and burn calories.

So as I began to move I was surprised by how lovely the quiet was. My window was open a bit so I could hear the birds waking up and chirping hello to each other. I could hear cars making their way into the beehive. An owl hooted low and mellow…and I could hear my breath.

When is the last time you heard your breath during practice? And I don’t mean….”pant, pant, huff and puff Yeah of course I hear my breath!” I mean a slow measured inhale and exhale with each move….keeping the focus internal. REALLY taking time to hold each pose for 5 slow breaths.. holding the pose in stillness for longer than usual..tuning in to the muscles being used and making any small adjustments that are needed.

Of course, I wasn’t able to stay focussed the whole time. My mind did wander a bit…mostly to YOU. Whenever I practice I’m always thinking about what I will share with you. What is it that I learned today that I can tell you about? What message does the Spirit have for us? So YOU were right there with me this morning!

We are so busy in our every day lives. We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves. TV, cell phones, music, books, magazines…conversations….None of these things are bad in and of themselves but when was the last time you were just quiet and still? When is the last time you connected to the voice within? When is the last time you listened to your heart and heard your breath?

Krishnamacharya said, “Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.

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Reveille Yoga – Riverside CA

Reveille – The bugle call first thing in the morning to wake you. The “get up and get your day started right now” push that we all need each morning to energize, awaken and motivate us to get a move on! Reveille Yoga in downtown Riverside, California is where I found my wake up call last week.

As Jenny Montenegro walked into the room I wondered if she is from somewhere tropical – somewhere like Belize or Portugal. Her skin is golden brown, she has long dark hair and when she smiles the light reaches up into her brown eyes. Jenny is an artist. On the mat and off. She has an MFA in Studio Art & Design from UC/San Bernardino. And that flair, that artist’s style is evident in her yoga practice as well.

She started us off with a short, gentle meditation and then moved us smoothly into a challenging flow that incorporated Suria Namaskar B – or Sun Salutation B. As Jenny guided us in her soft, gentle voice I found myself challenged and sweating more than usual!

I tried to chalk it up to the California weather – It Is HOTTER there. And then I tried to tell myself that Jenny is much younger than I…..but the truth is probably closer to the fact that I don’t practice enough on my own. The ladies to either side of me seemed to be just fine! Sure I teach a full load of classes (9 per week right now) but practicing on my mat – on my own is not something I push myself to do enough. Is it ever enough?

As we came to the end of practice Jenny said it was time for inversions. I mentally kicked myself for requesting Sirsasana at the beginning of class when she asked if anyone had a pose they wanted to include. I was tired, but being the brave, badass, sometimes crazy yogi than I am, I pulled it off. Two Shaky, rocking, weak headstands – Hooray!

Reveille is a lovely studio located in the historic down town core of Riverside. It is just steps away from the historic and amazing Mission Inn.  It’s a great area to walk and check out the local shops. Wear shorts and flip flops because It’s warm and drop in to a class with Jenny! I promise you’ll get your wake up call!

Yoga for a Healthy Back – St. Simons Island Georgia

Yes, my back is still bothering me and YES it still bothers me! LOL. Dang it! I’m a yoga teacher! I’m supposed to be fit and healthy and flexible! I’m not supposed to be cringing when I bend over to pick up something or hold my palms to my lower back as I move from sitting to standing. It’s making me feel OLD! It’s been a week and I still have a small pain in my lower right back that just won’t GIVE. Thankfully Balance Wellness Studio offers a class to give me more ease.

Yoga for a Healthy Back is led by Karen Lucas. When I first met Karen I had the feeling that she could see right through me. You know, that feeling that a mother gives you? Like she knows what you’re thinking and what you’ve been up to and there’s no way to hide it? I found out later that Karen is a retired school teacher – Aha! That’s where that came from!

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(Miss Karen)

As Karen led us through the postures I had difficulty staying present. I felt frustrated by what I couldn’t do. At one point we were sitting with our knees bent. We were then directed to hold in our core and slowly lie back on the mat. I could go back about 10 inches but then my back started to hurt and I needed to use my hands to help lower myself down.

What felt best was a supine spinal twist with the knee straightened. For those of you non-yogis out there I’ll explain. Lie down on your back and lift the right leg straight up to the ceiling, place a strap around the ball of this foot, hold the strap in the left hand and allow the leg to drop across the body as much as possible keeping the leg straight. The right arm moves out straight from the shoulder to the right and the left leg lies straight down the mat. You can use a bolster or a rolled blanket to rest the right foot on if you like. Then do the other side as well.

