Channel your Power of One

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Last weekend I was reading the children’s book One, by Kathryn Otoshi to my Son. The book tells the story of the color Blue…Blue is shy and the color Red begins to pick on Blue. Blue begins to feel…well blue. The other colors in the book are nice to Blue but will not stand up to Red and inevitably Red begins to pick on them as well. At that point, the number 1 shows up and stands up to Red. Then all the colors feel empowered and stand up to Red and become numbers themselves…the moral of the story being Everyone Counts.

I saw another message in the book…the power of 1; one person, one action can positively effect many. This became my inspiration for last week’s classes.

As we began seated I asked my students to connect to their power of 1, to remind themselves of the incredible power they have on the mat to connect to what they need in their bodies and off the mat to make others feel happy…or not so happy. We have the power and the choice. And making that choice starts with ourselves. When we cultivate joy and happiness with who we are, then our power of 1 can be turned outward and used for good.

We began practice seated and then lifted our legs and balanced on our Sit bones in Navasana (boat pose) to warm up the abdominals before moving into our Sun Salutations. As we flowed several times right from Downward Dog into reverse warrior and from there into Half Moon, we began to connect to the individual power in our bodies. From there we added bound Parsvokonasana to our flow and later we went deeper into the power in our bodies and hearts as we lifted the front leg (bound or not) into a balancing pose at the top of the mat (pictured above).

As we moved from there into Prasarita Padottanasana and runners lunge we could feel the ripple effect of all we had done up to that point. The heat that was building was releasing Tapas (clutter) from the body and allowing us to connect to happiness and acceptance in our hearts. Just like in the book; the actions we take have a ripple effect. On the mat, when we practice mindfulness and acceptance in our bodies, we find space, strength and flexibility; and off the mat, if we empower someone and make them feel strong and worthy…then they in turn have the power to do the same to others. Our good deeds can effect many.

We began to slow down our practice with Pigeon, Janu Sirsasana, back bending and supine twisting  and from there, Savasana. As I walked around and gave final adjustments, I again connected to the Power of 1; the chance that each of us have to cultivate happiness within ourselves and put that out into the world is powerful. I felt hopeful at the ripple effects that could ensue and truly grateful for the chance to try. Namaste.

 

 

Be Resolute on your mat and in your life

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I find myself conflicted on the principle of New Years Resolutions. I believe that the journey of  self exploration and growth is gradual and continual and  when we resolve ourselves to something…it has to come from within our hearts…not because the calendar tells us to. However, I do respect that these times  allow us to ask the question, to probe deeper within and connect with what we are we would like to be resolute about. So, as I stumbled on the definition of Resolute as Admirably Purposeful, I knew what my message for the week was.

As I taught my class yesterday, New Years Eve day, I asked my students to be just that on their mats; Resolute; admirably purposeful. It is such a powerful description of what we have the chance to do every time we step on our mats. I carefully explained that being admirably purposeful on the mat does NOT mean doing the most, pushing past an edge, rather instead it meant making the conscious, purposeful choice to accept what served the body best in that moment and let go of what did not…now that is admirable.

We began practice on our backs in Supta Baddha Konasana with one hand on our belly and one on the heart to connect to what we felt resolute about. From there we moved on to core warmup and cat/cow stretches to find ourselves standing at the top of our mats ready for Sun Salutes. I asked them to connect to something, off the mat, that they were proudly resolute about; where they felt admirably purposeful; not something they would like to change, but something they were already resolute about.

After Sun Salutations, we flowed through a  deep twisting practice as we came back to Pavritta Parsovokanasana several times both dropping the back knee and with knee lifted, bound and not… in order to cleanse and purify the body. I reminded them that resting when they needed was very admirably purposeful; in other words Mindful. We moved from there into stretching the hamstrings in Parsvottonasana and Standing split before lifting the heart and opening in Half Moon pose. Once we were ready we moved into “Baby Hopper” pose (A version of Grasshopper; pictured above) the mindfulness was deeply present in the room and each student went to the place that served them in an admirably purposeful way.

