I am often asked, 'why do you talk about the breath so much?' There's a good reason for it- Yoga is more than just exercise. In the west, we typically associate it with poses and moving around and getting fit, but it's so much more than that.
Yoga comes from the word "yoke" which means to bring together. In this case, bringing together mind and body. The "monkey mind" (an actual yoga term, FYI) runs rampant and gets distracted easily. By bringing awareness to breath, we are focusing on the here and now. Being present is perhaps one of the most difficult things to be. Being present means you aren't focused on the past or the future or any worries or anxieties you may have. Being present means you are soaking up the moment. Breath work in yoga is what keeps you anchored to the here and now. If you focus on your inhalations and exhalations, it's much harder for your mind to stray. Of course, there are other reasons for breath work in yoga, but we'll focus on this one for now.
How can you take this presence off your mat and into the world? Here are a few suggestions that come to mind:
- Next time you are eating, close your eyes with every bite. Try to taste every bit of that food and enjoy it fully.
- When someone is talking, actually listen to their words. Don't focus on what you want to say next. Don't interrupt them. Hold space and have an understanding of everything they are saying.
- When something upsets you, count to five (slowly!) before reacting. This will force you to consider the situation instead of letting yourself react naturally. This is a good exercise for breaking patterns.
- When you need to use the restroom, do it immediately. It sounds silly, but many of us ignore that urge and put it off for long periods of time.
- When you walk, try to be mindful. You can do this by feeling every muscle in your leg as you step, or by thinking "left" when the left foot steps down and "right" when the right foot steps down.
- Set a timer on your phone for every two hours, and when the timer goes off, write what you are feeling in a journal or a log. It can be a few sentences or just a word. Try to put a word to your emotions. It's much harder than you think!
If you're ready to dive deep into mindfulness, I recommend The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass. Both books are excellent stepping stones no matter where you are in your journey.
I recently went to India for the first time after spending time in Germany with my sister. Emmy and I haven't seen each other in years though we text all of the time. It was surreal seeing my little sis' own place, treating me to meals, cooking food... We're both officially adults. How did that happen?
It was so, so cold in Germany. It was below freezing most nights I was there. We spent most of our time in her town of Muenster, near Dusseldorf in west Germany. walking everywhere and watching Netflix. My sis does mixed martial arts and took me to my first MMA class where she took me off guard in a guillotine choke. Much to her chagrin, I had a hard time taking it seriously and didn't want to hurt her.
We took a train to Berlin where I introduced her to her first yoga class at Jivamukti Berlin. We visited the East Wall Gallery which shows some of the more creative pieces of the Berlin Wall. We had tea at The Ramones Museum. We even found someone to take our aura photos (mine's the blue one, below) since Em had seen mine and was curious to know more about her own aura.
When we returned back to Muenster, we went to YogaFlow Muenster, her local studio. Emily speaks German but knows no yoga, and I know yoga but speak no German. It was an interesting experience to say the least! I've never taken a yoga class in a foreign language before.
I hitched a flight to India and arrived on my birthday. I spent a 4 days touring around Delhi, Vrindavan, Agra, and Jaipur before going to Rishkesh to stay put for a few days. Vrindavan, which is Krishna's home and has the iconic ISKCON temple, was my dream stop on the entire trip. We went there during Holi which added another layer of fun to the whole experience. Galta Ji, the monkey temple outside of Jaipur, was one of my favorite places on the trip- I really enjoyed watching the monkeys that live in and around the temple. The temples in India were out of this world- You can feel the magic in each and every one of them. I asked our guides a million questions I had ever wondered about India and Hinduism. As we were driving from city to city, I fell in love with India's trucks. They are each completely unique: Painted and decorated and moving art. I think I need to seriously consider becoming an Indian trucker. In Rishikesh, we stayed at an ashram on the Ganges River so we often got to walk over a large bridge spanning the body of water or watched the sunset on its banks. It was a really great trip but between the sights, the sounds, the smells... it was a complete sensory overload. I really enjoyed this beautiful country, but the jet lag was the worst I've ever had. I'm glad to be home!
Many people keep asking what's next on my radar, and I'm excited to say that I'm teaching a workshop on April 14 at Lift Yoga that's called Mantras, Mudras, & Mythology. The workshop will focus on Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, Hanuman, and Skanda and the amazing Hindu myths and stories of these deities have been passed down for centuries. It's like a gigantic spiritual storytime that has to do with the origins of yoga. Attendees will get to learn what the heck a warrior 2 represents and who Anjana was and why Anjaneyasana was named after her. I'll also be teaching mudras that go along with each deity and we'll be singing some songs with the harmonium that have to do with some of the stories- For example, Sri Ram Jai Ram is a song based on the famous Hindu epic the Ramayana. We will be exploring "multiple modalities of yoga"- there are many branches of yoga and the asanas are "hatha yoga" and only one small slice of the pie. We'll be exploring Jnana Yoga (aka philosophy and study) as well as Bhakti Yoga (aka the yoga of loving the divine through song) as well as Mantra Yoga (aka chanting) and of course Hatha Yoga (because we will be doing a yoga flow in the class too). If you want to learn more or sign up, click here!
Next Saturday, March 17, I'm teaching the inaugural Frequent Flyer Club at Lift Yoga- It's a once-every-few-months workshop that focuses on specific inversions. This first workshop will focus on handstands. Handstands are that elusive yoga pose- the one that everyone wants to learn how to do. It's so (seemingly) unaccessible to so many practices and there are so many considerations in how to do it properly that it's frequently glossed over during vinyasa classes. Unless you have had someone walk you through handstand step by step, it's usually something you learn on your own through trial-and-error or through a workshop like this one!
Here's a sneak peek at what we're covering in the two hour workshop:
We'll start with a body warming vinyasa flow to warm up our muscles, paying special attention to our wrists and hamstrings as both are important for any handstand practice. Next, we'll break down the different elements of a handstand, including proper hand placement, body alignment, where you should be engaged, where does the gaze go, etc. Handstands are a composition of various elements from many different yoga poses, so we will be going over these individually so that we can feel the components of handstand in our bodies. We'll do a tiny bit of wall work with tips on how to do this properly so you don't develop bad habits. Attendees will be trained in how to spot correct alignment in handstand so that when we do partner work, it'll be easy to help one another adjust into the posture. Some focus will be given on how to bail out so that you can practice safely! I'll also be giving out a suggested conditioning guide as well as a list on how to incorporate handstand preparation work into any yoga class. Of course, we'll also spend a lot of time practicing our handstands!
I'm so excited to be able to share my love for inversions with the community. I hope to see you there!