Doing Nothing and Being Still Are Not The Same Thing

photo credit wikipedia.com

headstand

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

 

Over a year ago, my practice became spotty. I’d been adjusting to a new schedule and trying to force old routines into new. I should have taken a moment to be still. Answers rise to the surface when there’s quiet.

I did nothing. I missed a class here. Missed a class there. No bueno.

Skipping classes wasn’t the problem. One thing this yoga life has taught me is to embrace fluidity. There are times that I need to practice twice a day for weeks. Sometimes five days a week is plenty. When I’m connected to my spirit it’s all good, as the kids say. Yoga is my life when my life isn’t in the way. Yoga needs to be my life as life is happening.

‘Taking yoga off the mat’ is a popular mantra. For some, yoga is great physical exercise that gets them in shape. My practice gets my spirit in shape. Every day I learn something about myself or how I view the world. Small consistent awakenings help me make my world and the planet better.

During a Brikram practice, my mind used to race in between poses. The goal in a Bikram class is not to fidget and fix your clothes, wipe sweat, look at the woman in front of you (and say when I lose 5 pounds I’m going to come to class half naked like her) or think about how hot the room is. The goal is to be present. You’re to observe yourself in the mirror. Not for vanity’s sake (though it’s really hard not to judge yourself) but for the sake of focus and form.

Instead, I was thinking about what I needed to do after class. I was thinking about how maybe 105 degrees for a yoga class is crazy. I was thinking that I didn’t know that I could actually sweat from the back of my elbow. Suddenly I heard the instructor say, ‘Doing nothing is not the same thing as being still’.

She should have dropped the mic and walked out because as far as I was concerned she had schooled me. Class dismissed.

I was doing nothing and not being still. If I had just remembered that it’s okay to not be okay with your schedule, a solution would have come to me. A different studio has a schedule that works for me right now so I’ll be taking classes there (I know, big duh). It’s not my regular studio but it’s not forever. And then I remember I’m not just trying to make my body more flexible.

Ah– I see. I see. I see.

Namsate y’all!

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5 Tips to Teach Yoga from a Mindful and Trauma Sensitive Perspective

Yoga keeps him young

Creating a safe space for students should be the number one priority of any yoga teacher. As a teacher who is moving into the world of yoga therapy, I understand that the idea of what’s ‘safe’ varies. Getting properly trained in trauma sensitive yoga has been an invaluable tool when it comes to teaching in a wide variety of non-tradtional settings. The more I’ve learned, the more I have been encouraged to share my experiences and tips for creating a meaningful class.

1. Do your homework

I’m constantly reading about new approaches to teaching in this ever evolving field. In addition, I spend time talking to my former teachers who are experts in yoga therapy, trauma-senstive yoga and doctors. There isn’t an end to the learning process. Spending time learning about where you are going to teach a new class can provide assurance that your first class will be provide the best experience possible for your students.

2. Be prepared and flexible

Having a clear plan is always the way to walk into a studio and this is certainly the case when teaching in non-traditional environments. But when class starts and how people are moving doesn’t fit the plan- I must adapt. The same holds true when I teach a trauma-senstive/therapeutic yoga class. A few weeks ago I had planned a class for a group of students at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility. When I walked into the dorm there was a lot of talk about a search that had been conducted overnight, as a result the group was very stressed. Rather than work through the more powerful flow I had mapped out, it made sense to cut that part of class short so I could teach a few poses that released stress. In addition, I took the class through a longer guided meditation. The more tools you have in your toolbox the easier it is to adapt on the fly.

3. Know your audience

When you are teaching in a space with people who have suffered trauma it’s vital to understand their backgrounds and potential triggers. When I am working with women who have suffered sexual abuse, I’m careful not to do poses that could be deemed sensual. Cat/cow provides a good example of this. It’s a fairly innocuous pose in a traditional yoga setting, it’s great for warming up the spine but with women who have had a history of abuse it’s potentially a huge trigger.

4. Listen. Listen more. Listen again.

Active listening skills are required in trauma sensitive teaching. It’s vital to be able to listen to verbal and non-verbal cues. Are students comfortable? Are you talking too much? Or not enough? In a traditional setting with experienced yogis, silence is golden and allows for exploration. But when working with women who have been abused or PTSD patients silence can be scary. Listen with your eyes, ears and EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

5. Know your limits and have a network

As yoga teachers it’s easy to get connected to your students especially when you work with folks who suffer from PTSD, have physical illnesses or are in challenging situations like prison or rehab. I stay true to what I know to do with the body as a yoga teacher. I stay honest with myself about my skills and training. I am a certified therapeutic yoga teacher who has done trainings to work with folks who have chronic illness, addictions, are in prison and who suffer from PTSD. I’m not a therapist, a physical therapist, nutritionist or doctor. But I have built and continue to build a strong network of these folks who understand the value of yoga. Having a rolodex of names allows me to refer a student to the right person when they ask something out of my depth.

