Sunday, February 27, 2011

Glamorous Yoga Poses

As I write this blog, I'm watching the Oscar Awards red carpet... There are glamorous movie stars in fabulous sparkly dresses and neat tuxes, many of whom are living out their dreams before our eyes. It's the stuff that dreams are made of.

I can make a yoga metaphor out of anything, but this one is almost too easy--all the hard work, the failed auditions, beaming confidence, and all the many people it takes to create the actors (not to mention the films themselves!). Choose your own metaphor.... Tonight, I'm more interested in the glitz and glamor.

Yoga students are glamorous in our own right. There are a few poses that make me feel kind of like an Oscar nominee, myself. Here are my choices for most glamorous yoga poses. What are yours?

  
HeatherYoga.com
YogaDestin.com  
  
MagicTimes.com
YogaJournal.com

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Yoga Story: Meredith

1. What made you decide to take your first yoga class? Describe the experience. Yoga was a calling. I starting taking yoga in 1996 when I was living in Las Vegas. There was not a single studio in the city at the time but the voice in my head kept saying yoga. I really had no idea what yoga was other than seeing Lilias Folan on PBS a few times as a kid, and what I remember of that was being impressed by her matching leotards and tights. But the voice would not go away. Having a few friends into astrology and homeopathy I asked around and was directed to my teacher Sherry Goldstein. What was neat was she was teaching in random places such as apartment complex rec rooms and dance studios - spaces devoid of yoga symbols and decoration. Even though our practice spaces weren't yoga'd out, there was no hiding the spiritual aspect of the mind, body, spirit connection. I was hooked immediately.

(Sherry still teaches yoga in Las Vegas in her 2 beautiful studios, the Yoga Sanctuary.)

2. Tell us about one of your biggest yoga a-ha moments.

I have lots a-ha moments in yoga, but the biggest came in 2007. By this time I was back home in Rhode Island and practicing yoga with an old grade school friend who had opened her own studio (where I now teach). One evening before class and she said to me, "Hey, I'm doing I teacher training starting next month, you should take it." Before I had a second to think about it I heard the words, "OK, sign me up" come out of my mouth.

Normally I like to ponder things a little before committing plus this required good size financial and time commitment too, so I was surprised by my quick answer. A few months earlier my grandmother had passed leaving me a small inheritance that would cover the tuition. Also, at the point I was doing freelance makeup for weddings (weekends!), so I decided to retire my brushes. I honored what weddings I had contracted and figured ways with my teacher to make up the class time I would miss. I had known since my first class with Sherry that someday I would teach, thus began my next yogic journey balancing time, money, studying, and teaching.

3. Besides the teacher who is supposed to teach you yoga, who or what is your best yoga teacher? (Think unconventional teachers here... nature, your dog, your kid, your dentist...)
This one is easy: my dogs. My heavenly angel Nicki, who graces my twitter pic, was the great quiet sage. She taught me how to fully give in love, how to be patient, how to be still, and how to live what is in my heart. Scarlet, my Facebook pic, teaches me everyday to live joyously in the moment, how to be heard, and how to let go.

4. Where is the craziest place you've ever done yoga?
When I moved cross country back to Rhode Island I drove. I did yoga at every rest stop to keep my body from getting stiff. I got plenty of interesting looks as I did sun salutes and headstand in the grassy patches.

5. Describe your yoga journey in 3 words.
Living in presence.

Meredith blogs at The Pondering Yogi.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

5 Props Every Beginning Yoga Student Should Have

One of my first yoga teachers kicked my ass with props. (No, not literally! Although, I once dropped one of those wooden blocks on my toe, making the nail black for months.) Anyway, when I was a wee beginning yoga student, I thought props were for sissies. Or people who were too out of shape to touch their toes. Or for people seeking a "gentle" practice. Since I did not want to be any of these things, I would just struggle through every pose without any help, thank you very much. When my teacher suggested some of the people in the room might benefit from use of a prop, I'd just smile because I knew she was clearly not talking to me. It went this way for months until one day my teacher made a sweet suggestion to use a block. I ignored her. Then, she looked me in the eye and suggested a block again, this time a little more firmly. I still ignored her, sure she wasn't talking to me. Finally she stood up, walked across the room, picked up a block, walked back across the room and put it in my face. "Here! You need this!" I was embarrassed. I was also mad for at least a week. But I decided that in her class I might as well just use the blasted prop so she wouldn't embarrass me again. After a few more classes I realized that props were actually helping my practice--I was able to go deeper into the pose, feel things I'd never noticed before. I had been converted!

