Friday, June 15, 2012

Turning Inward

We truly live in a society where we can be overly stimulated by what's going on around us. There is so much to see that it can be a challenge to take it all in and process. Walk down any street in Manhattan, step into a big-box grocery store, drive down the highway and see all the billboards and signs. It's a miracle that our brains can analyze all of these stimuli.

Too often, though, we turn to these outside stimuli to bring meaning to ourselves and to our lives. We think that if we buy the product that is advertised on that billboard we will somehow become a better person. We see the neighbor next door has a new car and so we may assume that we are not good enough with the "old clunker" we already own. We also turn to outside teachers, signs, symbols, remedies, quick fixes, and more to find our true identity - to figure out who we were are, or who we want to become.

What if the answers are not necessarily "out there?" What if the answers to who you are, what you are, and why you're here are "in here?" If we turn inward, we probably can discover our truest self. Look inside yourself, rather than outside the self, to find true meaning.

The following yoga posture will be a representation of how we can do just that - sit in stillness, pride, and gratitude and turn inward. Look inside ourselves to discover our truth.


Marichi's Pose is a popular seated twisted posture. Marichi literally means "ray of light." Marichi is the son of Brahma and chief of the Maruts ("shining ones"), the war-like storm gods. He's one of the seven (sometimes 10 or 12) seers (rishis) or lords of creation (prajapatis), who intuitively "see" and declare the divine law of the universe (dharma). I think this is an appropriate pose to practice based on our intention. It is a way to intuitively see into one's self: to see your inner light.

Sit on your yoga mat with your legs straight out in front of you. Be sure you are sitting up so your spine is nice an long. Flex your feet, if you'd like, to ensure your legs are straight.

Bend your right knee, drawing your foot up toward your pelvis. Then step your foot over your left leg. Next, extend your left arm forward in front of you. With your right hand placed on the floor behind you for support (right at the base of your spine), bend your left elbow and begin to twist toward the right side of the room. Twist until you are able to "hook" your elbow on the outside of your bent knee. Inhale to lengthen your spine more. As you exhale, draw your belly button in toward your spine (creating an abdominal lock). This will create more room in your waist line as well as the ability to perhaps twist deeper into the pose. Hold the posture for at least 10 breaths.

While in this pose, imagine that you are turning inward, or looking inside of yourself. Sit in this quiet and stillness. No need to think about anything. Just focus on your breath. Allow this space you created to organically allow you to feel and experience your true self: your inner being.

Be sure to practice the pose on the other side.

Monday, June 11, 2012

We've Been Nominated!

Yoga With Intention has been nominated for Most Fascinating Blog 2012 based on the blog entry in 2011 entitled "Bring New Life To Your Routine." Please vote for us! Thank you.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Is Your Morning Routine?

A Blog Entry from Costa Rica

I've been on a yoga retreat for week here in Costa Rica at the beautiful Blue Osa Yoga Sanctuary & Spa. Every morning begins with a 5am Ashtanga Yoga Practice to greet the morning sun. The practice reminded me of having a morning ritual or routine to start the day. What is your morning routine? Do you have one?

Do you find yourself hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock several times and finally getting up at the very last minute? Then do you find yourself rushing to get out the door after throwing on some clothes, slapping some toothpaste across your teeth, gulping down a cup of coffee, and cursing every stop light as you travel to work knowing you are already going to be a few minutes late? If you start your day like this, what is the rest of the day like for you?

Starting the day like this sounds like the 50 Yard Olympic Sprinter: braced and ready at the starting line, the gun sounds, and you're off and running. A mad dash at full speed without stopping, everything a blur on either side of you, until you cross the finish line. At the end, you're out of breath. Yes, you may have reached your goal, but at what cost? You may have missed seeing your surroundings and you didn't get to spend quality time with others. You only had one thing in mind: get to the end no matter what. It takes some time to calm the body after that adrenaline rush knowing that you'll probably have to repeat this feat again and again.

How would it be for you if you could slow things down and start your day off with ease? Create a ritual or routine that sets the pace for your day. Something that is gentle, relaxing, clears the mind, and keeps you on a steady track so that you have a more fulfilling day and still reach your day's goal.

Maybe it's a yoga practice, a few stretches or Sun Salutations that gets you going. Perhaps it's your cup of coffee, but you're able to sit and enjoy the whole cup, sip by sip. Reading your favorite section of the news paper. Looking out the window or stepping outside on your front porch to greet the morning can be very simple ways to set the pace of your day.

Again, your routine can be anything you choose. Bottom line is this: make it simple and commit to it. Do it everyday. Even do it on your days off or when you're on vacation out of town. What you develop is a sense of discipline and commitment to a practice that generates a good feeling within yourself.

The toughest part, sometimes, is just getting started. The first few times of sticking to your routine may be a challenge, but keep doing it. It will only get easier. If you're a snooze-button-presser, maybe you'll need to set your alarm 10-15 minutes earlier so that you can press snooze.....BUT ONLY ONCE! Then get up and move right into your routine.

Try your new morning routine for a few days. Then try it for a week. Notice how you feel the rest of the day. This may not sound like a yoga practice with traditional poses, but an aspect of living a yoga lifestyle is called Tapas or Self-Discipline. Developing a sense of discipline can create a greater sense and acceptance of self; growing into a fuller sense of Self.

