You Are What You Yoga

I saw an image recently of a big bowl of fresh fruits and vegetables, which had the following caption:

You Are What You Eat

So Don’t Be Fast, Cheap, Easy, or Fake

Pretty wise advice that gets right to the point in a clever way, and it got me thinking: The same thing applies when we step onto our yoga mats!

You Are What You Yoga

So slow down, don’t cheat yourself, take it easy, and stand in your truth.

Don’t be fast. You have the rest of your day to ride in the fast lane. Why not let the time you spend practicing yoga be all about decelerating? Slow down; take your time on your mat. The slower your breath, the deeper your practice. Don’t be in a rush to get into the poses. Instead, take the time to set up proper alignment first. Try stopping after each sun salutation to take a few breaths and savor it rather than rushing off to the next one.

Don’t be cheap. Be generous. Be generous with your breath and your energy, sharing it with the other people you practice with if you go to a yoga class. If you are practicing at home, don’t skip the time for savasana. Don’t cheat yourself out of a minute on your yoga mat by letting your thoughts drift to your to-do list. Stay present and grounded. Don’t be cheap in rewarding yourself; give yourself the gift of the time to reconnect with your spirit, fully present.

Don’t be easy. B.K.S. Iyengar would say that once you think you know everything there is to know about a yoga pose, that is when you stop practicing yoga. I think what he was trying to teach is don’t take the easy road. Always find new ways to challenge yourself on the yoga mat, new ways to explore the pose, to notice your body and your breath, to quiet your mind. I have done thousands of downward dogs, to the point where this pose should be easy, or even boring, but I’ll never get tired of the thrill of getting my heels a little closer to the floor, marveling at how far I’ve come on my yoga journey.

Do not aim low; you will miss the mark. Aim high, and you will be on a threshold of bliss.”

B.K.S. IyengarLight on Life

Don’t be fake. Your yoga practice should belong to you, not the person next to you. Stop trying to stack up to some picture you have in your mind of what a flexible yogi should look like. Don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes, and please don’t try to force yourself into doing so! Honor yourself. Stand tall in your truth. And be ok with modifying a pose to fit your body, or taking a resting pose when you need to take a break.

You are what you yoga, so slow down, be generous, keep growing on your journey, and be true to yourself.

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Editor’s note: This is another amazing guest post from Maria Santoferraro, E-RYT.  Maria is first and foremost a student of yoga and hails from the beautiful shores of Lake Erie, Ohio. A former marketing executive with a ‘Crackberry’ addiction, she now enjoys spending her time teaching yoga on the beach, leading “I Am Love” yoga retreats around the world, creating cool yoga workshops and meditation videos for HangTen Meditation. Go from stressed out to blissed out on her blog The Daily Downward DogTwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Join Maria this coming April for Beach Yoga Bliss in Aruba, a yoga, meditation, and SUPYoga retreat on Eagle Beach at Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa or her I Am Love Yoga Retreat in Santorini, Greece.

 

Find Time to Sweat Once a Day

We would love to share our gratitude to Armen of packyourmat.com for visiting our studio, and offering
his sincere (and quite lovely) thoughts regarding his experience.

Please take a moment to read his words, and enjoy a few images as well.

http://packyourmat.com/2015/03/25/find-time-to-sweat-once-a-day/

“I really urge you to check out this gem (both Jacqueline and the studio) in SaMo on 7th and Arizona.  You will not only get an excellent sweat yoga experience, as class ends with a pleasant surprise, which will no longer be a surprise for you as of the next sentence. The experience involves lavender scented iced towels, which you’re invited to put on your eyes during Savasana (final rest).” 

Thanks again, Armen! And of course, namaste.

 

Five Myths of Alignment in Yoga

 

Five Myths of Alignment in Yoga

– by Jonny Kest

We hear the term “alignment” all the time in yoga class, but what, exactly, does it mean?  Here are five misconceptions about alignment that still need straightening out.

Merriam-Webster says that “to align” means ‘to place in a straight line or correct relative positions.’  And it seems like a harmless enough term – indeed, it sounds a lot like what many yoga teachers actually do: they line up the arms and legs and torsos and necks until their students’ postures (asanas) look “correct.”

So what could be wrong with “alignment” as a concept?  It’s just a word, after all – no more or less weighted than any used to define the hard-to-capture practice of performing yogic postures for health, well-being, and self transformation.  Unfortunately, the way many students – and even some teachers – interpret this concept; it can sometimes wind up doing more harm than good.

