Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Aim True - Day 18

Happy Shoulders
Level 1
Kathryn Budig

This everyday shoulder sequence is a great way to help flexibility and release build up tension from the day. Put this into your daily routine to keep happy, open shoulders. 
  • Posted on YogaGlo on January 21, 2012, I took the class for the first time today.
  • 18/87 classes complete.
  • 10/18 I had taken at least once before.
I had seen this on YogaGlo for the past week, and sort of figured it was a play on the sequence that Kathryn has had up on YouTube for a couple of years. I actually have the YouTube version of this posted on my website (and I'll include it below, too) because I teach the sequence fairly often and always hear from my students that it's exceedingly helpful for them - so I wanted them to have easy access to practice it at home, too.

I actually had no intention of practicing today, but yesterday my shoulders and neck started feeling kind of tweeked and bothered, and this class is only fifteen minutes, so I went ahead and did it - in my pajamas instead of yoga clothes, no mat in sight.

Here is my confession - although I teach and (try to remember to) practice these shoulder openers fairly often, I hate them. Why? Because I'm not good at them. Don't be too alarmed, but just because I teach yoga doesn't mean that everything about yoga comes easily to me. I like things that I am good at doing; any pose that showcases my limber hips and hamstrings or my super strong quads rocks my world. It's not even showing off for other people, I swear - because of where I live, I almost only practice alone. I suppose it's showing off for myself in some way, shape or form. But I'd guess most people gravitate toward, and enjoy more, things that they are good at doing. I majored in political science and minored in religion in college because I liked the classes. And part of the reason I liked the classes was because I was better at writing and talking about political theory and world religions than I was at doing chemistry.

I'd be interested if other people find this to be an intense sequence. It probably depends on how open your shoulders and arms are. I'm in the midst of an inquiry surrounding my shoulders. I may have mentioned in an earlier post that I've recently come to the conclusion that though I can force my arms into something that looks like yoga mudra arms (fingers interlaced behind the back, arms pressed toward straight and then up and away from the body) I don't think I was actually in any semblance of proper alignment, and I think I was putting crazy pressure on my elbow joints to get there. And I can't clasp my hands in Gomukhasana arms to save my life - I have to grab onto my clothes or use a strap. Oh well.

It bothers me a lot, though, my lack of openness in my shoulders. I am insanely jealous of how incredibly open Kathryn Budig is in her shoulders (she's actually ridiculously flexible everywhere, let's be honest.) My ex-boyfriend also had incredibly open shoulders - in fact, I think he could choose to dislocate them and then put them back somehow - but that was kind of weird to see. But alas, I wasn't blessed with that ability, which probably means I need to be doing this 15 minute class every single day.  And I'm gonna try. I'm gonna try to do this sequence on my own every night.

Here is the shorter (and free!) YouTube version of the above class. Let me know if you get a lot of stretch and sensation with these shoulder openers!

Aim True - Day 17

Monday, January 30, 2012

Get Grounded Amid Chaos Yoga
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Get grounded and create roots regardless of the chaos around you. Find your roots through strong standing poses such as Tree, Half Moon and standing Warriors and Side Angle. Feel safe, strong and stable after this strong, classic flow. 
This one. This is the one. This is one of the very first Kathryn Budig classes that I took and why I fell in love with her teaching style. This is DEFINITELY going on the FAVORITES list.

(As an aside, does anyone else remember the wine tasting episode on Absolutely Fabulous, where Patsy and Edina keep drinking wine saying "THIS one! THIS ONE! This is the one! Wait, did we like this one? Let's try it again. Wait! No! THIS ONE. This is the one!" and so on and so forth... I'm starting to feel like that about how many practices are ending up on my Favorite list!)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Aim True - First Month Wrap-Up

Jai! Jai! Jai!
Aiming true with more green smoothies!

The first month of my Aim True Challenge 2012 is almost done. In fact, it's been exactly four weeks today since 2012 began, and there are only two days left in January. What a different experience this January has been for me than those of the past. In some ways it has still been a tough month for me, but not quite in the same ways that it has been in prior years, and this time around having the focus of my yoga practice with specific plans and goals (including writing about it in this very blog!) really changed the way it felt, all for the better.

Sitting here with a space heater, fuzzy socks and ginger tea to warm me, I present my January stats! (My heat isn't working and won't be fixed until tomorrow. I'm going to be under 10,000 blankets watching movies soon.) 

January, 2012
Aiming true with glorious steamed artichokes!
I remain convinced that a strong personal practice of yoga is a stepping stone to wonderful things - transformation in your life for the better in ways you didn't necessarily realize you wanted and needed. This is the magic of yoga and this is why it works in a way that other fitness practices do not (at least for me!) - it's truly something you do on the mat as a launching pad for your life off the mat. Maybe this is what makes it a spiritual practice. I have the experience in other forms of physical activity to back this comparison up, too. I have been a cardio-junkie, a regular at both Jazzercise and step aerobics back in the early 90s, a walker, even training for (and walking in) the 39-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I spent many an afternoon in the spinning room, have done all the machines at the gym,, been at Bikram five times a week, followed a very regimented and intense strength and interval training program called Turbulence Training, been the queen of Tae-Bo, and put Jillian's 30-day shred in my DVD player numerous times. Through it all, what I've come back to again and again is my practice of yoga - this beautiful balance of strength, cardio and flexibility. And when I commit to my sadhana of  yoga, I start to see positive changes in my life that I didn't even plan for or have to force to happen. Life just starts to blossom. I start to make better choices. I start to take better care of myself. I become activity engaged - in a soft, safe way - with this overwhelming, confusing reality of being ALIVE.

Aiming true with a focus on fruits and veggies!
The most obvious and measurable step I've taken as an outgrowth of my practice so far is to join Weight Watchers online, a decision that has provided me a lot of comfort and stability this week. Being able to count points and make good food choices gives me a sense of control that I really value. I'd like to lose some more weight, and I want to do it in a compassionate, reasonable way. It isn't that I was making lots of bad food choices as much as I was choosing to eat too much. I read a great quote the other day that said "If hunger isn't the problem, food isn't the solution." Amen and amen. I don't know exactly when it happened, but my practice led me to taking action toward this goal of healthy, compassionate weight loss. I've become reinvigorated and excited about healthy cooking, revisited my love affair with vegetables (yesterday I roasted beets, carrots and broccoli and steamed artichokes, all to have on hand for quick, healthy meals) and have been paying a lot of attention to keeping up on the latest information on nutrition and health. I've cut down my caffeine to one cup of coffee or latte a day (Nick would be so proud!) and quit doing things that have a negative impact on my health and well-being. And I've actually managed to get almost eight hours of sleep a night this past week! (Something else Nick would be proud of!)

Aiming true with Artemis!
It's fitting. This entire Aim True challenge slowly presented itself to me because of how much Kathryn Budig's story of how she found strength through the Greek goddess, Artemis, resonated with me. You should read it. I love the first line of the prayer to Artemis that Kathryn found, and I've had it as my "info" on Facebook for months: Artemis, huntress of the moon, make my aim true. Give me goals to seek and the constant determination to achieve them.

I joke with my students all of the time that they can set an intention to have intention, and that's perfectly okay. Your intention in yoga practice, if you have one, doesn't have to be something lofty or profound. It can be as simple as having intention. I can't tell you the number of times in class, when directed to set an intention for my practice, I have thought "my intention is just to find some freakin' intention!" (it's second only to "My intention is my breath. Focus on the breath. Nothing more or less. Breath.") It's not so much that I lack things I want to do, see, achieve, accomplish, and check off an imaginary list. It's that I have TOO many things on too many lists, and I get overwhelmed and start feeling paralyzed. I need help discerning which goals I should seek. And after one full month of this focus, I know my first goal is the inquiry of optimal living, and specifically how good health supports optimal living, and how my choices support good health.

