Friday, December 31, 2010

Hello, Light!

Last week, I taught yoga to a very enthusiastic group of 5-year-old Daisy Girl Scouts (my niece's troop) in Tennessee. It was great fun! We hopped like frogs, soared like butterflies, stood like mountains, and giggled like, well, little girls. But I really wanted to give them a taste of what yoga really is, the deep underlying meaning into the practice. At the end of the class, I did my best to explain to them the meaning of Namaste in a way they could understand.

"It means that we all have a little shining light inside of us that connects us to each other. When we say Namaste, that little light is saying hello to the little light in other people around us." Err... It's kind of a hard concept to explain to little girls, I thought to myself.

I was thrilled by what happened next. One little girl looked at me with a smile on her face and beamed, "Hello, Light." Then, a few more chimed in looking this time looking from side to side at the other girls in the circle, "Hello, Light!" I was elated. They got it! And it didn't have to be so complicated, after all.

So, on the last day of 2010, I wanted to share this story as a reminder that while there's so much more to the practice than we sometimes even realize, there are also truths that are so simple they can be summed up in two words. My wish for the New Year is that we all reap the benefits of both the profound complexities of the practice and those sweet little nuggets of truth that are accessible to us all.
"Hello, Lights!"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What is All Levels Anyway?

Image: Lululemon Athletica
Yesterday, I checked out a really cool yoga studio in Nashville, TN. I'm here staying with my mom as she preps to donate stem cells to my uncle who is fighting a battle with leukemia (more on that later). When I told my mom I was going to a yoga class she said, "What if I wanted to come, too?" She's never done yoga before so of course I wanted to encourage her! The website said the class was open to "all levels," so I told her she should come along. Ultimately, she decided against it.

It was a good decision.

Of course, I knew that an all levels vinyasa class might be a bit much for my middle aged mom with no yoga experience... But this class was HARD! It would have been a disaster if my mom had come.

It made me wonder how often that happens... Someone totally new to the practice of yoga decides to go to a yoga studio just to see what it's all about. He chooses an all levels class because he doesn't know where he fits in. He unrolls his mat... and WHAM! The teacher leads them through inversions, arm balances, and super hard balance sequences with very little discussion of alignment or instruction on how to get in and out of the poses. This would make any beginner feel confused, frustrated, and like yoga is definitely NOT for him. If my first yoga experience had been like that, I would probably never have gone back!

I don't mean to pick on Nashville. I've noticed that all levels classes at studios in San Francisco and other places I've practiced could be just as hard. It seems to depend on what kind of yoga studio (all levels at an Ashtanga studio is probably a lot different than an Iyengar all levels class) and the students that show up (after all, teachers try to tailor their classes to the students who are there and if only advanced students show up it might be silly to teach a level 1 class).

I'd love to do a little informal research here... Please share: What's involved in an all levels class at your home studio (and be sure to tell us where your studios is!) Should studio owners make more of an effort to explain what all levels means at THEIR studio? Or is it OK to leave it open-ended and teach who shows up?

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happiness is ...

I picked up my new issue of Real Simple today, a magazine that always gives me great ideas. This issue's theme is all about happiness with the main feature story about how to be happier in the New Year. There's nothing ground-breaking here. It's in the ability to enjoy the little things that really makes our lives more joyful. As one reader wrote, "When I catch several green traffic lights in a row, I feel certain my day is going to be a good one." Everyone can relate to that. As yoga students, we already know the importance of taking joy in the little things: The amazing feeling we get from one good, deep breath or the radiant after-glow of a great practice session. It's too easy to forget, though. This is especially true this time of the year when we make promises to ourselves that at their core sound a lot like: "I'd be happier if only I could ... (lose 10 pounds, get a better job, run a marathon... pick your favorite resolution)."

I've noticed that I feel happier when I look around and see all the blessings in front of me--instead of pining away for something that I don't have. So my resolution this New Year is going to be to notice the little things that make me happy more often. Things like:

Seeing my husband lay on the couch with both the dog and cat curled up on top of him...and seeing the cuddle up with each other.

