Monday, March 31, 2014

4 Things I LOVE about Iyengar Yoga

It's true. I didn't initially gravitate toward Iyengar yoga. My first experiences with this practice even irritated me. I remember spending what seemed like hours on finding the completely perfect alignment of Triangle Pose thinking, OMG! If we don't get on with it soon, I might explode! Luckily for my classmates, I did not explode. And luckily for me, I kept going to class because even though it wasn't the most enjoyable 90 minutes of my week, I realized that there is tons of amazing transformative power in Iyengar Yoga--especially if you stick with it. While I'll always be more of a vinyasa flow girl, I'm so SO thankful to my Iyengar teachers (and those teachers who aren't Iyengar but are heavily influenced by it), who have endured my eye rolls and loud sighs and taught me so much anyway.

In case you're on the fence about Iyengar--or have decided not to go back after you realized it takes your teacher 15 minutes to set you up for one pose! :) --here are just a few of the things that I love about Iyengar Yoga.

1. It's adaptable. Because of its heavy use of props (and the highly trained eyes of teachers), Iyengar yoga is probably the most easily adaptable yoga practice for people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities.

2. Aligned poses are safe poses. I'm a firm believer that it is imperative to learn to practice poses in alignment FIRST--and I don't just mean that you understand the alignment principles in your mind, but that your muscles and bones understand them, too. Only then is it truly safe to add lots of movement or creativity to your asana practice. The importance of alignment can not be overemphasized.

3. Get out of your habits. The idea of samskara, or patterns, is one of the yoga philosophies that has always resonated the most with me. We all naturally fall into all sorts of patterns--patterns of the mind, patterns in our relationships, patterns in the way we use our muscles. And the tedious, detailed instructions of an Iyengar or alignment-focused yoga teacher is the most wonderful way to bring awareness to the patterns of the body so you can begin to correct any unhealthy habits such as holding tension in your shoulders or poking your ribs out when you reach your arms overhead in Down Dog. This is deep, transformative work that you just don't get the opportunity to explore in most vinyasa classes.

4. Look deeper.  Paying close attention to the habits in my body almost always help me to see other patterns in my life that aren't serving me. Even more useful is the realization that if I can change the way I hold my shoulders when I get anxious, I can probably change the way I react to my partner when he forgets to replace the paper towels when he uses the last one on the roll. It might take the watchful eye of an experienced teacher, friend, or psychologist (I'm serious!), but you have the power to change everything about your life.

5. Discipline teaches you that you're capable of more than you ever thought. I've never thought of myself as a super serious yogi--I love telling jokes, laughing, and having fun on my yoga mat. In fact, one of the things that initially drew me to the practice was the very relaxed approach that my first yoga teacher took. Iyengar students are not known for their laid back approach. In fact, I recall a time when an Iyengar teacher refused to teach the students in my teacher training who were having a snack before class because he said he couldn't safely or efficiently teach twists to students with full bellies. At the time, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard, but I've since come to appreciate how seriously he took the practice and his job as a yoga teacher. (There's a time to have fun on your mat, and there's also a time to hunker down and really focus.) I have to admit, this wasn't my favorite yoga class ever at the time.. but after sticking with it for a few months, not only did I have a much more complete understanding of yoga, but I also saw that I really do have the capacity for deep understanding.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Funnies -- Men in Yoga Pants and More!

It's Friday! The weekend is almost here! Life is good. I love taking breaks from the daily grind to laugh--and there has been some pretty hilarious yoga-related content circulating around recently. Here's what made me laugh this week. I hope it makes you laugh, too!

I found this gem on Kathryn Budig's FB page.

Men in Yoga Pants (Thanks to Yoga Dork for tipping us off to this one!). I couldn't stop laughing at these photos. This site is a totally silly answer to all the offensive websites devoted to women in yoga pants.

Video: Dude Wears Leggings, Calls Other Dudes Out for Staring at His Yoga Butt . This must be the week for men wearing yoga pants. This video takes the concept a step further and a dude wearing tight yoga pants actually calls out men for staring.

