Crushing Hard? 5 Ways to Make Yoga Your Bae

It happens all the time. As if by fate, a new student wanders into a yoga class and then leaves with that starry-eyed, high-on-life, post-yoga glow. Her heart is beating, face flushed, and she wonders exactly what just hit her. She develops a serious crush on yoga. Suddenly, she can’t get enough. She evangelizes to all of her friends, buys a new mat, and hums kirtan in the shower. The stars have aligned and all the signs point to the fact that this crush is transforming into L-O-V-E, and then… she ghosts. Sound familiar?

 

To all my commitment-phobe friends, I have a secret… Yoga, unlike that dude you intensely dated for awhile and then got bored with, is still there waiting for you with open arms. Yoga can be an ever-evolving, ever-deepening, life-long commitment. Til death do we part. As a married woman, I can’t help but draw parallels between my commitment to yoga and my devotion to my marriage. I believe that similar strategies can be used to keep the magic alive.

 

Crushing hard? Here are five ways to make yoga your bae:

 

1. Communication is KEY.

Be honest with yourself. What brings you to your mat and what keeps you from your mat? Are there feelings that arise that you don’t want to confront? Would you rather bingewatch Netflix than spend quiet time with yourself? Are you substituting healthy habits and coping mechanisms with unhealthy ones? Are you not seeking the support you need to to carve the space and time to prioritize YOU? Get it all out in the open with yourself and then explore what you can do to initiate positive change.

 

2. Never take it for granted.

The benefits of yoga are immense. It helps you feel more free in body, mind, emotion, and spirit. You feel more calm, more energized, and more centered. In the beginning of your yoga fling these advantages are so obvious. It’s like Dorothy crashing into Oz and suddenly everything is in color. But when yoga starts becoming a regular fixture in your life, and zenned-out is your new normal, it can be easy to start taking it for granted and forget you were once trapped in a black and white world. Which brings me to my next point…

 

3. Mix it up.

Maybe it’s time you and yoga became a little more adventurous together. Feeling stagnant in your vinyasa practice? Go to kundalini! Need to flip your perspective? Learn to invert! Feeling restless in meditation? Why not try kirtan? There are seemingly infinite paths of yoga available to you in this miracle of a modern world. How can you be bored when there are so many new things to try?

 

4. Roll with it.

Like any long-term relationship, you and yoga will have your ups and downs. There will be days, weeks, or months where you’re high, committed, and feeling that ever elusive “progress”. There will be times of stagnation and there will be downright lows. This, you cannot change… but you can change your mindset. What if through every victory, every breakthrough, every injury, and every lull, you remained curious, disciplined, compassionate, and non-attached? What if, instead of swimming against the current and giving up, you learned how to ride the waves?

 

5. Go Deep.

On a surface-level relationship with yoga? Maybe it’s time to go deeper. Did you know that yoga isn’t just posing on a mat but an entire system of ethics, practices, and an actual path to freaking enlightenment? It goes DEEP. There is always more to learn and explore. The information is out there. You just have to be brave enough and curious enough to shed whatever is keeping you from being truly vulnerable, connected, and willing to bear your soul.

Long-term relationships are an opportunity to grow in ways you never would have imagined. A true commitment from a supportive partner or practice can reveal, reflect,  and cultivate the beauty and light that truly shines inside of you. Namaste, my friends… I now pronounce you yoga-married!

 

More ideas on how to keep the magic alive? Comment below!

 

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An Intentional 2017

I love New Year’s. Really, I love any time that symbolizes a fresh start and new hope: births, new moons, the first day of school, weddings, and stepping onto the mat for a new yoga practice. The power of a New Year is that it is a time for collective reflection and intention setting. We’re all in this together.

Many people found 2016 to be cursed, the start of the end of the world even. For me on a personal level, though, it was a whirlwind and truly one of the best years of my life. I traveled internationally four times to teach yoga retreats, renovated and opened a new home for Karma Tribe Yoga, taught the biggest yoga class of my life thus far, welcomed a new baby nephew into the family, traveled multiple times to see family and friends, and made decisions and commitments that are already filling 2017 with potential and excitement.

To be honest, that big bang level of expansion comes at a cost. I’m an introvert, naturally a little disorganized, need time for quiet and digestion, and quietly manage long-term anxiety and depression. In 2016 I dealt with the stress not only with my pals yoga and meditation, but with more unhealthy coping mechanisms of eating and drinking. I gained about 10 pounds and started feeling unhealthy and awkward in my body and unsteady in my mind. I realize to some people, 10 pounds doesn’t seem like that much, but this isn’t about a number, but a feeling.