The first time I'm able to feel what an advanced pose feels like.
Learning something new--like how to take a cool photograph + noticing how much beauty is in little things (see both in my photo below).

 Getting an unexpected package in the mail.

Image: Flickr user Uzbeckistan

What little things have made you happiest in 2009?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ice, Ice, Baby!

Ho! Ho!--Holy Crap! How Am I Going to Survive The Holidays?

I have a lot in common with Santa around the holidays. Well, actually, maybe just one thing: I have to travel--an INSANE amount--in a short period of time. (When I call it the East Coast Tour, I'm not exaggerating. BTW, it kicks off tomorrow.)

I also have something in common with the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge: I do NOT like it! Not one bit!

There's the incredible amount of time of sitting in one place during the drive. The awkwardness that comes with being someone's house guest for a little bit too long. (Can anyone tell me how to NOT offend family members who slave for hours preparing meaty family favorites because every year they manage to forget that I am a vegetarian?) Then, there's the impossible-to-avoid drama over which family gets the honor of hosting the festivities on the coveted day OF Christmas, and the guilt that follows by the side of the family that gets the pre- or post-holiday celebration. (Dear Family, Please understand that I can only be in one place at a time. When my yogic skills have advanced to the point that I am able to duplicate myself, you will be the first to know.)

It is just impossible to please everyone! Oh, and it's a pretty big challenge to fit any asana practice into the packed schedule of activities. But there are little ways to fit yoga into these busy days.

Here are a few tips I use every year:

Breathe. Obviously, this is the one that you don't even have to find a corner alone in a crowded room. Just pay attention to the inhale and exhale, and remember to be present.

Take Little Breaks. When you're camping out on someone's couch because all the guest rooms are filled with family members, it can be nearly impossible to find a moment alone. But it's completely necessary for your sanity. Take little walks. Shut yourself in the bathroom. Do whatever you need to do to re-center yourself for just a few minutes when you feel overwhelmed.

Stretch. If you can't shut yourself in a separate room by yourself for an hour every day for your asana practice, get a few stretches in whenever you can. Stretch and breathe. Breathe and stretch. This can be your yoga.

Bring Something that Reminds You of Your Practice. If you bring a yoga mat (or something else that reminds you of your yoga) in your suitcase, you'll think of you practice every time you sift through it to find your toothbrush. You might not always have time to take it out and use it, but if nothing else, it's a reminder that you will survive the traveling just like you survived the last time your teacher made you hold that Warrior I for more breaths that you thought you could handle.

Think of the Intention, Not the Impact. This one doesn't really have that much to do with yoga, but I had to include it because, well, every time you spend this much time with family it's inevitable that someone will say something rude that pushes buttons and hurts feelings. So your grandmother has pointed out the chicken pock scar on your face every time you've seen her since you were 11 years old and it drives you nuts.. or you dad thinks you look SO much better now that you've put a little extra meat on your bones (just what every girl wants to hear!)... Can you see that they are trying to show that they care even though it comes off as... well... the wrong thing to say? Try to look at the intention and let the rest roll right off your back.

How do you cope with the stress that comes with the holiday season?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ask Spoiled Yogi

Q: I was wondering if you could give me any suggestions for affordable yoga clothes. I love Lucy and Lululemon, but I cannot pay those prices! In addition, I would like to find something that is created ethically.

 A: This is a great question. It can be hard to find functional, stylish yoga clothes that are reasonably priced. I'd like to think a big reason for this is that yoga clothing companies care about the same things you do--ethical business practices and environmental impact. That is a good thing, of course, but it can also drive up their costs making the clothes out of reach for a lot of people. And that's just not fair.

I have a few tricks, though, that I'm happy to share with you!

Check out (Full disclosure: I know the owner.) It has a big selection of cute yoga clothes that are ethically manufactured with sustainable fabrics. does offer slightly lower prices than competitors on Alo, Hyde, and Beyond Yoga--three of my favorite brands. They also offer sales every now and then. (Get on the email list!)

