Friday, November 20, 2015

Two Sites, But Only One Blogger

Many thanks and credit to my beautiful and talented sister for helping to launch (who am I kidding? for creating!) my new blog format. Please make the cyber trip to to read my latest post, "Heads or Tails?" and to follow all future posts. Love and gratitude to all who have followed me here on Blogger!

It's all possible.



Friday, October 23, 2015

Asbury Park Blogger Crawl

I was flattered and so excited to be invited by Carrie Drazin of the fabulous blog to participate in her second "blog crawl" last Saturday in Asbury Park, New Jersey, following the first she organized in Red Bank last spring. Five other talented bloggers, Carrie and I set out to shed light on some of the unique and special spots Asbury Park has to offer. Don't miss these bloggers' posts on many popular, as well as hidden gems in this iconic Jersey Shore town!

The Daley Practice, 625 Bangs Avenue

As a certified yoga instructor, it seemed a natural fit for me to cover a yoga studio. For background "homework," I took a class at The Daley Practice, 625 Bangs Avenue,, with owner Thea Daley, former professional dancer and hair stylist. Opened roughly six months ago, Thea's studio specializes in Iyengar yoga, a form she has studied intensely for the last ten years which emphasizes physical alignment. Given that I practice almost strictly in heated studios, this was quite a departure for me. I rely on the heat to increase my flexibility and felt a wave of panic as I stepped into Thea's space and saw ceiling fans going! It didn't last long and I embraced the   challenge of stepping outside of my warm and cozy comfort zone and trying something new. 

Owner/Instructor Thea Daley at the rope wall
Following a warm up, Thea began guiding us, cueing multiple points of alignment in each pose and utilizing several different props to aid in laying a framework to build to a "peak." This particular class focused on twisting. We used folding chairs, blankets, blocks and the wall in order to  gradually open the body in stages. Our peak pose was parivrtta parsvakonasana, or revolved extended side angle pose, one that requires not only a deep spinal twist, but also a good deal of balance. Working step by step physically throughout the class, combined with Thea's acute direction, enabled me to get deeper into this pose than I ever have, which is something I hadn't thought I could achieve outside of a 105 degree room.

Tadasana, or mountain pose, is a usual starting position for any standing pose, and students in Iyengar yoga begin with basic standing poses. According to Thea, "tadasana is everything." This method and Thea's expert guidance provide an excellent foundation for any yoga practice. From both a teacher and student perspective, Thea's studio and the practice of Iyengar yoga is something to add to any yogi's routine if you want to form, solidify and/or strengthen good fundamental habits. Feeling both educated and inspired, I give Thea and The Daley Practice my highest recommendation. Check the website for more information and to schedule classes. You can also find the studio on Facebook and Instagram @thedaleypractice.

Interwoven, 511 Cookman Avenue

Next to yoga, I would say that shopping is my second passion. So for my other assignment I chose to blog about Interwoven, a stylish boutique located at 511 Cookman Avenue, From the first moment I set foot in this boutique earlier this year I was immediately drawn to the simple and soothing aura of the space...then blown away by the merchandise, simultaneously hip and polished, and all at a very fair price point. Below please find an interview with owner Bianca Freda, who is as effortlessly cool as her beautiful store.

How long have you been open?
The main shop on Cookman opened on Black Friday of last year. The boardwalk pop-up shop (Market at Fifth Avenue, 1200 Ocean Avenue) opened in May 2015.

What was your background prior to opening the store?
I did visuals for Anthropologie and dreamt about owning my own business.  I also worked in the interior design field and new store openings prior to opening Interwoven.

What is your design philosophy?
My response is long and lengthy and not so glamorous. ;)  I pay attention to subtle changes that occur in fashion; street style is my favorite.  I admire people who have style and who do not concern themselves with trends.  I admire the juxtaposition of effortlessness in an outfit along with looking put together.  I pay attention, I observe, I don't research trends.  Too much analyzation clutters your judgment.  I am such a visual learner and observer, so my inspiration comes from my daily routine.  The colors combined in foods, paintings, outdoors-it's all inspirational if you just observe.  And that's exactly why if my surroundings make me uncomfortable, I can't endure the pain ;) Sometimes I will stop what I am doing to rearrange furniture or a display at the of my quirks, i guess.

Would you say you have a style icon?
I'm enamored by the photographer Bill Cunningham. He's a street style photographer for the NY times. Looking at him you would never think he had anything to do with fashion. He wears a blue smock as his uniform and the rest of his gear is underwhelming, but what he does in recognizing trends is unparalleled.  He's not caught up in the nonsensical side of fashion. He's just a regular guy with a vision.  Having vision is the utmost important thing in anything you do.

Owner Bianca Freda and I (sweater and jeans from Interwoven)
What do you consider when choosing which companies to work with?
Fit, would I want someone I know to wear it, is there a story behind the brand? Will this item be in the shopper's closet years from now? Are they pleasant to deal with?  For real, there are some nasty people out there and I just don't want to support that nonsense.

What are your hobbies/interests?
I am fortunate to love what I do, so I consider Interwoven my hobby and sourcing what people what, an interest.  When I step away from the shop you'll find me practicing yoga, dreaming about where I want to travel to when work is not so busy and rearranging furniture in my house.

Boardwalk Pop-Up Shop

It was such a pleasure to chat with Bianca, not to mention have her personal attention when I shopped in the store recently. I am so impressed with the passion and spirit she brings to every aspect of her business. She encourages people to shop from their closets and come to Interwoven to get pieces that will freshen up their wardrobe. If you are still bored with your closet, or struggling with how to style certain pieces, give the shop a call to make a personal appointment with Bianca (732) 775-1713. Until you can visit one of her locations in person, visit Interwoven on Facebook and Instagram

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Somewhere Between LAZY and CRAZY"

I can't take credit for this genius advice, cued in class this week by my "first favorite" yoga instructor, Vanessa Van Noy, to encourage her students to find a place "between lazy and crazy" in a physical posture during our warm up. I really appreciated this funny, and totally impromptu description as I worked my physical practice to challenge and push myself out of a comfort zone in order to find that "edge" without forcing so much I crossed a line and found pain. If this suggestive phrase doesn't epitomize my current life off the mat, nothing does.

Parts of our home are in a relatively low-key state of construction, which has forced us to sort through a lot of our belongings and clear out some clutter. Again while our jobs are on the smaller side, there is still a fair amount of dirt, dust and debris infiltrating our living spaces, which when added to the already existing clutter and accumulation of simply too much "stuff," becomes rather overwhelming, even anxiety-provoking. Layer in a very busy schedule teaching, caring for a family of five and managing the antics of a six month old puppy can definitely push me to the edge of crazy on any given day. I can just as soon find the edge of lazy on other days when I look at my surroundings and feel paralyzed by the enormity of the tasks at hand, finding it easier to just leave the chaotic atmosphere of the house and as a result nothing gets done.

What it all boils down to, as so much of yoga has taught me, is finding balance. Vanessa's quippy, rhyming, off the cuff phrase has rung in my ears often in the last few days since hearing it in her class. It's really encouraged me to make a stronger effort to remain "somewhere between lazy and crazy," in order to chip away at my burdensome mountain of additional responsibilities...which will eventually lead to a more peaceful place...even if that place is just in my head!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Live in Your Strength

"Live in your strength" is a phrase I found on my Yogi Tea tag recently. Yes, I can even find inspiration in a cup of tea. Without even realizing it, this phrase has become somewhat of a mantra for me. When I practice, I try to remain conscious of the fact that yoga is not a linear path. Each time I step on my mat it is a new experience, and I guide my students to embrace the same mentality. My yoga practice is always changing. I've learned to embrace the good elements and take pride in measurable progress, and at the same time observe the setbacks without judgement. Life off the mat is constantly changing also. Who knows from one day to the next what kind of strength you'll need to face those fluctuating challenges.

Most days I am able to live in the strength of a strong, healthy body. When my body aches, I live in the strength of my mental focus. When my mind wanders, I live in the strength of my heart. When it's all a struggle, I live in the strength of the love and support of my family and friends...and an inspirational cup of tea.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Service is a cornerstone of Catholicism, the first religion which was introduced to me. It is how I was raised as a child and how my children are now raised. While I'm grateful for that foundation in my life and support it for my family, I've been less personally connected to it's messages as I've grown older.

I've really enjoyed the spiritual quality that's come with a devout asana practice. The basic definition of "yoga" is "union" or "connection". Unity between mind and body, connection to all beings, doesn't get much more spiritual than that. This weekend I found my spirituality on the mat connect to my life off of it.