Guess what!? I've been practicing for eight years now and props are STILL a necessity. Only now I know that props are not a sign of weakness--they're a useful tool and EVERYBODY needs to use them sometimes.

That said, here's my list of yoga props every beginning yoga student should have in their homes. If you practice in a yoga studio you probably don't need to lug all of your props with you (they will have plenty there!), but it's nice to have your own stuff for your home practice--which is where most of the transforming takes place!

1. Yoga Mat. Yoga mats are important to keep your hands and feet from slipping as you practice. I think it's important to have your own for two reasons. 1-Renting a mat is icky. There's sweat, germs, bacteria, and I don't even want to know what else on there. 2-It's an investment in your commitment to the practice. It's also a physical reminder to practice when you see your yoga mat propped up in the corner of a room somewhere.

2. Eye Pillow. Eye pillows are my favorite prop ever! Sure, they're great for Savasana. But there are a lot of different uses, too. (Click here for a list.) If you don't want to spend the $20 on a cutesy one in your yoga studios boutique you can easily make your own. You don't even have to sew! Just fill up one of those socks you have laying around without a match and fill it up with rice, beans, or flax seeds.

3. Strap. Straps are important--not just for those times when you can't reach your toes--but also for those times when your hands can almost clasp or when you can ALMOST back bend so deeply you can ALMOST touch your foot to the back of your head. Everyone needs one. But you don't have to have a "yoga" strap. If you're at home a plain ol' belt that holds your jeans up will work just as well in most cases!

4. Blocks. Blocks bring the floor closer to you when you can't quite reach. But they also are great for giving you a little extra lift when you're learning arm balances or jumping through. I recommend you get two sturdy wooden blocks (just make sure you don't drop them on your toes!). The foam ones are too squishy and feel like they might collapse if you put your weight on them. Of course, if you don't have blocks yet I'm sure you have some things around the house you can substitute--a stack of text books, maybe?

5. Blanket (or 2). Blankets are another versatile yoga prop. You can fold them so they're thick or thin, long or narrow. Two blankets stacked on top of each other make a suitable alternative for a bolster for restorative poses. Blanket Folding 101 -- Lie or sit over the side with the fold not the blanket's edges so you'll be even and more supported.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

3 Ways to Wear Yoga Leggings -- A Guide for Petite Girls

For years I avoided leggings like the plague. Like many women, the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to my hip and thigh area. I thought that anything with a tapered leg would just bring attention to how wide my hips and thighs are--in relation to my calves and ankles, anyway. I'm all about using yoga fashion to accentuate the body parts I feel good about, but I think I got this one wrong.

Not only do boot cut yoga pants tend to make petite people look like they're swimming in Spandex--and make it harder for your teacher to see your alignment--they also make already-short legs look even shorter. Add to this the extra hassle of taking a new pair of pants to get it hemmed and it's almost enough make me a total leggings convert.

Hemming isn't necessary for leggings--even if they're way too long! Here are three adorable ways I've found to make leggings even more flattering (and more versatile) on a petite frame-and they utilize the most current yoga fashion trends!

I Gathered That
I Am Beyond Gathered Leggings
Almost every yoga fashion line includes a pair of gathered leggings. (My favorites are these by I Am Beyond, formerly Beyond Yoga, because they're soft, squishy, and super flattering.) But if you're on the shorter side, you can just as easily buy a regular length pair of leggings and simply use your fingers near the ankle to make the gathers where you want them, and Voila!

