Hot Vinyasa at Studio 543... with Me!

I am so excited to announce that I am joining the Studio 543 Yoga Inferno team starting (wait for it...) ELECTION DAY 2016!

HAH! Perfection! Come get your yoga on with me at 6am starting Tuesday, November 8 to let go of some of that pent up stress from what's been a REALLY WONDERFUL, SUPER AWESOME election season that has seemingly GONE ON FOREVER.

Ok but in all seriousness, I'm really excited about teaching. So let's dive in. When, where, and what.

When: Tuesdays at 6am and Fridays at 6pm (yes, I am so game for some CBC with yall after practice on Fridays...) 

Where: Studio 543 Yoga Inferno! It's in the Brewery District, right off of High Street above Victory's -- there's free parking behind the building -- check their website for deets!

What: A 60 minute, heated (99 degrees) vinyasa flow. 

My Class Vision/Hopes/Goals: One of the things that drew me to teach yoga was the desire to pass on this practice that has given me so much. This practice that I love so deeply.

In my class, I hope to provide a space that you can make your own. My goal is to provide well-designed, creative vinyasa classes that build toward a "peak" posture that will challenge us and teach us that we are capable of anything we set our minds to... and make us laugh when we inevitably fall on our faces (or butts). My goal is to remind us all that these peak postures DON'T ACTUALLY MATTER... but yeah, they can be hella fun. But what matters is our breath and our dedication to showing ourselves and those around us kindness, compassion, and love. 

My goal as a teacher is empower every student on their own, unique journey and to cultivate a space that each one of my students can make their own; a space to find peace and stillness amongst the every day rush. A place for both effort and ease: challenge and tenderness. A place to truly listen to ourselves: mind and body. I hope to provide the space for my students to learn more about themselves... not because I'm teaching them, no, I'm merely a guide, but because they are able to discover their own inner teachers through the practice. 

So... join me! I would absolutely LOVE to start my Tuesdays with you, and reign in the weekends with you. 

Taking the Practice Off The Mat: 24/7 Yoga Challenge

In many of my blog posts, I’ve written about what yoga has taught me over the years, and continues to teach me every single day. I have learned so many life lessons via the physical practice, working on postures, meditation, breath work, and studying yogic philosophy. 

As many yogis will attest... I started yoga for the physical benefits and have stuck with it and dedicated myself to it for the mental/spiritual/emotional empowerment.

I am a more authentic version of me because of my yoga practice. I know myself today better than I did when I started practicing many moons ago. I am more present, kind, and calm. I can handle myself better when life throws curveballs. I am more sensitive, compassionate, empathetic. I am more honest to myself and others. 

Yes, yoga is so much more than just the physical practice, in fact, that is just one of the eight limbs of yoga, according to Patanjali.

For instance, the first limb lists the five Yamas, which are ethical guidelines we should strive to live by, much like, say, the 10 Commandments. They include: nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-covetousness.

For a simple example of one of these, let’s look at one of my favorites: nonviolence (ahimsa). This doesn’t just mean not physically harming someone, something (nature) or animals… it also extends to not mentally or emotionally hurting someone, including ourselves. Every time we think something negative about ourselves, we are not abiding by the yama of nonviolence. We are likely also not abiding by truthfulness (satya), because chances are high whatever that negative thing we thought about ourselves isn’t even true in the first place!!

The second limb is niyama, and these have to do with our spiritual practices and self-discipline. These get pretty deep… and each one really demands an entire blog post for itself… so I’ll discuss at a later date, but these are deeply personal, spiritual practices.

Then we get to the third limb which is asana (the physical practice) and then limbs 4-8, which deal with breathing, meditation, contemplation, and ultimately reaching transcendence. No big. Hah!

This is where yes, yoga can indeed be a very spiritual practice for many.

Yoga is a lifestyle. It is not just the duration of time I spend on my mat. That is why I was so excited to see the Yoga International and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s upcoming challenge: #24sevenyoga – which is all about taking our practice off the mat.

*And… if you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you know that body image is a passion of mine. And if you ask me... The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is the bees knees. Amazing people doing such important work for so many men and women around the world.

Yoga has played a meaningful role in my life helping me love and appreciate my body. I’ll often find myself dedicating practices to loving every inch of my body. Deeply. Truly. SO MUCH. Yes, even that cellulite on my ass. Love love love. Mwah.

