You Don’t Have Lungs in Your Stomach and Other (Obvious) Mind-Blowing Facts

yoga breathing

 

ob·tuse (b-ts, -tys, b-)

adj. ob·tus·er, ob·tus·est

1.

a. Lacking quickness of perception or intellect.
b. Characterized by a lack of intelligence or sensitivity: an obtuse remark.
c. Not distinctly felt: an obtuse pain.

 

I can be obtuse. Sometimes it’s on purpose. This is obnoxious I know, but sometimes I just don’t feel like taking someone’s conversation bait. Usually this is because I’m feeling more honest than usual and like my mom said, if you can’t say something nice

She actually never said that. However, she did say never to use the word hate or call someone ugly– both useful pieces of advice.

I digress.

I’m obtuse. Sometimes, not on purpose. Maybe it’s a processing thing, because when I have an ‘aha’ moment it’s usually over something benign and embarrassingly obvious.

Flashback.

It was already a perfect Saturday. I rose and shone (as it were) early and refreshed. Took the pupster on a long walk (she, too was wagging her tail) and took a 10am hot class.

Sometimes you have one of those days when you metaphorically hit every green light. Nothin’ special is happening- but things… just click.

The rundown:

Had a great class- bam. Was hungry and realized I couldn’t buy anything because of my 2 week challenge but remembered I packed a few apples- bam.

You get the idea.

It’s as if you are moving with the flow of energy and not resisting.

My bad- I digress, again. When you are hitting every green light it’s easy to get off track. Things get real shiny, real quick.

At 2pm I took a Yoga Anatomy workshop at Yoga to the People.

I had Anatomy with yoga teacher training but things don’t always sink in for me the first go ’round. And I need lots of structure, so $20 for 2 hours of yoga body talk seemed like a freakin’ steal. Walking away with one nugget of wisdom would make it worth my time.

Um- I got so much more than I bargained. Just in case there’s someone like me reading this, I’m gonna repeat that- I got so much more than I bargained.

  • If some part of the body is not moving enough, another part is moving too much
  • It’s important to looks for a little movement in lots of places rather than just lots of movement in one place
  • Symmetry doesn’t mean balance, the body naturally looks to create balance.
  • Changing patterns in the body is a process. If it took 20 years to create a movement pattern it may take as long to create a new one

But the biggest moment was when I heard, “I know you all know this, but we don’t have lungs in the belly. Lots of times students push down to get air out when we need to lift up to get air out.”

This led to a deeper discussion about the actions of a belly breath. More importantly, it became really clear that as a teacher my words need to be clear so I’m not cueing a student to do some that doesn’t make sense.

A belly breath is important, but I need to get specific about what it is and how to do it properly. Because we don’t have lungs in the belly.

I get it. I get it. I get it.

It takes awhile. And then, every I hit every green light.

Namaste y’all.

 

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Adventures in Yoga – Time.

funny-movie-quotes-all-time_4791651192211004

I left home this morning in what I thought was more than ample time to catch the train to Manhattan for a Sunday morning hot yoga class.

Oops- holiday schedule.

I was wrong. But as any city dweller who is at the mercy of public transit knows, you must just go with the flow.

For about 10 seconds I debated if I  should even bother heading into the city- there was a really good chance I’d miss class. It would be a wasted trip. With less frequent trains to boot…

Instead I decided, bah- why not. I’d use the ride to continue working on my 6pm class. With headphones on, iPad mini in hand and caffeine in my veins I waited to see what would happen.

The train came at 9:35 and dropped me at my stop at 9:57. I ran to the studio in leather flip-flops to class. Though this may seem contradictory- my mind was surprisingly chill. I figured if I make it, I make it. Running in leather flip-flops however, sucks.

Arrived at 10:02. The door was locked. I knocked anyway. Still, no sinking feeling.

(I should  have mentioned- I’m never late to class. Ever. I’m the goof who more often than not arrives 20 minutes early. )

I got the affectionate side-eye from a teacher and was told to hustle.

My heart was racing but I just turned myself over to the practice. I knew I was having the right experience, because shit, it was the one I was having.

I was expecting a 90 minute class, but class was only 60.

Class beat me up, down, sideways and turned me inside out.

It was freaking glorious.

I’d never had a more challenging class. I couldn’t quite sync up my body and breath. And the heat was a distraction, not its usual sweltering embrace.

After class splayed out making sweat angels, I smiled.

It was hard. So what? I can handle anything for 60 minutes.

Not to be stopped I headed back home to order my new bike. I figured I’d be back in the park the following weekend.