Below are the five most common misconceptions about yogic alignment – and some suggestions on how you can reframe the concept for yourself – and make your practice more joyful, effective, sensual and satisfying.

MYTH #1:

You were born with perfect symmetrical alignment but through behavior and environmental conditions, you lost it.

This is one of the most common misconceptions in yoga: we used to have perfect symmetry, and if we hadn’t injured ourselves, or succumbed to the conveniences and comforts of modern life, perfect alignment and flexibility would come naturally and a more ‘advanced’ yoga practice would be within our grasp. In other words, we only have ourselves to blame for any limitations in our yoga practice.

The truth, however, is that we are born asymmetrical: one leg is longer, one arm is stronger; the liver is off to one side, while the heart is skewed toward the other side and the right lung is larger than the left. And, of course, everyone writes with a dominant hand, sees more clearly through a dominant eye, and kicks more forcefully with a dominant foot. However, we do not go to bed off balance and we do not feel out of alignment just because we brushed our teeth with our right hand and did not switch to our left half way through.

Certainly, life experiences, mood and behavior affect the tone of your muscles and your physical posture for both good and ill. But winning the genetic lottery of inheritance plays a far bigger role in determining alignment, flexibility, and our capacity for performing the most acrobatic or extreme yoga postures than most practitioners believe. Some children are able to touch their feet to their head behind their backs virtually from birth; others will never be able to. Some rank beginners wander into a yoga class and pull off a deep backbend pose like upward bow (full wheel) on their first day, while some lifetime yogis simply cannot.

When you realize everybody’s alignment is unique, your yoga practice shifts. You stop seeing the poses as idealized linear shapes that you try to achieve, but as tools for learning and moving towards a deeper level of self-understanding and acceptance. Rather than making corrections, you start making more energetic connections. You no longer use your body to get into a pose, but instead use the pose to get into your body.

MYTH #2:

There is a perfect posture waiting to be mastered.

Throw all this natural misalignment and asymmetry into a yoga pose and it becomes clear that ‘perfection’, in human form, is an illusion. In every yogi, in every asana, bone eventually comes into contact with bone, and no yoga teacher in the world – no amount of chanting, visualization, or deep breathing – will get you any deeper. At that point, whether or not you’ve achieved an asana worthy of the cover of next month’s issue of the Yoga Journal is determined almost entirely by the shape of your bones, your genetics.

The best any of us can do is create an individual interpretation of each pose – our own expression of the asana, like a musician’s take on a well-known song. Yo Yo Ma may play “Ode to Joy” in a way few can match, but your nine year-old niece’s interpretation of the same song might bring tears to your eyes because of her commitment, enthusiasm and generosity of spirit. We can find lots to appreciate in both versions.

MYTH #3:

When you’re not in proper alignment you will ultimately hurt or injure yourself.

When you’re talking about the interrelated parts of a machine, the term “alignment” makes perfect sense. Aligning your tires, for example, prevents accidents, prolongs the life of the tires, and makes your car function better.

Many yoga teachers make the same claim about the human body, however, often using the very same language: Our bodies are like machines, they suggest; they work better and last longer when all the separate pieces are properly aligned. Well, do they? In a sense, we’ll never know. Perfect, mechanical alignment doesn’t happen in the body – any body. Bodies are not constructed in straight lines but in curves: blood vessels snake languorously through the body, and bones and teeth contact one another on surfaces that are invariably convex or concave. Try standing relaxed with your feet together – as in mountain pose – and close your eyes. What do you notice? Even mountain pose is a balancing posture requiring countless tiny, moment-to-moment adjustments among many opposing asymmetrical forces.

A 1994 study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that 82% of people experiencing no low-back pain actually showed signs of disc bulges and herniations. The point? The vast majority of us go through life quite happily and comfortably ‘misaligned’ – as literal embodiments of the Japanese term “wabi sabi’ – beautifully imperfect.

Injuries do occur in yoga classes, mostly in the soft tissue of the knees, ankles, shoulders, and lower back. But it’s unlikely that they result from ‘imperfect’ alignment, which varies widely from one body to another. More likely, these injuries occur because people ignore the signals their bodies are sending them about what is safe and what is not safe for them – and may not ever be – and instead try to push themselves to achieve an idealized version of an asana that their body is not ready to perform.

MYTH #4:

When we practice poses with proper alignment, energy flows freely throughout the body.