So, Jai! Jai! Jai! to you, to me, to all beings. As I continue to choose to be actively engaged in my life, I wish you the aim to be actively engaged in yours. And peace. I wish myself and you and all beings peace. Om. Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

*photo of Artemis from Kathryn Budig's Elephant Journal article.

Things I Love Sunday

Jackie on the left, Marie on the right.
This is a tribute to my dear friend Jacqueline Saxby, who has SO much courage and drive that she is on her way to China for 18 months, no doubt to make the world a better place. I've not been in touch with her very often as of late, but I think of her a lot, and send her lots of good energy and love. (Same with many other Kripalu loves, actually!!)

Jackie sends emails every Thursday to a group of people listing things she loves. It's really a nice snapshot of what is going on in her life every week, and even though I don't respond very often, I do read and appreciate them. She calls it TILT: Things I Love Thursday. Maybe it's a thing? Maybe lots of people do this? I might be behind on the "things" these days. I've not been keeping up with Whole Living magazine and Yoga Journal, I suppose. =)

Om, shanti, anyway. Right?

Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training, August 2010.
In any event, in honor of Jackie, I dedicate my (Kripalu Yoga Teacher Danny Arguetty audio) practice to her safe travels and exciting next chapter. And I am going to spend five full minutes before I practice writing my own Things I Love Sunday, or more like "things that are on my mind and making me feel really excited and happy!" (Yes. Sparkling water IS often on my mind and it does make me happy. Six times a day.)

water. weight watchers points giving me a sense of control. the inquiry of optimal living. the results of consistent and disciplined PRACTICE. roasting vegetables. sunshine in january. thumb hooks. la croix. letting go and creating space. space heaters. mala beads. routine. potential. feeling. being alive. considering impulsive decisions because you supposedly regret what you don't more than what you DO do. safe space. holding space for other people to step into their fullness six days a week, whether they are there for that reason or not. savasana. getting more sleep. eating healthier. facing demons. making peace with me. trying to re-open my heart to other people after a series of disappointments. setting goals. cleansing. releasing. sisters. nieces. family. friends. feeling happy. knowing that sacred, silent space you find in your head during an intense vinyasa practice. the sacred feeling of kripalu yoga. connections near and far. starting to think about 500 hour training at kripalu.memories of kripalu ytt.

Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training, August 2010

Oops! That was more like seven minutes! I'm off to practice, and I send the energy of my practice straight to you, Jackie! Love you and miss you! Hope you read this someday!! ;)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Aim True - Day 16

Yoga Postures to Remain Calm
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Explore postures that teach us how to find comfort in the uncomfortable on and off of the mat. Venture into expansive postures such as Bird of Paradise, Visvamitrasana prep, Upavishta Konasana and Ustrasana variations. Step into the fire of transformation expanding your edge and ability to remain calm. 

I think this may have been the class that made me fall in love with Kathryn about a year ago. I had always admired her beautiful photos in the ToeSox advertisements in Yoga Journal, but to be honest, I sort of thought she was the actress from All My Children who played Greenlee and later married (and divorced, I think?) that dude from the Bachelor. Her name is Rebecca Budig, I think. I don't remember exactly how I discovered YogaGlo - I had graduated from Kripalu in August, 2010 and was doing a lot of Kripalu practices and my own practices September - November of that year, and I was teaching one or two classes a week at the  YMCA. There may have been something in an issue of Yoga Journal about online classes, podcasts, etc. that led me to YogaGlo, and I immediately recognized Kathryn Budig's name, both from the ToeSox ads, and also because I used to be a big AMC fan. ;)

In any event, I very specifically remember this class (and a few other classes) having a big impact on me. I really liked the idea of using yoga postures to remain calm - especially yoga postures that could be REALLY challenging and require a lot of focus and strength. 

I had a good practice today. I'm excited to write a more lengthy week wrap-up after I practice tomorrow. I'll be three classes behind my goal for the Aim True Challenge, but one class ahead in my overall practice goal, and this week I have started to see and feel a lot of transformation stemming from my commitment to showing up on my mat, both personally and in my career as a yoga teacher. It's all very exciting.

In other news, I posted about this as a Facebook status, but I want to get the message out there, so I'll post it here, too, in case any of my students or potential students read my blog but aren't on Facebook:

Please make sure you take yoga classes with a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) - this means that your teacher graduated from a (minimum) 200 hour training program that is certified by the Yoga Alliance and has the proper training in anatomy & physiology, techniques and practice, yoga philosophy, and teaching methodology to keep you SAFE as you practice yoga. As the Yoga Alliance explains: "Training as a yoga teacher takes time and effort. Find out how your teacher obtained his or her training. Ask about training schools or programs completed and who their primary teachers have been. A Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT®) designation is a symbol of experience, dedication and commitment on the part of your yoga teacher."

As a professional yoga teacher and a Kripalu-certified RYT, it really disturbs and insults me that people with absolutely no training, education or certification in yoga will teach yoga classes. Yoga is not the same as Pilates. Yoga is not the same as Zumba. Yoga is not spinning, step aerobics or jazzercise. My dad is Dr. Lowbridge because he has a Ph.D - but that doesn't mean he can deliver babies or prescribe meditation. In the same way, the 5000 year old science of yoga shouldn't be taught by someone who has another type of fitness training. After all the drama about the NYT article at the beginning of the year, it's horrifying to me to hear about yoga classes being taught by people with absolutely no training or certification. Don't trust the health and well-being of your body to someone who doesn't have the proper training to teach you.

Om, shanti, shanti, shanti!!!!

Aim True - Day 15

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yoga to Change Your Perspective with Kathryn Budig
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Shift your attitude and perspective along with your hamstrings and hip flexors. We explore the potential for growth, length, space and change in our minds and lower bodies leading up to Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana (Standing Hand to Big Toe) and Vashistasana II (Side Plank II).

Yep - it's going on the favorites list! This was a really great practice for me today. In fact, I feel like I'm starting to have some serious Yogalations (you know, yoga inspired revelations) so maybe any practice would have made it to the favorites list. I'll have to watch out for that.

I've modified my approach to my Aim True challenge just a wee bit. I'm still going chronologically through the classes, but I've decided I'm going to also go by level, so I'll complete all of the level 2s before moving onto the 2/3s and 3s. It's a little bit of a change for me; usually I just take any Kathryn class and modify it on my own, which in a lot of the 2/3s and 3s means mostly ignoring the handstand kick-ups during the flow and skipping the INSANE arm balances and inversions, instead practicing dolphin. But I'm trying to do a better job of honoring my body and getting stronger and not just letting my practice plateau, and I think sticking with classes that really challenge me where I am actually makes it harder - in a GOOD way.

My Yogalation for today was more of a question. Kripalu Yoga is the inquiry of optimal living. Am I living optimally? It's scary to think about. But how can I approach the answer to this from a place of non-judgmental, compassionate self-awareness?

