Archive for the ‘yoga asana’ 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.

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The Business of Yoga (part 3)

Part of the fun of being a small business owner is every single day is different.  And as much as I am in control of my own schedule, sometimes I’m just not.  Running a business forces you to learn how to literally “go with the flow.”  For instance, this morning I had a private yoga client cancel which opened up time for me to blog.  After this, I’ll head into Washington, DC (in the pouring rain) and teach a corporate yoga class.  I love what I do.  I also love that on Fridays my day is done by 1:15pm.  There is no denying the amount of freedom and flexibility my business offers me.

As a full-time yoga teacher with a mobile yoga business (abellaYoga – travels to teach yoga in homes & offices)  I primarily teach yoga Mon-Fri.  It’s the behind the scenes stuff that many new business owners (particularly yoga teachers) may not know needs to happen to keep a steady schedule of clients.  I do things like drafting contracts, writing proposals and creating promotional handouts for office yoga programs.  I attend networking events, run to the bank to make deposits and often function as my own IT guru (who really should be fired; technology is an area I struggle with).  Currently, I’m in the midst of working with a web designer to revamp my website as well as prepping for the City of Alexandria’s Employee Health Fair that I’ll be exhibiting at a few weeks.

As much as I love the variety each day offers, sometimes it can be challenging to keep myself on track.  To keep some structure in my fluid schedule here are a few things over the years I have found helpful.

Do Your Yoga – Schedule your own yoga practice.  Write it down in your calendar or on your daily “to do” list.  I’m serious.  If it doesn’t get booked, it won’t happen.  You’ll feel better and your students will have a better experience.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s through your own personal practice you’ll find your creative expression as a yoga teacher.  No practice = no expression.  It’s that simple.

Clear clutter – Clutter in our homes and offices mentally weighs us down.  As soon as the mail comes each day, I go through it right away and recycle most of it or file the bills in the “to be paid” folder.  The few catalogs I get, I try to flip through that evening and recycle immediately when finished.  Visit dmachoice.org to stop getting junk mail and catalogs you don’t want or need.  Online banking & billing is another great way to lighten your mailbox and keep your counters/desk clean.

Use a calendar – You need to find a system that works for you.  Believe it or not, I use a paper calendar.  I’m certain I could be more efficient by moving my scheduling system online but there is something I like about just quickly being able to open my paper calender when a client needs to make a quick change.  Often iPhones/iPads/computers take a little time to pull up the calendar.  I also keep a list of monthly “to do’s” that happen every month each year.  For instance, I know my corporate business tax is due every September and my Yoga Alliance renewal is every May.  This way I’m never surprised about money that is due or risk missing an important deadline.

Get Outside – All my yoga classes are taught inside.  Most of the “behind the scenes” things I do are done inside.  I find it key to get outside at least 20 minutes a day.  Whether its to walk the dogs or sit outback to read an article, I make sure I get some fresh air so I can return to the indoors with a clearer perspective.  Remember, nature is powerful medicine.

Again, these are just a few things I’ve discovered over the last 6+ years of running my own business.  If you have other ideas, please share!

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.     

Silence is Golden (sutra 1.49)

Every winter for a solid week my husband and I travel West (this year Snowmass/Aspen, CO) for our annual ski trip.  The thing is I don’t ski anymore.  I get many looks and shocking responses when I tell people this.  People further probe “don’t you get bored?” or “what do you do all week?”

Honestly it’s the perfect vacation.  Trading the hustle & bustle of the Washington, DC area for the beauty of the snow-covered mountains and fresh crisp air is a welcomed change.  I unplug about 90% of the time (no cell, no laptop) and enjoy the quiet of the day as my husband is off skiing.  I step onto my yoga mat daily and practice without the interruption of someone knocking at the door, my dogs getting in the way or feeling rushed through practice because I need to be somewhere (i.e. teach a yoga class).  In addition to yoga, I read more than I can at home (sitting next to a cozy fire), hit the gym and go for a couple of hikes in the snow by myself in silence.  For a full week it’s as if I’m hiding out.  I have nowhere to be.  I have no one to talk to until my husband returns.  I have no one expecting anything of me.