Many practitioners believe that when you perform a pose with perfect alignment, something semi-magical happens: Energy (prana) effortlessly flows through your torso and extremities. Your nervous system lights up like a Christmas tree. All obstacles to the flow of energy are entirely removed.

In practice, the opposite is true: you go into a pose in order to create an obstacle to the flow of prana. Stretch a muscle, twist your spine, or bend a joint near its end range, and blood and lymph inevitably have a harder time circulating. All you have to do is spend a few minutes in virtually any pose to prove the point: no matter how perfectly aligned your outer form appears, certain areas of your body eventually become numb.

Come out of the pose, however, and prana gushes into your extremities like water through an unkinked hose.

Think of a yoga posture, then, as a constraint for the flow of prana – a crimp in the energetic hose – and think of a yoga class as a series of challenges for your capacity to remain equanimous even when obstacles are present. Can you keep breathing, extending your awareness, activating your hands, feet, fingers and toes, even when you start to tire, even when your muscles are shaking a little, even when you really want to come out of the pose? A yoga class is a pranic ‘obstacle course’ which you can eventually learn to negotiate with more and more ease and mastery. Learning the subtle art of keeping calm and balanced even in the face of difficulty is a powerful lesson – and one with profound implications outside the yoga studio as well.

MYTH #5:

There are universal principles of alignment that are good for every body.

Don’t let your front knee travel in front of your toes in lunging poses or you’ll hurt your knee! How many times have you heard this? Probably enough so that you carefully avoid it – never realizing that both knees travel in front of your toes in any yoga squat. Whoever came up with this rule clearly never noticed, either.

Another common one: Keep your elbows close to your body in chaturanga dandasana (yoga push-up) or you’ll hurt your shoulders!

For some people, that’s true. But depending on the architecture of the shoulder joint, the elbows-in position can also cause more inflammation and pain than an elbows-out position.

The natural asymmetry and variation of the human body makes it very tough to come up with universal rules that always apply to every body, all the time. Ask five yoga teachers for a detailed description of how to perform triangle pose (trikonasana) and you’ll get five subtly different answers. Inevitably, each responds based on a backlog of experience, which they’ve found to be effective for themselves and perhaps their students as well. But no description will always work perfectly for every-‘body’, no matter how eloquent or perceptive the teacher: It’s why there are a couple dozen different common styles of hatha yoga, and over 5,000 yoga studios in the US alone. Every teacher has insight and inspiration, and every teacher has blind spots.

Those of us who practice and teach yoga are like the blind men in the fable who describe the elephant in a different way depending on which part of the animal they’re touching. None of us are wrong, exactly – indeed, all of us have a firm grasp on some part of the truth. But no single teacher can wrap his or her arms around the whole practice, or perceive the whole truth within each and every student.

In a sense that’s what makes yoga an exciting and dynamic art, and not a finite, fully-graspable science – it’s an expression of an individual in space and time, not a playing out of a set of principles which are inherently limited and predictable.

In truth, the human body itself is the most effective and perceptive teacher in the yoga room – and the best yoga teachers themselves understand that. Their teaching is as much inside-out as it is outside-in: they guide their students towards the awareness of sensations associated with each asana more often than they stage a pose for students to copy. The most masterful yoga teachers, therefore, aren’t necessarily the ones who can achieve the most impressive-looking yoga poses but the ones who can speak the language of sensation most clearly and vividly: Feel your chest opening towards the floor and notice your hamstrings lengthening in downward dog; sense your upper arms near your ears in warrior one and observe your top hip rotating backward in triangle pose. Approached like this, any inappropriate competitiveness or overreaching dissipates, and a class becomes a simple, joyful and sensual exploration rather than a “posture race.”

Many high-profile master teachers from disciplines like voice, music and movement long ago recognized the effectiveness of this kind of teaching – with across-the-board impressive results. In his book The Use and Training of the Human Voice, the late Arthur Lessac compares the phonation of each letter to the playing of an instrument in an orchestra, complete with instructions on the feelings that occur while you ‘play’ each one – and almost nothing about how each is supposed to sound. Similarly, Australian musician Neil Moore, founder of a method for music instruction called “Simply Music”, doesn’t even start to teach music theory or reading notes at all until a student has been playing for almost a year, instead teaching piano by breaking down songs into easily repeatable physical images and patterns. And teachers of the Feldenkrais Method take a wholly inside-out approach to movement re-education, verbally guiding students through increasingly complex and challenging movements, using precise details on how each movement feels, never telling or showing students what action or physical pattern they are trying to master until they have discovered it entirely for themselves.