On Saturday, Synergy Hot Yoga (a studio where I joyfully teach and practice) held the first annual "Synergy Day" where there was a number of vendors, giveaways, special pricing on class packages and FREE YOGA all day! Undoubtedly offering free yoga classes all day is something that will hopefully encourage and result in new business for the studio, but the real inspiration for me as both teacher and student was the number of people I saw and met who were brand new to the practice of studio yoga, let alone a hot studio. Best of all, proceeds from Synergy Day and generous donations went to support Oasis tlc, a local non-profit started by a Synergy student, whose mission is to establish local farming centers for autistic adults to work, volunteer and live. Please check them out at

On Sunday, I represented Synergy and taught a free community class at my local lulu lemon store. This was a first for me and a challenge on a few different levels. Vinyasa sequencing has not been my primary teaching focus to date, but it is an area I'd like to grow. I never turn down an opportunity to teach vinyasa, although the opportunities are few and far between. Teaching in a foreign environment, without mirrors or heat, to a multi-level population, would make for added layers of difficulty. I came up with a class I am proud of, complete with modifications for those new to yoga, and felt it was a success and growth experience for me.

Just as there is a marketing angle and potential for gain and growth for a studio or a retail store to offer free classes, the honor and privilege for me to be part of both of these events (in the same weekend!) lies in the spread of yoga to members of the public who otherwise might not find it. I see these gestures as a show of thanks for the community that has supported them, as well as a service for the community at large.

The Bible itself calls us to serve others with the gifts we have received. This small way of serving others through my passion for yoga, and the large reward of gratitude not only humble me, but bring me back to my Catholic roots. While I'll still take my yoga mat over a church pew for my daily dose of spirituality, I have two children who will receive sacraments in the Catholic church next year. As they are encouraged to serve their community, I am grateful for my weekend of service and hope to feel that greater call to action not only in my own life, but as I guide my children too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Yoga Mama Muses on Malas and the Moon

Sunday morning my teenage daughter asked me a question: "What is one thing in your life you wish you could change?" My reply..."Just ONE????" While the humor in that response may have been lost on her, it made the drive to soccer not only long but also pensive.

Yoga has taught me the importance of living in the present moment. As a result, I spend less and less time living in the past or in the future. I find this to be the most kind and calm way to live, especially with the busyness of work and family. I recognize what I can control, what I can or can't change, and act accordingly. While this philosophy makes sense for me on a day-to-day basis, sometimes a little reflection is necessary in order to grow. 

That night I decided I would take her to the beach to watch the lunar eclipse. I spared her the the "cosmic analysis" of what this event could cause or create. I did talk to her about the two broken malas I brought. I explained how when a mala breaks, it is releasing energy, ending a "karmic cycle" and is no longer needed by the wearer. That by making these broken beads an "offering" of some sort, you close a chapter and are ready to choose a new mala. I spared her the deeply personal details behind these pieces, or at least one of them.

My sister gave me a stunning mala for Christmas last year, a symbol of peace and comfort, following a long stretch without either. It was the only thing on my mental "Christmas list," but I hadn't told anyone that. I wore it every day, brought it to practice and to teach. It looked great with basically everything in my wardrobe. I used it to pray, to reinforce my intention and my mantra, and peace and comfort it brought me. This mala broke a few months ago, the same week my sister was scheduled to spend the weekend at our house watching our children. It was a lot for me to ask this of her, and a generous step towards healing when she accepted. I loved this mala, as much for it's beauty as for the many things it represented. I was sad when it broke, but the timing was right. The bridge from my sister's heart to mine started to be rebuilt last Christmas and was nearing a stage of completion. I no longer needed that mala.

I received a new mala last week and brought that one too, laying it on my blanket next to the broken ones, and told my daughter that doing so would enable it to absorb the moon's energy. I spared her the reasons I selected this particular mala, the significance of the stones and what I hoped to gain by wearing it. I didn't share the details of my new intention. 

When I answered my daughter's question (for real), I let her know we can only learn from our past and hope to gather strength from that which has challenged us. I'm grateful to her for initiating my self-reflection just in time to maximally benefit from it as we watched that beautiful eclipse over the ocean. No doubt about it, my current favorite and most comfortable way to live is placing one foot in front of the other and not dwelling on a past I can't change or worrying about a future that still holds miles ahead. But only once forced to look back, did I realize how far I've come.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Transition...a Journey within the Journey

Transition has been occupying a lot of thought these last few weeks, as I trade my bikinis and flip-flops for leggings and boots. In our house this transition has been met with less than enthusiastic attitudes, myself included. We enjoyed beautiful weather at the Jersey Shore this summer, and especially following a long and cold winter, we are sad to see the season change. But change happens whether we want it to or not. There are ways we can approach these changes, these life transitions, however, to create and encourage a little more ease and comfort. As with many other things, I look to my yoga practice to guide me.

A recent article in the September 2015 issue of Yoga Journal magazine referred to author Mark Stephens ("Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes" of my yoga library favorites) and his teaching that "one of the most common times to get injured in yoga practice is during a transition" p. 76.  So for example, say you layer in a vinyasa flow between a sequence of postures, I would most commonly think I would wind up in a downward facing dog and depending on levels of focus, energy and presence, I may just rush through the other postures or steps prior to arriving there, and in turn, I'm missing the mind/body benefits of those postures (i.e., opening of the heart center in upward facing dog, core and upper body strengthening in chaturanga). Additionally, rushing through in a less than mindful fashion could lead to poor form and even injury.

During Ashtanga class this weekend I noticed (just before my instructor did!) that my shoulders weren't in line with my elbows, but much closer to the mat, as I lowered down through chaturanga during my vinyasa. I'm not sure how long I've had this habit, but thankfully it was early enough in the class that I spent the rest of my practice making the correction. After class my fellow teacher and friend commented that she thinks this is what may have caused my recent shoulder injury.

My primary area of teaching is Bikram, or hot 26, where the physical transitions of the practice are a bit more subtle. However, thinking about these transitions led me to a different perspective, and appreciation of transition off the mat. The two major transition postures are savasana and the sit-up, both of which occur in the floor series during the latter portion of class. The sit-up could definitely cause or exacerbate injury or discomfort if performed incorrectly and mindlessly. Savasana, "corpse pose", as transition has less risk of injuring the physical body (as the body is still), but creates an added challenge for the mind to be still and present. The signature pause between sets and postures throughout the series, in my opinion, is it's own transition and shouldn't be ignored.

We've all heard the cliche that "life is about the journey not the destination". I like to think transitions are journeys within the journey, added gifts in life. While transitional yoga postures are a path from point A to point B, that doesn't mean we should ignore the path as a purposeful entity in and of itself, right? As we transition from summer to fall, rather than become overwhelmed with all that needs to be done to get from A to B, enjoy the present moment. Don't be too quick and mindless to empty those drawers full of cut-offs and tank tops to just as quickly fill them with sweaters and socks. Feel the comforting warmth of the sun during the day, maybe even jump in the ocean to cool off. At night feel the energizing crispness in the air, sleeping with windows...and hearts...wide open.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Check It at the Door

A few weeks ago in a class led by Vanessa Van Noy, our class was encouraged to view tension as an additional thing that you may bring to your mat, something that when the body moves and creates energy down to a molecular level, that energy is given to everything that you bring into the room. If you are holding on to something physically, tension in the jaw or shoulders for example, that may actually increase during your practice if you are not consciously aware of relieving it. Similarly if you are holding on to something mentally or emotionally, that has the chance to be exacerbated during your practice. So do your best to let go and enable yourself to have a clean slate each time you arrive on your mat. Check it all at the door.

It always feels like a "no brainer" to let go of negative emotional and mental stuff when I come to my mat. Not that it's always...or ever...a quick, easy, painless or successful exercise, but the awareness and intention are there. I have learned to take physical cues to direct me to deeper emotional tensions, but Vanessa's class intro made me realize how little I think about what I bring into the room physically and how that affects my practice. It's almost as if I've taken it for granted that I am physically able, strong for the most part, and capable of performing each asana.

One of the ways I use my physical practice and asana work is to ease physical tensions in the body through stretching, elongating muscles, strengthening my back and core. Some of these physical tensions are hard to ignore, for example nurturing an injury or feeling fatigued, but the body is able to provide cues on such a subtle level that if you aren't in tune, you will miss them and with it miss the opportunity to get the most out of your practice.

In nearly every class I teach, I invite my students to "scan the body" early in the practice. Whether it's soles of the feet to the crown of the head, or tips of outstretched fingers to tips of pointed toes, I encourage conscious awareness to each body part, often thinking as deeply down to that cellular level. Once stiffness, aches or pains are identified, I teach to use the breath to ease. If that fails, I teach to back out of the pose or just establish a different, kinder edge for that pose, always mindful that our bodies and our practices will likely feel different each time.