36 Types of People You Meet in Your Yoga Class. I've definitely come across most of these types of people in yoga classes. I'm sure I've been guilty of BEING one or two of them, too! If we can't laugh at ourselves, we're taking life way too seriously.

Best Yoga Jokes. Last, but not least, here's a #FlashbackFriday to an old Spoiled Yogi post with my all-time favorite yoga jokes I've heard (and, yes, probably told) in yoga class.

What made you laugh this week?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Toddler is a Yogic Sage

Now that my girl is nearly two years old she's saying all kinds of things. Some of them are less than pleasant, like yesterday when she screamed "NO, Mommy, NO!" as loud as she possibly could for a solid 5 minutes while I was trying to interview a source for an article. (To my credit, this particular interview had been scheduled for nap time but the source wasn't available then and called me back later--when my daughter was feeling particularly disagreeable.)

But she also says a lot of really insightful things that, with a little imagination, can could easily be really profound themes for a yoga class.

Things like:

1. "Take ya time, Mommy! Take ya time!" Confession. She got this little phrase directly from an episode of American Idol a couple of weeks ago when we had it on in the background as my daughter played in the floor because she was refusing to sleep at her predetermined bedtime (8 p.m.). She looked up just at the moment when one of the judges told a contestant not to rush through a song. "Just take your time." My sweet girl has been reminding me to slow down, move more deliberately, and stop re-examine my definition of the word "late."

2. "This is fun! This is fun! This is fun!" Sometimes it's swinging at the park or bouncing with me on my yoga ball. Other times it's just running in circles around the living room or throwing a toy for the dog. My little one feels (and expresses) joy and happiness in so many moments that I take for granted each and every day.

3. "Wake up!" It's true that these words are most often uttered at me when I'm pretending to be asleep on the couch--often following the direction of a toddler with mad leadership skills who just told me to "Close ya eyes!" But, I also think that she might be catching on that life is a lot better when you're fully engaged in the moment. There are many times when I'm basically asleep at the wheel--incessantly checking my email or Facebook feed while I could be taking in (and enjoying--see No. 2 above!) the moment.

I can't wait to find out what's going to come out of her mouth next. Om Namah Shivaya?

What profound little nuggets have you heard your little ones say?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review: Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga

For someone who has made her living as an editor for the the last 8 years, I sure do have difficult time editing myself when I get up in front of a yoga class sometimes. The things that really COULD make me a good teacher--my knowledge, passion for the practice, and sincere wish to both connect to my students and communicate the deeper philosophy of yoga--sometimes makes it hard for me to take a step back and focus on just one or two main points in one class. Unfortunately, when I get going and say whatever comes to mind, I know my students just can't process it all. At best, they take in what resonates with them and are able to tune me out the rest of the time. At worst, I'm sure there are times when they're confused, overwhelmed, and annoyed that I don't know how to shut the heck up and give them some room to just be--which is why they probably came to class in the first place.

I really try hard not to talk so much that it's confusing or distracting for my students. I've tried a few different approaches to keep myself in check. I give only three cues for each pose. I find an essential action I want my students to work on and I stick to cues that help them understand that action in a variety of poses. I even plan moments of quiet into my sequences--Child's Pose breaks are my own time to zip it, re-group, or focus on my own breath for a moment. But there are still plenty of times I look out at my students and see furrowed brows and confused, blank expressions that quietly scream, "Could you GET ON WITH IT ALREADY?!"

Theme Weaver served as a really great reminder of how much more power my words have when I keep things succinct and focused on one thing.  The author, Michelle Berman Marchildon (AKA The Yoga Muse) offers practical advice for yoga teachers on how to choose a theme for class (something that resonates with you), plan your yoga classes around a theme (winging it is NOT a great idea), and how to make the theme applicable to the practice without overwhelming your students. It's a recipe for getting a message across to your students in a clear, concise way that they will understand and appreciate so they will keep coming back to you for more!