So, I am excited to take part in their week-long challenge, and I encourage you all to do it right along with me! For details, check out the website here.

Namaste, ya’ll!

Effort and Ease.

One of my favorite parts of yoga teacher training were our lessons in yogic philosophy. The nerd in me came out hard, and I was constantly scribbling down notes and having these *really* dorky lightbulb moments. It took a LOT of self-control to not burst out in a typical Julie, "Oh my GOSH you guys..." and go off in some tangent.

The lesson on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.46 on sthira sukham asanam was one of those moments, and it has translated to my life off the mat in really meaningful ways.

Ok so what is sthira sukham asanam? Well in his Sutras, Patanjali is specifically speaking about seated meditation. He teaches that meditation should be both steady, firm, and effortful (sthira), and also sukham, which means comfortable and full of ease.

Effort and ease.

Yogis have sense adapted this concept and applied it in many ways beyond seated meditation, like to the physical postures. While many postures can be physically demanding and we have to put in a lot of effort (sthira), we simultaneously try to find ways to also experience comfort and ease in the same posture (sukham). This can be a very tricky pursuit. 

Patanjali says that in order to find this balance of effort and ease, we must first be aware of our tendencies... what are our normal habits and behaviors are. We then can reflect on what works for us, and what we struggle with... and from there we can make a shift. 

If my habit is to always put in tons of work and effort (it is), then my job is to really try and add in more ease, relaxation and comfort. And by noticing my habits, I can identify exactly how, when, and where I can sprinkle in ease.

Speak of the effort devil: that's exactly why I wanted to write this post. Because I've been working hard on this sutra lately.

If you know me, and may of you reading probably do, you know that I'm always on the go. I'm always doing a million things.

For instance, my typical day reads as follows:

  • Wake up 4:22am, get to Mysore at Ashtanga Yoga Columbus by 4:45am
  • Get home by 6:30am to leave for work by 7:15am
  • Work my communications job at the health department from 730am - 4pm
  • Get home, turn on Ellen (duh), make my Cycle614 workout/playlist, then head to the studio at 5pm to teach my 545pm class
  • Get home from Cycle614 around 7pm
  • Some nights I then teach yoga, other nights I'll have a yoga date (you know who you are), or another social engagement, or some responsibility, and some nights I just get to go home to eat din with my guy

I repeat this every day and of course switch things up on weekends.

Point being: I'm ALWAYS efforting. A lot. Constantly. Physically and mentally, I feel like I'm always on. 

And I've always been this way. Since I was a kid waking up for swim practice and going to dance lessons, and meeting friends for study dates (remember, I'm a nerd), I've always thrived on being busy. I'm type-A to a T. And for the first 25 years of my life, all of the effort worked well for me. I mean, I got into my dream college, landed some cool internships, got a Master's degree... things have fallen into place because I've worked so. damn. hard. always.

Then 2016 happened and the first half of this year was more insane than usual. On top of all of the above weekday stuff, add in 200+ hours yoga teacher training and traveling almost every other weekend, and you have a recipe for one totally burned out Julie.

From Memorial Day through the end of June, I traveled every weekend except for one. Fun stuff, of course, but it's still a lot of energy and effort and work. And sometimes ya just need a weekend to sleep in and go to Fox in the Snow Cafe, ya feel me?

EFFORT. EFFORT. MORE EFFORT.

So in the midst of all of the crazy, I just needed to find time to give myself to just be still. I desperately was looking where I could sneak ease into all of the effort.

Unfortunately, that meant I didn't get to write on here for the past month. 

Not writing was the only way I was able to find time a little time for complete relaxation.

Gotta say though, now that I have some time back in my life, damn, it feels good to sit down and write again. What a luxury! The thing is: it's about making the time. And sometimes making the time simply means not overbooking myself like I'm used to... which is hard, but important. 

As I look ahead to the next half of 2016, I know it's still going to be a bit hectic. I'm currently training for Pelotonia, and then my bf Alex is running three marathons in Sept/Oct that I'll cheer like crazy for.

