Pranayama Yo – Things Can Only Get Better

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I have this thought that keeps turning right round like a record. It’s a grand idea, maybe even crazy but I can’t help it, when I’m inspired- look out.

To paraphrase the genius Howard Jones while I do feel scared, I won’t stop and falter. Things can only get better.

To be fair, I get lots of ideas- no delusions of grandeur or anything…Though one time someone asked me if I thought I was the Queen of Sheba. It was said in anger- actually it was said like ‘Who do you think you are? The Queen of Sheba?’

I was being pretty bitchy too so… That doesn’t count, does it?

Sorry. Ideas. Inspiration. Whatnot.

It’s no secret that I think that yoga can save the world. As I really reflect on these early months of teaching, I’ve come to understand that our breath is how we not only live, but prosper.

As yogis we talk about breathing so often breezing over its power can get caught in so many other things.

I took a class last week with a friend  who is a fellow teacher and her husband.

Of course we talked a lot about yoga.

I love that the studio where I teach offers community classes.

I love that Yoga to the People has an outstanding hot class for 8 smackers.

We talked about how folks who really could use yoga to change and save their lives don’t usually have easy access to a studio. Even more often yoga as a concept isn’t on the radar.

This has to change.

And while I do imagine all the people living life in peace, I know that it’s down the road a bit.

If you have talked to me for more than five minutes you have already heard this story, but I will ask you to tune in one more time because it’s worth hearing daily. This September I was listening to the This American Life podcast. There are few things that I enjoy more than TAL. I was walking Dakota and stopped when I heard the story about the kids living in Chicago’s South Side. The affects of consistent violence in a community can affect kids cortisol levels up to a year later. Do the math. If these kids are under a constant barrage of violence these cortisol levels never drop.

So what the hell to do in the meantime?

I want to teach the world to breathe.

I may not be able to find a way fix the violence. But I can teach people how to breathe.
I can show someone how to choose a better breath, one that will help be the calm in the center of the storm.
Inhale more peace. Exhale what’s not serving you….
This is what it’s all about. Teaching people to fish and all that. As yogis we know yoga happens off the mat.
So no more turning it round. Time to figure out a plan. Time to get people on board. Time to walk the walk, or breathe the breath as it were.
And I won’t stop and falter.

This is yoga, changing lives one breath at a time. Things can only get better.

Namaste y’all.

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Livin’ on the Edge

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There’s one teacher at my hot studio that I love and hate (in the nicest way possible) because she she pushes me so I ride the edge.

You know the edge- it’s the place where you break down to break through. One time it was a backbend adjustment. By moving the hips forward and drawing the tailbone down, I was able to lift higher from my upper back. In turn this allowed my head to fall back more and really open the heart chakra.

Covered in sweat, heart racing a feeling shot through my throat like someone did a tracheotomy (I watch too much Grey’s Anatomy- way. Too. Much).

I digress. Backbend. Throat chakra. Right.

Anyway , I’m getting these micro adjustments feeling really present with the pose and then….

Like a poltergeist I feel the thought zooming through my body to find an exit out of my throat ( or was it my heart).

Boy I sure miss, ______. Wonder if I should call? Hmmm…
Woah- hey now where did that come from?

The moment passed and I had to move on to the next pose.

Breakthroughs don’t happen when you’re comfy. But it’s a fine line. The other side of the edge is pain or exhaustion or strain. I love this teacher because she knows me and can see where I am today. You can’t always push, push push. There must be time for breathing. There must be time to let the changes sink in to become a part of your skin and soul.

The edge is a great place to be. This is a different edge than looking for trouble- not that I know anything about that. Just a guess.

Knowing your edge on the mat can inspire great changes off of it.

Break down to break through.

Wonder if I should make that call. Maybe it was just the back bend talking.

This is yoga, on the edge. Namaste y’all

Journey Yoga – Don’t Stop Believin’

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Did you know that Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ is the most downloaded song of the 20th century? And why shouldn’t it be?

It f*cking rocks.

Don’t care where you were born, your social standing, religion, job title or spiritual affiliation – when you hear those keyboards and Just a small town girlyour inner 80’s rock star emerges. Just last summer my sister and I were driving to Martha’s Vineyard, MA for the July 4th weekend.

Stuck in traffic. My sister flipped through stations on the radio. There it was, Don’t Stop Believin’…

We belted it out with our bad voices, because that’s how we roll.

Damn, it feels so good to sing that song.

Can’t forget the last episode of The Sopranos. (For the record I’m team David Chase got the finale right)

Don’t Stop Believin- Everyman’s Journey is about the search and discovery of Arnel Pineda, Journey’s new lead singer. The doc is a little thin because it tries to delve into Journey pre and post Steve Perry.

Arnel’s story is the meat of this film and for its flaws it’s still very watchable.

Stepping into Steve Perry’s shoes was a tall order but Arnel and his rags to riches story is the stuff of legends. A homeless kid singing on the streets of the Philipines for food, he’s now a rock star living the dream.

Living. The. Dream. Do you get me? Discovered on YouTube. C’mon.

Don’t Stop Believin’. 

Seriously.