It’s a rare but invaluable yoga teacher who can pull this off, but the best ones put you so “in your body” that even a challenging yoga sequence can become as joyful and expressive as a jazz improv: loose but controlled, disciplined but fully in the moment. Students who experience this feeling – either by working with a great teacher or by discovering it on their own – will not only have a juicier time practicing, but will experience tremendous growth as well. It’s the great, paradoxical lesson of yoga, and one that most of us need to learn again and again: that it is only when we let go of our ambition to improve, and silence the insistent voices that urge us towards some illusionary plane of perfection, that real transformation actually occurs. 

Patanjali Never Said Anything About Yoga Selfies

AlexCrow

By Alexandria Crow

I love Instagram. I adore the community and having the opportunity to interact with it. I follow photographers, fashionistas, videographers, designers, news outlets, artists, and of course, yogis. Their posts often inspire me creatively, make me laugh hysterically, and warm my heart. It’s the only social media that I really like.

It was my dad actually who showed me, though, that the very images that I saw as strengthening the community also weaken it. “I’ll never be able to do yoga,” he said, pointing to photo of me. I asked why not. “I am 65 years old and I’m not flexible,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to tie myself up like a pretzel or learn how to do a handstand, nor do I want to.”

I was taken aback to learn that after all the years I’d been teaching he still thought yoga was just about how well you could do fancy poses. And then I realized that a lot people probably don’t see #inspiration and #yogalove in all the stunning images on social media but something more like #wtf #nothanks.

'Everything that's happening to you is what's supposed to be happening to you, so just relax.' - Chris MartinIt took me forever to understand that type of statement.  I now see the reason things are the way they are is either because I need to learn something, or because my karmic choices made it so, and then sometimes life just shows up and hands you crap that's completely random. I only suffer when I fight against things being the way they are.  Relax, let it be....everything is exactly as it needs to be for growth to happen.

What You Can’t See In a Selfie

The problem, of course, is that a pretty pose pic doesn’t even scratch the surface of what yoga really is. Over the next couple of hours I gave him a lecture, covering everything but asana. I told him about concentration,being in the momentuntangling your ego, working hard to burn through bad patterns so you can replace them with wise ones, and trying to find ease in this impermanent world.

Then I explained how the poses are really a vehicle to teach all thatphilosophy: Because some poses seem easy and some seem hard, your ego often gets involved and labels which ones you like and which you don’t. It also sometimes encourages you to try to keep up with the person next to you and leads to injury. It’s also there, telling you to give up, when a pose scares you or intimidates you. By learning to pay attention to your tendencies on the mat you can learn a lot about what you do off of it in your regular life when faced with similar challenges, I told him.

Then I told him he could get all those same benefits without ever stepping on a mat…

Then I told him he could get all those same benefits without ever stepping on a mat and doing what we consider “asana.” I explained that by learning to meditate he could gain all those same insights, learn to pay attention in the moment, ignore the thoughts that are useless, and keep the ones that are wise and helpful. He was thoroughly intrigued and asked me to teach him how to meditate and provide him with a plan on how to work on this yoga thing. I was thrilled.

The old adage 'people never change' is bullshit.  Yoga has taught me that any pattern I have that isn't wise, kind or healthy is changeable.  I can't force anyone else to change but I know for certain that I am constantly capable of changing for the better and wiser.  And the best part is, the more I grow, the more my relationships and interactions with people shift for the better too.  Anything is possible if you commit and do the work.  Anything.

“Yoga Is Now”

Patanjali’s first sutra pretty much says it all. My favorite translation of it is: “Yoga Is Now.” He doesn’t say, “Yoga Is Asana” or “Yoga Is Crow Pose,” he says it’s “Now.” Being here now—not in the throes of your mind’s painful stories, judgments, and patterns—that’s it. Since none of us can be here now all the time, we need practice to strengthen our skills of concentration first. The poses help us do that. When it becomes easier to see our minds’ stories and patterns, we can begin to eliminate the parts that cause suffering and amplify the parts that bring us ease, presence, and connection to ourselves and to others. That’s yoga.

I can tell you, in those shoots, I’m not doing much that qualifies as yoga.