Off the mat, the same principle applies..instead of just pushing ahead, checking things off our proverbial to-do list, we always have the opportunity to be mindful, admirably purposeful, in our decisions and how we live our lives..every day, every year. And, the second when the year switches from one to the next is a profound moment because it asks us to be present and mindful. As we practice on the mat, so becomes the practice off the mat.

We finished practice with hip opening and three deep backbends before settling into Savasana. I felt such as sense of pride in my students as they had all been truly mindful, resolute, admirably purposeful in their practice. I reminded them that again they had the choice, the gift, to translate that resolute-ness off the mat; to be admirably purposeful in their lives each day, each year. As we came to seated and finished with a quiet moment, I asked my students again to connect to the gratitude for that which they already have an admirably purpose for in their lives.

And later that evening, as the moment came to usher in the New Year with 20 close friends and all of our children, I took in that moment. I reminded myself of my ongoing intention to live in an admirably purposeful way, in 2015 and beyond. This is my life’s journey and I truly appreciated the chance to be reminded. I felt Gratitude for all that I already connect to in an admirably purposeful way and incredible Hope for more to come.  I wish for a Happy and Healthy New Year to all. Namaste.

Let your worries be “Up in the Air”

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The holiday season finds us all a bit on edge I imagine. I know it finds me that way. So last week, when I was asked my suggestions for staying calm during this time, I took a step back and embraced the frenzy in order to find inspiration. What I realized was that life was feeling very “Up in the Air”…unsettled, stressful and the opposite of calm.

However, as I thought more deeply about those words…”Up in the Air” a glimmer of inspiration came to me. “Up in the Air” doesn’t have to represent stress and anxiety. In fact, it can be just the opposite.  “Up in the Air” can mean just that… SURRENDERING our concerns about things that are out of our control…up in the air (up into the universe). Whether it’s the weather or a hectic holiday schedule, letting go of some of it creates Space to Embrace the Change that we can affect. 

So, as we went to our mats this week, we used our Asana practice to help us focus on the freedom to allow things to be “Up in the Air”. We began seated, with Alternate Nostril Breathing (a technique using the thumb and 4th finger to alternate closing one nostril while inhaling through the other, then closing off the “inhale” nostril and exhaling through the other) to begin to settle the mind and start to release thoughts”Up in the Air”.

As we proceeded through several rounds, this powerful Pranayama technique began to restore imbalances in the brain and calm the nervous system. I asked my students to identify thoughts that were entering their minds, to acknowledge them and then to let them pass by or “up” as the case may be; to perhaps surrender the thought and put it out there for the universe to work out… send it “Up in the Air”.

From here we began to warm the body using the core and moving through Suynamaskara A & B (Sun Salutations).  We used heart opening poses as a constant reminder to release and surrender; first in High Crescent Warrior adding a small back bend with elbows bent and gaze to the sky and then flowing through Side Plank into “Rockstar” (a.k.a flipped Downward Dog).

From there we transitioned to our Balancing series of Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana into Half Moon and from there, Standing Split. Balancing truly asks us to surrender up what is not serving us. We tend to find our deepest judgment of ourselves when we are working through balancing postures.

Often we can’t control or change limitations in our bodies and yet sometimes we can. When we take the opportunity to determine what we can’t change and therefore need to let go “Up in the Air” and what we can change or improve; like the chance to skip something, or modify it to suit us…therein lies the practice. When we let go of what we can’t control we have Space to Embrace the Change that we can affect.

off the mat, this practice can also serve us. Last week, as I was leaving to teach my class, my car wouldn’t start. As I waved goodbye to my husband (who gave me a much-needed ride to class) I let the thought of my stranded car move “Up in the air”. I surrendered it to the Universe for the time being. We have that opportunity with us all the time, the chance to focus, to breath and to surrender “Up in the air” that which we cannot control.  It frees us up to channel our energy into positive change.

Back on the mat, we spent a long time releasing out the hips in Pigeon pose and Gomukasana and I asked my students again to acknowledge the thoughts as they inevitably came to the mind, and then to surrender to the Universe what didn’t serve them in that moment. We finished our practice with Headstand. Headstand (and any inversion) gives us the chance to do just that…turn things on their head. It gives us a new perspective, another chance to let thoughts move “Up in the Air”.

