Archive for the ‘yoga books’ Category

Sh*t Happens, So Be In It

For those of you that know me, this blog post title is probably a surprise.  For those of you that don’t know me well, let me state upfront I don’t curse (well at least not 99.9% of the time).  Thanks to my parents & grandparents, I’m just not a fan of it.  Though I’m sure we can all admit every now and then it’s appropriate because every now and then sh*t happens!

Stuff happens all the time, right?  You’ve made it through airport security and you find out your flight is delayed 3 hours, how do you react?  Or you paid a bill online (on time) but for whatever reason the new statement you just received shows you’re “past due” with a finance charge…what happens?   Or picture this…You’re working on a big project for your company and you find out either a) it’s well exceeded the budget and/or b) a main contributor has just quit (or been fired, transferred, whatever).  Or how about…You wake up on a beautiful Saturday morning geared up for yoga class (dressed in your new lululemon or Athleta with your Manduka in tow) and in route to your neighborhood yoga studio you get a call from a good friend (insert family member, neighbor, whoever) who really needs to talk with you about a rough patch in his/her life.  How do you respond when life throws you a curve and interrupts your pretty plans?

When unexpected things happen, shifts within us happen whether we are aware of them or not.  We have multiple systems within us (think nervous system, digestive system, endocrine system, muscular system, immune system, etc.) that often go haywire simply based on how we chose to respond in the moment.  It’s natural to run the other way or emotionally react – fear, anger, anxiety, loss, etc. – but often this can be unhealthy.  It’s not just bad for our health to emotionally/automatically react but it’s bad for the health of what’s to come next.  We clearly can’t control the external stuff, sh*t and shifts.  What we can control is how we respond (or don’t respond).   When we take control of how we react, we are in control of the internal shifts and space within.

Let’s take it a step further.  I’m a huge believer that things happen for a reason.  So when sh*t happens, it’s better to go with it vs. against it, and not just for physiological reasons.  I’m not saying that you need to agree with it all but take the time to sit in it, be in it.  Be in the the space of “being uncomfortable”.  Be in the space of learning something new.  Be in the space of seeing something different than what you’ve been use to.  Be in the space so you can create new space for you to grow.  Sh*t happens because it’s often serving (not always) as the healthy manure your little seed that the universe planted needs to flourish.

Two personal examples.  First, I wouldn’t be teaching yoga today if I hadn’t been laid off from my last corporate job.  I lived and breathed marketing for over 10 years in various tech/telecom companies.   The truth is I lost my passion for it the last couple years I was doing it.  During that time, I did my first 200-hour yoga teacher training in Washington, DC and started teaching a Sunday morning yoga class at a local gym.  During this time, I never really thought teaching yoga was the end all/be all for me.  It was when I was walked out the door at my last corporate gig, I took it as a sign to sit and be.  I took it as a sign that maybe sitting at a desk all day was not my calling anymore.  It was through the sitting and being that I figured out teaching yoga really was my calling.

Another example is I was recently working on launching a 200-hour yoga teacher training program.  My web designer even created a new webpage for it (that will be up on the new abellaYoga.com website launching in June).  However, the brakes were slammed on the 200-hour teacher training (out of my control) and I took some space to think about it.  I took it as a sign to use this new space to help nourish a little thought-seed that’s been rolling around in my head for a year or so.    As a result, I’m in the midst of creating a yoga teacher guidance program (you could say yoga teacher mentorship program but I don’t like the word mentorship) to answer questions like…What are the differences between teaching private yoga clients vs. studio classes vs. office yoga classes?   Do you “Om” in corporate yoga (office yoga) classes?   Do you offer hands-on assists with private yoga and office clients?   How many classes do I need to teach a week to go full-time?  How much do I charge?  The list of questions is endless so back on subject with the post.

This “being” thing takes practice.  For me, the “being” alive in the midst of both the good and messy stuff is what my yoga practice has taught me.  My favorite quote from Swami Satchidananda captures the essence of this post:  “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”  And I say “roll with it, flow with it, be in it.”

Note:  Though this post didn’t mention a single yoga sutra (something I’ve been focused on the last year or so), Swami Satchidananda offers a great translation of The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.

Satya Will Set You Free (sutra 2.36)

After teaching a corporate yoga class the other morning, I decided to head to the Clarendon Starbucks (sorry, Arlington, VA for those reading unfamiliar with the DC area) to grab a warm drink and read.  I had about 20 minutes to kill before heading to my private client’s house around the corner so I decided to sit.

After sitting at the community table (i.e. a long table with multiple strangers, each doing their own thing), I stood up to put my coat on, my book in my bag and exit.  The guy across from me said “that was fast”.  The guy’s friend just smiled politely.  Then the “guy” said “so you’re a yoga instructor?”  (side note:  Clearly this “guy”  just eavesdropped on a conversation I had moments before with someone who I use to work with eons ago at MCI.  The ex-MCI colleague happen to recognize me as he was making his departure.  He stopped and we caught up on jobs, life, stuff.)

The conversation with the guy/stranger went like this:

-guy:  I have a “good” friend who’s a yoga instructor.  He’s been teaching yoga “for like 12 years”.

-me:  “Oh really, what’s his name?”

