vinyasa yoga

Ahimsa - A {Sacred} Thread Writing Prompt

Briefly, its been really fun to get to know the yoga community here in Atlanta. I'm lucky to teach at some truly wonderful studios that help me to connect with their students. Every studio does it a little different. At {Sacred} Thread one of the ways we get to interact is through a common teaching theme each month. I love it. We teach on it during class and submit our thoughts on it in writing as well. When it comes down to it I love to write but am undisciplined and work best from prompts.

Thoughts ON ahimsa:

Have you ever failed at being the bigger person? Have you ever lost your temper, slammed a door, raised your voice or wished ill upon someone? If not, please take me under your wing and teach me your ways. If so, what if anything are you intentionally doing to lessen or eliminate such behaviors? How often have you been on the receiving end of such lapses in kindness? 

When you step inside of a yoga studio designated as a quiet space for meditation, set aside for a moment the need to speak words and externalize your experience to the people around you, and start breathing and focusing on the internal state of your mind and emotions what do you notice?

Do you hear a calm, confident encouragement about the yoga that's about to happen, a loud clamoring about the things on your to do list that are not being done while you're in class, a rehashing of the missed opportunity to connect with someone, a barrage of how you have to do better on your next job interview? There are limitless possibilities as individual as the emotions and situations we experience from moment to moment each day. The consistent factor each time you or anyone else practices is that in those 60-90 minutes of silence and moving you have the opportunity to observe your relationship with yourself. Reviewing those times that you have had the opportunity to observe your inner dialog, are you communicating compassionately or with animosity? 

Yoga is multifaceted with the physical practice (Asana) being but one of many angles by which one might undertake to "do yoga." In fact, it is a more traditional approach that the student spends time and tutelage under a guru to demonstrate a mature self-understanding and an ability to externalize moral behavior in interactions with the rest of the living world. Those particular two facets of yoga are the Yamas and Niyamas - ten things to not do or do along your path of practicing yoga. At the top of the list of Yamas, the actions to refrain from doing, is to commit violence. In the West we talk about having compassion, being peaceful and non-violent and in the East this same concept is termed Ahimsa. Whatever you want to call it - ahimsa or compassion - this ethical construct is viewed as a foundational aspect of moral behavior cross-culturally. 

So often it is demonstrated that in order to get anyone to make a change we much lead by example. So often we find ourselves multi-tasking and underperforming. As far as kindness and compassion go the trend follows - its natural to want other people to demonstrate kindness to us yet we in turn fail miserably all of the time at being examples of said kindness. Yoga anticipates, predicts and provides a solution for all of this. When you step inside of the yoga studio and are allowed a consistent quiet space to go in and observe your relationship with yourself do you find that it is perhaps not unlike your other relationships? Do you perfectly execute kindness and compassion on your self or do you allow there to be some level of harsh critique...violence? 

Yoga is there to give you that time and space to practice compassion on yourself. Sometimes the teacher is there to push you to your very physical limits so you can see how your relationship with yourself is under stress (while getting a nice workout), sometimes the teacher is there to give you practice that will allow you to relax into a pose with as little work as possible so you can almost entirely focus on accepting exactly where you are. Each day is different, you are different each day but the yoga is there consistently in whatever iteration you need to begin to grow your practice of Ahmisa, your capacity for compassion on yourself. 

Being kind and compassionate to others is a much a skill as any sport or artistic talent. To become a master at painting one must attain the necessary dexterity of hand by holding different bushes and practicing different strokes. Chances are you learned to ride a bike by practicing with training wheels or on a tricycle. Doing anything that requires skill takes practice, consistently, emphasizing foundations but also increasing the difficulty again and again and again. Yoga, undertaken with intention is the perfect method for practicing compassion on yourself. The differences it might have initially in your relationships might be subtle but as you stand a little taller, compose your face through hardship, and remember to balance your breathing, external stressors seem more like tough poses - challenging, yes, but ultimately just one more step along the path of yoga.  