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We held this stretch for a few minutes. This can be an intense stretch in the hamstring, glute, side waist and shoulder depending on how tight you are and where the pain is located. This stretch for me felt like someone pulling really stiff taffy from my lower right back all the way to the middle of my right thigh. It was so good I almost cried.

What I really love about being the student in class it that it puts me inside the minds of MY students. I have had students who were hurting or stiff and I’m sure they felt exactly like I feel now: “frustrated with what they couldn’t do” and impatient to get better – to be able to do more!

How many times have we heard “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible” ?Well, DUH how do you think you get flexible? You must keep at it.  No one changes overnight. With routine practice we WILL become more flexible and we WILL become stronger and we WILL become more capable.

And finally, It’s a good reminder to tell my students that it’s ok to NOT do every asana – especially if it hurts! If someone is hurting we must be aware of modifications for the asanas. If we can modify the pose for them, they will feel some sense of accomplishment and have a place from which they can work towards the full posture.

Yoga really is for EVERY body (not just skinny white women and super flexible ex-athletes) And it is my job to make sure that I make yoga accessible for everyone. I want my students to feel a sense of accomplishment and growth and to have fun wih yoga! I need to help them be patient with the process – even if patience is not MY strong suit!  – LOL

Signed, Impatient with my back pain in Georgia – Hugs y’all.

Still learning, Still growing, Still practicing

 

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Build a Practice

As a yoga instructor I struggle with maintaining a daily practice. It’s easy to feel like there’s not enough time in the day. Of course, when I do practice I find I feel happier, more connected and balanced and I find that I have more to share with my students.

So, to help myself begin again with a daily practice I started a 21 day Yoga Gypsy Challenge to all of my followers on Instagram and Facebook.  Check it out to see pictures each day of me practicing where ever I may be.

Since we all feel the time squeeze I wanted to offer you an easy way to begin a practice.  I have put together 7 poses that you can try each day to build a practice so that you too can get onto your mat.

Day One

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Sukhasana – Easy Pose

Today I just want you to sit. Find a quiet spot, get down on the ground and cross your ankles. Pull your feet in as close as possible.  Sit tall, feel your spine lengthening and turn your palms up towards the sky. Breathe in and out slowly through your nose and feel the stress and worries of the day rolling off of your shoulders. Move your awareness inward, focussing on the way your body feels and listen to the rhythm of your breath.

If you do nothing other than sit here, breathe and let your mind be free – you are practicing yoga.

Day Two

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Uttanasana – Forward Fold

On day two sit in Sukhasana for as long as you like and then add-on Uttanasana.  I use this pose ALL the time! I am one of those people who has to battle constantly with tight hamstrings and folding forward helps with that. The only problem is that every morning my body resets to tight and I have to start all over again! EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Roll down slowly – chin, shoulders, one vertebrae at a time, give the knees a little bend so as not to strain the back. Hold at the bottom for a breath and then roll back up – chin comes up last. Take a breath at the top and do it again! Then on the third fold hold it for a breath or two – pay attention to how low you can reach – be the observer – don’t judge or be negative about your body.

Day Three

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Starfish

On day three sit in Sukhasana for as long as you like, forward fold a while and then add-on Starfish. I love this pose because of how it makes my heart feel! When I stand all spread out like that I can’t help but feel that the universe is shining it’s light right onto my face and chest with love and acceptance. I love to close my eyes and tilt my chin up to the sky feeling all the joy I need flowing into my hands and spirit. It’s a very “Hallelujah” moment.

If you’ve never been to a church service where people raise their hands in praise it is a wonder to behold. I get the same feeling here: Life is good, Living is good, Love is present, I am valued. I have a purpose, I belong, I AM enough! And if you happen to have a day where you are not feeling these things then try this pose.

Take a wide stance, plant your feet firmly, lift your arms and send your palms toward the sky, stretch tall and lift your chin. Reach for all the love, happiness and acceptance you need – It’s right here for you always, every day!

Day Four

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Adho Mukho Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog

You get the idea right? Sukhasana, Uttanasana, Starfish and then add-on Down Dog. Down Dog is such a good stretch. It stretches the entire back body from my heels, up the back of my legs, to my lower back, shoulders and arms. I always spread my fingers wide and try to push the floor forward. I also make sure my feet are all the way at the back of the mat so my heels are off the ground and then I try to push them down. Your feet should be far enough back so that you can drop your hips down into plank (the top of a push up) without readjusting your feet or hands.