Being a little disorganized, I let the priority of eating healthy meals at regular times slip. I started eating whatever I could whenever there was time. Traveling made this difficult as well, having to shift from my right-for-me plant-based diet to vegetarian and then carrying that habit home. This made it pretty difficult to regulate my energy. I’d have days where I’m on top of the world, kicking ass, and days where I didn’t want to get out of bed.

I also fell into a habit that I now recognize as unhealthy with drinking alcohol. It became normal to come home several nights a week, watch tv, and have 1-3 drinks while eating something like greasy pizza to relax and prepare for bed or would overdo the drinking with friends socially at times. I realize I shared this habit with many people and that it doesn’t make me a lush or alcoholic. But I started to question why I felt the need to do this. One day, as I was meditating, I asked my higher-self why I drink. The answer was clear: I drink to numb my sensitivity. I didn’t like that answer, but it felt right.

A few years ago, in distress, I found a savior of a book, The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. Through reading it, I learned I am an empath and an HSP (highly sensitive person). I feel other people’s emotions very strongly and at times, mixed with my own emotions, it is quite overwhelming. Through reading this and with self-reflection, I came to realize that being HSP isn’t a curse, but a gift, and that I could harness it into my life’s work. Now it’s time to be brave enough to fully embrace my sensitivity and to truly FEEL.

Like I said before, 2017 is another BIG YEAR full of excitement and potential. I’ll be continuing to grow Karma Tribe Yoga, planning and teaching Pop-Up Yoga KC events, teaching corporate classes and privates, will be traveling around the world to complete my advanced teacher training with Frog Lotus Yoga, leading a yoga retreat in Greece, planning my own teacher training for Karma Tribe Yoga in 2018, and more big, exciting projects I’m not even allowed to talk about yet! On top of that, my wonderful, supportive, amazing husband is soon to open his very own restaurant in KC’s River Market, KC Taco Company! Did I mention it was going to be a BIG YEAR?

A big year, needs solid, clear intentions. My main word is DISCIPLINE and this is how I’ll express it:

1. Get organized!

I began this portion of my intention last year starting with Abbi Miller’s Productivity 101 workshop. That gem of a lady provided strategies on how to manage time (especially for the self-employed) in order to reach clear goals. I implemented her strategies and it’s helped lower stress and anxiety tremendously. I’m also all about planning healthy meals in advance so I don’t have to worry about food and can keep my energy levels stable. Furthermore, I started clearing away clutter in the house and plan on continuing that this year. I just watched the documentary Minimalism on Netflix, and feel re-energized to purge.

2. Tee-Totaling! (Or Tea-Totaling 🙂 )

I’ve decided to give up alcohol for 1 year. I’ll be replacing it with mass quantities of tea. I realized my tendency to want to numb out when feeling overwhelmed with my busy life, and know in my heart that if I let myself truly FEEL, I can be more powerful, more heart-centered, and more rooted than I’ve ever been before. I feel confident that I can still be social and still find loads of FUN without a numbing substance. In one year, I’ll re-examine.

3. Svadhyaya (Self-Study)

This year, I will be reading mass quantities of books! I intend to deepen my practice and teaching and already have a pile of about 10 books to tackle on subjects of mindfulness, yoga history, philosophy, and business. I also intend to take MORE time for my yoga and meditation practice. Have recommendations? Send them over!

4. Steady Pacing

I started running last year and found that when I stopped caring about how fast I was going, and slowed my pace, I was able to run much longer without stopping. Through organization, clarity, and svadhyaya, I intend to approach my life from this same slower and steadier paced idea. Last year, I was the hare. This year, a tortoise. I intend to be a little gentler with myself in an effort to be more disciplined on a daily basis. It seems like an oxymoron, but before, I’d hit it so hard that I’d reach a point of exhaustion. This year, I intend to be in more of a flow with my true energy and I believe sobriety will help with that.

Don’t forget, we’re all in this together! What are your intentions for 2017? And how will you achieve them? Comment below!

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On Practice, Surrender, and Discipline

Oftentimes, in a yoga class, you’ll hear a teacher encourage his/her students to “surrender.” As a rule, what they are asking is to release physically into poses such as reclined twist, child’s pose, and savasana… poses where a body free of tension aids in deep relaxation and pratyahara, or introspection and possibly further into meditation. I have often limited myself to this expression of “surrender”, as in “do nothing”, missing a deeply important nuance that both informs and enhances what this truly can mean.

Those who know me would generally describe me as ambitious, busy, and always creating. I have this itch inside me to serve and to grow. When working on a project, I tend to agonize over it’s outcome and that can sometimes take the joy out of the work. This can lead to an overly “playful” monkey-mind, with constant chitter-chatter and subsequent poo-flinging, my ego taking the hit. It’s similar to when I find myself trying too hard in my yoga practice, sucking all of the fun out of something I do with the intention of bringing myself peace and happiness!