-guy: (Long silence with his eyes squinting, and his friend & me staring at him)

-guy’s friend:  “I thought you said he was your friend???”

-me:  “…a good friend?”

-guy:  “His name is XXX”  (me here:  I don’t remember the name).  Then the “guy” continues to say “I wasn’t expecting you to ask for his name so quickly”.

-me:  “Well, I don’t know him (with a smile).  Have a nice weekend.”

As I walked away, I was thinking what kind of “good” friend was this…someone he met on the metro once and never saw again.  Or maybe he’s just a facebook friend.  And as we all know, facebook has somewhat become a violation of satya…I mean take inventory of how many of your “facebook friends” are truly friends vs. acquaintances.  I am at full violation here.  Do you think I really have 600+ friends?

Anyway, on the walk to my car after this brief Starbucks encounter I felt lied to.  Here I didn’t even know the “guy” nor his Starbucks friend (or the yoga instructor).  I’m assuming he was trying to impress me but why?  Suddenly I felt sorry for the “guy”.  If he’s telling a little white lie to a stranger, then what types of lies does he tell his “real” friends or even just facebook friends?

Why?  Why tell a lie even if it’s small and meaningless?  Coincidentally, I had a copy of The Yoga Sutras in hand (that was the book I had been sitting in Starbucks reading & placing in my bag as the “guy” tried to name his yoga instructor friend).  In hindsight, I should have opened it up and read sutra 2.36 that specifically speaks about satya (satya is Sanskrit for truth)…“To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.” 

More on satya (truth) as explained further by Swami Satchidananda in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali“The more we lead a life of honesty, the more we will see the results, and that will encourage us to be more honest.  With establishment in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes.  One need not be afraid of anybody and can always lead an open life.  When there are no lies, the entire life becomes an open book.  But this comes only with an absolutely honest mind.  When the mind becomes clear and serene, the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realize the Truth in its own original nature.”

Start with your words.  Think the truth.  Speak the truth and then your actions will be true.  From there (with practice & patience), you’ll stand in your truth.  Trust me, satya/sutra 2.36 is a big sutra to fill and I often catch myself telling the little white lie.  So I must say:  thank you Starbucks “guy” for reminding me to speak the truth, act the truth and live the truth.     

The Business of Yoga (part 1)

I’m sure you’ve heard it multiple times…when you’re passionate about what you do professionally, it doesn’t feel like work.  I’m lucky to say I’ve been experiencing this for the last six plus years teaching yoga full-time in the vicinity of Washington, DC.  When I left my last marketing gig, I realized I no longer thrived in the corporate atmosphere like I once had just a couple years prior.  Already an Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), I wondered how I could possibly make a living doing something I loved.  After some research and brainstorming, abellaYoga was born.

So yes I make a living teaching yoga.  I’m often asked “how?” both by other experienced yoga teachers and those just fresh out of a yoga teacher training program.  I’ve received calls and emails from several around the country asking for advice on how to start teaching yoga full-time.  More than once, the business side of me has thought “I could make additional money coaching new yoga teachers on “the business of yoga” (aka being a yoga teacher mentor).

It happened again last week.  As I hung up the phone on Thursday with a girl from California who wants to create a mobile yoga business like abellaYoga —offering in-home privates and office yoga classes— it dawned on me that maybe it is just in my karma to share what I know.  Sure I could charge for these 30-45 minute calls but why?  Why not simply help those who want to spread the power and joy of yoga?  I’ve had the honor to teach yoga full-time the last few years and continue to be blessed so why shouldn’t others experience this.  It’s selfish and non-yogic to not share what you know (think Aparigraha, sutra 2.30).

So here goes.  Let me first say the yoga times have changed since I started teaching.  There are way more certified yoga teachers than 5 years ago.  Secondly, when I started abellaYoga in 2006 there really wasn’t much information available on how to start a yoga business, or make a living teaching yoga.  My 200-hour yoga teacher training program didn’t cover this topic.  Unlike today, you can Google the business of yoga (or teaching yoga full-time) and you’re bound to find free articles on the topic or yoga teachers who are willing to mentor you on the subject for a fee.

Fortunately for me, my years in the business & marketing world came in handy.  The first thing I did was create a business plan and to this day I still use it as a guide to keep me on track with my vision, annual goals, marketing, pricing and the many “to do’s” that go on beyond just teaching yoga in homes and offices.  If you’re not sure where to start, again go to Mr. Google (as my Grandmother called it), type in the phrase business plan and you’re bound to find a slew of free templates.  No one has to see your plan especially if you’re not seeking a loan (i.e. to open a yoga studio).

As you go through the business plan process, keep a copy of The Yoga Sutras close at hand.  There are a slew of instructions in there that can be helpful in guiding your entrepreneurial spirit.  “Effort toward steadiness is practice” (sutra 1.13) is the first one that comes to mind.  A business takes dedication, through both the highs and lows.  To be successful, there will be plenty of times you’ll need to do things that pull you out of your comfort zone (think Tapas, sutra 2.1).  And through it all, it’s key to stay positive (think pratipaksha bhavana, sutra 2.33), grounded and focused (sutra 2.52 & 2.53).

In my next post, I’ll share a few other biz tips that come straight from my heart.

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.”

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.

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?