Day Five

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Vasisthasana – Side Plank

On day five you will do the previous 4 poses and then add-on Side Plank. From Down Dog you will move forward to plank (top of a push up) you will then roll over to the right stacking your right shoulder over your right hand and stacking your left foot on top of your right. This is a great core work out. Be sure to lift the hips and not allow them to sag down toward the floor. As you feel stronger you can maybe even lift the top leg like I have in the picture above. Hold side plank for a few breaths. You will feel your side waist really working, then go back to plank and down dog….Then do the other side.

Day Six

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Vrksasana – Tree Pose

Today you will add-on tree pose. Balance is one of the things that we all need to work on so give this one a try. Stand on one foot and bring the other foot up. Press it against the calf or higher if you like but avoid the knee. Really pull the tummy in and tuck your bum under as it will help pull the legs together. Hands can be in prayer pose in front of your chest, out to the side or raised like branches. Be sure to do both sides!

Day Seven

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Savasana – Corpse Pose

And on the seventh day you get to rest! Well, do all the other poses in order and then rest.  Do you remember as a kid, lying in the grass staring up at the clouds trying to pick out shapes? This is very much like that. We usually close our eyes though and let the breathing become shallow, arms out to the sides, palms face up, legs spread slightly. Return to the breath, focus inward and let your mind be blank – no worries, no stress – just peace.

So there you go, a very easy plan to build a yoga practice into your life. 7 poses you can build on that will work your entire body in a short amount of time leaving you feeling stronger, more flexible, calmer and happier! I hope you enjoy! Happy practicing!

Yoga in Belize/Dreams Come True

As I stepped onto the white sandy beach of Southwest Caye on Glovers Reef my body flushed with goose bumps as I realized that my dreams were finally coming true. I had been moving toward this beach for the last 3 years. When I became a yoga teacher the idea came to me how awesome it would be to travel to exotic locations to teach yoga! I had already taught some in Costa Rica and Croatia but this was different! This was my intention coming to life! I looked around and took in my surroundings: beautiful blue water, light breeze, coconut trees and I thought…..”OH THIS is gonna be Goooood!”

I was unsure what to expect as far as the clients who would be joining us on Glover’s Reef during my two week stay. Would they be seasoned yogis? Would they be totally new to yoga? Would they even want to come to class?  Of course, it’s the same with any yoga class and I try to remember that whomever is meant to be there will be there.  I mean, jeez it’s not like there’s nothing else to do! We are in this gorgeous place! They might want to sleep in or read or just sit and watch the ocean.

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There were several locations on the island where we could practice depending on the weather but by far my favorite location was the dock. We would join there with our steaming mugs of coffee or tea and our yoga mats, watch the sunrise and set our intention for the day. Glover’s Reef is a magical place. It’s impossible NOT to be grateful to be here. I mean just look at it!

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Practicing outdoors is very different than teaching inside a studio. Here we are surrounded by natures beauty: the sunrise, hermit crabs crawling along the beach, fish jumping or pelican’s plopping down into the water, maybe even a boat passing by. At first I thought it would be harder to focus on the practice but I found that it actually made the practice more spiritual. We were somehow able to absorb the beauty of the place and yet focus inward. Class became meditative, slower, more meaningful.

The word Yoga means Union. With the ultimate goal being union with the Body, Mind and Spirit. This was my goal for practice each morning. I not only wanted each person to get a good stretch and work their muscles. I also wanted them to be able to feel union within themselves and with this place. I wanted to facilitate connection with the energy of the island. I wanted them to be able to hear the Ham/Sa of the waves and realize this is the same sound of our breath.

I kept my voice low, the focus internal with reminders toward gratitude, presence and joy. The physical Asana progressed gently each day with an assessment class on the first day so I could see where each client was in their body. Then I changed things up each day to keep it interesting and slightly challenging. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed it.  How do I know this? You know it’s a good class when you offer your Namaste and no one moves for about a minute. No one gets up off their mat and hurries to breakfast……they sit, slowly blink their eyes open and smile. They want to extend the bliss for just a little bit longer…..It was goooood!

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The two weeks went by way too fast. Before I knew it, it was time to pack up my yoga pants and head back home. As a teacher I am always looking for the meaning or lesson behind things. Something to share with others. Some form of encouragement everyone can relate to. So, what is the message here? The message is: Dreams do come true people! Make a plan, write it down and move toward your dream every day! Tell the universe what you want – say it out loud! Say it often and watch the universe conspire to make it come true! You make your life what you want it to be! YOU have the power to choose, set your direction and make your life a Dream Come TRUE!!!!!!!