I need to get back to Kripalu for my 500-hr training. I'm feeling the call. I have to make it happen. =)

In other news, I want these Hot Booties. Has anyone seen this late-night TV product? They are slippers that you microwave! Those would go GREAT with my Snuggie... if it ever actually feels like winter here in Kentucky!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aim True - Day 14

Morning Yoga Flow with Kathryn Budig
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Wake up and smell the yoga! This flow is oriented towards opening the heart and hips to get you going. A 45 minute AM flow focusing on space with heat building sun salutations and warriors. 
Oh! This is a GOOD one. I want to do this EVERY MORNING for the rest of my life. It starts off very slow and gentle, and Kathryn makes a point of saying, repeatedly, not to go as deep as you can first thing in the morning, giving lots of opportunity for everything to warm up. And then all of the sudden it's a sweaty, juicy flow that happens naturally - there was never that painful moment where things get hard all of the sudden - which I guess is a testament to being warmed up and following Kathryn's advice to tune into what your body is asking for, which changes every single day.

I'm doing so much Vinyasa Flow these days. I've been skipping some chaturangas, or at least modifying by coming onto my knees, because I'm feeling some pain in my elbows. I'm also skipping yoga mudra arms, or at least using a strap when I do them. When I interlace my fingers behind my back, I sort of have to force my elbows to go straight, and it doesn't feel very good, especially when I release. I feel like I'm going to pull my elbow joint the wrong way and break my lower arm off. Ouch! I constantly tell my students to listen to and honor their body and yet there are places in my practice where I absolutely don't take my own advice - yoga mudra arms being the first thing that comes to mind. I don't know if my shoulders are just tight, if my anatomical structure makes it difficult, or if my right elbow, with its penchant to hyper-extend, gets in the way, but I'm all about the strap these days.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aim True - Day 13

Lord have mercy, I'm counting points again.

Yep, I bit the bullet and joined Weight Watchers online this week. I guess my aim really is starting to get a little more focused, and three weeks of solid yoga practice has me ready to make all sorts of little shifts and changes in my life.

I'm pretty good at eating healthy, whole foods. I eat lots of vegetables and whole grains and fish and such. But I'm not so good at portion control or saying no to mindless snacking, and I seem to have lost my touch when it comes to meal planning. I think it's because as of late my schedule has left me without a lot of time for actual meals, unless they are ready ahead of time, which has turned into me snacking all day between classes and working and then eating WAAAY too much at night. And this has left me not feeling my best.

So I've joined Weight Watchers for the 7 millionth time in my life, and I'm counting those pesky little points. Did you know that a Lara bar has six points?!? That's more than I would have expected. Tonight for dinner I had Kripalu Vegetarian Lentil Loaf and Millet Cauliflower Mash. (And some spinach and avocado! Yummy!) I dig that the WW program lets you enter entire recipes and then find out how many points are in each portion. (The Lentil Loaf has six points per serving and the Millet Cauliflower Mash has five points per serving, just in case you were curious!) I have mad respect for the fact that Weight Watchers assigns most fruits and vegetables ZERO points. As a big advocate of vegetables, I think this encourages people to eat more of them, and not bank their points for wine. (Who would THINK of something like that?!? ;)

Onto the yoga.

Heat and Fire Flow
Vinyasa Flow 
Level 2/3
Kathryn Budig

A 2/3 flow class sprinkled with arm balance and inversion goodness. Flow through a well rounded class with peaks of heat and fire the dive into the goodness of forward folds and a well deserved savasana. 

  • Posted on YogaGlo on June 8, 2010, I took it for the first time today.
  • 13/86 classes completed.
  • 7/13 I had taken at least once before.
  • Favorite Aim True practices so far:  
Practice felt good tonight. Really good, in fact. I keep forgetting that I'm feeling better and stronger, and end up pleasantly surprised when the first few sun salutations feel like locking into something I know and understand and not like torture.

I even spent ten minutes after I finished the class practicing Ujjayi breath, and then I spent ten more minutes in seated meditation. My pranayama practice felt REALLY deep and cleansing.

So I'm starting the fourth week of 2012 feeling recommitted not just to my yoga practice but to a healthier lifestyle that honors my physical body. 


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Aim True - Day 12

(Saturday, January 21, 2012)

Backbend Flow
Level 1-2
Kathryn Budig

Learn to pull all your energy up into your heart to open the chest and prepare for deeper backbends. Camel pose is broken down into 5 different variations with a yummy boat pose to finish off. 

  • Posted on YogaGlo on July 9, 2011, and I first took the class that same day! That's a first so far. =)
  • 12/86 classes completed.
  • 7/12 I had taken at least once before.
  • Additional practices this year: Felicia Tomasko's Wipe The Slate Clean Yin class, Kripalu Restorative Yoga class, Public Hatha class at the YMCA with Beverly, Kripalu Moderate Flow Yoga audio practice.
  • Professionally: have taught 28 yoga classes and three meditation classes in 2012 as a certified RYT.
  • Favorite Aim True practices so far:  

I didn't like this practice very much. Admittedly, I chose it because I only had 30 minutes to practice and I'm falling behind on my goal of five KB classes a week so wanted to get one in with the time I did have. But this was much less like an actual practice and much more like a quick workshop - which is fine in and of itself - but it wasn't a complete practice by any means. It's nothing against Kathryn - she teaches backbends better than anyone I have taken yoga from - but I just didn't feel warmed up enough to try to go deep into backbends that quickly. For me, to really get the backbend experience and the yummy, buzzy reverberations, I have to be REALLY warmed up before I do them. Warmed up as in heart-rate up, sweat pouring, strong-flow complete warmed up. THEN I can start playing with backbends. But 30 minutes really isn't enough time to get there, no matter how you slice it.

All that said, this was a good 30 minutes to do right before going out for the evening! Kathryn mentioned that backbends are natural caffeine - they REALLY wake you up - and it's true. So doing this practice immediately before getting dolled up for a night out on the town (mmm, fancy Italian dinner complete with cocktails, wine, delicious food, dessert AND limoncello!) was really excellent timing. My night out was AMAZING, and I give the backbends all of the credit. (Okay, and the wine gets some credit, too.)

So I end my third week of aiming true three classes behind, which isn't so bad considering that I've been doing other practices - I went to Beverly's class at the YMCA on Tuesday and did a Kripalu moderate flow class on Friday, which means I've practiced a total of 16 times in three weeks, which is something to be proud of! With that said, I need to pick it up this week and stick with Kathryn every day.

After three weeks of so much practice, I'm starting to feel drawn back to the more spiritual side of my sadhana, which is both exciting and sometimes overwhelming. I'm excited that my book club is going to be reading The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope. It will be a great way to reconnect with that part of my practice. 

Happy three week anniversary of a new year!

Namaste. =)

Bonus Yoga: Kripalu Moderate Yoga Flow

Friday, January 20, 2012

Whew. I had forgotten just how physically and emotionally intense true Kripalu yoga can be. I've been doing so much Vinyasa Flow with Kathryn Budig, and I LOVE it, but it's really important to me in my practice to switch it up at least once a week to keep myself fresh, open and connected. It's like this analogy I heard: if you drive a pickup truck down a gravel driveway the same way again and again and again, deep grooves are going to develop in the gravel, and the truck won't be able to go any other way; eventually the wheels will get stuck and spin. So it is in our bodies, when we habitually do the same thing each and every day, which is why we have to iron it out through a yoga practice (assuming, of course, that we want to feel GOOD in our physical lives!) I think it applies on an even deeper level for the serious yoga practitioner and yoga teacher - in order to avoid overuse injuries and creating deep grooves in the body you can't do the exact SAME yoga over and over and over again, day in and day out.