*Oh, I'm sorry, you thought I was the insane one of the two of us? HA! I think three marathons in four weeks qualifies him as higher on the crazy scale ;)

-- but that's life, right? Life will always be busy for me. It's just who I am. But in the midst of it all, if I'm focused, I can find ways where I can add in ease and relaxation. Which, you guys, is so super important to ENJOYING life (and maintaining sanity). 

I can choose to not overbook myself socially. I can reserve week nights to just go home and sit on my butt and watch the Bachelorette and NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. I can realize that sometimes, doing less is more, and that it's not selfish to give myself a night/day/whatever to just chill out. This is hard for me, because I WANT to do everything. I really do! But then I have to remind myself that even though I REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY want to go to that yoga class after teaching cycle, I should probably let myself recover.

Effort and ease. Stiram sukham asanam. This week, think about your own tendencies. Maybe your tendencies are like mine, and you are constantly efforting, or maybe you're the opposite, and you're the king or queen of ease and need to find ways to add more effort in.

  • Maybe it is something super specific. Maybe you know you never add enough resistance in your cycle class because you like maintaining a LITTLE bit of comfort during the ride... Or maybe you add too much resistance and kill yourself!
  • Maybe you always really relax into your downward facing dog (that was me for YEARS), and you want to instead start adding more strength in it to prep for something like handstand.
  • Maybe you're always so hard on yourself to only eat healthy foods, and so maybe adding ease in means enjoying something indulgent. Maybe, of course, it's the opposite. 
  • Maybe you're that person who NEVER takes vacation days from work. 
  • Maybe you know you could run or bike faster... but you're comfortable! Or maybe... you do too much and are overtraining and your body is BEGGING for recovery....

I could go ON AND ON AND ON.

Effort and ease, kids. I'm NOT saying it's easy. I'm just saying let's notice our habits, and let's try to make some shifts that will enable us to be happier, healthier people who get the most out of life that we can. 

This is me finding ease on a weeknight, enjoying a delicious dinner with Alex on the balcony. Mmmmmm ease tasted good that night!

This is me finding ease on a weeknight, enjoying a delicious dinner with Alex on the balcony. Mmmmmm ease tasted good that night!

 

 

 

 

 

A Yoga Sequence for Cyclists

Teaching 4-5 cycling classes a week, my body is always ACHING for some serious stretching. 

 I mean, hey, let's face it, as we build tons of strength, physically and mentally on that bike, we also put a lot of stress on our bodies. Our hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors tighten like crazy. Our lower backs also get a little beating because we'll often hunch over on the bikes (especially on outdoor rides). 

Yoga truly is an incredible complement to cycling. I mean the two go together like mango in a sushi roll. Aka: PERFECTLY. What? Not normal? Psh, try it. You'll thank me.

 So, with our cyclist needs in mind, feast your eyes on a few yoga poses that will help to counteract a bunch of the stress we put on our bodies through cycling and, hell, any other lower body intensive workout, for that matter (like... say... RUNNING).

Spend at least five long, deep breaths in each pose. Every exhale, imagine your muscles loosening and lengthening. Allow yourself to settle and sink into each posture. Hell, put on some Adele, turn the lights down, light some candles and really get juicy with this shit. ENJOY it.

Start in downward facing dog. Hands should be about shoulder-width apart, and feet about hip-width. In terms of distance BETWEEN hands and feet, a general guide is a leg's distance. Then really push your hips up and back, and push your shoulders away from your ears. Firmly plant your entire hand to have a nice firm grip of the mat. Every exhale pull your belly button to your spine and reach your heals to the ground (but it doesn't actually matter if the heals touch the ground or not). For us cyclists, we'll love the stretch we feel in the hamstrings and calves... and it'll feel damn good to lengthen the spine like so.

Ahhhh next is three-legged dog with a nice open hip. This. Feels. Amazing. Hello hips, love ya. Ok, so, reach that leg up, try to keep your shoulders square to the mat, and then really just open up from the hip reaching your foot to your opposite butt cheek. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

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Pyramid. Yes please. Whenever my teachers throw this in, I do a mental happy dance. Ok, sometimes I also give an audible sigh of HELL YES. Anyways, feet should be on either side of a rail road track, i.e., they're not in the same line! The distance between the feet is about 2 feet apart, but meh, do what feels good. Now, say your right leg is in front... ok cool, pull that right hip BACK in space and push your left hip FORWARD in space. Ooooooh. Hello hamstring.