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Old Woman on my Mat!

Who was that old woman on my mat last night? Someone came in and got on my mat replaceing me with a version of myself that was stiffer, tired more easily, wanted the teacher to go slower and had a hard time keeping up! It was awful! I want to blame it on the lateness of the class or the fact that we’ve been having really cold weather. But I have a feeling it was neither of those things.

Please tell me I’m not the only one experiencing this? Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m no spring chicken – 47 in fact. But I’ve never felt this way on my mat before. As a teacher, I have said in class many times, “We have to use the body we bring to the mat today.” And now I know how that feels because yesterday it was not the usual “me” on my mat.

I had the pleasure of practicing at Maya Shakti in Anacortes with Erica who has been teaching for about a month. Erica is super fit and has an easy smile that she used to encourage this old lady to keep moving last night. Erica was trained at 3 Ohms Yoga in Bellingham in the Baptiste tradition. The class was a hot power flow and BOY did we flow! We did about 20 chatturangas and even that was modified because Erica noticed that we were getting tired. That’s a good teacher right there! One who is aware of how her class is handling the practice. The thing I plan to borrow from class last night was Erica’s use of balance postures linked together. She had us do Hand to Big Toe (modified) right into Warrior III followed by Half Moon. Oh my aching Piriformis! It was very challenging but fun too!

I’m not sure what was going on with the old lady last night but it wasn’t fun. I hope she stays hidden for a while longer because I don’t want to live my life feeling achey, slow and tired. So, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to lace up my tennis shoes and take the old lady for a walk and make her sweat to thank her for last night!

Namaste Y’all – The light in me thinks the light in you is freaking awesome!

Yoga is what you make of it.

ImageThere are BIG, BIG changes in store for me! In seven weeks I will move from where I have been living for 14 years, I will leave behind my house, my pets, my garden and most of my possessions. I will also be leaving behind my studio and all of my students. Even though this is a lot of change and starting over is a bit scary I know this is the right move. My heart tells me so.

So, on the eve of leaving my students I want to share some personally meaningful things with them (and you of course). Since I have seven weeks left, I decided to pick one topic per week to share. Something I have learned from practicing Yoga.

Week 7: Yoga is what you make of it. 

I have found over the years of practicing that yoga is what I make of it, what I bring to it and how I shape it with my intention and emotions.

Yoga CAN be calisthenics. I have days when I’m not really thinking or being present but I work my muscles, stretch, sweat my butt off, try to burn calories, work hard, push myself to my limits, always reaching for more, more more! Grrrrrr!

Yoga CAN also be church. I have days when I am feeling meditative and looking inward. I flow gently through practice praying for people, focusing positive energy towards those who need love or healing. Remembering those who have gone on before me.

Yoga CAN be an Ego trip. If I am not careful it is easy to slip into a competitive mind set. Thinking about how I look in a pose, or wanting only to perform “pretty” poses for the camera.

Yoga CAN be drudgery. Many times I come to my mat tired or not wholeheartedly ready to practice. At those times practice seems to take forever or my flow is off or I’m not present.

OR Yoga can be Union. Union of the Mind, Body and Spirit makes yoga a holistic practice that works my body, settles my mind and makes my spirit soar. I am able to hear that small inner voice of truth that is usually drowned out by others telling me what I “should” be doing. My body is worked and challenged but not hurt and my spirit feels in connection with the world around me. I feel positive and happy and alive! And that is the kind of Yoga that I want to practice and share with others.

So how do I set my intention to have a Yoga (union) practice. It starts with becoming present on the mat at the very beginning of practice. I do this by focussing on the breath and listening within, I then move on listening to what my body tells me it needs. I pick poses based on how I feel, what comes to mind as helpful and even throw in a little challenge here and there. I also listen to the spirit by being aware of my surroundings – I love practicing in nature. This makes my spirit so blissful! Doing a sun salutation at sunset is awesome! I add in affirmations and encouragement for my students – sending them love from my heart. I keep the mind steady and present by practicing calming pranayama techniques. I also keep it real by laughing occasionally and interacting with my class.

Yoga is what you or I make of it. It can be drudgery, an ego trip or just calisthenics. But it can be oh so much more. It can be a union of your body, mind a spirit which creates total bliss! It can be all that you need or want it to be. All you have to do is set your intention and get on your mat!

Namaste Ya’ll