Archive for the ‘health and fitness’ Category

How I Love Teaching Office Yoga

Last week I was grateful to teach a series of office yoga sessions for a huge global real estate company with several DC locations as part of their employee health & wellness program.  After spending three days in a row in Bethesda (Tues), Washington, DC (Wed) and Tysons Corner (Thurs) teaching the benefits of yogic breathing and movement (yoga asana) in conference rooms, I realized a few things:

  • Yoga is accessible to everyone, anywhere, anytime.  In these office yoga sessions I actually taught “chair yoga” – breathing, mindfulness and movement techniques people can do at a desk without a yoga mat, in work attire.  There were a few people with physical limitations and they were able to do most of the breathing & movement.  Again, yoga is accessible to everyone, anywhere, anytime.
  • I am doing exactly what I’m suppose to be doing – teaching yoga.  As a former corporate soldier, I can relate to my audience.  When I go into an office and teach yoga to people who are chained to their desks all day, I naturally seem to be able to speak about yoga in a way that they understand.  I can empathize as I lived and breathed corporate lifestyle for 10+ years.
  • P90X is turning people (men) on to yoga.  In both the Bethesda and DC offices, I had more men attending than usual.  On top of that, the men were asking multiple questions about yoga — breathing questions, pose specifics, how often they should practice, etc.  This was a shift.  Usually when I teach yoga in corporate settings it’s mostly women showing up and they have little experience with yoga.  When I would ask these “guys” about their yoga experience, they each had done the P90X yoga.  I’ve never seen P90X to give it a proper evaluation, though what I’m comfortable saying is that if it’s getting people (particularly men) to try yoga then awesome!
  • A lot of people have long commutes.  When a woman in the Bethesda office told me she commuted from/to Ashburn, VA each day I quickly realized a) I am grateful to no longer commute 60+ minutes each way/day, and b) commuting is the perfect time to practice yoga.  I’m not suggesting anyone bust out a downward facing dog on the bus/metro/highway.  Regardless of your commute time & mode of transportation, breathing is a yoga technique one can practice anywhere, anytime.  Breathing is an essential part of yoga and it requires no special equipment except for YOU to PAY ATTENTION to it.  The more you can practice actively slowing down the breath, the more you’ll be able to slow down your mind and relax your body.
  • People are enthusiastic about “their” yoga.  In each office I visited, at least a couple of participants wanted to chat me up about their yoga teacher or the style of yoga they practice.  I loved it!  Whether it was P90X, Bikram, Gentle or Vinyasa Yoga, I could see the glow in their eyes and feel the love for their practice.

I share all this as I realize I’m lucky to be what I’m doing.  I love that I continue to learn as I do what I love.  It’s also great to know I’m helping people open their eyes to doing yoga beyond a yoga studio.  So many think they need a yoga mat, 90 minute class or a special yoga outfit to benefit from yoga.  Not true!  Just a few minutes movement and active breathing every hour can do wonders.  Recent research from the Mayo Clinic shows that lack of movement (due to working at a desk all day, long commutes, watching TV for hours on end, etc.) can be worse than smoking and can defeat the efforts of a weekly exercise routine.  This is proof enough that office bound people need to find ways to feel and be healthy…and this is just another reason why I love teaching office yoga.     

Santosha – Discovered in a Bad Yoga Class

“By contentment, supreme joy is gained.”  sutra 2.42

“Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and self-surrender.  sutra 2.32

Santosha is Sanskrit for contentment.  The word contentment/santosha is first mentioned in The Yoga Sutras among the list of five niyamas (sutra 2.32)Side note:  My take on the niyamas is they guide our internal compass.  They’re ethical principles (or observances) that strengthen our character and guide us to live life in the best, most purest way possible.  As a result, they help us shine in a way that inspires others to live richer lives.  Richer meaning all the wealth we truly need is deep within, and not found held in a bank account.

Back to contentment/santosha.  In my yoga studies, I’ve seen many deep definitions on contentment.  From a simple idea like contentment is being able to appreciate and live in the present moment to a more thought-provoking description of “Contentment is perfected in the absence of cravings.  It is the experience that nothing is lacking, that everything happens is an integral part of a Divine Plan.” (quoted from Inside the Yoga Sutras by Jaganath Carrera)

It’s often said that we already have everything we need.  Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says “all is within.”  Though our culture wants us to believe we need “things” or other people to make us happy.  The “things” list is long but a few examples:  new toys (cars, bikes, clothes, accessories), fancy restaurants, botox, a different boyfriend/husband/family.  You get the drift.  I have many friends who are always seeking beyond what they have and at the same time they’ve yet to take time to fully appreciate what exist in their lives.