As I was wrapping up the guy said, “Do you want to wait? They’re working on it now- should be about 20 minutes.”

Huh? Wha?

I dashed home to get my helmet.

photo-2

Time. Time. Time.

It’s like a challenging pose- when you resist, it pushes back. But if you inhale and find a way to move inside the spaces, it brings you right where you need to be.

Namaste y’all.

photo-1

Adventures in Yoga- Progress at a Snail’s Place

yoga journey

I don’t love practicing in the morning. This means of course that I learn big lessons. I think this is what happens when you don’t move mindfully or meet life with resistance.

During the commuter crush hour people move faster that they need to. I can’t help but wonder if it’s really being in a rush?

Ego disguised as I’m so busy feels more honest.

An older woman was slowly walking down the steps. Her cane was wobbly but she was steady. A guy next to me kept trying to move past her. As I retell the story I want to use an adjective describe his actions and movements but that would really only be my perception of what I thought he was doing and not what he was actually doing.

I was slightly annoyed. Okay I was very annoyed. Annoyed because I was frustrated at breaking my flow and having to slow down. So it made sense to transfer that feeling than to acknowledge it in myself.

Self-awareness is a bitch, yo.

As I consciously  turned on being mindful, the more annoyed I became with my walk to the studio.

No one seemed to be paying attention to anything. A guy on a bike screamed at a cab driver. A woman rolled her eyes at a mom pushing a stroller in the middle of the sidewalk.

And everyone turned to glare at the tourists in the middle of the street.

I exhale at the studio and see one of my favorite teachers! Phew.

But she’s taking class, not teaching.

Shit. I can’t win for losing at it’s not even noon.

B, a teacher I’ve only had once before focused on slowing down every movement.

At the very start of class this started.

I wish I could make this stuff up.

As I looked up at the ceiling I said to myself, ‘Okay Universe I get it. Slow down. You made your point. Can we move on now and get to the next thing?’

And so the rest of class went.

Time didn’t just slow, it stopped.

It was one of the most thorough classes I have ever taken.

And with good reason.

I realize every day that I know less and less.

It’s humbling.

It’s frustrating.

It’s exciting.

It’s reality.

With eyes and judgement looking out instead of in, I’m part of the problem and not the solution.

Eyes open, heart open.

Mouth shut.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Being Wrong Feels So Right

Yoga Costa Rica

I was wr- wr- wr- wrong about something.

Clearly this yoga ish works because despite the false starts, in the past the word wrong was the ‘he who shall not be named’ of my vocabulary.

Back up, back up!
In the not so distant past, it (this notion of wrong) wasn’t even a thought.
There was what I knew to be true. That’s it.
I know- what a maroon.
Enough of my silly past- the point of the story is far more interesting than my arrival at said point..
How or why one starts yoga doesn’t matter to me.
Let that marinate.
Let me explain, of course I care why someone decides to come their mat. The catalyst matters to the extent that I shape a class or a program for private clients.
As a teacher and yogi it’s my job show them a path that helps connect body, breath and individual goals.
I think I wanted students to arrive at their mats with grand plans of a seeking higher awareness. This was a secret I kept to myself until I realized yesterday that it’s unfair to impose such expectations on anyone. What the hell Neik? You know better… I came back to my mat for good because someone broke my heart. No grand shit there. Pretty cliche actually.
This is a little icky to admit, but isn’t that the point of yoga- to share what makes me feel awkward and dorky so I can embrace it?
This acknowledgment is my connection to the world I suppose. This is how I breathe.
Learning to breathe is a funny thing. If you have been living life with stifled, ragged breathing learning how to exhale can be revolutionary. It can change your way of thinking.
It can also make you face some shit. That’s the dirty, happy secret about body and breath. Once you learn how to do it, all sorts of truths can rise to the surface, some good, some not so much.
No such thing as a little bit of freedom- you are free or you are not.
Not everyone wants to sit with that on their mat.
That’s cool.
Really it is.
If a student discovers that they are a fellow traveler, a seeker if you will- she/he will ask questions and it will be apparent.
Some people just want to relax.
Some people want to learn how to touch their toes.
Some people want to learn how to sit up straighter.
It’s all good.
It’s not my job to judge. It’s my job to teach, love and grow.
Most days I feel like two steps forward, two steps back.
Today, I can flip that.
Ha! It’s a good moment. I’m going to enjoy it.
This is yoga and it loves me even when I am dead wrong. Word.
Namaste y’all.
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What I Learned from 108 Days of Yoga

magiczone

Here is a list of the things I had done for more than 108 days in a row:

1. Smoke
2. Quit smoking
3. Breathe
4. Eat
5. Sleep

It’s not a very impressive list.