Today I did an audio practice that the Kripalu Yoga Teacher's Association sent me a few months ago, that I hadn't yet tried. It was truly a Kripalu style class - deep emphasis on pranayama, micro-movements, long holds with deeper breath work, and a lot of emphasis placed on STRENGTH and finding flexibility from a place of strength. It was CHALLENGING for me to slow down after so much fast-paced Vinyasa practice. And I really appreciated that slowing down, immensely. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be SORE tomorrow.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Aim True - Day 11

Core Work & Standing Balances
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

This class is geared to give your body and mind a treat. With a concentration on the core we work on a few arm balances and standing balance poses. Short holds and fluid flow aim to creating space in the body and mind to see clearly and feel refreshed.  
  • Originally posted on YogaGlo on June 28, 2010, I originally took the class on January 25, 2011.
  • 11/85 classes DONE!
  • 6/11 classes I had taken at least once before.
  • Favorites so far:  
I liked this class a lot. It was a pretty traditional flow class - Surya Namaskara As and Bs flowing into what I think of as the core of the standing poses: Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Reverse Warrior, Lateral Angle and then some balance challenges here and there. I got a good sweat going and I feel pretty refreshed now that it's all said and done. 
Jai Bhagwan!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reality Yogi: This is Not a Vegan Kale Snack

Yep, I eat non-kale foods quite often.

In fact, I eat DAIRY. And MEAT. And lots of vegetables and fruits and grains and many other things.
So I present to you a really quick, non-vegan, non-kale snack that is still on the up and up nutritionally.

Puppodums with Simple Spiced Yogurt Dip

Have you ever had that really annoying, slightly less than 1/8 cup of yogurt left in the container? It's not quite enough to enjoy with berries, almonds and honey, but it's just too much to toss? I have the solution. It's a lovely mid-afternoon snack that won't blow your diet!

1) Grab a couple of microwavable puppodums from the cupboard. Spray both sides with cooking spray and place on a paper towel, folding the other half of the paper towel over them. Microwave for 30-60 seconds. Don't burn them - the puff up fast!

(What? You don't keep microwavable puppodums on hand? Well, you need to start. You can get them at Whole Foods (and probably other places) and they are a fantastic supplement to your favorite Indian curry dish. But what I ACTUALLY keep them on hand for are SNACKS. They are especially great night-time snacks when you really don't want to consume a lot of calories but get the munchies in a bad way. Each big ol' circle of crispy goodness only has 40 little calories, 7 carbs, 3.5 grams of protein and zero fat! Crunch, crunch!)

2) While your puppodums microwave, grab your yogurt. I tend to make this when I only have a little bit left and I can just mix the dip up in the container. No dirty dishes! Thow in a little bit of: salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, cumin, paprika. (You can play with the ratios. I literally do a little sprinkle of this, a dash of that, no measurements.) Mix.

3) Dip your crispy, crunchy, delicious puppodums into your spicy, rich yogurt dip. ENJOY!

Om Shanti! Happy eating!
The Reality Yogi

Monday, January 16, 2012

Aim True - Day 10

Click and play yoga with me.

Find the Connection to Your Core
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Learn how to move fluidly through your practice by finding the connection to your core. Sun salutation work lead up to crow, side plank and headstand. 
Yep, in a shocking turn of events, this one is going on the favorites list. Why is it shocking? Because I loathe core work. But this wasn't a core work class, exactly. It was using the core to find stability in other poses, not just 200 Ardha Navasana to Navasana repetitions. And I dug it. I dug the work in Crescent (Kripalu Warrior I), Warrior I (traditional), Warrior 2 and Lateral Angle. I actually appreciated the forearm plank to side plank work. There was a very ample cool down and Savasana. It was a really well-rounded, balanced class that would be a solid practice any day. 

I've noticed that the moment we step to the front of the mat for Surya Namaskara A after the warm-up has become REALLY sacred for me, as have the first few sun salutations. The ritualistic aspect of it is like returning to something comfortable and understood. It's one of the reasons that, despite the fact that they really didn't stress sun salutations as part of my Kripalu training, I really like making them a part of the classes that I teach. I would love for my students to start having that feeling I have - that sense of familiarity and ritual - when we practice Surya Namaskara A. I always (always!) teach some variation of a six motions of the spine warm up, though, which may be what is most familiar to my students. Or maybe they really don't pay much attention, I'm not 100% sure. =)

So here's the other shocker: I shouldn't even be writing this right now because I didn't mean to practice today. That's right, I had given myself the day off after two days of intense practice on Saturday and Sunday. But I got home tonight after teaching two classes and working all day, and I HAD to practice yoga. I guess this is one of those revelations I've had countless times before and will have countless times in the future: when I'm feeling sort of yucky or off-kilter, YOGA MAKES ME FEEL BETTER. And my body has caught on (again) after two weeks of a lot of personal yoga practice, and now when I'm feel yucky and off-kilter, I CRAVE YOGA. My body CRAVES yoga. This is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

The very first day of this challenge (the day I was fairly sure my body was made of cement) feels like a million years ago in terms of how I'm feeling physically these days. Every single day I feel a little bit stronger - in my legs, in my arms, in my shoulders and everywhere else. I feel a little more open, I find myself a little bit deeper in postures, I'm able to maintain dirgha/ujjayi breath throughout more of my practice...and guess what? I'm also feeling HAPPIER off the mat. See? All of the stuff I almost preach day in and day out when I teach is ACTUALLY TRUE. Yoga makes everything better, on and off the mat. You just have to get through the initial learning curve of understanding the practice, the postures and the breath. (Or you have to come back to your practice after a bit of time off and reconnect with it, which is what's happened for me.) And then it turns into this refuge, this place of comfort and solace that is always available. Outside of my family, my friends, my health, my freedom and my education, there is little I am more thankful for than my yoga practice. It really is a foundation for me, and after ten days of intense Vinyasa practice (and two restorative classes) I'm remembering that again.

The Sanskrit word JAI means VICTORY. Reconnecting and remembering why yoga is so wonderful via my own practice, in my own body, as my own experience certainly deserves a big, loud JAI, right?!?


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reality Yogi: Girl's Night Dreamcicle

Pictured: my virgin version of a Dreamcicle, the drink Devin and I enjoyed last night. It should become a girl's night classic. It's putting a little bit of pep in my Sunday afternoon. =)

Virgin Strawberry Dreamcicle
fresh mint, muddled at the bottom of the glass
4 oz La Croix, lemon, lime or coconut
2 oz orange juice (fresh squeezed and strained if possible!)
1 tea grenadine
Garnish with a strawberry and serve over ice
Combine, enjoy - it's like drinking light, fizzy, melted sherbet. Ahhh.

Original Dreamcicle
2oz Whipped Jack
2oz orange juice (fresh squeezed and strained if possible!)
2oz lemon La Croix
2oz lime La Croix
Splash (or more) of grenadine
Garnish with an orange slice
Serve over ice, top off with more La Croix if needed!

After one too many delicious but heavy pumpkin spice and candy cane martinis during the holidays, it's nice to think fondly of summer with a refreshing drink like this one. Join me by the candlelight? ;)

Aim True - Day 9

This was the day I remembered the importance of strength in yoga. And the the way in which true surrender only comes from a place of strength. Ahh, thank you, Kathryn. Thank you, YogaGlo.

Want to play along? Go here.

Calm Your Monkey Mind and Master Hanumanasana 
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Learn the proper rotation of the thighs and pelvis to properly protect the lower back and use your hamstrings and hip flexors to their fullest and most playful potential. Calm your monkey mind by mastering the monkey himself -- Hanumanasana or Splits.
  • Originally posted on YogaGlo on May 14, 2010, I originally took this class on January 26, 2011.
  • 9/85 classes complete.
  • 5/9 classes I had taken at least once before.
  • Favorites so far: Calm Your Monkey Mind and Master Hanumanasana

As you can see, I'm starting to also keep track of my favorite practices as part of this challenge - and this is definitely the first class going on that list. This class is BLISS, and it's also a serious ASS-KICKER. But in a way that feels completely controlled and SAFE. Love, love, love, love, LOVE.