I'd love to hear how this works out for you. Respond to this blog entry or post it on my Facebook Wall ( Maybe you already have a morning routine that you'd like to share with us. Let us all know how having a morning routine, compared to not having one, makes you feel and act during your day. Maybe you have an evening routine, too. Let's hear about it.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

New (Super) Moon

A Blog Entry from Costa Rica

I write this blog entry from my quaint tropical bungalow on the sunny coast of Puerto Jiménez. It's a beautiful resort villa along the ocean in Costa Rica. The air is humid and filled with the sounds of nearby songbirds, the sites of butterflies, toucans, and accompanied by the nearby waves of the ocean rolling onto the beach. A perfect respite from the everyday routine of my busy life. I find myself moving slowly, speaking quietly, and sitting in stillness on my yoga vacation with the intention to grow anew. I want to take advantage of these quiet moments to move inside of myself. I'm here to practice presence and reconnect with nature. I come to this little piece of paradise to rejuvenate; to recharge.

I will not only take advantage of this beautiful locale, but will also immerse in the power of new moon. This is that time of the month where we can lay down the old and receive the new. As we step into this new cycle, we can take a moment to shed ourselves of what no longer serves us, to bury what is old and dead. Now is the time for rebirth and growth. The new moon this month is accompanied by a solar eclipse. The eclipse can represent the opportunity to invite new possibilities. Open your heart and mind to what is possible - open yourself up to your greatest potential. As you put to rest what is old, you can open yourself up to what is alive and new - within you.

Reclining Cobblers Pose
To take advantage of this super-charged new moon, try this simple home practice. First, sit comfortably on your mat. Perhaps have a couple of blocks or a blanket to help support your seated posture. Bring your hands to heart center, close your eyes, and bring to mind those ideas, beliefs, stressors, challenges, etc. that have laid heavy within you. As you bring these notions to mind, there is no need to add judgement to them, just notice what comes up. Your practice will involve releasing these ideas so that you can create space for Truths to emerge from within.

After a few moments of this quiet meditation, lie down on your mat. Again, support your body in any way that suits you best with your props. First lie in Savasana, then bring the bottoms of your feet together and up toward your pelvis. Your knees will fall naturally out to the side. This will create a releasing hip opening posture called Supta Baddha Konasana or Reclining Bound Angle Pose (often referred to as Reclining Cobblers Pose.) Extend your arms out to the side of you or even over your head. In this posture, you are opening the body in a way that now allows you to release those notions you thought of earlier.

The pelvic area stores a lot of emotional energy. In this pose, your hips are open. Give yourself the permission to free yourself of the emotional energy that has kept you weighed down. Likewise, with your arms extended outward, your heart space is open. As you experience release from the hip opening posture, receive and accept through your heart center. As you lie here, try this breathing exercise:

Exhale completely (breathe out through the mouth if that feels helpful). As you release the breath, imagine those no-longer-needed notions to stream out of you. Hold yourself empty for a few seconds; pause at the end of the breath. Then take a slow long inhale. Fill up your heart space with new thoughts of rejuvenation, power, energy, love, acceptance, etc. Fill yourself up with the new ideas and beliefs that will serve you better in this moment. Hold yourself full for a few seconds. Notice how the body feels as you resonate with this new life energy. Now when you exhale, experience those new thoughts, not leaving your body, but rushing internally throughout your entire being. Repeat this breath-flow by starting with an inhale to gather up any left-over no-longer-needed thoughts to release during your next exhale. Repeat this as many times as you'd like.

At the end of your yoga practice, perhaps simply lie in stillness. Notice your breath. Notice your re-charged body. Feel free to practice this anytime. You don't necessarily have to do this at the time of the new moon. Whenever you feel a need to be re-charged, moving into this pose (or a similar hip/heart opening posture) and practicing this breath can be invigorating and enlightening.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Satya: Finding Your Truth

Satya: Finding a your Truth

In my last blog entry, I talked about Ahimsa, or non-violence. This is one of the yoga principles that I use in a yoga class that I teach called Soft Flow. This week, I'd like to talk about another yoga principle called Satya. It means Truthfulness.

Satya is the second Yama. The Yamas, as described in Patanjamli's Yoga Sutras, are "the guidelines for how we interact with the outer world, the social disciplines to guide us in our relationships with others." Patanjali goes on to describe truthfulness as "to be in harmony with mind, word and action, to conduct speech and mind according to truth, to express through speech and to retain it in the intellect what has been seen, understood or heard." He proclaims that it is important that truth is expressed toward self as well as toward others. Truth is practiced in what we think, say, and do. They should all coincide with one another.

I have added another interpretation to this definition. Not only is it important to be honest and truthful in these facets, as Patanjali states. I think that it is also important to express your truest self: to be who you really are and to express it in thought, mind, and action. We cannot fully develop and be our most authentic self if we are trying to be something or someone else. If we are always wearing masks or pretending to be something that we are not, we are not expressing our truth: we are not being honest with ourselves. We can use the yoga practice and this yoga principle to help guide us toward that Inner Truth.

I use this Yama in another yoga class that I teach called Hot Vinyasa. In a yoga studio that is just over 100 degrees, I ask my students to seek their truth; to explore and discover who they really are, then learn to express it. The vinyasa takes us through a themed-oriented class that challenges us to explore, for example, Opening Our Hearts, Creating A Strong Foundation, Creating Balance, Cleansing & Healing, Supporting Yourself, just to name a few.