Given my age and the physical edges I push myself towards on a daily basis, I accept that I will feel achey and sore most of the time. My main goal in my yoga practice is to bring calmness and peace into my chaotic life, and that usually requires a daily effort. I think excessive efforts to alleviate emotional tension led to a growth in physical tension, which then led to minor injury. I continued my daily practice, "somewhat" dialing it down (but not really), until one day recently I couldn't take a deep breath without very sharp pain under my right shoulder blade. It brought me to the yogic concept of "ahimsa", which means "non-violence". I've managed to put that concept into practice in my life off the mat, showing myself love, kindness, forgiveness, and it has done wonders to heal my heart and soul. How might I draw strength from that practice to heal my physical body? It will require rest and ease, two things that I am not so good at, time and trust. I trust my teachers like Vanessa and Stacey Kasselman who have brought my awareness to the fact that tension uses energy. I trust in what I tell my students that we are our own best teachers and need to listen to what our hearts, minds and bodies tell us and act accordingly with self-love and kindness. I know I will have to utilize alternative methods to manage stress if my physical practice is on hold, and to be honest that is not only frustrating but borderline frightening. But asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Maybe I can view this as a gift to lead me to discover the benefits of the other seven limbs. And as I return to my mat when I feel able, I will do so gently and with kindness towards myself and my body. If I can follow this path, the only thing that runs a risk of injury is my ego. That is the most important thing I have to check at the door.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Jen Portman, teacher and Synergy Hot Yoga studio owner, began a vinyasa class a couple of weeks ago discussing the topic of discipline. I had just left my house, arguing with my 6 year old about brushing her teeth (she said she just "hates to do it"), to find Jen making the comparison between yoga and brushing your teeth! She said that much like how we grow from not caring, appreciating or liking this task, it becomes something that feels really good. Same with yoga: initially it is difficult to put our bodies through some of the postures, but with consistent practice it comes to feel good and becomes something the body, and in time, the mind crave. This is where the discipline comes in.

Remaining disciplined during the summer break, with not only three children at home, but a new puppy added into the mix! Our schedules are altered...actually non-existent...however, I've managed to maintain my yoga practice. Am I able to get to all of the classes I've come to love or spend as many hours as usual in the yoga room? Not every week, but I've stayed focused and dedicated to coming to my mat every day and feed that mind, body, soul craving. The only reason it's been possible amidst the natural chaos of life at home is through discipline...oftentimes setting an alarm to get to a 6 a.m. practice.

The Bikram series has been essential in strengthening my discipline. The pause between sets and between postures aids in increased awareness in being still, which requires a great deal of discipline. There is attention and intention brought to these pauses. There is a specific cue for the first water break, as well as "discouragement" of wiping sweat on clothing or a hand towel. In a room that is heated to over 105 degrees, this is no easy feat. In terms of the postures, the discipline of practicing this set series creates a quality of muscle memory and can enable students to notice progress or even just differences in the body if they are focused. And again, there is the stillness.

This discipline has enriched my life off the mat in many ways. By far my favorite "off the mat" benefit of deeper discipline is that quality of stillness. Pause before, between, at the end of an action is not often naturally occurring. Yoga teaches me to create those moments of stillness for myself, for my girls, when we need them (and we all do!). It also teaches me to think before I act or react, a priceless gift. Maintaining a disciplined practice during a difficult time of the year gives me a deep sense of pride and accomplishment, but more importantly that beautiful stillness allows me to stay calm in a chaotic environment. On a more basic level, my discipline consistently transfers over to the food choices I make, contributing to a healthy and strong body. It has also enabled me to show my children the value of dedicating yourself to something so nurturing to body, mind and spirit. It's helped me adjust and begin to train our sweet new puppy...a family addition I firmly denied for over ten years despite my children's desperate begging.

Am I disciplined every minute of the day? Hell to the no!...I eat dessert, I don't complete all of my daily "to do" list tasks, and occasionally I skip yoga (not really). But next time the kids complain that I'm going to yoga "AGAIN?"...I'll remind them without my discipline, we would not have a dog! And then I'll ask them to brush their teeth...AGAIN!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


I practice a few different styles of yoga, but my main practice and teaching style is Hot 26 or Bikram yoga. One thing I love most about this set series is the gift of observation. Arriving on my mat to practice the same sequence of poses, in the same order and for the same number of sets in generally the same environmental conditions, has taught me to be keenly aware of how my body is feeling at any given moment. It is a gift to notice that it changes with each class, and to transfer that to my life off the mat.

I think any style of yoga has the capacity to raise observation and body awareness, but there really is something unique about a set series that heightens it. On page 8 of "Yoga Sequencing," Mark Stephens notes, "the asanas, and in some styles even the specific actions for transitioning between them, are like a perfect mirror onto the practitioner because the only thing that changes from one practice to the next is the practitioner, thus making the experience of doing the sequence somewhat more a reflection of the person doing it than the sequence itself."

How do my observations of the physical body translate to my emotional state? One example is that I am consistently working towards greater spinal compression, particularly in the thoracic region, the area right behind the heart. It is not uncommon for this to be the most difficult area of the spine to bend, and it is no coincidence that it correlates with greater opening in the chest and the heart center. Some days this comes easier than others, and I have noticed an undeniable connection with how my heart feels. Back bending is difficult and painful when I am trying to nurse or protect an achey heart.  When I have more freedom and happiness in my heart, there is no pain, only joy in my backbends. My shoulders tend to creep up towards the ears and round inward as well. I'm grateful for the ability to notice these things physically and how they relate emotionally. Sometimes that outside physical cue draws just the attention I need to address what's going on inside.

Observing constant change in yoga may also relieve you of expectation and judgement. Of course we all expect that we will improve or become more proficient in our asanas the more we practice...and this is most often true...but rather than expect that by class #10 you should be able to kick out in Dandayamana Janu Sirasana (for example), you can just take it class by class, observe what's going on in the body, in the mind, and allow your postures to develop naturally. Once we accept that our bodies feel, move, respond differently each day, we can let go of goal orientation and pressure to perform in our practice.

While it's important not to become consumed with goal orientation and expectation in a yoga practice, another benefit of a set series is the ability to gauge progress. On p. 55 of Ganga White's "Yoga Beyond Belief," he identifies set series practices as "outer-directed" practices. "Fixed sequences allow us to flow through our practice with concentration and awareness, without having to figure out what to do next. We can also more easily gauge our progress--many feel improvement is made more rapidly by regularly following well-designed, fixed sequences." This shouldn't suggest, however, that we should approach a fixed sequence anticipating the next posture; but rather it is still important that we remain in the moment of the posture, finding the balance between ease and effort even if we have done it 100 times before.

My yoga practice, and my life outside of it, are not necessarily linear paths. Hyper-awareness of the changes in the body from day to day really solidifies that fact. It would be predictable and very boring if it was the same all the time, right? What I've learned to predict about yoga is that it is never predictable. As that's transferred off the mat for me, there are times that unpredictability can bring about a certain level of anxiety...but observation of the unexpected enables me to stay firmly grounded and confident that I have the necessary tools to manage any set of circumstances. Don't just expect, but embrace the unexpected. Pay attention to your body and the signals it sends. When that jaw starts to clench, those shoulders creep'll know what to do. Breathe.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


"The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are." -Jim Morrison

I began class this weekend inviting my students to consider the connection between freedom in our lives and freedom in our bodies and how yoga can help to enhance the former and achieve the latter. Connect the liberties and freedom we have in our lives to that which exists in the body as we use breath to free tension for example. B.K.S. Iyengar states that "Yoga is extension--extension giving freedom for the body to relax by itself." Layers of tension, however thin, can build and form stress if we don't work to relieve them. When we train the mind to identify tension in the body, we are strengthening the power of the mind to let go. Consistent yoga practice keeps me in tune with how my body feels, if and where I hold tension and how relieving it on that physical level with breath and movement can guide the release of tension off the mat.

It would seem remiss to discuss freedom without mentioning freedom of speech and expression given my right to publish this blog. That is a gift I enjoy as a US citizen, something that's been available to me any time I've wanted to take advantage. I wanted to write for a long time, was encouraged by many to pursue it, but I had to free myself of fear before I could pursue it. The yoga term udana refers to "expressive breath". "The ancient yoga texts state that, physically, udana energy governs your body's growth, your physical make-up and your ability to stand and move, while emotionally it reveals itself through your enthusiasm and will power and also sustains your voice, giving you the ability to express yourself in a unique way," as stated in Swami Saradananda's "The Power of Breath, p. 129. The fact that I could make such strong breath-mind-body connections through my yoga practice strongly contributes to my ability to drop the fear and judgement and let my voice be heard. Saradananda continues on page 130, "Yoga teaches that once energy has been released at a cellular level, your expressive breath is free to help you manifest your 'self' in whatever way your choose-physical or mental, emotional or spiritual-since udana represents your ability to grow and change in every sphere."