"Ahimsa calls for the strength and courage to suffer without retaliation, to receive blows without returning any."  M. K. Gandhi 

Variety within a yoga practice and some Ayurveda basics

I've mentioned before that my yoga practice does not look the same every day. Once a week I take a rest day and the rest of the time I listen to what my body tells me I need. Friday I did a really vigorous flow with a lot of back bending and power moves. It was great. My abs were sore, my side body and back felt really flexible and I felt mentally clear and strong. The next morning I decided to go to the back-to-basics Bikram workshop at Hot Yoga Downtown. Flexibility with my practice style has kept me moving along - flowing up and over plateaus and always grateful and happy to practice yoga.

The kind of fluidity, however, is very much against my nature. Any way you cut it, any personality assessment you do of me, I am in theory and in practice, a person that tends toward structure and discipline. For the sake of simplicity, let's keep to Eastern concepts in discussing my decisions and personality-type. Ayurveda is an Eastern approach to broad-stroke personality type characterization. At its basis it asks the person to observe him or herself physically - the personality characterization follows from the body-type. There are three body-based personality-types known as "the doshas." 

Even very modern personality theories have been debunked when the scope moves from personal analysis to analyzing others. So, while I can find some basic common sense suggestions in dosha theory as well as The Myers-Briggs, they are only facets of my self-understanding. That being said, its helpful to have the observation of millions of similar humans to guide my understanding and in that way dosha theory is helpful. People have seen correlations as they have been outlined by the doshas for many thousands of years - that's just enough of a pattern to cause me to stop and examine how I am the same and how I am different. Therein the characterization becomes a powerful tool. 

I am a pitta's pitta according to dosha type. Where I have done best to use that understanding to great effect has been in my diet and in my yoga practice. My diet is a topic oft discussed, as I have been able to put on muscle and drop weight on a whim since I was about 23 years old. That kind of ease in shifting my appearance leaves a lot of people wondering what my secrets are so I will write about that in another post.

As far as my yoga practice goes, recognizing my tendency toward order, I can imagine it would be very easy to do the same yoga routine over and over day in and day out at the same time every day. I also recognized that I would become so regimented that if something occurred to throw off that routine I would be super angry or depressed. I have not found the perfect balance (I suspect I would still do best to practice at a consistent time daily) but I have found fluidity in the style of yoga I practice and that has been a strong start to a lifelong practice (a year and a half daily practice to-date). Switching styles from yin to Bikram to power vinyasa has kept my practice feeling fresh and new and has allowed me a variety of poses and mental approaches to leverage continual change out of my body. It is also recommended for pitta personalities to do as much. I made that decision independently but I rediscovered that recommendation this morning as I was checking dosha theory.

The reason I wanted to spend a little time on dosha theory is to discuss how my body reacts to different yoga styles. In particular I wanted to highlight my experience with hot yoga which came in two different phases of my life. When I moved back to Virginia from Austin, Tx I did Bikram Yoga for one whole month, everyday. When I went to my teacher training in Austin, Tx I did hot yoga every day for one week. I found the same thing happened both times and I think it is worth sharing. I started out strong, enjoying the heat but after every class it was a fight to get enough to drink and eat to compensate for the amount of energy that I burn. I run hot, I sweat a lot. That, too is very pitta, apparently so retrospectively it all makes sense. My metabolism is always on afterburners so when I put myself into a hot environment I burn out fast and entirely. After several days of hot yoga, I was unable to maintain my usual intensity in work and other physical endeavors. In that moment it was not a good thing but it can be good. I am intense in all activities and find it hard to take days off from work and mentally strenuous activities so Bikram/hot yoga is the perfect yoga for the morning or evening before a day-off wherein I want to do nothing but watch Netflix, listen to audiobooks, cuddle with the dogs, and eat food. For someone else hot yoga might be the perfect daily practice and instead of sapping them of energy it might energize him or her. That person is not me. 