It was time for the body to rest in Savasana, but again I reminded my students that their work was not done. The practice of surrendering “Up in the Air” what was out of their control was still there for them in the stillness. I looked around the room and felt sincere gratitude for the opportunity to guide them in their practice on the mat and help them to transition that practice off the mat as well. And after class, as I waited for Triple A to come jump-start my car, I felt lighter and freer.  My worries were Up in the Air, I had Space to Embrace and it felt GREAT. Namaste.

Inhale to find your Inspiration

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As I continue on my Anatomy journey there are so many amazing things about the physical body that inspire me. Last week, we learned about the bones and joints of the Axial body (including the Spine and Ribcage). We also read a bit about the Anatomical process of the breath. Amazingly, taking air into the lungs is called Inspiration and expelling air from the lungs is called Expiration. The muscles that aid in the inhale are called Inspirational Muscles. This information immediately brought me to a deeper meaning and my inspiration was clear.  Inhale for inspiration and  Exhale to release (expire) what is not of service to us. 

I asked my students to begin to find their own “off the mat” Inspiration (perhaps a person, event or experience) as they “Inspired” (Inhaled) and  to begin to release negative thoughts as they “Expired” (Exhaled) and we began to flow through a series of Sun Salutations. As they continued through the warm up using just breath cues from me, they were synchronized in the breath…breathing in collective Inspiration with each Inhale and surrendering Vritti (mind chatter) with each Exhale.

At times we moved very slowly, holding Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 for quite a while and then we moved faster…using one breath per movement transitioning back and forth from Reverse Warrior to Parsvokanasana (side angle). The breath served as an anchor, whether fast or slow and the inspirational muscles of the abdomen kept the breath steady and rhythmic. I often reminded the students to ask themselves if each pose was serving them on their mat. If it wasn’t…I  asked them to modify or do something completely different in order to keep the connection with the Inspiration (breath).

We explored a deep balancing practice with versions of Ardha Chandrasana (half moon) and Pavritta Ardha Chandrasana (revolved half moon) and then finding our way into Half Hanuman and full Hanumanasana (Split). The breath continued to be our guide, our inspiration, as we balanced and released. With each exhale we felt a little lighter as we continued to expire (let go of) what was not serving us in our bodies and minds.

On the mat and off, it is very difficult to connect to inspiration when we are unhappy or uncomfortable in the present moment. Whether it is letting our ego dictate our physical asana practice or being in an unhappy mind in our lives; if we don’t continue to ask the question; “Is this serving me?” both on our mats and off we may miss  opportunities to be inspired by something as simple as  “Inspiration” (breath).

As Savasana came, it was time to release the intentional Inspirational and Expirational breath, but I reminded them that this was an important time for Inspiration and Expiration. As they laid still in the body, the mind again had a chance to connect to a person, event or moment that inspired them off the mat or to expire/release an event, a thought or a situation that was not helping them feel Inspired.

As I inhaled, I looked around the room at all the people who had just shared their “Inspiration” with me and I felt Full. And as I exhaled slowly, I felt Light. Full and Light at the same time…Full of Inspiration and Light from my Expiration. What an amazing journey it is. Namaste.

Nourish yourself so you can Serve Others

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I recently read an article written by Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. In this article Tim explains  how he tries to hold himself to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?” This quote inspired Tim to come forward and share with the world that he is gay.

In the article he talks about how he has benefited from the sacrifice of others and if sharing this personal information about himself can inspire or comfort others, then it is worth the trade-off of the privacy that he values so deeply. I was touched by the entire article but the last line stuck with me and became my inspiration for last weeks classes. “We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.”

On the mat last week I offered Tim’s message to my students; and asked them to perhaps dedicate their practice to connecting with their own “brick”.  As we began on our backs, warming up the spine and the core I reminded them to nourish and serve themselves on their mats. Yoga is a selfish practice; it is all about the person in their moment, not about anyone else. Once we nourish and replenish ourselves, then we can turn our energy outward and serve others. First we work from the inside both Physically through the Asana on the mat, and then Spiritually through the Breath and Meditation and from there we have all we need to connect to our “Brick” and contribute to the building of the Sunlit Path.