Choice is our biggest freedom. Freedom to choose wellness by caring for your body through movement and nutrition...freedom to choose to root your actions in kindness...freedom to choose to live peacefully...freedom to choose to focus on positive things in life. On page 50 of "The Power of Breath," Saradananda states, "The ancient yoga texts teach us that the more you hold onto or engage with negativity, the more that negativity will control you." It's further explained by comparing it to the exhale breath...if you are not able to exhale fully, you deprive your physical body of the oxygen it requires on your next inhale, as well as "cheats your emotions out of a fully vitalizing dose of prana." Choose to let go and your freedom will become that much more expansive.

The same principles and values upon which our country's freedom was established are required to achieve the freedom within yourself: trust, loyalty, strength, courage, physical and mental fortitude. My yoga practice has forced me to examine all parts of the physical body and how I can more freely express it. It's taught me to free myself of expectation while on my mat...and gifted me with the ability to at least recognize the limits of expectation off the mat, even if it is not always easy to put that into practice. Embracing that my practice is indeed "practice" and never perfect is an exercise in freedom. It allows me to accept imperfections as not only part of myself but also as part of life in general. When you can be who you are, take ownership in the good and the bad, only then can you truly live freely.

Monday, June 29, 2015

My Mat is a Liferaft

My mat is a liferaft...a beautiful vessel that keeps me grounded, even on water. My sweat (and often tears) keep the tide below me high enough to keep my raft afloat. My mat is a "liferaft" is the best thing I heard this week. Thank you Jen Portman! I've made the statement "yoga saved my life" on many occasions, yet I have never made this analogy. As my busy life has been swirling around me over the last few weeks, I was away from my consistent, daily practice. Before I drifted too far, I knew I had to get back to that which always makes me feel most stable and strong in mind, body and spirit.

I have felt stuck and stiff and not sure how to free myself.  Daily practice relieves me from this bodily tension, but daily practice had been a challenge. While joyful, personal events of the past few weeks have left my energy store depleted, my body unyielding, my head congested and my heart achey. Knowing it's all connected, I'm forced to examine how they can work as a team supporting each other. I believe that the body is a messenger for the soul. As I feel aches and pains, how am I addressing this tension in the body, or am I flat out ignoring it? Allowing it to deepen, worsen...and what does that say about emotional pain? How I am treating that? Am I ignoring that too? What can I let go of to lighten the load and become more buoyant?

The last few weeks have been hectic in my house with end-of-school-year events and celebrations, birthdays, a lot of extra teaching gigs, father's day and weekend guests. While I have managed to get on my mat each day, the level of practice to which I've grown accustomed and to which I count on for balance in all aspects of my life has definitely been lacking.  Most of my energy was going to others and I was not balancing that by fortifying my own reserve. As soon as I could I dove back into my daily practice. The first few classes found me really in tune to how my physical body was feeling: stiff, achey, stagnant, congested and exhausted, just to name a few. And as has been my learned behavior after this many years of consistent practice, I thought about what my physical body was telling me about my heart and mind. Sure enough, I encountered more of the same aches, stagnation and exhaustion. I found the stiffness, the lack of lift and buoyancy, completely reflective of what was going on off my "liferaft".

On my mat, healing happens. It's my liferaft. On it I first consider all that affects my physical body. What steps do I take to ease these feelings, and can the same strategy be applied to managing the mental, emotional, spiritual health? As in the way physical pain can signal the need to dial down your physical efforts, I could ease up on myself mentally and emotionally, allowing a break from pressure and the guilt that so often accompanies it. I can deepen the breath. There is always an option for a specific breathing exercise, but at the very least, make a conscious, attentive effort to breathe with intention. The effectiveness of breath to calm the mind as well as the body is well documented. I wonder if I am sleeping enough, and what the quality of that sleep is. I could meditate more often.

I am back on track with nine consecutive days of strong dedicated practice, and as my body has responded with beautiful pliability, so have my heart, mind and spirit. As my body returns to a state of greater openness and freedom, the rest are eager to follow. I'm learning that despite whatever chaos invades, at the least I have to maintain this dedication and devotion to my practice for all the benefits it provides. Recognizing that yes, sometimes life gets in the way, but in order to stay afloat we must have that liferaft nearby. On it we are able to ride the waves of prana, within our practice and within our lives.

Monday, June 15, 2015


On day one of my teacher training program, Ann told us that personal boundaries are important and apply to both teachers and students. She went further to explain that energy exchange can be a powerful thing, and it's important to protect ourselves, as teachers, from allowing too much of our energy to be drained at any given time. It was an easy enough concept to comprehend at the time, but I've grown to expand my mind on this subject. Sure it definitely applies inside the yoga room when I am teaching, but it has far deeper meaning outside.

As teachers, as yogis, as women, as mothers, we give so much of ourselves to others. It's vital to identify ways we can conserve and hold on to a bit of that energy. That's where yoga has played such an important role for me personally. Maybe it isn't yoga for everyone, but find that passion, that activity that can rejuvenate you. First loving, caring and protecting ourselves from harm is the only way we can do so for others in our lives.

This ideal calls to mind the yoga posture savasana, or "corpse" pose. I've referred to savasana in other posts on letting go and surrendering, but there are many other useful benefits which come from finding a peaceful resting pose. In the bikram series, we rest in savasana for about two minutes between the standing and the floor series, and then take another savasana for much shorter periods of time between all of our floor sets and postures. One reference I make to students is that this posture is meant to be a fueling station for the body, an opportunity to refuel, rest, recharge before taking on the next pose. So with regard to today's post, savasana is really a microcosm for what we must find off of our mats...that chance to recharge the batteries, reenergize ourselves for whatever lies ahead.

As a mom to three school-age children, this time of year is always met with mixed emotions...a break from dragging tired kids out of bed, packing lunches and ushering them to and from extra-curricular activities, but at the same time there is a slight panic that sets in when I realize that I will no longer have the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for myself. The last couple of years, since all three girls have been in school full-time, I've cherished the last few weeks of school and made sure to carve out time for myself to enjoy the world around me, rather than get sucked into the daily minutia of managing a household.

When I am able (and weather permits!), I head down to the read, to write, to practice yoga...or simply to find peace and calm. Much like my yoga practice has served me, I use this time as a healthy escape. Yoga on the beach is especially calming as I can so easily channel the sound of the ocean with my breath, timing the inhales and exhales with the ebb and flow of the tide. Using your "ujayi" or "victorious" breath, which refers to that which can be felt in the back of the throat and heard like an ocean sound in the ears, is proven to be calming to the central nervous system. So what better place to utilize this yoga gift than when I am literally oceanside?!

While practicing on the beach one day last week I looked out to the ocean to see a friend on her paddle board, and at the precise moment that I looked up a huge pod of dolphins was passing her. It was a really cool sight that caught the attention of everyone on the beach. When she got out of the water, we spoke and she described her encounter as "a gift." It was a gift to me to witness, I can only imagine how she felt to experience it. I'm sure I can speak for both of us when I say that moment at the beach had far greater value than staying home to fold laundry or going to the grocery store.

I'm grateful to be able to recognize this, as it is all too easy to be consumed with our service to others. Allowing that service to take over, without replenishing or respecting the level of our own energy store, can potentially breed unhappiness or worse, resentment. There are always things to pull us in various directions, things to easily distract us. Whether it is actively pursuing something that makes your heart sing-just for you-or simply adopting the mindset that you will embrace and focus on the positive things in life as opposed to the negative, find a way to establish and preserve your personal boundaries. Learn to enable your energy to serve your needs first. Only then can you best serve others.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mylar, Marcus and More-GOTR Seaside Stopover

If you're a fan of humanity, you're a fan of Mumford & Sons and their Gentleman of the Road tour. I had the good fortune to attend the Seaside Heights "Stopover" this past weekend and while I am nowhere qualified to write a review of the show, I have to devote a post to highlighting this very special music festival...and maybe even link it to yoga while I'm at it. Mumford & Sons defines "stopover" as "a celebration of a real place, with real people. It's a bridge between the culture of a music festival and actual culture as lived by real-life people. We bring the music, the stage, the flags and the fans; everything else belongs to the town. Their energy and enthusiasm, their civic pride...their favorite local beer. We've found it to be a beautiful thing - maybe the most beautiful thing that we do."