Zobha is my other go-to brand. I know fair labor is important to the company, and they give back to the community through their work with charities. It is also one of the more expensive brands, but they put items on sale every once in a while, and these are huge markdowns. Lucy and Lululemon have sales like this, too! (It's the only time I buy!) If you have a popular size.. just make sure you're on their email lists and like them on Facebook so you can have first pick.  :)

What do you think? Do any of you have other tips for getting the best bargains on stylish, ethical, sustainable yoga clothes?

If you have a question you'd like me to answer, comment below or email me at

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If I Owned a Yoga Studio ...

... I'd have at least one free class a month. And when I say free, I mean FREE!, not donation-based or almost free. Why? Because people who would have never tried a class will show up. And we all know it only take a couple of classes to get hooked! And I think that would make the world a better place.

... I'd mop the floors between every class. I would not allow entrance to the next class until it is spic and span. I hate walking through puddles of sweat!

... I'd have free tea and lots of cozy couches in the lobby to encourage students to stick around, talk yoga, hang out, and make friends. A yoga studio is only as good as its community.

... Oh! And a library of great yoga reference books that my students could check out!

... I'd host a free monthly yoga book club.

... I'd offer free classes to anyone who is mayor of my studio on Foursquare. It would inspire healthy competition and get all the Foursquare-hooked kids coming back again and again.

... I'd offer free classes to the city's actual mayor, too. Because I think that would make the city a better place.

... I would sell chocolate in the boutique... And cupcakes... And hot chocolate in the winter.

... My teacher training program would have a yoga community service requirement. It would be a double-whammy because the more you teach, the better you get at it. And yoga should be shared with everyone, not just those who can afford it.

I think that's all. If you owned your own yoga studio, what would you do?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Mondetta Performance Gear

As you might know, I'm a bit of a yoga clothes and products connoisseur.  I  love trying new styles and brands. It's so exciting to see the creative and innovative designs each season. So, of course I was thrilled when Mondetta Performance Gear invited me to try some of their pieces! A yoga /active wear brand I'd never heard of!?, I thought. How can this be?

I was even happier when I felt the high-performance fabrics--soft, supple, stretchy.. maybe even a little bit squishy (and trust me, that's a good thing!). The colors are bright and friendly. The fit? Fantastic. And the designs are inspired, out-of-the-box, and fashion forward.

I immediately fell in love with the long sleeved number pictured on the right. The print is super-cute, and it's the perfect layering piece for a yoga class or a quick jog on a chilly day.

I'm also a big fan of the Affluent 2 Tank (left) because its design is unlike anything else I've seen. It has a unique neckline (a mixture between a V-neck and a square neck) with gathers. It's nice and long so it offers full coverage and I love the feminine A-line fit--just make sure you tuck it in before you invert! Did I mention how SOFT the fabric is?

However, I might be most impressed by the company's efforts to make the world a better place. As a yoga student who wants to do as little harm as possible, it's important to me to support companies that make an effort to do the same. The Mondetta Charity Foundation provides assistance to children in East Africa who have either have AIDS or have been orphaned by the disease. MPG pays for the administrative costs so all the money the foundation raises can go straight to the cause. Plus, one percent of every garment MPG sells goes to the foundation.

Check out the rest of the MPG line here. And read more about the MPG Foundation here.

Have you ever tried MPG clothes?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Eye Pillows: Not Just for Savasana!

A soft, cool eye pillow is my absolute favorite yoga prop. For me, an eye pillow offers instant relaxation by providing a little bit of pressure on the Third Eye point (that's the pressure point in the middle of the forehead). I also love that eye pillows are often scented with lavender or other soothing aromas. Plus, they're small enough to throw in your purse and take with you anywhere.

But if you think eye pillows are just for helping you relax for five minutes at the end of yoga class when you're in Savasana (Corpse Pose)--Think again!  Eye pillows are extremely versatile if you simply know how to use them.