Although the Hot Vinyasa is a 1-hour flowing class, one can practice and experience Satya anytime....anywhere. Even in stillness, one can discover the authentic Self. I believe that is one of the best way to discover your Truth: in quiet stillness. We are constantly bombarded by distractions, noise, obligations, responsibilities, etc. It can be a challenge to find time to really work on ourselves when we are being drawn to other things that need our attention. If you can take a few minutes, which is one of the intentions of this blog, to sit in quiet stillness, you can begin that process of exploring, finding, living, and experiencing YOUR TRUTH.

Take a moment now, and sit on your yoga mat (or even a comfortable chair.) Be sure that there is no one else around, your phone is off, the television is off, and there are NO other distractions. Set aside THREE minutes! Yes, just three minutes (set a timer if you have to.) Just sit with breath. You really don't have to think about anything. You don't have to do anything. It's just an opportunity for your body and mind to rest, to come to ease and silence. This is a good beginning to finding Satya because THIS IS your true nature: to be in stillness WITH SELF in order to SEE SELF.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Be Kind & Gentle to Yourself

Be Kind & Gentle to Yourself

I teach a class called Soft Flow at my local yoga studio. It's one of my favorite classes to teach because it gives me a break (as well as the students) from the "hardcore" nature of Power Vinyasa Yoga. The intention of my Soft Flow class is to move slowly with intention through each pose. To be mindful of your body, mind, and spirit. To take the time to notice sensations in your body. To move with gentleness, kindness, and love.

The idea comes from the Yamas and Niyamas which are yoga's ten ethical guidelines that make up the first two limbs of the Yoga's eight-limb path. These principles help you to take ownership of your life and direct it towards the fulfillment that you seek for yourself. The Yamas, as described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are "the guidelines for how we interact with the outer world, the social disciplines to guide us in our relationships with others." He further states that these "great universal vows....are not limited by either class, creed, time, or circumstance."

When I teach Soft Flow, the yoga principle in mind is the first Yama which is called Ahimsa which means non-violence. I also like to define that as being gentle, kind, and loving to yourself and others. Ahimsa is the awareness and practice of non-violence in thought, speech, and action. It advocates the practices of compassion, love, understanding, patience, self-love, and worthiness. I consider these deep and important aspects of our relationships with ourselves and others. So, in the Soft Flow practice, we move slowly yet deeply into poses to understand and experience sensation. We move slowly to find that depth without pushing or forcing our bodies into yoga postures. The intention is to move with kindness and gentleness to experience that depth of feeling. When we practice that kindness toward ourselves, we then can practice that same love and appreciation toward others. Moving this slowly, also, allows us to pay attention to ourselves more carefully. We can be more fully aware of how we move and think, how we treat ourselves, how we manage life circumstances when things get challenging. The practice teaches us to slow down in general. To be more mindful of the breath and how it supports us and guides us. The breath helps us to move and to be still. We do a lot of moving, so the Soft Flow practice reminds us to slow down, to relax, to stop.

So, for your home practice, I invite you to choose a pose or short yoga sequence and move through it very slowly. Pay close attention to your breath and how you feel in the pose. If it is a pose that allows you to move deeper into it (e.g. Triangle Pose, Wheel Pose, Side Angle Pose, etc.) start with a modified version of the posture then over time and several breaths move deeper into the posture. Be mindful that you can take your time to move into your own personal depth. Listen to your breath and listen to your body. With each exhale, imagine that you are creating space within your body. As you open up, perhaps accept the invitation to move into that new space. If space does not open, then do not force your body into the pose. Simply stay where you are and breathe. Accept the moment. Be in the moment. By listening and staying in tuned in this way, you are treating yourself with kindness and love: Ahimsa.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Vinyasa: Breath & Movement

I think David Swenson describes Vinyasa best in his book entitled Ashtanga Yoga The Practice Manual:
"Vinyasa is the unique linking of one asana to the next in a serpentine flow. It is more than a simple set of physical maneuvers. It is a dynamic marriage of our internal and external worlds. Vinyasa is an outward expression of the subtle movement of life force. It is a manifestation of prana. Vinyasa orchestrates balance. A balance of strength and flexibility, lightness and heaviness, movement and stillness. Through vinyasa one may know the vibration of life. The two actions converge to create a symphony of seamless unity. Each action encourages the other. They exist as one. The mind is then set free and the practice may become a rhythmic dance."

When I read this, I am reminded of the simple definition of yoga itself: the union of opposites. When we practice vinyasa yoga, we create the balance of opposites within ourselves. We are reminded of the wholeness of ourselves: the strengths AND weaknesses, the successes AND failures, the peaks AND valleys. We are holistic beings that have the capacity to experience many things.

In the yoga flow, we keep these energies in motion. We give ourselves the permission to feel. Rather than pushing aside unwanted emotions or ignoring the unpleasant feelings, yoga holds us in a safe place to experience our true, authentic and whole selves.

Have you ever felt you had to hide a part of yourself? Perhaps a side of self that you think would not be accepted by others? Because I am a yogi, I think people expect me to always be happy, light, caring, giving. A person that eats vegetarian meals everyday, chants and meditates daily, and drinks green tea. If these characteristics were true, this would not describe my whole being. Sometimes I am tired, sad, lazy, selfish, and angry. I would hardly call myself a vegetarian! I like vegetarian (and vegan) meals, but I'm also a meat eater! I drink tea, coffee, juice, water, and an occasional soda. This would better describe who I am.