In class today our teacher mentioned that a 10 year old had taken his first hot yoga class. Midway through class she checks in with him to see how he’s doing. He responds, ‘I won’t ever give up!’

Don’t Stop Believin’. 

It’s true.

That’s part of the joy of Journey songs- they are about love, triumph, being faithful and never giving up.

Another fun fact, during every minute of every day you can hear a Journey song playing somewhere in the world.

Humanity likes a happy ending.

That gives me hope for this planet.

Nobody gets out of here alive, but enlightenment for all may be on the horizon.

I’m working on an idea about how to bring a larger message of yoga to communities that need it. I’ve been struggling a bit and have felt pretty frustrated the past few weeks. It’s aggravating to plug away and feel like you’re not making any progress.

But class today and this documentary were a much needed reminder.

Don’t Stop Believin’. 

I can’t. I won’t.

This is yoga. Don’t stop.

Namaste y’all.

Hitting the Wall and Other Tales of Woe (108 Days of Yoga)

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Class on Tuesday was awesome. I love the excitement that gets generated, and seeing students progress is pure joy. As soon as c lass ended and I went home to make my green juice, the tank was empty.

Emp-tee.

I was dog tired. I’ve managed to sail through these first 43 of my 108 days of yoga without any issue. This was the first day that I came up against the dreaded ‘wall’.

You know that feeling that your body can’t push forward. Everything feels and sounds like it’s happening in slow motion. Actually I was closer to that little kid kind of tired, you know when munchkins refuse to admit that their crankiness is a direct result of physical exhaustion.

Yet, I  was super productive getting a bunch of stuff done despite being dressed in my best cranky pants.

I hit my mat for an hour at home but needed to rung out, so off to hot class I went.

To say the class was a struggle was an understatement.

I slogged through half wondering if I was crazy to think I was ready to do 108 days of yoga.

Then I took a real breath. 

Unfortunately, this little moment of clarity didn’t take place until I was on my way home. I sat on the train sweat covered and achy, water bottle to my lips. (Manhattan water is amazing. This seems insane, but it’s true. The water at my studio is unimaginably cold.)

As I sipped the water on the train I smiled.

I only have to be in the moment. I was getting caught up in what I had done in the past and what I was going to keep doing in order to sail through to day 108.

What I failed to do was live in the moment and understand that my journey is about what happens right now. Right in this moment.

In this moment I breathe in. In this moment I breathe out. There is nothing else to do. Worry doesn’t exist in the now.

So, there is no wall. There are only moments when I am tired and moments that I rest. If I can remember this every day- I got this enlightenment thing locked up.

Not. Bloody. Likely.

No worries though I’ve got my mat and my breath.

This is yoga. And it happens one breath at a time.

Namaste y’all.

I Keep on Falling In and Out of Love with Bakasana

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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.

Adventures in Hot Yoga – Half Locust Pose

Tony Parrish has a football yoga workout. This is pretty great for a variety of reasons.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a heat junkie. Can’t lie- it does something for me. The heat makes me pliable and that pliability helps me look deeper inside. With all that is going on with Bikram and his latest stroke of idiocy, it would seem easy to dismiss the practice.

I want to, I really do. The guy seems to have taken the yoga out of yoga. One thing I’ve learned though is that lessons are everywhere, the people we find distasteful can teach us the most.

I’ve learned from Bikram, beware the ego for it will take you over and take everything from you if you aren’t careful.

So hot yoga and I aren’t breaking up anytime soon. With all yoga I love when my body leads me to deconstruct a pose. It’s like learning it again, but inside out, or something like that. ,

Lately I’ve been focused on locust pose (pictured).

Before getting in it the teacher instructs, “Put your mouth to your mat”.

I always end up trying to sneak in a pucker- is that weird? Bear in mind you are already covered in sweat- this is the downhill part of class as far as I’m concerned.

After you ‘put your mouth to the mat, you roll onto your arms until they disappear underneath you. Doesn’t sound so hard- but- wait for it- your palms are facing down. If you don’t think this hurts- I’m not judging but you’re crazy. It was so painful at first I looked up at my teacher and I swear horns were sprouting from her head.

Mouth to the mat.

Roll on your arms so they disappear.

Palms down.

Lift one leg up.

Hold.

Then the other.

Hold.

Then- both. The first time I tried this it felt like my legs were glued to the floor. And I’m no punk. I can get my legs up much higher now- but one day I’d really love to look like the photo.

The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) has an article about Carpal Tunnel treatment and yoga. This pose is mentioned. Pretty cool.

Every time my practice deepens- I discover another little nugget about the world and myself. I’m less shy than I was and engage in conversations with strangers more often. This may sound strange coming from a yoga teacher, and frankly when I tell people I’m shy I get eye rolls and ‘Oh yeah, sure Oneika, you’re really shy.’ But I am, seriously.

I guess my point is that living and teaching yoga is a daily practice both on and off the mat. I love it and I love what it has done for my mind body and spirit. I feel different, I look different, I act different.

I am different.

But I do wonder if I’m starting to replace yoga for other things, like dating. Normally I’d obsess about it. But I’m not going to worry about it right now. I’ll let my yoga take me there.