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Classic forward fold. Ya don't need to touch your nose to your knees here, people, I'm just hyper-mobile and that's what I need to do to feel a stretch. You do what you gotta do to feel a nice stretch in the MIDDLE of your hamstrings. You can bend your knees, you can keep your hands on your shins, whatever yo. Just fold over and let your head hang heavy.

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From forward fold.... this guy is all sorts of bliss for those IT bands. Just plant your left hand in between your feet, bend into you left leg (a lot!) and then twist and reach your right arm up. PHEWWWWWWW AMAZING. Then do the other side, obvi.

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Ok, now let's get down. Down to the mat, that is. Let's find a nice low lunge, again think about that motion of squaring off your hips. So, if your right foot is forward, pull the right hip back, left hip forward. I'm giving two options for arms, both will open the chest and just feel good and counteract the hunching we do on the bike. 

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Now, let's get that pesky quad that we strengthen so much on the bikes. Just reach back from that lunge and grab your foot! Feel free to use a strap to help you do so.

Next up we're getting even deeper into those hips and are going to sink into lizard. From your low lunge, heal-toe your front foot out to the edge of your mat, both hands should be inside the front foot. Extend your chest out to lengthen your spine, and get juicy with it. I'll show a few variations here. Your back knee can be lifted, or down on the mat, whatever feels good to you.

Ok ready for the best ever stretch? It's one of my all time FAVORITES. It get your hips, hammies, AND quads. Helloooooo -- you can also insert a little back bend, and WA-BAM. From lizard, just lift that back foot, again, you can use a strap!

Here it is from another angle. 

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Next up the loves of my life: half pigeon and what is sometimes referred to as double pigeon or 'fire logs.' Both are bomb at opening those hips.

From lizard just heal-toe your front foot across the mat, so that (let's say your left leg is in front), your left knee is now by your left hand. Your right foot can be by your right hand, or it can be closer to your hips. Then, your right leg stretches out straight behind you. You very well may want to stick a blanket or pillow or something under your hips if your hips aren't anywhere near the ground (and if you cycle all the time or run all the time.... yup, I'm looking at you!) -- that will enable you to sink into the stretch more.

Something to think about... try not to dump your body weight into the front-leg-hip and fall to the side. I did that forever. Instead, keep that same squaring hips motion I've talked about earlier, think about pulling front hip back, and your back hip forward. Trust me, you'll feel it! Now breathe and enjoy =)

Ok, let's get into fire log legs. From pigeon, swing your back leg around and stack shin on top of shin, so that knee and foot line up. If your knee doesn't stack right on top of your foot like mine in the photo, no worries, stick a blanket in there =) -- then walk your hands as far forward as feels good to you! (Which can mean you don't walk them forward at all!)

[side note: shout out to my boyfriend for taking these photos, apparently he said something funny here to make me laugh...]

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To finish things out, let's just straighten our legs and fold forward and tap into those hamstrings one, last, gentle, juicy time. 

Ok! That's it (for now). I'll be back atchya with some more great yoga for cyclists. Stay tuned. As for now just enjoy these postures, your body will LOVE you.

On growing your yoga practice.

My favorite thing about yoga is that it will always be a practice. Just that: a practice.

I'll never perfect yoga. I'll never know everything. I'll never be able to do everything. I'll never stop being curious, or stop trying, or stop creating or stop doing yoga. It's a practice, and that is all.

I love that.

I've had a lot of people ask me questions about how to develop their physical practice so that they can access the fun arm balances and more advanced postures and things like that. 

While there's no set recipe for developing your own practice, mine went something like this:

1. I started practicing regularly. And by regularly, I mean like.... 5-7+ times a week. What's that? Sometimes I practiced more than 7x a week? You can blame the amazing GoYoga for that... during their monthly or summer-long challenges, I'd go nuts and double up classes some days... (hashtag type A) ... I know, I'm a sick freak (don't worry, there were deep stretches balanced in with power classes -- in fact, check out Amy K's Deep Stretch Tuesday/Thursday nights and Hope's on Sunday nights). But really, having a consistent, daily (or almost daily) practice is where it all begins.