The path of yoga leads us in the opposite direction…let go of external desires and internal contentment will be discovered.  Though the process of discovering contentment requires a huge mound of trust, courage and attention.  It takes a lot of trust to follow a notion, such as the niyama contentment, when no one is there to hold your hand and lead you through the dark moments of life.  It also takes a lot of courage to fully step in and feel life as it is happening – feeling the awesome, okay, bad, scary and all the sensations in between that show up.  It takes a lot of paying attention to the present experience – being in it, as it is and not mentally jumping ahead to what’s happening 5 hours later the day.

Total confession here…I took a not so great yoga class this past weekend in DC and it was there that I experienced santosha in a new wayLast side note:  My new goal is to try 2 new (new to me) yoga teachers a month in the DC area.  Not a tough challenge given there are sooooo many studios now in the DC Metro Area (defined in my mind as Arlington, VA;  Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC;  Bethesda, MD).  So I signed up for what was listed as a vinyasa yoga /intermediate level class.  Let’s just say after starting in a restorative pose for 10+ minutes and not getting into my first Downward Facing Dog until 20 minutes into class, I was not content.  Thanks to my Grandmother’s constant words of wisdom, I reminded myself that there is always something new to learn in every situation in life.  Though I continued to find myself way too often checking the clock, realizing I had no idea the end time for the class and feeling I was stuck there.  Then I thought “I’m stuck here for a reason”.  That’s when I settled in and tried to make the best of it.

I can’t say I learned anything “new” from the teacher but I had a total realization that my life could be way worse.  Here I was on a Sunday morning surrounded by 40 or so others in a yoga class, bending and stretching in ways that many people aren’t able to do.  I have a healthy body and a great life.  The sun was coming out and I had a full day off ahead.  Life could be so much worse.  It was there and then I reminded myself of santosha.

2012: A Year of Challenge

With permission I have copied & pasted Sri Dharma Mittra’s latest message from the Dharma Yoga Center 12/31/2011 newsletter. 

I admit it’s a lot to take in.  My suggestion:  Read it here, then print it to have on hand so you can reread it several times, contemplate upon it and decide what it means for you.  Enjoy!

                        HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A Message from Dharma:

All suffering and pain experienced on the material plane is for the purpose of purification – the gradual cleaning of the mind, heart and intellect so that one day, in this incarnation or one of the next, we may at last have a complete vision of Supreme Reality.

All yoga teachers and students, prepare yourselves! The year ahead will be a year of challenge. It will be a year that will provide many opportunities to really be of service to others. It will also provide us with the chance to discover how strong and faithful we truly are.

According to present and past conditions including predictions and even some direct evidence, sometime during and especially in late 2012, the Earth may pass through some severe weather conditions and maybe even some unusual phenomena. Those with lots of attachment to things and comforts may endure lots of pain and suffering, and those without good health and spiritual knowledge and who are attached to comfort surely will suffer more.

In our study of yoga, we learn about the Kleshas, the mental impurities, the root causes of all pain and suffering. All five are rooted in the first, Avidya or ignorance of your own True Self, but attachment or Raga, another one of the Kleshas, will cause many great problems during this period of transition and change. We can combat this as Yogis by re-dedicating ourselves to Sadhana (spiritual practice), and, the more we learn, the more we’ll have to then share with others to help them through the dark days potentially ahead. Commit every bit of knowledge you can to memory and strengthen the physical body so you can help others who are weaker. Many Yogis become flexible and strong through their dedication to the Asana or posture practice, but you mustn’t sacrifice cardiovascular fitness, since the ability to run if there is danger is of great value both to save yourself and to then help save others. Do something for at least five minutes every day to strengthen and tone the cardiovascular system, even Jumping Jacks. Pursue Self-knowledge every day with great intensity.

