Path to a Personal Yoga Practice

I have a confession to make, despite 17 years of faithful yoga practice/study, and 4.5 years of teaching yoga, finding regular time for my personal practice was still a challenge.  I have tried practicing on my own with limited success, via class streaming on  YogaGlo and was quite judgemental with myself when I failed to meet the goals that I set for myself. 

I started participating in Instagram Yoga Challenges, and saw both regularity of practice and physical achievement in poses that I usually stay away from.  The chance to be listed as a winner seemed to ignite the fire to get up early enough to practice every day.  There was one problem with this.  The gains were physical, but the soul had left my practice.  I am reminded of a verse from the Bible that I had memorized as a child. 

 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  - Mark 8:36 KJV

It didn't really matter if I could stand on my hands or do a big backbend if the spirit and the true feeling of what brought me to yoga was gone.  The pose is not the goal of yoga!  I was practicing daily, but for the wrong reasons.

Setting out to find the soul of my yoga practice involved establishing a regular routine, finding discipline, and being honest about my intentions.  I no longer have to look good for my morning practice.  I am enjoying the liberty of establishing a routine that works for me.  The first step was loss of the daily instagram post, which gave me the freedom to come to that mat just as I was in the moment (it also saves the time of getting changed).  I usually get out of bed, feed my pets, drink warm lime water, and practice in my pajamas.  This has given me the freedom to take more time for the practice itself and find balance every day.   

My second step was the loss of my yoga class streaming.  I'm not saying that this step is for everyone, but I needed to find balance by loss of external focus.  I spent less time choosing the day's practice, and more time in actual practice.  I am able to customize my practice based on my daily schedule.  I lost the external focus, and regained a little more soul in my yoga practice.  Putting the soul back in my yoga has influenced the way I feel off the mat, my interactions with my family & friends, and brought authentic inspiration to the way I teach.  Sound good?  Here are a few steps to get you started...

  1. Timing - set a regular time & routine every day.  Hold yourself accountable, but allow for variation depending on what else is going on in your life.  Your practice should be a haven, not an obligation.  A goal of early morning practice 5-7 days a week works for me.  
  2. Breath (pranayama) -  If you are practicing early in the morning, it is a good idea to do a type of breathwork that will give you energy.  I've been working with Kapalabhati or Skull Shining Breath.  Here are some instructions if you're new to the practice.     
  3. Meditation - This may feel more natural either here or after your asana (pose) practice.  Feel free to experiment to find out what works for you.  I prefer to do a round or two on my mala beads, then sit in stillness for the rest of my meditation, but there are several ways to learn how to meditate.  Subscribe to my blog, and you won't miss the guided meditation I've been working on!
  4. Yoga Poses (asana) - I find that an established routine with opportunity for variety works well for me. Established students or teachers can develop a practice of their own.  I suggest new students establish a practice with a local teacher (see my schedule for information on group or private instruction).  If you're interested in online offerings, comment on this blog and let me know what you're looking for.  I love to meet the needs of my online community!
  5. Savasana - include some time in rest before taking on the rest of your day!
  6. Reading/Study - You may choose to read a religious text, or study some yoga text.  The choice is yours.  Meditations from the Mat is a good choice, and an easy read.  It includes 365 brief one page reflections, that I have used as an intro to several of my yoga classes.  Some of my other favorites iinclude Light on Life,  Eastern Body Western Mind, Yoga Sutras and A Spiritual Rennegade's guide to the Good Life.   Check out the Facebook Yoga Book Club that a friend & I started if you want somewhere to discuss yoga texts & find inspiration.

Just yesterday, I had a discussion with a friend who is nearing the end of teacher training.  She had recently come to the conclusion that yoga was much more than where you put your hand, foot or tailbone - YES!!!  Your yoga practice can be about turning inward, how your practice makes you feel, finding balance. You can choose to take your practice into every part of your day.  You may or may not be able to hold fancy poses or teach large groups, but please find and keep the heart and soul of your practice.  The true power of our yoga practice lies within.