The sun salutations at the beginning go quickly, and I've remembered why I so love the Ashtanga influence on Kathryn's teaching of always warming up with Surya Namaskara A, after a sort of pre-warm up (that I associate with Yoga Works for some reason) that uses the core of the vinyasa flow sequence: downdog, plank, chaturanga, a backbend (cobra or updog) back to downdog, with some good forward folding and usually some shoulder openers.

We transitioned from Surya Namaskara A to B, with some interesting variations thrown in, including standing splits in dolphin. The transition from dog to my forearms is a transition I really need to work on, I remembered.

After some really intense work in Warrior 2, Ardha Chandrasana and Standing Splits (whoa, that part was INTENSE strength training) we landed in one of my very favorite sequences, after building up a really solid sweat: forearm dragon pose with variations, and Ardha Hanumanasana, working toward Hanumanasana.

BLISS, BLISS, BLISS, BLISS. Hard-working, sweaty, strength + surrender BLISS.

I can do full Hanumanasana. I am physically capable of it and have practiced it on many occasions. But today it just wasn't there for me, and as Kathryn was SO good about reminding the class, THAT'S OKAY. It was going to where I could from a place of ease and non-judgemental awareness. What a profound reconnection to the spiritual growth I feel from practicing yoga. So I stayed with a block on the medium level underneath the top of my hamstring, and I dealt with it. My ego had to take a vacation.

Cooling down in single pigeon (she actually offered double pigeon or thread the needle, but I followed my instincts, the innate wisdom of my body, and took single pigeon instead) was BLISSFUL.

And I held dolphin for a LONG time during the inversions. I feel such a dramatic difference in the strength of my shoulders - and I think that massage yesterday REALLY helped, too. =)

Savasna was truly blissful. I always remember Devarshi saying, during my teacher training, that the most rewarding Savasanas come from strength-based practices. It's true. It's not so much about the posture of Savasana itself, it's more the way a really strong, sweaty class just magically releases so much tension from your body that it allows you to sink so much deeper into the support below you. I felt like I was in a hammock, whereas I was actually laying flat on the hard floor. Nice.

So I'm inspired by this practice to teach STRENGTH + SURRENDER themed classes this week. Last week I was inspired by the NYT article to really focus on safety in practice, being sensitively tuned-in to the body, paying attention to every moment of the practice, even in transitions. After this week of practice, though, I feel like I need to turn the focus onto the vast and scientifically proven BENEFITS of yoga, and learning to find balance between being strong, finding the edge, while using that strength to find a place of surrender and acceptance.

And so I wrap up the second week of my Aim True challenge feeling invigorated and mostly back on track with my practice, noticing that I'm more open and stronger than I was on New Year's Day, which was two weeks ago today. I'm one class behind my goal of five classes a week, but I've done two additional non-Kathryn Budig classes so just in terms of practice, I'm one ahead. =)

Off the mat I've felt re-inspired in the kitchen, playing with my Le Creuset grill pan (both Ahi Tuna and strip steaks) and doing a lot of roasted vegetables to have on hand (I made roasted beets on Thursday night that fed me until today!) - the reverberations of which I can feel physically - just feeling a tiny bit leaner than I was, something I noticed just today. It motivates me to keep on keepin' on. 


ps - much love to my dear friend Devin for practicing this class with me this morning, after a phenominal girl's night last night!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Aim True - Day 8 (& happy birthday to YOU!)

Oh, backbends.  I had forgotten how much I adore you.

Today I took this class.

Oh, soooooooooooo good. So, so, SO good. Click the link, sign up for YogaGlo, and try it.

Heat Building Backbend Flow
Vinyasa Flow 
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Find your balance of strength and surrender to break on through to the other side with backbends. This heat building flow digs deep into the chest and hip flexors to prep the body for King Dancer and Scorpion. 
  • I originally took this class on May 16, 2011. It was posted on YogaGlo on May 4, 2010.
  • 8/85 classes complete (yes, they keep multiplying...)
  • 4/8 classes I had taken at least once before.
I may have cheated today. No, no, no, I didn't listen to the class whilst in child's pose. I swear. But I did get a massage today after I taught my Saturday AM class. A luxurious, relaxing, knots-be-gone deep tissue massage that left me feeling like jello. YUM. I struggle with overuse issues in my shoulders, but especially in my right shoulder (and I think it's because my right elbow hyper extends if I'm not careful, and it feels directly related to the strain and ache I sometimes get just to the left of my right shoulder blade) and the last time I got a massage I was sad to hear that my muscles were supple everywhere but around my right rhomboid connector, where it was stringy and clumpy. Ugh. But the last time I got a massage was last March, and I'm pretty sure that if you teach and practice as much yoga as I do, you probably need massages way more often. =) I told my massage therapist where I was noticing issues, and boy did she work it out. I think the attention to my shoulders made this heart and shoulder opening class feel amazing three hours later.

Heart-openers are SO exhilarating. If I'm tuned into it, the buzz I feel after releasing from King Dancer is blissful and exciting. Kathryn teaches backbends so ridiculously well - I'd say they are her forte when it comes to her teaching. She is the reason I love them now - a year ago I thought they were scary. Now they are just good. Like a really good steak cooked to perfection on my Le Creuset grill pan, topped with a caramelized onion and mushroom red wine reduction finished with real, fresh butter. (I may or may not have had this for dinner last night.) Both are heaven.

I got super sweaty during the flow of this class. And man, I feel like I spent a long time in Crescent (Kirpalu Warrior 1) Pose, doing a million variations that required my core to stay completely engaged. I'm going to be sore tomorrow. But you really have to build that kind of heat in the legs to get the best release in the backbends - it's true.

Nick & I on my birthday in 2009. I <3 BIRTHDAYS!
I took Kathryn's suggestion to end in Legs Up The Wall, and man, that was a REALLY good way to finish the class. I could have stayed there for much longer, but I have to get ready to go out for sushi with my dear friend Devin! Poor me, right? =) I could just cry myself a river. Hahahaha.

My sister loves birthdays, too.
I'm feeling lucky today, and blessed, and grateful. I was inspired by this article, which is really super-cheesy, but also kind of an awesome idea. While I don't talk to the universe the way the author does, or necessarily buy into the whole idea that you get what you ask for (people don't normally ask to get cancer, or to have a loved one die, etc.) I do know the Birthday Feeling she is talking about, and I agree, I'd like to live every day with that Birthday Feeling of excitement and gratitude. If you know me you know that birthdays - ALL birthdays, my own and everyone else's, are my absolute favorite holiday. I even talked about how my mom made birthdays ridiculously special when I spoke at her funeral in 2004. Birthdays were always THAT special in our family.

So here's to the the Birthday Feeling every single day: excitement, happiness and LOVE!