To fully arm yourself, spend more time in contemplation and realize what you really are today! We are all a portion of the Almighty One; immortal, omniscient and formless. It is only by this knowledge that you will truly remain unaffected by the possible external state of turmoil. Stay healthy and share as much as possible spiritual knowledge with others so that their pain can be reduced. Acting in this way is the highest type of charity. Remember, belief is not enough!

How unwise it is to sleep! (To float through life unaware of anything and without learning anything.) How foolish it is to remain unguarded and full of doubts! Constantly breaking the law and taking chances and stupid risks that will always result in disappointment, embarrassment, pain and suffering. The wise man is always awake and fully prepared. He follows the rules and guards his knowledge. Compassionate to all, he lives happily and is immune to delusion. The wise man is ever ready to face any amount of pain that may be inflicted upon him at any time.

But even the holy man’s body and mind are still subject to extremes of discomfort, since no one is immune to the forces of nature. Those who are still without Self-knowledge and who abide in a state of ignorance as regards Supreme Reality doubtless will suffer more in the year to come. Due to the present condition of everything, including the mental and spiritual, everything is moving, acting and changing perfectly according to and is affected by these constantly shifting patterns, resulting in a specific new condition. Everything is controlled by the Divine Laws of Nature, and everything is connected to everything else. Whatever happens to anything in any distinct area has an effect on everything else to some degree. Einstein saw this through the lens of Physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In Karmic terms, perhaps this is better expressed as: “For every action, there is an equal required action.” Or, “Everything we are passing through at present is a result of our deeds from the past.” If we were able to look back at every action taken in previous lifetimes, we would come to understand with clarity everything we are now experiencing from moment to moment.

Those devoid of Self-knowledge are fully under the sway of their external environment and its given state from moment to moment. But the wise men and women, endowed with right knowledge, can control the effect these external changes have to affect the internal environment and, most crucially, the mind. Of course, no one can escape their fate entirely, but, since the enlightened one is not identified with the body and mind anymore, he or she is truly untouched by the effect of the outside world upon them.

Only a lit candle can light the unlit wick of another. Some who lose everything will feel that the world really has ended. If you have a little knowledge and a little self-control, you will be able to serve and help anyone and everyone you come into contact with both now and after everything begins to possibly shift and change.

May Brahman bestow upon you the treasure of understanding this Divine knowledge! Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi.

Lots of Love,  Dharma Mittra

Remember! The goal is Self-realization!

WOW! for today

After the OM’s and Namaste in my lunchtime office Vinyasa Yoga class yesterday, I reminded the group that Friday is our monthly Yin Yoga class.  One of my students responded with an unpleasant facial expression stating “by that time I’ll have already been up 9+ hours”.  I was like “WOW!“.   Though my simple one word response was filled with internal depth.

I was not only hearing from her how much she was dreading Friday but sensing the anxiety/dread of how much that day is already setting the tone for her entire week.  If she is responding like that after an energizing yoga class, how many other times will she bring it up this week?  How much will it impact how she lives life this week?  The reality is her having to get up before o’dark-thirty and drive to BWI is a blip of time.  In the grand scheme of life, it is truly a blink of an eye.

The other part of my “WOW!” reaction is I could totally see me being like my student A LOT not too long ago.  A sense of relief (as well as empathy) immediately lightened me up.  How far I have come.  Don’t get me wrong.  There plenty of times I still worry/fret about the future but to a much lesser degree now (i.e. now I might fret a day or so beforehand vs. an entire week).  Thanks to my growing yoga and meditation practice I’ve really discovered how much I can easily miss out on living in the present, and experiencing the joys of each moment of each day, if my mind is stuck days ahead on something that may or may not happen.

This leads to another part of my “WOW!” response.  Yesterday was only Monday!  What if Friday never comes?  What if Friday comes, but the circumstances change?  There are so many “what if’s”.  The biggest being what if Friday comes and all goes as planned and it really wasn’t so bad?  All that build up and negative energy that followed all week was more of a drain and unknowingly (and unfortunately) it affected how life was lived for a week.

Like a few hours, a week in the grand scheme of an entire life is only a blink of an eye.  But if one lives fretting/anxious/dreading all the time, those blips can really suck the life out of truly living.  So I conclude…what are you fretting about that is preventing you…

Fountain Splashing @ LOVE YOUR BODY in Reston Town Center on Sunday  — you only live once!

from living a WOW! life today?

