Waking Up through Yoga

Ideally, our yoga practices create a better connection between our minds + our bodies. The breath serves as the gateway between the body/mind, and this specialty is an experience unique to yoga in comparison to other physical disciplines. Through the work of breath, we can really dig into poses, keep the nervous system calm and bridge the gap between our bodies and minds, all within the framework of a single pose.


Now, because we're forging this body/mind connection via the breath, we can start to WAKE UP places inside of us which have gone dormant or with which we've lost touch. Through yoga, we heighten our sensitivity, our perception, our sensory awareness. The practice can be all about TUNING IN to whatever is happening in that moment. Increasing capacity for awareness no matter what is taking place. I happen to think that's a much better option than huffing and puffing my way through a pose or a challenging experience.

As my teacher Tias says, "By increasing our capacity for sensory awareness, we become more connected, more present and awake beings." Yoga wins again.

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These are 3 ways to define the 5th YAMA, APARIGRAHA. Is it quite possibly the hardest restraint of all? We humans love for things to stay just as they are. As long as they're good, that is. Change is super freaky. So freaky, in fact, that it's less scary to just hang with what's happening now, then to accept whatever might happen in the future. 

Yoga postures are pretty much constantly changing. Sometimes they're evolving into deeper iterations. Sometimes they're devolving into less depth. Sometimes the nature of them is changing all together -- perhaps they shift from flexibility work into strengthening work. Or from physical to meditative. 

For me the journey of the hamstrings and split-legged postures in particular have been an epic, winding and sometimes frustrating pathway. It could be so easy for me to think, "I used to be able to do the full splits! (cling, grasp)." Instead I spend my time in hamstring openers breathing, checking my alignment, softening, trying to detach. And ultimately, if I can't do the splits ever again, am I still a yogi? Of course I am! You're not a yogi because of your ability to do a pose. You're a yogi in the way you handle how the pose goes.

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Working with Impermanence through Balancing Postures

Nothing in this lifetime is permanent. But we get into mental/emotional trouble when we think that it is. The interplay of the GUNAS suggest that change is constant and part of our work in the path toward CONTENTMENT is accepting the natural FLUX. We can prepare ourselves for inevitable CHANGE by seeing all of life's offerings as IMPERMANENT.

You know what else is fleeting + impermanent? BALANCING postures. I find balancing asanas SO. FREAKING. CHALLENGING. The interplay of all the bones, muscles, connective tissues, breath, point of concentration makes these poses so BEAUTIFUL in the moment of pause and so DIFFICULT in the wavering wildness of imbalance.

But it's all worth it. To practice ACCEPTANCE of the IMPERMANENCE of these set of postures sets the stage for our greater work out in the world.

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It's Called Gratitude, and That's Right

I find myself, at this current juncture, with an extremely full plate. I'll spare you the details, but surely you've been there too or are there now or are maybe on your way in. It's sort of fascinating to watch everything pile on and see how you rise to the challenge.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. My point is around GRATITUDE for practice. As I come to realize that things are never going to be less fast or less full, I see more + more the NEED that my daily practice fills. It's totally a REFUGE. It's mine alone, it's 100% for me (well, and probably a little bit for those around me), it's SACRED.

This morning as I moved through ASANA + meditation I just felt so dang GRATEFUL for my healthy body, for my ability to calm my heart/mind, for my ever-present BREATH. It just feels so good. So natural. So NECESSARY.

Why do you practice? What does your yoga do for you?

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Taking the Inward Road

The more years I practice, the more INTERNAL my experience of yoga becomes. While I still value strong alignment cues, the shapes of the asanas + the mechanics of the body, the real MEAT + POTATOES for me is going inside.

To value QUIETUDE and STILLNESS is not something inherent in our fast-paced world. It's not flashy. It doesn't sell well. That's actually one of the things that draws me to it. There are so many other factors pulling us away in a hundred other directions. Well, I'll show them! I'm just going to sit here quietly and watch my breath.

We can't really truly know ourselves without some contemplative experiences. My self-awareness grows by leaps and bounds though my practice; not strictly though yoga postures (though they're a great gateway in!), but through the INTERNAL arts of meditation, pranayama and quiet contemplation.

Forward folding postures can invoke the experience of moving inward. They quite literally move us into ourselves.  With the onset of the cold + dark take this opportunity to move INSIDE.

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As I (quite) regularly discuss in my yoga postings, yogic practices are all about finding the middle ground. We are generally looking to BALANCE all aspects of our practice in body, breath + mind. For all the strengthening work that we do, it's equally important that we stay flexible and open too.

Practice for the PELVIS can (and should!) incorporate both releasing + engaging work. HIPS are usually super tight from excess sitting, but also can be weak potentially contributing to lower back and knee pain. Like most structures in the body, we want the pelvis to be STRONG + FLEXIBLE.

