Yoga Mala: A Whole Body Prayer

A mala, meaning garland in Sanskrit, evokes a circular, continuous form. In practice, a mala is the devoted offering of repeated cycles (typically in divisors of 108) of mantra japa or yoga asana. Within a mala, there is always a sense of beginning, continuing and completion. Both inside each individual cycle and in the practice as a whole. This three-form (trimurti) quality allows us to embody, in practice, the rhythmic cycles ever present in the natural universe: creation (srishti), sustaining (sthiti) and destruction (samhara).

Read more at Gaia.

Source: https://www.gaia.com/article/yoga-mala

Autumnal Equinox: Rhythm and Ritual Through Yoga

The autumnal equinox marks one of two specific positions of Earth during its year-long orbit around the sun where the celestial equator (the spatial projection of the plane between northern and southern hemispheres) passes through the center of our solar star. In these equinox positions, our planet’s axis is directed neither toward nor away from the sun and the boundary between light and shadow is perpendicular to the equator.

During this significant, albeit brief, moment of cosmic equanimity, the planet is divided into approximately equal parts night and day, hence the word “equinox” with Latin roots meaning “equal night.”

Read the full article here, complete with a regenerative practice for the autumnal equinox, inviting you to surrender to your inner gravity and navigate the upcoming seasonal transition with grace.

The 7 Chakras of Teaching: Practical Tips for Vinyasa Yoga Teachers

This one is near and dear to my heart, a love letter to yoga teachers with a few things I've learned in my nascent teaching career. Visit My Yoga on Gaia to read the complete article covering root to crown guidances for Yoga teachers. 

Every student deserves to feel like they are being led, cared for and protected during what can sometimes be a vulnerable space of self-exploration. If we experiment with new variations, transitions and sequences during class, we are projecting the potential risk of the unknown onto our students. This is a violation of trust and can drain both energy and confidence. Instead, treat your home practice as a laboratory and work out the mechanics of anything new inside your own body before inviting others to do so.

Vinyasa Yoga Poses & Sequences

You'll find the basic structure of Vinyasa Yoga along with some of my favorite poses and sequences in my latest article at My Yoga on Gaia!

Vinyasa Yoga arises from an intrinsic personal freedom to breathe and move in the way that is most beneficial at any given time. To call once again upon the experiential wisdom of Shiva Rea who likens this quality to a river, "there is a direction to the flow but like a river, it is allowed to find its course." In Sanskrit, this quality is called sahaja and illustrates the spontaneous response that arises within Vinyasa Yoga when we allow ourselves to be led by subtle body intuition. Whether or not the resulting movement bears any resemblance to a yoga pose.

Yoga for Beginners: The Basic Principles of Physical Yoga Practice

We're all beginner yogis at some point and the practice welcomes us to be beginners always. The following is from one of my latest (and possibly favorite) pieces on Beginner Yoga, check out the full article on My Yoga on Gaia. 

The word “beginner” in the context of Yoga has a number of different meanings. There is the beginner who is completely new to the practice, unfamiliar with physical movement modalities and somewhat disconnected from their physicality. There is the beginner who has never received instruction from a Yoga teacher, but has an intimate connection to their physical body and breath from participation in athletics or other disciplines. There is the beginner who can muscle their way into arm balances, but does so while holding their breath and the beginner who can readily touch their toes, but feels bored when they get there. The difference between a beginner and an advanced practitioner is awareness and awareness has a tendency to ebb and flow.

 

What is Vinyasa Yoga? Intelligent Living Rhythm

Vinyasa is a topic near and dear to my heart and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from incredible teachers who have transmitted the art of vinyasa to their students. Below is an excerpt from my latest article on My Yoga on Gaia that dives deeply into the origins and practice of vinyasa. 

HOW YOU DO ANYTHING IS HOW YOU DO EVERYTHING
Empirical vinyasa is available to us at all times, from the mundane completion of household chores to the exquisite embrace of someone we love. Our lifetimes are a growing a collection of nows and the way we utilize each gifted moment inexorably shapes our reality. How we do anything is how we do everything, so why not do it in a special way? This is living vinyasa. A process of unifying the outer state with the inner state by completing any sequence of activities in such a way that we experience awareness and connection to source Self. The art of vinyasa is to unearth its potential in our everyday rhythm, be it breathing, speaking, working, eating or sleeping.

