What My Yoga Really Looks Like
…and announcing my first Instagram Challenge: December 12 – 18 2016! #whatmyyogareallylookslike
My teacher often tells us of how he would wake at 4am and practice for four hours each day with his father. He also points out that most of us don’t have the time in our lives to do be able to do that. As householders, we have many responsibilities and four to five hours a day of asana and meditation are not practical for most of us. However, we can take some time each day and a little can go a long way.
When I first began practicing in my twenties my favorite thing to do was power yoga. And more power yoga. “Wow” I thought to myself “this is a great new way to burn calories!” I would often double up on classes if possible.
Very early on, in one of my favorite teacher’s classes, I watched my sister easily move into a bind – dropping one hand behind her back, the other under her thigh to connect her hands. I could not get my hands together and I wanted to do that. I was going to do that. But sometimes what we want isn’t what we need - lesson number one. I felt something - maybe even heard something - and sensation turned to pain. I had to leave the class because I had actually become dizzy and a little nauseated. I didn’t realize this forcing wasn’t yoga, wasn’t what we say is sattva (balanced). I did not know about Sthira and Sukha (the balance between effort and ease) or that you should be able to breathe in the poses. And to be honest, at that point I didn’t care. What I did know was that action against myself was not sustainable. And it scared me. So I did not try to bind again for over a year. And when I did the awareness and breath and more deliberate practice placed behind it allowed the bind to happen easily - that day. I’ve also learned every day is different.
A few years later, after I began teaching full time, my lower back started to feel sensitive and achy. I knew this was not sustainable either - especially since I was teaching 20 classes a week at that point. So I went to a senior teacher who had a lot of knowledge about the body, for guidance.
He gave me a sequence that I was not excited about AT ALL. It involved no jumping or quick vinyasa but rather small focused movements to strengthen my core and back muscles. It also included poses I had tried to escape for a long time – stretches for the hip flexors and quadriceps. I was not happy about how different this routine was. However, it did not take me long doing these exercises to feel so much better in my body. And that was really empowering. It didn’t look like the practice I had known or loved previously – but I was more present and compassionate in my body and at the same time getting stronger in ways I needed.
That small sequence taught me a great deal. I began to shift the way I thought about my personal practice. It became less about working out and more about connection and building awareness. Don’t get me wrong - I loved the feeling from working out and sweating! Whether running, taking a spin class or working with personal trainers as I did in NYC – and I consider it all a part of my yoga practice. It is healthy, it is time for myself, and it is a place I learn a lot. This of course benefits me but also my students and clients. My asana practice however, became more about peeling away the layers, connecting to the subtle body and stretching my breath rather than moving a mile a minute and getting my heart rate up.
Although my asana practice was becoming more quiet and internal I still had a difficult time completely slowly down. Meditation was something I did…and then didn’t. I tried, but was not very committed. Then about nine or 10 years ago I was going through a particular trying personal issue. I was working with a personal trainer, which was fantastic as it helped me feel strong and in control. I really needed that at the time. After a few months though I was working out several times a day to burn off all my energy. One day I found myself on the StairClimber at a gym in NYC. There was a moment on that machine when I realized I was not burning off access energy or feeling strong. I was just on a hamster wheel plotting and planning and raging. I was simply adding fuel to the fire and it needed to stop or I was going to burn out.
I went home and did a restorative pose. And then I started getting really serious about meditation. Because, as I had been told many times by very good teachers - we do not need to be in constant survival mode. It is pretty amazing that what we refer to as “fight or flight” is built into us for survival. And it is great if you need to pick up a car to save someone or run away from a tiger. But the slow drip of cortisol that is produced when we are always on high alert has negative effects to our system and has been linked to many health issues like memory loss and dementia.
I’m sharing this because most of the people I work with don’t need to be told to workout more or do more. But many of them would benefit from initiating the relaxation response and soothing the nervous system. We very often hear people say – or say ourselves - that we could use some quiet time. But we don’t use that time to go inward, we don’t take time to just sit with ourselves or to deeply relax. And the benefits of those practices to our system are immense and necessary.
We need to move the body. The body was made to move. Cardio exercise, asana, and weights help us keep our temple healthy. But the mind also needs to slow down and still. The nervous system needs soothing. When we meditate it is like stilling the waves on a lake and we can see the true reflection of who we are. As we connect to that part of ourselves we become more aware, intuitive and filled with gratitude for the beauty around us. And this is when the magic of yoga really starts.
Yoga helps us build and bring awareness on our mat and then into our lives. As we build awareness we always have the opportunity to practice. You don’t need your mat and you don’t need to be able to stand on your hands. I often have people return from the holidays or a vacation and say they have not “practiced.“ I know what they mean and of course consistency is important but it is also important be able to let go of routine and be in the moment.
Did you enjoy that vacation? Did you look up at the sky in awe? Was there a special moment with family or friends? Did you feel loving for no reason? Was there a moment you noticed your breath? Did you feel connected to the earth? To someone you know – or don’t know? The practice goes way beyond the mat.