There are 2 CHAKRAS in the pelvic region. The MULADHARA chakra is our ROOT chakra -- related to our sense of stability and groundedness. The SVADHISTHANA is the SACRAL chakra correlating with fluidity and our ability to adapt. Both spaces have the potential for practices which create opening and those which create toning.

Our MULADHARA work can hone in on GATHERING + ENGAGING, while our SVADHISTANA focus can involve SPREADING + LIBERATING. Balanced work feels best in the end.

yoga sutra 2.47

Yoga Sutra 2.47 says that by relaxing EFFORT in yoga postures, the yogi merges with their focal point.

There are 2 points here worth considering.

1. Relaxation of strain/effort is an ability that comes with time and regular practice. There is not a complete lack of muscular tone, working with breath, moving deeper into the posture. Rather there can be a relinquishing of OVER-TRYING. I like to think of non-efforting as EASING, finding the space within the engagement, ACCEPTANCE of the pose as it is.

2. Through this relaxation, the YOGI can merge with the intended focus. What is our point of concentration? To where are we directing our moment-to-moment awareness? The more we seek out qualities of EASE, LIGHTNESS and GRATITUDE, the more likely it is that we'll be absorbed in those experiences when we release grasping. This state of being implies a CALM + SETTLED heart-mind, which is undisturbed by the whirlings of the external realm.

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poses as lessons, not goals

Initially in my yoga practice, I was very strong driven by the desire to "achieve" poses. As though a pose was something I could conquer and move on to the next thing. After several years of practicing in this way, I came to realize that you never actually "own" a pose. You might be able to do it for years and then something changes in your body or your practice and it no longer belongs to you.

Also, I must say that I find commercialized yoga practice to overly emphasize achievement and posture. I don't think you can separate your bodily practice from your mind/breath/moral practices and have them make the same impact on your life. If yoga is truly going to work for us, we have to be willing to put in work in all the areas or "limbs" of practice.

In other words, there is no instant gratification here. We can work on postures without them being the end goal. There are many lessons to be learned along the way. Patience, detachment and kindness toward your body, to name a few.

SUPTA VIRASANA is one of those poses that requires a whole lot of practice and much cultivation of patience. This is not an instantly gratifying pose. But through our continued effort and the generous use of PROPS and BREATH, it might just be worth the wait.

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Knowledge is Power

I am working on completing my final requirements for my 500-hour certification. One of the requirements is a fairly lengthy and comprehensive written test which I have been dreading and putting off for months. Okay, half a year.

Last week I finally got down to business and dove into the test. Turns out it wasn't so bad-- challenging, sure, but actually quite enjoyable. It gave me the opportunity to really look at and consider how much I've learned and integrated in my path of yoga. There are so many components to the journey of practicing + teaching -- anatomy, breathing, alignment, flow of energy, philosophy, mythology, chanting, meditation -- and every part of it is equally fascinating and important.

When you consider your own progress on the path, what do you see? Sometimes it doesn't seem like we are moving forward or improving until we actually look at where we started. The acquisition of knowledge is ongoing and without end. I expect to look back in five/ten/twenty more years with even more appreciation for the time + effort that I've put into living as a yogi.

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The Mystery of Yoga

From the late Michael Stone:
"Yoga teachings are not a response to life that stand apart from its movement. Yoga is a living question that continually points its practitioner back toward his or her own life, back into the body, straight into community. An ongoing practice recognizes that there is a transcendent mystery beyond the techniques that a practice employs."

Time and time again as I come back to my mat, to my cushion, my practice, I accept the mystery of yoga. What is it that keeps drawing me back in? There are so many components to this practice, creating a framework for understanding the complexity of life, of humanity, of ourselves.

Working at postures is a lot of fun. It is a holistic system for keeping the body functioning optimally. Daily practice allows us to dive into what we NEED in the moment, in the current climate of our lives. The diversity of available yogic practices makes for endless exploration and creativity.

Meditative work is often removed from the classroom setting, but should really be as important as our asana practice. Coming in to the stillness of meditation is a constant challenge requiring daily discipline and effort. And it sometimes creates more frustration than inner peace. But the experience of sitting with WHAT IS, whatever that may be, teaches us so many lessons, this work is invaluable.

Living as a yogi in the modern world requires non-stop engagement with life, with people, with your own habit patterns. Not always the most desirous of affairs. Taking on yoga philosophy as a guideline to living my best self has been my TRUEST practice of living the life of a yogi. It isn't usually easy, but it certainly feels rooted in REALITY + MYSTERY in equal measure.

So why do you practice? What motivates you to show up and do the daily work?