This is yoga, heated up stretched out and lifted.

Namaste y’all.

 

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Free Your Mind – Yoga and Addiction

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I used to smoke.

A lot.

I won’t go into the details of the beginning because I think the end at least in my case, was more important. Addiction will grip you so tightly you don’t think you can ever let it go. And even after the worst is over and the ‘habit’ is dead and gone, on some days out of nowhere it sneaks up on you.

It’s a gentle whisper that tells you that you are ‘better’ so one puff isn’t a big deal.

That’s the insidious side of addiction that people don’t talk about. Lots of times it doesn’t feel bad. Like Dexter’s dark passenger it shows up when you least expect it or worse, when you really think you need it. It’s a soothing voice that says you are different from all the other addicts. You had a problem in the past but now you can smoke just one.

I can’t. Not ever. This is what makes me different than the person who enjoys a cigarette or cigar once in awhile. I cannot contemplate that. I don’t have that kind of control. It’s more than just an issue of willpower. I’m addicted to cigarettes and smoking opened the door to all kinds of other self-destructive behavior.

Sometimes I would stop smoking for awhile and then bum a cigarette while out at a bar. That would lead to me buying a pack on the way home and smoking most of them that night.

I attempted to quit many times. I was blasé about failing. It was a way to deny the inevitable truth that I was letting tobacco ruin my health.  Unless I spoke that sentence out loud, smoking would always be a part of my life.

That utterance would have to lead to action. That action would mean that I could never go back. I’m ambitious and driven by nature- this consistent inability to quit was impossible for me to understand. Because I couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t share it with anyone else.  Those who haven’t had a struggle with addiction may not understand, but it’s scary. Loss of control for a Type A is not familiar nor comfy ground.

Enter yoga.

Yoga is increasingly used in conjunction with many addiction treatment programs. Whether it’s an addiction to sex, tobacco, drugs, gambling, shopping, food, toxic relationships or control, yoga is one of many tools that helps you when a critical moment arises.

For me it’s more than that, it’s a new way of being. And though I have embraced yoga with a zeal that might make you raise an eyebrow in suspicion, yoga isn’t a replacement for smoking. Rather it’s a way to deal with stress, a way to be happy and embrace the present.

There are certain poses in yoga that can get us through a rough patch. Here are 3 that work for me.

photo credit nuonsros.com

1. Ustrasana (Camel Pose) – This pose is a heart opener and it can release a surprising amount of emotions. This may seems like a bad thing, it’s not. When you push feelings down, it can lead to acting out. Letting go can bring about the sense of calm you need to stay on track.

2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – Sometimes a new perspective is just what we need to get through a stressful moment. One day at a time is sometimes one hour at a time or one minute at a time or even one second at a time. A different view can paint a different picture. New pictures can be what is necessary to stay present.

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3. Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pose) – This pose helps with circulation and  patience. It takes times to master this pose. And until you do master it, you fall out of position again and again.

It’s this practice of of coming back that helps me be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sometimes that’s what being free from addiction is all about learning to be okay with what feels icky or frustrating. The act of feeling a feeling helps it pass and helps you move on. It’s what I love most about this pose. Every motion of this pose even when it doesn’t work move us forward.

Of course if you have serious problems with addiction you should seek professional help. But for those of us who need a boost, these poses can help remind us the joys of being free.

This is yoga. And it can help you maintain peace during the storm.

Namaste y’all.

Sometimes Yoga is Just Hard – And That’s Okay.

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I’ve been practicing intensely these past few months. I felt a lot of physical soreness when I started. But that’s since left. My body is stronger than ever, my muscles are leaning out and overall I feel like I’m operating more efficiently.

As far as my diet goes, I’m constantly craving apples (weird) and sleep like a freaking baby.

Drinking a gallon of water on days that I do two hot classes in addition to a vinyasa class doesn’t seem crazy, only necessary.

I’m almost through with a 30 day hot yoga challenge. I say challenge because that’s what most call it, but it’s much more than that for me. This is a journey of discovering myself inside and out. It’s preparation for doing 108 days of yoga in order to help foster awareness and cultivate peace, joy and love.

I know, you can hear Kumbaya and smell patchouli wafting the air. I should change my doorbell to chant the sound of ‘aum’.

Except it’s not all lotus flowers, hands in prayer and smiley faces.

The real challenge comes when class just sucks. Or on the days that I don’t want to go. Worse yet, there are days I don’t want to go but go anyway and guess what? Class sucks. Talk about a twofer.

Shockingly (or not), it’s on these days that I see the most growth. I was telling a friend of mine that we don’t learn much when it’s easy.

You’ve been there, right? Not one posture feels good and everything feels tight. Class seems never ending until savasana, and then you redefine never ending because this is even worse.

And you know what I do?

 I go back to mat the next day. And the next day. And the next.

If I don’t up on yoga, it doesn’t give up on me.

Clearly this applies to everything. And thanks to yoga, when I get knocked down 9 times, I get up 10.

This is yoga. And it makes you strong even when you feel weak.

Namaste y’all.

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