(Just to clarify, my suggestion is for gathered leggings that are pant length--if you try to do it to the capri length (so it looks like the picture) they WILL slide down and drive you crazy the whole time you practice!

Cold Feet
Kathryn Budig rocks a long legging
Is it a sock? Is it a leg warmer? Are those stirrup pants? No! It's just a yoga legging that's a few inches inches too long hooked over the curve of the heel! It's great for cooler weather, keeps your leggings in place, and leaves most of the foot exposed to provide plenty of traction and feedback from the floor.




Covered Up
Zobha's legging look for Spring 2011
One of my favorite things about having yoga leggings is that they are so versatile! You can easily get away with wearing them under a skirt or dress in your everyday life, too--and no one will even question if you're on your way to or from the yoga studio. That means more bang for your buck and more creative mixing and matching options.  For me, that's a win-win.

What's your favorite way to wear leggings?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mindful Monday: Yes, I Know It's Tuesday

I was busy yesterday so Mindful Monday is going to happen on Tuesday this week. I hope you don't mind. I stumbled upon this video, which made me laugh because so many of my meditation sessions are like this. It's good to see that I'm not the only one who has such trouble. Anyone else?



Anyway, I've been meditating daily for three weeks now (although, I admit to skipping a day this week)... I'm back on track. Here are a few observations from the last week:

Not Helpful:
  • Caffeine
  • Chewing Gum
  • Dog and/or cat in your lap, licking your hand, or staring at you
  • People outside your window mowing
  • The dog barking at people mowing outside your window
  • Stomach that is too full or too empty

Helpful:
  • Writing a to-do list before you sit.
  • Imagining a happy thought on the inhale (for you) and on the exhale (for the world)
  • 2-3 Sun Salutations first
  • Knowing that I have to blog an update every week.
  • Knowing that my online community supports and encourages me every time I blog!

Yoga, Love, and Other Mushy Stuff

Oh hey! Did you guys know that yesterday was Valentine's Day? The holiday of red hearts and flowers and chocolate and teddy bears? I think it's supposed to be about something else, too.. Oh yes, love and other mushy stuff...


Now, to someone who thinks that yoga is just an exercise that involves stretching, it might seem like a leap to  connect yoga with love. The rest of us know that in a lot of ways, the practice of yoga IS love. It's an expression of love for ourselves--we love ourselves enough to take care of our bodies and minds. But yoga is an expression of love for the people around us, too.

This is one of the reasons I don't like when yoga gets lumped in with spa services. Some people think that yoga is something they do only for themselves, a little luxury that makes them feel good about themselves. But the truth is your loved ones get a lot out of your practice, too. They see your example of self care. They see the radiant light that you exude in the minutes and hours after your yoga practice. You are more fun to be around, more patient, more kind, and more giving after your practice--and that makes it the best gift you can give to the people you love.

How did you celebrate Love Day?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Yoga Story: Sofia

Yoga discovered me a couple of times in my young life, but I was only truly captivated by its immense power within the last year. Growing up I was an extremely active kid: I was an avid gymnast, karate kid, skier, and softball player. After a couple of years of inactivity in high school, I discovered running and became fanatical in my pursuit. Running became my passion, my raison d'ĂȘtre, it was the sport I grew to love for its anxiety-reducing benefits and that wondrous runner's high experienced after a long, hard workout.

Upon entering college, I immediately joined the cross country and track teams and built my life around a schedule of running, studying and traveling with our team. Everything in my life at that time depended upon my ability to run, and when I developed stress fractures and other injuries early on in my running career, I knew that the sport was wreaking havoc on my body. Yet I was resolute in my belief that I needed running to de-stress: I had high anxiety levels throughout high school and college that I was incapable of controlling except through long runs.

During my injured periods a fellow runner on my team, Shannon, encouraged me to try yoga. With her encouragement, a few members of our team took classes together every once in aw hile. This class moves too slowly, I thought. I'm not even getting a workout! I viewed yoga as a waste of my time while my tight runner's hamstrings struggled through the simplest of poses. Yet I had been reading all about the benefits of yoga and knew a small dose of it couldn't hurt, so I took classes once every couple of months with the company of fellow runners during their injured periods. Yoga had found me early on, but I wasn’t yet ready to embrace it.