When I do yin yoga, I get super contemplative and very in-tune with the micro-changes that happen in my body. I have the opportunity to notice mental patterns that are tied into physical barriers. I also feel like I make super huge gains in flexibility from staying longer in the poses. The only problem is I miss the movement and the strength of vinyasa after a day of yin. In the same way that Bikram can be used to great effect, so too, can yin. It keeps me wanting more yoga. Is yin the perfect style for someone else to use primarily? Yes, surely. For me, yin is a supplement.

At the end of the day you are more than a personality assessment and your needs will vary throughout your life. Listen to your body and honor what it is telling you. Seek out different styles of yoga - we have all of the aforementioned and more right here in Lynchburg, Va. The more you know about the variety of yoga and your own body the more educated decisions you can make. Have fun, practice daily.


140805 Rest Day Theory and Yogi Time Lapse

Today's grain of wisdom to roll around is the notion of a recovery day. One might think - "A recovery day from yoga?! I thought yoga was active recovery." One might not be considering all of the variables.  When a person dedicates his or herself to a "daily" practice that means daily for a LIFETIME. That is a HUGE mental burden in and of itself - physical practice aside. In order for the spirit to feel fresh and ready to receive the benefits of a daily yoga practice (or any discipline for that matter) a rest day is essential. Does that mean you lay on the couch and undo the work you have done. Not necessarily - but the occasional "treat yoself day" is sometimes just what you need - that's a completely different subject though. 

A rest day means something different to everyone but I do encourage you to examine you practice, whatever it may be, and scale back your efforts to 25% or less of what you might normally take on.  For example, yesterday I did a 15 minute meditation.  I'll spare you the time lapse its really boring.  Before bed I was feeling tight in my low back and hips so I did pigeon, cow-face pose, and seated spinal twist - maybe 10 additional minutes of yoga on top of my meditation. Just enough to keep me limber but enough extra time for a nap.  I was really tired and I need more rest than even yoga could afford me. Today's power practice just reinforced what a good idea that was. I nailed poses that are normally just beyond my ability because I'm "too tired" or my shoulders are on so forth. Today there were no excuses - just powerful, fun, refreshing vinyasa.  It felt so good.

Just as yin yoga is a mental challenge, creating a healthy lifelong relationship with you practice can also be deceptively difficult.  Give yourself a break, enjoy one day off a week and see your practice and your gratitude for your practice take on a whole new depth.

Weekend yogic endeavors: arm balances, yin, splits

I do a lot of time lapses but I included a real-time clip of one of my yin sessions.  The hardest part of a yin session is being mentally strong enough to push past the pain incrementally until your body breaks.  Then the second hardest part is staying beyond your edge for a few breaths so that you move the edge back just a little bit at a time.  Check out how long it takes me to get into my fullest forward fold in the second video.

20140730 Yogi Time Lapse

I've been doing puppy dog pose regularly as well as hero pose.  The reason is that my thoracic spine and knees are two areas that could use good bit of improvement.  Some interesting changes have resulted in my body over the past several days.  

My sternum is no stranger to popping and becoming open with a good back bend first thing in the morning.  This morning, though, it was caught in a weird place.  My higher up.  After some light floor stretching, I stood up, took a back bend and it popped back open.  It felt less like the sternum was stuck and more like the intercostal muscles at the top of the rib cage.  One way or the other, I lengthened then settled back into an only muscle pattern during sleep but the new feeling of tightness and release just serves to indicate that change is indeed occurring daily.

As for my knees, there has been significantly less popping in my "trick knee" - my left knee.  My gait and alignment have been off since I was a kid and I have sustained multiple ankle injuries in both ankles so its no wonder my knees make clicks and pops.  Over time my right knee has stopped all the noise but the lateral ligaments in my left knee have been worrying me lately.  Hero pose seems to have helped greatly though.  In the last few days my "trick knee" has fallen silent. Additionally, the peroneus muslces along the outside calf on both of my legs are feeling very stretched.  Again, my calves have been brutally tight after years of sports, sport-related injury and not stretching.  Good things are afoot (or knee or calf).