Archive for the ‘yoga mats’ 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 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.

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 Only Constant: Change

“I’m coaching you to dance with the one constant in life:  change.  Do you choose stagnation or the unknown?  Every choice you make can propel you toward change or keep you in the same dulling, suffocating box.  Change is rebirth.  When a caterpillar weaves herself into a chrysalis and undergoes metamorphosis, she emerges as a butterfly, bearing only the merest resemblance to her earlier form.  Transformation can be really exciting, but we have to tolerate an incredible period of vulnerability when we emerge from the chrysalis, unfurling our very wet, very fragile wings.  We discover that none of the old rules apply – not even how we nourish our new selves.  Leaves don’t cut it any more; only nectar will do.

I’ve learned to recognize that with every change, I’m going to end up in new territory -whether I embrace it, shed my chrysalis, and evolve or go down kicking and screaming.  I’ve done it both ways and the choice is clear:  I like to go through my changes with some amount of elegance and balance.”

The above paragraphs are not my words at all.  As it is typed here, these words are straight from Ana Forrest’s book Fierce Medicine  (bottom of page 240).  Since I have felt such a huge connection when I first read the above sentences back in June, and every single time since then, I was inspired to share.  These words truly resonate with where I am in my life now, the journey with Dharma Mittra I’m about to embark on and the way I’ve learned to view life over the last few years.

My life hasn’t always been filled with elegance & balance but I can say today I try to step in that direction every chance I get (& remember!) and help inspire others to do the same.  And every time I read page 240 from Ana’s book, it serves as a huge reminder to me every single second of life offers change.  It’s up to each of us, me and you, to change with it.

Whether you are new to yoga or own 4, 5 or 6 yoga mats, this book will give you many things to ponder, appreciate (I feel even more grateful for my childhood after reading about hers) and take charge of in your life.  Fierce Medicine is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  Even if you’re not a huge yoga fan or Ana Forrest lover, I guarantee something powerful will jump off at least one of the pages for you if you read this book with an open mind .

yAY YogA!

It’s no secret I practice yoga asana a lot.  On a good week I hit the mat 6 days to enjoy my personal yoga practice.  On an off week, I may only get to it 5 times.

Sure there are days I don’t feel like practicing but I know time on my sticky mat, even if it’s only a mini-session of 20-30 minutes, will shift my energy, clear my mind and support my teaching.  There are also times when I’m presented with sweet surprises in the midst of my practice session – such as when I explore/fool around in a pose I do frequently or attempt a pose I don’t think I can do and voilà, I do it.

Yet there are definitely days where the rewards I’ve just mentioned aren’t enough to bribe me to even unroll my mat.  Or I make it to the mat and I’d rather flee from it mid-way through my practice.  With this all said, I’ve created a new mantra “yAY YogA!” to help me when the going gets rough.  Yes, written as I wrote it here and I say it with enthusiasm.

It’s crazy I know but saying it to myself lightens me up and reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to practice yoga as often as I do.  It reminds me how lucky I am to have a healthy body to support me in my practice and do what might appear to non-yogis as a bit crazy at times.  It also reminds me that I am blessed to be making a living teaching something I’m so passionate about.  So to that I have to say “yAY YogA!”

Of course, I can’t contain my new mantra so I recently blurted it out to a few of my students who looked like they would rather be sitting on the beach than moving through their lunchtime office yoga practice.  I’m a goofball I know but the funny thing, it appears it might be working for a few of them.  For instance, visualize the gentlemen in the back row of my class yesterday who landed in savasana dripping in sweat.  The room was silent and he blurted out “yAY YogA!” and a sea of smiles lit up the room as everyone eased into final relaxation.  yAY YogA!

Yoga All the Time

After my sweaty yoga practice yesterday morning at Down Dog, I headed straight to a small business lending workshop in Arlington.  Suits surrounded me and there I stood in my professional yoga teacher uniform – black lululemon groove pants, blue canoe twist top and abellaYoga shirt.  Not the point of this blog post, but I do love how I can go straight from a sweaty yoga outfit into a non-sweaty one and get away with it since it’s my profession 🙂

Anyway as typical for a breakfast event, it started with coffee, bagels/fruit and networking.  After the opening remarks, there was a choice of workshops to attend.  As we split up, I picked a seat where the previous person left an empty coffee cup.  As I dropped my bag down and was picking up the cup to take to the trashcan, I said to myself “sure, I don’t mind cleaning up after you” -sarcastically of course!  Not knowing who had been sitting there I continued to think “didn’t your parents teach you to pick up after yourself?”