One last critical component to teaching trauma sensitive yoga is self-care. Providing a space for healing is rewarding but can be draining physically and emotionally. Knowing how and when to recharge is a part of my routine. I make sure that there is one day of the week when I am not teaching- at all. That is my day to take my own classes and relax. My daily meditation practice is also a way that I stay  emotionally fit. As a Therapeutic yoga teacher I’ve also reaped the benefits of the TY practice. My bolsters, blankets and blocks are never far from me. Practicing what I preach has become a necessary part of my practice.

Yoga is now being widely recognized as a was to compliment many traditional treatment plans. The more that I’m educated, the larger impact I can have.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Yoga – Insomnia Strikes

sleepy neik

My favorite part of teaching and taking class is savasana.

This is because I tend to run on the anxious side of life.  This affects how I sleep. It got so rough at one point I went to the doctor and was handed a script, but taking sleeping pills was not how I wanted to live. It was also a sign that I needed a major life change. Two a half years and new career later, my sleep is a lot more solid. But my monkey mind still likes to explore the jungle of my brain. I credit yoga to my more peaceful slumber.

Turns out it not just in my head. A 2012 study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School said that a regular yoga practice can help people who suffer from chronic insomnia. A similar study was conducted with 410 cancer patients. The results were similar. It seems that by doing yoga people can fall asleep easier, faster, wake up less often and have a more productive night’s sleep.

On the nights that I’m feeling a little antsy before bed, I’ve found that there two poses that help me chillax.

 

Reclining Goddess Pose

This is my favorite by far. Goddess releases tension along the inner thighs and hips. Sometimes if I’m looking for a deeper backbend I’ll roll a small blanket or towel and place it vertically so it aligns with my spine. The release is delicious. Delicious!! For a more special experience I’ll even add a few drops of essential oil to my temples so I can really let go. It doesn’t take long before The Sandman knocks.

To get into the pose recline on your back and bend your knees so your feet are parallel. extend the arms along the sides of your body and try to brush the backs of the heels with your middle finger. Let your knees fall to the side and keep the souls of the feet touching. Keep the arms extended and turn the palms facing up. Using a sleep mask is a great treat here. Want to ensure that you aren’t counting sheep very long? Try an essential oil blend. My favorite blend is by Aura Cacia.

 

Legs up the Wall

This is another great pose to do before bed. This is perfect for those nights when the you thought you’d never make it to bed time. You know the days, when you’ve been pulled in a thousand different directions and none of those directions had anything to do with the list of things you were supposed to get done. And when you finally get home to what you think is your sanctuary, you realize that you forgot to take something out for dinner- but the dog did leave something out for you- right in the middle of the carpet. On those nights the stress of it all might make sleep elusive, so try legs up the wall.

Getting into the pose is as easy as it sounds. Recline on your back and take your legs up the wall. You may have to schooch your butt forward a bit so your legs can press against the wall. And then…Just.Let.Go. Feel your back release into the mattress. Inhale in the idea of sleep. Exhale out any tension. Let your body melt. Allow for some gentle movement so you can get comfortable. Trust me, your troubles will seem like a faint memory.

 

We all deserve a great night’s sleep. Don’t let it slip out of your fingers.

Namaste y’all.

Flatiron Yoga

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I’m sitting outside in the NYC sun. The Flatiron district is bustling with tourists and New Yorkers soaking up the last drops of summer along with cold coffee drinks.

An inversion workshop is happening in an hour. I’m not sure why I’m feeling my nerves go all a flutter. It’s a beginner workshop and after consulting not one but three other teachers about it- I’m sure it will be a blast.

Maybe it’s my horoscope- I know there may be some snickering, but whenever I read it, I’m able to make some connection to my life- which is the point I guess.

Anyway it says that life is changing and I should go with it. Not really- but that’s the gist or at least what I’m taking from it. New shapes and all that. How will I see the world differently when I’m on my head?

Can you imagine the gaping mouths when the Flatiron was going up?

How much changed because of it?

Off to fly and see new things.

Namaste y’all.

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Don’t be Sorry, Be Yourself

Oneika Tree

It seems like when you get down to it when we’ve lost our peace we should go look in ego’s backyard. It’s sure to be lounging under a tree with an overfed belly and head full of worry.

A few days ago I read a great post, 3 Things Yoga Students Need to Stop Saying.

My favorite was #3- saying I’m sorry.