 

Morning Yoga: From Waking to Awakening

Please enjoy my latest article on My Yoga Online to explore the benefits of practicing yoga in the morning. 

On a cellular level, exposure to morning light initiates the body’s start-up procedure. Upon first exposure to light from darkness, the brain shuts down melatonin production thereby stimulating physical systems and corresponding bodily functions. Unfortunately, our eyes do not distinguish between natural and unnatural light sources, so that middle-of-the-night glance at a smartphone screen to check the time, is like telling your body it’s party time. 

 

 

Yoga Every Day: More Than a Hashtag

MORE THAN A HASHTAG

If you’re a yoga practitioner in 2016, chances are you have had some exposure to the yoga of social media. You may even be familiar with the “yoga every damn day” hashtag that unites a community of yogis in the pursuit of a devoted daily practice. But what does #yogaeverydamnday really mean and is it in the realm of wise practice? While some are quick to condemn this social media movement with cautions of injury, demands for moderation and a strict adherence to tradition, perhaps it warrants closer examination.

Maybe #yogaeverydamnday is meant to celebrate the yogic lifestyle and encourage committed daily practice. Or maybe there exists a deeper level of embedded insight in this seemingly innocuous hashtag than what can be communicated in a well-staged image or video. At the very least, it serves as an entry point for discussing how yoga every day is actually a lifestyle choice.

SAY YES TO YOGA EVERY DAY

From neuroscience to somatics, we are in the midst of a burgeoning curiosity about human experience and consciousness that has inspired the application of modern methods of observation, measurement, and analysis to substantiate the positive effects of daily yoga practice. As research catches up with the sages, this systematic scientific inquiry has, in many cases, confirmed the poetry of ancient wisdom and sacred texts. Common to both the science and the spirit of sadhana, we find the benefits of yoga every day are undeniable.

Excerpts from my latest article on My Yoga on Gaia, you can read the full article here: Yoga Every Day: More Than a Hashtag. 

 

The Staying Power of Yoga

I went to my first yoga class almost 10 years ago seeking solace from a stressful engineering job. And though I’d like to tell the story of how it was love at first OM, there was something about that first class that didn’t take. It wasn’t until later that I realized, the failure of my first attempt at yoga had nothing to do with the teacher or the studio or the practice. It failed because I simply wasn’t ready, I was too busy sleepwalking through my daily life. I was fresh out of college, working 50+ hours a week and navigating the delicate system that is work life balance. I exercised regularly and loved to move, but I had succumbed to the inertia of using my physical body as a way to check out. I breathed instinctively when I needed to gather my thoughts or in the presence of tension, but I didn’t know why. I had relationships with others, but they were inauthentic because I was not in relationship with myself (despite my spending 99% of my time inside my head). The truth was, I just wasn’t ready for yoga. It’s like the first of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “Now begins the study of yoga”, or as Nischala Joy Devi poetically describes, “with humility (an open heart and mind) we embrace the sacred study of yoga.”  The practice didn’t land for me until I was humble, open and ready to receive it. 

There were several things I needed to do before I would be ready to step into the practice in a meaningful way. First, I needed to shift the trajectory of my professional path toward work that brought me joy and interaction with other happy humans. Then, I needed to bring an end to what had become a toxic romantic relationship and trust in the process of starting over. I had to get curious and scared and uncomfortable. Fortunately, the staying power of yoga meant that by the time I was ready, some 5 years later, the practice was still there for me.  With the conscious, gradual shedding of conditioned patterns, I eventually experienced enough freedom to start asking the questions I had always been afraid to ask. I began nurturing the wisdom of my innate spirituality and as I did, I discovered others who were doing the same.