The goals and mission of the tour itself, from the opportunities provided to young, lesser-known bands to the contribution it makes to the host city, are truly inspirational. Yoga has afforded me a keener ability to live in the moment, to truly absorb my surroundings and recognize and appreciate the gifts. That gift of inspiration through passion, creativity and generosity was plentiful throughout my weekend, and not just limited to the great music.

I was inspired on a visit to ReFind, an art studio in nearby Bay Head, NJ. Zsa Zsa Stackles opened this eclectic gem to supply local artists with opportunities to showcase their work, as well as fuel her own passion for art and its importance in society. It was a gift to see passion in action as we listened to several stories behind the artists and their amazing works in the shop (including a gorgeous charcoal nude by Zsa Zsa herself!). She uses her influence to expand the world of local artists by displaying their work, as well as the world of future generations through her classes, camps and workshops. I was grateful to encounter and notice the difference between passion and salesmanship, recognition of which led to a purchase of a super cool Melissa Hood piece now hanging happily in our family room.

I was inspired at the witness of the joy of just doing something you love. The Flaming Lips' (who have been captivating crowds for over thirty years) pleasingly and naturally bizarre performance was great example of this. A gigantic cape made of mylar balloons and crowd surfing inside a giant bubble are just two of the creative elements layered into their turn on stage. If you were lucky enough to see the show and weren't entertained, check your pulse.

My favorite M & S album is the one they recorded at the Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado. I love to hear the purity in Marcus Mumford's voice without the influence of studio recording. Hearing them perform in person so far exceeded my expectations in every way, putting this show in my all-time top three. I had goosebumps from the opener "Snake Eyes," to the encore, which covered a fellow storytelling rocker, Jersey Shore icon Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" (no doubt a nod to the host city), and included all musicians who played that day. They show the beauty in finding what moves you in life and taking hold of it.  I feel grateful to have not only been a part of something rooted in such passion and doing so much good while they're at it, but also to have the mindful awareness to recognize it. There is an anonymous quote I love, "Yoga takes you into the present moment. The only place where life exists."

If there is a GOTR Stopover near you (or even not so near), GO! Here are the "rules" before you do:

"Arrive early, stay late; Don't miss out on camping; Hear as many bands as you can; Take the party from the stage to the town; Eat the local food, drink the local drink; Say a friendly hello to new faces; Have as much fun as humanly possible."

So if the mission isn't enough to move you, luckily the music will. If you're still not convinced, at least in Seaside Heights there was a guy giving out free hugs.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Gift of Letting Go, Part Three-Competition and Judgement

I am not, by nature, a competitive person. The spirit of competition has its place and purpose, but generally speaking I have never really been driven by comparing myself to others. One of the many reasons yoga drew me in is because it places so little focus on competition; and as a result promotes a nonjudgmental atmosphere and attitude, which I am constantly striving to uphold.

In a society driven by competition, it is so comforting to have a place where I don't have to think about how I stack up against others. Most other areas of fitness or athletics are measured by score, time, rank, points, etc...when I discovered yoga, realized that it is indeed a "practice," I felt immediately at home on my mat. As a beginner, it is natural to think in comparative terms because there is nothing on which to base your experience. In time with consistent practice we learn how to abandon the motives of the ego and embrace the here and now. In "Yoga Beyond Belief," Ganga White dictates, "Yoga is a field where everyone can win, because winning is not about who does the best asana but about learning to  do the best asana for your body in each moment." (p. 59)

I encourage my students to use the mirrors, especially as a tool for correction and alignment, but NEVER as a critical tool. The same principal applies to observing other students in the room, particularly those who may be more experienced or advanced. We should look to our fellow yogis as a source of inspiration, not comparison or competition. On page 59 White adds, "Watching a more advanced student can be a source of inspiration and instruction. Practice to learn and grow, not to win or defeat."

Once we are able to let go of competition and judgement of oneself, we are able to extend that behavior outward towards others. There is not one other person who will ever inhabit your body. And your own experience is ever changing. Day to day your practice can feel and be very different. When we can accept, as students, that we are always learning and life is always changing, it becomes easier to remove the pressures of competition and judgement. In my yoga journey I have not established a fixed start or end point, nor do I think either even exists. When I begin any given practice, I know it is about being in the moment and doing the best that I can. I am grateful to have been gifted the wherewithal to take that attitude with me off the mat, removing not only the insecurity involved with comparing myself to other people, but the judgement that comes with it, both of myself and towards others.

It is highly difficult to remove the notion of competition and comparing to any activity, and yoga is no exception. But as yoga philosophy will encourage, it is less about comparing ourselves to others and more about removing the pressure that we are inferior (or superior) to others, on or off the mat. Being a good yogi isn't about having the best standing split in the room. It's about knowing that on any given day, you are doing your best with what you've been given...acknowledging the pros and cons. Some days energy and flexibility are strong...other days fatigue, soreness or injury can interfere. Again recognizing that yoga is not a linear path enables us to appreciate the many gifts yoga can provide. I'll close with another Ganga White quote, "Your practice is for you--for your growth, development, and well-being." (p. 59)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Gift of Letting Go, Part Two-Expectations and Goal-Orientation

I expected to sweat. I had a goal to drop some lingering baby weight. Beyond that expectation and goal, when I found hot yoga I had no idea what I would come to discover on my mat...and later off of it. I released my expectations of what a yoga practice could provide me, physically and emotionally, and created space to let it come. In "Yoga Beyond Believe," Ganga White states, "Asanas are tools, used to work on our bodies, to heal or to build strength, flexibility, and endurance, much more than asanas are goals." (p. 44) As my body was discovering how to heal itself, release physical tension with my breath, my mind was following suit. Early on I found this practice of yoga had gifted me with benefits far beyond what my goals or expectations could've imagined.

Creating expectations which are a struggle to attain will be counterproductive by increasing mind/body tension and frustration, rather than enabling your practice to release it. Work within your limits and be aware that yoga isn't necessarily a linear path. Letting go of expectations in the yoga room and accepting that non-linear nature of my yoga practice allows me to honor where it takes me on any given day based on any number of circumstances. Our universe is ever-changing. Increasing flexibility in my body naturally increased the flexibility in my heart and mind, something I am grateful to for keeping me from clinging to fixed expectations or setting goals which would remove me from the joy of the present moment. Ganga adds, "Softening our goal orientation can help overcome aggressiveness and effort in yoga practice so we are more able to enjoy the journey." (p. 45)

I expected to practice a certain number of hours last week. In an effort to let go of my attachment to this number in my mind, rather than practice those maximum hours, I spent time with two friends who both needed a distraction, and a listening ear. I also led class in two very different environments, to two very different populations. In one day I led an intimate non-hot vinyasa class at the beautiful boutique gym Fuel Fitness, and later led 20 first-graders in an "animal-inspired" yoga lesson for career week in my daughter's class. Both were not only big breaks from the norm of my usual gigs, but also experiences that brought me to a different frame of mind, a heightened state of awareness. The space created by letting go of my expectations was filled with joy and gratitude. And with some luck, a new crop of little yogis was born.

Other than combining two things I'd grown to love so much, I had no specific goal when I started this blog, but I did expect to feel exposed, vulnerable. I called upon, and trusted in, all I'd learned through my yoga practice to overcome and let go of those expectations, embrace that vulnerability. I decided to put myself out there even further by participating in an Instagram yoga challenge for the first time last month (I actually did two!).  In "The Path of the Yoga Sutras," Nicolai Bachman states, "Action based on inspiration and not bound by expectation is truly free." (p. 202)

Inside of a month, my blog has served as the vehicle for expression I've been waiting for, with yoga as my perfect muse. The purity in the cathartic exercise of writing has made this a personal success already, and I've been gifted the added benefit of touching the lives of many others, with perhaps not all, but some of my words resonating. My immersion into the Instagram yoga culture with the participation in two challenges has taught me a lot about my physical practice as I'm getting the opportunity to see poses photographed, sometimes from several angles. It's reminded me that I am always learning, and that is a gift. I was also asked to join an ambassador team for an awesome female-owned and -operated company that makes some DOPE leggings. And my cup runneth over when I was selected as a winner in one of May's challenges, a lucky recipient of a beautiful handmade yoga mat bag.

Learning to let go of expectations has taught me a great deal about my life on and off the mat. Doing things for the joy of them, remaining in the present moment, will have a calming effect on you-mind, body and spirit. The deeper you dig to discard what doesn't serve you, what comes to rest in it's place may even yield unexpected rewards, pleasantly surprising you. Start with the body and as it becomes pliable, observe and embrace the pliability in the heart and soul, mind and spirit. For when all is open, free of expectation, the beauty of life is expansive and limitless.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Gift of Letting Go, Part One-Let the Body Guide the Mind

What does it mean to let go? It can be physical or it can be emotional. It can be a broad generalization or it can be something specific. It can be easy or it can be extremely difficult. It can happen in a moment or it can take a lifetime. But the space created when we let go of something that does not serve us, whether it is mind, body or spirit, is the gift. That space becomes opportunity.