Historically, working with wild fervor and agonizing over the outcome has brought me to a place where I have no other choice but to crash. Maybe I get sick, or just really fatigued. I’ll get to the point where only sleep and Netflix binging sound like plausible activities. I “surrender.” And then that binary all-or-nothing attitude leads to self-loathing.

How in the world can this be balanced out? Luckily, my handy yoga toolbox has all the answers! (Thanks to years of meditation, contemplation, and enlightenment achieved by other people 🙂 )

According to the great Patanjali’s yoga sutras, Abhyasa, or practice, must be balanced with Vairagya, or non-attachment. So let’s say I’m trying to hold my handstand for the zillionth time. Ok, I’ve practiced my form, have built strength, mentally understand the mechanics… but I still might fall! What if I still try, but let go of the image of myself having to become a yoga inversion rockstar in my head? What I can choose to do is still practice steadily, but with an intention of tranquility and non-attachment to the outcome. And when I’ve had enough, I stop before my body forces me to. I surrender instead of suffer. Suddenly, this handstand journey is far, far more enjoyable!

Lately, in both my home and professional life, I’ve had to surrender by releasing my attachment to the idea that I’m a “free spirit”… or in other words, completely disorganized. Ambition and hard work mixed with disorganization, I’ve learned, is not the key to a serene mind. It’s a surefire way to the inevitable self-loathing crash. Without necessarily giving up the wild woman within, I’ve surrendered to structure, to discipline, to yoking. To setting clear goals and mapping out a way to achieve them. Along with teaching and managing my businesses, I’ve scheduled in things like “read”, “run”, or “self-care”. To a free spirit, this might sound highly irritating, but for me it’s actually been liberating. I know that if I do everything I can to make something grow, flourish, or come alive, and if it doesn’t, that it truly wasn’t what was in store.

Practice and discipline, combined with non-attachment, are allowing me the freedom of trust and surrender. Goodbye monkey-mind and hello sweet, sweet surrender to the flow!

 

 

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Deepen Your Yoga Practice: Yamas and Niyamas

Go Deeper

Go Deeper

We’ve all been there before… the yoga funk: we roll out our mats, breathe, cat, cow, updog, down dog, warrior one, warrior two, etc, and it starts to feel somehow robotic; like we’re just going through the motions and it’s all about physicality. It’s completely normal for this to happen, as we are often products of our environment, and Western society greatly emphasizes aesthetics. Yes, yoga can be great physical exercise, but aren’t we all searching for more?

According to the Yoga Sutras, a highly detailed outline of the how’s and why’s of yoga, written by, Sri Patanjali, the purpose of yoga is self-realization. This includes mastering the mind and parting the veils of ignorance to reveal our true selves. And your true self is an infinite, beautiful, unshakeable expression of the divine. Patanjali outlines an eightfold path that leads to self-realization and guess what? Asana, yoga postures, is only one of these limbs. Without the other seven informing our practice, it frankly isn’t yoga and we aren’t afforded the full experience it has to offer.

As a teacher and practitioner, I’m interested in facilitating a holistic practice for the student and myself; one that incorporates all of these limbs on the mat, so that they can integrate into all aspects of life. So for this series of articles, I’m going to delve into the 8 limbs of yoga, while explaining how they can be incorporated into your yoga practice on the mat. This will help you delve more deeply into your spirit, and hopefully get you out of that yoga funk.

The first two limbs of yoga are the yama and niyama. They are basically yoga’s “Ten Commandments” without all of those thall-shalt-nots. Yamas, or abstinences, are virtues that strengthen and purify the mind and are helpful as a general guide to being a decent human being. They include nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-greed. Niyamas, or observances, are a set of essential principals for those on the yogic path, which garner spiritual growth. These include purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and self-surrender. The yamas and niyamas are great guidelines to living a decent and spiritual life, but how can we incorporate them on the mat?