By taking photos of very fancy, beautiful poses and passing them off as yoga, as a community, we are at risk of alienating a lot of people from even trying it. And the truth is, the photos I post on social media of myself doing poses are not photos of me doing yoga. And they’re not selfies. They’re professionally styled and orchestrated images photographed in a studio. And I can tell you, in those shoots, I’m not doing much that qualifies as yoga. In fact, what happens in my mind is the opposite of a yoga practice. I’m not concentrating on doing what I’m doing wisely, I’m concentrating on making it look great for the camera. The pose the camera captures isn’t my yoga practice but rather the result of it—years of it. And that’s what’s most beautiful about it.

As a community, let’s unite and make it our mission to broaden the definition of the #yogaselfie. So in addition to all of the stunningly staged, aspirational, wow-worthy images we love to ooh and ahh at, let’s also post photos of the rest of the practice—whatever that means for you. For example, I’m practicing yoga when I’m strict with my students and challenge their patterns in class. I’m practicing yoga when people are unkind to me and I choose a nonreactive response. I’m practicing yoga when I sit on my bedroom floor in the morning and meditate. All fair game. Show us your #yogaselfie and tag me, @alexandriacrowyoga, and @yogajournal.

I'm secretly a biker chick.  One of my all time favorite activities...cruising the desert, mountains or the coast on the back of my Dad's Harley.  Now that he's on his way back from London - the biker chick in me can reemerge.  Tbt to the last life we took through the AZ desert in 2012.

About Our Expert

Alexandria Crow yoga teacherSouthern California’s Alexandria Crow comes from an Ashtanga Yoga background. Today, the YogaWorks teacher offers vinyasa flow classes with methodical and challenging sequences that encourage mindful attention. Besides her work inside the pages of Yoga Journal as a model and writer, she’s appeared in Yoga Journal’s Fitness Challenge and Total Body Yoga DVDs, as well as several ads for HardTail Forever.

Link to the original article

7 Ways to Get Out of Your Own Way While Teaching Yoga

7Ways

By Karen Fabian

At first I was going to write an article called How to Teach Yoga When You’re in a Bad Mood, but I decided the title was too negative.

The more I thought about it, I realized that the theme behind it was a central one to teaching yoga; that of the act of getting out of your own way while teaching.

It might sound like a New Age phrase, “Get out of your own way,” but it’s really true. In order to be an effective teacher, we have to be a facilitator and a guide to helping people focus more on their experience than the fact that we’re the one leading them through the practice.

So, our challenge as teachers is to teach without making it about us but yet still show authenticity. So, to that end, here are a few suggestions:

Speak to what you see: If you’re in your head, thinking about your day or your own troubles, chances are you’re teaching from autopilot. As you get more experienced, you will find you can teach and still have distracting thoughts, just as when you sit in meditation. This is only short changing you and your students from having an experience that truly creates presence and connection.

Use silence: A great way to create presence for you and the class is to stop allow for silence. When we’re constantly chattering, it’s a distraction and brings our students into their heads. I always have to balance this because I like to bring anatomy tips into class. But I try to share a little and then let the class be in silence before we begin.

Take a moment before you teach to come into your body:  When we’ve had a bad day or have a great deal on our mind, it’s an awful place from which to teach. Before you go into the room, take a deep breath and connect to your body.

Feel your feet on the floor: A basic technique to help ground you into the present is to stand tall with the class before the first “Om.” Use the moment to come into the present, feel your body, connect to your strength and come out of whatever has you in your head.

Teach from what you know. When we teach an ever-changing sequence, it means we’re really thinking about what to offer next. This can get in the way of our ability to be present.

Assist to facilitate not necessarily to deepen. If you really dive into teaching the class, chances are you’re going to be assisting the students as well. Rather than try to take them deeper into poses (not a bad idea but a technique to be used judiciously), look for assisting to reinforce alignment. I always find that the classes where I assist really bring me out of my head and into the moment.

Use the anatomy of the pose to create alignment and awareness: When we refer to the anatomy of the pose, it can potentially help students better connect to their bodies. There is a slight variable, depending on what you say. If it’s too complicated, it will force them to think too much but if it’s just the right word selection, it can help both you and your students become a bit more present.

The more we can connect to the present, the more our teaching is about the class and less about ourselves. I’ve found that the more I can be present on the mat, the greater chance I will be able to put aside whatever has me distracted or caught up in upset in my life. This allows me to find relief in both my practice and teaching.

Link to the Original Article