It begins with a commitment and a dedication to the practice, and to showing up consistently. 

2. I got my geek on. When living in NYC the summer of 2012, a wonderful yoga instructor named Amber at Crunch Gym taught me my first arm balance beyond crow pose: eka pada koundinyasana II. That's where I really got hooked. From there my curiosity started spinning: what other poses could I get into? How do I build strength and flexibility to make them happen? That's when I started googling and YouTubing. The cool thing these days is that sites like Yoga Journal online, Yoga InternationalYogaGlo and Cody App make it super easy to access some pretty awesome yoga... which leads to my next step...

3. I developed a home practice. During public classes, I rarely got a chance to play in things like arm balances - for the typical class, it's often beyond the scope of the class description (unless you go to a class taught by Melissa P, she's a master at building classes that build up to an apex pose). That meant I just had to figure shit out on my own. So after getting my geek on and researching stuff, I started playing on my mat at home. A lot. And I'd set yoga pose goals and have some fun. And I'd fall... often. But I'd always keep trying.

I taught myself dragon fly in my parent's bedroom, while home on Thanksgiving break a few years back. I saw a thing on yoga journal about "how-to" and decided to give it a whirl! Sometimes you just have to try to fly...

I taught myself dragon fly in my parent's bedroom, while home on Thanksgiving break a few years back. I saw a thing on yoga journal about "how-to" and decided to give it a whirl! Sometimes you just have to try to fly...

4. WORKSHOPS AND SERIES CLASSES. YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU. Workshops, and even better... a series class... is where the true magic happens in terms of learning how to access postures in a safe and powerful way. See, when you only go to group classes, the teacher rarely has the time to truly adjust and give you feedback... after all, he/she has a classroom full of bodies to keep moving, and often quickly so!

Workshops offer the opportunity for you to go to a class specifically geared towards a technique you want to become better at or learn more about. Workshops allow you to dive deep, and often get more personalized attention or time to ask questions and really explore.

Series classes are REALLY the tits, because they're like a workshop on crack. Workshops are AMAZING, but you can only learn and gain so much in one class... series classes are basically just extended workshops. Week after week you get to return to the same class with the same people and the same teacher with the same topic. You get to learn more and grow your practice in a whole new way.

Lucky for us in Columbus, OH, we have a truly incredible yoga community that includes tons of awesome classes, workshops, and series. 

Specifically, I've been to some fantastic workshops at GoYoga. They're constantly bringing in some really accomplished (and even "instafamous" lolz) yogis. Last year I went to an inversions workshop with Patrick Beach and Carling Harps... and you better believe I've already reserved my spot for his April 29th workshop this year. I also got to practice with the inspiring Bryan Kest, who is known as the founder of Power Yoga. Then they have workshops taught by their own fabulous staff. My girl Amy K recently taught a handstand workshop that I only missed because I had yoga teacher training (drat!). Michelle B, another baller, gave me tips in one of her workshops that have forever strengthened my headstand and forearm stand, too. This summer my sister and I have already scheduled her birthday weekend: a Kino MacGregor workshop at Yoga on High (SCORE), another studio that is constantly brining the best of the yoga world to our corner of Columbus.

Speaking of Yoga on High, perhaps one of the greatest things about that studio (and there are MANY, like their million fantastic workshops) is that they offer an ABUNDANCE of series classes on the regular. If you're a beginner, the BEST way to start your practice is with a beginner's series. This will allow you the tools and knowledge to build a strong and safe foundation, so that you don't end up practicing a misaligned chatauranga for years that will likely end up shredding your shoulders (ouch).

And for the more advanced yogi.... let me GEEK OUT TO YOU ON LARA FALBERG for a quick second. So way back last year, my yoga/cycle soul sister, Kati (also another rockin Cbus yoga instructor, check her out at GoYoga), told me about this badass yoga chick who teaches at Balanced and YoHi. She was all, 'oh my gosh Julie, you need to take her series class with me.' And I was all, 'well ok then, let's call it a yoga date!'

So we did.

We signed up for Lara's Advanced Vinyasa Series that met for six weeks. 

AH-MAZING. I mean seriously, six weeks of pure magic.

Lara is a genius. She even has her own super cool new website: www.iworkbarefoot.com that every yogi should check out.