(Don't mind me. I'm high on backbends, apparently!) =)

ps - Rhian's candles lie, by the way. If she had Madeline when she was 23, which she did, how is Madeline in the photo at approximately 4 years old on what appears to be Rhian's 22nd birthday? Hmmm..... ;) 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bits and Pieces

Reality Yogi: More Evening Yoga

In the spirit of my recent confession of having a reality TV habit, along with a reality yoga practice during said TV, I'm offering another sequence I love to do at night with or without bad TV in the background:
inner peace meditation
  • SUKASANA for one to two minutes, gently deepening the breath
  • FORWARD FOLD in SUKASANA for five deep breaths.
  • fingers interlaced, gaze gently up, heart forward mini-backbend for five deep breaths.
  • SIDE STRETCH in SUKASANA five breaths each side.
  • TWIST in SUKASANA five breaths each side.
  • DOUBLE PIGEON with forward fold five full breaths each side.
  • SUPPORTED CHEST OPENER on blocks: bottom block at medium height at the base of the shoulders, top block at medium height under head, shoulders relaxed: 3-5 minutes.
  • SUKASANA / meditation for as long as you like.
Sometimes I really like ending with a restorative backbend like that - I feel like I spend a LOT of time in forward folds, just in real life - in my day to day activities. The verrrrry gentle, supported backbend just releases SO much of that forward folding, shoulder-rounding TENSION of the day. Ahhhhhh.....

Breathe deep, sleep easy...

The Reality Yogi

photo credit: stress-relief

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Aim True - Day 7

Today's class.

Tap Your Arm Balance Potential
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2
Kathryn Budig

Tap into your innate potential with arm balances! Learn the steps to making these beautiful and inspiring poses accessible. Warm up the body with vinyasa flow to prepare for crow, side crow, side plank variation and flying pigeon.

  • First posted on April 13, 2010 and never taken before today.
  • 7/84 classes complete.
  • 3/7 I had taken at least once before.

This class is a perfect example of why I ADORE Kathryn. It's almost hard to figure out exactly how she does it, but she makes REALLY advanced postures feel completely accessible, teaches them with great attention to alignment detail, and doesn't make you feel shitty if you have to stay in the pre-pre-pre-prep the whole damn time, and in fact, celebrates that process. She specifically said that it took her a "long, long, long, long, LONG time" (there may have been one more or one less "long" in that quote) to do the arm balance, flying pigeon, and to really understand it. (Hey, by the way, that link is to a challenge pose blog written by Kathryn herself on how to do flying pigeon, or Eka Pada Galavasana, in the comfort of your own home!) She admitted that while the learning process is frustrating, now she wishes she could go back to those times when she fell on her face again and again (and again) and enjoy the juicy process - the joy of those tiny moments of success that take you closer and closer to the full posture. Imaging Kathryn, yoga-goddess extraordinaire, struggling with anything is sort of impossible, but I actually believe her. And it makes me feel better about staying in my "little tiny race car" (click the link to see all of the pre-pre-pre-prep I'm talking about) while the majority of the people on the computer screen rock their flying pigeons. It also harkens back to that Joni Mitchell lyric (everything does): "don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone..."

What I've found with these classes, and what I've realized about yoga practice generally, is that it's just that: a PRACTICE. It's not about being able to do the "final" version of any given posture, but it's practicing, slow and steady, to get there. Knowing the whole time that your body may NEVER get into flying pigeon in this lifetime. These classes that are just slightly above what I can practice comfortably really challenge me - I get nice and sweaty but I never feel as though I'm in danger of hurting myself. And I feel GREAT when it's done. Endorphins in a stretched out, open body are the BEST endorphins, ever. Or at least I think so, hence my yoga addiction/obsession/career. ;)

My mantra for this practice, which I set as my intention at the very beginning, was "I am strong." I wanted to put some trust in my strength because that NYT article really did put a scare in me about pressing to hard. But that's the balance, right? Ugh, balance. It's so hard to find. In yoga and in life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bonus Yoga: Kripalu Restorative Class

Maybe it's because I only did a 20 minute practice with Kathryn today, or because I didn't teach today, and normally Sunday is my only day off from teaching, but I needed a little bit more yoga tonight. I do have my Reality Yogi type evening practices almost every night, usually some time in pigeon or Legs Up The Wall while I catch up on my reality TV guilty pleasures. Tonight, though, I gave myself a really delicious treat, and actually did a free online Kripalu restorative class. SWOON.

Click this link and at least bookmark it - you'll thank me later. 

I don't want to over-hype it, but really, try to carve out an hour for yourself sometime this week to do this practice. I had the great honor of being trained in restorative yoga (as part of my 200 hour YTT at Kripalu in August, 2010) by Sudha Carolyn Lundeen and then take a 90-minute restorative class with her, complete with every possible, perfect yoga prop courtesy of Kripalu. They quite literally brought in huge, huge carts of blankets for the 57 of us to practice with her. Heaven. Sudha is one of the most brilliant, seamless, calming and patient restorative yoga teachers I've EVER practiced with.

Restorative Yoga

Don't let the need for props scare you. You don't need to go out and buy things labeled "Official Yoga Prop" or have anything special. You can do this practice with two couch throw pillows in replace of a bolster, or even a couple of folded blankets, and other various pillows, blankets and cushions you have around your house. A scented eye bag is LOVELY, but I used a (clean) fuzzy sock tonight because it was nearby. It's worth the time to grab a few blankets and fold them up or figure out ways to re-purpose something you already have. Trust me.

THIS is a true Kripalu yoga class. Kripalu RESTORATIVE yoga, at that. The benefits of restorative yoga are outrageous and man, it feels GOOD.

It sort of reminds me of how I feel about berries - the fact that they are healthy is almost too good to be true, because they are so damn delicious, and anything that delicious can't possible be good for you, too. (I also feel this way about avocados, pomegranates and salmon.) Restorative yoga is as delicious as the richest chocolate cake, with NONE of the guilt. =)

As much as I tried to really experience this practice as a PRACTITIONER, and not a yoga TEACHER, the part of me that is always eager to soak up more techniques from all of the amazing yoga teachers in the universe was still present. And these are the things the yoga TEACHER in me noticed:

  • There was a pretty vigorous joint warm-up. It was very thorough, including the ankles and the wrists, knees, hips, shoulders, neck and the six motions of the spine.
  • Sudha took her time demonstrating the set-up, entry, hold, release, and breath cues for each posture, having clearly asked the class to WATCH the first time through and not try to start setting up (which is the natural impulse) and then went though it a second time with the students actually setting up and taking the posture. 
  • She gave students ample opportunity to adjust to honor their bodies, even long into the holds.
  • The transitions were as mindfully and clearly cued as the postures themselves. 
But the yoga PRACTITIONER in me was just melting. =)

I couldn't believe how much tension and stress I was holding on to that I didn't even know was there. It was intense. It reminded me somewhat of my very first experience with restorative yoga in southern California with a teacher named LB Iddings. Bliss.

So that's TWO bonus yoga practices in nine days, which means that this challenge is REALLY working to give my practice a boost. Wow. In nine days I've practiced eight times!


photo credit: aprilhelen

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Aim True - Day 6

Today I practiced this class.

Quick Flow & Go
Vinyasa Flow
Level 2/3
Kathryn Budig

Don't have time? Yes you do! This 20 minute flow leads us through constant movement with balances poses such as eagle, standing splits and tree/half standing lotus. Make the most out of your time and dive in. 

Originally posted on October 15, 2011, never taken before today.

6/84 classes complete.
3/6 I had taken at least once before.

This is a no-joke 20 minutes, and this is truly a level 2/3 class. It goes VERY fast, and I didn't even try to keep up. Maybe I'm little spooked by the NYT article, but I feel like I really need to pay serious attention to my body as I practice right now, and that means slowing down a little bit. I don't have a problem taking a level 2/3 class and skipping a few vinyasas (just staying in downdog, or meeting in the final downdog of the vinyasa because I didn't want to get out of my forward fold that fast) or not taking the advanced cues (no, I will not be jumping back to chaturanga whilst in tree pose today, thank you.)