Students apologize. Despite constant conversations about non judgement, students (and teachers) can get caught up in ‘I’m sorry’. Which is really saying I’m not enough, I’m not worthy. Put one more way it’s all about ego.

And it’s hard not to judge sometimes. I must remind students (and myself) not to do someone else’s practice. For as many reasons as we come to our mats, we have as many different practices.

Trying to match someone else’s outside won’t mesh with your inside.

Let it go.
Simhasana-I-BKS
It’s one of the reasons I love teaching a long, slow meditative savasana.
With the eyes closed its easier to let go of judgement.
It’s easier remember how to love yourself when the gaze isn’t dialed into an external picture.
Sometimes if I’m feeling a lil off I let go of anxiety as I release a body part into the mat.
I let the back of my head melt into the mat and release any thoughts of feeling anxious. 
When my hips let go I release lurking feelings of inadequacy. 

 

By letting go of the body and the feelings I can open myself up to drift with looping thoughts or excess chatter.
Sometimes it works like a charm. Other times, it’s a struggle.
But it is always my yoga.
And that makes me feel peace.
This is yoga. Do you, yo.
Namaste y’all.
keep-calm-and-savasana-

Adventures in Yoga – Over Correction Reflection

toes:fingers

My chitta vritti or mindstuff has been getting in the way of my yoga.

My asana practice is a microcosm of what’s going on off the mat.

A few weeks ago while taking class, my teacher told me to relax- more feeling, less thinking.

I wonder if this happens to other new teachers… I’m spending lots of time teaching giving adjustments, living in teaching mode has started to takeover my entire practice.

Don’t get me wrong, being our own best teachers is necessary, we grow in our practice because we learn how to find a deeper expression of a posture using our breath. As my body awareness expands both in depth and breadth, I can tweak a previously unfamiliar muscle or make a minute correction.

It’s awesome.

There is of course a downside.

Anything strength overused becomes a weakness.

Over correction can result in a pose becoming distorted. You could even hurt yourself if you aren’t careful. As you start to get more flexible this is even more an issue.

It may come as no surprise then to know that as I work on my business plan I may need to step back a bit, take a breath and remember the satisfaction that comes from building something. It doesn’t have to be all about furrowed eyebrows and punishing myself until 2am. Every thing takes time, I can’t rush to the next thing if I haven’t finished what I’m supposed to in this moment. Additionally, I don’t have to work on a particular aspect of my plan until it’s almost unrecognizable.

Be in the moment, make adjustments be keep it moving.

I’ve said this about myself before- but it’s worth repeating. Sometimes when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

And you know what else happens when you over correct? You lose joy. You lose balance.

Yoga is the union of body and breath.

Sometimes I need to remember that. What I seek isn’t in the best expression of a pose.

It’s what’s inside.

It’s what I do after my asana practice is over.

This is what I love about my yoga. My practice tells me when life and not just a posture is out of whack.

Should I be a bit more self-aware. Yeah, but I’m not. Sue me. I’ll get there one day, or maybe not. But every experience brings me closer to enlightenment.

This is yoga and I stand less corrected.

Namaste y’all.

It’s Not the Size of the Pose but the Motion of Your Flow

mudra white outfit

I love Friday night yoga. The vibe is mellow. The playlist always has a moody, sleepy, sexy feel. I may have made up the sexy part, I’m projecting.

Whatever.

It’s also a hot class. Vinyasa in a heated room on a Friday night. So yeah- it is sort of sexy. Scratch my previous apology.

Last night the focus was about alignment and looking inward to find a deeper expression of a pose.

Juicy stuff.

My stance was wide in my warrior and I felt like I could float up and root down as I tried not to make my head bop too much to Alana Davis and Queen Badu. But damn, music can provide that little shift that changes my head space. It gets me all up inside a pose. Tickling it from the outside in while my breath zigs and zags magically and collides with my heart.

Sometimes class is that good.

Sometimes it’s just cool to fcuking groove on your mat.

Yaknowwhatimsayin’

What a way to end the week.

Because Daba was teaching, I knew I’d be in for some aha moment- it was just a matter of when.

It came after a focused standing series. We transitioned to the floor and did a hand workout.

Hand relevés and finger splits.

By mindfully stretching the fingers and shifting weight to the fingers I was able to take adho mukha svanasana to another place. By rooting my hands into the mat, my hips felt like they could reach up to the ceiling while my booty headed to the back windows…

I know, right?! There’s such a thing.

Will I ever stopped being amazed by discoveries in yoga? I hope not.

Subtle but powerful movements make the difference both on and off the mat.

This is yoga, providing tiny movements and big changes.

Namaste y’all.