What I’ve discovered is when I can be verbally quiet and move at my own pace for a few hours almost daily, its way easier to turn inward and access a level of peace from deep within.  This experience is unlike anything I seem to be able to find when I’m back at home and driven by a schedule of “to do’s” and yoga classes to teach.  It’s as if the silence in itself becomes the true vacation.

So it was within the silence of my vacation I was reminded that actually a component of yoga, as described in the Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is mouna.  Mouna is Sanskrit for silence.  As explained in Swami Satchidananda’s commentary of sutra 1.49: 

“Mouna vakya Prakratitha Parabrahma tattvam.”  “The Parabrahma tattvam, or unmanifested supreme principle, can only be explained by silence, not by words.”  In not only the physical silence, but in the real mental silence, the wisdom dawns.

Again I fully admit in my day-to-day life as a mobile yoga teacher in the DC area, mouna is challenging.  Or maybe it requires discipline I have yet to cultivate.  Yet when I’m away, completely unplugged and hiding in the mountains, I am able to easily drop into the silence.  The best part is I enjoy it.   And the real beauty is when the silence fills you up from the inside, whispers of the divine can be heard from deep within.  It’s an experience that can’t be fully described.  I will say when I am blessed with extended silence the result is greater clarity in my thoughts and my writing is on fire.  To this, I have last week’s silence to thank for this blog post.

The Buiness of Yoga (part 2)

Let me state upfront:  This is all about YOU.  My intention in sharing this “business of yoga” jazz is to simply offer you what’s worked for me.  Period.  It is not to say what I’m doing will work for you, or is even right for you.

In many ways I consider how I’m sharing these yoga biz tips to be similar to how I teach yoga to my private yoga students and corporate yoga clients…I’m just offering guidance through the process/class of yoga postures.  It’s up to you to dig deep and listen to YOU.

So here goes.  The following 5 yoga biz tips come straight from my heart.  These are simply lessons I’ve personally learned along the way as I built abellaYoga (a mobile yoga business serving Washington, DC, Alexandria and Arlington, VA)  from scratch.

1)  Be your own best ambassador.  Tell everyone you know what you’re doing, what type of people you want to teach (i.e. athletes, , moms, seniors, office employees, kids, corporate executives, etc.)  The point is whatever speaks to you “speak about it”.  Go beyond facebook.  Meet with people face-to-face.  Make notes to follow-up with people you met last month.  Thank people for listening and don’t expect anything in return.  This is all known as “networking” and it takes time and patience.  For those who have been following me on the Yoga Sutra path, reference my blog post covering sutra 1.13

2)  Decide where you will teach once you figure out who you want to teach (see tip #1).  Get creative.  There is plenty of space available to teach yoga.  A yoga studio is an obvious choice as are your local gym and community center.  Think outside of the yoga box…grassy fields, theaters, museums, office buildings.  Explore potential “free” spaces.  To this day, I have yet to pay for space to teach my classes.

3)  Do what you do best and outsource the rest.  Not a numbers person?  Hire an accountant — he’s one of my key advisors 🙂  Not very creative?  Barter for website services and a logo.  This list could go on and on.  Clearly the point is, focus on teaching and whatever else it is you love.  Pass the other “stuff” to those who like to deal with the “stuff”.   Writing this reminds me of Dharana, sutra 3.1:  Dharana is the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.  Again, stay focused on what you do best and outsource the rest.

4) Teach during your peak energy time.  This was huge for me.  As yoga teachers, we need to show up awake, alive and ready to inspire.  How can you do that if you’re teaching tomorrow bright & early, yet you just went to bed because 20 minutes ago you left teaching a 9pm class at your local yoga studio?  Listen..If you’re a morning person aim to teach yoga in the mornings through the afternoon.  If you’re a night owl, then teach classes late day/evening.  Again, listen to YOU.

5) Practice, practice, practice!   I can’t say this enough.  Don’t sacrifice your personal yoga practice for teaching yoga.  Inspire yourself via your own yoga practice.  Burn through your doubts.  Hello tapas!  (See sutra 2.1 for Tapas details) It’s through your time on the mat you’ll find your creative expression as a teacher.  No practice = no expression.  It’s that simple.   As Pattabhi Jois said “practice and all is coming.”

Done.  Some of the above may be helpful or none of it may work for you.  Take what you want, leave the rest.  Most importantly, follow your heart.  PS:  Here’s  “The Business of Yoga (part 1)” if you missed it.

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.

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?