Yama (Abstinence):

  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence): This is considered the most important among the yamas. This includes not only doing harm, but the desire to do harm, which sinks us further into ignorance and away from self-realization. When on the mat, you can incorporate ahimsa by being compassionate toward yourself. Modify poses when you need to and don’t beat yourself up when you are not yet able to attain what you wish to attain. Maybe you’re over-heated and take child’s pose instead of doing one more vinyasa. Perhaps it even includes taking a day off when you’re sick our injured. Taking these steps helps us disassociate with the ego and adds quality and longevity to our practice.
  1. Satya (Truthfulness): This yama is practiced in word, deed, and thought, and always with selfless motivation in order to adhere to the previous yama, ahimsa.  Try this mantra on the mat to cultivate satya: “I am exactly where I need to be right now.” By affirming yourself into the bigger picture, you are accepting the ultimate truth and your vital place within it. In other words, take a deep breath, stop fighting against the present, and you’ll be left in raw truth, which is the beauty of this moment.
  1. Asteya (Non-stealing): This, of course, can refer to physically taking something that isn’t yours, but often when we steal it is far more subtle. One subtle form of stealing that often occurs on the mat, is coveting.  Perhaps your neighbor is in a beautiful king dancer’s pose, while you’re struggling just to balance on one foot. You wish with all your heart that you could express something so impressive and you curse your body’s limits. Sound familiar? One quote I enjoy sharing with my students is “Don’t compare your beginning to somebody else’s middle.” Yoga studios are filled with a diverse clientele with all levels of experience and with unique bodies. By practicing asteya, you can appreciate others while knowing within your heart that you are exactly where you need to be on your journey.
  1. Brahmacharya (Continence): This yama tells us to avoid expenditures of energy that are not productive. This basically means over-doing it, and “it” can mean literally anything. This is often thought of in a sexual context, but on the mat, I like to think of it in a purely physical way. When in asana, oftentimes in pseudo-concentration, we tense the face, jaw, and shoulders. Taking the tension out of these areas and into whatever muscles the particular asana actively works, is a great way to conserve energy. Another way to do so is to efficiently make your way from one asana to the next. Try going from upward facing dog to downward dog without readjusting the hands and feet. Notice these habitual extraneous movements and retrain yourself to let them go.
  1. Aparigraha (Non-greed): Greed leaves us constantly unsatisfied. It’s a constant craving and an itch that just cannot be scratched. Perhaps, on the mat, this can mean dissatisfaction with your asana. It’s the gap between what you want to be able to do and what you are currently able to do. Instead, accept each practice, whether or not it meets your expectations, with loving gratitude. After all, gratitude is the polar opposite of greed.

Niyama (Observance):

  1. Saucha (Purity): This refers to mental and physical purity. We achieve this by cleansing our bodies and minds, and then filtering what is allowed to pass through them. Oftentimes, on the mat, memories and emotions can come to the surface of the mind. It is better to acknowledge them, feel them, and eventually let them go, than to suppress them, as they’ll certainly resurface. We then filter the mind by meditation, focusing on the infinite or divine, and by turning negative thoughts into positive ones. We can cleanse the body through taking deep breaths to oxygenate the blood, by sweating, and by detoxifying twists, followed by plenty of water. Off the mat, we can continue to keep the body pure with a healthy, balanced diet.
  1. Santosha (Contentment): When we are content, we live in the present moment, without focusing on fulfilling desires. Santosha leads to faith, which steadies the mind, and ultimately leads to self-realization. Through the power of the Universe or Divine, we at this moment have all the tools we need to see ourselves for who we are: an expression of divinity. On the mat, contentment does not equal complacence. It simply means that everything is exactly as it should be. Every breath, every thought, and every movement is an expression of the Universe, of the Divine. How’s that for an intention?
  1. Tapas (Accepting, but not causing pain): We’ve all had that moment in class: Maybe the teacher has put you into chair pose for way too long. You’ve got a sweat mustache going on and your thighs are on fire. It’s natural to react with anger, but with tapas comes spiritual maturity, and instead you accept this moment as a teacher of vital lessons. With this struggle comes beautiful growth, spiritually and physically. We develop tapas on the mat by combining regular, challenging practice with santosha, or contentment.
  1. Svadhyaya (Self-Study): This includes study of scripture, lives of great yogis, nature, life, and repetition of mantra. This informs our practice in a concrete way. When on the mat, notice what makes you happy, what frustrates you, whether or not you’re able to follow things through or if you’d rather just give up. Study yourself. It can truly bring to light aspects of your personality, some positive and some that require growth. Through regular practice, you can improve these traits not only on the mat, but off. Svadhyaya, on the mat can also be attained by repetition. You must repeat a mantra, breath, or asana many times to truly understand it.
  1. Ishwara Pranidhana (Worship of God or Self-surrender): This niyama basically says, “Hey, it’s not all about YOU!”  With self-surrender, we dedicate our time and abilities to a greater cause. This is the foundation of Karma Yoga where the ego gives up ignorance with every act of dedication. You can practice this on the mat by dedicating your practice to someone you love, someone in need, or to a higher power. You’ll find that when you pass your bliss onto others, it does yourself and the world a great amount of good.

 

Spread the love, dig in deep, and I’ll be back soon to add more limbs onto the yoga tree!

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