Archive for the ‘meditation’ Category

ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes!

One of the Buddha’s well-known quotes is “nothing is permanent“.  It’s true, with time everything eventually changes.  As humans, we are constantly evolving.  Our physical bodies change over the years.  Our life experiences change how we perceive the world and our everyday relationships.  We have career changes.  Our beloved bank merges with another bank and now there’s a new debit card and website.  Or the best yoga teacher you’ve ever had decides to move to another country.   On top of all this, technology is constantly driving changes in how we shop, communicate and simply live life.

So here’s where my new changes come into play…Almost 7 years now, my easy to set up “yoga blog by abellaYoga” allowed me the freedom to start blogging about anything and everything related to yoga – teaching yoga, questions from students I received, the business of yoga, yoga philosophy, meditation, etc.  Fortunately too, my simple abellaYoga.com website also worked for what I needed during these last several years.  And as much as I held on (with a tight grip!) to keep my simple website and blog running “as is”, it became clear over the  last couple years that big changes in how I presented abellaYoga were looming.  My template-driven website no longer fully represented the professionalism of my mobile yoga service – nor did it express the extent I have grown as a yoga teacher and student in my yoga journey thus far.

So here I am unveiling a new look to abellaYoga.com which includes the abellaYoga blog as being fully integrated into the new web site.  Bad news is if you’ve been subscribing to abellaYoga.wordpress.com, you’ll experience some changes.  For instance, those simple emails you use to receive with my latest blog posts are fading away until I figure out how to set up a new email subscription plug-in/widget/whatever into the abellaYoga.com/blog  Oh yeah, and there’s a new blog address:  abellaYoga.com/blog

Change is great but it often requires patience, particularly on my part as I attempt to live right now in a tech hat instead of on a yoga mat.  So as I navigate through these tech changes over the next few weeks, please be patient.  Check back frequently.  The old blog address will automatically be redirected to the new abellaYoga.com/blog in the next day or so.  I have at least figured that out!

Change can be scary but it’s often exactly what we need to take us to the next stage of health and happiness in all arenas of our lives -personal, professional and spiritual.   Change is inevitable and we’re all going through it more often than not.  It’s best to stay positive, remember you’re not alone and keep in mind nothing last forever.

Melody of abellaYoga has been gratefully teaching yoga full-time in Washington, DC, Alexandria and Arlington, VA since 2006.  Thankful for experiences gained in the telecom/tech corporate world, this ex-marketing, yoga-chick is happy to share all she knows about yoga with all.

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.     

Karma Yarma Smarma

No, the title of this post is not Sanskrit for something particular or grand.  It’s simply me being frustrated with myself for not fully understanding karma.  I realized today (after pondering this topic the entire month of September & not posting a single thought about it) that maybe that’s the point of karma.

As with many of the yoga sutras & other yoga philosophy, they’re often easier to read about and get vs. live.  Further try to apply them in full-blown action and whoa! life wakes you up.  I think if the world was filled with yogic living beings (i.e. yogis and yoginis) maybe the yoga sutras and concepts such as karma might play themselves out in life smoothly.  Unfortunately, life isn’t a bowl of strawberries (one of my favs), a box of chocolates or whatever it is you crave.

So here it is straight from Inside the Yoga Sutras (By Jaganath Carrera):  “the womb of karmas (actions and reactions) has its root in these obstacles, and the karmas bring experiences in the seen (present) or the unseen (future) births.”  sutra 2.12

“the karmas bear fruit of pleasure and pain caused by merit and demerit.” sutra 2.14

Or again sutra 2.12 from another translation I purchased at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC:  ” a man’s latent tendencies have been created by his past thoughts and actions.  These tendencies will bear fruit, in both this life and in lives to come.”

I get the obvious karma connections.  For instance, if we eat too many cookies or chips today, we are likely to wake-up tomorrow feeling blah or weighing more on the scale.  Or if we stay up too late watching a movie (or drinking), we feel very tired (or hungover) the next day.  This is probably obvious to those of us who studied Newton’s law of motion in high school physics:  “for every action there is a reaction.”  I feel, and based on my continuous studies of The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita this obvious karma is known as “present” karma.