Yoga has helped me to allow these multi-level aspects of myself to flow together. I am not one or the other, but all things. Vinyasa teaches us to flow from pose to pose using the breath. Breath is the key. It is the foundation of the yoga practice and threads our movements together; it threads our existing moments together. Without this discipline, I believe I would feel disjointed, half of a person, and not my fullest self. Vinyasa Yoga bridges these gaps so that I am a united Being accepting all parts of myself. Here is how you can practice.

The Sun Salutation is a basic and familiar Vinyasa Yoga Flow. Go through the B Series (the poses are listed below) and move from pose to pose with an intentional focus on the breath moving your body. David Swenson goes on to say in his description, "there is a joy in developing our physical bodies, yet to discover vinyasa's magic we must explore the breath simultaneously. When this marriage is successfully achieved, the action becomes one of spirit and the physical practice acts as a conduit for a deeper exploration of our core identity."

Bring vinyasa into your yoga practice and into your life. Experience the marriage of breath and movement.


Sun Salutation Series B
Mountain Pose
Chair Pose
Forward Fold
Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Upward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog
Warrior I (right side)
Vinaysa Flow (Chaturanga, Updog, Downdog)
Warrior I (left side)
Vinyasa Flow
Forward Fold
Chair Pose
Mountain Pose

Friday, March 16, 2012

Internal Power

For the past few blog entires, I have talked about the elements in the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series: Drishti = your gaze. Ujjayi = yogic breath. This entry will focus on the Bandhas.

The Bandhas, or locks, refer to the regulation of energy flow, or pranic flow, in the body. When the locks are engaged, it regulates blood flow and energy in the body to centralized locations to bring more energy to the entire body. I like to think of it as a way to charge up the body; to fully experience this life force (Prana) in the body, and to use this energy for a productive and healthy way of living. There are three main locks used in the Ashtanga practice: Mulabandha (The Root Lock), Uddiyana Bandha (The Abdominal Lock), and Jalandhara Bandha (The Throat Lock). I will discuss the second lock.

Uddiyana Bandha means flying upward and is engaged primarily when you exhale. As you release breath, you draw the bellybutton in toward the spine and up to contract the abdominal muscles. Focusing on this area of the body also brings energy to your Third Chakra (Solar Plexis) which I believe is your Power Center. This is your core: you place of power, strength, movement, drive, action, and energy. When we bring attention and awareness to this area of the body, we feel charged up, ready for action, ready to move forward. Engaging the abdominal lock allows us to feel physically strong. It is a way to brace the body when we are ready to take on challenges.

Have you ever felt a lack of motivation or drive when you knew you needed to move forward with a task? Sometimes it's hard to stir up that energy to take action. Perhaps a re-charge to the Third Chakra can help.

Boat Pose
Boat Pose is a great posture to experience that surge of energy running into your core center. Start by sitting on your yoga mat with your legs extended out in front of you. Bend the knees slightly so your heels are on the mat. Hold onto the backs of your legs with your hands. Gently lean back so your heels lift off the floor. Continue to hold onto your legs as a way to lift yourself up to extend your spine. Inhale as you lift yourself up. To engage the abdominal lock, exhale strongly (perhaps even through your mouth to expel all the breath) and pull your bellybutton in towards your spine. You may feel your abdominal muscles contract. Continue this breathing routine to further engage your core. After a few breaths, you may be able to release your legs and extend your arms and hands forward. Hold for another 5-10 breaths before you relax.

This is one way to experience Uddiyana Bandha. The sensation brings pranic power and energy to the center of your body. You can also practice this lock in other more commonplace situations like sitting or walking. You don't need to breathe as strongly or as loudly in those cases, but you can engage the abdominal lock when you're sitting at your office desk. Allow a surge of power rush through you when you're meeting deadlines on the job. Engage the lock when you're walking down the street. You'll find that you stand more upright, your posture is improved, and you exude a sense of confidence.

One last note: if you're looking to get six-pack abs for the summer, practicing Uddiyana Bandha can help develop your rectus abdominus muscles, too!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ujjayi Breath: Come Back To Self

If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I refer to the Breath quite often. I consider it the foundation of any yoga practice. If you choose to meditate, go to a Bikram class, study Kundalini, or try other forms of yoga, you're going to focus on the breath.

That is certainly true in the Ashtanga Primary Series. As mentioned in the previous blog, there are four main elements in the historic Ashtanga practice: Ujjayi Breath, the Bandhas, Vinyasa, and Drishti. Here We will focus on the breath. Ujjayi is a special form of breathing that brings energy, power, and movement while practicing yoga. The idea is to create a flow and a rhythm in the body that is almost meditative that keeps you focused and in the present moment while you move through the Ashtanga Vinyasa postures. Here is another description of how you can engage the Ujjayi Breath.

Sit comfortably on your yoga mat. (Actually, you can practice this way of breathing ANYWHERE! Try practicing while sitting upright at the dinner table, at your office desk, or even at a stop light in your car.) If you're new to the breath, try this. Open your mouth slightly and take a deep breath in through the mouth. You may experience a coolness hit the back of your throat. Now exhale through your mouth as if you're fogging a mirror. Notice that you are using the muscles of your throat to give energy to the breath. Now, continue breathing this way, but close your mouth. Air will continue to move in and out of your nose, but the action and energy of the breath will come form the muscles in the back of your mouth. The sound of the breath has been described in many ways: wind in the trees, the waves of an ocean, and even resembling the breathing of Darth Vader!