The ability to let go begins with the recognition of what you can and can't control. This takes me back to the concept of surrendering to chaos in a sense. Whether it is tension in the body that can be overcome with the breath, a preoccupation in the mind, a fear to deepen a pose for risk of physical pain or injury, or ridding your life of a toxic relationship, yoga continues to teach me daily not only how important it is to let go, but also how available it is if we are in tune and aware.

Often cued in classes I teach, as well as take, is the phrase "breathe into any areas of tightness." A good example for me personally is during any forward bend in the early part of class. I have tight hamstrings, which can make these postures excruciating some days. Ganga White in "Yoga Beyond Belief," cites this power with the following: "You will find that directing the breath to a location actually works to relax and release it. Using your attention to literally send and feel healing energy and prana move to the place in need relaxes and releases tensions there. This concept is not just a metaphor but a fact, even physically. Oxygen, which is part of the breath, reaches every part of the body. You actually can breathe into your toes." (p. 66) Another of my favorite cues is a follow up to this idea, and that is the more we relax into a pose, the easier it will become. By focusing, using my breath in this fashion, I've found greater softening and lengthening in my hamstrings.

As a completely random side note, but further evidence how yoga has enhanced my life off the mat, I re-acquired the hobby of knitting about six months ago, after being away from it for several years. A bi-product of my consistent yoga practice, mindful breathing enables me to identify tension in my shoulders or awareness that I am knitting too tightly, and the ability to quickly correct and release that tension.

The tension released in my physical body led me to release tensions in the heart, mind and spirit. Another group of yoga postures that grant me the gift of letting go are back bending, heart-opening poses. They have become my favorites as my spinal flexibility improves, the backbends deepen, and as a result tensions and burdens in my heart center are released. Deeply inhaling to identify a source of tightness or tension in the body, to be rewarded on the exhale by feeling that area relax even if just a little, taught me to let go of that which does not serve my life.

I'm not suggesting that letting go of something is an easy exercise. As I brainstormed my ideas for this post I realized there is far too much territory to cover at once. A good place to start is with the physical body and how that can transfer to life off the mat. Utilize that concentration and intentional breath work to allow flexibility in the body to lead to flexibility in the mind. Recognize this may not be a linear path, physically or emotionally, and you are on your way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No Risk, No Reward

The first thing I read in my Instagram feed this morning was Kino MacGregor's (@kinoyoga) post inviting her reader's to take a risk and be vulnerable. I've had some notes on this subject for a while, thinking that at some point it would become a blog post, but as Kino's post title dictated today "Yogi's Assignment: Vulnerability," I knew it was carpe diem time.

Vulnerability is some scary business, whether we're referring to vulnerability in yoga asana practice or vulnerability in our relationships with others. Personally, my most recent exercises in vulnerability have been a month-long Instagram yoga challenge (hosted by none other than Kino herself, along with another of my IG idols, Kerri Verna @beachyogagirl), and of course starting this blog. While intrigued, I've avoided yoga challenges in the past due to a fear of judgment of my photos, my form, knowledge and skill level. Accepting the challenge required me to overcome my anxiety about showing such a big part of myself, my practice, to the world. I accepted that not every pose would be executed perfectly, not every camera angle the best, not every element of lighting the most flattering (I've become quite educated in the art of editing however!), but the reward has come in more than one form. My participation has deepened my relationships and built camaraderie among fellow yogis and friends. My best friend's daughter is doing the challenge as well, and it's encouraged my own children to try a challenge next! **Huge thank you, by the way, to all of my family and friends who have so enthusiastically served as photographer/art director/editor at one point or another. You've all been very patient, although I'm sure that will wear thin by this time next month and I'll be approaching strangers on the street to snap my poses!

The challenge has also taught me a lot about my physical practice. It is easy to become complacent on our mats and in our minds about how we perform some postures, but when there is photographic evidence of what the body looks like in a pose, not what the mind thinks it looks like, you can most often see room for progression. That has been such a valuable takeaway for me, as I know in yoga practice, as in life, there is always someplace deeper to journey, an ability to find a new edge. I also believe that if we can embrace the vulnerability of a posture, rather than fear it or fight against it, we can better let go of that which does not serve us. This in turn supports growth and depth of experience on, as well as off our mats.

As for starting this blog, who knew that within a couple of weeks of my biggest tests of vulnerability going live, I would actually be writing a post on vulnerability? Similar to what I sought to overcome with exposing more about my yoga practice through photography, I had to overcome a need for perfect word choice, perfect communication of a feeling, thought or idea, 100% of the time. I've hid behind my desire for perfection in writing for many years. Taking the step to make some of my thoughts and feelings public has made me feel extremely vulnerable. But yet again, the reward has exceeded my expectations in the forms of amazing feedback and support, not to mention a great new creative vehicle through which I can express and share.

I hope to show my girls that our lives are made richer by the depths and sincerity of the connections we make with others. Is the person reflected back in the mirror the person you show the world, complete with not only recognition of your flaws but ownership of them? Be courageous and embrace vulnerability and the growth potential it has to offer us. Embracing vulnerability exposes the deepest part of the self, the soul. And yes, there will be times that the soul will suffer. But take that risk, because there will be more times that the soul will shine. Be the most honest version of yourself. Show the world your true beauty and you will be rewarded. A life genuinely lived is among the greatest rewards.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mind Over Matter

In "Yoga Beyond Belief," Ganga White states, "Concentration, mental fortitude, and endurance are developed by holding difficult asanas for long periods. Discipline and strength of character come from creating and maintaining a regular practice and all of these qualities are carried over into other areas of life." (p.35)

The first thing I consciously thanked my yoga practice for was reminding me more of my strengths than my weaknesses. This was during a time when I needed this special brand of "off the mat" yoga more than I needed it while I was on the mat.  I went deep within my physical practice, heightened observations during class, tried to zero in on exactly how yoga was granting me that ability to feel strong despite the challenges of an asana. If I could channel that power during class, surely I could take that outside the yoga room.

Since I began teaching over a year ago, I've spent as much time as possible in the yoga room. For a long time it was my only place of peace. It didn't matter if I was practicing or teaching (although practice is preferable as any yogi would agree!), the heat of the room envelops my soul and clears my mind to focus purely on the moment. Between the two, I have logged hours in studio, often exceeding 20 per week, sometimes taking three classes in a day. I had to figure out a way to take more of that peace with me when I walked out the door. I began to dissect my practice on all levels, determined to crack the code.

Dandayamana Dhanurasana, or Standing Bow Pulling Pose, one that elicits at least some reaction-positive or negative-among all bikram practitioners, is where I targeted the dissection of my physical practice to unlock the cognitive. Over time I realized that the bend had to come from the spine, in all executions but definitely those of whom have tight hamstrings, hips, etc, this is a key element to focus on. This required incredible mental focus to combine breath, flexibility, balance and strength in this one posture. One of the longer held at 60 seconds, the first set was a challenge for me from the start. Once I overcame the physical discomfort (elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness), I realized this posture was under my control if I was courageous enough to recognize it, much like everything else in my life.

It didn't take long to make the connection between the physical practice and the mental practice, which was the part I needed most to take with me. Some 90 minute practices can be more challenging than others in a room that can top 110 degrees or more with higher than 60% humidity. I realized it was often a simple solution of "mind over matter." I learned to allow my breath to calm my mind to the point of recognizing every physical adjustment of a pose, to eventually recognizing that it was the calm mind that was in control of what the physical body could achieve.

The ability to admit your mistakes takes strength, just as the ability to stand your ground and what you believe in the face of an adversary. It's amazing to have people loving and supporting you on the side, but at the end of the day, there is limitless value on your own personal inner strength. I have learned, through yoga, my ability to build up my arsenal of tools to get me out of the most trying times. Even when it is buried deep below fear and doubt, I know I have it. All it takes is a few deep breaths and I'm there.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Beauty of the Second Set

Currently I am primarily teaching the Bikram series, called Hot 26 at our studios, and one thing I love about it is the second set. All but one posture are repeated twice. This structure has given me so many things to think about over the course of my years as a student and now teacher. Meditation, awareness, observation, being present, letting go are just a handful of the many fibers which when woven together have become my yoga. The quality of the second set incorporates all of these fibers and more. On a purely physical level, there are two opportunities to work on a pose, perhaps progressing, or maybe observing and nurturing an ache, pain or injury. On a deeper level and what I've taken off the mat is that there is a such thing as a second chance.