I also get the more subtle karma concept such if we do something nice for someone today (with no expectation) then down the road someone will do something nice for us.  The “kind” thing, thought or word may not be the same but there’s a connection and often we can’t connect the kind offering to what we previously gave/did.  With subtle karma, it’s your intention and not about the expectation which leads to the phrase “what goes around comes around.”  To me this is “future” karma.

And on a deeper karmic level I totally get what can happen if I violate Ahimsa.  Ahimsa (well-known in yoga philosophy for thousands of years as non-violence to all beings anyplace, anytime) if violated can lead to unhappiness/violence/suffering at some time in this lifetime.   Yet this is where I get “STUCK“, where I think karma SUCKS (sorry Mom!) and where I struggle with the concept of  “present” karma

Present karma doesn’t always make sense since it’s based on “past” karma.  A common example that repeatedly happens for me:  when I read/hear news about someone who has been a positive force in their community and they were violated in some way, I struggle.  I really struggle with how something bad can happen to someone who has been doing good and been a positive influence.  If this person lived such an exemplary life, why were they harmed?  How can I think this person deserved this act of negativity when they are always producing acts for the good of others?

Sure if you are dedicated and fully understand the karma concept, you’d probably say they did something in the past (whether in this life or previous) to deserve what happened.  To me this thinking/belief lacks compassion (a yogic violation in some sutra which I’ll find if you command).  Plus, to think someone deserved something bad lacks sympathy and a basic appreciation for humanity.

Again, this is where I struggle with karma.  Though I believe everything in life happens for a reason, I can’t quite get myself to a place where I think people always deserve what happens to them.  As much as I read about karma and think I get the concept, I’m torn when life throws a curve ball of reality in my face.  This is why I’m on the fence and chanting “karma yarma sharma.”

Yoga’s Little Secret: Pranayama

“…the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled.  This is pranayama.”  sutra 2.49

“Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.”  sutra 1.34

Pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Outside of the yoga world, no one talks about fully dedicating attention to your breath unless you’re hyperventilating or experience some other health issue like pneumonia or asthma.  Even then, in my limited experience, the medical world rarely knows what the power of conscious breathing has to offer.

To the general population of non-yogis, yoga is typically only associated with physical movements/poses (asana).  Don’t get me wrong.  Yoga asana offers a ton of benefits such as improving balance and coordination, increasing strength and flexibility and boosting confidence and concentration.  There are many, many reasons to do it.  And in most asana classes, breathing is usually mentioned and encouraged but it tends to be secondary in the minds of many students (at least those newer to asana).

Pranayama (sanskrit for breath control) is really the heart and soul of yoga, just as breathing (the exchange of oxygen and carbon-dioxide) is essential to keeping our hearts pumping and blood flowing.  The benefits of exploring pranayama can be as grand as easing high blood pressure and asthmatic symptoms to as simple as cleansing the body and calming the mind.

There are numerous pranayama techniques, each having their own specific function and benefit.  For instance, Kapalabhati cleanses the lungs, warms the body and tones the abdominal muscles.  Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) has a calming and balancing effect on the nervous system.  Sound breathing improves concentration and can positively shift your energy (i.e. awakening the chakras).  For details on some of these techniques, check out The Science of Pranayama.  If the techniques I’ve mentioned sound too esoteric (which I get!), Max Strom’s Learn to Breathe DVD  might be your speed.

My current fav:  Calming Breath.  Why?  It’s easy.  Anyone can do it.  Plus, it can be done anywhere, anytime.  Simple instructions:  Work with a 4:2:4 breathing ratio for a few weeks (5-10 minutes a day).  This means inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 4.  As this gets easy, you can increase the ratio to 6:3:6, or 8:4:8.  Don’t be too ambitious.  Remember it’s called calming breath so more doesn’t mean better.