One wants to create this Ujjayi Sound. The sound is like a mantra that the mind can settle into without being distracted by other thoughts. If you lose the connection with the breath, you may lose the connection to Self. Learn to listen to the breath. It keeps you in the moment. The breath is an important element in the Ashtanga Yoga practice because the practice itself is so physical in nature. One can easily think that practicing yoga is JUST a physical exercise. Yoga is more than that. The Ashtanga method teaches us to be mindful of ourselves and to stay focused so that it becomes more than just a physical practice. Yoga's intention is to be a holistic experience. Yoga means union; a union of the body, mind, and spirit.

So if you practice Ashtanga Yoga or Kundalini Yoga, you're going to rely on the breath as a foundational resource. Realize, too, that the breathing is something you do ALL the time (obviously.) We tend to forget, though, that we're breathing. We become distracted by the outside world. Taking a moment in stillness, or even in movement, you can focus on your breathing as a way to come back to Self. Try it right now. It only takes a few seconds. See? Now you've done yoga.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Drishti: Looking Out. Looking In.

With so much going on around us, it can be so easy to become distracted. It can be a challenge sometimes to focus on one thing when there are hundreds of thoughts running through your head and so many things going on outside of ourselves. It can be overwhelming at times. I often think how hard it can be just going to the grocery store and trying to pick out a cereal. Have you seen how many cereal brands and types there are? Try picking out a toothpaste! Oh my! Even trying to decide on a cereal or toothpaste can be such an overwhelming experience that it is just easier to walk away. But this just doesn't happen in the grocery store. What about in other parts of our lives? Think about the many distractions that you face on a daily bases. How does one focus and calm the mind?

In the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Practice, there are four main elements to be aware of: Ujjayi Breath, the Bandhas, Vinyasa, and Drishti. For the next four blog entries, I will focus on these elements. This week I will discuss on the last one: Drishti. Drishti refers to your gaze or focus. In one aspect of the gaze, you are physically looking outward, but the real looking is internally: to go inside of yourself. This inward gaze creates a stronger and deeper connection with yourself. The drishti is designed to bring balance to your internal and external practice. Externally, when you are in a yoga pose, your gaze can simply follow the stretch. Let's try this pose.....

Extended Side Angle Pose
Come to a Warrior Two pose with your right foot/hand forward. To move into the Extended Side Angle Pose, start reaching out toward the wall in front of you. This will create an angled upper body. (Try to keep the lower part of the body stable so that you do not collapse into your knee or hip.) When you cannot extended any further, lower your right hand toward the floor and reach your left hand toward the ceiling. (The right hand does not necessarily need to touch the floor. The fingertips and can just reach down toward the floor. You want to keep your heart open to the left side of the room.) Turn your gaze upward and look at your left hand. This is your drishti.

Now, although you are looking up at your fingers, allow the gaze to look past your fingers...toward the ceiling, toward the sky, toward the heavens. This distant gazing practice is really a meditative practice that keeps you focused and in the moment. While in the posture, the internal gazing may be about your awareness of your breath, or noticing if there is any tension in the body. (After you do the right side of this pose, feel free to do the other side.)

There are nine drishti points you can use while practicing yoga: tip of the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, hand, toes, far to the right, far to the left, thumbs, sky. Again, these are physical places to set your eyes, but the main idea is to look inward. It can be an effective practice to calm and still the mind when we are faced with the many external distractions. Try adding drishtis to your next yoga practice this week.

Next blog entry will focus on Ujjayi Breath.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sydney's Resilience

I learned a very valuable lesson from my dog this week: resilience. My youngest puppy....well, I really can't call him a puppy. He's going to be 14 years old this year. My youngest dog, Sydney, had a very trying experience. He developed an infection in one of his eyes. Without going into the gory details, that infection, in just a matter of hours, ended up creating a hole in his cornea, thereby leaving him with no site in that eye. He had to undergo surgery to remove the eye entirely. He is home now recovering from his ordeal.

While going through this traumatic experience, not once did Sydney show any signs of remorse, grief, or agony. Although is was a bit lethargic after his surgery, he continued to persevere and get stronger by the hour. He seemed to simply accept what was happening. If you re-read what what I wrote above, I used words like "gory," "ordeal," and "traumatic." Those are MY words. If Sydney could speak, I don't believe he would use these words at all. He just looked up at me with his one eye and solemn face and seemed to say to me, "I'm going to be ok. Don't worry. I'm still here. What done is done. Let's move forward." Thank you, Sydney.

So, I sit in gratitude with my resilient Miniature Pincher. Sometimes we just need to take a moment and be grateful for all that we have: our healthy, out family, our job. Don't dwell too much about the past. Accept what IS. Move forward with strength and determination. I invite you, therefore, to just sit for your home yoga practice. Sit (in Easy Pose or a simple cross-legged position), close your eyes, and recall all that you have, all that you are. Be grateful for the moment. Be IN the moment. Be with your Breath. BE the Breath. Life is too short to get stuck in the worry and concern. Take it from Sydney, even in the darkest moments, there is still light.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Wring It Out!