I'm harping on this right now, in my teaching and my practice, but it's worth harping on: we all have responsibility for our own body. The end. Just because the yoga/pilates/spinning/zumba teacher SAYS to do something doesn't mean you're a failure if you don't do it. That teacher isn't in your body. I learned this the hard way two years ago when I seriously injured myself in a spinning class. We were going up and down really fast while pedaling very quickly on a lower level of resistance. I knew it felt too fast for me, and I knew this was something my other spinning teacher had mentioned in passing NOT to do, but the teacher was right across from me, the room was full of people, and I didn't want to look weak. The next thing I knew I came down hard on the seat with my legs in a strange position because we were being told to pedal as FAST as we could (it felt frantic, and, in yoga terms, pretty mindless) and I felt my right hip and lower back compress. It was AWFUL.

Not wanting to admit defeat, I somehow made it though that class, but it was about two months before I could do any exercise again. I found out almost a year later, during a Positional Therapy appointment at Kripalu, that I had jammed my right hip up with so much force that it was actually almost an inch out of alignment and my left leg was measuring almost an inch LONGER than my right because of it. The positional therapist realigned my hips and all has been well since, but I'm MUCH more brazen about doing what I need to do in any type of fitness class and NOT trying to impress the teacher/other students/myself by pushing past something that I know in my gut is wrong for me to do.

This was a great class for me today, though, because I didn't have time for a full hour, but needed to get at least a little bit of sweat going for my sanity. =) I feel better after taking the class than I did before, and that's what matters most, at least today. Remember, you can do ANY yoga class you want and stay safe as long as you take the modifications that feel right in your body.

Day six is done!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reality Yogi: I Don't Practice Shoulderstand.

I am a yoga teacher who very rarely practices and almost never teaches shoulderstand.

Oh! The horror! I know!

I've read numerous times that some schools of yoga consider this to be the ULTIMATE yoga pose, the pose of all poses, the pose that will bring physical bliss and spiritual enlightenment and all sorts of good fortune. I saw something about essence and sweet nectar and divine peace and other random, seemingly profound (but ultimately vague) words and phrases in regards to shoulderstand the other day.

As my friend Nick is fond of saying, "cool, dude."

Really. Cool, dude, who thinks shoulderstand holds the key to knowing the meaning of life. Cool, dude, who digs the practice and feels better after a shoulderstand and thinks if you don't you're not as "yogic" as he is, but om shanti, anyway. Cool, dude, who thinks if you aren't rocking shoulderstand and arm balances and scary backbends day in and day out, you aren't an "advanced" yoga practicioner.

Cool, dude, because I think shoulderstand is pretty scary for the general population, and if you weigh more than a feather, and even if you don't, it can potentially be disastrous on your cervical spine.

You think I'm being overly cautious in my teaching and my practice? Okay, take it from Yoga Journal: "What happens if your student forces her neck too far into flexion in Shoulderstand? If she is lucky, she will only strain a muscle. A more serious consequence, which is harder to detect until the damage is done, is that she might stretch her ligamentum nuchae beyond its elastic limits. She may do this gradually over many practice sessions until the ligament loses its ability to restore her normal cervical curve after flexion. Her neck would then lose its curve and become flat, not just after practicing Shoulderstand, but all day, every day. A flat neck transfers too much weight onto the fronts of the vertebrae. This can stimulate the weight-bearing surfaces to grow extra bone to compensate, potentially creating painful bone spurs. A still more serious potential consequence of applying excessive force to the neck in Shoulderstand is a cervical disk injury. As the pose squeezes the front of the disks down, one or more of them can bulge or rupture to the rear, pressing on nearby spinal nerves. This can cause numbness, tingling, pain and/or weakness in the arms and hands. Finally, a student with osteoporosis could even suffer a neck fracture from the overzealous practice of Shoulderstand." 

I think that being "advanced" in your yoga practice isn't about any levels or progressions of postures or working up from shoulderstand to being able to balance on only your head. In fact, I think balancing on only your head is kinda crazy, and for 99.9% of the population, potentially dangerous.

Let's face it. We are not all built like my favorite yoga teacher, Kathryn Budig. She's essentially a world-class athlete. If there was yoga in the Olympics (oh, lord, don't even get me started) she'd be on the American team. She very well may have the prowess and natural ability that, had she pursued it, could have landed her a spot on the Olympic gymnastic team, all yoga aside.

Yes, you can build strength, you can increase flexibility, you can develop balance, and you can find deep peace and relaxation by practicing yoga. If you want to work toward a certain pose that you don't currently have the strength or flexibility or balance to do, that's great. Goals are good. Getting stronger is good. Using yoga to transform your body, your mind, your spirit - it's all good. And for some people, shoulderstands are good. Headstands are great. Arm balances are extraordinary.

But you can't look at Kathryn Budig's ToeSox ads and decide that one day, come hell or high water (or a slipped disc or two) you're going to have a photograph of yourself looking exactly the same. It's not gonna happen. Why? Because Kathryn Budig is Kathryn Budig. She has HER body. You have YOUR body. And having taken a copious number of her yoga classes, I'm pretty sure that she'd be the first to say that there are probably things that come easy to you, maybe even physically, that she absolutely struggles with. She manages to balance teaching "advanced" classes while remaining compassionate and encouraging and playful, and that's why she's really incredible. And if yoga is about compassion (and, at least, KRIPALU yoga IS about compassion - the world kripalu MEANS compassion) then pushing past what is natural for you, to get your body to do what another person's body does, is NOT compassionate. Not when ego and obsession are involved. Not when force is involved, period. Not when your anatomical structure and physical reality mean that if YOU were to do shoulderstand on the regular you could do severe damage to your cervical spine.

I'm worked up about this because an article appeared in the New York Times this week about the dangers of yoga. "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" made me feel really anxious at first, even about my own practice, especially about my teaching of a general population in western Kentucky that, for the most part, has never heard of yoga outside of a scary, hippie-dippie, new-age, against their religion thing that people in big cities do. (To be fair, there are some really wonderful, very well-studied yogis here, too.)

And then I realized two things. First of all, that this article is written as though asana, or postures, are the only aspect of a yoga practice, and that mastering versions of said postures that involve "extreme bending and contortion" is the only goal of that asana practice. Secondly, I realized that the common thread between the numerous examples the author cited of yoga causing horrible injuries and conditions was that each one was an example of someone who was clearly pressing their body past obvious, reasonable limits. It specifically mentions "extreme bending and contortion" - and not all yoga is "extreme bending and contortion." It mentioned someone doing full shoulderstand for five minutes a day, I can only imagine despite some sort of discomfort. It mentioned someone pushing their heels down with so much force in downward facing dog that they tore their Achilles tendon.

Okay, come on. Why would you do that? I don't understand.

Do you want to know how Kathryn Budig cues pressing the heels down in downward facing dog? How I cue it? She (and I) usually says something along the lines of "take a deep inhale and come high onto the balls of your feet, feel your hips float toward the sky, internally rotating your triceps so that your arms extend and your armpits pull in toward the body. Lift your shoulders away from your ears, letting your neck relax. Exhale as you slowly ALLOW the heels to descend, to melt toward the earth." Do you hear anything about FORCING your heels to touch the ground? No. Kathryn will specifically, and repeatedly say that it doesn't matter how close your heels get, that it's just the energetic intention, and ALLOWING the natural ability of your muscles to open. So maybe one day your heels meet the ground, maybe your heels NEVER get anywhere close the ground, and IT DOESN'T MATTER. It's your body. Your yoga.