Sleep Aid. For all the same reasons an eye pillow helps calm the mind during Savasana and restorative poses, it also helps when you've got trouble quieting the mind to sleep. I almost always drift off to sleep with an eye pillow over my eyes (mostly because my room isn't dark enough!), but it helps me let go of the day and drift off to sleep.

Extra Support (When You Need Just a Little). Maybe your knees are just a few inches away from the floor when you sit in  Sukhasana (Easy Pose) or your thigh is just an inch away from the floor in Pigeon Pose. There's not enough room for a block and it can take a long time to fold a blanket to give you the support you need. An eye pillow is the perfect solution.

Shoulder Soothers. If you're lucky enough to have two eye pillows try putting one on each shoulder the next time you feel tension set in. The light weight of the flax seeds and the soothing lavender will work together to remind you to soften and gradually melt the tension away.

What's your favorite use for an eye pillow?

Friday, December 3, 2010

What Not to Wear: Yoga Teachers

Not meant to be an example.

1. Cleavage. I don't mind a little cleavage peeking out of a flirty little black dress, but for yoga teachers this is a big no-no. As a teacher, your job is to help your student shift his focus internally. And that might be hard for him to do when your goods are on display.

2. Too Tight or Too Loose. See explanation with no-no Number 1. This is not the place to let it all hang out.

3. Body Hair. Some teachers can get away with this one.. Like men (which is SO not fair.) Or yoga teachers from foreign lands where shaving is not the cultural norm... But on the rest of us... body hair just looks kind of icky. If you don't feel like shaving your legs, please just choose full length pants over capris or shorts--especially if you know you give a lot of up-close-and-personal adjustments.

4. Funky Feet. I have been guilty of this one a time or two.. You don't have to have perfectly pedicured toes for every yoga class, but polish chipping off or thick calluses can be a distraction. Oh, and no toe nail fungus... EVER!

5. No Personality. I think one of the biggest fashion mistakes a yoga teacher can make is not letting their personalities speak through the way they look. A lot of teachers buy basic yoga pants and tops, and just throw them on and head to the studio. But if they had an office job, they might put a little more thought into their accessories. Don't let the yoga clothing companies dictate your style! Once you have enough basics think of creative little touches you can add to your look that lets your personality shine--scarves, jewelry, wraps, bags, and leg warmers will all make your look more interesting and unique in a totally appropriate way!

What is the worst fashion mistake you've ever seen a yoga teacher make?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Must... Touch... TOES!

You know that student in a beginning yoga class that can't touch her toes? The one who the yoga teacher smiles knowingly at as she advises to relax and soften ... But you see this look of frustration in the student's eyes as she grits her teeth, furrows her brow, and tries to force her hamstrings to open because, by God, she IS good at this no matter what that teacher says and she WILL touch her toes if it's the last thing he does!!? Sometimes determination looks a lot more like constipation... and this kind of determination causes injuries and wrinkles, too. It's not worth it.

I hate to admit it, but even though I know better, I'm a lot like that student these days. I'm not trying to force my hamstrings open (I've already learned that lesson), but I'm trying with all my might to make other things happen in my life. The problem is, the harder I try, the more tense, tight, and challenging everything gets (like those stubborn hamstrings). And, as we all know, forcing is no way to approach a challenge on the yoga mat or in life.

On the mat, the answer is to stop judging, soften, back off the stretch, and just let the flexibility come organically when the time is right. I'm sure that's probably the right answer in life, too, but I wouldn't know because I can't get past the struggle to find out what would happen if I just chilled the F*&@ out! It's much harder to apply yogic principles to your life ...

So... that's my meditation for the week (and possibly for the rest of my life). Trusting, letting go, not trying so damn hard.. and, hardest of all, allowing all my judgments to float on by... Where I am right now is exactly where I'm supposed to be, and no amount of reaching will bring my toes closer to my fingertips. Obviously, there are lessons for me right now in this moment, and if I keep trying to move past them and on to the next thing before I'm ready I'll be stuck here forever.