The practice unfolded for me rather quickly, as situations often do when you finally surrender to the yes. I practiced regularly for a year or so and it didn’t take long for the spark of deeper inquiry to ignite. I wanted to go deeper. I began attending workshops and reading the sutras. I started experiencing things on the mat that I had longed for my whole life. I enjoyed fleeting moments of real, discernable connection to something beyond myself. Yoga was the entry point for letting spirituality be whatever it needed to be. And it was ok if it changed from day to day or if I asked a lot of questions that led to more mystery. The difference this time was, I felt deep satisfaction in the potency of unknowing.

Yoga gave me the language with which to articulate my subtle body experience. What followed was a means for relating to a tribe of people who were all present to the same delights and struggles. I no longer felt alone and yet the practice was very intimate, something that felt like it was all mine. So, I kept practicing. With my heart opening a little more with each visit to the mat, I inevitably met someone special. Someone who encouraged me to indulge my yoga curiosity in service to others by becoming a teacher.

Many breaths and years later, my interest and attention are still infinitely satiated in learning, loving and living yoga. Like Richard Freeman says, when you become so taken with a subject or practice, it naturally begins to pour out of you. The teaching part is inevitable, it just sort of happens. As a teacher, I am all the more committed to being a student first. The more I continue to scratch the surface, the more yoga lays out before me as I discover it is so much more than shapes. However, above all else, I am a believer in love. In all forms, in all ways, yoga has taught me that love is at the heart of healing. It is the message that breathes life into every teaching, though unassuming its simplicity. Love is what anchors my yoga practice. 

I invite you to share your #MadeForYoga story at Manduka.com!

 

 

The Intimate Experience of Self-Practice

Below is an excerpt from my article on Gaia on how to develop and sustain an intimate home practice. You can read the full article here

BE YOUR OWN ENERGY ALCHEMIST

When we commit to a devoted practice of yoga at home, we get to choose our own adventure with each new arrival on the mat. Simply going through the motions is no longer an option because when the practice isn't serving us on a particular day, we have the power to change it. This how we become energy alchemists. Alchemy is "a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination" and as alchemists, it is up to us to combine different elements of the practice to yield our desired transformation.

YOUR PERSONAL PRACTICE RHYTHM

As Pranic beings, our energy levels may be affected by everything from the book we are reading to the weather. However, as you begin to enjoy yoga at home more regularly, you may begin to perceive the subtle underlying patterns in your body as they relate to different days and times. In my practice for example, Tuesdays are generally my courageous heart, nothing-can-stop-me, bring on the week, days. Conversely, Mondays are typically much quieter and it takes a lot more energy just to get my body moving. As a result, I typically start my week on Tuesdays, which happens to suit my fluid schedule. Similarly, when I know I have a busy day ahead, I try to wake up a little early and move through at least 5 Surya Namaskar A and 5 Surya Namaskar B to keep yoga alive in my body in the event that I'm unable to squeeze in a practice elsewhere. The idea is to let whatever rhythm you choose provide the energy alchemy that serves you best.

BALANCE IN CONTRARY COMPLEMENTS

We all have our favorite categories of asana and even if you're in the nascent stages of a yoga practice, yours will reveal themselves soon. As such, we organically gravitate toward the shapes that fit into these categories (backbends, twists, hip openers, etc.) because they feel good in our bodies. We must, however, also spend time with the asanas that we don't love. Those that we are re-kindling a relationship with or those we have yet to meet. Are you a lover of backbends? Try simmering in deep forward folds. Naturally flexible? Explore ways to develop muscular strength and endurance. We have as much to learn from pratikriyasana (reverse action) as we do from the fullest expression of any posture. Despite what poses we think we should practice, it is prudent also give adequate devotion to the shapes we shy away from and inside that devotion, ask the question: why?