Ever have those weeks where you are just absolutely filled to the rim? You've done SO much during the week that you feel like you can just burst! There's been business meetings, taking the kids to basketball practice, PTA meetings, committee deadlines, grocery shopping, eye doctor appointment, working out at the gym. Shall I go on? The list grows and grows. It can seem endless sometimes. So, what are you doing about it? These things really can't go to the wayside. You can't always call out, "Calgon! Take me away!" (I just tried it, and I wasn't whisked away to a hot bubble bath with rose petals and soft lighting.)

Well, since we cannot always escape the daily grind, at least we can take a few minutes of the day to release some of the tensions that can build up due to heavy schedules. The pose this week will feature a twisting posture: Revolving Triangle. I like the idea of twisting postures. When I teach them, I have my students imagine they are a wet sponge: full, dense, and heavy. In order to be rid of that excess water, one needs to wring out that sponge. We can do the same with our bodies.

Revolving Triangle
Start in Mountain Pose. Set your intention here. Take some deep cleansing breaths to bring your body and mind to the present moment. Also, think a bit about the fullness you've experienced the last few days and the desire to release some (or all) of that heaviness.

Step your right foot forward on your yoga mat. See how wide you can take your feet. See if they can move relatively close to the edges of your mat. Have your right foot pointing directly forward on your mat while the back foot is more at a comfortable angle so the entire foot is planted on the mat. Make sure both legs are straight. Place your hands on your hips and be aware of the alignment of your hips.

Now, while holding onto your hips, imagine you're holding onto a big pitcher of water that you're ready to pour. Tip the pelvis so that the right hip drops and the left hip lifts as if you're pouring water out of the pitcher down your right leg. Tip as far as you can go while maintaining a nice alignment in the hips. (The right leg should remain straight.) You may begin to experience a stretching sensation in your right hamstring. Allow the torso to match the angle you've created in the tipped pelvis. Now, extend the right hand toward the floor (it doesn't have to touch the floor; perhaps the hand rests on the inside of your leg) and reach your left hand toward the ceiling. You are now in Extended Triangle Pose. Now we are ready to wring it out!

As you exhale, rotate your torso, maintaining an extended spine, so that your left hand is now reaching down toward the floor and your right hand extends up toward the ceiling. This is a challenging yoga pose, but very effective. (If you need a block to place your hand on, please use one.) In this pose, you're not only experiencing the twist in the abdominal region, but also you're gaining flexibility in your hips, legs, and spine. Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. When you're done, carefully unwind and return to Mountain Pose and prepare to repeat the pose on the other side.

Remember, while holding this posture, think about that wet sponge that you are now wringing out. It may take several breaths (particularly the exhales) to move into this pose deeply and to wring out the sponge completely. When you return to a neutral posture, experience the lightness in your body - having released some of the tension and heaviness your body has been holding onto. The Revolving Triangle Pose can be your own Calgon experience!


Friday, February 3, 2012

Celebrate Your Victories

In my yoga classes this week, I have been teaching a pose that I've been calling "Victorious Warrior." It's not a real yoga pose, but it's a posture that helps generate strength and stability in your core. I combined the posture with the concept of Ujjayi Breathing. Ujjayi means "victorious" in Sanskrit. The idea of the yoga sessions was to find and experience the victories in your life.

That can be the intention for your home yoga practice this week: to take a moment and call to mind your personal successes and victories that you've experienced this week. Be proud of the moments when you made great achievements. Give yourself a pat on the back for accomplishing something you've been working on. Celebrate!

Ujjayi Breathing
Start in Mountain Pose. Be sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor with your toes pointing directly forward with your feet about hip-distant apart. This will establish a strong foundation. Stand tall with strong legs and extended spine. Feel the energy rising up through your body through the crown of your head. Just standing here can give you a sense of feeling victorious. Mountain Pose can help you feel majestic, proud, and confident.

Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Breathe slowly and deeply. Use the muscles of the throat to engage the Ujjayi Breath. With each inhale, experience how the breath rises high into the chest, expanding the lungs, chest, and opening the heart. Maintain this vibrant, intentional breath by engaging the abdominal lock (i.e. draw the belly button in toward your spine.) This will allow the breath to remain high in the chest space rather than "falling down" into the belly. This way of breathing creates that uplifting, victorious sensation in your body. Take 10-15 breaths here. Celebrate the stillness, celebrate your victories, celebrate the moment.

Victorious Warrior
As mentioned, their really is no such thing as Victorious Warrior, but a variation of Warrior II and Side Angle Pose combined that generates strength and stability in the core body.

Come to Warrior II. Start with you right foot forward. Bend that leg so it is just about 90 degrees. The back leg is straight with the foot firmly connected to the mat. Be sure your right knee is stacked directly over (or slightly behind) the right ankle. The arms are extended out to the side (with hands reaching toward the front and back of the room.) Engage your core by scooping the pelvis under so that your tailbone is pointing toward the floor. By tilting the pelvis in this manner, you create more opening and alignment in the hips, a release in the low back, and an engaged low abdominal region. Hold this posture for a few breaths with some emphasis on the exhale so you are able to hold the posture. Experience the energy and strength generated in this pose so far.

Now, keep your right hand right where it is while reaching the left hand up over your head. The upper body will shift a bit toward the front knee creating a 45 degree angle with the floor. Be careful NOT to shift the lower body too much. It's just an upper body movement. If you shift too much energy into the front knee, you might experience a release of the core engagement. For this particular pose, you want to remain strong and connected to the core system. Keep the arms extended and even form a "V-shape" with the arms (turn your hands so your palms are facing each other.) This is what I call Victorious Warrior. The longer you hold this position, the more intense it may feel. Here, be reminded of your inner strength that it took to meet your goals, to be successful, to be victorious. If you can, hold for 5-10 breaths. Return to Warrior II, then do the other side.