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I Keep on Falling In and Out of Love with Bakasana

Bakasana
Bakasana (Photo credit: jetportal)

Learning how to approach failure can make the difference between taking a chance again and packing up your bat and ball.

Anything worth having is worth the work. When you’re flat on your face these words of encouragement ring hollow.

But there’s some merit in becoming good at failing and falling…

Crow pose is an arm balance posture in yoga. It’s not the hardest and it’s not the easiest. It is the foundation of lots of other arm balances.  Arm strength, core strength, balance and trust is required.

Teacher training helped break down the mechanics of arm balances, rigorous asana practice built strength and a free flowing mindset made room for joy in the falling.

But when I first approached Bakasana that wasn’t the case.

Whoo doggie…For weeks I squatted like a yogi and pushed myself up on my toes. Ready for lift-off. Nothing. I was afraid of falling forward. And then I did fall forward. A lot.

On other attempts I was convinced my arms weren’t strong enough. Time after time I’d one part right and another part of the pose needed an adjustment. So it went. Again and agin. I kept at it.

Zilch. The only thing that was getting stronger was my growing impatience. My impatience muscle is over developed.

Then things changed. Our teacher had us set up for crow. In my head I moaned (In truth, I probably moaned out loud).

You can do this, I told myself.

Hands planted. I took a slow inhale and exhale. I let go of the judgement of my other failed attempts. Turning my focus inside I was feel my forearms straighten and my toes leave the floor. I was balancing.

And balancing…And balancing.

Success. It felt like I had always been able to do it.

I still smile at the thought. I did it.

I did it!

Edison tried 1000 times before the light bulb worked (So the story goes) . With attempts that doesn’t work we’re given a opportunity to retool a thought process or abandon outdated ways of thinking.  The other side of learning from mistakes is the ability to get back up and try again.

Sam Wang a neuroscientist in Princeton co-wrote Welcome To Your Brain  and he states “The brain does well, what it does often”. So if we teach ourselves not to give up when missteps happen, we are ultimately working at becoming more successful.

The next time you find yourself with less than what you expected don’t worry. Setbacks are setups for success.

This is yoga. Fall down 99 times, get up 100.

Namaste y’all.

PMS Yoga

standing_yoga_mudra

PMS can throw a monkey wrench in your life and yoga. I used to suffer from crippling cramps but since I’ve maintained a solid practice, they’ve diminished substantially, almost completely. Yoga gives the circulation a turbo boost which can help get rid of some bloating. Certain poses also aid in relieving some depression and the crankiness.

You may ask and wonder, well really how bad are said cramps, Oneika? Or are you saying that yoga is good for baby PMS, cramps that are inconvenient but bearable with a few Tylenol.

For the record, I had cramps that were roll around on the bathroom floor so the cold tiles can touch your face kind of bad. Heating pads, pain killers, legs up on pillows kind of bad. Counting the waves of pain in seconds so I could calculate when a break would come kind of bad.

For true.

Having endometriosis is just gravy on my crampy cake. And yoga has nearly eliminated all of that discomfort.

Serious as a heart attack.

I’ve listed a few poses that can assist in alleviating some of the PMS and period blahs….

Seated Twist

yogavibes-yoga-online-twist

This pose can help relieve that bloated feeling. Make sure to gently exhale. Seated twists also stimulate reproductive organs, this in turn can provide lubrication for the uterus which eases cramps. Sweet relief.

Cat/Cow Pose

image credit standardmoves.tumblr.com

I love cat/cow for so many reasons. It’s a wonderful way to warm up the spine and lower back. In addition, it’s a great way to connect your breath and body. Letting the tip of the inhale trigger the body to go in to cow pose and the almost inperceptible start of the exhale allows the tail to drop as the back rounds like a cat is an awesome way to warm up for ujjayi breathing. Breath control is great for PMS and cramps as it allows you to breathe into discomfort in order to relax muscles.

Bridge

Yoga (Bridge Pose) 

Bridge is another great choice (as are shoulder stands) because this pose provides nice stimulation for the thyroid boosting metabolism as well as provide the endocrine system with a little extra somethin’somethin as the kids used to say.

Child’s Pose

balasana 

Child’s pose gets the brain center activated and works the neurotransmitters to provide balance and a sense of calm.

Savasana

I know this seems like a no brainer but this is one of the best things you can do both before and during your period. Rest. Truly embrace savasana. Let the body go and have the earth support you. I have found that this helps me unclench my jaw and release all of my muscles so that I can sink deeper into my mat. This is great for cramps. And a bad mood. And a long day. And an overall icky day. You get it- savasana

This is yoga. It’s with you every day of the month.

Namaste y’all.