4 Ways to find the Magic in Your Yoga Practice

John came to my yoga wall class completely unaware that he was about to give me the biggest compliment ever. After class, I asked, "how do you feel?"  He answered " it was challenging and relaxing at the same time."  Best compliment to a yoga teacher ever!  

The yoga that I have come to adore is far from the big, showy, hyper flexible photos. It is far from the sweaty workout based flows (although my teacher makes us work harder).   The yoga that I love centers the mind. It is challenging and calming at the same time. It balances the sthyra sukham (Strength & Ease) of the Yoga Sutra (my favorite Yoga Sutra Ever). It holds both calm and challenge at the same time.  This is part of the magic of a yoga practice.  Here are a few ways that you can find the it in your practice.

  1. Hold the poses for a long time.   It did take quite a long time for me to enjoy practicing this way.  Maybe the poses aren't quite as big, or you may take a modification halfway through, but this will give you a chance to express the pose more fully.
  2. Concentrate on one key movement.  Maybe you fully root into your hands and feet, taking the time to notice what actions in your legs and arms make a change in your connection to the earth.  Maybe you concentrate on hinging at the hips, or keeping your abdominal locks engaged.  This can take us out of our heads, and gives you a point of concentration during long holds.
  3. Use breathwork.  Maybe you concentrate on Ujjayi breathing (sounds like Darth Vader) or taking long even breaths to a count of 6-8 in and out.  You may play around with extending the pause at the end of the inhale and exhale.  The sounds of the world can fade around you as your full focus moves toward your breath.
  4. Find your Drishti.  Drishti, or focused gaze is the key to make balance more achievable and is soothing for the mind.  It takes comparison out of the picture (you can't truly keep a focused gaze on one thing while comparing yourself to whoever is on the mat next to you).  If you find your mind wandering, remember to find your drishti (find a focal point) .

It takes time and effort to practice in this way.  Do not judge yourself if you find your mind wandering, because it happens to everyone.  Try to return your attention to the practice.  Using one or more of these ideas can help make that concentration a little more achievable.  How do you find your focus when your mind wants to wander in class?  Where do you find the subtle magic in your yoga practice?

Namaste - Beth

Self Talk in Your Yoga Practice

Self talk can influence our yoga practice, personal life, business relationships, and sense of fulfillment.  This interview  with Michael Sutton and Dena Breslin introduces ideas about where our self talk comes from, and who put those phrases in our heads.  

Your thoughts may seem perfectly normal and reasonable to you, but could you be more positive?  The Mayo Clinic  states that positive thinkers experience greater resistance to the common cold, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, increased life span, reduced levels of distress and depression, and better well being.  

One of the types of negative self thought that the mayo clinic mentioned in the above link is polarization.  This commonly occurs in yoga practice.  When the instructor cues a choice between child's pose and downward facing dog, do you take downdog just because you want to do the harder (self labeled better) pose?  Do you compare your practice to other's practices?  Do you shy away from the restorative class because it's "better" to turn your yoga class into a "workout"?  

If any of this seems familiar, you need turn inward, and turn off those thoughts.  There aren't good or bad poses.  A yoga or meditation practice is a great way to begin to give the voices in your head a break.  Don't judge yourself or the poses (we all have favorites, but try to approach them all with joy, strength, and ease).  Once you find success during your practice, it will begin to influence the rest of your life.  

Tao Porchon-Lynch is a 96 year old yoga instructor who doesn't believe in age, and really embodies positivity.  I really love her thoughts on self talk.  "Whatever you put in your mind materializes.  So if you put negative thoughts, you draw toward you negative things.  So be positive, just look for good."

Our minds tend to filter out things and label them as good or bad.  What if we could experience our practices and our lives and really see more of the positivity and beauty?  The world is a beautiful place, and our practices are all beautiful as they are.  We just have to open up our eyes and see them that way.  Embrace the good, soften the edges in your body and mind, and enjoy each moment.  Just look for good!

Namaste - Beth


Challenge day 4

Day 4 is L handstand against the wall. Sometimes this can feel even harder than kicking up to a wall. 