Again in my mind, pranayama is yoga’s little secret.  Trust me, my little blog post here really doesn’t do it justice!  Explore it for yourself.  Read up on it.  Find a yoga teacher who can guide you and answer your questions.  And just like asana, practice it daily.

Are You a REAL Yoga Teacher?

As part of the 2012 Arts Festival Day at an elementary school in Alexandria, VA, my yoga teacher-friend Brittanie DeChino and I volunteered to do a few yoga demonstrations to third, fourth and fifth-graders.  We taught them sound breathing (a breathing technique we learned from our teacher Sri Dharma Mittra), sun salutations, balancing poses, partner yoga and a few other fun things.  It was a nice change from my daily office yoga gigs.

At the end of each 20-minute presentation, we opened it up for a few questions from the kids.  In the last group, which was about 75 fifth-graders, one girl asked “are you real yoga teachers?”  Of course, we said with a smile “yes, we are real yoga teachers.”  Though now I’m thinking, what is a real yoga teacher?

From an educational standpoint in the United States, the Yoga Alliance defines the educational requirements needed to be known as a Registered Yoga Teacher (aka RYT) with their organization.  Is being an RYT enough to be considered a real yoga teacher?  I say no.  In fact, you can become an RYT and not ever teach an actual yoga class.  Or you can become an RYT and teach yoga classes every day.  Though I don’t think whether you teach yoga classes or not makes you a real yoga teacher.

To me what makes a real yoga teacher is someone who shows up in life doing their best every moment.  Someone who shows up in life for other people —helping others, giving to others and not expecting anything in return (aka karma yoga).  Someone who inspires others naturally through their actions.

To me a real yoga teacher honors the universal vows of the yamas (sutra 2.30) and niyamas (sutra 2.32).  And if the “teacher” only follows the first yama which is ahimsa (nonviolence in thought, word and action) to me they are a real yoga teacher.  Actually, this is more important than whether the teacher can even do the physical postures.  I also think a real yoga teacher takes time to pause daily –whether it’s to move (asana), meditate, or just simply open a yoga text, like The Yoga Sutras or The Bhagavad Gita, and reflect.  A real yoga teacher is a truth seeker – someone who is following their heart and sharing from the heart.  As Sri Dharma always says, the goal of yoga is self-realization.

And how is yoga related to art (a question posed by one bright fourth-grader today)?  Practicing yoga calms you (as Brittanie explained) which creates space within, opening you up to endless amounts of creativity.  And as I type this I realize that teaching yoga is an art.  It takes practice and a dedicated heart.  Living yoga is an artistic journey.  It takes constant practice and an open heart to whatever and whoever shows up in the moment.  Isn’t this all art?

OM, OM, OM (sutra 1.27 & 1.28)

Yesterday morning after my 20 minute pranayama & meditation practice I picked up The Yoga Sutras and thought “I will open them and whatever sutra my finger lands on I will write about that sutra this week.”  My first attempt I landed on sutra 2.7 (attachment) which I recently wrote about.  My second attempt I landed on sutra 1.27The expression of Ishwara is the mystic sound of OM.  (Note OM is God’s name as well as form).

Two thoughts crossed my mind 1) Oh no, I’m not going to get into the God discussion.  2)  Didn’t I already write a post about OM (see Why OM? crafted Sept 2008).  Though as the day wore on a few things confirmed that this is the sutra for the week.   My private yoga client asked at the end of her session “why do we OM?”  Then I was sad to read last night that OM Yoga Center in NYC is closing the end of June.  And after wearing my Juil sandals (known for their energy grounding benefits) all day yesterday I realized OM was definitely the sutra for me.

I’m adding sutra 1.28 to this posting since I believe for each of us OM represents something different (sutra 1.28 To repeat it in a meditative way reveals its meaning.) especially once we begin to chant it on a regular basis.  During my Dharma Mittra yoga teacher training last Fall, I chanted OM for 10 minutes every morning for 30 days.  For me, it had a very internal cleansing effect.  It’s really hard to describe but I felt as if some negative vibes were being scrubbed out of me.