By practicing these two yoga poses, we can be reminded that it can take great effort to achieve our goals. And once the goals have been met, you have every reason to celebrate.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Your Entire Power (Part 2)

In the last blog entry, I introduced to you Downward Facing Dog. It is a great pose that allows you to experience your fullest potential and power. You are able to experience physical power as well as emotional and mental power from practicing this pose.

This week, let's step it up a bit. We are going to take Downward Facing Dog to a new level to really test your power and strength physically, emotionally, and mentally. The pose this week is called "Turbo Dog." It is a term and pose borrowed from Forrest Yoga.

"Ana Forrest has been changing people’s lives for nearly 40 years. An internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing, Ana created Forrest Yoga while working through her own healing from her life’s trauma and experience. With thousands of licensed practitioners around the world, Forrest Yoga is renowned as an intensely physical, internally focused practice that emphasizes how to carry a transformative experience off the mat and into daily life." (Taken from

The pose really embodies what Forrest Yoga is all about. We have the power and strength within us to sustain what life hands us. When life is demanding, we must remember that we DO have the resources within us to make it through the toughest moments.

Turbo Dog
Start on your hands and knees on your yoga mat. Set your intention here. Perhaps think of situations that are more challenging than your typical situations. In these moments, we are often needing relief or strength to get us through. The circumstance can sometimes feel so overwhelming that it feels like it will never end. Can you possibly endure this? YES you can. You DO have the strength and power to survive even the most challenging of life's moments.

Move your hands forward a bit on your mat, come up onto your toes, then move your hips up and back toward the wall behind you until you have come to Downward Facing Dog. We already know that this posture helps us to tap into our entire power and strength. Now, let's take it further.

Begin to bend your elbows as if you're going to place them on the floor. But don't place them on the mat! Bend them enough so you are just hovering over your mat. To bring more stability to the pose, imagine you are holding onto a block between your elbows that you cannot drop. Or even imagine you're holding onto a beach ball between your arms. This moving in toward your center creates great strength and stability in the posture. Whenever we move toward the midline - the spine - we experience greater control, self-assurance, confidence, balance, and strength.

Be sure that your breath is also strong and allow it to help you maintain the posture. Focus on the exhale: as you release the breath, engage your Abdominal Lock (Uddiyana Bandha - oo-dee-YAH-nah BAHN-dah
uddiyana = upward (ud = "up, upwards")
bandha = binding, tying a bond, fetter; putting together, uniting, contracting, combining; mundane bondage, attachment to this world.) This connection further taps you into your inner resources needed to hold in stillness in this pose. As you are able, hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. Finish by lightly resting your elbows on the floor then come to Child's Pose.

Coming to this resting posture is a reminder, also, of the necessary rest after something very strenuous. It is the time to take care of yourself after enduring strain and stress on the body. Yes, you have the strength to endure, but you also have the strength to nurture. That is the balance we all want to achieve.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Your Entire Power (Part 1)

Downward Facing Dog is a very popular yoga pose. It is seen and performed while flowing through the Sun Salutations. It is a great pose because it physically stimulates the entire body. I would add that it provides strength to the entire body.

The posture, as said, is typically done while moving through a yoga sequence, but the pose itself can be done as an entire practice.

So what intention can we bring to this pose? Since "Down Dog" works and brings power to the entire body, how about set your intention as experiencing the fullness of your own power and strength.

Sometimes when we workout at the gym, for example, we work specific parts of the body: the arms, the legs, the chest, etc. How about doing ONE pose that works EVERY part of your body. Step into this pose acknowledging ALL of your power and strength. Remind yourself that this energetic power flows through your entire body. It doesn't necessarily have to settle in one place. Why not be strong in your entirety. As you come to Downward Facing Dog, remember that energy.

Because it is an inversion pose (your hands are on the floor and your head is pointing down toward the floor) we build strength in the hands, arms, shoulders, and back. You build core strength, flexibility in your legs, feet, and toes.

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Start on your hands and knees. Here, set your intention of finding and feeling the fullness of your entire strength. Move the hands forward a bit on your mat. Be sure to make a full and strong connection to the mat with your hands. Spread out your fingers, grip the mat with your fingertips, and press more toward your inner palms so that not too much pressure moves to the outer wrists (potentially causing harm.)

Come up on your toes, and while keeping the knees bent, lift your hips up and back toward the wall behind you. As you make this transition, you will be lengthening through your spine (one of the physical intentions of this pose.) Feel free to keep the knees slightly bent. That will allow you to have mobility in your hips and push them farther back toward the wall behind you further extending your spine. At the same time, press your hands into the floor as if you're trying to push the floor away from you. This will provide more length as well as bring opening to the shoulders and chest.

While in the pose, feel the inner arms move toward one another. This draws your strength and stability inward. If you start to feel you elbows bend and move AWAY from you, or even feel yourself roll to your outer wrists, you may experience a loss of that powerful connection. I often say in class "hug in toward your midline." Your spine is the middle of your body - your midline. If you continue to move energy toward this midline, you develop and maintain your strength.
As mentioned, it is ok to keep you knees slightly bent, but you can also begin to press your heels down toward the floor. You may experience a nice stretch and lengthening feeling in your calves. Yes, the legs can be absolutely straight in this pose, but just be careful that lengthening the legs does not compromise the extended spine you've created in the pose.