I didn’t intend to do 108 days of yoga. It was something that I had planned for later in the year. But we never get to plan our greatest lessons.

After doing 45 days of hot and vinyasa I decided to keep going. So overwhelming was the thought, I wasn’t ready to get into the details. It was more personal than I anticipated.

Now that I’m done and have taken some time to reflect, I may have learned a little somethin’.

1. Flexibility

I’m a reformed partially reformed control freak. When things go as I plan, I’m okay. When I expect things to go awry, I’m also okay. But when things go okay and I expect awry, I’ve been known to fuck bring unnecessary chaos where it wasn’t needed. When things go awry and I expect okay I can also get a bit stubborn. While my body is flexy, not all of me is always so willing to stretch.

Work in progress…

I got sick during my 108 days. Panic set in- all I could think of was missing a practice. Fortunately, I’m not all crazy, so there was a side of me that said chill out.

What is yoga anyway? It’s a uniting of body and breath. Maybe your yoga is to do a few restorative poses that foster healing instead of going balls to the wall in 105° heat. This thought didn’t come until after I had practiced two days with no voice in the heat, but like I said I’m a work on progress.

Change happens- it’s the one thing I can count on. 108 days taught me that I can always breathe through it.

Learning to breathe cultivated my flexibility more than any asana.

2. Commitment/Trust

I may or may not be known to twitch just a smidge when it comes to commitment. We all have out shit. This is mine.

But when you show up every single day for 108 days, you learn to trust the process. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen at the end.

Maybe nothing.

Maybe everything.

Regardless, I wanted to see it through. On the days that I really didn’t want to go, I learned the most. There were also days that when I hit my mat and felt like a rock star, only to be humbled, a crumbled sweaty mess.

But fall down seven times, stand up 8.

3. Peace

Say hey, doing 108 days of yoga is a row is hard. But, I did it. The act of practicing daily became meditative, down to the way that I prepared my yoga bag the night before. There was a sense of calm that I took with me once I left my mat.
I think I’m most grateful for this.

I realize that while coming to my mat each day is pretty much given- what will happen in that moment is unknown. That is a little scary. And a lot of fun. But no matter what, I can be with whatever happens.

This is yoga for 108 days and beyond.

Namaste y’all.

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.

Adventures in Yoga Teaching – Epsom Salts

bath candles

Now that I’m teaching and have a daily asana practice, I’ve noticed that my muscles get sore from time to time. It’s perfectly normal. However, rather than blow it off as I would have in times past, I pause and investigate. This is to prevent major injury.

Aside from it being practical (c’mon who want to take a class with a teacher who is hurt?), it’s important to honor and respect your body.

Oh- and if you’re hurt you can’t teach- so there’s that. And since you use money to buy food and stuff- it’s kind of important.

Just about any problem can be solved by a hot bath. I have always loved a hot bath, but now it’s a part of my routine as preventive medicine. Lately, my hamstrings have been little tight, okay they’ve been drum tight, there I’ve said it. Enter epsom salt and my tub.

*Marvin Gaye voice* ‘Ooooh child things are gonna get easier….

Baths are a magical happy place. And epsom salts work.

Don’t tell my mother, but she told me about using epsom salts years ago, but I blew it off because like so many I tend to ignore my mother’s advice. A few years back out of desperation I tried them. Miraculously, my muscle aches disappeared. I soak once a week at least and more if I’m feeling extra achy.

Mom, you were right! Hmm, makes me wonder about all the other bits of information that have be bestowed upon me over the years. Seriously- please don’t tell her.

epsom salt

Because I’m not content to leave well enough alone slightly skeptical, I had to do further research on this whole epsom salt thing. I mean, why isn’t everyone aware of the miracle of epsom salts, or have I just been living in an epsom salt free world oblivious to the joy on the other side?

Fact: Truth is stranger than fiction.

I found an article that discusses this very topic ad nauseam. Seriously, Paul Ingraham spends over 8,000 words delving into epsom salts, wives tale or really medicinal? (I know it’s 8000 words because it states the word count in the summary. This should have served as a warning)

In my fantasy world you care as much about this as I do and we discuss how crazy this guy must be for writing such an extensive article on epsom salt.

I hear your exasperated tone, ‘Epsom salts do they work or not, Oneika? Get to it, we have got things to do.’