Her sequences are truly beautiful and intelligent and unpredictable. Her intentions for class and cueing gives you those chill-bump moments, and her humor keeps everything real. Lara is one of those teachers I look to and think, damn, if I could be even a fraction like her... I'll be psyched. Did I mention she's also humble and sweet as can be? Yeah. She is. She really rocks.

The beauty of her class lies in the little adjustments. She gave me so many little golden nuggets to incorporate into my practice that totally changed the way I moved. She gave me pointers about transitions and my lunges and warriors that no teacher had ever given to me before. She made all these minor adjustments that made major impact. That's what the advanced practice is often about: fine tuning. Getting into the details, making small changes here, engaging that muscle there, tilting the pelvic floor like so. Lara's class does all of that. And the best part was, I got to keep going back and learning more every week for six weeks. Not one workshop... SIX. 

And she teaches this series all the time. In fact I've already signed up for her next series that starts May 9!

Bam-pow.

So if you're looking to grow the physical part of your yoga practice, simply decide you want to do it. Get dedicated. Get curious. Explore all that this city has to offer and go workshop/series crazy ... and have a shit ton of fun.

Namaste, yall ;)

On morning Mysore and why it's the best thing that has happened to my yoga practice in a long, long time.

While I've practiced yoga for years, I had never been formally introduced to Ashtanga Yoga until I started my yoga teacher training in February.

My teacher trainer, Laurel, begins her curriculum teaching us Ashtanga, the foundation of yoga as we know it today. And... I mean... the woman has studied with THE K. Pattabhi Jois, who developed the Ashtanga Yoga system and founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. So... no big deal (hair flip)... she knows her stuff. 

Anyways, I have placed all my trust in Laurel and Mary Ellen (my other awesome trainer) and thus have taken a deep dive into the Ashtanga practice, fully immersing myself in this first module of our training.

Ashtanga is a set series of postures. You cycle through the same poses (asanas) in the same order linked to very specific breath cues and focus points (drishti). You keep practicing the Primary Series until you master it. Then you move on to the Intermediate Series, and then the Advanced... 

I'm not going to lie, at first glance, Ashtanga seemed a little strict and rigid, and I wasn't so sure about it... I was so used to doing different vinyasa sequences every class... and a big part of me loved the element of surprise: what was coming next? We're going from Warrior 3 to WHERE? Oh.... hey flying pigeon. That just happened...

But, I was committed to the process. So, I signed up for the Led Primary Series at Ashtanga Yoga Columbus (AYC). Laurel had highly recommended AYC's studio owner, and overall Ashtanga badass, Taylor Hunt

(Note, a 'Led' Ashtanga class is where a teacher actually cues you through the series, you do it together as a class, like you would in a 'typical' yoga class. Why I'm explaining this will make more sense... just keep reading). 

So, with a group of my fellow teacher trainees, we set our alarms well before the sun would rise and walked into the studio at 5:15am that Friday morning. We were all kinda like woaaaa... what did we just enter into. Then, we rolled out our mats (in the BACK row) and gave it a whirl (*note: we had already had a dabble in Ashtanga at that point, we had done a modified primary series in our training).

Well... I gotta say... By the end of class, I knew I was hooked. I mean reel me in and fire me up on the grill, because hot damn this chick was hooked.

 As the sun rose, I drove home feeling liberated. I felt this sense of lightness that came from this inner joy, no doubt cultivated from the practice. I felt like my energy had been unlocked in new ways, and I had a serious case of yoga drunk.

I  realized the beauty and intelligence of the sequence. What at first seemed rigid, now seemed like a wonderful structure, a path that would lead me to a meaningful, strong, fun, adventurous practice... the element of surprise of 'what post will come next?' that I loved in a vinyasa flow class evolved into, 'what will my mind and body be able to do today?'

And that's a pretty damn cool surprise.

A central idea in Ashtanga Yoga is that of surrendering to all that the practice has to teach us on and off of the mat. It's about showing up. It's about practice: tons and tons of practice. It's about paying careful attention to what is happening in your mind and body each day, each practice. It's also about practicing without attachment to achievement; and, instead practicing with intention and devotion to each step along the journey. It's about appreciating where you are in that moment.

I love that. I love every bit of it. 