Hold the pose for at least 10 breaths. Feel your power. Feel your strength. Yes! It takes EFFORT to hold this pose. But as you stay in sensation - stay in the pose - you DO BUILD POWER!

Once you are done, slowly return your knees to the floor and sit back into Child's Pose. Here, reflect on the fullness of your Self - the Fullness of your Being.

Next time, we'll focus on a variation of Downward Facing Dog: "Turbo Dog."


Friday, January 13, 2012


Do you by chance have a Manduka Yoga Mat? Did you know that Manduka means Frog? And there's even a yoga posture called Manukasana! This will be the focus of my blog entry this week.

So why Frog Posture? Well, in my classes this past week, we've been working on hip openers and lengthening tight hamstrings. Lots of my students complain about being inflexible particularly in their hips and hamstrings. Mandukasana is a great pose to work the inner thighs and it really opens up the hips. It's intense, but quite effective if you are wanting to create a deeper release in this part of the body. It is a great compliment to other hip openers like Warrior II, Side Angle Pose, and Bound Angle Pose (Cobbler's Pose). Try Frog Posture to bring depth to your practice.

Here's an intention that you might want to explore while performing this pose. As mentioned, this is a deep and intense posture. If you're wanting to advance in your own yoga practice or even in your everyday life, this is the type of pose to practice. If you're feeling complacent or even a bit stagnant in your life journey, again, this pose can be a wonderful way to take that next step. It's a way to see that you DO have the strength, tenacity, and ability to move forward to reach your personal goals.

Mandukasana (Frog Posture)
Start by coming to your hands and knees on your (Manduka) mat. Here is where you might want to set your personal intention. Because this is an intense pose (and adds great sensation to the knees and inner thighs) you may want to turn sideways on your mat and fold in the ends toward the center so that you have extra padding for your knees.

From here, begin to slowly walk your knees away from your center. Allow your ankles to follow directly behind your knees. You will keep moving the knees and ankles outward until you begin to experience the deep stretch in the inner thighs. Also, your knees will be in directly alignment with your hips. Be sure that your hips are not too far forward, past your knees or too far back, behind the knees. Your bent legs (that will now resemble frogs' legs) will maintain a right angle throughout the posture. (Refer to the picture.)

Your pelvis may not touch the floor, nor does it have to. You will feel the intensity of the posture even before getting close to the ground! Move to a place where you feel the depth of your pose. Hold here and breathe. Take mindful intentional breaths. Allow the breath to guide you deeper into the posture if you desire or to simple hold you in the pose. There is no need to push or force yourself into the pose for risk of injury. As you hold the posture and experience the sensation, just remind yourself that you are safe, secure, strong, solid, and able to be here in this new place. It can be difficult at times when we are off the mat to step into the things that might seem challenging or scary. Remember your resources: You ARE strong. You ARE tenacious. You ARE able to pursue AND achieve the goals you desire.

Hold Frog Posture for at least 15 breaths. Stay in the intensity. When you are ready to move out of the posture, move slowly. Start by bringing your feet together behind you. Push your hands into the floor to help relieve the pressure in your inner thighs. Slowly walk your knees back together. Sit back on your heels (Hero Pose), sit up tall, and take a few more breaths as the body continues to find relief from this intense inner thigh stretch. Not only will you gain more flexibility in your inner thighs with this pose, but you'll find that you can withstand new challenges that come your way.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Practice Having A Good Day on the Mat

I had a pretty full schedule this week. Many classes, meetings, and other obligations seemed to occupy my time most days, But, you know what? I have no complaints because everything ran smoothly. I never felt overwhelmed or exhausted. Things just seemed to get done with an evenness and a sense of calm. It made for a very productive week. Definitely a positive in my book. So, how did I do it?

I thought of my busy week like a full and challenging yoga class sequence. The body is in constant motion, but every pose was achieved with the support and flow of the breath. Breath is the key to make the yoga poses strong, stable, and endured throughout the entire practice, no matter how difficult the sequencing may be. I then can take that achievement off the yoga mat and apply to my real life. Weekly schedules can be demanding and overwhelming at times, but if you pace yourself - perhaps with the support of the breath - things just seem to move more fluidly. Try it.

Take the Sun Salutation to practice fluid movement. With it, you can find your steady, even flow. Below is the complete A Series of the Sun Salutation. But try going through it like you would a busy day: appointment after appointment; more things tagged onto the tail-end of an already busy day.

Do one pose. Hold it for 5-10 breaths. Repeat the entire sequence from the beginning, flowing from pose to pose, until you come to the new pose that you would hold for 5-10 breaths. Then start over again from the beginning and just keep adding on the new posture. Allow the breath to be your support as you fluidly flow through your practice.

Mountain Pose
Extended Mountain Pose
Swan Dive to Forward Fold
Spinal Extension or Monkey Pose
Jump or step back to Plank Pose
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)
Upward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog
Jump or step back up to Forward Fold
Chair Pose or Powerful Pose
Extended Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose

The yoga practice is just that....a practice. It allows us to practice what we do in our everyday lives. If you need to "practice" having a smooth, productive day, do yoga. If you need to "practice" moving more slowly and being more patient, do yoga.

Give us your feedback after you've tried this and the other yoga practices from this blog.