According to the Epsom Salt Council (there is a lobby for everything, c’mon who else is going to make sure the voice of epsom salt is heard in DC *eye roll*)

They work. The magnesium from the salts gets absorbed in the body, in as little as 12 minutes.

Sweet.

So give yourself a soak.

This is yoga, submerged.

Namaste y’all.

Emotional Speedbump – Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

camelrain

I love backbending. Wasn’t born with one of those super flexi spines, but the exhilaration that rises when I’m in wheel  is unmatched. Yoga has opened my tight right shoulder and chaturanga has given my back strength.

When I draw my shoulder blades down in a pose like salabhasana interlock my fingers behind me and glue my hands together I can lift my chest almost a foot higher.

I feel invincible. I feel strong.

Oddly enough this love of backbends and strength means nothing when I do ustrasana. To me, Camel is elusive and confounding.

Ustrasana amplifies my subconscious, stress that I work so hard to tamp rises hot and aware. The first time this happened I was caught off-guard and tears rolled down the sides of my eyes. In child’s pose I had to tell myself not to cry my eyes out on the mat. When the teacher mentioned that Camel Pose can bring up emotions I grumbled, now you tell me.

It was the first step to healing an emotional wound and I’ve been using it as medicine ever since.

There are plenty of times these days that opening up in Camel leaves me elated. When this happens I have to breathe in and out to prevent a spontaneous dance party in the middle of class.

Happy, sad, angry or glad – Camel pose will not leave you feeling neutral.

I’ve read that the opening of the heart chakra is what facilitates this opening of the emotional floodgates. But when I looked at the illustration below- it seems that when you do Camel properly aligned (hips forward, heart lifted) you can push on almost every chakra.

It seems that you get a chance to unblock or at least stir up anything that needs to come up.

Camel pose makes the body say- slow down mama and take it all in. I just want to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

And while I get a little annoyed when I am forced to deal with a feeling that I’ve been avoiding- it’s so nice to get it out of the way. This is part of the journey I guess.

This is yoga. And I embrace feeling all of it.

Namasté y’all.

camel chakra

Free Your Mind – Paschimottanasana

paschimottanasana

I’m working on a post about yoga and what it means.

I thought that while I was at it, I’ll bring about world peace, cures for cancer and whatnot.

What started out as something interesting is now a series of run on sentences.

I’m annoyed.

I keep walking away from my Mac, reviewing the outline and even chatting with some friends about what I’m trying to accomplish.

Nothing helped.

Soooooo because my mind wanders like a baby learning to crawl, I thought about teaching yoga and saltines.

Don’t judge. In the elevator I did a forward bend and placed my mittened paws flat on the ground. Yum…I always exhale when I do this….

Because I was still thinking about teaching I floated to the hamstring battle so many students have.

The hamstrings  fight begins during warm-up. Instructed to relax, bend the legs, hang and sway people nstead keep the legs stick straight and try to push the thighs back into oblivion. Not only is it bad for you- it looks crazy.

There’s an aspect of letting go that’s required in order to release the hamstrings.

Did you know that we also carry our unconscious thoughts in the backs of our legs? Until you practice the action of releasing the backs of the legs as you engage your quads I may as well be speaking Swahili.

I speak from experience. Dandayamana bibhaktapada paschimotthanasana was a bear. Trying to breathe into the hamstrings and engage the front of my legs while shifting weight forward into the toes seemed- impossible.

dandayamana

But in yoga what you resist, persists.

I learned to close my eyes and let go of my muscles. I unclenched my hips, pelvis and booty. What do you know my head moved to the ground. I also began to breathe easier and se things with clarity.

In class, both when I practice and teach I can’t help but notice that when people move into paschimottanasana- groaning happens and breathing stops.

Can you imagine  simultaneously groaning and not breathing? It sucks.

A cue that I found useful is releasing pelvic muscles. When you aren’t squeezing you can move the weight forward to the toes and open the backs of the legs…

This pose is easier said than done, but easier once it’s done.

Oddly, this pose helps calm the mind, improve concentration and balance the prana or life energy.

It’s no mistake that I unconsciously moved into this pose in the elevator.

“This most excellent of all asanas, Paschimottanasana, makes the breath flow through the Sushumna, rouses the gastric fire, makes the loins lean, and removes all diseases.”

Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chapter 1 verse 29

My mind not surprisingly, is less muck-filled and focused. I’m excited to get back to work tonight, but first I’m off to class. I’m craving some heat and a nice forward bend.

This is yoga. And it’s my fire and muse.

Namaste y’all.

 
after hot yoga