Start out on your hands and knees with your feet against a wall. Push up to a shortened downdog, heels on the wall. Stay here or walk your feet up the wall and straighten your legs. Your hips will stack over your shoulders and wrists. Keep your core strong. It is normal to feel like your hips are beyond your hands when they aren't. 

Dealing with the Unexpected

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured
— B.K.S. Iyengar

The unexpected isn't always avoidable, but a regular yoga practice will help you deal with it.  You'll become less reactionary, connect with yourself, and live in the present moment.  This can result in an improved experience for yourself, and those around you. 

While traveling earlier this month, our first flight was delayed and we missed our connecting flight.  The seasoned airline employee was less than sympathetic to put it mildly.  The 6 travelers who missed the flight were assigned alternate travel arrangements.  Arriving at the gate just 2 minutes earlier would have saved us 2.5 hours, and we were all feeling unhappy about our situation.  A few simple questions can demonstrate how to handle the situation yogically.

Question #1 - Can this be cured?

Answer #1 - Nope, the attendant at the gate did not have the authority to open the door and let us take the flight.

Question #2 - How can this be endured?

Answer #2 - A meal did wonders for our moods.  We found our new gate, then my husband and son played a game while I set out to explore the airport.

I was delighted to discover an airport yoga studio.  It was a simple space, decorated with plants and silhouettes of yoga poses.  It was located just off a quiet hallway between terminals.  There were yoga videos to stream, mats to borrow, a privacy screen, and a logbook to sign.  Airport yoga studios have been reported at San Francisco International Airport, Burlington International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Albuquerque International Sunport,  Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.  I highly recommend using these spaces while you are traveling.  It can make a flight much more enjoyable, and healthier too!  If you have experienced others, please comment in the section following this post.

Upon completion of our final flight, we were once again delayed, and folks around me were frantically attempting to position themselves to quickly exit the airplane.  My family and I were waiting for them to pass, and you could feel the nervous tension building in the air.  Imagine my surprise when a woman across the aisle suggested that we chant Om as a remedy to the situation.  Instead of participating in the anxiety, I was able to have a very nice conversation with this California Yogi while we allowed others to go first.  The things that I would have missed by getting caught up in the nervous tension.  Talk about finding a way to endure!  

In yoga, we practice maintaining our breath and focus in difficult situations and poses.  We practice turning inward instead of comparing ourselves to others.   This helps teach us to deal with our daily lives, and acts as a shock absorber for the little bumps that come along the way. It leads to a lower stress, more enjoyable life experience.  

Next time you're dealing with the unexpected, ask can this be cured, and how can this be endured?

Namaste - Beth


Yoga in the Media

This ad from Yoga Reebok wants us to work harder.  "There are two ways to do things, the hard way or the easy way...it takes grit, sweat, resolve."  Check out the expression on the face of the model at the end of her yoga session (not the usual post yoga buzz I'm going for in my classes).  Reebok obviously wants to portray the fierce determination of a great competitor.  My biggest problem with this idea is that yoga IS NOT a competition.

That is not to say that you won't work hard in yoga classes, it's just that the size or complexity of the poses isn't the goal of yoga.  Some may easily accomplish a beautiful physical practice such as this, but it is not necessary.  A yogi can find calm while remaining determined in movement (or stillness).  A yogi can appreciate the subtle aspects of poses, making them seemingly new every day.  

I've lived "grit, sweat, and resolve", but currently, my yoga is teaching me to work smarter as well as working hard.  My yoga is teaching me to look inward and love myself.  Because of that, I've begun to ask for the things that I really want when I'm off the mat.  This has taken a great deal of work on my part!  

Yoga is life changing.  I've lived and loved the "work harder" phase of my practice, but you can miss something sweet if you just go for the "grit, sweat, and resolve".  Work smarter, find rest, work with focus, practice attention to detail, and find peace and stillness.  Yoga is an amazing mind-body connection, and not just beautiful poses.  

Students work in my classes, but I hope there is more.  I want my students to leave feeling amazing and finding a new connection with themselves.

Live, love and practice yoga!