Within seconds, I kid you not, a gentleman on crutches came back into the room towards the very seat I had put down my stuff.  In that moment I realized given his circumstances, he was unable to pick up his cup.  As it was he was juggling his TD Bank handouts and crutches with a smile on his face.  My mind quickly quieted.

While walking back from the trashcan, the following Yoga Sutra came to mind:  By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the nonvirtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.  Sutra 1.33, Inside the Yoga Sutras

Can’t get to your yoga mat today?  Carry this Sutra with you and I’m sure you’ll find a few ways throughout your day to practice yoga.  As a Manduka‘s (I think?) current yoga mat print ad reads, practice yoga all the time!

Have Mat, Will Travel

Over the last few years I’ve shared info on my fav yoga mat by Manduka.  See Spoiled by Manduka and Can You Recommend a Yoga Mat?

The words I wrote back then still hold true today.  Even so much that when I went to Vail, CO last week (to do more spa-ing than skiing), I had my trusty (very thin) prana mat in tow.  For me, it’s a multipurpose mat.  Of course, I use it to practice yoga & meditate when on the road but I have another key use for it.

Have you ever noticed that the seat backs on airplanes are designed with a concave arche?  Huh?!?  When you sit back in the seat, your lower back has to round & your head jets forward?   Does that sound comfortable?  If you haven’t noticed, I’m sorry to say you’ve probably just gotten use to sitting poorly in what I believe is a very non ergonomic design.  My solution —use my 10 year-old rolled up prana mat to assist me in sitting tall.  I stand it up against the seat back and sit with my back on it.  It is perfect for keeping me comfy, or should I say as comfy as one can be on an airplane.

Unfortunately, since my mat is so old I don’t think the very thin version of it is still available.  Plus prana, like Manduka, are thankfully now offering more eco-friendly mats which tend to be a bit thicker than the one I have.  For another opinion on yoga travel mats, check out the Road Warriorette‘s product review.

Yoga mat + travel = happy girl.  Namaste!

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

Yoga With Your Boots On

As a yoga teacher and student, I find Alan Nett’s work in San Francisco inspiring.  He’s teaching yoga to construction workers and other “blue-collar” types.  Known as Yoga With Your Boots On, Mr. Nett leads yoga classes allowing the participants to show up and stretch just as they are – with their boots, belts and whatever else they typically wear.

Many yogis might read this and say it’s not yoga with your shoes on.  Where’s your lululemon gear?  Where’s your yoga mat?   I say let people do whatever it is that’s going to get them on the mat.  The rest will follow.  Remember yoga isn’t just about unrolling a yoga mat and doing postures.  In fact asana (aka yoga postures) is a small fraction of yoga as we are reminded in Patanjali’s yoga sutras which only mentions asana only three times, roughly.

Most importantly, yoga is a journey.  How one begins doesn’t matter.  And if your boots help you find downward facing dog, by all means lace them up!

Be Playful

I often tell my students to treat the yoga mat like an adult playground.  The yoga mat is the one place where we can truly express ourselves.  It’s a safe environment to be creative, explorative and completely free.  If you can’t be playful in your yoga practice then more than likely you’re not playful in your life.

Self-expression (being you!) is about being playful.  And your yoga practice should be a means of true self-expression at the highest level.  No holding back!  Feeling free to express yourself on your yoga mat leads to opportunities to be creative in other areas of your life.  And when you’re creative, life is more fun, full of possibilities and simply just flows the way it should.

The next time you unroll your yoga mat (and every time thereafter), move with a sense of wonderment and curiosity.  What’s possible in the moment?  When you play, anything is?  When you stop playing, you stunt your growth and ultimately stunt your life.

Never stop exploring.  Be passionate about being curious.  Learn more about you – the unique, beautiful individual you are – by simply being playful.