As our flow intensified it was almost like a dance, bringing the collective energy together in the room. We moved from Plank into Fallen Triangle (pictured above) and then into flipped Downward Dog and by doing so several times, heated and nourished the body. From there, we twisted to wring out the spine and release tension stored there, creating the space that is needed inside in order to give outward. Balancing was next; and with our focus on the intention of  Paving the Sunlit Path Together, we explored Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana (Standing hand to toe pose) and then Warrior 3 into Half Moon to cultivate more lightness.

Off the mat we get to choose how we want to live our lives; if we have the capacity to serve others once we nourish ourselves. I connected deeply to the Tim Cook’s description of a sunlit path being created one brick at a time by all of us. Seemingly small acts can build bricks because kind acts inspires more kindness in the giver and receiver. It is a ripple effect; it builds the path. I found myself again explaining the message of Tim Cook’s article, this time to my daughter just last night, and I was again inspired. We all have an obligation and even more importantly, the opportunity…the gift of giving to others.

On our mats the pace began to slow; transitioning into hip opening and gentle back-bending and then ultimately into Savasana. As they rested, I asked my students to visualize the sunlit path, the bricks being laid down one by one and then again to ask themselves “What is my brick?”

I took a moment to ask myself the same question, What is my brick? How am I of service to others? I felt Gratitude in the answers that came and gratitude for the gift that I have been given to teach and grow with this practice both on my mat and in my life.  It allows me to find the space I need within myself, to then Serve others. I also felt deep Gratitude to Tim Cook for having the courage to ask himself powerful questions, to hold himself to high standards and for reminding us all that we have the power both individually and as a collective  to “Pave the Sunlit Path Toward Justice Together, Brick by Brick”. Namaste.

 

Find Gratitude for the chance to be a student and a teacher both on the mat and off

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The inspiration for my classes last week unfolded gradually in 4 different ways. It all started as I was studying for my latest Anatomy quiz  and my daughter observed excitedly that I was both a teacher AND a student. I thought about that for a moment and I responded back that, in fact, each of us is a Teacher and a Student. I explained to her what I meant and I think she understood in a 10 yr old kind of way.

A couple of days later, I had the pleasure of taking a class with Dana Flynn, owner of Laughing Lotus in NYC, and as I settled down on my mat I was introduced to the student next to me. I asked her if she was a teacher and she looked at me almost forlornly and said that she was just an avid student….and again I had the chance to share my inspiration for the week… I reminded her that we are ALL Students and Teachers . As Dana began to speak, she inspired me further. She reminded us that the more we practice, the more we uncover our true self; that Yoga has the power to bring us closer to who we truly are and allow us to become students of ourselves.

From class, I headed to my Anatomy lecture, where again I found myself as a student. I learned information about the movement of the pelvis that I had never known before. At first, it scared me as it brings into question some of the thousand year old practices that we Yoga Teachers live by, but then I was able to find acceptance at the new perspective and gratitude for the reminder and the opportunity to be a student and the teacher on and off my mat.

On our mats last week, I asked my students to spend time in their practice in order to become deeper students of their own Bodies and their own hearts. As we started in Childs pose and moved to Cat/Cows we began to mobilize the hips by lifting the leg and drawing it forward and back and out to the side. Then we moved through our Sun Salutations and as we began to twist in Revolved Trikonasana, I reminded everyone to be their own teacher on the mat and to be a student of their bodies. If that meant letting the hips travel with the spine into their twist, I invited them to explore that. From there we moved into Revolved Half Moon and I offered the same reminder, be your own teacher and student on the mat today, listen to what your body is teaching you.

As we crafted half and full Hanumanasana and built towards Visvamitrasana (pictured above) I again asked my students to remember their task, their practice that day…to be their own teacher and the student of their bodies; to find joy in what they were discovering and allow confusion to lead to knowledge and ultimately, inner truth. When we are students, we have to keep the mind open to accept the information without judgement. We have the luxury of not being expected to know it all. So, whatever their body was teaching them, I asked them to accept that knowledge without judgement, to experience and learn and enjoy the journey.

