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. 

 

 

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.