Upon graduating from college, I ended up landing a job at Lululemon Athletica, the high-end yoga and athletic clothing store that at the time was unknown to most New Yorkers. One of our job perks was unlimited access to yoga classes in New York City at any studio. Lululemon’s marketing scheme was smart: we'd wear the clothing, chat with the teachers after class, and spread the word about our growing corporate-yoga empire. I was still an avid runner at the time, fighting off injuries and training for half-marathons, but I knew I would find a way to fit in at least three classes a week, especially knowing they were at no cost to me. I worked the yoga classes in around my running schedule, being found once again by a normally pricey yoga habit that was handed to me in exchange for selling stretchy pants. I still wasn’t ready to catch the yoga bug just yet: I struggled through yoga classes, itching to leave early every single class. I still had that excess of nervous energy I couldn’t shake without running.

Two years later, after leaving yoga in the dust for the most part (save for a three month stint as a marketer for a local studio that in exchange gave me free classes), I found myself trapped inside my Brooklyn apartment for two months on crutches. I had developed a stress fracture in my right femur, leaving me on crutches that were nearly impossible to get around on in New York City. Sitting at home day after day, I had a great deal of time to reevaluate my so-called exercise-related “passions.” What did I love so much about running that I felt I couldn’t let go of? I liked the exhaustion after a tempo run. I liked the feeling of pushing my body to its perceived limits. I liked seeing marked improvements in something I put effort into. Why couldn’t I attain these good feelings through another form of fitness? And why didn’t I listen to my body and simply stop running when I was repeatedly being told that my body couldn’t handle the strain of the sport?

And then, when I was finally ready, I allowed yoga to find me. Or rather, I discovered the desire to practice once again, buried deep within, or simply underneath my bed amidst miscellaneous items where my old lime green Gaiam mat was collecting dust. I made the connection between body and mind: my body’s desire to stay active and healthy and my mind’s wish to lessen the anxious thoughts and overwhelming waves of emotions I experienced on a near-daily basis.

In my extreme all-or-nothing fashion I started buying every yoga deal I could find online and taking classes several times a week. If my body wouldn’t let me run injury-free, yoga would be my workout drug of choice, and I’d practice as often as I could. I also started writing more about my experiences since I’ve always felt drawn to the written word. Like the girl who finally comes around to that old guy in her life she thought she would never be involved with (this analogy works here – just bare with me), I gave yoga a chance – a real chance, one with vigor, dedication and readiness.

Since I’ve finally surrendered to yoga, a practice that repeatedly tried to captivate my spirit over the years, I have gained a renowned sense in the power of not only my body but also my abilities to make a dent in the world. I feel a new sense of physical strength that I never had attained from running – the exhausted yet calm sensation after a tough yoga class, and a renewed sense of energy and vitality to effect change in the most powerful of ways. My mind is calmer, and I am finally becoming – with much focus and doggedness – the calmer, more relaxed person I know I am destined to become. With body and mind finally aligned, yoga has taught me exactly what I am capable of in the present moment.

Sofia blogs at InsightfulAppetite.com.

Do you want to share your yoga story on Spoiled Yogi? Email me at spoiledyogi@gmail.com!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Yoga Book Club: Poser

What makes a good yoga book? In my opinion, it's the same thing that makes a good yoga class: honesty, stories the audience can relate to, and humor in all the right places. And that's exactly what I found Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses to be. The only thing that can improve upon the experience of reading a great book is reading it with a group of friends!

So obviously I was thrilled when my Twitter book club friends expressed an interest in the book. (Yes, I've already read it.. but I still intend to participate! And, no, I don't think it's cheating.)

If this is your first time tweet book clubbin' with us, here's how it works:

There are no rules, no time restraints, and no pressure!
Tweet the stuff that you find interesting at your leisure.
Include the #YOBC hashtag so the rest of us can find your tweet and respond!