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sahasrara chakra

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This is the final week of my in-depth exploration of teaching CHAKRAS in the classroom setting. It has been extremely useful for me to grow my understanding and internalize physical, meditative and subtle body practices for each. I am so grateful to Tias Little for sharing his boundless knowledge with me. And grateful that I took the time to dive in to a personal understanding that I could then share with YOU.

In the CROWN chakra practices, the spine is KING. Axial extension of the spine encourages an open central line of the body (the SUSHUMNA). When the central channel is WIDE OPEN then breath, neural firings and energetic movement can flow unimpeded.

PHYSICAL practices for SAHASRARA move toward TADASANA. Aligning the crown with the tail and lengthening -- no matter the pose you're in. Poses on the MIDLINE are particularly useful to study this work.

PSYCHICALLY, the CROWN chakra supports connectivity with PRANA (life force). As we open the central channel, the winds of prana can disperse from the center to the periphery, encouraging a connection to SPACE and EXPANSION. By moving into this expansive awareness, we can begin to see ourselves as INTERCONNECTED and INTERDEPENDENT with everything.

What an AMAZING practice this is!

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ajna chakra

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The 6th chakra in our upward moving journey is the AJNA chakra which sits directly in the center of the brain. In yogic practices, the 3rd Eye center is the seat of wisdom, knowledge and understanding. It is connected to the FUNCTION of the PITUITARY gland, which manages many bodily systems including appetite, metabolic function and temperature control.

As with the THROAT chakra, the THIRD EYE center is prone to tension and holding patterns. Tension is rife in the head and neck and as a result, the skull experiences strain and stress. How common is it for you to harden your jaw, clamp your teeth and furrow your brow? I have spent years working on undoing those patterns in my own head/neck.

PHYSICAL poses for the 6th chakras support the head and neck to increase the capacity for RELEASE + REST. With the head + neck easy and light, it's much easier to do the CONTEMPLATIVE practices of MEDITATION, MUDRA + PRANAYAMA. All roads lead to meditation this week.

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vishuddha chakra

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The 5th CHAKRA center is seated in the THROAT and marks the beginning of the UPPER CHAKRAS. The top 3 chakras are related to qualities of AIR + SPACE as they relate to the NECK + HEAD.

The throat chakra is connected to the experience of HEARING and SPEAKING. In particular, it's connected to being able to ASSIMILATE information that you hear + to speak your AUTHENTIC truth and EXPRESS yourself well. The traditional of yoga is an ORAL tradition, which is passed down teacher to student. In that context, the ear + listening are the sacred instruments through which the knowledge is gained.

TENSION + HOLDING patterns in the head, neck, jaw, tongue and throat are super common and can lead to a lower functioning in the VISHUDDHA. Yogic practices address these commonly held points of tension, supporting release.

When we do PHYSICAL practice for the 5th chakra, we seek to open up the channels of energy in the neck, throat, + shoulders so that the NEURAL system can fire optimally. JALANDHARA bandha work helps to stimulate the ENDOCRINE system, thus regulating the subtle body. Additionally, open channels allow for maximal BLOOD + LYMPH to flow, supporting a healthy system.

Yogic PSYCHIC practices for the throat are chanting and listening, particularly to yourself in meditation.

To work with the THROAT chakra, you can address the delicate area of the head and neck through physical practice, pranayama, bandhas, chanting and meditation.

anahata chakra

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The ANAHATA chakra is the meeting point of the wisdom mind to the feeling body. In the MIDDLE place, we seek to cultivate compassion, understanding and capacity to feel.

Chest, shoulder + heart opening practices offer us the chance to practice all three of those notions. Additionally, the heart place is an excellent platform to explore the upward rising of joyful energy with the downward movement of settling, grounding energies.


manipura chakra

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The 3rd chakra sits at the SOLAR PLEXUS and spans the space of respiratory diaphragm to the sacro-lumbar junction. Do I have your attention? The ORGANS of the fire center include (but are not limited to) diaphragm, kidneys/adrenals/ liver, gallbladder, stomach and the colon.

The element of the manipura is AGNI or fire. Physical practices for the MANIPURA chakra include core strengthening and organ toning, especially for organs that relate to digestion. These practices bring FIRE to the digestive capacity as they churn the belly and allow for freedom of movement between the organs. Just as you want your muscles to be spacious and loose, so it goes for the organs as well.

PSYCHICALLY, the manipura is the seat of POWER. When we work with the power center, we try to strike the appropriate balance between HUMILITY + PRIDE. Because of its connections to our sense of SELF, it can be strongly driven by the passions of SUCCESS and DESIRE. We can turn that fire into TAPAS to help drive us again and again to our personal practice.

svadhisthana chakra

As we move our way up the spine from the MULADHARA chakra, our next stop is the SVADHISTANA or the seat of the sacrum. The incredible SACRAL complex is the meeting point of the spine and the pelvis. The decompression of the sacral-lumbar confluence is one of the primary aims of HATHA yoga for our sitting culture.