It really sounds to me as though these are all examples of people NOT approaching themselves - their body or their spirit - with non-judgmental, compassionate self-awareness. And that is what I believe to be the key to a healthy, safe, beneficial asana practice. In fact, I'd argue that learning non-judgmental, compassionate self awareness IS the reason to practice yoga at all.

Michael Taylor wrote a wonderful response to the NYT article, and says, "Injuries aren't part of yoga. Injuries are part of "not yoga." Yoga, just like life, is ours to create. It's ours to create yoga that's struggling, striving, pushing and forcing; a life that reinforces the strain and difficulty in our bodies and minds. It's also ours to create a yoga that is calm and peaceful. And a life that is capable and easy in any setting, under any challenge." 

My goal as a yoga teacher is to find a way to balance giving my students the opportunity to challenge themselves, to grow as practitioners, to work toward those more "advanced" postures that our competitive culture seems to covet, while holding onto a practice, as Michael says, that is calm and peaceful.

And it's a good reminder in my own practice, in this challenge I'm writing about, too. My reality as a yoga practitioner is that too many chaturangas start to bother this old shoulder injury I have. There is nothing for me to gain by forcing my way though a level 3 class without modifications just so I can blog about it. But don't worry about me. I'm a master of taking child's pose whenever I want. I'm pretty sure listening to other people chaturanga through a level 3 class while I take numerous child's pose breaks has just as much benefit as doing them all myself. ;)

ps - If you ADORE shouldstand, if it is your favorite of all favorite poses, please accept my humble apologies. We're all different. It just doesn't float MY boat, so much. I think Legs Up The Wall is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Yummy. =) 

pps - Here is a really compelling response to the NYT article entitled Yoga and Injuries. One of many good points is "Ultimately, the Times article provides no evidence that yoga classes on the whole are any more dangerous than other exercise classes. I haven’t been able to find any statistics on the prevalence of injuries from yoga classes versus from running, lifting weights, P90X, CrossFit, step aerobics, Zumba, deep knee bends, silly walks, etc. But if those statistics have indeed been collected somewhere, my bet would be that yoga comes out among the safest exercise options, because of the point made above: only in yoga are you actively encouraged to practice mindfully and sensitively."

(Friends and Wine Help You) Aim True - Day Five

On Saturday I had a full, wonderful day with my dear friend Christi, and we took this class together in her beautiful yoga/sewing/meditation/craft/etc. room, complete with candles and incense. I wish I had that room to practice in EVERY day. Sigh.

Basics for a Solid Yoga Practice
Vinyasa Flow
Level 1
Kathryn Budig

Learn the basics of a solid yoga practice. Open your hips and chest to build strength through Chaturanga (push-up) modifications leading to Sun Salutations. Perfect for the new yogi looking to build strength and awareness.

This class was posted on YogaGlo on August 12, 2010, and I originally took it on January 3, 2011.
  • 5/84 Kathryn Budig YogaGlo classes complete.
  • 3/5 I had taken at least once before. 
If you're really paying attention, you'll notice that I broke my own rule and skipped ahead a couple of classes today. That was for two reasons. First of all, after four intense Kathryn classes this week (and teaching ten classes myself) I was SORE on Saturday. Especially in my arms and shoulders. The thought of a kick-ass, fast-paced Vinyasa practice was making me feel both petrified and angry. The second reason was that my friend Christi doesn't practice yoga as regularly as I do, and has an old elbow injury that she really has to be careful about. I didn't want her to put herself at risk of injury to practice with me. It was worth it to break my own rule to be able to practice with a friend, though, and I'll get back on track chronologically tomorrow.

I'm actually a big fan of foundational classes, even having practiced yoga for years. For one thing, and especially in Vinyasa Flow, you can start going through poses so fast, that you start being a little (a lot?)  careless about form in order to keep up. There are a lot of ways you can really injure yourself doing chaturanga incorrectly (and rotator cuff injuries are no joke) and yet so many people practice this style of yoga day after day after day, never REALLY learning how to properly do chaturanga. I think the reason really boils down to the fact that performing chaturanga correctly is REALLY, REALLY DIFFICULT. It's hard freakin' work, it requires a great deal of shoulder and upper body strength, and so if you're trying to get through a bazillion sun salutations and you want to look like a badass, you start skimping on alignment in order to make it easier on your body. The problem is, what feels "easier" can actually end up hurting you in both the short and long run. All this to say that I think it's important and essential to go back and revisit the building blocks of what yoga teachers often call "taking a vinyasa" - which is commonly linking downdog to plank to chaturanga to updog to downdog with the rhythm of the breath. (To be nit picky, the word vinyasa actually means "to place in a special way" - vi means "special" and nyasa means "to place" - and the nuances are many. Yoga Chicago has an article here that says "There are four basic definitions of vinyasa: 1) the linking of body movement with breath; 2) a specific sequence of breath-synchronized movements used to transition between sustained postures; 3) setting an intention for one's personal yoga practice and taking the necessary steps toward reaching that goal; and 4) a type of yoga class." 

So yes, this practice was pretty basic for me, and relatively easy. But it was GREAT for me to take not only for checking in with my own practice and alignment in poses I do often, but also to brush up on different exercises and variations I can use to teach my beginner level students these important foundational tools.  

This was a 45 minute class, which was only made possible by the fact that there was no led savasana to end. Kathryn said to take a five or ten minute savasana if you wanted to, but you'd have to set your own alarm to do that. Christi and I dealt with this by following the class immediately with a 20 minutes guided savasna by meditation guru and master, Harshada Wagner. I'm telling you, this is probably the most relaxing 20 minutes you can claim. If you have a subscription to YogaGlo, TAKE THIS CLASS. It's kind of like drinking hot chai whilst wrapped in soft blankets, sitting in a warm candle-lit room, watching snow fall on the mountains outside your window. Truly delicious, cozy and restorative. (I have an epic crush on Harshada, by the way. He's so damn cute that it's really a shame to close your eyes while he is on your computer screen, leading you into deep meditation with his soothing, sexy voice. Heeheehee!)

After it was over, Christi and I split a bottle of wine, so I took a photo to sum up our practice. I am especially proud of my mala bead placement. =) I also had to get a photo of the adorable way my nieces, Madeline and Lily, helped me decorate my yoga blogs a few weeks ago. They are so adorable and amazing! I never have an excuse to feel unloved, that's for sure.

We got Chinese take-out and had some more wine, and later two of our close friends, Devin and Holly, came over for a full-blown girls night, complete with candy cane martinis. Holly brought the most mouth-watering food: prosciutto-wrapped, goat cheese stuffed dates, a date dip made with cumin and ginger, stuffed grape leaves with Greek yogurt dip and fresh pita bread. We listened to music, talked about everything you can imagine (I may or may not have told a few embarrassing stories I shouldn't have - but that's what girl friends are for, right?) and ended the night watching an episode of An Idiot Abroad. Then this morning Christi made us all waffles and sausages, and this afternoon Christi and I got back on our mats for a restorative class via YogaGlo - a sixth bonus day of yoga for me! This class, titled "Wipe the Slate Clean" was a lot of long holds (hold is not the right word...more like long MELTS) in simple but deeply restorative postures. It was the ideal way to end my week of mostly challenging classes. What an absolutely fantastic day/evening/morning/afternoon.

Week one is DONE, and I actually did it - I took five Kathryn Budig classes and wrote about them. I'm actually really excited now about week two. This is turning out to be a lot more fun than I thought it would be, and that is going to make it easier to keep going. Seeing that I still have 80 classes or so to go is daunting, but I'm up for the challenge! If this project makes the month of January more bearable for me (I usually LOATHE it with passion) I will feel incredible, and so far it's working. 2012 is off to such a fantastic start!