It's as simple as that!

More on Poser:

There's a list of questions for reading groups here.

This video has very little to do with the book as far as I can tell, but I guess it's kind of funny ...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mindful Monday: Oh, Now I Remember...

Last week, I kept thinking to myself how silly I have been for not meditating regularly all these years I've been a yogi. I knew how beneficial meditation can be for managing stress, increasing focus, and overall health. And it just takes a few minutes!

Well, this week I remembered why I've never been able to stick to it: It's really hard! There are always other things I want to do instead of sitting there. When I make myself sit it, I just think of all the other things I could be doing instead. And then my nose itches. I think maybe I forgot to hit "Start" on my timer ... obviously I've already been sitting for 15 minutes. When I peek at it, I see that I had, in fact, only been sitting for 3... 5 minutes left. Damn!

What is wrong with me?

I'm not giving up, though. I know if I keep at it, it will get easier. Going into this week, I'm going to stick with 8 minutes of daily meditation (clearly, I have not graduated to 10).

I'm going to try a few things to clear my mind before I sit--like write down my to do list for the day and set it aside. I'm also going to do at least a 10-15 minutes of asana first to get into the right frame of mind and put the timer behind me so I can't look no matter how much I want to!

Ugh. Do you have any other tips?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Satya and the Evolution of Yoga

Yoga's history is fascinating because associations with the practice have evolved and shifted so quickly in recent years. Let's look at the history of yoga--and perhaps more important--the perception of yoga.

Alone Time
At one time, the word yoga brought up the image of loin clothes and caves. It was all about getting away from society and giving up all earthly belongings, so one could meditate, reflect, and become enlightened.

Rebellion, Self Study, and Togetherness
And then came the hippies. The yoga of hippies was pretty far from the idea of ancient yogis meditating in a cave. It was about self-study and freedom from the social norms. The hippies in practiced in groups. (Didn't hippies like the idea of communal living, too?)

Beauty and Perfection
Ten or 15 years ago (give or take a few), yoga finally became an accepted part of American culture. It was added to gym group exercise class schedules and become synonymous with healthy lifestyle and self-care. Instead of associating yoga with loin cloths or smelly hippies, people began to associate yoga with spas, massages, and lavish retreats... Somewhere along we way, we got the idea that yoga practitioners should be impeccably healthy, flexible, balanced, calm, stress-free, beautiful... perfect! (Talk about a shift!)

Greenery & Activism
At about the same time, yoga students also became increasingly interested in activism--environmental issues, animal rights, human rights, and more. Ahimsa (non-harming) is the basis and it goes hand-in-hand with yoga as a healthy lifestyle. Yogis weren't just supposed to be beautiful and in perfect health, they were also supposed to be leaders in creating a more perfect and beautiful world.

Satya - Truth & Realism
Lately, I've noticed another shift. Where it used to feel like serious yoga students had to be a part of this idea of external and internal perfection, now it's becoming more and more accepted to admit your faults and ask for support and guidance. I'm not just talking about sassy yoga bloggers. Even seasoned yoga teachers are getting in on the act. In the November 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, veteran teacher Patricia Sullivan writes candidly about an injury she sustained because of her daily practice of headstand. Of course, teachers who are embracing new media write about their struggles on a daily basis. And you know what? We LOVE them for it!

Maybe it's because yoga has become so accepted in recent years. (Finally! There's nothing left to prove!) Maybe it's just the rise of online media and the fact that now we are all free to share our feelings about yoga more openly. (We'll be our own editors, thank you very much.) But it's pretty clear that yoga students don't need the practice to be all air-brushed and pretty to see it's value any more.

Yoga is a great tool to help us deal with life's challenges, but it's not a magical cure for everything and those of us who practice are no closer to perfect than anyone else. I hope we'll all look back at this time in history, and recognize it as the time we all got a little more realistic and honest about the practice of yoga.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Woof! Be Mine.

Valentine's Day is just around the corner...