As for my personal practice, when I am not traveling, it usually begins with my meditation each morning, possibly some simple movement to help me sit. Then I have my morning coffee while I do some reading and/or research. Late morning or afternoon I usually include a more physical practice like vinyasa and also cardio or weight training. I sometimes use online programs for asana practices, which help me get out of my comfort zone and also help me as a teacher. I also use programs like Betty Rocker and P90X since I cannot commit right now to a personal trainer due to my schedule and traveling.
Below I have outlined two weeks of how I made sure to move my body, calm (or try to calm) my mind, and restore and sooth my nervous system. It can be challenging to find the time but I have learned it is necessary to fill and nourish yourself if you want to be useful for others. Sometimes I include more movement and sometimes I need more time for quiet and restoring. So what you see below might look very different next week for me. But I wanted to share with you how I do my best to stay committed and connected to body, mind and spirit.
How I Practice
Saturday (Teacher Training in CA all day) : 3 miles jog, 10 sun salutations, 25 minute meditation
Sunday (Teacher Training and workshop in CA all day) : 10 salutations, 25 minute meditation
Monday (Pack and Travel Day on red eye flight) : 1.5 hour vinyasa class at local studio before flight, 20 minutes meditation in San Francisco Airport yoga room
Tuesday (home) : Sleep!, 30 minutes very slow flow practice, Legs up the Wall 20 minutes, Meditation – did not time it
Wednesday (Teaching In Washington DC) : Walk 1.5 miles, (In studio before class) Restorative pose Supta Badhha Konasana 30 mins, Meditation 30 minutes
Thursday (Teaching in Washington DC) : 30 minutes elliptical machine (at fitness center before my class), 20 minutes, 3 mile walk
Friday (Drive to NJ for family and teaching) : Slow flow class at local NJ studio, 25 minutes meditation (home)
Friday (I hour guided online flow class) : 20 minutes restorative, 25 minutes meditation
Saturday : 3 mile morning run on the boardwalk, 20 minutes asana/vinyasa, 20 minutes meditation
Sunday : Betty Rocker Online workout, 20 minutes Sun salutations, Meditation
Monday : Simple vinyasa, 30 minutes meditation, 1 hour 15 minutes Flow Class local studio
Tuesday : Simple Vinyasa, Meditation, (In the Afternoon…) Betty Rocker workout -30 minutes, Suptah Baddha Konasana 20 minutes
Wednesday : Betty Rocker Workout, Sun salutations, 25 minutes meditation
Thursday : 3 mile morning run, Simple vinyasa, 20 minute meditation
Some things to remember about a sustainable practice…
- Every day is different.
- Every day does not have to be the most challenging day of your life
- Listen to and for your breath.
- Stability over Flexibility (one of my Favorite Seane Corn sayings)
- Change it up.
- Soothe your nervous system. Initiate the Relaxation Response. Meditate. Restore.
- #yogaeverydamnday doesn’t mean a 3 hour power practice. It means consistency. Even a few minutes for yourself is great - Every little bit counts. It’s all money in the bank.
- Pay attention. Build your awareness on and off the mat. Notice the beauty in front of you.
- Practice gratitude.
I’m so excited to announce my first Instagram Challenge! #whatmyyogareallylookslike
To celebrate your yoga and to encourage you to take time for yourself especially as we move into the business of the holiday season I am happy to announce that I am partnering with Jen Murphy to host my first Instagram challenge - #whatmyyogareallyookslike
Jen is yoga practitioner, traveler, and writer. Her book Yoga (Man)ual is coming out in December of 2016! Check out her Instagram account @jenrunsworld and see below how to participate in the challenge to win a Jade Yoga mat, BTru2U Active Wear Yoga Bandeau top, or a yoga private via Skype or FaceTime with me!
Beginning December 12!
Hosts | @aprilyoga_beyondom and @jenrunsworld
Sponsors | @jadeyogamats and @btru2uactivewear
How to participate | Check out my Instagram account @aprilyoga_beyondom for the challenge announcement and repost the image to your feed.
- Follow all hosts and sponsors.
- Make sure to take a few moments each day for yourself to practice in some way. Post a photo expressing your yoga that day. It could be an image of a pose, self-care ritual, beautiful moment that you captured during your walk or run, family, etc.
- Tag daily #whatmyyogareallylookslike and also tag your hosts and sponsors in your caption.
- Like, comment and connect with other participants.
- And feel free to tag and invite friends!
Prizes | 3 participants will win one of the following...
- A Jade Yoga Mat
- A beautiful bandeau top from BTru2U Active Wear
- A private yoga session via Skype or Facetime with @aprilyoga_beyondom
Winners will be chosen based on the following criteria:
- Participate daily and engage with us and other participants
- Posts you version of what your yoga looks like each day
- Complete the entire challenge.