At the beginning and end of every class I teach, we OM as a group.  I tell my students we do it as a way to connect with one another.  For some it has a calming effect.  For others it gets them comfortable with their voices.  Chanting OM is also a way to feel the aliveness throughout every cell in the body.

Sutra 1.27 states OM is God’s name as well as form.  Again, not that I want to get into the God discussion here but God to me represents your highest, best Self.  This is the meaning that has been revealed to me.  Some also say divine Self.  I like to think of OM as a way of connecting to our highest thoughts, words and actions as well as a way of grounding us in the moment.

Speaking of grounding, this is where the mention of Juil sandals comes into play.  I received a pair of Juil’s “hera” sandals and they’re amazing.  With the early summer weather we’ve had recently here in DC (yes, it was 90 degrees last week) I’ve been able to really take them for a few good test walks.  They are extremely well made, stylish and oh so comfy.  Our feet are our connection to the earth and the foundation of our bodies.  For many of us (and there is plenty of research to support this), we are wearing shoes that cramp our feet and prohibit our connection to the ground below.  When our feet are out of sorts, our body eventually become out of sorts (i.e. knee issues, hip concerns, lower back pain).  If you’re in need of a good-looking shoe that also has the added benefit of making you feel healthy and happy (please see this link for those details), I definitely suggest checking out Juil.

Attachment (sutra 2.7)

Attachment is that which follows identification with pleasurable experiences.     sutra 2.7

Pretty straightforward sutra, right?  The tricky part of attachment is how sneaky it is in our lives.  The action/object/tendency we’re attached to starts out as a simple moment of joy.  And then we repeat the action seeking the same positive experience it originally created.   Next thing you know, we become attached to the experience triggered by the object/action/tendency.  And then the attachment becomes so ingrained in us and we can’t imagine life without the action/object/tendency.  It’s a sneaky, vicious cycle.

The easiest example I can think of is coffee (or whatever your wake-up beverage of choice is).  I visit Starbucks almost every morning.  By stating this, clearly it appears I am attached to my morning coffee.  Well I can be for sure and so are many, many, many others I’ve observed.  For me, it’s not so much the caffeine I am attached to (because I do 1/2 decaf and some days just go without the Starbucks visit).  It’s more of the warm sensation/experience coffee offers my body (physical attachment).  I also enjoy sitting in Starbucks writing…the environment seems to help get my creative juices flowing (mental attachment).

Though when I was on the Dharma diet during my Dharma Mittra 500-hour yoga teacher training last Fall, coffee was banned.  My morning ritual became hot water with lemon and a special Dharma smoothie.  The first few days were tough but I actually got really used to the hot water lemon concoction —it gave me the warming sensation.  I also discovered that not only was I saving $2 a day by not going to Starbucks (plus the gas money), I had more time in the mornings to sit for meditation, writing, or whatever I wanted to do.   And that’s the sneaky part of attachment…when we start to clearly see their hold on us, we realize how much of our time, energy and resources we are sacrificing in exchange for great hopes of a repeat pleasurable experience.  We start to believe we need it to make us happy and we are willing to do whatever it takes.

Inside the Yoga Sutras (p. 110) elaborates on sutra 2.7.  “Attachments are limitations that always result in deepening or maintaining ignorance (avidya).  They are cravings that deny the peace and joy of our Self by insisting that outside experiences are the root of happiness.

The Yoga Sutras state it.  The Buddha said it.  We have everything we need inside ourselves to be happy.  Yet in this consumer-driven materialistic world, how can we ever experience this?  My suggestion…try eliminating for 7 days just one thing that you do daily/eat daily/drink daily/etc.  Observe how you feel without it.  Observe what you do in lieu of it.  Observe the positive and negative changes it has on your physical body.  Observe your emotional state.  Pay attention.  You might discover you’re happier and healthier without it.