One word of caution: While I loved this book, unfortunately, just reading it won't make you an amazing teacher over night. The first time I tried to deliver a class theme using Marchildon's techniques, I was awkward and likely came across like I was trying a bit too hard. (It wasn't quite authentic to me because I was following someone else's formula.) But as I practiced using it more and more, I took what worked for me and let go of anything that just doesn't come naturally to me. Some teachers really rock at reading an inspirational quote in class, for example, but I found this just doesn't work with my silly approach.

 Still, I think this book should be required reading for yoga teacher trainees (and those of us who haven't done a teacher training in a while!). I loved her ideas on writing a mission statement and bio--because we should all be clear about what kind of teacher we want to be. For that matter, I think it's vital that more yoga teacher see themselves as trained professionals who should be PAID FAIRLY for their services in accordance with their education and experience. And, most importantly I love this book because, as Marchildon so eloquently put it: "Most yoga teachers could use a big cup up shut  up." Guilty. And thanks for not beating around the bush, Ms. Marchildon. I couldn't agree more.

Get your cup here. And if you read it, don't forget to let me know what you think about it by commenting below.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

6 Reasons Every Mama to Be Needs a Yoga Ball

When I was pregnant I thought I'd need a million different things to help me care for my baby--from cribs and co-sleepers to bouncy chairs and Bumbos--my Must Buy List was impressively long. I used all of that stuff a little bit (though, admittedly, there were some gadgets that I barely got out of the packaging before my daughter had outgrown them). But nothing (really, NOTHING!) has turned out to be as useful as my yoga ball (also known as exercise or stability balls). Yoga balls are inexpensive, fun, and, most important, versatile--seriously, they have a million different uses.

For example:

1. Back savers. When I was in my third trimester of pregnancy, there were two things that could ease my low back pain. One was a vibrating lumbar pillow that I used behind my desk and behind the wheel of my car every single day (kind of like this one). The other was squatting in the floor with my back leaded up against my yoga ball.

2. Inducing labor? I heard that bouncing on a yoga ball is a way to start contractions and ultimately induce labor. I'm pretty sure this is a crock of crap (it definitely did not work for me!), but I'm throwing it out there just in case.

3. Laboring at home. Once my labor started, my plan was to stay at home for as long as I possibly could so there would be fewer chances for interventions that I did not want at the hospital. Of course, I ended up rushing to the hospital positive I was going to have a baby any minute, then spent a good 8 more hours in a hospital bed before I finally got to meet my little one. In any case, for the early part of labor it was nice to have a yoga ball ("birthing ball") to help me move into different positions to get as comfortable as possible.

4. Colic calmer. Until my baby was a good 9 or 10 months old there was really only one way to calm her down when she cried--cradling her in my arms while I bounced gently on my yoga ball. I was elated when she finally let me sit in a rocking chair with a nice, solid back to rock her to sleep instead of bouncing. But, honestly, bouncing on a ball was definitely better than, say, walking the halls with her strapped to me in her Moby Wrap.

5. Indoor playground equipment. When my little one had gained good control over her head, she giggled with delight when I put her on her belly on the ball and gently rolled her back and forth. Once she learned to stand on her own, the ball made for an excellent bongo drum!

6. It "tickles" my toddler. Now that my little one is 21 months old, we've been using the ball a lot again. One of her favorite things to do (again!) is to sit on my lap as I bounce up and down on the ball. When she was teeny tiny, my bouncing was to soothe her. Now, the bouncing is strictly for entertainment purposes. There's nothing more gratifying than hearing your toddler laugh and say (in a voice that sounds so grown up it's crazy!), "This is fun, Mommy! This is FUN!"

So there you have it.

If you're a mommy-to-be who I love and adore in real life (as opposed to just online) and you get a yoga ball from me as a gift, please do NOT think for a second I'm interested in encouraging you to "lose the baby weight" after you give birth. Please don't worry about that at all. You have your whole life to think about how you look in a bikini, but these precious moments with your little one will be over in the blink of an eye. Your body is amazing! It grew a person! I digress.

A yoga ball (exercise ball, stability ball, birthing ball, whatever you want to call it) was one of the best things I had as a new mama. If you've got one in your house already, I hope this post will give you some ideas about how to use it with your little one. If not... Buy one immediately! :) Here's a link to the the one I have.