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.

 

 

 

Unattach and Be Free

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Last week, we had our town vote. The next morning, as I was removing some of the posters that had been hung up around town, I began to feel lighter.  With that behind me, I started to think about my message for the week and it became very clear to me. Non-Attachment. See, the bond had passed which was great, but it was a close vote. And one of the reasons it was close was because the waters had become clouded with confusing and conflicting information. I had a choice to make, do I cultivate negative attachment to those “cloudy” messages or do I free myself of all of it and let it go.

I looked at Patanjali’s Sutras to remind myself of his explanation of Non-Attachment. Non-Attachment is to free the mind of clutter or perhaps “cloudy” messages, so it is possible to instead find focus in what is happening in the moment. Vairagya, which means Non-Attachment literally translates as “colorless”. Each desire brings its own color to the mind. When the color comes to the mind, a distraction in the mind occurs and there is not space for peace and focus. A restless mind cannot have a steady practice.

So I asked my classes last week to connect to Non-Attachment both on the mat and off.   To start, they were to think about a pose that they have become attached to on their mats, either one they always needed or wanted to do or one that seemed to elude them. Once they identified that, I asked them to make their practice about surrendering that attachment. Then I also asked them to identify something off the mat that they were “attached” to that was not serving them, perhaps an event or emotion or past experience that they would be happier and lighter to release attachment from.

These classes were an opportunity for me to share my past attachment on my mat as well, a pose that I had struggled with and wished for when I first became a yoga teacher. It was Mayurasana (Peacock pose, pictured above). I shared with them that the pose only found me once I surrendered my attachment to mastering it. It is funny how the universe works. Sometimes the things we covet and wish for so much, allude us until we can surrender the need for them.

After warming up with Sun Salutes we began to build up to our peak pose, Mayurasana.  We connected to the core and pelvic floor (bandhas) through abdominal warm up, Bakasana and Malasana squats. We discovered our opportunity for balancing using Uttita Hasta Padangustasana and Warrior Three and we stretched and prepared the wrists by moving the hands in all different directions in our Standing Splits and forward bends.

And then it was time. Time to break apart Mayurasana and try it step by step. I reminded my students that this process, this slow building up, actually wasn’t about achieving Mayurasana …but rather the practice of surrendering the need to achieve it, to create a non-attachment to the end result and allow us to appreciate the journey to get there.

Off the mat, in my case, once I was able to surrender the end result of our town vote…both the good and the not as good parts of it….I was able to appreciate the journey of it all. I felt empowered, happy and light knowing that my intentions were true and that I was able to work with people that I truly respected. The end became less important as I remembered the journey to get there. So, of course just as I was happy the vote went the way I wanted, so were the few students who achieved Mayurasana last week for the first time.  However, I reminded them that perhaps Mayurasana found them as it had me, because we weren’t coveting it. When we judge ourselves harshly or have envy in our hearts, our true needs are not fulfilled. Once we let go of attachments, we then have clarity and space for enlightenment to come, and maybe that ever elusive pose as well.

As Savasana came and  I watched my students begin to move their practice off the mat by connecting to the opportunity to non-attach to what was not serving them in their lives, I found the opportunity to do the same. The practice of Non-Attachment is just that, a practice, the more we explore it, the freer we become. In addition, it is a journey…one I am grateful to be on. Namaste.

 

Be Grateful

gratitude Last week, I was riding the commuter train from my home to NYC. I was reading emails and my mind began to wander to what my inspiration for the week was going to be. It hadn’t come to me yet and I was teaching the next three days. Just as I began to go over my week in my mind, looking for a glimmer of inspiration, I lifted my head from looking at my phone to instead gaze out the window.

I am fortunate to live right near the Hudson River and the train runs along it so I usually sit on the River side of the train to enjoy the view.  But this day, for no clear reason, as the train was pretty empty; I sat on the other side of the train car. At the exact moment I looked up and out the window, in my direct view was a billboard that just said 1 word, GRATITUDE. Sometimes, I have to look deeply for my message but not this week. It was right there in front of me.

On my way home, I sat on that same side of the train so I could snap a picture of this inspirational billboard. I kept wondering why it was there. There was no logo, it didn’t appear to be selling a thing…just the word GRATITUDE. So, I did what any Yogi would do, I googled “GRATITUDE billboard Bronx NY” and I got my answer. This billboard was the work of  a New York Artist named Peter Tunney. He had noticed many unused billboards around NY and decided that he wanted to create inspirational messages to help balance out all of the negative messages we are receiving every day through various media channels. So, he approached owners of unsold billboards and asked if he could display his messages. On that train ride, that day, that message was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you Peter Tunney

So, on our mats we practiced the simple inspirational message of gratitude last week. Very basic, very focused and very positive.  As we began our practice in Savasana as we often do, I asked my students to connect with the Gratitude of just being on their mats that day and as we wrapped the arms and legs into Eagle pose on our backs to begin the abdominal warm up I asked them to be grateful that their elbows bend, regardless of how much.

From there we moved into our Sun Salutes. Suynamaskara A and B are always times for me to connect to Gratitude;  Gratitude for what is already available but also Gratitude for what will become available as the body warms and loosens. We used Eagle arms quite a bit in our practice, first reclined then later in Warrior and then the full Eagle Pose in our balancing series. Whenever I am teaching a Gratitude message, I like to come back to a pose several times throughout the practice because it allows us to cultivate Gratitude for a little more space or a little more focus or a little more breath/movement connection…there is so much to be grateful for.

As we again went deeper using bound Parsvokonasana with a transition to bound lizard, I asked my students to notice the difference from one side to the next. See, we can always find fault with one side…this is my tight side etc., but I asked them instead to find Gratitude for the more open side. It’s a simple change in perspective..focusing on what is available, instead of what is not.

The key to all of this off the mat is finding Gratitude not just in the big things but in the small gifts as well;  like sitting on the other side of the train that day so as to see Peter Tunney’s beautiful message, or the little things our bodies offer us each day.

In the last two weeks, I have learned of two different women who had fallen in ways that could happen to any of us. In each of these cases, tragically, they had broken their necks and are paralyzed. One moment all was normal and the next everything changed…forever. As I tied this back to our simple message of Gratitude to my students, I asked them to be grateful for whatever their bodies could do. Be grateful for the bind on one side even if it wasn’t available on the other, be grateful to be able to stand tall in Tadasana (mountain pose) and to lengthen in Downward Dog.  And to also be grateful for the everyday inspiration that is sometimes subtle and sometimes calling to you on a Billboard.

Moving into Savasana, slowly and mindfully I asked them to begin to move that Gratitude off the mat. Be grateful for the little things and the big things, the everyday things and the AHA moments. just BE GRATEFUL. Namaste.