SET INTENTIONS, NOT GOALS

I will be the first to admit, I am a strong proponent of goal-setting, goal-chasing and overall goal-related enthusiasm. In most circumstances, I believe setting measurable goals and declaring them aloud is like saying to the Universe, "I mean it, I really want this". The mat, however, is one place that I prefer to keep metric-free. In my experience, a practice that is rooted in the desire to achieve an external pose or aim does not sustain me long-term and keep me coming back for more. If the aim is too challenging, I have a tendency to become discouraged. Too easy and I will likely become disinterested. Intentions, on the other hand are living, breathing forces of consciousness. Our relationship with them changes and evolves giving them the potential to surprise in new, wonderful ways all the time. Consider how inviting courage onto your mat might get your feet off the ground in crow pose one day and give you the permission to rest in child's pose the next. With their infinite forms, intentions are better equipped to support the purpose of ongoing sadhana.

Continue reading the full article on Gaia - Yoga at Home: The Intimate Experience of Self-Practice.

Elemental Medicine

"The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff."

Carl Sagan

This "starstuff" that Carl Sagan describes, refers to the elements. In the present-day study of our natural world, science has revealed to us 118 unique elements; these can also be thought of in more universal terms as space, air, fire, water and earth. Each of these Pancha Mahabhuta, five great elements, represents a state or quality of matter that can be observed through direct experience. With practice and attention, we begin to recognize these Pancha Mahabhuta within our elemental bodies as a reflection of those comprising the observable universe. In essence, we can attune our biorhythms to those of the world around us to bring greater balance and deeper cosmic connection into our lives -- this is elemental medicine.

Continue reading the full article at Gaia: Cultivate Balance through the Wisdom of the Five Great Elements

Selective Svadhyaya - How to Choose a Yoga Teacher Training

I am so excited to share what I have learned about selecting a teacher training that fits just right. The process of self-study is a unique and intimate experience and no two yoga schools are alike.  And while it can be overwhelming to take in all that is available for modern yoga practitioners seeking deeper study, there are a few approaches that can help to narrow your search.  

Please enjoy my latest article published by Gaia: A Guide to Selecting the Best Yoga Teacher Training for You



Still Listening

I heard this song today while I was savasana-ing after this practice and it made me smile uncontrollably as my eyes filled with happy tears.  The lyrics are so simple, but they effortlessly articulate the reason why I practice, to let distractions melt away and really listen to whatever it is I need to hear.

"Still Listening" - Lucky Brown

Do you hear voices in your head?
That talk and sing to you in bed?
And do those voices give you thoughts,
'bout what is good and what is not?
[Well I heard some things, but I'm still listening I'm still listening]

Do you hear a voice that makes you laugh?
Or one that knows your secret past?
Is it sure or does it doubt?
Does it whisper, does it shout?
[Well I heard some things but I'm still listening. I'm still listening.]

Do you listen for the voice?
Or is it drowned out by the noise?
It's just the voice that you listen to,
But don't always do what it tells you.
[Well I heard some things, but I'm still listening. I'm still listening.]

It's the voice you hear everyday and sometimes wish, would go away.
But if that voice should ever fall silent,
Be quiet 'til you hear it again.
[Well I heard some things, but I'm still listening. I'm still listening.]

Svabhava Mudra

I have been focusing a lot on the power of sankalpa (vow, intention) as of late.  Where it becomes more than just some arbitrary thought we have at the beginning of a practice.  It goes beyond that.  It's an idea, notion or concept that forms in the heart and mind that we have infinite determination to fulfill. 

san = a connection to our innermost essence + highest truth; kalpa = rule to be followed above all others.

With this focus on sankalpa I found myself practicing anjali mudra again and again.  And it reminded me of a courageous practitioner that I met about a year ago while teaching at Google headquarters.  Not only was English not this woman's first language, but she was also blind.  Yet, every evening, she showed up, heart open, ready for practice.  Her practice was completely unique because it was informed by her internal vision.  She would hear the words and then create the shape from the inside out.  Each time I invited the class to "bring your hands to your heart in anjali mudra", this woman would wrap her arms around herself in a gentle heart hug that has stayed with me ever since.   She was the first one to teach me svabhava mudra, the shape of our innermost essence.  This sequence is inspired by that wonderful woman and the teaching she offered me selflessly through her embodiment. 
 