My dear friend and fellow teacher Alice Nelson (certified Bikram instructor for over 17 years and avid cyclist...find her on Instagram @bikrambike) has inspired me as a student since I first took her classes years ago, and that inspiration has grown exponentially since I started teaching. Alice's dialogue is very unique, in that it has such ease to it while still managing to address all of the key elements of the practice (form, alignment, benefits). Her often conversational way to cue poses has definitely helped me mentally and physically power through some practices...Alice also has a rep for liking her room HOT! One thing that I've heard her say on several occasions is regarding the fact that the series repeats all but one of the 26 postures twice. "What if we had a second chance to do everything in life? How different would our world be?" Alice's words resonate so deeply with me, and have bestowed yet another yoga gift: my ability to recognize the beauty in having a second chance. For that gift I am forever grateful to her, and to yoga.

Some second chances are provided because of circumstances around us, people in our lives, powerful forces of forgiveness and love. Others we may need to create ourselves. The capacity to be aware of life's possibilities when you take control of your own is a gift and without boundary. Even if it doesn't originate organically, there is always chance for redemption, renewal, if the heart and mind are open and the soul is willing. You just need to see the opportunities with eyes clear enough to recognize a second chance for what it is. Upon reflection of many experiences in my life, there are plenty of things I would change if a "do over" was possible. At least now when I do have regrets, I'm in tune with and on the look out for, that growth potential. This is something I hope I can teach my daughters. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. But if you're lucky enough to encounter an opportunity to make different choices, will you recognize it? Will you use it wisely?

I hope they come to understand the beauty of the second set.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Balancing Act

I've been wearing a Lokai bracelet for the last six months. If you're unfamiliar with this bracelet it's comprised of beads, all clear with the exception of two: one which is filled with mud from the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth), representing life's low points, and another filled with water from Mount Everest (the highest point on Earth), representing life's highest moments. This bracelet has served as a great reminder of the importance of balance. But the original great reminder is my yoga practice and why, the more I come to my mat, the more inner balance and peace (and therefore gratitude!) I find. 

The hot 26 series (or bikram) that I most often teach works both halves of the body, one side at a time, in a very orderly and deliberate sequence. It is difficult not to notice the pure physical element of balance right away. Also within it, the series has a number of single-legged balancing postures, again bringing hyper-awareness to this central theme. Inversion practice, not emphasized in bikram but certainly present in a handful of poses, has proven anti-depressant/anti-anxiety benefits, bringing mental, as well as physical balance. All students, from newbie to bendy, work hard to achieve balance in asana. Ganga White, in a yoga library fave (recommended by Ann Yocum, Colts Neck Hot Yoga studio owner and wonder woman who trained me), "Yoga Beyond Belief," quotes this ancient definition of yoga, "Samatvam yoga uchyate, or 'Yoga is balance'...This insight not only applies to asana practice but to all areas of life." (p108) But exactly how do we encourage more balance in our lives off the mat? 

A saturation of attention on family/children/others can build resentment, while focusing too heavily on oneself can be hurtful to loved ones. Similarly if one has an over-immersion in his or her career, it can be a struggle to manage work/life balance. One of the bigger keys to happiness, contentment, inner peace, is striking a balance in life. White adds, "Harmony...implies attuning, listening within and without, mutual interaction, and working in concert with oneself and others." (p108) Consistent, dedicated practice, making time for that which is rooted in finding equilibrium between ease and effort, aids in promoting more awareness of this strive to achieve balance off the mat. Even without intense physical asana practice, meditation and pranayama breath work balance the two sides of the brain. I can, and will, devote an entire post to how you can channel breath to achieve balance, but for now, and whenever else I am off the mat and need it, my Lokai reinforces how crucial balance is in our lives. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Am I "Namas'cray"?

If you are a yogi on Instagram (like me) or on Facebook (unlike me), chances are you've seen this play on the yogic term "Namaste". Since it's come about I've heard it once or twice with regard to the number of hours per week I spend on my yoga mat. I've had an especially busy schedule this week, unfortunately leaving little time for practice. For a 7 day per week practitioner, this has been very difficult for me. I had to ask myself, "Am I 'namas'cray'?"

I've spent the day trying to bring awareness to how I may better practice what I preach. In most of my classes, I encourage students to let go of attachments while they are in the yoga room. Regardless of the nature of that attachment, perhaps a frustrating experience that occurred before class, or using the mirror as a critical tool as opposed to an aid, it doesn't serve us to hold on to it. Yogic philosophy suggests that recognition of the fact that the universe is constantly changing will better enable a student to let go of expectations and attachments. Further, once we can let go of attachments in the outer world we may turn our attention inward to our own inner light which never changes. I began to wonder if my daily physical asana practice is a type of attachment. I turned to one of my favorites in my yoga library, Nicolai Bachman's "The Path of the Yoga Sutras," and reread the chapter on "Abhyasa," or "diligent, focused practice."

It felt ironic to me that my attachment is that which one should work towards in order to reduce attachment! Bachman is helpful to expand to say that this "focus can occur during physical exercise, breath work, meditation, or even the act of learning a musical instrument or driving a car." (p. 29) I get on my mat every day, even if it is for 10 minutes at home for a few down dogs or an indulgent child's pose, but it doesn't feel the same if I can't fit in my full practice seven days a week. Being forced to face how this makes me feel has led me to redefine "my" yoga. It also calls to mind my posts on surrender and being present. Letting go or surrendering to outside distractions, truly being "in the moment" means exactly that. Practicing 12 hours of yoga a week only to freak out when a week comes that I can't maintain that discipline is not better than accepting a week for what it is, recognizing that there are other things that require my time and attention and that those things will sometimes take priority over my time on the mat. 

Yoga helps to increase flexibility in the body as well as in the mind. It comes as no surprise that I've formed an attachment to my yoga practice given all it's done and does for me, but there are ways to live my yoga off the mat when I can't spend as much time as I'd like inside the studio walls. Guiding students through practice in the six classes I'll teach this week...that is my yoga. Watching and encouraging my daughters in their sports...that is my yoga. Providing a non-judgmental, open ear and doing my best to advise a friend in crisis...that is my yoga. And as always at the very minimum, breathing with intention...that is my yoga.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Surrender to Chaos

This yoga mama found herself quite busy today...being grateful, being present, and of course breathing. In my brief mention of savasana ("corpse pose") in yesterday's post, I referenced how part of how I teach it is to encourage students to let go and just be in the moment...surrender if you will. Surrender the physical body to the earth below the mat, surrender the mind to the calm brought by the asana work, surrender the spirit to free itself from that which binds it. When I think of this concept "off the mat," I think it is a goal to sometimes surrender to the chaos of life as a mother. Homes with children tend to be very active and this can cause great demands to be placed on moms. In order to preserve a calm environment for our loved ones, as well as calmness in our minds, we sometimes have to let things go. If every article of clothing isn't clean, folded and put away, guess what? Everyone will survive. There are days we just can't get to everything. Provided my children are clean, fed, get to and from school, rested and nurtured on a daily basis, I consider that day successful. There is always more to do, by necessity or by choice, but letting go of some of that on days when you know you don't have the extra energy to give will contribute towards a more peaceful atmosphere. When I am mindful of this, it benefits not only me, but also my children because I am not overly stressed to accomplish that which will surely still be there tomorrow. 

Another layer of surrender, which I try to instill in my girls, is the recognition that we can't always control our environments, and certainly cannot control the actions and behaviors of others (children or adults!), but what we can control is how we choose to react. When one of my children is hurt by something a friend did or said, I make the focus of discussion not about the other child's actions, but how best she might react because that is what she can control. When I treat someone kindly but don't get the same in return, I focus on what I can behavior...and know that even if I knew someone would not return my kindness, it would not make me less likely to extend it. 

The idea of surrender is definitely connected to yesterday's post about being present. If you are able to surrender, regardless of the chaos around you, there is "dharana," or concentration. Dharana is another of the eight limbs of yoga and suggests that the past and future are of no matter, we purely exist in the now. Whether that point of concentration is external, as in performing a yoga pose or making a meal for your family, or internal, as in meditation, we surrender to all else. Surrendering of the self is such a deep concept, one I hope to address in greater detail on the blog in the future. For now I'm going to surrender into bed amidst roughly three piles of unfolded laundry. It will still be waiting for me tomorrow!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Be Here Now

I woke up today feeling that my focus should be on staying present...and when I scrolled through my Instagram feed saw that the opening sentence of a post from one of my fave IG yogis, @kinoyoga, was "Give the gift of your full and total presence to everyone in your life, including yourself." I knew at that moment this notion would be my platform for today's post. From the minute I opened my eyes I felt like I needed to be reminded of the importance of being present and thought others could use that reminder too. And even as Kino goes on to state in her post, bringing attention to this issue is not to be critical or harsh. Life is FILLED with things to distract us. But as we tend to those distractions, life is passing us by. 