 

Namaste - Beth

Lessons from Nepal #5 - It Comes from Within

Imagine a boat, any type of boat will do.  The boat is taking on water, and in danger of sinking.  What is putting the boat in danger?  I'll explain some ideas, and answer the riddle at the end of this blog post.

I found the people of Nepal to be happy, gentle and strong.  They have the abiility to face adversity with a smile, a shake of the head, and the phrase "what can we do".  I witnessed drivers waiting in gas lines for 4 days.  I witnessed shop owners cleaning their shops and patiently waiting for tourists to return (as hotels were nearly empty).  The Yoga Sutras call for us to have these same qualities. 

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥  (Sthira Skuham Asanam)

sthira = (nom. sg. m.) strong; steady; stable; motionless
sukham = (acc. from sukha) comfortable; ease filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = (acc. sg. n./nom. sg. n. from āsana) asana; posture; seated position; physical practice

This text is often something to strive for in our physical practice, which is a great goal.  Finding the balance between stable strength and comfortable ease is a challenge.  It is a great way to make sure you aren't pushing too hard, but is there more?  What if you could face your entire life this way?  What if you could find a way to face the challenges that come from the outside with a new perspective?  If you can remain strong yet happy and relaxed, despite all adversity, how would this change your life?  These are the exact qualities that I admire about the people of Nepal.  They have this Sthira Sukham stuff down like nobody else!

So, back to the boat.   In my eyes, it is the water inside the boat that is the problem.  How can you change from the inside, so that you remain strong, steady, and happy without letting the water get in and sink your boat?  It is something that I strive for, and something that my yoga and meditation practice bring me closer to achieving.  Look within yourself for the answers.  

Namaste - Beth

  

Modern Ways to Share Yoga

Like it or not, the modern yoga practice is evolving.  I used to be the typical American yogi.  I did home practices several days a week, and usually took a live class at least once a week for live instruction.  Since this was the 1990s in Lancaster county, I had videos instead of  You Tube and Yoga Glo, and I had a class at a local gym instead of a studio or a large festival.  

Since then, times have changed.  In some ways I was highly resistant, and some changes I embraced with open arms.  Here are a few of the changes to the American yoga culture as I see them.

Yoga Studios

Fine Spirit Yoga Studio in Ithaca, NY

Fine Spirit Yoga Studio in Ithaca, NY

 Even the availability of a variety of yoga studios is a fairly recent development.  There is now accessibility to a nearby yoga studio in nearly every town in America.  Easily accessible yoga studios with live teachers offer great benefits.  A live teacher can answer your questions, and correct your alignment.  A live teacher may offer alternative poses based on what they see in your body.  A live teacher can see your progress, encourage you, and lead you in the right direction. 

These studios all have their own teachers, styles, and a thriving community of yoga students.  Having several local yoga communities to choose from has been such a great development over the last 15 years.  Yoga classes are places where I can feel at home and find loving people with interests that are similar to my own.  Practicing in a loving, welcoming community can bring a sense of kinship with others off the mat too!

When I'm traveling, I love picking out a few yoga studios to visit.  In Ithaca, NY I visited several studios, but recommend Fine Spirit Yoga Studio and The Yoga School.  In Corpus Christi, TX I loved Crossroads Yoga, and in Austin I enjoyed a lively practice at Black Swan Yoga.  In Asheville, NC I found a thriving community (and improved my headstand) at  Asheville Community Yoga.  If you're in Lancaster County, PA, visit my home studios  West End Yoga and The Yoga Place in Ephrata.  I clearly spend a lot of vacation time finding yoga studios.

Electronic Classes

Out with the DVDs and VHS tapes (yes, I'm that old), and in with the You Tube and online services.  I have been suprised to meet several yogis who fully embrace the yogic lifestyle, yet have never set foot in a live class.  Many of them practice with free classes that are available on You Tube.  There are also several online services that offer a wide variety of classes for a monthly subscription.

Electronic classes are a great way to fit a practice into a busy life.  They offer the benefit of a wide range of practices that can be done any time day or night.  People without the background to develop their own home practice can find safe home practices that have been developed by a professional.  I discourage people from practicing exclusively online, because it is so important to connect with other yogis and assure safe alignment.