Corporate Wellness Radio Spot

At the end of January, exactly two days before heading off to CO to ski, I was contacted by Voice of America to discuss corporate wellness programs, specifically yoga in the workplace.  Given it’s a passion of mine, I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to speak about yoga in the corporate world.  It’s what I live and breathe and love teaching/sharing.

The timing wasn’t great though since my focus was on wrapping life up before heading out for week of vacation.  When I asked what the deadline was for the story and she said “yesterday” I gladly obliged.  Instead of having her simply interview me, I invited her to attend the very last class I was teaching prior to my vacation —a Friday lunchtime office yoga class in DC.

With little notice and no clue what to expect as far as the interview, the story went live this past Sunday and has been well received by many around the world.  My name was botched a bit (Arbella instead of Abella) and a couple of other tid-bits are off but overall it’s a great overview on issues companies must consider when offering employee wellness programs as well as the potential benefits they deliver.

Tune in here at Voice of America to hear the full story.  Be forewarned:  most listeners are non-native speakers, so the voicing is S L O W.  You can also simply read it online here too (it’s quicker than listening).

And, yes that is us (RTI & me, aka Instructor) Omming at the beginning of the story.  That might just be my favorite part of the story 🙂

Step Out of Your Routine

“Step Out of Your Routine” is one of the affirmations beaming from my vision board.  And it’s fitting given the last couple of weeks has been nothing but routine, particularly my yoga practice while I was on the road.

Up until last Tuesday, I was on holiday travel for about 1.5 weeks.  In order to continue with my daily yoga practice, I had to settle for practicing on plushy carpet.  If you’re a yogi, you know carpet is not ideal particularly for a practice that is mostly standing & arm balancing poses that are best supported by a hard surface.

For the last 8+ years, I’ve fully known in advance of travel the carpet circumstances will exist.  I take my travel yoga mat anyway to DE, KY, LA and wherever else and just do my best.  Yet as I move through my vinyasa practice, trying to simply stay focused on my breath, there is always this underlying thought of “I wish I had a harder surface to practice on”.

So a few days before New Years Eve while in KY at my in-laws – don’t worry we spent 12/31 and beyond in New Orleans 🙂 – I unrolled my mat and  jumped into downward facing dog to kick off my morning practice.  Immediately my mind went right to chatting with the carpet.  Then something shifted.  Suddenly I realized that my practice that day/moment doesn’t have to be like it is at home.  At the same time, my vision board and the “step out of your routine” phrase popped into my head.

Again there was a shift.  I started to live my yoga in that moment.  Simply, I woke up to what could be possible in that moment if I just surrendered to my circumstances vs. resist (which I’ve been doing with the carpet for 8 years).  I started to explore down dog by playing with as many variations that my body & breath led me into.  I practiced Sun Salutations from sitting in dandasana.  Then I stretched fully on my back (horizontal tadasana as I’ll call it) and explored Sun Salutations from there.   I worked in the moment with what I was given rather than forcing my routine into the now.  The result of stepping out of my routine (in this case, dropping a mental fixation), I had an extremely creative and refreshing asana practice – physically, mentally and spiritually.

To conclude, I leave you with a quote I seem to keep stumbling upon:  You cannot do yoga.  Yoga is your natural state.  What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state. – Sharon Gannon

We are All Human

Last week I volunteered to teach yoga in Washington, D.C. to homeless women living in temporary housing.  I was thrilled to do it.  Though I wondered, other than guiding them through a few yoga postures what could I really offer them?  How was I going to relate to them when 1) I have never been homeless, 2) I am not illiterate and 3) I don’t have a family member in prison (let alone even know anyone locked up).  Needless to say, pre-class I was slightly intimidated as to what to expect.

Once they entered the room that night and step on yoga mats, I realized these women are human.  They are just like me and you.  We all have the same basic needs.  We all want to feel safe.  We all want a roof over our heads. We all have dreams and desires.  We all say “never” every now and then, i.e. I will never be able to do X.  We all want to be loved.  We all breathe, the same air in fact.  Simply, we all want to feel happy and healthy.

So as I taught class, I encouraged laughter and smiles.  I encouraged them to breathe.  I also encouraged them to do a few yoga poses that challenged them in a way no one probably has in a long while.  Best of all, I encouraged a sense of connection between each of us because the reality is they are just like us, human.