Just as they were asking questions of their bodies on the mat, I asked them to take that learning off the mat; to explore habitual behavior that may not be serving them in their lives; to ask questions as a Student of Life…. even if the answers are unknown. And to also remind themselves of the Teacher they are. We all have something to offer; to teach….that is why we are here.

As they began to move into deep back bending with the promise of Savasana, I felt the breath begin to release. Then as they settled into Corpse Pose, I again became aware of my own journey; Of what a gift it is to be a Student and a Teacher both on my mat and off and the incredible Gratitude I feel. Gratitude for all my Teachers on the mat and in my life and Gratitude to all my amazing students who allow me to be their Teacher, and who are my Teachers as well. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

Cherish the everyday miracles all around you

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Over the last 10 years on my journey as a Yoga Teacher, I have continued to become more fascinated with what the body can do. I read and study bodies on my own but I always want to know more. So, for the first time in many many years, I am studying again. I am reading Kiniesology books, attending weekly 3 hour lectures, taking quizzes and I am excited about it. Last week in Anatomy class we studied the skeletal structure of the feet; how they are perfectly structured with three arches that distribute the weight of our entire bodies for our entire lives. That is truly miraculous. Nature discovered millions of years ago what it took Man thousands of years to discover; the power of the arch in architectural design; how it allows for distribution of weight evenly so beautiful structures can be created without needing support columns.

As I began to craft my message last week, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how miraculous the design of the feet actually are . I remembered a quote I had seen from Albert Einstein “There are two ways to live your life. One way is as though nothing is a miracle. The other way is as though everything is” Appreciating the everyday miracles that happen each day around us, in our bodies, on our mats and in our worlds as well; that was my inspiration for classes last week.

So, as practice began, I shared this inspiration with my students. I asked them to take a moment as they held the soles of their feet in Baddha Konasana to connect to the miracle that is the largest arch of the foot.  As we flowed through our Sun Salutes, we focused on connecting to not just the largest (medial) arch but one of the smaller ones as well, the (lateral) arch on the pinky toe side of the foot. I reminded them to be aware of the feet and to press through all four points on them. We used Vashistasana (side plank) to connect deeper to the outer edge of the foot and Virasana to connect to the top of the foot; where the third arch (that creates the half dome shape of the foot) resides.

As we balanced in Tree pose, I asked them to appreciate the everyday miracle that was occurring; one perfectly designed foot was equally distributing the weight of the entire body.  Then we practiced Bakasana (crow pose) which asks us to not use the feet at all. This served as reminder of how much we would miss them if we didn’t have them. As we explored handstand, we practiced not just lifting mindfully into it,  but how to move out of the pose in a mindful way, in a way that truly protects all of the 26 bones in each foot. The 52 bones in those two structures take us where we want to go, both on our mats and off…truly miraculous.

Just like we very rarely focus on our feet off the mat (perhaps only when we think about what we are putting on them), there are many other everyday miracles that we may not connect with; things that just work, just fall into place each day; that we tend to take for granted  until they stop working. So, as I reveled in the miracle of the feet last week, I also challenged myself to find some everyday miracles off the mat. I realized that I needed to be grateful for the days my son wakes up, dresses himself and heads downstairs excited for school, instead of just frustrated on the days he doesn’t. I also connected to the miracle of the incredible pinkish orange that the leaves on my favorite tree are turning in front of my eyes. These are the everyday miracles that we could all just miss…..or not. We get to choose. “There are two ways to live your life. One way is as though nothing is a miracle. The other way is as though everything is”

As I taught my classes last week, I found myself more connected to the miracles happening on the yoga mats around me. I saw muscles lengthening and strengthening and backs and hips finding flexibility. I saw feet opening and hearts opening too. I felt connections to the everyday miracles happening all around us. By reminding others to cherish their everyday miracles on and off their mats, I was REMINDED of mine as well. HOW MIRACULOUS.  Namaste.