So I went back to AYC. I signed up for another Led Primary Series, on another early Friday morning. And I went back again, for a third Led class.

While I was loving the studio and the practice, I was still a little scared of going to the Mysore class... which is traditionally how you practice Ashtanga.

Ok so hold up, what's Mysore?

It's basically like an open gym for yoga. You go in, roll out your mat, and start going through the Primary Series on your own (or Intermediate series, or Advanced A/B, you know depending on your level). Instructors are then there to help you remember the sequence, assist you deeper into poses, or help you find ways into new ones.

Well, I'm happy to say that in this the year of facing my fears, I sucked it up and signed up and went to Mysore.

I walked into the studio with a nervous stomach: I felt like an Ashtanga pup going to hang out with the big dogs.

That nervous stomach went away pretty quickly, I'm happy to report, because immediately, studio owner and instructor, Taylor, welcomed me in and got me started. Once I started moving, it just felt good to do my thing. At that point I knew the sequence of the primary series pretty well, and then Taylor helped me fill in the missing pieces when I forgot which asana came next.

What was so fantastic was to get to mindfully focus in, really feel and pay attention to my body, just be on my mat, not worrying about what others were doing. The practice came to life in a new way. When I got to some challenging poses (i.e. supta kurmasana, which in my head I call kermit the frog, and marichyasana d, which in my head I call arch nemesis), Taylor helped get me deeper into them. Actually, marichyasana d, I honestly thought I would just never be able to do. I thought my body just wouldn't ever physically allow for it.

But then Taylor came over, sat down, and was like bam pow, grab my shoulder, do this, breathe deeply, twist there, pull here: you can do it. 

And I did. (With lots of help.... but I did, I twisted around and bound!) That pose is one big 'holy shit.'

It's pretty cool when someone else can see capability in you that you never knew you had. Talk about empowering and really freaking inspiring. 

Mysore is like doing a personal, home practice, but it is enriched by a proven, traditional yoga system that I'm then assisted with one-on-one. That means I get to really deepen my practice. I'm not just going through the motions, I get to ask for help, I get to have a dedicated, trained, Pattabhi Jois-Approved (and certified) yogi share his knowledge for the human body and the practice with me and help me advance at my own pace.

It's freaking awesome, people. It's like getting private yoga training... in a class setting.

Say what? Yeah. It's a yogi dream.

What I REALLY love is the atmosphere and energy of the space. I love the sense of purpose and peace.  Looking around me, I noticed all of the other yogis just doing their things, each one of us at a different part of our own unique yoga journey.

It is so inspiring to see some of the 'advanced' yogis working through postures in the Intermediate and Advanced Series (which... are INSANE). I felt myself watching them with total respect, out of this place of admiring their dedication and devotion and practice. I thought to myself, 'that's pretty damn cool.'  I also thought to myself, 'man am I just loving my journey right here and now.'

I am just going to keep practicing. I'm just going to keep deepening, dedicating myself to the process, one breath at a time.

Then, maybe one day... I'll be the yogi working on the Intermediate Series... doing something like dwi pada sirasana...

Maybe.

Whatever comes my way, I'm just going to enjoy the practice.

"Keep practicing and all is coming." - Pattabhi Jois

 

 

On what yoga is to me...and what this section of the blog will be about.

"'A further meaning of the word yoga is 'to attain what was previously unattainable.' The starting point for this thought is that there is something we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga... Every change is yoga... when we find a way to bend the body forward and touch our toes... or gain more understanding of ourselves and others through a discussion, we have reached a point where we have never been before. Each of these movements and changes is yoga."

-- T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

The truth is, there are a lot of meanings to the word yoga. Lots. The above text just happens to be one of my absolute favorites.

We experience yoga everyday, when we simply do something that we couldn't do or haven't done before. I say simply, because it doesn't have to be a huge life-altering thing. 

Like Desikachar says, every change is yoga. Yoga is happening all the time if we're open to seeing it. In fact, the most meaningful yoga typically happens far beyond the mat. The physical practice is actually only one aspect of yoga (there are eight parts... but more on that in a future post). The real yoga happens when we learn how to control our minds to live more presently in each moment, soaking up every sensation we feel, smell, see, hear, taste.

Small changes that move us closer to mindful living, is yoga.