Media

There is now so much more to yoga media than a print magazine or two.  Yoga is everywhere.  It advertises yoga and non yoga products.  There are blogs, facebook accounts, podcasts and instagram accounts all dedicated to yoga.  Largely due to these influences, the media is now making an effort to  broaden the American image of a yogi.  Yogis of different races and sizes grace the covers of yoga magazines (although I'd still like to see more fetured male yogis).  The message is becomiong more inclusive (although my local yoga studios really already are that way).  

Some yoga purists may shun some or all of these types of yoga practices, but it is bringing the benefit of yoga to the masses, and how can that be bad?  I have dedicated students who have tried yoga based on facebook posts.  I have peers in the yoga community who have never set foot in a yoga class (and they're just as passionate as I am).  Maybe as yogis, we can find a way to be more inclusive and embrace the changes that are taking place in the yoga community that we love.  It's time to share the benefits of yoga with the world!  

If you're interested in ways that I'm contributing to yoga media (other than www.yogam8.com), check this out.  

My Articles for Do You Yoga 

        4 Awesome Benefits of Yoga for All Athletes

        5 Ways the #Selfie Encourages a Yoga Practice

        10 Steps to Have a Yoga Retreat at Home

        How Does Yoga on the Rope Wall Work

Instagram Account

Facebook Account

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. 

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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. 

Does the Teacher Keep Score in Yoga Class?

Who is the best practicioner in your yoga class?  As a society, we tend to measure our own worth in comparison to others.  Schools assess children by grading them, and we expect them to do well.  Sports teams keep score, and we praise the team who has the best score at the end of the game.  Adults  may keep score by the size of their house, the car they drive, the vacations that they take, or the size of their bank account.

Student #1 was deciding if she wanted to double up on yoga classes last evening.  She wanted to know if it was going to be a hard or relaxed class.  I responded to her that she could make the class what she needs right now, and she always had the option of taking a knee down or going into child's pose.   Meanwhile, a small group of students were chatting about the previous day's class, "Lauren's class was really great yesterday".  I had been in that class and responded, "yes it was, and I really enjoyed taking child's pose a few times".  This astonished student #1, "You took child's pose?  I took downward facing dog every time".  

It is all too tempting to keep score in yoga class (or assume that your teacher is keeping score).  Did you get into a deeper version of the pose, hold plank longer, or demonstrate more strength and flexibility?  I offer this truth, your yoga teacher is not keeping score, and fellow students almost never slap each other in the butt like football players do during a game.  Although I now laughing as I  picture students slapping each other in the butt while leaving the studio with an encouraging "great Warrior 2 today".

If there were a score in yoga class, it wouldn't be measured in how many times you denied yourself rest (if you needed it).  Yes, it is easy to measure progress through advanced poses, but some bodies will fit into those poses naturally.  Gymnasts and dancers may more easily find cool looking poses, but that does not make it advanced yoga.  So how do we measure our progress?

  1. Is there consistency in your practice?  This can present itself in asana (poses) on the mat or yoga philosophy off the mat.
  2. Can you give your body what it needs?  Evaluate each day (or each pose) if you need to take it easy, or push yourself to work a little harder.  Since yoga is a union of mind and body, if you're taking the pose you need, you're advancing!
  3. Can you become more aware of subtle changes?  You can add new awareness by activating the legs, engaging the core, lengthening the spine, aligning the body, or practicing breathwork.
  4.  What is the quality of your savasana?  Do you feel a little humming in your body, do you feel fully relaxed, are the tension and anxiety gone?

While there will never be a trophy or a winner's podium after the yoga classes that I teach, I hope that each student experiences something much greater than "winning" at yoga.  This can happen when we stop grading ourselves and others.

 Hopefully your practice will help you to stop keeping score in other areas of your life as well. What if you picked up a little extra work when a coworker is stressed?  What if you put extra effort into a relationship without keeping score?  What if you really saw a stranger in need and took a step to help?  With nothing expected in return, no agenda in mind, just living life and connecting with others.  Don't you think you'd be happier?  

If we can find happiness without scorekeeping on and off the mat, we all win.  The prize is peace and joy.  Doesn't that sound great?

Namaste - Beth