Inner Teacher

Eka pada raja kapotasana, 1 leg king pigeon pose.  I have always avoided the full expression of this shape.  I generally visit it as a deep hip opener, but seldom much more than that.  I've experimented with using a strap to access the back foot, but more as a means to open the quadriceps than to explore the realm of backbending.  Lately however, I find myself magnetically drawn to this pose.  I seek all the ways in which I can practice the pose without collapsing into my lower back and in a way that is painfree.  But the desire to find this shape is driven from the inside out and as a result I am discovering so many new things about my breath and my body. 

My yoga practice used to be about poses I could do and poses I couldn't do.  I would get stronger at those that came naturally and I would avoid those that required deeper study and work.  But now the unknowing is what lights me up.  It connects me to my inner teacher, something that only comes as a result of direct experience.   It's not always pretty, but it's practice.

Akasha

Akasha is the element from which all things arise and to which all things return.  It is the backdrop or the "space" that makes it possible for all the other elements to exist.  It is all at once completely empty and yet all encompassing.  We think of all that we know as being made up of "stuff", but if you look closely enough, there's space between the stuff.

When I was in Costa Rica earlier this year, studying with Shiva Rea, I was blessed to have a physicist in my tribe.  As a wildly intelligent, spiritual practitioner, he would not only entertain my "nerding out" about all things yoga, but he would translate the vastly complex ideas into simple terms that I could understand and wrap my mind around.  I'll never forget one of our conversations about the space element when he asked me to imagine the smallest possible thing that I could.  I answered with a single atom and he described how it could be smaller still because at the center of the atom is a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons.  (Something I learned years ago, but hadn't thought about in ages.)  The next closest "something" circling the nucleus is an electron in the electron cloud...stay with me.  Between the nucleus and the electrons is space.  Now, to put this into terms that we can more readily understand, imagine that the earth were the nucleus of an atom, the next closest something (an electron) would be at a distance of Jupiter away!  So the stuff we think of as solid is really made up of organized space.  Unless there's smaller stuff that we don't yet have the ability to understand.  Hopefully I didn't lose you there, maybe Dustin Hoffman and Mark Walberg can explain it more clearly:

When hearing the word "space" I generally think of outer space - the cosmos and the sense of awe rushes over me when gazing up at the night sky.  For me, this sensation often results in contemplations on infinity and the edge of the universe which Inevitably yields acceptance of the unknown and joy in the unknowing. 

We can search and seek outside ourselves for answers, but yoga gives us an opportunity explore the inner space of our consciousness with the same curiosity and wonder that we do outer space.

Here's another video of just how mind boggling the scale of space can be.

And finally, here is a sequence to awaken the space element, akasha inside the body. 

Vayu

The air element is matter in its gaseous form.  The particles move faster and spread out making it less dense than the heavy elements of earth and water and giving it a quality of lightness.  The most direct way to experience the air element is through the breath.  We take air in and breathe air out, feeding our bodies with up to 30,000 cycles per day.  And yet, we often don't recognize this element as nourishment.  Consider however, that you can go 3 weeks without food (earth) and 3 days without water, but you can only go 3 minutes without air. 

Air resides inside the heart chakra, anahata, which is where our true nature resides and in our most natural state, we are joyful.  When meditating on the air element, I am reminded of Danielle Laporte's perfect analogy:

Happiness is like rising [champagne] bubbles -- delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen -- ever present.

Agni

The fire element, agni, is the energy of accelerated change or dissolution, it transforms matter from one state to another.  It's the churning of digestion, the energy of passion and personal power.  For this reason, when we think of the fire element, we most often think of extreme heating with movement that is erratic and unpredictable.  Yet, fire element is intrinsically meditative.  One of the earliest forms of meditation for humans was to simply become mesmerized by gazing into the fire. 

Striking a balance of this element within the body is all about the practice of intelligent firekeeping.  We have to stoke the inner fire enough so that the flames do not weaken, but no so much that we "burn out" and consume all of our physical, mental and emotional resources.  On the mat, excessive fire can manifest as ego.  We push too hard or we chase a particular pose.  When in balance, the fire element supports healthy, steady strength and a slow heating of the body from the inside out.   This practice explores all forms of the fire element, both stoking the flame and cooling the inner fire.