So please, I beg you, don't stay away from yoga because you think you're not "flexible enough," or "strong enough," or "hippie enough" or "hipSTER enough" or "skinny enough," or "insert-adjective-here enough," because it is NOT about any of that. It's not even about the fun pictures, that yeah, I'll end up posting here. 

Yoga is so much more than a pose. Actually, I know some pretty amazing yoga teachers who are like, "meh, yeah I just really don't care about doing 'said-super-"impressive"-pose'... and it's not like doing this pose is going to make me a better person sooooo... whatever!" YES! I love that. It's so true: why do you go after a certain pose? If you want to, that's why. It's that simple. But nobody said you have to be able to do a headstand to be a yogi; and, being able to do a funky arm balance certainly doesn't make you a "good person."

And yoga is actually about being a good person. Whaaa!? Yeah! Yoga is about discovering our own truth and living it out fully. Yoga is joining the mind and body and spirit; yoga is linking breath to movement. This allows us live more fully focused in the here and now. Which in turn, makes us more attentive and loving to ourselves and those around us. Which in TURN makes us better people.

BAM POW! If a=b and b=c then a=c : transitive property (shout out to the WJHS math department), people.

Now about that physical practice. 

If it's the physical practice that scares you off... I think it's important to remember that every yogi started somewhere.  Hah, the thought of someone magically showing up to a mat and being like "HEY LOOK I CAN PUT MY FOOT BEHIND MY HEAD AND STAND ON ONE TOE! DAY ONE, AWESOME! I ROCK!" -- while, is a pretty cool thought (actually, I hate that thought, because let's be real I'd be SO JEALOUS of said magical person), this idea is actually totally insane, right? That happens to like... NOBODY. Maybe circus performers. Yeah, maybe them, maybe.

Maybe.

Yogis practice. One day, they decide to roll out a mat and try. And then they keep trying. And then they experience tons of little tiny changes like Desikachar talks about. Then, all of those little changes add up, and soon the girl who quit gymnastics when she was 11 because she was too scared to even attempt a back handspring WITH a spotter can hold a scorpion pose. Because little-by-little, she grew stronger: mentally and physically. She learned not only to build the strength and flexibility to get there... but she learned the discipline of practice, and she learned how to overcome her fears of all the plethora of possible things that could potentially go wrong as a result from falling (oh wait, that's me)!

The physical practice is what first drove me to yoga, and I'll end up writing a lot about it, as it has taught me so much about myself that has translated into incredible internal growth off the mat.

And I guess that's also why I want to share my yoga journey. Because thinking back to the Little J who quit gymnastics because she was terrified of basically EVERYTHING; and, the Little J who coached a handful of Silver Lake nuggets to do back flips off the diving board from her throne, er, I mean life guard chair, but who never actually even attempted a back flip herself, because, obviously, she was DESTINED to hit her head on the board, drown, and DIE... this same J is now doing that pose pictured above. WHAT?!

I was that person that looked at yogis doing crazy things, and thought I could never do that.

I was too scared. I just thought: no way, no how.

And yet, I decided I wanted to at least try. And I've dedicated lots of time, tons of time, to trying. And falling. And laughing. And trying again. And I keep trying. New things, different ways. I practice. And in the past few years it's like woa, I can do this? Me the one who fears? Say whaaaa? I honestly feel like if I can, you can... if you want to.

So that's why I'm writing.

But please always remember: yoga is so much more than any one, single pose. Yoga is more than going to a class and "doing it."

Yoga is to attain what was previously unattainable... in whatever form that takes for you, and it can have NOTHING to do with a mat and/or touching your toes. 

Yoga happens when we breathe and focus in on what is happening inside of us, right now. 

Yoga has taught me so much. And it keeps teaching me. And it'll never stop teaching me.

So on this blog, this section will provide not only stretches that feel good after we cycle and glimpses into my physical practice -- but really, it's a space where I'll share with you those amazing moments of small change and discovery, when yoga steps into my life and says, "Hey J, get a load of THIS."

And maybe you'll decide to give the whole yoga thing a try. And if you do, you better freaking share your journey with me, too! Instagram that shiz, people, I wanna see you rock. #PedalAndFlowHereGoes

Ok. I'm done now.

Namaste, ya'll.