Feeling Fall

The chill is in the air.  Pumpkins are for sale.  Halloween decor is out.  I’m so not ready for Fall but it is here.  Fall is now.

Rather than wishing it was still Summer, I need to open up to all of Fall’s offerings now.  Otherwise the next thing you know, it will be Winter.  Then I’ll wonder “what happen to Fall”.

Embrace “what is” vs. resisting is a practice I’ve learned on my yoga mat.  I often catch myself needing this lesson in everyday life.  Learning to accept and appreciate where I am (i.e., in a yoga posture) vs. wishing I was somewhere else (i.e. in a more advanced expression of the posture).  Waking up to being grateful for the life I have vs. dreaming of a different life or coveting a friend’s.  The grass might appear greener on the other side but there’s beauty in the grass right under my feet if I take the time to look at it instead of peering elsewhere.

So the lesson I share…Every moment we have a choice to either accept where things are or reject.  By accepting, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore, learn and grow.  By rejecting, the door of possibilities is closed shut – possibility of what the new season brings, what newness will show up in life and/or what is possible on the yoga mat.

So here it is…happy Fall!  I’m here for you.

one thing @ a time

Last Saturday I participated in an all day mindfulness retreat @ the Mindfulness Practice Center in Fairfax, VA.  The morning started with a one hour mindful breathing meditation followed by another 30-45 minutes of mindful movements.  Neither one of these, though enjoyable, fully inspired me.  What was really eye-opening was the mindful walking and mindful eating.

What does mindful mean?  Being 100% present with one thing.  Really feeling my entire foot touch the earth as I step vs. just running through life and not even noticing the terrain.  As we walked mindfully outside, and I did so barefoot, I caught myself noticing the terrain ahead was shifting from a smooth surface to gravel.  Rather than enjoying the smooth bridge we were walking on surrounded by trees, my mind jumped ahead creating a worry that the gravel would hurt my feet.  I returned to my breath and as my feet hit the gravel I was pleasantly surprised by the sensations I felt as I mindfully walked on this new surface.

Mindfulness also very much means being in the experience at that very moment rather than mentally jumping ahead to “I wonder what’s next”.  For instance, chewing – really chewing until every last morsel has left my mouth to travel along the digestive path.  Mindfulness eating takes at least 15-20 chews (for  some it’s an unbelievably 30-50 bites).  It’s also about chewing and only chewing – meaning put the fork down once the food enters the mouth and simply chew.  I caught myself a few times starting the chewing process and then simultaneously scooping food on my fork as if I knew what I would want next.  How do you truly know what you want next when you haven’t even finished what is currently being chewed?  Again, rather than anticipating or assuming what I might want, I had to practice just being with the one thing going on in that very moment.

Mindfulness is truly a practice.  It’s a practice that can be done every moment if we really want it.  It’s about actively being in the experience & nowhere else.  It’s about being alive and fully being with every sensation/feeling that life has to offer.  It’s about living life one step at a time, one bite at a time and more importantly, one breath at a time.

Growing Pains

Aparigraha, the fifith yama, means nonattachment or nongreed.  It is also often translated as letting go.

For the most part I’m pretty good about following aparigraha, this key ethical principle in yoga.  I’m fairly chill when someone cuts me off in traffic.  I let it go.  I don’t get overworked about being overcharged $1.  I let it go.  I’m even a huge believer of feng shui and it’s principles centered around letting go of old stuff (clothes, books, photos, etc.) to make room for new things.

So as I expand my Arlington, VA-based yoga business (abellaYoga) to include Health Coaching services (abellaWellness) I’m noticing I’m not practicing aparigraha so well.  Since inception of abellaYoga, I’ve run the books, managed my website, lived in the land of business development (networking, writing proposals, contracts, etc) and taught all the classes.  The reality is as I move into Health Coaching I can’t keep doing it all.  I need to let go.  I need to delegate some of these tasks that have been dear to my heart.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is an awesome problem to have as a small business owner.  “Without continuous change it would be impossible to grow” Charlotte Bell states in mindful YOGA, mindful LIFE.

Well, I’m heading out shortly to stare at the ocean for a few days, clear my head and come back ready to let go.  I am open to suggestions if anyone knows a great bookkeeper, website designer (who can merge abellaYoga and abellaWellness) and possibly business manager.

Happy long weekend!