The SVADHISTHANA chakra is a place of FLUIDITY. In the sacral zone of the pelvis, we have organs of reproduction and elimination, all of which need fluidity of movement for optimal functioning.

PHYSICALLY, as we COMPRESS + STABILIZE the sacrum, the inner leg opens and extends. As we BROADEN + SPREAD the sacrum, the inner leg FIRES + ENGAGES. This week we will work both scenarios to bring OPTIMAL health to this sacred bone structure and its corresponding organs.

PSYCHICALLY, the ability to have FLOW keeps us from rigidity of thoughts, feelings, opinions. But the flip side is that we must learn to HARNESS the constant flow of thoughts to CALM the CHURNING waters of the heart-mind.

muladhara chakra

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I just spent last week studying the Anatomy of the Chakras with my teacher Tias. With my new understanding and connections, I am planning to offer an exploration of the chakras over the next several weeks. The CHAKRAS are theoretical and esoteric but can also have very PRACTICAL implications for our personal practice and the way we move through the world.

One of the ways that our yoga practice can be an antidote to modern life is that it provides us the opportunity to ROOT and SETTLE. I don't know about you, but I find modernity fast, chaotic and sometimes unsettling. My yoga practice helps me to find the quality of STABILITY and GROUND when my energy gets upended.

The MULADHARA chakra is about creating the sense of STABILITY and SUPPORT for our basic human needs. The ASANA practices that correspond to the ROOT chakra will create support + stability around the pelvic floor, legs and core. Also, staying relatively low to the ground will help to connect with EARTH element. To really root, try strong standing postures and grounded forward folds!

What is Progress?

There are a few "big" peak poses that I repeat several times a year. But most of the other poses come around about once or twice a year. For me, this provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on my progress. How is my body different from last year? How does this type of practice feel in my current body? How attached am I to the outcome of practicing this pose?

This year, my poses look a lot different than last year. Often times, we expect PROGRESS to be linear. To be clear and obvious and visible. But, that's just not the case with my yoga work these days. My FLEXIBILITY has actually decreased. I have tightness in new areas which make my poses look "less good."

HOWEVER.....most of my asana work has been geared toward strengthening. And I feel WAY more strong, supported and stable. Which means that I actually AM making progress in my ASANA work, even if it isn't outwardly apparent. And, truly, how FLEXIBLE do I actually need to be? I'm never going to be in Cirque de Soleil, so I'm probably all set right where I'm at.

The splits?--nah. Let behind my head? --probs not.

But, an equal balance of suppleness and strength? YES PLEASE.

Seeking Support

I always think it's nice when your yoga teacher expresses their humanity. So, here we go.

One thing that I regularly struggle with is the willingness to accept help or support from anyone. My strong sense of independence and need to "get things done" means that I often just do the thing, rather than accepting help when it's offered. This can lead to unnecessary stress, resentment and burnout--all of which are total yuck. I am vowing to work on this --it's my new project.

In the yoga realm, the support of the community is called the SANGHA. The people in your SANGHA should hold you, encourage you, inspire you. Ideally, in a class setting, in the studio where you practice, you can feel at ease and supported. In fact, this is true of people in your life. You should surround yourself with people who help you to BE YOUR BEST SELF.

In terms of ASANA, the word SALAMBA in sanskrit refers to the idea of support. There are several poses -- salamba sarvangasana, salamba sirsasana which imply that some part of your body is supporting another part of your body. In the style of yoga that I teach, PROPS are utterly integral to create the SALAMBA experience. I want students to feel completely supported in order to better facilitate SHTIRAM/SUKHAM.

Another way in which your body can provide support in a yoga posture is through MUSCULAR ENGAGEMENT. You can be your own salamba! Supporting your postures through correct alignment and muscular action is the best way to be safe and secures as you go deep.

Bending not Breaking

My teacher recently said that being in uncertainty is what it means to be human. We quite literally NEVER know what's going to happen next. No matter how much we PLAN, organize and try to orchestrate our destiny, we must move with the current of whatever life offers.

Yoga makes us more PLIABLE. Clearly this applies in a physical sense--yoga ASANA is about making SPACE. But hopefully, it's true of our mental capacity too. FLUIDITY over RIGIDITY in our thoughts, feelings, reactions is preferred. So that we "will not break, but will bend, like the graceful willow, as inevitable change occurs." (Swami Ma)

INVERSIONS practices teach us to reframe our perspective. Going upside down can flip our understanding of what we are capable of, what we can accomplish.