Being present is something that in modern day culture I believe can be quite difficult...but yet another mindset that has been enhanced by my yoga practice and in turn enriched my life as a mom. Women in general, and mothers especially, are natural multitaskers (by necessity), and this requirement increases that difficulty of valuing the quality in any one single moment. But I've realized that not only do I owe it to my children to give them my full attention when they need it, but I owe it to myself to stay in the moment to truly experience the fullness of life. Through leading by example, being fully engaged when I am with them, I show them that the present moments matter, whether they are telling me about their day for the third time, or suffered a bump or bruise and need a hug. My youngest asked me to watch her ride her bike this afternoon. Although I felt eager to prepare dinner and make sure homework was complete before teaching this evening, I used this as a perfect opportunity to practice what I preach to my students. I took it a step further by leaving my phone in the house rather than using the time "watching" her ride her bike to answer my day's worth of emails. It sparked a discussion with all three of my girls a half hour later about focusing our attention on what we were doing in that moment...either watch tv or draw...have a snack or do your homework...put the phones and iPads away at bedtime when it's time to sleep. The time I spent talking with them, as well as the time I spent watching my baby ride her bike, are what stayed with me for the rest of the night. I can't say I would be reflecting the same on preparing pasta and salad.

There are plenty of moments that are unpleasant or uncomfortable; moments we are eager to see pass. That is reality, but don't bypass these moments or wish them away without trying to see if there is something to be learned. Every moment has the potential to give us something: joy, peace, comfort...and on the flip side sorrow, pain, anger. Positive or negative, there stands a chance that each moment can be a guide on how to get through it should history repeat itself (as it often does). Such can be said with yoga as well. Some poses are more difficult, more uncomfortable than others and that will vary based on the individual (level of experience, strength, flexibility). But can we learn to appreciate what those moments are telling us, about our physical bodies as well as our minds. 

Like remembering to be grateful or remembering to breathe with intention, being present is easier said than done. It takes focus, concentration, discipline; all qualities which are strengthened through yoga. When I come to my mat, while I may feed off the energy of other students in the room, my practice is my own. I can use the past to track progress or check in with my body and how it's feeling, but at the end of the day all you ever have is the present. Quieting of the easily distracted, incessantly moving "monkey mind," referred to in Buddhism as "kapicitta," requires attention and awareness. In almost every Bikram-style class I teach, the reminder to remain present in the room and not allow the mind to wander comes out in my dialogue. Most often this is during savasana, "corpse pose," between the standing and floor series. It's roughly a two minute resting pose where students can reconnect to the breath and refuel the body, as well as a great opportunity for me as a teacher to encourage them to let go of their performance (free of judgment) in the standing portion of the series, and not anticipate what may be coming next in the rest of the class...or what awaits when they leave the yoga room. All any of us ever have is the moment we're in. How we choose to spend it, how we approach it mentally, is up to us. Be here now. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Gift of Greater Gratitude

I think the feeling which has overcome me most since becoming a mother is gratitude. Okay...maybe impatience...then gratitude. No other day in the year reminds me of how fortunate I am to have three beautiful daughters. Mother's Day brings a sense of gratitude that is all too easily lost in the throughs of everyday family life. Am I thinking about how grateful I am when I am preparing three different things for dinner or when a stomach virus makes a round in our house? (These are nothing compared to the challenges faced by some, by the way.) Am I in a "nurturing" mood every minute? Definitely not. But yoga has taught me to find something each day, even if it is one thing, for which to be grateful. 

Motherhood brings many gifts, but the gift of greater gratitude has definitely been influenced by my yoga practice. Coming to my mat daily serves a strong, mindful purpose to remind me of that gift. Some days it is gratitude for my physical ability to practice, others it is for the emotional comfort it provides, and still others it is for knowing that there are many less fortunate of body and mind. Those days may be the best as I set my intention and focus my healing energy and practice on someone other than myself. 

This is, in part, what I hope to teach my children as they grow and learn...and that this life is greater than themselves. Children are self-absorbed by nature. My teenage daughter thinks the world revolves around her and sees little wrong with this perspective, however tirelessly I work to contradict it (she actually corrected me just yesterday that technically the Earth spins on it's axis...not on her...but actions speak louder than words). Her happiness revolves more on what others have, whether it is the latest iPhone or greater athletic ability. I'm sure my family would not hesitate to agree that I was the same way. It's part of being thirteen! A fellow teacher (and mom) uses the phrase "cultivate an attitude of gratitude" often in her classes. This perspective can be a daily challenge to instill when you're a mom, but mindfulness of it's importance can make a bumpy road smoother. 

The second of the eight limbs of yoga are the niyamas, which focus on self-care and self-observation. One of these niyamas is contentment and gratitude, "santosa" in Sanskrit. In The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman encourages and teaches, "If we cultivate gratitude even when we are content, we strengthen that attitude in our heart-mind, like amending its soil, and make that gratitude easier to access when needed." This idea is much like I stated in my post calling for cultivation of quality breath. He adds, "Gratefulness does for our heart-mind what food does for our bodies-it nourishes our heart-mind and creates a sense of fulfillment. Slowing down, stepping back, and appreciating the little things in life creates inner happiness." (p. 182)

You don't need to be a mother (or a yogi) to find gratitude in your life. Santosa teaches us that we are all different and find joy in different ways, but the attention must be contentment with whatever that means of joy is. Are contentment and gratitude always in the foreground? Of course not...but cultivating awareness is the first step, even if is a constant challenge to maintain the recognition.  If it's the fact that you're breathing, be grateful. Then re-read yesterday's post and think about that breath again...this time with intention!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Where We All Begin

So while I've always loved to write, again the true prompt for enabling me to face my fears and insecurities, drop my guard and pick up my pen, was my yoga practice. Especially since becoming an instructor, I am often asked about the various benefits of yoga practice, both on and off the mat. As I considered writing my thoughts about it, brainstorming was so exciting!  Then I felt very overwhelmed…there is so much to share! A near panic set in when I wondered where I would even begin. That’s when I took a deep breath and realized the only place to start is at the beginning…with BREATH!

We enter this world on a breath. We also leave it on a breath. In between we average roughly 20,000 breaths per day. How many of those breaths do we really think about? Our breath is our most vital life force, referred to as “prana” in yogic philosophy. It is our greatest source of energy and vitality. Before anything else, without breath we can’t survive. But beyond basic survival there are so many gifts we can receive from our breath. Yoga has taught me that there is a quality factor associated with our breath, that if we learn how to harness and cultivate better quality breathing, we will enhance our lives on and off the mat.

All lineages of yoga begin with breath. Any class I’ve taken or taught begins with bringing conscious awareness to the breath. Whether it is utilizing a specific breathing exercise to set up a practice (as in the Bikram series), or learning how to link breath with movement (as in Ashtanga or vinyasa flow classes) realization and recognition of the power of our breath is at the forefront. On a physical level, the inhale breath contracts and strengthens the muscles, while the exhale breath allows for softening and lengthening of the muscles. Building on this principle, in general the inhale breath gathers fresh oxygen, energy and prana, nourishing the body right down to a cellular level; while the exhale breath releases toxins in the form of carbon dioxide, and tensions, not only in the physical body but also in the mind.

How many times have we thought, been told, or told our own children to “take a deep breath” when confronted with a challenging situation? It is a cliché of sorts, but channeling my own ability to breath better thanks to my yoga practice has better enabled me to not only deal with stresses in life, but also to teach my children how to breathe with purpose, enabling them to deal with their own stress.  As parents we strive to set good examples for our children and equip them with tools that will allow them to manage their lives with less stress, more peace. Your son falls off his bike and skins a knee…encouraging him to breath with intention and attention will not only calm his mind and emotions, but also enable the pain receptors in the brain to respond and maybe that boo-boo hurts just a little less.

There are breathing exercises for overcoming sleeplessness, reducing anxiety and balancing energy systems in the body, just to cite a few. Here is a basic exercise, which can be done while you sit at a red light or stand in line at the grocery store, to draw awareness and intention to the breath: inhale to a count of five, retain the breath for five, exhale for five and pause for five before taking your next inhale. Practicing deep breathing, in and out through the nose, during non-stress situations will better enable you to call upon that deep breathing when that stress arises and you really need it. Hopefully next time your daughter spills orange juice all over the counter when you’re already running late for school…you’ll remember to breathe.